Friday, October 04, 2013

"It Breaks My Heart..."

 
I am in receipt of a slew of mails and tweets from The New Wolsey Theatre regarding their revival of the so-called ‘jukebox musical’ Our House, which takes the back catalogue of eighties pop funstrels Madness* as a starting point and then weaves a compelling narrative throughout in order to produce a compelling, evocative and fun evening out for all the family. Or, if you’re Ben Elton, involves you dashing off a bewildering load of old tosh on the back of a fag packet in crayon before trousering eye-watering amounts of cash and hanging out at parties with Robert De Niro.
This minds me to recall my own time in musical theatre, playing the part of Hank Jr. Jr. in the stage production of The Perfectly Good Guitars, which played at The New Wolsey, at Ipswich Music Day and the Place des Héros in Arras as part of a cultural exchange. The narrative explored the story of what was originally the Guitare family and followed their fortunes throughout generations of Guitars as they journeyed from their original home in France to Nova Scotia, Maine and finally Louisiana, each new step of the journey prompted by the then-current patriarch of the family becoming involved in an unfortunate “…bit of trouble with a local girl”.
In reality this was simply a scheme cooked up between myself and one Tony James Shevlin after some time idly speculating whether we should form a band simply for the express purpose of being able to put every guitar we owned on stage at the same time – I only had the four to bring to the party but he had half a dozen at least and was able to throw in a couple of basses for good measure. After we’d come up with the name, Shev fleshed out the concept and made a few calls until we had a cast of actor/musicians – Wendell G, TT, Billy-Bob, and the Mandolin sisters (and cousins) Ophelia and Emmylou – with small back stories which meant that we could drop a bunch of our favourite bits of Americana into the mix and have a ball at the same time. Once we had arranged the set list we allocated showcase numbers to each of the group so that numbers like Steve Earle’s Only When I’m Blue, Tompall Glaser’s Streets of Baltimore, Love Hurts, and Bruce Springsteen’s From Small Things (Big Things One Day Come) fitted snugly into the narrative, each monologue ending with a resigned “…with a local girl” before we kicked into the song proper. It was the latter which gave us the biggest surprise at our first rehearsal when Tony ‘TT’ Turrell, (operating under his regular nickname) burst note-perfect into the rollicking key-change boogie woogie piano solo which closes Dave Edmunds’ version and which we’d previously agreed might be a bit much to drop into someone’s lap given the deadline we were operating under, which was to get the show on at The Wolsey as part of the Ip Art festival that year. After that we all upped our game a bit.
Shev based the show around the concept that we as a group had come to Ipswich to see where Daddy was stationed during the war (he’d been asked to leave after a bit of trouble with…well, you get the picture**) which we affected to be mightily impressed by. He wrote lines based around the gifted happenstance that a few town centre buildings had been recently converted into licensed premises (“They had a theatre, and they turned it into a bar….even the job centre is now a pub!”) and that “They even have a Route 66!” “It’s a bus route Wendell – it goes to Martlesham…”
By making it a show rather than a gig we managed to fill most of the venue on the night and many happy theatre-goers congratulated us on our American accents in the bar afterward – a couple even going so far as to ask us how long we were over for. The trip to France may have slightly confused the non-Anglophone audience, not least because many of the line up were also playing gigs with their regular bands at the same festival (“Eet is ze same singer as yesterday…but zis time ‘e ‘as got a ‘at!”) but probably the finest compliment to our thespian integrity came when we performed at Ipswich Music Day. As we compared notes in The Milestone - about five minutes walk away from the park down the hill - afterwards (“A triumph darling – you were wonderful! Mwah! Mwah!”) the landlord approached us with a mischievous grin playing about his features. “I had one of the people who saw your act in here earlier” he twinkled. “Saw the first two numbers, stomped out of the park, down here, ordered a pint and addressed us all in part and no-one in particular. ‘I can’t stand those fucking Yanks’ he said”.


*Other descriptions are available. 
**Allegedly based on why Geno Washington skipped town. Possibly. Yes, that one.

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