Saturday, 9 May 2009

Stand By Your Amp

Monday 4th May. Day Off.
Caught the train from Newark to London, and then up to Oxford. John Dagnell picked me up at Oxford station, and we drove back to the office where I got a little piece of my life back - my car. From Oxford I drove up to Preston - having to make a few stops along the way due to overwhelming tiredness. I arrived home at 6:30 p.m. It was just great to be home after almost four weeks away.

Night 18. Tuesday 5th May. The Victoria Theatre, Halifax..
Called over at Steve's (Carter) house this morning, as arranged, to get this troublesome volume control sorted. He replaced it, and figuring it was such a straightforward job I didn't bother to test it.
Left Preston in my own car at 3:30 p.m. Arrived at the theatre at 5 p.m. On arrival I strung the guitar up, plugged it in, and . . . God! It was worse than before; how stupid not to test it. There was no way I could use it tonight.

Phoned Steve, and arranged to take it back the next morning. In the meantime I used my other guitar, the Giordano, for everything, so that meant I had to retune my guitar to DADGAD for Scullion King as I introduced the song. It all went quite smoothly I suppose. But with an electronic tuner at one's foot it can't really go that wrong - that is, unless your eyesight's a bit dodgy.

Amid all kinds of controversy, Manchester United tonight beat Arsenal to go through to the European Champions League final.

Night 19. Wednesday 6th May. The Floral Hall, Southport.
Less than fourteen miles from home, and just a half hour drive to the venue.
Steve, this morning, located the source of the guitar problem - a loose wire that should've been attached to the five-way switch. Tested the guitar this time.

Went to see Vicky, my manicurist, at 12:30 p.m. OK, how weird does that sound? But she is my manicurist - and I see her about every five weeks to get the nails of my first, second and third fingers of my right hand coated with acrylic. This is, of course, for the purpose of guitar playing - finger-picking to be more precise.
I've never played the Floral Hall before, but it holds some great memories for me. The most significant memory is from 1967 when I saw the then newly formed Fleetwood Mac perform there. The band consisted of Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green.

Cassette recorders had just become 'the thing'; I took one with me and placed it on the stage, recording every note the band played that night. There was no problem with doing this kind of thing in those days. I even went backstage after the show, and played the entire show back to the band. Peter Green was particularly attentive; he listened and scrutinised every single note. That evening was an inspiration for me; I still think that Peter Green was one of the all time greatest guitar players. For me, it was all about how he wasn't, like so many other blues players, a 'riff' merchant; his playing was inventive, melodic and inspired. And I know that it wasn't just down to my age at that time (16) - I know that, because I still have the tape.

Night 20. Thursday May 7th. The City Hall, Hull.
A grand and majestic building; another one of these municipal halls from the Victorian age. It's very easy to just walk in and out of these places without paying much attention, but every now and then when the mind is turned from all it's inner pre-occupations toward the places, the history, the people, and some of that which exists in the outside world, places like this can be striking to say the least. They began building the City Hall in 1900, and opened it in 1903; the more I looked at it's domes, balconies, stairs, arches and skylights, the more it looked as though absolutely no expense had been spared.

If you're interested in knowing more about it's history, here's a link: Hull City Hall.

And to top it all, they had the good sense to put a Cafe Nero just over the road.

Night 21. Friday May 8th. The Corn Exchange, Kings Lynn.
17:30 hours, and near disaster just before sound check. I was in the green room, and some one informed me that there was a problem with my amplifier. 'The amp was placed on it's stand, it fell backwards and a valve might be damaged', I was told. I knew exactly what had happened; the amplifier has an open back, leaving one or two parts - including the tubes / valves, quite exposed.

There is a horizontal bar approximately two feet long that the rear of the amp rests on; this area, basically a narrow board or strip at it's base is only about 6 - 8 inches high, and there is always the potential problem that the amplifier will lean back at too great an angle to a point where the bar slips over the top of this strip, which will, and in this case did, result in the amp's open back falling onto the support.

Here in today's little disaster scenario the first thing to hit the support was one of the two large tubes, and it was pushed out of it's socket at an angle twisting and bending it's pins in the process. Mercifully, the glass was completely unbroken.

So far it was me who carefully set the angles of the stand and placed the amp on it each night, always mindful of these laws of physics. Tonight someone else decided to do it; I won't mention who it was, and I won't mention what I wanted to do to him.
I walked onto the stage to find soundman Patch kneeling, valve in hand, over a face-down amplifier. The pins were completely bent, and the next thing was - could they be straightened out without any one of them snapping, could the tube be put back in place, and would it still work? I was fairly convinced the prognosis was worse than bleak, so I walked back to the green room, and left the paramedics and medical staff to it.

'Just as well I brought my Mesa Boogie with me in case of an emergency like this', I thought to myself. Then came the hopeful news - an operation had been performed, and the prospect of a full recovery looked good. Sure enough, I plugged in the guitar and . . . and, you know, it might've even sounded better than before!

First leg of the championship playoffs tonight: PNE v Sheffield United. I managed to catch a full five minutes of commentary between our first and second sets. Sounds as though Preston were pinned back for much of the game - the word 'pin' is definitely the word of the moment. Tonight's result was 1-1. The second leg is at Bramell Lane on Monday night, and for once I'll be able to watch a full match, albeit on television, but unhindered by work commitments.

I remember the Corn Exchange here in Kings Lynn very well from my first Steeleye tour in December 2002 (the Reunion Tour). I had just enrolled on a Contemporary Music degree course at UCLAN (University of Central Lancashire) when I was asked to play with the band. My course leader did everything possible to accommodate my touring schedule, and I managed to slot in a presentation after one of my days off. I recall as though it was yesterday a very nervy presentation followed by a hasty trip to the train station. That night I was onstage in Kings Lynn.


  1. I enjoy reading your blogs, but am not too sure how to put this politely: you use the contraction "it's" several times when you mean to write "its".
    The first is a contraction of "it is", and the second means "belonging to it".

    (who via a third party provided you with the chords to Sandy Denny's "Late November" a few years ago)

  2. Hey, don't be sorry. I'm constantly in the process of learning, and I'll take note of what you pointed out.
    Thank you,