Thursday, 29 May 2014

The May Day Tour!

The good old days...
I am perhaps a little premature in concluding our recent months activities before they've finished, but I am confident I can predict the 9th and final gig that takes place tomorrow evening in Dartington Hall. Gilly and Warren's wedding; old friend's of ours, tying the knot in a 12th century monastery and requesting not The Odd Folk, no no, they're of an older school than that, having instead plumbed for The Sam Brookes Quartet, our previous guise that consisted of myself, the guitar player and the piano player!
The bass? played on a keyboard. The drums? Played with my feet. It's how we rolled for a good few years before the album's launch and the name-change. Simpler? Certainly. Better? Some will say!

Anyhow, enough of that, let us conclude our busiest month to date, The May Day Tour, that took us over a 1000 miles, zigzagging across the south of mainland Britain. As you know we began in Wales, at The Oak in the market town of Welshpool. A fairly restrained crowd, save for the blind man and the drunk lady, both of whom loved it and paid for CD's even though we'd forgotten them! They effectively bought them on blind faith! The Latest Music Bar in Brighton was a disaster, a badly organised and advertised gig that cost us dear. Still the guitar player says the lamb burger and chocolate brownie he bought at 2am were the best he's ever had, so I guess that's something. The next day at The Gladstone in London we played one of our best sets musically, and with a great and attentive crowd it was a welcome return to form! Next up was a dive into the great unknown, Prema Arts Centre in the little village of Uley where we knew not a soul and were totally reliant on the venue providing a crowd. Of which it did, a rather middle aged and middle class one, but a beautiful one at that and with 18 CD sales after the gig, it broke a record on flogging merchandise!
"rosy and ruddy with drunkenness!"

Then came the homecoming; four gigs in two days back in the loving sleeves of home. We played an acoustic set for the grand opening of The Knut in St. Just followed by an evening slot at Don't Wake The Fish, a spring ale festival at our second home, The Gurnards Head. This latter was a rip-roaring, ale-drenched shin-dig and one of the better one's of late; a reminder of the good old days, back firmly in our comfort zone; a nice marquee in a field surrounded by good folk and lots of dancing! After we wrapped the five of us stayed on tasting the array of ales on offer and, rosy and ruddy with drunkenness we bonded, giggling into the shoulder of the night and howling up at the pale moon! We danced to the band that followed, The Sandy Acre 7, and then accepted a wedding gig from a drunk fan, sold 4 CD's off the cuff and slept where we fell.

With wholesome hangovers, the next day's giggles were hard work indeed.
The Pirates on the Prom event that started that afternoon and stretched out till the following night, began as a wash-out. Four songs into our gig in The Spingo Tent and the rain had found it's way in. We were playing in a puddle! Despite the audience helping to lift our gear onto chocks and out of the water, the atmosphere was damp and we abandoned ship before our allotted time. That night we did the opposite as we slipped over to St. Ives for Sven's Wedding, playing an extra half hour as his eager guests demanded! Raucous encore's of "More and More!" and they were a rowdy bunch too; there were moments when we thought they might turn on us when we eventually stopped! They might barricade the door and "encore" us to death!
 The following day was the actual pirate world record and though we didn't have a gig our hometown demanded our attendance, and even though our body's and soul's had been through the grind, we took one for the town! Dressed as pirates we swayed through the day in all our tom-foolery; but despite our best efforts, Penzance fell 77 short of the record!  

Three days later and we're finally back The Odd Folk HQ, I've been making Elderflower Champagne and I'm only just feeling normal. It's been a long old tour, with heightened highs and languid lows. We've played to 100's; furious dancers and attentive listeners, packed marquees and empty near halls. We managed to pay debts with CD sales even if we've struggled financially as a band. We showcased our new banner, conquered middle-england, lost piano stands, sold albums on blind faith and found out the drummer's a cage fighter! Now if that last point isn't a trump-card for the future then I don't know what is! Forget the new openings our bass-playing boxer can get us, like bullying Mr. Blagwoofer to let us play at this year's FigFestival, Cage Fighting is a much darker art and takes bigger victims. I reckon we can now rest assured we'll be headlining Glastonbury for the next decade! Happy days...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

A tale of two venues

This is our latest update, coming in at record time, a mere 6 days since our last post. The reason being, as much as we are encouraged by your lovely feedback to write more frequently, this is also something we have to get off our chests!
It is a tale of two venues, two polar opposites, black and white, hot and cold, Jekyll and Hyde. 

It is the second leg of our May Day Tour! in which we're taking on the south-east of the country! Brighton on the Saturday and London on the Sunday. It's a hot day and we all turn up to HQ a little hazy and lacklustre. I didn't sleep well, the guitar player is hungover, the drummer too, he's been ale tasting the night before! The piano player's trying to be chirpy but even he's struggling, despite a week of good paintball sales, he's below par. We all are. We set off in convoy and 3 hours later we're pulling into 'Britain Hippest City' under a heavy heat. We find the venue and then spend an hour driving round in circles looking for a nearby parking place. Upon finding one, we shell out £100 a minute at the metre and, ravenous, head to a nearby cafe and spend another £100 on Eggs Benedict! At 4pm we drive back to the venue and unload our gear into the nice, light auditorium, before driving back to the parking spaces (that have now gone - we find new ones further away!) and forking out more gold for more minutes. Back at the venue, all our stuff has been moved from the nice auditorium, it's been taken downstairs to a dark and dingy basement theatre and we are introduced to Dave our sound-man. Slighted but not defeated we set-up and sound-check with some dexterity and ease. It is a half-decent sound and despite being demoted to the basement we're still in good spirits and eager to watch Arsenal win the FA Cup but Dave calls us back and tells us to remove all our instruments (including the drums) from the stage as there is a cabaret on before us. Slighted again, we pack up and carry all our gear down a small corridor and into a cupboard and bolt across town to watch Arsenal, who are losing 2.0 by now. After a frantic match they finally win but nerves have been tested and emotions are high. We duck into The Giraffe burger bar and eat an overpriced meal. After our Giraffe burgers we sit around trying to write a set-list but we're all on a different page and myself and the piano player have a lovers tiff as tempers soar. Back at the venue and the hairy manager informs us that we have to provide a door person, which we plumb refuse as it wasn't mentioned in the contract. 

The gig was... well the gig wasn't really. It was a non-gig! Very badly attended; 14 of our friends performed spectacular 'No-Shows' and of the 20 people that did attend, we only knew 4 of them! Optimism would say that's 16 new fans, but they didn't seem at all interested in us. We played ok, but fizzled out towards to the end and failed to sell any CD's, despite remembering them this time! After the gig and the hairy manager came to me to settle the takings. He handed me £25 and a breakdown which stated that despite taking £100 on the door we were to pay Dave the sound-man a whopping £75! Once again I plumb refused and after a exchange of an unpleasantries, he conceded and handed over the full amount. We packed up, walked miles to our cars and then headed solemnly to my cousin's house where we were stationed. The bass player headed lone-star back to London. It was a bad day. We were left feeling grey and wounded.

But the next day was perfect. We rose rested, were handed fresh coffee by my cousin. We travelled to London in relative ease and comfort. The guitar player's cousin (I swear our family is the only thing keeping us going!) had made us a perfect barbecue and we arrived at the venue with two parking spaces directly outside waiting for us. We unloaded our gear with the minimum of fuss and were warmly welcomed by the nice manager, who upon finding out we'd travelled from Bristol offered us food! The pub, a renowned music venue that's hosted enough famous names to make you salivate, filled up nicely and the audience sat attentively waiting for us. The gig was... it really was this time! I'd say one of the best we've played, with perfect sound, a great crowd and it left us fully restored from our Brighton endeavours! What a difference a day makes! We stayed around for the main act, Alani Charal, and she quite simply blew our minds. I can quite confidently say she was the best live singer I have ever seen! We left feeling rosy, feeling top of the world. 

The piano player, in full chirp, turned to the guitar player and said, "You know what, your in my top 10 favourite people!" and then he caught the drummers eye, "Sorry mate, you didn't make the cut!"

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Song Surgery

“So is this place haunted?” asked the piano player as we sped up the M5 towards Shropshire. He looked apprehensive, so I played up to it. 
“Yep, it’s riddled with ghosts and they particularly like paintball selling keyboard players!”. He smiled dismissively and then he paused, “It’s not though is it!"
I looked at him with the straightest face I could muster and slowly nodded.
“Stop it! It's not!? ... Is it!?"

Belan Hall 1882
This place was Belan Hall; an old shooting lodge nestled in the crumpled green mountains of Mid-Wales. It was built in 1882 and once belonged to Neville Chamberlain. A good 5 miles from the nearest village, it was an isolated retreat set within its generous acres and empty but for a neighbourhood of sheep. All the fields that slopped up to the mountain ridge were dotted with the little fluffy beasts. Some with lambs, some lone rangers, all of them eating the green, green grass. "Baaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr" they said in unison all day long. This was a forgotten land, kissed by a 100 sunsets and washed by a 1000 years of rain.

We were to be spending the weekend here rehearsing our set for the giggles we had scattered over the summer. Rehearsing our set, or performing surgery on our set as I liked to call it. It had become apparent that many of our songs needed operating on, to remove the tumours and broken bones and nurse them back to good health. Many of them, old men now set in their ways, needed a little fresh air. New endings, new beginnings, new songs really! We needed new songs but had decided against spending the weekend writing all new material as appealing as it sounded. The problem being that adding a handful of new half-made songs to our existing list of half-made songs meant that we would just increase the problem, we’d have loads of songs but none of which were polished!

The Maid of Cledon
We entered the house at dusk but already inside it was pitch black, the walls were clad in dark wood and all the curtains were drawn. We unloaded our belongings into the various rooms, all of us a little wary of the room at the top of the tower, if there was a ghost it was most definitely up there! Eventually the drummer bit his lip and took the room, traipsing slowly up the winding wooden stairs and entering the master bedroom. “Is it haunted?” he called down. “I don’t really know” I answered, “there’s some rumour about the maid of Cledon that went mad and killed herself but I don’t know if it’s true!” He didn’t answer so I continued, "Supposedly at night you can hear her walking the corridors and ringing the service bell!" Still no answer and I couldn't resist, "Apparently she killed herself because the old master of the house was a drummer and the constant tapping sent her mad!" 

Back downstairs and we busied ourselves unloading instruments and food and boxes of Ale. We set up our gear in the drawing room, lit the fires to warm both the house and the water system and the weekend unfolded.

Surgery was grim, some songs were put through the mill; I thought we’d lose them. But we stitched them up and they pulled through. The other way we looked at it that brought us no end of amusement was to treat them as football players all trying to impress the coach in order to be picked for the summer tournament. Who would make a late dash for the plane!? And it worked; when Stormy Weather was initially left out of the first squad, alarm bells were ringing, so we gave him a run out to prove his worth, and boy did he do that! It was primal, the mood, the flavour, the tone; with the drummer bent over completely immersed in the song, he looked like an old man in a boat on a stormy sea, hunched over, bailing out water. The guitar player’s solo hitting all the sweet notes, the piano player totally absorbed in the atmosphere of the song and I nearly cried at its end. It was working! We played our hearts out, our best music, our best performances, ironically miles away from all of you lot! We played for ourselves and the ghosts were dancing!

Outside the rain continued, fine rain that soaks you through. We watched it from the window; it suited us, no distractions. We threw another log on the fire and ploughed on. We threw another song onto the operating table and gave him an XRAY. A broken foot, he needed some new boots. The bass player was the physiotherapist who taught him to walk again.

Good food, good company, and no arguments. The weekend was a resounding success. In our eyes anyway! You may well come and see us soon and think we’ve butchered our set, given the old men new limbs and they’ve lost their way! You may think the facelifts have turned them into cartoons! We’ll soon know as the boos ring out! There’s no rest this month, it’s 9 gigs in three weeks, in three countries (if you count Cornwall’s recent upgrade!)

The maid of Cledon never did come to haunt us, nor the old women in the rocking chair as another family member had threatened us with! Though as we pulled away and chanced a look behind at the old lodge I swear I saw a young girl at the tower window, she was smiling and holding our new set list!

“It's pretty Goooooooooood!” she cooed.