TOURING: Now, Now, May 2018
The merchandise table is where the optimists and lovers go.
They already know this will be the best night of their lives, since the last.
They're proud, excited and ready, and I'm with them.
That's a lot of expectation to take care of for the first hour or two before show time, never mind the frantic thirty minutes after, but I know these people like I know myself, and it sure beats backstage - The underworld of sedated longing and self-doubt.
Out here among the street queuers and repeat attenders, you quickly learn how important a band is. Not importance like monetary value or political influence, even popularity in numbers. Rather, the extent to which people not so much enjoy the band as need it.
Some groups affect their fans. They connect with greater depth and meaning. It's no myth that at certain times in certain lives a band can mean everything.
We're thirty minutes into the opening night at Tufnell Park Dome in London and I know Now, Now is special. Unique, even. I'm rooting for them and I only met them a few hours ago.
It's in my interactions with fans and friends - understanding what everybody's been through to be here, in realising that Brad from the band designed all the items on sale tonight, including the support band's t-shirt (Why is this so rare? Who are the artists around here?!) and in the care taken by the band and crew to welcome me.
The new Now, Now record, 'Saved', their first in six years, finally saw its release during our two weeks together. The incredible relief met the fear of the unknown. The thrill of hearing the new songs sung back in Manchester met the knowledge that the hard work had only just begun, in Berlin. It was intense.
I captured about 10% of the intensity with my Onki 336. The remaining 90% is fully accounted for in my words. Please find all the evidence waiting for you below, hope you're into it.
I'm grateful to my friend David for inviting me. I love Now, Now and I'm optimistic. Find me at the merchandise table.
As tablecloths go, mine was a modest success. It covered the table top almost every night.
In a good five days of pre-tour preparation I’d designed it, turned my design into a repeat pattern and had it printed. A significant enough period that I felt emotionally vested in this two-metre squared piece of heavy cotton that nobody asked for.
Though a source of mild bemusement to most, it felt good to be the guy who turned up with a custom tablecloth. Why turn up at all unless you raising the game, right? Answers in comments, like and follow above.
I didn’t take any good photographs of it and then I gave it away, so you’ll have to imagine it; but one of the repeated motifs, this silhouette of KC and Brad turned out to be the perfect start for my post-tour collage.
Contained within are two weeks of AAA passes, a loyalty card for a Birmingham coffee house, a free drink token from a Paris bar, the hand-drawn leg pattern piece for Neigh, Neigh (See earlier post regarding miniature horses) and remnants of lots of merchandise price signs.
One of my most challenging pieces of unnecessary art since the tablecloth.
"Like we're in a sitcom", explains Brad, seemingly confident that we're not.
My suspicions stem from the strange abundance of free time, the extended hang-outs with coffee and meaningful but light hearted conversation and an afternoon relaxing by this Amsterdam canal. They grow through the apparent ease with which all issues, personal and technical, are resolved and bloom in the absolute impossibility that any of these friends irreparably fall out.
The jokes are also hilarious and the people are also beautiful.
I'm ever reluctant to let anybody else take a picture with the Onki 336. There's the problem with the viewfinder and the fact that if, by some miracle, a really great picture ends up on one of these films, I'd like to claim that I meant it without stretching the truth too far.
As I feared, our well guided photographer (A member of Paradiso staff, sat behind us on break) delivered one of the best shots on the film. It'd be a stretch to say I even sowed the seed of the idea.
On the plus side, I'm hopeful that my place in the cast photo and many unbroken threads might be enough for a cameo role, in a later episode.
The sterile scent of day one morning steeps Brighton's East Wing and I stand at the entrance to 'backstage', a table topped with two boxes of chronically unrefrigerated beer to my right, a freshly littered living room set straight ahead, troubled by the electricity bill.
A conference centre is, by design, so plain that it might be transformed into anything its hiree requires. Imagination is the only real limitation here and coincidentally, also the one faculty that today's tenants, The Great Escape, traditionally struggle to confer.
Industry showcase events tend to focus on the incredible drinking and talking talents of their key players, which I accept will lead to compromise in less evident areas such as the illusion of artist comfort, so I retreat to front of house to prepare the most unwelcome seminar imaginable - Correctly Decorated Merchandise Displays.
Our cheerfully oblivious show rep first shows signs of cracking as she asks for a second time, "Are you going to line-check soon?".
"Yeah", is our TM, David’s response, simultaneously making absolutely no attempt to do so. It's painful to watch, so I stay outside the club on day two of The Great Escape and wait the five minutes until stage call, for the plan to unfold.
KC enters the 'stage area', so I'm told, and announces to a full room, via the impressively inadequate sound system, that it's a beautiful day outside. They'll play this one on the beach, instead. It's careless and confusing and punk rock and I love it.
The organisers, stricken by a concern that might have been better struck prior to booking this terrible venue, love it less so.
I lay the merch tablecloth across the pebbles at the back of the ice cream hut and tread lightly to avoid that loud, crunching sound. The same care is not taken by a passing hen party.
When a group chorus of 'AZ' reaches me on the sea breeze, I'm grateful that a few music fans got to experience the real thing this weekend. Lines not so much checked as crossed out and re-written.
As I return to my position, front centre, a young man walks directly into the shot and begins sorting his undies. There's no turning back; I urge the camera to have mercy and not flash.
Pack light and afford a smug smile when your Dutch hotel doesn't have a lift, I always say. Until there are twenty minutes to doors and I'm moving my laundry from washer to dryer, staring blankly at the German instructions, sweating out my last passably clean outfit.
I have one job. If I'm not selling merchandise at 7pm it's impossible to justify being here. And yet all this worry will be so worth it when I cruise into the Netherlands tomorrow carrying a fully refreshed, compact suitcase and a self-congratulatory story about tour packing and laundering tactics. There's no turning back; The next fifteen minutes are crucial.
My attention cycles the wet wardrobe, a wall-clock, the digital countdown and the surfaces in the room suitable for a self-timer. This story requires a portrait of a calm, organised man, at one with the machine rumble and the warm, dense, detergent air. I set my camera on a plastic chair.
In the desperate seconds that follow I ask myself what type of human takes a picture of themselves watching a tumble dryer. Then it flashes.
For the benefit of all present I bundle my warmed up clothes into a bag, grab my camera and run the two blocks to the venue, avoiding all eye contact. There's no turning back.
Our rooms are on the ground floor.
In Workington, Cumbria, September 2007, a man is handed a digital camera and asked to take a tour group photograph. Some of the group have excitedly formed a painful sounding human pyramid, the rest are very much ready to leave.
Unfamiliar with the technology and panicked by the responsibility, he holds the camera up to his face, squeezes one eye shut and searches for a viewfinder. The pressure intensifies, the structure is collapsing, there's no time, he presses the button.
I look on, puzzled, from the back of the group, at a small screen filled with a close-up of the man's eyeball; and weep, uncontrollably, as he captures what remains my favourite tour group photograph of all time.
This is not it.
In Cologne, May 2018, the Now, Now and So Below tour party has lined up in front of an old shipping container in total darkness, whilst the house lighting engineer, knelt in the beam of our van's headlights, tries vainly to take a group photo on various phones and cameras.
In the most testing conditions, his cinematically lit figure looks infinitely cooler and more moment defining than the row of fatigued faces in front of him.
This is not even that.
This is me saying "Wait, stay right there!", shortly after the photoshoot, whilst I crouch to capture a moment which had already passed, because I felt sure it would be the memory that really proved we were all there and that tour was a wonderful and weird and valuable time. And I was right.
An all-dayer is a gig that's already started when you arrive and continues after you've gone, but it feels like you've been there all day.
At the all-dayer, you set up in the car park and load off stage to the car park; and the car park is the beer garden and for some, the bathroom.
Everyone else is having more fun than you at the all-dayer, so you're determined to have less fun, in spite of them. When the popular bands you've never heard of turn out to be really good you feel conflicted and emotional, because what once meant everything to you is now just a thing you do.
You eat pizza from the pizza truck and fries from the fries truck and you successfully walk past the doughnut truck all day... errr... at the all-dayer.
Ok, ok, you eat a giant, caramel doughnut at 11:00pm, in the car park there. You see your friends, all stronger willed these days, are looking for you, looking sorrowfully at an empty cardboard plate, looking forward to being back at Bradford Travelodge, and you're ready for the future.
All-dayer, every dayer.
I usually drive.
On occasion, the unbridled thought that I might sit elsewhere in the van and get some work done will run away with me, only to be caught in the melee of backpacks and legs and cables, by sleep's lasso. Its graceless, open-mouthed, neck punishing hold.
So I drive, to stretch out my waking hours and keep my mind limber. And because it's usually my job.
When David calls it's as though he hides the keys. He offers me fifty free hours in a passenger seat, alongside the job of selling merchandise on the @nownowband tour. I accept first and then give it a lot of thought.
I've heard about boredom before. It's perhaps the most perilous part of touring for the people in the back. When your pastime becomes your full time, you still need something to pass the time. Even the most excellent company won't be enough. The excitement and exertion of the shows contrast horrendously with the waiting and worrying in between.
I'd stuffed a bag of sewing supplies into the corner of my case before I left home. The last time anxiety and loneliness got me, three winters ago, I started making miniature toy bears and I'd had it in mind since to design and make a horse in the same way. Usually there's no time.
On the motorways of England and Germany, 'Neigh, Neigh' was born. A somewhat slim, stern but loveable miniature horse. All of her limbs and head are jointed and move gracefully, her mouth doesn't open and her eyes don't close. She stood majestically on the merchandise stand throughout the last night in Paris and was given as a gift to Now, Now before we parted.
This picture is out of focus and the choice of location, strange, but I'm not much of a photographer, I usually drive.
Paris always looks at me like I'm inconveniencing it. It keeps its shades on indoors and seems preoccupied by something happening over there. It's cooler and better looking than me in ways that I don't find cool or good looking, but everyone says it is and I believe them.
If I'm nice and polite, maybe it'd fall in love with me?
No. But I hesitate to say I don't belong with Paris, because when I do it discourteously drops a lifelong friend, or an incredible artist, or a beautifully preserved mosaic ballroom floor on the bar in front of me and calls me ungrateful.
Immaculately on time and fully caffeinated, as usual, we arrive at L'Olympic Cafe and our promoter promptly leaves. At dinner we sit in everybody's way, with plates full of disappointing rice, whilst what appears to be a prominent local mafia member repeatedly reverses into the front of our van outside.
When I check for damage he seems offended. I apologise; the space isn't big enough.
An overwhelmingly excellent and emotional last show of tour follows, until we're pushed out by cleaning staff and stared out by barmen and I stand out by the front door, unsure who to thank.
Here, I awkwardly request an end of tour band photo in which Kevin hesitates to say he doesn't belong and Now, Now, impeccably styled in Now, Now merchandise, give him some tough, Parisian love.