Saturday, June 21, 2008

"They shoot hearses, don't they...?"

It has been a tricky day in Picturehouse terms. I have spent no little time corresponding with an employer regarding just exactly when and where we are required to be so that his big day runs logistically as close to perfect as is possible, which is entirely reasonable and proper. Unfortunately, this doesn't run quite so concurrently with the ideas of the bands' perfect days, which don't generally involve driving fifty miles to soundcheck at lunchtime and then be hanging around for eight hours until called upon to perform. This, we reason, is why proper musicians charge as much as they do for this sort of thing. As willing amateurs however, we're just grateful that we're invited to the barbecue afterwards. Mind you, we are tonight due in sunny downtown mid-Suffolk for a performance at a pub which is notable for the distance betwixt performance area and bar. This can prove tricky in terms of developing a satisfactory band/punter interface scenario, since we are pretty much stuck at one end of the building due to our reliance on fixed points of electrickery and they are free to sit at the bar, although guitarist/singer Barry does have one of those new fangled radio lead thingies, which means that he's pretty much free to wander as he pleases. This, it transpires, will not be an issue this evening as for some unknown reason a stag party of bright young things, none of whom look old enough to make this sort of decision, has chosen to pitch up here and enjoy the evening with us. Also along are regular supporters JohnandDonna and a lady who introduces herself at half time and is so charming and effusive that we break all our rules and do a request for her to kick off the second half. Not that we know the song to start with, but we have a head start in that it is by Snow Patrol, who may be one of the most popular bands in the universe but, my lord, talk about three chords and the truth...! Frustratingly, these half written anthems outsell anything I've come up with in the past by about three trillion to one, and so I'm really in no position to criticise, but hey, if A, A flat and D work for you, why knock it? Chasing Cars it is then. This goes down terribly well, as does Frisky Pat's Moon-like demolition of his kit at the end of the set. We then have to put it back together for the encore, for which someone (hmmm hmm hmm, la la la) forgets to turn the out front vocal p.a. back on. At the close of the evening it's Pat's turn to lie on the carpet groaning gently and muttering that he can't play the drums. Usually that's Kilbey's job... At some point during the evening I muse that there is a machine in the toilets that dispenses a 300mg capsule of fifteen blended herbs guaranteed to 'enhance performance'. I've had a KFC on the way to the gig which boasts similar properties and was 79p cheaper, but no-one seems willing to test this theory out. Frisky Pat comes out with the money and relays that we need to get out sharpish as they need to clear up for a function the next day. We are drones - disposable, of the moment and performing a function. An, if you will, function band. This isn't what I dreamed of.

See use of the Oxford comma above, as I tonight learned that it is called. We don't just waste our time between sets , you know.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

"Livin' the dream on G's and caffeine..."

Tonight's the night, everybody - welcome, my friends, to the show that never ends! To recap, our mildly cynical neighbour, a member of Her Majesty's Press, has been contacted by a gentleman who claims that he can teach someone to play guitar using the power of the interweb in a month. One recent graduate of the course was playing with a band within two weeks, it transpires. We are doubtful and, as ever when these sorts of conversations are held on licensed premises, we determine that we must discover if this be true and so our friend Producer Simon is volunteered in his absence as a suitable guinea guitarist. Once he shows up at the pub and is confronted with a tableful of mostly pissed and therefore overly insistent friends of his that he undertake the challenge, he agrees, I suspect mostly for the sake of a quiet life. However, with a deadline to meet and a set list and programme of forthcoming gigs despatched to Talbot Towers, it seems there is no escape for our hapless victim. I mean hero. The Mighty Picturehous are coming down off our friday night gig - the third in rapid succession at a pub in Colchester where we are currently flavour of the month and have done so many shows in such a relatively short time that we not only recognise a few of the punters, but also the pub's 'twixt and post-set CD collection - to be honest it seems a bit high camp (Copacabana, some Abba, a bit of George Michael, Dolly Parton's Nine To Five) but I guess no-one's going to start a fight to I Will Survive. On this occasion we missed the vital timing slot which means that the pub pretty much empties bang on a quarter past eleven so that the nighthawks of Colchester can get in at the late night establishment of their choice by the half eleven price hike. It's unnerving the first time, but we're generally getting better at it. Barry is louchely sipping at a nice Merlot and considering his options, the freshly re-monikered Sweetpea Ibbotson and I are considering why they built the castle at the bottom of the hill and not the top ("Romans, fucking idiots" considers the former Frisky Pat sagely) and Kilbey is reflecting on his evening's Jack Daniels consumption from a prone and frankly horizontal position on the bandstand. His conclusion seems to be that an apple a day may well keep the doctor away, but is not a practical daily diet on its own if you're going to celebrate the end of your four year certificate in training course in the company of Kentucky's finest. Wise words indeed. It is friday though, and no-one has to work tomorrow, which is a mantra he has been repeating ever more forcefully during the course of the evening. "Did I mention it was friday?" he asks one last time.

Our trip to the seaside at Felixstowe for Simon's grand debut the next night brings out a fair smattering of supportive friends, all eager to see how he will face the challenge. A photographer from the paper, detailed to capture his triumph in digital form contents himself with getting Si to throw a few shapes while we're setting up and assures him that these are the best shots he'll get and buggers off conveniently early for a prior appointment, very possibly an urgent assignment at an Indian restaurant, we suspect. We have decided to not prolong the new boy's agony for too long and bring him on third song into the set. Any possibility of a low key entrance subsides pretty swiftly as Kilbey welcomes him to the stage by announcing that he has been playing guitar for approximately four weeks and this is his first ever gig. A breathless audience readies its camcorders. Well, if there were nerves, they were beautifully disguised. I think I may have held my breath sidestage for the duration of the song, but all his changes were there and he was at no point helpless. Cues in and out faultlessly executed and a happy man whose first words upon leaving the stage were apparently "I want my own band!" How potent cheap music is. As for us, we chuntered on with the thing that we do, enjoyed a cigarette break on the balcony at half time, and rounded off the evening's fun with a surprise "I Predict a Riot" that we hadn't planned, and indeed hadn't played for a while. A nice crowd, a bit of dancing, and it's always good when someone comes in their Lara Croft fancy dress outfit (as it were). The gig was upstairs - up two flights of stairs in fact, and the difference between the previous night's venue and this became rapidly apparent as just as we finished the place really started filling up (either that or they'd all seen us before and were just waiting for us to announce the last number so they could get the beers in). This was the half eleven place round these parts. As leads were packed and guitars put back in their cases the space between us and the door began filling up with bodies - bodies that were generally disinclined to leave a convenient corridor for some fairly tired and inordinately sweaty musicians to get their gear to. As we moved through the throng they magically swept around behind us like an ocean tide, and being the well brought up boys that we are it seemed impolite to ram knees and shins with heavy speaker cabinets, tempting as it was, and besides, most of this lot of incomers were breezered up to the max and it didn't look like it was going to take an awful lot to kick them off. Each trudge to the door, down the stairs, back up, through the throng and over to pick up another cumbersome piece of equipment seemed to take longer and longer, and still they came. "Yeeeaaahhh Bwwooiiii!" shouted one, patting my guitar case in approval and asking if he could blow into the piece in my other hand. It was an extendable speaker stand, but it seemed churlish to turn him down, and he seemed to enjoy the experience. "I'll give you fifty quid to go back on" said another. I may have laughed a little too risibly. By the end we were wondering whether it would be possible to simply drop drum cases from the balcony to the pavement below and try to catch them (rather than kick them down the stairs, which Sweetpea, determined to not be defined by his nickname was already doing by this point) but since one girl had already had the same idea regarding disposal of her wine glass we thought it was probably a step too far in the circumstances to start lobbing the lighting rig into the street in case some of the partygoers thought it was a good idea and decided to join in. We left and drove away, and still they came.

There is a theory (proposed by my friend and part time philosopher Neil) that those who live beside the sea are different to the rest of us. The expanse of water both constrains and excites them. It is, paradoxically, both a barrier and a gateway - "Come to me" it says, "See what mysteries I hide" while murmuring with another breath "You shall not pass". Those who turn their backs to the sea face inland, face a journey, face finding another way for themselves - to travel, to explore, to get away, to lose themselves. Or, as we discovered, get wankered on a saturday night, lob glasses off balconies and shout "Gary, he's not worth it!". It takes all sorts.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Fear and loathing in Walton-on-the-Naze

The events of the last three weeks seem to have thrown Picturehouse much more together, in both a fraternal and a musical fashion. After the debacle of a farrago of the Walton show, where regular viewers will recall we played to an audience best described as widely spaced, and less than hysterical in their response, we have enjoyed the good times provided by subsequent more enthusiastic audiences exponentially more, and we are on the verge of cancelling a couple of shows at some of our more low-key residencies as a result. 

Admittedly we have genuine excuses for the diary clashes, but there is a definite feeling that if we’re not going to have fun while we’re out then we may as well stay at home and have fun instead, which seems a sensible enough approach to adopt, especially when we consider the roll call of past members who have quit the band in the past simply because they’d rather see their wives, girlfriends and/or children at the weekend than get home at one in the morning having spent a unfulfilling Friday night with some people whose opinion of the merits of our set list seem diametrically opposed to our own. It’s not exactly going up the river after Colonel Kurtz, but there are some weird experiences to be had out there, believe you me (not least that time we encountered the team who play darts, at Harkness). 

There are only so many times you can enjoy the mantra of what you didn’t play being intoned at you before the thrill palls, frankly, but it’s so much easier when you’ve had a good gig to begin with, hence the clear out. We have some new and interesting places to be going over the next couple of months, so we’ll see what these box- fresh delights have in store for us – as in any relationship, we have to keep moving forward, other wise we’re just going to end up with a dead shark on our hands. 

Speaking of new and exciting things, we look forward this weekend to the live debut of our good friend and one time radio show producer (hence the name), Producer Simon. Some friends of ours in Her Majesty’s Press, charged with discovering if there was any truth in the proposition that someone could be taught to play guitar, from scratch, in a month, to a standard at which they would be able to play with a band happened to mention this to me. Of course, being in the pub at the time as we were, the obvious idea came that there was only one way to find out – ffiiiigggghhhtt! 

In the absence of that, all we had to do was find a suitable victim / volunteer and put it to them that the idea of potential humiliation and shame at the hands of a baying pub audience was exactly the sort of thing that would start off their weekend in a sprightly fashion. Producer Simon, being not only literate enough to record his experiences in written form for the paper but also a frustrated would-be guitarist of long standing seemed ideal for the job and after assuaging his doubts through the power of Kronenburg he signed up for the task. 

He was coming along nicely when he asked if he could have a sneaky advance run-through with us last week, although his combined bar counting, lip chewing and furrowed brow NLP learning technique did receive a bit of a set back when Kilbey quite rightly identified one small factor which may have affected his nascent guitar-flinging career in that he’d learned the single version of the song and we were doing the album version. There’s more to it than just sticking your fingers in the right place, splaying your legs and waiting for the adoration of the public you know (as the lap dancer said to the Bishop). More news, and hopefully Si’s update from the other side of the fear fence, as we have it.