Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Axe Factor

Sometimes you have to ask yourself the question “Why do we do these things to ourselves”.

The ‘thing’ in question on this particular occasion was to be entered into one of the initial rounds of ‘The Axe Factor’ (yes it does what it says on the tin, a competition for guitarists, singers and bands).

Now I don’t normally ‘do’ competitions as I can’t face the stress that appears to go along with.

In our previous incarnation, Mudheads Monkey, we entered a competition put on my GWR (that’s a local radio station) and made it to the finals.

After our set one of the judges sidled up to us and whispered in our ear that the prize was ours (about 5,000 quid, a portable recording studio and studio time).

Having already rehearsed my acceptance speech in my head, we were suddenly whacked in the face by the announcement that the judges had in fact been ‘split’ and that in order to ‘un-stick’ them they added a new category…..commercial viability.

The other band who they were deliberating over were a bunch of ‘Oasis’ wannabies, and it was at that point that I realised that I had a face that was great for radio….as they were awarded the prize.

I believe the band, who promptly bogged off back to Cardiff split up within the month.

So I don’t do competitions.

However, the Axe Factor was being organised by our promoters and friends Mark Venus and Alfie Kingston, and so when they asked if we would perform it seemed churlish to refuse, so we accepted a place………for last night’s heat.

As CJ now point blank refuses to play acoustic gigs (unless there is an enormous pay cheque involved) citing that we wouldn’t expect to play with only one string (as I constantly remind him being a bass player…I am lucky to be able to cope with anything more than one string), and that is pretty much what we are expecting of him when we play unplugged, Aaron and I went to perform at this particular soirĂ©e as the Loaders (that’s our acoustic duo).

When we arrived at the venue we discovered that only six of this evening turns had arrived, which levelled the playing field just a tad, hopefully in our favour.

Then I got the shock that was to colour my whole evening.

There was a panel of four judges, looking very stern and fierce from behind a tartan clothed table, sat ready to dispense words of wisdom and hopefully not to crush any fledging ego beyond the point of resurrection.

Then one of the judges, a man who looked like he was presumably in his 50’s, pointed a finger at me and said……you were in Hartcliffe School Sixth Form.

I was incredulous “How the hell did you know that” I exclaimed. “I never forget a face” he replied.

Now bearing in mind that I was a gangly, spotty long haired youth of 17 when I was summarily asked to leave, and the same could not be said of me now, his feat of recollection was outstanding.

Then it was our turn to perform, three songs…….time to impress the judges.

We had missed the first act as we were in the green room (skittle ally) getting ready, so we had no idea as to how supportive or destructive the judges were going to be.

However, it didn’t matter. We knew that we were not going to be chosen for the next round as we are entertainers and not show winners, and we were there purely to entertain the crowd and get them into a good mood for the whole evening’s music.

However, if a miracle did happen, we wouldn’t complain and the fragile performer’s ego would be firmly ‘tickled’.

Then Mark Venus, who was the compare for the evening, introduced to judges to the contestants and the audience.

Horror of all horror, the man with the photographic memory who had a knack for taking middle aged faces and translating them into memories of younger acquaintances was introduced and I realised that he was in fact my sixth form tutor, the very same man that had told me that I was wasting my time and his and that perhaps it would be better if I was to leave that sainted world of education and seek a new life in the world of employment.

Suddenly, I was 17 years old again and was going to require surgery to have my buttocks unclenched.

We crashed into our three songs with an acceptable level of excitement and madness, whipping the crowd into a state of smiles and foot tapping.

However, this time, instead of performing with my usual level of over confidence, I was sweating like a teenager on a driving test.

I had not seen this man for 31 years. I have been successful in many things. I have made a positive contribution. I am happily married, I have co-raised two delightful children, and yet here I was reverting to that rattled teenager who was desperately trying to avoid a right rollicking from a member of the teaching staff.

Aaron could tell that I was nervous as I reverted to many of my old bad habits that has taken me years to get rid off.

I couldn’t stop talking between songs, even during the songs. I said “Thank you” as each song finished, and I was sweating profusely and my hands were so tense I could barely hold my plectrum.

How daft is that!! I am a seasoned performer with 35 years experience, and yet the sight of my old teacher reduced me to rubble. Isn’t it strange how they can still have that kind of hold over you.

Then came the judge’s comments.

I must have had a face locked into a grimace of fear as Aaron jabbed me in the ribs and growled…..”smile”.

True to form my old teacher liked what we did. We played together well; he thought I had a good voice…….BUT!

There’s always a BUT!

He felt that our middle song descended into cabaret.

Now we have attached the theme song to ‘Only Fools & Horses’ to the end of one our songs as quite frankly, the audience love it….and it’s our job to give the punters what they want.

However, this was probably seen as a bit of an anathema to the ‘serious’ music brigade. It certainly didn’t win us any favour with ‘sir’.

However, he said that on the whole he had enjoyed the set, and the other three judges absolutely loved it.

Isn’t it typical then that the only words that really stick in my mind was the fairly innocuous comment that we had turned into a sparkly suited cabaret act.

Bottom line, we didn’t make it through to the next round. But there again, we hadn’t thought for one minute that we really would.

I would be a liar if I professed that the old ego wasn’t dented just a tad. I mean I had about a 25 year head start on all the other performers, but as I have already said, mine is a face for radio and anyway it would have meant having to do it all over again, and I really, REALLY don’t want to be that 17 year old again.

Aaron did make a good comment. The powers that be may not have deem us serious and worthy contenders for the crown of musical credibility, but unlike most of our young peers at the competition we usual get paid for what we do, AND we are having to turn gigs down as we cannot fit them all in.

Also it was rather gratifying to be approached by a bunch of the younger musicians who had really enjoyed what we had done and asked us if we had any advice for them. (The student was now the master).

We may not have won that round, but we distinguished ourselves with honour and members of the audience approached us throughout the evening to say how much they had enjoyed us.

However, in that I would never want to be a teenager again, it was amazing how I felt with that particular judge.

Simon Cowell eat your heart out.

Monday, 20 April 2009

The Rock God is NOT having a mid life crisis

Okay, sure, it is a convertible. I admit that it is rather sporty and fast. AND I concede that it is bright red (Babylon red to be exact), but this does not equate necessarily that the RG is in the throws of some middle aged tantrum regarding the refusal to grow old in some kind of graceful attitude towards ‘greydom’.

I am talking about a car in case you were wondering.

Why is it that when any man finally realises the toy of his dreams, a longing that has been nurtured steadily throughout youth, to marriage, mortgage, fatherhood and beyond, that he is immediately branded as having a ‘mid life’ crisis’.

There’s no flippin crisis about it. I wanted one…I always have….I have only just got to that position in life’s long journey that was beyond the demands for slots for child seats, sick bags and the ability to carry forty five primary school children or three sweat garnished teenagers with more piercings than Michael Caine in Zulu.

It should follow that as I play in a rock band I am automatically having a mid life crisis, and yet I have played in bands almost continuously (apart from the odd gap) since I was 14 years old. There’s no crisis about it.

When a man (or women) has managed to reach some sort of financial stability in their life, this is a cause for celebration not for finger poking and comments about ‘going off the deep end’. I would have brought a Harley Davidson had Mrs Rock God not wisely pointed out that I couldn’t get a guitar or two on a motor bike.

So I stand proud, and unrepentant. I am 48 years old and I have just bought a new car (Bassbin will testify to the state of my old one, which I just happened to own for over a decade).

It just happens to be bright red….and as the sun is shining, I shall drive home with the roof down.

It’s only a Peugeot 307 for pity sake.

Right now let me see………..sunglasses…check…….Nickelback CD….check……..seagull repellent….check…….!

If this is a mid life crisis…..I think I shall have mine in style thank you so very much.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

"A whole lot of Rosie"

They do say that old rockers never die, they just smell like they do. They also say that it is better to burn out than fade away….I’m beginning to think that this might be my destiny.

We have had a fair few gigs crammed into a short space of time, and I am quite frankly ‘knackered’.

It’s been a good year so far, and good offers are arriving frequently. However, as with Friday night, every so often a gig crashes into your consciousness, just to remind the budding Rock God that they should never rise above their station and go and get too big for their boots.

As always, I will refrain from actually naming the venue in question and shall simply call it the ‘Queens Bottom’.

We have played at the venue several times before and have always been met with a warm and enthusiastic audience who invariably refused to let us leave (in the good sense).

Tonight was not going to be quite so enthusiastic and yet they still did not want to let us leave….however, this time the reason was not quite so positive.

The whole tone of the evening met us on arrival and it resulted in one heck of a load in and set up.

A young lady had sadly lost her life in a senseless car accident quite close to the pub a week earlier and friends, family and neighbours all descended on the pub in order to raise cash in her memory.

They were dressed in the loudest and most outrageous costumes they could find…either that or they were bedecked in pyjama’s and dressing gowns. And there were dozen’s and dozen’s and dozen’s of them. Mainly young girls or children and they were all milling around the entrance ways to the pub.

This made getting our 1 ½ tonnes of kit into the building a tad difficult.

Crushing a 7 year old poppet who is dressed as a dayglo Disney princes with the sharp end of 4 x 12 guitar speaker would do nothing to enhance our reputation in the area I can tell you.

It also felt rather churlish to tell this bunch of well meaning enthusiasts to “get the hell out of the way as we are on in half an hour”, and so another route was sought and we found ourselves running the gauntlet of boys on bicycles and outdoor smokers huddled around the entrance way of the kitchens at the other end of the building, who made random comments like “that looks heavy” before collapsing into a fit of smoke induced hacking coughing brought on by the strength of their own hilarity.

One of the oddities of this whole spectacle was observing super charged Renault Clios and such careering around the pub car park driven by teenage mourners sending packs of young dayglo wearing children flying in all directions. There was a very real possibility that this event that had been called to celebrate the life of a woman that had been knocked down by a speeding car was going to end up with somebody getting knocked down… a speeding car.

Anyway, against all the odds, nobody was killed or hurt and we got all of our equipment into the building before it was time to kick off.

With that the hoards of brightly coloured revellers, as one departed, presumably in order to get their children to bed. However this did leave the place in the domain of a bunch of already plastered teenagers and young people. It was going to be a long night.

According to my two colleagues we were well received. However, from my short sighted perception we went down like Gareth Gates on an oil rig.

Then, much to my amazement, into this den of alcohol fuelled apathy strolled our church pastor and his wife.

Now you might not think that this is so amazing as it would be only natural for a man of the cloth to want to support members of his flock in their earnest endeavours. And this of course would be very much what he was doing. However, what you need to know is that although our pastor is a good man his taste in music is so….shall we say…twee….that it makes John Denver look like a death metal artiste.

For Dave to come to one of our gigs is, you will have to trust me in this, a sign of his love and commitments for those that he is responsible for…i.e. me and Aaron.

The horror of what was happening though was not lost on me. Dave and Elaine walked in just as we hammering through “Turning Japanese” by the ‘Vapours’, and as they took their seats just in front of the speakers, I was singing the immortal lines “No sex, no drugs, no wine, no women, no fun, no sin, no you know wonder it’s dark”……..oh joy.

Of course that particular song runs straight into “A whole lot of Rosie” by ‘AC/DC’, which without putting too fine a point on it is about a bloke having wild rampant sex with his 19 stone girlfriend.

Now, I am not one who advocates unsuitable lyrics in songs…I am now a parent after all. However, I maintain that at the volume we play you can’t hear the words anyway, and most people like these songs because of the music.

I had a bright idea to maintain my dignity. As the offending words came to their place in the song, I stood back from the microphone.

My son and heir sadly saw what I was doing and was not prepared to let me get away with this particular hypocrisy and stood up to his mic and bellowed out the offending lyrics in his loudest, clearest voice.

Thankfully, Dave’s ears had been so firmly pinned back behind his head by the volume that he didn’t pick any of that up at all.

Bless him, he made it to the end of the first half before retreating to the safety of his own home and some ‘good old ‘US of A’ gospel music from the deep south’.

It has to be said that my own parents haven’t heard me perform in a band since I was 19 years old so this was a point of honour indeed that was not lost on me.

Any roads we made it to the end of the evening, with dignity but very little enthusiasm left intact.

This was when the problem of getting back out of the building reared its drunken head.

The crowd of sozzled youths that crowded around the entrances had got to the point where they firmly believed that they were a) hard, b) funny and c) in the right to do anything they liked, including preventing the poor gits who had been from performing that night leaving.

Aaron however in a stroke of comedic genius draw himself up to his full 6 foot 3 inch height and whilst clutching his enormous flight cased guitar amp, looked straight into the face of the leading tattooed, baseball cap wearing Chav and quoted Douglas Adams at him (that would be from the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy for those not in the know).

“Do you know how much damage I would do to this amp if I simply dropped it on your head”


“None what so ever”.

Whether said drunken Chav understood the subtlety of the quote, indeed if he even knew of it’s origins (I sincerely doubt it), either way bowing to a superior intellect or because he truly believed that Aaron would drop a hundred weight of Marshall cap on him he took the better part of valour and got he and his mates out of the way.

We still took out a few back legs and shins with the rest of the gear, but that was their own stupid fault.

You do have to ask yourself why we do this sometimes.

For balance though. Aaron and I under our acoustic duo moniker ‘The Loaders’ performed to an audience so civilised and appreciative on Sunday that we sang the old hymn “When I survey the wondrous cross” in honour of Easter Sunday.

That was just in case you think I have really ditched the entire ‘God Bothering’ and gone instead for a preference for singing about carnal relations with women of a fuller figure.

Of course, the pastor wasn’t there to hear that one was he…typical!