Monthly Archives: May 2013

That’s Fresh, that’s Fresh that’s Fresh that’s Fresh

Last night I clambered up onto the stage to play guitar on MC Lars’s track Ahab. We had fun!

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The evening had not begun well. A few electrical defects (that’s what they claimed) had combined with a modest amount of congestion at Birmingham New New St., the all-new station which at platform level seems suspiciously similar to the old one, but more crowded. I leapt gazelle-like onto my train with a minute to spare, but rebounded off the solid wall of people standing on the other side of the doors. There was literally no room for me, especially with my big ol’ guitar case. But the thought that This Was Not London occurred, and proceeding to the front coach at roughly five times the speed of sound I found it almost completely empty. From there it was plain sailing to the East Midlands, coloured only slightly by the weather’s cyclical alteration between sun, wind, sleet, rain, and just ‘grey’. I shut my eyes for one moment and wondered if I’d reopened them in another scene in the movie of my life, set Years Later.

Through squalls and sunburn and hail, I sprinted over to the venue, where my guitar didn’t work. “It’s probably the batteries”, said the sound guy. Sound guys below a certain competence level literally always say that about my guitar – I think they have a problem with the pickup architecture. When it became clear that my beautiful Martin was unplayable, he offered to loan me the house guitar, a plasticised not-even-Yamaha which instantly made my left index finger bleed. “Let’s see if I can find some batteries”, I said, clinging to hope. Amazingly, a passing legend (shouts out to MATT) did actually have some, which is little short of miraculous since my pickup doesn’t take 9Vs like a sensible guitar would, but rather those little silver batteries that you only get in pointless things. With them installed, my guitar instantly came through melodious. The sound guy had been right! “Right”, I said. Things were brightening up.

Our backstage area contained a customised pie, customised cupcakes, and Lars himself, talking vigorously about his book and the state of western civilisation, and breaking off occasionally to call people “muscles” and perform elaborate introductions between folks who had already met ten or twelve times. There was a tour manager asleep in one corner, and a Scottish girl whose role I never quite fathomed surveyed the situation from the other. We spoke of the weather for a while and there were free Babybels, making this this definitive British green room. Eventually, I hesitantly put out my two feeble CDs alongside Lars and Dual Core’s formidable and slightly aggressive array of merch:

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Then I mounted the stage to play my own set. I had a great time on stage – far better than anything else for months, and the crowd responded cheerily. We exchanged banter over the demise of firefly, then I debuted a new song (‘Why Wait?’) which I’d written the previous day. I fucked it up of course, but not as badly as I thought I might, which is basically the same as saying that I am Bon Jovi. After the crowd gamely sung along on classics like ‘Unwillingness to Dance’ (which, at two-ish months old, it may not actually be fair to call a legitimate classic) and ‘Sebastian and the Snickers’ (which was a classic seconds after it was written and I dare anyone to tell me otherwise), I headed back for a couple of Babybels and a debrief with some passing Brummies at the merch table. Lars always brings out amazing fans – I’ve consistently met great people at his shows and there were some familiar faces in the crowd. But the afterglow was short-lived, as I had a last train to catch, and a night on the streets of Leicester seemed unattractive. “Let’s play Ahab”, Lars said, moving it to the front of his set so that I could join in. After Dual Core finished rocking out, we hopped right to it, bashing out Supergrass chords and American literature to the delight of – well, me anyway. I think other people were delighted but I don’t really care because I was having more than enough fun for all of us. Then I screeched off the stage, threw my guitar in its case, and dived out of the building like Elvis. It broke my heart to leave when Lars was just getting started on what I could tell was going to be a killer set, but I looked in at a chain hotel on my way to the station and their prices were hilarious, so I persisted.

I leapt gazelle-like onto my train with a minute to spare, then spent the rest of the evening looking at a branch of Tesco when the train stopped in the middle of nowhere for no reason some moments later. As I ate my emergency sandwich in the halogen, gazing at the five illuminated letters out the window and thinking about the musical joy being liberally dispensed a few miles behind me, two things occurred to me: first, that life is good, and second, that the UK’s train infrastructure could stand to improve.

Thanks to @BitsysCupcakery for the first picture, and for having me! If anyone out there has more pictures of the night I’d love to see them!

Spring’s Labour’s Lost Reminiscences

Jamie “Tragic Flantern” Doe and I went on what you could call a tour if you ignored the inconvenient gaps between the dates, the fact that we didn’t travel together, the lack of roadies, and the quality, tone, and size of the shows. Haphazardly, we navigated the length of England seeking an audience in six different towns. In some of them, we found one.

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I originally wrote this journal entry as a blow by blow series of reminiscences from each of the shows we played, tempered with exciting “behind the scenes” stories (most of them about Jamie’s “jokes”) to excite the modern reader. But I’ve now deleted that in favour of this more free-form account. In part, this is because I think it makes for better reading, but it’s mostly because I have absolutely no desire to be forced by the format of this post into talking about the Birmingham show or recalling it in any way.

So let’s talk about London, where Jamie and I found ourselves sound technicians for an evening in a basement in King’s Cross, sidling back up to Angel where overpriced chips accompanied our frenzied religious and political debates into the wee hours. I turfed Jamie out of his own bed because of a grandfather clock and our supporting act turned up just as we were getting ready to perform without him. Or we could talk about Oxford, where our show was a warm-up to the May Morning festivities which followed (I’m visible on the BBC News for slightly less than a second). We bumped into an old supervisor of mine and I didn’t notice, possibly because I was in a Jamie-induced Jazz trance.

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In Newcastle, we had an entire cinema to use as a green room – and a cinema which fed us and had its own ping pong table. Piped through an antiquated and home-built sound system, Jamie had cause to regret using the word ‘wench’. I got to duet with Ditte Elly, which was a joyous experience, and the next day I headed off for breakfast and a beach with some locals in order to console myself about Jamie’s early departure. There was a cat, taxis were affordable, the metro system had stolen its logo from Morrison’s, and we stayed up late into the night talking about the Olympics and house prices (we’re adults now).

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Then we skated to the south west. In Falmouth I climbed a lot of stairs to play an open mic night with Rosie Caldecott – we met a guy with a fine moustache whose girlfriend used the same brand of pen as me. I saw the local aquarium and found a pub which sold books, then the next morning I found myself in a leisure centre swimming pool at 8:30, which was unexpected, and then drank an instant hot chocolate whilst picking wildflowers and looking at rain coming in off the ocean.

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Skip arrived to fish and chips, soul and jazz sessions in an attic bedroom, and, at last, a venue with a harbour view. We had a midnight encounter with an albino rat called Paris, France. Then it was off up to Bristol, where an amazing thali lunch proved ample restorative after the experience of trying to get tickets out of a ticket machine in Truro (still reverberating through my karmic essence hours later). Stokes Croft looked worrying in the rain but some old friends turned out, the crowd was lovely, and the tour ended with warmth – especially after the acquisition of a (second) curry.

Here’s what we learned:
1) Outside London, open off-licences are hard to find late at night.
2) Trains are extremely expensive.
3) Our friends and fans are a talented, warm, intelligent diaspora whom it’s an absolute pleasure to know.
4) Even at its lowest ebb, this is a charmed occupation, and we’re lucky to get to be doing it.

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Announcements

I’ve had to cancel a previously-announced appearance with MC Lars in London next week, but I’ll still be onstage with him in Leicester this coming Thursday, and it promises to be a real corker!

2013-05-15 15.57.08Lars has been a constant source of friendship and inspiration to me these last seven years, and being on a bill with him is the greatest honour! There’s going to be a lot of Edgar Allan Poe love on this tour, as the poster indicates (check out his new EP on the subject), so do come down if you possibly can. It’ll be mad fun. Tickets, available here, are £9/8.

In other news, I’m selling my Fender Stratocaster. It was my first guitar and I love it very much, but it doesn’t get played these days and I want it to have a home where it will be used and loved! It certainly deserves one. If you fancy it, here’s the gumtree ad. And here’s what the instrument looks like:

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