Thursday, November 15, 2018

"This was a museum in 1847" "Blimey, and it's only half eight now!"

We are already in a bus lane, and in a designated loading bay, when we are aproached by the bagpiper. “Are you looking for somewhere to park?” he enquires solicitously, having taken a break from producing the stirring and skirling sound of the pipes - albeit, rather incongruously, in the heart of swinging downtown Ipswich. We agree that we are indeed looking for somewhere to park. “Just down there” he indicates with a wave of his chanter before cheerily resuming his droning on. We park up and I hurry toward the service door, pausing briefly as I remember that Helen is negotiating a darkened car park in three-inch red velvet stilettoes. “Keep up!” I say brightly. “Are we in the right place?” she says. “Of course!” I reply “There’s a white van parked out the back”. And, I remind myself, a bagpiper parked out the front.

We are at Arlington’s, where I’ve played before, at the behest of the new owners, who are minded to launch their new venture in a hail of free drinks, canapes and, as it turns out, the lilting sound of sweet, sweet music. Which is where Helen and The Neighbourhood Dogs come in. We have received an electronic mail inviting us to perform at the soiree at slightly shorter notice than one might expect – today being Wednesday and the mail having been received on Monday – but by fortunate happenstance all The Dogs are free* and so we accept the offer of a meal and a drink in return for two ten minute performances about an hour apart from each other, Which at least should give us time to get our small plate Tapas in between sets. And it doesn’t even look like they want a fumble in the car park afterwards, which is where quite a few dinner invitations have led me in the past. Out by the bins.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “Two sets, an hour apart? But what the very devil are folk supposed to do in between?” Aha – you see, well, they’d thought of that too. We are but one of seven turns to perform on three stages set about the ballroom in rotation. Someone has clearly been watching too much Later with Jools… and some seasoned heads in the organisation are already muttering to themselves regarding timekeeping and logistics. Fixed upon my “Not my circus...” mantra I am nevertheless slightly taken aback that the promised eight channel PA does not come with microphones, mic stands or monitors**. In these sorts of situations one hopes that the fraternal and sororal nature of the musician’s creed will come to the fore and indeed we are quickly offered the use of the estimable This Machine Kills Fascists’ microphones and bass amp, Turny has a spare mic with him, fellow troubadours Blues Brother, Soul Sister lend a microphone stand, and before kick off TMKF even conjure and set up a vocal monitor onstage. hat'll be where the van came in. Or, rather more accurately, what came in the van.

Waiting staff circulate with plates of tasty morsels, the bar has a limited range of complimentary beverages. It’s not exactly Queen’s New Orleans launch party for Jazz, but it’s pleasant enough. Also on the bill are a couple of conjurors, who have already been asked to cut their sets as we’re running late. We sympathise, as this is a not unfamiliar experience at these sorts of events. I bump into one of them at the bar later. “Are you getting free drinks?” he asks? “I’m about to find out” I reply. “Are you paying for these?” enquires my bar steward. Miming playing an imaginary ukulele as the universal sign for being slightly musical I respond that “I’m with the band”. “Oh” she says, handing over my tasty beverage. “I’ll have one of those” says my fellow traveller. “Are you in a band too?” she asks. “No” he replies, whisking an instantly fanned deck of cards from an inside pocket. “I’m a magician...”

As the evening wends its way toward an end, the genteel hubbub has faded slightly with the thinning of the glitterati, the velvet among the palm fronds further between, and so for our second set we throw in the sort of mournful ballad that you usually need the rarified atmosphere of a folk club to perform. It’s clearly the right move for that time of the evening. There are a couple of solo spots before TMKF return to the stage with their scattergun punky ska approach***, clearly having similarly assessed the vibe of the diminishing crowd. “This is catchy” I remark in an aside to Helen as we tap our toes along to the chorus of something lively. “Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you!” they sing. 

We make our way to our carriages.

*This is virtually unheard of. Even at rehearsals we can only usually round up two thirds of us at best.

**For the layperson, imagine that you’ve been over to stay at a friend’s house and that when you wake up in the morning there’s a note on the fridge which reads “Gone to work, frying pan in the cupboard, help yourself to breakfast!” You open the fridge, and there’s nothing in it.

***Listening to them is akin to a experiencing tightly-condensed support bill at Beautiful Days.

Monday, November 05, 2018

In Praise of TT.

I won’t lie to you, I’ve been lucky. The number of people who’ve been willing to throw their talent at whatever dumb idea I’ve come up with has, over the years - the decades even - been humbling. I once formed a band called The Free Albanian Airforce which featured a punk singer on bass, me on guitar, and a guy who once auditioned for Generation X on harmonica, for instance. Then someone actually gave us a gig. Our big showstopper was a version of JJ Cale’s “Call Me The Breeze”. At that point I wasn’t entirely sure whether he or the bloke who used to be in The Velvet Underground were the same guy. That’s how much leeway my friends have granted me, over time.
I have played The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (in full – the whole album) to a The Jam-loving friend, who still speaks to me to this day. I have opened a secondary school talent show with a Uriah Heep cover. I have persuaded a folk band that a twelve minute version of Tonight’s the Night is a perfectly acceptable way to close a beer festival. Apparently, according to me, Status Quo’s What You’re Proposin’ makes for a fabulous Sunday lunchtime jam. I am, in short, blessed.
None of this was put in to sharper relief than when I idly tapped in a few digits on the electric internet and happened upon Tony Turrell (I know him as ‘TT’) doing an acoustic session with the singer from Genesis Visible Touch (GVT for short). TT was (and for all legal purposes is) the keyboard player in Songs from The Blue House. We came across him first in a pub in Essex (this happened a lot in our recruiting process) and invited him to come and play on our version of Blue Oyster Cult’s (Don’t Fear) The Reaper. His brief (and this was my idea) was to play the middle eight as if it were an extended version of the intro from Genesis’s Firth of Fifth. “Okay” he said, and rattled it off as if it were a thing of no consequence at all. Non piano players may disagree.

Subsequently, TT roamed around the highways and byways of East Anglia with us, occasionally making oblique references to his time working with Mr. Fish-out-of-Marillion and, on one occasion (most excitedly for me) Heather Nova. He ended up writing my second favourite Blue House song, and playing an exquisite piano part on my first; gracious enough to take on board my advice about the dusty end without the merest hint of doyouknowwhoiam-ism.

As I say, I just wanted to tell you how lucky I’ve been. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Folk, People and Others; Tony Turrell.