I’m doing at least one festival this year. In July in sunny Sheffield!
I mentioned a while back I was returning to China for a few days….
This is what happened:
Day 1: Wuhan
Head straight to Sense Club Records to hang with Ryan and his crew.
I play the first show, throwing myself through a couple of small amps and practicing with my new set-up of an electric guitar through an iRig in an iPod Touch.
A take-out dinner of lovely gingery tofu and fish soup with rich and a side of delicious aubergine and green beans.
Not long after the show we head off to collect a few things at Ryan’s before catching a sleeper train to Xiamen.
If you haven’t caught the sleeper in China then here’s the drill: Sleep on a board. Shit in a hole. Wake every five minutes to the sound of snoring, or the scent of pot noodles.
Train stations all have andy water dispensers to fill up your flasks. Great, was looking for some refreshing cool water to save on buying bottles. Ouch! Those taps dispense only boiling! That for tea, you dunce!
Day 2: Xiamen
Make our way to the Venue and Hotel. They are close by each other in a creative corner down by a small inlet of sea. The feel of Xiamen is lighter and fresher and coastal. Almost Mediterranean. Where we are I feel old.
We’re guided to a seafood restaurant which provides us a tasty fill. Simply done broiled fish in chillies and ginger, fresh greens and egg. Washed down with a refreshing beer.
The venue ‘Real Live’ is a cosy cafe type of place (I don’t play the larger live space behind the curtain). Fair enough, I’m not drawing a big crowd. I feel much more comfortable in these more intimate spaces.
After I play the staff walks over with a bottle. “That man bought this for you” she says, gesturing toward a couple making their way out of the venue. The man turns before they exit to give an appreciative nod. Well at least one person liked it, or as I often fear, felt compelled to buy me a beer in commiseration.
Ryan and I take a leisurely evening stroll and find a balcony to overlooking the port and a beer to sip. In this humid time, as you all know, one doesn’t feel like doing much.
Day 3: Fuzhou
Wander Xiamen for some breakfast (noodles) before struggling to hail a taxi to the station. We end up resigning ourselves to the more expensive route of a direct taxi to the main train station, instead of out cheaper idea of a short taxi ride to the subway to then take said subway to station. Tour compromises/cheapskate’s dilemma.
Another impressively cavernous train station to catch an ambling train to not-so-far-away Fuzhou. Some European dude in front of us in line to collect tickets remarks “Whats the point of these fast trains when you spend so long queueing for tickets” or some such needless witticism. I fail to have the brain speed to respond with anything but a throttled “heh, yes” when my long-form idea would be to set him straight on the assumption that we are all getting fast trains and his lack of realisation that the Chinese can use their privilege as natives and use the automated machines. Nevertheless, he did nothing wrong and I am just a dull misanthrope.
Fuzhou greets us with another out of town station to subway ourselves closer to our destination. We pop up in a skyscrapered fancy-pants district – and a Super 8 hotel. This US chain boasts a trio of 70’s founders on the poster in the elevator (Look like a young Des Lynam, that other one from the Likely Lads, and Judge Rinder).
Opposite the Hotel is the preserved (or renovated) alleyways, all smart and clean but unsuitable for wheeling my now broken suitcase along. But this is where the almost idyllic creative space of Maker Live is.
Some really tasty starchy chewy noodles later and we’re sat with a coffee waiting for soundcheck. An odd indoor stage with a square of standing floor space roughly the same size.
We have some interest in merchandise and some of the art-student types seem on-board. We sit and drink afterwards at the invitation of some of my audience.
Not much time after this to do anything but get some well-earned kip.
Day 4: Yiwu
After a complimentary breakfast of rice and greens, congee and tomatoes, we head back out to the rail station to catch a very speedy train to Yiwu. “The world capital of small commodities”
Reaching speeds of over 300kmph we arrive at Yiwu which feels pretty lush and green, scattered across some gentle hills. As we clamber off the train a couple of musicians clamber on in our stead. Turns out they played Gebi the night before.
Gebi is set up in an old temple in the hills overlooking Yiwu. It is a tumble-down creative space, run by live-in musicians, and housing a secluded recording studio. Underground pioneer, Shengy, of White+ and Carsick Cars, happens to be out here recording at this time.
Such a wonderful place to play – very relaxed and freeing. The food delivery from a local restaurant was also really great, albeit washed down by filthy local alcohol.
Day 5: Hangzhou
Our train trundles in and a taxi drives us up to the Blue Danube Hotel by the small canal under the shadow of the overpass. Trees and running water makes for a relatively pleasant place to stroll in this muggy season.
In contrast to casual crumbling Gebi the Hangzhou venue is a big ‘livehouse’ in a spanking new shopping centre in neat and tidy Hangzhou. A place where cars stop at zebra crossings!
Snipped to a half-hour set mid-bill it’s a different show to the others where I was the only player -but this means I’m playing to a larger audience. I feel like it went well, and so does a reviewer. I chat to some Yorkshire expats who recall my performance at Moor Music in the late 2000s. World indeed small.
Sorry I haven’t updated this site for a while – I keep intending a full refresh but things always seem to get in the way.
I am back to the British Isles this summer!
End Of The Road Festival: Make sure you’re around the tipi stage early Sunday afternoon.
Fort Process: I’ll be getting to explore a bit more for this one, in some interesting crevice of Newhaven Fort, East Sussex.
In a couple of weeks I head back to China for a handful of shows.
7.16 – Wuhan. Sense Club Records
7.17 – Xiamen. Real Live
7.18 – Fuzhou. Maker Live
7.19 – Yiwu. Gebi
7.20 – Hangzhou. Mao Livehouse
More news to come, but get onto this for now.
Where was I up to? Oh, yes, I’d just played Newcastle with Neil. And as I speedily snook through the night as the only car on the A19/A1/A59 I felt a strange sense of exhilaration and isolation in speeding unchallenged around roundabouts but thinking no-one would find me for hours if I swerved off the road. A stately barn owl was spooked from its perch on a road sign as I slipped off the Harrogate road roundabout, and glided along side me at window height, I looked toward it briefly and it turned its head to face me, a brief couple of silent and beautiful, moving at around 35 mph, seconds.
The following night I’m due to play The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, a place I know well. Many of my first shows in the early to mid naughties were here. Nathan is always welcoming. This time I get to play in the brand new ‘community room’ and I am also allowing Paul Marshall to join me on stage with his favourite toy, an OP-1. Paul and I played a number of folky shows back in the day. Much of this tour is a nostalgia venture.
Nathan has kind of double booked with Kid Congo tonight, so we play a ‘co-headline’ show – tickets on sale for both shows but they get to see us both. I play first and the Kid plays second, in all his fruitiness. With the short notice about this event there’s not enough time to be annoyed by anything, we just roll with it – the Kid’s band and Paul and I are consummate professionals and wear the evening with dignity and kindness, pleasantry and understanding. As always it remains true that people are mostly decent, and if you are decent to people they are decent in return, all this is just to say they were terribly nice guys the lot of them, Paul Marshall included! Thoroughly worked – a shame the crowd was a little thin.
Reconnecting with old friends and discovering the beautiful ways that life has taken people.
The next show is probably the most out-of-body of the tour. Unlike the dreamy state I was left with by of much of the other dates, Manchester turns surreal and just, I don’t know. Under the threat of heavy snowfall, I find my way into Manchester and Gullivers, depositing my wares and finding some place to park the car. Setting up and sound-checking with Former Bullies was great, and the sound-check sounded tight and wondrous when they jammed with me. Former Bullies and I played one of my first shows in Manchester, back in the old student town Trof I think, in the way-back-when of the naughties. More nostalgia.
First off, the FB set was nice, but then my set the ideas of sound-check went thoroughly out the window as nothing clicked like we’d hoped. When FB’s snook off, for some unknown reason Tom Settle didn’t make it off stage, instead crouching in the corner of the stage for the rest of my set. The finale was a bizarre fizzle. An audience member collapsed, and I stopped to allow some space to see to them. A silent room solemnly filtered downstairs, leaving me and a small group of water bearers and supporting arms to tend to the faint punter. We decided it was the end of the show. Zero applause and bemusement. Some mutterings of a staged happening, did I arrange this episode to further confound my audience. Who knows? Also, is drinking a half a Guinness like not drinking at all?
The following day is a widely anticipated show at The Triangle in Shipley. Gavin and Harry who I’ve known since the early naughties, Harry putting on a number of my first shows in any around Burley and Hyde Park in Leeds, and Gav being a cohort in a crowd I tagged along with to the early ATPs. Turns out they could have sold out the place a second time if we’d been confident. Anyway, a nice crowd assembles in the upstairs gallery space which has only just been knocked through and refurbished. Dean McPhee sets up his amp and array of pedals. He’s bringing his etherial spacey folky guitar into my set too. My old pal Stu Bannister sets up various microphones and percussion bits, based around a child’s kick drum. The minimal sound system allows for no monitors, and we’re all in a row with not really much chance to get a good ear of what everyone is doing. It brings a very intriguing quality to the show – sometimes we come together and other times we are each on a separate path, with Stu veering into his own tempo, the swells and winding paths of this show are pretty dreamlike/nightmarish at times. I think the loveliness of Deans guitar ties the thing together.
The next few days are a chance to rest and spend time with the Yorkshire family before our Christmas in Wales.
The following week we are making our way down to Bristol, rushing to make lunchtime at Gloucester Services. Oh the touring life! There is a decent place for Tomo to play, and you get a child meal for a quid with your adult one. Good deals. In Bristol we are staying in the premier inn or whatever, at that big roundabout at the bottom of the road that Kino is on. Cafe Kino is a lovely venue, and a good size. I think it’s pretty much sold out and comfortable. It was really great to see Rachael Dadd, and have her open the show. And then Landslide Purist play – and a great set, the combo of Sam Wisternoff’s lyrics and the relentless piano of Sean Talbot bolstered by Robin Allender’s lush guitars makes for a immersive listen if you give it time. I’m so grateful to have Sam., Rachael and Robin sit in with me. It’s one of the most enjoyable bands of the tour and the set just seemed to work perfectly! Clarinet, electric guitar and percussion. I added some squeaky shoe floor work again, the room asked for it!
I retired after convincing all to have a nightcap with me at the pub down the road.
The final show of the tour is in Cardiff, prior to our retreating to West Wales for Chrimbletide. I deposit Katrine an Tomo in the hotel and drive round chez Joy Collective. I drop off some stuff and get the car back to hotel, and walk to the venue. It’s lovely to play in such a place – I’m nostalgic for TfL now. The oddness of christmas decorations including inflatable saxophones. My bemused band tonight is three-headed. The award winning Welsh musician, Gareth Bonello, who swaps his usual finger-picking folk guitar for his cello. The multi-talented Totem Terror that is Oh Peas! aka Rosie Smith, fresh of tour with Euros Childs, who plumps for percussion today. And last but not least, Andrew Paul Regan (aka Pagan Wanderer Lu) who has rigged up a modular synth for the occasion, with the idea of taking feeds from my guitar and vocal to fool about with.
Slipping over from Engerland to open the show are marimba, drum, guitar, post-rock whatever, Motes. A really great band to end the tour with. A new find for me, but seems we have a few friends in common.
Despite the sound not reaching far out of the muddy, with vocals not seeming to brighten, technical set-backs for Gareth and a small but dedicated audience, the results are often astounding. We managed to make space for some beautiful moments for Gareth to come through, and he did a great job duetting with my squeaky shoe dance on the polished floor. The bed of manipulated noise and subsequent swells, and the fannying about with my guitar feed etc was inspired at times but not overwhelming – well done Andy. Some sturdy percussion tied things together. A mild sense of relief and more of odd emptiness.
The tour is over.
A day off in Otley, eating at Stew and Oyster and whatnot.
We’re off to Scotchland! Zooming up the Dales and across the Pennines into wintery Westmorland and the obligatory stop at Tebay Services. Every touring band knows the wonder and welcome.
Cutting back across the countryside in who-knows-where of Scotland following the Sat Nav. This is the first tour I’ve used it and it is amazing how all your other navigational senses are snubbed for it. I became blind to the scenery I’d come to know, the familiar roads. Sat Nav was everything!
Arriving at Kirkcaldy as it darkens. Circling around and then in to the Adam Smith Theatre, where James Yorkston humbly shows me to the backstage, introduces me to Yorkston senior and the other acts assembled (Phil Selway is soundchecking with Laura Moody, and Kathryn Williams and family are lounging around the snack table). Already there are my backing band for tonight. Brilliant team DTB: Seth Bennett on double bass, Lucy Frankel on violin and Rachael Simpson on trumpet (who I now find out did the music for a past addiction of mine, Clay Jam). Pre-show we all slip off to a local Italian restaurant, the fact that Tomo behaved so well and ate up his pasta was a real blessing, a lovely dinner to ease us into the evening. As for the show, what a nice time it was. Kath and I sitting at the back marvelling at Laura’s brilliance. My only regret is not recording this set, the gang fitted in so naturally!
We’ve a lovely hotel sorted and a good nights rest is had in readiness for the breakfast included. Setting us up for a gentle jaunt down to Leith. Stopping off to show the boy the beach and the ships lining up in the estuary. He’s a big stones fan, I mean he’s really into stones right now. Unfortunately, big pebble in hand, he slips in the shingle and bashes it right in his nose, leaving a big scrape. Poor little bear.
Actually, we swing by Leith but move straight round into Edinburgh to find our hotel. Katrine got a late deal, in an unexpectedly fancy place. They have gifts for Tomo in a made-up cot and very friendly and helpful staff. The cleaners stop to ask whether we would like them to leave some sweets and snacks for Tomo in the room. So it turns out the place doesn’t usually have any rates less than twice what we paid. Lucky! Enough of that. That’s not DIY ethic is it… I want mice running up the wall beside me as I curl up on a mouldy sofa at the student promoter’s friend’s brother’s flat.
I go by myself back out to Leith to get set up at the Happiness Hotel chez Song, by Toad records HQ. The generally good egg and all round sweary gobshite at the helm, Matthew, was overseeing things despite a terrible cold. In this cosy in-house recording studio complete with wood-burning stove my ‘collective’ is Neil Pennycook (Meursault), Lucy Frankel again, as well as a second fiddle player Robyn Dawson (who I didn’t know before tonight and in the hullabaloo forgot her name!), Mario Cruzado, who has been making a lot of video stuff for SbT, and my old pal RM Hubbert. The sound system is very minimal, and creates an intimate atmosphere. The show was really brilliant. A lovely attentive audience and some surprising swells of beauty from the band. Before my set the collaborating band each took to the stage, Neil running off a couple of songs, Hubby playing a couple of pieces, including a rendition of one of my favourites. Emotional stuff. Mario showcases his own songs and Lucy gives us a fiddle tune with accompaniment from Mario, Neil and Robyn. It was also nice to see Johnny Pictish Trail, who was luckily in town that weekend for a show of his own.
We’re able to have a leisurely breakfast including veggie cooked breakfast and plenty from the ample buffet. What a treat! #sorrynotsorry before heading over to Glasgow. Where we’re able to dump our stuff at the Travelodge and have a leisurely lunch and coffee in town before heading out to the Hug and Pint. Really well treated here! Given tea and vegan asian inspired dinner and generally checked on by lovely staff. Tonight is monday and monday is not a great gig day. Nevertheless I have a good time. Opening the show is a good friend of an old friend of mine, Robert Sotelo (Andrew Robert Doig) doing his first full band show for his new, critically acclaimed, album, Cusp. A thoroughly nice bunch. I also have Hubby come down to add some flamenco percussive touches. The setting is quite different from the previous night. As I’ve also stolen the Robert Sotelo group for the show too. It actually turned out to work really nicely in a lot of places on this evenings journey. Thank you David, Niall and Gavin for being game. Thanks to Brian for agreeing to put the show on. And on second thoughts I should have taken up the offer to open for Faust the following night, what a missed opportunity! I was too focussed on sticking to my plan.
We’re based in Otley for the next bout of shows, giving Tomo some grandma, cousin, aunt, and uncle time. After a couple of days rest, Katrine and I scoot off to Sheffield. Tonight is Friday Night! It was a delight to get to see Regather, and meet Tim, what a great project and place. James Green agreed to come and join in, albeit briefly with a French harmoniflute (!), which did add a nice texture and melodious atmos to a couple of tracks before he sloped off to watch my antics from the audience. Sam Airey opened the show with some lovely electric picking and melancholic songs. The only downside to this whole evening (even drunken heckling added a certain something) was that I think I got Sam’s cold from sharing the microphone. What an error.
The following night we head up to Middlesbrough, and the Middlesbrough Institute for Modern Art. I’m pleased to catch up with Luke Harding, who now runs The Smeltery (plus a few events here), in addition to his award winning Vegetarian restaurant, The Waiting Room, in Eaglescliffe, a few minutes drive away. I know I’m not an easy sell in a town I’ve never played on a cold wintery night, but a small appreciative crowd gather in the cavernous foyer to watch and listen to me bellow into the acoustics and squeal some feedback around. Actually one of the most enjoyable solo shows! Also, the slow food is amazing. I had a delicious veg lasagne! A delightful evening attested to by this kind review.
Trundling back on a clear A19/A1 back to our sleeping baby. I’m heading back up this way on Monday to play Newcastle with Neil Turpin. It comes around quickly, we had a nice family sunday dinner round at my Bro’s house – he’s been working on his crackling (whatever that is). My first time to the Cumberland Arms, and the show was probably one of the tightest jams for some time – Neil was on the ball, and I think we did the fastest version of ‘Nature’ I’ve ever done. The sound guy Ian took some feeds from the desk and we have a brill recording from this night. Will see what I can do with it all… Opening the night was an aural onslaught from local oddball and nice guy Waskerley Way. The event was summed up in this positive appraisal by the lovely Ben Lowes-Smith.
The last few shows I will sum up in Part 4…
Arrive London Heathrow.
Collect hire car for a 2-month rental. Speed round the M25. Have a night to cuddle my family and have a rest before the first show.
Head to Brighton the following day. Hey, have you heard of the Rose Hill? It’s ever so lovely! This is the first of my efforts to cajole some acquaintances into performing with me – and this night will prove to set the bar very high indeed! Marcus Hamblett was my saviour in rounding up the team. Team DTB tonight is MH himself – on crutches (not playing them – his chosen device is guitar), the dear Tristram Bawtree also on guitar, Alabaster dePlume on saxophonical (he also opened the show with his ascerbic and poignant socialist ranting), the wonderful Emma Gatrill on clarinet (through effects board) and marvellous Tom Heather as drummist. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter bunch. It sounded like we’d had a week of rehearsals, most of it just worked so perfectly!
So, verily boosted by that, I zoom back in the pitch dark of Sussex for a sleep, narrowly avoiding running down a cyclist who’d chosen, in the middle of the night, a foggy night, to cycle with no lights or reflective clothing.
Headed for London the next day – I meet up with Danny Green, who has agreed to jangle his guitar tonight, we have a pizza and discuss the oddness of what we do, prancing about in front of people with daft songs what we writ. But hey, people come to see it so can’t complain getting the opportunity to do something you enjoy so much. Also agreeing to form tonights band is Alabaster DePlume again – he’s residing locally so just a stroll for him to get to Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney, and The brilliant Jonny Bridgwood and Howard Monk – as you may recall they we’re my band back in 2009/10 for the Outbreeding record and surrounding live shows. Wow, this turned out to be a high energy performance to a packed room and thoroughly enjoyable -the band absolutely nailed it! The night was opened by FELL, the brainband of Nicolas Burrows, one of the nicest chaps to sport a moustache.
I have a show tomorrow in London and thought the drive back to Sussex where the family is was a bot of a waste if I have to shoot off in the morn – I am kindly housed that night by my old pal from University, Leon, who inadvertently keeps us up chatting until the early hours. The next day I move the car from the soon to expire parking space, and drive up to near Tufnell Park where I pop in to see Beth and Sam, giving them their copy of the record they guest on. And strolling up the Heath for the sunset. The venue is just round the corner. A smaller space and a chance to see creaky old-timers Billy Mahonie show they still have the post-rock grooves and moves! Also playing is electro-northerner Seckar, with synth melodies and smart beats. My show was a little more ramshackle, but fun nonetheless! A sneaky cameo from a hunched-over fiddle player who crept in and crept out (a particularly enigmatic Sam Amidon). Guest guitarring from Billy Mahonie’s Gavin Baker. Plus some vocal noodles from soprano Sarah Dacey and producer, beatboxer, general good egg Matthew Ker (MaJiKer). I night-drive once again back down to Sussex – It’s a nice thing to be able to come back to the most bestest two humans in the world so sweetly sleeping and lie down to sleep soundly with them.
The following day is a trip to Hastings. I’m getting to catch up with decent chaps, Greg Butler (director of the film about me) and Chris Broughton (no relation) who have been superb at arranging and promoting a beautiful gig at The Printworks. Friend Howie Reeve happened to be touring the same time with the opportiunity to cross paths here – I invited him to play a set and he opened the show. What a brain pecking delight. You must check out his records – even if ony for the beautiful sleeve artwork! Local Otti and the Voices performed a set. It was a wonderful night even with the bellows of laughter from the chatterers downstairs.
Sunday daytime is another London jaunt. A matinee show at the cosy Servant Jazz Quarters with Nancy Wallace, proper english folk, and RM Hubbert, proper Scottish bloke. it all seems too brief. Hubby has to shoot off before I play, but not to worry I will catch him in Scotland as he’s promised to join my band! And Nancy too has something she has to get to, long time ago I used to play a few of the early London shows organised by The Local (Howard Monk) with Nancy. Busy sundays. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this, one of a handful of solo shows on this tour.
Monday is a rest day, but of course I’m in mid-tour head and can’t stop it spinning with thoughts of what’s going to happen and what already happened.
Tuesday we set off as a family up to Cambridge. I don’t think I’ve been here as a performer since I played a show at the Portland Arms as stayed in a Uni College eating breakfast in the dining hall with students and professors and whatnot. We’re staying at The Waterman as well as doing the show in the potting shed attached to the back of it. Dan Carney stepped in to get this show together for me, I’d not seen him since around 2005 or 2006 or something when he was part of the band I Had An Inkling. Anyway – a thoroughly nice chap, as is his pal C Joynes, not-so-fresh from the plane from Bangladesh, who opened the show with his inspiring amped up folk guitar. I learn that Euros Childs and Rosie Smith (who will join me in Cardiff) are playing at that old Portland Arms right across the road so I pop in to say hello before I play. I joked about them having stole the audience but my little 30 person capacity room fills up.
In the morning we had a lovely veggie breakfast included in the accommodation. Have a bot of time to run around Jesus Green with the little rascal, kicking up the autumn leaves, and tickling the posh drunks swigging rosé from the bottle at 10am.
We only have a short drive up to Leicester for the next show. I’ve been put on as a ‘Her Name Is Calla presents…’ by good chap Tom Morris. He’s agreed to have local soundbuilder Peter Wyeth and Adam Weikert (from his band) play a set each to open the show as well as jam with me – as a surprise extra another Calla member, Thom Corah, strolls on with his trombone! Adam bangs some loud keys as well as all the atmospherics he and Peter inject, makes for interesting listening -I think I played a little too long for the small crown that had gathered on this drizzly night. Must mention that The Cookie is a great venue though, and we were staying in the Travelodge just a few steps away, which made for a very convenient night (I was able to have a beer despite promising myself a dry tour!).
Although the next show is only in Nottingham I’m driving up to Otley to deposit Katrine and Tomo – She has an thing to go to in Leeds so Grandma is called upon to look after our little tot. Not long after getting up to Otley I set off back down the M1 to the Maze – so I barely skim the edge of Nottingam really. This will be another solo show, Chris doesn’t want to try and play with me and I had totally not been organised enough to ask Katy. They had organised two other acts for the bill, and what lovely treats they were too, Polly Hardy was a great sparse guitar and voice melancholia performance smoky tones. Giant Head wielded a great heavy synth rack and pounded our guts with heavy beats, wild twiddly bits and profound rapping. Actually really great!
It’s a fast ride up a lonely M1 back to Otley for sleeping.
We’ve a day off.
Part 3, soon.
Post-Tour Blues vs. Festive Cheer!
It was a wonderful tour experience – I was able to travel most of it with my beautiful family and sate that empty feeling of the lonely hotel room/promoter’s sofa, after all your temporary friends have taken the last bus home, muttering of early starts to the office. I’ve not updated you all about the tour! Mainly due to having some quality down time gorging on mince pies, and strolling in the crisp winter sun, through long shadows and country air. I’ve emerged from the chocolate induced coma to recall my travails:
Having said I was able to tour avec ma famile, the first couple of weeks I was solo through France and Spain…
After one sleep off the big plane I was Eurostar bound and shuttling through the Chunnel to Lille Europe. L’il Europe. First stop, Lille. To play a show for good old Nico. I also meet, for the first time, some players who are on Crippling Lack. Timothée Couteau, a talented cellist, who will be improvising along with me that night, and Olivier Minne, one of the drummers on the record – will be playing guitar in the opening act tonight (Walter Brückmann). A wonderful evening. Tim cello’d the heck out of the set, and there was some audience participation as a fairly inebriated pair dragged a settee to the front of the stage area, to the consternation of the rest of the audience. They had assessed a boundary that needed crossing from audience into performance. I proceeded to sit down with them, giving a personal serenade. Who knows? Maybe we planned it?
Pleasant budget hotel with a decent breakfast buffet before a leisurely day in Lille before getting the train to Le Mans. I’m staying with Raphäelle out in Le Mans, with a mind to try to record some new material (no more to be said about that for now, we’re reviewing a fairly odd amount of guff, destined for the cutting room floor).
Next show is in a lovely sandwich shop (Le Sandwicherie) at the back corner where an old bakery used to be, for a very small crowd. It’s my first time to the City and it was a nice reception. The local beer (just a couple – trying not to be boozing for the sake of my voice) and the food were delicious.
The subsequent shows were also intimate. My first ever visit to Nantes was a great show to eight people. One of which was barely six months old. I’m not sure, but I think she knew some of the lyrics. The city is a delight though. A pleasant walk around the Japanese garden was a nice gentle pre-gig potter. Trying not to booze on tour is pretty difficult when you like the taste of decent beer, and some of this continental stuff is pretty snazzy.
Paris was a difficult one to get off the ground, but eventually Olympic Cafe came to the rescue. Not many in and a spontaneous addition of MaJiKer beatboxing along with me made for a unique and interesting show – some magical moments. But I always find Paris a tough crowd. I’d been gallantly escorted through Paris earlier that afternoon by the delightful Adrian Crowley. What a pleasure to catch up with him. At least his niece thought my show was one of the best she’d ever seen! I flopped down to sleep on a kindly donated sofa, my host, Raph’s friend, had been at God Speed! around the corner (ah! that’s who stole my audience!). I had to dash off early the next morning to get a plane to Madrid – where I was playing that night.
Luckily I was treated to a surprise earlier flight than I had remembered booking (I’d got confused), so there was plenty of time provided I got to the airport in time. Sorted. Got to Madrid with time to spare. Check in – Spain always sorts out decent hotels! – showered and fresh – The lovely Eduardo shows me to the venue.
This is what the general consensus was regarding that night’s performance: Not sure if the review is 10/10 for my show or the review itself
Eduardo took me for some proper standing-up spanish food. melt-in-the-mouth lemon marinated shark nuggets, deep fried squishy seaweed, simple mixed wild mushrooms, etc etc. What a delight.
A lovely fill of buffet brekkie in the morn and I trundle back to the Airport to pick up the hire car. I’m off on a little solo road trip!
I pick up a car – a little smaller than expected, but my trusty steed for the next five shows/six long drives. Well the first drive is not too long, just a couple of hours or so up to Valladolid. Passing over icy peaks where my ears popped. I’m struck by how many raptors circle to skies along these journeys. Kite, eagle, buzzard and hawk. I’m generally the only thing on the road for much of the drive. Great headspace.
Valladolid is famous for the storks nesting on the big old architecture. I don’t really have time to seek it out – by the time I’ve squeezed into the hotel parking crevice, shoved my stuff into the room, and had a cafe con milk, it’s time to trek through the dimming streets to the venue. This gig has been a mysterious secret location for the punters until today. Turns out the owner of the bar is newly licenced so doesn’t want to push it with the authorities. I’m shown the space (by my lovely host Juan, who’s hosted me twice before up in chilly old V-town) which turned out to be a small mezzanine area – an exclusive 30 people maximum get to sit up here for my show, and weirdly, the bar downstairs remains open as usual. I battle the sound of bustling bar, while the bar down there heckles up at the mezzanine. Actually the show went pretty well! Juan and his pals show me their favourite little bar for a couple of drinks to cap off the night.
The next morning, after a hearty buffet, and a cheery crowd of Japanese tourists flooding the foyer in synchronised map check – all broadsheet city maps spread out like umbrellas in a kind of am-dram interpretation of a Busby Berkley set piece.I set off to Vigo – the car emerging from the crevice unscathed. Some of the landscape is breathtaking – but I’m not in a position to photograph it, lest I swerve into a ditch. I’ve no expectations from this gig – It turns out it was a kind of punt by the promoter which didn’t pay off – they sold 10 tickets and not all of them turned up – I played to a row of six people on the seating one side of the room and three or four standees. I thought it was actually one of my best sets ever – but there will be scant, if any, record of it! I leave Vigo (too early to sit down for breakfast) with memories of fried squid sandwich and a bad full of water and juice – the guy at the venue took pity on me when I told him about my drive the next day. And so – 8 hours straight to make it to soundcheck in the south of France! I know from experience that this is the norm for US, but I’m not sharing the driving if that makes for a little sympathy?
Highways all the way, fast through undulating hills and high plains, 0n into Basque country where the roadsigns suddenly become even more incomprehensible. Into tunnels as I bypass all the potential wonderment of thenorth coast. Through the western Pyrenees into Basque France. I arrive in a grey and wet outskirts fading industrial docks area, and a beautiful church looming in the dusk. This edifice, shell, now provides a space for art – an exhibition of culture, sound and sculpture, into which me and banjo player Colin Faivré must insert a performance. He plays first with his signature, illuminated from inside, baritone banjo. We play shoeless on a carpeted area – I point my voice into the acoustic space – it manipulated the show into a drawn out ambient affair. What a lovely event. François and family kind hosts.
The next day I must hightail it to Zaragoza. I’m meeting Eduardo again. The drive was glorious – heading into evening sunshine through open landscape of Spain and being the only car on the road most of the time. The auditorium was a nice size although I may have had too much stage – I continue to use the toy megaphone thing Greg Butler lent me, but often is losing it’s impact and the sound goes thin, most likely due to fading batteries. So it becomes even more an incongruent factor in the performance. What fun!
(the thing – don’t tell Greg – is now completely defunct. I opened it up and the circuitry has all degraded – it will need a very expert solderer or new circuit board)
My final show in Spain is a collaborative ‘encontre’ with dance Pepa Cases, in Castellón de la Plana. We’ve not met or practiced. It turned out to be a delightful evening. Pepa bursts in the room as I’m playing and interprets the music in a dance performance that plays around with my space – peeping through my legs and adjusting my mix and cables, as I remain in my performance. And of course, it is always a pleasure to catch up with the very nice Jose Luis.
I speed off in the morning without any time to wait for breakfast – I’m dropping the car off at Madrid airport to catch the plane back to England.
Hold on for the … Next episode
Sorry this outlet is looking a little sparse, a spruce up of this website is well overdue and is coming soon.
For now, though….
A handful of dates in China!
Wuhan, 30 June, warm-up/taster show @ Sense Club Records.
Shanghai, 1 July @ basement 6.
Suzhou, 2 July @ Locke Pub.
Beijing, 4 July @ Dusk Dawn Club.
Wuhan, 5 July @ Vox Livehouse.