Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Gigs

Tickets, Touts, and the BBC 6 Music Festival

I first attended a live music gig in October 1998 and, writing in April 2017, I have been to about three-hundred-and-fifty others since then. I did not intend to become someone who travels around the country, and occasionally the continent or across oceans, in the pursuit of hearing my favourite bands – but that is who I am. It is possible that I just grew older and cantankerous, but it is equally possible that gig-going has been ruined by online ticket sales, the secondary resale market, and self-obsessed pricks with camera-phones.

It was in 2000 that I began to regularly attend concerts, buying tickets in person from one agent that still exists and two record stores that have closed down. Occasionally, I would buy from the venue direct – the crowning glory being a ticket in the second row of the Edinburgh Playhouse stalls to see Alice Cooper with Dio. I was in the right place at the right time to see the Lostprophets’ first ever Glasgow gig, and Pantera’s last. The influence of a friend (and the cancellation of his scheduled T In The Park festival appearance) meant that I saw David Bowie play what became his final Scottish show. I watched Brutal Deluxe play the Cathouse to an audience of six people, and Iron Maiden play the first Download Festival to sixty thousand. I was there when FFS (Franz Ferdinand and Sparks) played their debut live show, and I flew from Glasgow to Los Angeles just to witness a rare 75-minute Combichrist techno set. In short, my experience has been as wide and varied as my taste in music.

I still enjoy going to smaller club shows (aside from the insufferable selfie-takers, iphone photographers, and especially those who film video with their phones in portrait mode), but trying to obtain tickets for anything popular has become so much of a chore that it has sucked the joy right out of the whole endeavour. Chronologically, my recent gripes have been with the Reeves & Mortimer tour cancellation; Penn and Teller’s UK tour; Alice Cooper’s 2017 presales; and the BBC 6 Music Festival.

Bob Mortimer required emergency heart surgery, meaning that he was unable to perform as scheduled. See Tickets refunded, but kept the transaction fees that everybody had been charged when booking seats – leaving me three pounds out of pocket. Now consider, they had sold out venues every night, each averaging about two thousand seats. Suddenly it is apparent that See skimmed several thousand pounds off a man’s poor health – which is pretty reprehensible.
In 2016, when I was trying to buy four individual tickets to see my favourite band play in four UK cities, See advised me that they offer no “add to basket” option, and would force me to pay a transaction fee on each brief. Thankfully, I used individual agencies and went to the venues own sites and managed to pay a more sensible amount.

Above: Reeves & Mortimer later announced replacement tour dates, but by that point I had lost interest.

Lately, it has frustrated me that both Iron Maiden and Ricky Gervais have opted to use Ticketmaster in their seemingly noble bids to combat touts. Ticketmaster IS the tout – they operate two different secondary resale sites, with alleged evidence that some briefs are diverted for sale there without ever having been made available through the primary channel. Iron Maiden have claimed success with their “ticketless ticketing” system for the 2017 UK tour, while Gervais inflated the price of premium seats himself – giving the additional spend to charity, but again limiting access to only the wealthiest. Despite their assertions, it is not “fairer to the fans” that these high profile acts endorse the one ticketing agency that we all feel ripped off by.

In December 2016, I decided to jump on my chance to see magicians Penn and Teller, whose television career I have been following since the mid-1990s when Channel Four aired “The Unpleasant World of” show. I soon learned that TicketSoup, which was formed by and used to cover sales for Glasgow’s SECC and Clyde Auditorium, had been taken over by or merged with the dreaded Ticketmaster. So began the pain – I logged on and selected (from an interactive plan) the seats that I wanted, at which point an instructional box popped up. Due to high demand, it informed me, I would be unable to select my own seats and instead it would offer me whatever was available. My chosen seats at the front of the first circle had been greyed out, and in their place would I like two seats on the fourth level, three rows from the back wall of the theatre? Not knowing any better, I accepted, suddenly miles from where I wanted to be to see the performance. Insult to injury, the next day a second date was announced, and when idle curiosity (or masochism) made me look at availability, I could have at least had third level. I cannot say that I hold the same enthusiasm, knowing that I was deliberately diverted into buying seats so bad that I will be watching expert sleight of hand from virtually outside.

Above: Metallica are another huge band offering “experiences” instead of tickets. It is no longer enough to just watch a band play live.

That same month, Alice Cooper announced his first UK tour for five years – excitement soon tempered when it was revealed that these gigs in standing arenas would be all seated. If you wanted to be at the front of the stage, you would have to find a seat located there – and good luck to you. Presales were announced on his official site and for customers of two different corporations – one telephones, one home energy. The next day, there would be presales through Ticketmaster and AXS, and on the individual venue pages, followed by general sale the day after that. You had seven places to try, therefore, in pursuit of a decent spot – more, if you planned to try and catch a couple of shows, and his diehard fans often travel to see the lot.
He did at least guarantee a ticket near the front, provided you paid a premium for one of four different “VIP” packages that were on offer. No need for luck, all you need is money – specifically, £482.50 to sit in the front row (and meet him, and various other unnecessary stuff – merchandise and photo opportunities and the like.) Alternatively, you could slum it in rows two to five, for just £426, and meet him but for less time – or whatever the supposed perks are. Personally, some of us just enjoy being down the front to see an iconic showman play his hits accompanied by the finest musicians he can find.

The Alice thing irked his entire fanbase, certainly on one respected and thorough forum. With all packages accounted for, his diehard fans would now be located fifteen rows from the front, behind the casual fans with money to burn, having to find the best available tickets for each location they plan to visit – a tedious process to be repeated as remaining availability dwindled at every subsequent venue on the list. The VIP experience used to be an upgrade, on previous tours, but Alice’s personal assistant (who was very sympathetic) says that sales soared when they included the ticket too. So to Hell with the fans, it is all about ticket company profits.

For my part, I was offered one seat – too far back, though in the centre section, and I declined it – and was automatically then assigned a number of seats dotted around the outskirts of the floor, declining each in the pursuit of something nearer the stage. This was in the presale, and then in the general sale I tried again – and bought again, when I found I could be in row seventeen instead of row thirty. If you want a ticket to see Alice Cooper in Glasgow this November, I have a spare to sell – it is right in front of the sound desk, so if you just want to see the show from the position which should have the best sound (since that is where the operator is listening from), then we can talk. Me, I want to be nearer the action.

Above: Alice’s personal assistant explaining why tickets are now inextricably linked to VIP packages.

I do love my music, which is why I never listen to the radio – a medium where it is used to fill gaps between irritating commercials, or as an interlude from the banal chatter of witless presenters. It was social media that alerted me the 6 Music Festival was coming to Glasgow this year, and I was so excited at the announcement of Sparks that I had to be told directly that they had further revealed a Depeche Mode gig at the relatively tiny Barrowland Ballroom. It seemed a strange choice, given the size of venue (the festival would also encompass the city’s Academy the same night, which holds more), and also for DM’s history here. Singer Dave Gahan’s immediate assertion that they’ve always had a good time here failed to ring true – they played this city in 1986, and did not come back until 2009 (they played Edinburgh in 1988, so their eventual return was twenty-one years after they had last been in Scotland, and twenty-three since they played Glasgow – where, a first-hand source told me, he saw them booed off stage for miming.) Most bands who love us and who regularly tour try to play more frequently than twice every quarter-century.

Aware of these facts, having previously had to travel to Manchester and London in 2006 to see them, my oldest friend and I had decided for various reasons that we were not going to attend any more of their UK dates.  The exception, we both instantly agreed when we heard the news, would be this intimate club set. All I had to do was secure tickets.

A local club DJ stated (perhaps with inside knowledge) that 1400 tickets would be sold, in a venue that usually holds 2000, and my estimate now is that they probably did lose about a third of the capacity due to extended staging, set dressing, and the various technology required for recording and broadcasting. I submitted a Freedom Of Information request after the fact, regarding numbers, but the BBC snippily replied that they were not obliged to provide the data and refused to do so voluntarily. It would have been interesting to learn just how far demand outstripped supply.

Above: Initial reaction pre-empted the chaos of trying to obtain entry.

Due to go on sale at 10am one Friday, I was poised and on the website twenty minutes ahead of time – but clicked away as, I have learned, the link quietly went live fifteen minutes early – placing customers in an online queue, and putting me thirteen minutes behind those who had already discovered the fact. By 10:08am there were no DM tickets left for me, and I hear they sold out faster than that. I could have accepted my poor fortune, if the process had seemed at all fair.

It would be reasonable to think that a portion of tickets could have been allocated for local collection in person only, as the online system was swamped with keen English people and Europeans taking advantage, in the knowledge that trains and flights and hotels can be had for a comparatively low cost. Had a percentage of tickets been kept aside for those in the vicinity, we would have camped out overnight like we used to – knowing we were being held in a queue, on account of the fact we would be able to see all of the people in it. What is the point of taking the festival to different cities every year, if you refuse to guarantee entry for at least some of those living in the vicinity? It might as well be hosted annually in London.

The online system advised not to refresh the browser page, or risk losing your place. One friend, frustrated at the lack of availability, refreshed the page and was rewarded with the option to obtain a pair – suggesting that, as well as going live prematurely, the dedicated site had glitches.

My intention had been to buy four tickets, the two I needed and a further two to sell at face value (I knew a few people looking) – I would be a hero to somebody. Instead, I failed.

The touts succeeded, of course – instantly listing on sites like Viagogo for seven, eight, nine hundred pounds. Touts used to stand outside in the rain, they invested a bit of time and effort. If you were smart, you could wait until showtime and then haggle the price – offering face value (or less) and knowing they would either take what they could get or keep hold of a worthless piece of paper. Not now. Now anybody looking to make a fast buck can do so without standing up.

Above: One of several media reports, all focused on how quickly the gig sold out and how much touts were charging.

The BBC reacted quickly, promising that nobody who bought on the secondary market would get in. Absolutely, definitely not. No chance. ID to be checked on the door. very strict, do not attempt it. That policy worked well – and I say that with the sarcasm of someone who bought a ticket on Twitter for the Sparks and Goldfrapp gig, and who can be seen in the BBC’s own footage, at the barrier, applauding the former after their performance of “Dick Around.” Meanwhile, another friend bought tickets for DM, and then forked out for a fake ID (which she had to order in the name of the man who had originally paid for the tickets) – not only was this ruse successful in getting her in, it makes a mockery of the whole enterprise: forced to fund the secondary ticket market AND invest in the equally immoral practice of forging identification documents.

For my part, a generous stranger purchased a ticket for me on Viagogo (the reasons for this are a story in themselves), leaving me desperately trying to find my friend a way in. This friend, I have written before, introduced me to DM and they are her band. It was imperative that she be there, to which end I racked my brains and investigated every avenue. It was hopeless.

On the Saturday, the Gigs In Scotland Twitter page announced a handful of tickets would be immediately released for every venue that evening – I can only presume that this was from the allocations reserved for the BBC, and released for sale once they knew how many staff, guests, and VIPs they expected. It was 2:27pm, and the official BBC 6 Music page retweeted the information, meaning that Gigs In Scotland was the original source of the news. Come the Sunday, I sat on their page from 1pm until 4pm, refreshing constantly, only to discover – nothing. In vain, I phoned the Barrowland, who confirmed that there would be no tickets on the door that night, and no Production tickets released. It was over. I had exhausted every option.

I phoned my friend, adamant that she take my ticket, which she refused with equal stubbornness. Short of marching her there, I had no choice but to concede. My enthusiasm was gone, replaced with the sadness of knowing that I had let down my oldest friend, my closest confidante. I had a way in for myself, but was disconnected from it – a gift from someone I have never met, unrelated to my persistence and effort. I could take it or leave it, and would have surrendered it in a moment had my friend only agreed. Instead, I used the tout-sold ticket that the BBC had definitely blocked, and went in to watch my best friend’s once-in-a-lifetime dream gig, without her.

The stage had been extended to accomodate the band, with fully grown trees felled and placed at either side as set dressing, both highlighted with ultraviolet paint. The ceiling tiles had been similarly marked, in various colours, to brand the hall in the 6 Music Festival style, and camera equipment further reduced the crowd capacity. They brought us a band who had ignored our city for most of my life, shoehorned them into a space they had made to look nothing like it usually does, and excluded most of the home audience from attending. The gig was amazing, but the overall experience was awful.

Above: In the words of Joseph Heller (Closing Time, 1994) “The Freedom of Information Act…was a federal regulation obliging government agencies to release all information they had to anyone who made application for it, except information they had that they did not want to release. And, because of this one catch in the Freedom of Information Act…they were technically not compelled to release any information at all. […] It was a good catch…because the government did not have to release any information about the information they chose not to release…”

 

 

 

 

 


Dubious Claims To Fame 25: Butcher Babies

I had a good day ruined by one of the Butcher Babies, after seeing them play.

I spent the afternoon with my niece, who is nearing her second birthday, and in a rare burst of sunshine and warmth we went to the play park. She had great fun, and in the visitor centre she finally found the courage (with my reassurance) to climb for the first time through the dark tunnel with their mocked-up badger sett. Previously she has been too scared. My work as Best Uncle continues.

Back in town, I followed my plan to see the Butcher Babies, whose debut album has had a fair number of plays on my stereo since the band were recommended to me – a year or so ago. The opening band were local, with a good press, and I have been trying to see them live for some time. Tonight, at last, was to be the night.

IMG Splintered HaloAbove: Splintered Halo. Four of them wear masks and one wears very little indeed.

Sure enough, Splintered Halo drew a decent crowd of their own, and quickly won over the early-comers who were new to them. In sixteen years of local gig attendance, I have rarely seen a band so focused, so tight, with such a clear identity and character-driven lyrics and performance. With an EP out and an album in progress, and on the back of the show I saw this evening, their star may be about to rise – nationally, and perhaps internationally too.

The second (and main) support was a band called Sumo Cyco – the best and most interesting unknown (to me) metal band I have heard in years, and I write that as someone who has seen hundreds of bands and listened to thousands. With a hardcore energy, infectious enthusiasm, and a frontwoman both vocally adept and unafraid to jump in amongst the crowd, they electrified the gig. At the merch booth, cheerful guitarist Matt initiated conversation, on account of the KMFDM shirt I was wearing, and we both hail from Hamilton – me from the nearby Scottish town, and them from its Canadian namesake. Although fifteen pounds is expensive for a CD these days, I happily bought a copy of their album. Next time they play, I will be there.

IMG Sumo CycoAbove: Sumo Cyco. Singer Skye had removed her captain’s hat but was dressed to speed a bonnie boat over the sea.

Butcher Babies were impressive, an excellent headline band with two talented female singers. There is Heidi, a blonde with vivid red in her hair – she seems lovely and friendly. Outside the venue, I saw her walking from the tour bus and said “Good show,” in passing, and she grabbed my hand and quickly shook it with a warm smile and a ‘thank you’ on her way back into the building.

Their other singer, Carla, is a total cow with a bad attitude problem, as I learned to my cost just prior to seeing Heidi.

I was walking down the stairs that lead to the front door/exit of the Cathouse, heading home. At the very moment I reached the half-open door, on my way out, Carla stepped inside. I said “Good show,” and she asked “Could you do me a favour?”

I immediately thought (in hindsight, my error) that she had mistaken me for a bouncer – at the doorway into the building – because it happens to me all the time. In my boots, I stand six foot four. I have broad shoulders, weigh about twenty stones, and have a natural resting facial expression which seems to sit somewhere in the vicinity of disapproving, unamused, unimpressed, or whatever other qualities immediately suggest ‘bouncer’ to people in clubs, at gigs, and once at a bus stop. It had already happened earlier that very evening, in the crowd, while she was on stage.

IMG Butcher BabiesAbove: Butcher Babies, with Heidi centre stage and Carla behind her on the right.

Fans of comedian Kevin Bridges will relate to his description of the awkward moment in a shop, when someone mistakes you for a salesperson and you have to embarrassedly say “I don’t actually work here.” That was what I said, or began to express, in response to being asked for a favour – attempting to make clear that I was willing to grant this favour, provided Carla realised I was not staff at the club. Instead, she unleashed an unwarranted torrent of Fuck Yous and You Fucking Assholes at me, which caught me completely off-guard and led to me trying to further explain while her inexplicably angry outburst continued. It takes a lot to unsettle me, but she managed. She wanted a photo taken, of her and the mural on the wall of the staircase, and as that became clear I offered to take it – too late, as an unbelievably simple misunderstanding descended into complete verbal abuse. I was too taken aback to even retaliate, or to commiserate with the actual bouncer after the fact. I simply went home, shocked and becoming increasingly annoyed at how much of an unnecessary cunt she had been.

Butcher Babies Tweet Reply redactedAbove: Carla responded to me on Twitter, something like “I knew you weren’t a bouncer, but I asked you to take a photo and you said no, so I said fuck you :-)” – not shown as she deleted her tweet once I replied to it and before I screengrabbed it.

It is an interesting tactic, in this era of illegal downloads and general apathy, to round on somebody who has paid to see you just for seemingly refusing to take your photo. Presumably the aim of this thirteen-date UK tour was to build on their fanbase, not undermine it. However, I have seen bands who can manage to actually sell out the Cathouse, and bigger venues, and never have I witnessed anything like what happened tonight – let alone been subjected to it. Next time they play here they will sell one less ticket.

Last week, I flew to Los Angeles to see my favourite band play a unique and sold-out show. We have been friends for eleven years, I was thanked from the stage, backstage we drank together – following welcoming hugs – and we laughed and chatted and caught up until the bar was closed. We will do it again next time too. So the question is, if I have in my life bands who truly appreciate my support, why the fuck do I need Butcher Babies?

 

Update: It turned out to be mutual, as I was swiftly blocked on Twitter when I posted and linked to this blog. Admittedly, tagging her and referring to her as a “total cunt” probably escalated the situation – I suspect that is why her borderline-civil tweet was replaced with an inaccurate but all-out offensive, as demonstrated by the following.

Butcher Babies blocked

One of my friends took it upon himself to ask her about it, receiving the reply below, after which he was instantly blocked too – hardly the actions of an innocent. Carla seems very fast to dish out unjustified criticism, and unable to take it. Without wishing to give any weight to her reply, there are two things here. Firstly, it’s hard to imagine that a Glasgow bouncer was interested enough to volunteer an opinion about an interaction between a sober punter in good humour (until increasingly bewildered by unfolding events) on his way out of the club, and a diva who had just headlined a show there. It might have been different had I hung around arguing, invoking the wrath of city centre nightclub door staff, but I just left.

Furthermore, if I was a bouncer, and one of the headline band looked to me and said of someone, “What a cunt,” I would probably agree too just to end the conversation – if he did agree, which I cannot know. Frankly, I do not know anyone who can be bothered entering, or looking for, drama – except, perhaps, an image-based LA band such as Butcher Babies.

Davie tweet butcher babies redacted

This is now stalemate, and in the undesired territory of tedious online drama. For my own amusement, I wanted to employ caustic wit to try and get myself banned from their Facebook page too – but to do so would be to lose whatever high ground I might have. With 270,000 followers on their page it is hard to imagine any of the band will care very much, especially not as I have already been dismissed as “a jerk.” Rather than waste any more time on this, I would sooner go and chat with musicians who have less chips on their shoulder and more in the way of a sense of humour.

 

Update 2: Blocked again. You cannot reason with the thoroughly unreasonable. Game over. And you know what? I sincerely regret going to that gig. I want to be uplifted, I want to smile. I do not spend my time and money on supporting live music in order to offend the band members on my way out the door, and I wish I had never met that sour and twisted poisonous arsehole. She is a fucking snake.

Butcher Babies FB Blocked

 

 

 

 

 

 


Like A Virgin, Train Cancelled For The Second Time.

Virgin Trains cancelled my travel to Preston, UK, and that complaint can be read here. The following refers to that letter, their response, and the cancellation of a second train four days later.

Dear Virgin Trains, you are the Rolling Stones of cross-country commutes. I can’t get no satisfaction.

While I appreciate that, for a company of your stature, it is easier to throw money at problems rather than adequately address them, I had hoped for a better response. In addition to the cheque which you sent, reimbursing the first of my problem trips with you this past week, I had – perhaps naively – hoped you might address at least one of the many issues highlighted.

Your response, full of irrelevant standard paragraphs, assures me that you will be working hard on “improving the environment on board” two types of train “during 2014.” With two weeks of 2014 left, these proposed changes should have been enacted by now, unless you are planning a rush job – and it does not matter how comfortable your trains are if you cancel them and replace them with buses, as per the nature of my complaint.

As previously documented, in the six-page essay which formed the basis of complaint number VT-111214-xxxx, I had a train cancelled on Wednesday 10th December. A replacement bus eventually delivered me from Glasgow Central to Preston, and it was borderline unbearable. On Sunday 14th December, you then also cancelled my train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston. So much for your stated hope that “the work [you] are doing this year is reflected in [my] experience next time [I] travel.”

I have followed the band Combichrist religiously, pun fully intended, since 2005. Beginning as venue crew working for the local promoter and helping them load in their gear, I was instantly a fan of their music and of their live show, and have befriended them in the years since. I find myself in the rare and privileged position where my favourite band are as happy to see me as I am to see them.

They tour the UK annually and, since they changed promoter, I now make the effort to catch them a few times around the country during the one week in fifty-two that they are here. This is the sole purpose of my journeys to Preston and London recently, hence my annoyance when you punished my loyalty by hindering my travel arrangements.

With the poor experience of Wednesday behind me, my faith in your company was partially restored when – on the return leg the following day – your ticket office staff in Preston allowed me to travel on an earlier train home than booked, at no extra cost. In fairness, I was just happy to be able to take a train and not another excruciating replacement coach.

I then saw the band in Glasgow on Friday, with plans to see them in London on Sunday. This latter trip involved travelling with Scotrail, Trans Pennine Express, and Virgin Trains. Ahead of departure, I once again checked for any possible disruptions. It was absolutely imperative that I made it to London in a timely fashion.

On the Saturday evening, I had received a message from one of the band’s road crew (and drummer for their support act) saying he had mislaid his jacket in Glasgow and – with it – his passport. For an internationally-touring band on a strict schedule, this mattered. Could I, he wondered, help try and locate it?

Faced with the daunting prospect of tracking down a single black jacket from a gig that hosted four-hundred people wearing them, I offered suggestions and made enquiries. If the passport could be located and placed in my possession before mid-morning on Sunday, I would be able to carry it with me and return it in person.

It was a possibility, if the jacket had been lost or left in Glasgow. However, if it had been mistakenly taken home to Edinburgh or Aberdeen, then the band were looking at the prospect of either abandoning a core member of their touring party, or paying a hefty sum of cash to alter long-standing plans and amend bookings while waiting on an expedited courier to deliver it.

Against the odds, an appeal on their Facebook page resulted in its retrieval from behind the drum riser, where it had been safely hidden so well that it failed to turn up during two previous venue searches. Arrangements were hastily made, and I collected the jacket and its contents prior to leaving my hometown on Sunday. Together, we travelled to Manchester and alighted in readiness for catching the connecting train.

As I walked into the main concourse of Piccadilly, with forty-eight minutes to kill, I glanced at the departures board and saw that it did not yet list my onward journey. Looking around, I quickly spotted half a dozen of your red-coated staff dotted about and considered approaching them, to enquire if there had been any service disruption since I was last able to check. I quickly dismissed the idea as folly – sure, you had cancelled on me on Wednesday, but today there was not even a weather warning. It would be ludicrous to presume you could not do your job – so I thought.

I stepped out of the station momentarily, time being at my disposal, then made my way towards two Virgin trains sitting idle. I knew neither was mine, and yet I felt compelled to double-check. Imagine my dismay when, reading the information board, I learned that you had cancelled the 1515. Unlike last time, cancelling my travel was not just an inconvenience resulting in me possibly missing the gig. This time, the immediate continuation of the tour rested on this passport getting back to its owner.

By some stroke of luck, one of these two trains was bound for Euston. I decided I was going to board it, sick of the hassle you had so far caused me. Storming towards the station inspectors, with no intention of them stopping me, I was ready to tell them I was taking this earlier train. Your staff pre-empted me, and said I could get on.

Fighting through packed carriages, and crossing through the shop, I eventually found an empty and available seat. Three minutes later, we started moving. While joyful at the comparative ease with which I had managed to continue on my way, I remained furious that this had happened a second time.

With no idea when my new mode of travel was due to arrive, and aware that my tickets were booked for a specific train and thus not valid on this one, I opted to seek out the manager for clarification. The easiest way, I figured, would be via the shop. Sure enough, the chap serving there was able to provide our estimated arrival time. Then he confused me.

My ticket was valid, but my reservation was not. This, he assured me, would not pose a problem. If something is not valid, then surely that becomes a problem? All I knew was, I had two ticket-shaped pieces of paper, and one of them was invalid. Having failed to obtain the manager as requested, in the incorrect belief he had helped me, the presence of a sandwich-buying customer at the till-point cut short our conversation. I gave up, found the seat I had left, and tweeted to ask if you were taking the piss or just enjoyed my previous complaint letter so much that you want another one. In retrospect, you cannot have enjoyed it very much, or you would have replied to it directly and not in vague genericisms.

Reasoning that I should not be on this train, it occurred that I should definitely not be in First Class – so I went to sit there instead, seeking what little comfort I could from your appalling service. There, at least, I had a table and a socket where I could charge my phone. In truth, I fail to see the attraction – I had passed through emptier, quieter, and child-free, carriages to get there. The Wi-Fi might be free, but it is not up to much.

DSC_3208Above: The passport and jacket at the centre of this tale.

I had not been in First Class very long, before a trolley was wheeled through and free stuff handed out. I politely declined, reckoning that way you cannot accuse me of anything. In hindsight, I could have accepted a box of free shit – crisps or chocolate or whatever you put in it – and then, in this letter, pretended not to. The reality is I did not take anything, and it is probably this characteristic integrity and honesty which contributes to me being trusted to return American passports to their rightful owners, rather than clandestinely sell them to willing Russians.

Without warning, the ticket inspector appeared in the carriage ahead of me. I took a drink of water (which I bought prior to my journey, though I suspect I could have had some free while masquerading as a genuine First Class customer), and formulated the case I would present when handing my tickets over.

“You should not be in this carriage,” he would say, in the scenario I mentally concocted.
“If you look closer, I should not even be on this train,” I would contend. “Since the rules don’t apply, I will sit here, with a socket and a table and some legroom.”

If met with resistance, I would say, “Listen,” and gesture for him to sit opposite me while I relayed the tale which forms this email and the one which preceded it. Showing him the notes I had jotted down, I would give him the option of being a hero or a bad guy in this letter. He would obviously elect to be a good guy, and let me stay here, right?

How disappointed I was to be, when he simply took my tickets, circled the date in biro without question, and handed them back to me.

The mother at the adjacent table then engaged him in an involved discussion about the benefits (or not) of having a particular type of discount railcard. Having taken the time to relay the various merits, he turned back to me.

“Here we go!”, I thought.

His face showed a flicker of recognition. “I’ve done you, haven’t I?”
“Aye.”

And he disappeared down the carriage, behind me.

What a hollow victory that was, Virgin. I had prepared my strategy and planned for battle, only to have my rebellion not so much quashed as unnoticed.

– – – – –

Once in London, my nostrils immediately assailed by the stench of piss which seems to define that city, I made my way to the venue. I found the stage door with relative ease, having once performed there myself in my occasional capacity as a stand-up comedian.

I could tell you how I came to perform stand-up comedy as a means of introducing Aesthetic Perfection, Mortiis, and Combichrist, to a thousand Londoners – in front of the band’s L.A.-based manager – but, frankly, given you all but ignore the content of my letters, you do not deserve to know.

[You, the curious reader, can find out a bit more on this post, over on my comedy blog.]

Suffice to say that it remains a life highlight, and a continuing source of personal disbelief, that – as the screen rose and a crowd of die-hard fans screamed for their heroes – all they saw was me standing there, microphone in hand, saying, “Yes, I know you want to see Combichrist. But first, a joke…”

This time, knocking on the stage door, I breathed the magic words: “I have Ben’s passport.”

I was ushered straight up the stairs and into the green room, and do not think I have ever been hugged so much in my life as I was that day. The band would now be able to leave for their ferry and continue the tour as scheduled, your cancellation of my train a mere blip on the route to this happy ending. Having travelled from Scotland to London every year since they played a one-off December show there in 2005, I was glad that it finally served a practical purpose: my appreciation of a good live music show prevented a lot of unnecessary expense and red-tape.

The gig itself, I enjoyed. There are minor differences in the set-list every night, and variations in the band’s onstage antics (every one of them is a showman and performer as well as a consummate musician), and I might not travel as much if they spent their evenings trundling out a tired wade-through of familiar crowd-pleasers. No, this is a highly energetic band who never seem to have less fun onstage than the audience do watching and listening to them.

I partied with friends – also fans – and then with the band after the show, leaving them to make their way to the coast and mainland Europe as I wandered into the early-morning darkness in pursuit of my 5:30am train back to Glasgow. Would you have cancelled it too? As it stood, I had booked four trains and you had cancelled two of them. This was your chance to pull back from being seventy-five percent shit and retain the reputation of only being half shit.

Hurrah! My train was listed as running to schedule. As soon as I was able, I boarded and took my seat, and you began slow-cooking me.

Firstly, I do not understand how you can call it The Quiet Zone when you broadcast loud announcements non-stop. You were making more noise than any of the passengers, repeating every destination twice per station – once on arrival and once (a minute later) on departure. And, my God, there were a lot of stations to stop at. The one positive was the sweet, blessed relief as the doors opened and a gust of fresh air blew in with each new set of customers. Sitting in a festering sweat-pit is not my idea of the “comfortable trip” you “aim to ensure” in the copied-and-pasted opening of the letter you sent regarding my Preston journey. I was that hot and uncomfortable I began to consider whether it could be the onset of the menopause, which I had never before thought my gender could even experience.

Having baked torturously for several hours, we finally arrived in Glasgow – late. Of four services in six days, you cancelled two and delayed one. That is a pretty poor record.

Furthermore, having made this journey annually for some years, I now know to allow myself a few days recovery time to get over whatever cold I invariably catch while travelling with you. It would, to my mind, be far more honest if “Air-Conditioning” was relabelled as “Recycled Breath.”

This year, presumably on the back of you effectively running an incubator of germs from one end of the country to the other, I have been infected with the most Hellish chest cold, which has impacted on my asthma and made every breath a chore and every cough a Herculean effort. Picture Patrick McGoohan on his deathbed in “Braveheart”, multiplied by Nicole Kidman in “Moulin Rouge”, and you have an idea of this discomfort.

In conclusion, then, I expect you to reply in a relevant manner this time and without resorting to your stock responses. I still request reimbursement for seventy-five percent of the price of the ticket for the Preston show, since you caused me to miss most of the gig. In addition, I expect you to reimburse my travel costs from Manchester to London, and from London to Glasgow, plus make a goodwill payment on top to cover the stress of having two time-sensitive journeys cancelled at zero notice.

For ease, here is a breakdown, in figures:

Preston ticket: £13.13 (75% of the £17.50 face value)
Manc – London: £35.50
London – Glas: £30.50

Which is a total of £79.13

Accounting for the discomfort and distress caused throughout this week by your failure to run trains – the sole expected duty of Virgin Trains – and taking into consideration the inadequacy of your previous response, I will be happy to receive a cheque for £120 to write off the whole sorry matter.

I look forward to your (this time personalised) reply.

Here is their lacklustre response. My reply to it is here.

Virgin letter - second replyAbove: Their brief and misspelled reply. Read my response to it and them here.

 

 


Going Off The Rails On Virgin Trains

Post updated to include a photo of their reply, 22nd December 2014. A follow-up complaint, addressing this and the cancellation of my London train four days later, can be read here.

Dear Virgin On The Ridiculous,

It gives me no joy to write this, which – coincidentally – is precisely the same amount of joy (none) which you provided on my journey to England yesterday. As I anticipate that this will be a lengthy missive, I recommend that you make yourself a cup of tea before you begin reading.

My favourite band tour the UK once a year, and it has long been my habit to see them a few times in that week, up and down the country. I reason that, since I have to wait twelve months for a seventy-five minute show, it makes sense to see a couple of their gigs, knowing that once they leave I will have another year to wait for their return.

To give you some indication of how passionately I love live music, and this one band in particular, I have seen them twenty-nine times, in five countries, on two continents. It was never my intention to become one of those fans who travels to see a given band, nor to follow them on tour, it was a natural progression and just sort of happened over the course of nearly ten years.

I am due to see them another twice this week, although that hinges – in part – on you managing to get me to London on my booked trains. After yesterday’s debacle, I have lost faith in your abilities.

With the recent Met Office warning that has been dubbed a “weather bomb” – enabling this country’s diabolical media to focus their front pages on photographs of waves when, if they had any kind of conscience to speak of, they would be systematically dismantling every lie to emanate from Cameron, Osborne, and Iain Duncan Smith – I was worried that my travel might be disrupted. So worried, in fact, that I looked into buying travel insurance that would cover cancellation, and “tweeted” you on Tuesday to ask about any known issues. I was assured that my train should be running “as normal”, and I subsequently packed for my overnight trip. Although I enquired if you offered any add-on insurance that I could buy, this went unanswered. Factoring in the costs of my excursion (train, hotel, gig ticket), and weighing it against the excess due on the one policy I found for UK trips, I realised there was little point purchasing any. Abandoning the endeavour would see me reimbursed a mere fifteen pounds. I would just risk it.

On Wednesday morning, with hysteria and panic leading mistitled “news” reports about a bit of wind and rain in mid-December, I considered it pertinent to check again. The service, you replied via Twitter, was still running. At my request, I was then directed to a webpage where I could verify for myself, nearer the time, that there were no drastic changes. The last thing I did before leaving the house was ensure my train was scheduled and punctual.

Having dedicated a not-inconsiderable amount of energy, time, and effort, to ensuring it was worthwhile packing and making my way to Glasgow Central – tempering my enthusiasm for being at the gig with the knowledge that I might not make it there – you may perhaps appreciate my dismay when, upon arrival at the concourse, the departures board announced that my train had been cancelled.

Crestfallen, I headed straight for Virgin’s office. The girl behind the counter cheerfully informed me that – despite the apocalyptic storm that had threatened to thwart my plans – it was a broken-down freight train causing my chagrin. With everything now in disarray, I wondered what my options were. It was 15:20 and my train was due to leave at 15:40, arriving in Preston at 17:55 – with venue doors opening at 19:00.

Somewhat less than ideally, I would have to board a chartered bus to Carlisle, catching a train there to complete my journey. Estimating two hours of coach travel, the girl suggested it might be a further hour by rail after that. Not particularly enamoured with the idea of heading two-hundred miles only to miss the sole reason for going, it struck me as foolish to abandon my plans at that stage. Better, surely, to take the chance and hopefully catch some of the headline band, at least.

Your office was filling up with people idly awaiting the promised coaches. I elected to wait outside, at the Gordon Street entrance if you know the geography of the station, desperately hoping I might get on the first coach and make a speedy departure. Denied. The more I looked for the promised bus, the more it was not there. Equally scarce were any Virgin staff – presumably hiding from the wrath of other disgruntled and inconvenienced would-be passengers.

Eventually, one woman did come out, a woman with the dark-haired, craggy-faced look of Alice Cooper about her. I neglected to mention that, out of politeness, but said politeness was sadly not reciprocated. In answer to my question, about buses and destinations, she curtly said “I’m going in here,” as she failed to break stride while marching back into the office. I have worked in customer service much of my life, and learned long ago that basic manners cost nothing and – indeed – reflect well on a company. I could have said as much to this woman, hindered only by the fact she had strutted off before the thought formed. Whatever her mission was, it did not involve the provision of timely information.

Two coaches eventually arrived, people thronging first to one and then to the other, as drivers tried to determine where they were bound. The little red-jacketed Alice Cooper woman – your representative in this sorry episode – reappeared and held a hasty conflab with both drivers, only after a dozen doddery old pensioners had taken ages hauling their snail-paced carcasses on board the rear bus. Duly it was announced that this bus would go to Preston direct, the front bus making the afore-mentioned Carlisle stop. These ancient ruins then took forever carrying their coffin-dodging selves back off the bus, while I silently hated them – with nerves shot and blood pressure rising from the stress.

Little Red Virgin Jacket promptly disappeared again, leaving me with absolutely no idea if I should take the Preston bus or go to Carlisle and transfer there. I figured it made sense to make my way directly to the concert location, rather than risk being stranded in northern England, climbing into the second bus. Stressed – in local parlance – out my nut, the bus finally departed a full thirty minutes after the scheduled train departure.

With no idea how long I would be incarcerated for, angry and frustrated at being forced to use a method of long-distance transport I despise, we were off!

I decided many years ago to always travel by rail or flight, and I have generally been happy with the service you have provided. My first coach journey was a nightmare, my naive and inexperienced nineteen-year-old self trekking to London for the first time, to see another band. The nine-hour ride lasted a full twelve hours, entering the capital at the very moment the support band took the stage. I was panicked, lost, confused, and harassed. Fourteen years later, you successfully managed to revive those feelings.

I enjoy the simple things Virgin offers – the promise of a table seat in a quiet carriage, with phone charging facilities; the chance to have legroom not designed solely for Douglas Bader or, for a more modern reference, Oscar Pistorius. These basic comforts were denied me, any semblance of quiet and calm annihilated by the banal chatter of people I can most accurately describe as tedious bastards. I mean, infuriatingly boring people with nothing to say, yet quite content to say it loudly and without rest.

One of the many, many reasons I jettisoned coaches as a method of going anywhere is the apparent seat design specification which caters only for frail old women. In my boots, I stand at six feet and four inches tall; I am broad-shouldered; I could do with losing some weight, but am not so fat as to have been mistakenly hunted for ivory. These moulded seats are, to me, some intolerable and mediaeval torture. They do not seem equipped to accommodate anybody with an internal skeletal structure – the base of the seat juts firmly into my hip bones, putting strain on my lower back, and the top of the seat back serves to force my shoulders forwards in an extremely unpleasant manner. Furthermore, I had the added discomfort of balancing my heavy backpack on my lap, as there was no room overhead. Please enjoy this image, of a well-built, tall, broad-shouldered man, crammed into a space so small it would barely serve my seven-month old niece. With my knees up to my chin, my belongings weighing on my legs, the only thing missing – sadly, not missing – was an inconsiderate arsehole jamming me in.

See, he was there too, trying to occupy the exact location of my left-hand side. Had he forced me to sit any closer to the window I would have been outside. His sheer bulk allowed me arm room that a thalidomide baby would have found inadequate. Having fully engulfed his own seat and half of mine, he promptly dozed off, legs spread so wide that he must surely have testicles the size of watermelons. His right knee so firmly touched my left knee that it caused me to wonder if this was his fetish: pretend to be asleep and rub innocuous limbs against other commuters.

I was unable, try as I might, to take up less room. With severe cramp in my legs, I also experienced extreme muscle ache in my left arm, as I was forced to hold it in a painful, slightly elevated and unnatural position – whereas normally I would have rested it. It seemed inappropriate to balance my wrist on his bald head, the only other option which presented itself.

Squashed between the two armrests digging into my pelvis, causing untold pain in my lower back, I tried to alleviate the multitude of aches by sitting up straighter. Instead, my foot found itself atop a crushed drinks can left on the floor by some previous detainee of this Guantanamo Bus.

All of this was accompanied, naturally, by somebody – most likely the driver – blasting the most horrendous music, which offended my ears when it was Madonna, and compounded my new idea of Hell when the Christmas songs started.

Crusher awoke from his dozing, and fast discovered that he knew the people in the seat behind us. Friends Reunited lives. Suddenly I expected an appearance from Cilla Black, yelling “Surprise Surprise!” or, worse, Esther Rantzen giving them both a little gold heart like she used to do on – well, I think her reunion show was probably called Hearts Of Gold, and I refuse to demean myself by checking. It is bad enough that these things are still in my consciousness two decades after they last aired.

Thankfully – being grateful for small mercies – this conversational development quickly subsided, and I was permitted to hear Wham’s tinny radio rendition of “Last Christmas I gave you a shotgun and a single cartridge,” which I would actually have enjoyed listening to if those were the real lyrics.

It was around this point that I engaged with Crusher, offering to remove my leg with a saw if he could find me one. He declined, which was damned decent of him, but neither did it inspire him to close his legs any or encroach less on my breathing room. With his right elbow lodged hard against my left elbow, I accepted it was stalemate.

With that impasse reached, I can detail my endeavours to obtain any sort of information from Virgin Trains verified Twitter account. Previously quite helpful, you shut up shop fast.

Keep in mind, please, that the sole purpose of my trip was to see my favourite band play their first UK show in a year. They have a new album full of songs I have never heard live, with new band members added to the line-up, playing instruments I have never seen (or heard) them use the past twenty-eight times. My only concern, at this point, was if I would get there in time to see anything other than the encore.

What I most wanted to know was the anticipated journey time. My train had been due to arrive about 18:00, giving me plenty of time to find my hotel in the dark, wet night. I needed to freshen up – a term I have never used in my life prior to this very sentence – then change, before attempting to locate the venue. I was confident I could find my way around but, not being Challenge Anneka, a strict deadline was an unnecessary pressure. I can send you the screengrabs, but here is the gist of this further miscommunication:

“Can someone – perhaps @virgintrains – check how long it’ll take a coach from Glasgow Central to reach Preston?”
“It will be a coach between Preston and Lancaster then train onwards, Jordan”

I appreciate you tried the personal touch in that reply, the only minor problem being that the rest of it related in absolutely no way to my question or my predicament.

Would I make this gig? How long should road travel take? I would have checked a popular online search engine’s maps app, only I am fast running out of my data allowance and – not being a Virgin train – this bus has no wi-fi facilities. Understandably, due to the variables involved, you were wary of committing: “However, they will try and get you there asap”

ASAP.

When is ASAP – is it 19:00? 23:00? Tuesday? January? I wanted a ballpark figure, and “ASAP” was not good enough – especially not when I had explained that I was on a tight and specific schedule. Instead, my tweeted requests for a figure, or for a “rough idea” were completely ignored. Like I said, you are welcome to screengrabs of all this, I saved it all.

Meanwhile, let us return to Crusher. At 18:34 – a hundred-and-forty minutes in – he finally swivelled in his seat, moving his legs out into the aisle. The joy of moving and stretching my own leg – a sensation I had nearly forgotten in the interim – was tempered only by how cold it felt once he ceased behaving like a human blanket. We continued on.

Seven P.M. came and went, the venue doors now opened for entry while I stared into pitch black motorway and wondered where I was, other than Sartre’s vision of Hell. I did not yet mention the stifling stench of feet, farts, and body odour which permeated our transport, as did the excremental fumes from the on-board cesspit – and added to by the further olfactory assault of crisps and similarly odoriferous foods. Three hours had passed, and the reek of sandwiches and ass gas had become unbearable. I would have opened a window but, coaches being how they are, it would have required a hammer. Having earlier established that there was no saw in the immediate vicinity, the likelihood of finding a hammer nearby appeared slight.

At 19:11 – and you will sense that I jotted notes for this complaint as I went – Crusher rose and made his way to the toilet. It occurred to me that a slow trickle of piss could have worked its way down, backing up as it filled his groin to capacity, and that that may explain why his legs were forced apart at the tops of the thighs. The poor man must have inflated, his legs widening as an alternative to his merely exploding in a stagnant burst of yellow spray.

There was no real time to note improvement, on his return, as we arrived in Preston at 19:32 – a mere ninety-seven minutes late. I checked with the driver that his arrival time will be logged, should you wish to verify it. I could not get off that bus fast enough. I have never had a good experience going by coach, and if I wanted to book a coach I would have done so.

Naturally, arriving so far behind schedule left me no time to eat. I raced for the hotel as quickly as I was able, trying to walk off the cramp that had built up. By the time I reached the venue it was gone 20:30 and with it the chance to see support bands and savour the atmosphere coming together.

I did manage to see the full set that, as a longtime fan and friend of the band, had been so important to me. However, it was entirely down to luck and you did nothing to ease my frustrations or worries.

I am annoyed at the shambolic handling of the coach boarding in Glasgow, the absence of informed staff (and of staff, full stop, out by the buses), and the further hold up caused by people being directed incorrectly.

I am disappointed that your once-helpful Twitter staff refused, point blank, to even attempt to provide the information I specifically requested, despite being told the reasons for it. Furthermore, they did nothing short of ignore my queries.

I am worried that you will fail me again. I am due to travel to London on Sunday, and – being considerably further away – there is no way a replacement bus will get me there in anything resembling a timely manner.

This entire experience was wholly unsatisfactory and unpleasant. In addition to the full refund I expect on my tickets, I think you should be reimbursing me for the gig ticket, given I missed all but one (thankfully THE) band, and compensating me for the utter discomfort which I have tried to document fully above.

I await your response.

Here is their response. My reply to it is here.

Virgin letter - replyAbove: Their wholly uninspiring stock reply. Read my response to it (and them) here.

 

 


The Hydro Is A Damp Squib.

On Monday evening, I paid my first visit to Glasgow’s newest music venue. When I say I paid, I mean it – tickets were about fifty quid with booking fees. With a capacity of 13,000, the bands playing there are able to variously charge between thirty and ninety pounds for entry. It is not a cheap night out.

I have seen Depeche Mode before, and this was my fourth time. They were best – and the atmosphere the most enjoyable – in Manchester, where I saw them in 2006. I also saw them at Wembley Arena that year, and in Glasgow’s SECC in 2009. The first Scottish show they had played in two decades, that gig was comparatively disappointing. With the promise of a new venue, and with people I know going to see them for the first time, I had high hopes for this year’s show. Well, up to a point.

 

Some of my family had already experienced the Hydro, subjected to sound quality so poor that they complained on the night and were contentedly relocated for the second half of whichever concert they attended. I studied sound design as part of my degree and, although it was a while ago and not my area of expertise, I know that live sound varies considerably. It is affected by the shape of the hall, the positioning of microphones and speakers, the number of people in attendance, and whatever other physical factors I have since forgotten. Perhaps by the time of my gig they would have addressed these possible teething issues, or have better acoustics due to the different audience dynamic.

I had no such luck. Whether it is the sound bouncing, or a mistimed delay, every drumbeat seemed to echo. The sound would have been brilliant, possibly the best and clearest I have heard at any concert, but for the immediate split-second repetition of each beat or note. While easy to ignore during certain raucous choruses, there were times – too many times – when the effect was painfully and irritatingly noticeable. The friend I was with, standing a foot and two inches shorter than me, did not perceive the same issue so perhaps it is a height thing. I am tall enough that I tend to hold my head above the crowd, and not within it. Whatever the reason for it, it detracted from what was otherwise the second best of the four DM gigs I have been to.

hydro tell us

Days later, the Hydro were kind enough to ask what I thought of my visit to their premises, and I was looking forward to telling them. Unfortunately, the “Visitor Experience Survey” was not interested in my perception of the gig. Instead it focuses on “the standard of facilities available” and “level of service received” – what can you really say, apart from: average?

Average, because every mainstream arena these days has identical facilities – an overpriced bar or two, someone to rip the ticket stub, a tour merchandise stall, and some toilets that look like they have been visited that evening by several hundred gig-goers in varying states of sobriety. It is nothing to write home about. Similarly, when asked about the purchase of my tickets, I had phoned up, ordered and paid for some tickets, and received them. It is a simple transaction and not prone to enthusing me any more than when I buy a pint of beer or give the conductor my fare. I am not sure what the Hydro expect me to tell them, or what they think they are doing so very differently in that regard.

associated brands

Asking about my view of the gig, but not about how it sounded, the survey then continues by asking if I was aware of the corporations sponsoring the venue. I was not. I had no idea that any of those organisations listed were involved. Then again, I absolutely do not care which international soft drink, beer, or fancy crisp maker ploughed money into this endeavour. When I go to a gig, I want to see the band. Sometimes I meet up with friends, sometimes I go alone. The reason I go alone to certain shows is to see a band I love, not because my local notoriously-bad travel company has invested in the infrastructure.

brand attitude

Did I check their website to see if food and drink would be available? No, as a neighbour to the SECC, it was more than obvious that it would have the same basic amenities, and similarly-priced consumables. The questionnaire then diverts into the completely irrelevant minutiae of whatever food or drink I might have ordered. It appears not to matter that the band sounded worse than they should have, as long as the dessert was lovely.

food

Equally, being told the names of ten corporations who have poured money into this building has no effect on me. I loathe advertising, and do my best to avoid seeing (far less succumbing to) those insidious, psychologically-geared messages. It has no bearing on the gig which of these companies I do or do not give my custom, and the survey purportedly about my Hydro experience had become more concerned with the effectiveness of their own marketing. That is not too surprising, of course, but they might have at least thought to ask if I enjoyed the show while enquiring how positively or negatively I feel about the two brands I admit to using. One is the biggest drinks manufacturer in the world, I suspect, and the other is a train company who would have trouble running a bath let alone a reliable means of public transport. I have no intention of recommending either to anybody “within the next twelve months.”

Other arenas are mentioned, as the Hydro would like to know which comparable sites I have been to. For some unknown reason, Glasgow’s famous Barrowlands is on the list, alongside the arenas in all of the UK’s major cities. I love the Barrowlands, and saw Iron Maiden there in 1998 when – at the age of seventeen – I went to my first ever music gig. In the early 2000s I also went there to see Slayer, System Of A Down, Judas Priest, Alice Cooper, Motorhead, Queens Of The Stone Age, HIM, Tool, and what became Pantera’s final Scottish gig. In 2010 the Underworld gig there was an absolute highlight in my (now) fifteen years of gig-going experience. However, at no point can the Barras be classed as an arena, with a capacity numbering about 1,900. So that is a bit of a misnomer.

As for how I left the venue after the show…:

exiting

I finished the survey and submitted it, and sent some tweets to their Twitter account. I do not expect to hear much back from them, but then everything I have heard in the Hydro so far has done nothing to convince me to ever return there. If they invest in some sound-deadening to kill the bounce then I might consider it. Until then, unbelievably, the nearby aircraft hangar of the SECC is a better venue, as it lacks this irksome detail.

tweets


It’s All Fun And Games Until You Realise You’re Being A Dick About Music.

When I was eighteen, I knew everything. I knew that I was smart, I knew that I was funny, and I knew that the music I listened to was the only music worth listening to. I especially subscribed to the mantra “if it’s not metal, it’s not music.”

This elitist belief denied me some of the finest music ever made, and although my taste widened enough to incorporate a vast amount of classic rock and even some indie, as well as the punk I had discovered at the age of 16, I deliberately denied myself the pleasure of anything vaguely termed “dance music.”

It was not always this way, but my earliest album purchases – Iron Maiden’s The Number Of The Beast and The Shamen’s Boss Drum – had seen me pursue the former as my way of (teen) life. I spent entire student loans on Maiden memorabilia, which is still in my possession (and soon up for sale.) I still love the latter album, but for years I stubbornly refused to acknowledge the artistry or musicianship involved in any of the music that got repeat radio airplay. There were songs that came out that I liked – Born Slippy by Underworld; Hey Boy, Hey Girl by The Chemical Brothers; Around The World by Daft Punk – but in an age when music had to be bought to obtain it (or taped off the radio) I didn’t engage with these iconic songs enough to purchase them.

 

It all changed when I was nineteen, and it all changed because of a girl. I think the age had less to do with it.

It was a chance meeting: I had gone to a gig with a friend to see some band he was into, their name being the only thing I now recall about them. Afterwards, he was refused entry to the club night due to a lack of ID. He went home, and I went in to see a casual friend I’d seen at the gig and recognised from school. She introduced me to the group she was with, and one girl in particular caught my immediate attention. This was in April 2001.

On the back of this turn of events, I found myself with a new social life, going to The Cathouse every Friday night to hear the same music played upstairs that now, in April 2013, they still play downstairs every Saturday night. The girl I liked, she despised Iron Maiden, and her own all-time favourite band was Depeche Mode.

Depeche Mode. “Haha, Depressed Mode!” I said, full of the ineptitude and cockiness that had helped render me entirely single for the duration of my life up to that point. This wordplay combined two of my favourite things – being a play on words and also a pop culture reference (it’s the name of a remix on Type O Negative’s Least Worst Of album) – or three of my favourite things if you include my longstanding habit of making quick-witted remarks at every available opportunity. Well, almost every opportunity – I’ve spent years learning that sometimes it is better to remain silent, for various reasons. Learning to enjoy the silence.

This conversation may have been the moment that changed my life.

I didn’t particularly want to belittle someone for their taste in music, finally maturing a bit as I then was, and I certainly didn’t want to do so ignorantly. Not to a girl I liked, anyway. I decided, perhaps for the first time, to check the band out before dismissing them out of hand. That way, I would have an informed opinion, grounds on which to judge them. If that sounds like a mixture of arrogance and common sense, then that is probably what it was.

It was the time of Napster and AudioGalaxy, of 56k dial-up modems that screeched intolerably as they downloaded one MP3 file every fifteen or twenty minutes. Depeche Mode had just released an album – Exciter – and I picked a track from it at random, probably based on the size of the file or the anticipated download time. I forget which track, although I think it was “Shine”, but down it came and I played it. To my surprise, I liked it. I liked it a lot. I downloaded the entire album, and burned it to CD using then-emerging technology. Given how commonplace downloading has become, the speeds now involved, and the gradual eradication of physical media formats, it is crazy to realise that a mere 12 years ago we still believed our VHS tapes were collectors items, while DVDs were some exotic and expensive novelty.

 

I enjoyed the “Exciter” album, and I went out and bought, on CD, in shops, the compilation albums “Singles 81>85” and “Singles 86>98”. The latter opened with Stripped, and I knew there was no chance that it could possibly be as good as one of my then-favourite tracks: Charlie Clouser’s remix of the Rammstein cover version. Again, I found myself proved wrong. Stripped, in its original form, is such a beautiful and subversive song. It far surpasses the excellent cover.

My eyes were opened, as was my mind, and I fell in love with DM and their melodic, entrancing music. I loved their experimentation with musical styles and with samples. I loved their music, I loved their lyrics, and I loved how dark and subversive they were. This is how it began. I started buying up their back catalogue on CD, including the occasional maxi-single when it appeared in the local second-hand record stores, and I picked up most of their early video releases in the same way. Again, those VHS tapes were collectors items at the time, yet they are now obsolete and (I suspect) largely worthless. I had been wrong.

I downloaded one of their tracks, so as to have a basis from which to decry them. And then I downloaded the rest of that album. Then I bought their two “best of” albums. Over the years that followed I bought the entirety of their back catalogue, various tribute albums, half a dozen second-hand videos, three or four DVDs, a paperback band biography, five t-shirts, a hooded top, some posters, most of singer Dave Gahan’s solo output, and tickets to see them on four occasions on three tours in two countries.

I think there was a valuable lesson in there, about prejudice, about arrogance, and about not being a dick. It has certainly led me to be a lot more open-minded, and was the first step in the considerable broadening of my musical taste. Not least because I barely listen to Iron Maiden (or even metal) these days, and now own a huge number of albums by The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, and Daft Punk. Underworld are one of my top five favourite live acts too.

As for this girl, who was the unwitting catalyst for this voyage of discovery? We dated for a few months, we stopped, we remained the closest of friends. She was there at the very start of my twenties, and she was still there at the start of my thirties. I trust and respect nobody on this planet more, and have mentioned before how her influence, inspiration, and significance in my life is second to none. This morning, I phoned the ticketline the minute it opened and bought our tickets to see Depeche Mode play live at the end of the year. It will be only their second Glasgow show in about twenty years. We were at the last one too, and I bought the officially-released live CD recorded on the night.

 

“You don’t have to come with me,” she said when I asked if she wanted me to get tickets, the nature of our friendship having changed although the fierce loyalty remains. “I’m happy to just go alone.”

I cannot imagine seeing them without her beside me. We made a pact shortly after we met in 2001, having just missed the Exciter Tour, that we would definitely travel to see them on the next tour. True to that, we went to Manchester and London in 2006 (when again there was no Scottish show), and saw them in Glasgow in 2009. I have every intention that we will see them together in 2013.

Now I am 31 and I am fully aware that I definitely do not know everything. What I do know, though, is that I was exceptionally fortunate to meet her.

 

 


Karaoke – What A Carry-On.

My aversion to karaoke as a form of entertainment is such that, if I am in a pub and it becomes apparent that there will be karaoke, I leave. I am willing to accept most types of music as background noise to whatever conversation I may be having, but I refuse to accept the dominance that is afforded a procession of tuneless drunks.

There are a handful of exceptions – I’ve tolerated it at a few places-of-works’ nights out, a stag night, and – well, that’s it to the best of my memory. As a general rule, if there is no occasion and I am just out for a drink, I’ll go elsewhere.

I have been coerced into participating only twice in my life. This is, in part, due to my complete and very noticeable inability to sing. The other factors involved were alcohol (lots of it) and peer pressure.

The first occasion was in “My Father’s Moustache”, a pub in East Kilbride, where I then worked. I worked for the catalogue shop Index, and our entire staff (numbering about twenty or thirty) were in the pub for some reason or other, besides the obvious. The drinks were flowing freely, and it was the night that Darius was kicked off Pop Idol. I remember this clearly, because at the time I was being told on a regular basis that I looked like him.

As a succession of regulars crooned their ways through all the usual hits – Mustang Sally, Brown-Eyed Girl, Wonderwall, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), New York New York – our party got progressively drunker. We were loud, rowdy, good-humoured, and having great fun. Somehow, I got roped into going up.

My song of choice was “My Way” as sung by Sid Vicious. This was probably towards the end of the period I spent listening to Punk, and I recall that I was wearing my Slayer tour shirt that evening. My name was called, along with the observation “As a special treat, here comes Darius, straight off Pop Idol,” and I ventured forth amidst gentle laughter, to take the mic.

The punters would look to the screen as each singer stepped up, to see what song they would be assailed with, and so up came “My Way.” People went back to their conversations, absolutely not expecting the off-key and piss-taking intro to that version of Sinatra’s classic. You know that scene in the western film, when the guy walks into the bar and the music stops and the place falls silent? I achieved that. My “singing” of that verse, in that vocal manner, briefly shut up an entire pub.

As the song kicked in, and I sneered my way through the second verse as Vicious had done, I was joined on the stage area by a stranger who – judging from his age and enthusiasm – was part of the original musical and social movement that produced it. He grabbed a second mic from its stand, and tried to join in as the host took it from him and reprimanded him with the rules – one singer, one song. No backing vocalists. So, instead, he began vigorously pogoing around the floor, clapping his hands, headbanging, and trying to cajole everyone sitting near the front of the stage area into sharing his energy and appreciation.

That was the first time I ever attempted karaoke, and I still remember it vividly eleven years later.

———————————–

The second time, it was an aftershow party in very early 2008. I had been working on a pantomime, and all of the cast, crew, and ushers were enjoying private use of a hired nightclub. There was karaoke, and by about half-two in the morning I was drunk enough to agree to a pal’s suggestion to participate.

As one of the cast belted through his own unique, and trademark, rendition of The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” (“Balls and Tits!” he cried gleefully), we decided upon the song for us. The obvious selection was Falco’s “Amadeus” – renowned, fondly remembered, and suitably ridiculous. Up it came on the screen.

Revealing himself to be surprisingly astute, given his aptitude at work, my friend immediately spotted the flaw in our plan and helpfully announced “Fucksakeman, it’s aw in German.”

It was, indeed, in German. We hadn’t thought beyond the famous chorus.

I rapidly descended into drunkenly listing all of the German words I could think of, rather than attempting to read aloud those on-screen. For a start, I’ve never studied the language, and I wasn’t helped by how fast Falco was rattling through lyrics I was struggling to comprehend let alone pronounce.

In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that most of my German comes from war films, Spike Milligan sketches (“Schweinhund!”), and five years of schooling in the achievements and failures of Bismarck, the unification of Germany, the first world war, and Hitler’s rise to power. It is probably just as well that it was a private party, I think in a pub I would have achieved silence a second time…

There are no plans for a third attempt.

 

 


What Your Clothing Says About You.

This is one of those pieces that I have tried a couple of times as stand-up comedy. While this got some laughs, and didn’t necessarily fall flat, I have never been entirely comfortable with it as material. I think that stems from the fact that very little of the laughter points are mine, I am just relating things I have seen or heard. As such, the whole thing is kind of shelved as back-up for occasions when it is merited, rather than included as a main part of my set.

Years ago, the band Cradle Of Filth put out their “Vestal Masturbation” t-shirt. This infamous shirt features, on the front, a naked nun masturbating with a crucifix. On the back, it says in large letters that “Jesus Is A Cunt.”

jesus cof

This drew a lot of negative attention; people were arrested for wearing it, and in Glasgow Tower Records was raided by the police due to having stocked it. The band’s frontman, Dani Filth, later defended it by casually explaining that – as Christians believe they will be reborn through Jesus – technically, Jesus can be likened to that part of the female anatomy.

The controversy of this shirt led to others like it, and it seemed for a while like Black Metal bands were trying to out-do each other. The two that stick out in my mind were both by Marduk – one had the backprint “Fistfucking God’s Planet,” which was tame in comparison to their “Christ-Raping Black Metal.”

marduck christ

I only own one t-shirt of this ilk, and I write this as someone who bought at least one t-shirt at almost every gig I went to. I stopped this practice somewhere approaching the 150 mark, as that seems an excessive amount of short-sleeved clothing to own in a country as famously cold and wet as Scotland.

The final shirt, then, is one I do occasionally wear for the humour in its inherent stupidity. I got it as part of a bundle with an Alien Vampires album and EP. The EP is called Nuns Are Pregnant, and on the front is a heavily-pregnant, topless, alien nun. On the back of the shirt, it reads: “I Fuck Nuns.”

Last week, when I had been given my notice at work, I decided to push their policies against profanity. I wore my “Combi-Fucking-ChristMas” shirt to test the water, and received no comment. Earlier in my contract, I was given an unofficial warning for wearing my Uberbyte “Money Shot” shirt – the front has their logo and states “Pussy Vs. Cock” and the back contains the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics in full: Tongue-fucking, asshole-licking, cyber cyber cyber whore/ Anal-douching lesbian, POV, cock cock cock cock/ Pussy cock pussy pussy cock/ Pussy cock pussy cock/ Money money money shot.

I know the manager who pulled me up for that had the same shirt at home, as he told me so. I think maybe that is why it was picked up on. Certainly, nothing was said when I later wore my Caustic shirt that represents his song “Cock-Blockin’ Beats.”

With a few days left to go, I laid out my other potentially offensive shirts – another Combichrist one, that has the silhouette of a naked girl crouching on one knee with a whip, and the backprint “Enjoy The Abuse.

In the end, I wore “I Fuck Nuns” before my last day, to coincide with the shift pattern a friend was working and so that she could enjoy seeing any repercussions.

There were none.

The guy across from me said that, from behind, all that was visible on my back was the word “fuck” – so I wrote down for him the rest of what it said, and he laughed. He laughed harder when I got up and walked away from him, where he could read it. It is such a stupid t-shirt, I like it.

av shirt

As it happened, I was sitting next to one of the managers. There is no way she missed what it said, and yet still nothing was mentioned. That is, until I walked around the other side of her desk to help my friend. On the way back, the manager smilingly announced to everyone in earshot and nobody in particular that it was “back to business-dress from Monday.”

That was the sole consequence of wearing that shirt – a general reminder that the end of the Christmas holidays signified the end of the dress-down period.

In a desperate bid to out-offend each other, with a series of increasingly blasphemous shirts, these metal bands only succeeded in being accidentally hilarious.


Welcome To My Nachtmahr.

I was at a launch party for the new Nachtmahr album last night. I’m not the biggest fan of them, and they are not a band that I particularly go out of my way to listen to. However, I do like some of their songs, having listened to the album Feuer Frei while typing this, and have seen them play live twice – once in Glasgow, and once at the Summer Darkness festival in Utrecht.

While it is only the music that interests me, they rely heavily on (and have been criticised for using) pseudo-Nazi imagery, which frontman Thomas Rainer protests does not reflect his political stance. He also surrounds himself with pretty young women, sometimes dressed very smartly and sometimes barely dressed at all.

The picture below is representative of their album artwork. I cannot find an uncensored version of the flyer I was handed last night, and regret that I deleted the photo that I took of it. This will have to serve to give you an idea.

nachtmahr1Above: The good thing about Nachtmahr is, it’s all about the music.

I was reminded about seeing them this year, when they appeared on stage right before Combichrist.

Thomas said during his set “You’re probably wondering why I have four sexy girls on stage with me. Because I can.”

During Combi’s set, their frontman Andy LaPlegua said, with a cheeky grin, “You’re probably wondering why all these sexy men are on stage. Because we’re a real fucking band and we play live.”

His mischievous sense of humour and fun is one of the many reasons that Combichrist are my favourite band.

Later that evening, we joined the Nachtmahr aftershow party, which was in a hotel room almost directly under ours. I asked Thomas if he had heard what Andy said. The answer was no, and I later heard that he wasn’t entirely happy to learn. Unlike most of us, who found it funny.

Here are Nachtmahr on stage at that festival. Three guys in uniform, with keyboards and laptops, and four girls who stand at-ease in these positions throughout:
nachtmahr live

And here are Combichrist, an hour later. Singer, Guitarist, Drummer, two Synth players who also have five- or six-piece drumkits for additional percussion duties, plus Tim Van Horn from Aesthetic Perfection on drums, and two drum technicians onstage to pick up all the gear that gets thrown around mid-set. Busy, relentless, energetic, and messy:
combi sd

On the plus side, I did come home last night with one of the two Nachtmahr t-shirts that were being given away to promote the new album which I haven’t yet heard. It is called Veni Vidi Vici, and I feel – given the treasure I acquired – that phrase aptly sums up my evening… 🙂

 

 


Deliveries And Demonisation.

I received an email at work the other day. I’ve changed the identifiable details, but this is the gist. Somebody from England was complaining that a delivery had arrived later than the day specified, two different days having been specified, and he wanted reimbursed for time wasted. Part of his email said that he had called us, but found it impossible to understand the person he spoke to “due to a strong Scottish accent and loud background noise.”

This comment was actually buried further in the email, but as it had not been addressed in the previous reply, I decided to respond to it too. Actually, I was one step away from shouting “Freedom!” while I typed. I joked about calling him racist and offering five Scottish pound notes by way of apology. Instead, I answered professionally. Knowing that my email would be vetted by our proofreaders before sending, I included the following:

“Our call centre is located in Glasgow, and so the majority of us have strong Scottish accents.”

I thought this would be removed or amended, but I heard later from somebodywho got the response to it, and that had been kept in.

The truth is, the background noise is noticeable. Had the complaint just mentioned that, I would have offered twenty quid without blinking. However, by revealing an inherent prejudice, I offered a tenner. I would genuinely have offered just five, except I knew that it would definitely exacerbate things. My reasoning was that the delivery had still come within seven days, as stated.

My accent is fine, it’s your ears that are faulty.

—–

There was somebody else on the phone once. A wee old lady, I could tell. “I think it was you I spoke to before,” she said. “I recognise your accent.”

I resisted the urge to say, deadpan, “You’re probably right. I am the only Scottish person working in our Glasgow call centre. So it probably was me.”

I now realise that, although that line is quite funny when I tell people the story, when it’s coldly written down I just sound like a dick. It’s something I am discovering with my comedy – some things are funnier read, and some are funnier told. It is important to get the medium correct. Please re-read this paragraph aloud, and with your eyes shut.

—–

These tales remind me of the time when I bought the Entombed album “Uprising.” Part of the reason for my purchase, apart from already liking one of their albums, was the inclusion of a track called Scottish Hell.

“What’s that about,” I wondered. “Perhaps they had some bad esperience playing a gig here, or dated some woman who wronged them, or are cursing some whisky-fuelled evening.”

I don’t know about them, but I had a bad experience when they gigged here. Cathedral supported and played a lengthy, boring set. By the time Entombed came onstage, I only saw twenty minutes before I had to get the last bus home. Fucking shite, and they haven’t been back since. That was a little over eleven years ago.

Anyway, as soon as I got home, I skipped straight to that track, digging out the CD’s booklet to read over the lyrics. Are you ready? Here they are, in full:

“Satan kissed my dog/ Cracked his moral shell/ Possessed to wear the kilt/ In his Scottish hell.
I touched your lips your eyes fell out/ On to the floor behind the door/ I picked them up and washed them off /And taped them back upon your face.”

Whatever it might be about, I’m flummoxed. In locating the lyrics online, I now see that it’s actually a cover version too. I’m going to end this blog on a note of utter confusion.