Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Not Thinking

Sorry, the examples of crooked thinking will have to wait, probably for ever, because I had to watch a not very interesting documentary about Bristol Brabazons and de Haviland Comets (1 and 4; 2 and 3 never got mentioned; 1 kept crashing and 4 was mega) and VC10s vs. Lockheed Constellations and Boeing 707s   like I said, not very interesting … and when I occasionally flipped over to C4 it seemed to be either parades or ads for watches; so all in all logical analysis of rhetorical subterfuge seems to have dropped off the edge of whatever plateau I’d intended to inhabit this evening.

So just a couple of frinstances:

Next time someone says something like “everyone agrees that London must preserve its status as a hub airport”, ask them what they mean by “everyone”, and “must”; and for that matter, if they know what a hub airport is.  [Dishonest arguments 17, 21, 34.]  (It’s a transit lounge, which earns our economy precisely nothing.)

When Gideon next says that we mustn’t tax ‘wealth creators’ lest they flee the country, try to find a way of asking him who these people are (the ones who haven’t already fled, that is), and why they haven’t actually created any wealth yet, except for themselves of course.  [Dishonest argument #39, which isn’t in the book, but can be summarised as ‘lying’.]

Oh, and Lawson’s Dry Hills Pinot Noir is much better than it sounds.


Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Straight and Crooked Thinking

This is the one book whose content I will take to my grave.  When the time comes, to whom it may concern, please make sure it’s burnt and scattered with me.  But first, make sure you scan every page and shove them, word by word, down the virtual throat and up the virtual arse of every politician, profiteer and prince on the planet.

Here’s the table of contents.  Read it carefully.


I suggest that, when considering any statement you come across by anybody who is promoting a cause, be they a politician, profiteer, prince or just ordinary person, you turn each of those chapter headings into a question, usually in the form of ‘is this person using this crooked trick?’  This book taught me those basics when I was fourteen, and my best life choices have, I think, come from there.  Except the ones that came from somewhere completely different, of course.

Oh, and how many of those tricks do you think I’ve used in the course of this post?  (Clue: I don’t know either.)

The book was first published in 1930 and reissued in a revised edition by Pan Books in in 1953.  If I have infringed any copyrights, I hope I don’t need to apologise, but gladly do so nevertheless.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Word Count

I dropped the Chambers Crossword List book on the floor, and it fell open at ‘Religion’.  Well, you don’t have any choice, do you, it’s either that or ironing.

So: there are approximately 590 words listed under nine sub-categories.  Would you like to know what these are?  Of course you would.  Religions and religious groups; religious officers; writings; services; building types; buildings and sites; festivals and holidays; symbols; terms to do with religion.  Then it says ‘see also:

abbey; angel; apostle; archbishop; Bible; Buddhism; cardinal; cathedral; celebration; ceremony; chief rabbi; Christianity; Christmas; church; clerical vestment; cross; Dalai Lama; diocese; fast; Hinduism; Islam; Judaism; missionary; mythology; patriarch; plague; pope; prayer; priest; prophet; reformer; religious order; saint; Sikhism; theology’.

I haven’t had time, yet, to delve into this additional reading list, though I probably should – what exactly is ‘plague’ doing in there? Seven of Egypt, probably  – but I was moved to skip forward a few pages, to ‘Science’.  Here we find about a third as many words, 185, under just four sub-headings: Sciences; scientific concepts; scientific instruments; SI prefixes.  The ‘see also’ list is equally fascinating:

‘acid; amino acid; anatomy; atom; bacteria; biochemistry; biology; botany; chemistry; classification; electricity; engine; gas; gauge; genetics; geology; hydrocarbon; laboratory; law; measurement; medicine; meteorology; oil; optics; ore; plastic; psychiatry; psychology; radiation; study; zoology’.

I‘m not sure what to make of all this.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Music heaven

Has anyone else just finished watching/listening to tonight's Prom on BBC4?  I do hope so.  Messiaen's massive 'Turangalila Symphony', billed by the composer as a celebration of love, which it is, but also a firework display of virtuosity, not to mention a bundle of laughs; then a brilliant ten-minute piece called 'HandsFree', by Anna Meredith, which is anything but - no instruments!  All performed by the gorgeously exuberant National Youth Orchestra.  For the moment, my belief in the human spirit is reaffirmed. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Is Education Possible?

Driving on motorways is a cutting edge experience, because it brings together into every instant two contradistinctive things we learn: attention and reflection.

For example, on the M4 today I saw a lit-up sign which informed me that the three lanes would be reducing to two just after the next junction.  I attended, of course, by getting into the middle lane.  The junction passed, no cones or anything, whereupon I realised that this sign wasn’t warning me of an immediate hazard or anything like that, it was just advising me that the road narrows in a little while: as it always does at this point, due to the imminence of a two-lane tunnel.

I started to reflect on the thought processes which led somebody to decide it’d be helpful to light up that sign, and to toy with having a bit of fun with an amusing blog post on the subject; but I had to attend to the next sign, which told me to ‘WATCH YOUR SPEED’, as well as to an obviously mirror-blind white van driver.  “Ignorant idiots,” I may have thought.


Anyway, this evening I tuned in to a Moral Maze broadcast on the subject of education.  I missed the beginning, so have no idea of the precise moral issue in question, but it was obviously to do with what exactly education, and particularly primary education, might be for.  All the usual platitudinous buzzphrases duly buzzed around;  but I was fascinated that not a single expert saw fit to mention, even in passing, any one of what I believe to be the three fundamental teachable life skills: attention; reflection; and fun.

(I’d exclude the last from motorway driving, though.)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Home deliveries

This started as a comment on Z’s wonderful stroll down memory lane, but she’s opened the floodgates and it’s run out of control, so it has to be a post here in its own right.  Isn’t it strange the way that our minds work?

The dry goods grocer was Mr North, up Pokesdown Road, about a mile away.  I think it was every Thursday when my mother would phone with the order, which would be delivered by bike next day, stacked up in the basket on the front of an old boneshaker by a boy maybe ten years older than me.  I can see her handwritten list which she dictated over the phone; it used to take hours, because I think Mr North went and checked whether each item was in stock if he wasn’t sure.  I have no idea what this stuff was.

Fruit and veg came once a week on Mr Starks’s horse-drawn cart.  I really looked forward to this, because Mr Starks was like a jolly uncle, but mainly because of the horse, which I loved and which loved me, at least so I felt.

I’m certain that milk and coal were delivered, when appropriate.  I can’t remember the name of the dairy, but the coal merchants might just possibly have been Cole and Sons.  We kids were supposed to distance ourselves from lower-order tradesmen, but I recall those huge blackdusted coalmen with their hessian sacks on their shoulders and their wide grins – they might have been saying one day you’ll be a man like me, boy.  I never was, of course.

Westons’ bakery delivered bread, in a purple van, but we had to go there for cream horns or slices, éclairs and other special cakes that couldn’t be made at home.  I’m not sure about meat and fish, I think these had to be chosen on site, by sight, smell and probably touch.  Sweets came from a shop charmingly named the Polliwog; they didn’t deliver.  The next door newsagents in Kimberley Road did deliver, but I was allowed to run round there to collect my Eagle because I couldn’t wait.

Thursday, 16 August 2012


I hadn't come across this phenomenon until I read Oliver Burkeman's article in today's Guardian.  He cites a classic tweet from Cheryl Cole: "How can I still be nervous about red carpets after 10 years.  Eeek!"

So here's my shot: "Still don't fully understand 'Ulysses' even on the third reading.  Is it me?  And my try at writing a parody fell totes flat."

Have a go, folks.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Gigs: to Italy

The van was home, had been for three days now.  Obscure regulations, involving something called a ‘customs carnet’, meant we couldn’t enter France so had to take a long route through Germany.  We must have crossed the Channel or the North Sea, on some kind of ferry, to somewhere like Ostend.  Then driven in shifts down through the Low Countries and the Rhine valley and through Switzerland (I vaguely recall breakfast in Basle), up and over the Grand St Bernard Pass, winding hairpins up and down to and from the sky, and through the Mont Blanc tunnel.  At the top, it was blinding sky blue and snow white when we stopped for a change of driver.  Andy produced a joint he’d smuggled across several borders. 

At the Swiss-Italian border, at the end of the tunnel, we were stopped by stern Italian frontier police, with guns.  We were ordered out of the van, lined up, inspected.  Bob was our self-appointed Italian speaker, did know a few words, but he obviously wasn’t up to this situation.  We were instructed, in gesture language, to open up the back of the van.  It wasn’t a pleasant sight, even to us: a wall to wall, floor to ceiling amassment of suitcases, bags of unwashed laundry, rotting food remnants; and behind all that, of course, several hundred pounds’ worth of musical equipment, possibly being illegally imported.

The border guards, grim-faced, ordered us to unload the van.  We looked around at each other, shrugged and started to haul out the debris.  The Italian police let us get on with this for a few minutes, then, unable to stifle their laughter, broke out into huge grins.  OK, va bene, avanti!, put it all back and get on out of here!  Benvenuti all’Italia!

I thought then that I was going to like this country.

Down the Aosta valley, from that terminal borderpoint hilarity, the icefield and the orange fairground ride of the tunnel, through fog which thickens as we descend, which as you jerk awake snaps your eyes to the windscreen, the filmscreen on which you project the hallucinations or realities of thirty eight hours of no sleep (or was that sleep just now? did I see that in or out of my head?), unsought visuals to the relentless soundtrack of the Transit’s machinery, metal and plastic and hydraulics, inanimate awareness grooving with itself in an unending insane organ and percussion jam, the undertow of smells, exhaust leakage, burnt oil, entrapped farts, your own body and breath, down we coast into Italy, whatever that may be …

Via Alfonso Lamarmora, Milano, named after one of Garibaldi’s sidekicks, is bleak.  It must be mid-evening, about eight.  Dim orange streetlights, shuttered four-storey tenement buildings from the nineteenth century, a few black portico tunnels leading into who knows what dank courtyards behind, cobblestones containing embedded tramlines.  It’s not quite raining.  Bob brakes to a halt.

‘I think that’s it.’

Number 17.  A flat-fronted blind-eyed slab of a building.  This is meant to be ‘Pensione Key’, our home for the next eight weeks.  Hearts sink.  (I think of the hobbits’ arrival at the Prancing Pony.)

‘OK, let’s just pull over and we can– ’

Just then a tram hisses towards us like a fully lit-up ocean liner on speed.  Bob manages to lift Bessie up onto the kerb – who knows what would’ve happened otherwise, no way that tram was stopping.  ‘I’ll turn down here, shall I’ he suggests, doing so, into the side road which, mercifully, doesn’t seem to have any tramlines.  We’re parked.

There’s a moment’s stunned inertness, then Roger slides open the nearside door, drops tentative ballet-dancer’s legs down the doorwell to Italian soil, or rather tarmac.  ‘Christ, it’s fucking freezing’ he states, squinting in like a hopped up rabbit pulling a funny face.  We’re all craning towards the doorway now, wideawake, except John, who’s just stopped quietly snoring and now swears in a muffled kind of way, ‘I’m staying here’ it sounds like.

But he has to move for me to get out, so I lean on him, reach up and gently tap his face and whisper ‘come on John, wake up, it’s time to go to bed’.

The front door is huge, twelve feet high, but we notice that there’s a kind of sub-door set into it, small enough for a human to creep through.  Also that there’s a column of buttons, one of them labelled ‘Key’.  Bob presses it.  A voice comes out of a tinny speaker grill: ‘Si?’  ‘Um, siamo il gruppo inglese …’  A buzzer sounds, and the door clicks open.  There’s an old-fashioned lift, with those sliding iron grills, which we take to the second floor.  The door to the right of the lobby is open.  A middle-aged lady is waiting there.  She’s completely unfazed by our appearance, but she doesn’t smile – seems a little bit strict.  Allora, siete arrivati.  Vi faccio veder le camere, e poi, avrete fame, ci sono due trattorie, ma quello sul’angolo e chiuso stasera, percio – ’  She stops.  ‘I’m sorry.  You are English.’  A smile now.  ‘I forget sometimes.  I am Polish, actually.  My name is really Kay, but these Italians can’t pronounce that properly so I have to call myself Key, K E Y, for them.  I show you your rooms – you have four.  Follow me.’

Quick decisions have to be made, just like the inhabitation of Hutchings Walk.  Graham and I exchange a glance and get to the front of the queue.  The first door on the right is ours.  It looks fine.  Having experienced digs in Blackpool, I’d been expecting something squalid, hoping or wishing for something adequate: this looks luxurious.  Two single beds, bedside tables with lamps, stone floor with mats, and a huge wardrobe (which will figure in many of my future dreams and imaginings).  This was my first experience of the Italian attitude towards habitation – the exterior is irrelevant, you live in the inside of the house.  Grim facades can hide marble hallways and delicate antiques.  This isn’t quite in that class, but it’ll do.

Next day, after we’d been allowed to sleep for twelve hours and wash ourselves (Pensione Key had a sumptuous bathroom, with hot water on demand and a deep, wide tub; the soles of my smelly feet were, I noticed, black) we were collected and introduced to our new life.  We loaded ourselves into Bessie and followed someone in a car through the centre of Milan, a hardly noticed course which would become, over the coming weeks, a beaten track, a footpath I could follow with my eyes, brain, or sense of balance shut down. The Piper Club was part of some kind of municipal complex, the Palazzo del’Arte, off the Piazza Castello, on the borders of the Parco Sempione, its status never precisely clear.  I’d guess now that this chunk of the Art Palace was leased out by the Commune, the local council, to raise a bit of cash.  Certainly, it was controlled by one man, Leo Wachter, my third nightmare manager. 

Try as I may, I have no accurate visual memory of the interior of the Piper Club, Milan.  That’s a great memory!  The best places I ever played were empty by daylight, dusty and tawdry at the best, filthy and hazardous at the worst, just spaces waiting to be filled.  I think of the Disque, Eel Pie, Swanage drill hall, even the Cromwellian.  None of that matters.  In fact, if anyone even notices it, it’s failed, because this is not a restaurant.  You don’t go there to admire the décor or sample the canapés – you go to fill the space with noise and people.  And this space was waiting to be filled.

The stage was the biggest and best we’d ever had.  Wide, so we could spread out, not too deep, so the sound wouldn’t get lost in caverns behind us (how many times had we suffered from that acoustic nightmare), just the right height that the girls and boys couldn’t quite reach up and grab us, but thought it worth a try.  Enough room to set up our brand-new Marshall stacks, crank them up to eleven, experiment with sound results …  We set up and played a couple of numbers.  It felt good.

The first night at the Piper, the first time we played live to a heaving audience, in our shiny new coats and shirts, I got back that feeling of suddenly realising the power you control when you’re up there, knowing that whatever you do, however mad or incompetent, will jerk their behaviour just where and how you want.  Play James Brown’s ‘I Go Crazy’ and they’ll sway side to side.  Play ‘Shout’ and they’ll jump up and down.  Play ‘Loving You Too Long’, they’ll smooch and snog. 

We only had to do an hour, one set, at nine.  Over a few nights, we discovered a few bars, the Mexico is one I remember, and a restaurant in Piazza Cordusio, just a short hop from the Piper on the way home, the Rosengarten, which seemed happy to stay open as long as a customer survived and could order another drink, a Forst beer in a stecca, a boot-shaped glass which you had to drink the right way round or else the beer would go down your shirt rather than your neck – try it sometime, if you are, or want to be, German.  It being February, only the indoor part was accessible, it’d be a while before we uncovered the outside canopied courtyard, tables and chairs under vines or clematis rampaging over some kind of wood pergola in the late night summer heat …

During the day, you could spend the afternoon drifting around the city centre, accidentally coming across the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Duomo, the seedy intriguing Brera district just down behind the Rosengarten, useful shops near the Pensione Key, and dark blind alleys off the via Dante.  I stumbled over La Scala (closed for refurbishment).  And  Messagerie Musicale, where you could get every kind of guitar strings, plectrums and rare expensive US import albums.  By about week five, I was just starting to feel this city. 

Some time towards the end of this eight week Piper gig, we were called in to Leo’s office.  To nobody’s surprise, we were offered an open-ended extension.  Leo would buy out our contract and employ us as a salaried item in his growing Larry Parnes-style stable of English and Italian acts.  He would also finance a two-week holiday back in the UK, by air!  There were all sorts of other components to the offer.  It couldn’t be refused.  In fact it wasn’t even discussed.  Mine would have been the only dissenting voice, if I’d thought about it for a few minutes; but I didn’t do that, at least not properly.  If  I had, the band would have carried on without me, and probably gone the same way it eventually did, and I would have ended up somewhere else unknown.  Instead I floated on the current, again.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Advertising, or weather forecasts?

One or the other is going to kill us.  Don’t take my word for it, look at them.  I had to, yesterday evening, because I needed to see a weather forecast – well, that’s not true, obviously, but I wanted to – but I’d missed the local news and so had to sit through several minutes of ads before the national. 

Well!  Talk about riding the crest of the national wave!  The first one featured about twelve vehicles crashing destructively into each other, ranging from quad bikes through family cars, via HGV artics and family coaches up to, as far as I can remember, space shuttles – at the end of which it turns out that nobody gets hurt, we all crawl out smiling from the wreckage and everyone gets to buy a cheap tacky little family saloon or something.

The next one was about a singing car insurance salesman who has belatedly realised that his best career move is to organise his own suicide, by rocket launcher, in order to protect the human race from any more adverts for the product he’s trying to sell.  Which isn’t even car insurance, it turns out.

I can’t really remember the third one.  I think it may have been to do with how to protect myself from vaginal thrush, or maybe where to buy a snotgreen sofa for half price, I forget.  All I remember is plastic smiles from Stepford wives.

The weather forecast was pretty equivocal, once I got to it.  It’s understandable.  After all, we don’t want the economy collapsing around our ears because nobody believes predictions, or adverts, any more, do we?

Friday, 10 August 2012

Gigs: Disque a Go!Go!, Bournemouth

As at least one of you knows, and others may have surmised, this mini-series consists in part of heavily edited extracts from a history of the band, which is also a selective autobiography, that I wrote two or three years ago and then got bored with.  I’m told that I should get it published, but to be honest I can’t see much point, plus I don’t know how to do that. 

Anyway, this, maybe the last episode for now, backtracks and picks up the story at the time in 1965 when the Moods had just started to rise from the ashes of my previous band, the Trackmarks.

The Disque a Go!Go! was a damp smelly cellar underneath a shop in Holdenhurst Road, just up from the Lansdowne, accessed down a steep fire-trap staircase.  The club was run by an enthusiastic entrepreneurial Italian amateur impresario called Tony.  The Disque was configured, I think, on the model of the Cavern in Liverpool –  low ceiling, soapbox stage, minimalist refreshments up back supplied by Tracey, sweating walls, illegal electrics and fire hazards – but a million miles away musically.  At the Disque, r&b ruled.  Zoot Money, Geno Washington, Tony Colton, Herbie Goins, they all played there.  (So did The Who, once, but that’s another story.)  I suspect the atmosphere was very different too.  Sure, it was sweaty, smoky, tactile and intense, but there wasn’t much dancing.  These fired-up kids were there to listen.

After a while, we somehow managed to take over from The Night People in the Saturday late-nighter slot.

There’s nothing like a good regular job like that to forge a band’s intuition into a tightly honed piece of well-engineered machinery, powered by telepathy.  Though I’d always known about crochets and quavers, and how they represented rhythm, I’d known it in my head but not in my body. Playing together with seven other people, without a score, improvising a lot, the whole band working to the same metronome – that’s where the telepathy comes in.

(A few years later, a professional Italian musician articulated this for me – ‘le divisioni’.  A bar is divided into as many bits as it takes – three, six, eight, twelve, sixteen, thirty two.  Once you grasp this, it’s simply a matter of hitting the required note at precisely beat 14 out of the 32.  Easy!) 

Hard work, and not just the music.  We’d turn up at eight o’clock, hump the kit down the very narrow stairs into the firetrap and set up on the narrow platform stage, repair to the Lansdowne pub across the road for a few pints, then return at ten to play our expanding repertoire through to the early hours.  I know we had other local gigs, but try as I may I can’t remember a single one.  Maybe we played the Bure Club, once.  The Disque late-nighter was all it took to get us fired up and honed.  Every single week the place seemed to be heaving with action, but at this stage I was entirely ignorant and innocent of any drugs stronger than beer and sex.  In fact, I can honestly say that, although I’ll make a few confessions if pressed, classic rockband debauchery hardly figured in my musical career.  When it did crop up, it was mostly a distraction, something you had to pretend to do because it was expected of you.  And there certainly wasn’t very much of that in Bournemouth.  Above all, the music was what mattered.

After we’d moved to London, in the midwinter of 1966 we got a return booking at the Disque, on a Wednesday night.  We arranged it directly ourselves with Tony, our manager waiving his ten per cent in generous recognition of our rights to nostalgia.  We knew our way to the venue – but we hadn’t allowed for access.  We all had a lot more kit than the last time, especially Bob’s massive B3.  A certain amount of demolition had to take place before this huge organ could be got down the narrow stairway into the firetrap.  I wondered at the time how Zoot, Graham Bond and co had managed this, and only years later discovered the sawn-off split Hammond, which you could dismantle, transport and then put back together with a bit of alignment and a couple of wiring plugs.    But Bob’s didn’t come in half.  A door halfway down the stairs, and one side of its frame, had to be removed (and reinstated next day).  But it didn’t matter – this was our triumphant homecoming gig, local talent made bigtime, fresh from the Flamingo, the Marquee, all the fabled London hotspots, our loyal Bournemouth fanbase from the Saturday late-nighters showing up in droves. We were on £25 plus thirty per cent of the gate.

That afternoon, after we’d got in and set up, it started to snow.  Within a couple of hours there were two or three inches on the roads.  About twenty people bravely turned up.  Toni paid us our twenty five quid, mostly out of his own pocket.  I never went back there again.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Gigs: The Cromwellian

Apart from Eel Pie, The Crom was the other important regular job.  The Cromwellian Club, halfway down the Cromwell Road heading west out of London towards, as it happened, Bournemouth.  We got a weekly Wednesday night residency, fifteen quid between us.  I’ve no idea if that was good or bad money, it didn’t count.  What counted was being the house band in a regular hot spot.   This was the time of Swinging London; when getting out and putting it about, if you felt you were on the scene, or should be, or wanted or craved to be, you had to be in the right place.  There were several of these places – the Scotch of St James’s, The Kilt, the Bag o’Nails – all seedy and dirty by daylight (I assume from the Crom, I never went to any of the others, mainly for financial reasons – a Coke could set you back five bob, the price of a good three or four pints in a normal pub), but at night lit by, infused in the reflected glow of the clientele. 

We never, as far as I know, had any actual Beatles or Stones in on our Wednesdays (though Dylan showed once, at least we were told it was him: he lurked, head down, at a back table, surrounded by defenders, for an hour or so then vanished – now you see him, now you don’t, maybe he was or he wasn’t …), but we did get a pretty good cross-section of the B-list.  They listened – I remember catching Clapton’s eye and raised eyebrow when I managed, probably by accident, a particularly snazzy multi-string hammer-on lick (the kind of stuff Hendrix would blow us all out with a year later) during one of the bluesy solos which had become my trademark – but mostly, once we’d done our first set and they’d got mellow enough, they wanted to jam.  Every week you could count on something happening.  I don’t want to make things up, so one clear distinctly recalled line-up will do: Stevie Winwood on organ, Eric Clapton on guitar, Keith Moon on drums, Long John Baldry singing, and our Billy gamely holding out on bass.  The rest of us had been nudged off the stage.

I’d like to take this opportunity, by the way, of casting doubts on a myth which I’ve been spreading around for the last forty years – that Clapton played my Telecaster.  I still have this guitar, but it stubbornly refuses to answer this question.  Certainly he got up and plugged into my Fender amp; certainly he made a few adjustments to the amp settings and achieved his then definitive Buddy Guy sound; certainly I don’t recall seeing him ship in his Les Paul or whatever he was using then (this was probably just on the cusp between Bluesbreakers and Cream) … I honestly don’t remember for sure, and I’m certain he doesn’t.  His autobiography sheds no light. 

I did however (I’m sure of this) use Andy Summers’ plectrum.  I dropped mine, couldn’t find it, didn’t have a spare, pleaded with Andy at the break – he went out to his car, found a little spare plec and delivered it to me just before we went back on, with a smile.  Hero!  His autobiography also unaccountably overlooks this crucial event.

Another good thing about the Crom was that, unlike most places, we were allowed to leave the equipment on site and go back to collect it the next morning.  For those of you who weren’t in a working band in the sixties, this was a rare blessing.  Bear in mind, if you will, that bands at our level didn’t have the services of those beasts of burden, logistics engineers, psychiatric counsellors called ‘road managers’.  We did it all ourselves.  A typical first time Saturday away gig at let’s call it The Cave in Bromsgrove, would go roughly as follows.  Wake up, get dressed and if lucky washed and shaved.  Hopefully the van is already loaded with the gear, ready to roll.  I make sure my Telecaster is in the van, not the bedroom.  Elect driver, head north.  Find the Cave (how did we do that the first time? No satnav: not sure we even had a map).  Check out the Cave (make sure we can get the Hammond B3 through the door/down or up stairs; don’t forget the Disque *).  Hump gear into the Cave (I learnt everything I know, which is a lot, about how to carry heavy square boxes), set it up.  Sound test (‘yeah, everything seems to work’), find a pub.  Turn up in time to play.  Play.  Disconnect and hump gear back out of Cave **; load van; drive or be driven back to London, via Blue Boar grease-out; fall into bed.  If lucky, sleep.

* See future post, maybe.

** Make sure it’s all loaded.  At one such gig, Bill left his beautiful white Fender Jazz bass leaning against a wall.  We drove back twenty miles; it was gone.  I felt – can you do this? – vicarious sadness.  He got a nice Precision replacement though.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Gigs: Eel Pie Island

My brother dropped a few names in a throwaway comment the other day – the Flamingo, Eel Pie, the Cromwellian.  Yes, my band, Dave Anthony’s Moods, played regularly at those places, amongst others, in 1965-69, and I’m going to write about a few.

Of all the places I played, Eel Pie Island is the closest I recall to a spiritual home.  Soon after we hit London and acquired Bessie*, we got a regular spot there, alternating with the Artwoods, on otherwise free Saturdays.  Eel Pie back then was a once legendary but now decrepit hotel, which had miraculously retained an alcohol license.  We played, on a big stage, in must once have been the hotel ballroom.  It had been a go-to destination before the war.  Imagine it:  in the Thirties, guests from around the world, America, South America, Germany, in skimpy diaphanous flapper frocks or baggy-trousered zoot suits, delivered by huge cream and black motor carriages with huge headlights from Mayfair to the riverfront at Twickenham, and conveyed somehow across the precarious causeway bridge**, escorted delicately tripping over the neat lawn to the glory of the Eel Pie Island Hotel Ballroom, there to lindy-hop the night away to Ambrose or Geraldo …

It wasn’t quite like that by the time we got there.  The hotel was a wreck. Even a cheap band like us  wouldn’t have booked a room there, had that been possible, which it surely wasn’t.  The rickety bridge was still in place, though, and the guy who ran the gig, Arthur, was highly organised.  Two or three trips across the bridge, gear loaded on the back of his Mini pick-up, quick set-up and we were ready to hit the bar, no draught beer so it was Newcastle Brown, by the neck.  You could get some kind of bacon or sausage butty, which did for dinner.  In winter, the hall was heated by industrial gas blowers, until the crowd arrived, when on a good night two or three hundred hot and hungry kids generated their own heat and soaked up the music.

We loved it, loved several of those hot hungry kids, got tanked on three or four Browns then went on and just did it.  I remember having to go off for a piss halfway through a song, nobody noticed, Pete or Bob filled in for my solo – or perhaps the crowd thought this was just part of the act?  In the summer, it was possible to take a stroll down by the river, across the strangely well-tended lawns, lie down on a grass bank with a suitable girl, discuss the different ways the leaves and other debris floated down through the Thames eddies …

Now, I recognise that everyone in the place apart from the band was stoned out of their skulls.  (Though perhaps with hindsight I recall Andy and Graham being absent for some time before we went on …?)  As for me, if I was even vaguely aware of the existence of drugs, I’d have been scared shitless of them.  I’d read novels and tracts, I knew how marijuana could drive you insane and rot your brain.  All that came later.

* Bessie was one of the very first Ford Transits, subsequently to become the transport of choice for gigging bands up and down the land.  This was the stretch version, elongated wheelbase, double wheels at the back – just big enough to hold our kit and us.  We came up with a seating plan: driver and passenger in the front, three old bus seats salvaged from god knows where in a U formation behind, just about made eight, kit in behind.  The job of driver was of course keenly contested, but this had to be hidden behind reluctance, as second prize was front seat passenger.  A heavy emergency stop would probably have killed us all, impaled or crushed by Hammond, Fender or Ludwig.  Bessie could’ve murdered a whole band.

** Actually, research suggests that the bridge wasn’t built until 1957, and so prior to that guests must’ve been conveyed by boat, or possibly had to swim.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Coincidence? Conspiracy?

Guardian crosswords today:

Quick, 15 down: Painting method (7)

Cryptic, 2 down: Modify a painting technique (7)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

It’s ONLY rock’n’roll?

After the end of my party a few weeks ago, I decided that my dancing days were more or less over.  I’d put together a couple of playlists, but they weren’t working, so I handed over to Matt, and then Tracey, who plugged their iphones in to the hi-fi and got things going.  But I couldn’t dance to their music.  Oh well, I thought, I am seventy after all, and I’ve had a few good bops in my time.

So, it’s Saturday Night.  I’m at a ruby wedding celebration in the function room of a rather nice local sports club.  Usually, I’m irritated when the loud music starts too soon, when people are still trying to chat and break ice, but I knew just five of the seventy or so present (and one of those consisted of two people I only half-knew), and a few conversational attempts had pushed me towards feeling that I wasn’t going to improve on that, and looking at my watch.  So when the band started up, I was quite relieved.

I listened.  Classic line-up, two guitars, bass and drums.  They started off with some Johnny Cash number, which didn’t augur well, but rapidly moved on to proper rock’n’roll.  I knew every single song.  They were pretty competent – good singers, a capable lead guitarist and a brilliant drummer.  I was shifting towards critical mode – they’d got the vocal timing of the Evs’ ‘When Will I Be Loved?’ wrong, like everyone does, and attributed several Chuck Berry songs to the Beatles – when Caro dragged me onto the dance floor.

Astonishingly, it was ‘Move It’, and I went into dance mode.  I turned into Embarrassing Uncle At The Wedding.  People were gazing at me in amazement.  “How does this man do this?” they were thinking, or “Why?”  I couldn’t have cared less.  I was dancing to real songs, rather than mere beats, however hypnotic.  When the Shirelles sing ‘when the night meets the morning sun’, you think ‘ when the night (da da da) meets the mor(da da da)ning su-uh-ha-un’, don’t you?  And dance accordingly.  Well, I do, anyway.

At the end, I interrupted Linda and Alex, who were for some reason smooching on the dance floor, to say thanks.  We hugged and kissed.  “Thanks for the music”, I think I said.  “It’s ours”, I think he said.

Friday, 3 August 2012

Who do they think I am?

We’d been having a conversation about the Olympics, because everyone’s interested, aren’t they?  They’d been to the rowing at Dornay, and were excited and enthused about the experience.  I haven’t  been watching any of it on the telly but I have been keeping up with what’s going on, more or less, although I’m not usually that interested in sport – because I feel impelled to join in with the national mood.  We debated a few fine technical points, like whether men’s football, tennis and (as is being proposed) golf should be included – consensus, no – chatted about some recent results, and then moved on to a review of the opening ceremony, which we all agreed was splendid.  I suggested that the best thing about it was its quiet subversiveness, culminating in the choice of seven of the next generation to light the cauldron above any of the peevish aging laureates.   

At this point, I started to sense that I’d lost it.  “Seb Coe should have lit it,” I was instructed.  I ran my objections to this preposterous suggestion rapidly though my head and decided a gentle head-shake was the wisest response.  This got picked up.  “I know you’re not interested, but can’t you find anything positive to say about the Olympics?” I was asked angrily.

Later on, we watched some boxing.  “I really don’t like boxing,” I said, going on to explain that I’d been quite good at it at prep school because I’d been forced to be.  “Well, we do,” I was told.  “I know you don’t like sport, because you’re more interested in music and stuff like that.”

The fight could have started then; but I thought of Wittgenstein and kept my silence.  So now you know.  I’m the guy who isn’t interested in sport because he likes music.