Playing with Hope & Social at The Deaf Institute in Manchester. Quite a squeeze!
We are teaming up with our friends Hope & Social for a brace of double headline shows in our respective home towns of Manchester and Leeds next week. As well as our own material we’ll be joining forces to play a few collaborative numbers at the end. Obviously we’ll play Keep The Customer Satisfied, any suggestions of other songs we might attempt?
Well be at The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on Friday 3rd May and The Deaf Institute in Manchester on Saturday 4th May. Hope to see some of you there!
Biff made this awesome remix for our label-mate Bridie Jackson for Record Store Day 2013.
To find out more about Biff’s remixing and production work go to www.biffroxby.com
Waking up after a tour tends to be accompanied by a certain “and it was all a dream…” sensation. There is no hotel check-out time to adhere to, no strict breakfast hours, no soundcheck in some far away town. For the last few weeks our days and nights have been governed by schedules and satnav coordinates. Now we are all, once again, left to our own devices and personal rhythms. The only immediate clue that it all actually happened is the ringing in my ears.
I remember the days leading up to our first tour. I was convinced the band would split up - or at the very least one person would be marooned on some Austrian mountainside. I live alone and have grown accustomed to my own company. Humans are fascinating creatures and I enjoy spending time with them but I always like to know where the nearest escape route is. The idea of being in the company of half a dozen people for weeks on end with no way out fills me with an acute social claustrophobia.
But we’ve done this a lot now, in the UK and overseas. And we’ve never once come to blows. Yes there can be the odd snide comment or bitter retort but for the most part we get on very well. I don’t fully understand it. A day spent in the company of someone else is usually enough to induce at least an eye twitch in me - three days and I’m a tangle of rage.
On tour there is never any solitude. Hours in the van followed by load-in and soundcheck at the venue, followed by a meal together, followed by sitting backstage as the audience files in, followed by an hour and a half on stage, followed by the dressing room post-mortum conversation, followed by hanging around the merch stand, followed by load-out and then back to the hotel room (usually two people to a room). I try to grab half an hour to myself between soundcheck and show, exploring the immediate surroundings, but it’s impossible to ever feel truly ALONE.
I suppose one leaves certain bits of oneself at home. There is no space in our LDV Maxus for egos or fussiness, just as there is no room for comfort. When we are on the road that is all we are. It is a strange bubble in which days of the week are meaningless, where we remain constant whilst the surroundings are ever in flux. The van feels like a tardis, though one that is smaller on the inside than the outside.
And time itself behaves strangely. By gig three I felt like we’d been touring for weeks, that I’d peaked too soon and that the coming shows would be an exercise in gruesome endurance. But by gig nine I felt we’d barely begun, that to continue onwards indefinitely would be the most natural course: a new town, a new crowd, a new language, forever. Nothing has ever felt so obvious, so simple. Why go home when all that awaits you there is what you left behind?
But a day is all it takes for the cares to burrow back into their established furrows. The freedom of keeping one’s own schedule soon becomes the burden of self-motivation.
Only one thing to do now… book the next tour.
It turns out my mental picture of Brussels differs markedly to the reality. I think this is probably due to years of news stories about grey-faced MEPs shuffling around in buildings made of concrete and glass.
But no. It’s cafe culture and daring knitwear and old churches and jazz music and questionable fashion choices and tiny dogs and designer beards and creative driving and little hats perched at rebellious angles.
This was our last show of the tour. And I’m afraid I don’t recall it very well. We’ve been rather well behaved on the whole and all agreed that, since the hotel was walking distance from the venue we’d enjoy a few drinks once we’d packed up the gear. After all, no gig the next day means we can risk a touch of oblivion.
It seems the venue owners read our minds. After our twenty song set we peeled off our wet shirts and flopped into the dressing room to find our hostess opening a bottle of champagne for us. What followed was a free bar with no conditions. Hours and hours of mojitos, white russians, single malts and peculiar greenish concoctions with exotic names.
I don’t remember getting back to the hotel. It was one of those waking-up-still-wearing-shoes kind of mornings.
Next stop: Reality.
Venue managers and gig promoters have all sorts of important tasks to perform if a show is to be a success. Most of these tasks are unseen and often unacknowledged.
There is a secret windowless room in most rock clubs. Usually in the basement. It is little more than a cupboard. This is where money is counted out and receipts are signed. The air is stale and the colours are brown; there is one desk, it is hidden beneath a turf of dirty cups and invoices; the shelves are full of old posters, electrical miscellanea and bits of instruments. If there is more than one seat it is probably a beer crate. This is where one tends to find the manager.
But Christoph Diem, the booker for Sparte4 in Saarbrücken, is not this kind of manager…
Almost all our shows begin with a feeling of uncertainty. A lot of people in the audience have only ever experienced us online (and there is quite a genre chasm between songs like Living In The Aftermath and Three Down Four To Go) so aren’t completely sure what kind of an event it’s going to be. Plus there are the usual human insecurities: no one wants to be the first person to dance, everyone is too sober to make a fool of themselves early on. So generally for the first few numbers the crowd are a bit on the static side, playing their waiting game.
The place was nearly full but audiences the world over have a talent for finding nooks and crannies to hide themselves in rather than standing directly in front of the stage. So this is where Christoph stood, a man alone, everyone else two steps behind, lurking just out of sight. As we began our first number he exploded into life, like one of those flailing blow-up wavy-arm giants that can be found outside car showrooms, he quivered and spasmed along to the rhythm, hopping up and down as though the floor were a bed of hot coals.
In no time at all everyone had moved forward, bringing with them their most daring moves. And I watched Christoph as it happened, I watched him become surrounded, watched him slow down as everyone else sped up, watched him slink back and weave his way through the throng, leaving the floor to the customers, disappearing once again into the shadows, the natural habitat of the event promoter. His work there was done.
And what a fun night it was. Hot, messy, animated, cathartic.
Just as a rock gig should be.
Next stop: Brussels, Belgium
Bernhardt the sound engineer at Laboratorium in Stuttgart looks like a Raymond Briggs Father Christmas turned roadie and could not better suit this wonderfully peculiar venue (a venue that appears not to have changed at all over the course of its forty one years in business).
The great thing about being in an odd-looking, odd-sounding, relatively unmarketable band is that one tends to get booked at places with a lot of character. Who wants to play in a soulless black box auditorium with Carling or O2 stamped all over it when you can perform in a building that is clearly someone’s labour of love? Bands are always labours of love - the venues showcasing them should be the same. After all, we’re on the same side and want the same thing: a happy audience and a good time.
This was certainly a happy audience though a little inscrutable for the first few numbers. It was a seated crowd and that always has a big impact on the overall nature of the show. Though there are no stark rules or boundaries that separate different kinds of gig and gig-goer from one another, I find that Bedlam Six shows fall loosely into two camps:
1. A dance band sound-tracking morally dubious evenings of seduction, intoxication and confusion.
2. A slightly anachronistic recital of musical narratives with grizzly endings to a listening (though not necessarily comprehending) assembly.
This gig was the latter. It felt a bit like music hall but without the jeering. I quickly go into clown mode when confronted with a seated well-behaved audience. If no one is going to dance then the ring-master must become a court jester, the sage fool speaking truth through witless banter.
I don’t usually drink alcohol before going onstage but if we’re playing multiple sets (as we were in this instance) I request a few whiskeys to appear after the interval (purely medicinal of course, it helps to kickstart my voice again if it has been worn out from the abuse of act one). In this case I stood onstage in a brief pause between two numbers and drank the first glass with such heedless vim that most of it went in my eye, so I followed the manoeuvre by pouring water in after it (not out of a desire to prolong the visual gag but more out of a desire not to go blind). By this point I was completely drenched and the audience were falling about laughing. Luckily there is a universal pun available for just such occasions, a comedic punctuation mark if you will…
“Apologies ladies and gentlemen, you will no doubt have noticed I have a drinking problem…”
We played until we physically couldn’t play any more. Then, ten minutes after we had retreated into our dressing room the applause was still going on and showed no sign of diminishing. So we rung the sweat from our sodden shirts and headed out for one more.
It was a hugely enjoyable evening. But I must admit, bed was a particular relief that night!
Next stop: Saarbrücken, Germany