Tuesday, 26 January 2010

The Roadie

Friday night’s gig reminded me once again why I would like to be a successful rock star.

Not for me the trappings of fame and fortune. Not the glory of being idolised by the masses. Not even the recognition of my industry peers, although that would be very nice.

No for me, the one thing I have always dreamed of in the context of being a world class rock star is that I would be entitled to a world class road crew.

The manager at Fridays venue pointed out, as it has been pointed out many times before, that we have considerably more equipment than any other band that he has playing there.

It is not particularly an ego thing. It is not necessarily that our guitarist has access to lots of kit at great prices and it not really that we are now in a position financially to be able to afford this kind of stuff. We need this amount in order to create the HUGE sound we are becoming known for (at least that is our excuse and we are sticking to it.)

However, this mountain of wood and wire comes with a price and on Friday it was a VERY heavy price.

We had to cart the lot up two flights of stairs across the whole length of the venue, nearly two hours set up (it was a tight space). Perform for two hours, Take it all back down again (that takes about an hour) and then lump the whole lot back across the venue, down two flights of steps to the truck where CJ was having to negotiate his way through a fleet of taxi’s that had taken up residence out side the venue in order that he could get close enough to the front doors (I think he would have still be there now had not a friendly bouncer taken pity on our man and threatened to rearrange the face of a driver who had point blank refused to get out of CJ’s way). Finally we had to pack the whole lot back into the truck, which is a feat of alchemy in itself that only CJ holds the secret to. I have never known any man or women pack so much stuff into such a tight space. Even my wife who is a genius at packing the holiday suitcases into the boot of a car would fail to compete with the wonder of CJ’s magic. You can, at a push, squash a suitcase or bag to get it to fit, you can’t do that with a Marshall 4 x 12 guitar speaker.

This was Friday. Saturday morning I felt like I had been driven over by the full length of a British Rail train. A long train that had been hauling coal, lots of coal.

It was as I gingerly hobbled around the house aching from every part of my body that was capable of aching that I longed for the days when I could have a crew of ‘Roadies’ that relieved this burden from my aching shoulders allowing me the luxury of the heaviest thing I would have to lift of a gig being the pre gig beer and of course my bass guitar.

I marvel at those live gig DVD’s of super groups like, say U2, when the band all appear to the rear of the stage in separate limos, go through their pre gig ritual and get on. Then as soon as the gig is finished they climb back into their limos and bog off leaving the road crew to de rig the lot.

I watched an interview with Jon Bon Jovi stating that he often gets very lonely after a gig sat in his hotel room with nobody to talk to. I thought, count yourself lucky pal, you could be risking your back as well as life and limb trying to haul your kit through a crowded pub into the awaiting disdainful embrace of a load of non English speaking taxi drivers….in the rain!

This is not to say that I have not had personal experience of roadies before, it is just that they were invariably as mad and unstable as the band and created no end of entertainment and chaos as opposed to the slick rigging and de rigging of equipment.

My first experience of the mystic roadie was when I was in a band called Amaziah. We all took a pay cut (we were playing full time by then) to employ our drummer’s best mate who was sick of working for the post office.

His first gig, in Belfast resulted in him falling off of the stage even before the gig had begun and breaking his ankle. So for the rest of the tour not only did we have to lug our own equipment we had to carry him.

He did alright though. Following the demise of Amaziah he went to work for Malcolm Hill a massive PA company and went on tour with Robert Palmer and AC/DC. I don’t think he finished the AC/DC tour though as his accident prone nature caught up with him and he fell of his motor bike (again) and smashed his fingers up.

He must have recovered as I last heard he is the front of house sound engineer for Status Quo and you may scoff but they always have a crystal clear PA mix so fair play to him I say.

Other roadie’s have been equally memorable damaging more equipment than we owned (I remember one guy leaping up and down on top of a venues extremely fragile stage rack mount, which would have bankrupt us had he have gone through the case…….it was the look of sheer blank non understanding that painted his face as the in-house sound guy screamed at him that said it all.

We have had roadies that have killed the vans, dropped guitars, wired all the equipment up back to front, got into fights, eaten all the food laid on for the band, nearly been murdered by band members, the lot.

And through this whole experience I have invariably and without exception had to carry my own flippin equipment. Where did I go wrong?

So the next time I listen to some ageing rock star moaning about a lack of things to do before or after gigs the DVD will be going in the bin.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

A Bass Player by any other name

The big day arrived and the re-mixed version of the old Amaziah track, ‘Slowly’ landed on my doormat in the form of a vinyl 10” single and as a compilation track on a CD. All nice, remixed and full of life.

The best thing was; for the first time since I was 18 years old I could hear the bass guitar that I had played.

Sadly the original album had been so poorly mixed that the bass guitar was practically non existent and so for the first time in over 30 years (cough) the sound of my bass guitar playing shook the speakers of my car…..’like a good un’!

The only down side to this was that I was faced with the reality that as an 18 year old bass player I would have made a good brick layer.

To the trained ear you could tell that I was a) a complete novice and b) terrified.

I have always found the process of ‘recording’ really boring, however; I also find it an extremely stressful experience and when the sound engineer points towards you and mouths something like ‘rolling’, my buttock cheeks clench to the point where an ‘unclenching’ might possibly require surgery, my heart pounds fit to leave my chest and my whole body becomes as rigid as a garden hoe.

The problem was that this particular track ‘Slowly’ was supposed to have that funky kind of loose groove to it, the kind that bass players are supposed to love. However; to be brutally honest with myself my playing was as stiff as a McDonalds milkshake and quite frankly …….boring!

This whole experience has reminded me that despite having played the bass guitar in one form or another for the whole of my musical life, since I blagged my way into Amaziah at any rate, I have never acknowledged myself as a ‘bass player’.

I have always just been ‘standing in’ for a bass player that had quit or until a proper one could be found.

Even now with The Mudheads, with my limited edition Fender Bass guitar and a Marshall stack so large that it has snow on the peak and requires the services of a Sherpa to traverse the climb in order to ‘twiddle’ with the tone controls, I still would not consider myself a Bass Guitarist.

I have always, and I mean ALWAYS considered myself to be a Rhythm guitarist, despite the fact that the number of years I have performed in bands with said instrument could be counted in dog years.

Besides, my son and heir often remarks that as a guitarist I make a great bass player and as I have said…as bass player I make a great brickie!!

However; if you do not include all my acoustic guitar playing, I have spent the last seven years firmly planted in four string territory with no signs of change on the horizon.

Mind you, a real moment of pride for me, with a bit of a sting in the tail, was when Dave & Kev Steel from Amaziah came to see The Mudheads last year for the first time and remarked “Blimey it’s a shame you didn’t play the bass that well back in Amaziah days.

I think they meant it as a compliment…….but one can never be sure!

Friday, 8 January 2010

Black Plastic Gold

A very Happy New year to you all, I trust that it will be a blinder for you what ever happens.

Now that Christmas has sadly passed into a distant memory I must reflect upon the totally appropriate Christmas gift the present Mrs Rock God purchased for me. This was a record deck, a hi-fi turntable, something on which I can play my vast collection of Vinyl albums once more.

You may think that in this day and age of the CD or better still the MP3 player where I store my entire record collection from nearly forty years of musical fanaticism onto a machine the size of credit card, and it’s only half full, that the purchase of something as archaic as a ‘record player’ is a bit of a case of buying something for the sake of it.

However, there is method in my madness and the inspiration was very timely.

As I have mentioned several times in these pages, I used to perform in a band called ‘Amaziah’ and we recorded an album which has since become highly collectible.

Back in the summer I received an e-mail from a chap who being a DJ of note had with his colleagues been reflecting on the songs that had been the soundtrack of their youth. Blow me down but the guy has picked a song off of the Amaziah album and was requesting that he take the song, re-master it and then turn it into a 10” dance remix.

This has now been done and I eagerly awaited the finished result. I have never had the honour of having been ‘re-mixed’ before, let alone to become a dance track (talk about getting down with the kids).

The trouble of course was, like so many now, the 10” re-mix would be on vinyl and I would have had nothing to play it on. Problem solved, my wife had no idea what to buy me for Crimbo and a quick trip to Richer Sounds solved the problem in one go.

Of course, now I can play my old vinyls again I have been embarking upon a massive trip down memory lane, a journey which very much maps out my growth as a person and as a performer.

The very first album I purchased was ‘Alan Freeman’s a History of Pop’, which featured songs from both the 50’s and the 60’s. I have always maintained that I was grounded in good old fashion rock & roll and this record proved it.

My first ’45 single’ purchase (remember those seven inches of wonder which usually meant the investment of a couple of weeks pocket money and driving your parents crazy playing the same song over and OVER again) was not quite so auspicious. It was ‘Do you want to touch’ by Gary Glitter. Now in the light of recent years events the answer to that question would be a resounding ‘Absolutely NOT’, however; you have to remember that this was the 70’s and Glam was very much the thing and GG was the king of glam.

I hope that I redeemed myself with my second single purchase, which was ‘Part of the Union’ featuring an amazing honkey tonk piano solo by a then unknown keyboard player ‘Rick Wakeman (I was actually asked to tour with him as a support many years later, shame it didn’t actually happen in the end).

My album purchases started off being, shall we say, a tad embarrassing to say the least, however; I look back now with great fondness and pride. ‘Mud Rock Vol 1’, it cost me £1.99 and took me weeks to save up for. Listening to it now it sadly isn’t that great, but then it was the bees knees.

Does anybody remember ‘Top of the Poppers’? My copy was from 1972 and featured artists covering the hits of the day such as ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’ by little Jimmy Osmond. ‘I’d like to teach the world to sing’ by the New Seekers and a song by a band I hadn’t heard of before but who blew my socks off, ‘Gud By T’Jane’ by a band called Slade.

From that point on I stopped buying pop records and purchased stuff that had more of a rock element to them. Of course anything and everything by Slade, I became and remained a HUGE fan (more of them at a later date), Status Quo, Deep Purple, Mott the Hoople and then a massive find deep in the middle of 1973 by an unknown band of the time ‘Queen’.

All these records I still keep and I intend to play them all again faithfully and religiously despite having virtually all of them on my Ipod (except ‘Top of the Poppers’ maybe). The thing is, as much as I adore the medium of digital music and downloads you just can’t recreate the sheer joy of cradling the album sleeve whilst you listen to your knew purchase that it has taken you weeks to save for and track down and purchase.

You also can’t recreate that gut wrenching moment when the damn thing sticks and then scratches right across the full length of the record leaving a pure white groove as it goes. Now that I don’t miss!!!!