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

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