Band international

Having played in many obscure places (Cwm Blwdylostintime and Llchwllynprwnounceable to name but two), we ventured into unknown territory last night with a visit to a little place called England. Many of you will not have heard of this small, obscure location and we had to look it up on a map. But we had the booking and, treating it as a challenge, we set off for the borderlands.

We had to sneak across the border. At the wire there were searchlights in all the watch towers, so we waited for all the lights to go out during a bombing raid and then… oh, no, wait. That’s ‘The Great Escape’. We drove boldly past a sign that said ‘Welcome to England’ (or was it you are welcome to England?) and in no time at all we were in Hereford.

Hereford Welsh club was formed in 1966 after the Welsh valley miners who moved to the area decided they wanted a place to keep their traditions alive. It’s a great club, well maintained and with a good crowd. So many clubs are in decline these days and the buildings are tired and unloved; here was one that clearly had a membership who cared for it.

Tonight we were more of a cabaret band so it was on with the ‘tidy clothes’ to play the three 45 minute sets throughout the evening. As with any new gig, the first impression is key and we put the charm on, turned the volume down and even did a little sound check. We came on, opened with Heroes and immediately received warm applause; from then on we had the audience and the evening went very well.

Our version of ‘Air That I Breathe’ was a little on the fast side, and every time I tried to sing the chorus I started laughing. I had to turn away from the audience and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sing it. My version of ‘Daydream Believer’ differed from the rest of the band by at least one semitone, and in places two or more. I don’t know what happened there. But overall, it was a great evening and we were appreciated by the club.

As usual, the journey home was full of strange lights, philosophical debates and the great dilemma – to stop at MacDonalds or not.

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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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The Insiderz re-graded

Following on from Friday’s poor exam results, the Minister in charge of band performances has re-graded our report in the light of new evidence from last night’s gig.We achieved a ‘B’ last night, with the comment ‘good effort, nice to see the Insiderz back on form’.

If you read the last post then you’ll see that I was looking for signs that we could learn from our mistakes and get back on top of things. I think we did. The main problems were addressed – we kept the volume down to reasonable levels, the songs were tighter and better arranged and the guitar sounds were more defined and less mushy. That meant the overall sound was better, and that meant we played better. I enjoyed the gig. The guy that randomly whirled about, always not quite hitting my mic stand, enjoyed. The couples dancing to the slow numbers enjoyed. The landlord enjoyed (we know because  he gave us a little extra money) and our guest harmonica player enjoyed. We passed the first test, lets see how we get on with the next ones.

It’s not all serious work with the band, though. We have a laugh, too. Last night, as we got to the venue, the entrance to the car park was blocked by two guys carrying a large blue sofa. They were struggling but as I was on a main road, I couldn’t wait, so I had to go around. The one way system meant it took longer than I would have liked and by the time I was heading back to the pub again, the two guys with the sofa had made it to the main shopping street and were making their way slowly past pubs, restaurants and other establishments. At least they had somewhere to rest should the need arise.

As we packed up, with everything broken down and all but the drum kit in the car, one punter was still pleading with us to play ‘just one more, one more, go on, just one more’. I suggested Stuey sing acapella but it wasn’t to be as he didn’t know the words!

The photos from last night’s gig show rare, backstage views. It proves conclusively that Mike the drummer doesn’t sneak off for a pint while we’re playing long, drawn out solos, which is the main reason I placed the camera there.

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The dark side of performance management

The Insiderz played last night and we weren’t very good. A combination of a few little things meant that we were below our usual standard. They were silly, frustrating things that could easily have been sorted but for whatever reason, they weren’t. The report card says ‘must try harder’. In our defence, many of the people we spoke to immediately after we finished said we were great, brilliant etc.

It’s difficult sometimes. You play a venue several times, get to know the type of people who are there, develop a relationship (no sniggering, please) with the boss and then you turn up thinking you know what to expect. A simple thing like a large party of people new to the place might be enough to throw the crowd and a normally appropriate set becomes completely inappropriate. A landlady/lord (landperson?) who’s stressed after a bad day means that things that can usually be sorted out amicably become insurmountable problems.

It’s frustrating for the band. Sometimes there is nothing we can do right. Sometimes, the landperson has booked the wrong type of band for the night and can’t be seen to lose face. Sometimes, the guitars/bass won’t stay in tune (a particular problem in hot, humid venues when the wood of the neck can expand or contract quickly). Sometimes we get the fumbles. Sometimes the sound isn’t right or one of us can’t hear the others properly. All bands suffer from it.

The test, of course, isn’t purely about the night. One or two bad gigs don’t mean the band is rubbish. The test is how the band looks at the problems, learns, improves and carries on. If we play more gigs at which we ignore the problems and we under perform (sorry, HR language creeping in there), then shame on us. If we play more gigs where the landperson gets it wrong, shame on them (but don’t blame the band). If people turn up expecting us to play modern pop (it has happened) then shame on them, as we clearly market ourselves as rock ‘n’ roll (with the emphasis firmly on the ‘n’). The reality is that we will go on, get back to our usual form and this will just be a minor episode for the band autobiography. (Al Pacino is playing me). In fact, we’re playing tonight, twice next week and we have a full diary until the end of the year.

To prove that it’s not just us that makes the errors, I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the concert that became Pink Floyd’s Pulse album. I heard David Gilmour’s bum guitar note in the beginning of ‘Shine On’. Listen to the live album or watch the video and there is no bum note (it mysteriously disappeared during mixing), but you can hear the cheers as we celebrated the fact the Mr Gilmour was human after all! The first couple of bands I was in did some horrendous gigs in the Coach House in Swansea. I listened to the tape again the other day. I cringed so much I nearly turned inside out. But hey, we got crowds in and a following of sorts. I’ve listened to many local bands having bad nights; it wasn’t just us.

So I’m off in a few minutes to make some noise again. This time it’s a pub we’ve played often. Watch this space – well, the one above this one actually – to see what happens. And think about joining us and supporting the Oxjam Festival in Neath later in the year. More details coming, but it’s in aid of Oxfam, so it must be worth a look.

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