Where years are concerned I tend to prefer the even numbers. My bones tell me this was a long year, but my memory disagrees. The individual moments concertina disconcertingly back and forth, closer and further – at times it seems like only yesterday we were boarding the ferry to Calais for our third European tour, the next minute that same instance feels like the orphaned recollection of a completely different man.
In the words of my friend Alabaster dePlume: “I hate Time. Time can f**k off. Oh… it has.”
We did a lot this year. I like years full of stuff. It’s good being able to easily account for one’s movements – after all, you never know when you might need an alibi.
It began with the band all moving into a house together for three weeks and recording an album. Such activities induce in their participants equal measures of satisfaction and madness. This was no exception. It’s the best record we’ve ever made (yeah, I know bands always say that, but it’s true for the time being). For anyone interested there’s an entire website dedicated to the details of its creation here: www.bedlamyouth.com. I must admit I’m looking forward to finishing all the phaffy PR nonsense and releasing the damn thing, I can’t wait to disagree with people’s opinion of it.
Shortly after returning from our self-imposed exile we put on a big show at Manchester’s Dancehouse Theatre. It was my thirtieth birthday party and the venue was utterly packed. The gig was the usual chaos. I swang onto stage on the end of a rope and collided with Cleg, immediately detuning his guitar. A fateful beginning. We played thirty songs (one for every year I’ve been bothering people) and featured special guest collaborators Honeyfeet, John Robb, Hannah Miller, Richard Barry and Kirsty Almeida. By the end I could barely speak or move, my left hand had become a paralysed claw with no sensation in three of its fingers. It was quite a night. Putting the huge red BEDLAM backdrop in a skip the next day was a rather sad moment though.
The following month we boarded Bessie the Bedlam van to tour Scotland and the north of England, getting back into the rhythm of regular playing, reacquainting ourselves with each others’ aromas and temper triggers. Then when Spring came around it was time to venture South, playing shows in London and along the coast before crossing the channel for gigs in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Belgium. My tour diary for this period is here if you’d like to read about our adventures on the continent. Upon our return we teamed up with our friends Hope & Social for a brace of double headliner shows in Leeds and Manchester, climaxing with a combined set of both bands playing together. That was quite a squeeze but a lot of fun!
Around this time things got a bit weird for me as the fame of our friends Bridie Jackson & The Arbour burgeoned following their well-deserved Glastonbury Emerging Talent win. The song they had entered into the competition was one I’d written so it was a rather surreal experience listening to the likes of Dermot O’Leary discussing its lyrical symbolism on BBC Radio 2 in the aftermath of their victory.
Then, of course, came the heat wave. We filmed part of the music video for “I Ain’t Done” outside on one of the sunniest days. Look closely at Fran’s face during the dance sequence as it flits back and forth between pale, pink and bright scarlet. The director even got sunstroke. We have a habit of making people suffer for our art.
Away from the band I travelled over to Barcelona with Un-Convention to speak on a few panels at Primavera Sound and played a secret gig with Pete Shelley from The Buzzcocks in a little underground club (bit of a “Dear Diary…” moment that one!).
Later I rejoined the Un-Convention crew for a special project bringing together musicians from the UK, Brazil, India, Uganda and Nepal to form a supergroup. We performed sets at Shambala and Festival No6 and had a lot of fun rethinking our own styles within the context of such a wide range of international influences and techniques.
Autumn brought with it a couple of firsts. Our debut show in Italy was a real highlight. We were flown over to Milan for a one-off performance at Teatro della Contraddizione and afterwards ate the biggest pizzas we’d ever seen. We really thought the Milan crowd would be too cool for our brand of silliness but we were pleasantly mistaken. They danced through the whole thing and then demanded three encores. A wonderful weekend.
Our music also finally made it to Australia as I embarked on a solo acoustic tour of the coastal towns. During this time I performed in a jungle commune, acted in a Lynchian surrealist short film, fought over a grocery bag with a beguilingly strong quokka, had a free cutthroat shave from a stranger and didn’t die even once.
Back home we released the first two singles from the upcoming album (“I Ain’t Done” and “Waiting For Bad News“) and were featured in the BBC 6Music Mixtape with the latter. Our final show of the year was in Manchester and included an onstage wrestling match between me and label-mate Felix Hagan. Sometimes making good on the “every gig is different” promise can be painful work!
And now we approach the end of the year. A year that has at times been frustrating and at others absolutely exhilarating.
As I write this the UK is being ravaged by storms. What was supposed to be a quiet Christmas is now soundtracked by the clatter of falling roof tiles, rainwater dripping from the ceiling into strategically placed buckets, the scream of car alarms outside and the creaking protestations of trees bent double by the wind.
Now the lights have begun to flicker overhead and I suspect the ghosts of Music Past, Present and Yet-To-Come are queuing up outside my bedroom window to teach me the error of my ways.
I’d better go let them in…
See you in 2014 (weather permitting).
Our final show of the year will be on Saturday 7th December at Platt Chapel in Manchester. The venue is on Wilmslow Road between Rusholme and Fallowfield, opposite the entrance to Old Hall Lane.
The event poster (below) is a little homage to Blue Note Records.
Tickets are £7 advance and available here. £8 on the door
“Home is made for coming from, for dreams of going to,
Which with any luck will never come true…“
– “Wand’rin Star” by Lerner and Loewe
from the musical “Paint Your Wagon” 1951 (film version 1969)
At the beginning of this year I decided I would make a concerted effort to see more of the world.
I already do a lot of traveling but that’s generally in the back of the Bedlam Six van – the only things we tend to see on our trips are venues, hotels and motorway service stations. It’s a little bubble of placelessness.
I’ve been on call for a long time, never wanting to book a holiday or definitively RSVP to a wedding/birthday invitation for fear of missing out on a decent gig. When you’re an independent musician (or as some people still insist on saying: “unsigned”) it’s easy to fall into a trap of feeling pressured into accepting every little thing that comes along, never risking a refusal, deeming all incoming offers as potential golden opportunities to perform in front of “the right people” – those elusive dream-peddlers who’ll give you one Happily-Ever-After in exchange for a few drops of Youthful Naïveté.
But that way madness lies. Since when has art been about waiting for someone else to give you directions? Or, worse still, auditioning to be a piece in someone else’s puzzle? When art fits neatly that’s often a pretty good indication that it isn’t particularly good art (I’ve found this philosophy to be very comforting in my leaner times).
The Bedlam Six and I have returned from our latest tour. Despite the close quarters and punishing schedule we did not murder one another. Not even once.
There is a day by day journal of the European leg of the tour over in the Diary Section of this website if anyone is interested.
Many thanks to Burning Eagle Booking for creating another wonderful adventure for us. We’re looking forward to the next one!