From the Vault

Great gig last night at the Vault. See yesterday’s post for details of what it was all about. Thanks to everyone who gave us support, both on the night and through publicity, donations and, of course, the venue itself.

Here are some photos from the night.

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Free Gig

Last year I wrote about Neil Grant, a mate with whom I was fortunate to share the stage on many occasions and who sadly passed away far too early. This is the post. 

Tomorrow night, we’re playing a memorial gig for him at The Vault, Wind Street, Swansea. You are all welcome – even those of you from foreign parts. It will be a great night as all of his former band mates are turning up and in addition to the three bands playing, I’m sure there’ll be jams and guest appearances. It’ll be a sad night too, as Neil won’t be adding his unique sound (and unique lyrics) to the set.

At the request of Neil’s widow, we will be collecting for The Stroke Association.

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That and this

Rufus allowed me a lie-in on Saturday morning. Of course, he checked on me several times between 5.30 and 6.30, just to make sure everything was okay but he didn’t insist I got up until just before 7am. After all, there was sunshine to take advantage of and he had to make sure the garden was still there.

After we’d patrolled the grounds and breakfasted, we set off for Broadpool. It was a bit windy for the dragonflies and damselflies I was hoping to take photos of but it’a a nice spot and there’s plenty for Rufus to explore too. Conscious of the last time we visited here, when Rufus managed to find and roll in something too horrible for words, I kept him away from the second pond and we contented ourselves with a stroll around Broadpool itself. In the distance, two riders took their horses across the road and up towards the ridge of Cefn Bryn.

After our circumnavigation of the pool, we crossed over to the other side of the road and I threw sticks for Rufus to chase. He tends to keep them for himself and the only way to retrieve them is to find another one because, as we all know, the best stick is the one just about to be thrown. So we progressed along, stick by stick. I managed to satisfy Rufus’ exacting standards as measured by the lack of barking. Only once was I reminded that stick throwing must be carried out quickly and efficiently.

On the way home, we stopped at the wood on Fairwood common for another little stroll. This one was amongst long grass and ferns and Rufus managed to get the equivalent of a shower just by walking through them. There were hundreds of blackberries and I regretted not bringing a container to put them in.

With Rufus safely home for a rest, I got ready to play in the band in the evening. This was a christening booked by people who had seen us play in a pub. From previous experience, not the best recipe as how we play in a pub is rarely appropriate for parties unless the audience is a pub crowd. We can turn our hand to most things, but we don’t really want to as it’s not what we do best or what we enjoy the most. Nevertheless, the night went well and it was a welcome earlyish finish.

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A difficult gig

We played in a holiday village pub on the coast as a four piece last night.  Great venue, lost of people there. But it was a difficut one for all of us because a great friend and long time member of the band, Neil, wasn’t with us.

Neil passed away on Wednesday.

When I played regularly in The Insiders, Neil and I would almost always travel to gigs together. His car swallowed all our gear with room to spare but if he wanted more than the odd pint at the gig, I’d take my car and the squeeze to get all the kit in was more of a challenge. We’d have lively conversations about new songs to play or the latest guitar he’d bought or his experiences while he was in the RAF.

At the gig, we’d alternate between playing bass and guitar for a half. Neil was an excellent guitarist and he had a really clean sound on his Telecaster which would cut through the combined noise of Stuey and me. He’d played in bands for a large part of his life and this experience showed in his attitude and playing skill.  He showed me a much quicker and more accurate way of tuning the guitar and he set up a couple of my guitars for me – a job that not only needs skill but patience too.

Neil and I would usually stand to the right of the drums and he would stand to my right. In small venues, we’d share a microphone. If I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to be playing, I’d look over and get a good idea from Neil. We’d both moan at Stuey to turn down, with little prospect of any results. Instead, we’d share a joke and have a laugh, sing the (somewhat risque) wrong lyrics to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and try and out do each other on guitar riffs to ‘Summertime Blues’.

I have many happy memories of Neil, which is how we should remember our friends and loved ones. Some are hard to share because they depend on the moment, others raise a smile when I tell them. I can picture the moment we started playing in a social club and I turned to my right to see Neil facing away from the audience. He’d spotted an old age pensioner dressed in an outrageously tight pink plastic dress dancing with an short old bloke in a terrible wig. Neil was laughing so much he couldn’t really play properly and had to look away. In the end, we all had to avert our gaze and we chuckled for most of the night. Another time, he turned up for a gig in front of the Mayor of Swansea slightly worse for drink after having spent the day watching Wales beat England at rugby. He grinned all night, but he was still the best musician on stage. When I think of Neil now, I think of that grin and that he was always smiling on stage.

Before the first half of last night’s gig, we didn’t really say much. I certainly felt subdued and I think Stuey and the others did too. We played the songs and when it came to ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, I deliberately looked over to my right where Neil should have been. There was a big gap that we couldn’t fill but I sang his words and they made me smile again.

During the break, Stuey and I talked about playing a song for Neil. In the second half, Stuey introduced ‘Hey Jude’ as a song for a friend who couldn’t be with us. It’s a great song but this added something to it and the lump in my throat came very soon after we started playing. The tears came during the chorus part at the end (as they are again now, as I type this). It was a good version, worthy of his memory and, as Neil would have pointed out, we played it loud enough for him to hear wherever he is now.

We went down well at the pub. We had a guest singer who did a great version of ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’. Surpassing the usual situation where Stuey tells me that we’re playing a song I’ve never played before, last night we played a song and I still don’t know what it was. I couldn’t hear Stuey from my place on the other side of the drums and before I knew it, I was busking along to the song, trying to make out what chords Stuey was playing whilst being blinded by the flashing stage lights. It wouldn’t be the same without the adventures and challenges Stuey sets.

When I started loading the car up at the end of the night, I found that some joker (not the original word I used) had prised the mirror out of the housing on the driver’s side of my car. It went back but I haven’t been able to check it properly yet.

It was a lonely drive home

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Gurgle

This time, the phone call came on a Friday. I was in the gym, working up a sweat (it was hot in there) but I managed to answer the phone. It was Stuey.

“Mumble mumble mumble gig mumble mumble Sunday.”

Maroon5 were blasting away in the background. They were moving like Jagger. I was moving like Jagger’s granddad on some machinery of torture.

“What?”

“Mumble mumble move like Jagger.”

“Stuey, are you okay?”

“Can you play on Sunday?”

“Yes. Where, when, what… Stuey, are you there?”

He rang again on Saturday. I missed the call but managed to get a message to say it wasn’t that Sunday but the following one – yesterday. I had another call to say it was at the Gelli Aur club in Grovesend. I dug out the kit and got myself ready. I didn’t bother to try and find out what songs we’d be playing. There’s no point. It won’t be the same list on the night.

Another phone call told me we would be a three piece. The same line up as The Insiders (note the s, not z) first gig at the Fleur de Lys club in 1997. The classic line up. I was looking forward to it.

On the day, I headed out for the club only to find it had changed it’s name. In the confusion, I sailed past and it took a little while to find a place to turn around. By the time I got there, the others had set up. I quickly got the gear in and started to tune up. I looked around.

“Stuey, what time are we starting?”

His reply of “Heroes in E, one… two… three… four…” was not the one I was hoping for. Luckily, I know Heroes well and was able to start on cue. Luckily the bass was in tune. Luckily, the amp and speakers were working properly. I noted a microphone in front of me, too. I hadn’t sung with the band for several years. Some would say I had never sung with the band and only made odd, vaguely musical sounds.

After the first couple of songs, it felt natural, as if we’d always been playing together. Chris is a loud drummer, but he has a great sound from the kit and his harmonies are spot on. It was reassuring to have that familiar sound behind me. For the songs I hadn’t played before, I could see Stuey’s fingers on the fretboard and I could figure out what he was playing. We had dancers up from pretty much the start and that always helps. I found I was enjoying myself.

The second half was better, apart from when Stuey went in to ‘I Predict a Riot’. I know and like the song but I haven’t played it for five years or more. I fumbled through the crib book of chords but couldn’t find it. By the time I’d located the page, we had segued into another song (I think it may have been ‘Hound Dog’). I may have played three notes of ‘Riot’. One of them may have been the right one.

It was an early finish (school in the morning) and we spent some time talking about future plans. As we always do post gig. “It’s gonna be great,” etc etc. Then we packed up again and after a 38 point turn in the car park to get my car facing the right direction, it was off home to a cup of tea and bed. Ahh, the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle!

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Tonight’s Gig

I shouldn’t be writing this now. I should be concentrating on playing bass. But quite frankly, the guys are getting on with it and I can play the riff with one hand on open strings, so I’ve got the iPhone out and I’m blogging with the other hand. It’s slow but I can do it and it will give a unique ‘live’ feel to the blog. I’m in the corner with Mike drumming to my right. In front, Stuey is on guitar and vocals. No one can see me properly.

I may be interupted now and again if the key changes or we do a different bit in the song. I’ll let you know when.

There. Just did an improvised middle eight, walking the bass up to the octave. Cool, even if I say so myself.

So we turned up at the pub and the other band sharing the bill were starting their second set, late. The pub was pretty much empty. The weather, which turned nasty this evening… oh, wait, a tricky… stretch my fingers to get this run… there… where was I? The weather probably put a lot of people off. By the time we were ready to go on, the pub was actually empty.

Oh wait, end of song. Better look up at the rapturous applause. Yeah, thanks. Cool. I have to listen to what Stuart is saying to try and guess which song we’re playing next. I know I have a set list, but that only hints at what we might be doing… what? What did he say? In what key? ‘J’? My bass doesn’t go up to J. Excuse me, reader, I have to fake a song in the key of J. Only Stuey…

… well, that worked, just.

We could have cancelled the gig. I remember one fabulous weekend a few years ago when Stuey and I, as a duo, were booked to play a three gigs over the weekend. We were going through a busy period and this was the norm. We turned up at the first gig on the Friday night, in a pub in a holiday resort, to find used nappies under the table a drug deal going on in the corner and no one else in the pub. Wait…

… That was close. They decided to end that song early and if I hadn’t been paying attention, I’d be playing a solo now.

Anyway, the landlady told us that we wouldn’t be starting to play until about 10.30 as that was when all the resort staff would finish for the night, and they would be the audience. We decided the money wasn’t worth it and we didn’t like the dodgy surroundings, so we walked out. The following night we were due to play in a pub in Carmarthen. When we got there, there was a disco in full flow and the manager said we’d have to use the disco PA and none of our gear. There was no room to set up and no sign of the disco stopping, and it would have been rubbish to use that gear, which wasn’t up to it. So we walked out. We ended up in Llansteffan, eating chips on the sea front. The rock star lifestyle…

… here’s one I haven’t played before. Turn the volume down, smile, move my fingers around a bit. Nod my head in time with the bass drum…

On the Sunday, the gig was cancelled before we left the house. It was a welcome break in a period when we were playing a lot of gigs.We were dobled booked a few times when the Agent, who got a percentage of our take, failed to do his job properly. The rule for a doble booking was the first band to set up played, so we would race to a gig if we got a hint that there might be a problem.. tricky bit coming up… bom bom bommm… there… but double bookings were always frustrating.

Oh no. I missed what Stuey said. I don’t know what we’re playing. Again. I’ll jut see if I can work out what Stuey is playing. Nope. Oh dear. It sounds like ‘Teenage Kicks’. I’ll play that one. No one will notice. ‘Teenage kicks right through the night, alright. Da da da da dadadadaaaa!’ Yeah, Thanks,  awesome.

That’s the first set over with. It went quite well.

(This post was brought to you by the imagination of Franticsmurf. His conscience would like it to be known that tonight’s gig was cancelled due to lack of interest. Town was empty.)

No photos – below this are adverts that I don’t personally recommend.

That difficult third post

Bands always quote ‘the difficult third album’. The first album is the breakthrough product; it is a distillate of the songs the band has been writing and honing since it started. (I’m talking about proper bands here, not manufactured acts). They’ve had the filter of time and usually a number of live performances to weed out the weak stuff. The first album is quirky, it’s new and it defines the band. You buy/download/blag the album, listen to the tracks and decide whether you like it.

The second album tends to be the leftovers. The first album was a hit so the label wants more product, quickly, to ride the crest of the publicity wave. Maybe the band did Glastonbury or one of the other festivals. The second album can appear a bit weak or, if material has been written specially for it, disjointed.

If the band lasts until the third album, most people agree that it’s the hardest one to do. And that’s not a bad thing. Putting effort into the songs can create tension and tension can lead to some fantastic creativity. It can also destroy the band.

I’ve played in bands since the late 80’s. We started off thinking we were going to ‘make it’ and I’m not ashamed of that. After all, why start off thinking anything else? We had our own unique sound. For months it was a dissonant cacophony but it slowly came together until one venue owner described it as ‘post punk’. That was a little disappointing as we were all heavily influenced (so we thought) by 70’s rock. It was edgy (their word), complex (our word), loud (several venue owners comments) and progressive (we told the press). We played any gigs we could and some we shouldn’t have. We did back garden parties, charity gigs, last minute replacement gigs (we were the fourth emergency service for one Swansea venue), festivals and ‘battle of the bands’ competitions.   We even released an album and, more surprisingly, sold some copies.

Fame, fortune and stardom  wasn’t to be, though. We had personnel issues (we found it hard to keep bass players for some reason), some people were less enthusiastic than others and eventually, the band faded away.  It briefly resurfaced, in different forms, over a few years but it was never as popular and we were never as enthusiastic. Eventually, after the band was dead and buried, I started playing in a duo which quickly expanded to a trio and manifested itself in various guises (including a short lived 6 piece with female lead singer) over the years.

I enjoyed the 12 years or so I was with them. The only instrument I didn’t play was the drums. We had some fantastic laughs. I remember the whole band being in hysterics just before going on stage in one club for no real reason. We had wound ourselves up and someone suggested, for shock value, going on stage naked. We didn’t but the first three numbers were played with tears in our eyes and very shaky vocals.

We played a club in the Welsh valleys where the entertainment secretary complained that the previous weeks act, ‘Abbamania’ only played Abba songs. He was genuinely surprised at this. We played a holiday camp and went on immediately after the furry mascot (played by a very hung-over student) and our screaming audience consisted of 50 or so 5 year olds.

We endured the inevitable bingo, support acts that were better or worse than us, dodgy venues that we really didn’t want to be in and some fantastic venues that we wanted to be in more often. We played a last minute gig in a pub to a largely silent and well dressed crowd.

Suits and ties were the norm but there was no reaction from them after the songs despite lots of alcohol flowing. To end the first half, we tried to re-energise them by playing a full-on, heads down rocking version of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’.  Still no reaction. Which was understandable when the landlord told us we were playing at a wake.

I stopped when my mum was ill and I had to spend time looking after her. It was the right time to take a break because the late nights were taking their toll. I found I didn’t miss it as I expected I would. Other things took over and while I miss the camaraderie and the adventures, I don’t miss playing the same songs every night three or four times a week. I still play occasionally – special guest appearances (which sounds great but the reality – fumbling to remember a chord sequence I haven’t played for several years while trying to look cool – isn’t so good).

We never got as far as the difficult third album. I beat you, bands. I got the third post!

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