As 2018 comes to a close, the band I play in, Route 62 has had two changes of personal and we are re establishing our selves on our playing circuit and we're happier than we've ever been. Our old guitar player's wife cost us all just short of £2000 but we are now 18 months rid of them both and we no longer hear anything from them. Robin has been playing guitar with us just over a year and has fittted in well, he uses three guitars on stage, a Les Paul RI, a Strat and a Tele. Our Drummer, Graham, is well and truly in the driving seat and fits right in with us personality wise. He's brought a great sense of humour to the band and we like having him around.
This year we have added a few new venues to our customer base and have gone down well at each of them, getting return bookings. Over here in the UK you get to play the same place three times a year if you are very lucky, and we have two venues that give us three gigs each. We are aiming to play 26 dates next year, not a lot, but we are al family people, with the exception of our bass player who is divorced, his kids have grown up and he more or less lives alone. He would play three nights a week every week if we would, the band helps him with the loneliness he often feels. However, we now have a very happy line up and for the first time ever we feel that all of us are friends and there are no strains in any of the band relationships.
For myself, the year has brought two big challenges. At the end of April I was made redundant from work when the company I worked at started making cutbacks, and I was one of them. The second challenge has been losing my driving licence. This has been because of an accumulation of penalty points on my driving licence. Over here in the UK road side cameras have proliferated alarmingly and if you are one mile an hour over the speed limit they get you. This leads to an automatic 3 points on your licence. Get twelve and you are banned from driving. I was driving 50,000 miles a year with work and just before a lot of points came off my licence I was caught by a camera over the limit. I thought I was in an area with a higher limit than it has and was making an effort to stay within that limit unaware that I was completely wrong. Well, you could say it's my own fault and the courts banned me from driving but I have tried to be very careful and I really do believe (along with any one I speak to) that these cameras are not about safety but are about raising revenue. Even the police refer to them as revenue cameras.
Not having a driving licence has impacted on me in two ways. First of all it has severely affected my job search and I firmly believe I'd have been back in work by now. The second way it has affected me is the inconvenience. I really do not mind being a passenger, but I now depend on others in the band to help me. A couple of years ago our car broke down and had to go to the repair shop to be put in working order again. not one of the band offered me any help and I had to hire a car ( I was out of work then also) and fuel it. It took more than my share of the gig money to go and play the gig. Not one of the band offered to share a bit more with me and had I just cancelled the gig (due to unforseen circumstances) every one would have lost their share. However, this time, Robin sent every one an e mail telling them that as a band they needed to be willing to help me. So, my wife drops me at all local gigs, and if it's not local she take's me to Robin's house and we go in his VW van and he brings me home from the gig. Also our drummer has brought me home, so it's a different experience for me and no one has said it's my own fault. I've had lots of support from the guys.
We finished the year with our last gig on Saturday night at a Club in Wakefield, the next town to us. It was only a twenty minute drive there, and it's the third time we have played this venue. They have a new Concert Secretary at this venue and he told me that they are looking for a band to play for the last Saturday of the year next year. Our normal fee for this club is £400, but as it is the New Year event they will pay £1000. So, that will be our biggest fee to date if we get it. Years ago in the UK when the pub and club scene was really in full swing, a semi pro band, if good enough, could ear some really nice money pro rata to what they can earn today. But things change and the industry that led to the organisation of many of these clubs has died. Over here there was lots of coal mining and engineering plants, which have all gone. the Clubs we play are what we call in the UK "Working Men's Clubs" where working people can come out as couples and enjoy entertainment and a social life at greatly reduced costs. Often the clubs had their own Snooker, Pool, Soccer, Crown Green Bowling and other sports teams which would be involved in the local community. They still provide a great night out for people but they are getting thinner on the ground. However, the bigger ones are surviving for the time being. In their hay day, some of the clubs would book top singers such as Tom Jones and other big names and they would be packed. Something else you may find interesting is that the Clubs formed a "Federation" where by if you were a member of one club you could visit another club without paying an entry fee. The Federation of Clubs owned it's own brewery in the North of England called "The Federation Brewery" and distributed beer to the clubs of the federation at greatly reduced prices compared to the big commercial brewery's and the saving was passed on to the club members. Today the aim of the clubs is to plow the profit's back into the club so the members can enjoy a less expensive night out and it is certainly noticable that when we buy drinks we pay 30% at least than when we play in bars and pubs.
During 2018 I have taken more notice of pedals and how they are used to a better effect. I'm not talking about having a lot of them for the sake of it, but for enhancing the sound. My friend now plays in Wishbone Ash and I've noticed how he and Andy Powell use pedals to great effect. So next year I'm going to try and enhance my own sound just a little bit where it is applicable, and that it the key word - Applicable. I don't use a lot of pedals but for some songs I'd like to combine two or three - for example, the end solo of Throw Down The Sword uses reverb, overdrive and boost. I'd like to be able to switch these on all at once and off together. I am also hoping to get a new amp and guitar. The Amp I would like is a Fender 30 watt Vibroverb which has a beautiful clean tone. I play on a clean setting and use the OD pedal when I need to, I don't channel switch. I will sell my Fender Hot Rod then the Vibroverb will be the number one amp with my Peavey Classic 30 as my back up amp.
Now for guitars. I have over the years had a hankering for a PRS but never really had the money. I've always admired them as a quality product and I've decided to try and get one by the end of next year if things go well enough for us. I will never buy a guitar over the needs of our family or home, and over the last few years I could have had several very nice guitars with the money we have elected to make our home a nice place to live in. But if I can, I will save my gig money next year, sell off one of my guitars and buy the PRS I've wanted. There are other guitars I would like just as much, such as a Gretsche Country Gentleman but what has made me settle on the PRS is that every time I have picked one up and played, my playing has been more fluid. On a personal level I find them very comfortable to hang on a strap and stand up for 90 minutes with one round my neck. I know there are other great brands out there, and I would enjoy any one of them. But I am talking about a working tool here that earns me money and the PRS has come to the fore for that reason. when I win the lottery I'll buy a couple of nice H150's, a Music Man Sihouette the Gretsche, and have a few more hand built ones to my speck by top luthiers. Until then I will just make do with the PRS. I've got to find the right one, but the fun is in the search, the work is in the practice and the playing.
The band always takes January off from gigging for a couple of reasons. First of all, every one has spent up over Christmas, the bills are coming in and it's cold so the venues are all about empty. Secondly, we use January to rehearse new numbers for our set list and now we need two different set lists. One for pubs and bars and a seperate one for the clubs which demand a different type of set. The song I am looking forward to playing most is Blowin' Free by Wishbone Ash, it's a song we all love in the band and to me it fills me full of joy.
We finished the year off with a great gig and had to play a twenty minute encore at a club that is known for letting you know if they don't like you and they would have let us play for linger had we done so. But finishing on such a high note has made me look forward to next year and the gigs we will play. I hope you all have a great Christmas and that the new year brings everything you need.
Thanks for reading, and best wishes to all,