Monday, February 27, 2017

"I've marked you down two points for doing some Coldplay..."

A return to where it* all began this week, as a temporarily reconstituted Picturehouse Big Band conduct what we refer to (several times) as a Sunday afternoon ‘live rehearsal’ prior to one of our occasional forays back into the world of birthday-parties-by-request. The Singer, The Bass Player, The Drummer and The Other Guitarist are all present and correct, as is a cheerily receptive audience, thanks in no small part to our two televised support acts – The Old Farm Derby and an England rugby international, which we try very hard not to disrupt by sound checking the drums midway through.
Having originally set up an acoustic strum through a few appropriate covers, we have remembered an exponentially increasing number of things that we like to play, and so the set will eventually come in at a hefty couple of hours’ worth – and although that’s including the traditional onstage conversation and instrument swapping, it's still probably about an hour and a quarter more than we’re actually going to need on the night. Still, it’s nice to stretch out a bit, both figuratively and literally, as the big green tent at The Dove provides ample stage swagger room for all of us – not always the case in our heyday, when we would frequently be shoehorned into the last available space in the bar, whether that be by the dartboard, under the telly or – as on one occasion – tucked in next to the condiments station in the restaurant. The Other Guitarist had to stop between songs to hand out forks and mayonnaise.
After an understandably hesitant start (by our standards) – after all, some of this equipment hasn’t been out from under the stairs in half a decade – we get into our stride and as well as a few old favourite songs, some of their bespoke introductions are getting an airing too. “This is a rehearsal, after all” says The Drummer “So if there’s anything you need to practise, do feel free to join in. I’m brushing up on my drinking”. In the midst of the audience, my KS1 firstborn Lord Barchester is practising his joined up writing by noting down the song titles and marking our performance out of ten like a diminutive Len Goodman or a slightly less acerbic Craig Revel-Horwood**. He is also (naturellement!) wearing a cape, which adds dramatically to the effect of his whirling dervishness during a couple of consecutive Clash numbers in the second set. This is a set I am running behind for, and arrive onstage only just in time to hear the announcement that as well as performing at today's salon, we will also be part of a Summer free festival at Portman Road to celebrate our hosts’ twenty years in the booze and muse trade. “I’m so sorry I’m late” I explain “I was taking my son for a poo”. I consider it unlikely that Joe Strummer had occasion to present this as an excuse for not turning up on time to fight the law. It wasn’t always like this, I reflect.
Mrs K, having taken a temporary leave of absence from audience member duties is privy to a gentleman displeased with our current direction. “I told ‘em – if they play another Radiohead song I’m off!” he mutters as he takes his leave – this delivered in broadest Gyppeswyckian, which adds incalculably to the gaiety of the scene. Back inside, thankfully not everyone is as disapproving by our choice of material and at the conclusion of set two we are invited to continue our performance by an appreciative crowd, albeit one thinned slightly by childcare responsibilities and the realisation that some of them haven't had their tea yet. We use this opportunity to invite friend and former co-Picturehouser Andy Trill up to properly shred his way through My Sharona in his inimitable fleet-fingered fashion. He looks at the disappointing dearth of rack effects and flashing lights at his feet “Give me more gain than I could possibly ever need” he politely requests, before quietly and efficiently going on to tear the roof off the sucker while I look on with a cheese-eating grin of satisfaction. We attend to packing up, grateful that it’s eight o’clock in the evening as we call to carriages, rather than two in the morning - we're not as young as we used to be, you know, however much we might look it.
Back when I started writing about Picturehouse it was to capture and treasure these times for posterity – to keep alive the feel of the moment ere I forget in the fog of the morning after.

By the time I get home there are four live clips from the gig on Facebook.            

*This blog
**We scored an impressive 148 points out of a possible 150, I am told.
(The picture at the top of this entry is poster we used for our first gig together. The Other Guitarist got his kids to design it when they were around the age that Barch is now. The eldest of them is now a paramedic who you occasionally see tearing around town under blue lights and sirens. Time is round, and it rolls quickly). 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Lazy People in Local Newspapers

I see from a report in Her Majesty’s Press that local landmark The Mulberry Tree is up for sale. Well, I say ‘report’ – what I mean is a non-subbed, non-parsed cut & paste from the selling agent’s website describing the assets of the building. This, I’m afraid, is what passes for journalism these days – this and an endless (re)cycle of former glories and nostalgic, misty mountain hop-flavoured memories of the way we were*. Still, you don’t need another reflection on the decline and fall of the local paper from me – there are many, many ex-journalists who are more than qualified to give you that, but if their modus operandi is simply to exploit the archive then surely one day they’re going to run out of history** - although I know of several bits that they won’t be able to lay their hands on, because at the end of his tenure as rock and pop correspondent (never a massive priority for the editor) Mr. Wendell*** lifted as many glossy 8x10 photographs with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was as he could cram into his briefcase. There are more mullets in there than in a Floridian haul seine net.
In a spirit of research though, here are a couple of things I found with their look up function – here’s Picturehouse letting local radio presenter Simon Talbot play guitar with us and here’s me and James looking forward to our shot at Hollywood glory. Because we’d written a song the photographer for the latter story asked us to pose holding pencils and a piece of paper, and my favourite quote from the eventual published piece is “…several other talented musicians make up the band, some of whom play occasionally”. You see – [CTRL] + C – I could do that job. We took that picture in The Dove, by the way. 
Sadly, The focus of the current 'story' is on the value of the property, and not on the vital part the venue and it’s custodians played in my rise and rise to rock stardom and notoriety during the pub’s time as the rebranded The Milestone in the latter part of the last century and the early stirrings of this. Having moved from The Olive Leaf just up the road, Karen and Ady brought along some of the house bands who had kept them entertained so royally during their tenure there and here it was also that a nascent Songs from The Blue House made our live debut, and where we then backed La Mulley at SSW as she first presented many of the songs which would go to make up our second album.
Here The Picturehouse Big Band hosted a series of themed gigs – the Football Kit Night was going well until I tried to play 2-4-6-8 Motorway in goalkeeping gloves (don’t listen to those who tell you it improved the whole experience), our Beach Party drew admiring reviews regarding the nature of then-bass player Andy’s shortie shorts (Kilbey sported a Beckham-esque sarong) and the inevitable school uniform night came with the consequence that the music respectfully stopped whenever Katinka went on a glass-collecting run. There was the night that Limehouse Lizzy cancelled up at The Railway and we threw in a couple of impromptu Thin Lizzy numbers (“It’s Em, D, C and G all the way through – I’ll do the solo…”) and Pete Radar Pawsey did a harmonica solo in Take It On The Run. The Star Club played after-park parties which pulled in almost as many folk as watched us at Ipswich Music Day, I DJ’d a vinyl-only night - hell, they even let gods kitchen play.
All this reduced to “The property comprises of a ground floor L shaped bar, 50 covers, a tap room for beers & ciders from the barrel, ladies, gent’s and disabled toilets, a walled garden with seating area for 16 covers, complete with a BBQ dining area and a beer garden to the front of the premises.” Sorry, I do beg your pardon – that’s from the Penn Commercial listing – this is from the Ipswich Star story – “The property comprises a 1,599 sq ft ground floor L-shaped bar with 50 covers, a taproom for beers and ciders from the barrel. Outside there is a 1,237 sq ft walled garden with seating for a further 16 covers, complete with a BBQ dining area.” [CTRL] + P.
And this is just from my experience – think how many stories they could spin out if someone was just prepared to get off their big fat keyboard, pick up a phone and ring a few people. What about the night David Coverdale bought a round for everyone in the pub, when Tony Hadley got turned away from a lock-in because no-one recognised him, Dave Greenfield turned up at songwriter’s night and played Golden Brown or The Levellers were in there after their encore at The Regent before the audience were?
“Upstairs is a three bedroom flat with study, and a living room, attractive fitted kitchen and separate toilet and bathroom with free standing bath. The flat has also been recently renovated and decorated to a good standard” my arse.

*Although not entirely unlike much of this blog, to be fair.

**We listened to an interview with an executive from Archant regarding the future of local papers on the wireless one day on our way to a festival, and if he said ‘monetise’ once, he said it twenty times, and it was only a ten minute feature. When the Ipswich Star do the inevitable self-aggrandizing history of their new offices, I hope they remember to include this.

***Following in a distinguished succession of feature writers (Rob Hadgraft, Simon Berrill, Julie Adams), Mr. Wendell employed Our Glorious Leader James and Myself as (unpaid) singles reviewers and once interviewed our band As Is for a feature which appeared under the headline “Too Lazy to Work, Too Scared to Steal”, which was a mantra we’d adopted from Green on Red’s Dan Stuart – his response to the question as to why he was a musician.


Thursday, February 02, 2017

Back to the Future

I had the pleasure of reading a great interview with Chris Leslie and Dave Pegg-out-of-Fairport-Convention this week, and in among the expansion and reminiscence there was the almost throwaway comment that one of the bass parts on the new album had essentially been edited together from various takes by Engineer John Gale and that he (Dave Pegg) had relearnt the whole in order to perform the song live. This, I thought, was a fascinating detail in the recording process, although not entirely unprecedented*. The exchange within the interview implies that Peggy is slightly more arm’s length in his approach to overdubbing than, say, my chum Shev, who has the traditional six-gun approach to guitars which befits a man who came of age in the glory days of two inch tapes and wearing sunglasses indoors – also alluded to by Pegg in his interview - or Simon Nicol, who back in the olden days once found himself popping round to a painfully dysphonic Linda Thompson's house with a Tascam four-track and doing a whole song line by line in order to get it right**. 
We’re currently sifting through the rough mixes of The Waterbeach Baptist Chapel sessions (there’s one here) and a more forensic, headphone-based approach than piling into the crèche at the back of the hall and running the most recent take through the Gibson Les Paul Studio Monitors has revealed a couple of glitches that we would probably not choose to incorporate in the finished versions, given the opportunity. Fortunately, Producer Sam is as adept with the right-click button as his twentieth century equivalent would have been with a razor blade and the editing block, and has already managed to replace a misplaced line of verse, an over-enthusiastically struck chord, and the word “Don’t” using what we like to refer to as The Old Take Two Switcheroo - that is to say that he has skilfully blended two (or three) takes of the same song – performed live by everyone all at the same time, remember – in order to produce a seamless whole.
Back in the Noughties, when sifting through tracks for the SftBH version of (Don’t Fear) The Reaper we found a brief snippet of Radar’s harmonica somewhere in the second verse which we were able to successfully cut, paste, autotune and compress into a completely different part of the song thanks to the wonders of digital technology (the drums went on last as well, which I understand is not exactly industry standard) but here there’s no going back and dropping something onto the clipboard and then repositioning it where you want it with all the off-notes trimmed off.
It’s an incredible skill, for which one requires application, ability, a steady hand and a firm nerve and, ears to die for. Mind you, it’s not like no-one’s gotten away with it before…  

*From attention to interviewer Colin Harper’s prior forensic examinations of the career of John McLaughlin I also know that the final output of Miles Davis’ seminal In A Silent Way is almost entirely a cut & shunt operation performed by producer Ted Macero.

**There are other methods.