Wednesday 29 October 2008
Friday 17th and it was off to see Walter Trout, whose a terrific blues/rock guitar player having been with John Mayall's 'Bluesbreakers’ and John Lee Hooker in his time, before embarking on a solo career.
You know what you’re going to get with a ‘Trout Gig’. A lot - and I mean a LOT, of guitar. If you don't like solo's don't go. His tour t-shirts read on the back "Too many notes…too loud!" Because the whole event is based around his guitar playing you get the distinct impression that the whole set-list is made up on the hoof. We were sitting up to the left of the stage on the balcony so had a great view. However perhaps it’s an age thing, but we were a bit close to the PA so my left ear was whistling after the event, which needed some firm action before the following night. I shall detail this in a moment. Walter is so at home with his instrument he is able to make it "talk". So, for the first time in my life as far as I can recall, a musical instrument has told me to "F%*&" off!"
Betcha can't guess where we went after the show….yup up to Camden and into the pub. Libido boy is on a health kick so he decided he was concerned about his drinking and particularly about the amount of crisps he was eating. He’s never been a smoker so his vice has always been salty snacks. So how was his willpower? "I'll just have a half" he announced when we arrived. Upon seeing the crowd at the bar he changed his order; "better make it a pint as it may take time to get another"………."oh and I think I'd better have a packet of crisps". So much for that iron will.
We found a seat and shortly after a couple of Spanish women and their boyfriends sat down next to us. I could see he was torn. It’s a compulsion.I could see him glancing and knew it was only a matter of time.
It’s not that he wanted to take them home or anything particularly, as they were obviously attached. He just likes talking to woman. Nor, should I add, in any particularly lascivious way. I think it’s similar to his desire for crisps – it’s a habit he’s got into.
Suddenly he snapped and launched into a tirade of slightly halting, but still pretty impressive to my ears…Spanish. They looked marginally taken aback and then they started chatting back. The guys also began taking part, smiling and laughing. There was the odd knitted brow and, by the time they finished their drinks and left, he’d obviously charmed them. I just sat sort of open mouthed. For his job ‘L Boy’ has travelled a lot so he has a smattering of different languages including some Chinese and the odd word in… (this is where as a true Brit I show my ignorance of other countries languages), er the language that they talk in Ethiopia.
Wow! I was impressed and asked him what he had been talking about. "Usual stuff where they came from and what they did” he replied. “They live in London and have been here for a few years. Trouble is they’re from Seville and, as I tend to travel to Barcelona for work, I kept confusing my Spanish with the Catalan…oh and I ruined the whole effect at the end when they left…." "What did you say to them, they did look a bit puzzled?" "Even though they’ve lived here for a while, I wished them a 'Happy Holiday!’”
The next day as the sun was shining, we decided to have a good walk round London which is always fun. So it was off through the park and down to the South Bank of the Thames, then we turned right and headed on past the London Eye with its huge queue. On along the Embankment and past a plaque that I’d never seen before which was a memorial to the victims of CJD and on towards Vauxhall past some impossibly expensive flats.
We wandered in to see how much they cost purely out of idle curiosity and immediately we were pounced on by ravenous sales staff. Anyone would think there was a property downturn. We escaped with our lives…just.
Then it was lunchtime. "I think I would like something light like a salad" said LibidoBoy. We found a café/restaurant. It was Portuguese although he decided that he didn't know enough of the language to attempt a conversation with the people serving. I’m not entirely sure they were Portuguese anyway. We looked at the list up behind the counter scanning for a salad. Then his eyes fell upon a buffet in the corner. Paella. Chicken. Pasta. Various Veg and bits of fish. "I think I'll have the all you can eat buffet", he said. So bang went the salad!
In the evening it was back to the same venue as the previous evening. I’d made preparations. Due to the volume of the previous nights gig, I’d gone and bought us both a pair of earplugs.
So after the largely middle aged male audience for Walter Trout it was a far younger energetic and bigger crowd for Rap artist Roots Manuva.
It was a near sell-out by the looks of it, which meant the top balcony was open. The upshot of this was that it appeared to be raining as beer sloshed from the crowd above as they danced. Being a pompous old git I often opine that it good to experience new forms of music. There are ones that perhaps we glibly write off as "rubbish". Rap is one such example The number of times I’ve heard people trot out wearily, "the c is silent as in rap" ho ho ho! People may not like a musical style but it’s pretty clever what with the samples and the rapid poetry and live it was a lot of fun. It was a home crowd, who were going wild. There is a lot of prejudice surrounding this music.
The audience in my unscientific sample appeared to be fairly evenly split male/female and black/white. So it can be a force for good. Maybe because of the reputation that it has, or perhaps because of the average age of the crowd, before we went in we were frisked fairly comprehensively by security. Searching I assume for weapons. Something that didn't happen the previous night for Walter Trout.
We sat there drenched in beer, smiling beatifically as the kids danced and we listened and tapped our feet to a terrific artist at the top of his game and, thanks to the earplugs, at an acceptable volume.
Stop press: Blubberwatch update: No change. However I have visited a gym just round the corner from the BBC which opens at 06.30 each morning. May sign up, "Think thin for Xmas".
Monday 20 October 2008
Friday evening, I went down to the Mermaid Theatre in London to catch Glen Campbell who was doing a special gig for Radio 2 as part of "Friday Night is Music Night". His voice was a mite shaky at the start, but his guitar playing was spot on and he soon warmed up. Although after the first few songs he said the same thing each time: "Glad to be here but at my age it is good to be anywhere.” This gag outstayed its welcome after a while.
It reminded me of a terrible train journey from Hastings to London a few years back, which suffered terrible delays, and at each stop the conductor/guard preceded each announcement with the sound of the toilet flushing and said: "Sorry to announce that this service has really gone down the pan". By the time we reached Waterloo East we were ready to flush him headfirst.
Once Glen had got onto more familiar ground with a selection of his hits such as “By the time I get to Phoenix”, "Wichita Lineman", and a wonderful version of my favourite Glen Campbell tune although originally written by Alan Toussaint, "Southern Nights", he was really on the money..superb.
I tried to count the number of musicians on the stage but, by the time I had nearly finished counting, some more would arrive or some would leave. I checked with the producer - Al Booth, after the show and she said the BBC Concert orchestra, along with Glen's band, fielded 56 instrumentalists and singers. I didn't ask her if, as producer, she had to buy the drinks after. If so, that was going to be one expensive round. I did buy her a pint which she thoroughly deserved. From my limited experience with orchestras and musicians you need a whip and a chair to keep them all in the same place, let alone playing the same tune. The results you can judge for yourself on BBC Radio 2, Friday 14th November at 7.30pm
Paul Gambaccini did the introductions. Whenever I meet him I always feel like he has my brain in a vice and is squeezing it like a sponge. He just knows so much. He did a faultless, seemingly off-the-cuff introduction, entirely from memory which was packed with facts and trivia about Glen, the BBC Concert Orchestra and he still even remembered to tell the audience to switch their mobiles off. He’s a nice guy as well. I think I’m suffering from ‘IQ envy’.
Saturday up early and on the train to Hastings to take part in ‘Hastings Week’. This is a lot of fun with loads of events and my small contribution was to judge the ‘Classic Car Show’ in the Old Town. As usual a dazzling array of old cars polished to a higher standard than when they were new. Proud owners stood and beamed, presumably worried about sticky fingered members of the public like me. One sadness was that, rather like the toys you had as a kid, the shifting timeline of "My Dad has a car like that", is now turning into "I had a car like that". No wonder my Teddy Bear looks like it belongs in a museum. Hardly any fur and blind. Although for reasons I am not entirely sure - as they are lost in the mists of time….wearing a dress!
The award went to Pauline Preston and her 1930 Chevrolet. She was living the part dressed in period clothes including a dead fox stole. On the back seat was an old U.S Newspaper reporting the ‘Wall Street Crash’, which seemed remarkably prescient.
Then back on the train in time to meet Libido Boy, who was on his way down from the Midlands, for a Saturday night gig at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank of the Thames. This was going to be a tribute to Nico the German singer and songwriter who died twenty years ago. She’d been part of The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s clique of "Superstars" – all of whom were famous for fifteen minutes. However, her fame, lasted a good deal longer. The tribute was curated by fellow ‘Velvet’ member John Cale.
It was an intense, dark and brooding evening. A host of singers and musicians appeared -some I recognised, most I didn't. John Cale tick, Peter Murphy - former lead singer with Bauhaus tick, James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers tick - erm is that a Guillemot? A lot more came and went. LB nudged me in the ribs and said: "I don't recognise any of these songs". He was the big Nico fan. It was strange and thrilling all at the same time. I’ve never been to a concert like it. Everything had a dark motif as befits the music but no-one was introduced.
After the interval when the drinks had kicked in, the same artists came out for ‘round two’. This time the audience started shouting; "Who are you?" when performers took the stage. Suddenly it was over, and they were gone. We both enjoyed it as it was unlike anything we had witnessed before and it’s nice to go and hear things that you’re not familiar with as it broadens the mind.
It was then time to hit the town. We ended up in Camden once again, where the bars stay open late. It’s always exciting with scores of people milling around obviously having a good time and there’s a strong ‘police presence’ so we never feel threatened by the throng. We had a drink in one pub where we noticed that we were the oldest people there and we then saw a rather nice look place that wasn't too crowded. The doorman stopped us and said: "Its £4 to come in". "What do we get for that?" we asked. "We stay open ‘til 3am and we are a gay bar" he offered. Two smallish slightly camp middle aged men looked at each other, (us), and decided against, just as two spectacularly beautiful women waltzed in. "But but…..the er….oh erm its not exclusively er.. blokes is it the notion of er… gay". We slunk off into the night two straw-chewing, unsophisticated, provincial hicks.
Tuesday 14 October 2008
Am I becoming a grumpy old man? When it says "quiet carriage" does it mean just that? Or is it just the name given to the rolling stock so the coach may as well be called "Jennifer". However I like to think I am still liberal enough to be in favour of gun control and unlike the pub bore I am still not likely to respond to any question with the lightning riposte: "Bring back hanging…the birch….spell in the army will do 'em a power of good…scrounging off the dole….coming over here taking all our jobs….would you let your daughter marry one?"
However a few more journeys like that and just give it time…
Came back early afternoon, had a shower and went to meet a friend outside a small club in the West End of London for a low-key gig by a fabulous singer/songwriter called Beth Hart. She is very earthy and has been lumbered with comparisons with Janis Joplin. As she is a former alcoholic who has had substance abuse problems which she freely admits. I hope she doesn't go the same way. Maybe she could have a quiet word with Amy Winehouse while she is about it.
It was a standing-up type gig so me and my even smaller friend didn't see a lot, which sparked a thread on the show about there needing to be some sort of small person legislation at these events to ensure everyone gets a good view. One thought was to drape string across the venue with it lower nearer the stage and higher at the back. So you would take your place in the hall where the string just brushed your head. Bumped into Johnnie Walker who was enjoying the gig and being tall he could see too! Jeff Beck was slated to turn up for an encore of "Whole Lotta Love" but didn't make it. However it was a good show and eventually I got to bed at about 10.30pm just in time for a three hour sleep.
Looking back at what I have written so far it seems there is only one thing for it and that would be for me to be a benign dictator. Perhaps it is just an outbreak of "Small man" syndrome.
Thursday and it was out to Oxfordshire for the week’s main event. Nick Marley listens to the show and for years has been telling me what I really need is a hobby. The hobby being flying. He is a partner in the Yeoman Light Aircraft Company who import a rather fancy microlight aircraft called a 'Dynamic' which is made in Slovakia. I have resisted going until now as frankly I am not sure that I have the mental capacity or the temperament to be a pilot. So I didn't want to waste his time.
However curiosity prevailed and so I accepted.
If you say "Microlight" to laymen like me you think of those fabric things with a handlebar and a person or maybe even two people freezing in helmets and thermal underwear as they bounce around the skies looking uncannily like a pair of gonads from beneath.
Technology has moved on and now they can look and act like "real" aircraft. This one had a radio and GPS, a heater and all sorts of dials and switches. I was introduced to Sean who oozed confidence which is good for me as a rather timid individual. Richard North had just flown in from Cambridge in his and said that pilots often were keen motorcylists as well. Oh rats. I thought I have never been temperamentally suited to motorbikes either! A short time later Mike Gregory, a retired traffic policeman, arrived in his. He was obviously born to fly after a lifetime stuck in traffic for his job.
The landing strip was a field. After all the checks we set off and up we went. It was terrific and a lovely sunny morning as we flew over Silverstone and near Didcot Power station. When we were at 2,000 feet and doing about 100- and- something m.p.h. as I don't understand "knots", Sean said: "I gather you have safety concerns". Which was his polite way of saying "wuss". "Well I do worry about things like the engine stopping". Having spent too much time watching Air Crash investigation on satellite tv. "Lets see what happens" he said and promptly switched it off.
"What do we need to do if the engine stops?" Me: "Pray?...be the ones that nobody remembers in the plane with Buddy Holly or Patsy Cline?"
A: The Big Bopper. Richie Valens and Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins.
"No (patiently. Realising he has a potentially hysterical idiot in the cockpit with him). Look for somewhere to land. If we look around us we can see some good flat fields and a disused airfield over there. There are also a couple of farmers field / landing strips over to our right which are in easy reach. Now whilst we have been looking for potential landing sites four minutes have elapsed since I turned the engine off. In that time was have lost 250 feet of height. That is not the same as plummeting to the ground and leaving a smoking hole now is it?" (These conversations are taken from memory which was trying to cope with a lot of different brain signals at the time so they may not be wholly accurate).
So if we start the engine again up we go." Up we went and then Sean said. "Let’s see what happens when we go so slowly that the plane stalls……..." "Good wheeze" I whimpered. It shuddered a bit and the nose dropped. "Here you have a go". Ulp!
I took the stick and was amazed at how sensitive the aircraft was. I was not going to trouble the rudder pedals on this occasion as it was all I could do to concentrate sufficiently to turn the aircraft and climb and descend without laughing hysterically and clapping my hands with glee. Then it was time to see what the microlight could actually do performance-wise. Sean has well over 20 years flying experience in all types of planes and he flies these for fun because it was "real flying". We turned sharply and it felt that the aircraft was actually in water due to the amount of air flowing over the wings. I felt rather dizzy. "We are pulling one and a half G so squeeze your body as if you are straining at the stool" he advised. "this will help push the blood back to your brain so you don't suffer a grey-out". Luckily I had just been. I hate to think of the state of the Red Arrows Cockpits after a particularly energetic display - and you thought that was smoke coming out of the back of those jets!
We flew around for a few more minutes and then floated gently back to earth. What an amazing experience and a far cry from my previous encounter with light aircraft more than forty years previously. Nice People. Nice plane. Nice time. I will have to think hard about my suitability to join the world of aviation. Maybe I should just have a trial lesson or two….
I teased you on the show before I went telling you I was going to do something for the first time in a long time. You naturally responded with choice remarks such as "Buy a round. Get a haircut. Have a bath" and also "get kissed" which is horribly closer to the truth than you realise!
My first flight as a very small boy was spent sitting in the tail of a light aircraft with my Father and Uncle Ted who was the pilot. I was terrified and my poor old Dad had to hold my leg all the time to make me feel safe. At one point he let go and I asked him to hold it once more. I was very aware of this when I went up in the Dynamic. It is a probably an etiquette thing. Nothing I have read about the cameraderie that exists in the aviation world has ever said it was acceptable or even desirable to reassure nervous passengers by holding them.
Pre flight check:
Doors closed and latched
Park Brake On
Wednesday 8 October 2008
It’s been a busy and extremely fun week. Went out with a few friends and colleagues from work with singer/songwriter Nell Brydon who I’ve featured on the show a couple of times as part of ‘Lester’s library’. Lunch lasted quite a long time, not due to enormous amounts of food and wine but the conversation was just flowing easily. We also discovered a lot of things about each other. One was that everybody had a cracking story to tell. There are few things I like better than to sit and ‘yarn’. We also realised that as a young New Yorker who is due to tour here fairly extensively, Nell didn't have enough vocabulary to deal with potential hecklers. By the time we finished with the poor woman she had an arsenal of profanity that would shock Russell Brand! Nell’s currently in Iraq entertaining the troops with a new band as her old one were too timid to go! So time was spent trying to think of a name for her new group as well as names for the old one. She seemed such a nice young gel before we corrupted her.
After the meal we were having such a good time that we drifted off to a pub in London's Soho where we continued with the talking. Odd place I thought with a ‘unisex’ loo. I followed a woman into a cubicle to discover she had, er left the seat up. “Thanks", she said to me in a gravelly voice, as I let her pass.
Due to ‘hit album’, I’ve been asked by the ‘TOGS’ to provide a picture for the sleeve. So Andy the producer and myself, racked our brains as to what we could do that would be fun and distinctive. We then thought if we recreated a 60's type cover that would be fun, as ‘My Brother’ came from that era. We obviously had to have one of those ‘happy wacky zany madcap jumping in the air’ shots that were so popular at the time. With the aid of my digital camera and an empty office at about 06.15 we had a go. However, we failed miserably. I wasn't able to launch myself into the air sufficiently high enough and, due to hand/eye coordination problems as well as shutter lag, I was either a blur, still on the ground, or my head was missing! So to ‘Plan B’: The other ‘happy wacky zany madcap LP cover photo' - the ‘crazy up a lamppost’ shot.
On Friday night, Libido Boy came to stay once again as he had a hot date on Sunday night, plus he wanted to plunder my record collection. We went off to see Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes who were excellent. They hit the stage running with minimal chat and they played for two and a half hours. They’re a great band not only showcasing some tunes off the new album that Johnny had made of Tom Waits covers but they also played some of their own stuff. As they were in the UK they also played some Beatles song as well.
I have to say they were the shabbiest looking band that I’ve seen for a long time. It looked to me like they’d collectively stripped a charity shop and had been clothes sharing every since. It didn't detract from a terrific gig however.
After they finished we went to Camden to that pub I mentioned in a previous blog where they have a man on his wheels of steel. It was busier than our previous visit and there seemed to be more young women done up to the nines in achingly fashionable retro outfits. I had to keep reminding ‘L’ boy that we were their Dad's. We walked back to the flat and in the morning we set off to Hastings and my record collection. This was a rather protracted exercise as we decided to go by car. Due to an accident we undertook a lengthy detour of the backstreets of Catford until we eventually found ourselves back on the route…..and behind the same car that was in front of us before we set of on our Sat-Nav led excursion.
We spent the afternoon in the spare bedroom playing scores of CD's and then went off to the pub to meet some other friends and watch a covers band. I’ve been accused of being dismissive, with some justification, about pub bands. They are pub bands and it’s free to get in. So if you get a leaden version of ‘Whole Lotta Rosie’ time and again, does it matter? Probably not. However, in a small venue, equipment can't replace ability. As musical gear has become more sophisticated and cheaper over the years, amateur bands feel the need to add lights and larger than necessary PA systems. Guys it is a pub you don't need to mic the drums! We stood on the beach in the howling wind and watched the waves for a while before eventually going to bed at about 2am.
In the morning I took a cup of tea up to ‘L’ Boy to find him in his underwear in the spare room surrounded by yet more CD's. Seemed he’d been there for much of the night. Not spoken to him since, so I don't know how well his date went. I expect badly. He probably fell asleep midway through the meal, having had about eight hours sleep over two days. Still, knowing him he will bounce back!
Wednesday 1 October 2008
Last week sped by in a whirl of cups of coffee with friends and relatives. I went up to Birmingham on Monday after the show to see my Dad. He’s a man obsessed with getting the most out of life, which is terrific. However, it does mean that you have to book an appointment to see him as he may be out walking the hills, researching something in the library or looking through his microscope at "slime mould". Failing that he’s usually making something in the garage.
My sister and brother-in-law were there too and they kindly gave me a lift back to the railway station. We passed the ‘Mailbox’ where I used to be based until the show returned to London in April, and I noticed a small crowd. As they dropped me off, I had a couple of minutes before my train, so sauntered over to have a look.
September - and there was ‘Santa’; his sleigh, fake snow and some "little helpers". No idea what they were there for although for some reason it plunged me into slight sense of gloom as I am not a big fan of Xmas. By the time the 25th of December arrives, everyone is fed up with it because it starts earlier each year. I mentioned this to one of the onlookers and said, "Does this annoy you slightly?" He agreed. I mentioned it on the show the following day and you pointed out it was a publicity push for a Children’s Hospice. Oops!
Later in the week it was time to record a track for "My" hit album. I’ve been viewing this moment with some trepidation, rather like a condemned man the night before trying to enjoy his final meal and hoping there would be a visit from the Warden. I had rashly agreed to do this several months earlier and had hoped it had been forgotten. No such luck. A backing track had been sent to me and the lyrics. As such, I didn't get much sleep after the show as I was up with the lark, rehearsing and hoping the neighbours wouldn't hear. It took several go's until I nailed it, then I wasn't able to do it at all after that.
Lunchtime Wednesday and it was into the studio to er "lay down some tracks". Half an hour later and I was with one bound - free! The whirring sound I heard was undoubtedly poor old Terry Scott spinning in his grave. So stand by for a rousing rendition of "My Brother" on the new Children in Need charity CD that Terry Wogan’s ‘TOGS’ have put together. I gather there are some proper singers on the CD such as Aled Jones and Clare Teal, so your money won't be wasted.
Friday morning after the show I zipped down to Portsmouth and headed off to France for the weekend. This was a wise move in many ways, but not in others. I go there regularly despite the fact that my French is still pretty poor. I have friends over there, and it’s always good to see them. Edith I’ve known for nearly 20 years and she speaks no English and, with my halting schoolboy French, it can be slow going, if not downright baffling at times. If we’re having a meal, she leaves the telly on so that dubbed versions of ‘Murder She Wrote’ and ‘Diagnosis Murder’ can help fill any awkward gaps as I try and digest the last breakneck flurry of ‘foreign’. Meanwhile Edith mulls over what it was that I said, and then tries to figure out what I actually meant.
The downside is the hospitality. Well it would be churlish to refuse. Edith makes food out of anything that moves, some things that don't move quickly enough, and stuff that doesn't move at all. I often find her with a bucket picking large snails off the back of shed doors. As it is Normandy there’s a lot of apple and dairy based foods.
‘Blubberwatch’ regulars can see this as an elaborate excuse in the making. Every Thursday it’s wacky weigh-in day around about 10.30 in the morning as I find that this is the optimum moment when, for some reason, I appear at my lightest. Last week by a certain amount of moving around on the scales, I managed at last to find "the sweet spot" where I was least heavy, and I noted another pound had disappeared from my girth. I’m typing this on a Wednesday and I have a sneaking suspicion that the pound may have returned. The depressing evidence will present itself on 2nd October. However I consider myself ‘work in progress’ and I refuse to be disheartened. I’ll have to redouble my efforts and maybe join a gym to ‘up the amount’ of calories burned and not get complacent with my food and beverage intake after an easy first stone of loss.
I took the ferry back on Sunday afternoon and arrived in Portsmouth at 10.15pm. This gave me plenty of time for a drive up to London, an hour lying on the bed before going in to the BBC to do the show. I usually get a cabin so I can have a snooze during the crossing. However, on this occasion, someone had decided to play a computer game in an adjacent cabin. This meant that for 6 hours all I could hear through the wall was: ‘beep bop…bop beep beep beepety bop beep’. Not a lot of snoozing was done hence I felt a bit weird when I arrived at the studio.
Richard Allinson who’s sitting in for Sarah Kennedy, exacted a terrible revenge when I remarked on his shirt - saying that the show sounded the same as ever despite me having no sleep. And as for the "sweet spot" on the scales, didn't I mean the floor? Curse that man. He’s not overweight either. Don't you come flaunting your thinness at me, slender-boy!!
It will soon be the weekend and, well, swipe me if there isn't another gig to go to. This will doubtless get a mention along with the fish soup which suddenly came to my notice on the 29th of September, as that was its consume- by date. That’s if I am spared. Out of date fish soup can be a killer!