Sunday, 20 April 2008

A Proper Outing - Part 1: Managers in Coats

There's always a couple of people drinking beer at ten in the morning when you fly with Easy Jet or Ryanair. I don't know why this is, I can only assume that there are a couple of people on every flight who like a drop of Special Brew before sitting in a enclosed space with 200 others, but on grown-up airlines they are normally in the Executive Lounge so we don't see them. So anyway, we're standing about half way down a long queue at Gate 51 at Stansted Airport, watching the screen flashing Last Call. The urgency of the message doesn't seem to have connected with the blue-jacketed staff who are either standing around looking confused or sharing a private joke with one another.

It's a 'proper outing' as Geoff calls it in his sage Essex brogue; the three of us are all dressed in our manager coats (mine, a rather splendid corduroy Crombie, which makes me feel quite thrusting) and waiting to fly to Glasgow for the launch party of my band's single. The actual single - 80 copies of the 7" - is in my hand luggage as it's only just arrived via our Leeds-based indie label from the factory in Czechoslovakia. Such is the high-powered, multinational music business we now work in. And we're flying to Glasgow - we're quite literally jet-set. Posters are up all over Glasgow (as well as some in Edinburgh and Dundee), flyers are in the coolest coffee bars and pubs, and the band announced the gig on Vic Galloway's Radio One show two nights before. But the venue is a bit off the beaten track - I still couldn't describe to you where it is. So will anybody actually come?

The flight should have left five minutes ago so our frenzied rush from the departure lounge was entirely pointless. Why is it that every time I fly, I'm either kicking my heels and collecting dust or I'm Lateboy pleading with gate staff to let me on the plane? It's death either way - from boredom or heart attack - like the Eddie Izzard pears joke "Don't ripen yet, don't ripen yet. Wait til he goes out the room! Ripen! Now now now!"

We're important managers, fielding calls - Charlie is setting up a top level meeting to discuss the girl band, Geoff is talking to his Scandinavian counterpart about his band's forthcoming album, and I'm... well, I'm being told off by my wife for not sorting out use of a friend's cottage so we can have a holiday with my mother. Actually, I had sorted out some dates but it turns out that mum can't make those because she's busy. Her diary's full. She's in her mid-seventies for God's sake! She should be sitting at home knitting and watching BBC costume drama - not booking herself weekends away with her friends or nights in London's West End. Most of the time she's actually on the South Bank, queueing up to get last minute bargain tickets for the National. I mean, I keep up with culture, I go out, see exhibitions, read the papers, listen to Radio 4. But a lot of the time my mum is there first. This is a conversation that happened last December:

Mum: Ben, darling, you like Bob Dylan, have you seen I'm Not There?
Me: No, mum, I really want to, it's not out until next week - meant to be great.
Mum: Mmm, I'm not sure I'd agree with that...
Me: Why? Have you seen it?
Mum: Yes, Maureen and I saw it last week at LFF - we got seniors concessions...
Me: (Trying not to get annoyed that mum has trumped me - again): Oh right - I didn't know you liked Dylan
Mum (in a breezy, throwaway tone) No, I don't really ... Well, I don't know much about him - and after seeing the film I don't think I want to...

So I sort out some new dates that fit into my mum's busy arts schedule. And still the Ryanair queue is stationary. The drinkers - bizarrely at the front of the queue, and therefore letting down their rep - are onto their second cans. Then my mobile goes off - it's my radio promotions guy. A plugger rarely calls unless he has good news and this time is no exception - we've got a Zane play! Hooray! Zane Lowe, Radio 1's exhuberant, Antipodean indie figurehead is going to play the Scottish band's single next week. And it's not in the Fresh Meat slot. This is where he pitches three unsigned bands against one another and let's the audience decide by text. Inevitably, it's always the band with the geekiest online fanbase who win. And the other two bands will suffer the ignominy of having had their chance and blown it. I suspect if we were on we wouldn't win. I need to work on our online presence.

So Radio 1 - check us out! I immediately feel like a manager again. Then the queue disperses and people start bolting for another gate. There has of course been no announcement, Ryanair clearly favouring the Chinese whisper approach to information dissemination. We all bomb over to the other Gate, hot on the heels of the Special Brew drinkers who seem to be ahead of everyone again - maybe they work for Ryanair.

On the plane we discuss the night ahead. The band's rehearsal space is in fantastic converted Warehouse called SWG3, which houses a few other bands and a lot of contemporary artists. Walking through it to the rehearsal space is like walking through the back of a film lot and Tate Modern - concrete floor and painted brick walls stuffed with sculpture, fine art, and equipment. One artist has even installed a shed, which she works in.

We've tied the launch party into the Gi Festival of Contemporary Visual Art, which was easy as SWG3 are hosting lots of Gi events and will thus have a dressed and prepared exhibition space for us to perform in. Sorry, I feel I'm putting in too many links, but I was bowled over by the performance space when I saw it. On the ground floor of the warehouse and decked with black sound-absorbing sheets, DJ booth and even a cocktail bar, the space was the perfect combination of authentic warehouse space with stylish trimmings . But it was at that point almost entirely empty. Now I felt myself getting the 'what if no one comes?' anxiety. I mean, I had had to get a cab here - and it wasn't the first time I'd been. I still couldn't tell you where it is in relation to the rest of Glasgow - mind you, as I've said before, they do change the streets around here fairly frequently.

As we finished stuffing some goodie bags - to be made available to the first lucky 20 fans who bought the single - the place begins to get its first punters: a girl with a camera, the guy from the band's Leeds record label, some more girls, an older couple. I put up a poster behind the bar advertising the single's availability for £4. The studio is run by a guy whose real name is Mutley - a powerhouse of energy and charm who offers to print a poster in his office upstairs which messages the single instead of using the one I've done. This is both generous and extremely astute - my handwriting is indeed illegible and might hinder sales but also crucially, even one hand-scrawled poster on the space's immaculate black and white walls will spoil its look. Mutley is clearly a big and small picture manager. Even the glass-topped bar tables, where people are currently placing their Becks and Moscow Mules, turn out to be designed by Turner Prize-nominated Jim Lambie. They're worth £10K each apparently, so I hope no one gets too pissed ...

Behind the bar is a man spinning a vodka bottle on his head. He then throws it up in the air, catches it on his left shoulder, rolls it down his left arm, flicks it back up into the air with his wrist and catches it in the bottom half a cocktail shaker he's holding in the other hand. There is a ripple of applause as four or five mobile phones are whipped out to film his next drink.
"The barman's amazing," I comment to William from the band
"Yeah, he's the UK's Bartender of the Year." he says, "He has a practice space in the Warehouse."
I've since Googled this I can't find the chap from SWG3 - he was certainly much cooler - and also younger - than the fella in the above Youtube clip but hey, watching live Flair Bartending from a couple of feet away is highly recommended. Almost as much fun as drinking.

By the time I go off with Charlie, Geoff and our investor for a bite to eat, the place is filling up a bit. It's not worryingly empty, anyway. But it is now nine o'clock - surely if people were coming they would be here by now. I'm also concerned that the sound isn't going to be great. I've been told that a previous show the band played here was marred by poor sound. Not the sound engineer's fault (George, who does sound here, is the band's own sound guy) but just bad acoustics. We leave the building and get a cab to a recommended pizza place. That turns out to be full so we go the Indian restaurant next door and have the worst curry in Europe. The signature ingredient here turns out to be Ghee - mmmm, just can't get enough of that clarified butter. Bloated and disappointed we sit like four unwanted balloons in the cab back to the warehouse, making lame, Ghee-based puns. Alan McGhee, Ghee De Maupassant...

At the Warehouse we're in for a nasty surprise.

I'll let you know what happens in Part 2 soon...

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