Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A 1966 Cherry Red Gibson 330

I think I'm in a phase of reinvention. I recently acquired a Fender Telecaster. I've always shied away the popular makes and models of guitars. I traded my 1966 cherry red Gibson 330 for a massive store credit at one of the few remaining civilised and independent music stores, Parkway Music in Clifton Park NY.
The Gibson had been hanging on the wall for two years, gathering dust. In previous years I've used it to create feedback drones that sound vaguely like a French horn. I almost used it on the track 1983 on our last album, A Working Museum. But I didn't because I've got a Guild Star fire that does everything the Gibson can do and a lot more.
When I bought the Gibson I really wanted a Starfire but the Gibson was there, I had the cash, and I needed a decent guitar.
It was London, 1990. The Gibson was hanging in the window of Macari's on Charing Cross Road. It was a Friday morning. They wanted twelve hundred for it. I had seven hundred in my pocket because that's what I'd decided I was going to pay for it. I made the offer which was refused out of hand. I pulled the money out of my pocket and started counting it. The guy in charge told me to put it away but I carried on counting.
Money was scarce in England at the time.
'That's our wages,' I heard one of the assistants say.
The manager told me I was wasting my time but I carried on counting out the money, laying it down on the counter. When I got to five hundred and he said I could have it for nine.
'All I've got's seven hundred,' I said.
I'd got to six hundred and sixty in used twenties by the time he capitulated.
'Alright, seven hundred, cash, you bastard.'
I never much liked Macari's.

The problem with owning a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330 in perfect condition (with chrome pick-up covers) was that crowds gathered round it. Fat blokes, blokes with beards, checked shirts, shapeless brown corduroys; balding blues players, blowhards, nerds and manual readers. I thought the Gibson was going to be a chick magnet but I was disappointed.
It sounded pretty good, especially when I discovered the front pick-up. I played it through a fifteen watt Ampeg Jet combo amp. It put out a fierce signal, distorted the pre-amp stage, horrified sound engineers in th more sedate venues.
 In 1991 I played it with The Pretty Things. Dick Taylor turned to me between Midnight To Six and Don't Bring Me Down – 'I can't believe the sound you're getting out of that guitar.'
It was one of the greatest moments in my musical career.
But still the guitar had to go.
The last time I used it live was on The Rutles tour in 2004. Since then it's hung around, waiting to be of used, and making me feel guilty as I churned out tracks using less valuable, less sought after guitars. I tried to put it out of sight but never relegated it to its case – I would have felt even more guilty knowing that such an asset was stored beyond potential and effortless use. 
And anyway, I was using the case for one of my other guitars, one that I could smash into the front of my amplifier in a wailing cacophony of distressed wood, metal and plastic.
You'd never do that to a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330.
The Gibson made me a better guitar player, mostly because it gave me confidence. I no longer suffered the disdainful looks that real musicians reserved for the young men and boys who gamely scrubbed away behind lesser instruments, with their questionable intonation and bow and arrow action.
I would get my axe out, and once I'd learned the swagger, the assuredness of one who has invested money in their calling, those fuckers knew I meant business.
But there was no fun in it.

So finally I took it along to the music store and we thrashed out a deal that made us all happy. The 330 went to a collector in Japan where I'm sure it'll adored and fawned over in a manner that suits it – that guitar was always a bit of a Prima Donna so I'm sure it's having a great time.
As for me, I've had a load of equipment repaired, I've got a Tascam 38 1/2” eight track machine with Teac heads in practically perfect condition, and a Mexican Telecaster. Stuff I can use! And I've still got store credit.
I spent a long afternoon trying out every Telecaster in the store. The ones made in Mexico are good but the pick-ups are shit. There's no point even plugging them in. The trick is to find one that feels good and has a good acoustic sound.
I found a second-hand one with all the tags and guarantees still attached. Plugged into an amplifier it sounded disgusting but it felt good so I took it. I sanded the lacquer of the back of the neck, changed the bridge saddles for brass ones, lowered the action, replaced the pick-ups, rewired it and changed the tone control capacitor. Now it sounds great – my first Telecaster!
I used it the other night at Atwood's in Cambridge, Massachusetts. People told me afterwards how good I sounded, but nobody commented on the guitar. I finished the show with a full five minutes of intense feedback and ended up swinging the guitar between the amp and the mic stand in a whirl of oscillating feedback.
You wouldn't do that with a 1966 cherry red Gibson 330. You could, but you wouldn't.
It might not be a chick magnet but I obviously mean business with my customised Mexican Telecaster. I've already chipped the paint in a couple of places. I was going to sand off the metallic red finish but I think it might just take care of itself in time. It'll end up looking like the big green Microfret.
I'll tell you about that one another time.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

This Thing Called Sparky

The other week I drove from Catskill to JFK in the worst hire car I've ever driven. A compact car, a Ford Focus or equivalent. A squat, ugly, black plastic and metalic silver object. I never found out what make it was – there was some sort of logo in the middle of the steering wheel but no company name like Chevrolet or Renault or whatever. On the back it had some silly model name – I think it might have been Sparky but I put it out of my mind as soon as I saw it because I found it vaguely depressing. I was standing in the pissing rain in a parking lot at the time. I'd just been to TJ Max where I'd failed to find a pair of tenable socks. (I'm sure I once bought some really good socks at TJ Max but it might have been in England at TK Max.)
To start with I thought the car was a two door model because the handles for the back door were concealed in the space where another manufacturer might have put a quarter light or a bit more window. The thing was little more than a buggy, though buggy suggests an element of fun - like a Citroen 2CV or one of those Smart Car things that Kensington estate agents zip about in.
At least I think they zip about in them – you see them cluttering up trendy and up and coming London boroughs, similarly ugly to this thing I hired but with the jollifying addition of estate agents decals plaster all over the sides.
Having said that it occurs to me that I haven't seen one for a long time. But that might be because I haven't been looking, or because I haven't really been frequenting trendy or up and coming London boroughs of late.
Anyway, the Sparky, if that's what it was called, certainly didn't live up to its name. We've got a secondhand lawnmowers with more zest than this thing. It seemed to freeze at forty five miles an hour and the only way to get it to go any faster was to floor the accelerator and keep it there until the rev counter went off the dial and the motor sounded as though it might blow up. Then you could get sixty out of it. I managed seventy on the New York State Thruway. It was a terrifying experience. At that speed it became apparent that the thing didn't really have any shock absorbers.
If the Ford Motor Company was aware that this aberration of a vehicle was being touted as a Ford Focus equivalent they'd surely bring a lawsuit against whatever company made the thing. I was happy to leave it behind at the Hertz drop-off place.
I say happy but...
It was all very unclear – car rental returns was in a list along with
terminal 1 passenger drop-off
long-term parking
terminal 2 arrivals
terminal five departures
dangerous animal drop-off point
short-term parking
mid-life crisis
airport trauma counselling service
assisted suicide center
It was like reading a telephone directory.
When I finally got there through the rain and fog a recorded announcement kept saying Take a note of your mileage and leave your keys at the control point. Several other people were dropping cars off and none of them knew where or what the control point was either.
I left the keys in the car – I'm not sure that I even turned the motor off. I may have left a door or two open as well. As I wheeled my trolley stacked with cases and guitars through the Hertz control point that miraculously appeared when I followed the signs for Shuttle To Terminals some wag behind the desk suggested I might stop and play him a tune. I told him to fuck off. It was quarter past five in the morning.
Here's a tale from last December that I didn't get round to posting:

I'm in a Welcome Break, on the M42. It appears to be full of old people eating sandwiches. Old people going places, wearing body warmers, sensible anoraks, fleeces. I'm drinking Starbucks espresso. It tastes sour, quite disgusting. I think Costa espresso is better but it's a desperate choice.
This is what it's come to – I'm sitting here at a big pine table facing the window, looking at people standing around outside smoking cigarettes, and at the car park beyond. I feel I should get a sandwich to fit in. Or start smoking again. I don't want to eat an ice-cold sandwich, the thought of it has me on the edge of tears.
I'm adrift on a sea of bland.
I'm going to Waitrose now. So much choice. Back in the days of pie, chips and beans we didn't know how lucky we were. The Blue Boar, Watford Gap, before it became a fast food multiplex. Stick a 10p piece in the jukebox, get in quick with Alice Cooper or Mott the Hoople before Sugar Baby Love by The Rubettes chalked up yet another airing.
I wish I could hear Sugar Baby Love right now.
All I can hear is the chatter of hundreds of travellers, it rattles around the metal rafters like demented baritone birdsong.
I need to leave.
I need to eat.
I'm going to Waitrose.

I wrote that a few hours before I arrived where I was going and had eleven hours sleep. I felt better after that. As I left Waitrose, feeling thoroughly dejected, I realised I've developed a phobia against chilled sandwiches.
I just thought I'd mention that.

I wrote this as well, just before driving to Glasgow to start my UK solo tourette. Though in fact I'd already started with a somewhat under-attended show in Worcester a few days before. It could only get better after that one - the gig in Worcester showed me that I need to think it out a bit before I stroll onto the stage. I usually have a better handle on the set but I was exhausted from dealing with my bank in America and with car hire firms in England.
I stumbled into an airport car hire place – Hertz Car Rental at Heathrow. I'd forgotten which car hire company I had a reservation with so I had to go round them all and find out by process of elimination.
The woman at Europcar was very nice so I asked her for a quote just out of interest. It came in at six hundred pounds for the three weeks I'm here. I thought it sounded a bit expensive but you know, I'm slightly out of the loop. It included a free upgrade to a bigger car so I said I'd think about it.
I eventually used a disgusting computer with a keyboard that was gummed-up with a decades worth of fecal matter and snot (I think that's what it was) and found out that I was with Hertz. 
I caught the shuttle bus, a risky business – those things always fill up with big people who've just got off long haul flights from far-flung places where you can go back packing with a surf board and four enormous suitcases which they'll later use to try and break the necks off guitars belonging to other passengers.
The man at the Hertz desk was an oily boy racer grown old – greasy tendril hair-do with a hint of faux-hawk and a stubbly beard. He found my reservation by clacking at a worn out keyboard, sucked air in through his teeth and went dut dut dut as he tapped a pencil against the side of the computer screen. Then he asked me to bear with him and got out mobile phone that he may or may not have been using as a calculator. I say that because it's quite possible that he was texting a friend – we've got a right cunt here... 
After much screen prodding, dut dut dutting, sucking in of air through teeth, and a couple of bear with me's, he came up with a final price for three weeks car hire of one thousand eight hundred pounds. I was a little taken aback even though he pointed out that this included an upgrade at no extra cost to your good self sir.
I'd had a much better offer from Europcar.
I stumbled out across tarmac and rubble, climbed over a fence with all my luggage and arrived at completely the wrong car hire company. I'd got Europcar and Enterprise mixed up. I caught a shuttle bus back to the terminal and went to see my friend at the Europcar desk.
I got an electric blue Skoda Octavia. The interior was heavy with the scent of cleaning products, illicit cigarettes and takeaway food.
What with the car hire fiasco it took almost as long to get out of the airport as it did to fly across the Atlantic.

There's more – there's always more, but this is going to have to do for the moment. It's probably badly written, disjointed and vaguely uninteresting, but you have to do what you can.

And just before I go, if you live in New York State you can see us on Saturday 22nd February at our own venue, The Homemade Aeroplane, in Catskill NY. 
Here's a link, you can read all about it here and book a seat:

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hire Cars & Velcro

It's almost time to start randomly and hurriedly throwing stuff into my battered old Marks & Spencers suitcase. Effect pedals, socks, paint-stained shirts, books I might want to read, CDs I'll be tired of listening to in whatever horror of a hire car I get this time.
The last hire car we got from Heathrow didn't even look like a car – it seemed unsuited to house either people or amplifiers and instruments but we took my mother to a gig we had in Chichester in it and she was perfectly happy nestled in the black, faux-leather back seat next to Amy's guitar, my amplifier and a couple of boxes of CDs.
There's never anywhere to prop the GPS up. They want you to pay extra to use some built in contraption. We use an outmoded GPS thing in the UK. I've tried wedging the remains of the suction cup into the dashboard heating vents – it once worked on a small van we hired from Europcar – but usually I end up balancing the thing between the gear stick and the little trough that you're supposed to fill with toffees and change for parking meters. And as you take a sharp corner it slides into the nether region between the passenger seat and the transmission.
On the last trip I had great success with Velcro. I bought a roll of sticky-backed Velcro from a Target store somewhere just south of Richmond, Virginia. I stuck a strip of the scratchy stuff on the car dashboard and the corresponding furry strip to my phone and like this I was able to attach the car to the back of the phone.
Amy and I both have the same phone but we can tell who's is who's now because mine has a furry strip on the back and a big white paint stain from talking on the phone while I was rollering a ceiling the other day.

I'm glad you all know that now. And in years to come you'll start to notice little strips of Velcro attached to hire car dashboards the world over. It's my life's work. At last I'm doing something useful.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The heady world of rock and pop (part 64)

I hardly have time to get over one trip before it's time to set off on another. Less than a month ago I was in Decatur, Georgia, setting up the first solo show of my paintings. I drove down there in a hire car stacked with the paintings plus a couple of guitars and an amplifier because I was going to do a gig while I was there.
I always feel as though I'm on the lam when I'm driving off somewhere in a hire car full of stuff that hire cars never seem to be designed to carry. This isn't real life I'm thinking, and a distant adult voice echoes in my head – when are you going to stop messing around and get a real job?
It's a bit late now. I'm six months off sixty – fifty nine and a half years old. I often wonder how I've managed to get away with it so far but I gave up on worrying about doing anything about it half a lifetime ago. The deluded part of me makes these ridiculous intercontinental cross country journeys because it thinks there's still time – and it's only a matter of time – it thinks I'm going to make it, become a big somebody in the heady world of rock and pop.
The rational, non-deluded part of me knows this isn't going to happen. I'm just trundling along, out-living a lot of badly abused vehicles that were never meant to be driven so fast so overloaded, and for such long distances. I used to hurtle along surrounded by full ashtrays, beer bottles, cassettes and photo-copied maps. Now it's apple cores, plastic water bottles, toothpicks, CDs and GPS.
Thank fuck for the GPS. Before President Reagan proved he wasn't a complete waste of space by giving this great gift to the world you could easily add another hour onto a journey time just looking for the hotel or the venue. It takes the mystery away of course, the are we ever going to get there? We'll probably get there at the time it says on the screen unless we stop at another Starbucks and slosh down another inch or so of the sour black liquid that passes for espresso in those places.
So I drove down to Atlanta, or Decatur or wherever, stayed in a hotel on the way somewhere south of Washington DC. As I was negotiating the beltway around DC in post-rush hour darkness Amy called. I know I shouldn't have spoken to her while I was driving but there wasn't much traffic and we hadn't spoken since I left that morning. She was very excited – it seemed that Lou Reed played Take The Cash on his final radio show and said I was magnificent. I hardly know how to process that information. Lou Reed inhabits / inhabited another world, far away from the grubby, hire car trashing, sink or swim and under the wire world that I operate in. Or did he?
Early in the summer we went to see his wife Laurie Anderson give a talk, present some films and, along with Pauline Oliveros, perform a live soundtrack for a couple of films that were actually fairly forgettable in comparison to the music. The equipment broke down – a computer malfunction. Pauline Oliveros played a couple of solo pieces on an accordian hooked up to God knows what electronic trickery while Laurie Anderson scrabbled around on the floor unplugging and plugging things back in. I felt a kinship. Lou had people to deal with that sort of thing, his wife didn't, and perhaps given the choice neither would Lou. In Laurie's obituary for Lou in Rolling Stone she talks about how their first date was at a recording equipment trade fair – they met in microphones.
I don't know why I'm telling you stuff that you can read elsewhere except to try and illustrate a point which you've probably lost track of by now. I know I have, so here's a link: 

I could tell you all about my exhibition in Decatur but I haven't even mentioned the trip I made to Memphis the month before. Here's an account I started to write back in October one glum evening in a town out on the Illinois mud:

I'm sitting here trying to recount the steps that have lead me to room 106 at the Super 8 motel in Staunton, Illinois.
I arrived here in the dark having made a ridiculous detour around St Louis. I should have listened to the GPS but we'd had a falling out early today - she took me on a tour of interstate highways surrounding Springfield, Missouri.
I just want a fucking cup of coffee I screamed at her. A sign I'd never seen before came up on the screen – you shook your phone it accused me. It wanted to report me to Google, mount a full enquiry. It was lucky I didn't throw it out of the window.
The GPS woman was adamant - ignore the signs for Chicago and carry straight on. I was having none of it. She kept repeating the same phrase over and over: take the next exit and make a U turn. You've already fucked-up once today I yelled at her as I ploughed on into the darkest depths of Bumfuk, Illinois.
Turned out she was right.
Tomorrow I'm going to be nice to her all day.
I played in Springfield, Missouri the night before. Twenty seven devout disciples and soon-to-be converts turned out to see me. Taking into account that Springfield is miles from anywhere, right in the heart of the very dead centre of mid-western America I think I can count that as a bit of a success.

Staunton, Illinois doesn't look like a very nice place to live. It's muddy, cold, dark and unwelcoming. There's a new plastic gas station that can probably be seen from outer space, and there's a Hardee's Red Burrito. Apart from the hotel reception these are the only two places in the entire town of Staunton, Illinois that are still open at nine thirty in the evening.

I try to imagine that the place will look better in daylight
It doesn't.
I stay in the room until the last pick-up truck has left the parking lot outside my window. I figure that an absence of people that travel in pick-up trucks will make the breakfast room more pallatable. It doesn't – breakfast finished with the last of the pick-up people.
I imagine there's got to be somewhere I can get coffee on the this highway, somewhere that is McDonalds, Burger King, Popeye's... A Starbucks perhaps, or even Panera. But there isn't one.
After almost an hour I resign myself to Cracker Barrel. It'll be an adventure I tell myself.
It isn't.
Everyone is really homespun and pleased to see me, and very fucking nice. Large and lumpy - shiny polyester stretched across enormous expanses of backside. Big chins, white, teeth, plastic hair. This is a the mid west just as I'd imagined it!
I drive on, my teeth uncomfortably clenched in the aftermath of the sour strychnine liquid that passed for coffee at the Cracker Barrel. Won't make that mistake again, next time I'll stop at the side of the road and drink water out of the ditch.

Two days ago I was in Memphis for the weekend. Six days ago I was in Knoxville, Tennessee. A number of hours before that I was in Richmond, Virginia. I played in a place called Gallery 5. They said it would be packed because a lot of people were disappointed to have missed the show when Amy and I played there last February. They didn't show up so I suppose they're still disappointed. I played to a warm and welcoming crowd of almost thirty people.
Afterwards I stayed with Amy's cousin Ceci. We hung out in her kitchen with a friend of hers who knew more about obscure British underground bands of the sixties than I do, and about two thirty Ceci wondered how far it was to Knoxville. Can't be more than two, three, possibly four hours I said. We all agreed that that sounded about right, but just to be on the safe side somebody looked it up on Mapquest.
Seven hours and forty seven minutes not including delays bought about by roadworks.
I knew I had to get up so of course I couldn't sleep, spent four and a half hours supended in a semi coma and fell into a deep sleep just as the alarm went off. Standard procedure really.
The car was running on empty so I got the nice GPS / Google Maps lady to direct me to a gas station. There's only one gas station in Richmond, a BP station on the other end of town. I set off in hot pursuit, turning left and turning right until I got embroiled in some roadworks that the GPS lady didn't know about.
It occurred to me that a town the size of Richmond must have more than one gas station. Ceci had actually directed me to one just round the corner from her house but I didn't quite take in the information because I knew that the GPS lady would set me right. The bitch set me wrong, the bitch being the GPS lady, not Ceci who is without a doubt my favourite distant in-law.
Eventually I found a Citgo gas station almost in sight of the BP one. It was an unpleasant experience in a desperate neighbourhood but I noticed as I passed the projected BP station that I'd save a couple of cents a gallon. So fuck you Google Maps and fuck you BP. And fuck you too GPS lady - you just put nearly an hour on the travel time.
We hit the interstate and drove on in a tense silence.

Sometime in the mid-afternoon after a less than delightful culinary experience in rural Virginia it occurred to me that I was going to be late for the soundcheck. In fact, unless I got a move on I was probably going to be too late for the show. I stopped in a Starbucks and loaded up on coffee. The girl behind the counter loved my accent – said I reminded her of Michael Caine. She asked me what I was doing in the middle of Virginia, asked me how I liked it. I knew she was into films - it's alright, but it's a bit squeak piggy squeak if you know what I mean. She did. She fair swooned, said I'd made her day. I half expected her to run out to the car, flinging off her Starbucks apron and screaming take me with you...
She didn't, but her and the coffee cheered me up no end.
I drove onward at the speed of light being careful to observe the speed limits and watching out for highway patrol cars.

I arrived in at the Pilot Light in Knoxville just as the opening act were about to go on. The opening act was Tim & Susan Lee or The Tim Lee 3 minus 1, or possibly just The Tim Lee 2. Tim helped me load my gear in before they went on. The Pilot Light was great and I wish I could play there every Thursday. No soundcheck but a soundcheck was hardly neccesary – I told the soundman what I wanted, strummed a couple of chords, talked into the mic, and before I knew it I was halfway through the set. And the place was full and the people actually wanted to hear what I was doing.
It was a change from the last time Amy and I were in Knoxville – we played in a beer hall for students not long after Michael Jackson died. Two girls were dancing in front of the stage as we set up. They were obviously high on ecstasy, flowers painted on their faces, swooshing long scarves around, embracing anything that moved, that kind of thing. Do y'all play any Michael Jackson? one of them asked me. I told her I was terribly sorry but y'all didn't play any Michael Jackson. They stuck around anyway, swooshing their scarves, flailing their arms and occasionally going Wooo! in a gamely half-hearted manner. They lasted two and a half songs before one of them wandered off and the other fell in love with a pillar. By that time we could hardly hear what we were playing over the noise that a lot of beer drinking students in a place with a high ceiling makes.
Different this time though. No swooshing scarves or flowers painted on faces. Just a very nice crowd of all ages.
And then I drove across Tennessee to Memphis. Took me two days. I stopped in a town called Cookeville. I needed gas, and maybe a cup of coffee. And then I thought I might as well stop for dinner. It was only five o'clock, a little early and there was very little choice but I was dreading the culinary roadside delights that might be lurking west of Nashville. So I stumbled into the Olive Garden and ordered the earlybird special.
The waitress kept calling me Buddy. She noticed that I was looking tired and suggested that if I wasn't in a hurry I should stick around. She probably thought I was on holiday, some silly English retiree living the dream, working out a deluxe Kerouac fantasy. She put the idea in my head and in no time at all, in between the salad and the main course I'd got my phone out and Hotwired my way into a three star hotel on the outskirts of town.
They gave me a ground floor room with the usual fixings, double bed, reclining chair, fridge, microwave, coffee machine, flat screen TV, a huge air conditioning unit under the window... and next to the bed where you'd normally have a night table with a telephone and radio alarm clock, a big dehumidifier that was turned up full. I was somewhat disturbed by this so I called the front desk and asked for an explanation.
Because of their proximity to the swimming pool, the rooms on that side of the hotel tend to get a little er... moist.
The noise it made was deafening so I turned it off and hoped the room wouldn't get too swampy.
And the next day I drove to Memphis and played at Gonerfest. It was an almost eerie experience. The audience was in rapt attention. During the quiet bits I could hear aeroplanes flying overhead and the sound of distant traffic.
After a weekend in Memphis I drove through Arkansas to Missouri and Springfield. And you know the rest.

Amy and I are playing in Montclair, New Jersey on Saturday then I'm on my own - flying to London for a one-off reunion of The Len Bright Combo. And a few solo dates. I'll be gone for three weeks. I don't think Amy and I have ever been apart for that long since we shacked up together. I hope she doesn't enjoy life without me too much!

30 MONTCLAIR NJ The Art Garage 7:30 PM TICKETS (Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby)

05 THE LEN BRIGHT COMBO live session on The Marc Riley Show, 6 Music
06 THE LEN BRIGHT COMBO live at The Lexington, LONDON

08 WORCESTER, Marr’s Bar
12 GLASGOW, Woodend Bowling & Lawn Tennis Club tickets
13 EDINBURGH, The Citrus Club, 40-42 Grindlay Street
14 GATESHEAD, The Central
15 LEICESTER, The Musician
16 BRIGHTON, The Prince Albert

Monday, August 5, 2013

Summer rolls on

We went to the place where Catskill Creek joins the river Hudson. There's a park with a bandstand on the river bank with a hamburger concession and picnic tables. Every Thursday during the summer they have a concert. This week it was a faux Beatle group. As we arrived they were knocking out You Can't Do That and it actually sounded quite good except that the instrumental section went by without an audible guitar solo, lots of You Can't Do Thats but no solo. 

Thank you George and now Mister Paul McCartney all the way from Liverpool England...

There was too much chat between songs while guitars were changed extra something for our most avid fans, we like to do them exactly as we recorded them back in the day... Are there any Rubber Soul fans here tonight? This ones a request for a lovely lady – I think her name was Rita but it might be Martha my dear or Lucy in the sky, something like that, hey up!...'
OK, are you ready mates?
Thank you Paul
Thank you John
Thank you one and all. The Beatles from the Yellow Submarine film, all sacherine and no acidity.

You Can't Do That was a high point. We left during the Hey Jude singalong. A two man Mexican wave broke out – actually it was two woman having a really great time. A large beery man slumped in a Walmart garden chair shouted boozilly along. The whole family were there – it was a family occasion. The wife, her sister and a cousin or two all piled up in Walmart garden chairs. The chairs still had their tags on, the garden chair aisle must be empty tonight but they'll all be back tomorrow with grass stained feet and sagging seats.

I dread to think what next weeks attraction might be. Last week it was The Ponytails and that was a washout apparently because the PA was under-powered and then it broke down and the concert had to be abandoned because The Ponytails do the sixties to a backing track and you couldn't hear either it or them.

Not that we could anyway because we were rocking out in Wilmington, Delaware with Ian Hunter. The Queen is a large refurbished movie theatre with two venues – a small one upstairs where NRBQ were playing and a bowels to rooftop rock auditorium with every mdern rock convenience and a lot of dining tables. And that's where we were. It put me in mind of a land-locked liner, especially when the audience came in – we could have been on a Saga cruise
And please don't think I mean any disrespect to either our audience or Ian's, it's just a sharp reminder that we're all getting older. A few years ago when my daughter, Luci, was working as a care assistant in a home for the elderly she called me one day with the news: Dad! We've got our first senile hippie!

Anyway, apart from the weirdness of being in a place where you basically get a better seat if you eat dinner – I've never got on with that idea, I'm the man who told the audience at Joe's Pub in New York City that it would have been better if they'd eaten before they came out – the show was pretty fabulous. We got a standing ovation which sort of surprised me because I thought we were playing quite well but I wasn't sure if we were connecting. Ian and his band were really great – pretty fabulous...really great – I should be writing for Record Mirror in the early seventies: the bass guitarist and drummer laid down a mighty beat, the two lead guitarists knocked 'em dead and the singer had a terrific image. I see no reason why they shouldn't make number one by Christmas!

Ian asked us to come on and sing the backing vocals on All The Young Dudes – that was if we didn't mind hanging around until the end. He's the nicest person. I'm in awe of him (hope he doesn't read this) but he's just so nice to us. I couldn't help thinking back to summer 1972 when that record first came out – it was relevant in a line with My Generation and Friday On My Mind, it spoke to me then and I still think of it as one of the most important pop singles of all time. I never would have imagined that one day I'd be standing on a stage with Ian Hunter, singing the chorus with the wife! I hoped I sounded a bit like David Bowie but I don't know because the monitor was turned off so we couldn't hear any of what we were singing. There's always something.

Maxwell's the week before was one of the highlights of the year. I'm glad we got a chance to play there one last time before it closes down. It doesn't do to get too sentimental about these places – they have their day and when it's over it's ridiculous to pretend it isn't. I never subscribed to keep CBGBs open at all cost, it was a dump, it served its purpose, it was falling to bits. And punk is long dead. Likewise The Marquee Club, The Nashville Rooms, The Hope & Anchor and Dingwalls Dancehall. I miss them all but I'm glad they aren't around any longer. Though in fact the Hope & Anchor still is and it's a travesty – it bears no relation or resemblance to the place it was when it was somewhere everybody used to play. Admittedly it's a lot cleaner and you probably won't get rotgut from drinking the draught beer or wade through piss to get to the toilet, but what's the point? It hasn't even got the jukebox – it was widely acknowledged as the best jukebox in London, and I'm proud to say it had several of my forty-fives on it at one time or another.

So what is the point here? Yes, I know – I'm going to miss Maxwell's but the scene is changing along with the neighbourhood. It's how it has to be. I miss the Lakeside Lounge too but that neighbourhood might as well be a different planet now. 

But life carries on - somewhere else.

And now I find that Mick Farren has died. I first met him back in the seventies when he had an EP out on Stiff Records called Screwed Up – it was actually Mick Farren & The Deviants. My copy has long gone which makes me sad because I loved that record – Outrageous Contageous, Let's Loot The Supermarket, Screwed Up – I'm addicted to myself...
He was a lovely, funny man.

While I was making my first album Stiff Records decided I needed a fan club and charged me and Larry Wallis with thinking up a name for it – they probably thought it'd keep us out of trouble for a while. I came up with The Girls In The Nude Club, Larry changed it to Fun Club and Mick Farren came up with the killer strap line – Remember, there's one under every dress. The Stiff drones, Paul Conroy and Alan Cowderoy were appalled, this wasn't what they'd had in mind for the shiny new all-wholesome Stiff Records Mk 2. Mick made sure it got used by writing about it in the NME. The record company office was inundated with requests to join, sadly all from boys, which wasn't quite what we'd had in mind.

I loved all that lot – The Pink Fairies, The Deviants, The Pretty Things, Hawkwind... the Notting Hill Gate scene I suppose it was. They were kind and understanding, they got it, Stiff Records, the early punk thing. If it flew in the face of what was considered to be normal, decent and acceptable they were all for it.

The way it's going puts me in mind of the coastal erosion at Happisburg in Norfolk. I considered buying a house there about ten years ago. Last time I went there the street the house had been on wasn't there anymore – it had all fallen off the cliff onto the beach which is now larger than it used to be and strewn with construction debris to which vestiges of patterned wallpapers still cling. JJ Cale died the same day as Mick Farren – you look away for a couple of seconds and there's another one gone. Trevor Bolder died in May without me noticing – I found out about that last week. Still, there's no sense in getting depressed, it's all part of life's great adventure and we really don't have any choice (in spite of what some might say).

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dead End Fallen Rock Zone Bump

It was May and we were in Fargo, on our way to Winnipeg. Now it's July and I'm here at home on a Sunday morning waiting for Amy to get ready to go to Hudson to get a decent espresso.
I don't know where the time goes (does anybody?) - there we were motoring all over the mid-west, from Winnipeg where we played to sold out shows at the Stu-Dome, one of the wackiest homemade venues, to the pointlessness of Omaha. We played to an audience of two people in Omaha. Two people, the bar staff, the club manager and the opening act, two young twits who twittered, twattered and nattered as we struggle through a short set. We played for the two paying customers, otherwise I would have played to shame the manager.
The doorman told me that the club had had a falling out with the local press. Something was wrong - the place had a sound system that must have cost more than a building, and immediately after we finish playing two men in suits came in and cornered the manager. They didn't look like they'd come for drinks and a good time.
I don't think we'll be going back to Omaha in a hurry.
We came home via St Louis and a show with The Bo-Keys, Willie Mitchell's house band. It was my birthday. The bass player, Scott Bomar, said he'd seen us at the Hi Tone in Memphis. After our set he complimented me on my bass playing. I went into our shared dressing room and their singer, Percy Wiggins said immediately 'Man! You guys have got a great blend!'
Best birthday presents ever apart from Amy's tickets to see Kris Kristofferson at the Tarrytown Music Hall. Kris was a bit challenged vocally - too many gigs in a row - but magnificent nonetheless. He did two sets, started up with Feeling Mortal from his new album.

He dusted off Me & Bobby McGhee quite casually round about the third song in. Help Me Make It Through The Night and Sunday Morning Coming Down came and went with no fanfare. When he found he'd put the wrong harmonica in the rack he laughed as he tunelessly tooted and sang what might have been a harmonica solo. His daughter, who could have been anywhere between fifteen and thirty-five, sang and played the banjo on a few tunes and apart from that it was just him with an acoustic guitar and a seemingly random selection of harmonicas. Perfect.

My mother flew in from London for a visit. Her flight was scheduled to arrive in Newark, New Jersey, at 3:35pm on Tuesday. It was a simple operation – breeze down to Newark, wave excitedly at the arrivals gate, pop her and her suitcase in the car, drive home up the New York State Thruway, dinner, bed.

It didn't go according to plan.

The morning was glorious – brilliant blue sky and perfect temperature. We were still a bit tired from a marathon Sunday trip – leave home at nine in the morning, drive down to Baltimore, set up, soundcheck, play a set at five in the afternoon, pack up, drive, arrive home at three in the morning... I think we might have been slightly mad at this point.
We hauled ourselves back into the car the next day - slightly later the same day that is - to collect her from the airport. Torrential rain came down in sheets as soon as we hit the New York State Thruway. It was still coming down when we got to the airport.
I rushed into the terminal while Amy parked the car. The flight had arrived almost an hour ago. I looked all around but my mother was nowhere to be seen. So I went to the information desk, explained myself and listened fom a weird distance while an official told me that my mother hadn't been feeling well so when the flight landed they had her decanted into an ambulance and taken to a hospital.
I wanted to know how unwell but the official had no details though he did volunteer that he'd been there at the gate when the flight landed and he hadn't seen anything that in his opinion looked too dreadful.
I got the hospital details and off we went.
They were very nice to me at the hospital - horrible to just about everybody else as far as I could see, but nice to me. Amazing what an English accent can do for you. In no time at all I was through to the inner sanctum of the emergency department. The place was littered with large people reclining on reinforced trolleys in various states of distress and undress.
My mother looked tiny on her trolley, parked next to a wall, forlorn, dejected, ashen and frightened under a pale blue hospital blanket. She'd been sick on the flight. The night before, what with the excitement of getting ready, she couldn't remember how to set her alarm, so at two o'clock in the morning, fearful of missing the flight, she'd decided there was nothing else for it but to stay up all night. She was worn out, dehydrated, and she hadn't eaten properly. The airline food disagreed with her.
She was shaky so the nice doctor, who addressed all his questions to me in the assumption that my mother was at the very least slightly senile, was ready to diagnose the early onset of Parkinsons. They wheeled her into a private room and, having relieved me of a credit card down-payment of six hundred dollars, proceeded to give her every test imaginable. Healthcare practitioners swarmed around her like mechanics at a Grand Prix pitstop.
They hooked her up to a drip, drained vials of blood from her, stuck electrodes all over her and measured her heartbeat, blood pressure, bio-rhythms body mass index, height to weight ratio, bone density... They booked her in for an X-ray and started talking about giving her a brain scan - an MRI.
'I don't want a KGB,' I heard my mother say in a weak voice.
The X-ray guy came along and addressed all his questions to me - 
'Can she walk?'
'I don't know, why don't we ask her.'
And so on.
He put her in a chair, wheeled her to a dark and eerie corner of the hospital. He propped her up against a metal slab in a grubby room. He took her stick away so that she had nothing to hold on to. He made me go in the other room with him where we could see her through a thick glass screen, clinging to the metal slab, looking desperate.
He had to do the x-rays, front, side and back, twice, because she'd been wearing a Saint Christopher medalion and he hadn't noticed.
Saint Christopher: patron saint of travellers.
They wanted to keep her in overnight - twenty four hour observation. I asked if she could have a glass of water, explained that she had jet-lag which usually results from, or results in, dehydration. The doctor had to think about this for a minute, jet-lag not being a serious medical condition. He agreed that she could drink some water and a kind nurse came and gave her water in a paper cup which she took with extreme gratitude.
Another nurse who looked remakably like Godzilla burst in and took it away from her.
'She can't drink anything! Who gave here that?'
I had a talk with my mother - she was tired of being treated like a half-wit or a geriatric and wanted out of there. I called the doctor back in. He was adament that she needed twenty four hours observation. I said she needed a good nights sleep which she wouldn't get in a hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and we agreed to differ.
Godzilla came back with some paperwork and having got the neccessary signatures told us to leave as soon as possible.
The place was a hell-hole. A man ranted, raved and strutted the corridor in his underwear - 'give me back my fucking clothes!'
A man, a woman, a banshee - I don't know - kept yelling 'let me the fuck oudda here'
Beached whales were wheeled back and forth on the reinforced trolleys and a woman in the next room took quite a shine to me. She listed the contents of her handbag:
'I never leave home without my insulin, my cigarettes and a bottle of diet pepsi...'
She was in for a suspected heart attack.

Amy had been all over the airport in the meantime, trying to retrieve her mother-in-law's luggage. Somewhat surprisingly United Airlines were extremely helpful, but it became apparent that the luggage wasn't going to be with us until the following day. So Amy bought her a change of clothes and everything she'd need for the night and she left the hospital looking like a Newark delinquent courtesy of the local Target.
We stopped at Burger King on the way home - it was the only place open. My mother wolfed down a portion of fries and declared it the best thing she'd ever eaten. She had the best nights sleep she'd had in weeks and was on top form for the whole time she was with us. We made sure she had an early night before she left to go home and took her for lunch at a good restaurant on the way to the airport. She thoroughly enjoyed the return flight and when we spoke on the phone the following day she sounded like a teenager.

By mid June we were more worn out than we were on the drive from Winnipeg to Omaha and I wondered if it would ever stop raining. I recorded a version of Little Child from With The Beatles for a Mojo magazine CD, We're With The Beatles.

For some strange reason - nothing strange about it actually, they fucked-up - it was credited to Wreckless Eric & James Nicholls. James runs the London office of Fire Records. I'm signed to Fire now, or at least my back-catalogue is - they're going to start re-issuing very shortly.
James and I have no plans to form a group together. In fact he left the group in a fit of artistic temperament shortly after the magazine came out. I sent him a very nice email suggesting he reconsider:
even though you're not technically on the recording you've always been the spirit, even the soul of the band, whereas I'm merely the engine room and mouthpiece. And by the way, you still owe your half of last months rehearsal room rent.
He slunk away muttering something about Wham. I haven't heard from him since.

I built some book shelves so we could unpack our books. Amy keeps showing photos of the shelves - like a proud mother. A bit embarrassing for me. The other night at Maxwell's she showed the photo to Ian Hunter's wife:
'Wow!' she said, 'I wish Ian could do that sort of thing.'
It's been quite a month for heroes - the other night we went with David Greenberger to see Ian McLagan at The Bearsville Theatre in Woodstock. He was fabulous, just him on the piano and his bass player, Jon Notarthomas. I didn't know what to expect and it was a pleasant surprise. I talked to Jon Notarthomas afterwards - he was pleased that Amy and I had come , then Ian came over and hugged us and he was glad we were there too and we were mates almost immediately and called each other old cunts in the way that only English blokes can. I was in a stupor for days after - I've been a Small Faces fan since the very beginning, and a Faces fan after that. I'd just met one of my oldest heroes.
And then we played with Ian Hunter. It was one of the last nights at Maxwell's so it was quite emotional. We did a stripped-down thing, Amy played acoustic guitar and I played my Guild Starfire through a fifteen watt Fender Princeton with no effect pedals. It was very rock 'n' roll. We did a different set - The Downside Of Being A Fuck-up, Please Be Nice To Her, Young Upwardly Mobile & Stupid, Summer Of My Wasted Youth, Another Drive-in Saturday, Genovese Bag, All I Want, A Darker Shade Of Brown, Do You Remember That and Whole Wide World. It went over well. I switched to bass for Do You Remember That. A great, wacky guy called Unsteady Freddie filmed it. I usually hate films of us live but I think this one's pretty good:

In between lounging around with the stars, hanging about in hospitals and building bookcases I've been painting again. I've got a new website dedicated to paintings. There are loads for sale but you don't have to buy anything. I've been doing paintings of detergent packets - they make the site look like a supermarket and I'm not sure that anyone likes them. Take time to fill out the pointless survey while you're there - the address is:
It took me ages to think that up.

Monday, May 13, 2013


We stopped for the night in Fargo on our way to Winnipeg. Apparently you can have your photo taken with the actual wood chipper used in the film Fargo - it's just down the road and you can buy one of those silly looking hats with ear flaps to wear while you're being photographed. Or maybe you can rent one for the occasion, I don't know, but I don't think we'll be needing the hats because it's very hot outside even though there's a howling gale blowing, which is disturbing but perfect - when it comes to round here neither of us has driven north of Minneapolis before. We're a long way from anywhere we might consider normal and the weather is adding to the otherness of it all.
Before we head off up the trail towards the Canadien border we're going to venture into downtown Fargo. Amy has already been out - she discovered a Target and a Starbucks. It's disappointing to come all this way and they've got exactly the same everything as you might find in Watford or Washington DC. I was hoping to trade a couple of blankets for a Bowie knife and the various supplies we'll need as we head out further into the wilderness. The wind is still howling around the Travel Lodge & Suites here and I'm doing my best to be faintly terrified.
We had a great show at Schuba's in Chicago the other night. The situation was possibly more weird than anything Fargo and its environs can throw at us because we were sharing a dressing room with the two young acts who were doing the late show, and both of them were accompanied by a full compliment of parents. The one group, Skating Polly, who are all set to become the greatest thing to come out of Oklahoma City consist of two half sisters, one seventeen, the other only thirteen. They had a young balding guy with them who fussed around their equipment and repeatedly told us how awesome we were. I thought he was the drummer but he turned out to be the dad and tour manager. The other act was Emily Wells - she tours solo with half a drum kit, a violin, a lot of electronics and a very sweet boxer/mongrel dog for company. Tonight she had her parents with her.They were helping with her merchandise. They appeared to be a lot were younger than either of us. Amy's daughter Hazel came to see us and she said she felt old. The dressing room was cluttered with thirteen year old's homework and the youngsters tirelessly twittered right up until showtime - only a few tickets left for our show tonite at Schuba's with Emily Wells - it's going to be awesome. Let's make it a sell-out! Something like that anyway. I felt like a sleazy old git by comparison and I'm sure I said the F word in front of the thirteen year old.
Jake Burns from Stiff Little Fingers came to see us play. He raved about us on Facebook afterwards -
Just home from the most entertaining evening I've had in...forever. If you get the chance to catch Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby on this current short tour, don't think twice. Go! I thought Ray Davies, Neil Young, The Beatles (in a good way). Best night out in years. I was thrilled to bits.

On Saturday night we played in an old factory building in Manitowoc (that's us in the photo above). I still can't pronounce Manitowoc with any confidence. We had a great time with the promoter, David Smith, and his family. He introduced me to the work of Phillip R Goodwin. I'd seen his illustrations before but without knowing who he was.
I hope we see some bears on this trip...