Day Off Birmingham
On arrival I chuck my stuff in the room and get out for a wander. I take the canal path towards Broad Street, thinking vaguely about eating something. It’s mild and dry and coming back I encounter a nice couple from Liverpool who are in town for the show and are just going out for drinks and dinner. We do an awkward semi-distanced phone snap. Someone should do a collection of these — people standing at an embarrassed distance from public faces they know. I hide in the hotel for the rest of the night, snoozing on the bed with the TV muttering quietly. The morning is heavily overcast with a stubborn haze of weak rain. I decide to loll. This is not a day to engage with the world. I plug in my audio box and browse some current pop from the stream. The Christmas meat market is hotting up with its vulgarity and grovelling. But I feel it’s good to get a flavour, like testing the tackiness of the pigment at the “wet paint” sign. Yes, just as I thought – sticky and vile. There’s a good new Aldous Harding single and something called Rozi Plain I quite like. I walk through the drizzle to the Symphony Hall blundering about utterly lost in the corridors until I happen upon the dressing room. Iain gets so lost on the way from the production office to the stage he’s fifteen minutes late for the soundcheck. The rest of us, although in the right place, are lost without him. We rehearse the epic rant of Nation Of Caners for the tenth time and for the first time I lose my place twice. The fact we manage to keep going is encouraging though we lack the balls to play it yet. I scoff some vegan scran in catering in the basement then ascend to the gods to watch the Byson Family’s soundcheck. You can hear people talking onstage up here but you can block out the sight of the whole stage with a horizontal finger. The PA gets turned up. It sounds pretty good. Two ushers enter and sweep along every row, checking every seat. I’ve not seen this before and presume it’s a security protocol. One of them tells me they’re looking for drugs and knives. Then tells me he’s joking. I decide to move forward a row lest they suspect I’m hiding a suspect device. The stewards and the support band take their leave and I’m suddenly left alone in the hushed vastness of the space.
It’s a great audience, as has been the case on Monday nights on this tour. They stand as one at the optimum moment and feedback a ton of positivity. As I’m singing and worrying I try to remind myself to enjoy the moment, playing in this big hall to so many happy faces. As soon as I do I trip over a lyric. Sometimes you have no conscious idea of what you’re supposed to be singing next and so you just pray that your lips will make the right shape from muscle memory. If that doesn’t work you find yourself rewriting lyrics on the hoof, which is always calamitous. In Dunoon I sang “powders” instead of “poison” on Scared Of Dying. I was asking myself, “Why did you do that?” for the rest of the verse. Sometimes you find your mind wandering. Ridiculous and mundane thoughts intrude and begin to tug your concentration by the sleeve down corridors and into rooms where you don’t want to be while the song desperately tries to pull you in the opposite direction. When that happens you can suddenly surface in the middle of a song with no idea where you are in the structure. You try to remember if you’ve already done chorus 2 but while you were singing chorus 1 you were thinking about one of your guests or tomorrow’s breakfast or laundry. But if you can push through all that you can attain a state of equilibrium where you’re completely inhabiting the song second by second, word by word. Things just flow. That’s where you want to be: the Goldilocks zone.
At midday, harassed by harassed cleaners I bounce down the fire escape to the waiting van. Sleep didn’t arrive until 6AM but I’ve felt worse. It’s another overcast day but dry and mild. The south coast beckons with a bright horizon. The traffic reels south like a migrating herd, consuming energy and venting gasses, pushing its pollution into the lungs of future generations. All aboard.
17 Responses to “Day Off Birmingham”
I was up in the gods and can report to not have found any knives or drugs, I can report a absolute fanatic next to me who not only sang every lyric (flatly) but also had a good go at guitar solos too, if a string had broken he was your man!
It was emotional being back watching a live band and I thought your performance was top class, tour again I’ll be back for more
When I am singing with my band, I’d love to find That Goldilocks Zone where all the words just follow each other and remain in the right order.
Checking Google maps has not helped me find it, so when we next cover Come Together (which has some of John Lennon’s very best ever stream of consciousness lyrics married to that fabulous Chuck Berry tune), I will just have to dart my eyes down again to that shameful piece of A4 with large print, taking up space on my monitor.
What a fantastic show – you still sounded as good as you did when we saw you in Wolverhampton about 30 years ago!
Keep up the great work….
You and the band have my purest admiration for your musical professionalism.
My favorite lines of your blog are:
“But when you get it all, you can reach a state of equilibrium in which you fully relive the song, second by second, word by word. Things just flow. That’s where you want to be: the Goldilocks Zone. ”
So well said. I wish you all lots of such moments.
What? Not one play on words about his finger in the frame? Come on people! He couldn’t have set that up more obviously. OK, I’ll have a go….ahem…”The band disappears when Justin pulls his finger out”. Erm…harder than I thought this.
I can relate to every mishap while rehearsing and performing. My mind drifts frequently these latter days from my musical ears, like a mute drift of snow in the dark. I wish I could transport myself across the ocean to feel the energy of your concerts through my veins. Instead, I live through the rhythm of your poetic stories.
Keep moving. On.
Thought for a moment the meat market had turned you. Was on tenterhooks for a few seconds.
Keep slogging on
After a long 18 months with no live music it was a great show to be at. I don’t know if it’s a mixture of people feeling a sense of normality and freedom, or the pure quality of the band, but there was something quite magical, dare I say emotional, about the feedback from the crowd. The acoustic arrangement on Empty was goosebump inducing!
My son (11 – big fan!) asked me why you weren’t singing Nation of Caners – I could only answer that I guessed it was ‘a lot’ to perform well. I have seen you guys perform loads of times since I was 17 in the 90’s. Last night, in Birmingham, I think you were back to your ‘best’ or a new, mature, best anyway. The crowd were great too – it felt like a mutual appreciation society…..especially as you tried to complete the haunting ‘Empty’ whilst some numpty sang the next line prematurely – twice. A good natured ‘feck off’ sorted it and the atmosphere restored.
I still think you should write a book…
Absolutely fantastic show. Great mix of songs and didn’t spot any lyrics snafu!
I was one of those ‘happy faces’! You’ve never sounded better! Thank you ❤️
A wonderful evening and a great show! Looking forward to the next tour. Thank yiu
Having breathed in the joy that was Nottingham RCH, I’m now kicking myself soundly and bemoaning the fact that I really should have obtained tickets for one of the remaining gig-thingies. I shall have to live vicariously through others who still have this pleasure to come.
Your voice on empty gave me goosebumps, it was brilliant. Looking forward to next time already. X
Great show. Loved it. Please keep going.
I love reading these rambles, always entertaining, always slightly mad.