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from Nothing At All
Jarrett is determined to swim in the ocean at Brighton even though a bunch of people on the internet have told him not to. But by the time we arrive to a rest stop just outside of town, his resolve is wavering. It’s cold out and the sun is nowhere in sight. Maybe the good-for-nothin’ internet is right this time.
This morning he and I had gone for a walk around Richard’s neighborhood in Bristol while Mike and Marissa slept in and/or cuddled with Richard’s two cute dogs, Pickle (small, soft dark fur) and Kayla (also small, mop-like). We had wanted to check out the graffiti in Bristol, which is well-known for its street art.
Yes, Banksy is from here: I don’t know why Banksy has been a recurring theme on this tour, but I’ll take it.
Of course it was raining this morning and we got more-or-less drenched, but managed to see lots of street art, including the famous Banksy mural on the wall of a community center called Hamilton House, before we had to hop back in the van.
Now, as we approach Brighton, the sun is beginning to peek through the clouds. The van warms up and I take off some layers. Our first stop is a local radio station where the band does an interview, and then we have a little bit of free time before load-in. We decide to walk to the harbor.
“You gonna go in?”
“I would need my swim trunks,” Jarrett shrugs.
But once we make our way down the rocky shoreline to the ocean, we discover that the water is warm. Next thing we know, Jarrett is in the ocean in his underwear. The rest of us hang out on the beach, and Marissa draws faces on rocks with a paint marker.
Throughout the day I think about Bristol. I still really like it there. At the same time, it seems like the more-or-less accepting attitude towards all of the street art might be leading towards a familiar pattern of gentrification. It’s something that I always struggle with when it comes to my own role as an artist. How can artists support themselves and local communities without becoming pawns for city developers?
Maybe there is no other answer than to keep trying to resist. The DIY culture we came up in means a lot of things, but at its heart it’s about supporting and caring about one another. You never really know how things will turn out, just like when you jump in the ocean without knowing what you will do with your wet clothes after that. It’s one of the things I love about Screaming Females – they’re in it for the lifestyle and the community.
We have to hurry back to the venue after that to load in and grab some dinner before the show starts. The opening band today is Personal Best, and it’s nice to see them again. We have fun drawing over all of the nasty graffiti of male genitalia in the green room. I get to watch most of their set this time, and enjoy their earnest brand of rock. I bet they would find a lot of new fans if they toured the U.S.
Screaming Females jam out a lot in between songs this time, and play several that they haven’t so far on this tour, including Fantasy Lens and Rotten Apple. Tonight they save Glass House for the encore, and fans are yelling out every word. You better believe it’s another great set.
At the merch table, a friend of the band named Michael stops by. He lives in London and went to the show there as well. Jarrett is sad that he didn’t get to see him tonight.
Breaking news: We are fully equipped with modern technology at the merch table today. Our host at the venue is helping us out a bunch by taking credit card payments for us. We chat briefly about art collectives, including the gallery and print shop I’m part of back home called Space 1026. You probably could have guessed, but I’m feeling super lucky to be able to go out on this tour and encounter an international network of art spaces and communities.
Oh, and have I mentioned yet that Mike has been doing a great job of spreading the international brotherhood of Baloney?
After the show, we head to a TraveLodge so we can get an early start in the morning. Tomorrow, Paris!
We awake in London to the sound of a horde of screaming children outside of our windows. Time for school!
We hang with Heather for a couple of minutes before we have to head out. She is from Buffalo, NY in the US. She moved to London over a decade ago and wishes she could move back to the US, but healthcare would be prohibitively expensive. The British NHS is much better.
I am so frustrated that there are so many people out there who are against free (single-payer) healthcare for all. It’s awful that people prioritize capitalist values over human decency.
We have a little bit of free time this morning, so after we say goodbye to Heather, we get breakfast at a cafe called Pacific Social Club and then try to head over to a park to go for a walk. It seems like any time we try to drive anywhere in London, we hit a road closure, or get blocked by a truck, and keep having to make U-turns. It’s starting to feel like we are going to be in Hackney forever.
We get back in the van after checking out a pond filled with various frisky waterfowl and are on our way. But, we should have known by now not to trust our GPS. Instead of getting us on the highway, it takes us straight through central London. Maybe it is just programmed to assume that everyone wants to see Buckingham Palace. Of course, this probably adds about an hour to our trip.
We arrive to the venue in Bristol a little late, but the situation is not as dire as yesterday’s load-in. It feels quiet and sleepy here by the harbor. The sky is overcast and a mist of rain is falling. We get everything loaded in pretty quickly and the band soundchecks while I set up the merch downstairs.
The venue is called the Louisiana, and even though I’ve never actually been anywhere in the US state of Louisiana, it immediately feels homey here. The venue has been owned for the past 40 years by an Italian man named Gianni, and he runs it with his family. Gianni dishes us up some delicious Italian food and we hang out downstairs for a little while. The bar and restaurant area downstairs is mostly empty but a few people have started to arrive early for the show, and the atmosphere just feels nice.
Marissa is drawing and Jarrett wants to play Magic, but I’m not sure if there’s time, because I need to mail some postcards. I go on a journey to find a mailbox and take a photo of a ruin of a building across the street from the venue. It kind of looks like a miniature Colosseum.
The opening band starts soon after I return. By the time I pop in to catch some of their set, the venue area is totally packed. It’s really tight in there, so I watch a couple of songs and then head back down to my station by the merch. The band is called Personal Best, and they remind me a lot of Lemuria, an old favorite back home.
Then Screaming Females takes the stage. They open with Glass House and it feels like people are holding their breath until the song lets loose, and then its crescendo completely absorbs everyone. The room is so crowded that I decide to go stand right outside the venue doors after that, since I can still hear the band from out there. I chat with our host Richard and various other fans who come in and out of the door during the set. People are really getting their minds blown by Marissa’s shredding.
As the set wraps up I head downstairs to my post. Gianni shows me a trick of semi-disassembling some picture frames on the wall so I can use them to hang T-shirts on.
Then I end up talking to some fans for a while who have come all the way down from Scotland for this all-ages show (the show in Glasgow was 18+ and they are in their mid-teens). It’s awesome to see how excited they are to be at the show. Maybe there is still hope for future generations?
This time, Jarrett steals me the grapes from the green room. Then we head to Richard’s house in Bristol to spend the night. Richard is super nice, and his house reminds me the most of anywhere we’ve stayed so far of my usual stomping ground: Philadelphia group houses, shared by musicians and artists. It seems like a pretty tight community here, and everyone else we’ve met in Bristol so far has been incredibly friendly, too. I wish we could stay here longer.
Ugh, I almost wish we hadn’t gone out castle-hunting. We hit snooze too many times and wake up in a slight panic. Our parking expires at 8:30 AM and it’s 8:27. Luckily, King Mike is able to feed the meter. We need to hit the road by 9, so we hustle to say bye to Maddy and Cristin and throw our stuff in the van. Edinburgh is alive with the sound of our rolly-suitcase wheels.
We’re feeling pretty worn out, and Marissa settles in for a 7-hour nap on our way to London. Mike drives first, and Jarrett and I get some sleep here and there until our first stop for gas station breakfast.
Jarrett takes the wheel after that. We decided that I probably wouldn’t be able to drive much in the UK since the roads are pretty congested, a lot of start-and-stop traffic. Hopefully, the roads will be pretty clear again when we get back to the continent, and I’ll be able to take a turn then. I feel bad that Mike and Jarrett have to take on all of the driving duty.
Today, this route seems to be especially bad. The sheep look up in surprise at the noise of grinding gears as the cars crawl by. They don’t understand why we do these things instead of hanging out in a beautiful field, chewing endlessly.
Jarrett says that golf was invented in Scotland, and the pastures really do look like golf courses. I imagine that all of the sheep are actually just out there playing a round of golf.
A few more hours go by, we’re still sitting in traffic, and it becomes clear that we’re going to be pretty late. Mike calls the venue, Oslo, to let them know. Jarrett seems stressed. Marissa is still sleeping.
Mike keeps yelling, “New York City, baby!”
I draw some pictures of sheep.
Finally, we arrive two hours late, and the doors are opening soon. The venue has a team of people on hand, and we haul in the gear as quickly as humanly possible. I get the merch set up and try to quickly count to see what we need to stock up on while the band does a 15-minute soundcheck. We order food at the venue’s restaurant, and I run out to the van to grab some more merch to fill up whatever seems the lowest. I drop it off at the merch table as dinner arrives, then stuff some food in my face while Mike switches places with me to mind the merch table. Doors have already opened by now and people are coming in.
After that Mike and I alternate grabbing more merch supplies out of the van during the first opening band, Porridge Radio. I’m a bit too distracted trying to get things organized to get to give them a good listen, but they sound cool and intense, and the singer’s voice reminds me of Amanda Palmer from the Dresden Dolls. I also dig their T-shirt designs.
A fan we met at the Ramsgate show is here again! His name is Charlie, and we had learned that he started one of the first U.K. punk bands EVER, U.K. Subs. He and his wife give Mike a U.K. Subs T-shirt. They are super nice people.
I like the second band as well. They are called Witching Waves and are a rock band with a darkly emotional quality to their sound. The singer introduces one of their songs as being about body dysmorphia and about how it’s important to be aware of how we talk about each other’s physical appearance. I’m really glad that we’ve gotten to encounter so many bands with cool politics on this tour.
Then, Screaming Females take the stage and rip through their set with a mix of new and old favorites. They don’t play “Boyfriend” this time, but I do enjoy hearing “Bird in Space,” which they’ve only played once before on this tour. Another sold out show, and the crowd is rocking out. The band encores with a searing version of “Starving Dog.”
After the show we head to Heather’s cozy apartment in London to spend the night. Heather is a friend of our pal Christina back in Philly (Christina is not another cat named Kristina, but she does really like cats).
I feel pretty gross after our sweaty, frantic load-in. I try to wash some of the horrible-ness off of my face and body and pass out hoping for a good night’s rest.
I’m just home from London and being English, I put the kettle on. Then, because I’m a philistine, I add milk and sugar to the Earl Grey. It’s tea, it’s how I like it and it’s time to sit in the sun reflecting on yesterday.
Home is a small market town called Todmorden, which sits at the head of the Calder Valley, high in the Pennine Hills of northern England. It seems pretty unremarkable place until I start thinking of its history. Birth place of Keith Emerson and John Helliwell (saxophonist in Supertramp), scene of the mysterious case of Zygmund Adamski and the alien abduction of PC Alan Godfrey, not to mention the start of Dr Harold Shipman’s killing spree, and the site of the only school to have produced two Nobel Prize winners. At least it was at one time, but it may still be. It’s home to the UK’s highest beach and then there’s our guerrilla gardeners, Incredible Edible Todmorden, who commandeer empty land and spaces to plant herbs and vegetables for people to take whenever they wish.
I’d been catching up on Kristina’s posts for the UK tour and it seems such a whirlwind itinerary. It’s a shame the touring party didn’t have opportunity see much of Manchester as we’d had a week of such glorious weather then the heavens open when the band arrives! It’s a shame they didn’t see the Town Hall which always reminds me of Hogwarts, and it’s a shame they didn’t get further north than Glasgow to see Scotland become a truly spectacular landscape.
I’ve travelled down by train. As a lifelong football supporter you gain a working knowledge of the road and rail network, and planning 12 weeks ahead meant I could secure bargain tickets. After checking in to a cheap and cheerful B and B I head for Hackney, part of the city I’ve never been to before, and it’s a surprise to find myself there a mere 12 minutes later. One stop on the tube, two by overground and the train deposits me at Hackney Central, right by the venue. Just the four hours to kill before the show then. I have a wander around and find Hackney to be like any other suburb, as it’s out to the east of the city and away from the areas readily identifiable as London, before returning to Oslo to eat, where a 20% discount is offered on the menu on production of your ticket for the show. The bar begins to fill up and I’m joined by a gentlemen meeting his daughter and her partner for the show. Last night he’d been to see the Rolling Stones, tomorrow night it’s Sparks, but this evening he was with his daughter who was eager to see Screaming Females for the first time. We chat about the band for a while and realise that that I’d not heard any sound check or seen any of the tour party. No cause for concern though, as Marissa suddenly appears outside.
The show itself was simply magnificent. Screaming Females absolutely tore the place up. 25 minutes and 6 songs into the set and the band have the crowd in the palms of their hands. They’ve not said a word, just ripped in to each song. This really was superlative stuff, with the crowd dancing and singing along.
As this is my first attempt a creative (or not!) writing ,I won’t attempt to review further when there are far better people than me to do so. Here’s a link to a review that hits the nail right on the head.
So it ends, and once again it’s all way too soon. I manage a brief chat with each of the band as I simply couldn’t leave without thanking them after seeing two performances that have taken me right back to being that awe struck 15 year old who watched the Ramones all those years ago.
At the station I see my erstwhile dining partner, with daughter and partner, all grinning from ear to ear. Then the train whisks me swiftly back in central London and I find that my mood changes dramatically as the intense experience of the show is left a few miles to the east. I’ve just walked away from something wonderful, something I feel as though I’ll never have again and I’m almost tempted to head back in a bid to recover the intense joy that tonight’s performance gave me. This is why I always hate seeing goodbye to the band members and the people I’ve met as it seems so final and I just never know whether I will have the chance to do it all again
Stiff upper lip old boy, so I head to a nearby pub for nightcap.
Next stop, work on Saturday morning for the first of two day shifts but there should be more to follow in what is shaping up to be a monumental 2018….
PS – Sock Update
Found the blighter! My bag has shoulder straps that allow it be worn as a backpack. These can be folded away in to a pouch when not in use, and that’s where the missing piece of hosiery was.
Shame I threw away its partner….
This morning in Manchester we have some time to spare, so Mike, Jarrett, and I shoot the shit with Matthew and drink coffee while Marissa sleeps in. We talk about differences between UK and US music and TVs shows. Kristina the cat curls up in my lap, which is pure joy.
Soon, Marissa wakes up and it’s time to get moving. We say goodbye to Matthew (he is also headed out soon to go work on the crew for an Ed Sheeran concert), and are on our way. In the van I eat a vegan blood pudding pasty for breakfast. It’s pretty good and kinda tastes like pizza, but I don’t think that’s what real blood pudding tastes like.
It’s a few hours drive to Glasgow, and when we enter Scotland the views are really breathtaking. Rolling green pastures dotted with white sheep go on forever and ever.
Ah, to be a sheep on a mountain!
Along the way, Jarrett and I share a “protein pot” from one of the gas stations. A protein pot is a plastic container that has two hard boiled eggs and some spinach in it, which are two of Jarrett’s favorite foods. In case you were wondering, his other favorite foods are oatmeal and brown rice.
Arriving in Glasgow, we have to navigate the van through a tight alley full of parked cars and piles of trash bags to load into the venue, which is called Broadcast. The promoter, Jerry, explains that the city won’t allow the venue to keep trash cans in the alley anymore because it is supposed to help beautify the alley, but without the bins there, cars just park illegally and block the alley. “And look how beautiful it is now!” he jokes.
Personally, I like piles of garbage, so I’m cool with it. And I immediately like this place. Glasgow is full of buildings that seem like they must have been regal and ornate when they were first built hundreds of years ago, but are now dirty and fallen into disrepair.
Shortly after we load in and get settled, our friends Maddy and Cristian arrive. They are old pals from the US, but are currently living in Edinburgh while Cristin studies there. He is in a Master’s program learning to be a beer brewing scientist. For someone who loves beer as much as Cristian, it is clearly his destiny. We get to hang out with them for a bit and go for a walk through a park in Glasgow before the show starts.
Back at the venue, the first band, the Fistymuffs, are going on. Excellent choice of band name, I must say. The band has songs about consent and about dealing with sexual harassment, and they also provide lots of stage banter about their cats. They have a pop-punk vibe but also seem to be inspired by bands like the Raincoats and Kleenex.
Screaming Females are up next, and the crowd is cheering after every song. The show is sold out, and the room is packed. But, something weird is going on with the sound mix at first: the drums are really loud, and the bass is just making the room buzz instead of sounding like actual notes. However, it doesn’t seem to dampen the audience’s spirit. I later find out that it was because of an issue with some of the equipment falling off of Mike’s bass amp. After a song or two, the sound gets fixed, and everyone just rolls with the punches.
When the show ends, we get everything and everyone into the van and head to Maddy and Cristian’s flat in Edinburgh. I feel like we’ve gone back in time as soon as we arrive. The streets are all lined with stone row homes which Cristian describes as “posh,” and all of the roads are curved rather than straight, with parks built in as medians to fill the gaps.
Cristian is super excited to show us a castle in the neighborhood. Generally speaking, Cristin gets super excited about everything. If you don’t feel like partaking in whatever thing he is excited about, he’ll yell at you: “Why do you hate fun?”
Jarrett and I are game. Mike and Marissa need to pass out, but somehow escape getting accused of hating fun. Cristin provides us a choice from a plethora of beers to bring with us for the walk (apparently you can do that here) and we sample some Buckfast before we go. It’s basically the original version of Four Loko, except it’s only made by monks.
Even though it’s after midnight and the streets are quiet, we somehow run into Maddy and Cristian’s friend from Canada as he is coming back from hockey practice. “Do you want to come see a castle?” Cristin yells, and he joins us on our adventure.
The castle turns out to be hard to see – it’s far away and up on a hill. It’s definitely a castle, though. We also see a statue of a famous Polish bear.
On the way back, a church with ornate spires forms a black silhouette against the sky and looks more like the painted backdrop of a stage than a real building. Even though we are with old friends, we are far from home, and this place definitely feels surreal.