Monday, 9 February 2009

Playing Catch Up, Part Four: I Never Thought It Would Happen

I first heard The Rubinoos back in 1977, when I was 13. I fell instantly in love with their infectious cover of an old Tommy James and the Shondells song, 'I Think We're Alone Now' (you can find their version - to my mind the definitive one, but then I'm a little biased! - here). I played their records incessantly throughout my teenage years - I'm still amazed that I never actually wore a hole through my copy of the LP 'Back to The Drawing Board'. They were absolutely my favourite band bar none, and my obsession with them expanded to an affection for their fellow label-mates on Beserkley Records, Greg Kihn and Jonathan Richman (and to a lesser extent, Earthquake). Yes I know, you've probably never heard of any of them! Beserkley titled itself 'Home of the Hits', but this was a rather inaccurate assessment of affairs. As a small independent label, Beserkley was hampered by limited resources (such as being unable to afford to send its artistes on national tours), or by sheer bad luck at critical moments (such as their distributor going bankrupt just as a new album needed to be in the shops). Either way, The Rubinoos never hit the big time.

Fast forward a few years to the mid-90's, when I discovered on a nostalgic trip through my old vinyl collection that I still really really liked The Rubinoos. Further investigation revealed that they had re-formed and were releasing albums again! My obsession reignited, and since then I've been a dedicated collector of their music and memorabilia. Yet I'd still never seen them play live - partly because they mostly play in either California or Tokyo which is a bit of a trek from Wales! They played in Spain about 6 years ago, but I didn't find out in time to make the trip.

So I was thrilled to find they were playing a mini-tour of Spain in February 2009, and absolutely determined that I'd be there. Still rather a long way to go, but how could I miss this chance? Cathy & Julian agreed to come with me to Barcelona to sample the heady mix of Gaudi, tapas and Californian power-pop!

Before the concert I posted on The Rubinoos fans' Yahoo list about how excited I was to finally be seeing them perform live, and received a lovely reply from the band's bass player, Al Chan inviting me to come and introduce myself to the band at the show. This was wonderful, but also made me incredibly nervous - I knew I would be completely awe-struck and tongue tied if I had the chance to actually meet my idols.

By the time we left the hotel for the evening my tummy was already doing flip-flops and I was absolutely certain I wouldn't be able to eat any dinner. We were uncertain what time the gig started (in all the chaos of my departure I hadn't written it down and the tickets didn't specify!), so we decided to go straight there early and then kill time in a bar or restaurant if necessary. At 7.30pm when we arrived at the venue (The Apolo 2) the place was in complete darkness and for a moment my heart sank: we must have got the date wrong! But when Julian experimentally pushed a door, it opened, and we entered. Going on through heavy double doors, we followed the sound of music.

To my utter astonishment and delight, the next door we opened revealed the Rubinoos on stage, doing their sound-check. And they were playing one of my absolute favourite songs, 'I Never Thought It Would Happen' (an apt title at that particular moment)! I stood there in the doorway in stunned bliss, wearing a goofy grin and unable to believe this moment was real. When they finished the song, we asked the guy doing the sound set up what time to come back and were advised 'about 10-ish'.

That left a bit of time to kill, so we went round the corner to a cafe and had a couple of beers, and then found a small restaurant where I picked at some felafels and salad, still feeling very nervous. By now it was 9.30pm and I was fidgety and anxious to get back to the Apolo 2. So we strolled back and entered. We got some drinks at the bar and I bought the latest album, 'Hodge Podge' (a special Spain-only release to coincide with the tour), then we found a seat at the back. But we weren't seated long before the support band, Suzy & Los Quattro came on, and we moved to a comfortable place at the end of the bar from where short little me could see the stage over everyone's heads.

Suzy & Los Quattro were pretty good, but my nerves didn't subside until The Rubinoos appeared. Just hearing those familiar tones melted my anxiety, and then I was swept away by the music. The set list (for the record, just in case another Rubinoos fan reads this) was Altamont, Arcade Queen, Hard To Get, Early Winter, Tonight, Driving Music, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, Perfect Stranger, Stingray, Must Be A Word, I Never Thought It Would Happen, Hit The Nerve, In The Worst Way, Amnesia, I Think We're Alone Now, Rock and Roll Is Dead, and Sugar Sugar (encore).

The band's reputation as a great live act proved to be well-founded. They hit just the right balance between sounding fresh yet polished, tight yet relaxed; and the between songs banter is witty and entertaining, drawing in the audience and creating a great atmosphere.

Just after 'Hit The Nerve', Al Chan announced that they had been asked to dedicate the next song ('In The Worst Way') to me! Unnoticed by me, Cathy had sneaked off to the front and handed the band a note asking them to dedicate a song to me because I'd come all the way from Wales to see them! I was called to the front and spent the remainder of the gig at the foot of the stage in a happy daze singing myself hoarse and applauding until my hands hurt.

Finally the concert was over (I wished it could have gone on and on), but luckily Cathy & Julian were there to push star-struck me forward to get the band to sign my copy of 'Hodge Podge'. Jon Rubin, Al Chan, Susie Davis and Tommy Dunbar autographed the CD for me, we had a lovely chat with Al (who was just so friendly and welcoming), and Cathy & I got to have our photo taken with Jon. They jokingly asked me to get them a gig in Wales. Wouldn't that be amazing! Anyone want to come and see the band in Wales?!

At last we left, with me still grinning like an idiot. How lucky I am to have friends and family who will accompany me while I chase my dreams! How wonderful is a Universe that contains The Rubinoos! How amazing that 32 years after hearing the band for the first time on the radio I was singing and dancing in a beautiful Spanish city while they played live in front of me! How utterly incredible to have a song dedicated to me!

I'm still grinning and singing now, back safely in Wales. I Never Thought It Would Happen - but it did.

P.S. I've Googled the Barcelona concert but haven't been able to find any video from it. But here are The Rubinoos from the concert they played in Madrid the night before, playing (what else?), 'I Never Thought It Would Happen'.


Tempewytch said...

What a wonderful thing to have happened to you (and just what you needed I reckon), and what brilliant friends to get the song dedicated to you!

Griffin said...

Is 'I wanna be your Boyfriend' the Ramones song?

I certainly do remember Jonathan Richman and his song about Pablo Picasso!

So the answer to Who's that Girl with the beeg smile on her face? - is... You!

Hurrah for Cathy and Julian too for pushing you forwards when you wanted to hide in your shell.

Coo! What with Gaudi AND the Rubinoos, this holiday keeps getting better and better, doesn't it?!

Moonroot said...

Hi Griffin,
No, different song (just the same era!). The Rubinoos song can be found here:

They recently sued Avril Lavigne for ripping it off for her song '(Hey You) I Don't Like Your Girlfriend'. AL eventually settled out of court.

BB Quattro said...

Just came back from he Rubinoos tour, which I put together. Lotta work, but reading how important was for you to be there, made it worth my while! Cheers!

Mike Farley said...

How jealous I am! My all time faves XTC are now long extinct and hadn't played live since 1981 - but if I had ever seen them I would have been just like you - awestruck! The nearest I got I suppose was that charity gig with Judie Tzuke back in 1990 when she sang "Higher and Higher" for me! AH! Beautifully written and strangely moving in a way.

Mike Farley said...

I meant your blog was strangely moving BTW. Though "Higher and Higher" is a nice song.

Cathy & Julian said...

Loved reading the blog even though we were there (BTW how the Hell did you remember the set list – you anorak!)

You do realise that we now expect you to get Bruce Springsteen and Muse to dedicate songs to us? Looking forward to watching you try to get to the front of Wembley Arena!

dragonfly said...

Wow you are in Spain! Well done to hear youre having a holiday ~ thanks for sharing.

Reya Mellicker said...

Jonathan Richman has long been one of my favs. Greg Kihn, too.

What a great story and great adventure. So glad you're launching 2009 by having lots of fun. Bravo!!

Livia Indica said...

Wow, sounds like you had an amazing time! Good for you, you deserve it!!