Dec 10 2008

Tales From The Undertaker; On Tour With Duke Special, Part III

Well, we don’t have to pretend I’m still in Ireland any more. The last two posts were written whilst still on the road with no internet access, but from here on in I’m back home and writing in the present! So, where were we…?
The Cork Opera House show was fantastic. What a great audience! It never fails to amaze me how enthusiastic the Irish audiences are and how receptive they are to the music. They always sing along in the raucous tunes and stay quiet in the ballads. Just perfect for a show as theatrical as the Duke’s.
On the Saturday we played the Clarence in Sligo, which is a hotel venue on the main high street next to the cinema (and yes, we all paid a visit after sound check, in fact some of the band caught two films in one day. I went to see the new Robert De Niro film What Just Happened?). The stage was a little small and negotiating your way between this and the tiny ‘dressing room’ on the third floor soon became a bloody nightmare. The promoter only managed to rustle up one electronic key between the twelve of us and when you take into account the three locked doors and the lift that stood between us and the dressing room you can imagine the logistical chaos that ensued… It was like the Crystal Maze that place. In fact Chip and I had to wait so long for the lift to come back down after the show that we ended up packing down our gear in our stage clothes. Far from ideal and slightly less than cool. O yeah, and it was another one of those venues that miraculously turns into a shit disco as soon as the act has left the stage. Nightmare.. But the gig was great.

We went on to the Royal Theatre in Castlebar the following day. This is also in a hotel complex, but comparatively enormous and really well thought out as a venue. We had another massive stage to fill and the gig was great.
We rolled up to the Black Box in Galway on the 1st December. It’s a proper sticky-floored rock & roll club that I remember playing with The Divine Comedy a few years back, and one of the venues I’d been looking forward to revisiting. Really great place. It seemed they’d had some kind of panto event going on there recently and they were throwing out a bunch of costumes and staging gear. Now, as you can imagine, this was music to the ears of the Duke Special crew! Peter and Paul discovered a discarded pantomime camel outfit in the morning and decided to try it out for size and take a walk into town… I can’t even imagine the looks on the faces of the unsuspecting locals when, sat innocently sipping their cappuccinos in a quiet Galway cafe, a pantomime camel saunters in and starts ordering coffees. And then turns out to be Duke Special. A bit of rock & roll history in the making there I reckon.. Maybe not, but a good story if you were there… Apparently Peter drew the short straw and wound up at the back end. We also gained an extra band member on the tourbus after the show. He made surprise appearances in most people’s bunks at some point for the rest of the tour…

The Galway show was one of the best nights so far on the tour. There was a great atmosphere (as there always is at any gig I’ve done in Galway) and the audience were brilliant once again. Looking forward to playing there again soon.
The big Belfast show was on the Tuesday. Peter had taken over St George’s Market for the day, erecting two big stages opposite one another in a mini festival setup. I think we eventually had about six (!) support acts, including of course our very own Paul Pilot who’d been opening up for Duke the whole tour (We love his bones). The great Australian comic/singer-songwriter Tim Minchin performed a thirty minute set on the opposite stage just before us and went down a storm. I spent quite a bit of time with Tim during the day and we got on really well. Lovely chap. He’s doing two nights at the Queen Elizabeth Hall this month with (for the first time) a full band. Well worth checking out if you’re in town…
The atmosphere at St George’s Market was electric. There were a few stalls set up selling food etc, it was beautifully lit and the two stages looked amazing. I think we had about two thousand people in for the night and it really felt like a special event. The Lowly Knights walked around the audience playing just before we went on (as they did in Dublin; sorry, forgot to mention them in the last post).
The show itself was brilliant; easily the highlight of the tour for everyone involved. They filmed the whole set so hopefully they’ll put together some kind of DVD version for release. The Duke crew are very good with that sort of thing; I just finished watching the great DVD from their five nights at the Belfast Empire boxset. It’d be great to have a permanent record of the St George’s Market show, it was a real night to remember.
We had a few guests up with us for the show. Tim Minchin came back on for Our Love Goes Deeper Than This during the encore and the crowd went crazy. It was an absolutely stunning show. I really do hope the recording came out well…

The tour finished with a show at the Nerve Centre in Derry, another indie club but much smaller than the Black Box. Being straight after the big Belfast gig, everyone was totally wiped out by this point. We’d played a load of shows by this point with almost no break. Progress was not helped by the fact that we discovered that the in-house PA was shot to pieces. The replacement PA wasn’t due to arrive until right at the last minute, so we spent a lot of the day hanging around waiting and didn’t get much of a soundcheck. 
It’s funny how it doesn’t seem to matter how tired you are before a show, the minute you get in front of an excited audience you suddenly come alive and forget all about it. I do anyway. The audience were brilliant.  We stretched out a little as it was the last night and Peter played a couple of extra tunes in the encore. We all had a great show and it was a perfect way to end the tour.
It was a great experience touring with Duke Special. Everyone in the band and crew are great fun to be around; you really couldn’t hope to be with a better group of people. I love the whole vibe of the band; they’re all so creative and spontaneous in everything they do, it makes it easy to create great music when surrounded by people like that. As a big Duke fan already, it was a real honour to go on the road with him. I’m really hoping they put on some UK dates next year with the same lineup. It’ll be a riot!
If you haven’t got Duke Special’s new album I Never Thought This Day Would Come, go out and get it! It’s available over here for download at the iTunes store, or you can buy the CD direct from the Duke Special Store. What are you waiting for?!
Until next time…

Dec 8 2008

Tales From The Undertaker; On Tour With Duke Special, Part II

I’m writing to you today from the Cork Opera House. We had a day off yesterday in Cork. The only hotel we’ve got on the whole tour. It was so good to sleep in a bed that stays still, although I swear I felt it go around a few corners during the night…

ON the 25th November we played the Dublin Olympia. This is by far my favourite venue to play in Dublin. I’ve played there a few times with The Divine Comedy before, and once with Eddy when we supported The Beautiful South.
I’ve always loved playing in Dublin. It’s such a great city. We wound up not having a great deal of time to walk around town so I headed straight for the parts I knew best surrounding the venue. I found a few new (to me, anyway) second-hand record stores and a couple of great little vintage clothes shops in Temple Bar. I finally managed to get my hands on a top hat that actually fits my big head (joy of joys!); it looks very classy with the tailcoat.
I returned to the Olympia after a slap-up binge at Eddie Rockets next door. It was great having the run of the Olympia’s massive stage having mostly been playing much smaller venues until then. We were able to spread out more and get a great sound onstage which helped no end during the performance. We had a huge crowd in and they were really receptive to the music.
Our lighting designer Dom really went to town for Dublin, creating a really dark and moody setting for the show. The new album is pretty dark compared to Songs From The Deep Forest. The only trouble was that as a result the stage was so dark you daren’t put anything down that you wanted to find again later on in the show. My little corner of the stage has become pitch black apart from occasional bursts of green and red haze for the majority of the show. In fact, I haven’t seen my set list for the last two shows! I resorted using the florescent ‘W’ on the front of my Warwick amp to find out what songs are coming up..
Incidentally, for those of you so inclined, this is the set list we’ve pretty much settled on for the show now..
Mockingbird Wish Me Luck (Duke & Ben)
Sweet Sweet Kisses
Those Proverbs We Made In The Winter
Brixton Leaves
Diggin’ An Early Grave
I Never Thought This Day Would Come
No Cover Up
Flesh & Blood Dance
If I Don’t Feel It Anymore
Salvation Tambourine
Nothing Comes Easy
Why Does Anybody Love?
Let Me Go (Please Please Please)
Our Love Goes Deeper Than This
Freewheel (Pete solo/Duet with Swinging Dave Rowland)
Ghost Town (The Specials)
Last Night I Nearly Died
Neil came to watch the show at the Olympia. It was great to catch up with him at the aftershow over a Guinness. He didn’t get up to sing this time as he and Peter had just performed their ‘dueling pianos’ show at Vicar Street in October. I think he really enjoyed the set.
I should, in true British tradition, take a brief moment to mention the weather. It has rather suddenly become bitingly cold here in Ireland. Whilst this has no effect on the shows, it has made some of the loading pretty bloody unpleasant. Pretty much the last thing you want to do when stood outside in the freezing cold is to grab hold of a bunch of increasingly heavy, awkward and, most significantly,  cold metal flightcases and start schlepping them about. Having said that we’ve been pretty lucky since the Loadout From Hell in Dundalk where we not only had to deal with the cold, but the pissing rain too. We all got utterly soaked through…
We went to Limerick the following day to play Dolans’s. I’d only played there once before when we did the trio tour with Neil and Squeezy. It really is a fantastic venue and the guys that run the place are brilliant, they really know how to look after musicians there. And as for the food.. wow! I’d been looking forward to that show for a while. We had a great vibey show and a really fun night. The Dolan’s crowd are always amongst the best in Ireland.

Yesterday we had a well-deserved day off in Cork. Great place. I spent the afternoon wandering the town centre before meeting up with Ben and Phil for some food and a trip to the cinema. We went to see My Best Friend’s Girl, an American Pie type film starring Kate Hudson and Jason Biggs. It was one of those films that you vaguely enjoy whilst watching it, but come away with nothing. Still, it helped pass the time! We went to see Quarantine before the second show in Waterford. I absolutely loved it, but it did put us in a funny mood for the show…
WE play the Opera House tonight. We’ve had a few issues getting into the venue and onto the stage. It seems panto season is upon us… O well, we’re in now. I’ve got to get my gear set up so I’d better leave you now. I’ll let you know how it all goes. Only five shows to go now. I’m really looking forward to the Belfast show in St George’s Market. We’ve got a whole host of special guests and support acts lined up, it sounds like it’s going to be a great night.
Until then…

Duke Special’s fantastic new album I Never Thought This Day Would Come was released in Ireland last month. It’s available over here for download at the iTunes store, or you can buy the CD direct from the Duke Special Store.

Dec 5 2008

Tales From The Undertaker; On Tour With Duke Special, Part I

Hello folks,

Sorry it’s been such a long time since my last post. I’ve just spent the last fortnight touring Ireland with Duke Special and made the (potentially hazardous) last minute decision to go sans laptop. Hence my absence online over the last two weeks, I do hope you’ll excuse me.
But fear not dear readers, I have been diligently ‘blogging’ the old-fashioned way with pen and paper throughout the tour so that I can bombard you with a veritable deluge of posts on my return.
I wrote this post on the 24th November. Lets pretend for now it still is…
I feel a little explanation is in order regarding the title of this post. I am now officially known as The Undertaker in the Duke’s band. This is mainly due to the rather splendid tailcoat I picked up in Camden just before we set off. It was Peter’s idea. He asked me a while ago if I had any character ideas for the band (all the members of the band assume a Duke Special-esque identity when on tour) and the tailcoat prompted him to christen me The Undertaker. Nice.
And, so you know, here’s who else we had in the band on the tour:
Duke Special- Piano and vocals
Temperance Society Chip Bailey- Percussion and kitchen utensils
Matador Ben Castle- Saxes and Clarinet
Paul Pilot- Guitar
Detective Phil Wilkinson- Drums
The Invisible Birdman Mark Edwards- Keyboards
And myself on bass. It’s a really fantastic lineup and I think the largest band Peter has toured with thus far (excluding the orchestral shows, obviously)
Having spent a couple of days rehearsing the previous month to get our ears around the new material, this run officially started with three more days rehearsing in Putney. Now, I say three days rehearsing, but in reality the majority of the first day was spent unloading al the gear and setting it up for the first time, and virtually the entire last day was spent packing it down and trying to get it loaded for the tour. I have never come across another band with as much (mainly loose!) gear as the Duke’s. They make The Flaming Lips look positively minimalist with their vast plies of equipment and various stage paraphernalia. In fact we got a nasty surprise when we finally met up with the tourbus and trailer with our veritable mountain of gear, only to discover that we’d also be carrying about the same amount again in lighting equipment. And the trailer wasn’t very big. Oops…
O yeah, and we have no roadies. Should have mentioned that earlier really…
I am writing to you today from the dressing room of the An Grianan Theatre in Letterkenny. We have four shows under our belt so far, with nine more to go.
Our tour started  in Waterford with two nights at Electric Avenue. This is a great little venue right in the middle of the town. I think Peter’s played there a number of times before. I’m guessing it holds somewhere between 200-250 people. The stage certainly wasn’t intended for a band the size of ours. In fact Mark and I wound up on our own little podium off to one side. The was no cat-swinging action to be had I can tell you.
I have come to the conclusion that Waterford is essentially not very ergonomic for a rock and roll band. Electric Avenue is at the top of a long hill which neither the bus or trailer could negotiate. The bus ended up parked in the docks with no water or power ( a good ten minute walk down the hill), where we also had a day room at a local hotel. Let me tell you; woe betide anyone who leaves some essential item for the gig on the bus. I lost count of the number of times I had to schlep up and down that bloody hill. Our dressing room was also miles away from the stage on the other side of the venue. More on that later…
The first night was amazing and the crowd were fantastic. Especially considering the sheer volume of new material we had in the set. They really got into it. In fact it seemed that the majority of them were already familiar with a lot of the new songs already. I discovered that Sweet Sweet Kisses has been getting a lot of airplay over there, which is great news. 
The second night was an extra date added into the schedule after the first night sold out. The crowd were a little noisy but we still had a good show. We did get another nasty shock when we discovered that our dressing room would eventually (ie; by the time we came off stage) become the arse end of a hideous club night. I’ve never seen anything like it. As we sauntered back after the show we were greeted by a crowd of drunken men (there were about three girls in the whole place) gyrating and cavorting erratically to blaring house music. My own personal Hell. Why anybody would voluntarily go out dancing in such a place is entirely beyond me.
On the 22nd we went on to the Dinn Ri in Carlow. This is a fairly new venue, about twice the size of Electric Avenue. Carlow is an incredibly small town. In fact I can honestly say that I’d ‘done’ the Carlow town centre in about fifteen minutes. I’ve discovered that the Bagel Factory is a good default destination for coffee action whilst in Ireland. Luckily, there was one opposite the bus. Nice touch.

The show went really well. It was good to finally all the on the same stage. Although we did have to erect a little extension to the side for Chip and his enormous percussion rack.
Yesterday we were at the An Tain Theatre in Dundalk. The town looked really lovely but everything was shut as it was a Sunday. Bugger.
Pete’s wife arrived from Belfast with an assortment of costume goodies for us to wear on stage, including a great vintage top hat for me and a floor-length leather mac and trilby for Mark’s Invisible Man getup. By the time Mark was ready for the show we couldn’t even look in his general direction without cracking up. I think he won the award for best outfit…

The An Tain is a proper seated theatre venue with a massive stage. We finally got to use some of the lighting gear we’d been carting around and the show looked fantastic thanks to our LD Dom. It made such a difference to the show, with proper lighting. This was easily the best show thus far.
We’ve had some bloody awful loadouts so far on the tour. Mainly because we end up trying to do it right in the middle of chucking out time at all the local bars and clubs. I have found myself simultaneously assuming the roles of roadie, bouncer ad bodyguard after some of the shows. Although we didn’t have this problem last night, it wound up being the worst loadout to date due to the pouring rain and freezing cold. A cunning flight of slippery steps made matters a little more tricky. Nice.
I’m really looking forward to playing the Dublin Olympia tomorrow. It’s one of my favourite venues to play in Ireland. I’ve done it a few times with The Divine Comedy and once with A Girl Called Eddy when we supported The Beautiful South a few years ago. Neil’s coming to see the show too, so it’ll be great to catch up.
I’ll let you know how it all goes….
Duke Special’s fantastic new album I Never Thought This Day Would Come was released in Ireland last month. It’s available over here for download at the iTunes store, or you can buy the CD direct from the Duke Special Store.