Category Archives: Food

Amerikaland #4

The long drive back to the coast is slower because of gigs.

2am, Deming, New Mexico, a dying town, although they have the largest statue of a roadrunner in the United States. Or was that Fort Stockton? We ask the Super 8 receptionist where’s good to eat. She laughs. “There’s only one place open, where I had dinner last night… Denny’s.”

In the diner, two comically rotund local cops eat massive late dinners, like Simpsons characters. Denny’s has a rock band sponsored night-time menu with such gems as – deep breath – Plain White Ts Vanilla Shake. Cock-ends, where the fuck do you put the apostrophe in that mess? Deming used to be on the border with Mexico, the second place where the great railroads met in 1881. A thriving bordertown hub til someone bought a huge tract of land just south, moved the border 20 miles and rendered Deming essentially pointless. Cue the long, slow decay.

Throughout the trip, I can’t get my head around these internal USA police ‘border’ crossing points that aren’t actually on a border. Everyone’s blasé about it but it’s surely a key myth-fucker about that word ‘freedom’, when your movement even within your country is restricted. Really, they’re after illegals from Mexico and we always get waved on uninspected because we’re white men driving a nice hybrid. I can’t imagine what it must be like driving around the south-west right now if you’re Hispanic, in a dusty pick-up – you probably get stopped and searched every time you want to go anywhere west of El Paso or north of San Diego.

In Phoenix they have a scorpion problem. Shake out your boots in the morning, we’re told in all seriousness. Fuck that, we’re driving to the next town tonight. God, how I miss the Isle Of Man.

I play an in-store at little indie shop Stinkweeds, on the patio out back. It’s beautiful, fewer than 20 people but they’re all really nice and buy CDs and the two women who run the shop are great. Later I’m down one end of a busy, long, goth sports bar up the road – where they turn the TV sound down but not off. Nasty start and (for the first time ever in the USA) they DO NOT like my politics, but I win in the end by belting out ‘Beer’ and ‘Eminem’. Stomp off to decent cheers, ashamed for playing to the dumbasses. Turns out the headliner is a Christian metaller-gone-country.

In Tucson, Sarge’s publisher friend Dan takes us for very good Mexican brunch, totally different to Cali- or Tex-Mex (but they STILL won’t put molé on my veggie quesedillas! Bastardos!). The waitress hugs us all goodbye in an Ama-like spiritual way. Then out to show us some real desert. My parents would adore this: extraordinary flora&fauna as well as the intense cowboy vibe. Keeping an eye out for rattlers, for real.

Tucson’s Dry River co-op has a young, quietly anarchic crowd and a really fun, appropriate bill. One guy does melancholy beats’n’acoustic emo pop, Get Cape-ish, but when his laptop crashes and he reboots, he has a big pic of Katy Perry on the desktop, for which he takes severe ribbing. On the chalkboard listing the month’s events, I’m between community self-defence and the mens’ group.

Cassie, lovely singer/pianist from Seashell Radio (lush, Tucson-based, though I gigged with them in SF) turns up offering accommodation, which is super-generous but Sarge already scored a decent hotel on the cheap. We almost got kicked out though, after he smoked a joint out by the pool this morning and the maintenance crew smelled it . He always saves himself/us from these crazy scrapes with friendly good cheer. 

Out of Tucson we visit the boneyard: an aeroplane graveyard on immense scale. Can’t describe it but hundreds, maybe thousands of dead planes being gradually decommissioned or just rotting. And that evening we actually make it back to L.A. ahead of schedule, there by 7pm-ish, which gives us a whole evening to recover.

Not telling you about L.A. – same things I always do. Back at Muddy Waters in Santa Barbara, remember Bill is a great guy to talk with, a proper music fan. And there’s sunset on an empty Santa Barbara beach.

Quality time with Sarge and Jane. Interesting debate about fiscal libertarianism, as separate from conservatism, inspired by S&J’s reaction to me calling FT a right-wing bastard. Needs more time though. I interview Radio 1’s punk specialist Mike Davies for my doc about Frank. He ain’t complainin’ but they’ve reduced his Maida Vale session time from 1 slot a week to 1 slot a month, which seems totally fucking mental to me, giving the quality of upcoming stuff he has access to. Sunburn.

Also one sweet night out getting gently trashed with Countessian and somehow make it back from Echo Park to Eagle Rock via Downtown on the early morning public transport, while barely able to walk or speak. 

Sarge and me try the best coffee I’ve had in the USA at Funnel Mill, where a heroic barista, using what looks like meth-lab gear – all bunsen burners and glass funnels – sniffs and even throws out one of our coffees, starting from scratch because he didn’t like it. 

The plane ride home should be spent asleep but involves a 10 hour conversation with Bojana, the 17-year-old highschool volleyball ace sat next to me. She’s on her way to Belgrade to visit Serbian family but no hint of an accent, on a sports scholarship to UCLA. She’s very bright and we talk religion and morals. She’s also very tall, I doubt we’d’ve been able to have a comfortable conversation, had we met standing up! I’m exaggerating but not much.

And, well, so it goes. Arriving finally in Brighton that afternoon, it’s warmer and sunnier than when I left L.A. though that won’t last.

euro tour diary #3 – gone tits

ST GALLEN (calm before the storm)
I forgot to tell you how boss our dinner was, back in Lucerne, in the Fuckhaus, where I had breaded aubergine and polenta – discovering against expectations that I love polenta. Here in St Gallen it’s also delicious: potato-cake things with a rich sauce and vegetables, plus incongruous unsauced pasta on the side, which I ignore. No more pasta til Italy. Switzerland has provided some of the best posh veggie food I’ve tried. 

The hotel is also nice but the shower is in the corner of the bedroom with not even a curtain, so we take turns to sit outside the room while the other jumps in the shower. Would be fun for lovers but a bit annoying today.

Grabenhalle is ace fun. A slightly older, folkier crowd. During the time it takes for Frank and me play our sets, standing in front of a big circular window (hence tonight’s ‘Porthole Concert’ event name), almost two feet of snow falls, totally burying the town. I’ve got lush footage of the sets with fat flakes falling behind us.

The night unfolds messily. Half the audience sticks around and Frank jams tipsy NoFX covers sat on the edge of the stage. We’re alternating appenzeller with whisky thanks to a(nother) forthright bar manager who won’t see us empty-glassed and at the very end I do three uberdrunk extra songs, including a Swiss-German-ised Hedgehog Song. Then we all pile outside, build a massive snowman called Steve in the carpark and have a vicious snowball fight. Frank falls down and cuts his elbow quite badly. That night he’ll leave a disturbing amount of blood on his bedsheets, leading to an embarrassed check-out.

In the morning, covered in snow, St Gallen is an opulent Catholic town but bits of the old town were ruined when a bank bought it all, tore it down and build a ‘red square’ precinct, painting several streets bright red and commissioning a former socialist artist to sell her soul, building massive red-painted installations. It’s gross.

We’ve had a fantastic morning. Then we drive four hours through driving rain and heavy traffic to Geneva and at some point during the journey our karma goes to shit…

GENEVA


The airport straddles France and Switzerland. We need to drop the car off at Avis on the French side of the border, to avoid a massive international surcharge. It’s only half a mile away from the main Swiss airport but somehow SatNav can’t find it and Avis have no address for it. We drive around a bit getting frustrated, then go to the Swiss branch of Avis to ask for help and they kindly give us a hand-drawn map. It’s getting late so we phone the promoter, who will come to the French side to drive us to the venue.

But the Swiss map proves to be utter shit. We drive around Geneva Airport 11 times (I shit you not) adding an hour and 70km to our journey. Meanwhile our promoter Luc got there just by walking through the airport.

We finally find it. At which point Avis stick us for an extra day because apparently we should’ve dropped the car off by 11am. First I’ve heard of it. Also, we slipped over the mileage limit driving round in circles. After a fight, they relent on the mileage and fuel at least. Here’s the beef: according to French staff, the Swiss map we were given is deliberately inaccurate, because the two Avis branches hate each-other and the Swiss side loses money when punters drop cars off on the French side. Or something like that. Anyway, utter smackable fucktards in my book.

So finally shot of the car, we head across town to the venue, at which point we discover we left Frank’s laptop in the hire car. Aaargh! Luc, who is a prince, drives back to the airport while we soundcheck. Tiki’s is a sexy Hawaiian-themed retro bar run by hardcore punkers. It’s fantastic but we’re super-late (and knackered as shit) so just check and play. Luckily it doesn’t affect either show but afterwards I feel so self-consciously stinky and tired, it’s hard to talk to anyone properly.

And then, the worst conclusion to the day possible. Because we’re up at 5am, Luc has just put us up in a Youthhostel and – fuckfuckfuck – we’re in a shared room with strangers! If I’d known even an hour earlier I would’ve happily paid the difference for a private room. We walk into a space the size of my own bedroom at home, but it’s crammed with bunkbeds full of smelly, drunk, snoring and farting Eurofucks. Utterly dismayed but tiredness defeats disgust and I collapse fully-clothed onto an odourous bottom bunk. 

GENEVA – ZURICH – VIENNA
Four hours later, we’re up, unshowered, legging it through dark frozen streets to catch the 6.30am train from Geneva to Vienna, via Zurich: 3 hours to Zurich, 12 minutes to change trains, 8-9 hours to Vienna. Croissant and coffee. Guardian.

What follows, despite kinked circumstance, is the most jaw-droppingly beautiful journey I’ve ever taken. We sleep at first. Then after leaving Zurich we head high into the Alps and cross above a series of snowbound, forested valleys like nothing I’ve ever seen.

We’re in an old-fashioned private compartment of six seats. We have our laptops linked via Bluetooth, so we can talk shit about the various people who come into ‘our’ compartment during the journey. Eventually we get rumbled by two haughty women from Liechtenstein who were offensively blasé about the scenery and don’t react well to being mocked by two scruffy English musicians.

There’s even a reasonable restaurant car, although we have to take turns to go eat because all our luggage is in the compartment. 

VIENNA



We get to Vienna four minutes late, after eight hours traveling, and other passengers are moaning. I wish them all a long British train ride for healthy perspective.

Flying Pig bar owner Paul picks us up. Paul and me lived together for a year at college in the mid-90s but I haven’t seen him since and we’ve only had contact on Myspace. He’s different from how I remember: a quirky bar owner, complete with full-on Austrian accent, married to a Korean action movie star. The bar and gig and whole night are eccentric. The sound is almost impossibly quiet because the speakers are spread through the Flying Pig and there’s no monitoring. Sounds like a truly unplugged show. It’s also very busy with a heavy hardcore contingent but the crowd is weird and can’t decide whether to talk through us or get into it. We both win them over and I begin to think Vienna might have a happy ending.

…btw at this point I realise I accidentally smuggled a (very small) helping of something naughty through seven countries. Moron! Was forgotten in a coat pocket – must be a really common thing to do and I’m just lucky it wasn’t the kind of stuff that a sniffer dog might notice. I’ll leave it behind in Vienna – there were too many armed cops on the train and at the Swiss border… nasty thoughts…

The most interesting people in Vienna are two Stoke guys and an Australian girl living in Budapest offering open house to anyone who strays by (and through couchsurfing.com), making their living by online gambling. They are scarily young, only just out of teens, yet like something out of a hip movie and their leader is one of the brightest, almost eerily composed guys I’ve ever met. I suggest they watch Grifters because they’d make a stunning scam team and they’re currently locked out of half the gambling sites. We would love to party late with these dudes but we’re just too flaked. Pause to add Budapest to the next EU tour city list. 

We stay in Paul’s flat, while he sleeps in the backroom of his bar. Oddly, his flat has a shower in the kitchen. He says he’ll pick us up at 7am the next morning from the flat, to get his keys back and pay us.

We wake up at 6.30am. A second day operating on 4 hours’ sleep. 

At 7.15am there’s no sign of Paul. We phone him and leave messages. At 7.30 we phone again and pack our gear in a panic. By 7.40am we’re wandering the streets desperately seeking a taxi. Forty minutes and €50 later, we’re at the airport. More phone messages: we still have Paul’s keys and he still has all our money! Come on, where are you man!? Fuck! 

We check in and just make the flight, mainly because it’s been delayed by 30 minutes. It’s a tiny prop plane with 20 other people onboard. Coffee and croissant. Financial Times. Flying low over more Alps and across the Adriatic, south-west into Italy, towards Bologna Airport. And as the Italian booker’s assistant Laura meets us at Bologna, Paul is waking up and leaving messages. But we’ll leave him to our agent now to get our money and I’ll tell you about the last three days in Italy when I’m safely home.  

eurotour diary #1

fucking did it again: rubbed huge blobs of shampoo into my eyes mid-shower. I have no idea what I’m suddenly doing wrong in my 30s to be unable to wash my hair without oracular self-harm. The third time in a week and it’s become a psychic burden whereby I’m convinced it will trigger a difficult day, so of course it does. Packed. Repacked in a different case. And again. Decided fuck it I’m not going on tour. Then left for the train. 

SOUTHAMPTON 

I’m here to open for – but much more importantly see – Carter USM‘s secret show, because I’ll be in Europe for their two larger reunion gigs. Plus Marc is back in the UK. Except that in the repacking panic I left my acoustic guitar pick-up, some cables and several other vital bits at home and I’m supposed to be on the Eurostar tomorrow morning. So I play a short set using a hi-hat mic on my acoustic (clarity but no balls), which goes surprisingly well – quite upbeat and jokey – then instead of sticking around I have to jump on a train back to Brighton to pick up the stuff. Missing Carter. And I carried all my stuff for the Europe trip all the way to Southampton then home again.

PARIS

In the French bakery at St Pancras, I’m waiting for Frank when an elderly couple wander over. He wants a croissant but she wants a crepe from the café next door. Their solution is to each go into the adjacent café and sit and order separately, but sit right next to each-other separated only by the glass window dividing the two cafés. They seem quite content.

Anyway, I’ve got to say Eurostar is lush, I’m sure we accidentally booked First Class because we get a gorgeous meal, much better than airline food, with dessert and wine if we want it (I have apple juice). On my mind is my key task for today: to pick up the hire car in central Paris just before rush-hour and drive it across town to the venue, over that infamous lethal roundabout that doesn’t count on anyone’s insurance, when I’ve only ever driven a tiny bit of right-hand drive in L.A.

So I’m nervous. But what transpires is worse: at Gard du Nord absolute muttons at Europcar won’t let us have the car we’ve booked. Frank has the credit card to pay – but no driving license. I have the license to drive – but no credit card. Despite us both being there and it being totally sound, because if I crash Frank pays, obviously, somehow they won’t let us take the car – the name has to be the same. And it doesn’t say anything about this on their shoddy excuse for a website, they deliberately gave Frank the impression when he originally booked that this wouldn’t be a problem.

None of the other car hire companies sat in a line can help because all their cars are booked.

We leave carless (and late) but hold the booking, hoping to resolve it over the phone. No such luck, in fact they attempt to charge us a €1,400 cancellation fee for not taking the car and the customer services woman is almost impossibly rude to Frank on the phone. They only relent on the fee after a shouting match – I’ve not seen Frank so angry. God, we’re stranded! Might as well get on with the gig.

Dinner at La Fleche D’or is delicious despite it seeming like quite a grimy club. It’s set above a railway bridge looking out over a set of railway lines. Seedy glamour abounds but the other musical acts are utter shite. I learn a harmonica solo for a smart new FT tune (quite a short, quick one) with a working title of Dan’s Song

Drinking heavily now (mixed emotions at not having to drive) I chat to this nut-job singer Cosmo Jarvis at the venue. He’s not playing tonight, his band are touring supporting Gabriella Cilmi around Europe and the TM knows Frank. The band are charming guys but Cosmo is filth: just one of his stories is about drinking some bloke’s piss, catching thrush from it, then giving it to his own band-member by snogging him. They’re good company but I find myself edging away in case I pick up something nasty.

Next morning, after struggling to work out train routes and fare budgets, leaving us aghast, we are rescued by Frank’s Parisian punkrock friend Cham from Jedethan, who used to work at Avis and scores us a Cleo. We’ll have to drop off in Geneva, leaving a gap in our transport plan between there and Vienna, but the deal is much, much better. A blessing in disguise. The icing on the cake is, the pick-up is in the north-west of Paris so we take a hefty Metro ride and I won’t have to drive through the city, just out onto the motorway north.

AMSTERDAM

Traffic, traffic traffic. Amsterdam rush-hour but I’m not scared of right-hand drive anymore, even when I turn right onto the tramline. SatNav takes us down several narrow alleys to the wrong Paradiso, so we’re scarily late.

Italian dinner. Hotel room on the fourth floor, with no lift and steep stairs but an amazing balcony looking out over the rooftops. Despite being on the edge of the red light district, which I’ve never seen, we decide to kick back in the room / on the balcony and go to bed pretty soon after that. Therefore apologies – I won’t be able to tell you about stoned late-night debauchery in the ‘Dam because there wasn’t any.

I’ve just discovered my new-ish mobile phone has a golf game on it. That’s what I was doing at 1am before faling asleep.

wherewithal and I

Ups and downs.

In the shower I got gallons of shampoo in both eyes at once and was in blind agony moderate pain for 15 minutes. Rinsed and rinsed but I was in a hurry. Decided the “I’ve been crying insanely” look was good to go.

Then I stumbled out of the house and went to Union Chapel to play piano for Turner, with Biffy Clyro and Friendly Fires for Jo Whiley’s Little Noise Sessions (for Mencap). Jo wasn’t there, she’s just had a baby (her 96th I believe) but I got to meet Mathew Horne (warning: his myspace currently has Keane playing, in case you want to switch your sound off before clicking through) from Gavin & Stacey. Normally Horne would be enough celeb for any event – he was lovely and better looking in real life – but he got out-A-listed by rock superstar Mr Bryan Adams, who’d come especially for Frank and came backstage to the vip bar with his gorgeous missus for a chat. Didn’t miss out the humble pianist either – was supremely down-to-earth and genuinely very interesting. I went on wiki today and now wish I’d been more up-to-speed because he’s a veggie and has done important work for animal rights causes that I’m down with – but of course we didn’t touch on any of that stuff.

I wish we had, cos I could’ve wound Frank up about his recent abandonment of vegetarianism in favour of getting vicious food poisoning from dodgy chicken. Korma or karma?

Later I became dreadfully seedily drunk on bourbon, ran away before everyone got the drugs out, found myself stuck on a broken tube train without the wherewithal to get out and walk, so missed my last Brighton service from Victoria, spending the rest of the night at Costa Coffee, Gatwick Airport.

You’re right of course, I should’ve hoovered indie-scene charidee cocaine, punched out the guy I hate, done the sex with the blonde and wound up frying comedown eggs in a TV star’s kitchen. One day they’ll get me but not yet, dear reader, not yet. 

[edited for content]

In other news, I can’t get any music made fo shit but I’ve just made sublime artichoke and sweet onion chutney of my own damn recipe. Maybe Anjum Anand‘s sitting at home writing songs.

saving the economy in one go / last night

Yesterday I realised the ultimate right-wing dream: a one-step solution to the global economic crisis that doesn’t involve scary socialism. Just make a big (cost-free) ethical shift instead of these crazy-expensive fiscal shifts… here we go: let’s legalise the black markets. Drugs, the sex trade, the movement of labour and suddenly some of the world’s biggest, most stable and profit-making trades become a sizeable chunk of the ‘official’ economy. All the resources currently spent fighting them can be channelled into their development and the deregulators get to crow victory. A shot in the arm, if you like.

Really enjoyed yesterday’s Manchester jaunt. Marc Riley is a total gent, his team are lovely and we rocked it. It’s dangerous having a bar so near the studio though – especially with gaps between each performance – because the band has a swift one after get-in, another swift one after soundcheck and then one between each song.

Not me, I was driving.

Only bummer was, we adjourned to a highly recommended curry house, where everyone else had a delicious meal but I had a shite one. My floridly-described main course was just sag aloo with an onion. Asked for it mild, got it medium-strong. The tarka dal was viciously hot as well and even the pilau wasn’t much cop. And they forgot my mango lassi (though it was the nicest bit when it came). So I don’t care that the rest of the party was raving, I was gutted. Then three hours down the motorway I nearly lost my rag in Welcome Break, where it took thee different attempts to score a pathetic excuse for a coffee. Both Coffee Nation machines in WHSmith were bust and the staff were a bit ‘confused’. Especially once the milk started running and running. So I was forced into Coffee Primo, Welcome Break’s pretend café brand. It’s the worst! The staff can’t make hot drinks for shit, you get a filthy lukewarm milk’n’dirt mess and you don’t realise it’s undrinkable until you’re back on the road, doing 80 miles an hour with nowhere to throw it. The canteen was full of flies as well. God I hope their IT department tracks back!

Jim Bob session

Just got out of the Earth Terminal studio with Jim, although it was a shorter session than previous ones – we didn’t mix or even finish vocals, just slammed down multi-layered backing tracks for seven songs and they sound amazingly lush.

I can’t really tell you anything about the theme, style or anything, because it’s not my story to tell – but it’s the third Jim Bob album I’ve been involved in and definitely the best yet. It’s light-of-touch because Jim wrote these tunes fast, while concentrating on something else (writing the script for his story, which has been optioned by a Hollywood production company). It’s also black-as-treacle… but that’s a judgement on unfinished stuff.

Johny came along for the ride and brought crazy instruments with him. We jammed out chunks live, rehearsing the evening before each day, which is a departure for Jim’s stuff. Also, although we’ve been gigging together for almost a year, I haven’t been in a studio environment with Johny before and it was great, he’s got a similar constant musicality to Tim Victor which I should’ve noticed before but didn’t.

Another highlight of being in the studio with Jim is Mr Spoons’ high class catering. Johny is a pro chef but that didn’t cramp Spoons’ wong – he did seriously gorgeous mushroom wellington, squash soup and a blinding veggie curry. But more importantly, he made sticky toffee pudding with dates that was psychedelically intense. Because I’m “cutting down” (whatever the fuck that means), I ate one portion slowly – but when you eat slower, less is more.

The trip kicked my own demos up the bum and I’m rattling along at a decent pace now, will have enough tunes to hand in a disc to management before we head off on tour. I’ve also worked out what this year’s Christmas (free homemade) EP is going to be: A.A. Milne. 

A big personal prop to Sarge and Jane because Sarge is taking 3 weeks off to go campaign for Obama in Nevada and (I assume) he’s only able to do it because Jane is keeping everything else going. And when I say ‘campaign’ I really mean it – he’s working his arse off knocking on doors, canvassing and fighting the good fight in a vital swing state. The US elections seem enormous, showy and impersonal. But really, the importance of swing states means it often comes down to a few thousand votes in certain areas. The work Sarge does in Vegas and surrounding towns will make a real difference.

thirtysomething

Waking up on my birthday, although autumn has arrived and it was a very cold morning, for about 10 minutes I felt amazing, King Of The Universe, not remotely concerned about being a year older. I went downstairs to make Rifa breakfast and ate some rice crispies and then it went to shit.

I should’ve clocked the warning signs. Our house is super dusty because of the decorators. Plus the temperature drop. Add to that my stupid decision to consume what is effectively a bowl of cold lactose: I triggered an intense bout of sneezing and coughing, which built through the morning from an allergic reaction to dust, into what feels like a throaty cold. Ugh! For fuck’s sake!

So it’ll clear in a day or two but I’ll be lucky if it doesn’t leave behind a chest infection that’ll take two weeks to shake off – and increase the likelihood of more chesty shite over this winter.

To battle the day back from the brink of defeat Rifa took me to Terre A Terre for dinner, which was jaw-droppingly yummy. They’ve reinstated their genius veggie pisstake fish’n’chips to the menu and tidied up the rosti without losing its edge. After eating chocolatty/plummy hoi sin tofu starters, olives and a big main course, to my shame I couldn’t manage dessert and missed out on one of their obscenely brilliant puddings. In the past I would’ve had one anyway and accepted the consequences – but I really have to stop when I’m full now if I’m ever going to win the war on shape.

They gave us a free drink (we always get treated especially well there because of having our wedding meal there) and when I didn’t have dessert, they gave me some of their homemade truffles to take away.

I also got some lovely thoughtful gifts, so that made my evening really nice. Frank Turner puts his Amazon wish list on his website, so that devoted fans can buy him presents occasionally. I’m tempted. 

In the meantime – back to normality – I’m trying to put together a blog on the economic troubles (along with a column for MS about how the downturn might affect providers of culture) but it’s really hard to keep it within a readable length and not too ranty. If I get anywhere today, I’ll post it straight away.

Also, I’ll try to post details of my Circle Line walk route today on the Facebook event page.