Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meeting V


The primary reason for me being at The Wickerman Festival was Scruffy Buzzards were playing there. However, a week or 2 beforehand, a wonderful, unexpected opportunity arose – it turned out one of my fellow bloggers listed over on the right of the page – V from Learning to Be Selfish - was also going to be there, and suggested we meet up.

I’ve only met a small handful of bloggers I didn’t know already, but each time it’s been like meeting up with an old friend. We might not have met in person before, but we have shared stories, life events and offered emotional support over the months and years.

V’s blog writing has become more sporadic over the past year or so, but when she turned up here commenting 3 years back, I went over to here site and was caught up in the depth of her writing. Deep, real emotions – she was writing not for an audience, but to unload.

Then, when I was trying to launch my Staring Back exhibition, V came to my rescue as a press agent – helping with press releases and making sure they were sent to the appropriate outlets. It was a huge help.

So I leapt at the chance to meet her in person.

And sure enough, it was like meeting up with an old friend.

I wasn’t sure about mentioning it here, as her blog is written for herself rather than to gain followers, but she has just posted up about our encounter, so I guess it’s OK to go public about it.

I know she plays the fiddle, although she didn’t bring it with her to The Wickerman. I’m hoping next time we meet we will be able to play a little music together.

If all goes to plan, I’ll be meeting up again with another very special blogger known to many of us. More on that in a few weeks time…

Monday, July 23, 2012

Budgie Smugglers

Last week was a bit busier for the band I’m in, Scruffy Buzzards, with 2 very different gigs.

On Thursday afternoon we played under the Midsteeple in Dumfries town centre, as part of the "In Our Town" festivities this summer.


Photo courtesy of Giles Atkinson

I have no idea what committee decided that 4pm on a Thursday afternoon was a good time slot to book a band, but the decision was clearly not based on potential audience figures. On occasion it threatened to get as high as double figures, but for the last 20 minutes we only had 3 people watching us who weren’t also part of the festivities, and one of them was Sharon, the partner of our lead singer.

One advantage of this was it was the first time we’ve played live that I wasn’t in the slightest bit nervous. Normally my heart is pounding hard when we’re playing to an audience, but the lack of spectators meant we just had fun playing for ourselves with no pressure.

However, I was able to hand my camera to Sharon and ask her to film us, as I’m aware there’s precious little footage of us online yet. So here, for your enjoyment, is “Your Own Way”. The chord structures were by me and the bass, tune and rhythm section were created by the rest of the band, but the lyrics were kindly donated by Alan McClure of The Razorbills when we were going through a blank patch on lyric writing.



On Saturday afternoon, however, we had a much livelier audience when we played in the Ingrid Pitt tent at The Wickerman music festival. I think the fact that some of them had been drinking for about 36 hours solid at that point added to their desire to join in as much as possible. All in all, the mood was great and the response was terrific.

I had another friend film our set with my camera, but the speakers were so loud, the built-in microphone couldn’t cope with it, so the sound ended up too distorted to be useable.

While there’s no doubt we made a good impression on the people there, it might not translate into extra followers. More than a few were struggling to remember our name. Scary Parrots and Budgie Smugglers were a couple of the variations we heard mentioned.

My thanks to Pete White for this photo of me tuning up my instruments just before we began playing.



Next gig is on Sunday August 5th in Newton Stewart at the Wheelie Good Bike Show.

I wonder when we’ll get discovered by Jools Holland...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Scruffy Buzzards

As I entered my teens, I knew I was going to be a rock guitar god when I grew up. That or an astronaut. I had started to suspect there wasn’t likely to be much call for a sword-wielding barbarian warrior in late 20th century Britain, which had been my other desired career path only a couple of years earlier.

I remember in my early 30s waking up one morning and realising I’d missed my chance to be an astronaut, and commercial flights and holidays to the moon weren’t likely to be happening any time soon. I experienced a distinct pang of grief and moped around the house for several days.

A few years later I realised I’d also missed my chance to become a rock star. I was married, had children and was so busy running my web design business I hadn’t even lifted up my guitar for a couple of years. Indeed I didn’t start playing any instruments again until several months after I’d sold the business and we’d moved to SW Scotland and the chimney sweep noticed my dust-covered mandolin sitting in the corner of the room [see Blistering Fingertips].

For a couple of years I would take my mandolin, and then my bouzouki, along to The Storytelling Café – a monthly event led by singer and storyteller, Tony Bonning. When he strummed his guitar he would insist I joined in, and periodically would talk about putting a band together. It took him a couple more years, but eventually he invited me along to join him with bass player John, and guitarist, Richie, on Tuesday evenings, and we started to work out arrangements around some of Tony’s favourite songs – mostly ‘60s and ‘70s covers.

However, Tony is a busy man and with growing frequency he was elsewhere on a Tuesday evening, so Richie, John and I started playing around with our own tunes – each of us would periodically bring along chord sequences, guitar riffs or bass lines that we’d made up and see what the others would put with it. Richie was already a singer in his own right so took over the role of front man when Tony eventually bowed out altogether. John’s daughter suggested Scruffy Buzzards for the name of the band, and it stuck.

John and Richie both knew Bruce – a singer and guitarist who also played drums. He still does his own stuff away from the band, but with Scruffy Buzzards he decided he’d stick to percussion, and in keeping with the more acoustic sound he bought himself a cajón (pronounced ka-hon – emphasis on the second syllable – it’s a box with wires inside so if hit in different places, it creates different percussive sounds). We were now ready to start tidying up some of our songs and presenting them to the public.


One of those tricky photos I had to take and be in at the same time

We tested the water by having a sort of practice session in the back room of The Masonic Arms in Kirkcudbright to an audience of about 6, which I got my son to record on my camera.



Since then, we’ve set up the Facebook page (facebook.com/scruffybuzzards), gained over 300 “likes,” played half a dozen local gigs and are thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

Although I haven’t become the rock guitar god I envisaged as a teenager – indeed, I’m not even playing a guitar in the band – and we’re not likely to become chart-topping megastars, it is a great deal of fun. For brief moments we get to pretend we’re playing to stadiums of 20,000 people even if there are only a few dozen people in the audience. But so far each time we’ve played, the few dozen watching have been responsive and appreciative, which is really good for the soul.

If anyone either side of the Atlantic (or Pacific) wishes to book us for a gig, we'll do it for travel, food, accommodation and a bit of pin money (and I'll throw in a photoshoot as well).