Monday, 13 April 2009

Yes, I am going to finish this...

...I'm just waiting on getting all the other bits of video and photos together. 

Back soon. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Why Sat Nav Is Important

Once upon a time, getting to gigs was an affair fraught with difficulties. Yes, such things as maps have always existed, but did you really want to buy a map of Glasgow just to find King Tuts Wah Wah Hut? No, doubtlessly there would be some friendly local who could point you there from the city centre, you'd just have to point yourself north and drive... (Obviously, that example is because we once spent an hour in Glasgow's one way system being less than 500 yards from the venue..)

And so, in Europe, sat nav has been the most unbelievable change in how we get about. It's been a couple of years since we did this kind of journey and the all-permeating sat nav is standard kit to most people but for me this is like - wow! - I can ignore the person holding the map upside down and just listen to the soothing tones of the nice lady telling me "in 500 yards turn right" or the equally soothing tones of the bell that rings to say "Exceeding 110 km/h" - yeah baby, we are exceeding like crazy. Nice. 

So you'd have to ask the question: why did our 287 km journey from Krakow to Vienna take 9 hours? No typo - that's  n i n e  hours. Well, Chris, who had sourced the sat nav machine, had loaded maps for Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland. But not Poland. Or Slovakia. Or Slovenia. 

Still, no matter, surely - we bought a map from a petrol station. That should sort it, right? 

I suppose I should have been more concerned with all that snow ans the disappearance of familiar road numbers at a particular roundabout. "No no this is definitely the right way," says Chris, brandishing the map as proof. This was to be our version of Bugs Bunny's repeated "left turn at Albuqueurque." In fact, within half a mile the road had turned to a pleasing mixture of compacted ice and snow, to the point that there wasn't a single patch of un-iced tarmac. 

We went up and down two very large mountains. There was skidding, spinning, some panic amongst the less courageous of our team (Chris).  There was much mention of the lack of a sat nav map and whose fault it was that we were in this predicament (Chris') and weather or not beatings / bodily penetrations should be administered with a small shovel, and to whom (Chris). Fortunately there was one hero on hand, someone who'd learnt the art of focus and driving mastery from ardent following of a fine sportsteam (me, Liverpool) as opposed to those who had learnt their cowardly and foolhardy ways from lesser sporting mortals (Chris, Ev***on). Let this be an important lesson - if we take nothing else from this, it's that Ev***on are a sack of donkey crap. Funny how often that comes through in life. 

Anyway, there's nothing like arriving on time. In fact we arrived 10 minutes after we were due on stage and had to load in through the Viennese audience. A quick linecheck and we started up. How rock and roll is that? (A. Not very, we were just very late). I think the audience appreciated our heroic efforts not to blow the gig. In fact, we went down so well I'm thinking that we should engineer such circumstances for every gig.  

Usually, we have to contrive to leave the stage and wait in the wings / dressing room for the thunderous applause that demands an encore (or, in the case of the refined and restrained audience in Halle, just go back on and ask if they want another one). In this case, we didn't know where we were. So we loitered awkwardly and had to do a second encore (rarity) as we had nowhere to hide... 

Krakow, old memories

Once upon a time, in a previous life, I used to have a label called AMOS Recordings, which was the label that put out Dakota Suite's first LP (they were still called LPs then - ha!) "Songs For A Barbed Wire Fence." There was also a band on the label called Ripcord, made up of 4 nice lads from a place called Heckmondwike in Yorkshire. What do you mean you haven't heard of it? It's right next to Cleckheaton! Yup, it was just outside the arse of end of nowhere...

Anyway, Krakow offered a chance to meet up with Hayden Berry, formerly the singer in Ripcord and now a Krakow resident. Interesting factoid: his girlfriend used to be one of the Polish Teletubbies. Yeah, that's right, we know all the stars. Anyway, he helped us navigate the streets of the capital (what - no sat nav? Yep - going to have something to say about that shortly) and there I was, driving a van full of gear, a bit lost, with Hayden sat next to me saying "I think if you take the next right... no wait... left..." and it seemed like I'd just been transported back to 1998. It was really rather a sweet moment and kind of lovely.

It made me wonder: do I miss those days? Now I'm all / mostly grown up, with a real job and responsibilities. In those days, we were incredibly cavalier, had a lot of fun, made a lot of mistakes at our own expense and enjoyed a mix of tremendous highs and thunderous lows. The things I don't miss are the stress - I felt very responsible for the bands we worked with, and wh
en things went sour and we'd run out of cash I was pretty much on the verge of a nervous breakdown and just upped sticks and left. Guys like Dakota Suite were never so much of a problem, but Triumph 2000 (Richard Formby's extremely ace project) and Ripcord were left floating in space. I woke up in the night panicking about it. So, no, I don't miss that.

On the other hand, there's the fact that you spend all day dealing with artistic or creative output. I miss that a lot. For me, being able to come on a "busman's holiday" of sorts is an unbelievable luxury. Most people my age that still work in music are either very successful or kind of clinging on to former glories or youth - still hanging out at gigs with 21 year olds and trying not to act their age. With Dakota Suite, there's no pretence at being fashionable or trying to make a buck (nobody is likely to get paid off the tour - hey! we're in it for the love... and you the audience of course...*). Instead, we try and go places we know people want to see what we do, not just hear the "hits" - hahaha like there's lots of them. 

Krakow was a good reminder of why we do this kind of thing, driving stupid distances and eating crap for a while. First up, Iowa Super Soccer were a great support, the singer had a lovely voice and the tunes were good. Secondly, the place was packed and the show was a good one. We were really close to the audience too, which means you can feel the response. This was something that I can't imagine most musicians my age get to do - at this point you're either a big act and on a big stage, or you've just given up. As I said, it's a privilege. Every moment of the tour is there to be savoured, as next week I'll be back at my desk and stood on a London commuter train and looking to pay the bills and bluff my way through life, as ever. 

Yes, every moment... even the ones that seem horrendous at the time. For instance, the journey from Krakow to Vienna... Oh yeah, Hooson, you're going to get it now :)

*Caution: may not actually be true

Sunday, 22 March 2009

20th March – Berlin, Germany

Small delay in getting these updates done. Mostly due to a lack of teh internets. Technology rocks as long as you can access it, huh?


Anyway, Berlin. We spent the afternoon doing the usual tourist stuff. Apparently, there were these guys called the Nazis, and they sounded distinctly uncool. On reflection, I'd have to say I'm against them. And the there was thing called Communism and, despite, some very good-looking iconography, turns out those guys were jolly rotten too. Sounds like this Berlin place has had some bad luck over the years. We went to the Jewish Memorial near the Brandenburg Gate and - hey! - it worked! I remembered I was Jewish. Amazing! 

We then saw a poster for what has to be the least appealing gig I've seen. I find it hard to believe that there's still a place on Earth where this combination of music is seen as a surefire winner for that festival vibe. 

Then, of course, David mentioned the likelihood that, somewhere in Berlin, were a bunch of middle-aged women standing looking at one of our posters saying "So who the fuck would pay to see that bunch of miserable twats...?" 

The first thing we noticed at the venue was that people were queuing from really early. Of course, this is because we were the support band. For Hauschka. Aside from being an extremely nice guy, his set was amazing. I hadn’t seen anyone play a prepared piano live before and it was quite spectacular, much more so that I’d expected. His sense of rhythm is impeccable and quite embarrassing to call myself a drummer in the same room as him.

Fortunately, I wasn’t playing tonight. This was because I suddenly became nervous at the sight of the string quartet and piano and thought maybe the full band thing might be a bit out of step. I probably needn’t have bothered in the end – the crowd seemed like quite an arty bunch who would have been open-minded enough, but it was still a good show. Alex played the piano stuff beautifully and the combination with Chris on the acoustic went down well. Got some video which I’ll upload soon.

In the end I took an early night as we’ve got a long drive to Krakow. Not exactly rock and roll….  

Thursday, 19 March 2009


So, that was actually a pretty good gig. 

Two things of note - 1. Lots of CDs sold and requests for autographs and (b) an attactive female under the age of 30 was in the front row. That's not quite the sexist aside it may seem - it's just that this is a subset of the human race that rarely appears at Dakota Suite gigs in Germany. 

Something about us seems to attract mainly nerdy men. It's OK, we're nerdy men, too. And it's nice to be in company. But it's also nice to know that particular feelings cross over. For some reason only in Spain did we ever see females at the front and singing the words. So, random unknown female of Halle, we salute you. 

Meantime, some relief. This was a good enough gig that we sold a load of CDs and got asked to sign a bunch too. We are playing Berlin tomorrow with a load of journo / music types in the house, so it's nice to know that we don't always blow like a cow's arse. 

Woo and, indeed, yay. 

Halle & yell

Small wig-out. Promoter hired backline (drums, amps etc) because they mis-read the contract. Of course, this costs them money unnecessarily so they're a bit pissed, but this is their fault not ours. Some little metalhead who's the assistant engineer made the mistake of being a bit curt to Chris about it and then got snarly when Chris said (quite correctly) that the piano - which is the only bit of extra kit we've requested - was way out of tune. 

Chris went for a walk whilst I played diplomat. You might think with all the levity about our suckiness that somehow we don't care about getting it right, but you'd be wrong. We'd love to be able to do the whole affair with piano, cello, trumpet, etc, but it just isn't practical. If you think about it, an extra man is an extra hotel room, bigger bus, more food and so forth. We don't get paid a lot for these shows. The advantage with Alex is that he plays piano too so it's nice that we can add an extra dimension to the show. If the piano is out of tune it's no good at all. 

I just listened to Chris and Alex playing "Signal Hill" and it sounded beautiful. Little metalman was pushed aside and the promoter, Mattias, got someone in to tune the piano. It was worth it. We also just practised "All Your Hopes Gone Cold" and "Chapel Rain" after the van-based
 rehearsing and they've all improved a lot. 

This should be better tonight and we'll certainly be in good shape by the end of the tour.... 

I also recorded a little video for my 2 year old daughter who's a bit young to understand why daddy's not home and that made me feel a bit happier. I don't like being away from home for so long (and I feel guilty about leaving my partner looking after her all that time) and little things like that make it a bit easier. 

Munster: Yeah, um, sorry about that

So, after the London gig / rehearsal thing I was thinking things had changed a bit. Alex's addition has added some new competence in the bass department and, at times, we actually didn't suck complete balls. 

Anyway, you'll be pleased to know that last night was back to business as usual: I knew there was a reason I picked that name for the blog. 

Any chance of "muddling through" went out the window in the second song when things unravelled quite badly. And it got worse from there. In fact, it got a lot worse and was one of the worst gigs I can remember us playing. And I can remember some bad ones. 

The crowd, bless them, were very kind, if slightly bemused. We had one of those nights where the monitors were weird and each of us could only hear our own instruments, which means you end up playing in some kind of isolation; this is fine if you're the note perfect kind of musician, but for us less so. My sphincter was constricted so tightly it could have choked an electron. I know that's an image you want to share in... 

Anyway, that kind of kicked us in the arse. We know we can suck, but a lot of the time that's just part of how we are. This was different. This called for action - and action we took, goddamit. So, on the way to Halle today we actually listened to the records again and discussed the different sections of certain songs. This is tantamount to a rehearsal. The hour we spent listening to things was very informative and I now have no doubt that tonight's gig will be no less than merely partly rubbish. 

Phew. Glad we got that sorted out. 

Lunch: brockwurst and chips stood by the side of the motorway whilst a man in a German army uniform stood by, menacingly. I say menacingly but I think he was about 14. Still, uniforms make me edgy - last time we were here a woman soldier had her rifle pointed at me and really meant it. Thing is, I found that slightly erotic and the true seriousness of the situation escaped me until later, when I'd stopped being a "man" and thought "she was going to shoot me." This was because, having been accused of smuggling contraband by the Swiss border authorities (contraband = a box of Dakota Suite CDs when you travel out of the EU, and despie insisting that they had no actual value, they weren't chuffed), we were ordered to turn round. In doing so, we re-entered Germany and, had I not caught sight of the soldier's gun in my wing mirror we might have had our tires shot out. When I sauntered out of the van and back towards her I saw sweat drip down her brow as she aimed at my chest. "Cool, that's quite sexy" I thought. Idiot. This is what comes of spending a week in a van with only other men for company...

Which brings me back to Halle and the soundcheck I'm about to finish. Just a last moment to send more apologies to Munster. We remembered being there about 5 years ago at Gleiss 22 and it's  a really cool place. Our piss-poorness did rather lessen the pleasant nostalgia element in the end....