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My Bountiful Laundrette

13th July 2014 | Juliet

We have just done three nights on the bus. We are a bit crumpled up, and now in London at a hotel where we have to wait as the rooms are not ready. Jim says being on the bus is like being in prison as there is no space. Jim likes space.

Some crew and band members are to be dropped off in London, leaving 8 of us to overnight in Euston before tomorrow’s flight to Athens.

Downstairs Larry is giving discourse on the word meme , its origins and derivatives, while others are appearing from bunks upstairs trying to work out where we are. We are near Crouch End and there is a drop off any minute.

Now we are waiting in the Victory Cafe near Euston, a proper cafe from the sixties where the TV is tuned to Italian news, the ceiling is original and the tables are formica. The man returned the TV to English and now James Martin is doing something with chicken wings….

American Chris had ‘special breakfast’ for breakfast. Chips eggs toast beans and sausage. Gideon had ‘big breakfast’ for breakfast: two eggs, two sausage, two bacon, two hash browns, chips and who knows what.

The man brings us a round of free tea. He is a friend of Tom Jones. Tom is playing Hyde Park tonight. The blackboard says they also do milk shakes and single cones, and a flake is only £1.70.

Across the way, trains are being announced loudly. The 11.17am to Watford Junction has just been announced.

We are here in the Euston vicinity for 24 hours. It’s Day Off. Soon the hotel is ready for us.

Time to head off with a big bag of washing.

The concierge draws a map and marks a cross for a 7 day a week laundry and I head off to Marchmont Street. It’s called simply ‘LAUNDRETTE’. It’s a bit of a walk. Outside along pavements people are sipping cappuccinos, nibbling leaves, wearing shades and being fabulous. Inside ‘Laundrette’, locals and visitors are doing their washing. It’s a system run by a computer requiring pound coins and my brain isn’t on full yet. A nice man in a full length cotton kaftan helps me. Put the money in the computer, pick the machine, get its number, punch in number, go back to machine, etc etc….

I avert my gaze from his scoop-necklined long smock which seems to be all he is wearing apart from his shoes.. It’s a bit like the Levis ad gone continental.

It’s boiling hot, not a day for a hot laundrette. This one isn’t like My Beautiful Laundrette. It’s a tad crowded, with a general air of panic. There is lots of general tutting and confusion, as the system takes a bit of getting used to by most of its American and Italian visitors. The locals are relaxed with the system and are chilled; the first timers look into the turning clothes, anxiously watching the computer screen count down. Decline to get over-involved in this clothes abluting drama.

Out for some air, pass the betting shop, down past the second hand bookshop and round the block before heading back.

The nice man in the kaftan who doesn’t work at the laundrette but has taken it upon himself to help me out suggests 15 minutes drying time is enough as I have already lost a couple of quid in the system by pressing the wrong button in the wrong order. “It’s very powerful,” he assures. “Not like in house dryers.”

Again abandon Sunday lines of people sitting gazing at the driers for another stroll, turning left this time past the cappuccino people, and past a blue plaque on Tavistock Place saying Lenin lived here in 1904. Past a few shabby hotels with unusual red and black drapes over the windows, then head right, past Woolf Mews and Virginia Place. ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’, sign warns. Wonder where Ms Woolf’s plaque is?

Blimey I am in Bloomsbury. What would Virginia, Leonard and her pals have thought of the piled up rubbish, Primark brown bags, landfill, and Sainsbury’s orange twisted carriers of household waste that litter the streets?

There’s a park near a wealthy crescent, and the familiar site of a 68 bus heading south of the river to West Norwood, where I was born under a wandering star.

Time to head back to the drier. It’s true: like the man said, it’s all dry in fifteen minutes. Even Tim’s duvet cover. Warm and fresh. And in amongst the pile lies a lone sock. Two socks had gone in and three have come out. The rebel sock is black and red. Place it carefully on the side by the discarded newspapers hoping its owner will come back for reunification with its other half.

And as I head out and back towards the hotel, laundry bag heaving, I see a London bus; “hop on hop off,” it boasts. If only. There is no hopping to be had. I feel like Gelsomina in La Strada when she sets off with her bag, having left the circus….. I walk on by, tramping the streets, bag on shoulder.

Runners jog past wearing spooky black masks like they are in the Blitz. Can’t be good for you surely? Tourists chat excitedly, searching for wherever they can’t find on their handheld maps.

Our hotel is round the corner from Drummond Street, the home of the famous Chutneys Indian restaurant and a whole host of others, including one called Ravi Shankar. The announcement from the station says the 13.57 to Watford Junction is leaving soon….as Sandy Denny sang, who knows where the time goes…?

Tomorrow it’s back on the road and tomorrow is coming soon…. We are going to Athens, Spain, Portugal and Latitude by next Saturday, and today is Sunday. I hear there is a football match on tonight.

T for 85,000

12th July 2014 | Juliet

It was a short drive up to T in the Park. Woke parked up on the site. Grabbed a cup of tea and headed out early as the site was waking up to Saturday…

This is the last year it will be held in Balado because a gas pipe runs under the site. Oh dear. So next year it will be held nearby at another site.

At our dressing room portakabin for an early stretch waiting, for everyone to wake up. Pharrell Williams’ dancers were doing dance workouts on the grass outside. They had their own village backstage…lots of people lots of space.

Tim arrived for his first uber stretch-out of the day. Then it was interviews and things and the crew sorting everything out on stage.

Tim took his Chinese medicines and had a pint of fresh pressed carrot, beetroot and ginger juice, prepared on the table next to Gideon’s computer and printer with only one small splash on a recharging blackberry and a keyboard. It made an intense grinding sound at the fresh ginger overload, and was deemed unsafe for further action.

Gordon Strachan and his wife arrived on site, and came to the dressing room to say hello.

“Susan Boyle is watching Dad play at T in the Park,“ Dave’s daughter facebooked. And so she was. Up in the VIP gallery front row, no less.

Before long it was time to go on stage, where 85,000 people are in the vicinity.

Tim was gargling and throat-spraying right up to lift off, and I dashed off some Chinese nuts in a cup for the best throat solution known to Timkind.

The security got a bit overenthusiastic about Tim’s safety when he got in the crowd, but apart from that there were no glitches.

Later a group of us headed to watch Pharrell Williams. The dancing was groovy. The music was funky. We were Happy despite the pouring heavy rain. Tim got called away to check the tv footage.

And then it was Paolo Nutini, but after 2 songs we had to go and get on board the bus and do the third night onboard, this time heading south to London.

Come Home

11th July 2014 | Juliet

Early start to Manchester to find some items. Manuka honey lozenges and 3 boxes of special Japanese organic twig tea were bought. Manchester was steaming. The hottest day this year again. Perfect weather for an outdoor gig. Let’s hope it happens this time.

Castlefield Bowl is set off Deansgate by the canal and the Y Club. It’s only recently that big gigs have been put on there. It used to be a venue for Manchester International arts….a place for African and European circus performers to launch themselves aerially, and the people of Manchester to enjoy cultural spectacles on summer evening.

Now SJM are putting on a few gigs. Pixies last night. James tonight. It’s a top location in the sunshine…

The setlist had to be altered so that there were not too many high notes. Couldn’t do Interrogation. Couldn’t do Don’t Wait That Long as planned.

Blossoms and Starsailor supported, warming up the packed bowl.

The set list said “Walk Like You or Sit Down if Tim’s voice was fXXXXXd”. In the end Walk Like You got through.

A team of blokes were spotted wearing T-shirts with assorted lyrics on their backs. Each shirt was a different colour. Who were these men? Larry has a photo. Were they each wearing their favourite lyrics or what?

The soundcheck happened midday and Tim arrived at 1pm to go through a few bits and see if his throat would hold up. Would it be all right on the night?

And it was.

“The hometown crowd was brilliant as ever,” said Jim to summarise.

Some people had travelled from America, Canada and Italy.

Someone was up on the railway bridge giving it some – arms waving on Sometimes… It looked dangerous. It probably was. It was a long drop down against the Manchester skyline.

Bumped into Smiley Neil by the front barrier… No soup today, Neil. No time for such things. There was bangers n’ mash, veggie banger option, and that was about it.

There were two encores ending with Johnny Yen who set himself on fire again…

Next there was a little do at Barca, and then it was time to get back on the bus and head up to T in the Park.

DayTripper, Waterford, Ireland

6th July 2014 | Larry

Waterford day-trippers

6th July 2014 | Juliet

We spent the time between soundcheck and gig in Waterford dodging rain by watching a Sunday matinée in room 210, where, lying on the floor, Jim led the TV programming to Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando. It made our night-crossing seem like a swim across a paddling pool, compared to what those hefty sailors had to endure. We missed a major part of the story while we dinnered at the hotel, but it was easy enough to catch up. The mutiny led to some chaps in a boat with not much to eat. Finally they found land, and some found love. In one memorable scene, an islander lady in a towel/white sarong got a bit cross with her Navy Captain chap, but they resolved it in the end. Then someone decided to set the parked ship alight. It was quite an epic.

Suddenly it was show time, and then time to go time….driving north for two hours to get the boat back to Blighty. Davo ate some crisps. ‘He eats crisps,’ someone said. ‘Just crisps.’

It was only yesterday that Tony picked me up at Dublin airport and took me for Green Eggs and Ham at the hip shabby chic diner, The Fumbally. There, salsa music played and Spanish waiting staff kept perfect posture, delivering scrambled eggs with avocado (= green eggs) and Chorizo (= ham) on toast, or veggie brunch to trendy Dubliners. Reminisced about days spent in north India in genuine shabby hole-in-wall diners, eating food that everyone warned us not to… In those dizzy Himalayan days we paid 10 pence for a potato paratha and a smeared plastic pot of chilli chutney. “I’d pay 20 euro for one of those now,” he said cheerfully.

Then through Dublin where the streets are fast changing, to the St. Stephen’s Green area Dylan Hotel where the band stayed after Berlin. Lights Chris arrived beaming from America, having taken 3 days to get there due to a hurricane on the East Coast.

Somehow it all came together. This time the bus did not explode (see August blog 2013). New songs were played, and Mark’s keyboard blew in Waterford at the beginning of the set… Apart from that it was plain sailing.

Groove Festival, Bray, Ireland

5th July 2014 | Larry

So there we were, all at sea.

5th July 2014 | Juliet

Larry took control of the situation and led us away from the bowels of the ship. This was our mutiny. We weren’t up to staying on the bus, below the water line, in the dark, no power, no lights, no way out… It was 2am…the rest of the band and crew lay sleeping.

The nice lady at nautical reception said she only had a four berth so Larry bought the dorm. Room 429, said the key card, and ‘Everyone Deserves a Break’.

‘A ship crossing in the small hours is what rock n roll is all about’ was TM Matt’s quote, but he wasn’t here, having just organised it this time. Tim, saving his voice for the big week ahead, also missed this adventure and was holed up in a hotel pre-flight to England.

Perfect boat building engineering gave us two wide shelves, creating quite wide bunk beds. Larry delighted at the design as he unfolded the second shelf for me and attached its ladder. We even had our own bathroom and shower and a window with a view at dawn of the heaving seas. Some people pay huge sums of money for such an adventure. It’s called a cruise. This was a James mini mini cruise. The bar was still open and Chris went for a scoop.

So there we were, all at sea. It was the small hours of Monday morning. on crisp white linen semi-comatose for 3.5 hours as the good ship returned us from Ireland to England.

It’s been a busy few days. First there was the Berlin do and then a trip to the Emerald Isle for two festivals, one in the forest surrounding a country house in Bray, and the second in the historic town centre of Waterford. For both, the weather could have been better, but the audience remained determined to enjoy and party regardless. And Mia and Vinny returned for this trip and got their photo taken with Paloma Faith.

Down amongst the trees in the grounds of the country house, Paloma and her band covered Van Morrison’s ‘Crazy Love’ which was very groovy and very singalong. I explained to Ana the effect of extreme high heels on the gastrocnemius muscle/shape of the leg and she said she would give it a go. Then we headed off into the night to Waterford where we woke beside the river near the big historic tower. The sun was shining. The crew were already constructing.

The riddle of the missing butter on the rider has finally been solved. Irish Kerrygold is the business and has Larry’s full approval. ‘I Can’t believe It’s Not Butter’ is a complete made up fib, and if anyone offers you spreadable spread/butter, just say no. It will be contaminated with things non-butter-worthy.

This was proper touring again, sleeping on the bus, but there were two hotel rooms to share between everybody for showers and chilling.

Dining in a UFO over the Danube

21st June 2014 | Juliet

Over to Nick, James’ drum tech and stage organiser:

Bratislava!

Without the brutal, skull melting schedule that most of us were faced with in order to get to Bergen in Norway last week, we all met late in the afternoon for a very relaxed and civilised trip to Slovakia for the City Beats Festival. Then straight out with some of the gang to the picturesque local hostelries for a spot of ‘culture’ before bed.

For me, the recurring theme of the next few days began on the Ryanhell flight with a talk to Tim about the videos for Frozen Britain and Moving On, which led onto the first of several discussions with others about what the image of the human skull means to different people, especially in a James context. It provokes a wide range of reactions as usual.

I have had a lifelong affinity with the symbol since winning an art competition at the tender age of five for my painting of one!

I love the new album artwork theme very much. I occasionally design record sleeves and would have been chuffed with myself to have come up with ‘La Petit Mort’. Some just see Heavy Metal/Rock connotations, which is understandable but when you look beyond that, the skull is your oyster!

I don’t think that anyone will get the idea that James are a death metal band because of this grinning, flower and butterfly strewn profile. What do the readers think?

That same psychedelic, flowery, smiling profile looked down on us from the video screen the next day, as we set the stage on the gently lapping shore of the famous and romantic Danube (which is more green than blue).

After a textbook setup and soundcheck, we were elevated 85m into the air for our lunch at the precariously appointed UFO restaurant. As I tucked into my rubbery monkfish, I could not help but dwell on the level of quality control employed by Bratislavan architects and builders behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s! And whether chefs of that era would have cooked this rare deep sea delicacy quite so thoroughly!!!

Showtime was upon us and apart from Jim’s bass amp displaying its fragile mortality, it was a great hour of old and new songs which a lot of the audience seemed to know very well judging by their knowledge of the lyrics.

Considering James have never been here before that’s always a bonus!

There was a great mood on this trip (not that there isn’t usually a great mood) but maybe the watchful eye of ’La Petit Mort’ had an influence and reminded us all of the difference between the fun we have in this business we call show, and deeper reflections on life and death!

Takk is the word

13th June 2014 | Juliet

Takk is the word to know in Norway. It means thank you. And takk it was. We all had a lovely time in this beautiful land.

Bergen is in southern Norway, on the left side, across from Oslo which is more on the right side.

Bergenfest is an outdoor festival in the town centre beside the beautiful fjords, and it is held under perfect bright sunlight. Lots of bands play. Tonight Simple Minds are headlining and James are on late early evening in the land of brightness.

But now we are at Manchester airport, missing Larry. He gives me a buzz to say he just woke up. After a bit of blue-light-driving down the Parkway by his emergency paramedic pal, he is spotted with croissant and a coffee arrived. Phew. Full complement.

Until recently Bergen was accessible by ship travelling across from the upper east side of the UK. Now it’s flights only. Aberdeen is a hop and skip by plane.

Meanwhile the Manchester team come in via Oslo which is a bit of a detour, and the London team have been travelling since dawn.

The town of Bergen is stunning. Lovely old colourful buildings with picture book roofs are everywhere, in amongst the more modern styles. There are old tumbledown quaint painted wooden houses tilting in a row beside the water. Lots of glistening water and soft swathes of tall dark green trees stretch for miles across the other side of the fjord.

It’s been an early start for everyone. Drummer Dave is awakened from his nap by ‘Dillinger Escape Plan’ playing extreme loud rock on the stage outside his window. It’s time to head down to the site anyway. Tim is preparing his voice….

Larry is located side stage in a big white tent that he thought was the dressing room. He is playing on borrowed guitars and has left his pedal in the bag in the big white tent. But its all alright on the night which is bright for a very long time. Days are long in summer in Norway. The sun goes down as midnight approaches.

And it’s all go. The Norwegian audience loved it and somehow knew all the words. One review said there was constant hodenikking and hostevrikking. Unfortunately even Google Translate couldn’t deal with that.

The encore is Laid and all is well.

Mostly I spend my short day in Norway going up and down in a brass plated 1950s elevator, dealing with an array of things including a bit of button trouble. {(ref. sleeve attachment braces Victorian-style.)}

The lift is packed with groups of international tourists, including a group of Japanese people with paper cups of boiling black coffee. No lids makes this precarious. This never happened in Jack Lemmon films but the general feel of the hotel had an air of New York in the sixties. To go up you press OPP and to go down you press NED.

Breakfast was beyond international. With three types of melon, all known fruits, meats and fish including every which way with herring and a prawn in jelly, and a brown goats cheese slab.(Dave Angel from the Fast Show would have had something to say about that.)

Breakfasted, the Aberdeen party and the Manchester party left the party. Sweeney waved us off, barefoot in shorts, from the hotel steps. Goodbye Sweeney…Temporary TM.

Our next TM does Whitesnake. Saul sings a full version of Fool For Your Loving (all guitar and basslines included) while the driver pointed out significant sites and spoke of the cod liver oil industry from the old days of importing the stuff to the UK.

And then we were at the airport. We came home via Copenhagen. A lovely airport with stunning architecture like a white cathedral in one area, and a fine bakery where we sat for 5 hours while they found a new plane as ours was broken. The array of black breads become quite fascinating after several hours. We buy some, and one has 1000 seeds and another one has no bread in it at all. It’s called Paleo Bread, made of seeds. Crikey.

Electric Ballroom, Camden

28th May 2014 | Larry