Doubles

So a man who’s done some magic carpentry for us over the years told me, in the pub tonight, that I owed him an apology. 

He says that he was in one of Loughborough’s Nepalese restaurants when he saw me walk in. He gently prodded me with his boot to say hi.

A bloke who wasn’t me was, apparently, quite upset about it. Who knew I had a doppelgänger? And what are the odds that, if you’re gonna have a double in your own home town, they’re going to be an arse?

I was reading a book of haikus when Damien (the carpenter) told me this. So I was inspired to write my own. 

Guy that looks like me

Turns out to be a bell-end

What are the odds, eh?
I shall look out for him. Give him a piece of my mind. Unless he looks a bit tasty, obviously.  

Train

I had to travel from Manchester City centre to Crawley, near Gatwick Airport tonight. I set off in the blazing heat from Manchester Piccadilly train station at 1615. I was in my hotel by 2000. I travelled on time, through three rail networks. It relied on tons of people doing the thing they’re paid for properly. 

It’s a shit blog post, I get it. But it was a brilliant journey.
I’m ridiculously grateful that I live in a country where this stuff doesn’t automatically create a story worthy of the internet. 

You’ll never guess who I was last Saturday 

So if you’ve followed any of my feeds, you’ll know that my pop covers band NotNowCato played the Glastonbudget Festival last weekend.  Bit of background: 

  • The band is my gang. We’ve been together since 1996. We never even tried to write our own songs. Much as I love words, all my attempts at lyrics started at “I wanna hold your hand” and escalated less than a verse later to “we’re stapling our eyelids to the ceiling” (actually I think that’s a Groening gag, but the idea stands)
  • Glastonbudget is a “tribute” act Festival. It’s been running for 11 years I think, three miles from my home, and is pretty professional these days. The main tribute acts are startlingly good and make a proper living being brilliant facsimiles of massive acts. 

A year ago, our bassist suggested that we audition to be one of the 80 or so acts at this year’s festival. We’d never done anything that organised (we have played a couple of local festivals before but only by invitation)

Putting a thirty-minute set together for that show last October was a different discipline from our normal rehearsal schedule. The night of the audition was amazing fun, and we made a bunch of new friends from other bands trying out. That performance was probably the best of our 21 years, and it was amazing to have friends and family come and support us 

Here’s a favourite photo from that night

We got our slot (tea-time Saturday: the place they put the old warhorses at Glastonbury) and our stage (the small outdoor stage) and a set of instructions for how to get in, on, play and take down properly. 
I’ve been to a few festivals and it’s another one of those things that you can be in the centre of and have no sense of what’s happening to make it happen. Since in real life my job is to look at how people get things done, I probably should have thought about this before. So if you’re interested, here’s the headlines:

  • The whole site is designed to create a border: exactly like “airside and landside” at an airport. From the “band campsite” (oh the glamour!) past the back of the main stage, past our stage and on to the “big top” is the service road. Security, barriers and screens keep the moving parts away from the festival-goers. 
  • The administration behind the scenes was locked down to the point that we couldn’t present ourselves as performers until “no more than one hour” before our scheduled start time
  • At least half of our audition focused on our ability to set up and break down quickly. On the day we were assisted by the stage crew and we were pretty efficient
  • There’s nothing glamorous on our side of the fence

We went on the Friday to soak up the atmosphere, to get maximum use from our free tickets (that said “band” on them which was already enough to get me giddy) and also so we could figure out what kit the boys needed to bring. They’re really only in a band for the technology (and shopping for technology) opportunities it offers.

In the event, the wind picked up an hour before we started, and the decision was made to close the stage until it subsided. Lighting was removed from above the apron. We pointed out that the thin children who were due to play before us were more at risk of blowing away than any of us, but the authorities were having none of it. For half an hour, we thought that we might not get to play after all.
Three-quarters of an hour later than scheduled, and (along with other bands) reduced by five minutes, we sound checked half a verse and then we were off. My photos tell me that 81 people eventually came to watch us. And I’m stupidly grateful for every one of them (I am counting the sound guys, and photographers, but not the security officer because she was facing the other way the whole time (I am a stickler for accurate accounting)).
About 1300, I got a bit sad at the prospect that folks might not come to see us. It happens a bunch of times in general: I worry that I’m promoting our regular gigs too hard, and then a couple of days after we’ve played, I get asked when we’re playing. So I took to Facebook and pleaded with people who liked the band page (a relatively low level of commitment, I recognise) to share the post advertising our slot. 

 I was trying to get everyone to do it, on the basis that:

  • even if people didn’t know anyone at the event, they might show up on timelines of people who were there
  • or they might show up on timelines of people who knew people who were there
  • or they might decide to message friends who might know someone

You get the idea: I directly asked some of the most connected people I knew whether they would share the post, even though they didn’t know anyone who might have been there. In the event, enough people came to tell me that they’d only come to see us because someone had prompted them that I’m really pleased to have risked burning all that goodwill in one big go. I think I’ve said thank-you directly to the folks who were identified as having gained us one or more watchers, but if I haven’t: thank you thank you thank you.
The stats for the boosted post tell me that we were seen by 1003 people, and that 100 of them shared our post. Here’s the nerdy breakdown of my boost by age of user:

Anyway: we played and it was wonderful. It was absolutely the fastest 25 minutes of my life. And it was amazing. For that whole time I felt like a proper pop star. Here’s what I mean.

The main stage hosts the big hitters that will appeal to the biggest crowd (Beach Boys, Michael Jackson, Beatles, Springsteen and Oasis pro-tribute bands); the Big Top has the (mostly pro) “specialist” bands (Korn, Pink Floyd, Black Eyed Peas) as well as a selection of other stuff (but all at a level way above us). The LoCo tent hosts folky and acoustic stuff, mostly. The IcOn stage (that we were on) is the smaller, outdoor stage, and it hosted mostly keen young upstarts playing their own stuff, or grizzled covers bands like us. I don’t care that it was the stage with the smallest audience: to me it looked and played like Wembley, 13th July, 1985.
And that’s kind of my point, I guess. 

If you’ve seen the band, you might recognise that every gig we play, I imagine that we’re playing at a legendary venue and that tonight is the gig that really matters. 

So on Saturday, May 27th 2017, on a proper stage, with proper lights, with my gang spread out either side of me, and the wind blowing my hair horizontally, and being as well-rehearsed as we’ve ever been, and with six massive songs that our audience could sing back to us, and with twenty-one years of practice, and with a proper introduction from a local radio star…..

I was Bono, baby. 

I was Bono. 

Fatzorro vs Sparky

So this weekend, me and Sparky dusted off the two-man set and played a couple of gigs and it was lovely. 

We’d rehearsed about enough, and I’d practised enough (he doesn’t seem to need to) that we played with a minimum of errors. 

We got the sound right, and although where we were it had a bit of an odd reverb, it seems that the mix where people were was good. 

I only introduced one new song the week before the gig (and whilst Sparky was working in the US) and it only had three repeated chords, so we stayed friends. 

Playing live music at “do’s” is tricky. As the five-piece rock and pop covers band Not Now Cato, we’ve done it enough that I think my view has validity. Basically, if you’re looking for a band for your private party, think through this. 

  • If your invitees (and therefore our audience) aren’t expecting to be coming to a gig, then don’t book a loud rock band. 
  • If you haven’t seen some or all of your invitees for a while, then they’re here to chat with you, so don’t book a loud rock band. 
  • If your venue has more than one room, so relatives can escape to a quieter space, then don’t book a loud rock band. 
  • If the weather is lovely and it might be nice to stand outside, then don’t book a loud rock band. 

Whenever someone asks if we can play their wedding/birthday/divorce party, we run them through these issues (because we’ve typically done more parties than them). 

When it works, it’s joyous, and I’d like to think that we add to the occasion. When it doesn’t, we work hard to fix it for the folks who persevere. We’re playing two weddings this year and we’re confident that  both couples know what they’re doing. 

And so to solve the problem of being too loud, we created a portable act. Fatzorro & Sparky is me and him, playing pop songs that Cato can’t or won’t do (too cheesy; too dull) or ones that Cato does and that we can slow down and make more Radio 2. We fit in smaller spaces, play quieter and with a wider bandwidth of music and set up and break down quicker. In five years, we’ve got a healthy five hours of songs that we can pull off, some better than others. I have to do more cognitively, so I’m definitely way less euphoric than the bloke I play in Cato. 

But there’s a new challenge to this set-up that’s not present with the full band. 

With Cato, the worry at private functions is that we chase people away because we’re too loud, and so we play to an empty room. 

With FZ&S, the problem is: we’re so discrete, people stay and ignore us. 

Now, if you hired, say, a string quartet, you’d be fine with folks chatting away whilst they played the four seasons, the hamlet song and that one from the advert with the kid pushing his bike up a hill. 

But because pop music kind of needs an audience in order to make sense, it can look a bit absurd to see two blokes playing to the backs of a room full of people who are catching up whilst they’re at the same event. 

And of course it’s a shame when we do something that we’ve rehearsed and it comes off and there’s no-one to notice except us. 

But the music isn’t ours. Modern parties prioritise live music over a jukebox (even as Playlists make it easier and easier to curate a soundtrack that tells your distant friends what your taste is (and therefore what kind of person you are)). We’re doing our hobby, and in the same way that no-one would ever pay to see me play cricket or eat pizza with my shirt off, I don’t really need an audience to make me enjoy playing guitar and singing. Of course it’s more fun when the two go together, but it’s inessential. 

So this weekend:

Wedding Anniversary and birthday for a lovely couple, with a familiar group gathered to celebrate. We played beautifully for two hours and at the very end people danced. We had to add extra imaginary verses to our only dancy song. Lovely stuff. (And as a bonus, we suspect that people who only noticed us at the end will think that we were that good all through the night). 

Today (Sunday) a leaving Do at my cricket club, for free. A weird split/irony/paradox created. People who know me weren’t that bothered to pay attention because it’s my band and they know me. People who didn’t know me assumed that we were a regular paid-for band and typical of what you’d expect at a party in 2017. So we played for a couple of hours and it was only at the end that we got any interest at all. Again, we played really nicely and it feels like we’re getting better (the trajectory is definitely more important than the location at this point). 

Both of them were, in and of themselves, probably the best performances that we’ve given. Not the most exhilarating maybe, but technically good and adding to our skills and competence. 

And a measure of how little impact we had on our audience is that there’s not a single photo of us playing so far as I know. 

One of us loves that we are the string quartet: we provide a background of pop songs that you know whilst you get on with your party. One of us is a bit grumpy that people can ever ignore live pop music. 

You’d be surprised if you knew which of us was which. 

(Unless you know Sparky). 

I had a blast. My fingers, unused to physical work, are ready to fall off later this week. 


Congratulations to Carrie and Cam and good luck to Jason and Emma and thank you for asking us to be part of your celebrations. 

I hope we can do this a lot this year. It’s fabulous fun. 

You should try it. 

Selling the van: why Colt 45 are your new favourite band

So tonight I went to Duffy’s Bar in Leicester to see Colt 45 on the last night of their UK tour. Yesterday they played Brighton. Tonight they were towelling off and driving home to Cumbria. If you are from outside the UK (or from London), that’s a five-hour drive at this time of night. And ten during daylight.

I was prejudiced to like them, because their drummer is the half-brother of my drinking buddy Jon’s best-man’s wife, Carrie. I know: practically family.
Also, she had posted this video of them covering Spandau Ballet’s classic, Gold. You can check that out here  Colt 45 – Gold   and if you like that you can follow the rabbit hole of YouTube through their other stuff.

It’s a “school night”, which only seems to matter in The Shires: when I’m in London no-one ever suggests that Monday to Thursday you need to hurry home after work or else you’ll wither.

Carrie (and her husband Cam) had never seen Adam’s band live. For people who didn’t grow up together, you’d be forgiven for thinking that C&A were as thick as siblings could be, especially when they Facetimed family from the pub. It was lovely to sit with them before the show and to hear his tales of touring professionally.

They’d sold the touring bus with bunk beds the year before, to finance another year of touring and recording. Van hire was expensive so they’d only named one driver and that was Adam. I suspect that in the annals of rock, the drummer would be voted “least sensible designated driver” in at least 9 out of every 10 bands, ever.

They were on tour with Straight Lines: a four piece from Bridgend who were mostly related to each other and somehow descended from the one out of Motörhead who wasn’t Lemmy or Phil “Philthy Animal”Taylor. They looked like The Kings of Leon. But from near the McArthurGlen at junction 36 of the M4, instead of Alabama (or wherever KoL are from: I’ve used all my Wikipedia credits on Motörhead members).

The tour had apparently been remarkable for having included accommodation and food at each town. It was fair to say that Leicester, and this bar, were anticlimactic after the delights of a Bank Holiday weekend in Brighton. Adam seemed genuinely delighted to see his family and talked enthusiastically of his fiancé and two-year-old that he would see once the gig was done.

So: they played. And it was joyful.

Three guys, very clearly fond of each other, musically as tight as I guess good musicians at the end of a tour can be. The power punk they play definitely isn’t my thing but unlike loads of try-hard bands I’ve seen, they had pop tunes and three voices that were properly Beach-Boys harmonic. (I was never cut out for rock journalism, obviously). The biggest thing for me was that their set flew by. This is them.


Straight Lines were good and got better later in their set, when they started to sound a lot like non-singles Slade. They looked like (and subsequently declared that) they could do with a rinse: a road trip really is no excuse for crusty denim.  I get that rock stars can look a bit unwashed, but I suspect that Michael Hutchence (by whom all rock stars should be judged) smelled wonderful most of the time.

And for most of their set, and all of their final number, the three members of Colt 45 stood at the back and sang the words to their touring companions’ songs.

This is them, singing along

Here’s Carrie with the band (Adam’s on the left).

Now, I don’t know the economics of this level of music business (and it’s nothing I’ll ever experience) but this looked like a proper gang having the best time ever, and tell me that’s not something that you’d love to have a bit of, once in a while.

Music has probably never been a meritocracy: look at my prejudices towards the giddy pop band and away from the plaid-and-bearded-heartfelt-ah-now-I’ve-not-worked-this-out-properly-insert-your-own-collective-noun. There will have been people there tonight for whom Straight Lines were their new best thing. Their frontman only half joked that their latest song was posted on YouTube yesterday and that was the extent of the promotion it would get and hence the income they could expect from it.

If there were justice in music, and if my wishes counted for anything, then Colt 45 would be massive. And you’d own an album by The Kevin McDermott Orchestra.  David Ford would be a billionaire as well as Poet Laureate. And your personal favourite band would be playing Wembley this summer.

A lot of my friends went to the Handmade Festival, also in Leicester, this weekend. There will have been plenty of bands as good and some empty and talentless ones, too. It’s not at all obvious how some will break through and some won’t.

Someone watching each one will have had the same thought: it’s Billy Joel’s “man, what are you doing here?”

The effort just to get music out must be overwhelming for some people. Tonight it was a treat to be standing just a little bit closer to a proper musician trying to reach an audience and never letting on that this might not have been the pinnacle of the journey so far.

Safe journey home.

My band, NotNowCato, plays a pub 520m from my home, Friday August 4th, if you’re interested. We do other people’s songs.
Postscript: you might like this article from the Guardian last year that describes the economics of modern bands. http://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/30/rocknroll-stardom-live-music-struggling-bands-slow-club-brawlers

Spoken word and coffee

Having Twitter-followed the poet Matt Abbott @mattabbottpoet since we saw him in Derby last month, we caught up with his collective Nymphs and Thugs at an event that was part of Nottingham Poetry Festival. 

Hosted by Do Or Die Poets (a group using poetry as part of their addiction management), the night was tremendous. We expected the star turns to be brilliant, and they really, really were.  The Do Or Die team held their own too. 

But we held our breath at the introduction of 10 minutes of Open Mic, just after the interval and before the main event. How bad could that be? As novices at this kind of thing, were we in for a new circle of hell?

Host Miggy Angel promised it would be great. But, really though? Would it?

Yeah. Yeah it would. 
Everyone just had a first name. One by one they were called up. We held our breath. 

Every one was good. A couple were very good. And this guy (pictured)… I’m so sorry that I didn’t catch his name. It doesn’t matter because I guess neither you nor I will come across him anytime soon. But he appeared with a fully-formed performance (of the prescribed one poem, mind). 

It was written on a loo roll (because it was “about all the crap”). 

It was a litany of weird, dodgy and shitty things in absolutely no order. 

And the poet nailed the beat and the tempo and the emphasis of his own words, all while spooling out the paper and never missing a word. 

Brought the house down. Honestly, it was like “We didn’t start the fire” for 2017. 

And I suspect I’ll never hear it again and if I do, it will already be dated. 

It was the best poem about April 28th 2017 I’ve ever heard. 

You should have been there. 

As a footnote, we spent twice what we spent on drinks on parking, and nothing whatsoever on the amazing entertainment. There’s something odd about that economic model. Happy to put that right: give me a shout. 

Epilogue:

Miggy Angel, filled in some details for me:

Also, just to say, I saw your tweet about the ‘guy with the toilet roll’ – that was Keith Ford who is an incredible performer and poet in his own right, who also has an amazing band who if you get the chance you should see live. They perform all over – are called Mr Ford and Mr Gibbs.

So now you know. Would love to see more of his stuff too and if you happen to know him, say “wow” from me. 

Dancing like nobody’s watching (and a question about dick pics)

So two, unrelated things that happened tonight. 

I was dancing in my favourite club, Kelso. 

It’s just a bar with a dance floor and a DJ on weekends. I like it because on a good night, the DJs are good and on a great night, they play the full version of Donna Summer and Georgio Moroder’s “I Feel Love”. I was 8 when the original was released, but for all the transformative music styles that have occurred in my lifetime, electro-disco is the big one. 

Tonight, my favourite DJs weren’t there but the music was good. Earlier today our first cricket match of the season had ended in an astonishing one-run victory, and I was in a super-giddy mood already. I walked in, found a corner and started dancing. To myself. Feeling the groove and making the moves that I’ve made since I was a teenager at house parties. 

You know: no-one teaches you how to dance these days, and our parents wouldn’t recognise it as dancing, since in their day it was part social skill and majorly the way to pull. 

I dance quite a lot at work. And on the walk home. I say dancing: it’s syncopated movement, even if it’s to a tune that’s only playing in my feet. 

I was dancing, with my eyes closed; my body feeling way more at home than it did for three hours running around a cricket pitch hours earlier. 
And then it started. 
*guy taps me on the arm*
“Mate: I love your dancing”
“Thank you” (big, slightly awkward smile)
My buzz burst. 

Then another:

*tap* “Nice moves”

To be honest, it wasn’t “I feel love”, so I know I’ll recover. 

And another: 

“Mate, mate: nice moves”. 
Twice more in five minutes I get different blokes telling me that they’re enjoying my dancing. My suspicion is that they’re being sarcastic, but if they are, I don’t care: that makes them twits, not me. 
But it totally ends my relationship with the music tonight. I’m done. I look across the dance floor and it feels like there are more people who have come to watch dancing as to dance. Mostly they are not there to look at me, I’m guessing it’s mostly at the women. Would be creepy either way. 

So I go talk to my work colleague. She’s not dancing and is out with a pal. I complain about the dance floor. 

Her friend asks me whether she can have a selfie with me. My hair is unfashionably mad, and she is 6ft plus tall, so there are two reasons why she might want a photo with me, and either is fine, to be honest. 
I don’t see the photo, but I’m sure it will be OK because it is just a photo and because we do get better at posing for selfies the more we do. Imagine sending off your roll of film and waiting on the post to tell you that your duck-pout was ok. Madness. 

I head downstairs for one last attempt to lose myself in dance again, but people want to dance like me and that’s not the point. 

Also, and for the second time tonight, I’ve put my fresh pint of dancing lager down on a ledge right next to me and when The interruptions finally cause me to give up and I go to take a sip, one of the glass collectors has already swiped it. It will have been full and frosty and not like an abandoned beer. The evening is closing around me. I head upstairs just to say bye to my gang. 

I then find from my colleague, and apropos of nothing, that the tall woman has been single for a while and that every bloke she gets in touch with sends her a picture of his member as the “third text” of their communication and that that has proved problematic in finding a new mate. 

Which brings us up to date. It turns out that the patten is: first text: contact made. Second text: small talk. Third text: an actual picture of a penis. 

Now: I’ve not dated in the internet era. By which I mean, my last courtship was with the woman who turned out to be my wife (though I only found that out when we got married) but we didn’t even email since we were in the same town. 

And I’m pretty certain that, had my third interaction with her been a photograph of my old chap, then she’d have: 

A: asked why I’d sent her a photo

B: asked why it was a photo of Arthur Askey*, specifically 

C: Called an ambulance to come and stitch her sides back together 

Why? Why would men send a stranger a photograph of their spam javelin^? And apparently with sufficient frequency that this is a thing. What’s the response that it’s meant to elicit?

I never got to ask the tall woman what she thought it was about: maybe it was something she was doing. 

Anyway: how was your evening?
* one for the kids there. Wikipedia him. 

^ yeah: that. Don’t bother looking it up

The Slayer

Today is our oldest cat Buffy’s 19th birthday. 

She’s always been about as independent as a cat can be. She’s quite mad. She’s been living with an overactive thyroid for six years. She increasingly roars when she can’t find us (the vet thinks that’s dementia). 


Despite being house-trained when we got her from the cat sanctuary, she elects to wee on the carpet all around the house purely as an act of devilment. Tonight she inhaled a can of tuna. 

As the only girl cat left with three boys, she brooks no shit. 

I have no idea what any of this should tell us about life, but she’s still beautiful and lovely and we’re lucky to have her. 

Happy birthday, Madness. 

Angel of Del

So I’m walking to work this morning and because it’s good Friday tomorrow, I find my self in Loughborough’s market day. There’s an old guy* sitting on the big circular  benches at the bottom of the marketplace. He looks like it’s taken all his effort to get here and he’s taking a breather before he explores the market that he’s been round hundreds of times before. 

And I’m skipping to work. He gives me the look that says: I don’t know what the flip you are but you’re not like me. 

I don’t know if this happens to everyone, but in the time it takes to walk past him and put him out of sight, I run through three vivid scenarios:

1 stop and chat. I’ll bet he hasn’t had a stranger under 70 talk with him in years. 

2 walking past is fine. I’ll bet he’s a dreadful racist and Brexiteer and why should I bother cheering him up. 

3 stop and sit with him. Look him deep in the eye and say:

“Hello. My name is Matthew, and I help people move on. I know that I look terribly corporeal. But anything else would be odd, right? So tell me: have you had fun? Yes I know it’s an odd question. You’ll have expected ‘have you been good’ or something about sin. Everyone does. But my question is, have you had fun?”

And then, whatever he answered, I shrug and say “thank you, Derek”, and get up and leave. 

Bear in mind, I’m already 300 yards past him by the time I’ve worked this out.

I love the idea that, if by some long-shot he’s called Derek then I’ve really messed with him. 

If he’s not called Derek, then I’ve probably made his day because he’ll think that he’s cheated death and might now live forever. 

This is an unusually dark start to my day. It ends with me literally skipping in front of my dentist who was stopped at a red light whilst I walked home. I was listening to Olly Murs and Rizzle Kicks “Heart Skips a Beat”, so that’s my excuse. 

Welcome to L-Town

* there’s a label on his shopping trolley. The label says “Derek”