Saturday, June 05, 2010

It’s a life of surprises…

Driving five up in a Vauxhall Zafira with three amplifiers, four mics, a bundle of leads and three guitars in the boot doesn’t make any real sense in terms of propagating a career, however we in Songs from the Blue House didn’t get where we are today by following our base commercial instincts. So for all the strategy and street teamery that you can get tangled up in, when it comes down to it, someone asks us if we want to perform in front of some people, the default answer is always “yes”. That it may not always be the best facilitation of the long-term vision of the collective often comes into play, but then no-one ever broke a thousand hearts by singing about the withered rose of a relationship on their own in their bedroom, although I can think of many turns I’ve seen in the past who would have been well advised to take that course in preference to coming out and insisting on doing precisely that in front of me. I am sufficiently of an age where I already know that life is nasty, brutish and short, as are a few of the subjects of some of our more vituperative numbers, but I digress. After eight years of not trying, we have been invited to perform in That There London (TTL), and although in the past this would typically have involved hiring a coach and transporting the same forty people who would have come to see you in (say) Ipswich down to TTL and charging them a fiver to watch the same set at (say) The Powerhaus, in these days of instant mass communication all it takes are a couple of well-composed Facebook posts and you have an instant throng at the doors of the venue, without all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace. In theory.
We are hurtling through the badlands of East London, bass player Gibbon driving, and Our Glorious Leader both navigating and advising on the morals and ethics of negotiating TTL by car. “Don’t show them the fear”, he advises sagely, “Otherwise they’ll have you all ways up”. This doesn’t sound like a good thing, frankly. OGL has taken route advice from one of his delivery drivers and confidently guides us to the wrong side of the river, whereupon Gibbon takes matters into his own hands and negotiates a manoeuvre which not only reinforces his alpha-driver status but, judging by the look in his eyes, clearly instils The Fear into an oncoming cabbie, and those guys aren’t easily spooked. I shouldn’t really comment on anyone’s map reading skills as I am notoriously the band, if not the world’s, worst navigator, Geography A-level or no. In the same way that your keys are always in the last place you look, my destination is always the last place that I arrive at, which sounds innocuous enough, but bear this in mind the next time you’re turning your house upside down in order to locate your keys, eh?
Fashionably late, we arrive at the venue to find that our cyber-messaging has indeed gathered the brightest and best of our hardcore travelling support, including Serious Keith, Gorgeous Mari, Dooog the Banter Hunter and one Philip Bryer, who I’ve never actually met in true life before, but who has been contributing weekly to the Why The Long Face? radio show for a couple of years now. The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley introduces herself to him – “I was going to ask who you were, and then I heard you speak” she says brightly. I imagine Alastair Cook used to get that all the time. We are a lean, stripped-down SftBH this evening, with only Fiddly of the auxiliary stringed instrumentalists able to make it, and fortunately so, as upstairs at Milfords is a compact and bijou venue with a performance area which would put many envelopes to shame. Indeed the entire pub has more people relaxing outside on the pavement enjoying the balmy summer evening than it does inside, which the landlord genially acknowledges. “You should have seen this place before the ban” he reminisces fondly, waving a be-cigaretted hand at an imaginary horizon ”a smoke haze as thick as you like”. Gibbon and I nod nostalgically.
In order to maximise the marketing potential of our foray into the cross-platform performance arena, and because we don’t have a banjo, pedal steel or piano player tonight, we have front-loaded the set with some of our more familiar works before veering off into unknown territory later in the set and debuting a couple of things that OGL and I have been buffing up in the fine-tuning lab of the Blue House song factory. Oh, and because the house PA only has four inputs, I’m putting my acoustic guitar through my Laney pub rock amp and OGL is rocking the Marshall valve combo. It does, he remarks glintingly later, give an edge to those harder-strummed chords. There are no monitors, natch. Having settled into the groove and the slightly unusual sound, by mid way through the set we’re having a good time and our new song “My Boy” brings a gratifying hush to the chatter at the back of the room. We manage to crowbar Fiddly’s usual “…all the way from Thorndon” stage dedication into the set as well as a few pertinent remarks on our finding ourselves under the bright lights of London’s glittering Strand. Afterward, a gratifying number of bar staff, friends and pretty girls in vintage tea dresses remark upon how much they enjoyed the set. We’re feeling pretty damned pleased with ourselves, I can tell you - shortly after which, a couple of said girls strap on some instruments of their own and in the company of a double bassist, a fiddle player and the sort of drummer who sits coolly with a battered trilby on the back of his head and looks like he could get a nice brushes sound out of his stubble in a snare-snapping emergency perform the sort of down-home old-time set that makes grown men weep with joy, profess their deep, real and undying devotion and realise that there’s always someone around the next corner who can effortlessly put the ‘U’ in Hubris. On the way back we let Big Jan, who’s sailed across the The Pacific and The Atlantic in a thirty foot yacht therefore knows a bit about storage space, dictate loading the car, which she does with clinical professionalism. With fond farewells and hearty hugs we wend our way back through the city, and the country roads take us home.

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