Tuesday, September 25, 2012

My Andrew Mitchell Moment.

Before we start I should stress that the whole situation I am about to describe was resolved perfectly amicably, with apologies on both sides and with the band having been given permission to play one more song – we closed with a stirring version of I Fought the Law which, as you will see, was the perfect choice to defuse any lingering resentment regarding the presence of the filth. I mean respected members of Her Majesty’s Constabulary. We were young. And it was in no way as confrontational as that time Steve got stopped on his bike and had to answer truthfully when the officer got out his notebook, licked his pencil and asked for his name. “Umm…Constable”.
How we found ourselves setting up the band’s equipment on the lawn outside the nurses’ flats in the first place is a little unclear from this distance. If I recall correctly it wasn’t terribly apparent the morning after either. All we can know for certain is that it seemed a terribly good idea to perform for the good people of the nursing profession and, hey, if a few punks from the pub turned up too, what was the harm? Bearing in mind that this was in the days when closing time really meant closing time I have no idea how we gathered either all the gear or all those people and managed to rendezvous about two miles from the town centre where we’d been drinking until eleven o’clock, but we did.

After a few spirited renditions of popular classics of the day it became apparent that not everyone shared our enthusiasm for al fresco beat pop, especially not at that time of night, as the familiar silhouette of a police Transit van hove into view across the street. Emerging from the bowels of the machine came a slight figure - prodded, it seemed, by some other, visibly burlier figures, who continued to remain seated. It was maybe a trick of the light that made it look as if their shoulders were shaking slightly in the moonlight.
As the young officer approached us The Singer sidled over to me and raised an issue of concern. “I know this guy – I was at school with him”. It’s endearing, I think, that in the time of Thatcher’s Britain - Orgreave, anti-nuclear rallies and all - our principal concern in coming into the orbit of our local mob-handed police force was one of social embarrassment. We stopped the performance, he approached closer, the outer tendrils of our audience circled behind him, murmuring oaths in stage whispers. Tension prickled on the backs of our cut-off t-shirts. It was clear that he had also recognised his old playground chum and was not relishing the stand off. Vague hoots from the van drifted across the greensward. “I don’t want to seem like a wanker, Steve…” he began.

“That’s odd” replied his erstwhile confrère, “Because you look like one”.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Everybody Else is Doing It So Why Can’t We?

You know what it’s like with these groups. A new audio format comes out and suddenly they’re back on the reunion trail plugging some old material that they’ve been dining out off ever since they put it out on eight track cartridge in the seventies. CD, Laserdisc, Betamax, 5:1 Surround Sound Remix, 180 gram vinyl mono remaster, Earworm, 28-BIT reverse-processed graphite Phonautograph – it’s just a ruse to get us to part with our hard-earned cash one more time. As Agent K. remarks wryly in Men in Black as he toys with hitherto unknown alien sound reproduction technology – “…guess I’ll have to buy the White Album again”.
Then again, if you never made any money in the first place and you find yourself with time on your hands, well, why not? Thanks to the kind auspices and good grace of Blue House Records impresario James B. Partridge, who also supplied the sleeve notes (“Gods Kitchen is a most peculiar band, having been around for probably more years than they’ve played gigs…”) our back catalogue is once again available for your listening pleasure at a literally giveaway price.

Even as I write, wheels are in motion, plans are afoot, eddies in the time-stream continuum (“Oh, er, is he..?”), yellowing set lists are being retrieved from the bottom of drum cases and guitars dusted off in order to bring you the whole Gods Kitchen live experience in all its faded grandeur and glory. I tell you – if Led Zeppelin hadn’t been doing that countdown thing on their Facebook timeline this’d have been front page news this week. 

Gods Kitchen on Bandcamp - http://bluehouserecords.bandcamp.com/album/south-of-somewhere 

(When asked “What sort of music do you do?” I usually refer people to the gig intro once presented by BBC Radio Suffolk’s Simon Talbot, which included the phrase “Skag Rock, Bubble Pop, Tight Arsed Brazilian Loon Jazz, Skippy Dippy, Welsh Urban Shouting, Fringe Drone and Shatner”. I’d like to be able to categorise/pigeonhole us, as that would make it so much easier to get gigs, but so far I’ve not been able to. Still, as Shev out of The Bandicoots used to say in one of his stage announcements, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time. Or you can be in The Cranberries”).   

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Start One of Your Own

"Back when I was someone, I used to write these songs[1] – they used to start in G or F, and they were all four minutes long. There was Gaz on drums, Don on bass and another guy on lead[2]. They’ve all grown up and got proper jobs – they’ve got cats and kids to feed. Now I’m playing in a covers band[3], we do Taxman and I’m Down and the money pours to a superstore on the outskirts of town. When the landlord shouts at ten past time “Hey, play some Rolling Stones!”[4]  Well, if you want a band to play Brown Sugar, start one of your own[5].
They pulled down The Roberts[6] and The Mills[7], they put car parks where they stood. The Milestone[8] changed its name again and now it’s gone for good. But when we used to jam at Duke’s, no-one really cared who used to own the amps or drums, we all used to share. Now I’m playing in a covers band, we do Taxman and I’m Down and the money pours to a superstore on the outskirts of town. When the drunkard shouts “Hey - play one more before you all go home!” Well, if you want a band to play all night, go on, start one of your own.

You can play in a covers band, do country, blues, or swing; Northern Soul, rock n’ roll, whatever is your thing. But I get on stage now and them and I sing these songs alone[9]. I just wanted to be on an MP3 with something of my own."  

In my experience there's nothing quite so likely to nark a non-paying audience as the sight of a pub band putting their guitars back on their stands, switching off their amplifiers and coiling up some leads at the end of a performance, for this usually means that the evening is nearly over. Encouraging as it is that the good people wish to enjoy your company further, an entreaty to continue the performance can sometimes be expressed in less than gracious terms - for instance the spittle and cigarette breath demand that Picturehouse "...earn your fucking money" which once followed a lengthy third encore extemporisation on the theme of All Day and All of the Night in Stowmarket didn't really engender a warm feeling and a desire to resume the performance in any of our hearts. 
As you will probably have surmised, the above entry is my (slightly weary) response to this sort of regular experience, set to music and which the Songs from The Blue House band very kindly indulged me in to the point where That Nice David Booth fired up Spotify to familiarise himself with Neil Young’s Out on the Weekend and even agreed to drape a tea towel over his snare in order to edge closer toward the requisite early seventies getting it together in the country drum feel I was insisting upon.

Stephen Constable later came in to the studio and helped multi track the backing vocals and John Bennett (The High Llamas) dropped a suitably spiky guitar part in that helped tie the whole thing together with Nick Zala’s ever-sympathetic pedal steel reading on his part. It didn’t really fit with the rest of the IV album and so has been addended to our version of You’re So Vain (largely vocally performed by the sparky and delightful Canadian folk chanteuse Cara Luft) as the b-side, b/w or c/w, depending on your point of reference, of what would have been referred to in the olden days as ‘a single’. Ironically, one of the charges regularly levelled against us in our Star Club days was that we were a bit too full of ourselves.       

You can buy it here.

[1] At the Celestion Suffolk Rock and Pop competition in 1986 I won a lovely trophy in the ‘Best Song’ category.
[2] The ‘other guy’ was Gibbon – now, of course, playing bass on this particular track.  
[3] Written at the time when my main going concern was The Star Club, a Beatles specialist band. You wouldn’t believe the amount of opprobrium that can be directed at four mates who like to get out of the house at the weekends, hang out together and maybe play a few Beatles tunes for money both online and in person.  
[4] Many of these sorts of anecdotes and adventures are captured in “Do You Do Any Wings?”
[5] Not as snarky as it sounds. Many’s the occasion we’ve been entreated to strike up a stirring version of something or another so that an audience member can sing it for us, only to be berated for not knowing how the song goes. I always used to think that if someone was that desperate to perform in public then there was an obvious solution…
[6] The Earl Roberts hosted many, many of the most notorious evenings enjoyed by Ipswich’s glittering musiciarati, from our live Beatles Karaoke night (we pinned our set list behind the bar and invited guest vocalists up to front the band) to jam nights and indie gigs, a tradition now maintained by former landlady Val at her new home at The Steamboat Tavern. They really did pave paradise and put up a parking lot.  
[7] I did my first public band show and second ever solo gig at The Albion Mills. It was my local, my lock-in, my proving ground and, one particular evening, the location of a very late night game of strip spoof which put many of our royal family’s antics in perspective. All that remains now is a bus stop named after the pub that used to stand there.  
[8] The Milestone hosted our first faltering steps as Songs from The Blue House, was a home game for The Star Club and nurtured Picturehouse beyond all reasonable expectations, hosting many gigs including our series of fancy dress concerts, at one of which – the pyjama party – only one, subsequently rather self-conscious, audience member made the effort.   
[9] Obviously this is a bit of a misnomer at this point, but you get the idea.