Thursday, 2 October 2014

It's not the size that counts

When I first started writing this blog of mine, kit was king. The more speakers the boy had the more respect he could garner from his peers. And man did we have respect.

When one of your number works for a leading musical equipment retailer, then the sky’s the limit. And I mean there is no limit apart from what we are able to stuff into our tired trailer. And in that CJ could cram a quart into a pint jar, well that is a LOT of space available to satisfy our egos.

At one point Guitarist Aaron & I were carting around five 4 x 12” speaker cabs, one 4 x 10” speaker, one 2 x 12” speaker, a bass practice amp and a small 10” guitar practice amp…….just in case. The amps were even heavier and Aaron’s Marshall alone could make a Sumo wrestler blush with shame. If any of that lot decided at some point to topple (and it had happened to us on several occasions), there could be fatalities. I have to confess I didn’t really want to look as flat as Wilily Coyote after he had been introduced to the Acme one tonne weight by Roadrunner.

It was also getting to be a genuine drag carrying all this kit through the most inappropriate walkways and inebriated punters, upstairs and down, to get to the stage and then, when on our last brain cell at the end of the night, fight our way back through the well-oiled crowd to get back to the wagon. Also, it was beginning to take longer and longer to set our stuff up. We were often soaked through with sweat and covered in grime before we had even begun to tune the guitars. Taking it down became a 45 minute chore that we were beginning to resent, especially at 01:00am in the morning.

You have read before of my egocentric longing for a world class road crew. However; bands of our status do not elicit the aid of road crews. In the early days we had helpful mates that would accompany us from gig to gig. But after a decade of solid gigging they had wandered off into the distance, bored of sitting in some lonely corner clutching a pint of something cold that was never intended to be green, listening to the same old music they had heard since about 2008.

Then, on one occasion many years ago I witnessed a band that had no equipment or speakers on stage apart from the drum kit and the guitars themselves. I was really impressed as it was an enormous sound from no discernable source.

I mentioned this to Aaron and he informed me that they would have been using in ear monitoring with the guitars going through a kind of DI box that went straight into the PA and that could give all the effect of plugging into a huge bank of Marshalls or, if is your want, a single Vox AC30.

The in-ear monitoring was right out from the start. At the time it cost in the region of £2,500 per set, we would need three and we are poor lads from the South of Bristol, we couldn’t raise that kind of money.

The DI (Directional Input) boxes were another matter. Not that expensive at all. So I enquired of the lad if these would be a possibility for us as a band. The look that was given, along with the expression ‘NO!’ encouraged me to never and I mean NEVER raise the subject again. Such was the depth of Aaron’s rejection of the subject that I was quickly made to realise that nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, was going to stand between our Axe Man and his ‘stack’.

Years came and went, backs became increasingly in need of Deep Heat and fairly intensive back rubs. The audiences got smaller, the venues became fewer and farther between and the need to cart around the same level of kit as Motorhead was clearly becoming absurd.

Then, one day, that glorious day that I shall never forget, that still brings happiness to my heart and a tear to my eye every time I recount the tale (I’m welling up as we speak), Aaron arrived at our house ahead of our collection by CJ and the trailer with two small boxes under his arm. One about the size of a lap top, the other the size of a paperback novel. My enquiries as to what were in these boxes was met with a ‘you’ll see’.

When we arrived at the venue I was greeted with a sense of dumb shock when we threw open the doors of the trailer. It was half empty.

“Where are all the cabs?” I demanded to know in that incredulous tone that would suggest I was dealing with idiots, and very forgetful and careless idiots at that. “And where’s my bass amp?

“We don’t need em” was the chirpy reply from our erstwhile guitarist.

Now I knew that Aaron had been under the usual enormous amount of pressure that is the obligation of the new father to withstand. I should know, I’m Aaron’s dad, and my grandson is the spitting image (if a considerably shorter and cuter version) of his old man in look and personality. But as I stood there bereft of amplification with a pub full of beer fuelled music lovers already becoming impatient at the lack of rock anthems of ear splitting intensity, I came to the conclusion that my son and heir had well and truly ‘lost it’. The lights were on but Jimi Hendrix was most definitely NOT at home.

“We don’t need em because we have these”, said Aaron as he proffered the two small boxes for my sceptical inspection. “They are DI’s”.

And that was it, the beginning of a new era. Out of two boxes, the bass version being smaller than my lunch box, we produce a glorious noise that is every bit as powerful as from the mountain of speakers that were going to reduce us to stooped and broken old men well before our time.

I have never been so pleased. Okay sure, it doesn’t have quite the same visual resonance of the rock pose affront the mighty stakes of sound, but to be honest, the majority of our audiences would not know the difference if it leapt up and bit them, as they still drunkenly inquire of us if we had included any Kylie Minogue in our set, blissfully oblivious to the expense and effort that goes into putting a first class rock outfit together for their boozy entertainment.

And the best bit. We were back in the car within 30 minutes at the end of the night…..and the only damage to our fragile rock damaged bodies was CJ’s knee, Aaron’s RSD to his wrists and a torn tendon in my left heel (yes it was THAT great a night). But no back ache, no cut knuckles from unrealistically narrow door frames and no trying not to crush some Doris in insanely high heels and a skirt so short as to summon the stares of the dead, let alone any bloke with a pulse, that will just not ‘get out of the flaming way’

That my friends was a great rock & roll lesson in life, for which it took well over 40 years to mature into

Size does not always matter………no matter what your guitarist may tell you.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Trial By Media

Go on, admit it. When you were watching Alan Parker’s “The Commitments” and Jimmy Rabbit’s narrative throughout the film was in the form of an imaginary interview with Terry Wogan recalling the bands rise to stardom (even though the band hadn’t even had its first gig yet), you like me went…..”I can do that”.

I imagine this was the norm that every kid who ever picked up a guitar or a set of drum sticks and joined their first rock & roll band longed and envisaged to one day be ‘famous’.

I can’t lie, it did (secretly, I still do). I too used to have those long and worthy interviews with the likes of Michael Parkinson, Johnathan Ross or Piers Morgan (seriously, I’m that sad) about how I rose to fame and how I intended to use my semi God like musical status for the good of others, and yes I was dabbling with Hollywood and would love to accept the offer of a guest starring role in the next JJ Abrams project and how Joss Whedon had sent me the initial draft of his screen play of my life. Did I mention that Bob Geldolf and Bono have been courting me for advice on third world matters?

I wanted to be famous, known, recognised, popular….adored. My fantasy ego knew no bounds or limits.

That was until they invented trial by media and now I'm not so keen.

Can I say right from the off, so there be no misunderstanding. Those that harm children in any way, especially when it’s to meet their own twisted sexual gratification, should be chemically castrated (if you are feeling charitable) or have their wedding tackle removed with a rusty and blunt bread knife (if you’re not), providing they are males of course, Lord knows what to do if they aren't. There is no excuse for the destruction of innocence and anybody who is found guilty of such crimes deserves everything that the law can throw at them.

What I am talking about in this entry, is trial by media.

I always thought that within the spirit of this great legal system of ours, in the fair Isle of the United Kingdom, a person is presumed innocent until they are actually proven guilty. Seemingly in this new media led society of ours a person ‘accused’ is immediately and publicly pronounced guilty and in turn have to prove their own innocence. Even then the old adage of ‘No smoke without fire’ is normally brought to bear and a person’s once spotless and respected reputation is for ever tarnished or even ruined.

I am of course in this instance referring to Sir Cliff Richard.

I'm not making any judgement of innocence or guilt; thankfully that is not my charge or responsibility to make. This is for minds far more tuned and experienced than mine. I am, like thousands of others though, praying like mad that he is innocence as it will rock a lot of people’s worlds, as love him or loath him you cannot deny the guys has a HUGE devoted fan base.

I also along with Bassbin witnessed the Peter Pan of pop in his prime in 1978 rocking a capacity crowd at the Greenbelt festival to within an inch of its life. His rendition of ‘Rock that doesn't roll’ with special guest Larry Norman is still a fond memory BB and I often recall on our long journeys to visit our erstwhile friend, Quick Sketch (who has two Ivor Novella awards sat on his book case due to a song he wrote that was used by Cliff that went on to be the highest selling single of 1999). The long lasting, ever youthful pop star is extremely good at what he does, there’s no faulting him in that.

I would be gutted if yet another child hood hero of mine is locked up for being a pervert, as I am running out of them (child hood heroes that is, not perverts).

However; no matter how fond everybody is of Sir Cliff, if he is found conclusively to be guilty then he must burn. Them’s the rules and quite rightly so.

What sticks in my throat (man I'm having a rant today) is the fact that we the public knew that his house was being raid by the police before he did. To me that is bang out of order and an infringement on his civil liberties. Or is it just me?

Time and time again somebodies life is ruined by the media and press as a celeb has been ‘outed’ as a kiddie fiddler or whatever, only for it to be discovered that the accusations are false or evidence in error.

Surely this kind of sales driven attitude in the media not only destroys people’s reputations but also waters down the strength, integrity and earnestness of those that have genuinely been hurt and abused and are seeking justice and closure.

I can see the bookies laying the odds as we speak. “20:1 he’s guilty mate, that’s the best odds I can give. Well, it’s better than I can give you for him having the Christmas No 1 this year”.

Perhaps those reading this will have a different view and I welcome helpful comment. I am more than happy to be set straight on such an enormous subject. But it just got my goat!!

Monday, 18 August 2014

Suffering For Our Art

To be fair, it’s been a quiet year music wise. A hand full of gigs, all outside of the borders of central Bristol, culminating in an excellent gig for a North Somerset bikers group in aid of Children’s Hospices South West this month.
Now you could be forgiven for stating that this isn’t exactly living the rock & roll dream. And my response would be “No, it’s not”. However; unlike many of our peers who entered the world of local performing at the same time as us over a decade ago, we are still playing (better than that we are still friends, which really does say something). Most have entered a grudging retirement with little more than a demo, a few gig photos, that promo pic and some fond memories of when they too were ‘in a band’.

To be honest we came very close to knocking it on the head ourselves a short while back. It has become next to impossible to pull the three strands of the band together for rehearsal due to work and family commitments and we found ourselves losing just once too often to the Sky sports ‘Big Screens’ and a plethora of well lagered youfs who still don’t understand why we can’t just ‘wing’ a couple of Kings of Leon numbers or that it is not going to happen when they request that we’ let their mate have a go on the drums’.

The ability to get gigs in the first place is becoming increasingly difficult and the demands on the jobbing musician are growing as publicans demand more music for less cash. It has become common place now for us to be booked into venues with the express purpose of trying to keep the punters in their bars as opposed to wander off to the nightclubs at midnight or beyond of an evening, which means performing to the small wee hours of the morning having arrived even earlier to set up. This is for a lesser remuneration than we would have expected over 10 years ago when we were a three piece acoustic set up with a tiny PA and no nights.

We are all also beginning to show the tell-tale signs of our rock & roll ways (and age) in terms of injuries. It has been commented that The Mudheads audience has long since suffered for our art, but now it is our turn. CJ has well and truly jiggered his knee and may well require an operation. Aaron, the baby of the band, has developed repetitive strain injury in his left hand and has been banned from playing the guitar for a good month and I have pulled so many muscles in my left foot and right shoulder I swear my body is in competition with itself as to who can inflict the most pain on me. Bottom line……I’m knackered.

That being said, faced with life changing decision to turn off the machine and to simply let the patient die we found, just like Mott The Hoople in the Ballad of Mott (good to know your musical references), “We just felt too much inside”. We just couldn’t flip the switch and say goodbye.

However; for the first time in forever we are closing the band down for the rest of the year. Firstly so that we can try and find what Virgin media has done with our drummer, secondly to completely re write the set (we’ve been playing many of our songs a VERY long time) and thirdly to find a way to rehearse. CJ moved house and in that we lost our much cherished practice room, great for CJ and his family, not so good for The Mudheads.  That being said we have thoroughly enjoyed a decade of rent free rehearsal space for which Aaron & I are eternally indebted to CJ (and his long suffering family). Mind you, it might discourage us from being quite so lazy in practicing if we actually had to pay for rehearsal space.

There’s bound to be much hilarity whilst we do this and endeavour to move forwards and I am hoping that it will fuel my imagination, giving life to some more interesting blog entries for you oh faith and utterly patient reader.

So in the words of the Governator……….”I’ll be back”.