Tour Diary: The Lucky Strikes: February 2012: Musical Post-modernism, Jane Austen and thoughts at the Spoon Museum

The Railway, Winchester, 22nd February 2012

‘Oh to be happy, oh to be free’ I once sang in a song called Mountain Sickness, which never made it beyond a rough hewn demo recorded with my friends Bryan Styles and Oli Howard in between our renditions of Neil Young and Flying Burrito Brothers covers about a year ago. (Until it ended up on 'The Water or the Wave'). But the lyric jumped into my head afresh on the Wednesday Will came to pick me up for the start of our mini tour. There’s nothing quite like being on the road with your band – it’s a spiritual thing to make music with people and to stand together, with your backs against the wall, delivering to audiences in foreign places, be they good or bad experiences – all are welcome and all develop you in some way.

Will lives in a suburb of Southend called Westcliff-on-Sea which has quite a unique and particular architecture about it. It’s hard to explain but it’s kind of a post war, terraced, pseudo turreted affair- very affecting stuff if you find yourself there for prolonged periods. It was there that we made our way to meet with the rest of the band and to check out, for the first time, our new touring van, compete with tables, chairs and DVD player. We're a hard working band and usually our tour transport is far more basic but this time we lucked out when the economy vehicle we had booked was not ready in time and we got upgraded. The van was a dream and having picked up Ambrose on route (another denizen of Westcliff) we settled down for our drive to Winchester.

Talk came easy and we were all excited to be playing Winchester again. We had played the year before at the South by South Central Festival and had enjoyed it immensely. Winchester is a beautiful place and the Railway it is not your usual dirty, back alley venue. Winchester used to be the capital of King Alfred’s kingdom and the Treasury was kept there for centuries afterwards. I keep meaning to find the statue of Alfred in the city centre but as always with touring, we don’t get the time to visit it this trip. Maybe next time…

The gig goes well and despite a few stage problems (mainly Dave’s piano stand collapsing twice) we enjoy ourselves. I always enjoy meeting people after the show and Winchester does not disappoint me and I manage to cover a whole plethora of topics from Tottenham Hotpsur v. Arsenal (I’m not a football fan) to the current state of Southend Pier (alas a boat hit it last week, again, so it’s not in the rudest of health).

Dave, myself and Will are interviewed by Aline, who is studying for a PhD in the popular culture of music. It’s an interesting subject matter that gets us talking about what constitutes the ‘cannon’ of music for our generation. Aline suggests that the reality of musical culture in Britain resides in the regional bars and clubs where people go to listen to people like us. It does not reside in the Brits or the playlist of BBC Radio 1 or 2. It’s an interesting premise. When historians consider reading fiction to better understand the nineteenth century, for example, do they turn to Austen, which has stood the test of time, and affords us a glimpse of how society worked, how it consumed its fiction. Or perhaps, we are better served through the everyday pamphlets that would have had a larger readership but dealt with lower brow topics. Either way, both types of fiction would offer different perspectives. There is a whole sub-genre of music in magazines, fanzines, bootleg discs, forums, websites and weekly music nights in local pubs that attract dedicated and informed support.

The reality of musical culture in Britain is unseen and I hope Aline can shed some light on it – Good luck, Aline! In the van on the way home we decided that we were happy for the Strikes to be pamphlets, although we would not complain if we were to become Austen.

The Greystones, Sheffield, 23rd February 2012

Following the Winchester gig we stay in Newbury with one of Dave’s relatives. It has almost become a ritual part of touring now that at least one night we will all huddle cold, tired and expectant around the kitchen bar as warm homemade chicken soup is poured until our bellies are filled. It’s like Oliver Twist but with more swearing and Kentucky Colonel bowties. We set off early for Sheffield on the Thursday, a beautiful day. Everyone was upbeat because we were due to see friends and there’s nothing that makes you feel more at home when you’re far from home and that’s your friends.

I lived in Sheffield for a number of years and was expecting a few old faces to turn up. A musician friend of ours (the extremely talented Neil McSweeney) had also invited us around for dinner which meant an awful lot. The food was amazing and well received after a day’s travelling with only service station supplies to keep us going. The Greystones is a great venue and we love playing it. As soon as you walk in you are hit with Martin Bedford posters plastered over the walls depicting Wilko Johnson (Dave’s neighbour!) and Eddie and the Hotrods…it’s like you’ve just entered Chinnery’s or the Kursaal Rooms back home. Simon, the promoter, was also very kind to us and gave me a book, recently published, which collected photos of all the gigs that had occurred in the first year of the venue re-opening. The Strikes featured.

Backstage at the Greystones has got to be one of the best. The flat above the pub is converted for use by the bands and you can see the whole vista of Sheffield, nestling on top of its seven hills, turn from daytime splendour to night time magic, orange lights twinkling from the Hallamshire Hospital and Endcliffe to the city centre. There’s a bed that inevitably at least one Lucky Strike ends up having a doze on. Our pre-gig rituals are fairly standard for five men, although we tend to vary between each other. Will likes to go out front of house and stand in the crowd, watch the support band and generally get a feel for the place. I used to do this but now I prefer to sit away from the noise and collect my thoughts for the show ahead. Jim is far more relaxed and tends to have a cigarette and a few beers, Paul the same. Dave is the dynamo and tends to get everyone up before we go on stage, like a rugby team. We need to get that energy on stage. I play one of the best shows I’ve played for a long time and the audience appreciate our quiet tunes, which makes me happy. Jim has a bad gig.

We head for the hotel in the centre of town and are blessed with a Best Western with comfy beds and warm pillows, heaven! (Thanks Martin!). Having promised myself to behave I end up in the hotel bar with the others drinking until the wee hours. Will befriends some guys who design I-pad computer games while I get into a heated debate with Ambrose about the cultural worth of pop rapper, Example. It ends with Will picking Ambrose and his chair up from the table and depositing him outside the bar.

Day Off, Sheffield, 24th February 2012

It’s lovely to wake up in a warm bed with a full English breakfast waiting for you. I may have overdone the drinking and I stumble about the hotel room getting ready. After breakfast I take Will and our friend Martin into the city centre where we visit the Winter Gardens and Millennium Galleries. The Galleries have not changed since I lived here and I have great pleasure in showing them the cutlery gallery – spoons through the ages. Will and I watch video footage of a man making silver spoons (which Will informs me some people suffer from being born with). The whole spoon making process seems incredibly detailed and complex – I am humbled that I take such an everyday item for granted. I once read that it would have taken thousands of years for man to fully harness maize so that it was edible and didn’t kill or make you very ill. I put spoons in the same category – how long must man have slaved away with fingers and hands before the spoon was fully functional. I digress. We pass the morning in pleasant idleness and having pulled a bewildered and hung over Ambrose from his hotel room, we set off for the final show. Newcastle.

The Cluny 2, Newcastle, 25th February 2012

Newcastle surely has to be one of England’s best kept secrets. An American friend once told me that one of the greatest sites he had ever seen was on the night train arriving into Newcastle and looking out across the Tyne as its five bridges align. Newcastle is pretty and clean and like Sheffield, it has a friendly air that always makes you feel welcome. Within Newcastle itself the Cluny 2 is an inspirational venue offering some of the best food we’ve ever eaten on tour. We are unsure of the reception we will receive but the night proves to be one of the most memorable gigs we’ve ever had. About 150 people dance away the night to Jim’s sawing fiddle and Dave and me get into the swing of things trying to push each other over. A great moment for me at these gigs is to watch Will and Dave jump into the crowd with washboard and accordion respectively and lead them into a dance. So many people had been talking to us on Facebook and Twitter from Newcastle that we felt like we knew half the audience. A fantastic night and thank you to all who came. We love you for it. Until next time…

MGB

February 2012