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'.