Monday, 23 February 2009

The Rock God MUST rehearse

I have mentioned this before, but it would appear that too many years of TV programmes like ‘Fame’ and ‘High School Musical’ give the average person the unfaltering belief, especially when mixed with four pints of something dangerous, that songs can be plucked on a whim from the air and played like a digital recording even if the poor unfortunates performing that evening have never even heard of said tune.

I cannot count the times that some clown with alcohol breath that could fell a horse, swilling their beer (or gin & tonic, for such an affliction is not solely the pass time of men) and being unswayed by our protests that we do not know how to perform the theme song from ‘Titanic’ and probably never will, has insisted that we should just “go for it”.

We got to a point where we almost stuck up a backdrop that was not emblazoned with the Bands moniker, nor our website details, but with the statement “We do not do requests…..and we do not play the following”….which of course would have included such favourites as ‘Smoke on the water’, ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and absolutely anything by ‘Robbie Williams’.

There may also have been some reference to abstaining from attempting anything that might have been recorded by an ‘X Factor’ contestant.

However, common sense eventually prevailed in that we only have ourselves to blame for putting ourselves in this kind of line of fire and that for the most part these Simon Cowell wannabies are mostly harmless.

You see, what these idiots (my apologies, I mean ‘music enthusiasts) do not realise, is that weeks of hard work goes into each and every song that we play…..well, that was until we jammed ‘Teenage kicks’ got it right first time, thought that it would be a scream for a bloke in his 40’s to sing it, and it was in. The whole process took under two minutes. However, on the whole the process takes a lot of time and hard work.

Now as a band we are not, for want of a better expression, ‘anal’ about rehearsing songs. We do not unpick each riff, expression, nuance and word. We do however, work hard at getting the ‘feel’ right.

We are also very proud of the reputation that we have been honoured with in that we as a band are extremely ‘tight’.

Now that does not mean that we get on well together (although it has to be said that we are a family… two thirds of our case, quite literally).

It also does not mean that we are permanently ‘plastered’ (the generous consumption of the falling down juice is discouraged at our gigs as we are being paid to do a job that quite frankly is hard enough stone cold sober let alone when you have trouble remembering where your feet are let alone what the opening line of the next song is).

What being ‘tight’ means is that we perform together well. The bass and drums become as one, and we sound as if we are as ‘on the same road’ as opposed to being all over the place.

This is extremely important to me as when I played bass in my very first serious band, the drummer and I had a hard time playing together in time. He being considerably more aggressive then I laid the blame firmly and squarely at my feet. The other members of the band went along with this.

Of course you get told something often enough you begin to believe it.

However, when a gig goes well, and it gets to a point where you couldn’t insert a piece of rice paper between CJ’s bass drum and my bass guitar I get a moment of immense pride.

It wasn’t me after all….yah boo suck to ya all!!

I put this totally down to lots and lots of practice.

As a band The Mudheads are extremely fortunate in that we own our own practice space (well CJ does).

Most bands have to load their kit into cars and vans, transport their equipment to a rehearsal studio, set it up, get the sound right… for a couple of hours…take it back down, drive home and unload…..oh, and pay about fifty quid for the privilege.

Our own little ADHD candidate got bored between bands and built himself a double garage into which he constructed a rehearsal room….totally sound proof and as we have since discovered totally air tight!

When we began rehearsing as a band we had two small practice amps, the drum kit and a vocal PA. We had plenty of room to move. We have since grown about 300 percent equipment wise and we now struggle to get in there let alone practice.

However, spurred on by the knowledge that most other bands have a really hard time with this particular process we gladly sit back, open a cold one from CJ’s beer fridge (for which he insists loudly and on a regular basis gives him an extra and thus deciding vote) and count our blessings.

It does mean however that it can make us rather lazy from time to time, and not all of our rehearsals are as productive as perhaps they ought to be, especially if CJ and Aaron have been in receipt of a good crop of jokes over the previous week. However on the whole we make good use of the time.

We also have the luxury of trying out news songs that perhaps don’t work, as we are not spending a small fortune week after week playing with things that are just not right for us as a band.

And most importantly it does mean that for us as a band, it is for the most part still a lot of fun.

In these desperate times when many bands are knocking it on the head due to poor audience attendance, we continue to look forward to Thursday nights as these are the ‘boys night in’.

And yes, occasionally…between beers, we do learn a new song or two.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

The Joys of Twitter

Quicksketch has introduced me a new world wide phenomena called 'Twitter'....I have added a link to the left hand side of this blog, which will allow you updates of what I am doing throughout the day.

So, if you want to know what a Rock God has for lunch.....or how often he goes to the bathroom...check it out.

You can even get updates sent to your phone or e-mail.

Does this have a rather 'sad' element to this do you think??

Anyway, Stephen Fry is a big fan of Twitter so who am I to argue and I want to remain cutting edge............until I finally give up and buy myself a pipe and some slippers and the overwhelming urge to own a garden shed becomes to much to bear.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Guitar Mountain!

This weekend saw a momentous occasion….well for The Loader household anyway……Rock God Junior (that’s The Mudheads guitarist and my son, Aaron) left home.

This wasn’t a tantrum based; let’s throw the guitar out of the pram “I hate all of you” kind of a moment. This was a planned “Oh good Lord how am I ever going to pay this mortgage off” type of occasion.

Aaron is now a home owner…..well ‘part’ owner. He shares it with his partner Sue and of course it’s actually owned by the Nat West bank….at least for the next 35 years……..Rock God senior (that’ll be me) will either be dead, dying or just VERY old by the time they can actually claim that pile as their very own.

With the big day upon us, The Mudheads tour bus (a very large black trailer lovingly rescued from farm yard oblivion by CJ) was emptied of all surplus musical equipment and conscripted into being a removal van.

The first thing we can say about a guitarist is that they own one heck of a lot of cack!........that’s total and utter rubbish to you and me.

I don’t think that my son and heir has had a good clear out (of the tidying up variety) since he was 3 years old. So there was 20 years of tat that had to be retrieved, checked and boxed (the thought of packing before hand had never really occurred to him).

CJ and I had a great afternoon discovering guitar plectrums in every nook and cranny around the room (I now have a pocket full of them).

Old comics, CD’s DVD’s even his first teddy bear (he hadn’t noticed that I had stuffed that in his suitcase to be discovered later), all covered in a thick layer of ‘man’ sized dust was rummaged through in order to pack.

Eventually, in order to get us all home before the end of the age, CJ chose to just wipe everything off of desks, cupboards and shelves on to the floor and we concentrated on the big stuff.

It was the look of sheer horror on Sue’s face that said it all as we unloaded the trailer into what had previously been her pristine new home.

What she hasn’t seen yet is the reason for Mrs Rock God’s joy……Aaron’s half of the 18 or so guitars that we own between us……all flight cased….all used. And Sue thinks she is going to have a spare room……hah!

I’m sure I saw just a glint of evil pleasure on my wife’s face when Sue made her statements of where everything was going to go.

You see what she hasn’t appreciated yet is that she is setting up home with a musician. Just one mind you, poor Mrs Rock God has had to tolerate the injustice of three (my daughter also plays……guitar, piano, clarinet……there’s even a keyboard in there somewhere).

As Sue surveyed her neatly tidied living room she appeared blissfully unaware that it would soon be knee deep in guitars, plectrums, broken strings, cases, music, guitar pedals, and amps…..and everything else that is required to inspire rock stardom to your average guitar hero.

Mrs Rock God hasn’t been able to use our front room for years. Mrs CJ would risk life and limb to get into their garage…..let alone our little studio.

Still…… I sit here smuggling typing…’s no longer my problem it’s Sue’s.

Right…let’s see if the little so in so has left me any of my CD’s.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Adventures of 'Wheelchair Man' and his trusty sidekicks 'The Preachers Kid'.& 'Bassbin'.


I wonder if you might allow me a small indulgence and let me write about something that has absolutely nothing to do with music.

I was inspired to begin writing this blog by a very good friend of mine, Stephen, who goes under the blog name of ‘Quicksketch’.

Now I know that there are a fair few of you that read my simple scribblings because they stumbled across Stephen’s blog “How to be an inspiration” first.

For those that don’t know Steve’s blog is about the day to day frustrations, joys and restrictions of suffering with a degenerative condition called Muscular Dystrophy.

However, Steve is by no means a ‘moaner’ (his wife Polly of course reserves the right to disagree with this entirely) and his blog is often down right hilarious and I would heartily recommend it to you.

However, my point for writing about Steve is this, the blog is essentially about his condition and the day to day struggle he has to endure. However for myself and my good buddy Bassbin (Darren) we still don’t see the wheel chair, and the hassle that Steve has to endure even eat and sleep these days.

We still see the child, teenager and young man that grew up with us. Dignified, funny, good natured, thoughtful and a good friend.

When I was 9 years old, my father upped the family, dragging us kicking and screaming away from friends, school and familiar surroundings and moved us to a house closer to the church where he was pastor.

In this my self and my siblings had to go to a new school and I was introduced to my new class mates. Two lads in particular were given the task of integrating the newbie. Darren and Steve.

Now I’m not quite sure why those two were particularly chosen for this task, maybe it was thought that they would be the least likely to make this new kid cry. Perhaps it was felt that they would be the least likely to lead me into ‘Disaster’.

Either way, but for a twist of fate, my new best friends could have been Ricky Hartee and Andrew Scully. I don’t know what my future would have held, but I certainly would have been in the company of more girls that was for sure.

However, at the same point in history, when Man first set foot on the moon, I made two new friends that would help to sculpt my life, and I believe they did it in a very positive way indeed.

As with all of us in those days, both boys, like me, were skinny and scruffy and full of life.

I can’t remember at what point it was mentioned that Steve has Muscular Dystrophy, but I believe it was almost immediately. No big deal was made, I didn’t have a clue what it was for Pete sake, and to be honest it didn’t really matter. I was now being initiated into the ‘Whitchurch Wanders’ and a total acceptance of the MD and Steve as a founding member of that tribe was a prerequisite to belonging and his condition was virtually never mentioned again until relatively recently.

It wasn’t that it was ignored, as if a shameful thing was being suppressed and buried, it just never factored.

Steve’s dad, Roger, held a place of power and place in our young lives. He was the leader of the local ‘Cub scout’ group, of which all three of us became members. He went under the moniker of ‘Arkala’ and he scared the crap out of myself and Darren. However, he held an immense amount of respect from both of us, and I believe, from what has been revealed to us later, he was rather fond of us.

The Cubs were and I suppose are, a great institution. Although it was a hell of a lot more fun back in the days before the oppression of health & safety had got a hold of us. We got taught to light fires, use knives, sleep in DIY shelters and got told stories in gory detail of what can happen if you do stupid things with your sheaf knife.

Roger, like two of his sons, also had the condition Muscular Dystrophy, so he probably knew more about was in store for his lads than perhaps they did. As far as I can remember though he didn’t do his oldest boy any special favours, Steve was treated like the rest of us, although I do remember more badges appearing on Steve’s uniform than Darren and I could both muster together. If I remember rightly there were a few grumblings of ‘fix’ being banded about. However, as with all of our dealings with Steve, the suggestion that he might have been given a break because of his MD didn’t even occur to us (the fact that he has always applied himself a bit more enthusiastically also didn’t occur to us either and that he had simply ‘earned’ more badges than us).

It was during these heady days of cubs that Steve’s condition did start to become more apparent and also evidence of its debilitating effects on him became more noticeable. It was during the ‘swimming badge’ that Steve was unable to perform all the tasks set for him (neither could I, so it didn’t really seem to matter). However for Steve, it wasn’t matter of ability, he physically couldn’t do.

But again, Darren’s and my attitude was ‘Hey ho…no worries’.

It was at this point Darren and I began to show early signs that we could make complete idiots of ourselves when the occasion required, usually with Steve standing behind us shaking his head in despair. We both nearly got sent home from a cub camp when we got ourselves into a full blown fist fight over…..a woggle!! (that’s the thing that you tied your neckerchief up with incidentally). Don’t ask me what it was about, but I remember that it was pretty heated.

These heady days continued until I was asked to leave on account that I was now the oldest cub in Bristol, and a full year older than I supposed to be. I didn’t last very long in scouts (I don’t think that Darren and Steve even got that far…the cubs were our moment of glory).

When we reached the heady age of 11 or 12 (I was a full 10 months older than the other two so I have always been considered ‘the old man’ of the out fit. Great when you are 12….pants when you are in your 40’s.) we were introduced to our new secondary school, Hartcliffe Comprehensive School, the most frightening institution on God’s green Earth.

Hartcliffe at that time was one of the biggest schools in the country and it certainly had one of the worst reputations for brutality…both from students and staff.

Steve’s ability to move had begun to slow somewhat, but it didn’t matter, we all walked slower in way of unmentioned, unsolicited compensation (some habits die hard I have discovered). His facial expressions also began to suggest that the muscles weren’t as strong as they used to be. However, we all looked liked train wrecks from Pizza hut in those days so it didn’t matter.

Steve’s recollection may be better than mine, but I don’t recollect him getting a particular hard time from the other kids, which is remarkable given the age of the kids that were repulsed by even the slightest of differences.

He may have been getting some stick but to be honest I was too busy wrapped up in my own misery. As I said, my father was pastor of the local church and he used to come into our school to take our assemblies. This was like manna from heaven for my class mates in terms of Mickey taking. I would be followed around by groups of kids, monk like in mock prayer as they trailed ‘The preacher’s kid’ around the play ground.

I cannot illustrate how painful and humiliating that was for me, which is daft considering as I look back on it now most of the kids were very fond of my dad, and I have since become extremely proud of the nickname ‘The preachers kid’. Strange how we grow.

As with all our journey together, Steve was not offered any special dispensation by his growing army of mates, although instinctive allowances were made for Steve’s reducing physical prowess, however, to draw attention to it would have been tantamount to an insult.

However, some of the staff weren’t quite so open minded when it came to being over protective of the ‘disabled boy’.

Mr Owen was a maths teacher, and I believe he was a ruddy psychopath. Even the staff were terrified of him.

I remember making the stupid mistake of treating Steve like any other kid in one of Owen’s lessons. I leant over a desk and cuffed Steve around the back of the head (that’s the sort of things mates do to each other ….it’s a male thing apparently).

I had not realised that my ‘torturous act upon this helpless young cripple’ had been observed by the Ogre of class 4B and with a roar of fury he launched himself across the classroom towards me. I was wrenched from seat by my jacket lapels, and had to suffer a torrent of venomous abuse on the subject of being unkind to those less fortunate than ourselves, and then unceremoniously I was flung across three or four desks to crash into a crumbled heap in the corner of the room.

Steve simply wet himself laughing.

Steve and I did suffer at the hands of a couple of Neanderthal thugs who managed to sit with us in our science class. However, our pleas for assistance to our form tutor (something they encourage children to do nowadays), was met with “You are bigger than then…..beat them up”. I was “The Preachers Kid” I didn’t do ‘beating up’, and even back then Steve was becoming a man of learning and not a boxer.

Still, I suppose the only satisfaction I can muster is the pair of them are probably due for parole at some point in the near future (not a very Christian day dream I grant you….but stuff it!).

For those of you who have been reading this blog regularly, you will already be aware of what happened when Steve, myself and Darren first began to dabble in music with my blog "My tone deaf mate”.

By the time we reached the sixth form (before, both Darren and I were asked to leave), Steve had begun to circulate in a more learned circle than that offered by Darren and myself (we only had ourselves to blame really, the draw of listening to the Sex Pistols at Darren’s house had a greater draw than attending English Literature lessons I can tell you).

So by 1979 we began to go our separate ways as Darren and I got our first jobs and I had the opportunity to travel a bit with a band, and Steve eventually went off to London to University, became a successful and talented playwright. Co-wrote a best selling no 1 record, got married and had kids.

We never really lost contact, however it has really been more in the last few years that we ‘picked up where we left off’.

The reason for my walk down memory lane is this. I have worked with disabled people from time to time during my working life, and I found this to be hard work, and often rewarding, I have even occasionally found it to be an honour.

However, I have never seen Steve in that light.

I can honestly say that as hard as it has become for him in recent years I still do not see the wheel chair.

To me he is a mate, pure and simple. A good mate who has helped put several huge dollops of paint onto the canvas of my life. A mate that has succeeded in life and has contributed to the arena that he travelled in.

He married a beautiful (and patient) women and they have two very lively, intelligent boys that do their parents proud.

Steve was and is far more than that ‘disabled boy’ that refused to get drawn into the ‘ah, bless him’ space (no matter how hard our mothers tried)

I suppose what I am trying to say is, the next time you run into somebody who is being pushed along in the wheelchair……don’t just see the chair…there is a history sat there. A history of a vibrant human being…that has mates…like me and Bassbin…..just try to resist the temptation to cuff him around the back of the head…Mr Owen could be near by.

Monday, 9 February 2009

It would appear that Cowboys do like the snow

At least they do in the South of Bristol anyways.

The party that was described in my last blog was a great success, with a variety of friends of the birthday boy arriving all dressed in a variety of cowboy and red Indian costumes (apart from one chap who had clearly read his invite wrong and turned up as a Blues Brother….either that or he was proud of said costume and was determined to wear it regardless) and all cramped into a domestic kitchen until much jollity was had by all.

It was noted by the band that we have in fact played in smaller venues, and to much smaller crowds so we didn’t complain and ‘went for it’ with as much gusto as we could manage.

As I have mentioned previously, we are NOT a country & western band….although I do have to confess that having got hold of a C & W greatest hits album to get me ‘in the mood’ I found myself singing happily along to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolie’ and ‘Coward of the County’.

However, we thought that in this case we really ought to make an effort to sing something that at least had a ‘Country’ feel to it, so that morning I managed to download and memorise ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E as sung by Billy Connolly. If song doesn’t ring any bells then get yourself onto Youtube and have a look.

I also managed to remember the words to an old John Denver song called ‘Grandmother’s feather bed’.

I always remember that song fondly from my childhood and didn’t in my innocence see anything untoward about it at all.

Unfortunately, the crowd we were performing to tonight was made up largely of rugby players and their spouses.

They found great amusement in the concept of “having a lot of fun on grandmother’s feather bed”, especially as that ‘fun’ included “8 sheep, six hound dogs and a piggy we’d stolen from the shed”.

By the time I had sung the line about “wrestling with my cousin” I began to wish I had tried to remember the words to ‘Annie’s Song’ instead.

All in all it was fun evening, especially as they plied CJ and Aaron with free beer (muggings here had negotiate the snow and ice so stayed away from anything that might result in my skidding into the back of a snow plough).

By the time we had finished out two hour set the crowd were in good form and were in the mood to sing…roaring that immortal line to the birthday boy “Why was he born so beautiful, why was he born at all”. The rest is unprintable.
Leaving CJ to enjoy himself Aaron and I managed to discreetly slip away, with a few cans for later secreted in our pockets, and bought ourselves a curry on the way home.

Now, if that is what County and Western music is all about, I might be tempted to do some more.

Only ‘tempted’ mind you.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Do cowboys like the snow?

“How do you know when the stage the drums are set on (drum riser) is level?.......when he begins to dribble out of both sides of his mouth!

You should never let the drummer organise the gigs, if you do then you will end up performing gigs like we have tonight….in somebody’s kitchen and dressed as cowboys.

My apologies to our American cousins, but I firmly believe that there are only two REAL evils in this world, ‘Country’ and ‘Western’.

So to be performing for a ‘surprise’ birthday party that has said Country & Western theme isn’t really considered to be a plus….although I am sure that I am going to cut a fine dash in my Stetson.

In all seriousness, we each do a ‘favour’ gig for each member of the band (co’s were good like that) and this on is for a friend of CJ’s, although the sting was taken out of this particular tail when CJ informed Aaron and I that we were in fact getting, fed, watered AND paid….top result then.

One big problem however. We are currently experiencing the heaviest snowfall in Bristol in over three decades, and it does not look as if there is any indication that it is going to let up. There is a very real possibility that we may not be able to get there.

Now, those American cousins that I mentioned may well scoff at the confusion that reigns when we get even the lightest dusting of snow. All over the radio we have heard accounts of smug American’s and Scandinavians who get to work despite three foot of snow EVERY night.

However, they get this climate every year, we haven’t had even close to this much snow since about 1986, and even then it was pretty much gone within 24 hours.

You have to admit that this particular ‘white adventure’ is pretty much a rarity for us Brits.

It was amazing to walk to work this morning to see the misery of a long line of lorries that had slewed to an embarrassing halt on the hill a short way from my house.

As they yelled insults and accusations regarding the ineffectual response of the Councils gritting Lorries, I had to fight an over whelming urge to wander up to them and say

“oh, innit pretty”.

I imagine there response would be swift and far from pretty.

So as I sit here in the deserted school where I have my NHS office and contemplate the long walk home, I ponder the question; do real cowboys like the snow.

I’ll let you know how we get on.