Sunday, December 23, 2007

"He's not the best guitarist in the world..."

Second show for replacement frontman and jobbing guitarist to the stars 'Barry' tonight. In a typical move for the group we have engaged the services of a fast fingered fret frotter and made him, principally, The New Singer, a displacement of abilities unsurpassed since we moved a great bass player onto guitar and then entreated another one to hop aboard and then made sure he was on keyboards for a large proportion of the set while I, a guitarist by inclination, filled in on bass. To avoid any confusion, Barry has brought us all badges featuring the legends 'guiatrist', 'bass player', 'singer' etc. Our frequently topless drummer, who is at least a proper drummer, has decided to wear his badge neatly inserted through a nipple, which we trust was previously pierced, but with that boy you're never entirely sure about this sort of thing. My disquiet and vague sense of unease is shared by at least one sensitive member of the audience, although I didn't feel the need to bury my face in my hands. It was a bit sore by the end of the night apparently. Who knew?
Anyhoo, Barry ventures as far as putting his safety blanket, I mean guitar, down for one song, but is discomfited enough by the experience to pick it up again for the next, and seems much happier for it. He also has an unnerving habit of knowing the right notes for everything, which when you've managed up until now by employing broad approximations of things can come as a bit of a shock to the system, but adapting to the change in circumstance with the ease of a seasoned player, I find the best approach is to simply let him get on with it since it makes both of us happy to hear all those widdly notes being played in the right order for a change, although a 'tween set enquiry as to when, exactly, Joe Satriani joined Graham Coxon's band isn't posited entirely with a tongue in cheek. A side effect of this though is that it does tend to up your game when it comes to solos that you know are going to be followed shortly by something bigger, better, faster, more. That's the comfort zone with it's dividing wall thoroughly knocked through, an extension planned out the back and patio doors installed then.
We've got one more show this year with The (nominal) Bass Player on board before he retires gracefully to spend more time with his brass band, The Other Guitarist switches back to bass, we learn a whole bunch of new things and I (as far as I'm aware) stick to standing towards the side and occasionally shouting a Clash song towards the end of the set. The new, improved, Adrian Belew version, that is. I'll check the wording on my badge very carefully before that one. Onwards! Upwards! Forward in all directions! You are present at the birth of the new Picturehouse. And so merry christmas, and a happy new year. This is going to be fun.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

So, farewell then….

Wendell, The Singer in Picturehouse, has been on the phone to a friend. “So, what do you want to do next Sunday?” says his mate. “And then it hit me” he relates to us later “He’s in San Diego”. It is Wendell’s last gig with us for the foreseeable future, as commuting in from (say) California for occasional gigs in (say) Felixstowe has quite sensibly been deemed an unreasonable incurrence of expense when it comes to the travelling budget. Also leaving are our hosts for the evening, and so we’ve decided to pretty much play everything and since writing set lists is a bit of a chore we’ve decided to do them in alphabetical order. This is quite liberating as we’re opening with something that usually comes toward the end of the set and ending with an opener. 

The set list is long, and in Arial. "It's the most readable font" says Wendell knowledgably. Present and correct are special guests, children, wives, girlfriends and loyal supporters. It’s going to be fun. There is also the suggestion that as they’re leaving it would probably be best if we finished off all the booze before they went and if there were any chairs, mirrors, light fittings or tables anyone fancied then they probably wouldn’t be missed either – “Leave the darts board though” counsels The Singer sagely. “Is it going to be this loud all the way through?” asks a barman who hasn’t seen us before. “No, no” we say reassuringly. “It gets much louder later on”. Wendell is on good form, self-deprecatingly pointing out that even if we did that alphabet song “A-B-C, D-E-F, G-H-I-J-K..” he’d probably still need the lyrics written down. 

First up on the guest list is Andy Trill on bass for ‘By The Way’, which Gibbon, The Bass Player, doesn’t really like doing, but which gives him an excellent opportunity for an early cigarette break, once he’s adjusted the strap to more slap-friendly proportions. Because it’s a ‘B’ song it’s also early in the set, so Trill’s still on his first red wine of the evening when he’s called into action. Next up are one of Kilbey, The Other Guitarist’s, sons and his mate on bass and guitar for I Predict A Riot – usually a bit of a set closer. They rock out while Gibbon does his ‘other job’ on keyboards and Frisky Pat, The Drummer, resplendent in Motorhead T-Shirt and tattoos thrashes the kit to within 2.25 centimetres of it’s life. First set – just over an hour and a quarter I reckon, and the second set’s longer than this one. “Good to see you not starting the set with The Strokes for a change” says someone at half time. “Ah” says Wendell “We’re actually up to ‘L’ now….” 

Everyone’s very much aware that this is pretty much going to be our last chance to do all this malarkey in this form and so the stage tricks are very much to the fore – Pat is beautifully timing the Frankie Vaughan-esque cymbal crashes to match my high kicks, although admittedly London Calling is not really the epitome of a cabaret showmanship showcase. Still, it’s a nice warm up for later on when, liberated by the reappearance of Trill, now reinvented as guitar shredder par excellence (vis his astonishing extended My Sharona solo after which I was only too pleased to be playing the next song on bass upon my return to the stage) I am moved to explore the hidden Hair Metal front man within me. Although I am convinced that I am moving with the snake-hipped insouciance of a lithe part-Coverdale, part-Mercury combination, a mid-number glance at the mirror facing us from the back wall reveals that poor application of hair products to a newly-shorn barnet means that I look like nothing so much as an Andy Riley re-imagining of Robbie Williams as Mr Coconut Head. Still, it’s addictive stuff this foot-on-the-monitor crowd teasing. No wonder he gets het up on tour. 

Speaking of on stage legends, the tail end of the set gives us a chance to welcome back, as Wendell says, the best of all our many guest tambourine players, the legendary Neighbour Neil (there’s a video of a previous performance on our Myspace site, unbelievers) for a spirited The Only One I Know, fellow font-fan Neil combining both of his patented dance moves (a shuffling hopping bounce and an arm-waving move which looks like the sort of thing you’d execute if you were drowning in a swimming pool filled with golden syrup) into a tour-de-force example of the arcane and mysterious art of Bezzing. We’re now down to the last scheduled number. All the way through, poignant lyrics have been popping out of the songs and into the real. “All my life, watching America”, “I’m running down the road trying to loosen my load”, that sort of thing, and now Vice’s “See you later” has a whole new poignancy for me as Wendell bows out.

I reckon we’ve done somewhere near three hours tonight and in a worthily bathetic fashion someone wants to hear something we’ve already played. I steal one of Reado, The Old Drummer’s lines “If you want to hear some more, you’ll have to book us again”. We do a couple more anyway. We were bound to. Safe journey Wendell. See you later.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Ballad of Chris de Burgh.

The third Songs from The Blue House album, Tree, is now out and unleashed, free to wend it's wandering way wherever it may go. A couple of review copies have already wended their way onto Amazon for instance, which is not bad for something which is officially not released until November. Sadly, the budget didn't extend to flying reviewers in to The Blue House, playing it to them once under laboratory conditions and then escorting them out under cover of darkness bound by a secrecy clause and besides, James hasn't dusted in there for ages. 

With it's posting to reviewers comes the inevitable wait to see what they all think, and so far we're doing quite well - batting a steady seven out of ten average with a couple of very kind remarks which we'll doubtless cut & paste into ads and flyers in the hope of enticing people into our fold. With reviews though, you either take them all at face value or none of them - you can't be picking and choosing the ones you want just because someone has ventured an opinion you don't agree with, after all we did ask them in the first place. An uncomfortable situation has arisen, however, with regard to one of the songs "In My Arms" which I'm responsible for and which we regularly introduce live as being our attempt to be the first forty year-old boy band. 

It was originally recorded for what I like to refer to as my "solo album" and which several other people have referred to as "a bunch of demos" - entitled 'This Much Talent', I did it at home with Gibbon on bass, keyboards and drum machine wrangling, and originally featuring a faux-naif twelve string solo by Wendell Gee as well as a three part harmony climax (giving plenty of room for the good-looking one who can't sing to stand at the back looking wistful, should any real forty year old boy bands chance upon it and put it on the soundtrack to a major movie, which wasn't the original intent, but would certainly go a long way to helping with the overdraft should it come to pass and, as we all know, all things must pass). 

Our reworked version has prompted two seperate comments so far that it is "…a bit Lady In Red". This I find worrying, on so many levels. We've tried to hick a couple of things up a bit on the album, and we've included a few in-jokes for the musicological literati to spot, but this one really passed us by. The really disturbing part is that, having had a listen back, they may have a point. It's an instructive lesson in how perception varies between people, and now I'm concerned. 

Not so much about the songs on this album, it's more the one I had lined up for the next one about a spaceman who goes travelling, gets on a boat for which the ferryman is demanding payment before he reaches his destination (on the other side, as it were) and then sleeps with his children's Nanny. We might have to work on the arrangement for that one.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Guerrilla you’re a desperado…

I’ve seen the footage on YouTube of Babyshambles putting on so-called guerrilla gigs, oh yes. It’s the new showcase, apparently – surreptitiously circulate the news to a few discreet and loyal fans (on your MySpace site, say) sit back, and wait for The Man to be devastated by your circumlocution of the traditional album-gig-merch treadmill. It’s nothing new, of course. Back when I was someone, our band put on a gig of which we, the band, were only allowed to tell one person each and we still managed to fill a decent-sized room. Del Amitri once toured the entire US of States playing busker gigs and crashing on people’s floors and Ian McNabb-out-of-The Icicle Works recently cancelled a couple of ‘proper’ gigs in order to allow him to play at fan’s houses instead. Although his apologies to those who’d bought tickets to go and see the full, mighty McNabb experience live in concert were fulsome enough, there was a certain inference that popping round to someone’s house, being plied with booze and being able to crash upstairs shortly after emptying the fridge of three-in-the-morning munchies was far preferable to hiring a van and driving half way across the country to soundcheck in the afternoon, pay a support act, deal with a recalcitrant lighting engineer and then pay for a dodgy B&B with no room service having trawled the surrounding area for a curry house still open at two in the morning, and you can see his point. For we in Songs From The Blue House, however, these are not choices we are forced to make – no-one’s booking us anyway at the moment, and so my neighbour Neil’s query as to when we were going to get off our collective backsides and do some gigs so that he could see us again received the paraphrased retort that if he were so keen why didn’t he just book us himself? And so he did. With the privileges of promoterdom came responsibility for writing the set list, organizing backstage catering and booking a support band and so it came that on Saturday evening we assembled in his newly refurbished kitchen/diner with four cases of Brewer’s Gold, two kinds of chilli and Kilbey and Wendell from Picturehouse, who were to play a short set of their own compositions (see for an aural introduction) before we went on and did a slightly more drawn out version of the same thing. When I say ‘we’, the SftBH line up is a fluid and wonderful concept – the core quorum of three is usually enough to establish that a show can go ahead, however on this occasion the lure of good food, good company, and the possibility of crashing out upstairs once the fridge had been emptied of munchies had drawn out eight of us into the mean streets of the sweet, sweet candy town that is Ipswich, including occasional contributors Nick on pedal steel all the way from Rickmansworth and TT on keyboards; and we’re not talking about a big living room here, by any means. Fortunately the Picturehouse vintage synthesiser was smaller than TT’s regulation issue piano and so, with his encyclopeadic knowledge of all things keyboardy he was able to manipulate an approximation of a piano sound out of it, even if it did look as if he were permanently about to fall off the dusty end on the more expansive numbers. Fiddly (all the way from Thorndon) sat in a chair so he didn’t break his bow on the ceiling, everyone in the audience settled into sofas and armchairs, bits of vacant carpet, alcoves and the stairs (and in the case of Ruby, sleeping through her first gig at the age of two and a half weeks, her carry cot*) and we began. The first two numbers were songs that I sing, coincidentally in the same key, unfamiliar to Nick and so I was gratified to hear him enquiring of TT as to how the second one went, all the better to make his performance as sympathetic within the arrangement as possible. “It’s the same as that one” he replied. Everyone’s a critic… Still, on with the show! The constraints of playing as acoustically as possible (sadly there’s no such thing as an unplugged pedal steel guitar or, for different and more prosaic reasons, a banjo you can turn off, but I digress) mean that your performance in these sorts of situations is subtly altered – dynamics and interaction with your fellow performers, and indeed your audience, are much more focused than if you are all separated by coils of leads, banks of speakers, batteries of lights and yards of space, and so you end up playing differently, -odd as it sounds - more humanly (although again, in terms of banjo players this is a relative term**). It’s an exercise more bands should undertake, especially where it concerns the blending together of voices. At one point I got so excited by the sound of acoustic guitars, four part harmonies, a fiddle and the lonesome keening of the steel that I posited the idea of playing all of side two of GP and I had a pretty good chance of getting a majority vote on that if it hadn’t been getting on some. In the end we had a splendid set of our own material, the audience appreciated it, the promoter was more than happy (we’ve played to smaller crowds in pubs, believe me), and we had a good time playing together, not least because (a) we like it anyway and (b) someone else has invited us to play in their cellar next month so it was a nice advance dry run. We could still smoke indoors at this venue, hang out showing each other bits of guitar chordery that we’d come across, muck about with some covers, work on harmonies and invite each other round to our houses/sheds/studios to start writing the next album before staggering the two doors down the street back to my own home for the night. And forty eight bottles of Crouch Vale ale, thirty bottles of lager, two boxes of wine and a couple of chillis isn’t a bad rider to have worked through by the close of play. No wonder it’s the new touring.

*Sorry about that Ruby – when it comes round to “So what was your first gig?” in future years you’re just going to have to grin and bear it.

**I know – I’m doing it on purpose for cheap comic effect – Tony Winn, our resident banjoista, is a terrific player, a marvellous songwriter in his own right and adds immeasurably to the arrangements when he participates. He also knows when to leave a space, and sometimes it’s what you don’t play which adds to the sound as much as what you do play. Especially where banjos are concerned***

***I know – I’m doing it again but, you know, fish, barrel, shooting, it all adds up.

Throughout, I have referred to The Promoter. Obviously, as a happily married couple (happy anniversary guys) our neighbours JessunNeil make these sorts of decisions together, jointly and with a fond accord.

Friday, October 05, 2007

One Door Opens…

A meeting! The band is, naturally, an anarcho-syndicalist commune. We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internalaffairs -but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more: Order, eh -- who does he think he is? As this week's officer I have summoned the collective to The Dove, the better to discuss what we're going to do when Wendell, The Singer, goes off on a three month world trip, all the better to find himself, some better gigs, and very possibly that set of keys he lost last time out.

We have lined up our good friend, and Picturehouse Small Band producer Andy Trill, formerly of Mr Fish-out-of-Marillion's band to mind the mic, throw some shapes and try and slow down enough for us to try and keep up with him. Despite having thrown shapes in South America, rocked The Cavern and been hospitalised in the former Soviet bloc of Eastern Europe due to alleged overconsumption of bloody marys, Mr Trill is going visibly pale at the thought of putting down his guitar for a couple of songs and simply fronting the band. And this isn't easy by any means for someone who's currently sporting a Sardinian tan. He covers up the nervousness by suggesting that we simply cover Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous' and be done with it. This suggestion isn't getting a lot of house room with The Other Guitarist, it has to be said. 

Further bombshells ahoy, however as The Bass Player gently suggests that it's time for him to "Do a Reado". Not play drums exceptionally well, in this instance, but retire from active work with the band. Oh dear. Wendell who, lest ye forget, is sabbaticalising for three months anyway, is panic stricken. "What are we going to do without Gibbon!?!?". "We?" I suggest. The Other Guitarist is upset, but sanguine. "I'll miss you" he says. The Drummer less so - "You c*nt!" he opines, merrily. There is more grog taken, Bass Players are toasted and anecdotal stories are revived - one involving an previously un-thesaurused but overly-repeated and gynaecologically descriptive word which (thankfully) escapes me at this point. 

We drink to The Drummer's new daughter's arrival and reassure him that o, really, all babies look like the drummer from Lovejunk. They do though, don't they? Winston Churchill with a mohican. And with sorry hearts we set a deadline for The Bass Player's notice period to expire. The Other Guitarist is about ready to swap back to his first instrument, the bass, The Drummer is offering to zebra-skin everybody's guitars, and there is a thankfully short-lived discussion about getting band tattoos. I think it fell down around the point where we were discussing whether it should read simply ""TPHBB" or "The Picturehouse Big Band". 

The Drummer reckoned that, depending on conditions and where he had it tattooed, he could have both.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Can of Peas?

And so, to The Dove, where The Singer and I are due to launch the book of the blog of the band and so are astonishingly nervous. I have been into the local BBC radio station earlier in the evening and been interviewed on the drivetime show, during which I have managed to shoehorn into the general chat the phrase 'crypto situationist agenda' which makes me almost as happy as chipping in with "You should see the size of his shoes!" Both of these have been suggested by chums, both of whom I will meet later on this evening but only one of which will turn up later with two crates of cunningly re-branded Brewers Gold with new labels and everything stuck on. They threatened that they'd get their kids to do it.
The interview was great, the readings at the show (by DJ Simon Talbot out of,uk were fantastic - he has the gravitas, delivery and tone that we who have never worked for the BBC can never aspire to - and my parents turned up. Little sister (Don't you do what your big sister done) tried, but the artist formerly known as D J Chatterbox's spiel outdid even her signlanguaging skills, and more fast food arrived than even our hungry chops could deal with.
As literary launches go (not that I have an enormous backlog of experiences of this sort of thing to go on) I think it was a hit. And now, having had the company of more ex-drummers than one rough old acoustic set could ordinarily bear, I'd like to thank The Dove, The Crouch Vale Brewery, Picturehouse , My Family, My get the idea.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"You can check out any time you like...."

It's hard to know what to say about a day like today. A reunion of sorts, as the original Star Club line up decamp to Spalding for another of our occasional forays back up the road at the behest of The Landlord Formerly Known As Big Paul for another of his farewell parties (we think we're on about the fourth by now....) A new venue for us - The Birds, which is owned by The Evil Empire (Greed King) and as such is a designated Hungry Horse pub - you know the type. I'm riding shotgun with Reado, and Wendell and Kilbey are in the advance train; this car doesn't know what we're going to play, and the other one does, and as such is far more nervous about the occasion. Still, Paul's looking well, we pay our respects to CJ's tree ("It's taller than she was!") and set up in front of the widescreen TVs showing the bike race. Paul is happy to accept a copy of the book (see sidebar for details) and isn't shy of pointing out a basic factual error within seconds. Okay, so the Pink Floyd poster is in The Red Lion, not The Bass House. Derrr. 

We are treated to dinner before we kick off with a few regular covers, after which we are to recreate our halcyon days of Beatle-cover-mania. There are nineteen songs on the set list, so that's a tidy thirty minutes in Beatle terms. Thing is, none of us have played most of these for, oh, three years or so? What could possibly go wrong? As it turns out, autoplilot is a wonderful thing, and I find that as long as you don't concentrate too hard, it's a bit like riding a bike. A slightly rusty bike that doesn't seem to have been oiled for several years, but a bike nonetheless. Once you get onto it, it's a dream, although even with the rapidly down-tuned guitars, some of those high notes are just a gnat's smidgen away from being perfect. All that listening to Swing that Reado does in the car is blissfully apparent though, and it's a pleasure to be rooted to the back of the stage beside him once again. 

Once again, it's all over too soon. For the audience, that is - a whoopin' and a hollerin' and a chuckin' money into the bucket to fund our petrol fare home (The Evil Empire's largesse does not, unfortunately, extend to an actual financial contribution of their own) and so we chuck in a couple of repeats and splendid closing "It's The End of The World As We Know It" which seems somehow appropriate. We meet and greet some old friends, hug some new ones, compare hairstyles and attitudes, and pack up the PA for one last time in Spalding. 

We think....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

"I think it's just that the band's appeal is becoming more selective..."

Back in the saddle with the Picturehouse posse and we decamp to Needham Market for the evening on a glorious warm Bank Holiday weekend saturday. Now you can blame it on the sunshine, possibly the moonlight even, at a push, on the smoking ban, but it becomes apparent that our usual jokey "We're still pulling them in then?" when confronted by a large empty space where the audience should be, is going to be eerily prophetic. Come showtime there are eight people desultorily hanging out at the tables in front of us. We make sure that everyone's got a drink and has been to the toilet, and we begin. 

It's been a while since we played together, notwithstanding last week's expedition up the road where The Old Drummer stood in for the night, and we are surrised to find that we are playing remarkably well. Seeings as how we're amongst friends we throw in a few things we haven't played for a while and it becomes clear that, proportionally at least, we're going down better than we have for ages, so we throw a few more in. The piped music in the bar hasn't been switched off, so the 'tween song banter has the air of being performed as if on an afternoon radio show, with guesses being made as to what we're listening to, and we're all having a good old time. 

A short break wherein we try and name acts that contain a weapon in their names - Britney Spears being one inspired suggestion - and we're back on track - trying out that new Pink Floyd number (not medleyed into the Haircut 100 song as was suggested at rehearsal) and with several filthy adaptions of song titles issuing forth from behind the kit, where The Drummer has discarded his top in the balmy summer heat and sits with his glowing hirsute chest and tattoos proudly on display. "Look" says The Other Guitarist "He's taken off his shirt" (-beat-) "...and put on a jumper!". 

A lady of certain vintage gets up and dances enthusiastically as we pile into the party set for no other reason than because it's fun. A couple of late arrivals boost us into double figures, we take a couple of requests and bring the evening to a happy conclusion. The dancing lady collars us outside and launches into an enthusiastic summary of our performance in a mixture of broken English and rapid Spanish. There is something about the guitarra in there which sounds definitely complimentary, which is nice, and we pack up in an eerie, silent and deserted bar, which looks exactly as it did when we came in. It is all very odd.

Still, it gives us time to admire anew The Drummer's refurbished kit. He has covered it in fake zebra hide. "Well, I was bored" he explains. It's very nice. Well, we're assuming it's fake....

Friday, July 13, 2007

"Just gimme some of that rock n' roll muzak!"

 I have a fear of corporate gigs. It’s not just that the idea of being the background to a bunch of company drones trying desperately to neck as much expense account vodka and feel up the girl (or boy) from HR as is conceivable in as short a time as is humanly possible, no, it’s based on pure, true, human experience. 

Back in the day when I was in a Beatles specialist band called The Star Club we generally had a whale of a time. I recorded at the BBC’s studio in Maida Vale, doing the same songs the Fabs had done, and eating in the same canteen that Jimi Hendrix had presumably got a similarly poor full English fry up after his session, and I’d met the original bass player from The Quarrymen who told us we had the spirit of the band. We also had a couple of stalkers, and a matching set of polo neck sweaters (to each other, not the stalkers). We were, however, a working band and as such were once booked as company entertainment at a corporate do in Ipswich for a firm I’d worked for previously, wherein was promised fun, frolics, a disco, and a little surprise cabaret turn. 

Once we’d got over the astonishment and indignation involved with the caretaker putting out the chairs being Ipswich Town F.A.Cup-winning goalscorer Roger Osborne, we settled into our role for the evening, that being to provide two sets of rollicking early-era Beatles music and not being too obvious in hoovering up the buffet. At our first break, we realised quite early on during the cabaret interlude that this was to be a home-grown affair. Three lads from production lined up on stage and the telltale strains of Tom Jones’s version of “You Can Keep Your Hat On” powered from the PA like a doom-laden harbinger of excess and, sure enough, half way through the first chorus, the climactic scene from The Full Monty was being replayed before our very eyes. 

The thing is, Randy Newman writes a good song, and he takes time to get there, and so having peaked (as it were) quite early in the number the lads were desperately looking for somewhere to go to take their performance higher. Stage left, the one who looked like a slightly out of condition Frank Carson (hello Jamie!) took to the idea of grabbing one of our guitars and miming along to the song with it. Backstageleft, our John shuddered visibly and looked around for a towel (later to be discarded for ever) with which to wipe it down before he had to strap it on to play the second set. I took a break from proceedings to visit the toilet and was intrigued by the dozen-strong queue outside the disabled toilet. “ has promised blow jobs as long as her knees don’t give out!” announced one chirpy temp, happily sinking another gratis Stella.

 When I came back from the Gents I noticed that the queue had gone down by three. As it were. Fun, fun, fun you might think as, indeed, with the benefit of hindsight, I do. But when you’re completely straight-down-the-line sober on lime and soda, and wondering whose cock has been wiped up and down the back of your 335, it’s no party, I can tell you. And at this point I’d already been told that my mic had been up Max Splodge’s bottom at a previous engagement by the sound crew. Still, we’d seen Backbeat, and somehow this seemed just a validation of our quest for authenticity - drugs, hookers, seedy characters, cup-winning goalscorers.... Still, we were all grinning during the first chorus of “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” after the break. But that ain’t unnecessarily so.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

"I think you'll find one drops 'in' to reception, not 'along'...”

It as become apparent to James and Myself over the past few gigs that the original concept of a nice little acoustic band has morphed slightly, specifically at the point where we are engaged in setting up the third of three onstage monitoring systems in addition to the front of house PA. 

Well, 'stage' and 'house' are terms which don't really apply so much as 'gazebo' for we are at another al fresco lunchtime engagement, this time for the Mid Suffolk District Council's open day, where the good tax payers of Needham Market can enjoy face painting, live music and tours of the Chief Executive's office, chair-sitting included. It's a nice little fete-like occasion which is enlivened by the presence of a police car which periodically emits siren howls and a fire engine, which doesn't. The boys (and girls) in the smart blue overalls of the fire service are wont to occasionally set fire to a chip pan, resulting in a vast plume of flame and smoke, before demonstrating their party trick of extinguishing it which on a non-smoking site seems a little gauche. 

Still, it gives us something to watch as we embark on a marathon hour and a half set in the overcast morning, the prework on the gear resulting in a lovely clear sound both engazebo and across the site. We have TT with us on piano today and his trills and flourishes lend a splendid extra musical palette to our performance and we are enjoying the day, the company and, as we play Then There Was Sunshine, the sun itself breakng through the clouds. Gibbon, on bass, is struggling with the concept of a non-mid set fag break, and so when Shelagh, Fiddly's wife, presents the band with a piece of cake each from the stall, he is keen to enjoy it immediately, emboldened perhaps by the sight of TT playing sparkly arpreggios with one hand and eating a burger with the other. And they say men can't multitask. 

We go for Song V, where Gib doesn't come in until half way through the first verse and he accepts the challenge of finishing a large wedge of chocolate cake before resuming playing and, like a pro, manages the timing perfectly, although I do have to dep on the backing vocals, what with him having adopted a hamster-like aspect with regard to his cake-storingly large cheeks. A great set, a lovely day, and nice to see our friend songwriter David Stevenson who has made his way down the A14 from Cambridge to see us, calling in at Felixstowe on the way, If you know anything about East Anglian geography you will realise that this is quite a serious overshoot, matched only by Tony Winn's effort one year on the way to Farnsfield where he was enjoying both the open topped sports car he was in and Bob Dylan on the stereo so much that it was around twenty miles on before he realised he should have turned off some twenty five miles ago. 

Gibbon and I then relocate to our separate  homes for a quick nap before setting up in the evening to play with Picturehouse - the rest of SftBH are reconvening at TT's for a Big Pink-like evening of merriment and jammery, but The Bass Player and I have our regular gig at The John Bull to go to. As comparisons go, these are considerable - PHBB have a set of doughty covers to perform although, as ever, you can't please all the people all the time. At the break one individual regards our set phlegmatically. "Do you just do the ones on this list?" he asks. "Pretty much" I reply, although since we're all in a good mood there may be room for negotiation. "What did you have in mind?" I offer. "Just, well, something nice" he replies sadly. "I've just got to go and talk to some of those people over there" I say. 

Nice is as nice does really, for we have ended the first set with Kilbey's son Liam and a friend joiningh us onstage for a splendid version of Razorlight's Vice. If there were any nerves, they weren't showing and the lad's insouciant teenage demeanour must surely contain as much pride as his father's openly beaming one does. It's a proud and happy moment, and cameras are well in evidence. I duck out of the way so that proud mother Clara doesn't have to keep explaining who the old guy in the Hawaiian shirt is to her neighbours. 

On with the second set and another guest pops up in the form of birthday-celebrating chum Andy Trill, who will be standing in for me later in the year while I'm away. A disturbingly good guitar solo later and he's back off to nurse his post-party hangover once more. Mind you, if he thinks he's suffering, it's nothing to what the audience have to put up with during the end of the set encore. Weighty rock tomes may well postulate at length on the liberating influence of atonal jazz mavericks like John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman on popular rock music, but there's no place for it in the solo to My Sharona. Then it just sounds like someone improvising badly. 

Or perhaps just playing the wrong string. Or, as I prefer to maintain, in the words of the great Eric Morecambe "I am playing all the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order....". It's a shame - that was the only song on the list that the guy in the break thought was 'nice'.

Monday, June 25, 2007

“Lookin’ out at the road rushin’ under my wheels”

One of the issues in forming “a nice little acoustic band – we’ll just roll up and play” is actually getting some places to play in the first place. Back in the early days of Songs from The Blue House, when James, Gibbon and I staged a series of pre-emptive raids on beer festivals and acoustic/songwriters nights this wasn’t so much of an issue, as since we only had half an hour’s material anyway, we were able to either get up and do our thang and get out of the way before anyone noticed it was the same six songs we’d played last time or drag up whatever other stuff we could remember which meant that the set became mainly covers anyway, and besides, who doesn’t love a rip-roaring acoustic version of I Wanna Be Your Dog to close the evening? 

These days, now that the line up has grown to the point where there are around half a dozen of us on a quiet day, such guerilla tactics aren’t always so possible or indeed permissible, and so we find ourselves settling into whatever surroundings we can and then settling back to enjoy the ride, wherever it may take us. Hence, only recently, we’ve played a birthday party in a village hall in Northamptonshire where we turned up early and then drove for five miles in each direction trying to find a pub that was open before realizing that there was one next to the venue, albeit one that didn’t open until seven and for which you had to book in advance if you wanted a burger making up. 

We have also been on the back of an open-sided trailer in a park attempting to communicate with a sound engineer who is a good hundred yards away and who has no direct means of contacting the group other than an odd sort of pidgin sign language (a carrier pigeon with sign language would have been handier) and who has to come out of his mixing tent to actual see where we’re pointing to things that we can’t hear (I know – “a nice little acoustic band”, we said) . Being a park, and with a parkie’s responsibilities being what they are, they locked the toilets at bang on half five. The lads who’d spent all afternoon in the beer tent weren’t best pleased, apparently. 

There was the beer festival in Little Totham where it had been raining torrentially all morning. When we turned up there was a boat in the back garden, which indicated a level of preparation of Noah-esque proportions on somebody’s part at least. Having decided against risking it with elements by setting up in the garden we managed to cram two guitarists, a banjo player, a small p.a. system, and a bass player into the area next to the restaurant, a space about eight feet square and from which we’d had to move the spare cutlery and the salad for the barbecue before we could fit the mic stands in. “Right” said James “So where shall we put the piano….?” 

It was a good gig actually – the closeness and intimacy of the thing made it so that we were all playing together and off each other rather than performing our parts by rote, as being on the back of flat-bed trucks unable to hear what anyone is playing is wont to encourage. I was so into it by the last song that I didn’t notice that the rest of the band had retired to the restaurant and were accompanying my vocal from there, including a game TT, of whom only an extended forearm and hand could be seen playing a few low chords on the black notes. It was like being accompanied on keyboards by Thing from The Addams Family. They were very good about dropping into an unannounced Bob Dylan number mid-chorus and even a departure into some Buffalo Springfield didn’t throw them. Shaney let me follow you down, as it were. 

And last week we got a plum gig with the rather marvellous Derrin Nauendorf at a club in Chelmsford. Wendell came down for the trip and we were pleased to be able to greet Derrin’s drummer Mark outside the venue with an East Angularly drawled “Yew wanna git yower hair cut boiy!” (Marky sports an impressively perky Mohican at all times). “What the f*** are you doing here?” he responded, not unreasonably not expecting a couple of homeboys from the ‘hood (or pasture, in Ipswichian terms) to be pulling up at his gig. “We’ll be your support act for the evening!” we chirruped. 

Another fun night – a promoter working tirelessly to put on some good music in his town, bringing in veterans of Radio 2 and Glastonbury, American touring bands and up-and-coming singer songwriters just starting to make an impact on the scene, organizing the promotion, sound and lights himself and spending his evenings organizing flyers and promotion. There must have been fifteen people there. It’s not all Shea Stadium, ligging with Sting and all back to the hotel with two birds each for these guys, you know. Someone asked if the promoters had made sure that these gigs were worth our while. Oh yes, every single one. 

This week, a charity barbecue in the shadows of a nuclear power station. You can’t buy this sort of exposure.

Monday, June 11, 2007

It was forty years ago today….

Sometime in 1967, a strange and wondrous sound descended on the Stowmarket Recreation ground – an unearthly psychedelic occurrence, wrapped up in smoke and lights and gift wrapped in long hair and cheesecloth. Give it forty years and the Songs from The Blue House cavalcade is parked up in pretty much the same place as the Pink Floyd’s van (for it was they) must have been all those years ago, ready to gently sway the inaugural Stowfest, a one day celebration of live music, beer tentery and mobile burger vans, populated by gently grazing grown ups, and rammed with teenagers wearing jeans that seem to be either two sizes too large or one size to small for them, and who are delighted that for once they haven’t had to catch a train anywhere to hang out, do a bit of gentle emo-ing and drink breezers with their chums.

A day out for us players, too - a chance to check out the other bands, see who’s about, meet up with old friends and complain about the stage monitors to each other – a sort of bassman’s holiday, if you will. Some of the hair in our party is just as long as when Syd, Roger and the boys rolled up with their odd songs and crushed velvet trousers back in the day, but James’s Slovan Liberec football shirt is unlikely to have been de rigeur for the times which, as surely as ever, are a changin’. He isn’t going to though, as he likes it, he’s going to keep it on for the gig. Chanteuse and flautist Helen has turned up in Lily Allen chic, the rest of us are pretty much in regular Keith Allen chic – a selection of shorts and t-shirts, sandals and socks (aside from the immaculately-outfitted and coiffed Tony Winn in all white) which don’t quite challenge the black leather and spandex-clad combo setting up on stage two in terms of wardrobe exploitation. It is pointed out that if we had bottoms like that lady with the guitar, we’d probably wear a bit more spandex too, which I feel is a moot point at best, frankly. Still, no harm in checking, is there? 

The weather’s fine, the crowd is in expansive mood, the beer is on draught, and the organizers have very sensibly left a good deal of set up time between turns, given the double staged-ness of the event. We are looking forward to using this to the full as the advantage of being a nominally acoustic band and not having to lug heavy amplifiers and suchlike around is generally outweighed by the fact that at events such as these, harassed soundmen are usually momentarily stymied by not having heavy amplifiers and suchlike to simply stick microphones in front of and have to locate DI boxes to plug guitars into, once they’ve sorted out the four vocal mics we need first, of course. Add in a fiddle player and a banjo that needs a channel of its own and that’s usually enough to tip them over the edge into wanton despair. The upshot of all this is that, over time, the banjo player and the fiddle player have taken to lugging their own amplifiers around anyway as the monitors can rarely be trusted. Oh, and did I mention we’d brought along a drummer and a keyboard player for this one too? You can see the fear in the crew’s eyes already.

TT on pianner, a veteran of grander festivals than this (he’s what we like to call a ‘proper’ musician) has brought along his own in-ear monitoring system which means that he can hear himself perfectly, and also has the amusing side effect of making it look like he’s listening to his iPod throughout the set rather than concentrating on the job in hand. JP and I wait patiently, guitar leads forlornly in hands, as the time slips away. The breakfast DJ from local radio is filling in desperately in his role as compere. “Anyone got anything they want to say?” he asks. “Why don’t you play a record?” suggests Reado from behind the kit before making the poor man repeat his joke about two parrots sitting on a perch. The sheen of perspiration is now clearly visible to the naked eye. 

Come show time plus ten we are assured through complicated hand gestures and mimes that the out front sound is fine, although up on the trailer there is a palpable lack of guitars in the mix and, pleased as I am to be playing live in front of so many people and grateful that I know the songs well enough that a lack of foldback means that I can pretty much mime convincingly along with the best of them (a happy legacy of all those years spent in my bedroom with a tennis racket and a cassette of AC/DC’s “If You Want Blood” – I knew it’d come in handy one day. 

It’s never reassuring to be invited to start the set and be told that “We’ll sort out the mix as we go along” - we quite like the first song – it’d be nice if everyone was on it, but you don’t like to spend too long talking to the guy on the sound desk mid set, it’s terribly distracting for the crowd, who probably aren’t quite sure what “That terrible hum in the wedges” actually is supposed to be and you don’t like to come across as too much of a Prima Donna, especially James, who has officially been accorded the rank of Tertiary Donna so far, and hasn’t got all his badges yet in advance of an upgrade. 

Finally, during the last song, what appears to be the roar of a passing jet from nearby RAF Wattisham, but upon investigation turns out to be his errant guitar, emanates forcefully from the speakers at his feet. “They found it, then” he remarks in passing. We have become concerned over time that our departure from the stage is generally greeted by someone enthusiastically remarking that our set was “really funny”. We are spared this reflection today. “Wow” begins the DJ from the local radio station “You were really on time!” I wonder if Pink Floyd managed that ?

Friday, June 08, 2007

"You should do some Neil Young...."

The sweet, sweet joy of the music biz. It's been a busy week at Skirky Central - rushing up to Northants with SftBH for a party, then back down to Essex, where we narrowly missed the Asparagus Monks of Coggeshall before doing another set in a field and then off to sunny Felixstowe with Picturehouse, to play an extremely sweaty (and I never sweat onstage) set of covers with loud guitars and thumpy drums. In between, Songs from The Blue House got an airing on the radio and a mention in the Word podcast, we had a meeting with the record company and Wendell announced that his hard drive is on the mend and he's formatted the text for the book and just needs an acknowledgements list and some credits before putting the whole thing to bed. And then at the end of the Picturehouse gig, this bloke came up with a suggestion for the set....
Thumbs up to the bloke who wrote my horoscope this week, you got it bang on. It has been a good week. Now, about those lottery numbers....

Monday, May 28, 2007

"Do you do any Buffalo Springfield?"

I read an interesting diversion on the electric interweb recently, wherein a newbie to all this going out and playing a full two sets in public malarkey was buttonholed after a recent show and informed that his band hadn’t played enough songs that his audience member knew. 

His query was intended to ascertain what the correct ratio of covers to originals in a set should be and the forum responses varied from a wholly reasonable explanation that some people are never happy with songs they don’t know to an explanation of how another group member divides up his set list to provide reasonable periods of known and loved covers before sliding in a couple of their own, stealthily under the cover of contented familiarity. 

a bit more music and then perhaps they’d broaden their horizons a little. This, however, would only contribute more to the eternal battle between those on the stage, who are sure that they know best what an audience should be listening to, and those in the stalls, who are equally but almost always skewiffedly convinced of the same. You’d think they weren’t all there for the same reason sometimes. 

So when the call came through to The Blue House at three fifty nine from The High Barn to participate in their monthly acoustic showcase, by four we were on our way. To a lengthy discussion about what we should play. The first job was to round up the usual suspects – a band-wide group email revealed that some were busy, some were free, (some of them were angry at the way the earth was abused, by the men who learned to forge beauty into power, but that’s a different story) and some didn’t respond as the word ‘barn’ somehow set off their over-sensitive spam filter and they didn’t get the message in the first place. They didn’t get the mail that included the word ‘document’ either, because if you knock out the first two letters and the last three….you see? Well, it’s political correctness gone mad. Either that or health and safety, I can never remember which one I’m supposed to be cross about. 

The victim of all this de-spammery was our esteemed bass player and so he was excluded from the discussions about what to play, which took place between myself, singer-guitarist James, fragrant chanteuse and flute-monkey Helen and our wild card for the ride, Picturehouse frontman Wendell, who’d been thrown into the mix because he’s a both chum and because every so often we like to mix it up a bit and see what happens.

At a hastily-convened rehearsal the discussions really picked up pace. “So, what’re we doing?” enquired James, once he’d finished his baked potato with cheese and beans. Nothing fills a vacuum like that like opportunism and so I proferred my CD copy of the first Buffalo Springfield album, which contains a charming little sixties pop song by Neil Young called ‘Burned’ which I’d long hankered to have a go at. I have an advantage in the ways of Neil Young in that having learned to sing and play by strumming along with his Live Rust album I can pretty effortlessly drop into an appropriation of the Young-esque style at the drop of a harmonica. It’s uncanny, chameleon-like shading means that several people are fully convinced that I can’t sing properly* and lead one past band member to informally dub our Beatles specialist band “John, Paul, Ringo and Neil”, which if nothing else would make a great Willy Russell play, let’s face it. 

In the face of overwhelming ennui we were now one down in our quest to fill half an hour’s worth of hotly sought after stage time and moved on to the next selection. With our new album being due out on the HB label, we thought it only right to preview something from it and so started on stripping down the full band version (including pedal steel and banjo) to an arrangement for two acoustic guitars and a couple of singers who hadn’t even been on it. That took another twenty minutes, so by now we were flying. 

After a few more forays into our respective back catalogues of performances and writing credits we ended up with a couple of my old songs that didn’t get an airing often these days (one of which involved La Mulley transposing a three part saxophone part to flute), a song by Helen which was currently going through some discussion as to whether it was going to make the album at all, and a duet between Hel and Wendell on Gram Parsons’ version of ‘Love Hurts’. Oh, and James had decided to play bass. 

This was not a set list devised by a committee of movers and shakers looking to influence and win over an audience eager to soak up the familiar. This, surely, was tomfoolery? So, anyway, on the afternoon of the gig Wendell was spending a lot of time on YouTube instead of working and came up with the idea of doing The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, so we lobbed that into the set too. And why not?

We didn’t see a lot of the evening’s entertainment, spending, as we were a good deal of time in the studio annexe next to the stage running through the set again just to make sure that we hadn’t made a series of catastrophic errors of judgement. It wasn’t that reassuring, to be honest, but we did enjoy the experience of watching several of the other turns walk past the studio window on the way to the stage alternately baffled and amused by our enthusiastic (to them) miming. 

At last our time came. We were to follow the excellent, splendid and thoroughly Blue House-endorsed Al Lindsay, whose John Martyn-esque acoustic stylings were beautifully counterparted by a percussion player and a double bassist and who indeed encored with a marvellous reading of Martyn’s “May You Never”. Uh-oh, an encore….we’d better be good.

So we took the stage, four people in a line up which hadn’t played together before, one of whom was playing an instrument he didn’t usually care for and with a set list comprising at least four songs which no-one outside the sound engineer was likely to have heard in their lives and, d’you know what? We bloody killed out there. In a good way. Helen and Wendell were on superb old-style country weepery harmonising form, James was ebullient, I jumped off a chair and windmilled during The Who song, which raised a cheer if not a faint sense that the audience were about to see a forty-year old man do himself an injury, and that hadn’t happened during “Won’t Get Fooled Again” since that time with the tremelo arm in San Francisco.

You could sense the voyeuristic thrill, and cut the air of anticipation with a chainsaw, or some other very large petrol-driven cutting tool. We retired outside for a post-show cigarette of relief, smoking being banned inside the building (It’s health and correctness gone politically safe, I tells ya) and I considered the question of “what to play”. Nobody knows anything; performers, audiences, critics. It’s all about the shared experience. If it works, it works, there’s no formula “These people do it for financial gain and we’re entitled to pass our opinions however we see fit” a correspondent had said (I’m paraphrasing). Too right. 

Al Lindsay wandered up to the sound man. “Do we, um, get paid for this?” he enquired, not unreasonably.

*At least I think it’s the Young impression.

Monday, May 14, 2007

"Leave i', 'E's not wurf i' - Ooh, The Koiser Chiefs!"

We return the The Pickerel in Stowmarket, the residents of which fair hamlet are referred to in some circles in a non-ironic fashion as Slowmartians. Not ours, mind - we know which side our breadwinners are likely to be battered should we subscribe to such a foul calumny - and set up in a positive frame of mind, all the better to try out our 'new' songs, since the Stow Boys (and gels) are a friendly crowd and generally forgiving of our expeditions into the unknown. Some regulars still speak in hushed tones of our foray into 10CC's "Rubber Bullets", and warn their troublesome children that if they don't go to bed and get straight to sleep we'll come round and play it again. It sounded fine at rehearsal, honestly. 

This time we are to debut not only something by The Feeling (we feel a particular affinity with these coves as they themselves were a covers band up until just before their big break, although in ski resorts rather than in small pubs near railway stations in unprepossessing East Anglian towns which produce mainly paint, malt and processed chickens) and a piece of goth rock magnificence in The Damned's version of 'Eloise', for which Gibbon has been assiduously programming the sounds of darkness into his 90's-era keyboard and for which Wendell has been throwing impressively dramatic power grabs (cf Meatloaf) in rehearsal, as well as cultivating a moody mic-stand clutching hooded-lid performance persona which cunningly disguises that he is actually reading the lyrics off a sheet of paper gaffa-taped to the monitors. 

The set has a fairly regular feel by now, which can be the curse of the inattentive pub band, as although we might only play it every couple of weeks, if the pub crowd only sees you once every couple of months and you play exactly the same thing every time, they soon cotton on that you're not really paying attention to their needs. After all, The Kaiser Chiefs might only have two albums to pick from, but we've got the whole of rock history to cherry pick, and so there's really no excuse to settle on a set and leave it at that for the duration. We're not The Rolling Stones, after all. Clearly. 

There is an opening section through which we state our case - a bit of new stuff, a bit of eighties, a bit of seventies west coast Californian country rock (at which point my wife inevitably goes to the toilet, as a childhood spent in the back of cars shuttling her between parents to the soundtrack of Glenn Frey has left her emotionally scarred in terms of references to taking it easy and she can't bear the experience to be dragged back up through her psyche. Either that or she's holding out for something from Desperado). A nice run through the first set ensues, and The Feeling goes down well - given our exalted position in the rock hierachy we're never sure whether the common man is listening to the same thing that we are, and it seems unlikely in some cases, and so we are relieved that we've made a good pick. 

We are, after all in the business of show, and although (say) one of Gibbon's favourite albums is by a side project of someone who's played on some of the biggest selling albums of recent years, I don't see anything by The Bears making it as far as (say) The John Bull in Woodbridge Road. Their loss. The break gives us an opportunity to restock, regroup, refuel, sympathise with the ever patient Mrs Skirky, who has had a trampalike spill a glass of house white over her new frock and refuse to countenance getting a replacement in, and who has been drying it off under the hand dryer in the ladies' (always a dignified way to spend ten minutes) and also to respond to the number one mid-set question of our short but glorious career - the answer being, of course, The Jags

A quick set rearrangement for the second half means that we start off with one of our taking-a-flyers, set wise - the world may love OK GO's YouTube clips, but their actual songs are generally more of an effort to get into, however the group of Trivium T-shirted youth stage left are pleased at its inclusion. They are clearly in a band together and fills, licks and riffs are greeted with quiet consideration and occasional head-nodding-together memos to selves, which is great. I remember doing the very same at a gig by the Turnham Green Blues Band at The Thrasher in 1980, and it's encouraging to know that in twenty five years or so they too may be raiding their kids' iPods for things to play in pubs after their hopes, dreams and wild eyed ambitions of rock stardom have been cruelly dashed at the altar of fame by a cruel unfeeling public who can't make the distinction between genius and genre-hopping. That might, at a stretch, just be me, mind.... 

The time has come for Eloise, and with a few "good luck"'s and "see you at the end"s we launch hopefully into it. And, d'you know what? It works. The blams come in all the right places, the timing's right, the chords and runs come easily to work-ravaged hands* and at the end of the song the sweet, sweet candy sound of applause and cheering rattles through the air - it's like catnip for fortysomethings, it really is. I'm so pleased I do a guitar solo behind my head two songs later, pretending that I'm being post-ironic. "Ooh" runs my internal monologue "I think I may've put my back out". 

*Alright, so mainly ravaged by tapping computer keyboards all week, but you get the idea...I have to take cod liver oil tablets once a day at my age, you know.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

As we know, one of this year's big ambitions is to publish. Sadly, Wendell's hard drive, along with text, photos (see how I didn't put an apostrophe in there?) and notes about my grande folie has crashed and burned, and so the project is delayed even further than it would have been if he hadn't already been concentrating on jobs that actually have a positive and immediate effect on his mortgage repayments. 'Twas ever thus. Being the good sort that he is he had been keeping this from me for as long as possible, but a Picturehouse rehearsal scheduled for his kitchen made it difficult to keep hidden.
Mr Wendell was calm, collected, and reassuring about the prospects of the book coming out this year, and assured me that he had kept Editor Jessica's post-it notes exactly where they were and could recreate the magic that only sub editing by someone with a far greater appreciation of the impact of a sub-colon than we have could bring. You can probably tell that she has no input into this farrago of a blog at all.
And so we sat down with the band to learn some new stuff. Having greeted Mr. Gibbon at my front door with a charming rendition of the solo from Show Some Love by The Feeling, I was surprised to find Kilbey doing the same thing to us when we turned up at Wendell's. Not as surprised as he was to receive a phone call from Frisky Pat calling from the band rehearsal room, mind, but fair play to 'im for fielding the "We're all at Steve's - where are you?" call with such admirable aplomb. As it turns out, Kilbey's up for a bit of guitar playing on this one, and I'm up for a bit of the ol' bass. Unfortunately, the first run through is so capable that the rest of the evening is given over to trying it one more time, drawing tattoo templates (on Pat), smoking in the garden, looking at Pat's mobile phone photos and checking out Kilbey's kids' band's MySpace site.
Don't tell 'em - we're thinking of doing a cover. I mean, A and G - how hard could it be?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

“Do You Do Any Wings..?”

For some time now, Frisky Pat has been confused that The Singer and I have been taking photographs at gigs. Not of ourselves, or audiences, but of mic stands, leads, effects pedals, and he is concerned that perhaps our interests are a little, shall we say, niche. The Singer explains. We are self-publishing last year's accounts of life on the road, and these are for frontispieces to each chapter. "Am I in it?" he asks. Yes, The New Drummer, you are. 

Having pretty much run the gamut of experiences there seems little more to say about the pub band experience, and yet it goes on, and here we are setting up again in one of our favourite venues, ready to debut a couple of new songs and in my case suffering from the after effects of an evening out at an eighties night. The eighties, it seems, are back and judging by the legwarmers, footless tights and off the shoulder jumpers on display, not just at themed evenings. Which is nice, for the eighties are where we learned our trade. 

The Singer points out that he spent most of them listening to The Waterboys and so with a new DVD of theirs to watch he had in fact had had his own theme night, only with slighty less obviously deleterious resuts. This is clear during London Calling, where the strident tones of the Joe Strummer original are replaced with my less than forceful honkings, still, one woman claimed it was her highlight of the gig, so what do I know? 

One new song is Stacey's Mom, which we got together and rehearsed earlier in the week and which presents me with a splendid opportunity to shine during the simple but effective guitar solo. Darn that tricky key change though - after completing the song through the stifled guffawing of the rest of the group I insist that we go back and play the solo section again, just to prove that I did really know it, honestly! "You're about a minute and a half late with that" reflects The Drummer. Quite. 

A brief conversation ensues regarding the possibility of re-enacting the video on stage with one of our actual mothers taking the Rachel Hunter role. Since mine will be seventy this year I suggest that it may not have the same effect and the plan is put on the back burner for the moment. Our second revisiting of new material is The Teardrop Explodes' Reward, which bounces along splendidly and receives a huge cheer. The eighties, it seems, are the new noughties. a request goes up for some Tenacious D so we do the 'one note, bent' skit - well, it's only fair to try and give the people what they want. 

Fortunately no-one shouts for Mustang Sally which, given that I am wearing my Commitments T-shirt (a gift from a grateful record industry in 1991) would be a justifiable shout, however the intro to Sweet Home Alabama does get an airing after a muted shout from the crowd. It's all going terribly well, everyone's locked in, loud and playing a storm and by the end of the show even I'm feeling perkier. It's a bit late now though - like my retreaded solo. As an encore we respond to another request from the bouncing crowd, who have been demonstrating some impromptu and impressively co-ordinated line dancing during the last number for some reason.
The cry goes up in a Russell Crowesque manner - "At my signal, unleash Wings!". We are a band on a particularly good run. Tomorrow, no sleep till Needham Market!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

"Not you, you're one of the five per cent...."

To Oxford, home of numerable colleges, many, many bicycles, and The Oxford Folk Festival, where Songs From The Blue House have been engaged to open the main stage in support of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. After a lengthy negotiation of the roadways of Oxford culminating in a submission and retreat back out to the park and ride, Fiddly Richard and I arrive at the splendid venue laden with various acoutrements of our trade and gratefully accept a beer from the bar while our drummer du jour sets up in front of the impressive pipe organ which will provide our backdrop for the evening. The Ukes are nowhere to be seen and so we unpack and set up around the seven chairs lining the front of the stage and wait. As the support band, we will not be able to do anything meaningful with sound until after they're done, as it turns out with an impressive run through the Ying Tong Song. The Drummer decides to dip a toe in the water by playing a bit of Walk This Way, Guitarist James's level test is Anarchy In The UK and the organisers seem relieved when we settle down to play something of a more traditional nature. Mind you, Anarchy sounds great with fiddle, mandolin and banjo - we'll have to store that one for future use. 

Once that's all over we have just enough time to run through a couple of numbers before doors at eight - we will be on at ten past - and so Reado and I have just enough time to negotiate our way against the tide of the incoming audience to get outside for a cigarette before show time, me with nerves, he with a cheery "I've seen this lot, they're rubbish" and a stage whispered "I told you reggae night was on Thursday...!" We kick into the set and luckily his timekeeping keeps us all together, what with us being spread across the full width of the stage to the point where the assorted stringed things being played stage right are virtually inaudible to those of us gathered on the left. Things are going terribly well and to celebrate I get him to play the big drum fill from In The Air Tonight which gets a sizeable cheer from the sell out crowd. Set done, we get off within thirty seconds of our deadline. Tim the booker is very pleased with this, and we go to check out how the merch stall is doing.

Post gig relaxation is being ordered, drunk and eaten in the bar so I decide to get some of my travelling gear from the dressing room, which is accessible either from the stage, natch, or by following a wending trail from behind the front of house, through the side chambers, up along the balcony, through some fire doors, down the spiral stairs and through a couple of doors - long time viewers of a certain, if you will, Rockumentary will at this point appreciate that I am muttering "Rock and Roll!" and "Hello Cleveland" to myself as I follow this circuitous route to find myself gathering bags, guitars, stands and leads, loading myself up and retracing my steps, all the while repeating the mantra. 

Right up to the point where I realise that the fire doors allow access one way, but have no handle on the stage-ward side, meaning that aside from busting open the fire doors at the bottom of the stairs and very probably setting off all sorts of alarms, the only way back out to where my pint is waiting for me is through the middle of The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, who I strongly suspect would not appreciate my unannounced appearance during the middle of their splendid version of Slave To The Rhythm. After a couple of unsuccessful calls on the mobile I decide that either I'm going to be trapped here for the evening or I should brazen it out. Waiting for an appropriately large round of applause, and looking as roadie-like as I can, I shuffle on to the stage behind the group and exit stage left.

Several beers later and after a marvellous gig, we the band are milling around the streets of Oxford, several of which we recognise from earlier on trying to locate the porter's lodge from which we are to secure the keys to our accommodation. Some of the band have wangled upgrades to a nearby Travelodge, but having secured the promise of the one bed in the shared room from Gib, our bass player, we're staying in recently vacted student rooms in town. The gentleman behind the glass looks dourly at us and announces that only one, not two rooms have been reserved for this evening in the satisfied way that only those who spend long nights in front of a bank of CCTV monitors in a navy blue pullover truly can. I can feel another Tap-ist moment coming on, however after dire warnings as to what will occur if there are any more than two of these unkempt strangers who have appeared before him found in a room he relents and hands over two keys, and gives us directions - left, left, left again, straight on and third door on the right. The whole party snakes around to the appropriate door and a volunteer tries the key. It doesn't work.

The other key is tried. This doesn't work either. At this point I suggest that if the key doesn't work perhaps I should go back to the desk and try and locate some keys that do, however due to an unfortunate combination of lack of solid food and an abundance of post-gig refreshment this is delivered very much in the style of Steve Martin in that scene from Planes, Trains and Automobiles where he's trying to hire a car. There is a palpable hush while I demand the keys and set stomping back up the road in high dudgeon. I am, however, halted by shouts from back outside the digs where Mr Security Benn has appeared from a gate directly opposite where we are trying to gain access to point out that we are in fact trying the wrong door. Ah. He has both a direct route through the building and CCTV. I imagine his nights simply fly by.
After some more socialising with our hosts back at their place Gib and I retire to the room and crash. Some hours later I need to negotiate my way to the bathroom and return only to find him propped up in a chair like some sort of sepulchral Norma Desmond as his back hurts, what with him having to sleep on the floor and very probably do it during my snoring, nevertheless this is a bit of a shock. At this point I remember that I have brought my toothbrush, but no toothpaste. I wouldn't want to share a mic with me at the lunchtime show. 

The lunchtime show itself - this time sans drummer and after a relaxing full breakfast over the papers - is just as good as the big show last night, with a lovely sound mix and our closer proximity to one another making it easy to have fun. We play a completely different set, bar one song, to the early risers and the one repeat brings a triumphant shouted "Yeessss!" from the front row. I think we've hit a nerve there.

Again we get off on time and are packed away with Me, Fiddly and Gib ready to get the bus back out to the park and ride as we have prior engagements to get back to in the evening. James and Helen are ready to lig, Russ is already planning a tour of the many sessions going on in pubs around town and Tony is looking urbane and unflappable as ever, considering his options. I explain to one of the stewards, who I lost spectacularly to at golf once, that I have a comedy gig to go to that evening back in Ippo and tell him who I'm going to see. "He...", considers Big Stu carefully, "...looks like he needs a good slap. In fact ninety five per cent of the people I meet need a good slap, frankly". Clearly I'm looking a little discomfited by this information, but considering my behaviour the previous evening I'm thinking that he might have a point. "Oh", he says, "Not you...."

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Chasing the Green Pound

Settle down everybody, pay attention. Anyone know what's significant about March 17th? Come on, it happens every That's right, it's the day of St Patrick, well done MacGowan, take a gold star. The day when otherwise sane and rational English folk decide that they really do enjoy a pint of Guinness, they always liked that Jack Charlton and that, well, any excuse to wear a silly hat, eh? Some of them may even be vaguely aware of who St Patrick , a catholic saint, was, although it's generally likely to extend no further than something about snakes on an island. A sort of mediaeval Samuel L. Jackson, if you will. What do they know of St. Patrick, who only St. Patrick know? 

Nevertheless, where there's a pub full of drunk culture tourists, there's a bunch of people who'll want to sing The Wild Rover very loudly and bang on tables (admittedly they tend to mumble through most of the verses - a bit like Rio Ferdinand in the national anthem - but when you only sing something once a year it's tricky to pick up the lyrics) and that's where we come in. When I turn up at the pub, Shev is already setting up the PA amongst a tumble of wires and leads, and a few guest musicians are standing in the middle of the confusion awaiting instructions. 

These are generally one or other of our natural states, and so is nothing to be alarmed by. I stand in the middle of the room and await further instructions, not having any setting up to do. I survey the decorations - a few Guinness promotional balloons, a huge Guinness banner, and a jauntily hung tricolour - and that's just family on the table to the left of the stage, sitting by the chalkboard that promises "Saturday night diddly diddly". If nothing else, the cartoon aspects prove that we've come a long way in terms of all getting along together. This wouldn't have happened under Thatch. 

The show gets underway and before long I'm summoned to my post and am playing the haunting traditional air of Thin Lizzy's "Don't Believe A Word" accompanied by Frisky Pat on gaffa-taped cardoard box, snare and assorted percussion, and TT on piano. We appear to have all indulged in the same degree of rehearsal. The theme of the evening is toyed with as I move to bass for a version of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", included on the grounds that The Corrs once did a version of it, and after a few more singalongs we take a break for a band called Cara Cleibh to set up an run through their set of 'diddly diddly'. 

The group includes both Fiddly from SftBH and Seamus Hussey, who plays in an original band with me, and this gives me the opportunity to both see from the audience's perspective for once how much Fiddly enjoys his job, and how unhappy a drummer can look when confronted with the prospect of playing a cardboard box instead of a full kit. Both are enormously entertaining, as is The Cleibh's rumbustious set. They only play the Jack Charlton card once (there is, literally, a Jack Charlton card on stage for such a purpose) in deviating from their set of Irish songs, and so when we retake the stage (or, more accurately, corner of the pub by the dartboard) we are pressed to go further down the trad route, for it is by now approaching the 18th of March, and so we naturally kick off with James's "Sit Down". 

Somewhere in the crowd, an ex-captain of the Northern Irish football team is spotted enjoying a refreshing pint of the black stuff and grinning broadly. Odd - he was always known as a spectacularly right-footed player.... Shev is working the crowd like a craftsman, the jokes are getting longer, and after reinviting the band back on for a spirited "Brown Eyed Girl", complicated somewhat by the fact that we've tuned down a semitone and all six of them haven't, he invites us to leave while he and TT perform a quiet version of "Danny Boy". 

By now there are spontaneous tears and hugs in the audience, topped only when he invites his sister on stage to sing a Gaelic version of the national anthem. A clue for you all, it's not God Save The Queen. It's quite exhausting. Shev, who is only one generation away from actual Irishness (the Burton accent belies his roots), looks and sounds pleased, tired, and emotional. I've got the car, so I'm pleased, awake, and want to get the PA speakers past a throng of tired and emotional ex pats. As it were.

I get back home and idle away some gig-coming-down time on YouTube where somebody has been quite amusing, but not terribly kind, about SftBH. "Like inviting a bunch of brickies to sing with their Mum" is one comment. Since the internet generally is all about either accessing porn or being gratuitously and anonymously rude about people you don't know, I take the second option and decide to call him a c***.