Tuesday, 27 October 2009

12 Mince Pies and 14 Carat Grapefruit

Those mince pies have been playing on my mind since Morrisons put them out last week. 'It's too bloody early for mince pies, it's still October', I kept telling myself. Yesterday morning though, I just couldn't hold off any longer. I had a dozen in my trolley before I'd reached the fruit and veg.

So yesterday I ate my first mince pie of the year. And yesterday night I heard my first Christmas song of the year. Courtesy of 14 Carat Grapefruit. If you don't know them, you should. Their songs are rock rants and raves about tarts and posh birds, Scotsmen and Yorkshiremen, Colins and Daves, clergy and hippies, teenagers and modern technology. Virtually no one or nothing is left off 14 Carat Grapefruit's lyrical list of the loathsome.

Just off the far east end of London's Oxford Street, which incidentally already has its Christmas lights in place, if not illuminated, there is a basement club/lounge bar called Punk. No toilet, it is quite respectable, a bit posh even, for a music venue. Tuesday nights there are promoted by Dead or Alive Promotions who also put on gigs at The Comedy, off Leicester Square, as well as at other venues in the capital. This is where I cycle to see 14 Carat Grapefruit.

14 CG take the stage at 8:15. Despite it being a Tuesday night, they are playing to enough of a crowd to make it feel worth while; for them I mean - it's always worthwhile watching them. They are the first of four bands. They are not bothered about headlining, about bill-status, they're bothered about playing regularly, and to their fans. Many of their friends and fans work in the West End and the City, so going on early not only assures that they get to see them in a high-spirited after-work-drinks kinda-situation, but also that the band themselves aren't all too pissed to deliver a good performance.

They are a little ragged tonight, but this is not unusual and is all part of their charm and punkness. There are a few false starts, mostly the result of technical problems caused by what lead-ranter Otto Pthrugg (above) describes as the "IKEA house drum kit", but then musical tightness is not what they're about. Musicianship, I'm sure Otto would tell you, is for musicians, and musicians are all a bunch of righteous and lazy c#*ts. And he wouldn't be exaggerating that much, would he?

They kick off with three newer songs. The first, My Mate Dave, is an attack on Otto's mate Dave, a new-age hippy-type, who despite a diet of health foods, is always unwell. Everyone knows someone like this. Second is Volvo Driving Woman, which finds Otto at his most belligerent yet and sitting at the wheel of his car which is stuck in a car-park queue behind the female protagonist who is attempting to park said vehicle. He is helped in this rendition by a car steering wheel apparently recently acquired on Ebay. A 51-second two-chord wonder follows, and ends with Otto berating his band for always overruling his authority. This leads to string of old favourites including Minger, 40 years, Posh Totty and the afore-mentioned Christmas song.

As well as making me laugh, their Christmas song starts me reflecting on what a good year 2009 has been for 14 Carat Grapefruit. And it ain't over yet. They have a gig at The Enterprise in Chalk Farm for London Tourdates and a Christmas PUNK-ROCK-TIL-YOU-DROP gig at the legendary Hope and Anchor, with Punks Not Dad, to come.

The Grapefruit are where what many of us hope to be. They have achieved what many of us aim to achieve. And that is simply to play regularly -they play about once a month. And they don't just look like they're enjoying it - they are enjoying it. And we, the audience, are enjoying ourselves because they are.

After their set, I cycle home for an early night and a mince pie, or two.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Yours acoustically

Hopefully, youhave noticed my recent attempt to spam-rally writers and written contributions for the R-T-Y-D-Webzine. Well, I'm pleased to report an enthusiastic response from a number of members who have put forth a variety of proposals, all of which sound very exciting. I look forward to reading their finished pieces and regular columns.

In other news: I continue to work my way through my repertoire of acoustic songs in preparation for the RTYD Acoustic Afternoon gig on Sunday 15th November at The Libertine. I mentioned the gig to my old saxophone player the other night, in the hope that he would agree to play on two or three (older) songs with me. Songs that he played on ten years ago, or so. It was hard to gauge his reaction, though. He diarised the date and told me it was a question of whether he had the time to rehearse hard and get it spot on, or whether he totally winged it on the day. Bearing in mind the problems I'm having getting my own band to rehearse I wonder whether trying to rehearse another act is further folly.

We'll see. I shall prepare without him and keep my fingers crossed.

I plan to play a mixture of older and newer, upbeat and down-tempo songs from Pocket Rocket's acoustic era, circa 1998/9, and other less well known, even yet to be aired, compositions - if I may call them that. It's been a while since I've performed acoustically. My only recent reference point is of course the infamous Guildford gig, where in lieu of an acoustic guitar (and a headline act!), I played a sedentary set on a Fender Strat. I actually rather enjoyed doing this. But I had very little time to think about it, which probably helped.

Back in the late-90s, Pocket Rocket were quite at home on the chilled acoustic circuit. We were essentially an 'unplugged' or acoustic band for a while there. We became very adept at playing with the dynamics of an acoustic sound. If you listen to A Transitful of Broken Hearted Rhymes, you can hear some of the songs we performed as an acoustic band, and us making a transition into an electric one.

Tomorrow night, Pocket Rocket begins rehearsal for its gig at the Monarch on 11th November. Its a corporate event arranged by our drummer and we're going on early-ish. There should be a guaranteed audience of ad-men and women, enjoying a few thousand quid put behind the bar for them. If you want to blag your way in, let me know and I'll explain how. We are however returning to The Libertine on Saturday night 5th December to play. Watch this space for more details.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

How to pack it, that racket: the ongoing saga of the Pocket Rocket EP

So having uploaded Pocket Rocket's new music to all of the band's sites; set up all the necessary links in an attempt to suck any passing surfers into a Pocket Rocket maelstrom; and created the website/gateway URL, which is now the epicentre of the Pocket Rocket web experience; we get to the question of the hard stuff. The stuff you can hold in your old-fashioned hands. Once known as the record, then the CD. Both round, and both now history. The latter is however still useful to up-and-coming, and even down-and-going (over-the-hill) bands such as mine, as a kind of musical business card.

The question is how to present our new CD EP? Despite being in a band of (mostly) working men, we are all feeling the pinch. This is largely due to the fact we all have young children. That disposable income that we look forward to returning one day soon, has yet to re-materialise. For me, a full-time job would help, I suppose. Right now, I can flick through the Argos catalogue, I can even go there and put the catalogue number on that little bit of paper with the little blue-biro that they provide. I just can't take it to the counter and pay for it. Some nights I sit in my living room and look at my hi-fi system and wonder how I ever afforded to treat myself like that.

So, cost is a concern.

Back in the early days, this EP would have been on cassette. The master copy of the cover would have been lovingly designed, cut and stuck together, and given to my dad to photocopy at work. On receipt of the 'demo' design, my dad, being an ad-man - and a direct marketing ad-man at that - would then say something like, "you know, son, you don't want to do it like that, you want do it like this", and would proceed to show me a Radio Rentals direct-marketing campaign in full colour and with flaps that folded up and bits that fell out and stuff. Right, Dad.

But this is a CD. And my Dad has long since shuffled off this mortal coil. So I/we need to decide on what type of 'case' or cover I/we want. And how many CDs I/we want to produce? I say 'I/we' because, while I have discussed much of this with Pocket Rocket's drummer, to call a meeting of the whole band and discuss the issue, would delay the decision making process by about six months.

My thought process goes like this: Full plastic case-thing? Yuck! Digi-pack? Nice, but probably too expensive. Card wallet? Possibly. Have to check the cost.....No, too expensive. Colour insert in vinyl sleeve? More affordable, but could look a bit demo-ish, if not careful. But then, who are we trying to kid? We ain't got distribution. We ain't got a record deal.

1000 CDs? Too expensive. 500 CDs. Too expensive. 100 CDs. More affordable. 50. Not enough CDs.

The thing to also consider is that we will be giving most of these CDs away at gigs. Most bands do this. And if they don't they are losers. The best, and quickest way to get your music out there is to give it away. You can put a price on your CD on-line, but this is only to keep up appearances.

So after considering all of the above, I've decided to opt for 100 CDs which I can get copied for 80 pounds. This and a colour insert (12 x 24cm printed on one side and folded in half) in a vinyl sleeve (Maplins, 9.99 for 100).

Including the colour copying then, this amounts to about 120 quid for 100 CDs. 40 quid each. Not a great price, but getting more money together right now to manufacture more, for a better price per unit, would be almost impossible. We can barely afford to rehearse. And we have an equipment-cage bill of about 200 quid.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Me and Mark McKendrick reminiscing (A review of ROCK-TIL-YOU-DROP at The Fiddler's Elbow, Chalk Farm)

It's 2015, and I'm backstage at the Forum in Kentish Town chatting with Mark McKendrick of The Dipsticks. His band is minutes away from playing a set at ROCK-TIL-YOU-DROP/LIVE-in-LONDON.

Me: Hey Mark, you remember the time I had you on at the Fiddler's down the road? What was it? A Wednesday night, or somethin'? 2009 or '10?

It was, it was a Wednesday, man. 2009. That's right. I remember we headlined.

That's right. That was the first time you headlined a ROCK-TIL-YOU-DROP night. You'd played one of the early Dublin Castle gigs and gone on first and the place was packed from the off. Great night that was. Remember the Grapefruit played that night too?

And Spirit of Play, man.

That's it. But the Fiddler's man, remember how empty it was?

Mark: Not as bad as Guildford, man!

Me: Fuck, no. I mean, it wasn't a total disaster, or anything. It was just alright. You were great. All the bands were great. It's just there was only about 30 people there. And I'd worked my arse off to promote it, it was all over the internet, and on Facebook and stuff. Fucking Facebook. Remember how much time we used to waste on fucking Facebook, man?

Yeah, I do, man.

I remember I had to run home and get a CD player to play those CDs of
ROCK-TIL-YOU-DROP bands, cos the PA guy didn't have one. And I put a Pocket Rocket CD on, cos we'd just recorded it, and I wanted to show it off. I remember that. And I remember how the cymbal stands were held together with parcel tape!

Brian Caulfield, alias The Lone Groover enters the room. He's sweating profusely through his customary shirt and waistcoat, and clearly buzzed, having just come off stage.

Me: Hey man! D'you enjoy that? Sounds like they want more?

I really enjoyed it Tobe, thanks, man,

Me: I saw the first part of your set out front, but I had to get back here and sort some stuff out. Sounded fantastic though

Brian: It's like a dream come true playing to an audience like that. They were all singing along to me last song, man. Me wife and the twins are out there too. Shall, I go back out?

Why not, man?

Is there time?

For you Brian? Just quickly though, I was just saying to Mark, you remember that gig at the Fiddler's, way back? You came down on your own, as always...

Brian nods enthusiastically, but the words don't come out, he's too excited. Naturally, his mind's on getting back out there to play an encore. He looks repeated from my face to the door and back again.

I persevere.

Me: The twins we're even born yet, if I remember. You came to all those shows, man. Even before you were playing 'em.

(hurriedly) Yeah. Well, it's been worth it mate. Look at today.

Yeah, man. Look at today.... Where's Angie, man, anyway, she should be here by now.

Brian: Anyway, I better get out there.

Me: Sure man, go for it.

Brain grabs his towel and legs it out of the room.

C'mon Mark. You can't be fretting about Angie, you know she'll turn up in the nick of time. Always does. Shall we go and watch this encore from the side of the stage?

Mark and I get up and make our way down the narrow corridors that lead to the side of the stage. We pass Barry from Strange Behaviour on the way.

Me: Well played, Barry. Happy?

Barry: Thanks Toby, yeah. Great. Loved it.

Me: And the boys?

Barry: Yeah, apart from Gerry. He didn't think he played as well as he could've.

Mark: Didn't notice, man.

Barry opens the door to the loos.

Me and Mark (virtually in unison): See you in a bit, man.

Me: Didn't Strange Behaviour play that night too? At the Fiddlers.

Mark: Yeah, man. They did, you're right.

Me: I think that was the beginning of me booking you and them to play together. So well matched you too, your bands, I mean.

At stage-side, the other Barry, Barry Charman of Free State Prophets and The Gowletts is bouncing up and down to the Lone Groover's encore of Eton Rifles. I tap him on the shoulder.

Me: Alright, Barry. How was it for you?

Barry C: Yeah, wicked, Tobe. Wicked. Gotta play with the Prophets next time, man. You should hear our new CD. And our new drummer. Fucking wicked, mate. Really on it, you know?

Me: Great stuff.

Barry turns and continues to pogo to Brian's rendition of the Jam classic and I return to my conversation with Mark.

Me: Do you remember there was that guy playing lead guitar with first band, and he'd played in Buddy Miles' band for a while? Amazing player.

Mark: No, man, I don't .

Me: No? I remember cashing up that night, and not really having any money left over to pay you guys.

I think you gave a tenner or somit, man?

Me: Shit. I made no money from those gigs in those days, man. I do remember wondering whether to carry on with it around then.

Fucking glad you did, man.

Me: Me too, man.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Better out than in: October's Acoustic Afternoon at The Libertine

Another fine afternoon was had by all those assembled for music, beer, roast and colouring-in, at the Libertine yesterday.

Colin Gillman opened proceedings by sitting down with a cup of tea and playing his first ever solo acoustic gig. And why not? I really enjoyed his set, which included new songs Elvis Night at Andy's and Goodbye Ophelia, as well as songs that he composed for his former band Magic Ship.

A bespectacled Patrick Begley, he of Dipsticks fame, also sedentary, performed an engaging set of songs with guitar playing that wouldn't have seemed out of place on Led Zep 3. His bold a capella rendition of a Leadbelly song, was a highlight, and silenced the room.

Tracy Picardi, upstanding, lightened the mood with a set of upbeat songs, and the sweetest voice of the afternoon. Toes started tapping and children downed colour pencils and started dancing and whooping.

Brian Caulfield (pictured above), stalwart of the RTYD scene, and his new guitarist Matthew Quinn (united by RTYD itself, I'm proud to say), were next up, performing under the alias of the Lone Groover and Wonder Boy. Brian's playfully lyrical musical commentaries on modern life and his nostalgic reminiscences kept the adults amused and the ankle-biters on the dance-floor. Between his set of self-penned songs was sandwiched a well-chosen Lone Groover-ised version of The Jam's Eton Rifles, which cleared up one or two of Weller's lyrics that the modfather himself has managed to masticate into incoherence since 1979. Thanks Brian.

Finally RTYD member and professional musician, Jay Stapley, demanded quiet and got it, by wowing the audience with his technical ability and his witty, narrative songs. Delivered with aplomb and mid-song banter, he made it all look so easy. Which, of course, it isn't.

Virtually all of the musicians playing yesterday afternoon, we're nervous about performing. I know 'cos they told me. But they we're all rising to a challenge that they had set for themselves. This challenge involves disconcerting one's self and laying one's self and one's songs bare. It's one of the hardest gigs a musician can play. Either the audience are hanging on your every note, or you need to try to impress them into doing so.

But if you don't have a band (yet), it's better to be playing and developing your songs and craft in this sort of situation, than doing fuck all with 'em. Songs need to be sung. Songs, as Michael Caines of Spirit of Play reminded me at the show yesterday, don't come alive until you perform them and you project them in a room like this. Better out than in.

If you do have a band, though, sometimes you can feel the need to break out of its mould. Of the trappings of it genre, or instrumentation. To make music that differs from that which you play regularly. This is my reason for wanting to book myself to play The Libertine. The challenge for me, is to do it next month. As it is for Graham Hunt, alias mature musician blogger Furtheron and writer of the Guitars and Life blog. Check out his blog, as he too rises to the challenge.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

No piss-up in this brewery

Why is it that it's such a bloody nightmare organising regular rehearsals? We - part-time rockers extrordinaire - Pocket effing Rocket, have already cut band practice back to once a fortnight, for a combination of people's financial, family and social reasons. Might as well be once in a bluemoon - in line with the gigs. There's always something. Always someone. It's a pain. It's a nuisance. It's a hindrance to progress. No effing wonder were pretty much still playing the same effing songs we were playing last year.

How's a band meant to maintain a musical tightness? Or put new songs together? I'm tired of organising and un-organising these rehearsals. You tell 'em the dates, and they forget 'em, or they don't write 'em down right. You ring 'em, you text 'em, you pay for them to come, and they still don't get there.

I know most other 'mature' bands have this problem, I hear it from them all the time. But that don't make it any easier to bear when it keeps happening to you.

With our equipment in a lock-up at the studio, we are clocking up a 43 quid monthly bill, whether we rehearse or not. So, not rehearsing for a month costs 43 quid, plus the odd cancellation fee, which amounts to 50 quid, if it's at the eleventh hour, or after minus seventy-two hours to be precise. Whinge, whinge whinge.

You can understand why people, musical people, rock-musician-type people, just knock it after a while. It's just an effing hassle to keep it going.

Sorry. Had to get that off my chest.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Great Indoor Experience: RTYD at The Libertine

Last night, it was RTYD's first 'electric' gig night at The Libertine.

The last gig I put on there in September was an afternoon acoustic show, which had been quite successful, but this was the first 'evening' and 'electric' show I had put on. The fact that there was only two bands on the bill, meant that tonight I was just a little concerned about attendance. I naturally wanted to impress the venue staff with a decent turnout. The reason for the two band bill was the early live music curfew at 10pm, and this only added to my worry. I must stop worrying about stuff.

I thought sound check would be a piece of cake but the late arrival of the drum kit held the whole thing up. This, and afore mentioned 'concerns', turned my mouth dry and my bowels somewhat loose, so I had to have a couple of beers to calm myself. I should have known better though, because soundcheck, as usual, caught up with itself and by 8:15 when the first band, Milk Roar, was due to go onstage, everything was in place.

Milk Roar's frontman Andy Clarke, alias 'Ming The Mong', virtually walked straight into the pub and onto stage with his newspaper still in his hand. He even took a break early in the set, and mid-song, to visit the bar for the first time, in order to wet his whistle. He made full use of his limited space at the front of the stage, at times even wandering off stage to stand before his band, who played heads down in support of his tirades of gripes and grievances, delivered in a Hugh Cornwell-reading-from-the-Sun-newspaper, spoken-singing voice.

The Great Outdoor Experience arrived with a light show and a couple of boxes filled with copies of their brand new EP, which mid-gig they asked me to hand out to those assembled, who (mostly) seemed very grateful. The band were on top form last night, Phil Ram building up his customary sweat and throwing all sorts of rock-postures, shapes and moves, and capitalising on the pub-floor before him, running out on to it as if onto a walkway into the crowd at Wembley Stadium. Great showmanship, from the former-Vibrator, who always includes a version of the song he-co wrote for the punk band as a member in 1980, Disco in Moscow.

Come ten o'clock, and on a roll, the curfew was overlooked for a couple of Great Outdoor Experience encores and dancing ensued, courtesy of one avid fan, anyway.

My other self-imposed duty was to be DJ for the remainder of the night. This gave me time to reflect, if not entirely relax. Feedback was positive from those that approached me, and there were even enquiries about further events, as well as a few additions to the mailing list. I think the venue manager and the bands were all pleased with how things went.

It was nice to see RTYD members, Tox from 14 Carat Grapefruit, John Rigby and Claire Gamble of Easy/Medium/Hard there, as well as Andy from Probing Cranks, who came out to support his mates Milk Roar.

The next 'electric' gig at The Libertine is on Saturday 7th November, and features performances from South London bands, the Trick Noise Makers and Spirit of Play. Yours truly will also once again be DJ-ing.