Five Dates and Valentine’s Day Posted on Sunday 28 February 2010

No doubt about it, we were thrilled to be returning home after our “character building” foray through Europe. Seizing the opportunity to spend a night in their own beds, Cathy and Simon jumped ship upon arrival at Heathrow airport, while the rest of us, including tour manager Nolly, flew to Manchester, where we were greeted with the news that Cathy and Simon’s instruments had been removed from the connecting flight since the owners weren’t travelling with them and that constituted a security risk. We got them back a day later in time for our first engagement: a live session for Marc Riley’s radio show on BBC 6 Music. After our last session in autumn, Marc had put us in touch with a lady called Bernie who offers bands playing in the area an affordable alternative to the ruthless cycle of hotel-venue-motorway. Add to that home cooked food, friendly conversation and her cat Sooty and you’ll understand why Bill Callahan, Women, Jens Lekman and Sufjan Stevens and countless other artists have all stopped by, and why, when Bernie and her family emigrate to Canada, Manchester will lose one of it’s unsung heroes.

Weekend at Bernie’s

Our five date mini-tour officially began onboard the Thekla, a fifty year old, permanently moored ship in Bristol’s Mud Dock. Here we met our touring buddies, Race Horses, who played a blinding show of fuzzy-pop-choral-noise-psych, while our performance was punctuated with technicals gremlins, but it did make for an odd, fun show.

The first time we played in Birmingham it was at the LG Arena. The second time a lot less people showed up, the third time we were in Alabama, so we had high hopes for a fourth Birmingham show, which, though midweek with the threat of snow, had a superb turnout. Thanks y’all…oh wait, wrong Birmingham.

Our last UK tour had concluded at the Brudenell Social Club. However, this return visit to our favourite venue in Leeds would be as a quintet. Our chosen set, which we’d been tweaking since Europe featured “Tuesday (You Come When We Call),” the b-side to our first single, which we’d only ever played once before in the UK in 2008 and even then that was acoustically.

Justin sucked in by Bejeweled’s tractor beam

And then, London, home! Time to offload the accumulated Euros, Swiss Francs, Danish and Swedish Kronas and pick up the boots I’d left by my front door, which I thought about every single day I was treading in snow. At ULU, we were reunited with friends, family and the Freelance Whales, the band we’d criss-crossed the States with last year. High spirits all round, almost celebratory in atmosphere tinged with nerves. The gig itself went without hitch, though I’m still unsure what people think of our Fleetwood Mac cover. It’s hardly an obscure choice since the album Tusk sold 300,000 copies in the UK (I looked that up) but unfortunately none of the people who had bought the album were at our show.

The following day, in the van enroute to Brighton, Leon enquired to what we’d eaten for breakfast. His response? “Tinned pineapple chunks. It was all I could find to eat in my kitchen.” At least the motorway service station food was of a palatable quality in the UK. The final gig was a suitably early one for a Saturday night by the seaside. It was the reverse of yesterday’s show – intimate and sweaty. Race Horses bid us farewell and wished us the best of luck for our next mission: an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Photo finish with Race Horses in Brighton

Valentine’s Day was spent in an aeroplane. After my regular meeting with the US Customs and Border Police and JFK airport’s lost luggage counter (my snare drum, clothes bag and a miscellaneous ‘band’ bag full of essential eqpt decided not to travel to NYC with us), we had four hours of sleep before our load in to the Ed Sullivan Theater at 7am. Four hours later we were given a callback time for soundcheck and we jumped into a cab to get clothes shopping, since I was still wearing the same clothes I’d travelled to NYC in…

Wide awake at 6.59am, 219 West 53rd St, NYC.

…and that’s probably not the done thing when you’re about to appear on US telly for the first time.