Sunday, February 14, 2010

"The Guitar's all very well Shane - oh, and there's some money in it..."

Frankly, it wasn't looking promising for this one. Out of the core Songs from the Blue House triumvirate James was laid up with a migraine, I had a sore throat and Gibbon wasn't coming at all. Along with all this, we were due to play a Valentine's fund-raising dinner in a hall in Essex, and there was going to be a raffle. As my radio co-host Neale had remarked when I brought the subject up this week "Why don't you just play happy songs and then everyone will get along and have a nice time?". With our set list? It didn't seem possible. Coming along for the ride was Mr. Wendell, who had been corralled as our sound man du jour although, as he remarked, when it comes to sound mixing he's more Steve Martin than George Martin. To make him feel at home I asked him to mention if there was anything he didn't like. "Well" he responded Scousily "I don't like that scarf..."
Sound check concluded, we retired to the backstage area where a nice table had been laid out for dinner and before too long we were thoroughly enjoying a nice meal provided by our hosts. "This is nicer than the KFC" remarked Diane. More bands should get together for a social evening - we had a splendid lasagne provided by our hosts (veggie for Wendell for, as we explained, he doesn't eat meat, subsisting as he does mainly on leaves and air), two types of dessert, and were thoroughly enjoying each other's company, with the conversation ranging from the correct use of grammar, through the likelihood of the existence (or not) of the spirit world (I particularly enjoyed the story of the ghost who was visible only from the knees upward, as the floors had been a lot lower in their time), whether The Double Deckers actually ever drove that bus, and how difficult it must be to lift things if you exist mainly on a diet of leaves and air. Obviously we were enjoying this even more as the clock ticked past nine o'clock and we were now being paid for it as well.
The old showbiz saw that "It'll sound different once there are some people in" was never more happily accomplished as the cabaret seating and supper club vibe somehow gave a zing to the top end (sounds impossible, I know, but it's true) and tightened up the woolly mids and the fluffy bottoms (there'd been a lot of this sort of thing coming up in over dinner chat so you can tell what sort of mood we were in) until we were in a bright bubble of beautiful sound. Everything came together wonderfully. TT was filling in down the dusty end of his piano to cover for the errant bass player as well as doing his usual wonderful job up at the top end on the plinky ones (it's technical muso term - don't worry if you're not perfectly au fait with it), The Fragrant and Charming Helen was on splendid form, Parters was inspired, Turny Winn - on home turf - was his usual raffish self on banjo (and that's not an easy trick to pull off) and Fiddly Richard, all the way from Thorndon, was taking the whole thing so seriously that he'd donned one of his extra special colourful weskits for the occasion and was sawing away at the back like a man possessed. Given the dinner conversation we'd just had, this may have been an actual spiritual happening.
Notable highlights of the SftBH love fest were a peerless reading of Aretha Franklin/Etta James/The Flying Burrito Brothers' (depending on who you listen to) Do Right Woman - a duet of such touching fragility that even as we were playing it I was cursing myself for not remembering to insist that James record the show off the desk so that I could luxuriate in its wonder later on at my own convenience. I was indulged a lengthy introductory speech for Rolling and Tumbling, Turny stepped up to deliver a beautiful and heartfelt The Girl With The Scrambled Yellow Hair (his own song, and another first for us) during which Fiddly delivered a sublime solo which had me cursing all over again, and then Our Glorious Leader stepped up to sing the third in a trilogy of heartfelt love songs. His was called Bike.
A brief break for the raffle - the band collectively won a bag of Rolos for completing the quiz sheet with one of the top three scores - a closing section during which my throat finally gave out leading to a swift on the hoof, off the cuff re-arrangement of a couple of verses, someone bought a book (All These Little Pieces - still available at by the way) and a last number during which we introduced the band, the audience set up a rhythmic clapping beat completely of their own volition then dragged us back for an encore, and then possibly the best compliment of the evening - Mr. Wendell confessing that for once he wished he were on stage. Waiting in the dressing room there were chocolate-covered strawberries.
A gentleman from the audience came up to me afterwards, clutching two CDs. "You lot" he muttered, almost unbelievingly, "killed up there tonight".

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