Monday, September 20, 2010

“That means you, Holy Joe!”

Aside from all the peripheral issues surrounding our last show, it was good to be able to go out and play a set made up principally of our latest material. I was genuinely surprised and extraordinarily pleased at the number of people who made a point of saying afterward how much they had enjoyed the new songs, especially as a couple of them are in a subtle and understated fashion quite political, in a small ‘p’ politics kind of way (and one apparently goes into 12/8 during the end section, which came as a surprise to me, I can tell you). I don’t necessarily think there’s anything wrong in writing a song for your children if you measure the tone right, and “Believe Me” is certainly one of the more faith-enhancing songs I’ve ever heard regarding parental hopes for the future, while anyone who’s ever put their kids to bed will recognize the sentiment implied in “Where We Are” (beautifully and subtly enhanced by Turny Winn’s faux naïf squeezebox accompaniment). It was also good to be able to spray a bit of vitriol around the room during “My Boy” – (“Magna Carta’s authors spin, and wonder what they bothered for...” may well be one of my favourite lines so far) before pulling back the covers, leaping out of bed, throwing open the windows and shouting a metaphorical “Wake up, you sleepyheads!” with the climactic “Land of Make Believe” which, as Robert Plant once notably announced on stage regarding one of his own compositions, is “…a song of hope”. For instance I imagine that Our Glorious Leader, for one, in future really hopes that he doesn't break any more strings during his favourite bit at the end, which led him to hiss "You'll have to play the chords!!" at me just as I was mentally leading up to my exquisitely subtle volume control violin-effect coda and wondering why on earth he was telling me to play the chorus. "The chorus?" I gurned back at him. "The chords! The chords!!" he shouted back, nodding his head toward where the first of four strings to go was hanging forlornly from his guitar's bridge at one end and tuning peg at the other. "Ah!" I nodded back and tried to remember which pedals I had to turn off to return myself to the jangle setting. As I did I caught sight of the area just in front of the stage, where an acoustic guitar nestled in the dewy grass. "That's funny..." I thought "I'm sure James was wearing that guitar earlier...". As we came off stage I noticed through the entrance to the marquee that it had started raining quite heavily and noted this to bass player Gibbon. “Hmmm…” he chuckled “…and I’ll bet you thought that noise was applause, didn’t you?”

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Untangling the accordion knot.

Rehearsing with a PA and under lights was definitely a good idea. Getting in a few familiar parties to give the new material the critical once over was also a worthwhile investment, as friendly feedback in advance of exposing ourselves (as it were) to a live paying audience certainly helped iron out a few wrinkles here and there in the delicate folds of the fabric of our muse. For instance, like jazz, the Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black) version of The Girl With The Scrambled Yellow Hair was possibly more enjoyable to play than it was to listen to, and so bearing in mind that 'Harvest' sold a lot more copies than 'Time Fades Away' the second run through of the set had some minor tweaks in terms of arrangement and instrumentation, and sounded all the better for it. Don’t get me wrong – I far prefer the rough, untempered edges, discordant kerrangs and off-key harmonies of (the so-far unreleased on CD or Blu Ray, and there’s a reason for that) 'Time Fades Away' to the multi million selling middle of the road West Coast, patched jeans, Sweet Baby Jamesian Shangri La of 'Harvest', but I strongly suspect that I am in a minority - possibly of less than two. As it turned out, if I play exactly the same part with exactly the same emphasis, but on acoustic guitar, the whole experience is enhanced for everybody, which certainly backed up the reassuring “It’s not the notes or the playing – it’s the volume” précis of the first try out by newbie batteriste David Booth ("TNDB") during the break. I'm sure this reimagining also came as an enormous relief to the song’s long-suffering and faintly bewildered author, whose major revelation at the dress rehearsal was a hitherto unsuspected knack for a hearth and homely take on the squeezebox, which I suspect we would never have found about if we’d had a full complement of bangers and scrapers aboard, so props (as I understand the young folk say) to Turny Winn for that pleasant surprise. Next stop, Acorn Fayre and, after the initial part of the set (provisionally subtitled ‘Sway’) undoubted use of the phrase “Hope you like the new direction!” once we embark on part two (‘Thwack’).

PS - I should also point out that I was very pleased to finally find a legitimate home for my 'Richard Thompson harmony' on new composition The Falling Song. For those unfamiliar with the concept, it is best experienced on the Richard and Linda Thompson track Walking on a Wire, from 'Shoot Out The Lights', and is deployed to breathtaking effect in the chorus on the word (expediently enough) "Falling".

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

This is a public service announcement – with guitar!

The second rehearsal of the all-new Electric Blue House Revue, and things are definitely looking rosy for our unique foray into the world of electronical guitars. Firstly, of course, I wasn’t driving this time and so the enchanting, if time-consuming, tour of picturesque North Essex villages we undertook last week was eschewed in favour of getting to rehearsal in good order and in advance of the first cup of tea of the afternoon. This meant that co-member of the Ipswich contingent Mr. Gibbon was able to refresh himself fully with a nice brew before starting work, which helps a great deal when you otherwise exist principally on a diet of chocolate and cigarettes. The whole afternoon broke down into easily-manageable hour-long chunks of time; one for revision of last week’s work, one for tweaking The Falling Song, which we hadn’t previously exhumed since its initial outing at The High Barn gig many moons ago (when Our Beloved Record Company’s representative on earth said it was their favourite of the bunch), one hour on tea breaks (wherein at one point I got to play the drums while Our Glorious Leader whacked out the riff to “Walk This Way”) and one on everything else – which is not as tardy an effort as it seems, as that was mainly the chunk of stuff we’ve been playing regularly anyway, and so it was pretty simple for That Nice David Booth to stick some percussion on underneath, using his unique series of aides memoires in order to allocate the appropriate rhythm to the proper track. Keen lip readers among us may care to watch out for when he mutters “Don’t Stop” under his breath at the start of one song, as this is not an instruction to himself in terms of keeping a stiff upper lip and carrying on in the face of adversity, but in fact refers to the Fleetwood Mac song from ‘Rumours’ with which one of our new numbers shares a jaunty shuffle. The Fragrant and Charming La Mulley meanwhile, having not really been through the whole hanging out in a rehearsal room trying to figure out whether there should be four bars or eight before the guitar solo in her teen years (which she spent singing eight part harmonies on interminable roundelays in smoky folk clubs instead) is enjoying herself tremendously - drawing breath on another single-note harmonica part in one instant, and suggesting that there should be eight bars before the guitar solo the next, while Turny Winn remembers that he might have a melodeon in his attic with which he could play both of the notes that the arrangement actually in truth demands and makes a mental note to have a rummage when he gets home. Our Glorious Leader regards my replacement offering for the fiddle solo in Turny’s “The Girl with The Scrambled Yellow Hair” with barely suppressed opprobrium. “You haven’t really finished working that one out, have you?” he enquires with admirable propriety. “Or, to be fair, started...?” Fortunately we are rehearsing on the eve of a Bank Holiday, which leaves me plenty of time to annoy the family with a repeated sixteen bar guitar figure which slowly morphs into something resembling a melodic phrase in ‘G’ over the course of the next day, rather than bordering on a faithful transcription of the sound of a cat being dropped into a wheely bin, which was what it had most closely resembled previously. If I'd ever heard the sound of such a thing, that is. Which I haven't.