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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The trouble with this blogging caper, as far as I’m concerned, is that it has got in the way of my journal writing. More accurately, it has brought it to a dead stop. Since I got my first p.c. in 1994, I have kept a daily journal. Each year’s entries add up to between 50,000 and 100,00 words. I doubt that the seventeen volumes accumulated so far will be of any great interest, unless my work becomes very well known; or if it happens to be re-discovered in a hundred years’ time and someone decides to look at how a freelance writer scratched a living in the dim and distant past. It’s mostly about my daily activities: what I’m writing, how I try to sell my work, figuring out how the hell to stay afloat by my own wit and endeavours - and, of course, going out and doing bar work, seasonal jobs in the sugar-beet factory or on the race-courses of northern England. I suspect that the most interesting parts would relate to the hardest times - as when, in the late 1990s, despite having a fair bit of work on and earning reasonable money on the fringes of the TV world, I managed to slide deep into the red. I was in the process of getting divorced at the time and basically supporting two homes. It was only when I started working for a TV soap and was able to pay off overdrafts, loans, etc. in large chunks that I dared add up the true extent of my indebtedness. At its worst it was around £17,000 ($25,000) - and I owned no property.

Maybe I am allowing a  little of what would otherwise have been journal entries to creep into the blog. And maybe that’s the way forward. If so, bear with me.

I have had, as predicted, an exciting couple of days. The blues gig at the Sage in Gateshead was very much a mixed bag of delights. I hadn’t realised it, but John Mayall was to be supported by an up-and-coming blues artist by the name of Oli Brown. He is terribly young, about 22, very proficient on his guitar, and was ably supported by a bass man and drummer. I didn’t enjoy his set at all. He knew a few licks but seemed to have as much blues in his heart as any other nicely brought up 22-year-old from Norwich. At times he looked as though he really wanted to be a heavy metal rock star. He certainly has the looks, the hair, the skinny legs. Oh dear, I sound so weary, but I’ve come across players like this before: slick, accomplished, fresh out of some college somewhere clutching a ‘Blues 101’ certificate. Maybe I’m just hard to please. Last year at this same venue I saw the legendary Robert Cray, someone I’d been hearing about for years, and came away bitterly disappointed - for the same reasons: great technique, but no evidence, to my ear, of any grit in the oyster. Let me take a huge risk here, duck under cover, and copy what I wrote in last year’s journal, with no editing whatsoever:

Robert Cray was a huge letdown. The man has good stage presence, a fantastically clear and wide-ranging voice, and can certainly play a blues riff on his guitar.  But.  There was no feeling.  And the material was duff.  He came across to me as someone who had got a PhD in Being a Blues Man.  So all his songs were about strife within a man-woman relationship, she usually cheating on him or otherwise being no-good; but it simply lacked any feeling that it was authentic.  And every number ended with a comical (“comical”, whimsical, odd) ending.  They all started with lyrics that were awkward, sashayed into a blues riff, and then ended in a sort of “well, that’s what I can do, and that’s what I’m supposed to because that’s what it says in my how to be blues man guide, chapter 4” shrug.

So, on to John Mayall, who is unequivocally old, 78 later this month, and I guess you’d say he’s grizzled - although his mane of silver hair had more of a silky, Buffalo Bill look about it. Has he suffered? Well, he was in the Army as a young man, serving in Korea, has had a couple of divorces, and I believe his Laurel Canyon home burned down many years ago, destroying a lot of his archived material. Whatever the case, I enjoyed his set immensely. Backed by a tightly organised, disciplined band, he performed a range of classics, back-numbers and recent recordings on keyboard, guitar, harmonica and vocals. His voice, remarkably, seems as good as ever. His guitarist, Rocky Athas, was just superb: under-stated, intense, never flashy, got in and did his stuff and got out again, which meant that just about all the numbers ended with you wanting a bit more. The one weakness in Mayall’s work, as far as I’m concerned, is his lyrics. In the case of the three or four new numbers he played, they were, when audible, clunky, banal, flat out poor. Still, I would have paid the admission price just to hear the extended version of Parchman Farm and three or four other numbers from what he affectionately refers to as ‘the Beano album’ (the 1966 Bluesbreakers LP featuring Eric Clapton).

I was going to go on and report my day at the races (in the gloom of a classic November afternoon), but it’s almost nine o’clock and I have to make a start on the thousand words of this current manuscript which will, when I deliver the finished version, prompt the next payment from my publisher. By way of trailing the next entry, which I’ll most likely post tomorrow, I shall reveal that I had a good day out, and a free one: all expenses, including beer, transport, admission, and a fish-and-chips supper, covered by some very crafty betting.