More words from the road… the roads of nations far away. This is sent all the way from Japan – at the time of writing, it’s where Johnny Foreigner are on tour. All words, as always, from frontman Alexei Berrow.
Previous diary installments:
We rehearse for a few hours at a big complex in studentville called Rich Bitch. Me and (bassist) Kelly spent our college years at this place and every room holds some long-forgotten memory. My first proper girlfriend cheated on me with some guy who still works behind the desk, aha I totally showed him. At the end two work experience kids burst in and ask for autographs, which weirds us out slightly.
Plan first festival weekend. Phone up man in charge of ZOO8, tell him ‘cause Redfest's cancelled we're going to come down on the Friday and hang out and camp. “Um, yeah,” he says. “Maybe you can do that.” That's a bit odd, I think.
Phone up man in charge of ZOO8: None of these rumours flying around are true, are they? "Ha ha, no,"_ he says, "bye!"_ That's a bit odd, I think. Go to the BBC in the mailbox for an interview, about how we represent a fresh and exciting up-and-coming Birmingham indie-rock scene. The receptionist is blind, we don't know where we have to go, but eventually we find studio seven, which is hotel wardrobe size, where we spend like, two hours (we snuck out to go to a bar for 15 minutes) staring at a load of Blake’s 7_ controls and lights while a little voice from London apologised at us. Eventually we get interviewed and confuse lovely interviewer woman by constantly referring to dead bands. Does anyone on here remember The Starries? Sunset Cinema Club get our imaginary prize, even though they're from Redditch, which is like a twilight zone suburb at the end of the line.
Phone up man in charge of ZOO8. No answer. Phone friends at ZOO8. Hear various stories of rape and mutilation and zombies in the cash room. General consensus: there may be a gig, there won't be money. Disaster.
Hear more stories, decide to stay inside. We're bare skint as it is, our finances for the summer being based on getting loads of money for Redfest and this and thus being able to afford to play the ones that barely cover diesel. As it turns out, no one got paid and we'd have been stuck in a zoo forever. Maybe in a parallel universe we still are.
Wrexham Central Station, a warm-up festival show. One of the most disheartening shows ever, really. People just stand and stare at us. It's like we're talking Esperanto, every time we ask a question you can hear people shuffling shoes. At the end I go right into the crowd to this pointy shoe (natch) boy and scream and sweat into his face. He doesn't even move, doesn't even flinch. We wrap up the bread on the rider and head home. In the next couple of days, we'll get a flurry of MySpace messages and adds from people at that gig, all giving posthumous answers and apologising for everyone else's conduct. It’s sort of sweet.
2000 Trees Festival. Mud! Brand new white trainers! We roll up just as Tubelord start, the organisers let us run down the field to go watch. I could go on forever about Tubelord. They = the future. We play in a mini squall, people dance in the rain, it's pretty good fun. Me and Kelly’s pedals are almost submerged by the end, and all our stuff gets caked in mud. It still is caked in mud. Drink straight gin in dressing room and film rain, go home and scrub Cheltenham off my trainers.
July 12 Lounge on the Farm festival. Trainers still wet. Mega haul the next few days, we have a second driver called Ren. Who, I found out last night, was convinced I was gay, and anything I said to suggest otherwise was just sarcasm. Anyway, get to Lounge on the Farm: it’s on a farm, and farms stink. Meet Martin, new soundman. Realise we have a three-man crew like Real Bands. Yayyy. Gig is superfun, we stand around backstage and talk to people (I can't say fans without cringing slightly) thru a mesh fence, it's well showbiz. See LC!, they're amazing, realised how much we missed each other. Spend, like, 20 minutes then drive up north for T in the Park. Six-hundred miles, no stopping. We = Hardcore.
T in the Park. Once I spent the night on LC!’s bus and it was like being from the future, you fall asleep at 80mph and wake up at yr destination. And this is sort of like that, only waay more cramped. I think I win at four hours sleep, and that’s only ‘cause I shotgunned the floor. Still, everyone’s pretty excited to be at T. We put a tent up next to our van and watch as the tour buses all pull in and avoid destroying it. *R.E.M. *have three buses and they get their own little courtyard. Maddy (JoFo tour van) ends up being dwarfed on all sides: it's definitely an indie-cool moment. We have tokens that allow us one (1) visit to the meal tent, so we wait ‘til midday and have like, five courses each. Stagger out to van and try and stay awake with various gin cocktails. The gig is ok but the monitor mix is pretty sketchy. I beg audience for cigarettes, result. Run off to watch The National, let crew pack stuff,_ ahaaaaaaa. The National are pretty good but not as amaze as I was hoping, I think I built it up too much. I REALLY WISH I'd seen them when they toured _Alligator and Matt was still manic… We sneak into the photo pit for R.E.M., get chucked out. Kelly and (driver/TM) Lea and Martin manage to get to side stage; me and (drummer) Jun go and spend Too Much Money on food. Hang around at aftershow party – I swear, we're the most famous people in there. Which kinda defeats the point of going to such nights. Back to van, finish gin/vodka/blackcurrant thing whilst watching immense fireworks (Kelly in cocktail mode). Sleep until airport.
At least, I would if we'd have been clever. Stop at Tebay (yay, Tebay) to try and turn musical gear into luggage. It's like making a puzzle with no idea what it should look like. Manage eventually, making good time on the longest legs we've ever driven, then van breaks down five miles from airport. Lesser bands would worry at this point, but we laugh in the face of mechanical errors. Tow-truck to service station, taxi to airport, leaving crew stranded at various towns; meet (manager) Anthony, catch plane to Ibiza, arrive in time for a quick swim in our villa's pool before bed. (Alexei in pool pictured... sorry Alexei - Ed)
"Just something about this place. It's magical…" says our rep. As we find out, it's not magic, it’s just a fuck load of drugs and tourists, but the effect on a sleep-deprived and stony broke band like us is pretty magic. We're only the support band. The Enemy should be staying in this luxury villa, but they chose the hotel instead. The hotel is the party zone. "This is yr house man," says rep as he chops off a lump of hash for us. "Treat it like yr home." So at four in the morning the three of us are in our pants in the swimming pool, drinking gin and juice, listening to the crickets in the palm trees, and wondering how we got here. Moments like this make up for van-beds and debt-collectors 10,000-fold. We chose bedrooms (I get a whole floor to myself) and try and sleep as little as possible.
Ibiza. Wake up, get in pool, start day. Amaze. Drive out to venue along a massive buggy track (like, horse buggy). There’s a million people around taping stuff down and pressing buttons, the sound is superb. We do an interview for Channel 4, all lined up on a balcony with the stage in the background. We have another WTF are we doing here moment. they give me a camera to take random footage. I don't think they'll use it, ‘cause it’s just me and Kelly zooming in on really badly dressed people and slagging them off. Spying on people with a video camera from a balcony served a purpose tho – we realise how out of place we are. There’s not one person with a band t-shirt on. It's a mini festival, and the venue’s been up-scaled because The Enemy are such a big draw over here. There's food stalls and clothes stalls, all really, really expensive, and it’s like_ ladland_. I get well nervous until two seconds into the first song when we all realise that these people DANCE TO ANYTHING, and we go down great; everyone's from England and happy to be away, everyone’s on pills and the sun goes down halfway thru our set and at the end I jump into the crowd and get the sweat hugged out of me and stagger upstairs and pass out. Not the most meaningful gig ever, but a major fun holiday. We watch The Enemy and they're shit. I think they're going to be massive. The crowd response is fervent and righteous, like Nuremburg.
We cadge a minibus to the party-zone for the aftershow. We're so cool, we arrive before it's even started. We hang round drinking illicit booze in the courtyard. There are St George flags everywhere, ugly girls flashing in the windows, everyone’s chanting shitty songs – we can see why The Enemy chose to stay here instead. The party starts and all we can think about is our precious empty villa with its pool and booze cupboard. The DJ insists on having two songs on the go at the same time. Invent scenario in head of how it's just a strange OCD manifestation he has, and he's never heard of mash-ups or 2manydjs. Me and Kelly try traditional social escape route of drinking imported booze really obviously to ensure being asked to leave, but instead the promoters come over and give us drinks tokens. Then we get recognised a bit and get more tokens while kids on pills tell us how awesome/beautiful/meaningful we are. End up on leather sofas with promoters drinking variety of free drinks and smoking hash while girls with immaculate tans and miniskirts and meaningless oriental tattoos perch on our knees and hang off our every slurred word with wide doe-eyes like we're their priests. Reminds me of watching Matt King Adora chat up 14-year-old girls in dingy Birmingham indie clubs. We're never going to be a groupie band, but in Ibiza it seems more or less expected. We go back to luxury villa, girls come back to luxury villa, we get stoned and go to sleep. Clearly not how The Enemy started out..
Wake up, get in pool, start day, sweet routine... Girls have been delivered elsewhere. Everyone but me goes out for lunch. I lie under a palm tree with my feet in the water trying to write songs, then realise turning into Sting is even worse than The Enemy, so I go inside and read V, which is a fucking epic amazing alien invasion story. We're not flying out ‘til the evening, so we go out for dinner. I try and pronounce stuff in Spanish and the waiter gives me utter evils. A man with a guitar keeps interrupting us playing songs. We walk around the city walls where pirates did once go, get caught up in a mad procession in the town, then go pick up our stuff and fly home. The flight back is totally school trip – one of the stewardesses picks up the mic and says, "Excuse me, you can take pictures of yrselves but not us thank youuuuuuuuuuuuuu."_ Get back home, fall asleep in rubbish swimming pool-free house. Massive thank yous to the Ibiza Rocks people for being so friendly and hospitable to us. I lied, there was one guy in a band t-shirt, a massive ancient Pixies top. He was the man in charge and he invited us back next year. Uns uns!
Johnny Foreigner at Latitude Photo: Toby Price
Latitude. Another full weekend. Latitude is in a lovely forest, everyone seems well relaxed, we park up behind the stage. As soon as we get out of the van a lady from the BBC starts interviewing us: what do we think of the festival? Um, nice trees? Get entire crowd to sing start of ‘Cranes…’, everyone declares show to be awesome and the BBC come back and interview us up a bit more. We mix drinks and all go to watch Death Cab. They're beautiful as, but then I get really lost and have to ask someone in a Johnny Foreigner shirt which way to the stage I played on. Cringed. We have a minor trauma trying to park the van in the artist’s car park. "I locked the gates because it's gone dark,"_ says the most annoying woman in the forest. Meet Industry Friends in VIP area but again it's lacking in VIPs. Death Cab’s agent offers to buy me a drink and I really wish I'd said: Can I have a glass of please please please can we tour with Death Cab please please please? But I don't. Go sleep in van.
Lovebox is ok, I suppose. After all the other festivals this seems more like a giant school fete. Lethal Bizzle plays after us, I really want to call him Jizzy Tissue (Jeremy Clarkson jokebook), but his entourage is kinda intimidating (in a media-frenzy way as opposed to a hip-hoppery-thug way). Watch some amazing American folk woman whose name I forget,_ duh. Get given two meal tickets, yay_, drive to a real house for the night but I still sleep in the van. Me like van.
Truck was super-fun. I got really drunk and had an awesome time.
Johnny Foreigner at Truck Photos: Lucy Johnston
Dublin. We're practised at Ireland now: what you do, yeah, is get really cheap early morning flights and, like, just hang around for half a day, then stay drunk ‘til the following early flight home. There’re about 30 people to see us but in the three hours between doors and stage time they all seem to have become our best friends, and it feels weirdly like a homecoming. Fight Like Apes keep putting drinks on the stage, thus inventing and winning another way for me to start picking bands. We get a MASSIVE booze rider which we have no room for and go back to a man we just met called Patrick’s house. It feels like we spend about ten minutes there before the taxi comes. Dublin airport at 4am drunk is the most fun thing ever. It’s also the most crowded building ever (like, even Tokyo subway trains have more room). We have to walk about a mile thru corridors to our boarding area, all the windows are opaque and the sun’s coming up… maybe we were a bit gone but it was well pretty. Fly back, sleep.
Our MySpace page is going crazy. We had a feature on MySpace USA and we spend the day clicking ‘ye’s on a broad cross section of our desired demographic. A lot of our new MySpace friends seem to love R&B, which is nice. I actually can’t wait to go back to America.
We go to record demos with our friend Dom from Sunset Cinema Club at a little studio in Redditch. Before we signed our deal proper we'd always come here to record, and we're the last band he'll do here, it’s a sad moment. He plays us some other bands he's done's songs, new Shocked Elevator Family stuff that sounds like Joan of Arc and is incredible, and Shana Tova and Little Dipper. Shame we can't be interviewed about Birmingham music now we actually know what’s going on. It feels awesome to hear our own new songs back again. We dine on KFC and I spend too long on guitar overdubs, it’s like old times.
Next month… We do more crazy-crazy I’m in a band stuff. I’m sorry there’s no pseudo-witty postscript, I’m about to go play Summersonic and I’m like SUPER NERVOUS...
Johnny Foreigner can be found on MySpace here and they play live in the UK as follows:
22 Leeds Leeds Festival
24 Reading Reading Festival
30 London Offset Festival
6 Wiltshire Sugarhill Festival
21 Hull Lamp*
22 Derby Venue*
23 Northampton Roadmender*
24 Liverpool Korova*
25 Warrington WA1*
26 Cardiff Bafrly*
27 Bath Moles*
29 Brighton Albert*
30 London Madame JoJo’s* (White Heat/DiS show – details here)
1 Leicester Charlotte*
2 Preston 53 Degrees*
3 Newcastle End Bar*
4 Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire*
5 *York *Fibbers
8* Birmingham* Yardbird** with Sunset Cinema Club and Calories
9 Kingston New Slang @ Mclusky’s