Thursday, 3 February 2011

tour diary pts 2 & 3 (er.. part 1!)

Actual fact: my tour finished six whole days ago now, and this is the first time I've been able to bring myself to actually write about it.

Not that it went badly - no, far from it - but the instore at Banquet Records on Monday to mark the final release of 'Outside There's A Curse' brought with it not only massive relief for the end of a two year journey, but also a spate of Catching Up With Stuff, and also a hugely unwelcome bout of post-tour death. Which isn't real death, it's just a bit like a cold whose roots lie in exhaustion and/or just having a cold. There are many names for this; post-tour death, post-tour ills, tour aids..

Anyway, it's Sunday afternoon on the 6th of February, and I've finally recovered enough from my tour-berculosis to complete parts 2 & 3 of the tour diary. But I have shit to do today, so let's just handle Bristol to Swindon - a journey which would normally take about an hour tops, but in our case is going to span five days.

Could I just point out, right now, in front of everyone:

a) I'm not depressed.
b) Or in a bad mood.

I thought I'd put that disclaimer in there, because one of the first things that happens when we arrive at the Bristol venue is Mr I Bum The West Country, Gaz Brookfield, checks I'm alright due to the apparent downhearted nature of part 1 of the tour diary. I reassure him I'm fine, and make a note to put a disclaimer in there.


But really, if your favourite comedians were Stewart Lee, David Mitchell and Charlie Brooker, how about you try writing a happy piece of prose. It's harder than it looks, I tell you, especially when you're not trying at all and you think sarcasm is for winners.


Anyway, The Louisiana (not to be confused with the city of Bristol in Louisiana in America, geographans) is a top upstairs-room-in-a-pub-type venue and exactly the kind of thing that should be encouraged everywhere. Hand on my heart, I've never much liked going to Bristol, based largely on how I've never had a good gig there, nor have I seen anything other than a lot of grey stuff and some over-fifties belly dancing in the street. Tonight though, we take a walk past famous boat-slash-venue the Thekla and everything seems.. nice. Of course, my overall opinion of Bristol is now governed by the fantastic show itself - a packed venue pindrop silent for 'District' and rowdy as can be for 'Singalong', just the way this should be.

My crowning achievement of the night is, responding to encore suggestions, I decide to tackle Elliott Smith's 'No Name #1' despite knowing full well that it was nowhere on the List Of Songs I Still Know that I made pre-tour, which is why I fuck it up and have to stop. Twice. But it's no matter tonight. I meet Big Jeff, hero of the Bristol music scene for his incredible enthusiasm and continuous support for live music, catch up with Hayley & Huw Willmott-Taylor, champion drinker Sarah Dacombe and pals and see Jodie Haynes, who recently decided to stop office life and go to work on a Portuguese farm. True to form, as you read this, that's where she's gone to. Champion.

The night must end though, and we're all but chased from the venue by the landlady who thinks we might have stolen her 'half-ashtray', despite a) none of us having seen it and b) none of us smoking any half-cigarettes, and whilst Kev and Barry head back to Dolan Towers, I hitch a rock and roll lift home with my Dad in order to go to work the next day, where I'm sure I was next to useless.

The next day heralds a new dawn for Barry, as me and Kev take him to his first Nandos, where we warn him off the Extra Hot piri piri shit and he subsequently embarrasses us by practically drinking it. Nice. Today is Oxford, the most beautiful place I have seen in this fair isle for its history and culture. Again though, a genuinely good show in Oxford has always eluded me, and I'm not expecting tonight to be any different, given that we're playing in a café, cafés being famous venues for talking.

It's no ordinary café though, this is a G&D's Ice Cream Café, with no need for alcohol and an abundance of tea. It's soon clear this is my kind of place. A small crowd but a good one, it's nice to catch up with some familiar faces, including one Hannah Dart who I haven't seen in years and clearly don't see enough even though Oxford is about twenty minutes from Reading on a train. Post-show, Barry runs off to the pub whilst me and Kev catch up with Glorious Jess, who again I haven't seen in far too long. It begs the question, what have I done for all these months? Ah yeah. Everything else.

No trip to Oxford is complete without a late night mission to Hi-Los, a Jamaican bar down the Cowley Road famed for its strict door policy (if they don't like the look of you, you don't stay in) and exclusive membership (if you're an idiot, you don't stay in). It's good to actually get out and relax and chat, and Jan at Hi-Los is soon outlining her music-based plans for this year's Carnival. I don't think we have a Carnival in Reading. Perhaps if we tried one, someone would set it on fire.

We stay with Jack at Alcopop! Records, a thoroughly excellent little indie, but due to him having to get to work early the next day we're out on the street by 7.30 and, after a reconciliatory cup of tea and wake up in front of some breakfast TV, we're on the road to York, feeling a bit grim and only slightly better after a Little Chef breakfast (which in hindsight, isn't really a surprise). Barry remains a driving champion with a tour crash rate of 0%, I do a phone interview with Liz at Reading's The Chronicle from a service station - truly classy - and before long we're in York for the peak of the tour's accommodation luxury, the Travelodge.

Sheesh, how good it feels to have a real shower. If only Travelodge remembered to put heating in these rooms instead of just air conditioning. It's already bloody freezing outside.

Still, it's good to have a good night's sleep, and the show isn't bad either at the Basement Bar underneath the Picturehouse. It's the first venue on the tour to have the classic curt soundman and I'm told off for apparently not knowing how to use a mic stand and how I'll "lose all benefit of having it on the tripod". He's probably right because i dont know the benefit of having it on a tripod, I always just assumed it's a way of getting a single metal pole to stand upright on the floor. Anyway, no-one's hurt and it doesn't come anywhere near the time the idiot in a semi-famous (and small) London venue lectured me for not having a feedback buster in my acoustic guitar despite there being a) no feedback to be heard and b) it being a 150-capacity venue, max. Prick.

Er, anyway.. York. We hang out, watch spectacularly drunken headliners Don't Let Paris Fool You and then retire for private drinks in our rooms with all the hookers. Somewhere along the line I've forgotten that we went out to eat in a lovely pub where they forgot to put any steak in Barry's steak and ale pie and I ate the best bangers and mash of the tour, the whole York experience rounded off nicely the next morning with In The Night Garden, truly the most mesmerising kids TV show since maybe ever.

Friday was supposed to be some kind of day off, perhaps a chance to relax and take in another day of York's sheer beauty (seriously, go), but instead Slavedriver Barry has booked us in a house show with local Nottingham songwriting legend Gerry Trimble and family, where in front of a packed room of about five or six we're their dining room audience's entertainment for the evening. Or are they ours? Gerry grabs a guitar and takes over for 'Singalong' so I don't actually have to do anything, and we all hang out until the early hours of the morning. Thanks to Gerry and the family for having us, and it turns out that on this originally mooted day of rest, we end up with about five hours sleep before having to hit the road again.

Actually, this trip is only brief, just across the city of Nottingham (where I've still never been killed) to catch up with the only person I've really kept in touch with from college, Laura Hickman, and associated boyfriend Matt, for what turns out to be one of the strangest days ever. It starts off pretty standard - a pub lunch and catch-up, the relief of a shower - before gradually descending into madness as tour psychosis sets in.

An actual scientific fact that I made up on tour, Tour Psychosis is the combination of long hours travelling, not many hours sleeping and having little to no routine that renders every innocent movement some colossal conspiracy. Despite any evidence to the contrary, in the few days since I've been away from home, everyone's forgotten me. I take to the stage in Farnsfield in some state of delirium.

The Farnsfield show is where I first properly meet the promoter Mike, clearly an avid music fan and responsible for running the box office for Fairport's Cropredy Convention. He saw me at the Frank Turner show in Derby back in August and booked me shortly afterwards, Farnsfield itself being a tiny village just outside of Nottingham, the kind of night where the village comes out to enjoy some traditional folk music and, tonight, some whining emo shit courtesy of me. It's the kind of night that Barry's set definitely isn't designed for, but Mike graciously lets him play. Main support tonight comes from Inlay, a bunch of twenty-somethings at uni up in Norwich who charm with their trad-folk.

I, meanwhile, play a longer-than-normal set under bright lights which means I can't really see the room. It doesn't help my mental state all that much, but neither does the encore where Inlay join me onstage and, under the direction of Barry, we attempt a spontaneous version of 'Singalong' which I can comfortably say is the worst it's ever sounded (which, in hindsight, it was always going to), we end with a jam (much better) and head on our way where we all collapse in front of Withnail & I. Laura and Matt are fairly drunk by now, we enjoy some Cava which is £4 from the Co-op and talk shit, until we find something on MTV that involves people being kicked in the balls and I head to bed.

And then, the drive to Swindon, to meet Barry's mum and stepdad. Oh, and play a gig. It being the last Sunday before payday in the longest month of the year (given that most people are paid before Christmas), we're not expecting a massive turnout, and nor do we get one. After satnav failure, I manage to direct Barry to the magic roundabout on the way into Swindon, a big 'master' roundabout orbited by five little ones. It truly is a fantastically bad design, but I always marvel at its defiance of tradition. Apparently elsewhere in the country, there's a version of this with more outer roundabouts, so I'll track it down like the white whale.

We go for food courtesy of Mrs Barry, an Italian restaurant with an interesting movement-activated lighting system in the toilet. I don't want to put too fine a point on it, but it might be a good idea if they increased the amount of time between movement and the lights turning off. Just sayin'.

And so we end this leg of the tour, something of a damp fizzle amongst the proud sparklers but a good show nonetheless. The crowd are tough to awaken from their sunday slumber but they're up for it in the end, and I journey home towards Reading comfortable in the knowledge that the next show, Reading on the 28th, would most likely to be one to remember.

I wasn't wrong.

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