Sunday 10th March, 2013
October 12th 2010, Albuquerque, NM, USA
I'm 39 and 11 days old, which is clearly much too old to be any kind of musician on the road with a rock band. I'm playing with English musician Frank Turner as a member of his backing band. The distinction is necessary, since things are different to being a member of a band, which is somewhere near the crux of this little piece of writing. Even if it is an illusion (which it almost always is), every member of a band has their say, tied to their stake in the success or failure of the group as a whole, although, as we shall see later, even-handed democracy is never a true option. For a backing band though there is no grey area. Whoever you're playing for is the boss, the big numero uno, El Jefe, head honcho; and whatever they say goes.
Such is the way it has been since early 2007, when I first started playing with Frank1, and now. So why has it particularly exercised me tonight? Let's rewind a couple of days and contextualize a little shall we?
We flew in to Austin, Texas to begin our tour a few days ago, on 9th October. By Frank's standards it was not actually too bad a journey. Frank controls his own finances and co-manages himself with the verve of the true control freak, and consequently scours the internet for the very very cheapest flights for when we come out to the states. This is actually the first time we have come out at the same time as him (before this he has already been in the country playing solo shows or doing press prior to our arrival), so the unkind could suggest that this is the reason that our flight leaves Heathrow at a very reasonable 1.20 p.m. rather than the usual 7.30 a.m., but I'm confident that this is not true. To give the man his dues, if there is £4.50 to be saved on something he's quite happy to put himself through some kind of stupid inconvenience right along with everyone else.
However, despite the friendly departure hour it hasn't been the most relaxing of flights - we spent 3 hours and 10 minutes on the tarmac at Heathrow while engineers apparently expended their efforts fixing an unspecified fault on the plane before finally leaving; we had pilots who plotted a course through apparently every piece of unpleasant turbulence in the sky; and, when we finally arrived at our connection hub of Atlanta, we were prevented from leaving the plane for a further perspiratory 15 minutes by a faulty jetway, meaning there was a scrum of nervous people whose onwards flights, instead of being the humdrum wait that they had anticipated, had now become a desperate run and pray.
We made our connection, however, arriving in Austin just after 11 p.m. at night to meet tour manager Casey and be taken to our bus for the tour. As will later clearly become a theme, I'm first into my bunk on the bus. Bass player Tarrant, guitarist Ben and keyboardist Matt have a quick trip to a nearby 24 hour store and then follow. Frank, however, goes out and stays out, finally showing up at the festival the following day to perform an effective but somewhat tired show. Not a particular problem - everyone is pretty jet lagged. Conversationally later I ask Frank about his previous evening's activities, and he claims a quiet one, but Frank has a large sliding scale of this kind of thing - sometimes a quiet one means two beers and a night of convivial company, other times it means that he chose not to inject stuff into his eyeballs when everyone else was. After we perform Frank heads into town to drink with friends Fake Problems.
Due to the festival headline band and local laws, despite being done playing by 2 p.m. we leave the festival at close to midnight, being driven through the night by Craig up front while we all sleep in our tomb-like bunks in the back. Frank, to give him his due once more, returned early from the Fake Problems / Rival Schools show and is tucked up well before we leave. After a long and boring journey we arrive in Albuquerque about 8 p.m. The bus door has a busted lock so someone has to stay on board - I run out and get a sandwich and return so everyone else can head out for food and frolics. I'm in bed first.
Jet lag always seems to affect me more on the second day, so I'm waking up every few hours. Frank is in the bunk below me, except he isn't at midnight, or 2.30 a.m., or 5.30 a.m., or 7 a.m. He is there when I get up at 8 though. Jolly good.
So finally we finish rewinding and get to the fucking point, eh? We play our show in Low Spirits, a bar on the edge of a part of Albuquerque that locals tell me is called the war zone. Which is the kind of place gigs always are. It's not packed by any means, but the crowd makes up for numbers with enthusiasm, a couple of them having made the 3 1/2 hour journey from El Paso in Texas. Frank, as he often does, has been keeping an eye on his merch2 throughout the evening, but this particular night this has involved sitting at the bar being bought a steady stream of drinks by well-wishers, who have clearly taken his songs of wistful hedonism to heart and want to be enablers any way they can.
We hit the stage and the two nights of minimal sleep combine with the evening's indulgence to produce a desperately sub-standard show. Bloodshot Frank rambles, from time to time almost incontinently, between songs; he fails to notice his guitar constantly drifting out of tune and I have to nudge him to check it; and worst of all halfway through his voice, battle hardened as it is through the most intense gigging schedule that anyone has undertaken over the last few years, gives up. The dramatic high note in Long Live The Queen is the trigger - it comes out as a squeaky rasp that doesn't even share DNA with the correct pitch, and in the manner of a buzz bomb lays waste to all of the notes surrounding it. From then on I can hear the increasing inaccuracy as Frank pushes his voice harder and harder to try and make the end of the show, but the fatigue won't allow his usual Henry Rollins / iron man push through to the end.
Is the show bad? Do people not enjoy it? That's not the case at all. I'm happy that, as a professional band, nowadays our worst show is still delivering money-worth to an audience. But it could have been better. Not to put it all at the door of the Turner though; everyone could have done better. But the show is all about him; the audience focusses on him almost to the exclusion of all else (I'm confident I could come on naked from the waist down and no-one would notice), so his failings have a more marked effect than if I'm playing slightly off piste.
I'm reading a musical memoir on the tour3. That and the evening's events rev the thought engine. I've been on the road with bands in various capacities since I was 18, and I've been a teetotaler since I was 13; this means that throughout my professional life I've felt somewhat like an alien in the permissive world of rock and roll. There's no place for anyone to be judgmental out here, so that's not my position. But being stymied in my desire to do the best show possible this evening through the actions of the band leader; not having the authority to say anything about it (I'm a backing musician, I'm just supporting his career, and if his favoured approach is to sink into high-functioning alcoholism I have no input to that); and the onset of the sense of tour dislocation makes me want to put it down and analyze it. As much as anything it's an excuse to tell my own history, and try and make sense of why I feel so comfortable in the business of music, but at the same time so alienated and like a skeleton at a wedding. How does, essentially, a puritan fit in to the encouraged permissiveness of rock and roll? Or, more succinctly, what the fuck am I doing here?
Saturday 23rd January, 2016
It's been a long time since my last blog. Yeah, sure, I know. Sorry. Just leave it. OK? Something came up yesterday though that seemed worthy of talking about. Apparently it's 10 years since Milow's album The Bigger Picture was released, and album that I produced and played on. I thought it be... read
Saturday 20th September, 2014
Been concentrating on updating the site to include contact links for hiring me as a session drummer. But over the summer I did a couple of shows with my old pals in the Genesis tribute band Los Endos. Here's a couple of drum views of songs from those with... read
Wednesday 18th June, 2014
1989 - 1992: Once Around The Park My dad, still with his eye on solid academic achievement, insisted that I at least consider university. Out of respect I applied for places on a number of courses, but the interview process was somewhat unusual, since the hardening of my ambition to be somehow with... read
Monday 12th May, 2014
Sorry it's been so long since the last time I blogged here. I have been busy, that much is true, but it would be a lie to pretend that was entirely the reason. Many days I wonder the worth of adding to the ever-growing mountain of unsolicited writing out there, of my... read
Friday 25th April, 2014
Hello everyone. Sorry, this blog has been long neglected. My next thing to post was the next chapter of Puritan, but I was waiting until I could get some relevant audio tracks into the computer world, which involved borrowing a DAT machine and finding time between tours to record it and blah... read
Tuesday 29th October, 2013
I was intending my next blog to be another "Bloggin' The Shuffle", but something happened that took me elsewhere. A friend who is studying screenwriting asked me about musical structure. Most screenplays follow a three act format, roughly akin to sonata form in music, and her thought was to compare other forms... read
Thursday 10th October, 2013
Been a while since the last blog. I guess I've been putting this one off because... well it's odd. For starters I'm aware that I would suggest to others not doing this - you let people take what they want from music you make, and your opinion doesn't matter so much it's... read
Friday 6th September, 2013
I said over there on the albums page that my next blog would be my own self-assessment of my solo work, but I think I'm going to postpone that. It's something I struggle with in a way - I want to talk about it, but I would encourage anyone else away that... read
Sunday 11th August, 2013
1985 - 1989: Sentimental Mercenary In A Free Fire Zone After a summer of unpacking boxes and trying to make the new house a home I started at Abingdon School in September 1985. With the determination for morbidity that only a teenager can muster, I hated it and was depressed in a I... read
Thursday 25th July, 2013
Just got a little while in the middle of the night before we leave for Heathrow to start another tour. Although they never stop. It's one continuous tour. But I was having some thoughts about work and working and who does what. I've been both sides of the touring fence multiple times being... read
Thursday 11th July, 2013
As many of you here may know apart from being a drummer I was once a lighting designer, the guy who makes the lights do their thing at a rock show (there's many other kinds of LD of course, but rock was what I did). So with that in my background have... read
Tuesday 4th June, 2013
1982 - 1985: Above The Riverbed The World's Run Dry More gigs, better gigs. After the party we started to get a bit more serious with the school band, or as serious as you can be when you're 12 years old. We called ourselves Nightshade and had a stable lineup of Adrian guitar,... read
Sunday 26th May, 2013
Some things are curious to me. Things which appear to be a lack of analysis, opinions not properly thought through. Then again that sometimes is just me and my Spock-ness, not appreciating the random foible of desire. I read about the band that I play in on the internet. There, I've admitted In... read
Monday 29th April, 2013
Hello from Hamburg! Ich Bein Eine Hamburger. Or something. Got an hour after breakfast on the bus before we have to travel to record a German TV show called Ina's Nacht, so what better way to make GOOD USE of my time than another quick session of bloggin' the shuffle. This off... read
Monday 22nd April, 2013
1971 - 1982: It's Cold Outside, But It Gets So Hot In Here Oh shit. That's mum and dad. Keep your head, don't giggle, just keep tidying up the bottles and cans into the bin bag in the garage. I think they're angry, but I'm finding it curiously hard to read these who... read
Monday 8th April, 2013
So here's another in what I anticipate to be a series. Jeez, what a lot of series we have running - Puritan (to be continues when I get access to my old photos and a scanner, so I can make it a bit more visually interesting), Blogging The Shuffle (which will when... read
Sunday 24th March, 2013
I'm writing this from Shanghai in China, my first visit to this country. I'm not going to give you my impressions. I'm not Michael Palin, nor indeed Bill Bryson (although I can recommend all of Mr. Bryson's travel books as some of the most amusing writing I've ever had the pleasure embarrassingly... read
Thursday 14th March, 2013
This is the original reason that it occurred to me to start blogging. I'd find myself on the tourbus with my iPod on having memories and thoughts triggered as shuffle offered up various tidbits that I wouldn't have put on of my own accord. So I'm going to give that a at... read
Saturday 9th March, 2013
So, the thing is, when I was on tour a couple of years back I wrote a 'book'. It's definitely a 'book' and not a book though. It's an autobiography with the initial intention of a certain angle on the subject, although as it went along the focus drifted a bit. I... read
Monday 4th March, 2013
We started a tour in Northampton, MA on 2nd March and, being as it was not far from his hometown of Springfield, I had the pleasure of hanging out with my friend Mark Mulcahy. His name is not familiar to many, but anyone out there who knows him or his work probably... read
Saturday 2nd March, 2013
I don't really talk about myself much. Not just on the internet, but in life. I have an English paranoia about being seen to complain, or about troubling anyone else ("a friend troubled is a problem doubled", as someone once said to me). But I don't think that it's healthy. Don't me... read
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