Blog 11: What a Year!

As we look back over the last year, there have been some notable highlights for us. We have worked hard to add new songs to our sets at the same time making sure that we keep on top of older songs that we have played in the past and which we will more than likely bring back in the future. We have also been able to further our geographic reach across the UK having secured gigs further north (Castleford, Barnsley and more recently, Leeds) and despite an already healthy diary for 2020, we hope to be playing even further afield next year.

It would be impossible to comment on each and every gig we have played this year but there are one or two that are worthy of note. At the end of January, we were delighted to play at the Bowie France Convention in Paris which saw the band and a number of our nearest and dearest de-camp to Paris for a few days. We travelled via a combination of air, road and train and holed up in a fabulous house in Le Kremlin-Bicetre, a suburb approximately 4.5km south of the centre of Paris. Our gig took place on the Sunday of that weekend which allowed us plenty of time for sight-seeing and photoshoots. It was a fabulous weekend and one that will be remembered by us all for a long time. We also played the Bowie convention at Derby’s Queen’s Hall in May and were thrilled to be headlining this event too. 

We (well, Jane!) had talked for some time about playing an entire album from start to finish and we agreed that The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars was the one. We were already playing over half this album in any event and as we started to focus our attention on this project, we decided that we would work towards this being performed at The Lion in Basford in early October. We started rehearsing the last few songs during late summer and in the run up to the gig and, generally it came together relatively painlessly. With the exception of one or two timing issues on Star that we had to work quite hard to sort, we were ready by the time the gig came round. We all thoroughly enjoyed playing the entire album as the first half of the set and we will undoubtedly repeat this exercise in the future.  

Perhaps the most significant change this year has been in respect of our line-up. Our longer standing followers will remember that for a very short period of time, we were a six piece band and that following the departure of one of our original guitarists, Ben, we reverted to a five piece with Mel taking over guitar duties (on top of everything else she does including backing vocals, setting up the PA, mixing our live sound on the fly, sorting Andrew’s pedalboard, amp and guitar tech – honestly, he has no idea! – and being our general fount of all knowledge).

As a five piece without a keyboard player, we have been able to re-configure keyboard parts for guitars (Oh, You Pretty Things and Lady Grinning Soul being good examples of this) and while we are happy to trundle along in this vein for the foreseeable future, we agreed a little while ago that a sax player could really add another dimension to our music. We knew that some songs that we do currently (e.g. Lazarus, Let’s Dance, and Soul Love) would benefit from the inclusion of saxophone but there are other songs that we simply wouldn’t have been able to do justice to without having a sax player on board (e.g. Modern Love, Absolute Beginners, and Young Americans). So, a decision was made to explore expanding our numbers.

As is always the case, Jane set about the task of recruiting our new band member with her usual mix of drive, determination, and tenacity and in quick order, we had asked Alex Mills-Bell to join us for a rehearsal. In advance of this, we had provided her with a list of songs that she might want to take a look at (little did she know what she was letting herself in for!) and we all gathered at our usual rehearsal space a week or two later to meet our potential new member.

At the outset (and before Mel arrived on the scene), Allan and Ben had played in a band together and Andrew and Phil knew each other but playing this music helped us all to bond together very quickly and we had the same feeling with Alex. It must have been a little daunting for her to turn up and play with us but as we started to run through some of the songs Alex had worked on, it was evident that she would be the perfect fit. In doing Soul Love up to this point, Andrew had provided some lead guitar to cover the sax solo parts but when Alex took over these parts, the song was immediately transformed to another level and we knew we were on to something. As the rehearsal progressed, it became increasingly obvious that we wanted/needed a sax player and that it was Alex who we wanted.

To our delight, she agreed to join us a few days later, a second rehearsal was arranged and in an amazingly short space of time, Alex was with us for our gig in Leeds and it sounded awesome. It’s worth a quick word at this point about the musical ethos of the band. Whilst we always strive to replicate the songs as accurately as possible, we do allow each other absolute freedom over their individual parts as long as it serves the song. In this regard, we suggested to Alex that she too could add parts elsewhere if she felt it suited the song.

We very much hope that Alex will be able to play at the vast majority of our gigs but she has her family commitments and circumstances may dictate that on occasion, she can’t be with us. Either way, we are delighted that she is part of the band and we look forward to showcasing her talents in the weeks and months ahead.

Here is a video of us performing Lazarus for this first time with Alex at the Leeds gig: click here. Not a bad sound on this video filmed from Bob’s ipad (more on him in the next paragraph!), but this will sound even better when we get in the studio at the start of 2020 to do a version of Lazarus for general promo. Do look out for that!

As a band, we feel very fortunate to be playing fabulous music to appreciative audiences and we thank everyone who has supported us since we formed. A number of our fans have now seen us on several occasions often travelling some distance and we are immensely grateful for their support. We have played at some fabulous venues and have made many new friends in the process and we look forward to re-visiting many of these in 2020. Mention must also be made of our “chickens” – those closest to us. Their patience, loyalty and support is always appreciated and we thank them for this. A special mention must be made of our surrogate band “mum and dad”, Bob and Theresa, Jane’s parents. They are ever-presents at our gigs and Bob works tirelessly to promote us and both he and Theresa have also taken charge of T-shirt sales. We cannot thank them enough.

Well, that concludes our short look back over 2019 and we look forward to seeing you all in 2020.