Ninja Gigs – the power of Social Media

March 28, 2011

I don’t get to live music as often as I’d like – it’s one of the issues about working with volunteers; they’re mostly available at evenings and weekends so I have to be, too.

So I was disappointed to find that one gig I could have made, Mitch Benn at the Frog and Bucket Comedy Club in Manchester, was sold out. Oh, well, that’ll teach me to book earlier next time.

For those who don’t know much (or even anything) about Mitch he is one of those rare individuals who can combine comedy with music – and topical comedy at that. You can find out more, as well as watching some videos and listening to his podcast on his own website

Being a fan, I follow Mitch on Twitter (@MitchBenn) I spotted a series of tweets from him on Saturday afternoon:

“Getting a lot of tweets from Manchester twoops sad that tonight at the Frog & Bucket is sold out- here’s the thing…”

“Most of the punters in the F&B tonight will just be out for a night out and not particularly interested in me. That’s fair enough, but…”

“… it saddens me that those of you who ARE interested in me might miss out, so listen up: I don’t have much on before about 9.30pm…”

“… if you can round up enough of you and find a room, I’ll do a ninja-gig this evening. Start collaborating, use hashtag #ninjamitch

Those of us who really like Mitch’s brand of musical comedy, but had been unable to get tickets, went into “Twitter overdrive”. For a while it looked Like Mitch was going to play a front room in Bolton (it was a little far away from his 21:30 gig, though) then I managed to source a room in Eccles (but no bar and no PA) then, at just after 5pm the Kings Arms in Salford joined the party and the ninja gig was on.

You can see more pics on Cat Ashton’s photoblog and also hear a little more about how all this started – it’s she whom we who managed to go have to thank 🙂

Sean Fisher managed to video Mitch’s most recent release and, if you watch it you’ll see a fat slaphead scouser about 40 seconds in 🙂   You can see it here

Obviously I got there in plenty of time – time to get a prime seat and, happily for me, to welcome Mitch as he arrived. I offered to get him a drink (my life is defined by famous people for whom I’ve bought drinks – current running total is 0) but he just wanted a pint of tap water!

The room started to fill up and the gig was on!

It was a great evening – I doubt that the folk in the Frog and Bucket had as good an experience. And it was a ninja gig (no idea where that name came from – but Mitch used it) so not everything would go smoothly. Indeed, half way through he had to stop and answer his phone – just in case it was the Frog & Bucket asking where he was!

But it also reminded me that, as well as responding to international events (such as the Tsunami in japan or the conflict in Libya) Social media can also be used for local events and interests.

As Mitch himself tweeted afterwards:

“I’m still agog at how the net in general and twitter in particular lets you organise things INSTANTLY in ways that simply weren’t possible…. I had the first hint of an idea for a #ninjamitch gig at 3.35pm; by 5.10 I had a venue & an audience. Mental.”

But it was also a reminder that sometimes, if you go the extra mile for people and are prepared to put yourself out a bit, then rewards can come. I doubt that Mitch made much money on the gig (he passed a pot around and sold a few CDs) but he’s certainly gained some new fans – and validated those of us who’ve been following him for a while.

What a top bloke.


Yew’ll Never Walk Alone – but Olive Would

March 23, 2011

You know my guitar? The one that’s being built for my 50th?

Remember how everything was sorted and I had decided on the woods?

I’d even decided on the soundboard inscription (Dave gets a quote, translates it into Gaelic and inscribes it on the inside of the soundboard – it can’t be seen; but you know it’s there). I’d decided on “You’ll Never Walk Alone”

Well, Dave White ( contacted me yesterday to let me know that the Tasmanian Olive Wood had arrived – along with a really nice set of English Yew – what did I think?

Well, I can’t make up my mind. this is what a guitar with yew back and sides can look like:

Yeah, I know, gorgeous, isn’t it? And Yew has such a ‘religious’ history – being planted in many church yards to ward of evil spirits.

It was also used to make English Longbows and is, I am told, the wood of choice for wands and ‘anti-vampire’ stakes.

It is a fairly rare wood to use in guitar making as the Yew tree doesn’t grow straight and, to get a piece that’s big enough for a guitar means that the tree from which it came must have been hundreds of years old – and most of them were cut down to make Longbows. I am reliably informed that it’s not a particularly easy wood to work with, either.

And there’s something quite edgy about playing a guitar that’s poisonous…

So, what do I do? Tasmanian Olive Wood (which, by the way, isn’t really Olive Wood – but when we sent our criminals over there, they just named it olive wood because that’s what it reminded them of most) or English Yew?

Below are the two samples – Olive wood on the left and Yew on the right. What do you think?

Olive Wood

English Yew

4,6,8 ..

March 21, 2011

The numbers above relate to the strings on my primary instruments. My ukuleles have 4, my guitars have 6 and the mandolins have 8.

There are a couple of numbers missing – my banjo has 5 strings (but is in such shocking condition that it doesn’t get played very much at all) and I don’t own a 12 string guitar (although, some day …)

But they don’t get lower than 4, right?

Wrong. The Russian Balalaika has only 3 strings – and so does the latest addition to my stable of musical instruments – a Cigar Box Guitar. Why is it called a ‘cigar box’ guitar? Well, ermmm, it’s made out of a cigar box.

I was visiting the guitar show in Haslingden, Lancashire last Sunday with Sara (she came along for the ride, really) and, whilst there were some lovely instruments on display, there was also a great deal of rubbish. The thing is, a lot of the ‘rubbish’ was trying to pass itself off as genuine craftsmanship (anybody else ever have a K guitar from the catalogue?). From the corner of the room came this incredible sound – really bluesy. I wandered over to see this ageing hippy type playing, quite literally, rubbish. A 3 string guitar made out of an old cigar box. He’d just added a pick up and a neck and he was off. It sounded fantastic.

Now, I’m not a blues player – and I’ve never been the sort to plug a guitar in to anything – acoustic all the way, that’s me. But this was different. This was just fun and recycling and music all rolled into one. we had a bit of cash on us so …

It (I can’t bring myself to refer to the instrument as ‘she’ yet) is made from a box of Montecristo cigars from Havana (sadly empty). The cigars cost £303.00. The guitar didn’t. It has a Mahogany neck and the fretboard is from reclaimed English Oak with a gunstock oil finish (25.5″ scale length). The only ‘new’ bits on it are the nickel silver frets, the machineheads, the bone nut and the pickup – even the volume and tone controls are old bottle tops.

It looks a little forlorn next to my other instruments – but I know who I’d back if it came to a fight 🙂

The seller (‘chicken bone’ John) had a number of instruments on sale, from 1 string Diddley Bows to 6 string guitars. You can see some of his instruments (and buy them!) on his website

Like I said, I’m no blues player and this instrument is brand new to me but, to give you an idea of what it can sound like, I slaughtered a well-known tune.

THIS is what a well played CBG can sound like (played by Chickenbone John himself)