Monday, 31 December 2007

My First Gig

It’s weird how articles can change once you start writing them. This post was going to be about the extortionate price of concert tickets these days, and as a lead in I thought I'd write a few lines about my early gigs. This got me thinking, who the hell was my first concert? I then went off down a completely different train of thought and below is the result! Rest assured my rant on the price of concert tickets will surface sometime next year!

I have been regularly going to concerts for over 25 years now. I’d been taken along to shows with my parents much before this (mainly easy listening stuff like Johnny Mathis, Jack Jones, Frankie Vaughan… Vince Hill anyone?!), but I don't count these as they were not really my choice. I've been racking my brains trying to remember what my first official gig was, then suddenly it all came back to me…

My first gig was staged after hours at my senior school in 1981 (I would have been 14 at the time). I have no idea how it came about, but all of a sudden the word went round the school that a heavy metal band were to play in the main hall. Posters went up a few days later to confirm that 'Cyrus' (not Billy Ray!) were indeed hitting King John School as part of their world tour. There was a big heavy metal vibe around at that time, and I recall a big interest in attending. I picked up my ticket -- something like 50p and the school laid on free orange squash all in the deal if I remember rightly.. what a steal! Jeans were strictly banned at King John, but as soon as the 'end of school' bell went, everyone changed into their regulation denim outfits that had been brought along especially for the show. Those really into metal, pulled out rather impressive denim waistcoats covered in all the relevant patches (AC\DC, Whitesnake, Saxon, Scorpions etc). I’m not entirely convinced these kids really knew who all these bands actually were, but in those days the 'sheep mentality' was all-encompassing, and I think poor suffering mums were sent off to the market to pick up the right patches and dutifully sew them on.

I remember there was a real buzz about the show, and it was the talk of the school for several days - this was almost certainly the first live music that the whole audience had ever seen. Finally the day arrived - all the greaser kids were head banging in front of the speakers and getting all sweaty, whilst the rest of us stood around awkwardly and tapped a foot! As concert virgins, nobody really knew what they were supposed to do! But it was an initiation to live music nonetheless, and must have had some impact on me as I've always remembered it and have a vivid recollection of the evening.

But there is an interesting footnote to the Cyrus story. Some 15 or so years later, I’m at some works piss up and talking bollocks to one of my colleagues. I have no idea how the subject came up, but I think he must of asked me what school I'd gone to. I tell him and he says "oh I know that school, I did a gig there once…". A couple more questions and then I realise I've been working alongside the chief axe man from Cyrus, Martin Read, for the last 5 years! The real bonus was Martin had photos of the gig which he subsequently brought in. It was really weird to see snapshots of something that had only existed in your brain for the last 15 years. It was too much to ask that a young Piley sipping orange squash would turn up in the background of the photos, but it was really interesting to see them -- and pretty close to how I always remembered it too.

Although I no longer work with Martin, I'm still in fairly regular contact with him, so I asked if he'd mind sharing his memories of the band around the time of my inaugural gig, which he kindly agreed to do – he also scanned a few of the photos taken at that King John School bash, shown at the top of this post - Martin is the one with the long hair (click on the photos to see a larger image). Thanks for being a sport and helping me out on this Mart, over to you:

I must have joined the band in early 1981 as my friend Pete Calvert (who I had played with in my first band while we were at school) had joined a bit earlier and managed to get me in when their rhythm guitarist decide to call it a day. They were originally a Christian rock band and although they were gradually moving away from this I think we still got the occasional gig on this basis. I think this was the case with the school gig you were at. This leads to one of my main memories of that gig which was the criticism we got from certain people connected with the band when we all shot off down the pub after setting the gear up and sound checking before the gig. I think Pete and me were seen as a bit of a bad influence on this front. Overall I think the gig went reasonably well apart from me suffering from every guitarists nightmare which was hitting the opening chords of the set only to find no sound coming out. This eventually turned out to be a broken lead, so a quick change and I was back in business. That's probably about as much as I can remember about the gig. As you can probably see from the photos I sent, Pete was a lively bass player and used to throw some great shapes on stage.

The band line up at that time was;

Pete Calvert - Vocals & Lead guitar & songwriter
Pete Einchcombe and his brother Dave on bass guitar and drums respectively (not sure about the spelling of the surname)
Me - Rhythm guitar

We also had 2 people come along to help out at gigs (Andy & Mick I think). We used to rehearse at a church hall in Rainham. We managed to do a few gigs here and there and got a couple of support slots at the Electric Stadium (now closed) in Chadwell Heath. We did the obligatory 4 track demo at a studio in Collier Row (I think). It all gradually fell apart although I'm not entirely sure why. I think Pete wanted to move on and I seem to remember it just went downhill from there. It was also around then that I started to lose the plot a bit and began disappearing into a haze of vodka and valium so I probably wasn't particularly easy to deal with at the time. The band must have actually been wound up as I eventually got a cheque for £35.00 after it had all finished. I did however resist the urge to move to Jersey.

Overall it was good fun and I'm sure we had plenty of laughs along the way. A few years later I got back together with Pete and Dave (the brothers), Andy and a new guitarist but it just never worked out and that was the last involvement I had.

Martin continues to play in a couple of bands, although I understand the free orange has been knocked on the head.

Happy New Year to all


Sunday, 23 December 2007

Merry Christmas

Despite my musical snobbery at times, I'm a bugger for a Christmas album! I've got almost 100 of them - far too many to even play at Christmas in fact, yet I still can't leave it alone, and always end up buying a few more every year.

As a kid, one of my most vivid memories of Christmas is of my Dad digging out his impressive collection of Christmas albums. My father was at sea with the Merchant Navy for around 16 years (from the age of 16 until 32), and picked up many of his records when docking at places like the USA (New York was always the best place for records he tells me) and Canada (import albums in the 50's were virtually impossible to get hold of) . He had festive albums by all the classics - Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett etc and I have since bought them all up on CD over the years. But the album I have the fondest memories of is the 1958 Johnny Mathis LP "Merry Christmas". In the last couple of years it has finally been released on CD (in fact I now have no less than 14 Christmas albums by Mathis!). In his 'guest editor' post a few weeks back, E.F Rice made some interesting observations, where music can take you right back to the past. Well even now, hearing that album (in fact just looking at the cover) takes me right back to those special Christmases of the 70's, and memories of those people I miss so much today.

Other Christmas gems I've picked up in recent years include The Carpenters, Paul Anka, Bluegrass Christmas, Ray Conniff and even Twisted Sister!! yes really! Nothing is too cheesy or OTT for my pallet when it comes to Christmas! (hell, I can even take about 20 minutes of the Chipmunks Christmas album after a few egg-nogs!), and the more sleigh bells, Christmas bells, kid choruses they can cram in the better! The Twisted Sister CD (A Twisted Christmas) is a bizarre one, featuring Heavy Metal versions of all your favourites, culminating in their very own version of the 12 days of Christmas (titled 'Heavy Metal Christmas'). Instead of the usual stack of shite that my 'true love' gives to me, Dee Snider and co provide a much more useful haul of gifts:- 12 Silver crosses 11 Black mascaras 10 Pairs of platforms 9 Tattered t-shirts 8 Pentagrams 7 Leather jackets 6 Cans of hairspray 5 Skull earrings 4 Quarts of Jack 3 Studded belts 2 Pairs of spandex And a tattoo of Ozzy Osbourne.

But they aren't all gold, the most disappointing Christmas album purchase was the Beach Boys - not a name that instantly reminds you of winter and snow admittedly, but I thought I'd give it a go anyway. It is truly awful, and the fact 'Little Saint Nick' is included no less that 3 times, shows they were probably struggling from the off.

But it's interesting to see just how many succumb to the lure of a Christmas record, and the potential cash involved must be a tempting lure (and make no mistake, if you get it right, a guaranteed income every 12 months for ever more, IS tempting, just ask Noddy Holder!). Who'd have thought 80's indie rockers the Wedding Present would come up with such a storming cover of Elton Johns 'Step into Christmas'? Or ex-Stray Cat Brian Setzer would release two of the finest rockin' Christmas albums ever? But one of the worst must Be Billy Idols version of White Christmas. When I spotted he'd recorded an album of festive faves (two now!), I imagined some right ol stompers, and with his classic White Wedding in mind, expected great things from his version of White Christmas. What we got was so turgid and boring, it made Bing's original seem quite a rocker! What a shame Bing died in 77, just before he could release his punk compilation album.

I had hoped to do a Christmas count-down in the lead-up to the big day, hosting some of the best and worst of my festive songs. But as it is, please enjoy these couple of gems, one is a Christmas cracker, the other most definitely a turkey.

The Aforementioned Wedding Present doing 'Step Into Christmas'

Possibly the worst Christmas cover version i've ever heard... Tom Mcrae really give it his all here. If you are having a party this yuletide, Tom is bound to get it going (be sure to leave the rope and razor blades in a handy place, so your guests have easy access). This guy has turned his had to Maccas 'Wonderful Christmastime' which while never a particular favourite, was a million times better than this rubbish. Give it a go, just to see how bad it is! and if you know of a glummer Christmas record than this, do let me know!

Well, that just about wraps it up for me, so thanks for all your kind comments and e-mails over the last few months, and remember…. "although it's been said, many times many ways, Merry Christmas, to you"


Monday, 17 December 2007

The Wolfmen Cometh

They say you have to kiss a lot of frogs to find a prince, and it's never been truer with music. Dreaded words from casual acquaintances like “Oh, my son\dad\brother\nan etc etc (delete where appropriate!) is in a band, I'll bring you in a CD” or “ I'll lend you the latest Sting album if you want” fill me with dread (usually for good reason). But when it goes right it makes it all worthwhile. I have some trusted friends who when they say “ you've got to listen to this…”, I sit up and take note. And that is exactly how I came across The Wolfmen. A mate popped round a couple of weeks back, and before the door had even closed, he was eagerly thrusting a CD into my hand… and it's pretty much remained in the CD player ever since (and I am dreading him asking for it back!). This was one of those rare finds, when the deal is sealed on the very first play and you instantly know it’s for you.

The Wolfmen contain some much loved musicians from my past, namely Marco Pirroni (chief ‘Ant’ and also Adam's right hand man during his solo career) on guitars and Chris Constantinou (also part of Adam Ants' solo set-up) on vocals and bass. Another former Ant - Chris Hughes (a.k.a 'Merrick'), has also been contributing to some of their material.

The quality of the material on this five track promotional CD I have here is so good, it could easily pass as a mini album, and I am stunned at the variety of sounds and styles crammed into this 16 minute disc. If The Wolfmen are happy to throw away tracks like these as mere samplers, I can't wait to hear the material they are saving for the debut album!

First up is Jackie Says. Of the five tracks on show here, this one comes closest to an Adam Ant solo sound (circa Viva Le Rock/Apollo 9). An upbeat rocker that is so damn catchy, it was engraved on my brain after the first play.

Next we see The Wolfmen take the Brian Eno track Needle in the Camels Eye and claim it as their own. There are nods to Roxy Music and a driving 'I’m Waiting for the Man' style riff underpinning it throughout. Add to this the unmistakable sound of Marco’s guitar providing a mesmerising solo midway through, and you have the classic cover version: respectful, fresh and bang up-to-date.

Track three is recent single, Cecile. It is an atmospheric little number, and Chris’s vocals evoke memories of a 1980's Iggy Pop, as he croons darkly. There is a genuine edgy feel to the song, which just when you think has reached its peak -- takes a surprising (and brilliant!) detour with a haunting flute solo. It's half Jethro Tull, half intro to 'Down Under' by Men at Work! but it works beautifully. Not enough flute in rock 'n' roll these days! There is a catchy little riff throughout this song, and everytime I hear it, it reminds me of Submission by the Pistols!

Track four is a stormer of the highest order. Love is a Dog is The Wolfmen doing T-Rex for the new millennium… 21st Century Boys if you will. A stomping Glam riff and even Bolan-esque vocals from Chris, make this the standout track for me, and a real contender for my top five songs of the year. Crank the PC volume up as high as it'll go and enjoy it for yourself.

The disc finishes with While London Sleeps. The vocals are firmly back in the Iggy Pop territory for this track, which has the most beautiful 'melt in the brain' melody that I defy you not to fall in love with the moment it touches your ears! Try it for yourself now!

This CD has left me buzzing for more and desperate to see them live (oh, and scouring eBay trying to track down a copy before my mate asks for it back!) - The guys played their inaugural gig last month (15th November) at the Islington Academy, and by all accounts it was an amazing night. Word is the next show will be in February 2008.

This episode sums up why music plays such a big part of my life -- fuck drugs and alcohol, ain’t nothing else around that can give me a high like the one I've been on since discovering this little gem.

I'd struggle to find someone who I wouldn't recommend this too. 60's\70's punk fans, 70's glam, 80's\90's Ant fans will all love it, but I genuinely think fans of today's indie scene will get it too. Just to prove their wide appeal, another recent release (October 2007), ‘Two Eyes’ was a collaboration with bhangra star Daler Mehndi – is there nothing they can’t turn their hand to?!

My thanks to Marco and Chris for allowing me to host two tracks here, for you to try out for yourselves.

The Wolfmen are currently working on their debut album, scheduled for release early to mid 2008.

Visit The Wolfmen Official website here

To see the Wolfmen on MySpace click here

Finally, view the video for Cecilie right here!

Monday, 10 December 2007

Guest Editor Week: Musical Memories by E F Rice

I'd like to say a big thank you to my very good friend E F Rice. I asked him if he'd consider writing an article for the blog sometime, and true to his work he has come up with the goods. E F Is one of a handful of very close mates who have been together through thin n thinner! Clubbin, pubbin, Gigs, football, cinema, we've done it all together over the years. These days it's usually a meet up in the local, and even after 20+ years, the conversation rarely strays beyond music, football and films! Just how I like it! Last Christmas the boys got together for their yearly Christmas piss-up, and were given a task... come armed with your all time top 5 albums, top 5 debut albums, top 5 songs and most disappointing album. Being a typical bloke, I can't tell you how agonising this was! It pretty much ruined my fucking Christmas worrying about it!! It was a great night, with a few surprises along the way (and a few guilty pleasures announced). E F Came up with some curve balls we weren't expecting, so I am very pleased he is explaining a couple of them again here. He did on the night of course, but it was several pints in.... So here he is, making a very good case that he really should start work on that empty blog of his! over to you E F:

When Piley approached me to contribute to his blog a few weeks back I was truly honoured. Being a parent myself I knew how pushed for time and energy he would be (and Julie of course!) and seeing as I hadn’t quite plucked up the courage to contribute anything to my blog site, this felt a great opportunity to cut my teeth. However, Piley’s blog is an excellent read and I feel under a lot of pressure as I type this (no way can I beat the Sputnik entry!).

The piece below has just come to me on the trudge home from work tonight, inspired by another s*** day in an organisation that can p*** 25 million people off at the click of a CD drive. It is about one of the main sources of enjoyment I gain from music, which is the memories and emotions I attach to certain tracks when I hear or play them. This is a top 5 below, there are plenty more but these seem to be the most prominent in my mind and I would hate you to lose the will to live.

1. Roxy Music ‘Angel Eyes’
I amazed my friends when I cited this as one of my top 5 tunes of all time last year, due to my heavy shoegazing tastes. This track brings me back to the late 70s and brother (aka Jack Gestures). We shared a room at home at the time and he rolled in one night and woke me to tell me about this fantastic film called ‘Alien’. Anyone who knows my brother will tell you that when he explains something he doesn’t do it by halves and you get a comprehensive account. You will also here the same story repeated many times in a short space of time, but that is a different topic.

So Jack tells me all the gory details of this Alien film, and promptly gets into bed and falls asleep. There lies me at 9 years old cacking myself that a little Alien will either a : erupt from my stomach or b: scuttle around our room! Roxy Music were on the Radio a lot at the time and my Mum played this track regularly on her cassette player in the kitchen. Everytime I hear the intro I s*** myself! I do think it a fine record by the way and I have lots of Roxy Music stuff.

2. David Bowie ‘Ashes to Ashes’
1981, St Thomas More High School for Boys, 11 years old, shy, tubby, stupid haircut, yep the start of secondary school and I hated every minute of it. This track got a lot of air play at the time and it is a classic for many. For me it brings back those horrid memories of the early days, older kids trying to destroy your brand new uniform, trying to make new friends, harder work and disgusting school dinners. I got through the next 5 years by enjoying English, History and Geography and grinning and bearing the rest. Ashes to Ashes always brings me right back to the school playground though.

3. Pulp ‘Sunrise’
I’m not a Pulp fan as such although there are bits and pieces which I think are master pieces. This track is fantastic for two reasons, namely the fantastic guitaring and secondly it is the first track I heard on XFM after I learnt I was going to be a Dad! My beautiful daughter Ellie was born 9 months later and there are now a whole host of records I associate with her five years of life so far.

4. Stone Roses ‘I am the Resurrection’
A fantastic track off a fantastic album, yet for 5 years after December 1989 I could not bring myself to play this track or virtually anything from the album. This album, which I loved so much, coincided with the loss of someone very close to me. It sounds pathetic saying it now but I could not contemplate playing it. As time grows and you get older my personal experience is the best way to cope with a bereavement is to remember and celebrate that persons life. As a result from about ’96 onwards this track and album were firmly back on the menu, and I smile everytime I hear it !

5. Jive Bunny medley type thing !
This one reminds me of Piley! I used to work with Mr P and during one particularly drunken Christmas party, Piley announced to me he was off home cos he was drunk and wanted to get a bus, he then left into the cold night. The following morning he arrived at work late and very distressed. It turned out the 'falling asleep on the last train home from London' syndrome, also applies to buses! Piley ended up on Canvey Island and if that wasn’t bad enough, he fell asleep on the return journey as well. Anyone who knows where Piley used to live will appreciate Canvey is a fair distance on from where he should have got off.

Anyhow, this Jive bunny stuff was kicking around the charts at the time, and I remarked to Piley how I would love to put his journey home to music and Jive Bunny would be my choice! I have no idea why I thought that was funny but as a result I’m sorry to say Piley, Jive Bunny reminds me of you!

I hope you have enjoyed this article. Cheers Piley!

E F Rice