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”