Blog: The Gathering Sound Stories (Spring 2013)
A Stirling performance
12th April 2013 | Juliet
The band have been writing some new songs and living in a house together for a few days using the Tolbooth as HQ.
My day started at 6. Train was packed with commuters to Bury and long distance to Edinburgh. The man with the cold across the aisle sniffed heartily and wiped a lot. Moved up a few carriages and watched the rolling lake district appear, heading north. Never take a cold into a tour.
Soup was Mexican bean with lime juice, made by the man at the café across the way.
There is a lovely castle in Stirling-a fine Scottish town. There is a bagpipe shop across the road.
The Tolbooth space is for 200. Sold out packed out. Some new songs played. Audience right up close. All good.
Enough top bunks for all who want one
13th April 2013 | Juliet
Glasgow is not far down the road, but the one way system meant a long scenic taxi ride round Stirling to the tour bus parked up by the Albert Halls. It’s spacious, and enough top bunks for all who want one. We get to the SECC for soup. Wilf and Alex are cooking for us again. It’s spicy tomato today.
Then a lot has to happen in not enough time. Sound checks, run throughs, choir checks, VIP sound check bit, and questions and answers from the 80 VIPs. The laminates got delayed but they are coming (soon)…
The SECC is enormous. 7000 people. Lots going on. Tim said he was being deafened and had a strong urge to run off stage. (He didn’t.) The choir did their thing for a run of songs.
Big aftershow many familiar faces-Saul’s mates as he lived up this way for a while. Oh and here is Dean who used to be Tim’s minder. He is tour managing Echo and the Bunnymen.
Back to hotel for a snooze.
Newcastle…small room big ironing board
15th April 2013 | Juliet
The venue at Newcastle is a bit squashy backstage, dinner at the back of the hall. Soup was spiced lentil and veg.
The VIP passes have arrived, and in the corridor they are hooked up to their lanyards. Kerry has sent them on to the 80 VIPs from Glasgow already.
Tim’s wedges gave him a much better sound to work with. An aftershow on the balcony bar. Dave’s mate Geoff the DJ was there being extra exuberant.
To sum up, “the dressing room was very small. The ironing board was very big,” says Jim.
I am Ron. (A Day in the Life of Ron the Keyboard Tech)
15th April 2013 | Juliet
Hi. My name is Ron and I am the keyboard and trumpet tech for James. Although this is my first official tour as a tech, my connection with James commenced many years ago when Saul managed and produced my then band Unkle Bob. I played keyboards in Unkle Bob and we supported James on their 2008 North American tour. However, I was also convinced to set up the drums and keyboards for James on top of driving the RV – it was a real baptism of fire. But a lot of this UK tour has been an unknown for me – in fact I had to e-mail Juliet to find out what I should wear!
Yesterday was our first day off which involved remaining in my hotel room, directly opposite St. James Park, while watching the rioting Newcastle fans below throwing glass bottles at the police.
Today is Monday and we’re at the Newcastle O2 Academy. The morning is quite relaxed for the backline techs. The tour bus picks us up from the hotel at 11am and drives us to the venue. Once the stage is ready, local crew with ten times my strength lift cases up the ramp and leave me to assemble the complex keyboard rig with its web of cables and queues of pedals. One wrong connection and the whole thing will explode. I move on to the trumpet rig and meticulously tape all cables up nice and tidy. Then it’s lunch made by the great Wilf and Alex.
Once set, the band arrive for sound check and fingers crossed, everything works and all is in the exact same position they left it in from the show before. Kerry the Production Assistant makes sure we’re supplied with set lists and cracks the whip if we’re doing things wrong.
It’s show time and all goes to plan tonight. No exploding amps or falling over microphones. It’s a successful show as far as the techs go.
As soon as the show ends, we pack down as quick as possible and the local crew return to load the truck. We then go to the tour bus for some after show sandwiches. I climb into my bunk with its own light and power socket and travel through the night to the next venue.
Days are long as a tech and you have to pay very close attention to detail however it’s very rewarding when the band play a great show and you play a small part in making it all work.
Sheffield in springtime
16th April 2013 | Juliet
Dave wore his new spring white shirt and the sun shone in Sheffield today.
The venue was squashy and smelt curiously of horse.
But the soup was so good that the recipe is here (thanks to Alex).
For those who don’t know and are new to this, the day for the band usually starts again at 3ish with soup. There had been a micro photo shoot and some listening to mixes on the bus and receipt sorting, but not much action till the afternoon. Matt tour manager has his own office on the bus, a bothy upstairs with deskette.
Thai Sweet Potato Soup (not suitable for those who don’t like coconut)
4kg sweet potatoes
5 medium white onions will be OK
1 head of celery
1 garlic bulb
Big piece of ginger root
Lemon grass, about 4 sticks
Red curry paste
Coconut milk, 10 tins
2 litres of vegetable stock
Roughly chopped fresh coriander, big bunch to serve
Limes x6, juice of, add at the end
“Sweat it down in olive oil, add the coconut milk and stock and boil, add lime at the end and blitz,” said Alex.
This makes approximately 2 buckets of soup. Adjust quantities accordingly or feed the street. The soup is vegetarian – fish sauce or other life forms have been avoided.
So there was a soundcheck, and then the VIP soundcheck with questions. Then EATB did their soundcheck and their show.
Meanwhile Tour manager Matt, waiting for Tim to find some lyrics, has a flashback of school disco and has an 80s dance moment.
The football was on in production office. Bulldog clips were collected.
The ever shifting set list of James was sorted and the ironing board, which was folding, was put up for shirt action. Tim made a backing track for the auditorium, found the words, got them printed, had a kip and then it was showtime. The swap-over of bands is very short. The Chinese medicine nuts are brewing in the cup on the side. Put in the ears and attach them, threading the wires firmly with blue bulldog clip. Not too tight and not too loose. …………The head must be free to move.
Tomorrow we’ll have a guest blogger. There will be no recipes.
Translated, the lights live in space ships
17th April 2013 | Juliet
Ben has worked for James for the past four years as lighting crew chief.
He can’t type fast but is an award-winning lighting technician so…
Here we go…
Ben’s day In Bristol…
“Woke up at 7.30, which is late as usually it’s 5.30am to mark out the stage at 6. We had a smaller show today. It’s a theatre.
“But today was a good day, because we have a full arena sized show into a smaller venue which is podtastic. The lights in the roof are in pods, and we’ve got 8 pods to keep all the lights safe. They have homes like their perches. These pods are so versatile that on this whole run they adapt at each venue so we can either hang two, four or eight, or just one. They are all individual.”
Ben is so in love with his light situation he beams as he describes this wonder of the universe …
Translated, the lights live in space ships.
‘Are you a climber Ben?’ I ask. “Yes in real life too. Yes, I have to climb to focus the lights for the band during the show.
“This involves a harness, full body harness with lots of gear. I’ll be on dimmers or front of house with Chris who is our lighting designer.” (Chris plays the desk pinball style.)
“It’s go go go all day then show time, then go go go until we load the trucks for get out. Then we’ve got to stack the boxes high, four wide and two high, nice ‘n tight to fit it all in.
“My job is a jigsaw puzzle and I have to put it together everyday, and take it down and put it away to come out to play again tomorrow. The crew are the puzzle builders. But we can’t do it without Alex and Will who are cheftastic.
“I work with Jon my dimmer man, and Chris the lighting designer, as well as local crew to help us put together the puzzle.”
Thursday was day off.
18th April 2013 | Juliet
We came from Bristol to London in the big bus.
We ate noodles.
19th April 2013 | Juliet
There has been a lot of tweety talk of trousers and under-trousers. And I suggest a shopping trip as we are in the shopping capital of the UK. But such plans are thwarted, as Tim wakes with a sore throat and needs some very specific Chinese herbs to help this. Could I find Watermelon Frost, and pop out and get it? I scour and scratch the internet and phone a few Chinese herbalists…
It’s 11am. Jim and Larry are outside the hotel waiting to go and do the Absolute Radio interview with Pete Mitchell. Saul can’t make it as Tim’s replacement, as there isn’t time cos he is home in north London hinterlands. So Jim and Larry will go. Jim suggests I go along as a stand in and tell a few anecdotes. Yeah right.
The very tricky Watermelon Frost is located not far from Leicester Square. We take a cab, zooming along Kensington High Street and the Albert Hall. Deluxe shops smile at us and there we go past Lady Di’s old stomping ground.
Last times James played London we were with orchestra and choir and Joe Duddell’s arrangements at the Albert Hall. That was 18 months back.
But today it’s Brixton Academy, which used to be the Astoria Cinema a long time ago, and is a beautiful art deco building in the heart of Brixton. But that will be later, now it’s China Town. Soho.
Tim pops upstairs for a herbal consultation with the ‘professor’ and I pop downstairs for a 10 minute shoulder rub while-u-wait.
This shoulder massage starts with some alarming pressing on the lower spine. Fearing an imminent spondylolisthesis I stop her mid track. “Er, enough of that,” I say to the girl with the white coat since removed and now wearing a skin-tight, brightly squeezed minidress in zigzag patterns.
A good pummelling pinching and hacking of the shoulders follows. Better. But why the New Look dress?
Meanwhile upstairs at the shop counter, the bill for the herbs is settled. They seem to like the cash upfront here. Another assistant comes down to help with the weighing and counting. She is dressed in a mini too. And long socks and high heeled shoes. She is the auxiliary. The chief weighing lady takes a white mask across her face and weighs and counts things out in packets for Tim. We look on amazed. This is the second amazement following the naming of the three-figure sum for the herbs…
Tim points out the interesting posters on the wall. A lot of it seems to be about men’s potency issues. In fact this place seems to have taken that as its theme. It’s all about Herbal Male Tonic which can help “man’s best friend … quick results with no side effects after taking” etc. Crikey. There are also some posters of a tank demonstrating its gun in various positions. You will have to imagine, as Larry does the photo blog and he wasn’t there for full documentary footage.
Wrapped in cellophane there is a purple package which is said to contain Rose Star Toning Pants. “What are they?” asks Tim as if I would know. The writing is all in Chinese and there is a picture of a man in black shorts. I take it down off the top shelf in the waiting area but am none the wiser.
The weighing and counting continues.
And then we are off with the wonder drugs in a black cab to Brixton. The cabby is playing a radio station where they are doing a country interview. Tim is getting involved in lyric analysis. There is talk of living in a trailer park and some racy words of kissing boys or girls. “Is that allowed in country songs?” asks Tim.
Then The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down comes on and the cabbie turns it up and we sing along. …I don’t mind a choppin’ wood but I care if the money’s no good just take what you need and leave the rest but they should never have taken the very best…… Memory is a strange fish.
Virgil, now that’s a good word. Then Mark Bolan takes us to the seventies…
In the corridor Tyrone suggests some ginger and honey drink. Ah yes, memories of the cold venue in Portugal one autumn evening, where the crew nearly took a turn with frostbite and it was ginger and honey drinks that kept them alive. An old but effective remedy used in the Himalayas when the sun has taken his hat off of an evening.
Soup is cream of mushroom and an option of no-cream version. There is chicken soup to ward off a cold for Tim too.
Brixton is being ‘backed’ and I head out down Coldharbour Lane for some items. Handkerchieves are found in Morleys. A shop like the old days. Like going down Bon Marche back in the late 60s. The helpful girls on the perfume counter tell me where I might find some Weleda and I head off past the market. Brixton is alive and kicking, sounds and action spilling out of the shops. It’s vibrant and I suggest to American Chris he pops out for a wander. “Maaan it’s craaaazy,” he reports. (Chris says this anyway whatever’s happening, but it’s good to hear him say it today.)
Back at the Academy the soundcheck is on.
They do Alaskan Pipeline with Ellie but the song doesn’t make it through to the set list. The soundcheck has a few questions.
Kerry is sorting out the wardrobe. There is a plastic sword (telescopic) in there, an iron, the black suede shoes, Dave’s outrageously immovable weights (which he is wont to pump with some bicep curls just before going on stage), and assorted wires, Marks melodeon wrapped in a towel with gaffer binding, many shirts, a T-shirt that belongs to nobody, and some turquoise socks that Tim grabs in passing, “Oh I wondered what happened to those.”
Anyway it’s all tidy now. There are named drawers. It says ‘herbs’ on the top drawer and ‘weights’ and ‘shoes’ and things in lower drawers. Old wiry coat hangers are shed along with bits of wires and broken bric-a-brac.
So now I can locate the Chinese nuts at the drop of a hat.
The dry-cleaning comes back wet. Damp waistbands on trousers. The hairdryer is on full and the production office becomes a steam room. Kerry is sniffing the trousers. Yes they definitely smell of dry cleaning fluid.
Dave Brown the lyric-meister and one of James’ biggest fans forever, has helped Kerry to sort all the lyrics as he knows better than anyone what all the songs are called. There is now a big file of songs with Post It notes on them announcing their titles. Kerry has organised everything. There is talk of lamination, and a big folder with lots of words in lots of different fonts.
Vinny has arrived and wants a piña colada (no rum) for old times’ sake. We go and try to find the coconut. Vinny asks whether the coconut milk will be fresh. Alex promises coconut for tomorrow and I promise to get the juicer to press some apples later, when the band are not exceedingly busy getting changed and ready to go on stage in the juicer room/dressing room.
With the possibility of fresh juice and a cocktail tomorrow, Vinny decides to stick by my side and help with running up and down the stairs for about half an hour. We run to the tidied wardrobe and run to production, we run to the bus, we run to production, we run to catering, we run with some lyrics, and we run to get a canister and we run and get the packs. One for Andy one for Tim.
Andy gets his and Tim gets his own attached and I apply the bulldog clip.
Later it transpires the pack did not work. That’s kind of serious. Anyway the gig was good despite this major hitch.
Smiley Neil is in the dressing room with his Mrs and asks, “What soup is it?” (See above.) He is smiling. He even says it was the best James gig he’s seen in 20 years and smiles again.
Peter Doherty’s new manager is there. We chat about shiatsu around the world and clicking spines. Then just as he is leaving he adds as an aside to me, “…the trousers……………?”
“Shlumpers gets that.”
20th April 2013 | Juliet
Vinny had promised to be guest blogger today, but was very tired on Sunday after assisting TM assistant Kerry with the VIP guests and attending the gig. He is back at school today and so his blog is on hold for another day.
Meanwhile Jim and Saul sang Don’t Wait That Long opera style at soundcheck in honour of Il Divo and Peter Rudge.
Went for walkabout round Brixton. There was a wig shop and shoe shops with crocodile slip-ons and shiny red brogues… A wig was bought… there were some good sounds on the streets.
After the show Vinny found some Heinekens when none were available at the aftershow, and brought them to the bathroom where Jim and Dave were hiding behind the ironing board. “You can get £400 an hour as a tour manager” said Vinny. “Shlumpers gets that.”
Mr Hat has arrived
22nd April 2013 | Juliet
Saul is on the 5-2 diet. 5 fags and 2 coffees.
Kerry ate squid. She went green and was sick. She had to stay in Bournemouth.
Steve got off his tractor and left his organic farm to come to the gig with Marion. They didn’t know James but loved it.
Tim got a tweet from a woman saying she didn’t love it and during the show was thinking about defrosting a chicken.
Everything went well on stage, gathering sound all round…
After the show Tim chatted to Neil and his mate for hours and ate fruits of the forest. Blackberries, raspberries and blue berries. I did the wardrobe packing. The iron spilled water. The shoes are in the drawer. The nuts are back. The gaffer is there in the nuts and herbs drawer (needed near nut time).
There is only one overnight journey for the band on this tour and it’s tonight. Bournemouth to Leeds.
Set off at 1.30am. Beyonce blasting something about what to do if you like it. There is staying-up till the wee hours in the lounges and upfront.
6am parked up. Driver break. Chris our driver promised not to leave me behind. Scenes of Peter Kay series “The Services” flashed in the early services.
Back on board woke at 8 in Leeds. Too early. Mega truck being unpacked, endless massive flight cases hurtling down the slope by a crew called Usual Suspects. Tyrone directing it all.
Found a Costa, got cappuccino and a tall white for Chris Lights…
Had a chat to Mr Hat.
It was like Stars in Their Eyes – or Platoon – depending on who emerged
23rd April 2013 | Juliet
Tuesday, 23rd April by guest blogger Dave Swallow…
You know when you wake up in the morning and everything is as it was last night. It’s a nice kind of feeling. The world is in order, the stars have aligned and you are ready to take on another day. You open your front door and head off on whatever adventures that day bring. Stepping off a tour bus in the morning is not like this. Usually in an unknown location, and depending on your luck, you’ll be presented with one of three scenarios: a car park, which is most preferable, a wall, or oncoming traffic.
If you are presented with either of the last two scenarios there will usually be other pavement users involved. Staggering off a bus all blurry eyed, with bed hair and breath, other pedestrians swiftly pass judgement as you scan up and down the street for some vague clue as to where you might have to go. To save too much embarrassment, darting into the closest open door works well. This can lead to all sorts of complications though, as walking into the office block opposite wearing your pyjamas, with a toothbrush protruding from your mouth is strictly frowned upon.
Touring is a bizarre lifestyle. Sharing what is effectively a germ-filled dorm with 10 other hairy men and women is not my idea of glamour. This kind of glamour is usually reserved for elderly, reformed-alcoholic convicts with sleep deprivation on medical trials.
We weren’t using our touring PA system today, so from a sound point of view, the day was going to be fairly easy. My bitch, who others know as Mark, set my console up as I gave commands from the safety of the catering area. Which today is located on the balcony above the main dance floor, so I can look out over my sonic domain. I don’t think they did that on purpose though. Apart from the odd rumour about some lights not working – and that’s really not my department so I really don’t have a clue – the day was smooth.
We tried out a brand new song in soundcheck, which the band seemed to be happy with. I would have liked another run through to try to work out how to mix it, but nevertheless, I got my chance in front of a packed Leeds Academy later that night. Joy!
The show was great, and I think the mix held together really well despite the different PA system. I found the house PA didn’t have the same depth and warmth as the PA we have in the back of the truck. It was a different sonic experience, but the audience loved the show. A bang tidy setlist got the boisterous Leeds crowd under control. Apart from the chatter going on at the bar behind me from time to time, which sounded like a flock of seagulls in a multi-storey car park, and made the mix quite difficult to hear during the quiet songs. I had to retreat into my headphones and mix from there for a couple of songs. Anyway, it’s all about providing the right sonic experience by any means necessary.
I popped up to the VIP bar after the show, the band were taken up talking to friends and relatives. I noticed a man who was dresses as a parody of 1987. His trousers had graffiti all over them, a white leather jacket and shoes that could kick a snake in the arse. I was a little perplexed by this vision before me, so crept back to the dressing rooms.
Behind the main dressing room is the corridor of dreams. An unventilated, sealed, smoke-filled corridor dedicated to those that smoke. Every time someone opened the door, it was like Stars in Their Eyes – or Platoon – depending on who emerged from the dense grey mist. Now that is what I call Rock ‘n’ Roll!
P.S. The mystery man is DJ Jazzy Geoff….see earlier blogs….
More people want a photo with him these days than Mr Booth…
Vinny’s Eaton Mess
25th April 2013 | Juliet
Brummie Thursday by guest blogger Vinny Davies.
Dad (that’s Saul to you) had a day off and came home to London after Leeds.
We came up to Birmingham from London on the train, with Mark, on a family saver ticket which cost £18 for the four of us. Then we got to the venue, which smelt of sick in the corridor and there were too many doors, so many doors.
I helped Kerry to do the meet and greet for the VIPs. I handed out the leaflets.
Then we made a few smoothies and I made one for Saskia as well. And then, well this is a bit later on, but Mel and me went outside and had some rosé. Then Mel went back in to get her things. Dad was doing the soundcheck.
I had some really salty codfish while I was watching the soundcheck. My lips were stinging all night long.
Then after that we broke the juicer but it wasn’t actually us, the juicer couldn’t take the carrots and stuff. It made a horrible noise and smelt of burnt toast.
I helped Alex make the Eton Mess for everybody… I made the double cream and put the meringue and the berries in, and he put them in the cups, and he put the forest fruits sauce on it.
Saskia was trying to take care of my sister Mia, but Mia was slapping people and being really annoying.
During the gig I sat next to the – what d’you call him? – Scotland manager Gordon, and gave him my setlist and talked to him about Scotland. Then I went to get him a beer and I got Mel a black vodka and Coke.
Then after the show went outside with Mel again to get some air, the dressing room was too stuffy and full of people. I could barely breathe.
When we went back to the hotel Mia was being really annoying again. I slept on the floor on top of a mattress.
Then it was breakfast. I had a plain croissant and a yogurt, and a sausage and a boiled egg.
Now I am on the tour bus going to Manchester. Jules is typing this for me…
Postscript from chef Alex, “So Vinny didn’t mention that whilst he was whisking the cream with the electric hand mixer one of the whisks broke and covered him and the walls and floor with cream, his face was priceless… He is a good assistant…”
I felt like Ginger Rogers…
26th April 2013 | Juliet
It had been a busy day. The breakfast club met in Birmingham, joined this time by Mia and her highly energetic entourage. The quiet businessmen pretended everything was normal, as they nibbled their croissants and tweaked their phones in this fine French brasserie breakfast hotel scene in uptown Birmingham.
Soon we were all aboard the big bus heading north to Manchester. There was a lot of traffic and we got a bit delayed, meaning that a tight schedule was to become even tighter.
The Manchester Evening News Arena is a big one. The finale. The hometown. There was a lot of excitement in the air and lots of double checking of everything.
Mr Hat had called by, offering Tim an extra pack for his belt, just in case. Tim refused. One will be enough. I attached Tim’s in-ears and applied the stretches. Then ran the Chinese nut drink on stage. In the corridor the film crew were capturing Jim and Larry approaching. Oh blimey I don’t want to mess up their shot. Too bad – it was inevitable.
I didn’t see much of the gig as I was doing a shift at the Rock crèche. But when I went up side stage near the end I noticed a familiar face, Mr Kay – no one knew he was gonna be there – and said “hello.”
The band had started a slowed down version of Laid. “Aw nor, it’s too slaw….” (sic) said Peter, and together we waltzed a wedding dance on the dark side of the stage. Then he started to dance forward, and I backwards. I felt like Ginger Rogers… Then as the tempo flew up to an upbeat Laid, Mr Kay saw a spare guitar and made a plunge for it, heading centre stage with one of Larry’s finest.. I made myself thoroughly invisible fast.
What followed was a stage explosion………captured on a thousand iPhones.
There is an added unspoken charge to the day…this is our cup final
26th April 2013 | Jim
Friday 26th April, Manchester. The day starts normal enough, with a civilised three hour bus journey from Birmingham. Everyone doing what they always do, cups of tea, sorting out guest lists etc. But there is an added unspoken charge to the day. The unwritten rule is to stick to routine and try to contain the emotion by avoiding the elephant in the room. The whole tour has been building to this; this is our cup final and try as we might to suppress that fact, inside we are all very, very aware of it.
The soundcheck is shambolic which probably helps. We have a choir for tonight which means a little extra work and focusing on the songs they need to do, plus we have decided to film the gig. That sounds simple enough but it actually means we have a ton more stuff to do. Matt our tour manager has handed out very detailed schedules of what exactly everybody is supposed to be doing and when, but already we are behind and our 5.30pm cut off is rapidly approaching. We do what we can and kind of know things will be okay.
I get well fed in catering and head off to the bus to lie down for a while. I don’t sleep but close my eyes and try not to think. I get up in time to catch the second half of The Bunnymen’s set. I like coming out into the gig before the show, it takes some of the nerves away.
Back to the dressing room to get changed and do last minute preparations.
The first song is Lose Control and I don’t play on this, so I watch from side of stage. Next is Waltzing Along started by me and Dave, so off we go. A few biggies then my amp blows up. It’s not the first time it has happened and I usually deal with it with true Jim Glennie stoic calm, but tonight it really throws me and I make small mistakes as a consequence. Not that they feel small at the time, they feel huge. Each one a bear trap I keep falling into. It’s a bit like taking bad acid, where suddenly your whole world turns from sunshine and lollipops to darkness and fear. I don’t play on Why So Close and the four minute ‘time out’ gives me a chance to re-group and stop ruining the gig for myself.
It works, and from there on in I can do no wrong. I’m relaxed and having fun. Probably more so because of where my head was at less than ten minutes ago.
We have a typical ‘James’ moment at the start of new song Moving On when we can’t work out how to get the song started. We eventually get it going with the help of a bloke from the AA and a set of jump leads. The song doesn’t seem to mind though.
The set ends with several big singalongs and an unrehearsed flamboyant guitar solo from rock legend Peter Kay.
After the gig I drink too much champagne and go and hug everyone in the aftershow.