Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Boy Looked at Johnny.

Jimmie Nicol, Alan White, that kid who stepped in when Keith Moon fell off his stool* at a The Who gig. The list of stand-in and dep drummers is long, illustrious and – like the road to hell** – paved with good intentions. To add this roll of honour we meet today to celebrate one Linda Stix who, upon hearing that we in The Picturehouse Big Band were one drummer short of quintet agreed to step up and learn our entire set, which as regular readers will know has been laboriously compiled over (literally) many decades of pop history and lovingly curated to the point where we daren’t listen to the originals any more*** in case we become distracted from our core mission of playing the songs in a form of which a pub audience would probably still recognise them, even without the aid of the Shazam (TM) app.

In return, Johnny-out-of-Five Mile High said that he’d guest on a couple of songs, and we learned a handful of theirs (FMH), which meant that for at least half a dozen numbers I would, essentially, be the guitarist in Five Mile High, for Linda is their drummer and The Other Guitarist, in a Clark Kent-esque twist of happenstance, is also their bass player. At one point, to emphasise the wile of the situation he takes off his glasses. Turns out that’s just because they fogged up when he came in from the car park, but you get the gist.

By about the Thursday before the gig I realise with mounting horror that simply recognising the titles of songs doesn’t, technically, count as knowing them****, especially when you have the added responsibility of not being the one who fucks it up for everyone else. (This is me having to (re)learn four songs, three of which I’ve played before by the way. Now multiply that by seven to get some idea of what Linda’s been going through). Hence there is an evening on the sofa with YouTube, a search engine tuned to those guitar tab sites you can get on the electric internet these days, and a Squier Telecaster (with individual saddle bridges and the three way selector switch rewired so that you can run the pick ups in series as well as in parallel. But I digress). In the olden days, of course, you’d be stuck in front of a turntable getting progressively worsening RSI from all that moving the tone arm backwards and forwards on the record, but we have crowdsourcing and the associated resources to cut and paste the same basic errors on to multiple sites these days, which saves a lot of time. And who doesn’t relish the idea of playing Judas Priest’s Breaking the Law in a non-ironic fashion, which is something that comes up less often than you’d like, but more often than you’d think.

Once in The Heart of The Stow***** we are reassured by the ever-avuncular presence of TOG, who assures us that he will be keeping a paternal eye on things****** and providing prompts and cues as required. This is a huge relief to the rest of us, who are frankly often never quite sure where we are during any given middle eight, or what we came in here for in the first place. Our default position in case of any navigation errors is to turn around and glare at whoever is playing bass at the time, which is a handy trope with which to engage. It also helps share the blame around a bit, however as it turns out, no-one demands a Paddington stare, and none of the audience need recourse to Shazam (TM) at any time, such is the diligence that Linda has paid in both listening to the original versions and also in taking note of our quirks and extensions when it comes to arrangements. Admittedly there was a point where I thought my kidneys were going to be dissolved slowly until they filtered out of my body in a coagulant mess, but it turned out that The Bass Player had just stepped on his octave divider pedal by mistake, and I’m sure the foundations of the building are sturdy enough to withstand a couple of verses of that. There was also another passing moment of disbelief and uncertainty, but that’s what being charged £3.20 for a pint of lime and soda will do for you.

The post-show playlist brings up Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion – one of The Drummer’s favourite tracks to play. I remember to send him a text to the gig in which he is currently engaged or – more likely, as we are – packing up in the rain after. “Happy Birthday” I type, two-fingered. “You’re fired” {smiley face}.

Photo credit by friend of the band Claire Woodbridge. Ironically, you can’t see Linda or Johnny in this one.

*One of The Other Guitarist’s favourite jokes goes “Can I help push your stool back in?” “Well, you could buy me dinner first...” kerrtisshhhh

**Presumably that’s the one Chris Rea drives home for Christmas on.

***They later became The New Originals. I know – one paragraph in and three footnotes already. I’m on fire today.

****A handy aides-memoire for any potential audience members who fancy offering to help us out by having a go anytime soon.

*****Coincidentally also the title of an unreleased Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe demo from the 1990 bootleg Yesoteric.

******I know – there’s a whole complex uncle/parent thing going on there. I’m not sure about it myself to be honest.