Thursday, May 30, 2013

Kickstarter target achieved, world exhales involuntary sigh of relief.

With no little fanfare (and more than an element of regret regarding the Epiphone Sheraton I threw in at the last minute, just in case) it would appear that we have reached our target and that the Songs from The Blue House live album will be going ahead as planned.

I can’t remember which one, but it was definitely a significant birthday. Our Glorious Leader had organised a party during which he would perform with as many musicians from his recent past as possible, in reverse order, and as such my band gods kitchen (no capitals, no apostrophe) were on first. Stepping up to the microphone before our first number I did my pre-intro spiel. “When I invited James to join the group” I began “I remember he said to me ‘gods kitchen? That’s the last band I want to play with!’”

At the time it got a big laugh as JP had effectively (as I once spoonerisedly exclaimed over a Chinese meal and a few Tiger beers) ‘…bit the quizness’, although as it turned out this announcement would prove to be dramatically premature. A short time after his (and singer Helen and bass player Gibbon’s) performance we found ourselves perched on stools in his spare bedroom trying to write something together. The first song completed then, as with the forthcoming live CD, was entitled Bike. I’ve still got a copy of the recorded demo, labelled ‘Our Thing’ in marker pen at the time, and it sounds remarkably similar to the version on what will be our fifth album together, which is either an example of our instinctive feel for the right arrangement straight off the bat or a practical demonstration of a worrying lack of improvement in terms of our musical prowess over the ensuing decade.
In between times we have gathered and dispersed any number of combinations of friends, acquaintances and (on the odd occasion) hired help in order to move enough air to make these noises happen both in recording studios and in front of audiences. Prominent amongst these are the good folk at The High Barn who actually released our third album on their own label, meaning it had a barcode and you could buy it in shops and shit. Frequently we have been in the company of accommodating barmen and women and, more recently, increasingly in the company of our children. To all of those people, I extend my warmest thanks for a decade well-lived - the guy who demanded we perform Needles and Pins at that beer festival that one time notwithstanding.
If you’d asked me in 2003, when we started putting our bits and pieces together to make up songs out of our own heads, where I thought this was going I’d have said “Songs from The Blue House?
That’s the last band I want to play with.”  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

"...and all the world is football shaped."

I once made a CD all of my own, you know. It was going to be the last thing that I did in terms of music - after all, they'd pretty much called time in The Last Chance Saloon and so I'd finished my pint, settled up my tab and was just doing my coat up ready to leave. I just had time to get a few friends in to do some singing and playing and as I thought it might be a nice thing to look back on in years to come I went the full nine yards in terms of different-cloured jewel cases, printed CDs, a logo, and a website for the project which my friend Wendell Gee and I planned one night over a few beers with a large sheet of paper, a ruler and a couple of pencils. "Congratulations - you've done about two grand's worth of design work there" he said as I departed at the end of the evening with a list of topics to write copy about.

One of the things I delivered was a Pete Frame-type family tree of the bands I'd played with which he very kindly extricated from the primitive Word-based file I had delivered it in and then dropped among some properly formatted text on the webpage. Here's the section that dealt with a band called As Is who I joined in the Summer of 1989 (and was out of again by the time 1991 had had time to catch its breath).

Despite the brevity of our time together the year and a half that I enjoyed behind the second guitar involved a series of truly pivotal points in my so-called career and, more importantly, my life. After As Is, things were never quite the same again, for any number of reasons that may not necessarily detain us here now. During As Is, on the other hand, I enjoyed life as only a generously-mulletted libertine let loose at the fag end of the eighties should have done. We had baggy white shirts and chorus pedals - what else were we supposed to need? You can find a video of us playing live at Colchester Arts Centre in 1990 here;

In the clip Drummer Malcolm is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the name of one of his favourite bands - The Replacements, which is a fresh irony to me given that this was the second wholesale line up change behind singer/ guitarist (and online archivist archivist) James. When we'd recorded Away From You in the studio Malcolm's brother (the artist formerly known as The Stupids' Marty Tuff) had added an outro lead guitar break which upon re-listening sounded oddly familiar... Once we'd worked out what it was we had an acknowledgement etched into the run-out groove of the single, which then resolutely failed to break us big in the indie charts. Bass player Ross once found a box of them, sad, lonely and unsold, in a charity shop in Brighton.   

As a postscript, we got together a couple of years ago to play at Ross's birthday party. Someone remarked that we were "...kind of Franz Ferdinandy" and would probably do quite well if we stuck at it.        

Monday, May 13, 2013

The End of The Rainbow

I made a video once. Well, I say madewas in. As it was explained to me all I had to do was meet up beforehand in order to expound on a few of the more flowery metaphors in the song over a couple of roll ups and a nice cup of tea, and then turn up and wait in my trailer until called for my close up before the light went. It certainly sounded like a good deal to me – a couple of friends at Suffolk College got a piece for their year-end art and media coursework and we got granted all rights in perpetuity to a promo that we could send to MTV, always assuming we had a friend who could link two VCRs together for long enough to run us off a few copies.

Meeting done, storyboard cut and pasted*, backdrop decorated, televisions procured and raw videotape sourced we assembled at an old airbase somewhere in the middle of Cambridgeshire which was enjoying a new lease of life as an arts and media hub, by which I mean it was no longer used for storing mustard gas or nuclear weapons, but had had a brazier dragged into the middle of the largest bunker and a few plywood walls half-heartedly nailed together in order to partition off a few of the less draughty corners for the use of the likes of us and, as we were to discover later, a band who were absolutely determined to get the intro to The Doobie Brothers’ China Grove bang on, no matter how many times this meant them starting over.

The shooting schedule seemed reasonable enough and so we got on with looking moodily off camera while miming our parts, hitting various marks and cheerfully faking a conversation while ensconced on a sofa which was intended to portray us as louche, detached observers of the scene. D.P. Hammond, our moodily-lit bass player, took the detachment bit to method acting levels by actually getting so involved in reading the paper that he missed his cue – although his cue, fortuitously, was to 'start reading a paper'. He, it should be said, was generally laid back to the point of the metaphorically horizontal anyway, and was once late for a rehearsal at his own house. We honoured him with an instrumental called “Donald Finally Wakes Up but Then Falls Asleep on His Way to The Bass Amp”. 

Drummer Gary meanwhile manfully stomped on a kick drum pedal for about twenty minutes while it was lit and shot, and then enthusiastically joined in with dropping three televisions off a balcony in order to capture the best angle on tape before tossing the resultant detritus into a skip outside, only to be rewarded with a further cathode ray tube explosion which launched either a screwdriver or a chisel (reports vary) whistling past his ear in the dark.

 Singer Steve donned a coat and scarf and channelled his inner Jim Kerr whilst being arranged carefully around a discarded toy tank, had newsreel footage projected on to his face, and rushed to catch the last of the light as a deeply significant metaphor burst into flames before our collective fret frottaging gurns. Pretty much the last shot to be completed was the alarm clock ticking down the sixteenth beat hi-hat intro from a deliberately significant two minutes to twelve. Listen, it was the eighties. Have you not heard Two Tribes..!?  

After two (freezing) days on location we were done, the crew (who’d stayed over in the bunker while we fled to the sanctuary of central heating and hot baths at home) finally went back to their digs to thaw out, to edit in the newsreel footage in in post-production, sync the video footage to the ghetto blaster-based playback and approve the final cut.
Here it is…


Thanks to Lord Tilkey for archiving and posting on YouTube. Turns out we didn't need MTV after all. Just an awful lot of patience and Tim Berners-Lee.