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Rock and Roll Stories Part 4 - The Cover Guy

Well, now that my fantastic Dressed To Kill adventure is over, I am without a regular ‘gig’ behind a drumkit for the first time in over 20 years, the occasional Three Amoebas shows notwithstanding.

I’ve gone from Shotgun Wedding to City Kidds/Sons Of God to New Jersey to Ian The Goat Sings Black Sabbath to Foreigner 4, back to New Jersey again, then to Hotter Than Hell and finally Dressed To Kill in just over 2 decades – but that only scratches the surface of my life tubthumping onstage.

You see, inbetween my regular bands, things have always ‘come up’ for me to help someone out and do what’s known in the trade as ‘depping’ – that is, to sit in with a band for one night when their usual drummer is away with the fairies. Or something.

Life as a depping musician can be very rewarding musically as long as you’re prepared for the fact that you don’t always get the call for any gig that comes up. But it is nice to know that you’re most bands’ first port of call.

Sometimes it can get a bit hairy though. I’ve been depping with Dizzy Lizzy on and off for a decade now, and they are the undisputed masters of short notice for asking you to step in – a bit like the Alan Brazil Sports Breakfast of tribute bands.

I remember one early Saturday evening at home, watching the last knockings of Soccer Saturday on Sky and debating what shirt to wear for a night out in Brum when the phone went. It was H from the Dizzy boys, the band’s Phil Lynott, who was born – ironically enough – in West Bromwich just as Lynott himself was. I recognised his slow deliberate Black Country drawl immediately.

“Owlroight Eee?” (he always magically shortened Ian to “Eee”)

“Hallo H! You ok son?”

“Yeah, yeah, ok I suppowse…er mate we’ve gorra gig…”

“Oh yeah? Where is it then mate?”

“It’s up in Long Eaton, near Nottingham actualluy..,”

“And when is it?” I offered having grabbed my diary from beside the phone

“(long pause) It’s…sort of…well, tonight really”

“What? Tonight?”

“Yeah…can you do it? What time can you get here d’ya reckon?”

“Oh you’re already there are you?!? Where’s Lev then?”

“Dunnow, mate – he must ‘ave a jazz gig in town and he ay told us”

By this time, my girlfriend Jo had wandered into the lounge, intrigued by hearing my end of the conversation no doubt

“Well it’ll take me a hour and a half to get there – what time you onstage?”

“In about 2 hours, mate…”

“Right then…”

Jo gave me the internationally recognised hand signal for ‘It’s ok, you go on and I’ll stay here with the cats and watch my Ally McBeal box set” and I sprung into action, grabbing the drum bits I needed (it was a kit share, so only snare cymbals etc) and tore up the M42/M1 to get to Long Eaton, arriving at the place with around 15 minutes to spare.

I vaguely remember Tony the guitarist quipping “What bloody kept you?” as I burst through the venue doors sweating profusely and I recall meeting the (huge) drummer whose kit I was using, but the rest of that gig is just a blur of hastily scribbled set lists, run throughs of endings/beginnings to songs and the strangest drum kit set up I have ever played on, as I clearly needed Inspector Gadget’s telescopic arms to reach this bloke’s tom toms. It rocked, that much I do remember. All that for 40 quid.

With Dizzy Lizzy, even the more ‘organised’ dep led to a mad scramble. One Friday we were booked to play in Blyth just north of Newcastle and I arrived at Tony’s house around midday as instructed to park my car and unload my kit into the van he’d hired. There was no sign of H or 2nd guitarist Tim and Tony explained that we were picking both of them up on our way to the motorway.

Fair enough I thought – but upon arriving at H’s house, things ground to a crippled snail’s pace. He wasn’t even dressed for starters, let alone being ready with his bass gear packed to put in the van. Cue a half hour delay, which became a 45 minute stoppage, as H needed to post a letter. This meant a stop at a local newsagent and – I’m not joking here – 5 minutes for H to be happy that the stamp he bought was securely attached to the A4 envelope he’d deliberated buying for almost as long. Then another minute as he almost seemed to deliberate over whether the post box we’d found was good enough to put the bloody thing into!

So it’s approaching 2pm and we’re still in Brum – foolishly, I’d figured that Tim’s house would be on the way to Blyth, but no. He lived near Stoke just off J15 of the M6…hang on! The M6 on a Friday afternoon??? Oh shit…we crawled all the way up to the Potteries where Tim was (im)patiently waiting outside his front door. It was now 3.15 and we had to now get across to the M1 at Derby and then get up beyond Newcastle inside 3 hours.

It took us 3 hours to get to Scotch Corner. By now I was beside myself. Anyone who’s been in a band with me will know how much I faff if we’re late to a gig venue. Well, we were beyond late here. This was further compounded by a realisation as we finally reached Geordie-land that neither H nor Tony actually knew the directions to the venue. My response to that news was unprintable. Countless wrong turns later, we eventually rolled into the Eagle car park in Blyth at 7.30 ish. I thought we were dead meat to Barry and his sound crew who’d been there since 4 waiting for us – but they were amazingly patient but more importantly QUICK, and incredibly we were set up and soundchecked by 8pm for a 9pm start. We stormed our set and all was rectified in my mind…until we ran out of diesel 500 yds after setting off back home at 1am. Harumph.

But those were isolated nighmares with Dizzy Lizzy – the only other frightening moments in their company came when I was asked to cover for a couple of gigs…on guitar. Fish out of water barely fits as a description – I’m not half bad as a rhythm guitarist, but lead work is not my strong point, let alone mastering the mastery of Scott Gorham, but I survived 3 such shows; 2 in Devon & Cornwall where my peers couldn’t – well - PEER at me, but another in front of loads of friends at The Railway in Digbeth, where the drummer used that night – one ‘Mad’ Mickey Tongue – played at such a ferocious pace, it made the quiet, sedate run through the set that I’d had that afternoon with Tony utterly worthless. Still, my leather trousers and red silky shirt looked the business. And I did nail the solo in Dancin In The Moonlight (not the Toploader one)

My love of Lizzy’s music since the age of 9 or 10 makes playing with Dizzy Lizzy a total joy and one wher I can relax. But I remember once getting a call from an agent called Jeff Powls one Sunday lunchtime asking if I could help out in Nuneaton that night with a Doors cover band that had no drummer. Now THIS was pressure, as my knowledge of Morrison & co was sketchy at best. Once I arrived, set up and ran through the songs I sort of knew (Light My Fire, Riders On The Storm) I was dispatched back to my car with a pile of CD’s they’d brought along for me to listen to the rest of the set. Songs like ‘When The Music’s Over’ meant nothing to me prior to hearing them, and the hour or so I had for musical appreciation raced by and I had to face the music. I don’t recall too many awkward moments (the other band members were fabulous players, especially the keyboard player) but we did have to play ‘Riders…’ a second time for an encore as there was nothing left in my memory bank.

One proud depping moment I have took place at the Half Moon in Putney with The Steve Gibbons Band – Steve was and still is a musical legend around Brum, and did have a huge hit in the 70’s with ‘Tulane’. I’d been recommended to Steve as cover by Magnum’s Mickey Barker (which in itself was a huge compliment) but as with The Doors show, I had no great knowledge of his later work that formed the major part of his set. Steve kindly provided a cassette a couple of days beforehand, and the show was a real thrill for me, although I think my playing was a little more ‘heavy handed’ than Steve was used to at this point despite my best efforts at dynamics throughout. Should’ve used brushes…

There are few better looks you can get onstage as a depping drummer than the look from a singer or guitarist that says ‘brilliant – you know your way around this stuff’. I had that from Jovi tribute Keep the Faith one night at The Robin. To be fair, I’d had about 4 years experience playing Bon Jovi songs with New Jersey at that time, so I knew KTF’s setlist inside out. That doesn’t mean cock-ups aren’t necessarily just around the corner though – again I was playing on a kit I’d not seen before, but the glances thrown my way throughout assured me I was doing the usual drummer proud.

Although it became a regular gig for me over the years, my first show with Ian the Goat Sings Black Sabbath felt like an audition/dep/cover gig all in one. The band was booked to headline an outdoor festival on Bonfire Night at JB’s in Dudley, but as Goat himself was working up in Blackpool right up until showday, I only rehearsed with the rest of the band without hearing vocals and, perhaps more crucially, hearing the comedy banter that dominated the set, with Goat as Ozzy winding up Stu as Tony Iommi leading to sackings and set-piece gags that were usually meticulously rehearsed.

We were on last after a brilliant set from Fred Zeppelin and the pressure was on for me. Goat arrived 2 hours before show-time and was introduced to me. ‘Hope you know the f***ing stuff’ was his opening line to me – and indeed the only thing he said to me prior to going on. That put me on edge somewhat, but I was assured that Goat was like that with all guys he’d not met who played with him. I’d seen the band enough times to know he was a very funny and sharp frontman who always got the crowd on his side so i needn’t have worried.

Out we went into the cold Dudley air with the nearby castle lit up above us, launched into the riff of ‘Symptoms Of The Universe’, Goat strode up to the mic and cried to the thousands assembled in the car park “Let’s smash the gates down at the zoo and release all the fucking animals!!!” which brought a huge laugh as the first pyro flash went off and gave me a huge surge of adrenaline. That show remains one of my favourite ever behind the drums, with one of the best lines EVER used by a frontman: “There are some beautiful women here tonight…really beautiful women…(gestures to lady in front row) go on love, turn round and have a look…

I also remember afterwards we took the band’s gear back to our rehearsal space and I thanked Goat for the chance to play with them. “Aye” he retorted as he turned and headed for the exit, “Get f***ing practising and you might get a second go!” – a chance I got a few weeks later, and I’m proud to say that Goat is now one of my closest musical buddies.

And that’s what depping does really – increases your social circle as you play with more and more folk who trust you to come in and not screw their gig up. Long may the opportunities come up in the future – any Foo Fighters, Deep Purple, Journey or Bryan Adams tributes reading this, I’d love to help you out especially… ;o)

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