Rehearsals

On Wednesday 20th February 2013, which was the day before our first mini practice at the YMCA in Newport, I travelled down to South Wales. Andy had generously offered to put me up in his house in Pontypool for all the rehearsals and the gig. I am not sure how his cats took my presence, however Andy and Jayne, his wife, certainly made me welcome.

I arrived around midday and after lunch we made our way up to the radio station BRFM Lakeside Studios, in Nantyglo. BRFM are a Community Media Centre based in Blaenau Gwent South Wales. They transmit their Community Radio on 97.3fm and through their website worldwide. They also provide an Internet TV channel, Recording facilities and Practice area. With hindsight, perhaps it would have been better to arrange the rehearsals at BRFM; particularly as we would go on to do a radio session there in October 2013.

When we arrived, I saw 3 people talking outside the studio, one of which kept staring over to us in my car. As Andy got out, the person, who was staring, came over and shook his hand. When he spoke, I realised it was Ted Dyer. I had been emailing and speaking to him for a couple of months, but didn’t think of checking to see what he looked like. Last time I had seen him, he was a very young boy with long hair. He had changed a bit, but at least he still had his hair, although not as long as it used to be. Slightly embarrassed, I shook his hand and said hello.

We then walked over to meet Chris Philips, would be interviewing us. Chris gave us a tour of their facilities and a brief of how the interview would progress. The interview would actually be on his son’s request show, however, he said that he would hijack it and, in his own words, ‘stop him playing Green Day for the whole show’. The initial plan was to have a 15-minute chat at the start of the show. We would explain a bit of the history of the band and what we were doing, with the reunion.
 

Andy & Ted waiting in the BRFM 'Green Room'


Chris introduced the show by playing ‘My Generation’ from The Who; quite an appropriate choice as they played it, when we supported them, back in 1966 in Coed Eva. After a brief introduction, he asked what each of us did in the ‘Pieces of Eight’ band. Andy did his best Long John Silver impression and Chris realising what he had just said, replied rather quickly that he was a pirate DJ. When I introduced us and got to my name, Andy wanted to know if there were sexual connotations behind my name of ‘Ducksy’. I said of course not and explained how I was given the name in school. I don’t think Andy or the others believed me, but honestly, it’s true.  

We recalled numerous memories of the 3 of us; some good, some bad and some that can’t go into print. Chris was laughing so much, at times; he nearly missed his cues at the end of some music. We ended up staying on for the whole 1-hour show. What I thought was nice was the way he played music from the bands we had supported, such as Johnny Kidd and The Who. We would tell a story or two about that particular gig; then he would play a song from that band. At the end of the interview, he asked the 3 of us to request a song to be played.

Andy chose ‘Whatcha Gonna do About It’ from the Small Faces because it reminded him of the version of the band when there was just Adrian, Phil, him and me. I chose ‘Baker Street’ from Gerry Rafferty, because I want it to be played at my funeral, which hopefully would not be for a while. I explained that a young Welsh lad, Henry Spinetti, had played drums on the record as well and I also thought Henry had played in a band that supported us at the Aberfan charity gig in December 1966. Ted chose the Yardbirds version of a Billy Boy Arnold song called ‘I Wish You Would’. I’m glad Ted chose that as the song brought back fabulous memories of us playing in the West End Ball room in Birmingham. It’s a great opener for a set, and in fact we would play it as the real opener at the CWMC gig.

Towards the end of the hour, Chris asked if we were going to do more gigs, then perhaps we would come in and do a live session for them. We agreed and in fact plans were made to do a session in October 2013.

Later that evening the 3 of us met up with John Beardmore and Steve Leman, at the CWMC. We wanted to check out the room, we would be playing in, and see if the stage was big enough to take 2 sets of drums. Both the room and the stage looked ideal for our purposes. The stage, though it would be a little cramped, was just about big enough to accommodate us all. There was a great dressing room area to the left of the stage, where we could store cases and other gear not being used. We also met up with Paul Bowen, the entertainment secretary of the club, who allowed us to have a drink or two in the bar. Additionally, he kindly offered the services of a few of his colleagues to do the lighting for us at the gig.

The next morning Andy and I drove to Newport to attend the practice at the YMCA. Driving through Newport for the first time in over 30 years was a shock to me. The town centre I knew had gone to be replaced by what I could only term as a bombsite. My satnav didn’t like it either as it kept trying to direct me into what appeared to be the bus station. Perhaps it was telling me to leave my car and get the hell out of the town. Andy, seeing I was lost drove past me and indicated for me to follow. Even he got lost trying to find Mendalgief Road, where the YMCA was located.

We arrived 30 minutes late to find Ted and Percy anxiously waiting for us to arrive. After a few minutes chatting we brought our gear in to set up. The room was purpose designed for a traditional British brass band, called Newport Borough Brass. They rehearsed in the room every Thursday evening from 7 p.m., so we would have to vacate by 6 p.m. at the latest. Despite having numerous chairs and music stands, there was plenty of room for the 4 of us to set up our gear. Ted’s band Atacama used the room every Wednesday evening, so his drums were already set up, as well as his PA system.

Within 15 minutes, we were set up and ready to play together for the first time since we played in the Pieces of Mind. In fact, Ted and Percy had never played together in the Pieces, so it was a first for them. The plan was for Andy and Percy to rotate between playing bass and rhythm guitar, with me on lead and Ted, obviously on drums. Andy and Ted would be handling the vocals, either for songs they would be eventually singing or ones that Adrian would do. I had, with help from Adrian, Andy and Ted, already produced a list of potential songs, split into 2 sets. We warmed up for a few minutes, playing a blues, before we got down to the serious business of working through the songs.
 

Back together after 45+ years

After the few minutes of playing, I thought to myself that this was going to work. It was if we had still been playing together for years, instead of the decades apart. We all had that sense and feeling you get when musicians are really familiar with each other. I knew then that the gig would be good, even though we only had less than a quarter of the full band present. I wanted us to start the set with I Wish You Would; however Andy suggested doing a short introduction of the Duane Eddy instrumental, Peter Gunn before we started playing the Billy Boy Arnold song. Andy would play guitar and Percy would be on bass. Peter Gunn was in the key of ‘E’ and I Wish You Would was in ‘G’, so we had to segue from one to the other.

John Beardmore turned up, whilst we were working on this, and I think he wondered what the hell we were doing, as it didn’t sound very much like the Pieces of Mind. Having explained what we were doing and then playing I Wish You Would, he could see that indeed we still sounded like the Pieces, even though Adrian was missing.

Having spent sufficient time on the Peter Gunn/I Wish You Would segues, we started going through those songs that Andy and Ted would be singing. For each song, I recorded what role Andy and Percy would be doing, so I could construct a set that would minimise guitar changes at the gig. Whilst we were playing songs such as Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Gloria and I Ain’t Got You, I could see that John Beardmore was really enjoying what we were playing.

The morning quickly went and it was time for lunch. Whilst the others nipped out to get some food, I updated the potential set-lists I kept on my laptop. After lunch we cracked on and by the time we packed in, around 5.30, we had covered 11 songs in depth and a few others in brief. We nearly had enough for 1 set in just under 8 hours of practice. They certainly lacked polish, but the hard work had been put in and I thought some of what we had played sounded better than it did the first time we had done them all those years ago. In spite of our advanced years, the old energy and rawness we had when we had last played together, was still there. It was looking good.I packed up my car, said goodbye to the others and made my way back over the Severn Bridge to Northants. By the time I got home, I was completely shattered having travelled around 300 miles, given a radio interview, checked the venue and played for nearly 8 hours; all in less than 35 hours.    

The first rehearsals for the full band were under 2 weeks away, so in that period, I had to check with those coming that they were still available, what gear they were bringing and whether they needed and had managed to find accommodation. The other things that concerned me were the PA, doormen for the night and getting someone to film the gig.  We had booked the rehearsal rooms from 10-6 each day, allowing us up to 16 hours of practice, although in reality it would be around 12-14 hours once we took breaks for lunch and changeovers, so I wanted to ensure we made the most of the time.

Whilst Ted’s PA was fine for the practice, it was obvious it would not be good enough for the gig. Andy would investigate whether a friend of his could provide one for the night. CWMC could provide doormen for the gig at a cost of £40 per person and Andy would confirm availability with his friend at the club. He was also hoping to confirm that his grandson was free to film the gig.      

As with the previous time, I travelled down to Wales the day before the rehearsals, on the 7/8 March, and stayed, once again, with Andy, his wife Jayne and their clowder of cats. That night, those who were free, met up for a meal in the Harvester pub in Cwmbran, with the aim of getting to know each other. The meal was very good in that it allowed the original band members to meet Bruno and Vic for the first time.
     
The next morning I drove Andy to Dragon Bands, which was not too far from where he lived in Pontypool. Dragon Bands was formed in late 2001 and the project has grown from being run in a living room, to a large industrial unit in North Pontypool Industrial Park. It supports the local music scene by running workshops and giving young local talent the opportunity to perform in front of their peers. In addition to rehearsal rooms, they have recording facilities, hire out PA sound equipment hire, have their own record label and run a 24/7 Internet radio station, called Flame Radio. It’s a great facility for both experienced and aspiring young musicians to improve their skills. I wish we had places like this when we started in the 1960s.

When we got there we soon appreciated that the rehearsal room was not really big enough for all of us. It was great for bands of around 4-5 people, but we had 12 people trying to learn just under 30 songs. The initial plan was that Adrian, Vic and I would stay on all night and we would swap the rest of the instruments as and when required. This meant that the early band of, Andy, Percy & Phil would join us for the first set. In the second set, 5-6 songs would be played by what I was calling the Germany band, so Bruno & Ted would stand in on bass and drums and Dave Kubinec was going to play keyboards. Now that Dave could not play, we asked Bob Teague if he would play all night. Similarly, the other guest musician, Rick Lawton, was going to play all night on sax and flute.     

On the first day, we worked our way through the songs we had practiced at the YMCA and also did a few more from the list of potential songs. We made a change from the Peter Gunn introduction to I Wish You Would, because Adrian had suggested that we do another Duane Eddy instrumental, ‘Because they’re Young’ as it was the theme tune of Johnnie Walker. He had confirmed that he and his wife would be attending the gig, so Adrian thought, quite rightly, that this would be a better instrumental to play than Peter Gunn. I thought we should play the whole instrumental and it would be better for the Welsh contingent and me to practice it on another day and not waste precious rehearsal time for the whole band.

When we went out for a meal on the Thursday night, I chatted to Vic and we both thought it would be nice if everyone could be involved all night, even if it meant doubling up on instruments such as bass and drums. Being as, at this time, the reunion was going to be a one-off event, we said we would raise it the next morning. It would mean having 2 drum sets on stage, but it looked as if it was big enough.     

The next morning all agreed we would give it a go. In some ways, it would mean fewer changes, as both Phil and Ted would play all night and Bruno could play bass alongside Andy or Percy. At the time, I didn’t realise how difficult it would be trying to direct so many players on stage, particularly when some of them had never played together before. However, I still think we made the right decision for the gig. It was great seeing the pleasure on the faces of those who stayed up on stage all night, playing in front of their family and friends.
     
Andy Rutherford, the reporter from the South Wales Argus arrived in the morning and spent an hour talking to us all. In between his fits of laughter, he managed to get enough material for a second article in the newspaper. He emailed me afterwards saying that he was worried that after he took the swear words out, there might not be a lot left; however, he really enjoyed it.

Around lunchtime on the second day, Flame Radio asked us if they could interview three of us, so Adrian, Percy and I went up to the studio, to be interviewed by James. The interview was as hilarious as the one at BRFM, with many stories being thankfully told off air.      

After the interview, we went back to the rehearsal room to find the others were playing Green Onions, which wasn’t on our list of songs for the set. However, I just walked over to my guitar and joined in. It sounded quite good, so we decided to start the second set with the instrumental.
     
By the end of the second day, we had covered almost all the songs on our potential set-list. We were planning to set up on the day before the club, so if necessary, we would be able to go over the last few songs then and also at the sound check on the day of the gig. The full rehearsals were over and we were as good as we would ever get or at least the full band would ever get. After loading our cars, we all left to make our way to our respective homes.
     
John Beardmore had taken numerous photographs and videos of all the rehearsals, so within a few days of me getting home, he had loaded them onto Dropbox for me to review.
     
I loaded all the photographs into Facebook, sorting them into albums. The videos offered me a chance to see what was working and what wasn’t. I watched all the videos and I thought a couple of the songs were a bit too slow and as I started them, made a note to start them faster next time.
     
I noticed that Adrian’s voice was struggling a bit, particularly on the second day of rehearsals at Dragon Bands. It was not surprising, given the long time since he had last sung.   
     
I loaded a selection, of what I thought was the best, onto Facebook and YouTube. At this stage, I didn’t want to give too much away, wanting things to be a surprise to the people coming. However, the demand to know how we were getting on was so high, I felt obliged to at least give a glimpse of how we were progressing.
     
The general reaction to the videos was extremely positive. There were some questions around the first mini practice, asking where Adrian and others in the band were. I had to explain a few times that not all people lived in South Wales; in fact 2 people lived in Spain.
     
I then took a couple of days respite before I knuckled down to more planning.

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