Saturday, February 14, 2015

"One of you should have worn a hat; that's what made me get the camera out..."

There is an idea expanded on and monetised in the popular pamphlet Freakonomics that with 10,000 hours practice you can make pretty much anything look casual. We didn't quite go that far in terms of rehearsal time but a lot of prep went into this week’s Tony James Shevlin and The Chancers gig at The Kelvedon Institute. In my adjunctory role as Stage Left Chancer I was able to contribute, suggest, advise and prompt, but the final decisions upon matters of set list, vocal arrangement and appropriate chord inversion were ultimately down to the guy whose name was on the poster - we did, however, defer to Tiny Diva (Stage Right, vocals and percussion) upon matters of wardrobe. “Not those shoes” she issued sternly. “Undo another button on that shirt” came forth sagely.

The set list had been timed, pruned, checked for lyrical subject matter, keys, tempos and instrumentation and ‘tween song intros had been buffed and burnished appropriately. We were in a listening venue, so stretching out on the lyrical exegesis was going to be okay – no danger of losing them while Shev explained, with the benefit of eight by ten glossy photographs with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was, how he came up with that tricky middle eight before the key change. It did not go quite that far, but the intro to Déjà Vu (a song written by TJS at the behest of Larry Page on behalf of Reg Presley, who then went on to record it with three quarters of REM – I necessarily précis here) probably took longer than it did to play the song itself.

There were a couple of new numbers in the set* which were nice for me because I had much less of the redoing the parts that were on the album to perform and more of the this is the arrangement and can you find a bit to go in here? sort of thing to play with. They are also a couple of absolutely corking songs which I really rather hope I’ll be invited in to wrangle when the time comes to record them. That's never a given, of course - only the other night we were discussing the lot of the touring band session guy for (I think it was) Chris Isaak, who I believe takes his whole band in to record an album except for the lead guitarist, who is replaced for the duration by a studio hound and who then presumably has plenty of time to nurse a deepening sense of grievance while he does all those odd jobs around the house that he has not had time to do while he’s out recreating those parts on the road.

So when the time came for my big number I made absolutely sure I was in tune, stepped back slightly so as not to intrude on either the sight lines of those in the front few rows or the raw power of the wall of sound being coaxed from my ten watt Vox and waited for my cue. As it happened, this was the point at which Shev decided to go off-roading. He went into his spiel about the infinite number of songwriters with an infinite number of typewriters. He then continued, guaranteeing that for the duration of the song every single person in the house would have their attention focused completely on his delivery at the microphone. “We did a gig a couple of weeks ago and I accidentally bent my thumb back so far it touched my wrist, so whenever I play an F sharp minor it really hurts, and F sharp minor is integral to this next song. So when you see me doing this face…” (at this point he pulls an expression worthy of Robin Trower at his grimmacitically correct best) “…I’m not doing that lead guitarist face, it means it really, really hurts. Anyway, here we go…”  

*Songwriter’s shorthand #36 – “They’re all new to you, but this is a new one for us too…” 

Photograph of The Kelvedon Institute reproduced without the express permission of Keith Farnish.

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