Wednesday 20 December 2023

Leisureland Tour part five

The rain stopped as I arrived in Manchester. I was an hour late because I’d underestimated the traffic. The load in at Gulliver’s is a nightmare - block a narrow one-way street while you get everything out of the car and through the door into a passageway leading to the toilets and the flight of stairs up to the venue. There’s usually no one to help you.

You can’t leave everything cluttering up a very public area of a busy pub while you drive off through the city centre in search of a parking space. You’ve got to get it all upstairs to safety. Guitars first, then the stuff that’s light enough and small enough to be walked away with. And the amplifier, a Fender Deluxe Reverb which seems to get heavier with each passing year. Once everything’s upstairs it’s time to face the honking of horns and the abuse of taxi drivers who thought they were taking a short cut.

Find a legal parking space, pay a lot of money for the privilage, walk back to the venue through the rain. The soundman’s put the amplifier on a box on a far corner of the stage and carefully miked it up. Waste of fucking time. He could have helped with the load-in instead.

I’m really annoyed by sound engineers who make assumptions. There are no assumptions to be made. There’s a tech spec, a pencil and ballpoint plan of the stage set up, and several paragraphs of clear instructions on every aspect of the sound. The drawing may not be one of those dry, corporate diagrams that supposedly professional outfits send out, but it has humanity, it’s real. Good engineers read it, understand, appreciate it, and act on it. The bad ones don’t bother. The mediocre ones glance at it and make assumptions.

It wasn’t actually that hard to do the load in if I’m honest because my friend Marc Valentine was opening so him and his friend Geoff who helps him out hiked everything up the stairs for me. I was glad of that because mid-tour fatigue was beginning to set in.

After the soundcheck I met up with Marc Riley and some friends for Indian food. He’d brought Will Sargeant from Echo & The Bunnymen along with him. I was kind of in awe but I played it cool and he was great, really nice, interested in stuff and engaged.

The Manchester showed was totally sold out, but sadly I don’t think it was one of my best. It was up to standard, but not stellar. The stage sound was very uninspiring - underpowered monitors - and the lighting was utterly abysmal. The promoter was away and the sound engineer who appeared to be in charge was young and insipid. I played half the show with the house lights on.

The following night in Hull was a totally different matter. The Wrecking Ball wasn’t easy to find - I had to drive the wrong way down a one way street and along a pedestianised street to get there, but it was worth it. The Wrecking Ball sells books, records and probably CDs too. It  has a cafe and they host book readings. Upstairs there’s a fully functioning venue: PA, lights, stage with red velvet curtain behind… And a young and enthusiastic sound engineer. I loved it.

Having finally reached the Spoilt Diva stage of my career I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t sell out - Bristol didn’t either - the two place where I went to art college…

I had a day off the following day so I met with my friend Kathie who years ago used to be my art history tutor at the art college in Hull. We decided to go on a quest to find the bench up near the university where I sat to scribble down the lyrics for Whole Wide World back in April or early May 1974. I realise it’s a slim chance that the bench would still be there but it was worth a look. It was raining and the night was coming down.but we drove around and had a look. It's changed in the intervening fifty years, I didn’t recognise anything. 

My feeling is that Hull should start to own that song - they’ve got Mick Ronson, Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey - David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars (formerly the Rats) ; they’ve got Roland Gift of The Fine Young Cannibals, Henry Priestman of The 
Yachts and The Christians; they’ve got The Housemartins, The Beautiful South, Throbbing Gristle, The Red Guitars. It’s impressive. They could have me too.

I don’t come from Hull - I wasn’t born there, but I started my development as an artist there, and I wrote Whole Wide World there. The song is not insignificant - I’d like some recognition from the city of Kingston Upon Hull. I figured that if we could find the bench we could at least put a brass plaque on it, but I want more - I want official recognition from the city.

I hope that doesn’t sound hopelessly arrogant, egotistical or unrealistic.

I made a detour on my way to Barnoldswick in Lancashire. I took up an open invitation to visit the East Lancashire Railway. A good few years ago I became aware of a woman called Emma Seddon on Instagram. Her posts were all photos of old trains. I love trains and she was posting a photo of one every day so of course I started to follow her. I wondered what the story was - trains have always been a bit of a boy thing - when it comes to steam locomotives most of the women I know are fairly ambivalent.

Eventually I met Emma and her partner, Andrew, at one of my shows. It seems she used to walk her dog alongside the railway line so she she started to take photos, and that led to jotting down numbers of diesel locomotives. Eventually the East Lancs Railway and Emma got together, and she went from curious dogwalker to volunteer to engine driver.

I have a huge affinity with trains - I was born next to the railway line in Newhaven, East Sussex. My earliest memories are the sound of shunting in the freight yard in the middle of the night. As a youth I spent hours hanging around railway lines. I used to make drawings of signal boxes, signals, those big old telephone and telegraph wires…

I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to walk around the sidings and through the engine sheds with Emma and Andrew. I even got a ride on a steam locomotive! I felt a bit guilty about that - my nine year old grandson should have been there. I recently offered to take him to the Aviation Museum in Norwich - you can climb into the cockpit of big old aeroplanes - they’ve even got a simulator. He declined the offer: ‘Thanks Grandad but I’m more of a train guy…’ He’s a lot more enthusiastic about the possibility of a trip to the East Lancs Railway.

The Music & Arts Centre in Barnoldswick was a lot of fun. It’s an awkwardly shaped basement under a pub, not ideal as a venue, but nonetheless quite wonderful, and it was packed.

I had a few days off after Barnoldswick. It was a relief, and much needed as it turned out because the next section of the tour was quite unrelenting.

Monday 11 December 2023

Leisureland Tour part four

I remember feeling overwhelmed. The Prince Albert in Brighton was fuller than I’d ever seen it, even for other artists who aren’t me. I’m more used to a respectable forty-two people (or less). 

Then London. The Lexington. Again, sold out. Robert Rotifer opened for me. Acoustic guitar, snappy thirty-five minute set. He went down alarmingly well and came back into the band room glowing - ‘I LOVE your audience!’ he said. ‘I love them too,’ I said. I felt proud of all of us. 

Amy was there for Hastings, Brighton and London. I would have liked to have got her up on stage but it’s a very solo set I’ve been doing, a certain thing, not easy to bring another person into. Some of the point of it is its utter aloneness.

The audience in Hastings were rowdy and vocal, just along the coast in Brighton the audience were cooler - I began to worry that I was disappointing them, but afterwards the promoter, my old friend Will Moore, told me ‘those people weren’t ready for how good that was’.

The London audience is the London audience - there’s nothing like it anywhere else. I look out at the crowd and see people I know everywhere. They shout stuff in between songs. They’re willing me on even though they’re not going to give me an easy ride, not if they can help it. But they can’t help themselves, and neither can I. So much love, so much barracking and backchat. And pride. I’ve been playing for some of these people for so long, I’m theirs, and they’re mine, all mine. I don’t want to sound like an old show business fruit but I never seem to finish a London show entirely dry eyed.

I broke a string right near the end of the set - The Half Of It with it’s almighty freeform instrumental, the interlude between the first two halves and the the third half. It was touch and go with the fifth string broken and the sixth detuned to D. I have to wind the sixth back up to an E note while I’m singing, which is actually easier than you might imagine, as long as I’m singing in tune. I felt that everyone in the place wanted it to end well - we harnessed our combined powers and landed the thing together.

No encore - 

but if you think that what you see is what you get, you haven’t heard the half of it yet

And gone.

Except that there was an encore in Hastings - at least I think it was Hastings - I played Reconnez Cherie and Several Shades Of Green. So I’m not a complete curmudgeon. I just spoke to Amy and she said there wasn’t an encore in Hastings, she said I should have done one but I didn’t. I don’t mean to be churlish but it just seems like so much traditional bullshit to me. I’m trying to get to somewhere. When I arrive I land the thing, climb out of the cockpit, wave goodbye, and I’m gone.

Amy and I stayed in a Premier Inn near Gatwick Airport in Crawley. This one was tucked away in the grounds behind a desperate pub. It was hard to find because there were no lights - apparently Premier Inns don’t own the land and whoever does doesn’t like them. I don’t much like them either some days but I wouldn’t stoop to turning off the lights. The car park was a cross between a disused ornamental lake and a lorry park. This Premier Inn was no
Shopfitters Paradise, more a Weary Traveller in The Land Of Rolling Suitcases. A large part of the reception was taken up by a flight departures board.

I think we checked out before check out time which always puts me out a bit. Amy had to fly to New York and I had to drive to Cardiff. But first an urgent mission to buy guitar picks. I’d almost run out - I was scrabbling around in the bottom of cases for unused picks. I discovered years ago that the major cause of string breakages is the serated edges of worn out picks, and also, that in order to achieve any measure of accuracy (hard for me at the best of times) it helps if the pick has a point to it rather than something resembling an aerial view of a coastally eroded headland. I use a new pick for every show and sometimes change it halfway through.

Once I'd got the picks and we'd had coffee at a surpisingly good place in Crawley I took Amy to the airport, said goodbye, and felt quite cast adrift as I headed up the M23 to the M25. The drive to Cardiff wasn’t so bad.

The Moon is in the heart of Cardiff Clubland. It’s run by a very capable woman called Liz Hunt. As a venue the place has challenges - the back of the stage is almost the entrance to the place, there’s no backstage or dressing room, a stone lump rises up out of the floor in front of the stage, and the soundcheck sound, through no fault of the engineer, teetered on the edge of catastrophic. Once the people were in it sounded great. I fell in love with the place. I like venues that rise above their shortcomings.

Simon Love opened the show. Simon is also on Tapete Records. He comes from Cardiff. It was all very relaxed after London. I watched Simon play from the shadows and thoroughly enjoyed his set. My own set had a wild roughness about it, probably a reaction after the focus, the eyes of the world effect of Brighton and London. At the end I walked off the back of the stage and didn’t know where to go so I kept on walking, straight out of the venue and onto the street. It was a balmy night and Clubland was just coming to life. It reminded me of Brighton in the late nineties. I walked around for a while taking it all in, then realised I should really head back and try to do some merchandising.

I stayed in a very upmarket Premier Inn. It catered for weddings and conferences. Imagine a Premier Inn themed wedding - all that purple…

The Bush Inn was as always an experience - I used an acoustic guitar amplifier with a microphone input as a PA. I think it sounded good. It’s a small place, an ancient and draughty country pub just along the cliffs from GCHQ. After the show TV Smith appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. Turns out he lives in Devon. A bit strange because on Friday night I ran into Gaye Advert at my Lexington show.

I drove on to Bristol the following day - a Monday. It was back to Shopfitters Paradise - the Hengrove Premier Inn. A real home away from home. You may not like where you live but at least it’s familiar. No settling in, no nervous pacing, no moving of furniture. There’s a double bed made up like a tight envelope, a blackout curtain, a yellow sign in the bathroom - Caution Very Hot Water - a brown divan on which you can lay out your things. The divan often has a stain or two that would suggest its use as an auxiliary sex bench, but you can’t let these things put you off - it’s nice to see these indications of other peoples happiness. Sort of. (Better than a stain that looks like someone died and lay undiscovered on the floor next to the bed in a haunted boutique hotel that was formerly a lunatic asylum in Staunton, Virginia.) 

There’s a desk with tea making facilities on it, and two extra pillows in a case on the top shelf of the wardrobe thing. All you have to do is put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door, loosen up the bed do you don’t have to sleep with you feet in a ballerina pose, break out the two extra pillows to give an illusion of homeliness, switch the light off and tell yourself it’ll be alright. And hopefully the next thing you know it’ll be eleven in the morning. 

Bristol was strange. The audience didn’t like it being seated, and I have to say, neither did I. Some places work seated, others don’t. Bristol is one of my standing up towns. The show went well though, and I loved having a real dressing room for a change.

The drive to Poole on Tuesday afternoon was a very wet affair. I broke with tradition and stayed in a Holiday Inn Express. I had to pay to park. They sent me a parking fine for being illegally parked in the time it took me to check in, register the car and pay for the parking. Very efficient.

La Boheme in Poole is my friend Sufin’ Dave’s local coffee place. It’s almost entirely unsuitable as a venue but it was great fun. I did two sets so as to give everyone a chance to move around a bit - the proximity was very close - there was almost no division between performer and audience. 

A woman sitting right in front had to keep moving her foot so I could switch my pedals on and off. I asked her in the intermission if she was okay with being so close and everthing, because at the Bush Inn I could sense the discomfort of a woman in the front row who wasn’t there for the second set, but this woman said she was very okay with it. Some people love the up close and personal thing, others can’t handle the intensity. 

And Poole was where I did the encore.

A strange and wonderful night in Poole

Wednesday 6 December 2023

Leisureland Tour part three - Hastings and beyond

Hastings seems like an age ago. It was bright, it was sunny, I felt warm, and even slightly fuzzy. Onstage I didn’t know quite what I was doing - I was still learning the new songs. Amy was with me. It was Autumn, warm on the south coast. We drove down early and checked into Shopfitters Paradise which is what I call the eccentric Premier Inn down there next to Sainsbury’s.

Tonight's venue, the Pig, is down on the seafront very near the White Rock Theatre where I did the sound for George Hamilton IV back in 1982. That was the night he put the capo on the wrong fret for Mull Of Kintyre and the band came in with the most glorious and disharmonic musical car crash. It took the entire song for the band to agree on a key signature and the drummer fell off his stool laughing. The audience was mostly older women with blue rinses who’d seen George on the telly. They didn’t notice the extreme disonance. As it clattered to a close one blue rinse turned to another - ‘Ooh! That was lovely!’

My disonnance was very noticeable at the Pig. Not just the occasional wrong chord - full sonic soundscapes. It’s a great sounding room and the sound engineer did a fine job. I can’t remember his name but I do remember that he came from Blackpool, though he didn’t seem very Blackpool to me.

I have to thank Jude Montague for organising the show. We did well - it was sold out and the vibe was quite wonderful. Jude also played in the opening band, Montague Armstrong. She played the organ, an original Jennings Vox Continental, They were good, mostly instrumental, and quite ethereal

The following day we met up with my daughter, Luci, and the three wonderful grandchildren for lunch. I love being around the grandkids. For the most part they seem to live in their own separate solar systems. Sometimes planets collide and and a fight ensues, but most of the time the solar systems dance and sing around each other in strange sibling harmony. The youngest explained herself to me recently: ‘They [the other kids] don’t know what’s in my head, you see Grandad, I’m weird.’ Wise words from a seven year old. I think she might be a genius.

We took Luci with us to Brighton. She used to work at the Prince Albert for the promoter and manager, Will Moore. Will is an old friend. He was very embarrassed at having to sack her. ‘I’m sorry’ he said, ‘I had to let her go - she just stopped turning up for work’. It’s known in our family as The Job That Faded Out. She made good later, worked as a carer - home visits, care homes, hospice care… She went to university and got a degree in psychiatric nursing. Now she’s a senior nurse in a psychiatric unit. I’m immeasurably proud of her.

Luci met up with a friend and then we met up with our old friend Annie Holland who used to play the bass in Elastica. I lost touch with Annie - she somehow fell off the map. I lost my address book, a succession of phones packed up and took my contacts with them. No one I knew had any idea where Annie was. Turned out she was there all the time, working as a gardener and looking after her partner Binky Baker, another dear friend who also fell off my map. I’m afraid Binky really did fall off the map - Annie gave me the sad news that he passed away during the pandemic.

I first met Binky in 1977 when he was married to Annie Nightingale. He described the owner of his local off-licence in such intricate detail, with an impersonation of such accuracy that it could only be the owner of the off-licence round the corner from my parents in Brighton. And that was how I discovered that Annie and Binky lived in the next street to my parents.

‘I need two bottles of wine’

‘Well, you’ve come to the right place, sir,’ (delivered with ill-concealed sarcasm,) 

‘Red? White? Rosé? What are you having for dinner?’

‘Er…probably a tin of sardines on toast, hadn’t really thought about it.’

‘Aah, the fish... yes, in that case I can recommend this very pertinent Sauvignon Blanc…’

Binky took a shine to my mum and dad, christened them Wreckless Frank and Wreckless Dorothy. He’d meet my dad in the street, drag him back to their place, ply him with sherry and send him home half cut.

‘Your dad likes sherry’ he’d say, with a twinkle in his eye.

Apart from being an actor of some repute he worked for The Who. He toured with them as their vibe man, their social secretary, valet and friend. In 1978 he made a record for Stiff - Toe Knee Black Burn, a questionable tribute to the Radio One DJ, Tony Blackburn. Tony Blackburn was anathema to people like us in 1978, the cheerful face (or voice) of mainstream daytime radio. I have to say I think Tony Blackburn is quite cool these days - he plays Philly Soul, he was always into that. Toe Knee Black Burn was a ridiculous and nonsensical mantra - Knee Toe Burn Black Toe Burn Black Knee Tony Knee Black Burn… Tony played it, he embraced, said he was flattered. He showed true class though we couldn’t perhaps see it at the time.

I’m very sad about Binky. I always knew he’d show up somewhere, that there’d be a warm and hilarious interlude in a bar I never knew existed. He gave up drinking - everyone assumed he was and alcoholic - a bottle of vodka a day would seem like a fair confirmation, but when a doctor told him it was going to kill him he stopped overnight with no ill-effects. I remember the softness in his eyes when he told me: ‘If it was going to kill me it wasn’t fun anymore.’ Binky Baker, a true hedonist, a poet and a spiritually generous man.