I’ve been blessed by being able to play with some really, really good drummers and bass players. Two of the finest were Stephen Dean and Richard (Gibbon) Hammond, here channelling The Attractions, recorded in a caravan on a Fostex four track by the inestimable James Partridge and with my singing bolstered by Steve Constable, the David Crosby that my Neil Young always relied on to get me out of a harmonic hole. It’s Bandcamp fee-free Friday next week, so if you want to own this, maybe I can start saving up to re-do it.
Saturday, April 30, 2022
I am contacted by an old friend and musical confrere who is rooting through some old flyers and photographs and wonders if I remember playing on the same bill as him at a school concert in 1982? He lists the band members, as listed in the programme, and I confirm that not only do I remember the show, I remember what we started with, which was “Free and Easy” - a song from Uriah Heep’s non-charting 1977 album Innocent Victim, and a good indicator of the sort of person I was, given that I was shoehorning it into the set of our school band a mere five years later. We weren’t even all at the same school.
I reflect on my forty years on the fringes of the music business* later that week with the most recent iteration of my musical ambition in tangible** form where we are gathered to run through our entire repertoire in prospect of an increasingly rare public engagement and in the absence of Mr. Wendell, who is poorly. The first business of the evening is, naturally to check on how Turny’s vegetable patch is coming along, and much grave discussion is given to the plight of the allotment-holder without a handily accessible source of standpipe irrigation.*** Fiddly thinks he needs a pond - also so that he can develop a self-renewing methane gas facility to wean himself off the grid - someone mentions a bowser, Gibbon reflects that at certain times of day they actually pay you to use electricity and La Mulley steps in just as discussions look likely to turn heated, given the bent of the conversation toward gentlemen of a certain age being unable to retain water for any length of time, and encourages us toward the rehearsal room. Or ‘shed’.
A perfectly agreeable eight song forty minute opener is run through before we perform the remainder of our oeuvre - mainly through muscle memory although at one point Gib remarks on the similarity of the structure of one song to a number by one of our previous bands before I realise that I am, indeed, playing Songs from The Blue House’s ‘Bike’ by mistake. As Ed Sheeran has remarked, there are only twelve notes, chances are there are going to be some harmonic similarities cropping up somewhere along the line. I believe that John Fogerty was once sued by a particularly vengeful ex-publisher for plagiarising himself, so I’m in good company.
Sheeran crops up again later in the week, as I am enjoying a Friday pint with m’esteemed compadre, award-winning songwriter Tony James Shevlin. Essentially, I’m recounting most of the above, Shev mentions that at the exact moment that he and the bass player from Frisky were persuading the drummer not to walk around the outside of our hotel on the third floor ledge someone had the presence of mind to take a photograph, and we Waldorf and Statler across many topics including fetes, festivals and garden parties. He recounts the occasion when Ed Sheeran’s application to play Ipswich Music Day was rescued from the bin (his CD wouldn’t play) after one member of the panel insisted that this kid was going places and that he should really be given a spot, despite a functioning demo being strictly part of the selection process. I wonder if they would still have named a stage after him if he’d been canned?
We reflect that so much of our collective musical heritage is down to chance encounters, the intervention of seasoned veterans of the scene and good, old-fashioned common sense. The sliding doors moments of rock. As we finish our drinks and prepare to depart, I remind him that we - The Neighbourhood Dogs - are playing a local pub in a couple of weeks and invite him along. “I’ll be there” he attests, showing me both a text message on his phone and his Musician’s Union diary. “Because we’ve been booked as well”. We write down the fee that both of us have been offered for the same gig on the same night, slide the folded paper across the table and look at the two different figures. I say “You take it”.
*At the Cropredy Festival one year a solo acoustic Midge Ure similarly recalled his four decades “…trying to entertain people”.
“Don’t you worry Midge” called a wag in the crowd in response “You’ll get it one of these days!”
**Or ‘fungible’ I guess?
***I know, I know. The footage is hardly going to prompt Sir Bob to organise Live Aid 2, but you can only play the hand you’re dealt.
Saturday, March 05, 2022
Sunday, February 20, 2022
As has been posited in these very pages, if you do one gig a year, you’re - technically - still in a group. With this in mind, The Picturehouse Big Band decamp for one of our occasional soirees in the heart of swinging downtown Stowmarket, where the post-storm debris can be seen lying in gutters, fences are strewn across gardens and the A14 displays its own sorry harvest of boughs. They say in Barham there was up to a thousand pounds worth of improvements caused in a single night.*
The Singer and The Other Guitarist have both scratched an itch an have turned up with brand new guitars - Wendell with a new Fender Deluxe and Kilbey with a left-handed Squier Tele - The Bass Player is trialling a new monitoring system for his keyboards and my Secret Santa gift has finally arrived from the in-laws and as such I will be deploying the joy of compression to lift those vital guitar solos above the melee, with the unfortunate consequence that now, of course, people will actually be able to hear them.
We have a healthy crowd, and notwithstanding the post-soundcheck, pre-gig discourse in the toilets (“‘As gunna be a fucken racket tunight ent ut?”) are looking forward to trying out another new song which joins the one we added only last year in a whirlwind of new tune admissions. This one, by The Icicle Works, is a mere thirty five years young, and so a positive nod to the new young generation of Picturehouse fans coming through the ranks and filling the banquettes at the back. Paul McCartney’s “Your Mother Should Know” springs to mind.
There is no sign of our great enthusiasts from the last Halloween gig who, resplendent in leather bustiers, heavy eye make up and fishnets, insisted on being given drum lessons at the close of festivities, which did hold up the pack down slightly. Partially because we couldn’t move the gear, and partially because it was quite the spectacle in itself. The Drummer is a kind and patient man who will give a quick lesson in the basics to pretty much anyone, but by the time they’d been in the business end of the pub for four hours or so, some of their hand-eye coordination seemed to have gone out of the room. Perhaps that’s why one of them fell over a stationary pile of mic stands?
This evening’s high drama is limited to a large, sticky drink being kicked over a pile of leads (the landlady waved a towel at us in order to help, which initially made me wonder if she was surrendering) and a temporarily misplaced pair of glasses, which did mean that The Singer’s snake-hipped Jim Morrison moves were temporarily replaced by a sort of faux-Velma Dinkley routine which, niche as it is, doesn’t really have the same affect on a baying crowd who want to know when this riot we keep predicting is going to kick off. I guess it keeps them from alternately wondering whether they should take it easy, or whether to keep on movin’.
“A few hiccups, but everything mostly seemed to go well” I say, after having my pub band membership card restamped for another season. “Yes” replies someone. “But I wish Kilbey would stop pretending he’s left-handed.”
Saturday, January 15, 2022
Friday, December 24, 2021
Around the start of The Great Unpleasantness I got a call from an agency. Would I be interested in helping out at one of these Covid testing centres the army were setting up around the country? I thought this might get me off the sofa for a few weeks, and so I duly responded, and a couple of days later found myself standing outside a portacabin on the newly deconsecrated Park n’ Ride somewhere near Copdock.
Little did I know that twenty months later, I’d still be reporting for duty, albeit without the cheery farewell to the family which for some time consisted of the mantra “Cheerio, Daddy’s just off to collect phlegm in a bucket!” before the morning meeting in which we might be informed that (for instance) if we saw any drones overhead we should get under cover in case of a remotely-launched acid attack.
Over time the job evolved into something pitched as a hybrid somewhere between Big Brother and Love Island. The first wave led to a firm and lasting bond between the brotherhood of the Exit Bays - me, Craig, Callum and Tom - one of the driest and funniest people I’ve ever met - and our honorary fifth wheel, Sarah - My Lil’ Princess, for whom we had to bring in the kids’ version of the Trivial Pursuit questions and who would, if she didn’t know the answer to a geography question, answer ‘Australia’.*
There were a lot of nicknames around site - That Crazy Russian, The Duchess, Sexy Harry (and of course Non-Sexy Harry), Young Blud, Thing One and Thing Two, Surallan, The Doc and - possibly my favourite - My Sex Dwarf. Someone would bring in a tray of cupcakes. I would arrange the sandwich deliveries in order of palatability. There were quizzes. At one point a Backgammon school was established.
Once the first few of a bewildering number of revolving door-style management changes put in place their squad rotation policy, the old gang broke up and we moved into a new era. Admittedly this allowed for making new acquaintances since I was no longer in an isolated outpost at the end of the car park, and from these conversations in shared adversity new friendships and bonds were formed. The long winter days just flew by.
By the time we celebrated my birthday with a themed quiz we knew each other so well that over seventy per cent of the respondents answered the question “Who would Shane like to see wrestle in jelly?” correctly and most of them also got the bonus answer to “What flavour?”.
We toyed with the idea of making our daily lives into a sitcom, but reasoned that many of the sits would be too far-fetched to be acceptable as ‘com’. The morning brief where we were informed that we needed to wash our hands more but use fewer paper towels overall and the Afghanistan-based rant by one particularly unhinged boss were merely two such examples. One of the guys and I wrote a song about it.
Time moved inexorably on and folk started returning to their roles in the real world. Students, bankers, chefs, airline pilots even. All with the tell-tale bikini-strap marks of a Summer spent wearing a mask outdoors. I got a job running one of the mobile units we operate out of the site, which meant I got to travel the length and breadth of the county and beyond. “Standing at the dock in Harwich” hasn’t got half the resonance as an opening line to ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ as it might have.
Anyway, today I picked up my Employee of the Month certificate, and had cause to think back on all of those people I’ve shared a birthday cake, a portaloo or a game of On Site Bingo with and who, for better or worse, have helped to make me the person I am today. I’d like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we passed the audition.
*You should have seen her face that time the answer was actually ‘Australia’.
Sunday, October 31, 2021
After two years of The Great Unpleasantness interfering with our plans, The Picturehouse Big Band made its return to the live arena in Stowmarket (natch) and despite fearing that we might have forgotten how these things work, by the end of the evening I think we had firmly reestablished the central tenet and mission statement of the group in that it’s just like going to the pub with your friends.
From TAFKAG’s* studious reprogramming of his keyboard sounds during the day (he also literally dusted off his speakers, which is when he found one of the tweeters rolling around in the cabinet where a tweeter is not supposed rolling around to be), to the surprise guest singer toward the end of the set (modesty forbids identifying the party, but regular ‘Swich gig goers will be astonished to learn that he did not perform bearfoot…) we had an almost literal riot.
Admittedly Last Nite was a bit tawdry around the edges, but it was still better than The Strokes’ version, and that second encore meant that at least we got to re-do Band on the Run, but properly this time.
Many thanks firstly to my Picturehouse brethren, everyone who rocked up to a packed Pickerel (especially Linda Stix for the photo), that nice girl who played drums in the full Nell Gwynne corset and Harvey Two-Face Halloween** make up while we were packing away, Pat for PA, and lastly Greenwich Mean Time, for letting us have an extra hour in bed on the morning after.
*The Artist Formerly Known as Gibbon.
**At least I’m assuming she doesn’t go around like that all the time.