Mr. The Magic Lantern and I have been off on our Any Path Will Do tour 2012, sowing the seeds of our acoustic performances in a number of locations, particularly in the south west! For Jamie, aka. Skip, aka. The Magic Lantern, the tour has been a voyage of self-discovery as he leaves behind a band and strives forwards with new, solo material. For me, too, there was an element of re-discovery, playing my first substantial solo shows away from Bright Idea in a couple of years. It’s been seven of the nicest shows I can remember, and all of them different, too – let’s recap.
6/11 Oxford – The Gardener’s Arms (with Sam Taplin and Matt Chanarin)
“We’re here for the show!” “What show?” – This is never a good way to start a tour. But once we’d reminded the Gardener’s Arms people who we were and once I’d pleaded with them to let us do the show anyway, things rapidly started improving. Over dinner with Jamie, we laid the promises and pitfalls of the tour out in front of each other. He reacted surprisingly well when I told him we’d lost our place to stay for the evening, saying “we’ll sort something out!” rather than my predicted “aaaaaaaaaaaaaAAA” (a week or so later, he admits that the latter was perhaps closer to his feelings at the time, but for both of our sakes I’m glad he put a bold face on it). With that, the issue with this venue, another promoter calling us in a huff and threatening to cancel a later show (a theme which would continue throughout the below), a dispute with another band about how to split cash (details of which I decline to air publicly), and a troubling lack of audience at tonight’s show, we were feeling pretty bleak. That’s when Sam Taplin turned up, obviously extremely ill. “But I’m going to play anyway!”, he announced, rather to our surprise – and from here the evening took an uphill turn. A large bunch of people piled suddenly into the GA’s back room, where they proved a surprisingly attentive (and, as our hat-takings later revealed, generous) audience. And well they might have been! Matt Chanarin’s opening set the tone perfectly, Taplin was playing at his best, and it was a delight to hear Jamie playing songs old and new (by the end of the tour, of course, I would be fucking sick of them) (only joking). And we found shelter in the welcoming arms of Liz and Dean. “You’re not allergic to cats, are you?”, the asked Jamie. “Yes, very”, he replied. “Oh well”, they said.
7/11 With one show down and Barack Obama’s election firmly in the bag, we parted ways for twenty-four hours (Jamie sneezing loads for some reason). I had four coffees with the inestimable Matt Sage and then sidled town to Exeter, where, together with old ally Tamsin G., I took in the Angel’s open mic night, which happened to be on. My first time in there in a while, and it hasn’t changed at all! Still fucking shit!
8/11 Falmouth – Harbour House (with King Olive and Rosie Caldecott)
A beautiful train journey down past Newton Abbot, © I. K. Brunel, and a long sit on the platform at Truro for the enjoyable shuttle-train down to Falmouth town. Rosie met me from the station and showed me the delights of the area, they consist as follows: 1) lots of dogs, 2) a nice beach, 3) DOGS. Also there was a park with many kinds of strange tree, one of which I climbed. There was a weird department store, too. Then Rosie showed me her ART studio where she makes ART and I got very jealous of people who can do ART – an emotion which was to increase as the evening went on. Meeting Jamie from (and in fact, physically hauling him off) his later train (he thought he was going to the next stop), I conducted him to the evening’s venue, a cavernous and apparently infinitely labyrinthine student house secreted above a decadent pasty outlet on the high street. While I’d been out, other ARTists from Falmouth college had turned the room where we were to play (really a hall – the only space big enough) into an exhibition space, and the walls were covered with their amazing work. Omens were bad for the show – Rosie had a phone call to say the police had been notified that this gentle music session was to occur, prompting speculation on my part that this gig might more closely resemble a student house party (my least favourite thing in the whole universe) than a gig. The addition of a band with drums and electric guitars did little to reassure me, but as in Oxford it all came right in the end.
The massive crowd who gathered turned out to be exemplars of good behaviour, and whilst suitably studenty in between acts were amazing whilst people were playing. Pins would have clattered. The band turned out to be good (it was their first ever show), and Rosie played a beautiful set, including some of her new material which puts her out in front, in my opinion. This crowd went mental for Mr. Doe, and they also asked me for an encore, which was extremely nice of them. To cap off the evening, Rosie gave us her bedroom – no skimping on hospitality there – and we drifted into a contented slumber.
9/11 Exeter – North Bridge Inn (with Jess McAllister)
We surged from bed to train in one fluid motion, nearly boarding the one going the wrong way, such was our enthusiasm.
At Truro, Jamie picked up tea for both of us and a pleasing number of crosswords, although a passerby immediately split all of one of those down my leg when our train arrived (hint: not the crosswords). After processing her relative lack of contrition, we settled down to our first lengthy journey together, and crossworded our way over the picturesque landscape discussing Louise Mensch. On arrival in Exeter, we forsook the cabs who wanted us to wait, apparently for them to finish chatting, and walked at top speed to the Phoenix theatre, wherein awaited the superb Mr. Eddie Coates, a benefactor of former years, enthroned behind his radio broadcasting equipment.
We inhaled deeply, played a couple of songs each, and then pissed off to Tamsin’s. She made us extremely delicious soup, then I rendezvoused with an old teacher of mine before the bunch of us headed over to wagamama to meet our fanbase for the evening. Meandering from the restaurant to the venue by way of an AA-battery-selling tesco, we swapped clothes briefly to bring some glamour to our dull lives.
The crowd was disappointingly thin, but it was a pleasure to see and play with Jess again and see some other old Exeter folk. The best performance of the evening was back at Tamsin’s, where Jamie pulled out ‘Le Travails du Swindler’, and we did an impromptu duet (I remain vexed that he didn’t play this onstage anywhere during the tour). A no-score win, then, we headed in the direction of sleep.
10/11 Gidleigh – Village Hall (with Freddie Crowley and Diggory North)
Now we were off into what was for me the unknown, boarding a bus bound who knew where after a morning in Boston Tea Party slowly drinking literally every kind of substance (excluding gross substances). Freddie was a contact of Jamie’s who had promised us a gig in his village – in this he did not disappoint, but on the bus I did half-heartedly wonder if we were walking into some kind of trap. Contrary to the ill omens of the previous shows, here everything looked just a little too good – the show had already pretty much sold out, and our generous hosts for the evening not only had a lovely house and permitted me to rudely nap instead of socialising with them, but also let me cavort with their three charming dogs while everyone else discussed music. I’m happy playing any show where there’s a cheeseboard before the gig, but it turned out that this was only the beginning: this show, in the heart of England’s most sparsely-populated parish (apparently) not only had a sound guy who Jamie had already worked with (coincidence) but also, in the crowd, an old teacher of mine from Exeter University (coincidence) who turned out to be the Dad of one of the support acts (coincidence). Reeling from this slightly, I had barely time to survey the hugely enjoyable show, with its large and welcoming crowd, before it was, once again, time for bed. After a little stargazing, of course.
11/11 London – Servant’s Jazz Quarters (with Shine Like the Sun)
One does not get up in a nice house on Dartmoor on the most perfect autumn day they’ve ever seen without forcing their already over-generous hosts to drive them up to the top of the moor for a quick ramble around and a look at the immaculate view: I’ve always said that.
But there was a panic on – we had a train to catch, and a bus to catch to meet that train, and if we missed it then pckckckckckkkkkwwwwwww. So intense was I about this that we were at the bus stop several minutes early, which is just as well because the bus was too (we’d have missed it if we’d been on time). Back in Exeter, though, things became more boring: I had allowed for something going wrong with the earlier section of the journey, and we now had an hour to kill. “To the nearest Wetherspoons!”, I cried, ignoring Jamie’s obvious hatred of me. At the Wetherspoons, we had several different kinds of drink, which I waited a really long time to order despite the place not being that busy. “What happened to you?”, Jamie asked, when I eventually returned, clutching our beverages like a Greek Hero. Ignoring his obvious hatred of me, I launched into a long conversation about Terry Pratchett, then ate a weird fruit and yoghurt breakfast bowl, served attractively in one of those tall vases they make sundaes in. Finally, we got on the train, along with everyone else in Exeter. “We should sit in our reserved seats”, Jamie said. “No-one does that”, replied train-expert Will, “and besides, these two seats are free – the ticket says they’re booked from Taunton, and this train’s already been through there”. A short while later, it emerges that I’ve confused Taunton with Truro – again – and that two angry people are in all probability about to board and move us. “We should sit in our reserved seats”, Jamie said. Ignoring his obvious hatred of me, I surged up the carriage with guitar case, coat, suitcase and rucksack flailing around me in some kind of satanic orbit – small children and dogs went flying, but by the time we reached Reading we had pretty much sat down. Back in London, after a journey on the underground which I decline to recall in detail, we found ourselves once again victims of excellent hospitality at the hands of Jamie’s housemates, who plyed us with a range of delicious foodstuffs until I felt a bit ill. “And now, crumble”, said they. “We should get to the venue really”, said Jamie. “I’ll have some”, I said. Ignoring Jamie’s obvious hatred of me, I ate a large quantity of crumble (delicious) and then we strolled out to our venue of the evening, met the band, and set up the sound. What followed was a great show, partly because of the quality of the PA (and the expert way in which Jamie set it up) and partly because of the crowd, which was just the right size for the venue and totally up for it. I really enjoyed singing this show, and Jamie’s performance was surely one of his best on the tour.
12/11 Whilst Jamie rehearsed with his other band, the Ballina Whalers, I crawled around East London having breakfast with Matt and Lizzie “Railroad” Doran-Parle, and multiple coffee-crosswords with academic confrere Hannah A. (not Arendt). Back at Jamie’s, it was an afternoon of internet admin – how these meaningless chores pile up if you go offline for a few days – followed by a Chickpea curry, a massive banana split, and David Attenborough. Oh David.
13/11 Birmingham – Kitchen Garden Café (with Polly and the Billets-Doux)
And so we popped off to Birmingham, a move which we had not quite left enough time for, Skip tearing round his flat to locate various ingredients for the Whalers’ success. We decide to try and do every crossword on the two-hour train journey, and accordingly buy every single daily newspaper – but we are humiliated, completing only two outright and getting within two or three clues of completion on perhaps another five. The Financial Times only has a cryptic, what kind of fucked up publication is that?? (ASIDE: Trying to do every crossword was a success in one important respect – I have never had that journey go quicker, and I’ve done it a lot). We strolled through the environs of Birmingham, which failed to awaken even the shadow of sentiment in Jamie.
Then, after a swift jacket potato courtesy of my Dad, and more Whaling admin from Jamie, it was time to hit the venue. We met our second sound guy of the tour who it turned out we already knew, and he proved something of an evening-saver in terms of vibe, making us feel good as well as sound good. Well – sound okay. My voice went. But the space was nice, and Polly and her band were a great bunch to meet and swap records with. When it was all over we scrambled back to my place with an impulse curry and sat up late in the kitchen with daal and calculating expressions.
14/11 Jamie vanished alarmingly early to do some music work in Reading. After that he had a gig with the Whalers, which made me feel like I wasn’t really pulling my weight on the tour. So I bought a tub of Phish Food and a bag of popcorn and watched quite a lot of Fringe. I daresay the thought of it all being over soon was beginning to hit.
15/11 Bristol – The Scout Hut (with Rachael Dadd)
Jamie and I rendezvoused for the final time at Café Gusto near Bristol Temple Meads station, where I’d been sitting in my warm new coat enjoying the crisp autumn chillyness and drinking hot tea. We did a crossword and then headed out to Stokes Croft, where we touched base with our host for the evening, Rachael Not-Dadd. In her fantastic house we rehearsed a few extra touches on songs we’d been signing together, then strolled once again through the streets of Bristol, a fine city currently in the throes of its first mayoral election, and looking exceptionally handsome on this particular evening. Through the docks, past cool art galleries and cooler boats, we strolled past young pirates until we found our tall gardening host, Mr. Joe Medlar, preparing the Scout Hut for our show. It’s a real scout hut – the sea scouts, to be exact – and with the addition of bunting and free tea to its views of the water and the city lights it swiftly became one of the most charming venue of the tour, and an excellent place to finish it. A fly in the ointment was a nearby church, whose campanologists had apparently been given some speed and told to really have at it this time, but the intimacy of Rachael Dadd’s opening set soon overwhelmed this problem, and spurred on by the provision of her husband’s Japanese cooking, the gig went on to be a success. It was Rachael’s first show since giving birth, and the newborn was well-behaved throughout, screaming only when the church bells gave it no other alternative. After the show we hopped back up Stokes Croft way and sat up around Rachael Not-Dadd’s kitchen table, enjoying the view from her lovely house, eating toast, and reading about Bristol’s mayoral candidates (not one of whom would I have voted for). Eventually, whilst the others stayed up talking of this and that in their characteristic fashion, I slid down the stairs to a floor I didn’t even know was there and crawled into bed – dog tired, dog happy. Seven shows down, a few quid up. Village halls, houses, scout huts, pubs, cafés, venues. Drizzle and fog and bright bright sun; trains and buses and cars. Sofas, futons, floors and even beds – PAs or no, old friends and new. Any path will do.