Words by Thomas G. Featherstone
Acclaimed Manchester dream-pop outfit Horsebeach spent much of Spring 2016 on a European sojourn. Guitarist Thomas G. Featherstone recounts for Louder Than War a travelogue taking in patient falafel merchants, hastily arranged concerts, something that isn’t quite coffee and how to lose a van deposit on tour.
Horsebeach are from Manchester.
Ryan Kennedy – Guitars, Keys, Vocals – @halfsilk
Matthew Booth – Drums, Backing Vocals – @fieldroute
Thomas G. Featherstone – Guitars, Backing Vocals – @milkproblem
Thomas Critchley – Bass – ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Their music video for ‘It’s Alright’ is available to watch here = https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WCgqgdRB52k
Their records are available from all good record stores and the band’s bandcamp page = horsebeach.bandcamp.com
- Horsebeach are going on tour. 6 shows in 10 days over something like 3000 miles. Our driver, Steve, meets us outside our hostel in Brighton at 8am. He is an Enfield man, a die-hard Spurs supporter, and presently nursing some anxiety over the outcome of a match between Arsenal and Tottenham – that I am told is a matter of statistical importance – due to take place while we are en route to Dieppe, France. Once on the ferry, he goes to find a television. I find a chair to sleep on, for no reason other than I have nothing else to do.
In Lille, our sat nav has brought us as far as the car park of a Circus. I really doubt this is our venue so I hop out of the van to ask for directions. An elderly woman motions towards a large metal gate alongside the river to our right. The van lumbers on down the gravel path between the river and the circus car park, and I wonder if there hasn’t been a miscommunication. I didn’t speak any French and she didn’t speak any English. But no, it turns out the venue is a boat. Ryan had been keeping that under his hat, although there’s every chance he had just forgotten. Our hosts, Marine and Celeste, warmly receive us, and considering we all feel pretty nervous about the first show of tour, we surprise ourselves by putting in a performance we are all pleased with. After the set, we are signed up to perform Britney Spear’s ‘Hit me Baby one more time’ and George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper’ as part of the karaoke section of their club night. Our performances are met with mixed reviews. We also meet a man who has business in Manchester. He and his brother are computer programmers and musicians, working on technology that allows for some sort of camera to read your facial expressions and generate music and sounds as you move your cheeks and eyebrows around. The band and I all agree this is fascinating stuff and pull faces at each other for a while.
- It’s a brief 2ish hour drive to Brussels the next day and we settle down to watch Berry & Fulcher’s ‘Snuff Box’ in the back of the van. Talking about the previous day’s football result (a draw), our bassist, Dave, chimes in saying he wouldn’t have minded Tottenham losing for the sake of an upcoming fixture concerning his favourite side. At least, I think it’s his favourite side. It could just be some completely arbitrary face-off that would only affect his own team weeks down the line. A moment’s uncomfortable silence and we all remind each other to take our prescribed ‘cool tools’ and be merry.
We’re playing in a large, open-plan flat just outside of central Brussels. Our host, Nicholas, is part of a collective of Italian promoters and performers all living and working in Brussels. Once again, we’re the only act on the bill, but the space fills up quickly. The smell of freshly cooked pasta and vegetables lingers; the sound of bottles being opened and conversations conducted in several languages resonate along the metal girders that line the ceiling. No one comes to speak with me by the merch table and I feel despondent. I resort to formulating criticisms of my surroundings. The lighting rig casts a pale-blue shroud over the sparsely distributed furniture, which is all minimalist and uncanny, like IKEA furniture that didn’t make it past the prototype phase. I feel the apartment is a little ostentatious. A place that strikes me as far removed from its geographical ancestry; tucked away down an alleyway with cobbled streets, old lampposts and architectural features that have been weathered by the centuries. I’m a snob. The audience are attentive and appreciative though, and we make the acquaintance of some really lovely people after the show. The electric tape that binds the strap to my guitar gives out before we start our last song, so I perform lying on my back. This is how practice sessions are conducted, so I’m fine with this arrangement.
I stay up to work on my university assignment while Nicholas watches YouTube videos of new synth plug-ins. He chuckles at the excited American presenter. To my left, Dave, has gone to sleep listening to white noise recordings, while to my right, I can hear the faint sound of snoring coming from Ryan and Matt’s bedroom. Steve is in the van, as our backline is a security risk. The next morning he is given a new name: Tour Dad.
- It’s a slightly longer drive to Paris today so Ryan and Matt get their sequencers and music bits out and start tapping away while Dave sits with Steve up front. I alternate between sleeping and writing for the duration. We’ve been to this venue before, and upon arrival I greet the proprietor warmly. I had spilt a full pint of lager over the floor of his café a year prior, and although neither of us spoke the other’s language, I managed to convey that I ought to mop it up myself. I’m a bartender too. He relented and gave me his thanks. They weren’t necessary.
We’re supporting a Canadian act tonight: White Poppy – a three-piece from Vancouver. Their set is ambient, heavily reverb-ed shoegaze. Easy on the distorted sounds, it’s cerebral stuff but still very relaxing. It reminds me of Arch M and Hype Williams, an old Dean Blunt project. We bought copies of their ‘Natural Phenomena’ LP (Not Not Fun Records) and recommend you do the same (www.whitepoppy.bandcamp.com). I also purchased a tape of improvised material from their live sets that is brilliant showcase of the group’s ability in its rawest form. Their show in Marseille the following day has been cancelled, so we put in an email to Lyon’s promoters to ask if they can jump on the bill. No such luck, unfortunately.
Our set is well received, and we are fortunate to be in the company of some old friends, including our European booking agent from Midi Festival, Antoine, and Lilas, a fashion blogger living in Paris who was kind enough to write favourably about us last year (www.fillealamodz.com). We linger on the street well after closing time, until taxis are hailed and I find myself alone. I sleep in the van.
- We awake to find the van’s battery has gone flat and thus, our departure from Paris is delayed by some time. We buy coffee and baguettes (this forms the basis of our diets even when we are back in Manchester), and I sit down in the van to sew up a hole that has formed in the crotch of my only pair of jeans. We surmise that the battery had gone flat due to the abundance of creative devices all drawing their power from the van, and we agree to curb our power consumption henceforth. Tour Dad is in good spirits but obviously a little fatigued by having to sort out a mechanic via the insurance company-man, who asked an incessant amount of questions, as well as about six hours hurried driving to Lyon.
We’re playing on a boat again and are supported by KCIDY, a local synth-pop trio. The band clearly has a lot of fans in the city, and the audience are lively, applauding and cheering enthusiastically between songs. They have an album coming out very soon but for now I can strongly recommend the b-side to their latest single. (https://soundcloud.com/kcidy/no-one-see). That synth line is a stroke of genius and the CD receives many plays in the van.
Before the show I meet a man and his nephew who both have the same name. They engage me in a conversation regarding the pressing information of our most current record and material from long before I joined the band. I must admit, I had never considered the collectability of our own records before this point, and I look around me hoping that someone else could have this conversation for me. They’re all leading questions anyway. The guy has obviously studied our discogs page or something and I receive an education. He buys up several copies of the music we have with us and asks us to sign them. I briefly entertain the cynical idea that we might see those records again on ebay, but I’m over it pretty quickly. In all fairness, I’m the same enthusiastic collector of some pretty obscure music and it’s best to give this chap the benefit of doubt. I’m sleeping in the van again tonight, but I sit on the rivers edge for a while smoking cigarettes and listening to a man play a French horn under a bridge across the river. Save for this musical accompaniment and the sound of the rushing water beneath me, it is a tranquil night in Lyon.
- I catch an Uber to meet the band at the home of Maxim and Marie. Dave pours water from a kettle into a mug and hands it to me. I’m not sure if he knows that filter coffee doesn’t work the same as instant, but I drink it anyway and spend the minutes afterward flushing the granules out of my mouth and into the sink. While we loiter, a demonstration of people (students, if I had to guess) march down the main road chanting and carrying banners and placards. They are apparently protesting something to do with unemployment in the city. Or was it transport problems? I would lose my notes from Lyon later, and memory is a fragile thing.
We’ve got two days off now to get to Madrid, but we need to make it to Barcelona tonight to check into an apartment we’ve got booked there. It’s a six-hour drive that will take us closer to eight or nine hours, seeing as the hire van’s speed is limited to something like 100kmph. It’s going to take longer than google maps thinks it ought to, basically. We stop off at Séte to stretch our legs and get a baguette. Twinned with Hartlepool, Séte is port town near the France/Spain border that is famed for its annual music festival that is ran by Giles Peterson, and for being a car park for rich people’s boats. We’re by the Balearic Sea, which prompts some discussion of Steve’s beloved Balearic music scene. More so than the music itself, we discuss the social aspect of the scene, its history with Ibiza, the famous Café Del Mar, and the English crowds split between Manchester, Brighton and London who would all meet there in the 90’s before it’s apparent cultural-decline into ubiquity. I must admit that I’m fascinated to hear all the anecdotes and connections between social groups and places around Europe from a time when I was still a toddler. Steve speaks fondly (almost wistfully at times) of connections he’s made and shows he’s attended. It seems that everyone knows everyone. He is part of the ‘Balearic Assassins of Love’ DJ group, who operate out of Dulcimer in Chorlton, Manchester as well as various venues around London and Brighton. Check them out on twitter for gig information and mixcloud stuff (@B_A_O_L).
I awake in the van at around 9pm. We’re just entering Barcelona city limits, so I clamber to the front to take stock of my surroundings. The temperature is 8 degrees or so, perfectly fine compared to Mancunian winters, but the cramped alleys and streets of Barcelona, pitched between gothic-style apartments and offices, are busy with throngs of people wearing winter coats and scarves. “They don’t know how good they’ve got it”, I think. We have to pull over near the old Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter. Our apartment is just up the road but the landlady is incommunicable. Our phone calls go unanswered, and we realise then that we have also forgotten to consider the matter of parking a three meter-tall van in Barcelona, that is a city not best suited for motorised conveyance at the best of times.
Regrettably, the hours that pass by from here are fraught with frayed nerves, tired mutterings, bad luck, desperate negotiations, and nicotine-stained fingertips. I consider it the best I can do to remind everyone to take ‘a cool tool’ and alleviate the mood however I can, while still directing Steve around the city. Ryan makes a new booking for a hotel room but there is still the matter of parking the van. Steve has performed commendably, but he is understandably knackered. The search for a parking spot cannot be allowed to take long. We eventually find a street corner where we can put a ticket on the car at 9am to give us two hours grace and find a car parking spot. Fearing for the security of our backline, I spend the night in the van again. I’ll admit that I rather like it in there, but I’m sure the band feels I’m being paranoid. I watch an episode of Star Trek and write a few hundred words for a new essay before falling into an uneasy slumber. I am fully clothed and convinced I am ready for action. I am also probably exaggerating the risk in my mind.
- The next morning, I treat the team to coffee and croissants (I opted to smoke a cigarette for sustenance, but the pastries are still good in Barcelona, I’m told) and Ryan goes to secure the arrangements for our accommodation. I’m astounded by the beauty and antiquity of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter that is bathed in the heady Catalonian sun that forced the world to glow gold that day. It felt like when I first moved to Manchester: I just looked up at the rooftops all the time in a desperate bid to ascribe equal value to the sky above and pavement below. We walk to the flat, and I am ushered into a double bedroom of my own and left to wash up. Ryan, Matt, and Steve leave to collect the van and find a car park that will admit a vehicle of our size. They call me some time later to report their initial attempt has been scuppered and if I could crack the laptop out and sort something out then it would be greatly appreciated. I get to work and a few phone calls later, having improved my conversational Spanish by some considerable degree (GCSE grade D c.2004), I successfully find a suitable establishment. Dave and I go for a walk, strolling around aimlessly until we find a plaza close to our flat. We make the acquaintance of an Algerian man, a Mechanical Engineering undergraduate, who informs me that a pigeon has relieved itself on my jacket’s sleeve. I thank him and we make small talk while I use a fountain to clean myself up. Our conversation eventually digresses into a discussion of our respective country’s immigration policies. I had noticed many National Front posters and offices in Séte, which we both agree is troubling. Neither of us could profess to being qualified enough to comment decisively on the matter (perhaps this is a cop-out), but this man did confess that he only hoped to live in a world without borders someday, both literal and figurative. I think I should probably do more to work against this sort of thing.
Having met Ryan and Matt some time later, we undertook a short walk about a mile east of our flat. We crossed the plaza in front of the ornate Gothic Cathedral and strolled down winding alleys towards the ocean until we found what we were looking for. This turned out to be record shops, one of which Ryan held in such high esteem that we had to busy ourselves for a few hours until it opened. I chose to spend what little money I had on a pack of Galouise, and a tofu sandwich from a vegetarian café I happened upon and it was be the best meal I would eat all tour.
We eventually retired to our flat, eager to spend the evening relaxing and taking inventory of the events so far. I took a stroll that night, buying a bottle of scotch and a fresh pack of smokes, and stopping to watch a group of skateboarders attempt in earnest to clear a four-set and ride up the side of a plinth in the plaza. I am told Barcelona is an excellent city for skateboarding, possessing all the smooth pavements and Euclidian angles to make for some excellent displays of ability. Steve had left Matt and Ryan after parking the van that day, and we didn’t see him till much later that night. It was about midnight when I heard the call from outside the apartment. “Oi! Horsebeach!” it went. I crept over to the balcony to see our Tour Dad, inebriated and beaming from ear to ear with two other people. They turned out to be old friends of Steve’s from the Balearic scene and had all been to see Barcelona F.C. (I assume this is what the team is called – they’re the ones with the vertical burgundy stripes) play. After a nightcap they said their goodbyes and we settled down for the night, excited and anxious for the forthcoming trip into the heart of the Spanish interior.
- We share three metro tickets between the five of us, finding our way to the car park in good time (save for Matt, Steve, and Dave stopping off at the Barca F.C. museum and gift shop) and without penalty. The drive to Madrid is sun-drenched – Steve is beginning to develop a one-armed-tan from his sunny vantage point in the drivers seat – and the mood among the five of us is carefree. The additional day off has done wonders to relax the atmosphere on these long drives.
Arriving at the venue, we are forced to jump out and perform a speedy load-in while our promoter, Afri, and Steve take the van to be parked up. We sound check in a rush (we were two hours late at that point) but with no considerable amount of effort. Our soundman, a self-professed metal fan (strictly metal only) offers his exaltations on how painless a process it is, but really, we’re just willing to put our full faith in him and assume it sounds exemplary without argument. I must shamefully admit that I act the part of a diva when I see that the amp they have set aside for me to us doesn’t have an additional input for my ad-libbed ambience parts. Ryan and I negotiate a settlement. I will stand centre-stage instead and have everything my own way. It isn’t until much later that I realise the impetuousness of my demand and feel appropriately ashamed of myself.
Here is where things went awry. A phone call from Steve informed us that there had been an accident. No one hurt or anything like that, but the tail light on the van had been smashed and some dents of varying sizes and depths had been added to its flank. This was nothing to stop us moving on, or so we thought, but we did know what this would surely mean. The deposit for the van was now utterly forfeit, and a repair job on a Friday night or Saturday morning seemed unlikely. A call to our European insurance advisor confirmed as much. We would be stuck in Madrid until we could arrange for the tail light to be repaired, but they would cover our accommodation during our stay as well as the repair. We split up into groups. One to meet Steve and collect our personal effects from the van, and the other to check into the hotel and relay it’s location to the other group. One of the Madrid Pop Fest promoters, Luis, is our guide to the hotel. He was sullen, rather quiet, and his countenance bears the traits of someone who would rightly be tired from a long day of arranging the finer logistical details of a multi-venue festival. Above all, he is still most polite and courteous in answering our questions about the city and the festival, replying with the mark of a person that possesses no small degree of pride for their hometown. It is well deserved. In these brief hours, I had already come to recognise Madrid as a place with a thriving and very modern cultural community, while still retaining it’s antiquity and charm in the architecture and those small spaces where time seems to stand still. Secluded courtyards with washing lines strung between windows, and the cobbled streets that betrayed the centuries of wear and tear it had endured. The main roads were filled with traffic, but an easy step down a side street could find oneself completely removed from the real world, with only a streetlight and the night sky for company.
We return to the venue with only twenty minutes to spare before our allotted set time, and rush to use toilets, smoke cigarettes, re-hydrate, and eat some food before the stage manager comes to usher us up to the stage. We play a tight set, if somewhat rushed by no fault of anyone’s but our own nervous dispositions, to a wonderful audience who applaud us enthusiastically between each song. We weren’t to know then that we couldn’t have asked for a better crowd. Once our performing obligations are finished, we finish our meals, avail ourselves of the rider laid out in the dressing room for the bands to share, and go to watch the other groups play.
I was especially eager to see Uxbridge’s Colour Me Wednesday (who share members with the much-lauded The Tuts) play a set of fun and melodic punk-infused pop songs. Witnessing the crowd’s reaction to their set only enhanced my already considerable enjoyment of their set. The kids in the front row know every word to every song and join in on the choruses and refrains with an enthusiasm and candour that only teenagers witnessing their favourite band can lay claim to. Their set ends with an encore (which I shouted for before they had finished their initial set. Whoops) during which the whole front row jumps up on stage to sing and dance along with the band. It is an exhilarating moment. I am most familiar with the band’s split with Spoonboy but I understand they have a new record coming out very soon, so you should give them a listen at www.colourmewednesday.bandcamp.com and come see them play on their forthcoming April tour.
My memories of the rest of the evening are somewhat hazy, and any clues I might have left for myself in my notebook are manifest as little more than unintelligible scribbles. Here is a stream of consciousness styled account that suitably fits the memory flashes I have.
WHERE ARE THE PINT GLASSES? THESE ONES LOOK MUCH TOO BIG. HELLO, GIN. HELLO, COLOUR ME WEDNESDAY. MIGHT I BORROW A MOMENT OF YOUR TIME? YES, I AM FROM THE SOUTH AND WHAT OF IT?
HOW COULD I HAVE POSSIBLY SMOKED SO MANY CIGS ALREADY? BEST BANG OUT ANOTHER DECK. WHY ISN’T THIS BOUNCER HAPPY WITH ME? I LIKE YOUR OUTFIT, MATE. I CAN’T TAKE THIS DRINK OUTSIDE? WHY THROW IT AWAY THOUGH? NO MATTER, CAN THIS PERSON I MET ON THE STREET COME IN FOR FREE THOUGH? MUCH APPRECIATED. WHO/WHERE IS THAT PERSON I MET ON THE STREET? HEY! THEY’RE PLAYING YO LA TENGO DOWN THERE! I CRUMBLE LIKE A SUGARCUBE FOR YOU. SENORA IT IS 6AM AND I AM BEGGING FOR YOUR CHARITY. I MUST LEAVE MY BAND’S EQUIPMENT IN YOUR FALAFEL SHOP SO I CAN WALK IT OVER TO MY HOTEL IN INSTALLMENTS. I DON’T TRUST ANYWHERE THAT SELLS MEAT I JUST CAN’T. YOU ARE TOO KIND THANK YOU. YES I WILL PURCHASE A WRAP.
WALKING/HUFFING/PUFFING/SMOKING/VOMITING ad nauseum.
- Unable to extend our stay in the hotel, we vacate the premises and manoeuvre to a new place that is some ten minutes walk from our current location. The mood of our group is somewhat sullen. Understandable, really. I’m finding it hard to tell, what with being more hung over than I’ve ever been in my life. We are forced to remain in Madrid for another day. This means cancelling our final show in San Sebastian and forfeiting the fee we would have received to sustain us another day, but we are left with no option. Matt and I take a walk about Madrid. We’re not quite in central, but not quite away from the commercialised area either. We stroll amongst cafes, bars, and parks, browsing record stalls and watching young urbanites socialise under the sun. Later, Steve and Matt attend an Athletico Madrid football match (a favourable result for the home side), while Ryan, Dave and I stay close to our hotel room.
I awake from a lengthy nap, and decide to wander back to the previous night’s venue. The bouncer seems pleased to see me, and I feel sure that we’re already beyond the point of formality where a hug would be out of the question. I settle for a handshake. The promoters, who insist I partake in some more food and beer with them, also receive me warmly.
Tonight’s musical highlights include Brideshead, a German indie-pop band who have been playing together for some time, and a locally celebrated Spanish band called Parade, whose upbeat LCD-Soundsystem stylings get the crowd dancing along. Head and shoulders above the rest, Jessica and the Fletchers endear themselves to the audience near instantly with their give-a-damn punk rock ethos. Their music melds sugar-sweet pop melodies and hooks with a caustic, distorted edge. More urgent in tempo and tone than the Vivian Girls, for instance, but owning just as much harmony and charm. I was reminded of My Bloody Valentine’s early ‘Sunny Sunday Smile’ at one point during their set, though each of their hooks (and there are many in their music) ended as quickly as they began. Their music can be found at www. jessicaandthefletchers.bandcamp.com for the grand total of totally nothing. I’m sure they made many new fans that evening, myself among them.
We attend a clubnight after the show, DJ’d by Fergal from Manchester’s ‘Let’s Make This Precious’ that specialises in everything indie, pop-y, and soul-y. It is a fantastic night with so many friendly faces present, and I consume many incredibly expensive Gin and Tonics. The one memory that I hope stays with me forever is screaming along to Emma’s House by the Field Mice with all the fans, friends, promoters, and other bands from the festival. Let’s make this precious indeed. Definitely come along to the next one and tell Fergal I sent you.
- Sunday morning. Two days off schedule and about 500km away from where we should be by now. Dave catches a flight home at this point. He has work commitments to keep and as our means of getting home is still uncertain at this stage, he is understandably left with little choice. A team meeting is called in the Plaza. The insurance-man assures us that tomorrow, Monday, is the day. Ryan has some good news though. He’s made a friend of the hotel’s concierge, who is now a fan of ours. We hook him up with a cd and a shirt for his friend’s record label and radio show in Peru (I forgot to get the details off you, Richard. Sorry!), and he hooks us up with a discount on our stay at the hotel. It’s going on the insurance anyway, so we should get it back, but it’s appreciated none the less. We’ve been fortunate to meet so many supportive and wonderful people this week. Still, we know that we won’t be home to return the van on time, which will surely incur additional fees.
Back in bed a moment later, I have a brainwave. I had jokingly threatened to do this once before on a day off, but now it seems like a necessary course of action. I am going to pull a gig out of thin-air. I know it’s been done before. How hard can it be in a foreign country? Maybe we get lucky. Maybe we are just blessed. I put out a tweet to the Madrid Pop-fest account. Our van is still broken and do they know of any bill we can jump on in exchange for some food and friendship? The response was pretty phenomenal, considering we’re not a well-known band in a town that is probably sick to death of us running around like children singing sad songs at everyone. I get my head down for an hour, and when I wake up, we’ve got a show at The Fun House on Calle Palafox, a short walk from our hotel. Backline is provided, there will be beers in abundance, and we get the door take after the sound tech gets paid. It’s a perfect arrangement and I couldn’t be happier. I decide to go out for a walk. The weather is beautiful and while the cafes are still doing good business, the town feels subdued. Conversations are conducted in hushed tones and husky voices, their sentences spoken with steadier pacing than the excited exchanges from the weekend, but still framed with warm smiles. Following my feet without much thought (I have acquired a geographical awareness that affords me the freedom to just walk for pure, unconscious enjoyment), I step down a side street and meet Luis, our liaison from Friday night, and a friend of his. We exchange salutations and small talk until I begin to express my gratitude for his hard work and friendship. He holds up his hand and looks away. I’m shocked! Have I offended him through some error of communication or faux pas? His companion places his arm on my shoulder and bids me to cease talking. The strain of organising the festival had fatigued Luis to the point of emotional exhaustion, and I can make out the faintest trace of tears brimming behind his sunglasses. We hug one another and promise to meet again someday.
Walking some more, it occurs to me that I haven’t been exactly explicit in announcing my intention to book a show with Matt and Ryan. Fortunately, I return to the hotel to find Matt already at work practicing the Spanish lyrics and chords to a song he wants to cover, and Ryan has taken over the social media aspect of organising and promoting the event. I lay down on the bed feeling fairly pleased with myself and fall asleep. Such arrogance!
After our soundcheck, and having made the acquaintance of our gracious benefactor, Nacho, the three of us meander through dusty side streets, resting on benches to smoke cigarettes (Matt and Ryan’s abstinence has been fully rescinded, and they are deep in the throes of a full-blown nicotine addiction) and gaze upwards at the blurry-bright city lights. We return to the Fun House and are met by many of our friends and promoters from our time in Madrid. I feel that this show might have been one of the most special occasions we have ever performed at. We drew a small crowd, but an intimate and personal one. Everyone present knew everyone’s name, and they all chatted keenly amongst themselves, swapping stories from the weekend, professing their gratitude to one another, and sharing their hopes for next year’s festival. We play a 40 minute set of stripped back Horsebeach songs, some old and some new, a few numbers from our Amoeba Boys side project (www.amoeba-boys.bandcamp.com), and a cover of Yo La Tengo’s Sugarcube. Matt’s Spanish language cover was absent from the set list, not because we couldn’t play it well, but because the sound tech informed us that the lyrics were lewd to the point of turning the air blue. We’re just not that kind of band, in all honesty. Steve and the three of us walked back to the hotel with huge grins on our faces. It is all finally winding down.
10&11&12 – Epilogue.
Monday morning dawns, and the Van is roadworthy once more. Special mention and credit must go to the indefatigable efforts of our tour dad, Steve. These penultimate days are marked by the vast distance he covers, through the beautiful snow-capped mountains of northern Spain, where we catch a glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean, and along western France’s highways and numerous toll-roads. An overnight stay at an Ibis in Bordeaux, and we’re back on the road once more, bound for Dieppe. We arrive at the ferry port with an hour to spare, and make use of this time to walk into town for cigarettes. On the way I pass groups of men with weathered, sun-kissed faces, all wrapped up in winter-coats and beanie hats, who are walking to the ferry-port. Many of them smile warmly and greet me in English as I walk past.
It’s a stop over at Steve’s house in Brighton, and we’re on the final stretch back to Manchester. Ryan and I are left to explain damage to the van hire person. He is understandably livid but I plead with him to curb his vitriol – I’m knackered. I swear it’s the last selfish thing I’ll ask for the rest of my life. The late fees, the deposit gone, the liability for repairs to the van. Financially, we’re pretty fucked. We walk back towards central Manchester and Ryan jokes that we could file for bankruptcy, which elicits a laugh from us both. We won’t of course. Hey! At least we’ve got one up on Donald Trump!
Touring is, by large, a pretty boring affair. The only things I think to be of interest are the people one meets and difficulties one faces. The latter aspect is what, in hindsight anyway, provides the narrative framework for this text. A ‘hero’s quest’ sort of thing, only without any heroes to speak of. Really, I suppose we met all the heroes we could ever ask for along the way. If this text comes across a bit romanticised, wishy-washy, or aloof at all, I suppose that’s because of the role we performed in the greater scheme of things. One doesn’t do a lot. Things just happen to you. We asked a lot of questions without ever really considering any answers. Like Matt on the eve of our departure, stood at the water’s edge on Brighton beach. He just stands there for a while, staring out at the English Channel and down at the pebbles on the beach. Then he asks, “Where’s the sand?” It’s silly but it still makes me laugh.
It’s late April of 2016 and the dust has settled in the Horsebeach camp. So what’s new? Well, Ryan whipped together a music video for the song ‘It’s Alright’ from the footage we shot on tour. Matt’s beard and hair grows more luscious everyday. Dave’s still waiting to find out how his Masters went (probably really well, he’s a clever chap) and I scored three 1sts for the essays I wrote on tour (I’m not that clever but I am a try-hard). We’ve paid off our debts by picking up some DJ work and headlining a RSD show in Manchester that was all really good fun. Our bezzie-mates in Blooms supported us on that show and they are so nice, you guys (https://soundcloud.com/b-l-o-o-m-s). My good friend, Johnny, is driving us down to Brighton and back (via London) for two nights of shows. His brother, Danny, who is fairly excited to see Brighton for the first time, also joins us. The drive takes six hours but we arrive in good time. Our promoter for the show is none other than our Tour Dad, Steve. He’s also announced that we will perform as our own support band, under the guise of Amoeba Boys. Is this corny? We’re two bands so we just play as our own support act? I can’t decide. Leave your comments below and don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. I think we can all agree that THAT was corny. Anyway, we rehearse it a little during soundcheck, and realise we haven’t played those notes since the Fun House show in Madrid over a month ago so we sack it off in favour of playing a longer Horsebeach set. Around fifty people turn up, many of them part of the Balearic scene in Brighton. I make a joke over the mic before one of our songs, saying that I have been told that this particular song is considered a “Balearic banger.” It gets a few laughs. I say dumb stuff like that when I get nervous but I’m encouraged that the crowd seemed to like it. After the set, a woman tells me that I am a good actor. I decide not to dwell on it but the words linger in my head for the rest of the evening anyway. Later that night, Ryan, Matt, Johnny, Danny, and myself go to meet some old friends of mine for a few beers. We have a lovely evening, and wind up in a late night café eating chips and drinking water to sober up. Back at Steve’s flat, we catch a few hours sleep and set off for London at midday.
The van we’ve hired has a cool Bluetooth thing that means I can stream music off my phone onto the stereo. I rarely get the opportunity to play music on these drives and on this occasion, I omit to teach the other band members how to set their own phones up on the stereo. They let me off. We wind up listening to a bunch of disco and soul tracks I had discovered recently, a little of The Promise Ring, the new Babyfather record that Ryan had bought me for my birthday (love you, ry-ry), and some selections of Record Store Day purchases that Matt had bought. I had wanted the Marilyn Manson ‘Antichrist Superstar’ cassette tape, but someone decided that just one tape for the whole of Manchester would suffice and I wasn’t going to be the guy that queued up for a whole day in advance to buy it.
We pitch up round the back of the Garage in Highbury, Islington, and load in. We’re playing the 150 capacity venue upstairs and are informed that the show has sold out. The support act, Breeze, has come down from Birmingham and they are really lovely guys. Their set is brilliant too and we buy copies of their latest EP (https://soundcloud.com/breezeband).
The show goes really well. Better than we could have ever hoped for, and everyone dances and sings along and an hour later I’m utterly exhausted. I can’t bring myself to pack up my equipment for fifteen minutes after our set. Harriet from Colour Me Wednesday is in attendance (we played with them in Madrid, remember?) and I remember she once told me how important it is to take some time to “decompress” after a show. I could certainly get into lying down more often. We eventually load our gear back into the van and say our goodbyes. Harriet offers Ryan an olive, and Ryan, being the lovely guy he is, doesn’t feel he can refuse this kind offer, despite not being able to stand olives. I’m sure the look on his face as he ate it would have been priceless. We can’t afford another day’s rental of the van so we have no option but to head home that evening, despite the several kind offers of places to stay from friends old and new. We make it back at 4am, having stopped for several coffees to keep Johnny focused. He doesn’t really need it. He’s a proper trooper. I have to meet him at 9am the next morning to unload the stuff into our practice room before he returns the van to the rental place. Then I go home and sit on my sofa, and do nothing for the rest of the day before I go to work my bar job in the evening. We made fifteen pounds from this two-day trip, but we wind up spending some of that on the congestion charge from our time in London. It seems unlikely that I’ll ever be able to support myself from playing music. It seems so rare that anyone does. What does that matter though? Playing music might be the best feeling in the world, second only to listening to your favourite music in the world. Come see us on tour and wax philosophical with me about it. Thanks for reading x
HORSEBEACH live in 2016…
12th May – w/ Chastity Belt & Tuff Love – Night and Day, Manchester
15th May – w/ September Girls & Telegram – Liverpool Arts Club
22nd May – Great Manchester Run, Spinningfields
28th May – Mossley Festival
29th May – Liverpool Sound City
June 10th – w/ Khruangbin – Hebden Bridge Trades Club
28-31 July – Kendal Calling Festival
August 26th-27th – Electric Fields Festival, Scotland
August 28th Moovin Festival – Etherow Park, Marple