4AD 25th Anniversary.
So yeah, with a bit of nervousness, Thursday the 17th November arrived. The start of ten days of madness (possibly), hard work (definitely), meeting people (obviously) and maybe, just maybe, the chance to see some great bands live too.
However, what should have been an exciting start to the day began with a very sad event. Tunde from TV On The Radio's dad had died - which changed everything. The band were gutted, Tunde (obviously) was on the plane, heading back to be with his family, the rest of the band were still in the UK. Late that afternoon, the decision was made that the night would go ahead, with the rest of TV On The Radio DJ'ing, Celebration making their UK debut, and that anyone who bought a ticket, would get in for free, and be entitled to a refund as well.
So, it was a subdued start to the anniversary. We set up our stall at the Scala, and got the t-shirts up on display, as well as various goodies from across the 4AD catalogue. Around 7pm, I got a call.
"Have you heard the news? The Breeders are doing a surprise slot tonight!!!" and suddenly, what was a kind of odd, sad feeling became really exciting. Frantic phone calls were made to get people to post online and let others know - a free Breeders gig! Fantasticness!
So, the doors opened... people came! This is good, as you just don't know. People bought things, and soon it was time for Celebration to take the stage. Reading about them on the 4AD forums, we knew we were in for something special, and oh - they were good! Katrina makes a fantastic frontwoman to the band, jumping into the crowd and singing - I think most people didn't know what to expect - there was an almost British-ness about people just standing there... staring. We all rotated our times on the merch stand so we could see the bands. The good thing about the Scala was they have the music playing in the outside bar area, so you don't miss out on hearing the songs. I can live with that.
So, Celebration finish, and we position ourselves down the front, in a not-too-packed Scala, waiting for the return of The Breeders. TV On The Radio come onto the stage, and thank us for turning up, and apologise, but ask us all to send Tunde our love and thoughts, as his dad was a good man. The crowd respectfully applauds the band, and they promise to be back very soon. Fifteen minutes later, and some people come on stage. Woman tunes up the violin. Hang on.. that's Carrie Bradley - cool! She's never played over here with The Breeders before now! So I'm getting excited. Woman tunes her bass, and the penny drops... blimey, it's Josephine Wiggs!!!! Okay, we know we're up for something special tonight.
The Breeders don't disappoint - taking a setlist based around songs on 'Pod', including 'Hey!' featuring Mick Allen from The Wolfgang Press and Geniuser on vocals, and lots of Carrie Bradley moments, on violin or vocals, as well as 'Shocker In Gloomtown' (the first time I've heard The Breeders play it live), a first outing for 'Metal Man', and so much more. The rotating of the merch stand, means I miss the last few songs, but that's okay. I've been down the front and taken photos, even of the setlist, and quite frankly, this rocks.
The night finishes, with no 'Cannonball' and lots of happy people leaving the venue. We get home around 1am, after extensive packing of the merch stuff.
Friday 18th November, brought this weird little venue in NW London, The Luminaire, somewhere people talk about a lot, but little is known. I decide to check out their website, and I fall in love with it, as they tell you every possible detail you could ever need. Plus there's a Subway place nearby, the staple diet of ours, for this week. So, we arrive in Kilburn, ready for a night which could be quiet, but then again, might be busy. Who knows. We certainly don't. So, tonight is the electronic night, or so we thought. We share merch stand space with the cloakroom, and it's just the two of us.
People come and buy stuff, people come and get free badges, and people come and chat. Then it's time for Minotaur Shock. They're a funny quirky little band - I remember hearing the album, wondering how they could create the sound live, and there they are on stage, and yes, they're creating the music, but somehow, they're doing so and looking like a normal rock band. The sound levels were so quiet, I didn't need earplugs, which meant by default, I enjoyed it, as I heard everything properly. I want to see them again as a four piece, it works really well for them. Apparently sometimes as a three piece, it's good, but not as good as with the four. I'm impressed - and even more so, because I thought it'd be completely different. My photos were rubbish though.
So, time for Magnétophone, and for the majority of the set, I'm confused. There's three people on stage. Eventually the penny drops, and I realise it's Sonic Boom, formerly of Spaceman 3 and Spectrum. Ooops. Magnétophone are one of those bands I don't play their albums often, however, when I do, I enjoy them (even more so with vocals), so the addition of King Creosote, who features on their current album, makes me a very happy girl indeed. I always forget how much I enjoy Magnétophone live - there's a packed out venue, and a very happy crowd. I reckon that's a good thing.
We get home around 1am again, although this time we have chips to eat, and a lie in to look forward to the following morning (or should that be later that day?)
Saturday 19th November, and it's a mad day ahead. The first Big One. Luckily for us, we drove to Blackheath, taking three and a half hours out of our working day to check out the venue. Good job we did, really. Good job we took a load of stock too. So come Saturday, all we had was a boot-full of stock and bits (including the now nicknamed "Box Of Everything" which basically has pens, blank credit card transaction slips and tape, everything a merch stand needs). A minor panic at home and some frantic phone calls, and we're off to Blackheath. A bit of bad traffic at the Catford Gyratory puts me in a panic, but it's okay, and we make the venue with a couple of hours to spare - something which is much needed. We've got a large space to do the merch, so we get around to arranging things, making as much desk space as possible.
The Breeders walk by - I say hello to them all, one by one, until I realise they're all there - Kim and Kelley look really happy and well, and Kelley has really cool Kelley Deal labels in her scarf, which of course she knitted, must get an order placed. Lots of people came to the merch stand at the gig asking whether we were selling her bags. The support band Polytechnic ask if they can sell some merch, and we let them, because we're dead nice like that.
So, the doors open, and it's utter madness. People come straight to us, and spend lots of money. We work like crazy. I'm having a minor crack-up, as Vaughan Oliver (& Chris Bigg) are doing a book signing, and haven't turned up yet. Vaughan arrives, late, but ready. So that's good - we head upstairs to the nice quiet room, and Vaughan gets signing the books. Chris Bigg is also around, so he joins in with the fun, and lots of happy v23 collectors all walk from the table, very happy.
Polytechnic take the stage, but we missed them, unfortunately. No photos to show for it, either.
A minor crisis with a lack of change, and it's time for The Breeders. We have a setlist copy, so we know which songs we want to see, so we head into the main venue, and take our position, right in the middle, but far enough out in case of any mad moshing that might catch us out. Merch rotation meant that we only got to see a few songs, but after Thursday, I was happy with just that, as it was almost perfect. Almost. The Breeders sounded fun, and people came out with big grins on their faces. A finale of 'Do You Love Me Now?' with Carrie and Josephine, as well as the rest of the band, and lots of happy Breeders fans. Sounds a good end to a great (but busy) day. We still managed to get home for around 1am. It was foggy around Norbury. This wasn't helped by the police pulling us over, wanting to know why Shaun was driving a car registered to a lady. "It's my wife, she's sat in the front seat" he replies. Everything fine, we move on, into more fog.
Sunday 20th November. Blackheath beckons again, for the second Big Night. We're ready, we know how busy it will be so we can deal with it, we reckon. A friend comes to stay with us for two nights, and we've an empty car, so a quick trip into work, and some essentials, and we're all ready to face the next night. We get there with 30 minutes to spare, get setting up the stand, ready for the rush, Vaughan is again running late, but gets there, and I drag him upstairs for the v23 book signing. The merch stand is in a state of extreme business, equal to that of the previous night, with everyone being kept ridiculously busy.
The Vaughan book signing even has a queue at one point, with lots of people really touched to meet him, which was lovely to see. Vaughan's two boys are also in attendance, so we all chatter about football, and stuff. It's a fun start to a mad night, and good to take a breather.
8.15 comes, and so do Wolf and Cub, taking the stage, and impressing everyone I spoke to. Lots of people came asking for CD's, which was good. W&C rocked!
Soon it's time for The Breeders, the same setlist as the previous night, and already tiredness is setting in. I'm determined to break through it, and get through the night - and do. I didn't see any songs this night, as I needed fresh air, and had also lost my earplugs (I found them the following night, in the place I thought I'd left them) so it was sounds from outside, but catching up with lots of people, Martin Andersen, formerly of v23 making his second visit to the shows, so we had a quick catchup.
Soon enough, it was the end of night rush, and complete madness. Then the venue was clear, time to take things away, pack up the car. Everything just about fitted, if you include boxes on knees and under your feet - but that's okay.
Bed was around 2am though. Add to that a lack of sleep due to thinking someone was going to break into the car. I kept getting up to check everything was okay which of course it was, depriving me of much-needed rest.
Monday 21st November. Back to work, although it could be said, going in for on Saturday and Sunday, it barely felt I was away from Alma Road. Tonight we're back at The Scala, our team in place, we work well together, almost in a production line at McDonalds type way.
"25th Compilation?" as one is promptly picked and put into a bag and handed back over with all kinds of goodies shoved into the aforementioned bag, while someone else takes the money. It was too smooth to be believed - almost as smooth as Julian's sales techniques.
Tonight was Paula Frazer's first London gig in a while, of this size. We missed her last gig at the 12 Bar so I was pleased she was able to do these dates. We always make a point of seeing Paula, as she's a lovely lady, and has been known to stay upstairs at Beggars, so she's always around.
We get lots of old songs and new, and it's lovely to hear her voice again, you forget how natural sounding she is, when she's on stage. Tarnation were a fab band.
Soon enough, it's time for Kristin tonight is the Throwing Muses night - and I've got a photo of the songs she has to choose from, to play. Sadly not a lot of the more recent songs, however 'Two Step' stuck in my head for quite a while afterwards, it sounded gorgeous. I missed the show, but heard it, as we're Scala-ing, so it's okay. The downstairs area was packed, so it would have been impossible to get in there anyway. Lots of Muses fans walk away happy people, having just witnessed a very special night, complete with accompaniment on some songs from Martin and Kimberlee McCarrick.
We get home about 12.30, and asleep at 2. Very tired.
Tuesday 22nd November. The tiredness is really creeping up now. In fact, tonight ended up being the first crisis night. The smoothly oiled merch stall carried on regardless, getting things done, while in the background it was all incredibly pear shaped. The displays we'd left up on the walls had been taken down, the t-shirts missing. Annoying. The car space we'd got lucky with twice, had gone. Unlucky. Shaun drove the car around outside for 25 minutes, before finding a space. Only trouble is, for some of that time, the doors were open, people were coming into the venue, and my bag with the float for that night, was in the car. Oops.
Paula Frazer was again fantastic, changing the setlist slightly, and including 'The Well', dedicated to Rikki. He was so happy to get that happen! In a fit of "argh - need - setlist" I jumped on the stage at the end and grabbed it. Paula and I chuckled about it later and decided to design a computer game which involves stage invasions, although I don't remember the details. I'd only had one bottle of water at this point.
Kristin soon came on stage, it felt like it was no time at all, and went into her solo songs. The McCarricks accompanied her again, and we were treated to lots of songs, some of which we'd not heard for a long time. I managed to see a few songs, stood at the top of the venue, but decided in the end, it was better to just go to the merch stand, and listen there.
Paula joins us at the merch stand, and we get people to get their Tarnation and Paula albums signed there and then, which makes a lot of people dead happy, and us all warm inside.
So, time to pack up the Scala. We did it in record time, having less stock to get into the car, although it still filled the boot. Got home around 12.15, possibly the earliest in a while, although that wasn't helped by us being stopped by the police for the second time in a week. I helpfully answered questions for them, before he'd asked them. "yes, the car is registered to me, we've just come from a gig, where we've done the merch, and I know my brake lights are working". Luckily, policeman let us go, so I can't have sounded too cheeky. Good job really, I was just being helpful. Still ended up getting to bed around 1.30. I'm starting to think this is some kind of preparation towards Australia, and adjusting to the time difference. Maybe I should keep going to bed at 2am?
Wednesday 23rd November. Really really tired now. There's no food at home, there's no time to eat at work, in fact, the only time when you truly stop, is when you're asleep, or when you're in the car going home, and someone else is driving. Madness.
Tonight brings Emma Pollock's debut solo gig, and The Mountain Goats return to the UK. We get to the venue as Emma is soundchecking - her songs sound fantastic - so we borrow a table, and get our wares all set up, while chatting to Emma, and Peter from tMG. The venue doors open, and our ankles freeze, but that's ok. Minutes pass, and friends bring food, making us want to cry with happiness. These people are forever in our debt, and they'll probably never realise how something as simple as bringing food made me so happy. Add to that someone popping to the bar and buying us a beer each, and you end up feeling so damn grateful for nice people doing stuff like this. (See also the Breeders and Kristin gigs)
First person on stage is called Jont. He overruns, and we're chatting with former Delgados Stewart and Paul, wondering when Emma will get a chance to set things up. Lucky for us, Jont leaves the stage, and Emma is up there quickly, so down the front it is, as it's easy to get to, and there's a radiator there, just meant to be leant on. Nice friends let me squeeze past to get pics, and 30 minutes of brand new 4AD songs are shared with us all, complete with Emma's lovely voice. I'm really looking forward to the new stuff. Emma is joined on piano for a few songs, and both get a massive applause at the end. I want more. Now, please?
The Mountain Goats came on stage, and we could see hands waving, people going crazy and John and Peter just generally having a great time on stage - lots of songs from all the albums, and just a generally very good sound. TMG always come up trumps, plus the loyal following from their fans, makes the gig something worth bothering with. I'm stuck outside on the merch, so don't see much, apart from Peter moving around quite a lot. That's okay though, I needed to sit down. Tiredness is stopping me from really enjoying myself. Meet lots of nice people, and talk to people I think I know, who could actually end up being people I don't know, but who have come to the merch stand over several nights. I've actually given up trying to remember. It's all turning into a blur of faces. There's people I've emailed, who I met, giving elastic bands to them, and we don't realise who we both are, so don't meet. Stuff like that. Mad.
Soon, it's all over. We're joking with the welsh security man that we'll be packed up quickly, and extra help (I love people who offer to carry our boxes, as that's the worst bit of the whole thing) comes our way from Steve and his girlfriend. The car is packed in record time, and we offer them a lift home for the favour.
Somehow, things work out in our favour, there's no fog or police out there stopping anyone, and we make it home for 11.45. This, by default, makes it my favourite gig, in as far as it means I get to spend more time in bed, when I go to sleep.
Thursday 24th November. I have a prior engagement tonight, however, the ill symptoms I'm showing mean if I was a sensible girl, I'd be tucked up in bed at an early hour tonight. However, as I'm not being sensible this week, I'm at the Nordoff-Robbins Pop Quiz. This was not a wise move. It does not bode well for Mojave 3 and Mark Kozelek tomorrow night. I'm not about to let anyone down though. Wouldn't be fair.
Friday 25th November. I wish I'd gone to see Celebration last night. Mojave 3 and Mark Kozelek are definitely off the menu tonight, thanks to the fact I can't breathe any more, and my head is blocked up. What an anticlimax to what had been a great week.
That'll be the end of my 4AD 25th Celebrations then. Eileen, Shaun and Jahanara got everything sorted doing the merch for this penultimate gig, and reading reports of last night, it sounds like Mark Kozelek was amazing, and Mojave 3 were pretty fab too, although suffered from technical problems... the photos didn't come out so well for Mojave 3, due to there being no lights on stage...
(photos by jo and shaun)
The Breeders (photos by jo)
Shock (photos by jo)
Magnétophone (photos by jo)
Saturday (Blackheath Halls)
The Breeders (photos by shaun)
Sunday (Blackheath Halls)
Wolf and Cub (photos by shaun)
The Breeders (setlist)
Frazer (photos by jo and shaun)
Kristin Hersh (photos by shaun)
Paula Frazer (photos by jo and shaun)
Kristin Hersh (photos by jo)
Wednesday (Bush Hall)
Emma Pollock (photos by jo)
The Mountain Goats (photos by shaun)
Wolf and Cub (photos to follow)
Celebration (photos to follow)
Friday (Conway Hall)
Mark Kozelek (photos by shaun)
Mojave 3 (photos by shaun)