Sunday, 28 November 2010

Rabbits in November

We’ve had an exhausting month in Rabbit Land. We’ve only played four gigs which on the surface of it makes this our quietest month in two years. In fact it’s been one of the busiest - we’ve been burrowing our way through nine new songs which we’re recording next month. And we’re been packing a punch on radio too – in Deutschland, of all places.

Next week we go back on the road again with 4 shows in 5 days - and I can’t wait. While off the road I have been brushing up on my German in preparation for that interview and obsessing about Kurt Schwitters’ column.

Inside the houses he lived in, Schwitters made columns, adding layer upon layer of trash and leftovers of people he had met and worked with. He constructed his columns by hand with nails and glue and would leave cavities which he would cram with artifacts like the dog end of a cigarette smoked by Mondrian, the cut-off end of Theo Van Doesburg’s tie and a pot of someone’s urine, collected somewhere in the 1920s. As time went on the columns grew fatter and wider until the artifacts of past acquaintances were buried deep inside its form.

Now - while I was warming up a Cornish Pasty the other day - I wondered what memorabilia would fill the Rabbit Foot Column. And whether - if we were an even bigger band - we could ever support a statue of Nelson on top.

I imagined the frenzy when my column was eventually uncovered by Cambridge Polytechnic Archaeologists!

On drums Skippy Gannon would contribute a black and yellow polyester buzzy Bee outfit – to signify his time providing backing for Arthur Askey (1900-1982) on the British variety circuit. Our bassist Buzz would contribute the spectacles of the engineer Nikola Tesla, inventor of the first loudspeaker.

Neapolitan guitar wizard Carlo Matassa would fill his hole with Tutti Frutti ice cream - and perhaps a couple of the Charlie Patton 78s we enthused over when we first met, on a rainy night, back in 2008.

There is little surprise when looking into saxophonist Red Wilkins’ hole – where we discover his sandwiches. The only mystery involves the audience trying to figure out what is in the sandwiches.We in the band already know that he has tomato sandwiches. And for pudding, there will be some fruit.

Muggsy West would leave a selection of women’s make up bags. With these pinned to the surface of the column we recall the happy evening of February 2nd 2008 – when Muggsy first joined the band on stage, for a Charity Gala Dinner at Oxford Town Hall. At the time we were too poor to afford to buy a drink so while we sneaked around the room hunting for left over drinks he picked up a book of raffle tickets and proceeded to win 6 out of 10 prizes. These included – I remember it clearly to this day – two crates of Wine, a tent, a collapsible deck chair, and the aforementioned make up bags.

Trumpeter Bunny Eros has filled in his own hole and covered it over with plaster of Paris but I saw what went in and frankly, you don’t want to know*.

Further inside the column are the remnants of those who have not made it to Year of the Rabbit. I would be kind in my selection of artifacts, but realistic.

You might imagine the list of items to be: Kid O’Hara (guitar, Sep 07-Dec 07) – 1 pair of large glasses; Hurricane Madams (drums, Sep 07-Feb 09)– 1 camping stove; Spooky Cotman (trumpet, Sep 07-Sep 08)– a newsboy cap; Martin (trombone, Sep 08-June 10) – a kebab; DJ Simpson (drums, Feb 09-April 09) - a dog collar; Radiology Taylor (guitar, Dec 07-April 09) – a roundabout, built from Lego (as in 'if you don’t stop singing I will leave you at the fucking roundabout'; Blind Bill Fadden (Oct 09-June 10) – see Kid O-Hara; Lucky Nickerson drums, April 09-September 10) – a stopwatch, telling me that my Cornish Pasty is nearly done.

And so the Macbeth-Säule would take form to be proclaimed a masterpiece by both people at its opening night. But I can’t envisage a cavity to stuff the remains of Year of the Rabbit in - although the scraps and leftovers of its construction would be better gathered there than in a 20th anniversary 3-CD box set (with previous unseen photographs and line notes from yours truly). And God forbid I might leave space for memorabilia accompanying the 20th anniversary tour where I foresee such unworldly horrors as the “e-tshirt”, tickets downloaded on iPads with “exclusive downloads” and - worse of all – a hologram of myself, singing from beyond the grave. You could use your mobile phone to turn me down - and if you press the hash key twice I turn into Oliver Reed.

* It was an HTML code.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Recently I had a call from an old pal of mine. He’d just launched his own School of Rock, aimed at getting 7-11 year olds interested in making rock music. Oh the imagination of people who are determined to avoid getting a job! Please would I go along, give a talk and play a few numbers? Sounds like a marvelous project! Yes, let’s set a date.

'But are you sure you don’t want someone who’s in a rock band?' I’d asked. 'See, I’ve never played rock music.'

'No, it’s gonna be great. I’m convinced you’re the man for the job!'

So, on the drive over last Saturday I wondered what other ill-qualified people might have be on the scene. Perhaps Jimi Hendrix would drop in to fry up a couple of pancakes for lunch. Maybe Kate Bush would be out back, grouting the bathroom.
What were they thinking?

I set up at the piano and waited for an eager dribble of pupils to emerge and sit cross legged on the floor in front of me. Eventually nine kids – and their parents -walked in. No - you’re not in the wrong room!

'So what kind of music are you listening to at the moment?'

'I’m into the Beatles!' said specimen 8, who had fidgeting towards me. Either they were teaching him James Brown’s body language or he was trying hard not to pee himself. I suspect the latter.

'Ah! The Beatles! Yes! Anyone else?'

A hand went up at the rear. 'Yes'?

'I’m into Flowchart'.


'Flowchart. They’re awesome'.

'Right... Flowchart... I’ve never heard of them. Anyone else'?

A hand went up.

'Why are you dressed in old fashioned clothes?'

Bloody cheek! It was my brand new suit.

'I want to reclaim some of the glamour of the suit, tie and hat'. Nothing like quoting your own interviews.

'Do you sing songs about the War'?

'Um, yeah... there is a song on our new album about a Taxidermist who hangs around in an Anderson shelter and well… it’s not really an appropriate one to go into because...'

And here I dropped a clanger.

'... it’s a bit fucked up.'

For you records this was less than two minutes into the proceedings. Mark, the course instructor, abruptly changed the subject and invited me to play a song. Good idea – let’s break the ice!

When Bunny (our trumpet player) explained that, owing to several of my lyrics, our new album would have to carry a 'Parental Advisory' sticker I was over the moon! For the School of Rock I’d been careful to choose a song which didn’t have swearing in. I can spend months retuning a song and was confident that that “Limehouse Jelly Roll” wouldn’t cause offence. Until I announced it.

Take for example, take the seemingly innocent line 'You’d be my captive, copulating on Chinoiserie'.

Under the circumstances intuition told me the best thing to do was slur the words. No-one could possibly take offence if they couldn’t understand what I was singing. Suffice to say the impression I managed to create was not only was I singing halfheartedly about screwing Lillian Gish but that I was pissed out of my head. In stark reality this doesn’t hold much credence with the under 12s.

By the end of the song I hit the line about Opium. I did what any self respecting jazz musician would do under the circumstances – descended into scat. I wasn’t asked to play a second number.

The remainder of the session was spent trying on impress on a group of well meaning kids that if they practiced really, really hard they too could stand on a dwarf high stage and face questions like 'do you make loads of money?', 'do you live in a big mansion?' and 'have you ever met the Queen?'. Every response was, of course, recognition of my complete failure to do any of the above.

I tried my best and Mark has asked me back to give another talk, but I hope he can find someone who looks less like they sing songs about the war - someone who has heard of Flowchart. Fuck it, get Flowchart – there’s a 2.5% chance they’ll be free that morning. School of Rock is a great project and I wish it every success. I’m not sure you can teach Rock in school but I hope so. It must be more fun than guitar lessons and it’s certainly less expensive.

Having said that my own children won’t be going to no School of Rock, man. We have instruments lying around the house. They pick them up and play them whenever they like, which is often because there’s nothing else to do. My two year old is a mean harmonica player and can also get a couple of chords out of the 'uku-lady'. Even the baby has the hang of the drums and can pick a string.

The truth is that I’m a snob. When I enthused that 'we didn’t have things like School of Rock when I was growing up' I was attempting to praise the scheme and all the hard work Mark was putting into it - he’s a clear inspiration to the children who go there. But what I was really saying was the equivalent of my father saying to me 'when I were a lad all I got for Christmas was a second hand shovel. Now get out in the fucking garden and start digging'.

Such insights caused me immense harm and made me the musician I am today. One with no ambitions to meet the Queen.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Your Biggest Fan

One minute I am standing in the queue at Sainsbury's and the next minute a Google alert informs our manager (in Australia) that there‘s been a Twitter post with the words “Stuart Rabbit Foot“ in.

“LOL. Just saw Stuart Rabbit Foot in the queue at Sainsbury's. He bought four tins of cat food and a bottle of red wine”.

With this kind of e-CCTV going about it’s no wonder I never get away with any mischief.

Really, I dread to think what it would be like if we were actually famous. We’ve had our moments. Like the afternoon Muggsy got asked for an autograph in the Co-Op. His five year old daughter was perplexed. 'Daddy, how do they know you used to play for Oxford City'?

Or last night when me, Buzz (upright bass) and Red (baritone sax) got a lift back to our hotel with a cab driver who‘d been at the gig.

He was a terrific, chubby Cockney, - a proper old time jazz buff who’d sung with the greats and had an insatiable appetite for the music. Man, it takes talent to simultaneously steer a taxi and gesticulate with both hands.

Only once the doors of the cab were shut did he reveal that he’d been following us around the country for a year plus. 'No distance is too far to come and see the Rabbit Foot'. Wow! Thank you, but really you shouldn‘t have - It’s freaking us out!

He then decided it would be a great craic to play Gin & Sympathy at full blast on the CD player on the drive back from the gig. For small time crooks like us it was a classic Alan Partridge/Jed Maxwell moment.

'What do you lads think of this lot then? Ha ha ha ha ha!!'

All I could think of were the high odds of being chopped into little pieces and thrown into the Thames. Failing that maybe he’d preserve my testicles in a jar, or sell Buzz’s gold tooth on eBay. I really don’t know how to react to having a real fan like that. Of course, I love it, I’m chuffed, please come to all our shows, but it does freak me out a little.

I want to be able to deserve it. I want to be worthy of your journey every time. I want to know you‘re making all that effort to come and see us. And I want a whole fleet of taxi drivers following us round the country - and giving us lifts back free of charge.

We’re bad news when it comes to celebrities. I’ve never gone so far as to ask for an autograph. I’m generally content with acting like a complete twat. Thanks to the cab driver and a few others I’ve had a taste of my own medicine.

We’ve had a few gigs where well known people have been in the crowd. I just stared at Roger Lloyd Pack (Trigger from Only Fools and Horses) when he turned up at Gaz’s Rockin’ Blues. If I had known Kevin Rowland of Dexy’s was teetotal I would never, ever have attempted to remember the name of his third LP.

Nothing quite beats my terminal embarrassment at jumping on top of an 86 year old Humphrey Lyttleton at the 100 Club and shouting into his ear those well reasoned words of praise 'I fucking love you - Humph'. I shiver thinking about it.

More recently, because he couldn’t bear my Mr Jellyisms any longer Skippy (drums) gave me some useful advice:

'Treat them all with contempt'.

So, there we are, backstage at Glastonbury. I turn around and standing to my right is Suggs. Suggs has been deejaying our stage for the past couple of nights.

I didn’t walk up to him - He is standing next to me and He is looking down on me from on high - like God, in a polo shirt, holding a can of Carlsberg. Yeah man, it’s actually him off the Madness record sleeve - Graham MacPherson aka Suggs.

He is so close to me that I can see the hairs up his nostril. Well, don’t stand there like a prick Stuart, say something! And John’s advice chimes in my head 'treat them all with contempt…..treat them all with contempt'. Here we go….

'You were absolutely fucked last night'.
'Oh ... you were absolutely fucked last night'.

To the man’s credit he looks pretty happy with my assessment. It was a fair assessment.

'Was I?'

And so I recalled all I could (as per usual it was a pot calling the kettle black situation). What I remembered involved Suggs falling off the stage and playing 'I Can See Clearly Now' four times in a row.

And you know what? Suggs turned out to be a fucking nice bloke and I probably never would have know that if I had told him I owned all his records, or thought it was a great craic to play 'Baggy Trousers' to him full blast in the back of a taxi.

And 'I Can See Clearly Now' is a great record - he should have played it five times in a row. And you know what else? He listened to our set and afterwards he came up, shook my hand and said how much he’d enjoyed the show.

I wish I had it in writing. With a signature - I could have sneaked his autograph after all. What I have instead is his book Suggs and the City (published by Headline). It’s a cracking read which goes deep into Soho Year of the Rabbit land, and even has anecdotes about the great Daniel Farson, a long time hero of mine.

Which reminds me of the Maggi Hambling incident. It was at a funeral, at the back of a pub in West London. It remains to this day a case study in how not to behave in front of your elders and betters. Rather than tell you the full story I am going to go and open that bottle of wine - I need it.

Suffice to say, she has never painted my portrait or heard me sing 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Rabbit Foot Update

I am about as happy as it’s possible for me to be - sessions are finally underway for our new record Year of the Rabbit. I started the writing on the evening we finished our last record by sprawling the lyrics to a song called “Peggy” on the back of a Chinese takeaway menu. Over two dozen songs have come and gone and on the drive up to the studio we were looking at each other nervously and wondering whether the ones that are left will be any good.

I say “sessions” as though we’re holed up in the studio for months. We’re actually in for two days – the next one is in December. We’re recording live with me sitting the one room and the rest of the band sitting in the other room – it’s just like real life! On day one the producer was excellent – he even managed to digitally remove the sound of me and Muggsy arguing between takes. We now have six numbers ready for the record which pleases me immensely.

We’ll be running through some of the numbers at our public shows this month. We are all off to Canterbury at the end of the week to play at The Supper Club on the 8th then we’re down to Margate on Saturday 9th for a show where we’ll be joined on stage by special guest Lonnie Donegan Jnr.

I have got Lonnie Donegan Jnr’s mobile number stored on my phone and I’m rather excited about that. I’ve been too busy looking at it to phone him up. But if I did he no doubt be at the bottom of the garden in his shed, far too busy to take calls from the likes of me.

Next weekend we’ll be swinging for El Nino at Club Thunderbird. This is being hosted at The Castle In NW11 (Golders Green tube station). They’ve got Georgie Fame on Thursday 14th and us on Saturday 16th.

I say this like we’re in the same league as the legendary Georgie Fame because I’ve heard our new record – you haven’t. What is actually going to happen is that I’ll go to the loo when I get there and think to myself “Oh My God, Oh My God, I am taking a slash in the same loo as Georgie Fame”. Then I’ll really this to the band and wonder why they are looking at my flies again.

Finally for October a big thanks to the Kassam Stadium in Oxford, home to our beloved Oxford United Football Club, for allowing us to play and take photos during their match against Stockport.

We’ve always supported the team and going behind the scenes we had a really great experience of a our local football club (take a look at Max Kaminsky's photos). They were fabulous. Next time we play down there they are going to win!!!

Friday, 9 April 2010

A Bandleader Writes

After a couple of weeks off we’re back with a vengeance at The Cellar. The band played around 120 shows last year - and we were sick of the sight of each other. By half past ten it’s like we’ve never been away.

We headlined a show where we had 18 support acts. None of them knew who we were and while we were waiting to go on I thought I saw someone sniggering at the washboard. “Play fucking hard!” I screamed at Bones our drummer, who has been coerced into playing washboard for the night. He duly responded.

The gig is absolutely mayhem. Muggsy berates me on stage for talking too much between numbers and I threaten to remove his trousers. Fifteen minutes later I have wrestled him to the ground but I just cannot get his trousers off. It’s the braces! I have another go, to no avail. He refuses to get up off the floor - and turns in his best solo of the night. Please bear in mind throughout this that we are a Trad Jazz Band playing in front of 200 screaming, sweating, drunken teenagers, and they are going MAD for it. It’s a great gig, but it does have its problems.

I have other problems to deal with as I am leaving the venue. Problem number one is a man who wants to dress up as a giant white rabbit and run onstage during our next gig - and won’t take “no” for an answer. He has now began to insist that it was my idea for him to dress up as a rabbit. Furthermore, he wants us to pay for the rabbit suit, plus the £100 deposit in case it gets “spoiled” . I told him to go ask Alice and piss off.

Problem number two is the text message I receive from the man who wants us to play at his pub, where there is going to be a buffet. Are you fucking sick in the mind? Have you ever seen our show? It is completely inappropriate and we’re not doing it. "Oh what’s wrong - got a BETTER offer?" Absolutely not, but we DON’T PLAY FUCKING BUFFETS! If I get any more nasty txt msgs from him I am going 2 come down 2 yr pub l8r and burn it down.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Maida Vale Memories

Well, a fine day indeed, last Tuesday. The band took a collective day off work (though who looked after King Martin's "Bayou's Best Organic Watermelon Stand" we don't know) and made our separate sordid ways to the BBC's Maida Vale studios to record for Mark Lamarr's BBC2 programme God's Jukebox. Bunny arrived early and set a new record for finding a pub in unfamiliar territory, where he claims he had an abstemious tomato juice ... and half pint of gin (his own concoction, known as a Bloody Awful. Anyone who thinks whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger should think twice before trying one of these.)

Mr Lamarr himself was in fine form and his technicians absolutley helpful and phenomenal. The band was rather overawed by knowing we were in the same studio in which Bing Crosby did his last recording in '77. (It was something of a trip to Mecca for Stuart and Bunny, who just kept staring at the brass plaque above the recording booth.)

The broadcast went out on March 12th, and a rather worn-out Rabbit Foot Spasm Band stayed up until the wee hours listening for fluffs in one another's solos (we're really a kind lot at heart) and talking rubbish. As per usual, then. But here's a recording of 'Booze Cruise', a Macbeth original, which the BBC has kindly let us emebed until 10 April 2010. We hope you like it.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Oh, so we think we have something to say...

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Who doesn't have a blog these days? Whose opinions are worth listening to once, much less cementing in a blog? I suppose it was inevitable, though. Not content to drone on about Paul Specht and his Orchestra or who was in Woody Herman's Second Herd amongst ourselves, we thought we'd inflict it on you. I bet it'll read better when you're drunk. Actually, it may write better when we're drunk. All these things to discover.

Still, no one's forcing you to read it (yet...) and it's free, so take it or leave it for good or ill. We're hoping it'll prove interesting (hoping?! prove?! -Ed.) and if not, hell, we'll jack it in as a bad deal. But look forward to random rants about what we're listening to, what we've drunk, what we're listening to when we're drunk and what we're drinking when we're listening (did I leave anything out?). Oh and yes, bits about us, the band, or at least what our lawyers will allow us to say.

And something - at least potentially - interesting with which to leave you. (Ha. No sentences ending with prepositions here, boy. Although I once had a proposition end with a sentence. Long story. Long sentence, too. -Ed.)

Ever heard of the Nicholas Brothers? Well I should hope so. One always feels they're somewhat overshadowed by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (and even he reckoned they were a bit neglected back in the day - rather like Roy Eldridge, Krupa's best trumpetter - but more of him in a future post...). But here's a solid bit of dancing that'll make you break your back trying to imitate that thing where they run up a wall, or at least leave giant shoe-marks on the wall you can laugh at as you wait for the ambulance to arrive. The clip's from Glenn Miller's second movie (I know, Glenn Miller? But what can you do, it's Bunny's big dream to play in their trumpet section - we haven't the heart to tell him what happened to Miller on 15 December 1944... or that the Swing Era's over... actually, there's a lot we haven't the heart to tell Bunny...) , Orchestra Wives, in which the Nicholas Brothers - well, basically go nuts. It's brilliant. Wipes the floor with their earlier dance routine to Tuxedo Junction in Miller's first movie, Sun Valley Serenade, and that's saying a lot.

ANYhoo. The tune is one of Miller's biggest hits, (I Gotta Gal In) Kalamazoo. The band's in top form, Marion Hutton was never cuter - and watch for Jackie Gleason and Cesar Romero (y'know, the guy who played the joker in the original 60s Batman? Wait, you don't even know who Jackie Gleason is, right? Sigh...) on bass and piano respectively.

Swing out, gates! Solid, jack!