Last year I did a long series of tour blogs, really honest ones, and it turned out to be a real Pandora’s box of the thoughts and emotions that build up in me when playing music live. I couldn’t stop and did one almost every day.
This year has been Pandora’s Box in reverse – I couldn’t bring myself to open the damn thing! Aggh it just sat there in the corner. Sorry about that. How about a re-cap of the year so far, old-tour-blog-style?
So there we were with half a baboons hat and a retired geology professor. Not a bridge in sight and only 4 minutes until soundcheck…
Ok the truth is more prosaic! The last year or so has been about going from someone who plays to people in London to someone who plays to people throughout the UK. Two long tours later and I think me and my band of intrepid explorers have achieved that. Apologies to those who have been waiting for another album for a while – we had more people we wanted to play to first, and this was something I had to do. Now I’m ready to move on. So after festival season, I’ll be starting work on album two and I’m more excited about that than I’ve ever been about anything.
What about 2012 so far? January to March was taken up with a lot of planning, industry showcases, radio interview tours, shooting music videos that didn’t quite work and recording what became the Ghostess Live Studio Sessions. Our sold out HMV gig in February had been a big success, but having not gigged in a couple of months I was a little short of strut. Strut looks like this – confident, effortless action. Why was I short of it? I think it was because by the end of March I’d done only 7 gigs and sat behind a computer for what felt like forever. Something wasn’t right.
I turned off the computer, picked up my guitar and hit the road on an impromptu open mic tour of the UK – instantly I felt happy again!
I gigged with Nottingham Trent Music Society students, sung my heart out at the Exeter Phoenix Cafe to an intense crowd of 6 people, met Rebecca Philip at a Bristol open mic who supported me on our headline Bristol gig later in May, shredded my voice at two open mics in York, found a place to sleep at midnight in Sheffield belonging to a kindly professional chef who serves heart-attack-inducing burgers like the pork fillet with deep-fried banana fritters covered in maple syrup all inside a doughnut, played the unplugged night at the 1:22 Bar in Huddersfield, slept on Charlie Barnes‘s floor, discovered Son Lux, played two gigs in an hour in Leeds then collapsed with illness and drove through the night to get back to my bed to sleep for a day.
This is the life I want, not sitting behind a computer! I was definitely ready for our May band tour.
But no sooner was I ready than we hit a problem. Some dates hadn’t sold many tickets and we were being asked to cancel or postpone them. I’ve already done a blog on that and I don’t need to add to it, but again I’ll say I’m really sorry that’s how it worked out.
The plus side was that we were left with some really great gigs to really big crowds. We rocked our first at the Deaf Institute in Manchester, armed with great new t-shirts me and Kev had designed and new songs, and we were playing tight and hungry. However the spectre of the pulled dates hung over us a lot on the journey home.
Everything turned a corner at our Newton Faulkner support a couple of days later. Looking out at the 1700 people, and talking to them later I was reminded of myself as a kid going to my first gigs, feeling enraptured by the live music experience, by the us and them format, by what the music could do to my emotions. It breathed a whole new life into me to remember that. Coming out the stage doors after the gig I heard noise from people waiting and I turned around, expecting to see Newton standing behind me, but they were calling at me. Very strange, very humbling.
We played really well supporting Turin Brakes at Festeaval, a beautiful festival still in its infancy but with a very bright future.
In Oxford me and John explored the city and learnt how much pudding is too much pudding(!) The gig felt great and we played very musically. That word might seem strange – don’t we always play ‘musically’? What I mean is we really listened to each other – notes he was playing were interacting, communicating and responding to notes I was playing. So important and much better than us both just playing our parts. It’s the difference between a conversation and two people reading lines.
A solo run followed – a Leeds house concert, an open mic in Sheffield and two supports for Paper Aeroplanes in Glasgow and Edinburgh. I was really loving playing solo by then – it’s important I have my own identity aside from the band. Paper Aeroplanes are good friends of mine – do take a listen and see them live if you like what you hear.
Last time John and I were in Kendal we played to 10 people who each promised to bring 10 more people if we ever came back. Well here we were – back again and this time with the whole band – had they kept their word? By the time we took to the stage the room was almost full. “I told you I’d bring 10 more people!” they each said. Aw man this blew me away and I got a little emotional! Such nice people. It shows how stupid (nevermind disrepectful) it is to turn your nose up to a small crowd. I chatted guitars with guitar fans, guarded my arse from cheeky not-yet-middle-aged women and we drank with Jonty and the Bootleggers crew into the night.
York might have been the best line-up of the tour. David Ward MacLean busks on the streets of York, but he’s a rare talent and a true gent well deserving of wider success. The Smoking Years were also exceptional. Such a good night. I was in a bit of an eyeballing the audience sort of mood that night though – sorry about that. Plus I first broke out a dance move during Feet Don’t Fail Me Now that the band now know as the ‘chicken leg dance’. Sorry about that too…!
All this stagetime paid dividends when we hit the best soundsystem of the tour – The Plug in Sheffield. Everyone was on the top of their game and we totally smashed it. Ah man what a gig! I think it was here that we remembered what kind of band we can be. Big shoutout to Jayne Kennedy for baking us cupcakes, and Elliot Morris and Sarah Mac for great support sets.
I’ve never known a uni like Bucks New Uni. All their student events are free, even the really big ones, and they’re still able to decorate the stage with fresh flowers and custom lighting. Thanks to everyone who came to see us there, it felt a bit like coming home, tho I don’t exactly have fresh flowers at home…
In Cardiff John and I finished the set acoustically in the audience and I ate all the free brownies and cakes. Thank you to Jo Scott for coming – she has a Feet Don’t Fail Me Now tattoo on her foot.
Lastly the Exeter and Bristol leg – either sold out in advance or on the night. I can’t tell you how important these gigs were for us – they were the perfect examples of what I want our next tour to be like – small sold out venues, loud, quiet, intense, exciting and unpredictable with a close interaction between band and audience. Bring on next year and a new album.
Since then we’ve played Bury St Edmunds, house concerts, wedding gigs, private party gigs and the first of the summer festivals. There are plenty more festivals and house concerts left, tours to Ireland and France, and one more special gig to play in London before I shut myself away to work on a second album.
My favourite question to ask a songwriter is “Why do you write songs?”. It sounds simple but is actually surprisingly difficult to answer honestly. There’s a follow-up question too – “Once you’ve written a song, why is it important that other people hear it?”. In all the interviews I’ve done I have never once been asked those questions, despite them being the most important ones I can think of to ask people like me. If you write songs I’d love to hear what your answers are.
I’m getting more coherent with mine, and thinking about it has led me to some sort of epiphany…. I have three jobs – to write songs, record them and play gigs – and that’s it. If I’m not doing any of these, as I sometimes have this year to work on the record label, I am less happy, and less good at my job. Note to self – writing, recording, gigging, writing, recording, gigging…. repeat 100 times then I dunno maybe run for prime minister…
Thank you to everyone who has come this far, both in this blog entry and as a fan in general. If you can get this far, perhaps you can go a little further…? When I’m done making more songs, perhaps you’ll give them a listen.
Have a wonderful summer