Sunday, May 28, 2006

"Blimey - look at the estate of that..."

We have been engaged to perform at what can truthfully be described as an estate pub. Custom built to form a social nucleus at the heart of the community it serves, we have been enduring chicken-wire-in-front-of-the-stage jokes from fellow musicians for some time now. The principal theme of these remarks is that we should take our own, just to be on the safe side. However, a gig’s a gig and so we dutifully roll up at the appointed time just to hear the end of the story about the glass that hit the landlady last Saturday night – “….and if she’d been any taller that wouldn’t’ve bounced off her, no”. Said landlady looks remarkably chipper despite her recent brush with glassware and welcomes us in to her domain. The estate is a close-knit community and the pub has the air of a social club – you wouldn’t necessarily travel to drink there from further away than, say, the other side of the Norwich Road, and as a result everyone knows everybody else and strangers are generally either taken to the bosom of the family or regarded as some sort of alien force which must be subdued, by force if necessary, but at the very least by sustained badinage of the like not experienced by the unwary since Sam Tyler went back to the seventies in ‘Life On Mars’.

 Indeed there are several gentlemen who appear to have come straight from their day jobs as extras on the show, as well as an impressive array of tattoos, stubble and ill-fitting sportswear (and that’s just the women – boom, and indeed, boom) however they seem interested enough to sit down and pay attention as we attempt to entertain them. The band vibe is much as it must have been for the concert party in ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ – we are clearly fey and artistic and they are clearly hard as nails and not about to have their Saturday night out twatted about with by a bunch of artsy fartsy musos who can’t cut the (English, obviously) mustard. After the first couple of songs though, it seems we can, and both sides relax into the evening. We have an ample playing area although we are playing at lower volume than we’d prefer (“phasers on tickle, lads”) and as a result the room sounds a bit thin and weedy. It’s always the room, you see, never the array of impressively be-knobbed and lit equipment with which we are playing – although you rarely see a lounge bar with a tone control, musicians are adept at finding a myriad of ways to describe why ‘the room’ doesn’t suit them – it’s our schtick. 

The screaming solos whimper, the chunky chords wither in the air and the jingle jangle comes mournfully following through. Our new friends the audience are all listening though, all clapping, and hardly anyone is busy txting at all. The glittery in house disco lights somehow suit the pomp of Coldplay and Snow Patrol in the circumstances and we feel each other out (not literally – that’ll get you glassed quicker than you can say ‘Mrs Robinson’ around these parts) and our preconceptions fade gently away to the point where we are relaxed enough to jam along with the interval music (techno, I believe they call it) being piped from behind the bar before running through the second half like carefree spring lambs. I believe they’re generally unaware of the possibility of imminent slaughter too.

 The clock ticks on to time. We say our goodbyes. And in the words of Steve Miller, take the money and run. “Well” I say, “weren’t they nice?”.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Wedding Swingers….

Ah yes – the wedding, the happiest day of your life, the day flying by in a blur, the family and friends coming together in a glorious celebration of love and matrimony….meanwhile, out the back, the band are probably huddled around, furtively smoking roll ups, scarfing down your buffet, or taking advantage of a slightly tipsy and emotionally unstable bridesmaid. And on a good night, all three. The sound that comes to mind when you hear the word ‘wedding’ may be one of any number of things. The chiming of church bells, the subtlest rustle of an ivory-coloured wedding dress passing down the aisle, the sob of a discarded suitor, the rattle of rice on church path, the howl of a confined infant…. to a band, the sound is ‘kerching!’ . To be fair, it’s not just the band – the venue, the caterers, the dress maker, the tiara-wrangler, the butcher, the cake-baker, the folks supplying the bar – a wedding booking says nothing to these people so much as “get thee to the travel agents, you’ve just paid for your summer holiday”. And to be equally fair, it’s always the band who are first on the list of people to call when the budget needs trimming. “Do you think you could do it for less by any chance?” is not an unfamiliar call to receive a few weeks before the big day when you’ve turned down all those social invitations that looked so much fun because you’re gigging – to which the answer is, quite correctly, “have you asked the others?”. And no-one ever has. Fortunately, being the kind of band we are, we have to put up with this sort of malarkey infrequently, as most of the nuptials we get to soundtrack (“Here’s to the happy couple, we hope you’ve had a great day and this is ‘The Bends’…..”) are as a result of folks having seen us in the pub and considering to themselves that we’d be a great addition to their special day (see previous posts on playing parties for details). It’s either that for them or they book a DJ who will either empty the dance floor, or who is so hang-doggedly soulless after three decades of these sorts of gigs that you might as well make your own compilation and stick it on the CD player between sets. Indeed this is what we’ve suggested for this weekend. C’mon, we’ve all seen the Peter Kay sketch…

In our case, the actual playing at weddings you get for free. We enjoy each other’s company, it’s a night out, and hey – who doesn’t enjoy watching a beautifully made-up girl in a posh frock whirling around barefoot on the dancefloor, literally letting her hair down in the process. I love a wedding, me. No, what you’re paying for is the hour we have to hang about at the start of the evening because the speeches are over-running, the dessert hasn’t been served and the coffee isn’t ready – not so bad when you’re greeted by a clearly relieved best man who apologises, points you at the kitchens and hands over the brown envelope of used notes, much worse when you’re invited to wait outside because the club rules don’t allow denim in the bar, invited to park around the corner as they need the front of the venue for the photos, told that no, refreshments are only for guests (bear in mind that we’ll have been asked to be there at anything up to four hours before showtime so that we’re “out of the way before the guests arrive”) or are shown the four-foot square allocation of floor we have to set up in because the DJ has rather cunningly turned up really early and nabbed the best spot in the middle of the stage and gone home to put his feet up in front of Dr Who for a couple of hours while his mix CD soundtracks the buffet. None of this is made up. We once turned up for a party to be asked by the DJ what sort of music we played as he, rather sportingly, didn’t want anything to be duplicated. Upon discovering that we did a version of ‘Twist and Shout’ he delightedly rummaged in a flight case and produced a battered seven inch single. We held our breath. “I play that one!” he shouted triumphantly. “Take long to work it out?” asked the Bass Player drily.

You’re also paying for the turning down half way through the second number because people “can’t talk”, the requests for things we don’t do - “You must know it - it goes do do do de do de do…I’ll sing it for you!”, the occasional breaking up of fights and, of course, having to stay up until two a.m. before packing up because someone’s decided to have an impromptu karaoke session using your PA. I know, sounds terrible, doesn’t it? And me with this terrible pain in all the diodes down my left hand side. And so why do we do it? Well, for a start, obviously we have holidays to pay for too. And it’s always nice to be asked to play for someone’s big day – it brings the best out of us. The Bass Player has recurrent nightmares that years after one of these gigs people will not be talking about the dress, the weather or that unfortunate incident with the hog roast in the night time, but “…do you remember…wasn’t the band shit…?”. And there’s always something about these shows to take home and reminisce about. The time The Singer broke up a fight with the simple barked phrase “Take the moral high ground!” for instance. Admittedly it wasn’t the sudden impact of reason that stopped the fight but the incredulity that accompanied hearing such a suggestion in the midst of a quasi familial war zone. In Lincolnshire. Anyway, we have a wedding gig this weekend. We’ll be the ones at the back, furtively smoking rollies, scarfing down the buffet and, well, who knows……?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

“Sometimes the bear eats you….”

I am rather looking forward to an evening at The Steamboat with the band when the telephone rings at the day job. It is the singer – but not with news I was expecting - that he has finally mastered both the tricky timing for the riff from Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” and the low harmony in Graham Coxon’s “Freakin’ Out” (which are both due to be unveiled before an audience for the first time this evening - we are nothing if not eclectic in our set list choices). Sadly the artist fondly known as Wendell has picked up a gig-precluding chest infection – or at least his physician has advised him to avoid smoky rooms, straining his lungs and heavy lifting, which are pretty much all par for the course in terms of pub gigs. On the bright side, he’s got an official doctor’s note telling him to lie around and watch DVD’s rather than (say) take the bins out so, y’know, every cloud and all that. We enjoy a short discussion on how gentlemen of a certain age (i.e. us) will have an unexplained stabbing chest pain one minute and then the next find themselves on an American website at three in the morning (coincidentally the time at which most heart attacks occur) looking at descriptions of coronary symptoms and trying to remember what CPR stands for.
Luckily, Val at The Steamboat is another pub-running old chum, who refers none-too ironically to Picturehouse gigs as her “Radio two nights” given as she is to mostly providing the youth and punk of our town with a much-needed platform to perform at weekends. There are also the occasional forays into jazz and blues shows, where grizzled veterans of the pub rock wars extemporize at length on (for instance) how much they enjoy living in Chicago, frequently expressing their fondness for The Windy City through the medium of various minor scale solos - you don’t want to be in there when an under-age punk show audience has got a diary date wrong, I can tell you. She is more than likely to be sympathetic to our plight, what with us only playing this evening after we helpfully shunted our last gig around to help her with a double booking. Whether we resolve the situation through swapping some vocals around, throwing in some original songs (The Bass Player, The Other Guitarist and I have parallel careers in bands who are self-sufficient in material) or, and here’s where the touchstone of all bands comes in, the obvious solution – we do “Jazz Odyssey”, I’m sure we’ll pull through.
As it turns out, The Other Guitarist has cunningly constructed a set list which both utilizes the vocal talents of the other members of the group – he has bravely stepped into most of the breach and is due to sing some new stuff, has adopted some others - and retrieved some archived material from the recesses of his memory banks. We start gingerly (this is an in joke for those who know us) and ease into the spaces left by our errant singer. The audience are also easing into the spaces in the pub, and there are plenty of them, and Landlady Val is presumably easing into whichever bar in Brighton she has decamped to for the evening – bugger – her post-gig chillis are legendary, and it seems that we shall go home hungry tonight. That’s the nature of being a performer, I guess – everybody’s got a hungry art. Gradually we stretch out, and a few of the holes are covered – the bass player is donating some fine unrehearsed BV’s, I get to do my Waterboys turn (“Ah’m gonna tug at Ma tetherrr…”), and The Drummer pulls out his “Driving With The Brakes On” party piece. Creditable as it is, it somehow isn’t quite the same, somehow - there’s a gap onstage which can’t be filled simply by bluster and bravado, however nice it might be to be able to hear all the intricacies of my guitar parts in full for a change. The compact and bijou audience are enjoying themselves enormously, as are we, but when they start amusing themselves by trying on each others’ glasses you just know that they’re not quite as lost in the moment as they could be. There is a period of distraction as drunk guy number one starts hitting on first Mrs Drummer and then Mrs Skirky, always a dilemma for the working musician (at least when they called for someone to move a black Corsa as it was blocking someone in three songs into the first set she was still able to handle it without recourse to my driving skills, and at least she didn’t disappear outside with the guy – that’s guaranteed to take the edge off your big solo, I can tell you). Drunk guy number two pulls him away for a pogo as we close the set with The Clash. The guy who wanted to have a go on the drums at half time and did manage it – we are blessed with a patient drummer who encourages all exponents of Le Batterie, from four year olds at weddings to drunks in pubs – has long gone, the whiff of Burberry trailing in his wake. Unfortunately he got a bigger cheer from his mates than we did. There is no encore tonight. I have a bottle of Port at home for some reason. We remake our acquaintance, like old friends do. I raise a glass to The Singer.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Personal Milestone.

It has become apparent that the group are on a bit of a run of form at present, and so we approach Sunday’s gig with light hearts. For a start, it’s the day before a Bank Holiday and so no-one has to work in the morning (the irony of announcing this later onstage is not lost on The Singer, who is currently resting between engagements, as it were). 

The pub is also a home game for us, being one of the first to embrace our current incarnation with offers of work and has a long and happy history of band / pub interaction. I am musing over this with barmaid Tink, who has taken the night off in order to properly appreciate the performance, and reminiscing fondly about previous theme nights, parties and post-festival raves we have enjoyed over the past few years. There was the World Cup night where we all played in football kits, the Beach Party night (the Bass Player very much enjoyed expressing his Beckhamesque side in a sarong that evening), the Pyjama Party night (you had to feel for the only audience member who joined in with that one) and, of course, the School Disco night, the motivation behind which may have had something to do with the bar staff’s enthusiastic participation in joining in with us in dressing up for all of the previous. 
Sadly, the pub is due a change of management and so this is our farewell performance for the current staff. They’re already down from 14 to five ales on the hand pumps…. With it being the nearest thing we have to a band local, and with the public holidays being what they are, we have a healthy brood of close friends, relatives and neighbours in attendance, all buoyed by their being-able-to-drink-until-they’re-sillyness, free from the rigours of having to get the kids ready for school in the morning or, in my case, fresh from a rather generous late lunch with the neighbours. All are in high spirits, not least the lady who is helping The Singer in with his gear when I arrive, and flips an enthusiastic finger in response to my playful car horn-bibbing upon my arrival. “Who is she?” I enquire. “No idea, but she’s very helpful….” responds the equally mystified vocalist.
The set begins with the rousing big drum fill from Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight”, which is odd, because the first number on the set list is “Take It Easy” by The Eagles. We have agreed to set off in this fashion to please a couple of friends and because it seems like a good idea. This is indicative of both our relaxed state and the relaxing power of a couple of pints at lunchtime and a glass of red over dinner. At this stage I am unaware of the extent of this, but it’s not long before the solo is upon me and I find, very much as if I’ve taken a wrong turn whilst walking a route I know quite well – to the corner shop, say – in that although I know where I am, it’s going to take a bit of backtracking to get to where I actually want to be. 
This will occur with much more frequency over the course of the evening until by the time we’re closing with “Fat Bottomed Girls” (which has now expanded to include snatches of U2’s “Bullet The Blue Sky” – don’t worry it all makes sense at the time) I’m not entirely sure whether it’s the G before the A or the A between the C and the D in the middle eight. I’m guessing it all went okay in the end as I don’t remember any harsh glares, although all my gear did seem to be piled up in the middle of the stage long after everyone else had cleared up and out. There is a brief period of irony-free Slash / Keith Richards posing on my behalf during the encore before it occurs, even to me, that I’m probably looking slightly less like a rock legend and a bit like an overfed Dad whose self perceived cool and √©lan is being heartily betrayed by the squint caused by smoke from his racily-angled fag actually going in his eyes throughout the verse. So I stub it out on the carpet. Well, it’s not like it’s our mate Ady’s any more, is it?

 I must remember to call to see if I left my guitar stand there…