Flying the Zeppelin

I listen to at least four or five hours of music every day while I am writing my books. Every year or so, I hit an obsessional phase, during which I spend weeks listening to nothing but the same band. At the moment, the band of choice is Led Zeppelin.

I have the deluxe versions of all their albums and some live ones, so I have more than 10 hours of their music, and this constant diet of some of the best riffs in rock music has percolated down from my ears to my fingertips: a lot of the songs I am writing now are emerging with a distinctly Zeppelinesque sound, which is no bad thing – it is always a joy to take something I feel is perhaps slightly derivative, and then hear the other guys in the band add their own input and turn it into something totally fresh.wealp95792

This is the main reason that all our songs are attributed to The 109s rather than to individual band members: I may write most of the riffs, but they do not become songs until everyone else has added their magic to the mix. The amount of drummers and bass players that have been financially shafted over the years due to unfair song-writing credits is legion.

This week The 109s will be working on material for the third album, ironing out the artwork details for Hollow Point (our second album) and preparing for a headlining gig we have this Friday, October 20th, at the Star in Guildford.

I hope to see some of you there.

Advertisements

Birthday Bash – The 109s’ Flight Log – 09/10/17

At the weekend we played a birthday event for a dear friend of the band’s. This bash had a real old-school festival/rave type feel: the event was set up in a field, kids and pet dogs played happily together on the grass, and the smell of a huge bonfire was carried by a fresh wind, creating that autumnal smell which is so redolent of England.

22228265_10159595553970624_4056225944946497227_nI don’t get nervous before gigs, but I did find the wait to go onstage difficult at this event: I have been teetotal now for more than two years and was surrounded by many friends with whom I used to drink and drug.

I admit, I did feel a slight pang of regret at no longer being able to run with the wolf pack, my belly filled with booze, my head high and hazy with pills and powder, but it was a momentary thing. Sobriety is just so pleasurable once it properly flowers and takes root within a person.

We played in a canvas marquee that proved to have excellent acoustics and tore through a 9-song set in which a complex new song, Unit 731, had its debut.

This week we will be working on another new song with a complex arrangement. I feel my song-writing abilities have really hit their stride now, and I am looking forward to pursuing this particular burst of creativity to its end.

It’s One Louder, Innit? – 02/10/17

This week The 109s will be preparing and practising a nine-song set for a gig this weekend at Wurzefest, a private event held to honour a friend’s birthday. It is sure to be an emotional gig, as the birthday boy lost a close and dear friend a few weeks previously, so the band are intent on giving it 109% when they hit the stage.

Which brings us to the problem of the drums.

120711-Bonzo-BWSteve is not only the best drummer I have played with, he is probably also the best musician I have ever played with – and after 25 years gigging in the UK, Spain and Italy, I have played with a LOT of musicians.

That said, though, he is also the LOUDEST drummer I have ever encountered. He attacks the kit with a Bonham-like wallop which means when The 109s play, both guitars and bass have to be turned up LOUD to match him – which in turn pushes up the vocal and monitor-mix volume, which can lead to ear-piercing squeals of feedback, or prevent the singers being able to hear themselves. Hopefully, the sound system will be big enough that we can mike up all the instruments, avoid any volume problems, and give Steve the opportunity to really let rip.

A wise man once said “A band is only as good as its drummer”.

The 109s are lucky in having a spankingly good one.

Parents Without Children

Daddy and ChildrenLast week, I lost my temper and head-butted the lock stile of a door in my flat. As a result, I now have two black eyes and can officially say, “I fought the door, and the door won . . .”

So, why this act of pointless aggression?

Part of it had to do with the struggles that my latest book – which took 20 months to write – is encountering in finding a publisher. But what really fuelled the head-butt was the current absence of my two children in my life: I have seen them three times since Christmas, and the last occasion was 4 months ago.

The temptation to launch into a bitter tirade against my ex now fizzes at the end of my fingertips. But that is not my purpose: written expressions of anger are as stupid and pointless as . . . well, as head-butting the lock stile of a door. Instead, I simply want to say how it feels to be a parent separated from his or her child/children.

The current involuntary absence of my children provokes in me a sad and melancholy pain that, like the shadow I cast, cannot be escaped or outrun; it feels as if something deep and fundamental within me has been wrapped in hessian sacking and left to fester.

It cannot be otherwise, for I love my children more than mere words can convey (and yes, I am aware of the irony of my being a novelist and saying that). Fog precedes me, clouds hang above me, and I walk with my eyes cast downwards, for the world holds little sense when such a primal emotion as parenthood is left to flap and tangle pointlessly, like plastic sheeting blown by a drear and bitter wind.

In the days when I was drinking and drugging myself to death, my children represented something clear and clean to which I could cling while drowning in the sump of my own life; they still hold that redemptive, cleansing power now.

Their smiles are precious to me as starlight on still water, and each new achievement they attain – walking, talking, reading, writing, being able to identify all seven crew members in the film, Alien – fills a dry and hollow hole in my heart I did not know existed before their arrival in the world. I am theirs entirely and eternally: I would pluck the salt out of all the world’s seas should it spare them tears, and give my life gratefully to save them from harm.

I dedicate this post to all those who empathise with these feelings, and offer this thought by way of an ending: whenever I pray, or make a wish, it is always the same one – that my children be granted simple, happy lives, surrounded by happy, simple people . . .

 

Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll – 25/09/17

The 109s practice every Monday evening, but I can’t make it tonight as I have knackered my back. ‘Not very rock and roll, is it?’ one of my friends laughed when I told him.

His comment set me thinking.

Back when I was in my 20s, I happily conformed to the Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll myth (although it was mainly Drugs and Rock and Roll in my case) and so did everyone else.

The first time I went to a decent recording studio, I arrived to find the sound engineer cutting himself a 6-inch line of speed on the mixing desk, thereby encouraging the band to dig into their own stash of narcotics. Cocaine

By the time I came to record my guitar parts 8 hours later, I had reduced myself to a gurning, teeth-grinding mess, and EVERYTHING I played sounded AMAZING. Subsequent listens over the years have revealed my critical faculties – frazzled by cocaine, ecstasy and booze – were way off the mark.

When Keith Richards was once asked which drugs were best for creating music, he smiled, laughed and said, ‘A cup of tea and clear head’. That is very much an ethos I have taken to heart.

When The 109s record, we don’t even take beer along. Why not? Because recording is hard work and requires effort and concentration. Besides all the usual rock guitar techniques, I have also learned and mastered techniques that are so complex – harmony guitar, bottleneck, finger-picking, hybrid finger-picking, lapsteel Dobro, flamenco, alternate guitar tunings – I have to be totally sober in order to employ them properly.

When you listen to a recording by The 109s, you are listening to the very best every musician in the band can do.

All of which has taught me a very important lesson in life: the Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll ethos can go fuck itself.

Why?

Because I am a musician.

 

Pub Landlords and Their Wit

Publicans: they’ve seen it all – drunken arguments, spilt drinks, fights, the flashing lights of the emergency megacity4_milesapart1services. Regular exposure to the darker side of humanity gives them the right to a employ a certain cynical wit when dealing with an irritating customer. And talking of irritating pub customers . . . step forward my friends and acquaintances!

My first tale concerns Jimmy Nevado, The Fox and Hounds pub in Fleet and Ron Kettle, a tough ex-para and a no-nonsense publican of the old school.

One evening in the ’90s, Jimmy was well into his cups and went shambling inside from the beer garden in search of more drinks for his table of friends. However, when stood at the bar, drunkenly trying to place his order with Mr Kettle, his memory failed him.

‘Uh, that’s two pints . . . no, one pint of Kronenburg, a double Jameson’s without ice. No, with ice. Or was that for the vodka and coke? I think -‘

‘Can you whistle?’ Ron Kettle said suddenly.

‘Uh, yes, I can. But why?’

‘Because I like a bit of music when I’m being fucked about.’

Skip over to a pub in Farnborough (The Angler’s Arms I think, though I may be wrong) and the band, Peach Razor, are setting up. Their music was hard, heavy, incredibly loud and much influenced by those ’90s guitar bands who drenched their songs in atonal drones and screeching feedback.

The band set up and did one song as a sound check. As they were preparing for a second, the landlord beckoned them over.

‘I’m not listening to that shite all night,’ he said, counting tenners as he did so. ‘Here’s your money. Now pack up and fuck off.’

Another group of musician friends had a similar experience when on tour in the north of England. Having stopped in a dark, drear pub somewhere in Yorkshire, one dared another to go to the bar and order “a half-pint of shandy and lime” in his best effete southern accent.

The landlady was a prim, dainty, Miss Marple lookalike who took the order smiling, prepared the drink smiling, and was still smiling when she handed it to my friend.

‘Here’s your half-pint of shandy, love’ she said. ‘Now sup up and the get the fuck out of my pub. We serve men proper drinks round here.’

 

 

No Sleep for Trippy T

The year is 2006, the venue the German World Cup. Two of my friends – Richard and Trippy T – are sharing a ground-floor hotel room somewhere in Deutschland.

Upon arrival, they enjoy a few beers, bask in the sunshine and absorb the spectacle, wonder and pageantry of the event. Then Trippy T’s back starts to play him up. Realising alcohol cannot dull the effects of an old motorcycle injury, he decides to head back to the hotel. ‘I just need a good night’s sleep,’ he says to Richard. ‘Please, try not to wake me up when you come back.’

‘No problemo,’ Richard replies. ‘I’ll probably only have a couple more myself.’2006

Famous last words.

Richard is one of those rare individuals who is capable of reaching a Zen-like state of inebriation, in which he is neither wholly conscious nor unconscious: external stimuli cease to fully register, but the random firing of synapses will cause him to suddenly lurch into loll-headed action, scattering pint glasses and stepping on toes as he attempts to stand, or spraying coins from his pocket as staggers back towards the bar.

Fast forward to 03:30.

Trippy has finally managed to get to sleep when he is awoken by a tapping at the window. He rises to find Richard’s pale, podgy face staring through the window at him, so drunk he is barely able to stand.

‘I’m locked out, Trippy. Can you let me in?’

Their hotel did not have a 24-hour front desk, so access between 00:00 and 06:00 was controlled by either a key card or someone buzzing you in. Richard’s key card had disappeared during his drunken binge, so poor Trippy was forced to hobble all the way over to the foyer and buzz him in, then help the legless fool back to their room.

Once there, Richard was asleep in seconds. Trippy struggled, but eventually managed to drift off as well . . .

. . . only to be awoken by someone tapping at the window.

Scarcely able to believe his eyes, Trippy awoke, rose and again found himself gazing at Richard’s pale and ghostly face on the other side of the window. The only difference was that this time, Richard wore nothing but his boxer shorts.

‘I’m locked out,’ Richard mewled. ‘Can you let me in?’

The same painful process of allowing Richard access to the hotel was repeated. As Trippy limped back to his room, he began to piece together what had happened.

Around 05:00, Richard had risen with the need to urinate, but had been so utterly shandied that he had managed to mistake the door to his room for the toilet door. After bumbling through said portal – and undeterred by the fact he was now in a long, carpeted corridor rather than a small, tiled chamber – Richard continued to stagger forward, stubbornly convinced his toilet must be somewhere up ahead. Even the wide open space of the hotel’s foyer had failed to rob him of this conviction, nor the fact that the only door he could find – the hotel’s main door – required him to buzz himself outside.

Finally, it seems the feel of cool, damp grass beneath his feet registered in Richard’s mind and he realised his predicament: outside, alone, near naked and still with a bulging bladder .

Next morning, my friends made a sorry sight as they headed for their continental breakfasts: the one hollow-eyed and listless from lack of sleep, the other twitching and feverish from a terrible hangover and dim memories of having humiliated himself . . .

The 109s’ Flight Log – 18/09/17

This week, we have started to write songs with the new line up. As some of you will know, 2017 has been a tumultuous one for the band, so it is a good feeling to get started on new material where our new singer and bassist can really stretch their wings, untrammelled by having to copy another musician’s work.

ledzeppelin2So, what sort of riffs are we working on? The first completed song with the new line up is an instrumental entitled ‘Unit 731’ and is the heaviest song we have written – it charges out of the gate with a truly sinister riff (hence the title) then passes through various changes which pay nods to Hendrix, classic-era Maiden and Zeppelin.

The influence of this last band comes as no surprise, as I am currently going through one of my obsessive phases when I listen to nothing but Led Zeppelin for about 6 weeks. Although I love nearly everything the band recorded (D’Yer Maker is one I always skip) I find myself drawn this time to the sound of their later, lesser known songs – In The Light, Dancing Days, Over The Hills and Far Away, Ozone Baby – so that will doubtless affect my riff-writing; I am a great one for playing around with alternate guitar tunings, and Jimmy Page is the master of this.

Tentative talks have also begun about the concept of creating a visual mascot for the band – something akin to Maiden’s Eddie – and rough sketches are being made. We also have to decide a running order for the second album and decide on a title, so all in all, we have plenty to do, which is always a good feeling . . .

The Public Urinators

Two of my friends are criminals: they are both guilty of the crime of public urination.

Picture the scene: a balmy summer night through which two young gents stagger home after sampling of the myriad sensual delights that Fleet high street had to offer back in the early ’90s (i.e. The Oatsheaf). They pause briefly to relieve themselves, hosing down the walls of the local shopping centre.

peeing on wallThe pause to fumble miniscule peckers back into briefs and jeans is slightly longer, which allows ample time for newly installed surveillance cameras to direct a police car to their position.

‘Now then, lads,’ the police sergeant said from the car in a cheery, we’ve-all-been-there type of voice, ‘had a bit to drink have we?’

Peter is an easy-going, affable type of drunk; but Richard – who back then considered himself a real no-nonsense, anti-authoritarian rabble-rouser- isn’t. After uttering the immortal words, ‘Let me do the talking,’ Richard snapped into action.

First he asked the police who the hell they thought they were to come round asking questions of him.

‘Do the car and the uniforms not give it away?’ the sergeant replied, with a lot less bonhomie.

‘But how do I know that you’re genuine police officers? Come on,’ Richard said, snapping his fingers. ‘Let me see some ID.’

Peter, stricken momentarily dumb by surprise, suddenly found his voice.

‘He doesn’t speak for me!’ Peter bleated. ‘I’m not with him!’

But his words were not heard, as Richard was still not done exercising his rights: with the “imposter” police both out of the car, he was now demanding a pen and paper so he could write down their names and badge numbers.

He was still demanding the same objects when, approximately 90 seconds later, the police had exercised their own rights, and both Peter and Richard were handcuffed in the back of a meat wagon.

Next morning, our protagonists emerged from the local police station, bleary eyed and hungover, clutching freshly inked court summons for the crime of public urination.

Further indignities awaited them, though.

When their case was heard at Aldershot Magistrates Court, they had to sit with all the other accused and stand when their names and charges were called out. Richard and Peter quickly discovered they were out of their depths – one youth next to them was accused of ABH, a second of robbing a corner shop at knifepoint, while an alcoholic hag from Camberley had flung boiling water into her partner’s face.

When Richard and Peter – the only ones among the accused in suits – stood and had their charges read, their fellow felons turned on them: some laughed in their faces, others sneered, while the hag called them a “pair of fucking nonces.’

It is lucky the crime of public urination does not carry a custodial sentence, for I fear Richard and Peter would have found themselves either “shanked” on the prison exercise yard or forced to play catamite to some burly lifer who had been without a woman for decades . . .

Beating Down the Black Dog

It is no secret to those who know me that I suffer severe bouts of depression, the Black Dog of the post’s title.

It is an accurate metaphor: during the last four days an issue involving my children has caused me to feel as if some shadow was ever present at my heel, bringing with it a constant sense of dread and imminent danger, its tongue licking at all my secret sores, encouraging self-hate and self-harm.9193a8fcc748d87875e37e981d776868_506_332

I used to deal with “the Dog” through heavy drinking – three or four bottles of wine normally did the trick – but that is no longer an option, as three or four bottles of wine a day quickly makes a person very ill.

Instead, I have binged on junk food, and stared emptily into space, not really caring about anything – clinical depression causes the mind to go into neutral – but, because of this, I have not been able to write, which only causes me to beat myself up even more: a blizzard of words like “loser”, “failure”, “waste of space” has swirled within my head throughout the entire week.

Luckily, I have a very supportive network of family, friends and girlfriend who help to bolster me and to prick those acidic bubbles of self-hatred once I can be coaxed into vocalising them. It is only through their kindness and advice that I find strength to put fingers to keyboard and write that damned dog back into its kennel.

Until next time, you mangy cur.