Travis

Why:

In 1999, when this record was breaking, I’d just started a job I’d keep for nearly six years.

For the first year or so, it was probably the best year of my career.

This album was played a lot that year, by everyone.

But before that, at the end of 1998 I’d resigned my first ever proper job.

A two year relationship with the girl I’d known from college had fallen apart in the Autumn, with us both doing a great deal of damage to each other.

Everything became a bit of a mess.

It wasn’t helped by the fact that the agency had a heavily subsidised bar.

In retrospect, this is when the drinking started to become habitual.

And there was obviously the cocaine.

Because: London; advertising; late 90s.

One bright light, though, was when a friend from work introduced me to one of her old school friends.

She was very compassionate.

She was very thin.

She had two dogs who she loved very, very much.

I still think of her when I hear Jeff Buckley’s Lover You Should Have Come Over.

She’s the reason I bought Grace.

She’s the girl I took to this Travis show.

Somehow I’d managed to ask her out at the start of ’99.

I took her to a restaurant that I’d been to once before on a work thing.

This was important – it let me feel OK about what I could expect when we walked in, and what might be on the menu.

It was all very, very embarrassing. We should have gone to a pub, I took her to Alistair Little.

I paid far too much for far too formal a meal (well over £100 –the first time I’d ever done that), and then we took the bus back to hers and went to bed.

It was all very, very awkward.

I didn’t realise that nothing would ever happen again, and everything that followed was down to her being a good person to someone who needed support.

Every week I’d call her from the office. And I’m someone who can’t really use the phone.

And every week, it took a huge amount of psyching up.

I often wrote the script of what I’d say.

If I got the answering machine, I’d hang up, write a specific script and then call back just to read it out .

I think I preferred the answering machine.

I felt I’d achieved something without feeling awkward.

Sometime that summer she let me take her to see Rushmore when it opened at the Screen on Baker St.

And then, at the end of 1999, a week before Christmas, I took her to see Travis.

It remains the only time I’ve sat on the balcony at Brixton.

They were amazing.

Driftwood and Reach You were about as definitive of the end of the 90s as Oasis and Radiohead.

It meant something.

They ended with their cover of Baby One More Time.

And after the show, through the light city snow, (SNOW! AT CHRISTMAS! AFTER A TRAVIS SHOW!) she drove us back up to her part of North London, to a pub near hers.

That’s where I had a meeting with an old colleague who sold me a quarter ounce of cocaine and who I then stayed out with a while when she went home.

A fortnight later, on new year’s eve I spent a really quite sedate evening at her flat with her and the friend who’d introduced us.

That was my millennium eve.

She got married a few years later.

I went to the Jewish wedding ceremony and the big party afterwards at an out of town country club.

Two children later, they were divorced.

High: Writing to Reach You. It’s what I felt I was doing.

Drinking: not at the show

Thinking: I think I know this isn’t going to happen but it means so much to me that you let me pretend it could.

YYYs

Why: 

So this was the age of the buzz-band.

Even though they sounded nothing like the Strokes, this was all post-Strokes.

Maps remains an amazing song, but honestly –the rest of this album was all about the art.

When a band seems more known for their singer’s stage-wear and performance than the music then I’m not sure it’s for me.

Is she trying to deep-throat the mic? Do I really care about her costume?

But then, I was seeing this gig at a bit of a remove.

I was sober, and we were sitting on a VIP table at the front of the balcony thanks to the girl I shouldn’t have been involved with but who was in the industry and who could arrange things like this.

It added an appropriate theatrical vibe to a theatrical show, and it felt as if it was important to be there because – well, they were a buzz band and we were cool people.

I was never passionate about this band.

High: Maps

Drinking: No.

Thinking: I’m honestly not quite sure what all the fuss is about.

Young Knives

Why: 

Because they were a great band, and the kids in this job loved them as much as I did, so we all went together.

It was a great boozy night out, crowded round a standing table near the back by the bar for what was supposed to be some kind of a fan ‘thank you’ show.

They were about to bring out their second album, which didn’t make nearly as much as an impression on me as the first.

Though Terra Firma is a banging tune.

Unusually, the support band make a big impression.

They’re called Pete and the Pirates.

They play a great set.

They go on, years later, to become Teleman who I see for the first time at the End of the Road festival in 2016.

They’re even better.

High: The House of Lords delivering the “I am the Prince of Wales…” riff from The Decision as the crowd screams it back at him

Drinking: socially… just socially…..

Thinking: Stupid name, Pete.

Walkabouts

In 1998 Uncut magazine put out a free cover CD called Sounds of the New West.

In those pre-internet days, this was how we discovered new music – and there was so much to discover here.

It was loosely joined by what was being called “Alt-Country.”

There was Lambchop, Josh Rouse, Neil Casal and Calexico.

There were the Burrito Bros and Emmylou for some history.

The Pernice brothers.

The Handsome family.

I’d go to see most of them.

And there were the Walkabouts (covering Neil’s On the Beach) and the Willard Grant Conspiracy (doing Evening Mass).

The Walkabouts were a band I should apparently have known.

I was told this by the guy who’d played bass in my band and who I went to see this show with.

The same guy got me into Uncle Tupelo. We saw a lot of alt-country bands together.

But I remember nothing about this evening.

High: who knows?

Drinking: the two of us would always get slightly too slaughtered before shows.

Thinking: Christ knows.

strokes

Why:

I can’t tell you what’s going on with the date on that pass.

But this was February 3rd, 2001.

Someone’s girlfriend knew someone who worked for a promoter, and we had passes.

We even had a table.

We get there early, because someone’s said we need to watch this new band called The Strokes, who are on early.

We’re not there early enough to see Peaches, but we get to the balcony where the tiny VIP tables are, and the only one that’s got no one sitting at it is held for guests of NME (it was one of their awards shows).

But we see the Strokes.

Fucking hell do we see the Strokes.

I’ve never heard them, don’t even know what to expect.

But it’s truly phenomenal.

It’s a rush.

They look amazing.

They have attitude.

It sounds amazing.

This is what a rock and roll band should be.

I’m converted on the spot.

Soon I’m one of many slightly too old guys in London rocking the Converse, suit jacket and t-shirt look. (It’s still my ‘smart’ office look when a leather jacket won’t cut it).

Rocket from the Crypt and Trail of the Dead seem like dinosaurs in comparison.

High: it’s all one big rush hanging off the balcony and watching the crowd go mental.

Drinking: with joy

Thinking: big respect to the NME team who never come to claim their table – they’re obviously too busy getting into it downstairs.

neil

Why:

So I love Neil Young.

Have done since I first bought a Buffalo Springfield best of at 16, and then followed that with Decade.

And then the rest.

But being a fan can be painful sometimes.

Part of the Neil Young myth is the Tonight’s the Night tour in 1973.

A tequila-soaked Neil comes on to a crowd expecting some mellow Harvesting, only to hear a set of songs that sound nothing like the hits, and none of which they’ve ever heard before.

And I think all of us have heard those tapes and said, “Man, I’d have loved to have been there.”

But it’s not so funny to show up to a very pricey show 20 years later only for Neil to play all of the Greendale album.

To a seated audience.

If you get up to use the bathroom you’re not allowed back till the break for polite applause.

Only in the encore does Neil play some of the hits.

It was so frustrating. Not the evening with the school-friend and fellow fan that I’d wanted.

The whole thing is up on YouTube.

See if you can stand it.

High: finally hearing the opening chords of Lotta Love, one hour and 45 minutes into the show.

Drinking: go to the bar and get back in? You’d be lucky.

Thinking: maybe history will be kind to this tour. But who’s played Greendale in the last 15 years or so? Not me.

Jay Farrar

Why:

 So, since being diagnosed as autistic I can see my thing about music as what’s called a “special interest.”

I think the gigs were too. Other than drinking after work (where my special interest was the office) there wasn’t much else.

As long as people didn’t stand too close to me for too long and the music hit my pleasure centres, the gigs gave me what I needed to be among people.

Familiarity in the same venues and routines:

  • Where significant conversation during the show itself is almost impossible. (I said “yeah” and I nodded a lot. Some of my more successful small talk)
  • Where conversation before and after can be largely fixed on music
  • Where alcohol (and for many years, before the smoking ban) drugs were part of the ritual

In ’99-2000, starting from a thing with ‘alt country’ I discovered Uncle Tupelo.

I came to them late but became quite obsessive.

This was the era of Napster.

I still have folders of live tracks and rarities.

I was giving copies of Anodyne and Still Feel Gone to people as birthday presents.

Obviously, I transferred this love to Wilco.

Not so much to Jay Farrar’s band, Son Volt.

They had a song with a great title (Caryatid Easy), but for me that was honestly it.

So when the guy who’d helped to get me into this, the old bass player from my band, flagged that Jay was playing the Borderline I went with a weird attitude.

I basically went drunk.

I remember it being loud, I remember being towards the front of the venue.

I remember a lot of guys with very little hair getting very irate if anyone made a noise during any of the songs.

I’m not even sure what he would have been playing.

Son Volt was done, and the first solo stuff hadn’t come out.

But hey, I saw Jay Farrar solo in a small London club in 2000.

And at least for me it wasn’t ruined by some drunk guy slopping about and mumbling to his friend between songs.

High: really, none.

Drinking: oh yes.

Thinking: weird vibe.