Midday, Tuesday March 13th 2012, I turn my PC off and bid my fellow desk-jockeys farewell.
I haven’t bothered telling them that I’m heading to Glasgow Central and then off down my own personal Yellow Brick Road, for the next forty eight hours. The fact that I have, in the past, been so radical that I actually go along to ‘mid week’ gigs, already takes some explaining, so this latest venture would likely have them immediately phoning for the guys in the white coats. It’s an odd situation really, as no one would bat an eyelid if I were to suddenly transit off to the South of France to cheer on the Glasgow Warriors, while other folk in the office occasionally travel to various corners of Europe, in support of one side, or another, of the Old Firm. However, I just know that disclosing the fact that I’m actually taking two days leave, to go off to England, in order to see ‘n’ hear my favourite band of all time would be met with considerable bemusement at best, if not sheer derision.
Four hours, a generous bag of Werthers’ Originals and numerous coffees later, I alight at Preston station and quickly go find and book into my B&B. I decide to get my bearings and take a walk in order to see where the gig is actually located. Not too far at all, it transpires.
Having ‘Google Mapped’ it before I left home, I quickly recognise some fairly obvious landmarks (The Gujarat Hindu Society, anyone?) and realise I must be getting close.
At the end of the next street, I can see a Transit and the unmistakeable silhouette of one Mark Boston entering the building.
The Continental is a lovely wee pub/diner, situated next to the river, and almost tucked under the railway bridge. People are walking dogs, jogging, cycling and doing all those sort of things that folk do when green space is in short supply. The stage door, right onto the street, is very slightly ajar; I peek in over a linguini-like mountain of cables and quickly recognise both the ‘John French, Red Sparkle Flight Case/Bag Of Tricks’ (Patent pending), as well as its owner. Before I can see or notice anything else, the door is quickly and politely closed in my face. Doh!
I turn around to establish if I can head back, by a different, perhaps more scenic, route, and suddenly see Eric Klerks and Craig Bunch. I call across the street to ask them when time show time is and Eric replies ‘Half past eight, I think… Hey I remember you, you’re the guy from the Kazimier in Liverpool!‘
When I finally come round, one jogger is wafting smelling salts before me, while another is loosening my clothes (that last wee bit’s obviously a complete fabrication, but can you imagine how chuffed, if not stunned, I was at being recognised by one of the Magic Band?) While Craig seemingly snapped absolutely anything that moved,with his new iPhone, I took the opportunity to ask Eric if there was anything new in the set and he said they’d been encoring with one or two things that they hadn’t done last time round. We both remarked that so far, very little video footage of the tour had been uploaded to YouTube in comparison with the vast numbers from last December. Microphone testing having now been completed, the two escapees are suddenly summoned back to the inner sanctum for a proper sound-check and serious instrument hitting duties. I tell them I’ll see them later, wish them luck and I head back for a shower and to change into my glad rags.
For dinner, I had pre-booked a table, in the venue, for six o’clock and had no sooner sat down and began perusing the menu when the promoter comes along and pins a sold-out Magic Band poster on to the front door, then posts another up quite near me, in the restaurant.
I toy, albeit briefly, with the idea of pinching one, as a souvenir for wall-hanging duties, back home, but decide a quick photo will suffice instead.
So out with the camera – but just as I’m lining up the shot, I freeze in my tracks. There’s a new sound that has appeared in the room, a low, low rumbling; I’m either about to be the target of a prowling, previously unseen, Grizzly; an Ent has perhaps emigrated here from Fanghorn or Preston’s tectonic plates are shifting miles and miles below my feet. Thankfully it is none of these, but merely John French standing at the counter behind me asking the waiter about the provenance of some of the stranger items on the menu. His curiosity appears to be quickly assuaged and he’s also helpfully advised that some of the starters are ‘actually big enough to be main courses’. I scuttle off back to my table to discover that my own starter has since arrived, a rather delicious Chilli Chicken Livers with Brioche on a bed of Rocket, but decide that this waiter’s catering boast, regarding size, may well have been a little white lie.
The food and the ales, however, are indeed sublime and the place is now beginning to fill up with excited gigsters. Four ol’ guys all come in wearing the same MB tee shirt (the one that’s slightly reminiscent of the With The Beatles sleeve), I’m never quite sure what statement someone’s intending to make by wearing a band tee shirt when they go along to that particular band’s gig. They’re quite obviously a fan, or they wouldn’t be there in the first place, so what does it really mean? (I may possibly pitch this as a future topic for Sir David Attenborough to debate and consider, for a new show)
Simon and Lee are two Scousers who are debating whether they’ve got time to eat before ‘show-time’ and ultimately decide to panic-buy some fries. They sit down at the next table with a couple of CD sleeves, obviously earmarked for autograph purposes. Safe as Milk is there, clear to see, however I don’t recognise the other one. Being nosey, I lean over and ask them more about it and it turns out it’s the long awaited Bat Chain Puller. I confess to them that I’m getting a little pissed off at how long my Barfko Swill copy is taking to arrive, having been allegedly despatched three weeks ago. They instead had bought this copy from G&S in Liverpool and got it by return post! I tell them I was really amazed at the size, age and enthusiasm of the Kazimier crowd and they both reckon that Liverpool’s always been a particular Beefheart/Zappa ‘hotspot’ – a theory reinforced recently by no less than Gary Lucas on his website saying that his recent seminar ‘sold out’ two night spot could easily have been five nights!
Turns out one of them ,Lee, is a big Frank fan too, so we discuss the amount of posthumous albums that the ZFT have released, the somewhat slapdash nature of their artwork and their other particular pros & cons.
We both enthuse and drool over FZ’s recent Carnegie Hall CD, how good a recording it is and what a shame it’s only ‘mono’, at this juncture I venture an unsolicited opinion that Aynsley Dunbar was perhaps too heavy handed and bombastic, behind the traps, for this style of music and Lee enthusiastically agrees. I realise just how much of a real nerd conversation this has become, BUT at the same time how much I’m enjoying myself…and the gig still a full hour away yet!
Finally the doors open and we’re allowed to file in to the performance area. The room itself is what an estate agent might well describe as ‘bijou’. I’m not sure of its history, or original purpose, but I could quite easily imagine Captain Mainwairing putting Pike, Jones and the rest of the crew through their Home Guard paces in here. In fact, the room’s so petite, halfway through the set, some wag nearby shouts ‘How do you like playing in our Village Hall, John?’ It’s tiny, cosy and definitely one of, if not, THE friendliest gigs I’ve ever attended.
The band throughout looked relaxed indeed, and the fact that the houselights stay ‘up’ for the whole show actually helps the atmosphere rather than detracting from it. I now propose a new theory, readers, that JF actually wears those shades to protect his eyes from the gleaming grins of their audiences, rather than any stage-light malarkey.
I get chatting to a small Mancunian who is enjoying himself so much that, by the interval, has decided that he’s going home to attempt to persuade his wife to go along to York, with him, the following evening. I didn’t actually see him at The Duchess the next night, so can only assume he didn’t state his case strongly enough!
I’d have to look at the YouTube clips, to establish exactly when, in the set, it occurred, Hair Pie probably; however on two separate occasions both John and Denny grin, towards each other, at the conclusion of a particularly ‘challenging’ musical manoeuvre and remark “….and they said it couldn’t be done!” Immense ’n’ intense!
The silver haired lady immediately in front of me bears an uncanny resemblance to Margaret Mountford from The Apprentice. She’s loving every minute of tonight’s Troutmask smorgasbord; boogying away with style, swaying back and forth with her hands crossed across her backside. No problem with this at all, except the gig’s so packed, I am then forced to have to stand like a football player, in the wall at a free kick, lest she touches me somewhere that she, me and her ever-so-burly husband might all agree is a tad inappropriate.
After around an hour into a blissful, blistering set, John eventually says something along the lines of “Thanks for taking the time and trouble to come out to see us, we’re now going to towel ourselves down and come out and meet you guys”, and indeed they do; pressing the flesh, signing all sorts of memorabilia as well as posing for snaps galore. I tell Eric I’m looking forward to his big solo in ‘Alice’, a tune which he is really beginning to put his own stamp and personality on.
I also get my picture taken posing with Mark who sniggers at my waxed moustache and remarks he had one like that thirty years ago and may well attempt one again.
While pinching myself, because I’m actually once again blethering to THE Rockette Morton, I tell him I got a shock recently when I realised that it was almost forty years ago to the week that I saw him for the very first time (Spotlight Kid Tour, Glasgow Kelvin Hall, April’72) As always, the guy’s an absolute gem of a gentleman and I take the opportunity to present him with a haggis, that I had brought along with me, to entice the much rumoured ‘Autumn Tour’ to come along to Scotland (haggis gifting is a tradition initiated by Kenny Black and myself, back in the Seventies, when we used to go and see Stomu Yamashta)). It takes me, and the chap standing next to me, several attempts to persuade him that it’s actually haggis NOT coffee; I’m still not convinced we succeeded and shudder to imagine what his perculator may now look like!
Apart from the organiser/owner, whose name I’ve now forgotten, but who I thanked profusely and often, I must have chatted to fifteen/sixteen people on the night. What really surprised me was no one seemed to be from Preston.
Sheffield, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Manchester and even Swindon (a distance which impressed me on the night but, on checking since, is exactly the same, to the mile, as Glasgow) but, apparently, no one claiming to possess a Prestonian post code.
The merchandise stall has been going like a fair all evening and the new tee-shirts are flying off the counter big time, I opt for a black logo on a red shirt. Merch-man Mick is a pleasant approachable sort and we briefly discuss, amongst other things, the fleshpots of Largs and how well this tour’s been doing so far.
The band then returns to the stage for the second half, kicking off with an impressive On Tomorrow.
Strictly Personal’s never been my favourite album but this latest configuration of players seems to really bring something new to these particular tunes, Kandy Korn in particular. It stomps!
After the show, while he’s packing up his mikes and harps, I take the opportunity to buttonhole JF and ask if he knows exactly what ZFT have planned for Troutmask, Gail being already on record as saying they intend a “revisit” in 2012. Unfortunately, for me, he knows nothing of what I’m talking about however appears to be slightly intrigued.
I also ask a passing Denny about the likelihood of the two other 2005 shows (that Sundazed, apparently, have up their sleeve) eventually seeing the light of day, he doesn’t seem to know what I’m talking about either. It’s either the Glaswegian accent or the fact I’m an overexcited uber fan asking about future releases rather than those of the past (note to self; consider taking Scots/American translator along to similar, future events)
A final pint of that magnificent Continental Ale and another wee blether with EK at the bar who tells me (I didn’t know this) that he also plays double bass and ‘used to play jazz guitar but due to Magic Band Music, no longer can!’.
Now I’m not quite sure, and meant to ask him, but got sidetracked, whether this is due to subtle changes in finger musculature or perhaps a heavyhanded visit from the Jazz Police. I’m sure he’ll let us know!
And then finally back, late, to the Bed & Breakfast, walking on air after a superb evening of THAT music, good food, great beer and and having imparted my wisdom to the entire band, over the course of Day #1.