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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