Summer music festivals: On the road with Attic Lights, part four

Colin squares up to a bass amp during soundcheck
Colin squares up to a bass amp during soundcheck

The day of our show at the Benicassim festival in Spain and I found myself alone in the dressing room a couple of hours before we went onstage.

There was a knock on the door and two guys introduced themselves and came in. They were in charge of filming the performance and I had to fill out consent forms for them. As they were leaving, Tim and Jim arrived back in the dressing room and I ‘went improv’ and claimed they were A&R guys for Sony and I’d just been offered a solo album deal with them.

Luckily the two guys played along with my charade, even managing not to laugh. They were brilliant. (Thanks guys. You can always rely on the complicity of random strangers to help wind up your mates.) Amazingly I managed to keep this pretence up for quite some time. Well, for a few minutes until one of the guys came back because I’d filled out the wrong form. Busted!

Perhaps me deciding to wear my jacket on stage in the searing heat was a step too far? But I do like my current “Dandy Highwayman” stage gear. I was willing to risk possible heatstroke just so I could look like a foppish Elizabethan criminal. And, of course, carry on the metaphorical baton that Adam Ant has unknowingly passed to me. Next up, I think, should be the stripey facepaint.

The gig was a truly brilliant experience. Great fun and a tremendously enthusiastic crowd. I love seeing people singing along and dancing as you perform. It makes the band play better. It’s like a loop of self-generating energy passing back and forth between performer and audience, building in intensity until everyone is completely hyper and the love is flowing from both directions. Those are the gigs you always remember. General consensus is that we played one of our best ever shows. Attic Lights heart Benicassim. Now and forever.

I even improvised two new shuffly onstage dance manoeuvres that the rest of the band have dubbed, “Magic Hands” and “The Sherry Shake.” We are hoping the “Sherry Shake” will catch on and soon be seen on dance floors around the world. It’s The Time Warp for a new generation. (Actually, it’s probably nearer the hokey cokey if I’m being honest.)

Hanni El Khatib, the act who came on directly after us, looked genuinely worried at the state of me when I came off stage. “You wore THAT jacket in THIS heat? Dude?” I was on the verge of fainting by that point and they kindly handed me some water. They were a bunch of big friendly Californians who were buzzing on a major high having just learned they’d been booked to play one of the biggest chat shows in the US (which I can’t tell you the name of because they’ve not done it yet but I’m sure you could make an educated guess). Great band, great guys. Everyone is so polite and smiley in the backstage zone.

Liam Gallagher is a lovely man. Colin can attest to this having stood chatting to him outside the gents toilets. The slanting gradient of the ground where they were standing was, peculiarly, the subject of their five-minute conversation. Not what you’d expect really. It looks like he’s got a thing for geology. (He’s also really, really tall. Liam… not Colin.)

Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie looked really nervous before his set – which surprised me considering he has probably played more gigs in his life than I’ve had hot dinners.

However, on stage he was completely different. I was standing side of stage during their set and it was truly phenomenal. When hardened roadies, stagehands, soundmen and lighting guys are all standing watching the show with looks of amazement on their faces, you know you’re watching a band at the peak of their powers.

Primal Scream were, without doubt, my highlight of the festival (aside from Scots indie warblers Attic Lights obviously).

The Spanish like to party hard. The final bus to the Artist hotel left the festival at 7am – just as the backstage party was winding down. Not that I was there. The combination of heat and my Dandy Highwayman suit had used up all of my energy and I got the 2.30am bus back to the hotel.

I realised it was time to go when I too, began noticing Liam Gallagher’s slanting ground outside the toilets. Except I was standing at different toilets. And I’m sure the ground wasn’t slanted the last time I’d been there. “Taxi for Sherry!”

It was time to say goodbye to Benicassim – one of the truly great festivals in Europe. Adios amigos. Until next time.

Original STV article


Summer music festivals: On the road with Attic Lights, part three

Kev attempts to recreate the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind
Kev attempts to recreate the cover of Nirvana’s Nevermind

A good few years ago, at the very beginning of our career, before we ever released an album, I did an interview with a magazine and they asked me to name my favourite city. Being a wee guy from Glasgow who had hardly ever been anywhere, I said the first thing that came to mind.

Call it pretentious if you will but it just came out. Like Dan Aykroyd in Ghostbusters, dreaming up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. “I couldn’t help it. It just popped in there.”

In a moment of pretentiousness I declared that my favourite city was Barcelona. This has come back to haunt me. This has become my own personal Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. I’d never even been to Barcelona before. If you follow these blogs then you are no doubt aware that my having said this to a reporter means that my bandmates have taken great joy in casting this up to me as one of the many ridiculous public statements I am prone to make.

As our plane begins it’s descent to Barcelona airport, this is brought up a number of times, amidst much laughter at my expense.

We arrive at our hotel near Benicassim after a long, hot sticky drive from Barcelona. In the foyer are the band Hurts. I’m a big Depeche Mode fan so it’s kinda cool to meet the modern day heirs to that throne.

They are lovely people. Unfortunately, we’re all so tired after travelling that we don’t make their show. They’re so polite and friendly that I feel really bad about it. But, in the interests of self-preservation I plan to save myself for our own show then enjoy Primal Scream and the Arctic Monkeys.

We sound check at 1pm then I’ve got five hours to kill. I want to go surfing but I’ll need to find a place to hire a board. Then I remember the last time I was surfing in Spain. At this point I should state that I am a total novice when it comes to riding waves.

Last time, I just about managed to cling on to my board and ride a particularly calm wave in to shore. As I climbed up out of the sea, before me stood this beautiful Spanish surfer girl (straight out of a Beach Boys song.)

In an attempt at macho poise I sucked in my stomach and tried my best to look cool. I stood there looking at her. She stood there looking at me. She raised her arm towards me and shouted. “Mira! Mira!”

For a minute the ego went in to overdrive and I thought I “Oh. Maybe she’s an Attic Lights fan. She recognises me!” Then repressed memories of third year Spanish lessons kicked in and I remembered. “Mira.” Verb… Look? Look! Look out!

She was pointing behind me. I turned around at the precise moment a wave smashed in to me at face height and I ended up tumbling through seaweed and saltwater. I struggled to my feet and tried to recover my dignity but Hot Spanish Surfer Girl was long gone.

It would be amazing to find at least half an hour today to get out on the waves and really do my best to embarrass myself again. It’s what I’m good at.

The realisation that we are opening the main stage is both pleasing and scary. I think we all assumed we would be on one of the smaller indie stages somewhere middle of the bill.

We are the opening act on the main stage at 7pm, which is ever so slightly nerve-wracking. It’s a real honour to be the opening act. It’s our job to go out there, connect with the audience and set the festival on fire. Big stage. Lots of space. Our faces magnified to epic proportions on the big screens. People being able to see right up my nose. (Note to self – blow nose before going on stage.)

Holy cow! I’m going to be inflated to a massive size. Don’t you see? This is the moment foretold in my interview. This is the moment I actually become THE STAY PUFT MARSHMALLOW MAN! A giant version of me!

Unlicensed Nuclear Accelerators become guitars and Attic Lights save the world from the threat of inter-dimensional invasion by a Sumerian God! Okay, I’m getting carried away. I’ll settle for a good gig and a happy crowd.

Original stv article


Summer music festivals: On the road with Attic Lights, part two

Jim and Kev rehearse in the sun
Jim and Kev rehearse in the sun

All systems go! I watched T In The Park on television only feeling slightly envious, safe in the knowledge that I’d be doing the same at the Benicassim festival in Spain within the week.

Our final rehearsal is great. Noel’s drums steady and focused, the guitars blaring and our vocals blending well. In between songs, Tim regales us with stories from his recent US tour with Camera Obscura which he appears to have enjoyed aside from his complaint that “none of my clothes fit me anymore because I’ve eaten a diet of Philly cheese steaks, cheeseburgers, hot dogs and an average of six beers a night. At least I’ve got this cool Hawaiian shirt I bought in Nebraska.”

“Cool,” in this instance, is a matter of perspective.

Now comes the time when I test out how well I’ve been doing with the Spanish lessons on my iPod. Probably not as well as I think. This is my meagre attempt to deal with the shame that always arises when I meet bilingual people. Praise the iPod and it’s podcasting abilities.

Previously, there have been some pretty weird and surreal events in our touring life in Spain. Aside from wonderful, enthusiastic audiences there have also been earthquakes, electrocutions and wild animals as part of the bargain.

I’ll never forget the time a band member (who must remain nameless) was chased around a town square by three angry Chihuahuas who seemed intent on eating him. Cue a quick trip to the hospital on our return to Blighty and a series of rabies injection for one unlucky Attic Light.

These are the perils of international travel. It’s a musicians lot to spar with the local wildlife. We are in essence, travelling salesmen and sometimes people turn the dogs on you if they don’t like your wares. Sick ‘em Fido!

Spanish audiences though, you’ve got to love them. They LOVE their music. First gig we ever played on mainland Spain was in Valencia. It was hot, sweaty and rocking, the audience singing our songs back to us louder than the speaker system. Impressive that they knew the words. Especially impressive for me considering I am renowned for forgetting the words to my own songs on a regular basis. I’m sure that wont be a problem in Benicassim and that the Spanish audience will help me out with some fine backing vocals if nothing else.

The one thing I need to do is behave myself because the day after we get back I’m going straight into a video shoot for our new single. The prancing, ham actor in me is delighted. I get to play two separate characters in the video. It’s entirely possible that I’ve missed my calling in life and that the pantomime stage is where I truly belong. Unleashed, my inner thespian will be in his camp, strutting, slapstick element.

It is all a director can do to restrain me from full-on Nicolas Cage face-pulling, over-the-top acting. Put a camera on me and I turn into a circus clown. I really can’t help it.

After each video the band take me aside and tell me, “Okay Kev… so you’ll stop pulling ‘hilarious’ faces in the next video, yeah? The whole Hey, Hey we’re the Monkeesthing… you’re done with that? Right?”

I nod sagely and agree, fully believing to the core of my thespian self that in the next video I will be restrained, dignified and Oscar-worthy. Then someone yells, “Take one. Action…”

But I can’t turn up for the video shoot looking like some feral man-child who has been living under a bush in Catalonia for four days, eating sand and beer, rubbing sun cream in my eyes and yelling incomprehensible Glaswegian slang at innocent Spaniards. That’s definitely NOT the way to prepare for a video shoot.

Tonight I told the band that, as the official tour manager for this trip, I am in essence, a movie director about to film his masterpiece and that they are my puppets, my actors, soundmen, and cinematographers. I claimed that I was the Orson Welles of tour managing and I shall turn the trip into my Citizen Kane. This explosion of ego did not go down well with my bandmates. They told me to “go away.” But they found a much more colourful way to say it.

As I watch them leave the rehearsal rooms and saunter off into the hot night for a brief sleep before we catch our early flight to Barcelona, I realise that I may have overshot with the Citizen Kane analogy. Maybe comparing myself to one of the greatest films by one of the greatest directors was indeed a step too far. Far be it from me to have such delusions of grandeur. Perhaps, as a tour manager, I’m more of a late 1970’s George Lucas or Martin Scorsese? You know, working outside the system, rebellious, alternative but sensationally talented and bound for universal glory and acclaim?

I resolve to tell the band this tomorrow morning. I’m sure they will appreciate it.

And with that, I’m off to bed. I’ve got a flight to catch in the morning.

“Lights, camera, passports, guitars… ACTION!”

Original STV article

Summer music festivals: On the road with Attic Lights, part one

Attic Lights live
Attic Lights live

I’m going to the Benicassim Festival in Spain. The line-up looks fantastic – The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of The Stone Age and a band from Scotland called something like the Attic Monkey Lights or Attack Plights or something.

Actually, that would be my band, Attic Lights. I love playing at festivals and it has been a good few years since I played a summer festival. So this should be great. Or it will be if I can actually get my band from Scotland to Spain in one piece.

I’m normally the singer and guitar player. However, for this little trip, I’m also the Tour Manager. I’m already regretting the conversation with my manager where I offered to tour manage Attic Lights during our weekend playing at the Spanish version of T In The Park this July.

He looked at me in disbelief. If he was a character in a comic, a thought-balloon would have popped out his head saying, “This should be funny… if nothing else.”

I reckoned that if I made some phone calls and we all turned up with our guitars in one hand and passports in the other, it would work itself out. This is my normal operating procedure. Throw caution to the wind and hope for the best. I have now learned from bitter experience that this is not necessarily an effective professional approach to organizing a band on the road. But it’s hard to change the habits of a lifetime.

I realized I needed to get organized and to avoid at all costs, a return to my laissez-faire approach of turning up and expecting everything to work itself out. From now on, it’s diligent professionalism all the way.

It does not begin well. I can’t figure out how to work the Ryanair website. It’s only a website. I look at websites every day. Why does this website seem to be designed to give me panic attacks, to thwart me at every turn? Yes, I am so enraged I used the word ‘thwart.’ I’m that frustrated. Why won’t it let me tick the boxes? Why can’t I put the information in? Why does it keep asking me if I want a car or a hotel? I hate you, you big, stupid, competence thwarting website!

This is not a good start. I phone Colin in a panic. He takes pity on me and books the flights. I suppose you could call it ‘task delegation’ if you were feeling charitable.

After that hiccup I’m determined to get to grips with things. I WILL get Attic Lights to the ball on time.

Turns out, aside from booking flights and then a car to take you from Barcelona to Benicassim, you also need to speak to the festival stage crew, artist accommodation, internal transport staff, online promotion staff, and artist coordinators.

I now have a level of respect for Tour Managers that leaves me humbled. The rest of Attic Lights will tell you that, even on my best days, I’m not the most organized person in the world. Or even the second most. In retrospect I’m beginning to understand the look of shock on their faces when I announced my intention to be tour manager for this festival. (I’m not a good reader of other people. It’s entirely possible that what I mistook for shock was actually abject terror.)

By now the rest of the band are either laughing at my pathetic attempts to be a tour manager or looking through their emails in horror as I try to navigate through the swathe of messages from a confusing list of names all asking a multitude of questions that I don’t have the answers for, and all, let it be said, native Spanish speakers whose English puts my attempts at high school Spanish to shame.

But I think, at last, I’m getting on top of it. Well, when I say “I” this does not include my panicked, late night phone call to our record label to ask them to help me out, which they kindly did – but obviously don’t tell that to the rest of the band. I plan to take full credit. (I’m fairly confident that they won’t read this. Having to listen to me on a daily basis has somewhat lessened any interest they might have in any further ramblings from the depths of my disordered mind. If they are reading this… then I’m only joking, I didn’t phone the record label for help. I did it all myself. You guys owe me!)

In all the hullaballoo of my administration nightmare, I’ve forgotten another major aspect. We need to start rehearsing our set list. There’s no point playing a festival if, you know, you don’t know how to play your own songs.

Unfortunately, rehearsals prove problematic when one of your guitarists is currently moonlighting somewhere in the American Midwest as session guitarist on Camera Obscura’s new tour. The last I heard from Tim was a Facebook picture of him stuffing a glorious looking three-tiered, barbecue sauce covered, heart-attack-in-waiting hamburger into his mouth somewhere south of Portland, Oregon. Come back to us in one piece Tim. We miss you! Also, I note that you are playing a concert with Zooey Deschanel’s band tomorrow night. Feel free to pass her my phone number and tell her that while I find New Girl watchable, I prefer her movies. She will appreciate my candour and obviously fall madly in love with me. This is how Hollywood works. It will be just like in the movies.

A few more days of fevered back and forth emailing and I think I’m getting it under control. The rising sense of panic I’ve experienced every morning for the last three weeks when I look at my emails is lessening and now I can feel a sense of calm, of dare I say it, accomplishment? Slowly but surely it’s all coming together.

However, we’re not there yet. This is Attic Lights we are talking about. This is a band who have been slow handclapped onto airplanes (twice) because we were in the pub when we should have been at the check-in gate. Hey, it’s rock’n’roll! (The cabin crew didn’t buy this line either.)

But, new diligent, tour manager Kev Sherry will not fall into that trap again. Besides, it’s going to be great fun. I’m really looking forward to playing the festival and hopefully catching some of my favourite acts in the process. Primal Scream, Queens of The Stone Age and the genius that is Johnny Marr. Even the thought of sharing a stage with such legends makes all the hassle worth it.

So, I think everything is sorted. I’m checking off my list of things to do and it’s looking almost complete. It’s sorted, taken care of, job done.

Now I just need to get us over there and then, you know… everything will work itself out… somehow… I’m sure it will be fine. All you really need is your guitar, passport and some luck. I’ve done all the complicated stuff now, right? I mean, how hard can it be to get five guys to a festival in Spain? Easy peasy. Tour managing is a cinch. Funny how your instincts kick in; in my case just ‘hoping for the best’ once again in full effect.

Original article