Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Word From The Cunt That Created The Product

I received an email the other day from someone I'd never heard of at Demon/Edsel Records:

Hello,
I hope this email finds you well.
I work for Demon Music Group and we will be reissuing the three Wreckless Eric CDs on the 9th September.
 I was hoping you would be able to post a picture/link and some info re the releases (which I can provide) on your facebook page please to let the fans know?
I look forward to hearing from you.
With thanks,
Lidia

I wanted to reply:

Thank you very fucking much for telling me about this release - are you people always so fucking rude to the artists whose work you’re peddling?

But I didn't - I took control of myself and asked which three Wreckless Eric CDs she might be talking about, as there are rather a lot of them.

Turns out it's the first three: Wreckless Eric, The Wonderful World Of... and Big Smash - and only on CD though they might consider a vinyl release later in the year. I wish then luck with that - CD sales are at an all time low. Still, it might be nice if they sent me a box or two to sell at shows, give away to the family, or just to have in the archive. I'm wondering what the chances are - I'm still waiting for Union Square to send me a copy of the last Stiff Records reissue of my catalogue.

I could get quite upset about this kind of thing. No could about it in fact - I do, I get very fucking upset. Nice people - they really know how to treat the cunt that created their product. But there's nothing I can do about it so there's no sense in dwelling on it for too long because it's a waste of energy. Instead I tried to concentrate on what I can do to capitalise on the situation.

For the past few years I've been putting off re-editing my autobiography, A Dysfunctional Success, with a view to making it available as an ebook, and eventually a new print edition.
It's a good time for it to come out again with these latest reissues. You can buy my first three albums and read some of the background, not that I celebrated the hallowed Stiff Records - I think they've already done enough of that themselves.

The book is about being a child in the late fifties and early sixties, about growing up in middle-class suburban England, about not fitting in and searching for some sort of identity. It's about my haphazard and all too sudden rise to fleeting stardom in the seventies and what happened when it all went wrong - squalor, poverty, Thatcher's Britain in the 1980s. It's a pop biography by virtue of being written by a minor pop star but it's a million miles from the smarmy world of pop success. It's a testament to my own personal success - how I survived, came out intact and was even able to write a book about it!

Here are a couple of extracts:
extract 1
extract 2

It took me a couple of years because I moved house three times, possibly in attempts to escape from the writing. It was hard work. Twelve years later I think I might have worked even harder to make it available as an ebook. Now I'm working on another print edition, and if I still have a mind left having achieved that I might even write another book.

I've learned an awful lot about formatting in the past couple of weeks. I crawled over the manuscript, correcting mistakes that went un-noticed in the original edition, and created a lovingly handcrafted digital ebook thing. I cursed at Kindle and Smashwords and I-Books, and at my own inability to understand complicated instructions, but it looks like I've finally done. It’ll be available on September 4th from Amazon or iBooks.

I know some people hate the whole Kindle/i-reader thing - I resisted for years until I realised I could go on tour without dragging a whole library of rapidly disintegrating books along with me. Same goes for the i-pod - I'd love to take my entire album collection with me when I leave home for three months at a time but it isn't very practical. Especially on aeroplanes.

When I’ve got over the shock of publishing my first ebook I’ll get to work on the print edition. In the meantime you can pre-order the ebook and have it automatically delivered to your device at the stroke of one minute past midnight on the morning of Sunday 4th September. I’m not sure that there’s any incentive for you to pre-order except to help boost me into the bestseller lists - and of course that’s going to happen - but I’d be obliged if you would. You’ll be part of the making of my very own dysfunctional success and for that I’ll be grateful. That’s your incentive! Here are the relevent links:

Kindle:

i-book:

And because I'm not churlish, and because even though they may not be my products they're my albums, here's a link to the Demon/Edsel reissues:

Wreckless Eric: http://amzn.to/2arbSVd
Wonderful World Of Wreckless Eric: http://amzn.to/2aY4UM5
Big Smash: http://amzn.to/2aNNY9i 






Wednesday, July 27, 2016

amERICa Coast to Coast 6


Forty one dates and fifteen thousand miles, north to south, east to west and back again across the United States and Canada, just me with three guitars, an amplifier, two fuzz boxes, a cheap delay pedal and a dodgy looper that puts things backwards and cuts them to half speed. I broke four strings on my acoustic guitar and one on my telecaster. I ran through five sets of electric guitar strings, eleven sets of acoustic strings and close on a hundred guitar picks. I almost wore a hole in the top of the acoustic guitar. I had to keep brushing sawdust off the thing - I’ve never played with such consistent violence. I suppose it’s a reflection of the times we’re living in.

Now I’ve been home for a month and that old familiar just like I’ve never been away feeling is creeping back in. I'm hoping that in time we can make the house look a bit less like a depot. When either or both of us come home the house fills up with dirty laundry, guitar cases, leads cases, amplifiers and stuff. The laundry's all done now, guitar cases are stacked up in the garage, guitars are cluttering up every room and I'm busy writing songs for a new album.

The touring is fast turning into a distant memory and I'm left wondering if it all actually happened. I think it did. I’ve given up trying to single out the highlight shows - they were all highlights in their way - I blew people’s minds. That seems to be what I do, I blow minds.

I was sitting outside the club in New Orleans before I played. A tall guy strolled up accompanied by a good looking woman. The promoter scooted up and quickly explained that the guy was a New Orleans hotshot guitar player, Mason Ruffner. We were introduced and it was slightly awkward because he obviously wasn’t that interested, and who could blame him. They’d strolled by to catch a couple of songs because his wife liked Whole Wide World.

When I finished my set he came rushing over to me, wild eyed and exclaiming:
‘You just blew my fuckin’ mind man - I ain’t never seen one guy with a guitar do that! And plus, you don’t give a fuck do ya?!!?’
I played it cool but I was quietly thrilled - he’s a great guitar player and he obviously meant what he said.

I liked Marfa in Texas an awful lot. I’d been wanting to go there for sometime. A sleepy town on the edge of the West Texas desert - the minimalist Donald Judd bought some buildings there and a small artists community developed. I played in the Lost Horse Saloon. The owner was a real cowboy - a monument to the Wild West: seven feet tall in cowboy boots, a floor length duster coat, Stetson and a black leather eye patch. He had a German girlfriend called Astrid. The show had been organised by a lovely woman called Julie who escaped to Marfa from Austin. I found out later she’d held a bake sale to help raise money to put the show on. We stayed in her Air B’n’B and it was quite wonderful.

I had fun, I survived, and I think I got away with it:
  • I hung out by the ocean in Brunswick, Georgia, and narrowly escaped being murdered by a lifesize baseball bat wielding bunny rabbit
  • bought an early seventies Silvertone hollow body guitar in perfect condition for next to nothing from a pawn shop in a sleepy town in the wilds of southern Georgia 
  • visited the Country Music Hall Of Fame with Amy who flew into Nashville too late for my outdoor show at the fabulous Fond Object; 
  • spent a few days in Lafayette, Louisiana, hanging at with Tess and Patrick of Lagniappe Records and saw alligators in the bayou
  • caught up (albeit briefly) with the great Hartleroad brothers and cousin 
  • endured the desert heat of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona 
  • rediscovered the great tamale takeaway in El Paso
  • celebrated my 62nd birthday in Tucson, Arizona
  • had the greatest time I’ve ever had in California
  • played a show in Los Angeles with Jessica Espeleta and Bart Davenport as my last minute backing band 
  • had The Mantles as a cameo backing band for a couple of tunes in San Francisco 
  • caught up with Roy Loney in SF and Scott McCaughey in Portland, Oregon
  • met up with my old tour manager and soundman Tony Ferguson from the glory days of Stiff Records. He told me he was really proud of me and that meant a lot
  • almost lost my mind in the Canadian Rockies on a two day drive from Vancouver to Calgary 
  • reflected on the futility of existence over the thirteen hundred miles between Edmonton and Sioux City (broken up by a show in Winnipeg which looked like it might be a disaster but ended up being a triumph)
  • hung out for a day with Ryan Myers at Sioux City Guitars trying out his handmade amps and effects 
  • made my way steadily eastward and home via shows in Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus, Detroit and Rochester where I woke up in the same room where I’d woken up a year last May, terrified at the prospect of playing a collection of new tunes from my as yet unreleased amERICa album for the first time, at a festival in Toronto later that night - I was just a beginner back then.
Of course there's a lot more to it than that - you can read about it in previous posts. I try not to repeat myself.

*****

I made it through the night in room 622 of the Sioux City Howard Johnson. I got into bed and even though it was a warm night I kept all my clothes on. I was beginning to feel itchy and I was hoping it was just psychosomatic. It’s not just neurosis - I once contracted scabies from a hotel very similar to this once, and that was a very distressing and debilitating experience.

I made the room as ok as I could - selected a couple of pillows from a mis-matched collection of six, three on each queen-size bed. They were the sort of cheap pillows that are filled with chunky off-cuts of foam from an upholstery factory Nothing felt clean, the bed covers and pillow cases were creased and rumpled as though they’d just come out of storage. The carpet was gritty and stained. There was a two inch gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. I rolled up the bath mat to block the gap - this is standard practice - you don’t want the outside world intruding - draughts, light, cigarette smoke, mice… so you roll up the bath mat and block the gap. That’s what the bath mat is for.


I should pass on a few survival tips culled from years of road experience:
  • Put the plug in the sink and fill it up past the overflow. The overflow pipe quite often holds trapped water and unless it’s change it goes stagnant, and that’s part of the reason hotel rooms often stink.
  • Open a window if you can. The air conditioning unit might well replace the air but it’ll be passing through dirty filters and layers of greasy fluff. Best not to dwell on that.
  • If there’s a microwave don’t open it (a precautionary measure - you don’t know how clean it might not be). Unplug it if you can so that the light from the clock doesn’t keep you awake. 
  • Do the same with the fridge. You don’t need the noise of the fridge kicking in every forty minutes. If you can’t unplug the appliances without moving the furniture or reaching into a grubby and undusted recess put a folded towel over the microwave clock and turn the temperature control in the inside of the fridge to the off position. Make sure you shut the fridge door properly.
  • If the bed has a plastic mattress cover under the sheet you’ll need to remove it or you’ll wake up in a lake of your own sweat. I’ve thought about this rather more than I’ve really wanted to but it has led me to a fairly positive viewpoint: any spillage by previous occupants of a sexual, menstral or incontinent nature will most likely have been intercepted by the plastic sheet because no one else will have had the foresight to remove it, so the chances are that the mattress underneath will be pristine, not that you ever want to actually see the mattress. YOU NEVER WANT TO SEE A NAKED HOTEL MATTRESS. What you don’t see doesn’t exist.
  • This is how you remove and dispose of the plastic sheet without ever seeing the mattress: Open the wardrobe door. Go to the back corner of the bed furthest from the wardrobe, gently lift the fitted sheet, without looking remove the fitted corner of the plastic sheet, and (still not looking) push the plastic sheet under the undersheet and the fitted corner. Repeat on the other corners, and when you get to the last corner which should be the one next to the open wardrobe, quickly pull the whole plastic sheet out from under the sheet, stuff it into the wardrobe and shut the door on it. Try to do this without breathing. Replace the fourth corner, wash your hands and try very hard to think of something else, something wholesome, something pleasant.
  • If the hotel room is too grubby and it’s too cold to go and sleep in your vehicle, or you don’t have a vehicle, you could forgo performing the plastic sheet trick and just sleep on top of the fully made up bed in your clothes and whatever you have in the way of an overcoat. This is also a good solution for beds where the mattress is completely shot and you’re just lying on springs covered with a threadbare expanse of piss-stained poly-cotton and an undersheet.
  • And one final tip: when you take your socks off remember to put each sock into the shoe to which it purtains. If you don’t do this you run the risk of putting your socks on the wrong feet and after a week or two wearing the same socks you’ll get blisters.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

amERICa Coast to Coast - The Sioux City Howard Johnson

It’s half past midnight and I’ve just checked into a shabby old Howard Johnson hotel in downtown Sioux City. There’s something a bit creepy about the place - corridors lead off in every direction and turn unexpected corners, and to get to the parking garage, which connects with the hotel on the second floor, you have to negociate a skyway. They have skyways in Minneapolis too, that’s where I’ve seen them before - you can walk around the entire city centre through a series of skyways that connect the buildings one floor above the street. They have to have skyways because if you go outside even for an instant any time between late October and the end of March you’ll disintegrate in the sub-sub-zero winter temperatures. Unless you drown in the snow first.

I drove here from Winnipeg. It took nine hours and the road was very straight, apart from when it tilted slightly and unexpectedly and nearly sent me driving off it into one of the redundant looking fields that cluttered the sides of the road. A man could lose his grip out here.

I drove through prairies from Calgary to Edmonton, and from Edmonton to Winnipeg, and from Winnipeg to the US border where the landscapes stops being Canadian Prairies and starts being just one of those far flung places in America where not many people live, a place that breeds Donald Trump supporters, and where America’s most dangerous live off the grid and prepare for Armageddon.

The Sioux City Howard Johnson must have been built in the sixties when it would have been the last word in modern, connected to the city by the skyways, heralding the arrival of the space age to the flatlands of Iowa. Now it’s a sad and crumbling dump and they’re busy with renovating it. A sign in the lobby apologises for the swimming pool being closed to guests and for noise, and somewhat disturbingly smells caused by building work, as this is for the good of the hotel.

My room smells funny - it’s a non-smoking room but it has a mustiness about it - a hint of cigarette smoke, ill-concealed by that spray on/wipe off furniture polish that’s good for nothing more than removing stubborn stains like encrusted semen from teak-effect melamine.

I’m here for two nights. I wish I could open the window but it’s a double glazed panel and it doesn’t open. It’s probably as well, I might get a sudden urge to jump out. Or some unseen force might push me out. This place has been around a while - bad things are sure to have happened here.

So this is how the West was won. I wonder how the early settlers got on without skyways and how they would have taken to them if the skyways had already been here. My mind is jumping around. I think the shows in Vancouver and Calgary coupled with the monumental two day drive through the Rockies to get from one to the other have conspired to disarrange my mind.

I’ve been driving for days. I left the hot summer weather behind somewhere north of Chico in California. I drove for half the night and all the next day to get to Portland, Oregon, in time to play after a sold out show at The Make Out Room in San Francisco. The Mantles opened the show, a delightful band. There was talk of them backing me on part of the set though what I’m doing is really essentially a solo thing - just me alone taking full responsibility, holding myself to account as I work my way through acoustic pop toe-tappers, bizarrely constructed ditties, electric freak outs, weirdness, meanderings and the odd crisis of confidence, hopefully arriving at some sort of triumphant conclusion.

I got The Mantles on with no soundcheck and no real preparation - they ran on with guitars and drumsticks as I started Whole Wide World, played the song pretty well perfectly and disappeared leaving me on my own again as though nothing had happened. I got them back for the end of the encore to play I Wish It Would Rain - they’d told me they knew it and they very nearly did. We had a couple of false starts and they tentatively made their way into it. By the chorus they were locked in. A class act!

I should go to bed - crawl under the covers, switch off the light and disappear this depressing room, but I can’t because the bed is as wide as it is long. There are four small and lonely looking pillows leaned up against the headboard of this monstrous monument to sleeping, or more likely to coked-up sex with four groupies and a couple of roadies. Like I said, things must have happened in this hotel. Adultry, incest, bestiality… it’s probably been used for a porno shoot or two. I think I may even have seen a clip with this room in it.

I turned back the bed…no sheets. So I went down to reception, explained the position and asked to change the room - preferably for one with a smaller bed. Now I’m in the room next door which she said was probably nicer though she couldn’t guarantee it. ‘I don’t go up there very often,’ she said.

Something about the way she said up there worried me but I’m trying to put that out of my mind. Surely I’ve earned the right to be temporarilly a bit highly strung at this point. If it wasn’t for the thought of wandering through the skyways in search of the parking garage and the car I’d find a nicer hotel and check out. Perhaps I’ll do that tomorrow.

If I make it through the night.


Only nine days until the final date of the tour at the appropriately named Grand Victory in Brooklyn NYC - click the link and buy a ticket !!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Coast To Coast - Cover Story

A woman approached me at a windswept gas station somewhere between Calgary and Edmonton:
‘Excuse me but did you drive here all the way from New York?’
I thought about it because I’m at the point in this tour now where I have to think out the answers to even the easiest questions.
‘Yes, I suppose I did.’
I hadn’t thought about it quite like that so it came as a bit of a surprise to me. 
The woman shook my hand and pretty soon the whole family were gathered and she was asking if I’d mind if she took a photo because she was surely never going to see another New York licence plate in her lifetime. It crossed my mind that life must be pretty dull round here - you get born, the seasons change, you live, you die and you never see an out of state licence plate from somewhere exotic like New York or New Jersey or Pennsylvania or somewhere. There must be the odd bit of excitement, like lightning striking the grain silo or someone going mad - maybe even a murder…
‘What are you doing here? Where are you headed?’
I have to be careful what I say - I went a bit too far the other day at another remote gas station somewhere in Washington state. The attendant was a spotty kid with sticky out ears and an inquiring mind. He couldn’t help noticing my licence plate.
‘You’ve driven all the way from New York! What are you doing here?’
I fixed him with a look and said quietly: ‘I’ve come to kill a man.’
I calmly got in the car taking all the time in the world, gunned the motor and took off at high speed. You can do things like that when you’re wearing a battered straw hat, shades, and driving a large dark blue Buick.
I laughed as I drove away and suddenly felt a chill - what if he calls the cops…? 

I want to tell them I’m a rock musician, a recording artist, a minor rock’n’roll star, on a huge US tour, blowing peoples minds… 
Actually, no, I don’t. But I sort of wish they knew because my cover story is so fucking boring it even does me in: I always wanted to drive across America and when I retired my wife said 'go for it!' So here I am… I expect she just wanted to get me out from under her feet… and I can see them thinking who can blame her?
It’s really depressing pulling off a cover story like that.

Monday, June 6, 2016

amERICa Coast to Coast 3

When I was first approached the year before last to play in Huntsville, Alabama, my first reaction was not on your life. Then I thought how many English musician can say they’ve played in Alabama? I accepted the offer and on the day I drove there from wherever I was the night before in fear and trembling. I was pleasantly surprised. The venue was the brewing room of a micro brewery. There was a small, makeshift stage between the big aluminium vats. The place practically had a dirt floor and there were huge doors that opened onto the parking lot.

The show went really well. There were a lot of young people. One of them told me I didn’t know what I meant to kids in Huntsville. These kids were smart, the sons and daughters of scientists and astronauts. I hadn’t realised that Huntsville is the headquarters of NASA. I wondered why the approach was cluttered with ornamental satelites. I met a couple of retired astronauts and a computer scientist who told me he’d designed software that was currently orbiting Venus. It was a fun night.

I went back last year and played at Vertical House Records. They wanted me to play at the brewery again but my car broke down and I had to reschedule, and the brewery was undergoing certain changes. I was looking forward to playing there again but what I hadn’t realised is that the brewery has become hugely successful and they’ve moved the whole operation into a purpose built building on the other side of the street with none of the ramshackle charm of the original place.

I was playing in the bar. The stage area was defined by an area rug, or more likely a large doormat, positioned between the door and the corner of the bar, with a space in front of it for waiters to trot back and forth carrying orders of pizza. The place was vast, thirty feet high with a tin roof. There was nothing in there to soak up the sound of fifty or sixty chattering people who were there principally to talk shit and drink beer.

The only way to deal with that is to either drown in the hubbub of conversation or turn everything up too loud so that people actually realise there’s live music going on. Then it’s a question of alienating the people who aren’t interested - I find a combination of personal remarks, insults, stories in questionable taste and quotes from Metal Machine Music do the trick. In Huntsville it took about twenty minutes and then I was able to play for the people who’d come to hear me do that. The problem in Alabama is that charging admission requires a special licence so a lot of shows are free. You get a flat fee and in the end nobody’s very happy. they should do something about that.

None of this is easy. The shows are getting crazy. Sometimes everything goes to plan and I feel as though I’m walking a tightrope six hundred feet up with no safety net, other times I might as well be in freefall. Things go wrong - feedback refuses to be contained, guitars detune themselves in the air conditioning, sound engineers blame the shortcomings of their ill-maintained equipment on my amplifier and pedal board and I have to take it apart to appease them and prove to them that my equipment is working perfectly and they should really just replace a cable at their end, and the next night something in my board cuts out.

So far in the last month I’ve had two stage invasions, once in Bryan, Texas and again in Austin the following night:

In Bryan it was a random twerp who’d left a few bits behind from an open mic night and decided to stride across the stage in the middle of my set to pack up and ship out. I caught him on the stop in Semaphore Signals, grabbed him by his hippie t-shirt, asked him what the fuck he thought he was doing. Whatever it was he won’t be doing it again. I slapped his face - not hard but enough to make the point. I told him he was being disrepectful, pulled his glasses off his face and stuffed them down the front of his shirt. I poked him in the stomach and told him to fuck off. I thought I’d gone too far but it seems he’s universally loathed at the Revolution Cafe and I wasn’t the only one who thought he was being rude and intrusive. People have to learn.

At the Hole In The Wall in Austin a guy took it upon himself to jump on the stage and sing Whole Wide World. He wasn’t doing a bad job but Amy was about to come on and sing it with me so I got out of the way and Mike Fickel (my right-hand man in Texas) escorted him off.

The Austin show was tricky because the sound was fucked-up. Basically the PA wasn’t working properly and the sound engineer was trying to play it cool instead of fixing the problem. It was better at The South Texas Popular Culture Center in San Antonio. Of course there had to be a support act - there always has to be a support act, and it’s usually someone who’s stoked, psyched or just plain honoured to be opening - they always say that, and sometimes they actually are, but mostly they’ve got used to saying it in order to secure the booking. In San Antonio it was an English guy with a band. They were ok - the lead guitarist was great, I’ve met him before, but the rest was just some hokey stuff, nothing that would help put a frame around the picture, which is what I believe an opening act should do.

I loathe and despise most opening acts - they show up late, they don’t know what their line-up is, they say they’re solo and then arrive with a bass player and drummer. You have to move everything out of the way for them and that effectively means you have to set up again in front of the audience once they’ve finished. It never occurs to them that you’re tired and road weary and all the rest of it. And some of them even expect to use your amplifier and you’re supposed to be ok with that - hey man, it’ll save you having to move it out of our way…’

I prefer it when there’s no opening act, like in Memphis at Galloway House. I had to cobble together a PA system out of the junk they had there but it was all ok - the place was a foreclosure, someone bought it and now it’s a work in progress. A great sounding room - a lot of wood. It was like a miniature version of the Ryman and there was a pipe organ at the back of the stage.

I had an opening act at Fond Object in Nashville, a two piece, drums and guitar. They were really good and I didn’t have to move anything to accommodate them so I was really happy. I wish I could remember what they were called. I had a great time in Nashville, I hung out with the engineer and producer Andrija Tokic and his wife Missy. I actually slept in the house where he recorded the first Alabama Shakes album, Boys & Girls, and I spent an afternoon in his studio, the Bomb Shelter.

Amy flew in to Nashville and we booked into an Air B’n’B. I’d never spent a night in TJ Maxx before. Time was when people with rental properties used them as a repository for all the hideous shit that friends and relatives had foisted on them over the years. Now they just donate it all to the Salvation Army in exchange for a tax write-off and buy new hideous shit from Target and TJ Maxx with the proceeds.

The following day we moved to anothe Air B'n'B, a rustic and ramshackle cabin in someone’s back yard and that was much more the sort of thing. We spent the afternoon at The Country Music Hall Of Fame which unlike most other contemporary music museum was actually more than worth the time and the price of admission.

We drove to Atlanta and I dropped Amy at the airport on my way to Columbia, South Carolina. The venue is a new venture called Spaze. My friend Woody Jones who works at Papa Jazz Records organised the event. The opening act decided it would be a really fun idea if they played completely acoustically clustered around an upright piano in another room. I put a stop to that idea, explained to them that their job was to help focus the event. By playing in a different room they would effectively be unfocusing the event. I think they understood, but they may just have been going along because they were frightened of me. They were actually rather good - guitar, banjo, Omnichord and vocal harmonies. They just need to get rid of a man bun or two and buy some shoes.

The opener used to be called a warm-up act. Sadly these days it could often be called the pre-show ego act. I’m appalled by what sometimes passes for an appropriate opening act. A lot of promoters are so concerned with getting people through the door that they lose sight of the evening as a whole. Promoters used to work hard on building a reputation for putting on great events - the billing had to be right, the evening had to have a cohesive feel and not be just a scattering of half hour mini events (or sad non-happenings).

I’ve done too many shows where I’ve had to follow a succession of over-excited and mediocre garage and powerpop bands. Too fast, too loud, with the kind of high-energy hysteria that’s really embarrassing coming from a collection of middle-aged men. No cool, no groove, and no sympathy for the event. And when they’ve finished the audience are tired, bored, deaf, and used to shouting at each other over the din. And then it’s my turn.


At least one of these bands will have contacted me offering their service as a backing band, and on the day the promoter will tell me excitedly how every band in town wanted to open for me. I don’t think it’s every band - the good ones are all out on tour. I just get the ones that are left.

In Tucson I had a local character called Bradford Trojan opening. It would have been perfect if he’d been solo but he came with a band - a bunch of dudes in matching white outfits playing frantic jerk-off powerpop. It was completely out of sync with what I’m doing and I don’t think it did much to enhance the evening as a whole.

The opener in New Orleans was a complete cunt with a whole collection of attitude problems. His strode onto the stage while I was setting up and started moving things out of his way. I introduced myself because plainly he wasn’t going to, and he said, ‘You’re obviously not from around here, you sound intelligent.’

No, fuckface, I’m not from around here, I’ve travelled three thousand fucking miles to do this and perhaps I deserve some respect. I didn’t bother saying this because you can’t tell some people what they don’t want to know, He bored the bar staff and the doorman and didn’t bother sticking around to find out what I do. I devastated the twenty or so people who showed up. Those people won’t forget me but I’ve already forgotten that arsehole’s name.

Half of this reads like a collection of complaints but I’m going to post it anyway because it’ll free me up to write about some of the good, funny and strange things that have gone on between Louisiana and Vancouver where I turned right and effectively started heading home by a circuitous route through the Canadian Rockies.


Only another three thousand miles to go. the last show is in Brooklyn, New York, at the appropriately named Grand Victory. See you there!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

amERICa Coast to Coast 2


I was already on the outskirts of Knoxville but I drove about fifteen miles in the wrong direction to get an espresso at a new place I’d heard was good. It was quite ok, except that there were bakery attached (always a bad sign) and the accent was as much on the baked goods as it was on the coffee. There are several things that should not come with an espresso: little biscuits, chocolates, After Eight Mints, cartons or jugs of milk or cream, pieces of cake, miniature Easter eggs, twists of lemon peel… The espresso at this place was pretty good but the mini shortbread biscuit was annoying and I really didn’t need a second one with the second espresso.

The guy who made the espresso and served me, which is a roundabout way of not using the awful term barista, said he was looking forward to the Record Store Day show at Lost & Found, said he’d be sure to be there. I don't think he was there of course but I’m skipping ahead a day.

Mammal Gallery in Atlanta is a bit of a fiasco. The place appears to be run by hipsters, slacker kids with low expectations. There was a good turn out but when it came time to get paid apparently only twenty five people paid to get in. They didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong with that as a result so there wasn’t much point in arguing. I don’t imagine I’ll be playing there again.

I returned to Knoxville the next morning with my friend and art agent Shawn Vinson for Record Store Day at Lost & Found Records. I say morning, but it was actually more like afternoon and we were running late because I forgot to set the alarm. We hurtled to towards Knoxville and arrived in time to see Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee’s two piece group, BARK. Tim was stage managing the event so when we arrived I called him unaware that he was onstage in the middle of their set and our conversation was being relayed over the PA. Fortunately I was in a good mood so I didn’t say anything curmudgeonly and rude that might have been relayed to the crowd.

After I played a large middle-aged woman asked if she could give me a hug. 'How would you like a hug from a big booby lady?' was how she put it. Suddenly I was enveloped in womankind. She said I smelled nice. She smelled of fresh laundry so it was quite a nice experience. People keep wanting to hug me. It's been quite a week for hugs one way and another.

I’d never been to Brunswick, never even heard of it - when they approached me to play I had to look at the map to find out where it was.

A psychotic woman in a white bunny rabbit costume gyrated around in the middle of the audience. The sound was great in that place - HBGB it was called. the guy who owned it bought the whole block for fifty thousand dollars - record store, antique store, tattoo parlour, venue. Brunswick is depressed. The tattoo parlour probably does the best business.

The psycho-bunny suddenly announced: ‘I eat shit like you for breakfast’. The remark was aimed at me. I could sense a certain tension in the room.
‘That’s a shame’ I said, ‘I’ve just realised I’m doing something else for breakfast tomorrow.’
The room breathed again and I got on with it.

I was hanging out on the street afterwards. It was quite safe - everyone was very nice and the bunny rabbit had marched off home, I saw her leaving.

She came back armed with a baseball bat and a battered old children’s book which she wanted to give to me. She was quite sweet, she spoke with a soft southern drawl which slowly mutated into a generic north of England accent as told me she came from Houston and lots of other places, and how her mother lived in England where she photographed rock stars but that she was staying behind in Brunswick because she had a lot of neices, nephews and cousins who needed her love.

She wanted to give me a hug. She leaned the baseball bat against the wall and folded me in an embrace that got tighter and tighter…and tighter…and tighter still as her bunny rabbit paws riddled up and down my back. It was faintly terrifying and I was glad when it was over. I thought she was going to break my ribs.

When she’d released me she picked up the baseball bat and a rubber elephant’s head that she’d bought with her. I edged away smiling as charmingly as I could without ever turning away. If I turned my back there’d be a huge white flash, the world would turn blood red, and then nothing. Like an old TV set being turned off, a small white dot would disappear into the middle of the screen I’d be no more.


I gained the safety of the venue and watched from the window as she put on the rubber elephant’s head and started swinging the bat. Soon everyone else was inside, grown men cowering from a full-sized psychotic bunny armed with a baseball bat. She looks quite jolly in this photo (taken by Shawn Vinson), but don't let that fool you.

photo by Shawn Vinson

Thursday, April 21, 2016

amERICa Coast to Coast 1


Leaving home was the worst part. I didn’t know what I’d need - shirts, socks, phone charger, notebook, toothbrush, glasses, iPod… It surely couldn’t be enough because I was going to be gone forever. It was cold, unseasonably cold for April, but I’d be returning to the mid-June heat. I was confused. And I still had laryngitis even though I was pretending I hadn’t.

It’s been months in the planning, a coast to coast tour of the US and Canada. Now the day had finally come and I could have quite happily called it off. I had a last espresso at Moto in Hudson, packed a case and loaded my amplifier and guitars into the Buick. I said goodbye to Amy and set off through the rain in the direction of the Thruway heading south.

I was going to leave early in the morning but what with feeling under the weather and not really wanting to go because it seemed I’d only just come back from being away in Europe for a month - I was home for all of five days - so I didn’t set off until something like 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

I stayed in a disgusting hotel in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I found it through Hotwire. I don’t think I’m going to use Hotwire anymore - they’re supposed to be offering cheap hotel deals but quite often it’s the same price as it would be if you booked direct, and if you booked direct you’d know what you were getting before you commited, and wouldn’t end up in some toilet of a hotel where a non-smoking room is one that’s had the ashtray removed that morning.

The next day I drove to Chapel Hill in North Carolina through torrential rain. I had no expectation of playing in Chapel Hill, except that it’s on the way south and I have good friends there. And of course I like playing at Local 506 -  Amy and I have played there together twice. When I arrived the had rain stopped and I knew the sound engineer from a show we did down there with Ian Hunter so things started to look up. There was even an audience, not a huge audience, but they were attentive and it felt like a special occasion. I had trouble with my voice but it was fun and I think I played well.



It seemed to take all day to get to Charlotte and on the way a piece of metal fell off the bottom of  the car. Wires were hanging down underneath but I carried on undeterred. The sound engineer let me know early in the proceedings that not only had he worked at the Double Door for twenty years but he’d also done in-ear monitors for Tom Petty, so he knew what he was doing. I was a little confused by that because he was working at the Double Door now so the Tom Petty gig must have been twenty years ago and I don’t believe they had in-ear monitors twenty years ago,  so he must have taken a sabbatical to do it, in which case one could say that technically he was lying. The monitors were different when I came on to how they'd been at the soundcheck.

The show went well and afterwards the owner showed me a photo of Eric Clapton taken there in 1973. After playing some vast arena he came down to the Double Door to jam with a band of southern hotshots for a smaller audience than the one I’d played to. Sadly the place is closing down - the university are buying up the block and demolishing it. Shame someone can’t buy the university, demolish that and leave the Double Door alone.

I stayed in a large and horrible hotel out by the airport. I got the last room. The desk clerk was a scrawny young woman, lank greasy hair, skin like cigarette ash, chipped white nail polish. She kept calling me hon.
‘It is a non-smoking room?’ I asked, ‘it has to be non-smoking.’
‘Hold on hon, I’ll just go and check.’
She dashed out of a back door and came back breathless, three minutes late.
‘Yes hon, that’s all taken care of.’
When I got to the room it was thick with the stench of stale cigarette smoke. The air conditioner was turned up full and there was no ashtray.
There was little point in complaining - she meant well and that’s how they do things in some states. I wish there was a nationwide ban on smoking in hotels. I slept badly and woke up feeling ill.


Knoxville was fun. I was getting into the swing of it and my voice was coming back. Knoxville’s always fun because it involves hanging out with Tim Lee and Susan Bauer Lee. They’ve been organising a series of shows at Sweet P’s, a downhome barbeque place on the river just outside Knoxville. A simple affair with a vocal PA, no stage and a mixed audience of rabid fans and a cluttering of people who’d come to eat barbeque. 

Tim and Susan played an opening set. Tim gets a huge guitar sound out of a tiny Fender Pro Junior - a volume control, a tone control and a ten inch speaker. Makes me wonder why I’m dragging the Guild Superstar amp around with me. Though when I think about it he has a pedalboard the size of a house, so it’s swings and roundabouts as they say, or in this case amps and pedalboards. (I think I’ve just negated a pointless metaphor there). They played my favourite song of theirs, Magnolia Plates. That song is full of romance - Mississippi where they come from, moolight on fluorescent cottonfields - it almost moves me to tears just thinking about it.

A large hairy man approached me and said he’d been told to give me a hug from my friend Mike Fickel down in Texas. It was Jon Dee Graham. I’d been hoping I might meet him one day. Jon Dee was in the True Believers with Alejandro Escovedo. He was playing later that night in Knoxville. He stuck around for my show and told everyone that he’d been ‘jaw-dropped’. I was somewhat thrilled to hear that and further thrilled to hear him play later that night. I hope I get to see him again when I play in Texas next month.

I checked into a hotel at two in the morning. The desk clerk said: ‘I can give you a king or put you in a room with two queens.’