Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Birth of a Band 15

July 26th saw a flurry of emails regarding pics from the Chopper Club gig and general website maintenance. I was quite surprised when I saw the pics…

“Just looked through the pics,” I wrote. “Can I propose that we ban anyone in the band wearing shorts, please! Not a good, bluesy, rocky look, I must say. Let’s face it, we’re not going to win any Sex-God competitions, but let’s not draw attention to the fact! Ouch!”

This was primarily aimed at George, who really did look like granddad out for a spot of sun. All that was missing was the knotted handkerchief. Nige was a bit put out, however. I know he always makes jokes about being the ginger one, but deep down, I think he thinks he’s a bit of a catch… Well, with arms the size of tree trunks, he does make the ladies’ eyes flutter, so we’ll give him that one.

This day also began to separate the men from the boys. One of the ‘to-be-auditioning’ drummers – an American in Shepherds Bush – was kicking up with Nige about the auditions being during the day. Kept on about something to do with having a job and a wife and kids.

“My initial reaction was to tell him to go and fuck himself,” wrote Nige. “If he can't commit to an audition how can he commit to all of the gigs we are going to have. I require your diplomatic guidance old chap! Or, should I just tell him to fuck off?”

I added a diplomatic alternative to the ‘go forth and multiply’ option.

So, the auditions were down to two. A bloke called Barry and the ‘up for it’ Ant.

In between times, we (Nige, George and I) were batting around ideas for recordings. There is a place near Milton Keynes called Rockhopper Studios that does a package of four live recordings, plus a video shoot for one of the songs: £250 all in. It sounded like a good deal… But when?

The day of the auditions came, Barry was in first. He was ok, he could keep time, but there wasn’t much in the way of flair. I certainly didn’t rate him over Angus.

Then Ant arrived and set up. He gave a quick couple of hits on the snare and then a run around on the toms. I whispered to Nige: “We’re going to have to turn up, mate. This is the real deal.”

And so he was. He knew the vast majority of our material and hooked in to the endings without a murmur. The odd one caught him by surprise, but once he had heard it, he knew it. His power was unbelievable, his runs expert and appropriate, and he led us in the big endings with a great deal of aplomb. I was worried we wouldn’t be good enough for him.

Afterwards, we were nattering outside as he and Nige had a cigarette. His name was Ant. Ant what? Where did that come from? Where did he live? How did he live? All questions were met with (at best) evasive answers. The most we could extract was that he lived near Reading and lived off royalties from a successful gig back in the 80s and 90s.

Again, I thought he was being like this because he didn’t want to play with us, but he said he did – and he seemed to mean it… But he wasn’t going to get drawn on anything personal…

Monday, 24 March 2014

Birth of a Band 14

Nige’s relentless hunt for gigs never faltered – and never does. He is the dream member for any band… Really. The rest if us were now pretty much settled back into a life of practising and doing what we felt we needed to do, safe in the knowledge that the gigs would be piling up. It’s a good place to be, provided this was what you really wanted to be doing.

For Angus, it was becoming clear that this was not what he wanted to be doing.

In a way, it’s pretty unfair in that a couple of months earlier, our stalwart drummer had lost his job and thus was able to dedicate a lot of time to improving his chops, runs, fills, paradiddles and all those other things drummers do. It was paying dividends.

Then, around mid-July, a new job came in that Angus was clearly excited about… and that’s when the whole might be going horse riding’ stuff started. And that’s what is unfair. I was pleased when he was out of work, and became pissed off after he found a new job... There's something wrong with that, isn't there?

Nige sent me an email asking about mid-week gigs and I said that if we could top the money I earn on an Open Mic Night (which at the time were running on Tuesdays in Maidenhead and Thursdays in Marlow – the latter still going strong, the former… well… ahem, let’s move on, shall we?) I could find a dep. All other days were fair game.

It turned out that a pub in Bracknell, The Goose, was looking to invent a mid-week slot for live music. At a push, they might try a Sunday. At first Nige was keen on the mid-week idea – and for me, if we could have got a Wednesday night, that would be knocking five gigs a week! I crossed my fingers…

Nige came back shortly afterwards saying that, because of his new job, Angus would only be willing to do weekends…

Does that include Fridays? No. It’s agency work and deadline driven, so, while promising to fulfil all Friday gigs already booked, he asked Nige not to book any more Friday gigs.


My response to this was: “Ok. That’s it. I’m looking for a new drummer.” As it turned out, Nige had already put the feelers out on the various musician websites and forums. I felt bad about this – and I think Nige did, too – but I wasn’t going to have a band member dictating which days of the week we could or couldn’t have gigs. There had to be a priority and that had to be the band.

A couple of guys from West London answered Nige’s calls on Band Mix and then this: “Hi, I’m an experienced Blues/Rock drummer. Looking to join a great dedicated full on blues rock band that really wants to gig as often as possible. Also love to rehearse/jam. I have good availability and a deep passion for playing live. If you are looking for a powerful passionate drummer who lives to play the blues get in touch. I live near Reading have transport, good kits and no hang ups or restrictions.

Well, he certainly talked Nige’s and my talk… Let’s see if he could walk the walk…

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Birth of a Band 13

Following a weekend that included two successful gigs and something approaching a living wage in the pocket (at least for a couple of days) we then had a fortnight with nothing in it.

A band needs to shooting out feelers for festivals soon after the New Year, so with Custard Cream starting gigging in May, the chances of being in the ‘outdoor calendar’ was pretty slim. These were always going to be quiet times.

Nige suggested we should get together as a trio (minus George, that is) and I concurred. Unfortuantely, I was away for one weekend and Angus another. So what about midweek?

Angus said no. To be fair, he had booked this time off when Nige had asked for dates when we were not available, but I felt certain that we could have found a couple of hours somewhere in between July 17th and August 10th… Apparently not. My turn to wrankle…

After this – and I need to add here that Nige and my attempts to get together for a two-man rehearsal also foundered – another ad hoc gig popped up at The Chequers in Marlow on August 16th. Then another at The Pub with No Name the week before (Noctor’s – now The Corner House), where I was now organising an open mic night. So that would be two gigs in my territory in one week. I was going to make as much noise as I possibly could.

Nige then found a gig in Reading on the 17th. August was really filling up… Then Angus came through with his now-(for us)-legendary email: “I might be asked to go horse riding on the 17th, and if I am, I would like to go, so I can’t do that gig.”

What?! Not: “I’m going horse riding, I told you I wouldn’t be around”, but “might be”. To say that I felt as though someone had hit me in the face with a shovel is not over-egging it. Might be?! Might be?!

Nige’s response was, to say the least, not diplomatic. I was sitting at home. Silently seething at this invasion of nonsense into our ever-burgeoning state of well being and self importance, when Nige fired from the hip in an email of no uncertain terms. He concluded with: “Fucking think about where exactly you really wanna be Angus!” I had to agree. 

Angus’ response was to acknowledge the work Nige was putting in getting gigs, but pointed out that sometimes new unavailable dates would be added and Nige should contact him before confirming each new gig in order to avoid the embarrassment of having to pull out.

This seemed a little churlish on the face of it, but when you consider that Angus was never exactly prompt at replying – in fact a number of times, he needed prompting in order to get a reply from him – the tone was pretty condescending. I was purple with rage. God only knows what Nige thought.

The next day, Nige confirmed that he had cancelled the gig on the 17th and all but apologised for his email. I’m not sure why, but he was keen to get things back on an even and friendly keel…

Nige and I then corresponded and concluded that the only thing that had redeemed young Angus was the fact that he was obviously doing his homework and improving on a weekly basis… But we agreed that this was definitely ‘strike one’ for him.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Birth of a Band 12

Out of the blue, on July 9th, the 3-fold Arts gig at The Chequers in Marlow was called off to make way for an Oye Santana gig elsewhere. I fired an email out to the band and, after a couple of ‘oooh, not sure’s the gig went ahead.

Again, it was the same battle with the management about noise levels for the first half an hour and then nothing as we slipped seamlessly into hard rocking and jamming.

A guy called Terry showed up and filmed and recorded us. He said we could have the material – he was just checking out new gear. Well, it’s now March 2014 and I’ve given up asking him. Some things, you know, are just never going to happen.

But the gig went down well and the money was appreciated… My smug face continued. I had earned us £1,000 in three gigs in a couple of weeks. It felt good.

After the success of the birthday party and the  Chequers emergency gig, our next gig was daytime, outdoors, on a Sunday… all of which are usually things to make a rock band wince. Not us this time. This was a gig for the National Chopper Club, Berkshire chapter.

If ever there was a group of people we thought would really go for what we were doing, this was it.  I reckoned we’d not only go down a treat, but get requests for future bookings at chopper gatherings the country over.

Nige was the same. In one missive, he said: “They keep mentioning it’s more about the bikes than anything else and that bands they’ve had previously just crack on without too much interest in them. Not wishing to sound conceited or anything, but I think we all know that’s not going to be the case on Sunday, now is it?” And we all agreed.

Sunday 14th July was a glorious day – hot… and then some… and then some more. It was brilliant. I’m not much of a one for exposing my fetta-coloured skin to the elements, so I was dressed pretty much as normal. The other three turned up in shorts and sandals.

Now, I’ve no problem with this per se, but George looked like something from It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum. Not a great rock image, but hey. The gig got underway (our first with all instruments going through the PA) and the grizzly, hard, tough, rough looking bunch that was our audience milled around the bikes, chops and hot rods on show.

It was an impressive lay out and no mistake. Trouble was, we could have been playing Bucks Fizz numbers for all they cared. There was no doubt that this was the right crowd listening to the right music, but they were all too busy with the business of the day and generally being cool to pay any attention to the band.

We battled on and by the end of the show, we had a few people standing and sitting around, actively listening to us – which I consider to be a success – but Woodstock, Monterey or Glastonbury it was not… It wasn’t even Stonehenge!

Once again, as is so often the case when we think we’re bombing, everybody says how much they have enjoyed the show. People just have different ways of expressing it.

And the National Chopper Club, lovely fellas though they are, are just waaay too cool to show emotion at a live show. Great day, though…

Friday, 14 March 2014

Birth of a Band 11

In all the bands I have been in over the past 35 years, I have never known anyone like Nige for getting gigs. I came to describe him as a ‘ferocious gig getter’. And he is. His determination and conviction, thick skin (and you need it as any salesman will tell you) and immunity to the concerns of venue owners and managers are second to none.

Thus my getting a £400 gig sent him into something of a frenzy. By June 20th he had come up with a gig in Devon and was negotiating £800 plus accommodation. Impressive.

Unfortunately, at the first mention of this, Angus announced that he couldn’t make it and George said it was ‘a bit far’. £800 and a bed?! Even as a four piece (which we were still exclusively) this was worth it. I would have dropped my mum to do it.

Next came an outdoor event in Basingstoke, then an emergency gig, found and (to be) performed on the 22nd – this time it was me that couldn’t make it. Then a gig in Hayes (at The Old Crown). It was impressive to see – and anything that came in at under £250 he apologised for!

On June 28th we had a gig at the Golden Retriever in Bracknell. It was the pub’s tenth birthday, so they had a whole weekend of barbecues and bands – all outside…

This is England, of course, so on this particular June 28th, it was bloody freezing! The band was to set up in a sort of gazebo on decking. I swear there was ice, water and algae on this decking and any sort of foot movement brought with it the risk of breaking a bone somewhere where the body might strike the ground in a fall!

What was important about this gig, however, was not the risk of fractures or hypothermia, but the fact that this was the first time Custard Cream had gigged as a trio.

Without George, there were a handful of songs we couldn’t perform, which, owing to our being a little short on material anyway, left us a good 45 minutes short of a gig. So we jammed it. Songs such as Spoonful, Voodoo Chile and Roadhouse Blues came out at ten minutes plus, and blues numbers such as Red House and Worried Life also benefited (is that the right word) from highly extended instrumentals.

It is hard to tell how we went down, as the ‘audience’ were all behind a hedge in the secondary seating area. (We were still very loud at this time.) Despite this, everyone we saw complimented us on an enjoyable gig – and we had an absolute blast!

All my life I have been wanting to be part of a band that would be happy to just jam on a theme – and here it was. A bit rough at the edges, sure, but again, for me, that was a big part of the appeal. The next gig we played (my mate Chris’ 50th birthday party) gave us the chance as a four-piece to expand our arrangements into the free form – and this time it really did go down a treat. There was a lot of congratulations from people whose opinions I hold dear. In short, we were damned good. We knew it and those that heard us play knew it, too.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Birth of a Band 10

The June 8th gig at the Dukes Head was Custard Cream’s third and by far (to that point) the best. The endings had finally come together, mostly thanks to Angus’ explicit movements and eye contact, and everyone seemed to have taken on board all of the critiques that had flown about the week before. It was good.

The audience was made up (to the degree of about 50 per cent) of people I had dragged along one way or another, but there wasn’t nearly so much audience interaction or participation as there had been the week before.

But there was a degree of appreciation – certainly enough to give the band some energy to push on through to the end. We still seemed (to me) to be a little short of material, but we were getting there.

Our next gig, at The Chequers in Marlow on June 14th, was even more of a ‘local’ gig for me and I had tried my best to get as many people as possible over. We had quite a few and most of them stuck around. I say most, but certainly not all... For example, there was one guy, Justin, who I had been playing with quite regularly at the open mic nights. He’s about my age, into rock music… But I realised as I watched him watch us that we weren’t getting through at all. He left before the end of the first set. It's always odd when you discover something you love means nothing to someone near.

Ah, well, the prophet is never recognised in his home town… ;-)

The Chequers is a pub that stretches back into (what is now) a large steak restaurant. Last orders for food are at 9pm… which is when the band is booked to start.

We did a sound check at about half eight – and the waiters, waitresses and management were down on us like a ton of unfriendly bricks. “Too loud!,” they shouted at various times during the sound check, after it and once we had started playing.

George, Angus and I all turned down… I have a distinct feeling that Nige turned up. No matter, once the food was served out, we were back at normal volume again and the evening went well – not to mention our highest pay-out to then.

The following Monday saw an email from Nige praising the gig (and, oddly, the venue) and explaining how his wife was organising a sort of mini-festival in Wokingham market square – would we play for nothing.

These sort of things are anathema to me, but they are so good for publicity… We all said ‘yes’ without a moment’s hesitation.

I got a gig to play at a friend’s 50th birthday party in July… £400. I have to admit, I went into something that can only be described as ‘smug mode’ for quite some weeks after that.

George complimented me. Nige, trying to sound as though he was joking, clearly wrankled.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Birth of a Band 9

By the end of May, the gigs were flying in. June, July and August had long periods with two or three gigs per week in them. Nige was getting the bulk of them, but I was getting a few – and better paid a lot of the time.

Problem is, when one person does a job so well, why would one even try to compete. My gig getting days began to decline as soon as they had begun – a fact that would come back to bite me later on…

And the band was now out and upon its first real run of gigs, continuing with the first of two at the Dukes Head in Wokingham.

As I mentioned before, we had been called into this at the last minute, despite being booked at the same pub the very next Saturday. The landlord had a group of people in from a sort of “new to town, let’s meet” group – not a lonely hearts club, although there were a couple of those, too.

I’m afraid I just got angrier and angrier as the gig went on. Having spent three hours rehearsing the same day and tiring my voice out, a lot of the endings and parts we had rehearsed just went out the window. Now, I’m almost certain that I made as many mistakes as anyone else that night, but as memory always does that thing where it filters out the bad and leaves the good so that we don’t end each year wanting to kill ourselves, I am probably not alone in thinking that 'I' was all right, despite the others.

As it turned out, the gig was something of a success despite the band and the audience was very forgiving. By the end of the evening and an extended, encore version of Roadhouse Blues, everyone was rocking and feeling good.

I sent out one of my angry emails (I do wish I wouldn’t do that) afterwards, saying that I wouldn’t perform any songs in future that hadn’t been properly rehearsed.

The Dukes Head is not really set up for live music in its main bar – and no-one uses the secondary bar, where a band would fit quite nicely. For this gig, George and Nige ended up playing directly into a wall about three feet in front of them with (at the volumes they play at) all the subsequent feedback that turned the end of each song into a squeal fest.

It is interesting to note that a lot of guitarists that play at high volumes develop the habit of immediately shutting off the volume of their guitar when they finish a number. Nige still hasn’t developed this habit yet… And I have never had the guts to mention it… it just doesn’t seem to be my business… but I do wish he would.

The post-mortem email flurry after this gig featured (and I might be wrong here) for the only time, George dictating affairs. And he did it well, diplomatically, but forcefully. A lot of the song ending issues fell upon Angus on the drums – a fact he took on board extremely willingly – and after this, he was a lot more demonstrative and full of eye contact and the endings improved enormously.

Nige also came in with a view appreciating ‘all sides’. He agreed with George that we shouldn’t drop Worried Life Blues on account of missing the riff in the verses (an element I think gives the song its one and only raison d’etre). He did try to claim that he was ‘free forming’ and I could interpret this as his being either lazy or creative… I think he wanted it to be the latter, but I couldn’t help feeling it was the former.

But we all agreed that we needed to tighten up and that, despite the self-criticism, we were doing pretty well.

So, we patted ourselves on the back once more and readied ourselves for our first properly publicised gig… At the same place, the same time, the following week!

Don't forget, for all things Mechkov, visit the Mechkov website here.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Birth of a Band 8

There has been some grumbling among the masses that I am coming across as something of a moaner! I’m sorry if that’s the case. I’m trying to get the history of this band down as accurately as I can – and with some humour. Believe me, I have never been happier in my life than I am at the moment – and playing with Custard Cream has been a huge part of that. If I come across as someone who is moaning, well… er… perhaps I’m a moany-sounding writer. I’ll try to be less moany if I can…

(smiley face)

So, after the Hope & Anchor gig, the next rehearsal was booked for June 8th and various documents were bandied about with attempts at descriptions of how to end the numbers tidily. I think everyone had a look at these, but I’m not sure how effective they were. The only thing that tightens a band up is playing together. Nothing else. Of course, you can practice alone and become extremely proficient, but it’s only when you go over the endings a few times together – whether at gigs or rehearsal – that you know what the others will do and trust them to do it.

Trust is a big, big part of playing in a band.

At this early stage in the band there was a lot of trust – and Nige was shaping up to be one of the best gig-getters I have ever known. In the ten days after the first gig, he came up with three new gigs and started talking about getting New Year and Christmas bookings… Although these would have to be as a trio because George would not be able to make it.

Our next gig was meant to be at the Dukes Head – also in Wokingham (I think it is Nige’s local) – on June 8th, but the landlord had a cancellation and he had a party of people coming in on the first, so he booked us for two Saturdays on the bounce,

Rehearsals were brought forward to the first. Actually, Nige later tried to get in an extra rehearsal before that, but both Angus and I were out of town. By the end of May, Nige had booked in a gig per week in June. It really felt as though we were taking off. Even I had managed to prise a date out of the reluctant Gez at The Chequers in Marlow.

This was a gig that was set up for 3-fold Arts, but with their demise, the gig had become an Oye Santana one, and Gez was not about to either let anyone else in (nor discuss any details with the management) for as long as he possibly could. In the end, a well paid gig for Oye came in on a ‘Chequers Friday’ and Custard Cream were in… Also our biggest payer to that date, too.

I started making some noise with my social media and personal contacts. I was sure we could start making sizable waves…