The Dying Lights: First Gig at the Famous ‘Cavern!’

Last night saw me treading both new ground and retreading old as I played my first gig with new band ‘The Dying Lights,’ and saw my old band ‘Brave New World‘ play for the first time since I hung up my bass last year.

 

 

Brave New World

 

 

It was an emotionally charged evening for me in many ways.

 

I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt (I’m an over sensitive Methodist boy, it’s what I excel in!) about how things have gone since leaving Brave New World. After 3 great years with the band, I decided to stop playing bass and focus on my own music. … It then didn’t really happen like that. Yes, I finished my new album, but I also took on the radio show, and within a year was back to playing bass in a band again.

 

I’m back to doing exactly what I said I was leaving the band to stop doing. I feel from the outside this could make me look rather two-faced and contradictory; even dishonest in some ways.

 

It’s all been purely by coincidence rather than design however. Whereas Brave New World was the first band I’d auditioned to play bass in (and one where I definitely cut my teeth as a bass player), The Dying Lights was something I kind of ‘fell into,’ (don’t get me wrong, I’m loving it!) from originally being asked to play guitar and bass on a couple of songs for Derek’s solo project; to being asked to play some gigs to promote the EP; to becoming a fully fledged band member.

 

It seems even though I was finished with the bass, it wasn’t finished with me!

 

To try and assuage my guilt about letting my old band down (as well as because I love the band and Chris’s songwriting) I’ve tried to support Brave New World as much as I can since I left; through inviting them on my show twice (they’ve been busy both times, but hopefully I’ll get lucky the third time round), trying to promote their EP on the show (it’s not ready for radio promotion and Chris says he doesn’t want it ‘over-saturated’ by being played on too many radio shows – the offer is still there Chris!).

 

Last night was made even more poignant because of the location and the occasion of our mutual shows; the famous Cavern Pub and Cavern Club (two different venues, across the road from each other) for two sets at the annual International Pop Overthrow Festival; the first and second time of which I’d played with Brave New World, and where The Dying Lights were to play our first (and second) gig as a new band.

 

Knowing that Brave New World were playing on the same night (twice, as seems to be  customary with the IPO festival), I wanted to make sure I was there to support them from the sidelines. Due to difficulties in getting to Liverpool, I missed their first set (through one thing and another it essentially took us four hours from the time I finished work at 5.45pm; only getting to the first venue just before we were due to go on!), but thankfully Brave New World were on for their second set just after we finished our first so I could catch it.

 

If I had any worries about how the old band would ‘cope’ after I’d left them in the lurch, they were thankfully soon eradicated when they started to play. Their new lineup is possibly the tightest I’ve seen them and I’m happy to say the new bass player was superb; much better than I was for sure! I was chuffed that some of the bass melodies/run ideas that I’d written for the songs had remained to a degree, but also that he’d taken the songs in different directions melodically too, vastly improving them from what I’d done before. Mike the drummer (who I always loved playing with and who played on my own album Hermit and the NotWe) was on fine form, as were Chris, Jen and their new guitarist Dave. It was also promising that my favourite song of the set was their newest one, ‘Save My Soul;’ a really strong piece of writing by Chris (as always) and one that I enthused about to the band afterwards (they tell me they are recording it soon, so I look forward to buying my copy!).

 

 

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Superb set from Brave New World, one of their best!

 

 

Anyway, all histrionics aside, I do feel bad about how the transition went, and I apologise to the band for letting them down at the time. I hope this explains things a bit better. They’ve never been anything but kind, friendly and supportive to me since I left the band, so all of this drama is most likely in my head (if I don’t have something to worry about, I’ll usually create it haha!).

 

I’m really chuffed to see them going from strength to strength and I hope I can continue to support them in whatever way I can.

 

Anyway, onto the Dying Lights; first gig!

 

 

The Dying Lights

 

 

Like I said before, I happily fell into being in a new band, thanks to the generosity of ‘project leader’ Derek Holmes’ offer to play on some tracks. I was unsure about joining another band but when he suggested I play guitar I was tempted (not having played guitar in a mate’s band since Frank is Dead in 2011). Due to difficulties in securing a regular bass player however I seemed the natural choice to step in; having played Derek’s songs when he was also in Brave New World.  It didn’t take long from starting to play bass again before I realised how much I had missed it.

 

 

The Dying Lights
The Dying Lights, doing our best ‘Moody Kerrang’ poses behind our practise place at Colossus Studios in Crewe.

 

 

The band is made up of different local musicians from different musical projects. Me and Derek from Brave New World, Sheena from Venus Rising, Glyn from Flux (and Colossus Studios) and charismatic singer and front man Paul.

 

From the inception of the band we had just 6 weeks to go before our first gig.  With the Cavern gig looming, we all worked super hard to learn the songs and get them ‘gig ready.’ But thankfully all the band are ‘natural’ and ‘intuitive’ musicians, having had so much experience with other bands before, so the songs came together pretty quickly. Even more importantly everyone is very easy to get along with, so forming a band was easy-going.

 

And so came the day!  We loaded up the van with our gear (which Sheena’s super-generous husband had let us borrow for the evening) and we were off on our first adventure!

 

We stopped off at ‘Big Dollar Studios‘ for a last minute run through the songs and it was sounding pretty good.  Paul forgot a couple of words and was beating himself up about it on the way to Liverpool (he hasn’t sung in a band for a few years so the gig meant more to him than any of us and he was putting a lot of pressure on himself to do a good job), but we reassured him it would all be great and he had nothing to worry about (he would go on to perform two blinding sets, as we all knew he would!).

 

 

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The calm before the storm! One last rehearsal at ‘Big Dollar’ Rehearsal rooms in Ellesmere Port.

 

We left Ellesmere Port feeling motivated, but the journey was far from over. A combination of traffic and closed Mersey Tunnels seemed destined to scupper our chances of getting to the venue on time.  However, after a couple more false starts we got there, just…in…time!

 

 

Set Number One – The Cavern PUB

 

 

Our first set was at the Cavern PUB.  We were pretty nervous and it took a while to get into the set, but we all relaxed and enjoyed it and settled into being an ‘onstage band’ (a very different set of skills to being the ‘rehearsal band’ we’d been so far).  My bass was an issue from the off unfortunately.  The amp I was playing through seemed to seriously distort the sound, which worked well for some songs but sounded awful for others, and in the end the sound guy came on stage and turned me down to an almost inaudible level.  I have to say I mimed the majority of the set from then on, as I couldn’t hear a thing, and if people out the front could hear me I can only apologise!  The set did its job however in getting rid of the nerves and proving to us that we could do it.  It was fun to be back, and to play a live set with people I’d only practised with.

 

 

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Obligatory Cavern Bass selfie Number 1!

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Next up were the mighty Brave New World – see above for my thoughts on how good their set was!

 

Alas because of all the difficulties in getting to the gig, me and Derek had yet to eat anything and it was getting on for 10.30pm, so we hotfooted it to the nearest chip shop (the glamorous life of rock n roll haha!) and scoffed down as much as we could before rushing back (giving the rest of our food to some poor homeless guys that were outside the venue) to catch the rest of BNW’s set.

 

We also just had chance to track down my mate Dave Coomer’s (him of the wonderful BlueYellows AND Venus Rising) old band ‘Zelda Plum,’ who have the honour of being one of the ‘brick bands’ carved into the bricks on the outside of the Cavern (the Liverpool equivalent of a Hollywood Star!).  After trying to find it on three separate occasions I finally managed it!!

 

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Set Number Two – The Cavern CLUB

 

 

Then it was straight over to the Cavern CLUB to prepare for our second set of the night.  Playing on such an iconic stage never loses it’s charm (it was Sheena and Paul’s first time and they were understandably very excited!) and we couldn’t wait to get on; having got rid of the nerves in our first set (I reckon all gigs should have a ‘warm up gig’ beforehand haha).  The next hurdle was Sheena’s guitar, which decided to break just before the set.  Thankfully Derek had brought a spare; a beautiful looking Fender Jazzmaster which actually ended up sounding even better on stage than Sheena’s telecaster had.  The band before us were a superb Americana style Swedish band called ‘Jengi,’ who blew the place apart, so the nerves did return slightly when we realised we’d have to follow them.

 

Once we got on that stage though we were like kids in a sweet shop.  That iconic backdrop, the drum riser, the wall of classic Vox amplifiers; musician heaven!  The sound on stage was also amazing; we could all hear each other, which made all the difference! Anyone who’s played any amount of gigs will know that the on-stage sound is often far inferior to what you hear in the audience, and it’s rare that you can properly hear everyone in the band.  Me and Glyn (on drums) were loud and pounding, meaning that the ‘groove’ of the whole set was greatly improved from the first set, and the band just had a party onstage.   We also got a good response from the crowd, who were dancing along and seemed to be really enjoying it.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed playing a gig like that, and I am really thankful to the rest of the band!

 

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Obligatory Cavern Bass Selfie Number 2!
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This band on before us were amazing, proper brilliant Americana sound, from a Swedish band! When I said how much I liked them they gave me a copy of their album on record…for free! Very kind! Definitely going to be playing this on my show!
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On the way home we popped to the only open off-license we could find (it was about 2am at this point!) and made up for our ‘sensible’ pre-gig abstinence by getting as blotto as we could as quickly as we could on the way home.

 

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I was a broken man this morning…but boy was it worth it!  Thanks to all the Brave New World gang, The Dying Lights gang and everyone who came to see us last night!

 

 

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My Thoughts on the Royal Wedding AND the Cup Final

My two cents.

Am I a fan of the monarchy?…no. I think it’s morally wrong for people to rule a country through no more right than hereditary power. It’s undemocratic, and it perpetuates the British class system. It also indirectly oppresses the poorest in society; who are ironically often the people who support it the most.

Am I a fan of the Windsors?…maybe. I love history, and have a nostalgic love for old Queenie, who’s a bit of a grumpy old woman, what’s not to love? She’s also sat on the throne through one of the most interesting times in the world’s history. I also kind of feel sorry for the royals. When you really think about it, it’s not such a great life after all. Everything you do is scripted and protected, love is a luxury rather than a human right, etc.. etc..

Am I a fan of Harry and Meghan?…kind of. I don’t really have a strong opinion either way. I felt sorry for the two boys when their mum died, and I’m happy to see they’ve both found happiness. I’d prefer it if the monarchy came to an end (in a peaceful way), but I’m not going to wish them anything but happiness on their wedding day.

Am I going to be watching the royal wedding?…no. I’m not going to be the annoying anti-royalist boyfriend and ruin the fun for my wife who loves it all (and there’s nothing wrong with that!). I’ve got a band practise. I ‘might’ve’ watched it had I been home, just to not be a stick-in-the-mud.

My feelings toward the cup final are much less conflicted…

Am I a football fan?…no

Will I be watching the final?…no

Do I have a problem with anyone else watching the final?…no

There we are, now don’t you feel enriched? 😝

Film Review: ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ (2017)

One thing to surely strike dread into any film fan is the term ‘reboot.’  The laziest of film-makers latch on to a successful idea and try to make their own, much paler facsimile.  At it’s best, this results in a forgettable attempt to capture the greatness of it’s predecessor.  At it’s worse it can even manage to put you off watching the original, for the damage that it’s clone has done by connection!

 

Thankfully this doesn’t seem to be the case with ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.’  22 years after the original Robin Williams film (1995), this story has enough distance and thematic difference to make it stand out on it’s own merits.

 

The major difference here is that the Jumanji ‘game’ of the original has now evolved into a ‘computer game,’ and the players are drawn inside the action, rather than the action leaking out into our world.  The characters are about as derivative as they could possibly be – ‘the nerdy shy boy and girl’ check, the ‘self-absorbed popular girl’ check, the ‘wise-cracking best friend’ check; but the humour/drama comes out of the fact that the characters all take on such wildly different avatars within the game; the ‘nerdy ones’ becomes the ‘buff leader’ and the ‘ass kicking heroine’ (played well by the instantly likeable Dwayne Johnson and Karen Gillan respectively) the ‘arrogant one’ becomes a middle-aged portly man (played to comic perfection by Jack Black).

 

Plot-wise, it’s all fairly well-trodden fare; with the main characters all learning about themselves through the challenges of the game and finding their own personal growth as a result.  The main idea of the ‘computer game that you get swallowed into‘ is given next to no back-story or rationalisation; but with the right amount of willing suspension of disbelief this just made it feel more like those wonderfully daft 80’s kid’s adventures I used to love when I was young enough to not care what the method behind the magic was.  The spoofing of computer game tropes is particularly well observed also, leading to a lot of enjoyable scenes throughout.

 

Overall, it’s not the most memorable or classic of children’s films.  But it’s humorous and quirky enough to make for great bank holiday fodder and a film that the whole family will enjoy.

 

3.5/5 Stars

 

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Lukewarm in the heat of the Lymelight

It’s fair to say that every person who tries to create music, art, poetry, writing or whatever experiences ‘peaks and valleys.’

There are times when it all seems to be coming together, the creative juices are flowing and you’re able to present the ideas in your head in the way you want to.  It’s a good feeling; almost scarily good because you want to capture it, to harness it, to make the most of it, fearing that tomorrow it might be gone.

There are also times where nothing seems to work.  The ideas aren’t coming, you can’t get across what’s in your head and the various inner voices of descent and despair come a’knocking.

The writing of my second to last album ‘Hermit and the NotWe‘ was one of the ‘valley’ times.  Every step of the process was an uphill battle; with the equipment, with the software, with the writing, with myself.  That I got it written and produced at all is testimony to the ‘other‘ stubborn voice inside my head; the one that won’t let me quit this music malarkey, no matter how much of a struggle it is.

My next and most recent album ‘And Into the Woods‘ however was the polar opposite of this.  Ironically, finally accepting my depression opened the creative floodgates as I once again used songwriting as a way to express and make sense of living with mental health issues.  Creatively it was a great time; I couldn’t get the ideas down fast enough, and it was as if the songs ‘needed’ to come out.

Since this time, in true cyclical fashion, the creative ‘valley’ seems to have returned.  It could be a result of putting a lot of my mental energy into trying out radio presenting.  It could be because I’ve finally started medicating my depression with pills that seem to dull the anxiety and dark feelings, but also at times the creative ‘edge’ to my music.  It’s a ‘trade-off’ that for the moment I’m willing to make, because it’s making daily life a lot easier to deal with, and hopefully makes me a lot easier to be around.

Ideas seem to be coming more like ‘jigsaw pieces’ (how many metaphors can I fit into this post haha!) rather than fully formed.  I have an album title, I have some good riffs, I have many many lines of lyrics; but at the moment, it’s not coming together.

Gig-wise, I’m finding the stage nerves are almost unbearable at the moment, and about 70% of the time I’m coming off stage wondering why I went on it; berating myself for my musical limitations, my shyness, my inability to enjoy myself doing something I’ve always wanted to do.

Today unfortunately was no exception.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful to be asked to play at one of the best local festivals around, the Lymelight Festival.  I’ve wanted to play it for years and I’m chuffed that I finally got to play.  Other friends who’ve played have come away saying it was one of the best live experiences they’ve had, such as Emily Jones, the superb singer/songwriter and new bass player in the mighty Don’t Call Me Ishmael, who played on the main-stage this weekend.

And the gig itself went ‘ok.’  I played on the Signal One ‘Acoustic Stage.‘ Due to a poorly acoustic (‘Kochanski’) at present being repaired, I took my ‘spare’ temperamental Royal acoustic (‘Sidney’) out.  For all the worry that it would sound shite, go out of tune and generally be shocking to play, it did it’s job respectfully.  I played a few bum notes, but for the most part played and sang alright.  The audience was pretty apathetic throughout, but it didn’t overly get me down.

I played:

  • And Into the woods
  • How the Other Half Live
  • Midnight Logic
  • I’m Just Gonna Be Me
  • Somehow
  • Sophie Draw

A certain ‘why am I doing this‘ feeling; that I’ve had for several gigs now, was ever present.  Yet the ‘keep going, you’ll find your enthusiasm again, if you give up now you’ll never be able to create music again‘ voice was not far behind it.

So, it goes on.  Writing music is what I’ve done, what I’ve always done since I was 12.  I’ll bounce back, I know it.

Big thanks to the Lymelight for letting me play.  Like I say, it’s not the festival or anyone else’s fault that I feel this way.  I’ve just got to work on getting my ‘mojo’ back again.  I’ve been in the valley plenty of times before, and always climbed back up to the peak.

Live at Relish 28.04.18

Last night I was back at Relish restaurant and bar to play another 2 hour set.

By now I know the drill, this is essentially a ‘background music’ gig, where the music is secondary; something a bit different for the patrons while they’re eating and socialising. So I kept the songs fairly quiet and inoffensive, and didn’t take it personally when it was talked over.

It had been quite a sunny day weather wise and it must’ve brought people out because the place was the most packed I’d ever seen it. And people did seem to appreciate the music. It was also nice to see some people there I knew this time, including my old next door neighbour and some people from work.

A picture from my friend Theresa who came along.

Playing for a much longer time meant I had to play a lot of songs I’d not played for ages, so it was good to connect with some songs from the past as well as some favourite covers.

My acoustic is out of action at the moment unfortunately, but I took my fairly reliable Les Paul copy with me, and after some twiddling of tones it did the job.

All in all a pretty fun night, and thanks to everyone who came down 🙂

Album Review: ‘Life on VHS’ by Merrym’n

Merrym’n weaves shrewd, well observed lyrics and infectiously catchy melodies together in this brilliantly nostalgic collection of songs; showcasing one man’s love for his industrial town that has forgotten its past glories.

On this self produced labour of love, Merrym’n plays a dizzying array of instruments with enviable ease and tops it off with a likeable voice (with some nice Lennonesque ‘slapback reverb’ to add to the ‘throwback’ feel of the aesthetics).

It’s impossible not to enjoy this album, which is as engaging as it is intelligent and well crafted, and I loved it.

You can listen to the full album here, and I definitely recommend you do!

https://youtu.be/FsdvxI5BbFo