Tuesday, September 29, 2009


1. The girl is in her mid-twenties and almost certainly a heroin addict. She has a Londonish twang to her voice and a really bad case of nasal-drip. Every third word is punctuated with a snnrrrfff. She sighs like someone from an amateur local drama production; too weary to even disguise the lie. "This is, like, the most worstest birffday I've ever 'ad, y'know," she whines, "I'm 'avin' a really baad birffday. Lost all me money and can't go out with me mates now." She executes another badly-acted sigh and sits down on the bench next to me.

I make no attempt to disguise my groan. "Yeah," I say, which is FuckOff for "Fuck off."

Normally, I'm a lot more easy-going, but I have the flu - really have the flu, not the fall-out from some summer-long drug binge. I'm watching the lights shift on the river, trying to eat one chip at a time in an attempt to get my energy levels back up to a level where I can stand up for more than 5 minutes without an exo-skeleton. But my stomach does not want me to eat. My mojo hath departed. I'm due on stage in an hour and a quarter, and all I want is to be left alone so I can look at the lights and recentre myself. It's selfish, I know, but please go away, luv.

"This is the worse birffday, ever. Snnrrffft." She sighs again, this time louder, and even does that slumping thing with her shoulders. It's pantomine-level acting. Sub-Eastenders. My daughters do it when they don't get any pudding after tea. She lowers her voice slightly, half to herself/half in an attempt to create some sort of artificial intimacy between us. "If only...if only I had some money."

"Yeah," I say, again, which = "Fuck off." I dangle a chip down my throat like a seagull and hope it won't come back up again. I feel like shit, but I bet she feels worse. We have a couple things in common, or so it seems: feeling shit and whining.

She continues on for a while; more snrrrrfs, more sighs; more hard-luck stories, then slows down and finally stops when she realises she's not going to get any cash off me. "Look," I say, completely worn down by her patter,"I can't eat all these chips." (It's not a lie; my stomach is on strike.) "You can have the rest of them if you want them, okay?"

She says nothing and we both stare at the water for a few minutes.

I stand up and say "see ya" then lurch off down the wharf. She attacks the bag of chips like a pirhana, shovelling them in her face faster than she can swallow.

I feel like a complete cunt.

2. "That was awesome," says Rasha. "You sounded like that band in the bar in Star Wars."

"What, in the Mos Thingy cantina?"

"Yeah, yeah. The cantina. It was completely insane." She starts laughing.

"Thanks," I say, genuinely surprised and touched by the comparison. "That's such a cool thing to say." I start laughing too, felling oddly relieved in some way.

3. Mark and I watch Ronnie Size on CCTV with the security guard. The monitor is divided into a grid of tiny images. On one of them a crowd of student ravers bounce in time to a silent riddim. On top of the monitor is a portable TV showing some lame ITV comedy program.

"How can you tell if, y'know, something untoward is going on?" I ask him. He's drinking something, but I'm not sure what it is. Coke? Whisky? Whisky and coke?"

"I just know," he says. "I can tell. Experience, innit."

Mark points at a couple of kids walking down an alleyway on camera. The image is tiny; a few centimetres wide. "What about them? Those kids...?"

The guard shrugs; half-smiles. "Naww. Students, innit. You can tell...y'know, by the way they walk. You can tell if they're up to no good."

Mark: "They look shifty?"

Guard: "Summat like that, yeah. I just know. I can tell straightaway if they're bad 'uns."

I point at the telly on top of the surveillence monitor. "Do you ever get confused between events on there? And on there?"

"No," he says, not sure if I'm taking the piss. (I'm not.) "Never."

4. Someone phones me during our set. My phone is on the table in amongst the wires and mixers and junk, so I can check the time to make sure we don't over-run. I hear my ring-tone in amongst all the aural mayhem. I check the phone and accept the call, placing the phone back on the table so that the caller gets a barrage of nosie from the monitor. That'll teach them, I think.

Whoever it is lasts almost 5 minutes before they drop the connection. Then I have a Bono/Phil Collins moment and start filming the audience with the phone, squinting thru my mask and my varifocal glasses as I pan across the assorted slackers crashed-out in front of us. They're a nice audience, I decide, even tho I can barely see them. I like them.

5. I'm laying on a bed, mid-afternoon, feeling really terrible. Aching limbs, no energy. At some point I have to get across town and sound-check. Standing up is not an option right now.

I pick up a Gideons Bible and open it on a random page. I'm told the Bible can provide comfort on occasions, so I try it out.

For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the LORD their God, which had brought them up out of the land of Egypt, from under the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and had feared other gods,

and walked in the statutes of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out from before the children of Israel, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made.

And the children of Israel did secretly those things that were not right against the LORD their God, and they built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city.

And they set them up images and groves in every high hill, and under every green tree:

and there they burnt incense in all the high places, as did the heathen whom the LORD carried away before them; and wrought wicked things to provoke the LORD to anger:

for they served idols, whereof the LORD had said unto them, Ye shall not do this thing.

Yet the LORD testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets, and by all the seers, saying, Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep my commandments and my statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you by my servants the prophets.

It doesn't really make me feel any better, so I make a cup of tea and swallow some painkillers instead. This seems to help more than the Bible.

I was almost certainly a King of Israel in a past life.

6. I sit outside chatting with Bram Devens aka Ignatz, who earlier on had played a cracking set of smoky, warped, smeary, smudge-vocal'd Space-Blues while a couple of the Qu-Junktion dudes projected celluloid 8mm kino-flicker upwards onto his face. We have a handful of friends in common, so we chat and swap stories. He'd seen us play in Brussels earlier in the year and he tells me that we'd completely freaked him out, which makes me laugh a lot. He tells me some more Henry Flynt Kraakfest anecdotes on top of the ones that Steve had told me. I tell him I'd accidentally dropped my trousers in front of Henry Flynt whilst changing into my stage gear. Bram's a lovely geezer; a total dude.

7. A drunken posh bird is having a go at the staff of the kebab-shop, claiming they'd short-changed her. She is drunk and gobby - blonde, upper-middle-class; clearly used to having her own way in life - and she won't let it go. The guys are v. polite considering how drunk and beligerent she is. The bloke are Iraqis - nice, hard-working guys; I always eat there when I'm up that end of town - sometimes when it's not too busy I talk to them about Iraqi Pop; what they think of life in the UK, etc. A bunch of poshboy hurrah-henries cheer her on. "I positively, totally, fucking know you've fucking short-changed me, mister," she hisses. She pronounces "fucking" as "Fahw-king", pouting and rummaging around in her dinky little designer bag. "See, I have less change than I really should have and this is all your fahw-ing fault." She teeters backwards on her heels.

"Tell you what," says the bloke who'd served her - clearly exasperated, but never once raising his voice, despite the fact that the place is heaving mad busy - "You're accusing me of being a thief. I am no thief. You give me £** and I give you £* change. This is basic mathematics, yes? This is all on CCTV. I go upstairs and rewind the tape, go back 10 minutes. It will clearly show what money I give you back, yes?" He opens the door to go upstairs. " I rewind the tape, watch it, then you come and see for yourself, see that I have not..." He pulls a face. "...ripped you off."

Poshbird pulls a face of her own - a shorthand, exteriorised form of inner horror that negates her own good looks - and turns to her braying friends for support. "I'm not going anywhere with you, mister."

8. Sami Sänpäkkilä reminds me that the last time I saw him play was with Tara Burke aka Fursaxa. He tells me: "Tonight will sound more, umm, Poppy. Yes, I will go Pop!" He laughs.

Sami's set as Es was beyond beautiful. Languid chiming tones circled the performance-space: accreting delicate mass like some otherworldly church-organ. Micro-loop click n whorl: early Philip Glass organ and chamber-group pulse circa "North Star" or "Music in 12 Parts" but far, far lovelier. Bach goes Pop in a frozen cathedral made from Bob Shaw Slow-Glass.

One of Sami's films was projected on three of the walls: blurred overlapping footage of bare-leafed tree-branches shivering in some imaginary Finnish autumn breeze. Absolutely friggin' gorgeous: my personal highlight of the evening.

9. Backstage about 11-ish my phone rings again. It's the same number as earlier. "Oi!" says a snarky Cockney voice. "You pranged my fucking car earlier on. And now you're dodging my calls. What you gonna do about my fucking car, eh?"

"Your car? I think you've got the wrong number."

"Yeah. My car. Don't try it on. This is the number you gave me. You fucked my car up right good and proper."

I start laughing. "I don't even drive."

"Don't try and fucking wheedle your way out of this, you wanker."

Me, more forcefully: "I don't drive a car. I don't have a car. I've been nowhere near your car. You've got the wrong number."

*mumbled swearing down the phone directed at me*

Me, impatient, bordering on angry: "Fuck. Was that you who phoned me while I was on stage earlier on? Who d'you think you're talking to."

"It's, uh, Sean...innit?"

Me, v. narky now: "No, it's not Sean. I don't drive and I've never been near your car. Get it? Now, go away and don't ever ring this number again or I will play some more of my music down the phone to you. Understand?"

Subdued voice: "Yeah. Uh, yeah...okay."

The line goes dead.

10. I'm smoking a cigarette on Stoke's Croft. The hotel owner - who I know pretty well by now - stumbles drunkenly past without even recognising me and spends 5 minutes trying to open his own front door. It is almost 2am.

I watch the cars slide past me. A lad in his late teens cycles past with his girlfriend half on the saddle, hanging tightly onto him. She grins, her face lit by love, youth and streetlights - illuminated by all the wonderful, hopeful things in this world, in this...this life of ours. She waves as they speed past me, doppelshifting off into their own future. I hope she hangs onto that moment - that feeling - as tightly as she was hanging onto him.

11. The African taxi-driver's taking me round St. Pauls in his cab. He's playing an old Kanye West LP, beats bouncing from the speakers in the bright, almost July sunshine. Black kids in ubersized baggies and 3-colour rasta-tams smoke weed next to a park. He tells me about...stuff. I've never met him before in my life, but I find myself really warming to him.

Music: it's good, innit? A Good Thing. The way that it makes us feel.

12. In the second-hand record-shop they're playing Soft Machine's "4". A couple of guys - nicely-spoken, middle-class Indie-DJ types - are taking the piss out of a friend of mine - a Bristol producer who's not present to defend himself. "Dub's boring," says one of them, drifting into generalities. "Reggae's boring. Really boring. It's all..." words escape him. "Boring," laughs the other one. He practices scratching an old 70's Dub record. Badly. "See? It's just so..." He makes an indeterminate noise meant to denote existential twenty-something DJ frustration. "Unweird. I need it weird, man. The weirder the better."

I comment on the Soft Machine fuzz-organ solo playing as I go to the counter to buy some old records. "Yeah, I've sampled that," says the vendor, smugly. "For my band." He looks at me, expecting a comment, an impressed "oh, really?" I know he has a band; I've heard him playing their demos when I've been in there before. It sounds exactly like you might imagine.

"You sampled this? That's not good," I say and shake my head.

"Yeah. Why?"

"Well, it's kinda disrespectful," I say. I'm polite, matter-of-fact and unconfrontational about it, despite the fact that it's something I feel quite strongly about. I genuinely don't understand why anyone would want to sample Soft Machine, or Sun Ra, or whatever - it seems so lazy and, well, pointless, as well as disrespectful. "If you really do like stuff like this then maybe you, y'know, shouldn't sample it."

He folds his arms. "Oh, yeah? So what should I do, then?"

"Get some mates to try and play like that, even if they can't. Or find some people in a local Pub Jazz-band and tell them to try and copy something like this. It doesn't matter if they don't have the chops. In fact, it's better if they fail. Then sample that and use it on your record."

He looks at me like I'm simple. Which I am. "Yeah. But that would sound really shit."

I shrug and laugh. "Yeah, but it would be brilliant, don't you reckon? Totally mental. And it would be yours to do whatever you wanted with. It would sound like nothing else on earth."

He pulls a face. "It would be rubbish."

"Maybe, maybe not. It doesn't matter. But if it is rubbish, then you keep doing it again and again until it stops being rubbish and starts sounding amazing. Amazing and completely original."

"I'm going to keep sampling this," he says, his arms still folded.

13. I buy a gin-and-tonic and sit down further up the wharf, trying to get my shit together. I go to light up a fag, but remember that Chiz had borrowed my lighter earlier on. I approach a table with an old couple and an early-20's student-ish-looking girl, probably their daughter.

"Sorry to bother you, but could I borrow a light, please?"

The girl produces a pouch of rolling tobacco. Her hands are shaking. Her voice is shaking. "Yeah, yeah...I'll, uh, just roll one for you. I, uh..."

The penny drops. I look dishevelled, unshaven; flu-reddened eyes oozing from sockets; making indeterminate sniffling noises. I'm 50 yards from the bench where I'd been approached myself a few minutes earlier. She thinks I'm a smackhead.

I put on my bestest smile, nicest voice and laugh softly. I try not to whine and sniffle. I can act too, see? I show her my cigarette. "Oh, no, was just a light that I needed. I loaned my lighter to someone earlier. I'm really sorry to trouble you."

She visibly relaxes. And we all have a quiet laugh - parents included - about the misunderstanding. It's all very BBC1 sit-com cosy and nice.

I go back to my table and watch the lights dancing on the water. It's one of my favourite things in the world to do. It's like watching a familiar, favourite old film, one that never ends or lets you down. One that's different every time you watch it.

I think about the girl on the bench eating my chips and feel like an even bigger cunt.


At 6:42 am, Blogger db said...

This is beautiful, and after feeling kinda dispirited about my last couple of shows it now totally seems worthwhile, somehow. Weird!

Word verification: rispig, which I don't know what it's gotta be some kinda teenage insult. "Man, my moms won't let me go to the Grizzly Bear show, she's such a *rispig*."


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