Monthly Archives: April 2008

a small funny thing

This morning I got a scary looking official letter through the post. We’d been talking money’n’mortgages over breakfast, which inevitably meant thinking about my feckless fiscal past, so my first thought was it was from some horrid collection agency out of nowhere.

But of course it wasn’t, it turned out to be from Almex, who operate the ticket machines from London buses. Apparently I had some cash swallowed by a bus ticket machine recently and phoned to complain, so they sent me a sweet apology with – get this – £2 in coins sellotaped to the letter!

The thing is, I have no recollection whatsoever of calling them up. I do vaguely remember having to catch a bus down to Victoria after the 100 Club gig recently (because of the tube early closing) and having a drunken fight with a ticket machine. In the heat of the night, I must’ve got my complaining hat on, which can’t have been very nice for whichever hapless Kolkatta-dweller picked up the call.

Brilliant. Two squid. Vote for Ken. FYI it was two 50ps and a £1 coin. Hats off to you, Nick Stevenson, Contract Manager of the London Bus Project.


tour diary #4 – white light white heat

I’m back on the road unexpectedly: a few days ago Frank Turner’s keyboard player Ciara had to quit his tour just before the end, to go join The Kooks, so now I’m filling in on piano and organ and doing unannounced opening slots as well, which is a total blast so far.

I’ve always switched over when the Kooks come on the radio, til the other day some highbrow critic (I think it was on Radio 4) said they had one of the best young lead guitarists around, on a par with Johnny Marr or Bernard Butler. Since then, whenever their songs come on, I have to stick it out and listen properly to figure out if he’s right. And it turns out, even if namechecking Marr is overstating it a bit, the guy has a point: whoever plays lead in that band does work in some shit-hot creative bits’n’bobs. It’s just you have to endure that glottal scenester warble (and the worst lyrics outside Scouting For Girls) to get to it. But I’m listening now, god help me.

Last night we played Cambridge Barfly. It was rammed and holy chaos. I knew it was going to be a toughie when the wifi only worked in the room with no power points. When we get there, there’s a bunch of local supports advertised but Frank’s tour is a full-up bill. We’re reassured there’ll only be one local opener but in fact this is two singer-songwriters sharing the stage and alternating songs! (They’d never met!) Meanwhile a third Cambridge act is bumped but plays a storming set out on some grass near the venue, earning big props from Frank later on.

Back inside, they have one fiery white light aimed at the stage and no aircon. It’s so fierce it smells of burning flesh and pretty quickly (like, when I’m still doing my solo set) the place is too hot to exist in. Frank gets less than a third into the set before we’re begging to get this light switched off – but there doesn’t appear to be a lighting person, so tour staff have to fuck with the lights til they manage to swivel it sideways. We’re also having piles of technical problems, battling sulking DI boxes and wet leads. Luckily none of this shite affects the soul of the gig, which is outstanding.

A funny thing – remarkably similar to playing with Jim Bob despite the big differences in style – because of the addictive nature of Turner’s massive singalong choruses, his and the (devoted) crowd’s shared vibe transcends the actual musicality of the show a bit. Not that the band isn’t bloody great – they’re (we’re!) absolutely blinding players. But (far more than my own band shows I reckon, where the rockout is more internalised and confrontational) tonight we’re clearly slaves to a higher connection. We’re a backing band in the classic sense, I think. It has the same energy as when Jim hits full stride on Touchy Feely or Mrs McMurphy and it’s hugely freeing of responsibility. Hmm, that’s poncey.

I wonder how far along that road I’d be, if I’d had the courage years ago, early on, to develop the chorus-and-party-fried vibe of material like ‘Bubble’, ‘Flirty’, ‘Injured Popstars’ or ‘Sellotape’, instead of trying to move into (perhaps fallacious) ‘artier’ territory. So this is what Turner does when I spend time in the company of his songs: reminds me how ridiculous I am, instead of simply entertaining and connecting with people. Ha! Never mind. I swear I’m not down about it, the opposite in fact.

It’s Evan’s stag tonight – sending you all the drug-addled love in the world.


Taxing unconventional people

Absolutely shocked, swerving across the M6, I find myself agreeing with Freddie “far-right” Forsythe and Ken Clark when they lecture Labour minister Angela Utter Fucking Twitface Eagle – on Radio 4’s Any Questions – about the government’s new tax rules. For her part, Twitface is so breathtakingly supercillious, snotty and arguably downright dishonest in response, she deserves everything she gets.

There’s no question they’re robbing from the poor to give to the upper-middle. But I think there’s another group of people who’ll lose out from the killing of the 10p base rate, who haven’t been mentioned or had any publicity so far: this tax change penalises people who choose unconventional non-mainstream career / life paths, eschewing profit-motive for moderate comforts and “small success”.

Exactly the kind of thrifty, low-key, untrendy, Presbyterian types you’d imagine Gordo might’ve been looking out for.

For example, on Any Answers (yeah sorry, I know I should’ve switched off what is usually a proto-fascist ignoramous talkshop but I was trying to recover my driving skills), two separate callers, both losing out, described unconventional lives: one bloke makes a moderate living in a high-end, low volume craft industry (for some reason I imagined he was a carpenter making chairs, no idea why) and the other has a bit of land and tries to live self-sufficiently, only generating a small cash income for stuff that *needs* to be bought. Both of them are getting slammed by the new taxation.

And that made me think: what about artists, craftspeople, sole traders? Often these are people who have a moderate fiscal income, although they’d tend not to think of themselves as ‘poor’, simply because their needs and aims are simpler and less grubbily corporatised. Outsiders. Mobile communities. A tax increase for the different. It’s a pity Dimbleby Jnr didn’t make a connection between the two callers, because it’s worth exploring this idea of “small profit” ideals being victimised by legislation.

I’ll lose out myself of course, because in real terms I only make small profit as a pop musician and a high proportion of my income falls into that lower tax bracket. Now I’m totally pro paying taxes (and I hate the avoiders and moaners) but this takes the rank piss. I might as well go and find a coke-addled 40k City type and give him £200.

Funnily enough, Rifa stands to gain from the changes because she brings home a lot more than me. How we laughed.

In The Dressing Room

thinking about touring and not touring…

In The Dressing Room

Let me sit alone this evening
I’m going back to the dressing room
Try to figure out how I’m feeling
About the things we were planning to do
10 years gone and I’ve stopped believing
That the music is all I need
But I can still talk to the audience
Better than anyone close to me.
Are you even close to me?

Lights up, hats on, playing on the BBC
(the best one, the best one)
Lights out, hats off, sounding like a hit to me…
(the best one, the best one, the best one)

From the start, you were in a different league
You’re beautiful and you’re brave
You don’t deserve to be betrayed
But it would be easy to walk away
After 5 years working in the same place
Coming on the same face
Sticking it in, sticking it out, shake it about
Never really much of a love affair
But you weren’t there, there’s nothing for you to say
It’s none of your business anyway

Tits out, shoulders back, everything’ll be OK
(the best one, the best one)
Lights up, hats on, same thing day after day
(the best one, the best one, the best one)
Lights out, hats off, travelling alone again
(the best one, the best one, the best one)

Lights up, hats on, putting on a show tonight
(the best one, the best one)
Tits out, shoulders back, everything’ll be alright
(the best one, the best one, the best one)
The truth is the best song anyone can ever write
(the best one, the best one, the best one)

from the ‘This Gun Is Not A Gun EP’

Tour diary #3 – The Cullum Pickups

Ha, today it looks like the Italians have been so monumentally deluded by their insanely corporatised mass media, they’re re-electing Berlusconi’s fart-addled party to government. Did they hire Derren Brown by any chance? Seriously it’s beyond imaginable stupidity. It’s like if London elects National Supertard Boris “I like tits, me” J***son simply because they’ve “had enough of Ken”, even though deep down they all know he’s done them a bucketload of good. They’ve done some exercise, perhaps some hot yoga, had a healthy dinner, now they’re going with a kingsize deep-fried mars bar to fuck up all the good work. Actually, I’m tempted to support B.J. for comic pleasure, simply because I won’t have to live in his London and it’s going to be hilarious if he wins. Except I couldn’t support anyone helped by the schneidy arseholes at the Evening Sub-Standard.

Anyway, where was I? Driving down the Scottish east coast from Edinburgh, snow so intense it’s almost a blizzard and – as they haven’t salted the road – quickly the A1 has become an entirely white nothingness except for two tyre tracks which the cars all follow. Any car that slips off this line skids out within seconds, which is scary. We’re doing about 25mph and then we’re doing 0mph because we’re tailed back from roadworks for an hour, wondering if we’d be stuck all day and night like those poor buggers on the M11 last year. York seems a long long way away.

I don’t mind driving tours myself, except in big cities and when the journey gets too long/tiring to deal with a gig afterwards. This time around Jen heroically drove the first leg in Stuffy & The Fuses‘ van, including one truly hardcore run (Birmingham – Bath – [do gig] – Brighton – London). After that I drove the rest, using a hired transit splitter from a friendly Scouser called Stee. It previously had Black Kids in it, or possibly Black Keys? I can’t remember but they did the same BBC6Music session as us, in the same van. Anyway, this splitter is a chunk bigger than the Fuses van and probably a bit more comfortable but it doesn’t have Scooby Doo on the side, which is a big brownie point against.

When I first drive a new van, I shit myself about maneuvering around things which, only a couple of days later, are totally easy. Each time we loaded or unloaded at One Cat, I had to reverse into a courtyard and first time, I was bricking it, demanding everyone get out to guide me. By the third trip, I just piled in using wing mirrors at about 20mph and nearly killed a local choir.

My most hardcore van run was well impressive: I did Brighton – Cheltenham – [do solo gig] – Brighton in a hired Fiesta, got home 3am-ish, then picked up the van at 7.30am before driving Brighton – Brixton – the Scottish fucking border for the Berwick-upon-Tweed gig. Kickarse! And after that it was all easy, apart from a few fussy bits of central London action at the end. And the snow

This afternoon, sitting at home putting together my ‘limited edition badge packs’ (!) the tour seems like a month ago, though we only got off the road late last week. If I’m honest, despite missing Rifa like crazy, I’d happily spend longer on tour – and may have to this year. I love transience and those flashes of countryside and the buzz of the show each night. I love people asleep in a van and sitting up late drinking in someone’s hotel room. I love the dressing room, when it’s comfortable. On solo tours, I truly love getting back in the car (especially travelling alone) and it becoming a sanctuary.

I couldn’t be crew (Jon and Lucy are on tour with Hadouken! at the moment and I can’t imagine going out, doing all the labour – even getting paid – but not standing onstage each night, it’d be torture) but don’t let any moaning pop singers fool you: this work is the best.

You reminisce almost before you’re done. After Brighton, sitting around my living room, just the band and Anna (who sang her soprano part on ‘King Of England’ in London and Brighton), we’re talking in half-whispers (because Rifa’s asleep) about Urban Pie in Birmingham and the Etap hotel rooms and Lucy & The Caterpillar being bonkers and other points of cerebral contact. Jen passes out on the bathroom floor and has to be helped back down to her sofa bed. Johny and I realise we’ve sunk nearly 2/3 of a bottle in an hour. Ben has to be up for his day-job, poor bastard. It is gathered realtime experience that beats the rest of one’s days hands-down.

Someone’s written this on the front page of my notebook:

never ever think ‘success’ and groundlevel artisan product preclude eachother

just underneath where I’d previously written:



After we finished the T-T tour in Brighton, me and Johny played in Jim Bob‘s big band for two nights at the 100 Club.

Unfortunately, although the 100 Club has a grand piano onstage, we were told I couldn’t play it because it can’t be mic’d loud enough to work with a full band. So for Night One, I played Jim’s keyboard, which was OK, although it did mean going from a mini-jack headphone socket into the full venue PA.

But techie Ben’s dayjob is working on the road with Jamie Cullum and, seeing me playing the keyboard, Ben went a bit bonkers into Mad Mission Mode: the next thing I knew, Cullum had kindly ‘loaned’ us his custom-made piano pickups and Ben was in Croydon to, erm, pick them up. What a legend! This beautiful bit of kit amplifies grand piano better than anything else in the world ever, using tiny mics strung inside the body of the piano and a mini-mixing desk to balance them. I was able to use the legendary 100 Club grand piano after all. I can’t tell you the difference it made to my playing and I won’t ever forget it. Just sheer joy. Halfway through I realised it was the first time I’d ever played real piano with a full volume band in my entire gigging life.

Another key benefit of being part of Jim’s storming 2 nights is they killed any hint of normal post-tour blues. I’ve been on top of the world ever since, though I can’t wait to get out and play more.

Funnily enough, I’ve just been asked to tinkle ivories at another 100 Club gig (for Frank Turner), so I’m tempted to phone Ben up again, just in case. It’s a shame to think of having to come back down to playing a keyboard (even a good one) when the piano is sitting right there on the stage taking up useful room.

Honestly, I should remember not to bother with tour blogs after I’ve got home. All those vital details you think you’ll write about are either too rude or just gone from your head as soon as you’ve spent a few nights in a normal bed.

Tour diary #2 –

I want to compare two bookings of last week.

First there’s the Classic House Hotel in Edinburgh. Kitted out nicely like a vintage austere Scottish B&B, it could’ve been well sweet but unfortunately the place stinks. A supremely grumpy landlady, truly piss-poor shower (the word ‘shower’ breaks trade descriptions it was a ‘dribble’), a continual sense of fish in the air, a TV that didn’t work and a mere 8.30am-9am half-hour window for breakfast add up to a clear vibe that they don’t want us there. Three stars on the door meant nothing.

“Baconandeggs.” says the landlady, using one word and no question-mark. “Um, I’ll just have eggs please.” says me. Then what arrives is one fried egg, a small cheap sausage (huh?), half a raw tomato and an enormous sprig of parsley. It’s almost like a contemporary piece of art mocking the concept of cooked breakfast. Thank god for cornflakes and an extra round of toast on request. “Oh… well, alright then!”

Even the snow falling in the lovely little back garden can’t improve matters. In their guestbook comments section (filled with stuff like “chilly reception” and “not satisfied” – yet they’ve still got the book out on display), Johny writes a single word: ‘mackerel’.

Secondly, it’s the following night, after York, and we’re in the Bridge Inn on the A1 near Wetherby. This time the rooms are spotless and fantastically comfortable with enormous bathrooms and power showers. The welcome is warm (they’re happy to check us in after midnight at short notice) and the breakfast is almost impossibly brilliant. It’s like a luxury resort in the far east. You know; a buffet of every imaginable brekkie from porridge and fruit salad to full english and cooked meats. There’s even one of those crazy egg bars where they cook them in front of you, which I’ve only seen in Malaysia and India. Johny and Ben make it up early enough to have a three-course breakfast. I’m briefly terrified I’ll get billed an extra £50 but no, of course it’s all included.

Turns out this place caters primarily for huge conferences so, just as we leave, thousands of excited suits arrive for their insane sweaty 3-day sex and booze binge with (possibly) some corporate showcases shoehorned between.

To conclude: the latter booking was £15 cheaper than the former. And at £45 a room, the Bridge Inn came in well under Premier Inn (or even short-notice Travelodge) prices. Fuckedy sploo. Interestingly I’ve just looked at a website for the shite Edinburgh place and they’re advertising rooms actually cheaper than they had on Late Rooms, so not only are they horrible but they’re tricking people into thinking that they’re getting a bargain on a good place, when actually it’s just cheapo cheap. Tards!