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.