This month: causing chaos at gigs, accidental beard cutting, a huff about Q magazine and tales of Wibbly Wobbly burgers.....
My life has been taken over by the blues. Don’t worry; I’m not talking about being down in the dumps: I’m talking about some sublimely beautiful twelve-bar guitar melancholy. There’s nothing quite like a rampaging guitar riff and the great blues players had them in droves. I’ve been on a mission to find them.
Whilst my musical exploration has taken me from Robert Johnson to Albert Collins, Muddy Waters to Buddy Guy and from Taj Mahal to Stevie Ray Vaughan, it’s B.B. King who I’ve fallen in love with. Between 1965 and 1973 the guy didn’t put a foot wrong, starting with the stunning Live At The Regal (one of the best live albums I’ve heard) and encompassing the monstrous Completely Well (1969), Live In Cook County Jail (1970), BB King in London (1971), the Joe-Walsh enhanced L.A. Midnight (1972) and – my personal favourite – the astounding Indianola Mississippi Seeds (1970). Few artists are proper legends, but B.B. King certainly is. In a career spanning 60 years he has played 15,000 gigs, won 15 Grammy Awards, been inducted into every Hall of Fame going and is STILL on the road – playing the 2011 Glastonbury Festival in his 85th year. Now that’s impressive.
Whilst the music Chez Hard has been bluesy my mood has been otherwise. On the day the clocks changed in March and BST began the sun bore down on West Manchester and everything changed. I mowed the lawn for the first time this year, and afterwards sat in the garden with a beer and read a magazine whilst the radio pumped cool tunes through the kitchen window. On that day the rabbits left the building also. Following a listing on the Gumtree website someone came to take them off our hands – a gift for a little girl. They had to go. I could only let them out of their hutch for 10 minutes before they would start digging. Every measure to stop them burrowing – including, I am ashamed to say, throwing things at them – didn’t work. On the day they left I was sad to see them go, but a week later my lawn was looking a lot healthier.
The first barbecue of the summer happened as well. I cooked chicken, burgers and sausages for friends who were accompanying me to see King’s X at the Academy 3 in Manchester. I first saw Dug Pinnick, Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill tread the boards in London in late 80s when they were critics’ darlings, adored by a hardcore of fans and ignored by pretty much everyone else. Over 20 years later and King’s X are still worshipped by the rock cognoscenti and still unknown to the wider public. 250 of us packed into the tiny Academy venue to attend what was the best of the 10 gigs I’ve seen them play.
I am probably most people’s worst nightmare at a gig. I am not interested in standing still with arms folded, staring at a stage, listening intently. I only go to gigs where the music gives me Goosebumps or makes we want to bounce. This gig did the latter and thus together with my partners in crime Captain Ron and Fred Barchetta I pogo’d and moshed and generally let off a whole lot of pent up steam.
The Usual Suspects (as they are now known) came back to Chez Hard after the gig for beers and more barbecue. Attempting to light the coals at 1am, after a gig and several ales, is always interesting but manage it I did and the comments on my cooking were all complimentary. This may have something to do with my years as a burger chef. I kid you not.
Whilst at University I became spectacularly efficient at spending money I didn’t have. My long suffering parents helped me out on occasion but the point came where I had to get a job just to pay the rent. Being a typical student I needed something that didn’t involve me having to get up before 5pm, so I took an evening job at the now infamous Wibbly Wobbly Burger Bar on St Simon’s Arcade in Lancaster. The Bar was started by a guy called Sedge a year earlier and was driving him into financial and mental misery – with no proper employees he was working 15 hours a day, 6 days a week. Whilst he did good business when the pubs turned out at the weekend, he was taking less than a hundred pounds across the counter on a week day. Sedge needed some time off and I was willing to work for £2.50 an hour (which wasn’t too shabby back in 1993) plus a free burger and chips with each shift. This seemed ideal: getting paid, eating for free, and only working evenings.
There were an awful lot of great things about working at Wibbly Wobbly. First of all Sedge made the most mouth-watering, juicy burgers I have ever tasted – and taught me how to do the same. With no advertising at all the reputation of the establishment grew through word of mouth. Soon Sedge was making enough money to offer me more shifts, and then to take on my good friend Andy “Weirdo” Wild. Once Weirdo joined, everything became brilliant. We would work from 6pm ‘til 1am, have a real laugh with the customers, and eat more free burgers than we were meant to. Andy and I were adept at getting into trouble – allowing Sedge’s bike to be stolen when we were meant to be looking after it, breaking in after hours to “buy” a can of Coke only to find him upstairs wondering who was trying to rob him, and as the place became more successful doing everything we could to employ pretty girls to “enhance” the team. When the place shut at midnight Andy and I would clean it as quickly and as un-thoroughly as we could, so we could make it to the Alex Pub for rock night for the last hour. It’s probably a sign of the “nine girls to every boy” student ratio at S. Martin’s College in Lancaster in the early 1990s rather than my pulling ability, but I had Bill Clintonesque “relations” with several women at The Alex even though I was usually reeking of burger fat. Lovely!
Sedge went on to open a bigger and better Wibbly Wobbly Burger Bar on the campus of Lancaster University. It’s still there, but lacks the cobbled-back-street vibe of the original place (which was a jeweller’s shop last time I checked). I have cherished memories of the Wibbly Wobbly Triple Beef Chicken Gammon Burger with extra cheese, bacon, all the salad and a combination of garlic mayonnaise and American hot sauce. Plus crinkle cut chips. And a cold can of Dandelion and Burdock. Whenever I light up a barbecue now I remember those heady days.
I got to see another stonking gig the week before King’s X when Kyuss came to Manchester. Fronted by one of my musical heroes in the legendary John Garcia, but sans original guitarist (and now Queens of the Stone Age front man) Josh Homme, Kyuss Lives! – as they are now known – played the much larger main Academy and filled it to bursting point. Garcia has fronted several bands I adore, notably Slo Burn, Unida and Hermano; but Kyuss is where he started and where he made his name. Together with original members Nick Oliveri and Brant Bjork, plus new boy Bruno Fevery, the band cooked up a riff-heavy, psychedelic storm which blew my head clean off. When I left the mosh pit after 90 minutes I was bruised, battered, sweaty but very happy.
I discovered Kyuss through a review in Kerrang! magazine back in the early 1990s. When I grew out of Kerrang! I graduated to the NME, and then ended up reading Classic Rock and Mojo. Through the whole of my musical journey I have subscribed to Q magazine. I first bought it back in 1987 when it was only six months old, and started subscribing a few years later. For many years it felt like it was written for me and only me. It featured all my favourite bands plus a whole host I’d never heard of and would subsequently discover. I could put up with its obsession with REM, Paul McCartney and U2 because there was always loads of other great stuff in every issue. The quality of the magazine remained consistent right up until 2008 when it revamped its image and from thence in each issue I found less and less to intrigue me. After the first three dire issues of 2011 I finally, after three years of moaning, cancelled my subscription. A small matter, maybe – but it’s sad to finally realise that something you’ve held dear for almost 25 years is no longer worth the investment. The content had become utterly irrelevant to me, the writing style lazy and / or Americanised, the layout headache-inducing and the album reviews often just utterly wrong. I’m getting annoyed just thinking about it.
I was also going to cancel my subscription to Lancashire Business View magazine until their annual Red Rose Awards saw my company Glovers nominated in the Property or Construction Business of the Year category. This was quite a coup for Glovers and meant lots of free exposure in the magazine and the marketing surrounding the awards ceremony, which was held in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens at the end of March. My colleague Mary and I took a couple of clients along and enjoyed the chance to don the Black Tie (in my case) and Ball Gown (in hers). When it came to our category I found myself having an Oscars moment as we lost out to a direct competitor and I had to applaud them and smile at the same time. As the winner walked by our table I stood, shook his hand and congratulated him through gritted teeth. As I sat down Mary leaned over and said “nicely done”.
Steve and I at the Red Rose Awards, his lovely wife just out of shot.......
Of course after the awards ceremony and dinner the wine flowed and I was a little more direct with the winning competitor later in the evening. I seem to recall telling him he was “the stealth bomber of Quantity Surveying” and introducing him to Gary on our table as “a half decent QS I suppose”. I think I got away with it though. My other less-than-glowing moment was when I bumped into a friend called Steve at the bar, someone I know through my beloved Rush but he was there as his business had been nominated in another category. Steve introduced me to his colleagues including a really quite stunning woman stood next to him. “And this is the wife”. I turned to him in shock. “Are you sure this is your wife Steve, she's beautiful”..........
Poor Mary was designated driver and wisely directed our guests and I towards her car just after Midnight, flying us down the M61 with a small stop near Chorley so that one of our party (that would be you, Tony!) could empty his stomach onto the grassy verge. What a lightweight! I have known Tony for 20 years and have suffered at his hands on many occasions, usually early in the morning when I am hungover and he is right as rain. To see him on my sofa an hour after the “M61 incident” begging for a taxi so he could go home was very satisfying indeed.
The first two weeks of April were great, but for entirely different reasons. For the first week we had all five kids with us for half term. By the end of it the cupboards, fridge and freezer were bare and my feet hurt. For the second week all five kids went off to their respective dad and mum so we had a precious six days on our own. As well as having friends to stay and seeing the aforementioned King’s X we went out to eat, took a drive around the Rivington and Belmont hills north of Bolton, had a drink or two in a pub, and generally made the most of not having to clean, wash, load, taxi, wipe, guide, tell off and all the other things we usually do. We both missed our kids, but both enjoyed a brief breather. As I type all five of them have just come back again. Normal service is resumed.
So much has happened over the last month but there’s no time to tell you about all of it. I drove to Chesterfield through the thickest fog I’ve seen in years. I went to Birmingham and experienced the worst traffic I’ve seen on the M6 ever. I went to the Chartered Institute of Building awards at Salford’s Lowry Centre and saw the worst after-dinner comedienne you could ever see. Along the way I took in the wonders of the Wirral, laughed like a drain at Jackass 3D, took a huge chunk out of my beard by mistake and had to trim it right down making myself look like a pimp in the process, and got a puncture moments before I was meant to join a motorway and was glad it hadn’t happened 5 minutes later when I would have been doing 70mph. Sometimes I think there’s not much going on in my life, until days like these when I sit down and write about it.
I leave you with the thought that next time I write my blog I will have seen Rush again. Be afraid. Be very afraid.........