It’s July already! More roadying and the demise of an old favourite…

Here we are in July. A fair bit has happened since the last blog… I’ve been on the road again for another three-date Jadis tour and there’s been a less welcome happening in the local music scene.

Jadis Day 1: Southampton

The first week in May saw the white van pulling up outside my place again for the UK leg of the Jadis 2018 tour. The usual suspects were there, including Boris, the sound tech from De Borderij who had driven all the way from the Netherlands to Bishops Waltham, in a Fiat Panda loaded with sound gear, to accompany us.

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Boris!

The first date was a local gig at Talking Heads in Southampton. Familiar territory for me, but until then, I’d not been backstage. As usual with the Jadis guys, get-in was a breeze. All was set up in good time, with ample opportunities to play with the random instruments that decorate the walls before the doors opened and the public were allowed in. Being a local gig. a lot of the crowd were friends and family of the band, which made for a proper warm and appreciative audience.

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The gig, pack down and get-out were as seamless as the get-in and we left for a night in our own beds. Which was my downfall. Getting home in the early hours I made the decision that there was time for a quick whisky before bed. I set an alarm to get up an hour before pickup, and turned my usual alarm off so it didn’t go off while I was away and wake the lodger. A great night’s sleep ensued. I came round and glanced at the alarm clock briefly. I closed my eyes whilst the newly awakened brain took in what the eyes saw. Eyes immediately sprung open at the moment of realisation. I’d set the alarm for the following day, and the van was leaving my place in 15 minutes.

The next 15 minutes were very much like the opening scene from ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’. It was a bloody good job I’d packed my bag the previous evening whilst enjoying the whisky. I arrived at the van with wet hair, wearing a hastily assembled mismatch of clothes, with barely a minute to spare. Much laughter ensued from the occupants of said vehicle as I regaled them with the story of the last quarter of an hour, on our way to collect Widge, Steve and Aid (support for the tour who was staying with Steve).

Jadis Day 2: St Helens

We stopped at the services just short of the M6 toll booth for a most welcome break (although it wasn’t actually a Welcome Break…). The services had a toilet that didn’t need a fistful of euros to use, and there was breakfast, in the form of bloody McDonalds. Twice in a week for me, after about 10 years of abstinence. I was not happy, but I forwent this in order to consume something solid. After this, I felt vaguely human again.

That night’s venue was the Citadel in St Helens. A former Salvation Army building now housing a nice little performance space. The dressing room was behind the stage, accessed via a flight of steps, and Lol even had his own lighting booth at the back of the rake on the circle. A truly god-like view of the whole establishment was possible from Lol’s little room.

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The view from Lol’s booth

As the UK gigs were largely self-promoted, we didn’t have the luxury riders of the continent. No perpetually full fridges of beer, no lavish meals laid on for staff and crew. At St Helens, I got the job of walking to Asda to buy our booze, whilst on the catering front, we ordered pizza (second night running).

Good friend of mine and daughter of Norm, Poppy, lives in Manchester, and was only to happy to work alongside her dad in the ‘little shop’ after returning from the takeaway with a veritable leaning tower of pizza. Soon, it was time for Boris to head to his desk and for Aid to head to the stage for another set of great self-penned acoustic songs.

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The Little Shop… It’s a family affair…

After a swift changeover, the guys were on. Absolute clockwork. As usual, I made sure I was in the dressing room when Steve and Andy left the stage so Widge and Gaz could do their duo section. Steve and Andy appeared and were immediately plied with cold water and fresh booze. Job done.

We checked into the Premier Inn at about half one, then following a good night’s sleep and a fryup, it was time to head for London. As we roared down the highways of Britain, stopping occasionally for sustenance and lavatorial facilities, Norm put the radio on in the van and I was tasked with finding local radio for traffic updates. This proved harder than it sounds, so we settled on Radio 2 where Paul Gambaccini’s Pick of the Pops was playing. Cue a rather dodgy version of Pop Muzik by M, emanating  from the front to confused passengers behind, as Norm and me sang the ‘alternative’ version.

Jadis Day 3: London

We arrived at The Dome in Tufnell Park and after a quick negotiation with the venue, moved round the corner to a slightly smaller space, sister venue, the Boston Music Room. We were soon set up and the third day of ‘let’s get pizza’ happened. At this point, myself and Widge decided we’d had far too much cheese and bread based food for one weekend, so I popped off to find a kebab shop. Which was a bloody good thing, as the pizza man didn’t have many pizza ingredients and had to go to the shop when everyone put their orders in. After some choice words from Andy, the guys returned to a dressing room containing a keyboard player and a drum tech looking very full and satisfied, with the wrappings of two kebabs on the table.

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Aid doing his thing…

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The gig went well, even with the lighting set to automatic as Lol was gigging elsewhere. After rapturous applause and a very well received encore, the tour was over. Apart from the putting-away and driving home. I got home at around 3, happy that my “don’t forget the bloody keyboard stand” sign had been observed throughout the tour and we got back with the same kit we took out.

I really do like this touring lark. New places, new people, great experiences and great friends. And having this great cover stuck in my head on loop for three days.

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We are the road crew!

Back to Southampton: Farewell to the Chain

The beginning of June presented the end of an era on the Southampton music scene. Perennial favourites 71 Chain had decided it was time to call it a day. Their farewell gig was at the South Western on the 2nd of the month. All the longstanding Chain fans were there to hear the classics for the final time. The guys went extensively through their repertoire, playing as well as they ever have. There was no disappointment at that gig.

A small crowd from the Bowman appeared, with me, Luke, Emily, Roger and Mark soaking up the final dregs as the 71 Chain towel was wrung out. The last song was, as it had often come to be, Sea Shepherd. Rog and I were summoned to stand somewhere vaguely near a microphone to add that Shantyhead touch for the last time.

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Much beer was consumed. Many memories were shared. It was a great, if somewhat subdued, evening. Thanks, Chris, Ryan, Adam, Paul and Mongo. We’ve really enjoyed what you did as 71 Chain. I am looking forward to what the future will bring.

Ginger Solidarity!

Whilst standing at the bar in the South Western, I noticed a lady standing adjacent. We were both trying to get the barman’s attention, and in a bit of a ginger solidarity moment, we went in for the kill, got his attention and got served. On the drive home, I realised where I’d met her before. She was Jo Long of Jo Long and the Pure Drop, reviewed on this very blog last year!

The next Friday, Jo was playing at the Maple Leaf Lounge Sessions at Talking Heads in her duo, with Rick Foot, the double bassist from Pure Drop. The duo are known as Foot / Long (still expecting royalties from Subway…). It had to be done. I set off for Southampton wearing a bowler hat (it’s a long story, but they sing a love song about someone with a fixation on an ankylosaur (yes, the dinosaur). The song mentions covering up one’s head with a kitchen bowl to look like said creature. I wasn’t going to be walking around wearing a kitchen bowl, but a bowler hat… Yeah!

It was an excellent gig in the Maple Leaf setup of three acts, two sets each. Foot / Long have a great acoustic sound with Jo’s chilled mellow guitar and silky smooth heartfelt vocals accompanied by Rick’s mesmerising double bass, played with a skillful combination of every conceivable technique; plucking, bowing, harmonics, the lot, all in one song. As acoustic duos go, I could listen to these guys all day. When it came to the ankylosaur song, I passed the hat over to Jo. Had to be done. One day, I might take a kitchen bowl… I look forward to catching up with Jo and Rick soon!

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One of those dodgy animation things again… Jo in the hat…

So what’s on the cards for the future? Levellers in Winchester Cathedral and Wickham and Victorious festivals… Watch this space! And until then, keep rockin!

Almost forgot… Truck update for Raj: Running a bit rough at the mo, but running. Still four wheel drive, took it off roading on Salisbury Plain the weekend before last, and to Devon last week. So far, so good…

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We are the road crew!

Greetings!

The story begins on Thursday 5th April, when a big white van appeared outside. The familiar face of Widge knocks the door and I leave the house, clutching a number of bags. I place them carefully amongst the instrument cases in the van and take a seat in the plush leather-upholstered interior. The van moves off and beers are passed around. I am a roadie.

It’s the Jadis mini European tour. Tomorrow, we play Zoetermeer in The Netherlands, Saturday is Oberhausen in Germany and Sunday is Reichenbach on the other side of the same country. Today, however, we take our van on a train beneath the sea to the continent, where we drive to Belgium to spend the night in Gent.

My role in this? I am drum and keyboard backline tech, relief driver, photographer and videographer. I have lots of photos and footage, with which I will be creating a video tour diary in the coming months. You’ll see it here first! This blog is, therefore, a quick roundup of the random tour shenanigans whilst I’m doing the video and photo editing thing in the background.

Thursday: Bishop’s Waltham to Gent

A vanload of blokes follow big signs marked ‘FRANCE’ through a long tube and end up on the other side of the road. Despite listening for the splash in the middle, nobody hears it.

Following an uneventful journey through France and Belgium, we arrived in Gent. We found the hotel, but their limited parking won’t accommodate a high top long wheelbase van. Needing to turn round, Norm skillfully pilots the van through an alleyway that’s about an inch wider than the van itself, shortly before being given a stern talking to by the Dutch police for parking on the pavement. We abandon the van a short walk from the hotel in a parking space. In the morning, Google’s translation of the sign we parked in front of was Residents’ Parking Only. Oh well…

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Gent

After a night in a bar by the name of Kapitein Cravate, we were on the road again. Inadvertently via a tram station and a cycle path.

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Gents in Gent (well… Jadis anyway)

Friday: Zoetermeer

Arriving at Die Borederij xx in Zoetermeer, we were greeted by the thoroughly insane house tech crew. Eagerly demonstrating their aerial platform with every manner of bell, whistle and horn attached to it, it was clear they didn’t take things too seriously here.

In between the jollities of the house techs, I managed to get the drum kit set up, in which time, Widge had set his own keys up without any assistance, so I was free to obtain beer, water, wine and towels to go on stage.

The Borderij is a great venue. Auditorium, bars, food, good beer… Lots of the latter provided in great quantity for artists… And roadies… And they cooked both band and crew a three course meal before the show.

With this roadying lark, my break time is when the band are on. I’ll watch the first song or so, then go and chill for a bit, maybe relieve Norm on the merch stand so he can have a fag, that kind of thing. So don’t expect any gig reviews!

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Lots of empty cases waiting to be filled…

After an uneventful packdown, after-show drinks and a mad rush to grab all the spare beer backstage to keep us going for the next few hours, before it was locked away, I did my first bit of driving on the wrong side of the road (ever) in taking a drunken band back to the hotel.

Saturday: Zoetermeer to Oberhausen

This was my main leg of the driving. Holland to Germany. I can now say I’ve driven a Mercedes on the Autobahn. It was a van. Fully loaded. It wasn’t fast. We met our tame Dutch sound guy, Boris, at the hotel, bundled him into the back of the van and headed off in the vague direction of Deutschland. The sun was astonishingly hot in comparison with the grey, damp weather we’d left behind, which made the drive even more enjoyable.

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I’ve just driven to Gemany…

After a fairly uneventful journey, punctuated by the odd stop to spend 50c, we arrived at the venue – part of Rheinisches Industriemuseum, an industrial museum which was a bit like a cross between Ironbridge and Bursledon Brickworks in UK, and began the get in. When the stage was set and the soundcheck completed, we vacated to let the support band muck about with everything we’d done and retired to catering (a buffet this time) and the dressing room.

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Hasty get out…

Another great gig was performed by the guys, and a hasty get out performed before the epic trek… I was asked if we had a long drive to the hotel by one of the audience. “About five and a half hours” was my response…

Saturday to Sunday: No Stop ’til Reichenbach

Norm gained the alter ego “Roy Orbison”. He drove all night. Fuelled by unhealthy amounts of Red Bull, he did it. I was doing my best to stay awake, purely to make sure he stayed awake, but I needn’t have. He was positively buzzing. As the dark sky grew paler and the birds began to sing, we neared our last stop. We checked into the hotel a little before 6am, got the best part of four hours sleep, then it was time for a quick breakfast then off to the venue for an early get in. Jadis were on stage at 2pm.

The gig was part of a prog festival in a venue in the town, with, of all things, a revolving stage. This meant we could set up on one side, protected from public gaze by a curtain, whilst the previous band were still on. Then some burly chaps with lengths of 4×2 arrived and spun the stage 180 degrees so that our side was facing out and the previous guys could pack down.

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The gig went rather well. Norm was again working his magic on the merch stall, selling lots of CDs and vinyl, but not many T shirts… One factor that came to light in Germany was that the XL T shirts weren’t big enough for the average middle-aged German prog fan. The dutch were happy with L and the occasional XL, but the Germans were a different matter. The diet consisting primarily of meat and cheese may have been a contributory factor, but I’m hardly one to comment.

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As this was an afternoon gig, we were loaded and off way before the sun was below the horizon for once. It was my turn to drive back to the hotel, and we disembarked to freshen up then rendezvous in the hotel bar. It was Sunday evening and there wasn’t a great choice of establishments open for our end of tour wind-down. We did manage to find an Irish pub, which we inhabited until kicking-out time, drinking copious amounts of Guinness and various continental beers.

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On being politely ejected from the establishment, Norm’s suggestion of ‘party in room 131’ was eagerly accepted by all. People disappeared in diverse directions then assembled in 131 with quite an impressive selection of booze and snacks. I’m not sure how long we went on for. At that stage in proceedings, and for a good part of the next day, things were somewhat blurred.

Monday: Homeward Bound

After a leisurely breakfast and a hasty group photo, we were on the road again. First stop (excepting the diesel and 50c diversions) was Holland again, to drop Boris and his kit off. Then it was full steam ahead to get back to the tunnel. With a couple of 50c and burger stops, including a brief pause at a motorway services that had what can only be described as a new-age crystal shop where in UK there would be a WH Smiths or an amusement arcade, we arrived at the terminal. About an hour late, but we were there. In the same way we blagged our way onto the earlier train on the way out, we happily got on the later train back.

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A quick trip to London to drop Andy and his bass off, whilst Lewis was vigilantly pointing out all the speed cameras before we got to them (nice one, mate! We found enough of them on the continent!), it was back to Hampshire. On dropping Steve’s drums off at his place, it became apparent that something was amiss. Back to Widge’s next, and there was a distinct lack of keyboard stand… Arse. I know exactly what had happened. It had got mixed up with the gear of the band after Jadis at the festival in Reichenbach. Thankfully, it was an old, cheap stand that was taken as it wasn’t much of a heartache if it got lost.

It was something approaching 4am by the time I got home. An amazing weekend with some great people and great music. And on Thursday, we do it all again! The UK tour starts at Talking Heads in Southampton, before moving to St Helens on Friday, finishing in London on Saturday. And it’s a bank holiday weekend. Result! You can guess what the next blog is likely to be about!

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Local Music News

There’s a bit of news to pass on to you guys. And it’s not good news. Stalwarts of the local music scene, and good friends of mine, 71 Chain, have called it a day. There is one last chance to get some of the 71 Chain magic, for their farewell show, on the 2nd June. The venue is provisionally the South Western Arms in Southampton. There will be updates on their Bookface page if this changes.

Truck Update for Raj

Where do I start? I have poured vast amounts of shekels into the truck over the past few months, only to be treated with a prop shaft that decided it didn’t want one of its universal joints the other day. A quick drive home from work turned into a six-hour saga. With the aid of a great RAC chap called Carl, I finally got home at 1:45am!

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Consequently, I’m currently driving a two-wheel-drive Range Rover which is amazingly good on fuel consumption! A new prop shaft has been sourced. All will be good soon. Plus, I changed the rear brake pads on Sunday. By far the easiest, most straightforward job I’ve done on the truck in the last six months!

Right. That’s me done for now!

Until next time, keep rockin!

[INSERT CATCHY TITLE HERE]

Hello! It’s now February and I haven’t blogged in over a month! To start with, the feeling was definitely one of relief. I’d been doing my damndest to keep up with seeing bands, blogging, finding the next band, rinse, repeat, for a year and it was great not to have the pressure of having to put virtual pen to virtual paper. A month in, and I’m missing it a little. Don’t get me wrong – there’s a great deal of freedom not to have to conform to a self-imposed regime, but it was rather enjoyable.

My January has contained all the usual bits – the post Christmas comedown, big doses of the winter blues, big doses of the common cold, and being the addict that I am, some music. The first gig of the year was Steve Knightley (him out of Show Of Hands) playing the Forest Folk Club in the tiny village of Boarhunt, about ten minutes down the road from me. I got a ticket to the sold out gig as a friend couldn’t go. If you’re after a gig review, you aren’t going to get one, as this was the first gig in ages I hadn’t taken notes and photos at. It was really rather nice just sitting and enjoying the music. Lots of Show Of Hands classics played by Steve, interspersed with stories of his life, the life of the band and the instruments he plays. A very pleasant evening.

Shantyhead had a gig the other week – well, three of us, as Frank is sunning it up in New Zealand, so me, Widge and Rog resurrected our Sunday afternoon acoustic session thing at The Brushmakers in Upham. Broken strings and nosebleeds later, we had a great reception and will definitely be back for more of that sort of thing.

I’ve been doing a bit more of the old photography lately – a photoshoot for Sleazy Shoes – a band who are friends of mine and also the subject of the last blog of the epic year of music. A top secret (well, not really) location in Winchester was chosen for a cold weekend morning shoot, with lots of interesting graffiti and a moped that had obviously been stolen and ragged around for a while before being dumped and partially dismantled. All made for a great backdrop.

While we were there, a couple of the graffiti artists turned up to paint some more. They were a couple of nice guys producing some great art in what is in essence an unknown gallery, and making the air around the place into an intoxicating fog of brightly coloured propellant-heavy mist.

I’ve put some pics from the shoot below. The band are already using them for promotion, which is great to see.

So where from here? I have a blank canvas. I’d like to do something with photography, with music and with life in general. I have big plans for something that combines all three, but that is waiting on a few things to fall into place before tipping point is reached. You’ll know about it when it does!

Until then, I need to get some kind of online presence for my photography. I’m not sure where to go for that… Instagram, Flickr, who knows? If there’s any professionals out there reading this who can suggest something, please get in touch. When I get something sorted, I’ll link it in a future post.

I’ve had thoughts of trying to sort out some kind of online gig guide for local venues and local bands, but that’s too much work than I can take on at the mo, and the idea of some kind of YouTube based video blog thing has also occurred to me.

I’ll leave you with a gig listing… Shantyhead are doing Paddy’s Day again at The Fox, Bramdean, Hampshire, 17th March, 8:30pm. Come along and join us for some great tunes played by some dodgy musicians!

Until next time, Keep Rockin!

Oh… and just for Raj, this month’s Rangey issue is the clutch… Hopefully a replacement will be fitted within the week!

Some photos from the Sleazy Shoes shoot…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve bloody done it!

Ladies and gentlemen! It’s a year since I decided to do this live music every week / blog thing! I saw the last band of the year on the 28th December, completing what’s been quite an intense time!

What better way to end the year than a new band and a new venue?

Sleazy Shoes at Heartbreakers

The venue was Heartbreakers, a recently opened bar with a venue upstairs. Formerly known as The Strand, I have a feeling the name Heartbreakers makes a passing nod to the British Heart Foundation furniture and electrical shop located in the former Safeway building on the corner of Queensway and Hanover Buildings (where, incidentally, my father used to work in the seventies).

The band was Sleazy Shoes – an alternative rock band hailing from the Bishops Waltham area. They are fronted by Amy and Jack – both friends of mine. Amy is the daughter of an old friend, whilst Jack serves in the Hampshire Bowman. This was their first gig, and it happened to be as the opening act for the Mirrorman music agency’s festive bash. Three other acts were playing, The Lovebites, El Moono and Canvus, but this blog entry is largely about Sleazy Shoes. The evening celebrated the first gig of my friends’ band and the last gig of my year of music, so as a big group of us had booked a cab and I didn’t have to drive, I turned my attention to the social aspect of the evening once the Shoes had finished their set.

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For her first time on stage fronting a rock band, it was clear that Amy was born to it. Having seen a year’s worth of music, nobody else stands out for giving such an energetic performance. She was on a parallel with the chap from Ferocious Dog with the mohawk. Unusually for the current crop of artists emerging onto the scene, she didn’t hide behind her mic stand, instead preferring the flexibility of a handheld mic. Nice touch, Amy!

 

The band as a whole were a tight unit, exuding energy. The second song in the set was entitled Summer Rain (I think). The crowd were something of a cold audience, having never seen the band before, but the warmth of the summer rain was seeping into everyone in the room. By the end of the song, the band had won them over.

Jack is a natural at playing to a crowd and whether he’s behind a bar or on a stage he’s always full of banter, keeping the audience’s attention between songs. He was  providing great vocal harmonies with Amy, producing a sound something like early Nirvana seamlessly blended with the male / female vocal harmonies of Fleetwood Mac, topped with a sprinkling of Soundgarden.

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Sleazy Shoes

The next song was written by Dave, the bassist. Unsurprisingly it began with a rather long bass solo which harks back to Dave’s passion, prog rock. The vocal reminded me of the B-52s Roam, which is no bad thing. One of the best moments I’ve ever witnessed at a gig happened next. Jack came out with a completely off-the-cuff request to the audience. “If you liked that song, take two steps forward!” Everyone, and I mean everyone, did. It’s their first gig and already the audience are eating out of their hands. That was actually quite a powerful moment from an audience point of view. They must’ve felt phenomenal on stage at that point, and quite rightly so.

 

As the set was drawing to a close, Sleazy Shoes continued to work their magic. Feeding off the energy from the audience, Amy was positively animated, Jack was on fire and Dave appeared to be loving every minute. I appreciate I haven’t said a great deal about the drummer (who’s name I didn’t catch). He came to the fore in the final song. Pounding drums proving to be the driving force behind a brilliantly put together set. Nice one, guys! I heard several people say that the Shoes should have headlined the evening, rather than opening it… I have to agree.

The only criticism about the gig is not anything to do with the band. The mix was very heavy in bass and guitar and noticeably lacking in vocals and drums. I do appreciate that in a small venue, it’s often taken that the drums don’t need to be amplified. This is true in soundcheck, but when the venue is full of people, the acoustics are completely different to the empty space that was there when all the levels were set. During the gig itself, the sound of the drums did not carry a great deal, likewise the vocals were quite difficult to hear at times.

How to describe Sleazy Shoes… The phrase that comes to mind is ‘happy grunge’. They are quite remeniscent of ’90s British alt-rock stalwarts, Republica. Look out for them. For a band that’s so fresh, oozing with enthusiasm, they are going places. You heard it here first.

After congratulations to the guys, I was roped in as roadie to take some gear downstairs to the car. With the thirst now worked up, it was time for another beer. There’s not a great deal of choice in Heartbreakers. It’s a trendy bar, but not trendy in the micropub / craft ale sense. They had one non-lager – Heartbreaker Pale Ale. This was a keg beer, which on chatting to the barman, has a bit of a pedigree. Spoiler alert! It’s actually Coast To Coast by Caledonian – a 4.6% pale ale by the Edinburgh brewery responsible for the award-winning Deuchars IPA. Coast To Coast is a hoppy, moreish beer that slipped down a treat. Repeatedly.

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The upstairs bar

The others…

Owing to the repeated consumption of booze, the remaining bands have somewhat limited reviews…

The Lovebites: Definite Green Day influence, but darker.

El Moono: Heavy. Very heavy. They had a moshpit! Covered Ace Of Spades, but missed a chunk of it out.

Canvus: Female vocals, nice and heavy, again with a Green Day-esque tinge.

That was a bloody good night. The venue is good, the bands were great and Mirrorman are definitely promoting some good local talent.

AND thus concludes a year of music! Bloody hell! I made it!

So where do I go from here?

I’ve had a tremendous year. I’ve met some wonderful people, a number of whom I am now fortunate to call good friends, and I’ve heard some amazing music. As experiences go, it’s been fantastic.

I’m looking forward to catching up with acts I’ve seen before, especially those just starting out. I have new venues to visit and more blog posts to write. The one thing that I’m looking forward to though is the freedom, you could call it, in that I have now fulfilled my new year’s resolution. I’ve seen live music every week for a year and I’ve blogged about it. Now I’m looking forward to going and seeing bands when I want to, rather than struggling some weeks to find an act to see, trawling the web on a Sunday morning with precious few hours left in the week. And I’m also looking forward to seeing bands without having to take copious notes.

The blog will continue! Fear not! And thanks to all of you who’ve kept reading it!

Until next time, Keep Rockin!

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And a large whisky is in order… I bloody did it!

Oh yeah… forgot to mention, specifically for Raj, the truck needs a clutch now… Here we go again!

 

Back to the Pig for the penultimate gig…

It was the 21st of December, and what better way to start my festive break from work than by visiting the Tipsy Pig to see a bit of music. Gig buddy Heather was free, so I took the newly repaired Range Rover (as Raj will be pleased to know) to pick her up and journey into Romsey.

The hum and glow emanating from the Pig was evident as we crossed the road from the car park. A happy crowd of drinkers filled the venue in that pre-Christmas spirit that the English are so good at – a heady mix of excitement and dread, combined in various proportions at the approach of the season.

Standing in the stage area was a chap with a guitar – one Jack Francis – playing solo acoustic songs which were barely audible over the chatter, but what could be heard was pleasant enough, so we chose our beer and headed to find a table.

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Another dodgy Google Photos animation of Jack Francis at the Tipsy Pig…

We ended up sitting in the back bar where conversation was winning over the strains of music coming from the front bar. From what could be made out, his voice was a sort of a Hampshire lounge version of Jack Johnson, crossed with Paolo Nutini. The odd syncopated strum and rare glimpses of vocal managed to get through the hubbub, but as there was no movement in the front bar, we had to stay where there was room.

At one point, it became clear that he was singing Neil Young’s Heart Of Gold with loads of vocal dynamics. The bits we could hear sounded good. Then a figure wandered through the doorway from the front bar, looking for the smoking area. It was my old friend Hamish, former bassist with Coast, who had come down from Salisbury and for whatever reason, had ended up at the Pig too. Whilst we caught up, and Hamish talked bats with Heather, the bluesy-folky mix of tunes continued. A cover of Paul Simon’s Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard was popular with the crowd, played in a laid-back style reminiscent of TheRealRaj and Steve Picken’s acoustic duo.

I’m not sure how many of the tunes were original compositions and how many were covers, due to the issues with hearing what he was singing, but Jack’s worn, lived-in yet clean voice was suited to every song. Especially a wholly enjoyed cover of Springsteen’s Dancing In The Dark, with a careful blend of finger picked and strummed backing kept those of the crowd old enough to appreciate it singing along.

What we thought was a break between sets turned out to be the end – looks like we’d missed the start. Artists don’t usually pack their gear up and go home between the first and second half…

Only a brief one here, but tonight I’m off to see some friends play their first gig in their current configuration at a new venue for me – Heartbreakers in Southampton, for the Mirrorman Xmas Party

Keep rockin, folks!

(For Raj’s info, the clutch is now looking a bit dodgy in the Rangie…)

 

Nearly there! Two weeks left!

As I write what will probably be my penultimate blog of 2017 (although as I’m off work as of Thursday, you might get one next week and one the week after), I have learned a lot about the Hampshire music scene. There’s a lot more to it than the dodgy covers bands that make their living in the everyday boozers. Scratch the surface and all kinds of talent shines through. I now know where to head for some good audio entertainment most days of the week, I’ve met some great people, seen some great artists and had a bloody good time! Two weeks to keep it all going!

Here’s a little update for Raj (more about him below) – the truck is currently being gently poked by some nice men in Waltham Chase. S&S Diesel Services – renowned experts for diesel engines in the Meon Valley area. It now starts perfectly (well, as perfectly as a 20 year old Range Rover will) but it has a concerning warning light that they are working hard to extinguish. I get it back tomorrow, several quid lighter, but hopefully a lot more reliable.

Right. Back to business. It was the 10th of December. Getting cold (finally, after a rather long autumn) and the Christmas traffic into Southampton was only added to punters from the home game between Southampton and Arsenal. Apparently it was a draw. That’s the extent of my football knowledge. Apart from knowing that after a match, the crowd head for a pub. Any pub seems to fit. This time it was The Platform Tavern, where I was accompanied by occasional gig buddy and ex lodger Luke. It was a return visit to see TheRealRaj and Steve Picken, doing their duo thing on a Sunday afternoon. due to traffic, parking issues and sheer number of people queueing, we got to the bar as Steve finished his set, which was a shame, as Luke needs to hear Steve play. A true master of the guitar. There will be other times…

In the densely packed bar, pints in hand, we watched Raj do his thing. What more can be said about him that I haven’t mentioned in previous blogs? The guy writes exceptional songs and plays them like only the author can – he knows them better than anyone else, adding dark and light, warmth and feeling exactly where it is intended to be heard. One song involved moving a capo down the neck every couple of bars, changing the key innumerable times during the song. It was equally visually and audibly intriguing.

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It’s dodgy animation time… Raj and Steve

Steve joined in towards the end of the set, providing backing in his characteristic finger-picked style (Picken by name, Picken by nature). Just as he started playing, a member of staff brought his Sunday roast over and placed it on the table just adjacent to the stage area. His gaze was firmly fixed on the plate for the next couple of tunes, which I’m sure Raj, tongue firmly in cheek, extended ever so slightly. As soon as the last song finished, Steve disappeared in a blur to eat his now tepid meal. Raj accompanied him with a couple more songs.

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Raj does his thing while Steve eats lunch…

Raj does his thing while Steve eats lunch…

Both myself and Luke were drinking Reunion AlesOpening Gambit – a 3.8% lightly hopped pale amber all day drinking session beer. An afternoon tipple – enough flavour to be interesting without clouding your palate.

Raj and Steve continue to ply their trade to the eclectic mix of football fans, hipsters and ageing music lovers (and me and Luke) into the afternoon. The addition of foot-operated tambourine and harmonica add some complexity to an already incredibly pleasant set.

The comment above regarding the truck was mainly for the benefit of Raj, who apparently reads my blog largely for news of my ageing mode of transport… For the record, and for Raj’s benefit, I’m currently driving round in a Renault Kangoo van, borrowed from a friend, while the Rangey is under the knife…

Fast forward to the next Friday night. Back to Talking Heads with gig buddies Heather and Nel. Ferocious Dog are playing a three-piece acoustic set this evening. Has to be done. Support was Mark ‘Porkchop’ Nolan – banjo, stomp box and vocals, with occasional harmonica thrown in. He played a sort of hillbilly blues. As I described in my notes, ‘Angsty hillbilly music’. It’s unusual for a solo act with a banjo to hold an audience, even moreso as a support act, when everyone is geared up for the main artist. Pork Chop managed it, though, stopping at one point to retune in ‘a tuning I sort of made up’. Whatever it was, it worked.

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Really dodgy shot of Porkchop

Soon it was time for the Dog to take the stage. As a trio, there were four of them… They brought the drummer too. An acoustic roundup of their 3-album discography followed. As per the full band set, the horses were not spared, and the crowd indulged in much dancing. Including a small mosh pit at the front.

The lineup was fiddle, guitar / bass and banjo / whistle. The set opened with Ruby Bridges, before launching into On The Rocks. All the foot stomping headbanging singalong tracks followed in a set which made up for the lack of instrumentation with raw energy and musical dexterity.

The band were all perched on stools at the front of the stage (apart from the drummer…) and belted out track after glorious track. Next came a reworking of a trad song, the Levellers’ version entitled English Civil War, the Dog version going under the moniker Johnny I Hardly Knew You. Gallows Justice didn’t quite have the initial impact of the album version. Without the bouzouki intro it sounded rather thin to start with, however that changed as the song went on, thickening out as much as is possible with the instrumentation available.

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The Ferocious Dog Acoustic Trio

A new one – Blackleg Miner – followed. I first encountered this tune when the Blue Horses used to play it. Cracking bit of music about industrial action in the coal industry. Now the Horses are gone, the Dogs certainly fill the void they left.

At one point, a chap named something like ‘Waggy’ was welcomed onto the stage. He had a big beard and seemed quite inebriated. He made his way over to a mic, screamed ‘Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa!’ and left. The tunes continued. Freethinker, Mairi’s Wedding and Slow Motion Suicide finished the set, but on a nod from the owner of the establishment, it was encore time.

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They started the encore with the intros of a number of Levellers songs, each receiving a rapturous response from the audience, before launching into Paddy On The Railway. The evening finished with Criminal Justice with the owner and security clapping along. A bloody good night that did not disappoint.

I’ve got two weeks to go then I’ve done a year! Bloody hell! Gigs are lined up and that festive period is coming. The theory is that I’ll have the truck back tomorrow and I’m off to watch the solstice sunrise at Stonehenge with a mate who emigrated to Australia a few years back and his Aussie girlfriend. Should be good, if not cold…

Until next time, have a bloody good Christmas if that’s what floats your boat, and I’ll catch you soon! until then, keep rockin!

I MISSED A WEEK! But it was beyond my control…

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.

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Dog House Boat Boys

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.

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Johnny Boxcars

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.

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The Magic Band

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’.

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Count the strings!

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.

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One of those dodgy animations Google does without prompting

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.

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The fabled T shirt

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.

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Skimmity Hitchers

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.

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The Wurzels

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!

A philosophical reflection, some highly chlorinated samples, a folky bluesy interlude and an infuriating truck…

The last few weeks have been manic. Blogging has been difficult to say the least. Gigs have been squeezed in wherever possible.

As you’ll read below, I’m still on top of the whole ‘music every week’ thing! It’s the middle of November and I’m still going! I’m actually rather proud of that. What with everything else going on in my life at the moment, taking a bit of time to chill with a pint and some tunes really does make a difference.

The Sheiks at The Priory

Lets start with the closest gig I’ve been to so far. The Priory Inn is walking distance from my house, but it tends to be a pub I only visit once or twice a year. It’s always stood out as a bit of a Sky Sports and lager type of place, which isn’t my scene these days.

Perennial favourites of the blog, Thee Sultan Sheiks, were playing. It was Pete the drummer’s last gig, so was a bit of an occasion. The usual Sheiky vibe wasn’t soon to grab the audience after the chords of Take It Easy (Eagles) opened the set. The band were relishing in this, their final fling with Pete on drums. They were giving it their all and the crowd were most appreciative.

The first set ended with a four-part harmony to Billy Joel’s The Longest Time, and it wasn’t long before the second set opened with a bright, driving version of Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, followed by a bit of Bad Moon Rising.

Until about 10:20, around half the clientele were in their twenties. Whatever was happening in Bishops Waltham at 10:20 that night seemed to attract all the younger crowd from the Priory. In something reminiscent of the Pied Piper, one minute they were there, the next they were gone. Those left in the pub were having a great night.

Stood against a wall, listening to classic rock tracks being played with immense skill, watching the middle aged dancers, I had an epiphany. I take notes on my phone for the blog, so Google Keep was already open. The muse took me, and I rapidly filled the screen with the following monologue…

The image of a band does not age. Madness, the Beatles, ELO and Queen are still in their mid 20s to everyone, be they 20, 50 or 70 today. The audience age. Considerably. Sitting amongst people who were teenagers when this stuff was released, I observe them hearing the sounds of their youth. They are transported back to those heady days before the mortgage, the kids, the council tax and the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy that comes with age and responsibility. They are temporarily relieved of the burdens of modern life and live as they did when they were 17.

Watching people being liberated from the existence they never imagined when they were young, through the medium of music, I realise I’ve been absorbed into the system. I’m part of what, in my carefree youth, I couldn’t fathom. I went to gigs and laughed at the older folks letting their hair down, enjoying themselves, living life to such a degree that it seemed they didn’t have care in the world.

Now I’m one of them. When I’m in front of a live band, I don’t have a care in the world. I’m somewhere that the pressures of modern life don’t exist. And it doesn’t matter what the song is or who the band are. I’m free. That’s what music does. It liberates. It allows you to forget the shit you have to put up with day in and day out. Even if it’s only for one song, your mind is free. You are alive. Music sets the soul free. It allows you to be who you really are. Who you should be.

Put a good tune on. Go and see a band. For that moment in time, fuck everything. This is you. Feel the energy. That electricity pulsing through your entire being. That’s what it’s all about. Don’t close your ears to the thing that makes you who you are. Who you were. Who you will be forever. Sing. Dance. Enjoy. Love. According to Talk Talk, life’s what you make it. Make it fucking good. That power is in you. Do it. Nobody is going to do it for you.

Love music. Love life. Live free.

Whilst my mind was racing, a cat was happily asleep on the table by the fire on the opposite side of the bar and the band were singing some Tom Jones.

Alas, the end was nigh, both of the evening’s entertainment and of Pete’s career with the Sheiks. They went out with a flourish, with the crowd favourite, Caravan of Love.

I walked home with the bouncing gait of someone who’s just gone some way closer to working out what life is all about.

Samples in Chlorine

Next was a trip to sunny Southsea on a Tuesday night with now ex-lodger Luke. The Pyramids was the venue, Public Service Broadcasting were the band. With the power of Twitter, I was able to see what the stage times were in advance and we decided a decent pint before being subject to venue beer and venue prices was an idea. We happened upon what looked like quite a new bar, Meat And Barrel. It’s a big place, very light and airy, and evidently used to be two or three shops. They had a large selection of cask and keg beers and a fair food menu. Definitely somewhere for a return visit.

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Meat And Barrel

For those that haven’t been to The Pyramids before, the first thing that you should know is that it’s attached to a rather large swimming pool. The second thing you should know is that the overpowering smell of warm chlorine that hits you when you walk in the door does fade after about five minutes.

The last time I was here was watching Feeder in the mid ’90s, and I don’t remember it being this packed. I think it was sold out, but if it wasn’t, there was very little room for anyone else to fit. We ended up lurking towards the back, close to the bar and to a fire door that a security guard was helpfully holding open to allow a bit of draught to enter.

This tour came on the back of the release of PSB’s latest album, Every Valley, detailing the rise and fall of the Welsh coal mining industry. PSB are essentially a band that seamlessly weave audio and video samples from archive footage, public information films and similar material with live musicians, to create a unique sound that has to be experienced live to be appreciated fully. The albums, bloody excellent though they are, aren’t a patch on seeing PSB live.

The set list comprised tracks from their entire back catalogue, with Mine and Luke’s favourite, Night Mail, coming early on. For a band that relies so heavily on sampling, it was great to see that the brass that’s featured on several tracks was actually performed by a live brass section rather than being sampled.

The perennial problem with gigs in places like the Pyramids was becoming apparent. As the crowd warmed up, dancing and singing, the applause between songs was getting quieter. That’s because it was rather chilly out, so people had arrived dressed for the journey home. In the middle of the audience it was too hot for coats and jumpers. Taking them off means you have to hold them, and holding them means you have at least one hand full so you can’t clap.

Tracks such as Spitfire, Progress and The Other Side got a great reception, as to be honest, did everything that came out of those speakers that night.

A long encore included Gagarin from the 2015 Race For Space album and the finale came in the form of Everest, from 2013’s Inform – Educate – Entertain. A great track to end a cracking night. We journeyed out into the cold night air, immediately realising how chlorine-free the outside world was.

Jo Long & The Pure Drop, Talking Heads

Another new band to me, but one I’m surprised I haven’t encountered before. This was a flying visit to the Talking Heads with tame mechanic Stu. We came in halfway through and purchased our beer while the break was in full swing. Soon, though, a chap took to the stage and pulled up a double bass. He played a long solo piece using a looper to build up a rather thick and complex tune, which accompanied a song about somebody from the 1960s ending up inadvertently in the modern day. The line that stood out was ‘And we still don’t have our jet packs’.

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The looping double bass…

The rest of the band gradually took the stage. At one point an ethereal combination of guitar and double bass mesmerised the audience, with the bassist changing between bow and finger picking (or whatever that’s called on double bass) and making excellent use of harmonics.

Jo Long & The Pure Drop are definitely on the ‘return visit’ list. They are a four piece, with bass, guitar, mandolin, piano and strong female lead vocals, playing folky-bluesy songs with more than a hint of country in places.

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Jo Long & The Pure Drop

Unfortunately time was not on our side this evening, and we left shortly after the band had played Stu’s request of Black Is The Colour. A really powerful rendition, with lots of harmonics on guitar and the double bass as the melody instrument. There was so much feeling coming from the stage during that one song, I’m glad we were able to catch it.

Mechanical woes but I still got to Botley…

I love my car. I really do. Sometimes it doesn’t love me. I drive a twenty year old Range Rover, and enjoy every minute of it. You don’t buy anything made by Land Rover of that age if you don’t want to get your fingers dirty. That’s not a problem for me, but sometimes it gets a little on the infuriating side. This evening was one of them. The truck has had problems starting for a little while now. It came to a head on this particular night. Bookface told me of an interesting looking covers band playing at The Dolphin in Botley, so I thought I’d check them out. Leaving home at 9pm, I finally got to Botley, a 15 minute drive, an hour and twenty minutes later, after having to walk to the garage and back for fuel and drag out my spare battery to jump the now flat-batteried, newly fueled truck.

Wandering up to the bar with my hands black from impromptu engine bay intervention, I purchased a pint. The Dolphin is a Wadworth pub and I opted for the golden, hoppy Horizon, which at 4% was the perfect thirst quencher.

Retread were on stage. The immediate impression was of a really tight and well rehearsed, very good covers band. They were playing to a very appreciative crowd – I had to carefully navigate through various dancers to get from the door to the bar. Their style is bluesy rock. Thin Lizzy got an outing with Don’t Believe A Word, then some blues, then a double bill of Stevie Wonder, ending with Superstition.

The band are a five piece with keys, bass, rhythm guitar / vocals, lead guitar and drums. The visual image to me was of a group of ex teachers. Not just any teachers. The really cool ones.

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Retread

The drummer’s art was demonstrated with Free’s All Right Now, which featured cowbell throughout, only spoiled by piped music / the pub jukebox playing in the distance. In my view, that’s really rather rude. One or the other. If you have live music, that’s it. If you have a jukebox, that’s it. Make your mind up, Dolphin!

The final song of the set was Bad Company’s Can’t Get Enough, followed by an encore of Robert Palmer’s Addicted To Love. I’m disappointed I didn’t see more of their set, but from what I saw, I can recommend these guys if you want a bit of 70s inspired bluesy rock.

That’s about it for now… I’ve got some interesting stuff in the pipeline, not least this coming Sunday when I’m off with a few friends from the pub to see The Magic Band (of Captain Beefheart fame) on their farewell tour. Now I’m going into this blind, as I’ve not really listened to much Beefheart, so expect an open non-biased review next time!

Until I get round to posting the next blog entry, keep rockin!

Two men in someone’s front room, quite some distance away, a chap in a pub and another beer festival…

This week’s mega-blog begins on Saturday a couple of weeks ago. I was rounded up at midday by Widge and Gaz, who promptly put all my PA gear into Gaz’s van, deposited me on the front seat next to Widge and set off for Cambridgeshire. Another Widge and Gaz house concert was on the cards.

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ROAD TRIP!!!

A fairly uneventful three hours on the road followed. Stationary on the M25 for a while, a couple of cars behind a van belonging to a company called ‘Totally Buttons’ (cue much Googling to see if there was a ‘World of Zips’ or a ‘Velcro Baron’). Off the motorway, the travelling prog roadshow happened upon a small rural petrol station that wanted a quid to use the facilities… No pennies were spent.

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Affiliated with World of Zips and Velcro Baron

Owing to allowing extra time in case of traffic, we arrived at the venue an hour early. We didn’t see much of Ely as we were only on the edge – Gaz was sure that round the next bend we’d see the cathedral, but it was not to be. As tour guides go, he isn’t going to be getting any amazing reviews on Trip Advisor…

Setting up in Geoff, the householder’s front room, we just about managed to fit everything in, using occasional tables (what do they do the rest of the time?) as speaker stands, the guys soundchecked. Happy that the sound quality was good, we were whisked away into the dining room where our hosts served us an amazing lamb ragout with jacket potatoes and kale. It was so good, I  now have the recipe.

The ticket-holders began to arrive as we were finishing up. There were a few faces I recognised from the Hampshire house concerts, one or two from the Leamington Spa gigs I roadied some years back, and a lot of newbies. But they weren’t newbies. They were diehard fans who went back absolutely ages.

I was taking photos throughout the gig, which meant I wasn’t focusing on the music as much as I normally do, but it sounded great. They were going through the back catalogue of both early IQ and current Jadis, with the usual sprinkling of covers for good measure. Gaz was playing his new twelve string for the acoustic bits, which appeared to be a bit of a bugger to keep in tune, but for a brand new instrument, for £99 delivered, it had a really pleasant bright tone.

My highlights have to be some of the covers, as I don’t know the other stuff well enough to comment on a particular song. Solsbury Hill went down really rather well, with Widge on cittern and vocals. There was the usual plethora of instruments from Widge’s extensive collection – synth, cittern, flute and hurdy gurdy all getting a look in.

The encore was Comfortably Numb, before a rendition of Heat of the Moment – a tribute to Widge’s good friend John Wetton, who died earlier this year.

After a rather booze-fuelled (for the two of us not driving) trip home, with diversions due to roadworks and just forgetting which way to go, I fell out of the van and into bed, absolutely shattered, at 4am.

I am getting to grips with shooting in raw with my camera, which means there’s far more post-processing opportunities, hence there’s a little gallery below of some of the shots I rather like…

The next week, I popped into the Tipsy Pig in Romsey – a bit of a detour on the way home from work, but worthwhile. For the second time, I was disappointed by the Subway in the garage on the outskirts of the town – this time, they were out of most of the ingredients. They had plenty of bread, some salad and not much else by way of fillings. I went for various sliced meats and whatever salad they had left, topped with some ranch dressing. Not quite what I was after, but it didn’t kill me…

A chap by the name of Joe Mongan was playing the Pig. He’s one of the current brand of young blokes with an acoustic guitar who do solo sets, but fairly unusually, he writes a lot of his own stuff. He did a few, as he put it, ‘cheesy covers’, which went down well. The first of which was a song I discovered in a Shropshire field one rainy day, performed by the guys that nearly took it to Christmas no. 1 later that year. JCB Song, by Nizlopi. It’s a silly song, but I rather like it.

Whilst Mr Mongan continued wowing the crowd with well-played guitar and a good strong voice, I wowed my tastebuds with a selection from the great choice of beers available at the Pig. Unfortunately, due to being steering wheel technician, I couldn’t have a great deal, and I daren’t go near the strong stuff. I ended up having a Red Cat Brewing themed evening, with a pint of Mr M’s Porter – great, strong, porter flavour, which I’m told has hints of coffee – a drink I can’t stand – but it is such a good beer I ignore that suggestion.

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Joe Mongan at the Tipsy Pig

The pub was packed with a lot of happy people. A good turnout for a Thursday night, with lots in their twenties – contemporaries of Joe, who I think drinks there, but I get the impression he had not necessarily played there before.

Another cover followed – Can’t Stand Me Now (Libertines), delivered with powerful vocals and smooth guitar, then back to his original material. Some of it had something of early Oasis about it. The guy has bucketloads of talent and isn’t afraid to use it.

I finished the evening with a half of a Red Cat 2.7% pale golden offering. I’m wary about beers of that strength as it’s difficult to make something so weak have any flavour. Red Cat have done it. It was a surprisingly hoppy easy-drinking beer, almost a beginners’ IPA. It’s a shame I didn’t get its name, and it doesn’t appear on their website, which doesn’t help. If you see something that fits the description, have a taste. I rather enjoyed it.

The next week was another booze-o-rama. So much so that I’m not going to mention any of the beers I enjoyed as they are too numerous to remember. It was Wickham Beer Festival, held in the Community Centre in Wickham. I missed the first band, who were over and packed away by 8pm when I arrived. The next band, Rapid Tranq, were a rock covers band. They did the usual covers band stuff, with a sprinkling of the less ordinary.

Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling opened their set, and it was indeed a good, good, night. Sound quality was, to be honest, lacking. The mix was very bottom-end heavy, but as everyone was there with the sole purpose of becoming inebriated, it went down well.

The first of three Thin Lizzy covers came soon after – Dancing in the Moonlight, whilst the singer was running around the crowd brandishing a radio mic. Not long after, the Lizzy continued with The Boys Are Back In Town, then came a song I’ve not heard many cover bands play – Coldplay’s Yellow.

As the casks were gradually emptied and the drinkers gradually filled, the number of dancers increased proportionately. The hits kept pumping out from the bass-laden PA. Sheeran’s Castle On The Hill, a bit of Kravitz, Feeder’s Buck Rogers, I Want To Break Free and Smoke On The Water, some Foo Fighters and a bit of Neil Young led them up to half time.

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Rapid Tranq, Wickham Beer Festival

After the break, the dancefloor was packed. Deep Purple’s Black Night was followed by the conclusion of the Lizzy trilogy, with Whiskey In The Jar.

The singer was very enthusiastic, engaging the audience, dancing with them and belting out the hits. Green Day’s American Idiot, the Kaisers’ I Predict A Riot and Blur’s Song 2 went down very well with the aficionados of the fermented grain. The set finished with Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, with Should I Stay Or Should I Go as the encore.

Much beer was consumed, many songs given drunken accompaniment and several glasses obtained. That was my fifth beer festival this year, and, owing to the season, probably the last, but who knows what’s round the corner?

Tomorrow, I’m off to see an old blog favourite in a pub that’s crawling distance from home. Wish me luck…

Until next time, keep rockin!

 

A new band, a new venue and a newly married couple…

It was Sunday the 24th September and I’d been looking forward to this one ever since I heard about it. I was drinking in the Hyde Tavern in Winchester the Wednesday before and there was a folk singaround going on in the back bar. I popped my head round the door and stayed for a few tunes. I got talking with the landlady and it appears this was the Winchester Folk Club who had relocated from The Railway. A piece of paper was produced and I was asked if I wanted to join the mailing list. Absolutely! I signed up right away and the next morning received my welcome message and details of a gig by The Blacksmith Band – a fairly new local folk rock outfit who were playing at The Cricketers in Longparish that coming Sunday. That’ll do, I thought, and furiously copied the details into my diary.

Sunday arrives and after a nice drive through rural Hampshire, I arrive at The Cricketers. It’s a great little country pub located somewhere in the green bit on the maps between the A303 and Andover. It’s a Wadworth’s house, so has their full range of beers. As I was driving, I opted for the 4% golden, hoppy, Horizon. A great thirst-quenching summer brew to accompany some excellent folk music.

The band were in full swing when I arrived, and as I waited for my pint to be poured, they showed that they do rather know their stuff. Cecil Sharp and The Copper Family were mentioned in the same sentence in the lead up to the next song.

A great a cappella introduction rang out to Martin Carthy’s Hard Times of Old England, which was soon backed up with drums and a driving bass line. The crowd, really enjoying the moment, were loosely arranged in rows, seated at tables, facing the band. Sound wasn’t bad in the pub, with its low ceilings bedecked with beams. It’s a shame the band were stood against a window and consequently appeared largely in silhouette.

The Blacksmith Band are a five piece with stunning female lead vocals, very much remeniscent of Maddy Prior. The vocalist also plays acoustic guitar. She’s only in her early twenties, and hasn’t been in a band before, and now she’s the front lady of a rather good folk outfit. She’s backed by a multi-instrumentalist on guitar, fiddle and mandolin, another guitarist, bassist with a five-string and a drummer. I wouldn’t necessarily compare them to the folk rock of Oysterband or The Levellers, more the kind of folk that uses electric instruments and a drum kit to purvey their trad heritage. Slightly more rock than the kind that incensed a Manchester man enough to refer to Bob Dylan as ‘Judas’ back in 1965, but by no means Ferocious Dog. Think Steeleye, Fairport, that kind of thing. And they do it very well.

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The Blacksmith Band

It turns out I’d missed most of the first half and the break was upon us. One of the audience stood up to go to the bar and we both immediately recognised each other. It was the landlady from the Hyde Tavern! We had a brief chat about how I’d not have been there if it wasn’t for her taking my email address the other day, and that they didn’t take Hyde beer tokens there. The rest of the break was spent chatting to the very friendly and welcoming locals and the landlady. I believe at one point I was singing Procul Harem or something of that vintage with a chap called Mick who had a rather impressive handlebar moustache.

The second half began with Fairport’s Walk Awhile, with the bassist and fiddle player joining in on vocals. The whole sound, and to some extent atmosphere, was akin to seeing an old favourite of mine – The Hedge Monkeys – a New Forest based folk rock band who are sadly no more.

After some jigs, they sang a song about a chap called Michael who went for a walk and had a chat with a raven. He then ended up killing his missus. It turns out the song was Crazy Man Michael by Fairport. Next up was a really well played cover of Mike Oldfield’s Moonlight Shadow, which I was given on vinyl the other week and I’m playing as I type. The guitar solo was played on mandolin which worked really well.

The folk standard, Steeleye’s All Around My Hat came soon after. This isn’t one they’d played much, and it took a few false starts to make sure they were all singing in the correct key for the vocal chorus that traditionally starts the song. As the set was drawing to a close, the band played Fairport’s Meet On The Ledge then did the introductions of the various members of the band.

All in all, it was a really good Sunday afternoon. A new pub, a new band and lots of new people. I’m going to be keeping my eye on the gig listings of both the band and the pub. Repeat visits to both are in order.

The next week is a short entry in comparison. Friday the 29th September was the wedding day of friends of mine Nicky and Reece, who are licensees of The Brushmakers Arms in Upham. I went down in the evening, on the trusty Funky Moped as there wasn’t likely to be a truck-sized parking space to be had. And I was right. Last time I attempted to ride the moped to the Brush, I ran out of fuel and had to push it home. This time, the tank was brimming and I made it without the enforced walk.

The pub was heaving. An acoustic duo were set up to the left of the door, but there was no chance in getting anywhere to stand indoors. I retreated with my pint of Hopback GFB (3.5%, golden, hoppy, definite session beer) to a table out front where I could still hear the tunes.

The entertainment came from local duo 7 or 11 – both in their twenties, Steve is on guitar and vocals, whilst Sam was playing cajon and harmonica. Songs ranged from classic rock ‘n’ roll, through rock and blues to 90s indie. Highlights include Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Pride and Joy and an Only Fools and Horses medley, with Hooky Street and the title theme.

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7 or 11 (photo shamelessly nicked from their Facebook profile)

A couple of modern classics were given a bit of a skiffle treatment – skifflization? – Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger and Coldplay’s Yellow. The set came to a close with a great choice. Brown Eyed Girl. The perfect song to end a set for an overflowing pub of inebriated wedding guests. Everybody was singing. The atmosphere was perfect.

7 or 11 are another act I want to see more of. I seem to recall catching a bit of their set at the Bishop’s Waltham Festival last year, but the beer was flowing and I wasn’t taking notes to write a blog at that point.

This coming weekend, I’m taking prog on the road again, with a Widge and Gary show in  the depths of Cambridgeshire, where my slightly rusty roadying skills will again be employed.

Until next time, keep rockin!