Friday, 7 September 2018

Still sitting on this blog post

“So … all of time and space. Everything that ever happened or ever will. Where do you want to start?”
The Doctor, The Eleventh Hour. Art by Matt Gould.

I began writing this on my ‘phone on a night bus several months ago. I was a little bit over-emotional at the time; I definitely had something in my eye. It took me a long time to get around to finishing it. In that respect, these words share something with their subject matter.

Back to the front. In February 2013 I received a Facebook message from the wonderful (and Mighty) Gary Mackenzie. I didn’t know Gary very well at that point; we’d met at a Spock’s Beard gig circa 2003 and he later told me that he’d seen me play live with my pal Lee Abraham in 2010. Apart from that, our paths had not really crossed, and it was a surprise - albeit a very pleasant one - to hear from him. 


Drum editing... yaaaay!

Gary asked me if I would be willing to contribute a couple of guitar solos to a concept album which he was making with The Mighty Handful, a band he'd been playing drums with for nearly 20 years. The album was called "Still Sitting In Danny's Car". He told me a little bit about the album, including a vague description of the music (“…in parts it owes more to Philip Glass, musical theatre and/or the Muppets (no, really)…”) and the story the album told. The plan was to release the whole album across a series of five E.P.s. Gary explained that the band didn’t have a permanent lead guitarist and as a result were asking a number of different guitarists to contribute to a couple of tracks each. 

I said yes, of course. Admittedly I do have a crippling inability to say “No” to things like this. On this occasion I had no intention of refusing. I was already intrigued. 


The guitarist.

I did the session on the day of the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest. I think Denmark won that year. Greece had that song about alcohol being free. 

I had such a great time that day. Gary met me at the station and escorted me to the boat (yeah, the boat). He introduced me to Mighty Matt - singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer and engineer extraordinaire. The first track we worked on - which wouldn’t be released for about three-and-a-half years, although we didn’t know that at the time – was called “Slow Reveal” and the session went really smoothly as far as I can remember. We had to repair to the tranquillity of a nearby pub for a tactical Guinness or two in the middle of working on the second track. I think that might have been Matt’s suggestion, and to quote Peter Gabriel, “We do what we’re told…”. 


It's Mighty Tom!

A couple of pints of black custard helped me to be sufficiently ‘inspired’ for the solo on Part 1’s “Cavalier Spirit” which we finished later that afternoon. I really enjoyed Matt and Gary’s company and, as they played me demos and told me more about the album they were making, it was really hard not to be infected by the passion they clearly had for it.

I must have made an impression on them, too. They kept asking me back. Over the following year I ended up going to the pub quite regularly with Gary and as the sheets were thrown to the wind he told me more about himself, the band and the album. It quickly became apparent just how much this project meant to Gary. Later on, I met the other half of the band; bassist Mighty Tom (who I met on his ‘stag night’!), and keyboard player Mighty Ralph who I learned was responsible for a number of the musical curveballs on the album. Lawks, some of that stuff is hard to play.  


Ralph Blackbourn Action Figure #3

Part 1 was finished at some point in late 2013. I was asked to contribute to a couple more tracks on the album during 2014 – Part 2’s “The Beacon”, “Hypothetically Speaking” and “Time Crash”. Part 2 came out soon after. In the May that year the band asked me to cover lead guitar duties for a live gig in Kingston where we played the whole of Parts 1 and 2, along with a couple of bits from Part 5. I really enjoyed that gig.

At some point, I joined the band. I’m not quite sure when or how this officially happened; I don’t think they sat me down and asked, “Chris, do you want to join the band?”. It felt like I became part of the band by osmosis; gradually and unconsciously being assimilated. [Pretentious much, Chris? – Ed.]


In our natural environment. Photo: Jonny Helm

Joining bands can often be difficult. "Who's this interloper? Who does he think he is, making suggestions like that? Trying to get involved in OUR thing? Wanker."  Etcetera. There was absolutely none of that with The Mighty Handful. I felt like a part of it almost straight away. Even when I was occasionally kicked out of the band for making a terrible pun, or not quite remembering who Sparks were (every third time I get kicked out of the band, I’m back in the band…ask Matt!). 


Caption competition, anyone? Photo: Jonny Helm

We kept working on the album, and pretty soon “Prog Night” became a thing. Every Wednesday we would meet in the pub and, more often than not, retreat back to Matt’s base of operations to do some work. We spent the odd weekend here and there working on it too. 

Not to get too tearful or sentimental about it but the more we worked on the album the more it came to mean to me. The album tells a story of friends, love, loss, pubs, bands and comics. It's an album that attempts (and, I think, succeeds) to say all the things we want to say to each other about the passage of time, and about our inherent inability to survive the passage of time. The dream of being a ROCK GOD, and the reality of not becoming one (although it’s definitely, absolutely, one-hundred percent going to happen, RIGHT?). Hazy memories of brilliant nights down the pub years ago, and the inevitability that someone gets left behind, chasing those memories while everyone else moves on. And lots of other things. Y’know. Time-travelling Vauxhall Cavaliers (other motor vehicles are available), a deal with Death, pub sing-alongs about gin. That sort of thing.


Achievement. 

Part 3 took a long time but was ultimately finished in April 2016. Part 4 followed in February 2017. The night I started writing this piece in a feverish fit of emotion, we had finished working on "Still Sitting In Danny's Car". Part 5 was done, dusted, consigned to the streaming service providers and about to be sent off to be manufactured into a real-live CD along with Part 4. I didn’t really want to let it go, but there it was. It was done. It was (almost) out. 

I will be eternally grateful to the boys in the band for having me along for the ride. I have had such a fantastic time working, drinking and generally being around the band over the course of those years. I’ve learned a lot, made a bunch of new friends and been part of a creative experience that I think is going to be extremely hard for any other project to live up to. Except the next one, which is already living up to it. One “Prog Night” at a time. 


Ralph's selfie arm is a sight to behold.

In the meantime, you can listen to the entirety of the album on Spotify (or wherever you get your streams), and you can buy it from us or from The Merch Desk

I love it. 

x


["Release day" isn't quite what it used to be, is it? No more queuing up outside the record shop in the pissing rain for a brand-new album to take home and pore over. Not that I miss the standing-about-in-the-rain bit of that experience.]


Photo credits: 

1: Album art – Matt Gould
2, 5, 8: The author
3, 4, 9: Ralph Blackbourn
6, 7: Johnny Helm

Sunday, 20 May 2018

MARK BUCKINGHAM (supporting THE FIERCE AND THE DEAD) - The Black Heart, Camden - 18 May 2018


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It’s a gig diary! I know, I know, it’s been a while. Just a short one. I promise.

Original art © Mark Buckingham

Over the course of some ‘prog curries’ (yes, that’s a thing) and a few gigs here and there over the last year or two, I have had the pleasure of getting to know one Mr Mark ”drawings, songs… and envelopes” Buckingham, comic book artist extraordinaire. Once I’d got over the initial amazement of knowing someone who has his own Wikipedia page, it was great to get to know Mark as he often joined us on The Mighty Handful’s weekly sojourns to the pub/studio.

It turned out that aside from his frankly astonishing skills with pens and paper, Mark has a knack for writing lovely melodies and accompanying them with lyrics. By the time I met him he had been working with a couple of prog luminaries on an album called “Jigsawman” to accompany a graphic novel of the same name. Within no time at all we were collaborating on some of that (and other) music and, before you know it, there was a gig in the calendar. Mark asked me to accompany him on keyboards for a slot supporting The Fierce And The Dead at their ‘The Euphoric’ album launch; Mark had already enlisted the services of TFATD loop-meister Matt “tomorrow I’m switching my ‘phone off and playing Sonic 2” Stevens for the show.



In March this year we hit the Mighty boat studio to write and record a couple of tunes which we had hoped to have available for sale at the gig. Sadly, due to other pressing commitments that release has yet to see the light of day, but I’m rather hoping we’ll be back at it soon; it was a pleasure to share the studio with Mark and Matt and, of course, with fellow Mighty Messrs. Matt “This is DEFINITELY gonna work!” Howes and Gary “Chris Isaak and a beatbox” Mackenzie.

We managed a couple of rehearsals in the week prior to the gig, which was salve to the nerves of Matt and Mark and an all-round exquisite experience for me – there really is nothing better than playing music when its going well! Mark has a lovely voice, and Matt really does get some great noises out of guitars. On the day I rocked up early and helped TFATD with the load-in and enjoyed their sound-check immensely. The merch arrived, and after a quick pint downstairs the doors opened and we were off!

Photo by Rosamund Tomlin

Set list
  1. Pitter Patter
  2. Jigsaw Man
  3. Lost Piece
  4. Little Glass Heart
  5. Shards 

Our runs of the set during rehearsals and sound-check had been perfectly gig-ready but, in all honesty, I think the performance actually went better than any of our previous attempts. It really made a difference having such a receptive, warm and friendly audience to play to, and having some good-natured banter from stage and crowd in-between songs. There’s no substitute for gigging it! Mark had designed stage gear bedecked with jigsaw motifs and had made himself some splendid light-based props for use during the show to illuminate the themes of the songs. We seemed to go down well; there were lots of really enthusiastic and encouraging comments from punters as we swilled round the crowd afterwards.

TFATD were magnificent. The fans in attendance that evening were a fantastic bunch; it all felt extremely inclusive and as if everyone was a friend of everyone else, including us! The band were on fine form (“Tight as a witch’s cleft”, as you might say) and tracks from the new album were received just as well as their more well-known tunes. I bought myself a copy of their stonking new album and a print of Mark’s art for it, which will find a home in my new home somewhere.

At the end of the night I felt all loved-up and confident; a feeling that lasted right up until I ran in to a spot of bother trying to open the kebab shop door….but that’s another story!

Here comes the thanks list:

- To Mark for asking me to be involved – it’s an honour and a privilege!
- To Matt for being such a talent and an easy guy to work with – it’s been an utter pleasure making a racket with you. I see more interlocking guitar parts in our future…!
- To TFATD and crew for having us – they and their crew really are among the loveliest folk I’ve met in fifteen years of gigging. I hope we didn’t get in the way too much, and hope to see you all again one day! (You can check them out at  http://fierceandthedead.com/)
- To Kunal, Alan, and all at Chaos Theory for making the evening go so smoothly.
- To Mighty Matt and Mighty Gary for coming along to support us
- To everyone who came along, bought merch, showed support and took the time to tell us their thoughts – you’re all wonderful!
- To Roland (endorse me, please! Go on, you know you want to…)
- To Rosamund Tomlin for the photograph - I hope you're off those crutches in no time! 


Until next time...

Chris "If you're not on Wing Fortress Zone yet, you're doing it wrong" Harrison
x

Sunday, 26 February 2017

ALI AZIMI & THE NEED - US and Canada tour 2016, part 3: Toronto and Vancouver

The last leg!  This is a bit short, really; I think I must have been suffering from 'need-lag' by this point on the tour, and my notes became a little bit thin (which I most certainly didn't...!).


Thursday 10 November (Day off, Toronto, ON)



I like big things. 


Pecks went to the gym.  Sully took me up the CN Tower (ooh err).  It was amazing.  Atherton checked out the nearby Steam Whistle brewery.  We met up with Pecks and went looking for poutine, which we found in the form of Smoke’s on Queen Street.  Hair metal on the radio, carbs in the cardboard.   Beautiful.



Carpet of city.


We checked out Steve’s music store, which had been very kind and helpful to Sully on a previous trip when he had a mid-tour effects-pedal malfunction.  I found a nice Tele which I briefly considered buying, but thought better of it.

Here marks a gap when we went out with Siavash (!).  There was some beer.  There was an open-mic rap session.  There was some beer!


Friday 11 November (Mod Club, Toronto, ON)

I woke up to the news that Leonard Cohen had passed away.  Everyone but me slept in, so I had a quiet pot of coffee to myself in the kitchen overlooking the beautiful garden with its carpet of red-brown-yellow leaf.  Sully was the first to surface, and promptly went out for a wander.  I stayed behind trying to operate the Nespresso machine, with limited success and a lot of mess.  I gave up in the end, and went back to bed!  After a very slow morning/early afternoon while everyone gathered themselves together, it was time to head to the venue.  



Wankpuffin: (n) Donald Trump.  See also 'Hoof-wanking bungle-c***'.


It was cold!  After having spent most of our time on this continent basking in 25-30 degree heat in Los Angeles, the 0-5 degrees of Toronto was rather refreshing, although no-one wanted to stay outside too long.  We loaded the gear in to the Mod Club and set up for one of the easiest sound-checks of the tour.  Once set up I found my way to the bogs and started humming ‘Marble Zone’ from Sonic The Hedgehog to myself – it’s always slightly unnerving when you hear someone humming along with you in the gents!  Thankfully it was only Sully.  Atherton and I went over the road for a cup of coffee and a sarnie, returning to find ALL THE PIZZA IN THE WORLD had been delivered. Nice!


Rhythm & Vibes opened the show, and were on top form.  It was really lovely to see all these guys again; I’d met them for the first time in Calgary earlier in the year, and had fond memories of their show and their company.  They got the crowd going in their own inimitable fashion, and then it was our turn.   The show was a really enjoyable one, with a couple of really special moments.  An old Radio Tehran song, ‘Eshtebah’, sticks in my head from this night. Its quite Floyd-y in a way; I get to play some pretty easy yet atmospheric organ chords, accompanying some quite impassioned vocals from Ali and some lovely slide guitar work from Pecks. On nights like this one, when the band is on fire, when the atmosphere in the crowd is electric and the lights are right, its like a warm hug. 


We had also decided to do the obvious tribute to Mr. Cohen at the start of the second set, and I got to sing the first verse – the crowd singing every word along with me.  I was reduced to a sobbing wreck after that and had to leave the stage briefly to recover myself (despite Sully’s hilarious but perhaps inappropriate altered lyric – “She tied you to her kitchen chair, she slapped you ‘round, she touched you…there…”).  Also during the second half, a young man brought his young lady-friend onstage to propose during the middle of ‘Wedding Song’, appropriately enough.  Thankfully, she said yes.  We didn’t have any suitable music prepared for the eventuality that she said no!


After packing down, lovely Aiden and Sara drove me back to base with all the gear, and then we all headed for Siavash’s apartment where the party was already in swing.  “Lots of love in the room”, says my personal diary.  I think I hit the bottle rather hard; I don’t remember much except that Sully and I got a cab back, which we had to go on a bit of a mission to find!



'This is a very boring painting' *


Saturday 12 November (Toronto, ON – Venue, Vancouver, BC)

Our host, the splendid Mohamed, woke us all up (bless him) on time for us to get ready to leave for YYZ.   We got to the airport in plenty of time, but it was all for nothing; somehow, despite confirming the booking via email and taking his money, Air Canada had no record of Ali buying our ‘plane tickets.  It took a lot of time and queuing to figure this out, and the nice girl behind the final desk seemed more interested in explaining what had gone wrong - in great detail - rather than making any visible attempt to put things right.  Luckily, there were just enough seats left on the flight, and we were fast-tracked through security.  Ali and Mohamed had stopped off for sandwiches for us en route which were distributed once in our seats (hero!), and I settled in to watch ‘Finding Dory‘ and have a good cry (Altitude Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome).



Welcome to Vancouver.  F***ing terrifying!


"The ride into Vancouver is going to be choppy...", announced the flight deck.  Shortly followed by "We're going to be landing sooner than we thought..." !!  Not particularly reassuring, but after a turbulent descent we landed safely.  We piled into a cab and headed for the last hotel of the tour (passing ‘Big Rich's Adult Video Store’ en route…).  The hotel was a fair way out of town, so we didn’t have long there before we had to turn back and go to the venue.   I had spied this venue in a Devin Townsend Project video tour diary, across the street from the Vogue Theatre where they were playing back in October.   The guys in the venue looked after us and the sound check was over relatively quickly.  Off to Tim Hortons for a coffee and a sandwich before going straight back to the venue.

The last gig of the tour, and it was an absolute belter.  We had been a bit worried about the curfew (which we were actually told about in advance, for once!), but we timed it perfectly.  The first set was terrific, and we opened the second set with ‘Hallelujah’ again; the sound man wasn’t quite ready for me and Atherton to come out and start, the house music was going for a good 5 minutes with me stood on stage like a lemon waiting to start and gently waving at the back of the room!  Still, never mind.  Another appreciative crowd, another sold-out show.  Hooray!  

The after-show / after-tour party began at Earls Test Kitchen.  My notes say “Wasabi minesweeper!” – I can only assume that somebody had something to eat which included some rather surprising heat!  I enjoyed a rather splendid array of white wine before calling it a night around 1am and taking all the gear back to the hotel.  I had done rather too much drinking and not sleeping over this trip; the other boys had sensibly taken days off, but not me.  A lesson learned, but a lesson destined to be ignored I fear.  Atherton rocked in at 4am!



"There must be some mistake; I ordered the LARGE carafe?"


"This is the end...."


"Neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.........."


".........eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed!"


Sunday 13 November 2016 (Vancouver, BC – Calgary, ON)

This was the hardest morning.  Definitely.  When I had arrived at the hotel in the small hours, I had asked reception to book a taxi to take us to the airport at around 10am.  Just before 9am, the ‘phone in the room woke me up to tell me that they had only just booked it.  I went back to bed.  Then the ‘phone rang again.  “PISS OFF!!!”, yelled I.  But it was only Ali, inviting me down for breakfast with him, which was very nice!  We enjoyed some lukewarm toast and cereal in paper bowls (definitely the least luxurious breakfast of the tour, unless you count Jack In The Slag), before meeting the boys outside.  Poor Pecks looked worryingly ill (“It feels like my face is falling off”), which is only to be expected – apparently he’d dropped the equivalent of £50 on McDonalds whilst pissed off his face at silly o’clock in the morning!  Bless him.   We said our goodbyes to Ali, who was coming home a bit later, and started the long journey home.

The rest was airports, aeroplanes, and cars!  Oh, and that nifty little tram thing they wheel you around in at Calgary International – that was cool!!!



All that, and I only lost a sock and a ‘phone charger!



I’ve got absolutely no idea how to sign this off, except to say that the two-and-a-half weeks I spent on this tour, and the time I’ve spent with the band on various European jaunts during 2016, count as some of the finest times of my life as a jobbing muso.  I had SUCH a good time, playing to some fabulously warm and generous audiences with some fabulously warm and generous friends on-stage with me.  We got through it all without any major falling out, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it all again.

To Ali – thanks for having me along for the ride, brother.  You and the boys have built something very special here, and I feel honoured every time I get asked along to play.  Hoping that this means love…
عشق

To Sully – thanks for talking me down off a bad mood in L.A., for making wonderful music, and for being our guide through it.  Washing Bot loves you forever.

To Atherton – thanks for being my most regular and loving room-mate, for not throttling me for snoring too vivaciously, and for being the dirty, hairy, skinny beast that you are.  Don’t you go changing.

To Pecks – thanks for welcoming an (almost) complete stranger into the firm, for making me feel a part of each and every show, and for the sick f***ing guitar jams (almost) every night! NEEEEEED!!!!


To absolutely everyone we met along the way – you were perfect, and you won’t be forgotten in a hurry.



Chris “a pint of bourbon, please” Harrison






* Obscure Maiden reference for any Hi-on fans who still read this thing!