Sunday 30 November 2014

A Guardian Angel Comes To Call

I was exhausted. Frazzled after a breakneck drive to Berlin I had an afternoon radio interview to do and followed by a solo record store appearance. I played seven songs and signed a lot of autographs - I felt like Johnny Leyton on that TV show where he mimes to Johnny Remember Me.
Later on we were setting up the equipment in the Crystal Club when an apparition walked in, a beautiful older man with silver hair and an anorak. I was staring at him, thinking how I knew him from somewhere, then I realised it was Captain Sensible. He'd beamed down from another planet like some strange guardian angel to make sure I was all right.
Actually he was making a guest appearance with a band who were playing in the venue next door. He stuck around for our soundcheck, then lovingly carried my guitar down to the dressing room for me and made us all a cup of tea. It was like having a celebrity valet. He showed me to a grubby off-white vinyl sofa, bought me a cup of tea, sat down and asked me how I was. He admired my guitar, I gave it to him to play and he caressed its curves, complimented the patina and remarked that it was ageing beautifully. We talked about the importance, now that we're both grandfathers, of maintaining a certain amount of onstage dignity (which in his case means keeping his clothes on for the duration of the set).
Then he was gone, off next door to do his gig.
During the show I mentioned how he'd appeared and made us all a cup of tea, how Amy was disappointed because she's spilled her Special Captain Sensible Cup Of Tea, and what a lift it had given me to see him, in the middle of a tour, thousands of miles from home, in a strange land with the mid-tour blues...and so on. I didn't think we'd be seeing each other again because his show exactly coincided with our own.
We finished the set, encore and everything, and were just about to leave the stage when there was a commotion and the Captain was in amongst us, red beret and wraparound shades and all, making a speech about how great I was. I couldn't be doing with that.
'You'll have to give us a song now you're here - let's do Happy Talk!'
For a long time Happy Talk was the Captain's bete noire. A novelty hit that turned him from a borderline clown into a full time joke for a while. A shame because he's an intelligent man and a hugely talented musician. Not that I'd ever tell him that of course. He's recovered from all that now and always seems quite reconciled with the Happy Talk part of the story.
We completely butchered the song and it was magnificent. Someone said it sounded us though we were all playing different songs but it made perfect sense to me. It even had a modulation, or key change (from A to G), due in part (I like to think) to my quick insertion of a mindless progression of jazz chords. Barry had a handle on it, which I found slightly disturbing, and so did Amy - she played the organ like a cabaret hack on a cruise liner. When they start doing punk cruises we'll be first in line for a job.
It was a one-off, I don't think we'll be doing it again. It cheered me up no end though. Some of the audience looked puzzled -I suddenly realised that half of them didn't know who he was, and the other half thought he was a lookalike.
I should have taken photos but I was busy, and everyone else seems to be taking them, though the Germans aren't the shutterbugs that the American's are. Everywhere we play in America big men stand next to me while other big men take our photo, me looking slightly bemused, big man of the moment looking either pleased as punch or super cool. Sometimes they check the photo and get their big man mate to take another, but it's never because I don't look good - and I generally don't - it's all about them, they have to look just right.
Shutterbug... I like this word.
And the German version - Schutterbug.

02 STRASBOURG, La Popartiserie

05 LEON, SPAIN, Purple Weekend Festival – THE LEN BRIGHT COMBO
06 LEON, SPAIN, Purple Weekend Festival – WRECKLESS ERIC solo
10 HULL, New Adelphi TICKETS
14 BRIGHTON, Prince Albert

Monday 24 November 2014

Getting Ready, Mixing With The Stars, Getting Ready To Go Again...

I'm sitting in the overcrowded boarding area in Terminal 5 at JFK airport. This is about the most relaxed I've felt since we got home from the Ian Hunter tour last Tuesday and I realised we'd have to get ready to leave home yet again.
I always feel hopelessly ill-prepared - I make mental lists and try to hold the information in my head until the pressure of trying to remember all this trivial shit becomes too much and I succumb to making an actual list:
glasses...set list...notify the bank...gutters...dodgy volume pot...socks...
Eventually I start crossing this stuff out, either because I've done it, like climbing up a ladder and clearing leaves out of the gutter; or because I can't remember what it was I meant, like socks; or because I'm running out of time, as in dodgy volume pot, which I'll deal with when we get to England if I can locate the UK soldering iron amongst the touring paraphernalia stashed in our friend's attic.
I have to remember where I've put my passport even though I know where I keep my passport, but it seems important to remember where I've put it, so I do, and store the information in my head, and then I convince myself that I might have forgotten, so I rush home with a palpitating heart and check that the passport is where I've put it, which of course it is...
It's a bit like an Edgar Allan Poe story but I can't think which one in particular at the moment.
I've decided which guitar I'm taking - the big green Microfret. I thought of taking the Mexican Telecaster which sounds great but doesn't have quite the character and fucked-up-ness of the Microfret, possibly because the strings are all the same distance apart.

A week goes by in a blur - rounding up equipment, rehearsing, renting a van, loading it with equipment, catching a ferry in the early morning. Cologne, Nijmegan, Utrecht...

And here we are, three shows in, having a day off in Utrecht. Amy and I decided to go off in search of the old town - canals, historic buildings, coffee houses and the ubiquitous coffee shops, which of course we avoided seeing as how we're already spaced out.
We met up with Barry Payne and the three of us spent an afternoon cluttering up cycle lanes, cafes, and at one point even a camping shop, which is a good thing because now we've got the camping bug out of our systems for another year.

It's hard to believe that just two weeks ago I had a show in Huntsville, Alabama, and then we were in Nashville with Ian Hunter. That was a great show to end the tour with. Afterwards, in a dressing room full of people, I met a very enthusiastic fan called Tom who told me how happy he was to see us play, and what a huge fan he was:
'Do you live in Nashville? I asked him, feeling a bit like Prince Charles on a royal visit.
He told me he did.
'And what do you do here?' I asked, inclining my head slightly and putting on an interested expression.
'I'm a bass player'
'That's good! So am I - I play bass sometimes with me and Amy. You got a band or anything?'
'Yes, I've been in the same band for years'
'Must be working out then - what are you called?'
'We're called Cheap Trick'
It took some effort to come back from that but I managed. I told him how I'd opened for Cheap Trick at the Hammersmith Odeon back in 1979, and how impressed we were by their roadies who all looked like Greek gods to us. He told me the band were all huge fans and were quite awed at having me open for them. I told him we'd assumed they were arrogant American rock stars because none of them talked to us, and he said that they'd all been too shy.
I remember that night very well - Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds turned up in just perfect time to miss my set, which was a shame because we'd actually been really good and gone down well. 
I had a halting and almost completely one-sided conversation with Roy Wood who seemed very tall and imperious, though that may have just been an illusion caused by my fan worship of the man.
The stars caroused with one another and I ended up in the corner of the backstage bar with my bass player. 
A seedy looking man, an American with a ratty moustache, beige slacks and an open-necked shirt, the collar of which spanned the width of an impossible tweed jacket turned to me:
'I love your band'
'Thank you' I said
'Caught you last night too, at the Chelsea College Of Art... amazing'
'Thank you,' I said again, and edged slightly down the bar.
'If there was anything I could ever do for you...'
What could this guy ever do for me, I thought. He looked as though he'd just come out of prison and been given some clothes.
I exchanged looks with the bass player and we edged a bit further.
' a little guitar myself' I hear him say '...used to have a band myself out of Detroit, name of the MC5'
We turned and looked. He held out his hand -
'My name's Wayne, Wayne Kramer'

And here I am, thirty six years later, killing time in a hotel on the outskirts of Utrecht, getting ready to drive to Hamburg in the morning.

Thursday 13 November 2014

On Tour With Ian Hunter #5 (the trouser incident)

We stayed in Decatur GA with our friends Shawn Vinson (my art agent) and his wife, the painter Ruth Franklin. Shawn took me and my ailing amplifier to a place called Acorn Amplifiers, run by a couple of young guys - they were probably in their mid-thirties, but they're all young to me. They were into Traynor amps but understood the convenience of using a Vox AC15 and confirmed what I've been thinking, that a well set up Fender Deluxe would be much better.
The Vox starts to crush up to early and sometimes it just isn't quite loud enough. Before I know it my big fat guitar sound has turned into a wasp in a bottle and I can hardly hear it. They got it sorted out but it hasn't been ideal for these shows, next time I'll probably use my forty watt Traynor head with a cabinet.

I imagine I've just lost half my readers - no one wants to hear about amplifiers! You want to hear about clothes, and swanky hotels, and hanging out with the stars.
I could document this tour with conversations I've had with Ian, sitting on dressing room sofas. After our soundcheck at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta I went down into the dressing room and there was Ian, alone, sitting on the ubiquitous sofa.
'Hello Eric, you're looking good today'
'Really? Must be a trick of the light'
'Well, whatever it is it's working for you'
'In that case I'll stand here forever'
'No, don't do that, come and sit down'
We talked for a while about soundchecks - Ian says he has to do them. I said I just want to know that the acoustic guitar's at the right level in the monitor and check my amp's working alright. Apart from that it's really just a question of checking for holes in the stage. We agreed that it's a placebo thing really. He says he's got to do it, if only to check the vibe of the place and decide what shirt to wear. Of course, by the time he gets on the stage the band have soundchecked the whole thing into submission and it's just a question of fine tuning things.
I asked him the other day for advice on taking a band round Europe - it's been a long time and I'm a bit nervous. He said all you need are a few regal gestures and don't go near the stage until the band have finished soundchecking. I can't see that working somehow but it's a nice thought. If any of them read this they'll take the piss out of me for it.
We discussed the importance of playing something with the front of house turned off - you can always here it bouncing off the empty dance floor when the room's empty, and it sounds big and exciting, but as soon as the floor gets covered up by an audience it's like playing into a mattress, and if you're not prepared you'll suddenly find you need three times as much of just about everything in the monitors as you did at the soundcheck.
Then I came up with a great invention - the soundcheck mattress. It's a huge mattress that you wheel in and put in front of you to simulate audience bulk during the soundcheck. Ian was very impressed -
'The roadies could pump it up and deflate it when you've finished!'
'Fuck off' I said, 'I'm not having an inflatable one - I want the full Dunlopillo posture sprung memory foam job, with the reclining feature, just in case anyone wants to read during the soundcheck.'
Ian produced a pair of black jeans: 'We found these lying around, are they yours?'
'I dunno, what size are they?'
'Thirty waist, thirty two leg'
'They might be, that's my size'
'Well, you better take them then, nobody else else wants them, and they're your size'
'Thanks Ian! I didn't even know I'd lost them'

I was glad that my trousers hadn't gone missing because I was planning to wear my hand painted country 'n' western outfit, and that involves the black jeans (which I haven't got round to painting yet).
Dennis, the keyboard player, was impressed that I knew how to iron a shirt. Ian was worried that my shirt might be better than his. I offered to lend it to him when we'd finish but the offer was declined.
I went to get changed.
I found I had two pairs of black jeans.
Ian liked my outfit, particularly the bollo tie which looks like something stolen from a southern European cemetary. Jim Mastro looked worried, he couldn't find his black jeans. It's a funny thing - the whole band seemed to say at once 'Eric's got a spare pair...'
'They're mine! Give them back!'
'I don't know where I've put them' I said, 'you'll just have to go on in your underpants.'
I think I might have been set up. I found out later that on a previous tour they'd been stealing each other's clothes and sending ransom notes.

Sunday 9 November 2014

On Tour With Ian Hunter #4

Charlotte was an odd night. A big old barn of a place with a raked floor - probably an old movie theatre - and sadly covered with rows of chairs with a fifteen or twenty foot gap between the first row of chairs and the front of the stage. Not enough room for people to stand in without getting a hard time from the people sitting behind them, especially fo us, the opening act.
I like to play for people so it helps when they're close up, not sitting in rows a large room's width away. The stage sound was weird, my amplifier was playing up and we couldn't somehow settle into it. Afterwards I was privately beating myself up - I felt quite down because I didn't think I'd played well, contrary to what people in the audience were telling me. I don't know if this is because it's sometimes not as bad as I think it is, or because I've got high standards and I'm actually quite good, or because I've got no means of rational evaluation.
I had an interesting talk with Ian the other night. He was raving about the Motorco show in Durham, what a great audience they were, what a great venue it was, and how he definitely wants to go back there. He's just like me, it takes him time to get some kind of perspective. I asked him after the show if he'd enjoyed it the answer was an emphatic no, which surprised me. I reminded him of that and he said 'Oh yeah, of course, the first thought is always a negative one.'
I quite often feel vulnerable after a show, tired, drained and insecure. We always have to head out to the merch stall which can be hard but I like it because the enthusiasm of the people really lifts me back up. I like hearing their stories but I'm baffled as to why they all want to have their photo taken with me. The other night I told a friend that was hanging out that my real job is a male photographic model, I just do the music as a hobby.

After a night in a disgusting La Quinta hotel that reeked of stale cigarette smoke, even though it proudly proclaimed itself a non-smoking facility, we discovered a food hall in downtown Charlotte with a really good coffee place. Amy found it on Chow Hound - she worried about the name which was Not Just Coffee but I rationalised it as not just run of the mill coffee, and not meaning a glut of sticky buns, frozen sandwiches and chemical coffee flavourings, and I was right.
The names of coffee places can be deceptive - we found one in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, called Cofftea and I didn't want to get out of the car, but it turned out to be one of the good ones. I draw the line at Java-Me-Like - it's not possible that someone who calls their place Java-Me-Like is going to know anything about making a decent espresso. The same goes for Once Upon A Coffee Cup, though I haven't yet found anywhere called either of these names.
Right now I'm wondering what Huntsville, Alabama, is going to offer. The place is full of astronauts, rocket scientists and hip kids so it'll probably be good. More later...

Oh dear... the good place was closed because it's Sunday, and this is the south where drinking coffee on the Lord's day is considered by some to be ungodly, so we're in the place with the bottles of coffee flavourings, the sticky buns and the big sandwich menu. And strychnine espresso. Still, after last night I can forgive Huntsville anything.
I played in a micro brewery, in the brewing room, surrounded by stainless steel vats. Great sound and an audience that ranged from old guys in Stiff Records t shirts to the young and beautiful who were an absolute delight. I played two sets - The Downside Of Being A Fuck-up, Birthday Blues, It's A Sick Sick World, Joe Meek, You Sweet Big Thing, Reconnez Cherie, The Sun Is Pouring Down and Several Shades Of Green.
I started the second set with Semi-Porno Statuette, Duvet Fever, Paris In June and If It Makes You Happy, then Amy joined me and we butchered You Can't be A Man Without A Beer In Your Hand on two guitars that were having a tuning disagreement. It was cold in there - something to do with the brewing process I suppose. Having got vaguely in tune we carried on with Don't Break The Heart, Rebel Girl Rebel Girl, Are We Ever Going To Have Sex Again (Amy forgot the last verse and the whole thing broke down so she took another run at it and still couldn't it so I paraphrased it which didn't really help - she's washing up and he comes in and tries to do her from behind while she's watching CNN... It ended in chaos to great applause and we acquited ourselves with a passable Kilburn Lane. I finished the set alone with Someone Must've Nailed Us Together, 33s & 45s, Whole Wide World and True Happiness.
I can't wait to come back again, but hopefully on a day when the good coffee place is open.

I jumped ahead there and missed out Atlanta but perhaps I'll get to that after tonight's Nashville fiasco.

Thursday 6 November 2014

On Tour With Ian Hunter #3

On the way to Charlotte we stopped for barbeque in Lexington. The waitress gave me a big smile:
'We were wondering - are y'all a rock star?'
I gave her my best no I'm just a bloke look but she persisted and I eventually copped to being a musician. I have to admit to being a bit pleased after all those times in France when Amy and I tried to get gigs and failed. 'We're a band' we'd explain to various bar owners who looked at us pityingly with expressions that said no you're not, you're just a deluded middle-aged couple, before explaining to us that ici on a des groupes professionel qui viennent jouer.
Amy went off to the rest room and the waitress sidled up again: 'Come on honey, you can tell me, you're the singer in a big rock group aintcha - is it The Who?'
I started to turn into Hugh Grant, a mixture of being flattered and forbearance for someone who's obviously a simpleton: 'Well I... that is er... yes in a manner of - boyhood dreams and all that...'
'Oh my, I just knew it!'
Next thing the owner's over and we're being offered a tour of the place and samples of everything on the house, and he's telling me how blessed he is to have such a successful barbeque joint, and how Bruce Springstein and Neil Young and John Mellencamp have all stopped by on the way through and what a huge Bowie fan he is, and he's giving us his card for next time y'all come back...
Fortunately we had to leave or we would have been late for the soundcheck. I think it was for the best.

On Tour With Ian Hunter #2

Wednesday 5th November
I'm revising my opinion of the blowhard. You can't rely on anything these days - just when I had him pegged as an all-time, award-winning arsehole he starts being nice to us.
I like the Motorco place in Durham, North Carolina where we played in last night. Amy and I played there a few years ago when it first opened, almost before they'd finished building it. Shame that now it's finished it doesn't have a backstage, just a small room with a bathroom off it, next to the front of the stage. One sofa, one armchair, a small fridge, a tea and coffee station, a big trash can and a table with the ubiquitous curling sandwiches and iceberg lettuce on it. And enough standing room for nearly four people.
Nowhere to put our stuff after the set. I found a corner behind a curtain next to the power amps where they keep the blown monitor wedges and spare mic stands. I told the blowhard I was going to stash the gear in there and he suggested loading straight out - 'peace and love all round, right?'
I pointed out the difficulty of taking the gear through the audience all the way to the loading door which was at the other end of the hall next to where the audience come in. He had a think about that and agreed that it didn't make sense and I felt as though I'd won a small victory.
The set was a lot of fun. I wasn't swamped by Amy's acoustic so I could actually hear what I was playing. Amy told the crowd that I'd become a grandfather twice over since we last played at Motorco. They seemed to like that, shouts of congratulation and someone at the back shouted something about being prolific.
'Prolific? I had nothing to do with it. I mean - I wasn't in on the creation of the grandchildren. I don't know how you people go about it down here, but I wasn't actually there or anything...'
We played for a bit longer this time, all the songs we played last night plus Please Be Nice To Her, Someone Must've Nailed Us Together and Rebel Girl Rebel Girl.
Afterwards I got our stuff off in a timely manner with no interference from the blowhard (I've decided I like him by the way), except that he took our guitars into the already overcrowded dressing room. I expect he did it deliberately in order to discredit us.

photo by Tamara Guo
The place was apparently full of North Carolina rock royalty - Peter Holsapple and Will Rigby from the DBs, Mitch Easter and a host of others but I don't really know what a lot of them look like so I couldn't really say, though I'm doing the best I can to be impressed.
Ian and the Rant Band were great. I love seeing them in real rock venues as opposed to City Winery dinner theatre places. A lot of people in the crowd were visibly moved, hugging each other and crying. Boy was an epic, I suppose it always is but in that place, with that audience, it seemed much more so.
Afterwards I sat on the dressing room sofa with Ian and he talked about David Bowie and Mick Ronson, and about being asked to join Uriah Heap when Mott The Hoople folded up. I'm glad he didn't. The conversation turned to hair care:
' don't have that problem, you're not known for hair, but I do, I'm known for hair...'

Tuesday 4 November 2014

On Tour With Ian Hunter #1

Sunday 2nd November
I’m sitting in the backstage at the Hamilton in Washington DC. Not exactly backstage, more side of kitchen - Ian Hunter and the gang are backstage, except that they’re not because they didn’t want to dine off plates on their knees, so they’re braving the far-flung corners of this venue come outsize restaurant. We wolfed our dinners down in the time-honoured manner of opening acts everywhere, off a coffee table sitting on a giant DFS or Big Lots vinyl sofa.
And now we’re waiting to go on. Ten minutes to showtime and I’m feeling discombobulated, my condition not entirely helped by the large mug of er...espresso that arrived for me accompanied by a jug of steaming milk and a biscotti the size of Illinois.
We have a set list and I’ve got a case of the shakes. I've had a case of the shakes for about two weeks now: pre-tour nerves - pre for the up and coming European tour and now real live and current stage nerves because we’re about to open for one of my biggest heroes and I still feel as though I’m driving a car down I-95 through New Jersey and Delaware.
Time to go on....
photo by Tamara Guo
That went quite well - the room was packed with diners and there was a girl from Worthing at the front. We started with The Downside Of Being A Fuck-up and I was surprised by the volume of Amy’s acoustic guitar. It seemed to be twice as loud as it was at the soundcheck. My Vox AC15 was no match for it, I was playing at almost completely busted up level and I could still hardly hear myself. It was fine once I'd got used to being in an acoustic guitar tornado. We played Don't Break The Heart, Another Drive-in Saturday, Till The Wheels Fall Off, Whole Wide World, Dancing With Joey Ramone, Days Of Jack & Jill and finished with Genovese Bag.
The audience seemed to be full of people who came from relevant places - a girl came from Mount Lebanon in Pittsburgh where Amy grew up. There was a frank exchange on the subject and I related my story of driving round the neighbourhood with Amy's dad:
He pointed out the old family home, was pleased to see it was still painted white. He turned to me - 'do you know why I painted it white?'
And before I could formulate any kind of answer - 'so there'd always be a Republican in the White House!'
I was still only a perspective son-in-law in those days so I was on my best behaviour. ' right too,' I managed.
Some of the audience looked slightly uncomfortable.
Things went better when I got onto the subject of Shoreham-By-Sea before Days Of Jack & Jill.
An English voice from the crowd: 'Don't dare say anything bad about Shoreham.'
'I wasn't going to, but what's it to you?'
The guy came from Shoreham and he could prove it, said he had photos of him sitting on Shoreham beach at an early age, eating pebbles.
'We were poor too' I said, 'I used to eat coal, and my Grandmother's dog's dog biscuits when no one was looking, but of course we had rationing...'
Ian's crew has acquired a new crew boss, an officious blowhard from Brooklyn who apparently worked for Bob Dylan and seems to rub everyone up the wrong way. As I was getting our gear off after the set I asked him if we were in a tearing hurry. I hadn't bargained on getting a lecture on opening act etiquette:
'We are always in a hurry - you need to get your stuff off my stage right now, do not be going in the dressing room until you have moved all your stuff. The thing you have to learn about being a guest is that you have to be a good guest and that means moving your equipment out of our way right now and remaining invisible...'
I've probably been doing this longer than he has. I told him I didn't need his fucking lecture and I couldn't imagine there was anything he could pass on to me concerning good behaviour. I suppose I can expect problems now.
Meanwhile Ian was appalled that we'd been shunted off into a second dressing room.
'You're in with us' he said. 'Always! Make yourselves at home and don't ever think you're in the way!'
I love that man.

04 DURHAM NC, Motorco Music Hall – Eric & Amy opening for Ian Hunter TICKETS
05 CHARLOTTE NC, Neighborhood Theatre – 
Eric & Amy opening for Ian Hunter TICKETS 
07 ATLANTA GA, Variety Playhouse – 
Eric & Amy opening for Ian Hunter  TICKETS
08 HUNTSVILLE ALABAMA, Yellowhammer Brewery 
Eric solo
09 NASHVILLE TN, City Winery – 
Eric & Amy opening for Ian Hunter  TICKETS
Wreckless Eric European tour with full band:

21 COLOGNE, King Georg 
22 NIJMEGEN, Merleyn 
23 UTRECHT, Le Guess Who 
25 HAMBURG, Hafenklang 
26 BERLIN, Crystal Club 
29 MUNICH, The Atomic Cafe 
02 STRASBOURG, La Popartiserie

05 LEON, SPAIN, Purple Weekend Festival – THE LEN BRIGHT COMBO
06 LEON, SPAIN, Purple Weekend Festival – WRECKLESS ERIC solo
10 HULL, New Adelphi
14 BRIGHTON, Prince Albert