Europa Europa

We had a wonderful time on the road in the USA lately, which was followed by a pretty gruelling and disappointing weekend. Our flights through from Atlanta to Hamburg were variously delayed or changed, our guitars got “misplaced” (thankfully we got them back again), and we arrived to find that Southside Festival had been cancelled. The following jet-lagged day, we got to within 4 minutes of going on stage at Hurricane Festival before that was also pulled, due to the bad weather. Not much fun.

It’s important to state that both decisions were no one’s fault. The people at FKP Scorpio, who book Hurricane & Southside, are some of my best friends in the industry and they did everything they could, but safety has to prevail in the end. We will be back, for sure. Actually, we have shows in Bonn, Munich, Ulm and Münster this coming week. Check out the dates.

The other big news, obviously, was the referendum result, which took place as we were flying over the Atlantic. The older I get the less interested I am in discussing politics in the public forum (if you think I’m going to discuss it on Twitter you’re out of your mind). The only comment I want to make is this: I am international touring musician, and have no plans to change that. I’ll see all my friends on the continent as much as I ever did.

To lighten the mood a little, here’s a thing I did in Richmond just before coming home. Our touring buddy (and new best friend) Jason Isbell was gracious enough to lend us some of his time for a music video. I’d been wanting to do something for the song “Love Forty Down” for a while, and I immediately cast Jason as the bad guy. I’m pleased to say that in total the video took 5 hours (1 hour shopping, two shooting, two editing), and cost $200 all in. I shot it on my phone and edited it myself. DIY Punk Rock! Enjoy the video, happy Wimbledon!

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The Record Buying Public

In 2000 I left school and moved to London as fast as my skinny legs would carry me. I ended up part of a milieu of people living in Caledonian Road and Holloway, forming an ever changing constellation of bands in a primordial soup mainly formed from ex-members of Kneejerk (my old band) and Abjure (friends of ours, with whom we did our first ever tour).

The two most notable bands who came out of all that were Million Dead and Palehorse. But there were others. Sometimes I can remember more band names than actual bands – Sun Starved Day (featuring a young Andrew O’Neill), The Process Of Weeding Out, Concealed Weapons Of Mass Destruction… It was a heady time.

One of the groups in the midst of all this was The Record Buying Public. It featured Tom Fowler on guitar (originally of Abjure, later in Million Dead); John Atkins (of Palehorse); and little 19-year-old me on the drums. We played instrumental, jazzy post-rock, influenced by stuff like Slint, Karate, Tortoise and so on. We played a few shows (listed here) to our friends and then broke up, like most small underground bands do. I had largely forgotten about it, not least because I’m not the world’s greatest drummer.

A few days ago, Tom emailed me to let me know he’d found some recordings, made in 2001; both the 6-track demo that I recorded on a Tascam multi-track thing I had, and four more songs from a rehearsal. Listening back to them was wonderful, nostalgic and bizarre. I’d forgotten the songs, and it was lovely to hear how adventurous yet melodic we had been. The quality isn’t great (the rehearsal recordings in particular, made at the late great Backstreet Rehearsals in Holloway) but you get an impression of what we were trying to do. John, Tom and I all agreed to share them, so here they are. Enjoy.

In other news we are having a blast in the bottom right corner of the USA with our new partners in crime, Gogol Bordello. Florida and Georgia for now, then north to meet up with Mr Isbell. See you soon.

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Sunny Side Up

Greetings from Memphis in May. We have a day off here today. It’s a burning hot Memorial Day outside, but, after paying tribute to Elvis by stuffing myself with brunch, I’m mostly going to be holed up in my hotel working on demoing some new material.

I haven’t blogged in a little while, so I thought I’d set that right. I also noticed that I’ve tended to pick subjects on the more negative side of the divide for the last few posts. So here I’m going to try and be a bit more upbeat. It’s a whole new day.

This US run has been fun. We started at the Elm Street Tattoo Festival in Dallas TX (where I got my Dale Gribble ink done). Then we picked up our road buddies and headed across the south and the midwest. We have one more show with them left – tomorrow, here in Memphis, at the New Daisy Theater – so I thought I’d take a moment to write about them.

First up we have Derek, a.k.a. the Homeless Gospel Choir. We played a show with Derek in Pittsburgh back in 2010 and we were all blown away by his talent, his songs, his personality. I’ve been meaning to do more with the guy since then, but these things always take time. Happy to have him with us now, he’s been reminding me, night on night, what punk rock is supposed to feel like. Check out Musical Preferences if you’re unfamiliar with his stuff. He rules.

Then we have Two Cow Garage. I’ve vaguely known Micah for a few years now, through my good friend (and amazing artist) Vanessa Jean. I had some of their records and enjoyed them. We finally played a show with them last December in Nashville, and I spent their entire set with my jaw on the floor. They are an exceptional rock’n’roll band, and it’s an honour to go on after them night on night on this tour. Here’s a live session to get you started if you don’t know their stuff.

I always pick the openers for my tours, and I’m particularly proud of this line-up. I hope people at the shows have been enjoying them as much as I have, and for the rest of you, waste no time in checking them out. It’s sad that we only have one more show together… for now.

After the Memphis show we are joining up for two weeks of shows with Gogol Bordello, across OK / TX / AL / FL / GA, which I’m stoked about. It’ll be one hell of a bill. Then we meet up with Mr Isbell, but I’ll write more about that later.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to announce what you’ve hopefully already noticed: we’ve overhauled the website completely. Hopefully it now looks and functions a lot better, and I’m working on adding content and smoothing out any bugs. If anyone spots any typos or anything obviously missing or wrong, do let me know. For the time being, I finally added the lyrics to the Mongol Horde record in the songs section. Enjoy.

Finally, a quick shout out for the wonderful Camden Rocks Festival happening in Camden (duh), London, this Saturday June 4th. I’m gutted that I’m missing it, the line-up is ace and it’s one of my favourite musical events of the year, celebrating one of my favourite parts of the world. If you’re in London you should be there.

Right, time to work on some new songs.

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I’ve been enjoying my time off the road, especially the show on Friday night in Brixton at the Electric. It was great to play “England Keep My Bones” in full, to see a lot of friendly faces, and to raise a bunch of cash for CALM and the Music Venue Trust. A good night all round.

After the show, I received more than one email from women who’d been at the show who said they’d had bad experiences with harassment from guys in the crowd. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about this happening at my shows, and I wanted to just say a quick something about this issue.

Raising awareness of this kind of behaviour strikes me as important. I want my shows (and, I’d hope, others too) to be welcoming places, where everyone can relax, enjoy themselves, be part of the show, make friends. As a man, I don’t have direct experience of being on the receiving end of sexually inappropriate behaviour at shows. In fact, I find it almost impossible to conceive that it happens – I would never, ever behave like that to a woman in any context, and I like to think none of my friends would either. So I suppose the first person whose awareness needs raising is mine.

It’s actually really fucking dumb that I have to spell this out, but if you’re the kind of guy who has ever behaved like that towards a woman in any context, I’d like you to do two things: firstly, just be a fucking human, consider yourself in the other person’s shoes, ask yourself if you could defend your actions if publicly called out in front of your friends, your family, the whole crowd. And secondly, if that first part didn’t work, I’d like you to *fuck off and never come to any of my shows again*.

Seriously. The idea of this shit happening in my crowd, at my shows, makes me feel enraged. People like that are not welcome at my shows. If it happens to anyone again, please try and alert me, or one of my band or crew, or the bouncers. These fuckers need shaming. There is no possible excuse, including alcohol.

In the meantime, check out and follow people like Girls Against and Safe Gigs For Women. I hope this is a blog I never have to write again. Peace.

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Afternoon all. I’ve been enjoying time off the road in London, doing history walks, writing songs and lounging in the unseasonable sunshine. Bliss.

I’ve also been clearing out some old storage units and the like, and in the process I stumbled across some old shirts. Rather than throw them out or charity-shop them, I decided it’d be a better use of my time and resources to auction them off and give the proceeds to Shelter. They’re a little shabby – showing their age – and could use a wash and an iron, but they’re bona fide bits of (my) music history. I’ve listed them up on my E-Bay site, the auctions are open now.

Go check it out.

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We made it. I’m pleased to say that at about 8am this morning I walked in through my front door, threw everything I own into the washing machine, and made myself some toast. That was quite a tour. We travelled roughly 14,763 kilometres, playing 25 shows in 14 different countries (including two I hadn’t visited before). I came home with a lovely new guitar; we lost Ronnie Corbett, Merle Haggard and Prince. We ended up with a killer set on the main stage at Groezrock Festival, during which I managed to smash my in-ear monitor earpiece inside my head; the lovely Belgian doctors got everything out and patched me up. Hats off to the Sleeping Souls, and our crew – Johnny, Cahir, Doug, Martine and Tre. We now have a few weeks off the road, which I am going to enjoy.

There’s a few things in the diary coming up – a 6 Music takeover tomorrow, a songwriting class in Camden, the show in Brixton (sold out alas). I’m also getting my knee fixed and my back-piece finished. After that we’ll be heading back to the USA. The summer run we have coming up is killer; shows across the states with Gogol Bordello, Jason Isbell, Flogging Molly, and just headlining, as well as a few festivals. Check out the dates, my American friends, and I’ll see you on the road.

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Hope In The Ruins

From Prague (which was an amazing, wonderful show) up through Poland we have wandered, and now I write from Copenhagen Airport, en route to Aarhus, Denmark. I had a day off yesterday, and spent it, with some friends, visiting the camp museum at Auschwitz Birkenau.

I’ve long nerded out about the history of Central and Eastern Europe; I read Hilberg and Gilbert when I was younger, and I have recently been devastated by Timothy Snyder’s “Bloodlands”. Even so, I’d never visited one of the camps before, and so when the opportunity to got o Auschwitz came up, I thought it was important for me to go, to be humble, to learn.

I don’t want to write a long post about the place; others have written much more eloquently than I ever will about the experience. I had one thought that I wanted to share. At one point I was in the area where they unloaded the cattle trucks and made the selections, a long dusty railway siding. There’s a solitary train car there now (not an original, as it goes; it was paid for by an Australian Holocaust survivor to commemorate his parents). As we were there, a group of Israeli school kids were hanging around, playing pranks, chatting, on their phones, generally being irreverent and not paying much attention to their impatient teacher. My initial reaction was mild horror at their open lack of respect for the place we were in. But then it occurred to me that a class of free, happy, vivacious young Jews enjoying themselves was the most wonderful sight to see in that godforsaken place.

It felt like a victory of sorts. I left there feeling weirdly optimistic. If you get a chance, you should go.

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Greetings from the wonderful city of Prague. Since my last post (from Milan), we have dipped down into the Balkans and back again. We had our first ever visit to Bratislava (and Slovakia), which was wonderful; a triumphant return to Ljubljana; and a day off and a show in Belgrade.

Belgrade was a particularly big deal for me. I studied central European history at university, and have done my best to keep up with the historiography in the meantime (in a terribly amateur fashion). My dissertation was on British policy towards Yugoslavia in the 1930s. I’d never been to Serbia before, so I was excited about it. On our day off I managed a 15 mile walk around the city seeing the sights. It was beyond fascinating – the melange of religions, nationalities, histories, all overlapping, conflicting and mixing together. I saw Hapsburg architecture peeking over brutalist facades, Byzantine walls pockmarked with German bullet-holes from 1915, beautiful orthodox churches hidden behind ugly communist malls. In the evening I was lucky enough to be wined and dined by our promoter, Vlada, his wife, and Alek, our label rep. We drank plum schnapps, ate endless meat dishes and discussed history and politics long into the night. The show the following day was a blast; all in all a great experience, one I’d be keen to repeat sometime soon.

From there we have continued up through Budapest to Prague. This morning I announced a special show in Brixton at the Electric on May 13th. It’s a solo show, I’ll be playing “England Keep My Bones” in full, plus B-sides (and probably a couple of other tunes as well). It’s a benefit for the Music Venue Trust and CALM, two great organisations deserving of your time and attention. The pre-sale for tickets starts tomorrow morning here at 9am UK time.

Predictably, the announcement caused a bit of a tizzy on this here internet thingy, and I got into some discussions on Twitter (never a brilliant idea in my experience). I wanted to lay out some thoughts here for everyone. The whole show announce thing can be very frustrating from where I stand, but it’s important for me to remind myself that not everyone is as immersed in the workings of the industry as I am, and that a little explanation from my end might do more good than getting annoyed online.

When booking a show, there are a ton of things to take into consideration. Size of venue, location, cost of hiring, ticket price, availability, age restrictions and so on. When putting together a show at short notice (like this one), it’s probably not going to be ideal, but we do our best. The choice this time is a sizeable venue (1500 tickets) that is available, in zone 2, and most importantly enables us to do a £15 ticket while still raising a whack of cash for the causes involved. The show is a club-night type affair, which alas means it’s 18+, but that’s the law in this country. I didn’t book the show myself (I’m always surprised at how many people find that surprising) but the good people who did have done their best, and an excellent job, at getting this one right.

Some people have been talking about touting. First off, that’s a wilfully negative thing to do *before the tickets have even gone on sale*. 1500 is a lot of tickets to sell for any artist, if you’re on a computer tomorrow morning you’ll more than likely be fine. Touting is, of course, a problem, one that drives me to distraction. Alas there isn’t a simple solution (except for always playing places like Ally Pally, something that isn’t an option for this show for reasons outlined above). There’s no legal barrier to it in the UK. In my experience, the best thing to do is *not to buy from touts or touting sites*. There are twitter hash-tags, there’s the forum on my site, and there’s more often than not friendly people exchanging outside the show.

None of that is perfect, obviously. The other solution I can offer is to play more shows, something I’m not exactly a slacker at. This is a one off London show – there are plenty more UK show announcements coming soon, I’ve played my home country more than anywhere else by some orders of magnitude! Of course it’s lovely to be in demand, and I’m grateful to the people who want to see me play, especially when I can turn that to a charitable end.

I guess my take-away from all of this is, let’s all try and be a little less negative online. I know, I’m hopelessly naive. But I think it’d do us all a lot of good. It’s pretty demoralising for me to announce a cool show and be inundated with complaints. We’re trying here. Stay positive. See you at a show.

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Temporary Tour Flag Adventures

Greetings from a hotel room in Milan. We’ve just arrived after a mammoth journey from Madrid, via Montpellier (and probably some other places beginning with M – I slept through as much of it as I could). Last night we celebrated Ben Lloyd’s birthday, and today I am paying for my sins.

As many of you will know, the last few years have seen a few Tour Flags at my shows. The idea is to have one that starts the tour and follows it, without being carried by me or my crew, just helping people make friends at shows, building a little community idea. It’s been great fun. Since the release of “Positive Songs”, we’ve had one tour flag with us (pictured at Ally Pally), made by the wonderful Val. It travelled the US, UK, northern Europe and Canada (and the cruise) with us, which was amazing.

Val decided that getting that flag around the European shows was too much to organise (quite understandably – I’m still slightly scared of some of the travel schedules we have coming up). So that flag has retired for now. But! But! In a lovely vindication of the principle behind the whole thing, Arabell has made a new flag, and asked me to pass on this message:

“If you see the tour flag, come by, say hi, ask us to take a picture with the flag, post it on instagram/facebook/twitter using the hashtag ‪#‎fthcflag‬ and spread the word. Get involved.
In Ljubljana we’ll meet at Kaverna Kino Siska, a bar at/in the venue in the late afternoon/early evening. In Bratislava we’ll meet at Fabrika the beer pub around 5ish, So just grab a chair and come by.

Feel free to follow the flag on twitter/instagram; we’ll try to keep the feed up to date:
07.04. Milan @federriga
09.04. Ljubljana @federriga @MySuitcaselife
10.04. Bratislava @federriga @MySuitcaselife
13.04. Budapest @turtlemarzi @jsturner89
14.04. Prague @jsturner89 @federriga
15.04. Wroclaw @jsturner89 @federriga @MySuitcaselife
16.04. Warsaw @jsturner89 @federriga @MySuitcaselife”

So, head down, make new friends, play nice. I’m going to relax into what we call “SLUG LIFE” on tour – which basically means putting on the hotel room dressing gown (if there is one) and mainlining room service and Netflix. See you at a show.

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Lo Siento Valencia, Gracias Gijón!

A blog post! Goodness me. I’ve long been planning to start blogging on here agin properly, but life keeps getting in the way. Well, there’s no time like the present, so here we go. I’m planning on posting here every week or two. Nothing special or earth-shattering, just some musings, some tour-diarising, that kind of thing. Enjoy, or don’t, as you fancy.

I write from a sterile hotel room in the outskirts of Madrid on the first day off of this tour. We started four days ago in Barcelona, and have traipsed through Valencia, Santander and Gijón in the meantime. This is our second European tour this year, and it’s the tougher of the two. Essentially, we hit the countries where we play to more than 1,000 people a show, on average, in one bout, in January; now we’re visiting places were crowds are more in the 200-500 range. This makes the technical and financial side of things more efficient, but it also means that this next few weeks will be testing for me and the Sleeping Souls.

In practice, what I’m talking about here is having no luxuries. We have a sleeper bus, it’s true, but we’re down to a minimal crew – Johnny and Cahir on the technical side of things, Tre tour-managing and Martine on merch. We’re using in-venue showers (usually pretty dire), we’re loading in and loading out ourselves, we’re running our own monitors, and so on; everyone has to muck in.

“My diamond slippers are chafing!” I hear you cry. And yes, this is all pretty first-world-problem stuff. Interestingly, it reminds me of tours we did back in 2008 or so in the UK, around “Love Ire & Song”. The difference, I suppose, is that we’ve gotten used to the luxuries of full crew and the extra comforts that bigger venues can afford. We’ve also gotten older and creakier. In a funny way, I’m enjoying the tour because of this. I think it’s reminding me how good I usually have it, and it’s giving me and the band a refresher course in being punk-rock touring machines.

There’s another angle to all this, which is what prompted the idea of a blog post. Playing big shows to rapturous sold-out crowds is wonderful, of course. But you get used to it. With every tour, you have to adjust a little to the setting – whether you’re headline or support, how big the shows are, that kind of thing. At the start of this run I was a little down about some of the shows – in Gijón, for example, we’d only sold about 50 tickets in advance. I’ve become accustomed to playing to larger crowds, and somewhere inside myself I was a little deflated about all this. At the show in Valencia, I was less connected that I like to be for a show, and I should apologise for that.

But, over time, that’s where this tour has been great, because the shows have reminded me to get the fuck over myself. When I was starting touring, in Million Dead, we used to idolise Black Flag, and Henry Rollins’ book “Get In The Van“, where they talked about giving everything you have even if there’s only one person in the audience. That person paid for a show, and goddammit, they deserve one. In Gijón last night (98 people in the room in total!) I was reminded of the wisdom of that approach. Forget the numbers, the facilities, the size of the room; it all comes down to you and an audience, and your job is to communicate, to connect, to create something collective. Last night we did.

So in general, this tour is ace, I’m learning, or relearning, and seeing new things, meeting new people, making the most of it. From here (Madrid) we go across to Italy, thence Slovenia, our first stops in Slovakia and Serbia (which my inner history nerd is having palpitations about), up through Budapest, Prague, Poland and into Scandinavia, by which time I hope to have blogged some more. See you down the front.

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