More Rehearsals and Planning

I travelled down to Wales, early on the morning of Thursday the 4th April 2013. We had arranged to start the practice at 10 in the morning, so set off at 6.45 allowing plenty of time for traffic. After paying my £6.20 to a private company, for the privilege of entering my own country, I carried on into Wales. A few miles up the motorway, I stopped at the Magor Services for a short break, eventually arriving at the YMCA, on Mendalgief Road, at just gone 9.15.
The route, coming from the M4 motorway, took me over a bridge, new to me, which appeared to be between the George Street Bridge and the Transporter Bridge. At least it saved me driving through the bombsite of central Newport. I believe those that determine these things have given it the enterprising name of New City Bridge.
Surprisingly, I was the first to arrive; however Ted arrived shortly after, followed by the others. We quickly set up the amps and Andy, Percy and I warmed up playing a blues, whilst Ted and Steve got to know each other and sort out the drums. John Beardmore set up his cameras, ready to start taking photographs and videos.
Steve quickly settled into playing songs he had played with us all that time ago, and, as with Ted, at the first practice, it was just as if we had never stopped playing together. We devoted most of the day to Steve, as he had missed out on previous rehearsals, so it meant Ted was hanging about for long periods. To make use of his time, he stood in for Adrian on many of the vocals.
Phil James joined us mid-morning to check progress. Phil was going to play trumpet at the gig; however, the songs we were practicing were mainly Blues, so he joined in on tambourine or maracas. Steve Cleaves, an old friend from the 60s, also popped in to see how we were progressing.

Sam Gummer arrived around lunchtime. Unfortunately he had been at the Royal Gwent, most of the night, with one of his relatives, who had been taken ill (I found out later that the relative was his Grand Father who sadly passed away in 2014). He quickly set his cameras up and started filming.     

By the end of the day, we had gone through all of the songs, deciding who, out of Steve and Ted would play drums. We were planning to have 2 sets of drums on stage; however, the awkward thing was that Phil Edwards was a left-handed player, whilst Steve and Ted were both right handed. This meant that it was only realistic for the right-handed people to change around; otherwise it would take too long to swap drummers.
When considering the songs that Steve and Ted would play on, I had to juggle the order to minimise the drummer changes. In addition, I had to consider the 5 songs that Ted was due to sing. The set list was proving to be considerably more difficult to organise than I had imagined.
The next day the 5 of us went to Bob Teague’s studio, where we joined Bob, Rick Lawton, Phil James, John Beardmore, Sam Gummer and Bob’s little dog. It was very cozy in the small studio, which is based in the loft above Bob’s place of work.

We spent some time bringing Bob and Rick up to speed on what we had been doing the previous day, before getting down to practice. We decided to spend some time on the instrumental ‘Because they’re Young’, which we were intending to open the first set. Bob and Rick had been getting to know the song in the 4 weeks since the main rehearsals at Dragon Bands, so it didn’t take too long before we had the instrumental sounding quite good.      

I had earlier suggested we do a full version of the instrumental before introducing Johnnie Walker, and then go into I Wish You Would. Steve would give me a quick introduction on the drums, before I started playing the Duane Eddy riff 4 times, leading into the main melody. Bob had the idea that we should play the melody a few times, adding in various instruments each time we went through the melody.
Finally we would finish with the riff, again played 12 times, before we stopped and I would introduce Johnnie. The instrumental would now last just under 3 minutes and probably be a shock to most of the audience, who were unaware that Johnnie Walker would be at the gig. They would be surprised that we were playing an instrumental, as it wasn’t the sort of thing we played with the Pieces back in the 1960s.
We spent the rest of the session going over the existing songs on the set list tidying up starts and finishes. I was a bit conscious of the fact that we still hadn’t rehearsed a couple of the soul songs we were planning to do in the second set. I thought that Adrian’s voice should be able to handle ‘Down in the Valley’, however; I was concerned whether he could do justice to the beginning of ‘Ain’t too proud to Beg’. We intended to set up the day before and we were going to do a sound check in the afternoon of the gig, so I was hoping there would be time to cover these 2 songs.

After packing the gear into our cars, we decided to adjourn to a pub not far from Bob’s house to wind down before we made our way to our homes. It was nearly 10 p.m. before I completed the 125 miles to my house, where I went straight to bed, utterly shattered, yet again.     

When I checked my emails, the next day, I was delighted to find that Glyn Williams and his wife, Wendy, were able to come to the gig and would be arriving in Cwmbran in the early afternoon of the day of the gig. We had planned to do a sound check at the club, so Glyn was going to pop in and see us all.
This was great news that I had to let the others; particularly Adrian and Andy know, so sent off an email to Adrian and called Andy. We now had everyone coming that could come, apart from Roy Winston Davies.
Exactly a week after the practice, Ted Dyer received an email, via St David’s Hospice Care, from a freelance TV producer who wanted to get in touch with the band and talk to us about our experiences of the Sixties. Ted forwarded the email to me and I called the producer to find out what she was doing.

She was working on a four part series for BBC Wales about Wales and the Sixties being produced by Testimony Films. She had been asked to find ordinary people with extraordinary stories relating to the sixties. BBC Wales had been very emphatic about the fact; they wanted 'real people' as opposed to the usual celebrities. They wanted touching, well-told stories that captured the detail of everyday life at the time and the difference between then and now.     

She wanted to talk to one or two of the band members about their own memories of the sixties, especially in relation to the first programme, which was about the anti-chapel movement and the move towards more liberal attitudes, driven by a generation of Welsh pop stars and their fans, as well as a global hippie counter-culture.
She also thought that we might have stories relevant to the third programme, which was about the transport revolution, brought about by better transport links such as the Severn Bridge. She suspected that we were on the road a lot, travelling to gigs, and wondered how the building of the bridge impacted on our lives. I explained that yes the Bridge did impact our lives, as it wasn’t built when we were at our height of playing in 1966. It did stop us doing gigs in the Bristol area, as it was too far to travel via Gloucester.
I immediately contacted Sam Gummer to see if he knew anything of the series and ask his opinion. I didn’t want him to feel as if he was being replaced, especially as he had done a lot of work with us and it may be good for his career. Sam knew the lady; in fact she was one of the lecturers at his University. Sam had proposed the idea of our band reunion to her a while ago, so perhaps she had forgotten about it.
Over the following weeks she explored more detail with me and asked for photographs and whether I had any moving archive of us playing. I sent her photographs of the 4-piece band playing a gig at Tredegar Working Men’s Hall and a short 10-second silent movie that Don Jones had taken of Waterfield ISE. It wasn’t of the Pieces of Mind, but it did show Andy and me, along with Chris Sharley.     

At the beginning of May 2013, after we had played the reunion gig, I was contacted by a lady from Testimony Films. She was very interested in the sexual revolution and wanted to know what impact, if any did the pill have on relationships. The lady sounded quite young and I must admit I was a little uncertain about having a chat about sex to a female, probably young enough to be my granddaughter, especially over the phone. I eventually said the pill or other contraceptives didn’t have much impact on men, as most of us didn't bother too much back then.
I am not sure she wanted to hear that, however, she asked for contact details of Adrian and Andy and said she would be call them as soon as she could. None of us have heard anymore, so I can only assume that our stories were not what the Film Company wanted or perhaps we weren’t ‘real’ enough. I was not too disappointed as I was still concerned that it might have undermined what Sam Gummer was trying to achieve. However, I thought the film company or the lady from the BBC would have had the courtesy to say we weren’t what they wanted.

The series started on BBC Wales in November 2013 with Andy Fairweather Lowe talking about his time in the Sect Maniacs. They must have considered his experiences more interesting than ours.        

It was now less than 2 weeks before we would be on stage in the Cwmbran Working Men’s Club. We had sold, or at least reserved places for well over 250 people, but would they actually turn up on the night. As yet, no money had actually been taken, so the whole evening could be a massive flop, with the charity receiving very little, and us having a lot of egg on our faces.
I still had much to do in that 2-week period, answering emails, taking telephone calls and ensuring that the PA we were borrowing from Ian Day was both available and would supplement mine.
Ian had confirmed with Andy that both he and his PA would be free for the gig; however, he was concerned at the number of microphones and DI channels we would need for the gig. Andy had shown him a copy of an email I had sent out to the band that detailed 19 channels would be needed if we put microphones on the amplifiers as well as those for vocals.
Ian’s concerns were perfectly valid; however, he wasn’t aware that I had a PA system as well. I explained that having microphones on the guitar amps and drums were an ambition and not necessarily what we would end up as doing.
I explained that Sam Gummer would be filming the gig and he wanted to take the sound from the deck, and he mentioned it would be better to ‘mike’ up stuff. Whilst the guitars were not an issue, the drums would be, as we didn’t have microphones for them. The most we could hope for are a couple of bass drum microphones, not that I think we would need them as all the drummers were loud, particularly Phil Edwards, who always seemed to use tree stumps for drumsticks.     

The minimum number of channels we would want is 11, which allowed us to have 6 vocal microphones, 4 microphones for brass and 1 for keys. We could, if necessary reduce that a bit by 2 of the brass sharing and 2 backing vocals sharing, so it could come down to 9. This would not involve any of the guitar amps having microphones.
The maximum number of channels, assuming guitars & bass drums are miced, would be 19 and we could always use my 12 channels PA system as well. I was hoping of running most of the instruments through my mixer and leaving Ian’s PA system to handle the vocals, two saxophones and a flute, which would need a total of 9 channels. If Sam wanted to take feeds off for filming, then he would need to sort out his own requirements. The priority had to be the sound for the band on the night.
Ian took all my comments on board and said we would all bring a bunch of stuff and figure it out as best we can at the set up and sound check on the afternoon of the gig. He warned that the microphones would suck power like crazy, so if our back line is going to be loud, which he was sure it would be with the number of people playing, hopefully there would be enough headroom to get the vocals and brass loud enough. 

His rig was a compact pub rig, pretty pokey in normal conditions and he thought we were asking a lot of it. He also wanted us to think of things such as numerous microphone leads stretching across the stage, as he does not have a multicore stage box. In the end all we could do is just bring all we've got, and suck it and see.     
I asked everyone who was bringing equipment to check it all out before they brought it to the set up and sound check. I also bought a few rolls of ‘gaffa’ tape and labels for the microphone leads in an endeavour to bring some sort of normality to the chaos that I expected to happen.
Ian’s point about having microphone leads stretching across the stage was in fact a perfectly valid one. Despite using gaffa tape to hold the leads down, they still got in the way. Since the gig, I have bought a multicore ‘snake’ that will greatly assist at any future gigs, even if the cable reel it’s on is rather large.  
I had a couple more Skype calls with Adrian to finalise the set list and let him know how the mini practice at Bob’s house had gone. It was our first and only practice with Steve Strong, so he was obviously interested in how he coped. I told him that he was very good and in fact much better than when he played with the Pieces. I also said he hadn’t changed much, just got fatter like many of us.
One of the ladies coming to the gig, Anne Hambrook suggested we have a guest book for the night for people to sign, so I bought a faux leather covered journal for this purpose. She also suggested decorating the tables. Whilst we didn’t do this, the idea made us think of putting posters advertising the raffle and some that described the band on the tables.
The final decision I had to make was the equipment I would be taking to the gig. Andy or Percy would be using one of my guitars, when they were not playing bass. I planned to take 6 guitars, with an additional one being delivered to me on the night. Apart from the Hamer Cruise bass, they were all Gibson. The Gibson Custom Shop guitars were a 335, 336, 1959 Historic Les Paul and a 1960 Historic Les Paul. I was also taking the Les Paul Special that was a raffle prize.      

The guitar I was hoping would be delivered on the night was the Les Paul Standard that I had asked Mike Wright to install a 2TEK® bridge. It seemed a lot, but I was determined to enjoy my guitars on the night.
My amplifier for the night would be my Blackstar Artisan 30w head driving an Artisan 2x12 cabinet; I would take an Orange Dual Terror as a spare. The final amplifier that Andy or Percy would be using to play rhythm guitar was my Fender Deluxe Reverb Reissue.

Together with the Peavey PA system, PA Speakers and miscellaneous guitar and microphone stands, it was now getting to be a problem fitting it all in the car, so a couple of days before I set off for Wales and the gig, I decided to rent a small van.  

The last bit of planning I did before setting off was to arrange for all of us, who would be in Wales on the Wednesday before the gig, to meet up for a meal. This was going to be a social occasion as well us playing. I knew that family and friends of Vic and Bruno were coming to the gig, so I thought it was a good opportunity for people to meet. I asked Phil James if he could recommend a pub and book tables and he arranged for us all to eat at the Greenhouse in Llantarnam.

There were a few last minute panics, such as running out of lanyards for the band backstage passes; sorting out what on stage monitors, if any, we would be using on the night and were there sufficient power outlets on or near the stage. All tested my patience, but were easily solved.     

After 17 extremely busy weeks of making and taking telephone calls, dealing with over 2000 emails, Internet and Facebook activity, arranging and giving interviews and band rehearsals, I was now ready to travel to Wales for this: