7th March, 2013
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.
I’m sluggish today so hide in my high glass vestibule during load-in and tap more stupid shit into the gaping lizard’s mouth of my aluminium machine. Clickety-clack, don’t talk back. One day some clever dick will send out some malware that makes all those laptop lids snap shut. The dweebs and…—More Tales
26th February, 2013
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
23rd February, 2013
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
21st February, 2013
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
19th February, 2013
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
18th February, 2013
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
16th February, 2013
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
26th October, 2012
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
25th October, 2012
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
24th October, 2012
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
22nd October, 2012
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
21st October, 2012
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
20th October, 2012
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
18th October, 2012
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
16th October, 2012
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
15th October, 2012
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
11th October, 2012
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
10th October, 2012
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
8th October, 2012
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
7th October, 2012
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
6th October, 2012
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
4th October, 2012
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
3rd October, 2012
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
11th September, 2012
For all the moaning minnie Scots who have been telling me the man’s a wimp, a choker, has no guts , no stamina and will never win a Slam.
You were wrong.
We are now open for business.
You’re wonderful, Mr. Murray.—More Rants/Slates
17th August, 2012
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
11th July, 2012
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
24th May, 2012
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
17th May, 2012
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
15th May, 2012
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
13th May, 2012
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
12th May, 2012
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
11th May, 2012
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
9th May, 2012
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
30th April, 2012
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
17th November, 2010
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
15th November, 2010
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
13th November, 2010
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
11th November, 2010
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
10th November, 2010
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
9th November, 2010
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
7th November, 2010
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
4th November, 2010
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
15th May, 2008
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
27th April, 2008
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
25th April, 2008
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
23rd April, 2008
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
22nd April, 2008
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
21st April, 2008
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
20th April, 2008
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
19th April, 2008
“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
17th April, 2008
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
15th April, 2008
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
14th April, 2008
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