Monday, 6 January 2014

Jackin' up in the toilet with Stanley Dee and Steely Dan.

Well I finally went and did it, I ended up in the smallest toilet in the world, jackin’ up to the music of Steely Dan and that’s going to take some explaining.

Before there was punk or ska or any much else in my life there was Steely Dan (Walter Bekker, Donald Fagen and an ever changing line up of musicians). The music was rocky but heavy on style and stolen modern jazz riffs. Unfortunately, the Jazzers didn’t like the loud guitars and the hippies didn’t like the jazz.

In fact that old fashioned harmony and melody was just a thin cover for a bleak underworld of sinister characters in dangerous situations. The heroes were drug dealers, serial killers, gangsters and the marginal.

They played smooth music that sounded just right for respectable people but then they had to go and spoil it with their own particular brand of subversion. I loved it.

When it was popular it wasn’t very popular, and since they had their one and only hit in 1976, it’s been downhill ever since. They didn’t tour much back then – it was too hard to reproduce the sound they got from session musicians in the studio. 'Cult following' does not do them justice. Did I say I loved them?

So I’ve driven over 20 miles to get to Watford, a town so far on the edge of London it fell off. I was at ‘The Horns’, a very old pub enclosed by modern hi-rise buildings. Good sound system and some great acts – why did I never go there before? I would rate it the best venue this side of the small London ones.

Back in October/November I’d put this date in my diary but I didn’t really imagine that I’d still be on my feet and well enough to make it. In another universe I’d have just waited for them to play a bit closer to me but time is short now, no putting good things off.

I was right, it was well worth it. I got there early, and that was just as well too. I got a seat at the side of the stage, and was using the free wi-fi while the band set up. With the pub filling up very quickly, it was soon packed out. I think there were more Steely Dan fans there than I ever imagined I would see in one place.

This was Stanley Dee and they are;

•Don Ellis – Drums

•Mark McCormack – Bass

•Keith Jones – Keyboards

•Derek Walker – Saxophone

•Steve Joy – Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Acoustic Guitar

•Darren Spicer – Guitar

•Katie Ayres – Vocals

•Jen Good – Vocals

•Amelia Rendell – Vocals

•Cavan Daly – Lead Vocals

They were playing on their home ground in front of a mixture of locals and Steely Dan Fans. Believe me they knew the words and there was dancing too!

Despite the purpose built stage, there still wasn’t enough room for this ten piece band of four vocalists, a very fine brass section, synth, drums, bass and an excellent lead guitar. I tried to get a good place to take a photo, but after plunging into the heavy crowd it was no better. I only just got back to my seat. If I’d wanted to get all the band in I’d have needed to go out onto the pavement. This is Keith Jones on keyboards in a quiet moment.
They did the more basic early stuff as well as the complicated newer stuff. Donald Fagen’s solo album ‘The Nightfly’ even got a moment. It was a performance for real fans, and I’m afraid I think that includes me.

This must be the only occasion when the lead vocalist did a Q and A with the audience on these unique lyrics;

Q) “Is there gas in the car?”


 “Yes there’s gas in the car,

I think the neighbours down the hall know who we are”.

Steely Dan never compromised and neither do Stanley Dee; not on the sound nor on the choice of tracks.

Side one had a good range of the less well known including one of my favourites, ‘Dr Wu’.
Bad Sneakers was a joy too.

Jackin’ up in the toilet? That’s a very Steely Dan thing to do – I need an injection every day and when it was due I had do it in the worlds smallest toilet, heaving with too many people. Very William S. Burroughs.

As I struggled back to my seat, side two started with all the famous hits. Great sounds (FM-No static at all, Do it again, Reelin’ in the Years) but again no compromises – they also did The Caves of Altamira and Kid Charlemagne and they aren’t ever going to be popular except with me.

‘My old school’ was a stomper;

“California….tumbles in to the sea,

that’ll be the day I go back to Annendale”.

Also, luckily, there were no Bekker wigs, no looky-likies. This was just great music played and sung by musicians with smiles on their faces.
Just too much fun and so good. That was in spite of having to drive back through pouring rain. Of course what attracted me in the first place was the whole crazy idea of a ten piece Steely Dan tribute band, too big for any stage and never any chance of being economic.  Their secret? Its for fun.

On the 24th of January they play Jagz in Ascot – that’s a lot nearer to me, a posh club in a posh area and it may well be my last chance to get thrown out of or barred from a club.

I am strongly tempted to take another stroll into the weird and slightly unnerving world of the Dans – we’ll see how I feel.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I am going to provide a public health message on how to dispose of used syringes, creatively.

Neil Harris

(a don’t stop till you drop production)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the kind words Neil. Very glad you enjoyed it and hope we see you at Jagz later in the month.
    It's always heartwarming to be surrounded by lots of other strange folk who love Steely Dan as much as we do!
    Darren c/o Stanley Dee