My Black Box. About loving Rock n Roll too much

BETWEEN SONGS

Joyryde Clapham Common GBM Union Mayday Festival 1996

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There’s plenty more where this came from here

My Black Box

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The mid nineties. My former band Joyryde had a high-profile, well-paid, socialist festival gig coming up - supporting Tom Robinson and various other worthy acts on Clapham Common in London (being fronted by  women, Joyryde occasionally netted politically correct shows by default) 

We’d recently taken on a singer, recruited via Melody Maker classified ads. Can’t say I was happy about that, but it did relieve me of vocal duties and let me focus 100% on my guitar while she did her leaping-about front-woman thing, shaking her dodgy perm as she went. However Madam not only chose to quit two days before our big show, but also  had her muso boyfriend ring up the organisers saying he’d “heard we had no singer – could his band step in?”  NO WAY!

I had 48 hours to relearn playing-and-singing-at-the-same-time on 15 songs. We  hadn’t rehearsed for over a month and my head was totally in the wrong place. I HATED that woman so-o-o-o  much. I tugged my black box of effects pedals and cables out from under the stairs, and opened it, releasing the beer, tobacco, and who-knows-what-else odours of the last show. Then came another, less-expected stink… a momentary but massive whiff of all the painful experiences, all the rejection letters, all the unreturned calls, all the humping-someone-else’s-gear-upstairs at five am, all that shitty underside of “being in a band”                           

My box, my box, my precious box – tell me what I did - Why my hands are soaked in blood each time I lift the lid                    

A defining moment in my love-hate relationship with rock’n’roll, and if nothing else came out of it, I got the germ of “Black Box” which I eventually recorded with Kathy X   Anyway I didn’t close the stinky old box. We went on to do a killer show and I was on a high for days.

You’re everything I wanted, everything I know - Wish I’d never seen you but I’ll never let you go

 2014  The “black box” - though now containing substantially fewer pedals -  has somehow outlasted all the people who tried to come between us

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Three A.M

Dealing with negative feelings in the day is one thing. Exploration. Action. Distraction.  Whatever. But pre dawn is  a whole different ballgame. A sudden and brutal lurch into full consciousness with no defences.

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At three a.m. the demon of negativity was on the loose, free of his daytime restraints, and he wasn’t prepared to listen to me counting my  breaths, or to wait for my autogenic training ritual.  He said “Let’s go to the funfair….”

Here’s the big dipper. Substitute the “big” with the name of whoever  has pissed you off half your life or more.

Here’s the ghost train. That’s where all the people who died hang out.

And now lets have some action. The shooting range. What I should have said to her BANG  What I should have done to them BANG What I would have said to him if I’d had the chance BANG

And when we’re done with that its time for the helterskelter. Relive the fall from grace and friction-burn your arse on the way down.

Blessed  (or cursed) with a songwriter’s imagination I started to write  Three A.M…..resulting in hours of lying stark bonkers awake, at the Real Three a.m. singing and playing the damn thing in my head…..glad to say I’ve finally nailed it.

You can hear the solo acoustic version here  (and you can download the song and lyrics NOW if you’re on my mailing list….) A full production is planned for my next album.

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The radio station I couldn’t switch off. More on my own songs here


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The radio station I couldn’t switch off. More on my own songs here

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Party Animal and Braindead

I did an interview a while back at  Berlin’s Szenesound Radio. Being a radio show I wasn’t expecting to be video’d but here it is……Raw Live and Unplugged. More on me and my songs here

Tips from the other side of the mic

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There’s a deluge of advice for performers and would-be-performers - do little humming warm up exercises, breath slowly and deeply,  be cool, be relaxed, don’t look at the floor…….. and engage in a open and non-threatening manner with those drunken psychos who happen to be there on your big night. And so on.

But there’s not much advice for that vital other half of the performance situation - the Audience. So I  scrawled out a few tips on beermats during the soundcheck, and here goes:

The stage - even if it’s one metre square between the bar and the fag-machine - is a sacred space.  Not a short cut to the toilets.

Great to see you dancing to the songs!  but don’t lunge into the mic-stand and break my teeth, thanks.

Occasionally I’ll have a crack at covering songs I only half-know. But if I’ve never heard of your request, sorry - no amount of pleading or even offers of hard cash will grant me the magic powers to play it

Please don’t ask me questions while I’m playing guitar. 

and double-don’t  while I’m playing guitar AND singing. (Some sweet but birdbrained young ladies actually did that recently. Although I could take it as a supreme compliment. They BELIEVE I can play, sing, listen and speak at the same time.)

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"When I record somebody else’s song, I have to make it my own or it doesn’t feel right. I’ll say to myself, I wrote this and he doesn’t know it!" - Johnny Cash

There’s a big risk of crossing the line between performer and performing seal with cover versions. And as for playing in a “note for note” tribute band, I’d rather be an accountant.

However without  covers I’d  have fewer shows for sure. I’d have missed out on  a shedload of guitar tricks and picked up fewer songwriting skills. I wouldn’t be able to break the ice with audiences who don’t “get” the full-on personal songs the first time round. So I play covers - with a couple of ground rules: no songs I don’t like, and I follow the advice of the Man in Black (see above)

Audience participation in cover songs is a double edged sword. It can lift the mood a whole level. But the regular drunk’s off-key renditions take it close to the edge. And backing audience members  can be a magical mystery tour.  In the break during a cover-band show,  a couple of teenage girl singers perused our setlist.  Delighted to see “Sunshine” listed as an encore, they asked to join in - it was their favourite party turn. What followed 40 minutes later was a bizarre mashup of our "Walking on Sunshine" and their “Ain’t no Sunshine when she’s gone" - Just about got away with it…..

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Shakin’ more with sub-zero temperatures than lust as I post this…..but it’s always been my favourite cover song and I’ll probably play it every show this year. For a sneak preview of my version, join my mailing list by the end of February

Rock n roll trivia…. that killer moody guitar lick was played by Joe Moretti, but who composed it?

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