Friday, January 11, 2008

“Busy Doing Nothing, Working The Whole Day Through…”

To the Barry Bunker! The new wave of British pub bandery takes a new twist as the Picturehouse talent, or at least the stringed aspect of the team, convene in darkest Essex to run through a few new things with which to replace the departing Bass Player’s repertoire of plunks, twangs and squeezes. Having slimmed down from an expansive four-vocaled five piece whose mission statement was to play the things that you’d forgotten you liked to the more regular three-up-front-one-at-the-back formation favoured by so many of our contemporaries, it does feel rather as though we’ve abandoned the Dutch free-flowing total football style we were previously employing in order to adopt the meat n’ potatoes work ethic of the sort likely to be managed by Sam Allardyce. Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that you understand (unless you’re a Newcastle fan, or chairman, or both), it’s just that there’s a lot of it about. However, needs must, and so we are gathered in front of a PC, with two people plugged into it via a DI box, listening to tracks on MP3, downloading lyrics, burning CDs and streaming audio. I, rather anachronistically, am sitting at the table with an acoustic guitar, a pad of scrap paper and a thick-nibbed marker pen. It’s a mighty long way from that pleasant domestic scene portrayed on those early Fairport Convention albums, with the band all gathered round the table having breakfast together, presumably before leafing through some scrolls liberated from Cecil Sharp House in a leisurely fashion, working out a bass riff in the living room and then breaking off for a quick kick about before tea; It sounds heavenly, but this ain’t the garden of Eden, things ain’t like they used to be, and this ain’t the summer of love.
On the way down I have been privileged enough to hear the songs that Guitarist Barry, Now-Bassist Kilbey and AWOL singer Wendell have been working on in their own time – a lovely mélange of CSN harmonies, reverberating guitars and sampled strings which sounds a lot more like it’s benefited from the kitchen table treatment, even if Barry’s production relies slightly more on the implied threat of the appearance of the kitchen sink. It’s seriously quite lovely and never more so than during a number entitled ‘Turquoise Blue’, wherein the embarrassment of relaying the decade-old lyric is overcome by the simple expedient of translating it into French and getting a teenaged girl to whisper it only barely just above the wash of the backing track. It makes the sound of phosphorescence on a tranquil sea lapping gently at a sandy beach in the moonlight. Put it this way, it’s no “I Wanna Rock n’ Roll All Nite”.
Back at the ranch, exciting news regarding the partially dormant gods kitchen (missing believed retired by some, a mere whisper of a rumour of a legend to others and used principally to frighten youngsters into concentrating hard during guitar lessons let they too be drafted into our ranks) This is yet another excursion into uncharted territory in that it’s a band playing original songs (mine) in a style which comes back into fashion around every four or five years or so, and since it’s been a good year and a half since we’ve trod the boards, I’ve rustled up a couple of gigs for this year just so we can get our ticket stamped and carry on our membership of the ‘we exist as a band, we do’ club, which we’re now into our fourteenth, or fifteenth or somesuch year of doing, cruising comfortably along below the radar of popular indifference, which in a town like Ipswich isn’t half as tricky as some people make out. I fondly remember the small ad I put in the paper when I was putting the band together – “musicians required, into baggy shirts and A minor”. It’d get you put away these days. However, I digress - when Ken Stringfellow toured as part of REM and then hung on to do a few extra dates with The Posies to which a dozen or so punters turned up (they did at the Norwich gig at least – and I would know…brrr it was draughty in the venue that night) I knew exactly how he felt. Only scaled down – we aspire to a dozen followers these days, but I very much fear that in the same way that video was alleged to have killed the radio star at one point, the DVD boxed set has pretty much put paid to the chances of our target audience making their way down to The Steamboat on a cool Thursday evening. So naturally I’ve asked two other bands to do it as well, just to keep the numbers up. Needs must.
And finally to the last round in this game of musical chores and in my capacity of Chief Foil for Our Glorious Leader, I am due to call Our Beloved Record Company on behalf of Songs from The Blue House to check up the details on our forthcoming download single. From doubling the riff on Girls Aloud’s “”Love Machine” on an acoustic guitar in someone’s kitchen to chasing up Suzie from the office about the possibility of doing some festivals on the back of our radio sessions to promote “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in one short day, and to that from learning the b-side to “My Ding-a-Ling” on a four stringed nylon-strung guitar, in a mere quarter of a century? Huh, kids today. They don’t even know what a transit van is.

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