Ever since i heard Fred improvising over these chords during the recording session in December, i’ve been midly obsessed with this piece – When I Am Laid in Earth (Dido’s Lament) from Dido & Aeneas by Henry Purcell. Its the oddest, most haunting, heartbreaking cycle of chords with a chromatic melody that keeps on surprising you. It’s powerfully beautiful. In listening to different versions i quite by accident came across this one by Jeff Buckley this afternoon and it stopped me in my tracks. Unreal. x
A year ago I came back to Australia for the first time in a long while. I was searching for something I couldn’t put my finger on and chasing other things my hands couldn’t grasp. I started writing the songs that I’m part way through recording now, and they and the memories of that trip shaped so much of how I approached 2016.
To be back in this sunburnt country, a year on with all that’s transpired, is thrilling and discombobulating in equal measure. What a colourful, heart-burstingly total difference a year makes. I’d love to tell you all the reasons I’m excited about what’s to come and my anxieties for the fragility of it all, but for now, as the sun rises again, let me say thank you, and I can’t wait to share this new music and this already hurtling year with you soon. Love, Jamie x
TOUR DIARY DAY 10 – LAST DAY!
After all the rushing around of the last few days it was good to wake in Deal in the knowledge that we only had to go up the road for the final gig in Margate.
We took our time, me listening to the cricket, Gus writing letters, while Phil made us some expertly boiled eggs. Gus took a trip to the Smugglers Record Shop while I did some work and made an album swap with ace songstress Poggy Hatton before we set off.
It was a cold and windy November night as we followed the Kent coast to Margate. Finding our venue – The Talking Drum – was made more exciting by the lack of an address owing to it currently operating in the twilight of legality, but find it we did.
Upon arrival, flashbacks to 90’s home makeover shows crashed in on me as doors were still being hastily attached, kegs were being rigged and a sound system was being unloaded, all while bill posters from a long forgotten circus covered the windows. In amongst it all was Will Greenham, one of key figures behind Smugglers Records and that rare thing – a man given to big ideas but possessed of the gumption to make them happen.
Rather than get in the way, we took a very windy stroll through an almost deserted Margate and for the second time in 3 days found ourselves in an American Diner. Gus was suffering in the extra bright neon lights, being the sort of fish who lives deeper down, but alone save the waitress and the cook, we stuck it out. They played Elvis on the jukebox and were bizarrely projecting Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the wall.
The food was as odd as the vibe so we made quick work of it and returned to the venue by which time all signs of the finishing touches we walked in on were long gone. Slowly groups of hip 30 something gunslingers rolled in, word of mouth spreading the news of a new scene and by the time Gus started a healthy crowd of curious locals were there to greet him.
Gus went acoustic again, forcing the audience to commit to listening. When he finished with What Do We Want – which had been my absolute favourite to hear each night – the room was as silent as a Hilary Clinton victory party and the crowd were transfixed, the silence before the applause a testament to their rapt attention.
Mollies Lips aka Billy and Phil from Cocos Lovers then played a delightful floor spot before I got up. The crowd both upstairs and downstairs had swelled to a pleasing throng of beards and big glasses and conscious that this was the last show, I took a little moment to focus before going on.
The set went beautifully. I felt relaxed and confident from having played every night and coupled with the warmth I feel from the Smugglers crew, it was a perfect way to finish – I even did a few encores.
By time Gus and I left to hit the road back to London, the place had thinned out but what remained was a strong sense that what Will is creating is a special thing. It was an honour to be there at the very beginning and I can’t wait to come back.
On the drive home Gus and I debriefed. We spoke about our highlights, about the amazing people we’d met, friends we’d stayed with and gigs we’d done. We also spoke about the future, about the respective albums we’re making and for the first time in a long time opened up to each other.
It’s funny, when you share a tour with someone you’d think you’d talk all the time, but the reality is, for each other’s sanity, it’s a lot about making and leaving space just to be. In many ways, Gus and I are as different as they come, but we both believe deeply in what we’re doing and I think recognise in each other another soul trying to be true. I hope we can strike out on the same road again soon.
If you want to catch Gus his next ‘Peach’ event is on 24 November at Total Refreshment Centre in London with Sink. It will be historic.
If you want to catch me, I’m playing a few shows before the album recording and would love to see you there:
17 Nov – Farmopolis, London
29 Nov – Jamboree, London FULL BAND!
2 Dec – Rich Mix, London w/ Vula Viel
Huge love to everyone who help organise the shows or put us up along the way, I can’t wait to repay the favour. Most of all though, thanks to everytone who came to see us along the way, you are why we do it and in Gus’s words – you’re doing very well.
Big love and stay strong,
TOUR DIARY DAY 9. The day started badly. After the high of the gig at the Prince Albert the night before, the edgy drive back and the uncertainty of the election, we woke to a high-pitched digital sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Confused but fascinated in the same unedifying way we’re drawn voyeuristically to gawp at the scene of an accident, we watched, listened, shared and reposted before sitting around Pete and Bea’s kitchen table trying and failing to make sense of it all.
Work is tonic though and before long Pete had retreated to his loft where he assembles the ‘Submarine’ pick up he has designed (http://www.submarinepickup.com) It’s very much a cottage industry, his little space crammed with bits of electronics and tools for doing small jobs on smaller things. It felt safe and real up there, watching Pete solder circuit boards together and a long way from the news. In the warmth of the anglepoise I opened up to Pete about my worries about the impending recording and my own ability, like the total pro he his, gave me some sage advice. Feeling more courageous as a result, I did a little practice in the kitchen while Gus, having predicted the result the night before but maintaining his usual equanimity, carried on mixing his new album downstairs.
Before we left I got an incredible massage from Bea, who provides massages and therapies from their home and from a studio in town and specialises in treating musicians. It’s not something I do very often but feeling run down and physically at a low ebb, it came at an important time. While Bea was working her magic, I had a number of powerful visions that surprised and shook me quite deeply. I was quite emotional at the end and needed a little time on my own to work it out but I came out the other side feeling cleansed, reflective and physically restored. Should you be in the Stroud area I can’t recommend Bea highly enough. Find her website at:www.jacksontherapies.co.uk
After saying our goodbyes, and still wearing a beatific grin from the massage and the love that comes off Pete and Bea, we set off. The journey from Stroud to Deal, while not an epic, was still a good 4.5 hours and there was only so much of the radio we could listen to, so we left each other to our own thoughts for much of it and arrived at the Lighthouse at 7pm.
Deal is home to the Smugglers Records lot who released my last album and with whom I’ve toured and hung out a lot over the last few years. Since connecting with them I have had the good fortune to come down and play the Lighthouse a lot and its shares the family run atmosphere of the Albert. We soundchecked with David of Cocos Lovers fame on the desk and pumped for what would be our penultimate show, Gus kicked the night off.
With everything that had happened that day, the crowd were in a different mood to our previous shows. Gus was gentle, not overselling the words or pushing the theatricality too hard. Gradually though, the audience warmed up and I could see Gus start to go through the gears until by the final poem, comprised entirely out of advertising slogans, lift off had been achieved.
I feel very lucky to have some great fans in Deal and it was really great to be able to play the new songs to them. I felt as comfortable on stage as I had done all tour and I could feel the benefits of the practice, the pep talk and the massage in my fingers. After the show we hung about and chatted before retiring to Phil and Billy of Cocos Lovers house, there to eat toast and read one more time the stark proclamations of the end of the world, before drifting off into uneasy sleep.
Today is the last day of the tour – see Gus looking reflective here – and we play at the opening of the Talking Drum in Margate, a new venue being opened by Arthur Smuggler himself aka Will Greenham. It will be a great way to finish and sounds like it will be packed. Come if you can, we’d love to celebrate with you. J x
TOUR DIARY DAY 8. As names next to each other on the poster, Newcastle and Stroud made perfect sense. It wasn’t until I looked at the map the night before that I realised we were committed to traversing more than half the country.
But faint heart never won fair maid, so after helping Alex move some art materials, we left Newcastle before lunch time with a sat-nav optimistic four hour journey ahead of us.
Thinking we had all the time in the world we stopped at an American style dinner, authentic to a T save the thick Geordie accents. Refreshed, we clobbered the road, encountering rain enough to green the desert. But soon the light faded, five hours came and went and we were getting a little stir crazy.
The last hour we were a picture, both listening to demos of ourselves on our own headphones, two bubbles in a bubble. We only spoke to yell directions at each other in a reasonable impression of the grumpy old couple, may it be our fortune to one day become.
Tired and tetchy, we arrived at the Prince Albert in Stroud and immediately acquainted ourselves with the local ales and set about decompressing, taking at a normal volume and being civil to each other.
If you’ve never been to the Albert, it’s a special place. Animals, children, punters, musicians and once an albino hedgehog, run hither and yon, and every night the best live music from across the country graces it’s stage. It’s part famous music venue and part Gerald Durrell ‘My Family and Other Animals’ madhouse.
Overseeing this harmonious chaos is Lotte, publican and matriarch, who rules with the easy, open smile of one who knows she will be obeyed without having to break it. Lotte makes the Albert feel as much a home away from home as a stop on a tour and I’ve spent more nights than I can remember drinking out back or passed out upstairs after a show.
A slightly difficult soundcheck navigated, we ate with Lotte, some of the family, a few of the animals and Matt the sound guy, before doors opened. One of the best things about playing in Stroud is how many brilliant musicians live there that I’m delighted to call friends.
It was great to see Rob and Lachy from Low Chimes, my old Ballina Whalers mucker Sam Brookes, Pete ‘Submarine’ Roe, Bea and Emily together with a typically warm Albert crowd.
Gus played first and picked up where he left off in Newcastle, playing acoustically and standing between the audience and the bar in a mildly confrontational way which added to the energy he always creates. I played next and it was special to be able to play the new songs to old friends.
Before we left Sam and I sang a Ballina Whalers song for old times sake and we got excited about the prospect of playing together again next year.
Pete and Bea kindly offered to put us up for the night but the very short journey to their house was marred by me pranging the car off a pillar, reversing into a parked pick up truck and burning the clutch trying to reverse up one of Stroud’s very steep hills. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the election, but by the time we got in we were shagged from a long day.
We all woke early and despaired at the news but we’re on the road and the show must go on, so we’ve been thrashing cross country to play at the glorious Lighthouse in Deal tonight. We’re stronger together, don’t forget that, not on today of all days. Love Jamie x
TOUR DIARY DAY 7. An unseasonably sunny morning greeted us as we awoke in Newcastle. With the whole day stretching out before we had to be at the venue, we began with a long breakfast of many disparate and delicious things, before taking the metro into town to visit Alex’s studio.
There’s something special about visiting an artist in their studio, you feel like you’re being allowed to peek behind the veil. Alexandra is a visual artist who works in the expanded field of photography and her studio is a riot of huge prints of rocky landscapes, lumps of clay on the floor, while column like structures of giant rolled colour photos stand to attention. Bags of concrete and shiny copper poles compete for space, while technicolour postcards of lonely desert scenes are pinned to the wall and what Gus described as a ‘Martian boulder yearning to be human’ sits alone in the centre of the small space. In the best possible sense, it defied easy explanation. You can see her beautiful work here:www.alexandrahughes.co.uk
We took a wander through the rest of the studio complex, and it being a quite Monday morning, stuck our beaks into a few other studios, trying to work out the nature of the artist from their space.
One studio was bare save for an endless list of numbers or possibly coordinates pencilled in neat rows traversing the walls. Above certain sections of the list were mysterious comments like ‘no! Never the green’ or ‘if only he knew’.
Another was full of multi-coloured fury beach ball sized things that in a 90’s film would have made cute noises and been full of mischievous intent. The whole experience was like stepping through a series of temporarily vacated minds and begged far more questions than it answered.
Heads spinning, Gus left to do some work back at the house, while Alex and I carried onto the Baltic, Newcastle’s modern art gallery where we saw some mildly baffling Ukrainian art and a some agitprop about late period capitalism. Full of culture and thoroughly in need of some calm reflection before the show, I went back to practice before Gus and I headed to the venue to set up.
The Cumberland Arms is a beautiful pub that brews a large number of their beers in a shipping container out the back. The venue up stairs is of the spit and sawdust variety and promisingly contained a number of gold heart shaped helium balloons left over from the previous nights excitement.
As we set up, Ian our geordie soundman was exceptionally cheerful, overcoming the explosion of a speaker during soundcheck with the equanimity of a man who would see having his right hand cut off as an opportunity to get better acquainted with his left.
The time to doors opening came and went and for reasons perhaps best explained by the rain and it being a Monday night, the hoards didn’t make it. But a determined bunch of open hearted souls joined us for what was certainly one of the most profound gigs of the tour so far.
Gus started and opting to go acoustic, launched into his set. To begin with the crowd were unsure, Gus not being your usual meat and potatoes kind of guy. When you’re a few short of a critical mass, I think crowds can feel too exposed to embrace the material, their reactions too visible. Having watched Gus play a lot over the years, I could see the cogs whirring as he searched for the right tools, and a vulnerability I hadn’t seen before came out in the delivery. It was thrilling and as present and immediate as I’ve ever him perform. By the end Gus could have packed his converts into a minibus as they clapped their hands raw.
As I went on, the atmosphere was warm and I had the sense of playing to old friends. Having been so moved by Gus’s set, I felt completely in the moment and enjoyed playing as much as any gig on this tour. Gus joined me ok Sax for two songs and by the time I finished I felt like I could have carried on all night I was having so much fun.
Ditte played last and everything that was beautiful about her show in Birmingham was magnified. With an effortless grace that is a rare gift, the rich autumnal warmth of her voice gets me every time. She was joined on backing vocals by the exteremly talented Matt If you closed your eyes you would struggle to pick out who was singing which line. If there is any justice in this world Ditte Elly will be a star.
After the show we piled back to Alex and Ditte’s, ate pizza, drank wine and made enough mess for a heard of elephants. A warm end to an evening that evidenced the old adage that size isn’t everything, it’s what you do with it that counts.
Today we’ve been driving the length of the country to get to Stroud where tonight we play the Prince Albert. Be there if you can! X
TOUR DIARY DAY 6. The day started in a discrete panic, huddled under the weight of the promise I’d made to my friend Alexandra to jump in the North Sea that afternoon. After saying our goodbyes to Anouk, Calum and Flynn, we set sail from Edinburgh in sunshine and hugging the coast, followed the winding A1 south. With every mile, the sky grew darker until barely 50 miles from Newcastle we were driving through a thick squall of pooling rain, the sea to our left, heaving and pitching, which briefly brought the possibility of forfeiting the swim with dignity.
Sadly, the rain eased as we arrived and though it was bitterly cold, the gaggle of excited lady swimmers who greeted us on arrival at Alex and Ditte’s house made it clear that this wasn’t the sort of weather that would make them reconsider their life choices. So, with no further option but to don my bright yellow shorts that last saw action in the bath-like waters of the south pacific, we made our way in convey to Tynemouth. Large tankers sat mournfully out at sea, gazing back at us, coats and scarves hiding our costumes, as we made our way down to the beach.
Gus being the sensible, artistic misanthrope that he is, managed to decline the offer of swimming with all the grace of a hangman offering to do your laces, but like a good sport accompanied us to the beach. There he stood while we shifted from from foot to foot uneasily, offering softly articulated words of encouragement as well as photographic services, the better to warn the future.
Once on the beach a sort of mania gripped everyone. The sea was positively foaming with violent intent and though I thought I could detect a ripple of uncertainty in the group, we were committed now. Alone on the beach save for a disinterested clutch of sea gulls and Gus, we ran across to the rocks, and with the panting elation that comes from the sure knowledge of impending pain, we undressed in a flash grinning at each other like lunatics, as much to convince ourselves that this was a good idea as each other.
I won’t lie, stripped to my canarys, pale blue skin and scraggly beard, it was not a pleasant sight but the minute the last garment was off, we ran like our lives depended on it. Chariots of Fire music would not have been inappropriate. I’m not sure if we yelled as we ran but I definitely remember asking Alex is there was a way we could not do this.
I don’t remember her answer because at that moment we hit the sea and while I waited for the endorphins I’d been promised, I froze. Suddenly this was not a good idea, but we were in the water so we semi-swam, semi-stood and wondered what to do next. The rip was pretty strong and it seemed like we’d done what we came for but at that moment, Ditte, who had gone out a little further got hit by a wave. With the intense cold and the sucking tide, she was in a little trouble and struggling to get back towards us. In the unaccustomed role of hero, old canary shorts came to rescue and we made a funny pair as we lurched through the rip back to the shore together.
Once we all got out, we felt like we’d climbed Everest and my body congratulated me on being alive by pulling sundry poses for Gus’s camera. We got dressed hurriedly and made our way back to home where in in decent simulation of every Famous Five book ever, we sat front of the fire all tousle-haired and had tea and cake. As the swimming party thinned out to leave Gus, Alex, Ditte and I the rest of the night passed in a blur of red wine, Dylan songs and a delicious curry that Gus made.
Tonight we play the Cumberland Arms with Ditte Elly in Newcastle. It will be historic and I can’t wait. x
TOUR DIARY DAY 5. Edinburgh is grand city full of impressively weighty stone clad buildings that speak of old money and a rich history. Before this tour I had heard more than I’d seen, previous trips having been conducted solely in the hours of darkness, so I was determined to seize the day before the show.
Recovering somewhat slowly from the previous evenings excitements, we were greeted by sunshine, blue skies and shortbread for breakfast before Flynn the dog and my curiosity dictated we head out. Togged up to the nines against the wind, we set out en masse – Gus, Anouk, Calum, Xena, Flynn and I – and we took a walk to Holyrood Park, home of the mightily impressive and much storied Arthurs Seat.
It was as we approached the path to the cliff face that Calum casually mentioned that Edinburgh was in fact sighted on a long dormant volcano. Our attention caught, he explained in graphic terms how magma forced its way to the surface, ripped up the ground, twisting eons of years of rock into a chronologically confusing layer cake. It was these layers that apparently led James Hutton a few millions years later to get pondering, and lo geology was born. Fixed with a newly impressed frame of reference, (talking about lava brings out the kid in all of us) we were joined by Daniel from Sink and walked to a commanding view point, commanded it briefly, before the autumnal colours impressed upon us the need for soup and warm drinks.
While I rested in the afternoon, Gus made his way to rehearse with Sink who would accompany him on the gig. I joined them all a little later and was immediately struck by the venue – the unique octagonal church of St Stephens in Stockbridge. With an extremely high ceiling, pews are organized around each wall to leave an enormous open space in the centre in front of a large and beautiful organ. Impressed and a little daunted, we took turns testing the acoustic and made final preparations, and minor existential crises before the doors opened.
I played first. To start we turned all the lights off and as I sang acapella Gus slowly lit a large number of candles in three braziers, arranged in a triangle pattern on the stage. It was wonderfully dramatic way to begin, the reverb of the space bouncing the lyrics to ‘Sam Hall’ all over the room. For the rest of the gig I played surrounded by the candles and a few gentle blue and red lights which left me lightly illuminated in the otherwise pitch black. It was magical, and while I couldn’t see the audience as I performed, I could feel them as they carried me along. By the time I finished with ‘Darling Day’ and ‘Two Bells’ I felt quite emotional, the darkness making me draw from the core of the songs within myself.
As soon as I finished the main lights went on and we all came up for air. The red wine was soon sold out at the bar, it being that kind of night. Next on were Sink who so amazingly organized the whole show. If you haven’t heard them before, they’re a little hard to describe but I’ll try. The three of them began, a fiddle, baritone sax and Daniel playing the grand organ. Tim Sink and Leon prowled, skipped and padded around the giant centre space, sharing lines, using their voices, interchanging parts, playing with each other and the audience in a way that I haven’t ever seen before. They remind me of what I imagine medieval minstrels to have been like. Never resting too long on one thing, wearing their manifold abilities as lightly as an autumn breeze, but underpinned with a deep love and craft that is palpable. They confuse the line between improvised and written music and win you over before they play a note. If you should ever have the chance to see them, you will not be disappointed.
Gus played last and on the face of it, had the most work to do to ensure his words could be heard off the echoing walls. But what could have been a challenge become a triumph as the audience, suitably ready for the spoken word after two sets of music, hung on his ever syllable. I watched from behind the piano as Gus intoned his poems with the subtle theatricality of a preacher and had a vision of what unusual building was made for – to elevate the word into something greater than the speaker, more than the sum of its parts. Sink joined Gus with élan for some of his tunes before we all improvised a final song together. After all that had come before it felt a fitting way to finish what was a beautiful and slightly mysterious night with the collective spirit of our shared love for doing this.
Later, in the after glow, we shared soup and noodles with Sink, talked about string quartets and made all sorts of plans for future endeavors before arriving back at Anouk’s house, worn out and elated. Today we head to Newcastle where we have a date with the North sea and gig with the wonderful Ditte Elly and her band at the Cumberland Arms on Monday. Onwards! x