Saturday 17 May 2014

THE MIGHTY HANDFUL - The Grey Horse, Kingston - 3 May 2014

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!

Following the rehearsal I accompanied the fellows to Twickenham for a few more beers, and to watch them thoroughly entertain the people of the Old Anchor. I was able to serve on-stage refreshments, and managed to save Matt's gig by having a 9V battery on my person (never leave home without one!). I ventured off back home, having a slight rage at South West Trains who decided to announce a platform alteration as the train was pulling in to the station, and then have that train leave 45 seconds earlier than its scheduled departure time despite people still legging it to try and catch the bugger. Trainwankers.

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!

Me tools.

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?
Cavalier Spirit
A Trip in the Light Fantastic
The Beacon
King Of The Beacon
Hypothetically Speaking
Trip (Reprise)
Time Crash
In Time
Exit Piece

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

Sunday 4 May 2014

RHODES ROCK 2013 - Part 3 (Or, bluddy 'ell it takes me a long time to sit down and write something)

I wrote Part 1 in July. Upon writing Part 2 in August I apologised to myself and the rest of the band for taking so long to get round to it. One Two Three Four Five Six Seven A number of months later...! Right, where were we?

Willy hot dogs, anyone?

After the previous day's excess, I thought I'd best get up and go. So I got up and went. I had a wander around the village and found myself back in Yanni's for breakfast. I was soon joined by Simon who had his by-now-customary toast and hot chocolate combo while I tucked into pancakes. After a short while putting the world to rights, we meandered back up the hill to Atmosphere where the Sack lads had surfaced. It was gig day for the boys, so they were in for a day of sitting around and waiting for things to happen (that marvellous pastime enjoyed by musicians all around the world). I couldn't quite face a drink at this point, having filled my boots with rather too much fizzy Eurolager during the previous day, so stuck to my bottle of water for a short while.

I retired to my boudoir to play guitar for a little bit, as I had a song to learn and an idea for a guitar solo I would be recording in a friend's studio shortly after my return to Ingerland. After surfacing from that little session I went for a walk with Ozzy, managing to twist my ankle along the way. Just what you want to be doing the day before a big gig! Skills. 

Back in town, we bumped in to Simon and made our way to Yannis (surprise). Thus began a long drawn out discussion about the setlist for our gig the following day, which we had to shorten. This went on for some time, and before I knew it, dinnertime was upon us! I took the lads to Agostini's where I enjoyed an absolutely sublime roast lamb, rosemary sauce & halloumi puff pastry delight. It was like angels crying on my tongue. Delicious. Then it was time to go down and check out the main event! 

As we arrived in the main arena area, the Bon Jovi tribute were in full swing. The wind was making the sound somewhat problematic, but everyone was having a stellar time. A few beers in and it was time to watch the Sack lads tear it up. Holy sh*t they were good. I've tried writing a paragraph to explain how much I enjoyed that gig, but I simply haven't got the words. It was ace. The inevitable beers followed, with Mr Swift joining me for one before leaving me to jabber at the Sack rhythm section about how good they were. I took myself off to bed before embarrassing myself to much (I hope) to get some kip before our big gig day. 

Sunday, the day of the actual gig, started with the usual wander into town where I found Spence The Younger in Yannis having breakfast. I joined him, and after my own meal it was time to get back to Atmosphere to get picked up for soundcheck. Thus began our very own "waiting around" phase. The van, which had been ferrying bands and their gear back and forth from village to arena, had suffered a flat battery the day before. Thankfully this had been repaired, but it did result in soundcheck being a little later than planned.

The view could be worse!

Soundcheck was HOT. I was immediately grateful that the sun would be mostly down by the time we hit the stage that evening, as 2 bars into "2 Minutes..." and I was standing in a puddle of my own sweat.  For some reason I couldn't hear the drums, and I was having a bit of an issue with my guitar's input, but by and large everything sounded grand. We ran "Heaven Can Wait", because we hadn't played it for a while, and that was that. I seem to remember the lovely Mr Collyer handing me a beer, which was much needed after the sun had beaten down on me. Then it was back to Yanni's for a spot of lunch (my notes say "Village sausage!" at this point - I think that's best left without explanation or further context!). I had a lovely old chat with Swifty, and we even managed to get a couple of free beers! I went off for a siesta and in no time at all I was de-knotting my wig and getting ready to head down to the arena.

Yes. After all that, we actually did a gig!

As I arrived at the arena, I was warned to stay away from the bushes which were just a few feet from the backstage area. Snakes and scorpions were there in abundance, apparently. Just what you want to hear! Towers of Stone were warming the crowd up nicely, and the sun seemed to go down just as they were coming offstage.

The feeling I had before going onstage was amazing. Stepping up onto a good sized stage, with technicians all around and 2,000 people in front of us making a hell of a racket, I felt like an honest-to-goodness arena rock star. We launched into the set and just went for it. The gig wasn't without its challenges - the wind was blowing like f*** and the subsequent effect on the sound (not to mention getting an eyeful of sand every time you opened your eyes) was a bit of a sensory barrage. Me being blind as a bat on the best of days, I didn't quite grasp the magnitude of the crowd in front of us. It wasn't until I saw the photographs afterwards that it hit me. "Oh....there were quite a few in, weren't there?"

"I think that one's waving at you, Swifty..."

"There must be some mistake, I ordered the medium-sized arena crowd?"

Straight after the gig we were run back to the digs for a quick shower before heading back to the arena to check out Stargazer and The Bohemians, who were doing an early Queen set. There followed a very, very long evening/morning of drinking. My notes of this trip start to tail off at this point, but I remember leaving the lads queuing to get into one of the clubs and walking myself back to the apartment in the blue light of the approaching dawn.

On the Monday morning I woke up at what I thought was 9:30am, but it turned out to be past mid-day! I met up with Duggan and had a wander around, checking out one of the pool parties and heading to the Ice Bar to meet some friends of his family who had made the trip out to see us. We had made arrangements to have dinner with the Sack lads, and I duly met Dan and his missus for pre-dinner drinks and to await the rest of the crew. Slowly (very slowly....about an hour later than planned) everyone else arrived and, in varying states of advanced refreshment, we walked to Maria's. I had a beautiful dinner, sampling the spetsofai again followed by a Greek platter. Off to Yanni's again for another night of drink. I had decided at this point that I simply couldn't drink any more lager. I did get called a 'lightweight', but to be honest, if knowing when to stop drinking shit lager makes me a lightweight, I think I'm winning!

Tuesday was the day of the Think Floyd gig. I went into town for breakfast and came across Paul, who was frantically searching for a cool box that had gone missing during our gig. I did my best to assist but the search was proving futile, so I met Simon for breakfast and went shopping for presents. The village was ringing out with the Floyd's soundcheck, which seemed to go on for most of the day (you've got to get these things right, though it did spoil large parts of the setlist!). Resisting the temptation to bring back some sets of "sex dice", I bought some sensible gifts for the folks back home and headed back to Atmosphere for some drinks. Ozzy and I decided to go and join Swifty and Duggers on the beach, which was quite a sight to behold. The view was postcard-perfect.

 Admittedly, the main source of light in this shot is not the sun. It's pasty white Englishmen with no shirts on.

I get bored of beach-dwelling very quickly, so after a beer on the beach I went back to Atmosphere for a beer in the bar with Sacko and Mrs Sacko. I had begun to feel as if I was in some sort of exchange program - by this point I had spent more of the week with Sack Sabbath than with Hi-on!  Dinner was consumed in Agostini's on the roof, and while we were finishing up Think Floyd were just getting going. Swifty and I are massive Floyd fans, and we absolutely lapped it up. It was actually quite an emotional evening for me, and a lovely musical full-stop to the amazing week away.

Guitarists: taking a break from slagging off the singers!

Our last day on the island was a fairly quiet affair, with goodbyes being said over final pints of piss lager. The journey home was fairly uneventful, except for a slightly alarming moment with another plane visible out of the right-hand windows. Swifty, our aerospace nerd, said this would have technically been considered a 'near-miss'! Upon arriving back at Duggan Towers we went straight out for a curry and a few drinks before getting down for some sleep. The next day we said our farewells and The Rhythm Section drove me back to Cambridge for my train home.

And there you have it. Looking back on that week after nearly a year, I am still blown away by the whole experience. I must admit, playing the gig itself was almost incidental. I got to spend a week in a beautiful place, with some of my dearest friends. I made lots of new friends, and enjoyed an extraordinarily well-organised event.

Well done to absolutely everyone involved. Special thanks to my friends in Sack Sabbath, a wonderful bunch of guys to spend a week with and a top band to boot. Extra special thanks to Paul, Jane and Eddie of Classic Rock Tours for giving us the opportunity and looking after us all week. And finally, to my former colleagues in Hi-on Maiden, thank you all from the bottom of my heart. It was pretty f***ing special.


The Artist Formerly Known As Dave Hurry