Sheffield to Newcastle

I sleep poorly therefore sleep in. But I have my packing honed to a military efficiency and make the van three minutes before departure. The weather looks British but still feels suspiciously Mediterranean, a warm breeze playing under a lid of cloud. It’s the last show of the first leg before a fortnight’s break and we’re sorry to be stopping. We all feel we’ve improved each night and want to keep going until that stops. The sun burns off the smoky, tattered clouds and Iain plays Bob’s Theme Time Divorce episode kicking off with the half-comical hoarse whoop of Tammy Wynette. Dylan’s absurd parody of the late-night disc jockey has been good company on our little hauls up and down the English highways though the playlists occasionally rely a little too heavily on kitsch.

Great white letters painted on the road read THE NORTH as if…—More Tales

Day Off, Manchester

I wander off in early afternoon, sniffing out a few local recommendations. The first thing I do is buy a second hand suit in Afleck’s, an indoor boutique market akin to the old Kensington one. It’s a 1960s Hepworths designed by Hardy Amies. I have at least three things styled by him, they always have quaint little kinks — an extra seam here, another button there — not too much but just right. It’s a dark brown pinstripe which will make shirt choice tricky but a rich pink would do. I still have one somewhere if it didn’t get jettisoned during the last charity shop pogrom.

I take repast in a breakfast meat emporium, sitting outside in the slightly sullen light. It’s one of those gaffs where you order everything via your phone. The clientele are forty-something urban home owners wearing clothes ten years too young…—More Tales

Blackpool to York

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

To Nottingham and Blackpool

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

In Cardiff, to Southend

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

To Cardiff

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