To Preston and Nottingham

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

To Bristol

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

To Exeter

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

To Cardiff

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

To Chester

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

To Norwich

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

To Wakefield

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

To Birmingham/ Day Off

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

To Newcastle

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

To Edinburgh

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

To Manchester

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