Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Music

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.

 

 


MP3 Does Not Impress Me.

Despite having close to thirty-five-thousand of them, I have no real affinity with MP3s. I consider them largely valueless.

My first single was bought on vinyl, my first albums were on cassette. I was slow to embrace the CD, which was prohibitively priced at the time, and the ten MiniDiscs I own were bought cheaply when that format became obsolete.

Cassettes were my medium of choice, I was buying them and making mixtapes while vinyl was dying out and as CDs were coming in. Tapes were a constant, and I am of the generation that taped songs off the radio, finger poised over the “pause” button to try and eliminate the DJ’s prattling. Thanks to the media hype, I have – or had – a home recording of the chart show, the week that Oasis released “Roll With It” and Blur’s “Country House” contested it for the number one spot. I believed I was taping music history, although I had neutralised my vote by buying both singles.

I discovered Iron Maiden by chance, listening to the chart show and hearing them for the first time. I spent months waiting to hear them again, realising years later that the chart show was the only occasion on which they ever got any airplay. The track I heard was on a live album, which I could not afford (being a new release), but I found it on another album by them. By accident, then, my first Maiden album was their seminal work – I bought “Number Of The Beast” in Woolworths for £6.99, having heard the 1992 live version of Hallowed Be Thy Name.

 

I loved that album, I instantly loved Maiden: the artwork, the lyrics, the music. I spent all of my pocket money acquiring their other albums, poring over the sleevenotes and learning the names and instruments of the band members, the album chronology, and the lyrics. When I was not buying albums, I bought patches and sewed them to my denim jacket. I listened to Maiden constantly, and a book that I saw in a supermarket told me that they, along with other acts named within, were Heavy Metal. I had heard the term, with no idea of the bands involved, but now I knew. I quickly bought compilation albums which, despite the difference in styles, first introduced me to Black Sabbath, Motorhead, and Venom. My taste started diverse, and broadened.

While I discovered huge numbers of classic rock and metal bands, finding my way to thrash, black metal, industrial, and every other conceivable sub-genre, my love for Maiden remained undiminished. I spent entire student loans tracking down all formats of their albums and singles, picture discs and shaped vinyls, expanding into every realm of merchandise that I encountered. I bought my first band shirt in 1998, with money from my seventeenth birthday, and I wore my new Best Of The Beast shirt to their gig – my first ever gig – at the Barrowlands a month later. I still have that shirt, its pristine black now a very light grey and the lettering faded to almost non-existence. It is more holes than shirt these days, threatening to disintegrate if you look at it for too long.

My tastes changed, and my obsession with them faded like the shirt. However, there were a few happy years spent in pursuit of that rare record that would complete my collection of picture discs; that CD single which was only released in Australia, or the one that was sold exclusively online; the North American editions of the first two albums, which both held tracks not available on the UK versions. I traipsed the second-hand record shops of Glasgow, and then I scoured ebay, enjoying the thrill of the chase and the leap my heart gave when I acquired a new piece. It is good to have passion in your life, even if it is a passion for a band that is not to everybody’s taste.

Maiden collectionAbove: You could download the music illegally, but you would be missing out.

I remember the joy I had, tracking down these rare items. There were tapes that I literally wore out, I listened to them that much. My cassettes have been unplayable for a decade, yet I still have them all (in storage.) My Minidisc player still works, having lasted longer than the format did, and I use it regularly. I accumulated a couple of thousand CDs, which furnish my flat despite the fact I never play them – my stereo’s CD player broke a long time ago, and I just play the ripped files rather than put the physical CD into the laptop every time.

MP3s are convenient, they take up very little space in a room, and yet they are soulless. They have no tangible quality, no resale value, and limited nostalgia. I recall my first downloading experience because it was so new and so novel. It is hard to imagine that anyone will get the same thrill now the conventions and software have become so established.

Last week, I was trying to decide what to listen to. Thirty-five-thousand files is a lot of music, and a lot of choice, but it is a very long list to meander through and not all of it is categorised, or it has been categorised by someone who does not share my opinion of which genre classification should be used. It is far easier, I discovered, to walk over to my shelves, find the dance albums, browse the spines of the CDs, and decide that way. That seems to defeat the purpose somewhat.

When my Grandma died, she bequeathed me her record collection. I have all of the LPs that belonged to her and to my Grandpa, whom I never met. These records are entirely reminiscent of her, of her house, and of my years spent visiting her. They are stained with nicotine and age, infused with the smell of cigarette smoke that permeated the cardboard sleeves over several decades. Some of them have their (and thus my) surname written on in biro, all of them are tangible relics – when I remove a record I am carefully holding it by the same edges that my grandparents grasped, deftly locating it on the spindle, and noticing the same hiss and clicks and crackles that they heard.

When I touch these items, I am touching my past. I am connecting physically with people who are no longer here.

You will never convince me that digital media can ever compare.

 

 


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.


Refusing Delivery, Outright.

This is my favourite complaint that I have read recently, just because it is so stupid.

My favourite band have just produced (and sold out of) a limited range of seasonal T-shirts, which retailed at $20. Postage to the UK, at $12,  brought the cost to roughly £20, which is still pretty reasonable when you consider that’s at least the price you would pay at a gig these days.

Someone on the band page complained that he refused to pay that much for shipping. I just love the idea of someone going “I will buy this shirt, however I absolutely refuse to have it delivered to me!”

Here’s the relevant screenshot, edited to show the pertinent comments.

combi comment

Incidently, contrary to what was written, none of Combichrist live in the UK. The studio band is just Andy LaPlegua, who relocated to Atlanta from Norway. The live band, and management, live variously in New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere across the USA. They do, however, play in venues in and around Camden on their annual UK tours.

Regardless of which, you need to pay to have the shirt shipped from where it is, not from where the singer might live…

Cool shirt though.

Combi Christmas

 


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.