Archive for the ‘Bands’ Category

Grateful Dead


We all smoked a lot of weed at college, and some us did quite a bit of acid.

But despite being students who liked to get high, I only met one other person who liked the Grateful Dead. She knew far more about them than me as well.

I only had a handful of studio albums. She had live tapes, and she’d even seen them multiple times over some drug-drenched American summer before she’d come up to university.

At 19, she was the first girl I ever slept with – though I never told her that at the time.

We’d met at a house party and we were both taking pills.

It was a warm night in the summer of 1992.

I saw her the minute she walked into the front room and I thought she was the most alive looking person I’d ever seen.

When she’d walked in, I’d been watching the very trashed host painting a mural on the wall of this shabby front room in a shared student house.

A few months later, the host turned out to be the second girl I ever slept with. She was also the first I that I ever regretted.

I can still see her, pissing crouched over a bin in my second year basement room. I remember the orchid tattoo above her pussy and the name she had for it. (“I call them both Olivia.”)

It felt sickly. The opposite of alive.

The mural was supposed to be celebrating how me and the other guitarist from my college band had stolen a large metal weathervane from the roof of a factory in the town during another party a couple of weeks beforehand.

For reasons best summed up as “a student thing”, this weathervane – a golden chicken – had become something of a cult object to some of the people we knew, and its liberation had meant a lot to them.

My friend had been the one with the hacksaw and taking most of the risk.

I was effectively just the look-out.

And given the amount of homemade opium tea we’d consumed over that evening, the caption below the picture of me on the wall described me as “the hallucinating watchman.”

The mural didn’t really do any of this justice.

Towards the end of the night, I couldn’t believe that I was sitting round a bonfire (made from the garden fence) with the most alive person in the world and that of all the bands in the world it was this one that we had in common.

We both went home alone that night and I remember the long walk in the early hours of a summer morning, still with the speedy end of the drugs inside me.

I remember playing the vinyl of Wake of the Flood (given to me a month before by a friend, who’d been given it by his uncle, and who didn’t like it) as the sun came up into my room.

In a very unfocused – but still very clear – way I thought about the girl’s look of aliveness when she first came through that door, and I played Eyes of the World on repeat.

It’s one of the Dead two songs that always make me think of her.

The other is Sugar Magnolia.

“I mean, obviously Sugar Mag makes you think of me…”

That’s what she said when I told her about this years later when we were all grown-ups and once we’d started talking again.

It was the summer after that, in July 1993 that four of us decided we’d do the classic “road trip” summer holiday in the US.

We flew into New York and ended up buying a very cheap station wagon with no air-conditioning and no mod-cons in Philadelphia. The plan was to drive it to LA.

The biggest problem was that we had no money, and between Ohio and Nevada we had no friends of friends’ parents to stay with.

There was a lot of shop-lifting wonder bread and cheese slices for food, and we adopted Magnum and Colt 45 malt liquors as our drinks of choice – due to a very simple equation of alcohol volume vs. available funds.

There were no strong craft beers in the States in those days, and even if there had been we wouldn’t have been able to afford them. The money was set aside for “must do” events, like taking acid at Graceland.

We were also saving our money to score weed, and this combination of no cash and a desire to get us high led us closer to the Dead the further west we headed.

We met “Grasshopper” and “Guitar Man’ in Bowling Green Kentucky who talked as if they were connected to some kind of Grateful Dead family (in retrospect, they clearly weren’t) and helped us out with a quarter of just about OK grass.

They also gave us a list of addresses to copy – addresses of other people who might help us out as we kept heading westwards towards that next guaranteed bed for the night, somewhere in Reno, Nevada (which sounded far more exotic than it turned out to be).

We copied these details in pencil into the inside covers of the copy of Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter Skelter which I’d bought for 25c on a book stall in Washington Square.

I had the vague idea of touring the Manson sites when we made it to California, but this never happened.

It was one of those addresses that took us to Arkansas where we stayed for a few days at a camp, near a crystal mine, somewhere near Hope Springs, with ‘Florida Bob’ and Pam.

He was an older guy, and she was much younger, which seemed like quite a thing with all the hippie types we met.

Bob and Pam were tolerated by the scary local rednecks who owned the mine because they’d promised to send them acid in the mail.

We were tolerated because they seemed genuinely impressed that we’d be drinking warm Magnum at 11:00 in the morning in an Arkansas summer, and because I told them I’d been to school with the son of Pink Floyd’s drummer.

Turned out that rednecks who like acid also love the Floyd, and without the internet they had no way of knowing whether or not this was true.

Similarly, I didn’t even know if Nick Mason had any sons, but I had a very impressive English accent which seemed to make it plausible.

When we finally made it to California, the Dead were playing two nights at the Shoreline, and we were basically broke.

Pam had told us about Miracle tickets, and on the first night one of us got one.

When he went in, the rest of us mooched about the Dead Lot and drank malt liquor in the car.

The radio played all of Tom Petty’s Damn the Torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead. It was the first time I’d ever heard it.

I didn’t have faith in miracles, so the next night I made my one friend with a credit card actually buy me a ticket and I went in on my own.

The security guard who gave me a casual frisk called me “Joshua”.

I assumed it was down to a general Old Testament look to my long hair and beard after the best part of two months on the road.

I thought the band were amazing.

Some guys from Portland shared their bong with me, and even though the tape on might actually be the worst Dead show I’ve ever heard, it was inspirational.

They opened with Touch of Grey.

They played Friend of the Devil and they played Sugar Magnolia.

They covered All Along the Watchtower and Lucy in the Sky. It was everything I wanted it to be.

The most alive girl in the world is still a friend.

We found ourselves sleeping together again some time just before I met my wife in the late-2000s. That’s when I told her about Sugar Magnolia.

It all meant a lot to me.

High: Thanks to those ‘kind brothers’ from Portland, very.

 Drinking: With no money, and no ID, maybe only a couple of passed bottles during the day.

Thinking: I can’t believe I’m getting to do this.


Dead Meadow


So, a friend I met in the early 2000s through mutual friends – and who I played guitars with for a while – had a flatmate.

This flatmate was presented as his “stoner rock” mate, and he introduced me to loads of bands, and we did loads of gigs.

Dead Meadow were the one I don’t think I’d have found the way to on my own if it hadn’t been for him.

He was a great guy.

He came to my wedding, was one of the last to leave the after-party at the hotel.

They’re a great band and this was the first time I’d seen them. In such a tiny venue the sound was immense.

As was the buzz.

Down the front, done up on weed and booze, swaying and nodding.

High: I couldn’t name a single song now, or the name of anyone in the band, but I loved it all.

Drinking: my drinking had a new lease of life in 2006.

The receptionist at the job I’d started in December the year before had convinced me that milk thistle was a thing that worked to stave off the worst of a hangover.

For a while I’ll swear it did.

That and the weed.

And the valium to put me down.

Thinking: Stoner rock – what’s not to like?

Black Crowes


Christ knows, really.

I guess they seemed like a proper kick-ass rock and roll band, and someone must have offered me a spare. I can’t remember who.

All I can remember about this show is how very, very much it dragged on.

I should have left early; as it was I just got angry.

This was quite a messy time in my life, but at the same time it was the beginning of the end of all that.

The job was I working was the one where I’d meet my wife, and I was just about to have my flat renovated, so this was my final little period of falling apart.

Thus the Black Crowes on a Wednesday.

High: obviously not nearly enough

Drinking: at what, two pints an hour, I feel like I’d have got through maybe ten?

Thinking: I should be a bit more discerning about who I agree to go and see…



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.



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


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.


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.