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.


3 responses to “Tour diary #3 – The Cullum Pickups

  1. I now know what Vincent Chase would do…he’d ask his manager what to do…

  2. plus, he wouldn’t really care.

  3. True, true…we’re 4 episodes in and loving it.

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