Blog: Soup en Été by Jules & Co (Summer 2014)

Through the big black back door

28th May 2014 | Juliet

Through the big black back door gates and straight into dressing room, then soundcheck at the Electric Ballroom.

It’s grey and dreary and it’s drizzling in Camden.

Helpful bloke from Essex who opens the huge black back door gates lends me his brolly, as I pop out to Acumedic for some Chinese packets against ‘wind cold invasion’. “No we can’t let you have any,” says young woman in a white coat firmly. She cannot sell me this without the patient being there…’s the new law. OK.

Soundcheck. There are some new crew. Nick is there, as is Ron. But it’s mostly a new team.

Next it’s time to head to the BBC.

Outside Broadcasting House an idea is being discussed and planned by the BBC people. It involves musical chairs played by the fans while the band play Sit Down.

It sounds like an idea from the panel at Perfect Curve from the very brilliant BBC comedy W1A.

Someone needs to have a word.

Radiohead wouldn’t play hide and seek now would they?

In the Green Room within the BBC, the walls are dressed with hundreds of framed photographs of our hosts Alex and Matt either side of the stars. It’s a pantheon of stars. Dolly Parton’s blonde luminescence, smiling like an angel, lights up the space above Saul’s head. While to the right, Miss Piggy and Kermit share a frame. And each of the Stones beams out at us.

Star sandwiches abound. Oh look, there’s Chris Martin. We admire the ever youthful Mick, to the left, sandwiched between the ever smiling couch experts. And there’s Ronnie Wood, and the other one, then Charlie.

A sign on the table piled with triangle sandwiches says ‘There is a Veggie Option in the Red Fridge’. The fridge is huge. It’s bigger than my kitchen. A solitary cheese and chutney sandwich sits on the middle shelf alone.

Larry tsks….

But Larry has a new guitar neck, it says #LeaveALittleLightOn…

Now this was the advice from Peter Kay when going on holiday. General good advice….oh and the words from a James song…

Anyway, now it’s time to do the V.I.P. launch and return to the Electric Ballroom.

Tim is doing his big time extreme stretches pre-gig workout, and Jim and Saul come in asking for an urgent word re: the chairs.

“We are not doing that are we?” Referring to the musical chairs… Sorted; it’s a no.

As the V.I.P. people come in and the soundcheck goes on, it’s time for the food run. Miso soup with lids survives from across Camden High Street and boxes and boxes of hot food options for Tim are piled on the table in the splitter van. Hold that gravy.

Dave dives in to the superfluous sweet potato smash. Or is it turnip?

Dinner on the move, then back to the BBC, back to the star studded Green Room where a make up lady is preparing her brushes. It’s a short time till take off, and immediately it becomes clear – the dawning realisation that we have the shoes, we have the undies, but we don’t have the bag. The bag of all things necessary… I leg it down the stairs and out into the BBC square, where people fold their bicycles before heading in and out from the BBC offices.

Phew. Lenny, our driver for the day, is still there in the splitter van and keeps chill through the London rush hour. Is that Sophie what’s-her-name with those Zara bags? Could be… I hear a few stories of stars and the adventures across the busy high streets of London, but far be it for me to say a word….

Now a big red London bus has just broken down and is abandoned there in Camden High Street. Bit of a kerfuffle with the traffic, then zoom to the big black door, up four flights of stairs, grab all known things relevant or not, leaping back down rickety stairs past the crew who are grabbing a quiet pre-gig moment. Then back to the BBC try to get through a complicated layout of revolving glass doors and frontage, nearly getting chucked out for not showing a pass, and leg it to the Green Room where all is calm.

Ahhhh. All is quiet. All is peaceful. The bag is delivered.

We watch couch chemistry on the mega screen.

The band go off, and appear almost immediately singing that song.

Tim is interviewed by the couch chemists sitting to the left of Alex and Mark, who like his jokes.

Then all aboard for the next bit….back to the Electric Ballroom.

Then the gig….. Saul talks about Romulus and Remus during a lull.

It’s the encore, so time for a quick whizz round and tidy of the dressing room. The Assorted Cheeses are let out of the fridge so it can be relaxed for the band’s return….

Notice all bread gone. Locate crackers from late night store via Sweeney new TM.

Peter Rudge arrives and asks if everything is OK. All is well. There are crackers.

There is an aftershow at the back, upstairs in the bar, and in the smoker’s yard / alleyway Smiley Neil is there with his Mrs. It was Miso, Neil…. Miso.

Takk is the word

13th June 2014 | Juliet

Takk is the word to know in Norway. It means thank you. And takk it was. We all had a lovely time in this beautiful land.

Bergen is in southern Norway, on the left side, across from Oslo which is more on the right side.

Bergenfest is an outdoor festival in the town centre beside the beautiful fjords, and it is held under perfect bright sunlight. Lots of bands play. Tonight Simple Minds are headlining and James are on late early evening in the land of brightness.

But now we are at Manchester airport, missing Larry. He gives me a buzz to say he just woke up. After a bit of blue-light-driving down the Parkway by his emergency paramedic pal, he is spotted with croissant and a coffee arrived. Phew. Full complement.

Until recently Bergen was accessible by ship travelling across from the upper east side of the UK. Now it’s flights only. Aberdeen is a hop and skip by plane.

Meanwhile the Manchester team come in via Oslo which is a bit of a detour, and the London team have been travelling since dawn.

The town of Bergen is stunning. Lovely old colourful buildings with picture book roofs are everywhere, in amongst the more modern styles. There are old tumbledown quaint painted wooden houses tilting in a row beside the water. Lots of glistening water and soft swathes of tall dark green trees stretch for miles across the other side of the fjord.

It’s been an early start for everyone. Drummer Dave is awakened from his nap by ‘Dillinger Escape Plan’ playing extreme loud rock on the stage outside his window. It’s time to head down to the site anyway. Tim is preparing his voice….

Larry is located side stage in a big white tent that he thought was the dressing room. He is playing on borrowed guitars and has left his pedal in the bag in the big white tent. But its all alright on the night which is bright for a very long time. Days are long in summer in Norway. The sun goes down as midnight approaches.

And it’s all go. The Norwegian audience loved it and somehow knew all the words. One review said there was constant hodenikking and hostevrikking. Unfortunately even Google Translate couldn’t deal with that.

The encore is Laid and all is well.

Mostly I spend my short day in Norway going up and down in a brass plated 1950s elevator, dealing with an array of things including a bit of button trouble. {(ref. sleeve attachment braces Victorian-style.)}

The lift is packed with groups of international tourists, including a group of Japanese people with paper cups of boiling black coffee. No lids makes this precarious. This never happened in Jack Lemmon films but the general feel of the hotel had an air of New York in the sixties. To go up you press OPP and to go down you press NED.

Breakfast was beyond international. With three types of melon, all known fruits, meats and fish including every which way with herring and a prawn in jelly, and a brown goats cheese slab.(Dave Angel from the Fast Show would have had something to say about that.)

Breakfasted, the Aberdeen party and the Manchester party left the party. Sweeney waved us off, barefoot in shorts, from the hotel steps. Goodbye Sweeney…Temporary TM.

Our next TM does Whitesnake. Saul sings a full version of Fool For Your Loving (all guitar and basslines included) while the driver pointed out significant sites and spoke of the cod liver oil industry from the old days of importing the stuff to the UK.

And then we were at the airport. We came home via Copenhagen. A lovely airport with stunning architecture like a white cathedral in one area, and a fine bakery where we sat for 5 hours while they found a new plane as ours was broken. The array of black breads become quite fascinating after several hours. We buy some, and one has 1000 seeds and another one has no bread in it at all. It’s called Paleo Bread, made of seeds. Crikey.

Dining in a UFO over the Danube

21st June 2014 | Juliet

Over to Nick, James’ drum tech and stage organiser:


Without the brutal, skull melting schedule that most of us were faced with in order to get to Bergen in Norway last week, we all met late in the afternoon for a very relaxed and civilised trip to Slovakia for the City Beats Festival. Then straight out with some of the gang to the picturesque local hostelries for a spot of ‘culture’ before bed.

For me, the recurring theme of the next few days began on the Ryanhell flight with a talk to Tim about the videos for Frozen Britain and Moving On, which led onto the first of several discussions with others about what the image of the human skull means to different people, especially in a James context. It provokes a wide range of reactions as usual.

I have had a lifelong affinity with the symbol since winning an art competition at the tender age of five for my painting of one!

I love the new album artwork theme very much. I occasionally design record sleeves and would have been chuffed with myself to have come up with ‘La Petit Mort’. Some just see Heavy Metal/Rock connotations, which is understandable but when you look beyond that, the skull is your oyster!

I don’t think that anyone will get the idea that James are a death metal band because of this grinning, flower and butterfly strewn profile. What do the readers think?

That same psychedelic, flowery, smiling profile looked down on us from the video screen the next day, as we set the stage on the gently lapping shore of the famous and romantic Danube (which is more green than blue).

After a textbook setup and soundcheck, we were elevated 85m into the air for our lunch at the precariously appointed UFO restaurant. As I tucked into my rubbery monkfish, I could not help but dwell on the level of quality control employed by Bratislavan architects and builders behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s! And whether chefs of that era would have cooked this rare deep sea delicacy quite so thoroughly!!!

Showtime was upon us and apart from Jim’s bass amp displaying its fragile mortality, it was a great hour of old and new songs which a lot of the audience seemed to know very well judging by their knowledge of the lyrics.

Considering James have never been here before that’s always a bonus!

There was a great mood on this trip (not that there isn’t usually a great mood) but maybe the watchful eye of ’La Petit Mort’ had an influence and reminded us all of the difference between the fun we have in this business we call show, and deeper reflections on life and death!

So there we were, all at sea.

5th July 2014 | Juliet

Larry took control of the situation and led us away from the bowels of the ship. This was our mutiny. We weren’t up to staying on the bus, below the water line, in the dark, no power, no lights, no way out… It was 2am…the rest of the band and crew lay sleeping.

The nice lady at nautical reception said she only had a four berth so Larry bought the dorm. Room 429, said the key card, and ‘Everyone Deserves a Break’.

‘A ship crossing in the small hours is what rock n roll is all about’ was TM Matt’s quote, but he wasn’t here, having just organised it this time. Tim, saving his voice for the big week ahead, also missed this adventure and was holed up in a hotel pre-flight to England.

Perfect boat building engineering gave us two wide shelves, creating quite wide bunk beds. Larry delighted at the design as he unfolded the second shelf for me and attached its ladder. We even had our own bathroom and shower and a window with a view at dawn of the heaving seas. Some people pay huge sums of money for such an adventure. It’s called a cruise. This was a James mini mini cruise. The bar was still open and Chris went for a scoop.

So there we were, all at sea. It was the small hours of Monday morning. on crisp white linen semi-comatose for 3.5 hours as the good ship returned us from Ireland to England.

It’s been a busy few days. First there was the Berlin do and then a trip to the Emerald Isle for two festivals, one in the forest surrounding a country house in Bray, and the second in the historic town centre of Waterford. For both, the weather could have been better, but the audience remained determined to enjoy and party regardless. And Mia and Vinny returned for this trip and got their photo taken with Paloma Faith.

Down amongst the trees in the grounds of the country house, Paloma and her band covered Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ which was very groovy and very singalong. I explained to Ana the effect of extreme high heels on the gastrocnemius muscle/shape of the leg and she said she would give it a go. Then we headed off into the night to Waterford where we woke beside the river near the big historic tower. The sun was shining. The crew were already constructing.

The riddle of the missing butter on the rider has finally been solved. Irish Kerrygold is the business and has Larry’s full approval. ‘I Can’t believe It’s Not Butter’ is a complete made up fib, and if anyone offers you spreadable spread/butter, just say no. It will be contaminated with things non-butter-worthy.

This was proper touring again, sleeping on the bus, but there were two hotel rooms to share between everybody for showers and chilling.

Waterford day-trippers

6th July 2014 | Juliet

We spent the time between soundcheck and gig in Waterford dodging rain by watching a Sunday matinée in room 210, where, lying on the floor, Jim led the TV programming to Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando. It made our night-crossing seem like a swim across a paddling pool, compared to what those hefty sailors had to endure. We missed a major part of the story while we dinnered at the hotel, but it was easy enough to catch up. The mutiny led to some chaps in a boat with not much to eat. Finally they found land, and some found love. In one memorable scene, an islander lady in a towel/white sarong got a bit cross with her Navy Captain chap, but they resolved it in the end. Then someone decided to set the parked ship alight. It was quite an epic.

Suddenly it was show time, and then time to go time….driving north for two hours to get the boat back to Blighty. Davo ate some crisps. ‘He eats crisps,’ someone said. ‘Just crisps.’

It was only yesterday that Tony picked me up at Dublin airport and took me for Green Eggs and Ham at the hip shabby chic diner, The Fumbally. There, salsa music played and Spanish waiting staff kept perfect posture, delivering scrambled eggs with avocado (= green eggs) and Chorizo (= ham) on toast, or veggie brunch to trendy Dubliners. Reminisced about days spent in north India in genuine shabby hole-in-wall diners, eating food that everyone warned us not to… In those dizzy Himalayan days we paid 10 pence for a potato paratha and a smeared plastic pot of chilli chutney. “I’d pay 20 euro for one of those now,” he said cheerfully.

Then through Dublin where the streets are fast changing, to the St. Stephen’s Green area Dylan Hotel where the band stayed after Berlin. Lights Chris arrived beaming from America, having taken 3 days to get there due to a hurricane on the East Coast.

Somehow it all came together. This time the bus did not explode (see August blog 2013). New songs were played, and Mark’s keyboard blew in Waterford at the beginning of the set… Apart from that it was plain sailing.

Come Home

11th July 2014 | Juliet

Early start to Manchester to find some items. Manuka honey lozenges and 3 boxes of special Japanese organic twig tea were bought. Manchester was steaming. The hottest day this year again. Perfect weather for an outdoor gig. Let’s hope it happens this time.

Castlefield Bowl is set off Deansgate by the canal and the Y Club. It’s only recently that big gigs have been put on there. It used to be a venue for Manchester International arts….a place for African and European circus performers to launch themselves aerially, and the people of Manchester to enjoy cultural spectacles on summer evening.

Now SJM are putting on a few gigs. Pixies last night. James tonight. It’s a top location in the sunshine…

The setlist had to be altered so that there were not too many high notes. Couldn’t do Interrogation. Couldn’t do Don’t Wait That Long as planned.

Blossoms and Starsailor supported, warming up the packed bowl.

The set list said “Walk Like You or Sit Down if Tim’s voice was fXXXXXd”. In the end Walk Like You got through.

A team of blokes were spotted wearing T-shirts with assorted lyrics on their backs. Each shirt was a different colour. Who were these men? Larry has a photo. Were they each wearing their favourite lyrics or what?

The soundcheck happened midday and Tim arrived at 1pm to go through a few bits and see if his throat would hold up. Would it be all right on the night?

And it was.

“The hometown crowd was brilliant as ever,” said Jim to summarise.

Some people had travelled from America, Canada and Italy.

Someone was up on the railway bridge giving it some – arms waving on Sometimes… It looked dangerous. It probably was. It was a long drop down against the Manchester skyline.

Bumped into Smiley Neil by the front barrier… No soup today, Neil. No time for such things. There was bangers n’ mash, veggie banger option, and that was about it.

There were two encores ending with Johnny Yen who set himself on fire again…

Next there was a little do at Barca, and then it was time to get back on the bus and head up to T in the Park.

T for 85,000

12th July 2014 | Juliet

It was a short drive up to T in the Park. Woke parked up on the site. Grabbed a cup of tea and headed out early as the site was waking up to Saturday…

This is the last year it will be held in Balado because a gas pipe runs under the site. Oh dear. So next year it will be held nearby at another site.

At our dressing room portakabin for an early stretch waiting, for everyone to wake up. Pharrell Williams’ dancers were doing dance workouts on the grass outside. They had their own village backstage…lots of people lots of space.

Tim arrived for his first uber stretch-out of the day. Then it was interviews and things and the crew sorting everything out on stage.

Tim took his Chinese medicines and had a pint of fresh pressed carrot, beetroot and ginger juice, prepared on the table next to Gideon’s computer and printer with only one small splash on a recharging blackberry and a keyboard. It made an intense grinding sound at the fresh ginger overload, and was deemed unsafe for further action.

Gordon Strachan and his wife arrived on site, and came to the dressing room to say hello.

“Susan Boyle is watching Dad play at T in the Park,“ Dave’s daughter facebooked. And so she was. Up in the VIP gallery front row, no less.

Before long it was time to go on stage, where 85,000 people are in the vicinity.

Tim was gargling and throat-spraying right up to lift off, and I dashed off some Chinese nuts in a cup for the best throat solution known to Timkind.

The security got a bit overenthusiastic about Tim’s safety when he got in the crowd, but apart from that there were no glitches.

Later a group of us headed to watch Pharrell Williams. The dancing was groovy. The music was funky. We were Happy despite the pouring heavy rain. Tim got called away to check the tv footage.

And then it was Paolo Nutini, but after 2 songs we had to go and get on board the bus and do the third night onboard, this time heading south to London.

My Bountiful Laundrette

13th July 2014 | Juliet

We have just done three nights on the bus. We are a bit crumpled up, and now in London at a hotel where we have to wait as the rooms are not ready. Jim says being on the bus is like being in prison as there is no space. Jim likes space.

Some crew and band members are to be dropped off in London, leaving 8 of us to overnight in Euston before tomorrow’s flight to Athens.

Downstairs Larry is giving discourse on the word meme , its origins and derivatives, while others are appearing from bunks upstairs trying to work out where we are. We are near Crouch End and there is a drop off any minute.

Now we are waiting in the Victory Cafe near Euston, a proper cafe from the sixties where the TV is tuned to Italian news, the ceiling is original and the tables are formica. The man returned the TV to English and now James Martin is doing something with chicken wings….

American Chris had ‘special breakfast’ for breakfast. Chips eggs toast beans and sausage. Gideon had ‘big breakfast’ for breakfast: two eggs, two sausage, two bacon, two hash browns, chips and who knows what.

The man brings us a round of free tea. He is a friend of Tom Jones. Tom is playing Hyde Park tonight. The blackboard says they also do milk shakes and single cones, and a flake is only £1.70.

Across the way, trains are being announced loudly. The 11.17am to Watford Junction has just been announced.

We are here in the Euston vicinity for 24 hours. It’s Day Off. Soon the hotel is ready for us.

Time to head off with a big bag of washing.

The concierge draws a map and marks a cross for a 7 day a week laundry and I head off to Marchmont Street. It’s called simply ‘LAUNDRETTE’. It’s a bit of a walk. Outside along pavements people are sipping cappuccinos, nibbling leaves, wearing shades and being fabulous. Inside ‘Laundrette’, locals and visitors are doing their washing. It’s a system run by a computer requiring pound coins and my brain isn’t on full yet. A nice man in a full length cotton kaftan helps me. Put the money in the computer, pick the machine, get its number, punch in number, go back to machine, etc etc….

I avert my gaze from his scoop-necklined long smock which seems to be all he is wearing apart from his shoes.. It’s a bit like the Levis ad gone continental.

It’s boiling hot, not a day for a hot laundrette. This one isn’t like My Beautiful Laundrette. It’s a tad crowded, with a general air of panic. There is lots of general tutting and confusion, as the system takes a bit of getting used to by most of its American and Italian visitors. The locals are relaxed with the system and are chilled; the first timers look into the turning clothes, anxiously watching the computer screen count down. Decline to get over-involved in this clothes abluting drama.

Out for some air, pass the betting shop, down past the second hand bookshop and round the block before heading back.

The nice man in the kaftan who doesn’t work at the laundrette but has taken it upon himself to help me out suggests 15 minutes drying time is enough as I have already lost a couple of quid in the system by pressing the wrong button in the wrong order. “It’s very powerful,” he assures. “Not like in house dryers.”

Again abandon Sunday lines of people sitting gazing at the driers for another stroll, turning left this time past the cappuccino people, and past a blue plaque on Tavistock Place saying Lenin lived here in 1904. Past a few shabby hotels with unusual red and black drapes over the windows, then head right, past Woolf Mews and Virginia Place. ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’, sign warns. Wonder where Ms Woolf’s plaque is?

Blimey I am in Bloomsbury. What would Virginia, Leonard and her pals have thought of the piled up rubbish, Primark brown bags, landfill, and Sainsbury’s orange twisted carriers of household waste that litter the streets?

There’s a park near a wealthy crescent, and the familiar site of a 68 bus heading south of the river to West Norwood, where I was born under a wandering star.

Time to head back to the drier. It’s true: like the man said, it’s all dry in fifteen minutes. Even Tim’s duvet cover. Warm and fresh. And in amongst the pile lies a lone sock. Two socks had gone in and three have come out. The rebel sock is black and red. Place it carefully on the side by the discarded newspapers hoping its owner will come back for reunification with its other half.

And as I head out and back towards the hotel, laundry bag heaving, I see a London bus; “hop on hop off,” it boasts. If only. There is no hopping to be had. I feel like Gelsomina in La Strada when she sets off with her bag, having left the circus….. I walk on by, tramping the streets, bag on shoulder.

Runners jog past wearing spooky black masks like they are in the Blitz. Can’t be good for you surely? Tourists chat excitedly, searching for wherever they can’t find on their handheld maps.

Our hotel is round the corner from Drummond Street, the home of the famous Chutneys Indian restaurant and a whole host of others, including one called Ravi Shankar. The announcement from the station says the 13.57 to Watford Junction is leaving soon….as Sandy Denny sang, who knows where the time goes…?

Tomorrow it’s back on the road and tomorrow is coming soon…. We are going to Athens, Spain, Portugal and Latitude by next Saturday, and today is Sunday. I hear there is a football match on tonight.

Is the octopus in the box, Gideon?

14th July 2014 | Juliet

We went from the massive Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Rested and ready to go after Day Off.

The airplane lost the two cases, that contained Saul’s violin and the one with Andy’s trumpet paraphernalia. This was a bit off a kerfuffle to sort out by our tour manager Gideon, and a shame for Andy, as his mute was in the case so he couldn’t play in his room in Athens. The toot mute was reconnected with its owner, arriving in the next plane, as did the violin. Phew.

We all went out for a proper Greek meal that night, sitting on an endless long table on the pavement of Athens. It was fantastic.

“Is the octopus in the box Gideon?”

“Yes I’ve got it here,” he said.

A whole clear cellophane sack full of boxes of food, including a squid, were being taxied back to Tim who was resting vigorously.

Gideon popped out to the mini mart to get some mayonnaise to moisten the aforementioned creatures.

Everyone went to sleep early except Larry. He had some noisy neighbours, but he didn’t mind and he didn’t turn into a wasp on the window in a heat wave.

So many times it starts to feel like home…

15th July 2014 | Juliet

Giannis the promoter had spoken of the venue moving indoors due to the possibility of a rain storm.

Yes there was a cloud but it was a micro cloud. There was a bit of wind but not a drop of rain lay on the plains…

Vrachon is a big rock. The stage was set against the rock. The stage wobbled in the wind that afternoon and a man or two were called in to check all was stable. It was all okay after a bit of tweaking of large nuts and bolts. They tied the stage to trucks.

The crew were up early dealing with all the technical things and setting up in the scorching sun, while the band stayed at the hotel preparing.

The VIP guests took ages being checked in, as there were some counterfeit tickets out there. They came from all over. There was a Russian, some Chinese-Americans, some Brits, Scots and a Norwegian, amongst the majority Greeks. All making their way across the world to this desert heat open-air site.

One of the questions in the Q & A session was about the writing of Sometimes. “Where did the chorus come from?” asked the man who had the lyrics tattooed on his arm. Tim explained all, including how the chorus and verses were not connected. He also spoke of Brian Eno and the recording of the song.

Then came the gig. Some old songs were played and some Greek favourites: Senorita and Getting Away With It…. P.S. and Don’t Wait That Long came out of the bag.

Tim climbed into the crowd during Getting Away With It and they passed him over their heads towards the back of the arena. He crowdsurfed almost to the mixing desk, where Mike Timm was concocting a perfect sound. The venue was great for Chris to do his magic with the lighting too.

There was a stage invasion during Laid during which Tim surfed again all the way to the back of the auditorium and back again. There were two encores.

After the show, many Greek friends of the band came backstage for a drink and to say hello. James have played in Greece in so many times it starts to feel like home…

Most of the band were out dancing till dawn at Tiki Bar, and then it was time to meet in the lobby to get to Spain via Rome.

When in Rome

16th July 2014 | Juliet

Dimitris, the concierge in the ‘Buttons’ outfit, helped us store the bags behind the door in the massive grand marble lobby. Then they were wheeled out and loaded into waiting vans and whizzed to the airport. Checking in 16 people and endless flight cases of instruments and wires takes some time, but Gideon has a system that makes it all work smoothly.

Tim stayed up all night partying and has got his energy back… His voice is now back on full power.

The diet of Italy is second only to the diet of Iceland, a recent study has shown. The mediterranean way comes out pretty near perfect.

Nick says there will be a big rustic table on the plane out to Rome where they will serve antipasti and plates of spaghetti and make us all drink Chianti…and the motors will be made of pepper grinders.

But no, it’s orange juice fortified with sugar, and a salty snack of southern Italy called tarallini which, it says here, is probably derived from daratos, a kind of bread widely eaten in ancient Greece.

“If you fly into the other airport,” Mark explains, “you get a great view of the ancient architecture of Rome.” Too bad no such views this way. We fly in over fields of organic tomatoes and basil plants (probably) and lush oranges and lemons (probably)…. We fly into Rome Fiumicino not Rome Ciampino (this is the good one for aerial sight-seeing…).

We are in Rome. Rome.

Onward we go into Rome airport foraging for cappuccino and a slice of pizza or two. I buy some Baci chocolates to reminisce on their wonders and pass Larry one of the two in the pack. “Read the message Larry…” “Something or other about a nightingale” he says, and gets up to buy some more, to go with his coffee.

Tim asks for a decaffeinated cappuccino made with soya milk. Not possible. When in Rome, you know the score…do as the Romans do..always.

Saul, a man of super fitness and dietary diligence, is slipping a sugar into his cappuccino. Some monks in brown robes with rope belts are in the cafe too. One of them dives into the freezer and comes out with a full force chocolate Magnum. “You see, a treat is OK” says Saul.

And now it’s back on another plane with more terrible tarallini made especially for Alitalia.

The next bit of the voyage involves a gathering of the bags and boxes and a coach trip for two and a half hours south of Barcelona towards Benicassim.

It was breakfast in Castellón

17th July 2014 | Juliet

Breakfast orange juice machine: industrial. You press a beer tap and wham, out pours the juice. Oranges roll down chute, waiting in turn for the pressing. A swift and instant citrus death.

It was breakfast in Castellón. Scouse Davo said he’d been stringing guitars all night in the dark. “It’s like knitting;” he said, “therapeutic.”

Here it’s jamón jamón and tortilla, or pan con tomate y ajo. Blimey start the day with everything from tapas to cake.

Tim appears and says he woke at 2am full up with ideas. He and Ron, filmmaker/Mark’s keyboard tech, go off for an ideas meeting and then there are lots more meetings over the phone, planning and excitement. I am on hold.

Meanwhile on late morning Spanish TV, two chefs are making an enthusiastic salad. They go through the ingredients in detail and express a great deal of regard for each vegetable. The making of the dressing involves pestle, mortar and a kilo of garlic to which other things are stirred in. Pork things are fried and chopped to go on top. And there it is…salad.

Then one of the chefs peels a mango with a potato peeler. Mark says he peels everything with a potato peeler, even kiwis. Top tip.

The TV chefs are very pleased.

Tim rings to say he is ready.

According to the phone, the weather today is called ‘mostly sunny’. Major understatement. Pavements are steaming and Mark, Saul and Andy head off across town to the lido for a dip.

Gideon warns backstage is ‘very hot’. Dressing rooms are in a tent type thing, so it will be scorchio. No air-conditioning. Bring your shades.

Jim says can someone get his bass in the shade or the action gets impossible.

During gig, hired bass amp blew up (again) and started speaking in coded lights saying “help me help me, Nick.” And he did.

And so it is done. A short one hour set. A massive packed Benicassim in desert paprika dust.

The local crew grab the drum riser and start wheeling it off stage a bit too enthusiastically. They lose control and it ends up crashing down the slope nearly crushing Larry as it went… Apparently an overeager new stage manager with no grasp of physics was on the changeover. All the gear nearly went splat.

There is a band called Mucho and the Klaxons are on next.

There is gazpacho.

On the coach to Barcelona airport hotel, Andy is playing some sketches of Spain with his trumpet mute firmly in place (he hasn’t let it out of his sight since the missing bag incident) followed by a new take on Fly Me to The Moon.

Jim is reminiscing about the early 80s gigs and Larry finds a YouTube clip of James with Paul, 1982 at the Hacienda with Tim singing Stutter.

Singing in the rain

18th July 2014 | Juliet

We are on quite a tight schedule having been at Benicassim yesterday, Porto today and UK tomorrow.

Tim has had the idea of making a live video for Curse Curse, and pulling in Saul’s Porto contacts including maverick Ali and a team of filmmakers. There are a lot of logistics to sort out on what is already quite a busy day. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain later. There is a low flying helicopter with cameras on it, and a wristwatch type camera thing (a GoPro) for Tim to wear when he goes crowd surfing. All this will be for the next video for James.

Andy has pulled in a new French stylist and there is a bit of shopping at the airport. He is trying out his new look tonight.

Then the news of the follow spots (spotlights) comes through. They were full of water says Chris. They were left out in the rain and now unusable. This could ruin everything.

The gig is set by the river. It’s beautiful, atmospheric. It starts to rain. Saul finds a tartan umbrella and heads to the stage. The filming continues and all is well. There is crowd surfing but not on the Athenian Olympic scale.

After the gig, Larry has a touch of Tourette’s whilst systematically opening and slamming down 6 massive boxes of pizza which all have chorizo on top. He is vegetarian and eats nothing that’s got more legs than he has. Monkey?

“Despite the rain, or maybe because of it, the gig was quite monumental,” said Saul.

Donkey caught on the baggage carousel

19th July 2014 | Juliet

We got a couple of hours sleep, then up and out the hotel at 7am. Checking in takes ages what with all the flight cases of heavy things and lots of guitars in boxes, and just as we get through security and to the front of the queue for a coffee “dos (2) meia de leite” (like cafe con leche) and a mimo coco, Andy and I get called back to the ‘heavy things’ area in Departures. They want to see our tickets…what, again?

We end up running for the plane, and once in the pen and day sheets have just been dispensed, they announce a delay. Settle down horizontal on the marble floor.

Oh dear the 9.20am to Stansted would leave Porto at 4pm….that means we can’t get to play at Latitude festival today at 4.55pm. The truck of stuff is there and another crew are setting up in advance, but the band wouldn’t make it.

After a few hours, announcement comes that we can leave the holding area. Five minutes later it was Portuguese panic – the plane was leaving now. What now? Yes now.

The delay was many hours…

During this time, Gideon, Kat and the nice people at Latitude miraculously reorganised the gig to a new slot. It would be rescheduled to the Big Top 6 Music tent for Sunday at noon.

At Stansted airport we wait at the carousel for American Chris to come through and reclaim his bag. A donkey starts braying.

“Donkey, there’s a donkey trapped in there. It’s fxxxxn cruel,” shouted Davo, pointing at the empty carousel.

Ee y-ore. Eeyore. On it went. And we waited and listened and looked.

Gideon bought a round of Snickers at the vending machine. The braying stopped. (These two events were not related.)

American Chris got held by immigration for an hour. They renewed his visa. (It didn’t need renewing.) ‘DUDE.’

By now, our captain Gideon, a fan of the 5:2 diet, had eaten seven Snickers bars. Two were made of dog chocolate (manufactured abroad).

We are off to Latitude in a tour bus to play tomorrow at noon now instead of today….

The tour bus has 35-tog double duvets in narrow bunks. Duvets fit for a night out on Everest. The effect is a tad heating. The bus is awash with liberated duvets. “Just use the sheath” (he means duvet cover), advises Larry, loudly waking up the whole corridor in an attempt to get cool, ripping the excess lagging from its cover.

Meanwhile downstairs, sound man Steve is watching an unusual film at the highest volume in arctic air-conditioned conditions. You can’t get in the lounge for a cuppa without earplugs and a coat.

Upstairs there is power napping.

Jim and Saul do an interview with BBC 6 Music and talk about other almost missed gigs and festivals over James’ career. The most notable involving two helicopters in a field for an Irish gig way back when. A bus took the band to the wrong port in Wales for a crossing. But that is history.

Later Tim goes off to watch Damon Albarn on the main stage, then wanders to see the circus tent. Then the rain comes down super heavy and Tim stands against a wall of rain near a metal pipe…. Watch out for lightning, the skies are thundering. Head back to tour bus heaven.

The inside door handle of the back sleeping area comes off, and everyone is locked in to the hothouse bunks awaiting rescue.

It’s bright and sunny when we wake Sunday morning to set up and do the first show of the day at Latitude. The brunch slot.

The lounge table has mysteriously fallen off its legs in the night and the crucial printer is in pieces.

After a hefty slab of Cumberland Pie from Marks and Spencer’s, Tim downs a pint of freshly pressed carrot and ginger juice.

The campers rush their organic porridge to get their place in the blue and yellow Big Top.

Songs from the new album are featured.

The last song is Sometimes…….

So we’ll see you in a fortnight at Camp Bestival

Saul, meantime, is writing a new novel from his Scottish farmstead called ‘One Fish Flew over the Cow’.

Lulworth Castle in a fetching shade of blue

2nd August 2014 | Juliet

‘Today we leave you in the capable hands of Mike, FOH sound engineer…’

It’s Thursday evening when the crew and some of the band board the tour bus at Kings Cross to head south to Dorset for our show at Camp Bestival. We’re travelling the night before because, as James are headliners on the Friday night, we get to do a soundcheck early in the morning. This is a rare luxury, as usually you have half an hour to wheel the gear on stage, strum a few chords, hit a few drums and launch into the set.

By the time we arrive at the festival site I’m already in bed, trying to get some sleep ready for the 7am start. I wake up before my alarm goes off and head downstairs to find Ron and Nick already up and raring to go. After a cup of tea we head to the stage to meet the local crew who are full of joy and ready to help unload all the band’s gear from the truck.

We’ve done quite a few festivals in foreign countries this summer where we take the bare essentials but rent larger pieces of back line equipment locally. This can be pot luck, and the quality and sound of the rented drums, amps and even guitars can vary a lot. Today we’re using the band’s own gear which makes things much easier for me and Steve, the monitor engineer.

Nick, Ron and Davo get on with setting the gear up on risers, ready to be wheeled into position, while tour manager Matt heads off to catering to fetch breakfast for us all. I end up with a strange combination of bacon and veggie sausage, but it’s very welcome all the same. Steve and I wait around for the local sound crew to show up, but it turns out nobody told them we were starting at 7. They turn up at bleary eyed at 8 and we finally get on with setting up mics and monitors.

It’s a textbook soundcheck and we’re done by around 10. Steve and I save our mixing desk settings for later, positions of all the gear on stage are marked, and everything is wheeled backstage to make way for Horrible Histories to set up. Much as I’m tempted to stay around and watch this, I head back to my bunk on the bus and grab some more sleep.

About an hour before our stage time, Matt informs me that there will be a guest guitarist on one of the songs. No problem, Davo will set up the spare guitar amp and we’ll wing it.

Half an hour before stage time the preceding band’s gear is wheeled off stage and replaced by ours. We check all the inputs are still working and away we go. It’s quite a subdued audience, certainly compared to some of the European festivals we’ve done over the summer, but they enjoy the set.

Towards the end Jonny Marr joins the band on stage to play ‘Come Home’. This goes down really well and later there will be lots of tweets and Facebook posts about it.

At the end of the set, Chris lights up Lulworth Castle in a fetching shade of blue and Nick, Davo and Ron pack up most of the gear into the truck but separate the ‘bare essentials’ into the fly pack, as tomorrow morning we head off to Italy. The bus leaves for Heathrow at 4am for an 8am check in…

A Stage with a View

3rd August 2014 | Juliet

Sunflower fields of smiling yellowness line the strada, as the bus heads up north from Rome. Then we see a sign for the festival at Massa Martana and adjoining village Bastardo.

We are staying further north, toward Perugia in Torgiano. A meal is planned in the local family run restaurant. From outside it could be a Berni Inn, but inside it’s like an art gallery full to the brim with diners. Porcini features, and there is every which way with finest homemade pasta. It’s Saturday night and the place is full. Saul has booked a table using his finest Portuguese somehow. Everything is stylish, lush and delicious. Salads, olives, platters of antipasti are flying around attached to waiters’ inner arms. We choose, and finally close our menus to show we are ready.

Wild mushrooms on the grill look like brown jelly fish bodies, gelatinous and meaty. Truffle oil is present. The pasta is yellow from the egg yolks, the sauces are oozing. There are sand castles of aubergine parmigiana, and crispy breads beyond any ciabatta seen this side of the channel.

Everyone is there except Tim and Davo. Dave was probably stringing.

Jim’s ravioli is full of creamy walnutness and dusted in some kind of mushroom shaving. It’s THE dish. Everyone wants some but they aren’t having any.

The house salad is Nonnos. It has pear in it, and pine nuts. Nonno himself is our waiter. He is pleased when he takes the order. This is a joyful family run trattoria, and the food is full of love….

We run the fridge dry of tiramisu. Then it’s coffee and home.

Sitting by the terrace, a nightcap is taken. Armagnacs. Drink two litres of bubble water.

Andy appears, looking kerfuffled, to say his room is full of bats after leaving the windows open… He has a quadruple Armagnac to settle his nerves before heading back to sort it out.

I am hoping any minute now Ana and Mia will arrive from Scotland. It’s to be a surprise for Saul. But he goes to bed before they arrive.

They get there at 4am, after a Blade Runner style perilous delay on the streets of Rome central.

I warn the nice man at reception in my best Spanish (useless in Italy) that Ana is going to need a key to Saul’s room. He replies in English(ish) that he understands. “Your husband is in room 31.” Er not quite. Give up. Sleep.

It is a surprise indeed when Mia jumps on Saul’s head in the dark at 4am. He thinks he is about to be killed by an intruder.

Next day, Andy Warhol is at breakfast. Oh, and there’s Paul Weller looking sharp. His shoes are light blue.

We drink gallons of lukewarm cappuccino, dunking croissants, adding plum and vanilla jam where appropriate.

The Charlatans played last night, and Weller. Tonight it’s James and the Kaiser Chiefs.

There is swimming at this lovely Umbrian spa hotel. The spa does treatments involving wine. There is something called Vinotherapy available. This is real. Oh yes, they can rub you with grapes or you can have a bath in wine. The antioxidants prevent ageing. It is written about in the extensive brochure.
Mark refuses an offer to chip in for a Vinotherapy session for him. He prefers the direct method.

Andy, currently aka ‘Batman’, approaches the pool for his Olympic swim workout.

Tim calls….and we go for lunch at Nonno’s, as he missed it last night. Nonno isn’t there today. But the food is as thrilling. Tim has the jellyfish mushrooms, spinach, and the pork done with apples and chips.

He orders a crema catalana, which is more like a crème brûlée, arriving on fire…burning brown sugar crispiness. There is enough to satisfy a family of four. He eats a corner and announces that any more and he will turn fluorescent yellow. Yes.

A huge thunderstorm breaks out. Tim does the setlist, and I read a cookery book about Italian cuisine from the shelf nearby. Zuppa di fagioli (bean soup) is on page 1.

We borrow a brolly as this rain is on for a while, and head back through the village, where everywhere you look is a postcard from Umbria. Back to the wine cellar hotel spa.

Later the gig. It’s a small do as it’s a brand new festival. The setting is a field in the Umbrian countryside, with an incredible church nearby.

The atmosphere of the festival is wonderful. Nothing is a problem. James are pioneers. Even Glastonbury had to start somewhere.

A delightful event and a wonderful setting. There are photos and autographs to be done after the show.
Then it’s back on the bus ASAP for the 2 hour window of sleep or Armagnacs before heading off to Rome to get a flight to Amsterdam and then on to Lima.

At 1.45am, deliver a semi-sleeping body and its things to the bus, and then help strong Ron with his endless boxes and cases full of band gear. I vow to start working out more as even the little cases weigh a ton.

Finally at 2am they are gone. All who remain are Ana, Mia and Owl…..

24 hours in Rome, by Owl.

4th August 2014 | Juliet

[Owl is part of Mia’s entourage. He accompanied her as her mentor and guide on her trip to Italy.]

Dictated by Owl…

James had lent us Jules for our trip to Rome, and Yash has lent us his chauffeur. Hopefully we won’t get into any more scrapes.

Our chauffeur is lovely Italian gentleman who drives smooth and relaxed. We feel very safe. Me and Mia snooze in the back. Jules in the front, and Ana beside me. Jules and Ana can’t stop talking – nonstop.

We drive past the festival site at Massa Martana, past Bastardo, and past the yellow fields of sunflowers. It’s a smooth ride.

Our journey from Rome to Umbria had a been a bit too exciting, what with the time of night, the darkness and general confusion. But luckily I am a night bird.

When we arrived in Umbria I hung out with some bats that had been ousted from Andy’s room. They were partying on the roof.

Trouble started again after the nice Italian chauffeur dropped us off at the hotel with good reviews online. Ana had booked it as it looked very nice, and it was.

However our hotel was already full, and we were moved to some dodgy rooms above some offices down the road. It was called the annexe and was accessed through a lot of iron gates and keys and buttons, and a very old open plan lift with pulleys and straps that made it work. ‘We have these in Portugal too,’ said Ana cheerily as the four of us squeezed into the pulley-controlled cage.

The rooms were boiling and the air very still. There was no air conditioning, and opening the windows meant that pizza fumes came into the rooms from somewhere down below in the inner courtyard.

Jules had a word with reception. Sylvia said there was nothing they could do, but she gave us all free breakfast and a discount.

Given the heat of Rome and lack of air conditioning in the dodgy rooms, this could have been a bit of a feather ruffler.

After a gelato event we went on a city tour on a big open air bus and saw all the sites. My head was turning 190 degrees by then just to see it all. I gave myself neck ache with all the excitement.

The parliament square, the fountain, the castles, the Coliseum, it was all there. I wanted to fly out for a visit but we were meant to stay on top of the bus. Ana jumped off for a cigarette but this wasn’t really allowed. The bus stopped a lot and went slowly.

It was very exciting to be in Rome. To see all the little Cinquecento Fiat cars old and new, and see the Carabinieri looking so stylish. The slim men of Rome wore nice shirts tucked in, and their trousers fitted better. The women of Rome were all very chic too, in dresses not too short and just the right amount of accessories.

Mia bought a pink parasol, as the heat was heating. A perfect accessory.

My legs were aching too and my claws are not built for this kind of adventure.

We popped to the Vatican zone and saw where the people gather, and then walked down a cobbly street and ate pizza, the second of the day. A pizza too far?

Musicians played accordions whenever we were eating in Rome.

Exhausted, we headed back near Castel Sant’Angelo through the night market, to the boiling strange rooms for sleep. But it was all too hot.

Down the corridor, in a bolted room next to the main door that kept slamming as people came and went in the night, Jules watched a ’60s black and white Italian film before breakfast as she could not sleep. She likes the fashions. She drank lots of tap water in the toothbrush cup.

We wondered how everyone was doing in Peru, and if they had arrived, and worked out that they probably were asleep….

Next day we got lost and walked for miles. Mia was very tired and Ana smoked a packet of cigarettes by noon, followed by an octopus and salad in the Piazza. Mia ate a chocolate gelato or cornetto (nuts scraped off first) every two hours. There was also more pizza. Jules kept drinking the bubble water which she likes but seems to have salt in it….

The architecture was beautiful. I had to keep myself from flying off to the stuccos to see it more closely.

At lunch, Jules had to have a word with a waiter who served half a tomato and some diced buffarello calling it a Salad Caprese. Honestly, do they think we are tourists or something? He gave us some espresso and almond biscuits to keep us quiet. It didn’t.

We went to visit the Trevi Fountain but it was all covered in scaffolding, not like in the movie at all.

Soon it was time to go. We were taking the flight from Rome Capucchino to Edinburgh. We had another long night ahead. I love flying….especially through the night.

We are looking forward to hearing the adventures of the band and crew in Lima….


Pills ’n’ Thrills and Bellyaches

5th August 2014 | Andy

For our final gig of the summer, just when we thought it was all over – we are sent on a journey half way around the world to play in Peru.

We played there once before, in 2011. By all accounts an amazing gig in an amazing place – I wasn’t there.

I had an operation on my foot which was in plaster and I was not allowed to fly without having it removed and then being pumped full of blood thinning drugs. Danger of deep vein thrombosis, the doctor said.

No such problems this time. There was a different concern – it was a schedule that was going to knock us all for six.

We had just come off stage at Umbria Rock and had to leave this beautiful region of Italy at 2am on a coach. It was a long drive to Rome airport, from where we flew to Amsterdam before making the 12-hour flight to Lima.

A 22-hour journey in total!

How were we going to do that? Apparently Matt, our tour manager, had recommended to some, that they have a word with their GP and get some heavy-duty sleeping pills.

Zopiclone seemed to be the drug prescribed. A ‘Z-drug’ thought to be less addictive and habit forming than benzodiazepines. Although daily or continuous use is not advised – it says on the packet.

The idea was to knock yourself out with one of these on the flight to Peru, in order to get 5 to 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

I wasn’t convinced. Whenever I have had sleeping pills, they make me feel groggy and they knock me out, but it doesn’t feel like proper sleep. “These ones are different,” I was told.

I held out against them and went for the red wine option, which, along with a heavy article in New Scientist magazine on pigeons and quantum cosmic connections, should have me nodding off in minutes.

It did – but I spent the whole journey nodding off and waking up. I never got more than 40 minutes continuous sleep at a time.

The Zopiclone-poppers all reported a refreshed decent sleep. I was jealous. I was definitely going to try one on the way home.

We landed in Lima in what seemed like a hazy brown fog that engulfed everything. Was this pollution?

There was a small group of fans at the airport wanting photos and autographs. We got into minivans and were accompanied to the hotel by a Police escort complete with motorcycle outriders!

Wow, this felt like pop star stuff! Wasn’t it in Peru that the boys from One Direction were caught on video having a spliff and laughing at their Police escort?

We found out, however, that the escort wasn’t because of our imagined importance as international pop stars. It was to do with getting us through the rush hour traffic quickly. What could have taken 90 minutes ended up only taking 30 and the escort ended up accompanying us on all journeys during our visit.

The Police were ‘Policía de Tránsito’, a special transit police, whose job was to take rich important people through the traffic quickly. Maybe this is the future in western countries as our cities get stuck with traffic and we have a growing gap between the rich and poor. Actually – Let’s hope not!

The concert was part of a big, open air, civic cultural fair that is held annually over two weeks to bring ‘joy to families on Independence Day’.

The venue was engulfed in the same brown fog, that we now discovered was ocean mist. We were actually right beside the Pacific Ocean, which was just the other side of a large wall.

Chris, our lighting designer, tells us that the mist has got into the lighting rig and that there are loads of stage hands out there with hair dryers desperately trying to dry it out!

Jackets on for this gig. It is cold out there. This felt strange after all our hot summer gigs in the northern hemisphere. We were now in the Peruvian winter and the dressing rooms had heaters on.

The audience was amazing and Tim went crowd surfing on ‘Curse Curse’ and was bobbing around on an ocean of raised arms that seemed to sway underneath him but somehow keep him up.

It was chaotic but Tim never dropped a note! There was concern that he was still intact and complete on his return. However after close inspection all was present and correct.

This was the last show of the summer and we all celebrated afterwards. What a way to finish! Here’s to November! Just the long flight home to do now.

I was looking forward to trying a Zopiclone pill and getting a decent sleep.

Steve, our monitor engineer, never made it out the hotel and was declared too sick to travel. It was food poisoning. We all started to wonder what it was he had eaten that the rest of us had not.

We had all eaten pretty much the same. Catering at the venue, breakfast at the hotel. There had not been any time to go out, explore and see – let alone eat – anything different.

Slowly… one by one… we succumbed. I ended up in the toilet on the plane home filling paper bags!

Five of us ended up with some sort of stomach bug / food poisoning, but we couldn’t work out why some people had it and others not.

Another summer jaunt finishes with a nightmare journey home, and I am reminded of last years final journey of the summer, when our tour bus broke down and we had to haul our bags along the motorway verge to the services to pick up another vehicle.

And……… I never did get to try the Zopiclone!

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