All 31 entries tagged Music

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August 25, 2013

The Frank Turner arena tour and the changing nature of a live show

So today Frank Turner announced a UK tour. Of arena venues. And despite being my favourite act to see live over the past five years, I find myself not being not desperately excited about getting tickets. But bear with me, this isn’t a venue-size/popularity thing. There’s something more going on that I’m trying to figure out.

It started at the last Frank Turner gig I went to, when for the first time in about ten gigs, a mosh-pit formed, right in front of me. Which is fine. Not my sort of thing – I like a bit of a dance but throwing myself into other people doesn’t really do it for me. It’s also a bit annoying when it forms right in front of you as you can’t ignore it (without risking becoming part of it) but you can just move. You get a worse view maybe but it’s not my place to tell people how they should be enjoying the music they all paid to come and see too. Hell, I was one of the annoying kids jumping around to James in 2001 while the fans from 1991 looked on mildly perturbed.

But then, towards the end of the set, he played I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, for the fans who had been with him for a long time. And I realised something interesting: you can’t mosh to Prufrock.

The first time I saw Frank live, he spent as much time on stage playing solo as he did with a band. As the shows have gotten bigger that’s mostly vanished and the band and setlist louder and rockier. And less of something I want to see.

Now I’m happy for artists to change and evolve, and I don’t expect or even want them to cater for me at the expense of doing what they want to do. But one does get a feeling of losing something. Had my last Frank Turner show been my first, I probably wouldn’t have gone back. I’d have accepted it as “not really for me” and moved on. But when you’ve enjoyed it previously and seen it change, you feel your missing out a bit. Ironic in the case of Frank Turner as I’m sure there’s a ton of Million Dead fans that felt let down when he first picked up an acoustic guitar.

But what I do wonder is how much of this change is down to Frank, and how much is down to a perceived necessity to do things this way in order to play larger venues and to cater to a crowd that want to mosh themselves silly. Indeed, the latest album, Tape Deck Heart, is possibly the slowest and most restrained album yet. Which is perhaps why only two or three songs from it have been regularly making the live setlist.

This isn’t a solo versus band thing either. The full band versions of St. Christopher is Coming Home, Journey of the Magi and Father’s Day are hauntingly beautiful in a way that can’t be done solo, but generally absent from the set in favour of the faster, rockier numbers. And even within the same songs, the live arrangements are getting less and less on the folk end of the scale and moving further to the punk/rock end.

I’m trying very hard not to sound like too much of a cock in writing this, as I’m very aware it could easily be seen as just whining that an artist isn’t do what I want him to do.

But my point is more that there’s been a fundamental change in how Frank performs live as he’s moved to larger venues, and that’s why I might give the next tour a pass. He’s still one of my favourite singer-songwriters ever, and I’ll continue to get very excited about new album launches and so on, but perhaps the live show just isn’t for me any more. Or perhaps I’m just getting old.

September 21, 2011

The annual X–Factor rant

If you know me at all in the real world, you’ve probably heard all this before, but for those that haven’t, I figured I’d type this up after seeing Twitter once again light up on Saturday with things on one side of the debate or another.

So here’s how the theory goes: if you like The X-Factor, you don’t like music.

You might think you like music, but you don’t. At this point I’m also going to throw out any claims for watching it ‘ironically’ or ‘for a laugh’. If either of those are true, then you may also like music. But you are also wasting your life. Please stop.

It’s also okay not to like music. I don’t like literature. I read, I enjoy reading, but I read low-brow pap. I read Star Trek tie-in novels and quite enjoyed The DaVinci Code. When I’ve tried to experiment with tougher ‘proper’ authors I’ve found it too tough. If I try really hard I can get something out of the plot and characters, but it’s more effort than it’s worth and I never really appreciate the prose. And that’s okay. I recognise that. Some people will think I’m mad or pity me because I can’t get the immense joy they can out of books but I don’t care. Reading the odd bit of pulp fiction is just something I do for fun but I don’t consider myself someone that likes literature.

Music, on the other hand, I love music. It means a lot to me, I’m passionate about the music I love, because the music I love creates feelings, emotions and mood-spaces within my brain that are otherwise hard to reach. Music affects me, emotionally, intellectually, even physically.

No performance on The X-Factor has ever made anyone feel anything. Except maybe self-disgust. Oh the show can create feelings for sure, but for a show that is ostensibly about music to have to resort to pre-filmed sob-stories about the tough lives these contestants have had just to get some sort of emotional reaction from the audience is, to my mind, ridiculous.

In the X-Factor version of Schindler’s List, it opens with a shot of holocaust survivor Poldek Pfefferberg walking down the street before he relates part of his experience in an interview. We’re then shown how he met Schindler’s Ark author Thomas Keneally who wrote the novel based around his life. The shot then pulls out and Steven Speilberg is stood there, who then proceeds to tell us how the novel inspired him and moved him so much that he just had to make the film we’re about to watch. Because if we don’t know all that, how are we meant to be emotionally effected by the film?

Actual music isn’t going anywhere, of course. There will always be people willing to pick up an acoustic guitar and sing their hearts out wherever and whenever they may be. And there will always be people willing to listen, looking for something to connect to, looking for something that moves them. But it is getting harder for people to find.

While the awful, anodyne, emotionless candyfloss-pop that the likes of The X-Factor give us gets more and more common, to the point that those who do like the show don’t understand. They think they like music. They think they’re like us. They think that when we go to gigs it’s sort of like watching ITV on a Saturday night. They think that when we say we’re going to listen to a band, we’ll put it on in the background while doing something useful. When we explain that we’re going to sit down with headphones on and just listen to a new album they look at us like we’re a bit mental.

And most of all, they’ll never understand why we hate The X-Factor because they simply can’t comprehend caring about music enough to not want to watch it abused and beaten in to a messy pulp by Simon Cowell for two hours every weekend.

March 29, 2011

How to ruin a brilliant idea

Or: Why you should think it through

The Camden Crawl is an ace idea. Yes, it’s one of those two-day arts and music festivals lots of places have, where lots of different venues put on lots of different shows. But what it does differently is get one of the core components of a festival right: you pay once, £40 for a day ticket, and you see as much as you want. It takes all the pressure off, you feel like you’re part of a proper festival and not an unconnected series of events. Bloody brilliant.

Now one thing about it is, it runs a whole bunch of varied arty fringe stuff during the day. Theatre, comedy, dance, quizzes, all that stuff. But come 7pm this ends and the focus shifts over to music, and it’s also when the big-names acts are on. That’s fine, it’s a system that works, and in isolation it’s brilliant.

But someone spotted a gap in the market, and so this year The Comedy Crawl launches. It offers a whole bunch of brilliant comedy in the same area over seven venues from 7pm until midnight for a one-off fee. £20 gets you 5 hours of comedy, rather than the 2 hours you’d get for the same money from Jongleurs. And you can pick and choose your gigs. Again, in isolation, this is bloody brilliant.

The problem is, they’re two different events. Now were they competing events, that would make sense. But they’re quite hapilly cross-promoting each other and seem pretty friendly. Still, no problem, one can choose from an evening of great comedy, or a more expensive full day of great comedy and music.

Well maybe I just want the moon on a stick.

But I don’t live in London, and while it’s not far away, the money and time cost of the journey mean I want to get the most of out any trip. And as you probably know, I like me some comedy. I’d love to spend all day hanging around Camden watching live comedy in loads of different places. That’d be brilliant. It’d be like Edinburgh except a bit more conceited and a lot less expensive.

The problem is, to do that, it looks like I have to buy myself a Camden Crawl ticket, spend the day watching their comedy, then buy myself a Comedy Crawl ticket, and spend the evening watching their comedy, while basically throwing away the whole latter half of the Camden Crawl ticket. And that’s being optimistic, as with all the ‘big names’ of music on later in the evening, I’m sure a lot more than half the ticket price goes towards paying acts on during the night rather than their less famous friends on during the day.

I’d happily pay the full Camden Crawl ticket price, not see any bands, and just watch comedy all day. But I resent the idea that I’d have to pay £20 more than everyone else just to do that.

And it’s basically put me off going to either. By trying to do something extra for comedy fans, they’ve basically ruined it for comedy fans.

My solution? I’d have stuck a fiver on the Comedy Crawl ticket price and given that to the Camden Crawl folk in exchange for a Comedy Crawl wristband granting access to any Camden Crawl venue prior to 7pm. Then maybe have the Camden Crawl folk offer a combined ticket at a £5 premium over their price that gives access to the Comedy Crawl venues too.

Basically, I’d have thought it through from the perspective of someone who likes live comedy more than live music. But then I suppose there aren’t that many of them in and around Camden with it’s six million comedy clubs are there?

November 15, 2010

Frisky and Mannish, Warwick Arts Centre, 31st October

They lost me in the first ten minutes.

There’s something in comedy you have to do when playing clubs, or even the smaller rooms in Edinburgh. I call it establishing audience “buy-in”. Basically, you need to move the minds of the crowd from being a passive observer, asking themselves “will they be funny” to someone invested in the performance, by establishing rapport, getting them involved and re-framing their mindset so they’re thinking “this is funny, I’ll enjoy it”.

Frisky and Mannish have established a pretty good way of doing this: they do a bit of light audience interaction, some light mocking (which also establishes authority, important for managing more unruly crowds) and then they get everyone standing up and dancing. It’s good technique. Alas what works in other contexts is entirely inappropriate for dealing with a small, mostly sober crowd on a Sunday night in an arts centre.

See, when you’re playing a venue off the beaten track (Warwick University campus) you can be fairly sure that everyone their made the conscious decision to go and see you. It’s hugely unlikely to have been a spur of the moment thing, they’ve probably done some research, figured it’s something they’ll like, and so gone along. They’ve bought in already. Or at least they had, until you made them get up and dance.

Since the preceding opening number was decent but not brilliant, in the first ten minutes Frisky and Mannish basically throw out all the good will the audience came in to the show with. It’s to their credit, then, that by the end of the first half they’ve already won us all back around, to the point that one can’t help but wonder if they’re bored by everyone loving them and tanked the start on purpose to make it more interesting.

That overly rambling introduction hides the fact that Frisky and Mannish are a very difficult act to describe, and even more difficult to analyse. There are generally two types of musical comedy: the one where you write your own original comedy songs, and the type where you parody existing songs, generally by changing the lyrics. Except there’s barely a single original song in the whole show, nor do they ever change any lyrics to existing ones. Instead they draw comedy out from the music itself, playing with styles and forms to create something hilarious. The only comparison that I can think of is Bill Bailey. And that’s a ridiculous comparison as they’re nothing alike: Bailey’s deer-in-headlights confused-hippy performance style couldn’t be further from Frisky and Mannish’s assured self-confident delivery. But at a very high level, that notion of finding humour in music, rather than just ‘being funny with music’ is something they have in common.

And so they offer a wonderful couple of hours of musical manipulation. Noel Coward and Lily Allen sing each others songs. They explain how horror is the over-riding genre in pop music by showing just how sinister some songs become when done in a minor key. They entirely deconstruct Florence from Florence and the Machine beautifully. And when you least expect it, they’ll do a dance routine to B*Witched.

I can’t urge people to go and see this show enough really. It’s not for everyone. Indeed, watching it I was consciously aware that I had certain friends who would enjoy it a lot more than I did. But that’s down to my lack of knowledge of most music from the past ten years. Indeed, one could argue that musos would probably get more out of it than your average comedy fan. But for that average comedy fan it’s also a revelation, as it shows a due doing something that feels original, which is such a rarity in today’s comedy scene that it should be embraced whole-heartedly.

September 02, 2010

On festival behaviour

A Saturday afternoon in July, the Obelisk Arena, Latitude Festival’s main stage. Frank Turner is belting out one hell of a set, and about halfway through two teenage girls come barging through the crowd. Now I’m a grouchy enough human being that I’m not beyond getting annoyed at that sort of behavior in some circumstances. But these weren’t two drunken louts trying to elbow their way to a better view when the band start playing a single that they know the words two. Rather, two girls, likely at their first festival, dancing around and yelling out the words to Back in the Day (a fairly obscure track by any measure) like it could very well be their last. They were having the time of their lives and you just can’t resent that.

Except apparently, you can. About five minutes later a middle-aged woman in front of us turns around and with a look of barely concealed disgust, tells them to stop bumping in to her.

It’s this odd phenomenon at festivals: get to the barrier early in the day to have the best spot for the headliner later on. Sure, it happens at all gigs – support acts are forever playing to often disinterested fans of the headlining band. But it’s kind of accepted. The vast majority of people at your regular gig haven’t paid to see the support. Festivals are different though. The numbers are inverted. The majority of people watching a band at any one time will be there to watch that band. They’ll range from dedicated fans to those who just turned up as they liked the name or the description in the programme. But they’re all interested in watching the band. The super-hardcore fans of the headline act, that get there six hours early to get a great spot, are in the minority.

I’ve been a part of that minority twice. At my very first festival, Guildford Festival 2001, I stood at the barrier for about four hours to see James headline. And at my first Glastonbury in 2003 I spent about seven hours at the Pyramid stage to get a good spot for REM. But in both those circumstances, I got in to the spirit of things. I jived along with some 50-somethings to The Saw Doctors at Guildford and at Glastonbury I rocked out to Suede and Mogwai, and tapped my feet and applauded politely for David Gray. Because it’s polite to the bands on stage, but frankly, it’s also more fun.

So back to Frank Turner, an ex-hardcore-punk frontman, singing a song about how punk rock changed his life, and how the ethos behind it is “in the words of every song I sing” and a woman is complaining about getting jostled by people having fun. This isn’t incidentally, an age thing. Also next to me and getting caught up in all this is another older woman with her young daughter, and they’re bouncing around shouting all the words at each other. They don’t care.

But that girl that got told off, she had wisdom and a sense of mischief beyond her years. As the set grew to a close, Frank got everyone singing along to Photosynthesis, and in a stroke of brilliance the girl simply leans forwards and yells the words in to the woman’s ear: “And I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up, and most of all, I will not grow up.”


She made the point of this who piece far more clearly and succinctly than I have in all my ramblings, but my point is, that if you find yourself at a festival waiting through bands you don’t know to get a good spot for one you do, get in to the spirit of things. Enjoy it.

The girls left the crowd after Frank Turner, and I lost track of the woman when the whole crowd started heaving to and fro when James, the next band on, bought out the festival anthems. After that I left to go watch something in the Caberet tent, so I never got to see how that lady reacted to the mini-riot that Crystal Castles started in the crowd. I’m not sure she’d have lasted through to Belle and Sebastian.

June 08, 2010

I haven't been as lazy as it looks

I know, a month, no new blog, but I have been writing elsewhere and shall collect those pieces right here. Then the next few days I’ll throw up a few bits and pieces I did for other places that never got used. Deal? Yeah I know, you like the exclusive stuff written just for you. But I like the increased exposure and clicks I get from writing for other more popular sites.

I’m sorry if that makes you feel unloved, I do like you really, but we’ve been at this for over five years now, and secretly I’ve always wanted you to watch me do it with other people. But I promise, I’ll save the really sick and twisted stuff for you, not like I have much choice, you’re the only one filthy enough.

Top Ten: Sci-Fi Politicians
This has my by-line though I only wrote about 80% – didn’t do the bits about The Doctor or The Mayor. I’d have gone with John Simm’s Master for the Doctor Who one to be honest, but then I’m a little twisted.

Review of Flight of the Conchords at Birmingham
This was fun. I’m still struggling with music writing (after all, you can’t pull off the make it all about your break-up instead trick very often). But this let me cheat, by basically treating it like a comedy review while also playing a bit with the tension between and comedy, theatre and music gig, and exactly what this show was. It was a music gig, ultimately. Hence being published on a music site.

Review of The Divine Comedy at the London Tabernacle
Awesome night, and the best of the three pieces I’m linking to here. If time is short, and you only read one, read this one. As I mention, I’m still struggling with music writing, but I think I got the balance right with this one and it’s probably the piece of writing I’m most proud of from the past few months. It covers the gig, makes observations on the songs, drops a few quotes, and wraps it all in a tasty narrative of indie-rock kid out of his element in a posh fancy muso gig. I think it works.

That’s me for now. Not going to say what I’m writing up next, but do have a few pieces lined up just for the blog, but it seems if I ever blog about writing something, it’s like a curse and it never sees the light of day. Plus it’s fun to tease you all. You know you love it.

April 15, 2010

Music review: Chris T–T – Love Is Not Rescue

I write about the awesome new Christ T-T Album here and say stuff like:

With Love Is Not Rescue we’re treated to something that’s both a departure from what we might expect, but at the same time perhaps more traditional than any of Chris’ previous work. It’s an album of beautiful, quiet, introspective songs about love, loss and life.

March 19, 2010

A Frank Blog: Gig review – Frank Turner, Wolverhampton, 19th October 2009

Yes, it’s kind of odd to be reviewing a gig nearly five months after it happened. But then, this isn’t really a gig review. This will either be quite good or the most pretentious piece of twaddle I’ve yet written. It’s very much about music, so much so that it comes with its own Spotify playlist.

We’d broken up a few days before. Technically I’d ended it a few weeks ago, tired of having my heart trodden on over and over. But then she’d convinced me to give it another go. Then changed her mind yet again, and we weren’t talking. We could both be quite stubborn, but I had the Frank Turner tickets and needed to know if I still had a girlfriend to go with. So I called her. I didn’t.

I first encountered Frank Turner through Chris T-T’s championing of him. Normally people discover Chris T-T through Frank, but I tend to do things a little backwards. I first saw him live in the Leftfield tent at Glastonbury and was somewhat disappointed, not by him, but by the ‘fans’ I was stood next to who were more interested in bragging to each other about how big a hard-on they had for Frank and how many times they’d seen him live. Little backwards me just wanted to listen him sing. This is what happens when you’re interested in someone that’s popular with the cool kids. Going to see him on my own in Birmingham earlier in the year turned me around entirely. It was one of the greatest gigs I’d ever seen.

So to say I was looking forward to this show was an understatement. I was more than a little messed up, but it sure as hell wasn’t going to ruin this. One other thing you need to know: I’m very easily emotionally manipulated by music. I’ll get teary at the cheesiest Hollywood endings if the score is heart-breaking enough.

So along with an old school friend of mine who stepped in to take the spare ticket last minute, I headed to Wolverhampton. First support act, Beans on Toast, was brilliant. The second support act, Fake Problems, were mostly just loud. We were stood behind a gorgeous and stunningly cute blond girl. For the first time in a year or so, I could think that without feeling guilty.

“I used to act like none of this mattered, I used to say that I didn’t care, that we wouldn’t be doing this whatever, but then the truth is that I was just scared.”

There’s nearly always an imbalance in a relationship. One person cares more or less than the other. In the early days she cared about me more. I was unsure. She was the first to say “I love you”. Of course, she lied. I’m not one to drop those words lightly. Over time, I just fell for her more and more. She was the first I’d ever said them to. But by then we were already falling apart.

Frank burst on to the stage with that crazy energy that you so rarely see in live music these days. He gives his all in every show, it’s inspiring. There’s this story, it goes that on the last tour Frank had a very bad case of food poisoning. He played the gig, but had to run off five songs before the end where he promptly passed out backstage. His response the next day? To apologise profusely and promise to play a free make-up show in that town as soon as he could. Meanwhile Oasis pull half of their tour for no good reason and, rich as they are, don’t so much as offer to underwrite the fans’ lost booking fees. The fans love Frank, and he knows he’d be nothing without them, so he shows them an astounding level of commitment and respect. As we “ba-da-ba-ba-ba” along with the first song, it’s that energy that encourages you to shout it out as loud as you can – and the volume on the band is high enough that no-one minds.

The next song, Long Live the Queen, is one I find hard to listen to. It’s a story about losing someone to cancer. And it does what some of the most emotionally charged songs on these subjects do: includes just enough personal details that you’re left in no doubt that every word is from experience and not just imagination. I generally skip it on the album. Its message is wonderful and upbeat but it’s just so sad. But they’ve done something with it for the tour. It’s played a little faster and bit more rockier. It’s only subtle, but it changes a mostly sad song into an upbeat affirmation and celebration of life. It’s transformative. It turns the sad emotions in to something positive.

“I wish that she had either cared for me or let me be, but she chased me from my mind and from my home”

We had a wonderful few months before we even met. It was a relationship built out of two Ben Folds fans failing to meet each other at Glastonbury. From there it snowballed. Does it only start being a relationship when you meet each other, even if you talk for hours every day? From first kiss to first fight it was five months. Five glorious months of perfection. If I could go back and live in those five months forever I would. And I had shorthand classes back then.

The song asks the question “can music be a substitute for love?” The two have never quite gelled for me. Every girl I’ve ever dated has shared a love for, and a somewhat similar taste in, music. Yet when we go to gigs there’s always a remoteness to it. We’re there for the music, and not for each other. We have our own individual relationship with the music, it’s never a part of our bond. It doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll never forget a bizarre fifteen minutes spent in a rushed, sweaty embrace with a total stranger in the crowd of a James gig. You might think I’d remember the kiss, or the intimate dancing or the inappropriate touching, but what I remember most vividly is when we held each other at arms length and yelled the words to Johnny Yen at each other as the band played. The music was the connection.

After playing Substitute and one of my favourite songs ever, Try This At Home, Frank asked for someone to play the harmonica solo on Dan’s Song. He chose the aforementioned pretty blonde, Abi. At this point I should make it clear I never so much as spoke to her, but even just kidding myself that I could have succeeded in chatting her up helped changed my perspective. Hell, if not for another even more stunningly beautiful girl showing just the slightest interest in me while I was still with Hannah I would never have had the strength to try and end it in the first place. Oh yeah. The girl this is about is called Hannah. Anyone who reads this far will know me well enough that they know that already but we might as well preserve it for posterity.

Interestingly, rather than just have a solo bit in the middle of the set, the band are coming and going in between songs so we get some plain acoustic Frank, and some full on rock-god Frank. Sometimes you’re surrounded by friends, and sometimes you’re just on your own.

“Oh yes I started out so happy, now I’m hungover and down. It was about then that I realised I was halfway through the best years of my life”

There’s something odd about having someone just a year older than you sing songs about getting old. Maybe that’s why I relate to the music so much, and why I’ve utterly failed to get those who normally share my musical tastes in to Frank’s stuff. Five years ago I’d have been content to be so upset that I’d take a year off life, stop dating, stop socialising, stay in and watch TV. At 26 I don’t feel like I have the luxury of that time anymore. It’s odd to realise that you just don’t have the time be mopey about things.

“Life is too short to live without poetry, if you’ve got soul darling now come on and show it me / Life is too long just to sing the one song, so we’ll burn like a beacon, and then we’ll be gone”

I’m far from perfect. I have issues. Mostly I lack confidence. Which means my life is often either people who already know me being shocked that I do stand-up, or people that see me do stand-up being confused as to why I’m so quiet if they talk to me after a gig. It’s something I try and improve on and I’ve come a damn long way, but it was never enough for her. That’s a realisation that hits you like a truck. There are people in this world that accept me as I am, regardless of anything else. Probably the people that are still reading this. To realize that the person you love isn’t one of them is something of a sucker punch. She was flawed too: pushy, moody and Christian. But I loved her despite all that. And I wouldn’t have changed her even if I could – it’s all part of who she was.

“I keep nearly missing you around corners and in passing trains… and if I’d known, that you weren’t so far away…”

It takes a certain talent to turn an old hardcore punk song into a beautiful, touching, ballad. Frank manages it. It’s quite odd to go back and listen to the old Million Dead version of Smiling At Strangers On Trains now.

We did the sitting on trains thing a lot. She was in Durham, I was in Leamington. Two weeks before we broke up she moved in down the road, just the other side of the park around the corner from me. She just happened to get a place at Warwick Uni, and I just got lucky enough that a really great job cropped up in Coventry and I got the position. It was perfect. Except she’s still five minutes walk away as I’m writing this. Either I’m right and there’s no god that’s still interested in us, or she’s right except that God is just a cruel bastard.

“You’re just not paying attention, you’re sitting in your kitchen and you’re bitching about rejection. We’re cheating the world out of a fairytale of a conclusion. And that’s not really fair on us all”

I do wonder where things might have gone had we actually persisted with things beyond a few weeks of living near each other. There’s bound to be an adjustment period, long-distance relationships are an entirely different thing. But it was dead by then. I think I first realised we were doomed when she travelled down to move some of her stuff in to her new house. I was already in my flat. But she didn’t even want to spare five minutes to say hello. Writing that now, it’s entirely obvious to anyone reading it that she’d stopped giving a damn and had slipped entirely in to being a heartless bitch by then. I can’t for the life of me remember how she later convinced me that she wasn’t. To give her another chance.

“When my wondering meanderings have finally reached their end, yes whatever else may be, I will not forget my friends”

I was kind of disappointed that we just got a solo-version of St Christopher Is Coming Home rather than the big end-of-show sing-along on the previous tour but it remains a favourite nevertheless.

The thing about a break-up is some people will surprise you. There’s those friends that are always there, the ones you’ve been through hell with so many times, that will always pick up the phone and check you’re okay. But then there are others. Ones you didn’t really expect to care that much. Ones that take the time to look after you even though you’ve never really done anything for them. That’s the sort of generosity of spirit that I aspire to. If you’re still reading, thanks Beth.

“Let’s refuse to live and learn, let’s make all our mistakes again”

There’s two interpretations as to how the break-up happened. Either I broke up with her, then she convinced me to get back together with her a week later so she could end things on her terms. Or I broke up with her, then slept with her one last time before mostly ignoring her. The real answer is probably somewhere between the two. After that one night she sent me a really sweet message the next day, and I brushed her off. That’s the only “what if?” I have in this whole thing. It was tiny, and probably it’d resulted in dragging things out by just another week if we’re honest. But it was the only time I didn’t give her my best. That I gave up rather than fight for her. I’m kind of okay with that being my only regret.

Love, Ire and Song remains one of my favourite tracks. It’s the one that really defined Frank for me. Early on it’s easy to pigeon-hole him as a lefty with a severe Peter Pan complex. But both his politics and his outlook on life are a lot more complex than that. Chris T-T once called him “my favourite right-wing bastard”, and I’d argue his songs are more about growing up without accepting the inevitabilities of adult-hood when we don’t want them or aren’t ready for them, rather than just wanting to carry on partying ever night in to your 30s.

“Life is about love, lost minutes and lost evenings, about fire in our bellies and about furtive little feelings, and the aching amplitudes that set our needles all a-flickering, they help us with remembering that the only thing that’s left to do is live”

That may be my favourite lyric ever. It’s so intricate and clever, it makes it obvious that you’re dealing with a writer that’s far and beyond the majority of artists out there today. And shouted out in a chorus of hundreds of people it’s just so damn life-affirming. In that moment I realised I just had to get on with things. That there was so much more out there and it was better to experience it than mope around.

I wasn’t over it, but I could deal.

Still, with one more song in the set there was time for a little more introspection.

“I could have lived and died an Egyptian prince, I could have played safe, but in the end the journeys brought joys that outweigh the pain”

It may seem a little like I’m bitter. And I know it’s somewhat pathetic I’m still in love with her five months on, while she’s in a new relationship. But as the lights changed and the mood slowed, it was in this song I realised something else: I didn’t regret a moment of it. An awkward moment in a Durham Travelodge turning in to a kiss. A picnic outside Kenilworth Castle. A stolen moment, alone on a balcony in the heat of a 21st birthday party. I wouldn’t trade even one of these to ease the pain. Because that’s the point. It was all worth it.

“If you’re all about the destination, then take a fucking flight, we’re going nowhere slowly but we’re seeing all the sights. And we’re definitely going to hell, but we’ll have all the best stories to tell”

I may not have sung along with this quite so loudly had my Christian girlfriend still been with me. But it is who I am. She was changing me. Possibly not for the better. This is who I am. I still want to be that person.

Ballad Of Me And My Friends sees the band slowly creep on stage as the song segues in to Reasons Not To Be An Idiot as we all sing along a song about getting up, getting down and getting outside. It’s just a song about how doing stuff is better than not doing stuff. It may seem trite. It probably is. But nevertheless it feels right.

“And I won’t sit down, and I won’t shut up, and most of all I will not grow up”

The gig ends with a euphoric sing-along as the support acts return to the stage and play along on Photosynthesis. The crowd are singing at the top of their voices, united as one by the music. Everything else slips away as the world becomes about nothing beyond the music, and then it’s over.

I’m still not over her. I can tell because I still think about her every day, and my reaction to finding out that she had a new boyfriend was to hope it crashed and burned spectacularly rather than being happy for her. I don’t think she really gets that that’s why we can’t be friends. But don’t get me wrong, I don’t want her back either. I could have been happy with her at one point. I’d have lived a content life growing old with that girl. But it wasn’t to be and that time has now passed. Without this gig I’d have probably spent a few more months moping after her, probably trying to get her back, and to be fair, quite possibly succeeding. Until it all went wrong again. Instead I started putting together a regular comedy gig and getting in touch with old friends I’d drifted apart from. Everything is coming together now and I’ve met some awesome people over the past few months.

Hannah never saw Frank play, but in my mind the two are intrinsically linked. That night with Frank with Wolverhampton was my post-break-up fling that got me over the worst of it. I’ll be seeing Frank again on Sunday night, which is why I finally write this now, as leaving it any later would be pointless. I doubt I’ll ever see Hannah again – by the time I feel I can deal with that she’ll be back in the north trying to find gainful employment as a teacher.

I don’t think she ever realised, until we talked a few weeks ago, just how much I cared. That all those times I told her I loved her I actually meant it. Maybe she’ll regret it all if she never finds someone else that feels that way about her despite her flaws. Maybe she won’t. I’m moving on though. Slowly but surely. If you read all 3000 words of this, thanks. I hope this meant something or said something to you because for all I know it’s just the height of self-indulgence. But as a writer it seems crazy not to somehow document the most significant thing in the past few years of my life.

Especially since I’m already mythologising and lying about it for stand-up material. “What did you get out this 11-month relationship Dean?” “One really good joke and one that’s fairly good”. I’ll settle for that.

March 16, 2010

Brief notes: Chris T–T, Birmingham Academy 3, 15th March

I have a full review of Chris’ new album being published elsewhere in the very near future, and since a large amount of the show was Chris playing that album in full, and also because it’s 1.35am and I have to be in work tomorrow, this isn’t really a proper review, more just a collection of thoughts.

It took 45 minutes to find the new Academy venue in Birmingham. I got close once, gave up then turned around. It was just around the corner. I threw away my last shred of manliness and became a dedicated metrosexual by stopping and asking for directions. Seems to be a nice place though and the room is lovely. Then again, the inside of a skip is lovely compared to the Academy so… Also not sure how good the sound is. It sort of sucked. Don’t know if that’s because the main sound guy had to leave due to an emergency, because the speakers are naff (they did seem to hiss a lot) or because the room has bad acoustics.

Support act was Before I Explode, weird crazy electro that seemed quite good, though couldn’t make out the lyrics. The girl seemed to talk between songs in a Brummie accent, but sing in mockney. Still, all was forgiven as she was stunning – looked kind of like Lily Allen if she’d looked after herself, ate properly and laid off the coke.

Chris’ set was awesome, apparently there were some tuning problems, my hearing didn’t even notice that, although the (electric) piano was annoyingly fuzzy. Guess you can’t really expect the Academy to have a spare baby-grand lying around though. Sound problems aside, the new album sounds brilliant stripped down to just guitar or piano. I think I actually prefer the guitar-based version of Love Is Not Rescue to the organ-led one on the album. I also think it might be awesome done on straight piano.

Apparently the critics don’t like Elephant In The Room. Wish I’d have talked about it in my review now as I really do. I kind of think the point of it (and I may be well of the mark) is that the chorus refrain, “we can still win”, is sung without any heart, passion or belief. It’s sung in a way that says “we can’t”. Which I really like. But maybe I’m missing the point.

We get the rest of album, well nine tenths of it anyway, some of which works really well live, whereas other tracks sort of struggle without the full arrangements on the album. Can’t wait to hear some of these songs done with the Hoodrats (hopefully later in the year).
Then we get M1 Song and Hedgehog Song which are always fun, before it goes a bit shouty and political with Huntsman Comes A’Marchin, Cull (“this is for any billionaire emos”) and Preaching to the Converted. For the first time ever I got to see Chris get through all three of these without breaking a guitar string.

Then we get some requests. I was going to shout for A-Z because it’s awesome on piano but a) I was quite intrigued to see what other people wanted to hear, as last time I saw Chris in Birmingham there were nine people there, and eight were there to see Thomas White and b) the fuzzy piano noise was annoying me a bit. So we got to hear Sellotape and see Chris’ happy realisation that slating Glee fits perfectly in to the song, next to the moans about Dawson’s Creek and Hollyoaks. I’ll defend the first and last series of The OC to the death though – it may have been US wish-fulfillment melodrama, but it was by far the best written and best acted melodrama on TV.

Ankles on the piano was also a treat, and we finished with Giraffes No.1. Except when Chris tried to walk out to the merch stand and end the gig, we didn’t let him. An important lesson is learned: if you tell the audience that you’re not going to bother with walking off, waiting for applause, and walking back on again, you only get out of doing a “fake” encore. If you were going to get a proper encore because the crowd truly want one then you’ll have to do it anyway.

More requests and we get Old Men and A Plague On Both Your Houses to close: “Plague is really good and that but it’s a really dark and long track to end on… oh sod it we’ll do it anyway”.

All in all an awesome gig, marred by some technical problems. Although I’m not sure the technical problems that annoyed me were the ones anyone else noticed.

Now buy the album

January 06, 2010

New podcast!

So sometime in 2008, Anna and I did a podcast. Well now there is another one. Of it.

The Lowman and Love Podcast – Episode 2

It sounds pretty good, there’s still some hiss and a few annoying peaks, mostly as everything I learned about editing podcasts 18 months ago I’ve now forgot.

Show notes below, and apologies for neglecting the blog of late, am planning a “TV shows of the Decade” mega-feature, but need to decide what they are first.

The Thick of It
Ashes To Ashes


The Duckworth-Lewis Method
Frank Turner
Gavin Osborn

Mark Watson
Tim Key
Stewart Lee
David O’Doherty
Tim Minchin

Doctor Who

All music by How To Swim

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