Saturday, December 31, 2011

"They say you play High Barn twice in your career - Once on the way up and once on the way down. It's good to be back..."

Two men, seated around a central table, read books quietly. A trio plays improvised jazz in the corner of the room, the low throb of the double bass offered counterpoint by the acrobatic scales dispatched by nimble-fingered men with seriously cultivated beards. A tank-topped actor reflects on his circumstance, and with overly serious intent another man, of indeterminate age, but with distinguished salt and pepper-flecked hair betraying his world-weary mien, explains his predicament. “Honestly, if I see a demo with a fucking Cajon on it, it goes straight in the bin. That or a ukulele. Imagine the two together!” he continues. “I tell you, if anyone created a power duo featuring a cajon and a ukulele, I’d go round to their house and kill them, just to save everyone else the trouble later on”. 

Welcome to backstage at The High Barn, premier purveyors of musical theatre and entertainment to the barboured masses of North Essex, and home of Our Beloved Record Company. We are here as part of the monthly acoustic showcase night, which essentially involves a half past five soundcheck, four hours of sitting around and then a twenty minute set (by which time settings on the desk will have irrevocably changed, thus bringing the whole five-thirty soundcheck thing into some sort of perspective from a having tea at home POV) - hence the time-filling manoeuvres described above employed by some of the turns.

There’s always drinking and smoking, of course, and those who have renounced the latter reflect fondly on the smoky dampness that is part of the shared experience. After a period of the former, conversations strike up betwixt journeyman and jobber, percussionist and perfectionist, soundman and shaman; be nice to everyone you meet, runs the mantra, for you never know who they might turn out to be. A guitar case by the kitchen area bears the legend ‘Matt Cardle’. Literally, if you believe Our Glorious Leader, who claims that the erstwhile X-Factor winner now exists in such reduced circumstance that he is forced to live in a guitar case in his parents’ garage. 

“I can’t believe”, says bass player Gibbon “That it was over a year a go you told me that knock-knock joke”. “Guess which nationality I am” says the blond guitar player with the impressively groomed goatee. No one can. “Austrian!” he says after many guesses working their way up and down the Scandiwegian map have come from the group. We suspect he has played, and won, this game often. I try to perk up OGL by mentioning a very lovely uke player Mike Scott out of The Waterboys (his official title according to Debretts) has tweeted*. That takes up a few more minutes as we try to guess her name. I would say ‘remember’, but I didn’t know it in the first place.

Time waddles by. Eventually we are beckoned stageward – for the purposes of the business of show we walk out of the side door, round the side of the venue and back in through the stage door – luckily it’s stopped raining. Twenty minutes later and we’re off again travelling the reverse route. “Language, Timothy” OGL mutters at one point during a lengthy stage introduction on my part. Actually, the set may have lasted twenty five or thirty minutes, now I think about it. On the way home Gib and I listen to ELO’s first album in the car. I reflect on the artistic endeavour that took Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne and Bev Bevan out of Sixties psychedelic hit makers The Move and into the realms of massed overdubbed cellos and flugelhorn solos. “It’s mental” I say.


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

George Clooney in Reverse

There is a reasonably well known story regarding Union Station mandoleer Dan Tyminski, who dubbed the vocal parts for George Clooney’s scenes as the singer of The Soggy Bottom Boys in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Upon seeing the film Mrs. Tyminski reportedly remarked “George Clooney’s face and your voice – that’s my fantasy!”

I am reminded of this anecdote during a telephone conversation with Our Glorious Leader, who calls to discuss track listing and the resultant potential album length and mentions in passing that due to the combination of a fortuitous set of circumstances and some not inconsiderable personal charm, he has been able to procure the vocal abilities of one Boo Hewerdine to overdub a backing vocal previously performed by me on the new Songs from The Blue House* album. This is exciting news as I am a huge admirer of the 1994 Ivor Novello Award runner-up’s work, and also a fillip for Mrs. K, who will henceforth be able to bask in the knowledge that Mr. Hewerdine is performing a lyric written specifically about her, and in a considerably more mellifluous manner than the previous rough mixes might have suggested would be the case. I’m rather hoping we get to make a video so that I can mime his part in the same way that the former Doctor Ross out of ER so diligently took on Dan Tyminski’s parts (as it were).

Not that I am in any way suggesting that Boo is not a fine figure of manliness in his own right. Indeed, a less than sympathetic suggestion on Twitter (I was in the pub) that the guitarist of the band I was watching bore more than a passing resemblance to the Honey Be Good hitmaker prompted a rather reproachful response through the social networking site from Boo himself. That’s the trouble with these things – you can’t be rude on the internet about just anyone these days. Only last week, a Tweeted suggestion that children’s television’s monkey costume-based beat combo Zingzillas were possibly not producing their best work recently (“Second album syndrome”, I called it) drew an indignant reply from Banks and Wag, the partnership behind such established Kirk Central toe tappers as “Do You Didgeridoo?”, “Playing a Solo” and “Rocking in a Rock Band”. To be fair, I’d only seen the rock n’ roll-based one, and Tang seemed to be wearing The Edge’s hat, so I may well have been premature in writing off the new series.

 On the other hand, since he was online and self-confessedly at a loose end the other night I was actually able, in a manner not unreminiscent of Flight of the Conchords’ manager Murray, to ask Neil Finn’s advice as to whether he thought thirty six minutes was too short for an album, which is what prompted OGL’s call in the first place. “That’s long these days” he replied.

In case you wanted to keep up with any more pub band-based lookalikes or comments on the quality of children’s television programmes I’m on Twitter as @doyoudoanywings

*It’s not a great name, admittedly. But only fate and fortune’s intervention stopped us going with our first choice, which was The Soggy Front Bottom Boys, for which I think we can all be thankful.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Things you never thought you'd hear (pt.94)

I check my phone to see that there is a new voicemail message from Our Glorious Leader. "The saxaphone player from Van der Graaf Generator likes 'Tree'", I hear. "He says it reminds him of The Grateful Dead".

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Things we learned about sound checks from this weekend's (splendid) pop show/birthday party at The High Barn.

(Right) The author soundchecking yesterday

(1) Do not eat coconut prior to soundcheck - even if it is presented in lovingly bite-sized shapes as part of your pre-match refreshment. It will get caught between your teeth, and dessicate into tiny flakes which will catch at the back of your throat, making any other action than coughing, spluttering or retching almost impossible. Sound engineers hate this as a way of getting a level on the vocals. Much safer to stick with the three bean wrap, the strawberries, the jaffa cakes, pineapple slices or individual party-sized trifles. Not a typical rider, by any means.

(2) 'Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga' by The Wiggles is a more than adequate song to play when deciding on the appropriate mix for the guitars. Also utilised in this capacity at previous gigs have been 'I Wanna Be Your Dog', 'Brenda's Iron Sledge', 'Before The Deluge' (occasionally supplanted with 'Rosie' in deference to the subject matter - that of the trials and tribulations of being a sound man. Oh, and wanking), 'It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) or, indeed, anything that happens to be on the front of house PA at the time. We prefer not to play songs which will actually be in the set, which can lead to some confusion with sound men and women unfamiliar with our act. In Beatles specialist outfit The Star Club we used to occasionally run through a spirited version of Radiohead's 'Creep' before they opened the doors (conversely in Picturehouse we used to do a creepy version of 'Street Spirit').

(3) For the sake of the front of house engineer's frame of mind it's probably best not to rewire the desk on the afternoon of the gig. This can lead to industrially-couched expressions of disbelief when the talent (i.e. us) points out that the vocal mix which should be coming from the monitors at the front of the stage is actually engulfing the drummer with warm swathes of close harmony. Sounds great in principle, but what the he invariably wants is "Kick, snare, bit of bass, touch of lead vocal". Whatever the sound on stage, your FOH engineer will be the one who presents your sound to the audience, and so it's best to keep him as stress-free as possible. You don't need any unnecessary complications weighing a sound man - not when, as we do, your line up features a banjo anyway.

(4) Within split seconds of the on stage check being completed, Nick Zala will have gone for a curry.

The very touchstone of the artiste's relationship with the help is probably best summarised by the (possibly apocryphal) tale of Ry Cooder who, when asked by the festival engineer how he wanted his sound out front, allegedly handed the unfortunate fader monkey a single jack lead. "Plug that in" he said "And try not to fuck it up".

Friday, November 04, 2011

My Dear Correspondent,
Thanks to the multi-platform interface of modern multitasking digital media you can now not only read this blog for free here but you can also have it delivered directly to your Kindle, for a very reasonable consideration, from those people at Amazon -
The physical hard copy books, the downloads and the iTunes versions are all, of course, also still available to purchase from the blog front page.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Pretender...

More indulgence, as I decamp once again to Pigpen Studio in darkest Essex ( for an evening in the company of That Nice David Booth and of Andy Trill in order to scratch another recurrent musical itch, attempting to record something in the style of long-time musical touchstone Jackson Browne, who I have to thank not only for many years of musical pleasure, but also for gaining me that extra advantage when his name came up in the interview for a job at Andy’s Records many years ago. I correctly identified him as the co-author of ‘Take It Easy’ and the progenitor of the more recent (at the time) ‘Lawyers in Love’ (“Good!” squawked one Billy Gray, who was asking the questions, “Everyone thinks he’s a soul singer”. He then went on to ask me if I had a criminal record, to which I replied that I didn’t realize I needed one, but I digress)*. Having written some lyrics couched in suitably Canyonesque form** I first needed to explain to my willing collaborators the sort of thing that was expected of them and rather than talk them through the heady haze of the 1974 LA singer-songwriter scene with all its multifarious Waddys and Ladanyis, Kortchmars and Sklars (and who doesn’t experience a vicarious thrill at the mere mention of Craig Doerge or Russ Kunkel?) I simply played them a couple of bits from Late for the Sky, asked Trill to concentrate on what Doug Haywood was doing on the bass, and promised him that he could unleash his inner David Lindley once we’d double-tracked the acoustics.

As previously, the combined Booth/Trill axis quickly nailed the feel I was trying to get across with the maximum of empathy and the minimum of fuss (bear in mind that the last thing I’d asked them to do was a six minute prog-metal instrumental, so the very least you can say for them is that they have breadth of scope) fuelled merely by strong tea, and some fruit scones and jam which had been brought along by Andy courtesy of his generous and delightful wife (hi Sally – thanks for the scones!) and which had been the subject of our first and most important discussion of the evening, prior even to whether to tune down to use a dropped D on the acoustics – to whit, whether to pronounce the delicious crumbly bakey goodness as skon or as scoan? They were also a boon to getting Andy to be decisive in deciding which licks to execute during his closing solo, as we said that he couldn’t have his second until he’d completed the part satisfactorily, which he then did in summarily short order and with consummate professionalism – notwithstanding that he wasn’t actually being paid – with no recourse to auto tuning, pitch shifting, patch pasting or dropping , and all completed in a couple of live straight to amp to mic to desk takes.

After many happy hours’ tea drinking, scone eating, guitar overdubbing, and a number of attempts to get a half reasonable guide vocal (that being a consequence of my own atonal honk being the only resource we had to hand and not any technical shortcomings - only a bad workman blames his pro-tools) we managed to drop in not only a piano part carefully arranged, transcribed and performed by myself, (although Dave did operate the pedal for me while I drove in much the same way as Michelle Dotrice and Matthew Garber shared duties in 'The Gnome-mobile') while Andy held the bit of paper I’d drawn the chords of D and G on with big dots on the keys to show me where to put my fingers, but also a counterpoint bouzouki riff crafted by Boothy while idling on the sofa waiting for the kettle to boil.

In the circumstances (it was getting a bit late, I had a cold and besides, the scones were all gone) we decided that the wake of all that activity was probably not a great time to start lovingly multi layering backing vocals and harmonies, and so we will be decamping to Boothy’s new recording space and audio workshop (just as soon as he’s finished building it) to complete and tweak it. After which I’ll probably get Steven Wilson to do a 5.1 surround sound mix for the audiophile market using platinum-coated cables, Zucarelli holophonics and gold-coated eight track cartridge technology. Well, why not? As the platitudes say, there’s only one ‘I’ in "self-indulgent".

*Obviously, the correct answer to the question “Do you have a Police record when posed in an important job interview is “I used to have Outlandos d’Amour on vinyl”, but that’s not what he asked.

** A review of Browne’s The Pretender included the comment "The shallowness of his kitschy doomsaying and sentimental sexism is well-known, but I'm disappointed as well in his depth of craft." which is, coincidentally, as good a clarification of my style as I’ve read anywhere.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Borrowers

As a personal favour to an old friend we’re resurrecting the tired old corpse of The Star Club for one last lunchtime in Spalding next month, and so last night we thought we’d better freshen up on a few of the chord progressions, just in case anyone was actually going to be paying attention. Times have changed from when we first pored carefully over the badly-transcribed Complete Beatles Songbook in order to put together a set to hawk around the pubs and clubs of Olde Ipswich and its environs and so we found ourselves gathered around a laptop loaded with the entire Beatles back catalogue on one memory stick in order to freshen up the part of the cerebral cortex that deals with lyrics and reinvigorate the part of the muscle memory which handles Aeolian cadence.

We’d been Beatles specialists for some while before we had entered our self-imposed hiatus (interrupted by a couple of reunions, even though we swore “…not a second time”) and so after some initial pursing of lips and knotting of brows regarding enforced key changes the chords rang out from rusty strings with ever more fluency as the familiar box shapes of Beatles songs* made their way out of our memories and into Shev’s kitchen – a place long since abandoned by the need to keep the noise down as it was past the kids’ bedtimes.

A couple of hours and thirty nine songs later we decided we’d probably got enough material to keep us going through an afternoon set ("There's a tidy twenty minutes right there...") and besides, a couple of house guests had come back after their football training and were doubtless perplexed at what the earthly purpose of four blokes sitting around a kitchen table playing obsolete things like guitars could possibly be. I know. At our ages.

I looked at the list again this morning. If you only learned the first half dozen songs off it you’d already know more than you ever needed to about the textbook construction of a perfect pop song, although of course whether you were then able to put the theory into practice yourself would be entirely dependent on whether you decided to (to paraphrase Picasso) merely borrow a few of their tricks or just barefacedly went ahead and stole them.

In the year that Neil Harrison bows out after thirty one years of pretending to be John Lennon in The Bootleg Beatles, I think we can be excused just one more trip up the memory lane we still call the A16, can’t we? Besides, I need to impress someone with my Spalding trivia. The first barcode in the UK was used in 1979 in Spalding market. I can’t wait for the crowd reaction when I spring that little beauty on ‘em! 

*Tell Me Why is a good example – most of the song takes place within two frets’ reach of the next chord at any one time. All My Loving is another – up two, down two, across one, that sort of thing. The main difficulty with that one is not breaking into Hold My Hand by The Rutles halfway through

Monday, September 05, 2011

"I've always wanted to be like Richard Thompson..." .

So far this year we in Songs from The Blue House have played a number of festivals and they have all, with the exception of one, had the same thing in common - it’s pissed it down. At Maverick however, the sun shone, insects buzzed lazily in the summer haze, children grasped hungrily at melting ice creams proffered by indulgent parents, and strawberry blonde girls fanned themselves waftily below outsize straw hats. The difference here was that this was the only one that I hadn’t travelled to with bass player Gibbon – he’d taken the opportunity to ride the bus out to Easton Farm Park - and so when we were engaged to perform at Felixstowe’s al fresco Art on the Prom festival I thought I might see if the fates were inclined to smile upon us again and decided to let the train take the strain, thus enabling me to avoid having to worry about finding somewhere to park, whether the gear would fit in the boot, whether the traffic lights on Felixstowe Road would hold me up - basically to avoid all that tedious mucking about in hyperspace that inevitably accompanies these things.

The sun shone brightly in the sky as I boarded the railway carriage at Ipswich station, Sunday paper in one hand and guitar case in the other, and I busied myself with minutae of the inkies as the train surged through the glorious East Anglian countryside, unfettered by roadworks, traffic signals, inconsiderate BMW drivers pulled up on double yellows with their hazards flashing, and pedestrians too lazy to make it the next twenty yards up the road to where the pelican crossing is. We pulled into Felixstowe station right on time – sadly no longer the splendid Victorian edifice with a five hundred foot long platform, where Wallis Simpson arrived to ride out the pre-abdication storm, where I caught last orders after my shift waiting tables at The Orwell Moat House Hotel in the station buffet (divided by a piece of tape stuck to the floor into the public and lounge bars, identical but for the extra ten pence on the price of a pint of ale) or where my maternal grandparents rolled up to enjoy the bracing sea air in the roaring twenties, one of the last memories that Gran happily shared with us that day when we visited her in the home.

I walked down the High Street – past the very cinema where Kipper got me tickets to see Hawk the Slayer and then got me the poster and the promo stills afterward, past the supermarket where RB’s Mum used to work, over the road which leads down to The British Legion where I did my first public gig and where they called the support band back on for an encore after we’d finished our set* and past the Wimpy, still serving the Brown Derby for dessert and with a family sat by the window, a tousle-haired child drawing circles in the spilled fizzy drink on the formica-topped table. It was about this point that it started to piss down.

Anyway, the gazebo on the green by the seafront was a washout and the members of the band who’d already shown up had retreated to the Red Cross tea room – officially opened in 1965 and constructed, according to the brass plate on the wall, by one Percy Plant – where it was resolved that we would continue with the day’s programme and so after a short set by Steve Mann’s Exit 13 we adopted the position in front of the twenty or so souls that had either stoically resolved to see the event out or had volunteered to serve tea and cake in the day centre as required and were determined to fulfill their commitments, and we performed a very well received, intimate and almost totally acoustic performance, utilizing the old-school skills of stepping forward to take a solo, dropping down to enhance a vocal and lustily throating a hearty four part harmony when required. As we cased up our instruments the constant patter of raindrops on the windows which had accompanied our performance quietened to lull, the lowering sun glowed dully on the sullen clouds hovering above the choppy grey breakers of the North Sea and I was struck with a profound truth. “Gib” I said. “Can I have a lift home?”

*Believe me, that Spinal Tap line about the audience “Still booing them when we came on” has no little resonance at Kirk Central to this day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I’ve got a fuzz box and I’m gonna use it…

Some time ago my friend Andy Trill, who I know best from being the one who knew how to play all the songs in the Picturehouse set properly and you probably know from past blogs as the grumpy one who originally joined temporarily to substitute for The Singer and then never left, reflected that while on tour once with Mr. Fish - in Zurich as I understand it - he was struck with the name of a progressive rock suite that he would one day produce. It was to be called Mannequins on a Turquoise Beach. When I finally skipped out of the band one of the last things we promised was that we would get together one day and collaborate on making real that concept. Of course, we never got round to it. 

Much later, while reflecting on having recently listened to a Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction in the car a few times (a purchase made after reading Dave Mustaine’s autobiography) which I very much enjoyed, and a free CD that came with a magazine called Classic Rock presents Prog, which I very much didn’t, it occurred to me that it might be time to dig out the trusty Gibson Les Paul and have a bit of a noodle myself, and so I contacted Andy again to see if he would be interested in coming down to That Nice David Booth’s studio to spend a day faffing about with some guitars, just for a bit of a lark. TNDB agreed to play drums, and I also brought my niece Roanna along, as she was interested to see what went on in a proper studio and had promised that her tea making was exemplary in both form and execution. 

We turned up at nine in the morning, I played through what I had in my head, Booth interpreted my air-drumming as appropriately as he could, Andy sat at the back and worked things out on bass and then when I’d done my guitar bits to as proficient a level as I felt able he embellished them very beautifully with some extra parts before accepting some vague pointers from me about some other bits we needed doing in the mean time. I walked out at five that afternoon with a CD of the roughly mixed article in my hand.

We then sent a copy off to keyboard player Tony ‘TT’ Turrell, who has history with all of us in various ways, forms and combinations and he very kindly worked out what we’d done & where we’d left spaces and then filled in what he perceived as the gaps before Andy and I went back to the studio with TNDB to buff it all up in terms of electronically shaving bits off the edges of notes, chopping sections out and making sure the dB levels stayed sufficiently in the red zone for long enough to keep me happy when I looked at the fuzzy lines on the computer in between making cups of Fairtrade tea. 

Andy, not entirely happy with one of his earlier takes, spent a bit more time dive-bombing the whammy bar at home and then mailed it over to the studio before TNDB tidied the whole thing up once again with the diligent application of digital processes on the reverse flange overphase chorus buss and, in all probability, dobly in between moving house, performing child care duties and maintaining his own proliferation of musical projects. Multitasking I think they call it.

So here it is then - you can listen to it now if you like (see link below). Roanna suggested putting in the bit toward the end where there are two bars of a reverse-effect bass figure before the end section, by the way.

The ‘band’ and the track are both named Future State Map.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Who you gonna call?

An interesting diversion in styles for the mighty Songs from The Blue House at The Fox & Hounds Beer Festival in Heacham this week in that we not only employed almost the full range of artistic expertise available to us but also, controversially, enjoyed a beautiful bright sunny gig day – all the better an occasion to spend two hours in the car on the way to Norfolk, then. 

Tony “TT” Turrell was my host and navigator, and filling the bucket seats on this expedition were Mr. Gibbon – bass player, James May stunt double and professional Alan Davies lookalike and Turny Winn – banjoista, chartered book-keeper and former child star with the Kelvedon Free Mummers. We enjoyed a pleasant trip up, exchanging tales of what we’d been doing recently (TT’s involved playing prog festivals in the USA with The Reasoning and composing the music for a chocolate commercial, mine a lengthy monologue on the travails of my contracted motor car maintenance facility, principally centred around their work prioritization system and use of the phrase “Hope to see you again soon, Mr. Kirk!”, which took up a large part of the A134) and listening to a random selection from TT’s iPod (Midlake, Genesis, Mr. Fish, Supertramp et al) while consuming a pork pie and some toffees which had handily found their way into his glove box in time for the trip. 

It’s not exactly Dionysian excess, I know, but once you’ve put two guitars, a small amplification system, an electric piano, a banjo and four musicians into an Audi estate there’s not a lot of room left for tour bus-styled high jinks. Frankly we were lucky to get to the toffees. Thankfully the Sandringham Flower Festival wasn’t until the week after and so we were spared the sort of teeth-clenching gridlock that these sorts of blue riband events can provoke. 

Once at Heacham we gratefully decamped and greeted the forward party – Our Glorious Leader James, The Charming and Fragrant Helen Mulley, Fiddly Richard (all the way from Thorndon), and That Nice David Booth, who was to be accompanied on this occasion by his four year old son Finn, here to make his professional debut on additional percussion, for which he received both a round of applause from our appreciative Sunday afternoon crowd and an ice cream from the kiosk on the beach nearby from his Dad. Stick with us, Finn, we'll take you places... 

A lengthy two-setter based on a found set list* had the capacity to incorporate many unreleased gems from the forthcoming Coggeshall Democracy album as well as crowd-pleasers of yore (an early audience request for “…Reaper” was happily acceded to and Mulley took to the tables out front the better to enjoy an extended improvisation on a theme from ‘Not That Kind of Girl’ by TT) and there was both an excursion into new territory for TNDB with the Gods Kitchen song 'North of Nowhere' (“I think I’d like a copy of that before the next gig please”) - which usually only makes an appearance if we’re having a particularly splendid time - and a valiant but ultimately doomed attempt to build a man-high tower of empties side stage over the course of the gig by myself. 

The catering was, of course, of the usual exemplary standard and we were most pleased after the show when into the car park pulled both Starsky’s Grand Torino (or at least a reasonable facsimile of same) containing Starsky, Hutch and Huggy Bear (idem) and the Ghostbusters’ ECTO-1. I’ll tell you – if the fire station opposite had released the nee-naw at the same time my day would have been pretty much complete. We further enjoyed a similarly pleasant trip home, delayed only at one point by Mr. Turrell having to pull over to the side of the road due to the incidence of tears of laughter impairing his vision and imperiling us all - this may not have been wholly unconnected to the improvised internal monologue we ascribed to the man glimpsed kicking a dead pigeon around a car park somewhere in Ipswich, to be honest. 

Again, it’s hardly the Algonquin Round Table but, as we have already noted, this afternoon’s rapier retorts had more in common with Ray Parker than with Dorothy. Sadly, due to TT’s imminent geographical relocation it seems that these SftBH soirees with him will now be rarer than ever and so it was good to be able to bid a fond adieu to his sturdy left hand, an au revoir to his dancing right, with a lovely afternoon in the country. And TT, if someone asks you if you are a god, you say ‘yes!’

ps - If you are reading this on Facebook, the punctuation, parentheses and paragraph spacing is/are much better at

* ie we hadn't got round to writing a fresh one, but luckily there was a suitable palimpset in one of the guitar cases.

Monday, July 04, 2011

"Thank you very glad!"

It’s a game of two halves, this festival malarkey, ain’t it? On Sunday the third of July - the day after The Maverick Festival I pulled up at the gates of Christchurch Park in Ipswich having dug out my Beatle boots (mouldy), my Epiphone Sheraton (still in tune) and a pair of black jeans to go with my white shirt and black tie (all quite tight) and was greeted with “You can’t drive that in here – it’s health and safety you see, you’ll have to carry your gear to the stage – mind you, all the trolleys are gone and the vehicles that are provided to move the equipment backstage have all gone to refuel. Is it portable?” 

Welcome to Ipswich Music Day - a celebration of everything great about the Suffolk scene, and a veritable "Where Are They Now?" of the Ipswich music business. Thankfully, everyone appearing on the BBC Radio Suffolk stage had decided to ignore the instructions given at the gate and driven around to the grassy expanse behind the stage anyway, and seemed to have managed not to plough through great hordes of pedestrians on their way. Having got to there in time for the opening act it turned out that there was no power and Buffalo Road, who’d reformed after ten years out of the game especially for the event, were literally twiddling their thumbs on stage for half an hour before they sorted it all out. Still, two years ago the whole actual stage didn't get delivered, so they were already a step ahead of the game, comparatively speaking. 

In the programme there was a photograph of the self-same band playing the 1992 Ipswich Music Day on, basically, three wooden pallets with a blanket thrown over them (the wooden pallets, not the band) which was a reminder of how far we'd come, to the point where forty five thousand people were estimated to have passed through the park on this gloriously sunny Sunday (all the bands played for free, I should point out). Once started they were as great as ever - all Sweetheart of the Rodeo Byrds and Sun Studios attitude. Lead singer Mike Summers (clearly, by the looks of him, with a portrait of David Crosby stashed in his attic) drolly introduced a number - "This is from our current album released in 1995..." 

The Star Club gig itself was a thing of wonder. From that tricky G/A/F/G/C/G opening chord (Hard Day's Night for you Beatlephones out there) to the closing Na-na-na-nas of Hey Jude it was difficult not to drift back over the fifteen years or so of pub gigs, van journeys, balls, halls, weddings, beddings. golf clubs, star clubs, barbecues and breakfasts that playing possibly the greatest pop catalogue in recorded history had brought us. Drummer Reado made an emotional little speech at the end, we linked arms, bowed for the last time, and left the stage.

(thanks to Mike Cooper for the upload)

Let’s Do It Country.

To Maverick, where in its fourth year the festival has ripened into a splendid day (or weekend) out, certainly not harmed by the bright clear weather and the inclusion on the bill of Songs from The Blue House, our status as early adopters enabling us to compare the site and sounds of this weekend’s occasion with previous years’ events. 

The dank and be-cobwebbed barn of our first performance is now the welcoming and brightly lit cafeteria and children's soft play area and the scuffed-concrete floored and stoat-friendly bar is now the Peacock CafĂ© (later to be graced by original 60’s protest singer and Woodstock veteran Melanie, who is probably wondering where all these royalty cheques have started coming from since The Wurzels started appearing on repeats of the 1976 Top of the Pops). The food and merch stalls have subtly improved in breadth and character – not that I don’t miss Andy Pearson’s Funky Dub Bar – but what remains is the genial rustic vibe. 

For now though, an impressively seven-handed* SftBH are tucked away between the face painting stall and the guitar set-up tent, being marshaled into position by Stephen ‘Foz’ Foster of the British Broadcasting Corporation in order that he may broadcast our music over the airwaves to the greater Suffolk and beyond. “They’re going to travel” he mutters to on-the-road side kick Dave Butcher, an unflappable, charming and resourceful engineer with whom we have happily crossed faders before. “They” are back in the studio. Through rough interpretation of the jargon of broadcast terminology we ascertain that this apparently gnomic statement means that someone is going to read out an update on the state of the roads and so we have a few more minutes to sort ourselves out for our big moment on the air.

This is proving to be mildly problematic in that since we were originally going to be a slimmed down, totally acoustic line up (in line with the founding tenets of the band), the delay in transmission means that we now have a whole group to include within the audio spectrum including a keyboard player ('TT') and Gibbon on bass, both of whom require the modern devilry of electrickery in order to make themselves heard. “Can we get some power round here?” someone asks. “Not easily” replies Butch. So that’s not a ‘no’ then? A stallholder appears from somewhere nearby offering power and Dave soon appears with an extension lead.

Our Glorious Leader emerges from the musical instrument stall next door with a ten watt bass amplifier, Foz is bending into position in order to transform the microphone he will be using for his live links to the studio into the ambient mic picking up the banjo and James’s acoustic guitar. He fiddles with a headphone. Nods. “I’m here at The Maverick Festival with Songs from The Blue House…” Later, opening the main stage, we are ushered into position, line checked and able to kick off with a song from our second album with everything already in the monitors. 

We announce that Turny Winn is going to do a song and reflect that here, of all places, we don’t really need to marvel at the incidence of a singing banjo player (we will in fact be followed by a man who plays one behind his head, while clog-dancing) and when the result of the songwriting competition is announced with the judges’ entreaty that “…as with most things in life, three and a half minutes is just about perfect” Gibbon sonorously adds from the back of the stage “…aside, perhaps, from very life itself?”.

The Fragrant and Charming La Mulley misses a cue for a flute solo – “I’ve been in the studio - there it just appears in your headphones at just the right moment” she explains. We have a great, rousing, good-sounding gig. Later James confirms a conversation with a breathless audience member. “I’m from the south of The States” she explains “And I miss it so much. Your music just reminded me of home and I’m going to go to the CD stall and buy your albums!” Lady and Gentlemen, our work here is done.

*yeah, yeah, yeah, not literally - I mean that there are one over the half dozen of us.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Good Day for the Slaves

First of the festivals this weekend, and bass player Gibbon picks me up in Hawaiian shirt, shorts, flip flops - oh, and a Vauxhall. He, clearly, had not read the same weather forecast as I had. Not that Vauxhalls aren't good in wet weather, mind. You could say the same about us. It's always nice to turn up to find an on stage kit, a bass rig, a Fender Twin, a five way monitor split and the sort of guys who have clearly done this sort of thing before stoically manning the desks and avoiding the subject of the weather as only festival-hardened veterans do. 

There was backstage catering, a tent for keeping gear out of the rain, crates of bottles of water, artist-only portaloos but, as Mrs. Skirky - who spent an hour driving around the town looking for the roadside banners indicating where the festival was being held - only one sign, which as she pointedly mentioned to the friendly steward at the gate, she was now looking at. A pretty topping show for us – Our Glorious Leader started off proceedings by simply announcing “It's a good day for the slaves!” which is both the title of one of our new songs and a mildly disturbing declaration of a manifesto, depending on whether you are aware of the former or choose to believe the latter. 

There's an element of both, but it's certainly an emotive choice of language, used cleverly to explore some complex contextual themes and deconstruct modern mores and political language within the constraints of a three minute pop song. And, as I say, more to the point I got to play through a Fender Twin. After that it started raining pretty hard, but you know what they say about a hard rain.

All in all, it was a pretty good start to the summer season – the new songs sounded punchy, the old ones reliably catchy, everybody played all of the right notes (you can fill in the rest, can't you?). Most of the requisite on stage banter got an airing and was gently warmed up, including Fiddly Richard being all the way from Thorndon, a banjo reference, and that one about the bass player looking like Alan Davies. Sorry about the twins joke everybody by the way. As OGL said - “I really didn't know that was coming”.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why The Long Face?

Regular readers of the Skirky blogspot, gripped and entranced by both the published versions of these accounts and the regular updates here, will doubtless have pored over the minutae of the sidebar just over there to the right and often wondered what this radio show malarkey is all about. Well, to summarise, the joy of Community Radio is that by its very definition anyone can have a go at it and so my friend Neale and I get together every Thursday at ten o'clock at night to curate two hours of chat, music and filleted highlights from the week's media in what is best described as a loosely-scripted fashion. The genesis of the whole thing can be read about in the introduction to Philip Bryer's book which is a compendium of pieces he's contributed to the show over the past couple of years in his weekly feature None of Your Business. We also have a regular section entitled Celebrity Death Watch, Neale usually reports some important Chinese News, we conduct Why The Long Quiz? (one week we played "Arr or Narrr?" - wherein I attempted to cleave truth from fiction in working out whether he was naming actual Pirates from history or mere figments of his imagination - we've done similar things with Barbara Cartland novels and James Last album titles in the past) and for a while progenitor Wadey Wade did a weekly soup review for us. We have regular input from and share badinage with correspondents such as Lord Tilkey, The Mystery Txtr, Daron - The King of South East Minnesota and My Wife Kelly Brook, and we play some of our favourite music to listeners in as far flung places as Barcelona, New Zealand, North Wales and Framlingham. There's even a Facebook group. It really is what community broadcasting was designed for, and the very existence of ICRFM is a continuing tribute to the hard work and long hours put in by countless volunteers from it's very inception as part of the Venue for Ipswich Campaign in the nineteen eighties. It's also jolly handy indeed for me personally, as it gives me a convenient global platform to explain why I think a bloke called Dave, who sent me a message earlier this week calling me "a ***t", is a fucking wanker.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chris Jarvis

Was it really seven years ago? We were in the middle of recording a bunch of songs which eventually emerged as Songs from The Blue House's 'Too' and amongst the fiddles, banjoleles, dobros and a Fisher Price activity set included on the overdubs we had decided that what we really needed for one song was a Parisian-sounding accordian. As you do. La Mulley recalled an old folk club friend of her Dad's and calls were made, directions given, and vague “We want a sort of Parisian-sounding accordian” noises were made in his direction. To the studio came one Chris Jarvis (in the company of his very jolly partner) who unpacked a massive squeezy thing that had lots of keys and buttons which he strapped himself into before settling down in the recording booth surrounded by mics of various elevations and patiently bellowing back and forth while engineer Steve Tsoi tweaked various buttons and faders, grimaced at flashing lights, and grunted in the way that only studio boffins in advanced states of concentration can. After about twenty minutes of puzzlement and eyebrow raising on our side of the glass Chris helpfully pointed out that accordians are prone to be very slightly off key over the course of three octaves and we should probably stop worrying about the fine tuning we striving to achieve at our end.
With the barest explanation of what we were after he then listened carefully to what we'd already done and rattled off a couple of takes. We made some more suggestions, he nodded patiently, and tried to make happen with his fingers what we were trying to hum, sing and, in lieu of any real knowledge about the mechanics of this fiendish (and rather cumbersome) instrument, mime. The procedure was repeated, we got three songs down, he seemed very happy to have helped and toddled off into the wan and unseasonal Essex sunshine. That was the only time I met him and, until today, I must confess that he'd pretty much dropped off my radar. He didn't, as a number of our sessioneer waifs and strays do, join up full time or come out to gig with us on special occasions, and he became a virtual footnote in the accounts of our musical (folk) odyssey. Sadly, Chris passed on recently after a long illness, and so, belatedly - far too belatedly - I'd like to say thanks for one fun day, and to ask anyone who has enjoyed that swirling, fairground sound on “Forever” to raise a glass and toast Chris, who played for the fun of it, shared his talent without reservation, and who still brings a little unseasonal sunshine into the room whenever that musical snapshot of one afternoon in Essex moves some air through speakers around the world.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Shake it up, Baby!

And so au revoir then, Pig Pen studio. As of last night (6/4/11) I have officially finished doing all my bits for the next Songs from The Blue House album and have merely to fulfil a watching brief from now on, occasionally (say) suggesting tentatively from the sidelines that the twelve string guitar which double tracks (one of the four takes of) the guitar solo in ‘A Good Day for the Slaves’ might perhaps benefit from being a little prouder in the mix than it currently is. Unfortunately when it comes to mixing, mastering and gently buffing the basic tracks with a diaphanous sheen of studio trickery I am very much the last person you need hanging about the place as my two main interests are (1) getting the thing finished as soon as possible and (2) being able to hear all my bits properly. I do, however, make a nice cup of tea, although bass player Gibbon is much better at coffee, but I'll confess I occasionally forget who has sugar and who doesn’t. All in all then, I may as well complete the crossword at home as clutter up a perfectly good recording studio by clogging the sight lines and disrupting the carefully strobe-tuned audio shadow. Besides, the rustling of The Guardian tends to irritate engineers when they’re trying to locate fret buzz and drop outs. Some people, eh?

This triumphant last hurrah involved managing to forcibly append my beloved bouzouki to one track on the album, where the sweet synergy of open-tuned double stringed jangliness and the key of ‘D’ meant that resident produceneer That Nice David Booth was so moved as to enquire whether he might also use it on his own album. Flatteringly, I find that ad hoc musical forays of mine frequently result in collaborators wishing to take instruments off me, and also that the mixing process results in (for instance) guitar parts of mine being polished to such a degree that errors, glitches and in some instances entire takes disappear in a frenzy of technological tinkering before reappearing patched up, fixed and virtually unrecognizable from the original recording. It’s marvellous, it really is, and I have no idea how they do it in merely the time that I am otherwise occupied, having been dispatched from the control room in order to get (for instance) sky hooks, or have been asked to go for a really long stand.

I also contributed backing vocals on three more songs, where my unique blend of harmony, dissonance and a Beefheartian oblique jazz-rock approach to melody was expertly coaxed from me from the safety of the other side of the soundproofed two way control room glass, where I could make out the shadowy form of the third Blue Houseketeer - James, Our Glorious Leader – literally wrapping his arms around his sides lest the raw emotion of the performance become too affecting for him, and throwing himself bodily to the sofa, shoulders shaking with the sheer intensity of absorbing the performance. For a fleeting moment the studio talkback crackled into life and I heard what sounded like the words “…gargling with soup…” but which surely consisted in whole of the phrase “…worthy of Difford at his most supportive and poptastic, or David Crosby, weaving the gossamer threads of harmony to create a shimmering backdrop of voix mysterique for the track”. When it was time to record my final take of the day – ‘Raise Your Flag’ – I knew what was at stake.I took a final drag on a cigarette, sucked on a couple of zubes, had a gargle with delicious Brewers Gold, and went into the vocal booth. The rest is history…

Thursday, March 03, 2011

"Sprinkle some fairy dust on the bastard..."

We are currently in the throes of recording the fourth Songs from The Blue House 'album' (as we persist in referring to these collections of songs that won’t go anywhere else) and are at the stage where things are starting to be tidied up, re-done, added on and revamped, for although this month’s special interest magazine is next month’s recycling and tonight’s blog is tomorrow’s thing on the internet to check for up arrows, SftBH IV will be listened to and commented upon long after we’ve committed the final mix to the mastering process, hence it would be nice if we could remove as many irritating little glitches as possible in advance. The sort of thing that you, the casual listener, would probably not even notice but that I, the guitarist who shifted to an Am chord instead of dropping down to the C in the middle eight, would be pained by until long after the discussion about it fitting into the relevant chromatic scale has been played out on internet forums around the globe. 

The plan for this week’s expedition was to pick Our Glorious Leader up at The Blue House and drive him to the recording studio in order to record, layer and harmonise some vocals, and then deliver him back home afterwards, thus facilitating a session wherein he would not be distracted by such minor irritations as whether to park nose first in the studio yard or by this country’s inconveniently strict approach to the subject of drink-driving, given the option that a few looseners in the vocal booth might help with the appropriate level of relaxedness in delivery. It’s not that excessive an idea - I mean, come on, it’s hardly Fleetwood Mac and their velvet bag under the mixing desk, is it? Having explained all this to Neighbour Neil at my point of departure from home I was disappointed to not immediately be credited with the sobriquet of Executive Producer and A&R Consultant for the evening but, as he pointed out, “You’re basically his chauffeur, then?” (I should point out that my official title for this project is ‘John Kalodner’ by the way). 

We were greeted by Pig Pen studio impressario, SftBH drummer, engineer and co-producer That Nice David Booth, fresh from a weekend working on his own project with one Nigel Stonier (co-writer of Fairport Convention’s The Wood and The Wire, trivia buffs). After a weekend thus charged and vitalized by his collaboration TNDB was in remarkably chipper form, and once we’d cracked a couple of beers, exchanged stories about our kids’ teething troubles and then broken the early evening ice with a couple of choice remarks regarding common acquaintances (“So – did you smash it, then, or what?”)* OGL stepped up to the plate (or, less metaphorically, the rug) and while being alternately encouraged and cajoled by Booth into delivering a series of relaxed and assured performances (“…honestly, that last take was just fine, it’s just me – I always like to have three versions to choose from” – whether that’s true or not, it’s great way of taking the pressure off a man in headphones) OGL got into his stride and after about his third delicious Brewers Gold (Mmmmm) hit the perfect mark between finesse and feeling. 

Perhaps my requesting that the vocal on Rolling and Tumbling be a “…little less rapey” was a high-risk strategy, but it was one which served to confuse him so much about what we meant that he delivered a perfect reading the next time through while still stunned – “like being wrapped in a crushed velvet blanket and snuggled closely” was, I believe, my Executive Producer’s assessment at the playback. Similarly, by the time we embarked on the last take of the evening(well past TNDB’s bedtime) of A Land of Make Believe** he was just the wrong side of caring, and so it came out less vitriolic than it is when performed live - more bruised but defiant, which made it all the more affecting. Obviously it all has to be listened to again in the cold light of day but it sounded pretty good to me at the time, and I’m not sure the copious tea intake was clouding my judgment that much… 

*Don’t worry – after an internal investigation he’s been appropriately disciplined and instructed to attend a course on gender sensitivity in the workplace.

**No, not that one.

Monday, February 28, 2011

It's one for the money, two for the money, and three for the money…

…now go cat, go! 

It’s terribly nice to be part of music combo which is popular with the public – it makes that business of setting up in front of people and making a noise with your electric guitars and amplified voices and suchlike so much more tolerable for everyone involved. At one point, believe it or not, I was in a band that was so popular that landlords used to invent gigs just so we’d go and visit them. For instance we were invited up to Lincolnshire once with the promise of a party gig on the Friday night and an acoustic session on the Saturday. 

Being the jovial sorts we were, on our way to the venue where we were staying over and playing on the Saturday, we called into the pub where the earlier engagement was to be held only to be told that our booking had been ever so slightly exaggerated and that although we were invited to the party, our services as roving troubadours would not actually be required on this occasion. This posed a slight dilemma for some of us who had only secured weekend passes out from our respective FPOs on the grounds that we would essentially be contributing to the family coffers and not spending the weekend, well, passing out.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and since the next day found us with a few hours to spare, no gig money to tide us over and collectively holding at least the notion that we should not spend all day in the pub, ahem, 'preparing' for our evening session, we decided to set up in the market square and busk. It was a bright, sunny day, and our jam night repertoire was going down quite well with the goodly denizens of the town who, I would imagine, otherwise went about their market day business untroubled by the lilting melodies of The Beatles’ greatest hits. Occasionally The Drummer would wander off to investigate some stall or another, usually taking his snare with him, and we were able to track his progress around the market by the alternate loom and retreat of his thwackery. 

At one point he inexplicably careered across our collective line of sight on rollerblades and then, with perfect Keystone timing, back again. All in all we had a good afternoon of it and at the end of our marathon session retired back to base camp with enough loose change to get a few rounds in, raid the local Chinese takeaway and line up a good few games of pool in the public bar, which was lucky, as the band who had actually been booked for the evening were already setting up when we got back and were almost as surprised as we were to find that our host had, unbeknownst to either of us, come up with the idea of combining both our sets in a revue-style extravaganza. 

Shortly after this we were engaged in conversation by a member of the local street community who had taken exception to us actually performing for money earlier in the day as this apparently had the effect of diverting the limited pool of charitable donations available away from the more deserving, non-musical fraternity. Short of starting a point with “Spare a talent for an old ex-leper?” it was difficult to know how we were going to get anything positive out of this rather politically charged conversation. 

At least when we then got into conversation with a girl who’d moved from Birmingham to be with her boyfriend and had been frustrated by the small town-ness of her adopted home ever since, she had the good grace to ask us all to assess the pertness of her behind by taking turns to spank it, and we thought things might have taken a turn for the better, until her other half actually turned up, all combat fatigues and brick outhousedness, wondering where his tea was, and we decided not to pursue that particular avenue of diversion any further than the limited number of baby steps we’d already taken along it. 

By this point, if we’d had an agent, we would have fired him (or her) as the situation was becoming somewhat farcical. I would have written ‘becoming a pantomime’ but that would imply that we were at least in with a chance of going home with a handful of magic beans, or something more concrete – mind you, by this stage simply some concrete would have been an acceptable compromise. 

As we watched the collection jug go round the pub (in lieu of an actual ‘fee’) we pondered upon the lessons we could learn from our weekend away. “Rollerblades” said someone “We should definitely get some rollerblades”.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Go 'Aften

You know things have come to a pretty pass when you’re sleeping in your singer’s kitchen with your suitcase of belongings taking up barely more room than the guitar case beside it at the end of the mattress. One of the items of clothing I’d stuffed into the case, and thence into the back of the van, when making my troubled escape from Humberside domesticity to the bright lights of Ipswich’s downtown rock n’ roll heartland was my Kevin McDermott Orchestra t-shirt, a gift from a grateful record industry in the days when a pencil and the back of a fag packet were all you needed in order to complete a fully authoritative chart return. It was clean, it was comfortable, it was on top of the washing pile when I left.
We were on a cross-North Sea ferry en route to play a series of arts festival-funded shows to disinterested Danish youths when a bass player walked up to me and said that he knew one of the guys on the back of my t-shirt. We got chatting and it turned out that he lived four doors down from where James the Singer and I were sharing rather too much domesticity. Drinks were taken, tour plans discussed and before too long overtures were being made to the in-house cabaret band who had already proved themselves to be embittered veterans of the Harwich to Esbjerg round trip and had forewarned us darkly of the fates that lay in wait for any rising young group of popstrels who should misguidedly accept an engagement playing covers while they waited for their proper career to sort itself out. A visibly sweating floor manager watched as we disengaged ourselves from the ancient musicians, leaving them as idle as painted ships upon a painted sea and took their places on the bandstand for a glimpse into our future. The ghosts of cruise ships past, present and future were in the room.
At some point during the evening it became apparent that wagers were being taken on various courses of action and their possible outcomes. Thus it was that I found myself asking a lady of fairly advanced years if she would like to take to the floor in order to both dance, and earn me several Krone in illicit gambling returns. After some discussion regarding the advisability, motives and possible outcomes of such a course she gracefully accepted, and started to tell me about herself. She had been widowed some years before after a long and happy marriage, and when newly bereaved had decided to explore what else life had to offer and, as a result, had eventually pitched up on a ferry as part of a choral group doing a low key tour of opera recitals at the same time as I was going off to do a low key series of spending evenings staying up late playing indoor cricket with a tennis ball, building campfires, riffing on a double bass we found in a games room at our accommodation and putting the drummer’s hand in a glass of water when he fell asleep to see if he’d wet himself. She was not planning to indulge in any of these activities herself but, to be fair, I hadn’t exactly set them in stone at this point either. She spoke on, I moved my clumsy feet to the music as best I could, trying not to either trip me or her up or become entangled in her evening dress, and after some time had passed I realized that we’d been talking easily for ages, her quietly with grace, passion and humility, me with a sense that I was learning a life lesson in the company of a far wiser head than I had been able to muster so far. It was almost spiritual. As we parted, I think I may have kissed her hand. “Will you still respect me in the morning?” I enquired wolfishly. “I’m sure that won’t be a problem” she replied, the coquette.
When the band disembarked the next day in a flurry of sleeping bags and hangovers, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “I told you I’d still respect you in the morning”. She smiled, with eyes as grey as the colour of the sea. “I wasn’t sure I’d recognize you in the daylight, but I saw your shirt. Be kind, you are a good person, I wish you happiness” she said. “Farvel”

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

(Just Like) Starting Over.

The weekend brought a new year, a scent of something special in the air and a trip to Deepest Essex, where we had accepted an engagement at Bob Collum’s Prozac Yodel (no – me neither) on the first Sunday of 2011, January the 2nd - always the most happening party night of the year, I find. In order to achieve maximum impact trajectory in terms of sound check we were advised that five p.m. would be an appropriate time to turn up but since we weren’t playing until nine, Gib hadn’t had his dinner and last year there was only one monitor anyway, the Suffolk delegation decided that five would actually be a good time to leave home to begin the journey to the gig or, in light of his given full name - The Late Richard Hammond, nearer half past. As it turned out, dinner for me eventually involved a Snickers at the bar and an apple from the fruit selection that our drummer had packed into a small handkerchief and delivered to the band in much the same way as Mr. Toad received extra rations from the washerwoman’s daughter in The Wind in the Willows whilst in prison for an early example of that olde Essex pastime of TDA. To further emphasize the analogy, in case of dire emergency and the crowd turning ugly there was a contingency plan in which we’d all disguise ourselves as drummers and make our escape while talking about what grade sticks we used, before stealing a boat and making for the Hertfordshire border. The music business is littered with the career corpses of those who hadn’t properly prepared. Oh yes - always have your exit strategy planned in advance.
The Prozac Yodel is a monthly (principally) acoustic session held in St. Anne’s Castle, reputedly the oldest Inn in Britain, which happens to be situated conveniently close to the studio where we are currently recording our magnum opus (tentatively titled IV). It is inconveniently far away, however, from my house, especially for the purposes of doing a short set with no monitors and an expenses recompense programme which depends entirely on the generosity of some people putting their post-New Year’s Eve loose change into a hat. What, us – award-winning critically acclaimed festival veterans of many years’ standing – turn up at a pub in the middle of nowhere and expose our treasured muse to the critical vicissitudes of the non-paying public for free!? Well, yes actually...
Despite the MU-taunting nature of the barely-busking payment scheme, it’s not been written anywhere that we delicate and perfumed flowers of artistes have a right to be paid anything at all for foisting our songs on people, and most of these types of evenings would not exist if it were not for the enthusiasm and dedication of people like Bob, who tend to spend approximately half their time between gigs persuading people like us that it’s a good idea to come and play the 2007 Panic Awards Best Venue with a set of our own material, and the other half (conversely) persuading venues that what they really need in their lives are a bunch of people performing their own songs. Last year, mind, I ended up £4.72 down on the deal after particularly enjoying a couple of barrelhouse versions of numbers by the likes of The Band being enthusiastically delivered with gusto after we’d done our turn and, caught up in the thrill of it all, dropping a fiver in to the collection. This year to be on the safe side I packed the electric guitar so I’d at least have some control over audible events and made sure I only had loose change on me in order to try and limit the damage on the fiscal side of things.
Our Glorious Leader and The Fragrant and Charming La Mulley had just come hot foot from an afternoon (recording) session at Pig Pen studio when we arrived, and we were soon joined by de facto producer That Nice David Booth, who’d nipped back home to get a microphone with which to amplify his impressive-looking Cajon, if by ‘impressive’ you mean “looks like a small, empty, upturned tea chest”. The joy of such a thing however is that it passably reproduces the sound of a bass drum and a snare without all that humping of big heavy cases into the back of a van, and so is enormously popular amongst a certain stripe of drummer, not least because it also gives you somewhere to sit while you play. With the string section detained elsewhere and TT unavoidably involved with other commitments it was actually very nice to be able to stretch out into the spaces afforded by their absences, especially with the cool, hard twang of a country-flecked guitar at my disposal, and also to be able to perform a pretty much similar set to the one we had done just before Christmas, when we had trouble fitting everyone on to the same stage, but with subtle emphases in different places. In the words of Geoff and Giles from The Orphans of Babylon, we were expanding in all sorts of interesting directions. Never ones to look a gift pedal steel player in the mouth we also coerced Bob’s accompanist into joining in with a couple of songs and Booth, by now a veteran of these sorts of cross-cultural raids was pleased to be able to sway back on his thumpety tub and enjoy the temporarily discomfited player’s expression at being told that we were about to perform a pretty standard twelve bar, but with a couple of switches in the turnaround, and in the key of G minor. “Minor!?” he queried, peturbably. “You’re going to need an extra knee” advised James solemnly. “If in doubt, hold the G, and gently press the swell pedal” responded our doughty volunteer, clearly a veteran of such situations and not one to be panicked by a simple diminished third.
I’ve heard worse mantras.

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