Last year I did a long series of tour blogs, really honest ones, and it turned out to be a real Pandora’s box of the thoughts and emotions that build up in me when playing music live. I couldn’t stop and did one almost every day.
This year has been Pandora’s Box in reverse – I couldn’t bring myself to open the damn thing! Aggh it just sat there in the corner. Sorry about that. How about a re-cap of the year so far, old-tour-blog-style?
So there we were with half a baboons hat and a retired geology professor. Not a bridge in sight and only 4 minutes until soundcheck…
Ok the truth is more prosaic! The last year or so has been about going from someone who plays to people in London to someone who plays to people throughout the UK. Two long tours later and I think me and my band of intrepid explorers have achieved that. Apologies to those who have been waiting for another album for a while – we had more people we wanted to play to first, and this was something I had to do. Now I’m ready to move on. So after festival season, I’ll be starting work on album two and I’m more excited about that than I’ve ever been about anything.
What about 2012 so far? January to March was taken up with a lot of planning, industry showcases, radio interview tours, shooting music videos that didn’t quite work and recording what became the Ghostess Live Studio Sessions. Our sold out HMV gig in February had been a big success, but having not gigged in a couple of months I was a little short of strut. Strut looks like this – confident, effortless action. Why was I short of it? I think it was because by the end of March I’d done only 7 gigs and sat behind a computer for what felt like forever. Something wasn’t right.
I turned off the computer, picked up my guitar and hit the road on an impromptu open mic tour of the UK – instantly I felt happy again!
I gigged with Nottingham Trent Music Society students, sung my heart out at the Exeter Phoenix Cafe to an intense crowd of 6 people, met Rebecca Philip at a Bristol open mic who supported me on our headline Bristol gig later in May, shredded my voice at two open mics in York, found a place to sleep at midnight in Sheffield belonging to a kindly professional chef who serves heart-attack-inducing burgers like the pork fillet with deep-fried banana fritters covered in maple syrup all inside a doughnut, played the unplugged night at the 1:22 Bar in Huddersfield, slept on Charlie Barnes‘s floor, discovered Son Lux, played two gigs in an hour in Leeds then collapsed with illness and drove through the night to get back to my bed to sleep for a day.
This is the life I want, not sitting behind a computer! I was definitely ready for our May band tour.
But no sooner was I ready than we hit a problem. Some dates hadn’t sold many tickets and we were being asked to cancel or postpone them. I’ve already done a blog on that and I don’t need to add to it, but again I’ll say I’m really sorry that’s how it worked out.
The plus side was that we were left with some really great gigs to really big crowds. We rocked our first at the Deaf Institute in Manchester, armed with great new t-shirts me and Kev had designed and new songs, and we were playing tight and hungry. However the spectre of the pulled dates hung over us a lot on the journey home.
Everything turned a corner at our Newton Faulkner support a couple of days later. Looking out at the 1700 people, and talking to them later I was reminded of myself as a kid going to my first gigs, feeling enraptured by the live music experience, by the us and them format, by what the music could do to my emotions. It breathed a whole new life into me to remember that. Coming out the stage doors after the gig I heard noise from people waiting and I turned around, expecting to see Newton standing behind me, but they were calling at me. Very strange, very humbling.
We played really well supporting Turin Brakes at Festeaval, a beautiful festival still in its infancy but with a very bright future.
In Oxford me and John explored the city and learnt how much pudding is too much pudding(!) The gig felt great and we played very musically. That word might seem strange – don’t we always play ‘musically’? What I mean is we really listened to each other – notes he was playing were interacting, communicating and responding to notes I was playing. So important and much better than us both just playing our parts. It’s the difference between a conversation and two people reading lines.
A solo run followed – a Leeds house concert, an open mic in Sheffield and two supports for Paper Aeroplanes in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I was really loving playing solo by then – it’s important I have my own identity aside from the band. Paper Aeroplanes are good friends of mine – do take a listen and see them live if you like what you hear.
Last time John and I were in Kendal we played to 10 people who each promised to bring 10 more people if we ever came back. Well here we were – back again and this time with the whole band – had they kept their word? By the time we took to the stage the room was almost full. “I told you I’d bring 10 more people!” they each said. Aw man this blew me away and I got a little emotional! Such nice people. It shows how stupid (nevermind disrepectful) it is to turn your nose up to a small crowd. I chatted guitars with guitar fans, guarded my arse from cheeky not-yet-middle-aged women and we drank with Jonty and the Bootleggers crew into the night.
York might have been the best line-up of the tour. David Ward MacLean busks on the streets of York, but he’s a rare talent and a true gent well deserving of wider success. The Smoking Years were also exceptional. Such a good night. I was in a bit of an eyeballing the audience sort of mood that night though – sorry about that. Plus I first broke out a dance move during Feet Don’t Fail Me Now that the band now know as the ‘chicken leg dance’. Sorry about that too…!
All this stagetime paid dividends when we hit the best soundsystem of the tour – The Plug in Sheffield. Everyone was on the top of their game and we totally smashed it. Ah man what a gig! I think it was here that we remembered what kind of band we can be. Big shoutout to Jayne Kennedy for baking us cupcakes, and Elliot Morris and Sarah Mac for great support sets.
I’ve never known a uni like Bucks New Uni. All their student events are free, even the really big ones, and they’re still able to decorate the stage with fresh flowers and custom lighting. Thanks to everyone who came to see us there, it felt a bit like coming home, tho I don’t exactly have fresh flowers at home…
In Cardiff John and I finished the set acoustically in the audience and I ate all the free brownies and cakes. Thank you to Jo Scott for coming – she has a Feet Don’t Fail Me Now tattoo on her foot.
Lastly the Exeter and Bristol leg – either sold out in advance or on the night. I can’t tell you how important these gigs were for us – they were the perfect examples of what I want our next tour to be like – small sold out venues, loud, quiet, intense, exciting and unpredictable with a close interaction between band and audience. Bring on next year and a new album.
Since then we’ve played Bury St Edmunds, house concerts, wedding gigs, private party gigs and the first of the summer festivals. There are plenty more festivals and house concerts left, tours to Ireland and France, and one more special gig to play in London before I shut myself away to work on a second album.
My favourite question to ask a songwriter is “Why do you write songs?”. It sounds simple but is actually surprisingly difficult to answer honestly. There’s a follow-up question too – “Once you’ve written a song, why is it important that other people hear it?”. In all the interviews I’ve done I have never once been asked those questions, despite them being the most important ones I can think of to ask people like me. If you write songs I’d love to hear what your answers are.
I’m getting more coherent with mine, and thinking about it has led me to some sort of epiphany…. I have three jobs – to write songs, record them and play gigs – and that’s it. If I’m not doing any of these, as I sometimes have this year to work on the record label, I am less happy, and less good at my job. Note to self – writing, recording, gigging, writing, recording, gigging…. repeat 100 times then I dunno maybe run for prime minister…
Thank you to everyone who has come this far, both in this blog entry and as a fan in general. If you can get this far, perhaps you can go a little further…? When I’m done making more songs, perhaps you’ll give them a listen.
Have a wonderful summer
There’s something quite intoxicating about a silent crowd.
When you first start doing gigs the crowd is like a wild lion to tame, and more often than not you expect to get mauled. Rise up through the ranks and one day the crowd might become yours – silent, compliant and rolling over like a house cat.
But be warned, don’t forget the value of a few claws, a few play fights. Those who can’t help but shout things out, remind you they’re still there, rage against the dying of the house lights. Otherwise that generic film line starts creeping in… “Hmm…. It’s almost… too quiet…” Continue reading »
Do you like goalkeeping dogs? Minty cake? How about excellent hospitality? You should think about a visit to Kendal.
Remember Wendy who buildingified herself at Mama Stones? Well Jonty has done the same. “All I know about is building and music” he told me, so what did he do? He renovated an old butchers shop, bought the cafe next door, hollowed an extension out of the rock, built a stage and decorated it just way he likes – with a big bar, a motorcycle and a bust of Elvis. The result is Bootleggers, a quite excellent place to make music.
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Everyone comes to a gig via their own route. You might have just broken up with someone, maybe you had a great day at work, maybe you miss someone, maybe you want to party, maybe you want to talk to no one and be miserable.
As well as that everyone has their own relationship with the music. Is this song uplifting or depressing? Is that song about relationships with others or our relationship with ourselves? What does it all mean? Your favourite song may be someone else’s least favourite. Continue reading »
Should all artists be good raconteurs? Just because you’re comfortable communicating using music doesn’t mean you’re comfortable communicating using words in general. In fact maybe you started to communicate using music exactly because you struggled to communicate like everyone else does and you felt isolated.
That’s what sort of happened with me. Then one day I find myself in front of a radio voice asking me to pick my ‘weirdest story’ on live radio. I’ve heard other people do this well, but my mind is blank, the question is too generic to fire any particular weird story synapse. Why can’t this question just piss off? I’m a songwriter, not a clever story slash witty comment conjurer. Continue reading »
God I love this job. Tonight a massive crowd sang all the songs back at us, and I shared the stage again with Tom McQ. Continue reading »
I must admit I wasn’t totally convinced it should be me who hands her the ring. What if she gets confused as to who was asking the question?
I do love how there are just no two days alike on tour. That’s partly because if you’re gigging at this level you don’t control very much – you get what you’re given – which is different every time.
Here in Exeter we had to wait until 10:30pm for the diners to finish before the fans who had come to the gig could get in. Some had been waiting outside for ages, one was heavily pregnant, some sacked it off and went home. Everyone was apologising to each other. Continue reading »
I can count on one hand the number of songs that have utterly ripped my world apart in my adult life. I’m not just talking about “wow that’s my song of the year”. I mean full-on, powerless obsession – there when you wake up, with you all day and keeping you awake all night.
I have a theory that whenever a song is stuck in your head, the best way to rid yourself of it is to sit down and put it on repeat, no matter how embarassing or irritating it is. This might sound like the last thing you’d want to do with Michael Bublé (depending on your preference), but bloody hell it works. Your brain is saying “You may not like that you like this, but you DO like this. So stop lying to yourself, and listen to the goddamn track.” With its desire sated, it moves on. Continue reading »
It stopped me dead in my tracks when I turned up to the pre-gig ‘team meeting’ in a pub off Charing Cross Road to find 15 people sat round a large table. Band, management, booking agents, press agent, promoter, distributors and label (my own not a different one) were all there, with online PR guys and radio plugger sending apologies.
I couldn’t help myself, and I do apologise, but I had a proper Wonder Years moment. The internal narrator took over – “it was at that moment that I realised things would never be the same again”. Well, at least not for a year or two. Plans are afoot. We’re definitely moving up a level, more about that later. Continue reading »
It’s amazing how quickly things become routine – we turned up at the Apollo like it was just another day at school. Could I ever get used to this kind of gig? Surely not?
We bemoan some artists for losing the ability to relate to others normally, when their normal is so extremely perversly different to ours, and when it’s us that put them there in the first place. We scream when they sing, and with our words and actions we tell them they are more important than other people. They adapt to their new surroundings, just like evolution has taught them. I’m not making my own tea, someone else does that…
The real problem, as it tediously always is, is weakness in the face of the corruptive influence of power, status, money, and all that crap. It’s the same reason we always end up with rubbish politicians. If only people didn’t believe their own hype.
Or is the prime minister’s life worth more than mine? His decisions certainly have bigger consequences. Is it more tragic if Shakespeare dies a young man, never to write his greatest works, than some other young guy destined to make his living thatching roofs or ploughing fields? If so does that make our Bill more important? Either way he needs to be humble if he wants a roof over his head and some food to eat.
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