I toured through North America with the artist I manage and tour manage – East India Youth (William Doyle) – and our sound engineer George Hider. This is what happened
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Tuesday 28 April 2015
LONDON > LOS ANGELES
It’s a beautiful day; the kind you want to wake to as you embark on a long journey. In our case, a seven-week tour of North America, mainland Europe and the UK. I take a taxi to our storage space near Angel, try to decide which merch to take that might begin to get us out of the $13,000 hole we’re in on this run. The lure of North America is strong and we go whether we can afford it or not. We’ve hired an eight-seater provided by British Airport Transfers (a misnomer, given they only serve London’s airports) after sacking off Hummingbird Cars for being absolutely fucking useless. We arrive at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5, three and a half hours before we fly. I tend to build in lots of time in case of traffic, queues at security, and whatever other bullshit international travel can bring to bear on an itinerary. We drop four equipment cases, one merch case, clear security, get some dollars from one of the currency exchange companies that make their living absolutely screwing people like me who didn’t have time to go to the Post Office and sit down at a restaurant to eat salads. We’re all hopelessly addicted to the high fructose corn syrup the Americans like to pump their food full of, and this meal is a futile attempt at kidding ourselves that we’ll eat healthy for the days ahead. George will succumb to milkshakes, Will will plough into burgers and fries and I’ll bypass my digestive tract altogether and intravenously ingest a cocktail of Dr. Pepper, pizza and Junior Mints. George and Will wander off to pick up supplies, I sit and work, and run my phone data down to zero trying to upload North American maps to our Garmin satnav.
The plane’s a new Airbus 380, and looks and feels like every jet-plane in service since the 1950s, only with mood lighting and a TV screen. As soon as he can, the guy in front of me reclines his seat back and my screen’s about six inches from my face. I recline my seat into the face of the guy behind me, he reclines his, and so it dominos toward the back row. There’s a metaphor for the human condition there somewhere. We settle in for eleven hours. I eat my Asian Vegetarian meal, gift the bread and dessert to George, watch an episode of The Newsroom, start to watch The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg – am pleased to observe it has Richard Schiff in it – but can’t keep my eyes open, sleep on and off for three hours.
“Are you excited?” asked a friend yesterday. I tell her that experience has taught me to exercise caution. Plus I’m not going on holiday. Sure, it’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be tough sometimes, mentally and physically gruelling, with every problem – and there will be many problems – mine to fix. No-one wants to hear that though. You’re touring North America in an SUV. You’ve to be excited.
I read a piece about Drake on Four Pins, ahead of his Coachella show this year. The journalist gets high on mushrooms. It passes the time. I finish The Gambler (some of the most pointlessly ponderous dialogue I’ve heard in many years, and Richard Schiff’s part was risible), watch some of Moneyball with Brad Pitt, but I pass out again, which is welcome, since being awake on this flight really isn’t working out for me. We deplane, clear security, customs, baggage claim, take the shuttle bus to car hire, get the car, load the gear. Two and a half hours have passed and we’re still in the perimeter of the airport. We’re given a colossal GMC SUV. I can’t work out how they get away with these things here. The vehicle is enormous but the legroom is average at best, visibility is terrible over your shoulder and there are more controls on the dash than in the cockpit of the plane you just stepped off. We sit for five minutes trying to figure out how to put into gear.
It’s late, I’m tired, I’ve been moving for almost 24 hours and I’m driving a colossal SUV with poor visibility. LA’s eight-lane highways aren’t the friendliest places when it’s late, you’re tired, and driving a colossal SUV with poor visibility. We make it safely to our Airbnb just off Sunset Strip in West Hollywood (real close to The Viper Room, for all you River Phoenix fans out there). Two double bedrooms and a pretty sorry-looking sofa bed. I volunteer for the sofa bed because Will never will and George always will and anyway, it’s my job to make sure artist and crew are rested. Such graciousness won’t last long. After a week of this shit they can sleep on the floor for all I care.
I get some work done, try and upload the maps to the satnav again, fail, brush my teeth and see about getting some sleep. It’s almost midnight here as the UK awakes eight hours ahead. I dream of Mexican food.
I wake just before 0400 and lie there, trying to calculate the weight, price and most effective way of getting some merch from New York to San Diego, and from London to LA. This kind of mind-numbingly boring exercise should be like counting sheep, but it’s what keeps me awake.
I check to see if the map has downloaded. It hasn’t. It’s lucky our SUV has one built-in. I work for an hour, catching up with the UK – a Guardian interview for Will, some financial matters to attend to, a remix he’s working on for Sasha Siem, moving merch around between offices and depots – then go out for a walk down to Sunset Strip.
It’s quiet, dawn approaching. I see The Roxy where we’ll play on Friday, Whisky a Go Go, Viper Rooms. I realise I’m missing a trick, walk quickly back to the apartment, get in the car. The Griffith Observatory (in Griffith Park) is a 1935 Art Deco structure that overlooks more or less the entire Los Angeles area. It’s home to a 12″ Zeiss Refracting telescope, location of some of James Dean’s most iconic scenes in Rebel Without a Cause, and one of my favourite places on God’s Earth. I drive along a deserted Sunset Strip for six miles, turn in toward The Greek Theatre, arrive, and park up. The sun is still behind the Santa Monica Mountains, the sky lit peach-orange, the air cool and still. I can’t blink without seeing a photograph, but try and keep my phone in my pocket as I walk around, more or less alone here, the sun finally cresting the mountains, my cue to head back.
The house is quiet. I carry on working. We’re premiering the new single and video today on the website of KEXP in Seattle, and I need to line everything up. Will usually posts on Facebook and Instagram, I follow with Twitter and the EIY website, then his label (XL) in London reposts, followed by the rest of the international offices. I need to approve the press release first, upload the video to YouTube, get the credits for the production crew, write the website post, the newsletter email-out, email everyone who’s currently promoting one of our shows right now (thirty of them or so) and tell them about it, ask them to post on their social media platforms. And I need to wait for him to wake before I can press the button.
He wakes, writes his post, everyone does their thing.
We shower, drive to Mel’s Drive-in Diner for breakfast. I sit on a table opposite, continue working, order a salad. Billy Ocean comes on the radio. Today’s a day off and we head to Santa Monica Beach for a look around. We take some photos of Will and I looking incongruous in our suits then head into Topanga State Park and along Mulholland Drive to admire the view down into San Fernando Valley, the Verdugo Mountains and – with my monocular – upon Universal and Warner Brothers studios.
We’ve a meeting at 1800 with Chrissy from our publisher, Beggars Music, so retun to the apartment to get cleaned up and take an Uber over to Silver Lake. We sit in the garden of the office, drink local IPAs, talk about music, travelling and local IPAs. Chrissy’s great company, and extremely enthusiastic about East India Youth, which are the two most important things you want in someone you work with. Plus she likes IPAs. We head across the road to Casita Del Campo, a Mexican restaurant that’s been around since 1962, and gorge on way too much food. By the time the chips and salsa are gone no-one’s hungry, but sure enough more food arrives. The wastage is phenomenal. Tiredness hits us like a wave, so we and Chrissy go our separate ways and another car takes us to bed. Tomorrow’s our first day at work, in San Diego. I’m an optimistic person by nature, but if you put anyone on the road for 4-5 days, they’ll quickly grow a more circumspect skin, and I’ve been doing this long enough to know it’s a matter of time before I’m knee-deep in the shit of someone else’s making.
My alarm’s set for 0500 but I’ve been awake since 0300. George and I get dressed, for we have an adventure to attend to, and we’re out the door by 0530, driving the car west to the end of Sunset Strip, toward our target: Zuma Beach in Malibu. It’s dawn when we arrive, and we head down to the Pacific Ocean. It’s pretty cold, as places tend to be before the sun comes up. Angelenos have a habit of saying they live in the desert. They don’t. They live in a large coastal basin with a Mediterranean climate, which I accept doesn’t sound as dramatic. Well anyway, wherever they live it’s pretty cold right now, so we run around in our trunks and t-shirts before racing into the surf and freezing our extremities off. Actually, it’s exhilarating, and I set aside my fear of what lurks beneath the waves, and we take it in turn to mug for the camera like a couple of eighth-rate swimwear models. At one point I get absolutely flattened by a huge wave that pulls me under and drags me back up the beach on my back. George does his best to keep taking pictures, instead of helping me, which I will forever hold against him. The sun comes up, begins to warm us, but I’ve lost the feeling in my fingers and toes and it takes an hour for it to come back. The adrenalin kept me warm when I was out of the water, and now I’m paying for it with mild hypothermia.
We drive back toward LA, stopping at Malibu Beach to marvel at Grey Whales and talk to surfers, and take a slow walk along the pier to gaze out toward the horizon, and dream. It’s an amazing start to a day.
Will’s up and about on our return, working on a remix, and answering some questions for a blog. We’re in no hurry to leave so I plough on with work. I get some great feedback from attendees at my Tour Management course last week, which is a relief. I rarely have any idea how my lectures are received as I stand there and deliver them. Then it’s chasing invoices, paying invoices, fielding collaboration and promo requests, trying to arrange accommodation in NY and Philly in a few days time, advancing shows in Moscow, Bratislava and Norwich, and catching up with Matt at the label who’s been in the States himself for a while. XL are a great label, and we’re happy there, but like any label – independent or major – nothing’s perfect, and I appreciate their willingness to explore different ways of working with me to better serve East India Youth. Other than this, I continue my cajoling of our promoters, a theme which will come to define this trip, and not for good reasons.
We get on the road, via Ralph’s supermarket, and have a breakfast/lunch picnic in the car park. The healthy eating thing is going pretty well, and even Will looks interested in the cherry tomatoes. The drive down to San Diego is bearable, traffic could have been worse, and we stop at Dana Point to look for whales, but they are elsewhere today, so find a picnic spot overlooking the ocean and eat the rest of our food.
San Diego is upon us soon enough and we go to the hotel, a Ramada Inn a couple of miles from the airport. George goes for a swim in the pool, Will reads at the pool, I spend twenty minutes on the phone to Fedex who have failed to deliver a box of T-shirts to the venue, thinking about the pool.
Heading to the venue we notice that the airport is more or less in the city. San Diego’s a big place; 1.3 million people, the eighth most populous city in the US after San Antonio. I’d never seen an international airport so close to built-up areas before. The venue staff are calm and friendly, and we set up. It reminds me of Brixton Windmill. The PA is pretty hefty for a room of this size, there’s plenty space for me to set up the merch in the outside patio, and the WiFi has download speeds of 25Mbps. Since this is my place of work for the next seven hours, that’s pretty important. I don’t know that many venues fully consider the fact that artists and crew are often a long way from home, maybe can’t switch data on, and would like to stay in touch with friends and family, and work. I let George and Will take care of things on stage and get my shop set up, reply to some emails that have come in during the drive.
Tonight’s show will be poorly attended. I’ve known that from the beginning and as the date drew near, it was clear it wasn’t being promoted well, if at all, or anyway, not online that I could see. Seven tickets have been sold in advance. North America is a brand new market for EIY so we’re not expecting miracles. We’re expecting to come back here many times, and work hard, like almost every band who wishes a piece of the action. This market doesn’t really give a shit about Mercury Prize nominations or what the NME say, and that’s healthy. Sometimes a band just connects instantly though. I was with Savages when the US pretty much bowed down before them, when they were more or less the hottest band in the Western world. That’s incredibly rare. Most bands never connect, or connect very gradually. We hope we’re the latter. If an unknown US band came to Bristol to do a show, they’d be playing to seven people too. We know our place in the world and we’re in this for the long haul.
Soundcheck over, merch set up.
Kathryn Calder (ex-New Pornographers) and her band are here to support us, and they’re really nice people, evidenced by their loaning us a keyboard stand. We head out to find honey and lemon for Will’s throat, and food. The planes landing at the airport are no more than 100m above the venue, which is directly under the final approach flight path, and after twenty, thirty have passed, we’re still not used to the sight and sound of 727s screaming above our heads so close we can see people in the windows.
We sit down in a Mexican place called El Cantino and eat well, still enthralled by the planes, having to pause our conversations every two minutes to let the noise dissipate. I break my no-alcohol-when-I’m-working rule and have a local IPA. The craft beer scene in San Diego has – as in many places across the world – exploded, and Will and I are geeks for it. George has been circling around it for months now, making the occasional hop foray, then retreating to more familiar turf.
Back at the venue Will warms his voice up and drinks warm, honeyed tea, and I watch a little of Kathryn who plays a long set tonight. I’m smitten by ‘Take a Little Time‘, a killer pop song with a huge keyboard hook.
Will’s show is fantastic. It’s been a long time since I stood in the audience and watched an entire set. Usually I’m at side of stage keeping an eye out for anything going wrong, or communicating with the monitor engineer. But tonight it’s me, 5,478 miles from home, and seven others. There’s no such thing as a show without value, and we’re not easily dispirited. It’s a useful rehearsal, a good test of our ability to cobble together stands when a venue hasn’t provided them, and there’s time and space to get my merch shop in order for the days ahead.
We speak to a woman who’s driven 1.5 hours from Orange Country, who’ll also drive to LA to see us tomorrow. Sometimes my peers look upon those like her as being a little crazy. I never understood that. I followed The Walkmen around on their first album tour, same with Interpol, seeing them in London, Brighton, Cambridge, Oxford, local shows within striking distance of my base. I love those bands and their music means the world to me. Nothing I could do with my time was more rewarding than watching them play, throwing myself around at the front, playing the album on my headphones on the way home. We take bands for granted, assume they’ll always be there. But bands stop playing their early stuff and move on, or they break up, or stop touring, or don’t play near you. Or the driver falls asleep at the wheel on the way to the next show, killing everyone.
We pack up, drive back to our hotel, sleep.
I’m hoping for more than four hours.
I’m not going to get it.
Friday 01 May 2015
Five hours sleep! An improvement. It’s not that I’m not tired: I’m a light sleeper, wake up three to four times a night and invariably start thinking about what the day will bring, can’t switch it off, have to get up. I sneak out, head down to breakfast, get on with work. It’s a typical American budget hotel breakfast, which is to say largely inedible. I have half a bagel with cream cheese. I’m going to need more than that for the drive back to LA, but we’ve still got a load of good stuff in the ‘larder’ that we’ve bought from Ralph’s. I’m optimistic about the day, but the day has other plans for me.
Every morning I post on EIY’s social media platforms to say thanks to venue/promoter/staff for previous show (unless I’ve nothing to thank them for, in which case I keep quiet) and generally spend an hour or so thinking about how the shows are being promoted. We’ve around thirty on sale across North America, UK and the European mainland. I’ve been debating how much to say about this publicly, certainly when the tour is still on, and because I need to meet some of these people in the days ahead, but here’s what I’ll say for now, and keep the rest for post-tour, at which point I’ll eviscerate those who did next-to-nothing to help the show they’d been contracted to promote:
I’ve been very heavily involved in promoting the shows and it’s been causing me anxiety and consternation, on account of many – not all – of the promoters we’re working with being utterly inept. For one reason or another my thoughts turned to a particular promoter, and I check their FB and TW pages and see that, despite my supplying them with a whole raft of useful tools over the past weeks, they’ve done nothing to promote the show online. Nothing. Not one thing. My method for dealing with it has been to let our two booking agents light fires underneath those who’re not pulling their weight. Part of the reason is that I don’t like to lose my temper. It’s one thing getting myself into trouble, but when you represent someone – as I do Will – I can’t risk his career suffering because I lost my shit with someone.
I’m furious. I write an email but know I can’t send it. I try to contact Andy (our London-based booking agent at Primary Talent who handles the World excluding the US and Canada). I reach him at home and as soon as I start speaking I’m close to tears. Sure I’m tired, and emotions rise easier then, but the only thing I care more about than my family is my work, and those I work with. I would take a bullet for Will and George, and other than my immediate family I can say that about four other people. And I’m trying to run a small business here. Two small business. Mine and Will’s. And George is financially dependent on us too. And it’s a struggle every day. Mercury Prize nominations do absolutely nothing for your bank balance. These people, this promoter… he’s fucking with our livelihoods. Every time he promotes the show he increases the chances of a bigger audience, which increases the chances of us selling merch, which increases the chances of us breaking even on the tour. Not making money; I’m talking about not losing money.
I’m seething, and the other guests at breakfast don’t need to hear this so I go outside. Andy, as ever, listens patiently, talks evenly, and I calm down. He’ll speak to the boss on Monday, see what’s going on. I’m ready to sack them and move the show somewhere else, give it to someone who actually gives a fuck.
We’ll reconvene on Monday.
I go back to the email, tone it right down, send it. You can read it here. When the tour’s over I’ll say who it was addressed to.
I go back inside and call FedEx to see about getting this box of T-shirts before we head to LA. After twenty minutes trying to work it out, I can’t; I’ve now to speak to the Portland promoter, confirm they can accept it, then call FedEx back and arrange it. Ah Christ. Today isn’t getting any easier. All right, fine. I’ll do it from the car. I head upstairs to shower and pack. And notice my UK phone is missing. I’m up and down the stairs and elevator, retracing my steps. I can see by using the Find My iPhone app that it’s still in the building. George joins the search and after about twenty minutes of turning the room upside down I find it on the housekeeping cart in the hallway. I’d dropped it, they’d picked it up. I thank them profusely in my basic Spanish, tell George and Will I need to go for a swim, that I need to do something that doesn’t involve a laptop, else I’ll just get in the car angry.
I swim for fifteen minutes.
We start our journey via Ralph’s, to stock up on supplies. We now have a box filled with all sorts of good food and drink. Again we’re looking for a picnic spot, and find one at Del Mar, and park up, and after being chastised for breaking about three state parking laws by a friendly-enough policeman on a bicycle, we sit under a palm tree and eat. I have an epiphany.
I’ve lived on the road for three years now, the contents of my two bags being more or less all I own save for a few winter coats and some old dance and Hip-hop 12″ records in my parents’ attic. I’m done with living in one place for the foreseeable future, and even if I wanted to settle I’ve no idea where it would be. But today I finally see it’ll be California. It’s endlessly beautiful here, with more geographical variety in one State than I’ve seen in many other countries combined. Europeans have an irritating habit of looking down their noses at those Americans who’ve never left the US. Drive around California for a while and you’ll see why some people never leave the State.
We’re back in the car and the driving is easy, though it’s just a matter of time before we get stuck in a traffic jam, because Americans drive too close to each other so have to keep braking suddenly which causes everyone to brake suddenly and stop and start needlessly. And they don’t know how to use lanes. They just sit in any one at any speed they fancy and you end up having to under-take trucks in the inside lane. It’s madness.
On arrival at The Roxy we’re met with the parking valet. Valet parking blows my mind. It’s the automotive equivalent of waiters who ask if you want black pepper, then produce a two foot long phallus and grind the contents all over your Penne al arrabbiata. Just put the damn thing on the table. I’ll manage.
The staff are nice. Donovan, Mo, Bolé (no chance that’s how his name’s spelled but look, I’m doing my best here), Molly and Dann. Will and George set up and soundcheck and I head upstairs and attempt to use my US phone to call FedEx. Unfortunately my network provider is AT&T, and they don’t seem to know much about cellular networks, so my thirty-five minute call – during which time FedEx refuse to ship the T-shirts that are in their depot in San Diego to the venue in Portland – is punctuated by repeating myself multiple times, and the call dropping. I argue my case (politely, but getting increasingly frustrated) but the customer service rep will not budge. They are “sorry for the inconvenience”, at which point I realise I’m about to blow my top so ask if I can have a number to make a complaint. The rep says she handles complaints, so I complain to her about the service she’s just failed to give me, and the misinformation from two of her colleagues. I email our merch company, tell them the T-shirts are dead to me and lie on the sofa for five minutes to control my breathing.
Will and George go to eat. I’m in no mood to do anything in company, and snack on the contents of our larder, which we now have in a big cardboard box, plus the contents of the backstage rider. I email ahead to the venue for tomorrow and tell them not to get most of the things on our rider since we have enough. W&G return, and George and I tool along Sunset in the car to Guitar Center and pick up a music stand to hold the Akai APC 40 MIDI controller. Some promoters can’t provide it for free so we figure it’s cheaper to buy than hire.
Back at the venue the doors are open. Both Will and I have a friend or two in LA and look forward to seeing them. The fan who came to the show in San Diego is back and she passes me a gift for Will, some Japanese herbal cough syrup. It’s really very thoughtful, and gratefully received. Dark Waves are the support and during their set I get a delivery of vinyl and CDs from Brien from the Beggars office out here. We stand at merch and get to know each other. He’s real easy company and tells me he’ll be in New York when we’re there so can come to the karaoke afterparty that’s planned. He’s also a huge Tom Jones fan, which makes me nervous, since one of my songs is ‘It’s Not Unusual‘. I’ll need to practice.
We have about ninety people in the room including guests, and I’m happy with this. Part of the reason is that a guy called Padra got in touch a few weeks back and asked if he could help promote the show. He’s a fan of EIY. Long story short: he went right out of his way to get involved in the physical promotion, and had twenty-two of his friends buy tickets, wouldn’t let me put him on the list, wouldn’t take a drink, and offered me a free haircut when next in town. That someone would go so out of their way to help us is humbling.
The show is fine, if not as enjoyable for me as San Diego’s, performance-wise. When you see someone play a great many times I suppose your bar is raised and you notice imperfections more readily, but everyone enjoys themselves and the merch stand does a brisk trade, particularly since Will comes straight over to talk to everyone, and sign stuff, and thank them most sincerely for coming down and supporting us. He loves LA as I do and it feels important to both of us that we do good work here.
People are slow to leave. Will spends time with his friends Matt and Coco, plus the musician SOHN who lives out here now. I catch up with my good friend and sound engineer Matt who I used to tour with, with Savages, and his partner Hayley. I’m staying with them tonight. George, Will and SOHN head home and I’m driven back to Matt and Hayley’s in Westwood. I’m shattered, but I want to sit up for a while. Matt’s someone I’ve an infinite amount of time for, and I miss him now we don’t work together. I have a little rum, just enough to knock me out, and some conversation, and I pass out in a big double bed in my own room, glad to be here, with these people, in this city.
Saturday 02 May 2015
Another short sleep but sometimes your body takes what it needs. I’m done talking about it. I open the blinds, slide back a window and a cool, smogless breeze slides in. Matt’s making a breakfast of scrambled eggs and a side of melon and strawberries. You can tell we’re in the US because I start saying “a side of” and referring to petrol as “gas”.
And listen, sorry about the photos up there. I’ll do better tomorrow.
The TV’s on, reporting on the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and the charging of six police officers by state attorney Marilyn J. Mosby. I try to avoid the news these days, which isn’t easy. It turned out there was a limit to how much relentless negativity I could take and I reached it in 2012. From the little I’ve observed, Mosby is one impressive individual, and I wish her luck trying to prosecute members of the biggest, most heavily-armed gang of thugs in the world.
I eat my breakfast like the good guest I am, and the three of us shoot the breeze until George and Will turn up in the car. I thank Matt and Hayley for their kind hospitality, and wish I could have stayed longer. We get on the road again, stopping at Ralph’s, as is now our custom, to get breakfast/lunch and eat it in the car park. Ralph’s is a southern Californian chain so what we’ll do when we wake up tomorrow in San Francisco I have no idea.
When we were in Austin for SxSW in March, I got pulled over by the police for speeding after two hours of being in the car. My accent got me out of it. Later that week I got pulled over by the police for driving through a red light. My accent got me out of it. On the way to San Francisco this morning, George gets pulled over by the cops for doing 100mph on the freeway. He gets a ticket. And he gets it not five minutes after I’d said “Man, the merch sales were great last night!” The business pays for fines, damage to vehicles and such, since they occurred while in the service of the business. Plus we don’t pay George well enough to have him pay a speeding ticket. We don’t even know how much it’ll be. It has to go to court, which will take various factors into account, like bullshit, total bullshit, and utter waste of time. Hey America! Never heard of a fixed penalty?
The drive is uneventful but starkly beautiful as we barrel north on the I-5. George and I share the driving, generally taking a couple of hours each. Whoever isn’t driving is co-pilot, and gets the driver what they need: food, drink, GPS adjustments, and generally keeps an eye on their well-being. We’ve created a Spotify playlist, aptly called The Great North American Playlist, and more or less enjoy each others’ tastes, though every now and again someone’ll throw a curveball and one of us will reach for our headphones.
We’re in a hurry so stop only twice; once at a rest area for a natural break, and have lunch from the larder, and again at a gas station where we attempt to take a group photo for our legions of fans. I get dust on my boots but decide that stoicism is called for. These moments – the inane conversations over a shared avocado, laughing at a baseball cap with MOOSE FUCKER across the front in a redneck gift shop – they are the mortar of a tour. We don’t remember them a week later, but at the time they feel significant. The people on the road with you are family. If you’re sharing a room with someone you’ll be with them for sometimes up to twenty-three hours a day. You better like them, and they you, and you better be pretty mindful of your little behavioural quirks and idiosyncrasies, lest you piss someone off because of the way you hold a fork.
I was born with conductive hearing in my right ear, which means I hear sound better through the bones than through air on that side. When I was younger my left ear compensated. It doesn’t compensate now, and my hearing is generally deteriorating with age. Plus I have tinnitus (here’s a fun game: show me someone who bangs on about having “no regrets”, give them tinnitus, and we’ll see how they’re doing in a month or so), so I usually need things to be louder than others around me. George has good hearing, and like any FOH Engineer, wants to look after it. I like music loud in the car, he less so. I’m mindful of it. As we head on to the Bay Bridge – one of the world’s great city approaches – I think I see him turning the volume down with the steering wheel controls and he and I have our first argument which must last about six seconds. It’s enough to darken my mood. The only thing I dislike more than the British tabloid press is arguing with people I care about.
We drive to our hotel, a place called The Metro Hotel San Francisco. I love it there. Second time. It’s a one star place, but incredibly good value ($139!), with great staff (hello Shana!) and philosophy, plus it’s really clean. They also have one of the only genuine triple rooms in North America, with three separate double beds. I don’t know what North American hotels have against triple rooms, but someone needs to get over that and start offering them. This two-room-per-night thing is tough on a tour budget. The Metro also happens to be four minutes walk from the venue – The Independent – and on the same street. George goes for a walk, I lie down for half an hour, Will reads. We meet at the venue at 5pm to load in. I’ve been to this place twice before with Savages, and I’m a huge fan of the room, its staff, its ethos. It’s 500 capacity, which is far too big for us, but when we booked this tour many months ago, we thought we’d be able to fill it. The album only came out less than four weeks ago though, and it’s a very slow build toward the consciousness of the American public. But we have patience and we will grind them down.
We’re met by David, Terry, Zef and Carmen (it might be Carman, but since he’s never going to read this, I’m just going to move on). As is the custom, George and Will set up and soundcheck, I set up merch. Afterwards we head across the road to Herbivore, a vegan restaurant that’s a lot nicer-looking than their website would have you believe. The food’s good. We’re meant to be going for ice cream afterwards, to a place my friend Heather recommended, but I have a smoothie in the restaurant and it ruins my palette for ice cream, so that’s that. George and Will go though, and report back that it is the shit. While they’re away I return to the venue and sleep for an hour on a sofa backstage. I wake and they’re sitting there quietly, reading. A few minutes before showtime I go out front to sit at merch and talk to anyone who wants to talk. I’m pretty groggy and none of the conversations quite sink in. We’ve around forty people in the room, but what’s the point in being despondent? We don’t feel despondent. We feel lucky to be here, in my favourite venue of this size anywhere. It’s a black box, like all the best venues, with the stage against the back wall but about twelve feet of space at either side, so it appears more prominent. It’s also about four foot high. A real pedestal for an artist. The PA is powerful and articulate, the lighting rig extensive and thoughtfully laid out. We’ve got forty people in and we hope they enjoy themselves, and buy some merch, and tell their friends they had a good night, and from this foundation a career will be built in this country, by God.
I speak to a couple of friends of friends, and a guy who wants to talk about Scotland. A lot of Americans want to talk about Scotland, particularly when they’re drunk. I’d say the Irish meet with the same thing, the English too. Perhaps the Welsh. Well anyway, this guy’s okay for a minute but has a bit to drink and then ends up being ‘that guy at the merch stand last night’, getting involved in everyone’s conversation and doing my head in. He doesn’t attempt a Scottish accent at least…
Well the show’s good. Not as good as San Diego, but better than LA. Anyone who tours will tell you that the stage – not the rehearsal room – is where you iron things out, become stronger, discover what doesn’t work, with an audience to react to. This audience is good, as was LA’s. Our audience over here is still at the I’ve-discovered-this-band-and-they’re-amazing-and-no one-knows-about-them-yet stage. That’s a beautiful place to be for a music fan, and for me, as I turn around to look at their faces lit up, and see how much it means to have Will up there, in their town, at this moment. I remember having that with Simple Minds in the mid-late 80s, fifteen years before the internet illuminated the world around me, before they went from being a vital art-rock band to a Stadium rock behemoth.
Will heads over to the merch stand after a couple of minutes backstage alone to wipe his face down and drink a cold beer. It’s hot, thirsty work, and this new set-up we have lends itself to a particularly energetic performance. We dry-clean a lot of suits. We do a decent trade tonight, $140, and there’s lots of signing and good-natured chatting. No matter how tired I am, how early lobby call is, I try to never hurry things along. It’s not that I want to sell more merch (though I do); it’s that it’s important for fan and artist to speak. Important for fan because it’s fun, important for artist because this is the only interaction that truly matters in a career, without tastemakers and gatekeepers, without radio producers and marks out of ten. It’s someone who loves music talking to someone who loves making music. If the stars align and Will’s career takes off, and we play to bigger and bigger rooms, we’ll always come back and do small shows. I hear a lot of bands say they’ll do it, but I see few do it. We’ll do it.
I settle up with Geoff (Jeff?), thank him and say my goodbyes. We’d met before a couple of times when I was here. He’s an easy-going guy, as everyone is here. Last week there was a conversation about cancelling, so poor were the advance sales. We’d have been paid a 50% cancellation fee, or we could just take a 50% reduction in our guarantee. As I said to Ben, our booking agent out here, we’ve come this far, we’ve come to play, and no matter how few people have bought tickets, people have bought tickets. We’re here to lay a foundation and we’ll not do that by flinching when things don’t work out as we’d hoped.
It’s an easy load out and I walk back to the hotel, stopping off to buy some beer. George goes off to find somewhere to park the car (potentially the most frustrating job of the day) and when he’s back we sit around and talk with some music on in the background, run a post-mortem on the show, and generally reflect on how we did. I say “we”, not “Will”, because although EIY is a solo project, we more or less see it as a trio, such is the bond between us, the regard we hold each other in, and how the performance of one is inextricably linked to the other two. The positive side effect of this is that there’s no separation of artist and crew, a dynamic I never feel is healthy on the road.
Tomorrow is a day off/travel day as we make our way toward Portland, via the mountains and lakes of Shasta County in northern California, our last day in the Golden State.
It’s going to be absolutely glorious.
Sunday 03 May 2015
No show today, so we drive to Eugene. We’re stopping at Eugene because it’s two-thirds of the way toward Portland (where we’re playing tomorrow), and it’s called Eugene. We wanted to stop at a place called Bowie somewhere else on the tour but I couldn’t get a hotel there. Liking a town’s name is as good a reason to stop there as any. Plus I’ve found a highly-recommended craft beer pub called Falling Sky, so that’s dinner sorted. I’ve got it in my head that we need to have a sit-down dinner tonight, like civilised people. Eugene’s slogan used to be ‘World’s Greatest City for the Arts & Outdoors’ until its citizens told the council to get a grip of itself, and they downgraded it to the less hyperbolic ‘A Great City for the Arts & Outdoors’.
I wake, sit up in bed, catch up with the UK which remains eight hours ahead of the game. It’s a real pain in the arse. I work on both UK time and Pacific Standard Time, so my days are pretty long, and when there’s business to attend to in Japan and Australia…
There’s a confluence of administrative pain in my inbox; failing to convince an Australian promoter to let us do a rival promoter’s show too, sorting out a BBC6 Music Roundtable appearance, filling in the little details for the shows ahead of us, and spending too much time on social media, keeping EIY’s presence rolling along and interesting. If I didn’t need to do that, I’d consider sacking social media off all together. I swear there are about eighteen thousand things I’d rather be doing with my time.
Upon check-out, we spend a few minutes talking to Shana at the hotel reception. She’s super-cool, and we suspect she/her family own the place. I tell her that, no matter how well things go for us in the future, we’ll come back and stay here. We know we’re not taking a chance with it, and familiarity is an important thing while touring. I like to have a reliable base in a city if I can. We load out, eat on the kerbside and get moving toward Eugene. It’s another glorious day and we have one of my favourite drives ahead. I love driving. Tour buses aren’t for me, and onerous security protocols have sucked most of the enjoyment out of flying. Give me a wheel affixed to a cleanly-designed dashboard, in an easily manoeuvrable vehicle and an open road anytime.
Our drive avoids the coastal road and we pass through many places worth stopping in, the least worthy being Redding which has the highest rate of sexual offenders in the US, though someone’s taken that off the Wikipedia page now since I last spent the night there in a Motel 6 in 2013. George takes the first shift and we listen to music from our Spotify playlist. I should probably link to that at some point. We motor on until lunchtime and stop in at the Black Bear Diner, a national chain that’s actually pretty good. Will has the idea of bringing what we are by now calling The Box, into the diner with us, so that its delicious, life-giving contents won’t perish under the oppressive Californian sun inside the car. I commend him upon such thoughtfulness and he hauls it in. We eat well and healthy, my diet still very much on the rails, to my utter amazement, given the temptations that abound. I say “diet”; I don’t want anyone getting the idea I’m trying to lose weight. I’m just trying to die later than I might otherwise.
Sated, we depart, and stop off at a California Visitors Center to try and get George a fridge magnet. He’s under orders to bring one back from every place he visits as an offering to his flatmates. He can’t see one there so runs down to another store while Will and I follow in the car. As we step out, Will stops me with a look on his face that tells me he is about to deliver devastating news, for he is wearing what I have come to know as his Devastating News Face.
“Tell me”, I say. “I see your face. I know the news will be devastating, but you must tell me now and without further delay.”
He cannot meet my gaze.
“Tell me” I say, softly, putting a hand on his shoulder. “We are as brothers”
He swallows hard, looks up at me, his eyes glassy.
“We left The Box on the table in the diner.”
His words hit me like a titanium tsunami, not least the use of “we” to describe this heinous crime that is his and his alone.
Reader, I will dwell on this matter no further, except to say that telling George was the hardest thing I’d ever done, except for that time when I had to fire fifteen people, including myself, when we closed The Luminaire.
We head north into Shasta County, home to Mount Shasta, a 14,179ft, potentially active volcano in the Cascade Range. The landscape changes from flat and largely featureless to lush green, rolling, densely forested, and reminds me of my own country’s Highlands, only greener and more densely forested. I’ve driven this road before so am happy to let George enjoy it. After stopping for gas, I take the last stretch, and detour to find a lake to swim in. George and I are freaks for lakes to swim in. Or rivers. Or the sea. Pools. Any substantial body of water. I’ve come to this late in life.
We find a park named after Dick Bliss, pose for obligatory photos next to the Dick Bliss sign, then navigate toward Lake Siskiyou, in the shadow of Mt. Shasta. I suppose we don’t sartorially blend in with the other citizens of the area who’ve come to enjoy the scenery, but whatever. I’m stripped of my suit, into my trunks, and into the water quick-smart. George follows. Will stays on dry land and designates himself photographer. It’s cold but not as cold as The Pacific the other day. The sun is warm and… ah Jesus, it’s amazing. I live for these moments. We’re out in twenty minutes (I’m covered in sun-block but still burn easy, thanks to vitiligo, so don’t take risks) dried off, and away, elated. The sun is thinking about setting and the drive continues to deliver heart-stopping views, as a huge, yellow moon rises in the east, strobing through the trees. After a pitstop at a falafel joint in Grant’s Pass (the absence of the The Box has hit me hard and I have resorted to fast-food pitta cafes) we arrive in Eugene and the Downtown Inn, a motel which gets great reviews, and houses the three of us in two rooms for $139 including tax. George wins his own room via a coin toss. We conduct some quick ablutions, head out to Falling Sky Pour House, order some strong, hoppy IPAs, good food, watch a little basketball. We talk about what we’ve left behind, and that which is still to come. We’re in bed by midnight. Sleep comes easy.
Monday 04 May 2015
Switch phone on, check email, social media, shower, go for breakfast, laugh at breakfast, curse Will for leaving The Box in the diner, take all that’s edible (four granola bars), return to room, sit down, work.
Once William and George are up (William and George… they sound like the fucking Royal Twins) we load the car and ask the chambermaid – if people still call them that – where we should eat and she very, very enthusiastically recommends a place a block away which she has never been to. Despite her being a former meth-head, I decide to trust her and we head over. It’s a good choice, we all get some healthy Powerhouse Plate with plenty vegetables and tofu. I’d have had something from The Box but, as you may remember, Will lost it, so here I am, pissing $20 away on breakfast.
George plays with plastic dinosaurs, I sit on my laptop and look at flights to Moscow and whatever the hell else is ailing me. Will eats.
We’re in Oregon now so cannot expect uniformly peachy weather such as we’ve experienced in California, and so it comes to pass when the heavens open and the rain comes upon us biblically and we wonder which deity we have displeased and what the day has in store for us. It doesn’t make for relaxing driving, but it’s a short three hours to Portland, a city I’ve visited before, and one which I couldn’t get a handle on. I hope it will reveal itself to me this time. We pull into our University Inn Hotel and George is crestfallen to see that the pool has a cover over it. I brush my teeth and we’re out of there, crossing one of Portland’s many bridges toward Mississippi Studios, our home until bedtime.
We’re early but they’re happy to take us in. I set myself up in the bar and get my head down, attending to a slew of bits and pieces that are a manager and tour manager’s responsibility, like battling Garmin’s customer service department in the hope that, one day, I might have a working satnav, and battling FedEx’s customer service department in the hope that, one day, someone might give a even an eighth of fuck about my problem. I could fill a whole post about Garmin and FedEx but will just say that, other than Vodafone (the only non-human entity that I’ve ever come close to “hating”) their customer service departments are the worst I’ve encountered for many years. They peddle Weapons-Grade Bullshit and for ten cents I’d have their call centres razed to the ground.
Will and George go for a walk around Mississippi Avenue, a picturesque little neighbourhood with all manner of interesting shops and cafes and such. It looks like it was once down-at-heel, and then a certain type of people moved in to take advantage of cheap rents, probably, who then wanted to drink artisan coffee and read poetry and grow beards or wear 1950’s hair adornments. I think I’m expected to give a shit about gentrification, but I come from an industrial shit-hole and everyone there who’s not a junkie would bite your hand off for a decent flat-white with their almond croissant in the morning. Don’t stand there benefitting from capitalism and complain about capitalism. And get a new name for it. I don’t see any gentry walking around London Fields. Plenty of middle-class bell-ends, but no gentry. You’ll need to head to Mayfair for that.
I should also apologise to my parents – who might be reading this – for calling Grangemouth a shit-hole. At least they didn’t bring me up in Cumbernauld.
I meet Matt and Peter and Natalie, the staff I’ve been dealing with on email for a few weeks. We have a laugh in their office, and then, when soundcheck is up and running and the merch stand is looking real pretty, I head out to eat. I’d have eaten from The Box, but of course you’ll remember that Will left it in the Black Bear Diner, so nothing will do but I must go spend a bunch of money instead. Chrissy from our publishing company tells me to go to a Mexican place called Por Que No if I want tacos, and I want tacos, but the venue staff say no Sir, you must go to Burrito King for your tacos, a food truck opposite. I go with local knowledge, sit down at a table in the street and demolish three delicious tacos and a bottle of life-affirming Mexican Coca Cola, which is the same as UK Coca Cola, in that it contains sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. I’ve no business drinking Coca Cola, given how well I’m doing with my new diet, but I miss The Box terribly and my resolve buckles slightly in the heat.
The venue is a beauty; all soft lights, thoughtful decor and good production. It’s comfortable and welcoming and we settle right in with our car parked outside for easy load-out. After soundcheck the three of us go get some ice cream from Ruby Jewel, and bring some back for Peter and Gwen (who’s doing box office tonight).
PRO TIP: everyone likes ice cream so bring the venue staff ice cream and you’ll forever be the band that brought them ice cream. People remember shit like that. Don’t contrive it though. If you’re trying to be remembered as the band who brought the venue staff ice cream, then you’re probably a self-serving prick.
Gwen and I chat about Portland over our ice cream and I try and understand how the city is put together, but don’t quite get to grips with it. Doors open at 8pm, I hang around at merch to catch early customers, and talk turkey with anyone who wishes to. At 9pm the support act take to the stage. They’re called Neighbor Wave, led by singer Brendan. They’re unique among support bands on this tour so far – and in fact most bands I hear – in that I actually like them. They’ve got a bit of a jangle-pop going on, but they’re also pretty muscular when they want to be, and know how to rock out without boring everyone. I hope to hear more from them. I actually do. I’m not just saying this because they might be reading. There’s no chance they’re reading.
Will gets on up there at 10pm and plays a good show. In fact, he plays the best show of his career, for my money. We’ve had a day off, and plenty rest, and turned up to a great venue with accommodating staff and really good production, and he’s relaxed and gets up there and…. damn, it’s just fantastic. Never seen him so confident, or heard him sing so consistently well. I tell our label and booking agent (who I always update): “Will set a new high-watermark last night. It was his best show. Effortless, almost imperiously confident. A joy to watch.”
Afterwards there’s chat at the merch stand and I order George and I burgers and fries. Fuck it. If I’m going to fall off my dietary wagon, I’ll fall off head first. It’s delicious, accompanied as it is by a cold IPA. We pack up, say our heartfelt thank-yous to an excellent venue and staff and drive toward our beds. I choose Neil Diamond’s version of ‘Mr Bojangles’ for the short drive.
It’s Will’s turn to get his own room tonight. I’m wide awake as I climb into bed and lie there for a while, dicking around on my phone, a bright screen being just what I need when I can’t sleep. It’s been a good day, if I can set aside my FedEx/Garmin frustrations. I need tomorrow to be a good day too. I’ll take as many good days as this tour wants to throw at me, though I’ve a feeling I’m due a nightmare before long.
Tuesday 05 May 2015
We breakfast downstairs in the restaurant. It’s fucking awful as usual, but at least it’s hot. I have an egg, and work. George joins me, Will’s running late and we’ve no time for late today. We load out into the car, get going on the three hour drive to Seattle. It’s a pretty big day for us; the radio station KEXP have invited us in for a live session, hence the concern about being late. I took Savages there a couple of years ago, have fond memories of it. I’ve made a new, short playlist for the drive and as soon as it goes on I feel a bit guilty. I’m not driving, it’s not my place to put music on. Well anyway, George doesn’t say anything, and it’s just over an hour long, so I stick with it.
U2 – Somedays Are Better Than Others
Glen Campbell – Gentle on My Mind
Pinback – Penelope
Mew – Am I Wry? No
Golden Girls – Kinetic (Frank de Wulf remix)
The Walkmen – My Old Man
Edan – Rock & Roll
Simple Minds – Thirty Frames a Second
Underworld – Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream of Love
If you rolled your eyes at the inclusion of U2 and Simple Minds there, let me know, so I can think you’re a dick.
We stop to refuel and to switch drivers and I almost crack and have a bag of home-made Cinnabons, but buy a salad instead. We pass Boeing Field as the city approaches but the twins are asleep so I enjoy the view myself. We’re in Seattle earlier than anticipated and pull our stupidly-large car into the KEXP carpark. I could bang on about our time at KEXP all day, but I won’t, and instead will bang on about it for a couple of minutes. KEXP were the first major station in North America to support us (though the first DJ was Bruce Ravid up in LA) and we’re honoured they’ve asked us to come in. It’s a huge deal for us. I meet some familiar faces, we reacquaint, and I give Tilly a couple of merch bundles to help with their fundraising. The station costs about $8 million to run each year, paid for by donors and fundraisers. We meet Joseph who’s our Artist Liaison, Kevin the Engineer, and Online Content Manager Jim, plus photographer Charina Pitzel who doubles up as our mum for the day, handing us a care package of gourmet chocolates, organic fruit and all manner of treats. It’s enormously kind of her. We set up and do our thing, Will playing two songs, then an interview by the DJ, Evie, then another couple of songs. It’s all filmed, to be broadcast at a later date. Afer a photoshoot in the park over the road, we say our goodbyes and heartfelt thanks, and get ourselves to the venue – Barboza (below Neumos), which we soundtrack with Wyclef Jean and The Rock’s hilariously good pop-hop classic ‘It Doesn’t Matter‘.
Our search for food takes about 1.6 seconds, which is how long it takes me to remember a good 24hr diner I’ve visited before, just across the road. George goes off in search of a hat (it’s a little cooler in Seattle), Will and I get the salads in and, I am willing to confess, a local IPA, despite my no-drink-when-I’m-working dictat. He stays and reads the Philip Glass book ‘Words Without Music‘, and I move over to the bar next to the venue to work. I’m still fighting with FedEx and Garmin. I say fighting… they’re just standing there, scratching their arses, as I rage, raining ineffectual literary blows down upon them. I spend another fifteen minutes on the phone to FedEx, and tell them (politely, for it is not the fault of the lady I am speaking with) to wrap the box of T-shirts in barbed wire and shove it up their collective arse.
We’re in the basement tonight, in Barboza, and upstairs in Neumos is a multi-artist Hip-hop show. Hip-hop was my first love, and one of two genres I can bore you to tears about, or at least the era from 1988 to 1996 (the other being dance music from 1990-1994, before vocal garage ruined it) but I don’t know what happened to it. It’s mostly just – as The Rza said – “R&B…. Rap and Bullshit”. There’s plenty rappers around, but very few true MCs. Run The Jewels would be in the latter camp, and the guys upstairs in the former. Everyone’s getting a full-body search on the way in.
I run around and take care of business, helping Will look for a kettle, lemon, honey, a towel, try again to download the maps onto the Garmin which is the definition of futile. By this time I’m a bit sleepy so put my feet up backstage (George has already commandeered the sofa) and doze off for a while to the sound of our support DJ, mixed with the Hip-hop show from upstairs, and whatever’s coming out of Will’s portable Bose speaker on the table over there. I can sleep more or less anywhere now. I already shared this knowledge on another tour diary, when I was with Savages, but to save you reading it (it’s 30,000 words), here you go.
– If you fall asleep for ten minutes, you’ve slept. It’s all sleep. It all helps. Don’t dismiss it. Obviously more than ten minutes is preferable. But don’t nod off for ten minutes and tell me you haven’t slept. You’ve slept for ten minutes
– Don’t waste time trying to get comfortable. You don’t need to be comfortable to sleep. You just need to be sufficiently tired
– Don’t waste your time trying to rest against a window, or a wall, or anything else that forces your neck to one side, unless you can significantly recline. It’s not that you can’t sleep that way; it’s that you’re trying to get comfortable, aren’t you? Don’t. Your neck muscles will relax and your head will fall forward, and you’ll wake, and you’ll rest your head again, and fall asleep, and your neck muscles will relax and your head will fall forward, and you’ll wake, and on it goes. Stop it. Your wasting time when you could be asleep
– Just drop your head so that your chin is almost against your chest. Close your eyes. If you’re tired enough you’ll fall asleep, you won’t keep waking because your neck muscles relax (they’re already relaxed) and you won’t be photographed by your colleagues with your mouth gaping open like a sedated hooker
– You’ll wake with a stiff neck no matter which way you sleep. That’s the way it goes. If you want a good sleep every night, stay single, don’t have any kids and get a job on a building site. Manual labour’s a good way to tire you out. Or crewing for a band
I wake and hang around merch like a bad smell, making sure to give us the opportunity to make friends here, for Seattle is an important town for us, what with the KEXP support and all. An old friend of mine turns up, a Southern gentleman by the name of James Apollo, with his lady Naomi, and it is good to see him again. We kicked around New York together over the years, in Williamsburg, before it cleaned its act up. James is a stone-cold dude. Charina arrives with her husband, an enormous smile, and what I think is a birthday party in tow, including some guy in a full ‘comedy’ Mexican outfit, with the sombrero and all that shit, and there are some KEXP folks around too, which is great to see. I’m pretty groggy from the nap though, and people want to talk straight away. I can’t shake myself and I spend the rest of the evening only about 80% compos mentis. An unknown woman buys me a beer and I drink it, which adds to my waking-sleep and further throws the evening into the realms of weirdness. The show starts. I’ve been too busy talking and too spaced-out to notice that it’s show time and there he is, onstage. I’m always with him before he goes on. I run to the front of the crowd and apologise as he starts, which doesn’t make things any less weird. I stand back and watch, taking in the audience, the guy with the sombrero, the party-crowd shouting at the back, people milling around, the unknown woman who bought me a beer, pogoing down the front, and her boyfriend trying to get a hold of her.
As I write (five days later) I’ve no idea if the show was any good or not. I just can’t remember. I know I go to the merch stand though and people gather round to shop and talk, and Will arrives and on it goes. The father of one of his closet friends lives in town and he’s here, lending his support. The chatting goes on until the room’s clear and the staff very gently and respectfully tell us it’s time to go. I pack up the merch, go see Brad the Duty Manager and settle up with him. We need to load out with this Hip-hop show raging above us. I get the car ready and we get to it as security clear a path. The security here are super-cool. That’s pretty rare. As we’re loading a cop gives me a hard time for double-parking. 44,419 major crimes in Seattle last year and he’s giving me shit for my double-parking.
The drive to the hotel is quick though it’s pretty late now, and I’m tired, never having fully woken from my nap earlier. As we unload the car I drop a box of vinyl on foot and my cry wakes up the neighbourhood. The check-in procedure is as painless as these things get, which is to say far too long, but the guy at the desk accommodates our cases in his office and we get ourselves to bed. I get my own room tonight and hit the hay, set my alarm for six hours ahead, and pass out. The second good day in a row.
Things can’t go on like this.
Wednesday 06 May 2015
Today we leave the US and cross into Canada. I’ve mixed feelings about it. Not because I prefer the US over Canada (I haven’t spent enough time in Canada to fairly draw a comparison) but because we need to give the car back, and I don’t want to give the car back. We can’t take the car across the border into Canada, what with Canada being a different country, and the hire company wanting a small fortune in return, so it needs to be dropped at Seattle Airport this morning prior to our flight to Vancouver. I’ve grown accustomed to it’s outlandish girth, suspect brakes, its gargantuan V8 engine and powerfully lucid Bose sound-system. More than anything I’ve enjoyed the freedom that it affords us, traversing the land as our own masters, unbeholden to curt check-in staff, surly Border Control heavies and taxi drivers with a tenuous knowledge of the Highway Code and an all-too casual acquaintance with soap and water.
At some point recently I wrote on my hand in black Sharpie ink (one of my four bad habits): ‘MULTIPLE CAR FUCK’, to remind myself to disclose the following here: when you do a tour by road, you get fucked once, by the car hire company when you collect the vehicle. There’s not a lot you can do about it, other than buying your own satnav (just not from Garmin) or by using a company like Insure4CarHire, who take care of your Collision Damage Waiver and such for far less than the car hire company will. But once you’ve been fucked they let you go on about your business.
When you fly you can count on being fucked at regular intervals as the day progresses. You’ve already been fucked by the airline, most likely, when you paid for the ticket. They’ll also fuck you for excess baggage, but before that, you’ll be fucked by the taxi company who’re taking you to the airport, assuming you’re not taking the train, in which case you’ll be fucked by the taxi company taking you to the train station, then fucked by the train company, both on ticket price and appalling service. The taxi company will fuck you by charging you more because you have equipment cases. It’s not that the driver is paying more for the gas to take you to where you want to go; they’ll fuck you because they can, and for no other reason. “Ah I see you have equipment Sir. There will be a $15 surcharge…”
Oh fuck off.
You’ll be fucked when you get to the airport as you pay $5-$6 dollars for each baggage trolley (we need three) and the machine won’t issue you a receipt, which slightly fucks your accounts. Then you’ll be fucked by the taxi driver who takes you to the hotel, then another who takes you to the venue, another who takes you back to the hotel after the show and, finally, the mercenary little bastard who takes you back to the airport in the morning as he plays some terrifying, right-wing, fundamentalist Christian talk show too loudly while you’re trying to get ten minutes sleep in the back.
And, of course, on arrival at the airport, again with the fucking baggage trolleys.
So aye, I’m going to miss the car.
I slept badly, and for too short a time, and I’m shattered. I watch a homeless guy climb into a clothes recycling dumpster across the road, and, fifteen minutes later, climb out. I can’t imagine what he was doing in there. He gives me a wave as he walks away. George gets the car and I try to decide how much merch to leave behind in Seattle. It’s impossible to guess what we’ll sell in Canada, and Boston, before arriving in NY where we can replenish our stocks for the last three shows, but what I leave is dictated by what we can carry, so I set aside a box of vinyl, ask reception if it can be left there until I arrange collection, then call Melanie in our New York office to make these arrangements. On the way to the airport we lament our transference to ‘fly-ins‘ but that’s just the way things, and we face our fate with forbearance. As I write this, many days after the event, I can’t remember the flight at all. I know it was quick – less than one hour – and I know we flew with Delta, but my memory of Seattle Airport and my time onboard the aircraft is lost to the past’s shadowy clutches. I don’t suppose you’re missing anything. I probably slept.
What I do remember, though, is not being able to find baggage reclaim, asking directions from a woman who was driving two old people around in a golf cart, and accepting her invitation to get in. It was pretty much the highlight of the tour.
This is my second time in Vancouver, and the first time around I didn’t get much of a vibe from it. It frequently appears in ‘best-places-in-the-world-to-live‘ lists, partly on account of its proximity to nature. It’s a beautiful day as we step outside into the taxi queue, and the air reminds me of Norway – cool and remarkably light. It must be around 21ºC/70ºF. A taxi takes us to our hotel, the Comfort Inn Downtown, and as we approach the centre, the plethora of high-rise apartment blocks clad in blue-tinted reflective glass reminds me of Benidorm, not the most flattering comparison. We revere and protect The Coluseum, St. Paul’s Cathedral, The Lincoln Memorial and the Grand Place of Brussels, but what will be our architectural legacy? The Freedom Tower? We can’t even come up with romantic names for our thrusting monuments to capitalist aggression.
We’re too early for check-in but I put on my best I’M SO TIRED PLEASE HELP ME face and hope the lady feels kindly toward me, or likes my accent, or both, or our rooms are ready anyway. Our rooms are ready anyway. W&G go to eat, I lie down on my bed, clothed, and fall asleep. I need to work, but if I don’t get some rest I’ll be no good to anyone later. The rooms are modern. A recent refurb. A Comfort Inn without a recent refurb isn’t a place I’d have much truck with but once you’re asleep, it doesn’t matter if there’s a vanity kit in the bathroom or not.
We take a taxi to the venue (the taxi driver, to my amazement, does not fuck us) and load in. We’re at The Fox Cabaret tonight, which is an old porn theatre. In fact, it only stopped being a porn theatre last year. It’s huge. The ceiling must be 30ft/10m and it’s a five-hundred cap room. It absolutely dwarfs us. Meantime we get to know the staff, including Swann, the FOH, and she and I sit for a while and discuss the lack of women in this area of the music industry. Then I meet Melanie, who works at Select, our label’s distributor in Canada. She brings me a merch restock and we talk on this and that, how the tour’s been going, how things are in the market. She’s generally on hand to help out with anything we need on this side of the country, and I appreciate her being around. Once I’ve set up merch and W&G have soundchecked, we head outside for a walk around.
The street has plenty bars and cafes and shops and the like but I’m just not getting a vibe off it. My three years on the road have been liberating, but with the unexpected side-effect of rendering certain aspects of towns and cities I would ordinarily have found charming, dead to me. Interesting little shops that used to entice me in no longer do so. I’ve nowhere to put anything. No shelves, no cupboards, no mantelpiece. I wear, more or less, an identical outfit each day (navy suit, white shirt, a rotation of four ties) so my days of raking around for clothing bargains are over. Anything I picked up would need to go in my bag, and over my shoulder. It just becomes weight, and as someone who cuts out the tags from clothes to shave off a gram here and there, weight is the enemy.
Will goes book shopping, I successfully scour grocery stores for ripe avocados, a huge carrot, a tub of cream cheese, and procure same. People get hung up on not eating vegetables if they haven’t been washed, but if you’re in a city, you’re breathing diesel fumes, and you’ve got more to worry about. I thoroughly enjoy my unwashed carrot. Later we go next door to Foundation, a vegan restaurant. None of us are vegan (George and I are vegetarian) but we’re still ploughing ahead with our healthy diet, so here we are. We have a beer though, so it’s not like we’re sacrificing ourselves at The Altar of Righteous Living.
The food’s good, the beer’s good, the venue’s too big.
Swings and roundabouts.
Outside, we stand for a minute looking back downtown from our relatively high vantage point, as the sun turns its attention to setting, and consider this place, with its backdrop of the North Shore Mountains, its southernmost peaks towering over the city. It should be beautiful, but we look on impassively.
Back at the Fox Cabaret, a DJ warms up for us (a recurring theme on this tour) and we sit around backstage. Will does his vocal scales. I go sit by the merch, talk to Giselle, a Vancouver native who I’ve met at shows all over the world, and someone else who seems to value music above most everything else. The show begins, and ends fifty minutes later. It’s a mix of songs from both TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER and CULTURE OF VOLUME albums, and the whole thing’s segued together. Will’s not much for talking on stage, and it serves to better immerse the listener in the experience. The PA is pretty loud, though not the most literate, and though he entices the audience to the front, it still feels like we’re in a vast, mostly empty space, which is because we are. He plays a good show though, giving those in attendance what they’ve paid to see. Melanie loves it, and I have to remember that those seeing it for the first time have no frame of reference for how it can be.
Afterwards we sit by the merch stand and talk to customers, Will signs a couple of things, and many make a point of coming over to say how much they enjoyed the show, and to apologise for the poor turnout, blaming it on Vancouver not being a great place for new bands, plus Sleater Kinney are playing across town, though in the Venn diagram of musical tastes, I don’t know that there’s much cross-over between us. The poor turnout is because we’re largely unknown here. That’ll change, but for now, it’s the only reason that bears any scrutiny.
We get ourselves together and make to get out of there. I call a taxi firm and ask for a minivan (a people carrier in UK parlance) and the man asks me what it’s for. I tell him it’s for equipment and he says there will be a $15 surcharge. I tell him that, earlier today we hired a cab from his company with no surcharge. He is not interested. Do you want to book the taxi or not he says. I have no choice I say. You do have a choice he says. Sure, I say, I can walk three miles back to the hotel with heavy cases that we’re physically unable to carry. Sure, I can do that, you fucking prick. Now get me the fucking taxi, is what I don’t say.
We load out and wait on the street after saying our goodbyes. We won’t come back to this place. Not any time soon. We’ll play smaller rooms and maybe one day we’ll work back up to it. The car comes, I moderately lambast the driver about his company’s bullshit rules, ask him why he thinks it’s okay that the company can fuck people like us just because they can, why we think it’s acceptable, as a species, to make the world a slightly worse place in which to live at any opportunity. It’s not his fault. I let it go.
I sit down in the lobby to work. I’m exhausted but need to get these Moscow flights booked finally, and just can’t seem to get time with a stable internet connection to do it. Will appears in front of me, substantially agitated. He can’t find his tote bag, in which he carries various personal items, some expensive, some of great personal value, including his notebook. Ask any artist about the time they lost – or thought they lost – their notebook and you’ll see the face of fear. He had the bag as we loaded out of the venue, he’s sure of it. I call the taxi company, pass him the phone. They call the driver, who checks, but no dice. The hotel don’t have it, it isn’t in his room, or in storage with the gear. He’s sure he took it out of the venue. Positive. Is it on the street outside the venue? If it is it’ll be gone by now, or someone will have taken it inside a local business, if we’re very, very lucky.
I don’t suppose I look very sympathetic, but I’m sitting here like a burst sofa, trying to book these flights, and the last thing I want to be doing is making a mistake that might cost the business £800 I can’t get a refund on if I screw it up. Booking flights takes full concentration. I look at Will and I’ve been exactly where he is sitting multiple times. It’s a dark place to be. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic; it’s that, when you live like this, you lose things. That’s just how it goes. Every day we move everything that’s important to us from one city to another, sometimes from one country to another. I’ve just had to learn to shrug, replace what’s lost, move on. I offer him $20 to take a taxi back to venue, see if anyone’s there, but it’s pretty late and we know they were closing up when we left so he decides to address it in the morning. I don’t press the issue.
I sit for another forty minutes, repeatedly being kicked out of Transaero‘s woefully archaic booking system, and give up. A total waste of my time.
As I climb into to bed, I have a nagging feeling this bag contained a time-bomb.
I just hadn’t realised how much damage it was about to do.
Thursday 07 May 2015
I wake to an email from the promoter, who’s contacted the venue staff about the bag, and asked them when someone could open up. It’s 0800. Lobby is 0945, airport by 1030, flight to Toronto 1215. We don’t have a lot of time to get the bag back, if it’s there.
I sit down for breakfast in the hotel’s Irish bar. The strangest fucking things, Irish bars outside of Ireland.
It’s okay. It’s hot at least, but I’m back to eating sweet granola and fruit, and bread – three foodstuffs that no one actually needs – albeit with cheese and eggs instead of jam or Nutella or whatever. Will joins me. We’ll swing by the venue on the way to the hotel to see if anyone’s there, knock a few local doors. The cab arrives and we get stack our equipment and our cases in the back. We’re just putting the last ones in and Will drops to his knees in front of his suitcase, tearing it open.
Ah Jesus, no.
It was in the tote bag.
If you’ve toured you’ve lost something and the last thing anyone needs is a hard time when they’ve lost their passport and anyway, at times like these, getting angry doesn’t make any sense, and moreover, I’m not angry. I have a problem that needs to be addressed. It might be the biggest problem I’ve ever faced on the road, but this is why I’m here. We get in the taxi and I get on the phone to everyone I can think of who can help, marshalling my forces around me. I speak to Kyle, our promoter, who will attempt to contact anyone with a key, including the owner. Melanie knows where the owner has breakfast and offers to run down there. We arrive outside. No one is in. The shops around it are closed. Will is checking the trash cans. The bag is not here. If we don’t get the bag, we don’t get the passport. I get on the phone to the British Consulate here and they are helpful. They can issue us an emergency document, for a fee, that will cover our journey through five countries, so that gets us to the US, and back to the UK, into Germany (next on the tour), Slovakia, Netherlands and Belgium. Wait. That’s six countries. So we need to pull the Belgian show?
That’s a problem for another day.
Let’s get the bag back.
Phone calls and texts continue to fly around. I decide we need to be at the airport no matter what. If the venue find the bag it can be brought to us by Kyle or Melanie who have both offered. We have to think positively.
In the cab on the way over a second problem hits me like a brick: inside the passport is also Will’s US Work Visa. Even if we get an emergency document (which will necessitate a visit to the Consulate today at 4pm – and there’s no guarantee they can see us – and to the police station to file a report), we can’t continue the tour into the US. If we stay an extra day here we need to cancel Toronto. So that leaves Montreal, then… I’ll have to pull the rest of the tour. A disaster financially, and with a significant impact on our foundation-building in North America.
This is turning into a nightmare.
Then my US phone stops working.
We arrive at the airport and I speak to the WestJet check-in staff and explain the situation. They’re great. Patient and understanding. We’ll miss our flight, so they book us on the 4pm one, which buys us some time.
I set up camp at a table, plug my devices in, try and get my phone working again, call the US Embassy in Vancouver on my UK phone at £1.50 per minute and after wading through Needlessly Frustrating Automated Voice Bullshit I finally speak to a woman, and explain the situation.
“I need you to go to the following website, Sir (she reads out the URL)”
“Yep, okay, I’m there.”
“I need you to read the guidelines there, Sir”
“Yep, I’ve done that, but this concerns US citizens. We’re UK nationals
“I need you to read the guidelines, Sir”
“I have… I’m trying to explain that they’re not relevant to us, that we’re UK nationals, and I need advice that specifically relates to a UK national losing an O1 US Work Visa”
“Sir, read the guidelines”
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME, YOU FUCKING CALLOUS AUTOMATON. DON’T MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE AND BURN THE FUCKING BUILDING DOWN” is what I don’t say, and hang up
I’m going to have to walk into the US Embassy tomorrow morning and try and get an appointment. Tomorrow is Friday. Chances of them issuing a new Work Visa on the same day? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. We could be in Vancouver until next week. Hotels we can’t afford. It’s hardly a one-horse-dorp, but Jesus. George and I discuss every option we can think of, and at this stage, no idea is too idiotic.
Kyle is now in touch with the venue. Someone’s about to go in.
I get on the phone to David in our label’s Montreal office, and email all at our US and Canadian offices, plus our North American booking agent, make them aware of what might be about to happen.
I check my email constantly in case Kyle has news. The minutes tick by.
There is no news.
There is still no news.
There is still no news.
The words “second passport” have been ricocheting around my head. But we just can’t afford them. We’d need three, then we’d need three second US Work Visas, and I don’t even know if the US Embassy issues them. If they do, the whole thing would set us back well over £1,000. We don’t have £1,000. And we haven’t had the 7-9 days off that we’d likely need to get it done for a long time. So if you’re a tour manager / artist manager reading this and thinking “Man, you should have second passports”, go fuck yourself.
I call David, our Visa Consultant in New York, and we talk through our options which, frankly, are bleak.
As he speaks I check my email again.
They have the bag.
I cut David off abruptly (later emailing him to apologise, and to thank him) and jump out of my seat to tell Will and George.
There is a lot of high-fiving.
Kyle is in car on the way over. He might make it in time for us to make the earlier flight and we tell the check-in staff, and get our cases ready to move quickly. We’ve got thirty minutes before check-in cut-off. I withdraw $100 to give to Kyle, to express our gratitude in some small way, and wait outside.
Our mood has, understandably, lightened considerably. Will’s relief it visible, palpable. I’m still not angry at him. Never will be.
Back home, eight hours ahead, the UK is voting in a General Election. The three of us have voted by proxy, my sister taking care of me in that regard. I keep my eye on it on my phone, reading The Guardian’s rolling election coverage. We eat in a decent restaurant, Will allowing himself a celebratory burger and Coke, George and I sticking with the salads. I’m getting pretty tired of leaves.
Vancouver Airport is an hospitable one. We dick around taking photos and our transit through security is smooth. The flight is mostly empty so I take a seat on my own. It’s quiet. I sleep, do a little work, look out of the window, and wonder which government we’ll have in the morning.
On arrival we log on to the Toronto Airport’s WiFi (we’ve had to turn our data off since Vodafone’s erroneously-named ‘World Traveller’ package doesn’t stretch to Canada) and read the news. I’m amazed that Labour voters in England and Wales are starting to look surprised that they won’t win. It’s what happens when you elect a Jim Henson puppet to run your party. I also flick between unbridled pleasure at Labour’s almost-total annihilation in Scotland at the hands of the SNP (by God they deserve it) and despair at all those who voted ‘No’ in the Independence Referendum last year, as we stare another five years of Cameron and His Gang of Bastards in the face. The Union is done. It’s hooked up to an IV drip but the bag’s empty. Just pull the damn plug, allow it a little dignity in death, and England can keep the Falkland Islands.
We take an expensive taxi to our hotel in Chinatown, enjoying the nighttime views of the Toronto skyline as we make our approach. I like it here. It feels like a manageable New York. Our room has two large beds and a shitty ‘cot’, which George decides to take. I get in to mine and lie there, wide awake, a hundred things on my mind, though cancelling the North American tour is happily not one of them.
Friday 08 May 2015
It’s 0300 and I can’t sleep. I’ve been lying here since 0130. I get up quietly as I can, pack laptop, cables, headphones, get loosely dressed, and pad along to the breakfast area. Various groups of bands and crew come and go noisily, dressed in the Regulation Band and Crew Uniform we see the world over. For a creative industry, bands don’t half display a lack of sartorial invention. Not that a suit, shirt and tie is revelatory, but can we not move on from wearing black, and sunglasses indoors? No one carries a comb in their back pocket anymore. Just before 0600 I head back to the room and sleep for four hours or so.
We’re having lunch with the two-thirds of the Canadian office today – Bob and Ronan – plus Peter and Lisa who run things in New Zealand. I’d met Bob and Ronan a couple of years back, and Lisa also, when in Auckland on another tour. It’s a short walk from the hotel and it’s a beautiful day in a city I like a lot. Our hosts are waiting in a modern Italian place and we settle in and catch up on the news from the Ten Provinces, and NZ, passing an enjoyable time in the company of good-hearted people, who don’t sugar-coat our situation in either country, which isn’t to say there isn’t positive news and plenty to build on. I’m optimistic about our foundation in Canada particularly, thanks to some love from a couple of the main broadsheet journalists here.
We walk back outside into the sunshine and Bob drives us over to the Sheraton Hotel to pick up our accreditation for the festival, for we are playing at Canadian Music Week, their version of The Great Escape, or SxSW, or by:Larm, or take your pick of the multi-room festivals/conferences around the world. We bump into Moose, an old friend from New Jersey, and stand around for a minute admiring his beard. Bob collects us again and drives us across town to the studio of TRP, a new online station with a totally open remit and admirably electric scheduling. They’ve been reading this diary and invited us in so that Will can indulge himself in a two-hour ‘takeover‘. They’ve got us some cold IPAs and we wait around for a couple of hip-hop DJs to finish their set, and get to know Frazer Lavender (the founder) and his colleague Michael. It’s a cool set up, well-appointed. It’s the first time Will’s done his own presenting – previously having been a guest on shows here and there – and he plays a great set, dedicating Soft Boys – ‘I Wanna Destroy You’ to David Cameron. You can listen to the show here, or below.
I leave before he’s done and take a taxi to the hotel to meet George, load the gear into another taxi, and get down to the venue. I figure that, with just two of us, we’ll fit in a standard size cab but no, Toronto favours saloon cars, not hatchbacks like the rest of the civilised world, and we need to flag another down. George takes off, I jump in the second one and shout “F!”. The driver takes the bait and floors it. I idly take pictures out of the window, look at Twitter, look at Instagram, check my email, check my texts. I could just look out of the window for all I learn from either of those four platforms. We load in down two flights of stairs. The Drake Hotel is so-named on account of it being a hotel. It seems to be entirely staffed by attractive young woman, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend it would be better if it was staffed by ex-miners from the South Wales Valleys.
This seems like an appropriate juncture to dispel for you one of the great myths of touring: it’s really difficult to get laid. I’m not going to speak for any other members of any other touring party, such as monitor engineers, merch sellers, artists and what-have-you, who may have greater opportunity than I to put plans in motion, but as the tour manager, I never worked out when I was supposed to find the time. Days off are all well and good, but they’re often spent sleeping/working/driving toward the next town. It’s a pretty monastic lifestyle.
I’m wasting my time. No one believes me.
We say hello to Noah, the sound engineer, and drop our gear in a corner. It’s a pretty nice-looking place, but not much space to stash the cases, what with every band playing that night (six, maybe seven) trying to stash theirs too. Stage isn’t until 11pm so we’ve plenty time to pass.
Before the tour began, George and Will were keen to buy walkie-talkies. I asked George to outline their practical applications, so I could justify the business expense.
I wasn’t convinced.
Well anyway, in LA, those two bought a pair, and they’ve proved to be invaluable across short distances when we got split up, to coordinate load outs (“Car’s outside! Go! Go!), to let Will know when it was time to go on stage if he was in a different part of the venue, and, in Canada particularly – when it would cost us too much to make texts and calls to each other – just to generally communicate. And just for dicking around with.
Will turns up after his radio show, and we give him a radio, then George and I take a long walk to Long & McQuade music shop to hire some stands. It’s a nice neighbourhood and I tell George how much I’m enjoying my time here. He’s not so into it, but reckons his head’s in a strange place. We’ve done pretty well so far, managing to borrow all our (five) stands (2 x keyboard, 1 x music, 1 x guitar, 1 x cymbal) from venues and support bands, but we need to hire tonight. L&M seem to have bought half the block, and we have to visit four different parts of the building to gather together what we need. The total price is $10.20, or £5.40. I’m amazed. It would have cost at least eight times this back in London. The cab back to the venue costs $11.20. We’d have been charged $50 each way to have them delivered and collected, and Ronan from Beggars has said he’ll bring them back in the morning.
Man, Toronto’s great. Everyone’s really friendly and the stands are cheap as fuck.
Back at the Drake we drop the stands, then W&G go off somewhere. I try and make sense of my accounts. They’re a mess. Every strand of my work is becoming a mess, truth be told, and I’m just dealing with what’s in front of me. Any suggestion of strategic thinking has gone out the window and I’m just hoping I don’t make any embarrassing fuck ups. I’m not looking forward to being off the road, but I reckon I’ll need three full working days to get things back into shape, assuming I’m not interrupted. I calculate I’ll have such an opportunity on June 11th.
I meet up with my friend Emily – also a manager/tour manager – and after sitting for a while to catch up, we go for a walk to find ice cream, because I’ve decided I’ve earned some after eating approximately sixteen tons of leaves since I got to this continent. We walk to Bang Bang Ice Cream which Emily knows well, on account of knowing Toronto well, and liking ice cream. The queue is at least thirty minutes long, which is fine for me, since we’re going to get ice cream at the end of it, and there is no queue too long when there is ice cream at the end of it, especially ice cream from Bang Bang which, despite the name, I’m very happy to be queuing outside of for however long it takes.
I’m hungry though, so Emily directs me to a Vietnamese place at the end of the block and I get some spring rolls and a salad, rejoin the queue. It’s a beautiful, balmy evening. We finally get served. It’s worth the wait and we sit on a bench and eat and talk, and then, sated, head back to the venue. Emily says hello to Will and George, and takes her leave of us as we head inside to prepare for the show. I secure an empty meeting room for Will to warm up in, and go help George get the gear ready, then set up merch. I don’t expect to do much business, given this is a festival show, but this shit’s heavy to drag around so the way I look at it, one record sold is one less record to drag around.
It’s not a great show. In fact, it’s not even a good one. We’ve had to drop from using fourteen channels to just four. For the non-technically-minded among you, it means that George has far less control of the sound out front, and Will needs to perform and mix the sound/control the levels from stage, and it’s very hard for him to hear what’s coming out of the monitors, which usually leads to his (very visible) frustration, as it does tonight. We use this set up in festival situations where we only get a linecheck as opposed to a soundcheck, but tonight we barely even get that. We’ve a forty minute set but cut this back to thirty-five minutes, using that five minutes for set-up. It means chopping two songs out of the usual set, which screws up the flow. The crowd is decent, maybe sixty, including our booking agent Ben and his assistant Nicole, our friend Moose, and the good folks from Beggars Canada and our licensee in New Zealand.
The merch stand does relatively brisk business, surprisingly, albeit from eight people, four of whom take around fifteen minutes to complete their purchases, what with trying things on, and deliberating at length, and all talking at once. Will comes over and their affections turn to him. The room is being quickly changed over into a nightclub, in order that The Douchebags of Toronto might have somewhere to dance in circles and drag each other off to the toilets to do bad coke, and it gets pretty hectic as we pack up and try to organise somewhere to store the gear overnight instead of hauling it back to our hotel. The venue’s on the way to the airport, more or less, plus we want to get a drink with Ben and Nicole. Noah helps us out and we stack the cases in a tiny cupboard behind the stage, lock it up and get the hell out of there, ending up in…
An English Pub.
The only thing worse than an Irish pub.
There’s a Scottish pub in Williamsburg. I’ve never been in, but considered doing so, head-butting the bartender, vomiting in the corner and throwing a stool through the window.
Ben assures us it’s this or any number of places housing The Douchebags of Toronto, so we quickly acquiesce, sit ourselves down, and allow Dave the owner to generously buy us the first round. It’s actually a decent place, and I take back what I said up there about English pubs, or anyway, this one. Will’s already two pints ahead of us after coming off stage, and we have two more now, so he gets pretty loose. It transpires that the people who own the venue we’re playing in Montréal also own the ice hockey team there. Ice hockey is a very, very big deal in Canada, and George gets it into his head that we can go see at least half of the game before the show, and asks Ben to see if he can secure us tickets, which is as close as an impossible task as it’s possible to imagine, but Ben sends a text anyway. It’s good to see him. Since they’re based here, I don’t see them as much as I would if they were based in, say, New York, but he was my first choice in North America, and I was very happy when he agreed to represent us out here. And it’s great to meet Nicole too, finally. We speak a lot on email, as she works to set the shows up for us, and I’m glad of the opportunity to thank her in person.
The night’s over soon enough; it’s getting late and we’ve an early start, so it’s to bed with us, and to a shitty ‘cot’ for George. Tomorrow is Montréal, the last of our Canadian shows.
So far so mixed.
Saturday 09 May 2015
Some days our photo game is weak.
I sleep badly, as usual, but wake on time and we’re in the lobby by 0900. It’s starting to grind me down, but we’re on time, and get ourselves into a taxi to the venue to get the cases. I’ve not eaten, so once we’ve dragged them up onto the street from the basement, I run down to a juice bar I visited yesterday and get myself and Will some kind of almond and soy shake-thing, then call a bigger taxi to get us to the airport. I always sit up front in cabs, give myself some elbow room to type. 3pm approaches in the UK and I’ve a lot of catching up to do.
The flight’s short and we land on schedule. It’s cloudy and very humid. We take an expensive taxi into town. It’s not a pretty journey. The outskirts of the city are as ugly and depressing as any in northern French or Italy, with heavy industry, graffiti, neglect. I’m tired and not in the best of moods. I feel like my days are no longer in my control, and I’m resentful of the lack of of opportunity to do good work. It’s the first time I’ve felt this way on this run. And I miss California. It’ll pass soon enough. We get to our base for the next couple of days and nights – Hotel de Paris, which I chose because I’ve stayed here before, and I rate it, way more than some of the whining assholes on TripAdvisor – and lug our belongings up the steep steps to the front door. I’d forgotten about the steps. We’ve three hours to pass until load-in. I already told Will and George that I’d be taking my own room in Montréal, knowing I had to get my head into my laptop and try and keep the wheels from falling off. I want to lie down but I need to try and get the suits dry-cleaned. We’re both down to our last one (we travel with three each), and given that he performs in his, he can only really get three nights out of it before it contains enough sweat to allow it to stand up on its own. But the day is shortening and it’s Sunday tomorrow, and we need to leave early Monday morning so the chances of someone being able to clean them today are next to zero. But I need to try.
I ask the receptionist if he knows where I can find one. He does. It’s just around the block so I go round there, but can’t see it. I walk for about twenty-five minutes, and find nothing, then it starts to rain. When I get back the receptionist tells me he realised it had shut down months ago. He hadn’t thought to follow me outside and shout me back?
Montréal can, at this point, go play with the cars on the motorway.
I get onto the bed and sleep on and off for a couple of hours, waking up disturbed due to a bizarre dream. I carry its ghosts with me to the venue – Casa Del Popolo. There’s a craft fair on, and the room’s full of little shop stalls, with people selling organic soap and arty knick-knacks and the like, and the stage is covered in toys and Lego. The owner tells me they’re about to pack it up, so we drop our cases and Will and I head out; he to take our clothes to laundry, and me on the still-pointless hunt for a dry-cleaner that can take care of our suits on site, and before they close today. The humidity is not helping my mood.
I give up after half an hour, go into a supermarket, get myself some food, go over to the laundrette to take over from Will because he’s needed at soundcheck. I sit there and read Cosmopolitan, and am grateful to learn the thirty-five ways in which I can make a guy listen to me when all he wants is a blow-job. The rain starts again and this time it means business, coming down in a relentless torrent. I watch our clothes dry.
When I get back the venue looks like a venue and George and Will are getting on with soundcheck. I set up merch and wonder when I’m going to lighten up. I’m starting to annoy myself now. I meet Olivier, the promoter rep, and who seems like a friendly fellow. The support band turn up – Fragile Feet – and I say hello to them: Sam, Jess and Jon. They’re really friendly and we throw the conversation back and forward. My mood lightens. After soundcheck we walk over the road to the Spanish restaurant, run by the people who own the venue. I choose badly, and end up with chips and cheese, effectively. Will and George run off to a bar to watch the hockey game (an important playoff for Canadiens) and I return to the venue to sit by merch, and watch Fragile Feet. I enjoy it. It seems to me they’re still working things out, and they could do with their own sound engineer to pull the melodies out, but I enjoy it. The sound’s not great here. There are no subs (sub-woofers, to produce the low bass frequencies) which isn’t such a problem for bands who’ve got a bass player with their own bass amp, but we’ve no amplification of our own – everything goes through the PA – so if there’s no subs in the PA, our sound lacks weight. Fragile Feet bring about twenty of their friends down, and we’ve got about twenty or so in too, and it’s a small room, so it feels very worthwhile as Will gets up there. The problem, though, when the support band brings twenty people, is that they’re not our fans, and there’s no guarantee they’re going to watch or listen, and tonight they watch, but only some listen, and there are a couple of pockets of people who’re talking way too loudly, and Will’s getting pretty pissed off up there, as I am down here. Both myself and Jess “shush” a couple of times and even Will makes a comment about it. Back when we had The Luminaire, I had no problem telling people to shut the fuck up, because I could just throw them out if they wouldn’t, and anyway, everyone knew we were all about a quiet room when the bands were on, what with the signs saying so that we’d painted on the walls. Plus it’s the weekend, and everyone’s getting drunk, and look, it’s just the way it goes sometimes. I notice, though, that a lot of the conversation is about the performance, so there’s that.
After the show I meet with David Freeman, who runs the Beggars office out here, and who’s been fantastically attentive to our needs since we started the campaign. I’m also reacquainted with a guy I met when here in 2013 with Savages. His name is Julien and he and I have a mutual friend in Jehnny Beth.
After I’ve sold some merch, and Will’s talked to some fans, and David, and I’ve spoken to David, and Julien, and we’re all packed up, I find myself sitting at the bar with some new friends, including Jess, Sam and Jon, plus Jess’ friend Sophie who comes via Leeds, and we all agree that, with tomorrow being a day off for East India Youth, nothing will do but we must go out in Montréal. By this time I’ve lightened up significantly, and I am very keen indeed to go out in Montréal. We take taxis to a bar called Bethlehem, which I am not going to attempt to describe here, and will direct you here instead. Jess’ fella comes to meet us, and he and I talk about how bad the beer is in here, and he says “Let us therefore attend Vice Versa, just across the road, which has enough fine beer for any man’s pleasure” and we do just this, and sit down with a couple of black IPAs to talk vintage watches, professional cycling, and the merits of Montréal, which I am finally beginning to see.
We get hammered, take taxis home, go to bed.
SUNDAY 10 May 2015
Another day when we couldn’t be arsed taking photos.
It feels like a cop-out to write about a day off which is a genuine day off (as opposed to one spend driving to the next town for another show), so let’s keep the day off part short, and then I’ll try and think of something interesting to say.
Woke, showered, dressed, worked, drank.
Or if you want a slightly more descriptive version, here’s a paragraph:
Julien came to pick us up and we ate brunch in Swallow. Good place. Nutella-stuffed doughnuts and such. From there to a little record fair where I got a copy of Phil Collins – ‘No Jacket Required‘ album for $0.50. I gave the guy a dollar. I’ve nowhere to keep an album, and nothing to play it on but you can’t not buy ‘No Jacket Required’ if it’s $0.50. Julien dropped us back at the venue so we could get the gear (left there last night so we could go straight out drinking), then back to the hotel where I got some more work done, and lay down for thirty minutes. Then we took a taxi to place called Alexandraplatz to meet Jess, Sam and Julien, then we all went to Nouvea Palais to eat. Sophie turned up so we were back to our full compliment again, and took one more taxi back to Bethlehem to drink one last time in the place where our friendships were cemented, then took our final taxi back to the hotel. An early start in the morning. It’s been really great to meet this people. I feel very lucky.
Vancouver was weird but I’m going to give it one more chance. Everyone deserves three chances. Toronto was fantastic all round, and Montréal initially sucked, then I fell for it, and those I spent time with. Like any place in the world, it’s best to get a local guide, but maybe in Montréal more than other places.
Back at my laptop, I battled with Airline Baggage Rules Bullshit, and my least favourite kind of bullshit: Music Promoter Bullshit, which is some of the biggest bullshit I’ve ever had to deal with.
You’ll maybe remember a few days back I was talking about trouble with our promoters not doing a whole lot of promotion. I’m still planning on going public with the specifics on this, but need to wait until the tour’s over. I’ll tell you this much for now, and you can perhaps see where my anger (on that phone call in San Diego a few posts back) stems from.
When the shows went on sale (North America, mainland Europe and the UK) I started an online spreadsheet which I shared with our booking agents, to help me track how each promoter was performing. We’re not in the situation yet where we can put a show on sale and it will sell out. If you want to promote an East India Youth show, you need to work at it. The spreadsheet was dead simple: I listed all the promoters and venues down one side and, along the top, all the tools I’d supplied them with, such as:
Video links to three singles and two videos
15 second North American tour trailer video
Short video of Will doing a blind-folded beer-tasting in Tokyo
BBC 6 Session with Lauren Laverne
NPR premiere of HEARTS THAT NEVER
R1 guest slot on Jon Hopkins’ show
… and other Audio/Visual items
Fifty-one individual items.
I put them all together on a password-protected page on my site, and emailed each promoter and said:
“I once co-owned a small live venue in London, I booked a large festival in Norway, and I promoted for over twenty years. I understand your business better than most and I am here to help you. Please tell me how I can.”
In all my time in the music industry, I never once had anyone from the artists’ side so keen to help me promote a show. I thought my advances would have been welcomed, but they were largely ignored.
A week after I’d sent the email, and these tools, I went around every promoter and venue’s website, Facebook page and Twitter profile, and searched for any mention of the show, and constructed the spreadsheet. It took me many hours. Just short of eleven. In a few cases I found many mentions, in most cases I found very few, in some I found none. No mention. I made very clear to the promoters that I understood that not everything I gave them would be of interest to their audience or relevant to their market, but if a band you’re promoting puts a new single out, with a new video, you post the fucking link. You just do. If you don’t do even that, then I have no idea what you’re doing. There are many other things you can do, and may be doing, but you post the fucking link. One of the reasons is simple: the first rule of promoting is to be seen to be promoting, so that people like me can’t give you a hard time if the show doesn’t sell. You need to be able to say “I did everything that was expected of me and more”. If you can’t say that then don’t be surprised to have a manager, tour manager, artist or booking agent standing in front of you, more than somewhat pissed off.
I may as well name the best three now. Eat Your Own Ears in London, Now Wave in Manchester, Smash!Bang!Pow! in Copenhagen. And a special mention to Rich Onslow at South Records who did more online to promote his 30 capacity shop in Southend than a certain Californian promoter did to promote their 449 capacity venue in Los Angeles. I emphasise online because there is of course more to promoting than posting links. But so far as what I could see the promoters were doing… South were fantastic. There wasn’t even the traditional link between small promoter = good, big promoter = bad. Some of the worst jobs were done – and are still being done – by those who stand to lose the most money.
Others have been good too. Some are an absolute fucking disgrace to their sector. I’ll write a full report on it after June 9th, and see if I can publish it without jeopardising East India Youth’s future prospects in the live arena. I’ll at least be constructive. Try and have a frank and open conversation about what artists and promoters can both do to help each other in this challenging economic climate we find ourselves in.
Well anyway, on my day off in Montréal I spent part of it getting angry at promoters, and another part of it in the pub.
Which I should have written in the first place.
MONDAY 11 May 2015
Monday morning in Montréal, and all we need to do is get up, get to the airport, and get out of Canada. I have breakfast. No one joins me, which is fine, because it means I can sit there and seethe about Garmin’s World-Class No.1 Bullshit Invisible Customer Service Bullshit. We’re heading back to the US and I’ve still got no working satnav. I resolve to phone someone when we land and I get my data-and-call-bundle back. It’s already mid-afternoon in the UK and I should be getting back to various people on email but I can’t be bothered. The rain’s coming down like End Times. I continue to miss California.
We get soaked loading in to the taxi, and I work on the way to the airport, dealing with UK and European promoters for the shows ahead, and those in Boston, NY and DC for those left on this run. There’s a short delay on the flight and I take the chance to check on my car hire details via Budget Car Rental, after I realise that I’m meant to be picking the car up in La Guardia (New York), which is an airport we’re not flying in to, instead of Boston, which is an airport we’re flying in to. There’s a long story about how I’ve made such a monumental fuck-up, but you’re not the boss of me. I call Budget Car rental and explain the situation. They do not have the vehicle I need, but can give me something else instead for $200 more.
It’s a quick flight and we’re on American soil by 1215. Once through customs we collect the cases and head toward Budget Car Rental in order that they might find some other reason to fuck me.
And so it comes to pass.
Despite paying an eye-watering amount for the car, there is no insurance cover. Not one cent of insurance cover. I get online and Insure4CarHire take care of it. The Budget Car Rental man – all smiles – tells me it will be More Money for a satnav. You may remember I have a satnav already, but it is useless because Go Fuck Yourself Garmin. And so Budget Car Rental fuck me one more time before I leave the desk with the keys, and I’m seething. So angry, in fact, that I shout across the terminal building, then walk ahead of George and Will and try and calm down. When we get to the car I see they have given us a Ford Plastic What The Fuck Is This. We cry out for the GMC Yukon of recent days but no one hears our anguish.
I drive us to the venue.
I’ve arranged to load in early so we do that. We’re at The Great Scott tonight, which is a well-established bar with a well-established stage at the back. Promoter Carl meets us, and he’s relaxed and friendly, and the sun’s shining, and the car’s parked right out front so, you know, it’s not all bad on the East Coast. I sit down and work on their fast WiFi for a while, George and Will go for a walk, then I go too and fail to find dry cleaning. We find a TJ Maxx though, and Will fails to find sunglasses. On the way back we go to a grocery store, for we need to get The Box back up and running, and George finds about the best crackers we’ve had on the whole tour. Back at the venue, more laptop work, eating crackers and such. George and Will decide that, since we’re in Boston we should go to Harvard, so we can say “I went to Harvard’. We get in the car and drive around for forty minutes until we get parked, then find a hole in the fence and sneak into the hallowed grounds. There are some fields with The Brightest and The Best playing softball and other games but we do not pay them any mind and head straight for Harvard Stadium, which looks like some Grecian relic built in 700 BC for The Olympics, but was in fact built in 1903 and pioneered the use of reinforced concrete in large-scale construction.
The stadium is used by many of The Brightest and The Best who wish to run up and down the huge concrete steps, in order to build up their stamina and thigh muscles. George wishes to do this too, and goes ahead in his boots and jeans, and no one stops him, so we can see that the students of Harvard are a welcoming bunch. We take a few photos around the campus and get out of there, for it is time to go to work. Back at the venue we say hello to Woody, who is supporting us tonight in the guise of DJ. She is a local and I ask her for a recommendation for dinner. She speaks of a Mediterranean place just along the road, and I am in the mood for falafel, so that will do us, and off we go. We’ve all lived or spent plenty of time around East London over the years, and Kingsland Road is famous for its Turkish restaurants, with spectacular falafel, and meze in general, so our standards are very high. This place – Garlic ‘n’ Lemons – is okay, but it is not in the same league as that to which we are accustomed, but we eat our falafel and salad dutifuly. It’s safe to say we’re not in the highest of spirits. Boston does not reveal its beauty to the casual visitor, and advance sales are low (around twelve), so I could not describe our collective demeamour as “pumped”, unless you were asking me to lie.
Back at the venue Woody is having major issues with her set up and has gone off to retrieve items which may allow her to perform. We have similar equipment and offer our assistance, with George sitting on stage next to her, trying to troubleshoot the issue. Sadly there is nothing that can be done, and she has to cancel, and exits. It is a shame.
We decide that, even though we’re not due on stage for another forty-five minutes, since all the ticket buyers are here we should just get on with it, and so we get on with it. There are about twenty people in the room and Will draws them toward him. The first row are five kids who – solely based on the way they’re dancing – I put away as M.I.T. attendees. They’re moving in spasms and jerks, and heavily into the sounds. It’s a killer show. Really great. And my favourite audience so far. No one talks, no one gets their phone out. Just twenty people facing a stage, collectively engaged, enveloped in the moment.
There’s no backstage room so when the show’s over, Will comes straight to merch with a towel over his shoulders like a sartorially ill-advised boxer. The audience lines up to talk and ask questions and take photos. It feels a bit like being in Japan. One guy wants some advice on getting started in making music. His name is Sebastian as memory serves. He goes to M.I.T. They talk equipment and software, plugins and algorithms like a couple of geeks. I sit around and watch and listen, enjoying these interactions. No one actually buys anything (students, see) except one guy who wants a pin badge that’s $4 but he only has $3. I give him the pin badge and pack up.
Boston isn’t a place you’ll be sad to have not booked a hotel in, on account of the hotels being brutally expensive for what they are. Tomorrow is New York and I took the decision a few weeks back to get a place that’s on the way to New York, so we’re clear of city traffic in the morning. I’ve long been drawn to Providence, Rhode Island, because it has a romantic ring to it, and I’ve never seen it written any way other than ‘Providence, RI’.
Americans are funny. They’ll go ahead and give the rule about not taking liquids over a certain volume through airport security the impenetrable, unnecessarily truncated, partly inaccurate name of ‘3-1-1’ in a misguided stab at being succinct, and expect everyone who’s not from the US to know what the fuck they’re on about, but shoot their literary load when needlessly suffixing the State to their place names. It’s never ‘Austin’. It’s always ‘Austin, TX’.
While I’m whaling on America, American businesses are very American-focussed. You can’t use a non-US credit card to pay for gas at a pump, because it’ll ask you to type in a ZIP code, so you need to pre-pay in cash before they’ll switch the pump on, but since you’ve no idea how much gas your hire car needs to fill it up, you’ll end up over-paying, then have to go back in for a partial refund. It’s ludicrously inefficient. And all manner of websites won’t let you advance if you can’t enter a US address.
It’s an hour drive from venue to hotel, the Providence Biltmore Curio Collection by Hilton. That’s right. The Providence Biltmore Curio Collection by Hilton. How can a single hotel be a collection? Well anyway we get there about 0130 and there’s fifteen men in the lobby wearing hard-hats, trying to fit a carpet. Brian the night Concierge is having a torrid time, what with all the banging and the shouting and when is he meant to get a chance to fall asleep with a book? I’m exhausted, and while the valet takes our car away and puts our cases into storage, I check us into our King Suite with two large double beds and a sofa bed. The Providence Biltmore Curio Collection by Hilton is “an iconic, landmark hotel with an illustrious past, designed in 1922 by celebrated architects, Warren and Wetmore, and featuring a striking, ‘V-shaped’ design.”
I’d like it better with a carpet in the lobby.
Up in the room there’s no sign of the sofa bed, so I call down to Brian. It’s Will’s turn to take the sofa bed, but it’s New York tomorrow and I want him to have the best chance of a good night’s sleep. Brian is sending someone to find a sofa bed and he will call me back. After fifteen minutes (it’s just past 2am) there is no sign of someone or a sofa bed, so I take the lift back down and clamber over the workmen to see what is going on, and what is going on is Brian cannot contact this someone to ask about the bed, and he looks at me and sees my pain, and offers me another room. I bite his hand off for it, head back upstairs, get my stuff and decamp across the hall to my own room. It’s pretty comfortable, other than the pillow, which is an important element in the quest for restful sleep. I fall asleep sometime around 0300, only to be woken four hours and forty-five minutes later by the sound of a 10mm drill bit – attached to a drill – being forced into a concrete wall.
For fuck’s sake.
TUESDAY 12 May 2015
(Another weak photo-game day)
I contact W&G who’ve been even unluckier than me: the wall in question was right behind their heads. The carpet-fitters have relocated to the room next door and they are now engaged in demolition work at a quarter to eight in the morning. At check-out I complain, and tell the young lady the story. She is no more than 17% sympathetic, and goes off to ask her manager what can be done, like either of them give a fuck. Since I booked via a third-party site, a refund is not in order, plus they already gave us a ‘free’ room, and two breakfast vouchers for Will and George (who complained when the drill started tickling their ears). They offer not to charge me $18 for the parking and I’m done with this, accept, and leave.
The valet’s father is from Scotland and I tell him to go visit, see Edinburgh and Glasgow then drive to the Highlands. Most of the rest of the country isn’t worth bothering with. Take the ice-cream parlour out of Bridge-of-Allan and the chip-shop out of Callander and there’s fuck-all else left to talk about.
We drive toward New York. It’s sunny. I’m not really interested in New York right now. I love the place, but as I sit here, looking at Rhode Island drift by…
I miss California.
As we approach the city the traffic worsens, the heat rises, and we’re stuck on some bridge or other, battling some of the least courteous drivers anywhere in the World. It’s a vehicular arsehole fiesta and I lose my temper frequently, what with no one wanting to let us in when I indicate to change lanes or such. I need to indicate, blow my horn, lean my head out of the window and call whoever won’t let us in a cunt. It’s all very uncivilised.
Williamsburg is comparatively calmer and I pull up outside Rough Trade on time and load us in. We’re met by their sound engineer. I keep wanting to write ‘FOH’, which is short for Front of House engineer, but I keep thinking some of you won’t know what it means. We’re met by their FOH though I cannot for the life of me remember his name as I sit here. He’s cool though, and remains cool for the rest of the night. Really helpful. Once the cases are in, I depart to meet my friend Matt at his place in Greenpoint, for we are staying there for two nights. He’s leaving for Brighton and The Great Escape Festival. He and I met sometime around 2005 when he was the booker for CMJ, a post he holds to this day. He’s generally bearded, like me, though we do not talk about beards. I think maybe non-bearded men think that bearded men sit around and wax our whiskers together, but in truth the topic rarely rears its follicles. He offers me a beer and, though I should be getting back to the venue, when a man who is giving you free accommodation in New York offers you a bottle of IPA, you’d do well to accept, particularly when it’s a friend you don’t see so often. We have three and, at 7% ABV, I’m driving nowhere. Eventually Matt and I bid each other farewell, I walk down to the club and he takes a car to JFK. It’s almost time for doors to open.
There’s a chance I already said this, but I’m not about to go back and read the whole diary to find out, so forgive me if I’m repeating myself: I never like walking into a venue right before doors. All the staff are there and settled in and it’s difficult to… I don’t know how well I can explain it.
Even at Luminaire, I’d walk into a place I co-founded and there’d be twenty-thirty people who were three hours into their working day, and getting along fine without me, and there just wouldn’t be a place for me to comfortably be. Same thing happens here. I speak to our DOS (Day of Show, Artist Rep, Promoter Rep, Artist Liaison, whichever term you prefer) and she’s not interested in speaking to me at all. I have a feeling it’s the suit. Or she just thinks I’m a prick. But if she thinks I’m a prick she’s thought I’m a prick the instant she’s met me, so I figure it’s the suit. Or my hair. I’ve no idea. Either way it’s a busted flush of a relationship and I can’t be fucking bothered with it, but will of course keep up appearances for the remainder of the working day.
I go set up merch.
The merch table must be about twenty feet long, and at the far end a couple are sitting. I ask them to move so I can pull the table out, then invite them to sit down again, but security have other ideas and tell them they must move permanently.
I apologise to the couple and beckon them to reseat themselves but they go get a drink instead.
I set up merch, displaying our new T-shirts and I talk to people I know that drift in, including old friends like Karen, and new friends like the guy we met at the last NY show who always goes to Iceland Airwaves. Glass Gang go on, the support band who we also played with in Toronto. They’ve no doubt helped contribute toward the one hundred and forty souls in the building, a great improvement on the fifty or so who attended our last show in New York in November of last year. Melanie and Hector arrive from our label with some vinyl stock in tow, so I can keep the cash rolling in. I move back and forward between backstage and merch, with a stop at FOH to speak about our lights, but all is in hand. The show begins and there are some noisy bastards in here. Perhaps they’d be better going to get a drink in a bar close by but no no, they’d prefer to stand in a live music venue and talk.
The show’s okay.
Ah I don’t know. I can’t get into it, with the chatty bastards, and the sound having what appear to my ears like it has a hole in it. About half way through I go stand at FOH with George – something I never do – and listen. It’s wrong. I don’t really know why, but it is. It seems to lack cohesion, as if the tops and the lows aren’t meshing together, and the mids don’t really seem to have much of a presence. It’s a frustration of mine that I feel unable to articulate what I mean when I feel we’ve had a bad show. Afterward George says that aye, he felt the same. It just didn’t come together sonically.
But look, we had a hundred and forty people in the room. What else can I ask for? Stage-diving?
The merch stand does brisk business, with the new T-shirts, and what I have left of vinyl stock. Will arrives and we chat to various people who want to chat, and there are plenty of them, and aye, this is fine. People seem to have liked the show. I need to settle up and ask our DOS for a print of the settlement. Our fee is being wired to our booking agent, so I don’t technically need to see a print of the settlement, but I’d like to see it anyway, on account of giving a fuck, so I ask her.
I feel like I’ve asked for a thimble of her blood.
We pack up and it’s okay to leave the gear here and collect tomorrow, which is of huge help to us, as it means no one needs to pack the car and drive it back to Greenpoint, and unload it, and lock the place up, and take an Uber to karaoke, because yes, friends, we’ve a day off in New York tomorrow, and Melanie from our label is here, as is Hector, and this means karaoke. I invite a few people at the merch stand down but only one is brave enough to join us and we all set off for Kilo Bravo. There’s really no need to write further, other than to say I did a Simple Minds song and a Phil Collins song and, despite my eviscerating both, I had a good night, as did all others in attendance, and no one embarrassed themselves too much, other than me, but whatever.
I’m in New York and we just sold one hundred and forty tickets.
WEDNESDAY 13 May 2015
I leave the Royal Twins sleeping and sneak out, drive down to Rough Trade, load out, pick up my fellow TM friend Dana and she and I go sit down for breakfast on a Greenpoint restaurant terrace, catch up on each other’s lives over good food and a bottle of Mexican Coke. She heads off to work, I get the car back and load the gear back into the apartment with Will’s help, who’s at laundry with George. I bid them farewell again, drop the suits in the dry cleaner (finally!) and go try and find somewhere to work for a couple of hours until I can meet another friend, Turna. I sit down in Kinfolk 90, cup of tea and some kind of baked confection, get my laptop out, get my head down. I notice a couple of Japanese girls out front, photographing the cafe. I do my best to get out of shot, but I’m part of it. Ten minutes later it happens again, different Japanese girls. Another ten minutes, another Japanese girl with a camera. Funny thing about Japan; the only people waving cameras around are Westerners. Well anyway I’m sitting there with the entire facade exposed to the street and feeling pretty self-conscious in my suit and tie, and Mac laptop, and two iPhones. See that guy top right, at the window here? That’s where I was sitting, only the whole shutter was open. A guy walks past with his girlfriend, heavily tattooed. He nods toward me, speaking to her, and shakes his head. To them I am the physical embodiment of everything that’s changed in Williamsburg. I am everything they hate.
Fuck you, tattooed guy. I was coming to Greenpoint and Williamsburg in 2004.
Turna arrives and we go pick up the suits, walk back to Matt’s place, drop them. Ah the joy of laundry, and of dry-cleaning. I could talk about it all day. You there, with your washing machine at home; you know not the joy of freshly-bagged laundry. Turna and I are thirsty and end up with cocktails in the late afternoon (George and Will are elsewhere, watching a hockey game). Her boyfriend joins us and there I will leave the story, except to say it ends with the three of us in a mob-owned Italian restaurant, me leaving in a taxi with seven fifty-year-old Texan women, to continue the night on the roof of the Wythe Hotel, among The Douchebags of Williamsburg.
I sleep alone.
Saturday 16 May 2015
A Saturday night in DC awaits us, but first we must exit New York, and despite planning ample time to escape its vehicular vortex, it takes us well over an hour to get from Greenpoint to the New Jersey Turnpike. I probably shouldn’t be driving after last night, but here I am doing it anyway. Midtown Manhattan is an insane place to allow pedestrians and cars to meet. At one point we get into the wrong lane for a toll gate and George jumps out to move some cones so I can steer us into the cash lane. But no, no. Asshole Cop will not allow it, and tells us to reverse up the lane we’re in (which is packed, the cars unable to move anywhere) to get into the E-Z Pass lane. We’ve no idea we have an E-Z Pass. Asshole Cop shouts at us some more. He’s a real fucking tool, this one, put upon the Earth to make our lives that little bit more problematic than necessary. As we pull away I imagine I open the window and throw a box of doughnuts at his head. He falls to the tarmac, bleeding. We high-five each other, laughing uproariously.
The drive to DC takes about four-five hours and we need to hire some stands. We’ve been concerned since we set off that we’ll not make it in time, and that the rental place will be shut when we get there, and we’ll have a serious problem, what with not being able to play without stands to put things on. George gets on the phone to them to work something out, but there’s not much they can do. The roads open up and we get our foot down. I’ve decided that I’m fit enough to drive the whole way myself, and I let George sleep. We stop for lunch at a gas station, refuel, and barrell on down to the nation’s capital, making the rental place in good time. Stands secured we load into the venue – DC9 – up a couple of flights of stairs. It’s an independently-owned place, and while not plush, is well-appointed with lights and sound, plus a dressing room laced with the best tortilla chips I’ve had all tour, and a tasty salsa dip. I move the car, artist and engineer soundcheck, and I set up merch, say hello to support act Rioux and his manager. Sales aren’t great in DC either, which isn’t a surprise to anyone, but we reckon we’ll have thirty-forty in the room, and owner Bill is fine with it all. We dine on greasy burgers and fries, and a Coke, and I keep my head in my laptop. I can be pretty antisocial at times on the road, but it’s almost always because I just need to work, and Will and George seem used to it, and do not take offence.
Doors open and I watch Rioux’s set. He usually plays with a band but tonight has scaled back to solo, and he flirts with a drum pad, laptop, MIDI controller and electric guitar. I’m generally circumspect around new electronic music, given my long history with it, and – as Will and I have discussed – there’s something strange about modern American electronic music: it’s almost as if those who make it have no knowledge of their own past. The great dance music artists of this country are hardly ever referenced by new artists. The worst of EDM (and Rioux’s music thankfully bears no relation to it) sounds like it’s only been around for ten minutes. Unfortunately for those of us who can’t stand it, it’s been a pretty long ten minutes. It had premature birth and sounds like it should be in intensive care. Actually, it sounds like it should have been aborted. Anyway, I watch Rioux’s set and I quite like some of it. He knows his way around a melody, and a 4/4 beat is a 4/4 beat, and I see my foot is tapping now and then, so the very best of luck to him. Plus he’s a nice guy, as is his manager, and they’re at the same booking agency as us, so I reckon they’ll do all right.
A few kind souls attend the merch stand to talk and shop, then Will gets up there for the penultimate show on this tour, and it’s another good one, though the crowd is weird. Crowds can look completely different for the same band in different markets. Tonight we have some hardcore fans, some who’re curious, a mix of gay and straight and a couple of people who seem to have thought tonight is an ’80s disco. One woman is down the front thrashing around, then she’s at the back of the room reapplying her make-up and talking loudly on her phone, then she’s consoling her weeping boyfriend in a booth, then back down the front again.
Afterwards there’s more shopping and talking, and Will is over as ever to meet with the shoppers and fans, and sign stuff if they ask, and generally show appreciation for their support. The room empties and, once packed up, we climb onto the roof terrace with a friend of Will’s, and a girl we met downstairs who first heard about EIY via a Guardian New Band of The Day piece in February of 2013. We talk on this and that, notice it’s getting late and our hotel is a ways away, say our goodbyes and get out of there. As we depart we catch a glimpse of Capitol Hill through some trees, lit beautifully as all the important buildings and monuments here are, and I navigate us to The Mall so George can see The Lincoln Memorial, maybe my favourite memorial anywhere. It’s enormous, and moving. Will’s tired and cranky, just wants to go to sleep, and here are his crew leaving him in the car by the side of the road while they run across the grass, no doubt under the watchful eye of the Secret Service, to find the spot where Martin Luther King delivered his speech, over fifty years ago.
The drive to Baltimore – an hour away – feels longer. It’s dark and we’re tired. George takes the wheel. I’m not much good to anyone, but stay awake to keep him company. We give Will the single room. Sleep comes quickly and easily in our freeway-side Motel 6.
Friday 15 May 2015
THE FINAL SHOW
Check out is 1100. We wake at 1105. It doesn’t matter. We’re in no hurry, and no one is likely to come and chase us. We get ourselves together and sit next to the car, crack open the contents of The (recently resurrected) Box and have a breakfast of avocado, carrot sticks, cream cheese and water. It’ll keep us going until we get to the City of Brotherly Love. George drives and I catch up with some work, trying to get back to those in the UK who’re about to knock off for the weekend. I’ve spent a little time in Philly before, visiting friends here, and I see one on arrival – Tom is loaning us a keyboard stand, so we stop by his office downtown to collect. He meets me on the street while George cruises around the block, and we catch up on the news about mutual friends who’re now scattered to New York, New Jersey and Nashville. Tom was in a band I managed for a while, and we had great fun touring the UK in Status Quo’s former tour bus with a band from Bournemouth called True Swamp Neglect.
We park right outside the venue – Boot & Saddle – and meet Amy behind the bar and Steve the sound engineer. It’s a great little room. Compact, well-lit, good PA. George sets up and I go get some tips from Amy about where to get pizza, and head out on this mission. All I have left on my North American Junk Food list is pizza, a milkshake, a Dr. Pepper and a box of Junior Mints. And just twenty-six hours left to tick them off.
I have what’s been diagnosed by a speech therapist as a ‘severe covert stammer‘ – often referred to as ‘interiorised‘, which means you don’t hear it in the usual s-s-s-stuttering way, because I’ve spent my life hiding it. It manifests itself in other audible ways though, which, if you met me, you might put down to my accent, or my talking quickly, or you just not catching what I’ve said. I like talking, and do a lot of it, though in every sentence there will be something I find difficult to say, so I may need to swap a word out, or switch the syntax, or in some way distract you – audibly or physically – from what I’m failing to articulate, which involves always thinking a few words ahead so I can make changes before I get there, like swerving to avoid something in the road.
I might intentionally mumble a word because I just can’t say it, and then quickly move on to the next ones, hoping that they will give you enough information to allow you to piece together the crux of the meaning. In loud environments I might intentionally shout gibberish in your ear as a way of ‘breaking the dam’, figuring you’ll just think you couldn’t hear me over the music, say, which gets my mouth moving, making it easier to get the sentence out second time around. I also swear more than most, partly because, for example, it’s easier to put what’s called a ‘hard onset’ before a word I can’t say. The ‘k’ in ‘fuck’ is a useful tool in that regard. And in a revelation that may seem counterintuitive, it’s actually more difficult to speak when I’m back home in Scotland, because there I can’t really get away with altering my dialect (not my accent; that’s a constant) without people accusing me of “talking posh”, so back there I say “ah dinnae ken” instead of “I don’t know”, whereas everywhere else in the world I can use phrases – in both dialects – with my accent remaining intact. Tiredness, anxiety, the affect some foods have on me and even my posture can all cause problems. In extreme cases – if I need to talk for extended periods without rest, or if it’s very cold – my mouth stops working. It starts with a tingling sensation around my right eye, spreads down the side of my face and envelops my whole face, until the muscles around my jaw seize up and my lips become numb, as your hand does if you sit on it for a few minutes.
Some of the speech issues are context-based. I can say “toilet” all day without a problem, but if I walk into a bar or cafe and and try and say “Can I use your toilet please?”, I can’t say it. I just don’t have the ability to control that particular group of words in that order. They run away from me. I can’t ‘just slow down’, I can’t just ‘take a breath’. The ability to deliver the sentence is as elusive to me as quantum mechanics. It’s easier in North America. I can just say “restroom” or “bathroom”. No problem with that. But not “traditional”. Can’t say it under any circumstances.
Years ago, when I struggled far more with it than I do now, I’ve seen me walking six miles home because I wasn’t able to board a nightbus and say to the driver “Fifty pence please”, or any other variation of any other words that would allow me to illuminate my destination.
Part of the reason I took up lecturing was to help get all this out in the open. And it’s why I like writing more than talking; I’ve ten conduits to write through, only one to use when I talk. On top of all this I have conductive hearing in my right ear, which basically means it’s a bit dull on that side, and since I’m not in my twenties anymore, the left ear no longer compensates so, in loud places, hearing myself or you can be tricky, which impacts on the confidence I have in my speech, which in turns increases the frequency of my stammer.
And the reason I’m telling you all of this is to try and explain why I walked into a pizza joint to buy three single slices, but walked out with four, and one whole pizza.
Suffice to say, ten minutes after getting back to the venue, I’m suffering from severe postprandial somnolence, and I’m not much good to anyone for half an hour, so I sit down in a corner and try and focus on my laptop screen. Tom arrives and we sit around and talk after soundcheck, and he meets Will and George. The lad who’s supporting us tonight is a facial reconstruction surgeon, and shows us some gnarly photos on his phone of a woman’s cancerous jaw that he’s just cut out, violating doctor-patient confidentiality in spectacularly grisly fashion. I’m glad I already ate.
Before the tour began, Nicole from Windish would send me regular ticket updates, so I could see how each show was going. I asked her to send them less frequently, to limit the number of times a week I wondered what the fuck we were even doing coming out here, and, once on the road, I tended to not ask promoters how presales were on the day. There wasn’t anything I could do with the information an hour before doors opened. But tonight I asked. I knew it was going to be bad, but not that bad. I mean, it couldn’t be as bad as San Diego where we sold seven tickets. Philly’s a good gig town, and I figured that the word from New York had spread here to some small extent.
I tell Will and he’s not bothered. We laugh about it, recognise some kind of full-circle poetry in this, though as George points out, referencing our seven sales in San Diego; “We’ve travelled the whole of North America and managed to lose a fan…”
I ask our DOS Hextor (‘Day of Show’/ Artist Liaison / Host / Promoter Rep) what time people expect the headliner on in Philly, and he says usually by 9:15.
I ask him how many of the ticket buyers have shown up.
“None of them.”
He says that another five people have paid cash to come in tonight, but only two of them seem to still be here.
Will’s warmed up his vocal chords, and it’s time. I’m upbeat around him, say to him to think of it as a production rehearsal, but he doesn’t seem fazed.
Tom asks me if I want a drink. I never drink when I’m working. I ask him for a large vodka and ginger. Then I go get three cold beers for Will, George and I. Will never drinks anything cold before a show; very bad for the voice. He cracks it open, takes a large mouthful, takes the stage.
He plays to me, my friend Tom, the lad who’s supporting us, and his two friends. Plus the two ‘walk-ups’, so that’s seven of us. I have to be here, and Tom’s here to see me. Plus the support lad is just here out of sympathy (though he does tell us he loves East India Youth), and his two friends are here because of him.
There are two East India Youth fans in a city of 1.553 million people.
He delivers a text-book performance. It’s to his enormous credit that he does this whether he’s playing to eight hundred in London or seven in Philly. Savages would do the same. I never saw them play to seven people, but they would throw everything into a performance regardless of the circumstances and it filled me with admiration for them, as it does me now, watching Will. Maybe it’s easier for a band; they walk on as a gang, can lean on each other for support if they’re finding it tough. Harder for solo artists.
The last three songs in the set are probably my favourite pieces of East India Youth music. HEARTS THAT NEVER is a pounding pop-trance thing with vocals that nail me every time. This segues into HINTERLAND, an instrumental, driving 4/4 track that moves from minimalist techno to a remorselessly pummelling second-album-Underworld banger, building to a wall of white noise (okay, their fourth album, but second after Darren Emerson joined). And finally, this segues into CAROUSEL, a song I feel particularly close to, because I directed its video. Luke Turner of The Quietus likened it to Scott Walker leaving Earth in a spaceship as the planet disintegrated behind him, and as the first strings swell I’m doing a pretty bad job at keeping my eyes dry. I could put it down to tiredness or the vodka and ginger, but I can’t.
I spend the whole set drifting in and out of the present, images of the the tour flashing across my mind, the highs and lows, involuntarily playing out scenarios where East India Youth never takes off, and I quit the business for good, because the way I figure it, if I can’t help someone this talented to success, I really have no right to be managing anyone.
As the last strains of CAROUSEL ebb away, I turn to walk toward the merch stand, but no one is there. I walk past and take a seat at the bar. Tom orders us another drink. I’m generally prone to melancholia, but I’ve not had to fight it much on this tour. We’ve genuinely not been dispirited. We’ve absolutely accepted our situation here, our place in the world, that we need to get our heads down and graft. But tonight has been an unmitigated disaster. We’ve been treated as any unknown band will be treated by a city’s population: we’ve been more or less completely ignored. I don’t feel sorry for myself, or Will. It will take more than this to shake our belief in what we’re doing. But as I sit at this bar I can’t stop myself questioning the path we’re on, and some of my decisions.
Will and George come over and we order some more drinks, and talk. They get on well with Tom and I’m glad of that. The bar empties, Tom goes back to his family, we leave our gear here, the car parked safely hours ago, and walk to another bar. I don’t know that we want to drink any more particularly, but here we are in Philadelphia and what else is it we should be doing? Finally, an Uber takes us home.
I’m writing this now on the morning of Wednesday 27th May, almost two weeks after the show. Since then we’ve travelled to Germany and Slovakia, and started the UK tour. Norwich was great a couple of nights ago. One hundred and twenty people. Manchester tonight should be sold out in a two hundred and fifty cap. room. It’s a welcome confidence booster.
We won’t return to North America soon. We’re out of tour support so any trip would have to be self-funded, and we’re not able to afford that yet. If things had gone better, if we were further down the line, if we’d had support from the established media in the US and Canada, we’d maybe go back in October or November. But we take nothing for granted. Every line of good press, every single radio play, every favourable post or tweet; all are appreciated and point toward our (at times almost imperceptible) progress, and even in my darkest moments – and there have been some – I find reason to hope.
Almost every band that ever existed has failed to find success in North America. I shouldn’t be surprised if we join that list. But I shouldn’t be surprised if we return again, and again, and again, in an attempt to find a crack in its armour.
North America will still be there on album three, or five, or seven.
Whatever it takes.
Until then, we have the world to explore.
See you on the road,