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.

Friday 3 November 2023

Leisureland Tour part two - is this gruelling?

As I drive along all kinds of things run through my mind. I often find myself asking is this gruelling? People keep telling me it is - that’s a gruelling tour schedule you have there they’ll say, and I’ll do my best to look wan and heroic, all the time thinking that no, it really isn’t any more gruelling than anyone else’s job.

Everyday life is gruelling - getting up at some hideously early hour, climbing into a cold car; waiting in the rain to get on an overheated and overcrowded bus; going to a job you don’t like day in day out - that’s gruelling.

When I’m touring I generally get up late - admittedly I go to bed late - but I get up at perhaps eleven in the morning and take my time. In the UK I stay in Premier Inns. I don’t like them, I used to, but more about that later. It’s okay, they all look roughly the same, they’re usually warm enough, the bed’s usually comfortable, and checkout time isn’t until noon. They’re cheap too, as long as you book far enough ahead.

I answer the odd email, look into the coffee and breakfast options, plumb the address of that night’s venue into the GPS and off I go. I listen to the radio - the Archers, World At One, Moneybox Live, Woman’s Hour, local radio, Jeremy Vine (the thinking man’s man in the pub)… And apart from World At One and possibly Jeremy Vine it’s not exactly gruelling.

At the moment I only have a CD player in the car so the musical listening choices are narrowly dictated. I listen to what I pick up here and there. I was enjoying The Best Of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers until it got damaged in a falling-between-the-seats incident. Now I can’t get further than halfway through Don’t Come Around Here No More before it turns into a very bad digital remix. I’ve also been enjoying a Dandy Warhols album, the one with Bohemian Like You on it. Before you throw up your hands and start yelling at me please understand that these are not neccesarilly listening choices, they’re what I come by on my travels. You might be pleased to hear that I couldn’t get through 10 CCs Greatest Hits - I couldn’t get passed the phoney Americanisms of the early stuff - references to the Senior Prom, and the appalling (yes I know it’s ironic) line: I love to hear those convicts squeal / it’s a shame these slugs ain’t real. For me it hasn’t travelled well, though I do have a soft spot for Donna.

My favourite in-car listening at the moment is an album by my dear friend Robert Rotifer, The Hosting Couple, which I actually engineered and produced. it came out around 2009 on Edwyn Collins’ label and somehow disappeared without trace. Apparently there are enough copies in existence in the back of Edwyn’s wife’s lock-up to potentially turn the album into a bronze, silver, or even triple-asbestos smash. We’re working on a special fourteenth year anniversary reissue and tour.

Robert opened for me in London at the Lexington. He arrived in a very dapper lightweight tweed suit, went onstage with an acoustic guitar and delivered a fantastic thirty five minute set. He told me my audience were wonderful to play for. I’m inclined to agree but my obligation to remain curmudgeonly obviously prevents me.

There’s very little to complain about. Indeed, anyone who has food, warmth, a roof over their head and loved ones around them, who isn’t being shot at, bombed, bereaved or made to leave their home should think very carefully about what they complain about. The world is being run by evil men for their own benefit. Shares in arms companies are on the up. I’m sure everyone feels like I do, unable to do much of anything about it. We have to carry on doing our best, doing good things, and doing them with love and with pride. Because if we give up, if we stop, then the evil men will have won.

Now, if anyone’s got any Greatest Hits CDs they want to get rid of… It’s a long and arduous drive from Manchester to Hull!

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Leisureland Tour part one

I used to have it down, hardly had to think about it, I knew exactly what time to set off to get to places on time, almost by instinct, but it’s been four years since I toured here in the UK and I’m out of practice. Now I have to think about it.

Salford - BBC 6 Music - work backwards from the requested arrival time. Look at the GPS journey time, add an hour - no, two hours - traffic delays, fuck-ups, falling asleep in lay-bys… Work out a departure time, bring it forward an hour because I’m sure to be running late…factor in time for a coffee detour…

So, if I want to be in Salford by 8:30 pm I need to set off at…ten o’clock in the morning. That can’t be right.

I left some time after eleven. Stopped for coffee at Cross Street Union in Holt. It’s one of the best - I wish it was in Cromer. Two espressos and off I went, half convinced that I was late but feeling good about it. I listened to the news on Radio 4 and felt indescribably sad, and heard political commentators droning on until my head hurt. I drove through heavy rain and traffic jams, misunderstood the GPS and drove through the centre of Manchester in the rush hour. Do they still call it rush hour? It seems more permanent than that.

I arrived two hours early.

I’ve always loved doing the Marc Riley Show. Now it’s Marc Riley and Gideon Coe together and it’s called Riley & Coe. They’ve lost an hour a night of cool broadcasting but it’s still the best music show on British radio - that’s as far as I know, so please don’t contradict me, argue the point, or tell me all about your mate on a community radio station in the Outer Hebrides who has the best radio show ever.

They were so nice together - shall I back end this one or would you like too?…would you like to introduce this one Gid?…no Marc, you go ahead, and I’ll look after the back end
‘Have I caught you in the honeymoon period?’ I asked.
Marc told me they’re like one of those couples or bands who need other people around to be nice to each other in front of.
‘Oh okay, so I’m your Billy Preston then.’
‘Yes that’s it - but we’ll be slagging you off too when you leave.’
I’m pleased for Marc to have a running mate again - I sometimes thought he seemed a bit lonely doing the show alone, but I’m sorry about the loss of an hour.

The engineer got me a great sound. He understood exactly what I’m going for. There’s a pressure to this, it’s totally live, broadcasting to thousands and thousands of listeners, close on a million right there listening to the show as it goes out. There’s no safety net.

I played Southern Rock to start the show and came back later to do three more tunes and an interview - Badhat Town, Drag Time and Standing Water. I put an extended instrumental into the middle of Standing Water, detuned the bottom string down to a D and back up later for the end of the instrumental. It was risky but I actually pulled it off. I usually do, but sometimes trying to get the string back up to an E note in the middle of playing can be a bit hit and miss.

The show in Gravesend was very special because the venue was a decommissioned lightship, the LV21. They told me not to arrive before about four because the tide was going to cause the ship to float rather than sit on the mud as it normally does, and this would apparently make loading the equipment a bit difficult.

When I got out of the car there was a strong smell of oil. At first I thought something was wrong with the car but it turned out to be the smell of Gravesend - it smells of engine oil.

I hadn’t been to Gravesend since 1986. There was a pub called the Red Lion. It had a hall attached which was a great place to play - Chas n Dave started there. Unfortunately it was sold and the new owners fucked it up. Close carpeting, wine racks, an ornamental fountain… They still ran it as a music venue - the new landlady explained: ‘This is a musicians pub, not only do we encourage musicians to play here, but also to come and meet one another and socialise.’ 

I’d played there when the place was in it’s old incarnation and it was great. But the Len Bright Combo played there to a very small audience in 1986, between the wine rack and the ornamental fountain.

Afterwards, when we went to settle up, the landlord told us he wasn’t going to pay us. We asked why not. ‘Because you can’t fucking play - that was a load of old toilet and you know it.’
‘We’re a professional group’ Russ the bass player said. First I’d heard of it but never mind.
‘Professional!! Don’t make me fucking laugh - we have a band comes in here on Tuesday nights that play Lynyrd Skynyrd and they sound just like them. Now that’s professional!’
I said that was okay then, but would he mind signing my PRS form.
‘You can fuck right off with that, go on - fuck off before I throw you out.’
The next day I phoned the PRS. ‘Oh no’ said the man, who in my memory sounds more than a bit like Kenneth Williams. ‘No, no, no, we take a very dim view of our members being spoken to in that manner. Now, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to check that he’s up to date with his licence…aah yes, the Red Lion, yes, I’ve got it here - oh dear…he’s two years behind with his payments.’
When I drove past the place a few months later it was boarded up.

Things were on a much better footing for this show. It sold out almost immediately the tickets went on sale, a great start to the tour. I found myself hoping it wouldn’t be all downhill from Gravesend out. It was a relief to see the place packed with the kind of rabble I love playing for. The last show I did was in Moorestown, New Jersey. That show was sold out too and although the audience were a delight to play for they were a bit reverential. Exceedingly reverential in fact. I like a bit of backchat. As long as they shut up while I’m playing.

My cousin Dave and his wife Michelle were right in front of me. Dave is a London cab driver, the real deal - I’ve often wondered if he was the inspiration for Will Self’s Book Of Dave. A good few people, friends and fans, had come down from London, others had come from the Medway Towns. Afterwards, when everyone had gone home, we watched Later With Jools Holland. It was a relief to finally see it.

I love the LV21, it’s perhaps the most unique venue I’ve ever played in.

I had a few days off before the next show, which was in Folkestone. The rain was beginning to come down as I left Norfolk, and as I drove through the Kent countryside it became torrential. There was no let up.

My friend Andi from the now defunct Lime Bar was there to help set up. There was a stage and he’d lit the place with dramatic uplighters. Holy Trinity Church is a classic town centre church, massive and awe-inspiring even to a none believer. After the soundcheck I sat in the vestry listening to rain pounding on the roof and watched water pouring out of the mouths of gargoyles in black and white on the CCTV. It was almost biblical.

My friend Wendy who is the verger booked the show. Her husband Tim is the church organist. Wendy isn’t religious, it’s a job. She loves it, she’s been there longer than the vicar, who, if I’m honest, sounds like a bit of a twat. He wasn't in attendance.

The rain had affected the attendance and the small audience were gripped by what you might call church behaviour. No barracking, no well oiled rabble. Everything was hushed, the applause muted and concise. I spent half the set wondering if I was doing okay, worrying I might be disappointing everyone. When I finished playing it was evident that I hadn’t. It was atmospheric, ethereal, more like a recital than a rock concert.

Driving to Birmingham was hard. The rain slacked off as I got further north and into the Midlands but it was slow going. I got to within twelve miles of the venue and the GPS said there was still an hour to go. I had to drive through the city centre to get there. I like Birmingham, it’s wacky, and quite unlike any other British city: red brick, and an accent which, though renowned for its ugliness, sounds poetic and quite beautiful to me, almost like Chaucer.

The Rock n Roll Brewhouse is the taproom and clubhouse above an independent microbrewery in the Jewellery Quarter. I was worried about the PA - it was more like a sound system - a wall of speaker cabinets across the back wall of the stage driven by a massive Peavey PA amp, it looked like a disaster, but I worked with it, I made a couple of adjustments, flattened all the eq on the PA amp - those things are built to sound good flat, the eq is just there to correct the odd problem. The room sounded great, the PA sounded fabulous.

The show was sold out in advance. i could get used to this but I don’t want to - I’d prefer to somehow live in a certain amount of trepidation, it keeps you on your toes.

I have to thank the Birmingham promoter, Adrian Goldberg - not only did he sell out the show, he also sold the merch afterwards - I’d asked him to give me a hand, but prima donna that I am I just stood around gladhanding it and signing records while he did all the work.

I also want to thank Gary Weston, Rob Flood, Wendy Parsons, Andi Elliot and Cathy Burton.

Next show is at the Pig in Hastings, or is it St Leonards? Then the Prince Albert in Brighton followed by the London show at the Lexington which is apparently just about sold out. And then I’ll be in the west country and it’s anyone’s guess how that’s going to go.

If this is going to be a real tour diary I should tell you what the set list was but I'm not going to - if you want to know you'll just have to come to one of the shows. Or ask a friend.

Please be kind. Pick up the litter in your neighbourhood, and support the local food bank.