NME's Britpack Tour in depth...
Keeping track of the country’s youngest, craziest and most wild-eyed rock bands isn’t a job that any old monkey can do – it’s a task that requires great skill, insight and the latest in state-of-the-art journalistic tools. Which is why NME finds itself nervously running through our list of tour essentials before we join them on the road. Pen? Check. Paper? Check. Charged to the nads on grade-A brain-dust? From mid-afternoon, since you ask. Well then, we’re more than prepared to commence battle with the NME Brit Pack Tour.
When we arrive at Northumbria University, the dressing room’s been transformed into a showcase for various band members’ hidden talents. Through a thick skunk-fog, [a]The Zutons[/a]’ guitarist Boyan Chowdhury and [a]Blanche[/a] drummer Charlie Stanley try to out-dazzle each other with their ball control. (Official verdict: if [a]The Zutons[/a] are Man Utd then [a]Blanche[/a] are Grimsby Town. Reserves.) Elsewhere, [a]The Zutons[/a]’ Dave McCabe is climbing the venue’s scaffolding, and [a]Blanche[/a]’ Preston… well, he just swaggers around looking like the coolest motherf—er on the planet: somehow rocking the Only Fools And Horses market trader look and remaining shit-cool.
NME decides to show the bands a few of our football ‘skills’.
The dressing room is suddenly empty.
Anyone who caught [a]Blanche[/a] live a few months back would have been bashed around the face with a brash wall of noise, only catching tantalising glimpses of their potential. Tonight they’re well on their way to becoming the band they know they can be. Tracks like ‘Talk Talk Talk’ have the intensity and arrogance of early [a]Oasis[/a], but soothe the hooligan-bursts of noise with a call-to-arms for something altogether more literate. OK, they need to work on some of the inter-song banter – “this, erm, song is, erm… for [a]The Zutons[/a] because, erm, it’s their last night and, erm, perhaps you’ll enjoy ’em or even go, erm, wild” probably won’t go down in the annals of rock quote history. But when their amps are spewing pure pent-up rage and Preston’s hopping frantically around the stage, half of Newcastle considers jacking in their shithole jobs and forming a band.
Post-gig, the Boys head off to meet the fans. Nicky,20, and Chris, 21, have been chatting away to the band.
Nicky: “It’s so exciting to have British bands making great records. I haven’t bought Brit records for ages, but this tour’s inspiring me to go out and start looking for British music again.”
Hand-clap rituals rippling through the crowd, freaky dance moves breaking out and so much beer being spilt that the entire venue goes on emergency flood alert. It’s obvious
who steals the show tonight.
Over the last year, Scousers [a]The Zutons[/a] have transformed themselves from oddball popsters into a blissfully skewed paranoia-party band. ‘Pressure Point’ and ‘Dirty Dancehall’ make use of heavy guitar clangs and neurotic sax squeals
to create the same kind of orgasmic crowd love-in [a]Rapture[/a] perfected on February’s NME Awards Tour. And the crowd have got [a]The Zutons[/a] fever big time.
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“It’s time for a changing of the guard in music,” declares
a buzzing Dave McCabe post-gig, “and it’s the right time
for British bands to take over again.” He looks at NME
like he’s about to make a bold statement of intent, before heading off on a tangent. “But before all that, I’m making
a national complaint about the state of the toilets on this
tour. I’ve had to use the girls’ every night, y’know, having
to whistle to cover up the sound of me having a shit. It’s damaged my chances of pulling by about 80 per cent. In
fact, I’d say 100 per cent because I’ve not had much luck
on this tour.”
The fact that he heads off into the night with a gaggle of young ladies suggests otherwise.
Nobody’s seen the [a]22-20s[/a] all day. In fact, none of the other bands seem to have seen them all tour. Shrouded in a cloud of mystery so thick they make [a]Black Rebel Motorcycle Club[/a] look like [a]Har Mar Superstar[/a] (and a cloud of weed smoke that could cause [a]Goldie[/a] to pull a collective whitey), the [a]22-20s[/a] are the tour’s outsiders. Onstage, however, they like to be heard. In fact, to say that the [a]22-20s[/a] are loud and relentless is a bit like saying Ann Widdecombe is a repulsive Nazi wildebeast with seven chins. It’s a gross understatement. There’s not a gap of silence in their ampheta-blues frenzy – rather the likes of ‘Such A Fool’ are vicious onslaughts of righteous, Hendrix-fuelled noise that leave the crowd so stunned they spend half the set standing
in awe, just absorbing the volume. As with any set so heavily rooted in the past, it doesn’t always work – extended jamming and an intense love for (yawn) classic bluesmanship is a flaw that drags even – whisper it – [a]White Stripes[/a]’ sets down to earth at times. But when they’re careering across the stage, frontman Martin Trimble and bassist Glen Bartup contorting themselves around every decibel, it’s thrilling stuff.
After the show, the band retire to meet fans, slag off [a]Keane[/a] (“I’d sooner listen to Jamie Cullum,” seethes drummer James Irving in a tone that suggests he knows no darker insult) and inspect the damage they’ve done to themselves from playing so hard. NME is secretly impressed that all three members
of the band are covered in blood. “I might go back to the hotel and get some Savlon,” says James, slightly deflating the air of rock’n’roll abandon.
We need more booze and so resort to walking around the bollock-freezing Newcastle streets in search of somewhere
to continue the noble pursuit of pickling our vital organs. Only problem is, we keep getting turned away from various drinking establishments because they’re “about to close” (translation: “Fuck off you pissheads”). Not sure whose idea it is, but everyone ends up piling into NME’s hotel room to (possibly) attempt to re-enact [a]Oasis[/a]’ ‘Cigarettes & Alcohol’ sleeve.
Only without the champagne. Or pouting ladies. Or vast reserves of Columbia’s finest powder (various band members have already drained those). But it’s still great, especially when [a]22-20s[/a]’ Glen glugs so much red wine and skunk that
he drifts into a coma. A concerned sister and a not-so-concerned Martin advise him that it’s time to head home.
He sees sense and agrees to leave. Or at least he would
leave, if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s trying to exit the room via the wardrobe.
To Manchester, and [a]Delays[/a] join the madness, revealing themselves as a bunch of ultra-charming, spaced-out dudes. They’re also obsessed to an unhealthy degree with oddball music – verging on tears when they play us Scala On The Rocks, a bunch of around 60 Belgian kids who specialise
in singing Meredith Brooks covers to their parents. Somehow, we don’t think you’ll believe us if we say it’s better than it sounds. But it is.
Now, last month when NME asked the Delays what drug
was best to be on while listening to their music, they said Nytol and we thought they were taking the piss. They weren’t
– the band are seriously into the stuff, so much so that one
of them’s “on the Nytol wagon”. Hey, if loony Belgian choirs are the new pop then why can’t Nytol be the new crack?
Right now NME is babbling to anyone who’ll listen that the [a]Delays[/a]’ ‘Long Time Coming’ is one of the best pop records written in aeons, a gorgeous shimmer of ’80s, [a]Blondie[/a]-esque femme-pop (it’s something about Greg Gilbert’s falsetto
soars) and wobbly electronics. The rest of their set is pretty cool too, combining [a]Verve[/a]-like swirls of psychedelia with
that rare songwriting ingredient music fans refer to in hushed
tones as “a tune”.
The [a]22-20s[/a] finish a triumphant set that’s even more wired and intense than last nights. ‘Devil In Me’ threatening to pull down Manchester’s grid supplies with every frenzied guitar bash.
Is it unprofessional to say that NME remembers pretty much fuck all from the next three hours other than getting very pissed with the [a]Delays[/a], discussing the merits of Abba and
then cowering in fear while 22-20s’ Glen smashes glasses
of whisky across the hotel reception area?
Oh, it is? Erm, sorry…
Like a true bunch of scuzzball rock’n’rollers, [a]The Cribs[/a] come swaggering into Liverpool’s Carling Academy 2 after a night
of debauchery and zero sleep. They were playing a show in Edinburgh last night that ended with such an intense bout
of weed smoking that they triggered the hotel smoke alarms and five fire engines turned up at their hotel.
“Girls, drugs and fire,” recalls drummer Ross Jarman of the previous night’s mayhem. “Always the sign of a good night.”
“Cheer up Liverpool, it might never fucking happen…”
If there’s one thing [a]The Cribs[/a] can’t stand it’s lethargic crowds
and they sure as hell aren’t going to let it get them down tonight. Why would you when you’ve got an arsenal of supreme scuzz-pop belters at your fingertips? Indeed, underneath the kind of fuzzy, gonzo clatter that makes a
Libs gig look like Swan Lake, the likes of ‘You Were Always
The One’ and ‘Direction’ are tunes to turn Brian Wilson green.
It ends, as all gigs really should, with Ross standing on
his drums while his brother and frontman Ryan pulls out
a pair of cheapo shades and dives into the crowd, spraining
his wrist along the way. Those smart enough to have been singing along from the start beam victoriously; those who arrived with arms folded are forced to pick themselves up
off the floor, dust themselves down and admit they’ve just seen one hell of a rock’n’roll set.
Fans pile backstage to hang out with the [a]22-20s[/a] and [a]The Cribs[/a]. Through the fog of dubious-smelling smoke and beer, various body parts are signed and Leon, 24, from the Wirral gets on his knees in admiration of [a]The Cribs[/a]’ set. It’s fucking great. But then, we are all completely trashed by this point…
Is it unprofessional to say that NME remembers pretty much fuck all from the next three hours other than cruising around Liverpool in a battered ex-police van with [a]The Cribs[/a] and
a bottle of Jack Daniel’s looking for somewhere we can dance badly to Otis Redding records?
Oh, it is? Erm, haven’t we already been here before? But
hey! Any night that ends with NME waking up on a hotel
floor with a huge plastic sunflower in their mouth must have been a good one, right?
So, is British music really back on form? What’s tinnitus-inducingly loud and clear from this tour is that for the first
time in a fucking age British bands are gaining the confidence and swagger to go their own way, without so much as glancing across the Atlantic for hairstyle tips. These bands aren’t contrived collectives of ‘musicians’ ripping off garage rock, they’re genuine gangs, playing the music that moves them. The resulting noise is charged with everything from the blues to Beat Happening via [a]Blondie[/a] and the resulting diets are unique enough to include Savlon and Nytol alongside staple nutrients like Stella and nosebag. These are exciting times, sure enough, and as the shonky tourbuses rev their engines it’s time for the bands to pile onboard and clatter off to the next town. The madness won’t stop until these bands have painted every town red (and white and blue).