Tuesday, July 30, 2013

"From Finborough to Fingringhoe..."

It’s tempting, I know, to consider me sitting back in my leather-bound armchair, puffing contentedly on a pipe and taking the occasional quaff on a stiff scotch as I dictate my memoir to a liveried flunky who then goes off to the British Library and uploads my latest reminiscence to an eager waiting public. Something about how the toilets in the Newt and Cucumber had a great reverb, or that bar whose gimmick was that all the tables had telephones on them, and the time that someone called the one nearest the stage to ask us to turn it down a bit as they couldn’t carry on their conversation without shouting, that sort of thing. Enquiring minds need to know - in fact only the other day I was parking the car when a gentleman stopped me to enquire whether I still get out and play and what the rest of The Star Club were up to. I informed him that our front man Shev was still writing and performing with his new band. “Ah” he shook his head wearily “But it’s not The Beatles, is it?”
I bumped into Frisky Pat, a drummer friend of mine the other day (at a child’s birthday party, where our respective scions were eating crisps and hitting each other with balloons – not unfamiliar behaviour from our time on the road together, as it happens) and talk got around to how the idea of being in a band is great, whereas the practicalities of missing tea and getting home at four in the morning so that a drunk person can shout “Sex on Fire!” at you repeatedly in between times for three hours gets a trifle wearing after a certain number of repetitions.
Nevertheless, I think it’s important to at least maintain the semblance of being in a band, even if that just means doing the occasional bit of writing and demoing at home just to keep your hand in, and so last week I foreswore the opportunity to go out and watch some of my friends playing music in order to stay in and make some of my own. Besides, once I start shouting for Kings of Leon songs after my third pint I tend to get on their nerves.

I had a simple little song which had previously been demoed and performed acoustically a couple of times, but I also had great dreams of swirling cinematic soundscapes of the sort McAlmont and Butler might hire Abbey Road to produce, or that Tom Scholz might dream up in his basement. I also had a nice bottle of Rioja, the riff from Love Will Tear Us Apart and a lyric which contained both the place name Fingringhoe and employed the term allopatric to describe a relationship. Here’s what happened...


So, having clocked in, I feel I have re-established my still-a-musician time-served credentials and can now get on with the business at hand. Perkins, plump up the cushions, bring me a fresh glass and let me tell you about the time one of our audience cornered my wife at a gig at The Manor Ballroom to ask if our first child would be named ‘John’ or ‘Paul’…      


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Customers who bought this title also bought...

I did an interview over the phone a little while ago, which was quite the event for me, having not done one for many years. I think the last time before this was probably when a local fanzine - named Tiger Rag, I believe - took the trouble to invite me out for coffee and utilised the power of technology in the form of one of those new-fangled Walkmen (Walkmans?) in order to record my sage utterances for posterity. As it turned out either the batteries weren't up to it or the hubbub of the Took's Bakery & Cafe overtook the moment and my hapless interviewer had to ring me a few days later to see if I could remember anything I'd said, which I couldn't. I did mention that I'd been terribly earnest and was probably wearing an army surplus jacket.
This time around I was asked if and when it would be convenient to call me at home and was able to properly prepare myself with a pre-arranged list of questions, the answers to which were to be lovingly compiled and included in a book called The Semi-Pro Sixties. I've not read it myself, since the author declined to provide any of us interviewees with a free copy on the grounds that he was a bit skint having gone to all the trouble of getting the thing properly bound and published, but it has garnered a number of excellent reviews both on Amazon and the Waterstones sites, so it clearly turned out to be very good in the end. Obviously when I say 'a number' I mean they pretty much look like the same reviews in both places, but five stars is five stars, whatever their provenance.
David, the author, was kind enough to email me my bits to proof read, and I found his transcript of our conversation the other day. So in case you haven't got £11.99 to spare, let me guide you through some of the highlights contained within... 
Early influences
Shane Kirk; “We had a Dansette record player and we got given some records by a neighbour. There were records by Elvis, Cliff Richard and even Frankie Vaughan.”
Absolutely true, despite me being born in 1964. I am of the generation whose first frisson of excitement over an album sleeve came not while concentrating really hard (as it were) on Debbie Harry's dress on the front of Parallel Lines, but by looking through the extensive packaging of the South Pacific soundtrack. I also owned Bill Haley's Rock Around The Clock EP and Frank Sinatra's version of Chicago (My Home Town) on 78. Still my favourite from this era is the timeless version of Wilhemina (is Plump and Round) which may be the first song I ever learned all the way through.    
Shane Kirk; “We’d hired this van to go to a gig on New Years Eve. It wasn’t from a very reputable company and we soon found out it didn’t have working wipers or washers. It started to snow and one of the band had to lean out of the window spraying water onto the windscreen in front of me so I could see where I was going.”
Obviously if you're in a van which is hurtling up the A14 and it's snowing you don't want to be the one hanging out of the window trying to splash water (which will then freeze into a fine, opaque layer) over the windscreen. Driving wasn't much more fun.  
Embarrassing Situations
Shane Kirk; “We were booked to play in a huge club in Oxford. I’d written all the songs for the band and we were looking forward to the gig. We arrived and set up. There were loads of bar staff and several doormen all prepared for a busy night. Unfortunately nobody showed up, nobody at all. The Manager eventually told us to forget it, so we packed the gear away in the van ready to drive back home. We were just about to drive off when the Manager came out and paid us the full fee. Fair play to him.”
I still carry with me the look of despair on the club manager's face as we rolled round yet another few bars of the false ending of what turned out to be our closing number. He approached the stage, we carried on playing, he backed away, we built to a faux-climax, he approached again, we carried on playing...
Dangerous Situations
Shane Kirk; “We were doing a few gigs as a 'Beatles specialist' band and got booked into a rather rough type pub on an estate somewhere in Essex. After a rather nervous couple of sets and a few complaints about the noise we got re-booked with the proviso that we did an 'unplugged' type set. We weren't confident about the wisdom of this, but were assured that this was exactly what would be a winner with the clientele. Upon our return the landlord had gone on holiday and left his son in charge, who clearly did not quite have the gravitas and, frankly, bull neck to keep his regulars house trained, with the result that a few of them had basically gone feral and taken the place over - hence whatever casual passing trade there was had deserted the place until it was safe to return. It was a long and extremely lonely evening and at some point the toilets got smashed up - possibly after one fellow tried to join in by singing "Yesterday" and insisted rather forcefully that I was "...playing it wrong" for the sole purpose of making him look stupid. We tried to lighten the atmosphere at one point by explaining away the semi-acoustic nature of the gig by saying that the drummer had forgotten to pack his kit. Tumbleweedery ensued.
The postscript to this is that when the real landlord returned from holiday he angrily rang us up, outraged that we'd been so unprofessional as to forget to bring drums, said that we were the worst band he'd ever had to deal with and suggested that we might like to come back and do a free gig in order to make it up to him. 

Best Remembered Gigs
Shane Kirk; “We played at the British Legion Club in Felixstowe. I remember it well because the support band’s guitarist wore a kilt. When we finished playing at the end of the night, the audience called out for the support band to do an encore rather than us. It was a bit deflating.”

"They were still booing them when we came on..."

Monday, July 08, 2013

“Ted Bidits!”

Another year, another Maverick. From the Stygian gloom of the original Barn Stage, where we had to brush the cobwebs from our hair, shake them loose and let them fall before starting our set to the bright new world of queue-less bars and brightly-painted drag acts, what a long strange trip it’s been over the six years of the festival’s existence.

From such humble beginnings I have at least attended, if not played, every year since the festival's inception; nevertheless it was with no little trepidation that I found myself with a clipboard, a wristband and the title of Stage Manager at this year’s event, charged with the holy mission of administering the smooth running of The Barn Stage, the myriad duties of which included ensuring that those with camping chairs stayed exclusively on the left-hand side of the central divide. This, I’ll state for the record now, was the most stressful part of the weekend. I’ve been heckled on stage before, but never during someone else’s set and by someone waving a banjo and gesturing angrily at the space around their travel rug.
In practise my job, as I explained to the talent, was to introduce them at the start of their set, gesture at them to get off at the end, and repeat any requests addressed to me regarding technical matters in a slightly louder voice and at someone who actually knew what they were doing. As long as I held up my end of the bargain, I expected them to fulfil theirs. All of the line up turned out to be fantastically talented, most of them agreeably accepting of our extraordinarily tight ten minute turnarounds between acts, and a few of them so selflessly accommodating that I found myself making a quiet note to send them flowers.

I think we did pretty well – I mean we lost twenty minutes to a lengthy sound check on Saturday evening which we never made back, but taking the compression off the bass, losing the gate on the vocals and poking up the mids at 160hZ is going to take time, there’s no disputing that, and if you want to get it right you want to get it right. A similar principle was behind my checking the name of The Goat Roper Rodeo Band four times to ensure I didn’t get any of it in the wrong order. Obviously ideally I wouldn’t have been introducing them on stage at the time, but we got through it.
It would be unfair to single out anyone’s performance on stage, but off it I certainly developed a soft spot for Eileen Rose (“How do you want me to signal that time’s nearly up for the set?” “A bunch of flowers?”) Trevor Moss (“If we dropped a number from the set that’d give you a chance to make some time up, yeah?”) and Hannah Lou (“It’s from Debenhams”) and the extraordinarily delightful Rainbow Girls, who patiently drew me a stage plan helpfully indicating where the tap board should be miked up, and when asked if they needed anything, asked simply for a higher drum stool and wondered if they might have kittens delivered to the backstage area.

At one point I found myself guiding the perfectly gentlemanly Neil Innes from Artist’s Reception to the backstage area. “What do you call a banjo at the bottom of the ocean?” he asked.
“A start”.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Ain't nobody get the better of you-know-who

Further to my posting of a Picturehouse-based Spotify playlist (it's the blog entry before this one - do have a browse) I realised with horror that I'd inadvertently left out one of my favourite songs - The Tom Robinson Band's 2-4-6-8 Motorway - as well as one by The Jags (you can probably guess which one - we were always pleased when people said afterwards "I love that song, but I haven't heard it for years...") and another couple of things from later on in the set. Obviously I've now redeemed these omissions, but the radio interview with Tom himself which prompted me to update the list reminded me of the greatness of Danny Kustow on guitar and led me to go and check one of the unforseen consequences of this blog. My profile once mentioned that we did 2-4-6-8 Motorway and as a result what (I'm assuming) is a fan page lifted one of the pictures from my page and so there it (still) is. I am the MySpace face of the guitar player from TRB.