Written By: Ola’s Kool Kitchen
The Telescopes with the van of death somewhere on the way to Dover: with Nick Keech, James Messenger, Byron Jackson, Stephen Lawrie, Jim Beal, and Dan Davis (photo by Ola’s Kool Kitchen)
Back in the days of late 60’s and early 70’s rock journalism, it was the quite done thing for reporters to accompany bands on tour and party with the entourage. Many an NME or Melody Maker reporter would be friends with the band. Whether it was Led Zepplin or The Beatles, they would be hanging out and partaking in the backstage life’s excesses. In modern times, the press is now carefully cordoned off. Journalistic impartiality dictates a line between the bands and the mainstream music press. Carefully sculpted features and interviews occur and the real feel of the bands, covered by fans and friends, is a distant memory. The exception is media-made by those of us fed up with the myopic news machine. We have decided to “Occupy the Media” and, through a D.I.Y. ethos, easy to use technology, and the freedom of the internet, we can create a professional alternative to rival the status quo dross force fed to us in the big press channels.
So that’s what I did. The circus came to town, asked me to join the ride, and I said, “No way baby……Let’s go!”
I was nervous. It was just me, a girl entering into the male-only tour zone. I knew everybody in the band, some more than others, but I hadn’t actually spent a week living with them before. I’ve also had experience travelling the world, Africa, North and Central America, the Caribbean, Australia, India, Europe, and especially south East Asia. I had plenty of experience living out of a suitcase for weeks in hotels, moving swiftly from location to location. These skills would come in handy but touring is very different to real travelling as I discovered.
Day One: September 8th – Paris
First day: Loading the van with gear somewhere in West London with: Ola’s Kool Kitchen. (Photo by Nick Keech)
The cast of characters for the tour party were: the main man behind The Telescopes, Stephen Lawrie; the members of One Unique Signal: Nick Keech– guitarist, Byron Jackson– guitarist and vox, James Messenger– guitarist, Jim Beal– bassist, Dan Davis– drummer; non band members: Dan DNA– extra driver, archivist extraordinaire documenting everything for blogs and video diaries; and myself– DJ and merchandise girl.
The tour is a strange existence. A carefully planned procedure, coordinating methods of travel with accommodation needs in slotted allotments of time. It’s about combating long hours of boredom on the road until you arrive and get released to have a short, sharp burst of glory on the stage. Like gypsies, you meet different people in every stop along the carnival and the only real consistency is the people on tour with you. As you are stuck together for long hours, it really helps if you all get along and can have a laugh together when things go amiss. No matter the best laid plans of mice and men, something always goes wrong on tour, and to avoid it spiralling into an agonizing situation, it really depends how the group handles disasters.
Upon arrival, I observed one of the first obstacles in the tour: Byron was very sick. He hacked up something nasty from the belly of his lungs. Like a real trooper, he rarely complained, and when not sleeping off various stages of pneumonia-like symptoms, he partook in all band-like duties. One thing you will be doing a lot of on a tour, especially if you are not a U2-caliber mega-famous band, is lugging around heavy equipment.
After several hours, we were locked and loaded on our way to Dover. We missed our initial Eurotunnel train time and were behind schedule. We popped onto the continent and headed along to the first gig at La Fleche D’or, Paris. As soon as we approached Paris, we became entangled in a massive traffic jam. It took over an hour at least to get across the city to the venue. Later we would find out it was the end-of-school holidays, and the French love their vacation time, so of course they swarmed into Paris on the same Friday night as us.
A rush ensued to unpack briskly as we were very late. I was deejaying and running the merchandise table that night. By the time I was fully set up, I was in such a fluster that I completely forgot to record the gigs. I did end up managing to audio copy most of the shows on the tour.
One Unique Signal kicked off the show, and I always feel they truly complement The Telescopes, sonically. Julian Cope featured their 2009 release, “Villains To A Man” as his album of the month. He described it as… “the many headed mole that is One Unique Signal wears a German helmet surmounted by an all-weather arc light, kevlar’n’steel shoulder epaulets and close fitting drainage boots, his weapon-of-choice is the archaic-but-reliable Binson Echoplex, his totem is the gatefold inner of ON YOUR FEET OR ON YOUR KNEES (molto guitars’n’loco drone), and his sparse Inner Soundtrack appears to have been informed by a simply repeated diet of HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL-period Hawkwind, the aforemenched Loop and plenny plenny Spacemen Three”. Live, OUS have their own vibe of melt-your-ears noise, space rock, filled with energy, passion, and bombs of sounds. If you are a fan of the “psychic fuzz,” these guys are not to be missed.
A lot of Telescopes fans turn up at shows expecting the shoegaze and dream pop of Creation Records. The current live show with OUS in formation around Stephen is an explosion of intense trashy, dark and dirty noise, full of soul. At times, something more in line with The Cramps engaged in an unholy exorcism, rather than Jesus and Mary Chain ‘Reverberation’. During a gig, there is plenty of action on stage to thrill the eye as well as audio excitement. Stephen has a tendency to fall to the floor and crawl about in a crustacean-like manner or lean heavily on his microphone emitting low guttural vocals. James Messenger with guitar in-hand jumps about without shoes– the gyrating “Sandi Shaw” of the group. Frequently, they do spill into the audience and crawl, flop and flip about, depending on the mood and height of the stage. Oodles of feedback acrobatics, balancing of instruments on speakers, and grating of strings occur while Dan, the drummer, keeps the tempo cool, like a jazz drummer amidst the maddening chaos surrounding him. It’s an exhausting roller coaster ride and its shell-shock factor always has a real ardent intensity. When I first saw The Telescopes in 2011, I observed that whether you dig the music or not, it’s very difficult to walk away from a gig and not feel anything whether it’s revulsion, exhaustion, or a wild abandon. The experience inspires deep feeling, the nature of which depends on the person viewing. Luckily there is a video of the Paris gig here to peruse in its entirety, for the curious and interested.
After the show, while manning the merchandise desk, I got my first taste of fandom. A sweet, French man asked me in English if I was friends with Stephen. He said, “I love his music and would like to talk with him very much.” I discovered one of my first duties as merch girl was to act as a go-between for eager fans wishing a meet with the band. It was one of my favourite tasks, to see how the show inspired such elation and to enhance that joy by arranging a personal connection to the musicians behind it. At some events, people would queue up to have records and CDs signed by the entire band. It was the magic and the love you’d feel radiating from these people always made me smile.
On this occasion, I was able to meet with Parisian friends and have an interesting discussion on French culture. Despite the French tendency to live well and deeply in the arts and marvelous food, there is a bourgeoisie complacency present that prevents a proper youth-defined subculture to flourish. It was pointed out to me that Paris is limited in its “gig venues”; it is filled with a conservative elderly population that would like to maintain the city as a museum. The country seems to reflect this reservation in general and with a predilection for fine living, there is not enough dissatisfaction to foster the counter culture of live music present in other places like Great Britain. If the British didn’t have music to quell the cold lackluster weather, expensive standard of living, and grinding work ethic, there would be continuous riots. It’s a hard-knock life here, and you need a zany sense of humour and some good tunes to survive it.
Day Two: September 9th – Lille
All our stuff on the street as we wait to be re-housed with Byron Jackson (Photo by OKK)
The next day we had our first major obstacle as we defied death on the tour. Next destination and gig date today was in Utrecht. All packed-in and rolling down the road towards Holland, the van had cultivated a strange noise. As you leaned your head against the window, it sounded as if it was singing a woeful tune of accelerating agony. Suddenly the van began to judder, we decreased our speed and it seemed to subside. Eventually after several stops to readjust the weight in the van, and a gradual lowering of speed until we were trawling along at 40 m.p.h., the juddering worsened until we started to veer around the road in a most uncontrolled fashion. We pulled over in a hotel parking lot in Lille and procured the French equivalent of road rescue.
It was Sunday afternoon in a country that took their days of rest very seriously. Eventually, a French fellow with a tow truck accompanied by his young son turned up to assess the situation. It felt like we had interrupted his Sunday afternoon with family. Between some very befuddled French on our part and his limited English, we gleaned that the tire had buckled which had to do with a much more seriously damaged suspension. Our French mechanic signalled that our vehicle was no longer roadworthy with an ominous, “Fin,” and Utrecht was lost in the Bermuda triangle of non-events. Everything was removed from the van in one junkyard heap, looking like a gypsy campsite in the parking lot. The van was towed away as fate struck a blow that left the tour on a pinnacle of uncertainty. The rescue service was providing a hotel in Lille for us while repairs, or an alternative solution, was hatched.
We killed another hour sitting amongst pedals, instruments, sleeping bags and the odd-piece-out, a game of Risk balanced on a chair. Amongst all the stress and negotiation, we kept our spirits up with laughter. My accent may be North American, but my humour is dark and totally British. I immediately took to the surreal banter with the boys; WWII japes and silly accents on offer through every country we travelled through. Every tour has at least one catch phrase. A particular running gag, which caused no end of mirth in repetition, was the German SS commander’s phrase “For You, The War Is Over” pronounced with a marvellous wobble in its annunciation. We’d just change the words around, and use it for every occasion. As the van drove away I heard, “Vor you zee tour ist over” and we all just laughed, keeping the communal anxiety at bay.
Finally two mini cabs and a people carrier arrived. We moved everything into them, and repeated that move into our hotel. With nowhere to be and nothing in particular planned, we went on an epic walk, for what seemed like ages, to the picturesque town centre. It was a long hunt before we found an outdoor restaurant to drink in the atmosphere of our continental detour.