Friday, 26 March 2010

The Overnight Emerald Sensation

It wasn't all bad. I drove for two days after a monumentally depressing gig in Limoges. The driving was almost theraputic - there I was sitting staring out of the front window, holding onto the steering wheel and watching Limoges-distancing countryside flicker on by.
I sat on the Holyhead to Dublin ferry and wrote a piece entitled "The Gift Of Stupidity" which I haven't posted because I think now isn't the time to be quite so negative. It'll have to wait until after this piece which I'm sure you know will be gloriously uplifting.
But to get back to the negativity - why is the French music scene in the hands of the greedy, ignorant and, at best, deluded? I know that's a sweeping generalisation but I don't care because it's making me feel good to say it. Especially in the face of Les Matins Celadon where we played in Limoges on the Friday night before I set off for Ireland. Friday night? It was more like a glum Tuesday during a general strike in that place. Dumb people who think that music comes in slices - you don't have to listen to it - it'll get to you by osmosis, you know - like in the lift when a Brazilian version of Michelle My Belle comes oozing out of the ceiling. They stared at us, they talked amongst themselves and once they had enough de la musique, they left.
A couple of local punk scenesters popped along and lent their support by sitting at the back and talking with the promoter all through our second set. They just had to be there - well, I'm one of the original punks after all, or, at least, I was there, though a little disappointingly poppy and I never did get round to dying my hair jet black. Last time those silly fuckers came to see us they told a friend of ours that they preferred the faster songs.
What kind of stupid twit has a square stage built in the corner of the room and then tries to sell the place as a music venue? The floor of the stage was made of laminated "wood" flooring. It was new and already falling to bits, a small corner of a foreign bar that is temporarily Ikea.
If I was running a venue the stage wouldn't be an apologetic inconvenience in the corner, a place for moribund old gits with hands like sausages to trill away at meaningless jazz stylings while the punters chatter away and kid themselves that they're attending a cultural event. To start with there wouldn't be any jazz, or at least not the phony dross that passes for jazz where we live. The stage would stand proud across the centre of one wall and form the focal point of the place. I'd spend more on lighting than on the PA, for the simple reason that if it looks good people's eyes will be drawn to it. They'll look at it, and once they're looking at it there's a chance they might listen too. But if it looks as dowdy as the rest of the place they'll just look at their dowdy friends and talk. Or stay at home and enjoy their own personal dowdiness.
You might not think I'm being very positive but I think my negativity is quite constructive. I grew up on Dada and Nihilism you know. Sometimes it's best to tear things down and start again. But that just brings me back to those dim Limoges elderpunks - they think tearing tings down and starting again involves wearing twenty hole Doc Martens and a leather jacket, playing big guitar chords through cheap distortion pedals, inciting the faithful to riot (or at least go crazy and jostle one another) in shrill voices until it's time to go home. Very subversive.
But on the positive side there was a table of people who were really pleased to hear us play and stayed from beginning to end, plus our friend Emmanual and some of his enlightened friends. And the lady from our local library came - turns out she's a fan.
I don't want to play at Les Matins Celadon again.
There you are - a decision made! Something positive.

The Irish dates were an anti-climax after the press build up. In the weeks leading up to the tour we seemed to be forever giving in-depth phone interviews to adoring journalists from the Irish national press. I almost convinced myself that we were going to be an overnight emerald sensation.
I knew it was going to be the same old thing when we heard the promoter talking on the phone to a club owner in his car on the way to a radio station:
"I can't say now..."
"Er... the same as before..."
Ticket sales. I've been in this business too long.
I don't know what went wrong and the promoter doesn't want us to try and catalogue the possible faults. But I have to say that in Cork it would have helped if the club owner had put the heating on. I can imagine it wasn't the first time an audience had shivered through a show. It tends to put people off coming again.
Dublin has changed since I was last there, four years ago with The Damned. Friday night was bedlam, but this time the streets were full of empty cabs cruising for non-existant business. Nobody's got any money. I'm sure there never really was any money, just unendingly easy to get credit. We should have charged a fiver admission.
Belfast got on my nerves because my voice had walked out on me. My biggest fans, burly men with loud voices, barely tolerated Amy and kept up a constant mumbled commentary in thick Belfast accents all through my songs. During the songs Amy sang they merely organised the ordering of more drinks.
"...and another pint of Murphy's over here, and a pint of lager for Pat there and a packet of pork scratchings... hold on, he's back on..."
"Play The Foynal Taxi Eric!"
"Fockin' playre Veronica"
I could barely whisper the words to the songs and when I did play The Final Taxi they jabbered all through it until I pleaded with them in a barely audible whisper, with tears in my eyes, to shut up. A miniature man in a funny felt hat came up to the stage and mumbled to me that are Americans are full of something inaudible. I translated this to the rest of the audience as America is full of B&Bs. I half regretted not booting him in the face but you can't argue with ignorance and you can't always tell people what they don't want to know. Afterwards they all shook my hand and told me just how much it meant to them that I'd come to play in Belfast. "And yer missus ain't half bad too".
At one of the English shows some blokes started shouting for my old songs while Amy was introducing something. I told them off, explained that Amy is a genius and that they were to hear her if only they knew it. The applause from the rest of the audience must have convinced them because we didn't hear another squeak out of them. That was in Brighton, the hands down, all round best show of the tour. A real family show with my mum, my pregnant daughter and her boyfriend there, and as a special surprise my long lost cousin Dave the taxi driver and his wife Michelle. I didn't recognise them until the end of the show even though they were sitting right in front of me. Dave sent me a photo taken by Michelle of the two of us. You can tell we're cousins, the same mad look. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

Amy mentioned in her blog the ill-health and medication that went along with being in Ireland so I'm not going to talk about it, except to say that I cannot abide the term manflu. After a radio show in Belfast which I got through without either coughing, throwing up or fainting, and without complaining. Amy told the female presenter, who introduced Amy, not as an artist in her own right, but as my wife, that I wasn't well. "Oh," she said, "he's just got a case of manflu." The inference being presumably that men aren't as strong as their poor, martyred woman, who aren't allowed to be as ill as men because they aren't equal and so have to constantly promote the notion that they aren't the weaker sex. If the presenter had been unwell and I'd suggested, with a dismissive shrug, that she was suffering from PMS, rolled my eyes to the ceiling and said "huh, woman," there would have been an outcry.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Pole Emploi

In the continuing quest to become Intermittants de Spectacles the wife and I had to register ourselves as unemployed. We went to a new place they've set up for the purpose. It's called the Pole Emploi. It's housed in a new building, a building that's been open for about a year, and in that time I don't think anyone's ever opened a window. It smelled like a zoo in there and the heating was turned up too high.
Everything was colour coded and divided into areas - zone de rencontres, zone informatique... It looked a complete mess with it's notice boards framed in carefully co-ordinated lime green and bright red tin, scattered between islands of laminated wood flooring. Just the place to enjoy being unemployed - meeting up with other unemployed people, swapping contacts, tipping one another off about likely employement possibilities, some of the more intelligent of us - the computer literate - perhaps trying our hand at un peu d'informatique on the specially installed, mismatched collection of old desktop jobs in the zone informatique section of this hell hole Pole Emploi.
We queued up with our toes on a painted line bearing the legend zone de discretion, and listened to the receptionist, a middle-aged man who probably once held down a responsible position in a municipal library, instructing a youth on preparing a dossier.
That's always the first thing you have to do in France, preparez un dossier. Then you go and attend a Stage de Formation in some dump like Dijon or Metz. This puts you under the mistaken impression that you're an important person, and once you've learned to strut, preen, pontificate and feign incredulity at anything or anybody who isn't like or doesn't do like you, then you're ready to take up gainful employment.
You can work in the post office, take annual paid holidays, get up for work at five thirty a.m. every morning with the stolid forebearance of a big brown Limousin cow standing in the pissing rain in a field full of shit, and charge a different postage price every day for indentical packets and parcels that might well not ever reach their destinations.
The municipal librarian asked us if we wanted to photocopy our dossiers, invited us to avail ourselves of the facilities in the zone photocopieur, but we hadn't prepared our dossiers so we sat on chairs covered in stained purple hessien in the zone attente, and waited to be called for our interview.
I thought the interview went well. Amy said afterwards that five minutes into it she wanted to kill herself, but I really enjoyed myself, cataloguing the changes that I would make when I became manager of the Pole Emploi. I started off with a little trick designed to put the trainer/interview person and the trainee (couldn't tell which was which) at their dis-ease. I didn't let them kick off, I got in first:
'Doesn't anyone ever open the windows in here? It smells like a zoo.'
They seemed quite surprised, as if they hadn't notice the fetid stench, a heady mix of stagnant water, stale air, bodies and hot-air-borne disease.
'You should open all the doors and windows for five minutes every morning, this place is a health hazard,' I continued.
The woman part of the sketch, trainer or trainee, I know not which, said it would let all the heat out. I made a mental note to sack her and then we got down to the tedious business of enrolling as unemployed, or possibly in my case unemployable.
It was very boring. I didn't listen to most of what was said, concentrating instead on figuring out which of the plastic clad stud walls I'd dismantle first. I struggled with the dilemma of my stance on posters and paperwork sellotaped to glass panels - they're depressing to look at but they do shield the gaze from the infinitely more depressing sight of other members of the equippe here at the Pole Emploi.
The was a problem with the computer at one point and a technician arrived, a bespectacled youngster of thirty something in designer jeans and a smart shirt. He had the stance - the leaning over and pointing, weight evenly distributed twixt hand on desk and brogue on carpet tile - but he didn't know what he was doing. I put him on window opening duty.
Eventually they showed us a hidden corner of the Pole Emploi website, which we can access with our confidential pin numbers and secret codes. Here there are lists of vacancies for female saxophonists and men who can sing Spanish Eyes and My Kind Of Town Chicago Is... in exotic places like Lille and Besancon. They were planning to split us up and make Amy learn the saxophone.
We left depressed, but thankful for being back in God's or Nicolas Sarkozy's or whoever's fresh air.
Vive La France!
Now open the fucking window.