The Bedford

July 15th 2002, 9:15pm

The Bedford


77 Bedford Hill, Balham, SW12

I get to the Bedford at 5:30, blunder into the small bar (apparantly exclusively a haunt of career drinkers who have achieved levels of intoxication that even I would have found it difficult to reach by closing time) and then the main bar to get the side door opened. Phil and Janet are already in attendance, so we set up, test the gear (VG-88 sounds good, but I can’t hear it) and I run through a couple of songs with Janet – The Things You Get and River Rise. Then everybody else arrives – Jezzer, Dave, Ed Seyfried, Pete and Geoff, to whom I offer the by now ritual apology for not doing his CDs.

I break the A string during the soundcheck and then have to beg for an appropriate implement to dislodge the ball-end.

At the bar we get a demonstration of why modern public house practices may not be as efficient as might be hoped: Seven (Dave counts them) bar staff and the Landlord trying and failing to achieve what two or three less aesthetically pleasing but perhaps more able staff could have done in years gone by (such as when I used to drink here ten years ago). Largely this problem is because every transaction must be made via the Cash Register, which has achieved the complexity of the Internet, the processing power of Deep Thought and the omnipotence of HAL. Two or three of the bar army are gathered round it at any one time, trying to get it to make some kind of sense. I wouldn’t want to suggest that any of these people are intellectually underpowered, because there’s no evidence for that on speaking to them, and I suspect you need a degree just to operate the cash register. But it does take me fifteen minutes to get served, however, and when it’s his turn it takes Dave the same amount of time. And this is with the bar staff outnumbering the people standing at the bar.

I hate to say it, but the Aussie student of yore (on the Great Overseas Experience) could have done it all in her head singlehandedly and carried on a conversation with her mate at the same time.

But that was before The Cash Register.

Ed kicks off at 8:30 and turns in a fine set (haven’t seen him for a while, not since we did those gigs at the Troub a couple of years ago), and then The Speech Painter (Geoff) and then me.

Bit scary – Dave is sightreading it all from my charts. It’s the “from my charts” bit that’s unnerving, and with good reason, since on Little Games I’ve managed to put the wrong chords under the bit that is, of course, the most difficult to sing. Consequently I lurch into Rex Harrison song-speaking and hope that I can get back to the tune afterwards. I can also not hear the guitar, making the solos I’m trying to play a bit experimental. But then, as I say, experimental doesn’t necessarily mean that it has to sound like The Soft Machine, even accidentally.

My set comprises: The Things You Get and River Rise with Janet on accordian (River Rise is wonderful for me, because there are suddenly all these dynamics there, bolstered by Dave and Janet), then Little Games with just Dave and me on guitar and then Iodine without the guitar. I love doing it like that and should organise my life to allow me to do it more often. Banter news: a bit on the line dancing upstairs doesn’t work, probably because it sounds like something I’ve been preparing (it isn’t, really). Most of it does. Jeays audiences are very nice, really and very forgiving.

The Jeays set rocks and (very possibly) rules, despite the fact that I completely forget the chords for about five songs and can’t hear myself (not complaining, because it’s my own fault). But it’s two encores and a resultant late finish. And of course the lovely round room at the Bedford. The only problem with the room is that there’s a piano player in the main bar, so the performers are occasionally competing with The Long and Winding Road and other songs of a similar tempo and demographic.