Well, it's done. The tour's finished. I'm writing this from a recording studio in Brussels, where I'm helping to make the new Baxter Dury album. I've had a few days to readjust to life off the road, but I'm not home yet so its still kind of la-la land. Patrick Walden is here, as is producer/engineer/oddball Craig Silvey. So along with Baxter there's a full complement of deeply eccentric creatives lurking about. Its great, but I've been struggling to unpack the last three days of the Sequel Tour with all this music and hilarity buffeting me from all angles. You see I'm supposed to be working, not HuffPost-ing... so surreptitiously, between takes, from the back of the control room, here's the blog for the last three shows of the Babyshambles UK tour:
The final sprint was along the southern coast of England: Folkestone, across to Exeter, then halfway back on ourselves to Bournemouth. The planning of tours is a mysterious art- a balance between trying to make the journey economical in terms of distances between towns, and which venues are actually available within a given set of dates. The longer promoters and agents have before a tour starts to work this all out, the more logical the routing tends to be. This explains why the course-plotting of the earlier Shambles jaunts made no sense whatsoever- we'd decide to do a string of shows mere weeks before they took place. In the days he was managing Echo and the Bunnymen, Bill Drummond once sent the band on a tour of the Hebridean Islands. He secretly routed it in such a way that if you connected each gig as a dot on the map, it drew a rabbit's head. He didn't tell anyone, he just did it. I literally laugh out loud every time I remember that... I wish there were more people in the world as weird as that guy.
Folkestone is an interesting proposition. I'm often told how grim it is, but I found it quirky and charming. I guess said grimness is more due to the economic climate than the actual scenery. Indeed, the parts we saw appeared proudly well kempt. The weather was clear, so we spent the afternoon before sound check cycling along the beachfront.
There was a great moment that stuck with me that day. I don't know why, but there's a massive bell suspended from a cable between two very tall flagpoles by the harbour. As we cycled slowly past this perplexing arrangement, we were momentarily alarmed to see a stone sail past overhead. Following the missile's arc down to its source, we saw two little Herberts kicking about in school uniforms, pushing their glasses up the bridge of their noses and lobbing pebbles up from the shore. I just love that idea: "C'mon Ralph, lets bunk off school and go chuck rocks at the Old Bell". We parked up and watched till eventually one hit with a satisfyingly sonorous 'ding!'. We cheered loudly, startling the truants, who hadn't noticed the audience they had gathered. Little scamps.
Speaking of scamps, Peter was a little worse for wear by the end of the show that night. His favourite drink is a cocktail called 'The Brucie Special'. Throughout the set he seemed bent on downing as many as he could. There's a certain slapstick quality to watching poor old Brucie double tasking between drum teching and being Pete's bartender. This amusement is tempered by a vague "Don't encourage him" annoyance when the audience whoop and cheer him on to downing drink after drink. Knock it off guys; we got work to do here...
It was great to visit Exeter. Before I moved to London I spent two years in Falmouth, Cornwall, and I'd visit Exeter occasionally on skateboarding trips. What I hadn't seen on these visits was the old quarter of the city. Not many skate-able contours to cobbled streets, so its not surprising I was never led there- but it turns out there are parts of Exeter that are as beautiful as anywhere in Britain. We found a crazy Bazaar of a shop by the canal, which had more 'Arcadian Trinkets' than Peter had ever seen under one roof, with the possible exception of his own flat. The only way we could tear him away to actually play the gig was to get the manager to agree to open shop for us after the show. He stayed true to his word. In fact I remember being woken up at 3am by the gang returning to the bus with £600 worth of object d'art. I emerged from my slumber just enough to hear Pete recount how the owner had talked him into buying a stuffed lion's head. "He's doing a roaring trade in them" I heard him explain as I fell back asleep.
We awoke the next day parked outside the Academy in Bournemouth. Being the last day, I wandered around the seaside town with Stephen in a state of bittersweet contemplation. Bitter because the tour was drawing to a close, sweet because I'm proud of what we've accomplished this year. From nothing really much to speak of going on in January, to a top ten album and completed UK tour by October is pretty good going, Stephen reminded me. "Considering just a year before that, we weren't sure if you'd even walk again, you've done well', he added. There's nothing like a windy off-season afternoon in a coastal town to add pathos to a conversation like this. We raised our collars against the squalling sea spray and walked out onto Boscombe pier.
I love Stephen. Quietly wise, he has become an important component of the band, both musically and within the personal dynamic of the group. As we treaded the wooden boards of the pier, I considered the dynamic of the Babyshambles touring ensamble as a whole, band and crew alike. I've heard people equate it with marriage. Others reckon its like being in a political party. For me, the last two months have felt like properly being in a gang again. There's definitely an element of arrested development that goes with this life. God knows how we've gotten away with the blag for so long. Most people in bands will agree that no matter how long it lasts, or how well you do, there's always the faint cloud of "I'll have to get a real job one day" lingering nearby.
I try not to, but I do worry about the band. The lads, our future, if we're living up to our potential. It's the human condition I guess, regardless of how well it's going to always think you could be doing better. By the same token however, I'm aware of how precarious any state of affairs is with this band. Perhaps because Bournemouth was the last show of the tour, the mental background noise was louder than usual. As always, listening to Stephen's quiet voice had a calming effect on me though. There's an example of that band dynamic at work right there. An hour later, I complain that I can't be bothered to soundcheck. "Ah, but you'll miss it in a few days" Stephen gently scolds. He was right. I do.
We've got various shows in the diary between now and the summer, with more coming in week by week. I'll continue to lend my perspective on the Babyshambles gigging life, as long as the folks at The Huffington Post let me. For now though, a huge thanks to everyone who's been reading these blogs, and to everyone who came to see us play on this tour...whatever state of repair you found us in.
Anon and on and up the 'Shambles.