TV Smith: How to Feel Human – book review
TV Smith- How To Feel Human
(Published by Arima)
After the exploits in the first volume of the tour diaries, TV Smith is back with more gig-based mayhem, emergency sandwiches, cats and names you’ll recognise, and hopefully a bit of sightseeing as well.
Tour diaries can make for some great reading; Henry Rollins account of his first few years touring makes for an insightful read. Black Flag’s commitment to the cause without any financial reward, tolerating some awful conditions along the way, endears you more to the band, and Rollins. Likewise Dee Dee Ramone’s last tour of Europe staying in cold hotel rooms, dreaming of “a hot shot of dope” can be depressing, but you feel you know Dee Dee a little better at the end.
The same goes for TV Smith’s ‘How to Feel Human’, the second part of his volume of three thoroughly enjoyable tour diaries. It’s impossible not to admire his conviction to his music, as he battles the elements, guitar on back, emergency cheese sandwich at the ready, playing across Europe, and visiting America for the first time.
In the first volume we heard about Top of the Pops, the Adverts‘ successful period, and TV’s first attempts embarking on a solo career. We pick up from there at the beginning of a European Tour in the early 2000s. Like the tour diaries of Rollins and Dee Dee there are quite a few incidents of slumming it, and as a consequence TV spends a lot of time chasing sleep, trying to negotiate his plan A and Plan B philosophy (get to bed at a reasonable time/get caught up in the after hour atmosphere of touring…plan A rarely works). Despite incidents that would have you pulling out hair if you were to experience them, he deals with it all good humoredly, with a hard working ethic that makes for an engaging and absorbing read, and his commitment is nothing short of inspiring.
It’s for this reason that the diaries will appeal to more than just fans of TV Smith and the Adverts. His good natured demeanor and enthusiasm is infectious. Throughout he is witty, friendly, and generous to those he meets. There are occasions when billing is being renegotiated minutes before stage time, often with bands who you’d think would have been happy to just to share a stage with him, but he never complains. Disrespectful bands are in the minority, and wherever he tours, there are bands wanting to play with him and he’s always happy to oblige. Having a band already in the country you’re touring facilitates the shoestring method, as do inventive ways to cobble shoes, and repair your razor.
On budget too, hotels or motels are treats that are far and few between, which makes for all the more interesting reading as there aren’t a string of hotel-rooms blending together. The book is not about the internal struggle of the artist, but more about what he encounters on his travels. Time on his own is at a minimum, and instead he crashes in spare rooms, on couches, mattresses, (and even a masseuse table!), and quite often encountering inquisitive cats as he does so, (which would be fine, if he wasn’t allergic to them). His attention to detail paints vivid pictures of the places he visits and he engages with his surroundings and his audience in ways that pop stars complain that they can’t. TV genuinely loves the reaction of the crowd, and despite times of shattering fatigue, on stage it all comes together. He’s more than happy to stay and chat afterward the gigs too, hence the problem negotiating Plan A and Plan B.
Volume two feels more like a pre-meditated book than a simple collection of diary entries, which is probably down to how close together the years documented are. His thought process is still as sporadic as ever; he muses over ingredients for an authentic local sauce in one town, even giving us the recipe, but then omits to enlighten the reader on specialties from other towns. However, chapters do frequently reflect back to what was said earlier, and people along the way are reintroduced to us like old friends.
He writes about food quite a bit. It’s not an insight into the culinary delights of the places that he visits, but about the hunger one can experience when on tour. His work ethic is emphasised by the way he always refuses to eat before a performance for fear of it zapping his energy. You possibly never realised the vital role food plays in touring life, but TV tells you all about it and it certainly makes a change from hearing about crowds waiting for Axl Rose to digest his dinner. Sometimes forgoing that pre-gig meal can mean long periods between food intake, as it can be difficult to find something decent to eat, especially in certain parts of Europe when you’re a vegetarian. This can lead to those Unexpected Meat Moments (first introduced in Volume 1), and his enthusiasm for those rare moments when he does get a decent vegetarian meal are as engaging as the descriptions of his performances.
Along the way, Attila the Stockbroker makes a return, and there are cameo appearances from Handsome Dick Manitoba, Louder than War boss John Robb, and several from Jayne County. On his first trip to America TV explains to Jayne how Gaye and he are still together, but we don’t get a personal account of what has allowed their relationship to endure. Maybe it’s because they keep it relatively private, or maybe it’s because spending a healthy amount of time away from each other actually benefits them. There is an incident back in London when he’s away, and you do get the impression he feels a little helpless leaving Gaye to deal with it as he readies himself for the stage. But these are tour diaries, not an autobiography, and one thing is apparent, he’s an impossible man to not love.
‘How to Feel Human’ is a well written account of several years’ touring from a workaholic musician. TV is without a doubt keeping alive the punk attitude that inspired him to move from Devon to London in the late seventies and form a band with his girlfriend.
A must for those who enjoyed volume one but also for those who enjoyed last year’s BBC documentary, as it compliments what the documentary taught us, and offers us further understanding as to why he continues to do what he does.
As TV Smith continues his work-horse approach to touring (his dates for the last three months put younger bands to shame), let’s hope he keeps documenting them too. His tour diaries are engaging, thoroughly enjoyable reads that are impossible to put down. Great tales of triumphant shows played around the nooks and crannies of the globe, and stories that serve as a warning that touring isn’t all about living the rock n’ roll lifestyle. It can also be very hard work. The pay off for that though is that it highlights those occasions that make you feel most human.
TV Smith’s website can be found here
His Facebook can be found here
All words by Ray Burke. More from Ray on Louder Than War can be found here