Saturday 14 April 2018

Early Days

What a fantastic feeling it is to be able to walk into a pub, order a beer, and go and bang out some low down Boogie Woogie on the old upright piano in the corner.
Thirty five years ago I was doing that a lot, and being paid for it.
Payment was made in pounds sterling, (a few), and beer, (a lot!!).

That, of course, was long after the arrival of the Jukebox and those evil, criminal activities known as "Piano Breaking Competitions"!!!
It was hard enough to find pubs with piano's in Birmingham then, but there were some, and you certainly learnt your craft in those places, physically and mentally.

After spending several years playing in various Blues bands, I was looking for a venue where I could sit down and play & sing the songs that I was writing for a solo career.
The Wellington on Bristol Street was one of these venues.
Dave & Catherine were running the Wellington back then.
Dave was a great cook and you really had to reserve a table in the "back room" so as not to be disappointed.
His charming French partner, Catherine, loved to tell jokes, but she would always break into fits of laughter before getting to the punch line, so you never did "get it".
They had a really dangerous piano, you had to dodge the bits that used to fly off it whilst playing.
The boss should have made every piano player who played on it sign a declaration of liability.
The audience, (if that is the right word to use), were, how can I say.......different 😊.
I think they thought Boogie Woogie was probably something Dave had whipped up in the kitchen and would be served with chips during the break.
But I loved it, and always looked forward to it every Monday night.
It was as close as I was going to get to playing in a Barrelhouse.

When the Wellington changed hands I moved to the Adam & Eve on Bradford Street.
The management informed me that the wooden box in front of the fire place was a piano and I spent a couple of years beating the living daylights out of it with my newly formed band "The 44s".
Anyone who attended a Monday night gig at the Adam will tell you what a great night it was.
Man, it used to get rammed!
There are also some people who can tell you the night some weirdo came into the A&E and ended up sticking a gun to my head as I was playing the piano.
I thought that was it, the bar at the A&E was the last thing I was ever going to see.
If it wasn't for my hero,Terry, creeping up behind him and sticking a bottle over his head, it probably would have been.
The police and ambulance duly arrived and took the weirdo off to a different A&E !

The piano moved from the Adam & Eve to The Old Railway, Curzon Street, then known as O'neils and I moved with it to continue my weekly residency.
It wasn't long before I persuaded owner Mick to purchase a new piano, and we set off early one afternoon to do just that, stopping off at five or six pubs, (to say "hello"), on the way to Sparky's.
By the time we arrived at Sparky's, I didn't have a clue what the difference was between a Steinway or a Banjo, but I pointed and he paid !
Talking of paying, you couldn't have paid enough for some of those nights at O'neils.
All the top dogs from the local scene would get up and join me for a couple of songs and I always encouraged up and coming piano players to "have a go", and it is nice to know that some of them are still "having a go" today.
The crowd loved it..........................BOSTIN !!

It was during my stint at The Old Railway that I decided to move to Germany.
That was1998, and I look back at those early days with great fondness.
To me, it was like playing in your living room surrounded by friends, having a drink together.
Of course I still return to the UK a few times a year to visit my family and do a few gigs.
And yep, there are still some places which have real piano's to play on so things are looking up.

I did at one time, contemplate buying a small piano and putting it on the back of a trailer so I would always have a decent piano at my disposal.
Although my mind was saying "yeah, yeah, do it" my back was telling me something else.
I do own an electric piano which actually sounds great, but it don't look good.
You can't see the hammers swinging to & fro or hear the clatter of fingers upon the ivory-nicotine-beer-stained keyboard or hear the creak of the sustain pedal, and not forgetting that smell !!!!!!

People often ask me if I prefer playing on a grand piano or an old upright.
I always reply: "If I put the lid up on a grand piano, where do I put my beer ?"


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