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.
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?”
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.
Above: Their brief and misspelled reply. Read my response to it and them here.
I doubt I will ever be entirely certain, but it is possible that I may once have attracted the amorous attentions of the writer of a Golden Globe-winning, Gold-selling, chart-topping single. There is the distinct possibility that it was all completely innocent, of course, and that is the version of the story I hold to be true. The following is told without prejudice.
I studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, a degree which allowed me to arrange work placements in my final year. Many of my peers elected to gain experience with companies in Scotland, most notably Scottish Opera and the Theatre Royal. In my very finite wisdom – in hindsight, making contacts in this country would have been sensible in the long run – I decided that I would set my sights further afield than the venue which was literally across the street, and began applying for internships in America. Somewhere between a dozen and twenty emails later, one organisation replied offering me a place. Lasting nine weeks over the summer, it would count as two of my five allocations, contributing to my learning while also providing me with my first trip outside Europe.
As I would be studying throughout the summer of 2005, the payoff was time off during the preceding term – time spent hoovering up every available shift in the pub where I was ordinarily employed at weekends only. I saved hard, since the gig provided accomodation and nothing else, and booked my flights. A couple of months later, I was in the USA. I quickly befriended the Assistant Technical Director, bonding on the first day while talking about music.
“I like metal, but I like it messed-up,” he said. “Like Mindless Self Indulgence.”
“You should check out Combichrist,” I said, referring to an act I had discovered and seen a month previously. I saw them for a second time in New York City, about a month after this conversation, and Graham was at the gig with me. He was the only one wearing trainers (sneakers) and I was the only one wearing a kilt. MSI and Combi later toured together, and eventually remixed singles for each other too. On the way out of the venue I stole an event poster off the wall, which I still have. In December 2013 I saw Combichrist play live for the twenty-eighth time.
I found Americans to be friendly, happy to engage with the “crazy Scotsman” in their midst. The girls loved my accent, and there was at one time a photograph showing me at an opening night party, surrounded by four or five women. They were seen to be hanging on my every word, and what was never clear from the picture is that the word they were hanging on was “squirrel.”
“Say it again!” they cried, delighted as I truncated the “u” and rolled the Rs. Being a wind-up merchant of some years standing, it did not take long before I aped their pronunciation. “Say ‘squirrel’!”
I worked on a number of shows as a stage carpenter, learning a lot about life and professionalism (as well as my trade) in the daytime, and out-drinking most of the crew and other interns in the evening. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, and maintain a handful of friendships with those I met. It was a place outside NYC where new plays could air to audiences without the pressure of critical scrutiny, a safe workshop environment where – while I was there – a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright could test his latest script, starring someone who would later become a Muppets villain.
At some point, in all of this, I was introduced to the lovely Amanda McBroom. She was working on lyrics for a new musical adaptation of a film, having once penned a song – famously sung by Bette Midler – called The Rose.
We spoke a few times, on various occasions at company parties or in the production office, and she told me that she had visited Glasgow and eaten in Ashton Lane’s famous restaurant The Ubiquitous Chip. She was usually accompanied by her friend and stage manager, a pleasant Englishwoman who had served her time in the West End. Back then, I had vague notions of pursuing a career in that hallowed district – soon abandoned when I realised that I do not even like visiting London, and would find living there to be unbearable.
When the 7/7 bombings happened, I called home to check my wee cousin was okay – thankfully she was. The stage manager, having far more contacts in the vicinity than I, made frantic phonecall after frantic phonecall, visibly upset as she did so. I remember the callous – almost ridiculous – uttering of our production manager, a man with the unenviable knack of making you feel uncomfortable by merely speaking to you. He would look at you slightly longer than necessary, as if waiting or searching for a response, for some continuation of the conversation or expected answer which was not apparent. As this poor woman desperately tried to reach her friends and relations, his attempt at sympathy extended to a misguided “Now you know how we felt on 9/11.”
After a series of fun adventures I returned home, receiving an email shortly afterwards from the stage manager. Amanda was working on a new project based on Shakespeare’s female characters, and I was asked if I would record myself reading the Lady Macbeth lyrics. This would serve as a basis for her to practise and recite it in a broadly-authentic accent, taking into consideration that Macbeth was not Glaswegian and that US ears would need to comprehend the language.
Theatre being an industry that often thrives on favours, especially when you are a student of the craft, I thought nothing of it. I altered the perfect English of the writing to reflect the Scottish vernacular, changing the “didn’ts” to “didnaes” and so forth. As I recall, I read it aloud into a microphone and converted the digital recording into a file small enough to email across, including with it my version of the lyrics. I was careful to only reflect the local dialect, turning things like the “ofs” to “aes”, because however much of an ego you may think I have, it does not extend to redrafting the work of someone who only missed out on an Oscar nomination because her song predated the film that made it famous.
It was during this endeavour that the question was asked of me: “Why are you doing this?”
“I was asked to.”
“Aye, but – have you not got a lassie friend that could read it. Would that not make more sense, for her to learn from another female instead of a deep-voiced guy?”
I had given it no thought. Perhaps naively, I believed I was simply fulfilling a request that had been made of me, from someone who had been warm and friendly when I met her in a foreign land. The implication that she “maybe had a wee thing” for me had passed me by until that point. I genuinely do not know. Granted, I am tall, dark-haired, was then aged twenty-three, and had spent the summer wearing a kilt instead of shorts. However, I am not big-headed enough to presume that I did anything other than make an acquaintance.
Furthermore, dealing solely in facts, it remains the only time that a multi-award-winning songwriter – responsible for a world-famous hit – has asked me for any kind of collaborative input. I was happy to oblige.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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… 🙂
This claim to fame is particularly dubious, and I’ve spent ages trying to decide whether to include it or how best to present it. Up close, the sequence of events is pretty rational – I came to know a certain band and regard them as friends, watched them grow in popularity, and very occasionally I ask a favour of them if all other options are out. That’s reasonably straightforward and rather dull but, as you’ll have ascertained by now, I much prefer the absurdity of life and, thankfully, I can summarise this tale in a far more entertaining way…
I got into a sold-out Rammstein concert by travelling 200 miles and turning up at the stage door with three bottles of spirits.
I explained my relationship with Combichrist in a previous blog, but if you can’t be bothered reading it what you need to know is this: I used to crew for them any time they played Scotland, got to know them all to some degree, and continue to see them play (and catch up or hang out with them) whenever the chance arises. I don’t presume, I don’t take the piss, but every now and then – usually when all other avenues have been explored – I request a favour of them, usually involving their guestlist. I don’t like to do it, and try not to, but to their credit they have helped me out on the three occasions when I have asked. For the record, I have seen them 24 times.
As one of the hardest-working bands I have ever encountered, who fully deserve all of their success, it was still something of a coup when Rammstein chose them as the sole support on their European tour. With tedious regularity, big bands will announce a great band as European support, and then when they get to the UK that band is off and replaced with somebody lacklustre. As an example, Iron Maiden would tour with Motorhead, Dio, Slayer, or any other number of renowned and highly-regarded bands. Then they would reach the UK and subject us to Dirty Deeds, Funeral For A Friend, or some other godawful act that sensible people would choose to miss. I had no hope, therefore, that Combi would actually make it to these shores on the Rammstein dates.
I was also wrong.
The gigs had sold out within weeks, and with no Glasgow show (Rammstein last played here in 2005, a gig I missed as I was in America, and so I’ve only seen them once, in 2003), the nearest show to me was Manchester. Having seen Combi play to a couple of hundred at club shows, I relished the opportunity to see them play an arena to 21,000 – the vexing thing being that I had no means of getting in. The touts on ebay wanted stupid money for tickets, at a time when I wasn’t working and would have bus travel to pay for too, in order to make the four-hundred-mile round trip. I carefully composed and sent off an email.
Initially, the band’s manager wasn’t keen to help, and wouldn’t commit, but as we had never met I explained fully how I knew them and why it was important to me to see them play this show. I wasn’t looking to just blag free entry either – a ticket was £45 but there were none to be had. Instead, I offered to spend that same £45 [at that point the very last of my week’s money] on alcohol for the band – the same amount of money, and to the same end: it would let me obtain entry to the show. It was unconventional, I knew that, but I was desperate. Thankfully, he agreed to guestlist me provided I turned up at the stage door “with a LOT of booze.”
I don’t think I’ve ever made a more nerve-wracking journey than I did the day of the gig – two litres of vodka and a bottle of Jager in my bag, a five-hour bus trip, no cash for if things went awry, and no guarantee I would actually get in. Even after I had arrived, found the crew entrance, met their manager and handed over all of the alcohol, I still wasn’t convinced that things would work out – I had to wait until 8pm for the lists to come through to Front Of House to find out if my name was on there. Thankfully, it was.
The gig was outstanding – so good to see a band I have supported almost from the very start reach the point where they can hold half an arena crowd. I didn’t even care about seeing the headliner, making me possibly the only person who went to see Rammstein but not to see Rammstein. Although I found out that’s not true, as I met an acquaintance from Glasgow while I was waiting for the box office to open, and his girlfriend was only there to see Combi too.
Despite my opinion that every Rammstein album since “Mutter” has been formulaic and followed that template, this show was incredible – I do like their music, and they had incorporated a lot of visual humour and story into their onstage antics, as well as all of the flame and pyrotechnics for which they are famous. The stage itself was a marvel of engineering, incorporating hydraulics, moving parts, and all kinds of impressive spectacles. Someone told me later that they spent a million on the stage alone, and I can well believe it. They sold out arenas and stadiums across Europe and America with that tour though, so it sounds like the investment was worth it.
I didn’t see the Combi boys afterwards – in a venue of that size it was almost inconceivable that I would – but it didn’t matter. I saw what I went to see, and I had fun. I also got this story out of it, and it’s a bit more interesting than just buying a ticket and walking through the front door. 🙂
This has happened to me twice now, once a few years ago at Glasgow’s “Bedlam” nightclub, and again in a pub last week. The latter incident annoyed me much more than the first, and since it has now occurred more than once I’m going to document it.
I wear band t-shirts every single day, t-shirts that I used to buy at every gig I attended (or bootlegs picked up outside afterwards). Since 1998, I have accumulated something close to a hundred and fifty t-shirts. Some fit better than others, some are bands that I have since lost interest in – hell, some are bands I wasn’t even that interested in when I picked up a cheap piece of clothing. I have drawers full of ripped and long- faded shirts I keep for work, newer shirts that haven’t lost their pristine black colouring which I wear if I’m going out, and then numerous ones that lie between those states. I’ve got shirts I have literally never worn, and shirts that are almost see-through on account of fourteen years of wear. As it happens, I usually wear a dozen or so in rotation, for months at a time.
This means that, given the diversity of music I have listened to over the years, and the sheer number of shirts available to me, I am very rarely aware which band’s logo I am sporting emblazoned across my chest on any given day.
Band shirts have long been the accepted way for metallers and their ilk to recognise like-minded fans. It is unacceptable to wear the shirt of a band you haven’t heard, because you will be found out and thought a dick of when some long-term fan addresses you in the pub. This is the simple and long-standing rule, because sooner or later you WILL be addressed by a fellow fan. Or more likely by dozens, over the years. Here are the two most memorable to me.
Firstly, at Bedlam a few years ago, I was wearing a KMFDM t-shirt. I am not a huge fan of them, but have amassed ten or so of their shirts and at least as many CDs. I only saw them once, in 2005 if memory serves, and I now remember very little of the gig. In the club, some guy approached me to ask me about the band. There was a brief exchange, and he told me he had met them and drank with them in Poland on some previous tour. I think they were due to play Glasgow again imminently, and he gave me some message to pass on to their guitarist – something forgettable, and more designed to make me believe his story than to actually hold relevance for the band.
As though I was going to hang around to meet the band post-show and say “Hey, some stranger I met once and had a really slight conversation with says [‘don’t eat the honey’, or some equally-banal reference to an experience they once shared, one day in the band’s thirty-year history.]”
I shrugged it off that time, because I work in film, TV, theatre, and live music. I can take your meeting with some band or other and match it with half a dozen encounters of my own. I just choose not to, because I often meet these people in a professional capacity and it seems inappropriate – dickish, even – to boast. If you do want to read about some of the “celebrities” that I’ve happened to meet in an everyday capacity, then read the blogs on here tagged “fame.”
Last week, I was in the pub having a quiet drink. It was a very quiet drink, as I was alone at the table – one friend was playing a game of pool with his pal, and the other had nipped over the road to get food.
I was sitting in silent contemplation, my mind elsewhere and occupied by a couple of personal things that have been or were weighing on me. My peace was suddenly disturbed by an unknown wanker ambling towards me and demanding “What tour’s that from?”
It took me a second to break from my thoughts, and I had to glance down to see whose name I was displaying that day. Iron Maiden.
I was a diehard Maiden fan from the ages of 12 until 24, and no other band defined my teenage years so wholly. I’ve moved away from them now, but still have the sizeable collection of rare memorabilia I hunted down when I had the taste for it. This means that I can hold my own in any conversation about them, something I used to relish and which I latterly concede to – provided I am in the mood. I wasn’t in the mood.
As I was asked again which tour I had picked this top up on, I gauged from the artwork that it was probably the 2003 UK tour. He asked me if I had ever met the band.
The truth is, I have met all three of their lead singers at one time or another, in different circumstances, and all three have signed items for me: this was back when I cared about such things. I could tell from his demeanour that he wasn’t interested in my experiences, and was only asking as a means to share his own. I let him.
He had met all of them outside the SECC in Glasgow on the last tour, and what lovely blokes they are, apart from Bruce Dickinson. They put him on the guestlist for the Aberdeen show the next night, and – blah, blah, blah. It was apparent he had only approached me so that he could give me this information – he didn’t ask or say anything else about the band, and as soon as he had told me this he made to leave, offering his hand for me to shake. I had already ignored this advance when he interrupted me, but with it now thrust towards me it was easier and less hassle to shake his hand than not.
“That’s the hand that shook hands with all of Iron Maiden,” he told me triumphantly. If I wasn’t already resentful of the intrusion into my personal space, that sealed it. Fucking wanker.
Seriously, what kind of arsehole stoats up to people just to brag about how great they personally are? I could do it, I could go up to anyone wearing an Alice Cooper or Combichrist tee and impart, apropos of nothing, tales of meeting them and what we spoke about. I just don’t. If it happens to come up in general chat, that’s one thing, but I don’t engineer it and it certainly isn’t my opening gambit.
When this guy left the pub at last orders, he shouted across to me to say goodbye. My friend had returned and was sitting across from me, and when I shouted a goodbye so did my friend. “Not you!” the guy yelled at my pal.
So yeah. Nothing to say, but he made a purpose of telling me.
This claim to fame isn’t perhaps entirely dubious, but it is still relatively low on the spectrum of “celebrity.” Although, these days, most celebrities are pretty low down on that spectrum too. This claim to fame may actually put me in line for an appearance in that jungle reality show yet.
It is no secret that my favourite band of the past seven years is Combichrist. I first encountered them at Edinburgh’s Dark City festival in 2005, where I was working as stage crew – helping bands in with their gear, then doing the changeovers between sets. I took a chance on a couple of the bands I didn’t know, bought their latest CDS, and thus discovered Combichrist and Rotersand – great acts, and even better live.
That summer, we were both coincidentally in New York, and so I headed to the city to see them a second time. At the end of the year, they played a one-off show in London, and I travelled down for it. I have since seen every Scottish or London date they have played.
I stayed in touch with the Edinburgh promoter, and this led to me crewing all but two of Combichrist’s subsequent returns to the city, as well as gigs by singer/writer Andy LaPlegua’s side-projects. When circumstances changed and they began playing Glasgow instead, where the new promoter already had his own crew in place and no space for me to join it, I opted to make the experience memorable in a different way, and began travelling the country to see the band play three or four dates on the one tour. To date, I have seen them play twenty-four times, and witnessed their gradual expansion from a duo into a four- and five-piece live band. I don’t recall seeing them play as a trio, but I found footage online just last week of a gig in 2008, where I crewed, and it looks like they played as a three-piece that night.
The upshot being, I met Andy way back before this band’s career took off, and have kept in vague touch over the years. I’ve met all of the band, in most of its incarnations, and have moved from helping them (or latterly their road crew) bring their gear into the venue and set it up, to just going to the show as a fan and then hanging afterwards to catch up with them.
I’ve come to know the local promoters in Scotland and London, and it was through this intricate web of friendships, acquaintances, and chance that I ended up introducing the band onstage with comedy at their show in London in 2011. That is, perhaps, a clearer and better claim to fame than most of the ones documented here, and if you’d like to read how that came about, and how it went, the relevant blog is here.
This year, I went to the Glasgow, Manchester, London, and Brighton shows. The band, in a relatively rare move, came to most of the club after-parties that week, and so I got the chance to hang out with various members of the band (and them with me, haha!) four nights out of six. It was great fun.
This tour, “Evolution”, was billed as a mix of old and new, and reflected their line-up changes over the year, starting with two band members on stage and with the others joining one by one over the course of eight or so songs. Glasgow was good, but Manchester the next night was incredible – so much power, such a tiny room, dense with smoke and strobing lights throughout. Amazing, one of their best shows I’ve seen, and then afterwards we ended up in a really cheap pub followed by a nearby house party.
When I got back to my hotel, I logged in to my emails and found one that I initially took to be spam. Opening it, I discovered that I was being asked to write a short (hundred words) review for Metal Hammer, the renowned UK music magazine. No problem for someone well versed in the history of the band, and a keen writer too. Most flattering of all, though, was the discovery that I had been recommended for the task by the band’s manager. It’s nice to be appreciated.
Here, then, is my latest claim to fame, from Metal Hammer issue 234/Summer 2012. Click on the image to see it full-size.
This happened a couple of years ago, in 2010, and thankfully I wrote it down at the time. I have loads of half-finished writings from years gone by, and partly I hope this site will encourage me to finish them or salvage what I can, and/or inspire me to write my adventures more succinctly and in a more timely manner.
I had been to see Combichrist in Glasgow’s Classic Grand, and after quite a few mental encounters outside – being given a CD by some woman in a band, then being verbally abused and threatened by a guy as he was shaking my hand, and having a young drunk guy ask if I’d ever seen his band play before revealing they’d only ever gigged in his mate’s front room – it was time to go home. I crossed the street and caught my bus down Paisley Road West.
There was a wee tiny skelf of a man sitting down the front of the bus, in a seat that faced up the gangway. He was sixty if he was a day, and could barely keep himself upright, his head too heavy to stay in one place – and yet he was trying his damnedest to pick a fight. He’d chosen, as his adversary, a near-sober, squat, well-built, forty-something guy sitting in the seat facing him. The drunk’s patter was going in increasingly-slurred circles.
“Waant a skwerr go?” he asked, trying to be tough and seeming like he meant it – despite the fact he couldn’t focus. “I’ll batter you. Outside, now!”
Oblivious to the fact he was on a bus, where stepping outside now wasn’t a viable option, he continued “I’ll batter you, you’ll see, aye that’s right,” and so on. His chosen adversary was remarkably tolerant (for a nightbus in Glasgow where you’ve been invited to square-go), answering non-threateningly but in that typically-unimpressed Glaswegian way – “Will ye, aye? Will ye? Right, then. Okay.”
The guy sitting next to me, three or four rows up the bus, kept laughing quietly to himself every now and then, amused by the spectacle, and I eventually asked him if this had been going on for a while. He told me the drunk took half an hour to get on, insisting to the driver that he’d given him £20. There’s a glass bit for the money – if he had, you’d see it. Finally, he had sat down and immediately started with his shit – which was still ongoing. “I’ll batter you!”
Round about Cessnock Underground, I looked up as someone came down the aisle from the back of the bus. He walked right down to the front, picked up the drunk guy’s rucksack – and casually lobbed it out of the door onto the pavement. He then returned, and in one move picked up the drunk, got him to the door, and shoved him out to land on top of it. With no sweat broken, he returned to his seat – interrupted only briefly as the chosen adversary shook him by the hand on the way past and said, with a smile, “Thanks for that.”
The driver, whatever his moral opinion of the situation might be, and no doubt biased by the £20 encounter and the general feeling on his bus, shut the doors and drove off. This was the impetus fora big fat craggy-faced wumman, with an equally craggy voice, like she’d smoked every cigarette ever rolled, to start having a go at the tolerant guy. “That’s terrible, that!” she said, and proceeded to verbally welly right into him. “I didnae dae nu’hin!” he protested. “It was the guy up there done it!” Seamlessly, and in a bemused manner, he demanded of nobody in particular “Have I got fuckin ‘talk to me’ wrote on my forehead?! Fucksake!”
Undeterred, she shouted up the bus at the removal man. “God’ll get you!”
“As long as he’s no’ got your fuckin voice!” the guy shouted back.
By now she was prattling away, repeating herself and nagging both of them. The remarkably tolerant guy loudly bemoaned his part in the whole thing, to nobody and everybody. “One -twenty-five for ma ticket, ah should’ve took a fuckin taxi!”
That was the catalyst, and anyone who wasn’t stifling a laugh by this point began laughing aloud, the whole bus in uproar. The patter between them was so fast, and so funny, as this one guy lamented his poor fortune, the woman chastised both of them, and the guy up the back genuinely didn’t give a fuck.
The removal man alighted at the next stop, whether because it was his stop or because he’d had enough. As he walked down the aisle, the wumman had a go at him again. He shrugged it off – “I’ve fuckin divorced worse than you,” he told her, and his audience. “Twice!”
It’s nights like that which make me love this city.