Wednesday, March 30, 2016

When they were up, they were up.

So, for those who have been kind enough to ask, yes it all went very well for The Neighbourhood Dogs at our Bank Holiday soiree. We had a good turnout, the convoluted story structure of the set didn’t particularly interfere with anyone’s enjoyment of the afternoon’s entertainment (despite my lengthy introduction of new song Well as being from “…the soundtrack to a John Hughes movie that doesn’t exist yet”). Helen and Mr. Wendell combined beautifully with a number of soaring harmonious interjections while Andy put in a solid shift on fretless bass and Turny filled in all the gaps - occasionally stepping forward to take centre stage, as on his vaguely calypso-inflected What’s a Rainbow - my son Lord Barchester’s second-favourite song of the performance. He also managed to draw an entire doodle pad’s worth of progressively more frightening monsters during the course of the performance. Barch, that is – not Tony.
There were a couple of minor opportunities – we were plagued by feedback at one point early on in the performance, the source of which our de facto Sound Engineer (sitting at the bar with a tablet rather than encircled by leads and XLRs at a table somewhere over by the toilets) swiftly identified and dealt with by the simple expedient of leaping over to the performance area and shutting the curtains behind us, thus preventing the specific frequency bouncing back off the window pane into the Behringer in front of Tony. “Also, I couldn’t see a bloody thing with that sun coming through like that” he added.

We’d done our sums regarding how many songs added up to what sort of duration on the back of a fag packet, and so were relieved to find that our two sets just about filled out the contractually-obliged hour and twenty minute run time. My agent approached*. “Very nice” he said. “Very pleasant. You’ve got the makings of a really good forty minute set there”.**

 *Yes, I do actually.   
**To be fair, later on at home my wife confessed her enormous sense of relief that (a) “It was really good – perfectly suited to a lazy afternoon’s relaxing in the sun” and (b) more importantly, that it “…wasn’t shit”.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

"First Night Nerves Every One Night Stand..."

The countdown’s seriously begun now – two more rehearsals before we go through the whole thing from soup to nuts for real and find out whether we can successfully extend the Helen and the Neighbourhood Dogs experience beyond the rarified realm of a showcase delivery with a stage, lights and a backstage rider comprising exotic cheeses and imported prosciutto into what can often be the brusque charm of a Bank Holiday afternoon session in the local boozer. We’re trying to wean ourselves off chord sheets and lyric prompts, I’m practising my middle-distance focussed, audience-friendly, not-staring-at-the-fretboard onstage expression, and there is no little discussion around the partition of the sixteen song repertoire into two unequal sections, the first of which concludes with not one, but two mournful ballads in succession. Upon checking, it turns out that the second one does too, and there are also a couple more settled plumply in the middle of the set. Oh, and there's also one to start with. It is becoming clear that this is not going to be quite so much the freewheelin’ jaunty party such as might bring to mind Grace Jones hula-hooping through a perky version of Slave to the Rhythm in front of The Queen but, on the bright side, may well appeal to the sort of chap who spends Bank Holiday Monday in the pub muttering “She won’t let me see the kids…” into a pint of flat Carlsberg.*

Even as we confront the present, however, we have one ear on the future. “That’ll sound good with a low harmony on the closing section” someone says. “Once we get a bass on it, that’s really going to kick on” adds another. “Where do you think we can find a Welsh Male Voice Choir for that end bit?” ponders a third. “I might know someone…” volunteers La Mulley.
As it happens, I will have the opportunity to advance reconnoiter the venue in the next week or so when I go undercover as part of Tony O’Shevlin’s crack team of acoustic troubadorians. I have been offered the part of first guitar on Whiskey in the Jar and also a supporting role for Restless Celtic Heart, a song which has been wowing the locals during his recent sojourn to the ancient family seat in order to film a promotional short for his forthcoming acoustic E.P, and which he will be bringing to the table as part of an evening celebrating the feast of St. Patrick. We will, I have been advised with a meaningful look, be playing the latter number quite late on in the set. The inference regarding performance-related inebriety hangs pregnant in the air, and so to lighten the mood I tell him that not only have I already refreshed my chops by running through an advance copy of the CD, but that I have also taken the trouble to learn the song on bouzouki, and will be only too pleased to introduce this aspect of performance to the live BBC radio session we’re booked in to do this week.

“Rehearsal at mine on Tuesday” he mutters. “I’ll pick you up at seven. Don’t worry about having to take your gear down to the studio – leave it round here afterwards. I’ll make sure it all gets there…”   

* And let's face it, who's more likely to be in the pub that day, eh?

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Tomorrow Never Knows.

I am reminded that in 2016 it will be fifty years since The Beatles released Revolver, twenty five years since the very first National Music Day (now preserved in tradition as part of the Ip-Art Festival in Ipswich), fifteen years since The Star Club were featured on the cover of The Grapevine prior to our 'retirement' and fully five years since our last reunion show at Music in the Park.

Doesn't time fly?