Sunday, 29 November 2009

Pocket Rocket is my Blur

Went to see Graham Coxon's Power Acoustic Ensemble last night at the Barbican. Sounds pretentious doesn't it? Well, it wasn't that bad, actually. Coxon is too modest, shy and self-conscious to be pretentious. I see the irony once the show begins.

The wife got the tickets. It's not the sort of gig that I would have bought tickets for. I'm not a big pop-rock peer-envy, and some grumpy contrariness associated with this indifference, 'cos of course I'd kill for the opportunity to put on a show like this; to be able to call up Robyn Hitchcock and ask him to play second guitar for me. It would have been nice to have made a contribution too, wouldn't it? I am green with envy. It's less obvious when the lights go down.

Despite being a seated gig, it was pretty good. My wife does know me. Actually, standing through it would have been too much. It's hard enough standing for two hours at a rock gig, these days. So I had a beer and sporadically drifted off into musical daydreams. Which is the way I most enjoy gigs. They are still a chance to dream.

I've not been inspired to listen to Graham Coxon's solo stuff up to now. I saw his band in Finsbury Park a few years back and wasn't that impressed, so I have turned a blind eye ever since. But he's clearly been practicing (How patronising does that sound? - Ed). I wish I could pick like that. He plays a mean folk guitar these days. His voice lacks character and dynamics, but he writes and arranges well. The influences of Bowie and Syd Barret are obvious, and I can hear a little Julian Cope and some Nick Drake in tonight's material. I'm sure his influences are much more purist-folk than these - the programme confirms this - but this is my uninitiated opinion. I'm only strong on bastardisations of traditional forms of music. I don't do the real thing. Call me a philistine, because it'd probably be fair.

I was inspired though. I'd love to get a 'unit' (as Dove calls it) like this together. It's very English. A bit quirky. A bit discordant. Pocket Rocket isn't doing enough to keep me sated. Logistically, financially Pocket Rocket can only do so much.

That makes Pocket Rocket, my Blur. I said the gig was a chance to dream, didn't I?

I could start by dusting down and re-programming The Phantom Limb. If it's gonna be a sedentary gig, I don't need a real drummer. Not to begin with anyway. I could start performing and pick up musicians as I go, just as I did with Pocket Rocket, in the early days.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Dipsticks play the Constitution, 42 St Pancras Way, NW1, this Friday (27th) 9pm:

Monday, 23 November 2009

Jay Stapley writes about what it means to be a 'pop' musician early in the 21st century, exclusively for R-T-Y-D:

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Friday, 20 November 2009

14 Carat Grapefruit go down like a led zeppelin

Not the band, but the airship made of lead.

The early part of my Thursday evening was spent reminiscing and projecting in the company of Patrick Begley of the Dipsticks at the Spread Eagle pub in Camden, which was a pleasure, and then it was up to the The Enterprise in Chalk Farm, where 14CG were playing for LondonTourdates. I hadn't set foot upstairs there for over 10 years. It now has a stage with lights and a small PA. With its red velvet curtains, I felt a bit like walking into a scene from a David Lynch movie. The band playing as I walk in are Eights 'n' Aces. As in Guns 'n' Roses, and The New York Dolls. They are great if a little too in-yer-face for such an intimate space.

After an interview for LondonTourdates, 14CG take the stage and open with the a cappella Costas. It was clear from the off, that they, those few gathered here, weren't getting it. Now I can't understand how you can see 14 Carat Grapefruit as anything other than hilarious. But they could. I was laughing; Ande and Andy, of Milk Roar and Probing Cranks, respectively, were laughing. And we've heard the jokes numerous times before. But much of the room was not. The awkward silences between songs didn't help, as these left room for Otto's newest admirer to voice her disapproval of what she apparently considered to be racist and sexist lyrical content.

My guess is that Olive from On The Buses as she was dubbed by the band, doesn't care to know about 14CG's appearance at the Xmas Punk-Rock-Til-You-Drop night at the Hope & Anchor on 17th December. Just a guess.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

It's my party and I'll play if I want to

In my last blog entry I neglected to mention my own appearance at Sunday's acoustic afternoon at The Libertine simply because I wasn't in the mood to talk about myself at the time of writing. Now I am, so please allow to me fill you in. It won't take long.

It's been a while since I sat down and performed acoustically in public. It was the impromptu solo performance at the disastrous Guildford gig earlier this year that inspired me to get back in to it. It's taken until now to make it happen, for whatever reason.

On Sunday, I had moral support on stage from Pocket Rocket guitarist 'Lex' Luther Taylor, who played electric guitar to accompany me, and did a fine job after just two rehearsals, and only being familiar with three of the seven songs I asked him to learn. I thought the decent thing would be to open the event and take the 'warm-up' slot, which I did. By song three of seven I was beginning to relax, and by song five I was leaning back on my chair. The sound was good and clear, and though there was some chatter from the floor, those assembled were largely attentive. Colin Gillman, Istvanski and Kenski had public transport problems and missed my set, so requested that I make a special appearance at the end, which I was happy to do. Colin got his acoustic versions of Give The Boy A Chance and (The) Happiness (You Deserve) as well as a reprise of Magic Bicycle.

It was a pleasure to host, and listen to, performances by all those that played after me. It was lovely too because so many RTYD members came along. All those playing were members, and as well as Ista, Colin and Kenny, Mark McKendrick was also there supporting his buddy, Woody.

John Grant, whose band The Beast are playing for RTYD on Wednesday 9th December at the Blues-Rock-Til-You-Drop gig at the Fiddlers Elbow in Chalk Farm, wrote a lovely thing in an internal message to me that I'm sure he won't mind me imparting to you; he wrote: "I think you've created something wonderful with this RTYD affair - it reminds me of a time when you could just breeze into your local and encounter the likes of Juice on the Loose, Kilburn and the Highroads, The Realists, Ducks Deluxe et al".

That's the general idea. And how cool is that?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sunday afternoon at the Libertine

I can't be bothered to go on about how good it was. Suffice it to say, a great time was had by kids 'n' all.

Here's some photos. I must apologise to John Rigby for not getting my camera out in time to snap him in all his acoustic glory. Maybe someone else did? If so, I'd welcome a jpeg. So for now, here's a picture of him in action at the last event so you can put a face to the name. You'll see him about, he's a lovely guy and a regular on the RTYD scene.

Here's Woody, his guitar and harmonica, looking and sounding great. And all the way from Blackburn, Lancashire.

Here's Graham Hunt, alias mature musician blogger, 'Furtheron', who rose to his own challenge and delivered a lovely set of songs. Follow the 'Furtheron' link and read his blog 'Guitars And Life' about the experience.

And here's Strange Behaviour who played a great set after just one 'unplugged' rehearsal. Showing that if your drummer can play with brushes he's welcome to bring his whole kit along.

And then there was this lot propping up the bar and dipping left-over roast potatoes into cold gravy (and why not?): From left to right: mature musician blogger, Crystal Palace fan and Stabilisers guitarist Istvanski; internet-radio-jockey and former Axevictim-blogger, The Colin Gillman, and one fifth of the Filmore Five Kenski.

Until next time.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Pocket at rocket speed

Pocket Rocket
played for the corporation again last night. To at least a hundred admen and adwomen, employees of the advertising agency Wunderman, whose London office is at Greater London House on Mornington Crescent in south Camden. My drummer works for the company, as did my late-father in the 80s and early 90s. This is a coincidence. As is the fact my drummer and I share a birthday, and were both adopted.

The gig is an annual affair organised by my drummer. For Pocket Rocket, it is a guaranteed audience of young people enjoying a thousand quid or so behind the bar and the chance to let their hair down on a Wednesday night.

I'm on the wagon, so a corporate card behind the bar is no good to me. After three or four days of abstinence under my belt, I have decided to push on, and at seven days, I resolved to remain abstinent for the entire month preceeding the silly season. Typical of me. No real reason for it, I just like to challenge myself, I suppose. And I do sleep better, and I'm less grumpy.

The result is that I feel like a spectator all night. I feel like the bouncer must do every night. And the bar staff. Like them, I'm here to do a job. To load equipment in. To lend backline. To soundcheck. To play. And bring down and load out equipment.

Soundcheck is without our bass player who has a dreadful cold and will be arriving minutes before we play, to perform and go straight home to bed; another one of us doing a job. I bet he wished he could ring in sick.

Soundcheck goes okay though. Only the bass drum is being miked. Which is okay. But I can't get the brightness I'd like to hear from my amp.

We go on at 8pm, after our drummer's daughter's band Roxxi, who are all thirteen and sound very good indeed. I'm pleased for them.

From the off I cannot hear my guitar. And I wish it was miked up. The stage is low and we are playing to a wall of people standing in high-ceilinged wooden-floored space. The result is a fuzzy wash of cymbals and guitar and chatter. I'm pushing my voice to be heard. I cannot relax 'cos I can't hear what I'm playing or if I'm my guitar's in tune. When I come to the resignation that it must be in tune, I relax a bit, but I still can't get into it. We play everything at rocket speed, and this kills any funkiness. We are against the clock. And our set is too long. We have to cut a song. But I can't wait to get off to be honest, so that's okay. Did I say that I was less grumpy off the booze?

I'm sure, all in all, it sounded fine. The girls at the front are dancing and the first few rows seemed attentive enough. I just didn't enjoy myself. It's a shame.

Band five of six have the place jumping in hip-hop stylee. I'm glad we didn't have to follow them.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

1pm Sunday @ The Libertine SE1, acoustic sets (in this order) Toby Burton, John Rigby, Michael Woodacre, Graham Hunt and Strange Behaviour.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

That's the Spirit... take a Gamble.

Thankfully, organising this weekend's Libertine gig didn't take any gambling. Just some salvaging. All that was needed was a bit of luck, some courage and good spirit. The result was a blessing which arrived in disguise at the last minute to kick off a great evening of acoustic and electro-acoustic pop.

That blessing was Claire Gamble, who stepped in to fill the gap in the bill left by The Flakes who cancelled their appearance a few days before the gig (Alright, I think we can drop that one now - Ed). Without her own band, who were unavailable to perform with her at short notice, Claire courageously offered to play with just a little help from her friend Abby.

Planet Claire is a place where one travels to find meaningful relationships and true love. A place where one is safe from disingenuous friend-requests and endless scrolling activity feeds. Planet Claire is a place where people still talk to each other. There, young people still write love letters and carry pencil cases scrawled with band names and intials in love hearts. It's a coffee-less, iphone-less, email-less, technologically-static place in a past-future. Claire herself is an heterosexual Aimee Mann for the reluctant Facebook generation. She is tall, with late-70s Roxy-LP-cover-girl looks and presence. We love her.

Spirit of Play are the young end of the RTYD demographic. They are thirty-something professionals who contacted me back when RTYD was only weeks old, hoping to become involved in my little community of parents and professionals who continue to rock and roll. Thankfully they are now a well established part of it. They make quirky witty intelligent pop. And tonight due to a turn of events they get the headline slot they should have had without fate playing any part in it. The place on the bill that they deserve. They also get 45 minutes to pull out all the stops. It's their last gig of the year. Their last gig of this decade.

For a moment I dream. You know me, I like to. I dream it's 2010, and they're playing on Later with Jools Holland. And why not? It's entirely possible.

If you haven't seen or heard Spirit of Play, imagine the three flatmates in Shallow Grave played by Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox and Christopher Eccleston. Then imagine the West End musical version of the film, in which the protagonists are renamed Michael, Lucy and Will. They all work at the Times Literary Supplement, and they have a rock band that includes their friends J. and Tom.

As they attempt to dispose of the body of their dead flatmate Hugo and decide what to do with the large amount of cash that they have found by it, they periodically break into song, harmonising about human burial practices, Homebase, hacking up a human body and the resulting post-traumatic stress.

Get the picture?

Tuesday, 3 November 2009


This blog is meant to be honest. So here's how I honestly feel:


What is it with bands that cancel gigs a few days before they are due to play? Gigs that have been booked for months. Usually, they give a good reason. Usually. Though there was the time a singer told me at the eleventh hour that his band couldn't do the gig because his lead guitarist had just informed him that he was going to see Jeff Beck play instead.

, a good reason, as I said. It's whether you believe it or not. And whether you feel the band has made enough of an effort to avoid last-minute cancellation, and ultimately letting you down. Remember, total cancellation can be avoided by an acoustic performance, for instance, or by turning up and playing without the Jeff Beck fan, the injured or the unwell.

When you pick up the phone to your band contact five days before the gig to check that everything is alright, and the voice on the end of the line answers, in a pleasantly surprised tone, "Oh, hi, I was gonna ring you today actually...", you can't help feeling that the gig has never been terrifically high on their give-a-shit list.

The primary reason for this gig cancellation is an injury incured by the band's bass player. Secondary to this, and as if to preempt any suggestion by me of a solo appearance by the physically intact singer/guitarist to salvage the gig, comes details of how the singer/guitarist is currently in the midst of an overwhelming personal and domestic situation.

An offer is made of the contact details of a friend's band that may be able to fill the headline slot. "Okay", I say, "I'll work on finding a replacement today and get back to you if I can't get one myself". No thanks, though, is what I think. Only if I'm desperate. And I ain't. I got my own musician friends and bands, and I can rely on them, thank you very much. I only wish I could have said that on the phone.

. As Colin Gillman will tell you, is a powerful thing.

This is the type of band that it is not worth dealing with. The sort of band that makes me wonder why I bother.

In return for the booking, I asked them to sign up to the Bands, Fans & Industry site. Nothing.

The gig wasn't even on their MySpace. Still, that'll save them calling round all their friends to tell them not to bother turning up.

Unfortunately, with hindsight it's too easy to see the clues.