I’m backstage at a festival with Guy, Fink’s bass player, a man I’ve known some 22 years but who still occasionally floors me with his attacks of breathtaking pessimism. We’re discussing something of crucial importance like, I dunno, whether the bottle of milk on the tour bus is UHT or not, when I get a sudden urge to hurl the ripe orange I’ve been juggling with to the floor with a splat and then – in a shock departure from my usual peaceful nature – smack Guy across the face with the back of my hand. He recoils with a faintly amused expression on his face, shrugs, then glances around for an appropriate piece of hardware with which to impale me. He seizes a nearby spare mic stand, and so begins a Tom and Jerry style chase around the backstage area, me leaping over flight cases and knocking guitars to the floor in my efforts to escape.
My tour bus dreams are getting stranger.
Our gig last night, at Poolbar Festival in Feldkirch, Austria, was like a good dream. Our onstage sound was perfection, our limbs all did what they were supposed to do at the right time, and the audience were so happy and enthusiastic it was as if they’d been injected with something on the way in. Most importantly, our live rendition of the current single Looking Too Closely finally started to sound like the world-beating pop tune we know and love. It’s a tricky thing, playing a song live which a lot of the audience will have recently listened to at home. The band need to do a version that they’re happy with, and can feel stimulated by night after night, but also one which the crowd recognise as their new favourite song, rather than one resembling a Mogwai B-side. Last night in Feldkirch, we achieved the perfect balance. Just in time for Ruben Hein our pianist to rejoin the band tomorrow and bugger it all up again.
On this festival tour, we’re travelling by double-decker bus for the first time. This is a mixed blessing. While the floor space is certainly more generous than your single-decker variety, the ceilings are lower. Consequently, being relatively tall, I keep cracking the shit out of my head on the light fittings and ledges and what-have-yous. I’ve actually got a permanent bump now, which I keep reigniting. Lord knows how Ruben’s going to fare when he arrives tomorrow; he’s about three inches taller than me. We’re halfway across Austria, it’s one in the afternoon, there’s nothing to eat on the bus apart from muesli and a couple of packs of stale German Monster Munch, I’ve had about nine cups of coffee, four bottles of fizzy water, and now the pair of industrial-sized crates of lager we’ve pilfered along the way are starting to wink suggestively at me. “Driiiink me….. driiiiiiink meeeee…..” But you know the old adage. Once you start drinking, that’s it until bedtime. Bedtime is possibly 12, 13 hours away. That’s a lot of beer. Tomorrow we play Sziget, the biggest festival in the known universe, where the tent we’re playing holds thrice as many people as Wembley Stadium and the bar is roughly the size of Heathrow Terminal 5. Not a place to have a hangover. Instead I uncork a bottle of the strange amber-coloured soft drink known as Club-Mate and pour myself a glass. It tastes of mouthwash and Deep Heat and possibly that spicy chewing gum you get in America. All things considered, I think it’s back to fizzy water.
So this, coupled with the truckload of cheese and ham one is contractually obliged to consume while on European tour, and it’s no wonder that my dreams are becoming a bit odd. Also, tour bus sleep isn’t really proper sleep: you wake up with every jolt and bump and whenever the driver veers onto the rumble strip, plus, weirdly, whenever he turns off the engine, Then there’s that ultra-annoying thing which campers will be all too familiar with: realising you need a piss halfway through the night, but knowing how much hassle getting up and going to the loo will entail. In our case, it’s having to descend the stairs to the lower bus floor in nothing but your undergarments and enter the BUS LOO which is up there with excess baggage bills and Instagram as a contender for the Thing I Most Hate About My Job. For those who’ve never been in a tour bus loo, be happy. Not only is it the most awkwardly-shaped smelly hole imaginable, but you can’t even use the damn place for half the things you go into a loo for, if you get me. To top all the fun, I can’t get out of the nasty little bughutch without, you guessed it, cracking my head on the door frame. So I usually elect to just remain in bed and ignore my bursting bladder until we’ve arrived somewhere with a real loo. Proper sleep, therefore, is something that largely gets left back in Blighty.
With some three hours left until we hit Budapest, we’ve reverted to our primal states: Guy and Fin are upstairs playing computer games, Rob our sound engineer is having another well-earned sleep having been awake for as much as two hours, Chris our guitarist is doing the same but without the hydraulic-drill like snoring, Simon our tour manager is worrying about border controls and short changeover times and I, of course, am writing a blog. Which I have just finished. So frankly, hangover-concerns aside, it’s time to crack into that industrial-sized crate of lager…