Sunday, April 09, 2006

"....I've got a word for Ricky Martin - 'Spuckwit'"

Yet another in the seemingly endless number of beartrap variations for the casual pub rocker - the anniversary party. Like engagements, weddings, birthdays and wakes, a family party of any description can be a trial for both the fingers and the psyche of the casual pub rocker. Invariably, you will have been spotted in the pub at some point by an over-refreshed bride, groom, forty-year-old or widow to be who will then bring to mind that great night they had falling over in The Milestone, when considering the entertainment they need for their celebratory function. It will not occur to them that they'd not gone out for a beer with their Auntie Sheila that night, who doesn't like anything recorded after Elvis went into the army and is disappointed at the clear and present lack of Guy Mitchell numbers in the set. At such a juncture it's always nice to have a bit of rock eytemology up your sleeve and be able to pull out a less-than-pristine, but servicable version of "Singin' The Blues", by the way - (or 'playing the Jack Charlton card' as one seasoned performer used to refer to it upon shoehorning his usual set into a St Patrick's night gig upon the flimsiest of excuses. I mean, really - The Eagles?) - "She wore red Feathers and a Hula Hula Skirt" is usually beyond the remit of all but the most dedicated of cabaret artists which, although we stray, has remained just without our circle of concern. There's little more humbling than being the one thing guests remember about a wedding reception, and in a bad way, and on one occasion in a previous incarnation we've actually been glad that a fight broke out, if only to get people's attention (we certainly weren't). "Of course" I hear you say, "You could always turn it down", but the money sure does come in handy when you're explaining to your spouse why the Gibson Les Paul has a much better tone than the Epiphone and that's why we're not getting a new bathroom.

Parties for friends come with extra baggage in that they are frequently solicitous and helpful and have never done this sort of thing before, and so the space that they've allocated for the band is often large enough for a drumkit, but not as generous with the leg room as, say, the area devoted to the buffet and because they're friends and not simply a curmudgeonly Landlady and also because you're taking money off them and are strictly speaking now an employee, one tends to grin and bear it. It is with this in mind that The Drummer, who has forgotten that we had a gig that night anyway, ruminates sadly on which parts of his lovingly assembled kit are not going to make the cut tonight. Suggestions from the band about where the ride cymbal could go lead not so much to a decision on whether to agree but certainly a suggestion as to where it could be relocated and we squeeze into the space by the dartboard. On this occasion, our hostess is not only a friend, but indeed the landlady and extremely apologetic about the bass drum-shaped area she's squeezing us into, and so we dismiss the earlier promises of a marquee in the grounds and settle back to more familiar territory in that we are now about, in fact, to play a regular pub gig, albeit with some family members scattered amongst the regulars (or in the case of a quintet of octagenarians, seated around a special table round the back) . Pressure's off lads. And there's a buffet.

Secure in the knowledge that we're on familiar territory now, we start of slowly - a bit of Wings, a smidgin of Eagles - at the table by the side of the stage I can see my wife leaning over to her friend and mouthing "I fucking hate The Eagles..." which is always a confidence booster when you're in the middle of the solo on "Take It Easy" but, as on so many of these occasions, once we're up and running the earlier doubts dissolve away and we start enjoying ourselves. In a book-judging competition, if the only the covers were available for examination, I would, I'm sure, do very badly. Same with audiences. Know what the number that got them leaping up at the combined twenty-first birthday and silver wedding anniversary black tie ball we did last summer? - "London Calling". Know what gets the teen-somethings kicking off tonight? The Small Faces. We haven't written a set list and so what we play is determined very much by what instruments we're playing at any one time - the 'stage' is not best suited to quick changes and so since I'm wearing the bass at one point (we swap around a bit to accomodate both The Other Guitarist's talents in a previous life as a bass player and The Bass Player's penchant for keyboard noodlery) The Singer decides that we should play "All Or Nothing", followed by a bit of Charlatans which gives five-year-old Theo his first gigging opportunity as he is handed a tambourine and asked to keep time. He seems bewildered but touched by the applause which greets his stage debut and is fascinated, as all children are, by The Drummer and his repertoire of flams, fills and facial tics. This is also an expedient way of getting all the parents in the audience on your side by demonstrating our sensitivity - we firmly believe that children are our future....

By the time we hit the second set we've forgotten we are supposed to be working and are having a party ourselves. Requests being flung at us from the combined family and regulars, so often an irritation, are attempted with good humour on both sides - The Singer plainly doesn't know the words to "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (one could say that this doesn't especially mark the song out as unusual...) but improvises a verse or two any way. A toilet break provides the opportunity for him to entrance the punters with a solo singalong "All You Need Is Love", and by the time we're into the home stretch there are the corpses of several rock anthems twitching silently on the floor around our tangled leads. The by now traditional "Fat Bottomed Girls" set closer so overwhelms one lady at the bar who has been baying for some Queen throuhout the set that she launches herself karaoke-like on to the stage and grab a microphone, the better to sing along. Again, normally the stage is sacrosant, but what the hell - we're having fun. We retire grinning to the band table, by now littered with empty Chardonnay bottles courtesy of our travelling support and reflect that we have just played solidly for an hour and a half. Now if someone'd suggested that we do in the first place, we'd've had 'em put away. For the fourth time that evening I tell the joke I heard on the radio that afternoon. "Ricky Martin says his new album is 'Spanglish' - it's a combination of two words, 'Spanish' and 'English'....."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hearts of Royal Oak

A kinda old/new venue for us - we haven't played here since The Star Club days when it was generally on a sunday lunchtime and to people either working on, or recovering from, a hangover. Or both. It's now all stripped pine, bright lights, but still a tiny stage, so The Drummer and The Bass Player commandeer that and the talent hangs out at the front. The brightness of venue is often a good indicator of how the night is going to go. A dark, sticky-carpeted smoky hole of a place often means that we're in for a rough time of it repartee-wise, but the honest denizens of such insalubrious places are usually quite seasoned gig goers, and if you can avoid being buttonholed in the gents'* as to why or how you should play (say) some Wishbone Ash, are usually among the most appreciative of a band that can play all the right notes in mostly the right order (which thankfully we usually manage, nineteen songs out of twenty) and aren't shy about letting you know. Conversely, of course, if you bugger it up, they're not inclined to keep their feelings to themselves either. Brightly lit places, on the other hand can be restrictive in terms of letting one's hair figuratively down and it can take a while to warm up. It's tough to be the only one applauding a version of Haircut 100's "Fantastic Day" if everyone can see you're the only one doing it. Still buoyed on the success of last night's performance however, we launch straight in and are rewarded early on by some (albeit seated) jiggering, singing along and appreciative applause, and sometimes that's all it takes to get you going. It's always nice to see tha bar staff singing along because, despite protestations to the contrary by many vociferous audience members throughout the years, they are the ones you have to impress - after all, the guys serving drinks are the ones who keep the diary with the magical rebookings in. A corking show, chums, with very few wrong notes at all. The Singer still enjoys catching up with his reading during the show, and has to be dissuaded that his vocals were much stronger yesterday, the reasoning being that the six or seven pints of Guinness may have affected both his performance and perception of events, and I enjoy throwing (variously) power grabs, devil horns and clenched fists (while on bass) - all to impress veteran metal fan and friend Stalker Bertie, it has to be said. Or so I claim. To be honest, there are parts of the set where one is simply a kid in front of the mirror with a tennis racket again, albeit a particularly loud tennis racket and one which takes a lot shorter time to check the tension on all of the strings. The end of show "Fat Bottomed Girls" is developing inexorably from joke encore to rock workout - "Helter Skelter" is now making regular appearances, and fret frottage among the guitar players is legion. "Good riffage" was one post gig comment, as was "It's alright, The Boss likes you" - this is not a reference to Springsteen dropping in on Felixstowe Road, but a go-ahead for the wedding reception we'd been tentatively booked for in August. Although how Granny and the Aunties will take to "I Predict A Riot" remains to be seen. We have all coincidentally turned up in black tops - The Bass Player's sports the legend "Who's The Daddy", and The Other Guitarist's bears a large image of Gene Simmons, which leads to minor hilarity when it is revealed that when packing up and carrying gear to the cars he has been genuinely startled by a ghostly and demonic image rearing up before him which turns out to be a reflection of his t-shirt in the rear window of his car highlighted by the pub's security lights. The drummer chews phlegmatically on a chicken burger from the takeaway two doors down and remarks sadly "....and they make jokes about drummers....."

*no, it's not a euphemism, potty-mouth....

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Magnificent Five in 'Return to The Pickerel'

Generally when we arrive to set up at at The Pickerel there are some lads in the bar who have been refreshing themselves heartily since knocking off at two o'clock and who find nothing at all more amusing than a band soundchecking the mics with a number of variations on "one-two, one-two". There are any number of retorts to this, if you're in the mood, however its wisest not to respond - partially because they've been drinking since two, but more pressingly because I'm more than likely going to have to answer to them on monday morning at work, and if you thought they looked a bit threatening in their casual attire you want to check 'em out in overalls and hard hats. Sadly, tonight we are late setting up and so we are denied the pleasure. Still, there is at least one gentleman looking astonished at my appearance in the pub armed with an electric guitar. This'd better be a good one or I'm going to have hell getting the next batch of P565-669 through QC.....
Tonight we will be faced with one of the most frightening of things for a pub band - the unplanned encore. Of course everyone knows the way it goes for pub gigs - we do a couple of sets, we announce the last number, everyone cheers, we do another couple and everyone goes home happy that form has been observed. It would be a brave group who denied this ancient ritual, but the extension of opening hours has thrown the game wide open. The old "We're only allowed one more - licensing laws and everything" excuse just doesn't cut it when everyone knows there's a good hour of drinking time left, and especially when the landlady, possibly in a fit of pique that we've negotiated an extra twenty quid for this year's gigs, or possibly because she genuinely likes the band, is leading the cheering. Gratifying as it is to be wanted, we've really rather blown our cookies when it comes to holding stuff back for such an event and so we decide to play a slow one, hoping that this will both bring the audience down to acceptable levels where they can be safely discharged on to the streets of Stowmarket and that (frankly) they won't want another one. Not that we're not grateful, you understand, but some of us have got homes to go to. This plan goes sadly awry with a rapturous reception for Radiohead's "Street Spirit" and so we have to go back to the well anew. We decide to dispense with our self-imposed rule about material and delve into The Beatles' ouevre. One thrashingly satisfying "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and we're no better off when it comes to being allowed to pack up. Even Status Quo's "Caroline" doesn't throw them off, despite The Other Guitarist's self-confessed not-knowingness of it (and coincidental averred hatred of all things twelve-bar) and The Bass Player's (post gig) confession that he feels slightly soiled. We are finally let go by doing some Kinks (more rapturous hooting, rampant frugging and applause) and turning all the amps off immediately afterwards. You can push it too far, you know.
We are approached by three separate parties afterwards who want to book us for private do's. It's a measure either of our choice of material, our target audience or the new longevity that a love of live music has that all three are for fiftieth birthday parties....