Monday, 27 April 2009

MySpace...MyArse...My Advice.... to older bands (including my own): Make every gig count

I went to see The Great Outdoor Experience (TGOE) last night. I've booked these guys to play the next Rock-Til-You-Drop night, and I was especially keen to meet their lead singer and guitarist Phil Ram.

When I arrive Phil is busy with pre-gig arrangements so he introduces me to the band: Adam, who plays bass, and James, the drummer. We chat for a short time before they too have to attend to pre-gig duties.

We're at The Abbey Tavern in Kentish Town. The musicians at the Soundbites Club play through small amps and sing through a small PA here. There is a compere. And the gig is free to enter, so the bar is busy, largely with 20-30-somethings. The bill is a mixture of bands and duos.

I'm not drinking. I'm not in the mood, after a weekend of it. Its about 9:15 when I arrive.

After technical and tuning problems the TGOE get up to speed with Better World, and its Shadows-style lead intro. Phil's songs, as his band's name suggests are concerned with the natural world, with finding peace and beauty through nature and love, and by renouncing all things material and ephemeral. You know the message, and lifestyle.

Their set is rushed by earlier technical problems but they play the end of their set at full tilt, the penultimate song being one which Phil co-wrote whilst briefly in The Vibrators back around 1980. Tonight it's hard to imagine him playing in a punk band. Reference point - someone I can: TV Smith - who still wears drainpipes and boots and tight cap-sleeved t-shirts.

After their performance, I don't get a chance to speak to Phil as he is busy with a group of friends that have come down to see him, but I leave feeling like I do occasionally after my own band's gigs. Like it was a good gig. The band played well. But who for? A few friends and a respectful and polite but indifferent audience. What is the consequence of this gig? How does this gig move the band forward? If I wandered into The Abbey Tavern tonight and happened upon TGOE, and kinda liked them, what next?

Well, I might go home and find their MySpace page. Even if I fucking hate myspace - I would probably start here. Because the music's on the front page. MySpace looks shit. It's badly designed, the important bits are too small and hard to find, and ads are always moving and popping out at you. You can't really personalise it either - whatever you do it looks like MySpace - shit.

Anyway, so I look. There's a player. The profile is too long. It's unreadable, and out of date. The band picture is awful. Doesn't show you anything. Further down, there's a list of friends, including Arthur Brown, and endless messages. A pointless waste of (my)space.

The thing is. Where are the CDs for sale - or the link to them? The T-shirts? The Merchandise? If I'm going to follow this band, I need something to follow, something to buy. In lieu of the press, where's the blog? Where's the imagery, the identity? The lyrics? The CD artwork? The personality?

Nowhere to be seen. It is killed by the limitations MySpace.

To be fair to TGOE, they do actually have a website, but it's out of date. It's been under re-construction for a while now. This is a shame. This needs to be a priority.

Now, I'm just using TGOE as an example. They are not alone. My band don't have a website. Or new CDs to sell. Or T-Shirts. The point is, it is worth doing more around the gig itself to make the gig pay off. To make every gig count. There is more to it than just playing and going home, as two-thirds of the band did immediately their performance was over.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Born to boogie

So we (Pocket Rocket) are rehearsing tomorrow night. Last week's rehearsal was cancelled at the eleventh hour due to bad memory and imminent child-birth, thereby incurring the full cancellation fee. Painful. In a different way to child birth, I'm sure. I got together with Lex (our guitarist) at his flat that night though, and had a jam, during which we set straight a couple of instrumental breaks.

Mike is due to become a father for the second time in the next few days so it is highly unlikely that he will be present at rehearsal tomorrow night either. He and his wife are giving their daughter Yasmin a brother.

Still, we three remaining, need to play. We need to run through the set 'cos we have a gig on the May bank holiday in a marquee at a 21st birthday party-slash-mini-rock-festival, somewhere in the sticks. We'll be the old boys on the bill and we need to show the kids. Show them where you end up if you don't make the big time. Show them what it's like to play out of a place less accessible than the where-are-they-now file: the who-the-fuck-are-these-old-boys-file. I'm joking, of course.

I expect the younger bands will be pretty good, too. A couple of them are apparently on the up and up. One is called the O Children, or something?
Oh, those heady days...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Do I not like that

Bollocks! I am not having any fucking luck with these venues. Now the Dublin Castle has double-booked me! What the fuck! Is it me, or what? Should I be getting a complex? There was a clear confirmation from both the Boileroom and the Dublin Castle, too.

Still, their offering me the following night or the Friday at The Dublin Castle, so it may prove to be a better night anyway. Hopefully, the bands won't be too inconvenienced by the change. I'm waiting to hear back from them all.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Carry on Guildford

Okay, so Guildford could be back on. I take it all back. Beautiful Losers have agreed to play, though not yet on the revised date. The Zone are happy - mostly 'cos they've had their place on the Guilfest bill confirmed. Well done boys. I've yet to contact my original headline act, but will do tomorrow.

Got guests tonight so will expand on this later.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Department Store Stairwell Snog

I love it when a song finally comes together after weeks, sometimes months of being picked up, put down, taken to bed, taken out on the bicycle, and even at times forgotten. I love the dilemma at this point about whether to have a double verse & bridge before the first chorus, or a single one.

I love it when you finally get a middle-8 together that changes key and comes in and goes out perfectly. I love it when you get to delete or scribble out those bits of unfinished verses in order to neaten up the arrangement.

But what I don't like so much is losing lines like 'department store stairwell snog'. I hate to let them go. But I just can't seem to get this is in.

The song, which is about the experience of returning to my hometown, about feeling "invisible" there, and it inspiring me to contemplate the path I have taken since leaving , and what I have achieved, and who I am and stuff, needs a title.

I don't think 'Department Store Stairwell Snog' is it. Maybe 'Department Store Stairwell Song'?

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

My life as a promoter

Need to make a decision this week about the bill for the next Rock-Til-You-Drop night at the Dublin Castle. Got a few bands in mind. Waiting to hear whether a band called Last Man Standing can headline it. Steve, who DJs the Rock-Til-You-Drop nights at Dublin Castle, knows the lead singer and has run it by him. He's checking his band's schedule, so we'll see? I notice from their myspace page that they are playing the Lovebox Weekender in Victoria Park in July - so they look like they've got their shit together. They appear to be semi-professional part-timers and therefore probably don't need a Rock-Til-You-Drop gig at the Dublin Castle on a Wednesday night, which is likely to make them no more than the cost of a few beers. They may however, approve of the cause/ethos/mission of R-T-Y-D. I have a feeling they won't do it, but that's probably me catastrophising again, right? If this is the case, I'm gonna have to book 4 bands instead of 3 to get more punters through the door. I didn't want to do this 'cos it means 30 minute sets, and more hassle on the night. But when you got 3 bands and one doesn't bring anybody, you are fucked.

Also waiting for a couple of bands to confirm their places on the Guildford bill in late June.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Burton Delight

I have just received news that a second Pocket Rocket song will be featured in the film Ambleton Delight. One of the other artists had some problem with the licensing agreement and apparently the Director had I'm Coming to Your Town sitting on the bench.

Bring it on.

(Note to self: get on with the re-issue of the Happiness b/w Coming to Your Town CD)

"Tonight Jeremy, I'm going to be...."

The rock moment of my weekend break staying with relatives near Amsterdam, comes when we visit a roadhouse-style bar in the town called 'The Bull'. We have been taken here 'cos the friend of a relative is performing with his band that night.

Rather oddly for a rock night, a solo flamenco guitarist opens proceedings. His songs have no words and no structure. My only flamenco guitar reference point is the intro to The Doors song Spanish Caravan, which I am tempted to request, and when he receives applause you sense it is more for 'a good effort' than for his virtuosity.

The second band are a drummer-less 3-piece (two electro-acoustic guitarists and a singer/flute player who looks like Neptune if he had moved on to the land, swapped his trident for a flute, got hooked on hashish and got onto Stars In Your Eyes as Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull). They play a set of covers in a very amateurish way, which along with all the usual pub-rock standards, includes a version of David Bowie's Heroes complete with an Anderson-style flute solo.

I'm enjoying myself but Laura, my wife, can't bare any of it, can't see the funny side, or even appreciate the musicians' 'good efforts', and wants to leave almost immediately that we arrive. Somehow though, I persuade her to stay the course. More Heineken helps. And we watch the entire set of the headline band - a 3-piece with a drummer - who play originals that might as well be covers, before we are driven home by a sober relative on the wrong side of the road (as we see it, anyway)

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Ideas over beers

Okay. Enough.

Back from Holland.


Met with Colin and Magic Ship on the night before I left, and was introduced to friends of the band, Kenny (AKA Kenski), TC and Push (ex-Melody Maker journalist and, as Christopher Dawes, author of Rat Scabies and Holy Grail). All nice blokes.

Colin is gutted 'cos the guy who is gonna photograph the band in the pub, doesn't turn up. I feel for him, especially as he is all dressed up for the opportunity.

Colin is confident, well-connected and a born match-maker. He proceeds to inform me of every connection useful to me, that he can think of. He is witty, and he speaks his mind, which is good for me 'cos I have a tendency to keep my opinions and feelings to myself. He won't stand for such retiscence. He is both encouraging and inspiring, and he educates me about this blogging lark and podcasts and stuff.

We have the idea of setting up a record label, which is great, and needs further, more sober, discussion. I look forward to this very soon.

Oh, and I agree to join his punk side-project The Dead Dictators, which is in greater need of a punk drummer (Rat Scabies, maybe?), already having three or four guitarists on board.

Three Newcastle Brown Ales and Jack Daniels and Coke later I leave feeling a hell of lot better than I did earlier that day (see that day's blog) - I'm looking after my daughter over the Easter break and days can be long even if we do go out, and often end with me sitting at the computer wondering what to do with it, while my daughter watches Numberjacks and Chuggington in the other room.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

No point in nuthin'

In the sober light of day, I still can't see the point of continuing Pocket Rocket in it's current form. As an 'alternative' rock band. There are so few older bands making similiar music to us, there's no bandwagon, there's no scene, there's no circuit, no network. We can't play in other parts of London 'cos no one knows us there. We're fucked.

We can't afford to record - what is the point in having a band without new releases? What is the point in playing if you're not promoting anything? Please visit our myspace page, though! There's 200 words to read about us, and four tracks to listen to there! There's a new photograph, too!

The occassional gig, in a band that pins it's audience to the backwall. And I ain't got the charisma to galvernize a room of 30 over-30s.

Don't get me wrong, I love the band. I love it's music. I love singing. I love playing the guitar. It just seems so pointless, right now.

We got a gig at a private party, to play on the first Bank Holiday in May, which is in the outdoors, so that should be fun. But beyond that, nothing. If you saw us play in March, why would you want to see us play again this year? We're not exactly a great live band. We're lucky if we play a good gig. A gig that we're all happy about.

Throwaway gigs. Blagging our way onto bills, not to be seen again. We're never gonna develop a following. We are flogging a dead horse.

And as for this blogging and sitting at this fucking computer. I should be doing something more creative. I should be painting, drawing, writing something useful like...a song?

But what's the point in that?

See the cycle of negative thinking? Not a good few days.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Too drunk to blog

I've had too many beers. By my standards, anyway. I shouldn't be writing.

I've just done a drawing. An automatic A4 drawing.

I've read a couple of Leonard Cohen poems in search of lyrical inspiration.

No joy there.

Instead, I've come to the confessional.

I've copped out.

I'm going to meet Colin and the boys from Magic Ship tomorrow night. I'm really looking forward to meeting Colin after all our previous telephone and internet contact.

The band have arranged to have their photograph taken by a professional photographer in the pub where I'm meeting them.

I called Colin earlier today to get details of our meeting.

I can't help feel disappointed and frustrated about how badly my own band is doing, when I speak to Colin about Magic Ship. They're recording a second album. And they seem to be able to get paid pretty much whenever they play.

There follows, three statements:

I'm not doing it for the money (?)

I'll do it even if there is no money (Loser)

I've got used to there being no money. (More like it)

My name is Toby Burton. I am a hobbyist.

That's four or five, I know. I shouldn't be writing.

I am just happy/lucky to get a gig, and to get some people to watch it. We can barely afford to rehearse, let alone record. Our guitarist can't even afford the travel fare. By the time he gets to rehearsal, our drummer is mentally exhausted from his day at work. My bass player's got a kid on the way and money is obviously tight for him and his partner right now. Recording is therefore, and rightly, not a priority.

Me. I need to eat something.....

Cornflakes. Bananas. Tin peaches, milk and sugar.

In other news: I'm still waiting to hear from John Idas and The Beautiful Losers about whether they want to play the Rock-Til-You-Drop night at the Boileroom. The Zone are up for it.

When I spoke to Neil from Beautiful Losers, he seemed particularly concerned with what they might be paid to play the gig. I was gonna say, who do you think you are, Crazy Horse? But of course I didn't (see, I shouldn't be writing this). They are obviously semi-professional. Maybe even full professionals? I know John Idan is. He however, has agreed to drop his usual fee for the night, and for the cause. I hope all the bands get some money from the show. I just can't guarantee it.

Am I in the only band in the world that doesn't get paid to play? That can't get a decent crowd to see us.

See here comes the self-pity. Pathetic, isn't it?

Anyway, B.L. are checking the links that I sent them to the site and stuff. You'd think they might have got back by now? How long do I leave it before I chase them? Or do I chase them?

On the bright side, the Great Outdoor Experience seem keen to play the Camden gig.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Grey: going, going... gone?

I'm not sure how you measure vanity? So, I can't say how vain I am. I try to look my best. I try to look 'rock 'n' roll' much of the time, though I'm less tolerant of the cold these days and have taken to wearing a fairly un-rock 'n' roll puffer jacket through most of the winter months, which lets the look down a bit.

Anyway, I'm not ugly but I wouldn't consider myself 'good-looking'. In the past with different haircuts, among others, I have been compared to Pete Murphy (at 17/18), Neil Young circa 1971 (at 23/24), and, a number of times, one of the Gibbs brothers, I don't remember which - does it matter anyway?. I'm kind of goofy and big-eared. I blush, and my hair is receeding enough for it to look much better the shorter it is. I miss the hair now so much, I'm phasing hats into the look.

My hair was straight, fine, black and shiny as a kid. But at 27/28 with the hair still as long as Neil Young circa 71, I started to discover the first grey hairs. Around this time, petrified of premature ageing, I began dying it regularly. I was lucky that it was still very dark brown/black so it went unnoticed for many years. As the years went on and the hair line receeded so the hair got shorter and shorter. As a result, dying it became more and more frequent, until more recently it's been every 4 weeks or so. This is a pain. But I've got a thing about going grey. I don't mind white/silver, I just don't want gray.

So, I've decided to stop dying it and to see how it looks like under there. This isn't the first attempt but like my 31 days of abstinence from alcohol earler this year, I am able to rise to a challenge. While I make the transformation, the hats are useful, anyway.

I can see that underneath the residue of darkened hair, I am now substantially grey/white. I hope this means I have leap-frogged the grey phase.

If not, I'm dying it again.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Punk is dead....but we're still dying

My sister reminded recently that I used to have this slogan on my bedroom door when I was a kid. It's taken from the label on Stiff Little Finger's Alternative Ulster 7" single.

I went to see Stiff little Fingers last night. Not the first time. I think its probably the third or fourth time. I didn't get to see them back in the day, though.

My friend is mate's with the bass player Ali McMordie, who is one of the two original members in the current line-up (the other being lead singer and guitarist Jake Burns), so he kindly gets me on the guest list when they're in town.

I was 11 in 1978 when I got into new wave and punk music. I remember buying the first edition of Smash Hits whilst still at Primary School. That year it featured bands like Blondie, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, the Jam, and the Police, as well as some of the punk bands like Sham 69 and the Buzzcocks.

I remember around that time being played X-Ray Spex's Oh Bondage! Up Yours at a family friend's house, and knowing immediately that it was anti-something, maybe anti-everything, and that I liked it.

I must have expressed my interest in this music to my older cousin Richard, 'cos for the next year or so he proceeded to regularly and generously feed me lovingly-made compilation tapes containing a wide range of punk and Oi bands. These 13 or so tapes, unfortunately long-gone, formed the basis of my love of punk and inspired me to independently explore those bands that I particularly liked, such as the Adverts, The Outcasts and The Stranglers.

I was too young and not hard enough to be a punk. But that didn't stop me trying. I could upset and convince adults with my attempts at punkness - I remember not being allowed into my mate's house 'cos his mum was so offended by my spikey hair, my DMs, skin-tight jeans with turn-ups, and God Save The Queen t-shirt - but my punk-peers were less convinced - I was once spat at in Woolworths in Guildford, and often jeered at by other more punk-by-nature boys at school for my attempts to be one of them.

Okay, I didn't know much about Crass, but I knew I genuinely liked some pretty crass stuff (with a small 'c') like Cockney Rejects and the Angelic Upstarts, so I lived with it.

I had to wait until I was 15, to see my first punk band though. The Stranglers, had nearly topped the charts with Golden Brown, and were basically mainstream by the time I saw them at the Civic Hall, Guildford in 1982. But they still played with the contempt and vileness that you would expect of any proper punk band.

Stiff Little Fingers were another one of my favourite punk bands. I was gutted 'cos my parents wouldn't let me go to the Civic Hall the year they played there to promote the Nobody's Heroes album. My cousin went and bought me the tour poster though, so I proudly blue-tacked over my bed.

Last night they played the Forum and they sounded as punk rock as ever. The audience as you'd expect comprised mostly of 40-50 year old males; boys slightly older than me, that probably would have spit at me back in the day. But tonight I am here and I belong here. I have the punk record collection and knowledge of the genre to easily qualify. I am as passionate and savvy about punk and S.L.F. as the best of them, basically, finally, as punk rock as them. Even as hard as them. Or rather as soft as most of them. A parent too, like most of them.

There were spine-tingling moments all the way through the set, and Jake Burns's voice sounds stronger than ever. Tin Soldiers sounded bigger and more anthemic than ever. Barbed Wire Love, which had a Forumful of old punks singing the 50s doo-wop middle-8, demonstrated why Inflammable Material stood out as such a punk classic. They encored with both Johnny Was, and Alternative Ulster, the former as drawn-out, dynamic, passionate and uplifting as I could ever hope for.

I still listen to this stuff, see. So hearing Wasted Life and Suspect Device doesn't feel nostalgic. It feels like the present to me.

I've been blogging about the blues and how I don't get it. Well, this is why. I get this. I get this energy. This passion. The immediacy of this. There was nothing 'Blues' about tonight. Or about the people present. Sure, we can all admit to liking Led Zeppelin now, but we will always be punk at heart. There's some argy-bargy at the front but the aggression and anger has long gone. The spitting, too. Good performance, musicianship and competence is now appreciated, admittedly. Virtuosity, however, is not an issue. Jake Burns's succint solos were artful in their brevity and beautifully adequate. To the point, like most of their songs.

I get introduced to Ali at the after-show party and while I could have said "I used to have a poster of you and Stiff Little Fingers on my bedroom wall", and asked loads of interesting questions about being a 'mature' musician and stuff; instead I just said "excellent gig, man" and stood listening to his conversation with my mate and examining his now mature facial features like he was an old school friend that I hadn't seen in 27 years.

By 12 o'clock I'd had enough crap lager - just a couple of pints of that stuff is enough. So I called it a night. A great night.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Are friends acoustic?

Mike, my bass player, has got me thinking. And given me a dilemma.

After seeing I, Thalamus headline the Rock-Til-You-Drop night at the Dublin Castle, he thinks we could lighten our sound and be a more accessible and successful and entertaining live band, if like Grant Gordon I played acoustic guitar instead of electric. He's right, it probably would lighten up our songs. It would take away that bite, that sharpness, that hardness, that edge that perhaps pins the audience to the back wall, rather than tempting them to move, jig about, or even, dare I say it, dance.

That said, we have had people dancing to us before. Okay, they were drunk..

But do I want to put down the electric? I love playing electric. I love how it feels. I love the power. The weight of it. The acoustic doesn't feel as cool. It looks okay. Goes with the hat, even.

Oh, he's probably right. But I hate him for it.

Panic Over

I decided to ring a couple of rehearsal rooms in Guildford in search of local bands for the gig. There are loads of covers bands but I got the names of a handful of older, original bands in the area. I checked out their myspace pages and emailed a couple of 'em. The first is called 'The Zone'. These guys are in the 40-50 age range, a 3-piece and they play music which it's hard to categorise but is essentially 'alternative' rock. They get back to me and are up for playing. The second band haven't responded yet.

Then I get this response to my Gumtree ad from a guy called John Idan, who sung and played bass in the Yardbirds from the early 90s until recently. He has own band, and he is interested in the site and keen to support it. I listen to his own stuff on myspace and, as you might expect it's heavy on the 60s and 70s influences. But hey, it's original and his being in the Yardbirds may well attract some of the older guys, that the first two bands would not.

I give him a bell and we talk for a while about the site, it's mission and ethos. He seems keen to play and to support the cause, even though I can't guarantee him a fee, which is very cool. It's possible that his band might be in Germany at the time so he has to get back to me when he knows more.

I am starting to feel Guildford coming together, which is a relief.