Wednesday, 19 May 2010

No Sleep 'Till Woodlsey Road: 12 Hrs on The Road With This Many Boyfriends'

I don’t know how many of you have been reading Nick Kent’s latest offering ‘Apathy for the Devil’, but if you haven’t, you should, if only for an insight into the music industry in the 1970s. I haven’t yet finished his tales of 1973 and he’s already done cocaine with Led Zeppelin at 3am (fact of the day: my mum – a former swimming instructor – taught Robert Plant’s kids to swim), been taken on an all expenses jaunt around Europe with the Rolling Stones and seems to be on the cusp of boning Chrissie Hynde. Not a bad life, eh?

So, with this in mind – coupled with a desire to finish my 2 weeks off work in style and an even greater desire to escape the insanity-inducing mundane provincial hellhole where I reside – I decided over the bank holiday weekend to stage my own, albeit much smaller, version. Though without trying to bone Chrissie Hynde, obviously, as she a) is rather too old for me these days and b) was nowhere to be seen anyway. The band who had the unfortunate task of putting up with me were Leeds-based indie-poppers This Many Boyfriends. You probably haven’t heard them or indeed of them, and that is why you have no job, and are single, have no friends, and aren’t loved by your own mother. You may think it’s down a load of other contributing factors, but you’d be wrong – it’s all down to you not having heard TMB (as they shall henceforth be referred to throughout this article). Musically, descriptions involving the words ‘C86’ ‘The Pastels’ ‘Shop Assistants’ and (for those with a death wish) ‘twee’ can usually be found, but for me it’s best described as a joyous cacophony which includes a healthy dose of what seems to be missing in a lot of music these days – fun.

But before we go any further, I need to make a couple of admissions. Firstly, as I only decided to embark on this mission the day before it took place (and only decided to write about it halfway through the day itself), I didn’t take a Dictaphone. As a result, it’s going to be based purely on anecdotal evidence and what I can remember. Not the most professional of approaches, granted, but at least I am owning up to it. Secondly, this is hardly going to be a neutral piece. I would like to think I could class all band members as friends, to the extent that if I was an MP I could probably claim 2nd home allowance on drummer Lauren and guitarist Adam’s sofa over the last month given the amount of time I’ve spent on there. Having said that, as I intoned to singer Richard’s dad at one point ‘Thing is, if I liked the people but hated the music, I’d just arrange to meet them down the pub, not at their gigs’.

However, it was at a gig which I did indeed meet them, and so after an epic 4hr journey to Leeds I breezed into Escobar (part of the May bank holiday Live At Leeds event) to be greeted by drummer Lauren, and guitarists Adam and Jamie (thereby apparently causing much amusement by doing the always-entertaining ‘walking into somewhere to meet someone as they’re texting you’ routine). Given the roller-coaster week Adam and Lauren had had up until this point, it was pleasing to see them in such high spirits, as was Richard. Bassist Tom (the FB fan page states that all band members have the same surname – Boyfriend – like The Ramones, Los Campesinos! and…..err, The Fratellis. Yet to see this monikers actually mentioned in the real world, though.) was absent owing to other pressing engagements, and as such was replaced by respected Pulp biographer Mark Sturdy for the day. After the inevitable catching up, drinks buying and consuming, and handbag watching (an event I’m pretty sure never befell Nick Kent or Lester Bangs) TMB finally afford me the opportunity to hear new compositions ‘Young Lovers Go Pop’ and a yet-to-be-titled 6 minute epic alongside old favourites (well, to me anyway) ‘I Don’t Like You (Cos You Don’t Like The Pastels)’, ‘Trying Is Good’, and ‘#1’. Unexpectedly being gestured up by Richard to add backing vocals to the group sing-a-long at the end of ‘It’s Lethal’ unfortunately led to nothing more than an embarrassed, flustered me, an empty microphone, and a vague promise of actually doing it at that evening’s gig in Bradford once I’d had a few drinks. Meanwhile, raucous closing number ‘That’s What Diaries Are For’ is on this occasion heralded by TMB’s resident Scotsman, Jamie, doing a scarily accurate approximation of Gladiators referee John Anderson’s ‘CONTENDERS, ARE YOU READY?’ catchphrase. Afterwards, spirits are high; as well they might be considering this gig was in reality (in the band’s eyes) nothing more than a warm-up for the evening’s show in Bradford. While the post-mortem is underway however, Lauren had a problem, and quite a serious one at that. A quick flick through my pictures of the set had given her concerns about her choice of attire and more specifically about the levels of midriff on show. Suddenly, buying a belt became a top priority.

So it was then, that while the ever-professional Richard sorted out the logistics of transporting the equipment to Bradford, myself, Lauren, Adam and Mark hit Leeds city centre to satisfy our respective top priorities: buying a belt (Lauren), getting some food (me, Mark and Adam), and getting a drink in (all of us). Having taken in a late lunch over which conversation ranged from Mark’s encyclopaedic knowledge of all things relating to (that evening’s headliner) Hefner and Darren Hayman to passing wind on small children in the workplace, it was time to embark on the 20 minute train ride to Bradford. It was at this juncture that Mark decided to press the button marked Frank Spencer/Spinal Tap, and end up separated from us and on the wrong train. To Wakefield. This was confusing/amusing/mildly annoying in equal measures. Confusing as Mark had bought tickets at exactly the same time as us, yet somehow lost us. Amusing because 1) he was the promoter of the Bradford gig in question, and 2) only over our post-gig lunch he’d said that every time he’d booked Darren Hayman something had gone wrong (the previous two occasions had seen Darren arriving with nothing more than Hefner merchandise to wear having had his car broken into the night before, and being badly beaten up outside a gig in Nottingham late last year). Mildly annoying for the band as they would be without a bassist until at least 7pm (it would be even later than that as Mark would realise on the way back that he’d left a drum pedal in Escobar – scene of TMB’s earlier gig – prompting a rapid dash via cab from station to venue and back again before eventually rejoining the rest of the band much nearer 7:30pm), while we’d arrived not long after 6pm. Richard, using the power of a fatherly taxi service was there even before us. Impressive.

It was now that I first encountered the aforementioned headliner Darren Hayman, and to be honest it was something of a car crash moment. Quite literally, as he nearly ran me, Lauren, Adam and Jamie over on the venue’s narrow driveway as he drove up it and we walked down. For those of you Hayman-ites desperate to know what kind of car a British indie-pop legend drives, it’s a new shape mid-blue Ford Focus. Once out of his car, the quiet, unassuming individual one might assume Mr Hayman to be given his music is very much in force. This is hardly surprising given the events of the last few months, and anyone who’s heard of his plight of late could only look on with a mix of understanding and sympathy, as well as find his desire to apologise to Mark later on for his perceived introversion and quietness wholly unnecessary. From the outset it’s clear that TMB adore him, Mark and Richard especially. An exchange with Richard after the weekend elicited the following quote, which provides a pretty succinct summary of why he’s so loved by the band ‘Darren was absolutely AMAZING. Ten billion times better than us. You’re following the wrong band! TMB HEART DARREN HAYMAN. You should listen to Hefner. It was a huge, huge privilege to support him. He's the reason I started this band. Therefore he will always be better than us when we play together. We probably wouldn't exist without him’ (for the record, I do listen to Hefner. No idea where Richard got the impression I don’t!). An unexpected highlight was watching a full run-through of Hefner’s ‘Good Fruit’ during his soundcheck (along with the realisation that one of his Secondary Modern backing band was also a member of ‘Allo Darlin’, a great band which you should go listen to if you already haven’t).

A swift changeover followed, where TMB’s soundcheck was accompanied by a testing of the stage lights. The difference it made to the venue was incredible, as can be seen from the contrasting images posted in the link to be found at the bottom of the page). Richard, having viewed my photos, has described them pre-lighting as looking like they played in an aircraft hanger, which in fairness to Bradford’s Theatre in the Mill probably says more about my photography skills than anything else. During soundcheck I fast came to the conclusion that ‘Young Lovers Go Pop’ was my new favourite TMB song, though in retrospect it’s running close with ‘It’s Lethal’, ‘I Don’t Like You (Cos You Don’t Like The Pastels)’ or indeed ‘Trying Is Good’…it’s genuinely hard to choose. I also discovered somewhere around this point that you never, ever ask Jamie as a joke to play ‘Duelling Banjos’ from the Deliverance soundtrack on an acoustic guitar, because the skilful bastard will actually do it, and you’ll spend the next 5 minutes trying to pick your jaw off the floor. Some post-soundcheck envy of Nick Kent unfortunately occurred, however. While at his peak he seemed to enjoy going to fine dining establishments and gentleman’s clubs with the likes of Keith Richards, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood and enjoying the luxuries that such jaunts inevitably brought, my ‘tea’ consisted of a packet of Walkers crisps and a 69p can of 7.5% white cider (which, believe me, was as grim as it sounds), as this was pretty much all that was available from what seemed to be the only shop within a reasonable walking distance of the venue.

After a brief sojourn with Adam outside the venue to finish our respective tipples – he chose the slightly more palatable Carlsberg – during which I learned that while intoxicated he once made the rather amusing assertion that David Cameron was his favourite fictional creature. Politicians as fictional creatures, would, unfortunately have to wait as music beckoned – you, dear reader, could be forgiven that this was nearly a secondary issue given the fact I’ve mentioned seemingly ‘everything but’ for a while now. The first act was The French Defence, essentially a vehicle for a criminally shy young songwriter called Owen (though there was a full band in past incarnations). It was clear that he’d been to the Bobby Wratten school of songwriting, all heartbreak and anguish, and as such it wasn’t surprising to find Trembling Blue Stars, and Field Mice listed as his influences on his Myspace. As a huge Bobby Wratten fan, however, this was no bad thing, despite the feeling that given the slightly more up-tempo and fuller-sounding efforts of TMB and Darren Hayman, The French Defence was perhaps a strange choice for an opening act. No matter.

But Richard meant business. This much was clear just by looking at him. Since the Escobar gig he’d raised the sartorial stakes by donning a shirt, jacket and tie, to put him right up there with Mark’s post-punk outfit (who’d spent the day looking – and playing, though sadly not dancing – like OMD’s Andy McCluskey). Richard’s assertions post-Escobar that everything sounded great but needed to be ‘tightened up’ appeared to have been noted and processed (not that it sounded anything less than brilliant at Escobar), with ‘Young Lovers Go Pop’ rattling along like the bastard son of The Cribs’ ‘Our Bovine Public’, while ‘I Should Be A Communist’ got an airing – an omission at Escobar owing to time constraints. Yours truly didn’t get invited back on stage during the Orange Juice melody-meets-Michael Stipe lyrical ambiguity of’It’s Lethal’ as in Leeds, which was understandable. Getting what could be viewed as indie-pop’s answer to Bez to run on stage, ‘sing’ the same 4 words 8 times then disappear again is certainly an unorthodox, and risky, way to make an impression in front of one of you musical heroes, and one which is probably fated to fail from the outset. The fact they did it un-amped only added to the pressure, which they all handled very well. At this point it’s worth mentioning Mark’s efforts to learn the basslines in a limited space of time. Yes, he may have needed crib sheets at his feet to remind him, but nonetheless a sterling, mistake free effort. In fact, the only hiccough all day was when Jamie’s guitar lead cut out during the un-named 6 minute epic, and even that was sorted in impressively short order. For a band that describes itself as shambolic, it was an impressively tight performance all day. Credit where it’s due. A set-closing version of ‘Diaries’ saw Jamie get all Angus Young and scale a speaker while Richard made his way into the audience (which owing to a quirk of the Theatre could be found sat behind tables, making the whole gig feel like a really weird secondary school-level music lesson) and back to the stage. Post-gig Richard could be found beaming madly (as he had been the first time I’d seen them play in Manchester in January) while professing how much fun the whole experience had been - clearly fun has been on his agenda too, as it always is mine when discussing the music.

Much as I’d love to comment in depth about Darren Hayman’s set, I’m unable to. Firstly, because the last train left halfway through it, prompting all but Mark and Richard to leave early, and secondly, a mix of spirits in Leeds and cider in Bradford has rendered this bit of the story little more than a hazy blur, embarrassingly enough.

Some people can come up with great ways to sum things up in a sentence – F1 driver Nelson Piquet once described the Monaco GP circuit as ‘like riding a unicycle round your bathroom’ while Pennie Smith once described being around The Clash was ‘like being on a commando raid with the Bash Street Kids’. As you can probably tell, I’m not one of those people. Put it this way, I spent the next day shaking due to sleep deprivation, and I didn’t regret a thing (incidentally, the only other time I got the sleep-deprivation shakes was after pulling an all nighter when I attended Underachievers Please Try harder, Britain’s best-kept clubnight secret – put an attendance on your bucket list. Didn’t regret it then, either). Let me at least try and give a soundbite-sized approximation: the 12 hours or so I spent with TMB appeared to be the perfect encapsulation of what I’ve always perceived their music to be about. Fun.

(NOTE: I had a beautiful layout with many many pictures set out in a word document, which Blogger then failed to copy over and then then turned into an arse when i tried to upload them all. SO, if you want to gander at the day's adventures they can be found in the link just below. The first 4 pictures are from a January set at Manchester's Saki Bar)

(Other) Useful links:

This Many Boyfriends’ MySpace:
This Many Boyfriends’ Facebook page:
This Many Boyfriends EP Pre-Order:
Underachievers Please Try Harder:!/group.php?gid=13022864321&ref=ts
Mark Sturdy’s Pulp tome:
(Mark’s advice is buy while you can, the book has gone out of print and what you can find online/in shops are going to be the last copies!)

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