The show at the Barbican was being filmed in HD, so I went in early and helped adjust lights with our LD David Ambrosio and Will from Hillman Curtis’s crew so that the stage looked to the camera more or less the way it looks to the eye… at least on the songs that hadn’t previously been shot. Before that I went up to Camden Town to the Roundhouse, where the Playing the Building installation will open on Friday, to see how it was going. The building, now cleared of circus staging and other crap, and with its skylight open for the first time, is spectacular. Mark McNamara and Justin Downs were just getting some of the motors and pipes into position, so no sounds to be heard yet… but all seems to be well. Here’s a shot of work in progress:
The crate containing the actual organ was opened in shipping — probably by Homeland Security, who carelessly repacked it, as they do — and in the process the keyboard was almost destroyed (though it’s repairable). We hope none of the other mechanical or electronic bits inside were damaged, but will know soon enough. I feel more secure, don’t you? How, I wonder, is international shipping of goods, samples, art, products, etc. supposed to happen if this kind of behavior is tacitly encouraged by the US government? The Bush legacy lingers. Is there someone we’re supposed to pay, some service we’re supposed to use to guarantee more considerate handling? The inspection would be fine if they had put the bits back with some semblance of care.
[Alice Rawsthorn adds: "Your problems with Homeland Security reminded me of László Moholy-Nagy's misadventures when taking his enormous Light Space Modulator into the various countries where he and his family lived in the 1930s. Whenever it crossed a border, customs officials pounced and refused to believe that it was a work of art, until Moholy took to describing it as "hairdressing equipment" and it sailed through unscathed."]
I walked on the net, high above the Roundhouse floor, that rings the innermost catwalk… you can see it in the photo. The ring looks like it’s floating… very exciting.
I tubed it down to the Barbican Centre, where our show will be. The walkways, as one approaches this sixties brutalist monstrosity, provide views reminiscent of the scenes in A Clockwork Orange when Alex returns to his parents’ flat after a night of the old ultra-violence (minus the blowing trash).
Anyway, at the show Leo Abrahams sat in with us for two of the songs on which he played on the recent CD collaboration with Brian. He wore the mandatory white, and plugged straight into and out of his laptop, using some software effects — and it sounded great. No amp or other bits of gear! I lent him my spare Strat, so he didn’t even need to bring a guitar.
Jenni surprised us by bringing Julian Barratt (Howard Moon) from The Mighty Boosh backstage to say hello as we gathered in our snack room. We were all stunned and flattered. He came to see us even though he really, seriously does like jazz. Julian, Thom Yorke, Brian, and some others joined us after the show. I made the rounds saying hellos, then Cindy and I went back to the hotel. Thom was very excited to meet her — I guess from his art school days, she was (is) an icon of sorts. I was wearing a not so special white shirt and Thom immediately knew the designer — a friend of his. He must have spotted some subtle detail. I never would have pegged him for someone knowledgeable about fashion.
C and I pedaled over to a show of design art furniture at the V&A. There is some truly lovely and wacky stuff, but not enough of it to be a real survey of the currently hot genre. The whole categorization is questionable for some — as it’s limited edition furniture that is super expensive, and usually not that comfortable to sit on, placed into an art context. It’s functional but not really. The not really part makes it art — if one agrees that art doesn’t serve an (obvious) practical purpose. I’ve done a series of functional (you can sit in them) but uncomfortable chairs in a variety of materials that could be considered to fall into this genre, so I’m fascinated.
This one, by Sebastian Brajkovic, is made mostly of cast bronze — it must weigh quite a bit!
The show is called “Telling Tales”, as if there was some Grimms’ Fairy Tale theme running through the work — death and incest and dark mothers and fathers and forests… though to me that all seems like a stretch. Pretty much all the work, except for two pieces (one British — Julian Mayor — and one by Boym, the Russian-American designer), is Dutch. Leave those out and the show could have been called a survey of recent extreme Dutch furniture design — though there is a lot more going on there design-wise as well. The Eindhoven-based Droog Design crew, which spawned Hella Jongerius and quite a few others, don’t strictly make furniture — they are also pushing design boundaries.
A road sign in Hyde Park — there’ll always be an England.
The One Year Family
The tour is winding down and we’re all feeling a little weird. I suppose my dreams are all related to the imminent end of the tour. It’s amazing we all held it together this long — there were few meltdowns and only one crew person defected, and that was months ago. The shows have been successful, and the band doesn’t have any serious substance abusers or complete lunatics — which was fairly common for a pop music tour back in the day — so maybe all those factors helped to contribute to how well we held it together for an entire year.
Extended tours like this are like movie shoots — everyone bonds, like a little family. We often do things together, and we all sleep together (well, close by) on the buses. We know our family will only last a year, though there are sometimes splinter unions that last longer. Some of the crew will go on to work on other projects and tours; some of us musicians, singers and dancers will work on stuff together in the near future; friendships and even love bonds have formed — but none of those projects or relationships will include the whole one year family. This particular unit will break apart in about a week…
We’ll all keep in touch, I hope.
There was going to be one final farewell concert in NY— a free show in Times Square to inaugurate the permanent closing of Broadway there, and celebrating the greening of the zone, on August 17 — but the production needed funding from some donors. We would play for free (or at least I would), but the cost of the stage, toilets, trailers, PA, local crew, lights, etc. was considerable. Though we came very close to finding the money (Janette from the DOT was doing this part — I don’t know donors or sponsors) and doing the show (a free show in Times Square! Santogold was going to open!), at the last minute there just wasn’t enough to cover costs, so we had to admit defeat.
South America? Didn’t get there this year (except on holiday). I’ve played many cities there many times, but this time — maybe due to the financial crisis and its ripple effect down there — the offers simply weren’t enough to pay for band, crew and shipping. So, despite asking friends and others for advice and contacts, I had to let the idea go after a while.
So that’s it. A year of touring this show (there was a break over Xmas and New Years, and during the month of May) and we’ve been almost everywhere we can reasonably go — sometimes more than once. The show has been incredibly well received, the record has sold so-so (though because it was self-distributed in a fashion, there were profits early on) — and we all feel exhausted but very, very satisfied… like, um, after something else.