Bloguemahone: Dispatches from The Tour

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James Fearnley has been sending tales, rumors, myths and innuendo from the 2005 & 2006 shows by The Pogues. Legends crumble, recrimination follows. Thanks James for giving us this peek behind the scenes.

Japan, 2005 Azkena, 2005 U.K. & Ireland, 2005 U.S.A., Spring 2006 Japan and U.S.A., Fall 2006

James took some writing time off. No updates for these shows.

U.K. & Ireland, 2006

Japan, 2005

First installment – July 17, 2005

Shane came into rehearsal ‘professionally late’, as he wittily put it, with that gnashing laugh he has, the first day of rehearsal. I think he’d had to be woken up, in his flat. He wasn’t as sartorial as I’ve seen him of late, though he still has his brothel-creepers that I became familiar with coming across on the dressing room floor when we were on tour at Christmas, as he felt the need to air his rather curious-looking feet (and to air, with Joey, the top half of his body, at least one evening, where were we? Newcastle I think). He staggered in at four in the afternoon wearing a tophat that looked as though someone had attempted to contain a firework inside it.

James at Guilfest;
Performance shotRehearsals went reasonably well. After so many years playing these songs, recording them, putting them together, rehearsing them, they’re – well, internalized, now, part of our fabric somehow, in our bones. I don’t think we actually needed the two days we set aside for rehearsal – other to remind ourselves whether or not there were three or four verses before the break in Old Main Drag (on the record, and I remember when Shane wrote the song and we put it together in rehearsal, it was supposed to be symmetrical with three before and three after the break), and for Andrew to get used to the rather springy skin on the bass drum of the rented (with a finish that was almost gold lamé) drum kit, and to remind ourselves of the chords to Thousands Are Sailing, which have always been a problem for a lot of us. As it turned out, when it came to the festival at Stoke Park in Guildford, when Jem put on the gunmetal-blue suit he last wore seven months ago for the Christmas tour and went through the pockets, he found the chord crib-sheet he’d used then, so, at least he knew what to do.

The second day of rehearsals was as enfeeblingly hot as the first day. We ran through the set a couple of times, and, though we didn’t actually have time for it at what’s known as ‘Guilfest’, I was amazed that we hadn’t any trouble with Bottle of Smoke, because that one caused the most problems last Christmas: none of us could say at that time, with any certainty, how the break, which Jem wrote, went. We realized, from the live recording, that Terry was playing one thing, me another, and Jem something else. Last Christmas we spent a bit of time trying to discover some concensus as to how the tune actually went. This time, however, for some reason, don’t know why, it was all there – maybe a bit of contemporizing from Terry, because the dear boy just can’t help it, but, in the heel of the hunt, well, we just didn’t play it at Guilfest. Perhaps in Japan.

I met the band bus coming down what’s normally the cycle track across Stoke Park at Guilfest and motioned it in through the artistes’ gate, to make my way, don’t ask me why, to the guest entrance. I had to come back to where I’d guided the tour bus in and wait outside for ten minutes in a face-off with a rather red-faced, scottish (why are they always Scottish?) security manager who wouldn’t believe me, until the tour manager came (who’s Scottish too, hmm) to break the deadlock. The band had a straighforward journey down from London. That’s tour managers for you. The Pogues have an exceedlingly good one, who’s as executively functional as you can get and intimately knows that there are more ways than one to skin a cat. Wasn’t always the case with tour managers. It is now.

So, we change into our suits – Jem into the aforementioned, with the chord sheet in; Philip into something suavely black; Darryl into a suit I’m sure dates from my wedding; Terry into a charcoal number, with his blue shirt tucked out, which I’ve told him about, but will he listen?; Spider, with a new, rather fetching, quasi-Steve Marriot hair-cut (an opening came up, with Sarah, nobody but whom he trusts to go near his hair), in a light grey suit, and his shirt tucked out, but I can handle that, for some reason; myself in the suit I bought at a vintage clothing stall in Santa Monica Civic Center and which has seen me through every gig I’ve done, with the Low and Sweet Orchestra, Cranky George, Pogues, since 1995. Shane obviously hadn’t read the band-meeting minutes and went on-stage in the t-shirt and black trousers I’d seen him in last – the front of the trousers peppered with cigarette burns (reminded me of the pub game I played once, where you peel the tissue paper from the silver foil of twenty Embassy, stick it over the top of a pint glass, put a coin in the middle of it, and then burn holes in it with cigarettes with the person who makes the coin fall into the bottom of the glass buying the next round).

Shane changed the set round at the last minute, which might have put another band into a panic (although the sound and lighting technicians don’t like it one bit, for all the cues going to shit and everything). I saw him scribbling over the set list in the porta-dressing room, arms on his knees, stabbing at the paper with a marker, wiping his nose with a fore-arm, impatiently cuffing the paper. I left him to it. We all left him to it. Doesn’t do to come between the bowman and his target. As it turned out, the first three songs were just the right sort of songs to open the set with (although the front-of-house sound-man might have wanted something slow to get all the levels sorted out, but, hell, you can’t come out in front of – how many? Don’t know. Fifteen thousand maybe. Between ten and fifteen. Difficult to tell, although the heads stretched right back to the customary, almost medieval-looking ring of tents at the very back - potato places, shops, that sort of thing, though I didn’t concentrate that much on what’s out at the very back. Streams of Whiskey, then If I Should Fall From Grace With God, then Sally MacLennane. Those are hard work for an accordion-player that wants to jump around at the dramatic bits. My legs (and the knees of my trousers) are ruined.

Shane brought with him onto the stage a large pitcher of iced water and a wet towel, which he wore for some of the time. He had a familiar old thing going on in his head, for this gig: a recital, a disjointed recital of half-remembered phrases that have passed his way in his life, coming out in a sort of bebop of verbalizing, starting out with some improbable connection he’s made, and then just going off on that. ‘It’s nice to play in Denmark again!’ he said, whereupon, he’s off into Hamlet, but runs dry because he can’t remember the whole graveside soliloquy. Spider, however, came to his rescue with something, I’m not sure, from Henry the 4th (not sure which part), which he does remember in its entirety, because Spider has a photographic memory, but one of those panoramic cameras, if you know what I mean. It’s great to hear Shane go off into some verbal jazz territory, like the character Ron Perlman plays in ‘The Name Of The Rose’, and it’s great to hear Spider spitting out Shakespeare. Doesn’t happen a lot nowadays. In that way, it was like a gig-of-old, the two of them playing off one another.

And, like a gig of old, was the way we played the rest of the show – by the seat of our pants, with almost bemused looks up from our instruments – or even not bothering to look up at all – when Shane neglects a cue, or rides off digging his stirrups into the flank of one of the verses after an instrumental break in Fiesta and would, at one time, have left us a mess of limbs, scrabbling in the dust. Nowadays, however, we’re cheek-by-jowl with his frothing steed and heading it round toward the paddock, or crashing into the barn, one of the two, with Spider banging his head on – well, not the proper beer tray it should have been, because a runner came back from the shops, having been sent out for beer-trays, with a catering pack of those silver-foil tv-dinner trays which Spider left crumpled on the floor. At the end of Fiesta, Jem went off into some penetrating Coltrane territory.

I’m sure someone will have the set list. I don’t have a copy, and I’m buggered if I can remember how it went. We played Rainy Night In Soho in a way I don’t remember ever playing it – slow, much slower, and, I think, with a refinement the song hasn’t had for a while. I questioned Terry over the top of the piano if he thought it was too slow, but managed to stop him going over to try to get Andrew to speed it up a bit, because that wouldn’t have done, and besides, I was getting to like it slow like that. Shane forgot how the verse after the break went, but let the crowd remind him how it was, and with a fine sense of etiquette almost, took their cue and started the verse again, once he had it.

That’s all I have to say about Guilfest. Afterwards I walked fucking miles through Guildford to get a drink in a hotel bar with holes in both knees of my suit.

Except – since the BBC Radio 2 vans were out the back, I’m wondering if some of it, or maybe all, might be available on the Radio 2 website. I listened to Fiesta on the radio last night (Saturday) and had a laugh at how we did it.

Second Installment – July 24, 2005

Shane’s got a new suit that’s said to have the look, from a distance, of fish-skin. For me, it looks to have come from an amateur dramatic company’s stage curtain. He calls it his Bobby Darin suit, and as we stood outside Terminal 1 at Heathrow waiting for everyone to turn up – with the exception of Terry, in the end, because his flight from Dublin was sufficiently delayed to put him back a day – Shane treated me to a performance of Sailing, with feet-shuffles and swirling arm movements. I feared he was going to go into a lavish pirouette, as I’ve seen him do many a time in the past, when he was surer on his pins, and found myself interposing myself between him and the kerbside in case he spun himself under the wheels an airport bus. Anyway, he looked good, in the suit. I’m thankful the groin-peppered black slacks he had in Guildford are in the bin.

Fearful that someone of a shambling, erratic demeanour might not be allowed onto an airplane (again), a presentableness had been encouraged, to the point that Joey (black leather flat cap, black shirt, black pants) took him to one side and gave his face the once-over with a concealer pencil. Sounds daft, I know, but, well, it’s not easy opening for Bob Dylan, as we did in 1989, without your front man.

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Third Installment – July 25, 2005

Oh, it’s a long flight to Tokyo – at the end of which, Ross, collecting Shane and Joey from where they were sitting, to facilitate their transition from the plane to the arrival, was informed by a woman who had been sitting close by, that she had ‘never been so disgusted’ in her life.

Joey we had to leave behind at Narita (we’ve left him behind before, but not quite so expediently - on the trip from Munich to Zurich, as I remember, whichever year that was, when the bus pulled into a Raststätte for drinks and smokes for the drive ahead, and no-one did a head count when we got back on the bus – it was usually Joey, but I suppose we thought he was in one of the bunks. It’s a testament to Joey’s resourcefulness that, with nothing but the shirt on his back, he got to the show in Zurich not much behind us). The customs officers at Narita, alert to something, had him spread his belongings out along one of their tables. Well, we had everybody on the bus, twiddling our fingers, and Ross our tour manager sensed that we trusted to the persistence of Joey’s resourcefulness when it comes to getting himself from A to B. So, we drove off without him.

It’s hot and humid and we’re constantly being reminded – by what means, I wouldn’t know; one or two of us must have read a paper or something, thereafter the information sends a frisson through the touring company, as things tend to do in such a small community – that last week there was an earthquake and that there’s a typhoon coming in, the front edges of which have draped the cluttered jumble of buildings and hoardings with drifting rain and the clouds blurred the tops of the skyscrapers beyond what I suppose must be Yoyogi Park, an eruption of greenery in the middle of otherwise – when you go up to the 25th floor for breakfast and have the panorama of Tokyo laid out before you, on both sides of the breakfast place – a kind of rubble, after all.

DzM is staying with us in the hotel. It’s nice to be able, finally, to put a face to the acronym. (Except, it’s not strictly an acronym – as the recent debate in Santa Monica, I think it was, about putting the full titles of organizations and not just their initials on official minutes and documents – has let me know.)

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Fourth Installment – July 26, 2005

The rain’s started. Umbrellas, though, are in plentiful supply and only 400 yen for a clear-plastic one from the store on the mall underneath the hotel, so I might venture out into the typhoon come soundcheck time.

I came across Jem and his family on the 25th floor this morning, looking down at the intersection in front of the hotel, watching as the umbrellas beneath drifted into a mass of pastel disks at the crosswalks, to be released across the zebra-crossings, like jellyfish, someone said.

Today is the first gig. It should be walking distance. Well, I know it’s walking distance, up through the cacophany – girls in the street, bowing, handing out stuff (dunno, hankies, cards, bits of paper, fliers) and the people walking by them, seemingly having tuned everything going on around them out, which I’m not capable of doing with the jet lag I have; a guy with a bullhorn and a must-be-a-name-for-it round his head, standing on a box; another couple of guys waving banners about, in front of a store of I don’t know what it is, but a lot of it; trains going overhead because the hotel seems to be melded with a railway station, a mall and a vast department store, with corridors going this way to turnstiles and that way to the stationery department, one way to a network of bazaar of foodstalls, another way to ticket windows; outside, motorcycles weaving through the traffic; crashing, whizzing sound of pachinko parlours; a continual current of people that you’re always swimming against, seems to me; bicycles cutting through everyone on the sidewalks.), We could walk up to the gig, but with all that to contend with, and the ever-imminent typhoon, I know we’re not going to walk.

It feels like a long time since we’ve played here. I’m sort of looking forward to the screams that go along with the songs we’ll do, and then the deafening silence in between the songs, which, being here on the other side of the world, is pretty much in a 180 degree relation to what we’re used to on the side of the world we’ve just come from.

Terry gets in from the airport, all the colour drained out of him and red-rimmed eyes. Says he’s going straight to bed.

So, of course, we took the minibus up to Shibuya AX through a kaleidoscope of pixelation, neon, plasma hoardings, headlights, parking attendants’ wands, vending machines, kanji, katakana, hiragana (‘meaningless squiggles’ someone said of the menu in a restaurant some of us went to, last night, or it might have been another night, somebloodywhere in Shibuya – downstairs, tatami, shoes off, eight squeezed around a table for four – having to enlist the help of a Japanese guy who spoke english, out to dinner with friends, and getting him to order food for us because we hadn’t the first inkling what anything meant).

Shibuya AX is a basically a blue and white painted box dwarfed by a gently curving, concrete building with a concave roofline that has something to do, in my head, with a samurai’s helmet, hard by Yoyogi Park. Shane didn’t show up for soundcheck, but we’re used to that, and it’s become part of the rhythm of a touring day. It’s fine. He knows the words, and didn’t put a foot wrong in Guildford and is a world away from the some of the experiences we have had the course of some gigs in the past – Seinajoki in Finland, in 1985, when we were pin-cushioned by mosquitoes (I counted 33 lumps on one leg alone) – springs to mind. I dunno: it feels as though we’re better than we ever have been, at the minute. Before, in the first phase of our career, it would have worried me that Shane didn’t come to soundcheck. I’d have thought something was wrong about that. But now, it makes sense. It all works better if he doesn’t show up.

So, we go around the instruments for Scully the soundman and Aidan the monitor guy, and I suppose get a feel for the place.

Word was that the rain was going to come on any time now, the typhoon finally coming in and we have word too that there are scores of people still queueing up outside to get in, and once in, for t-shirts too, so we hold off a bit before going on. The imminence of a typhoon is kind of an added thrill, you know, that the gig is an element of a wider cataclysm or some kind - that sort of thing is called Pathetic Fallacy. Anyway, there’s a welter of people, seems like, once we get out on stage, and nothing like how I remember playing for a Japanese audience. As I said, it was always a matter of ear-shattering screaming at the start of a song and rising to a sort of white noise when an instrumental comes down the pike, followed by a polite, expectant silence in between songs, with maybe a mutter or two, but on Monday night (was it? I’m all turned around) the tsunami of noise in the ears carried on right through everything, and crowd surfing on the tsunami too, and all the breath squeezed out of the lungs of the people against the crash barriers and the level of emotion such that there were a couple of girls I spotted right at the front who seemed to be releasing some fundamental passion in tears, all lugubrious and beseeching and there’s nothing you can do, but play for them and shrive with them, if that’s the word for it.

Set list? Pretty much the same one we did at Guildford, with Bottle of Smoke and something else (which we hadn’t time for at Guilfest) re-admitted. Again, it was like a Pogues gig of old - with paunches, without hair, some waddling. Can’t remember the details of it much (I’m in Osaka while I write this, and, as is often the case, transitions from one place to the next tend to scrub clean my recollection of detail).

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Fifth Installment – July 27, 2005
Tokyo to Osaka, Osaka

Talking about transitions: so, we’re on the train – rice paddies, blue ceramic roofs, a small square grave-plot or two, My Neighbour Totoro trees, Mount Fuji coming up on the right, lush hillsides draped in what I want to call kudzu, box lunch with a goggle-eyed samurai painted on the cover – and when we’re coming into Osaka station there’s an announcement in english comes over the speakers that that’s what’s happening, and in plenty of time too. So, we all get our things together, get up, leave our seats, as you do. The train pulls in. Trains don’t hang about in Japan: the doors open, people get off, the doors close and they’re gone. We get off, back into the heat on the platform, and stand around waiting for direction, overcome by that irresolution that sets in at moments like this, and then Ross the tour manager stays the train from going off. He’s stopping the train from going off (I have a picture of Ross in my head, with his hand stuck in the door, preventing it from closing, and I’m beset by a low-grade, admittedly, horror that we’re screwing up the precious Japanese Rail timetable that the world speaks so highly of) because ‘a member of our company is missing’, he says, rather importantly, to Ichico, our interpreter (or Ichico Park, as she’s been dubbed).

Except, we spot the member of our company, well, two members of our company further down the platform, having fallen foul of the transition between being inside the train and being outside of it, having disembarked the train by the door at the other end of the carriage to us, and both bent from the waist, over their bags putting the accoutrements that they’d had out on the train – disc player, carton of, what? Devil Drink or something, so Shane said it was called (a tall white carton that we all mistook for a carton of milk, for a while, until ‘gin, vodka and fucking sake’ – followed by his inimitable and simile-defiant laugh, that, hey, I’m going to have a go, sounds like someone opening a particularly difficult sandwich container – came out of it into his plastic glass in the dressing room), cigarettes, lighters, raffia hat, book, sunglasses, empty bento box with the goofy samurai on it – all in all their doings – back into their bags, with their arses pointed squarely in our direction, one arse on the top of concertinaed black trousers, the other arse in a purple, or red, or what colour is it? pair, the rather theatrical sheen (fish-skin? sockeye salmon maybe, or perch, which is kind of pertinent, you know, being in the land of sashimi) worn off it in the last couple of days and a cigarette burn hole at the hip (the hip?) and having taken on a, what you might say, sub-tropical patina. The move from train to platform, platform to bus, bus to lobby, lobby to room, etc. can be a challenge. Shane and Joey ‘Lost in Transition’.

Well, of course, we’re only known from our likenesses in the CD booklets, which, for the most part, for the silvery coloured ‘Best of...’, were taken in 1986 or something, so, in the hotel in Osaka, some of us had to be pointed out to some fans that had spent a part of the afternoon waiting for us to show up. Gone are Terry’s bedspring curls. Gone is Philip’s Apollonian coif. Gone is my Cary Grant hair line (which is actually being a bit on the fanciful side; my hairline always had the tendency to veer toward Benjamin Disraeli). So, what the fans see rising up the escalator to check in are pates of peach fuzz.

So, we have a laugh about what we’re like now. ‘Angry Old Men,’ Shane says, and then that laugh that sounds as though someone suddenly decides to fry an egg. Jem, we agree, is the least changed - just his hair turning to the colour of brushed aluminium, in places, though Spider has preserved well, with his fetching Steve Marriott coiffure, because, as I mentioned earlier, Sarah, his regular, had an appointment become free the week before last. The fans were already confused as it was as to who was who, I suppose, so they can be forgiven, I think, for approaching Joey for an autograph, mistaking him for Shane. Well, according to Flann O’Brien’s theory of molecule exchange (according to which, extended periods of bicycle-riding can explain the occasional Irishman standing kerbside with one foot in the road and the other up on the pavement), it mightn’t be all that much of a stretch to put, in some people’s eyes, Shane and Joey’s similarity down to such a thing.

Mother Hall in Osaka – I’ve never been in through the front doors. The minibus turns into a pedestrian street full of clothing shops for the restaurant trade, pottery, things wrapped neatly in paper and wrapped around with green ribbon; no idea what would be inside at all (the record company, incidentally, had had delivered to each of our rooms, the first night we were in Tokyo, such a box, and Terry thought, ‘Ah, a pair of shoes. How lovely!’ Once you got the cellophane wrapping off, it turned out to be fruit) and a ton of people about. Then it’s out of the van and through a red-painted, thunderous pachinko/gaming parlour to the lifts in the back of it, and lifts which, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out if they went up or down.

For soundchecks, we run through things like Thousands Are Sailing (which went awry in Tokyo; I wasn’t listening – I was looking in the right direction, which I try to do, and was actually ready, physically, for Andrew’s count in, but where my mind was, at the exact moment the count-in came, don’t ask me: elsewhere, obviously. Passed me by completely. And there were other false starts: Darryl not knowing where to put his fingers - I heard from Brad, the bass-player with the Cranky George Trio, that, when you don’t know what’s happening, when you thoroughly don’t know the first thing where you are, you ‘go walking’ up the frets until something sounds right, and then hang around there in the hope that it’ll come back to you. In Darryl’s case, it wasn’t so much walking, as turning ankles, side-stepping, lurching into territory he was, thank Christ, familiar with – Philip doing his chackachacka at the beginning of White City in the wrong place – oh, and plenty other instances besides – must have been nervous or jet-lagged or distracted or something) and Tuesday Morning and Young Ned Of The Hill (the nuts of which we have, but the bolts every now and again, just go missing). We have to do those songs – the songs Terry, Philip and Spider sing (although Spider could sing any damn song you threw at him, because, as I think I probably said earlier, he has a photographic memory) because Shane might be said to have purified his life of the contamination of soundchecks. Which is fine (see the earlier entries).

Soundchecks nowadays, and mostly in the course of a tour with crew bus and band bus and hotels and whatnot, seem to be more or less a matter of – though we last saw them the night before or, from time time, that morning – delightful reunion with the crew and the occasion to swap stories about what people did the previous night, to give the instruments a go and if there’s soup (which there hasn’t been in Japan, just a couple of plastic trays of sushi that we don’t know how long have been sitting there in the heat) to be had, then the world spins true on its axis.

On the serious side of soundcheck, we play more songs, probably, than we need to and give the crew – Murray, Jos, Aidan, Paul – the opportunity to impress us with how capable and ubiquitous they are (Had Jos dried out the accordion straps overnight, because of the remainder of Shane’s ‘gin, vodka and fucking sake’ that came my way as he walked offstage over my body lying on the floor after Fiesta? Answer: he had. What so-called beer trays had Murray succeeded in conveying to the Japanese runner would be suitable and safe for Spider to bring into violent contact with this head? Answer: dishes from the nearest cooking store in which you could imagine a shallow lasagne, or a baked fish. That sort of thing.)

Shane’s amazing at the minute. I was talking with Spider and his partner Louise at breakfast in Osaka, the morning after the show at Mother Hall, about what a phenomenon it must be, to see such a hewn-in-granite presence come out on stage, in his red and black shirt (with a pattern that’s like one of those designs that you have to cross your eyes to get to go 3-D) and his damp slacks, with his gin and tonic. He dispensed with both the mike stand (which lay across one of the monitors for the entire show after he’d wrenched the mike off it and kicked it away) and his chair, which he had found useful when we did the Christmas shows last year. He indicates the whereabouts of heaven and hell in Rainy Night in Soho, conducts us all in – what is it? - Streams of Whisky or something, dunno, can’t remember, goes off on his goofy, finger-pointing walk around the stage in White City, and Daltryfies his microphone at other moments.

At Mother Hall, we have to wait a long time, backstage, ready, in a corridor, while Staight to Hell plays over the speakers and the tidal wave of screams crashes onto the stage, to go on, while Shane has a piss into a bucket. We can’t wait any longer, so we go on, and I don’t particularly want it to come across that it’s a matter of the Grand Wizard’s minions coming on to potter about with little jobs before he comes on himself, so I go up to the microphone and say: ‘He’ll be here in a minute. He’s just having a piss.’ There seemed, shall we say, an edge to his behaviour for the first couple of numbers after that, but, hey, that’s to the good, I say (with the exception of swinging his microphone around in front of his monitors, and the resulting, ear-scouring, nerve-burning squealing which obliterates any other sound in the vicinity and which, when it’s past, sort of lingers in your cerebral cortex like an after-image).

The gig’s a good one. It’s always rewarding to make Terry laugh with something I’ve come across, from listening to Tom Waits, actually, that I slotted into the slow part of Body of an American, and the on-stage sound happens to be good enough (must be something to do with the solid stage) for me to go over to Darryl and Jem’s side of the stage with impunity, and Andrew always comes up with something – I don’t know, an unusual punctuation of something that I haven’t heard before that makes me look up and catch his eye. And then Philip always says something apt and warming - the verbal equivalent of hot chocolate or french onion soup on a rainy night such as this – into the microphone before Thousands Are Sailing, something that’s welcoming and positive (although, he did go up to the microphone somewhere on this tour, to say: ‘We’re the Pogues!’ – makes you want to look up to see if you can catch anyone saying to themselves, ‘Oh, shit, wrong place!’). The relationship between Shane and Spider on stage, is as ribald and unseemly, possibly, because I never quite catch what they say, and as lightningly fast and as cackling and wheezing as of old. It’s great to see. Terry rocks out, bent over his cittern; Jem in his almost peacock suit, feet at ten-to-two; Darryl mop-haired, jacket off, dense check shirt, looking a little bit like he’s got an afternoon off from the office.

We were talking about sweating. I come off stage with my shirt sticking to me and have to sit and evaporate for a bit, with a vodka and tomato juice. After the show, Darryl has a saucer-sized disc of sweat in each armpit. Philip, on the other hand, is about the nearest thing to a lizard you’re going to come across and can change his clothes without any concern for perspiration and have his bags ready for the first bus back to the hotel in maybe fifteen minutes.

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Sixth Installment – July 28, 2005
Osaka to Tokyo

The bullet train up from Osaka back to Tokyo. Again the rice fields, a view of the sea, red and white painted pylons, a little white van trundling between the paddies, a terraced grave yard and huge trees, dense as anything, and then a level-as-slate expanse of estuary with egrets drifting across it, and banks of rushes.

Shane on the minibus, on the way to the hotel past the emperor’s palace, sloping walls of polygonal rock, moat, the dwarf spruce trees standing in their own shadows. Shane’s giving out about the advantages of trepanning, sitting sideways across the seat, back to the window, hard by the sliding door, elbows on his knees, twirling his sunglasses in one hand, cigarette in another hand, unlit, lighter in his fist, thumbing it alight, the flame launching out, puts the cigarette in his mouth, nearly lights it, wipes his streaming nose on the back of another one of his hands, something else about the reliefs of trepanning, followed by sudden-frying-egg laugh, helicoptering sunglasses, thumbed lighter – he’s like Siva. How many fucking hands he got?

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Seventh Installment – July 29, 2005
Fuji Rock Festival

Nine in the morning and we’re already steaming like dumplings in Tokyo. There’s still not a lot of sleep to be had – most people waking up as early as four-thirty and maybe as late as six. Everyone’s got pink eyes and there’s a perceptible lag time between stimulus (as in ‘How’s it going?’) and response (as in ‘All right.’)

The bus drive to Fuji Rock Festival (which is nowhere near Mount Fuji, as a over the past few days, a dwindling number of us had assumed, but there still one person remaining who evinced surprised that we had to leave so early to get there, or to go by bus, or actually return to Tokyo from Osaka at all, when we had passed Mount Fuji on the train the day before; the fact is, that the festival had once been near Mount Fuji, but had since removed to a skiing resort up in the mountains, and had taken its name there too) was a long one. Slept as much of the way as we could, but getting cooler and cooler on the way up – vertiginous bridges, a long tunnel, kudzu, a couple farming an allotment which had Joey drawing humourous comparisons with the irish farming community, everything getting ruraler and ruraler, until, on the far side of Yozawa town, a great, big, bollocking, vaguely pink-coloured hotel the size of an airport with a car park to match, and beyond, what would be ski-slopes in a handful of months, with cable cars strung up the hillsides. Inside the hotel: ‘It’s like La Palma in here,’ Darryl said, because there’s people everywhere, a stupid, tiny, half-moon reception desk, ten metres of trestle table on which Fuji Rock people have set up their own artistes’ reception, orange carpet throughout, lockers large enough for a pair of skis off the reception area, long, long walk to the lifts, deeper orange carpeting tiles in the lift, with a half-smoked cigarette in the corner. The room numbers are confusing because the number on the key starts with what’s called the Annex number. There are six annexes to this hotel. Everyone congregates on the 6th floor, because we’re in the 6th annex, not thinking that no hotel could possibly have as many as a thousand rooms on one floor. Took a bit of figuring out, and took a bit of helping out, as Joey and Shane are discovered in some eddy of befuddlement in one of the corridors on the 6th floor, and ecouraged to follow Jem’s wife, Marcia, to the lifts to the floor number that corresponds to the second number on their keys.

At seven thirty, following an afternoon of free choice activities, there’s another long walk to another skiing-specific gallery of rooms somewhere in the bowels of the hotel, each of their glazed sliding doors brown-papered over and each with the name of the artiste it’s designated for – Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Steel Pulse, Lisa Loeb, among them, and us. I’m starving. We have meal tickets, but I don’t know whereabouts in the hotel or the festival grounds they have currency, and I’m starving. So’s Andrew, who has the same problem. I eat four bananas and an apple, which barely takes the edge off it.

Jem’s suit is missing. He left it back in Osaka, after which the Finer family and Marcia (sorry - in joke) split from us at Tokyo railway station to take the train up to the ski-resort. Jem and his daughters, Ella and Kitty, were due to play on a stage near the entrance to the festival this morning, as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Ella singing, Jem guitar, Kitty drums) at the very start of the festival. They got rained off. Might try again tomorrow. We discuss Jem’s options á propos the lack of his suit: he could just go on stage as he is (trainers, canvas slacks, check shirt); or in his underpants. The least requirement – volubly supported by his daughters – is that in no circumstance is he to go on stage wearing those trainers. Andrew is of the opinion that he should play the show naked. In the end, the suit turns up. Jos had put it away safely when they broke the stage in Osaka.

Bumpy ride in a bus through the festival site, music coming at you from all angles, guys with wands holding people back, lit up by the headlights as we go past, vast blackness of trees, tents all over the place, that sort of thing. Disorientating. A very damp backstage area. There’s something palpably on edge about everything, as if something’s going to go off.

There’s a photographer in the tent, taking photographs of Shane desperately trying to open a bottle of wine. The desire to take a photograph, you know, that photograph, sometimes obscures one’s sense of, I don’t know, taste, or something.

There must be I don’t know – 100,000 people out there. Steam starts to come off my head, I notice, while I’m playing, when I get heated up, and my shirt sticks to my back by the fourth song. A bug of some kind comes to rest on the keyboard of my accordion and there’s some simplicity about the visit that I can’t brush it off. The first three songs are a thundering mess of misbalanced instruments in the monitors. Aidan is blinded by a light at the far side of the stage from him, which prevents him from picking up any of our frantic signals to have this turned up, this turned down. It doesn’t help to hand over a set list within minutes of going on. Scully, out front, doesn’t get a set list at all, but Shane, spookily omniscient, announces each song.

Things settle down. Except I lose my footing in the middle of something and fall on my back. Darryl and Shane come over and pretend to put the boot in.

After the show, Joey, barechested as is his predilection, is trying to make himself useful with something on the stage and falls down the hole where the cables go and there’s concern that he might have broken a leg. He’s put in a chair in the dressing room to get over his jitters at how close a trip to the hospital might have been.

I’m shagged out. Someone called Pockets wants to talk to me. He used to know Joe Strummer. There are a lot of people who might be able to say that. I go and sit in one of the busses with my eyes closed because I haven’t anything left. I want my dinner. I have my meal ticket. Where the hell do you get dinner in this place?

When I get back to the hotel, there’s curried shrimp and something else.

Up in my room, much later, after a couple of bottles of hot sake, I bin the suit I’ve been wearing - well, the knees were all gone and the flies have gone to shit – and go to bed.

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Eighth Installment, July 30, 2005
Fuji Rock to London

Up early, wake up calls at 6.00am. We sleep on the bus down the mountain. A couple of us have had breakfast, which there some confusion about. Philip reads ‘Saturday’ by Ian McEwan. Terry sits up the front, because he can’t sit anywhere else on a bus, and if you’re going to know anything about him it’s that. Been that way for years. Everyone’s up the back, sleeping, or suddenly frying an egg.

We stop at a motorway restaurant, where you can get cold green tea and fish on a stick, squid on a stick, octopus on a stick and something on a stick that makes Philip suck in his cheeks and throw it under the bus.

We make it to the airport by the skin of our teeth. Long lines checking passports. Onto the plane. I’ve specified an aisle seat, away from the kitchens, away from the bogs. Two out of one isn’t bad, but the seat’s so thoroughly, slap-bang next to the bogs that it feels like the travel agent’s taking the piss.

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Azkena, 2005

Ninth Installment, September 2, 2005
Stansted to Azkena

Stansted Airport is a nothing much more than a vast tubular steel barn set in the middle of the – I don’t know and I couldn’t be bothered finding out, because I haven’t the first desire to know where the place is – Cambridgeshire or Essex or something countryside. It’s a hateful place, with shirtless chavs strewn about the grass in front of the drop-off lanes, sun-bathing. I get there early. It’s open seating on EasyJet and I want to be up the front of the plane, in order to get off as soon as I can, once we get to Bilbao. There’s no one else from the band there this early, until I spot Craig the new tour manager. Ross, the other one, who’se been looking after us since the first reunion is in the States with Gavin Rossdale. We’ve worked with Craig before, years ago, when he worked for John Curd, a tour promoter. Curd shortchanged us once, by one pound, for a gig we did somewhere. Jem framed the pound note and hung it on his wall. Craig is leaning against a pillar, waiting for everyone to show up. We shake hands.

I hang out with Philip in the bazaar beyond security. He’s dapper, in a tie (he likes the tie shops at airports) white shirt and a suit that’s inappropriate for the weather. (Paul, the front-of-house soundman asks him, at some point over the weekend: “Aren’t you dying in that suit?”) The sobriety of the suit is somewhat offset by a rather jaunty pair of black and white striped socks. We talk about our holidays. He’s been recording with the Radiators, in West Meath. Cows came to visit on their way down to the milking-shed, stopping on the other side of the studio window to gawp in at Philip and the others.

We wander into the departure lounge in dribs and drabs. There’s a confusion about gates. It says one thing on boarding card and another on the departures screens. Shane’s walking off in the wrong direction. I encourage him in the direction of Gate 19. It’s the first time we’ve met since Japan. He gives me an overly elaborate Japanese bow that I’m scared is going to deposit him on the floor. I’m uncomfortable with his greeting too, because it brings his face into the vicinity of my genitals.

Shane’s got a new suit. He’s ditched the one made out of theatre curtains, (seems like a few suits have been ditched – mine in the waste bin my room at the ski-ing hotel near Fuji Rock, and someone else’s, can’t remember whose, in the waste bin in his) in favour of a charcoal one. I think he might have lost weight, though he’s had a haircut, which makes him look thinner and younger too. His hair however is unrelievedly black, sooty. With the dark suit and the black hair, the whiteness of his face looks almost detached and otherworldly. He sits with Joey at the far end of the row of seats, cackling.

On the plane, Philip and I sit more or less across the aisle from one another, three or four rows from the front. The downside of sitting at the front is that pre-boarding means that families with children get on first and take up the front seats. As the altitude pops everyone’s ears and it’s difficult for children to equalize the air-pressure in their heads, the cabin is rent with children’s screams. However, I am very taken with a family sitting in the row in front of Philip, who actually bother to engage their kid, the mother breastfeeding her child when the plane takes off and as it begins to descend. I want to say something to them, about how I wish more parents had that kind of presence. When children cry, there’s a reason. Beats me how parents can’t figure that out.

If I never see an airport that’s designed on the theme of aviation and wings and that sort of thing again, it’ll be too soon. Bilbao Airport is all streamlined and looks vaguely – in the baggage hall leastways – like a film set from Dr No.

It’s an hour and a half from the airport to Vitoria-Gasteiz, where the hotel is, and the festival. It’s dark. I sit in between Andrew and Craig, with Darryl up front by the driver. We talk about bands and children and death, that sort of thing, and about Devon too.

At the hotel, we all meet in the restaurant. It’s late, but they’re going to keep the restaurant open. There are snouts and trotters on the menu. I order hake, which is a matter of a hairbrush filled with bits of fish. Andrew goes at oxtail. Shane comes in and it might be another attempt at an elaborate greeting of people whom he hasn’t seen for a bit (Terry and Paul Scully have flown in earlier on that afternoon) that launches his vase of gin and tonic onto the seat he was going to sit down on.

We talk about what Spanish we know. This is what Andrew knows: ‘Quítese de sus calzoncillos. Quisiera una muestra de sus heces.’ which means, ‘Take off your underpants. I would like a sample of your stool.’ He learned it from the chapter “At the doctor’s” in a phrasebook.

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Tenth Installment, September 3, 2005
Azkena by day and night

There’s a whole day before the gig. After breakfast, I go out of the hotel for a walk. Out there it’s a matter of drab estate upon drab estate interspersed with wasteground and building sites. There’s a lot of building going on in this part of Spain.

We have a soundcheck at one o’clock, with the sun beating down on the stage. We do a version of Rainy Night in Soho that we should be ashamed of, but we aren’t, with Spider doing vocals like a cross between Otis Redding and James Brown and a Baptist churchman, lying full-length on the floor, rolling around. We get a smattering of applause from a handful of people near the beer-tent half way across the carpark, or whatever it is, the festival site.

The afternoon I spend with Spider and Louise his girlfriend in the old town, a ten minute taxi ride away from the hotel. In the otherwise quiet, siestified town, there’s a calle full of bars spilling people out onto the street, which reminds me, unpleasantly, of pretty much any summer bank holiday in Tralee. Last year I found myself in Tralee at such a time with my family. We drove six hours across the country to the nearest ferry. Spider and Louise and I sit down to lunch in the town square which reverberates with churchbells every quarter of an hour. We order gazpacho and are brought plates of transparent meat. We don’t say anything.

Everyone collects outside the hotel for the busses to take us to the festival site, where we are all going to watch Television. If I hear another pun about getting on the bus to go and watch television I’m going to floor the whoever without hesitation. We all want to see Television. One of the best records I’ve ever heard is Marquee Moon. So we all gather down the side of the stage, behind the monitor desk our new monitor man’s going to be using afterwards, and sit and watch and laugh at the way Richard Lloyd screws up his face when he plays the guitar.

Our gig’s good, I think. There’s a smattering of new suits. It’s a warm night, and the sun’s gone down, so there is sufficient reason to have had Ian the lighting guy with us on the plane yesterday. Andrew is distracted by a praying mantis that has taken up residence on one of the microphone clips that go on his tom-toms, and which won’t be shaken off. Some of us gather round to have a look. During the set, I throw a line here and there for Terry to have a laugh at. Before introducing Thousands are Sailing Philip apologizes for not knowing a foreign language. Spider shouts out, “The one you’re speaking happens to be foreign!” Philip dedicates Thousands are Sailing to the people of New Orleans. I wince because I wish the song were suddenly called something else.

Shane does a grand job of conducting us all, in Broad Majestic Shannon – there’s something agreeably Jacques Tati about the way he does it – the gusto with which he goes about it, belying the fact that he has no idea how it’s really done, but knowing that, and knowing also that he probably could, if he had to, if you know what I mean.

Gerry the new monitor man – because our usual, Aiden, was off working with someone else – is so responsive to our demands on stage that, as well as leaving me with a ringing in my ears after the show, he lashes the stage with accordion, and, when asked to bring it down a bit, withdraws the accordion so completely it is as if it has never been invented.

There is a bit of confusion about encores. We think we had to drop one, so we skip Sally Mac Lennane and do Fiesta instead, only to go off with the crowd in tumult and the stage a mess, to be told we have time for one more. I don’t know. We could just bugger off and leave it at that, but there’s a level of keenness in the camp, that has us go back on and do Sally MacLennane just for the hell of it.

I sit next to Shane on one of the minibusses on the way back to the hotel and we’re full of confidence, and puzzlement, and a lot more besides, about how well these gigs over the summer have gone, what a good time we’ve had, how well we’re playing, how well Shane’s performing and everything. We gather round the piano in the bar but when the pianist is gone and I want to take over, despite the early morning the following morning, I find that he’s locked it up. I go to bed and pack and everything and then go back downstairs to say goodbye to everyone and hug everyone all round.

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Eleventh installment, September 4, 2005
Home again, home again. Jig jig jig.

When I get up in the morning, Shane and Andrew are still sitting where I’d left them. I don’t interrupt them, but get on my minibus to Bilbao Airport, the start of the day, the end of which will leave me in Los Angeles. On the flight to Heathrow I happen to be sitting across the aisle from the actress Una Stubbs. I spend not all of the flight working out that there are five degrees of separation between myself and her – Una Stubbs to Anthony Booth (who played her husband on Til Death Us Do Part), to Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner of Coronation Street and Anthony Booth’s wife), to Doris Speed (Annie Walker in Coronation Street) to my dad (who was in an amateur dramatic company in the 50s and 60s with Doris Speed) to me. I’ve only had three or four hours’ sleep, that’s my excuse.

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U.K. & Ireland, 2005

Twelfth installment, December 6, 2005
Meeting Melua


There’s a Christmas tree leaning against the wall by the front door to the rehearsal studios on Brewery Road, as you go down through the Victorian alley of brown-painted brick, with kerbs and stuff, off the main road. The Christmas tree is all wrapped up in that polythene net, and looks bit bent at the top. It might have just been delivered. We’re in Studio 5, which means you have to all the way upstairs to ask where the Pogues are rehearsing, to be sent all the way downstairs, past the Christmas tree, and across the yard. The rehearsal place obviously used to be a factory of some kind, because, in the actual rehearsal room, off what you might call a Hinterhof, there’s an axle under the ceiling with belt-wheels to drive some machinery that’s long gone. Terry’s already here, playing his cittern, in his warm jacket and a fleece that zips up to this throat and his bag leaning up against the chair he’s sitting on. He looks as though he just turned up, but then also looks as though he’s always been there. Terry’s always the first at rehearsal. We embrace, which is what everyone does when we’ve not seen one another for a long time, except, it doesn’t seem all that long since Bilbao, somehow, and our re-reunion lacks the air of strangeness and uncertainty, mixed with a bit of dread, maybe, and nostalgic vertigo, I suppose you might call it, which characterized the first reunion in 2001, which I recall be have been a matter of great trepidation. Now, we’re old hands at the reunion game, it seems to me, and we could almost get away with nodding a greeting nowadays.

Philip’s not long after Terry. He’s got a new phone, which I’m rather sad about. I rather miss the old one, which had acquired such scuffs and dents that one might see on a field-telephone, and which last year was always going off on top of his amp, sending those humming pulsing sounds through the speakers, as it received, I don’t know, football results maybe, or alerts about theatre openings, that sort of thing, is my guess. This new phone takes pictures, and I think you can watch telly on it. His lack of familiarity with his new phone means that occasionally you get unexpected phone calls from him, to find that he’s hung up before you can answer.

And then enter, severally, Spider – in a pacing, restless sort of way, often enough, with a phone that makes chirping sounds in his pocket; Jem - who looks more and more like a character out of a William Joyce cartoon, the boffin uncle or something; Darryl in a jacket buttoned up to his throat; Andrew – who exudes a sort of bovine calm wherever he goes. Who am I missing? Well, we don’t expect to be seeing Shane. He’s in Morocco, or on his way back from Morocco. It’s a mystery how he gets there without help, since Joey had not accompanied him, so we’re told. It’s a further mystery how he gets back, but, we have wind of him from somewhere, a system of communication that operates along the lines of jungle drums. He’s instantly referred to as “The Caliph” and it’s difficult not to imagine him, for the time being, without a silk turban and shoes that curl over at the toe. We’re not going to see the Caliph until tomorrow, when Katie Melua shows up, too, to rehearse ‘Fairy Tale of New York.’ We have no idea about Katie Melua. I certainly don’t. I live in a cultural bubble in the United States, well known for its cultural hermeticism. None of the rest of us have much idea about her either. We want to protect Kirsty’s memory, that’s for sure. Consequently, and prejudiciously, with the scant information to hand, I find myself imagining a sultry, predacious young woman with an agenda and records that sell well and I know I’m not going to like her on some level. But that’s tomorrow and I’m not going to worry about it.

Well, we’ve been mindful of the set list needing a bit of a transfusion: it’s been relatively unchanged since 2001 and then, I have the recollection, it was more or less based on an old set-list we had from 1989, but while it’s not a matter of its screaming and turning to ash in the daylight, it’s felt that it could benefit from sinking its fangs into the jugular of a couple of relatively virgin songs from the canon, so to speak. (The vampire metaphor comes to an end right here.) We run through ‘Billy’s Bones’ which is pretty straightforward – well, for most of us, Darryl being the exception since he announces that he’s never played the song before other than, possibly, after Cait jumped ship from New York, beset with the impulse to cleave herself to her paramour’s side, you know, after she’d been on the phone with him and a posse was sent out to intercept her on the way to the airport. That evening, back in – what was it? 1985 or something? – Philip and Jem and I (was Philip in the group then? I never know these things) ran through the chords with him on the way down to Philadelphia, or Washington, or some bloody place, and if ‘Billy’s Bones’ was on the set list, I wouldn’t know. In any case, whether or not, regardful or regardless of all that, there’s Darryl in the rehearsal place, today, wincing in a crinkly, defenseless sort of way at the swift passage of chord to chord, having not the first inkling what do with each one as it goes past, and the chords do come quickly and it’s the occasion of some fun to watch his hands flap around the neck of his bass like a hooked cod. And then, when we’ve more or less got that one down, and taken a moment or two to listen to it on the iPod (and to wonder how the hell Shane’s going to get his teeth into all the words, bearing in mind, as I discover from the track itself, that it was recorded almost line by line, since his voice at the end of one line overlaps with his own voice at the beginning of the next – bah, I don’t know) we move on to ‘Sayonara,’ which is altogether a much more relaxed affair and not much to worry about other than what we call Andrew’s pressed roll on the snare drum when Shane sings “motherfucker kiss the ground”, and we soon have that. We have a go at ‘Waltzing Matilda’. We’ve done a few versions of this over the years, with three verses, or five, and it’s a long song that, in rehearsal, with Shane not around, lacks the focus of the words and the narrative and it just sounds laborious and boring with no vocal, though Spider has a go at putting it together in that regard, but still, hoping against hope that it’ll actually be an uplifting song to sing, despite the subject matter and the story, it’s bit of a dirge and we sort of give up with it. ‘Transmetropolitan’ we have a go at too, and that turns out to be easy. And then we have a desultory sort of go on ‘London You’re A Lady’. Some of us agree that it’s probably not one of Shane’s better songs, lyrically. The melody is unbeatable, and the arrangement and sentiments sound ones. We just think he could have had another pass at the words, that’s all. I mean, “your builders sane but drunk!” There was a rhyme coming on, I think. But it’s heartfelt, we’re sure of that, and so we give it a go, but get lost when the song turns to a minor thing, and then we have a rest and start thinking of going home. I have found the opportunity to listen to it again, without distraction, and Shane sings it with such fire and emotion that I’m able to forgive the facility of – well, just that one rhyme, really.

The set seems to have started to want to almost cellularly divide into London songs and those that aren’t.


When I arrive, early – because it still feels as though there’s a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it in – there’s a guy crouched at the foot of the Christmas tree by the back door with a screwdriver, putting a plug on the Christmas lights, which he hasn’t yet strung over the branches. The tree’s still leaning in the corner. I don’t remember seeing a bucket to stand it in.

We’re here early to run through a few things, because in a couple of hours, Katie Melua’s going to turn up to sing ‘Fairy Tale of New York.’

We’ve got a documentary team filming us at the moment: Nora Meyer and Tom Sheahan. Nora recently directed a film about the contentious Bethnal Green election, about Oona (Somebody) and George Galloway. Before that, she directed a documentary about a businessmen’s visit accompanied by the Israeli Army. Tom’s the boom man. It’s weird having a camera pointed at you all day, but soon get used to it.

Andrew takes a moment this afternoon to remind Terry of the Japanese hotelmaid’s question one morning, after knocking on Terry’s hotel room door and Terry opening it: “Flesh towers?”

So, we run through a few things, again. Jem’s not around today. He’s got a family commitment, followed by a presentation to make at the Science Museum. At two o’clock, Katie Melua and her team arrive. Her team includes manager, Mike Batt, who has caesarian hair the colour of the inside of a turnip. Mike Batt, to us, is the man responsible, among other things, for ‘Remember You’re a Womble.’ It’s hard to get that out of one’s mind when one is reminded he’s in the room. When he comes in, he reveals a certain consternation about the fact that we have a documentary film-making team, but soon demurs. He’s a can-do sort of person, as well, as a mayn’t-do sort of person, and has an air of needing to make things happen around him, even if it’s merely for the purpose of making sure people know he’s around. Katie Melua is a diminutive, spry, canny young girl with igneous eyes, wearing a Peruvian hat with earflaps. She seems altogether too young for us hoary old tars. Then, Shane arrives and Mike Batt’s eminence is suddenly and completely dispelled. Shane’s wearing a coat that you might expect to find in the theatre cupboard labeled “Dickens.” It’s filthy and black and is redolent of dripping alleyways and rat-runs and standpipes and influenza epidemics and prison-ships. As I wrote before, in the departure lounge at Stansted, on the way to Bilbao, in September, he looked youthful, and slenderer, with his hair newly done and dyed the colour of soot. Now, after three months, the crown of his head is sprouting hair that’s the colour of cigarette-ash, pushing the chimney-flue colour before it. But, he’s on time. I say, “You’re on time!” He sits with a heavy thump on the chair in front of the bass drum, which is his sort of throne when it comes to rehearsals, dropping his clanking bags next to him, which stand for a sort of handheld pantechnicon, and then, sort of taking in the room to see who’s paying attention, a grin on his face, says, as if it were a matter of principle of which I need reminding: “I’m never on time.” And he means it so thoroughly too, because it’s not followed by that hissing, geothermal laugh he has, but a steady, bay-blue stare from the stage to where I’m making a cup of tea or something.

Thereafter is a sequence of awkwardnesses with Katie Melua: where’s she going to stand, which microphone is hers, is it loud enough, can she hear what she wants to hear, does she want a cup of tea? Chair? Music stand? We run through ‘Fairy Tale of New York,’ and the bit “...the boys from the NYPD choir are singing...,” after the waltz reprise of the opening tune – well, it throws everybody, and it took us a few goes around to get it right ourselves before the vocalists arrive. We have to submit the section to a bit of analysis with Katie Melua, who evinces, now, a degree of spunkiness that we all couldn’t see she had when she came into the room: she doesn’t get flustered or anything, nods, and commences again and gets it right.

Mike Batt wants to know about the dancing, since we’re concentrating on the singing and not bothering to play the outroduction. While some of us stifle a guffaw, he steps to the front of the stage, to bring the matter of dancing to Shane’s attention. Shane verbally wafts him and his concern away, saying that they’ll work it out, “snot difficult or anything, comes naturally, that sort of thing.” I don’t think, at this point, that Shane actually knows who this person is, because later, he sort of grabs the mike stand, for emphasis, or in alarm, as if the sudden realization unsteadies him, and shouts out: “YOU’RE MIKE BATT! WHAT YOU DOIN’ ’ERE?” It’s explained to him that Mike Batt is Katie Melua’s manager. Such is Shane’s graciousness with young women that that’s all the explanation he needs. We move on.

When we’ve gone through ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ a few times, and Mike Batt’s concerns regarding the dancing have been somewhat allayed, since the pair of them – Katie Melua and her Peruvian hat all but being absorbed in the swirl of Shane’s dark cyclone, gathering speed until someone has to move a microphone or two out of the way in case they’re sucked into it and hurled out of the top – in the afternoon, we adjourn to Wood Lane to record the Jonathan Ross Christmas Show. At some point I find myself playing ‘Cap’n Pugwash’ on the accordion. It’s a tune I’ve always, always liked, to the point I had a mobile phone that I programmed to play it as a ringtone (the things you do in hotel rooms!). When I’ve finished, someone laughs and says, “Mike Batt wrote that. Didn’t you know Mike Batt wrote that?” I’m stunned, but skeptical. “Were you playing that for his benefit?” “No,” I say. “Fuck off,” says Shane, “it’s one of the oldest tunes in the world.”

We get wind of a bit of BBC consternation about the words ‘scumbag,’ ‘faggot,’ and ‘arse.’ It’s understood that they want us to take those words out when it comes to performing ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ on the Jonathan Ross Show. We don’t think about it for long and decide to tell them to fuck off, if they want the song, they’re going to get all of it.

On the way down to Wood Lane in one of the vans, I’m with Darryl and Andrew and Gerry the tour manager. We have our suits. Gerry has his lap-top open. Darryl’s on the phone. Darryl’s guest-list somewhere is going to comprehensive. Andrew tells us that last week he was on the phone with a friend. “How’s it going?” the friend asked. “It’s going all right,” Andrew said. “We’re re-issuing ‘Fairy Tale of New York.’ Someone’s writing a book about us. Someone’s making a film about us.” Andrew pauses, as he does – there’s a rhythm about Andrew that it’s good to know about; long pauses that sound as though he’s finished, but the chances are, he hasn’t. “It’s all very – ominous,” he said. The friend says, “Well, I suppose it’s when they give you a lifetime achievement award that you have to worry.” The thing is, the Pogues are being presented with just such a thing, in Dublin, by RTE, on February 2nd.

Ricky Gervais is standing before a rank of lights outside the glass doors into BBC Television Centre, in a pin-stripe suit, laughing, the way he does, as if someone is prodding him a tad too familiarly in the stomach and he’s forced to politely step back. Then, he clasps his hands together, and rubs them, in a clerical sort of way, still laughing and bending, stepping back and forth. His face is orange with TV makeup.

We’re herded in through the doors, out of the cold, through the lobby, and downstairs. The Television Centre is not really as I remember it. It’s a long time since I’ve been here – for our Top of the Pops, maybe, with the Dubliners (introduced at that time as the Dub Liners, as if they were some hardass reggae outfit). Right enough, it’s the same building, with the circular passageways that tend to encourage you to have no idea where you are and go a long way to explain Dr Who, somehow, with their numbered doorways, in a font I’m familiar with – Gill – maybe, and their never-endingness. But now there’s something New Labour about the place, with flat screens and self-laudatory displays on the walls, with photographs that are supposed to be ironic of what I’m encouraged to consider contemporary icons and the dressing rooms which look like any designer-hotel lobby. It’s a veneer – almost a lid – on the otherwise benevolent aunty-feel of the place.

Our dressing room is next to a dancing troupe’s. Gerry the tour manager pushes open the wrong door. We get a glimpse of blonde, buff, bare-breasted women with powdered, tawny skin, in turquoise g-strings and peacock head-dresses. Gerry bows himself out. We guffaw like schoolboys and go into our own dressing room, which, as I’ve said, is very, well, Ian Schrager – with those free-standing sinks with just the one lever on them. There’s cubic seating around and 70’s-type chairs. The theatrical convention of the perimetric lightbulbs round the mirrors given way to just the mirrors and the lightbulbs refined out of existence, into glowing frosted glass discs. Rather comfortingly, there’s a tattered old ironing board in the room.

They’ve brought us down here in plenty of time, it’s obvious – we can have our suits steamed, if any of us need that. Philip goes up to make-up; it’s the first thing he does. He’s known for it in the group. It’s as if, were he to delay, he’d be testing the seriousness of the offer of make up and they’d retract it.

We do a soundcheck, because we’re playing live on the Jonathan Ross Show. We ascend the stage. The auditorium is scattered with technicians, many of them with headphones. A camera-operator takes the time to remove his face from his eye-piece and take a photograph of Shane with his mobilephone. On the orange couches in Ross’s kingdom on the other side of the soundstage, Jools Holland swivels round to look, as Shane shambles up onto the stage. Holland’s face is a picture of wonder, gape-mouthed, wide-eyed, rapt, staggered – all those things. It’s touching to see that kind of wonderment in someone’s face. Holland can’t keep his eyes off Shane, until, as if suddenly reminded that he actually knows Shane, he gets up, comes across, to embrace him. The embrace looks uncomfortable for Jools Holland, as Shane’s up above him on the stage, and Jools’s head is forced back. There’s a back slap or two and Holland comes away looking as if he’d just been to Santa’s grotto.

At the end of the run-through of ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ (I get to play the white grand piano, which I’m fearful someone’s going to suggest Jools Holland play for the introduction to the song, but no-one does) Shane takes Katie Melua into his arms for the shuffling corkscrew of a dance while we play the outroduction. I watch Katie Melua’s feet trip to keep up, not subject to any rhythm but Shane’s. Right at the end, Shane loses his balance. Katie Melua tries to hold him steady, but his centre of gravity has been removed elsewhere. She lets go. Shane’s hips meet the monitors and his face meets the hardwood floor of the stage on the far side with a winceable crack. How he gets up, I don’t know. I touch him on the arm and ask if he’s all right.

“Yeah,” he says, a bit shaken. “I’m all right.” And then gives me a look that’s simultaneously touched and indignant.

Some of us have dinner up in the BBC restaurant. It used to be a canteen, I suppose, but now it’s a restaurant; they have the computer-printed, laminated signs on top of the counter to prove it. Still, I love the journey there, up stairs, round the circular corridors, down passageways, over the bridge – it’s so like a hospital, and so like a hospital, with the smell of boiled mince, or whatever it is, intensifying as we get closer, that it exudes comfort and care somehow, as if my childhood were emanating from the walls. The food’s shit, of course and Philip begs our pardon as he rests knife and fork each side of the stuffed plaice with tomatoes and rice, to push out of his mouth a pasty, pink ball of what looks like one of those models of an antibody, with spines sticking out of it and all.

Katie Melua and the ubiquitous Mike Batt show up for their dinner too, but sit at another table. I want to think that she’d prefer to sit with us and the next thing I think is that Mike Batt is some rounder von Rothbart holding Katie Melua as Odette under his evil spell. Katie Melua looks lovely. She’s been to make-up too and is wearing something darkly sparkling – but her coiffure is so generically what they do to women performers’ hair (performeuses, I suppose) for televisual or celluloid appearances – ringlets, and hastily done ones too, slack and stiffened with spray. Everywhere you go, from red carpet to royal variety performance to maybe hospital wing openings – fucking ringlets.

We wait to go on in the ironing room over the corridor from make up. Ricky Gervais is in there, sitting next to someone on one of the chairs, watching the show from the television on the wall, and actually laughing, as if Jonathan Ross were funny.

We have to do ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ again, after the first take. There’s no mention at all of the offending words ‘faggot,’ ‘arse’ and ‘scumbag’ and we wonder what all the fuss was about (except, later, on Christmas Eve, when I happened to see the CD:UK thing we did, I did happen to notice that the sound-technician’s ducked the word ‘arse’ out of the mix). They say something about camera-movements, or something, and, I don’t know if I’m confusing this with our appearance at CD:UK two days later, but I think they chose this second take to turn off Shane’s microphone, in order to prevent what he had to say, which was something like “Happy Christmas. The single’s on sale tomorrow,” (which, bearing in mind that the Jonathan Ross Show airs on the 22nd, is wrong, since Fairy Tale of New York is being re-released on 19th December, still). Of course, panic sets in that Shane’s mike is off, because he has to sing the sodding song.

We play the song, and well. It’s lovely to play the introduction, with Shane, on a decent piano, and not the electric piano we use on stage. It sounds so much better. I don’t make a mistake, at all, not one. And the rest of the song goes according to plan and Katie Melua and Shane shuffle around the stage, as Darryl and Philip huddle by the drums to give them space, and Shane doesn’t fall over and it’s alternately Katie Melua’s ringlets, tiny little body, sparkly dress over jeans, I think, her tiny feet, followed by Shane’s enormous black presence, flopping hair, shuffling feet, staring hard at the floor to keep it beneath his feet.

We hang around in the dressing room and watch the rest of the Jonathan Ross show on the flatscreen tv they have in there. Ricky Gervais sits on the orange couch at a ninety degree angle to Jonathan Ross, and the conversation, after fifteen or twenty minutes veers toward the Pinteresque and it’s as if some malignant being has breathed foulness on the human condition that we have to make, and listen to, conversations like these.

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Thirteenth installment, December 12, 2005
‘The salmon are early in the Usk.’

I drive over from the Cotswolds, where I’ve managed to introduce a bit of a buffer between the last, fairly frantic, day of rehearsals (because our time at the rehearsal place had had the holes of promotion days – the Jonathan Ross Show, to be aired 22nd December, and the kids’ pop programme CD:UK, to be aired, well, I don’t know, might be 23rd – punched in it) and the beginning of the tour. Sorry, my grammar has a propensity for tortuousness oftentimes.

Everyone else isn’t much longer after me, but I get time to greet Paul Scully at the desk, hunched over something glowing on his mixing desk and headphones on, and one wonders if one might choose one’s moment to disturb him in his work, but, bugger it, I haven’t seen him for a couple of months. He’s been away on the road with Luka Bloom in Europe and has only just got back. It’s the same thing with our tour manager, Ross, who’s been away in North America, to arrive back in England at eleven in the morning the day previous to starting our tour. Ross tells me that he has been home for fifteen days since May 1st. It’s the way it is. Anyway, everyone turns up on the bus from London, with the exception of Shane, who’s coming up on the train with Joey and Victoria. It has the tendency to introduce an element of uncertainty when Shane travels separately and we tend to be piquantly interested in his whereabouts.

The dressing rooms backstage at the what’s it called? The International Arena? Something like that. The dressing rooms are, I don’t know, loges – as I remember seeing such things labeled on a tour of France, once. They’re suited to accommodate maybe three or four at the most, with your perimetric light bulbs, half of them out, a couple of them just missing. Terry gets one of the dressing rooms to himself, because, well, he just took the time to find it - a cold room at the end of the corridor, with a door at the other end that opens onto some breeze-block shaft with pipes and conduits and stuff. The rest of us congregate cheek-by-jowl in the room that Fiona from catering has made to look very sumptuous– velour tablecloths, cheese plates, matching (a sort of custard colour) kettle and coffee-maker in the corner, bottles of wine, red and white. Shane has always preferred a white wine, wouldn’t know what grape, but it has to be dry, I know that (although I remember a good run on Piesporter many years ago. Piesporter and garlic cloves were de rigueur on a tour of Norway, or Sweden, or some laky, mountainy sort of place). There’s a bottle of Absolut vodka, cartons of cranberry juice, tomato juice. On the side, there’s Spider and Louise’s juice-making gear, with beetroots and ginger and horse-carrots and lemons and apples and celery. The noise of Louise making juice is obliterating and would stop conversation in any other room, but I suppose we’re used to extended, penetrating noise, background or otherwise, besides which, when Darryl’s in spate, there’s not much you can do to stop him.

Cerys Matthews comes in, from somewhere, to introduce herself. She’s all in black, with sunglasses the colour of pomegranate, with a tight-fitting black coat, tight-fitting black pants, with ankle-warmers, and heels on black boots. Some of us have worked with her before, quite in what capacity, I’m not sure. Andrew knows her from somewhere. Spider and Louise have met her before somewhere. She sits next to Louise on the couch in the dressing room and fields our questions. She’s got a fine jaw, good teeth, neck-length blondish hair, and she comes across all compact and sure of herself, though it must be weird to find herself in a room like this, sitting on the couch, and all of us standing round her. She tells us that she went to Nashville, to work on something, and liked the place so much that she stayed. She stays in the dressing room longer than I expect, chatting, and then goes off to get her in-ear monitors which she’s left at the hotel.

When she comes back, we do a soundcheck, run through the material we’ve been working on in rehearsal and go through ‘Fairytale of New York’ with Cerys, with Spider singing, because Shane’s not here yet.

We have a new roadie by the name of Buddy, who’s a nice guy. Murray, who worked with us last year, and over summer, has a family matter and has had to stay home. The Christmas trees we have each side of the stage are a matter of scattered branches behind the back-line. By the end of the soundcheck, they’re putting the silver balls on them and stringing lights round.

After dinner, back in the dressing room, Nora, the documentary director, asks one of us where Shane is, for the purposes of the film. On an occasion like this, one might be forgiven for showing a bit of unease about the whereabouts of one’s singer, but Andrew leans forward at this point, as he can, mostly, be relied to do, and says,

“The salmon are early in the Usk. He’s in his waders out in the river.”

Somehow or other, the conversation moves to Fidel Castro and the fact that he’s given up smoking. It’s agreed that, now, the exploding cigar’s not going to work. Spider suggests that the CIA are working on exploding nicotine patches.

Marcia, Jem’s wife, and Kitty arrive. Kitty looks like someone out of St Trinian’s, with her yellow sweatshirt and a tartan skirt with shoulder straps. She’s very funny, and is so much a product of both Jem and Marcia, in the way she looks, the connections she makes, that one moment I see Jem’s face in hers, the next Marcia’s. It’s uncanny. I sit and watch her for a while. Marcia’s here overnight, to be here for our first show, and then to Harrow to work (where she teaches art) and thereafter, up to Glasgow, the next day to fly to Berlin in the course of another facet of her work.

Shane, Joey and Victoria arrive from the station, and by degrees, Fiona removes all the drinks and glasses and cheese-plates from the room she’s taken such pains to prepare for us, into the room next door, which Shane and Joey and Victoria have taken up. It’s just a partition wall between them which I wonder vaguely whether or not can be taken away. I wish it were. It would make it easier to talk about a set-list, for one thing. Darryl, as Wing Commander Hunt, plies between the two rooms with the set-list and subsequent amendments.

Ross announces that the doctor is here. It’s the first show on the tour and we have a doctor already? There are B12 injections to go round, in the bottom or in the arm. Philip says he wants his injection in his left arm; he plays guitar with his right arm. I point out to him that, actually, he plays the guitar with both arms, so shouldn’t he have his shot in the arse? The doctor and Philip retire to the bathroom.

“I don’t want to have my shot in the bottom,” Andrew says. “I sit on mine.”

A constituent of the show, apart from such new/old songs, such as ‘London You’re a Lady’, ‘Sayonara’, ‘Sunnyside of the Street’ and ‘Misty Morning Albert Bridge,’ as well as remembering the stuff we did in Japan, and dealing with the onstage sound of the first gig in a tour, which is always an ordeal, is Shane thrashing his mike stand with a leather belt, which he does with abandon a couple of times. The activity strikes me as almost Jesuitical. If he’s not punishing his mike stand, he’s sweeping the mike stand aside as hurricanes snatch up saplings, and otherwise dangling his mike over the monitors to marvel at the cortex-burning squealing it makes. It takes him four or five numbers to warm up his voice, and he even takes time to swap a couple of the numbers around, mid-set, which actually helps the show go along. But, it’s a tough gig to do.

We invite the audience to give Cerys Matthews a “big, hillside welcome” and we start ‘Fairytale of New York,’ the second to last song. We’ve been playing this so much in the last week that I have none of the customary shit-my-pants fear about playing the piano along with Shane that I normally do. The whole thing’s a breeze, now. And Cerys Matthews is good at what she does, and with hip-slapping and interaction with Shane and one of her in-ear monitors dangling down her back. She’s very capable. I even forget that this performance is being recorded with a view to provide an iTunes download. I don’t even think about it, while we’re playing.

And then the show’s all over and we’re back in the dressing rooms and I sit and have the biggest vodka and tomato juice I can get hold of and sit with my forearms on my knees and pant a bit, then go to hang out with Louise and her mum and Cerys Matthews who, by now, has taken off her pomegranate sunglasses to reveal rather lovely blue eyes.

Later on, most of us drive by bus to an airport hotel. Shane and Joey and Victoria elect to stay at Jury’s hotel opposite the Arena, as do Jem and Marcia and Kitty. Our journey is longer than I want it to be. I hang out with Ross in the ground floor parlour, I suppose you’d call it. Ross spends a lot of time on the phone, sorting travel arrangements out and generally exhibiting a level of non-judgmental unflappability that is staggering to behold. I stretch out on the seats and fall asleep.

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Fourteenth installment, December 13, 2005
‘Caution! Caution! I am reversing.’

Well, the Bristol Holiday Inn’s an airport hotel, innit, your white building with regular windows, your sort of automated door business under your glass awning business, with your carpark business round it, in the middle of a business of fields somewhere. We get in a van and go to the airport.

We had the option of bussing overnight from Glasgow, but we’re pussies and it’s something we’ve hardly ever done (except Darryl, ever youthful and something of Ripping Yarns about him, has done some extraordinary, to my mind foolhardy, trips, like driving across Texas in the crew’s Winnebago on one tour of the United States, and always says he doesn’t mind harrowing passages). I don’t want to start bussing overnight at age 51. That’s for the youngflas. So it’s the sterility of an airport hotel in the middle of nowhere, and, strangely, outside, as we get on the minibus, I don’t hear the sound of one solitary airplane.

I meet Jem and Kitty in the departure lounge. Kitty is Ella’s assistant on this tour and will be traveling with the tour party. Kitty will be reunited with her sister and charge this afternoon, when we get to Glasgow. Kitty’s smart as a whip and can be relied on to deconstruct pretty much anything that smacks of the least pretentiousness and render it to laughable pieces. There’s perceptible lineage going on here, since both Jem and Marcia have an aptitude in that way, in their own way. Kitty’s like one of the possible syntheses of her father’s and mother’s finesses, but the synthesis is Kitty’s own. She’s a hoot, and I’m aware of really not wanting to say something stupid within her earshot, but, that can’t be helped sometimes.

Jem’s not had a restful night at the hotel, having to answer the phone to Joey, who had identified Jem as a reliable source of information on Great Britain’s railway network and wanted to know how to get himself and Shane to Glasgow by train. Apparently Shane, since flying back from Morocco, has discovered a hitherto unconscious fear of flying. Jem recommended to Joey the actual railway network’s information switchboard. In Jem’s opinion, Joey also wanted to know, would the railway network be a reliable one? In anyone’s opinion, let alone Jem’s, the answer to that would be no. And it’s true in this country: you fuck up one connection, even your first departure, and your itinerary’s in ruins.

Joey rang back later with the happy news that he’d found a train to get himself and Shane to Glasgow. He told Jem that his ruse to get reliable information from the switchboard was to impersonate an American tourist. Could Joey, as an American tourist, to the person on the railway network switchboard, expect the trains to run on time in this country? “Yes, of course, sir,” was the reply. The train Joey had settled on was due to leave at twenty to seven, so Jem tells me. Oh, I think to myself, they won’t have bothered going to bed or to sleep, which I know is not unusual for either Shane or Joey, so there’s every likelihood that they will have managed to catch the train, and with it being a long way from Cardiff to Glasgow, I’m heartened that they’ve given themselves plenty of time.

The twenty to seven would be the twenty to seven in the evening, however. My heart sinks and I recriminate myself for being so credulous, but privately, because, at this moment in time, I don’t want Jem to know how naïve I am. Twenty to seven in the evening? Well, there’s fat fucking chance Shane’s going to get to the Academy by show time, that’s for sure, if he’s going to go by train.

And then Jem’s sleep was interrupted again by a refuse truck backing up the street behind the hotel, outside his window and a female computer-voice from the truck announcing: “Caution! Caution! I am reversing.”

We check our bags on. Darryl’s got a cardboard box inside a plastic bag. I ask him what it is. It turns out that it’s the hard disk recording of the show last night. We’d been lead to believe, by the record company, that the performance of ‘Fairytale’ with Cerys Matthews would be available for download after the show, but, as it turns out, Cerys Matthews’ management knew nothing about this, and required the recording to be deleted. So, we’ve got a hard disk with most of the gig on it.

The plane is a tiny one that you have to walk down with your head bowed. I’ve already bumped the crown of my head on the doorway coming in, which, being bald, is really, really annoying, because, after interactions with tree-bark, low beams, lintels and whatnot, I can look as though I’ve been in a pub fight or something. Every nick, scrape, scar is visible. I have a declivity in my head from when I was helping someone move house and didn’t see the verandah support. If I had fucking hair, no-one would have to ask: “What’s the dent in your head?” The plane takes off and banks over the Severn Estuary. I try to discern the pall of cloud from the explosion near Hemel Hempstead, but I’m not sure if that’s it, and then there’s the Severn Bridge down there that I drove across yesterday, spectrally white, and then it disappears beneath the clouds.

The stewardesses come down the plane with something called a chicken wrap, where the wrap is a flour tortilla that looks like cadaver-skin.

We fly in over Glasgow. It’s dour and dark and drab and drear up here, but there’s an intense beauty about the place. I love the north. I don’t know why I live in California. It’s not my place, that’s for sure, somehow, in spite of the fifteen years I’ve more or less been there. I’ve got the rain in my bones, that’s what. The more Thulish it is, the happier I am. And there’s a lustre on the streets below from the damp, and a lake that mirrors the sky.

Outside arrivals at the airport, Ross is keeping his eye on the two doorways that the rest of us could be coming out of, to make sure none of us gets lost.

Glasgow is dense with stationary traffic. I think it’s because it’s that time of day, but it seems that it’s that way all the time in Glasgow and Ella’s stuck in it somewhere and it’s dark and getting close to soundcheck. Finally, she arrives, without a pass or anything. She’s so nervous about what she’s let herself in for, singing Fairy Tale, and fretful about the cab ride to the Academy, and then not being able to prove who she is to the doorperson. “I’m Jem Finer’s daughter,” she says – as if that’s going to work (for a while once, we had “Shane’s cousin” in every last town in Europe). Ella bursts into tears and cries out: “I’m singing ‘Fairy Tale of New York!’” She’s in a state, indeed, when she eventually gets into the building.

Ross holds a sweep, at some point, anxiously close to showtime, as to how far Shane and Joey are from Glasgow. Steve Sunderland, the production manager, is the closest, at 70 miles. Ross has encouraged his Russian driver to lock all the doors and put his foot to the floor. They stopped for a piss at a service-station somewhere and weren’t back in the car for an hour.

It’s cramped backstage at Glasgow Academy, with doors that open into your back, and pointless, tiny lobbies, a small dressing room in which we have to move the couches around in order not to not have to sit knee to knee. There’s a shower room that takes up a lot of space, but isn’t at all useful for us. The stairs are narrow and the ceilings seem low somehow and you’re always having to move out of someone’s way and they’re having to move out of your way, and there’s a lot of people moving about back stage: Aden (I think that’s how you spell his name) our onstage monitor guy, who’s tall as a house; a Steve who’s our stage manager; Buddy our roadie, with his corkscrew curls; Jos, with his eyecatching shirts – well, blinding, actually, leastways the one he was wearing during rehearsals, and he’s always going around with a pack of cards, nervous tension I bet, shuffling and shuffling them. In the production office, a cupboard basically, on a landing halfway up the stairs, there four or five men, laptops, printers, cables, walkie-talkies. Someone comes in asking who wanted the scaffolding poles, and here they are and you have to get out of the way, and in order to do that, you have to squeeze past someone, open a door into someone’s back, thread your way round something, duck under something else. It’s like something out of Franz Kafka.

Shane and Joey arrive with unabashedly shambolic casualness.

I have no idea about the gig, either of the gigs in Glasgow, other than a Glasgow audience is hard to beat. On one of these nights Roy Keane signs to Celtic and there are chants of Keano! Keano! And then a Glasgow audience can be relied on, en masse, to sing a Celtic song, or maybe the Celtic song, the words to which I’ve never known, other than “we don’t care what the animals say,” and it’s so loud that it’s often impossible to play, and you just have to wait till they’re finished. I think one of these nights in Glasgow, we try ‘Dark Streets of London,’ but the key’s too high for Shane and you can hear him straining to get up to the notes. We’re not going to do it again without changing the key, which always presents a problem or two. Besides, I think we agree that there doesn’t seem to be a place for it, somehow, in the set. We do figure out ‘Sayonara,’ and ‘Sunnyside,’ or have I mentioned that? ‘Sunnyside of the Street’ is a joy to play, and Andrew whomps it up when we tuck in ‘Brown-eyed Girl’ in the middle.

Shane goes adrift on a couple of songs, and we have to insert a beat here and there, maybe we’re getting into fractions of beats, to accommodate him. Sometimes it’s the aural equivalent of being drunk out of your gourd and watching the television and trying to get the image that’s going into one eye to match the image going into the other eye, you know, when you’ve come to that time in the evening when you’re forced to stick your finger into your eye to watch telly. It’s like that on a couple of the songs, as Shane sort of peels off and the rest of us have to stick our finger into our eye to get what we’re doing to match what Shane thinks we’re doing. That make any sense?

And then, it’s time for Ella to come on to sing ‘Fairy Tale of New York.’ I’m nervous, because I don’t know what to expect, and I’m sheepish too, because I was pretty much the lone dissenting voice when it was mooted, twelve months ago, that Ella might be considered. I don’t know. At the time, last year, it was the nepotistic angle that required me to dissent (fie! As if an ageing cowpunk band were the bleeding Politburo or the Borgias or something: I’m embarrassed and ashamed), along with the wonderment of the prospect of having (nearly) all the original members of the Pogues on stage last year. (I say ‘(nearly)’ because, of course, last year we hadn’t invited John Hasler our original drummer.) Not to mention the fact that I had always adored Cait’s voice and, after Kirsty’s, thought it to be the best suited to the song. But Ella brings to it something that no other singer can, and that’s, well, posterity – and whatever fears I had about, you know, the mum and dad being so proud of their offspring as to render them deaf (ever heard of an all-girl group called the Shaggs?), like so many mothers and fathers of Pop Idol contestants, that sort of thing – well, the way Ella walks across the stage, with her hair done up in a wave, (she did spend a deal of time preparing herself for this debut, with a friend, in the bathroom off the dressing room, doing her hair) with a rose pinned into it, wearing jade dress made of some elven fabric and in heels, I know it’s going to go well. We’ve known this woman all our lives. I’ve known her from the first day she drew breath (when I ignored, or chose not to be aware of – I’m sure there’s a difference – instructions that there were to be no visitors to the hospital). She sings the girl part in ‘Fairytale’ without pretension and handles the lower harmony (difficult) without bother, and then consents to be twirled around by Shane, not in a Prince Charming way, as the word “twirled” suggests, but rather as if he were operating some sort of capstan in a heavy swell.

During ‘Fiesta,’ I think on the first night, I’m standing close to Shane, concentrating on my fingers, because it’s not easy play that damn song without looking where the fingers are going, concentrating really hard. There’s mayhem going on around me. I’m aware of that, with the crashing of those efuckingnormous beertrays that Jos or someone has found a never-ending source of. There are two of the things to hand, one of which is going against Spider’s head, and the other Shane has, which he throws down on the ground with a crash. The next thing I know, my head is sent into a quiver as Shane brings the damn thing down onto the top of my head. I feel like Tom, out of Tom and Jerry, running into a wall, and I’m sort of standing there with the vibrations of the beertray reverberating through me. Then Shane buzzes the beertray out into the audience. I have to turn away and not look, because if it catches someone not paying attention, it’s going to break a nose or worse. In fact, when I come off stage and sit panting in the dressing room, I’m half expecting the fucking police.

Marcia’s sitting cross-legged on the sofa catty-corner with her friend from primary school, with a bottle of champagne. She’s firing on all cylinders and her skirt’s slewed about. Shane’s slumped in the couch next to her with a scree of cigarette ash down one lapel.

I go up to the backstage bar to meet Carmen who’s come all the way from LA to Europe for Christmas. Last time I saw her was at a Cranky George Trio show at Molly Malone’s. We have a chat standing by a pillar in the bar. The floor is adhesive with spilled drinks. There are a lot of people about, photographs to be taken of one as one throws one’s arms around people one’s never met and wait with a rictus of mirth plastered to one’s face and a prolonged rictus too, since iris-contraction devices on cameras are an industry standard nowadays. Can’t remember his name – a guy, with a mohican and a lot of surplus energy – comes up to me to complain about the bouncers and how he’d been thrown out three or four times from the front of the stage and how the bouncers were the underlings, the infantry of the fascist conspiracy, the elite of which would be WTO and MacDonald’s. Talking about iris-contraction: his irises were like soup-bowls. He says something about us and him against the dictatorship and we get into a rather long and complicated valedictory handshake which I fumble my way through, and then he’s gone. Later on, I’m told that the Mohican recognized in Jem a “deep soul.” Well, that’s not untrue.

Back down in the dressing room, Marcia’s ebullience has evaporated, and I find her foetally curled up on the slatted bench in the shower room.

In the morning, it’s breakfast at Bradford’s Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street (which reminds me of our first visit to Glasgow, in the minibus, many years ago, and Cait mispronouncing the street, to our stomach-clutching hilarity, “Saucy Hall Street”). Breakfast at Bradford’s Tea Rooms has become a Christmas tour tradition for not just me, but Darryl too, though I don’t see him there this morning. At the Tea Rooms, there’s a gauntlet of cakes and rather clumsy-looking snowmen made out of marzipan. Upstairs there is a sprinkling of women with mauve rinses and tables with glass over the tablecloths and your table number on a piece of paper. I sit at the table I sat at last year, and order oolong tea and a glass of water and sardines on toast.

We have a sort of day off, since we’re playing two shows in Glasgow, so I wander about town. I don’t know – I feel immune to Christmas, in spite of ‘Fairytale of New York,’ the sodding christmas trees on stage, Muse’s snow-blowers, which we’ve either borrowed or are renting from Muse and the ubiquity of Elton John’s ‘Step into Christmas’ and George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas I gave you my heart...’ which are playing in all Boots and Sainsbury’s across the country, and all the time, plus also the mince-pies in the hotel lobbies and the people staggering down the streets from office parties and the paper hats in the restaurants and the crack of one of those streamer-poppers draping someone’s head with dribbles of paper and all their colleagues laughing. It’s not getting to me, and probably won’t until I get back after our last show in Dublin.

Except there’s something else in the air that’s better than Christmas today, which is that it’s Spider’s birthday. I have lost count of the number of birthdays Spider’s had in Glasgow. Glasgow and Spider’s birthday are virtually synonymous, somehow, in my mind. I wander down Sauchiehall Street after my visit to Bradford’s Tea Rooms with the intention of plying the Buchanan Galleries, to look for something for his birthday, but come across Biggar’s musical instrument shop just down the street from Bradford’s, where, in a glass case, hangs a brass claxon with a big black bulb. I have a think about that as I walk all the way down to the mall at the bottom of Sauchiehall Street, where I find a set of carpet boules and a card. On my way back up Sauchiehall Street I have a look at the people – sitting squatly on the black iron benches, forearms on their knees, smoking, a lot of them with ancient hair-colour growing out. There are guys sitting in service doorways talking. The trees up and down the pedestrian bit of Sauchiehall Street are leafless sticks among the black iron furniture. I go back in to Biggar’s on the way back to the hotel and get the claxon, and talk to the guy about who’s been in the shop lately – the Foo Fighters for one. We talk about Oasis, who are playing at the SEC on our night off. Ross has arranged a van to take us if we want to go and our passes will get us in.

We all gather in the hotel bar, to wait for our transport to the Academy, and to give our gifts to Spider – DVDs and CDs (of Darryl’s favourite group: the Ockerville River – if that’s how it’s spelled) and books and claxon and boules.

In catering, at the Academy, there’s asparagus on the menu, and later I have beetroot and ginger juice from the juice-maker. Later on, my piss smells and I have iodine-coloured shit.

I get a lift back to the hotel for a bit, after the soundcheck, with Zim, one of the runners. His phone goes off and the ringtone is a muezzin’s call to prayer. Jem’s ringtone is the sound of the telephone ringing in ‘Once Upon A Time In America,’ the one that goes right through the opium-den scene at the beginning. Spider and Louise’s ringtones are what I first thought were twittering birds, but turn out to be raygun sounds from arcade video games.

Let’s see, I suppose the second night at the Academy is like the first night I suppose – well, there’s not much I remember about it that’s going to distinguish it from the previous night, other than, while we’re waiting to go out onstage, in the pretty much shoulder-width back-stairs, with the guy down the stairs at the stage door and another guy down the stairs the other way, towards front-of-house, both of them holding the doors (it’s the previous night that brings the toe-end of Joey’s boot repeatedly against the back door, wanting to get in, and then the bouncer letting Joey in, with an amount of black luggage which he has to wrestle up the stairs). Shane’s taken up a room up the stairs from this tiny little landing with barely space to swing a cat but with seven men shoulder-to-shoulder waiting to go on stage and the door to these stairs opens into Andrew’s back (I’ve been having a look at Andrew’s face and it looks as though it’s scrimshawed in old whale bone) and out come Joey and Shane into the hugger-mugger. Shane wants his filthy old coat off, so Joey helps him. But Shane holds his arms up (like, it occurs to me, the way Wallace holds his arms up to allow Grommit’s machinery to dress him in shirt-sleeves and v-neck) and he can’t understand why the coat-removal’s not working, nor why Joey’s getting campily testy with him.

Tonight Shane does not clang my head with the gong-sized beertray, but after ‘Fiesta,’ Jem and I and anyone who can come across the key it’s in, play ‘Happy Birthday’ for Spider and there’s cake backstage.

Before the cake, though, we are visited backstage by Josephine and Stephen Behan, Dominic Behan’s wife and son. Originally, Stephen requested that we play ‘McAlpine’s Fusiliers.’ I think tonight we might have dedicated ‘Dirty Old Town’ to Josephine. She’s 78 years old and she’s thrilled to meet Shane, who gets up to embrace her.

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Fifteenth installment, December 15 & 16, 2005
Oasis at night

There’s a day off after Glasgow. I mooch around the room for the morning, getting my rest, drinking tea, then going off to Bradford’s Tea Rooms. When I get back from Bradford’s I go to the bar downstairs in the hotel and sit writing in my notebook, surrounded on all sides by shelves of Veuve Cliquot. There’s all manner of crap music in the bar downstairs in the hotel, which, after a while, I’m convinced is only chosen for the fact that it’s unlikely that anyone, anywhere, has actually clapped ears on it, ever. It gets very tiresome. The hotel restaurant, off the atrium where I’m sitting (overlooked by some of the hotel rooms, two of them occupied by Anthony, our manager, and Terry, who stay up all night, unable to sleep for the conversation between Marcia and Shane in the bar below) is a liver-coloured dungeon with the bar and shelving and tables of black wood and all along the back off the bar, underlit bottles and up in the vaulting, strings of low-wattage light bulbs. On the tables all around, and all around the hotel too, are everyday items, like ashtrays, and up in the rooms, soapdishes and whatnot, and on the barstaff, t-shirts, with words on them that refer in some tiring, oblique way to their purpose.

I’m joined for a while by Ross, who’s on a mission to retrieve the CCTV tape of the bar the night previous, which will show Shane lying full length on the floor, immovable and very sleepy. He doesn’t want that sort of film to get into the wrong hands.

I hear a laugh from the top of the spiral stairs, where I look up to see the prickly dome of Terry Woods’s head looking down, and his near-as-dammit iberian moustache and goatee. We hang out a bit at one of the tables and have a cup of coffee. He leaves me after a while. Suddenly, I remember that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire starts in fifteen minutes down on Renfrew, or Renfield (but that’s the character in Dracula, which Tom Waits plays, is that right? so I’m sure it can’t be Renfield St). Whatever. I bugger off to watch Harry Potter for the afternoon, and then round it off with dinner in the Kama Sutra (oh dear) indian restaurant on the stretch of Sauchiehall Street I haven’t been to, away from what I’ve been considering the centre of town. The restaurant is full of dinner parties. My table is positioned dead centre. I watch scottish men, mostly, though there are women here and there, sit shooting tiny paper streamers at one another and wearing paper hats and laughing.

Next morning Shane’s on the bus, traveling with us. He sits downstairs in the saloon that has the tables in it, up against the window, a great big, black presence, alternately smoking and sleeping, sometimes both. It’s probably a beautiful trip, through the Borders, but I’m not really aware of it, maybe tractor-tyre ruts that are bright with water every now and then.

The hatch on the top of the bus is open. It gets so stuffy in the top lounge, which is a matter of leatherette seats in an elongated horseshoe shape. Up in the upstairs lounge there’s Nora, the documentary film-maker, not sure if her co-director, Tom, is on the bus today (oftentimes, they’re in a hired car following behind), Kitty, Philip who lights a cigarette every now and then, smokes half of it, crushes it out and listens to something on his mp3 player, myself, Sean Fay, a relative of Shane’s who’s becoming known as Joey’s Joey, which doesn’t fully describe his usefulness. Sean’s a placid presence. He’s often not to be found while he moves behind the scenes behind the scenes if you know what I mean. He stays up late posting on the web the photographs he’s been taking. Jem comes up and we both have a look down the roof of the bus through the hatch. It looks good out there, like something from a film, you know, the fight scene on top of a train. The hatch puts us in mind of the start of a tour of the UK, years ago, when Joey wanted the hatch open and twisted all the red handles around the hatchway, trying to get it open, but couldn’t and gave up, as the bus drove through London. It wasn’t until we were on the motorway north and at full speed that I came up to open it up for some fresh air and loosened the correct handles, not realizing that Joey had been tampering with the emergency fastenings, and with a sudden sucking noise, the wind plucked the hatch right off and sent it flying back down the motorway behind us. We didn’t dare stop and had to ride on to wherever it was we were going freezing cold, until our bus-driver could get a replacement. I’m hoping that the hatch buried itself in some roadside field rather than into a windscreen, but I’m sure we would have heard about it.

Jem and Darryl tell me about having gone to see Oasis the night before. No-one else was interested. Darryl said that the drums were so loud that he feared for his internal organs. After six or seven songs, Jem looked at Darryl and then at his watch. Darryl nodded and they both left.

We’ve swapped busses. The configuration of ours was all wrong and with no place to escape, if you needed to. We’ve donated ours to the crew, whose bus was worse, freezing cold when moving because of all the cracks in the superstructure, then overheated at a standstill. The crew were having a miserable time, and with overnighters too. Steve Sunderland, the production manager (whom Kitty and Ella have dubbed “the geography teacher” because he goes around in a lumpy tweed jacket with the pockets full of things, and unkempt grey hair from a staff-room snooze and sort of sidles up to you, for a bit, to ask you a question, then goes striding off, hands deep in pockets) rules over his crew-brood like Fagin and his urchins, seems to me, and they’re miserable about the bus and rooming together (Jos says, about sharing rooms: “I don’t do sharing.”) It’s the least we can do to let them have our bus, despite the shenanigans. We don’t need all those damn bunks in a bus in any case. Next time we’re going to have to get something sorted with crew accommodations and what not. I mean, we get to stay in boutique hotels (although the Malmaison doesn’t strike me as all that boutique; I discover that Malmaison was the country retreat in which Napoleon kept Josephine. As far as a small chain of contemporary hotels goes, the name seems to imbue a place to kip and hang out with a gratuitous veneer of carnality. In the Glasgow Malmaison, there’s a virile and roistering reproduction of a portrait of Napoleon behind the reception desk).

Well, of course, I have no idea where the bloody Newcastle Arena is in relation to the Five Bridges (well, it’s more than five I think nowadays – I have the feeling they added one, for the Millennium or something).

It’s a barn of a place is the Newcastle Arena, with the stage half-way up the hangar. Everywhere is either stuffily hot or freezing fucking cold. The colour scheme backstage is custard and police-constable, with grey fibre carpet. There are two sofas facing off in the middle of the dressing room across a table with stuff on it. Perimetric mirrors, open-front cabinet with wire hangers, windows that open a bit. The security staff are in their mid-sixties and sit on chairs in the corridors in blue uniforms.

Outside the dressing room window is a belt of sodium lighting in the dark. Could be anywhere, really, and it looks cold, which it is. Joey’s been talking about Francis Rossi. Joey had something to do with Francis Rossi at some point in his life. There’s a photograph of Francis Rossi in a frame on the wall in the corridor outside the dressing rooms. When I start to take the photo down, in order to show Joey, the security guy jumps up from his seat at the far end of the corridor and says, “Ya canna take that down man!” Up until now I’ve had a good relation with this security man. I’ve soured it a bit by having him think I’m up to japery, which I suppose I am. He joins me in front of the photograph and we talk about people that have played at the Newcastle Arena. We end our conversation with the photograph of Status Quo still on the wall, and in agreement about what a great singer Paul Rogers is.

Philip comes into the dressing room. He’s always very presentable – almost royal garden party presentable - no matter what he wears, no matter the time of day. On the bus it’s sometimes a clay-coloured polo-neck with an angled zip up the neck, or a blue such, then there’s a corduroy jacket that has something of the smoking twelve-bore and plummeting ducks about it. But he comes into the dressing room, pretty much always, in a suit, and always a very nice suit, often enough of an extremely understated, tasteful sort of material and of a cut which complements his – well, slight little body. Oh, I think, he’s going to look all right on stage. But then, he changes out of this one and into another suit, equally as dapper, and with a tie that, often enough, if I’m paying attention, he likes to match with his guitar strap (well, at least once I have been aware of a message being sent down the line of communication – to Gerry, to Jos – to have either the white strap, or the black one, or the one that bears motifs something to do with Las Dias de los Muertes). Anyway he steps into a yet another suit, which he slips out of a suit carrier which bears the label “CHEVRON” in green, and beneath, in red, the name of the suit-designer. He has sufficient of these stage suits that I actually don’t know how many he has. He’s extraordinarily well-turned-out. So is Spider, in his new dog-tooth check suit, or a pair of grey pants which are ‘haphazard’ on the ankle of his boots (I think ‘haphazard’ is the word; there was a specific word, that both Spider and Louise use, to describe the way the bottom of his kecks met the top of his boots), and a white shirt with three buttons at the throat. Me, I’ve brought out a suit I bought in Covent Garden in 2001, which already has a rip in the knee from time I guested with the Decemberists, to be followed by another rip from the stage at the arena in Cardiff and probably more to come and it goes into a laundry bag at night, and comes out of the laundry bag when we get to any of the gigs in order that a few of the wrinkles can be allowed to fall out of it. Do you brush lint off a pair of overalls? Because that’s what they are – overalls. I’m going for the romanian peasant farmer look, I suppose, except I doubt that a romanian peasant farmer would have shelled out the money I did to buy this particular suit. I have the feeling it’s going to go in the bin at the end of this tour.

I go out to watch the Dropkick Murphys. If there’s one thing I learn from them, it’s that jumping around on stage works. I wish we all did what they did. There are explosions of gymnastics every now and then, as if one or two of them sense a pommelhorse. A guy wanders on stage to play the bagpipes, in a towering, full-of-porridge sort of way. He plays his thing, and then walks off, like Hamlet’s father on the battlements. There are more acrobatic paroxysms – and with their guitars hanging orangutanicly low. While I’m watching them, I realize that they’re playing ‘Captain Kelly’s Kitchen.’ It takes a while for the song to appear out of the blizzard of overdriven guitars, but it’s nifty when it does.

When it’s time for us to go on, there’s a string of lights along the floor from the backstage door into the arena all the way to the ramp up into the back of the stage, where there’s a sort of vent in the backdrop. There’s something very romantic about these lights, as if they were going down a garden path or something. Philip does a kind of dance in the light – sort of Elvis Presley, Bob Baker and Dick Emery in equal parts – while we’re waiting to go on.

On stage, Philip comes across a little like Bing Crosby, and I wonder how he keeps his hat so nice. Spider has re-discovered his bewitching line for the verse of ‘Sayonara.’ It sounds so lovely. I have a look at Shane, his slow blue eyes and white paste round his mouth. I take time to look at his hands – almost squat, cadaverous fingers with spade nails - as he gesticulates his way through the verses of ‘Fiesta,’ signifies women of easy leisure by gesturing pendulous breasts, then, in the verse about el Rey del America, puts the boot in to an imaginary body on the ground. Terry gets into a sort of treadmillish dance during Tuesday Morning. Darryl gets lost on the bass a couple of times, and if Shane shunts us onto the wrong track in a song, Darryl doubles up his bass line, waiting for things to come around.

Afterwards, we’re invited into the Dropkick Murphys’s dressing room. There are so many people in there and I’ve no idea who’s who. I end up by the window with Mark and I think Tim, who, confusingly, both play the accordion, but one of whom didn’t tonight. We talk about accordions a lot, which is fun to do. No-one in the Pogues ever talks about accordions much any more.

Back at the hotel, I hang out with Shane and Nora and Tom and Darryl and Andrew and some people singing selections from Ziggy Stardust in the bar. Shane gets hold of the film camera and takes some long shots of the backs of people’s heads because he can’t be fucked to get up and film them from the front. He’d probably be able to rationalize his filmic point-of-view another way, but that’s the way I see it. It’s not altogether the acme of social entertainment to watch an unashamed alcoholic film the backs of people’s heads, so I fuck off to bed.

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Sixteenth installment, December 17, 2005
‘Oh, breath in, for fuck’s sake.’

I knit on the way down to Manchester. I have to finish a scarf for my wife’s birthday which is coming up, on the second night in London. My knitting is the cause of some interest, the documentary lens for example. I mean – rock and roll bus, middle-aged ex-cowpunk hellraisers and one of them’s knitting? Damn right I am. I’m fifty-one. You’re lucky it’s not bootees for the grandchild.

It’s getting colder the further south we go. We drive in to Manchester through Whitefield and Lower Broughton, places like that, and I pretend to Kitty and Nora that I actually know where these places are. I don’t. I lived in Manchester until I was eleven, and then went away to school in Yorkshire and, with the exception of the year I had to go back home to retake A-levels, never returned, unless it was for Christmas or a wedding or something. Still, it’s my home town, or at least where some of my accent comes from, so, for that reason alone it feels incumbent to pretend I know places like Whitefield and Lower Broughton. There’s a lot of excitement about the houses in Lower Broughton – large, Victorian houses, until we come upon a stretch of estates, named after racecourses, with boarded-up windows, and then the enthusiasm dissipates a bit.

The dressing rooms at the MEN Arena are red and white (well, of course they are, though the woman sitting down the echoing corridor doing security, and who cannot accept a newspaper to read or any other distraction, is a City fan) and are designed for ice-skaters, because the facility is all showers and hard plastic floor and toilets, screened off by some crappy black curtain. Ross’s heels you can hear a mile off. The noise he makes when he walks around has something square-bashing about it, and I’m to understand that Shane and Joey have described him as “sergeant majorish,” though the adjective might actually say more about them than about the person they’re describing.

I’m sure I remember, last year, that under the fibre carpet covering the main floor of the arena, there was ice. I’ve looked already, out there, in the middle of the hangar, in the space where I can picture crouched, padded men slicing back and forth, but the floor is concrete. Must have been somewhere else. Anyway, the place is vast and with a huge scoreboard up in the roof, pointing four ways and seats pretty much all the way round. It’s the Saturday before Christmas, like last year.

We were nervous as all get-out this time last year – with the prospect, if we should sell out, of 15,000 people in the Manchester Evening News Arena (as it turned out, we had something like 13,800 odd last year), along with the unfamiliarity of tv screens each side of the stage (and recording the show for an eventual DVD) and all that. This time the nerves aren’t so bad.

Can’t remember much about the gig, except it’s generally agreed that it was a warm one, meaning full of human warmth. Because it’s my home town – or just because – I find myself stepping out onto the top of the PA stacks stage right in the hope of finding a prime platform to show off, except that as soon as I do I realize my mistake and it’s a matter of keeping quite, quite still – well, stillish, stiller than I want to be since I’ve stepped up there to show off, anyway. The whole thing wobbles like hell underneath me and I’m scared that I’m going to bring it down and I can’t wait for the bloody song to end.

Shane has discontinued thrashing the mike stand to within an inch of its life each gig. That activity fell by the wayside, actually, after Cardiff. But he still spends time untwining the mike cable from around the stand, in a thoroughly cack-handed fashion, to take up the mike and swat the stand to the ground. At one of these gigs – can’t remember which one, as if it matters – all eyes turn to him as the end of an instrumental section and his cue to come back in singing comes riding over the brow and he’s still in the middle of some macramé with the mike cord.

During ‘Rainy Night in Soho,’ Shane and I have been exchanging looks that I hope I’m not mistaking for, well, I don’t know, human contact of some kind, maybe. He’s all lit up blue with the lights. Philip’s a bit in the way of our line-of-sight because he has a place (marked out on the drum riser, in white tape, with a little notice that says something like: “Philip’s area, keep off.”) where he sits on this amp for the slushy songs. Shane has to come wandering away from centre front to exchange whatever these looks mean with me.

He’s taken to screaming too. Well, he’s always been a screamer, but this is penetrating, banshee stuff, from time to time, and you have to clear off away from the front wedges unless you want your eyebrows plastered to your eyelids.

After the gig, I hang out in the hotel bar with him and Nora and Tom. Shane laughs at something a little on the inane side and the wheeze goes on for longer, I think, than necessary. In the course of his lengthy, spittly expiration, one can’t help but think he’s gone into the realms of such a private joke where one can’t follow him, nor does he expect one to, somehow, nor would he want one to, and if he suspected one thought one could, he’d suddenly break off the wheeze and ask one what the fuck one’s laughing at and one wouldn’t be able to say. If you get my drift.

Anyway, the prolonged wheeze alarms me after a while, for reasons of the capacity of his lungs, rather than the increasing solipsism of his experience, though that kind of bothers me too.

“Oh, breathe in, for fuck’s sake,” I say.

This engenders a breath-holding competition that I let him win. I explode in a great show of not being able to hold my breath any longer, in order that he doesn’t do himself a mischief. Well, you just have to look at him to know that would be on the cards.

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Seventeenth installment, December 18, 2005
Not really in Manchester

We check out of the hotel in Manchester. I’ve left something back in my room, which is a bother. A woman comes up in the lift with my to my floor, where we come across Joey in an open shirt, without socks and smoking a cigarette. He has a rash between his eyebrows. He’s either scratching his head or sweeping his hair behind his ears. Either way, it’s a gesture of annoyance and impotence and general fretfulness.

“Does anybody work here?” he says. He’s locked out of his room and doesn’t seem to know which one it is.

Outside, by the bus, it’s a suitably leaden day, and cold. I’ve been out to Sessy’s (I think it’s called) for my breakfast, a greasy one with pools of fat in the egg and tomatoes that have merely been seen by the grill. Before check-out time (we all know the check-out time and what time the bus will be going off because Ross hands out call-sheets backstage after each gig, or posts them under our doors at night) I hurry off to what I suppose is called the Triangle or something, the new bit in the middle of Manchester (it’s been said the IRA bomb, whatever year that was, I can’t remember, was the best thing to happen to Manchester), to buy Louise a birthday present. It’s cute that Spider and Louise’s birthdays fall within days of each other’s.

I hang outside the bus. There’s a small huddle of strangely-shaped people with things to sign (though only one comes forward to ask for autographs) at a ridiculously respectful distance from both the bus and the front steps of the hotel, unless some concierge has backed them up to a required distance or something. I go over, because it’s obvious what they want, and try to make sure that everyone else does.

I hang with Scratchy for a bit. For biographical reasons we stand around appreciating the pewter-coloured sky and the incipient rain: Scratchy was born in Hope Hospital, Salford; I was born in Worsley, Manchester, maybe three or four miles away from the hospital. We have the rain in our bones and we like standing around in Manchester in the miserable cold. (Well, it’s not really Manchester, this car park we’re standing in, so Scratchy tells me. The hotel has its own postcode, because, by rights, its postcode should have been a Salford one, but since Salford has one of the worst raps in the United Kingdom, and is pretty much on the bottom of the list of desirable places to live, for health, education, crime-level reasons, to list just a few, possibly, the Lowry hotel applied for a postcode that would dissociate it from the city.)

A bunch of flowers carried by one of the concierges comes down the steps. It’s not the concierge with the kilt. For some reason the hotel has a kilted concierge. There’s some confusion as to who’s responsible for the flowers, because the concierge says he is and no-one believes him. It turns out to be Terry, who’s old-school gentlemanly and self-effacing when it comes to ladies.

We all get on the bus. We have to wait a bit for the bus to leave, because Ross comes downstairs to let us know that Shane has picked this moment to try on a new suit. As precursors to Shane’s arrival (as it turns out, in the filthy coat and trousers he has been wearing since rehearsals and not, disappointlingly, the new suit), John the Baptists, if you like, come first Victoria out to the bus, in a muscovite hat, a coat made of a material redolent of a 70’s suburban restaurant, with patterned tights and horsechestnut-coloured knee boots. Victoria smiles guilelessly at all around her as it’s considered what to do with her bags. The second harbinger of Shane’s imminent arrival on the bus is Joey, who, with gasps and curses, coerces his luggage up the stairs, effortfully dislodging it when it gets stuck in the stairwell. If his luggage were a donkey, he’d be thrashing it mercilessly.

When we get to Birmingham Kitty enjoys a run, throughout dinner in the canteen, of popping up with reality tv show titles, one of which is “When Christmas Reunion Tours Go Wrong.” While she’s eating, she suddenly clutches Louise by the wrist.

“Oh my god!” she says. “I thought I was going to choke!”

And it turns out that her greatest fear of dying is by choking. So we have a talk about one’s greatest fear of dying. Philip further develops the theme by declaring that he wants to live until he’s a hundred and ten. Jem wants to live until he’s, well, ancient.

“When Long Player finishes,” Kitty quips.

The dressing rooms have a kind of reproduction regency hotel feel about them, if that makes any sense. I think the doors have panelling maybe, and each one is numbered. Shane’s in a crap mood at the moment, and when he goes into dressing room Number 3, we sort of agree the way a network agrees – ferromones, electrical charges, or just that we’ve seen this sort of mood on him before – to occupy another room down the corridor from him. I have the lack of wisdom to go into the room Shane’s in for something, I don’t know what, a piece of chocolate maybe. Shane’s sitting down the far end, surly, sleepy, feet up on a chair. My presence wakes him up. As I’m leaving, he shouts:

“Hey, James, you want a piece of bread?!”

The piece of bread – buttered, I happen to notice too – comes flying up the room somewhere not a lot in my direction and bounces off the toilet door in the wall opposite me.

Later on, while I’m doing laundry in the machine and drier we’ve found in one of the rooms backstage, Joey installs Shane in a room with breeze-block walls, where he lies, in his coat, legs apart, asleep and smoking, both. Joey has a table in this room and a CD player which is blasting out what sounds like Alabama 3. Whenever I come in, to check on my laundry, which is washing in a room beyond the room in which Shane and Joey have taken up residency, he raises a finger to his lips and indicates the sleeping Shane on the massage bench.

Later on still, there’s a sign on the door that reads: FUCK OFF, UNLESS YOU’RE INVITED.

I go to hang out in the dressing room, where Jem has altered the lighting, as he likes to do, and we both have a rest. The rest of them have gone to the day rooms we have at a nearby hotel. Neither of us can be bothered. Oftentimes Darryl too.

When everyone comes in, Philip gets changed into one of his suits, and then, from a washbag or something, he brings a bottle of scent. Now, I’d always thought, in order to optimize distribution of scent, that a man sprayed a cloud in front of him and then walked through it. Someone showed me that once. But Philip disagrees. By the way, someone asks, what’s your scent?

“Jasper Conran,” he says.

Well, of course, we investigate that, how can you not? The label of a bottle oftentimes indicating the contents and all, plus also the pretension of naming a bottle of anything, least of all scent, after yourself, which is asking for trouble, prompts Paul Scully, who can be relied on to throw a flower on the top of something, to pipe up.

“I prefer Norman Tebbitt, meself.”

I play a shit gig. I can’t hear myself particularly well. I get involved in a lot of mistakes.

‘Fairytale of New York,’ and I have a look at the pride and love in Jem’s face when Ella comes out, with her flower in her hair, and – but what’s she doing coming round that side of the PA speakers? It looks like she got lost at the side of the stage, and we’re all looking in the direction we expect her to come from, but she comes in from somewhere else.

We played at the Academy last year. I was rather fond of the Academy, with its hard stage and its balcony in your face and by your ears, at least to us, and a smaller stage than we had become used to, but a hard stage is the thing. It’s tough on your feet, if you like to stamp, which I do, and it sends jarring shocks right through me, from my heel to the top of my head and I can lie in bed later, after my bath, and feel the effect of them. But it always sounds so much clearer on a hard stage. All the arenas we’ve been doing have been on what feels like half-inch plywood and I can’t count the times I’ve nearly knocked Shane’s drink off the ridiculous 70’s barstool with the leatherette seat cushion and the brushed steel, whatever it is, stem and base and footrest about which there seems to be a consensus that Shane would be livid, if not surly and disgruntled, if it were not to turn up on stage, where it restricts my movements from time to time, standing like some sort of memorial to something, slap bang in the middle of the fucking stage – a memorial to Dave Allen maybe. Shane hasn’t sat on it once, so far, on this tour, not that I’ve noticed. I hate it and wish it would go away, but anyone who has anything to do with it seems to be a slave to its power.

When I come off stage and commit myself to the first of a couple of pint glasses of vodka and cranberry juice – hardly Cosmopolitans in such a format, but they work. I have guests to go and see in the backstage bar, such as it is – a room with tables and a fridge. Before I get into the room however, I’m tugged back by a grey-haired woman in a blue dress. She tells me she’s from Nenagh, which I suppose you might describe as the closest urban centre to Shane’s home village, except “urban” would be a misnomer; it’s a market town with, when I was last there, strings of lights from the lampposts and tannoys playing accordion music. The woman wants me to let Shane know that “Tom and Paula from Nenagh” are here and would like to see him. I happen to meet Paul Scully in the corridor coming away from the woman, having said to her that I would do the best I can – not that I want to; I have friends of my own to see, for the short time one has in the backstage bar after a gig. Paul says he’ll go and tell Shane about his visitors. He comes back in a bit, to where I’m with my people in the backstage bar to say that Shane would indeed want to see Tom and Paul from Nenagh. Big guys? Shane has enquired. Paul Scully hasn’t been able to say, because he hasn’t seen the woman who has approached me, but, yeah, maybe. “Not Tom and Paul!” I say to Scully. “It’s Tom and Paula.” “Whatever,” Scully says. But I take the woman to the dressing room anyway and when I do, Shane’s in there on his own and has no idea who the hell this woman is, with her consort, but I have people in the hospitality room and have to go, so leave them to it.

I meet with Miss Walshy. It’s her birthday and she’s smashed, and so smashed I have to ask her to repeat pretty much everything she says.

When I go back to the dressing room, not all that much later, it’s dense with boys whose hair you might describe as ottery, and another woman in a blue dress but with a necklace. This woman holds me back from the refill vodka and cranberry juice I’ve gone in there for, to talk with me about life and Shane and Ireland, and with a self-assurance that’s rural, somehow – the self-assurance you need to drown kittens in a bucket of water or to thrust your arm up to your elbow into a cow’s vagina to assist delivery, that kind of assurance. All I want is my vodka and cranberry and to return to my guests.

Later on, there’s a car to take Darryl and me to the hotel in Birmingham. Everyone else has gone on to London on the bus (though not without complications that have required Ross to discuss the clearing of the dressing room with someone and – this must be a page from the Tour Managers’ Manual, surely – to keep his hands behind his back, in order not to appear threatening to his interlocutor – except, whenever has a Scot with his hands behind his back not been threatening, given the wince-able, imminent nasal-septum-flat-as-a-clove-of-fucking-garlic syndrome that’s written all over that tableau?)

Darryl and I are staying in Brum because Darryl has a ton of Birmingham friends and they’ll want a drink in the hotel bar, and I’m going down to the Cotswolds first thing to meet my family. It takes an amount of time to squeeze all Darryl’s Birmingham friends into the van as Darryl goes about organizing them in, it occurs to me, an aviary sort of way.

The front door to the hotel needs to be opened by someone on the inside with a key and the bar’s closed. I’m kind of relieved, because I want an early start. I say goodnight to Darryl and his friends and go to bed.

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Eighteenth installment, December 20, 21 & 22, 2005
Back to the barn

I follow Darryl up the escalator and up the steps out of Brixton tube station. I cross the road at the pedestrian crossing, before we both get to the railway bridge. I have a look at him walking with his suit bag, with him on one side of Brixton Road. He’s got a footballer’s flick to his legs, when he walks, and he looks to be thinking hard about something, taking sidelong glances into the shop windows. I lose him at Stockwell Road. I do look behind me when I get to the stage door of the Academy, but he’s a hundred yards up the street and there’s no point in holding open the door for him.

We’ve played Brixton Academy so many times now that, well, there’s the dim disappointment of the familiar set against the comfort of the accustomed, if you know what I mean. I press both buzzers on the door to be let in because I don’t know which one does which, and then there’s the office/reception window with its bank of security screens, the guys in their quilted jackets who give you a guardedly beaming greeting – shy, maybe, is what they are – when you first come in through the stage door. And the corridors are the same – a kind of dried blood and semolina colour scheme throughout with dimples in the rubbery flooring. It’s fucking cold, backstage. I enjoy walking up and down the hallway behind the stage, with its worn boards and high ceiling and the enormous barn door-size get-in door.

We do a soundcheck, without Shane. Friends of Andrew’s show up to the soundcheck, a woman and a couple of kids. Jem shows the kids the hole in the stage that has always fascinated him: a small round hole with maybe an inch bore. Below you can see a huge, illuminated, grey-painted space under the stage. Jem says that, during shows at Brixton Academy, he’s found himself pondering the space down there, standing over the hole and looking down. There’s always a light on down there, but none of us have ever visited that place and we don’t know know what goes on under there.

Brixton Academy’s a big barn of a place. My brother-in-law came to one of the shows we did here, last year, and during the show found himself looking up at the Mediterranean-style village built over the proscenium arch and along the top of the walls and he was surprised that it should be an open-air theatre.

Andrew’s not well. He’s got bronchitis. A doctor comes to visit and gives him antibiotics and a B12 shot.

We have our dinner in the overheated canteen room, while the Dropkick Murphys make the air in there throb with their soundcheck. They play ‘Guns of Brixton.’ Some of us go back to the hotel for a kip. Darryl, Andrew, Paul Scully and myself hang out in the dressing room. Scully stretches out on the black sofa in his corduroy pants and starts snoring. I remember in a hotel lobby in Germany, waiting for a replacement bus, Scully slouching in an armchair, head thrown right back, mouth open, and making the air shudder with the vibrations of his soft palate.

Jem has found a room for himself down the corridor, with a sofa in it. I sit in his room for a bit, by the dressing table and we have a chat about the art installation he’s working on, which, if I’m not repeating myself, is a subterranean chamber with, above ground, a large horn to broadcast the sounds of water dripping in the chamber below. I have no idea where this installation is, or will be – in a woodland in the Peak District somewhere, I have the feeling.

Having left Jem to a snooze, and back in the other dressing room, Louise comes in and apologizes for disturbing our peace in here, as I’m slouched on the other sofa, with a hand over my eyes, trying to get a snooze in myself, and Andrew on the other end of the couch, Darryl pottering about making tea, flapping his hands over some missing component. Louise’s body is so constantly on the move, stepping side to side in her huge boots, that it looks as though she’s about to launch off skating.

And then everyone gathers. From the hotel: Terry and Philip – Terry in a black polo neck sweater and his face glowing from the outside; Philip in a suit that he’s going to change out of, into yet another. Spider gets changed. Will it be the flat-cap tonight? People come in and go out, into the ante-room where all the suits are hanging. I’m not quite sure of Shane’s whereabouts at the moment.

In due course, we go downstairs to collect by the big black doors to the stage. I like to have my accordion on before I go out onto the stage, to put the straps under my jacket, because I know I’m going to have to take my jacket off after three or four numbers. I go in through the doors to the side of the stage. Buddy helps me with my accordion and bends down to switch on the wireless pack which is about the same height on my body as my genitals. Steve, the stage manager, says: “Cough.”

And then I warm up my fingers by shaking my hand all about, and Andrew twirls his hand, holding on his wrist, to loosen up. ‘Straight to Hell’ comes over the PA. We wait for the chorus. And then we go on.

Quite what Shane thinks he’s doing with ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’ I don’t know, but it’s as if he has the song written out in front of him and he tears it all up and puts this bit here and that section down there, and generally reassembles the damn song right in front of our eyes, comes in with the chorus where it’s never been before and threatens to leave us bobbing helplessly in his wake. Some of us are quicker than others to catch him in this trapeze-artistry and we shoot looks from one to the other to see where we’re headed and then at the end we sort of laugh with relief and shake our heads a bit. In ‘White City,’ Shane forgets when to come back in, and I’m forced to launch myself into yet another bloody solo – at least, I think that’s what it’s supposed to be – making it up as I go along, coming to the end of it, not entirely knowing if I’m going to have play another bit by the seat of my fucking pants. I’m not sure how we resolve that song.

We have to wait a while between songs tonight, because Andrew’s panting with bronchitis, can’t catch his breath and has a urinary issue, which means, half way through the set, he’s gone to the bogs. Shane sings the song that starts “On the 14th day of November (December, whatever, can’t remember the sodding month).” I don’t particularly want to play this song. It’s about explosions and killing, but, well, there’s nothing else going on with Andrew not behind the drums so I join in.

Andrew comes back, with a mug of tea. He stretches his legs out over the top of his bass drum to drink it.

Later on, I find myself watching Terry playing, and notice that the collar of his shirt is turned up. I hope it’s not a fashion statement of some kind. For the next couple of numbers it’s all I can do to resist the urge to go over and turn it down for him.

Roisin Murphy was supposed to be singing ‘Fairytale of New York’ for the Brixton shows. I don’t know anything about Roisin Murphy, and I don’t even think about this when Ella comes out to sing. We’ve been so happy for Ella to sing ‘Fairytale.’ We couldn’t have had a better person to do it. During the song, I look out into the audience. The darkness out there is sprinkled with the tiny screens of mobile phones.

21st December

We’ve been encountering a problem at soundchecks, which is the downbeat. I don’t know why this should have become a problem, at this point in time. Someone counts in, and we all come in at different times. Philip has been the one to abruptly stop playing, and beseech us to concentrate, though sometimes it’s been Darryl. I can’t say I’ve noticed too much of a problem – except there have been issues with keeping the time right at the beginning of ‘Thousands are Sailing,’ when both Darryl and I have had to concentrate hard on Andrew’s hi-hat and tambourine – the hi-hat particularly for me, because I can watch it do what it does, and get the tempo from that, at the beginning of the song. But, whatever we’re doing in the soundcheck – stopping and trying the song, whatever song, again – does work, when it comes to doing the show itself, because pretty much every song startles me with the synchronousness of its downbeat, everyone right on the mark, seems to me.

I’ve got my family in the audience tonight, which makes me nervous and I can’t seem to shake thinking about it, while I’m cavorting on stage. When the lights go up, I can see them up in the first row of the balcony. My youngest, last year, was so done in with jet-lag that she slept forty minutes through the show. This year, it’s lovely to see her awake and hesitatingly waving up there. The last show she went to, of any kind, was to see the Globe Theatre’s production of ‘Measure for Measure’ at one of the theatres at UCLA. It was unadulterated boredom for her. From the stage, here at Brixton, I shout up to her:

“This has to be better than Measure for Measure, doesn’t it?”

I think I get a thumbs up from the balcony.

Since we’ve been having trouble counting bloody songs in and coming in on the downbeat – I mean, after all these years, we encounter a problem like that? What’s that about? Well, I think we must have made one another nervous or something, because all of a sudden, Terry thinks that the count-in for ‘Lullaby of London’ is one, two, three and in. ‘Lullaby of London’ is in four-time. It always has been. We used to joke that, since we played Irish music, we should do everything in threes (and, if you notice, we run through tunes – intros, outros, middle-eights – in groups of three, a lot of the time [but listen, however, to ‘Mama You Been On My Mind,’ the Bob Dylan song, covered by Rod Stewart on a solo albums, with accordion and some sublime twelve-string guitar playing, and I laughed out loud with joy when I heard his band play the intro round three times before the song starts]), but for Terry to start thinking, at this stage, that ‘Lullaby of London’ should be counted in by means of a count to three, well, it’s either that he’s taking something too seriously, or he’s as nervous as fuck. So, this is the second night he comes in after a count of three, and I have to catch up with him, again. Tomorrow, I’m going to have a word with him, if I can remember.

In ‘Fairytale,’ Shane takes Ella by the hand and waist and does his shuffling, subject-to-no-tempo foxtrot, or whatever it is, with her, turning her round as if he’s making a hole for a fencepost, and the next thing you know, they’re over, on the ground, arse over tit, flailing feet, outstretched hands, clambering up to all-fours, until one of them tries to use the other to get up, and brings him or her down, to start over again. Eventually – and I wouldn’t have taken bets on this – it’s Shane who’s up, successfully, first, and who gallantly extends a hand to Ella to help her up.

Last night, I jealously watched Philip trip to the front wedges, skip over them in a bound, and mar the whiteness of the fallen snow with his swiveling, dancing, guitar-playing thing. Tonight, I vault over the front wedges to beat him to it, slide into the snow drift, and do my snow angel – for my kids, I tell myself. It’s pathetic, isn’t it?

Afterwards, all my american family’s in the backstage bar. My oldest has a stomach-ache and wants to go home. My youngest is all sort of demure in response to the overwhelmingness of having witnessed some weird transformation of her dad from washer-up to accordion-hero and she wants to go home too. My wife has lost her voice. It’s a Christmas tradition. My in-laws, who have flown over from the US, are elated. They haven’t seen the Pogues since 1991 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, when Strummer effectively got us barred from ever playing that place again, by inviting a stage invasion or something.

22nd December

Jos is having an exhibition of his paintings in the canteen. They’re ranged all along one of the tables. They’re about as brightly coloured as the shirt he was wearing during the couple of days’ rehearsals we had three weeks ago. They combine found elements, or just some fucking weird shit he’s come across, and what looks like acrylic on canvas. I don’t know whether they’re for sale, or just to let us know what he gets up to on the tour bus, or something. Darryl says he’s going to buy one. I feel a bit sheepish about not buying one – because, firstly, I don’t know if they’re for sale, and secondly, because, well, I don’t know if I want one of them on my wall, lovely and original as they are. Throughout this tour, we’ve come across Jos’s “found elements,” or just some fucking weird shit he’s come across, which he’s displayed, usually on the top of Terry’s amp. They have been tiny little creatures that you might get free at a petrol station or in a box of cereal or something. They’ve been ranged, as I said, on the top of Terry’s amp, and they’ve been labelled with the names of certain people in the entourage.

We summon the catering staff, Fiona and Simpson, to the dressing room to accept tokens of our gratitude for feeding us so well on the tour, and making our dressing room each night so sumptuous with velours and the foison of the fields. Fiona has a little cry. On the subject of catering, it’s always been a treat to watch Joey and Shane at the trough, so to speak, after a show (Shane can’t eat right before a show; makes sense), each of them sitting before foil-covered plates on the coffee-table in the dressing room.

It’s good to have read Sheva’s account of these nights at Brixton Academy. I have forgotten about Shane not hearing the count-in, after the introduction to ‘Sickbed’ – and when will I stop being surprised when Terry never plays the introduction like it is on the record? He’s never played it the way it was recorded. Never.

We’ve got a full complement of horns tonight, (or was that last night too?) with all the Jesse James brass section and Dan of the wire-wool hair, stepping back and forth, up and from the microphone to deliver his bits. I enjoy watching Dan during ‘Rainy Night in Soho,’ but, musically speaking, I have no idea what he’s doing, nor what the rest of Jesse James are doing, because I can’t hear them at all, all the way across the stage. I hope they’ve been “woodshedding” (which is a new term for many of us in the band [I first heard of it from David Briggs who produced the only Low and Sweet Orchestra record, and who was the kind of person who would use that kind of expression without feeling stupid], along with, surprisingly “jumping the shark”, which, of course, has nothing to do with music and I don’t know why I bring it up at all at this point, other than that I was surprised that no-one had heard of it) in one of the dressing rooms along the corridor, and that they listened to whatever suggestions Jem and I made as to how they should go about playing on ‘Rainy Night In Soho.’ The eye-contact Shane and I have been making in the instrumental section, when his face is lit up all blue down one side, has now fallen by the wayside, and now I wonder if it’s because he doesn’t actually need a cue, and not for what I thought were reasons of human contact of some kind, if you know what I mean.

And what’s going on with Andrew’s shirt, or shirts? Every time I look at him on stage – for count-ins and cues and stuff or with joy about something he’s just pulled off, whatever – I’m astonished at the pristinity (I don’t even know if that’s a word) of his shirt, but then, it looks like the same shirt he wore last night and I don’t get it. His shirt always looks new to me. What’s that about?

Is it tonight that Shane does the old chestnut, walking about with a glass of gin and tonic on his head to the delight of the audience? And then the goofy, fingers-pointing-upwards ‘White City’ dance? And then unwinding the microphone cable from around the mike stand, letting the mike dangle in front of the front wedges (a leitmotif of this tour and one that has had a few of us, in panic and fear for our tympanic membranes, night after night, shooting looks to Aden behind the monitor desk, to cut the signal from Shane’s microphone. Leitmotif? Shitemotif, more like), and then to play out the cable and dispense with the mike stand, and then start to draw the mike back to himself - as if he’s depth sounding and winding up the sinker - and then it’s a question of: is he going to get the mike into his hand by the time the next verse starts, or isn’t he, is he, isn’t he? Oh my god, and I’m looking from Shane’s inept winding and winding, still no sight of the microphone, just cable, and then to Terry, for some reason, who’s staring at Shane’s antics with an indulgent and calm smile, but a smile which is fixed to his face, and then back to Shane who’s not quite there yet, actually not even nearly there, and it’s at this point that you sort of give up and whatever’s going to happen’s going to happen and we’ll repair the song as we go, we’ve done it before, if Shane doesn’t make it with the goddamn microphone sketch. But, miraculously, he does, and I guess he knew he was going to make it all along, and off goes the song again without a wrinkle. And it’s then that Terry looks at me with a twinkle, of relief, in his eye. Oh, for heaven’s sake.

Katie Melua passes me in the backstage bar, with a bottle of beer in one hand, and holding, a finger in each, three Dixie-cup size plastic glasses (the kind I’m used to seeing liquidized wheatgrass in) with clear liquid in the bottoms. I wonder what kind of drink is that. She says hello in a guarded, I’m-much-shorter-than-you sort of way. Katie Melua is really nice, I’ve decided.

Otherwise, backstage, I meet Roger one of our old roadies, who came with us to Australia, and who got his chest-hair stuck into the wax on a surfboard that had been left out in the sun.

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Nineteenth installment, December 23, 2005
‘It’s going to go all over the accordion.’

Of course, I’m the first one at the airport. I’m used to that. As Joey used to say, when he was tour manager: “James Fenearley. He’s never late. He’s always early.” It’s true.

When they turn up, Terry’s wearing grey, what looks like herring-bone tweed trousers, with turn-ups, and what look like new, light tan, suede shoes, with a fine welt. When I comment on them, he looks at me avuncularly. “If you look after a good pair of shoes, you’ll always be well shod,” he says. In come Victoria and Joey and Shane, who looks tired and sits down on Joey’s luggage with a deal of heaviness. Ross gets us all checked in. Spider and Louise are late, and so, I think, is Andrew, about whom we all ask, on account of his bronchitis. When I’d left him the other night, to get into my car home and I thought he’d left an hour before, he was still waiting for a member of his party to come out of the backstage bar, so he could to get into his car home. Didn’t seem right somehow, to have him waiting outside in the cold.

Up in the departure lounge, well, the aeronautically designed – oh, don’t they work hard, these architects, with a theme, you know? – holding tank, Joey has given Shane a battery-operated fan that lights up like a Catherine wheel, and with changing patterns too. Shane’s happily staring into it, as Joey comes up to me, combing his hair, sweating, and wiping the sweat from his forehead with a paper napkin that’s turned to pulp, to talk about something.

I sit next to Jem on the plane. We talk about his art installation project some more. I come up with some titles for it – you need a title for near-as-dammit everything – which are just dumb. I pick the odd bit of snow from Muse’s snow-machines out of his hair.

Ella’s not with us today. The lack of Ella and her assistant Kitty makes everything feel unbalanced somehow, and everything’s imbued with an air that’s full of the possibility that they knew something we don’t, yet.

Outside Dublin airport, Andrew and I watch a flock of birds flying around in the sky above the road and the terminal building, how they shift this way and that as a distinct unit. He tells me about when he was on holiday and was looking over a bluff into the sea, and how a shoal of fish clung to the moving shadow of a tree on the water.

We watch Shane come across the carpark in a Soviet-style Russian hat that Victoria’s just bought him – at the airport? I can’t see them selling Soviet-style Russian hats at Dublin airport, somehow, but there he is in one, a dead housecat on his head.

After dinner at the Point, some of us go back to the hotel. I can’t be bothered, so I stretch out in the room marked “Wardrobe” (which has, by far, been the safest room for us at the Point, which tends to get over-run with people fairly early on). Jem stretches out too, and so does Darryl. We’re very sleepy at this stage. I take my shoes off and put my legs up on the table.

But resting is useless. There’s always someone coming in, wanting to know something, get something, pin something up on a wall, for a drink, for a cup of tea. In the end, Jem tells me about a book he’s reading, the title of which escapes me, but the narrative of which follows someone’s trip from one floor to the one above, on an escalator.

I go for a wander. B P Fallon is in what he thinks is the dressing room, pinning posters up on the wall for what’s called “Rehab Disco” – somewhere in Dublin (I’m afraid I won’t be attending) – and for which he has invited Shane as co-jockey. It’s a thing they do together from time to time. BP is even more pixie-ish than I remember him, with a perfectly shaped head for chia. He still feels guilty about our cats. He came to stay at our house in Los Angeles a good few years ago, and our cats ran away.

Philip comes into the dressing room, in a rage. His apoplexy is such it has actually sucked all the air out of him, to the point his skeleton looks vacuum-packed in yellow and pink hide. Philip is beside himself that it would seem that Aiden Lee (is that his name? The employee of the promoter of this show in Dublin, Denis Desmond) has had an issue with the guest-list and now not just the Radiators are stuck outside, but Philip’s sister too. For a minute I worry about my ageing aunt from Cheshire who’s staying with her daughter in Howth over Christmas, but then I figure I would hear on my mobile if they were having trouble getting in. But Philip rightly points out that it’s always the way in Dublin: backstage is awash with people you kind of don’t really know, but sort of, and the carpark is awash with people you actually do know, who can’t get in. Anthony goes off to sort it out. I find myself hoping that Anthony takes a leaf out of the supposedly non-threatening tour manager’s manual, and folds the guy’s septum for him. I think I actually say, when Anthony leaves the room, “Loaf him.”

In a while, Anthony comes back.

“It’s sorted,” he says in his Manchester accent. That was quick. I study his forehead for for bits of soft tissue.

Tonight, on stage, I have a good go at knocking Shane’s drink off the bar stool by stamping, in time to the music, on the plywood stage near it, and watching the gin and tonic jump about in the glass and the glass itself edge its way to the edge, but it still won’t get there.

I find myself sitting next to Spider on the drum-riser at the beginning of ‘Sick Bed.’ Time was, we’d all congregate at the bass-drum – our water-cooler sometimes – and pass the time of day, while we weren’t needed. Shane used to drop in sometimes too. I was passing the time of day there once, at the beginning of ‘Dirty Old Town,’ in France, when Jem came across, stood up on the riser, swung his leg over and sat down on my shoulders. I managed to get myself up, standing, and we walked around the stage for a bit, Jem playing the banjo on my shoulders, me playing the mandolin beneath. Anyway, tonight Spider and I have a conversation about something, and then peel off to our stations to do our work when our cue comes.

We play ‘Happy Birthday’ to Shane. Victoria comes out with a cake. It’s got “Eire” written on it and the icing is the Irish tricolour. Shane holds it in his hands for a while. Not finding a handy sideboard nearby, or even a cake-knife to hand slices out, Shane dumps the cake on the floor. He spends his energy on a few fudged kicks at the candles, trying to knock them off. What goes through my mind is this: “It’s going to go all over the accordion, I know it is. There’ll be a cake-fight and it’s going to go everywhere.” I’m astonished that the cake stays where it is, collapsed just behind Shane’s microphone. While we play ‘Happy Birthday,’ Shane acts fingers down his throat with what he takes to be the surfeit of sentimentality on his behalf. What’s he thinking of? We play ‘Happy Birthday’ for everyone.

There’s a guy on the stage with a camcorder. I know his face really well, but I can’t put a name to it. He’s edging along the front of the stage, closer and closer to the centre mike and I’ve had enough of the invasion of space, somehow, and the idea that the DVD turning up on Ebay after Christmas starts to offend me. I was recently given a bootleg filmed entirely from the backstage bar at Brixton Academy. Hmm. Someone on the guestlist, maybe (strokes beard thoughtfully). I have Jos encourage him to fuck off behind the PA speakers.

And then, on the other side of the stage, in the shadows, there’s an old man with a beard and longish, grey thinning hair, in a tweed jacket and a cardigan, tie and blue shirt, and I think to myself, Oh, that must be Steve (the geography teacher) Sunderland’s replacement. It’s amazing what goes through your head. It’s the vaguely academic aura about this man at the side of the stage, that matches some idea I have about the notion Kitty and Ella have about geography teachers, that links Steve Sunderland with this rather elfish, twinkly old man with fetchingly lidded eyes, standing, arms folded, by the side of the stage and renders him into Steve Sunderland’s stand-in.

Well, it’s not Steve Sunderland’s stand-in. It’s J P Donleavy.

At some point, maybe in Fiesta, Philip climbs up onto the cursed barstool. The way he gets up onto it makes me think of rising water somehow.

Aisling Bowyer comes out to sing ‘Fairytale.’ I know nothing about her pedigree. All I know is that her voice, to me, doesn’t suit the song, and I wished it did, because I think I detect in her face while she’s singing it that she might suspect the same, and I wonder if I perceive in her face some effort to compensate for that. I don’t know. This flashes across my mind, the thought quickly followed by the question, Are we going to get snow this year? Because last year we didn’t.

Afterwards, we see Aisling Bowyer inviting Shane down the corridor to a room that’s not our dressing room. We steer him into ours for safety.

I go out to meet my guests: my aunt from Cheshire and my cousin and her husband who live out in Howth and find out that this is the first gig that my aunt has been to – since going to see the Beatles, for heaven’s sake, in Blackpool in 1964; Manny from the local Greek restaurant in my neighbourhood in Los Angeles. I meet also Fiachra Trench, whom I last saw in 1987 when we worked together on the string arrangements for ‘Fairytale of New York,’ and ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah.’

Back at the hotel, with my accordion which I have to take away with me, I have a drink with Terry and Marian Woods, and accept a drink from Anthony, who’s buying, and then, because I’ve got to be up early, I fuck off to bed. My room’s by the lift, dingy and sparse. I have a look at the knees in my suit which are all ripped to shit and think, I can’t live those knees down on another tour – so, the suit’s in the bin again.

Next morning, as I come out of the lifts and into the lobby, Shane teeters past me with some people, but he doesn’t see me, though I’m right there but I don’t make a point of my emphasizing my presence. Can’t see the point at this juncture. In the breakfast room I meet with Anthony and his son Mark, and Darryl. The hotel’s closing down for Christmas (what?) but they choose this time to get the orbital cleaning machine out to do the sodding floors, right outside the breakfast room doors, going backwards and forwards, whining and scrubbing. It’s a noise I can do without.

There is some tying up of loose-ends from last night, the main one being how Shane says to Ross, “I’m doing the disco with BP later. You coming?” to which Ross replies, “No, mate. That’s my job done. You’re on your own.” And then, in the course of the evening, Ross has a think about that, regrets his somewhat precipitate reply, and, seeking to make amends, goes out to the Voodoo Lounge, to find Shane sitting – smoking maybe, sleeping maybe, maybe both, well after all the Rehab hubbub – in a worn Parkner-Knoll chair with the wadding coming out of it. “Just wanted to say cheerio,” Ross says, in an expiatory sort of way, I suppose. “Awright,” says Shane, nodding no doubt, maybe not glimpsing the process Ross has been through.

Here’s something else. Tom Sheehan, one of the documentary film-makers, finds himelf not going to bed until 5.30 in the morning and then a flight a couple of hours later back to London. Nora has the devil’s own job waking him up. When they get to the airport, Tom says, “Oh my God, I haven’t bought her a Christmas present!” Meaning he hasn’t bought his wife such. Nora remembers Darryl having said something about the best smoked salmon that there is to be had is to be found in Dublin airport. Nora steers the tired and emotional Tom through the airport, past the lure of Waterford Crystal and Irish Linen, toward the smoked salmon place – and there – what do you know – is Darryl, flapping his hands in indecision over which slab to get.

And lastly, I ring up Ross’s room to get him the hell to come down and check out of the hotel and go to the airport with me and Anthony and Mark, because, of the band, we’ve got the first flights out of there and time’s getting a bit tight. It’s a strange and uneasy thing to have to ring the tour manager, who is probably – and I’ve said this before – aside from my wife, and oh yes, my father-in-law, the most executively functional person on the planet, to get him to get the fuck down to the lobby and into the van.

At the airport, Anthony and Mark and I walk on ahead to check in, and lose Ross somewhere en route. I have to jump a queue to get through security and to my flight. I’m pissed off that I didn’t get to say happy Christmas and cheerio to Ross, so, when I get to Birmingham and I’m in the car to my family, I text him to say so. The text I get from him later, much later, tells me that he missed his flight to Manchester and had to wait until 2.30 in the afternoon for another flight to become available.

“Just to think,” he says, “the one flight I organize for myself, I fucking miss.”

Back to top

U.S.A., 2006

Twentieth installment, March 7, 2006
‘Spit the stalk out with a knot in it?’

I’m wearing my hotel-issue, leopard-skin bathrobe, sitting at the ironing board because there isn’t a desk in this room and my tea’s making in the drip machine. There is a picture, each, of Barbie and Ken on the wall, in the top and bottom, respectively, of a striped pair of pyjamas.

I landed last night around 6:30. It’s a straightforward four hour flight for me across the continent, from the ocean and the sculpted mountains of California to the sere, wintry, drab fields and forests of what would that be? Virginia or Maryland, punctured by sad, slate-coloured ponds.

James meets me at the airport – a shrewd black guy in a navy, corded hat and a raincoat. He says nothing in the car, which I’m kind of relieved about, to begin with. The last thing you want sometimes is someone not just holding some dodgy political position but holding forth about it, or someone who’s too proud of his job, which, to me, would be a crap one, driving people from one place to another, but then it occurs to me it’s the talkative ones that tend to be like that, who come out with some stinker or other that worries your conscience and your world-view from the moment it’s released into the cab. The quiet ones are the ones who, if they’re going to say anything at all, are more likely than not going to say something good. But it’s nice just to ride for the present and I don’t permit myself to find out what a nice guy James is, or not, but I feel more than likely is, if you follow me. I think of Joe Strummer who used to engage whichever and every driver he had, to find out about him or her, leaning over the back of the front seat, plying him or her with questions about this and that, finding common ground. He never failed to do that.

And then my curiosity and excitement to be in Washington DC gets the better of me and I have to ask questions about what I’m seeing, though sometimes I half-know the answer, and as we come into town, I point out the building that turns out to be the Jefferson Memorial, because I don’t know what it is, and as we get more and more comfortable with one another, James reveals to me the Washington Monument, and the strange-shaped light-business on top of the White House, through the trees, that will be the last thing a passing airplane pilot will see, since it signifies that his or her airplane, the fact of being close enough to see it, meaning that it’s just, well, too close, and will be rocketed out of the sky in a couple of seconds.

We pass Old Ebbett’s Grill on 15th and G. I mention this only because my daughter has given me a sheaf of notes on what to do in Washington. She came to Washington with her grandparents a couple of months back and the day before I left she was to be seen on the floor of her bedroom writing down all the things I had to do. One of her notes reads: ‘Dinner: Old Ebbett’s Grill.’ (Another one reads: ‘Lunch - go to the International Spy Museum and look right and if it’s open go in’.)

The hotel we’re staying in is the yanks’ idea of a boutique hotel – ‘Well,’ my wife says, ‘If they’re going to call it Hotel Helix, what are you going to expect?’ The check-in desks are sort of lecterns of particulated resin, as blue as pool-paint. They have the colouring of brawn on acid. When I’m not looking at the guy who’s changing my room behind one of these lecterns (I took one look at where 406 was situated right by the elevator and turned tail back down to the lobby), the man’s head and shoulders dead-centre in an empty wooden frame behind him, my eyes struggle to focus on account of the textured pattern of the wall behind him, a dominant feature of the hotel, I come to discover, at least the common spaces like the bar and the corridors. I lug the luggage (that’s why it’s called that) up the corridor which has industrial flooring and fluorescent lime green walls. Off the corridor there’s a bar that’s beating with that ubiquitous hotel beat and lights play on the sheer drapes at the windows – de rigueur for boutique hotels. The lights change irregularly but often, from a similar lime green to blue to red.

I go down to the bar, to reject my first glass of red wine because it has an unpleasant overtone of rabbit-shit (don’t ask me how I know that; it’s synaesthetic) and then have two more with the thumping hotel-beat coming from the speakers attached to the beam above my head. The waitress behind the bar sings ‘of course’ to everything I say.

I dutifully go out to the Old Ebbett’s Grill. I’ve booked a table through the concierge at the hotel, but the place is so crowded with lobbyists, I’m assuming, that my table’s not available. The guy at the reception desk at the restaurant programmes some sort of gizmo and hands it to me. It’s like a remote, with a single tiny green light on it on one end.

‘When it goes red,’ he says, ‘come back and see me.’ So I go to the bar and get myself a pint of Sam Adams, find myself somewhere to sit among the suits and the cacophony and the shoulders and stuff, and station the gizmo within easy spotting distance on a ledge behind the glass screen separating the bar from the restaurant, hoping not to miss the red light on the end of it replacing the feeble green one. While I’m distracted, taking in the vaguely pornographic mural on the far wall, through the glass partition, of gauze-clad nymphs in a sylvan, pondy sort of setting, the gizmo goes off as if it had just detected the cyborg assassin or something, with red lights chasing one another round the edge of the thing, and vibrating so much that it sort of chatters across the ledge I’ve put it on. I try to stifle it in my hand and go up to see the guy at the front desk.

My waiter turns out to have been born in Salford, to move to Sheffield when he was six. He saw the Pogues at some venue in Sheffield sometime in the eighties, but I can’t remember when or where, though he tells me twice. It might have been the Leadmill. We chat a bit, in between his duties up and down the booths, him leaning on the pillar next to my table. He goes on the guest list.

After a unmemorable dinner (actually, not so unmemorable, because a plate of oysters comes back to me, with two extra because they’re so small) and a brandy on-the-house, I weave up 15th Street. It’s cold. I wonder if I’m going to come across any Pogues when I get back to the hotel and, as I turn into the u-shaped driveway in front of the Helix, there’s Ross the tour manager, sitting on a wall under the black awning over the front entrance. His drunkenness, I find out later, was of high entertainment on the flight over from London, or maybe the second leg down from New York, and which now causes him to be incapable of keeping still. He stretches a leg out and then flaps his arm as if his clothes are sticking to him, then sweeps his hair back, then straightens his arm and rests it purposefully on his knee. There’s a sudden sharp in-take of breath as if he’s drowning, but I think he’s trying to overcome the onset of hiccoughs.

He’s waiting for Shane and Joey who are flying in from Chicago, the theory being that Shane’s been routed that way because he has such an aversion to the city that he would do anything to catch a plane out of it. They have been lost in Dulles for a while, which they like to do and that’s why Ross is waiting, to make sure of their arrival and to ease their transition from the car to their rooms, or at least the interior of the hotel. Ross’s phone rings, which it does a lot, and he rises to do his job, which is imminent.

Shane is the first to appear round the corner of the wall that stands in front of the hotel doors. He’s walking backwards, in his black coat and his hat which has had all the shape punched out of it, as if his head had suddenly released a burst of compressed air or something and rounded it out. Joey’s pulling luggage and muttering something to it. They’re followed by James, my driver from earlier in the evening, in his navy, corded hat and the raincoat. He knocks out a shower of ashes and butts from the ashtray in his car onto the sidewalk.

Joey goes straight to bed. He looks jet-lagged. There are wisps of grey above his ears. Shane stays up for a drink. Shane is largely immune to jet-lag. His dyssynchronousness makes sure of that. In the bar I watch as his face goes from aquamarine to puce and jaundice from the lights in the bar. I’m careful of his hat, which he’s put on the table between us, because the table is adhesive from Tom Collinses and whatever else and I know that felt and liquor don’t mix very well. I’ve got a thing like ringworm on the underside of the brim of the hat I no longer wear from beer on a bar top. In the ghastly changing light, I watch, enrapt, as Shane mashes a cherry from his cocktail between his gums. (The following day, Spider asks me: ‘Did he spit the stalk out with a knot in it?’)

He’s smoking Sweet Afton cigarettes. He holds up the packet and recites:

‘Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes! Flow gently, sweet river, the theme of my lays!’

I go to bed. I’m drunk. Shane, I think I remember, either accuses me of desertion or is just desolated to see me go. One of the two.

Twenty-first installment, March 8, 2006
‘Why the big paws?’

We drive off up Rhode Island Ave, past the statue of ‘Black Jack’ Logan in the middle of Logan Circle which prompts a few questions, and every time we pass it: who he was, why his statue’s there – maybe because of the irishness of his name. None of our drivers knows. And then we drive miles, over the Anacostia River into Maryland, past the pillar-fronted frat houses and the lawns of the University of Maryland and on, further, to where there’s nothing much to look at, except Jos notices a coup d’oeil in the shape of – well, a section of wall angled across the side of a liquor store. The crew were up here yesterday and they have nothing to report about the place other than there’s a piano shop with fluorescent pianos in the second story front window and it’s not long before we have, in our minds, stationed fluorescent pianos in front of each of the frat houses in the crescent off Baltimore Road. Jos interrupts a quiet moment with a joke about the lobster going into the bar, ‘giving it all that’ (making nippers out of his fingers and thumbs). And then the joke about the bear going into a bar, to order a beer and – it holds up its arms, followed by a long, long silence, while we wait to see what’s coming and still it doesn’t come, until finally: and – a whiskey. The barman asks, ‘Why the big paws?’

Our driver today is called 3ft Robinson. It’s the name on his business card. Ross asks about the 3ft bit, and, well, it’s a nickname from school that stuck. ‘And besides,’ he says, ‘Who gonna forget that? They member you. You Three Inch, Two Bit someone? Yeah, I member you, they says.’ He stops the bus somewhere, because the bus behind (we have two) wants to stop for refreshments. We can’t help watching him walk back to the bus behind along the sidewalk. We have to stand up to see him through the bus windows. He has a black suit, half mast trousers and the tiniest feet you could wish to see, and in cuban heels. He’s tiny, even in cuban heels.

Drums Unlimited, where the rehearsal room is, is pretty much a percussion motherlode – drums, marching drums, chinese gongs, tubular bells, and more drums, for any marching band that wants kitting out, and for any touring band like ourselves who might find it cost-prohibitive to lug the drum kit all the way from Hackney and up the eastern seaboard of North America. The trouble is that the drum kit Andrew plays in the rehearsal room and at the first couple of shows in DC is the first drum kit of as many gigs that we have, i.e. he’s going to get a different kit for each city we visit, but we don’t know that yet.

We don’t come across the shelves upon shelves of drums until we have cause to leave the rehearsal room for a piss or something and have to walk along the ends of the long aisles of shelving to the restroom. Of course, we get excited, well, some of us do. There’s a rack of what I suppose might be called talking gongs that make swooping sounds when you hit them, and we do, well, Jem and I do. Ross has picked up the phone, at a desk nearby, with his computer open in front of him, poised to start work, when Jem and I, with a beater to share, advance upon a Chinese gong that must be easily four feet across. We don’t go at it gingerly. After the initial booming impact, the crash it makes fills the room with white noise, which goes on and on. Ross postpones his work on the phone. I go back into the rehearsal room, while Jem asks if anyone minds if he has a go at the tubular bells.

Shane’s not at rehearsal. It’s an arrangement that suits. We can go through the set, with a bit of a departure or two, try out equipment. (I’m up for in-ear monitors again, as I was a few years ago: Scully says they will clear up the sound on stage a bit; and Gerry the monitor engineer has blagged a couple of sets from someone, on approval).

Setting up, we marvel at Philip’s eel-skin boots with their pointed brass buckles and his fringed, mold-coloured Wild Bill Hickock jacket over pink sweater. We marvel at how the wen on the side of Terry’s nose that had been so unsightly over the days we spent together at the Meteor Awards, for the removal of which he’d set an appointment with the doctor a couple of weeks after, chose to fall off pretty much as he was leaving the house for the appointment. Habilimentarily, otherwise, Spider has a new hat whose overall aesthetic seems to straddle the sixties, early seventies – a checked brat-pack hat that goes well with the ink-black shades he’s wearing. Dermatologically, otherwise, Jem has some sort of wen between his index- and second-fingers on one of his hands that hurts when he puts pressure on it and Philip has a little bleb on his head (well, don’t we all? As we get older I see more and more burst capillaries and pocks, lentigines and welts, not to mention the eight fucking stitches on my head I got playing tennis at our house with my daughter a few days before flying off for the Meteor Awards – the scar which the tennis accident left behind the reason for the hat I’ve been wearing).

We run through the set for a few hours and then rejoin 3ft Robinson and the other driver for the ride back to the hotel. On the way, there’s some laughter at my expense. I don’t know what about. The scar on my head maybe. Or the prevailing sententiousness of the things that come out of my mouth. I don’t know. Either way, there’s a short silence, broken by Jem asking: ‘Is there anything else you can tell us that we can mercilessly take the piss out of you about?’ Whereupon, Jem and Andrew and I talk about the mechanics by means of which one could play both a snare drum and a bass drum at the same time, in a pattern of one’s choosing, that is, with one foot. It’s a Cranky George Trio problem, because we don’t want a drummer. The solutions get wilder and more improbable as we drive back to DC. Andrew erects, in his mind and ours, some sort of belt system with the snare drum several feet above our heads; Jem suggests some sort of lever system, with set delays, by means of cogs and belts. Me, I think I’m just going to give the hat-box bass drum to Brad the bass-player, and I’ll get a beater on a pedal and a thing to hold a snare drum in the right place and play that.

Later, we all meet in the lobby to go out to dinner to a restaurant called Ten Pen (on 10th and Pennsylvania – hmm). Darryl has organized the outing, the way Darryl organizes things for which he eventually would like no responsibility if the outing should go south in anyway, with hand flapping and reassuring himself with the concierge that this would be a good place on which – how many? fourteen or fifteen people – are likely to descend. When I come downstairs I discover Ella waiting in the lobby – with its bright mosaic floor and the lamé curtain that sweeps aside when anyone comes in or out – on the buoyant sofa, rather disconcerted and exposed under the light of the oversized Anglepoise lamp standing in the corner with its dish directly over her head.

We have to wait a while for a table to accommodate fourteen people at Ten Pen. We hang around the bar. The place is crowded. Darryl, by this time, is in a guilt-ridden state of vexation about dragging us all here, to stand around waiting. Nora has the wit to order – well, what do you have? Edamame beans? That would be wonderful. Yes, Ma’am, right away.

I discover and am secretly relieved that we’re not doing the Conan O’Brien Show, despite the fact that it’s been in the TV Guide, with it being the first show in NYC for, god knows, fifteen years or something.

When we get to sit down at a table screened from the front door, the dinner is spiced to the point of agony (Andrew has to lay down his knife and fork and give up, shaking his head). I have so much to drink, starting off in the hotel bar with three vodka and cranberry juices with Spider and Louise, who, for some reason, don’t make it into one of the taxis that bring us down to 10th and Pennsylvania, that I’ll remember pretty much nothing of my conversation with Terry about Anne Briggs and Johnny Moynihan, although I will remember the enormous flounder with cross-hatching that is put in front of me, and the brandy at the bar at the end of the night that does me in.

Twenty-second installment, March 9, 2006

We have a soundcheck at eleven in the morning, driving past, or round, Black Jack Logan again. We have to soundcheck at that time in the morning because there’s a band playing in the afternoon. The soundcheck feels to be all at the wrong time. Terry and I try out our in-ears, as they’re called. Terry is elated to draw a parallel between the way I look with my in-ears in and Queequeg from Moby Dick. We run through the things we run through – through the things we ran through yesterday (basically the set we did in England at Christmas) and it’s pretty much straightforward.

I come across Joey back at the hotel who, as he’s bustling purposefully down one of the corridors, in an almost stipendiary semi-stoop, wants to draw my attention to a photograph on the wall in one of the corridors upstairs of a guy who’s supposed to look like me. I go and have a look at the photograph. Yes, he’s bald, but I’d never be seen dead in shades like that and with such a dementedly goofy smile on my face (with the exception of the photograph on the back of Peace and Love, that is – but maybe it’s that which has prompted Joey to send me to look at the photograph).

I spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around Washington. It’s warm, getting warmer all the time, and it isn’t long before I’m running with sweat, walking around the nation’s capital, stopping at a park bench to stuff my leather jacket into my backpack. I visit the White House – well, the outside of it – which is a grubby, in more than one sense of the word, little edifice, and like celebrities, much smaller in real life than on telly. The grounds outside, beyond the railings, and within too – sere lawns and a pathetic fountain – are unkempt, with flower beds that are just shapes of dirt, and black guys in grimy quilted wrapping littering La Fayette Park, and besuited men with security tags talking up the city to visitors, and a huddle of ban the bomb people talking amongst themselves. I walk down to West Potomac Park, and along the reflecting pond, very aware of walking amid the footprints of the thousands who came to hear Martin Luther King Jr. But then the nobility of the experience is shattered by the clatter of choppers, Chinooks cutting across the tops of the trees, wheeling around and back somewhere. It’s a country at war – with everyone, and with itself too. My waiter at Old Ebbett’s Grill on 15th St from last night, hard by the White House, told me about the rooftop bar there, which, like other buildings near the White House, has a bullet-proof screen round the parapet, to deter people launching things at the White House. If you lean your head out beyond the screen, you’re encouraged very quickly to retract it by means of the red dot of a marksman’s laser-pointer in the middle of your forehead.

I go down to the Vietnam memorial which is something else – the slice of granite or whatever it is, taking you down the incline from just that one name tucked into the corner of the stone – and you think, Oh it’s not going to be all that bad, is it? until, by the time you get to the bottom and it’s thousands of names, the weight of death is pretty much crushing. The trouble is that by the time you get to the top of the other incline and the names peter out at the far end of the wedge, you end up thinking, oh that wasn’t so bad, was it? I watch a young girl lightly touching one of the names on the wall and staring at it. Further up, there is a kid in a school party pointing at the name DIX, hoping to elicit a laugh from his school chums at the crap pun. Kind of interesting to see the name Dix. I went to a gallery once to see his etchings (were they? Or woodcuts maybe, can’t remember) of the trenches in the first world war. Harrowing in the extreme.

And then, as I’m walking back up to the hotel, at the intersection of 17th and H streets, while I’m going over the lyrics for the songs I sing with the Cranky George Trio – lots of words, and a middle eight, or even sixteen, that contains the names of thirty-two cities round the world and a bugger to memorize – a cop car starts chirruping and flashing its lights and swings around in front of the traffic coming up from the park. The cop in the cop car, with those orange shades that are sort of molded to his cheekbones and a jarhead haircut, stays us pedestrians – myself and a rapidly blinking guy in half-mast trousers and a blue windjammer and crazy hair – from crossing. Down a couple of blocks, over by the side gates, I suppose, of the White House, I can see the tinsel of a couple of cars and sidecar motorcycles that come swinging onto H Street, the motorcycles sidewinding up the road and howling away, a couple of them at first. The gap between this first phalanx of sidecar motorcycles and the next lot is too much temptation for blue-windjammer-blinking guy – he looks the type to be pretty contemptuous of pretty much everything and of himself too – and he toddles across the street, head down, Fuck you and the horse you rode in on. The cop looks at him wearily. Then the rest of the motorcycles weave past, and fast, followed by an SUV with blackened windows, sprouting with aerials and with flashing lights in the windows, in its wake a coterie of motorbikes and, finally, a black town car with blackened windows the contents of which is what all the fuss is about probably.

‘POTUS’ I say to myself, but it’s probably not, but you never know. I watch the parade pass by. The cop clears me to go and jumps into his car and then fishtails up 17th St releasing the dam of cars that’s built up. I come across him at the corner of the next block and he’s got his hands on his hips, giving bluewindjammerblinkingman a ticking off for crossing the street.

I stop off at an Italian chain restaurant with bare floorboards and feeble lighting on 18th or 19th St and get given a table against a pillar, have a couple of glasses of shit red wine and a margerita pizza, pay, and then walk back up to Rhode Island Ave and the hotel.

Frank, our old manager, who lives somewhere in Virginia now, is there to be found backstage when we get to the 9:30 Club. He’s wearing something black and leathery and masculine. I remember him once in New Orleans considering his cream-coloured linen suit to have trumped mine because of some leather shoulder patches, or elbow patches. I don’t rightly remember. But then, he wasn’t going for the Kowloon Ferry look like I was. We all hug our greetings.

Shane’s down at the gig an hour before everyone else. This raises fourteen eyebrows. It turns out that Frank picked him up from the hotel and took him to the club. Shane has had a thing for a while about being early, or in good time, for gigs. On the Christmas tour he never usually went back to the hotel after soundcheck and would hang out with Joey in the dressing room, watching DVDs, supine on a massage bench, smoking, asleep, or recumbent on a grimy sofa. But, of late, he’s been developing an eagerness to be early.

Backstage at the 9:30 Club – and it’s a different 9:30 Club to the one we played whatever it was, fifteen or so years ago. The previous one had a chequered floor and a stage in the corner. The current 9:30 Club has at least three tiers, but its main feature, from the stage, is the wrap-around balcony, with the third level being what seems to be platforms to each side of the back balcony bar, the platforms lit up, and individually, like a stage set.

Anyway, the first night, here in Washington DC, there’s Shane giving it out, moving around, gesticulating, singing well, taking up a lot of room, which is all right with me, really – there’s always a space that opens up to hoist the accordion skyward, catch it and retreat into the ranks. The audience is quite, quite different in the States – well, it’s such a goddamn different country to anywhere, really isn’t it? And the average age of the audience a few years older than in England, and a few more older yet than the ones we had in Japan.

They all seem very – rapt is the word that comes to mind, leastways the people I can see along the front. There’s some bouncing going on, up front too. Philip remarks, later, about the embonpoint of the woman at the railing, directly in front of him, which, depending on the song, gets to be of the heaving variety. Nora isn’t slow in picking up the motion and stations herself to get it on film.

At the beginning of the instrumental section to ‘Tuesday Morning’, Spider says, ‘Hit it,’ into the mike, and it’s the way he says it that makes me want to do as I’m told.

We’ve been having problems with ‘Thousands Are Sailing’, as I’ve said previously. I concentrate on the hi-hat for the tempo during the intro, watching it for the cue. So does Darryl. Philip can’t see the hi-hat because he’s facing the front. He can’t just turn his back to the audience. (And I love, as Andrew comes to the end of the intro, sometimes, to watch him shake the tambourine in a wide arc from over the top of his head, down by his side, to drop it under his floor tom.) When the verse starts, Darryl, Terry, Andrew and I drop out, to leave Jem and Philip on their own. Jem’s been trying to watch Philip’s hands for the tempo, because, all the way over stage left, Jem can’t hear a damn thing. It’s a quagmire sometimes, that first verse, with shifting tempos and Jem finding that he’s lagging, Philip tending to ratchet it up just a notch. Jem flails around in Philip’s wake a bit, in a sort of phase-shift of banjo and guitar, until the drums come in like a teacher impatient for order or something. But now I’ve got ‘in-ears’, I can hear everything and I slap my upstage leg to help Jem stay in time.

Mid-point in the set, Andrew has to take a bit of time to tighten up his snare. As I said, it’s a new drum kit, and will be, every city we go to.

My in-ear monitors slip out because of the sweat that drains from my head into my ears and because of the lack of slack on the wire that Gerry has fed down my back under my shirt before going up on stage, what with the jumping and carrying-on, pulling the fucking things out, at which point all the cacophony of the stage sound crashes in my ears until I squelch the things back in. It’s going to take me a bit of time to get used to these things.

It might be tonight that – what’s the song? ‘Lullaby of London’ maybe, no, ‘Old Main Drag’ – that Philip takes up a spot by the side fill stage right (a side Phil, I suppose), in his suit and hat, like a character from Damon Runyon: knee up and sole of his foot against the speaker behind him, one hand in a pocket, the other holding a cigarette a couple of inches below chin level. Afterwards, I say to him, ‘You looked very Broadway over there.’

‘You mean cheap streetcorner tart,’ he says.

I wake up in the middle of the night and stumble around in the dark trying to remember where the toilet is and stove my little toe against the side of my suitcase which is lying open on the floor. Over the next few days my toenail will turn a kind of mauve colour.

Twenty-third installment, March 10, 2006
Baltimore – Let’s do it.

I wake up at around nine, and, with three hours time difference between Los Angeles and Washington, that’s about right. I faff around the hotel room for a bit, making my chinese aged pu’er tea (the ‘aged’ being redundant, so I’m told – after a visit later on in the tour to Moby’s Teany place in New York – because all pu’er is aged) with the drip machine in the room. I’ve brought a tea ball and an old Golden Virginia tobacco tin full of pu’er. The drip machine taints the tea with crap coffee. The weather outside is lovely. I throw the curtains and the window open and once again marvel at the shit americans throw onto their roofs.

I get dressed in my suit – my old friend the Allied Textile Workers Union-made suit, which I’ve had for years, and which never came off my back for a few years and in which I’ve even gone ice-skating – and a white shirt because the weather’s so nice, and go out for breakfast, jacket slung over my shoulder, and in my straw pork-pie hat.

On my way back from breakfast, at Café Luna on P Street, round the corner from the hotel, where I have had the place to myself and reggae on the radio, I come across Darryl with a Wholefoods bag on the block parallel to the hotel. Wholefoods turns out to be where Darryl’s been getting his breakfast. A few of the band, it turns out, are very excited about Wholefoods Market. Oh, the stuff you can get in there: the anti-oxidants, the acidophilus, the red beta algae, the Jerusalem artichoke, the cruciferous vegetable extracts, the glutathione peroxidase. That sort of thing. Not to mention the little trays of spicy tuna roll. These are among the things that make Paul Scully’s eyes roll into the top of his head. Darryl has also scored some Melatonin which you can’t get in England without prescription – or didn’t used to be able to – because he’s not sleeping well with jet-lag.

Quite what I do with the rest of the morning escapes me. I know I happen to come across a couple of people, in the Caribou Café on the corner of Rhode Island and 14th, who had gone to last night’s show. I’m sitting at one of the tables, making use of the wi-fi in there, because the floor I’m on in the hotel is beyond hotel wi-fi reach, and it turns into one of those experiences in a public space when you look up and someone’s smiling at you (which I want to put down to an invisible phone ear-piece thing which I can’t see, probably because of the woman’s hair, or the angle of her head or something). So I look down and don’t think much more about it, until I find myself looking up and the woman’s still waiting at the perch where they issue coffee (along with, this morning, corporate soundbites, like ‘wake up and smell the SUV’ or something, because you can win a Yukon or some such today) and still smiling, and right at me and not talking on the phone at all, it turns out, but, well, staring right at me, with such delight in her face, I realize, that’s, well – unreciprocable at this moment in time, I have to say. Well of course, she comes over, and with a friend and she can’t believe she’s in the same room as one of the Pogues, and I go all urbane and suddenly feel like I’m overdressed for the part with my fiftiesish suit and white shirt and my straw hat on the table and I wish I were just in my fucking jeans. But I’m nice about everything and while her friend talks about something not related, the woman smiles and smiles at me incapable of getting over the fact that one of the Pogues, who haven’t appeared in this country, in their original line up, that is, for fifteen years, is sitting at a table in her local café and if she had gone to work today she wouldn’t have come in, but with the show last night being as late as it was...

When I come back to the hotel, Andrew and maybe Jem and Ella are on their way back from somewhere. Andrew laughs at my apparel, the suit, the jacket slung over my shoulder, the hat. So do I. Jem has bought a new hat: a Borsalino, black, widish brim- a ‘Florence’, I think. It brings out his jewishness.

Soundcheck’s at four, which is altogether a much more civilized time of day. On my way in with everyone from the minivan, I’m glad to see that the poster that Jeff Holmes (Rockers77) has designed is up on the wall in the little merchandize cubicle near the front door. I’m disappointed however that it’s priced at $30. I’m sure it’s worth that amount of money, but I’m not sure a lot of people are going to buy it.

I get into something with Jem about his playing, since I can hear pretty much everything that goes on in my in-ear monitors and I want to let everyone know that no-one escapes my scrutiny. The exchange is good-natured. Spider comes up to me, in defense of Jem.

‘Do you know what the smallest room is?’

‘No,’ I say.

‘The mushroom,’ he says. Then: ‘Do you know what the biggest room is?’

‘I don’t.’

‘Room for improvement.’

Backstage before the show there’s the Mayor of Baltimore, Martin J O’Malley. Some people say he’s got future POTUS written all over him. He talks in soundbites and has one printed on his t-shirt: something like ‘Baltimore. Let’s Do It’. He’s dressed down pretty radically, in, I think, a jean-jacket, but his head is a pol’s, the way Tony Blair’s head is one of those: the televisual contours of the haircut, the twinkling eyes and the smile-lines and the bleached teeth. He wants us to know he’s in a band too. He plays guitar in O’Malley’s March which I find out he’s disbanding in order to become ‘laser focused on getting our State moving in the right direction again.’ He’d love to keep playing, but ‘a vocation is a “yes” that requires a thousand “no’s.”’ That sort of thing. He’s gobsmacked to meet Shane. He shakes all our hands.

I implore Nora to get Martin O’Malley on film for the documentary, but whenever he’s in the room, she’s not, and vice versa – to the point that it’s suggested that Nora is in fact, herself, the Mayor of Baltimore.

Off the dressing room is the production office, and off the production office (where Nora discovers Terry apparently talking to himself, not seeing Joey lying under the table that runs along the wall of the small room) is a balcony over the stage. Frank’s girlfriend (I can’t remember her name) has a hard time making her presence felt on the side of the production office door she doesn’t want to be on, knowing that Frank is more likely than not on the side of the door she does want to be on, so I give the door a few kicks to attract her paramour’s attention and then go off to do what I was on my way to do.

The trouble, later on, is also that the door from the production office to the balcony overlooking the stage is lockable too. Ella and Nora find themselves up on the balcony, one of them watching, waiting for her moment to go downstairs and get up on stage for Fairy Tale of New York, the other filming. When it comes time for Ella to go downstairs, she turns around to open the door back into the production office and can’t get back in. There’s a panic about what to do. Nora and Ella entertain the idea of having a microphone thrown up in order that Ella may, opera-fashion, have Shane serenade her while she sings to him from the balcony.

I’m told Juliette Lewis is in the audience. Where do I hear this? On a bootleg recording which comes out pretty sharply after the show, I’m told she can be heard giving out about something.

During the gig, there’s some rambunctiousness in the audience, or it might be someone shouting out: ‘My name is MacRua and I don’t give a fuck about your rules,’ or something, to which Shane replies: ‘Shut up!’

Again, Shane conducts us all in ‘Broad Majestic Shannon’ with broad majestic sweeps of his arms.

There’s a girl in front of Spider in the audience, Louise tells me afterwards, devoted to him, gazing up at him, all the way through the gig, up until Spider dedicates Tuesday Morning to Louise, whereupon the girl abruptly shifts her devotion and gazing to me.

We successfully play ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’ much more slowly that we’ve been doing. The accordion figure in the song has become so hard to play with any clarity at the speed we’ve been playing it. Jem and I huddle round Andrew’s drums so we can get the tempo right.

Darryl dedicates the gig we’ve just done to Eartha Kitt. Backstage someone asks, ‘Why? Is she dead?’ But Darryl’s intention was to celebrate a woman who spoke out against the Vietnam War, and at a White House luncheon too, and was blacklisted thereafter by the U.S. entertainment industry for her trouble.

Afterwards, there’s food laid out on the tables in the dressing room. I sit exhausted next to Andrew and drink plastic pint glasses of vodka and cranberry juice (why is it I always have to search for the vodka and always find it where Joey’s been?) while Shane gives out to Nora and me, though I’m all the way across the room and can’t hear a thing, other than the words ‘Khmer Rouge’, while he waves chicken satay around, still on its skewer and on the end of a fork.

Twenty-fourth installment, March 11, 2006
Giant Zippo Lighter

We’re leaving for Atlantic City at eleven or something and we all congregate in the sunshine outside the hotel, to sit on the low wall along the sidewalk. Outside the hotel, sitting on the wall where I met Ross the night the band got in from London, there’s a woman smoking a cigarette, barefoot in track suit pants and t-shirt. Her makeup is everywhere and her face is the colour of raspberry and polenta and her hair is wild. I remember her from the hotel last night, where, it comes back to me, I had yet another sticky vodka and cranberry, sitting with Shane and a couple of others of us in the multicoloured alcove in the bar. This woman and a couple of her friends came over to sit with us. Whoever else was there peeled off and left myself and Shane. I was too tired to stay up and made my apologies and wondered if I should be leaving Shane with strangers, but then I figured he’s left himself with strangers many a time before and he’s a big boy now. This morning, the woman recognizes me from the night before and wants to tell me what a great guy Shane is, how long they stayed up with him, and is at pains to assure me that she and her friends, though they might have kept him up until six in the morning when the breakfast staff came in to set up, guided Shane back to his room, respectful of his value, somehow, and privacy. With a gesture that’s meant to let me know she was aware of boundaries (a sort of hand-raising, hands-off, he’s-on-his-own sort of gesture) she lets me know that at no point did she entertain the idea of accompanying Shane into his room, satisfied with the performance of some sort of duty, to Shane and the band and the tour schedule or something. I thank her for delivering him safely to his room.

The bus is idling in the street, double parked for the meantime, with its hazard lights going. We load up our luggage in the holds under the bus and sit around taking photographs of one another, sitting on the low wall, or in the sunshine, or sitting in the open hold of the bus, waiting, because Shane and Joey and Sean Fay, Ross tells us, are going to be some time. It’s the transition thing again.

Philip tells us that the hotel we’re staying in in Atlantic City is likely to provide $500 to each of us for the purposes of gambling. It’s going in my pocket.

Jem and Darryl and Ella and Philip set themselves up in the back lounge. Jem’s got his lap-top out, finishing off grant applications. Both Ella and Darryl are reading what’s turned out to be the tour’s required reading matter: Vernon God Little. There seem to be more copies of this book around that there are people who want to read it. Now and again, in her corner by the window, feet curled up under her on the seat, Ella laughs out loud at something in the book. Darryl gets up to go to his stash of curry-in-a-box that he’s bought from Wholefoods for the trip.

I sit down at the front of the bus, with Shane and Joey and Sean Fay eventually, and Spider and Louise. Ross and Andrew go to the bunks. Terry’s riding postillion next to the driver, Jeff – or Mike? Jeff.

We have a look at some of Sean’s photographs. Because of the low light at the venue, many of them are long exposure and prone to swirls and Francis Baconesque heads and stuff.

The DVD player’s a problem. Shane and Joey want to watch A Mighty Wind, which has been found in the machine, but the machine will only play the film with the commentary, and will only resume where the previous viewer had left off, some other band before us I suppose. All manner of solutions are thrown about, in a range of deliveries from painstakingly patient to just vitriolic, and with a range of effects from constructive to obfuscatory. This goes on for some time, with the screen alternating between set-up menus and satellite searches, the place where the film has been paused and the main menu. Getting the sodding film to play occupies our brains for at least an hour. Jeff the driver finally has to pull over off the turnpike to sort it out. A Mighty Wind is the sort of film you’d like to laugh at a lot more than you do.

The conversation turns to the manufacture of methamphetamine, somehow. Shane is sceptical that it can be manufactured – as Louise has proposed, after watching a tv documentary which pretty much tells you how to do it – in the bath, from cold remedies. Shane bitterly challenges Louise to make some. I do hope she doesn’t, because I saw a similar documentary – possibly the same one, except with Will Lyman narration, on PBS Frontline – and, well, I don’t want to be lifted from my bed in the middle of the night from the explosion.

We spot the Borgata from the Expressway, not that we know at this point that that’s what it is, until Ross, sensing its proximity, as he’s been known to do when we’re within thirty of forty minutes of the venue, or simply being woken up from his bunk by the phone, since it’s getting to be toward that time in the day when people are expecting us, appears through the mirrored door from what I suppose you might call the ‘dormitory’, to duck down and give his environment a gander through the window. Andrew describes the Borgata Hotel and Casino as a giant Zippo lighter, and that’s what it looks like – a huge, glinting, divorced-in-every-way-from-its-surroundings-except-by-virtue-of-the-gravity-which-fixes-it-to-the-earth, block of cheesily reflecting windows, rounded at each end. Already there’s a heavy Soprano-vibe emanating from it. It’s the colour of cheap gilt – paste jewelry.

We go straight into its bowels. Though Ross tries every day to have us leave our things on the bus for bellmen to distribute (since the first reunion tour in 2001, there have been numbered tags on our suitcases – Shane is Number 1 – to assist bellmen in getting the right piece to the right room), I don’t trust this system and haul my suitcase off and up the ramp into the back of the Borgata. Inside it’s an unearthly maze of wide corridors with dado rails and baseboards of scuffed metal, through which we have to be herded, to the dressing room, to the staff cafeteria, to the stage, everywhere. Everywhere we go, we have to ask someone how to get there and wait while sufficient of us who want to do the same thing sort of congeal in a corridor somewhere, around a woman with a head-set and curly wire coming from her ear, or in the vicinity of a guy called Cowboy, a pyknik bouncer in a black polo-shirt, whose neck is as wide as his scalloped head.

The stage is an ample one, which is nice for the roving and the launching and the shit that I do. The drum riser is sufficiently high off the ground to think about jumping off. Out in the auditorium, the walls are draped with some sheer material onto which and all around is projected a submarine landscape, through which, alluringly, a mermaid or something swims, with slow-moving, liquid silk swatches draping her curves. Later on, on top of each doorway into the auditorium, there are dancing girls in silhouette cavorting in the folds. I wonder if this sort of shenanigans is going to continue through the gig.

We get staff caff passes and go and eat. There are cocktail waitresses in there in minuscule dresses and lustrous pantyhose getting their dinners, and engineers in overalls. I don’t see a solitary croupier, unless I don’t know what to look for. The staff cafeteria is a curvy sort of place, with televisions up on the walls and beaded metal curtains around a feature or two. The food is shite and it’s kind of hard to get it down. I look for water, and ask, but can’t make myself understood. ‘Water’ is one of the hardest words in english to get across to an american, and it’s even harder, oftentimes, to get it across to an american resident alien. And, of course, it comes back to me: it’s the tiny little unmarked spigot that’s lost in the rank of opulent spouts that gush with Pepsi, Sprite, Coke, Dr Pepper’s, 7-Up from the machine against the wall.

I go up to the room for a bit. It’s on the 23rd floor. There’s a large piece of luggage that isn’t mine in the room, up against the wall, with a number 8 on it. I take out the rooming list from the envelope we get whenever we check into a hotel, and have a look to see whose it is, and am about to lift the phone, when the door knocks and it’s Louise who is going about bringing the right luggage to the right rooms. Seems the bellman has gone through the list, distributing the suitcases, by means of the wrong column of numbers.

My window overlooks a gale-blown marsh with inlets. Over to the east, I suppose it is, standing on the edge of a wind-scuffed and wintry channel, there’s Harrah’s Casino and the Trump Marina, with a huge television screen, the only colour in the otherwise drab, rainswept estuary, right at the turn of the Atlantic City Expressway, advertising Kansas for April 1st, plus also the chance yeah whatever to win $100,000 and so on, and guaranteeing 80% chances of return on your bets at the casino – Andrew deconstructs this at one point into stumping up $100, to get back $80, to ante up $80 to get back $64, and so on, until you leave the place without a penny or fuck all. We didn’t get Philip’s anticipated $500 betting money when we checked in. I won’t miss it.

We have to meet outside Ross’s room – well, outside the service elevator – to meet with Cowboy and another squat bouncer whose arms won’t hang flat at his sides, who are going to escort us down to the innards of the hotel to the dressing room, in the direction of which we move, almost peristaltically, to where Shane and Joey have been whiling away the time.

We go on stage. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to say this and I’m glad it turns up: I walk up to the microphone and say, ‘How did all these people get into Shane’s room?’ It’s a reference to Sinatra at the Sands in 1966.

The gig? No idea how that goes. The shows all sort of blend into one, after a while – well, after two shows so far. We play the same set each show, except we replace ‘Rain Street,’ which has come to sound, to my ears, just repetitive, with ‘Boys From The County Hell,’ Jem’s banjo-intro to which, from time immemorial, is tense with willing him not to fuck it up. Now and again, people throw up suggestions: you know, since we’re in the USA, why don’t we do ‘USA?’ That sort of thing. Nah.

When I’m standing in front of the drums, I can feel the regular puff of air against my legs that comes from the hole in Andrew’s bass drum where the mike goes.

Three shows in, and the knees of my newish suit (from Arnott’s Bargain Basement in Dublin) are still intact.

Backstage are Ramona, whom we haven’t seen for fifteen years or more and who exudes a welcome temperateness, and her friend Mawn who’s very comely in a green tank-top and a jean-skirt. They hang around in the dressing room for a while, talking to Darryl. I leave with the three of them with the intention of finding a bar somewhere and on the way out happen to notice Shane’s scrawled signature in the vicinity of Mawn’s right papillary stud.

Cowboy advises us that the best place in the Casino to hang out and drink beer, and a place to have ‘a quiet conversation’ would be the B-Bar. I tell Darryl, Ramona and Mawn and whoever else is around that I’ll meet them there. I go up to my room, by the half-remembered tortuous route we got down to the dressing room, jogs in corridors, service elevators and such. I have to ring my family and it’s maybe twenty minutes before I go back downstairs, to the cacophony of the Casino floor which I haven’t seen at all yet, moving as we have by means of the hidden vascular system that pumps servants in and around the building. The only hint I’ve had up until now of the heart of the beast has been the mysteriously beckoning upward escalators from some part of the behind-the-scenes up into the ringing, crashing, chirruping Casino floor. And this is where I find myself, coming down in the elevator and out through the doors of the residents’ seating area – the Living Room, I think it’s called.

I spend a while walking round, looking for the B-Bar and taking in the black-jack, roulette, craps tables and the festively singing slot machines and the manifestly miserable fuckers who are sitting at them, in front of them. The croupiers all have machines to dispense cards and the roulette wheels are mechanized and all the equipment seems new, and behind them, there are guys in suits standing at computer screens who seem to be trading knowing looks with others at other computer screens. There’s a fat guy with beard and yarmulke and tallit, pinned by the weight of his stomach against the back of his seat at a black jack table, smoking and sullen. There’s a Philippino guy with a spray-stiffened purple-black wave in his hair, turning his whiskey around on the baize, tense and inner. Oh, god, this is a miserable place. I pass a counter with a rank of plate-glass windows with the word ‘Redemption’ over the top of it.

The B-Bar is crashing with music and it’s back-to-back, shoulder-to-shoulder in there. I shuffle around the bar. I can’t see anyone I know and get hailed by a bunch of Pogues fans at a table. I refuse a drink because there’s nothing much that wants to keep me there. I don’t want to be rude, but the Borgata is getting to me. I shake a few hands and talk for a while, well, shout, really, over the noise, then wander about a bit through the Casino looking for the hotel elevators.

Twenty-fifth installment, March 12, 2006
Ormulu perm

I’m up early, again. I sweep aside the curtains, to reveal the sodden Atlantic City fen, sheeted with rain blowing off the channels, occasionally hissing against the window. It can’t be so early that I don’t think it’s properly light yet, but then it’s so wintrily solsticial out there. I get dressed and go down for breakfast. Outside the lift on the 23rd floor, in the black sand of the ashtray, is a glass with a glacé cherry in it. It’s been there since we got to the hotel.

Downstairs in the Casino it seems to be business as usual, about as noisy in there as it was last night, except that the bars are more or less empty. The Borgata Buffet has a line in front of the reception desk – well, two lines: one for ‘black card’ holders, whatever they are, and one for everyone else. It’s manned – womanned – by a Latina with mauve, hooded, reptilian eyes and frosted hair. She wafts me to a table. Once I’ve got my breakfast, such as it is, I have a look around. There’s 9 carat, if that, bling everywhere. There’s a woman at a table across from me, with a couple of other people, in an Adidas tracksuit, with an ormolu perm, Chanel shades, a hefty ring on pretty much every finger and weighed down with a fat necklace. A lot of the people around me, and it’s busy in here, are grotesquely fat, and out on the casino floor you can see them propped up with their great bellies on the stools in front of the slots with their buckets. I can hear a lot of languages – what sounds eastern european here and there, japanese, new jersey. There are Christophers, Adriannas, Janices, Paulies and Juniors everywhere you look.

I go out for a walk afterwards out of the revolving door and along the approach road that sweeps up from – somewhere, the Expressway probably – with a wall, lined by small fir trees, each one held upright by four hawsers set in the ground, against the wind that blows in from the Atlantic across the slough. But it turns out there’s nowhere to walk to. You get a view of the pilings which is the first phase of construction of more Borgata Casino and Spa, and then – there’s no point in continuing. I’m heading toward the Expressway and with only road pavement to walk on. I turn back around to the front doors, where there’s a kind of reception atrium, I suppose you’d call it, in front of the main doors to the Casino, and limo after limo draws up under it, car upon car, wafted this way and that by traffic operatives, all wrapped up against the cold. It’s a Sunday.

At the appointed time, I come down from my room, well, earlier, to check out, because I’ve seen the line, but then, while I’m standing there knowing it’s going to take much longer than I accounted for, I spot the express checkout, where you fill something in on the back of the little wallet thing your key comes in and drop it into a slot. I peel out of the line, and then come across Ross, whose got a sheaf of extras bills that he’s paid already because he thinks ahead more than pretty much anyone I know, with the exception of my wife.

On the bus there is talk about the previous night. Turns out that there were Pogues in the B-Bar the night before: Andrew, Shane, Joey, Sean, Nora (I think, without camera, because she was apprehended by casino security the evening before on the casino floor, filming, and, I think I’m right in saying, relieved of her equipment for the night), the nieces – Michaela McCafferty and another I can’t remember the name of – and a couple of friends, of Patsy O’Hara, the third hunger striker to die in H Block in 1981, and family members of a guy that died on Bloody Sunday. Joey and Shane and Andrew get on the bus. Andrew still has his suit on which isn’t a good sign. They’ve been up most of the night if not all of it talking with the O’Hara contingent in the bar.

‘It was a very explosive conversation,’ Joey says.

The O’Hara family have offered Shane and Joey a lift in their limo up to New York, but they’ve declined.

We drive past the marshland on the way out of Atlantic City.

‘That’s where they dump the bodies,’ Shane says.


‘The Mafia.’

‘Pushing up the reeds,’ says Joey.

‘Rub me up the wrong way,’ Joey says later, ‘and I’ll rub you out the right way.’

We stop for something to eat at a hideous food court, somewhere, on the Garden State Parkway, probably. It’s miserable barn with sulphurous tiling on the floor and lavender-coloured tubular beams holding the roof up. You eat in the middle of the space, having chosen what you want from Sbarro’s, Panda Express, Starbucks, that sort of thing, which are ranged around it. Spider and I get coffee and stand around talking about the Borgata and American culture and the Founding Fathers and Puritans and the Declaration of Independence and Babylon and Mammon and shit. We sort of drift toward the exit, and hang around on the steps outside, still going on about it, him taking a micro view and myself taking a more or less macro one, until Ross tells us that we’re the last people on the bus and we have to go.

We drive into Manhattan out of the Holland Tunnel with Exile on Main Street blasting in the front parlour of the bus. It’s a perfect record to listen to coming into this city, somehow.

The bus pulls up on Essex round the corner from the hotel, because the pinched streets won’t let a bus park up. This time, Ross has managed to ring ahead to get the bellman to meet us with a hotel trolley, but nonetheless, I pick up my luggage from outside the bellman’s little room and take it upstairs.

Once I get into the room (Andrew, who’s in the room next to mine, and I spend a bit of time not understanding the fact that you just have to wave the key card in the vicinity of the plate with the room number on it to operate the lock) I find it’s nice enough, in an understatedly over-designed sort of way, with a metal balcony and a view, between the buildings, of a bit of the Williamsburg Bridge. The bed has one of those memory foam mattresses that molds itself to your shape. There’s a kind of vertigo involved in lying down on it. There’s small clear plastic box of sex toys in the minibar.

I’m supposed to go up to a fund-raiser for St Brigid’s Church overlooking Tompkins Square Park, whose demolition by the Archdiocese is being resisted by the neighbourhood. I have a tour poster signed by everyone for auction, but it’s late, and Terry who said he’d come up to the fund-raiser with me is shagged out, holed up in his room, with his supply of boiled sweets, presumably, plus also I’m hungry and the light’s fading. I go down in the lift, with the poster in my backpack, with every intention, almost, of going to the fund-raiser and then going on to see a friend play in the orchestra at a review of some kind at a place called the Deitch gallery in SoHo afterwards, but I come across Andrew in the bar, still in his suit. He’s waiting for Darryl. They’ve arranged to meet at six to go to dinner. By the time Darryl arrives, giddy from the experience of yanking his balcony door off its hinges and managing to put it back on, I’m on my third marguerita and Andrew’s finishing up his second. We have already remarked what an improvement to the day the first one made.

I have dinner at Inoteca across the road from the hotel with Darryl and Andrew and – I’m sorry the three margueritas have put paid to my short term memory, and I can’t remember who else is with us. Andrew and I get into a comedy of ordering a bottle of wine, a lot of which, when it comes, I suppose I drink, then see the time and have to go off to the SoHo gallery and leave twenty dollars on the table.

I have every intention of walking to SoHo but when I come out of the restaurant I’m all turned around and have no idea which direction I should take, so I ring my wife back in Los Angeles to ask her directions. Well, she used to go to NYU and I figure she knows the lay of the land better than I do.

‘Get a taxi,’ she says. So, I get a taxi, but it turns out the taxi driver has even less idea of where I want to go than I do, unless my powers of communication are shitter than I think and he ends up dropping me off two or three blocks from the gallery after an altercation.

The review is bizarre. There’s a bank of Astroturf up the back of the stage, on one side of the gallery, and rope swings and a sort of pagola and some fairy lights, and on the other side of the gallery, up on a raised floor, the orchestra: The Citizens Band – piano, violin, percussion, upright bass, I think, guitar, trumpet, trombone maybe. My friend, the guy I’ve come to meet, is playing the guitar. The orchestra are all wearing white shirts. Some of them have little goat horns growing out of their foreheads and all are white with make up, with kohl around their eyes. I spend a lot of the time rocking from my heels to the balls of my feet, craning to see over the heads of the audience and trying to keep standing up. Among the performers are Rain Phoenix as a dusky sort of romany gypsy, or so it comes across to me, Karen Elson, Angela McCluskey. More or less halfway through, I peel off to the complimentary bar to top up with a vodka and cranberry.

I hang about outside afterwards getting some fresh air and wait for Mark (McAdam – the guitar player in the band) and Rain and Mark’s friend, Kit. We get in a taxi and go off to Otto on 5th St and 8th Ave to meet with Kieran and Dermot Mulroney and Eric, a friend of ours, and an attorney (who I’m sure is called Bill), Kit, Rain, Mark. I drink glass upon glass of wine there until a presentiment of how lovely it would be to sink into my memory foam mattress comes upon me. The guys help me into a cab and I need help.

When I get back to my room, I fill up the enormous bath. Afterwards, I have a certain amount of difficulty with the curtains and eventually give up with them.

Twenty-sixth installment, March 13, 2006
Senior discount on the Catalina Ferry.

I wake up in broad daylight, diagonal on the bed. It takes me a while to get some sort of traction on the day and when Terry sees me this morning, he says: ‘You need a slice of lemon for each eye.’ I go with him and Darryl for breakfast at the Pink Pony on Ludlow Street, where I have pancakes and fruit and coffee and juice and a bottle of fizzy water. Terry talks lovingly about the banjo he bought in Washington DC. I think Jos came across a second-hand shop and happened to mention it to Terry. They both went round there to have a look, and in the store, to Terry’s almost mystical amazement, is a banjo he’s been looking for for thirty, maybe forty years: an Ome banjo. Ome banjos were the reincarnation of Ode banjos, when Charles Ogsbury revived the manufacture of them when Ode went bump, presumably. Terry talks deliciously about his preference for a wooden resonator over a metal one, when it comes to frailing, at which he’s one of the masters. There was a certain amount of inner conflict when it came to buying the banjo, with the cost being as it was, but then he’d been looking for such an instrument for years. Each afternoon, off the bus to the hotel, you see him carrying the instrument, in its case, covered in a material redolent somehow of a card-sharp’s suit, into the hotel and I know there’s going to be a far-away look in his eyes while he plays it sitting, probably, on the edge of the bed. I’ve seen him play a mandolin in a hotel room and he’s gone, just gone.

Darryl’s, Terry’s and my conversation turns to – what, middle age or something? I don’t know. Darryl’s been beset for a while with osteological unhappinesses – a recurring knee thing, basically, for which he takes shark cartilage tablets. He also takes calcium tablets, and supplemental A and D vitamins.

‘When you get to a certain age...’ he says.

After breakfast I walk around the neighbourhood, out through the heavy red velvet curtains at the front door of the hotel, and a couple of bellmen to each side of them. The Lower East Side used to be pretty much a no-go area – at least, you’d have to be on the qui-vive when we were here last, particularly after nightfall, but now the successive gentrifying waves have swept through the place and the hotel we’re staying in is a glass-fronted specimen of such gentrifaction. The neighbourhood generally is tenements and fire-escapes, luggage shops and leather jacket emporiums and clothes shops, delis, that sort of thing – but then you have Moby’s tea shop down the street and trendy restaurants like Schiller’s.

Down the street there’s the First Roumanian-American Congregation Synagogue, or what’s left of it. Behind boards and beyond the rubble of bricks and beams and rubble, there’s the exposed interior of it, with the candlesticks and the reading platform and the stained glass windows at the back. There’s a ceiling-high blue tarpaulin over where I presume the ark is, was, I don’t know, because it’s weird that the demolition company should have started work on the place already without taking all this stuff out, until I find out that on an afternoon in January, the place just fell in on itself. Outside on the sidewalk, there’s a concrete Star of David weighting down the supports of the board-fence.

I go and sit on a bench in the park between Chrystie and Forsyth Streets and scribble for a while and watch a dog waddle, due to a grotesque testicular issue, down the walkway. On my way back to the hotel there’s someone hurling extemporaneous, blood-curdling screams from a window in one of the high rises off Allen St, that cause everyone on street level, pedestians at the instersection, the ConEdison workers in hard hats, me, to look up to try and discern which window they’re coming from and ponder if the scenario might require us to gather beneath it with a sheet stretched between us.

In the afternoon I go off to rehearse with the Cranky George Trio at Mark McAdam’s apartment on Allen. It was Dermot’s idea to do a Cranky George Trio gig in New York. He and Kieran were going to be coming to a couple of the Pogues’ shows at the Nokia Theater in any case, and Dermot sort of just put it out there, got in touch with Mark McAdam, whom we know through shamelessly exploiting his facility with and ownership of a computer with ProTools and a ton of instruments, percussion, stuff, a couple of years ago, when we recorded a sort of demo in Dermot’s garage. Mark soon came back with a gig at the Parkside Lounge, where he plays on a fairly regular basis. There’s something almost puppyish, doggedly puppyish sometimes, about Dermot’s optimism, which comes out in the way he plays too.

It’s hot in Mark’s apartment, and confined: we have to be careful passing instruments around from one to the other in case we ding one of them. We’re all hung over. Kieran and Dermot stayed up drinking with Eric until five this morning.

Afterwards, I go off to meet my wife at the hotel. She’s flown over from Los Angeles this afternoon. We have dinner at Schiller’s and then I go off to meet up with Kieran and Dermot at the Parkside Lounge. I’m the first one there. Mark has told me that we would have the back room to ourselves to soundcheck, but when I get there, there’s a bunch of country musicians standing Down-From-The-Mountain fashion round a Neumann microphone, or some such. Dermot turns up with the first taxi full of gear – cello-height stool, guitar, cello, hi-hat, mandolin, gig-bag and then shortly after, Kieran and Brad with ukuleles, fiddle, amps, bass. It takes us a while to get all the crap off the sidewalk and into a little room at the back with someone posted as look-out. The country band play and sing to a couple of tables of friends until twenty five past nine. Showtime for us is ten. Andrew strolls in. I’m not sure if he looks rested, but he looks clean.

‘Oh,’ he says. ‘I’m not late? I thought it started at nine.’

By ten to ten the place is full. The sound engineer is glacial and immune to disquietude. He takes his time figuring out what inputs he has against the number of DI’s and mikes and stuff we need. His desk – such as it is: a box with Carlin or Peavey on the front, set on the wall – is at the front of the room, hard by the stage, up to which he saunters, to twist a knob and then to trudge all the way back, between the tables and the people, to hear what the twist did. The customary divide between setting up and actually performing – well, there is none, really, though we gather for a minute or two in the little corridor where the toilets are behind the stage, and commit ourselves to the ritual meeting of hands, the praising of God, and agreeing upon whom we’re going to prevail to buy us a round, that sort of thing.

It’s a ramshackle gig, and one where my heart’s in my fucking mouth the whole time, because Jem and Marcia and Ella and Kitty are sitting at the front right under my nose, virtually, with Andrew and Spider and Louise, and Philip at a table to the side, sitting with a friend, and Terry and Darryl at the back, and my wife, Danielle, and a couple of friends, sitting with Steve Buscemi at the back. And I spot Sarah Vowell and Edward Norton Jr and a very vociferous Martha Plimpton. Neither Shane nor Joey show up, which is a vague disappointment but kind of expected. I had asked Shane to come, but it’s best not to count on such things.

Halfway through the set, Mark McAdam shows up in his white shirt and black suit from his show at the Deitch gallery, the one I saw last night, with hastily rubbed off make-up.

‘Ah,’ says Dermot. ‘The fifth member of the band. The trio is complete.’

A lot of the words to the songs I sing I’ve never been able to commit to memory and it’s difficult to read them from the music stand with my head up to sing into the microphone, so I bugger up a few of the lines. I’m fifty-one, that’s my excuse – three years away from a senior discount on the Catalina Ferry, if I should ever care to go there.

The stage is such a mess that at one point I drag a cable free from the wrack of cables at the back of the stage to give myself some slack for the guitar and tip a pint of beer over onto the towel I’ve brought from the hotel because, since the beginning of my Pogues career, my pores tend to open the instant I play a note.

After the show, I’m able, finally, to hand over the signed tour poster to Paul Dougherty (brother of Peter, who directed the video of Fairy Tale of New York) for the benefit of St Brigid’s Church.

Twenty-seventh installment, March 14, 2006
Oversexed golliwog on the box.

It’s Einstein’s birthday. I just happen to know that.

We have to wait a long time out in the street for Shane and Joey to come out of the hotel. We go into the candy store opposite. Philip buys a bag of his favourite American candy, which I can’t remember the name of, but which is a matter of pink and white torpedoes filled with liquorice. I buy English toffee, which gets a laugh from a couple of people, who don’t know how not English English toffee is.

Shane and Joey are still not out yet, so some of us go off to have very strong coffee in a corner coffee house. Marcia and Ella and Jem and Darryl are talking in a huddle outside the candy store. Philip and Terry are already on the bus. Andrew, I’m not sure where he is. When we’ve finished our coffee, we come out into the spring sunshine and Shane and Joey are still in the hotel. I’ve had breakfast already this morning, but, with the lateness of the hour, I’m beginning to feel doom-laden about the prospect of sitting on a bus for four or five hours getting hungrier and hungrier, because it looks like we’re not going to get to Boston until six or something. We’re down with this waiting around these days. It’s just what you have to do. Time was, I remember, one or other of us releasing gravel against MacGowan’s window like shot, again and again, waiting for the bellowing head to appear through it, then sitting on the minibus wondering how much wiggle-room we had, then repeating the cycle, and then, finally, the minibus full of recriminations, off to Holyhead, I don’t know how many hours, to see, as we rounded a hill or something, the plume of smoke rising from beyond the horizon, of the ferry we’d been booked on. Oh, we’d all get so botherated. We’re either older or more zen-like about it, or it might just be a matter that we’re not, shall we say, as open to scrutiny as we were.

The bus is separated by ranks of bunks into the quiet reading/sleeping room at the back where Jem and Ella, Darryl and Philip hang out – Jem oftentimes with his computer, completing applications for funding for his work; Philip oftentimes with his computer, because, sporadically, he can get a wi-fi network connection; Darryl reading the at-the-present de rigueur reading matter – and the cacophonous, contentious, smoke-filled, and sometimes squalid den at the front where Joey sits opposite Shane at a table which is covered in materials – ashtrays, a bottle of white zinfandel (not rosé, as someone on the Pogues website identified it), plastic cup of I don’t know, gin or vodka, hotdogs and a shed-load of cheese.

Spider and Louise tend to be found up in the front of the bus too, and Sean Fay, slide-showing photographs or mending a faulty power cable (jumping up to the roll of kitchen paper by the sink in the galley because the knife he’s using slips from the problematic connection into his finger). Joey moves about rummaging in his luggage, getting something from somewhere, giving out about something the while, sending retorts to Shane, crouching down into a squat in front of me to talk to me about something he doesn’t want anyone else to hear, then sitting heavily back down in his place, shirt buttons tight across his chest.

It gets hot on the bus and Joey divests himself of his shirt. The tattoo on his shoulder reads ‘DEATH IS CERTAIN’. He cools himself with a battery-operated fan, bowing to blow the back of his neck. His body is lard-white and his hair at his nape sticks in kiss-curls with the sweat. Shane sits under the tv in the corner, head craned back at what must be an excruciatingly uncomfortable angle to see up at the screen, feet out in the aisle, one of them moving continuously from some inner restlessness. He nods out from time to time. Then wakes up to tilt back to look up at the telly. Then he nods out again, with a foot up on the seat and his hand dangling between his thighs with a smouldering cigarette between his fingers, whose contact with his skin through a burning hole in his pants causes him to re-awaken with a sort of puzzled ‘Aaah! Aaah!’ and a sort of furious accusatory glowering about the den that seeks to implicate us in a general negligence or something. The burning wakes him up again, for a bit, while he cranes his neck back, to nod off and, and so on.

Spider and Louise ply me with questions about ‘Drunken Boat’, if the verse that has the lyrics ‘you wouldn’t expect that anyone would go and fucking die’ was about Paul Verner, our lighting man who died of alcoholism in October 1991. It is. The whole song’s about us and the people round us, I suppose, when we were doing what we were doing. The verse could also have been about Dave Jordan too, but I wrote it two years before his death. It could also have been about Charlie McLennan. Could have been about any one of us, I suppose.

Terry rides up front, as he has done on any bus that I can remember (except for a tour bus in Germany I think it was that didn’t have provision for riding postillion, and Terry was forced to sit further back up the bus, without a clear view of the front window, causing him a deal of distress. I can still see him, in his hat, staring out of the window, aching to be somewhere else). Terry just likes to sit up front, saying nothing to the Jeff the driver, who assists in such things as troubleshooting the dvd player and is generally expected to be found standing by, watching, as we jostle and bang suitcases together and duck down to the hold underneath the bus to wrangle our luggage out to haul it off into the hotel or into the venue. Jeff doesn’t say much to any one of us. Neither Terry nor Jeff enter into any social congress at all up the front. It’s just Terry’s fuzzy dome framed by the front window, as it drinks up the road and the tollgates, the tunnels and the leafless trees, the twinkling marshes here and there, the clapboard hovels, the malls and smoking filtration plants.

Today, on the recalcitrant and arcane dvd player, it’s the Jimi Hendrix film, the one narrated by Alexis Korner. Louise asks me if hearing Hendrix for the first time was as life-changing as it seems to have been for many other people. I tell her the first time I heard and saw Hendrix was on Top of the Pops, which was a family-round-the-television event in our house – because, at the time, you could be guaranteed, at one end of the spectrum, something like Jim Reeves or Ken Dodd or Engelbert Humperdinck and, at the rebellious end, Cliff Richard. But the night Hendrix performed on Top of the Pops sent me into such a conflict with myself and with my fidelity to my parents’ world view and everything. Me, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I was adrenalized and outraged and fraught and embarrassed and – all those things, because I realized that, eventually, I kind of wanted to do what Hendrix was doing, play the guitar like that maybe, at the same time knowing that all my dad could see was an oversexed golliwog on the box.

After Hendrix, it’s the Cream’s farewell concert at the Albert Hall – and there’s no way this film cannot have been one of the prime sources for the script of Spinal Tap. I’m thinking of the interviews with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, creaking from lack of content, but particularly the one with Eric Clapton, with his sixties love-bug paintjob Strat and his Sgt Pepper moustache, and his elucidation of the intricacies of the circuitry of his pick-ups (‘It’s got four knobs.’) and his wah-wah pedal, and of course I’m waiting for him to explain woman tone, because it’s one of the sounds that wove through my adolescence, but I’m not waiting with bated breath, because, well, the explanation is going to be – well, boring after all, but when it comes, it is its irony-deficiency that’s jaw-dropping – well, how could it be otherwise I suppose? Afterwards I feel the need to say, out loud: ‘God is dead.’

After the Cream’s Final Concert, and after a certain amount of contentious toing and froing about whether or not gin or vodka makes the better dvd cleaner and Shane with a certain amount of authority having declared gin to be the better solvent in this regard, all the while Joey having pulled his shirt tail out and having given the dvd a wipe, Dirty Harry goes into the dvd player and I’m delighted to see, when the credits play, that Lalo Shifrin wrote the music, and I settle back into my corner. I have to struggle to hear the soundtrack – and I desperately want to hear, because the cheek-by-jowlness of the front den is beginning to get to me, with Joey moving about constantly, opening up a cupboard above the galley and releasing a cascade of plastic cups or waddling, against the motion of the bus, to get kitchen roll for a zinfandel spillage or wheezing the air in the seat covers next to me under his sudden arse because he wants to talk to me about something, or fishing noisily in paper bags looking for something to eat. Shane’s the same way too, but more sparing, or more selective. If he’s going to get up, there’s going to be an elaborate expenditure of effort to get out of the seat, with groans of protestation and bangs of the heels of his hands on the table top preparatory to elevation, a weary, botherated grunt and some lip-smackings, as if he were some old man having to let out the tiresome dog. If he’s going to open up the lid of some container just behind Jeff’s seat, for a bottle of vodka, or gin, or tonic, or whatever, he’s not just going to open it up enough to get whatever it is in there out. He opens it up the whole way so that the lid bangs against the woodwork partition behind Jeff’s head.

He gets up to go for a piss and staggers in his filthy coat to the toilet, where he needs assistance figuring out how to open the door because it’s rocker-switch-operated and slides open by means of the compressed-air system on the bus. I experience a bit of a sinking feeling that I realize it’s not going to be long before I need a piss too, because I’m going to have to go into the bog after Shane, and what with the motion of the bus and the unsteadiness of the pins and the Rain Street lyric...

The beginning of the film seems to be an almost Pavlovian cue for Shane and Joey to start disputing like fishwives, almost as if Dirty Harry were a backyard fence or something to give out about things over the top of. Someone the other day compared the two of them to Wilfred Brambell and Harry H Corbett . I’ve become used to a Los Angelean, overpriced cinema experience with darkness and hush and respectfulness and silenced cell phones and the banishment of candy wrappers, that’s what it is.

After Dirty Harry: Hannibal. Joey seems to be under the misapprehension that he’s one of the few people to have clocked the shape of Anthony Hopkins’ face the pigeons make on the piazza at the opening credits. He thumps his backside down on the seat next to me to tell me to pay attention to the pigeons. I notice that his teeth share more than a few attributes with cribbage pegs. Again, Hannibal becomes more or less another backyard fence, except, this time, and for someone who hasn’t seen the film before, never mind feeling the need for the space and distraction it could provide, the conversation is one I would just rather not have to hear, and they set to, talking about the sequences in the film that are the most laughably revolting and before long I know pretty much what I can expect to see.

We get to Boston and park up outside the Orpheum. It’s cold. Jeff is standing outside the bus watching us get off. I suspect him of low-grade contempt. We’re late, very late. Sound check was supposed to be at 3.00. It’s twenty to six. Paul Scully gives us the rounds of the kitchen, but he knows there’s nothing to be done and backs down.

I’m convinced that the building is moving, at least the cramped dressing room area; that it’s made of some flimsy material that makes it shift in slow temblors while I stand around with nowhere to sit. It gets like this, on the road, sometimes, when you can be standing having a piss or something and the ground you’re standing on becomes like a moving deck. So, I ask in a general sort of way, if the building’s moving and I’m laughed out of the house.

At the soundcheck I notice the Band-Aids on Andrew’s fingers.

‘Oh,’ he says ruefully, ‘There’s always something.’

I rarely understand what Shane says on stage. Sometimes he’ll look around after he’s said something – not for approval or anything, but to draw whoever he thinks is paying attention into some sort of conspiracy with him, but if he catches my eye, making the assumption, as I suppose one would, that I was, firstly, listening, and secondly, able to understand, neither of which I could say I am, I generally smile supportively at him and he seems to be satisfied, or whatever, or more to the point, he probably doesn’t give a flying fuck what I think about what he’s saying. Brokeback Mountain has tended to come up on this tour quite a bit. For example:

‘Anyone seen Brokeback Mountain?’ He waits for a bit, does a bit of stage business, then says:

‘Sex Pistols!’

Philip comes up to the microphone for ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ and says something like, ‘It’s great to be back in Boston!’ or wherever we are, and then: ‘How are you?’ or, more likely: ‘How’s it going?’ which is altogether more Irish, and then something like, ‘Are you enjoying yourselves?’ or some question that requires an answer in the affirmative. He gives audience the opportunity to scatteredly shout out the word, ‘Yes!’

‘Give me a “HELL, YEAH!”’ he demands.

It might be tonight that having lined up to go back on stage for the first of the two encores that I find myself on stage, up at Shane’s strange-tasting microphone (you just have to put your lips to it to say something, like ‘It’s great to be back in Boston!’ and the taste sort of escapes from the mesh into your mouth), but tonight, before I do, I happen to look round at my cohorts, to see that they’ve all hung back at the side of the stage, laughing and not coming on with me. A sort of giddiness runs through one, being in front of a couple of thousand people, on one’s own, at a microphone and then the daft idea of doing a Cranky George Trio song comes upon me and I go into a dither of should I/shouldn’t I? It’d be dead easy to go across, pick up Philip’s guitar and go into something. But I bottle out and the next thing I know, everyone’s on stage, grinning with mischief, after all I’ve been able to come out with has been ‘It’s great to be back in Boston!’ One night.

It’s wonderful to watch Andrew come striding up to the mike for ‘Star of the County Down,’ in his suit pants and his shirt a bit untucked. There’s something of the artisan about him, a smith on a night out or something, with his burred face and his sleeves rolled up.

‘This is for all the anarcho-lesbians in the audience,’ he says.

In the bit in ‘Star of the County Down’ where it breaks down and we leave Shane and Andrew singing the one note on the word ‘colle-e-e-en,’ Jem angles his guitar pick and drags it slowly all the way down, digging into the strings from the bridge to the nut, channeling Yngwie Malmsteen maybe, or Van Halen, or any one of them. You can hear the pick rasp on the winding, through all the harmonics, to end on the root chord. It’s a metal technique, but the way he goes about it, and the way he looks when he does it, with his wire wool hair and in his suit – pink shirt maybe, feet at ten-to-two – studying the action of the pick against the string winding, in his own zone, well, it’s just so wrong.

The snow in ‘Fairytale of New York’ is suds coming from a machine up in the lighting trusses. I mean, it looks well enough, except when it comes down in clots, but it leaves no opportunity to make snow angels, because it turns to slime on the stage. Spider says it’s like having industrial effluent sprayed over you.

I have a look at Ella’s face in Fairy Tale. She looks so sad when she comes to stand at the microphone, beautifully sad.

Afterwards, in the dressing room – well, the dressing room that Ella has taken for herself next to the doorless affair that we have (the act of taking off the doors intended, I suppose, by including the corridor outside, to render it more commodious) but which Joey has moved into by the end of the evening – Joey plugs in his boom-box and puts an Avril Lavigne CD on it. He’s very keen on Avril Lavigne. I point him in the direction of the song called ‘I’m With You’, which is a song, despite myself, I really like. (Joey rang me up last week. The first thing out of his mouth was, ‘I agree with you.’ ‘About what?’ I asked him. ‘About “I’m With You”, for a start,’ he said.) Leaving on the second bus back to the hotel (Philip and Terry are generally on the first), I can hear Avril Lavigne echoing down the stairwell behind me.

Twenty-eighth installment, March 15, 2006
Tears were shed for the Irish Famine.

I’m up early, waking to renovations going on in what seems to be a selection of hotel rooms at varying distances from mine. I find myself tuning in with detached curiosity, and with relief that it’s not any louder than a tapping that’s fairly benign, somewhere in the concrete. I listen to that for a bit. And then a hammering starts up, a little closer, reverberating throughout the hotel and, this early in the morning, with just the slightest of a hangover, it helps to form in your head a kind of architectural drawing of the building, the reinforced concrete skeleton of it or something. And then a drill starts up and seems intent on probing into the very core of the hotel, finding the acoustic quick of the building and turning its bit in it until the air’s full of Stygian singing. Well, of course, I get up and get dressed and fuck off out of there. Later, I find out that most of the renovation is at the front of the hotel (it’s curious how little of one’s surroundings one takes in – right outside the bloody revolving door there are scaffolding poles and cones and stuff), right outside Ross’s window. Ross is indignant, because the booking instructions that come from the travel agent specify that Ross is to be notified if renovations are expected during our stay. The hotel’s been booked for four months.

After breakfast in a café up the road from the hotel, I walk down to the Public Library. It’s bitterly cold, which is one of the things I remember about Boston from before, with snow in the air and mephitic rags of steam blowing from a pipe in the road on the corner of Huntington Ave and Belvidere St. Ger Scully put me onto the Public Library yesterday, telling me to go up to the 3rd floor. She’s breathless about the scale of the place, and the books they have. She’s starting designing costumes for a film going into production soon and, at the library yesterday, it seems she’s broken the back of a lot of the work she has to do. When I get there, I don’t find a 3rd floor. Turns out there’s more than just the one building that comprises the library. But I’m happy enough up in a huge reading room with long oak tables under a lamp with a green glass shade. I spend the rest of the day there.

While I’m gone, there’s a fire-alarm at the hotel. It rattles some of the touring party. Others simply ignore it; they’ve come across fire-alarms in the past – one notable one at the Radisson in Manchester, that had us out in the fucking back alley in the freezing cold at three in the morning and for no reason. On this occasion, in Boston, the starting up of the sirens and whooping claxons is the signal for Jem to get out his digital camera, to start to record, sound and moving picture, what’s going on. At some point in the afternoon/evening, we gather round the back of Jem’s camera to watch Jem and Ella’s genuinely frightful descent of the emergency staircase.

We go to do a soundcheck again. There’s a tiny alley behind the Orpheum that the minibus has a struggle getting into, riding the kerb because it’s so narrow. At the end of the alley is the back door to the place, with a rickety metal staircase up to the stage door where there’s an iron landing. Scully and Gerry and Murray are standing on this platform, waiting, smoking. There’s a kind of thrill in passing under the landing, beneath the soles of their feet, seeing their foreshortened shapes above, before we duck into the basement.

Jos likes to go shopping, it’s clear. Since the first couple of days there’s been a silvery plastic Chinese cat on the top of Philip’s amp. It waves its arm back and forth. In its paw there’s a guitar pick. I think it might be this evening that Jos has a sort of illuminated gum shoe in his mouth.

Dinner’s in the basement. It’s laid out in silver foil tureens on Sterno stoves. A conversation starts up as to whether or not ‘ab-’ is a prefix. I remember ‘ab’ from German, but have to assume that I have forgotten what it means, because I can’t get it to make sense in my head when it comes to a word like ‘abdomen’, which sounds kind of Latin. Nora has the phone number for a question-answering service in the UK, called Any Question Answered, which vaunts response to 80% of questions in five minutes and in five minutes her phone beeps, with the answer that ‘ab’ is a Latin prefix which means ‘away from’. This doesn’t completely satisfy us with regard to such words as ‘racadabra’, ‘attoir’, ‘ash’, ‘erdeen’ and ‘alone’.

A couple of cops come in. To their faces, the caterers tease them about being so young and, behind their backs drool, over the pretty one. The cops station themselves outside our dressing room. We think it might be something to do with the smoking, because there are warnings posted that say that the electricity will automatically shut off if the smoke sensors go off. So far nary a single smoke sensor has made a chirrup.

And then, as it often is, it’s back to the hotel for maybe an hour, to ring the family, wash a shirt or two and some underpants and socks, change into the suit, meet back in the lobby under the huge chandelier, wait for Philip oftentimes because he’s scooted back to the hotel right after dinner and has missed the assembly announcement, and then back to the Orpheum.

In the minibus, on the way back, Andrew’s bottle of water falls off his seat and into the stepwell with a heavy clunk.

‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘That’s my gun.’ I can’t tell if the driver stiffens a bit.

‘I left my gun back at the hotel,’ Spider says.

‘I left my gun in Shane’s room,’ I say.

‘I left my gun in Philip’s room,’ Darryl says, and for some reason this is the clincher.

There’s a deal of mystery surrounding Shane’s arrival at the Orpheum tonight. I’m lead to believe that, at this moment, Ross is not privy to his whereabouts. Ross tells us he’s been up to Shane’s room to wake him up and was so incapable of doing so that he began to consider the possibility that Shane might actually be dead.

There’s a newspaper open to a review of one of the shows in the minibus that, I think, Andrew has been reading from, the headline of which is: Spry Tunes, Band Buttress Shane (there has been a preponderance of reviews, so far, with this sort of analysis, which Andrew has synthesized in this way: ‘Shane was drunk. The band was great. Tears were shed for the Irish Famine.’).

‘He’s going to need a lot of buttressing if he’s dead,’ someone says. All of us find ourselves hurled back to the circumstances that prevailed in 1989 or 1990 or 1991 and again we consider the possibility of doing the show without him. Spider says that he can’t remember the words to Lullaby of London.

Nora asks what we’ll do if Shane doesn’t make it to the gig.

‘Drop Lullaby of London,’ Spider says.

Back at the hotel, I don’t think Ross starts up exactly pp, trying to wake Shane up, but it isn’t until he gets to ffffff, and right in front of his face, that, like Cesar in Dr Caligari’s cabinet, I’m thinking, Shane’s eyes finally snap open. Ross, thereafter, has to herd Joey in the direction of Shane’s room, and Sean Fay in the same direction, in order to have Shane herded in the direction of a minibus. They turn up at the Orpheum with all the air of holiday-makers who have been taken on the cynic route by a cab-driver.

I hear Joey recounting his day:

‘So, I spend the day resting up, having arranged for an alarm call, in good time: half an hour before it’s time to leave. We come down to the lobby, and get into the minibus, and so – here we are!’ I catch sight of Ross out of sight beyond the door post, smacking his fist into his palm.

I hear myself say, when Ross has gone off to do his work, ‘Ross is going to deck Joey.’

‘He’s not,’ Jem says and asserts that Shane, Joey and Ross are in some sort of magnetic attraction/repulsion relationship, none of them able to escape the other and that blows is not what it’s going to come to.

Before the show, I watch Sean, as Shane’s valet now, with a wet cloth, dabbing the lapels of Shane’s jacket and his tie and then to wiping his face. He moves on to combing Shane’s hair. Shane impatiently bats him off.

‘Leave me alone!’ he shouts.

Shane rides through the beginning of the set, on his wild-eyed, snorting steed, swinging his sabre, until If I Should Fall From Grace With God lies dismembered in the mud and then, maybe, if I remember rightly, he hacks down Turkish Song of the Damned and throws its corpse on top and maybe lops an ear off Sunnyside of the Street. Except, it’s not really like that, because we give good triage. It’s at moments like these that Terry tends to stroll up to Shane’s vicinity in order to both, I suppose, detect cues as they happen, and to generate ones of his own, to rein in the over-valiant cavalier. Plus also, there’s something undeniably chilling about Terry walking, and that slowly, into to one’s vicinity.

During the gig, Shane gives out about there being one law and only one law and that law is God’s law. I don’t know what he’s going on about either. Well, I kind of know what he’s going on about, but it’s the why that I don’t know.

I turn round, at some point, and see Shane’s edentate maw gaping open, while he sloshes zinfandel into the ruined opening. Most of it goes down his front and onto the floor round the base of his microphone.

After the show there’s pizza delivered, which seems to be getting to be a regular milestone in our day – boxes of them, all stacked up by the wall. Slices are distributed here and there. Shane gets a box to himself and it’s not long before he’s giving out about something, as if the open box were a lectern or something, his fingers crooked and pointing – with a slice of pizza caught in them. His forearms are orange from sauce.

Darryl asks the room: ‘Anyone got an opener?’

‘“You want to come back to my place,”’ Joey says. ‘That’s an opener. And a closer too.’

Down in catering, we meet with Simon (can’t remember his last name) whom we’d come across lots back in the day in the States. Then, he was a frank kid with swept back hair, blue eyes and an earnestness about him that didn’t tolerate neutrality. Now, he’s full-blown Hebrew, with a tangled beard he picks at, and a hat, coat and waistcoat, and Moishe his friend who wears a yarmulke and turns out to be a rabbi. They tell us about their experiences at gigs, how people tend to look at them sidelong and ask them if they are managing to keep up with what’s going on. Not at a Pogues gig, Simon says, however, where they have been swept into the tumult along with everyone else. We bring them upstairs, where Simon has a gift of a mezuzah for Jem. Moishe blesses a bottle of water. I ask Nora if she got that on film, but the cable that attaches to the microphone on the top of the camera has gone faulty and all she has is Moishe’s moving mouth.

Kitty says to Moishe: ‘So you don’t shake hands with women?’ I think something has come up during the process of introductions. The Rabbi goes into a historical explanation of why this is. Time passes. Ella finds the mischievousness to poke him on his arm.

‘So,’ she says, ‘have you broken the law now?’

‘No,’ he says to her with kindly irony. ‘It is you who has sinned.’

Twenty-ninth installment, March 16, 2006
Next! Next!

Shane’s gone overnight on the crew bus. It’s a long way from Boston to New York City. We figure that since we’re the ones who do the soundcheck and are able to assemble in a lobby at a particular time without much fuss, it’d be better for something other than Plan A. Plan B is the crew bus. Plans C through, I don’t know, D or E, include a train, private car, helicopter – cannon even. So Shane and Joey and Sean go on the crew bus.

There’s a lot of shenigans though – not for us, for Ross, who, at the hotel, after the show, after everything’s packed away and with the crew waiting to go from the Orpheum, assists Joey by means of a mobile phone to enter the correct code into the lock of the correct bus to retrieve his bags at the same time as encourage Shane to shovel his belongings into a bag and get going. This province, to assist with Shane’s packing, usually befalls Joey.

Eventually, tempers are lost, and there are huge bangs in the elevator, but both Joey and Shane, and, I’m assuming, Sean, set off with the crew.

We hear about the journey when we get to the Nokia Theater, where there’s not a lot going on, due to union regulations which, by the time we arrive, have included lunch, where technicians vanish for an hour and a half, and other obfuscations, uppersome of which is that the patches or channels – or whatever – don’t match, plus also we’ve got a film crew in to shoot for, eventually, a DVD and they need to patch everything for their recording. So, with no work to do and aware of the irony of dumping Shane into Plan B so that we can get some work done, we hang around with the crew for a while and hear about the trip, episodes which include Shane sweeping aside the curtain of one of the bunks to find Ger Scully trying to sleep, not recognizing her, saying: ‘It’s a little girl!’ to get the response, ‘Fuck off, Shane!’; the matter of what Jos refers to as a ‘Jimmy in the Superbowl’ when there’s a notice in the toilet of a $250 fine for solids; Shane hoping to conjur up Sean from wherever he is, shouting out ‘Sean’, as in ‘S-E-A-N-N-N!’; and finally, when they arrived in New York, the matter of turning the bus engine off and letting the compressed air out of the system, in order to manually open the door to the back lounge, because they’ve locked themselves in there and fallen asleep.

I spend a certain amount of time drawing parallels between our situation and that of the men stranded in the town of Las Piedras in ‘Wages of Fear’, who drive trucks loaded with nitroglycerine across 300 miles of treacherous mountain country.

The Nokia Theater, I happen to find out, was designed by David Rockwell, who also designed the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. The Nokia Theater has a lot of design, it’s true – mauve being a dominant colour: mauve and orange walls in the dressing rooms, with paintings I don’t spend a deal of energy on, but peripherally at least, yes, orangeish and reddish, and blackish too, against purple walls. A couple of sofas, long enough to lounge full-length on, at right angles to each other. An undulating design in the carpet. Those black wood coffee tables shorn of ornament.

Outside the dressing room, shades of plum, and aluminium pipes. The auditorium looks tiered, with a wood floor, a railed area at another height, and at the back, seats. There’s a balcony each side. The room, acoustically, sounds dead, and it’s dead cold too.

At the soundcheck – I think it’s tonight; as it often happens, my recollection tends to smear more than a couple of nights in succession, and we’re playing four shows here, so, it’s going to happen – Spider sings, episodically, Jacques Brel’s ‘Next’, Alex Harvery’s version: ‘Naked as sin, an army towel covering my belly. Some of us blush, somehow knees turning to jelly. Next, next!’ Then he wheels away from the microphone and you think that’s it, but another verse comes back to him and he twirls on his heels and bounds back to grab hold of the mike stand and goes all twisted as if someone were poking needles into his voodoo effigy: ‘I was still just a kid. There were a hundred like me. I followed a naked body. A naked body followed me. And next!’ And then, well, he doesn’t do the whole song, but he could, staggering away from the microphone and staggering back. ‘One day I'll cut my legs off or burn myself alive. Anything, I'll do anything to get out of line to survive. And next! Next!’

By the time he’s finished, Terry’s wiping a tear from his cheek.

Andrew’s having problems with his drums again.

‘Shit kit,’ Jos says. They’ve had to return the snare, or something, and things are still not right. I have been able to tell, on a couple of the gigs so far, that Andrew’s playing with ungiving gear, because there’s been something chary about ‘White City’.

Steve Lillywhite comes to our soundcheck. He’s all golden of hair and furry of parka hood and candy-striped of shirt. It’s lovely to see him, and especially after the documentary about ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ and especially since we have such a connection with him through Kirsty and ‘Fairy Tale of New York,’ not to mention If I Should Fall From Grace With God and Peace And Love. We go back a long way. For me, his ‘remix’ of Fairy Tale at the desk for the documentary was pretty much the high point in the film and the catch in his voice when he hears Kirsty’s.

BP Fallon is backstage before the show. He’s due to whisk Shane away to Brooklyn after tomorrow night’s show, for another in the series of ‘Death Discos.’ He sits like a pixie on one of the chairs in the dressing room. He has a complexion that looks, well, sort of dusted, somehow, with an understated lustre – semi-gloss, or eggshell, maybe – in his pate, and eyebrows that are verging on the Eric Campbell if not in shape then in density. He talks to me about the writing that I’ve been doing for the Pogues’ website. He wants to know what a chia pet is, not having found the word in his dictionary, so I tell him.

Peter Dougherty, who directed the video for ‘Fairy Tale of New York,’ is backstage too. I don’t get a chance to talk to him. He won’t be able to get backstage after the show on account of what he calls, afterwards, a ‘juiceless’ pass.

Backstage before the gig – and actually during too, because we come across him when we come off before the first encore, sitting on a chair a few feet away from the monitor that shows what’s going on onstage – is a man who’s described as the Gerry O’Boyle of New York, who sits very close to Shane, a four-square man but with a baffled predial air about him. I’m given to understand that he runs a funeral parlour, a florist’s and a betting shop, whether or not on the same premises I wouldn’t know. He’s given Shane a flocculant green flat-cap to wear, with it being close to St Patrick’s Day and all. We’ve had reminders every now and again about continuity (on account of the shooting for the DVD over two nights, tonight and tomorrow), but I don’t see much chance in the green flat-cap coming out again tomorrow, somehow, nor perhaps the tricolour tie Shane’s wearing.

From our dressing room we can hear William Elliott Whitmore (some of us have such difficulty with Will’s name that they’ve taken to calling him Walt Whitman) singing in his dog’s howl voice, playing his banjo next door.

Joey describes the means whereby he gets Shane to a gig: ‘I lie around on the floor of Shane’s room, smoking a cigarette. There’s Sean and Ross coming in and out of the room, shouting. And half an hour before it’s time to go, I say,“Hey, Shane, it’s time to go.” And off we go!’

Jem recalls hearing Sean and Shane and Joey in one of the hotels, furiously shouting – I don’t know, about luggage and packing possibly and people waiting. At this point, Jem happened to be passing their rooms, which are never far from one another. He put his head round the door to Shane’s room and said, ‘We’re going. You want to come?’

‘All right,’ Shane said and got up.

Spider and Louise have taken Darryl shopping. He’s come back with a new pair of trousers that do that thing at the bottoms that’s held to be in fashion – a rumpling thing around the top of new boots, plus a new shirt and two new hats: one a brown derby, and the other, I don’t know what you’d call it. It’s not a pork pie. It could be a lowrider, but I’m not sure. Darryl gets dressed before the gig in all his new gear, with the fetching rumply trouser-treatment, and in a duster coat that a group called the Cherry Cokes, whom Spider and Louise met in Japan, have sent. It’s beautifully made and looks very well on Darryl, if a bit on the costume side for me, with his brown derby at a jaunty angle.

I stand around in the space between the dressing rooms and the stage door, under ceiling spots with Anthony Addis, his son, Mark and his wife, Sandra, who have all flown over from Manchester for the New York shows. Anthony’s wearing his caramel-coloured leather jacket. I look over at Sandra, in her coat, her hand covering her mouth which is all agape with yawns from the jet-lag.

My men from the Cranky George Trio are down the front, at the railing, with friends Staph and Eric – all of whom came to the last show I played in the last incarnation of the Pogues, in 1993. Staph must stand maybe five six tall, so it’s imperative he gets to the front. It’s the Napoleon complex at work, except it’s not exactly complex – it’s simple: otherwise he wouldn’t get to see anything at all. Dermot and Kieran and Eric have squirmed their way to the front, in Staph’s wake.

‘This is for the Cranky George Trio,’ I say into the microphone. This, what, exactly? The whole gig? Instantly I feel the abashment that comes hard on the heels of lavishness.

Near them, there’s a guy pinned to the rail, who thoroughly creeps me out. There’s an unhinged expression on his face. He seems to be staring directly at me, intoning, over and over: ‘Danielle! Danielle!’ which is my wife’s name.

Shane comes over to me during the show, with his hand up – in blessing or preparatory to strike, I can’t tell which, and I don’t care to find out, so I back away and duck under his arm to a safer possibly, unblessed possibly, place on the stage.

Terry’s nervous, I can tell, because he’s cranked up the volume on his amp. He does this when he’s on edge. It’s something I know about him.

There are cameras everywhere. A guy follows us out of the dressing room, to make sure they get one of those dressing-room-to-stage shots. There’s a camera-operator by the side of the stage, a couple along the front and one out in the audience (where I see crutches waving in the distance), plus also Nora shooting bosoms and nostrils at the rail.

It seems to be a quiet audience tonight. We’ve kept them waiting a long time I suppose and given them two support acts, plus changes-over, to stand through, so I can’t blame them. It’s a long night.

Afterwards, Shane apologizes to Ross for something that presumably happened last night.

‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to call you a Scottish cunt, right?’ he says. ‘But you’re a cunt. All Scottish are cunts.’ He throws his arms out confessionally wide. ‘Listen! I’m a cunt!’

I come across Joey, on my hunt for vodka, which is never where you want it, curled up, hands folded in front of him, under the table in ‘the tent’, which has been erected just by the door to the stage, asleep.

Thirtieth installment, March 17, 2006
Cabbage and corned beef

It’s St Patrick’s Day. I put on the green shirt I was wearing yesterday (my kids, though they’re not with us, and their friends, tend to want to pinch a person that’s not wearing green on St Patrick’s Day) and find myself looking out of the hotel window to see what greenery there is on the streets. There is none that I can see, but then I’m not in the vicinity of 5th Avenue, where it gets really verdant, so I’m told.

Spider and Louise have had to change rooms, because last night, in their room, during the course of which Andrew, Nora, Spider, Louise and possibly Darryl, having drunk the contents of first Spider and Louise’s mini-bar and thereafter Andrew’s, Andrew stationed the pileous green stool in the room under one of the halogen lamps and set it afire.

Danielle and I go up to 23rd St to visit with Steve Lillywhite and his wife Patty. We go up to their penthouse apartment with beetling views of Madison Square Park and a particularly sickening downward one on the other side of the building. We have coffee at their kitchen table. It’s a very sunny room, being this high up over the city. I think there’s football on the tv, leastways a league table or something. Steve likes football to the point that he doesn’t mind telling you that if he has a meeting, conference call, whatever, in New York, he consults the premier league television schedule first, and if he is required to go to London, he arranges it with reference to the Chelsea fixture list. On the way to the elevator down to lunch, Steve points down the stairwell which knocks the views of Madison Square Park and the one on the other side of the building into a cocked hat. There’s something boyishly mischievous about Steve, that he should get a kick out of spinning the heads of his guests so.

When we get back to the hotel, Danielle goes off to meet with Nora about the documentary and I spend an hour or so putting my hat-box bass drum back in the box in which I sent out from LA and pouring the styrofoam peanuts around it, borrowing packing tape from the front desk (where, behind the receptionists, a stop-action film plays on the tv on the wall, of a bed whose sheets rumple and unrumple, whose pillows travel around on the comforter, whose comforter twists and untwists; it’s all very boutique, you understand). I stagger up the street to Houston, to the FedEx place, sweating, because the sun’s out, to send the hat-box bass drum back home.

We drive up to Times Square in the minibuses. There are shamrocks everywhere, mostly as bunting across the windows of Irish pubs. There are those livid green foam-rubber Mad Hatter hats everywhere too and we toy with the idea of getting eight of them and going on stage with them, but that’s all we do – toy.

The bus pulls up at the back entrance of the Nokia Theater, where we’ve been met each night by Jill, a sort of Heather Locklear doppelgänger, with a bright face and flame-coloured hair, who runs things backstage and who operates the industrial effluent that’s supposed to be snow in ‘Fairy Tale of New York.’ She and another guy hold the door open and we go down a dusty concrete stairwell. Today, there’s a guy who appears to be loitering near where the buses pull up. I don’t know. I’m circumspect. (While we were on our way to the Fleadh in 2002 and had to slow down at an intersection in Finsbury in the people-mover for a guy sidestepping across the street, seemingly in the direction of our van, I pushed the lock down on the passenger door and got laughed at for my trouble, and by the fucking driver too.) So, I say to this guy, who steps over as if he’s trying to melt into our côterie.

‘I’m sorry,’ stop on the sidewalk in order that he shouldn’t get any nearer the door than I want him to be. ‘I don’t know you.’

Turns out he works at the Nokia and was here to make sure we got in without too much mither last night too.

There’s cabbage and corned beef for dinner. After the soundcheck, with mostly everyone gone back to the hotel, Darryl and I hang out in the dressing room. I can’t be bothered to go all that way back. I have Danielle pick up my suit. Darryl falls asleep on one of the couches. I listen to the squawk of walkie-talkies and the settling of ice in the buckets, and Darryl’s snoring. Now and again, the light inside the Red Bull fridge comes on, then goes out. It’s kind of peaceful.

I go out, up to the balcony to watch William Elliott Whitmore. He twitches a lot on stage, and sings out and up, and stamps his foot on the floor. Someone in the crowd shouts out: “Where’s Tom Waits?” I can understand the question; Will’s voice might share a characteristic or two with Tom Waits’s, but Tom Waits’s schtick, not really wanting to oversimplify, is Bukowski while Will’s, it seems to me, is more Faulkner.

When everyone comes bqack, Ella and Nora go out into the streets outside the Nokia Theater to film paddywhackery. Ella comes back with a shamrock tattoo – well, a drawing of one in green felt tip, on the back of her hand.

The continuity of the DVD filming has gone to hell, of course. The Gerry O’Boyle of New York (or is it Nenagh?) has repossessed the green cap that Shane was wearing yesterday. Today Shane’s wearing, right shoulder to left hip, a broad, tricolour sash, and one black glove. He’s also wearing, and has been for the past couple of days, one of those rubber bracelets that are de rigueur nowadays. I don’t know what charity it supports, though I’ve been looking as close as I can most nights on stage without getting my eye poked out, but just can’t pick out the lettering on it.

Shane lets loose a scream in ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’ which empties his lungs and distends his external jugulars and which, since neither I, because of the fucking in-ear monitors, nor Andrew, because he’s sitting at his drums next to a head-level monitor, can escape, probes the very centre of my head, not to mention Andrew’s, in a way that I can only describe as cauterizing. Afterwards, Andrew complains of ringing in his ears.

The introduction to ‘Sickbed of Cuchulainn’ I’ve never had much to do for a while, really, unless I have a sit on the drum-riser and look as though I can hear what Spider sometimes says into my ear. Tonight I’m bursting for a piss. So, I duck out of my accordion straps and run off to the bogs. Joey picks up the unusual activity with his unusual activity sensors and despatches himself to assist, in the holding open of doors and generally keeping people out of the way. Except, I’ve been for pisses before, and know the route, and am generally fairly adept at opening doors, and in the end, Joey just seems to get in my way, holding open the dressing room door and unluckily standing pretty much in the doorway.

‘Get out of the fucking way,’ I say to Joey, a little intemporately.

‘I’m trying to help!’ he says.

‘Well you’re fucking not!’ I say.

Afterwards, in the dressing room, Shane says, in a torpid sort of way, with overtones of protectiveness toward Joey, who I’m sure can look after himself:

‘So, you’ve got a feud with Joey?’ I utter a few words that basically add up to ‘balderdash’ and thankfully the matter stops there.

‘White City’s’ a hard one to know when to stop playing. It goes round two lots of three, at the end, since we tend to do such things in threes. We all finish in a sort of standard coda thing, but Andrew’s lost and goes crashing on into a fourth third of the second lot of three, or the first third of a third lot of three, depending on which way you look at it.

I don’t know if it’s tonight, that, throughout the coda at the end of ‘Fiesta,’ probably – if ‘coda’ doesn’t dignify the crashing and walloping and wheezing too much – Shane draws a tie or a belt-strap of some kind in any case – round his neck and pulls it very tight, so tight that his eyes bulge out and his veins swell and his face turns dangerously puce.

I go down to find my guests in the Indonesianesque VIP bar – red walls, that Balinese carved-screen-thing everywhere and shit music. It’s crowded down there. I hang around with Kieran and Dermot, Eric and Christopher Quinn. Dermot disappears for a while. I spot him over in the corner in a tête-à-tête with Michaela McCafferty who seems fairly eager to occupy as much as she can the same physical space that Dermot does.

Back at the hotel, Danielle and I go off to see who’s around in the neighbourhood bar, Iggy’s or Ziggy’s, which has, since we’ve been around, provided the odd lock-in, and find a bunch of us in there, in the mirky rear, in a booth. Marcia’s smoking. She says she’s lit up ten cigarettes and has been asked to put out two, so she says she’s not doing too badly.

Danielle, Nora and I go and have a cocktail in an underlit cocktail bar somewhere nearby. The syrupy and cloying cocktail I order I can’t finish. I leave the two women in the cocktail bar and go back to the hotel. Ross is outside the front doors, and I think, oh, that’s nice, he’s making sure everyone’s in their beds, counting us as we come in, but I think he’s still on some kind of duty.

Thirty-first installment, March 18, 2006
Numbered among those who have been erected in the municipal square

Now Nora has had to change her room, apparently. Andrew climbed into the vast, grey resin tub and let loose the shower head and flooded not just his bathroom but Nora’s bathroom on the floor below too.

I meet Gerry, our on-stage monitor engineer, outside the hotel. He looks dead tired. He’s got his family with him in New York. His six-year-old son woke up at seven, needing to go to the top of the Empire States Building today.

Nora meets Philip up at the Lincoln Center, to come back down to Midtown for a tour of the Great White Way, for part of the documentary. They drive around the block in a cab four or five times, while Philip points out noteworthy features, such as George M Cohan’s statue (who, though he wrote ‘Yankee Doodle Boy’ with the lyric ‘born on the 4th of July,’ and whose family insisted that that was George’s birthday, was actually born on the 3rd – just something I happen to know).

Spider says to me, ‘You know those gigs when you’re in the fourth or fifth number and you think, “Oh, I haven’t made a mistake yet.”?’ I think I know what’s coming. It’s a feature of I’d say pretty much every musician’s, performer’s, experience: when you think everything’s going well and as soon as you think that, the next thing you do is fuck up. But he goes on: ‘Well, as soon as I thought that, I didn’t fuck up, and then later I thought, “I’m still not making a mistake!” and again the next thing I did was not make a mistake, and for the rest of the gig I kept thinking I haven’t fucked up, and by the end of the gig I hadn’t fucked up at all!’ We agree that tonight’s gig is one of the best we’ve done.

A movement in the corner of my eye makes me look round at Philip. I can’t remember what song this is, but he’s holding his hat on as if something is going to blow it off any minute.

Terry, in one of the songs – in ‘Body Of An American’ I’m sure it is – takes his fingers off the fingerboard of his cittern, hooks his elbow back and gives the neck of his cittern a shunt with the heel of his hand, at the point where Shane sings: And to big Jim Dwyer/the man of wire/who was often heard to say, and then goes back to his shredding, and then gives his cittern another jolt. It’s a thoroughly awe-inspiring thing to see.

Shane has changed – I don’t think permanently – the words to ‘Dirty Old Town,’ to: I fucked my girl by the gasworks wall.

A t-shirt is thrown onto the stage. Spider holds it up to read the front of it. It reads: ‘’

‘You threw one of these up on stage last night,’ he says into the microphone. ‘And you wanted it back. We’re going to keep this one.’

We send Darryl out by himself for the first of the encores. That is, we hang back and let him make a fool of himself, letting him think that we’ve all accompanied him out onto the stage. But unfazed, he says something charming into the mike, and then goes up to the drum kit to start up ‘Star of the County Down.’ Still we don’t come on, but instead shout, ‘Toad! Toad!’ to him because we want a drum solo. He can’t hear at this distance, so we give up and go on.

I can’t remember when this first started, but it’s such a wonderful thing to say, before Ella comes on, when Spider goes up to the microphone:

‘I’d like you all to welcome a woman we’ve known since she was an egg!’

When Shane sings the verse about Jaime Fearnley drinking fifty gin and camparis (I remember the night, but it was nowhere near fifty - possibly a quarter of that, or slightly less) I go up to him and pretend puzzlement. Then he sings, instead of ‘Y se tendio para cerrarlos’: ‘He must be counted among the emplazadas.’ These words, for some reason, sound new to me tonight (though, in the course of writing this, I’ve come across, again, the video for ‘Fiesta’ and find that this is the line he sings in the video), which means, as far as I have been able to discover, that I must be numbered among those who have been erected in the municipal square. ‘Imprecadas,’ with a hard ‘c,’ means ‘accursed.’ For a while, I think that might possibly have been his intention, until I find out that the word ‘emplazados’ comes from Lorca’s poem, ‘El Emplazado,’ which provided a handful of the lyrics for ‘Fiesta’ (and the words that are printed in the CD booklet, which he doesn’t sing tonight), and which means ‘The Marked Man’.

In response, Spider garrottes me with a belt, or a tie, I can’t see which, because he does it so quickly, round my neck, tightens it and stage-hangs me.

I would prefer to be commemorated in civic statuary.

Here’s a thing that’s always bothered me: how does Philip do all that whirling in ‘Fiesta’ and not lose his balance and want to go crashing into the backline afterwards, like I do when I try to copy him?

At the end of ‘Fiesta,’ I’m lying on the floor, while all manner of mayhem’s going on around me, with Darryl pounding his bass with the beer-tray and Jem squawking down his saxophone and Andrew gone Elvin Jones. Spider comes across, kneels next to me, gives me the last rites and closes my eyes with his fingers.

Back in the dressing room afterwards, there are medics for Shane. He sits on one of the couches like a character from Heinrich Hoffman, his hair a matter of lank shags hanging at his temples. He’s shagged out. His eyes are closed. The medics approach, gingerly, it looks to me.

‘Have you been drinking?’ is one of their first questions.

‘Nah,’ says Shane. They put one of those things onto the end of his finger, for his pulse, and wrap the blood-pressure sleeve on. Whatever the reading is, Sean Fay says, ‘That’s good isn’t it?’

There’s what’s called a campfire for Joe Strummer tonight, somewhere beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, being an element of a film about Joe directed by Julien Temple. I wish I felt more inclined to go, because I’m not. I’m just too tired. My bones ache; I’ve got a swelling on my forearm where it presses against the bass-button end of the accordion; my left biceps is beginning to give up on me (but not yet to the extent it did, on one tour of the US, years ago, when I was incapable of holding a can of beer in my hand after a show); and, as it always happens, but which is the least of my worries, really, the depilatory rubbing of the bellows on my left thigh has left a bald patch.

Anita Daly, our press-person (whose business card I’ve glimpsed reads ‘niche marketing’ and who has already been making serious in-roads into the champagne, saying, ‘Oh, there’s plenty more where that came from!’) guides into the dressing room Joaquin Phoenix, with his sister Rain and her husband. I spot Aaron Eckhardt (Thank You For Smoking) too, not really knowing where to put himself, and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who does. Kitty gets to meet Joaquin Phoenix who extends his hand to shake. Kitty experiences a certain difficulty in letting it go.

Andrew tells me later that he was talking with Anita Daly in the VIP room, when her attention was diverted by a bald man in a suit passing by. She corraled him and talked to him for twenty minutes or so about how awesome, or some such, it was to watch him play the accordion. The guy had no idea what she was talking about of course, but couldn’t get a word in edgeways, or away.

I ride back in the minivan to the hotel. Behind Danielle and me sit Hazel and Sarah, Terry’s daughters, who are in their twenties now. We talk about the first time we met, in Kenmare, in June 1985 or 86, when the Pogues played the Cibeal there. They were nobbut kids then and I invited them round to my cottage for afternoon tea, which, I have in my head, I served in a doll’s tea service.

Thirty-second installment, March 19, 2006

I go and look for breakfast in the neighbourhood with Danielle, but it’s hard to come by such a thing this early, and on a Sunday too. She’s flying off this morning back to Los Angeles, because she has to set up the Book Fair at our youngest daughter’s school. We find a dispiriting latte somewhere and she gets in the car and leaves.

In the afternoon I walk up to the Village East Theater to watch ‘Why We Fight,’ a film about how Eisenhower’s warning in his farewell address to the nation in 1961 about the military-industrial complex. There is just a smattering of audience, and watching it with them, I get the feeling that the effect such a film should have is pretty much a non-starter. I come out even more depleted than when I went in, and on the third anniversary of the invasion of Iraq too. On the way back I stop in at Russ and Daughters on E Houston to lift my spirits with a bialy with smoked salmon and cream cheese. Russ and Daughters is fantastic, with shelves of tinned fish and caviar, refridgerated displays of gefilte fish and schmear, all the staff in their white coats and a photographic portrait of Mark Russ Federman, I’m thinking, the fourth generation of Russes, and his family, not the original daughters, in a frame behind the counter, in 70’s garb.

On the way up to the Nokia Theater in the minibus, I admire Louise’s new jacket, which is leather and covered in metal spikes.

‘Oh, fuck,’ Spider and Louise say then, having realized, with a bit of panic at the prospect of the botheration they’ll possibly come across tomorrow at the airport, that they haven’t given Jos the bullet belt they’ve bought too.

We have gifts from the Nokia Theater. They’re stacked up in boxes against the wall in the dressing room: mp3 players, radio/cd players. I wonder how I’m going to get my swag into my luggage. There’s a stack of posters to sign and Jem, Darryl and I kneel in front of the sofa, fan them out, and, for ease’s sake, put our monikers in the same place on each one.

Backstage, before going on, with Marcia in the room and the Pogues having changed into their suits and gathered on and around one of the sofas for a photograph for the Nokia Theater, I suppose I must have some sense of the end of the tour, of the prospect of relaxing, or just a sense of laxity, the expression of which, in the act of sitting down on the other purple sofa in the dressing, comes in the unthinking release of a fart. I’m instantly embarrassed to realize I’ve done such a thing, but I don’t expect it to be the subject of such analysis by Marcia who, in a manner of speaking, soon has my fart squirming on the end of her inductive pin.

Jem has only one thing to say about my fart:


I can’t remember much about this particular gig. I think Spider comes across at some point, to mop the sweat from my head. Shane does his bottle-balancing-on-his-head trick, to the delight of the audience. When I look round again, the bottle’s on the floor and the stage around him flooded with zinfandel.

Shane dedicates ‘Rainy Night in Soho’ to Victoria.

We start up into ‘The Irish Rover’ and it’s not long before we realize that Shane’s coming adrift with the timing. We edit to compensate, but I think Andrew and Darryl become marooned on the off-beat and can’t get back (though Darryl is valiant in thumping his bass on all the beats, hoping that Andrew can flip his drumming back into synchrony). Shane’s far too gone, by this time, though, and Andrew just gives up. Darryl jacks the song in, too. And thereafter, so do Philip and Terry and Jem, and then me. But Shane’s still going, unaware that we’ve sawn the hole in the floor under the song, and waiting for him to drop through it. With as much respect as I can muster, and – gentility is the word I’m thinking of, I touch Shane on the arm to let him know the point we’ve reached in the song. He’s still singing away, and kind of looks at me the way a racehorse might regard a competitor thundering level.

‘We’re going to try it again,’ I say, wishing it hadn’t befallen me to break the bad news, since he was going so strongly. He looks round from the mic to confirm the truth of what I’m saying. Andrew counts us in again. A few of us exchange rictuses of grim hope.

To start up ‘Fiesta,’ Jem puts the mouthpiece of his sax to his mouth and steps up to the microphone stage-left. The dedicated light in the truss above him shoots a wedge of light down, but it catches pretty much nothing of him except a hair or two on the top of his head, and falls in a rectangle behind him. I encourage Darryl into this rectangle so it won’t be wasted.

Afterwards I revisit the ‘Irish Rover’ experience with Shane, sitting next to him on one of the couches in the dressing room.

‘I was doing all right,’ he says, ‘until you stopped me. I’m a fucking musician. I would have brought it around.’

Backstage, tonight, there’s Kate Moss and Clive Owens. I ask Kitty, (who is wearing a t-shirt from Katz’s Deli, one of the neighbourhood food emporiums), if she’s going to find it difficult to let go of Clive Owens’s hand if she gets to shake it. I watch Kitty and Ella and Sarah and Hazel Woods and Clive Owens talking in a group in the middle of the dressing room, while I sign the Nokia Theater guest book and waggishly swap around the Post-it Notes in it that say which band is which. Clive Owens is wearing a sumptuous leather coat which expresses its extravagance by means of its apparent lack of tailoring and, somehow, too, by its mindfulness of the animal it came from. Kate Moss is wearing a blue shirt over a black long-sleeved tee and a short silk skirt, black tights and boots. The soot round her eyes is pretty much Bardotien.

This is all in contrast to Terry’s clothing which, because he hasn’t found the time to do any washing, consists of what Jos hasn’t got round to wearing on this tour yet.

‘And I’m wearing his underpants,’ he says.

When Kate Moss comes into the room, there’s, of course, a frisson and, around her, a sort of bubble that disables you from either ignoring her or saying hello. Shane, from the couch, shouts out:

‘Someone get her a drink!’

He looks at me, who happen to be closest to both Kate Moss and the table with the drinks on it, with something resembling angry paternal correction in his eyes. ‘Someone get her a fucking drink!’

‘Fuck off,’ I say to him. ‘Kate can get her own fucking drink.’ It sounds harsh, I know, but I figure Kate’s grown-up enough to get her own refreshments.

After a while, while I’m sitting next to Andrew and Nora on the other couch, Moss steps over Shane’s legs, to come and perch on the arm of the sofa, by Victoria.

‘Well, hello. And how are ye?’ she says in a delightful Irish accent.

Down in the VIP room, I meet Wilson Milam who’s directing The Lieutenant of Inishmore (as well as having directed a Dr Who episode a couple of years ago), backstage. He was there the night, back in July 1986, when Aidan Quinn lead us all out of, what was it, the Vic Theater? to a bar somewhere first, ‘to lose a few people’, and after that to a club called Holstein’s where we were to meet up with Waits after his evening performance of Frank’s Wild Years, the matinée of which we’d all attended (Scully’s bootleg recording in the row in front of me ruined by my laughing: ‘Oh, Tom. Tom. Oh. Ha ha!’ that kind of thing). Wilson tells me that the cast had gone around for days afterwards whistling and humming the theme from ‘Exodus’, after I’d put my hand up to Waits’s question: ‘Anyone have anything?’ and had walked down to the front, to sit in front of the piano not having a clue what to do, and then going into Elmer Bernstein’s melody, to discover how boring it seemed to have become after a couple of rounds, and so making it, by way of compensation, a tango. When I got back to my table, where I’d been sitting with Terry Woods, Terry was dabbing tears from his cheeks.

In the VIP room, too, is Martin MacDonough, who wants to see Philip, who has invited the cast of ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore’ to the show tonight. I go back up to the dressing room to find Philip but he is long gone.

In the VIP room, too, are DzM, whom I’ve spotted night after night plying the stage-apron with his camera, and Carmen, who has been to all four nights of our shows at the Nokia Theater. I hang out for a while with them, and then fall into a conversation with a couple – one American, the other a guy from Stuttgart – whom the Pogues’ music, though they’d never seen us live, until tonight, brought together – I can’t remember when they said that was – fifteen or so years ago?

Thirty-third installment, March 20, 2006
Do not disturb.

I’ve already packed everything, and managed to get the cdplayer/radio into my suitcase. I have breakfast in the room because I know nothing’s going to be open out there this early. I don’t see anyone around while I check out and pick up my accordion from the concierge. It’s not long before I’m at JFK and checked in.

As it turns out, Alan Alda is on the same plane to Los Angeles as myself, but up in first class. I take a second or two to wonder how many degrees of separation there might be between myself and Alan Alda, but it’s not until I get home that I discover there are three whichever way I look at it: from Alda, who plays Senator Vinick on ‘The West Wing,’ to Alison Janney, who plays C.J. and who also frequents my mother-in-law’s bookstore in Studio City and has become quite friendly, to my mother-in-law, to me. Another route I could take would be from Alda to Jamie Farr, who played Corporal Sergeant Klinger in ‘M*A*S*H’ and who also played Colonel Frierick in the 1986 made-for-tv movie ‘Combat High,’ to my father-in-law who produced ‘Combat High,’ to me. Another route I could take, but can’t yet, would be from Alda to Rob Lowe, who resumes his role as Sam Seaborn in ‘The West Wing’ on April 23rd, to his brother Chad Lowe, who appeared with Danielle, my wife, in a film called ‘Acceptable Risk,’ to me – a total of four degrees of separation.

It has been suggested to me that there might be a fourth route: Alda, to Rob Lowe (come the ‘West Wing’ reunion) who hosted Saturday Night Live on St Patrick’s Day 1990, the day the Pogues performed on it, to me, which would make it two degrees of separation – but I didn’t actually get to talk to Lowe that day. The most I did was stand in a line with all of us and him for a photo-shoot. The rules that define degrees of separation – i.e. that meaningful social congress must have taken place – have been set by my wife. Philip was the only one to engage Lowe in meaningful conversation that day. So, whichever way I look at it, it’s still three degrees.


It’s taken me as long, well, longer, to write this, as it has for Shane to get back to England. He stayed on at the hotel in New York for another three weeks, with the ‘do not disturb’ sign up on the door the entire time, which, apparently, and oh my god, the hotel staff took seriously.

Thirty-fourth installment, December 5, 2006
Naked, Straddling A Dalek
Los Angeles to London

My daughters chase me down the street again and I have to ask the cab-driver to step on it a bit otherwise they’d run alongside the cab all the way to LAX. This year, my family’s not following me out to London when the kids break up from school, so it’s going to be a long time away from them – not that even if I were just going away for the weekend they wouldn’t sprint down the sidewalk after the cab.

I watch An Inconvenient Truth on the plane – along with a splendidly middle-class woman nearby, whose husband, almost predictably, is watching The Sentinel. There’s another woman further down the plane watching An Inconvenient Truth too and I’m beginning to think it might well be a girlie film.

The film, by the end, makes one so regretful for, on Gore’s graph, the point at which the wiggly line starts to incline abruptly, but particularly for the past six years of Bush administration.

And then I watch an episode of what I suppose is the new Doctor Who, which is as fun as anything – as fun, easily, as Tom Baker’s practice, and there couldn’t be a more perfect girl assistant than Billie Piper, except for maybe (I say maybe, after viewing a photograph of her naked, straddling a Dalek) Katy Manning. I sleep for a bit, wake up to find that I’d moved my watch four hours the wrong way and get all miserable until I work it out.

Thirty-fifth installment, December 6, 2006
Al Bowlly

My luggage – suitcase and accordion – are more or less first onto the carrousel. On the way out – and through the ridiculous duty-free shop just beyond the customs u-bend at Heathrow – I can’t help looking about the people waiting to meet people, to see if Ross has posted a driver to pick me up from the airport, even though I remember saying I wouldn’t want one.

I’ve got an upgrade voucher for Heathrow Express, but I find myself at the wrong end of the platform and don’t feel like running with suitcase and accordion in tow all the way down to the other end. And it’s only fifteen minutes and there’s hardly anyone on the train in any case.

Paddington station’s all wintry and the ironwork the colour of iodine, but London’s not as cold as I’d thought. My cabbie is the same age as I am, and he’s listening to Al Bowlly. He hands me a four-disc set to have a look at and we talk about the music our fathers used to listen to: his, Al Bowlly, obviously, among others; mine, Jeannette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, among others. We go on to talk about music otherwise, the usual suspects: Neil Young, the Allman Brothers, Nils Lofgren among them, the latter he went to see at the Rainbow and Hammersmith Odeon and such. And then, when he finds out that I’m the squeeze-box player in the Pogues, he has to phone his friend who was supposed to have gone out with Shane’s sister in 1994. His friend, on the phone, says it wasn’t Shane’s sister but his cousin, but I’m dubious, because Shane has gone through his life engendering cousins, or cousins seem be engendered by the fact that Shane exists.

We go along Marylebone Road where I remember cycling back to Mornington Crescent, where I was living, from a pub, thrilled that cycling when you’re pissed out of your brains should be so easy and, to me at the time, safer than driving a car, until I came to a stop at traffic lights by the park and keeled over onto the pavement.

They’ve done over the hotel the out-of-towners stay in since I stayed here last – not the lobby, where I remember seeing Shane, when we played the Fleadh a few years ago, stationed by the lifts at a table, crowded with bottles, smoking and scribbling, first thing in the morning, and it’s not so bad. Gone are your floral bedspreads and pastel coloured walls and those botanical prints – it’s now swiss coffee and photographs of architectural details and a sort of runner over the foot of the bedspread.

In the room ring Spider and Jem and Darryl. I was going to go down to where Andrew is playing with the hKippers but then Jem is on his way back from yet another tweak of his hole in the ground and is going to order in curry and watch Manchester United against Portugal. So I give the hKippers a swerve and have a beer in the hotel bar and get a cab over to Kentish Town.

Marcia’s wearing some sort of safari jacket with a plethora of pockets. Jem and Marcia doing their house up, at least what might have been the bedroom on the second floor. There’s a smell of paint. There’s a string of lights up the banister. A venetian blind is gone from the living room window at the back. The curry comes and we drink wine and then go and sit in front of the telly to watch the match, while Marcia’s on the phone with a friend.

I hang around for a while afterwards and talk with Marcia about Paul Scully and why he’s not on tour with us this time. Jem gets up to put on a record by Moondog, whom I haven’t heard in thirty years or something. And then it’s not long before I’m all jet-lagged and it’s time for me to go home.

When I get back to the hotel, a guy gets into the lift wearing a corduroy suit, shirt and tie. He has that sort of varsity oarsman physique and the haircut to match.

When I get to my room, I give my teeth a good flossing and brushing and a poke around with what’s called, on the packet, a Go-Betweener. I’ve got jaw surgery after Christmas because my bone loss is getting out of hand.

Thirty-sixth installment, December 7, 2006
How To Spell Michael Bublé

I walk down Upper Street to catch a bus to High Holborn and pass a restaurant with dead plants in the window. The bus ticket machine swallows my first three fifty p bits, and then a second lot, and no ticket. A woman comes up and loses one pound fifty too. Soon there’s a woman in a uniform who’s prodding about in the place where the tickets are supposed to come out with a biro. It’s not a matter for Transport for London. The machines are operated by a private company, so she can’t help us. I take down the phone number of the company and the number on the machine and walk down to the Angel to get the tube.

In Covent Garden, I’m outside Urban Outfitters (gift certificates for the nieces, you understand) and the sky goes black and rain pelts the cobbles. I have to step into Diesel out of the wind and rain to wait for it to pass.

When I get back to the Angel, I see that the wind has blown over potted trees on Upper St and dumped all the dirt out of them onto the pavement. A couple of signs on rubberized concertina stands have been blown flat onto the flagstones.

‘Doors closing’ announces the voice the lift, uncannily in time with the 21st century equivalent of Muzak from the lobby.

I get a cab up to the rehearsal rooms near Pentonville Prison. The driver asks, did I hear about the tornado that came down Kensal Rise, ripped up trees, blew down a wall or two and flipped a couple of cars? That would account for the slashing rain and darkened sky and the felled potted plants on Upper Street.

I walk into the rehearsal room to find Terry over by his amp, with his winter coat over the back of the chair he’s sitting on, and the room full of big black flight cases and coils of multicore. I have to work my way around all this stuff to hug Terry hello. Thereafter, everyone comes in in dribs and drabs in the course of a couple of hours. This first day is not really a rehearsal. Jem’s already dropped his gear off and gone. I’ve arranged with Darryl to meet him there at two. We don’t see Philip.

I notice, on top of Terry’s amp, a large box of fuses and suggest, with that amount of fuses, he might think about a fire-extinguisher too. I remember when we alternated headlining gigs with the Violent Femmes in whatever year that was. Terry’s amp worked off a transformer that was flown over with us. Half way through one of the shows, Terry became obscured by dense, acrid smoke pouring out from behind his amp. On the top of his amp, I can see his little pouch of picks which goes with him everywhere, and his glasses case.

My new accordion is here. It’s come to me by way of Germany, to a town just outside Caerphilly, where Hohner UK is, to Lewisham, to North London. It’s lovely, sleek and black, with a grille of parallel steel strips and a sort of bellows guard at the back, and a couple of curious metal strap loops situated behind the keyboard which baffle me and, when I put it on, dig into my ribs. And it’s heavy. When I told Emilio Allodi (my first accordion I bought from his dad on Blackstock Road; Emilio took the business over and set it up in Lewisham) that I was going to get a Morino the intonation in his voice when he said, ‘Heavy’, seemed to go some way to indicate a foolhardiness on my part. All the weight of the Morino resides in the bass-end, it seems to me, and there’s a direct correlation between its weight and the nectareousness of the sound it makes. The piano side of the accordion is weird, with different values, somehow, assigned to the reeds – the single reed very quiet and humming, but when coupled with its companion, the sound starts to sizzle a bit. It’s going to take me a while to get used to.

Tim Sunderland is our new front-of-house sound engineer. He’s the brother of Steve Sunderland – the one that looks like a geography teacher, so Ella and Kitty said last year or the year before, the man who’s called the Production Manager. The two brothers used to have a PA business together years ago, until, to Tim’s relief – there’s a sibling thing between them, I think - a US company bought it out and Tim could go freelance. Tim exudes a certain collegiateness somehow, from his glasses (thick rimmed and dark) and his hair (which has a sort of student’s or ancient Greek thing going on with it). Because he’s new and only knows us through a handful of records he’s heard, he needs notes and has equipped himself with index cards. Someone calls them crib sheets.

There’s Paddy, a large-boned man with a bald head and a kindly disposition, and Joe, a guy with a sort of mournfully ferretish demeanour about him, with their heads inside the support band’s mixing desk, which is monochrome, tiny, compared to our colour-coded embankment of knobs and faders, and computerized, with a screen on the top of it.

We don’t do much this afternoon, without Jem or Philip or Shane. We might plonk through a couple of things and talk about what new/old songs we want to do, again, because we’ve been talking about this for months it seems.

On the way home, at Ryman on Upper Street, I buy a stack of index cards, in order to write down what I know about instrument changes and highlights and personnel on the songs we do, for Tim Sunderland’s benefit. On the way out of the shop, a couple of the staff are having difficulty spelling the word Bublé, as in Michael Bublé, so I help them.

I have dinner with a friend on the far side of Highbury Fields, sitting at my friend’s oak dining table, talking and drinking, a lot.

I walk back over Highbury Fields. It isn’t until I get to the middle that I find out how muddy the damn field is, with my feet sliding all over the place, but I’m committed by this time and manage to slither the rest of the way to the safety of the sidewalk under the trees, and on down to Highbury Corner.

Thirty-seventh installment, December 8, 2006
Famous Bisexual French Writer With His Hand On A Spanish Guy’s Penis

When I wake up, I can see I’ve tracked mud up and down the hotel room carpet. I spend a deal of time with one of the flannels and warm water cleaning Highbury Fields from the bottom of my shoes and the carpet.

I have breakfast with Gerry Colclough, our monitor engineer, go up to the room, pack up, check out, leave my stuff with the concierge, whom I don’t trust, and under whose aegis I am not keen on leaving pretty much everything I own standing in the lobby of the hotel, so I wait until he summons a rather dithering old man with sweat-matted hair at the nape of his neck and new to the job, I think, to trundle my suitcase to the lock-up.

I get the tube to Russell Square to rent a car and drive back up to the hotel. It’s beginning to rain. I love the hairy proximity of London buses and squeezing between taxis and motorbikes, and the thrill of stalling every now and again because the car is new to me and I’ve grown unused to stick-shift.

I collect my suitcase from the dithering man with the sweat-matted hair and give him a tip and I’m just wheeling the suitcase down the disabled ramp when I spot Tim Sunderland coming out with his shoulderbag into the rain. I give him a lift up to rehearsal and he tells me about himself and how he works mainly for Primal Scream, a band I know nothing about. It seems a lot of our crew work with Primal Scream.

Though we’ve been rehearsing at this particular rehearsal facility for the past couple of years, I’ve not once stepped into the café here – not since 1990 or so, in the last incarnation. I’ve usually accepted Darryl’s offer of a cup of tea from the caff, or from Murray or Jos if one of them is going. I go in with Tim to sit and go over the songs and write stuff down on his and my index cards. I say hello to I think her name is Helen who’s always worked behind the counter. I haven’t seen her in sixteen or seventeen years. She hasn’t changed much. She says something about my hair.

So, we all traipse in to the rehearsal room. Terry’s always the first. No matter what you might try to do, you cannot be at rehearsal before Terry, and there he always is, sitting in the corner with his coat over the back of his chair, in something woolly and warm, a glaze come over his eyes as he spills a seemingly amorphous, seemingly stream-of-consciousness, ancient, I’m guessing, Celtically unraveling tune that, to my ears, has scant signposts in it. Enter, severally, the rest of the Pogues. I saw them not six weeks ago. They’re much more familiar than they were this time last year, even.

Every day I ring home to talk to the family. They ring me back on my mobile. It’s buggeringly hard to hear my kids over six thousand miles of fibre-optics or bounced off a satellite, against the noise in the rehearsal room or, stepping out into the cold in just my trousers and shirt, walking up and down the Victorian, brick-walled alleyways off the main road, against the noise of the traffic. When I’m off the phone with the oldest, and come back to the room shaking my hands because of the cold, I see Shane’s made it to rehearsal, in a new pinstripe suit and a new leather coat (except it’s plastic-leather, I think), with Joey and Eddy the driver. I give Shane a hug and say hello.

In the course of the afternoon, we go through Hell’s Ditch. One of the things I wanted to do with my youngest, because it always seemed it was going to be harder for her to let me go this Christmas, by way of easing the transition from with Daddy to without Daddy, I asked her if she would help me print up the lyrics to a couple of the songs, one of them being Hell’s Ditch, being sure than no-one else would have thought to do that, and being sure that Shane would probably not be expected to remember the lyrics.

Oh my god! What was I thinking? There we were, my ten-year-old and myself in front of the computer, having found a lyrics website and, how could I forget? There are people throwing up, fist-fucking, screaming, dildos, a famous bisexual French writer with his hand on a Spanish guy’s penis, and guillotining.

Jem and Spider say I should have seen the first draft of Hell’s Ditch. Oh, well, then, that’s some relief, I suppose.

As we go through the afternoon, trying The Auld Triangle, Kitty, Boat Train a couple of times, Hell’s Ditch, we have a listen to the originals on an iPod to figure out how they go. We tried Boat Train a couple of times in San Francisco, without Shane, but when it comes to doing it with Shane this afternoon, there are just too many words to get around. Besides, the way I printed them up means that the top of one of the pages of lyrics reads:

AND I WISHED THAT I WAS DEAD. Not a good omen.

During a break, again, Joey and Shane present their arses to us as they bend over to rummage in the plastic bag which is Shane’s luggage.

When we come to go through Kitty, I watch Joey, sitting on a flight case, lift his head, close his eyes and move his mouth to the words, davening a little.

We stay at rehearsal until, I don’t know, seven or something, half seven.

As we’re leaving, I fall into conversation with Shane about my new suit, which is a green, wool suit. Terry had mentioned earlier on in the day that it was the same colour as the uniform of the Irish Free State Army. That I should repeat this, not being entirely clear as to what the Irish Free State Army was, to Shane, kindles in him a sort of puzzlement at, bordering on disdain for, what he takes, I’m thinking, to be my presumption of bringing up anything to do with Irish history, at all, having – tending as I do to exude the britishest of aspects and not solely on account of the accent - not a leg to stand on. All of a sudden I feel as though Terry has set me up. If only Shane knew that I was just repeating something that Terry had said he would heartily agree that my suit is indeed the very same colour as the Irish Free State Army uniform, to be sure. Into the matter of the Irish Civil War and de Valera and Michael Collins and all, we do not venture. Thank Christ.

Thirty-eighth installment, December 11, 2006
Sir and Norman

I’ve spent the weekend out in the country. I drive up to Birmingham airport and have to pay to check in my luggage. This process takes a long time, because the woman’s accent at the check-in desk is heavily African and I don’t understand why it is the airline seems to be implying that it’s sort of unusual for anyone to bring luggage with them on a flight and I have to go somewhere else to make the payment.

The pilot tells us that there’s snow in Glasgow, but when we come in to land, I don’t see any, at all. It just looks, as usual, wet, and grey. It’s a propeller plane and the wind throws it about a bit when we come down.

I don’t see anyone about with a sign, so I go and get a coffee and sit and wait for the arrival of the flight everyone else is on. Zim, from last year, the driver, in the wool hat and with the ring-tone on his phone that plays something that sounds like an adhan - finds me in Starbuck’s, then goes off to get Terry who’s flown in from Dublin.

We sit and wait and drink coffee and talk about our weekends, about Terry’s daughters who are all growed up and living in Dublin and following careers now.

The plane from London with everyone else on it is delayed a while, but eventually we’re in the minivan from the airport. Spider reminds us that we traveled the country and the continent and Scandinavia in a bus just like this. I do remember. It was an Iveco, rented from Stardes and it was basically a crucible on four wheels.

The windows are steamed up, dribbling with condensation. I’m sitting next to Andrew with my knees up against the seat in front, talking about the state of his renovations, the rented house he and his family are living in at the moment, and a boat they live some of the time on, moored, I think, in the Lea Valley.

Shane wants a coat. Shane describes it as best he can. Joey understands the description as best he can. Then both Joey and Ross get on the phone to execute Shane’s desire.

‘You want a snazzy coat?’ someone asks.

‘Not a snazzy coat! A Stasi coat!’

The plaggy coat I saw him wearing to rehearsal last week he’s lost. I’m glad. Now, he wants – we hear the description again and again – an floor-length SS, German Army, Gestapo, leather, trench, coat. It’s amazing the amount of energy Shane can whip up in people. He wants something and people snap into action trying to make it happen. Here we have two people in the front of the bus, on their phones, figuring out how to get Shane the Stasi coat. Beyond them, unseen minions on their mobiles take up the challenge, and a small network is propagated with the mission of finding Shane a leather coat.

We don’t go to the hotel, because we’re late, but straight to the Academy. Joey disappears for the duration of the sound check and longer, because he’s gone off clothes shopping. I remember this is exactly what he did last year.

It’s cold at the Academy. The backstage area is even more constricted and labyrinthine and belly-of-the-whale than I remember. Terry comes into the dressing room, the room at the bottom of it all, where, if the Academy were a pyramid, you’d find the sarcophagus.

‘There’s a distinct smell of the lion house about the place,’ he says.

This is the first time Shane’s been to a soundcheck for a while. He takes the opportunity, to distract us from his previous lack of attendance maybe, to dig out a role for himself, suspecting that we’ve got on quite well at soundchecks without him and might be tacitly querying his participation, I don’t know, to tell us stuff about the songs that we already know – that Streams of Whiskey needs whumping up a bit. And things we didn’t know – that in the Broad Majestic Shannon stuff should drop out in one of the verses. (Darryl thinks he remembers Steve Lillywhite removing elements in the mix. I’m not sure. It’s a long time since any of us have listened to the record.) So we play it the way we always have and Shane doesn’t seem to notice. Then we go over the Auld Triangle, which for me, is a song that has all the elements of what I’ve always wanted to call a ‘signature’, or one of them in any case, being drawn on occasion to the time-signature-less, engine-room rumbling thing, and all of it devoted to Shane’s voice, aloft on our rising thermal, if you will. Tonight, at the soundcheck, we’re not sure how many verses of Auld Triangle he’s going to sing. Neither is he. He says six, but at rehearsal it seems to have been five and none of us are all that clear how many there are on the record and it’s also down to how many he can remember. (But then there again, when it comes to playing it, in rehearsal, Philip, playing piano, says he’s going to come in on the fourth verse but always comes in on the third.) So, before playing it, we knock about between ourselves what we think the structure’s likely to be, and then Shane gets into what the lyrics are, trying to remember them, and then feels the need to explain to me the symbolism of the seagulls high above the wall, just in case I hadn’t figured that out for myself and the whole business takes an age. Always, you get more than you expect, with Shane.

The television in the dressing room is going all the time with the BBC 24 hour news. On heavy rotation are the discovery upon discovery of the dead prostitutes in Suffolk. We talk about that for a bit, and dub the murderer the Suffolkater.

Pinochet died yesterday. We hardly speak about that. I read yesterday that Baroness Thatcher evinced sadness at Pinochet’s death – such a response in the first place being, well, to me, almost Aspergerishly inappropriate – but then I thought, how could anyone tell what emotion she was evincing? I thought she was a stricken basket-case. I’ve been out of the country too long maybe. Either that, or wishful thinking.

There’s Marcia in her cowboy shirt. Is that the one from Los Angeles, where Jos had come across a cowboy-gear shop, on Melrose, probably?

We meet again Fiona and Jan, in catering. Everyone asks me about Los Angeles and how jet-lagged I am and how do I like the weather and they’re always surprised how long it is that I’ve been living out there, surprised, maybe, by the lack of effect the time I’ve been living there has had on my accent.

Philip comes back from the hotel and changes into that suit of his which is the colour of brushed aluminium, the one we last saw in 2001, I believe, in this very – I was going to say ‘this very dressing room’, but we played the SEC that year, so, not in this very dressing room.

I find myself alone in the dressing room with Shane. He’s sitting on a chair by the mirror across the room from me, whirling his hands, then lifting his huge feet into the air and twirling them. I ask him what he’s doing. Of course I do. How can one not? He’s doing Chu Ki, he says. Never heard of it, I say. He tells me it’s very fashionable in Ireland at the moment, but then last year I remember him telling me that 15 inch singles were all the rage in Ireland, which they might be, might have been, what the fuck would I know what’s in or out in Ireland? He tells me that Chu Ki is, well, like Tai Chi but without all the, and at this point Shane hoists himself up to a standing position and swirls his arms around all the more elaborately, but you practice it sitting down, he says. I instantly suspect Shane of choosing such an exercise routine because it’s one of the few that doesn’t require you to stand up or run about – just to sit down and, well, waft a bit. I have also a lingering, persistent, suspicion that he’s made this exercise called Chu Ki up and so I make sure to retain a certain scepticism so as not to be caught out, if he should suddenly crease up and slap his thighs or something, that I should be so gullible. But I also make sure to retain a certain opacity as to my suspicions in case he thinks I’m taking the piss, which I so sorely want to, but daren’t, for fear of losing the moment. I watch him swirl his arms about and lift – manually, I’m sorry to see – his legs, one after the other, to deposit one heel after another on his lap. I’m amazed at his suppleness, though I wince for the pain I imagine it involves. I mean, I’ve seen him walk from the hotel door to the bus, from the side of the stage to the mike, and I’m amazed.

There’s now no smoking in Scotland’s public places, and for contravention of the law, it’s a £1,500 fine. But Shane’s going to smoke on stage anyway, a fact that he establishes in the dressing room in an unhingedly lawyerly way, and, with an irrefutable logic, and seeming to put in your mind the thought that somehow he thinks you think something you don’t, which he’s at pains to put out of your mind, states that, on the contrary (the contrary is implied), he would accept, individually, the responsibility for the £1,500 fine for smoking on stage.

Later, Shane’s preparing for the stage. He’s still sitting in front of the mirror, fairly brightly illuminated from the globes on the wall. Joey has come back from the shops. Over his arm, a floor-length leather coat – supposedly thirty quid from a second-hand place in Glasgow. He also has Shane’s ‘libertine’ shirt – presumably from his role as the ‘17th century bard’ in The Libertine. For a moment, I could almost be watching ‘Sir’ and ‘Norman’ from Ronald Harwood’s ‘The Dresser’. I am witness to the swiss coffee complexion of Shane’s skin (I remember watching him change his clothes before a gig at Lancaster University, oh, years ago, and his skin was grey) when he takes off the shirt he’s been wearing, and to his slacker-than-cherubic physique. He keeps the pants – I think, the pin-stripe ones from the suit he was wearing at rehearsal – and the Oxfords, dons (oh, the juxtaposition!) the Libertine shirt, and the Stasi coat, which he nips together at the front to approve of the length, and into the pockets of which he rams his hands to have a good look at himself in the mirror. Finally, in the thongy opening of the Libertine Shirt, he arranges the clattering bib of beads (five decades, blessed by ‘Fritz’, Shane says) and rocks and talismans and what all.

I have to go somewhere at this point. When I come back, Shane has swung off on a halyard somewhere else and I see disposed disposable razors on the slatted stool in the bathroom, completing, I suppose, his preparation. I will see the blotches of razor-burn on Shane’s face when he comes out onto the stage.

Talking about Libertines, Spider, it’s sort of agreed, looks a bit like Pete Doherty if you get him in your peripheral vision.

On stage, Shane indeed does smoke and drops his butts behind him on the stage when he finishes with them. Philip and I sort of take turns in putting them out under our feet.

As for the show, it’s painfully loud, the noise bouncing and crashing back from the auditorium, mixed in with the noise of the audience, and all these noises – crowd, drums, screaming, clattering, reverberation – are sucked into the wormhole that is Shane’s mike and blasted into my ears through my in-ear monitors, until, when it’s all over and I’m sitting with my head in my hands downstairs in the dressing-cell, my ears are singing like a fucking jet-engine.

Backstage, afterwards, when we come off stage, we find Louise and Marcia and Ella and Ella’s friend Denna in the dressing room. Louise tells me about the thump of my jumping off the drum riser because it’s right above their heads. I ask if the thump is at least in time with the music. She tells that me it is.

At some point, when there’s a lull, Nick Stewart (from Shotts, where we played at his pub the Mucky Duck, whenever that was, years ago anyway, when Spider fell asleep in the minivan and a handful of people were arrested at the gig – those last two clauses imply no causality) comes in. He’s looking terribly dapper in what looks like a linen suit with little extra pockets against his ribs. He’s reluctant to tell me where his suit came from. I do admire it, but a little too much maybe. He eventually tells me, with some sheepishness I wonder, that he got it from T K Maxx (the english version of T J Maxx – why the J for the K? To differentiate it from T J Hughes, I discover, of which I have never heard).

When I get back at my hotel room and in my bath, in the peace and quiet my ears are still singing from the gig, like a bell that won’t decay.

Thirty-ninth installment, December 12, 2006
‘It’s The Bad Neighbor’

I go shopping again, first for the International Herald Tribune, because I’ve forgotten to order one to my room at the hotel which might have had a bit more success than I do plying the newsagents, as I remember doing last year and the year before that, up and down Sauchiehall Street, where it’s still weird, for me, to hear Pakistani or Indian shopkeepers with Glaswegian accents.

With a Guardian instead, I go upstairs to Bradford’s tea rooms, and have breakfast with a plunger of oolong, at a table by the window, alternately scanning the paper and considering the chewing gum on the sidewalk in front of what look to be hard-to-let business premises.

On my way down Sauchiehall Street again, on my way to get ear-plugs and thereafter to mop up the Christmas present issue, I meet two guys from Whitehaven in the street who were at the show last night. They’re doing some Christmas shopping too. We shake hands and pass the time of day. Further down, there’s a street musician, and I wonder how he can play when it’s so cold. There’s a merry-go-round with not a lot of kids on it, one of them bawling its head off.

I traipse about the Buchanan Shopping Centre. There’s a school choir singing to a backing tape in what you might call the rotunda. The schoolmistress is very young and bounces on the balls of her feet as she conducts her kids, trying in vain to elicit the slightest glimmer of enthusiasm from them. A couple of girls, with their ankles defiantly crossed, at the back, are immune to what she looks like she hopes is her infectiousness. Nonetheless, she picks on the most wooden of the girls and with a finger draws a smile on her own face as she skips a series of assemblées to and fro in front of the choir. They sing songs about ‘bibbies’ and ‘Bithlihim’. One of the carols has the chorus, ‘Oh, it’s guid, it’s very very guid.’ When they finish one of the carols, there’s a solitary outbreak of hand-clapping from a woman sitting in the café across the way.

I drop in an art shop and buy some coloured tissue paper squares and cardstock and a silver pen, glue and scissors to make cards for the birthday season that’s coming up – Spider’s, Louise’s and then Danielle’s, my wife.

On the way back I get seriously lost in the streets off Sauchiehall Street. I know I’m going in the right direction, but the hotel eludes me. And then it starts to rain, then hail, and hail so hard that my pate stings with it and I have to stand in a doorway and watch the hailstones dance off the pavement.

Terry is on the same floor as Shane and Joey. He insists that he doesn’t spend his time with a tumbler to his door listening – well, he doesn’t have to insist because Joey and Shane’s interactions don’t need much amplification. What he hears is: ‘GET OUT OF MY FUCKING ROOM!’ followed by doors slamming. One wonders what’s going on, to whom the injunction is addressed, whether the party is a third or a second, who knows? One has one’s ideas, as gossip goes round, but ideas is what they are, gossip being what it is.

I’m to understand that, last night, the hotel manager had a concern or two about Shane’s resistance to the new law in Scotland against smoking – public places in general, and the hotel bar in particular. The hotel manager decided that the best solution to the up-coming problem was to close the bar before we got back to the hotel.

At the Academy, for the second night in Glasgow, juicing is in full swing, with fennel and beetroot and ginger and apple and carrot being fed into the machine. Ella’s stuck in traffic, again. Glasgow, as I might have written before, is beset with congesive traffic failure at this time of night.

The support band, as it was last night, is the Junkman’s Choir, with Davey and Stephen who used to be in Nyah Fearties. We go back a long way with them. I remember going to the Irish Centre in Kentish Town (where the photograph on the front cover of Red Roses For Me was taken) for their combined Robbie Burns Night/record release party for A Tasty Heidfu' in 1986. There was haggis and neaps. It’s Stephen’s 40th birthday today. I watch from the side of the stage. I like what they do. Davey comes across with a lot of physicality. Stephen is smiling about something all the time. I get a kick out of the middle-eastern beat that Stephen gets into.

When we go up on stage, standing by Shane’s mike, Darryl comes across the stool we had on tour with us last year – a solid, heavy thing with a foot-rest and a square seat of brown leatherette. It’s not a bad looking thing, but it just takes up space and is only useful for something for Shane to put his drinks on. Darryl has it removed.

The sound is better on stage tonight and the earplugs I’ve bought stay in my pocket.

I watch Shane ram his hand into his Stasi-coat pocket, presumably to get his cigarettes out, but his hand gets stuck and he spends a long, frustrating while, wiggling and pulling and teasing and then yanking his hand out.

The amount of clothes thrown on stage – including two flags, one of which a rather elaborate Irish one, and a Celtic shirt which brings the audience to a lather – is getting to remind me of the old days when we could have run a jumble from the amount of clothing thrown up out of the audience.

In Poor Paddy on the Railway – which turned up unexpectedly at soundcheck – Shane kicks me on the shin. I’m standing rather close to him, lip-reading, because I don’t have his voice loud enough in my in-ears and I need to know where he is in the verse, but scared to have him turned up in case he releases a eardrum-perforating scream. I put his kick down to part of his theatre rather than that it means anything much and tell myself to disregard it.

Since Andrew’s laryngitis with which he was beset in Japan and on the west coast of the United States, which rendered his voice into a freakish falsetto, there’s been some confusion and bad-planning when it comes to the counts he has to shout out in Sickbed of Cuchulainn and the Irish Rover. Though his voice is back, it’s still not strong enough for Star of the County Down, and it befalls me to count in the fast bit of Sickbed, while he gets to keep the one in the Irish Rover. This doesn’t make much sense to me at all, other than Shane can be guaranteed to look round to Andrew in the Irish Rover for the count, but maybe not so reliably for Sickbed. But tonight, in Sickbed, Shane turns away from me, standing right by him and shouting out ONE TWO THREE FOUR at the top of my voice, and looks to Andrew and the whole thing goes to shit.

I’m lying on the floor at the end of Fiesta with my eyes closed. Shane drops his mike into my mouth from its cord. It tastes foul and I turn my face away.

When we get down to the dressing room, Marcia says, ‘It’s the bad neighbour,’ meaning she and Louise and Ella are in there, enjoying a glass of champagne toward the end of the show (or non-alcoholic Beck’s in Louise’s case) and all of a sudden there’s the bang of my shoes on the ceiling as I jump down off the drum riser.

I go in search of my niece who’s come down from St Andrew’s with some friends. It takes me some time to discover where she is, because I have never known where the VIP bar is. I go to hang out with her and her friends, and such a variegated sample of brainboxes you could ever wish to meet.

When I get back to the dressing room, the band’s buses have gone, and I’m the last of the band in the building. I stumble into a meeting with Ross, Steve Sunderland, Murray and Gerry about a stool – the stool, one of the stools from the Academy, to a companion of which Shane took a shining last year and inveigled the crew to secret away on one of the trucks and which is now, apparently, in Steve Sunderland’s yard in Cambridgeshire. Now he wants another one, the one Darryl had removed from the stage tonight, to rest his drinks on on stage and something to sit on because his legs get tired or something, and the crew jumps to action purloin it for him. Ian Turner the lighting man comes in, rather breathlessly, to say that, in an attempt to circumvent the impasse Ross has come to trying to negotiate with the Academy, not wanting to buy the fucking thing, nor even feeling like paying £150 as a security, Ian and a couple of others have been caught putting the stool on the truck. The odd thing is that no-one but Shane wants the damn stool. I know I don’t.

Fortieth installment, December 13, 2006
A Christmas Stocking With Kittens Peeking Out Of The Top
Glasgow to Birmingham

We get an early call. I have breakfast with Darryl and Terry in the cellar with the black-stained wood and blood-coloured walls. Upstairs in the lobby, waiting for the buses to take us to the airport, I take a moment to close my eyes. The heavy velvet curtain around the doors blows open from the wind coming through the door.

Ross tells me that Shane was ready to go at, I think I remember him rightly, half eight or something. When Ross went in to his room, Shane was there, in his suit, sitting in the chair, apparently ready.

‘Things are looking up,’ says Ross, and went about doing the other things he has to do.

When he came back, Shane had divested himself of his jacket and shirt and his shoes were off. He had a pair of scissors and was cutting his hair.

‘Shane!’ Ross cries, ‘We’ve got to go!’’

‘I can’t cut my hair?’


In the lobby I hear Jem checking out.

‘Did you enjoy your stay, Mr. Finer?’ Well, as a matter of fact, he says, he didn’t because – as it has come out over the past couple of days, there has been some discussion about what the noise was in Jem’s room was, and in Darryl’s room too, though he wasn’t getting it so badly. It seems there has been a pulsing, throbbing, engine-room sound grinding in the walls, factory-like, possibly music, Jem thought, starting up at seven in the morning and not letting up - until Jem was forced to ring down to reception, whereupon, shortly thereafter, the grinding throbbing noise would stop, for a while, to start back up after fifteen minutes or something. It turns out that the hotel’s gymnasium is situated on the floor between Darryl’s room and Jem’s, and the noise was of the treadmill, right above Jem’s room. So, you might expect the manager, when he came to the checking-out desk to help, might at least have waived the £9.20, for a packet of peanuts from the minibar, if not the fee for the room itself, but, in the end, the manager doesn’t have the wit or the manners to do so. I don’t even think that Jem gets any sort of apology for the inconvenience.

Eventually, we duck out of the hotel, through the rain, and into the buses. Time, by now, is a bit tight, to make it to our plane to Birmingham

It’s bumpy take off, and landing for that matter, requiring me to grip the armrest, the plane twitching side to side as it slews down, bouncing first on wheel then onto the other.

In baggage claim at Birmingham airport, I pass by Shane sitting against the wall. He urges me to confess to God. It would do me good. I suspect he’s transferring his own guilt about I couldn’t begin to think what. Nonetheless, such is Shane’s force of personality that I automatically think I should be guilty of something.

At Birmingham airport, a bus the colour of – I don’t know, something synthetically fruity, like a raspberry mivvi – pulls up along the front of terminal two.

‘Hand-picked by me,’ says Ross. The confidence he has in his choice of bus, let alone his choices regarding anything, is enviable.

Joey rumbles past with his luggage, the wheels shuddering over the threshold out to the pavement, wearing headphones, and shouting out the chorus of the song he’s listening to, which consists mostly of ‘Show me yo’ ass!’

In Birmingham city centre, there are Christmas trees tied to the railings and the light-poles up and down the street, with a red bow on each of them

I can see the NIA (where, I find out, ‘Gladiators’ was filmed) from the hotel room window. It’d be a short walk along the Birmingham canal, but whatever map I come across doesn’t show me whether or not there’s a bridge across the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal to the NIA and at this point in time I lack the nouse and besides, the shoes I bought in Cheltenham on my weekend off are not the pliant, sure-footed sheathes I thought they were.

My phone rings as I make my way down the corridor to get on the bus to the arena. It’s my youngest. She misses me a lot, and I’ve been talking to her pretty much every day. When I get to the ground floor, I take her round the lobby of the hotel and describe to her the potted ficuses, the display cases full of modern-looking ceramics and the piano, locked, under the staircase down from what could almost pass for a clerestory. And there’s Shane writing in his notebook at a table. Trapped high up in the girders of the atrium ceiling there are half-flat balloons.

When we get to the NIA, I have a look around the auditorium and go over to where Ian’s working. He’s setting up the light-catching mesh screen behind the stage, which we’ve not been able to use until now because size wouldn’t permit in Glasgow. The light-catching mesh backdrop is a new thing. In October, the band met in the lobby of the hotel in Los Angeles to talk about what sort of stage set we were going to have this Christmas in Britain. It was thought that the Christmas trees and the boxes and the Christmas lights should have a rest. We decided to simplify things and wondered whether or not a simpler, slower-moving, Robert Wilson approach might be good – a big rectangle of colour at the back of the stage. Jos’s suggestion, so I heard, was a backdrop with a Christmas stocking in the middle of it and a couple of kittens peeking out of the top.

I drop in with Tim Sunderland next-door too but he spends a lot of the time with headphones on, tweaking, in his heavy-framed glasses and his sloppy sweater (which reminds me of the time Andrew climbed up to squat on his barstool, pulled his sloppy sweater over his knees, retracted his arms from his sleeves so they hung empty at his sides, gave us a moonish sort of expression and said: ‘I’m an owl.’).

I come across Anthony Thistlethwaite as I’m wondering about the auditorium – Anto, as he’s called now, or even was called back then, when he was in the Waterboys. Now he plays something, or somethings, with the Sawdoctors. I knew him a long time ago, I think when we went to Kenmare, on one of those occasions. We hung out quite a bit back then. I was at his flat somewhere in London the night of the 15th October 1987 when the gales hit the South East. I was aware of a vague puffing of the curtains at his living room window as we stayed up drinking with a couple of other people. We were so drunk that when the lights went out everyone assumed it was because the landlady had had enough of rowdiness and non-payment of rent and had disconnected the electricity. I got a cab home and surveyed the darkness of London with the only light being the occasional lift shaft on emergency power. A fallen tree blocked the road to the bedsit I was living in in Hampstead and I had to crawl over the branches. Now, Anto is as bald as I am. He lives in France and has kids pretty much the same age as mine. Nice guy.

In catering, I’m sitting with Jem, Ella and Ella’s friend Paul, talking about Shane’s blog – ‘St Shane’s First Letter to the Internetians’ – on the Guardian Unlimited Arts Blog. Jem and Ella and Paul are having a look at it on Ella’s computer at the dining table. It’s a matter of Shane talking to diarist Dickon Edwards on the phone, while Edwards records the monologue on his answering machine. The concensus is that it’s well written. Edwards’ temperament, I suspect, is an instrument of dulcification.

On stage, Shane is wearing the string vest – one of the articles thrown up on stage in Glasgow – a nipple showing through, which he rubs at one point, in a lascivious sort of fashion.

The damn stool from Glasgow is brought out in the middle of the show. I suppose Shane must have summoned it from the wings. He sits on it for the beginning of Turkish Song of the Damned and then gets up and sings the rest of the show standing up, hurling aside the mike stand at some point. The stool is used after that but once, I notice, to rest his bottle of retsina on it for a couple of songs.

I have people from the Cotswolds in the house. I go up to the microphone and say, ‘Anyone here from Gloucestershire, no, Worcestershire, no, Gloucestershire, no, Worcestershire?’ because where they live is in Gloucestershire but the postcode is Worcestershire. I catch sight of my guestlist in the seats right opposite and give them a wave back.

At one point, in Poor Paddy on the Railway again, I think, I’m standing close up to Shane, lip-reading because I can’t hear his fucking voice and I need to know where I am in the song. Without warning, he turns, picks up his bottle of retsina from the Glasgow barstool and pitches it at me and sloshes it into the front of my accordion. I decide to take a moment, stop playing and go off to where there’s a towel and wipe it down. The retsina’s gone all in the keyboard and over the grille on the front. The event makes me miserable and makes me feel stupid for hanging around Shane too close. I realize that I’m not wholly innocent in the wine-sloshing incident. I might tell myself that I was hanging around Shane’s vicinity in order to lip-read where he is in the song, but I was also hanging around, close, stamping my foot, in order to drive him into singing in time with the song and when Shane comes adrift, I should know by now that there’s not much you can do, there’s no amount of foot-stamping that’s going to bring him into line, and once you know that, the foot-stamping takes on all the hallmarks of passive aggression.

I carry on playing, putting a certain amount of physical distance from Shane, and then what I’m playing starts to withdraw from my in-ear monitors, and during Fairy Tale, is replaced by a horrid crackling noise. I don’t understand how Gerry Colclough seems not to be aware. I’ve already been over to him complaining that I’m beginning not to be able to hear what I’m doing. And so I jettison the new accordion and have Murray hand me the spare, the Amica, and strap it on. The straps are too short, and the accordion is light as fucking feather, and feels pretend, but at the minute sounds so much fucking better than the Morino, it’s really fun to play and, to begin with, deafeningly loud.

I have a word with Shane afterwards, in the dark behind the curtains at the back of the stage. I put my hand on his arm and, in the voice I’ve learned to use in the years I’ve been a parent whose kids have been to progressive infant and elementary schools in California – you get the picture – I encourage Shane to employ a different vocabulary than the pitching of retsina into the front of my accordion and, come to think of it, kicking me in the fucking shin, to let me know what’s on his mind.

‘I know it’s difficult, but you might want to take a moment and tell me to fuck off out of your face,’ I say.

Back in the dressing room, then, Joey comes scuttling into the dressing room, sideways, like a crab almost, and it’s often the pattern these things adopt, that, almost Shakespeareanly, the nobleman’s emissary, in the form of Joey, is sent. I pick up the cue and go to my audience with Shane, who happens to be right outside in the corridor. It turns out that my stamping in his vicinity puts him off. We talk around the houses for a bit. In the end, Shane translates his anger at me into to the anger the song engenders in him whenever he sings it, Poor Paddy on the Railway, that is. He ends up analyzing the song for me.

After my interview with him, I find myself walking across the area behind the stage, marked out with white tape, arrows and lanes and such, on the way, maybe, to where the aftershow guests are to be found, with Ross, who I don’t know if he’s advising me or being sympathetic or encouraging me to be realistic or what, as he says to me that Shane is a stranger to logic, at least, that seemed to be his drift. Well, I kind of knew that, but, you have to say something if someone fucks wine all over your new accordion.

Forty-first installment, December 14, 2006
Scott Walker is Insane
Birmingham to Nottingham

It’s Spider’s birthday. I haven’t bought Spider a birthday present: I’m concerned for Spider and Louise’s luggage, which was new in the United States, seemingly made of the same material as the Stormtroopers’ gear in Star Wars, but now split. Well, I saw them packing up at the end of our tour of the West Coast, after their wedding, it has to be said, and after the record shops you can come across in Los Angeles and San Francisco. To close their luggage, they had sit on the suitcase lids. So, I’ve made him a card – after a few attempts – out of the origami tissue paper and cardstock, Pritt-stick, scissors and a silver pen I bought in Glasgow. With coloured paper you want to go all Matisse, with assured strokes of the scissors and confident pasting. But with the fucking tissue paper, the tiny little sheets have no substance and the complicated design I had in mind ends up being primary school basic, a blue horizon against a red sky with half a yellow sun rising and the hotel room floor covered in multicoloured confetti from my aborted attempts at something more sophisticated. I go up to Spider and Louise’s floor and slot it under their door.

As I go out of the revolving door to put my stuff on the bus, there are poinsettias everywhere, which I thought it was an American thing, and there’s Billy Bragg, having played somewhere in town last night, getting ready to drive off to his next gig. I introduce myself and we talk about how things are going, how Shane is, that sort of thing.

‘That your bus?’ he asks, which engenders a discussion about its colour.

‘Sore helmet,’ he says. He points proudly to his what’s called a Splitter - the van he’s going to get into to go on to wherever he’s playing next. It’s the preferred mode of transport if he’s going to make any money.

‘I don’t make money on records,’ he says. ‘Write a book. That’s where the money is. Seventeen ninety nine at merchandise.’

I get onto the bus. Terry’s already in his position with a view of the open road. He goes out to say hello to Billy Bragg. They go back a long way. Ella’s sitting in the back lounge and has been up since 4.00am this morning finishing an assignment for college.

I sit at the table by the galley opposite Andrew, who is reading a biography of Thomas Bewick, who’s considered one of the finest of England’s wood engravers and regarded a father of modern book illustration. It kind of makes sense, to see Andrew reading such a book, in that Andrew kind of looks engraved himself.

A conversation in the back of the bus starts up about one’s body mass index, which is calculated by dividing one’s weight in pounds by the square of one’s height in inches, and the result multiplied by 703 (so I happen to have found out). Someone happens to know Jack White’s weight.

‘So,’ someone else asks, ‘how tall is he?’

‘Eight foot six,’ Andrew says.

The conversation turns to Russia, probably on account of the state of the traffic this morning. I’d read in the summer that the hot-item in Russia was blue lights to go on top of cars, to part the tide of traffic that seems to be generally at a standstill, at least in Moscow. Andrew’s been on tour in Russia, with Nigel Burchill. They had armed minders who looked after his band in whatever town they happened to be and men to count the money at the end of the night who rested their handguns on the table. One set of armed minders put Andrew and the band on the train from Moscow to St Petersburg with the instruction to find an empty compartment, bar the door with whatever they could find and not to open it for no-one, not anyone. That’s the kind of place it is, Russia, seems to me.

Darryl’s asleep in the back of the bus.

Spider and Louise and Darryl and I watch the outskirts of Nottingham through the bus window. There’s a tanning parlour with the word ‘restylane’ on it which puzzles us. Spider and Louise tell me about their list of possible names for clubs. I can’t remember the whole list, but ‘Whorz’ is one of them.

The juicing machine is enjoying a new lease of life. I don’t know who restarted the fad, but there’s generally a line forms to the juice-machine and people coming away with lurid confections in plastic glasses: fennel, ginger and apple; celery, carrot and beetroot. Andrew makes one that is stratified like a flag. I make a beetroot and ginger one, put a purple moustache on, look up, smile and say: ‘Got beetroot?’ It takes ages for the mauve moustache to wear off.

In catering, Ella and I trade experiences in past Christmasses. When she was a kid Ella dressed up for her school play, or something, as a snowflake. I remember being dressed up as a letter to Father Christmas for a yuletide pageant in Eccles when I was in primary school. The address on the envelope, which my dad painted, read something like: Santa Claus, The North Pole, Greenland. My head stuck out of the top and my ankles at the bottom.

We listen to Spider and Louise’s iPod in the dressing room: Scott Walker among the artists, and Rancid. Rancid seem inoffensive enough, but Scott Walker is insane.

Ella’s worried that she’s too tired to put on her make-up and lacks the energy to fix her false eyelashes, but she manages to.

Louise and Spider have been getting pissed off with the inaccuracies in the blogue, insofar as Nora, on the tour of the east coast of the States, in the blogue, tended to appear in rooms and in situations in which, in real life, so Spider and Louise have told me, she did not participate. The process of writing this blogue shares a similarity or two with the process by which seagulls trail the fishing-smack out of harbour and into the shoals: I alternate between perching on the gunwhale keeping an eye out for a bin left open or a sandwich wrapper left unattended, and swooping down to peck about in what gets thrown overboard from the galleys.

We get changed, or some of us do, into our stage-wear. Me, it’s no longer stage-wear but more like an overall I put on to do my work. I like the way Andrew looks in his brown moth-eaten suit, the way the state of his suit seems to have been declining over the period we’ve been working though generally looking as though it’s been declining for a lot longer.

John MacGovern, a relative of Frank Murray, is around. He’s been one of those figures that has been wandering into whatever venue we’re in for many years, and wandering in out of the rain it would appear, since he generally looks damp. This year, it looks as though time is leeching him of colour, but he’s tired, I guess. How he gets from gig to gig is a mystery to me, but he does, and I’m sure he welcomes the meal in catering after his journeys.

I suppose I must be tired. After picking up my keys at reception, I get into the lift with Andrew and Jem. The lift stops at the seventh floor. No-one gets out, and there’s a bit of curiosity about who punched seven on the wall-plate. We continue up. We all get out on the eighth floor and lug our luggage down the corridor. We say see you later to Andrew. When I get near to whatever number my room is I get my key out, only Jem’s getting his key out too for the same one. Turns out my room’s the one below Jem’s, on the seventh floor.

The hotel in Nottingham is crap. It wants to come across as a boutique hotel: there’s the signature chair in the lobby with the nine-foot-high back to it; diagonal across the lobby and which forms the outer perimeter of what stands for a bar – a collection of cheap chairs – there’s the underlit frosted-glass table, illuminating in blue a rack of glasses; up in the room, there’s a glass door to the bathroom, but done on the cheap with nailheads in the molding round the door jamb; there are aquamarine tiles round the bath and a glass counter with your brushed steel (but in this case just stainless steel) dish-type sink. The carpet in the room is a filthy brown one from the 90’s and, in another attempt in boutiqueness, there’s a slice of frosted glass on the top of the chipped vanity table against the wall. Otherwise, the switch on the left side of the bed that operates concealed spots which shine directly down, lights up the right hand side of the bed.

While I’m waiting for the van to take some of us back to the Nottingham Arena a bunch of people, girls in party dresses shivering from the cold, come in. There’s a party on in the hotel somewhere. I heard a tall entertainments manager talking to some underlings about it in the lift.

The van driver has to take us through the Christmas market, illegally, to circumnavigate a road accident. There’s Yates’s Wine Lodge. Ah, yes, Yates’s Wine Lodge. A glimpse of the place hurtles me back to 18th October 1984 when we were in the middle of the tour opening for Elvis Costello and we congregated in Yates’s Wine Lodge in Nottingham to await the bus to take us to Loughborough University. On the menu that morning, that afternoon, whatever it was, was Bismarck and Centenary Port (one of the glasses from that morning, afternoon, whatever it was, is in the possession of someone, Darryl possibly). So, the bus was idling outside and we were already late, so it was a dash outside to the off-license attached to Yates’s to buy – well, Spider and I leastways as I remember – a bottle of Centenary Port each. Mine I drank sitting by the window of the Stardes minibus, with the window open, the sun lowering over the fields and the wind in my hair. It was a blissful autumn afternoon. At Loughborough, there was a fight in the dressing room. I remember Cait bearing down on me and the thud of my head against the floor. Then there was the gig itself. I blithely went about my business of playing the accordion, saying to myself the while: ‘Oh this is so easy!’ and puzzled at my inability to put my fingers where they were supposed to be, at all. Afterwards – I suppose I must have bought them; I had a thing about explosions and smoke – there were fireworks which I, and I suppose someone else, Spider maybe, sowed around the dressing room. I think I’m right in saying Spider, because I remember Spider and I going like truant schoolkids to I can’t remember the guy’s name who worked for Asgard Agency to finally own up to the scorched dressing room carpet. I think it cost us, the band that is, £40.

Joey comes shuffling into the dressing room talking to himself, sweating, usually in stockinged feet and occasionally wearing a hachimaki, to shuffle out again, his arms clanking with bottles, forgetting something, going back to get it, going over the list under his breath to himself: ‘Towels. Tonic. Gin. Plastic glasses.’

On stage, at some point tonight, a strange moan comes out of Shane. I can’t remember if it has to do with anything in particular or is supposed to mean anything in particular, but it’s a low, elongated puling that floats independent of what we’re playing.

Shane edits If I Should Fall From Grace With God again. If I Should Fall From Grace With God seems the most susceptible to redaction and is generally the first casualty, abscising verses and instrumental breaks like leaves. Later on, Andrew takes up the autumnal theme and sheds a round of the instrumental bit in White City.

Shane’s got a rip in the back of his Stasi coat.

I think it’s this night that I see Shane, in Fairy Tale of New York, counting Ella through her steps, not that Shane’s keeping up to any rhythm, but a beat that only he can hear, but Ella yields to Shane’s rotation, leaning back, it seems to me, at a precarious sort of angle.

Terry starts Sickbed in the wrong key, which is refreshing. It actually sounds better a tone higher, sounds more like the mandolin it’s supposed to be. Come to mention it: Terry must have played the intro to Sickbed of Cuchulainn the way it is on the record once, but that was a long time ago. Since then, it’s been on the wrong instrument and always played wrong. I remember us trying to talk to him about it once, but such was his response that we decided to let it go.

The silver Japanese waving cat that arrived on top of Philip’s guitar amp the time-before-one that we were in Japan is running out of batteries. There’s a forlornness about the way its arm barely moves.

In The Irish Rover (which Shane has been introducing as ‘Dog’ because it’s written down that way on the set list, and then going on to explain to the audience why it is we call it that) is the occasion for a variety of theatrical spasms to pass through Philip as if he’s suddenly channeling one or other of the great pantomimers of the past. The lyric ‘lost in the fog’ induces in Philip arm-movements that should be viewed against a slowly turning black and white spiral or something.

I play slews of bum notes at this gig. Sometimes accordion-playing, or playing any instrument, sometimes talking for Christ’s sake, becomes a strange and unfamiliar art that, pace Browning, while within one’s reach can remain just beyond one’s grasp.

Tonight, the words, if that’s what they are, which Shane sings at the beginning of Sayonara come from no extant language that I know of. The syllables are subject to no useful meter for us, but we come in on time anyway and I think the song goes on as you’d expect.

I’m a bit leery of Shane on the stage and give him plenty of room. Not that I mind much, but the space between Spider and Shane I leave empty because I don’t want wine fucked all over my accordion, my new accordion, and because I don’t want a kick in the shins from those – have you seen Shane’s feet? They’re huge. I don’t know what size of shoe he has (and now his fitting is obviously not so extra wide as to necessitate someone relaxing the shoe with a boxcutter to get his foot into it) – boat-sized Oxfords. As I was saying, the space I’ve been leaving empty is beginning to be filled with Darryl, but then there’s something else at play here, which is that when Shane has become lost in the odd song, we all want to know where we are and, usually, quickly arrive at some sort of concensus before the song collapses into irremediality around us. When things go adrift, I see Terry’s head cock up to see where Shane is. I go round to Shane’s side to have a look at his mouth, or bend an ear to his monitors to hear what he’s singing (as I’ve said I have his voice fairly low in my in-ear monitors because I am truly scared of the scream he unleashes in If I Should Fall From Grace With God). A perplexed, suspenseful aspect comes over Andrew but he’s still walloping, desperate to catch onto a trailing thread of something that’s going to pull everything into focus. Darryl peers in as well, to see what Shane’s mouth is doing. This maybe takes a second or two, but it’s a matter of everyone rushing to windward and trapezing the song back up, frantic to keep the sails out of the water and drive the keel back underneath. Tonight, with my shins sore from the kick they got the other night and a sense of protectiveness over my new accordion, I’m going to let Darryl get in close to see what’s going on and pick up from there.

We play happy birthday to Spider before we go into Fiesta.

I’ve noticed how Darryl moves his head a little like Peter Sellers in The Party when he sings.

In the dark at the side of the stage, there are always strips of white tape and arrows telling us where to go and where the stage is. Tonight, Shane is so weary that he assumes that the guitar rack, right at the edge of the stage, is somewhere to sit. Ross is quick to avert both Shane and the guitar rack plummeting over the side of the stage six or so feet to the concrete underneath and guides him to a flight case elsewhere to sit down and rest his pins.

We’re getting a lot of clothes on this tour – the string vest was a find. Someone throws a high-heeled shoe up which comes in handy at the end of Fiesta for battering the microphone, though one is forced to concentrate, and hard, because the tempo Shane’s beating is in not much of a relationship with the tempo of the song. He’s still clutching the shoe when he comes off stage as he collapses into a chair. Ross comes up to him to say that the woman wants her shoe back.

‘Fuck off!’ Shane says.

‘Let’s drink champagne out of it first,’ Andrew says.

Eventually Ross prevails upon Shane to relinquish it. I side with Shane over things like this. Someone throws something on stage and there’s a tacit contract there that we get to keep the swag. We’d be here all night if we had to return everything.

On the subject of things being thrown up on stage: Andrew tells us that he got hit by a coin tonight. He was only thankful it was a ten p bit and not a fifty p and that it had not been filed or something. It pisses me off. Although, in a certain circumstance it was funny – the circumstance being when Frank Murray had us accept gold discs on stage in Paris once, in front of our audience - I think even before we started the show - and the crowd jeered and showered us with centimes. We should have known better than to expect Frank to know better.

I come across a couple of older people from Nenagh who appear to want something signed. It’s a used envelope. Their accents – I used to have such a good ear for accents at one time (though I did sit at a bar after a gig we did in Letterkenny, years ago, going through the motions of keeping up my end of a conversation, with nods and the odd non-committal laugh and a periodic ‘Is that right?’, about something – I had no idea - I was having with a guy whose accent, to me, had rendered his discourse to a series of meaningless phonemes) and I should do, considering the amount of times I have to repeat myself and oftentimes change the way I pronounce certain words, like tomato and water, in order that Murcans might understand – anyway, this older couple from Nenagh’s accents are impenetrable. They hand me this used envelope and the context of the situation is pretty straightforward to me: blank piece of paper, pencil, people backstage – well, it all signifies that they want my autograph. I scribble ‘lots of love James’ and start to move on.

‘So, we’re sorted for Brixton?’ the man says, holding me back. I have no idea what he’s talking about and laugh and say, ‘See you there!’ and, with a wave, disappear into the dressing room, until I review the episode later on, and come to realize that the noises they were making possibly meant that my signing their torn envelope was by way of a rendering them a makeshift ticket to one of the nights in Brixton and I feel bad that anyone should think they could present a torn envelope at a box office with someone’s autograph on it in lieu of a ticket. Oh, I do hope that isn’t the case, but I’m fearful it is.

I watch Shane shamble about with two bottles, his jacket and his luggage-bag under his arm. He seems certain to spill or drop something at any minute.

I think it’s tonight that Philip’s seriously not well, though he’s not been well for a day or two, coming down with a cold that I have the feeling he was beginning to come down with in London at rehearsals. As he’s leaving to go back to the hotel, he asks Darryl if he will look after his guests, the context being Darryl and Philip’s close connection with all things Nottingham.

There’s cake that we’re afraid of, on account of what last year’s did to Paul Scully who might have been seriously toxified, judging by reports of his behaviour and the way his eyes rolled around the following day when he was describing his experiences of the night before.

Gerry the monitor man, and a few others, are anxious to get to the crew bus to watch on satellite the 3rd Test from Perth. The crew can’t check into the hotel until late tomorrow, so they’re going to watch it all night.

I’ve had my bath, as hot as I can get it and I’m in bed, under the concealed spot in the ceiling, reading ‘Cloud Atlas’. The phone rings. It’s Ross. There’s noise and voices in the background. Can I come down to the bar? Because Shane’s on his own and Ross feels as though he could use some company, plus also Ross has had to lose his temper at someone. He’s tried Spider and Louise, but they’re in bed. I think about it for a minute, but decide to carry on with my book, in the warmth.

I turn off the light after a bit and listen to the sounds of Nottingham, shouting outside in the street and the sound of a Dumpster being pushed over.

Forty-second installment, December 15, 2006
Emptying Shotguns Into A Dresser
Nottingham to Manchester

I go to have breakfast at The Bank, a pub that, well, probably, was – a bank. It’s a pub whose interior design has borrowed from that of a hotel lobby, with numbers on sticks on the tables. A spotty boy comes along and clanks a sandcastle-sized galvanized hardware-shop bucket with a wooden handle on the table. It contains my condiments – bottle of Sarson’s, sachets of mustard that I’m going to try to not even look at and my cutlery in a paper napkin. Martha Fucking Stewart has a lot to answer for. I read the paper and quell bile.

The breakfast comes in a nouvelle-cuisine pile, topped by damp toast butter-side-down. The bacon is charred in stripes. The tomato has similarly been charred in stripes and has the consistency of a ripe boil. It’s a culinary imperative nowadays – to show some evidence that what you’re about to eat has been done in a pan that is generally hoped to be considered to be expensive, and somehow earthy, somehow Nigella. The bacon looks, to me, however, as though the charred stripes came painted-on from the factory.

I go out to get an envelope and some wrapping paper for the Christmas presents for my family in Manchester. The shop woman at Clinton’s, or the stationery store next to Trimark in any case, calls me ‘my love’. I always thought Darryl was joking about people in Nottingham calling one ‘duck’, or ‘me ducks.’

At eleven-thirty, Ross goes into Shane’s room. Shane’s already dressed and is sitting in the chair in his room.

‘YOU’RE LATE!’ he shouts.

We get on the bus in surprising proximity to the time it says on the call-sheets that Ross has someone slip under each of our doors each night to let us know what to expect on any given day. I have my spot on the bus, in the compartment to the rear of Shane and Victoria, Spider and Louise’s compartment. Joey floats between the galley and one of the bunks.

We drive out of town alongside a bend in the Trent which, by the look of it, is a fast moving, simmering river. Philip tells me he goes down to the river near his house for a walk in the park, and to feed the ducks.

‘Oh, you’re a sad old man,’ I say.

Spider and Louise think better of letting Joey have an ashtray in his bunk, in case he falls asleep, and, well, it’s a confined space and one’s unfamiliarity with the emergency exits, and the time it would take for a bunk fire to get a good seat before anyone would notice, that sort of thing.

Outside the window, there’s a shining swamp of tyre tracks in one of the fields. There are coppices in the fields, feathery against the sky, and clouds hanging low over the horizon looking like ripped paper.

Shane comes down the back of the bus for a while, when all of a sudden there’s a run on the food in the cupboards, and everyone comes at once: Victoria for toast and peanut-butter; Darryl flapping his hands at an apple turnover; Jem for some fruit; Shane because he’s attracted to all the activity and has just been to the bog. He braces against a bulwark and talks to Jem about the technique of rendering a sideboard antique by emptying a shotgun into it.

Later on, as we start to come into Manchester, the bus swerves round a corner. There’s a sliding noise and a clank in the compartment behind me.

‘Aagh! Let me out!’ Shane shouts out, followed by the cloying smell of spilled alcohol filling the air. Louise at this point can be expected to appear in the galley, tearing off sheets of kitchen roll to rush back to Shane’s table.

It’s raining in Manchester and Terry and Andrew are going to go to Hobgoblin on Oxford Road (which I wonder might have been Barrett’s, where I bought my first electric guitar, a Telecaster, one heavily rainy day in 1978, for £220. I couldn’t make my mind up about it and phoned by brother who said, ‘Get it. It’s your ticket out.’) to buy a concertina for Jane. Terry gives me a potted description of the distinction between an Anglo and an English concertina. Terry’s concertina, which we used to call ‘the Bomb’ because it was so small and its whereabouts so vital, when he brought it out on the road back then, is an English concertina.

Joey’s at the reception desk when I go down to go out into the rain to meet my brother and my sister-in-law for dinner. He’s going down to London to stay overnight and has got a bit of luggage with him. He’s ordering a cab. I’m a bit slow on the uptake, because, if he’s going down to London he’s not going to need a cab because Piccadilly Railway Station is maybe a hundred yards up the road. But I am slow on the uptake and I leave the hotel on the way to the restaurant on John Dalton Street, but then turn back when I’ve thought about it, to tell him that the railway station’s just up there. I’m too late and he’s pulling the door closed on the cab, which turns a U in the street and drives off. Now, if I were a cabbie, I’d not take a fare like that – I’d at least give the option of walking.

I stop in a pub on the corner of Portland St and Princess St (which I’ve never heard pronounced otherwise than “Prince’s” – never understood that; a city-wide concensus to deny the street its gender or something) called the Old Monkey. That it’s a Holt’s pub you can tell. Holt’s pubs are not of this age.

I meet my brother and sister-in-law at about six at a restaurant with a galvanized iron bar and oak tables near Deansgate. Afterwards they go off to see The Beautiful South, at the MEN Arena – a birthday gift to my brother from my niece – and I go off in the opposite direction to the AMC theatres on Deansgate, in what was once the Great Northern Warehouse. There’s supposed to be some design afoot here, but, to me, it’s still a great big fucking barn with an escalator going up the middle of it. I buy my tickets to see Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. I choose the front row because I know no-one’s going to sit in front of me. I like to slouch in seats, particularly cinema seats, and plus also, I can put my feet up on the tube-steel guard rail thing, which I do, settle myself in, take in the trailers.

An hour later when I wake up, I discover Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny to be twaddle. I have no difficulty picking up the story, which I can’t say about actually wanting to pick up the story.

I walk back to the hotel. The rain has stopped, but it’s still cold. There are queues outside the clubs along the velvet ropes and the air thumping. I pop into the Ape and Apple, another Holt’s pub, but they’ve closed the bar, because Holt’s pubs are that old-fashioned. I go into another pub which comes across as some Georgian townhouse with a hint of art gallery, or something, upstairs – hessian carpets, oak bar, robust colours on the walls, concealed low-voltage spot lighting. I leave half my Stella Artois in a niche and bugger off.

Forty-third installment, December 16, 2006
‘We were forced to play a defensive pattern all night,’

My brother picks me up from outside the hotel and we drive out to Worsley where I spend the afternoon with him and my sister-in-law and my nieces. We drive past what I suppose used to be called the Beetham Tower, but now it’s known as the Hilton Tower. It’s the tallest building in Manchester. The CIS building, which I used to be able to see from my bedroom window, to the east south east across Egerton Park, when I was a kid and which was a symbol of modernity (and also blazoning my gran’s nickname, ‘Cis’ over Manchester, and, with it being finished in 1962, was near as dammit almost a ‘Welcome to Manchester’ salute to my gran who came to stay from Yorkshire for the rest of her life in 1963 or something), used to be the tallest building in Manchester. Well, it’s not now. My brother’s been in the building trade in Manchester and thereabouts for thirty years. He worked with the architect of the Hilton Tower back in the 70’s and sensed enough about the guy to be able to say reliably that he was on his way somewhere. Ian Simpson has a penthouse suite at the top of the Hilton Tower, with olive trees growing up there. Lines form at the bottom to go up to the bar on the 24th storey, which has a glass floor looking straight down to the street.

It’s a great big bollocking barn of a place is the Manchester Evening News Arena, with its hectares of floor and acres of stadium seating and the stage flanked by video screens.

Before going on stage, I do hand exercises, which I’ve been lead to believe are yoga exercises, designed to ward off carpal tunnel syndrome by stretching the extensors along the underside of my wrist. I can pull my hand back to about ninety degrees, both directions, wrist facing down, and facing up. My hand-flapping to warm it up before I go on stage has, in the past, piqued a bit of interest, and now the extensor-stretching exercises pique Jem’s, but he can’t bend his hand back much further than thirty-five degrees from horizontal. He wonders if there’s something the matter with him.

I’m not saying that it’s because Joey fell asleep on the couch and that no-one woke him and that what are thought to be his duties were divided between the crew, and that whoever stationed Shane’s drinks around the stage poured ones that are too strong, nor am I saying that because of Tom MacManamon’s death yesterday – the fact that Shane doesn’t mention at all might signify how deeply it might have upset him – nor am I saying that it’s because of the cavernousness of the arena and the general rock-level sound I think we’ve been getting since Tim has been doing the front-of-house sound, which comes right back at you somehow from out there beyond the PA stacks, went some way to turn Shane around – I’m not saying that any of those factors had anything to do with the quality of the gig we did in Manchester tonight, but I’m not ruling them out. The fact is that the show in Manchester was one of the worst we’ve done, in this incarnation of the Pogues (we’ve done worse, for Christ’s sake, but for the most part in front of fewer people).

‘We were forced to play a defensive pattern all night, Brian,’ I hear Darryl say afterwards.

We sit around in the dressing room and, as of old, berate Shane for his performance. It doesn’t rise to the level it might have twenty or so years ago and we wish we didn’t have to do it, but nonetheless there’s something about the confrontation back stage that confirms an intimacy that you don’t get much of anywhere else than in families.

I go out to the hospitality tent to meet brothers and sisters-in-law, nieces and their friends and my friends. They are good-mannered enough to not say anything about how crap the gig was.

Forty-fourth installment, December 17, 2006
‘Watch McQueen slap Ali McGraw about’
Manchester to London

Seems late, to me, twelve o’clock, to leave for London. So convinced am I that it’s been typed up wrong on the call-sheet that I set my alarm for nine this morning and then spend the time farting about in the room, breaking it up with a walk out to the paper shop for a paper I’m not going to read.

There’s something dietetically persuasive about Darryl when it comes to breakfast – either that or he’s eating something I wouldn’t mind having for breakfast, so, like him, I order porridge and kippers and toast. You get fed up of the sebacious eggs and the bacon that looked to be flecked with some sort of smegma. And the hard tomatoes.

‘Shane’s on his starting blocks,’ Ross says, breezily, outside as I’m standing with Philip wondering where the bus is. John MacGovern comes up on his way to the station. What colour John MacGovern had has now completely leached out – through age I suppose, now, and the tiredness that attends following us around the country – to the point that he looks to be made entirely of condensation.

On the bus, Andrew sits down opposite me and puts a black fabric cylinder with a handle on it in front of me on the table.

‘It’s Jane’s bomb,’ he says. When he takes it out, it’s not as fancy as I remember Terry’s concertina looking, with its filigree steel grilles both sides. Jane’s bomb is altogether a no-fuss concertina but the fingering just as arcane as I remember Terry’s being. It’s impossible to get a sodding tune out of. I put it back in its case and hand it back to Andrew, defeated.

Ross comes up the bus to stand with his back up to the galley counter and conducts some business.

‘She has nothing between the ears,’ he says into the phone, ‘but she’s band-friendly.’

Philip gets on all-fours in the aisle of the bus, and starts to wrap up a box with shaking hands, a box that seems to have been with him since – Glasgow at least, I’m sure. He’s got the brown paper flattened out between the aluminium sills along the aisle on the floor, and the Sellotape’s to hand, and it looks to be going well, until he gets to the far side of the box and the brown paper doesn’t meet at the back and he has to tape it to the box itself.

Later on, I’m feeling a bit weird. I wonder if I’m coming down with the cold that Darryl and Philip have had. In the back of the bus, Philip’s reading the papers, Ella has wrapped a coat about her head and is sleeping propped up on the cushions. Now and again someone comes down to make some toast.

The book Jem’s reading is by Jim Thompson. Spider tells us about flying on Saudi Airlines once, and reading the in-flight entertainment magazine, about ‘The Getaway’:

“Watch McQueen slap Ali McGraw about!”

I talk to Scratchy on and off on the way down to London. At one point he takes out a tiny spiral-bound notebook filled with writing, and writes in it. He’s been keeping a journal for near enough thirty years. We talk about Joe Strummer and one’s years in the wilderness, until he folds his hands over one another and goes to sleep.

I don’t think I’m feeling very well. I figure now that it’s a hangover, but I didn’t have all that much to drink last night. Each movement I make seems to jar my nerve endings or something, so I sit still and watch the swampy fields go by, and get up to turn out the light in the galley so I can see the view from the window, low sunlight over the fields. A flood with a gate in the middle of it. I decide to listen to something on the iPod and skip through what’s lined up on the shuffle until I come across something I actually want to listen to: one or two of Dowland’s Lachrimae, Fantasy On a Theme By Thomas Tallis by Vaughan Williams, Frank Zappa’s Peaches en Regalia, Utopia by Goldfrapp, Friday On My Mind by the Easybeats.

The bus swerves round a corner coming into London and yet again there’s a cry of ‘A-a-o-w!’ starting off with an angry attack but developing into a mardy complaining cadence as once again Shane’s drinks have slid across the table and over him. Dependably, Louise comes up to the galley for kitchen towel.

At Brixton Academy they’ve put a carpet in the dressing room and rearranged the furniture a bit, put one of the black vinyl sofas against the other wall. A flight case with wheels is covered in some black velvet that I’ve seen in catering and stands under the window with drinks on it. I feel lousy. I can’t stomach juice from the juice-machine. I sit on one of the sofas and run my palm and fingers over my bald head because it feels comforting to do that. Louise has remarked upon this before, how I like to run my fingers over my skull. It’s a mutually satisfying feeling for both my head and my hand, the way that stroking a dog is said to comfort the elderly. And I always liked the image, in Apocalypse Now, of Marlon Brando running his hand over his skull in the shaft of light when Captain Willard encounters Kurtz for the first time.

Philip tells us – because Philip can be guaranteed to have trawled the papers and dragged the internet since we last saw him – that, on some show he’s doing – a tv or a radio show, I wouldn’t know – Cliff Richards has declared Fairy Tale to be his all-time favourite Christmas single. Seal of approval? Kiss of death? Who cares? Had probably been on the phone with his publicist. And Philip has been keeping us up-to-date with where Fairy Tale of New York is in the charts, having ‘re-entered’ the other week. This week it’s at No.10, on downloads.

Shane turns up to soundcheck. This is rare, although he did come to the first one in Glasgow. I’m not saying, since the Manchester Evening News Arena, that it’s out of a sense of remorse, nor am I saying it’s out of a sense of the somehow renewed family bond. It’s a mixture, plus other matters I’m sure. And Shane knows that something’s not right with the sound we’re getting, if keeping to the beat is such a problem. We go through the first few songs, at Shane’s suggestion mostly, because, oftentimes, those have been the ones that sustain the most injury.

After the soundcheck, back to the hotel from the Academy. I’m sick and getting worse. I go up to the room and make myself vomit into the toilet bowl, then lie on the bed. Half an hour or so before going back down to Brixton, I decide that a hot bath would be the most sensible thing to do.

The dressing room is full of people from back when. I’m in no humour to pretend they think they knew me particularly well then and I want to use the dressing room if only to sit on the couch and rub my hand over my skull. I ask Ross to clear the dressing room.

And then, as the lights go down and Tim puts on ‘Straight to Hell’ to start us up, someone, in his excitement, fucks a pint of beer into the mixing desk front-of-house and everything, from the front-of-house to doors to backstage undergoes some sort of lockdown. We’re not allowed to go anywhere, no-one is allowed past any security staff. I think Darryl tries to go out to see what’s going on and is sent back. It’s as if the entire building is braced for the place to go off.

Tim will tell me later that the guy standing behind him on the other side of the railings round the mixing desk, as soon as the plastic sheeting is taken off the board, launches his beer into it. I think I’m right in saying that the chief technician, within whose purview is such things as boards and multicores and PA and racks and such, has his guys immediately dismantle the mixing desk. I think a hairdryer comes out. Everything has to be repatched, connections remade from the back of our board, from the racks and shit, and through the support band’s mixing desk, the one I’d seen Paddy and Joe poring over in the rehearsal room. Ian will tell me later that these guys perform an operation on the mixing desks that would normally require four hours to complete, in half an hour.

Gerry Wilkes keeps us informed about what’s happening with the mixing desk. He appears now and then in the door to the dressing room. He explains to us about the curfew and the tightness of time. We start to talk about the implications of cancelling

‘So, guys, I need you to be ready to go as soon as I come up. If we lose a minute, the gig will have to be cancelled. I want you to all be here, and when I say “Go,” you all have to go,’ Gerry says in his Mole from the Wind in the Willows sort of way.

‘Yeah, whatever,’ Spider says.

And so, we make it on stage with time to do what we do, but keeping open the option of dropping one of the encores or something.

I’m feeling thoroughly shit by this time. Every movement I make sends charges through my skin. I spend most of the time either sitting on the drum riser or standing near it. I play with my eyes closed because I can’t do with looking at anyone. Except I happen to open my eyes to see Shane coming at me with the base of his mike stand. I’m in no mood for him, not even to laugh something like that off as part of the fucking show. I step out of the way and go around him and in case he feels like coming after me, I make sure to put more distance than he has time for if he’s going to go back to his mike to sing.

Again, at the end, Shane comes unmoored from Fiesta and the Irish Rover. It’s often been hard for Shane to keep up with the I suppose norteño backbeat of Fiesta, and if he’s going to go, he’s gone by the time we get to the chorus. As I’ve said the sound that’s been coming back from the house hasn’t been helping. We get the encores out of the way because we don’t have time to linger, with the curfew and all.

Fairy tale, I see Shane swirling his arm in the direction of Gerry Colclough to get him to turn Ella’s mike up in her monitor. It’s primarily a chivalrous gesture: he wouldn’t know if Ella’s monitor isn’t loud enough, neither would he know if Ella thought her monitor wasn’t loud enough, because, as far as I can remember, this tour or any other, she’s never said anything to anyone about the level of her voice on stage, except at soundcheck. Without fuss, she just comes up on stage and sings.

At the end of Fairy Tale of New York, I see Shane’s mouth, again, moving to the words ‘one, two, three’. Shane drives Ella round at an angle to the ground that’s seems to be getting acuter and acuter as the tour goes on.

I’m done in when we finish. I ask Gerry Wilkes, can I go on the first bus out? Jem describes me as the bull on its last legs.

I travel back with Philip. On the way back, on the road alongside the Park, in the back of a taxi, he spots two women in pantomime dame costumes – or two men, I suppose, if they’re pantomime dames: brightly checked granny hats with ruffles round the brims. Philip’s contention is that they’ve just come from the civil marriage of Matt Lucas, whose wedding reception invitation stipulated attending in pantomime costume.

I get into the hottest bath I can tolerate and steep in it for as long as I can manage. Then I get into bed and wrap myself around with all the blankets I can. I ring the wife and then turn out the light.

Forty-fifth installment, December 18, 2006
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

I’m feeling better but all I’m going to be able to manage today is soup. I go up to what is going to become my regular café up Kensington Church St and then go for a walk in the park across the front of Kensington Palace, which is comely to look at and I imagine it beruffed with the flowers after Diana Spencer’s death.

Philip gets into the minivan on the way to the Academy with Terry and myself, carrying the box I watched him wrapping on the bus a couple of days ago. He’s been incapable of getting it to the post office. He’s found a runner at the Academy who’ll post it for him. It’s hard to get things done on the road sometimes.

When we get to soundcheck, it seems Darryl has been there for a while, playing all the instruments. He’s soundchecked Philip’s guitars and has now moved on to Terry’s citterns. Terry drives Darryl off and makes sure that everything’s in order. It’s my feeling that Terry leaves Tim Sunderland in no doubt that he shouldn’t be under the impression that Darryl’s soundcheck of the guitars and the citterns would ever, in any way, be sufficient, and I’m also thinking, Terry mightn’t be convinced enough of Tim Sunderland’s commitment to the Pogues’ sound, as we’ve come to understand it over the years. Plus also, I think there’s a lot of capital city nerves going on. It always happens at Brixton: characterized by a lot of time spent tweaking the already overtweaked. But we have some fun with a vacuum cleaner which is out to clear up the snow from last night. I am inordinately proud to be able to cause the skin between my fingers to vibrate when I place them over the mouth of the vacuum tube, from the suction, and into Shane’s mike and fill the house with a squeaking sound through the PA.

Philip sweeps up snow from the stage apron. It vaguely irks me that Philip pushes broom as opposed to pull, which is always far more effective, on account of the angle of the bristles. I can say this with authority because I used to sweep for a living – well, the job on the building site one gets when your dad’s one of the managing directors of the building company, that is – well, all right, hardly a living: I was saving up for my first electric guitar – and The Slade Art School when I worked there just as the Pogues were starting up.

Terry doffs Jos’s motorcycle helmet for a while, and plays his cittern wearing it. It’s the capital.

There’s a bottle-brush on the drum riser with which Spider removes the snow that gets into his whistle, a flake of which, he tells me, clogged his whistle up in Turkish Song Of The Damned. We torment Spider with the idea of sending the bottle-brush and the whistles down through the hole in the stage that has so fascinated Jem over the years.

We summon Tim Sunderland and Gerry Colclough to the dressing room to have a talk about the sound on stage and how it might be contributing to Shane’s difficulty with keeping time. They come in and sit on the sofa. There’s silence and awkwardness. We’ve always been uncomfortable with the idea that we’re actually employers, but we are.

‘For a start,’ I say, I hope with blustering irony, ‘your jobs are on the line.’ Well, I wanted to get the cap-in-hand shit out of the way, to let us talk about all the problems a lot of us are having with the sound – sub-bass, the volume in the house, and so on.

Someone has picked up a copy of the free newspaper London Lite. There’s a review in it which mentions the beer incident last night a bit and which attempts to describe a couple of us in such terms as – well, Jem the grumpy Pogue, etc. This reminds me of, once, considering ourselves in the light of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, as one does, from time to time, in a quiet moment, on a tour bus maybe.

Doctor Mark, a nice guy whose apparel – dressed down in combat jacket and a tatty scarf – belies the expensive haircut and his general aura of wealth and accomplishment, arrives at the Academy to give Joey’s knee a cortizone shot (it’s a chronic injury and he fell down some stairs the other day) and to give me a B12 shot. I haven’t had a B12 shot for years. He wants to give it me in my arm but I use both of them when I play, so I get it in the arse. He tells me he plays the Pogues in his theatre. He’s a nice man and has been keeping Shane on an even keel for a few years, strictly legally, he emphasizes.

Andrew’s son Daniel and his mates come backstage before the show and start to drink us out of Guinness. They get very excited about the juicing machine and obliterate conversation with the noise of liquidizing fennel and celery and so on.

We are visited by Nick, I think his name is – some altitudinous luminary at Warners with a fruity landed-gentriness to his voice which might have been heard once, in the sixties, to echo in an ivied quad or two – wearing a slightly shabby raincoat and with slightly oily Trumpers hair. He reminds me of a boss I once had who squandered an inheritance and who had a paragraph or two in an aviation magazine and, while I was working under him, made the broom cupboard his registered office against investigations by Inland Revenue.

Later on, Daniel and his mates come in again, this time for something to eat, Louise guesses, because she happens to know they haven’t had any dinner, but we’ve had the ‘five minute’ call from Gerry Wilkes, and I’ve had enough of people coming in and out of the dressing room and there’s generally a desire to clear the dressing room ten minutes or so before we go on, so I stop Daniel where he is, half-way across the floor on the way to the cheese plate, and ask him to ‘give us a minute’. He looks a bit put out. He also looks a bit smashed.

The B12 shot seems to be doing something. I’ve got something in my legs other than water.

Sunny Side Of The Street goes wrong. It’s another song that’s susceptible to injury, so to speak. We’ve had a conversation about what to do in Sunny Side of the Street if it goes awry. I remember Frank Murray, back then, saying that when things went wrong, and they did routinely, that we should ‘play to his strengths’ and we’d go off scratching our heads with the thought ‘what strengths?’ It was very bad for a time. Anyway, in our conversation, Darryl was of the opinion that we should play the song and not what we thought Shane thought the song was. But that goes to shit tonight when Shane goes Jeffrey Dahmer on the song and Darryl can’t tell me where he is in it because all Darryl can send me or anyone is just bass notes which don’t mean anything to me. And then I think it befalls me to tell everyone else where the song’s going because the accordion’s playing the tune. Darryl gets very angry, as he seems to have been becoming, by degrees, over the past few days. He pounds the beat, but the music police beat, and, in the problematic bits, takes up the spot next to Shane that has become so unsafe for my shins and my accordion and wills Shane to get it right.

A basque flag is thrown up onto the stage. Spider drags it from on top of the monitor wedges and drapes it across the drum riser.

In Repeal Of The Licensing Laws I’ve found a new line that I didn’t know I could play, a run of semiquavers up to what I suppose might be considered the chorus. I’m so proud of coming across it that I show it to Terry at every opportunity.

Spider comes to sit with me on the drum riser at the beginning of Sickbed Of Cuchulainn. I point to Shane’s Glasgow stool and Shane and the smouldering cigarette in the ashtray.

‘Dave Allen,’ I say.

In Kitty, Andrew is about to go into another round at the end of the song, but just holds back at the last minute

I realize, when I’m playing Dirty Old Town, that it’s possible to worm my middle finger out from below the neck of the mandolin and flip Terry off.

Andrew’s voice counting in during Sickbed Of Cuchulainn and The Irish Rover has gone all cracked and powerless.

For some reason, I lift my fingers off the keyboard of the accordion during Sally MacLennane. I don’t know what I think I’m doing. Maybe I’m getting up off the ground or a strap’s come loose or something. When it comes to playing again, I poise my fingers over the keys, suddenly completely bereft of where the hell I am in the song.

We start up Poor Paddy On The Railway – with Jem on the banjo – but Shane goes into the Auld Triangle instead, so we all fall in behind him.

I’ve been watching the snow come down in Fairy Tale of New York and after, noting the dusted segment of audience right in front of the stage, I will Philip to go nowhere near the blanket of it stage left, on the apron. Before Jem starts Fiesta, and thinking that Philip’s going to mar the spotlessness of the snow, I leap over the monitors and lie flat on my back in it, making one of the most clearly defined snow angels I’ve done.

When we come off stage and we collecting our towels and bottles of water from Ross. Mark Addis is close by.

‘Top drawer,’ he says.

Backstage, Shane wants to know who put the blue-shirts’ flag up there on the drum riser.

‘It’s not a blue-shirts’ flag!’ Spider says. ‘It’s the Basque flag.’


I go up to the backstage bar to find a family I’ve invited to the show – an American friend and her London husband and their two kids, one of whom wants to sleep, the other of whom has a broken leg from playing football. I leave them for a bit, to thread my way through the smoking hive of the backstage bar to go and get drinks, and am required to sing Happy Birthday to Miss Walshy, which I do

I go back to the hotel with Mark Addis and get all mixed up with the overdesign of the revolving door into the lobby and crack my fucking face on the bit of the door I shouldn’t have to expect to avoid.

Forty-sixth installment, December 19, 2006
The Big Roundy Building On The Park

I’ve blocked up the sink with tea leaves.

My stomach’s still fit for nothing but soup – so it’s soup for breakfast and lunch again. I go up to the regular café for breakfast, and while I’m out, pick up my dry cleaning and for lunch to a place across Kensington High Street called Crussh (how onomatopoeic, with it being a juice bar and all) and then to return, skirting the chewing gum removal team on the pavement near the hotel, to my room and hunch over my soup and bread and have a go at the crossword in the Herald Tribune but can’t finish it.

A guy comes to the room to unblock the sink. He wants to tell me about the things he finds in the U-bend during what he calls ‘Arab season’.

On the way to Brixton for the soundcheck, we pass the Royal Albert Hall, which occasions the story about Barney McKenna in the Dubliners who were playing there some years ago. Barney found himself veering toward the late side and at some distance from where he was supposed to be and having hailed a taxi, couldn’t remember the name of the Royal Albert Hall.

‘The big roundy building near the park’ did the trick.

At the soundcheck we go through, again, Sunny Side Of The Street. I’m beginning to understand Darryl’s point about playing the song right through, regardless of whether or not Shane’s going to add another round of ‘on the sunny side of the street’ at the end. We decide that it’s probably better to let just one person make a fool of himself, instead of, potentially, seven.

We go through Fairy Tale Of New York, with Spider singing, which we do every night at soundcheck. Spider welcomes Ella into his arms for the waltz at the end. It’s lovely to see her not having to be careful to avoid Shane’s spaugs and not having to be revolved around the stage at a 45 degree angle.

It’s Christmas dinner at catering and there are Christmas crackers, but Kitty stays us from pulling them, until all the tables are full. There are three tables, to sit ten or so each, and the crew are still working. I’ve not come across this ritual before, but Kitty relents, once our table is full, and then Ella draws us up to say that the accepted way of pulling crackers is to offer the far end of the cracker with your right hand to the left hand of the person to your left, and so on. Seems like a lot of bother for a bang and a plastic top and a crap joke which I can’t read because I don’t have my glasses with me. I don’t get a hat.

We go up to the dressing room after dinner and sit on the sofas. There’s supposed to be a presentation of commemorative discs this evening, and photographs to be taken. We’re waiting for someone to come and get us. Terry and Philip are of course still in the hotel so we’ve got time for a snooze.

Andrew turns over toward the arm of the couch, folds his arms over his stomach and closes his eyes. Darryl’s on the other end of the sofa to me, with his head to one side, mouth slightly open, asleep. Jem’s on the other end of the couch to Andrew, feet up on a chair, scarf, coat over him, glasses on, reading Jim Thompson. I try to do the New York Times Sunday crossword from a couple of weeks ago, but nothing’s happening with that. I throw the Sunday Times magazine onto the table.

‘You can turn the light off now,’ I say to Jem who doesn’t like the ceiling-spots, and fold my hands over my stomach and close my eyes for a bit.

After a while, Ross comes in to announce that Shane’s asleep in his room and has locked himself in and that he has to leave to go and get him out. The hotel staff are concerned, rightly, with the security of their guest, respecting his right to privacy and all and won’t let Gerry Wilkes into Shane’s room and are loathe to do this sort of business over the phone with Ross.

Darryl and I go to keep Erik James from Warners and the photographer company up in the room on the floor above the dressing room. Darryl and I talk with Erik and Chris, I think is his name, the photographer, about the parlous state of record companies. Erik’s thankful to still have a job.

This room is by far a nicer room than what’s become, over the past two nights, the dungeon we have downstairs, for all the new carpet (well, new to the dressing room at least) and the velvet drape over the flight case that stands for a bar. In the room upstairs there are leatherette club chairs and a wood floor, and a pool table.

It’s a long time since I played pool. I used to rate myself as a pool player and continue on that tack for the first two thirds of the game I play against Darryl. But the way Darryl plays lures you into thinking this is going to be a shoo-in. My balls go down effortlessly, to begin with, until I’m left with just two to pot. It’s at that moment that Darryl steps up to the table and clears up everything. What I think is going to be his last shot traps the black in the jaws of the corner pocket, but there’s no way I can pot my last two. We play another and another and another and Darryl wins them all.

Erik James seems inured to the fact that Shane’s not going to make it and the rest of the band comes up for our snaps with the presentation discs. I don’t think the presentation discs are bona fide milestones of how many copies of anything we’ve sold. They’re rather a function, I’m guessing, of how proud Warners are of us and the re-release of the first five albums and they’ve been knocked up as a reflection of that. We are instructed to tilt the frames a bit so the flash doesn’t reflect back into the camera, the flash goes off a couple of times, and we’re done.

‘Thank you,’ Chris, the photographer, says.

‘Is that it?’ Andrew says.

‘That’s it,’ says Chris. There’s a brief pause.

‘Well, obviously, you don’t have much idea about photo sessions,’ Spider says.

Quite how Ross gets Shane out of his hotel room, in the end, I don’t know. I’m given to understand that there’s some conflict at the reception desk between the hotel manager as the advocate of his guest’s rights, and Ross as the representative of four and a half thousand people waiting for Shane to appear on stage in a matter of an hour’s time. When he finally gets to the Academy Shane seems unaware of the consternation and is on remarkably good form - the result of a good nap and peace and quiet, I imagine.

It’s an enjoyable show for me. I find myself playing a lot of stuff I’ve never played before and try to get the line I’ve found in the Repeal of the Licensing Laws to do what I want it to do. The end of it won’t quite coincide with the downbeat of what I suppose is the chorus.

Spider comes across at some point and looks at me funny.

‘Don’t look at me like that,’ I say and then he stalks me around the stage for a while.

At the beginning of Sick Bed of Cuchulainn, I go and stand next to Jem and mimic him, his feet at ten-to-two, just standing, before launching off into the instrumental.

I do another snow angel at the end of Fiesta which comes off even better than the one from last night.

In Rainy Night in Soho when the lyric comes: ‘We watched our friends grow up together/And we saw them as they fell’ I run a glissando down the piano. I’ve never had the impertinence to do something like that before, not on such a song.

Again, in White City, Shane and I get into a kind of roundy dance, which Philip joins for a while.

We come off stage into the freezing brick and wood corridor.

‘Quality,’ Mark says. I don’t know if it’s a step-down or a step-up from his ‘Top drawer’ of last night.

Marcia’s mum, Jean Farquhar, comes backstage. I love Jean. I went to visit her in her flat near the river the first time we came out on the road in the first year of our reunion phase and she and I sat in front of her gas fire and talked and had tea and I regret not finding the time to visit her in her new place since then. She has brought with her the birthday card she had sent to me in back in October to my old address and which had been returned to her in London. It’s through her, even more, that I feel such a connection with my birthday chum, Ella, as I sit on the arm of the sofa next to Jean, with Ella on her other side.

I think I spot Jazz and Lola Mellor, but it’s hard to tell, the way children grow up, except they’re not children now. They’re in their twenties. I remember playing the piano in the lobby of a hotel in Scotland, Glasgow maybe, with all of us and Joe, with Jazz and Lola running around naked. They must have been 5 and 7. They didn’t want us back at that hotel. We weren’t much interested in staying there again in any case.

I meet, as I’m sitting on one of the chairs in the dressing room, watching everything and nursing a tub of vodka and cranberry juice, Dickon Edwards. I don’t know who he is until I think about it later. Nice guy, with a charming other-worldliness about him.

There’s fog over London on the way back to the hotel. I travel back with Tim Sunderland. We talk about the PA and front-of-house sound. I’m tired and I can feel my interest in the subject matter dwindling the closer I get to my bed.

Forty-seventh installment, December 20, 2006

Shane, Terry, Philip, Spider and Louise have flown off to Dublin. For me, it’s a day off to do Christmas shopping in Notting Hill and Bayswater. That done, I go on a nostalgic peregrination of Westbourne Grove. I used to live around here in 1974, when a group of us squatted 68 Kensington Gardens Square. I had the room on the third floor overlooking the square. So, I find myself this afternoon looking up at the building and the windows of the room I occupied and then to saunter down Westbourne Grove. There’s the Shakespeare that could be guaranteed to erupt into window-smashing brawls on a Friday or Saturday night. There’s where the New Born CafĂ© used to be where Jack, Duck (his last name was Donald, Scottish guy, who was so addled with drugs one night that when his doorknob came off in his hands he became so convinced that the police had locked him in that he climbed out of his window, to a drainpipe, which came away from the wall and dropped him three storeys to the ground, followed by ten or so weeks in hospital with crumbled metatarsals), Jack’s younger brother and myself used to go and bother Cyril the owner pretty much every day. There’s Khan’s indian restaurant which must now have been in business for thirty-odd years. Gone, the 24 hour food shop across the way from the New Born. There’s the Porchester Baths where I could get a hot bath for 15p.

I walk back up Queensway on the way to the Park and stop in Kalinka, a Russian shop that I saw featured in an article about Russians in London – Londongrad as it’s now called, on from Londonistan. When I lived around here, Queensway was milling with women in purdah and men in black cars with gilt grilles. Now, I’m to understand, moneyed Russians are buying everything up with the profits they got from selling off natural resources and Soviet-run businesses. I’m told that a ‘mystery billionaire’ – Muscovy oligarch – has bought the penthouse apartment in the new development near Knightsbridge, by one of the gates going into the park, for £75,0000,000.

In Kalinka I buy colourful, Russian, boxes of chocolates, one each, for my kids and have a bit of trouble persuading the girl there that a Scottish ten pound note, my last from my per diems, is good currency.

I walk back to the hotel through the Kensington Gardens, down the Broadwalk, past the statue of Queen Victoria. There’s a kid learning to ride a bike. There’s a Japanese tourist bending down by the side of one of the benches, with a map in her hand, inches from a squirrel feeding on something in a paper bag.

Forty-eigth installment, December 21, 2006
London to Dublin

It’s cold in London, bloody cold, and British Airways have cancelled domestic flights from Heathrow. I’m hoping that the fog lifts in sufficient time for Jem, Andrew, Darryl, Ella and my flight to Dublin to go ahead. As yet, it’s still scheduled to leave on time, but one of the earlier ones has already been cancelled. I’m sure Ross will have some way of getting us there, Jem, Darryl, Andrew, Ella and me.

I go out to my café, up Kensington Church Street, just past the Warners’ offices and past the back door of the Israeli embassy, with the glove-clapping, foot-stamping, freezing rozzers on duty next to what looks like a black sandwich board but made out of kevlar. The café plays Edith Piaf (I don’t know – Edith Piaf, coffee, coffee, Edith Piaf: they’re approaching synonymity near as dammit) constantly from a cd player on the windowsill and, so far, every morning I’ve been here I haven’t heard the same song twice.

A driver with what sounds like a Northumberland accent picks me up from the hotel. I’ve already seen the newspaper this morning about the state of Heathrow. My driver also lets me know that the M4 is chocker. We go another route.

I’ve always loved to look up at the studio windows overlooking Talgarth Road, and going over the Hammersmith Flyover excites me. Not all my changes were there, but a few of them. And then Fuller’s Brewery, the Mawson Arms, the rickety old Hogarth Flyover which, I discover, has been treated with a preservative called Rhinophalt, in order to keep it open. I’m staggered this morning to see that it’s still there. It looked gimcrack and temporary and on its last legs thirty years ago when I was a mower of lawns in this neighbourhood.

My driver recommends that I give the tent outside Terminal 1 a swerve, inside which raffle-ticket numbers are being called, and go up the steps at the far end. I check myself in at the self-check computer, take my place on a line to hand my baggage over, and phone Jem. I can see him across the way, beyond the desks and between columns and heads and against the back drop of Tie Rack. It’s fun to manoeuvre him round to where he can see me.

We wait for six hours for our plane. There’s a guy at the departure gates who comes across to us and says that earlier on he was worried about getting to the Point in time to see us play, but now not so, seeing as he’s not going to be missing anything if he can see we’re still here.

We don’t understand why fog should bring half of Heathrow to a standstill. They’ve got radar, haven’t they? Jem says. Planes land on autopilot? All they have to do is keep out of each other’s way on the tarmac?

We ring Ross, a lot, with suggestions – such as: can’t we fly out of Bristol? We can borrow Muse’s jet if they’re not using it, cant we? How much would a private plane cost? What about Biggin Hill? Ferry? Eurostar? As it is, Ross has been keeping a car on standby somewhere outside the terminal, to drive us to Stansted, which is fog-free, where seats on a flight at 6.30 have been reserved. As it is, his phone calls to his contact at BMI have more or less assured him that our plane from Heathrow will take off, and besides he’s been told at Stansted that he has to let the reserved seats go. We stay put.

I imagine Ross in his eyrie at the hotel in Dublin, he who directs everything, knows everything, drawing his little hobbits from across the ocean irrevocably toward him and the gig at the Point.

‘I had a feeling in my Achilles heel about this as soon as I consented to you traveling on a show-day,’ he says to me on the phone. ‘And I chose to ignore it. Stupid me.’

Darryl’s lost his wallet and disappears from the terminal, or at least from this part of the terminal, to find out where it’s gone. It turns out, a neighbour’s gone into this house to find it on the kitchen counter.

So, it’s a stultifyingly boring afternoon in Terminal 1, which has driven Andrew to a machine that vends hand-held computer games. I come across him and Darryl in the café: Darryl, ankles crossed, newspaper wide, glasses on, with an expression on his face, to which I’ve become accustomed to see when he reads a newspaper - a mixture of horror and abject curiosity; Andrew, hunched in a much-laundered hoodie, glasses on, thumbing his new hand-held Yahtsee game. I sit with them for a bit and have a go at Yahtsee but don’t have the patience with it and then mooch back to the gate to sit with Jem and Ella.

Eventually, the damn plane takes off. Ella curls up in the seat next to her dad and rests her head on his shoulder. They both look out of the plane window at the lights penetrating the fog.

We get to the Point within an hour of showtime. I have a look around backstage. There are a few dressing rooms in Dublin: there’s Shane’s, then there’s the Band’s, and another Band’s, and I think yet another Band’s, and a room with the word ‘Wardrobe’ on it, which in the past couple of years we’ve been using, because the corridor backstage has been susceptible to thronging and while it’s great to see people from back when and all that, it’s also useful to have a bit of space, which we find in ‘Wardrobe’ - a fluorescent-lit box of a room with suit-racks and a club chair, a sofa and a broken table. Darryl and I spend a bit of time and energy fixing the table, to stand on a couple of chairs on their sides, draw what furniture there is around it and put our feet up.

Joey, it turns out, had Eddy, Shane’s driver-friend, take him up to the ferry (which occasions, later, an anagram from Ross: ‘Life on the Ocean Waves’ – ‘Few violate Shane once’) from Holyhead, on the day off after Brixton. Joey has developed, in the past couple of years, a fear of flying.

Meanwhile, Ross tells me, yesterday started for Ross with packing Shane’s belongings into what Ross describes as the preferred plastic bag (from ‘the LIDL range of executive luggage’) and guiding him through the hotel to check out, during which process Shane greeted and passed the time of day with everyone, but everyone, he came across on his way to the front door of the hotel. Outside, Shane I’m to understand hurled abuse at a driver who was waiting for some other guest in the hotel before allowing Ross to direct him to the car that had been hired for him and Ross to take them to the airport.

I stand by the side of the stage, with Jem for a while, then Andrew, then Darryl, and watch the Radiators do their support slot. All the Radiators, with the exception of Philip and Steve Rapide, are wearing t-shirts with the band’s name on them. From the side of the stage you don’t get much sense of what the music’s about, but I don’t have the energy to go out front to listen, besides, when Jem comes up alongside, he tells me that it’s hard to listen out there too because he’s spent longer than he wanted getting out of a conversation with someone in the house.

We’ve got the full production with us this time in Dublin, for the first time. In previous years we’ve always played Dublin the following day after the last show at Brixton and there hasn’t been time to get all the equipment - the lights, the backdrop, the speakers and the boards - across on the ferry. With the day off after the last show at Brixton this year, we have everything with us we’ve been working with (except the front-of-house board which Tim has relinquished after the beer went in it first night in Brixton, of course). It’s a relief – especially since half of us didn’t make it to the soundcheck – to have everything more or less the way it was in London, and a relief that we don’t have to start from scratch with new wedges and boards and such.

Shane walks around me in White City. There’s an impishness about him that I haven’t seen in him for a long while. I offer the crook of my elbow for him to link with, if he wants to do a Lambeth Walk thing with me, but I don’t think he understands, and goes off on his peripatetics.

I jump off the drum-riser in Repeal of the Licensing Laws. I don’t get the landing bit right and my impact on the stage, which jars every bone in my body, disengages all the voice selectors on my accordion, so that when I resume playing, the accordion sounds like a choir-tuner.

At the end of Fairy Tale of New York, Jem and Darryl and I have started to stand in a line just out of the blizzard (one of the snow machines isn’t working tonight and there’s a blank patch on the stage), I don’t know, sort of framing the spectacle of Shane and Ella dancing, and, on a couple of occasions, putting to mind carol singers standing in a line on the doorstep. Of late, Darryl’s been going off on the fretboard of his bass toward the end of the instrumental outro and tonight some of the lines he plays refer to what Terry’s been getting up to with his peeling bells thing (and, of late, too, the last line Terry’s been playing is ‘Joy To The World’. It’s getting a bit thick with Christmas references, to my mind. Are we bored with it or something? The temptation to play the troika from Lieutenant Kije is everpresent).

Someone from the crew suggests, backstage, that while it’s all right working with such-and-such a band, it’s great ‘working with legends’, referring to us. I never thought of us that way. With our 25th anniversary coming up (putting aside our five- to ten-year furloughs in the interim), I sometimes find myself contemplating what sort of profile we have now, now that we’re straddling, on average, our half-centuries. I don’t know – I oscillate between disdaining what we do as an autotribute band and cherishing what we’ve done to become one.

Theresa MacGowan comes into the dressing room and I’m strangely chuffed that she remembers my name.

Fiona from catering is possibly a little drunk, in the production office, where I go and hang out for a bit with Ross and Gerry. She’s got every reason to be a bit drunk – it’s the last show and her work’s done and her boyfriend is stuck at Heathrow trying to get home to Edinburgh.

I go back to the hotel with the intention of just going to bed. I’ve got an early start, again, in Dublin, in the morning, and while there’s a temptation to drink a few Guinnesses in the hotel bar, I know I’m not going to thank myself if I do. But, I do go into the hotel bar, but just for a pint and to hang out with Terry and Marian Woods and Mark Addis. After a while I go off for a piss. On the way back I decide that it’d be wiser just to go up to my room, where I organize everything for the morning, pack up my stuff, lay out my clothes, get into bed, go to sleep.

Forty-ninth installment, December 22, 2006
There Are No Insurmountable Problems Only A Series of Challenges
Dublin to Los Angeles

Oh, this is getting to be too familiar – the alarm on the phone going off, to wake up in the dark, the Guinness head-ache, the cold shower to wake myself up, to dress, hastily brush my teeth, put what was my damp suit, now vaguely sort of dry and stinking of cigarette smoke and sweat, into a garment bag, and then into the suitcase and to sit on the lid to get it to close, and then wheel it down the corridor to the lift.

It’s usually Mark Addis and Anthony Addis and sometimes Ross leaving in the first car from the hotel to the airport, but this morning I’m the only one at breakfast. I eat something, then go and pick up the accordion that Murray, without fail, after packing everything up at the gig, has left for me with the concierge, and then into the car and off to the airport.

I go to check in and the woman puts me on an earlier flight which she knows is going to depart as opposed to the one I’m booked on which mightn’t. I can’t check my luggage through to Los Angeles, because I have to change my transatlantic ticket at Heathrow and then the woman at check-in tells me I have to take the accordion over to ‘oversized luggage’. I don’t know why I don’t question this. I’ve measured the flight case and it’s just, if only just, within the regulation size. Because time is suddenly tight, I have to duck the queue ahead of everyone else to make my plane.

It’s a buggeringly long walk to the gate.

When I get to baggage claim at Heathrow, I’m one of three people that are still waiting at the carrousel when everything’s finished. My suitcase has come through, but not my accordion. I fill out a lost baggage claim form and trundle off to Terminal 3. I’m not going to worry about it. I won’t see my accordion again until the day after Boxing Day.

It’s busy at Terminal 3. There are a few cancelled flights and it takes a long time for my gate to come up. Chez Gerrard is full, with a discouragingly long line for a table, so I chew on a salmon and cream cheese bagel thing somewhere and manage to get down two thirds of it before I have to give up. There are a lot of men about in the concourse who are barefoot and dressed in towels. There’s a line of such men queueing up to wash their feet in the two sinks in the toilets.

As it turns out, I don’t spot anyone on the plane I can waste my time later figuring out how many degrees of separation separate us.

On the day after Boxing Day, and after four days of calling Aer Lingus and Virgin Atlantic and, in Ireland and England and even a head office in New Jersey, I eventually think to ring Ross, to see if he knows anyone at LAX or with Virgin Atlantic, on one of whose planes the accordion was supposed to have been carried.

‘Let me see what I can do,’ he says. I can hear his kids in the background. They’re imploring him to come and have a look at a cake, not just any cake – a cake made out of wood. At five o’clock that night, there’s a knock on the front door and it’s a man with my accordion. Is there nothing Ross can’t do? I ask him such in an email.

He replies: ‘There are no insurmountable problems only a series of challenges!’

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