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The Big Girls Blues Band in Ireland

BGBB have been good supporters of Bluesinlondon over the years and when, recently they let us know about their trip to Ireland we said "Why not write a piece about it?" The following is the result...

It started as a bit of a joke. I mean its true that the Big Girls Blues Band had played overseas gigs before including Portugal and Wales (ha ha) but the nearest we had come to grappling with an Irish audience was a gig on St Patricks night at the Crown in Cricklewood - and lets face it - on that occasion after the Guinness and Baileys had taken its toll on both band and audience neither was sure whether our impromptu rendition of Whiskey in the Jar was to be revered or never to be repeated... So when Jane our funkily gorgeous girl singer said "Lets go to Limerick and play a few gigs for me aunts and uncles and all me cousins" we werent sure if she was serious nor whether perhaps she meant "jigs" and not "gigs".

However, after a while, our equally funky and gorgeous manager, the long suffering Julie, started to get emails from across the Irish Sea demanding that we stop messing about and make the journey to The Deep South and get down and dirty with the natives. Our main contact was with 2 lovely ladies Niamh and Paula from Speakeasy Jazz. They fixed us some pre Xmas gigs in Limerick, Ennis and Shannon and organised promotion and advertising with total enthusiasm. We were on the hook.

However, what were we going to do about gear, transport, accomodation and groupies - the way the band is not a tidy little 3 piece with an acoustic guitar and a tambourine; oh no, we have 2 guitarists, bass, drums, sax, 3 vocals, a sound engineer - and a BIG PA... and 2 tambourines.

A man and van... Roger wonders if it'll all fit.

So what about the gear? The options were we could hire it over there or transport it across the Irish Sea in a van. Only problem with the latter was that we didnt have a van... Hiring the gear over there turned out to be very expensive and so did hiring a van. I had been thinking about trading in the Maverick and buying a van for at least a year and Ireland gave me the impetus to stop thinking and start buying. Every band needs a van. Enter our (almost) new Ford Transit with all the essentials like an MP3 connection, industrial size coffee mug holder and Bluetooth thing. Gear problem solved ! Not quite. Let me tell you about the saxophone.

Barry sleeps with his tenor sax; thats just the way it is. He was booked with the rest of the band on the Aer Lingus flight to Shannon and as he was unwilling to put the sax in the plane's hold (or the van) he negotiated a deal whereby the sax would have its very own seat on the plane - obviously a window seat with special meal... job done. How does Maceo Parker sort this out we wondered.

Our first gig was at a regular venue used by Speakeasy Jazz, the Shannon Rowing Club, an ancient pile of bricks and rocks balanced on an even more ancient bridge over the river. We thought an early venue inspection on the afternoon before the gig might be advisable so we knocked on the door and were greeted by Big Brendan the caretaker. He showed us round and pointed out the photos of the moustachiod rowing teams from long ago, and the narrow, crumbling 'smoking' balcony overlooking the river - "Only 10 bods at a time mind, or ye'll all fall in... and then we'd have to ask the DJ to play all night. Ha Ha!"

Audaciously we unloaded on the ancient bridge and set up the gear. We even did a proper sound check (luxury!) but will anyone come here to see us, we pondered. It certainly didnt look much like the New Orleans House of Blues...

How wrong we were. By 10pm the place was rammed, the Guinness was flowing and (what a change from London !) the lovely ladies from Speakeasy Jazz had thoughtfully positioned red and white wine for the band at the back of the stage. Jane had understandably become slightly apprehensive and not a little emotional - in fact not a real problem for a soulful singer!

Matteo and Mel

However, confidently led by Justin, our Aussie singer, - with (clever boy) no cue note - we launched into the Temps' "Aint too proud to beg" and then cruised through "Sweet Home Chicago". Our Italian sound engineer Matteo had put our new Snake and the spaghetti of cables together in the right order and was mixing it right and Justin then introduced the local girl from Limerick , our singer Jane (dressed tonight in a demure dress instead of the usual stilettos and leather - "because me Mam's here" ). The crowd loved Jane, the Speakeasy Jazz ladies loved Jane, we all loved Jane. Jane loved Justin - "Give it up people" she roared. We all loved Limerick. Alice danced with the DJ. Alistair danced with everybody. Justin drank wine and danced and danced (we didnt know you did that - Justin). A truly great gig - and on a Thursday too!

On Friday our gig was in Ennis, about 45 mins drive from Limerick (if you know the way - see later). It was sheeting with rain and freezing cold when we arrived at the venue, a club called Brandons above a pub at the far end of town. The place was deserted. "Dont ye worry - they'll be coming sure enough" said the lovely Niamh. We carried our gear upstairs and started to set up keeping our woolies and gloves on. The band WAGS looked sullen as well as frozen.

The owner seemed affable enough though and he even plugged our extension lead into the only half serviceable socket dangling off the wall like a left over Xmas decoration. "It'll be safer if I do it for ye lads 'cos I know what I'm doin' and ye might damage the wire!" The hum through the amps was so deafening that our sound engineer gave up on trying to solve the problem. "Is best if you playa louda" he offered. We did a sound check and with still no sign of an audience we pushed off to the pub down the road, for stew and dumplings. 2 hours and lots of Guinness later and somewhat despondent and thinking of an early night in the Travelodge we made our way through the rain back to Brandons.

Mel with dinner

The place was packed . Wow ! Where did they come from? "Told ye" said the smiley Niamh as she again placed the band wine in strategic easily accessible spots. "Now get rocking." - so we did. A very friendly well informed crowd chatted to us in the intervals. Another great gig topped by Barry our saxman treating us all to a bit of a surprise on the intro to "Aint no sunshine" when he headed for the outer limits by playing on and on and on with what sounded like Roland Kirk meets Lonnie Donegan. No Barry, we didnt have a clue what was going on - and we dont believe you did either - must have been the Ennis Soul Stew. "When do we have to stop playing?" we asked the owner. "When you've had enough." he replied "We dont really have licensing laws round here!"

We packed up at some time in the early hours and driving the van I headed back to the Travelodge in the rain and fog. About 15 mins outside Ennis I took what I thought might be the right road and then noticed a flashing blue light in the wing mirror as I was pulled over by the Garda. I got out of the van (I always do). The conversation went like this:

Garda Man (looking suspiciously at my BGBB T-shirt): "Doz this vun belong to ye?"
Me: "Er, yes."
Garda Man: "Have ye got a licence?"
Me: "Er, yes , here it is."
Garda Man: "Have ye been drinking?"
Me: "Er, no"
Garda Man: "Are ye sure?"
Me: "Er, yes " (Plucking up courage now) "May I ask if I have done something wrong?"
Garda Man: "Well ye went round the roundabout 3 times - thats not normal..."
Me (laughing nervously): "Sorry, I was looking for the road to Limerick as I have never been here before and there didnt seem to be any road signs."
Garda Man: " Well there arent any signs round here but ye are on the right road - lucky we stopped ye.."
We shook hands and wished each other well.

Groovin' local

Our 3rd and final gig on the tour was in a pub in Shannon shopping centre. If the other 2 venues looked unlikely spots to play the blues and funk it up - the Shannon Knights pub beat the lot. There were bright lights, a few punters watching the football on TV and a cafeteria area with an L-shaped metal rail upon which to balance your tray as you collected your Stew and Guinness ice cream. We looked around for a stage, a corner - anything that might look useful as a place to set up. Nothing came to mind so rather than carry our gear aimlessly round the pub and thus annoy the locals we sat down and ate the Irish Stew which the very affable owner had cooked specially, as we watched the football.

No one seemed in any hurry - in fact no one seemd to care much at all about anything, least of all whether the Band would set up and start on time; come to that we didnt even know what 'on time' was. After a while, they cleared up and closed the cafeteria area and, Victor, the owner said "Ye will set up there." So we did. Our experience with curious electricity arrangements reached a new high. Alistair, our drummer, had set up in the corner of the L shaped metal tray rail and placed his sticks on the conveniently placed rail. Suddenly he yelled out a string of very expressive words and danced around like a goblin. We were however used to this behaviour so didnt pay too much attention. However the dancing and words continued as he screamed "The f#cking rail is live and has given me a f#cking shock - I'm f#cking lucky to be alive". Victor looked perplexed "Oh yes it does that " he murmured " We dont really know why."

Danger - Live Rail...

Dek (DIY expert and bass player with Leatherman and Phillips screwdriver on his belt) and Matteo selflessly dismantled the whole electric supply system in the pub to try and identify the cause. Heroically, they failed. Instead we kept our hands and feet off the rail and Alistair counted us rapidly in to the Temps' "Get Ready", the pub by now being filled to overflowing. Justin had flown back to London for other business but pausing only for a large Baileys (no ice) Jane took centre stage - sorry, enter cafeteria - and tore into Irma Thomas' "You can have my husband but please dont mess with my man." The crowd loved it. We played and played; Barry resisted further Kirk/Donegan madness. We had guest singers and crazy dancers and Jane's nephews, aunts and uncles and Mam and Dad. Once again the licensing laws had passed by. Another cracking gig. The Guinness and Baileys were on the house as we packed up. I drove the van back to the Travelodge carefully avoiding the Garda, leaving Jane , Alistair, Matteo and Melanie (our additional vocalist for this gig) with Victor. Much Drinking ensued.

Did I learn anything? Yes I learned that living, eating and drinking in close proximity to band members of different ages, sleeping needs, eating habits, hair styles, coloured nail polish, politics, blood groups, anxiety levels, willingness to carry a PA system with 4 Mackie power speakers up (and down) a narrow staircase, T - shirt sizes, star signs, levels of comprehension as to what the F*** is going on and why touring in Limerick with the BGBB does not carry the same luxury entourage as The Rolling Stones, dancing ability, emotional stability and hygiene standards... can be a bonding experience that requires resilience and alcohol; I also learned that touring,whilst certainly tiring, can raise a smile or two.

Would I do it all again? You bet. Not this week though.

In fact we are planning to return in Springtime - with some insulation tape.

January 2010

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