Saturday, April 24, 2010

Picture yourself in a boat on a river...

Now visualise an American. If you're English, I'm guessing you've got an image of a slightly chubby guy in t-shirt and jeans, big walrush moustache, possibly shaking you warmly by the paw and saying things like "Real pleased to be here!". Reader, I met him. Mark Elliot is a typical American, in that he is warm, self-deprecating, polite, hard working, and desperately good at what he does. What he does do (hang on, I might need to check the grammar on that one) is stand up in front of people and sing simple songs in a rich, warm come-on-into-the-parlour-and-shake-the-dust-off-your-boots fashion which is both enormously endearing, and incredibly difficult to make look as easy as he does. Do.
The easiest and best way to form an opinion about any darned fool who's willing to get on stage with an acoustic guitar is to wonder what they'd be like at your local pub's songwriters night. This is all too frequently easy to visualise, as that's where you generally bump into them. Bedsit poets, protest evangelists, political flag wavers - I should know, I've played all these roles, and more. What isn't easy - in fact what is astonishingly difficult to do - is to make that singer-songwriter role still relevant in these days of the minimal attention span, loop technology and instant gratificatory downloads: to stand up and perform in front of people and draw them into your world, to tell them stories, to make them populate your songs with their characters - Mark Elliot can do this - I know, because I saw him do it tonight.
If I hadn't been in the other band playing, I would have missed it. Because of flight restrictions preventing him from flying in earlier this week, many people across the country did miss out on the chance to make their own minds up. I liked him. You should go and see him play, I think you'll like him too, and I say this about a man who lives at the foot of a mountain outside Nashville, writes songs for a living and who has therefore clearly got the job that was reserved for me...

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Take two drummers into the shower...?

Many, many, many years ago, The Star Club, a Beatles specialist band I was in, got booked to do a gig at a pub in Ipswich called Harley's. The landlord had inherited the booking and so wasn't expecting much, but he fell in love with the group. Heavily, deeply, seriously in love. And so when he went back up to his old stomping ground in Lincolnshire he invited us up for a gig. We demurred on the grounds that a one-off wasn't really worth the trip, and so he booked us into another couple of places and we went up for a few days, just to show willing really and basically, we let our hair down. A long way down. Every few months, or a couple of years, we'd get a call from wherever he'd pitched up and we'd go along and whoever had joined the band would pitch in, whether it be The Star Club, Picturehouse or, more recently, Songs from The Blue House. 

Since The Picturehouse Big Band is no longer extant, when the most recent call came in for volunteers we reckoned we could throw together something for the couple of days we had been invited for with Kilbey, Reado and Andy from various Picturehouse line up's new rock n' roll Maitre 'D Matt White crowning the affair with a trip up North for their new band Matt White and The Emulsions. Incidentally, on an early trip up to Spalding one of the posters in the Red Lion's back room for the Jazz and Blues Club featured Matt's old band, Swagger. 

Another listed the line up for the 1967 Bank Holiday festival, which featured Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd. Swagger cost more, by the way. However, from the initial expeditionary force, work commitments started picking people off, and by the time we departed, there were just the five of us making up the numbers - Picturehouse hadn't played for six months, I hadn't been in the band for a couple before that, and we now had two drummers. We couldn't pull out though - we'd made a promise, and besides, the name of the village where Big Paul's new pub was to be found was Donington, and the chance to drop that casually into conversation was too good to miss.

I decided to keep updates on Twitter. In between surreptitiously nipping out to text things on my phone I learned many things about the value of the friendship and companionship which is engendered by a shared experience in the musical trenches. And I learned that there really is something called "the meat sweats"... 

Fri 16th; Arrived and grabbed rooms. Pat has not packed socks or pants for the weekend. Am not bunked with Pat. Andy has just created the gammon Amy Winehouse. Don't ask. Made fatal error in attempting to trade solos with andy trill. Floor duly wiped... Good news. Jane Goldman lookalike in audience. Well, we've never medleyed my sharona with pressure drop before, but i think we got away with it... "oi ate ‘coont’, that's a fookin' bastard word ent it?". The post gig party lacks that dorothy parker touch. Update on the jane goldman lookalike from earlier - more of a caitlin moran at a fancy dress party-alike. There is an element of tequila involved with tonight's aftershow party. Latest round, four black sambucas and a fruit shoot. Yes, Kilbey is still up. There are ukeleles... Trill now shredding molly's chambers on mandolin. It is a rare skill, but in the right situation... Right - let's turn the amps back on and do sex on fire. Who doesn't love that at two in the morning? Every evening should end with at least one person in the room saying 'awesome!' 
Sat 17th; Dressed for afternoon gig. Kilbey in all black, Pat in red and glitter. Not sure what he's planning for the swimsuit round. Nice to meet an old mate who first saw the band fourteen years ago when he had just been diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. Pat and Reado are discussing correct ride cymbal emplacement at great length. Default opening conversational gambit in Spalding is an insult, followed up smartly with another insult. Incendiary born to run from reado followed by blagging of hotel rooms for the band. Excellent shevving i trust you'll agreeThe landlord was in dr who and the silurians. Top trivia. We've now been coming to spalding to play beatles songs for longer than the beatles were togetherBack at pub in donington. Pat is now taking orders in the restaurant and helping with the washing up. I think he may have found his calling. Trill eating a double mixed grill sans cutlery... Trill to be photographed for the pub's mixed grill wall of fame. Immortalised in Donington forever. 
Sunday 18th. Sharing a room with Reado. He showers to The Specials. Hope he's only skanking in there... I am reminded that this is the hotel where we were once so rock and roll that we threw a kettle out of the window. Well, the lead, at least. Have confused drummer by using the term 'zeitgeist' at breakfast. He is otherwise engaged spreading marmalade on his bacon

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