Friday, April 25, 2014

One Door Closes...

For five years I was the co-curator of a show called Why the Long Face? on Ipswich Community Radio. Initially we (Neale Foulger) and I started it as a pretty much like-for-like replacement of The Urban Sofa Beat Collective, a two hour ramble through the tangled undergrowth of the collected sub consciousness’s of (initially) James Kindred and latterly Simon Talbot – formerly of agit-Dada comedy collective Chimps in Suits - and Matt Marvel, the weird one. When Matt and Simon went on to host their own show on BBC Radio Suffolk Neale and I stepped in to fill the vacuum and recruited one Phil Bryer to be our disassociated Letter from America-type punctuation in the middle of a two hour chat show (to paraphrase Seinfeld) about nothing.
We had a darned good time, too. Occasionally we scripted things - Neale's Simon and Garfunkel skit was borderline pornographic, and I may even have declined the opportunity to take part in that one - there was a surrealistic Shipping Forecast, a weekly Soup Review and occasionally visitors and guest hosts would pop in when one or other of us took the week off. Lucy Sampson brought her boyfriend in, AloneMe offered to play live but were confused by Neale's insistence on counting the number of kidneys in the room, Dylan Hearn forgot to plug his book and regular listeners like our Catalan Correspondent Simon, Big Jan from New Zealand, Daron - the King of North East Minnesota, Izzy, Chloe, Lord Tilkey from Coggeshall and countless others enlivened our inbox on a weekly basis.  
I went fortnightly first, my weeks off being filled by Martyn Brown, and the show drew to its inevitable conclusion when Neale came to the same conclusion that I had, in that we’d said pretty much everything we could think of saying – whether scabrous, poignant, whimsical, completely in error or simply in the voice of Brian Blessed. Our last show went out this week and was a mix of the usual oblique ramblings, uninformed conjecture and lyric quizzes. One of the first questions we received from our listening public ran “Jesus – how drunk are you?!” We leave behind an archive of shows which, as Neale once pointed out, if intercepted by aliens monitoring broadcasts from Earth, is likely to bring down a shit-storm of Ming-like proportions in response. “Puny Earthlings!” they will ejaculate in fury. “No-one needs a fourth album from The Sundays – it’s the rule of three!”*

As I say, the end of an era – what with the Picturehouse reunion having gone the way of the end-of-term school play and Songs from The Blue House being on indefinite hiatus I was pretty much bereft of projects, and for a self-proclaimed creative like me, that’s an issue. The phone rang. It was Tony Shevlin, latterly of Nashville Tenn. (for a couple of weeks, at least) and progenitor of forthcoming album Songs from The Last Chance Saloon. “Can you be round mine on Tuesday?” he said. “We’ve got a gig on Sunday week”.
*Neale has a theory that any - and every - band should only ever release three albums. "If they haven't said it by then, it doesn't need saying" is his reasoning. We had quite a few conversations like that.

Monday, April 14, 2014

“When we started putting this set list together The Kaiser Chiefs were still in the charts…”

So, that’s happened then. Part reunion, part birthday, wholly celebratory, The Picturehouse Big Band’s 2014 foray into playing that fast thing (one more time) went as swimmingly as any of us had dared hope, especially given that only one of our number is still treading the boards with any regularity. The rest of us shrugged off the weight of our advancing years (“I kept my eyesight, they kept their hair…”) in order to shake some action, surprising not only our grizzled regular listeners from back in the day, but a few of the younger folk in attendance who hadn’t realised that you were allowed to have fun on stage as well as off.
Since the gig was a de facto birthday party (for me) there was a Wall of Shane comprising photos which helpfully demonstrated the progression of my decrepitude over the past few decades - including (quite movingly) a picture of me and my Dad which I worked out must have been taken when he was then the age that I am now. At the mid point of the evening I was presented with a four-foot long cake marked with candles in a long, single line which I had to extinguish by exhaling in one smooth motion. It was, as someone remarked, very much the antithesis of the late John Belushi’s idea of a birthday treat. The timing of the presentation also gave me an opportunity to revisit my balladeerian past with a stirring solo rendition of Billy Bragg’s A New England which brought forth a heartening degree of unprompted audience participation before the group embarked on the second set.
One genuinely unplanned encore later* “Can we do another one!?” I asked, still popped on adrenalin and band tab beers. Wendell laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder and gestured toward the door as folk filed out into the cool night air, babysitters to relieve and cabs to call. “I don’t think they want any more”. One half of our volunteer crew for the evening sidled up. “You know what the guy standing next to me said after that My Sharona solo?” he asked rhetorically. “Nailed it”. We cooled off in the pub garden, comparing notes about whether we’d now need a lie down, ice packs or earplugs. “The noise really gets to you after a while, doesn’t it?” commented someone. “My ears are buzzing”. “Oh yeah” said another “My car never sounds like it’s running smoother than on the way home from a gig”.   
*Not, as it turned out, the bawled "Menswear!" when we asked if there were any requests - which if nothing else suggests that age shall not weary the foot soldiers in the Britpop Wars, even if the twenty year retrospectives may them condemn.       
Tips of the hat to Yammezz for PA wrangling, Val for the venue, Joe for rehearsals and one Ashley Robertson for the photo at the top. Sorry about throwing that book out to the chap who correctly guessed 'The Jags' and hitting that other guy in the face, by the way.