Monday, May 19, 2014

"Late last night, I heard the screen door slam..."

Any Ipswich musician, poet or performance artist worth their crisps will know exactly what you mean if you utter the timeless phrase “Well, it is Val”. Formerly at The Earl Roberts, briefly at The Beehive and latterly at The Steamboat, Val was your go-to girl for any occasion which needed an artistic outlet, whether it be jam nights (one extended version of ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ was reputed to have started in September 1987 and not concluded until the harmonica player’s lung collapsed over an extended b-flat glissando sometime in Spring the following year), student band debuts, songwriter showcases, jazz on a Summer’s day, folk weekends, punk revivals or brief reformations for old times’ sake – which we in Picturehouse fortuitously managed to squeeze in last month - before she finally threw in the towel this weekend, after a mounting series of exercises by the revenue-thirsty local traffic enforcement authorities and those associated bastions of law and order, the Suffolk Constabulary* finally did what the rising tide of the adjacent River Orwell never quite managed to do. To paraphrase The Hollies, she is King Canute in Reverse, finally overwhelmed.
Innumerable turns have grown, blossomed, wilted or imploded under her benevolent gaze and for a long time the first question any act showing up with a battered Strat copy and some third-hand cymbals wrapped in a bin liner would be “What do you want to eat?” – her chilli is legendary, the corned beef hash known to reduce grown men to tears of joy – and it’s no surprise that quintuple platinum selling, BRIT-winning, Grammy-snaffling songwriter Ed Sheeran popped back recently for a warm up show as “Playing this venue for me, I feel very comfortable here, I’ve played it a bunch of times.” We all have.

I’ve done Songwriter’s Nights, birthday parties, hawked original bands and performed the legendary live Beatles karaoke (we provide the band – you get up and front it with a Fabs hit of your choice) under Val’s kindly aegis. On a personal and rather poignant note The Steamboat is also where The Present Mrs Kirk and I staged our post-wedding all-dayer, which started with the new bride in full regalia and I performing The Beautiful South’s “Don’t Marry Her” (album version) and concluded some eight hours later with a three-drummer version of “Route 66” curated by Zippy Nicholson on guitar (for which, thanks once again everybody). Sad times ahoy for anyone who wants a space to just get up and try something. Sad times indeed.          
A few of us were there yesterday afternoon, the sun glinting off the river like an Argos catalogue full of glinty things, the gentle clack of pool balls, insects buzzing in the beer garden, the camouflage netting shading the teatime smokers as they put the world to rights in that slow and steady way that we in Suffok do. The pile of admin perched on a table in the shade of the quiz machine. The Grapevine magazine racked up by the door and black and white prints of long-scrapped sailing vessels lining the walls. If the Ip-Art committee had any conscience at all they’d rename one of the Ipswich Music Day stages the Val Taylor Stage immediately and be done with it. We shan’t see her like again.   


*Keen-eyed readers will remember that this is the venue which was advised by the police to close for the day rather than have its planned anti-racism gig picketed by the EDL.

Friday, May 09, 2014

“I’m nobody, but I’m someone else’s nobody…”

The inaugural performance of Tony James Shevlin and his newly-monickered band The Chancers in support of new album Songs from The Last Chance Saloon passed without notable adverse incident last week – nobody fell over the monitors, impaled themselves on a stray tent peg or kicked a water bottle over the DI box for example – and if some of the talent could have been a little more gracious (“Thanks to…er…whoever organised this…”) then at least we were not subject to the vicissitudes provoked by one artiste* that the crew on the main stage still talked about in awed tones. “She brought her own crew, her own monitors, microphones, unplugged everything of ours, did a line check on every single feed…by the time we got the second act on we were an hour and a half late on the scheduled running time”.

 In my assigned role as first spear carrier I am enjoying a number of new experiences. I’m not on the album (although Songs from The Blue House alumni Mr Gibbon and La Mulley do both feature), I didn’t write any of the songs and I don’t really have an emotional or pecuniary interest in its performance in the iTunes charts beyond that the bloody thing is riddled with earworms and most of the guitar parts are the sort of thing I enjoy playing anyway. Okay, so there’s maybe one key change more than I’d have included (by design there’s an acapella chorus just beforehand wherein TJS and I have just enough time to move our respective capos in order to facilitate a suitably inversion-tastic coda) in Fifteen LongYears, and that verse of Crazy in which he appears to lump himself in with Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King does have a whiff of the Russell Brand about it, and when Shev sings “Talk is cheap and thoughts are free” in Nobody I am irresistibly minded that the Club Tropicana also promises that there is sufficient fun and sunshine to go around, and I’m delighted to be along for the ride.

 It is not, however, the sort of gig which is going to set me up in soft drinks and Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers DVDs for life** - at one stage I asked TJS if it would be possible to have a plus one for one of the festivals he has lined up. “You are my plus one” he replied – and so I have decided to embrace the current vogue for so-called Meet & Greet fan packages in order to supplement my meagre income on the road this Summer. There is limited availability, so please do get in touch as early as possible with your offers.

 Package One; Meet and greet before the gig, receive signed rehearsal crib sheet (much thumbed), a used 9V battery and participant’s choice of 500 ml bottle of still water from backstage cache (not available at all dates).

 Package Two; Meet and greet prior to the performance, receive selection of used packages of Elite Custom Light guitar strings (mainly missing top E), get the sound man’s mobile number so you can text him to suggest fader-riding tweaks during the gig itself, and a dedication of the closing number (probably Run Until We Drop) to you personally. 

 Package Three; Turn up early, meet us at the gate when we get there, hand over the car park passes, do the sound check (you should be able to play G on a standard-tuned guitar, point at the monitors, then at your own ear, then at the sky and shake your head ruefully), hold my bottleneck*** for that bit between verses two and three in Faith in Myself where I need to use all four fingers, re-attach my guitar lead when I inevitably step on it during the fourth song and unbeknownst to me it becomes unplugged, go for a cheeseburger after completion of the set. Drive home.
*I can’t tell you who it was, I’m afraid *coughs* Kate Rusby

**It is fairly well known that touring musicians would often, in the heady days of the record company advance and the publishing expense account, often pass the long dark teatime of the soul between tour dates indulging in coke and hoofers.  

***I was using a glass one for the slide bits, but Tony has lent me his. He literally has a brass 'neck.