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.