The Groanbox Blog

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Trouble at the Inn


Ok...the time has come. I was kind of hoping Cory would ramble off some eloquent reflections about this evening, but deep down, I knew this one was going to be up to me. I really should be practicing for my gig with Yo-Yo Ma at Tanglewood (which happens in about a week), but if you read Cory's "inordinately long post" below, you will know that I have no control over what I am doing right now.

A few evenings after our encounter with Jane Bombane, "the baby", the French muse Sophie, Herbie "Pussy Foot" and a cast of other memorable, endearing characters, the Groanbox Boys had their final performance before I went to the USA to perform at the Ojai Festival and Cory and his brother Yann went to France to do music for a play.

This last Groanbox performance before the break was an entirely unscheduled one, mind you. I was already quite beat from the whole Jane Bom-Bane experience, even with the short holiday in Scotland.

Our friends Ann and Tony from Brook's Blues Bar were helping out with some kind of shindig down at the Inn on the Green near Portobello Road. They asked Cory and me to stop down to say hello and meet some people.

I was just returning by train from a wedding in Scotland. Cory and I planned to meet in Camden to hook up with Sebastian, the guy doing the artwork for our Smokestack Trilogy CD, before heading down to the club. When I arrived the cafe was closing. Cory, Sebastian and Sophie(!!) were sitting around the table looking at the artwork. I took one look and then we had to leave, heading for the tube.

When our train pulled up, we got on the car and who should be sitting there, but JP.

It was going to be another interesting evening.

We soon arrived at the Inn on the Green, Cory and I carrying our instruments, JP following us with his camera, and Sophie. The club was very strange. It reminded me of the Brady Arts and Community Center but on a sort of mild hallucinogenic. There were all kinds of people in there, from all walks of life. Absolutely fascinating people watching. The bar was busy, and there was live music in the other room.

When we walked in to listen to the music, we discovered that it was atrocious. And that is the positive side of it. It was so unbelievably bad that it was quite good, but so bad that I have deleted it from my memory (Or covered it up, to be dealt with 20 years from now...) I do vaguely remember some pathetic, middle aged creature of a woman singing and trying to dance around on stage in a very tight dress.

I think Ann and Tony were a bit mortified. They are used to being associated with professional musicians. While they weren't directly involved with the evening, Ann was taking tickets at the door. The club was actually charging for the music!!!!!

Early on, Ann, Tony and Bill, a friend of theirs, asked if we would play. I was really not into it, but I think Cory had the attitude that we brought our instruments down there, so we might as well play.

He finally talked me around.

But I knew we could not do our usual schtick and play our "nice covers and originals" After the shit that was going on for hours before us, there is no way we would have been heard. You need drastic action to blow it off the stage. It is the equivalent of a cesspool blowing up onto a city street. I mean, if there is shit all over the sidewalk, you can't just have the normal street sweeper guy clean that up. You have to call in some heavy duty people.

I've done dozens of gigs like this, and I always get to a point where I am going to lose my mind but I manage to let it pass, or someone relaxes me, and I wind up going on stage, doing my bit while everyone ignores me, and then packing up and going home.

Not this time.

I started plotting with Sophie at the bar, approaching it from a bit of an intellectual side when Cory fortunately came up and said quite forcefully that it was a bullshit approach, and we should just go in and do something.

I knew he was right.

We walked into the room and I knew something was going to happen. We got on the stage and the sound guy was packing up.

"I think we are playing next" I said calmly.

"Well fuck that, I'm going home. The other guy will have to take care of you," and off went our sound guy.

Tony soon came running up and asked what we needed, and there was another guy who worked for the club and was helping out at the mixing board.

When Tony gave the thumbs up from behind the board, I felt like a fucking race car at the start line pushing the pedal to the floor and burning some serious rubber. I had a chair in my hand and I started whacking it on the stage in rhythm to what Cory was playing.

He had chosen "Heart in Sorrow" by Brownie McGhee, of course. This tune has become somewhat of an anthem for us, as we have been playing it since we first met just about.

From what I remember, everything sounded like absolute shit, but it was glorious. The guitar was completely and utterly distorted, the vocals as well, but less so. There was only one vocal mic, as I had dropped the other one on the stage with a thud to pick up the whacking of the chair.

This went on for about a minute or so. Then the real fun started.

The guy who worked for the club and was doing the sound came running up on stage. I had not gotten a good look at him before this. He was a late middle aged guy, with an AC/DC T-shirt, beer belly, a bad long haired perm and Unabomber sunglasses on. And this was in a dark club... a real rock and roller.

"STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT" he cried.
"YOU ARE GOING TO BREAK THE STAGE"

I did not stop. I couldn't even believe what I was hearing. I had my accordion strapped on and was playing a chair and Cory was sitting down playing finger style acoustic and singing an old blues tune.

And this guy is worried that we are going to break the stage.

I could write an entire book on that guy's reaction.

Oh, the pathetic state of Rock and Roll. The Groanbox Boys are more Rock and Roll than the Stones, AC/DC, and Bruce Springsteen all thrown together.

WE WERE GOING TO BREAK THE STAGE.

When's the last time the Who broke anything?

Back to the story...

The guy finally figured out that I was possessed and completely ignoring him, so he leaves the stage. As he left, I decided to follow him back to the mixing board, jumping up and down with my accordion strapped on and clapping my hands over my head. It was a strange sensation. I felt like I was flying around the room.

By this time, and for the first time that evening, people were streaming in through the door to find out what all the noise was about. We managed to get some of them clapping and dancing. I almost passed out from all the energy I was exerting, but when I made it back to the stage, Cory and I managed to sing some harmonies, and then I went and stood on a speaker and played for a bit.

People continued to dance, and I soon returned to the front of the stage.

At the very front of the small crowd, there was a black woman dancing, very strangely. I made some fairly deep eye contact with her, and came down from the stage and started to play in front her. At this point, it became for me like some kind of Santeria ritual or something. Very hard to convey or understand. All I remember is crashing to the floor with my accordion, and the woman coming down next to me writhing around for a bit. I also vaguely recall seeing JP at some points with his camera. I can only imagine the footage.

The next thing I knew, the guy whose birthday it was and about 20 of his wasted friends and family were on stage. Cory and I somehow segued from our extended version of "Heart in Sorrow" into "Happy Birthday" and that was it.

We were finished.

Cory wanted to keep going, but I knew there was no way to top what we did, and little point in even trying.

The strangest people in that club soon starting coming up to us and telling us how great we were.

Yeah, whatever.

Forget the WHO, we’re the Groanbox Boys. Mama don’t wear a squeezebox no more Pete Townsend. SHE WEARS A GROANBOX!!!!!

Sophie made the photo collage of pics she took of us at the Inn on the Green before we "broke the stage"


Thursday, July 20, 2006

A glimpse into the process


Yann here, the mysterious man behind the GBB who everyone really knows pulls the strings. Some have called me the George Martin of the Groanbox Boys, a title I'll grudgingly accept. For my first post on this blog I thought I would give you all a glimpse of the process that went into creating the new Groanbox Boys album. Above is a scan (click to enlarge) of a few pages from my little black notebook. You can see:

- my meticulous notetaking
- the number of mistakes that needed to be fixed
- cryptic scribbling (a mark of genius)
- the types of microphones used
- and more.