Sunday, May 12, 2019
For the latest date on our never-ending tour (of Stowmarket) we in The Picturehouse Big Band have decided to freshen up the set, and to this end had convened at The Drummer’s house to run through a couple of new songs. And by ‘new’ we mean “From !979”. With a nod to modernity, the other one was from 1982. No-one can accuse us of complacency or not knowing our audience, at least. During the meticulous deconstruction process at rehearsal we had discovered that the chords to the verse of the former rather neatly matched the intro to the latter, which at least narrowed down the number of different notes we’d had to learn, and the order in which to put them.
At the pop show itself we had a hearty turnout, bolstered by a number of familiar faces – The Other Guitarist wonders if, since we’d organised our diaries with each other and the landlady, perhaps the audience could do similarly, and then we’d all know where we were going to be, and when. This seems sensible, and we resolve to sync our calendars. We are also joined by a number of members of the Young Farmers Club, who are celebrating the birthday of one of their brethren and are intent on hearing some Fleetwood Mac. Happily we are able to partially satiate their needs, and relieved to learn that the acronym of their organisation is no to be applied, as so often in the past, to us collectively as a result.
Everyone is on good form, and quips and rejoinders are soon bouncing around the room in what some might consider a totally unprofessional manner. Even The Keyboard player (normally taciturn to the point of hermitry) regales us with a good one about the pair of shoes he bought off a drug dealer. I am not yet fully aware of how fortuitous this act will eventually prove. At one point there is a small issue with the input socket proving to have a Norman Collier-like effect on the growling output of the amp during my stint on the bass, and which can only be ameliorated by tippy-toeing, twisting a hip and resting the lead on my thigh. The resulting pose could probably best be rendered as 'effete Phil Lynott'. At the time I considered that this would be the campest thing I’d do all weekend.
To be honest, a couple of the re-lifed additions to the set* haven’t really worked as well as they could have done, and we are reflecting on this in the car park, post-performance. “I’m not sure” says The Singer “...that ‘Go Your Own Way’ really worked. I think it’s probably the singing”. “The playing didn’t really help pull it off” I add, remembering the solo which was probably less Lindsey Buckingham than Lindsey Lohan in its execution. The Other Guitarist wanders over. “We think that ‘Go Your Own Way’ didn’t really work” The Singer repeats. “It’s the vocals”. “And the playing” I add. There is a pause as we consider the ramifications. “The lights were good…” offers The Drummer.
In the meanwhilst I am happy that my signature big power ballad showcase - ‘Take It On The Run’ by The REO Speedwagon big haired big beat combo - has gone as well as it has.
Fast forward twenty four hours and I am outside a bar in Brighton**, about to drop into a Karaoke night organised and hosted by two flamboyantly coiffed and be-sequinned drag queens. I am unsure of where I fit into the current heirarchy in the grand scheme of things. “Am I a Bear?” I enquire of my wife, upon whose invitation the pair of us are here. “No. Phill Jupitus is a Bear”. She pauses somewhat deliberately. “At best you’re just a man with a Beard”. I think she’s doing it on purpose.
Unsurprisingly, the evening is a hoot. Toward the the end of the night, I am aware that there are moves afoot to coax me on to the stage in order that I can better be exhibited for the delectation of the throng. Mrs Skirky is being badgered to provide intel on something I might be prepared to perform for the crowd’s enjoyment. In order to try and stave off my blushes she thinks of the most heterosexual number - which they will absolutely, definitely not have in their library - that she can. “He sometimes does ‘Take It On The Run’ by REO Speedwagon” she says, which is why, five minutes later, I find myself on stage about to perform for an archly critical audience. We are, to paraphrase Dorothy, not in Stowmarket any more. I am handed a microphone, and the crowd hushes expectantly.
“So” I begin “I bought these shoes off a drug dealer...”
*We played basically the same two sets throughout our 2018 residency, but to be fair that was once every four months rather than twice a weekend straight for a year as some of our peers do.
Sunday, May 05, 2019
I am drawn to Alexandra Park, in the heart of swinging downtown Ipswich, to celebrate International Workers’ Day in the company of Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs, a number of worthies from the international community, and some musicians. Obviously, these are not mutually exclusive positions to keep.
Upon arrival I am greeted with the news that Luke – on sound – has not received any stage specs, specifically our careflly crafted series of eight-by-ten black and white photographs with the circles and arrows on the back of each one explaining what each one is. He seems ambivalent about this at best. I explain that we need three mics, four DI’s, two amplifier hook ups and that there may be a marimba. He seems momentarily enlivened. “A marimba?” he says. “”No, not really” I reply. He is momentarily crestfallen.
The last time I was here Picturehouse performed on the morning after my stag do, which had - among other things – involved kidnapping the landlord of our local and forcing him to perform Leo Sayer’s “You Make Me Feel Like Dancin’”. The stag do, not the gig. However today I am not only playing, but ostensibly stage managing. This role will, due to the absolute professionalism of all of our performers, the aformentioned Luke, MC Jock Davis and a generous backstage binful of ice and beer, mostly be a blissfully stress-free series of tasks, principally involving humping drum kits off’ve stage left and replacing them with equally deep-throated kits from the reserve stash to the right. Jock – clipboard to hand and inviting all performers to furnish him with biographical, geographical and commercial details with which to entrance our audience – is on the stopwatch. I’m pretty much looking for band members for whom to hand their individually tailored thank-you letters containing their hourly stipend - again, a much-appreciated gesture which many, many other local events could save themselves a great deal of online opprobrium by adopting.
Mr. Wendell observes the young people’s stage equipment with a quiet bewondermont. “They’ve got so much!” he observes. “I was a bit concerned about leaving gear round the back, but they’d probably look at it and have a bit of a laugh". “If we’re lucky” I say “They might take pity on us and leave us something extra”.“Like Santa” he says. Later there will be bass player whose foot pedals control the time signatures, key changes and rhythm pads to the rest of the band via onstage in-ear monitoring. Satisfyingly, he also has a Flanger*.
The Dogs performance is brisk and hearty. There has been some discussion around what constitutes a ‘festival set’, but in the end we just decided to do what we do, including the power ballad and the polka number. Turny is not on singing form, and so a late couple of substitutions remind us of just how much we have in the tank, material-wise. Always a happy luxury to be able to afford. We get the ‘one more’ signal and finish with ‘Nelson’, which is really starting to adopt the show-stopping mantle we all quietly hoped it deserved.
“Thank you” says Helen. “I’m now off to put on a big jumper”.
*I know. Me too.