Tuesday, 27 May 2008

We come in search of bass strings ...

Have you forgotten me? I wouldn't be surprised at all. I wrote the last entry whilst on holiday Norfolk and that frankly seems like years ago. It was, to be precise, twelve days ago, which is about four Internet years. Still, from my stats it appears that people are still reading this which either means that word of mouth is generating more and more readers or the same increasingly bored punters are coming back to discover the last entry collecting dust.

So what's been happening? Well, for starters both of our bands have been on tour. The Girl band played London just before I went away. I hadn't seen them for a while as I've been busy with the Scottish band, and it was really refreshing to see them again. They've written a whole load of new songs and sharpened up their image. It was a really good show and afterwards I was greeted like a long lost uncle. The guitarist is one of those girls who is so attractive that she is able to make people (men and women) do anything she wants by the imperceptible movement of a shoulder or the slight raise of an eyebrow. I found I'd bought her a double Jack Daniels and coke without even realising it. Bless her.

The Scottish band's tour started in Leeds the day after I came back from my holiday. It was a good place to start as the indie label that we released our single on are based there. I went in search of Matt who co-runs the label in the record shop where he works. Normally, this would have been an easy operation, since most towns only have one record store if they're lucky. Leeds however is different. Recently a friend of mine sent me the list of Chain With No Name stores, the records shops around the country who still actively sell indie music and specifically still stock 7" vinyl. It's a really small list and another signpost towards the dinosaur status that all of us connected with the selling of music are threatened with. But amazingly, Leeds manages to have not just one by three independent record shops - plus the standard issue HMV and Zavvi.

I found Matt in Jumbo, a shop that has been going since 1971. It's in a pretty depressing shopping mall but once you're inside it sets your heart aflutter - racks of vinyl, box sets, secondhand albums... This sort of stuff really brings out the 14-year old in me, a person who I am mildly ashamed of but put up with on a regular basis because, as I think I've already confessed, I cannot walk passed a record shop without going in. Jumbo's logo is pure 1971, blobby swirling letters which conjure up images of Chopper bikes, Spangles and Curly Wurlys for 3p. And the idea that this very shop was once selling brand new copies of Hot Love by T-Rex or Hunky Dory by David Bowie filled me with a frisson of delight. I've since had a look at the website and disappointingly they've only been in that space since 1988 (a mere 20 years!) so I'll have to content myself with imagining people going in and buying Britpop CDs and You And Me Song by The Wannadies. Actually, as I was talking to Matt I noticed a piece of cardboard sticking out of the back of box of 7" singles with 60Ft Dolls handwritten on it. I pointed this out to Matt, telling him that they were on my old label. "Yeah," he said, defiantly uninterested,"we reuse the old name cards all the time..."

Later my managerial metal was tested when Andrew the bass player broke a string during soundcheck. He didn't have a spare and headline act Ida Maria's bass player couldn't find it in him to lend him his bass. According to a respected journalist friend of mine who interviewed Ida Maria, the bass player was auditioned from a modeling agency because the band, being Norwegian, thought they needed at least one handsome blonde person to justify their Scandinavian heritage. They had to teach the lucky winner how to play so no doubt having just learned, the poor chiseled Adonis was reluctant to let a professional put fingers all over his strings.

By the time Stringgate was upon us, it was too late for music shops to be open. Who did we know in Leeds who could help? The indie label fellas weren't around tonight - Matt was being treated by his girlfriend to a night out so was out of contact. I suggested local rehearsal rooms and was applauded for my managerial brains. Andrew produced an iPhone and started Googling. Jack looked at my previously quite impressive Nokia and raised an eyebrow - "Call yourself a manager? With that old thing?"

Andrew had got the iPhone by some twist of fate which renders him immune to service charges and tariffs. Very jammy - and also very useful as after much searching on it we were heading out of town to the one rehearsal space in Leeds which sells strings - the brilliantly named House of Mook. I've just discovered that one of my favourite writers Jeremy Dyson is in a band called Rudolf Rocker, who are or were on House of Mook's very own label. Dyson wrote much of League of Gentlemen as well as a very good book of short stories called Never Trust a Rabbit and the massively underrated comedy thriller Funland.

House of Mook, like Jumbo, was full of the nostalgia that now seems inherent in all things pop - the walls were plastered with old posters for long forgotten bands from the mid nineties who I remembered seeing as an A&R man. We bought the strings for £14.99 and returned to our waiting cab. His fare was of course more than the strings cost.

Ida Maria and her band played a good show. Too good - they had a much better sound than us which prevented me from fully enjoying their set. Not being a football fan, I'm unfamiliar with the camaraderie and rivalry of supporting a team but when I'm with a band who are sharing a bill I imagine it's comparable. Everyone is always jealous of the headline act who have the bigger van or the record deal-sponsored in-ear monitoring system. But the highways and byways of band rivalries are much more subtle and divisive than those of football fans - the tension is never diffused with a sweary song or comedy chant, it's much more likely to manifest in back-biting or cruel humour. I remember when Sleeper supported the Manic Street Preachers years ago. Ritchie Edwards was still in the band back then but painfully thin and barely audible on stage - it was clear that the band's biggest star was in bad shape. The Manics had taken their own catering on the road with them and very generously invited Sleeper to partake. But this didn't stop them cracking Ritchie's been stuffing his face again gags when the pies were running dry.

The highpoint of the band's set was a new song called Guns Go Bang, it rollocks along on a keyboard churn before opening up with a verse of pure pop followed by a clever time signature change. I'm resisting following the usual music journalist shorthand of saying it's The Zombies meets the The Libertines but crucially this new song is GREAT. I spent the rest of the evening drinking with the band, first the rider, then in a branch of the ludicrously overpriced Malmaison. After one round my wallet had a hangover so we relocated to the Travelodge bar and there, the conversation moved onto the important topic of which period HM The Queen was most attractive during. This was inspired by a sequence in an episode of Peep Show that I'd seen the week before where Jeremy goes to a sperm bank and discovers there is no pornography in his booth so opts to use a twenty pound note as an aid. You would think that she would look best on coins from the 1960s but we decided there was something about Liz's 1980s profile, which was quite alluring. Later in the week, whilst in Glasgow, keyboard player William gave me an old penny from 1965 and queenie's nose is a bit pointy. We decided she may have had some work done.

And talking of Glasgow, there's a whole load of things that happened there over the weekend which I must tell you about. But I'll have to do that another time because I've got to book some more Travelodges...

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