The Playwrights In The Provinces

In August 2003 The Playwrights (majestic, angular art-rock from Bristol) and The Legend! (Fall-esque rants from CTCL founder and legendary music journo Everett True + cohorts) travelled the UK together during England's heatwave, spreading the CTCL gospel and enlightening provincial ears with their brave new sounds...

Thursday 7th Aug:

´The road to Hull' is typically and unfortunately the phrase that starts our journey. The Legend! has decided to travel separately so the hired minibus consists of five Playwrights (Aaron - vocals, Andrew - bass, Maff - drums, Nathan - guitar, and myself - also guitar) and Matthew from Glaive Records who is the tour booker/manager, plus all the gear and records in the back. Just as well The Legend! didn't join us -there would be no room at all (this is not a dig at ET's weight I must add). I take the drivers seat and after seemingly endless English motorways and anonymous and over-priced service stations we arrive in good time at the New Adelphi Club in Hull. Tis only the first gig but already the tour develops and distinct Spinal Tap dynamic as we discover the night has been double booked with a jazz-fusion four piece who will be headlining the evening. My heart sinks like a knackered Ford Capri driven recklessly off the Humber Bridge by some spotty joyrider.

We meet up with ET and also Danya (guitar, vocals) and Catherine (driver, CTCL stall proprietor). After some great Thai food and free beer we watch The Legend! play. I've been promised a groundbreaking and varied show every night and am not disappointed! ET, sometimes accompanied by mini-disk piano backing or Danya's trashy riffs, lets loose with a barrage of freeform venom (or sometimes heartfelt blues cover versions) about Vincent Gallo and a place simply know as The Void - Awesome! Fired up we mount the stage like five Mr Darcy's and rock like fuck. It's only our second gig with the new boys in the band and we crack through the set with much aplomb, winning over the crowd. Result!

As the jazz-(con)fusion band set-up I make plans to destroy the rider. Unfortunately there isn't a rider, (my demands of ´Where's the White Burgundy and chilled Sancerre I asked for?' go unanswered) so I am reduced to bartering in a semi-feudal system with Paul the promoter and general nice-guy, trading a copy of our album ´Good Beneath the Radar' for two bottles of red plonk.

After much heckling of the headline band and requests for Level 42 songs we retire to the home of wonderful Jodey who works at the club, and drink into the early hours whilst listening to The Smiths, as Andrew entertains us with his extensive knowledge of rare anecdotes about the band. Consequently we sleep soundly.
Friday 8th:

After a fry-up in a café in a railway carriage (note: triple measures for the price of singles booze fans) we set off for sunny Stoke on Trent. I cast my assumptions aside and revel in the town centre, enjoying especially the 1950's style Woolworths and the fact you can get a haircut for ú2.50. The brightly coloured Talbot Hotel is our home for the evening and John O the promoter (purveyor of The Music Room) makes us very welcome. I chat to Danya and someone offers me some MDMA powder. I decline politely. Do they not realise that that's not what The Playwrights are about?! But then, what would be The Playwrights' drug of choice I wonder? Speed perhaps? But that makes your willy shrink, and none of us want that. Wisely I stick to the real ale and a game of pool. The place is rammed but it soon becomes apparent that the crowd are here for the support bands The VC's and The Mittens. The numbers dwindle as The Legend! play but by the time we're up and running there are tumbleweeds blowing down the length of the bar. However, as reliable as Billy Connolly on Parkinson we put on a good show, opening with new song ´Dislocated'. We attract two heroin addicts from the hostel down the road to come and dance at the front. They remain our core audience for most of our set. ET takes it as a good sign that we cleared the room of punters, I'm not so sure.

Afterwards we split into two groups and I go to stay at John O's house out in the countryside with The Legend! and Matt Glaive. Someone pulls out an Etonian amount of weed and we sit outside under the stars. Later, put off by ET's loud snoring I sleep in John O's porch, the perfumes of nature falling gently on my skin.
Saturday 9th:

Sheffield, our destination today is often referred to as Britain's Biggest Village. We have a day off and The Playwrights and Glaive stay with my friend Laura and her boyfriend Jamie. Despite near death experiences in the minibus on Snake Pass thanks to Nathan's driving and enticing country fare served by Hollyoaksesque barmaids in a Peak District pub we arrive safely. A BBQ, sunshine and a trip to the local pub where Andrew wins the raffle (sadly no meat draw though) recharge our batteries. Later Andrew entertains us with his guitar... singing songs of The Smiths. A pattern is emerging but I'm too close to see what it is yet.
Sunday 10th:

Nottingham beckons and Laura and Jamie join us. The Rescue Rooms, a new venue is unnervingly big and spacious. Tonight support comes from the awesome Great Bear and Matt and Neil from Gringo Records provide the hospitality. It's good to see Mark from Leeds (drummer in Great Bear) again. Emma ´Scout' Niblett joins The Legend! on stage and gives them some of best ´bad' drumming I've ever seen and she grins to herself whilst playing. ET makes the joke about bands only having two or three good songs before playing the same song again which causes a chuckle amongst Nottingham's glitterati. The Legend! performances have become more aggressive and when ET shouts the lyrics to ´Arrogant Bastards' over Danya's howling feedback it truly is something special. There are enough people up for it to keep us up for it and we too play really well. For once there's room for us all to move about and we throw ourselves around the stage with wild abandon. Our new single ´The National Missing Person' is finally making sense live and it sounds great tonight. We play eight songs in thirty minutes and get an encore, playing ´Dislocated', which I dedicate to Jon McGregor, who's book ´If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things' I plundered. We sell some CD's too, which takes the edge off the fact that somehow I miss out on the free beer and as a consequence end up having to drive the van later. Another pattern is emerging, one involving all the booze getting drunk before I get my hands on it. I am determined to find out who the culprit is, or at least not miss out again.

Catherine asks me if I've had a wank yet on tour - I inform her of the negative and she seems disappointed. Danya compares The Playwrights to an ´English countryside version' of an American band who's name I can't remember. Surprisingly she has seen past my boyish but sophisticated urbanite veneer and found the country-lad beneath. Secretly I am pleased with this insight. Keep it real, pop wannabees, keep it real.
Monday 11th:

A breakfast of The Cure videos and the Pavement DVD at the Gringo house sets us up for the day and after a quick detour to Selectadisc and a truly righteous vegan café we head to Leicester. The Attik is a tiny venue and I recall going here once before as a (hey!) student. The stage is like a postage stamp and there are no monitors but as veterans of the punk rock wars circa ´97-'01 Aaron and myself take it on the chin like the consummate professionals we are (despite reports to the contrary we are not a band of minty queens - well not since Adam our keyboard player left anyway). We have a bit of time off so I go round the market and sit on a bench in a square next to a tramp who's eating a MacDonald's happy meal (complete with balloon) and reading a Jeffrey Archer novel. Five days into the tour and this seems normal. Back at the venue Leicester spawns the worst meal of the tour but on the flipside the best audience so far. Again Great Bear support and sound fantastic, and The Legend! put in their best show too, with ET asking Vincent Gallo to ´Fuck his Mother' and beating a trashed drum whilst pacing the stage. I decide this is a good night to get drunk and the seemingly limitless free lager encourages me. Leicester's boho-chic existentialist audience dig us immediately and from the opening chords of ´Welcome to the Middle Ages' they our ours. I dedicate ´Sleepwalking Report' to IPC Media Publishing and ET doesn't look amused. Oh well. We find new ways of playing tonight, throwing crazy shapes, always on the verge of feedback. We truly rock.

Later I dance to The Rapture (see kids I'm down with it) and discuss the trials of running a label with an equally disenchanted Nigel from Pickled Egg Records... and I drink more lager, and then some more. We then go back to Matt the promoter's house and once again Glaive bags the sofa and pretends to count the gig money whilst we load the gear in. On tour everyone's characters are put under a harsh light it seems. But it's time to turn out the light, because we must sleep and there's still three days to go.
Tuesday 12th:

Glaive feeds us a breakfast of mouldy bread. I remark how this is how Lewis Carroll wrote a lot of Alice in Wonderland, due to the mouldy bread causing acid-like hallucinations. Leicester city-centre on a weekday morning more than lives up to this promise. But soon we are driving south, Devon in our sights. It's another hot day, the hottest summer since the year I was born (1976 meteorological fact-fans) and it's tough going in the minibus. I work on lyrics for new song ´Knock Yourself Out' on the way down before taking over driving duties. In Exeter I buy a new guitar pedal and we relax by the Cathedral.

The Cavern feed us well (thanks to barman Simon from the mighty Kids Near Water) and some friends turn up. It's good to see Andy Bikeshed and Jason Mitchell (the best mastering engineer this side of Honiton sound engineering aficionados). Also Alistair and his lovely partner Carrie are here too and Alistair DJ's between the bands. A couple of support acts (This City Is For The Taking and the Worry Dolls) provide some interesting and original takes on the acoustic duo format, including a great Sugababes cover, but the crowd is not massive, it's been a long day and I am tired. We play with as much energy as we can muster but new strings on my guitar cause problems and the gaps between songs become ominous Pinteresque pauses as I try to retune. We slip and slide through the set, putting as much as we can into it, but Exeter doesn't care and neither do we now and we walk away wounded. The evening is almost redeemed when Catherine introduces me to Jo our host as ´the fittest member of The Playwrights'. However she does herself no favours by telling me I've been usurped in the sex sweepstakes by none other than Mr Glaive Records! I am crushed.

Back at Jo's flat we help ourselves from her wonderfully stocked bar and watch ´Ghost World', as Andrew finds a great new friend in the dog Eddie. Finally sleep creeps up on us like a velvet-gloved killer in a Gravenhurst song.
Wednesday 13th:

An early start and a long drive to Brighton means tired eyes and groggy bodies. But the journey through my native Westcountry refreshes me, as I pass old haunts from my youth. You can take the boy out of Yeovil, readers, but you can't take the Yeovil out of the boy. Glaive is in a particularly changeable mood and on the journey he veers between saying how much he's' loving the tour to how much he's hating it. After the fourth time of stating the obvious and saying how ´fucking hot' it is I'm ready to give him a good thrashing. I could use some nutrition as the food on this tour is starting to resemble the Atkins' diet and I'm getting irritable, so I look forward to ET cooking us a good meal when we arrive. But my hopes are dashed, ET fails us, relaying the information via a text message and we are left to fend for ourselves in the city. Life can be so cruel.

After soundchecking at The Freebutt we go for some food and a walk. The sea air feels good and the promise of a decent crowd fuels us. We rush back and go straight on stage, as we're opening the show. We rip it up, our matching t-shirts stealing admiring glances from the stylish and uncommonly attractive audience as we plough through our set, tight, loud and with conviction, as people dance crazily at the front. Brighton loves us, and we love Brighton. Jim Gordon, a photographer is here to take pictures of us and afterwards I chat with Jim and meet up with old friends. I move back into the main room to catch Miss Pain who are the headline band and our congenial hosts for the night. Dominic, Verity and Sarah look perfect in front of the Freebutts' sparkly silver backdrop, like a sexed-up, synth-driven, glam-bam, fag-hag Black Box Recorder in an S&M club. They're great! We go back to Verity and Dominic's flat ´Sussex Heights' in Hove and chat over cups of tea. I promise to put them on in Bristol. Friendships are made and I fall to sleep next to the open window with the sound of the ocean crashing in my ears. Or maybe it's the tinitus.
Thursday 14th:

We get up early to conclude our photo-shoot on Brighton beach with Jim the photographer. We have brunch and I meet with my cousin Gael and we go back to her house. For a few hours we sunbathe or shop or just sleep. Then we load-up and head for London. Aaron's salesman-style driving techniques make Maff and myself anxious passengers and we're relieved when we get to the Spitz in one piece, to be greeted by Paul from Strange Fruit. We're to headline tonight and so we soundcheck early. Together with some friends we go for a curry in Brick Lane. We toast the tour, toast each other, toast the fact we're trying to push what is collapsing. Remember kids, all that is solid melts into air. Our time will come.

We head back to catch The Gin Palace play. They're good; again I'm reminded of Black Box Recorder but a sweaty, rockabilly, garage version. The singer Meaghan looks and speaks like a saucy schoolteacher, like she'd like to dress you in stockings and suspenders and make you read Chomsky whilst hitting you with a ruler and running her nails down a blackboard. I very much approve.

ET swoops in the room handing Andrew and myself a can of beer each, I'm grateful but suspicious. Why such hostility to such a friendly gesture I wonder? Why such cynicism from someone so young? I dunno but something is bugging me.

I watch The Legend! from the balcony above the stage and chat with James, an illustrator who is designing the sleeve for the next Sink and Stove compilation album (featuring tracks from The Playwrights and The Legend!). Then it's time to play. It's hard to get an angle on the audience from the stage at the Spitz; it's hard to read their faces. But the noise they make is enough - every song goes down really well and we play one of our best shows. It's a great way to end the tour. Again we get an encore and ´Dislocated' gets the seal of approval. Now we are ready to party.

But much to my chagrin the entire rider has been consumed! Most of it by Mr True it seems. Looking over to the DJ booth this is confirmed as ET punches the air and dances manically to the tunes he selects. I demand he puts The Playwrights on the cover on the next CTCL as compensation. He grins, and my heart softens as he plays Dexy's Midnight Runners songs in quick succession. I blag some drinks from the bar and we dance.

We travel back to Bristol that night, Maff at the wheel, arriving at 4.00am. I am locked out of my house so go across the park to stay at Aaron's house. I get into my sleeping bag for the last time as news of the blackouts across America hit our shores. ´There's A National Grid Waiting To Be Lit' I mutter to myself. The tour is over; it feels like the end of the world, or maybe just the beginning of a new one. Live the dream, remember people, if you can, live the dream. We tried, and I think we succeeded.

© 2003Ben Shillabeer