I am contacted by an old friend and musical confrere who is rooting through some old flyers and photographs and wonders if I remember playing on the same bill as him at a school concert in 1982? He lists the band members, as listed in the programme, and I confirm that not only do I remember the show, I remember what we started with, which was “Free and Easy” - a song from Uriah Heep’s non-charting 1977 album Innocent Victim, and a good indicator of the sort of person I was, given that I was shoehorning it into the set of our school band a mere five years later. We weren’t even all at the same school.
I reflect on my forty years on the fringes of the music business* later that week with the most recent iteration of my musical ambition in tangible** form where we are gathered to run through our entire repertoire in prospect of an increasingly rare public engagement and in the absence of Mr. Wendell, who is poorly. The first business of the evening is, naturally to check on how Turny’s vegetable patch is coming along, and much grave discussion is given to the plight of the allotment-holder without a handily accessible source of standpipe irrigation.*** Fiddly thinks he needs a pond - also so that he can develop a self-renewing methane gas facility to wean himself off the grid - someone mentions a bowser, Gibbon reflects that at certain times of day they actually pay you to use electricity and La Mulley steps in just as discussions look likely to turn heated, given the bent of the conversation toward gentlemen of a certain age being unable to retain water for any length of time, and encourages us toward the rehearsal room. Or ‘shed’.
A perfectly agreeable eight song forty minute opener is run through before we perform the remainder of our oeuvre - mainly through muscle memory although at one point Gib remarks on the similarity of the structure of one song to a number by one of our previous bands before I realise that I am, indeed, playing Songs from The Blue House’s ‘Bike’ by mistake. As Ed Sheeran has remarked, there are only twelve notes, chances are there are going to be some harmonic similarities cropping up somewhere along the line. I believe that John Fogerty was once sued by a particularly vengeful ex-publisher for plagiarising himself, so I’m in good company.
Sheeran crops up again later in the week, as I am enjoying a Friday pint with m’esteemed compadre, award-winning songwriter Tony James Shevlin. Essentially, I’m recounting most of the above, Shev mentions that at the exact moment that he and the bass player from Frisky were persuading the drummer not to walk around the outside of our hotel on the third floor ledge someone had the presence of mind to take a photograph, and we Waldorf and Statler across many topics including fetes, festivals and garden parties. He recounts the occasion when Ed Sheeran’s application to play Ipswich Music Day was rescued from the bin (his CD wouldn’t play) after one member of the panel insisted that this kid was going places and that he should really be given a spot, despite a functioning demo being strictly part of the selection process. I wonder if they would still have named a stage after him if he’d been canned?
We reflect that so much of our collective musical heritage is down to chance encounters, the intervention of seasoned veterans of the scene and good, old-fashioned common sense. The sliding doors moments of rock. As we finish our drinks and prepare to depart, I remind him that we - The Neighbourhood Dogs - are playing a local pub in a couple of weeks and invite him along. “I’ll be there” he attests, showing me both a text message on his phone and his Musician’s Union diary. “Because we’ve been booked as well”. We write down the fee that both of us have been offered for the same gig on the same night, slide the folded paper across the table and look at the two different figures. I say “You take it”.
*At the Cropredy Festival one year a solo acoustic Midge Ure similarly recalled his four decades “…trying to entertain people”.
“Don’t you worry Midge” called a wag in the crowd in response “You’ll get it one of these days!”
**Or ‘fungible’ I guess?
***I know, I know. The footage is hardly going to prompt Sir Bob to organise Live Aid 2, but you can only play the hand you’re dealt.