Friday, 25 June 2010

Good Fortune Favours....

I promise you that I am not going to turn this blog into a review site as I do enough of those for the web magazines that I write for. However; I must share with you the events of an amazing gig that I went to at London’s O2 Arena this last weekend.

Now Mrs Rock God has been a bit of a Bon Jovi fan since she bought me a ticket to see them at Wembley Stadium in 95, being supported by the outstanding Van Halen and decided to go along as well.

Things went a bit quiet on the BJ front until they made an appearance at the Bristol City Football ground a couple of years ago. With tickets in hand we made our way down to the ground and join the rest of the throng in what turned out to be a bit of a disappointing evening.

The highlight for me was getting a cup of Bovril (it’s a kind of meaty soup like substance for those that have been fortunate enough never to have heard of the stuff…however; it is said that you need to imbibe this black substance if you are attending football matches, so I did).

We had managed to get seats right at the back of the stadium, which meant that we couldn’t really see anything. This was not aided by the wind that was whipping through the stadium like a blowy whipping thing, lashing dust into the faces of the expectant crowd. It also took the sound and threw if as far away from where we were sitting as it could get it.

So as you could imagine this was not the best way to start and evening. It was also not helped by some plonker of an announcer declaring that the band would be taking to the stage in 5 minutes, JUST as BJ were launching into their first number. All in all it took about 20 minutes before the confusion subsided and anybody could figure out what the hell was going on.

It wasn’t until it began to get dark that we could see the screens and the sound began to improve as the wind died down. With that they were off!

In transpired later that the council had placed a serious time clause on the gig and the band had to get off before they got a fairly hefty fine.

We read later that not only were the audience left disappointed and feeling not a little cheated, but so had the band. I suspect we won’t be seeing the Bouffant One in the West Country any time soon.

Time moved on as it does and the band recorded a new album called ‘The Circle’ and set about organising a tour to promote it.

However; these boys aint young anymore, in fact the drummer is a clear 9 years older than me, and the prospect of spending their lives back on the road clearly did not appeal to them and so they booked themselves a residency at the O2 in London.

Twelve nights in one of Britain’s premier venues was too good an opportunity to miss and Mrs RG hit the internet with enthusiasm, only to discover that all the good seats had gone within the first 30 seconds and all that remained were the naff seats OR would cost us the equivalent of the national debt of a small European nation. So we opted for the cheap seats.

I was a little concerned as knowing my good ladies enthusiasm for all things Jovi and off of the back of the last disappointing gig being stuffed at the top of the arena, slightly behind the stage, was beginning to suggest that we wouldn’t be able to see a flamin thing.

Anyway, after months of anticipation the weekend arrived and we duly made our way to London and The O2.

The first thing you notice about the venue is that is enormous. The second is that it is extremely high….nose bleed, in need of Oxygen high. My hopes of being able to see anything were dwindling faster than the hope of an England World Cup victory.

We worked our way to the back end of the venue (and it seemed the universe) and then began to traverse the escalators up into the clouds. I began to feel like we had somehow died on route and were in fact on our way to the ‘here after’. But no, we were still climbing towards our seats.

Having reached the summit further wandering to an even more excluded entrance followed. My heart sank.

Then, we were met by an eager O2 official who asked is he could see our tickets.

He then announced that we were being up graded and asked to take the lift back to the first floor and he dispatched the Sherpa, removed our climbing equipment and led the mountain goats away.

As well as enormous excitement I felt a sick feeling of ‘what if we have just been conned’ in my stomach.

Anyway, the lift doors opened to reveal the seating where we would be spending the evening and the view was amazing. And I mean amazing. We were so close to the stage we would be able to see the boy himself flashing his white smile and even the small superman tattoo on his arm.

Just to set our minds at rest around us sat a group of people who had just suffered the same good fortune as us and we all chatted excitedly about our good luck.

That was all apart from one couple who sat silently and with a slight scowl on their faces. It was my estimation that they had actually forked out the 200 quid face value for those particular seats, only to be surrounded by a bunch of lucky nare-do-wells who were giggling in excitement and boasting of their good fortune at having been handed the musical offer of a life time.

At the end of the day the concert was a blinder. If you ever get the chance, and can afford it, go and see Bon Jovi, treat yourself, they really are as good as it says on the tin.

Right I’m off to watch the video footage that I took with my phone as I still can’t believe my luck.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

He’s behind you!

I have been watching with interest a series of programmes called ‘I’m in a rock & roll band’, and have been both amused and bemused as to what constitutes a really good rock & roll band.

What has made it interesting is the variety of rock celeb’s both past and present that were wheeled out to pontificate at length on who was the best singer, best drummer, best guitarist etc (I was totalled offended that as a bass player I got listed as ‘the other one’ and was unceremoniously lumped in with the keyboard player, saxophonist and ‘Bez’ from the Happy Mondays…however; the bass players lot is generally a lonely unappreciated one).

It did amuse me to discover what they considered to be the greatest of the great.

I was totally baffled for instance that in the final programme they rated ‘Slash’ from Guns & Roses over say, Eddie Van Halen. But there you go, it’s was only a TV programme and lives were never going to be changed or saved.

One iconic rocker that made me chuckle every time he proffered an opinion was Gene Simmonds from Kiss.

Here is a man that made a career, and a very successful one at that, by taking the absurd and making it even more ludicrous.

Bottom line is if you have had the chance to witness a Kiss concert you have been a participant in a rock & roll pantomime, which remains in your memory for ever.

Now I have been to some iconic concerts, I mean I even saw Queen before they were massive and had just got to number one with Bo Rap. I have seen some of the best that rock has got to offer, but I have NEVER again seen anything like Kiss.

Friend and partner in crime Bassbin had obtained tickets to see Kiss at the Stafford Bingley hall somewhere in the vicinity of Birmingham.

It was to be a rock & roll week for me as only a few days before I had been to the very first ‘Monsters of Rock’ gig at Castle Donnington and had seen Rainbow, Judas Priest, Saxon, the Scorpions and a load of American bands I had never heard of.

This was August 1980 and was the signal for a new resurgence of British Rock Music.
An amazing day ruined only by the leaving of car lights on and being stuck in the car park with a flat battery half the night (they didn’t have those warning buzzer things back then…and there were four large blokes crammed into a Mini Cooper).

Anyway, I was in the mood for ROCK and Bassbin and I set of for Stafford Bingley to witness the major spectacle.

We stood patiently in line with the hundreds of other punters trying to make the one packet of cigarettes we possessed between us last the distance (one every hour I think was the ration….thank goodness I gave that one up as a stupid habit to have).

Anyway, we eventually got in and hustled our way down to the front and waited for the festivities to commence.

The opening act were a great little band that I had seen several times before called ‘Girl’ who featured guitarist Phil Collen who went on to play for Def Leppard. We thoroughly enjoyed their set but were really in the mood for ‘larger than life’

And boy did we get it.

With explosions so intense it nearly burnt our eyebrows off Kiss took to the stage.

To say that they were wonderfully over the top would be an understatement and a half. You had a bass player (Simmonds) dressed as a massive demon with a huge gothic costume and with makeup something akin to a clowns face gone mad, staggering around with a pair of demonesque platform boots spitting stage blood every where. A singer again with the face paint and high heeled boots. and the guitarist and drummer being pretty much similarly attired and the stage was set for a good night of ‘Wow’.

I couldn’t for the life of me tell you what the band sounded like as all I could manage was a mouth open catching flies expression as rockets flew out of the guitars resulting in massive explosions high in the rafters. Gene Simmonds suddenly taking flight and careering high over the heads of the audience spitting blood over everybody and the drummer suddenly rolling towards us as his drum riser turned in to the kind of gun turrets that you only find on a battle ship.

By the time we stumbled from the arena our senses had been well and truly pulverised. Now that is what I call a rock & roll band.

Oh, just as aside, as if some cosmic prankster was having a joke on our behalf, we went and left the lights of the car on again, so once again we spend half the night sat in the car park. However; this time it was a Ford Capri and there were only two of us.

No matter what the hassle though, you could not remove the stupid grin off of either of our faces.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

The loneliness of the rock god

Being a wandering troubadour is a lonely existence, fraught with pitfalls, heartache and disappointment.

In days past, the minstrel would pass from village to village entertaining the local populace for the price of a roof over his head and a crust, with perhaps a pitcher of ale to dampen his dry and dusty throat.

Nowadays you would be flippin lucky to get a pint of something wet condemned by the third world as unfit for human consumption and a packet of pork scratchings that were past their sell by date when Wellington gave Boney a hammering on the playing fields of Belgium.

The only thing that keeps the beleaguered performer moving forwards, albeit in the blind optimism that is the jobbing muso’s only solace, is the applause of an appreciative audience.

If that audience is made up of his (or her) proud and loving family then the satisfaction could ward off starvation for months to come.

This was the prospect that was to face my partner in crime and son and heir Aaron and I last night as part of an acoustic evening when all the acts were supposed to be related in someway.

Now bear in mind that I am not as young as once I was, my mother and father have not witnessed me perform out side of a church setting or funerals since I was 18 years old, and thus has never seen their grandson Aaron play.

I suppose that bearing in mind the level of volume that I have tended to play at over the years and also taking into account that my mother weaned me on Jim Reeves and Burl Ives, their reluctance to have the wax summarily blasted out of their ears is somewhat understandable.

However; neither of my two sisters, who are both younger than me, have also seen me perform in any capacity since I was a young man whose dreams of international stardom still remained intact.

On this occasion they could not pluck the usual argument from the ether that is normally bandied about….”I heard you play a few weeks ago, “I heard all your songs before”.

When my family last heard me play I was still listening to the original line up of the Jam and the Undertones. Put it like this, Paul Weller was still considered and angry YOUNG man as opposed to the grumpy old git he is now.

So you can imagine when the opportunity to pull my family together in order that Aaron and I could proudly demonstrate our musical prowess to adoring grandparents, Uncles and Aunts that I jumped at it.

Of course they would all come they exclaimed, they would love to see us play it would be a golden opportunity.

With the amount of promises I had both from my own kith & kin and my wife’s family we should be able to pack the place on our own, thus extending us a longer length of time to play.

Need I go on???

Of course not??

Not one single relative graced us with their presence.

Now to be fair, my mother had just had a major operation on her knee and was going nowhere, and my father was required to be hovering in her presence for any required whim that could be bestowed on him from her sick bed and was knackered.

Also, and to be totally magnanimous, it was tipping down with rain and had I not been committed to performing myself I think I might too have sought sanctuary in the warm and safety of my sofa and watched a film instead.

However; all good reasons aside, we were once again stood solitary, friendless and on this occasion orphaned to entertain an appreciative audience of office workers and bar staff.

In that this was the first family wide invite to an event in the last 20 years or so, I am going to be a very old man indeed before I pass out invitations once more.

The life of a wandering troubadour is indeed a lonely existence

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The fragility of the singer

All change

The Soap opera continues to unfold; however in a whole new positive direction.

I can reveal that the voice of dissent in the whole Amaziah project was in fact the lead singer.

I don’t mention this in order to grumble or to cast affront, but to demonstrate that I can fully understand where he was coming from and did in fact have the deepest empathy for his concerns.

Unbeknown to me he had been very unhappy with the quality of his over vocal on the record. And I’m not surprised. The musicians had been given the lion’s share of the allotted recording time and poor old Derek got given what was left at the end. He had next to no time at all to belt out as best he could nine very lyrically intensive songs, with no chance really to go back and do it again if he wasn’t happy with what he had produced!

Now if any of the Brits reading this have been following the TV series ‘I’m in a rock & roll band’ you will be able to attest to the belief that all lead singers are Narcissistic egotistical dictators whose one aim in life is to be the centre of attention.

In reality most of us are insecure and terrified of finding ourselves stood stark bullock naked (musically speaking) in front of an audience baying for a sacrificial lamb.

You see, unlike all other band members we generally have nothing to hide behind and all we are able to offer is the natural un-processed sound of our vocal chords. As Roger Daltrey of The Who stated, you could have a multi million concert watched by hundreds of thousands people, tonnes and tonnes of high tech musical equipment all standing or falling on two small muscles that reside in the back of the singers throat.

For us there is no Marshall Amplification 23 foot high and coloured by a bank of Boss talent boosting affects pedals so wide that it covers two separate time zones.

There is no drum kit so vast that it has snow on the peak, or keyboard set up that required the largest furniture removal company in the western hemisphere to transport it.

The ‘band’ has one articulated truck after another to transport their mountains of ‘security blanket’ to and from the venue, allowing then the protection of ‘kit’ to hide behind.

For us singers, all we have to protect our dignity, apart from a cricket box, is an SM58 and those two small muscles that I mentioned.

One slight English head cold and the singer can be transported from virtuoso to train wreck in just a few short moments.

Have you any wonder I always play an instrument, I aint that brave.

So you see, when the singers performance isn’t ‘all that’, we can’t blame a bad batch of strings, or the incorrect temperature retuning the drums skins, or even just throw our hands up into the air and claim that we just had ‘an off night’..

When the singer is off key, the whole band falls off of the stage with him and it isn’t a pretty sight.

So having our insecure moments pressed into vinyl for all eternity to hear is not a happy place to be. And the horror of the prospect of having said moment re-mastered and distributed world wide is something I can fully understand and that feeling deep in the pit of your gut screams “Oh know, not again”.

However; following much discussion we all came to the conclusion that no matter how imperfect ‘Straight talker’ was, that it was a snapshot of a point in time. Not one of us wouldn’t like to go back and improve on something we had done or not done (I seriously had to have played the most boring box like bass lines ever written); however at the end of the day it was what it was.

Also, strange as it may seem, people have genuinely loved that album and it has brought pleasure to many.

So, if a new copy on CD can bring pleasure to a few more, then who are we to deny them this.

So once again, the whole project is back on and God willing steaming along like a locomotive.

One small snaggeto! The tapes and contracts appear to have disappeared somewhere over the Atlantic.

Now that could slow things down a bit.