Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Clawing At Dreams

It’s not often that you’re granted the opportunity to ditch all your worldly responsibilities and travel Europe with a group of lads, let alone off the back of someone else. So when the invite made its way down to me in Cornwall, I reveled in the chance to go to Europe for free spend a week reviewing a European tour with the Brighton based Tall Ships, a band on the “cusp of greatness.”

It all started with Falmouth. Tall Ships, the Tour and this tall tale. Two years ago Ric, Matt and Jamie played their first gig at Falmouth University’s Woodlane Campus bar thanks to now Tour Manager Sean Clarke, their own homegrown Simon Cowell. It was at this show that they first supported Tubelord, a band they would go on to tour the UK with and share the successes of the Big Scary Monsters label. Two years and two EPs later they were preparing to set off on their second European tour, and (after losing a car along the way) I was going with them.    

Obviously the ‘quality’ time I spent with the band revealed to me a lot about their characters and it would seem unfair to review the tour without a mini-intro to each of our musical heroes-

Ric- The front man. Devilishly handsome yet admirably modest, this Arian heartthrob prevented us from taking advantage of a free bar.

Matt- He’s the leather jacket cladded, sunglass wearing rock star: A cool-as-you-like bassist whose online presence kept us connected throughout the tour.

Jamie- They called him The Princess, whether ironically or not, this drumming sensation hit the symbols hard, but the mattresses harder.

Sean- Tour Manager. A man of many talents (driving, managing, graphics), he got us where we needed to be on time, in style and with an air of creative-nonchalance.        

Grimble- At present there exist no words in the English language adept enough to describe this man. His role, however, was Vibe-Tec.

“013” Tilburg, Netherlands. - 3rd March
The early morning drive consisted of crammed equipment, bad smells and squeals of excitement from the guys whenever we stopped at a service station they had been to last tour. En route I’d asked Jamie what to expect on the whole and he replied- “Tantrums, fights, loutish behavior, good and bad performances, wanking in showers… and that’s just Grimble.” Trust me, with conversation like that the six-hour drive and ferry to Tilburg flew by. CDs plastered the outside walls of the huge, black venue giving it an amiably tacky appeal, with the likes of The National and Rise Against soon to play there. An exhausted Tall Ships defiantly opened up the stage, playing a dynamic and energetic set that whipped the locals into a frenzy, just in time for headlining act The Spokes to dazzle them with a blend of huge, post-rock, Mogwai-esque sounds.      

“Asteriks” Leeuwarden, Netherlands – 4th March
This ex-prison had to be my favorite venue. The old cellblocks had been painted bright yellow and blue and each individual cell had been transformed into an art studio; the reception was now a café and the mess hall had been turned into the music venue where Tall Ships performed. One of the most inspirational things about the place was the fact that it was run by volunteers with a passion for music. A rogue sound technician and a smoke-happy, effects guy highlighted the snags with volunteer work however. Despite this, the boys wowed an expectant middle-aged crowd with their eclectic, audio-visual performance, whilst Grimble and I watched in awe (and Sean commanded the merch stand), even managing to get a few of the has-beens to bust a step or two.

“Bazart” Den Haag, Netherlands – 5th March
“So where do you fit in then Grimble?” – “Well, imagine Tall Ships are like a beautiful puzzle of the Dutch countryside, I’m the piece with the windmill on.” Short drives between cities and venues were each mini road-trips unto themselves and the quasi-ironic lads-on-tour vibe kept us giggling and teary eyed between shows. We were greeted at the Bazaart by, quite possibly, the worst metal band ever doing a sound check… or their set… we weren’t quite sure. Opting to avoid the atrocity, Sean, Grimble and I sought out a coffee shop and greener pastures. We returned to T.S rocking an empty room (other than staff and the support acts) and so, in effect, we got our own show, with Ric even managing to slip in the lyrics “Grimble is precious” into ‘Books’ which (after the previous excursion) we appreciated, a lot.        

“Patronaat’ Haarlem, Netherlands – 6th March
Ah this one was, hands down, the best show they played. It was a free, 5 PM matinee show on a Sunday that got pretty hectic. All the locals were drunk, the tour promoter was there and an extravagant compere in slippers and pinstripe trousers was screaming “Tall Shipsh!” and “Foul Mouth!” between long rolling Dutch sentences. They absolutely killed the set; it was pulled off immaculately, in time and the acoustics of the café-sized venue were perfect. The audience were up and dancing and so appreciative of the music, which was so nice to see after the disaster turn-out of the last gig, they didn’t know what to expect and Tall Ships blew them away. At the climax of ‘Snow’ Jamie dragged the snare into the centre of the dance floor, spread a channel in the audience and started a drum roll, to which Ric hung his guitar over Matt (it all looks so unrehearsed too, as if they’re just jamming), then he continued to build up and loop the sound. By this point the crowd didn’t know where to look, puzzled and exited, then, ever so casually, Ric sits on the drum stool before crashing down eclectically on the symbols. It’s a show for sure, and the crowd loved it.

“Café Video” Ghent, Belgium – 8th March
Two sunny days in the architecturally spectacular city of Ghent rounded the tour off perfectly. We’d been hooked up with a charismatic little hotel for both nights and spent the last 48 hours in Europe ambling around the cobbled streets and sipping coffee against the background of canals and castles (wow, that even sounds like a Tall Ships song title). I recorded a little conversation with the boys that gave some audible gold, courtesy of Jamie Bush – King of the Interview. The final show had such a relaxed vibe to it, the people were young and friendly and I even signed an EP for a couple of fans who’d been star-struck spotting Tall Ships in their local pub the previous night. These boys certainly have gone from clawing at dreams, to living them.
It was an eye opening experience to say the least, but Tall Ships have certainly matured since I last saw them perform, they played every gig with a confidence and professionalism that I haven’t seen in the past and the amount of energy they create is astounding. I would go as far as saying that you cannot properly experience them, until you have experience them live, and with an album in development, a UK tour and a Bestival slot coming up in the near future, I would highly recommend checking them out if you haven’t already, because Tall Ships are going to be kicking up a storm of plate shifting proportions very, very soon.       

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