Monthly Archives: May 2008

the meat trade

Having a fun time on tour, to the extent that me and Thomas have vaguely talked about taking it to the USA in autumn – now that would be wicked. So far on this tour I’ve seen 9 lizards of one kind or another, which must be a record.

In Glasgow we managed to lock the keys in the van – left them still in the ignition! This was because the key had a hairline crack, so we’d got in the habit of locking and unlocking doors from the inside, to reduce wear until we had a chance to get a couple new keys made. After swearing quite a lot and getting nowhere with the AA, we just left the van outside the house overnight (you couldn’t see the key in the dark and it was a posh area), then I got up at 5.45am to watch the van til we could phone a mobile locksmith. £45 later, we were rescued – and of course it took him about 15 seconds to get in, with one of those scary locksmith devices.

Then we went and got new keys cut. We were told that the key cutting man used to be an infamous local pimp before retiring into ironmongery. What a career change!

So it’s a week later and, during our day off, I catch up on laundry and watch some films. Across town, Thomas makes a gourmet meat paté from a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall book. Thomas White is a meat freak, people… he’s got a dream and it involves a whole pig’s head. I suggest (how good an idea is this!?) that we cut the paté into manageable slices, clingfilm it up, put a sticker on it saying “Thomas White Paté” and sell it on the merch. That would SO rule, at least for the few days before it went off in the van.

What is it with classic fantasy literature being ruined by shitty films? It grinds my gears! Watched The Golden Compass and Studio Ghibli’s dismally embarrassing attempt at Tales From Earthsea in the last few days and they both need someone to get a severe beating for their sheer shiteness. Goro Miyazaki (son of their legendary master Hayao Miyazaki) is simply not up to the job. I can see why Ursula Le Guin was so uncomfortable with the cartoonised Earthsea – I wonder where Pullman stands on The Golden Compass.

When we were kids, our house had a ban on any Disney cartoons that adapted (read: ‘fucked up bigtime’) classic books, like Winnie-The-Pooh and The Jungle Book. Good move T-T Snrs, I’ll be carrying that one forward if I ever have sprogs of my own. There’s honestly not much worse in the world than a Walt Disney re-imagining of Winnie-The-Pooh, it’s on a par with Robert Mugabe or those idiots in Burma.


The Lizards, The Scientologist and Marc Riley

Me and Tom White jump in the Electric Soft Parade van (a well customised and lived-in Merc sprinter that steers like a dream compared to the last one I drove) and head north for the first leg of our co-headline tour. I’m increasingly secure driving these beasts and after the last blog entry, I’ve started planning a coffee-table picture book of tour splitters and their bands. Awesome idea, Chris.

Before leaving town we scoot across to Metway Studio, where Tom’s brother Alex is demoing with The Pipettes, to drop him off a spare guitar. Chatting outside the van on a sunny Brighton morning, suddenly a lizard runs along the pavement. It’s about 3 inches long.

We get to York in reasonable time but then the Satnav (she’s called Madame Swish) lets us down (that’s twice so far) and it takes 40 minutes to find the venue. They’re nice about it though – lucky we’re acoustic or there’d’ve been no chance of getting checked. I forgoe a soundcheck, so my set is entirely acoustic, but it goes well and I enjoy myself more than expected.

Tom reprises his monumental Nina Simone cover, which took the room apart in south London a couple of days before, in a venue that didn’t deserve us.

In the evening Charlie phones to tell me a funny story: walking with his daughter, they spotted a lizard in the street. I can’t believe it, it’s a 2 lizard trip.

After York, we’re hosted by Sam and his friends, who’ve just finished college. It’s a household of musicmakers and fans, yet it’s spotless and comfortable – which is rare – and you can feel a slight air of sadness that they’re about to go separate ways. 

The next morning, eating breakfast in a café, we’re leaning into a conversation about appalling religions and obviously Scientology comes up, thinking about that poor kid who is being taken apart by The Met for waving a banner at a protest that used the word ‘cult’ with reference to Hubbard’s Hoons. Suddenly the middle-aged woman on the adjacent table introduces herself with a broad smile – she runs York Scientology Centre. Cripes! She launches into a broad defence of her ‘faith’ that within one minute is becoming a brazen attempt to recruit. That took balls, it must be said. Well, either balls or the funneled focus of unquestioning faith. She’s full of holes but friendly and (I think) sincere. Her starting point plays down the religious side almost entirely – describing instead a benign business networking opportunity and a chance to self-improve. Quickly though, she openly accepts some of the looming tenets I find most disturbing, while determinedly dressing them up as positive spirituality.

Interestingly, despite running a centre in a town, she is still a volunteer and not doing her OT levels (or whatever they’re called) yet – so one gets a real feel for how deep members have to go before they start to gain any ‘intuition’. No answers, anyway.

I’m not going to call her the 3rd lizard of the trip because that would be mean (!)… But the whole time we were talking (which must have been at least 30 minutes), her companion – an unsmiling younger man – sat silent and still, not reading or even looking around curiously, waiting for her to finish, seemingly eternally patient. If you told me he hadn’t blinked I wouldn’t have been surprised. Or that he can re-grow his leg if you bite it off.

We say goodbye and drive to Manchester. Matt Thwaites’ band Restlesslist are doing Marc Riley’s show on BBC6Music this evening and Tom is drumming. On the way, we do a quick stop-off at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where a young sheep escapes and has to be harried back through an open gate by punters. Then we rumble over the Pennines and park up at the Beeb, where we head for the bar.

Restlesslist are storming, doing complex, instrumental psyche prog-pop (spacerock?). Bloody ace – and it’s nice to meet Marc. Refreshing to see a DJ at that level actually playing entirely from CDs (and some bloody brilliant ones to boot) and just wanting to talk music, not bollocks.

And when that’s done we’ve got to make it to Glasgow for midnight…


Great Escape #1 – splitter parade

There’s only one real reason for music industry schmooze-fests like this weekend’s Great Escape here in Brighton. Forget the breaking of new acts, the crazed networking, debauched suits, the famous American bands doing surprise afternoon shows on balconies, or the hopeless local bands playing to four people for no money to feel vaguely like they’re part of something…

Nope, it’s all about Splitter Van* Envy. We’ve got the whole range, right here, right now, parked everywhere around town. It’s like an eccentric car rally down here. From the most beat-up hand-customised transit to the pimped psychedelic graff paintjobbers to the most luxurious sparking clean dark blue Merc sprinter, you can measure a band’s status, career intention and punk-rock credentials purely by glancing at what they drove their gear down to Brighton in.

The very biggest Great Escape bands have showed up in coaches, sometimes towing their gear in a large wheeled cube behind them. But 90% of performers who aren’t at that level are pootling around in a splitter.

In the middle of all this, we decide to transport our gear to and from our G.E. gig at Arc in a taxi. When I say “we”, I mean me. Not my brightest hour. We stop at a ramp leading from the street to the seafront – the is apparently the nearest to the venue we can get because the gates to the seafront can’t be opened. So we unload all our gear onto the street and the cab drives off. Only then do we realise we’ve been dropped off by the wrong ramp and we’re almost half a mile from the venue. After ruling out any other options, we’re forced to wheel and carry all our shit in stages to the venue, along the front. Bastard bastard bastard.

Loading out the next day is almost as tough because it’s just me and Jen and I enthusiastically try to be the alpha-male by carrying the two heaviest items up the steps to street level in quick succession and nearly throw up.

* If you’re uninitiated and don’t know about splitter vans (you poor poor thing), the key thing is to look out for a big ‘white van’ style van, except it’s got an extra side window behind the normal front doors, often with tinted glass, which is evidence of a second bunch of seats, in front of a separated rear area for equipment, only accessable from the back (hence the name). Any situation that requires more-than-3-but-less-than-11 humans and a load of equipment will be best served by a splitter – a lot of Post Office and railway maintenance team vans are splitters. They are a core delineation of rock’n’roll and I LOVE THEM.

post hols ramble

Now I really know I’m back in the UK: nothing works. Virgin Broadband died for 12 hours last night, leaving half of Brightonia (the half daft enough to have switched onto their lamentable service) with no phone or internet. Hmm, I wonder if we’ll get 12 hours’ line rental refunded. Of course the fuck not.

Then today, back online, I just spent almost an hour swimming through a complex online form for the DVLA, digging out obscure information and reference numbers, trying to update my ancient paper driving licence to one of those newer photocard ones. They say on the site that you can do the whole thing online, so I get right to the end, sigh with relief, hit ‘send’, then they say – “oh, now you have to post us a load of the same shite you’d’ve had to post if you hadn’t wasted half the morning on this daft computer faff.” You know scientists say sperm swim the equivalent of the Atlantic Ocean made of treacle, to get to the egg. Well the egg is a fuckload better reward than a poncy new driving licence. (the stuff I send includes my passport it seems – nerve-wracking given the DVLA’s pisspoor record on losing other peoples’ stuff) Especially frustrating because the form already made me give them all the details of that stuff, like my passport number. Christ, I hope it wasn’t a dodgy site!

I just finished a history of the English language which I can’t recommend highly enough. David Crystal’s The Stories Of English. He’s the shit – and he’d love that I just wrote that. I borrowed it from Mum & Dad after cruising their (headily extensive) bookshelves for a language history to suggest to a friend. Then I felt like I couldn’t recommend it without having a go myself and it’s outstanding – he totally changes how one perceives Standard English vs. dialects / informal spoken English. Rewrites a lifetime’s snobbery, to be honest.

My Dad is directing a play at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton this summer. It’s Ayckbourn’s Woman In Mind and it coincides perfectlywith Blissfields, so I’ll get to go. My Dad’s an ace director, especially Shakespeare which he adapts and gets people to really understand what they’re doing. The best Juliet I’ve ever seen, of any level of theatre, was a school production in the early 90s (I think) where the girl (she was probably only 14 or 15) totally owned the role. Can’t remember her name but it was incredible and no pro actor has ever topped it – even mighty princess of petulance Claire Danes ;o).

I’ve been thinking about writing a lot recently because I’m probably going to be a regular columnist for the first time (of which more another day) and my biggest weakness as a prose or text writer is inconsistency of style. I flail around from one paragraph to the next, in a similar way to speaking posher or commoner depending on the company. Sometimes I have no actual personality at all, just a complex mirror of whoever I happen to be talking to. If you could ever be bothered to read back through these blogs, one clear vibe you’d get is that they often feel like they’re written by a different person. Perhaps they are.

I’m going back on the road any day now, doing a blend of solo and band gigs, which is always a little weird because the guitar parts (and arrangements) are often almost the same but with a couple of tiny differences. Lord help me if I veer into a solo version halfway through a band performance.

Speaking of princesses, in an interview yesterday I was asked what CAPITAL was about and I replied “Kylie’s cancer… the victory of the Impossible Princess over the dreaded C.” Now I’m feeling pretty danm guilty about that response!

this is what you get

This morning it sounds increasingly like they’ve rolled out of the suburbs and taken back the London Mayoralcy from Red Ken, placing it in the unsavoury inky-pinky hands of Boris. Yup, he’s a funny guy – probably fantastic company over a scotch or a line of charlie – but would you really leave him in charge of your house and/or kids for a week while you went on holiday? Simply, no fucking way. Some prime Boris for ya…

“That is the best case for Bush; that, among other things, he liberated Iraq. It is good enough for me.”

“Labour’s appalling agenda, encouraging the teaching of homosexuality in schools, and all the rest of it.”

“The best fate for Africa would be if the old colonial powers… scrambled once again in her direction; on the understanding that this time they will not be asked to feel guilty.”

“I think I was once given cocaine but I sneezed so it didn’t go up my nose. In fact, it may have been icing sugar.”

“Both the minimum wage and the Social Charter would palpably destroy jobs.”

Finished watching The Wire yesterday, got through the final ever episode and then dived straight back into earlier episodes of Season 5 because Rifa hasn’t seen most of it. Like only the very best TV, it’s just as good the second time around. Without spoiling anything, the climactic few episodes are almost impossibly moving. Even as they wind down, they’re not pulling punches.

Most of my new songs are really upbeat. I wonder how the next record will end up sounding, since all the demos sound so psychotically positive (and acid-fried) compared to everything on Capital. Three animal songs already down and there’s a whole bunch of lovey dovey stuff as well, most of which will inevitably get rejected for sheer sickliness. Probably just relieved because I won’t have to live in London-Under-Boris.