Sunday, July 30, 2006

"I've never been yachting....I've been dogging, does that count...?"

In such fashion the other guitarist attempts to engage the assembled at The Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club, where we have been called in at short notice to provide the soundtrack to the climactic party of Deben Week, a seven day festival of fun, frolics and messing about in small boats.

Upon arrival T.O.G. and I are astonished to find a fully set up drum kit on stage. Astonished as this is most unlike the man we have come to refer to as Our Late Drummer, whose comfort zone for setting up is considerably shorter than, say, a good-length version of Sweet Home Chicago (whether there is actually ever such a thing as a good length version of Sweet Home Chicago is probably best left to a later discussion). 

We set up around the drums, a novel experience for all of us, and await his arrival over thoughtfully-provided hot meals. For a party that promises a buffet, live band and the experience of being there or being square it does seem that a goodly number of our nautical chums have opted for the latter,, however we kick off as advertised at eight thirty and play our first party set, principally to a confused looking young girl and her friend, who is enthusiastically practising her handstands, their elders and betters mostly preferring the safety and distance of the bar. 

There are a good few dancers later on, but the interval arrives without hint or happenstance of major frugging. Puzzling. Still, we're by the river on a balmy night and so a mid gig constitutional is a pleasant alternative to huddling in the car park over a marlboro light, and we listen appreciatively to T.O.G.'s party CD mix. The second half starts similarly desultorily and our habit of swapping instruments around doesn't do anything for a seamless segue of songs but gradually a few pogoers start to thrash about to the livelier ones and by three songs from the end we have a respectable melee going on. 

By two songs from the end of course, they have all disappeared again, but then return en masse for the last number to bellow their appreciation and demand an encore. It's a very odd series of comings and goings, but apparently we have gone down very well in the other room, where perhaps the comfort zone afforded by the pool table and the ability to hold a conversation without damaging one's chum's eardrums have proved more conducive to a jolly night out. 

It's odd though, like being the house band in a caravan park's social club (I imagine). But being terribly civilised, it is reasonably early by the time we're out and on the way home, with promises of more social functions to come - they're happy, which is the idea of the game after all, and it remains only to dodge the pavement traffic and the roadcrossers of chucking-out time as I wend my way home. It’s  been an odd sort of evening. Still I guess sometimes you're the wallpaper, and sometimes you're the wall.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"No, Matron! I said prick his boil....!"

We are engaged to perform for a number of student nurses at their end-of-exams shindig. The Other Guitarist upon receiving the initial call was told the location of the venue, how long we were expected to play, and a considerable amount of cash was mentioned. Upon hearing what the occasion was he paused and asked a further question. "That all sounds fine..." (there is the briefest of pauses) "...but could you give us a couple of weeks to raise the money...?". 

The venue is an out of town hotel's function suite and we are invited to be there at an early hour so as to be set up and out of the way by the time the putative Florence Nightingales arrive - we are, and meet the opposition (as it were) a couple of mobile DJs who are unexpectedly friendly and accomodating and not at all given to territorialism about the stage and where things are to go. This is a pleasant start to the evening and so we set up soundcheck and disperse, leaving them to it as we are not required until after the meal, to which we are sadly not invited. 

The Drummer and The Bass Player go home, The Other Guitarist, The Singer and I retire to a local fast food dispensary, all the better to shoot the breeze, admire the families picnicking in the car park on their friday family meal out, and direct a lost couple to the party at which we will later be performing. The Singer surveys the menu discomfitedly - he's not really a Burger King kinda guy, vegetarians rarely are. "A bunch of grapes and half a dozen doughnuts?" I suggest helpfully. He regards me mournfully and sighs. When we reconvene, the dinner is thankfully progressing on time and DJ number one gives us a cue to start playing. 

The party is dressed in their finest, although one could be forgiven for suspecting that there is a fair amount of recycling going on - a proportion of the room resembles nothing so much as an episode of bridesmaids revisited, but they are an affable lot and are soon frugging enthusiastically, with no little kicking off of shoes and nervous tugging up of bodices during the faster numbers. Thanks to the soundcheck and the extra boost given by the hiring in of some extra PA to give the bottom end a bit of sturditry, we are sounding quite good tonight, and the first set concludes with the traditional shouting of requests including 'Dirty Dancing' (The Drummer responds pithily "..that's not a song, it's a film - what are you going to request next - 'Jaws'...?"), the inevitable 'Mustang Sally' and (a first for us) "...anything by The Smiths...".

The half time analysis is that it's been a good first period, and helpful DJ Number 2 suggests that he cues us up with something from Dirty Dancing to get the dance floor good and full before the second set. These chaps really are rather affable and a pleasure to work with, notwithstanding the regular musician's complaint that all 'they' do is turn up with a couple of turntables and play records, which they have neatly sidestepped by simply turning up with a laptop with everything loaded onto it, which is even less gear to hump about, a point not wasted on The Drummer who nonetheless is upbeat enough to lead some synchronised dancing onstage before getting behind the kit and playing along with the digitised Bill Medley. 

The second half is looser all round, both from band and party people, as as well as a dancefloor conga line (it may even have been during 'American Idiot', which is something I imagine Billy Joe wasn't expecting when he wrote it) there is an outbreak of what can only be described as Boob Juggling on the part of one young lady, who cleverly utilises her friend's decolletage in an enormously entertaining fashion. Fortunately for everyone's peace of mind and decorum, spillage is not forthcoming. 

The DJs wind the evening up with a hardcore party favourites set, the likes of which will be familiar to anyone who's been at a wedding reception these past twenty years (Grease megamix? - check, Baggy Trousers? - check, Come On Eileen? - check, Wham? - check) but throwing in a couple of cheeky cross fades - we are collectively moved to congratulate them on their slick Pussycat Dolls/Seal mix, which has inspired one young lady to straddle a chair in a fashion which I'm quite sure Matron wouldn't approve of at the day job, and which fully utilises the slashed-to-the-thigh style of her best posh frock. 

We scurry about the stage unplugging leads, winding cables and hoicking bulky musical equipment out of the way and out the back door while the nurses and their beaus are distracted, all the better to effect a speedy departure. For like Cinderella, we always go to the ball, but you can be sure we'll have to be up and sweeping, washing and cleaning the grate out at home in the morning. Momentarily we wonder if we should take one of the many discarded shoes piled up around the dancefloor and perhaps tour the wards of the local hospital, looking for the owner and promising to make her a princess. But then we quite sensibly surmise that that would be just bloody stupid.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

“Could the owner of the Mercedes blocking the car park entrance please ask their au pair to move it …”

 This weekend we are off to a local golf club for a combined wedding anniversary and birthday party. We’re not sure which anniversary it is, but it’s one of the big ones hence, presumably, the golf club being booked and not simply a marquee being installed on the lawn. The last big anniversary/birthday combination number we did was in a big tent on a lawn, and was ceremonially opened by a gentleman who arrived by microlite. As you do. There were canap├ęs being served by black-jacketed waiters, there was a chocolate fountain being minded* by a man who’d been made redundant from BT, there were champagne cocktails being quaffed by creamy-skinned teenaged girls, the price of whose frocks (we were to learn later) seemed to be in inverse proportion to the amount of material actually used in their construction.

There was a DJ, who played a Cliff Richard track and then a Wet Wet Wet one. “We’ve had Cliff, we’ve had The Wets, what’s next?” enquired The Drummer as he nervously added another four-way extension lead to the bulging single available socket near the dance floor. The DJ regarded him in an impassively bovine manner. “Cliff” he answered simply. And so it turned out. There’s a surprising amount of mileage to be had in the old two-CD player/two-Greatest-Hits-albums trick for the enterprising mobile DJ as it turns out. We often find that the folk who throw the sorts of parties where the south terrace has been covered with a sprung dance floor, the atrium garlanded with soft lighting and the pool warmed up especially for the occasion are absolutely charming and attentive, can’t do enough for you and make a point of ensuring that you’re fully fed and watered before you go on stage. It’s mostly just their friends and kids we can’t stand - there’s always one in a kilt, for a start. 

One is never more aware than at these sorts of gigs that one is definitely an employee, but at least when they’re holding the party at home there’s a fair chance that we’ll actually be allowed in. At one golf club we were positioned outside the back door of the kitchen being fed leftovers from the main table (literally) like some sort of Dickensian orphans until set up time, as we’d had the temerity to turn up at the front door wearing jeans and it turned out the club captain was in. I know – I bet the Ivy Benson Big Band never had this trouble. 

Conversely, at the microlite do, The Singer and I paused on our way to the immaculately-maintained mobile lavatories (tastefully shielded from casual view by the shrubbery) to enjoy both the spectacle of a fully ball-gowned deb enjoying the Olympic-sized trampoline, and three proudly de-ball-gowned fillies enjoying the Olympic-sized outdoor pool. Our spontaneous round of applause at the latter was greeted by a series of perfectly executed slow-motion aquatic forward rolls in response, which were either a manifestation of their contempt for our behaviour, or a rare and earthy ‘come and get us’ gesture – we weren’t entirely sure, and being married chaps, we hastily made our excuses and stayed a bit longer, just to make sure before wandering off to pack up the gear. 

In the old days, mind, well….. In the old days, of course, we were full of vim, vigour - spunk if you will, and would never have hung around dry long enough to be mooned at by posh girls with trust funds the size of our mortgages – back then, of course, we didn’t actually have mortgages for a start, but as time has gone on we have either become more tolerant or more benevolently indulgent, or more worried about the mortgages themselves and such behaviour is as water off a swan’s back to us. It is surely a sign of passing time that we still see 50th birthday parties as the preserve of the Crumblies, and carefully set the amp settings on low and vow to start off with a couple of sixties singalongs to get them in the mood, forgetting that we are ourselves, if not actually cruising on the highway to half a century, then at least fiddling with the SatNav in order to find directions to the slip road. 

Simple maths shows that anyone who is 50 this year was 20 in 1976 and was thus ideally positioned to take full advantage of the opportunity to engage in the punk wars, or at the very least to be in position to be a non-com observer. Thus it was that at the black tie, medals and patent shoes posh frock ball, the first song that got the dancefloor filled and rocking and the throng baying was our version of The Clash’s “London Calling. “We”, we thought to ourselves, “are a two-car garage band”. Talk about turning rebellion into money…. *”mound” ?

Saturday, July 01, 2006

"Hi, Robert! Loved your 'Addicted To Love' video....."

We weren't all born into covers bands you know. Scratch the surface of a contentedly strumming pub rocker and you'll surely find the soul of a burned-out singer-songwriter still bitter that they came second in the 1989 Battle of the Bands competition and as a result never got the acclaim they so clearly deserved then, and still deserve now, to tell the truth. That "Three Lions" line about "thirty years of hurt" barely comes close. We're talking twenty five years of seething indignation here. And it's not just us. I've seen the drummer from T-Rex playing "Alright Now" with Suzi Quatro's guitarist in my local, and the brothers from Scarlet Party glumly covering "All My Loving" at a pub barbecue. If, in Loudon Wainwright's words, it's better to be "...a has-been, and not just a never was" then the distinction seems to have been lost on some of us. When The Singer went off for a trek around California for a couple of months and we had to cover for him there was a point where we we ran out of servicable cover material and had to resort to playing some of my stuff - The Bass Player and The Other Guitarist were also (and indeed still are) in the band with me and so it made sense, and the songs were gratifyingly not pointed out as imposters in a kind of "What's My Line" fashion by a throng of faming torch-bearing locals demanding more Who covers. Still, our bread and butter is reworking the familiar and, as with many many other bands in our line of work, if occasionally we close our eyes and drift off imagining that it really is us up on that festival stage well, who could blame us? Picturehouse itself started off as The Singer and The Other Guitarist's pet home recording project - that was way back in the days before MySpace made it easy to get your stuff heard across the world at the click of a mouse, and so the cradle of the Pub Band behemoth that we have become is now archived carefully in four track cassette recordings of psychedelic whimsy and half-remembered chord changes. Of course we've all kept up in dabbling in the self-produced but when it comes to what pulls in the punters they'd generally rather hear The Kaiser Chief's "I Predict A Riot" than (say) Songs from The Blue House's "Waste of Angels" in the pub on a friday night. And who can blame them? So it was with an enormous sense of combined relief, elation, disbelief and joy that I found out this week that the band that Me and The Bass Player are in and that our friends The Singer, The Drummer and The Other Guitarist sometimes chip into, namely Songs from The Blue House have won a competition and will be, at this time next week, opening The Cornbury Festival for Robert Plant, The Waterboys and Deacon Blue. It's like the penalty shoot out finally went our way.