Shrag Tour Diary Pt. 2

The tour continues...
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Day 6: York and the point of no return

Bob: We head towards the place of windy cobbled streets known as York today. With each town we visit it's important to acknowledge its celebrated sons and daughters without the aid of google. We came up with The Grand Old Duke and Shed 7. Oh and Dick Whittington, someone thinks. (It turns out the famous Lord Mayor of London is more commonly associated with London). We decide to go early so we can be tourists. It IS York after all. It’s full of old stuff! We’re with Americans! After we dock the mothership, we are free to enjoy York for the next 5 hours. We have a Runaway I mean Runaround Kid with us. His name is Jack and he’s not annoyed by us. He’s a Yorkshire boy so he speaks the language and knows the lay of the land. Good to have around.

Worryingly we don’t see any posters for our show around town. However, 2 Bob’s ‘bobtastic‘ show where they showcase songs from their album ‘Who let the Bobs out’ is very well publicised.

But our fears are allayed when a decent crowd shows up and 3 storming sets later (kicking off with the ace Just Handshakes We’re British) we head towards our beds. No one seems entirely sure where our beds are, so it’s a while before we actually start heading towards them, but we get there in the end.

Helen: Joe the promoter for tonight is a sweetheart, as is Andy who runs Stereo and does sound engineering there. Between them and Just Handshakes and a buoyant Tunabunny I feel lucky to be around such charismatic and passionate people and oh man, the look in Brigette Tunabunny’s face when she plays and sings, it transfixes me every night.... she’s simultaneously further away and impossibly, devastatingly close to everyone else on the stage and in the room, and I would kill to be able to harness the same kind of fervour that possesses her.

After the show the lovely Emma of Standard Fare and her equally lovely girlfriend Jasmine put up half of us and the rest go to another Travelodge. There’s some silly, not really all that interesting misunderstanding between the tour party about who goes where....hackles are raised, the air is briefly fat with silence and expletives and shame. But no one in this strange party of people is an asshole, I know that. We get on pretty great, actually. And it would be weird if this hadn’t happened at some point, right? anyway...ONWARD, Shragabunny!

also, who let the Bobs out?

Day 7: One Giant Leap for Glasgow

Bob: Glasgow is in yet another country so here’s hoping no one mentions how lovely the English are tonight. It’s also a long drive. At least two Marks and Spencers away.

En route we ponder a crossword clue. Someone who never shuts up [10]... Hmmm. ‘Mike Turner’ fits...

We arrive at the venue to learn that we actually played last night according to the listing sheet pinned to the building. Seems like this Leap Year Day fooled everyone. Once inside we immediately grab a menu and drool over it. Cooked food, however burgery, is the holy grail on tour. The venue is also showing the England game of soccerball. I doubt there will be Cardiff levels of interest in that one. Russell and I make an attempt to watch it but it looks dull and Stuart Pearce’s face is distressing us. And anyway the T-Buns are starting soon so we head downstairs to see them strut their stuff.

With Tunabunny every night is a unique artifact. I almost feel sorry for people who only see them once. Sure that one time is magical, but each night seems to be an excuse to tear up the set list and start again. Unlike Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates whereby the flavours and ingredients are clearly displayed on a handy pictorial insert, you really don’t know what you’re gonna get. There’s no safe option. No complacency. But lots of sweet, sweet tunes.

With Shrag’s set the unpredictable element for me is which string is going to break and in which song. But not tonight. I start and finish with the same amount of strings. John McKeown shows up, as does Shaun and Andy from Gargleblast. Andy produced our new record just down the road in Hamilton. It’s good to see him outside the pressure cooker of a recording environment. We have a drink and laugh a lot.

When the venue finally ejects us way past closing time I decide I want more. John and I go to Nice and Sleazy’s. It would have been weird to have been in Glasgow and not done that, but after two drinks it’s a (long?) walk back to John’s. He teaches me Marquee Moon on guitar and I go to sleep dreaming that I’m Tom Verlaine.

Helen: Old friends and surprises tonight. So pleased to see John McKeown and Andy Miller and Shaun etc., means a lot. Nadine is amazing, tolerant, has an impressive book collection which Scott and Brigette and I drool over and - bar Bob - the whole tour party sleep in her room and have a Snorchestra.

Day 8: A Sight For Sore Eyes in Liverpool

Bob: I wake up and immediately have to leave John’s house because my phone refuses to connect to the outside world. Maybe sandstone is impervious to the 3 network? I don’t know but I stumble out and I’m not sure where I am because google maps looks blurry.

I see a charity shop the size of an aircraft hangar so I head inside while brain wakes up. There are several tonnes of vinyl boxes in here. This could take a while.

I decide to buy everyone a 7” single.

For Mary Jane: The Tom Tom Club - Under the Boardwalk / On on on On (1982). For no other reason than it’s the Tom Tom Club.

Steph: M People - Sight for Sore Eyes / Sugartown (1994). Never heard this but Steph seems to love Heather Smalls. (Steph: I kept trying to leave this record places but Bob always found it and gave it back to me ‘Steph, i think you forgot something!’)

Scott: Steve Wright and the Sisters of Soul - Get Some Therapy (1983). We accidentally tuned in to Steve Wright’s Radio 2 show and I blamed the man for the downfall of western civilisation. Which is a bit harsh, but still partly true.

Jesse: The Krankies - Fan - Dabi - Dozi / Wee Jimmy Krankie (1981). I thought Jesse would appreciate these polysexual local heroes.

Helen: The Flying Lizards - Summertime Blues / All Guitars (1978)

Mike: Pratt & McClain - Happy Days/ Cruisin with the Fonz (1976) - I tried to convince Mike earlier in the tour that all British people nowadays use the expression “Sit on it”

Brigette: Fiction Factory - Feels Like Heaven / Everyone But You (1984). She got this confused with John Wayne is Big Leggy by Haysi Fantayzee. It is important she knows the difference.

Andy: Sparks - Tryouts for the Human Race (1979). It’s Moroder! It’s Sparks!

Russell: Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine - Rubbish / Rent (1990). Because he still loves them and will never admit it.

And for myself: Cyndi Lauper - She Bop / Witness (1984)

I catch up with the others. They have been staying on a floor belonging to a benevolent soul named Nadine. I buy her 2 Sleeper CDs by way of thanks and I’m not sure why. By the time I get to her address the bands are outside and ready to leave. I sheepishly tuck away the CDs. It’s either that or I bound up to her flat to present them to her. That now seems weird.

Talking of CDs we have now acquired 3 box sets on the tour. They have remarkably similar track listings. My contribution is a 3 disc Greatest Ever Rock compilation to add to the 8 CDs of punk and new wave cluttering the glove compartment. The fact that it ends with More Than Words hangs over it like the Sword of Damocles but along the way there are some entertaining headbangers like Ace of Spades, More Than a Feeling and The Nice’s preposterous America. Mary Jane states that the last thing she expected on this tour was to be sitting in a car with Shrag listening to Freebird.

Liverpool is always a welcome destination. I’ve had consistently good times here over the years. The venue seems perfect too. Decent sized stage. Great veggie menu. It even has a dance studio upstairs but it seems to be occupied by men in towelled robes kicking each other so practicing our stage moves is not gonna happen today.

A good crowd starts to amass approaching show time. I unfortunately miss the Meow Meow set, but do get back in time for Town Bike who are always super fun and I find myself grinning throughout - a grin that gets even wider during their power punk makeover of Shoplifters of the World. Next up is a band called Shrag who redefine the word shambolic for tonights performance, but nobody seems to mind. There’s whooping and dancing. I’d say they were successfully warmed up for Tunabunny but then Helen will just turn to me and shout “dirty bastard” so I won’t. In fact I find it hard to say anything at the moment. My voice has all but disappeared. I feel like that hilarious Rob Brydon character. Can’t remember his name. Something about a box.

Tunabunny? Well they redefine the word Tunabunny. Again. Always a pleasure.

After the show we all pile back to Gabby from Town Bike’s flat and Russell and I immediately decide we are gonna hit the town. Sarah Town Bike and co-promoter/fellow local legend Will are waiting for us at a pub somewhere or other. We manage to find a place that looks like a tiki bar and plays the Smiths alongside chart R’n’B. It seems like the greatest place on earth - for a few hours at least.

Helen: I know talking about food is boring but I get a vegan lasagne at the Liverpool venue replete with fake cheese and everything. This makes me happy. I’m happier still to see Will (Fitzpatrick, the promoter for tonight) and the Town Bike guys; I’m a bit in awe of Sarah TB. She once told me that if her band gets a bad review she writes personally to the reviewer meticulously yet politely challenging them on all the negative things they say about Town Bike and explaining why they are wrong; I think this is kinda great. The show was so much fun. I feel in love with everyone. Dirty bastard. Our dear friend Colm from Language of Flowers and Help Stamp Out Loneliness turns up and says that Steph and I can stay the night in his swanky hotel that he got booked through work. Colm is The Manager Of The North For Waterstones. In the morning he has to leave early for work, so Steph and I amuse ourselves for a couple of hours with the hilarious tolietphone and then try to check out; unfortunately the hotel staff clearly think we are prostitutes, and say that the room hasn’t been paid for, so we substantiate their suspicions and humiliate ourselves for a bit by trying to pretend that we knew all about the booking details, before having to call Colm and then pass the phone over to the clerk. He talked sternly to her for a bit in his authoritative Irish Manager of the North brogue and we stood around trying to look indignant and not like prostitutes and she eventually let us go.

Day 9: A Fog of Chips in Nottingham

Bob: Day 9 has been etched into the unreliable personal organiser known as my brain for some days now. It’s the day I retrieve my coat and camera from Stafford Services (Northbound). Someone from Tunabunny sings “Reunited” by... *consults google* Peaches and Herb. It’s an appropriately schmaltzy song for the occasion. Oh man I’m gonna properly slow dance with that coat when I see it! To see it, however, requires a 40 mile detour off route for which I stump up £30 for petrol. I still don’t know if that was enough. It was an uneducated guess.

One detour later we are back on route for Nottingham. I know little of this town/city. I once spent an entire Dot to Dot festival camped out backstage at Rock City because there was a monsoon raging outside. Today the sun is shining, but all I wanted was a power outlet to charge my iPhone (Painfully late note to self - analogue maps do not run out of batteries) so I head for a Wetherspoons as soon as we arrive and park myself near a plug socket.

We meet James Sharpe, the very talented director of the promo for Tendons in the Night, in Nandos after soundcheck and the only American we persuade to join us is Mike. Mike has not experienced the delights of this reliable high street chain before, but inexplicably goes for a green salad and creamed potato.

Back at the venue I notice that the proprietor doesn’t like serving water. There’s a sign saying ‘water for paying customers ONLY’. I bite the bullet and ask him for a water. He hates me. I can see it in his eyes. It’s not the withering look I regularly get from Scott. It’s different. Proper malice. I get half a tumbler of tepid water and slope off to the gallery where Horowitz are playing.

Horowitz are two men and a drum machine who we’ve played with many a time. They make quite a racket with their two guitars duelling away over a backing track. It’s melodic and noisy and I’m warming to the venue. Tap water is free if you have a receptacle. And strangely colder. Was he turning the hot tap perchance? Anyway it proves an adequate holder for the Chianti I smuggled in so I move on to that.

Tunabunny mix it up again. Brigette paces up and down in front of the stage while the bass throbs a single note. This goes on for some time. She’s not having second thoughts is she? Of course not. It’s that element of surprise we know and love. Soon she’s back on stage and they tear through an untidy but brilliant set.

And now it’s our turn. Russell decided earlier that he misses More Than Mornings - the song that tumultuously closed our set for the best part of two years - and wants to resurrect it. At least the one note crescendo bit. I’m up for this. Not all of Shrag seem convinced but Russell says he’s gonna go for it anyway and see who joins him. In the end we all do. Of course we do. And it’s faster than normal. Really fast. So fast there is nowhere to go except throw ourselves to the ground and make as much noise as is (un)musically possible.

We emerge from the rubble of the final song and notice that the audience are still there. And they are clapping. That was fun. Let’s do it again tomorrow. Spontanaiety schmontanaiety.

No time to hang around. Tonight I sleep in my actual bed as we are winging it back to London.

Helen: We were excited about Nottingham. It was a Friday night and the show was being put on by Sam and Andy who both write highly passionate, articulate blogs about the music they love (http://alayerofchips.blogspot.com/ and http://afogofideas.blogspot.com/) and who we knew were especially excited to be bringing Tunabunny to Nottingham. We got to the city too early and damaged the van trying to manoeuvre out of a wrong turning (it was a stranger’s fault), and then some of us went to a pub which had an ancient well in in it and Mike told us all stories about the weird wonderful roadside stuff in Athens (a restaurant in the shape of a woman?), dinosaurs, cassette releases, and BMXing. My keyboard died sometime between soundcheck and show, but I really enjoyed this show and most of us ended up on the floor at the end, which is always a good sign. For us at least. I told my really funny Joss Stone joke on stage and everyone laughed for hours. Tunabunny were seismic. Mary Jane drove us back to my London home in the night and Scott and Brigette did even more work sleeping in the van and unloading all the gear and returning the splitter to Wembley in the morning, and I had no clean towels to offer them in the morning :(

Steph: I love touring....i say this every time... like it’s a surprise but i do. The things that are a bit annoying in real life, like not being able to drive, having a shit phone and a short attention span make touring pretty great for me. I have no responsibility...all i have to do is daydream in the van, meet new people, go to different places and play gigs. What’s not to like there? Ahh i’ve run out of things to say....i can’t pin it all down....i don’t want to pin it all down…..it was really, really fun.....Bob, one day soon, you will wake up and find an M People record in your house....that’s a promise. (“ Search for the record inside your house, search for the record inside.....”)

Day 10: Victoria, Dalston is the Centre of the Earth

Helen: Last night of the tour and I feel a bit strange. I’m worried about Tunabunny, especially Scott and Brigette, cos they slept in the van and I know are exhausted. I really want tonight to be special and I want it to be Tunabunny’s night, too (I needn’t have worried about that!). It’s good to be back in London, lots of people I really love have come to the show and I’m dead proud of the line-up we put together for this one. I’ve wanted to see Skinny Girl Diet for ages but kept missing their shows for various stupid reasons, so I figured one way to ensure this didn’t happen again was to invite them to come play a show I was playing myself. When they turned up for soundcheck and I introduced myself I actually felt nervous. These girls rule. They look so fucking cool, and they sound urgent and soulful and angry AND during their set they play ‘Sunburn’, the achingly strange and beautiful song of theirs which I’ve been playing to anyone who will listen for months now. Both Skinny Girl Diet and Ethical Debating Society floor us - and everyone - with their shows; Tunabunny and Shrag members joining the rush to pick up t-shirts by both bands as soon as they finish. It’s exciting. It genuinely feels like an honour to be playing on the same bill as these people. So then Shrag play and there are some predictable cock-ups, poor bob’s voice is croaky, the crowd are sweet and tolerant and receptive....and then Tunabunny come on and proceed to rip up the town. and the stage...as only Tunabunny can. And they really can. Maybe we’ll see them again.

Bob: I wake up in my own bed like Judy Garland and wonder if it has all been some strange and wonderful dream. I call out for Toto and all I get is Shrag. We’re not as good as Toto, admittedly, but I still love this band.

Today feels like a day off. There’s a small matter of a soundcheck at 5pm but hey I’m home and the day is mine. Scott and Brigette slept in the tour bus last night. We didn’t make them do it. That would be unfair. No, they volunteered to do it like the troopers that they are. In fact by the time I woke up there was already an email in my inbox from the van hire place with a forensic crime scene photo of vehicle damage. Ouch. Sobering stuff, but this means that Scott and Brigette not only slept in a van, they loaded in all of our gear into the venue and drove the van back to the hire place while I was skipping down the yellow brick road.

For anyone about to rock you have to salute these people.

The Victoria in Dalston will never win any least stinky venue awards but it has a certain charm. Tonight’s show boasts an amazing lineup of grrrl punk bands with Skinny Girl Diet & Ethical Debating Society opening for us. I was horrified when I googled Skinny Girl Diet and was presented with a dieting blog as top search result. I shit you not: http://www.skinnygirldiet.org/. Hopefully this will soon change as the band are FUCKING AMAZING and deserve to be top of the singles charts, let alone google search rankings.

Our show is a bit scrappy, peppered with fuck ups and technical clangers, but we hold it together and my dry croak of a voice is just about audible. Like every good show, Russell and I end up on our backs while feedback and noise washes over us. I like playing shows. Always an excuse to have a nice lie down.

Tunabunny are phenomenal. They close their set with a truncated (a mere 10 minute?) version of Outer Space is the Centre of the Earth. They’ve been saving this one. They seem to be dismantling their equipment on stage. Sensible. Saves valuable time for load out. It’s incredible to behold and when the audience are definitely sure it’s over they give the band a standing ovation. Ok they are standing anyway, but if they were sitting down they’d definitely stand up at this point.

So that’s it. The tour ends here. We hug and wave and tentatively predict when we will start missing being on tour together. Tuesday seems to be the consensus.

The van damage costs us £360.

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