Thursday, 28 February 2008

A Night in Hoxton

Of course, having been an A&R man for a million years in the 90s, I know a fair amount of folk who still do it. And I went out with two of them last Wednesday for a Vietnamese meal in Kingsland Rd - no, not the predictable Viet Hoa - the much better Song Que at bit further along - check out the soft shell crab, it's crunchy, it's chewy, like a fishy Double Decker, you just don't know where you are!

As we ate, we discussed the ludicrous Guy Hands anti-A&R rant, which I won't go into here, suffice to ask: Is he the new Gerald Ratner? Someone asked me to write something about it for the Guardian so you can read my thoughts here if you like. We also talked about Kill Your Friends, which one of us had read, one of us was reading (me - I finished it later that night) and one of us wasn't looking at on principle. I'll get to it later but in case you're wondering I'm happy to eat my words - it's very readable. Damn.

After eating we wandered down Kingsland road to Hoxton Square to get to the screamingly fashionable Hoxton Bar & Grill. I don't think they do actually grill anything there apart from people trying to get in who don't look like Noel Fielding, but there is a bar and we walked past it, making for the entrance at the back. Then we realised that we were walking past a queue, not just any old bored line of people looking at their watches, no, this queue made loud noises, everyone knew everyone else - it was a queue almost entirely built from A&R people. We found someone half way down it to talk to - I hate doing that, it's like driving in the bus lane and nipping in front of someone who's been queuing up properly for hours. Still, it did mean we got in quicker despite everyone behind us muttering obscenities.

The band we were there to see are called White Lies who are four 19 year-olds from Acton. They used to be a band called Fear Of Flying, who I remember quite liking when I was at V2. They used to sound a bit like The Teardrop Explodes, an exuberant bass player and chunky chords backing a .. well, actually that's where it fell down: the singer, whose voice had all the back-of-throat Julian Cope mannerisms but without any of the character. Also they looked a bit rubbish. Mind you, at the time they had just done their GSCEs and had armies of spots marching all over their faces.

What has happened to their stock in the meantime is little short of amazing. OK, so the acne is gone, they have new management, partially new musical direction and new trousers, but FOF attracted a handful of A&R people who sniffed and left. White Lies on the other hand is wall to wall A&R - and not just scouts, but serious, swaggering executives. In the first 10 minutes as we stood waiting for the band to come on, I saw the A&R men who look after Snow Patrol, Kate Nash, Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Lilly Allen, Kylie Minogue, Babyshambles, Hot Chip and Corine Bailey Rae, plus managing directors and chairmen from Sony and Universal, not to mention cool labels like Nude, Fantastic Plastic and of course Moshi Moshi whose gig it was. Actually the headline act was Semifinalists, who I used to look after at V2 and on whose album I spent some considerable time working last year - did they tell me they were over in the UK doing shows? No, they did not. Artists, eh? Can't live with them...

Anyway, eventually, after what seemed like days, during which time the venue managed to cram in most of London and some of Japan, the lights go down and the band take the stage. They look great, it has to be said. Basically it's FOF without the puppy fat and all wearing black. There is also some serious hair going on - angular, foppish and sleek. They kick off with a song that goes on for days. In a parallel universe they are still playing it. It is stoppy-starty with long passages of single plucked guitar note over Peter Hookish slabs of bass. It's pretty good. The rhythm section are undeniably excellent, the drummer is not only a great player but looks - as my mate standing next to me, who signed Blur said - like Alex James. He's the star of the band. Which is the problem really. The singer hasn't really moved on from FOF that much. He still has the same Julian Cope meets Tony Hadley voice plus he never opens his eyes when he sings, never makes contact with the audience.

After the eighth minute of the first song, my mind begins to wander. I start playing Count The A&R Men which passes the time until song 2, which is much better. Well, much shorter anyway. They have obviously been listening to the Killers but also some of the things which the Killers were inspired by like Psychedelic Furs and The Cars - in fact as we leave later, I spot Ed Bueller the man who produced Suede and spent some time being in The Psychedelic Furs.

We're on our way to another bar where there is an aftershow for a fashion launch. It's like an episode of Nathan Barley tonight. Earlier in the evening, I'd bumped into my lovely friend Nicky, who has gone from sleepy-eyed, shy 20-something to running a very successful fashion PR company. She is hosting a Nudie Jeans launch in conjunction with Amnesty International in a bar along from where we had dinner. Through the windows, I can see inside the brightly-lit room, it's full of insanely young and fashionable types all jooshing around. I see my reflection in its flat cap and stripey scarf and long for a cup of tea and a book. "We're having an aftershow round the corner in The Macbeth," says Nicky, "You've got to come, the Cribs are playing - with Johnny Marr! The Horrors are DJing, there's a free bar ..."
"Great!" I hate the Cribs and The Horrors are unspeakably bad but Nicky is brilliant and well, free drinks, what could possibly go wrong?

Sure enough, that's where we end up. The Macbeth - or The Scottish Pub as I'm sure superstitious locals call it - is a refreshingly ungentrified East London boozer, Dirk or Squiggly or whatever his name is from The Horrors turns out to be a really good DJ and booze drinks are courtesy of those fashionable people at Nudie. It's an evening of lovely serendipity as well: I need a sleeve designer for my Scottish Band (no, I'm not superstitious about them, I just don't want to name them in the blog - I'm sure you'll work who they are eventually!) and I bump into Rob who I had been thinking of contacting but didn't have his number. Retts, who took pictures of my girl band is there taking pics of famous people for Nudie, I tell her the bloke who designed the stuffed animals in the Lightspeed Champion video is there but she doesn't seem impressed. My great friend Bakul is there too - she, Retts and Nicky all used to live together in her flat in Camden in the mid-90s, which became the unofficial aftershow destination. If she's not playing hostess, Bakul never misses a party. Most of London thinks her surname is Plus One.

I end up chatting with Laurence from Domino who I haven't seen in years (not since his label became massively successful) and he's still lovely. We realise we first met almost 20 years as I remind him of our Statten Island Ferry trip with Steve Lamacq during the New Music Seminar in 1991. "1990!" he corrects me. Bimey. It turns out he saw my Scottish band supporting Franz Ferdinand last year and thinks they're good. Funny, I realise for the first time what it feels like for band managers to hear that an A&R man 'quite likes' their act. Fortunately, having 'quite liked' hundreds of bands when I did A&R, I know that this is nothing to get overly excited about, it's a meaningless statement. But hey, Laurence likes the band! Hold the front page! Hang out the bunting! More champagne!

Eventually the surf wave music played by Faris Rotter (yes, that's his name, how could I forget?) gets too loud and the Cribs - with our without Marr - still haven't taken the small stage at the end of the bar so the three of us decide to leave. I give Matthew a big hug (an A&R bearhug as we call it) and then Michael offers me a lift to the tube station.
"What did you think of White Lies?" he asks, putting on the demo.
From my passenger seat, I tell him I thought the voice wasn't something I could imagine many people getting excited about. But you know what, who knows? I've just listened to the Myspace tracks and I'm warming to them. A&R's easy when you're not in the driving seat. That's why everyone thinks they can do it. Michael drops me off at Kings Cross and drives off home, mulling over whether he should put in an offer.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

A Cruel and Shallow Money Trench

Everyone is telling me that I have to read Kill Your Friends by John Niven. Well, when I say everyone, I mean a disproportionate amount of music business folk I’ve spoken to recently have mentioned it. Thinly-veiled real record company types make enough appearances to prompt those that recognise them into playing Spot The Mate. It’s a book about an A&R man written by an ex-A&R man and is set in the music business of the late 90s. It’s a book that I tried to write myself a few times and didn’t get much beyond the title, Scared Hitless.

I never knew John Niven – in fact, and this is weird, I’d never even heard of him until my friend Keith who runs an indie label and also writes fiction, mentioned that Niven had written this book. Now, clearly part of me is jealous and childish and wishes abject failure on someone who has not only succeeded in writing a book about the music business but has also managed to get it published, get a bit of a profile and get a 3 For 2 in Waterstones. But mainly, I really think the book on A&R needed to be written, a book that does justice to the madness and the idiocy of that part of the business which everyone thinks they know about – and now more than ever since the entire country thinks they are doing A&R when they watch The X-Factor.

So I was disappointed when I picked up a copy in Waterstones a couple of weeks ago and read the first five pages. I really wanted to find myself laughing or nodding in recognition and … well, I’m not going to unleash a torrent of scorn because I have yet to read the thing in full. This weekend, I was planning on doing just that but the Amazon package is locked away in some depot waiting for me to pick it up. Why didn’t I just buy it in Waterstones that day? Well, partly because I baulked at the tower of cliché in the first thousand words, I just couldn’t bring myself to part with cash for something so disappointing. It read like my fiction about the music business reads - like it was written by someone who is basing it on second hand accounts – the drugs, the laziness, the hopelessly untalented artists and the idiot managers. Normally when I write myself, I read back what I’ve written and think a large part of it is worthless but there are one or two good things which I’ll keep. But every time I’ve written about the music business it’s ALL junk; not a shard of originality or interesting thought. Normally the advice is to write about what you know but in my case it’s write about what you don’t know – the more into the dark I go, the better the fiction. Or so I’ve discovered, anyway.

The bloke who’s looking after the book I’ve written (not about the music business, but it does take its title from the Wire album, Pink Flag) initially read a chapter from my first novel and said he wasn’t interested in it; he had no belief in representing fiction about the music business. Funnily enough, the novel wasn’t actually about the music biz at all but it made enough references to it to bring him out in hives. “There’s no point in writing fiction about the music business,” he said, “because the fact is always going to be more interesting.”

And he’s right. Why make up stuff about how shocking and sordid and brutal the industry is when the facts are already brilliantly and hilariously in print in Hammer Of The Gods or The Dirt? Why tell a rags-to-riches story or vice versa about how it all went right or wrong, when you’ve got genius accounts like Black Vinyl, White Powder or Feel or Crazy From The Heat or Stoned?

Also, if I read that bloody Hunter S Thompson quotation about the music industry again I’ll shoot myself – everyone now seems to be using it in their email signature as if to say that, like Les McQueen, “it’s a shit business” but they’re wise to it.

Anyway, you can see where this is going can’t you? Bitter writer has a pop at successful writer in a futile attempt at claiming moral high ground. Notice though, that I haven’t even bloody read it. That’s like an NME writer saying he hates somebody’s record on principle because he objects to their trousers. Mind you, I think that’s pretty fair in pop – it is largely about the trousers.

But, listen, I promise to have read Kill Your Friends by next time, then I’ll either release a torrent of vitriol or tuck into my own words.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Papa's Got A Brand New Holdall

OK, I'll come clean. I was kind of overdramatising when I talked about fate in the last entry. But the interesting thing is, I suppose, how a large proportion of time spent managing a band turns out not to be on the Big Picture but on the really tiny things.

What happens is this: after breakfast - or as previously stated in my case, no breakfast - we load all our gear into the van. We left it in a room behind the B&B's reception after the gig and it's still all there: guitars, amps, bags... Then Charlie and I say goodbye to the girls, who have the long drive back to Swindon ahead of them. We are off to meet an old Web designer friend of Charlie's and later to go the studio where our other band will be midway through their second day's recording on the forthcoming single.

At the studio, the single is sounding amazing - particularly considering the tiny room they're doing it in but the owners there really know their stuff, they're trained BBC engineers who do this in their spare time - I must ask them why they call the place LaChunky, it almost undersells the place, as if it's some jokey voiceover room. Anyway, plug over, it's good, OK? The Web designer is amazing too, he's Travis' and the Fratellis' guy and has been doing Web design since 1994 - i.e. Internet prehistory. He totally reignites my belief in building bespoke Websites for bands instead of dumping everything on Myspace - plus, he lives in Byers Road which is full of brilliant 1950s snack bars and riches-laden charity shops.

It's still bright sun in a cloudless sky and we're walking in the vague direction of Glasgow Central Station in order to get a train to Elvis Presley Airport. Of course, it turns out that we're walking in the complete opposite direction, as I discover when we try to board a bus. The driver raises an Lanarkshire eyebrow at me and points to the bus stop on the other side of the street. It's always the same every time I come here, it's like Soho but on a city scale - I mean, in the same way that they shuffle Dean, Frith and Greek Streets around every couple of weeks, they do the same thing in Glasgow with entire portions of the city. Every time I come, Sauchihall Street is in a different place and Central Station... forget it, sometimes they put it in a different town.

So anyway, we manage to navigate our way as far as Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (too much space, too little to fill it with; a lifesize Elvis Presley sculpture next to a stuffed heron, anyone?) We actually go here so I can have a wee, loos in places of culture generally being better maintained. As I come back out onto the steps outside the building, Charlie's on the phone:
"A blue bag? A blue bag ... I don't remember, I'm afraid."
I remember seeing a blue bag go into the van. Phew, we remembered everything. We rock! I relax, making thumbs up signs at him.
"Well, if we've got it, yes, of course ..."
He let's his mobile arm flop down, the conversation is over.
"What's up?"
"We've taken someone's bag by mistake."

Now, this wouldn't have been too tricky had it not been for the fact that the band were now several hundred miles out of Glasgow on route to Wiltshire. And so the rest of our afternoon and evening became an odyssey of ludicrousness. The unfortunate traveller needed his bag (naturally containing passport, plane tickets, keys, small children ...) by Sunday so we'd have to get it up by courier. OK, not too onerous. And after phoning every courier company in the world, it transpired that DHL did an overnight service which cost about 50 quid during the week. Only trouble was, it was Friday and the office in Swindon closed at 6. Would the band make it back by then?

In fact they did make it back by then. Hooray! But guess what, DHL offices, don't accept credit or debit cards - only cheques. Yes, that's right, it may be 2008 but in DHL World, it's 1975. The band knew this though and brought cash. No go, they don't accept cash either, understandable, I suppose, the money could be stolen, or be novelty cash from a joke shop or maybe have a bit of dust on it. So we missed the overnight delivery. Never mind, we could still use the Same Day Service they helpfully provide at weekends:
"Certainly, sir ... Swindon to Glasgow you say? A small blue holdall? No Problemo! Let me see ... yes, that'll be £550 plus VAT."

Unsurprisingly, this service was more than happy to take my credit card number. I didn't give them the pleasure. Instead, we spoke to the B&B, forced the mobile number of the bag owner out of the afternoon language student on reception (this took about 30 minutes of concerted Slowspeak), spoke to the bag owner, who told us the hotel had agreed to pay costs, spoke to the B&B manager, who of course strenuously denied this on hearing it was a 500 quid situation, got more quotes from other couriers who were even more costly and then came up with a simple idea that I never thought would work but which solved all. We offered to pay a couple of the band's mates to go up and deliver the bag. In the end, it was Pauline, the band's personal Velvet Hammer (gets people to do things without raising her voice) who drove up with her mate Soph (the band's guitarist). They stopped off in Liverpool on the way back and painted the town completely turquoise, but that's another story.

So a happy ending of sorts: we gave some money to a far worthier cause than DHL and the gentleman, reunited with his bag, made the flight on Sunday. The B&B reluctantly admitted partial liability without fulling confessing to being idiots and shoving someone else's bag next to ours with no ID tag on it. I'm still disappointed with their uselessness and if I was a harsher man I'd write their name here so you could avoid staying there should you find yourself in Glasgow. Their showers were rubbish too.

I must say, though, as far as management goes it was perhaps our first 'get out of that one' scenario and in terms of thinking on our feet I think we're now well-equipped to deal with any future 'band detained at airport with massive amount of drugs and porn' situation. Bring it on!

Sunday, 17 February 2008

I'll have a Babyshambles ...

How nice to get all that response from people on the last post. Clearly, the anxiety of growing up in a young person's world affects more people than I thought. Mind you, I uploaded some really oafish pictures of me yesterday and that knowledge didn't make me feel any better. At least my daughter Maddy still asks me to be the handsome prince whenever we play Cinderella or Aladdin or whatever fairy tale is topping her weekly chart.
"Daddy, you be Prince Ali and I'll be princess Jasmine and then we'll get married."
"Great!" I groan, anticipating another lost half hour. I have to be the entire supporting cast in these productions, so my thespian talents are stretched to their limits but despite the plum roles of prince I'm given, I find myself warming more to playing the evil Jafar or of course, the Ugly Sisters.

Talking of pantomimes, our band supported Babyshambles this week. Relax, I'm not having a go at the Shambles - actually, the little we saw of their crew and the band themselves suggested a well-oiled machine rather than the train wreck the tabloids would have. Even the handful of songs I managed to catch live had a slickness which I was surprised and maybe a little disappointed with. I have to confess to never having seen them before but I did see The Libertines on a good number of occasions, including a heart-stopping show at the 100 Club and if there is an essence of rock 'n' roll, a spirit or whatever the more corduroyed-up music journalists write about, well, they had it. But Babyshambles seemed a little bit characterless. Maybe they were having an off night. Rock 'n' roll antics had been attempted the night before in their hotel apparently but crucially, not by them. The culprit was... get this: the support band's manager! No, not one of us, we were lowly first-on-the-bill band, it was the main support - a local Glaswegian group - whose manager decided that he'd found the essence of rock 'n' roll and indeed it consisted of throwing a telly out of a hotel window. Imagine that! A TV getting thrown out of a window in 2008! I mean, apart from the full-circle cliché (i.e. perhaps it's now so naff it's cool; seen as 'classic' band behaviour) a telly in 2008 is not what it was in 1971 or whenever it was that Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison or whoever it was that first came up with the idea, chucked one out of the Sunset Marriott. Back then, TVs were big and fat and most importantly represented something rarified and expensive. Now, your average Travelodge is more likely to have a flimsy plasma screen on a tripod from Argos; it would be like throwing a sheet of A4 out of the window. Rock and furthermore, roll. Anyway, Babyshambles' tour manager banned him from the venue and later - so the ginger singer from the group told me in our shared dressing room - the band sacked him.

The group were really nice guys actually. One of them, who looked about 15, on hearing me make some remark about Eisenstein (a director I know virtually nothing about) took me for a film buff and started enthusiastically explaining his Film Noir thesis to me and how he'd traced its roots back to Battleship Potempkin. He then went on to play a sublime version of Heart of Glass on his own in the dressing room in the style of the Proclaimers. What a chap!

Our band were incredibly nervous. And not surprising really, given that two of them worship Doherty and the band had never played in a venue in front of the 1900 people which Barrowlands holds. Added to this, the fact that ahead of the 7pm Doors time the entire crew, staff, management, and hangers-on were male, must have made them feel slightly apprehensive. Interestingly though, despite the fact that they are all very attractive girls, they were treated with the utmost respect by all concerned and I don't recall anyone trying to hit on them. I put that down to the exceptional personal management provided by myself and Charlie. Or maybe everyone there was just being really professional ...

Charlie and myself, despite almost 40 collective years in the business, were on a steep learning curve. Neither of us could count the amount of times we'd swanned into a large venue as the A&R man of the band playing and just hung out with our charges, making wry comments and looking at set-lists sagely. But this was completely different, there was no time for any louche hanging out because we were having to talk to the venue's sound man or the lighting guy (and, it turned out, having to pay them) or giving the production manager a floor plan and DI plan, or gaffa taping up T-shirts to the sales stand or indeed, loading in equipment and really quickly loading out equipment. "Is this ours?" I found myself saying repeatedly and not for the last time on the trip, regretting not stencilling our gear.

We'd bought champagne to have a belated celebration of signing the band but after two sips in our dressing room, I was summoned by a Shambles official to load up our gear again (note to self: get a tour manager next time). When I'd bought the champagne earlier, I'd found some four-packs of Babycham that I coudn't resist - I didn't know they still made it. Geoff, my other management partner, and I took a peak into the Babyshambles dressing room before they arrived to see if, you know, it was full of supermodels or something, and there was a disappointing array of pedestrian chocolate (mini flakes and crunchies) and dare I say it, fruit ... If I was them I'd get a case of Babycham on every rider.

The evening didn't end in the disarray you'd expect from five slightly tiddly girls many miles from home. We were all so exhausted that even the few of us who got taken to the Glasgow Arts School hip night out, only managed a couple of drinks before stumbling back to the the B&B. Actually I tell a lie, two of them managed to have it large and throw some pretty convincing shapes on the dancefloor. And they made it down for breakfast the next day. I got there just as the cooker was turned off and missed the deep-fried oatcakes.

As I loaded in the band's gear into the van that morning - guitars, amps, leads and bags, the one thing going through my mind was not to miss anything. We probably left something in the venue, I was thinking ... damn, we really should have stencilled our stuff. Shortly afterwards, fate decided on shaking things up a little ...

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Camden Leisure Pirates

Blimey, a whole week has gone since the last entry. That's how time goes when you leave your thirties behind. And as you know I left mine behind years ago. It's what everyone talks about when they get old - how the time flies. Strangely, you never hear about this when you're young, no one ever mentions it. Maybe they do talk about it but you just don't ever listen, it's just a noise in the background like classical music, advice about pensions and invigorating walks in the country. No, the only occasion time flies when you're young is when you're having fun - which clearly, you never are as much as they tell you.

Anyway I've been thinking about age a lot this week. It's to do with Esther turning a month old last Friday, I think - my years are beginning to weigh. It started on Tuesday as I was getting off the tube. I'd been catching up on the weekend paper - the curse of the slow-reader/father combo - and had just finished a really interesting Hilary Mantel review of two books about depresssion. As I got out of the tube station I was thinking about what the article had said - largely semi-praise of the first book, a study of how people too often get fobbed off with anti-depressants instead of dealing with route causes; and a pithy put-down of the second, some fashion jounalist's navel-gazing study of how she dealt with her own depression. She read every book she could get her hands on, she claims, citing Kierkegaard (died 1855) 'who lived a few hundred years ago" as inspiration and having a go at her therapist's dress sense.

So, out of the station I come and bounding towards me comes a really attractive young girl in a Samaritans T-shirt. "Hello, have you got a couple of minutes?" comes the gambit. It is, of course, a charity rep who wants my sort code and bank account details, I believe the common term is Chugger (charity mugger). Normally I would have smiled apologetically and muttered "terribly late, sorry ..." in Guardian reader style. But this time, partly down to her attractiveness but also because I was thinking about depression, I stopped. She was elated and smoothered me with gratefulness. I later learnt that it was her first day as a Samaritans rep and I was the first person who'd stopped for her. In her excitement about this she said, "You know, you really remind me ..." and here, time stood still as I imagined what would come next; who would I remind her of? A mystery guy she'd met on holiday who she'd never seen again, a celebrity? an ex-boyfriend? No. "You really remind me of my best mate's dad!" she squealed. My face must have said it all. "Oh not in a bad way or anything! ... he wasn't old," she back-peddled furiously, fearing the loss of a potential customer, "he was good looking and everything ..."

So this is what the Samaritans have come to, I thought, actively going out and randomly depressing strangers on the street in an attempt to drum up business. The thing is, I do look older than I did. I think I was blessed for quite a while with looking younger than I was and now suddenly age has caught up with me. It doesn't help managing such young, attractive musicians. When we were out with the girl band before Christmas, for example, the digital photography was coming thick and fast and I inevitably ended up with a bunch of pictures on my phone, full of the sort of drunken revelry you'd expect when you go to Christmas parties and the booze is free and you happen to be in your twenties. I showed them to my wife and it was all going well until we reached one featuring me. I am looming up towards the camera, clearly thinking the 22 year-old female guitarist's prettiness is reflecting well on me. This is not the case: I look like a fat, balding regional DJ. "Christ, do I really look like that?" I asked. My wife, who is from the Bronx and doesn't really muck about when it comes to straight-talking, was uncharacteristically reassuring, "You just look a bit drunk, that's all."

"But… but … it's worse than that! All my features have been moved around - I look like a Picasso picture!" Etc etc. In my defence, I was very hungover and beginning to get The Fear.

"Honeybaby," said my wife, upping the longsuffering tone, "you've taken photgraphs of me which are much worse and I AM good-looking."

Incidentally, my wife is not arrogant or an airhead and doesn't have any of the negative traits that you would normally associate with people who proclaim themselves attractive. No, she just knows that she is good looking – and she is. How brilliant must that be! To KNOW you are attractive? I have good days and bad days and I bet that's pretty much the same for most people. I still have days when, to quote Joe Jackson, "I kid myself I look real cool" And as you get older you have more bad than good days, until, I suppose you just don't think about it anymore. It stops bothering you because you become invisible to the opposite sex.

My friend Andy, whose office I share, admits to having been through his midlife crisis already. Last week he told me that he had sat on the sofa the Saturday before, flanked by his wife on one side and his 5 year old daughter on the other, eating apple crumble and watching The One And Only. It crossed his mind that his younger self (the one which once shouted to me at the Reading Festival "Let's do all the speed we've got left and pretend we're the Clash!") would have pointed and laughed. Now the crumble/sofa interface is the height of sensual pleasure for him. Me, I'm still undecided.

At least the age thing hasn't hit the heights of my mate Russell, who whilst always having been the most eccentric man I've ever known managed to top even himself when I saw him on Thursday. I was talking about booking a recording studio for our Scottish band and how much it would cost per day (about £200 if you're interested, A&R-spotters). Russell said to me, "Imagine the peace you'd get in there - no noise from neighbours, no phones ringing, perfect air-conditioned silence - I'd pay 200 quid for that."

On the other end of the scale, I got a call from David, the man who cuts the remainder of my hair. He's a very well adjusted 40 something who after having given his flat to an ex-girlfriend finds himself flat-sharing in Camden with another guy his age. He's loving it and leading the life most of my generation only witness vicariously on Skins, Mistresses or sometimes it must be said, Scarface ... His flatmate phoned him up last week and asked if he could borrow his camera. "Sure," said David, "it's in my room - but why do you need it, you never take pictures?" "I'll show you when I get back!" he replied. When David did get back, his flatmate, who'd been up for two days with no sleep and, as we dads say, watching a bit too much Charlie And Lola, presented David with his camera. It contained a large collection of images of his girlfriend in various states of undress on David's pool table. After having phoned me up to tell me this story, he later texted me asking me if he should keep the images on his camera as his flatmate hadn't erased them ...

I was in Camden myself earlier in the week (not far from the Hawley Arms as it goes, which I have to admit, I never knew was a celeb hangout until the news reports about the fire started describing it as such; I'd always assumed it was a no-go tourist trap on the one way system, but that's what eulogy does, eh?) Anyway, I was in the Lock Tavern meeting a friend of mine, Phil, who manages bands too. He's been managing bands successfully for several years and I was hoping a bit of his luck would rub off on me. Anyway, we drank pints and talked about the changes in the music business - a typical Camden conversation - and then he went for a wee. I sat by the bar and having just had a pint was feeling expansive so started a conversation with the twenty-something guy behind the bar who was wearing a Joy Division T-shirt. Here's how it went:
Me: I saw them live when I was 13
Him (Seriously unimpressed) Yeah?
Me: Yeah, it was by accident, supporting the Buzzcocks - I didn't think they were that good to be honest - all that elbow-waggling and stuff ...
Him: (laughing out of politeness) Right
Me: (Now almost without the will to live) Funny, how they're seen as so brilliant isn't it ...

I realised half way through this that I was this old bloke sitting at the bar recounting war stories that the dudes still fighting don't really want to hear. I felt a fool - like Howard Moon talking to Vince Noir about jazz when all Vince wants to hear about is the Human League.

Still, at least I'm still trying. I'm not - in the words of The Mighty Boosh's Howard Moon again - dressing like a "Camden leisure pirate", or pretending to like bands that do nothing for me. But you know what, I can't help liking a lot of stuff that only young people are supposed to like and if that makes me look like someone's best friend's dad then so be it.

So anyway, the questions still remains, did I sign up for the Samaritans? The answer, I'm sure you'll be glad to hear, is yes. And strangely, just as I was putting pen to paper I heard a voice say, "Hello Ben!" and it turned out to be my old school friend Luke, whom I hadn't seen for ages. And that, I suppose, is one of the benefits of getting old, you amass friends who turn up at moments when you need them most. The girl tried to get Luke to sign up too but I don't think she was his type ...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Rock-tography, If You Will ...

So, it's February already. And it's the 3rd, just to dispel any thoughts that I may only be writing this on the 28th of each month - something which a couple of you pointed out. Actually, I faffed around so much doing the introduction page that from the date I first wrote it (27th Dec) to the date I published it (28th Jan) was exactly a month! Nations waged war, a million stripy blue plastic bags went to landfill, Christmas decorations were boxed and atticed and, oh yes, my wife gave birth.

My mum's birthday yesterday. I take everyone out for a meal at Zizzi and we give mum a digital camera. It prompts the usual response that anything modern gets from her, "Oh how extravagant..." Massive pause. "Will I understand how it works?" There is no easy answer to this - she is always surprised when I explain to her how to operate the Sky remote control and claims to be hearing the information for the first time. I hope she uses the camera, I really do; she takes so many pictures and seems to be the sole justification for Boots keeping their developing service going. It's now almost a pound to get a reprint from a negative! That's like her insisting on buying vinyl albums in Berwick St instead of paying a fiver for the CD. Of course there's something lovely about old fashioned prints, just like there is vinyl; I still use 35mil film in my SLR camera just as I will occasionally splash out for a beautifully packaged album in Selectadisc (should I buy the Nick Drake vinyl reissues, by the way?). No offence to Esther's beauty and photogenic quality but mum's personal paparazzi of our newborn is so constant that surely something more economical is a better idea.

So anyway, we're sitting in Zizzi and I'm enjoying the Spaghetti Polpette (which is still repeating on me like an episode of the Two Ronnies) when my phone goes off: it's Jack from the a band from Glasgow that we're looking after. I take the call and walk away from our table. I tell Jack I'm interrupting a birthday meal with my mum and family to take his call. Jack, your classic frontman - possessed of a charm that lets him get away with cheeky frankness, says "Well, Ben, I don't know whether to be impressed with your dedication to the band or disgusted at the lack of respect for your family ..." And so we have a discussion which quickly covers tour plans, the single release, and possibly meeting in Glasgow on the 14th Feb when our other band supports Babyshambles. "What about Valentines' Day, though Jack," I ask, "surely you'll be out candlelighting it in some eatery?” "Nah," says Jack, "my girlfriend's decided that Valentine's is just a marketing scam - isn't that right, darling!?" I hear him shout over to her. In the background I make out a distant, resigned, "Whatever."

That's the thing about pop music - it seems to prioritise itself; it eats everything in its path. I leave my septuagenarian mum on her birthday and spend 10 minutes on the phone, Jack considers a night out with his stablemates instead of a Valentine's evening - not to speak of me considering going up just when my wife and I should be having a celebratory Valentines night toasting our newborn.

Later, when we're having coffee in a tearoom. I need to make another call. My good friend Retts has gone Swindon with her cameras (both digital and 35mil, photography fans) to shoot the first proper photo session with our girl band. Fine weather was forecast and outside in London, the sky has certainly been blue all day. It bodes well. "How was it?" I ask
"Pretty good, "she says, "Apart from the fog."
"Oh no!"
"And the snow."
"You're joking!"
"Nope. Oh, and they came dressed like The Wiggles."
It turns out that Retts is pretty confident that she's got some good pictures and the band - who are, it must be said, very photogenic - were really cooperative and friendly.
I speak to my partner - not my wife, my business partner, Charlie and tell him the good and the band news. We managed to laugh about it, which is, I think, the point of business partners. We finally got this band to sign the management contract the day before so we're both on a bit of a high. By the way, in case you're picturing us in swanky lawyer's office surrounded by gold discs and photographs of the grinning lawyer with his arm around surprised-looking celebrities, wipe that image from your mind now. We signed it in the kitchen of the keyboard player's parents' terraced house, looking our on her dad's shed surrounded by family photographs - her mum as a girl in black and white, her parents' wedding day like a still from Life On Mars ...