Sunday, 30 January 2011

Gig report: Dowsing For Sound @ Great St. Mary's Church, Cambridge

Band: Dowsing For Sound (5 piece band and 40-strong choir)
Venue: Great St. Mary's Church, Cambridge
Date: 29/01/11
Audience: Possibly the best audience in the history of gigs.
Set: White Sky, Go Your Own Way, Diferente, Heart Of Life, Alive; interval; Train, Terrible Love, Maria, Edge Of Night, Indian Wars, Peace Train, Book Of Love, Takk, Hoppipolla, Afterwhile, One Day Like This; encore - Radioactive
Notes: I just don't know where to start with this one. I'm still hungover from the celebrations afterwards, I'm still buzzing about it - this felt like a once in a lifetime gig, a moment that could never be repeated, a magnificent mix of excitement, nerves, ambition, all exploding into something spectacular, much bigger than we could have expected. It was a long day - just before midday soundchecks/rehearsals started, loose ends were tied up, the difficulties of getting the perfect sound for 40 superb singers over my highly resonating snare drum. It was a show that been built up by all of us for a good while now (well, a month in my case), the feeling that we were on the verge of something special mixed with the fear that it could all fall apart at any moment. Sounds dramatic? You probably needed to be there. I play a lot of gigs, nothing could compare to last night. After dinner (in which, randomly, we saw (and a few of the girls met) Kelly Jones from Stereophonics at the Eagle pub), we returned to the venue and sooner or later the audiences started arriving. And then more arrived, and then more. They were queuing down the street. I heard we were approaching 500 ticket sales in advanced - we're sure that it looked like double that who actually turned up on the night, I had mates who were waiting outside not sure if they could get in, we had to open the balcony (even though we weren't keen to) just to fit everyone in. There was a buzz about the place, the audience looked excited, expectant, all of the word of mouth (and good work of Honey PR) clearly did the trick. A few of us were getting pretty nervous, and I never get nervous before a gig. But this was much more than a gig. Because of the unexpected huge turnout we delayed the start of the show, eventually it started about 20 minutes late. And the actual gig itself? We fucking stormed it. From the opening bars of White Sky to the stomping Alive, the first half relieved any nerves. Diferente, with it's Latin-tinged groove, was a personal highlight - and it was the first time we had got the ending right, ever. After a cheeky backstage shot of whiskey and change of clothes for the second half (after the brilliant Sarah Outen inspired us with her tales of adventure), we were back on again for the longer, more testing set. Terrible Love sent shivers down my spine...proper, uncontrollable shivers, building into a crashing conclusion. Peace Train took things to a whole new level - the choir were boisterous, the band funky, everyone following Andrea's masterful conducting, this was a team - a team who hadn't played together for long, gelling, a force to be reckoned with. But it was by Book Of Love that it really hit home how good this choir had begun. They sang so beautifully I stood at my congas, admired them all, smiled bigger than I ever have done before, and missed my cue to start playing. The band improvised rendition of Takk showed a darker side to our musicianship, before Hoppipolla built and built to a level that felt like we could take the roof off the place, and lots of people in the audience cried (in a good way). One Day Like This ended the set on a rousing note, met by a unanimous standing ovation and an atmosphere that in my ten and a half years of gigging I've never witnessed before. Our encore was a rocky, uptempo version of Radioactive by Kings Of Leon, with both the choir and band at full throttle. Gav's bass solo, Nicky's conga solo and Steve's guitar solo were all outstanding, my drum solo was lively enough until I lost all sense of discipline and overplayed it, but it's fine - we were all on top of the world, by now we couldn't do a thing wrong. (technically I did a fair few things wrong, nobody would have noticed). Andrea Cockerton is a genius - it still baffles me how she put this all together, and then made it work, she created a monster - a musical monster that challenged, inspired, and produced a show of epic proportions. We all got drunk at the Varsity afterwards for our aftershow party, it was lovely. Everything else in life for the next few days will seem a bit boring, to be honest. I was worried about Saturday's gig - I even woke up in the middle of the night and threw up with nerves. I'm an experienced musician with a respectable CV of playing complex material in front of big audiences, this shouldn't have worried me - but, like everyone else there last night, this was a project that had taken over our lives, we grew to love the material and care about the songs, the vibe, so much. I can't express how much respect I have for everyone involved, and now it looks like we'll be doing it all again later in the year, I'm wary because I don't know if we'll better that, if our expectations will change, but (schedule permitting) equally I can't wait to see if we can pull it off again. All of my best friends were there last night (one or two of whom I didn't expect to see, which makes it even nicer that they made the effort), we may have been a bit stressed in the run-up to the show, we may have cut things fine, but we triumphed, big time. One of the best gigs I've ever played? More than that, probably one of the best nights of my life.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The dress rehearsal

This is a busy week, but one I've been looking forward to in a while. On a non-music note, things are continuing to progress with the film side of things - Robert (director) likes the new draft of the script and on Thursday we run it with the potential cast of Vorn and Claire, very keen to see how this turns out. I've also starting drafting ideas for my collaboration with Heather, which all being well we'll continue working on together on Friday.

This Saturday it's the Dowsing For Sound gig. I've been raving about this a lot to friends, family, and I'm fortunate that a lot of them will be there to watch this hugely ambitious project that has been put together at a relatively short time scale. Last night the band rehearsed and I came out of it buzzing, the grey areas seemingly worked upon and I was very confident about the whole thing. Tonight's dress rehearsal with the band and choir was both exciting and nervy. The vibe is so brilliant - the amount of people waiting to carry my drums for me on arrival is flattering, the whiskey, the good natured spirit of everyone in the room - it's such a lovely group of people, all working hard to make this absolutely epic show the best it can be. There was points where it was totally breathtaking - 'Alive' really was, 'Hoppillia' (or however you spell it, you know the one - it's by Sigur Ros) was magical. In fact about 75% of it was outstanding, and the choir were top notch throughout the whole thing. But here I am, sat in the flat, eating pizza, drinking a cheeky Tuesday beer, mulling over the 25% that is going to trouble me until we next meet, which will be the soundcheck on Saturday. It's the awkwardness of ending certain songs, it's 'Peace Train' which goes wonky as soon as the band go from Afro-beat to quiet choir stuff, it's my totally shambolic solo tonight which was not tasteful at all and resembled a child going crazy with excitement at being behind a drum kit. What happened to the Gilson Lavis-esque drum solo I planned? I got carried away, that's what happened. I expect good things of myself, I'm a better drummer than what I was tonight, or what I have been with any of the full rehearsals this year. Wake up, Richards, you're drumming like a fool. My bandmates are fantastic, by the way, and I am well aware that all these little glitches are minor, that it's amazing it sounds this good considering the time scale (which says a lot for the hugely talented people involved, especially Andrea), and that a majority of the audience won't notice the odd slip. But I will, because I know how good this really can be. We'll get there I think. Anything can happen, it's very exciting, but on a completely selfish level I know I need to lose the sub-snare as it's a distraction, simplify the Latin-tinged bits and generally get a fucking grip. And a haircut.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Gig report: Aidy & Flaming June @ The Cornerhouse, Cambridge

Bands: Aidy (with Dave on bass and me on percussion), Flaming June
Venue: The Cornerhouse, Cambridge
Date: 22/01/11
Audience: Sparse, but scattered to seem like there was more of them, very enthusiastic and helped make it all worthwhile
Sets: Aidy - not sure, Flaming June - Rejoice, Under My Skin, The Devils Daughter, You Do Moody So Well, The Boy I Knew Before I Met You, Nerves Of Steel, I Know What It's Like (no drums), The Insane Ex-Girlfriend Parade, The Wizard, Little Love In A Cruel World, Stop The Ride, Wednesdays & Weekends, Rumplestiltskin, Encore - The Infidel
Notes: Quirky little gig that. I've played the Cornerhouse a lot, and sometimes when it's empty it feels slightly demoralising, but tonight there was enough people there to make it work and we all came away feeling very happy. I played in the final two bands of the evening, after some bloke who's name I forgot (but was actually fantastic, annoyed I didn't note his name) and then the ever excellent Tom Tilbury performed. The set with Aidy was as always good fun, the 'rehearsed banter' between him and Dave worked really well tonight, the sound was good and there was a nice vibe to the performance, helped by the audience who seemed to enjoy it, a couple people at the back seemed more intrigued/confused/humoured than anything. There isn't anybody like Aidy performing in Cambs at the moment, so it was nice to see lots of new faces 'get' it tonight. About ten minutes later I was back on stage with Flaming June for our first gig of the year. I think energy levels were slightly down tonight, and we played a long-ish set, but even an 85% powered Flaming June is enough to grip those watching - the songs are just so strong. We went down very well, I thought my own performance was a bit messy, but Louise, Clare and Steve were top-notch as always. The new material worked a treat, and we even had a genuine demand for an encore, which considering it was a largely neutral audience was a really positive thing. Ending on The Infidel, another one of those songs in the set I didn't actually know, we left the stage on a really positive note. It was a good night tonight, certainly not a classic, but a good workout and very positive all round.

A quick note about humanity

My good friend Rob Sanders is an awesome person. Last night we were walking to a pub to meet up with a few mates before heading to the beer festival, we we very lost (how, after all these years, we still get lost in Cambridge I don't know...) and we stumbled across a man lying in the street. He was surrounded by broken glass, was motionless, and his bike seemed to have been dumped down next to him. I have to admit I thought it was an overspilling bin bag at first, and then when I realised it was a person my first thought was that he was going to jump up and mug us if we got too close. That makes me a coward, or somebody who watches too many crime programmes on telly. Either way, Rob insisted that we do something - so whilst keeping our distance, we called an ambulance, which turned up surprisingly quickly. It was freezing out there - the man was just about breathing by the time the paramedic worked his magic, but without question if we had just left him we would died of hypothermia. Lots of people must have seen this guy lying there - this is Chesterton Road after all - a big road in a well populated bit of Cambridge, yet nobody did a thing, just left a man there for dead. I'm annoyed with myself for being one of those people. Is this the state of this country? Insecure people, turning a blind eye to things, as long as they're okay themselves? My reactions will change in the future if I'm faced with this social dilemma again. Because it's not actually a dilemma, really, is it? Full credit to Rob there.

Anyway, should stop slobbing about the flat in just my pants, annoyed by this hangover, and actually nail the final draft of the film script before tonight's gig...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Gig report: Lu @ The Troubadour, London

Band: Lu (with myself on percussion)
Venue: The Troubadour, Earls Court, London
Date: 20/01/11
Audience: Nice, respectful, felt busy, lots of warm applause
Set: Over The Blue, You, Winter, Leave Me, Twinkle Twinkle, Beyond, The River, Ain't Dancing
Notes: I really enjoyed this gig tonight, I was a bit worried about it to be honest - for starters the last time I played there I got very lost and missed soundcheck, getting everyone a bit flustered in the process, and I was also concerned that we've not rehearsed too much recently and the new material may have caused us problems. But it was one of those evenings that just worked out really well - I actually wrote down some directions this time and blimey - I found it first time, must pay attention more often. We opened the gig tonight, but obviously due to the fact that I was travelling on a train from Cambridge I couldn't bring a drum kit with me, and no other acts had drums, so I had my trusty reliable Sonor sub-snare with me instead. It actually sounded better than it had a right to - the last time I played there with Lu I felt the full force of a standard drum set-up was too powerful for her delicate jazzy stuff. Tonight though I was nicely enough in the background to let her voice take centre stage, rhythmically it was great fun seeing how many different sounds I could get out of such a tiny snare (plenty, as it's so simple to tune/de-tune on stage without anybody noticing, Sonor make great snare drums...) and how many different grooves we could get going - Lu was on top form, best I've seen her in ages, and it was easily the best we've ever played together. The new material was very enjoyable too, I was completely winging it, but the songs are so well crafted it wasn't hard to find some sort of footing. We went down well, got paid, and good to see good friends (Ben, Carl, Irsan - Lu's husband) for a beer and a catch up too. And the Troubadour itself is a lovely venue - I mentioned to someone earlier that I wish Cambridge had a venue like that, perfect size, great acoustics...but then again it's only 90 mins down the road, I'd happily travel there to watch a gig any time.

A quick non-gig random aside about the train journey home. Managed to get the fast train back (which took less than an hour), and it seemed to be the one that is full of businessmen and office types who work in the city. I've been having lots of doubts about myself recently, about my direction (this whole nearly 30 thing is rattling around my brain perhaps a bit too much), the realisation that a lot of people earn a lot more money than me for really digging in with their 'proper' careers; I consider myself to be a hard worker but my aspirations are always rooted firmly outside of the 'norm'. Tonight I was sat in one of those little blocks of four seats alongside three stressed-looking businessmen. It was gone 10pm, yet they were still chatting sales figures, targets, all manner of business acumen which I couldn't help but overhear. Fair play to them - these people clearly work very hard, they more than likely contribute to keeping the industries in this country going, they deserve all the financial rewards under the sun for the pressure they are blatantly under. I reckon they were all about 10 years older than me, and they all looked so worried, so stressed. I couldn't help but feel, on their behalf, is this a life? Don't get me wrong - if they chose this - fair play to them, and they were all very friendly to me as I barged passed with my snare drum in one hand and stands in the other. It's more a case of 'I'd rather you than me' - I'll sleep well tonight, maybe it's because I was reading a book about Tony Wilson and Factory Records, but I think I'm doing the right thing.

Monday, 17 January 2011

New ideas, nice stuff

Managed to juggle things around a bit tonight so I could finally get writing this idea I've had for ages with Heather. It's been in my head for a good few weeks, but it's a really complex one - a stage show, essentially telling three stories, from three different times, but all completely linked and fast moving. If I just sat and wrote it myself it would be a mess, so whilst it was perfectly clear in my head what needs to happen it wouldn't work - so it was very much a time to bring a second brain in to the writing process. First writing session with Miss. Yeadon and good fun all round, my pacing around my little flat whilst blurting out ideas nicely honed back in by the other brain in the room so we actually stick to the plot, collaborations are good fun. The picture attached to this post is kind of where we are with it so far - at some point it'll actually turn into a script, and maybe even work well enough to be on stage and everything, but lets not get carried away.

Also got confirmation today that one of my plays is definitely heading to the Leicester Comedy Festival, courtesy of the John Lewis Theatre Group. That makes me happy, it's been on the cards for a couple months now but I'm glad the re-write did the trick. Ironically enough it's a stage version of 'If You Can't Make Me Happy' - the one that is also being made into a short film. That play is the ten minute version of 'Gone Midnight', which I always knew had legs, it's nice that it's finally getting a bit of coverage, three and a half years after I wrote it.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

2011 - starting to take shape, at last

Well that was a typically slow start to the year. Probably something to do with the fact that Christmas itself was very slow - time for reflection on a reasonably busy 2010, and a time to see family properly (not just pop by for the odd 'good' meal cooked by my Mum and to beat my dad at Playstation football), to see returning friends for beer (Matt, Ben, Colin) as well as friends who live just half an hour down the road but whom I just never get the chance to see these days. It was slow, but it was nice, it was what I wanted, but I didn't really get into the starting blocks of 2011 until about a week ago it feels, probably because that magnificent mix of good food, drink and witty banter didn't make me feel hungry for new challenges as such, but merely a bit bloated and too relaxed. The unexpected radio gig with Aidy, and the Eureka Stockade band meetings about how to make 2011 our best year yet aside, I've spent too much time writing synopsis for new plays, writing potential lyrics for new albums, and making notes for future projects, without actually doing anything constructive. And I need to be constructive - after all, this is the year I turn 30, which as we all know is the end of the world. The last week though has been great.

The majority of my time this year, musically at least, has been in rehearsals for the Dowsing For Sound project. I'm still amazed by this event - 40 singers, and a hell of a band, playing songs that to be honest, shouldn't be played by this line-up. The music is adventurous, challenging, uplifting...I could go on, but yeah - I'm loving it, I love being pushed out of my comfort zone as a drummer, I love having to sit and work things out and that lovely buzz when it all comes together. And what Andrea has done with the band is creating more than just a bunch of session musos, but a bunch of musicians who bounce ideas off each other, who banter even during the stressful bits, a proper team. Tomorrow the band and choir rehearse together for the first time ever, the gig is in 2 weeks time (we have lots of other rehearsals in the diary), this is actually scary stuff, but I've not been this excited about a rehearsal in years. One thing is for sure though, although it was often suggested this was going to be a one-off project, I'm pretty certain we'll do it again, there's a real sense that this is too big a project to be put aside after one huge show.

Meanwhile, I've decided that for my writing this year I need to focus more, not do any Fringe festivals, and build my online profile a bit. I had this idea of filming 6 plays in 1 evening, at CB2, fully rehearsed, short pieces, professionally filmed but all with just one fixed camera. It was an idea I was initially keen on, but having had 2 meetings now with my creative consultant for this, Michelle, several things were pointed out to me - it would look rubbish unless you film them as 'films' as one-shot productions generally don't work, if the audience don't laugh it'll look bad, it's a hell of a lot of pressure on the actors to nail it all in front of the cameras in one night, and perhaps most importantly - who the hell would watch it on YouTube? Michelle was completely right, and I knew it, once she pointed out these things to me, and I appreciated her stopping me waste my time. But then looking at the scripts we were going to film it occurred to us - why not start making them (or at least the better ones - we've got 3 out of the 6 earmarked) into proper films? 10 minute shorts, but with all the professional quality you'd expect. Suddenly, two days later (ie; tonight) I found myself in a meeting with Michelle (who is now producer) and the mighty Robert Jezek (acclaimed actor - he's done Eastenders, James Bond films and everything) who wants to direct my script, 'If You Can't Make Me Happy' - which stems from a full play I wrote 3 years ago called 'Gone Midnight', but essentially was a short play I wrote during that difficult gap between Christmas and New Year. I've never written for film before, and the script was still very much a theatre piece (in fact I wrote it for my mate Sarah for her Leicester Comedy Festival production for later this year), but under Robert's experienced, tasteful guidance, we went through it line by line, editing, fixing, and in a re-write's time (I'll nail by mid-week) we'll have the final draft. Everybody involved likes the piece, and it's not far off being my first bit of film writing - essentially I need to get to the point more, and not explain every detail in dialogue like I need to for stage pieces as the visual element will cover much more than words need to say. It's exciting, I'm working with two outstanding people on this, both of whom are taking it seriously, which means they're taking me seriously. Tomorrow night, Michelle is going to approach the cast we have in mind, and then hopefully we start screen-testing next week, before filming starts in February. It's a ten minute film, but my first foray into writing for this medium - to be writing films wasn't on my to-do list for the year (I wanted to edge out of theatre and more into radio sitcoms) but it's a welcome step in the right direction. Michelle said I'd be hooked, I denied it, but once again she's right. Exciting times.

Also today, I started rehearsals with Lu, with our two London gigs creeping up, and it's only a matter of time before my other bands start playing this year - there's some really good stuff (festivals, nice venues) coming up with Flaming June in the summer, and also label-wise I'm pathetically behind with my paperwork for the forthcoming releases from Black Cloud Nine, Eureka Stockade (we're releasing 6 singles this year) and Tom Tilbury. I've just looked at my diary, and although my forthcoming couple of weeks does include pleasurable things such as a beer festival with friends next week, I've just realised that after tonight I don't have a free evening until the 30th January. This annoys me a little because there's other things I want to do this month which I can't - writing with Heather for example, got this amazing idea that I know she can take to a new level with her improvisational skills, yet despite a drunken discussion about it on New Years Eve and a great deal of enthusiasm by email and text, our diaries just haven't worked out yet and we need to work on this soon. But there's nothing so lovely as looking at a diary packed with creative goodness, I can see 2011 already looking like it's going to be a bit of a treat.

Currently watching: How Not To Live Your Live (DVD - series 1, BBC iPlayer- series 3)
Currently listening to: David Ford - Songs For The Road, the Dowsing For Sound set, a self-made Wave Pictures compilation
Currently reading: This Is Uncool - a history of punk/disco anthems, We Can't All Be Astronauts

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Gig report: Aidy @ BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Cambridge

Bands: Aidy (with myself on percussion and Dave on bass)
Venue: BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Cambridge
Date: 05/01/11
Audience: Have no idea, but am well aware of some friends listening in at home at least
Set: Make It Happen, If That's All That There Is + various interview bits
Notes: First gig of the year, and all a bit last minute this one - didn't know about it until I checked my Facebook messages this morning saying we've been offered it. We were on the Sue Marchant show, it was all very welcoming and stayed for a couple hours, playing two tracks in the process - the second one being a song I'd heard for the first time about an hour before the gig, he likes to keep me on my toes, that Aidy fella. Interviews were largely based around Aidy's magnificent achievement of releasing a song online every Friday during 2010, the bits were I got to talk were not my finest moments - in the space of an hour and a half I managed to accidentally compare Aidy's music to microwave beefburgers, and also be described as "a lovely enthusiastic spaniel". Still, all good fun and games and a nice way to break up my evenings of writing and wondering how I can make 2011 a winner.