The biography said:
"The Mighty Handful have now entered the Third Age of Mightyness and have embarked on writing the greatest double album of progressive music the world didn't know it wanted."
And lo! it was written. And lo! they needed a guitarist or two.
Following a very kind invitation from Gary "don't think you're getting out of this face-painting lark" Mackenzie, I visited the Mighty Boat studio in May 2013 to lay down some lead guitar for them. Immediately following this we repaired to the pub and, over a few pints of Guinness (which would go on to become something of a habit), I was asked: a) if I'd be willing to contribute some more guitar parts to upcoming tunes, and; b) if I'd be willing to do a gig with them. Being the sort of chap who'll do almost anything for a Guinness, and will do absolutely ANYTHING for a Guinness and a curry, I said yes.
It wasn't a bell...
Ready to prog?
Almost a year later, after quite a lot of drinking and maybe one actual bit of guitar playing, I found myself en route to Putney for the single rehearsal I would have with the Handful prior to the gig on 3 May. A couple of days earlier, we had all crowded into Matt's house-boat studio while I put some guitars down on a track for the second E.P., and had a lot of fun (not to mention beer) while we were at it, so I was well enough ensconced in Mighty-land that I didn't anticipate too many problems in playing the material.
We would be playing the first 2 E.P.s of "Still Sitting In Danny's Car", the Handful's epic everyday tale of rock folk, pubs, time travel and a job-swap with Death (!). I must admit, I fell in love with the songs quite quickly. To my (admittedly now slightly biased) ears, the song-writing on display is masterful. And while it is definitely "prog", there is nary a song over 6 minutes to be seen. And there haven't been any wizards in capes. Yet. The story behind it all is one which mixes just the right amounts of silliness and sentimentality, and I do honestly feel rather honoured by being asked to take part.
The rehearsal went rather well, with some minor tweaking of parts (which was to be expected, considering that I was playing on things that either didn't have lead guitar recorded yet, or that I didn't play on in the first place!), and a brief respite while Mighty Matt went on a Mighty Mission to source a new set of P.A. speakers for the Handful's covers gig that evening in a Twickenham public house. It was nice to actually play together in a room with the guys, and it wasn't even half as daunting as I thought it might be to waltz in and start jamming with four chaps who had been playing together quite happily without me for over 10 years! I had brought my Orange "Micro Terror" along which was, amazingly, just about powerful enough to carry the rhythm parts when run through a 4x12. Sadly it didn't quite have enough to give to put lead lines across, so for the gig I opted to go back to the old faithful Boss GT-8 (or, as Swifty and I used to refer to it, "me shitbox") and borrow a combo from the other band we were playing with.
Size does matter.
Boxes! With flashing lights!
And so, one week later, Progmageddon was upon us! I ran the set a couple of times before leaving home to make sure that it still fell under my fingers (and to make sure I knew the two songs the lads had subsequently decided to end the set with, which I'd never heard and hadn't even rehearsed with them!) and then set off for Kingston carrying two flight cases and a hold-all. I'm not the fittest chap in the world, and it was heavy. I was a ball of sweat by the time I'd lugged it all the way to the platform at Hither Green!
I was the first to arrive, and had just settled in with a pint of Normal before Gary arrived. I helped him unload into the live room at the back (while the staff struggled to find the light switch), and, as we were in the midst of drum-shifting, the rest of the Mighties appeared, as did Grant Gordon and (some of) his band. I was borrowing a rather lovely Vox from Grant's guitarist Tom, for which I was eternally grateful. It made my "shitbox" sound rather sweet.
We tweaked sound and ran a couple of numbers, asking the illustrious Mr Gordon for some objective ears. Getting the thumbs up for sound and mix, we vacated the stage and let Grant's 8-piece band take the stage.
Between then and the gig I was surprised by a number of friends and work colleagues turning up unannounced, which was lovely. As gig o'clock approached, I noticed a small proliferation of folk in prog-suitable t-shirts (a couple of Rick Wakeman fans in the audience couldn't be a bad sign).
Grant Gordon & co did a marvellous job of recreating his "Requiem", and in no time at all it the "Third Age of Mightyness" was nearing it's noisy zenith. Ralph had decked us all out in black t-shirts (naturally), and I was told to paint my face. Both Matt and Tom had done some fine paintwork, and there was no way I was going to live up to that. Choosing an infinity symbol (pr0g?) to clumsily slather over my face, I went out and bravely took the stage.
It had been a long time since I'd been that nervous before a gig, and it had nothing to do with the face paint. When playing with Hi-on Maiden, larger crowds had often induced a few butterflies to start buzzing around the ol' belly. However, I had been playing those songs live for 10 years and knew most of them like the back of my hand, plus you always knew the crowd would know and love the songs (or else they probably wouldn't be there!). This was an unknown quantity on so many levels; music I'd had no hand in writing, music I hadn't known for years, and a crowd I wasn't sure would necessarily 'get it'. Squeaky bum time, then.
Found in the gents after the show. Surely we weren't loud enough to warrant the use of Panadol?!
Set list (to avoid future arguments in O'Riordan's over what songs got played when...Gary!):
Once Upon a Lifetime
Not A Dry Glass In The House
So You're Death?
A Trip in the Light Fantastic
King Of The Beacon
Well, it was great. We ploughed into the first instrumental track, which is barely 2 and a half minutes long, and rather worryingly as it faded out there was no hint of applause. However, as Grant pointed out to me later, "the problem with prog gigs is that no-one is quite knows when to clap." There was, however, a satisfying roar from the crowd at the conclusion of "Cavalier Spirit", which was rather gratifying since I spend a good 2 minutes of that song tearing up the fretboard. Other highlights were "Time Crash", which we pulled off really bloody well considering that for the first half there seem to be no consecutive bars of the same length (!), and "In Time", which is a gorgeous little ditty and was a big hit with my assembled fan-club. Pass the hit single, would you?
I have seen absolutely no photographic evidence or video to prove that this gig actually happened, so you'll have to take my word for it. It was a lot of fun, and I hope that we get to do it again. I have since done some further recording with the Handful, and hope to continue working with them for as long as they'll have me. Huge thanks to my partners in prog:
Matthew Howes - Lead vocals, guitar
Ralph Blackbourn - Keyboards, backing vocals
Tom Halley - Bass guitar, backing vocals (and the 'Voice of the Reaper"!)
Gary Mackenzie - Drums, backing vocals
There weren't any photos of our gig, so here's William Shatner instead.
Until next time,
Christopher James Harrison