The first week of this blog entry begins in disappointment. I’d arranged this one months ago… It was Frank from Shantyhead’s birthday this particular week, and I’d arranged to accompany him to see The Magic Band (of Captain Beefheart fame) at The Brook on the Sunday night. Sunday is the last day of my gigging week, and I hadn’t arranged anything earlier. Sunday came around and, short on time, I called the venue to see if they took cards on the bar, to save me having to go to a cashpoint before setting off. Yes, the nice man on the end of the phone said, they did take plastic, but not tonight… The gig had been postponed… The Magic Band head honcho, John ‘Drumbo’ French, had taken ill and the gig was postponed until Wednesday.
What more can a guy do? I’ve spent the whole year so far finding bands to see, sometimes at the last minute, on a Sunday morning, when the week was rapidly disappearing, but I’d still managed to do it. I thought this one was a banker, having had the ticket for bloody months… Instead, I went to the pub. I didn’t speculate this kind of thing happening when I started on my challenge, but I don’t think something beyond my control should affect things… Still bloody annoyed, though. Ironically, at the pub, I met up with half a dozen people who were also meant to be seeing The Magic Band that night…
Tuesday came around. Not Wednesday. That was tomorrow. There was a birthday party going on at the South Western with a bit of music. Why not? Ex lodger Luke was going and current lodger Jake was up for it, so we went along. Another good friend and festival buddy was hoping to come along, but due to circumstances beyond their control, it wasn’t to be, but there was still music to be had. It had to be done.
It was the birthday of Bryan, the (double) bassist from The Doghouse Boat Boys – a local folky bluegrassy rockabilly type band from Southampton, who I rather enjoy listening to. On arrival, they were playing acoustically in the middle of the odd-shaped pub. Due to the crowds, timing and positioning in the pub, I didn’t get to hear a great deal of their set, which soon came to an end to let the birthday celebrations take hold. I glanced at the band after acquiring a pint and was surprised to see Ryan Stevens of 71 Chain fame wearing a check shirt and baseball cap, playing mandolin. It turns out he’s a recent addition and is loving it! They played their own brand of ‘good time acoustic hellfire music’ as their bookface page puts it, to a very appreciative crowd of revellers.
The DHBBs were followed by Johnny Boxcars – a three piece, also from Southampton, playing electric rootsy blues. Guitar, bass, drums and vocals were at one point supplemented by the fiddle player who was playing with the Boat Boys. Much beer was consumed and a great night was enjoyed by myself, the two eras of lodgers and the rest of the pub.
Roll on Wednesday… Picked up by Frank, we headed off to Southampton again. Parked close to the venue and headed over, only to be told by a chap on the door that the Magic Band van had died on the way to the gig. They’d had to hire another one, and due to the delay, were still soundchecking. Pop back in an hour. So after a quick consultation of t’internet, we ended up having a quick pint in The Drummond Arms. Typical urban boozer. Nothing to complain about, nothing overly noteworthy.
Returning to The Brook, the doors were open, the beer was purchased (on card…) and we waited for the gig to start. I went into this without any preconceptions. I don’t have a great knowledge of the works of said Captain Beefheart, whose tunes the Magic Band faithfully replicate, so I was there to see this ‘green’, so to speak. This was their farewell tour, and a loyal crowd of followers were in attendance.
My overall impression of The Magic Band is of a group of performers that deliver a weird, yet incredibly polished sound. They were so well-rehearsed. To them, playing a gig was like putting on an old comfy pair of shoes.
After thanking the NHS for looking after him during the past few days, and the hire company for providing a replacement van, Drumbo picked up his soprano sax and belted out a song that everyone but me seemed to know. The whole set was a freeform jazz-rock fusion that was a pleasure to hear. As a band, they were incredibly tight, and were absolutely the kings of discord. Kev from the pub who also came to the gig, despite being a long-term fan, summed it up when he described the gig as ‘a bit bloody weird’.
At the end of the first set, John ‘Drumbo’ French wandered over to the drummer and stood next to him, with his own set of sticks, playing all the drums and cymbals that weren’t already being played. Drumbo was Captain Beefheart’s drummer, and in no way concealed the fact. The second half opened with him on drums, playing lengthy drum solos for the first few tunes, which had the consequence of a lack of vocal.
It took me a while, but I finally twigged that there wasn’t a bassist in the lineup and that the keyboard guy was playing bass on his synth. He soon joined the drum solo, as did everyone else in the band in turn.
A break from the psychedelia occurred when they played a blues number, unusually from what I’d experienced so far, it was properly in time and in tune. At this point, I paid some attention to the guitarist. He had a headless guitar with rather a lot of strings. How many? I had to wander up to the front to count them. It turns out there were eight! The official verdict was ‘too many!’.
The encore was a bluesy number with up-tempo prog elements, which was a great end to a great gig. I went in with no preconceptions and came out having thoroughly enjoyed the evening.
The next week of my continuing musical odyssey took me into December! The final month! On the 1st, it was time to head back to The Engine Rooms to watch the west country delights that are The Wurzels. I dug out the T shirt I bought the first time I saw these legends of comedic agricultural covers in preparation for the gig, and noticed the date on it was 2003… Bloody hell, that was a long time ago! I’m pleased to say that although the years have rolled by, the quality of tuneage has not diminished in any way.
Support for the evening was from a band I’d heard of but never seen – Skimmity Hitchers. These guys hail from Dorset and, if possible, drink more scrumpy than the Wurzels themselves. My immediate description would be ‘country ska with double bass’. And cider. And lyrics about cider. And humour by the bucketload. The ideal on pantioninf.
The mainstay of the set, like that of the Wurzels, involved cider and agriculture based parodies of popular songs. Early on was Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire, repurposed with the chorus beginning ‘I drank down a lovely pint of cider’. Soon followed a version of Creedence’s Bad Moon Rising, rewritten about crappy English seaside towns.
Their parodies are on a parallel with the headliners’ I Am A Cider Drinker and Combine Harvester when it comes to the structure and content of the lyrics, and the instrumentation isn’t half bad either.
Elvis had the Hitchers’ treatment, with Viva Lyme Regis, as did Steve Miller’s Abracadabra, with the chorus ‘Ten pints, ten pints of Thatchers’. Green Day didn’t escape – evidently, I don’t wanna be a cider drinking idiot. Dreadlock Holiday came soon after (I don’t like cider… I loves it!) and the set finished with Katrina And The Waves’ classic tweaked into I’m Tripping On Moonshine. These guys knew what they were doing and put on a bloody good show, that I would’ve been happy with on its own. The masters, however, were yet to take the stage.
The lights dimmed. Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town blared out from the PA. Some ageing gentlemen wearing comedy agricultural clothing entered the stage. The Wurzels were here.
The set opened with the timeless classic, Blackbird, which a much younger beardless version of myself can be seen to sing at the wedding of some friends (who were also at the Engine Rooms this evening)… After consuming a wedding’s worth of helium balloons. Regrettably, the whole incident was captured on video and now lurks on YouTube under the title ‘Helium Wurzels‘. The set continued with Champion Muck Spreader. The audience, who had been suitably warmed by the Hitchers were in a state of veritable ecstasy. The Wurzels are a band that attract a particular type of follower, and they aren’t the sort of band you go to without any prior knowledge, on the chance you might like them. The crowd, therefore, was comprised mostly of die-hard fans of theirs.
As I wandered to the back to obtain a glass of coke and chat to a couple of friends who happened to be there, I was immediately seized by the arm by what is best described as a mad dancing woman, and twirled around. All kinds of madness was occurring at the back, so I decided to stay for a while and watch. Much bobbing up and down in time with the music and that country / Highland dance thing where you link arms with someone and spin round in a circle, then break off and link up with someone else. You know what I mean. I was roped in several times and spun around by a number of different people that night. A set of Scottish ceilidh tunes brought out the best (worst?) of the dancers, in what seemed like a private show to those at the back, behind the majority in the standing room only crowd in front.
The end was, alas, upon us. The set finished with mass participation with I Am A Cider Drinker. Rapturous applause followed, and the encore was imminent. A cover of the Kaiser Chiefs’ Ruby kept the crowd going, then the ubiquitous Combine Harvester – the techno remix version I first saw performed in 2003. All Wurzels mime to the track for this one, apart from the drummer. It’s difficult to mime drums in a live situation. He drums the techno beat through the whole track. He’s in his late 70s and he can play a techno beat. Hats off. John Morgan – you the man! As per the last couple of times I’ve seen the guys, during this song, Tommy Banner (accordion) strips down to his underwear to howls of excitement from the female members of the audience.
The gig finished with a rendition of Drink Up Thy Zider. Whilst the last of the pre-recorded Wurzels jingles played, we all made our way out into the cold December air. Life is, indeed, good. And the truck started! Joy!
We’re in the last month of my live music challenge and I’ve not broken the ‘once a week’ thing yet. It has, unfortunately, been broken for me in the first week of this blog entry, but I’m letting that pass, as everything was arranged and it was the artist that caused the break. Still… Roll on the next few weeks! A year is nearly upon us!
Until next time, keep rockin!