Y Niwl, Sam Airey, Atlas Twins - Telfords Warehouse, Chester, 31 January 2012
Crackling Vinyl began as an excuse to play some old records to some new people, somewhere with a bar and good beer. I wanted a musical refuge from all the weekend boozehounds demanding 'The Roses'. Then someone mentioned it might be an idea to get a couple of bands playing, artists sympatico with whatever mood I wanted to create. And that's how I became a 'promoter'.
It's what explains the hundreds of crows that must have visited the corners of my eyes over the last couple of months, inexplicably leaving their splayed feet behind; it's why I have hollow, yellow eyes, and it's why almost every conversation I've had since October has ended with an unsubtle variation of the following: "please come to my next night! Otherwise I'm paying for the bands out of my own pocket and Ava will have to go clean chimneys..."
Little focuses the mind more than the knowledge that your saggy backside, and saggier bank account, are on the line if people don't turn up.
I have become something of a wizard at half-baked poster designs in Photoshop. I've spent hours chopping A4 coloured card up - illicit photocopies from the work Canon - in an effort to circumnavigate the £50 a German company reasonably charges for 1,000 flyers. In fact, I don't think of £50 as £50 any more. £50 is 10 people. And a guestlist is a friendship haemorrhage.
So it was I arrived at my local venue last week, filled with nerves like hopping shrapnel. Unlike many promoters, I hadn't had to negotiate the considerable obstacles of finding a PA (sound system) or engineer (Olympic standard bum crack displayer with chip addiction). Neither did I have to find a decent venue: Telfords Warehouse is where I DJ every Friday night. If I played my records loudly enough, they'd drown out all the weekend echoes of frustrated demands for "Bombay Bicycle Club... or... hey, how about some Rihanna? Eh?"
It's ironic that I started DJing in Telford's because I stuck a couple of bands in there back in the day (Grand Drive in... erm... 1998). Coldplay and Mclusky soon after that. But not on the same bill, more's the pity.
The first feeling when I arrive is one of guilty relief. Despite my being 15 minutes late, the bands haven't arrived. Perhaps this means they've decided to give it a miss! I can go home and hide under a duvet with cake! I can fabricate a lie about the lines of disgruntled people who turned up to see them, when - in reality - my spam and Blue Peter flyers only lure in seven confused stragglers.
This thought could have some considerable time to tease my brain. Whichever clock it is bands work by, it isn't the one that you or I use. It's generally one to four hours later than our clock, and appears to run on ulcers. Mine.
Bands also have a rare ability to blow tyres; find traffic jams; mishear Chester as Cirencester; and lose a relatively important piece of equipment along the way, like the drummer.
A band's satnav (if they have one ) is programmed to call in at every service station it passes for Amber Leaf, Ginsters pasties and a toilet trip that has to take no shorter than 43 minutes, after one of the rhythm section falls into a marijuana snooze on the toilet.
I may be being somewhat liberal with the 'facts' here. These are all the thoughts that pass through my traumatised mind as I wait less than four minutes for Y Niwl to arrive. They load in with minimal fuss. Y Niwl are, after all, consummate professionals and used to the drill. I remember one very new band arriving at this same venue, then sitting around smoking fags and drinking their rider, waiting for someone to come and unpack their equipment for them. I mean, how dare we? I mean, they?
I have messages that artist number two, Sam Airey, is on his way. He's "somewhere outside Manchester". I try to ignore the fact that that could mean anywhere from Caracas to Cleethorpes and try to figure out - for the 23rd time since I woke up - how to get my 'smart' phone to bulk text message everyone in my contact list. Twice.
Come tonight. I beg you. Or our marriage/friendship/professional relationship is OVER. (It'll still cost you £6).
Then I get the good news about the advance ticket sales. I need 80 people to cover the artists and DJs - but the figures are presented in currency.
"You've done about £180 online..."
This doesn't seem like a lot. I wonder if they'll give me the £180 in cash and how valid my passport is.
"Now all we have to do is deduct the VAT..."
"Value Added Tax - 17.5%..."
"Value added for whom, exactly?"
A fingerful of money is handed over. It may as well be in Drachma. My stomach attempts a world speed dive record but then smashes its stomach-y face into the cold, stony reality at my feet: I am up Fecal Gorge sans pedalo.
In Telfords, it transpires, even people in the restaurant upstairs can hear you scream.
Comedy bouncers and even more hilarious environmental scientists make pithy observations about my constant pacing, gnawing of nails, general look of the condemned, whilst all around me people begin to turn up. But it would have been nice if it hadn't been the entire guestlist en masse first.
My mum and dad arrive. I charge them. Yes, I know. I KNOW...
The next three hours evaporate in a haze of relief. But the stress levels have yanked me up so high, I don't really get a chance to enjoy any of what I've 'worked' so 'hard' to put on for people.
Atlas Twins (a very late addition to the bill) are a little Trwbador, in that there is a boy playing a Spanish guitar rather wonderfully; and a girl singing with a voice that'd melt a glacier, then re-freeze it into some awe-inducing palace of crystals. They're ace. But the details are all up there in the ether, I'm sorry to say.
The Crackling Vinyl DJs are playing great records. You could threaten me with a week of solitary confinement in a sound capsule of eternal JLS and still I wouldn't remember a single record that they played.
I fare a little better with Sam Airey. Firstly, he looks so relaxed it somewhat dissipates my adrenaline. However I do remember, with the clarity I normally reserve for childbirths and winning goals in European Cup finals, the captivating sadness and wonder of Sam's last song - and forthcoming single - The Unlocking. Some voices can reach round your heart with effortless grace. Sam pickpockets your heart, and leaves you feeling content with the crime.
Comedy bouncer man (or Paul, as he's more commonly known) has to come drag me away because I've forgotten to put a couple of competition winners' names on the guestlist (ulcer #4 of the evening). Some fat prat is introducing Y Niwl up on stage. I've gone all out of body by this stage. Why is he/am I wearing a flat cap?
Y Niwl are as perfect as primary colours. We don't chase red around the room bemoaning that it should get with the times, maybe add a dubstep tic for modernity's sake. We don't sit green in a chair and explain that it's carriage clock time because it hasn't made the effort to keep abreast of developments. Yellow doesn't receive a letter through the post threatening it with fines if it doesn't get its hair cut just-so, to complement the ironic 80s specs.
Mind you, yellow is still traumatised after what Coldplay did to it. It'd get special dispensation regardless.
I don't know anything about blue. As a Liverpool fan, it doesn't exist. You may as well try and force a dog to write poetry.
Y Niwl are perfect. And getting better. What they do with the primary colours, almost self-limited as they are, is focus on melody, rhythm, energy... and I shall treat them with a similarly minimal respect.
I've spent the ensuing week humming nothing but their tunes. If they could stick them in tiny clothes, make them bump and grind in front of an inappropriate audience, and jam on some future bass, these tracks would be MASSIVE. Thank god they haven't and they won't.
Y Niwl finish and I play some records for people. Four, I think, and two of them were rubbish.
A lad approaches the DJ booth:
"Hey mate..." he says.
"Have you got any Roses?"
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