Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Dressed to kill

Ever since Elvis took to the stage with his low slung guitar and quiff and the Beatles shaved theirs off in favour of mop tops and collarless suits, the budding rock wannabie has struggled to find the right image that would define them as an artiste or as a band.

Some of the images have become iconic (The sex Pistols safety pins and ripped t-shirts, The Jam’s mod suits, The Beatles Sergeant Pepper look) others have been installed into the hall of fame as a downright embarrassment and remembered in terms of parody and humour (Zig Zig Sputnic, the whole of Katchagoogoo, and anything worn by Boy George).

Get it wrong and you could well find yourself being remembered less for your hit singles and more for the ridiculous hair styles that you and your friends sported on Top of the Pops back in the 80’s (ask Nic Beggs and Limahl)

The trouble is, every musician realises very early on that if you want to make a good first impression then it best not to amble onto the stage in your pyjamas (unless of course you are the keyboard player for the Boomtown Rats).

You have got to make an effort in order to visually define what kind of band, artiste or singer you are.

If a band wanders onto stage wearing ripped jeans, t-shirts, a cut off denim jacket with “Satan’s very own rock band” emblazoned on the back and hair that almost touches their knees, it is unlikely that they are going to be an experimental jazz outfit or the Bath City All Male Voice Gospel Singers.

Again if the singer saunters on to stage in a sharp suit with teeth to match and patent leather shoes, the entire ensemble dripping with smarm, then it is highly unlikely (although not impossible) that the band will then subsequently launch into a death mental onslaught of ‘Bring your daughters to the slaughter’.

Nine times out of ten what you see is normally what you get.

This has been something I have personally taken seriously, often much to the amusement of my band mates.

In Amaziah I experimented with a variety of looks in order to try and get away from the traditional ‘metal’ look and lent more towards the emerging New Wave flavour.

However; there are photos of me in a huge white sports blazer (formally belonging to my father in the 70’s) and huge aviator sun glasses. Not a great look for sure.

In the end, inspired by Sting from The Police I settled on a bright Green jump suit that I had purchased from Bony Maroneys a second hand clothes shop in Bristol frequented mainly by punks.

Nobody appeared to find this look funny and so I stuck with it.

The only draw back was that I only had one of said piece of clothing so as you can imagine by the time I had reached the end of say a two month tour of Europe the jump suit was capable of getting in to the truck on its own at the end of a night. If I had tried to fold it, it would have been in serious danger of snapping and it smelt worse than a pair of trousers after the hundred year war.

The jump suit went to a good home in the end and was eventually used as a maternity outfit for my wife who was expecting our current guitarist Aaron. She has always been slim so you can imagine that back in the day I was Rock God in physical stature as opposed to now having more in common with Buster Blood Vessel from Bad Manners.

That was probably my one and only successful stab at a dress code as since then I have tended to be at odds with my band mates when it came to a corporate band image, or at the very least I have generally got it horribly wrong.

Mind you it can be a real indication of where the band is at.

In the original incarnation of Mudheads Monkey the band took to the festival stage in our rock finest, I was wearing doc martins, tight torn jeans, baggy shirt, funky waist coat and a bandana around my throat…….a bit of a rock folk troubadour look if you like.

Bassin was decked all in denim and sporting cool shades (being inspired by Bruce Springsteen and that blue collar poet look), Matt had a bit of an early skater boy thing going on. The drummer Mark, well he wore a knitted pullover.

Nothing states “I really have had enough of this” better than a pullover purchased from Marks and Sparks.

I believe we did one more gig after this before Mark quit.

Being my brother-in-law and much loved friend I still see him regularly and I often see that look in his eyes that suggests that I really ought to grow up and stop trying to be 25 again…and get my self a decent British Homes Stores pully.

In our next version of MHM this time with CJ drumming we tore up the stage at the Greenbelt Christian Arts festival in our very best imitation of a folk grunge outfit in the school of The Levellers. All tie dye and baggy trousers

The trouble is we were much more musically inclined to the Indie pop school of rock and our look was totally incongruous with the music, and we lost the opportunity of a decent promoter on the back of this particular tailoring disaster. We went back to the t-shirts and jeans after that.

Recently we have been experimenting with the ‘school daze’ look, all white shirts and school ties. This was in the hope that people would get the irony that the 50 year old singer was dressed in a school uniform. I mean, Angus Young for AC/DC has done it for years and he is older than me. Besides nothing says New Wave better than a school tie. Nobody got it.

We are now going to have a stab at the ‘well groomed’ dude look once more and I have recovered my oldest suit from the attic and we are going to ‘make an effort’. All suit jackets, smart ties and shiny shoes.

Trouble is, have you ever tried to get changed into a three piece suit in the gents toilets of a crowed pub. Unpleasant to say the least.

Also a waistcoat, tie and full jacket does nothing to keep me physically cool. We will have to see if this works or not or if I just drop down dead from heat exhaustion.

What ever happens it won’t be anywhere as near as bad when Matt and I went all country when supporting Country & Western legend George Hamilton the 4th.

We were snapped by our local paper dressed in checked shirts and waistcoats, a right couple of ‘good ol boys’ Man is that picture embarrassing. I’m not sure what was worse, the shirts or the over enthusiastic grins which adorned both our faces as we sandwich this giant of country who we were both way too young or British to have heard of.

I think I would rather go back to the bright green jump suit.

Friday, 14 January 2011

I'm singing in the rain

Most musicians do it has to be said, prefer the luxury of performing in the dry.

We will on occasion, if the situation is right (for that read remuneration) allow our fingers to get somewhat cold for an open air event. Wind, sun even fog will not deter us especially if there is a pay cheque at the end of it. However; at no point will any band worth their salt mix an event with running water.

Now you may accuse me of being somewhat precious at this point, but even I, who was unceremoniously removed permanently from any kind of science lesson at school due to an unfortunate incident with a highly flammable chemical and a lit bunson burner, can tell you, live electrical current and water do not mix, under any circumstance.

Cast your minds back if you will to the onslaught of autumn (fall) last year and in particular to November the 5th, Guy Fawkes Night (in case you are not from the British shores, we celebrate the failed attempt of a would be assassin to blow up the government in the Houses of Parliament – it happened many hundreds of years ago but we still go for any excuse to stand out in the cold and let of fire works).

Now CJ works hard for The Mudheads and has his work cut out as our logistics man and in order to contribute to saying thank you to him for all his efforts we like to lend our services as a band to his daughters school every November the 5th for their annual firework party in order to help raise funds for the following year.

We have done this for quite a few years and although they have always been extremely cold events we have always had a great time and have helped to raise many hundred of much needed pounds for the school.

We had a break last year when a new chair to the Parent Teacher Association was appointed to replace our over worked drummer. The new man promptly decided that he would do something far more contemporary and exciting and booked a former X-Factor contestant for the princely sum of 80 quid (that may not sound a lot but I am not sure that she was even a finalist and bear in mind that The Mudheads were completely free of charge…. And they even charged us for our own hotdogs).

Anyway said plan went horribly wrong when she mimed three songs (badly) and then bogged off with the PA leaving the party in deathly silence. Subsequently The Mudheads and our sound system were immediately re-booked for the following year.

These events have been, without fail, cold affairs and normally the coldest night of the autumn leading into Christmas. This year not so cold, mainly because it was absolutely hammering down with rain.

We were set up in a band stand and CJ had butchered a gazebo to make a back drop in order to afford us some kind of protection from the driving rain that was being pushed by one hell of a gale from behind us.

This did not however stop half of the rain whipping under the tarpaulin and straight up the back of our legs.

Also, as we gingerly plugged our instruments in to the mains supply, we discovered that the roof of the band stand had not been built to withstand the onslaught of such a torrential rain fall.

As the roof began to leak like the ceiling underneath an unattended flowing bath tub CJ began to resemble a hair rock drummer in some badly made 80’s MTV video as his cymbals sent cascades of water back up into the air every time he belted them. Being back lit by the stage lights it looked spectacular but it was not doing his kit any good at all. At least he wasn’t actually physically linked to voltage, Aaron & I both were.

Thankfully our quick witted drummer boy noticed the roof finally giving up the ghost directly above my bass amp and leaving his drums mid song threw his rain coat over the top of my kit, seconds before the deluge dropped from ceiling like Niagara Falls.

As Aaron’s guitar glistened shiny wet he had a distinctly nervous appearance about him as he took the full force of the wind driven rain from his side of the stage.

We performed to a large if not utterly soaking wet audience until the fire works were due to be lit and then we set up damping down as much of our equipment as we could and wringing out the guitars and drum kit. Then back on for a second half.

I have experienced audiences turning on their heels and fleeing at my gigs before but never with quite so much passion.

As soon as the last rocket fizzled into the nights sky parents grabbed their sodden offspring and legged it to the safety of their cars and home.

We were left playing to a veritable waterfall of rain and CJ’s wife and children.

The school treasurer virtually threw a crate of beer at us in form way of a thank you and also hurriedly disappeared into the mist.

I have mentioned on several occasions that our equipment is not cheap. It is the sort of stuff that as budding teenage rock stars we would salivate over when our noses were pressed up against the music stores windows and although we are not materialistic about it we do appreciate that we are indeed fortunate to have this resource and endeavour to look after it.

Having it drenched in sky juice and then loaded through the rain back into a soaking wet trailer does not nothing to instil a firm sense of well being and as CJ finally slammed the trailer doors shut in a scene resembling something out of Morgan Freeman’s ‘Hard Rain’ we began to wonder if we would every be able to use any of it ever again or if we would simple reconstruct the evening s fire work display, indoors, the very next time we endeavoured to play.

Anyway, bottom line, most of kit is either British or American made and built to last and thus survived handsomely, which is more than be said for CJ’s drum skins and my nerves.

But hey, if we didn’t have these experiences what would I write for you??

Next, expect an entry about a gig in a blizzard and being flattened by a tornado.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Pick a song, any song

Responding to the requests of your listening audience is an art form in itself.

As I have written many times before, as a band we do not ‘do requests’. This is something that is fraught with danger and basically we are not a living breathing juke box and have no wish to be so.

We perform songs that we like and that get our systems buzzing when a song eventually clicks in rehearsal and for that I make no apology. I don’t care how popular it is I ain’t going to perform ‘Umbrella’ by Rihanna.

That being said when appreciative audience members proffer a strong opinion you would be wise to listen to what they are saying, especially if they are well lagered up and within two inches of your nose. An example of this was perfectly displayed at our last gig before Christmas.

A forty something had clearly been deeply moved by our inclusion of several punk classics to which he had grooved his socks off and sent the rest of the revellers crashing in all directions. However; he was mortified that at no point in our set were we even going to attempt ‘If the kids are united’ by Sham 69.

Personally I could think of nothing better….a right royal tub thumper that one.

However; and here is the rub, my two younger colleagues, one who is fifteen years younger and the other exactly half my age have never even heard of Sham 69 let along their football terrace anthem. If they have never heard of the song they protest, then neither will the audience.

My protestations that there are loads of people in our audiences that are forty five something’s, mainly because they don’t need either a note from their mothers to be out or a baby sitter any more, that would well of heard the song falls on deaf ears especially when at the very same gig somebody, much younger than said punk rocker, but equally as loud, complained that we didn’t play any ‘Kings of Leon’.

Aaron; he’s well up for it. CJ; well he’s heard of Kings of Leon so that is a start. Trouble is I am completely flat lined on the band…nada, zip…they don’t do a thing for me….sorry about that and all, but we all have our own particular tastes.

And that is the problem and despite what many may think it is not an easy one to over come. Our band covers three generations, each with its own anthems and classics. You also have three strong personalities and endeavouring to get the three to come to one accord on song choices has been a nightmare over the years.

It’s one of the reasons that all of our songs are so short, many with sections surgically removed. It is because one member has violently disagreed with the choice and has only capitulated if a bit of is removed.

You could argue that is no way to run a band and you could well be right. However; I have played in several bands where all the players are roughly the same age and we still couldn’t agree then either.

So we have to proceed on the basis that if we keep chucking enough songs into the mix……then at least one third of the audience at any one point is going to enjoy a third of the set.

However; I still am not going to play ANYTHING that might have appeared on ‘Now that’s what I call music’ in the past 18 months.

Anyway, despite the criticisms, we still love it and that in the final analysis I suppose is what really matters at the end of the day.