American Football, Julia Holter, Matthew E. White, Now, Now Now, Vök
Julia Holter tour collage
My collection of passes, setlists, flyers, posters and more from a month of summer touring.
My first meeting with Julia and her band was at Geneva Airport, following a long day of driving from Venlo, Netherlands. I'm nervous when I meet new people or try to filter into already established groups. Being outside all the in-jokes really sucks and trying hard not to be annoying often has the opposite of affect. We shook hands and I drove everybody to Fribourg (The Swiss one) where we had a hotel for the night before Kilbi festival at Bad Bonn.
Beautiful small towns that know they're beautiful and don't need carefully positioned lighting or elaborate, slightly untrue histories to convince themselves are my kind of places. This was one of those. As we ascended an endless old staircase from the riverside towards the town, Devin told me he'd like to write a book and I intend to remind him of that.
At Julia's headline show at Paradiso Noord in Amsterdam I couldn't see over the heads of the people stood on the balcony, so I held my camera up in the air, pointed it in vaguely the right direction, and snapped.
I remember seeing photographers at our punk shows in Yeovil, ten years or more ago, taking their pictures like this as a matter of course. As though looking through the finder, or whatever you call it, was somehow spoiling the art or detracting from the chaos. It's strange because as I took this photo I felt desperately uncool.
This was my view of the set at Primavera Sound in Barcelona. A guest saxophonist ran from a show he was playing on a different stage moments before and joined them for a few songs without soundcheck or rehearsal. Skills.
We arrived in town the night before in order to see Radiohead. As we were watching them I remembered I don't actually like Radiohead, so I went to see Shellac instead. I was pleased with my decision and definitely felt grateful to have even had the choice.
Backstage at La Route du Rock there was dark chocolate, white wine, setlist preparation... turtles.
La Route Du Rock
No filters used on this soundcheck snap in France. That's a real, green, swathe of sunlight.
Later we established that Julia and I love Steely Dan and Devin HATES Steely Dan. We're right.
Spotting this haunted house next door to our hotel on the French coast, I thought about how cool it would be to stand on that balcony every morning, breathing in the fresh sea air, sunlight coursing through the building and warming the bare wooden floors. Then I turned around and realised the view would be an industrial estate, a McDonalds and a Shell petrol station, so I stopped thinking.
On deck of the Rodby-Puttgarden ferry, Corey worked seriously hard for this shot. He stood it out for a good five minutes whilst Devin and I fussed around trying to take the picture as he wanted it. This was my last effort, just as we were all giving up hope.
Devin's quiet determination, depth of knowledge and experience in punk rock and connections with some of my all-time favourite bands made a seven hour journey to mid-Wales, departing at 4:15am on little to no sleep not only possible, but thoroughly enjoyable.
This one was taken by my friend Luke during his last week in Gothenburg. He braved the rain to spend a few hours at Way Out West festival, before we decided that a chat in the hotel lobby was far more appealing. I spilled my drink on the sofa and covered it up with a cushion.
This big old moon was hanging above Amsterdam as we walked back to our tour bus after a few hours in the city. EJ, Corey and I were stood on a bridge over a canal (Of course) and I think we all got this picture. I'm sort of interested to compare, but I know that it's probably not worth it.
You don't often get to see inside those old apartment buildings in European cities, which is unfortunate because they're all so unique and beautifully crafted. There are so many hidden works of art. Even those gloomy, pastel blocks in Poland have wonderful and highly Instagramable features. It's a very good reason, if another was needed, for making new friends in different cities.
In this instance, my tour friends and I were invited to a top floor apartment in the centre of Amsterdam and the floor in the main entrance hallway looked precisely this great.
Later, people made uncomfortably loud music on unusual instruments and I ate chips with mayonnaise.
At breakfast in Lubeck, Germany, the bench seats were upholstered in the most regal fabric. I love the orange, dark blue and murky green combo, and the elaborate detail. It all seems too good to be sat on. But, I was hungry.
I tried to sleep on a small circular table and padded stool, pushed together in the portacabin/trailer style dressing room, whilst some loveable English gents sang Nickelback songs relentlessly and loudly in a neighbouring room. Pretty desperate measures, but I knew that immediately after the Pukkelpop show I had to drive through the night.
When I failed with the sleeping, I drove our hire car past three security gates without any vehicle accreditation, direct to the back of our stage (Reassuring), so that we could load out quickly. It still took the normal amount of time.
I caught the end of the set and snapped this 'behind the scenes' photo from stage right.
Way Out West
Ah yes, another 'me at side of stage' POV photograph of a Julia Holter performance. This time it's Way Out West in Gothenburg. At least you get to see a variety of different lighting effects, I suppose, and wonder why I had nothing better or more important to do.
Backstage before the final show of tour, Devin and Corey lovingly limbered up on some scaffolding in front of a giant, misty hill, in the light drizzle. Welcome to Wales.
Considering I just spent two weeks attending them, it's probably surprising that I dislike music festivals more than most. Too often bands are the afterthought and sponsors and promoters pockets are the priority. The bands have no time to set up, soundcheck and sound good, there's nowhere comfortable to sit, bad food and lots of people on drugs. Oh, and no wi-fi.
Green Man Festival crushes all but a handful of the others by being welcoming, well curated and set in the incredible Welsh valleys. As dusk dusked, Julia performed on the main stage and the view from the back looked like this.
This is a full team shot from the small blue marquee, featured in the back of the Devin and Corey photo. It was late in the evening and we discussed the pros and cons of staying at the festival an hour longer in order to see Belle & Sebastian. We couldn't all agree.
I like the near symmetry of the drinks on the table and the fact that nobody in the photo actually wanted their picture taken.
This 'leftover rider' piece was curated by Dina and photobombed by Devin.
Festival green room door signs from Way Out West and Green Man festivals.
I left Julia sat at this piano in RAK studios, London. They were preparing the room for a set of live recordings to be released in 2017.
Sometimes the subtleties of this band were lost in the huge festival fields or to an impatient audience. Hearing the set again, from a purpose built live performance space, through excellent headphones, is something to look forward to.
American Football tour collage
All tours finish with a folder full of colourful, memory-rich trash. I spare mine the landfill and flatten it onto the internet, for everyone else to deal with.
Here's a selection of setlists, passes, flyers and obscurities from the American Football tour.
My brother in emo @goldynoah commented "Great set list" and he was right.
I love selling merch, it's my thing, I have a strong family history in it. Before I sold merch I bought it, sometimes I still do, but I appreciate that you can't do everything all the time. I invited Ash to join me on this trip. Ash is an excellent tour manager in his own right, the newest addition to the Elephant Riders team, not to mention a diligent, considerate, generous man with a wealth of life experience, making him great at just about everything he tries his hand at. His official job title here was merch seller.
The one thing I wasn't entirely clear with Ash about was the ludicrous distances we were to drive. I'd sort of shut my eyes and agreed to them as well. "It'll be a leisurely summertime cruise through Southern Europe", I'd said. We began with a 17 hour trip from dull, grey Tottenham, North London to Barcelona.
Three packets of biscuits weren't enough. We stepped out of the van just over the Spanish border, the shadows suggest an early afternoon hour, it was 35º and, poor biscuit selection aside, we were feeling great.
The door to our green room in Sala Apolo, Barcelona remained open. Old theatres are beautiful but don't have air conditioning.
The American Football audience, as every night, was attentive, dedicated and physically moved. The half-time drop on 'Honestly?' was urged in by a tidal wave of human heads. Mine wanted to be one of them, but I was at work. How strange.
Here I am at the side of a Spanish motorway, somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid. The band found a satisfactory selection of refreshing, cheap beer and I was finding the 6.5 hour drive a breeze, albeit a 39º breeze.
Menacing, cinematic photo by Ash.
Lotta time to think
I woke up in Madrid on a Wednesday morning at 6am, took this picture from my hotel room window, ate a bowl of cereal in the lobby and started driving. Ash and I had a lot of good chats. The other guys wisely took a flight, whilst we tackled the colossal drive to Milan.
It's difficult to do this job and simultaneously declare an interest in climate change or saving the environment. You can, but it's sort of ridiculous. So many unnecessary flights and drives, fuel and fumes, expense and waste, food for sustenance rather than health. At the same time, being greeted daily by natural beauty and feats of human kindness, skill and development opens your eyes to everything that's worth saving and celebrating. I still have a lot to think about regarding all that.
We arrived in Milan at 12:30am.
Get in the van
Documentation of one of our many fuel stops, this time in the South of France, on the coast just outside Monaco. This van did over 6500km in 10 days with the a/c well and truly on.
Within five minutes of unloading at Magnolia, Milan we were being bitten to pieces by mosquitos. I located the boss at the club and after expressing my concern was taken to a tent at the back of the building where a giant tarpaulin revealed two enormous pallets of bug spray. Literally thousands of cans. It's as though they have a problem there with this kind of thing.
This picture was taken during soundcheck. At the actual show there were at least 1000 more people than this.
The day was littered with typically Italian niggles. Later, Mike Kinsella asked me if I ever get angry and I described the first time I remember raising my voice in anger, two weeks prior, during a particularly stressful apartment move. He concurred that moving house will do that to you.
Steve Lamos is an extraordinary drummer/trumpet player/thinker and as with all the guys in this group, a calming, reassuring presence. He's an artist who pursued a career in English academia and a dad who cautiously accepted an incredible opportunity to tour and fulfil childhood ambitions. It's an absolute joy to watch him on stage, nightly and a pleasure to prepare the bottled water pyramid.
Here's our man, serving up a poignant trumpet solo at the Milan show.
Drive 'til the rain stops, keep driving
Ash and I got back to the Milan hotel around 1am. We'd scheduled to leave again at 4am, for a gruelling (Minimum) 10.5 hour drive to Berlin with a 6pm arrival deadline. There was obviously no point in going to bed.
At times like this it's important to pick really annoying music that you know all the words to. We chose 'Smash' by The Offspring. It rained and we drove through the night.
But things were going our way. We avoided the perils of the Swiss border by passing through at 4am. I stopped to spend my Swiss Franc per diem from Vök tour on delicious chocolate. There hadn't been time to do that before. As morning broke over the mountains every view out of every window was completely stunning. I felt delirious but grateful.
At the show that night in Berlin I told everyone who'd listen that I hadn't been to bed yet. Nothing to be proud of, really, just extremely unwise.
Tiler, the creator
I don't remember being called in to tile this German service station bathroom, but sleep deprivation will do that to you.
It was 07:31am in Dettingen an der Iller, on the morning of the Berlin show and had I not taken this photo I'd be pretty sure I imagined this place.
16/6/17 - SO36
The idea that there'd ever be a club gig in Berlin with Joan Of Arc, Minus The Bear and American Football on the bill is pretty far out. Add to that me being at the gig and working with American Football - completely impossible.
This photo of the backs of Joan Of Arc goes some way to proving that all of that did happen. I was utterly exhausted and have only a vague memory of the whole thing. I know it was so hot nobody could breathe and I know it was awesome.
Seb and I started Elephant Riders in 2010. Seb doesn't expand the ranks often, only when he happens to meet honest, trustworthy people who do the job the same way he and I do, which is all too rare.
Completely by chance, at Maifeld Derby in Mannheim, Germany, four of the five of us ended up working on the same festival bill, back to back. Ash and I with American Football, Seb with Metronomy and Gareth with Kate Tempest. It was a thoroughly excellent time and testament to our taste in people.
Side of stage with American Football, live at Maifeld Derby. After a few amp troubles miraculously rectified themselves, I wandered out front to see how it sounded. Mike K caught my eye and gestured as though to say I needed to get back to stage immediately. I panicked and started running.
When he started laughing moments later I felt really stupid. When he messed up his guitar part as a result we both felt really stupid.
Mike Garzon's performance as guitar tech for American Football is as composed, finely tuned and captivating as that of the band. He's a true technician with impeccable attention to detail.
For every song Mike prepares and delivers two different guitars in two different tunings, steps out front to play all the percussion, keeps the band supplied with beer, water and guitar picks and closely monitors the entire stage. He also knows how to have a good time.
It was a pleasure to be schooled in preparation and organisation by him, daily.
Nate and Mike Kinsella
Though we may disagree on important issues such as Radiohead and The Smiths, these guys have written or directly inspired so much of my favourite music. Their unwavering authenticity as creators, composers and humans who know how to party prove that far from being a nostalgia trip, this is a brilliant new period in an unbroken timeline.
We didn't talk an awful lot, but when we did I think we understood each other.
The whole crew
(L-R: Me, Steve Holmes, Steve Lamos, Ashley Christopher, Mike Garzon, Nate Kinsella, Mike Kinsella, Jason Cupp)
This was backstage after the last show at Best Kept Secret Festival. Later that evening everyone went swimming in a lake as the sun set and Radiohead performed on the main stage. I sat indoors, on a chair shaped like a human hand and ate all the stroopwafels. Sorry.
I didn't get any individual shots of Steve H and Jason, so though no less worthy, they regrettably don't feature in this photo diary. As equally excellent gentlemen it would be wrong to write about them as a token gesture, so for that reason I'll hope to meet and/or travel with them again in the future.
'Coat Of Arms' tour collage
Early on, before the tour took on a slight monastic history tip, Matt eased boredom on the road with a special, Ferrari edition of Classic Car magazine. Fortunately I recovered it on the last day, excellently preserved and ripe for cutting out with unnecessary precision and sticking to a piece of paper.
Contained in this collage is everything I collected during the 21 days of tour. Notable inclusions include, a Robin Hood postcard, part of a Kendal Mint Cake box, the receipt from fish and chips at Colman's of South Shields, the main chapel at Tintern Abbey, elements of a cool poster from the York show and my own completed audience feedback form.
The quality of the image isn't great because there is literally nowhere in Poznan that'll scan an image larger than A3 size and this piece of paper is at least A2, maybe bigger.
When I'm not taking lo res photographs or cutting out colourful bits of paper, I also work as a tour manager
Matt White and Alan Parker (both non-smokers) loiter outside Ramsgate Music Hall while I park the Vauxhall Vivaro and worry about the missing music stand (It was under the laundry bag).
This was the first time I'd really taken my camera out for the tour diary. Sometimes it doesn't quite feel right, you know? That or there's other, more important work to do.
Later, at the curry house (Our fourth of tour up to that point) they played a euro dance version of 'Happy Birthday' three times around with the name of the birthday celebrant replaced by the words happy birthday.
The kind, welcoming folk at The Trades Club in Hebden Bridge recommended a morning walk up to Sylvia Plath's grave at St. Thomas A. Beckett Churchyard, Heptonstall.
Tradition says that a writer might leave their pen/pencil sticking out of the soil as some sort of ode. Thus with the completion of said walk began Alan's need for the phrase "May I borrow a pen? I stuck mine in Sylvia Plath's grave", or similar.
I like tours where the group is frequently ready to get out early, enjoy a good breakfast and take in some history, even on a show day. At least it seems like I do, this is the only time it's ever happened.
The most satisfyingly serene of sports is elevated to new heights, overlooking the Calderdale Valley, West Yorkshire.
It's 10am on a Friday morning in late October and these lads are out there, come rain or overcast or light drizzle, keeping the bowling green in pristine condition.
As we pass on our way to York we're discussing TV/Netflix series, except I've never seen any of them, so my input is not helpful. I've not played bowls either, but you're probably either more of a bowls guy or more of a TV series guy and I think I am, or at least aspire to be, more of a bowls guy.
The dressing room at Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal is a cell with mirrors and showbiz lights. A pressure cooker of artificial light. It repeatedly asks you to look at yourself and be disappointed.
Which is appropriate because shortly before taking this shot I snuck out to the shop down the street, bought four large bars of chocolate covered Kendal Mint Cake and ate one in the space of approximately 60 minutes. I gave the others away to ease the guilt of my gluttony, then avoided backstage.
The sticker on the back of the wooden '80s school classroom' chair does say BUM 69. No further comment.
Robin Hood is an amazing story about a fox that swims underwater using a reed as a snorkel.
There was a spare hour before we were due at the venue in Leicester so it seemed right to travel cross-country from Kendal and see some history we could all relate to, Sherwood Forest. I allowed myself to wonder for a moment why I hadn't been there before.
Not necessary. In this place nobody knows Robin Hood's real identity, he dies (Impossible) and the Major Oak (Deemed less worthy of a mention in the movie than Maid Marion's badminton match) was actually a very dead tree being held up by large metal pillars. Were it to fall down and, God forbid, rot away, there's a real danger this would just be a sub-standard forest with oversized carpark and tired, slightly confused visitors centre.
Every town has its ups and downs. Leicester, for example.
The support act for the first half of this trip was Andy Jenkins and here he is in Kendal studying a map of the area. Andy is shy but sharp witted and shares my love of The Mountain Goats. A pleasure to travel with.
Andy's new record will be out on Spacebomb in 2018.
The ghostly skeleton of me, waiting for the laundry to be done. A self-timer/self-portrait.
I spent the largest part of my off day in this Falmouth attic room, on the white wicker chair, at the modest interpretation of a table, accounting. Then I hit my head on the beam and slept through dinner.
Nobody ever felt good after a day off. Make every day a show day.
Sales and Marketing
My merch display for tour included • A nice piece of Gingham • A string of fairy lights • 1-2 picture frames • A photograph of some sheep*
Feels like we're really just fine tuning at this point.
The lobby scene at The Poly in Falmouth has a similarly suitable balance of regality and modesty. The viewfinder on the Onki 336 however... heavily imbalanced.
*(More specifically, this excellent shot by @igasiemiga https://www.instagram.com/p/BYG7MpynpAB/?taken-by=igasiemiga)
Halloween night and the streets of Brighton are lined, as though by a yeasty throat lozenge, with lazy zombie make-up.
The venue cut our set short so they could get the fake blooded drinkers in. Cut adrift, we took a box of three Krispy Kreme original glazed donuts down to the promenade at around 23:00 and enjoyed one each by the light of the moon.
On the beach we played that game where one throws a pebble in the air and another throws a second, trying to hit it. It wasn't possible to see either pebble. As I took this picture one throw took too much of a vertical trajectory and we all ran for cover.
The true spirit of Halloween was lost on one group.
I first heard about Bedouine on the Lucius Instagram like six months ago. Without any connection being made, here we were, in a field beside a castle ruin and seventh century monastery in the middle of Ireland. These sorts of things are no longer surprising when Lucius is involved.
The Matthew E. White party had become burned out on relatively insignificant old buildings. Bedouine had listened to the same Jackson Browne record on loop for a week and I'd wasted much of the previous three days unsuccessfully trying to get through to Vodafone.
Fortunate then that Ireland excels at rugged, natural landscapes, Bedouine finally let out a chorus of "I am a child of these hills" and I no longer need my phone to take photographs.
There are plenty of places to park in Galway, so it's like some kind of initiation ritual/test of commitment when bands are encouraged to park their vans at the dead end of this alley.
Had I not recalled the style with which @sebobysebo manoeuvred the first Elephant Riders van down here seven years ago (Darwin Deez tour), I may have recalled thinking "I'm not sure this is worth it". The standard was set, I reversed in blind, wing mirrors folded in and only spent about 20 minutes of my life doing it.
The graffiti on the west wall reads 'Today I love you' which is as far into the future as one can reasonably expect to project.
Cliffs Of Moher
Matthew E. White lets his hair loose and leans into the wind, illustrating the extent of the battering being received by the Cliffs of Moher and those curious enough to bother climbing them.
The cliffs are famous, so they've paved them, built a cafeteria and gift shop and charged people to visit. My only hope is that the elements destroy them before the public does.
A cabaret seated audience in Ireland armed with feedback forms and pens, much like an erratic Atlantic storm, will give as bravely and unpredictably as it receives. The show in Limerick later must have been wild because Matt and Alan ended the night at a surprisingly favourable roulette table with the full support of the adoring casino owner, which almost always never happens.
Bar room breakfast
As we sat here waiting for breakfast on the last show day I received a message from the ferry operator saying our crossing the following day had been cancelled.
We had two alternative crossings, one leaving Dublin at 8am and one at 8pm. Given that we were in Cork that night, neither was preferable but the early one ensured everyone made their flights, so we ended with another one of those nights where you either sleep for one hour or just have a really long hot shower and a coffee.
When I finally arrived back in Seven Sisters, London at 9pm, Tracy and Seb had cooked a roast dinner and we made up a game where you rate supermarkets. I suddenly just had loads of opinions I needed to share.
As each night ends I see somebody tear off and throw away their AAA pass and I tut. “You might regret that when all the days have blurred into one and you’re having a crisis about what you’ve done with your life”, I say. Not out loud of course, they’ll figure out their own way.
I’m a tour life crisis survivor who goes out of his way to keep physical notes of every show, hotel, restaurant, cafe, moment of enlightenment and especially good or interesting person I come across. There’s no time to write as I go, so how else will I remember?!
I secretly file things away, so people don’t think I’m crazy. My posture deteriorates as my backpack sinks with the weight of colourful memory cues (And regional marzipan treats).
After a few days of thinking about things that aren’t tour, I tip the file out on my desk at home and try to cut and arrange the pieces into a picture that might be fun to look at even if you weren’t there. It’s more difficult than you’d think. How many ways can a crumpled, neon wristband be reimagined?
Don’t answer that.
I think I’m making progress. Here’s my Vök tour collage. It features (Amongst other things), a frog from a picture frame stock photo that replaced the merchandise price list whilst I figured out the correct currency conversion and wrote it really neatly, a loyalty card for a Munich döner shop, an @auderauder chocolate wrapper, a nice note from the lady who’s house we stayed at in Zagreb (Best spot in the city, DM for details), an apocalyptic Paris postcard, a strange Polish tally system and the tag from my first pair of Dr Martens since retiring my goth look, circa 1999.
Takes you back, doesn’t it?
16, 8, 4, 2, 1... I'm back, from six and a half weeks of touring around Europe with Vök.
An alarm sounds in the auditorium. Don't worry, it's part of the show. Unless you were in Cambridge and then it wasn't part of the show, but I'll get to that.
Backstage the four band members, bodies contorted to our tour van's optimal 'lounge' positions, begin their pre-show ritual for the twenty-ninth day, waving their weary limbs as though shaking off a month's worth of cold, rainy days.
I may have spent the afternoon in this Copenhagen basement counting change in the seven different currencies we'd used up to that point, but I still can't count to sixteen, or any increment thereof, in Icelandic, which proves a coolly effective excuse for not taking part.
"Wait, I'm really good at this", says Einar softly, through a crafty grin. He hands me his bag and starts rooting through his pockets for change.
It's Paris rush hour and we're on a sparsely populated carnival island, surrounded by gridlocked traffic, in the rain. Literally no one is having a good time. Einar, though.
He lowers his tall, strapping frame onto the counter and calmly takes aim at the balloons. They dart around, erratically. The stall operator stares at his phone.
Five shots... five resounding hits. I've never seen skills like it. Nobody else even notices. I wonder for a moment if I'd be good at this game, but I've never fired a gun before and I don't care to, so it doesn't matter.
Satisfied, he stands tall and selects his prize from the back wall. The options aren't great. "This will be good for backstage" he states as he's handed a miniature dartboard by the entirely unmoved operator.
None of us are good at darts.
Upon arrival at our Antwerp hotel it's immediately apparent that something is awry.
The street out front is gone. Where it was is now a vast, yawning hole, stretching the entire width and a few hundred metres in either direction.
Peering inside, I can see the bowels of the city's sewage system, though apparently they've yet to reach the desired depth. We know this because the oversized industrial drill positioned directly outside our front door is in full, unforgiving flow.
The receptionist winces as we enter.
It could be the intollerable volume, or the fact that the ground is actually moving beneath her feet. It could be the earth-shattering lie she's preparing to mouth. "They usually start between 9 and 10am". Hard to make out.
I'm troubled by an unusually irritable group message from our sound engineer, Teitur that reads, "There's a standing 94db tone in our room, I'm not even sure that's legal." He's in bed wearing ear plugs and heavy-duty noise cancelling headphones when I abandon dreams of a night's sleep and stomp downstairs at 7am to lodge a complaint.
There's a curious void behind the reception desk.
I'd been looking forward to Sopot. The relief of knowing how to be polite to people in their own language.
That, and the completion of back to back drives and shows from Munich, through Zagreb, Budapest and Brno, to Poland's premier beach resort, in a steady -12°c and snow.
Proof, if needed, that that isn't healthy, arrives in the form of our frontwoman and sole vocalist Margrét waking up with no voice.
I spend our morning off in a queue for drugs at the Apteka, brewing tea, ordering and delivering food and generally fussing. Cancelling is not an option.
Being at the seaside and not having a walk on the beach is also out of the question, so with thirty minutes before load-in, I slide the steep, icy steps and fight the driving wind, set the Onki 336 to self-timer and put it on a fence post.
Running to get into this shot I'm acutely aware of how absurd I look.
I turn to see an old Polish lady on the path watching me. She approaches as I return to collect my camera and asks if I'd like her to take the photo.
I smile and say, "Nie, dziękuję.”
Being on time to van call, though certain to win my favour, rarely works to anyone's advantage. The first person to open the sliding door to the carnage in the back of a two-week deep tour van cannot unsee that sight, nor unsmell that smell.
You take a moment to consider your options, realise that you have none and ready your fresh fingers for the task of putting the nastiest items, once considered 'food' or 'drink' or 'clothing', into bags. You literally despise all of your friends.
It doesn't stop there. A successfully sterilised bus is not a permit to simply litter last night's host city. "Where do people put their trash around here!" you cry.
In fairness, lots of people do appear to put their trash on the street.
I know where the bins are but ask Margrét to hold on for just a few seconds whilst I capture the very essence of bitter dissatisfaction with life choices, at bitter 9am, in bitter -9º, during an average-to-bitter Warsaw winter.
Then I help, I promise.
Ten days into her first ever tour, Guðrún was ready to go home. That's normal. Being in a small moving box, without privacy or personal space, surrounded by the emotional and physical baggage of five other people whom you barely know, is different from playing music. It's testing, even if you're the most natural entertainer on the planet.
Which Guðrún isn't, because that's Toni, owner and head chef at Gyoza Sake Bar in Zagreb, Croatia.
We arrive in the city and all go our separate ways for a little breathing space. Thirty minutes later I receive a message from Guðrún, it reads "I'm 20m from the apartment at Gyoza, sake on the house, owner loves Iceland, I might stay and get drunk! I'm saving the last bite for you because this food is insane."
I abandon my lonely snow walk.
Before long I'm eating a second delicious, delicately prepared homemade meal, listening to Toni's tales of Icelandic road trips and Japanese cuisine, Croatian tourism and English words, drinking the finest sake (On the house). I'm pretty sure they were supposed to close an hour ago, it's as though Toni really loves his job.
In that moment Guðrún and I realise that we love our jobs too, you just need the feeling of home occasionally.
A Mexican restaurant in Europe, much like an English breakfast in Poland, is done wrong 100% of the time. That doesn't necessarily mean it tastes bad, but its ability to call itself as such is frequently called into question, throughout the experience.
There isn't an official league table for the worst offenders, but 'Tres Amigos' of Winterthur, Switzerland is actively pushing for the play-offs.
We had an evening off before the last show with our friends and support act, Auður and with the town fully booked for a carnival weekend, our restaurant options were limited. A family meal among the buddhas and pirates, the pyramids and conical hats, the elephants and lions and the pumping Euro-dance of this well-situated 'Mexican' joint seemed to offer something for everyone. Everyone.
Except maybe Mexicans. Looking around the room it appears likely that the Mexicans wisely went elsewhere.
Fry-up traditionalists heading East this summer are advised to do the same.
I walk back into Bernie's house in Manchester for the first time in six or seven years, as though no time has passed. Renovations are in progress but the vibe is unmistakable, it's haunted by cool.
Bernie is the most interesting and industrious woman. Welcoming, generous and passionate about music and musicians. She knows hard work and she knows how to hang.
Teiture takes me to one side and whispers "Do you think it would be appropriate for me to take a bath?". I'm not surprised, he's a considerate man who loves bathing.
Bernie's slightly surprised but not especially concerned. Even ten minutes later when, with an air of quiet focus and determination, he asks "Would you mind if I boil the kettle a few times?" and I sit in the corner shaking my head despairingly, she remains unmoved.
He doesn't want a cup of tea.
It takes ages to leave the next day. Sweeping every room on every floor to find the ones who got too comfortable and repeating endless thanks and 'til-next-times. As Bernie paints the guttering on the side of the house, Teitur climbs the scaffolding and waits.
He knows how to hang and he knows how to make hard work of it.
"Quick, help me with this table".
OK, it's a lightweight desk at best and it tapers considerably at one end, but if there's one thing I learned in maths it's that setting your net nearer the wide end will make things fair and fully compliant.
Teitur just ordered a pancetta pizza at reception and we're listening to dark, industrial techno on computer speakers. The lamp makes an excellent floodlight and the bin on the shelf adds a new dimension (A shot for the bin will result in instant victory or instant defeat, success depending.) Everyone's invited. It's a tournament.
Bologna had been bleak. Dark grey and damp all day on the drive down from Northern Switzerland. Dark grey and damp inside the venue. The staff did little to add warmth to the proceedings and the audience embodied Monday night on the other side of town.
We'd all but wound down when, on our return to the hotel, the receptionist denied us access to the games room saying it was for student residents only. Not young or studious enough, eh?
Backed by knowledge that Einar’s recent interest in miniature sports "for backstage" had not wained, despite the darts disappointment, a new found determination for playing ping pong took hold. We constructed a court and didn't let up until the early hours.
Shout out to our student neighbours. No matter how relentlessly noisy and weird our party was, they respected the autonomy of our games room.
A gluttony of guilt and worry and administration gets backed up out here, on the long tours. You try so hard to avoid it but you know it's coming. It's the Antwerp ring road. There's no other way around.
You have to believe.
There'll be an afternoon in the future. With a clean, clear desk and a strong wi-fi signal. In a quiet, backstage room, bright by natural light. You'll arrive early, fill your lungs with plant-purified air and with calm, purposeful order, put loads of pieces of paper into neat piles.
You'll type words and numbers into spreadsheets and clear your email inbox to zero. People will ask questions and you'll know the answers, without looking.
You'll brew ginger tea using fresh chopped ginger and eat chocolate biscuits followed by the vegan option on the menu. The fridge will be fully stocked with Club-Mate.
On that day you'll rise from your reclining office chair, select the self-timer function and break out the broadest smile. File that pic somewhere hard to find, so you won't be disappointed if it never happens again.
Here I am in the middle of Antwerp. It may be faster and easier to go around, but sometimes it's healthier to go straight through.
Like kids up past their bedtime, Guðrún and Margrét sneak downstairs from the green room and gaze in bewildered horror towards the light in the back room. A seven-piece twee-indie-folk support band.
The promoter leans over and assures me there were fewer of them in their Facebook picture when he booked them. Sometimes you need to know when to stop digging a hole.
Vök is tired. Stumbling into our seventh week and onto the stage in Cambridge, we could probably do the show in our sleep were it not for the fire alarm that sounds three songs into the set and doesn't stop, shutting down all the power, on and off stage.
A helpful audience member loudly discusses why all bands should have acoustic guitars. He, like the opening act, means well but is at the wrong show. It's all irritating.
In adversity, Teitur always shines. He dons his head-torch and the crowd parts. Five minutes excavating in the broom cupboard and we have no alarm, followed by light, sound and a newly discovered energy in the room. The show becomes one of the best of tour.
A timely wake up call, helped in part by a group of twelve, excitable archeologists currently working at a site nearby. Lead by a friend of Einar and determined to have a good time, they knew when to stop digging a hole and came to the right place.
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.