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August 29, 2008

Concert Review: Jay Brannan @ Bush Hall

...or more accurately, Jay Brannan & Bitch, Bush Hall, Shepherds Bush, London.

I'm not entirely sure how I should start this review. While it would be 100% fair to simply go ahead and talk about merits of the show itself, I think a little background information is probably in order.

Who is Jay Brannan? Well, for starters, his website is here. Gee, that's sad... are people really defined by their websites these days? Anyway, there's a (hopefully!) tongue-in-cheek bio on there that's worth a read as it gives a flavour of Jay's onstage banter. There are also links to the many YouTube videos that he's posted and his MySpace page.

Okay, I'm going to cut right to the chase.

In 2001 John Cameron Mitchell directed the screen version of the rock opera "Hedwig & The Angry Inch". "Hedwig" is an unflinching look at the colourful life of a boy from Communist East Berlin who undergoes a sex-change operation in an attempt to escape to the West as the wife of a gummi-bear toting US soldier. The operation is botched and rather than having brand new girlie-bits, he/she is left with an 'angry inch'.

"Six inches forward
Five inches back
I've got an angry inch"

You get the picture?

Sticking with her transexual persona, Hedwig proceeds to take (Mid-Western) America by storm (in a teacup) by putting together a rock band. Along the way she meets a new boy, to whom she teaches her songs. The boy turns around, steals her material and skyrockets to stardom. Hedwig follows him around, trying to show him up as a fraud...

It's a pretty standard movie premise, really...

So, JCM directed "Hedwig" then got the idea to make a movie which was about... erm... the human spirit and the role of intimacy in a variety of disfunctional relationships... I guess. It's a credit to JCM that the movie features a significant amount of graphic real sex (and I mean graphic), but it's never gratuitous. It's actually a credit to the Board of Censors that the movie recieved a rating and was given a cinema release. It's a great semi-comedic art-house film. In many ways the movie's strength is that it never takes itself too seriously. The relationships are not touched up with a Hollywood airbrush. They're often clumsy and awkward.

And to the point. New York based singer-songwriter Jay Brannan was featured in the movie (I won't go into detailed character analysis here) as was one of his songs, "Soda Shop". To quote him from last night, "Shortbus is one of the few things I've done that I'm truly proud of" (or something like that).

We loved the movie and we loved the song, and indeed the whole soundtrack. "Soda Shop" is a relatively simple acoustic groove which actually sounds much more complex than it is... a sign of good composition? As soon as I heard it I felt compelled to learn how to play it, which says something!

I have to say we were apprehensive about going to see the show. We were concerned that Jay might be a one-trick pony with "Soda Shop" being his Opus Magnus. He isn't. It isn't. His other songs were varied, melodic and really provided the perfect backdrop for his soft-yet-strong vocals. The set list wasn't exactly brimming with happy songs, but hey, who needs 'happy' when sad sounds that good. His lyrics may be melancholic but at the same time they're clever and ironic (Alanis? Can you hear me Alanis?!) They're very 'New York'.

The inter-song banter (occasionally intra-song) was also spot on with lots of audience participation. You definitely got the feeling that Jay was just a guy who climbed onstage, did his stuff and was surprised that people wanted to hear more. At times he was sharp, at times seemed slightly bewildered by how into the music the crowd was. Overall, his nascent showmanship shone through.

Do you like that? 'Nascent showmanship'. I just made that up!

Is Jay Brannan's star rising? Is he ready for it? Who can say. He has four TV spots in the UK and a self-funded debut album, "Goddamned" that entered the iTunes download chart at number 25. It's also available in physical form via his website. He even has a single out, complete with a video, entitled "Housewife". The song starts off seeming to be a whimsical love song but turns in on itself and ends up being a tale of love not-yet-found.

Hey, how about a picture? Here you go... this is one I took with my stunningly awful cameraphone...

Jay's much less blurry in person. Look, here's the album cover:

By the end of Jay's set we were ready to go home. Bush Hall wasn't a comfortable venue (no A/C!) and we were dripping with sweat. I was also concerned that I might have screwed my back up again as conditions were similar to those at the Robert Randolph show. Given the jam/audition/whatever on Sunday I didn't want to risk hanging around. In hindsight I wish we had. I would have bought a t-shirt, a CD and maybe had Jay sign my boobs!

Hey, Jay, if still you're in town tonight, drop me an email and I'll come buy some merch from you! If you're not, enjoy your show in Bristol tomorrow night. Thekla's an interestingly boaty venue. Don't expect A/C!

Oh, finally, Jay was supported by Bitch, another of the Shortbus cast. Bitch's one-woman multi-intrumental performance formed the perfect counterpart to Jay's set and she added a welcome layer to Jay's performance of the album title-track, "Goddamned". I'm always humbled by people who make simple music (in a good way) sound so vibrant and alive. Leaving "Pussy Manifesto" to one side, the highlight of her act was a uke-driven cover of "Staying Alive"... stripped down, two chords, no disco... more of a folk-ballad than anything else. Cool!

And in one final tribute to the whole "Shortbus" cast and crew, I just want to scream one heartfelt... "I'M AN ALBINO!"

[You'd have to see the movie to get that one!]

August 28, 2008

Going Mobile

So this isn't going to be as exciting to anyone else as it is to me, but look!

Can you tell what it is yet? Can you? Of course you can't. It's all scrunched up!

A while back, Col of Axe Victim pointedly pointed out (as he does) that transport is essential for any budding band member. Transport, transport, transport.

At the time I had no transport at all (other than that supplied by the erstwhile (ex-)mayor Ken Livingstone and TFL.

A while back all that changed and I experienced the freedom that two privately owned wheels and a motor can give you in the city. But bikes have no storage for musical instruments, I hear you cry. True! BUT! That's where the cardboard box and its mysterious contents come in.

It's a Les Paul sized GIG BAG! Ta-Dah!

(I told you that it wasn't that exciting)

Moreover, it's my very first gig bag. To date I've always lugged stuff around in hard cases... hence I have one arm longer than the other... Now, though, I can combine one of these:

...with one of these:

(with backpack straps, handy accessory pockets etc)

...and, neglecting alcohol and halucinogenic drugs, get something approximating:

(that's the Grateful Dead's first tour bus, "Sugar Magnolia")

Amplification? Well, that's an issue still to be resolved. All the practice rooms I've been looking at have guitar amps supplied. Maybe possible to do down the POD/PA route? Dunno. It's also not impossible that I could strap my amp on the back of the bike. Realistically, I'm not planning on making money from this whole endeavour so I don't mind forking out cab fare or one-day car rental to get me to and from gigs.

Wheels on f**king fire, eh?

August 27, 2008

Metal, Metal, Everywhere

No, I've not turned to the dark side and given in 100% to the seductive riff-laden, low-E pedalling musical genre, but yes, this week it's all about HEAVY METAL.

[Imagine head banging, fingers raised in a 'Sign-O-The-Devil'... occasionally slipping into 'Live-Long-And-Prosper']

I had a crack at Metallica's "Seek & Destroy" last night. Like most of the metal stuff I've tried so far it's not actually that hard to play slowly, but playing it fast and accurately is where the challenge lies. I also don't have a 'metal pedal', so I'm relying on cranking the gain on the amp, dialling bass and treble to the max and turning down the mid. Sounds about right, but lacks the artificially clean sounding scream/crunch you get with a pedal. No, I'm not going to rush out and buy one just yet! I still don't know whether anything will come of the jam on Sunday.

Sunday... bloody Sunday...

Sounds a long way off, but realistically it's not as far as practice time goes. If I'm lucky I may be able to squeeze in an hour tonight (wishful thinking). Tomorrow night we're out at a show near Shepherd's Bush. That leaves Friday evening and maybe some time on Saturday or even Sunday morning.

All I'm hoping to achieve on Sunday is to put on a decent show and not screw up too horrendously. The band may turn around afterwards and tell me to get lost, but hey, it's the experience that's important here, isn't it?

Isn't it?


Okay, so I've been finding two things whilst trying to learn the Metallica stuff...

1) It doesn't take me long to burn out on a one of their riffs. Not the power chord stuff... that's easy. I'm talking about the more complex string-skipping roll-type stuff.

Here's a sample of what I mean. This is the riff from "Master Of Puppets" that comes straight after the whole descending intro thingy.

e ---------------------------------
B ---------------------------------
G ---------------------------------
D ---------------------------------
A -----2-----3-----4-----3-----2-2-
E -0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1---0-1-----

Right, I've just noticed that that one has no string skipping whatsoever... but what's tricky is rolling off the 0-1 on the low E and playing up through the second, third, fourth fingers on the A string then turning around and coming back. I can do it slowly, but it's a fast riff. I looked at possibly optimising the picking, playing the notes up-down on the low E followed by down on the A (then repeat). That seemed to speed things up a little, but I kept forgetting to start on an upstroke! D'Oh!

This one's a string-skipper, as promised. Intro riff to "Seek & Destroy":

e ---------------------------------
B ---------------------------------
G -----7h8-7-------------------5---
D -------------7h8-7-------5-----7-
A -0-0-------0-------0-8-7---7-----
E --------------------------------- that's not a great example either as it's not played particularly quickly...

Anyway, if I practice either of these riffs for too long my fingers start forgetting what they're supposed to do and my only option if I want to keep playing them is to drop down in speed to get back with the programme. Two steps forward, one step back. I know how finger memory is supposed to work: you start out slow but precise then gradually build up in speed. Right now I don't have time for slow. I need to nail this stuff ASAP.

2) Any musical activity late at night really screws up my sleep patterns. The same's true for other intense repetetive activities, such video games. Please, nobody mention the intense repetetive activity that actually helps sleep, m'kay? When I try to learn riffs close to bedtime or even when I'm writing or mixing tunes, they get stuck right in the front of my brain and I end up lying in bed, going through them, over and over, spinning my wheels. If I'm lucky I'll get to sleep eventually, but you can bet that at 4am I'm going to wake up and the whole process'll start over.

So, I'm a feeling a little weary today. You try sleeping with the intro riff to "Master Of Puppets" echoing around inside your cranium! Aaaaarrrghhh!

Oh, and in other news, I think our neighbour has just started to play bass! Last night I heard the sound of tentative low-end plucking drifting over our garden fence (okay, minds out of the gutter, please). I tell you, it's like that Kevin Costner movie "Field Of Dreams"... "If you build it [a chord progression], they [the rest of the band] will come!"

I expect Jim Morrison will visit me in my dreams any day now...

August 25, 2008

Metal Fatigue

So, usually I don't post stuff on this blog at weekends or holidays, and today is August Bank Holiday in the UK.

And I'm posting.

I just have to take a break from learning to play metal. It's not that I'm not enjoying it, as I am in a weird way, but the thing is that I HURT. I'M IN PAIN! Tim and I started a new regime at the gym a couple of weeks ago and while I'm glad we're doing it, I have to say it's really tough to do a full body workout then go into an intensive session on guitar. My shoulders are absolutely killing me.

I'm also pretty sure the neighbours are hating me right now. I decided to start my metallic education with Metallica's "Master of Puppets", which, doesn't really work if you play it quietly. I've had Red cranked, pumping 100W out of my Marshall for the last couple of hours. Sounds like it should, y'know. LOUD! Even our cat decided that the intro riff was too aggressive to sleep through... which is a first.

I think I'm just going to veg out in front of the TV for a bit...

August 21, 2008


Picture the scene, I'm sat here at my computer, listening to something cool and jazzy on the ol' headphones, when an email drops into my inbox from the drummer in a metal band. The band are looking for a second guitarist and would I like to come along to their next rehearsal for a jam. Of course my answer was 'yes'.

Now, I'm not a metal-head. In fact, if I scroll through the genres menu on my iPod, the list goes like this:

Alternative & Punk
Country (Eh?!)
Gospel & Religious (How'd that get in there?!)
Soul/R&B (I guess the em-phas-is is on the other syl-lable)
Southern Rock
Unclassifiable (What!!)

So I check out the "Rock" genre and the heaviest thing by far that's in there is Guns 'n' Roses. The next heaviest would probably be Placebo... For some reason the early You Am I stuff doesn't even have a classification! No clue where Faith No More have got to. Maybe I deleted them from the iPod so that I could squeeze Herbie Hancock's "River: The Joni Letters" on there.

Okay, so there's nothing metallic lurking inside the miniature music box. Now, I had a friend at university, a long haired Cornish biker bloke called Roger (medical student... prodigious pot smoker... great with the elderly)... anyway, Roger was into every single metal/hardcore band on the planet. His record collection covered every vocal style from menacing growl to ear-splitting scream. He once took me to a thrash metal showcase in Wolverhampton with bands like Nuclear Assault and Napalm Death on the bill. I remember standing in the Wulfrun Hall, literally pinned to the back wall by the noise from the ceiling high speakers. It was thrilling but I can't honestly say it was enjoyable. For one thing I was the only one in the place not wearing leather trousers. Try as I might (and I didn't) I wasn't going to fit in with the crowd!

I remember having quite the discussion one day with Roger about "Crossroads" (the Ralph Macchio movie I just purchased via the interweb). He kept going on about how great Steve Vai was (but not as great as Satch, blah-blah-blah) and how he did the soundtrack. When I said that I thought the soundtrack was by Ry Cooder (who did actually produce the soundtrack), Rog went off on one, saying "That fukker didn't play a single fukkin' note on there, not even the fukkin' blues stuff. That's all Vai, not that other fukker!" Huff, huff, toke on his doobie, plug his Washburn in his 8-foot Marshall stack and SCCCRRRR-CHANGGGGGG!!!! "Fukkin' Ry Cooder! Can fukkin' Ry Cooder play this?" Roger presses [Play] on his CD player then riffs along to "Passion & Warfare", hitting every note perfectly, despite his strings being rusted down by a couple of grades.

I am so losing the plot with this post!

The point is that I don't do metal, but a metal band has invited me to come along and play with them in just over a week's time. In the spirit of The Project I really have to grab at every opportunity and so I've said yes. Methinks I'm going to be pounding out some powerchords and dancing with the Phrygian until next weekend!

Time to beat Red (the Les Paul) into submission.

August 18, 2008

Geburtstage Und Politik

This weekend was definitely Leo-riffic. Two of our American friends, one of whom lives in London and the other who's based in Germany, both of the girls have birthdays this month, as do I. 'Germany' flew in over the weekend and we all got together to celebrate.

'London' recently passed through North America. During a visit to Austin, Texas, she stopped by Antone's blues club and got me some pressies: a t-shirt sporting a picture of some Les Pauls and Marshall stacks with the slogan "The Little Voices Make Me Play Guitar" and a handful of Antone's branded picks. Not too shabby.

Tim, London and Germany met whilst doing a master's degree together in International Relations a few years back, so conversations often come around to global politics, which is cool. It's always fun to listen to smart people discussing stuff that they actually know about! Saturday night was no exception.

We all met up at "The Lane" restaurant near Aldgate East tube station. London had invited along a couple of her friends, both of whom are extremely successful black women (as is London). So, here's the scene... upscale Afro-Caribbean cuisine, party of six, four ladies, two men, 50:50 white/black split... oh, and a 5:1 American/British ratio. Let me just say that when the conversation came around to Barak Obama, the debate became quite polarised. Following the American Primaries everyone around the table supported him for the upcoming election, but issues surrounding his ethnicity really seemed to raise hackles. Even now the hurt and mistrust from the days of slavery and segregation are still close to the surface. For whatever reason, one of London's friends couldn't let go of her belief that white people (us, specifically) would first and foremost judge him based on skin colour. She was definitely wrong in her assumption about us. I sincerely hope that she's wrong about the American people in general, though I'm certainly not qualified to make a determination on that point.

Okay, so I'm rambling now. The food at "The Lane" was okay, but the dining experience was ruined by the truly awful, amateurish service there. For a place that markets itself as upscale, they fall laughably short of the mark.

Sunday saw us trawling through Spitalfields market, the Truman Brewery and Brick Lane markets. I love that area. There's so much cool stuff there. Had din-dins at Cafe Bangla. Really, really good curry. The lamb tikka pathia was stunningly tasty. Rrrrrecommended! Picked up some ROCKING t-shirts... the biggest size they had was large, so they're a little bit on the tight side... especially after that indian... but when I modelled them Germany said that they made me look like a body-builder! Hey, maybe I should shoot for the Henry Rollins look after all! Note to self: try to cut back on the curry and beer...

(I was going to model them, but did I mention the curry and beer?)

We rounded off Germany's visit by sitting out in the back yard, listening to music, sipping cocktails and sheltering from the evening rain. Sometimes it's the simple things in life like good conversation and the support of friends that are what's really important.

August 15, 2008

Cold, Cold Heart

Yes, I've been in something of a slump for a bit. Looking at the clock, I only have 138 days left on the project, which puts me...



For those without calculators, that's just under 20 weeks. Sounds like a long time, but it really isn't.

So, as I've hinted before I've become a little jaded with the whole 'find band members' circus. Maybe it's the summer and people are on hols. Maybe it's that when I chat to people I somehow don't put my best foot forward and they never call back. Maybe it's just that the majority of musos are a bit flaky. Who can say? Wot-ev-ver.

It's not helped that I've not been playing guitar as much as I'd like to recently, partly because I managed to screw my right arm up... tennis elbow? Parson's nose... who knows? Anyway, my strumming arm is giving me gyp and playing guitar only seems to aggravate it. I'm trying to rest it as much as I can, but since I'm right-handed I naturally tend to use it without thinking. It's getting better, though. Slowly.

Bloody hell, this is exciting stuff, isn't it? Next I'll be telling you about my folks' current dental problems.

Okay, here's the thing. ALTHOUGH I'm feeling jaded, I still have that little kid inside me that gets excited whenever someone mentions Christmas. I was looking at the daily email shot from "Join My Band" and there was something from a drummer wanting to find bandmates. Checked out the influences. Pretty cool. Definitely something I could get behind. Got me excited again. Based not too far away. Emailed a response and got a positive vibe back. Sent my phone number. Wait and see, I guess...

Now, part of me realises that this is the same routine as every other time I've tried to make something happen, but hey, maybe this time Santa will come down the chimney.

Eh? Wot? Don't ask me. I'm not certain that the wizard is in today.

Oh, and I'd considered posting an iPod DJ instead of this tripe, but my iPod is being really obnoxious at the moment and is refusing to play anything decent! I mean, I'm not going to admit to having Tony Bennett on there, am I? Oh crap, I think I just did...

IN OTHER NEWS... I got a couple of cheap CDs off the internet: "The Best of Free" (by Free, obviously) and "Who's Next" (by... c'mon... think about it). My thought was that I could use these albums to reconnect with, like, the 70s, man. I'm still waiting for Duffy's "Rockferry" to land on our doormat. It's late. Hopefully the Free stuff will be riff-a-licious. I'm not really familiar with their stuff.

I also have a copy of the movie "Crossroads" winging its way over from the US. The one with Ralph Macchio, not the Britney flick. Okay, so that's still worthy of a piss-take, but y'know, I remember watching the film and enjoying it when I was (alot) younger. It cost me all of, like, £3 or something.

Hey, look, feel free to judge. I don't care.

August 11, 2008

Everything Old Is New Again

So, I was sat in the Southwark Tavern on Saturday night, sipping a pint of merlot and mentally jamming along to the surprisingly groovy soundtrack they had blaring from the PA. Loads of song ideas were coming to me. I think it was a combo of the slight wine buzz and the fact that the music was blurred by the chatter from the inebriated punters.

I had all kind of stuff bouncing around inside my head. Dance tunes, angry rock 'fight' songs... all kind of off-the-wall ideas. At some point, though, I remembered an archive of old songs that I'd recorded back when I started playing guitar 'for real' again, some 4 years ago now.

The songs were really nothing more than random chord progressions over which I'd jammed a little. At most I might have written a basic lyric and recorded that, too. And they were all taped before I had anything even vaguely decent for laying down a drum track.

After The Tavern, we stopped by Shunt Lounge again, just to see what was going on. It was all very 'London Underground' themed, with lots of tube memorabilia hung up around the place. For the first time I noticed an old piano, abandoned in one of the corridors. Recalling my childhood I bashed out a version of "Chopsticks" that my mother had taught me. I then started screwing around with building some triads, 7th chords etc. Man, it was fun to play that thing, even though about a quarter of the keys were missing and not all of the remaining ones worked.

On Sunday I spent some time delving into our archived computer backups to see whether any of my early recordings still existed. To my surprise, quite a few of them were were still there, saved for posterity. I say 'surprise' as we've not had much luck with computers over the last few years. All the PCs we've bought have suffered hard disk failures. During one particularly bad crash we lost so many of our digital photos that it was a bit like having visual Alzheimer's.

Anyway, I digress. The point is that I dragged out a few of the old recordings and had a listen. What surprised me was that despite being really simple, some of them were really quite good. They actually sounded like songs. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that perhaps they were good because they were so simple. They had an openness to them. A naivety, even. I even found one cut on which I'd sung. The lyrics were terrible, but even so I didn't hate it. I think I'm going to work the old stuff back into my 'to be developed' pile.

Shake the tree, see what falls out...

August 8, 2008

Love You, Hate You

Okay, so I'm trying to give my verbal ceativity a kick in the butt. It's not necessarily about writing functioning lyrics, more about writing something with some validity. Channeling, if you like. No, not like Dionne Warwick and her psychic friends network! I'm talking about honest expression here.

Art (pretentiousness alert, pretentiousness alert!) isn't something that comes easy when you're essentially in a happy place. It's usually born of angst, hate and persecution. Okay, so picture this: last night I spent an hour or so scrubbing the decking on our back patio to try and clean the years of dirt and algae off it...

...okay, that was it! I just wanted it noted SOMEWHERE that I tried to clean that bloody decking. That way when someone says "it doesn't look like anyone's ever cleaned it" I can point them to this blog and say, "See... see... 7th August 2008!"

I tell you, come The Revolution, that decking's going to be the first up against the wall.

Right, I just went completely random. Sorry. It's been one of those weeks. Back to the point...

...which is that there have been times in my life where I've been truly, gloriously unhappy. Downright miserable, if you must know. Fabulous, eh? A wealth of angst just waiting there to be pilfered. This isn't one of those times, though, which makes it hard to write stuff about 'now' that isn't all fluffy bunnies and Flossy the Sheep. So, I thought to myself that what I really needed to do was to think back to a time of abject misery (oh, the joy of songwriting), immerse myself in it, freely associate about was going on at the time and basically just write something down on paper (or screen, as the case may be).

Here's my first attempt. It's not lyrics. It's not a poem. It's just an emotional blurp. While some people enscribe their art on expensive heavyweight paper (or on TP if that's the only thing handy), I typed this directly into Microsoft Outlook. Classy, eh?

So, the background to this is (and I'm sharing here, dammit, so be nice)... the background to this is that after a string of failed relationships (boo-hoo) I got myself involved with this guy with whom I felt the need to make it work, no matter what. The problem was that less than a year in, I realised that he was an arsehole and that I didn't even like him, let alone love him. Even so, my compulsion to 'do the right thing' led me to stick with it until the bitter end. And yes, it was bitter but, thankfully, it ended. That was two years I'll never get back. Hey, look, I'm channeling already. Ride the ride... here goes!

Why don't you make me hate you more
Why won't you cheat, why won't you lie
You keep me stuck here every day
Confined to this righteous path

Til death do us part is a funny thing
I never thought I'd crave the end
So much I'd sit and watch the tracks
Waiting for the train to come

Maybe I should be the one
Show you who you let inside
Play the part so you're the one
Who breaks these perfect chains of love

Eh? Eh?

Y'know the sucky thing is that when I do stuff like this it drags me back to that time and, frankly, it bums me out. Really.

August 7, 2008

Sitting On Top Of The World

...or having to stand, as the case may be.

I don't normally think about writing social scene stuff unless there's some kind of musical tie-in, but last night Tim, somewhat uncharacteristically, said as we were headed home that if I decide to blog about "Vertigo 42" that I should mention the following:

1) The drinks are way overpriced
2) The staff are unnecessarily rude (until you win them over)
3) They have a 4 chair limit per party
4) The bar chairs are not comfortable
5) It's basically just a mirrored corridor

I figured that if he felt strongly enough about it to mention the blog that hey, I'll post something!

For those of you who don't know what Vertigo 42 is (and, no, I didn't until last night), it's a 'champagne lounge' situated on the 42nd floor of the old Nat West building near Bank, London. The main draw is the top-down view of the city, which is undeniably stunning. Last night it was pretty cool to watch lightning striking around town against a backdrop of the evening sky.

As you can see from the picture, below, the view elevation is pretty much in line with the top of The Gherkin.

After the initial wow factor... a combination of 'wow, what a view' and 'wow, this place is really narrow' you get the wow factor of the drinks prices. The house (i.e. cheapest) champagne is £46, which, from a quick google, looks to be around a 300% markup. For the thrifty, there's the buy-in-bulk option of a magnum of Krug, weighing in at just under £800! Pop one of those baby's open and I betcha you'll be surrounded by new friends (even though one lady apparently wanted a shot of fruit juice in hers to make it more palatable)!

The bar had the potential to be fun, right up until the point that one of the wait staff came up and pointedly told us that we had too many chairs, confiscating one of our five. Eh? "I'm sorry, but you can only have four chairs. Security, you know."... but there are five of us... "I know, sir, but it's the rules".

Later on in the evening the rules bent in our favour and we were granted a fifth seat... the party next to us, however, were not so lucky. Clearly they had unwittingly committed some faux pas and had rubbed the wrong person up the wrong way. They had one of their four stools confiscated by a tut-tutting hostess, leaving them just three! Relaxed evening or battle for social status? You decide! Whatever, we were winning the war of seating acquisition! At another point in the evening, a fist-fight looked likely when Tim tried to take a spare chair from a couple's table. When dialogue opens with "Oi mate, you're not 'avin' that", you know you're not in polite company.

And the musical slant to this story would be... non-existent. Perhaps that's the most damning thing I can say about the place. I don't even remember there being any music.

Hey ho, in other news, I got my copy of "How To Write Songs On Guitar" by Ricky Rooksby through the post. I've delved into it a bit and it looks like there's some good stuff in there. It doesn't necessarily tell you how to write a good tune but it does give lots of pointers, illustrating points by referencing tunes that you already know (if you're of a certain age). I'm already feeling somewhat inspired by it, and the chapter on song structure has really been an eye-opener. For example, I'm forever writing stuff that has no time for the singer to recover between a chorus and a verse... why not insert a 2 bar spacer to buy breathing time? Never thought of that!

August 5, 2008

Concert Review: Drive By Truckers, Electric Ballroom

I'm not going to give a detailed review (do I ever?) as I'm sure that Col over at Axe Victim will do a much better job as he's more familiar with the band.

I will say, though, that these guys were loud and riff-tastic! My ears are still ringing.

Now, I feel a bit reticent about classifying their music as the Drive By Truckers have managed to slip by under my radar until now and I'm not totally clued up on their back catalogue. I guess nobody's going to shoot me, though, if I term them 'intelligent blue-collar rockers'. I've seen them labelled as alt-country, but, y'know, that term seems to cover a wide range of sins these days.

The band basically grabs the grass-roots zeitgeist by the balls and squeezes hard. The songs are about characters and real-life situations. You get 3 rocking guitars, with Gibson out-gunning Fender (well, a custom job based on a '72 tele) by 2 to 1... as it should be, bass, drums, keys in the back and the occasional country twang supplied by a pedal steel. Then there's the vocals. Both frontmen take turns centre-stage, whilst bass-lady chimes in on backing and occasional lead vox.

The band's 'down-home' imagery is pretty in your face. Beards and plaid are de rigeur. It doesn't come across as affected, though. It's a 'this is where we come from' look.

When I got home last night after riding my bike through the deserted streets of London I couldn't bring myself to go to bed. The Drive By Truckers' music had grabbed hold and wouldn't let go. It wasn't that it was complex or clever. Quite the opposite. Watching the guitarists play, there were lots of open chords, pentatonics, up-down-up strumming. But... it was music. Pure, simple, raw music. These guys were just there to stand up, plug in and say something. Great stuff.

And, last but not least, watching Patterson Hood up there beating the hell out of his Les Paul, I felt my teenage desire for a goldtop flare up once again.

August 4, 2008

You Can Quote Me On This One...

Whilst watching Placebo "Soulmates Never Die" DVD over the weekend (three sheets to the wind) I found myself blurting out the following pontification:

"Sometimes, when playing electric guitar, it's less about playing the guitar and more about playing the electricity!"

You can use that... really...

Off to see Drive By Truckers at the Electric Ballroom, Camden, tonight. Not seen them before but they come highly recommended by Col of Magic Ship so I have faith it'll be a good show!

August 1, 2008

Sexy People & Superstars

...okay, so if you've never seen Macy Gray in concert then that will mean NOTHING to you!

Had a good night out last night. Dinner, cocktails, river boat ride up to Greenwich then saw MACY GRAY at the IndigO2. First time at the venue. Not bad. We were in the upper balcony (King's Row) which was a little plush and not well laid out at all. I know they had to fit the auditorium into a weird shape, but c'mon, the folks in the seats at the back probably couldn't even see the stage! No matter. We were not at the back, thank you very much.

Macy kicked off the show with one of my favourite songs from her most recent album, Big, entitled "Get Out". Definitely one of the better collaborations with Justin Trousersnake. She then pulled out a string of fab songs, spanning all her albums, adding in a few covers here and there for spice. She didn't play a few tunes that I wished she had, but let's face it, Macy's a good time and the girl can do whatever she likes, it'll all be fine.

Seriously, even if you're not a Macy fan, you'd still have a great time at one of her shows as she knows how to work an audience. Her backing band was very tight and groovy. For those axe-heads out there, her sidekick guitarist was playing a tobacco-burst Fender Strat. Lots of wah. Quite Hendrix meets Prince at times. Top notch performance. I googled who it was and I'm not 100% sure, but I think he's ex-chilli-pepper, Arik Marshall. Dude, apologies if I got that wrong. Whoever you are, you rocked.

The one slight downer on the evening was actually the boat ride to and from the O2. Although we were told that there would be an express service, there was not. It seems that the express only runs on nights where there's a concert on at the arena, so we were stuck on a boat which stopped at every pier along the way... and there are a lot of piers, let me tell you!

Anywho... that pales into insignificance in the grand scheme of things because... WE LOVE MACY!!!!!

I wouldn't have said it was our best experience of her, but it was damn fine. The best show of hers we've been to was still at a small dive nightclub called Numbers, in Houston. It was about 110 degrees, Macy was sweating, the crowd was sweating, the music was grinding and she totally rocked the place into Oblivion. A truly unforgettable night.