Blog: Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark (Autumn 2011)

Was it all going to come together on the opening night?

23rd October 2011 | Juliet

We got to Cardiff on Sunday after a two day stint holed up in hotel somewhere and long disciplined days of rehearsals with choir and orchestra.

Was it all going to come together on the opening night?

Luckily Yates Wine Lodge in Cardiff had Sky Sports and was showing the City United match. The score made Jim very happy.

The venue was very beautiful, modern and grandly architected.

Classical concert halls are backstage mazes, it’s possible to go round and round in circles looking for where you want to go despite endless signage. Endless doors, floors and corridors, and genteel people to point you in the right direction.

There was a lot of concentration in the afternoon and lots of discussion about set lists which kind of have to be a bit less random on the night with so many people needing to know what’s on…

Despite the set list being fixed there were three set lists on stage, creating a minor lilt on what came next.

Tim did his walkabout thing during Fred Astaire…the crowd were standing at the front and it started to feel like a normal gig. Big blokes making their bodies into X’s, arms up and out, standing solid giving it some welly.

Tim danced a duet of sorts with his Five Rhythms dance pal from Wales.
And after the show smiley Neil from the old days wanted to know what the soup was. It was sweet corn chowder (wheat and dairy free).

Never been so fearful

23rd October 2011 | Larry

Never been so fearful before a gig as this one.

Mr. Negative was in full voice, what if they hate it? What if it all goes wrong? What happens if we FAIL?

I’m terrible company and avoid people; then 4 bars into Dream Thrum I settle, the orchestra come in on cue, the ending with choir in full flow takes the roof off the place. Mr. Negative skulks away, I give him the finger as he leaves and I start to beam, this fekkin WORKS!!!!!!!

Birmingham Essential Lobster

24th October 2011 | Juliet

The crew go very early. They kick off at 5am to make the show happen.

American Chris is back. He got a new tattoo in Rio. It’s awesome. It’s Shiva. He is lighting without strobes.

Soup is a spicy cumin lentil one. Saul has instigated hygiene notices by the bread. Please hold the bread with the cloth etc. This does and does not happen..

There is soundcheck and VIPs come in and there are questions…there are answers.

Saul tells the assembled that Waitrose in Crouch End now do Essential Lobster. (Not in reply to any question, just something he thought worth mentioning.)

There are lots of tweaking of arrangements and mini run-throughs going on here and there in multiple dressing rooms somewhere in the backstage maze again…

Two choir girls are singing harmonies with Tim.

And then it’s nearly time to go on…but where are the black shoes?

They are located and the show begins…it’s a long one going way past the 10.30 curfew….

Phil from The Twang called into the aftershow, and Nathan from Frazer King came too…


24th October 2011 | Larry

Chatting to the fans at the back gate afterwards, I get a chance to see what they really thought about the show.

Praise seems to be unanimous, no dissenting voices moaning about the absence of their fave song/hit etc even though that was a fear of some, all were convinced :-)

Larry’s lost both his G strings…

25th October 2011 | Juliet

Soup was carrot and ginger with a cinnamon undertone.

After the first bus overnighter Dave had two breakfasts. Full English twice. Top catering.

These classical venues carry a glut of pianos backstage. One in every dressing room it seems.The result is Mark is found plinking the ebony and ivories at any opportunity.… very nice it is too. Let There Be Love (…. a hawk and a dove ), some boogie woogie, and Mozart….and on request As Time Goes By

The band tried out two new orchestrations for Nottingham…the set is a-changin’.

During the gig Larry had dangling wires whilst having a spar off with David la Page in Why so Close. Yes, Larry was without both his G strings.

Larry paid tribute to John Milne/Paranormalhandy, a big James fan, dedicating Hymn From A Village…which Andy started up in the gods…

After the gig there was a big party at Nice and Sleazy’s chosen by the choir. Tim and Larry danced in the basement fog…

And then it was time to go to Nottingham…It’s an overnighter, again.

I challenge all your great poets and writers

25th October 2011 | Larry

Words fail me!!!

Scotland!! I challenge all your great poets and writers to find the words to portray the deafening noise that greeted us tonight.

Thank you!!

There is no soup today. There is sleeping and there is shopping.

26th October 2011 | Juliet

We are now parked up in Nottingham at the football stadium after our second night on the bus. The London boys have been dropped at the station and we are waiting to get into a hotel.

The bus is old and sticky, very sticky. The loo is worse than the Northern Line train to Bolton.

Saul is talking returning with rubber gloves and a large bottle of Cillit Bang (or Waitrose’s Essentials version?). We’ve just gone to Brian Clough’s exec suite in search of a usable bathroom.

Rooms are not ready yet but the nice people at the hotel agree to make us poached eggs on arrival. Finding a diner in the UK at ten to 11 is not easy. They bring us jugs of cranberry, orange, tea and coffee. That’s hospitality.

There is no soup today. There is sleeping and there is shopping. Today is DAY OFF.

Dave picks up some ‘3 for 2’ cucumber wet wipes to share whilst out and about in sunny Nottingham, and goes to see the movie Contagion….

Riders: Nurse Ratched, Nick Cave and Jim Morrison

27th October 2011 | Juliet

Saul would like to say that certain members of the band took on an appropriate elegance given that we were in the hometown of Paul Smith. He who is elegance personified.

We are now on the bus heading west to Liverpool for two nights.

Saul has returned without his Cillit Bang and is looking forlornly at the sponge by the sink. “DON’T go and see Contagion,” warns Dave.

Last night in Lookaway a guy ran on stage dancing and was pulled off by the bouncers. Tim went off stage to get him back in. The guy said he had been drinking like Richard Burton.

Riders was played for the first time on this tour. First time since 2007….This song is based on a dream that Tim had where he was with Nurse Ratched, Nick Cave and Jim Morrison. He told the choir as they tried it out in Glasgow.

James would like to thank the audience for being prepared to listen on the new arrangements and also knowing how to let rip and party on Medieval and Say Something…..

Larry said the Nottingham audience were the most in-time clappers so far….Big thank you Nottingham…

Can someone PLEASE get rid of that Vulture?

28th October 2011 | Juliet

Choirboy Ben of The Manchester Consort’s take on Liverpool I:

Still reeling from last night in Nottingham, we board what has become the ‘bus of dreams’ for Liverpool (nothing magical or mystery about it though) at RNCM – everyone is especially pumped about this one, it feels a bit like coming home for a lot of us.

For the first time on the tour we actually arrive on time (bus of dreams). Sound check goes well – we are loving the sound here, a great hall. Feels as though everyone is going to pull it out even more for this gig.

Each day it feels as though we’re improving, and connecting more with the band and the orchestra – communication is better (we can see each other in the choir, which makes a massive difference) and everything feels more immediate.

Got to mention the catering – food makes us singers happy, and I don’t think we’ve ever been treated this well! That counts generally as well, the band, orchestra, and crew are all absolute legends and couldn’t be nicer to us. It makes for some amazing performances when you feel this good.

There is a piano in our dressing room. Dangerous. We annoy the orchestra hugely (haha) with our covers of James songs – it seems to be the only thing we can play at the moment, it’s taking over our minds! Tori is breakdancing, Ellie is doing ballet. And people say we can’t dance…

There’s a massive fridge full of beer in our dressing room, but it is padlocked.

Dust Motes is a special one for us tonight – we return to dreambus singing ‘there’s a vulture…’ at the top of our voices.

We’ve got one more here tomorrow – we’re gonna miss you when you’re gone, Liverpool. It’s been emotional. Peace X MCRConsort

Residing at the venue for the day

29th October 2011 | Juliet

Soup: leek and potato

There was a big aftershow at the hotel bar last night. Lots of staying up chatting till the early hours. Orchestra table were on Pinot Noir… Andy Diagram and Joe Duddell chewed the musical fat till 7am…

Some fans came from as far as Barcelona and Portugal doing an overnighter in Liverpool via Salford. Ricardo combined birthday celebration with getting to see James live. Happy day….

There were friends and family from all over the North West and beyond..
And there were lots of comfy brown leather sofas to chill on. Thank you band-friendly hotel people of Liverpool. Sorry for keeping you up (all night).

So now it’s Saturday and we are out the hotel and residing at the venue for the day….so much time to discuss set list possibilities and the effect of shuffling a song…if you move that one this happens etc etc…. Time to rehearse and tweak arrangements, vocal harmonies etc…Mini rehearsals everywhere…and horizontal bodies napping.

Larry is slogging, blogging photos in wardrobe.

Meanwhile Vinny is organising a major card game competition in dressing room 2. Cross-legged on the floor he and anyone free gets to play.

The set list is finally organised. The Shining finally gets an airing 3rd song in and very beautiful it is too…

We travel briefly overnight on the bus to Manchester for a DAY OFF. See you Monday for more soup and stuff…

P.S. For Neil and others who care for soup: there are two finely tuned soups which have been forgotten in these manoeuvres:

Tomato and basil, peppery with a kick.(Nottingham)

Thai sweet potato (in Liverpool on Friday)

Also in Liverpool the juicer lost its nerve and blew a gasket…to the smell of burning plastic. (Now replaced). Juice of the day for American Chris’s sore throat: a fistful of fresh ginger, 2 whole lemons, 2 pears, 1 apple, small beetroot. He drank it and said “………….”.

Glycolactic what?

31st October 2011 | Juliet

My morning mission is to locate and purchase a Glycolactic Radiance Renewal mask.

Dave’s mission is to find the ultimate white shirt for stage, but not one that balloons out at the waist. Being a slimline low fat band, the fit of the shirt can be tricky…

We leg it down market street and do Selfridges, Harvey Nics, DKNY, Diesel, and despite many what Dave calls “almost“s, it’s just not there.

“Come on, keep walking,” says Dave, as we ascend yet another silver escalator into yet another stratosphere of consumption…jogging now, up the escalators…

I heard that rock drummers use the same amount of energy as a footballer in a premium league match. (source: Radio 4)

So how does Dave keep fit? This question has probably intrigued many of you.

Here are Dave’s tips:

1. Go to the gym on gig days. It sorts you out. Also do bench work and weights daily at home.

2. When not on tour, Dave goes running with his faithful hound on the welsh hills. Daily.

3. Juice a lot. Dave scattered some kale seeds and it took over. He has a power juicer that can deal with it. His flat leaf parsley crop is copious. He now plants his kale with more space… (tip: when eating greens, add lemon juice, it helps the body use the iron…)

4. Dave’s tour diet: Fruit in the morning. Then a mixture of cereals. Then yogurt on top and low fat milk. Then if still peckish some poached eggs on toast. Tea or coffee….(if it’s real cappuccino etc.) Pre sound check afternoon soup in catering, and bread and real butter dipped in aforementioned soup. During soundcheck a big juice. Proper with sour and green things and loads of ginger. It has everything that’s left in the veg and fruit basket…even the unwanted celery. Celery is good for you and all that…it runs on stage to meet Dave between songs. Dinner in catering. And a dash of pudding sometimes. Post show mega plate of carb rich pasta etc. Dave doesn’t drink much alcohol. Maybe a sherry at Xmas….

We have now walked/jogged about 3 miles through the streets and shops of Manchester…

Space NK has the Glycolactic mask. Mission accomplished. And ready to return to base camp. But Dave is still without his shirt… inspiration hits…Zara….”Hmmm,” says Dave. And there it was, the shirt for slimline drummers.

Dave will be wearing this tonight. In his fish tank. He would like some stick-on fish on the screen but so far none have been acquired. Instead there are ghoulish ghostly things… it’s Halloween..

Manchester Day 2 Tuesday

1st November 2011 | Juliet

Saul was in the dressing room resting and watching the Arsenal match. Meanwhile on stage the show was well underway. Then Saul realised he was meant to be on stage. The set list had changed again. Oops.

Indeed there were several set list versions on stage. Tim’s set list had two Medievals on it. “Now that could work,” said Tim later.

There was high security on the building.

Dave was ironing his new shirt. He put it on and found it had shrunk. Cursing, he then realised he had accidentally ironed Saul’s version of his new perfect shirt.

Peter Kay was at the show and Tim sang to him in Fred Astaire.

Earlier in the day there was an unveiling of the plaque at the Hacienda. The Lord Mayor was there and Lord Peter Hook. Apparently Jim is now allowed to drive cattle through the city every third Monday of the month (this may all be hearsay or a strange dream).

The lovely Rainband were in the Revolution Bar at the meet and greet after the unveiling. Their song about the rainbow was inspired by She’s A Star

The soup was Spicy Parsnip brought to us, like all the soups, in a bowl courtesy of Flying Saucers.

Today Lisa, one of the chefs, has been seen dancing the bamboleo bossa nova bolero shamanic dance of the kitchen to House of Bamboo whilst the butternut squash were being attended to. The resulting risotto was excellent.

During the gig Tim talked about his stalker. ”If you see anyone making a lunge let me know”….

In the second half there was a minor fracas with the removal of an over enthusiastic Mancunian singer (…James support MEN xmas 2010…) who had drunk a few bottles of Merlot too many. He later got back in and came to the aftershow via the bathroom window. Security glitch.

Next morning Tim is out and about in Manchester. He returns with the Manchester Evening News On the cover is Tim’s picture looking a tad fluorescent yellow.

As well as the headline “Student Midwife Stole Camera With Tragic Baby Photos,” there is the headline “James Star In Death Threats Ordeal” full story Page 3. There’s also a review of the gig.

Sara and Kokila (cello and violin)

2nd November 2011 | Juliet

A few words on the tour from Sara and Kokila from Orchestra of the Swan:

We’ve been on “Top of the World” for this tour; yikes…it really is coming to an end! :(

As Orchestra of the Swan, we’re open minded about creative possibilities, but this has pushed us further and we’ve revelled in “Getting Away With it”.

The band has encouraged us to embrace a freer outlook through expressing ourselves more individually in performance and dress…This abandon has resulted in an enlivening and memorable experience…the spontaneous approach means it’s a fresh performance every night.

“Boom Boom”: did you notice the S&M “Riders” in the violas?!..and Dave la Page (Leader) looked “Really Hard” in his sparing dual with Larry.

On the “Upside” the catered food is top cuisine so “Hey Ma”-I don’t miss your cooking, though the hotels have been pretty “Medieval”.

Oh, don’t “Look Away” when we play ’cause we improvise for two songs…so watch this “Space” and see if you can work out which ones.

…Off to get into our funky outfits so we can parade in the “Fairground”…”We’re Gonna Miss You” James, “when you’re gone”.

Sara and Kokila (cello and violin)

The Sage is known for its wonders

2nd November 2011 | Juliet

Breakfast in the big dining room that looks like the set on a Jack Lemmon film…the one with Shirley MacLaine shown on Sunday afternoons once a year.

The poached eggs come on a round piece of bread and the ketchup comes in a jar that says, with royal symbol, it’s fit for a queen. Outside the window are the royal gardens. There are swans and ducks that come up and say hello and ask if you have a snack. If only I had the discarded toast crusts from my circular toast….

Tim enthusiastically tells the locals that swans can break your arm using their necks. I move away swiftly from the scene keeping ulnas and radii well intact.

And we stroll on past the orangery where Lady Di was wont to wander.

So how did we get here?

Well only the other night we were in Gateshead. The soup had been pea and mint, and the risotto butternut squash. A local one of our party accompanied a moonlight stroll at 6.

We saw the splendid giant pod that is the Baltic, and the magnificent bridges across the Tyne….we even crossed the moving bridge as we circumnavigated the site. It all looked very pretty lilac and green lights shining across the waters…bit like big Chris’s lighting on The Shining.

The Sage is known for its wonders. It’s modern and purpose built. The staff are all enthusiastic and nothing is a problem. John Tweddle our liaison man even blocked off the smoke detector with a purpose built smoke detector blocker so that there could be the burning of the moxa.

The Sage has fantastic acoustics. The show was blessed with a wonderful audience including loads of James extended family some of whom joined us on the bus till the wee hours.

Meanwhile upstairs some of us slipped on our regulation James jimjams and it was over and out…

Finally we left for London on the sleeper bus. An 8 hour journey. We hit Crouch End in the rush hour for the North London drop and chugged on down to somewhere near the Albert Hall. It’s day off again….

The very royal Albert Hall

4th November 2011 | Juliet

So after a right royal breakfast there were meetings….

Being on this tour has brought a tight and disciplined timetable. In the morning there is usually Geography (where are we?) sometimes Philosophy (who am I?) followed by P.E. (gym/Pilates/yoga/swimming/reclining/strolling).

Sometimes there is press, or meetings (Maths etc). Then it’s Soup. Then it’s Music. Then Music again with VIPs. Then dinner, then Debate on the set list question. Gathering and counting. Do we have seven?

Then double Music (first half) short interval and double Music. Sometimes there’s more Music (extra encore). Apart from small seminar groups doing harmonies, there’s usually no homework..

Tomorrow is Day of the Dead in Mexico. Maybe our wonderful cheerful chefs knew this or maybe they didn’t. But today we have chili tomato soup. I detect Mexican chipotle smoky undertones. Later it’s an Italian rigatoni, and tiramisu with a ‘this contains alcohol’ warning. Saul’s warning on how to hygienically handle the bread is still there, but the baguettes look rugged and well manhandled by 6pm.

But back to the scene of the Albert Hall. It’s a round building; there are endless dressing rooms off the circular corridor. It’s easy to go round and round in circles just finding the right direction. More colour coding backstage, I say.

Dave sends a text. He is on stage soundchecking. ”Went to Crush. They only had 1 shot of wheatgrass left. Love an extreme juice if u doin 1.” Lisa gives me a bag of spinach. I juice the lot. It makes 2 inches of bright green slime in a pint pot. Add it to Dave’s juice, a cocktail of purple, orange and yellow vegetable matter. Add a lemon. It looks like a tequila sunrise having a bad day. The green sits in dots on the foam. I deliver it and walk away worrying what if Dave throws up? It’s extreme in its green….

Outside in the corridor someone is singing an aria, cos they can, I guess. There are violins tweaking. It makes me nervous when they amass a swarm of vertical violin bows in a tight corridor. So crucial delicate and ….er, snappable…

I am sewing a fine seam, well as fine as I can, and locating dry cleaning. Everywhere there is excitement in the air and questions of who got who when and where on the guest list. Did so and so get an aftershow, don’t forget the in-laws, is the family in a box, where are my sister and her bloke sitting? Is Tilda Swinton coming? Is Eno going to make it? Is there a good seat for Ed Harcourt cos he is definitely coming…and then Peter Rudge arrives just in time to check on everything….

Thanks to Thomas, Steve and Alice in production all is fine… And thanks to James’ faithful super-crew who work all hours the show is fine too.

Simon, Mark’s keyboard tech, is at the show. We missed him this tour as there were no keys to tech. Instead, daily, the grand piano was tuned by the tuner. Silence fell in the venues at 2.30pm as the keys were calibrated to be at their finest.

And then silence fell on the James with Orchestra of the Swan and the Manchester Consort choir tour….

Who knows what’s next in the Alaskan pipeline?

Must get moving on those designs for the his ‘n hers James jimjams. Daisy buttons or round…?

And finally a few observations from Mr. Gott…

“NB Orchestra of the Swan’s bass player, Ben, broke down near Oxford on the way to the Albert Hall. Desperate not to miss the gig and let everyone down, he hitched a lift on a flat bed truck along with his double bass. What a trooper!!!

“There’s a mirror with your name on…” The orchestra gave us a mirror inscribed with all their names, which is lovely and will be proudly displayed in my flat if I can get it home in one piece.

The Albert Hall crowd were amazing! They were stomping so loudly at one point that I feared for the structural integrity of the building – the earth moved!! What a fabulous end to a triumphant tour.

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