Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Always pick the best banana"

Songs from The Blue House has always been, in terms of line up and repertoire, what we like to refer to as a moveable feast. Certainly the rhetoric of the early bluegrass ideal has given way to folk, country, blues and even grindcore* influences, but the organic feel of the group has been maintained throughout by a plethora of struck, strummed, plucked and bowed instruments which have both emphasised the rootsy feel of the songs themselves and meant that in terms of stagecraft all I have really had to do up until now is thrash away at an acoustic guitar during the songs and make jokes about the banjo player while Our Glorious Leader tunes up in between them. And so it will be interesting to see how we go down at The Big Finger Festival, upon whose publicity material our name has started appearing alongside those of Impaled Existence, Ignominious Incarceration, Bleed from Within, Viking Skull and of course, in The Scuzz Arena, the Extreme American Wrestling. In advance of deciding on a suitable set list the temptation here, of course, is to butch everything up, play it a bit faster and make sure the chicken wire is taut across the front of the stage before we start, but since we have tried to avoid conforming to the prevailing orthodoxy of the pub band ethos wherever possible in the past, we have reserved this approach for the folk festival we’re playing the month before instead where, due to a dearth of available strummers, pluckers and bowers, OGL and I have taken the opportunity to sneak in a couple of electric guitars for the occasion hoping that no-one will notice, in pretty much the same way that a fourth form schoolboy having a sneaky woodbine behind the bike sheds at break time would do. We’re also going to play an entire set of unrecorded material, with a drummer, and in front of one of the few audiences in the country that would actually be familiar enough with our oeuvre to ask for one of our old songs by name in the first place. It’s not a deliberately contrarian approach, but it certainly helps pre-empt any discussion about why we didn’t play the one about the rabbit this time round. It has also given me the perfect excuse to dust off the Gibson Les Dawson, sling some new ultrawound lights on, order a replacement for that toggle switch I broke back at The Pickerel, buff up the fretboard and start practicing a few (chord) shapes - albeit only after a couple of internal discussions as to whether it would be safer, more sensible or sonically appropriate to go in gently with a nice Telecaster with the tone control set on tickle and season the sound with some myxolidian tones, gentle arpreggios and the occasional flat-picked major pentatonic-based lick in the choruses. And then I thought, bugger that for a laugh, they can have that when we’re following Reality Killed Us at The Big Finger.


Songs from The Blue House will be playing at Acorn Fayre on September 18th this year. Also appearing at the festival are Colvin Quarmby, Red Shoes, Circus Envy and a host of others - please see http://www.acornfayre.org.uk/ for more details.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Do put your daughter on the stage, Mrs Robinson...

Someone asked this afternoon, as I was relaxing over a burger the size of Belgium and gently wrangling a small boy who was as interested in the house labradoodle as he was the feta on my plate, whether I was a full time musician. “Oh lord, no!” I answered, almost indelicately swiftly. “Only my son wants to be in a band” she said “...and I was wondering if you had any advice?”.

I think I responded that in order to become a full time musician you need either a very thick hide or an extraordinarily understanding girlfriend – the former so you can deal with the inevitable setbacks and brickbats you are likely to experience while pursuing your muse, and the second in order that you have somewhere to live whilst doing so. Preferably of course, you have both. 

It is difficult to reflect sensibly on all that when you're settled over a nice Pinot Grigio watching Deep Purple and Cheap Trick on Sky Arts from the comfort of your own armchair but I think it was the Purps' reading of Smoke On The Water that set me off on this train of thought – after all, if I hadn't been in a band I never would have enjoyed the experience of playing that song while simultaneously whispering the words into the ear of our singer and watching the bass player to check on the chords while on stage playing at a wedding reception on a set that (I believe) was used in one of the Harry Potter films. 

Those are the bits the careers officer doesn't tell you about when you fill in the form. I'm sure Rick Nielsen didn't approach the High School Dean and shyly hand over a piece of paper on which, under, 'ambitions' he had written ”To appear at The Budokan playing a Fats Domino song on a five-necked guitar” (which, of course, if he had've done, would have made a great deal more sense in the long run).
Similarly, that tufty-haired drummer-to-be from Clacton who I ended up sharing a hotel in Arras with probably didn't have high on his list of things to do “Seeing if you can walk around the outside of the hotel on the third floor ledge” but that's what he was gifted the opportunity to do through the power of music. Or would have done had we not been there to persuade him otherwise. 

Borrowing a corkscrew from Robert Plant's road crew, chatting to the drummer from The Minus Three backstage at a festival, nightswimming in a millionaire's pool and watching your lead singer throw up in a French ornamental fountain over the course of a four stage lunch. Rock n' roll you gave me the best years of my life.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

North to Norfolk

Happily, a number of new songs were succesfully launched upon an unsuspecting beer festival crowd at The Fox and Hounds in Heacham - we know they were succesful because three different people were whistling some of the choruses in the toilets in the break, and then afterwards - and that was just while members of the band were visiting. Notable moments also included the Springsteen-esque guitar-flinging stage dismount at the end (well caught, Mr. Wendell!) and a betwixt-song announcement regarding our violin player's ill-fated app launch - the iFiddle. Turny Winn's The Girl With The Scrambled Yellow Hair was a particular highlight of the musical part of the set, probably single-songedly prompting several of the enquiries as to when we are going to get our bottoms in gear and record a new album (or 'record' as Parters refers to them) while Risk got a particularly cathartic shoeing from James this afternoon, due in no small part no doubt to the tortuous journey undertaken to the gig which involved, variously, a car accident, running on empty in search of a garage, and the subsequent wait for the till while the old-fashioned shop service involved a conversation with everyone in the queue, at the end of which Our Glorious Leader was tempted to answer the question "Any fuel?" with a Fawlty-esque "Do you know, I honestly can't remember now...".
Some ideas engendered through the creative process during our group's voyage on the way to and from the show included simply replying to txt spk msgs with a series of vowels and commas wth blank spaces where the consonants should be, and designing a cycle-powered hurdy-gurdy, which would be played by bicycling around a circular track while the audience sits in the middle receiving the performance.
All in all, a return to traditional SftBH values, although there was some discussion afterward around whether My Boy, a Justin Currie-style rant regarding how shit everything is, was really Sunday afternoon Beer Festival material. "That's not really up to us, is it?" said Gibbon gnomically.