Sunday, 1 June 2008

Punch up in a hotel room

I'm standing in a hotel room drinking a bottle of Becks, watching a man and a woman fighting on the bed. The man looks a bit like the guy out of the 118 adverts and the woman is attractive but looks like she could do some damage. She pulls the man's hair from the behind so he is forced back down on the bed, whereupon she straddles him and slaps him hard in the face. The other witnesses in the room, standing alongside me and around the foot of the bed all cheer. What the hell am I doing? We'll get to that, but all in good time.

It's Bank Holiday weekend and I'm in Glasgow. That's dedication for you. Or stupidity. One of the two. Or maybe both. Yes, both; this is what being a manager is about, I think. It makes no financial sense to book a band to play in a far-off town for £50 and yet, if two, or perhaps three people, see them and think they're good, tell their mates ... Anyway, the band are playing their hometown this weekend and it's a good opportunity for me to spend some time with them, talk about the rest of the year and perhaps share a couple of air-punches over the fact that we've GOT GLASTONBURY! The holy grail of live bookings is ours, my friends! It would be nice to be able to claim that it was my own managerial prowess that snaffled this but the truth is, the band are making friends.

They were put on the Radio 1 Introducing Stage shortlist by Radio 1 Scotland's Vic Galloway and his producer (apparently called Muslim). This of course didn't guarantee anything. Every regional BBC show nominates its favourite acts for the stage and then a select panel of voters at Radio are given a USB stick full of 100s of bands to vote on. This latter bit of information was relayed to me by Steve Lamacq after I got back from Glasgow (a very amusing evening was had in his company, which I'll tell you about in another blog). He told me that alongside all the luminaries like him, Huw Stephens and the usual folks who work in Specialist (the evening shows are called Speicialist in case you didn't know - as if the DJs have no idea about pop music but could tell you a few things about Cheeky Cheeky And The Nosebleeds), alongside these people is Gary Lightbody - you know, the singer from much maligned but does-my-face look-bothered-with-all-this-cash? Snow Patrol. It would be nice to think we got the Scottish vote from Gazza but somehow I don't think he's heard of us yet. No matter, Steve definitely voted for us, as did Huw Stephens so I suspect that these two votes were enough to secure us our place in Pilton on the Sunday.

All this seems a long way away as I find myself at Prestwick Airport again, with its ludicrous purple decor and cheap scrawly logo with the slogan Pure Dead Brilliant written in six foot high letters on all the walls. What is that about? It's a popular Glaswegian expression from the 70s apparently and used in various TV shows. By this logic we should give Stanstead the slogan 'I Don't Believe It!' Apparently PDB sounds better if you pronounce it with the local burr - so 'brilliant' sounds like 'brulliant'. Well, that's that sorted then... Didn't anyone in the marketing meeting reflect on it being an airport so a large number of people there will be tourists who wouldn't know Big Ben from Ben Nevis, let alone any regional accents, and secondly, it sounds just as rubbish with or without adopting a Shrek voice. That's what Maddy now calls all Scottish accents by the way. Thanks, Mike Myers. Actually, let's be honest, the main reason this slogan is terrible is the use of the word 'dead' in conjunction with air travel - surely someone must have pointed this out to the Prestwick marketing people. Prestwick Airport: Your Life In Our Hands! In fact, someone needs to focus them on the Presley thing - how about Prestwick Airport: Fly The Mystery Plane! Now that would be pure dead brilliant.

I arrive in Glasgow after the 40 minute train ride, a route that includes a stop at the brilliantly named Troon. Not only is it the loveliest word but it also looks like the residents of Troon (just say it to yourself!) have a pure dead brilliant time playing golf the whole day. Cheers!

Tonight I'm staying in the Merchant City which is where the band are playing on Sunday night. Saturday they are booked to play at The Barfly and soundcheck is not for a few hours yet so I wander around town enjoying the perfect weather. Again, I marvel at the fact that I've discovered another previously unknown-to-me area of Glasgow - The Merchant City, who knew? Beautiful nineteenth century buildings, scrubbed up and sleek, full of boutiques and coffee bars and very stylish people. Why have I never heard of this place before? They need Preswick's marketing team. They'd probably give it the tagline 'We're All Doomed!'

Actually what it needs is Stonehenge's PR people. I remember once driving down to Wool Hall recording studio in Bath with Alex James and Stephen Duffy in the mid '90s. For some reason we were taking a scenic route, possibly the A303, which passes right by Salisbury Plain. Over on the right was the monument, so near that we could even see tourists looking at it. None of us had seen Stonehenge before and we all felt the same thing at the same time: it's SMALL. Alex, sparking up another Camel, flicked the Britpop hair out of his eyes and said, "Who does its press?". Whoever does it needs to do Glasgow Merchant City's too. My hotel The Merchant Lodge was just under £50 a night, situated in a lovely old tobacco baron's house, and literally around the corner from the main shopping mile Argyle street (with all the pleasure and pain associated with HMV, Marks and Spencers and Argos), whilst being deep in the peaceful sandy-coloured Merchant City. For all this, I still find myself in Fopp, ogling the racks of £5 albums, hypnotised by the temptation of endless cheap classic rock whilst mourning its loss in value.

The real meat of the weekend was the band's show on the Sunday night. They were playing as part of - and pretty much headlining - an event called Get A Room. This is something that has been going for about six years and is essentially a one day festival with the twist that all the acts are playing in the Brunswick Hotel in the Merchant City. Actually, there's even more of a twist to it that this, because the Brunswick is a boutique hotel with all the space restrictions you'd expect from 'contemporary minimalist accommodation' . So the main stage is on a mezzanine looking over the bar, there are acoustic acts playing up in the Penthouse Suite as well as more acts in the dimly lit basement. The audience are similar to the people who turned up to the band's Warehouse launch: all the women are immaculate in heels and strappy dresses, all the men have facial hair and look like they just got out of bed. Both sexes probably spent the same amount of time getting ready.

As I arrive, the band are seated nonchalantly outside. "Alright, Bro?" says Jack. It's an in-joke, one that even as I write it, I find myself laughing about. And like all in-jokes, especially on-the-road band in-jokes, it loses much in translation but basically the whole group now call each other 'bro' because it's a favourite word of their tour manager, the redoubtable George. George is a rangy, bearded man but has a voice in a register that seems slightly at odds with this demeanor. I can't describe the way he utters the word 'bro' other than identifying a little rolled R which is possibly an Inverness thing. Suffice to say, like any tiny observation, once pointed out it becomes magnified and thus funnier. The band are now exploring the other possibilities of the 'bro' word and are currently calling each other Broseph.

Tour banter always produces one or two catch phrases as well as games - Let The Bass Player Order First was one a band I worked with always played, based on the fact that their hapless bassist always chose the dish on the menu that looked least appetising when it arrived. Another game involved guessing band names from cryptic clues such as James Juggles Chickens. This is the only example of this game I can remember (maybe someone out there remembers more?) because the clues were so impenetrable. The answer to the James Juggles Chickens clue, by the way, is Jimmi Hendrix. Why? Jimmy Hen Tricks. See, easy when you know. I remember asking the band member who guessed this how the hell he managed to get it,"I've got nothing else in my brain." he shot back.

George is inside the hotel being important. The Studio Warehouse, which he co-runs, are doing the sound for Get A Room and he's been all day setting up three PAs in small rooms. We go in and watch the first band on - Ming Ming and The Ching Chings . Our Scottish promoter has recommended them to me but it's hard to get over the name. They're another example of the death of the good name (something I've written a piece about for The Guardian) and despite the fact that she's right, they would sound good on a bill with The Tings Tings and Joe Lean and The Jing JangJongs, it doesn't make them that interesting. Better are Sonny Marvello who are playing up in the Penthouse - they are doing an acoustic set and showing a healthy display of songwriting ability. It's good to hear some finely written tunes at events like this, where you expect most acts are going to exciting for other reasons - looks, quirk, performance. One of the acts in this latter camp are Lux who are up next in the basement. The female singer from Lux spends about 20 minutes before she goes on wandering around the venue in a figure-hugging gold lame jump suit. She looks amazing but this aesthetic success turns out to be inversely proportionate to the quality of Lux's music, which is a experimental keyboard dirge made by her and her shouty partner. Someone says it's their last ever gig tonight and it's not hard to think they've might the right decision to knock it on the head.

As I walk up the stairwell, Jack beckons me onto one of the floors of the actual hotel. Hello, I think, at last a crazy rock and roll sexy drugs party, here we go! "Have a look in there!" says Jack and directs me to Room 105 along the corridor. The door opens and I'm transported to another world, Mr Ben-style. We're in a tiny room, made tinier by the fact there are about a dozen people crammed into it. On the bed is the 118 man I mentioned in the opening paragraph with his sparring partner. There are several photographers crouched at the foot of the bed and assorted folk jostling for space in the doorway behind us. We are at an 'installation', a 'happening'... a live exhibition.

Once you get over the novelty value of watching two people pretending to have a fight, your mind starts wandering. What are we doing here? Why are we all so interested? Why are we being so quiet? It's all very strange and possibly pseudo-intellectual because after all, we didn't question why we were watching a shouting girl in gold lame five minutes before. The slapping and yanking continues. A couple of times they both fall off the bed and it becomes a comedy caper. You can even see that they are finding it funny. Then it's heads down again and the fight continues. Jack's mobile goes off as the couple slog it out. "Hello" he answers, "I'm in a meeting." The room erupts with laughter - more the laughter of relief than anything else, it is now beginning to feel weird. Suddenly, the couple stop and lie next to one another on the bed, panting. The crowd don't know what to do. In the end I start clapping and everyone joins in. Still the couple don't move so we start filing out. One of the festival organisers shouts from outside "There'll be another event happening in one of the other rooms on this floor in ten minutes!" I never find out what this is.

Back down at the bar, another band called Pooch are playing. They're pretty good but by far and away the main attraction as far as I'm concerned is the drummer - she's amazing. Best female drummer I've seen in years. She's helped by the fact that the mezzanine stage is lit from the back so the light falls directly on the drum riser. This makes her look like the focal point of the band and in many ways she is. She manages to absolutely play the heart out of the kit whilst looking immaculate complete with a triangular design on her cheek - a motif shared by the singer. The Swindon girl band have got a cool-looking, great drummer too but this Pooch girl is dressed like something off the Mighty Boosh, all 80s hair, silk dress, leggings and heels. Frankly it's a riddiculous costume that anyone else would look stupid in, but she manages to pull it off. If I had met her before and been asked to guess which instrument she played, drums would be down on my list next to dulcimer. After the show they claim to be massive fans of the Scottish band and ask if they can support.

By the time the Scottish band hit the stage, everyone is reasonably well oiled. Apart from me - the night before is beginning to take its toll. After the Barfly show, we had gone for a 'quick drink' and ended up having a odyssey sponsored by Tenants. It's all a bit of blur but I do remember doing a lot of walking, Jack getting approached by some girls to have his picture taken with them, someone falling over in a chip shop - not one of us, I stress - drinking pints in a converted church next to someone's half-eaten birthday cake and ending up at William's - where earlier he had cooked us all supper before the show - talking about Queen. Or at least I was talking about Queen. Not the Queen like last time - although I think we touched on her - but Queen the pop group. I think I may have said they were my favorite band of all time just to grab some attention. I got back to the Merchant Lodge at about a million o clock, went to bed, then got woken up a couple of minutes later by reception telling me I had slept through the check-out deadline. Why hadn't I booked for two nights? Don't ask, it's too tedious to go into.

Anyway, the band had carried on drinking after I left them and now fast forward to Sunday night and they're doing a show and are on searing form, whilst I am leaning against the bar and adopting a managerial frown. Because of the position of the stage we're all looking up at a 45 degree angle which is bizarre but seems to work for them - you can really see Robert on drums and Jack is pulling all the shapes in the book. Once again I feel suffused with pride at how good they are.

By the time the show is over and we've had a chat and another beer I am finished. I can't look at any more attractive people, I can't consume any more lager, I can't say anything of any interest. Also, it occurs to me, I am ravenous. I had a massive lunch at breakfast time and haven't eaten since. Fortunately there appears to be the best takeaway in the world just around the corner from the Brunswick so I say my goodbyes and wander off in its direction. I am tempted by the Haggis and chips but in the end plump for chips accompanied by a deeply red saveloy.

Down in London it's been raining all weekend, whilst up here it's 1am and still balmy as I meander back to my hotel. I am glad to be alive, pure dead ebullient.

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