My life is a pile of receipts in a deserted restaurant on a cross channel ferry.
The last time I saw Jay Reatard, I was at Stockholm international airport. The tour was over and I had to drop the band, consisting of Jay, Steve and Billy, at the airport before driving the van and backline back to London. Jay had had a long night, he was vomiting on the pavement as he laughed and pushed his trolley towards the terminal building with a wicked spring in his step. He looked happy to be going home but the tour had taken it’s toll. Billy and Steve followed with their trolleys, it was the last time I saw Jay. He passed away not long after that. I still haven’t had the courage to get a copy of his final album, Now Watch Me Fall. He was finishing it at around the time I last saw him. I had taken a DVD of The Shining in the van. After watching it, Jay had decided that he would dress as Jack Nicholson on his next album cover. Jay liked the final scene where Jack Nicholson’s character staggers through the maze with an axe, in the snow and freezing cold. I think Jay identified with Jack Nicholson’s character, he knew he would probably never succeed in the music business, or even earn a living from it. The myth of the music business had finally been revealed to him. The only thing that remained was to kill everyone. Look at the front cover of Now Watch Me Fall, and watch The Shining. You will know what it means. While Musicians despair, you can just skip to the next track on your portable electronic device.
A couple of weeks ago I found myself in a deleted scene from the new Mad Max film, trying to get to Gatwick airport in time to park up and get to the gate before the plane took off. I had to return to Stockholm International Airport, this time with a snare drum and several guitars, for another band from United States called Uncle Lucius. On landing in Sweden I discovered that Brexit, and the collapse of the pound, had priced a cup of coffee at more than a limited edition, double gatefold vinyl copy of Seasick Steve’s new album. I haven’t heard Steve’s new record but I bought a coffee just to hear the people in the cafe talk like Dan.
I miss working with Dan. I remember how on finishing a gig with Steve at Carfest a few years ago, Nick Mason of Pink Floyd came over to talk to him and congratulate him on his performance. Dan thought Nick was some local weirdo and said “thanks” whilst continuing to put his one sock back on. I stood there as Dan ignored Nick’s further attempts at conversation whilst looking for his missing sock. In the end I couldn’t watch any longer. I asked Dan where his camera was. Dan pointed it out in amongst the remains of his kick pedal on the drum riser. When I asked Dan if he would like me to take a picture of him with “Nick Mason, who also plays drums for Pink Floyd” Dan froze. Then he jumped up and said one word….. “Fuck!!!!!” He nearly fell over.
Dan held his hand out and said “I have all your records, you are amazing!” Dan stood there with just one sock on. I got the picture but kept it to a straight portrait. Dan couldn’t believe it. Pink Floyd’s drummer had made contact. I like Dan, he thought John Paul Jones was the Taxi Driver when he first met him, but that’s another story. This sort of confusion is Dan’s operating standard. But as a touring musician, Dan is making the world a better place, just by being Dan. Listen to his work and go and see him and Steve play live.
So anyway, back to Stockholm International airport, I bought a cup of coffee and sat down. If you want to understand Sweden, you need to watch the films of Roy Andersson. He’s like a Swedish absurdist answer to Monty Python. Just trying to buy a cup of coffee and finding somewhere to sit down with a trolley piled with guitars and drums made me feel like a salesmen here to sell joke shop novelties to failing retail outlets. How do the people of Sweden know I’m living in a flophouse for a country where the lights go on and off like a lost scene from some forgotten horror film. As a professional Money Burner from England, post Brexit, sat at a table by the window with my cup of coffee, I watched people walking by talking into mobile phones. I began to wonder: What was I doing in Sweden? In fact, I began to wonder what was I doing? Not just today, but generally. What hope is there for musicians in an age of streaming and skip to the next track? The age of access but not ownership? The age of tickets and T-shirts. And dying physical sales. How many tracks are posted online that no one has ever listened to? Frank Zappa once said ”If you want to be a musician, the first thing you have to understand is that no one is going to care.” I had a sudden horrifying realisation that Theresa May’s post Brexit Britain is like a stuffed dog holding up a sign saying “I’m Dead.” Too bad I had lost my black marker pen, I was tempted to make a sign of my own to attract attention. But who was going to even care?
Uncle Lucius landed about 5 hours later. I’m not going to start on what else passed through my mind. By the time the band arrived, lets just say: I had drunk a lot of coffee. I could probably have bought all of Seasick Steve’s albums on limited edition Vinyl, for less money too. The band were all smiles and full of enthusiasm as they wheeled their trolleys through customs. Uncle Lucius are actually a good band. They have already been going over ten years and almost gave it all up when they too, realised they might never actually earn anything from their music. The band play their own style of Americana and have a fine songwriter and front man and one of the finest guitar players I’ve heard in a long time. The band have plenty of good songs and every night a different set list. It’s been a while since I last found myself being cheered up by a bands performance onstage. They deliver a fantastic version of War Pigs by Black Sabbath too. Any band that can do Black Sabbath justice gets my support. Bill Ward is a drummer worth listening to. Pay attention in case you missed that.
Skip a couple of weeks into the future and I’m looking after a band called Curse of Lono, an Americana band from London. Wide eyed and working hard to make a start for themselves touring in Europe with their first four song vinyl and CD release. The band are supporting Uncle Lucius on a number of dates to complete a month long tour arranged and put together by some good friends of mine. Steve Hughes, another kind but dangerous lunatic from Birmingham and Serena Catapano who also looks after Barry Adamson and who worked on the film Sugar Man, about the life and music of Rodriguez. That’s another film you should watch if you want to know what music can do to a human.
There’s a place in Isernhagen, Germany called the Blues Garage. It’s run by a bloke called Henry. Henry has the most amazing collection of old American cars, Police cars, Fire trucks, and stretched limo’s. Henry owns, books the bands, and does sound at the Blues Garage. It’s his place. Henry has built a hotel just up the street called Motel California. The walls are decorated with gold disks, pictures of Henry’s favourite bands and signed record sleeves and photographs. As you walk through the front door there are pictures of Led Zeppelin for starters. Every hotel room has a theme around one of Henry’s favourite band’s or artists. Guess what room one has for it’s theme? Frank Zappa. Room one of Henry’s Motel California is filled, wall to wall with original Frank Zappa memorabilia. Signed guitars, photos, album covers, tickets, flyers, everything you can think of. The place is decorated with posters and pictures of Frank Zappa. If there’s one artist that should be pride of place in any collection, it’s got to be Frank Zappa in my view. Frank Zappa’s music, approach to making music, and views and opinions on art, music, politics and censorship are all worth listening to. As you walk through the hotel, each room that follows is filled to bursting point with rare and incredible memorabilia. People like Henry make it possible for bands like Curse of Lono and Uncle Lucius to survive. They love their music, they have an open mind, and they are willing to give artists and musicians a stage. Whether or not you choose to turn up to listen.
Uncle Lucius are one of those bands, you may have never heard them before, but people like Henry are willing to book them to play at his place. Like so many others at their level, Uncle Lucius remain eternally positive whilst fending off the financial disaster that follows them around like a heard of hungry goats. As long as they keep touring, the goats have to try and keep up. For a short while at least, the band can keep things afloat. Henry, and other venue owners across europe, have to have the same positive state of mind. Venues, just like the bands, are chased by a similar herd of goats, chewing at their finances and disrupting their work.
Back to the airport, I finished my coffee and handed over the guitars and drums. I made sure Uncle Lucius were in the capable hands of their Swedish based driver and tour manager, parked up outside, before heading for my return flight to Gatwick. As I walked back to the terminal building, I walked across the pavement where Jay had wheeled his trolley some years ago. I almost heard the van, I was driving, pull away behind me. Musicians live and die. Some never catch the spotlight, and every airport has it’s ghosts. A life’s work can last barely 3 minutes and 45 seconds. Music is not something to take for granted. I can live without TV News and National Newspapers for as long as it takes to regain my sanity. I find it hard to go a day without music.
As I left Eurotunnel and drove North past Calais on the way to Brussels last week, I could see thick clouds of smoke rising from the Jungle in the distance. Thousands of people, I have never met, were at the hands of French police and local authorities. Maybe one day I will get to meet some of them. I hope in better circumstances. In my comfortable seat at the wheel of a 9 seater mercedes splitter van, I couldn’t even start to imagine the anxiety and terror going through the minds of all those involved. I felt a great sadness and an overwhelming sense of despair at what was going on. What the fuck was I doing? Who did I think I was? What was I going to do about it? How could this be happening?
No one should have to sleep in the open or be treated like a criminal for being homeless or without a country or passport. No one on this earth is illegal. If you are born on this planet you should have the right to movement on this planet. Men, Women and children. Brothers, Sisters, Fathers and Mothers. Young and Old, some alone and others in groups, losing their last hopes and dreams at the hands of the police. Mud, sweat, and Teargas. Have we no sensitivity left in us? What are we actually doing with our lives and to each other? Have we lost our minds? I can’t answer any of these questions anymore. I struggle to even try. But here’s one small thing on the subject of sensitivity. Artists, writers, musicians and performers of all kinds offer something. They offer us hope of developing some sort of human sensitivity. I can’t suggest any solution to the horrors of what has been going on in Calais and in places like it across the world. But in my own small way I can help some of the musicians, and I can help others. That’s why I work as a Tour Manager. It’s why I try to play in a band, that’s why I try and write my own words and my own music, that’s why I run a record label that has run itself into massive debt. It’s why some people laugh at what I do and trivialise my efforts. But if I listened to them or chased money first I wouldn’t be here now. I can’t stand by and do nothing. I live in hope that humans will develop a deeper sensitivity in themselves and towards each other. I hope that some people will care. My life has been pretty easy for me so far, all I have to worry about is a pile of receipts and a tax return. Occasionally I have to look out for traffic wardens or German traffic police. I have a lot of friends and family who help me, and I do my best to help others in the same way. I’m not perfect, nor perfectible, but I try my best. I appreciate what people do for me, and I try to do my best for others. I dont have the answers but I try to do my part. It’s disgusting to think that young children, without friends or family to support them, have been forced to sleep rough in Calais. Some have been arrested, others have been robbed at knifepoint. Is this the world we want to live in? What are we actually doing with the world we live in? What is the Government doing while we are all busy keeping our heads down, trying to survive.
Four people I have played in bands with have either killed themselves or passed away in the past few years. Many more in bands I know of have passed away before their time too. Jay Reatard was one of several people I’ve tour managed, who has sadly passed away, and well before their time. If worry, despair and illness can do this to musicians, just try and imagine what life must be like for refugees, or anyone else on the run, after all they’ve been through, after what they have seen for themselves. If you listen to music, listen to what musicians are telling you. Read their words, open your mind, it can take many years to learn a simple thing but think things through for yourself. Refugees have no voice, few will ever be heard. And you may not hear their scream until it stops. Not everything you read or hear can be trusted. Not everything is what you think it is. As Tom Waits will tell you, there are a lot of things in this life that you will have no use for. You have to work it out for yourself. I can’t recommend Theresa May or Celine Dion. It’s up to you to make your own choices. It’s up to you to work it out. You are in charge. You are the master. You make the grass green. Open your eyes and ears. Some of us are sleeping out in the open tonight. Some of us are hungry, tired and terrified. What are you actually doing? Think about it. Lets make a world we all want to live in. The work is never done and the dead are home before us. Do Something. It’s never too late.