Making the scene

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I never made permanent membership status for any subculture (“broke musician” doesn’t count ) but not for lack of trying. I’d always so wanted to belong to one scene only, with whatever  exclusive music, cars, clothes, hairstyles and unwritten social codes went with it.

It started when my big brother was hanging around with exciting people who smoked, listened to jazz music and only wore black. I dreaded them  spotting me in my school blazer (navy blue.)  Brother’s beatnik pals  hit the road and drifted out of my life, and the  logical next stop was hippie-town. Maybe I’d have lived my whole life out as a late-blooming flower child but  history intervened.

Heading West

Heading West

I was  living in a quasi-commune and even baking wholemeal bread for a while, when  along came punk and blew a big hole in all that Earth Mother rubbish.  I never wore flares again, and  only just missed hacking off my waist length hair and spiking it. I settled for bleaching my  fringe to  near-extinction My  former hippy pals blanked me in the street. So much for love and peace, man.

 

accs live 2

 

I  truly BELONGED  to punk for a while, but the intensity of that  flame dwindled as the eighties arrived along with a sea of synths and whining vocals.  The spirit remained, but my focus had to change.

For a moment  I was into motorbikes.  I earned a few  stripes by riding pillion on a Triumph from London to Liverpool and back. In the snow.  I’d  get a brief acknowledging nod from the bros in the biker pub with my honorary status as “righteous chick”. But that’s as far as it went.  The Biker Chick’s lot was not for me. Deep down I knew I’d always favour a shedload of musical paraphernalia blocking my hallway over a shedload of oily engine parts. And more importantly I couldn’t face a lifetime of never being able to have big hair because of the helmets.

Then there was Psychobilly, which could have been my default landing after Punk’s demise, but wasn’t.  I saw the seminal  Meteors in the Ace, Brixton in 1983, but the penny didn’t drop.  Several years passed before my next encounter,  when Joyryde supported Demented are Go at the Dublin Castle in Camden.  The sight of twenty sweating  fans with full body tattoos and Mohawks  (that was the men) wrecking on the dancefloor wasn’t my lightbulb moment though I liked what I was hearing. More years passed, before a chance meeting led to  playing guitar for the Death Valley Surfers. Once more I had that magic list of who to  hang out with, what to wear and what bands to listen to.

Death Valley Surfers

A cool ride while it lasted, but belonging to  the one tribe was  eventually thwarted; partly  due to  wrong hair (again)  and no tattoos, and largely  by the obstinate part of me that insisted on writing  and performing off-genre songs. My own psychobilly band got stick for not being “pure psychobilly” and I realised yet again, I couldn’t rest in anyones else’s comforting but temporary subcultural space.

Songs about not fitting in: HERE

Loner

 

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Rambling about Marshall Stacks again

 

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I discarded 90% of my worldly goods when I moved to Berlin  but the Marshall Stack came with me.  Death Valley Surfers  had a New Year’s Eve show there at the end of 2000, and it came along in the van  (along with the other 10% of my worldly goods.)  I’d never envisioned the Stack not being a  part of my life,  but my life changed.  Gig requirements in my new home shifted from “band van” to “small car” or even “take the bus” shows.  My last-century  sound equipment was becoming more decorative than functional. It graced the minimally furnished front room of my first  Berlin flat, but it didn’t get around much.

Marshall Stack and Ms Ruby Freeman

Marshall Stack and Ms Ruby Freeman, Berlin 2003

Eventually  a move to a third floor apartment with no lift overtook all other considerations. Goodbye, Stack.

I was doing mainly salon and bar shows where a  compact and minimal setup was the way to go. After one or two experiments with a Beringer and a custom made Michael Bender (cult Berlin amp inventor),  I went for  a double act of sturdy new generation VOX-es.  They had precious little of the magic  I remember from the AC 30 I played in the seventies (though the little pink one scores  10 for cuteness)

Big Vox and Little Vox

I didn’t give Marshalls much more thought to be honest, until I made a trip to Liverpool with my partner in 2005. We chanced to see a poster in a  guitar shop, advertising none other than Jim Marshall,  signing copies of his new CD that day . The total lack of fanfare was unbelievable. I’ve seen better publicity for a church jumble sale.  Naturally we went in and he signed two posters for us. As can happen with meeting famous people, I could think of buggerall to say.  This was compounded by my guilt  for having ditched his creation the year before . But somehow I did manage  a couple of pleasantries, and will never forget the impression he made – courteous, unassuming and a total gentleman  – I’ll also never forget  my astonishment on hearing his CD  which was a million miles from the rock monster sound he’d created, more like granddad singing in the bath. Bless him.

Gentleman Jim Marshall, Liverpool 2005

Gentleman Jim Marshall, Liverpool 2005

Finally,  a photo  of the Stack on active service – at a  Joyryde recording at  Alaska studios, London in 1993.  I think the corrugated iron was there to make it even louder.  Scientific explanations  welcome.

Marshall Stack at Alaska Studios 1993

 

 

Rambling About Marshall stacks

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The wine was flowing at the birthday party, and our covers band was taking a break between sets. We were chatting to a fifty-something guest who’d renewed an old love affair with guitars and was embracing the sound technology  that hadn’t been there the first time round. He waxed lyrical about a Line 6 gizmo, which could be preset to recreate all the classic amps. I found myself agreeing that it must be wonderful to just press a key and sound like a Marshall stack. Probably minus some tedious pre-digital restraints of price, size, and temperamental valves. But something was bugging me. I felt strangely disloyal for smiling and nodding – as if I should be defending some ancient rock code of conduct.

The Birdhouse and the Marshall 1989

The Birdhouse

Would Hendrix have used a Line 6? Or is he turning in his grave?

Later on the way back to Berlin, with our (non-Marshall stack) equipment packed behind my seat I thought it over. If the Line 6 really DID sound identical to a Marshall, who was I to say “It’s not the same….” or “Back in the day…”  or any  other neo-Luddite remark…..? This is as near as I got to an answer…

Take gold. People  steal, they fight, or they give all they possess to acquire it. Rightly or wrongly it’s special. Now, if some 14th century alchemist had figured out how to create gold from horse manure, then it’d still be 100% gold. But no longer special. So it is with my perception of Marshalls. If a bunch of geeks put it to the test and had me listening to a Marshall and a Line 6, maybe I’d be unable to tell the difference. BUT none of these hypothetical geeks would have directly experienced the sheer physical presence and power of Jim Marshall’s sound engineering  masterpiece. None of them would have realised that it was truly in another league at that time. None of them would have put their hard-earned savings across the counter to buy  the damn thing.  The value of it is no longer in the sound but somewhere in my psyche. I’m SO glad I lived with the magnificent Marshall beast before it got reduced to a disposable software option. Even if I did have to lug it up the stairs at 4 a.m.

 

Joyryde and the Marshall 1996

Joyryde

Death Valley Surfers and the Marshall 1999

 The Death Valley Surfers

More to come on Marshalls later this summer –  watch this space……….