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....    

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Oh yeah I remember now

You drive 500 miles having left home at 5am and arrive just in time to be an hour late for soundcheck. There will be no food or drink until the soundcheck is complete, and all I want to do is sleep. 

Most annoyingly, our optimistic scheduling meant we had to turn around just 10km from Amsterdam when we realised that we were going to be tardy. This is just wrong - so close you can see the spires and then whipped away like a big fat tease. Gah. 

This rage and anger, disappointment and loss will all be themes we visit in tonight's show. It's fun for all the family... 

Value For Money

So, 7.30am and we’re at Dover. The port at Dover speaks volumes about who is expected to travel by ferry: the terminal is an overpriced coffee stand with a Burger King attached and the tiny WH Smith sells anything you like, as long as it’s by Michael Crichton. Or it’s Nuts magazine. Or it’s a big fuck-off bar of chocolate. No wifi (although there is a booth offering “coin-operated wi-fi” on a terminal with metal a metal keyboard). Depressing. Apt.

Anyway, time to think on re the London gig. I’m not so disappointed – in fact, it was one of the most together gigs we’ve played and things only get better as the dates progress. People expect more out of the band, maybe because it’s been around so long; in trut

h, there was never a time when the band were exactly killer live, it’s always more that, sometimes, there are moments in the gig when it just touches the right raw nerve or hits a momentarily meaningful groove. Of sorts. 

I respect bands like Mogwai a lot. They somehow manage to still pull off sounding angry and emotional live despite playing some of those songs hundreds or thousands of times. There aren’t many bands that have been around a long time that are like that. Dinosaur JR still sound exactly the same as they did 15 years ago, but then they look exactly the same as people (and still haven’t learnt to “play” their instruments in that nice polished way that old musos do, thank fuck). Who’s still around? REM sound like old men trotting out radio singles. I’d rather just not play than be some cock-end like Michael Stipe clearly pretending to be in a world of hurt and then jumping into the limo.

Maybe that’s not a great comparison – we’re not exactly in the same league. But then that’s part of the thing with being a bit shabby and small band-wise, is that our gigs cost less than a tenner, every rehearsal we do costs us money we don’t really have or miles we have to travel to be together. In our horrible consumption society (dons beard, corduroy) we surely expect to “get what we’ve paid for.” On that b

asis, if it costs 6 quid to see us in London, compared with, say, 80 quid to see the Police at Twickenham, that means that we only have to be roughly 1/6th as good (or 6 times as disappointing depending on your approach) in order to be “value for money.”

And Sting is at least twice the cock Chris is.

Maybe 1 ½ times.

Other things to note from the London gig – if we seemed unserious, it’s because we’re a bit nervous. We aren’t performers in the traditional mode, it doesn’t come naturally. We are normal people who have to bare souls in public, not trot out some old hits – because (a) we don’t have any and (b) what would be the point? It’s unnerving to get really into something when you’re that close to people and especially so when there’s less.

So there you go: we’re probably barely value for money, but on the plus side, we aren’t U2. At least we’re honest.

The idea that you get value for money in a gig seems alien to me. You either get touched or you don’t. Sure, if you buy 3 albums a year to play in the car and you calculate the admission fee divided by the number of singles you heard that you knew then maybe you have a formula for value for money. Me, I like it or I don’t. 

Monday, 16 March 2009

Dakota Suite : 19 paying punters can't be wrong

Or "How to ensure that people actually come to your gig." 

So, in the words of Professor Piehead, "Another partial success...." 

"Success" inasmuch that we turned up and only sucked a bit, and in places were actually approaching competence. As usual, the good bits are when Chris gets the freedom to let go and immerse himself in the moment and the songs. And that did happen in places. I'll write more about the gig itself later. 

"Partial" by way of the fact that there were 30 people in the room. Match that to the fact that we know there are more people out there that want to see Dakota Suite play. And the worse thing is that we have noone to blame but ourselves. So, if you want some free advice on getting people to see your band, take it from the experts, huh? 

To explain: I spent years working in music, managing bands, running record labels and international departments, organising marketing campaigns and teams (although as a Dead Kennedys / Bill Hicks devotee I didn't like the "m" word and pretended it was something else). Add to that the fact that I spent a lot of time helping out bands on the side, for love, little labels, indie schmindie artists with a niche to carve and so on. So you'd think I'd know better. 

In fact, I'm crystal clear on why nobody was there - we didn't do the work. However much your art is a labour of love, someone somewhere needs to tell people where to find / see / hear it or it just dissolves into the ether. In our defence, we are old men with day jobs and not the kind of people who like shouting about ourselves too much (I think the music probably explains that). 

Anyway, in the hope that last night isn't a complete loss, I thought I'd try and write a quick (non-comprehensive) guide to getting people to your gig. I am also happy for people to forward this to bands they know and answer questions from them and give advice. On last night's results, I'm clearly better at giving advice than following it... 

1. Do people know you already? 

If there's a group of fans out there, find them. The internet makes this easier - searching Facebook, Bebo, myspazz etc should reveal if anyone has put your band in their favourite music listings. Send them a message directly - it's better than just random commenting or pasting e-flyers. If they really love you, they'll help promote you. 

Always make sure that you give something in return, even if it's just a little of your time to acknowledge them. 

We did a bit of this - maybe 10 or 15 minutes. And the 4 people we found in that time showed up and posted about the gig. Perhaps if we'd spent a whole hour.... 

Additionally, you should be keeping a mailing list so that you can mail news when you've got it (please don't send out a weekly newsletter if you've got sod all going on - this invites deletion). 

We, of course, don't have a mailing list. 

2. Social Networks are not a panacea for all ills

You can't just create a Facebook event and hope all your "friends" show up. They won't. They may be Facebook friends, but most of them aren't going to take a bullet for you.  Moreover, people say "maybe attending" because they don't want to hurt your feelings by saying "not attending." Count the maybes in the "no" pile. 

For all internet "flyering" the ratio of success to failure is probably not vastly different to physically flyering. Years ago, I used to promote nightclubs - when we flyered outside other clubs at 2am, we knew that maybe 5 or 6 in a 100 that we gave flyers to would come to our night - that meant doing a couple of thousand flyers to get a hundred or so people in. The ratio varies depending on how good you are at targeting flyers. The same is true online. 

If you have 5000 fans on myspace, you aren't going to sell 5000 records. In fact, the likely numbers are more like 50-100 if that. It's very easy to click a button that says "I'm a fan" or "I might come to your gig." It's considerably harder to get off your arse, get the cash together and buy a ticket or a record. 

3. Don't rely on online alone

Mad though it may seem, the people that leave their homes to go to other gigs / clubs are much more likely to leave the house to go to yours. Whilst many live virtual lives, lived vicariously through a social life that only appears in the events column of Facebook, some people are actually living their lives "offline." 

Flyers, however cheap, and posters (ditto) can be of much use. Dakota Suite are a difficult case study - try finding the club that plays our kind of music - but, for most bands, it shouldn't be hard to find similar music and thus similar fans. Try and find a "call to action," something people can do when they've got the flyer - then you can drive them to a website / page etc, but have something waiting - more details, tracks to listen to, etc.

In our case, pushing the news to certain record shops, bars and cafes would probably have found our fans a bit better. Total fail on that count - when am I going to have time to go trawling round record shops....? I can't imagine saying that 10 years ago...  *sob*  

4. Press Release

Well, this one I tried. Not hard, obviously, but a bit. I wrote one, got a list of e-mail addresses for people at music mags and sent away. There are 2 self-destruct points for this activity:

(a) I have a suspicion that my mail from gmail ends up in some people's junk mail folder - this means I kind of knew that people at big media with sensitive spam filters are probably not getting the message

(b) The personal touch always counts. I should have been phoning them first and *then* sending them the info. These guys receive dozens of gig notices a day, so why are they going to care about mine, anyway? 

5. Use Your Contacts

OK, you either have these or you don't. I have no excuse - simply by being alive for marginally longer than others, I have friends who DJ on Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music, XFM and more. 

Unlike most music types, I never bother them with stuff cos I know how annoying that is and they're friends rather than mere contacts. That said, I'm a complete dick. If I'd picked up the phone, at least one of them would probably have given us a shout. For the sake of being a bit less shy about it, we could have used radio - one of the most powerful media for music there is - and I completely failed to do so. Duh. 

6. If you're going to try some stunts, be prepared to be a complete liar

See previous post re "Band marketing fail." What a chump. And worse still I roped in a pal to help and he only did so cos I think he was feeling sorry for me. I hereby completely absolve Rob the ginger fuhrer of blame... 

Actually, if you do things right, and your band are good, there's no reason to go down this route. If you make good use of all the tools that are available to you then this kind of desperate roll of the dice shouldn't be necessary. I'm just not into the lying.

7. Time

Probably the biggest factor of all. What with work, family, laziness, etc. I didn't really do a thing about this gig until 2 weeks before the show. That's completely crap. Online campaigns need lots of time unless you're a big band for whom people are searching day in day out. Someone like us should spend 2 months making sure we're in all listings, event guides, music sites etc etc. And then a constant workflow of contacting different people and gently cajoling rather than waiting til 48 hours before and screaming at the top of your voice.....

Anyway, I could go on, but this is a blog not a book.

The overall message is simple - you can't just be an artist without you (or, in an ideal world, someone else) putting the effort in. If you don't, your audience will look like this:

Sunday, 15 March 2009

We're here

I think the doorperson must be holding back the hordes. Seen a guy with a cameraphone diddling away but he may work here. 

After 2 hours spent parking / unloading, we're about ready to play. Make that 3 hours. 

Thursday, 12 March 2009

How to get a football legend to insult a singer

At some point I will catalogue some of the arguments me + Chris have had about football. He's a bitter blue (i.e. supports Ev****n) whilst I am a glorious red (Liverpool). 

Ev****n have won very little of note in their many years of labouring under the misapprehension that they are a football outfit of note. However, I believe that in one of their very few trophy-winning years, they had in their employ a gentleman by the name of Andy Gray. In recent years he's found considerably more fame as a commentator and pundit on Sky Sports than he would ever have done playing for the blueshite. 

This striker, Scottish, stroppy, arrogant, Liverpool-hating, had always clearly been held by some affection by Chris H., which is understandable since "Ev****n players with winners' medals" is a very small mathematical subset. There aren't many choices for players to hold in high regard when it comes to that team. 

So, imagine my surprise when I saw him hanging around backstage at the Reading Festival a couple of years ago. I myself am a mere blagger in that respect and find it a congenial atmosphere for getting wasted and sunburnt. And there he was, this hero of Chris' - what's a friend to do? Surely get an autograph for a pal? 

Well, no. That would be dull. 

Instead, posing as an Ev****n fan (that's the level of disgrace I had to sink to to achieve this), I approached the Grayster and asked if, since autographs were boring, he'd have his photo taken with a sign instead. I showed it to him, he showed it to his wife, she laughed, he laughed, we all laughed, he posed for the photo. 

In the annals of getting one over on a mate, this one has to rank pretty fucking highly. It's more than two years ago, and it still makes me laugh like a fucking drain. Enjoy. 

Oooh : half a rehearsal

One thing I have to mention incidentally: "How Safe We Must Seem" is a Dakota Suite song and hence the title of the blog. It also mirrors what we usually think about gigs. I've mentioned it before, but we are sometimes not very good. No, really really not very good. 

The Tanned Tin festival was a case in point. I mean, OK, so anyone can have a bassplayer that gets songs confused and plays the wrong bassline for two songs which he's got mixed up in his head. It may have been four songs, actually - now I come to think of it, I was spending at least 50% of that gig wincing. I may have just been in denial about the true awfulness. The sorry thing is that we were watching the other bands and some of them were really good. I can't remember their names, but they seemed really tight and passionate and the crowds were quite excitable. 

We, on the other hand... Well, we ambled through the set, except when we sped up to cover up bassboy's erroneous meanderings, and all of us fucked up repeatedly. This may have been due to the fact that we only really had one rehearsal before we went, despite not all playing together for about a year before that. 

But what was really embarassing was seeing a review in a paper afterwards that said we were the best band of the festival. Either this reviewer was on better drugs than we were, or he was convinced that the emperor's clothes were sparkly and shiny. They bloody weren't. 

Anyway, the point being that we decided we'd rehearse before this outing. New bass player, new danger. And since I live in London, whilst Chris & David live in Leeds, I figured we'd get more done if I found someone who could play bass in London. Then we could rehearse in pairs. Despite the good couple of months we've had to think about it, I'm pleased to announce that we haven't made it stale and over-rehearsed. Myself and Alex have managed two whole rehearsals, during which time we must have played the whole set precisely twice. 

This is more difficult than it sounds. For instance, despite the fact that I know all the songs and can probably sing half the words (you wouldn't want to hear that, though, trust me) I have a mental block about song titles. I can rarely remember which song is which til I hear the opening chords; and I can't recognise a song from just one section because... well, I'm a drummer, innit? Not a real musician or anything. So, when I hear the bassline I really need to hear the other instruments / vocals to get the full song. This means that the London rehearsals have involved me, Alex and an iPod. 

This really points out to me just how "loose" some of the recordings are. We play "Divided" in the style of the Che single rather than the album version, probably because (a) it's easier to play for everybody and more specifically (b) it's easier for me to play. However, listening to it and trying to play along with it makes me wince - I now realise that the recording speeds up by a warp factor of 9 from start to finish. Shit. How stoned was I? 

So anyway, using maths as a defence, me + Alex rehearsing twice = 2 x 0.5 DS rehearsals = 1 whole rehearsal. Then we rehearse on Saturday all together in Crystal Palace. Then we do the soundcheck thingy. That means before we play on Sunday night we'll have done 3 whole rehearsals. 

And that, my friends, is a fucking record. 


Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Band Marketing FAIL

OK, so we're difficult to write about for the music press. We're a bit too old, younger journos know nothing about us so ignore requests for listings, etc. So I thought I'd have some fun and placed a rumour piece somewhere about Jack White and Noel Fielding going to the London gig. 

Then I got a friend who runs a well known and v cool website to tweet about it. Sure enough, a Noel Fielding fan then re-tweets it. She then mails me and says "wow, where did you hear that?". And I fold instantly and admit that it's a fib. Cue tweet from her disavowing previous message. 

Marketing lesson #1 - if you're going to win, you need to be able to lie better.  

Drumming: Being the second (or third) banana

Some shoes are hard to fill. Jason Bonham is not really cutting it on the whole Led Zep thing, although he's doing quite well compared to me. I'm more on the Julian to John Lennon ratio axis when it comes to filling John Shep's shoes. 

John is a bit older, cultured and talented. Which is why he probably doesn't like sitting in a tourbus and rooming with snoring people. This let's me get a look-in, which is lovely, but it does have one major downside:

People think I'm him.... and then look really disappointed when they realise I'm not. Drummers, like all musicians (term applied loosely), attract musos - people for whom the technique is everything. John, quite rightly, attracts drum geeks. I can't count the amount of times that I've winced seeing a small group of guys (it's always men) at the front, eagerly waiting for some hot stick action. And then they look... puzzled? Bemused? They nudge each other, looking confused - I can pretty much lipread in any language when I know what they're saying is "It can't be him? No, no definitely not." 

And then, b y the third song, they shey shrug and go to the bar. 

On the plus side, I believe I compare reasonably well to Keith, the first drummer. The man kept good time and all, but he did throw a chair at Chris, I believe. I myself have an impeccable non-chair-throwing record and pride myself on this accordingly. 


Bass players

We've got some history here. 

I'll only mention two, possibly because it'll be nice for Alex to know just how low the bar is set, which should take the pressure off. 

1. Pete. 

One word describes him adequately and succinctly, and that word is "cock." 

Let's start by meeting him at the airport on the way out from Liverpool (this was a Spanish tour, some five years back). He had arranged to meet one of his online friends, someone who shared his love of - wait for it - flight simulators. I'm no fashionista, far from it, but Pete looked like a tosser from the moment you first clocked him - shorts, sandals and socks is an ace look, right? His friend was a four foot twig with long greasy hair and a baseball cap with "Boeing" on it. Peas in a fucking pod. 

Pete would, so he told us, fly a whole 13 hour flight to Singapore on his PC and not use the autopilot. So he would sit in his "cockpit" (or should that be "cock"pit?) with a pile of sandwiches and a thermos and fly level at X,000 feet for hours at a time. What a challenge. 

Pete added to this revelation about his hobbies by revealing a further penchant for fundamentalist christianity which wore thin rather quickly. Chris is a christian, but a rather pragmatic and sensible type. I'm Jewish (non-practising, atheist in reality) and David is, I think, some kind of Satanist. Maybe. Anyway, Pete insisted that it was simply a matter of fact that I was going to hell for not believing in the worth of Christ. Nothing personal, you understand, that's just the way the universe is constructed. I'm a Jew, therefore I'm hellbound. C'est la vie. 

Pete managed to insult everyone - he told a promoter who had splashed on a decent meal for us (a rarity) that the wine wasn't up to much, made a couple of borderline racist comments about the Spanish and, incidentally, made some instrumental piano pieces sound like they were being played in a Vegas hotel lobby. 

On the way back, waiting for our luxury Easyjet flight (this, of course, after the usual lecture from Pete on the kind of plane, kind of controls in the plane and how he "could definitely land it if needed"), we're standing at the front of the queue for the plane. They announce that seats 60-100 or something can board. We've got rows in the front, so have to stand waiting for everyone to file past. A woman and her husband pass through. The man walks past the flight attendant who has checked his boarding pass.... 

Pete then slams his arm between the woman and her hubby and screams out "Not you!" to the woman, "You're seat 59 so you can't go on yet!" 

Cue silence from the whole departure lounge. The only certainty amongst the shock is that we three others are clearly with this guy. I can feel the flush of embarassment reaching my face. If I'd been 20 odd years younger I might well have pissed my pants. The flight attendant points out that she is in charge, not Pete, and motions the happy couple to proceed. Chris physically restrains me. I haven't hit someone since I was at school, but this is the nearest I have come. 

On top of my being damned for eternity, this is too much. In fact, I realise that my personal vision of hell would be to tour with Pete for another week, let alone the rest of existence.   

2. John

John is a really lovely guy. I mean, really, really nice. And that's probably why nobody ever let the fact that, well, he couldn't really play very well affect our relationship with him. Having realised that he wasn't much cop on one tour, we thought it might have been just lack of rehearsals. So we had him back again, and it seemed he either still didn't know the songs or just couldn't really play. 

This called for the usual professionalism - so we did absolutely nothing and he came with us again. In his defence, rehearsals were limited. Still, having had something like two years to acquaint himself adequately with the catalogue, even Dakota Suite have limits. Of course, it's not like he was officially "sacked" or anything. In fact, it's quite possible he still thinks he plays with the band, so, John, if you're reading this, we really, really love you but... well.... um... 

"Welcome to Dumpsville, population: You."

And so, that's for Alex's purposes - nothing to be worried about, lad. Apart from anything else, Alex has perfect (relative) pitch which means he's very likely to be in the same key as the rest of us. 



Rehearsals : "It seems fresher this way"

There is no doubt that over-rehearsal can make certain kinds of music seem staid and dull. Guys who just stand on stage sighing whilst they belt out the same chords as they belted out last night and a hundred nights before - we've all seen bands like that. 

Certain kinds of music are about technique. Others are about soul. Some combine both. Chris is quite raw emotionally and this seems to be something people like about Dakota Suite. Once, about 12 years ago, Chris went on a long rant to me about how he didn't want to make the music seem dull in a live presence and how he couldn't really rehearse being emotional. 

I buy that. I totally do. 

There is, however, the other end of the spectrum. When we toured Spain about five years ago, we rehearsed for the grand total of about 45 minutes. Bear in mind, we were doing a set that was supposed to last an hour and a half. Do the math. What made that worse was that, when we arrived in Madrid, instead of the small pub warm-up gig being our first engagement, the record company excitedly told us that they'd got us on a TV show and that we would - that very afternoon - be on Spain's top independent music TV programme. 

Well, wasn't that a treat for all concerned? Us and the audience were all giggling at how bad we were. I have the tape somewhere. Only watched it the once, mind. And I fast-forwarded a lot. 

Somewhere around the middle of most tours, we start to get to the point where we're no longer thinking about "what section are we playing?" and it starts to flow a bit better. I really reckon that's what allows the emotion to flow - if you're thinking too much about structure and arrangement, you're not letting go. So, I favour at least a few rehearsals - something that I've managed to convince Chris is worthwhile over the last few years... and something that I've 100% failed to actually get us to do. 

For instance, we have a new bass player for this tour, Alex. Me + Alex have conscientously rehearsed together once and are doing another one tonight. Alex will meet Chris & David for the first time on Saturday when we will rehearse. Sunday is the pretend soundcheck rehearsal followed by the first gig. Yay! 

Poor Alex. Luckily, he's a talented guy and picks things up uber-quickly. This should help. 

As a guide to how bad things can be, at the Tanned Tin festival, John, the previous bass player, was playing the wrong song on at least two occasions. Us being consummate professionals we did what anyone else would do in the circumstances: we sped up, kept our heads down and hoped noone would notice.  

Getting started

Right, so first I should explain. I am not John Shepard, the massively talented bloke who plays on most Dakota Suite records. He's an extraordinary drummer, the kind of guy that everyone stops to watch when he's just soundchecking. I could play eight hours a day for a thousand years and never be half the drummer he is. 

Nope, I'm just the average guy that fills in on tour now and then. I also played on a couple of the album tracks and b-side type of stuff. I'm definitely a b-side kind of drummer. But at least I'm cheap. Last gig I did was about 18 months ago at the Tanned Tin festival in Castellon near Valencia. And we stank up the place. 

More about that in a bit. 

Anyway, I work a day job in digital / social media stuff. I'm careful not to connect some of my online personae to work stuff as I'm instinctively nervous about work colleagues discovering quite what I'm really like. With social media becoming more and more prevalent I feel less uncomfortable about blogging as a real person, so I thought it would be remiss not to record some stuff about what happens on a Dakota Suite tour as I know some people are interested. Emphasis on the "some" - yes, both of you. 

I've started this ahead of our first UK gig in over 5 years, which is this Sunday coming at the Fly Bar in New Oxford Street. Being a social media tossbag, I thought it would be an idea to invite bloggy types to come down in the afternoon to see us do an extended soundcheck and film /record / liveblog / whatever. 

There are 2 reasons for this:

1. We give those few people who actually want to see the band play some extra time since it's once in five years and 

2. This will count as a "rehearsal." 

Our first full band rehearsal will be on Saturday. 24 hours before the gig. This is standard Dakota Suite operating procedure....