Sunday, 8 June 2008

A night in, please God, a night in ...

Gigs, gigs, gigs. So many gigs. And I'm not even on tour. Here I am at 1.30am, half drunk, sitting on my third night bus home, listening to the Fleet Foxes album on my iPod and wondering if there's dad-related activity to do once I get home.

Frankly by the end of last week, I almost hugged the television. A night in! Come Friday, mouthful of After Eights, caning the Sky Plus, I would have been in heaven, had I not had to balance my screaming five month old on my knee. At the moment it appears that Esther is auditioning to be the next Clare Torry. A friend of mine who is now horribly senior at Sony BMG had his first child before me and I remember him telling me, when she was first born, how he'd had to go through the pain barrier of exhaustion: you come home from a night of gigs, you get ready for bed and just as you hit the pillow, the weeping starts. Your wife, who is annoyed at you being out all the time having fun at gigs ("But it's work!" "Work?! You're standing around drinking and watching bands. Call that work? Don't make me laugh!"), expects you to deal with it so you're up in your pajamas, walking like a zombie around and around and around, muttering consoling words and trying not to fall over with exhaustion. Eventually, the child will go to sleep but you will be wide awake and probably feeling a bit peckish. Before you know it, it's 5 AM and you're on the sofa, eating Marmite on toast and watching The Sopranos on DVD. Multiply that by five days a week and it's no wonder pop music is so full of broken marriages.

Still, I must say, the gigs have been great. If you read last week's blog you'll know about the Glasgow shows - oh yes, by the way here's a bit of film of that punch up I wrote about - even watching it back, I still find it surreal.

Anyway, the band headed South after this. They played in Liverpool, Stoke and Manchester. In Manchester somewhat inevitably, they met Mancunian comedy institution Frank Sidebottom - William said he caught a glimpse of skin and hair through the famous paper mache head and "he was really old". Reminded me of Julian Cope's story of seeing The Residents live and catching a glimpse of hair poking out from under the mask - he could never take them seriously after that.

By the end of the week the Scottish band were properly South - in leafy, quaint, stockbrokerish Guildford, no less. As far as I can remember I think I've only been to a couple of shows in Guildford. I think we once drove Elastica there when Michael (now the exhausted father/Sony exec I wrote about in the paragraph above) and I were hoping to release their first record on our label Scared Hitless and we were playing at being tour managers. They was already a buzz about them for obvious Suede and Blur reasons and we wanted them to play some shows out of the spotlight. It was decided that the best way to do this was to book them as another band - a band with a really off-putting name. Someone, I can't remember who but probably Justine, came up with 'Onk'. Amazingly, we still got plenty of A&R people prepared to have a sniff around Onk.

The Scottish band don't have a big A&R buzz around them yet - although people are beginning to come out of the woodwork. In Manchester, they had their first meeting with a scout. Interestingly, they were surprised at how little was actually on the agenda for this meeting. They didn't fully understand the reason scouts want to meet bands: scouts are not going to do anything - not unless there is already an almighty buzz. No, they are chatting you up, making friends, forging relationships. Then when it's important to sign the band, when the rest of the company is galvanised, the scout is at the vanguard with his or her own special relationship. That's why so many A&R people are so charming - they have spent a long time honing the skill of making you feel like you are the most important musician they have ever met.

It sounds like I'm being cynical about A&R folk but of course I count myself in this camp - I'm a bit rusty but on a good day I can still just about find the necessary charm when I have to win people over. But the relationship between A&R scout and unsigned band is mutually beneficial, because it's just what you need when you're a musician playing to an audience of three disinterested, drunk people - a sparky young A&R person comparing you to the bands that you've always thought you were inspired by. Most bands will recognise the deal that is going down prior to signing - it is a courtship, a romance. And once the deal is struck and the marriage starts, very often it all ends in tears, recriminations, mutual lack of respect. BUT, maybe, just occasionally, lovely beautiful children are born.

The Scottish band - I wonder, shall I start calling them by their name? If you have any thoughts on this add a comment - in fact, while I'm here talking about comments, if you have any stuff to say about the blog please put a comment below. I get so many mails and Facebook messages about it but not that many folk leave comments here. It would be good if you did because that would of course make me look really popular... Anyway where was I? Ah yes, The Sb at the Guildford Boileroom.

The Sb play a show to an audience of about twenty. I sense the crowd are not fully in the mood for indie rock though. Not when members of the opposite sex are drinking for Surrey outside the venue. This massive crowd of 18-year old girls in oversized heels is in the beer garden due to the balmy weather. The Boileroom is situated at the end of a cobbled street, flanked with pretty cottages. Because of the residential area, the venue has a bizarre traffic light entry/exit system to stop noise leaking from the bar/venue into the beer garden. This took some working out for me and is clearly a rite of passage for all young Guildford residents. When the light is green outside you can pull the door open. Once inside, you find yourself in a small lobby - like a decompression chamber - looking up at a red light over a second door. Once this is green, or indeed the door opens up, you can enter the bar. Simple enough, but try adding three or four people to every decompression wait, any two of whom might have consumed one too many Bacadi Breezers. It certainly breaks the ice.

After the show, we drank the rider in the dressing room which is situated above the venue and appears to double as the kitchen for the hapless student residents who live above the venue. True to the name of the venue, there was indeed a very large old boiler smack bang in the middle of it. We were in the epicentre of The Boileroom. This cannot be ideal for the residents and indeed we met several of them as they were heading upstairs. They were all Chinese - the first, a smiley man whom we asked if it was OK that we were sitting in his kitchen. It didn't look like he understood so we asked again. "Ah..." he said, the light of comprehension in his eyes, "twenty past eleven." He showed us his watch with a flourish.

After doing Southampton and Coventry, the band arrived in London. They had never played in the capital before and despite being booked second on the bill on a Tuesday night, this was the most important night of the tour. The gig where influential people and industry types who can make a difference can see them. It was in every way THE BIG ONE.

I'd booked them into a hotel near to the Buffalo Bar where they were playing - the temptingly-named Costello Palace. Like me, the band rate Elvis' early work so this seemed appropriate. But when I met with them at the soundcheck they were less than enthusiastic - apparently the bedrooms were not exactly Imperial, each being furnished with its own condoms and 'lube'.
"And there's not even that much lube left in my room," deadpanned William, the keyboard player.
"You should send down for some more, bro." suggested Andrew on bass.

I had a bite to eat with the band, then popped out to get some money out of the cashpoint, leaving my mobile phone on the table of the cafe. While I was outside, my mobile went off. William saw 'Lamacq Mobile' flashing on the screen but didn't answer it. When I came back he said to me whilst raising an eyebrow, "Steve Lamacq called".
"Great - told you he was coming tonight!" I said triumphantly.
"Odd that he calls you just as you're out at the cashpoint - bit of a coincidence," William makes inverted commas around the 'out at the cashpoint' bit.

He's joking but it would have been an excellent managerial ruse to appear important in front of my band: to pop out on a vague pretext and phone myself from a prearranged number that comes up as a famous DJ, thereby making myself look like a hero - the great Radio 1 indie champion himself is phoning me personally. I am indeed friends with both movers and shakers!

Of course the truth is far more prosaic, as you know. I've known Steve for a long long time - I once guested on his pirate radio show back in the 1780s on a station called Q103. I still have a tape of this somewhere. He was interviewing me about being an A&R scout and I described it as being like a traffic warden - everyone hates you but you're just doing your job... Bit of work needed on that analogy I think.

Despite being, as everyone knows, married to his music, Steve is an incredibly loyal friend. He will come and see friends' bands and crucially - and this is what friends don't do normally - he won't tell you he loves it when he doesn't. We had gone to see his friend Simon 'Fierce Panda' Williams' band the week before who were being primed by Simon for rock stardom. Incidentally, Simon's band Capital were on the same bill at the Dublin Castle as a band called Ham Sandwich, which surely must be evidence that the world has finally run out of band names. Anyway, Steve will be frank with both myself and Simon, I'm sure. Obviously, I hope he likes both but COME ON - my band are far better!

And indeed in London, they didn't disappoint. Alongside Steve there were radio, press and other members of the PR and radio team and the show was absolute proof that a couple of weeks on the road really sharpens up a band. There were even a couple of posh St Trinian's type girls down at the front who apparently Myspaced the band the following day with obscene promises for the next time the band come to the capital.

By the end of the evening I was on a high, made sweeter by Artrocker promoter Paul telling me that he wasn't going to charge me for the extra guest list. Again I've known Paul for years. Don't get me wrong, when I say I know people I don't always mean they've been coming round for Christmas or we share amusing anecdotes over bottles of Merlot, it just means that we have met occasionally and said hello during the eons we've been in the business. And when I say a long time... well, I'm old enough to remember Paul Cox coming into my office at East West with a cassette of PJ Harvey, Too Pure Records a mere twinkle in his eye.

As I stood at the bar drinking with the band, a short grey-haired man came up to them
"Are you XXXXXXXXX?"
"I thought you were great! I'm Andy Gill from Gang Of Four..."

It was a lovely end to the evening and one that consoled me as I sat swaying side to side on the nightbus as it weaved along the Lee Bridge Road. Now for that night in.

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