Sweat tinges the air, while blood - belonging to somebody, somewhere - slides down against the speaker.
A guitar flies throw the air, swiftly followed by a boot. Wood cracks, a neck is splintered with the noise resonating around the room.
Such is the way of ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead. The band's approach to live performance is legendary, with energy levels pushed into deranged, demented and downright dangerous places.
Returning to the UK earlier this year, ClashMusic asked Conrad Keely to take notes.
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I've been asked by the British Government to write a brief description of our tour, for official purposes. It seems that our numerous visits to the United Kingdom, some of which have been plagued by run-ins with the law, have fallen under scrutiny. For the purpose of satisfying the curiosity of customs officials I am obliged to offer a brief account of this visit. To this end I have chosen to omit any references to personal feelings or opinion (except where it regards installation art), something which comes naturally because I am an unforgivably shallow person. Submitted for the approval of the Commonwealth:
Ah Britannia. Nice to be "home", the land of my birth. Britannia rules the waves, and all that. Well, not anymore. Not in a long while, in fact. Not since their intrepid explorers discovered Hawaii and Australia, found out what real waves were, and that these natural phenomena were governed by far greater physics. But Britannia still rules, in her own discrete, unassuming sort of way - in a manner which could only be described as unequivocally British.
Our first stop is not a show but a barbecue. Our friend Lee Gorton (formerly of the band Alfie) now has a pub in Manchester called the Jackalope, where he has invited us to come by with our bags of meat and cook out on the porch. No matter that it is raining, no matter that it is windy. You tell Texans that there's a grill and we're ready to go. Meat. Lots of meat. And vegetables - just enough to justify the meat. If you find yourself in this corner of Manchester I highly recommend the Jackalope, on account of their considerable beer selection, but also the convivial, relaxed atmosphere punctuated by unexpected acoustic performances and friendly natives.
Playing the Manchester Academy is like coming back to a school you used to go to, one where you used to get into a lot of fights. A lot of fond memories here, some involving extreme violence. We've told the story of our Manchester street brawl numerous times so I feel no need to repeat it here. Today we also welcome on board my cousin Connor, who will be joining us until Nottingham. Connor has only just turned sixteen, and it occurs to me that if I'd been given the opportunity to tour with a band at that age... I might have chosen a different occupation. Tonight was a good show, but it's really what happens after the shows in Manchester that is always the most memorable. In this case it involved Jason DJ'ing at a Deaf Institute (go figure), me arriving, vomiting on the dance floor, then promptly leaving. No worries - this gives me the opportunity to catch up with our old mates from the band Elbow at Big Hands.
I admit my initial skepticism of the location on our arrival. It looked as if we were in the middle of nowhere. However, a short walk from the venue found us fairly close to the heart of Glasgow, albeit one ventricle of the heart I was not familiar with. Emerging from a maze of side streets I found myself just across from the Kelvingrove Museum, an unexpected treasure. Some really great works are housed here, in particular the school of painters knowns as the Glasgow Boys, who blended a sort of soft post-Impressionistic landscape and portraiture with Orientalism and Celtic inspirations. One of my favorite Albert Moore paintings, 'Reading Aloud', happened to be tucked away in a lone stairwell, easily missed despite the large canvas - any lover of classical drapery cannot help but admire Moore's mastery of subject, as students of design must equally admire the aesthetic placement of his subjects, deliberately devoid as they are of any allegory or narrative meaning. There is also a stunning portrait of Vivienne Leigh worth keeping an eye out for.
One of Salvador Dali's masterworks, the large Christ on a crucifix (Christ of St. John), also hangs here, although rather poorly lit. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that some deluded truth-seeker once slashed the canvas with a knife, when it was housed in another part of Glasgow. I have to admit, it's not my favorite of the Dali masterworks, it's stark, simple and to the point (I prefer his Columbus discovering the new world, the sheer amount of detail which demands several hours of scrutiny). The Kelvingrove building itself is quite stunning, and I recommend keeping your eyes open when perambulating through the galleries for sculptures lurking in her shadows.
Oh yes, we had a good show that night as well.
I like Wolverhampton - it's a small town with a tough reputation, roughly sixty kilometers away from where I was born. Not a particularly eventful day, but one of those where a bit of necessary shopping keeps the tour run smoothly. A bit of a rough evening for me - after five weeks on tour, fatigue finally begins to set in, and I am forced to spend most of the time right up until our set sleeping. It's a shame, really, since this is the one night that my family have driven out to see us play. Actually, they didn't come out to see us play - they've seen us loads of times. In truth, my uncle is a fan of the opening bands - the Coathangers and Turbowolf. They leave before we're finished.
We find ourselves in a pleasant pub afterwards, where some genius thought it would be a clever idea to invent a game where you punch a punching bag and it gives you a score, then set this up in a drinking establishment. I hit it once and nearly break my thumb. It still hurts.
I like Cardiff as well. I've yet to spend as much time here as I would like. I could say that about all of Wales. There's something about the Welsh heritage that I connect with. I bet Welsh people get a lot of folks who aren't Welsh saying that, and they just answer "Yeah, yeah. You and everyone else". Kind of like being Native American - everyone either thinks they were an Indian warrior in their past life or they brag about having one-sixteenth Cherokee blood, but that doesn't change the fact that they stole your land and didn't give it back.
Across the street from the venue is Cardiff Castle. The keep was built in 1080, a mere fourteen years after the Norman invasion. I get this information off a guard, and try to imagine back when there was nothing out here other than that one keep; I think about how shitless the Normans must've felt, with the tribes on their doorstep ready to kick their heads in. I later find out the keep was built on the ruins of a Roman fort, and think: my God, it must've been even worse for them. For those poor proto-Italians the blue-painted Celts must have seemed every bit as alien as the four-armed Tharks from John Carter from Mars.
I tried to make it to the Cardiff museum but it was closed on Mondays. As fortune would have it, while passing by I hear my name being called out, and turn around to see my old friend Andy Falkous from the band Future of the Left, stepping out of the Cardiff City Hall next door, where he's just been in a meeting with prominent Welsh Tribal Elders. He tells me the building is actually worth having a look at. I'm not disappointed. The hall is a remnant of that self-indulged, dissipated society to which we owe so much wonderful architecture yet regard disdainfully for their calculated pomposity. There are some beautiful sculptures here, including one of Queen Boudicca and her two daughters by J. Harvard Thomas - one of those chapters of Welsh history I find particularly fascinating. Another one of Llewelyn the last ruling prince of Wales is also quite stunning. If you explore the corridors you will find a couple romantic paintings of the Arthurian revivalism, as well as a rather strange portrait with three images of Lady Diana, so as to make her look like a set of conjoined triplet sisters. All in all, seeing the hall made up for the fact that the museum was closed.
As for the show, I remember this one being one of my favorite of our UK run, in part due to the fact that there was no barrier separating us from the crowd, thus amplifying that sense of audience connectivity that as a band we very much rely upon. It was also the first night I'm able to enjoy Turbowolf's set from the side of the stage (I'd tried in Manchester, but a young lad who took his job very seriously kicked me out for not having my pass). They have a theatrical thing about them I can only admire, especially their singer. I'm not particularly good at addressing crowds - I prefer to think of myself on stage as a movie reel, or a hologram being cast by the glowing eye of an R2 unit, pleading for help on behalf of the beleaguered rebels at the hands of the cruel empire. Which in fact is not far from the truth.
The previous night's festivities have left me once again drained of energy. I manage to walk around a little bit, which is nice because Bristol is really a beautiful city, and if you're a book collector like I am you will find a real abundance of bookstores here. I made it up to the museum, stopping into the Wills Memorial Tower to gaze at it's magnificent ceiling - definitely worth a quick peek at, though visitors are reminded they can venture no further than the sign near the entrance. The museum was a bit of a disappointment today because much of the collection, in particular the Victorian and other 19th century works, are put away in favor of some truly horrendous modern installation piece. I have yet to see any instillation art that is worthy of the room it takes up. I might not be an expert on art or anything, but were I asked for my opinion it would be that anyone found guilty of indulging in installation art ought to have their limbs torn off, after having been disemboweled publicly. So far no one's bothered to ask my opinion nor act upon it, but I suspect such a day might come. Tonight's show was shit. Impersonal room, horrible stage sound. Some folks came up to say how much they enjoyed it afterwards, and I felt guilty. I wanted to give them their money back. Instead I smiled and nodded, then went into the bus and drank a pint of warm milk. It turned out to be a creative evening, however. Autry and I stayed up late, working on music for the upcoming EP. It was the first time all tour I've had the mental and physical space to be creative, and we took advantage of it. I'm working on an idea that utilizes a popular traditional Cambodian rhythm, which I am attempting to adapt to a rock idiom. I'm also experimenting with tuning all the strings up (instead of down, which we typically do), so as to make the guitar sound rather high and chime-like rather than dark and drone-like. So far, pleased with the results.
The Rescue Rooms in Nottingham is another one of those places with a lot of memories. I like the layout, and I like the location. Unfortunately not a day of leisure - with recording plans and tour schedules coming up, much of the day is spent on a band meeting. A shame, since Nottingham is another town I love strolling around. I remember on our last visit going to the art museum in the castle, which houses several notable paintings, including one of my favorites dramatizing the death of Lady Amy Dudly, a scandal which rocked the Elizabethan court. I'm also a big fan of the Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem pub, which prides itself on being the oldest pub in England (c.1189). History aside, I'm actually a fan of the scrumpy cider they serve there.
The show is a fun one, and although there is much after-hour festivities (including Jason Reece singing karaoke with the locals in the pub until closing time), I retire early to the bus to resume work on songs, because I'm lame like that.
Today is Jamie's birthday (Happy Birthday, Jamie!). It is also the last day of the run, the last show with Turbowolf, and the last day of a long five week tour with our friends the Coathangers. It's an emotional farewell, but one distracted by business, this being one of those meeting-filled days. Not a day for sight-seeing or visits to comic book stores (a quick visit to a local art shop to buy a sketchbook for Jamie's birthday). Still, I'm not at full strength and there is little time for recovery. There is enough time for a nap, and then I watch our friends play from the audience. I'm happy to see the crowd in a lively mood, it gears me up for the show despite my fatigue. London is one of those places where we are usually inundated with requests from friends to meet up afterwards, tonight being no exception. Tonight's rendezvous is the Rattlesnake, the pub where earlier last year Jason and I played an acoustic set to announce the release of the new record. It's a pleasant evening, but I am happy for the early bus call at one a.m. Any later would only invite an unpleasant hangover. I want to return to work on the new songs - ideas which I collect and steal from a string of recently discovered new music. Is stealing the right word? If it is, I can only hope people steal our musical ideas with as much enthusiasm, for it would be the closest thing to flattery I could hope for. Just don't steal my royalties. Ain't nobody got time for that.