Fuchsia Days writes:
Stoke, Aberdeen, Liverpool this Friday/Saturday/Sunday w/ Mystery Jets ✈️
Fuchsia Days writes:
Stoke, Aberdeen, Liverpool this Friday/Saturday/Sunday w/ Mystery Jets ✈️
Cambridge / Birmingham
More on the uncharacteristic solo cinema visit. It really is unlike me to just go see a film on my own, but it’s something my dad used to do, and I’m finding things that bring me closer to him, even in the loosest sense of doing something he occasionally used to do for pleasure, are a comfort at the moment. There are various things on. In the end I go for The Worst Person In The World. A vaguely arty fourth-wall-ish, sad-modern-relationships thing. It’s actually really nicely done, with a pretty, watertight soundtrack, filmed and lit well, with an odd, incongruous Woody Allen-esque sequence that punctuates the halfway mark. It is sweet, the last half hour especially poignant. The cinema itself is gorgeous too, a tiny Picturehouse nestled in a terrace of shops and bars. I don’t mind the cinema once in a blue moon. And just like my dad, I always have a little snooze. In truth, as Alex and I got older and the house got noisier, Graham would often go to the cinema TO sleep. He often returned from a trip to see a film simply saying “Oh it was LOVELY. I fell asleep at the beginning and woke up during the credits”. To this day I still find the womb-like cocoon of a cinema invites the warmth of sleep as much as any excitement about the film itself.
The next morning I set sail for Birmingham. I’ve truly grown to love Brum over the past few years, taking many trips up to rehearse and work with The Twang, most recently just last month, fulfilling our rescheduled December London date. It’s a city of many sides – the ultra-modern centre and business district, the leafy suburbs, sprawling out in all directions, the Chinese Quarter, intersecting with the Gay Village, now a husk of what it was even two or three years ago, venues closing at a rate of one every six months or so, nothing taking their place. Tonight’s gig is a converted warehouse in Digbeth, a grid of crumbling ex-industrial Victoriana just south-east of the city centre. I’ve not been this way before (The Twang rehearse on the opposite side of town) so it’s nice to walk my luggage from the station and get a flavour of where exactly we’re gonna be. Context. In the afternoon drizzle the place is deserted and grim but it’s not hard to imagine these bars at the height of summer, vibe city, those old warehouses and garages painted lurid pinks and greens, kitted out with monstrous PA systems, festoon lights, punters smashing back shots and hoovering up bumps in the portaloos.
It’s always a risk but I’ve vouched for a restaurant, a Korean place I’ll regularly visit when working up here with The Twang, so after soundcheck half the party goes to The Ivy while myself, Blaine and Henry walk over to Topokki, a little canteen-style place over by the Gay Village (creature of habit or homing pigeon…). I’ve no idea why some places become lodged in the mind, or particularly offer themselves as a potential haunt. The food is undeniably good, but it also has a specific lack of fussiness or pretense. The bare concrete and unvarnished wood. Maybe it reminds me of Milk No Sugar, the great underappreciated Vietnamese gem just down the hill from Brighton Station. Zero bullshit homecooked food, done with love and nods to both modernity and tradition. It’s also very reasonable. I have Jjigae (a kind of Korean one-pot stew made with kimchi, onion, tofu and gochujang), the guys have ramen and kimchi-jeon (Korean pancake). The kimchi-jeon is particularly addictive, and I’m chuffed when Blaine declares it bangin’. If you’ve not tried it, please do.
I decide to hang back a little and mooch around the Gay Village before show time. Since I started visiting regularly this place has further shrunk. It’s hard to imagine how much more of it can be sold off and redeveloped before it technically is no more. As of this month we are left with a handful of gnarly cheap-drinks drag bars (Missing being probably the best, in terms of the building itself and the programme on offer) and one or two sex clubs set on one or two main strips, the outer streets now derelict, completely dead. Twenty years ago this place would have been buzz central. I walk south and call Frankie. The light is fading and it’s pretty much time to get back.
Tonight’s show is like a slow breeze, the crowd are down for it but not going nuts. That’s fine. The set goes at it’s own pace anyway – a brash opening then a slow second quarter before the second half builds through a whole raft of stone cold classics. It works a treat every time. I’m now using the Lusby for the entire show, something I didn’t envisage, being so attached to my Tele. But this guitar sings. It’s a pleasure to play it night after night and a privilege given this thing is a legitimate one-off.
After the show we retire with friends next door to The Night Owl, where music blares as a small gig packs down. Tomorrow morning as we assemble at the van we’ll reflect and confirm that that was one tequila too many.
Tour Diary (Pt. 2)
After the show in Norwich we drive to a sprawling Best Western, a kind of bungalow Overlook formed of a huge square of corridors and rooms surrounding an inner courtyard. I sleep well and wake early enough to have a decent breakfast of yoghurt and prunes and a small plate from the oily bits. Powdered scramble, but the hash browns are edible. It’s the first of many warm days and we set off in blazing sunshine. Cambridge is roughly on the way back to London from Norwich, so it’s pretty much a case of retracing yesterday’s drive. We arrive and I immediately scope out my hotel. The rest of the group will be doing days off at home in London. I’m not London-based so have opted to spend my days off away. I’ll have two days in Cambridge – a nice diversion and a chance to get to know the place a little. My hotel sits at the end of a square, directly next to the station, while my room is at the side of the building, looking down the length of a bright, tidy street of brand new student housing. These developments can so often end up a failure – a utopia dreamed into existence by town planning. But no-one could afford the rent. Town and cities are built and evolve by accident, a by-product, facilitating the lives they contain, not the other way round. We can design the odd building but things fall apart when we try to control what is by nature accidental and chaotic. Just look at Milton Keynes. Went through recently and it is like one of Le Corbusier’s remarkable sketches come to life. All the lines and planes of the plans and not a person in sight. If you manicure it, they won’t come. Here, the order and squareness feels calming, reassuring, not unlike the perfect right-angles of downtown Le Havre. Tonight is the first time I’ve been back to Cambridge Junction since 2008 (I think) with Patrick Wolf. I think this may have even been the second show I ever played with him (Colchester Arts Centre was the first). The place hasn’t changed a bit, the eternal, deathless multiplex precinct swept spotless outside the venue. There’s a particular feeling, perhaps familiar to anyone who’s ever wandered outside a venue in a small town in France after soundcheck, that tugs sharply at the heart – how will this place ever be full tonight and why would anyone come here? But it is and they do.
After soundcheck I do the unthinkable and get myself a day pass for the gym in the dreaded multiplex. Can we just say touring at 37 is not the same as touring at 17. I don’t know how I reached this age, but we die or get older. Which will it be? For now I am choosing getting older. The upside of looking after myself a little better is that my playing is far sharper. I’m leading at least two songs in the set with no count-in or cues from the group, so there’s not really any room for fucking shit up or being loose. It’s satisfying to get nothing but big fat thumbs-up(s) from everyone for my work thus far. My old man would be proud. I keep saying to anyone who’ll listen – the song is king and the show is my only focus. All energy goes into centring this as the absolute reason for being here. Food is chosen carefully and eaten at specific times to maximise energy and minimise sluggishness while alcohol is only allowed from the encore onwards, once the job is largely done, and even then in moderation. These are self-imposed rules, I might add. A small smoke of weed in a quiet spot is my only real pre-show ritual – a settling of nerves and a focusing of mind on the gig ahead. It helps.
After the show I meet my dear friend Ella Janes, who’s debut I produced a couple of years back. In a total stroke of luck this show falls on her only day off this week (her last in Cambridge). It’s great to catch up, and always elevates a show to know you have pals in the crowd. To be playing to someone rather than just an audience as one. Again, focus, diligence.
I bid adieu to the rest of the touring party and mince my way to the hotel, still in my stage gear. In the last decade the IBIS chain has undergone something of an overhaul. The newest branches have now done away with reception desks entirely, with just a greeter with an iPad to welcome you and furnish you with your room key, a bar stocked with IPA and Staropramen and a full menu. It’s late though. I find my room and flop on the bed.
Next morning I rise late and wander the long streets into town for pho and an uncharacteristic solo visit to the cinema (The Worst Person In The World). In an annoying bit of unwanted synchronicity, the first handful of dates we do almost perfectly align with Goldfrapp’s 20th anniversary tour for Felt Mountain. I should have been at the Bexhill show. I wander past the Corn Exchange and realise she was here last night. The place looks tiny, and I remember I’ve been here before – Brakes supporting Belle & Sebastian in 2006. After two decades touring the UK there are ghosts on every corner, venue layouts and decrepit backstages etched in the mind. Too many to recall, some gone forever, only extant in memory. Northampton Soundhaus, Leicester Charlotte, Lincoln Bivouac…. Golden days. My ears still ring with the wayward frequencies of your battered speakers. And with so many people gone or incognito, you start to feel like a survivor. This is the paradox of our preoccupation with youth. Time is not a linear track, the train running away from us. Quality of life over quantity. You can live to 90 and vegetate. Some change the world in a short few years. There is vitality everywhere, and there is always more good work to be done. You just have to find it – in yourself and out in the world.
Tomorrow we reconvene in Birmingham for the next leg. The good work continues.
Tour Diary (Pt.1)
(At the urging of a couple of folks, I’ve decided to resume my tour diary proper… might as well, given I’m doing so much traveling…. haven’t done this for a fair few years so forgive if the writing is clunk-laden at first… first chunk covers the last bit leading up to this tour beginning…)
October 2021 – 10th April 2022
A month or more on the road, with shows selling out and being added real time. The displacement began in earnest last year, October, just weeks after my dad’s first stroke. En route to Mary’s in brown-leafed Tufnell Park I get the call. Filling in for most of December on bass with The Twang. Count me in, I can move whatever I have in the diary and make it work. I do. Just two days after my dad’s funeral I’m back in Birmingham for a brief skip through the set and we are off – Stoke, Derby, Sheffield, Nottingham…. Twang Heartland. All roads lead back to Birmingham though, and on the 19th we return to a brimming Academy. 3,000 braying lunatics. With crowds like this you sort of transcend everyday concepts like musicianship or tightness and enter a realm where you effectively cannot fuck things up. It’s bizarre. The energy carries you and band along. Things are smoothed and helped enormously by various aspects – the ongoing and unfailing family of the group themselves, and their total focus and commitment to the gig night after night. It is entirely a pleasure, especially in the wake of a Wake. Relief in form of brotherhood and connection to other humans. I am grieving still.
We part ways and London is shelved until the new year. I return home for a subdued and odd Christmas, our first without Graham.
Come January and I realise I am now in five or six concurrent projects. I said I wouldn’t do this again, but rent needs paying and I feel like I’m in a good place. It’s all manageable if I look after myself. January to March is largely spent painting at my flat, with intermittent trips to London for various rehearsals with The WAEVE and recording/mastering with Maven Grace. MG have sort of made Abbey Road their second home, so we hunker down in their annex space when we can and continue work on album two while album one is mastered upstairs. I know the Jets tour is coming in April so I figure I need to take time out in March if I’m going to mentally be able to do this. I need time to process. In the end I cancel about two weeks work. In return, the universe serves me an eviction notice, Covid and an empty bank account. In the wake of last year’s losses my heart rate barely lifts. I just don’t care. Money comes and goes. I refuse to actively think about it, much less stress.
Early April comes quickly. “How are we a quarter of the way through 2022???” says everyone over 35. Months are years-long when you’re 14 or 15. Nowadays a single painting can lose me a week.
We enter into rehearsals proper for the tour, and the group kindly puts me up in a hotel in West London, just a short bus ride from the studio. We click almost straight away, no drama, just a solid few days spent focused on our own bits and listening to one another, knocking the set into shape and finessing sounds. Mornings I get coffee or food in Acton. More memories of my dad and half-forgotten stories of his grandparents. The streets gleam in the bright spring sun and I remember how much the displacement of touring suits me. The constant tourist. Always arriving or leaving. Living out of a bag. I have that chip and never lost it. Covid tried to beat it out of me but it’s back, stronger than ever. Evenings I walk at a snail’s pace back along Uxbridge Road, barely a nip in the air, looping through Acton Park then up to Ealing Common. I resolve to move my things back to my dad’s house when I return home and split my time between various places until estate and probate are established. Oh the sweet bureaucracy of death. Takes your mind off things. That will do for now.
Ah, the Waterfront. Last here in 2008 with (British) Sea Power on the Do You Like Rock Music? tour. Drumming in lieu of a back-fucked Woody. Good times. We soundcheck and cross the river to scope out a pristine red-brick Bella Pasta precinct of deathly nothingness. Wholly evoking late-stage capitalism and the oncoming apocalypse, these places are identical wherever you go. It’s no slight on Norwich to call it dreadful. It’s the same everywhere. To unearth the living soul of a place you must veer away from this hell. We cross back over and immediately bump into Jordan, one of my oldest friends from Brighton. He and Holly (both Fiction Aisle-ers in their time, bass and clarinet respectively) moved here a year or two back, and have quickly made it home. He delights in elaborating on the history of the place as we navigate winding streets and crooked Tudor overhangs. In a small ale pub we have a meandering chat over halfs of black beer. Jordan knew my dad extremely well over the years, from childhood up until his death. It’s odd. You’d think it would sting to bring this stuff to the surface but it doesn’t. If anything it makes my own memories of him sort of clarify, like the butter un-melting in those Adam & Joe Show idents (if you know, you know). Death does funny things, one of them being that the brain goes fully fight or flight. Through introspection and recollection we slow down and that fear of recalling memories fades and we can start to connect with the person in totality – their whole life and being before us, framed and finite. You can’t do that when someone is still around.
Glasses drained, we amble back to the venue, where the room has filled and supports have done their thing. In no time at all it is 9pm. A group hug (which will on later shows evolve into a group hum) galvanises and connects us before moulds are buried deep in ear canals and the booming intro music announces our arrival. A few steps up to the stage and we are bathed in white noise and screaming lights for the next hour and a half. Sweet silence. It goes in a blip and before we can say I Love You 500 times we are back in the dressing room, back in the van, back to the hotel, late night TV, dirty head on starched sheets, bed, sleep. Elbow have a rule that they never come offstage and analyse a show they just played. Leave that for tomorrow. The beauty of this is that come tomorrow you’ve forgotten all the niggles that you might have brought up and the experience has smoothed into memory now. And besides, it’s a new day and you’ve a million new things to think about. It’s a wonderful rule. Works every time.
📸: Barr Street, Birmingham, March 2022