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.