Post Tour Blog

10 things I learnt touring with the Levellers

1] Men smell

The stench of feet, fart and other funk is really rather overpowering when you’re living on a bus together for two weeks. The cacophony is pretty horrendous too; a symphony of snoring, wailing walruses throughout the night doesn’t make for the best night’s sleep ever. And you might think touring is glamorous but I can assure you that getting out of bed and off the bus at 7 in the morning in the freezing cold to look for a toilet is not a glamorous experience at all.

2] The unconditional love of Levellers fans is a truly touching thing.

They are a loyal bunch those fans and they certainly know what they like. Every night I would mind the stall for Stephen Boakes whilst he played didgeridoo on stage and every night fans would whizz by on the way to the toilet or the bar but they would always stop for a brief chat and always as if they had known you for a lifetime. It really did make you feel a part of something bigger than the normal band/fan relationship. And they are such a friendly bunch [the notable exception being the woman who came up to me at Leeds whilst I was minding the stall for Stephen who juggled her not inconsiderable breasts in my face then stopped and announced “Oh you won’t be interested in these at all will you?” then flounced off, visibly aggrieved.]

3] The internet gives me a headache.

Having been kicked out of the venue [because understandably everyone wants to go home] and standing outside the beautiful Buxton Opera House at 1 in the morning in the freezing cold with my laptop balanced on my arm staring at a blue line on the screen that has been creeping ever so slowly towards “your upload is done” for what seems like forever is excruciating and frustrating and maddening. Especially as everyone else is in the pub over the road having a grand old time. Fuck you, internets.

4] Stephen Boakes should have his own film.

Okay, he does have a lengthy extra scene on the DVD but Stephen is an absolute pleasure to be on tour with and, don’t tell him this but he undoubtedly IS as eccentric as Jeremy. Those two together are a joy to behold. He does really deserve his own film. Stephen had brought this book on tour with him that he had rescued from a house clearance somewhere which was a guide to various battles around the country [a subject I admittedly have little, if no interest in whatsoever] and every day he would diligently and determinedly search for the nearest conflict to where we were in the country despite my discouraging noises and complete lack of enthusiasm. File under “Complete character”.

5] We have been to some wonderful venues

Buxton Opera House, London Union Chapel, Liverpool Philharmonic, Bexhill De La Warr Pavilion, Leeds Town Hall and Bath Forum were amongst some of the most beautiful venues I have ever been in. I was blown away night after night by some of the amazing architecture throughout this tour; what a wonderful antidote it was to that slog around those soulless branded mid-sized venues that seem to be omnipresent nowadays. Even if the gig was crap [which it never was as it happens!] the venue was usually a pleasure to behold. Special mention for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral as well when I sneaked off one night to watch the wonderful Tune-Yards!

6] Costa is shit

Their coffee is weak, flavourless shit, their service is shit, their croissants are shit and their internet is shit. Safe to say I have blown that endorsement deal with Costa but I bet it would have been a shit endorsement deal as well.

7] The sound of laughter is a wonderful thing

Listening to the audience laughing at the film, sometimes at moments where you had deliberately played for the laugh and occasionally when you hadn’t, was a completely lovely and rewarding experience. I don’t want to sound all luvvy about this but the buzz of treading the boards as well, even if it’s only to do the Q&A with Jeremy after the film and engage the audience and to hear them roar with laughter and even applaud makes any previous problems from the day seem a lifetime away. A true tonic.

8] At last I suspect we’ve done something good

Admittedly this film was a struggle at times; there were times of self-doubt and times where other people’s doubt brought the whole project into jeopardy but we persevered and judging by the audience’s warm response and their glowing comments afterwards it does genuinely feel that we have created something that throws a light on this amazing band that is revealing, fascinating and funny. And appreciated. Thankfully. Phew!

9] I could edit that film forever

Having sat through the film quite a few times now I am always thinking about bits I would’ve put in that were left out and things I would’ve done differently and things I wished I’d filmed. That’s inevitable I suppose. You’ve just got to move on though. At least we have the DVD with all those deleted/extra scenes to supplement it. [Yes, I’m pushing the DVD quite a lot aren’t I?]

A Curious Life

10] This band will go on forever.

They say it in the film and I believe them. They’ll end up like the Chieftains, being wheeled on stage, gingerly taking up their positions and then still managing to rock out like a bunch of motherfucking teenagers once the music kicks in. I really believe that. It took me about three days to recover from this tour. I was a broken man. They ploughed on regardless. I have nothing but admiration for what they do. And how they do it. I’ll miss them and all their smelly, eccentric, drunken, roguish, lovable charm, I really will…

A Curious Tour

A Curious Tour

10394465_906163576082345_5609316455446475522_n

I’m absolutely wrapped up in doing the time-coding on these German subtitles for the DVD release of A Curious Life. It’s driving me mad. It’s all encompassing. I am seeing lines and lines of German text in my dreams streaming down in front of me like something from that film with Tom Cruise from a while ago, you know that one where he’s some kind of cop in the future but then he’s accused of murder or something. Anyway the work is not that difficult; it’s just laborious. It’s taking up every one of my waking moments so when I find out that the Levellers have been rehearsing diligently and are completely prepared for this Curious Tour we are about to embark on I start to feel a tad under-prepared. The idea of the tour is that we screen the film then I get up afterwards and do a Q&A with the audience then that’s followed by an acoustic performance by the band. We first did this “format” at the World Premiere of the film at East End Film Festival and it was an absolute success. It maybe was also the moment when we realised that we actually had a film that people loved and this was confirmed at the Brighton screening last November where, despite one of the poorest performances I have ever witnessed by the band, the total and unconditional love in the room saw them triumphantly through.

So here we are at the first show of the tour, Salisbury City Hall and we are working out what’s going to happen. We’ve got a large enough screen but it’s right at the back of the stage; it’s not perfect by any means but we are still learning as we go along; this is a new venture for us all.

Usually in these scenarios where you do a Q&A with the director of the film there’s a host or compere to lead you gently by the hand through this; they shower you with compliments, ask searching and incisive questions, coax out of you some hidden gem of information or hilarious anecdote that makes the experience an enjoyable one for all concerned. John Robb is an expert at this as proven by his cameo performance at the East End Premiere. Unfortunately though John’s not on tour with us to take on that role so I stumble on stage all alone before the screening to introduce the film. I make it up as I go along, probably making some reference to Stephen Boakes’s comment about “25 years of subsidised dysfunctionality” and let everyone know that I’ll be back at the end of the film to do a one man Q&A.

I return after the film to witness half the audience streaming out of the venue to get a drink and visit the toilet. I bravely, if not a tad nervously, launch into my Q&A and to be brutally honest, it’s a painful experience. A few fairly random questions followed by the obligatory “When’s the DVD out?” enquiry and rounded off by the rather bizarre query “Who was the actor who played Jeremy’s dad?” Dumbfounded and deflated I thank the audience and amble off returning to the dressing room crestfallen. I bump into Jon preparing for the show “Are you off to do your Q&A?” he asks brightly. “I’ve just done it.” I reply, limply. He looks astonished. I look sheepish.
To his absolute credit after the show Jon dives into the problem of the Q&A headfirst and pragmatically determines to make the thing work otherwise it’s not even worth me being there. He makes me feel a whole lot better about the whole affair and we resolve to make this thing work in Pontardawe.
The next day in Pontardawe it’s raining. Well obviously it is; we are in Wales after all. The venue is beautiful. Much smaller than last night, full of character and with proper screening facilities. We “screencheck” the film and it’s all good. We work out with Jac and Ian, the Levellers’ front of house people how we will co-ordinate the introduction and the Q&A. And we introduce our secret weapon: Jeremy.

After half a bottle of spiced rum I am much more confident with the introduction and I announce that Jeremy will be joining me after the screening for the Q&A. He gets an ovation when introduced to the stage after the film.

10922516_906163479415688_6557572706098598691_n

Hardly anyone leaves the room and the questions come thick and fast. Me and Jeremy bounce off each other and the audience love it. Of course we get asked when the DVD is out but we also embrace a fan-led campaign to get Jeremy’s mum and dad on Gogglebox!
We eventually leave the stage as we’ve run out of time and everyone’s happy. The Levellers play a blinding set and the night ends up in chaos at the local Pink Geranium pub. Result!
We keep to that formula at the much larger and sold out Malvern Theatre and again it works a treat, the highlight being a woman asking whether she could stroke Jeremy’s hair. He obliges manfully. It’s another successful Q&A, though it must be said that at least 90% of the questions are aimed directly at Jeremy and might not necessarily be even about the film. No matter though; we are engaging the audience and they’re loving it.

10968352_906916472673722_7979089480532661949_n

The next day, after an early wake up call and flight to Dublin we have a completely different experience. The film was to be screened in the Irish Film Institute, a venue I had last been to in about 2000 to screen a subsequently shelved film about Chumbawamba called “Well Done. Now Sod Off”. I nostalgically mentioned this in my brief introduction and then awaited Jeremy’s arrival for the Q&A as he’d flown on a later flight and ironically was stuck in traffic because of a political demonstration against increased water taxes in Ireland. With minutes to spare Jeremy arrives just as the credits are rolling and we have the pleasure of having Sunniva from the Irish Film Institute to lead the Q&A. She’s an archivist herself so the conversation, for me at least, is far more interesting and much more about the process of making the film than finding out what Jeremy’s favourite Levellers song is [for the record, on this day it was “Barrel Of The Gun” though the previous day it had been “England My Home”; he’s a fickle man I tell you].
We chat for quite some time, Jeremy expands on the “sending a turd in the post” tale and then patiently poses for photographs. Job done. I can relax and enjoy the mind-melding nonsense of “Inherent Vice” before we make our way to St Patricks Cathedral for the Levellers performance there. As an atheist it pains me to say what a wonderful setting it was for the band to play and despite a few sound problems within the cathedral it’s another amazing show.
By the time we get to Canterbury the following day though we are all a bit tired. Nobody goes to bed early in Dublin and anyway, the bar in the hotel has music blaring till about 3 in the morning. A flight and a minibus ride later we’re enjoying the beauty of Canterbury and another beautiful room in which to perform. There are a few problems with the screening but I think we get away with it and the Q&A is 100% questions for Jeremy, mostly about who is and who should be playing at Beautiful Days this year! Jeremy is a star, as usual and I can only stand back and marvel at his wonderful handling of a clearly devoted audience but Tour Manger Phil wants to pull us off as we are running over time so off we go to a rousing reception and yet another triumphant show.

We start on this Curious Tour again on the 24th February and I was pleased to be invited back to do those shows. It took us a few days to actually work out what we were doing but we’ll certainly be prepared for this next lot. All those dates can be found here:
http://www.levellers.co.uk/news/a-curious-life-levellers-acoustic-2015-tour

 

A Curious Premiere

Dunst&JohnRobb

So I’ve spent the last two years [at least!] creating this film, producing my very own baby after a very hard labour that I am finally, massively, ridiculously proud of. It’s been a struggle though; a battle, a painful, painful process riven with strife and doubt and fear. I’ve basically been through the whole creative maelstrom, step by step, that goes something like this:

1. This is awesome
2. This is tricky
3. This is shit
4. I am shit
5. This might be ok
6. This is awesome

Well, to be honest, maybe I only got to number 5 but you know, I feel as though I’ve finally cracked it. Finally all that toil and sweat and tears and sleepless nights has gotten me somewhere. To my goal. I’m living the dream. I’m high on adrenaline and relief and joy. I’ve done it. Solved the conundrum. Completed the jigsaw. Defeated the demons. I’ve finished my film!

Except I haven’t. Because this isn’t the end. No. This is just the beginning…

It’s Sunday 15th June and on a small stage in the basement of the Red Gallery in East London the Levellers are soundchecking. I’m already relieved: the band are here, there is a stage and they look happy. Given the lead-up to getting the band to agree to do this acoustic performance and the gentle wrangling and negotiating with band, crew and festival alike this is a total result! I’d entered the film into a number of film festivals and had been waiting for a “yes”; after a few knockbacks, which however polite or encouraging they are; still hurt, the wonderful East End Film Festival were very keen to screen it; they loved the film and would love to get the band to perform as well. It would be an event. I’m overjoyed and incredibly nervous at the same time. I’m trying to be blasé about the whole thing but really I’m delighted this is happening and just hope, hope, hope that everything goes to plan.

The screening is a sellout well in advance and it’s apparent that there’s a lot of Levellers fans here; definitely not a “documentary” crowd as such, and so the atmosphere is electric and expectant. The musician and writer John Robb introduces the film and admits that he has yet to see it but is confident that it will be great. And then we’re off. Squeaky bum time.

Eighty minutes later and the film has gone down really well; it’s fascinating for me watching it with a large crowd, noticing what gets a big laugh, what gets missed and what bits fall flat. I’m sat with my friend Lorraine who openly admits to not knowing the first thing about the Levellers. I have to apologise for laughing at my own film a few times but she loves it nevertheless. This makes me very happy, knowing that someone can come to the film cold and be totally engaged; we must have done something right! And apart from the wonderful audience reaction I was relieved and happy to hear and see the band themselves totally enjoying it. All those disparaging comments, the bad press and the jokes and the teasing and the one liners are embraced wholeheartedly; proof to me that this band are an amazing bunch of ne’erdowells.

We get an amazing response at the end of film, and that combined with the rush for the toilets means that most people miss the final conversation between Jeremy and Boakesy about the band’s 25 years of subsidized dysfunctionality. I don’t mind though; this response is well worth missing it for.

The Q&A that follows with John Robb flies by; I only wish we’d had time to take questions from the floor but we have to finish quickly as the Levellers acoustic performance is about to begin. Someone on twitter said they blasted the roof off the place [good going as we were in the basement] and I think they were about right. I use the word “triumph” more in jest than in seriousness but yeah, I was pretty [legally] high on the journey home back to Brighton afterwards where me and Steve [one of the exec producers from the Levellers’ office] gabble constantly about future plans and running through the evening’s events until that neverending late night train journey to Brighton inevitably sucks the life out of us and we eventually come down back to earth. What a great evening; hopefully there are going to be many more. See you at the next screening hopefully!

photo