Monday, 24 August 2009

tour blog: pt.4; the final chapter

newcastle: i probably owe you an apology.

for too long, to me, you've been some place up north typified by bare-chested manly-men, fiercly-optimistic football fans and, y'know, Ant and Dec.

not so, it seems, not so, for it's here in the city of Newcastle that the tour reaches it's peak, from a poorly attended gig where we make some new friends regardless, to an underground club in the city centre where the rock music mixes with the cheese like we're mixing the champagne with whiskey. they play PJ and Duncan. they play Bowie's Magic Dance. they give us another opportunity to dance to some horrific nu-emo-metal that's right up there with the playlist at the Cockpit a few days previous, only this time with added My Chemical Romance. but more importantly they're nice, friendly, the bar is cheap and the vibe is excellent.

a few hours later - 6.30am, to be precise - i've been spat back out onto empty city streets to wander, and think about what i've done. unable to rouse my sleeping touring buddies, i sit outside the civic centre and watch seemingly oversized rabbits bounding around, wait til Costa opens and find a quiet corner with the Independent for company, and generally fill myself full of caffeine until i start hallucinating, which happens about 10. still, it's great to see the city come to life. i hope to return very soon.

as well as marking the high point though, newcastle also marks the beginning of the end - by now all three of us, and our tour pet Kev, are the worse for wear. not enough sleep, too much alcohol and depleting brain activity has turned us into zombies, which is probably why Huddersfield was so much fun. the Parish is a zombie-themed venue (zombie free since 2006, they advertise), a pub with a venue slung on the side. again, the people are sparse but the goodwill is there, and despite our best intentions to sleep, before long we're dragged out again to Sectioned, some underground rock club which beats our ears in with all manner of punk and ska and rock and.. anything.

we go to bed too late. we get up too early. the drive ahead, from Huddersfield to our overnight stop in Reading, is a big one, and Lockey is by now too rough to drive it. barry manfully takes on the mission - single-handedly defining the tour mantra offered up by myself a few days prior, that "sometimes the only way to get back on the horse is to tie youself to the fucking saddle" - whilst i do my best to keep awake. and fail. still, we reach Reading in one piece for a night of rest, ready for the last date in portsmouth on sunday.

and that, dear reader, is that. we get there, we wander to the arcades, lose some money and i reign supreme at bowling, we play (apart from Jim, who manages a song and a half before his voice gives in for good), and we retire home to junk food and a sleep which isn't anywhere near as long as it should be before we have to get up and part company, home to the same people, past-times and problems we left behind eleven days prior, albeit with the memory of an incredible bonding journey fresh in our minds.

one thing to bear in mind, before the post-tour blues kick in and i forget what this has taught me, and this should not be forgotten as you, like me, sit solemnly in your jobs from monday to friday:

it was Franklin D Roosevelt who said that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, but he was lying. what we actually have to fear is reaching some age where youth has deserted us only to realise we've wasted our lives.

never give up.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

tour blog: part 3

hello, and howay, from newcastle

day eight, and the most northerly point of the tour so far sees me sat in kev's aparthotel with Come Dine With Me on in the background. kev, ever the chef, is pointing out why this particular dish won't work. i, meanwhile, feel like absolute shit.

but this is no bad thing. trust me when i say this - i've earned this. this feeling that someone is standing behind me, pounding at my neck whilst gently kneeing me in the skull is one i've truly earned, having awoken this morning on a floor in Leeds feeling exactly as tired as i was when my eyes closed at 2am. last night was York, a city astounding in its olde worlde beauty home to a compact venue below a late night cinema. the people are - for the most part - quietly appreciative, and whilst the merch hasn't exactly flown out of our hands since we left Cheltenham on Sunday (more on that in a moment), we did at least feel like we'd achieved something.

i was already half-dead before that gig, mind. Tuesday night was Leeds and a mix of music and poetry, in which the writers got fairly drunk fairly quickly and we all ended up - somewhat inevitably, for me - at The Cockpit at Slam Dunk dancing to a whole bunch of emo songs we'd never heard of, and some shameful ones we had (Fallout Boy, Goldfinger, Sublime, Alkaline Trio..). a fantastic night was had by most, i'm sure, and the hip-hop soundtracked cab ride home just drove the point home. i have a lot of time for Leeds, a sprawling, crappy metropolis of a party town, in sharp contrast to the Oxford-like lush feel of York.

oh, but by the time we got to Leeds i was already worse for wear. the night before we'd been in Walsall at James Addis' house party, complete with friends and lovers, where the drink flowed readily and i'm already well, well on my way to a good night in by the time we take to the patio as a trio and run track by track through the EP we're all here to promote.

Then we do a gig in a cupboard under the stairs.

Then we do one in the shower.

Then we do one in Barry's car.

Then apparently we do one in the bedroom, though by now my chances of recalling this are fading fast. All i know is waking up the next morning partially on a bean bag but mostly on the floor, some terrible cramp in my legs and a pain in the brain. I take my guitar to the garden with my mp3 player, lean back and paint my thoughts onto the open sky. Only less pretentious than that sounds. And with a fucking massive hangover.

But i was already feeling a bit rough by the time we even got near Walsall, the previous night having been where i last left you, on the way to Cheltenham. The show at Slak is superb, and whilst my guitar is still playing up, the crowd are responsive and out for a good night. Jim Lockey brings his full band for the hometown show which is a sight worth seeing, and we soon head home to our host, Ed, who is as welcoming to us as old ladies are to royalty. We stay up into the night watching Labyrinth (with shouts of "wang!" where appropriate for Bowie) before drunkenly collapsing in on ourselves.

indeed, Ed isn't the only great host we've had - this tour has been a collection of excellent people and faces almost too numerous to name.

now, all i have to do is make it to huddersfield alive..

Sunday, 16 August 2009

tour blog pt 2, or, we're still not dead

hello once again.

today, you find me holed up in Barry's computer room, the lure of the internet too much for a 21st century boy like i. tired and happy, and in need of a damn good shave, this is day four of the tour, and tonight we go to Cheltenham. but not until i've read some more of the brilliant charlie brooker book that barry hides in his toilet, and i need to change the guitar battery that gave up on me mid-set in bristol last night.

aaah, bristol. that was a weird one. an all-dayer curated by barry himself, we arrive at the venue before 1pm to find the Bristol Bike festival - sorry, this keyboard seems a little picky about what it wants to capitalise - and a lot of bikers milling around. the venue itself - upstairs at the mother's ruin - is less a venue and more a space cleared in a room where some microphones are set up. oh, and it's hotter than a star. naturally, we open a window. naturally, someone knocks a glass out of the window and narrowly misses the bikers. naturally, we nearly get into trouble.


but the people are, for the most part, nice and polite, and the food and drink is incredibly cheap. ten hours later, the day is over, but not before some people i randomly know from reading turn up - these days living in bristol, evidently - and my incredibly drunk friend Charlie. we have some nasty shooters and check up on jim Lockey (curse you, shift key!), who departed the gig early as he had another show in somerset, where he wasnt on until 10pm. we dread to think what state he might be in for his home show of Cheltenham tonight.

oh, Devizes, that was alright in the end - more like a gathering of friends rather than the sweaty all-out super-show of Reading the night before. we drink, we shake hands, Jim hugs people who bought our stuff. it's all good.

after cheltenham, it's off to james addis's for an outdoor love-in, and from there it's out into the great unknown - Leeds, where i have been once, then to york, newcastle and huddersfield before we grab a day off. that's truly northern territory, and a long way from home. i do miss it, slightly, the comfortable familiarity of my flat, friends at easy touching distance, lovers at.. only kidding. but this time away is a good opportunity to let my oft-befuddled head settle and have a go at some self-assessment (although, thankfully, not in a tax return way).


Friday, 14 August 2009

tour diary: part 1

hello from Devizes.

i sit on day two of this Exclamation tour, in the function room of a pub in Wiltshire. tonight's show will be two sets of three songs mixed into an open mic style, and if Devizes hits its normal form, there'll be stories today. It is here, after all, in this very venue where I mounted an unsupported monitor and fell butt-first to the concrete floor, inadvertently naming a record label in the process.

Oxygen Thief is here, sat aloft my shoulder, still reveling in the glory of last night's opening show (and what a show) in Reading, where three increasingly buzzing folk musicians gave a lesson in unity. Jim Lockey's Morning Wake Up is a highlight, easily, though his morning today was less comfortable. we're not sure quite where or how it happened, but Lockey opened tour proceedings this morning with a monumental hangover, which was only made worse by the sight of food and some Murder She Wrote. surely he has set the bar for the tour. A kebab didn't help when we got here, some chips set him on the road to recovery shortly after and he has just declared his desire to drink some more.

Tomorrow he has two shows. Jim - good luck.

Back to Reading though, and i'm warmed to my very core for the support i received there. A packed house, a couple of encores and some ridiculous merch sales later, we return to chez Marwood (or Marwoody, if you believe the posters on display at the Oakford) tired and proud. Truly, it was the best show i've had in Reading for a long time, perhaps ever.

Onwards and upwards.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

leeds: in

the musical chairs of tour dates continues:

13 READING Oakford Social Club
14 DEVIZES Bell By The Green
15 BRISTOL Mother's Ruin
17 WEDNESBURY Castle Addis BBQ & House Show
18 LEEDS Elbow Room
19 YORK City Screen Basement Bar
20 NEWCASTLE Trillians

Saturday, 1 August 2009

tour news is poor news

Sometimes, things aren't just meant to be.

The business of the tiny touring acts - for, along with Jim Lockey and Oxygen Thief that is what we are - is often prone to general drama. This August's Exclamation UK tour is no exception. Over the past week or so, the Devizes Corn Exchange has announced it won't have re-opened in time for the 14th. That gig has been shifted down the road to previous stomping-ground The Bell By The Green. It's by a green, you know.

At almost exactly the same time, the promoter at Homestead in Southampton broke the news that Sonic Boom Six had booked a show nearby that night, so our show was to be pulled so as not to compete for a crowd, and shortly after Birmingham's Island Bar show fell too, a victim of the venue's cutting back of live music, before Stourbridge's Starving Rascal went the same way, although i'd spoken to Pete Stanley of Porpoise the week before who resides in Stourbridge, and he confirmed that he'd never even heard of any live music happening there anyway.

These are the risks we take.

Barry Thief was understandably irked by this cancellation nonsense, such is his desire to gig every day of his life, but I still didn't think eight gigs in ten days is a bad result, and then the king of the Midlands, James Richard Addis of Addistock, opened up his house for a house show/BBQ on the 17th. I'd tell you where it is, but I have no idea the specifics of where his house is. Ask me if you want to know, and I'll make a direct line of enquiry. It's somewhere in the Midlands though.

Those final dates in full:

13 READING Oakford Social Club
14 DEVIZES Bell By The Green
15 BRISTOL Mother's Ruin
17 THE MIDLANDS Addis' BBQ Adventure
19 YORK City Screen Basement Bar
20 NEWCASTLE Trillians