A rare opportunity came my way recently.A chance to tour with perhaps one of the finest bands around on the circuit today, their name is irrelevant as instead I joined Blues trio Open Harp Surgery on a mini tour of London.
I took on the role of Driver, Roadie, Photographer, Sound Recorder and Mum with these unique musicians from Kent over the next couple of days.
My journey began when I had to meet Mr Nigel Feist at his Broadstairs mansion on a Thursday afternoon in April.After knocking at the door for some time, Mr Feist arrived at the door clutching his belt and loosely fastened trousers and asked me if I wouldn’t mind waiting in the east wing as he was half way through something and needed to finish it.I did not question as to the nature of the task and was lead to a room where a few moments later Mr F returned looking very much more comfortable shall we say than when we first met..
After a final check that he had all of his equipment for the tour which comprised of 1 set of harmonicas, 1 amplifier and a “man bag”, we hit the road.En route to collect other musicians, Nigel, as I was invited to call him, wowed me with stories of tours gone by and it was then my level of excitement rose for the time ahead.I was not to be let down as upon arrival at Maidstone to collect the rest of the trio, I found internationally acclaimed Canadian drummer Paul Clifford eating canned fish off the bonnet of an old VW Polo, them’s the blues I think you’ll agree.Joining Paul was for me the finest guitarist I have had the pleasure of working with to date, Mr Russell Grooms.
Candles out boys...
mama gone fishin'...
All equipment and crew on board, we pulled out of Maidstone and headed for the Big Smoke.Tonight we play “The Turk’s Head” in Twickenham. The venue for tonight would be home to the nomadic “Brooks Blues Bar”.It would be the last time that “Brooks” would be staging their event here and immediately I cast my mind back one year to Open Harp Surgery (OHS) playing Brooks in Hammersmith at a bar where again it was the final time the event would be held.It then occurred to me that there could be a pattern forming…….
We decided that we would head to our accommodation first and settle in to what would be our base for the next couple of nights.Although we had a huge choice of accommodation available to us with money no object, we chose the Globetrotter Inn Hostel in Hammersmith at £22 per night inclusive of breakfast.We checked in at reception as you would expect, were provided with some details on the facilities as you would expect and were each handed a plastic bag with our bedding in as perhaps some of you may not expect.
As we entered our room we were pleasantly surprised. Each of us had a very sturdy cabin compartment bed to sleep within which had a reading light and a curtain that once pulled along provided us all, we agreed, with womb like security from the outside world.That curtain came to protect me from so much more over the next few nights !!
We quickly made our beds up, well most of us, Russell chose to try and fit himself into an old school locker which you would struggle quite frankly to store more than a school bag in.He succeeded but had to be released from the locker by Nigel who only did so after Russell agreed to stop doing whatever that was he was doing in there.I only caught a glimpse, but whatever that was he was wrestling with in there put up a hell of a fight as I heard Grooms’s elbow hit the inside of the locker wall several times in an almost rhythmic fashion.He appeared misty eyed and exhausted upon his release but strangely satisfied with the apparent victory.
Moments later I was back at the helm of the tour bus with Nige, as I was invited to call him, map reading.His navigation was of the highest class which was welcomed as we fully expected that should we stop and ask where The Turk’s Head was, we would probably be told “on his f*”@:ng shoulders!
I wanna love somebody...
Once at the venue we found our way inside what can only be described as a very nicely decorated band hall. The organisers greeted us and lead us to the stage area where the boys set up for the evening ahead.Our hosts had kindly prepared us a buffet and we sat and dined like kings for the next hour.Little did we know the danger that faced us later on after our vegetarian drummer had devoured an entire leek quiche.
Band On!!This was a big venue and the boy’s worked every last inch of the place. Weaving through sleepy acoustic blues with wild visits to numbers such as Voodoo Child with wait for it, percussion in the form of wash board slammed through a wah wah pedal.This is no ordinary trio, these are no ordinary gigs and the most amazing thing is to watch blues purists getting off on a fix of unorthodox magical madness..
Back to the digs and en route I treat the boys to an unplanned trip on the flyover opposite Fuller’s Brewery in southwest London.In return they let me in to the little known secret of the Beer Monkey who by coincidence was visiting family at the brewery and even more coincidentally was staying at the same hostel as us.Apparently this small creature which remains for the most of the time invisible is entirely responsible for all drunken behaviour, loss of memory and for the amazingly annoying quantities of coinage to be found in one’s trouser pockets the morning after a night out.
Well indeed the Beer Monkey cast his spell that night and was entirely responsible for the acute decline in my pool playing skills.I was paired with Paul and I believe we took a whipping from Feist and Grooms several times over the next couple of hours.Our main weapon was the revenge of the leek quiche, yet still those fellas played through watering eyes to beat us.
After the humiliation on the pool table I suggested we might take to the “Fuss ball” table and try our skills there.We mixed the teams and I was paired with Feist.Now when it comes to playing harp, that boy is shit hot, when it comes’s to Fuss ball try just shit !I’d taken another whipping and that was enough for me.One small victory though was that we had beaten the Beer Monkey in ridding ourselves of all loose change during the table sports!!!Approximately £40 in pound coins we’d managed to unload, we’re pretty smart guys I remember thinking!!
After crawling our way through young traveller’s from all four corners of the globe, some of which were sat talking, some of which were carrying out fabricated religious questionnaires to young female travellers with all together unreligious final questions which involved going up to their room , we called it a night…3A.M
I’d witnessed these guys on stage earlier in the evening and the mix of what they brought to that room at the Turk’s Head was explosive.For the second time in just a few hours the mix of what they brought to a room was equally as explosive and I thanked God for the limited protection my curtain gave in the face of the leek quiche aftermath…
Damn your eyes!!!
Being an early riser I woke up and thought I would encourage the band members to join me for an early breakfast before we headed off to Mullet Fest 2007 (The London Guitar Show) over at Excel.Although I felt I had got closer the guys within the last day, the look I got was one which made it clear that perhaps I should dine alone or at very least go for a long walk.
Lunchtime we travelled across town to the show and with the help of master luthier Alister Atkin’s video camera took to the floor of the exhibition mocking and irritating many people with mullet hairstyles and incredibly tight black jeans.Our best insult still to date was that we’d smuggled a drummer into a guitar show!!
Unfortunately our fun was cut short as tonight we play The Telegraph at Putney Heath and needed to get there on time.Back at the helm of the tour bus, I safely delivered us to the venue which was in a quiet, leafy lane in SW.Again we were fed by the hosts and monitored Paul’s diet a little more carefully.
The room filled with blue’s purists for a second night.These people fascinate me in that by day they are lawyers, doctors and chiropractors and yet by night sit slowly shaking their heads to sleepy acoustic blues numbers apparently genuinely empathising with the oppressed workers of the delta plantations…..Strange…..Excuse me I digress…
The roof of The Telegraph was last seen heading off over Putney Heath as these boys removed it within the first couple of numbers.Another amazing night! Feist playing blistering harp, Clifford on drums, washboard, stringed shells, bean cans containing dried peas and anything that wasn’t nailed down. Grooms treated all of the diners in the audience by pedalling his genius barefoot.
Tired and worn out from a second sell out in as many nights and a full day’s activities we did the sensible thing and headed back to the hostel bar for mucho Guinness, pool and Fuss ball.. This was our last night and we were entertained by a heavily inebriated American teenager with black hair, eyes, finger nails, soul and a striking resemblance to Kelly Osbourne.It was suggested that she could well be a manifestation of the Beer Monkey himself as she wandered around helping people to buy alcoholic beverages.She was our favourite and we were sad to leave her, the image of her undersized camouflage t-shirt will be etched into our minds forever, as will the logo it carried “Get me to the Chopper”.
Another blustery night and the curtain took at battering, it appears the somewhat innocent bean burger from The Telegraph had a sinister after shock to it.
Morning came and we departed the Globetrotter with full intentions to return another time.
We headed out of London and weaved our way through the midday traffic in the direction of home.I remember thinking that anyone who has the chance to tour with this band should do it or live in regret for all of their days.I dropped the guys off at their various destinations and heard that the county that we had left for just a few days had experienced an earthquake in our absence..
A sweet irony in that whilst OHS were rocking London, things were doing just the same back home..