In the early evening I walk south along the waterfront, the Welsh hills pale in the distance reaching out to Ireland. I come to the end of the promenade and find a stretch of natural beach, with high grassy dunes. I climb up and watch another sunset as a dog barks and the sea spills onto the sand with that whisper of applause. There’s a figure with a paddle standing on a board on the tide. They don’t look like they’re having much fun. As they manoeuvre into shore I see it is a man and he steps into the surf and wades ashore like a conquistador in the Caribbean. Three metal detectorists scan the sand. A girl on a horse trots past. Behind me the three-quarter moon peeks back at the sunken sun as if from the wing of a stage. The horizon turns tangerine for…—More Tales
The milky light leaks around the hotel room window blinds and I toy with getting out for a stroll. A cursory glance at the map reveals we are situated at the airport. I don’t much fancy sitting in an airport coffee shop with weary tourists so I stay put and open my laptop to stare at last night’s setlist. Something is getting the chop.
In rehearsal we were discussing the curse of the one-hit-wonder. Those acts who essentially have only one song most of the the audience wants to hear. Where do you play it? Too early and the crowd might get restive, too late, restless. Do you open with it and do a reprise at the end? Do you NOT play it in protest and put up with demands for recompense? Hello, we’re the Wombles, we hope you like our new direction…
We leave at midday…—More Tales
We head straight for the stage door, leaving hotel check-in for later. I scope out the venue and find a fast staircase back to the street. I take tea by a little food truck and watch the passers-by. I see Kris march past single-mindedly. He has a new bag. I also have a new bag. This, I feel, betrays a quiet optimism.
I walk into a Victorian indoor market and browse through the racks of a large record shop on the balcony, fleetingly stopping at a few sleeves. Little of the stock is original, it’s all twenty quid vinyl revival reissues most of which is probably cut from dodgy digital masters. I try to visit the city castle but the security man at the gate says “Last entry free” which confuses me until I realise he means “three”. I look at my watch. It’s a minute to three.…—More Tales
We’re on a day trip to the outskirts of Wigan. Seven days of rehearsals done, we’re decamping south to get an early start on the Cardiff soundcheck tomorrow having eschewed a full day’s production rehearsal. In our experience production rehearsals involve twenty people standing around for a day with about an hour’s worth of music. I suppose they’re necessary if you have costume changes, dancers and explosions.
Summer is finally showing signs of leaving, though the air is still thick with a warm fug. We bend in a great arc around Glasgow to find south, the sun lowering prettily behind the high quilted grey. Our vehicle is of the “executive class” sort — leather seats and gadgets. A display in the roof reassures me that the temperature within is a steady 20 degrees. I flip a switch to notch it to 21. I am the all-powerful ruler of…—More Tales
And off we set a second day, the weather still madly midsummer. We discuss some changes to the set as the Glasgow towers pass by looming over the road like sentries with a hundred eyes. Glasgow is a stupid twenty three degrees, Edinburgh a sane sixteen. At school in the seventies we were taught the adage; west coast wet and warm, east cold and dry but in recent years the rule has gone out of the window. Ten years ago I spoke with an American painter who’d been living in Tuscany for twenty five years. He told me that the climate there had recently turned on its head, the formerly cool wet winters now mild and dry, the hot dry summers strangely wet. The flora was unrecognisable from a September I’d previously spent in the area. What had been parched and pale yellow was now lush and deep…—More Tales
Here’s a white van, glinting on my street, three rows of seats, side door open. We enter the bubble, so called because it’s easily breached by the pinprick of a spike protein. All five of us are early and the sun is cutting down through the air like a sword. The Glasgow to Edinburgh corridor reels us into Auld Reekie as mildly excited conversation circulates. The last few days have been forebodingly hot with a musty warmth creeping into our rehearsal dungeon. The consensus is we’re two days shy of being fully prepared so tonight will be tense – everyone hanging onto the arrangements by their fingernails.
There are white clouds scattered above and the roadside trees throw pretty shadows on the gleaming tarmac. We sit at sixty in the inside lane pulled along by the lorries ahead. Iain and I visited Edinburgh a week ago…—More Tales
PROMO DAY 2
To the bathroom, to the bag, to the cab to the radio. Virgin is based way up on a high floor in what appears to be the News UK building — Rupert’s Redoubt to you and I. We are to set up in a large scalene shaped space with 240 degree views of silvery London. Below us the mud green Thames wends through the empty castles of the City, hardly a boat afloat. It’s 8:30AM and there’s not a soul upon London Bridge. It’s serene and it’s odd. We shuffle about with our leads and tuners and run through a few numbers. By the time we go live the nerves are jangling. I feel like I’m on day release from the nursing home. We used to do this stuff every day and now it’s an uneasy novelty. Our colleagues on the business side arrive…—More Tales
I’m sorry to see the back of Lewis. Its blasted moors knitted tight with heather and the sea everywhere about, licking at the rocky coast have kept my mind occupied with peaceful thoughts mostly. I came for the quiet to write and walk. I have twenty new tunes scribbled on A4 and wailed onto cassette locked in an old briefcase in the boot. I queue for the ferry under high cloud and savour the sadness of departure like a sour sweet. There’s Friday night excitement in the air as folk stand around their cars gossiping and watering their dogs. The mainland is pulling us all back. The stillness here has an effect on you, making you reflective. You can hear your soul shifting in its sleep. I think of Glasgow’s grime and aggro and feel unprepared. I have bought a bottle of wine to celebrate later, it sits…—More Tales
I’m driving northeast to Nairn, where I am appearing as an unannounced guest at their beer festival. It’s a pub gig with the world’s best pub band – no rehearsals, just count in, play and meet at the end. When I arrive at the Braeval Hotel there is already a crowd milling around outside in the warm May evening, jocular and ruddy with two days of beer drinking behind them. Gordon, the hotel’s tirelessly accommodating proprietor, tells me it was so busy yesterday that the local streets were impassable. How he and his wife Morag cope with all this while maintaining customer friendly smiles is beyond me.
I check into my attic room which looks out over the wide sandy bay and pull on my professional clobber, having been wearing shorts for the drive. It doesn’t do to slum it amongst one’s public. People talk. Our drummer tonight, the wonderful Ted…—More Tales
I’m playing a “songwriter-in-the-round” charity event in Edinburgh with Ricky Ross, Karine Polwart and old friend Gary Clark. It’s taking place in the oval Georgian recital room that is St. Celia’s Hall, now part of the Music Museum with its virginals, spinets and harpsichords sitting around at every turn. There’s an ancient little pipe organ powered by a foot pump at the head of the room. This is all quite posh and interesting. We meet up, soundcheck and have a little rehearsal of our finale before I duck outside to take a gander round the capital gleaming in the evening sunlight, angling madly everywhere, making sudden shadows at corners, blinding you as you cross an intersection. I drift up the Royal Mile, past the countless cashmere and shortbread shops, to the castle esplanade where Dels Utd play in July. I look out over the Firth of Forth, with its steely…—More Tales
So to London, choking snakepit of billionaires. Our abode is way uptown, a barren tower in a morass of roads and malls. We briefly check in then squeeze through the ooze to the venue, the Jazz Cafe. It’s a new one for me and very reminiscent of US style jazz clubs, the stage stretched across the long side wall so all the punters are within earshot of at least one soloist. The balcony looms over the stage like a frown and during the gig you get the impression that the audience is on top of you and sitting in your lap. It’s quite hard to perform to a shallow room when, like me, you tend to project everything towards the back. You end up playing to a wall.
In the early afternoon I decide to walk from Brent Cross to Camden, marching right across Hampstead Heath. I meander uphill through thicket…—More Tales
I’m sitting on the seafront basking in the sun. My bench has a plaque that reads: “FAY HARRIS 1921 – 2007. Please take time to sit and stare”. So I have and I do. A seagull the size of a toddler comes pecking up. Let’s call him Adam. He mooches about the bench for a bit, then gives up. I am not a feeder. Fuck off, Adam. Out to sea lies a wind farm looking like a flotilla of giant insects rallying for an invasion. The warm sun makes my skin prickle with delight. Behind me relentless motor traffic washes like surf. I’m loath to leave but I’m late for load-in around the corner. Holiday over. The local crew at the Old Market are super-professional and friendly. They are the first venue crew of this tour to introduce themselves to us as opposed to the other way around. Mr. Pringle…—More Tales
Bristol, goodbye. Not a cloud to be seen, October at its most beautiful and here we sit, strapped to our thrones in the Grey Toupee. Mr. Johnson is a little late but forgiven, it being his first offence. One more and he’ll be hung drawn and quartered on the gallows of group ribaldry. We hit traffic outside town. This looks like a long Friday on the motorway system. We pull free and puffy white clouds appear in the pale blue like the credits of The Simpsons. Stupidly we’re going back north, to Preston, retracing our route of a few days ago, just a bit further east. The Malvern hills sit out to our left, sun-dappled and moss-coloured. I catch a momentary flash of Worcester cathedral through a brief break in the verge. Tourism in glimpses. We veer further east to avoid tailbacks, going around Birmingham to the north rather than…—More Tales
We approach Bristol from
the south, passing black lakes of solar farms. Portishead lies out to the west, a few ships snagged in its nest of warehousing, cranes and windmills. You can see the two Severn crossings like bracelets on the river’s wrist. The sun is piling down and west England glisters like buttered corn.
The rooms are still being cleaned at our Bristol hotel so I dump my case and get out into the light. I tour the usual haunts, buying a couple of records in the covered market, then have some Korean street food. I’m going to call my songs “street music”, see if I can’t sell some units. In a corner cafe affording 180 degree people-watching potential, I study two workmen on their knees cutting paving slabs with an angle grinder. Their work is stunningly precise, leaving perfect 1 cm spaces between each bespoke piece. They have a large…—More Tales
We grab some scran on the way out of Cardiff and are soon cruising across the Severn bridge stuffing our faces with Welsh cakes and butterscotch travel sweets. I have a bucket of tea beside me and am content. I am CONtent too. This is content, you the reader are content as soon as you comment or share. Much of our social interactions are commodified and packaged, data-mined and sold for a dime a time. We all toil in a factory owned by billionaires, making a product of entirety our own design, using our own resourses. And at the factory gate they sell it all back to us in spades.
At the stop we bump into Morris Minor Man, a colleague of a friend of ours, Zac from The Proclaimers, who has a vintage car refurbishment business. He has just bought a black model and it sits on his trailer looking…—More Tales
Farewell Holiday Inn, sterile lodge on the edge of town. Today’s route takes us directly south along A-roads edging the English side of the Welsh border. Wales is unknown to me. I have no pictures in my head that swim into focus at the mention of its name. All I remember is ferry ports, Cardiff town centre and a brief sojourn to the Pembrokeshire coast. I can’t tie it all together to make a whole. In the 80s we frequently played Treforest, a student gig on the circuit. From there we were sent to Betty’s – “the best curry house in Wales”. This was a squalid cafe that served boil-in-the-bag gruel served by a woman about as Indian as Brad Pitt. We did a TV show in a former mining town in the zeroes where we met Travis, who were terribly young and sweet like tender-stem broccoli. I think this…—More Tales
We arrive at our hotel outside Chester in good time. There are a few hours of daylight left so I cab it into town. My driver is a bit of a bore but sweet enough. He’s into motorsports and technology. He expounds on solar power, satellite systems and alternative fuels. His daughter is a vegan (as is her partner – a nice detail). His cab feels like a prison cell as the divider between passenger and driver is almost completely shuttered. His voice comes to me through surprisingly high quality speakers in the roof. If he starts playing Megadeth I’ll be in Cab X-Ray. I have a feeling there is no equivalent on his side. He ignores my every utterance until I tell him I’m a singer/songwriter. Then he relates to me his love for Joe Bonamassa and Carlos Santana. He also mentions Stan Getz which gives him a Brownie…—More Tales
We snake towards the motorway through Yorkstone villages, passing a vast estate. The aristocracy are everywhere, like rats or Nando’s. The leaves on the trees and bushes are hanging on, Ophelia having achieved only partial defoliation. The general aspect remains green. We drive between hawthorn hedgerows enclosing rural England’s endless quadrilaterals. We sweep past place-names; Wittering, Stibbington, Water Newton along the river Nene. Lorries in their corporate livery make walls around us, we’re doubly hedged-in. I swig some water from my canteen, and a late Hockneyesque copse flies by. Outside Stilton I see an army of dumptrucks flattening a field. Maybe they’re building a massive post-EU cheese empire. We are just a few miles from Denton where Iain Harvie and I did a few weeks of writing sometime in the zeroes. One fogbound morning I awoke at six o’clock and looked out on a white horse standing on its hind…—More Tales
I make my own way back to the hotel after the Glee, amazed to find no restaurants open after 11 in Chinatown or anywhere else. I overhear some lads looking for a club saying “Too many Asians”. Maybe they’ll find Club Dick. The city is magically atmospheric in fog, the new towers and cranes disappearing into the cloak of the sky. I peer down from my room at this marooned town, taxis crawling through the streets like U-Boats, buildings reaching down into the murky sea, and feel complete contentment.
We leave at eleven and are soon spat out of Birmingham into a rainswept England, joining the trucks in their endless slog. The lane dividers pull us forward, we’re trapped between the stitches on a seam. Our usual routine is observed; some sleep, some speak on phones, some clamp music onto their skulls and drift somewhere else. I’m tapping, tapping, tapping like…—More Tales
The infernal chirruping of my phone alarm pokes me into resentful consciousness. It’s 11am but I could cruise the halls of sleep another few hours. We stop early en route to Birmingham so I can do a phone interview to promote the Wakefield show. I’m fucking useless at interviews, as boring as a drunk gardener. The thing to do, to make them entertaining, would be to lie. Lie about everything – the songs, the band, the “career”. But I get sucked into the classic old duffer thing of droning on about the fucking music industry, which I know nothing about. But it’s hard to lie because it feels like dreadful disrespect to some poor professional who has diligently read the press release and scanned Wikipedia. In Nashville in 2014 the record company were so bereft of promo bookings they foisted me onto some poor DJ live on air at what…—More Tales
Suitcases packed in the back of the Grey Toupee, we build up to escape velocity. England is beckoning. We pick up the guitarist at pre-arranged stop somewhere in the North, finding him standing in a bus shelter like an ageing rent boy. We are a team. I look out of the window from my leather covered perch. Misty autumn drizzle lies over the country, vehicles zip by on the opposite carriageway with a lazy sizzle, throwing up small arcs of spray. The low rumble from the tarmac beneath us is punctured by cackles of conversation. The nuclear power station at Torness glides by on our left looking like a cubist rendering of a pale blue elephant. The sea beyond is chopped-up, almost purple in its sullenness. We climb inland, passing through pretty wooded hills, the trees emitting wisps of steam as if harbouring secret fires. Most of the foliage is…—More Tales
I come to in my own bed, not yet fully on the road. I set the kettle on its plastic teet and toss a teabag into a stained mug, longing for the antiseptic soullessness of a chain hotel. At the appointed hour I make the ten minute walk to the venue. LOCAL MAN POPS OUT TO ROCK.
I like the ABC as a venue. There were once two vast screens here. It was my favourite cinema. I saw Dune in cinema one and threw my neck out sitting in the front row looking from one side of the frame to the other. Terrible film, made much worse by the acting of Sting. Even World War Two would’ve been made worse by the acting of Sting.
But the ABC stage is the perfect height, it’s Saturday night and the crowd are in fine voice.
I make a fast exit after the show, breezing home…—More Tales
As soon as we are on the road Mr. Nisbet christens our vehicle “The Grey Toupee” after a gentleman’s club existing only in his imagination. The van is decked out in grey leather and burgundy velvet. I have taken a raised seat at the rear from where I can survey the troupe and record any encroaching bald spots on the back of their heads. So far so hirsute. The road lays out before us like a charcoal carpet welcoming us back to touring life. The air is thick with the warmth of a distant hurricane. We all begin to readjust. The initial flurry of conversation dies and we start to poke at our phones, those small furnaces of desire. I notice a turbine turning slowly on a hill like the ghost of a Spitfire. Autumn touches the tops of trees with a powdering of gold, the verges still rich and…—More Tales
Today we are traveling to Bogbairn farm just south of Inverness. We’re playing a boutique festival called Northern Roots, run by my old friend from Blazing Fiddles, Bruce McGregor. Bruce has his fiddly fingers in a gamut of tasty pies. He hosts an excellent radio show called Travelin’ Folk on Radio Scotland, gigs with the Blazers and has been running a little annual event on his farm for a few years now. I believe he is also an apprentice milliner. But I have seen his hats and that way lies lunacy.
High winds and scattered clouds, bursts of sun and sprays of rain decorate this three or four hour journey. The sun sits very high this time of year so the afternoon gets flattened out with scant shadows lending the greenery a uniform dullness. It’s the sideways light that makes this country ring and glow like god. Ben Lomond stands…—More Tales
Our hotel is a ’70s brown brick building refitted to resemble an art-deco ocean liner. So I went out roaming last night after the gig like a sailor on a 24 hour pass. Town was pretty dead around midnight but I followed some young folk and found the party zone where fast food was plentiful. It’s pleasant, when sober, weaving amongst the drunken as long as you don’t have to talk to them. I wouldn’t suffer myself after four drinks for a second.
In the early afternoon I begin preliminary exploration of the liner’s locale. I stop by the big 1960s Catholic cathedral which on close inspection is impressive, lovely even. A bronzed fitness fucker, tooled up with wraparound shades and a Fitbit is huffing up and down its steps, Rocky style. Inside I take one circuit, admiring its open-plan layout and enormous crown chandelier. It has a touch of Sagrada…—More Tales
White cumuli hang lazily in a milky blue sky as we angle up to Merseyside. Everywhere about us there must be party campaigners canvassing surly voters on their suburban doorsteps. They say Corbyn is gaining, the gap between Labour and Tories narrowing. This is good for ratings. Do we pray for a hung parliament leading to a coalition of “progressives”? Will the exit from the EU be fudged leading to a cataclysm? The soldiers and civil servants who run the secret state must be curious about this. The game is not completely rigged and the house does not always win but it’s best to expect stalemate and disappointment. However, there is no reason why the divisiveness and hatred instilled by the reactionary British press over Europe can’t lead to civil war. I would imagine they have thought about this. How will they keep us quiet? How will they, at all…—More Tales
I investigate my face in the bathroom mirror, pink and pillowy like an eleven-year-old girl’s bedroom. I should put a Harry Styles sticker on my forehead to complete the look. I attempt some redecoration by dragging the grey stubble from my cheeks with a razor. There is little improvement. The blue rings under my eyes resemble the outside of a mussel shell and some rogue eyebrow hairs appear to be evolving into serviceable antennae. Hotel mirrors bring the brutal news you can avoid in a dimly lit home. Things change but later in life they slide and by the end it’s an avalanche. You see people buried by increments or you see them flattened in seconds. Nobody has a chance.
We kill time on the three hour journey answering general knowledge questions read from a little box bought in the last town. I’m surprised how much this excites me. A game!…—More Tales
I wake up in the dark cocoon of my 70s hotel and draw back the vinyl shades to reveal a net curtain filtering the view like Vaseline on a lens. But I’d opened the nets last night. It’s mist and drizzle, the world’s awash with fuzzy humidity. It’s cool now, I close the window. I perform ablutions and tidy up, pack. With the black remote I taser through the cheap daytime channels, snagging on an old British Bake Off. I watch the sinister presenters prod and chew various breads like medieval kings before a banquet. I fantasise cutting Hollywood and Berry in half with a Gatling gun.
We drive through low-lying, nondescript country drenched in a fog of rain. Brake lights blink ahead and we caterpillar up to a queue. We pass a pig farm, a stately home and an enormous pink monument celebrating John Noakes. The place names are full…—More Tales
The lid of doom is clamped on the country and a porridge of grey prevails. Summer’s over, boys or maybe just commenced. The air has cooled a little and weaves about more turbulently. The heart sinks a notch – will we ever see sunshine again?
We track down to Engerland, the verges bursting with blossoms and rampant bushery. Everything looks sordid in the flattened light, the greens darkling like a murderer’s eyes before the act. We doze and read and eat Haribo, do the occasional line of coke off the dashboard. At a Moto I buy the-most-expensive-cup-of-tea-ever-served at an outdoor kiosk. I sling in some UHT “milk” and neck it in a single gulp, repulsed, angry and broke. I am that bitter old man you want to avoid. Small slights make me incensed, major injuries mildly riled.
We pick up our front-of-house operator at another motorway clip-joint, finding him loitering with his…—More Tales
Oh, shit – the sun is shining, shining down on all of bonny green Scotland. What does this portend? We load up in the the lane, box upon box, case upon case. Amps at the bottom, stringed instruments atop. We will travel in a thing called a “splitter”, the front cabin containing the humans, the rear the gear. There is a schism already.
We meet a fair-weather tailback on the motorway beyond Stirling’s pretty vista, its castle and monuments sitting perkily erect on the glacial plain. The lowlands are in fresh full leaf and all the managed, manicured greenery flutters and glints in the luxury of the brilliant light. We experienced Scots know not to mistake this lovely weather for the start of summer. Summer never starts in Scotland, it just vacillates wildly between spring and autumn and occasionally lights up like a furnace causing universal astonishment.
The people of Perth…—More Tales
With the encroaching cynicism of middle age, episodes of excitement become increasingly rare. Perhaps a trip to some unvisited country raises the heart-rate a little but the unearned sense that you’ve seen-it-done-it lends every novelty a suspicious odour of staleness. Perhaps the arrival of grandchildren kickstarts some enthusiasm and shock and grief will cause ructions in the millpond of mild surprise but on the whole, you greet life with a shrug. Governments come and go and you whine weakly at their various crimes.
It comes with a jolt then to find yourself excited by anything, but releasing an album remains one of those things. You spend years pondering and collating, writing and recording all to the ultimate end of letting something out, freeing something and in turn being freed from it. So the actual day of its public exposure remains supremely important and there is no other word for the emotion…—More Tales
This masterpiece of meh can be retrieved from here in physical form: https://justincurrie.tmstor.es/
And here in bits: http://apple.co/2naovtO
Tickets on sale 9:00am on Monday 15th May
See Parades for details.—More Tales
Perth want me to punt this:
Consider it punted, Perth.—More Tales
Good moaning. I take great pleasure today in announcing the pre-release (whatever the fuck that is) of This Is My Kingdom Now, my latest collection of stuff.
Hear the brand-new-smash-hit-number-one single, Sydney Harbour Bridge here: http://spoti.fi/2ndHjtQ
The album is out on May 12th (May the twelpth be with you) but you can pre-order it here: http://amzn.to/2n0Noch
OR if you want the thing bundled with an ART print (feel the quality, see the shine) stylishly signed by my hairy mitt then get in here:
You can hear the title track here:http://spoti.fi/2nOJ97I
More exciting smash hit news to follow. Smashing, isn’t it?
Just added some dates in May/June to support the forthcoming release of This Is My Kingdom Now on Endless Shipwreck records.
Fri 26 Perth Concert Hall
Sun 28 Holmfirth Picturedrome
Mon 29 Pocklington Arts Centre
Tue 30 Wolverhampton Slade Rooms
Wed 31 Liverpool Hangar 34
Fri 2 Cambridge Junction 1
Sat 3 Islington Assembly Hall
See Parades for dates and ticket links.—More Tales
20/11/14 – 11/12/64
I sit in my seat like a teacher at a staff meeting, room service beer in full flow, and watch my last guest die. Ella Guru has gone to the other side. Being young, she has seen the sense in heading for the hills of immediate sleep. My banter, demanding as it must be of recipients, falls on deaf ears.
I bear witness and keep vigil. Ella Guru slumbers as soundlessly as the pharaohs, her beer propped up in her lap like a leaning Eiffel. The squeaks and strains of morning erupt around my room – o shit, the world is awake.
Nighttime is everything to me, I could not live without its cloaking. Mornings are murder, murderous and murderers. They are deathly, depressing and disastrous. They bring clinging women, creepy uncles: mornings are cunts that catch one at play.
A little diseased breath in…—More Tales
After four nights in the same hotel in Leeds it’s refreshing to be back on the road proper. It’s heavily overcast and muggy, the southbound traffic sluggish. With three shows left there’s an air of weary resignation in the van. My body, on waking, felt like a block of hardened rubber, as if some entity had poured moulding material down my throat in the night. I’ve set stiff and sit like a bag of cement in the front seat. I need a drainage contractor. A dim orb of pale grey hovers in the gloom above like a ghoul. Tiny spots of rain collect on the windscreen like alighting insects until, forming too dense a firmament, they are swiped away. A sunbeam strikes through ahead with an abracadabra and, peering upwards, I see a flat white disc; our furnace star reduced to a glinting tiddlywink.
At last we escape the clutches of the country club with its therapy pool and veneer of hushed sympathy. I feel like we’re on the lam from rehab. The A-Road north is as straight as a Roman nose, we are the only deviants. Ploughed fields fill the flatness dotted with hamlets, farmhouses and groups of trees loitering like sulking teenagers. It is very still, the sky a white soup with puffs of smoky clouds trailing along the horizon like steam from an antique train. The rectangular torpedoes of lorries barrel towards us but it’s slow going this side of the road. We cross the odd canal and the sun, swimming out to our left in a sea of grey muslin, manages to throw blurred shadows across the tarmac.
It’s already crepuscular as we turn into Selby, a little town not without an earthy old-fashioned charm. We’re early, so we set up…—More Tales
Heave-ho, we head out of Bury, swinging round the sugar factory which belches white smoke into the crisp blue sky. It’s a short hop to Norwich across the flatlands of Norfolk but the sat-nav takes us on a wild goose chase around half the county before we arrive at our abode, a country club type joint, all golf courses and spa treatments. I HATE golf. It’s the refuge of the respectable Nazi. I immediately order a taxi to ferry me away from this hell. The driver is a cheeky chappie from Larkhall in Scotland. He wears a black waistcoat with a silver pinstripe and tells me about his daughter’s graduation. She’s the first of his family to go to university. I congratulate him but he’s more concerned with what the do is going to cost. Then he tells me he just won £1400 on…—More Tales
By the time we hit Bexhill the warm southern wind is whipping off the channel in swiping gusts. We hear the local fireworks event has been cancelled due to the danger of rockets launching five feet in the air, abruptly bending to the horizontal and blowing children’s faces off.
The De La Warr is smaller than I had remembered it but beautifully sculpted and remarkably unspoilt. The auditorium is a wonderful room, perfectly proportioned and reverberating with a gentle slapback highly conducive to music and speech. I watch our opening act Ella The Bird and am enormously impressed with her composure and dynamic control. My own show feels too effortless to be trustworthy and my mind wanders during the last half hour; I go within and feel like I lose the crowd, leaving all a little stranded. The sea lies to my right twenty feet beyond the wall, black, tormented and…—More Tales
We start at ten. The gear goes in the back, the boys go in the front and we get on our way, out into the You-Kay. Liverpool shivers at the end of the road in a milky November morning. The road-signs are blue and the cones are red – fields and fences, copses, hedges – everything crumpled into the confines of this congested country. The sun swims low in the southern sky, slipping through knots of clotted cloud, making its way to the Atlantic.
It’s a short jaunt, a quick buzz around provincial England ending in two London nights. The trees cling on limply to their remaining leaves not yet taken by the wind. Winter hasn’t taken its first real bite but you feel it coming. The pasture is that British/Irish emerald that you see nowhere else and it sings in the sporadic shafts of sunlight. Everything glistens in autumn dew.
We load into the van at eleven for the seven hour drive to LA, the mountains of the southern desert brushed with pale green and sitting out at a distance on either side of us the whole way. I nod off and dream of backstage corridors and hotel fire escapes and awake in the snake-pit of LA’s freeway system. The I-10 virtually takes us door to door, from our Phoenix hotel to McCabe’s Guitar Store in Santa Monica. This is a renowned gig for its setting – the acoustic guitar room of a music shop – and its unique and intimate ambience. Lincoln, an urbane and witty man who epitomises So-Cal cool, gives me the run-down on the place’s history which is illustrious and quirky in equal measure. The backstage corridors are covered with photographs from LA music history. I stare into a black…—More Tales
Another morning, another fucking beautiful day, still in Texas. But not for long. The route out of El Paso hugs the border with Mexico for a while before cutting north into New Mexico and turning west for Arizona. Mexico lies just beyond touching distance, only discernible as a different nation by the marginally more ramshackle nature of its housing. An ugly fence, like a stern and humourless drill sergeant, frowns along the frontier for a few miles until succumbing to the heedless power of the landscape. There is no border, just two cultures and economies smashing against each other and melding, melting into one: Amexica. Only the mulish attitude of politicians, harvesting fear votes, prevents this territory from being the same country. The absurdity of the frontier is no less acute than that between North and South Korea. People pour across the official channels – roads, bridges and ports -…—More Tales
Texas is a different world, an unimaginable place in, say, Manhattan. It sits culturally apart from the rest of the States, has its own mindset. We drive south to Austin, stopping at Style Station on the way, a used clothing treasure trove just off the freeway recommended to us by The Mastersons and our buddies, The O’s. Having been forewarned that its proprietor, Art, is big on radical politics and conspiracy we are pleasantly surprised by his hospitality and extraordinary knowledge, from the history of the British monarchy to the convoluted and corrupt machinations of US manufacturers in the Second World War. He’s quite an amazing man and tells me about an electric trolley car system that served the area until it was dismantled by the motor industry in 1948. He has, against state policy, installed his own solar panels and powers most of…—More Tales
In the afternoon of the show I hook up with old friends the Kresses who in a replay of 1986 have come down from Little Rock, Arkansas to see me. We have a lovely lunch in Deep Ellum and swap tales of death, disease and the absurdity of life as their three charming kids suffer us incredibly politely. They are very widely travelled people and their stories are fascinating. This puts me in what I can only describe as a good mood, a state of existence I am barely familiar with. They have brought me gifts, one of which is a mini photo album from ’88 when they were backpacking through Europe where we all look like fucking babies. It’s shocking. I actually don’t recognise myself. Fuck me – what happened to THAT guy?
I find myself actually relaxing by the pool before showtime. I…—More Tales
We leave the Twin Cities early and are in the sticks in no time. We look at the map and follow a long straight line to Kansas City where we are stopping over en route to Dallas. The highway bears us over shallow inclines through fields of cereal without deviation for four hundred miles. South of Des Moines in Iowa it gets a bit more scrubby and wild. As we head south we leave all signs of autumn behind and are frequently tracked by Vs of ducks flying alongside like banners.
Kansas City suddenly appears on the horizon like a tombstone in the sun. The hotel, The Aladdin, is a beautiful Art Deco structure built in 1925 and my room on the 11th floor has windows on two sides and is remarkably smartly decorated for a Holiday Inn. The…—More Tales
We cross the Mississippi four times, once in, once out and twice in the course of going out. It astonishes me that the river still has the power to carve a city in two so far from the sea. One end might sit in the icy chill of frozen Minnesota while the delta sweats and oozes into the Gulf of Mexico more than a thousand miles south. Minneapolis has a strange personality. She is twins so perhaps that’s to be expected. As we roll in from Chicago we see streets thronged with sandal and shorted mobs. It’s Saturday and unseasonably warm. Everyone is out making hay. Any day now a front could come in from the north and there won’t be a soul to be seen on the street. It always strikes me as a very clean place, as if the hellish winters scour…—More Tales
Why do we wave to people on boats? I’m sitting under a high sun by the Chicago river beginning to roast in jeans and a black shirt. I give a casual little flutter of the fingers of my right hand, my arm hanging nonchalantly across a park bench. A blonde woman in big sunglasses waves back from the pleasure cruiser slipping past my vantage point. The sun is beating at me, really hammering. A sparrow drops by for a morsel I do not have, hopping around my boots with its back to me, keeping one eye on the chance of a flung breadcrumb. I’m not in the habit of carrying breadcrumbs. I don’t need a reputation as a groomer.
This city has been the scene of much debauchery for me. Chicago was often the gig you did about a month in, when the madness descends.…—More Tales
We escape the clutches of the city early in the morning, all the heavy traffic on the opposite carriageway. Once through the gauntlet of New Jersey’s chemical industry we’re in the endless woods of Pennsylvania. Fall is in first flame, the yellows and russets spreading through the forest like a rash. Coming around some bends the whole horizon is afire in the angled morning sun. It’s nearly four hours before we see a clearing – a farmstead set in an emerald meadow. The route has a mesmerising monotony. It’s a kind of Appalachian Amazonia. We stop for breakfast and luxuriate in the changed pace, the rural folksiness, the twang in the accents. In a matter of hours we have arrived in a different universe still confederated under the same oath and flag.
Road and more road. To get across Pennsylvania alone it takes six hours.…—More Tales
We take a leisurely amble down the 95 to Philly and seem to drive straight into the gig without deviation. The pale blue sky is tiered with those puffy white clouds from the opening credits of The Simpsons. I’ve done this tiny venue, The Tin Angel, before. It’s a charming long narrow room with a very tight stage down at the opposite end from the bar where the toilets are. People have to file past you during the show when they need to micturate. It’s good to make fun of them.
We’re done soundchecking by seven and I go out to mosey around the vicinity. I rummage around a second-hand shop but it’s all a bit precious. The word “vintage” gets bandied about as if old clothes mature like wine. I only wear used things because most modern clobber is so repulsive and badly made,…—More Tales
Around lunchtime I take a walk over the Brooklyn Bridge dodging through the streams of tourists on their Bloomberg bikes. I cross the narrow tip of the island to the west side and seat myself in a restaurant on a corner looking onto a small park. The new One World Trade Centre looms over me, its pointed hat in the clouds. I can’t fathom its scale at all. For all its claim to be the highest in the Western Hemisphere it looks more like a chubby than a stauner to me. My table offers a strategic people-watching panorama. An ancient Chinese woman sifts through a garbage basket, her trove of refundable cans and bottles in an enormous plastic bag at the end of a pole (with a counterweight at the other) that she balances on her shoulder. A twenty-something couple straight out of a…—More Tales
Onward up the eastern seaboard we go, the weather consistently glorious. Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey. We pass Baltimore’s scrappy skyline and skip across wide inlets densely forested on each bank. I imagine the fear and wonder of the Europeans sailing up these rivers into the unknown in the 16th century. We twist around the base of Manhattan, spotting emerald Liberty from the arc of the Verrazano Narrows bridge. The great “fuck-you” of Freedom Tower rises from the ashes of ground zero, ugly and crass compared to the streamlined simplicity of the twins it replaces. It’s odd to be driving straight into Brooklyn and not setting foot on the island. I may walk over the bridge tomorrow to rub Manhattan’s monumental grandeur into my eyes. The gig is surrounded by a swarm of hipster dipsticks, pushing prams and tousling each other’s angled fringes. I…—More Tales
I awake to the tragedy of my own people rejecting radical change to cling to the false security of the last flotsam from the shipwreck of the British Empire. I am tuned to BBC Radio London and the glee and jubilation of the powerful spouting forth from the radio is suffocating. I cannot deny that I am very angry. I was angry last night when I saw the way it was going and I am angry this morning in the harsh light of the result and I’ll be angry when I go home. I feel like the hope just got kicked out of me. I feel like I am being held down by a gang of victorious sports fans because I am wearing the wrong colour, walking down the wrong street and have been singing the wrong song. The surprising flame of Scots radicalism…—More Tales
We are out of Cleveland by 9am, pale blue skies above. There are three tasks to be completed today. A live performance on radio, getting me a US social security number and finding a nut wrench to loosen the truss rod of my Taylor. Ooh, missus. It’s enough to make Rod Taylor blush. If he weren’t long dead, pecked to death by deranged birds. Pittsburgh is the destination, a city I last visited in the early nineties for some outdoor radio event. The most recent proper gig I did there was 1986. It was the Electric Banana as I remember and we stayed with a Dels fan’s parents in suburbia. I have unforgivably forgotten her name but I do have a photograph somewhere of me and our guitarist, Brian eating out of a dog bowl on all fours wearing pet collars. It was near…—More Tales
I am sorry to be leaving Nashville. After last night’s show a pleasant bevy of friends and acquaintances coalesced around the backstage zone exchanging gossip and news. The dressing room grapevine. People here are very interested in the Scottish Situation. We endeavour to explain and quickly figure out that it’s easiest just to wait for them to ask, “So you wanna be like Canada?” Yes, that’s pretty much it. The disillusionment with domestic politics is so extreme here now that this makes perfect sense to them.
We pull out of town at 9am and are straight onto the freeway. Within an hour we’re in Kentucky passing through rolling pasture studded with copses and the odd little cornfield. There is the vaguest blush of autumnal bruising staining the trees and the sun breaks through exposing high maps of thin clouds above. We pass a Glasgow and…—More Tales
We lift out through thin fog and reach over Islay’s inner seas, the island glistening in the September sun, its bays and beaches deserted and beautiful below us. We leave Scotland in the light, a land hovering between shadow and something else, staring into its Celtic soul and asking: to be or not to be?
I’m headed west to America with my trusted lieutenant, Mr. Niz at my side, so I am “we” and we are “me” and we are all together.
Over the Atlantic we cruise in our tin-can tube of Boeing, the ocean rippling out beyond, somewhere lapping at the coast of a Carolina or two. Within a few hours I’m gazing down on endless schools of icebergs carving their way south. We are, as Joni Mitchell sang, at icy altitudes. With the trolleys stowed and the crew at rest after service the only…—More Tales
Still tickets left for this show here:
Hallo good people of USA. Here’s a quick update on the upcoming tour. It’s all up. For debate. Firstly I’m going to be on the wireless in these places on these frequencies.
WRLT Nashville Sept 14th.
WYEP Pittsburg Sept 17th. Live on air 1.15pm.
WXRT Chicago Sept 25th. Live on air 12- 12.30.
Thank you to all who bought tickets for the following shows. These are all sold out now.
Tin Angel Philladelphia Sept 22
Space Evanston Sept 25
Schubas Chicago Sept 26
Dakota Minneapolis Sept 27
There are tickets still available for all the other shows so if you go here:
You can figure it all out.
I’ll see you all in a couple of weeks.—More Tales
In the morning I peel back the flimsy curtain and glimpse the first whisker of dawn. Rotterdam’s blinking constellation creeps imperceptibly closer until its vast industrial tangle fills the horizon. Every one of the countless chimneys is festooned with lights like some Christmas apocalypse. Ships, tugs and barges, container terminals, wharfs and warehouses, petrochemical plants, cranes, barrels, boxes, piles of gravel, sand, coils of chain and rope; it’s the machine-mouth of Europe drinking its lifeblood from the seas. We are disgorged from the ferry’s bowels onto the dockside in our little cruiser and set co-ordinates for the centre to breakfast and make a coffeeshop pick-up. Town is a stimulating mish-mash of modernism not without its charms. The Luftwaffe destroyed the medieval town in 1940 in an effort to cow the Dutch after the Nazis met much fiercer resistance on the ground…—More Tales
I am standing at the stern of an enormous ferry staring out into the watery darkness to the distant lights of the Humber bridge, a fat lady’s necklace strung across the throat of the estuary. The “sun deck” is the highest public tier on our vessel and a clench of vertigo grips me as I peer straight down the side of the ship to the strip of brown water between us and the quayside. Disconsolate stragglers smoke cigarettes wreathed in self-disgust. The open-air bar is empty; a solitary server eyes me with lethargic disinterest as a flickering TV, recessed into the wall beside him, shows the dying minutes of an Arsenal FA cup win. The polished decking is slick with a layer of rain and I cautiously skate back into the warm bowels of the boat, my arms extended forward like Frankenstein’s…—More Tales
I come burning out of the JPR Management Christmas party in a rage of resentment, flailing desperately at passing cabs whose lights are resolutely unlit. I’m cutting this fine. I’m in Shepherds Bush bound for Glasgow and my flight leaves Heathrow in about eighty minutes. Tick, tick, tick. That was a party I didn’t want to leave. I rouse a sleeping cabbie outside the Hilton with a gentle series of knocks on his bonnet, slowly increasing in intensity. He comes to with a smile, perhaps appreciative of my sensitivity to the truth of the proverb concerning sleeping dogs. We speed off to Paddington with an alacrity born of rich experience of London driving. He asks me about independence and I give him my tuppence worth. He is impassioned about its potentially disastrous effect on the Scots. Although I agree I find…—More Tales
Being the dick that I am, I pride myself on passing pointless little tests. Having de-nuded myself and placed every conceivable metallic accoutrement on my person into a plastic tray I still set off the alarm as I pass through the arch of the detector at airport security. My bafflement is assuaged by my body searcher who reassures me I have been selected randomly. “Nothing in life is certain”, he smiles. But I’m certain of this: they’ll never find that hand grenade stuffed inside my colon. Not without a lengthy stick.*
I am en route to a rehearsal with Jimmy Webb in preparation for our duet on Later tomorrow night. I can’t quite figure out if I’m nervous about meeting Jimmy as we have spoken on the phone and he’s so immediately affable you can’t help feeling at ease. He’s an Oklahoma boy…—More Tales
I am again suspended in the air on a fourteenth floor looking out over Bristol, the Avon green and glittering in a great arc around the city below me. People are thronging in the square catching the fag-end of the summer warmth. I venture abroad and order a burger at a dockside bar and crane my neck out over the water to catch precious rays on my face. Light ringing, light singing, spilling everywhere in splendour.
The end of the road has been reached, last stop Glasgow tomorrow. The phone has been quiet these last few days, phase one completed. Then there is another video to make and hopefully a little more plugging and pushing to do on single number two. And onto the reunion and my reacquaintance with the bass guitar. There’s only four strings so why worry? That’s a whole…—More Tales
Everyone’s face is crippled with displeasure. The slanting rain and the callous wind are harrowing even hardened Mancunians. I pass a ditched polystyrene carry-out container, brimming with rainwater, a tomato quarter and some scraps of livid meat. Even the rats have taken cover. They’ve probably “…all got rickets” and “spit through broken teeth”.
The cinema is showing wall-to-wall shit, the museums are closed and walking is a thankless pursuit. I take a late breakfast in a proper caff full of bubbly regulars and shuffling OAPs. I watch a staff member chalk up a black A- board. He writes “Were close” which I think might be a comment on some football score until he thinks to add a “d”, squashed on the end like an unwelcome worm.
I wander about, hands in pockets. I am as aimless as a snowflake. This particular part…—More Tales
And we’re off to Harrogate with two hangovers in the van. Long Island Iced Teas are to blame. Once the Del Amitri day-off drink of choice in the US, now to be avoided at all costs. Five kinds of white spirits in one glass. I used to serve them in my nightclub barman days. If they came back for a second they were not seen again. Not in this world.
It’s sunny but with a sky busy with tortured clouds reaching down from every altitude. I have spent the morning listening to AM by Arctic Monkeys. Hm.
Harrogate is hoaching with slowcoaches. Swarms of daytrippers trudge about looking disconsolate. I have noodles in a place packed with families. I grimace at their moaning kids with no sympathy, no patience and no clue. Poor bastards. I can’t say I’m a fan of these…—More Tales
The fair city of Edinburgh is warm in the morning and I amble across town to the BBC in my shirtsleeves*, stopping fitfully at second-hand shops full of crap and ducking into what appears to be a women-only café. My coffee is so repulsive I immediately leave. It tastes like tar and acid and wormwood. The cakes looked good, I’ll admit. There’s a place next door that looks more promising. They have bacon rolls.
I don’t know Edinburgh, I’m a tourist here. I know ten other farther flung cities better. It’s a lovely town, utterly unique. It leaves Glasgow trailing in its wake for cosmopolitanism, institutional infrastructure and architecture. It feels international, engaged and on the go. It has deep roots in the Enlightenment, the historical Scottish establishment, finance, football casuals and mass heroin addiction. You can see how Scotland’s five cities…—More Tales
Come morning I’m back out on the balcony again, sunning myself like a retired military man. I put on Curtis Mayfield then listen again to young Lloyd’s album, Standards. Myrtle and Rose is very touching. Then I listen to a bit of Neu’s second album and I am struck by the obvious lifts Martin Hannett and Joy Division took for Unknown Pleasures. The heavy plate reverb on the gated snare, the unsettling sound effects. It’s funny to think that Joy Division were essentially a seventies band. But they sounded like the future and the future sounded like hell. So here we are.
We motor north to London burning diesel, the great belt with its white stitches tugging us forward. An eiderdown of cloud blankets us as the sun slants between the sheets bringing the road alive with a trembling light.
I have…—More Tales
We haul out of Cambridge through desultory drips of rain. I have taken in a croissant and good coffee in a local Italian caff seemingly run by super-efficient Latvians. Or Lithuanians, one can’t be sure. Whatever, they looked like handsome villains from a James Bond film. I was interrogated as to the quality of the fare and felt somehow that I didn’t pass muster. After I’d commented on the sound quality of the coffee, my waiter looked horribly insulted. “But the croissant was lovely and fresh also, no?”
“Oh, yes, very fresh, very good too”.
I had a feeling had I said no that the supplier would have had his little finger chopped off. You don’t get that in Starfucks. They probably chop entire countries off.
The rain starts lashing at the windscreen as we get out of town, spray spinning up around…—More Tales
The broken white lines stream towards me like tracer fire, England in early autumn slides past the van’s windows all around me. Sunny spells. My stomach twinges with hunger. I wonder what culinary delights await in my Cambridge dressing room. Last night’s show, wrecked by nerves, has me on edge. I need something but know not what. A long violent massage from a fat Turk? Caravans, vans, trucks and trailers: I’m in the world of wagons. Cambridgeshire’s flat expanses exert their pull. I’m getting there but when I do, “there” moves somewhere else. Hunger leads not to satisfaction, just further want.
I didn’t touch down in Wolverhampton, I seemed to fly through in a daze. There’s hardly a mote of Midlands dust on the soles of my shoes. A man invisible to me said goodbye during the show, said he had to go. I could do nothing but bid him…—More Tales
After an arduous soundcheck trying to fit eleven lines into eight channels I take a stroll to the river beach, a strange French phenomenon whereby a bend in a country river is converted into a virtual beach by the application of a few tons of sand. It’s not for me at all. It’s just weird – people doing beachy things in mottled green water with trees all around. I walk to the end where there’s a weir. Some local teenagers are frolicking in the miniature cataract, a relatively risky business. I take a cold cola in the “beach” bar and gaze out upon the odd scene from the shade of some saplings. It’s slightly reminiscent of Seurat’s The Bathers but with more undressed flesh. An English man standing near me has swimming trunks so short that he looks naked from…—More Tales
I wake up in a pleasant little hotel in a sleepy village which on further investigation turns out to be a suffocatingly picturesque tourist trap crawling with those middle-class tourists who frequent stupid shops full of gourmet this and vintage that. There’s a shop that sells cupcakes for fuck’s sake. They’re all wandering around sleepily looking for orifices into which they can ram their money. I hide in a bar out of the heat and scowl, like I ain’t the same as them. But we’re Brits abroad together no matter that I’m here to “work” so I drift along with the posh scum, nosing into an overpriced antique shop and poking at dull things. I flip through a box of vinyl which contains three Rubettes albums, some 80s Hi-Energy 12inches and a Richard Clayderman LP. Nothing even resembles bad taste, it’s…—More Tales
My cabbie offers me a pellet of chewing gum, perhaps reacting to the reek of last night’s garlic. I accept and take pity on him and open a window. Glasgow is glittering in August light as we cross the Kingston bridge, the new Hydro – almost complete – nestling amongst its silver sisters like an old-fashioned idea of a spaceship.
The airport teems with holidaymakers and a smattering of Scotland fans on their way to Wembley to meet the Auld Enemy in a friendly. Their kilts sway above white woollen socks and Timberlands, the footwear of choice for the marching Tartan Army. I sense the odd look of disgust cast furtively in my direction. That soppy little poof disnae get it wi’ his maudlin shite. So be it. I give off a faint air of disdain. Come on, Scotland? Come ON Scotland.
The country…—More Tales
Airports. I walk the gauntlet of painted ladies and try to fight off the olfactory assault. Right after the martial roadblock of security the inquisition of the wallet. If there’s an empty space, put a shop on it. You can’t get near a chair until you’ve done the corridor of consumption. I buy a Private Eye from a scrupulously polite young man in a glorified kiosk. He’s going places and so am I. I espy in the lounge a soundman with whom I am acquainted but he’s deeply buried in a book. A little further on I see Stevie Jackson from B&S but he too is engrossed, headphones locked over his curly hair so I resist interrupting and take a seat in my own little patch. We all have our own little patch. A very pretty young mother approaches with two red-faced bairns and parks opposite. I pick up my…—More Tales
I’m sitting in Berkley Square completely surrounded by the inexorably circling feeding frenzy of London traffic. The stately Georgian townhouses seem to glare down upon my classlessness. Behind me in the Bentley shop window, big glinting automobiles squat like hounds panting gently on the lord of the manor’s drawing room carpet. The noise around me is vast and unnameable and lulls me into a pleasant stupor. The odd horn blast declares itself above the din but it is this huge congregation of machines that predominates. London is alive with the dread sound of engines burning oil and spewing every kind of particulate into the warm evening air. Business types flit by on their borrowed Boris Bikes; a sprinkler, muted by the cacophony, flicks fake rain about the place which the lurid grass drinks enthusiastically. I regard a pair of red telephone boxes set beside an old-fashioned…—More Tales
Peter Hitchens, mad as a hatter though he is, said this: “Even now, in a corner of every newspaper office in the country, a faint shadow is growing and gathering. In time, it will thicken, darken and resolve itself into the chilly, relentless figure of the censor.”—More Tales
Like every English city Sheffield has been pimped, the yawning gaps left by sixties demolition and eighties recession suddenly filled in with the brash evidence of the credit boom of the early zeroes. It’s as if the tumbling of the Trade Centre spawned a desperate spasm of tower building all over the West as some kind of gesture of defiance. Fuck you, nutters – here’s a thousand more shining targets. That’ll keep them busy. It’s modernism as a political one-fingered salute. Look how fucking free we are, we can plant Manhattan everywhere at the drop of a Google Maps pin.
We ease into Bath’s one-way web in the early afternoon. I dump my accoutrements in the little box of my room and seize the chance to have some real food. The Yo! Sushi I accidentally settle on is staffed by zombified students who appear to be auditioning for a particularly hellish reality show. One of the chefs is wearing a jauntily poised pork-pie hat over his cook’s skull cap. He’s as unhappy a hipster as you’ll ever see. The sad morsels of finicky food revolve around him like piranha circling for a feeding frenzy. He wards them off by chopping radishes at a lunatic intensity sounding like a woodpecker having a heart attack. My colour-coded plastic dishes pile up in a shaming show of greed. The oceans emptying into rich folks’ mouths.
I like the venue, though like all converted cinemas there was never any need for a backstage so our…—More Tales
Finally we leave Weymouth after being waylaid in Bridport along the coast. The show was in the Electric Palace, a well-preserved cinema with some lovely early 20th century fittings. Or were they fixtures? The town seems populated by the posh and I strain to hear a local accent anywhere. Across the road from the venue I buy a little knife from a locksmith and go exploring before the soundcheck, looking for something to slice. I visit a cool little bar/cafe on the main street where the owner shakes my hand and a slightly pissed punter accuses me in a most friendly manner of being the singer of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He thinks I’m being modest when I deny responsibility for that nineties atrocity. I committed the other nineties atrocity. I have some tea and listen to the proprietor’s soft soul playlist emanating from a pair of quality speakers then cross…—More Tales
It is a relief to quit the strange hotel. I had to resort to headphones to mask the odd noises in the early morning. Shufflings and bleeping. A hollow cough followed by a whining hoover. Kurt Vile, Leonard Cohen and The Leopards did the trick. Barges sit stretched along the coast out on the grey North Sea. We head west to the Lake District, light flakes of snow dancing about the windscreen. Dry stone walls edge the road as we cross the moors and heaths of the Pennines. The week of winter sun has burnt off all but a few scattered patches of ice. The terrain has that distinctively British hue – khaki; neither yellow nor green nor brown but somehow all three at the same time. In spring it will all be emerald. The road dips into more verdant pasture, prettily partitioned and studded with copses.
Kendal sits in a…—More Tales
I like Leeds. It’s the Manhattan of Yorkshire. The dwellers have interesting faces. They’re open and blunt but oddly into fashion. The venue is a gorgeous little theatre of great vintage. It’s been refurbished but I notice from the big book they have all the performers sign that Jeremy Hardy preferred it before. Jerry Sadowiz just wrote: I should be in musicals. Nobody else seems to have tried to be original. I tried and I failed.
Great audiences in Leeds, I don’t know why. I’ve always loved playing here. This lot carry me through a difficult night. I am very grateful to them. Afterwards I head straight for the hotel and bump into some early leavers on the street. I take a photo of myself with a woman’s phone. I think I get her in it. The world is slowly drowning in photographs. Human-like creatures will excavate Earth billennia after our…—More Tales
What is Sale? I’m here, in Sale, I’m walking through its – what are they, streets? but I can’t determine what it is. Is it a town, a suburb or an industrial service zone? There are homes and businesses of every sort – built in every decade of the last one hundred and fifty years – a seventies high-street, a revamped canal and a futuristic multi-storey car-park. The Arts Centre is new but it’s stuck to a town hall which was perhaps built in the nineteen-thirties. It is a mad conglomeration, strewn haphazardly about some ancient snake-pit of a street plan. It is so odd and uncategorizable it’s almost charming. I feed some pita bread to the ducks and pigeons at the canal as we wait for get-in. I try to be equitable. I don’t wish to exhibit any favouritism.
Between soundcheck and show we check-in to our Manchester city centre…—More Tales
We strike out from Stamford at noon to watch the milky light angling onto to the extremely pretty undulating Rutland countryside. In spite of what you see from the van on most tours, England, with its cosy rustic beauty, is preserved in a great many places. Living in these areas might just turn you Tory, for modernity must seem a menace encroaching on all this pastoral glory. But we’re heading for Corby, that Scot infested industrial cauldron so normal service will be resumed. English and Scottish patriotism sow their seeds in the rural landscape. It’s a way of encapsulating a myth – the place maketh the people. As if a fucking heather covered hill has any bearing on most Scots’ character. Nationalists are great manipulators of imagery. They tell you that your inherent virtues are bound to your country’s natural beauty in order to parcel off power for themselves. It’s…—More Tales
I have lurched from the desert to the frozen north. Leaving the Gulf last week I had visions of handbags on fire, buried minions dug up and displayed in future museums. These men died building towers now ruined, airports since vanished beneath the sea of sand. Emirs, Sultans and Kings: born to rule over those selected to serve. I played pretend palaces and Vegas-style hotels. I served my sorry time. I bought some fags, came home and torched some Camels. We’re burning up the world.
Scotland is shining under a flat white disc of sun. Stray patches of snow streak the bluffs atop which fresh ranges of turbines flower, turning in slow motion. Driving south we see a black military transport plane veer around the corner of a gorge like a fleeing vampire. Nestled off the road lies some sort of rocket launcher taking practice pot-shots. Nobody has a job but…—More Tales
Last day. I’m still dicking about with last little vocal things. A very nice tall man called Bruce comes in to do some backing vocals with me. He’s a good natural singer and just the ticket. It’s just one simple part but having another voice helps a lot. He’s a songwriter but it’s difficult to track down his work on the web as he shares a name with Bruce Robinson, the British director of Withnail & I and the recent very underrated The Rum Diary. I get distracted by a highly entertaining interview with the director from a 2011 issue of the Independent. He tells a story about when he was drinking five bottles of wine a day and he ran out. He got in his car and as he was driving to the nearest off-licence noticed in his mirror some prick in a silver van hanging on his tail-lights.…—More Tales
Iain Harvie from Del Amitri once commented that to the uninitiated it must appear as if nothing actually happens in a recording studio. Ninety percent of the time they are sepulchrally quiet places with no discernible activity going on. There’s a lot of waiting, a fair bit of listening and very little performing. Outside of the control room, studios are desolate environments; pianos sit unplayed, microphones hang like dead flowers on their stands and the walls resound with nothing but the hush of the air conditioning with the occasional muted thump of a drum part drifting from beyond the double glass. There is the odd flurry of industry – when the whole band is laying down initial tracks or a string or brass section shuffle into their positions. But there is far more music going on in the external environment: radios in cars, MP3s squawking away in every bar, shop…—More Tales
Monday. Three days to go till I get on that plane that takes me to the plane that takes me home. I arrive but there’s no one at the bunker so after waiting I take a drive to find a bag somewhere to throw my laundry in and over my shoulder but the luggage emporium suggested by Apple’s new map application doesn’t exist. Unless its an underground luggage shop dug beneath somebody’s clapboard house. Sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to find.
I return to find David (Dah-veed; no Day-vid, he) with an electric guitar strapped around his neck plugged into a DI-ed Mesa Boogie via an Echoplex, a groovy little tape loop delay machine which has featured heavily so far on everything from upright bass to Moog. I make room by making coffee. I used to revel in my role of principal tea maker in the studio. I was…—More Tales
Sunday, and I have a breakfast engagement with my landlady and her son, Hugo. Hugo has been running and needs a shower so the landlady and I take her tandem downtown to the restaurant while he catches us up in his car. Yes, a tandem. It’s downhill most of the way and it’s a beautiful day for a bike ride. We pedal through a fragrant little grove, the path lined with wildflowers. I am inappropriately dressed and begin to perspire profusely. I am a Sweaty Sock – a Jock on a bike for two. I do the eggs Benedict thing, (the joke goes: what’s the connection between eggs Benedict and a blow job? They’re both really good but you never seem to be able to get them at home. Sexist in every conceivable way. Personally, I frequently make eggs Benedict at home) and then check out the bookshop opposite. I…—More Tales
After sleeping late and patronising one of my breakfast haunts I sit down and make a playlist to take to Zilker Park for a wander. I try to find a zone in which to sun myself but am frustrated by frisbee golfers, vehicular traffic and at one point, a nest of biting ants which I manage to sit on under a convenient tree. I come up in those white bumps you get with histamine reaction like that from nettle stings. The music in the headphones maintains that pleasant sense of travelling unnoticed through the world like a movie camera, insulated and separate. Cat Power’s Manhattan with its piano octaves, drum machine and snare fills is the hit of the day. I go down to Barton Springs to watch the swimmers. I see a man in a posing pouch and man-bra strutting by below me. I bet that cunt’s here every…—More Tales
It was a relatively late one last night, battering away at a vocal comp with Mr. McC. Remarkably, it sounded good in the morning so we had somehow managed not to lose the plot, which is encouraging. I drove downtown to a 24-hour diner afterwards and sat at the bar. Corned-beef hash and eggs, root beer. The joint was filled with twenty-somethings in their chunky spectacles and carefully distressed T-shirts all gabbing away with enthusiasm while a string of loners like myself sat reading free-sheets on our bar stools. The night had cooled significantly with the narrowest sliver of a crescent moon sailing over the city in a sideways smile.
The sun comes angling through the trees straight into my eyes in the morning. I tune into Radio 4 on my phone, six hours ahead and as prissy as always. The tribulations of Gideon Osborne and the Tory overlords seem petty and…—More Tales
I decide to investigate a new morning venue. These are the critical choices I have to fret over. In a funky vinyl slash coffee shop I am greeted by Craig, a man in his early fifties with long grey hair and a Texan drawl, who is charm personified. He is the epitome of southern ease. He volunteers the intimate details of his life with no hint of self-obsessiveness and enquires after mine without nosiness or suspicion. He has that Texan air of gentlemanliness which mixes grace with a wry mischief. You immediately like him and relax. He’s an ex state employee turned quality caterer. We gossip about Withered Hand which is a pleasant surprise and he talks about his son, who is late for his shift at the shop. The big seventies stereo in the corner belches mellifluous country music with a brew of irony and love. He pours me…—More Tales
Monday is just beautiful. If summer days in Glasgow were like this I’d start believing in God. So thank fuck they’re damp and freezing because that would be a chore. Not to say deeply embarrassing.
There are some large chestnut type objects falling from the trees around here, somewhere between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball. They hit the tin roof of my bedroom with a wet thud and roll off sounding not unlike a squirrel beheading. I have yet to be hit by one. I calculate the odds as being fairly slim so will regard it as extraordinary good fortune should I be struck. Only then will I bother to find out what they are.
Monday and Tuesday are listening days, figuring out some edits and mutes and what remains to be overdubbed. Things sound good, things sound American and that is the desired outcome. I hear…—More Tales
I start off with a little saunter through the pleasant morning heat down to the no-nonsense taco place that’s becoming my breakfast local. The migas is my thing. Scrambled egg with two kinds of cheese, lots of coriander and salsa on top of a fried taco for two bucks and change. No doubt Mexican food is so inexpensive here due to cheap imported labour. In the west, when something is cheap you can be sure somebody’s getting fucked somewhere. Think of all the missing fingers and blighted lives resulting from those disposable clothes you buy in Primark. Don’t even mention smartphones. We’re living in a science-fiction dystopia which has, remarkably, become reality. Modern living. The repeated shafting of the billions-strong underclass by the wealthy few. It’s a gas.
More overdubs today. Some Moog, upright piano and double bass. Some of this stuff is starting to get weird in an excellent way.…—More Tales
I take a walk around the little golf course in the sultry tropical morning. I’d say run, but running’s for twats and George Bush. When White-Knucklehead was in power he used to complain when he couldn’t get enough fucking running in. Like it was more important than slaughter and race-war. He just couldn’t face a long day’s killing without a jog around a ranch with his goons. Stupid little man.
I drive to south Austin to find a boot store. The last pair of cowboy boots I had were bought in El Paso, Texas in 1990. I feel I ought to make it a 22 year tradition, like acts of altruism and anal sex.
As I am scoffing breakfast at a taco trailer I hear my name shouted. I don’t turn around but years ago I would have done and have been sure it was somebody I knew. There are too many…—More Tales
Back in the bunker after a gruelling session on Monday. Multiple takes and a lot of singing. It takes me back. I haven’t worked like this since I was a young man. I am no longer any kind of young and I’m wrecked by nine at night. It’s a beautiful cool night, the Milky Way is faintly visible and I drive around until I find a hippy co-operative where I buy some dried up sushi to drag home and club to death in my cave. My nightly treat is a bottle of root beer; that medicinal elixir that’s so redolent of old-time USA. I take my repast watching John Boorman’s mad Point Blank on the computer. Then I watch Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross on YouTube on my phone. Both films have brilliant, grim, pessimistic endings. I’m going to watch The Werkmeister Harmonies tonight on the microwave.
Me and the band wait…—More Tales
The cold front is sitting over Texas like despair in a geriatric ward. I take a wander round my new neighbourhood, crossing a public golf course and meandering through the plush university campus ending up on the fringes of downtown. It’s early and there’s hardly a soul about. It’s a relief to be walking. I buy a New York Times and dive into a local diner. Standard fare – eggs and burgers – but seemingly run by an academic lesbian co-op. They’re all very friendly and pretty in a geeky way and I feel as if I am on the set of one of those awful post-modern sitcoms. In the last two nights I have managed to watch – or rather, witness – two of the worst comedies I have ever seen; The Dictator and The Sitter. The latter is perhaps the less excruciating but it’s repulsive sentimentality is unforgivable.…—More Tales
No shirt, no shoes, no service. I take breakfast without my trousers with impunity amongst the Saturday hipsters in Julio’s Mexican again as I can’t be bothered driving around aimlessly searching for a café. The promised cold front has arrived but I’m still in shirtsleeves. You’d be pretty satisfied with this temperature at the height of summer in Scotland. I sit at a table on the patio affecting a sophisticated air with my Austin American-Statesman which is a useless rag really but preferable to the soul-draining inanity of USA Today. If I’m honest I kind of need a jacket. Americans call suit jackets coats and for some irrational reason this always irritates me. And waistcoats are vests. So here you’re pretty dapper in a vest and coat whereas in the UK you’d look like you’d stepped out of a Duran Duran video from 1982. A coat and a vest. Jesus…—More Tales
There is a mercifully cool breeze in the air today. I drop into a hipster coffee shop on the way to the studio where a fracas erupts between an ornery customer and an uptight barista. I notice the background music is some absurd industrial noise art-wank that sounds like a fucking bombing raid on a battery chicken farm. Not exactly conducive to civilised coffee consumption. No wonder the old guy with the wraparounds and handlebar moustache had “an attitude”. The fucking music has an attitude. Everyone looks a little sheepish. I notice the customers ahead of me tip the barista conspicuously in an effort to placate her. Buying cooperation and compliance, like western diplomacy.
I have the morning off while the piano is being tuned at Mr. McC’s. I nose around some vintage shops and buy a few old shirts to supplement my vanishing supply of clean stuff. It’s so hot…—More Tales
Again I surface suddenly from slumber at stupid o’clock. Too long flipping through the late night talk shows. What a strange thing they are. I watch Craig Ferguson, a fellow Glaswegian who kindly had me on his show on my last album more through regional loyalty than anything. His show stands out from the others but I can’t put my finger on why. There’s a genuine anarchy vibrating under the surface. You have the feeling he might just go utterly ape at any point. He’s a tightly coiled lunatic held in check by the sobriety of the slick showbiz format. It’s like watching Godzilla prune a bonsai.
I attend to electronic chores to kill off the early morning. Computers and phones swallow time like black holes. Later I take a drive around to find supplies and sustenance. Listerine and tacos – breakfast of champions.
We spend another day footering with the songs…—More Tales
In the morning my brain cracks into consciousness like a flicked switch. 7am. What to do? I peer out of the sealed tinted window and attempt to orientate myself by dabbing and swiping at my phone map. Downtown juts up to the south like a distant promise. The immediate environs are hideously nondescript. Parking lots, freeways and motels. It’s a typical American scene. I walk to an IHOP* and indulge in its dubious charms. My waitress, battle-hardened from years of service, divorce and disappointment, regurgitates pleasantries on auto-pilot. I am coffee and orange juice and I’m over easy. The place is full of working types, which is reassuring for some reason. You get the feeling somehow that the punters are for Obama but the staff are a bit more Romney. I could be wrong.
This afternoon I am to rendezvous with the producer. I am a little nervous about it having only…—More Tales
So I’m sitting in a rocking chair in Philadelphia airport staring out into the airfield. There’s a colony of them by the big window, all white, facing out to the horizon. Rocking chairs, that is. Travellers and staff on breaks sit and lap up the light like passengers on the rear deck of a liner. I have cleared immigration and have an ocean of hours to waste waiting for my connection, southbound and westward to Austin in the vast state of Texas. Behind us busybodies pass wittering on mobile phones. The polished floor reflects the motion of wheeled cases gliding across the concourse in a great waltz. Everybody has somewhere to get to with their cache of stuff, the same stuff in every bag. I am perfectly still for the while, apart from the occasional, comforting little rock.
Aboard I watch from my porthole the baggage handler tossing luggage from a…—More Tales
If singing thirty seconds of a song in a church is hooliganism motivated by religious hatred then what the fuck is a hymnary other than a list of specific terrorist instructions? Go forth and multiply and do God’s work. By the way, He fucking HATES Jews, Muslims, Fags and Philistines, OK? He just likes a bit of order, you know? No fuss, everyone the same, knowing their place, worshiping whatever keeps them happy. Off you go, defend the faith. You might need one of these – an AK47 or a judicial system with unchecked power operating in the interest of a secret state.—More Rants/Slates
I wrote this piece for The Guardian in 1997 (I think) and received a fair amount of flak from US fans for its sneering tone. I can see their point but I was trying to be sympathetic to them while undermining the rock-star persona by being honest. I probably got it wrong, but it’s a document of its time so here it is in its original form before the G2 editors got their (rather capable) claws into it.
One Week on the Wheel of Pain: How to Brownnose with Impunity
You plane, you deplane. You’re a foreigner, a form-filler, you’re a hasn’t been who might be in the land of the wannabe. You have come here, willing and supine, ready to wear the promo smile for the people, to sing your song for the sake of the sell. Live on-air, live in-store, a week of grease on the week of release,…—More Tales
We plough into the seedy thicket of north London. I scramble from the hotel after installing my family of chargers in my white box. I take a pleasant line downhill from Angel through Finsbury, Clarkenwell, Smithfield and the City to the river. My walk traces a line of affluence from the self-conscious cafés and vintage home decor boutiques at the top of the hill to the terrifying marble fortresses of the City at sea-level. I don’t know this part of the capital so I take pleasure exploring the grand residential squares and sampling the weird vibe around the fringes of the financial district at 5pm. City boys in bespoke deep navy suits with tieless sky-blue shirts loiter outside corner pubs in cabals of threes and fours. They’re mostly in their early thirties and beautifully coiffed and manicured. The women are whippet thin and dress in black and meander alone through…—More Tales
There are swimmers in the sea!
The Brighton beach backwash rakes the pebbles down into the seabed with that sound like rattling teeth. French air caresses the coast with the faint scent of baguette or bag-lady. A long gloomy front hangs along the coast down to the west where Land’s End points its bony toe at South America. We guide the Merc north through beautiful oak studded estates, headed for the Black Country, its wide accents, ex-factories and gap-toothed high streets. I was a Midlands boy in the seventies. I had a Leicestershire accent, played for the school team, said “lickoll bockoll” for “little bottle”, drank Dandelion and Burdock. I was a hayseed, temporarily English. I loved Leicestershire. I loved our village. Cows sometimes wandered onto the school football pitch, badgers rooted around the garden at night. We had two apple trees, cherry and almond trees, a lean-to, an enormous ash…—More Tales
I’m in a Radisson Blu which is a good thing. Twelfth floor with spiffy decor and big windows. I have a tiny silver kettle with the word “distinction” written on it. I have two kinds of tissues and a desk and chair set painted gold. I am a modern man in my modern box and nobody can take it away from me. Not for 48 hours. We rush out to catch the high drama of English football’s final instalment. An enormous wall of a man sitting in front of me seems tense. After City win he reveals that he’d placed £1,500 on their victory. The bookies call this buying money – laying large sums on very short odds. A fucking idiot’s game. He screws up his copy of the Sunday Sun in anxiety during the match when City go 2-1 down. I could tell straight away he wasn’t watching the…—More Tales
I awake to a bright morning and shovel my various accoutrements into my black nylon trolley. Everywhere there are people in transit dragging these recalcitrant cases out for a walk. You see them in suburban streets and parks and town centres as if hanging onto weary toddlers, the little plastic wheels making that gargling noise over the concrete. Strange that the ancient invention of the wheel came so late to luggage. Even in the early nineties I was still hefting an enormous sack around on my shoulders from airport to tour-bus. On long US tours I used to carry two big holdalls, one purely for underwear. Why ruin a precious day off sitting in a laundromat when you can take three months’ worth of socks on the road? Since the World Trade Centre fell you’d be lucky to get a few weeks of keks on a plane without handing over…—More Tales
In the morning I race over Buxton’s pretty park set on a hill to hunt down the bookshop Derek has told me about. There is a swirl of slanting rain so I buy a wooly hat from an outdoor suppliers on the way. The bookshop is well-stocked over three storeys and has a few quirks. There’s a make-your-own tea and coffee set-up on the fiction floor alongside a large soft-toy tiger who lounges on a chaise long in the bay window. Unfortunately there is also a nausea inducing “snogging corner – adults only” sign hanging above a nook, but everybody makes mistakes. I am pushed for time and buy a George Eliot novel I’m fairly sure I’ll never open. I liked the first page so it’s mine for six quid. The owner, who is sorting through some old scores (and settling them) asks me if I can spell Tchaikovsky. I…—More Tales
Head for the hills, boys. Low pressure is upon us; there is no sky, or at least there is but it’s resting on the street. The cloud is so low the rain starts falling at shoulder height. Get on your knees and you’re in a puddle of mist. I’m shuffling around the Middlesborough grid again in a dank and dismal way, looking for a morning coffee. I sample the Fakey Noir ambience – friendly staff, pitiful music. But at least it’s not Starfucks. I duck into a music shop and the proprietor recognises me. My former band were regulars at the City Hall here. He and I stroke rather than shoot the breeze then I breezily take my leave.
Derek Meins, the majestic opener, meets us at our hotel. His guest house turned out to be an empty family house for which he was handed the keys. In the morning he…—More Tales
We move out through Widnes’s motley sprawl under jets sailing into John Lennon. We gain the motorway and all signs of locality vanish, the endless stream of vehicles hypnotic and stultifying. We are now five having picked up Dave, the sound man and Derek, the opening act at Runcorn railway station. Luminous fields of rape rim the verges, the sky is strewn with smoky puffs stretched in formation beneath some high white sheet. Our satellite lady huskily intones instructions. We remain, as ever, in her wayward hands. A church spire looms like a rocket in a thicket of blast-off trees. The van’s occupants fidget at phones, thumbs like busy mandibles mangling insect words. The air is filled with them – look you! Death threats, appointment arrangements, compliments, football scores – thrown into the roar of the universe.
The last time I was in Stockton I ventured with some frands (that’s fans…—More Tales
The British spring is a mad mood swing of a thing. Warm, hot, cold, warm, cold, colder. The light lacks confidence and slants experimentally through the atmosphere like a cat dipping a cautious paw in a dubious pond. We bottom feeders are on our way to Runcorn on the Mersey in a Mercedes Benz that has no name. I would christen it if it weren’t so characterless and the christening of vehicles a sickness of the mind.
Pylons pass huffing on a hill with their angry arms, like the skeletal remains of Modern Toss’s Alan. The western Scots must pass through several little cauldrons of mountains before the descent into flat Lancashire. Squat pines line the verges as the M-way dips and arcs through gentle glens with great elegance. The lanes are wide and empty. It’s an easy introduction to the road before the rage and rattle of packed tight England.…—More Tales
And this is what a football looks like. There is nothing stuck to it; no hair or gold or teeth. It carries no messages and whispers only rushing air. All the players may touch it with their hands but feet are more effective. It longs to be caressed and dreams of coming to a spinning stop and settling at the junction of net and turf. The football is our friend. Somebody wants to burst it with a biro pen, somebody has written his name all over it with a silver marker. It has become tawdry and vulgar, a candy-coated Kruggerand. Take off your fucking ties and get down in the dirt. This is what a football looks like.—More Tales
Back to the Kingdom of Fright
The Galaxy is pointed north to Amsterdam, from where sail shall be set home. The palpable kick-back of Holland comes upon me like a psalm. Those quietly fuming German men in their powerful cars, spinning past us like mad wolves are a thing of memory. It is suggested that we stop into Utrecht, and we do, and it’s worth it. I buy a trinket, and have a wonderful coffee, accompanied by a quality biscuit. A still canal laces it’s elegant way through my street. A stoner approaches me for emergency advice on the nearest available Coffee Shop. I shrug and dismiss him rudely but watch as the next Dutch guy attends to him, removes his headphones and gives a detailed description of the available outlets. This is heaven compared to home.
But maybe I judge too harshly. After all, is Britain not the country which produced…—More Tales
Rain Falling Into the Future
I sleep in and am awoken by gentle knocking. I have a mild hangover – the first in a month. I throw my electronic nonsense into my case and wheel myself to the Galaxy without brushing my teeth. Tardiness doesn’t do on tour; it shows a lack of respect. I make an apology and the next journey begins.
I love touring, with all my fibre. It is a comforting routine in a distractingly different city every day. It is travelling with purpose and I wish it were still most of my life.
The route takes us through wooded rises and great open plains studded with industry. The Germans make things. They do it quietly and they do it well. They believe that industry is the bedrock of society and leisure its just reward. The carnage of Thatcherism never happened here and perhaps never could. It strains one’s soul…—More Tales
More sausage with that, Sir?
As soon as I hit Hamburg I feel a little more comfortable, I don’t know why. In Berlin I had spent a whole day traipsing with headphones bolted to my head. The only music that suited the city was the astringent tension of some Beethoven string quartets. It seemed to draw out the latent angst. Reggae was ridiculous; the lowering cloud cover and the flat shadowless spread of Berlin demanded something overcast. Those bleak modernist Lou Reed and David Bowie records were recorded there for a reason. There’s still a wall around the town somehow and it’s oppressive. The lack of a nearby coast perhaps, its proximity to the endless expanses of the east.
The people at the Hamburg show are very sweet and I enjoy myself – not always a great sign. The venue is housed deep inside a “flak tower”, an above ground six-storey anti-aircraft…—More Tales
Garden of Earthly Delights
I rise to milky sunshine spilling around my silver Venetian blinds. The hotel is called Zoo after the nearby attraction so I go directly there and buy a ticket at the gates. Wild animals caged and corralled right in the city’s heart. First up are a small group of Indian elephants, forlornly trying to get back inside their locked sleeping enclosure. Their trunks are fascinating and surprisingly dexterous. It’s a quiet day here, just a smattering of humans, mostly pushing prams and wheelchairs. I skirt around the giraffes paying them barely a glance and am drawn towards a lonely young panda who is endlessly shuttling between its shuttered hovel and some frustratingly fenced-off eucalyptus. It seems deranged but what do I know? Other visitors are captivated by its cuteness. If it was mine I’d have it put down.
The whole place is a morass of desperation. Grubby hooded…—More Tales
North to Big Bertha
It is more or less straight north for four hours to reach Berlin. There are conifer-covered rises and wide ranges of great wind turbines along the route. I consider my usual conjecture – that if all the world’s energy demands were to be met by windmills there would be less wind. When you dam a river and form a lake to drive turbines there is no less water in the river system over time but there is less energy in the flow. Can somebody tell me – could we swallow all the wind?
The capital is gained before sunset and I have forty minutes to march about foolishly before being re-inserted into the Galaxy. I can’t find a single café; it’s all yuppie eateries and high-end wine stores. I am forced to resort to a Starfucks, filled with its usual mass of beige and brown swaddled idiots pointing…—More Tales
Escape from the Hidebound Empire
I wake early and decide to take the opportunity to explore. I make a beeline for Rachel Whiteread’s Holocaust memorial in Judenplatz. Her Embankment installation at Tate Modern has lodged in my memory. The memorial is stark, quiet and eloquent. As I circle it’s concrete hulk the twin doors come upon me with a jolt: there are no handles. The library within is inaccessible because it has been burnt or buried or liquidated. I touch the pages of one of the silent books. A policewoman stands guard, presumably to protect the sculpture from desecration. She has missed the dirty purple teddy slumped in the doorway, with an “I Love You” cushion in its lap, shaped like a heart. Good grief. Somebody has inserted flowers in the empty holes where the doorknobs should be. It is the flagrant juxtaposition of the emptily sentimental with the sedately profound.
Into the East
The cruiser skirts along the foothills of the Alps to our right, two-storey barns and bulbed church spires nestling in the hollows. Across the border: pop radio. Wall to wall FM shit from Bryan Adams to Madonna. Amy’s Back to Black saves the day, scything through the crud with an incomparable bitterness and wonder. The rain is all around the vehicle like a tempest. In my hideously over-decorated hotel room last night I took a lightning tour of the TV channels. As I drifted through ch. 28 I just caught Dizzee Rascal saying, “…and the winner is Lady Gaga!”. Whither the rascal now? I see a smiling industry reptile in a white suit. Review the situation, take part, take over? I guess you did, Dylan. Bon voyage!
I take a fast stroll around the nearest bit of Vienna to the hotel. I’ve never been here before. I see rich…—More Tales
On down the toy motorway
Chocolate box Amsterdam terraces lean over their canals like kindly big brothers. Saturday mornings are easy here; none of that London mania or Glasgow hungover fermenting madness, just serene bicycling adults sailing by like swans, watchful and aloof. You can spot the stag-weekenders crowding into tiny corner cafes looking miserable and wondering why they came abroad with this shower of dicks. You know and they know that copious amounts of beer will be their only salvation. It is before midday and some are already nervously eyeing their watches. There is good time for a stroll and a few coffees. A girl is bumped from her perch on the back of her boyfriend’s bike by a passing van. She dusts herself off and remounts without complaint. How far can you push these folk before they become, well, intolerant?
Everything in Holland looks like a toy. It’s as if…—More Tales
I straddle the fat white tire-tracks of our wake as we put to sea. Desultory fireworks fizzle in the low winter sky like a damp valediction and Tyneside’s orange lights diminish as the ship is swallowed by the black sea. Over to my left a thin man peers back to land with a thin silver tin of beer, reeking of reflection or regret. A waft of fetid cooking fat puffs out from the ship’s kitchen. As the last two lighthouses pass like sentry-posts a couple ask me to take their photograph, with the dim sight of Blighty as their backdrop. There is a large height difference between them, making composition difficult. I am unhappy with the result but a message in German says the memory card is full. The tall young man seems satisfied with my effort. Below me, on deck 7, a clutch of cider-buzzing lads pose for…—More Tales
I am moving along the highway between Seattle and Portland through the lush pastures of the Pacific northwest. Farmsteads nest cosily amongst the cows and tall pines and blossoming roadside shrubbery. No matter where you are on this continent you always know it’s North America. You’ve seen every region – mountainous, arable, rocky and desolate in countless Westerns, road movies and documentaries. Not an inch uncovered by celluloid, only the interior life lived in these locations remains mysterious to those of us from abroad and that’s as hard a nut to crack as any. Don’t be fooled, the North Americans are a complex people and those representations of their national character, be it Kennedy, Monroe or Jimmy Stewart are less archetype than empty caricature. Everyone here, it sometimes seems, is as much Melville’s Ishmael as Coppola’s Captain Willard, Hulk as Annie Hall or Houdini as Huckleberry Finn. With, God help…—More Tales
From the interstate New Jersey mostly appears to be an industrial scale service area for New York City – warehousing, processing plants, railroad yards and depots. We emerge from the Holland tunnel into the 21st century Disney-fied and strangely sedate Manhattan. No clamour anymore, no insane rush of adrenalin, no filth except the filthy rich. Successive mayors have expunged pretty much everything that made New York unique and now it’s safer and calmer and a great place for the wealthy to shop and school their kids. I miss the old version, the eighties bankrupt, crazy capital-of-the-known world version. I guess you’d find that buzz now in Rio or Shanghai. In the U.S. everything gets suburbanised eventually, even the vertical. But I’m an outsider scratching a square inch on the surface of a city containing four times the population of Switzerland and New York is still out there, in there, but…—More Tales
People ask me what I’ve been doing the last ten years since I toured here. It’s a difficult question to answer without sounding like an alcoholic recluse. I’ve been watching television: Ten series of Big Brother, fifty DVD box-sets, God knows how many Matches of the Day. I watch every football show broadcast. I have watched every hour of Wimbledon, all day and every day since 1998. I watch obscure film noirs and 1940s Westerns. World Cups, European Championships, Champions Leagues, World Series, Olympic Games, Pop Idol, Later With Jools, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Question Time, Extras, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage. I have watched documentaries about murder cases, wars and famines. Quiz shows, panel games, sit-coms and period dramas. Property shows, How-To-Dress-Like-A-Cunt shows and the news, the news; flitting between continents, sport , weather and global desolation. And I have been nursing week-long hangovers. Grinding, edgy, deranged…—More Tales
To Fairfax, Virginia
I’m sad to see the back of San Francisco because I know we’re headed for the sticks. I bid farewell to civilization as the gimmick-laden Virgin America Airbus lifts out of the mist. Five hours later we touch down in DC and head for the rental car lot. En route I notice that the streets are aircraft themed. There is Auto-Pilot Drive, Landing Gear Avenue and Cockpit Place. No Heroes of 9/11 Plaza, as yet. Our hotel is situated in not so much a satellite town as a soulless congregation of intersections and strip-malls. We take some ghastly food, trapped in toxic polystyrene, from a chain restaurant back to our rooms. It is warm down here and the night seems thicker, the dense woods studded between the cement black against the sky.
I watch an old Michael Redgrave movie and eat my shrimp salad with a plastic spoon spirited…—More Tales
Day Off San Francisco
After an appearance at KFOG, the big “triple A” station here run by a loyal supporter, Dave Benson, I take a walk downtown to buy a new suitcase. There is a bewildering array in Macy’s and I do my neurotic mother act, pulling twenty different models from their tidy displays and roughing them up for signs of weakness. I eventually plump for something stupidly expensive that seems hardier than the malfunctioning cheap shit I brought with me. I notice it is made in Thailand. I step back into the daylight with my empty black tank to find myself surrounded by up-market designer outlets and multifarious street people, the juxtaposition a living cliche of Reaganite social inequality. I hike up the ten blocks to the hotel checking out the different signs the homeless guys hold. One rhymes, “I sleep on the street, I eat from the trash, I…—More Tales
To San Francisco
We are quickly onto the freeway and into the small groupings of hills that break up the city, rashes of bright green shoots spreading amongst the brown scrub. In front of us is a filthy truck with the word suicide written above its rear driver-side wheel and an arrow pointing to where passing him might achieve this end. The Six Flags amusement park drifts by, a jumble of roller-coasters wrestling in a hollow. The desert weeds are blooming along the slopes and verges in wonderful yellows and florescent greens. Electricity pylons run along the ridges above us with their hands on their hips. The road curves smoothly round sandy outcrops and shrub lined arroyos. There is a faint echo of Scotland in the topography but it’s all so much wider. In America one can see the sense of CinemaScope; a peek through God’s letterbox.
Akiva introduces us to the…—More Tales
To Los Angeles
I am seated in a row with a young mother and baby on the aisle and a green Marine returning from leave beside me. They get talking and I earwig while pretending to read. He tells her Marines are the best of the best and never wear uniform when they travel on civilian transport. He shows her a picture of his sweetheart. “She’s been kind of shy with me,” he tells her, “But she’s opened up recently.” I wonder if he understands the subtext or the inference she might make of this. He is both charmingly naive and frighteningly simple. She asks him if he’s been to, “You know, Iraq?” He has not yet seen active duty. “But I’m going to Afghanistan in July.”
“Will you be nervous?” she asks. “No,” he says, ” I’m excited.”
Her baby starts to cry and we hit a little turbulence and the teenage…—More Tales
We pull over at The Ironworks Restaurant truck-stop off of I-94 and sit around the counter on vinyl swivel-seats. Fake veneer abounds and there is the small miracle of ashtrays at every place setting beside the mahogany brown upturned coffee mugs waiting to be filled and refilled. You can still see the old phone points built into the counter where truckers would phone home before the age of the cell-phone. I used to use these all the time – it was such a luxury talking to someone in the Scottish morning from your midnight booth as you waited for your eggs over-easy, usually half-cut on weak American beer.
Our waitress, well past retirement age and quick as a whippet, gets our mugs upended and takes our orders. Later she tells us how her husband, who worked for the Denny’s chain of greasy-spoons, used to get “ticked off” with air travel.…—More Tales
“Roads girdle the globe”
As the freeway reaches the Minnesota border, steel plate cloud draws over the lowering sun. Joni Mitchell’s lush re-arrangement of “Refuge of the Roads” stirs around the van. No leaves on the trees here, the big freeze having only recently crept away but it’s balmy tonight and grateful Minnesotans congregate around patio-heaters outside bars and restaurants. Such is the ferocity of their winters, every building has multiple sequences of doors and the small square windows of our hotel are hermetically sealed. We browse a surplus store opposite the gig; a hundred kinds of glove and Navy coats so thick they seem to stand erect unaided. Men are empty overcoats, Groucho said.
I was here, at the Fine Line Music Cafe in 1990 and it retains a sort of quaint 1980s smugness. A venue for the discerning professional. Exposed brick and tables and chairs and an ironic catch-phrase on…—More Tales
We pass rolling fields of yellowed stubble, kites suspended overhead eyeing the rat-runs. Road-kill raccoons litter the shoulder; I speculate that it’s mating season, that they’re throwing themselves across the freeway to reach potential mates whose ripe scents are wafting on the wind. You could get three coats and a good stew from the carnage.
Enormous road-side billboards invite us to Adult Superstores (1000 yards off Exit 56) and budget motels and family restaurants. There is not much view for them to obscure. A pair of hipster dudes zip by in a vintage Buick, wearing vintage shades and vintage T-shirts and vintage facial hair. Then a pick-up passes towing a trailer loaded with blasting material. That’s followed by a truck carrying medical waste. There’s a pile-up I’d like to see.
The lady in the truck-stop admires my shirt. I seem to be appealing to the older woman these days. Once they’d…—More Tales
Morning flight from the lump strewn landscape of Tennessee up to flat Michigan, the sausage factory’s walls adorned with huge ads for visitor tours of the JD distillery. They encourage responsible drinking, apparently. What that means I will never unravel. Akin to considerate joy-riding. We try to find a soul station around Detroit in our fuck-the-climate vehicle with no luck. I hear something about a hot-dog eating contest and take in some morsels of PBS news. A little Obama chat breaks out among us.
Ann Arbour is Michigan’s Madeleine Stowe to Detroit’s Mae West. All a little too tidy and brittle. We browse a second-hand book shop filled with pristine cellophane-wrapped volumes. Peter turns us on to Wuthering Heights and I stifle the urge to mention Kate Bush with her dope and her washing machine. I pick up a tastefully presented copy of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, more through duty…—More Tales
Down and outs shuffling around country town at dawn, no place to be poor but where is? A black woman whose hair is dyed green shouts across the canyon of the street for change. I greet her with a limp excuse and a counterfeit shrug. Dead bird on the road and that one on the thin tree outside my hotel room isn’t sleeping, it’s stuffed. Everybody calls us gentlemen, good thing we’re soft and forgiving. Are you playing music? No, I’m carrying these two guitars for a man who does floors. Ranch dressing, so reminiscent of the high plains – all those steers squirting out blue cheese and herbs. The public library stands solidly amongst a forest of hollow car-parks. The accents are heavy and sweet like warm treacle. You find yourself getting drowsy in their slick. Many are shuttered behind dark glass in black trucks. If they are shadows…—More Tales