Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Train Journey from Cambridge to Norwich Feb 3rd 2011

[On my way to play a show. Copied out from a notebook.]

Black, black soil of the Fens. Ely where I once took my girlfriend to look at the cathedral. Pretty canal boats on the river. Endless flatness. Electricity pylons fading into ghostly distance for a hundred miles in a long straight string. Ditches gleaming with steely water, reflecting the blue-grey, endless wash of sky, punctuated by small black clouds kissed pink by the first setting rays of sun. Screens of trees in tall neat rows. Tractors and farm machines. Dead trees and reeds fluffy with seed-heads. Banks and channels, and stillness and sometimes black birds. But all grey, scrubbed green, ochre or the colour of dead wood. Sometimes black wetland birds in ragged ticker-tape formations. Train scrapes, rattles and creaks. Electrical buzz and squeak of plastic, and rubber and metal. Now telegraph posts serve a little farm. There are thick bushes now and trees obscuring the horizon. The horizon shows a slow and gentle hill. Three metal sheds painted blue and weathered. Next stop Brandon. Derelict buildings, old station-house of brick and flint with boarded windows. Old man gets off, stoops. Behind a fence, a digger shifts aggregate in a yard. Three jets fly overhead in formation. Squat houses back onto the tracks. Sheds, pipes, huge warehouses and apparatus, and the encroaching weeds finding the gaps in concrete. Doors sing and slide shut, there is silence, but for the beat of music piped through headphones somewhere in the carriage. Now moving onward, and a forest of dark conifers. Dark and low, trees clustered tight. And now taller trees, on both sides, dark and tall, and the train running through clearings. Now a farm and some fields fenced with rope, now more trees. It is colder in the train. Car headlights flash through forest gaps. A road runs along a ridge. We break out into fields before plunging back into the forest, and cars go back and forth along a ridge on a low hill. Lights on in estate windows. This is Thetford. Next stop Thetford. Allotments and, beyond, ugly squat towerblocks of offices. A scarecrow stands stupidly and watches the train leave. Another reclines in a wooden chair, hat over his face of sackcloth. Some kids play in a field with a climbing frame among rows of grey and red brick houses. Thetford passes quickly and the conductor comes round again to check tickets. Now the landscape rolls with hills again, darkened by forest. A field of pig pens, with a few pale pigs outdoors. More blocks of dark forest. Fields of chocolate earth lined by the plow. The train groans and whines. It strains to speed up. Clouds of flickering black birds alight from distant trees. The forest closes back around the windows. Sometimes we break out into fields left fallow, or ploughed, or home to muddy pigs. It is getting darker. Then the forest ends. Cows stand in a circle round a feeding trough with their backsides stuck out. On the crest of a hill, tractor floodlights shine like a low evening star. Pigs and sometimes houses. Murky patches of deciduous forest, some logged and stripped, pale limbs piled in corkscrew stacks. Texts to reply to from my brother and Sam Killin. Stop at Attleborough. Farm machinery and a green for playing bowls. Sky is deep grey-blue, electric lights gleam through the coming gloom. Two more stops, Wymondham and Norwich, to see Ollie, Ollie, Will and play a show. Good to be moving. Good to be out of Cambridge for a while. Even ten miles out, I could feel the weight lifting. Almost dark now. Rows of houses are clusters of light. This is Wymondham. Nest stop Wymondham. Refreshment room and restaurant. David Turner Pianos (Tuning, Servicing, Repairs) and orange platform lights. This is the half-light, all the lamps point down, and cast triangle glows against the sides of metal warehouses. Above, the sky is solid, cloudless blue, darkening to indigo. A phone mast shows two red lights for low-flying planes. The scenery now is all black, with cars streaks of light, and my reflection getting clearer in the window. Trees are silhouettes. I roll down my sleeves, put my long coat on again. My blurry reflection looks back at me from behind the sharp, upturned collar. Houses are chimneys and lit windows. I get my holdall down from the luggage rack, and put it next to my guitar, resting on the seat next to me. Tall buildings lit like Christmas trees begin to punctuate the sky. Ladies and gentlemen, we will shortly be arriving in Norwich. Norwich is your next and final station stop. Thank you.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

The Square Project at UEA, June 14th 2011

So I boarded my train at Cambridge station and returned to Norwich, to the University of East Anglia, to play at an outdoor concert to celebrate summer and the end of exams. It was a hot day and as I waited to change trains at Ely there was a thick shimmer of heat-haze along the tracks both ways. I was worried that I might be late to start, as I'd missed the fast train, but I got to Norwich in time and I was greeted with a sizeable crowd:

The gig itself took place at the bottom of an amphitheatre-style arrangement of steps, known as the square. Hence the square project. The gig itself went pretty well. It's nice to play on a summer day to an audience who are happy to just sit and listen in the sunshine. Also, one guy got very excited about my cover of 'Girl Of The North Country', and when I saw him again later that day, after we'd both had a few beers, he spent about half an hour trying to play it to me, whilst wearing school uniform.

Here's a picture of Blance Ellis playing:

She was really good! Here's a demo recording of hers:

As well as music, there was a giant inflatable assault course, which I went on with Howlin' Wolffe, Tim Salmon and Matt -- needless to say, four grown men attempting a kids' inflatable assault course in competition with one another is a brutal spectacle, and everyone got horribly injured. So injured that they deflated the course after we'd run it, just because they couldn't bear to watch a second display of such violence:

After licking our wounds, and watching Blanche Ellis' last song, and building this engineering masterpiece:

We decided it was time to stock up on more Biere Specialé (that's 'Special Beer' au Francais) and some disposable barbecues to smoke some meat down in the UEA parkland, behind which the campus rises like some kind of science-fiction cityscape:

Sometime later, we went back up to the Square which was now full of people dressed in school uniform for the 'School Disco' themed evening. School disco nights have made a killing ever since wily promoters realised that you could sexualise nostalgia and combine two of the strongest human impulses to help you sell Vodka Kick. Anyway it seemed quite good. We sat outside drinking Biere Specialé until the bouncers left about 1am and we could get in for free. The lights were on, and the floor was so sticky that the maximum walking speed was 2.3 mph (I quickly worked this out on a napkin). But still, we had a wonderful time, and all went our separate ways to various beds.

The next day, all of the students and school-discoers woke up in their various beds in their various parts of Norwich with various degrees of hangover. At Howlin' Wolffe's house, we spent the afternoon in the sitting room watching David Attenborough documentaries. Then, of course, we had another barbecue.

I don't think I ate a single thing in Norwich that wasn't cooked on some kind of open coal fire. That can only ever be a good thing. Later on I bade my fond farewells to the boys and headed back to Cambridge. I have had some really good music-related times in Norwich, and it's a shame to think that I will probably never go back to play at UEA, because most people I know there are about to graduate. I got the train back to Cambridge. When I got back I went straight to a party, and almost fell asleep, but the hostess demanded I drank a pint of Pepsi to keep myself awake. She even went to the lengths of pouring away my glass of water. It worked, and I danced all night to various indie classics in a bedroom with a suspiciously wobbly floor, constantly in fear of my life being swiftly extinguished halfway through a Libertines song, as the entire room went crashing through the floorboards.

Also, at one point, this happened:


Saturday, 11 June 2011

The Promenade at The Hoxton Pony, June 9th 2011

The Promenade is a band featuring my brother, Will, and two good friends from growing up in St. Albans, Jack Ridley and Remi Bumstead. Here's one of their tracks:

The Hoxton Pony was fairly full. A lot of people turned up, and whooped and cheered and helped hand out flyers. After coming down on the train and eating a terrible Subway with Sam Killin and his sister Lorna we took full advantage of the fact that every drink was half price and encouraged our enthusiasm with a few pints of Asahi (Hoxton! So trendy!). The Hoxton Pony is a nice looking place, modern and sleek, and they give you your change in a little silver dish. My change was usually about 25p so I felt this might be kind of unnecessary, but perhaps they usually get people paying for one drink with £50 notes and asking for their change in coppers. Anyway, the show was for the second-round of The Music League competition. Enough people turned up for The Promenade that they got through the second round, and they're playing Winterwell festival next week, a gig which is the final of the competition. I'm glad they got through, they've got some really good songs. The track above is the only one they have recorded so far, but more are on the way and I think I'm gonna contribute some trombone to one of them.

I got a lift back from the show in my mate's car. I've always liked driving through London at night, since I was a kid coming back from visiting family, half asleep in my dad's car, marvelling at all the lights, to the times when Kiss My Brass had gigs in Islington, Upstairs at The Garage or a tiny bar called Leonard's EC1 (both promoted by the kind of guy who "loves your music"), and we got hopelessly lost on the way back, giggling and swigging energy drinks to stay awake, and being high from playing a great set and being lost so late in London, driving right through the West End and even Kensington if I remember rightly, getting stuck in perpetual one-way systems and marvelling at the city that went on and on, and shouting out to people on the pavement when we got stuck in traffic, and when we pulled up at a red light and a young, drunk couple were kissing next to us, we wound down the windows and clapped them.

This time, though, we stopped at a late-night kebab shop, my mate, his brother and I, called something like Holloway's Best Kebab, and went in to get something to eat. The shop was mostly empty and was probably about to close. There were maybe three customers in there, a couple at a table and a drunk guy at the counter who left shortly after. We ordered some kebabs, and sat down at a table with some cans of coke and some chips to eat while we were waiting for the meat to cook, and I started feeling pretty sober. On the table next to us there was a woman and a man, both the other side of 40, eating kebabs. The woman was wearing some black dress and the man was wearing a mismatched tracksuit with white trainers. I went to the bathroom and when I came back the woman turned to us and said,

"Do you know who Emily Wilding Davidson is?" She was a little drunk.

"I don't think so," I said, I'd forgotten.

"The Suffragette," she said.

"Ah yeah, I remember," I said, "she was the one who threw herself in front of a horse."

"Yes! That's right." The woman said.

"But people say she wasn't sure that she wanted to do it," I said, but the woman had stopped listening. I guess she only wanted to prove a point to the man she was with. We went back to talking and eating the chips.

When I looked up again the woman was crying. She wasn't making any noise but a tear dropped down her cheek and she was looking far away. The man was looking at her from across the table. Just then the shop owner called us up to the counter to ask what salad we wanted on our food, and we got up to tell him. The woman was still crying. The man with her had grey hair and it was obvious that there was nothing he could do except fetch her a few napkins. He came up to the counter and asked the owner for them. After that we had our food so we left.