Here lies the somewhat-bitter telling of the first leg of my Spring UK tour! I was warned many times that this was a terrible country to DIY-tour in as a songwriter, but I had to go experience it myself to check out if the rumours were true. Well, turns out it’s definitely not worth it to bother, as I was mostly underwhelmed. Too few promoters, audiences and venues’ staff seem to care too much about original live music. But I did find fun in the company of the good friends who accompanied me: Robyn who played bass with me, and rocked the dotted shirt (first leg of the tour), and Odran who co-toured and rocked the striped shirt (second leg of the tour).
B A T H
Rough country, indeed. I kickstarted this first leg of the tour under a sulky sky, with the bus’ windshield wipers waving at the world ahead. In the front room of the “Bell” (a gorgeous old low-ceiling pub, the Brits sure know how to make indoor spaces cosy) some borderline cheesy Jazz music was being played by virtuoso musicians. In the backroom where I performed on some sort of alternative stage, I got heckled by a weirdo who kept cutting me off during my song introductions with things like “Come on, chop chop” or “Mate, just play the fucking song”. As soons as I kindly reminded him I was not a jukebox, he cooled down gradually and left a little while afterwards, to everybody’s relief. I was a little disappointed though, as our ping-pong game of wits was just starting to get interesting, if not a little troublesome. The crowd was coming in and out during my set, with a sparse attention and a firm grip on a pint, but letting out out sometimes a lively reaction to my jokes or lyrics.
I could only get a gleeful glimpse at it, but Bath seemed like a lovely British city with Georgian buildings sprinkled randomly, and once you stray off the touristy spots (not without efforts), you stumble upon great old parks and streets full of ancient charm. There is something in the way the lanes are winding up and down, in the way the scenic countryside around the city perched on a hill is in sight the whole time, while your shoulders get showered with the pink and gentle rain from the cherry blossom trees. Before making my way there, I had enjoyed a cultural layover in Bristol, soaking in some valuable knowledge and inspiration from its art museums and independent stores, as you can see below.
Things heard when eavesdropping in the streets and stores of England :
– “The older I get, the better I was”
– “What I like the best about this town is the road out of it”
– “If you love your job, you’ll never have to work a day in your life”
– “He is a little dumpling with rotten teeth”
– “Well, don’t blame me, look at June, she’s 19 and she’s got three kids!”
B R I G H T O N
London-on-the-Sea. Shops, stores and shops again. Old dudes in sneakers and young kids in vintage clothes. A weird mix of posh and hip. Sam, who opens the show tonight at The Hope, sings “Mothers cry for less while babies cry for more”. The Red Diamond Dragon Club, an awesome ensemble on the bill, sings “Tell me about every tooth in your mouth”.
Before the gig, I escape to enjoy my rice bowl on the beach, watching Brits drink their way into the sunset. All afternoon, I tried to dodge the herds of French teenagers on school trips cursing and pushing each other. The show goes well in front of a little, but supporting crowd, who seems to have a genuine interest for live music. I feed off that stuff.
R A M S G A T E
A quaint little seaside village in Kent, with a fascinating cast of odd port-town characters. The café is not ideally suited for live music but the staff is brilliant in every way, feeds us healthy food and provides comfy beds.
The Friday night chatty crowd that shows up is fighting for control of the room’s volume, and our P.A. is soon beaten. But now and then, they let Rob (who opens the show successfully with his set of original, quirky and often funny songs) and I win sometimes. How lovely.
An older fellow pays acute attention the whole night though, sitting still and staring on his stool, and later tells us that he’s off to work the night shift at the local airport, and that he’s happy that we provided him with some “quality pre-work entertainment”. Somehow, this makes our day and the whole trip worth while.
K I N G S T O N
A beautiful Spring day in a flavourless city in the suburbs of London that seems to have nothing to offer but stores and malls. The sort-of-clear Thames goes through it, and a rough patch of greenish grass on its banks forms a gathering point for the youth who smokes and drinks, the youth on awkward dates, and the youth who throws stones at swans. An italian street-musician who goes by “Drum-Machine” hits poles and garbage bins and sells a hundred jewel-cased CDs an hour. It must be something I haven’t figured out yet. We play at a cool “live-music oriented” pub two days in a row, swarming with odd regulars. On Saturday night, the audience is rowdy and somewhat careless, and on Sunday afternoon, after Steve Whalley (from Slade) showed off his white-man blues and hilarious reggae covers, the punters sit sparse and unimpressedly quiet.
L O N D O N
Rob and I get lost in the Natural History Museum, exploring dinosaurs and human brains and go see an awesome “Ligthshow” contemporary art exhibit. A trip to the Rough Trade record store in Brick Lane, with its appropriately rough and unhelpful staff. The gig at The Water Rats feels pretty irrelevant, but Odran joins us on the Calabash (West-African percussion consisting of a hollowed and dried out gourd-shaped fruit) which bring in some well-appreciated trio fun. Late at night during our stay, I vaguely recall watching Borat and Creepshow in an exhausted daze. One night, Odran, Rob and I also did a “Songwriters Circle” sort of thing and it was fun and inspiring to share each other’s songs in a setting that doesn’t include a shitty P.A., a busy bar and a loud mass of drunk and rude people.
C O V E N T R Y
Rob went back to Swansea and I headed to Coventry for a solo show. The city was bombed to bits in WWII, and it shows. “Extra-ugly” barely scratches the surface of its look. Carrying all my unsold merch on my back, I sweated out my way through this Mordor city towards the venue, located in old coal vaults by a canal basin. I then quickly took shelter from this dreadful rainy day in a movie theater where I watched parts of gorishly tedious Evil Dead, obviously derivative Oblivion and absolutely ridiculous Olympus Has Fallen.
The gig is underwhelming, an adjective which seems determined to stuck with me on this tour. The local opener is a female duo with great vocal abilities but who decide to bore everyone out with covers of The Police and Amy Winehouse. Thank God, their friends had Iphones to pass the time (Will it be the modern songwriter’s next challenge in this century: to write a song so catchy that people look up from their smartphones and pay attention at least once during the song ?) Seriously, what is with covers in this country ? How come is this not considered bad-taste here to include covers in your repertoire ? Are the performers too lazy or uninspired to write their own songs or do they choose to perform famous songs in order to please the audience ? But does a 2013 audience care that much about hearing some dude playing Outkast’s “Hey Ya” with some lame guitar twist on it ? It seems like such a waste of time for everyone. Anyway, Odi, the Irish headliner, is a pleasant acoustic duo who wraps up the night with pretty ditties and effective banter.
S W A N S E A
Best show of the year. Should have never left home! With the (almost) full Swansea band: Jamie Williams on drums, Robyn on bass, 4-piece rocking horn section (Jack, Mark, Arwel & Stuart from Disco Panther), Jamie Nemeth on the fiddle and Emily C. Branningan on backing vocals.
High-energy musicianship from my dear temporary Keys bandmates. Familiar faces. Responsive crowd. Great show outfits. And to top all of that, Lewis “Majik” John nailing it on the sound board. After a welcome break, I hit the road again towards the Midlands, where I will meet Odran for the last leg of the tour…