Yesterday, after briefly stirring at 4am and thinking ‘oooh, sounds a bit windy outside’, we awoke to tales of flying pub signs, gigantic beach balls causing chaos on roundabouts, and trees uprooted from the ground like an invisible Hulk had gone rampaging through the south of England, on a bewildering mission to disrupt the region’s fragile transport infrastructure. It was, as our friends north of the border may have observed, blowy as fuck.
However, the breadth and destruction of St. Jude pales in comparison to another mighty force that tore its way through the nation recently: the package tour that saw Teeth of the Sea, Thought Forms and Esben and the Witch embark on a cross-country, transit van slalom on a mission to free asses and perforate eardrums. Having witnessed the awesome power of all three bands separately, the very thought of them all simply being in the same space, like three mystic runes combining to unleash an unholy blast, made our knees buckle.
Luckily, in the few moments we weren’t convulsing on the floor or muttering ancient protective prayers, we managed to enlist an insider to document the event. Our man? Mat Colegate of Teeth of the Sea, who’re currently celebrating the release of their stunning new album Master, a mind-blowing mixture of pounding rhythms, space-age synths and twisted textures that’s like all the cool videos your older brother wouldn’t lend you as a kid, melted down and poured into your ears. Seriously, you need this record like you need us not to come round and slap your face until you see sense.
Mat was our eyes, ears and liver on the ground, so sit down, grab a bottle of poppers (you’ll understand why later) and enjoy his dispatches from the front line of mind-bending rock and roll…
If this was a film we couldn’t hope for a better opening scene. The Lexington is packed. There are points when I’m having to have three conversations at once with various friends and well-wishers and it actually starts making me really nervous (so apologies if I was rude to anyone). The intensity of the whole situation means that I miss both the sets by Esben and the Witch and Thought Forms and am forced to hide in the dressing room to cool off and straighten out.
However, the show is great. I’m very happy that there seems to be a slightly younger crowd to see us and ecstatic that some of them appear to be dancing! Well, there’s one bloke sort of lurching from side to side like a drunk hobby horse near the front, but I think that counts. Amazing reaction from the crowd as well, and loads of copies of Master sold from the merch stand afterwards. Couldn’t be happier. A slightly inebriated night bus home is called for and then an early start. On the morrow, we tour!
Back to the Lex first thing to pick up the gear and meet the driver for our little jaunt. Ladies and gentlemen, Kev ‘The Rev’ Williams: owner of more band t-shirts than I have ever seen of bands I will never see and an infinite fountain of gossip on every heavy metal and hardcore combo that has ever crossed his transit. Needless to say, he and our own font of headbanging knowledge, Jimmy Martin, spend a lot of the driving yammering away about people I’ve never met with names like ‘Spider’ and ‘Doncaster Dave’, who have apparently insulted each other at straight edge shows that I never went to. It provides a sleepy ambient backdrop of gossip that I find quite soothing.
First things first though, it transpires we have to wait for the okay from the van hire company before setting off, so we pull into the entrance to a construction site while we wait. On looking out of the window I notice that there is a woman, sitting on a step outside, who appears to be crying. Obviously none of us are quite sure what to do, but the situation becomes even more confusing when, upon conferring, we turn back to see that she has been replaced (or, indeed, transmogrified by some base sorcery) into a tiny dog wearing what appears to be a somewhat inappropriate muzzle. Upon the okay from the insurance bods we flee this site of witchery and make haste to Leeds, blasting John Coltrane and All Pigs Must Die to purify the magicked air. Get thee behind us, fell Londinium!
TotS have played The Brudenell before. The last time was during an all-dayer that was so scintillating that we all ended up huddled in the van watching Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace for the thousandth time, so hopes are not too high. It’s a great looking venue though. A proper rough-looking working men’s club, with a high stage and draught ales on tap. The promoter seems on it as well and there’s a goodly assortment of food back stage. We also get a chance to hang out with the guys from Esben and Thought Forms properly, which is always welcome as they’re fantastic dudes to a fault. Really unpretentious and funny folks and a pleasure to be touring with. It’s during this little sit down that Mike Bourne starts doing a little dance that looks, as I point out, like a cross between a spider and a lobster. And thus, with the Titanic-hitting-the-iceberg inevitability with which in-jokes occur on these jaunts, we witness the birth of The Splobster! (Jesus, imagine it. Lying at the bottom of the sea with its ectoplasmic webs furling around it. Ghastly).
We’re second on tonight, so Thought Forms step up to the mark first. Sadly the room is really quiet. Which is a euphemism for ‘pretty fucking empty’. I say sadly, because TF are brutal, their long droney intro gets me every time and when they suddenly swerve into their speedier more concise tunes it’s like bobsledding down an erupting volcano. We play okay, I think. The lack of people makes it a bit difficult to really get going but a few of the folk who are in attendance seem properly into it. Esben are fantastic though. Since Dan’s moved onto drums their sound has beefed up a lot, to the extent that tracks like ‘Smashed To Pieces’ now hit some towering peaks of noisy mayhem. All in all a good night, but not quite as…frantic as one might want, especially after last night’s London show. Ah well, to the Travelodge!
Following a fitful night’s sleep (Sam Barton and official tour/war photographer William Van Der Voort appear to have signed a pact wherein when one of them stops snoring the other one starts immediately, thus depriving me of as much rest as possible) we head off to Liverpool and the beautiful Kazimier. The Kaz (as I’m sure nobody calls it) is a stunning venue, looking for all the world like a kind of octagonal wooden circus tent, with loads of nooks and crannys to get lost in.
We have a little while until sound check so decide to go and get some lunch and have a wander around. Oh it is a blustery day in Liverpool. A walk down to the docks nearly takes my legs from under me and sudden brutal bursts of rain erupt as if from nowhere drenching us miserably. The sea however looks ruddy impressive. Needless to say, we decide to walk down Matthew Street and do a bit of Beatles tourism. Liverpool is chockablock with very badly rendered images of various Beatles: constipated looking Pauls and slightly mentally affected Ringos gurn down from every wall, and the famous statue of John Lennon has the unfortunate effect of making the city’s hero appear both very short and staggeringly inebriated. I don’t normally have any truck with people who say that they “don’t like The Beatles” (yes, you do. You’re just trying to prove something) but one walk past the blokes yelling at each other outside Lennon’s Bar and I can sympathise.
So, you thought last night was ill-attended, did you? Think again. It is desolate back at the venue. At one point I count ten punters for Esben and Thought Forms, both of whom manage to sound triumphant, even under such conditions. Unfortunately for everyone it’s at times like this that my default position comes into play. At some point during the evening, usually during the set up before we play, I will turn to Mike Bourne and utter five fateful words: “What would Wolf Eyes do?”. Needless to say, the answer is to quickly drink as much alcohol as I am capable of and proceed to go for it in as uninhibited a way as possible.
And by God, we do. Jimmy climbs the speaker stack! There are lunges, people! I lunge! It is not dignified, but then, neither is playing for ten people. It works though. By the end of the set Mike and myself are leading the audience in a quasi militaristic salute, while he wears a a mask bearing the likeness of mute ninja warrior, Snake Eyes from GI Joe. Liverpool knows it has been drunkenly slurred at and we leave on a bit of a high. Who says you need alcohol to have fun? Err, we do.
TotS like The Harley. The last time we were here we were touring with Parts and Labor who proceeded to thrash us at table football while we thrashed them at excessive drinking, so we’re looking forward to taking on our touring buddies in a similar tournament. However, on arrival in blustery Sheffield – following a fantastically scenic, Oneohtrix Point Never soundtracked drive through Snake’s Pass – we discover that the table football is no more! Gutted. Ah well, next time.
As if to make up for this it transpires that The Harley has started doing some excessively full-on burgers, and so TotS all slip into deep dark food comas, the likes of which only students of transcendental meditation can begin to understand. What follows on awakening is a slightly grumpy and startled soundcheck, handled with usual aplomb by our tour soundman Joe Garcia, who could make a rattling box of matches sound like Led Zeppelin if he so chose.
We’re on first tonight, due to having to drive back to London so that the rest of the chaps can attend a wedding tomorrow. This suits me fine, but it does mean we have to miss Esben and Thought Forms, which is a shame. The Harley stage is about the size of a postage stamp, so the gig is a close cut one. I’m constantly worrying about sodomising Mike with a drumstick and thus can’t really go full on Keith Moon at the kit.
The crowd are good though and we get to do a radio interview for Sine FM afterwards, during which Sam manages to drop the ‘F’ bomb twice and Mike compares us to a mix between Enter The Void and Can’t Stop The Music: The Story Of The Village People, which is as good a description of us as anyone’s ever come up with, I reckon. Then, in the van on the way home, Kev sticks on a CD by Washington DC ’80s hardcore oddballs Mission For Christ and we all lose our collective shit. One of the best parts of touring, for me anyway, is being in the pressure cooker environment and getting turned onto stuff you haven’t heard before. It happens all the time that I’ll come back from tour with loads of band names scribbled in my note book and have the fun of tracking down everything by them. Yep, we’re in it for the music, people. Believe.
Now this did not look promising. First, everyone was extremely hung over. Second, by the time we get to Leicester it is absolutely shitting it down with rain. Third, Leicester has the scariest town centre I have seen on this fair isle in quite some time (the minute we left the van we were confronted with two blokes on opposite ends of the street drunkenly and aggressively bellowing “KFC!” at each other). Fourth, Coors Light in the fridge. Fifth, did I mention the hangovers? However, all fears are proven groundless and we have one of the most enjoyable nights on the tour.
For a start all the bands get to eat together, thus facilitating essential camaraderie and the swapping of stupid stories, which is lifeblood on a jaunt like this. Also the promoter has really done his job properly and the place is packed. The TotS hardcore Midlands contingent are front and centre for our set which inspires us to pull out a bit of a blinder as well. Leicester, we are humbled and surprised. We think about blasting some of local boys Kasabian in tribute on the way to the Travelodge, but decide that their oafish bellowings wouldn’t compliment the bottle of wine the promoter furnished us with before we left. Instead we settle for Skrillex and Omar Souleyman, which is a bit like being in a confined space while someone fires drawing pins at you from a catapult. Magic.
Ah, Brighton. Site of many of my most sybaritic sprees. A town dedicated to pleasures beyond imagining. A seaside palace of excess. A wind-swept monolith of blah blah blah blah. Look, I lived in Brighton for ages and I love the place but to be honest it’s a bit more fish and chips than S&M these days. Still, an opportunity to catch up with some old friends and play at Sticky Mike’s, which has sprung up since I left all those years ago. I’m looking forward to checking it out, and it transpires that it is well named. Man, that floor is sticky.
After loading out, all the bands repair to the Hop Poles next door, which I am pleased to report is still as cosy a pub as it ever was, but now with the added attraction of Mario Kart on the N64, which Mike proceeds to thrash everyone at in a manner unbefittingly smug for a man in his mid-30s. There are some pints. Then there are some more. Phil is our promoter tonight, and another fella I used to knock around with back in the day, so we have a good long reminisce about days and gig venues gone by. Dan and Juan from essential blog 20 Jazz Funk Greats turn up to say hello, as do more old friends. There are some pints. Then there are some more.
Thought Forms turn in a blinder. How Deej gets that static filled crunch to his guitar I shall never know (I mean, I could ask him, but my patience for remembering what people are saying when they’re talking about guitar effects is roughly similar to my attention span when people are giving me complicated directions). There are some pints, then we are on stage. More people dancing! This is good, I like this. It goes really quickly and looks somewhat hairy when all the monitors at the front of the stage suddenly conk out, but we manage to keep it together and pull off a good show.
Esben are on spectacular form in front of a home crowd. Super tight and atmospheric, I think it’s probably the best I’ve seen them, which is saying something. There are more drinks. More old friends pop up out of the woodwork necessitating some long overdue catch-ups and a few even more overdue whiskys. Then, just when I though the evening couldn’t get any better, it’s all back to Dan from EATW’s house at which point he fires up Arkham City on on the PS3 and I get to happily uppercut and piledriver the scum of Gotham City until its time for bed. Brighton, Buddies, Beer and Batman. Days do not get much better than that.
So, last show. Here we go. Yo ho ho. We load in easily enough and repair to the pub next door, where, it transpires, they have recently held a beer festival of which the remainder of the product is being sold for about £1.30 a pint. As Treguard from Knightmare would say: “Oh dear!”. The bands all join us and a lovely afternoon’s drinking is set into motion, something that always goes better if you can add a solid base of bullshitting needlessly about real ale, I reckon. There is much swapping of stories and reading aloud from the Guardian’s sex advice pages, and the whole day swings along a bit recklessly. Ah, it’s the last day, we’re all tight professional bands, what’s the worse that can happen?
Things take a turn for the ridiculous when, upon going to the newsagents to buy cigarettes, I decide to buy a bottle of poppers. Now I haven’t bought poppers in about 15 years and the admonishing look from the newsagent should be warning enough, but no. You just have to take it too far don’t you, Colegate? Thankfully TotS are on first this evening and we have a riotous show. Bluster, noise, sex-faced gurning, the works. All that over with, we can relax and enjoy the rest of the evening without too much worry.
Now, never let it be said that TotS are reckless with their (legal) highs. There is a plan to the poppers consumption and it is thus: during the final moments of Esben’s ‘Smashed to Pieces’, just before it completely bugs out into noise-ageddon , each member of TotS will take a large huff from the golden bottle, thus adding intensity to an already intense moment and, hopefully, hurling us collectively into deep space, out where the buses don’t run and the stars twinkle. The plan takes effect almost immediately and we happy four respond with a unified display of macho fist pumping. Imagine Queen’s Radio GaGa video populated entirely by drunk stick insects and you come somewhere near.
Suitably emboldened I proceed to snort a lot more during Thought Form’s triumphant homecoming gig, then even more in the garden outside until I am basically more vapour than man and my appearance can fairly be described as ‘haunted’. Seriously, I can’t feel my feet. All this fun, combined with a load more shifted merch has put the TotS camp into a thoroughly groovy mood which doesn’t shift even when a punter walks past us during a fag break and, referring I presume to our unified fist pumping antics, refers to us as “some proper fucking National Front shit”. Ignorant fucker clearly hasn’t heard of the White Panthers.
And so it comes to a close and we sadly pack up and strap down our gear in preparation for the drive home. Hugs are exchanged, photos are taken and offers of amyl nitrate are turned down. You really couldn’t hope for a cooler bunch of dudes to share a few gigs with. No egos, no tantrums, just a bunch of folk enjoying each other’s company and rocking like black-lunged bastards every night. Special thanks to all of Esben and Thought Forms and especially to our driver, Kev and official tour photographer William Van Der Voort. And, of course, to Joe Garcia, our soundman for the whole jaunt. We strap ourselves into the back of the van and with a few tearful waves of goodbye, crank up Metallica’s ‘Metal Militia’, have another blast on the golden bottle of good times and hit the road back to the smoke and normality. Well, what would Wolf Eyes do?
Words: Mat Colegate
Photos: William van der Voort