17th October 2007 Manchester Night & Day Café
Or “The north. And the south. And never the twain shall meet.” – Luke Haines
Manchester: amazing city, amazing musical heritage. Or so I’d heard. Mancunians tend to be a bit bashful about it. The musical heritage thing can’t be argued with – it’s a pretty long list. The Smiths! Joy Division/New Order! The Stone Roses! Happy Mondays! Buzzcocks! Magazine! The Fall! Simply Red! The amazing city bit? Hmmm. By the time the 17th of October 2007 rolled around, we had performed for the people of Manchester enough times to feel wary when breaching its borders.
The first time round we were proper, capital letters EXCITED, up for the good times and – with our NME runner-up single of the week underground smash hit single all over MTV2 and the Internet and our New Order referencing band name – surely destined to be welcomed with open arms, right?
We left London early, in convoy. According to the AA Journey Planner, Manchester was six hours away. Apart from token Northerner Sam Christie, none of us had ever been to Manchester before, and we wanted time to explore before the show, what with Manchester being cool and all that. In one vehicle, the one trailing further and further behind, were my bandmates. They were being driven by Disco Stu and very slowly coming to the realisation that they wanted to kill each other. In the other car, leading the way and striking further and further ahead as the journey progressed, was a hired Ford Fiesta containing me, all our instruments and equipment, and Head of Tigertrap Records Mr Tom Edwards. This was one of the handful of occasions he – very kindly – agreed to drive our particular Muppet Show out into the provinces. Over the course of this journey, I was to play him some recent demo recordings we had made while rehearsing. Enthused by the success of We Got Bored, we all agreed that we should release a second single with Tigertrap. They were particularly keen on Money Is The Drug, which, bar He’s Got My Measure, was probably our most brazen Tom Tom Club rip-off. Deborah and I were less convinced. We wanted to get Rags & Tags out into the world, so this was a last-ditch attempt to demonstrate to Tom that Rags & Tags would be a better single and to play him some potential b-sides. I was also keen on a very new song called Sirens that was all stabby verse chords and a Gary-Numan-gone-spaz-punk chorus. I was particularly proud of the lyrics, which addressed a time when I had gone a bit mental during a We Got Bored club night and stormed off down Dean Street growling and howling, and my reputation – given to me by Deborah – for being a bit (“very”) uptight. Deborah had contrasted this with some lyrics about her reputation for alcohol abuse to quite marvellous effect. I thought it could even be a single.
Tom didn’t sound convinced. In retrospect, to even consider this song as a single reinforces that bands – well, maybe just 586, but let’s generalise for now – should never, EVER choose their own singles. Further evidence? Well, we almost never recorded We Got Bored, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the lead-off track for our first demo. That’s We Got Bored, the song that – despite being downloaded for free by tens of thousands of people on MySpace – still managed to sell out all 500 copies of its limited 7″ release within 48 hours. Tigertrap would eventually get their way and Money Is The Drug would be our second single. It wasn’t quite such an epic, high profile success, but it still did pretty well. All 750 copies sold out, the reviews were pretty great, we got to do an XFM session. We finally got our own way and chose Rags & Tags for the third single, self-released with funding from our management. Something like £10,000 was spent on PR and marketing and something like 1100 copies still sit in my spare bedroom. I don’t have the heart to throw them away. If Deborah’s upcoming Gaggle album (released tomorrow!) goes massive, I am SO totally going to try and flog some off the back of that…
The supposedly six hour journey started with – oh yes – a massive kerfuffle. There had been an accident on the North Circular, so it took us just over three hours to get from our studio in Shadwell to the start of the M1. A distance of, ooh, 14.3 miles. Grrr. We were going to be not only late, but – a good year and a bit before we got used to bluffing it with a line check on the SohoDolls tour – we were totally going to miss soundcheck. Even better, the hire car air conditioning was faulty so was blasting hot air straight down on to my shins. Not a problem in winter, but this was a beautiful, clear-skied sunny June day.
Once Tom and I finally left London, the journey up was fairly standard. Even down to the point – basically as you enter Yorkshire – where, no matter how sunny it may be when you leave London, it’s always fucking raining. Literally every time we traveled to the north to do our thing, at the Yorkshire border it would start raining. If it was raining when we left London, it would stop for a couple of miles before the border. Then, as we approached Yorkshire, the skies would darken again until – seriously, every time, without fail – we crossed into the county and the rain would resume. We had left a London that was basking in blue skies and glorious sunshine. I was wearing shorts. Actual, real-life shorts. I never wore shorts. I looked like a dork in shorts. There is an argument that one looks like a dork wearing jeans and sweating in the heat, but shush. With the heat blaring through the window and – thanks to the faulty air conditioning – straight down on my legs, the traffic jam part of the journey in particular had been hellish. I had resigned myself to the fact I was going to spend a good five or six hours on top of the three hours of traffic jam hell sweating like the proverbial. I hoped for a dressing room with a shower, but knew deep down that there was no way we were going to get either. So when the great big nuclear power chimney things that signify the proximity of Yorkshire appeared on the horizon I was actually quite relieved. The clear blue became weak grey, the heavens opened and every god in the whole of creation pissed down on our sceptered isle. My feet were still fucking sweating though.
Tom and I arrived in Manchester first, an hour before stage time. It was still raining. It isn’t a cliche: it genuinely does always rain. We went straight to the venue as we were already late for soundcheck. Time was not on our side. I phoned the rest of the band. They were miles away, and bickering. Tom and I paced the venue, pausing only to placate the promoter’s assistant. The promoter himself wasn’t even there: he had gone on holiday. The rest of the band arrived less than ten minutes before stage time and two minutes before the deadline the assistant had set as the point where he would cancel our show. My bandmates endeared themselves immediately by enquiring after the rider rather than getting straight on stage. To be fair, they had spent eleven hours travelling up from London, but still: the assistant wasn’t impressed. We sniped at each other as we set up and assumed our positions.
We had been preceded by a band that sounded like Arcade Fire and we were followed by a band that sounded like The Stone Roses. We stood out like a particularly unpopular sore thumb, one that – thanks to only having had a couple of minutes of perfunctory line check – not only looked hot, sweaty, harassed and bothered (can a thumb look bothered? Let’s go with it), but also sounded like complete shit too. Not that anyone was listening. We played a short set of badly-mixed shouty disco-pop joy to, basically, no-one. Once it was all over, we packed our equipment away, took it straight out to the car, had an argument about our fee and fucked straight off out of there with our tails between our legs. Manchester – 1, 586 – 0. Nil. Fail. The promoter’s assistant claimed to know nothing of our payment arrangements. This annoyed me. He was very short, very young, very boyish. I utilised all my 6 feet and 3 inches of height and pulled my best intimidating face. I didn’t care that we were late, hadn’t exactly pulled or wowed the punters and that we had played like shit. All I cared about was the fact that we had £39’s worth of hire car and two cars worth of fuel to pay for. He scurried off to a back room to call the promoter again.
Empires rose and fell while the assistant repeatedly tried the promoter’s mobile. Probably. We waited for what felt like an age. He didn’t think the promoter would be happy. I swapped the intimidating face for a “sorry, do I look like I care?” face. Finally, he managed to get through and we got paid. Hoo-fucking-rah. We left immediately. I was embarrassed. Really embarrassed. Cay McDermott, a friend of mine from the Trash days (more of whom in a tick) had come to see us and the fact we’d played such a duffer in front of an old friend was just humiliating. A mutual friend of us both was running a club night across the road, so Cay took us there for a couple of drinks to lick our wounds before we made the long trek down the motorway home to London. The journey home was quicker, and – seeing as I was now roaringly drunk – much more bearable. Possibly not so bearable for Tom, who was obviously stone-cold sober behind the steering wheel. Manchester had not been impressed by us, but we had not been impressed by Manchester. So nerr.
You may by this point be wondering to yourself why 586 took two cars with two separate drivers to Manchester. Or indeed anywhere.
1. 586 could not drive:
Actually, that’s a lie. There were three driving license holders in 586, but none of them owned a car. Or a van. Each had their reasons for not wanting to drive. Let’s call them Driver 1, Driver 2 and Driver 3.
Driver 1 suffered from panic attacks. Driving a vehicle of that size caused them terrible anxiety. So much so that when Driver 1 took the wheel for a stint on a French motorway for a couple of hours between Paris and Grenoble, Prozac and a shoulder masseuse were required. Driver 1 was – on occasion – happy to drive to the gigs, but driving back was a no-no. Like the rest of 586, Driver 1 liked a drink, and certainly needed a couple of drinks to loosen up before going onstage. And then to wind down. And then to keep the night moving nicely.
Driver 2 was happy to drive to venues, but wanted to drink before, during and after the show as well, so wasn’t up for driving us home. Driver 2 had to drive us home from Portsmouth once. Everyone promised to stay sober. Not one of us kept the promise. Driver 1 and I spent a lot of the journey home screeching a capella Spice Girls covers in the direction of the driver’s seat and stage whispering at high volume about how much we’d pissed off Driver 2. Driver 2 vowed to never drive us home again, breaking this vow only when we started the SohoDolls tour.
Driver 3 was 1) short and 2) nervous. The idea of driving a great big transit van was, for Driver 3, terrifying. Driver 3 found the whole thing very stressful. Again, to be fair, Driver 3 drove us home through the night on a number of occasions, despite ending each of these nights a nervous wreck.
All three DID drive home in times of dire need, but it was a stressful thing. None of them wanted to drive or felt they should have to drive. Playing gigs outside of London became a logistical pain in the backside, but I couldn’t – and still can’t – drive.
I should remind you at this point that when I said to 586 manager Malcolm “This is a pain in the arse. I’m going to learn to fucking drive and I’m going to buy a fucking van”, his advice to me was simple.
“Steve,” he said, “by the time you learn to drive, you won’t need to be able to drive.”
It was actually kind of cheaper to take two cars. With none of 586 driving, if we played outside of London we had two options:
- Hire a van and get a mate to drive us. 586 were, at this point, able to command a guaranteed fee. The guaranteed fee is the holy grail for the minor league indie band. Our guarantee started at £50 per show in the internet buzz-band days and crept up to £100 – 150 after We Got Bored became a ginormous indie smash hit single. We would sometimes earn as much as £250-300, but these were pretty rare occasions. Van hire would cost £40-£50 per day, then add fuel. Sorted. It was very rare for one of our friends to drive us twice, however, so…
- Hire a van + driver. The cheapest we ever found was a chap who charged us £100 + fuel. It totally ate our fee, but we got from A to B and back again. Sadly, we began to run out of our own money to spend so this became a bit too expensive…
- Ask Disco Stu nicely. When Deborah and Stu were still an item, we could use her to persuade him to drive us in his little Toyota Yaris. On the one hand, great. On the other, we couldn’t get any instruments in there as well as the people. So we would need a second car. Hiring a car just cost £30-£40 per day, so again, add the fuel cost on top of that, then add in fuel for Disco Stu and you might – might – might break even.
When we returned to Manchester as part of the tour with SohoDolls, expectations were low. Really low. This being the first day of the week’s touring, we began our journey in London, leaving The George after a day off feeling refreshed and sparky for the long haul to Manchester. It had become pretty much business as usual now for various members of 586 to kill time on the journey by either reading, drinking, sleeping, getting stoned, writing lyrics, writing stories, playing games or watching movies on laptops. Or indeed any combination of the above. I would obsessively suck on humbugs or Everton mints, trying to offset the effects of travel sickness while I lounged in the back of the van on the dirty old mattress, trying to avoid flying musical equipment when we turned corners. With Prince or Johnny Cash tapes blaring from the stereo upfront, sometimes the supposedly boring times travelling between venues were my favourite bits of the tour. Especially compared to the alternative – ie: being at work. Being a non-driver, this was basically free time. I loved it.
Tonight, we had somewhere pre-planned to stay: the aforementioned Miss McDermott would be our host for the night. As I mentioned before, I knew Cay from Trash. Cay was one of the housemates of a girl named Cat who I ended up ‘seeing’ for a short period after I split up with Helen. Cat was studying at the London College of Printing and lived in student digs in a knackered old council estate in Stockwell. She had two housemates – Cay and a Brett Anderson lookylikey named Patrick Barrett. I recognised Patrick from AfterSkool, Trash and various Suede gigs. He really did look a lot like Brett Anderson. Patrick had the best music taste in the world: obsessed with New Order, Suede, disco and electroclash, his vinyl collection was a thing to behold. When I went to their flat to visit Cat, I would end up hanging out with Patrick and Cay and being introduced to loads of amazing electronic pop. If we all came back from a club late, we would end up watching Patrick’s collection of bootleg live video footage of Suede from the period when Bernard Butler was still playing guitar for them. I saw Suede every time they played live in London from 1996 onwards. Unfortunately, before then I was too young to attend the gigs, so never saw the original line-up. This was in the days before YouTube, so Patrick’s footage was hard-to-find stuff, back in the day. This was pretty amazing stuff. We would stay up till sunlight, drinking, singing along and punching the air.
I found out much later that this used to really piss off Cat.
We arrived at the Night & Day Café fairly early. Suffice to say, as we crossed the Yorkshire border it started raining and continued to do so for the rest of the evening. Manchester: you fucking cliché. The Night & Day was a pretty cool venue. It was/is an actual café, but with a good-sized stage and – most importantly – a bar. We had an enormous backstage area to share with SohoDolls, complete with a fruit basket, beer, crisps and – to mine and Deborah’s delight – red wine. Huzzah! They even kindly supplied us with white wine for Sam. We liked it here. We readied ourselves for stage time. Deborah and Matt flirted, Deborah, Simon and I got to play his double bass, and then stage time arrived. Once again, the Mancunian audience could not give a monkey’s fuck about the noises coming from the stage. Some people complain about London audiences – we have a tendency to watch bands with our arms folded, looking bored. I have played in front of many London audiences and maybe seven or eight Mancunian audiences. The Mancunians were far, far worse for the ‘impress me’ poses. No offence, Manchester, but from the perspective of a singer in a slightly stage-y disco punk band, you suck. To be fair, it’s very possible that we sucked, but – this being my story – I’m not going to entertain that possibility.
I was a bit disheartened after another failed attempt to crack Manchester so wasn’t really up for any partying. Neither was Cay, and she was host, so when she announced she was up for heading home, I was more than happy to join her, as were Sam and Grant. Deborah and Simon were up for some party party and had met some locals who were also up for some party party, so they declined the actual proper bed in favour of some party party.
The van was parked on the street outside, at the mercy of restrictions between 9.30 and 6.30. We agreed that Sam, Grant and I would get up and move it to a car park and we would all meet up in the morning to head on over to Sheffield. I was happy with this: a Doctor Who exhibition had opened at the Museum of Science and Industry and I fully intended to visit this while we were up here. More importantly, Sam – who would have to drive the van – was also happy with this, so we set off in a cab with Cay while Simon and Deborah stayed and drank.
I was quite excited to discover that Cay’s house was on the same street in Chorlton as the Cosgrove Hall studios. I still had a Dangermouse poster on my wall well into my mid-20s. We piled into the Iiving room, drank tea, bitched about the gig, bitched about Manchester and bitched about the tour. And then we fell asleep.