22nd October 2007 – Manchester Saki
Or “In the shitty.”
Simon and I were in a trance. As the van thundered through the Pennines, we were utterly oblivious to everything expect The Beat. To an outsider it was just a standard four-to-the-floor kick drum pattern, but to us it was an anchor, holding us psychologically and spiritually in place while all around was colour, a wash of sound evolving and moulding around the soft but relentless thumping of the 808 kick drum. As the rain poured from the sky, it felt for a short while like technology and nature were both in time with the music, the windscreen wipers snapping to attention in time with the snare, the percussion of the rain tapping patterns and filling in the space between beats. We were dragged further and further into a forest of sound, sinking into our surroundings as a patchwork quilt of sonic psychedelia was woven around us. Through us. Neither he nor I had spoken for what seemed an age, but we were oblivious to all but The Beat. We only noticed how long we had been silent when finally, over a familiar, jet engine style sound rising to a crescendo amongst the synths my throat cracked as I turned to Simon.
“Nice use of flange, that.” I said.
I had spent Sunday recovering from the trauma of the journey home from Wolverhampton. I had made a point not to speak to any members of 586. We needed the break. The last couple of days had exacted their toll. I spent the day catching up with email and thawing out, knowing that, sadly, I was off to Manchester again tomorrow. Manchester! Again! So soon? I was so not up for this.
We were separated from SohoDolls one final time before the upcoming last date of the tour to play an all-day “fringe” event at In The City. In The City is an annual musical convention, combining – in the words of their website – “a daytime hub of industry debate with a city-wide live festival, gathering the music industry in Manchester and providing a forum for the hottest discussion topics, while showing the public and cheque-waving A&Rs some of the best emerging musical talent in the world.” To me, reading about it in the NME as I grew up, it sounded like Mecca. The palace at the end of the musical yellow brick road where reputations were forged and multi-album deals signed, a place where 586 could go, conquer all before them, sign some paper and head off into the future to become the next Madness. Sadly, we were turned down by the event proper. Some numpty with nothing to do with the festival itself decided to put on a “fringe” event, so we were suckered into playing that instead.
I have no idea why we agreed to do this. We had failed to secure a place amongst the hundreds of bands playing across the city as part of the event proper. Surely that was a big enough hint? And what with our track record in Manchester…why we thought at any point that playing an unofficial fringe event would be an amazing showcase that might – just might – get us signed for the elusive album deal is beyond me. With all those excitable music industry types failing to see so many of the hip ‘n’ hot bands playing the actual event, they were hardly going to leave the city centre to pay an additional fee to see the bands that weren’t good enough for the main event, were they? But still we signed up enthusiastically.
Deborah had a shift at The George and Sam and Grant were back at their day jobs for today, so they planned to travel up by train in the evening while Simon and I took the van. The weather was glorious – until we hit Yorkshire – and the journey was surprisingly enjoyable. We listened excitedly and obsessively to Hot Chip’s recently leaked Shake A Fist, playing it over and over until we eventually swapped it for a couple of late 80s early 90s Kiss FM mixes I had downloaded over the weekend. They were a bit special, all hypnotic beats and psychedelic synths. As the van travelled down county lanes outside Manchester, we were sucked into the layers of sound wafting around the constant, thumping four-to-the-floor kick drum beat, travelling miles in complete silence until, excited by one synth sound in particular, I leant over to Simon and said: “Cracking use of flange, that.” And then we were silent again.
We arrived at the venue around five. The first band had been due to start playing at four. The room was full of confused looking band members, half a PA system and Fall front man Mark E Smith. What the fuck? There has been some sort of confusion over the PA, but it was OK, we were told. The promoter was on it. Simon and I hit the bar and wondered if we should work up the courage to go talk to Mark E Smith. I wasn’t/am not a big fan of The Fall, but Simon was. In the end, we decided not to. Well, not yet. Let’s get some drinks down us first and then go and talk to him. ‘Cos that won’t end in disaster.
One by one, Deborah, Sam and Grant arrived. The evening wore on and still nothing happened. Nothing at all. There was still no PA. The promoter would occasionally nip through the venue trying not to talk to anyone. At some point a band played half a set. Then stopped. No-one knew what was going on. We couldn’t work out if the venue was full of ticket holders or just the sheer volume of other bands that were due to be playing. On the wall was a poster featuring the line-up. There were so many bands…one of them had played half a set, and there was something silly like seven more bands to go before us. Considering everything was due to start at four o’clock, by 7.30 we were starting to get angsty. Really angsty. Sam was supposed to be going to work tomorrow, and she was driving us home. We had planned to leave straight after our scheduled performance at 10.30. With seven bands expecting to play a half hour set each, plus changeover times, there was no way we would be leaving this side of midnight. Not ideal. Deborah went to find the promoter to see what was going on and whether we could go on at our agreed time.
We bumped into the boys from Bolt Action Five, milling around and looking irritated. Bolt Action Five were another London-based band that we had shared a bill with many times before. They were great, slightly nu-rave and full of energy and wit. They were fucked off with all the waiting and nonsense though, so had decided to go home. They could see this was getting nowhere. Deborah returned. Apparently we would be on “soon.”
Hours passed with nothing happening. A band played at some point. Then another. They were called Bono Must Die. Brilliant name, terrible band. The sound mix wasn’t good. All the while the promoter would be reassuring Deborah that we would be on shortly, then disappearing. The bands were all talking, however, and a mutiny was building. Everywhere the guy would go, he would be harassed by exasperated band members.
We were sticking around because we had a bit of a “show must go on” attitude. We had been advised over the phone by management to wait it out, ‘cos when we played it would be worth it. There would be press, there would be A&R, etcetera.
10.30 came and went with no sign of us going onstage. The atmosphere in the room was turning nasty, with many bands going home. The promoter walked past me, so I used the opportunity to accost him. Deborah had already tried reasoning with the guy a couple of times, and he had been increasingly rude to her. He tried to fob me off, so I used my leg to block his way first, then grabbed him by the lapels and pushed him up against a nearby doorframe.
“What. Fucking. Time. Are. We. Going. On?” I demanded. He stammered and spluttered ineffectually, wriggled free and dashed off to the bar.
As the night wore on, more and more bands went home in frustration. We were going to do the same, but then a little after midnight, Deborah managed to take control and we took to the stage area and kicked off with Money Is The Drug. The onstage sound was appalling. Our performance was fucking appalling. We seemed to be going down really well with the punters that were still here, but I had worked myself up into a rage and the terrible, barely-musical mess that we were making onstage was not helping matters. I stropped my way through the performance, almost storming offstage at one point before giving in to the constant fucking feedback during The House That Guilt Built and I Am Not A Monkey and thrashing wildly at my guitar. As the last song came to its close, I put my guitar down in front of my amp, cranked the volume up to full and put all my effects pedals on with their settings at their most extreme, saluted the audience and fucked off away from the stage quick sharp. I was furious with frustration.
I scurried back two minutes later with my tail between my legs to pack up my equipment. Note to self: a dramatic flounce offstage only works if you have roadies to clean up after you. We immediately loaded our equipment into the van and got the Hell out of there as quick at possible. No-one was happy. We didn’t bother collecting our fee from the promoter. Malcolm could sort that out later. We just wanted to go home. The journey was made to a soundtrack of complaining, snapping and whining – and that was just me – peppered with the occasional snores and snoozes from the rest of the band while I stayed awake to keep Sam company, powered by really strong coffee. We realised that the show had been a complete waste of time and we felt really, really stupid. Neither booking agent or anyone from our management or PR people had made it to the show, let alone any stray A&R. We didn’t even appear in any of the reviews. We should have left when Bolt Action Five left. As the van hit the Yorkshire border, it started to rain. Hard.