Thursday, July 19, 2012

Old Friends, Bookends.

I spent a rather splendid evening rehearsing last night for one of my occasional forays into the live performance arena with gods kitchen (no capitals, no apostrophe), the group I formed with Stephen Dean and Gibbon after the largely unheralded demise of heavy big pop standard bearers As Is in 1991. That’s right, nineteen ninety one.

At the time we had a regular weekly routine of getting together every Thursday at Stephen’s house, where he had had the good taste and foresight, with the judicious application of a number of mattresses and some gaffa tape, to convert his cellar into a rudimentary rehearsal space. This meant both that we saved ourselves the unnecessary expense of renting out one of those proper air-conditioned soundproofed places with coffee making facilities and nice-looking rugs on the walls and that when we turned up we were already set up and good to get started. It also meant that during the week (in the days before cable TV and The West Wing box sets) it was possible to relax with one of those new-fangled discman CD players, a set of headphones, a full drum kit and The Best of The Band for an hour or so, until the next-door neighbour politely suggested that it was time for Coronation Street and while she was here, could she possibly have this month's rent?  
When he moved out I was only too pleased to take on the lease and the drum kit and occasionally extended the opportunity to rehearse in (literally) homely surroundings to a few friends having asked for contributions to the larder in lieu of something quite so vulgar as money. Hence the discovery on one occasion upon my return to the bachelor pile, having made myself scarce for the evening while a group made up of vegetarians practiced downstairs, of a box of PG Tips, two cans of ratatouille and a packet of runner beans. Some other times I'd get sausages. Occasionally there would be lewd notes referring to my girlfriend.

The deal with gods kitchen rehearsals was that we would warm up with a couple of things that we already knew (possibly last week’s homework) before moving on to polishing up some new material that I probably would have written during the week. At ten o’clock we’d finish off with another couple of songs from the repertoire or we’d busk a cover version someone had heard on the radio to see how far we could get through it before the momentum of the whole thing either overtook us and it collapsed in an ungainly heap in the middle of the floor or we miraculously made it through to the end. We’d then go to The Spread Eagle just around the corner to discuss the session over a couple of cool pints of Guinness. Regular as clockwork, every week at eight o'clock. 
The consistency of this routine meant that I had to come up with a regular stream of new material, if only to keep the rhythm section interested from one session to the next, which certainly helped keep my songwriting muscles supple and toned (the only things that were at this point) and also meant that we were pretty much in a constant state of readiness in case anything came up in terms of live opportunities. I’m not necessarily saying that we put our 10,000 Outliers hours in, but it did (and does) mean that even without having played together for a couple of years now we can pretty much get together at the drop of a party invitation, do a count in and rattle out half a dozen numbers straight off the bat without pausing for breath as, gratifyingly, we did last night.

One of the things I was most pleased about was that none of the stuff we went through sounded out of time (chronologically at least, if not tempo-rhythmically). With so much guitar music under the metaphorical bridge these days it’s hard for anything to not sound like it is tipping a nod and a wink to what has gone before anyway, but I know that our Muswell Hill still beat Oasis’s Kinktastic She’s Electric out of the gate by a good four years (“This is about that bloke who twatted you one in The Old Times that once, isn’t it?” enquired Mr. Wendell on second guitar) and the recorded version of The Boy Who Loved Aeroplanes still has an expressive grandeur that speaks volumes beyond its humble four track origins*.
By twenty past ten we have worked through the set we are going to play at the weekend. “Ted Bidits!” calls Stephen cheerily, the traditional The Big Wheel-inspired count down to curfew. I start a chugging rhythm with muted chords on the guitar. “When I said…” I begin singing “…that I loved you, I told a white lie, don’t you know?” It is an old song of the drummer’s, a twelve bar in E and we rattle it off with what passes for panache in a converted woodshed in the middle of the Suffolk countryside. “And that…” he chuckles at the song’s conclusion “…is what happens when you let twenty one year olds listen to George Jones”. Wendell and I consider the implications. “Wouldn’t it have been great at the jubilee concert if they’d booked the wrong G. Jones?” he posits. “George Jones, rocking a hula hoop and singing She Thinks I Still Care” I tender. “Now that…” he assents “…I would pay to see”.

*I like to think that the early work producer Owen Morris put in on some demos for me a few years earlier paid off in spades for him when called in later to work on Champagne Supernova.

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