Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Oh no, Steve Hillage!

I was really expecting someone to shout out Neil's famous lament when the man himself walked onstage last week, but it's just as well they didn't, as despite being a very nice chap he has a bit of a sense of humour bypass about his brush with popular culture, as Robin discovered when he interviewed him a couple of weeks ago. An excellent set from the Steve Hillage band (including Mike Howlett & Miquette Giraudy) with some great (astral) projections going on behind them too - none of the dancey ravey nonsense he's been toying with of late, just lots of oldies, which suited the crowd down to the ground.
With most of Gong already onstage, we waited with bated breath & not a little trepidation to see what Daevid Allen would be wearing on his head tonight... last time I saw him back in the eighties, he hopped around like a demented gibbon with a pair of underpants on his noggin, declaiming awful poetry while a bunch of matronly earth-mother types danced about with silk scarves. It was not a pretty sight.
Happily he was in full-on Pothead Pixie mode tonight, and along with the venerable Gilli Smyth (the Queen Mum of hippies at 76, Gawd Bless 'Er!) they delivered 2 hours of solid gold Gongery, including all the stuff I really hoped they'd play - great show, and an inspiration to young whippersnappers like myself (stop sniggering at the back) - if they can do it at their age, I reckon I've got a few years left in me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

He's behind you!

My first visit to Bristol's newly refurbished Colston Hall last night, to see Motorhead on their annual Christmas tour. As Robin observed, it looks rather as though someone had 10 million quid to spend on renovating a stately home, and decided to blow the lot on a huge conservatory. Doubtless it won loads of awards, but to me it looks like a gigantic Ferrero Rocher, and inside it closely resembles an airport departure lounge.
Never mind, on with the Panto, and all the traditional elements are there; some thigh-slapping Principal Boys in the form of Girlschool, still rockin' 30 years after they first played here, and doing it very well (although a few of the younger members of the audience looked distinctly uncomfortable: "I'd never let my mum go out dressed like that..."), followed by The Damned, complete with Dave Vanian's pantomime villain & Captain Sensible's comedy genie. I never got to see them back in the day, and was very impressed - all the hits, plus a smattering from the Black Album, excellent.
Rather sweetly, as we leave the auditorium there's a smiley lady with a tray of ice-creams for sale...
Off to the bar, and a further design fault rapidly becomes apparent: in a reversal of the usual situation, no queue for the Ladies, but a massive one for the Gents - there's a grand total of 4 urinals in there. Genius.
Back in for Motorhead and the grizzled old Dame himself, and as ever they don't disappoint - pretty much exactly the same show as last year, but that's the whole point of Panto - the audience knows what to expect, and everyone's happy.
"Turn up!" yells one (presumably deaf) punter at one point.
"Turn up? I HAVE fuckin' turned up," replies Lemmy "I've come 10,000 miles to play for you, you cunt!"

Altogether now... "Oh no he hasn't!"
"Oh yes he has!"

Monday, November 02, 2009

Appetite for self-Destruction!

I knew I shouldn't have mentioned Duff McKagan's exploding pancreas...
In a misguided attempt to appear even more Rock 'n' Roll than the former Guns 'n' Roses bass player, our drummer Nick has, by sheer force of willpower, caused his appendix to explode, and is now confined to bed in the Royal United Hospital in Bath.
And this is only a couple of weeks after he nearly broke his back falling over his own dog... frankly, he shouldn't be allowed out without constant supervision; if anyone's a candidate for a 'bizarre gardening accident' it's our Nick!
Get better soon mate!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blackstone Cherry

To the O2 Academy last week (cheers for the blag, Robin!), to see Blackstone Cherry - a mighty fine outfit from Kentucky, supported by Duff McKagan's Loaded. Duff used to be in Guns 'n' Roses, during which time his pancreas exploded, but nothing so spectacular tonight - they were a pretty workaday bunch, and I blew my Rock Credentials out of the water by failing to recognise the G'n'R cover they did at the end.
Blackstone Cherry on the other hand were excellent - even if I failed to recognise the ZZ Top cover they did (that "glub... glub..." sound was my Rock Credentials sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I must have been doing something else during the eighties, I clearly missed a lot).
Rather like a young Lynyrd Skynyrd I thought, and if anyone was going to mistake their blonde guitarist Ben for a woman, it would clearly have to be a very foolish person with no Rock Credentials whatsoever. Probably quite a short person, who didn't have a very good view...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Miners Arms, Whitecroft

A return visit to the Miners Arms over in the Forest of Dean last week, which was a cracker last time, so Nick and I hardly minded that it clashed with Porcupine Tree in Bristol.
Well OK, we minded quite a lot actually, but last minute attempts to rearrange the gig failed (apparently Porcupine Tree had already sold out the Colston Hall, and were reluctant to change the date).
Needless to say, this time we played to a more-or-less empty pub. Perhaps everyone stayed at home to watch England march to glorious defeat against the Ukraine? Or perhaps everyone was in Bristol to see Porcupine Tree? Bastards...

"Vectis Man" discovered!

The world of anthropology has once more been rocked to it's core by evidence of another "missing link", this time in the Isle of Wight! Explorers stumbled across this timid beast, never before photographed, in the midst of a nigh-impenetrable jungle of mains leads, speaker cable and antediluvian Hi-Fi equipment in Wroxall. It gave off a strong smell of solder flux and burning hair, and when surprised reared into this distinctive defensive posture.

Excited researchers have speculated that this could provide a clue as to how such an apparently primitive species has spread from mainland UK across to southern France - using the Isle of Wight as a 'stepping stone', could they have bounced across the channel using some kind of Yogic flying technique..?

Monday, October 05, 2009

The George & The Pumproom

Friday night at the George in Woolley St, Bradford on Avon, pretty much a guarantee of a good night, and we weren't disappointed - turns out the landlord is a big fan of Porcupine Tree as well, so Nick & I were particularly chuffed to hear pretty much their entire works while we weren't playing. Pub was jammed to the rafters, loads of very familiar faces there too, which is always a bonus, and we had a blast - thanks, people!

Two for the price of one this weekend! Literally, 'cos the Pumproom in Trowbridge on Saturday was a benefit so we didn't get paid... a two-storey barn next to The Lamb pub, this venerable old building was the original home of the Trowbridge Village Pump festival, has been a folk club since the year dot and was recently done up & reopened as a venue. Unfortunately this last minute gig wasn't advertised, so apart from a couple of friends we told about it the night before (thanks for coming, Nick & Marilyn!), plus a representative from Shaftesbury Arts Centre who'd come up to see us (we normally attract bigger crowds, honest!), we played to an empty venue. The regulars in the Lamb stayed well away, possibly not even hearing us, as there was an ear-splittingly loud Karaoke going on in the pub. I say 'going on', but it was being so completely ignored that the bloke running it wandered in to listen to us after a while, swelling the audience by 25%...

The whole thing was so surreal that we actually rather enjoyed ourselves, and decided not to nail our instruments to the wall after all...

Friday, October 02, 2009

The Plough, Manston

God, what a terrible gig... truly a shocker, one of the worst I can remember... makes you wonder why we bother. But enough about the Griffin in Frome - let it go, Ian, let it go!*
Always a pleasure to come back to the Plough in Manston, where the beer is excellent, the atmosphere convivial, the sound always good, the barstaff & punters are welcoming and friendly and apparently the lovely landlady Elodie reads this blog.
We like this gig a lot, and it was just what the doctor ordered after last week. Nick pointed out an old gent to me at the end who'd sat under one of the PA speakers all night with a huge beatific grin on his face, and we both agreed there must be many worse ways to spend your retirement - I'm aiming to be the doddery white-haired old geezer in the corner of the local who looks like Gandalf, and gets drinks bought for him all night. Hell, I'm nearly there already...

*Had you worried for a moment, Elodie!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Hush, hush, whisper who dares...

"Bit of a random question, mate, but if we give you a fiver could you give us all a lift down to Sainsburys in your van?" Thus spake the boldest of the small knot of emo kids hanging around outside the Griffin in Frome as we drew up.
Well, if we'd known then what we know now, we'd probably have taken them up on it.
The Griffin's a nice little pub (little being the operative word) with it's own (micro)brewery attached (lovely beer, by the way), but is plagued by a neighbour prone to ringing Environmental Health if the milkman whistles too loudly in the morning. As a consequence there's a 82db soundlimit on proceedings,which pretty much sounds the death knell for a 5 piece amplified band. In fact death knells usually peak at around 90db, so even this wouldn't be allowed.
Very frustrating for all concerned, and I think it's safe to say we won't be back - sorry Frome!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Prom, The Bell, and the firm young carrot.

Two gigs in a week? The engines cannae take it, cap'n!
The Prom was pretty quiet, even for a Wednesday - in fact I think we outnumbered the punters, but it was the night of a World Cup qualifier, which England apparently managed to win, thus prolonging the agony of footy fans up & down the country until they inevitably crash and burn just before the quarter finals.
The venue's new video screens were finally up and working, but according to Ruth, who could see one from her end of the stage, they all seemed to be showing a bunch of middle-aged blokes with beer-bellies playing guitars... clearly still some technical adjustments needed then.

An unusual Sunday lunchtime outing next, to the Bell in Walcot St - something of a legend on the Bath music scene, and one we haven't played since ancient Brew Band days (before I even joined in fact). I awoke in a damp tent in Wales that morning, and had to break camp (and several rules of the road) rather hastily to make it in time, but we made it there even before the pub opened - AND there was a parking space!
It was all going so well... then we discovered that someone (let's mention no names) had left her fiddle behind. Oh dear... a rapid van journey later though we were all set, and it was a terrific gig. I don't think I've ever seen such a varied audience either; folkies, old rockers, indy kids and even a dog on a string - not to mention a deadringer for Uncle Monty (as played by Richard Griffiths in 'Withnail and I'), who after our set proceeded to wow the crowd with his impressive apparatus. I'll say no more than that.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Frocester Beer Festival

I like beer, me... and I like festivals too, so I've been looking forward to this one, and I wasn't disappointed.
First impressions weren't great though - as Mick & I carried our guitars through the entrance gate, a festival steward strode up to us: "Ah, you must be the shiteheads!" he declared. Steady on, I thought - we've not even had a drink yet, how can you tell? It transpired however that the covers band on after us are called the Shy Teds (see what they did there?). I was still a bit miffed that he thought we were a covers band, though...
We approached the enormous bar (150 different beers! So little time!) and claimed our rider - a nice heavy keg of Old Unspecific ("What is it?" we asked. "Beer." he replied. "We'd guessed that... what sort of beer, exactly?" "Dunno.") and proceeded to get stuck in.
We had a great time for the next two hours - nice big stage, good sound, lots of lights, 5000 punters and free beer too - what's not to like? We still hadn't finished the keg though, and to my chagrin we had to leave it there... even Ruth had some, and she doesn't even like beer.
A splendid little festival, really well run and very friendly; I wish we could have stayed longer - at least long enough to finish that beer...

In other news, we finally finished mixing a 3 track demo, which can be downloaded for free from here:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Devizes Festival Fringe - the Bear

"The stunning fiddle playing of Ruth Behan and the passionate vocals and songs of Chris Hibberd have made Billy in the Lowground the premier Celtic Rock Band in the South West" it says in the festival programme. Blimey, we'd better be good then!
It's a Wednesday night, and it's drizzling steadily as we pull up in Devizes at the Bear Hotel, next to the Corn Exchange (scene of some memorable gigs for us in the past, including a riotous support slot for John Otway, who nearly broke his neck attempting to play a doubleneck guitar on top of a stepladder). This gig is part of the Festival fringe, and is in the 16th century cellar bar - the entrance is a tiny black door with bars over the window, at the bottom of a vertiginous flight of steps. It looks like an oubliette that Cromwell might have thrown a few enemies of the State into, and really ought to have a hideously disfigured hunchback as doorman, but thankfully once inside it turns out to be a fantastic little subterranean jazz club, all wood & stonework, which were it not for the new smoking laws would be full of Beatniks in berets puffing away on french cigarettes.
Indeed, it doesn't take long to fill up completely - by the time we start our soundcheck the place is rammed, and we get going with a sense of trepidation - are these people expecting a jazz band..? Oh dear... happily though, they've all actually turned out to see us, and from the very first song we can tell it's going to be a good 'un. Weird sometimes how your first impressions of a gig get completely stood on their head - best reaction we've had this year I'd say, and we played all the better for it - thanks people, we needed that!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Pittball

First of all, many congratulations to Mick & Paula on the birth of baby Bethany last week! The trauma of this life-changing event was such that Mick has been rendered incapable of playing guitar for the next few weeks. This is what happens if you let your partner squeeze your hand (or anything else) in a maternity ward; mine still throbs a bit when the weather turns cold.

So, off to the Pittball festival, a two-dayer in a field near Thorncombe, as a 4-piece: we arrive on Friday night to find the site shrouded in dense fog, a huge stage with lasers everywhere dimly visible in the fading light, and droves of Young People in their best leisurewear wigging out to ear-splitting drum & bass. A bunch of young lads in hoodies and very clean trainers doing the Pimp Roll around Bristol city centre is something I generally cross the street to avoid, but there's something rather endearing about the sight in a field...
Not so endearing by 2 a.m. though, when the deafening dubstep finally grinds to a halt and the merry revellers finally stumbled off to bed. I'm not actually sure it was dubstep - it might have been drum & bass still - to be honest I was past caring. Basically it seemed to consist of a machine making squelchy noises, another making squiggly bleeps, and a bloke with a volume fader who kept turning it down momentarily to exhort the crowd to "Make some f****** noise!!!" I dunno, the youth of today...
Oh, and what a joy it was to see their tousled little heads peeking blearily out of their tents the following afternoon as we started our set on the main stage! Like an army of hungover tortoises, baking in their canvas shells & croaking piteously... those that were awake seemed to like it though, and it was lovely to have a decent sized stage to play with for a change, even though we had to be careful not to trip over the hordes of people with video cameras that suddenly appeared - we'll have to track that down & stick it on Youtube.

All in all then a cracking weekend - well organised too, with acts on a smaller stage that got going as the main one finished, so there was always something going on. No covers bands, either, which made a refreshing change for a small festival - well done to the organisers, and hopefully it made a load of dosh for their chosen charities.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

There I was, diggin' this 'ole...

It's not all fun & games you know - I've been discovered on Google StreetView, blatantly working in broad daylight. Oh, the shame...,130.43,,2,10.51&cbll=51.462465,-2.57973&layer=c&ie=UTF8&ll=51.462465,-2.57973&spn=0,359.995494&z=17&panoid=GS6H5Eacval8MsaOYKaHxw

Nearly done...

At last, a studio with natural daylight! We've just finished three tracks at Nam Recording, out near Bradford on Avon - our first time here, and the whole experience has been a step-up from previous recording studios we've used. The plan was to get them done to a high standard primarily for demo use, but they'll also form the basis for a new album when funds allow.
There's a bit of final tinkering to do over the next couple of weeks, then I'll post 'em up online - I'm looking forward to hearing them myself, 'cos since going swimming a week ago I haven't been able to hear a damned thing...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Disco's not Dead

In 1940, four French teenagers stumbled across a series of beautifully preserved cave-paintings in Lascaux - some of the world's best examples of prehistoric art...
But recently, an even more exciting discovery has been made - actual living beings from the Age of Disco have been sighted in French caves! These primitive missing-links communicate in guttural grunts, worship mirror-balls, and know all the actions to YMCA. Scientists are speculating that these bizarre throwbacks to Man's long-forgotten past may have scurried into the caves when Studio 54 closed, and have been here ever since.
To avoid the modern world contaminating these priceless relics, the caves were hurriedly bricked-up. Twice.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Mayday, mayday...

After rather a long hiatus, it was back to the coalface on Saturday at the Cuckoo Fair in Downton, near Salisbury - a last minute one this, in the back garden of a pub. Apparently there was meant to be a proper stage, but whoever was organising it was hit by a piece of falling satellite or something. We survey the gathering clouds with gloom... so does everyone else, and by the time we've set up the place has miraculously emptied apart from the hardcore all-day drinkers who ignore us completely. Still, the sound is excellent in the open air, it doesn't actually rain, and we rather enjoy ourselves.

Next up, the Wells May Fair on the Bank holiday Monday - a far better organised do, held on the Green in front of Wells Cathedral. Nice big stage & PA, and a very good sound engineer, who mutters as he gets us rigged up: "It's rained every time I've done this... God hates me..." Sure enough, it starts raining the instant we take to the stage, but our godless heathen music soon chases the drizzle away - proof, if more were needed, of the non-existence of God!
Yet more proof at the end of our set, as the MC announces innocently: "Next, ladies & gentlemen, it's pole-dancing on the Green!" After a huge initial surge of interest from the crowd (and indeed us), there followed a hasty retraction, in what will surely come to be known as The Great Pole-Dancing Disappointment of '09...

Friday, March 20, 2009

I am the Leurrrh.

They love a General Strike in France, but here's a sight guaranteed to put the wind up the most militant of agitators - it's Monsieur Sarkozy's new secret weapon... the Juggling Riot Police! Capable of wielding 3 batons at once to devastating effect, these crack troops are ready to swing into action at a moments notice (provided they get at least 2 hours off for lunch, obviously), and it's rumoured they may even be deployed in London for the G20 Summit (the Wombles are reportedly quaking in their boots).

Solidarity is not an offence? It is now...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside...

Ahh, Spring is upon us! The daffodils are nodding in the verges, crocuses are peeping bashfully from the lawn, and tiny woodland creatures are scurrying about doing unspeakable things in the hedgerows… I think we ran over a fair few on our way to the George in Bradford a couple of Fridays back, where we proceeded to aurally assault the assembled throng, or as many of them as we could see either side of the place’s central pillar, anyway – there’s an archway either side, through which heads will poke every so often, like meerkats on sentry duty. Apparently the new landlord has plans to remove it to open out the view - hopefully he’ll get a structural engineer to look at it first, as I have visions of one good blow with a sledgehammer bringing the entire pub down like a house of cards…

Last Friday’s venue in Burnham on Sea was a very different kettle of fish – Burnham is rather like Weston Super Mare's little brother, and gets similarly chock full of holidaying Brummies in the summer, but off season it's pretty quiet, apart from the occasional explosion of violence - shortly after we arrived, someone took an involuntary dive through the plate glass window of the supermarket over the road - of course, this may just have been a somewhat misguided attempt at a ramraid, but we put it down to youthful high spirits...
The Old Pier Tavern sounds like a cosy seafront pub, but in fact turned out to be a vast great Victorian pile that’s been heavily modified for live music; nice big stage, lighting rig, dancefloor, decent PA, video screens, the works. It’s run by the very entertaining Jamei Roberts, ex-drummer for Mungo Jerry, and a splendid gig it was too – looking forward to coming back.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Miners Arms, Whitecroft

A new venue for us, and initial impressions aren't good - a nice little gastropub in the Forest of Dean, yes, but more used to the odd mellow jazz quartet than a bunch of hairy reprobates like us, methinks (Oh, and we're billed as 'Billy in the Long Grass', which is a new one...). The worried looks as we lug the drumkit in rapidly escalate to full red-alert horror as we gradually fill the pub up with hulking amps, and the landlord starts to worry about volume before we've even plugged anything in... even the stuffed stag's head over the fireplace wears an expression of stunned alarm (although this isn't that surprising, as the last thing to pass through it's head apart from a large calibre metal-jacketed projectile was probably something along the lines of "What the ...?").
Resigned to it being 'one of those gigs,' we get cracking, and wonder of wonders, we go down a storm - best pub gig we've had in ages, and the much happier-looking landlord is booking us back after only the first set, which is always a plus - as is free beer, cheers!

One of the things I like about playing in Wales and the borders is that people are generally much more interested and appreciative of something a bit different, musically - everyone seems to be a musician too, which I guess helps - looking forward to coming back, although that may freak out the excitable young lady who thought I was Rasputin. Can't see it myself, though I can see why she might have thought I was the guitarist from Onslaught - see here:

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Prom

Nicely timed, this gig on Wednesday, sandwiched neatly as it was between two snowstorms which could have left half the band stranded in Broughton Gifford - a scenario that could quickly degenerate into mass cannibalism and general savagery.
What with the long break over Christmas and all, it's been such a long time since our last gig we were a bit concerned about how much we'd remember, but of course we needn't have worried - we remembered at least half of the set. Good to see some familiar faces come in from the cold again, as well as some much appreciated new ones, even if they were only drawn in by the sight of Mick's Cardiacs T-shirt through the window!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Crusty Jugglers...

Not much to report on the gigging front over the traditionally dead fortnight at the year's end, apart from the worrying news that Chris is writing a Christmas song! With any luck he'll have forgotten all about it by this time next year, but just in case: I am NOT going to dye my beard white and wear a silly hat. Again.
Another New Year's Eve spent trying out inadvisable combinations of drinks in front of Jools Holland and his infernal boogie-woogie piano, whilst thinking about how I'd like to slam his head in it repeatedly...
Great to see Gavin over from France again though - 8 years is too long, we need to get better at staying in touch! He was a big hit with his nephews, too - it's something of an unfair advantage for an uncle to be so good at magic & juggling - he went back to France laden with English, er... delicacies to tempt the French palate, and keen observers will notice evidence that seasonal excesses have taken their toll on his waistline. Clearly it runs in the family, and there's therefore no point in trying to fight it.