Thursday, 6 December 2012

Wyllyott's Theatre Potters Bar, Tuesday Dec 4th

Hard to believe though it is, suddenly we’re on the last date of the tour. The oddest thing about this tour is that…..well, it hasn’t really FELT like a tour in many ways. We’ve only all stayed in a hotel together twice and didn’t even see the band on one of those occasions, and because we’ve travelled not just apart from the band but sometimes apart from other members of the crew, we haven’t managed to have the same level of togetherness that we’ve enjoyed on previous tours. In addition we had the problems not only of having to take some dates out of the original schedule, but also of the band having two shows in their own right within the tour, and all of these factors have combined to make the whole thing fragmented and erratic. On the plus side the overall level of business we’ve done has been good, and we’ve achieved what we set out to do by positioning ourselves ready to tour again in autumn / winter NEXT year, but somehow it doesn’t feel as though we’ve been through it together. Nonsense of course….the reason the show is as good as it is owes everything to the way we all work as a tight, efficient unit….but it still just doesn’t feel right. It’s also been harder work physically, thanks to all the driving, which has meant a lot of late nights, early starts, and long, long days, and to be honest we ALL look a little battered, not just the crew. It’s thus that Pug and I set out for tonight’s final show at the Wyllyott’s Theatre in Potters Bar with very mixed feelings. On the one hand I’m sorry it’s over, on the other I can’t wait to shut the doors of the vans tonight and get back to regular sleep patterns and some semblance of normality. Pug’s all set to carry on for another two or three weeks, but then he is a young alien from a planet where sleep is unknown, and all his bones and muscles still work pretty much as they’re meant to. At least we’re going out on a good ‘un tonight after two nights with disappointing attendances, so there’s a positive vibe about the crew. I’ve also got a personal milestone tonight. After a career in the music industry spanning more than thirty years, my 82 – year old Mum is coming to see what I do for a living for the very first time. I’d managed to convince her I was a goatherd for years but she finally realised something wasn’t adding up when I started going out to work wearing black shorts, a Bootleg Sixties t-shirt and steel-toecapped shoes. The overall lack of general goatyness about me probably didn’t help either, so eventually I had to come clean and reveal my dreadful secret. She was less shocked than I thought she’d be; I remember telling my Dad that I was going to work in the entertainment industry many, many years ago, and he told me not to be so stupid…..entertainment was about enjoying yourself, so how could you have a job where you enjoyed yourself ??! As this came from an ex-miner I shouldn’t have been surprised….his mantra for getting through a life of employment was “ Money sweetens labour “. As I haven’t had the proverbial pot to piss in for some time now, labour thus tastes very, very sour to me, I’m afraid ! Anyway, Mum’s all set to finally see what Number One Son does every day. She’s got her bottle of vodka in her handbag and her earplugs in her pocket, so she’s ready to rock. She’s being brought here tonight by Carol, who I’ve mentioned briefly in previous blogs, specifically the last one of the last tour. We met for the first time on the very last show at Worthing , where she was duty manager, and we are now what I believe is called “ An Item “. She’s fully embraced Bootleggery in all it’s multifarious forms, and because she’s come out of the entertainment world herself she knows that an army marches on it’s stomach, so she kindly makes me bread rolls and a packed lunch for every show. I have to say that her floury baps are the envy of the entire crew…..She’s seen the show a couple of times from the wings, but tonight is the first time she’ll see it as an audient, so there’s a fair amount of anticipation in the air. Steve’s accompanied by the fragrant Jill, Nick’s wife Karen is here too, Den’s daughter is in the crowd and there are loads of pals about, making it all a bit of a Fun Family Finale. This is also a cool little theatre which has sold very well, so we just know we’re in for a good one, and thus it transpires…..the boys are cheered onto the stage as they come on in the dark while the opening video’s being played, and from the first note there’s a real feelgood factor about tonight. This is another gig where it all comes together beautifully, and where we can see how far this could all go. There’s a brilliant atmosphere in the theatre tonight… some of it is probably down to that great intangible, Christmas Spirit, and some of it may be down to Mum’s vodka which she’s liberally sharing with her neighbours, but whatever’s behind it, it’s a great night. A storming Daydream Believer has the Potters Bar Bricklayer’s Choir bellowing along with the band, and then it’s time for our Festive Finale. We’d been wondering about doing a Christmas song for this tour, and had eventually decided to confine it to the last three shows. Problem is, of course, as Den says before they kick off, quality Christmas songs were pretty thin on the ground in the Sixties, so for this brief moment we step forward a decade to one of the best – known and loved Crimbo songs of all time, Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody, which the band have been playing at their own Crimbo gigs for many years. To add to the general seasonal splenditudiness, we’ve got a pair of snow machines which deliver a realistic, if somewhat pungent, blizzard, and the band are decked out in red Santa hats ( though it must be said that Jamie “ Humbug “ Cook looks more ill at ease in his than a Palestinian at a barmitzvah ). There’s a whole crowd of people dancing in the “snow” at the front of the stage, and they really don’t want the band to go. As the final chord is played I suddenly realise that neither do I, but then it’s all over and we’re done for another year. I find a hoarse, ecstatic Carol and a quietly impressed Mum and decide it’ll be a good thing to show Mum round “ Missile Command “ where Tomps and I weave our Booties magic every night. She casts an eye over the vision mixers, the computers, the screens, the pyrotechnic control unit, the smoke machine and all the other electrickery, and says “ Very nice, dear “, her mind no doubt thinking wistfully of goats…..As ever on these occasions our partings from the band are somewhat cursory, but as Arthur, Nick and I are working with them in London on Saturday it doesn’t even seem like we’re really finished. All VERY odd and dislocating….Eventually everyone makes their way home and we’re ready to do the last bump – out. It’s REALLY cold tonight and we’ve got a great deal of fannying around to do with the gear, but the lure of home and a warm bed is strong and we’re done in short order, then it’s hugs and handshakes all round, and we’re off into the night for the last time. It’s been a funny old year one way and another, but we’ve got through it, and the portents for 2013 are good. I don’t normally do this, but I’d like to close this series of blogs with some heartfelt “ thankyou’s” on behalf of Arthur and myself. Firstly, a huge pat on the back has to go to Den, Steve, Phil, Jamie and Chris for consistently delivering the goods, and then, of course, it’s Big Love and “Respeck” to the crew for yet another sterling tour….Nick, Tomps, Pug, Damian, and Chris Stocker, we salute you !!! Thanks are also due to Ian Robson of TechPS for gear, coffee and the use of his loo, and to the two Alans, Field and Robinson for agency and PR respectively. We can’t possibly ignore the love and support of the wives and girlfriends, and that leads us neatly on to the people without whom all of this would be pointless, our fans and followers. We’ve already specifically mentioned Marilyn, Debbie, Dawn, Jim and Irene in these pages, so this is for you wonderful folks, but also for every single person who parted with their hard – earned groats, ducats and doubloons to come and see us. Thankyou, thankyou, and thankyou ! I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas and a Bootlegtastic New Year, and that Santa brings you all your heart desires ! Watch the skies, my friends…..we will return……

Public Halls Harpenden Monday Dec 3rd

Followers of these meanderings will possibly be able to recall our first visit to the Public Halls in Harpenden some three years ago. For anyone who wasn’t part of our happy little band back then, here’s a brief recap-ette. No-one at the venue knew we were coming, we were told we couldn’t use the lighting rig as it belonged to the local am-dram society, the truck was late because Clive, bless him, thought the gig was in Hoddesdon, not Harpenden, the power was so unstable that we spent the entire night expecting to be frazzled to a crisp, and the stage is the size of a weasel’s knickers. To cap it all, the tickets were sold through the Arena at St Albans, and when they sold their allocation of fifty or so, no-one there thought to ask for any more, so when fans went on line to try and buy a ticket they were told “ sold out “. As a result we had one of our lowest – ever attendances, and there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Three years on we’re much more hard-bitten about such shenanigans, and our attitude is a lot more “ Bring it on “, so we rock up ready to face whatever this little corner of Hertfordshire can throw at us. As it happens, much has changed. Whilst the stage is still as small as a lemur’s lingerie, the lights are now totally accessible, there seem to be more lighting bars for us to play with, and best of all, they have a really good house tech who is one of the best guys we meet on the entire tour. The improvements haven’t extended to being able to sell any actual tickets for the show, unfortunately, but then you can’t have it all, can you ? The only other thing we’d forgotten about was that the backstage is also very small, and as there’s no room onstage to store flight cases we have to use one of the dressing rooms and the back corridor. This swiftly takes on the properties of a giant game of Tetris, only with added swearing, but ends up with everything stacked in a neat pile, and we can at least move around. We’ve actually been a bit spoiled on this tour as the theatres have pretty much all had decent size stages and wings, so we’re struggling somewhat today. Nick’s got the toughest job as he has to find space for the second keyboard and the stools for the acoustic section; we suggest tearing a hole in the space – time continuum so he can store them in another dimension, but he says he’s left the tool for doing this in the van, so he’ll just have to cram things in where he can. There’s a fair bit of vitriol flying around when it becomes apparent just how poorly the venue have sold the show, even though our numbers are up on last time, but these are things to be re-examined in the cold light of day and with all the information to hand. Our take on things is that we always put on the best show, no matter how many people are sitting in front of us. It IS hard for the band sometimes…..it can’t be a lot of fun when the lights come up and there are a hundred or so faces scattered about the theatre….but this is how the show will develop, as people who see it pass the word on. If we go at it half – arsed, the audience will know, and they’ll ( rightly ) be insulted, so we have to treat every night like it’s Wembley. Den in particular has become very astute at reading the audiences each night, and he can call out small changes to the band that help keep things moving without compromising the overall impact. As they kick into From Me To You tonight, we get a sharp reminder of just how powerful this band is when you’re seeing them at such close quarters, and if even half of this power is funnelling off the stage and into the hall, then the audience are in for a belter tonight. I’m so close to Phil that I’m impulsively ducking my head every time he swings the guitar neck round, and when the pyrotechnics go off at the start of Pinball Wizard I actually feel the heat of the flashpots. It’s also LOUD…..Steve’s assault on his drumkit is nothing short of GBH and the roar from Phil’s amp manages to divide my brain into multi – coloured splinters, whilst the subterranean rumbling of Den’s bass is threatening to do dastardly things to my bowels….and all this is while I’m wearing double – muff headphones which fully cover my ears ! I think the only time I can actually hear Jamie tonight is during his stellar solo turn on Handbags & Gladrags, whilst Chris may as well be capering about behind an ironing board for all that I can hear of him, but the crowd are clearly loving it, so we’re doing SOMETHING right. This is actually one of the most vociferous crowds of the tour, despite their meagre numbers….they whoop, hoot, holler and cheer the whole way through, and go totally banzai when the Christmas Special is trotted out at the very end. There had been talk of suggesting a second encore number, but tonight isn’t the night; the band aren’t happy about the poor promotion job and so they finish things up as normal. We have a brief discussion afterwards about tonight and how to avoid such situations in the future, but the crew are champing at the bit to get the gear down and out, so we leave things for now…..straight after a gig is never the best time for reasoned discussion anyway….and start playing Chinese Puzzles again to try and get everything back in it’s cases and out the door. It’s bitter cold again tonight and the van ramps are slippery and treacherous, so I do the sensible thing and pretend to have an attack of malaria so I don’t have to go outside. Unfortunately my crewmates are nasty, cynical human beings and don’t believe me for a moment, so I find myself grumpily chucking stuff around in the back of a van. Honestly, they’ve got no compassion for a broken old man, these youngsters. They’ll be sorry when I’m laid up with pneumonia, pleurisy and galloping dog-rot……

Monday, 3 December 2012

Woodville Halls Gravesend Sunday Dec 2nd

Today’s jaunt is to yet another first visit to both town and venue, the Woodville Halls in Gravesend. Phil was actually born there, and so from him we understand that Gravesend is a quaint fishing village on the banks of the silvery Thames, surrounded by rolling, verdant hills where wild flowers proliferate and unicorns graze from the low – hanging branches of chocolate trees. Sadly the truth is a little more prosaic, though we are no strangers to disappointment. Shame about the chocolate trees, though….There’s obviously something about us and Sunday gigs, because once again we arrive at a theatre to find a “ modern “ musical church service in full evangelical swing. I’ve already made my thoughts on the abomination that is “ Christian Rock” perfectly clear in a previous blog, so I’ll limit my approbation this time to the fact that their presence, not communicated to us by the theatre in advance, of course, means that we rock up at one o’clock all ready for our get – in, to be told that we have to wait until two, and the worst of it is that we’re just expected to say, “ Oh, don’t worry….we don’t mind that we’ve dragged our knackered arses out of bed and driven two and a bit hours to get here. You just go on praising the Lord, and we’ll sit outside in the freezing cold “. Anyone out there got the number for a devil – worshipping cult ? I’m about to swell their numbers by one…..Once we DO get inside, the Woodville Halls is a great theatre, and is just the sort of place we should be playing. It WOULD have helped had the theatre management actually got around to telling people we were coming here to play, but hey, you can’t have it all, can you ? Unfortunately we’re set for the lowest attendance of the tour so far tonight, despite this being the very first show to be booked in. We’re not in their brochure, there are hardly any posters to be seen, and the local people we speak to say they only found out about the gig “ by accident “. This is the overarching frustration of this whole project. We work our collective biffins off to get a great show together, put ourselves on the line financially, and then find ourselves at the mercy of the marketing departments of the various theatres. Some of them do a great job, and this is reflected in attendances, but some of them , it’s fair to say, couldn’t find their own arses with both hands and a flashlight. However, in keeping with our eternal touring watchword, it is what it is, and we’ve just got to bite the bullet. Doesn’t exactly help morale very much, though, and there’s just a WEE bit too much enthusiasm to get out of the building and into a local hostelry. Phil’s had an interesting time going round the old place, and has even managed to find some of his forebears in a cemetery, though I DO think he’s gone a bit far when he asks me to put “ The ghost of Phil’s granddad “ down on the guest – list…as it happens, this isn’t the only supernatural incident tonight, but more of that later .We’re more grateful than ever for our Uberfans tonight….Marilyn, Debbie, Jim, Irene and Dawn are all here, and they make most of the noise in the early stages of the show. Everyone else then seems to get it, and once again we have a situation where the audience reaction is out of proportion to their actual numbers. It’s still disheartening for everyone, especially for the band who have to get up there and put on their best performance, because after all, the people who ARE here have paid good money for the privilege. There’s no obvious manifestation of the boys’ disappointment, of course, and once again a load of new people are blown away and ask the same old questions… “ Why aren’t there more people here ? “ and “ Why don’t more folks know about this ? “ Why indeed…..It’s a slick, smooth set tonight, and the few refinements to our Festive Finale that we talked about yesterday are implemented with great success, so there are still plenty of positives to take out of tonight. I keep having to remind myself that this IS a new show as far as the touring circuit and the theatre-going public is concerned, but it’s the contrast with the shows that have done so well that rankles. I suspect this will be a major topic of the “ wash – up “ session we’ll be having after the tour…..The show comes down and we get everything loaded out in short order, when Pug becomes victim to an odd occurrence. He decides to visit the little boy’s room before we set out for home, and goes downstairs to do the necessary. In he goes, business is taken care of, and he’s about to leave when the door, which is held open with a wooden wedge underneath it, suddenly slams shut, As he says afterwards, it’s just as well that this all happened AFTER he’d carried out his ablutions, otherwise the journey back in the car would have been both uncomfortable and somewhat fragrant. Looks like Phil’s granddad turned up after all, then…….

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Civic Theatre Doncaster Friday Nov 30th

State Of The Nation : Rant Number One. There seems to be a great deal of stuff in the media these days about racism, and it’s generally agreed that this is a Bad Thing. Haven’t got a problem with that at all, but there are times when you DO question just what we’re doing in this country. This morning is a case in point. To save us taking more cars up to Doncaster than we need, we’ve agreed that Pug, Tomps and I will meet Damian at Peterborough Services and leave his car there, so he can ride with us. So far so straightforward. When we get to the services, both of the ticket machines are out of order, so I head inside to ask for help. The WH Smith staff point me in the direction of the Services Manager, a chap who, for the sake of convenience, we shall call Vladimir, purely because his actual name was an unpronounceable jumble of consonants. It swiftly becomes apparent that he has a English vocabulary of approximately five words, two of which are “ You bus “ ? After a few minutes of head-scratching and desperate charades I get him to understand that no, I am NOT a bus, I am a car, and I need to park, please. This latter request stumps him so totally that he beckons for me to follow him into a small back office, where he indicates another gentleman of foreign extraction, who, with apologies to Paul Whitehouse and Harry Enfield, we shall call Parking Patewayo. HIS English vocabulary is marginally bigger ( ten words at least ) three of them being “ You give money “. I patiently try to explain that I have intention whatsoever of giving him money until he gives me a ticket. Cue more charades, this time of a slightly more threatening nature, until finally the penny drops, and a smile lights up his face. He scribbles something in what appears to be Sanskrit on a piece of paper and proferrs it to me. As this whole pantomime has already taken the best part of half an hour and we have to get moving, I take it more in hope than expectation, put it on Damian’s car, and off we go. My point, laboured though it may be, is that these two men are in the PUBLIC SERVICE industry, and whilst their employers might be overjoyed that they are prepared to work for fourpence ha’penny an hour and a can of baked beans, surely the main prerequisite of any job where you’re dealing with the British public is that you can speak bloody English ? And sorry, that’s not racism, that’s just common bloody sense. It’s not their fault, of course, it’s the fault of the people who took them on, and it’s just wrong. But if we get back after the show and Damian’s car has been clamped or ticketed, then Vladimir and Parking Patewayo are going to find their underwear full of biting insects. Anyway, rant over. So, on to Doncaster Civic Theatre. We last played here on our “mini tour” three years ago, and it was a somewhat emotional night, as it was Pug’s last gig before he emigrated to Australia, to start a new life, leave the cold British weather and tough touring life behind. I remind him of this as we’re standing freezing our nadgers off, back in the same place, having just loaded in three – quarters of the way through a tour, and his tears are truly pitiful to behold….It’s actually quite sad for another reason, which is that we’ve heard the Civic Theatre will be closing next May, and events will be moving into the spanky new Civic Centre. That means that tonight will be the last time we’ll ever play here, and it’s always a shame when that sort of thing happens. This is a really nice old place, with a great atmosphere, and no matter how smart the new place may be, it’ll never be the same. The “ feel “ of an old theatre is in the stage, the lights, the seats, the d├ęcor, the old handbills, the ghosts, even the dust, and whilst a new theatre will win hands down in terms of technical facilities and creature comforts, or might have the architectural “ wow” factor like the Waterside at Aylesbury, it’ll always feel like a conference venue by comparison to somewhere like the Civic. The layout is very similar to the Plowright at Scunthorpe, another old favourite; it’s quite long and narrow and tends to funnel the crowd noise right back at the stage. As we’ve sold well tonight, we’re expecting a bit of a good ‘un. Even the fact that one of the vans got held up by a crash on the M1 and didn’t arrive until twenty past two hasn’t fazed us; in fact, we’re totally up and ready to go by quarter past three, making it one of the fastest builds we’ve ever done, and there’s a nice, relaxed feel to proceedings. We’re trying out a couple of new things tonight in deference to the impending festive season, and the runthrough goes well. I’m saying no more about these new things, Faithful Blogreader, because some of you may well be coming to one of our last three gigs, and I really don’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that, come the show, everything has exactly the effect we hope for. Maybe the best thing is for you to come to Gravesend, Harpenden or Potters Bar and see for yourselves…..!!! I’m faced with another problem tonight, and it’s one that taxes my prodigious skills (!) to their very breaking point. On our merchandise table, alongside the CDs and programmes, we’ve got some hippy - chick headbands and wristbands which band pal Dawn sourced for us. She also got us some peace - sign necklaces, which, by the same arcane process that sees odd socks disappear into another dimension and the biro you had in your hand just a minute ago vanish from the face of the earth, these seven or eight necklaces have done nothing but sit in their box, yet they have somehow intertwined their chains, laces and clasps into an impenetrable ball of metal and leather. I’m desperate to get this bugger’s muddle untangled and out on sale, and I have to admit it takes me HOURS to do so, but I finally manage it, breaking only one in the process. The enormous sense of achievement I get from this is slightly tempered by the fact that I’ve now missed the entire show and am dimly aware of people shouting at me. Oh well…everyone knows what they’re doing by now….I’m sure they don’t need my input, and after all, the pendants all look SO nice, hanging there. I’m sure I’ll hear all about it later on…..Seriously though, it’s a corking gig….it looks and sounds fantastic, and the boys are really on the ball tonight. The entire set seems to fly over tonight, not just the first half, and that’s always a good indication of when a gig’s belting along. The good people of Doncaster seem to be in the mood to send the Civic Theatre off with a bang as well, so everything combines to give us one of the best nights we’ve had on the tour so far. We’ve got mutual friend and Metal God Andy Sneap from the band Hell in tonight ( bet you can’t guess what kind of music THEY play….) and he’s most impressed with the whole production. He’s got a couple of ideas for us, but somehow I can’t see the boys going for the whole “ biting the head off a live bat “ thing…..doesn’t seem to sit too comfortably with The Monkees or the Beach Boys. By the time we’re all done and the load doors are open, the theatre has somehow been towed away from Yorkshire and dropped off the coast of Antarctica, or so it would seem from the temperature that freezes the air in our lungs as we step outside. Seeing as we’re wearing shorts and t-shirts, this probably isn’t too clever, but then we ARE Spartan warriors, and such mere hindrances as scrotum-shrivelling cold and biting, icy winds are meat and drink to us, I DID hear two small tinkling noises as something fell down my shorts leg and onto the pavement as I lifted a piece of gear into the van, so I make a mental note to do a bit of anatomy-counting when I go to the loo next. Vans packed, all that remains is for us to head south on the good old A1. Once more the headlights only seem to work on “ Full Dazzle “ but I tell the others I’m developing bat-like radar now and don’t actually need to see where I’m going anymore. Not sure why Pug is whimpering in the back seat, though……

Thursday, 29 November 2012

White Rock Theatre Hastings Wednesday Nov 28th

Before I start today’s ramblings, I’d like to draw your attention to our whizzy new-look website, which has been put together by design guru and band pal Ian Haley. It’s all very splendid, so get yerselves on to www.thebootlegsixties.com and have a gander. Cheers Ian…..much appreciated !!! So……Hastings, then. New ground not just for this show, but for most of the touring party as well. On the way down we manage to exhaust the “ Careful, Harold, you’ll have your eye out with that “ jokes fairly quickly, which is probably just as well….I imagine the house tech lads here have heard just about every permutation. One interesting factoid for you, though…..the White Rock Theatre here in Hastings has 1066 seats. See what they did there ? It’s a cool place, too…despite the fact that it can hold a lot of people, it’s one of those wide and quite shallow buildings, so unlike Aylesbury, which seemed to reach back to the very horizon, this is actually pretty intimate, so we should be OK. Hastings itself seems to be built on several steep hills sloping down to the sea, and oddly, there seems to be one everywhere we need to be. There’s a VERY long, steep slope down to the venue itself, which causes a moment of buttock-clenching fear at the bottom when I put my foot on the brakes and nothing happens for a second apart from a deep sighing sound from under the bonnet, and then we’re labouring up the other side of this incline to get to the load-in doors. The load-in has the geometrical distinction of sloping both up and down AND side to side, with the net result that the centre of gravity of all the gear goes all Spanish, and stuff starts wanting to run away down the hill, crush us beneath it’s wheels or plummet off the side of the goods lift that takes you down to stage level. And whilst the good folks at the White Rock are both friendly and very helpful, there’s a little part of me that can’t help railing at the fact that I need to provide theatre managements with risk assessments so detailed that they even have to take into account potential injury caused by blowing our noses or blinking rapidly, yet here we are on a metal lift with a ten-foot drop on one side with not so much as a gossamer thread to stop us plunging to the floor below. The world of Elf ‘n’ Safety is a strange and twisted one, right enough……There’s yet another new experience for us tonight as well, because for the first time ever we’re actually being introduced onstage by a Real Person, and not the “ voice of God “ intro tape. We’ve been running a ticket competition with the good people of Arrow FM, and as such presenter Simon Osborne ( 10.00am until 2.00pm weekdays on 107.8, or listen online at www.arrowfm.co.uk, people. ….check his show out NOW !! ), has kindly agreed to come along and do a whoop – up intro for us ! Simon’s been a friend of the band for a long time now, and is a totally top bloke. His support for tonight’s show has certainly made a big difference to sales, which had been a bit slow until he and Arrow FM got on board, so arise, Sir Simon Of Osborne ! Your Brothers in Rock salute you ! We also need to say a huge Bootleg Sixties thanks to Shirley Knowles and all the other presenters at Arrow FM for their help too….we’ll be back, folks, and next time it’ll be even bigger !!! Simon really sets the tone for the evening, getting the audience onside right from the off, and the band smoothly slip into gear like a smooth, gear-slipping thing. Everything looks and sounds particularly good tonight, too…the colours of the lights seem brighter and stronger, and the sound is rich and sharp. Damian’s even found a mirror ball to use, although the motor rotates it so fast that protracted viewing of the wee white spots of light as they scoot across the roof and walls of the theatre induces a kind of paralysis, swiftly followed by a loosening of the bowels and, eventually, death. Steve also has a bit of a problem with some lighting tonight. Damian normally fires the moving lights at the drumkit during the solos in Wipeout and Pretty Woman, but tonight the front movers have had to be moved slightly to avoid the curtains as they swish in, and the result is that they now fire straight into his fizzog with retina-scorching intensity. Usually it all just uplights the chrome on the drumkit so everything’s spangly and sparkly, but there’s a full-on strobing effect going on here, and Steve falls into a kind of fugue state as his mind is scrambled by the lancing beams, It’s when he starts to dribble that we realise we might be in trouble, but luckily the solo ends, normal lighting is resumed, and Steve, dazed and confused but still keeping the beat, has made it through, and they’re in to Catch Us If You Can as though nothing had ever happened. Tonight is another one of those shows where the first half, in particular, seems to just fly by, but the up side of this is that they sell stem ginger ice cream here at the interval and it’s, quite frankly, good in a way that really should be made illegal. As the show was an 8pm start we do a swift interval turnaround in order to make sure that we finish and are out of the theatre some time before next Friday, and I must confess to a slight concern as the boys ease into the “ Psychedelic Section “ in the second half. This is because I’ve noticed we have a slightly higher than normal quotient of folks in tonight above a certain age, some of whom are sporting walking sticks and other perambulation aids. Surely the twin – axe – and keyboard assault of Light My Fire is going to have them reaching for the panic button ?? And how about Hole In My Shoe, with it’s bonkers tale of giant albatrosses flying through a crack in the clouds ? We may get a visit from Social Services…..but no, they’re lapping it up, and it’s in this same section that possibly the weirdest thing of the whole tour happens. Just as Jamie starts the opening chords to Eleanor Rigby, a chap who really IS old enough to know better leaps to his feet, runs to the front of stage right and proceeds to do some kind of bizarre frug, oblivious to all around him. He’s totally in a world of his own, and it makes you wonder what colour the sky is in that world.. Now, Eleanor Rigby may be many things, but a dancefloor filler isn’t one of them. One can only assume that it either has some intensely personal resonance for him which necessitates this skewed display of enthusiasm, or he’s got, as our Antipodean cousins like to say “ A couple of ‘roos loose in the top meadow “. The fact that he sits back down afterwards and doesn’t get up or dance again for the rest of the show does tend to lean towards the second option, but I don’t wish to be uncharitable, as tonight really is a very good show with a lovely crowd, so let’s just assume he got a little fatigued. Walk Alone ( again, the right choice for the crowd ) brings proceedings to a close, and then it’s into the breakdown. The prospect of the three-hour drive home isn’t really very appealing, but we’ve just got to get on with it. All is going fine until we’re JUST about out of Hastings, and then a snorting great ASDA artic pulls out from a side road, right in front of me. Immediately my Pissedoffometer swings into the red. Not only has this mental midget consigned me to a crawl for the whole run all the way to the M25, THERE WAS NOT A SINGLE CAR BEHIND ME FOR MILES !!! All he had to do was look, wait a bit, let me go, then follow, but no. As I’m driving along staring at the back of his bloody truck I’m aware of my right thumb twitching on the steering wheel, and it takes a while to realise that once again I think I’m playing Call Of Duty and am about to unleash the full might of the weaponry of my Apache attack helicopter on this dork. It’s with a sense of genuine regret that I realise I can’t after all, despatch him to a fiery demise by the side of the A21, so I grit my teeth and drop back. There’s nowhere safe to overtake, and thus for the next half an hour I’m confronted with the back of this white truck and it’s green “ Why Pay More ?” slogan. I’ll tell you why I’ll pay more, Mr ASDA, because your careless, thoughtless prannet of a driver has ensured that I will never again enter one of your supermarkets. Unless it’s to raze it to the ground, of course. From now on it’s top – class all the way for me. Hello Aldi and Lidl….

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Waterside Theatre Aylesbury Monday Nov 26th

Another new one for us today, in more ways than one. We haven’t played Aylesbury before, and the Waterside is a brand new theatre. As we set out for deepest Buckinghamshire a scary thought suddenly strikes us…..Hang on, it’s called the WATERside, and half the bloody country is submerged by floods. It’s a fairly safe bet that somewhere called the Waterside is going to be beside water, wouldn’t you say, Faithful Blogreader ? That being the case, and given the fact that swathes of Milton Keynes have been turned into something from The Undersea World Of Jacques Cousteau, could it be that our show may be in danger of a little moistness ?? It’s with a degree of trepidation that we nose our way into the streets of Aylesbury, but when we finally see the Waterside we realise our fears are groundless. The place is MASSIVE, looking like a great big ocean liner marooned on some suburban road. It’s going to take a bit more than some casual flooding to shut THIS place down, I can tell you. It’s all proper as well, with a big old loading dock and everything, but when we get inside it’s breathtaking. Not only is it huge, but it’s got the most amazing architecture…every fascia on every wall and balcony looks as if it’s made of wooden blocks of differing colours, and it has the odd effect of being both ultra-modern and somehow like the inside of a tropical forest at the same time. It’s also oddly reminiscent of a giant Jenga game, and Tomps idly muses on the potential effect of removing the bottom block…..The place is vast, though, with a stage the size of some of the venues we’ve played, and it’s so high even Felix Baumgartner would think twice about going up to the lighting grid. When the gear is all out onstage we occupy about a hundredth of the room available to us, and stage left is so far away from my spot at stage right that it has it’s own postcode and weather system. Time to face facts and be pragmatic….this venue is way too big for where we are at in our stage of development right now, but they’d wanted the show, and as the place is owned by entertainment Grand Poobah the Ambassador Theatre Group, it won’t do us any harm to lay down a few markers. We’ve also had the word that some other movers and shakers from the industry may be in the crowd tonight to run the rule over the show, and whilst we’d much prefer to have people see us at a more intimate ( and well-populated ! ) venue, we’ve got nothing to fear from anyone or anywhere. The word’s come through that Steve and Phil may be late getting here as Steve’s car has had to go to the doctors for a radiatorectomy, so we push the soundcheck back. Whenever we have a big stage we can get the show set up in record time, so we end up about an hour and half ahead of ourselves, and once again the incipient fatigue, never far away, creeps up again. I’m not the oldest on the crew, but I AM fifty-five, with a skeleton full of arthritis and two knackered knees, and the day when I start sitting on a flight case with my slippers and some Werther’s Original mints, telling the younger lads what to do looms ever closer. At the minute I’m just struggling with the drives, the late nights and the being involved in the physical build and de-rig, and I don’t seem to be able to catch up on my rest…..with the tour bus we don’t have this, even if we’re driving the vans after a show, because we can pretty much go and crash out in our bunks for a while when we need to and recharge our batteries, but there’s no such option this time. I decide the best plan is to have a quick “power nap”, so I tuck myself away on the stage just in front of our control position, and within seconds I’m off. I’m only going to need fifteen minutes or so….which is all I get. I’m vaguely aware of a voice calling “ bar coming in “ through my dream, but then suddenly I’m being attached by a huge black boa constrictor which is trying to wrap me in it’s coils and squeeze the life out of me……with a start I wake up to find the black constrictor is actually the cable running off the end of a lighting bar, and it’s all over me, because the “ bar coming in “ was the one right above where I was lying, and it’s now poised six inches above my head. I mean, what are the chances ? This stage is about half a mile deep and I only take up about….what, two feet when I’m lying on my side, yet the one bloody bar that has to come down does so right on my nut. Sleepy time over, then….We’ve actually done about the same number of people here as we did last night, but in the wide open spaces of the Waterside’s seating they’re, quite frankly, a bit lost. They’re not going to be intimidated, though, and they set out from the very first number to make their presence felt as loudly and enthusiastically as they can. There’s a really interesting mix of ages in tonight, including three young girls of no more than sixteen who go mental down the front during the “ party “ section and the encore, and that’s always really good to see. There’s no doubt that the music of the Sixties is going to live on for ever, because this was Ground Zero for pretty much everything that came since, right up to the present day, but the more younger people we can start attracting to the show the better. Because the stage is so big, it’s as though the band inherently know that they have to magnify their gestures and movements to fill the void, and this gives them an almost visceral impact at times, especially on the big guitar numbers like Pinball Wizard and You Really Got Me. I’ve said before that the guys would make a fantastic, heads-down, foot-on-the-monitors, twirly-drumsticks, leather-strides-and-bullet-belts rock band, and this is never more apparent than when they’re rampaging through Spirit In The Sky at the end of the set. It’s totally uninhibited and yet still fully disciplined, and take it from me, THAT’S a hard one to nail down properly. Best band of their kind in the world, Sir Elton ? No doubt whatsoever. That’s another town and another theatre well and truly in the bag, chaps. The size of the place works to our advantage again on the way out , and soon enough we’re back in the car and heading home. We have begun to feel a little esurient, and in order to satisfy our hunger pangs, decide that we will patronise Ronald McDonald’s fine emporium of burger-related comestibles. We don’t really need the sat nav for this, as I can actually smell it from about nineteen miles away, but Pug and I decide we’ll set it up anyway. The ensuing inability of two able, supposedly intelligent human beings to carry out the simple task of attaching the bloody thing to the windscreen is the stuff of slapstick movies, however, so we eventually give up and go analogue ( also known as roadsigns, folks ). Our cravings will have to wait, though…..due to a combination of floods and ( unannounced, of course ) roadworks, we end up taking a diversion. This involves a narrow track through woods that Hollywood horror film directors would have rejected as being “ unrealistically creepy”, and the three of us in the car make a pact that if she DOES break down for any reason, we’re staying RIGHT here with the doors locked, and no-one’s going to do that mental “ I’ll go and see if I can get help “ thing that some hapless youth always does in a horror movie, and which inevitably ends in dismemberment by something hairy and with enormous teeth. Eventually we reach civilization again, to find that luckily our scare hasn’t taken the edge off our appetites…..though if Carol is reading this, I had a bottle of water and a very small portion of fruit, honest……

West Cliff Theatre Clacton,Sunday Nov 25th

The big danger today, as we’ve found before on the day after a REALLY stonking gig, is that it can sometimes be a case of “after the Lord Mayor’s show “. The adrenaline rush and euphoria of the night before have evaporated, and you’re maybe faced with the prospect of a long drive, or simply a theatre you know is hard to work in. For the band, they might be going from having hundreds of baying fans going bananas to a handful of folks who’ve never seen them before, and THAT’S hard to deal with too.Getting your spirits and enthusiasm back up under those circumstances isn’t always easy, and there’s a definite element of this today. We’re travelling around 140 miles to the show today, and to be honest we’re all getting so tired that it’s the drive back afterwards that’s bothering us more. Still, at least the sun’s shining, which makes a VERY pleasant change after the last few days, and as we’re going to be at the seaside we just know that there’ll be fish and chips on the menu tonight. There’s nothing like a good old infusion of lard to brighten up your evening ! We’ve never been to Clacton before, so we really don’t know what to expect. Sometimes these out – of – season seaside resorts can be as dead as a priest’s sex life, as we found in Hunstanton what feels like a hundred years ago, but other times they can be brilliant, like the Bridlington show when half the crowd turned up in Sixties gear and we had a total ball. Sales for tonight had been slow but they’ve picked up this week, so we’re cautiously optimistic. This is what I call the “ grunt work “ of touring…..you’re going into a new area, you don’t really know how the show’s going to do, and you’ve no idea what sort of response you’re going to get, but you have to do these gigs and put the hard yards in if you’re going to develop and grow to the point where you can pick and choose where you’d like to play in the future. As it happens the drive down is OK, and pretty uneventful apart from our shock at seeing whole vistas of water where big chunks of the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk countryside used to be. We had a bijou diversionette ourselves this morning caused by a flood, but nothing to write home about, and we actually pull up outside the gig fifteen minutes early. Nick’s already there, of course ( we’re convinced he drives everywhere the night before and sleeps in the van ) and it has to be said that first impressions of the venue aren’t too good……it’s a typical little old seaside theatre, with it’s best days probably left behind back when music hall was at it’s height. When we get inside, this quaintness is even more marked, and the curving roof makes it look a little like playing inside an upturning rowing boat. It’s also as cold as Jack Frost’s deep freeze, but the crew ( all six of them !!! ) are really helpful and welcoming, and soon it all starts to take shape again. I was expecting today to be a real slog, with everything taking ages, but we actually get set up in pretty short order which, of course, means more time for hunting out the best fish and chips !!! There’s only one “moving bar” in the theatre, so the projectors have to hang on this, and it turns out that the bar comes up and down on a hand - winch system, which is incredibly slow. As the bar is being brought in, the stagehand on the winch does the proper health and safety thing and calls out “ Heads up onstage…bar coming in “, and we all look up, but see nothing. Eventually we spot the bar inching it’s way earthwards, and being the mickey-taking old Hectors that we are, we immediately drop into “ Chariots Of Fire” slo – mo mode, and pretend to be trying to escape the gradually descending bar. I’m sure the house crew have seen and heard it all before, but they have the good grace to laugh at our antics, and it kind of sets the tone for the atmosphere of the day. They’re lovely folks here…all but one of them volunteers…and nothing’s too much trouble for them. They even make us tea and coffee !! That’s TWO shows on this tour now !!! We’re still not sure what the show itself will bring, though, and despite the fact that the theatre looks small from the outside, it’s actually a fair old size when you get in there, so a small crowd is going to be a bit lost. Here’s hoping……Nick gets the nod to be the forager for the night, and heads out into the dark to hunt for fish and chips. A lot of the band have gone for this option as well, so we’re getting in more than we normally order, and the local fishy-shop dude tells Nick that our order has just about tripled his turnover for the day, as it’s so quiet in town. This doesn’t really bode well for selling more tickets on the door tonight….I’ve got another problem as showtime approaches. As the doors open and we take our positions to prepare for the gig, the combination of a full tum and the fatigue of the past few days really starts to get a grip, and it’s all I can do to stay awake. I have probably the least stressful of the technical jobs on the show, but it does require a lot of concentration, and the computer screen and set list are starting to swim before my eyes. What I really need is be to hooked up to an intravenous Red Bull supply, but as we don’t have one I have to make do with several grammes of cocaine, a dozen amphetamine sulphate pills, two bottles of Jack Daniels, a box of Benzedrine and a fistful of Ecstasy tablets. Seems to do the job, and I perk up a wee bit. The first pleasant surprise of the night is that there are actually more bodies in than we’d anticipated, and not only that, they’re enthusiastic, responsive and knowledgeable; the first time we ask them to join in is only the third number, Hippy Hippy Shake, but they’re right in there with us, and they don’t let go all night. After a slightly slow start the band pick up on the vibe from the crowd, and you can see by their faces that this is turning out to be a really good gig. The audience are going for it on the “ party “ section to such an extent that we’re sure Den will call a rocker as the encore, but they bellow along to Daydream Believer so lustily that he makes exactly the right choice with Walk Alone. This is the justification of what I was saying at the beginning about “ grunt work “…..we’ve come along and rocked the socks off these good people, and now another door in another corner of Britain is open to us next time we go out on tour. The fact that the folks in the theatre itself have made it such a pleasant stay for us is an added bonus, and it’s all turned out to be a bit of a corker one way and another. Just the drive home to negotiate now, so everyone scatters to the four winds. Pug, Tomps and I climb into my car, and I mentally cross my fingers. I’m sure that when VW designed the Passat they didn’t envisage it having the arse hoofed out of it up and down the UK’s roads by a bunch of hairy road pigs, especially with a boot full of bags, food, gear, domestic fowls, tools, empty CD cases and several flagons of cider, but my game old bird has done just that for 230,000 miles now, However, just like her owner, she’s starting to show every one of those miles, and has recently needed regular top-ups of water as well as making the occasional noise that sounds like one of the Transformers having vigorous sex with a lathe. For some reason the nearside headlight also has a habit of switching itself off for no apparent reason, and as the other light’s not that great to start with, it makes driving in the dark quite interesting. I’m used to it, but I don’t think Pug’s that comfortable because I can see that one arm is braced against the door, the other has got my leg in a vice – like death grip, he’s smoking six cigarettes at once and he’s got both eyes closed. SUCH a girl……….