portablewatkins

My name is Jimmy. I exist. I play guitar and sing in the bands Strange News From Another Star and Future Of The Left. People like meeting me in pubs. I'm cool with that. I wish I had more time to moisturise and listen to Supergrass. My favourite astronaut is Pete Conrad.

Tweets from beyond the front.

In 2007 I suddenly stopped running, little over a year after finishing 6th at the World Indoor Championships. What happened? Injuries? Nope.  Did I take up bobsleighing for a reality TV show? Nope. Thankfully. The answer is simple. I lost the hunger. The fun fizzled out of my running like an Alka-Seltzer running out of water to burn. I hung up my spikes (I didn’t really I just put them under the bed and moved house) and picked up a guitar. Since then I’ve toured the world with my band Future of the Left. We’ve received great reviews, had some life changing experiences, and played really loud music in cities I thought I’d never visit. The thing is though, as my waistline increased, I missed athletics more and more. I’d go to the gym, run 5km and break it down into 400m laps. I’d feel the quiet anticipation of the back straight and the tense excitement of the home straight. If you’ve been an athlete, these things never leave you, no matter how many overcoats of experience you throw on yourself. You can’t hide the deep grain that runs through you.

So, today, six years after quitting, I find myself once again actively involved in athletics. The night before I run 10km and eat a protein bar, in an attempt to get myself ready for entering the arena. Its sounds silly, but I did this because I wanted to feel a slight burn in my legs, and wake my belly up from its jet lagged beached whale stupor. 

Was it worth it? Not really, I wasn’t competing. I wasn’t toeing the line or going for a qualifying time.  I was here to observe and report. I was here to write about the meeting for Welsh Athletics. It was engrossing. I watched almost every race, I ate a disappointing baguette, and, yes, get this, I felt inspired: Inspired by runners my age and runners a lot younger than me, because let’s face it, there aren’t many runners older than me. Although I did see one, who after his race, removed his insoles and sniffed them. But, you know what, that sort of inspired me because it showed individuality. I’m going to get all preachy here, because that’s the key word here: Individuality. I’d forgotten about it as I neared the end of my running career. (Calling it a career makes me snort with laughter.) I’d become bogged down with diets, altitude tents, split times and tactics. The fun had gone. I was no longer running because I wanted to, and because I loved the sport. Oh, but how time can make you feel like a fool. I realise today that I may have been wrong to quit for those reasons. If I’d only looked around me, I would have seen that other people were still enjoying the sport. Today it became clear that this sport is teeming with individuality. I witnessed it on the track today. Runners like Jake Hayward (800m), Hannah Brier (60m), Ffion Price (800m), Shaun Pearce (60m) Harry Davies and Iain Bray (400m), Rhiannon Linington (400m), Joe Thomas (800m) and…well, there’s too many to mention, all performed on that track as though it were a stage. Here were mini-dramas for us to digest. Each one of those athletes played the crazy lead character who’d run into a burning house armed with a rusty axe, and minutes later, emerge from the flames with your favourite dog and a winning scratch card.

It was an absolute pleasure to be involved with Welsh Athletics today, and I almost forgave them for not taking me to the Commonwealth Games. You lot on Twitter who got involved were great too. Let’s do this again tomorrow and celebrate the greatest sport in existence.

I’m having a beer now, and then doing some sit-ups.

Laters,

Jimmy

USA Part 2

Jackson, Michigan says not to trespass. I trespass. I have nowhere else to go. The air is cold, and my eyes water. My tear ducts know I’m on illegal land. I imagine a shotgun aimed at my head, and pick up the pace of my run.  Thirty minutes of frozen knees and citrus sweet trespassing.  Jackson, Michigan, says keep out. I like Jackson, Michigan. The receptionist at the hotel is from Florida. She used to be in a ska band, and now she works late, asking us if we’re death metal. I bet she asks everyone if they’re death metal. One day I’ll return, with my trespassing trainers and a tear tattoo under my right eye. I’ll drop my bag in reception and say ‘I am death metal.’ Maybe then I’ll get a decent coffee, or tap water that doesn’t taste of the old church where I used to play football as a kid. Pews as goal posts. Jesus saves. Yada Yada.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Of course. That was today, let’s start with before today. Let’s go as far back as Saturday. Cleveland.

Cleveland Heights.

Signs for a golf course, but I can’t see no golf course, or golfers. Not even a flag. I guess the course is underground, where you can’t hit the ball too high. The ball has dreams of breaking past gravitational pull, but is restricted by strata, stalagmite and cave furniture. When you’re next in Cleveland, think about those grounded golf balls and weep.

Before we got to Cleveland though Andrew Jackson Jihad had to kill their van. Don’t get me wrong, it was the right thing to do, but it had a glove compartment full of Cheetos. In the world of automobiles, a savoury snack is a soul. Seek redemption in the womb of a scotch egg. That van had a lot of soul. It was only right that everyone wanted an indian burial in a lake where the engine would fizz like alka-seltza, and dissolve into the eye of an eel. That doesn’t happen though because this isn’t a Jack London story. Instead, a ginger man in dungarees tows it away, saying something to us about ‘bitches’ and ‘rock and roll.’ He’s probably a decent guy though, I think to myself, as he rolls under the van to attach a tongue coloured cable, with his belly spreading out across the highway like playdough roadkill.

Now, minus van, the Jihad boys join us in our wagon. It’s Trains, Planes and Automobiles. I’m John Candy, and I’m waving goodbye to those Cheetos. “Goodbye Cheetos. Good luck in the next life. Come back as something better. Something holy. Come back as Pickled Onion Monster Munch.”

Late and running from van to venue, we decorate the stage and make noise. It’s the best night of the tour yet. The best gig since ‘2000 Trees’ according to my husband Jack Egglestone. I don’t disagree. It was a triumph. Fair play to you Cleveland, you’re younger than we’re used to, but you certainly know how to party.

I drink lots. We get drinks bought. We get a hotel bought for us. We’re named ‘Guests of the day’ and our trophy is Ben and Jerrys icecream. We accept, and then watch it melt on the dashboard, barely making it to Detroit before boiling and bubbling away into a little, fat cloud that’ll piss down on a USB pen somewhere and start its own Eco system where biscuits are king and toffee is queen. LAND OF THE FREE AND ARTIFICIALLY SATURATED.

Come back Jamie Oliver. America needs you. You forgot to steam the vegetables, and cover the highway in lettuce.

“Every moment is a chance to turn it around” that’s what Eminem said in 8 Mile. Off camera he finished this aphorism thus: “Every moment is a chance to turn it around, so if you don’t mind, I’d rather eat my Tuna baguette from the bottom first.”

Detroit. No rap battles for me. I do my bitching behind people’s backs. That way you can avoid DJs with dreadlocks, carpark shootouts and carrying your best clothes in a bin bag.

The venue, The Magic Stick (where a few years ago Jack White engaged in a dance off with Ted Nugent about the correct spelling of the band name The Vines. Jack believed it was spelled with fifteen V’s and proved his point by moonwalking to the Ghostbusters theme tune.) is on its toes and is ready to baffle me. Firstly my guitar amp picks up a local radio station, and then the soundman (a guy who’s seen it all by the way. Oh yeah, seen it all. He once did sound for Off! Don’t get me wrong, I love the music that Off! Make. I just wish that they weren’t fronted by Worzel Gummidge impersonating the Porter from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, with the stage presence of a brown paper bag which you know has had mushrooms in it for well over fifteen days.) says to me “welcome to Detroit. We have a lot of radio stations here.” Thus meaning, “shut up Welsh boy and deal with it.” I cover my amp in tin foil, shout “jacket potato” at it and rock the fuck out. (Coincidentally, if having a lot of radio stations in a city makes it okay for my amp to blast out a chat show about local libraries, then I guess it’s okay to go around machete(ing) loads of people in a city with a high machete rate. I’ll try this next time I’m in Nantes, or Wells.)

So, the show goes well. We’re happy. My t-shirt breaks.

Back to the hotel, where death metal receptionist works.

“Someone should hug her.” Suggests our tour manager.

We rush to bed and I cuddle next to Jack.

G’night yall.

                                          

Jackson, Michigan says do not trespass. I trespass. We should all trespass together one day.

Love,

Jimmy x

USA Part 5 - A Crotch Remembers

A crotch remembers.

I’m in a bar that’s immediately opposite the venue Neumos in Seattle. Neumos is where we’re playing our first Seattle show as a four piece, and there appears to be a lot of hype about playing in this city. It is after all, the home of grunge, and home to the greatest guitarist of all time: Billy Bragg…no wait, Jimi Hendrix.

Whatever.

I grew up on Newport and Oxford. Those places produced happy bands, and I was a happy kid. Why try and change that now for the sake of a better narrative. (The most anticipated and exciting gig of my life was when my band Strange News From Another Star (RIP) played TJs in Newport) So, here we are in Seattle, rock city etc, and there’s a problem with the monitors at the venue. Andrew Jackson Jihad are still soundchecking, as sound engineers are frantically swapping leads and drawing pentagrams on the stage. This chaos and witchcraft has offered a rare bit of spare time for me, so I decide to go for a walk and have a drink alone.

I could have gone anywhere, but for some reason I simply walk across the road (being careful to remember what side of the road people drive on out here) and end up in this bar with a big dog sniffing my dick.

Some grunge nonsense is playing, two girls are packing up homemade fridge magnets which they were selling, a band is trying to get a bass drum through a narrow doorway, and all the normal people are watching a game of American Football. All eyes are on the TV. Honestly. There’s not one person looking at this dog sniffing my dick. There’s nobody calling the dog away from my British balls. I’m not happy about this. Would you be? It’s a big dog too. His head is like a basketball with a pint glass sized snout. It’s like being head-butted in the dick by a bunch of rolled up beach towels.

Despite all this farcical canine meets meat banter, I remain calm(ish). I’m amazed because quite frankly, this is certainly the type of dog that would look intimidating if I saw it outside, in the dark and the rain, prowling beneath neon lights and sniffing amongst the litter. It’d look like a beast. However, there’s something about dogs in pubs that makes them almost impossible to fear. “What are you doing in here you stupid animal? Why are you in a pub? What do you have to celebrate or forget?”

My left hand is holding a pint of disappointing lager, and my right hand is holding a couple of books. I try to get the dog away from my dick because it’s been sniffing for a while now. Precisely five sips of my lager. No doubt the mutt it’s attracted to the sweat in my gig jeans. “Go away”. Sniff. Sniff. I try blowing on the dogs face, but it continues to sniff me. Fuck, I swear I just saw him run his tongue along my fly. Yep, he’s licking my fly like it’s dog food jelly on the inside of a can. This has to be someone’s dog. Why aren’t they calling it away from me? I tip a little of the lager on the dogs face, but it carries on sniffing me. It’s having a great time. I’m not. Truth be told, it’s starting to hurt a little bit. He’s applying a lot of force, especially to my right testicle. I take some steps back, and he follows me like a towed car. “Stop it.” I blow on his face again (I’ve decided it’s a he because no female, regardless of species, would be so persistent and haphazard with its public cock sniffing).

So here I am blowing on this dogs face, and it changes nothing. Nothing! I have a jacket draped over my arm which makes it hard for me to use my hands and I’m irrationally afraid of dropping everything on the floor and creating a scene. I feel slightly awkward in this bar. I feel that by sneaking away from the rest of the tour party, I’m doing something I shouldn’t be doing: Something that’s almost a taboo. (How could you leave the tour party man? Especially in the home of grunge when the monitors are fucked?) In terms of tip toeing awkwardness, this situation is very similar to taking a crap at your girlfriend’s parents’ house. (The key is to run the shower and pretend your blowing your nose.)

Ah, wait, I have an idea. This’ll definitely work. I start pushing my dick back towards the dogs face. He sniffs, and I push back. Sniff. Push. Sniff. Push. At first it’s not working, but for some reason I’m fairly certain it will. I push harder. The dog sniffs harder. I push harder again and the dog does a quiet snort before sniffing again. I take a sip of my pint, breathe in, force my heels into the floor and slam my crotch into the slobbering face. The dog suddenly sneezes: A big, fucking loud sneeze. I feel snot splash on my groin area. Everyone at the bar has been diverted away from the football, and their eyes are on me as I end my violent thrust by spilling a load of lager on the dog’s head and maintain my arched back stance with my genitals thrust unnaturally far forward. In fact they’re merely a few millimetres from the nose of the sneezing dog.

A large bear of a man next to the jukebox whistles and the dog goes to join him, sits at his side and pants heavily. I swear it’s laughing at me. I finish the pint in a couple of mouthfuls, place my books under my armpit and rush back across the road to Neumos. All I wanted was some time alone.

We sound check and get ready to play.

Seattle: home of grunge and the dog fucking Welsh boy.

So, what was the gig like? Did I enjoy it?

Let me tell you dear reader (Hi Dad), it was only the greatest fucking gig of my life. The crowd were incredible, the sound was fierce and my Christmas jumper didn’t rip. I wanted the show to last for the majority of my thirties, but it eventually came to a chaotic end: the entropy death of sound.  As the feedback faded, and the applause came rushing in like fresh air, I remained alone on the stage, raising my arms triumphantly. It became clear to me that I should have offered to help that band with the bass drum earlier. That way I would have avoided the dog episode and contributed something, no matter how little, to this great city that is so clearly in love with music.

The following day we did a KEXP session. We played three songs, did a quick interview, had some photos taken and then left. As we drove out of Seattle I finished my spiced pumpkin latte, looked at the autumnal colours outside, and thought about home. I had a dog once. Her name was Honey, and she got put down in the garden, on a white blanket in the sunshine, on the same day that my grandmother died. I remember having to help the vet carry the body to his car because it was too heavy for him. As I opened the garden gate with my leg and backed out to where the vet was parked, my dogs head popped out of the body bag and stayed, motionless, on my crotch like a bum bag (fanny pack to USA readers). I couldn’t move it away and kinda didn’t want too if I’m honest. Her face was still warm, and I let it linger there as long as possible. The vet was watching me. I know he was. “Goddam pervert.” But when something you love comes to an end and recedes into the freezing wastes of time, you’ll do almost anything for the experience, warmth and memory to stay with you for longer. Yes, that even includes letting your dead dogs face nuzzle deep into your grieving balls.

This odd little blog is my attempt to keep the Seattle show close to me. Consider this too: It’s no coincidence that I’m writing this on a warm laptop that sits comfortably on my crotch. With every word I write I enjoy the warm sensation that passes through my body. This is one dog that’ll I’ll happily have sniffing at my nuts forever.

Thank you Seattle, you truly were everything I’d been told you would be…and more.

Sniff, sniff.

Jimmy x

 

USA Part 4 (Kenny Loggins & the modern day Prometheus)

Denver, Colorado. The mile high city. A place where the air is so thin, you feel as though you’re breathing with a strangers hand clamped over your mouth. It’s not necessarily the hand of an unwelcome or intimidating stranger, and it’s certainly not a hand with an unpleasant odour or any moisture which might hint at anxiety or sexual hunger. Nope, the stranger that lurks in the mile high city, is one that leads you to the bar, and then magically takes away your levels of alcohol tolerance.

“I’ll have a pint of the Oktoberfest please.”

“You sure? It is pretty strong.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. I’ve drunk stronger before.”

“We do have Coors or Budweiser if you’d prefer that.”

“Nah, the Oktoberfest is fine.”

“Sure thing. Take it easy now.”

(Illustration of man sitting at a bar, with an empty pint. His chin is pressed into his chest and he appears to be dribbling uncontrollably onto the screen of his iphone. In the background a shadowy stranger blows a kiss at the moon.)

I have a few beers and I’m well on the way to jelly- legged-bliss by the time we take the stage. I look out at the crowd before me, and it’s obvious that they’ve all been acquainted with the stranger, just like I have. From the first note of Arming Eritrea, to the last humiliated spectator at the end of the set, it’s a joyous mess of crowd-surfing bodies, smashed mobile phones and little faces screaming into my monitor as though taking a phone call in a sandstorm.

God bless you altitude and the affordability you bring to oblivion and bliss.

Dehydrated sleep in a capsule of thin air. Waking up like a dry Weetabix. Let’s drive to Salt Lake City. It’s only a decade away.

(Trumpet fanfare. A chorus of voices announce “Interstate 80.”)

Zoom out on google maps. Zoom. Stroke that sensual nipple of a screen on your iphone. Out. Out. There you go. See highway 80? It stretches from San Francisco to New York: from left to right, from east to west. It’s like a giant belt around an obese country. It’s like a long, salivating tongue moving along the back of a naked land mass… it’s like a….like a…Stop there!!! No more. Put down that simile gun, and get real. Highway 80 is like nothing else. It’s too easy to look at it from a distance and compare it to something more enticing, or more manageable, but please don’t do that. That’s weak. Let’s get this right, highway 80 is a fucking monster. It’s alive. As soon as your vehicle touches it, you’re on its back and it’s going to do what the fuck it wants to you. People who live on or off it are under its spell. For example, we pass Bruford, the smallest town in America with a population of 1. It’s set a few metres back from Highway 80. Highway 80 made this happen. Highway 80 wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s the Highway having a big joke. It’s the Highway indulging itself on a joke so sick and globular,  that Piers Morgan visits it and bloats his face on the comical solitude of its sole occupant.

Todd (our tour manager/driver) has had enough of the high wind hammering against the side of our van.  His knuckles have turned white and his teeth are beginning to crack. It’s time for a break. We stop off in Rawlins for some food at a Subway. The young(ish) boy working there looks at my mouth as I speak and appears to grapple for it as though it’s a hot air balloon. A hot air balloon promising Escape. I’m exotic to him. Me, moi, this short, stocky, balding Welshman: I’m exotic to the young lad in Rawlins. “Where yall from? You’re in a band. Oh wow. I’ll check you guys out.”

Rawlins is the windiest place I’ve ever been in my life. Honestly. It’s in the heart of the best, a heart that’s sore with indigestion. “Is it always this windy here?” “Sure is yall. We gotta lot o wind up ere in Rawlins sir.” I swear, if I lived in Rawlins I’d drill a hole in my fucking face. I’d drill a big fucking hole right where my nose is, so when I’m out walking I won’t have to use all my neck muscles to stand up straight. People would lie in their beds at night and listen to my drilled face whistling behind flapping bins as I take my drilled dog out for an evening shit. Hell. Rawlins. Interstate 80 is choking you.

All along the stretch of road from Denver to Salt Lake city there are clear indications that people want to escape. Perhaps the biggest hint of this desire for freedom is the number of firework warehouses that we pass. There’s one every couple of miles. Huge fucking buildings full of explosives. It doesn’t matter what kind of display they put on. The main thing is that they are noisy, escape and then end in an orgasmic blast beneath the stars. I imagine people buying these fireworks in bulk, gathering together and watching something they’ve briefly touched as it escapes the wind battered terrain of interstate 80.

“Ohhh ahhhh…” eyes gaze upwards. BANG!!! A brief moment of silence and relief until the remains of the rocket spirals back to earth, resigned and flapping in the breeze like a gutted bird. Interstate 80 is the ultimate game hunter, disguising itself behind cat’s eyes and road kill. Each and every anaemic eyeball belongs to a wannabe modern Prometheus.

“We sure got a lot of wind around here sir.”

Let’s not think for a moment though that we’ll only suffer the wind on Interstate 80. Oh no, we also pass through a tremendous snow storm which causes us to stop briefly, a few hours from Salt Lake City, to punch the ice off the windscreen. Everyone shows their respect for the dense and unpredictable power of this road by driving with hazard lights on. We’re like a slow moving, candle lit procession, passing through the darkness and looking for a reassuring hand. In this case it’s a bearded tour manager and repeated plays of ‘Danger Zone’ by Kenny Loggins. He’s today’s saviour: Our man in a white suit leading us to salvation, and cold lager.

As a result of this tiptoeing and out of key singing, we’re late for the gig. Very, very late. Luckily though, tonight’s show is at the smallest and most low key venue of the tour. This means we can sneak in unnoticed after Jeff Rosenstock’s set, and load our gear onto the stage. No soundcheck for us tonight Mr Soundman. After ten hours on the road, we know exactly what we want to sound like.

It’s a great gig. Small, sweaty and manic. We’re all exorcising the Interstate 80 demon. At one point I plead for the mile high city stranger to come pay this place a visit. These people need it.  It’s a no alcohol venue and we have to sign a sheet of paper promising that we won’t play any cover versions. There’s a strict limit on fun levels here in Salt Lake City. I blame the Mormons, but at the same time I wonder what interstate 80 must have done to them in the nineteenth century. Back then it was untamed by tarmac and the lad in Subway existed as a collection drifting atoms, somewhere in the mesosphere. Atoms that pleaded wholeheartedly with the comets they trailed, not to be dropped off above Rawlins. Poor atoms. Poor Mormons. Great sandwich.

After the show I meet up with my friends Victoria and Dominique and we go out drinking and partying in Salt Lake. I try a beer with egg and rum in it. I get told off by them for wandering into a police station carpark and taking photos of frozen windscreens.  We have a snowball fight, play some punk records and talk bullshit while the snow covers up our footprints.

I sleep and dream of sand, wind, snow and a massive fucking steering wheel attached to my back. Tomorrow we’ll travel on a different interstate to Boise. Tomorrow we’ll be at the mercy of a new highway. (This all makes me wonder what dark forces Eisenhower must have had on his side when he established the interstate system). Drive carefully everybody, and remember it’s all much more than a simile. It’s about frequent toilet breaks and fully loaded ipod.

Jimmy x

USA Part 3

All dogs die in heaven.

“Tell me what you remember from the Chicago and Minneapolis gigs.”

“I remember the sound of a train in Chicago and the sound of a flag in Minneapolis.”

“Which do you prefer?”

“Right now, it’s the sound of a flag.”

“What does a flag sound like?”

USA Today: 11.07.12 – ‘America, divided…no presidential candidate who carried such a high proportion of the white vote failed to win the White House…’

“Umm, a flag sounds like fabric knuckles…”

The highway outside Minneapolis was decorated with Romney supporters waving their batshit insane banners from bridges, and from atop grass verges.

If only vehicles could vote. USA would have taken the vampiric bite of a rabid, oiled up engine, and Armageddon would have seen us all locked up in a garage, trying desperately to pull the hosepipe from the mouth of a burning Mormon robot.

“…crunching and releasing tension…” CRUNCH

Ten dollars for a Walking Dead T-shirt in Wallmart. Only one left.

Ten dollars for a Captain America T-shirt in Wallmart. XXXL only. Bigger than a flag. I unfold one and it covers the fruit isle, bringing with it the perfect amount of darkness for a watermelon to terrorise a punnet of strawberries.

“…and then unfurling like a big, warm hand. A hand that goes a long way to holding up the sky. I like that sound. It’s satisfying and reassuring.”

“Ah wait, I remember more.”

The Chicago gig was great. Best toilets and load-in/ load-out of the tour thus far. It was also the first gig where Sean from Andrew Jackson Jihad joined us onstage for extra guitar on ‘Failed Olympic Bid’. The Bottom Lounge has nestled itself firmly in my top five venues to play and scream at.

After the gig I got to hang out with Michael Moreci. For those that don’t know, he’s one of the creators and writers of ‘Hoax Hunters.’ It’s a comic from Image, and despite only being on issue number 4, it’s got one of my favourite comic book characters in Murder. Murder is a dead astronaut, whose fractured human consciousness is shared with crows. Basically it’s bloody brilliant. We headed to the bar next to the venue, had a drink and talked about all things American, surreal imagery and the sometimes perplexing behaviour of fans. He was a lovely guy and gave me a signed comic, which is now resting on the tour bus dash board as we casually crawl towards Denver.

(We have a fourteen hour drive ahead of us. 895 miles. Cutting through Iowa and Nebraska on Highways 35, 80 and 76. There’s no gig tonight, so we’ll see how far we can go, or how close we can get to Denver,  before finding a hotel and resting up for the final leg tomorrow. )

The day after Chicago, election night, saw us play The Triple Rock Social Club, in Minneapolis. This was the first gig in a long time where everything went wrong for me. My strap broke, my lead broke, a bunch of strings broke, I cut my mouth and for most of the set the sound of my plectrum hitting the strings was the loudest thing on my side of the stage. Still, ya know, that’s touring and it comes with many challenges in different disguises. What happened in Minneapolis was classic guitarist horror, the stuff of six-string nightmares, and it’s something that still surprises me when it pounces on my dancing feet. Mostly that’s because I never wanted to be just a guitarist. I wanted to be the man on stage that you’d come to for mortgage advice, fashion tips and directions to the nearest tuck shop or map store, but due to an error on my CV it never happened. As a result, when my gear fails me, I tend to feel like a bit of a tit. When you conk out mid-song, the rest of the band have picked up so much momentum that they have no choice but to carry on without you, waving goodbye from the backseat of the second verse. There’s no stopping the rock machine for a mute guitarist and this gives you a weird realisation that you’ve been abandoned by notes. Despite being abandoned in this totally unplanned and random way, you still feel like you deserve it.  You should have double checked your leads, you should always keep that rabbits foot in your back pocket, you shouldn’t have eaten so much instant pasta as a student etc. Luckily I’m not a fucking wimp and tonight I embrace the sudden nakedness: This is me. This is what I look like swathed in sound, with no weapon to defend myself. Be brave. Let the crowd know you are always brave.  Sometimes I really can be brave, but there have been other times where I’ve told myself that this silliness and uselessness is not what I spent hours practicing and writing songs for as a teenager and younger adult version of myself. If I was a front man I’d greet such a calamity as this by singing, yelping, taking my clothes off and then throwing myself headfirst into the crowd, emerging a nanosecond later on the cover of Kerrang magazine. Instead, in 2012, I stand still, wait for the song to end and then try reconnecting myself to the room. It happens.

We’re doing well though, dear Future of the Left fans. We’re slowly converting and blessing the youth of America, one shocked face at a time. Soon we’ll be playing at the Super Bowl or at Beyonce’s war tribunal.  It depends on which event has the best rider, and meal vouchers. I’m guessing the Hague will do a mean Pizza.

One other thing of note:

I saw a missing person poster in a Minneapolis toilet today, and the lady had been missing since 1938. (Are you familiar with American toilets? They’re terrible. The cold war was really about who had the worse toilets, Russia or the USA. The Bay of Pigs invasion or La Batalla de Giron, was merely an attempt to sabotage the unveiling of a revolutionary new toilet door, that *shock horror* offered privacy.)  The poster went to some length to describe what she was wearing on that day. Chances are she might have changed by now. Someone took a photo of the poster on their camera phone. Keep looking and don’t put her on instagram…yet.

That’ll do. There’s no need to bore you any more with details of the past 48 hours.

So, what am I up to now?

I’m on Highway 35. Five ducks, silhouetted like thrown coal, fly just ahead of us.  The sun is going down to the right of me, and I’m reflecting on the unnecessary number of memorial bridges we’ve crossed on this highway. Memorial bridges belong in isolated corners of countryside, where the river is slow and at least looks like it’s attempting to have a memory. We’re a few miles from Des Moines, which I recognise as the hometown of those children TV presenters, turned pop punk stars, Slipknot. We pass junction 110, birthplace of John Wayne. Or Marion as he’s known to all those dead horses he sweated on.  MARION. The horses are stacked up high in horse heaven, scrawling his name from the never ending steam that whispers off their smooth backs: Backs worn down and as smooth as marble.

“Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.” – John Wayne, born at junction 110, five miles from guitar centre, and the only man to accurately pronounce a semicolon, with the low, slow drawl of someone who’s truly in love with punctuation and clumsy misadventure.

So, to recap, the USA prevented Cyril Sneer from becoming president, while Jack mistakenly called a film that we have here in the van, “All dogs die in heaven.” This was preceded by Falkous and Ruzicka eating a hearty meal of vegetables and meat and our tour manager Todd saying that he’d never shave his beard because it’s become his comfort blanket. Together, we’re five human beings, in a hired van, driving nearly 1,000 miles across one of the greatest countries in the world, with a Rhondda council recycling bag full of clean washing, and silly smiles on our little faces. What else did you expect? It is our day off after all.

Jimmy x

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Tour Diary: Part One

Gun Cocks

So the hurricane happened. In a big way. It had all the channels. Even the Welsh news. Mega. I watched it, and hugged my guitar. My mother told me to stay where I was. So too did all the planes on the planet. I aged, and hit thirty with a soft plop. I shaved my face, moisturised and then, it stopped. (The storm). Fox news whirred like an upside down bicycle. Poseidon lay on the pavement rubbing his grazed knees.

Time to fly.

And fly we did.

Batman and Hunger Games danced on my retina. (“Television is light filled with someone else’s anxiety” – Steve Aylett). Both were good. I watched with subtitles to keep me awake and keep me informed. I don’t like flying, it’s like doing a house viewing, except instead of a house, you’re viewing mortality. All 250 meat bags of it. Farting across the atlantic, and blaming bread instead of fear.

Brace.

Because Newark airport was under 14 foot of milk, we had to fly to Washington instead. Falco put out a twitter finger and a man pulled, and came to pick us up. Julia rode up front. Falco and I sat in the trunk. The boot. The back. The yesterday engine. It was a long drive. We slid on our backs around corners like turtles in a tumble dryer. AMERICA. Microwaved steak and cheese sandwich. AMERICA. Here’s my bands demo. They’re all cover versions of your childhood. AMERICA. Looking a lot like Bridgend. AMERICA.

(Three and a half hours later…(image of us reattaching our joints to our jeans and thanking the young man from Twitter for driving us to the venue)).

So, we pay 10 bucks for a carpark we don’t park in, ask our guitars for forgiveness and play a rock show in Philadelphia. It’s good. The lights are forgiving. We’ve arrived and the tour engine has fired up. We like this part. We get taken over by the whole momentum of it all.

Our tour van arrives. It’s black and new. It has wifi, it has wine making classes, it has salsa classes, it has seats. Our tour manager emerges out the side and extends and arm. “Get on in. Let’s go to New Jersey for sleep.”

Oh man…sleep. We forgot what that was. 25 hours or more of being awake and I’m finding corners of my mind that I didn’t know existed. Corners with mousetraps and humming vending machines. Yes please. Sleep.

The next morning I go for a run. I wear a skin coloured T-shirt and run up and down hills in an industrial estate. A few lorry drivers, on their mid-morning break, stand on the side of the road and cheer me on. One of them mysteriously says “Not enough love”, and blows into his coffee. It cools. He sips it and I run off. The man in the skin coloured T-shirt. Full of love.

Our show has to be moved, because lower Manhattan is also covered in milk. Digital Ambrosia. It’s everywhere. It’s pulled down trees and pylons. We look at people queuing for petrol. Empty pumps draped in American flags like flammable coffins. Good luck New York. You’re a hardy bunch, especially when it comes to pizza and cars. I love you New York. That is a fact. When I’m older and attached to wheels, my wife will push me into the living room and pull the broccoli from outta my eyes. My kids will look at me and smile. I’ll say “I love New York.” They’ll change my wheels and push me around the street. I’ll be crying “I love New York” over and over.  My future. Me on wheels. The neighbours killing each other because of my insanity.

 “Quantum mechanics. My only vice”

The New York show takes place in Europa, Brooklyn.  We’ve played the room before. There seems to be some kind of bass tax on the venue, so we untie our shoelaces for extra depth and play the best show we can. (Let me tell you, that means it was a good show.) I get a man onstage because he has a Chew T-shirt on. I pin him to the floor and pour Amstel light into his face.  “I TRUSTED YOU!!!” He’s happy. We’re all happy. Polish people working at the venue tumble past us like lithe, muscular slinky springs and ask us to leave.

Heading back to the hotel, I write ‘Goodnight New York’ in vomit along the side of the van. It blazes like belly fire. The dark skyscrapers in lower Manhattan rub their eyelids and look up at the sick banner. Power returns and a few lights blink. On and off. On and off: “Fuck of Watkins.”

Sleep and calf cramp. (The worst calf cramp ever. Dehydration, lack of salt). I try and reach across to our tour manager, who’s in the bed next to mine. “Help”. No words come out of my mouth, just half forgotten Dahli dreams and Ikea emotions. I’m flat packed and I need screws. “Todd…” I nearly say his name. He moves in his sleep. He’s a Smiths fan. I blow him a kiss and race the calf cramp to deep sleep oblivion.

Today is now, and I’m sturdy. We’re driving to Cleveland for show number three. The fake blood sachet remains un-opened in my bag. I might not need it until the last show where I’ll spray it across the front row, and form a fake memory scab.

A word from our sponsors:

Thank you very much to Matt Datillo for the love and parking space in Brooklyn. Sorry I kissed you.

Prepare to learn:

So how is everyone anyway? I hope you’re all good. You reading or listening to anything I should know about?

Quotededededed:

 

“I’ve got nothing against Paul McCartney. In fact I might speak to him again if he returns my mountain bike.” Falco in Philadelphia.

“I’m not letting you hug me. You might try and wrestle me.” Falco in New York.

“I’ll have the protein breakfast please.” – Julia in New Jersey.

“Titties.” Tour manager whenever we pack the van up.

“I’ve bought a bum bag.” – Julia in New Jersey.

“I saw lots of dogs during the hurricane” – Jack in New York

“We wish you a merry Christmas” – Jack in New York.

Recipe of the day:  

 

Egg, egg, egg, bread, bread, bacon, bacon, bacon, bacon, maple syrup.

Fact of the day:

 

On the drive to Cleveland I noticed that the ‘Land of Make Believe’ and the Police Headquarters were both accessible from junction 14.

 photo.JPG

 

photo.JPG

Choose your sauce.

As I sit in Wok to Walk and wait for my rice to cook, I feel I should say something about ‘Kevin, Feynman and a camper van.’ I’m not sure if anybody is reading it (well, other than the people I know, who tell me they are), but I sure as hell hope that if you are, you’re enjoying it. Writing it is basically a fun exercise I’m having with myself, mostly influenced by my sudden love of the comic book. I don’t allow myself to spend more than two hours on each piece, and I only have a vague idea about where the story is going. There’ll be six parts, and I think I know how it’ll end. I’ve kinda got the characters in my head quite a lot of the time now, and I’m pretty sure Sophie is going to be my favourite. Ah, my rice is done. So, if you’re reading, please continue to do so. I’m working on my book about my time as a runner too. I might post stuff from that soon. I’ll also keep a USA tour diary when we go there in October. I met a girl in New York, as I set up my guitar pedals, and she said she liked the diary I started for Europe. I guess in a way I’ll be writing all tour diaries for her now…whoever she is…so, yeah, you know, thanks for that. Be good, jimmy x

Kevin, Feynman and a Campervan Part 3

“I really should be going Maya. My mother and the doctor will be wondering where I’ve gone.”

“You can’t go now. Vek has got everything ready for you. Do your surf lesson, and we’ll all head out together tonight. It’s magical out there beneath the moon and the stars. You’ll love it.”

I look down the beach. A few metres from the water I can see Vek putting a wetsuit on the sand, next to a bright blue surfboard. He catches my gaze and gives me a cheery wave. I wave back.

“Anyway Kevin, I really like you, so you should stay.”

I give out a little laugh that somehow only seems to pass through my nose. Maya lights a cigarette.

“Seriously. I really like you.”

“Sure you do Maya. What about Vek there?”

“He’s just a friend. An amazing friend, but a friend nonetheless.”

With that Maya turned my face towards hers and landed an enormous wet and passionate kiss on my lips. Smoke and lip-balm.

“Stay here Kevin. I want you to stay.”

We kiss again.

Smoke, lip-balm and tongue.

“You’re quite weak aren’t you boy?”

Vek and myself had paddled out quite far from the shore on our surfboards.

“The further out we go, the easier it’ll be for you to practice standing on the board.”

 The effort of paddling against the waves had left me completely out of breath, and the salt water caused me to gag a few times. I hate the sea. I tell myself I’m only doing this so I can kiss Maya again. And who knows, after dark we might take things further? My mother and the doctor would understand. They’ve been saying for a long time that I need a girlfriend. I can imagine the doctor adjusting his glasses and looking Maya up and down as though she were a freshly stacked bookshelf, while my mother meticulously fussed in the kitchen, offering cup of tea after cup of tea. I managed a smile, whilst keeping my mouth firmly shut against the onslaught of water.

Vek had stopped paddling and waited for me to catch up.

“You should get out more. Stop staying in bed and sulking.”

I didn’t want to argue back. I was too exhausted for that. I’d grown tired of explaining that it was depression and not laziness that kept me in bed. Everything that Vek was saying, I’d heard before, and I’d developed a way of blocking it out, but he suddenly said something that caught my attention.

“I’ve been here all day. I’ve not left this beach. It’s become my home, my spiritual sanctuary. It’s where I’m happiest. I walk and run everywhere, and I spend most of my time in the sea, surfing and being one with everything.”

“You walk and run everywhere do you?”

“Yeah. I have no time in my life for engines. Your heart and lungs are the best engines out there.”

I look at the skull tattoo on his right calf to make sure I’m right.

“Wow, I can’t believe you’ve been here all day. Where did you stay?”

“I’ve been camping here on the beach. I’m staying here for the whole summer.”

“Don’t you get bored, just staying here all the time?”

“Nah. I have all I want here. There’s no need to go anywhere else. It’s good for the soul to stay in one place for a while. I keep telling Maya to get rid of that camper van of hers, and just stay here with me. There’s a great deal of beauty in remaining in one place, but she insists on moving around, constantly looking for the next big adventure.”

“You like to be stationary, as though in the belly of a whale?”

I was beginning to catch my breath back.

“Exactly. That’s my idea of heaven. You’re kinda smart for a couch potato.”

Again, I double check the tattoo. Vek sure does sound convincing, but there’s no denying it, it’s the same skull I saw on the moped rider earlier. I think about what I’m going to say. I think carefully. Like a magician moving a coin between his fingers, the thoughts rise and fall in my mind, build up momentum and then burst into the open.

“Why don’t you cut the crap Vek? You’re full of shit. Heart and lungs being the only engine you need? Bullshit. I saw you drive past on a moped earlier. I recognise that tattoo on your calf.”

Saying this made my head rush. It was like the first ever puff on a cigarette. I felt weightless but somehow incredibly strong.

“Say what couch potato?”

“I saw you pass us earlier on a moped. You sped past. Must have been late for your date with nature. Why are you lying to me Vek?”

Vek sat there in silence. Slowly bobbing up and down on the waves. Sensing the beginnings of danger, I pulled myself up into a sitting position on the surfboard, and checked my surroundings, calculating the distance to the shore. It was then that Vek hit me in the face. A good, strong punch to the side of my skull. I somehow managed to stay on my board and braced myself for another punch to the face. Vek was bright red with anger.

“This is your father’s fault. He tried to kill all hope and magic. Well then Kevin, now I must kill you.”

“What?”

I took another punch to the face and tumbled off the surfboard, into the sea. Swallowing water and tasting blood, I caught a glimpse of Vek leaping from his board with a knife in his hand. He pounced on me, and with every punch to the face I sank beneath the waves, and became heavier and heavier. My dad’s line returned to me about it being better to be eaten alive than to sit in the belly of a beast.

Punch.

Punch.

Punch.

Blood and salt water coming together inside me. Soon there’ll be no way of telling me and the sea apart.

Punch.

Punch.

Couch potato sinking like a stone.

I waited for the knife when I suddenly thought about Maya, and the sun on her thighs.

Vek was shouting between punches.

“We were going to do this at night, when nobody was around.”

I spit some blood out.

“We were going to show you how your father’s theories had destroyed heaven, and we were going to give you a choice…” FIRST SENSATION OF THE BLADE ON MY SKIN… “We were going to give you the choice of either joining us, or joining the dead.”

Vek was really angry now, and the knife worked around me like a small and curious, sliver fish, but all I could think about was Maya and her tanned thighs. All I could feel was her kiss on my lips. Maya. Smoke, lip-balm and tongue.

The silver fish bit me in the back, and Maya vanished from my mind. It was time to fight back. I dodged the blade, and landed a punch on Vek’s throat.

“You little shit. Couch potatoes don’t fight back.”

I kept hitting Vek, and got close enough to bite a chunk of skin from his cheek, and his eyelid. He momentarily went beneath the water and I scrambled for my surfboard. Using all my strength I pulled myself up. Vek surfaced with the knife between his teeth. His eyes scanned the water for me, but I was too fast. I paddled towards him and wrapped the chord from my surfboard around his neck. In an attempt to get some air he opened his mouth wide and the knife fell into the water. I quickly grabbed it and slammed the blade into the back of his neck.

“Fuck you Vek.”

I pushed the blade deeper and deeper into his neck. Blood poured out and made the water around us pink, like a tender Nebula. Vek’s dead body bobbed at one end, while I moved away to the other end on my bright blue surfboard. Before Vek sank below the water he said that “Maya will have to kill you now.” He disappeared, and the pink nebula followed him to the depths.

I paddled towards the shore, with the blood soaked blade in my hand, and thought about something I’d learnt in school about Maya being the goddess of illusion.

Anger had returned to me and I felt alive. If this was a movie you’d have seen a burning house, with the bully twins trapped inside, reflected in my bloodshot eyes. This isn’t a movie though. This is real, and it’ll have to do for me to tell you that I was thinking about the terrible things I’d done in the past. You’ll have to believe me when I say that I felt excited to find out that they were happening again.

Reaching the shore, there was no sign of the camper van or Maya. Was she really going to kill me? If she did, there was no way I was willing to die in this wetsuit. My clothes were rolled up in a towel behind a rock. Getting changed I put the knife in my pocket and walk towards the road, without once turning around to look at the sea.

“Kevin!!! Kevin!!! Get off the road!!!”

Turning to my left I notice a girl running down the road towards me.

“It’s Sophie. Kevin, watch out. Maya is coming for you.”

I turn the other way, just in time to see the camper van speeding towards me. The last thing I see before impact is a cluster of Feynman diagrams. Multiple universes: multiple ways to die.

(To be continued…)

Kevin, Feynman and a Campervan Part 2

Now, I’m not saying she was the girl from my dreams. I’d never go that far. But when I approached her she did say hello and asked me how I was doing. Do people do that? I can’t remember.

She continued: “Are those your parents out there in the sea?”

“Nah. I mean, yes. Well kinda. That’s my mum and that’s the doctor.”

“Her doctor?”

“No, my doctor.”

“So why is he fooling around in the sea, and not looking after you?”

“Not sure.”

 A brief moment of silence is disturbed by a passing moped. I look at the rider and notice a skull tattoo on his right calf muscle.

“Need a hand with that?” I offer as she struggled with a piece of rope tied around a surfboard on the roof of her camper van.

“It’s okay thanks. The thing came lose about a mile down the road and I nearly lost old Feynman here.”

“Feynman?”

“Yeah, that’s the name of my surfboard.” There’s a brief pause as she bites one end of the rope and tightens the knot. “It means anything is possible.”

“I know.”

“Good.”

Good? Good? That’s all she has to say? How many other people know about this Feynman thing? Is it common knowledge? I doubt it. Come on, this must mean she’s the girl from my dreams. I imagine my dad shaking his head.

“There. That should do it. No chance of losing Feynman now.” She pats the surfboard like it’s a dog sleeping before a large fire. “Oh, sorry, how rude of me, my name is Maya. Yourself?”

“Kevin.” We shake hands. Her grip is tough and strong, and it hugged my hand, rather than shook it.

“That’s a boring name.” Somehow, this doesn’t even offend me. I guess it’s because I know she’s right: Kevin is a boring name. When I was a child, the name Kevin always reminded me of a stick. That was how I felt most of the time too: a stick. A stick in the schoolyard, a stick in the cinema, a stick on the rugby pitch, a stick on a sofa in front of a TV. It was like life had decided to play fetch, and then got distracted by a squeaky toy with a much better personality.

“Where you heading?”

“Not far, just a few miles down the road. The surf is good there. Want to come along?”

“Umm…” I look at the doctor and my mother in the sea and imagine a stick floating between them. “Sure. Why not?”

“Great. Jump in.”

If someone asked me where I feel safest, I’d say in a forest, during a torrential downpour. I’d tell them about the time I sat in the shade, with the odd drop of rain falling on my face. Mixing with the blood and soothing the cut. I’d tell them about how I ran my hands through the fallen pine leaves, while the taunting of the Twins faded into the distance. I’d tell them about the smell of the forest, and how it made me think of the mysterious stillness that must exist beneath a girl’s skirt.

Maya’s campervan smelled like that. I sat back in the front passenger seat and let the sun warm my eyelids.

“Don’t fall asleep on me now Kevin.”

I opened my eyes and looked at Maya’s lap. She shifts slightly in her seat and adjusts her denim skirt.

“There’s someone I want you to meet at the next beach Kevin. He’s great.”

He? Suddenly I wanted to be back at the beach with the Doctor and my mother. I wanted to curl up next to the graffitied rock, fall asleep and then go back to my room.

“There’s something else too Kevin.”

“Yeah?”

I studied Maya’s face as she focused on the road ahead. She was beautiful, there was no doubting that, but there was something Eagle-like about her face, and the speed that we travelled along the road only helped encourage the notion I had that she was a giant bird of prey, and I was being taking to her nest, high up in the mountains.

“Kevin. Stop daydreaming. I need you to listen.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Thoughts like this have gotten me into trouble before. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been told to focus and concentrate on what’s important.

“My friend at the beach may be able to tell you something about your father and the doctor.”

“Uh? What? What do you mean?”

“It’s fine Kevin, everything will make sense when we get to the beach. There’s one thing you must do first though.”

“What’s that?”

“You must come surfing with us.”

“No. No fucking way. I can’t do that. Uh uh. Not happening.”

Maya adjusted her skirt again so it showed a bit more flesh on her thighs. Ah, that forest. That goddam forest and the shade.

“You have to Kevin. You must come surfing with us. You have to practice in the day, before we head out tonight.”

Maya took hold of one of my sweating hands, squeezed it tight and said “It’s fine Kevin. Myself, Vek and Sophie will look after you.”

I sit back again and close my eyes. There’s no way I can go out there in the sea. No way at all. It’ll take more than a miracle for me to join those waves. I open the window slightly and disturb the calm in the forest. I think about the Twins and how they died in that fire. The whole school attended the funeral, and I got told off by Mrs Browning for not saying the Lord’s Prayer. Somewhere inside me, there lay a rebel. He may be as small as a snail, but even a snail can climb the biggest wall. I felt anger again, and remembered what she told me in my dream last night: “Motivation can come from somewhere else other than anger.” I did not want to go in that water. No fucking way.

(Meanwhile back at the first beach, Sophie sits behind a rock and watches as the doctor forces Kevin’s mothers head under the water. Sophie counts, “one, two, three, four, five, six…” and then she radios through to Vek. “It’s done Vek. Kevin is on the way to you now.” After Vek gets the message, Sophie sprints towards the water.)

“So, this Sophie girl. What’s she like?” I ask as the campervan parks up at the second beach.

“She’s brilliant. One of our best? She wouldn’t hurt a fly.”

“One of our best?” I repeat.

“Yep.” Maya gave a blast of the campervan horn. Almost immediately a thin, sunburned man, with wild blue eyes and dreadlocks came striding across the car park. “Ah, here’s Vek. He’ll be the one that’ll teach you to surf today.”

Vek approached Maya, picked her up and gave her a kiss on the lips.

“Ah, so you must be Kevin. Good to meet you at last.”

As I shake hands with Vek, he notice a walky-talky attached to his shorts. It suddenly gives off a short burst of sound, not unlike that of someone shouting under water. Vek turns it off and rubs his hands together. “Right, let’s get you ready for the ocean.”

“Ah, it’s a sea isn’t it?”

“Whatever, ocean, sea, let’s get you ready.”

 

(to be continued….)

The Olympics are over. A lone seagull stands near the hammer throwers cage and pecks at a discarded Big Mac, while the Olympic flame has gone back to its part-time job in a Solihul call centre. In the build-up to the Olympics, I made a last ditch attempt to get fit enough to compete, but alcohol, junk food and girls got in the way. My friends Tom Betts and Ellen Waddell were on hand to capture my failed attempt. I’d like to thank my coach Jack Egglestone for all the help and nutritional advice. Seems it wasn’t possible without the motivational input of Matt Jarrett. I’m now living alone in a tree, just outside Kenya. I will be back…and this time I’ll run the correct way around the track.