A bit of stress, but that’s what keeps life interesting!

Saturday morning I had to be set up and ready to perform by 10am at a venue about an hours drive away so it was up quite early to load up the gear and get out the door before 8am.
The event was the All American Classic Custom Car and Bike Show and for my performance I was to be Jake (the short fat Blues Brother).

Although I find being Jake great fun I have only taken on the role a very few times so last week I had spent a 2 or 3 hours rehearsing my parts/songs. Luckily the Elwood I work with is a seasoned performer and there is not much he does not know about the Blues Brothers, he even drives an old American Police car complete with the large speaker on the roof. Heads turn when he arrives at gigs.

So the morning was to be fun, I would be following the prompts/directions Elwood gave me. The sun was shining, the traffic was light and I was making good progress around the M25 when I got a text “Blues mobile blown out, will not be to gig before 12:30” (our first set was scheduled for 10).

Elwood told me he had left a message for the event organiser and let him know he was going to be late, so we would be starting later. When I got close to the venue (a racetrack) my spirits lifted at the sight of an American Police car (I thought that Elwood had been fooling me about the blown out Blues Mobile), however there was no speaker on the roof? As I turned into the drive at Sandown Park everywhere I looked there were American Police cars all with their lights flashing and lots of American Policemen wandering about.

Security let me into the grounds to find my venue. Once inside the venue it was breath taking, there were the most wonderful cars and bikes I have ever seen. I wandered through a hall which was filled with “Film cars” both of Steve McQueen’s Bullet cars were there, Ghost Busters, Dukes of Hazard, Greased Lighting and even Mr Bean was sitting on top of his classic car amongst the dozens and dozens of ofthe most iconic film cars.

It took a guy with the HV jacket and walkie talkie about 10 minutes to locate an organiser who could tell me where to set up.The HV jacket man told me that my first set was not to be inside, but out the front of the venue with the American Police cars.

There was no cover but a gazebo was on it’s way so I started to set up the gear. I had set up, shared a dressing room with Elvis, so I looked the part in my BB gear and it was about 9:45. One of the organisers arrived.
“Sorry there is no gazebo but if it rains we will rally around the troops and get your gear undercover real fast, you can start a little early if you like as people are arriving now, where’s your partner?”
It started to cloud over, Elwood’s message had not got through to the events team.

I was directed to the boss to explain the situation, I was amazed at the guys attitude, he was the coolest cool dude in cool ville. “It’s not your fault and it can’t be helped, but can you put on some recorded music to give the people in the queue something to listen to”. After about 30 minutes one of the organisers approached me to say they had had a message form Elwood and things were not looking good,there was no ETA for Elwood so would it be possible for me to start without him.

It was a little odd and for a couple of songs I felt extremely exposed, vulnerable and alone but then I got into it, I was performing a Blues Brother (singular “brother”) Show. I dueted with Elvis, got chased around the foyer by a few American Policemen, danced with some young children, got arrested by the most gorgeous hot panted pretend American Police women and entertained the punters. To top it all when the performance was over I got paid the full fee (no deduction for a missing Elwood) and was sincerely thanked for pulling out all the stops.
I love when success (and the full fee) is clutched from a disaster (no fee) situation.BB copy

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The Reykholt/s

It was an eventful week-end, with far more highs than lows. It started for me very early on Friday morning, I was heading for Iceland! When I got close to LHR I realised that my sat-nav believed that London Heathrow Terminal 5, and all of it’s access roads did not exist but in the place of a big airport terminal and carparks and roads and things, there were only fields. If I had ignored Mrs sat nav I would have been OK however, (foolishly)  I followed her directions and was taken away from T5 and found myself in the wilds of Slough, or Stains or somewhere else beginning with S.

Once I had decided I would ignore Mrs Sat nav I found the airport again and it was a breeze, the B.A check-in lady allowed me (without argument) to take my guitar into the cabin and all was right with the World.

I have been to Iceland’s Keflavík airport before so headed to the car rental. Once there I proceeded to outrageously turn on singer/guitarist flirt mode with the car-rental assistant. It took about 20 minutes to achieve, but my Ford Ka was upgraded to a Hyundai 4×4 Santa Fe, I was all smiles. A young Icelandic guy took me to examine the car checking for scratches. All checked I asked the guy to set the Sat nav to English (the Icelandic alphabet has 32 characters and some are really weird) I then asked would he set my destination to Reykholt and he obliged.

I had anticipated about a 90 minute journey so was not unduly concerned when the trip took a little longer. “Welcome to Reykholt” I had been told that Reykholt is a tiny village so I would not need an address, all I needed to do was head for the church where I would find members of the wedding party preparing for the event (the wedding was on the following day) they would direct me to my accommodation.

I had travelled the last couple of miles along gravel roads, although I could see Reykholt in the distance I could not see a church, I found a campsite, a bar/restaurant, lots of greenhouses full of tomatoes but still no church. Maybe churches in remote Iceland villages do not look like churches? I drove up a farm track thinking that if I got to the top of the hill I could survey my surroundings and find a church. At the top of the hill I could see all of the village but nothing that remotely looked like a church. I then saw that coming up the track was a group of people on horses followed by about 300 people walking behind them waving flags and singing, the track was my only escape down from the hilltop. Luckily half way up the hill they turned and walked across a field (I was told later that June 17th in Iceland is a special day for people with horses and processions).

I felt a bit of a dummy having to admit I was lost, but put on my best telephone voice and called my contact to ask for directions, the conversation was a bit disconcerting as although the directions I was given mentioned the camp-site, the flag poles, the gravel road, the tomato greenhouses and everything else around me their relative positions were not as I was seeing them. So I thought I would just find the church myself. After 40 minutes of driving up and down farm tracks I gave up and called my contact again. We agreed that if I went back to the flag-poles I would be collected from there. I went to the flags, waited but nobody arrived, after about 10 minutes I got a call to ask where was I, I said under the flag poles. I was alone but my contact told me she was also under the flag-poles. It was then that I was asked are you in the correct Reykholt?

There are two Reykholts in Iceland, both are small villages, both have a camp-site with flags and a restauant/bar and tomato greenhouses but one is in Western Iceland and the other in the South.

I returned to my lovely Hyundai and I was so grateful that I was not in the Ford Ka as I set out on my 2 and a ½ hour journey to the right Reykholt.

It was a lovely ride with beautiful scenery and so in all I had a 5 ½  hour unexpected but enjoyable ride around a Iceland.Reykholt

Fit to sing

The very nature of being a gigging musician, (working in many venues where free drinks and a late night meal is part of the deal) does not encourage a healthy lifestyle. I find it easy to dedicate time and energy to maintaining and improving my skills/performance abilities however I find it very difficult to apply the same dedication to spending time or energy on getting fit, so I need outside help.

I am so pleased to have found a trainer who does not customise a training programme around his client but actually creates the programme for his client. On Friday I visited The Commando Temple gym in Deptford for an appointment with Dave (the Shinobi trainer) I found the session to be just exactly what I needed.

Unlike most gyms in The Commando Temple there are no hi-tech training machines, no full length mirrors, no windows with nice views and no restaurant. What they have instead is a group of individuals who are intensely focussed and dedicated to fitness and strength. In the past I worked with a number of personal trainers (some good, some not so good). Both the good and the not so goo used similar tools to train me. With those trainers the session started with warm up on treadmill or cross trainer and then for the rest of the session I have sat or stood using various machines that work a particular muscle (or muscle group) while the trainer stood beside me saying encouraging things and telling me not to give up.

With Dave it was so very very different, the warm up session started with me laying flat on my back, standing up and then repeating the exercise many times and in many different ways (it sounds weird, well it was). I never knew there could be so many different ways of getting up off the floor. It also sounds simple however it was one of the most effective warm-ups I have ever experienced. The rest of the session continued with with a series of similar unusual and unexpected exercises, no weights were used, in actual fact no equipment whatsoever was used.

All the exercises were demonstrated by the trainer and while I was doing my bit Dave guided/corrected my technique while explaining what each exercise was achieving how, and what it was doing to my body.

If your idea of a gym session is meeting with a friend to have a chat, a jog on a treadmill, use some expensive machinery, have a bit of a pose in front of a mirror and then have a cappuccino (or glass of wine) in nicely decorated building, The Commando Temple and Shinobi Strength Training is definitely not for you.
If you seriously want to improve your strength, condition your body, or just need to get yourself fitter (like me) I really think you might find what you are looking for in the arches under Deptford railway.

www.shinobistrength.co.uk/home.html
www.bestronger.co.uk

A day of two parts

Freecycle15
Such an interesting day, and it certainly was a day of two parts, part one was far more enjoyable than part two.

Part 1
London Free-cycle gig with The RoadRunners/Soul Station (soul band). The London Free Cycle event is an annual event where they close a big chunk of central London to traffic so that cyclists can take over the streets and pedal around safely having fun. The cyclists do take over, in their thousands. Tiny tots on baby bikes with stabilisers, strangely dressed men wearing stilts and pedalling bikes that look like they came from the Beatles “Yellow Submarine” film, mono-cyclists, penny-farthings and every other imaginable type of pedal driven vehicle.

Some of the band arrived very early (before the bikes hit the streets) and went to the designated set-up area (in the middle of the road at the junction of Threadneedle St and Cornhill). As they were setting up the kit, a loud bang echoed through the empty City streets, the bang was followed by the screeching of tyres as a car driving at very high speed sped past the drum kit, the back window of the car was smashed, in hot pursuit was a police car (we were later told that the Free-cycle event may be off “due to an incident”).
All the band arrived and all the kit (back-line amps, PA and instruments were set up). We still had no power because the manager who was supposed to unlock a lamppost and give us a connection was helping with “the incident”.  Eventually the bikes started passing (the event had not been cancelled, but we still had no power). It was then that I realised that although we were in the middle of a roundabout (made by the band and barriers) we were facing away form the oncoming bikes. I suggested that we turn everything around so the we faced the cyclists. The band in good heart complied and within 30 minutes we had changed direction.
10:10am Eventually the manager with the key to the power arrived he apologised for the delay, then said he would show me where to plug in our extension leads, I went with him, but he did not lead me to the lamp-post in the middle of the road but across Threadneedle St, past the statute of Wellington and down to the Royal Exchange (about 200 yards from the band) he opened a lamppost revealing 2 13amp sockets and with a smile said “there you are, do you have your extension leads?” I explained that we were a couple of hundred yards from the band and we didn’t have extension leads of that length, he looked disappointed as if I had come unprepared, I then mentioned that even if we did have a 200 yard extension lead there was a road between the socket and the band with hundreds of cyclists passing, he told me that was not a problem could stop the cyclists and, if we had the correct tape, we could tape our lead down to the road. After a little discussion it was agreed we would relocate the band closer to the power (so for the second time in less than an hour I was to ask the band to move all the kit). Unbelievably there were no complaints (or at least not within my earshot) and the band started moving all the kit across the road, dodging hundreds of cyclists on the way.
The kit was set up and the gig (an hour late) commenced. It was a delight, everybody got into the groove, there were tourists who stopped and took pictures (some stayed for a couple of hours), pedestrian Londoners who were going to make the most of some free music by buying alcohol from the local Tesco Metro and dancing in the street, security, stewards, marshals, first aiders, and lastly but not least many of the cyclist stopped, and stayed  to enjoy the music. A splendid first half to the day, I walked away on a high.

Part 2
Evening gig at a SE London Boozer, this time no soul band to keep me company it was a solo gig (vocals, guitar and backing tracks). I had performed in this venue before and the customer mix had been 70% female to 30% male, on the previous occasion the women were dancing within 10 minutes of me starting. Tonight the mix was 95% SE London “geezers” and 5% local women, it was gonna be a hard gig. Within 10 minutes I did not have anyone dancing but noticed one of the local geezers had visited the toilets 3 times and on each occasion he was followed very closely by different geezers, within seconds he returned with his companion geezer wiping his upper lip and walking much faster than he had on the way to the toilets. This procedure went on through-out the evening until many of the geezers had followed their leader into the toilets, it then started again with chaps who had already had one visit going back for “seconds”.

1st set passed with nothing particular of interest, the telly was on showing a boxing match and the procession to the gents continued (I was amazed that the followers were aged between 20 and 60).
2nd Set
A lone female came into the pub slightly built and quite attractive she bought her drink, placed it on the table next to me and then 2 feet in front of me started to dance, because of her close proximity, it was difficult to look anywhere other than at her. Also, without looking at the floor or the ceiling it was impossible to avoid eye contact as while dancing she stared directly at me. Her gaze was only occasionally broken when she fended off some of the local geezers who seemed to know her and tried to pull her into a close dance so that that could touch her bum. Some of the guys whispered into her ear, although I could not hear what they said, her reply was audible “NO, I am with him” (him being me). The guys, seemed to know her so knew that she was not with me but laughed as they told me “you’re in there mate”. My dancer got closer (within a foot) and continually made requests for songs, I became more and more nervous as although I don’t have a pet rabbit  I was sure that within days I would find my new found admirer in my kitchen looking for a saucepan. My gig was scheduled to end at 11:30.
At 11:20 all the females who had been in the pub on my previous visit staggered into the pub wearing those bouncy ball things on their heads, some dressed as schoolgirls, some with sashes, one was wearing “L” plates carrying a 5 foot long helium inflated penis.  The women took turns in undoing the stopper (in the head of the penis) and sucking the helium so that they spoke in very high pitch tones.
Thankfully I only had 10 minutes to go before my “concert” finished, despite the protests and encore requests I ended my set at 11:31 precisely, my admirer told me she would be back in a minute and went to the toilet. My guitar was quickly in placed in it’s case, I got paid (in record time) and escaped out the door before my admirer returned. A day of 2 parts was over.

Funny shaped hill, looks like someones having a BBQ at the top

smallLeft the rainforest yesterday and was told it would take about 2 ½ hours to reach our next port of call Arenal. Who ever wrote the Lonely Planet guide had not been driven by Jose Hamilton. Once we were aboard he stamped his foot on the accelerator and it stayed there for 90 minutes. We passed a blur of every type of fruit plantation as the white van engine screamed for mercy. We arrived here an hour early. Thick white clouds surrounded the hotel. Visibility was about 30 foot and was too tired to go exploring tonight so had some happy hour cocktails and went to bed. I never closed the curtains so when I awoke this morning this was the view. What a strange shaped hill and it looks like either somebody is having a BBQ at the top or some Maleku are sending smoke signals. Nothing for it but got to climb to the top to see whats going on, shouldn’t take too long, so will let you know what I find later.

Things that go bump (and flash) in the night.

Well it was the last night in the rainforest and we thought we were all alone. The previous night I awoke at about 4am and thought I saw a light in the forest (everything is black until about 5:30). I could hear twigs snapping and things moving but this is expected because the ground is patrolled by Tapir, Armadillo, Puma (although the Puma are not often seen) and a host of other small/medium sized mammals, so maybe I had just imagined the light. This morning at about 4:30am I awoke again, I could see a light, it was too big and white to be fire flies, somebody was out there! The source of the light was about 40 metres away, it occasionally was pointed upwards and lit the canopy, it lit the bushes, and sometimes disappeared. I remained silent and watched. I tried to think what did I have that could be used as a defence tool? bugger all was the answer, but then remembered the bottle of Trivu Malbec I had bought for Jade (my daughter). It was close at hand so I was comforted. Either intentionally or unintentionally, whoever was holding the light source circled the tent, it took them about 30 minutes. The light then moved away into the forest and was gone. Only 30 minutes to go until it gets light, and the bottle of Malbec was still intact.
At breakfast I told the guide of my experience, she told me that a security ranger makes his rounds and usually gets to this part of the forest at around 4am…..pheew!

A walk in the park!

September/October have been incredibly enlightening, for those who have followed my https://singersbitz.wordpress.com blog you will know that the boat gig opened my eyes another type of life.
Last nights walk in the park opened my eyes to:- 2 species of Sloth (2 toed and 3 toed), Bullet Ants (so called because if they bite you it feels like you have been shot), more species of Frog that I thought possible (many of them are very poisonious if touched), a Bushwacker Snake, a couple of huge Tarantulas, a jumping Wolf Spider (whose venom is deadlier than the tarantulas), lots of bitiey insects (with giant in their names) and finally, while crossing a swingy bridge (like they have in “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here” ) a family of five Racoons who thought Raccoons have right of way over humans when they meet on rope bridges. It was a good job I had a Costa Rican Bear Grylls with me who shooed them away and taught them the “Costa Rican High-bridge code”.

I wonder what stow-aways I will find in my guitar case when I open it?