A friend’s best man delivers…
And the first good news of this post is that Matt’s Banjo now has seven new strings…! Sunday evening into Monday morning Matt was issuing live updates of his dog ‘Banjo’ giving birth to her first litter of pups.
There were a few ‘starting issues’, but luckily Matt used to watch Blue Peter when he was a kid so it was a breeze for him… just a quick registry clear out and a couple of re-boots and Banjo’s pupformance increased dramatically…! Seriously, it got a bit scary at one point and being fobbed off by the 24hr vet service whose main concern was did he have the ridiculous amount of money to cover the emergency procedures because if not, they would just put the creature down, really didn’t help the situation.
Anyway Matt’s not a man to be beaten by these things so he got some advice from a proper doctor, took a few deep breaths, and sorted the necessary. Mother, pups, Matt and Emma are all doing fine, although they’re having to hand feed the pups every couple of hours as Banjo isn’t producing any milk. They also found a new Vet locally, who seem to give a damn about the animal, so results all round.
Normal service is temporarily resumed… reignite the vibes… and call me a take-away zombie
Right now we’re into February already, that’s one slice of the pizza of the year consumed already. The second slice ‘tastes pretty damn good’ already…! Could be the extra fresh ground black pepper? Could be phases of the moon? Could just be that natural ‘Evolutionising’ that kicks us up the ass every now and again to wake us from that recurring dream of a mythical celestial benefactor? I doubt it has anything to do with the storms or their alleged heralding of a new apocalypse for insignificant little ol’ mankind.
Personally I think that the natural elements that existed on this plant millions of years before our monkey ancestors crawled out of the sea in a more fish-like form, and millions more years before the primitive man that we have evolved from so ‘successfully’ was utterly unaware of the significance of making that first tool, that first weapon of human destruction, have always driven and determined the evolution and destruction of species. If our species cannot evolve any further, and move ever gradually away from its aggressive and destructive traits, then maybe we have reached the limit of our evolution, and just maybe we are not the ‘finished article’ or the right branch of evolution to succeed to the end of the universe? We are not the first dominant species to inhabit this planet, or the first dominant species to suffer from an inherent form of delusional arrogance. We may however be the first species to consciously recognise this, and therefore could also be the first species to consciously implement our own demise by our cannibalistic social attitudes, brutally animalistic self-gratifying prejudices, and the dictatorial, although often referred to by elitists as ‘noble’ desire to control others thoughts, feelings and actions.
Anyway, before the end of the world we have an album to produce! We also have many gigs booked for the majority of the rest of the year, so regular rehearsals are a key ingredient to pushing the live Banjaxeld shows and sound on a progressive path towards continual improvement and creative development. Banjaxeld’s rehearsals are not just about playing the tunes and learning the notes. The main emphasis is on communications, cheesy but true! As a five piece band we’ve only been playing together for about six months now and with the emphasis in the last three months having been heavily biased on recording the album. This has been a demanding time, especially for Matt and Jimmy, both of whom have had to learn fast, think on their feet, and listen to ideas they haven’t encountered before. Not forgetting our very busy gigging schedule over the ‘festive period’, and the various health problems and ‘circumstances beyond our control’ that all seem to have occurred within the band framework in some freakishly augmented ‘Hammer House of Harmony’!
We all consider playing time together to be important to developing an understanding and musical rapport, learning to listen to others and recognise their little signatures and style unconsciously, forming and fine tuning musical communications and synchronization. But there is also a lot of talking, discussion, musical philosophising, technical debate and self management responsibilities to contemplate. So it can get a bit intense, in a creative way as well as a collective, but we’re actually very secure as a band of people together, both musically and personality wise. We’ve proved that we’re a bunch of people who look for solutions, are open to ideas, and are as inclusive as the respective individuals wish to contribute and partake. I wouldn’t say we were saints, but we are pretty solid and growing as a group.
It is a while though since we managed to get together for a rehearsal, and ‘Wednesday’ seems to have become something of a ‘hex’ with a string of arranged Wednesday evening rehearsals being postponed due to just about everything but alien invasion! Sack in particular, being uncompromisingly immune to superstitions and such mumbo-jumbo, was determined to break the perceived ‘cycle’, and despite the storms threatening to bring the wrath of the gods to bear on such upstarts for not kowtowing to the ritual mystical hogwash, four of us (and a dog) managed to get together at Matt’s music palace, with our chosen instruments for an evening that tingled with a ‘trigger happy’ yet relaxed enthusiasm.
Jimmy couldn’t make it, so we took the opportunity to get Matt playing the electric guitar again as he’s going to start taking more solos. With Jeff entirely acoustic, on guitar and voice, Vinny on Cajon and acoustic voice, Sack as usual plugged into the national grid to amplify those low erotic vibrations, and a somewhat tender Banjo in attendance, although not as lively or distracting, which was in itself distracting…! However, musically the evening was mostly about supporting Matt’s progress with learning the songs, and cementing the stuff already laid down for the recordings. We inevitably strayed into a slightly more experimental area, tried a few new ideas, but generally were remarkably disciplined and got through a good bit of musical production, as well as coffee, and associated biscuit shaped stimulants! We finished the evening all looking forward to getting to The Blueberry in Norwich in a couple of days for Friday night’s return to the rejuvenated venue with a soul / funk support act called ‘Moscow Trip’ from London. Promises to be an interesting one!
Borrowing from the blues to pay our dues
With February well under way we’re starting to get busy already. For our first gig of this year at The Blueberry in Norwich, unfortunately we were without Matt Graver due to new puppy pressures and exhaustion. So it was back to the four piece Banjaxeld for a good ol’ Friday night live blow out! Photographer Robert Barker was already there when we arrived; he was there to do a review of our gig for ‘The Gig ‘n’ Grub Guide’ which is a great little free local publication detailing food and music events in Norfolk, and North Suffolk
.We also had special guest support from a London based jazz / blues / band called ‘Moscow Trip’. To be perfectly honest we hadn’t seen or heard them before this gig, we took them entirely on recommendation, and they didn’t disappoint. It transpires that this was only their sixth gig, and they were pretty tight already. Music with a definite ‘entertainment buzz’ about it, they even though in some Walt Disney with King of the Swingers (…no its not about dogging!). The fretless bass player even broke a string on the third number, subsequently having to borrow Sack’s fretted bass (…can be awkward for a fretless player), but he coped with it admirably to the end of their set. Very enjoyable band, and hopefully they’ll be back to The Blueberry in their own right soon.
A couple more familiar faces appeared in the form of Gay & Geoff Sutton (The Indebtors management), not long back from an extended trip to the States. Good to see them, and only six weeks until Banjaxeld support The Indebtors at their Album CD launch at Epic Studios.
By the time we were up for our set Sack had just about recovered from walking into the toilets to find a guy covered in what looked like blood, saying that he’d just thrown up his own blood, and looking very ill and worried…! Luckily Landlady Sarah Burns and her staff were able to deal with the situation freeing Sack up to play some bass. Turned out in the end that it was just Red Wine, and the guy was so wasted he couldn’t even remember he’d been drinking it. He was okay in the end, but I doubt he’ll remember much about it.
It was a bit strange playing our set without Matt, but Jimmy coped well and overall it went well, we enjoyed ourselves, and only having to play the one set meant we could ‘go for it’ from the off. Always good to see people up and dancing, but In the end it was the local noise restriction that heralded an end to our set, we still had a few songs up our musical sleeves but the time ran out!
As ever there were some interesting conversations and feedback after we’d finished. Sack spoke to a group of ‘older’ people who’d come down from seeing us at the Fat Cat Brewery Tap, they enjoyed their evening but weren’t expecting to see us with a support act! Sack did explain it was kind of a last minute thing. Another happy evening at The Blueberry, but we’ll be back there in March supporting Millie Manders.
Some evenings are just a ‘fabulous celebration of the shallow sparkly exterior that dazzles to deceive’, and yet there are some that some manage to both twinkle and ‘bite yer’ on the ‘Bo Bo’ with sadistic synchronicity and weirdly destabilising delight..!
Jeff & Sack had a sort of showbizzy style Saturday night at ‘The Room’ in Gorleston-on-Sea. Based on the Joules Holland ‘Later’ format with seven acts over four stages in the ‘Ocean Rooms’, a massive circular building purposely built for shows and now also a nightclub, that both impressed with its size and decor, and made you feel a million miles from the outside world. Unless of course, if you were a hardened smoker and had to keep popping outside into the freezing cold, biting wind, the venue being located right on the seafront, nestled below the cliffs, just a few short, but very windy, yards from the beach.
It was a bit of a last minute invite for us with duo ‘cc41’ having pulled out just a couple of days before the event. Vinny couldn’t have made that evening anyway, due to other previously arranged commitments, and neither could Jimmy. Matt would have prised himself away from his puppy farm, except for the fact that he and Emma were both exhausted, and because it was just a duo that pulled out, they just wanted a duo to fill in! Sack & Jeff even had a rehearsal, well sort of, we managed to grab an hour before departing…! With Sack playing acoustic guitar again for the first time since last May, so it was with a slightly nervous excitement, and our expectations firmly in the ‘unknown zone’ that we headed over for our early six o’clock sound check.
The weather over in the east coast was windy, but no where near as bad as the rest of the country have had it recently, this didn’t stop the harbour front of Gorleston looking somewhat bleak and wintry. It was nice to get inside the place and find the warm air blowers to thaw out a bit! After an initial ‘hello’ with organiser Howard Marshall (or ‘H‘ as he prefers to be known), we were directed to our allocated stage which we were sharing (alternately) with Ruby and the Ruff Cutts, a five piece ‘swing with soul’ band who were already set up. So it was just a case of stacking our gear in a convenient space at the side of the stage, then heading off for a look around whilst waiting to be called for sound checks. We eventually found our way into the kitchens and the coffee making facilities, there was also some free food options, rice and a vegetarian curry. They do know how to look after us in this place.
We had a few nice people surprises too, bumping into old friends Andy Parker and Howie Marsh, who were working on the sound crew, and a whole bunch of musicians & friends including; Lauren Dove & Mr Boweevil, Mark Howes from Dove and Boweevil, playing in the house band ‘The H Gang’, which incidentally, also included Roger (Buster) James. Also, already sound checking when we arrived were John & Lynn Ward with Stephen Mynott, making some beautiful music with the new ‘John Ward Band’.
Bassist and ‘Tidesreach Studios’ owner Lee Jacobs was playing bass with Ron Sayer Jnr. It was our first time seeing Ron play, and man he’s good, if you like guitar driven blues, and you get the chance, don’t miss him. He also did a session with The H Gang at the end of the evening, as did Ruby from Ruby and the Ruff Cutts, who were also a superb and original band by the way. The other acoustic act on the evening’s bill was singer / songwriter Tosh Ewins, who brought a very nice old Epiphone acoustic with him and did a couple of nice solo sets of his originals. Lastly there were a couple of young guys who’ve been around for a while but we hadn’t caught before T-Bone & The Horn, a musical comedy duo act.
Right from the off at 9pm, the entertainment was ‘top notch’, relentless and very well organised. Our first set was scheduled for something like 21:57 to 22:08…! I know we did two sets, the first about 10o’clock, the second an hour later, but I didn’t take my stop-watch to check the timings! We had sound checked with ‘16,000 Feet of Groove’ but elected to go with: ‘For the Road’ & ‘Lay me down’ for the first set, which seemed to go okay. For the second set we went for an upbeat ‘No fear’ and finished with ‘Kickback’. Probably not our greatest performance as a duo, but I think we did ourselves some justice, and it was well worth the experience. Respect goes out to all three of the sound and lighting crews who were a pleasure to work with too.
It was great watching the various other acts, when you’re out gigging most weekends you don’t get much chance to see other bands, so it’s always a bonus, and there’s a few I’ll defiantly be hoping to catch again. It was good to spend some time out back in the kitchen area chatting with the other acts intermittently between respective sets (whilst drinking much free coffee). We even stayed around after our sets to watch The H Gang bring the evening to a storming conclusion. What a great night, we left about half hour past midnight and they were still going strong.
Now I didn’t want to mention anything about this next thing before this point, but there was a little problem / irritation for us during the course of this evening. A small matter of the ‘loss’ of Jeff’s phone, something we discovered just after doing our sound check and didn’t resolve until the end of the evening just before we departed. It seems Jeff had put it down, left it, and some honest soul had handed it in to H, who had made a couple of announcements about a phone being handed in, but they must’ve coincided with us being outside, checking all the recesses and pockets in the car, or maybe when we were just having a consoling social smoke huddled together with all the bad habit crowd on the only place that offered some solid shelter, the front entrance to the building. Either way Jeff managed to get it back before we left, which was handy as it has all his contacts in it!
Banjaxeld… the real-life reality ‘soap opera’ that isn’t a ‘soap opera’ but in reality is real life.
We did actually manage to get a second Wednesday rehearsal in a row, albeit Vinny wasn’t there as he was stricken down with gut problems, and Matt, who was there, spent most of the evening looking exhausted and carrying back pain. Jimmy arrived after a heavy work day also exhausted… which prompted him to sit down with us and discuss the level of his future commitment and involvement in Banjaxeld. Whilst not wanting to walk away from the band, Jimmy’s real life job is getting more demanding and at the same time so is the demand for Banjaxeld… we could easily be taking on three gigs a weekend, 52 weeks of the year! With the possibilities of a couple of tours coming up soon as well, that he’s already admitted probably won’t be feasible for him to get the time off to come along. As a band we need to start planning for the year ahead, and basically it means that Jimmy will now be taking more of a back seat and Matt will be taking over the role of lead guitar full time, which will be a lot more work for him, but he’s more than willing to put the time and effort in.
As a band we have immense respect for Jimmy, both as a musician, and for recognising his issues and having the courage to talk them through with us, it can be a scary thing to do. I’ve been in bands where melodramatic over-reaction is the currency of understanding, either via passive-aggressive shouty, bullying behaviours, or by direct personal violence, and whilst both are unsavoury, inhumane and personally damaging, I have to say that the former is by far the most dangerous and dehumanising of the two. Thankfully neither ‘philosophy’ is prevalent in the Banjaxeld set up.
There won’t be any immediate or dramatic changes in the band, or our music. The upshot is that Jimmy will continue to be a part of the band, he’ll still be on the album, and hopefully will be involved in writing new material, which to some extent he already has been, just that he’ll be doing a lot less gigs with us and consequently there will be more of the four piece Banjaxeld as the foundation unit. So as it turns out, it won’t be a disaster for us, or Jimmy, just what feels like a natural progression with Matt now fully evolutionising towards the role he is more than capable of making his own.
However, apart from Jimmy’s little curve-ball, it was probably a most memorable evening for the new coffee machine thing that Matt had secured! It’s Red and you put coffee in it, and in just a few magical minutes… it makes coffee, and very nice coffee too… and if you’re a heathen and want milk with your coffee then it is more than accommodating by producing a layered coffee (…you just have to have it in a glass cup to see this…. and you just have to see it…!). Somewhere in-between discovering artistic coffees we managed to jam a bit and loosen up the musical digits, though to be fair, given the nature of the evening a big chunk of the time was taken with discussions on the way forward, managing personal health regimes, and the impact on future band projects.
One thing we are sure of is that we’ve not yet seen or heard the best of Banjaxeld as a band, that’s still a work in progress, and ‘progress’ is very much the key motivational word for us. Of course we still have the album to complete, and then it’s pretty much a ‘blank canvas’, with four solid and creative artists working together to create a new representation of our unique originality, out of personal equality, and dynamic collaboration.
The Gig ‘n’ Grub Guide: www.facebook.com/gigngrubguide
The Room: http://www.theroomisback.co.uk/
Ruby and the Ruff Cutts: http://www.rubyandtheruffcuts.com/
Buster James http://www.busterjames.com/
Dove and Boweevil: http://doveandboweevil.co.uk
Tidesreach Studios: http://www.tidesreachstudios.co.uk/
Ron Sayer Jnr: http://www.ronsayer.co.uk/
Tosh Ewins: http://www.toshmusic.co.uk/
T-Bone & The Horn: http://www.reverbnation.com/tbonethehorn
John Ward Band: http://www.johnward.org.uk/