Thursday, 21 December 2017

21/12/2017 Wolfsbane & Last Great Dreamers @ Islington Academy 2

On paper it seemed like an odd bill, but as I really like both bands I'm not going to complain! Both bands might have been playing in the same era when they first appeared, but putting a Glammy old school rock 'n roll band on with an out and our heavy metal band might not seem a natural choice? In spite of this strange pairing the venue is packed out - with fans from both bands.

I've been wanting to see Last Great Dreamers again since being very impressed by their live set at Camden Rocks festival last year.
Tonight they are again very good., and they also have some new songs to play from their latest album '13th Floor Renegades'. If you like The Quireboys (who they have supported on tour) and The Faces then you'll probably like this lot too, although they have their own character and can't be accused of ripping those bands off. Although they have a very gritty rock 'n' roll vibe they have a more pop and commercial feel in their songwriting - and they really know how to nail a catchy chorus!
Last Great Dreamers are seasoned and polished live performers too, and you can't help wondering why they've never managed to crack the big time when so many lesser bands have got lucky.

Wolfsbane got a lot closer to cracking the big time - signing to Rick Rubin's label and having him produce their debut album - rather badly in my opinion as it's the least good sounding record they ever made with it's horrible lightweight tinny sound. They made by far their heaviest and meatiest sounding record after escaping Def American for Bronze Records with Simon Efemey producing - they released their self titled album and promptly split up after Iron Maiden poached their singer. And that appeared to be that. And for a few years it was - until some time after Blaze Bailey was ousted from Maiden to made way for the return of the 'Air raid siren' and the totally unexpected happened - the classic (and only if you don't count early drummers before the band were signed) lineup of Wolfsbane reformed! There were some live dates playing old material, an EP 'Did It For The Money, and then a brand new album Wolfsbane Save The World appeared - and it was actually very good! Odd live dates and tours have followed since, and also some newly discovered old recordings have been released - along with a new EP Rock! - which does exactly what it says on the tin and also contains some interesting topical and autobiographical songwriting. Guess what? Wolfsbane are still really good live!
A current Wolfsbane live show contains songs from across their career right up to date. Blaze Bailey is still one of the best frontmen out there and retains a terrific voice and very powerful stage presence! Also a self deprecating sense of humour along with his larger-than-life stage personality. Come to a Wolfsabane show and you will be entertained - whether you like it or not! The band's songs are great too - many that are heavy and intense, but also great really catchy tunes you can sing along to - there is always a terrific atmosphere at their gigs! The band may not look like they used to back in the day (apart from bassist Jeff Hately who still looks exactly the same) but they still play as well as ever.
A Wolfsbane show is enormous fun, and you can be pretty sure you will hear most of, if not all your favourite Wolfsbane songs. There are very few metal bands who can be so downright entertaining - even if you are new to the band and not familiar with their songs you will be entertained - as well as being a great singer Blaze is also very funny! He takes the music deadly seriously without taking himself seriously - which is very refreshing as well as being fun!
Wolfsbane gigs aren't that common these days, but they do seem to have got into the habit of getting out to play around once a year - usually shortly before Christmas. I recommend you catch them if you get the chance.

Monday, 18 December 2017

18/12/2017 A trip to Westminster

The Dark Lord finally takes his seat in the House of Lords? Not quite, but I had a most interesting tour the House of Commons courtesy of my local MP. No politics involved I'm glad to say. As you might expect these days, security is very tight. There were airport style scanners and the expected searches among other things. Much interest was taken in the contents of the pockets in my leather jacket, and I had to take my belt off to be scanned due due it's metal buckle. I was most disappointed that the equipment didn't start bleeping due to the metal plate I now have in my wrist! Maybe it's calibrated to ignore certain things.
The place is absolutely fascinating - this part is nearly a thousand years old and still in use. The Great Hall has seen countless significant events in our history from trials to weddings and funerals - it's quite something just standing there trying to take it all in.
The tour includes places that are regularly seen on the TV news like the famous lobby where politicians get interviewed. Photography is only allowed in certain places though, so there is much that I can't show you...
The atmosphere of the place is amazing. I didn't take many pictures as I was more interested in just soaking up the feeling of history. There are those who say that it should all be torn down and replaced with something more modern and efficient, but I think if those people had actually visited the place they would think differently. It does cost a huge amount to look after and much work is needed to maintain it and fix problems that have appeared due to past neglect, as well as bomb damage from WW2 - some parts aren't actually as old as they may appear. I think you ignore history at your peril. Some may think that history isn't important, but ignorance of it only insures that the mistakes of the past will be repeated again.
I finished my visit by going to the House of Commons to observe what was going on. No photos are allowed there, but it was fascinating to sit quietly and watch the debate in progress. It was quite something to sit there so close to the scene that appears on the 6 O'Clock News populated by famous (and infamous) politicians both now and back over hundreds of years of history. To actually be almost in touching distance of the benches, despatch boxes and the famous mace. Although the actual debate taking place was concerning a finance bill and rather dull, I stayed there for quite some time soaking up the history and atmosphere of the place. If you ever get the chance to go I can highly recommend it.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

17/12/2017 Ginger's Birthday Bash

Ginger's Birthday Bash is always one of the highlights of the year, and this was no exception! For 2017 the event is back to a smaller venue - which is a surprise after the same event proving capable of selling out the Kentish Town Forum previously. However, I find the show more enjoyable is this more intimate venue - which also gives a nice sense of Deja Vu as I remember being as Ginger's very first Birthday Bash at this very same venue in 2001. Although I have really enjoyed the shows at the Forum and other venues in the past, I really don't think The Garage can be beaten for intimacy - without being overly cramped and uncomfortable. It's got great transport links too, and is almost next door to a Wetherspoons - making it hard to beat in most respects.

It's been a very challenging year for Ginger on a personal level. He's had his ups and downs, and some of the downs have been very down. Fortunately things seem to be looking up for him and hopefully tonight will be a tonic for him. The show starts very early, but with no support acts there is a lot to cram into the show - with so many guest spots. I spot Alex Kane coming in the front door with a guitar on his back just after the show starts - so I already know who one of the guests will be, and have heard hints on who one or two of the others are...

Ginger opens the proceedings with a song from his latest solo release 'Ghost In The Tanglewood' his so- called 'Country' album of acoustic material. Emily Ewing joins Ginger on vocals. After starting with 'The Daylight Hotel' he treats us to a few more of his solo songs from various albums as more of the long procession of special guests take to the stage.
We are treated to some songs by Ginger's other recent projects G.A.S.S. and Hey! Hello! These go down a storm with the crowd in this packed venue. Cat Southall takes lead vocals for some songs - Ginger's fans have certainly taken her to their hearts after seeing her filling in the vocal slot in Hey! Hello! at live shows and she has tons of energy and personality. The rest of Hey! Hello! join Ginger on stage as well - The Rev on guitar, rhythm section Toshi and Ai, as well as Kelli Compulsive and Givvi Flynn on vocals.
After the show going 'electric' for a while there is an 'acoustic' interlude for a few cover songs with Maya McCourt on cello. Incuded are Tom Petty's 'Free Fallin' and 'American Girl' to pay tribute to the legendary songwriter we lost earlier in the year.
The energy level get's cranked up again when Jim Jones is brought on stage to sing AC/DC's 'Live Wire' in tribute to rock's best ever rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young who we also lost recently. The excitement is heightened even more by the arrival of AntiProduct frontman Alex Kane on guitar for this song! I know Alex is a huge AC/DC fan, as is Ginger - The Wildhearts even toured (very briefly!) with AC/DC back in the day. But that's another story.... Other guitar guests include Andy Brook from Shush (and Milena too I think) Rich Rags of Role Models, plus on vocals Tracie Hunter and Phoebe White of The Rebelles,  and Ray Zell from Marionette as well as Jason Knight rocking out on bass!
The 'Special guest' musicians are coming thick and fast by now, and Rachel Stamp's David Ryder Prangley arrives to sing a great version of the Silver Ginger 5 song 'Girls Are Better Than Boys'. Ginger swaps to bass guitar at one point for a few songs as there are so many amazing 6 string players doing guest spots.Then, just when you think the guitar energy level can't be cranked any higher - on strolls Bernie Torme! He rips through 'New Orleans' which he played in his time with Gillan. Then when you really think things can't get any hotter in the guitar stakes - on comes Dregen from Backyard Babies! Any more guitar pyrotechnics and the venue will surely spontaneously combust!
We get a tribute to another recently departed guitar legend with Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B. Goode', and also an incendiary 'Ace Of Spades' in tribute to the much missed Lemmy - who was a particular inspiration and personal influence to Ginger. I can't believe I have just seen Bernie Torme, Dregen, and Alex Kane all ripping it up together on the same stage at the same time! Guitar pyrotechnic Heaven!
Ginger, Dregen, Alex Kane, and Rich Battersby on drums then play a few Super$hit 666 songs - something nobody thought ever likely to happen as that band only recorded a single mini-album but never played any gigs. This night is turning out even more special than I expected! Needless to say, the atmosphere in this sold out venue is amazing - and it's just about to get even better. Yes - it's Wildhearts time! Ginger is joined by CJ as well as Rich Battersby, with Toshi filling in on bass. Also guesting on the set closing Wildhearts songs are Chris McCormack, Frank Turner, and Lauren Tate from Hands Off Gretel. 'My Baby Is A Headfuck', 'Sick Of Drugs', 'Caffeine Bomb', 'Suckerpunch', 'Greetings From Shitsville' and the inevitable fan favourite '29 x The Pain' round off the evening perfectly. Maybe the best Birthday Bash yet?

Let's hope 2018 is a better year for Ginger on a personal level - I think good things are on the way. And The Wildhearts are coming back!

My photos are crap - I didn't really bother as I wanted to enjoy the show instead. Messing about with my digicam was a pain and I didn't want to risk dropping my phone in the crowd (again) as it's already got a cracked screen. If you want to see some decent pictures of the show go and look at Trudi Knight's pictures 'cos she took loads and they are really good! My only decent quality picture is of my spare ticket - I found myself on the guestlist and couldn't find anyone who wanted a free ticket at short notice.
Same time next year then?

Monday, 20 November 2017

25/10/2017 Gary Moore album launch and Q&A @ The Gibson Guitar Studio

Due to having a broken wrist I wasn't able to get out to any gigs in October, but I was invited to an album launch playback and Q&A session to promote the forthcoming Gary Moore box set and new album 'Blues And Beyond' at the Gibson Guitar Studio.
It proved to be an interesting event - and yes, there was free booze! I found I wasn't the only member of 'walking wounded' present as I also spotted a certain well known rock DJ hobbling about on crutches after a recent accident - but he'd been thrown from a horse rather than a motorcycle! Things started with a presentation from various figures involved with the late rock/blues guitar legend. Among these was his former guitar tech Graham Liley, who had some interesting information about Gary's guitars.
Also talking to us was Harry Shapiro - author of the new 'Official' Gary Moore biography 'I Can't Wait Until Tomorrow'. He also had many interesting stories to tell.
We then had BMG's Director of Design Neel Panchal tell us about how the whole design for the new box set's packaging was put together.
The Q&A session at the end was interesting and revealing. For the guitars geeks present (me included) there was also a selection of Gary's guitars on display - some of which where a surprise to me and not guitars that's I'd normally associate with him. Needless to say (given where this event was being held) there were all Gibsons!
The guitars were of much interest to me, in particular the ES-335 and ES-345 models. I didn't realise that my small guitar collection includes three models that were played live by Gary Moore. Also included were some one-off prototype Les Pauls which had been specially made by Gibson for Gary - mouth watering stuff! There was a selection of other Gary Moore memorabilia on display as well as items related to the new box set - which includes new live recordings on CD as well as a new 'best of' spread across four vinyl discs and the new biography - certainly a desirable package for any Gary Moore fan!
Naturally, with this being the Gibson studio there were many of the company's products and those of it's associated brands in evidence although not connected to the event - including one or two I'd certainly like to get my hands on!
Back upstairs there loads more highly desirable Gibson's on display, including one or two models that I already own.
Finding myself in something approaching 'Guitar Heaven' I didn't have much time to enjoy the spectacle as a smartly suited Gibson security man was regarding me with deep suspicion - and slowly but subtly trying to edge me towards the door as the event was now over and I was the last of the guests to leave.
I'd managed to get a few free cans of cider down me, but the booze ran out by the end of the event, so it was off to the pub before heading home - the pub in this case being the former Marquee Club in Charing Cross Road. After many years, I can now finally go in there without feeling the twinge of sadness that used to prevent me going there as I remembered what the place used to be and the bands I saw there.

Starting to get out and about a bit....

So I'm off work for over two months, but not actually able to take advantage of that and go out much. I can't drive at the moment, and I no longer own a motorcycle. My financial situation is uncertain and I could soon be relying on Statutory Sick Pay - which certainly isn't enough to pay the bills and mortgage. Going to gigs that are likely to be crowded doesn't seen a good idea with an arm in a sling and a wrist in plaster - particularly the more 'punk rock' gigs that are likely to have loads of pissed-up people dancing and jumping around. Usually I have no problem taking care of myself in such situations - but with a broken wrist I don't really want to take the chance of drunken idiots barging into me at gigs. So although it's nice not to have to worry about late nights and then having to be up early in the morning, I have to pass on a few gigs I would have liked to have gone to....

My first night out since my prang is actually less than a week after the accident and wasn't really planned. My mate John asks me if I feel like going to a local jam night as he's driving up there to play. Seeing as I am offered a lift there and back I might as well take him up on his offer. It's good to see many of my local muso friends again, even though I am unable to play myself as I would normally be doing at such an event. I'm still on painkillers and antibiotics but still decide to risk having a few pints - having done a little research online on the drugs I'm on and their possible consequences. I am absolutely fine, and I don't even have a hangover the next day.

Over the next few weeks I continue to avoid going to any proper gigs, but as my legs are working fine in spite of their still healing deep lacerations I start allowing myself to go and see one or two bands in local pubs. It's good to be able to get out and see people again. It's not like I'm housebound or anything - I get out regularly to do a bit of shopping. My usual big weekly shop in the car is out of the question as I'm not fit to drive at the moment, and I wouldn't be able to lift my big box of groceries out of the car. So shopping is now done on foot but little and often - it get me out in the fresh air and I get some exercise - which can only be a good thing as I can't do my usual daily workout at home. What with doing a few odd other local errands as well on some days I walk several miles.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

The long road back...

It's looks like I won't be fit for work for 6-8 weeks. At least. My GP signed me off for 2 weeks to start with... So now I have plenty of time on my hands, but can't do many of the things I like to do in my spare time. I can't ride my motorcycle - at first I'm not even sure if I still have a motorcycle, or where it is, or what state it's in. Is it still at the side of the road by the scene of the crash? Have the police arranged for it to be collected and stored somewhere? Or has it been stolen? As usual ringing 101 for the police is fucking useless as it's impossible to speak to a human being and ask anything. I've informed my insurance people, but they don't know anything about my bile's whereabouts. After a couple of days I manage to track it down to a storage compound in South Mimms where the police had arranged for it to be taken and stored. Probably at an extortionate daily rate. I'm in no state to go out there and deal with it, but I arrange for the insurance company to pick it up. I still have no idea what state it's in, but I suspect it will be written off. In the meantime I am offered the use of a 'Courtesy bike' - there is a slight problem in that I'm physically unable to ride a motorcycle at the moment and won't be fit enough for quite some time! And I certainly won't be needing one to get to work for a while either... In due course my bike is written off as I expected, but I'm not told what the damage was. I realise that I will never see it again. This makes me very sad.

I've had to get used to losing things over the last few years, but this is harder than most things for me. I loved that bike and the freedom and excitement it gave me - it was by far the best bike I'd ever had.

A couple of weeks later I'm on eBay looking to buy a new electric toothbrush. I casually look to see what sort of motorcycle I could buy with the meagre payout I've just had from the insurance company - fully realising there is no way I could ever come close to replacing it 'like-for-like'. I see a few similar models to mine but older. Then I see something that at a glance looks similar to mine but very cheap. Closer inspection of the photos reveals a machine very similar to mine - with a smashed up front end. It's my actual bike! This doesn't do a lot to cheer me up - quite the opposite. But at least I can see how badly damaged it really was. Actually, it looked quite repairable - assuming the frame wasn't damaged, but would need a fair amount of money spending on it even though only the front end was damaged. Apart from the front it still looked nearly new (although it wasn't) and the mirrors weren't even broken - usually one of the first things to get smashed in any motorcycle accident. I'd only recently spent a load on having it serviced and MOT'd as well - it was in pretty good shape overall before the prang so it was really sad to see it in this state. At least the petrol tank was nearly empty - I was going to fill it up on the way home so at least I saved about twenty quid on that! I received a Road Tax reminder about two weeks after the DVLC had written to me to say I was officially no longer the registered keeper. WTF?

Another of the things I like to do in my spare time that I now can't is to play my guitar. It will be some time before I can do that again - I really don't know how long. I've been told the usual recovery time from a broken wrist is 6-8 weeks, but I assume that's just the time before you are able to do basic everyday things again. In the meantime I have to put up with my guitar sitting on a stand next to my desk - taunting me! Eventually I can't take any more and I have to put it away in it's case out of sight. Playing guitar is going to take a lot of reach and flexibility in my fingers and flexibility in my wrist too - I suspect this will take quite a bit longer to fully recover from. I've managed to fuck myself up pretty badly in various different ways apart from the obvious things like the pain and discomfort, inconvenience, and  not being able to go to work. I've lost my bike and probably ended my days as a biker. Not because I won't physically be able to ride, or because I don't want to ride again after this - I'd get back on a bike tomorrow if I was physically able to. I just don't think I'll ever be able to afford to buy and run another bike. Actually, even if I had the money available now I wouldn't buy another bike straight away as winter isn't far away now. Unfortunately my timing was bad as far as the accident was concerned - if only I could have pranged it a month or so later I could at least have enjoyed the last few weeks of warm(ish) dry weather before winter sets in. As it is now I have to sit at home for weeks looking out the window thinking 'It would be nice to be out on the bike today'.... This all makes me very sad indeed - I feel like an important part of my life and also who I am may be over.

Going back to my guitar (or not) there is another way I have fucked myself up pretty badly - also because of my bad timing. Like with the bike - if only I had pranged it a month or so later. I came to grief towards the end of September. At the end of October I was supposed to be playing a gig with my band that was of particular importance to me personally. Not only was it the first gig the band had played in quite a while, but it was also the first at a venue I'd been trying to get into for a couple of years - hopefully the first of many gigs there. Half the usual lineup of the band were going to be either out of the country or otherwise unavailable, but I'd managed to arrange deps with two excellent local musos who are also friends and were really keen to play together - it might have crashed & burned, or it might have been a unique and really fun and exciting show. We were all really looking forward to it. I was hoping to be able to pull something special out of the bag and really give everyone a night to remember - and get us booked there on a regular basis. I was gutted to have to pull the gig - and also possibly lose my chance of finally getting a foot in the door at that venue after all this time. I was in the middle of learning several new songs to really rock the joint as well. Not only did I lose that much anticipated gig with my own band, but I was also due to play bass in a punk band for a couple of gigs in October as well - one at a festival in Guildford, and another at one of my favourite venues in Camden. That band has a gig in December that I'm hoping to be fit enough to play, but playing bass is going to be harder on my fingers and wrist than 6 string guitar so I really can't tell at this stage if I'm likely to be fit enough to play in time. If only I'd smashed myself and the bike up at the end of October instead then the consequences would have been far less severe in so many ways!

Not only did I break the 'wrong' wrist for guitar playing, but I also broke the one I write with! Huh? Yes - although I am left handed I play guitar right handed. I made a point of deliberately teaching myself to play guitar right handed from the very start - to avoid the future difficulty and expense of a lifetime trying to find left-handed guitars or play right handed ones awkwardly 'upside-down'.  I also shoot a pistol right handed, but use a rifle left handed! Yes, I know it doesn't make any sense - but I don't make much sense much of the time anyway.

At home for ages with loads of time on my hands - or one of them anyway. Plenty of time to waste on social media? It's not so easy when you have difficulty typing... Although I can't hold a pen in my hand I can type a little to let people know of my situation, but I am very slow and it's hard work mostly with one finger - so I do very little communicating online. The trouble with social media is that the more you post, the more replies and notifications you get - which you also then feel obliged to reply to. I get fed up of this at the best of times, so I decided to keep a low profile to avoid making more work for myself. 'But you are writing loads on here!' I hear you say? Well I'm writing all this weeks after the accident when I am finally feeling more able and getting more use from my left hand.

Progress with my recovery has been slow but steady. After getting out of hospital I had my wrist in plaster for two weeks before my first appointment at the Fracture Clinic. Then I had more X-Rays before the doctor pronounced himself happy with my progress so far - but decided I had to spend at least another couple of weeks with my wrist in plaster! The first plaster cast I had became looser and more comfortable after a few days when the swelling in my wrist started to go down. The second one stayed tighter and was less comfortable.

The doctor at the Fracture Clinic said I didn't need to see my GP to get signed off sick again as he could sign me off there and then - which he did. For another six weeks, which was a lot more than I was expecting! Still, it saves all the hassle of trying to get GP appointments. In the meantime, I still had to make regular visits to my GP surgery to have the dressings on my legs changed by the practice nurse. I got my flu jab on one of these visits so at least that killed two birds with one stone.

A further two weeks passes before my next hospital appointment. The doctor finally decides I can be free of plaster casts and the sling - but I will have to wear a splint instead. This is a great improvement as it it more comfortable - and most importantly, I can take it off at night and for washing myself. In the following week I definitely start to make faster progress with getting my wrist and fingers working again, but there is still a long way to go.

I'm supposed to be getting physiotherapy at the hospital too, but I somehow seem to have slipped through the NHS net (not for the first time) and haven't received the expected letter with an appointment. I suspect they sent the letter to my old address - which the hospital somehow had even though I moved seven years ago and told my GP and everything else connected with the NHS my new address. I even corrected this at the hospital but I think they still  sent the appointment letter to the wrong place even though I had already confirmed the hospital now had my current address! I was instructed to ring the physiotherapy dept if no appointment letter was forthcoming - so I rang the two numbers I'd been given, but no one answered the phone even though I was ringing during the hours mentioned in my previous letter! Once again, my faith in NHS administration is failing even though the care I have received on my visits to the hospital has been excellent. The doctor at the Fracture Clinic on my visit said to just go round to the physiotherapy department in person while I was in the hospital if I couldn't get through on the phone. So I did, and eventually got an appointment - in three weeks time - over seven weeks after being discharged from the hospital.  In the meantime I've been doing a little physiotherapy of my own invention - bending and stretching my fingers regularly. After getting the cast off my wrist I am finally able to at least attempt to play the guitar again - it's very difficult but I think also good physiotherapy.

Nearly eight weeks after my prang I finally get to attend my first physiotherapy appointment. Instead of the expected torture it's actually OK and the physiotherapist chap is very nice and helpful. I learn some interesting and useful things to aid my recovery along with being given a list of exercises to do. After eight weeks my feeble attempts to play guitar are getting better too: I can just manage a few chords, but not bar chords. I can play a little lead guitar, but only on four out of six strings. My thumb is still too stiff and restrictive - I haven't got full movement in it, and my fingers don't yet stretch as far as they used to. However, I make sure I try to play guitar every day - and every day there is a slight improvement. Slowly but surely I am making progress....

Friday, 17 November 2017

Back home...


So after an eventful couple of days I wake up back at home in my own bed. It's Saturday, but I definitely won't be going out anywhere this weekend, or probably for some time to come. Now I am faced with a variety of challenges to do even the most simple basic things at home. My legs work OK in spite of having taken a bit of a battering in the prang. Not so my left hand and wrist which are now in plaster. I can get out of bed and get dressed without much trouble. I can use the toilet and have a basic wash, but a bath or shower is out of the question for the time being as I've been told I have to keep my legs dry due to my injuries - I can't let the plaster on my wrist get wet either. In due course I manage to get round the latter problem by taping my lower arm into a small bin liner, but I have to be very careful not to lose my balance in the shower as there is no one around to help me if I fall and further damage myself, break something, or knock myself out - the consequences are potentially fatal.

Breakfast presents new challenges. I can sort out two Shredded Wheat easily enough, but what about my fry-up? Cutting up and frying mushrooms isn't too difficult. Cooking sausages in the microwave/grill combo is no big problem, but fried eggs? Much to my amazement I manage to crack two eggs into the frying pan, cook them, and get them out of the pan and onto the plate without breaking the yolks! While also cooking mushrooms and sausages at the same time. I feel this is quite an achievement with only one hand, but I suspect I'm very lucky to have got away with it without mishap and I doubt I'll be so lucky next time.... Also, I realise that it is very easy to drop things or make a mess while cooking - and it's going to be a lot harder cleaning things up after any accidents. I decide fry-ups are off the menu for the time being. Fortunately making a bit pot of coffee isn't too difficult though. I later discover that opening a can of soup or beans isn't as easy as I thought. Although I have an electric tin opener most tins these days have those big ring-pull tops. I can pull the lid most of the way off after a fashion, but as I struggle to get the lid free it occurs to me that the edge of the lid is very sharp and I could easily cut myself badly - and then what? Stopping bad bleeding from a deep cut and putting a plaster on - with only one hand free - and that's the one with the cut! I decide trying to open tins on my own isn't such a great idea, so that's more things off the menu.

I had one nice surprise when I got back home: I found when I opened the fridge that my sister had very thoughtfully (and without telling me) done some shopping for me before picking me up from the hospital - so I don't need to go out shopping for a few days - thanks again Sis!

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Why I won't be seen out and about much for a while....

So, my life had been ticking over without too much drama. The bills being paid and still in work. Not much money to spare for going out to gigs or anywhere else. Disposable income - what's that? Playing a few gigs to keep my hand in, and several more booked before the end of the year. Like I said, ticking over nicely. Well maybe not nicely exactly, but things could be worse.

Thursday morning. September 21st. It's 7.55 in the morning and I'm heading up the Great North Road on my way to work. It's not too cold for the time of year and it's dry. The bike is running well and the weekend isn't too far away. A minute later I'm lying in the road. My bike is lying next to me - judging from the sounds I've just heard it's in more pieces than it was a minute ago. Unfortunately, I'm in no position to be able to look for myself although I have an excellent view of the blue sky and clouds overhead  A small crowd gathers around me - including the driver of the BMW who pulled out in front of me and who's car I just T-boned. She's in a bit of a state of shock, but fortunately uninjured. I lie there propped up on my elbow. Getting up doesn't seem a particularly good idea, although I'm not in any pain. However, I am concious that my guts have taken a bit of a battering as they slammed into the petrol tank and I feel a bit stiff and odd in that area so internal injuries are a possibility... I get tired of propping myself up and decide I'd be more comfortable lying down and awaiting developments...

In due course the 'developments' include paramedics cutting most of my clothes off as I lie in the road - although fortunately I manage to dissuade them them cutting off my old weathered and treasured motorcycle jacket before scraping me off the road and shovelling me into the back of an ambulance. The paramedics were very good and soon had me on a drip and comfortable in the back of their motor - well as comfortable as you can be lashed to a stretcher with your head in a brace to stop you looking to either side - which also stopped be being able to look at what state my bike was in while I was lying next to it.

The police arrive and take charge of the situation, take details, and direct traffic around me and the other wreckage. Naturally I get breathalysed - it's routine in all Road Traffic Accidents. I'm not bothered and inform them that I only had a single bottle of beer last night before going to bed - so I'm expecting a very low alcohol count. It's not just low - it's zero. I express surprise at the 'zero' count, but a paramedic says after one pint it would normally be zero after only an hour anyway. "Don't tell him that!" says the copper! I don't drink & drive/ride so it makes no difference to me anyway.

I could feel blood trickling inside my moto-cross boots before they took them off - they even cut my socks off! Fortunately, the very heavy duty boots did their job and my feet and ankles seem fine. However, I'm told my left wrist looks like it might be broken. Asked if I want any 'pain relief'? I think 'Yes, I'm definitely up for some of that'. But instead of the hoped for morphine they stick a tube of my mouth and pump gas into me instead. The paramedic said my wrist might be broken 'cos it's at a 'funny angle' - but I'm not laughing. Maybe this is why they decide to pump me full of laughing gas? It has absolutely no effect. I inform them of this and they crank it up a bit, and then a bit more What hospital are they going to take me to? Potters Bar General has been closed and is now a Tesco. The QE2 in Welwyn Garden City has also been closed. Watford is mentioned - I'm not keen on ending up that far from home, and I definitely don't want to go to The Lister as I've heard bad reports first hand about the quality of care received there. Fortunately, they decide to take me to Barnet General - which I have mixed feelings about as my mother died in there - but to be fair the place has been completely rebuilt since those days and is effectively a different hospital now.

By the time we arrive at the hospital the nitrous oxide is still doing nothing for me - on inspection it is discovered that the cylinder is now empty. I am wheeled into A&E on a stretcher and again asked if want any 'pain relief'? Fearing the shock and adrenaline may wear off at any time and real pain might kick in without warning I say 'Yes please'. Finally, they give me actual morphine. That has no effect either. I tell them it's not working and they give me more. And again. Finally, they say they have given me as much morphine as they dare.

So, pumped full of morphine - which appears to be another drug I am immune to, I am wheeled about the hospital and given X-Rays. Lots of X-rays. And a full body CTR scan. And covered in ECG electrodes and wiring for no reason that I can see. It's confirmed I have a broken wrist. Fortunately multiple X-Rays on my knees show they are not broken, although both legs have been badly sliced open in the crash and both my shin bones are visible - a doctor spends quite some time sluicing the cuts out with saline before they get taped up. I try to work out exactly how these injuries to my legs happened as my motorcycle boots appeared undamaged. However, my jeans inside my boots had been sliced right open in the crash and were quite badly bloodstained before the paramedics cut my jeans off. Still, that's the least of my worries. Where's my bike? What happened to it? How badly damaged is it? Oh-yeah - I've got a broken wrist too.

By now I'm resigned to my fate. I won't be going to work today, or probably any time soon. I won't be going home today either. I feel helpless - I am lying on a stretcher and can't get up. I have absolutely no control over what is happening - I'm not used to this. I realise I'm going to have to get used to it - I have no choice. I'm told I need to have an operation to fix my broken wrist. Whatever...

Now I have time to think. A lot of time to think. And a lot to think about. A moment of inattention on the Great North Road earlier has put me in hospital, and off work for I don't know how long. I've probably lost my motorcycle - the best I've ever had by a long way. I may have become an ex-biker at 7.55 this morning - probably for good this time. Also, I'm supposed to be playing 3 gigs next month with 2 different bands - one gig is of particular importance to me personally. I know already that I won't be physically capable of playing any of them. I have no idea how long it will be before I am capable of playing the guitar again....

While I was in the ambulance being stabilised I had asked the police to inform my employers that I wouldn't be making it in to work this morning. This they did - creating a bit of drama when they turned up out of the blue! Consequently my manager arrived to see me later in the morning at the hospital. Seeing the state I was in lying on the stretcher with a broken wrist and my legs covered in dressings at least he could pass the message back that I wasn't swinging the lead and wouldn't be back for some time....

Much hanging around ensues for me: lying about on a stretcher - being wheeled to various parts of the hospital. After loads of X-Rays and a scan my wrist is plastered up and I await my fate. I am told they will probably send me home, and I will have to return for the operation on my wrist tomorrow. I am not keen on this plan. How am I supposed to manage at home on my own in this state? The sister in charge (who is very good and strikes me someone who genuinely deeply cares) says transport has been arranged to take me home. It's early evening by then. More hanging around ensues. Shortly before I think I'm about to be shipped home I'm informed there has been a change of plan and I'm to be operated on straight away. This sounds much better to me! I can only assume that the sooner an operation takes place the better the outcome is likely to be. Bring it on...

I wake up three or four hours later in a hospital bed with my forearm/wrist in plaster and suspended in a sling - feeling much the same as I did before. I managed to grab something to eat - which was nice as it was around eleven at night and I'd had nothing to eat since my breakfast around 6.30 that morning. I'm pleased to find that in spite of my legs and various other bits being bashed about I can still make it to the toilet under my own steam.

The following morning the doctor came round and seemed happy with my progress - apparently the fracture to my wrist had been quite a bad one but the operation went well and I now have a metal plate holding my arm/wrist together. Probably for life. Could be worse - I still have an arm , and in spite of the deep lacerations I don't have two broken legs or any other injuries - apart from a lot of bruising in various places - most of which only starts to show up a few days later...

I am informed I'll be going home later that day. After I'm given the all clear to be discharged and various paperwork is taken care of. Meantime - more time to think. Much more. My surroundings are actually very pleasant - somehow I have ended up in a two bed ward, with the other bed unoccupied. Very nice and peaceful. The medical staff are very nice too - I am well looked after, and even the food is nice! I am very impressed with the 'new' state-of-the-art Barnet General Hospital - now totally unrecognisable from the place I knew before which consisted largely of wartime pre-fabs built to take care of the the overflow from London's other hospitals during the Blitz.

I had an appointment to give blood this afternoon - rather ironic in the circumstances. I guess enough leaked out of me yesterday - I wonder if I was given any, or did they just keep me topped up with a saline drip during the operation? As I'm getting good Wi-Fi lying in the hospital bed I try to go online to cancel my blood donor appointment, but without success.

Mid-afternoon and there is still no sign of me going home. Last night transport was being arranged to take me home, but today I am apparently expected to make my own way home. Maybe because last night I was in A&E they wanted to help me home as quickly as possible because they wanted the bed? Today there seems little urgency and the solitary other bed in the ward remains vacant all day. How am I expected to get home? The bus service is very good, but I don't have my Oyster card and the buses no longer take cash. Then I realise I have my credit/debit cards with me which will work on the bus instead. Also, I no longer have any clothes as the paramedics cut most of mine to ribbons yesterday! Last night in A&E the sister in charge said she could get me pyjamas and a dressing gown to borrow, but the sister in charge of the ward I find myself in today apparently can't do this. She asks me if I can get a friend to take me home? But it's Friday afternoon and everyone is out at work. Also, my phone doesn't work in the hospital for some reason - I can't make or receive calls or even texts - although bizarrely my phone is getting a good Wi-Fi signal and I can use the internet! I realise that probably the only person who can rescue me is my sister - who is also still at work but finishes fairly early on a Friday. But I can't phone her as my phone seems to be blocked or something by the hospital, so I have to get the nursing sister to phone her for me from the hospital phone....

So, after a fashion I manage to arrange for my sister to come and pick me up. Which involved her having to drive to the hospital, pay to park, pick up my keys, drive to my place and pack me some clothes, drive back to the hospital, and possibly get stung for parking a second time! When I expressed my concern about my sister having to pay twice for hospital parking in a short space of time the head nurse suggested I wait outside the hospital for my sister's arrival. I pointed out that I had no clothes to wear while standing outside in the cold for who know's how long? I asked if a dressing gown could be provided but was told that would not be possible, or even some slippers! It was suggested by the nurse that I could  be lent an extra gown (I was only wearing one of the hospital backless lace up ones) and I could put that on over the other one - but the other way round. I was less than impressed by this idea. Fortunately my sister managed to park, get my keys from me, get some of my clothes, and get back to the hospital with no trouble and without having to pay two parking charges - thanks Sis!

I'd like to thank the paramedics who scraped me off the road, the police who attended the crash scene, and the staff at Barnet General Hospital who looked after me so well - they were all terrific!

So after my prang on Thursday morning I got home on Friday night with my arm in a sling, my wrist in plaster, and facing an interesting time figuring our how to do even the most basic things for myself - now the fun would really start....

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Been a bit quiet round these parts recently....

...actually,  I've been a bit quiet for quite a while now compared to my previous prolific blogging output. There are reasons for this - mainly financial. The recession has begun to bite here at Dark Towers. In fact it's not so much biting as taking a massive chomp out of my bank (in)balance. Maybe I shouldn't have bought that motorcycle (more on this in the next episode...) or all those guitars and amplifiers? Most of the guitars have seen little use, although all have been gigged - I just have a couple of favourites that I use regularly. I have been thinking about selling one or two of them, and I don't need two basses either - although ironically one of them has seen a lot more gigging use over the last couple of years compared to my 6 string razors. Still, even playing bass is better than not gigging at all so...

The simple truth is that the cost of things like food, beer (particularly BEER), petrol, utility bills, etc. has been rising much faster than my feeble income and something has to give. I have a mortgage to pay as well, and keeping a roof over my head has to take priority over other things. So basically I can't afford to go out much any more. The price of a pint at gigs has risen far faster than anything else over the past few years - certainly far faster than my wages, so I have largely stopped drinking at gigs - apart from the ones where beer is around normal North London pub prices. In fact, I have mostly stopped going to gigs at all - apart from seeing cover bands in local pubs which doesn't count. I can go and see a band in a local pub for minimal (if any) transport costs, not have to pay to get in, and enjoy quality ale at reasonable prices. Even then, I'm not out every weekend seeing bands in pubs either - it has to be a band I like and know are going to ROCK or something new that looks interesting and likely to ROCK. Otherwise I'll just stay in and save some money - with being overdrawn becoming a way of life I'm effectively paying interest on every pint I drink so...

I've had to become used to not going to many gigs these days. I don't like it, but I have no choice but to accept it. That's just the way things are now. I've missed loads of gigs over the last year or so that I'd usually have gone to without thinking. I wouldn't even think about whether to go to see a band I like - I'd just go. I've missed bands I've seen many times and would normally never miss like Backyard BabiesDanko JonesSupersuckersKISSAlice CooperTherapy?TerrorvisionThe Darkness and many more. I do miss going to gigs, and although I still have a social life locally I do miss seeing all my rock 'n' roll friends I meet at gigs in town - they know who they are. ;-)

So basically - no gigs means no blogging. Well mostly anyway - apart from the odd rant or bit of other news. However, I have also had one other major setback recently....

Sunday, 13 August 2017

9/8/2017 Dark Lord back on the radio!

I've been looking forward to this for a while - this week I was a guest on Dave Renegade's show on Hard Rock Hell Radio. I had been a guest in the studio at Total Rock Radio a few years ago when Alex and Clare from AntiProduct had their own show on the station, but this time on Hard Rock Hell Radio I actually got to pick most of the music on this three hour long show. And talk a load of bollocks while getting progressively more drunk. Not very professional I know, but I'm not a professional so I can do what I want! Other recent guests on the show have included Duncan Reid and Nigel Mogg.

If you want to hear me make an idiot of myself you can listen to the show at your leisure at the link here. There are a few surprises in there, as well as many bands who will come as no surprise to those who know me! I went in armed with enough music to last for over six hours, so I had to leave out a lot of stuff I was hoping to play. Also, there was a load of other music I wanted to play that we couldn't play due to file format issues with the radio station software - so the show was only half as good as I wanted it to be - there were a lot of great  bands that would have been new to most listeners who I really wanted to play. I am having trouble ripping from CDs at home at the moment, so there were some glaring omissions - no AC/DC or Led Zeppelin for instance! Nothing from my favourite Ramones albums either. When picking the music for the show I was limited to stuff that I already had on MP3 - there was so much I have on CD/vinyl that I'd have loved to play but couldn't bring with me!

Here is the full tracklisting - including a few songs chosen by Dave Renegade - see if you can guess which ones?

1 Intro - Hanoi Rocks
2 Never Shut Up! - Texas Terri Bomb
3 Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio - Ramones
4 Crying Shame - Motörhead
5 Vanilla Radio - The Wildhearts
6 I Got Sound - Fireroad
7 Kick It Down - Girlschool
8 Live Rock N Roll - JoanOvArc
9 Waking Up The Neighborhood  - Planet Of Women
10 Wolfman Sideburns - Pussycat And The Dirty Johnsons
11 Sweet N Sour - The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
12 Summer That Never Was - The Idol Dead
13 When the Rain Comes - Jacobites
14 How Come it Never Rains - Dogs D'Amour
15 Crash - Aerosmith
16 Honey from a Knife - The Cult
17 Pump It Up - Elvis Costello & The Attractions
18 I Am The Resurrection - The Stone Roses
19 Groove is in the Heart - Deee-Lite
20 Wall Of Glass - Liam Gallagher
21 Blockbuster! - The Sweet
22 Chez Maximes - Hollywood Brats
23 Everybody Loves You (When You're Dead) - Kitty Hudson
24 Personality Crisis - New York Dolls
25 In Cold Blood - Johnny Thunders
26 29 X the Pain - The Wildhearts
27 Beer For Breakfast - Silver Ginger 5
28 Hurt - Johnny Cash
29 Generation RocknRoll - Wolfsbane
30 Spend Your Money - The Main Grains
31 King Rocker - Generation X
32 Back At The Funny Farm - Motörhead

Doing this show with Dave Renegade was a lot of fun! We'll have to do it again sometime - I think we had some terrific music on the show, but this was just barely scraping the surface of what I was hoping to play. I have loads and loads more stuff in store, old bands, new bands, stuff that's only been very rarely played on any station anywhere, and plenty of stuff I'm sure has never been heard on any other station. Stuff that will have you thinking "This is great - why have I never heard this before?".  There was lots more stuff I wanted to talk about as well, but we just ran out of time - those three hours went so fast! Hopefully Dave and me can do another show together before too long - and the next one will be even better! In the meantime, Dave Renegade's 'Dark Heart of Camden' radio show is on Hard Rock Hell Radio every Wednesday night at 21.00 GMT and I highly recommend listening to it. The show is packed full of dirty raw rock 'n' roll, punk, a bit of indie and the odd bit of metal - plus maybe some country, and often some unexpected surprises too! The station broadcasts 24/7 so there is always something rockin' happening.

Thanks again to Dave Renegade for inviting me to be a guest on his show - I really enjoyed it!

Monday, 7 August 2017

2/8/2017 Duncan Reid and the Big Heads + The Ramonas @ Haunt

A new venue to me, in a part of town I rarely venture to. However, it's not too hard to get to - just a couple of trains for me, and easy to find as I walk up Stoke Newington Road. £8 isn't bad to see a couple of good bands, and I'm already pretty sure I'm going to enjoy both of them. I'm not disappointed either. A bit of research beforehand reveals that the venue sells 'craft beer'. Craft beer = expensive at the best of times, and a check on the venue's website reveals West End prices - which I'm not prepared to pay in the Dalston/Stoke Newington area. Further research reveals that there is a Wetherspoons just a few minutes walk up the road - so this is where I do all my drinking before and after the gig. On arrival at the Rochester Castle I notice that I'm not the only one who has had exactly the same idea and I see a few people in there who are also at the gig later - one of them even wearing the headline band's T-shirt! An increasing number of people seem to be avoiding drinking at the overpriced bars in music venues these days and doing their drinking in the nearest 'spoons or other nearby pub instead. I wonder if music venues are wondering why their bar takings seem to be so low? The Rochester Castle has more character than 'yer average Wetherspooms and is a genuinely old pub - I find out later that it used to be a music venue in it's own right and a lot of very well known punk bands played there back in the day. I find several ales and ciders at around 6% - stronger than I usually find in my local 'spoons. I like this pub!

Suitably refreshed I head back to Haunt - which seems a pleasant enough place that also specialises in vegan food if that's your kind of thing. I see a few familiar faces in the crowd. downstairs in the basement where the bands play - it's quite a good turnout for a Wednesday night in a virtually unknown music venue that isn't in Camden or the West End - actually it's quite full. It's a good few years since I've seen The Ramonas. I saw the original lineup soon after they formed, as well as other lineups later - I think the whole band must have changed several times over since they started. Still, it's a Ramones tribute so you know exactly what you're gonna get. And that is what we get. All the'hits' and more - loud, fast, and in your face. It's a lot of fun! Which is just as it should be. The original Ramonas were great, and this lot are pretty good too. It's a tight and well drilled set - these girls have obviously rehearsed hard to get this good. There's no messing about - one song straight into the next with the regulation 'WUN-TOO-FREE-FOR! It's exactly what you want from a Ramones tribute - most of your favourites played hard and fast.
I'm particularly pleased as my favourite Ramones album 'Rocket To Russia' is heavily featured. My only criticism with their representation of the Ramones is that although the drumming is fast, hard, and powerful - it doesn't have that really fast beat on the hi-hat that Tommy and later Marky perfected. The original band's drummer Taz taught herself how to play drums from scratch just to play in the Ramaonas and she had that cymbal thing totally nailed! There is a bit of a lull towards the end of their set when the singer announces that they are going to play a couple of songs of their own. Don't get me wrong - they are OK, but it's not what we paid our money for. If they want to do their own songs maybe they should do them under another name? 'cos maybe a couple of our favourite Ramones songs that got missed out of tonight's set could have been played instead of their own songs. Just sayin'.....

So, onto the headliners.
I'm sure the Ramones must have been an influence on Duncan Reid and the Big Heads, and Duncan's first band The Boys were one of the first generation of UK punk bands who appeared soon after the Ramones changed everything - but this band don't sound much like the massively influential  New York band at all. And nor are they meant to.
Duncan's old band The Boys were known as 'The Beatles of Punk' for good reason - they might have had a rough and ready sound, but they had really good catchy tuneful songs. The Big Heads frontman and bass player obviously learned a lot about songwriting during his time with The Boys, and he has put this to good use with his current band.
The tunes are great, and the songs tell interesting stories based on real-life experiences. The punk edge is still there though - more noticeable in the band's high energy live shows which I actually prefer to the slick and maybe over-sweet sound of the band's studio recordings.
The live situation is where Duncan Reid and the Big Heads really shine - this is a tight and dynamic live band.
Three albums into this band's life and they are building up a strong catalogue of material to pick their set lists from - no need for this band to just keep playing the same ten or so songs at every gig like some bands seem to for years. This keeps things constantly fresh, evolving, and interesting.
There is one tense moment when Duncan nearly get's his teeth knocked out by the microphone after an over-enthusiastic dancer at the front sends the mic stand flying into the singer's face - playing rock 'n' roll is not without it's risks!
As usual, the band's own repertoire of catchy pop songs with a punk edge is filled out with one or two Boys songs such as 'First Time', 'Brickfield Nights', and the Hollywood Brats 'Sick On You' (as covered by The Boys on their first album) to bring the show to a climax. Everybody goes home happy. And I go back to the pub for another hour...

Friday, 4 August 2017

5/6/2017 Mark Gemini Thwaite & Maleficent @ Proud

Monday night and only a couple of days after Camden Rocks Festival and I find myself back in Camden at one of the venues I was in on Saturday. I can't say Proud is one of my favourite venues in Camden, and I have issues with the bar prices and ale selection (or lack of) but I have to admit it has otherwise improved over the last few years. One thing which makes the place nicer to visit tonight is the lack of the usual annoying and obsequious toilet attendants - I can't stand those creepy fuckers! I am quite capable of taking care of my own needs in the toilet thank you - I don't need any help.

I make a special effort to get down early enough to see Maleficent.
It's the first time I've seen this band in quite a while - they've been a bit quiet over the last year for various reasons.
Now they are back, with a new bass player and guitarist - down to a single guitar player now. This is an act that's hard to categorise - Not exactly Goth, although there are obvious Goth influences. Not exactly Glam or metal either, but always an interesting show to watch - I am impressed that singer Maleficent Martini manages to wear three different sets of shoes in only fifteen minutes or so! Starting off in scarily high and Glam heels, then ballet shoes for some dance moves (she is a trained ballerina) and then trainers!
Some new songs are being added, and I'm glad to see there is a much stronger 'live band' vibe and much less reliance on things like laptops - which can and do go fail in live situations. No technical problems tonight - just a strong and slick live performance.
You never know quite what is going to happen at a Maleficent show, but you know that it will never be boring.
Having two singers makes things more diverse and interesting and Mortimer Cain adds some aggression and grit to the proceedings.
I'm a little disappointed 'Model Song' isn't included in tonight's set, but time is short for an opening act, and new songs need to be tried out and added to keep things fresh and interesting. All too soon Maleficent's show is over - I hope I won't have to wait as long until their next gig.

The next act is definitely more 'Goth' - musically at least. This show is to promote the new MGT album 'Volumes'. Mark Gemini Thwaite has certainly paid his dues over the years - playing guitar in many bands, including Spear Of Destiny, and a long stint in The Mission which certainly enhances his Goth-cred! I remember seeing him play at The Barfly a few years ago when he was in New Disease. Now he has just released his first solo album.
The new album 'Volumes' features a very impressive array of guest vocalists - including Ville Valo of HIM, Julianne Regan from All About Eve, Wayne Hussey of The Mission, Ricky Warwick of Black Star Riders and The Almighty, Saffron from Republica, and Miles Hunt of The Wonderstuff. Obviously you aren't going to get all those people singing in a small Camden venue on a Monday night, so lead vocals tonight are provided by Ashton Nyte of The Awakening - who also sings a couple of songs on the album and is easily the most 'Goth' person in the band tonight.
As well as mostly MGT compositions the album features a couple of covers: 'Seconds' by The Human League sung by Saffron, and a very surprising ABBA cover! - Ville Valo takes lead vocals on a brilliantly Goth version of 'Knowing Me Knowing You'. Ashton Nyte does an excellent job tonight of performing songs sung by other vocalists on the album and is a good frontman in his own right.
As might be expected, the overall vibe of the album and tonight's show is dark and Gothic - but not down and miserable. These are well crafted songs performed by fine musicians and together they create a moody atmosphere without it seeming grim or cliched.
All in all it's been an interesting and entertaining rainy Monday night in Camden - well worth a trip out into the gloom.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Camden Rocks Festival 2017


So the day has finally arrived - one of the best events of the year as far as I'm concerned. Camden Rocks Festival continues to grow year after year. Last year: 200 bands. This year: 250 bands. Last year: 20 venues. This year: 25 venues. The price of the ticket is growing even faster - it's nearly doubled since 2009. It's still good value for money, but the problem is - however many hundreds of bands are playing - you only have time to see a certain number of them in one day! And the more bands that are on the bill, the more timing clashes there are going to be! This made things difficult even in the early years of the festival and difficult choices had to be made: Who to see? And who to miss even though you really wanted to see them too?

There is an additional problem this year: Although all the venues are within walking distance of each other and many are less than five minutes apart. Most of the venues are very close to Camden Town tube station and the Camden Lock/Stables Market area. But a couple of the venues are right on the Southern borders of Camden: Koko and the Crowndale (formerly the Purple Turtle) while a new venue has been added right on the Northern edge: The Fiddlers Elbow is the other side of Chalk Farm - so if you are going to see a band at the Crowndale and the next band you are going to see (who might be starting just as the previous band you've seen are finishing) then you have a problem!

So with 250 bands playing this year planning my day was even more difficult than usual. I went to Camden Rocks last year with I shortlist of 28 bands I wanted to see - I only managed to catch 11 of them.This year I started off with a shortlist of 32 bands....

My first port of call was Dingwalls Canalside - which is one floor below the main Dingwalls venue. I arrived just after 12.00 which was when the festival kicked off at various venues round Camden - the place was already packed!
Consequently I didn't see much of The Idol Dead's set, but they sounded great! This terrific band were one of the highlights of last year's Pure Rawk awards - and their punky but tuneful hard rock certainly didn't disappoint here either. It's good to see these Northern lads can draw a crowd in London. A not unattractive young lady handed me a flyer for next year's Pure Rawk Awards during the band's set - something to look forward to for next year already.

Next I was off to the Electric Ballroom to catch the start of The Urban Voodoo Machine.
The show got off to a spectacular start, but before the 'Bourbon soaked Gypsy blues bop 'n' stoll' really kicked in I had to leg it for the Underworld to see Hands Off Gretel. Although it's ages since I've seen the Voodoos, I have been wanting to catch Hands Off Gretel for quite a while but haven't managed to until now.
I found myself rather disappointed by this band as it seemed to be a case of 'Style over substance'. The vocals didn't sound good and nor did the guitars - rather dated riot grrrl with plenty of attitude but lacking good songs - a strong image but not much to back it up. I didn't stay long as it was a longer than usual walk to the next venue...

I arrived at the southern extreme of the Camden area in time to catch another female fronted (in fact all female) band who were much better. This was The Kut at The Crowndale. This venue is the former Purple Turtle and was one of the best venues in Camden. The place has had a refurb since closing as the Purple Turtle and being wrecked by squatters. The layout of the place is still the same and it still has the potential to be a really good live music venue again.
This band sound like they take the music a lot more seriously than the outfit I saw shortly beforehand elsewhere in Camden. The songs are less grunge and more straight ahead rock - there is nothing 'dumbed-down' about The Kut - frontgal Princess Maha can pull off a quite flash and technical guitar solo as well as coming up with some catchy and memorable songs.
The place fills up quite a bit while the band are playing - The Kut are certainly starting to build a following and I'd been looking forward to seeing them again after catching them supporting JoanOvArc last year in Stevenage and also seeing them in Camden with The Fiascos. If I had a 'Bands to watch out for' list then The Kut would be on it! More on this venue later...

Fortunately the next venue on my list is nearby, and right on my route back to Camden Town. On paper it appears to be yet another new venue, but the location on the map looks familiar. My suspicions are soon confirmed and new venue 'Be At One' turns out to be the former Flowerpot/Tommy Flynn's pub - now expanded and turned into a trendy wine bar. I don't even bother finding out what the bar selection or pricing is like - I know neither will be to my liking. However, the music certainly is! Unfortunately, this is another case of (as often happens at Camden Rocks) a band being put into a venue that is far too small for them! Consequently, when I arrive I find the place is already full and security are operating a 'One in- one out' system. The band in question is Massive Wagons. I've been aware of this band for a while since Ginger endorsed them and had them as a support band. They have recently become better known and scored daytime airplay on Planet Rock with their charity single Back To The Stack - a tribute to the late Rick Parfitt of Status Quo. It's bloody good - you should download it straight away! The band are already in full flight by the time I find myself standing in the queue in the street outside wondering if I will manage to get in before the band finish? People are only trickling out of the venue terribly slowly in ones and twos every few minutes.... After ten minutes or so I finally get in. Obviously, the place is already rammed - I can't see the band at all!
Fortunately, I can hear them - and they sound excellent! If the new bands that are starting to appear on Planet Rock these days are anything to go by then the current trend in rock music seems to be going back to bands with well written songs packed full of meaty riffs and singers who can actually sing. Maybe all the generic bands with dumbed down nu-metal style riffs, uninspired guitar solos and shit shouty/cookie monster/screamo singers have finally had their day? Bands like Massive Wagons, JoanOvArc, Inglorious, and Stone Broken seem to be reviving the 'Classic Rock' format with new music of a quality that has been sadly lacking in the rock scene until recently. In spite of the regular "Rock is dead" pronouncements by those seeking publicity for themselves, these new bands are proving that rock is very much still alive and kicking. The proof is in this packed out venue full of enthusiastic rock fans!  Although I am probably in the venue for less than half of Massive Wagons set, at least I get to hear them play 'Back To The Stack' and the rest of what I hear from the band is pretty good too.

There seemed to be a bit of a lull in the bands I wanted to catch in the early to mid-afternoon, but from 3 o'clock onwards everything seems to be all happening at once! Straight after Massive Wagons I have to head back to the nucleus of Camden Town to see Stone Broken at Proud. I think this has actually turned into a fairly decent venue these days - apart from the poor beer selection at the massively overpriced bar. And those fucking annoying toilet attendants! This is the first time I've seen Stone Broken - although I have been impressed by most the songs of theirs I've heard on the radio. The singer is good and has an excellent voice in a Paul Rodgers style. The band don't look much - very much like a generic pub band rather than rock stars, but they sound a lot better.
The only low in their set (for me personally) was the inevitable inclusion of their token power ballad 'Wait For You'. I say 'token' because that's how it seems to me - a very generic sounding 'power-ballad-by-numbers' that feels to me like it was written as a 'box-ticking' exercise to satisfy someone at a record company. The first time I heard this song it already sounded like I'd heard it a hundred times from other bands. Apparently the fans like it, so what do I know? This would definitely be the moment to visit the bar or toilet as far as I'm concerned, but apart from the token soppy ballad to keep the girls in the crowd happy I thought Stone Broken's set was excellent! They have a great 'classic rock' sound, without sounding like they are influenced by or ripping off any classic rock band in particular. Their songs are good, with some hard crunchy riffs and fine vocals. This is definitely a band I'd go and see again - and I'd know there would be a handy bar/toilet break in the middle of their set when they play that song.

Next I head off to the Black Heart to try and catch the infamous Soap Girls. After hearing very mixed reports about this act I want to see what all the fuss is about. I arrive to find the place absolutely rammed! It's difficult even getting in the room and there is sod all chance of seeing much. As far as I can tell the Soap Girls are just a guitar wielding duo rather than a full band, but people seem to find duos perfectly acceptable as rock acts these days and the Graveltones and Royal Blood seem to be doing pretty well. Actually, the Soap Girls sound pretty good and seem to have catchy and tuneful punk/grunge sounding songs. Unfortunately, the venue is far too full to see the band or enjoy their performance - it's so uncomfortable I give it up as a bad job and leave after a couple of minutes.

I head off to Dingwalls to try and catch what's left of The Main Grains. Fortunately this venue is far less crowded. This band are good fun with some catchy punk 'n' roll tunes - in much the same style as frontman Danny McCormack's old band the Yo-Yo's. This band played at Camden Rocks last year, but this year Danny is having to perform sitting down. After some ongoing medical problems and having some toes amputated over the last year or so he has unfortunately had to have part of one leg removed as well. Danny has been determined not to let this hold him back and has been playing gigs sitting down until he can be fitted for an artificial leg. What a trooper!
The Main Grains have some catchy songs, and with the odd Yo-Yo's tune thrown in as well they create a good atmosphere in what is one of the festival's better venues.

Next I head back to the Black Heart to catch the Role Models. Fortunately the place isn't as full as it was earlier with all the middle aged blokes perving over the Soap Girls! The Role Models are good fun and have some excellent songs veering over to the poppy commercial side of punk'n' roll.
I keep missing this band recently as they always seem to be first on the bill and I can't get there in time to see them, so it's good to finally see them again today. I stay in the Black Heart for the next band - one of the highlights of the festival for me. It's the second time I have seen Duncan Reid and the Big Heads recently at this venue If one of the band members looks rather familiar it's because he was on stage with the previous band as well - Nick Hughes 'day-job' band is the Role Models, but the Big Heads have been 'borrowing' him for gigs recently as Mauro Venegas is often needed to play guitar in his other band The Godfathers. Nick is no stranger to depping in bands and I have previously seen him playing with the Yo-Yo's and/or the Loyalties.
After selling out this venue for their album launch show earlier this year the band have again managed to get a lot of people into the room. With terrific songs and a great live presence it's not hard to see why. Duncan certainly learned a thing or two about writing catchy songs while he was in his old band The Boys.
The new album 'Bombs Away' is rather good and contains some cracking tunes, but I prefer hearing them played live without the glossy studio sheen and polished production which renders the sound a little too sweet and pop sounding for my taste.
It also helps the Duncan Reid and the Big Heads are a very good live band with a high energy level - this is genuinely exciting pop/punk from a very dynamic band. As usual some Boys songs are included in the set, along with the infamous Hollywood Brats classic ''Sick On You' - as covered by The Boys on their first album.
After all the excitement of Duncan Reid and the Big Heads I just have time to hot-foot it up to the extreme Northern fringe of the Camden Rocks Festival - actually the Fiddler's Elbow is more Chalk Farm/Kentish Town than Camden, but it is worth the walk. The reason for my hike is Last Great Dreamers
This band were apparently well known back in the early to mid 1990's and part of the same scene as The Quireboys and Dogs D'Amour, but somehow they completely slipped under my radar. I can't understand quite how this happened and I have only recently heard songs of their's such as 'Oblivion Kids' and 'Dope School'. These songs impressed me so much that I really wanted to see the band live - so here I am.
I was not disappointed - this band are very very good indeed. They look great and they sound amazing. Their songs are excellent too - catchy and poppy, but with a gritty slightly punk edge. There is a definite '70s glam rock influence and also a 1980s/90s trash glam look like the Quireboys and Dogs D'Amour, but there is also something more sleazy, and decadent about them - plus an element of danger.
Last Great Dreamers are possibly the best band I see all day at this year's Camden Rocks Festival - they really are the whole package and the band drips charisma and stage presence. They come across as very slick, polished and professional, but without being bland and squeaky clean. On stage they act, look, and sound like major rock stars - and it's hard to believe a band this good never reached that status, and in fact remained unknown outside the underground rock scene.
Another thing about Last Great Dreamers that really surprises me - although this band are really good, there is hardly anybody here to see them. Maybe twenty people (if that) are in on the secret, but those present are obviously fans of the band and not just random punters who casually wandered in to see who was playing. I'm sure no one who saw this band left disappointed.

Sadly, after seeing some really good bands over the course of the day the remainder of my Camden Rocks Festival turns out to be somewhat of an anti-climax. After seeing a band at the extreme Northern end of the Camden area, I head back to the extreme Southern fringe. I could get the bus or train but I'm not that unfit or lazy and I prefer to walk as I know I have time. It's trying to rain a bit but it gives up before I pass the Roundhouse.

I arrive back at The Crowndale, this time to see Lilith and the Knight. I've been wanting to see this intriguing band since being given one of their CDs a while ago. Looking forward to finally seeing them I get into the venue - only to be asked to leave by security. Why? Because I was wearing a baseball cap! I had been in the venue for longer than the entire set by The Kut earlier in the day - while being identically dressed - and no one from security had said a word. When I pointed this out to the jobsworth security twat he said it was a rule insisted upon by the Council before they would grant the licence. So how come every other Camden venue I've been in all day hasn't had a similar condition imposed upon them? And how come I was in The Crowndale in plain sight of security for nearly an hour this afternoon without any of them pointing this out? No one tells me how I can or can't dress - especially in what is supposed to be a ROCK venue - this is the exact opposite of what rock & roll is about. I am forced to leave before Lilith and the Knight take to the stage - it looks like I will have to wait a while longer before I finally get to see them.  There is only one other band left to see on my list for the 2017 Camden Rocks Festival - The Garage Flowers. Guess what venue they are appearing at? Yes - The Crowndale!  And that's not for another two hours. I decide to cut my losses and head home early.

I find out later that a friend of mine also had trouble with security on trying to get into the same venue to see The Garage Flowers - and although he was wearing a hat, it wasn't a baseball cap (which is supposed to the specifically named headwear not allowed) and even a member of the band had trouble getting into the venue because security didn't like his hat either! So 'security' aren't at all consistent in what headgear is or isn't allowed - what a shit way to run a venue! Fortunately Camden has plenty of other venues that are far more welcoming, so I shall be spending my money in them instead in future. There was none of this bullshit when the place was the former Purple Turtle - that was a great music venue, but the people running The Crowndale don't seem to have any idea how to run a venue. No baseball caps allowed? I see they have some rap/hip-hop nights booked for the future - I'd be interested to see what happens when that crowd all turn up wearing their usual baseball caps!

So unfortunately my 2017 Camden Rocks Festival ended on a sour note - through absolutely no fault of any of the bands - all of which I enjoyed. The ones I got to see anyway. So lets compare my 'Final score' with last year's festival:

2016. 200 bands in 20 venues. 28 bands on my list - 11 actually seen.
2017: 250 bands in 25 venues. 32 bands on my list - 11 actually seen.

I did manage to see 2 of the bands this year that I missed from my list last year.

Overall, it's not looking such good value for money this year. The ticket price has gone up considerably - along with the number of bands and venues. But there are only so many hours in the day, and although there were 50 more bands playing this year I didn't get time to actually see any more bands than last year. So is it worth the extra ticket price? To me personally, the answer is NO. I'm sure some of the money for the higher ticket price is used to attract bigger headline bands - but from my point of view that's pointless as I don't get time to see them anyway. And part of the reason I like the festival is that I enjoy being able to see many new underground bands for the first time. Is Camden Rocks Festival maybe getting too big? I think it might be. It could be in danger of losing sight of what makes it so great - possibly last year's festival was as big as it can get and still remain grounded and it may have reached it's tipping point this year.

Anyway, in spite of the problems with a certain venue (which has since banned/blocked me on Twitter for daring to complain) I had a great day out as usual.
Same time next year then?