Following Monday's How to stop your brain in an accident Neptune album prize nomination and ahead of Future of the Left's upcoming dates, the release of his solo album under the guise of Christian Fitness (get it on Bandcamp), and performing a few mclusky reformation shows for a good cause, Falco ponders reformations, being a lifer and the happiness levels of Counting Crows.
A note first, as introduction, as perspective. This piece/article/desperate attempt to stay relevant is written in what was intended to be, or rather, became, a tone of slightly amused incredulity. If at any stage in its reading you find yourself thinking that the writer (me) is miserably miserying himself into a black fog of swollen hatreds and bitter reminiscences settling scores through the prism of anecdote then - you’re wrong. That’s my bath-time. This is a very different thing altogether. This is about re-forming a band (or at least something pretty close to it). If some of it sounds negative I would like you to bare in mind two facts, the first of which is that I am writing it and naturally incline towards such a state. The second is that fuck you.(↓1)
I must warn you, I put all song and album titles in quotation marks. It’s quite the thing.
I was in a band called mclusky. It was a pretty good band. We were together for a few years and made three records, the second two of which were proper records that we were, in turn, properly proud of. The second, ‘mclusky do dallas’, was our best known record. Germans liked it (and that is no comment on Germans - they mostly(↓2) hated the third record and developed this hatred into a huge indifference for Future of the Left, my/our next band) because it basically Motorheaded the Pixies. The French didn’t like it (and that is no comment on the French - they mostly(↓3) liked the third record and developed this into what seems to be a genuine passion for Future of the Left) for what seemed to be the exact same reasons. The Dutch didn’t notice (see (↓2) and (↓3)). Australians fucking loved it. They called us cunts, but that was okay, because cunts turned out to be great(↓4). Americans stood still but said they enjoyed it and interacted with us on stage the best, probably because our accents seemed a bit fruity to them and made us appear 18 per cent funnier than we actually were (which was quite funny). We went all over the (gig-going) world, apart from Japan. We didn’t sell that many records but then again didn’t expect to. It is my sincerest belief, however, that if we’d been an American rock band with the attendant coverage from the music weeklies who, at the time, still bore some relevance(↓5), then we’d have sold four or five times fuck all and played some bigger shows but then again, really, who gives a fuck? Me. This guy. I give a fuck, only not quite as much as I used to.
About thirty seven per cent less, by recent estimates.
It wasn’t the happiest band in the world. Which one is? Counting Crows? We were poor. Poor-poor. Like with a lot of bands at that cursed nearly-perhaps-level, it was fine but it was no money, living off hope and experience and eating a lot of bread sandwiches (↓6). Following the classical model we toured too much to hold down jobs and earned too little to do anything else. One band member ‘accidentally’ stole some money he didn’t think the others knew about like a low-budget pre-Libertine without a set of step-ladders but other than that there was nothing particularly dramatic to help hasten the end, just a gradual erosion of feeling over a number of years coupled with the slow, silent sadness of something inevitably dying. I spent the last US tour that we undertook with our original drummer (who I won’t name, for fear of making him happy(↓7)) wandering between the two cliques which had developed in our touring party, one a tortured, scatological bromance and the other more awkwardly heterosexual until the point where it was all I could do to sleep in the van or the corridor, alone in the band I had created. Hardly anybody was at the shows. So far so fucking Trent Reznor (↓8). Luckily, I then met Jack (Egglestone) who became our (and then Future of the Left’s) drummer, somebody who may be the sweetest man in rock (unless you have a particularly strong aversion to simulated trumpet noises or public belly-scratching) and things got significantly better. We did one more album and it was fun, even if the record in question didn’t sound it.
Then it ended. There was a catalyst, sure, but it was negligible - if anything it was a pica-catalyst, a sigh in the midst of a murderer’s yawn. I won’t share it with you here because (a) I feel somebody should have the right to reply when I’m throwing hurtful shit around like a deranged memory-specific fuck-monkey and (b) I might write a book/pamphlet/article about it one day, and would like to keep my powder dry-ish. Still, it was gone. It barely existed. We finished. Our last two gigs were a headline show at ULU in London to about eight hundred people (our biggest one yet(↓9)) then supporting Shellac at the Scala and - gone. It was a huge relief. I was sad but defiant, saving up to be melancholy. I started writing songs the next day. They were all shit, but I kept going. They got less shit. And then …
Time passed. The Klaxons came (and went?). I really got into tomato pesto, possibly too much.
Future of the Left is a thing now, existing almost at exactly the same level as mclusky, which is to say the upper to mid levels of the toilet circuit (with the occasional bigger venue thrown in to distract the senses). I’m not here to talk about that band as such (I’ve done it in many, perhaps too many other places) but it’s important for perspective. It’s dominated my life for nine years. I’ve quit, by the last count, seven jobs to go on tours(↓10). For the people on stage it’s a better band. It lives, it breathes and nobody needs to be motivated to perform or uses it as a vehicle to fuck things or each other, at least not exclusively. It contains normal human tensions, sure, but exists because it must, because it simply demands to, whether you fucking like it or not. The last record was our best. It really was, despite some people saying that the first song sounded like Korn. My advice to them would be to listen to less Korn (↓11). Our tours sell - gradually. We, and particularly my beautiful wife, work ourselves into the ground trying to make them a success. Sometimes we succeed, sometimes we fail and sometimes it’s funny enough that we don’t mind either way. After the cataclysmically awful experience of being on 4AD(↓12) and then a brief and perfectly acceptable dalliance with Xtramile (not the best fit but nice enough people) we’ve managed to make sense of our own label and with a promotional budget of just over fuck-all outsell them on vinyl alone by a factor of about six or seven to one. Crazy, eh? Strangely enough, sending out a few thousand packages yourself is one of the most satisfying things a guy or guyella can do, casting an eye over the addresses and wondering at all the places that the records will end up, passing through the hands of strangers in exotically named towns. That, I suppose, is not so unusual but one thing we do have over most bands, depending on your tastes, is stamina. We’re lifers. We’re Mo Farah with a can of Heineken (although we’d always prefer Peroni). We’re addicts. Gluttons for funishment. Sorry. Had to. It’s a life. We’ve had a life of it. I didn’t decide last week to write some songs. It’s everything. All. To dislike it is to disengage with us on a cellular level (↓13).
Returning us to the point, such as it was …
A month ago my friend and former housemate Matt (ask him about almost burning me to death with a chicken - twice) asked me if Future of the Left would do a benefit show for Le Pub, a venue in Newport where mclusky used to play regularly between 1999-2002, which was threatened with closure unless they raised over £10,000 for extensive noise insulation. I said no, because we’d already played in South Wales a couple of times this year. We get asked to play (and I use this term with appropriate thought) charity shows quite regularly but the sad fact is that if we’re any real use we usually can’t afford to do them. We make so little money, frankly, that we can’t afford to sacrifice one of our two best paying gigs a year (which are nearly always in Cardiff and London). I hope that you, the reader, can take that on trust - if you indeed give a solid ten per cent of your income to charity every year then you’re a better man/woman/theoretical space-alien than me. Anyway, I said, and this is me now, not the space-alien, what if we did some mclusky songs instead? He said yes, that would be good. It wouldn’t be mclusky, I said, just Jack, Julia and I playing the songs. We’d even get a ginger Welshman (Damien from the excellent St.Pierre Snake Invasion) to sing a couple of Jon’s songs. Let’s get Jarcrew to play a set, I said. Okay, he said. He asked them.(↓14)
If you don’t know (and you probably don’t because I’m having to tell you, despite my already excessive word count) Jarcrew, fresh out of (nearly) Ammanford were one, if not the, best live bands the world, or at least this world (me) has ever seen. Even though they looked like the Bash Street Kids (↓15) and occasionally fucked things up so badly it could break down beyond the point of parody they were fucking incredible. Kelson, their singer, ended up playing with us in Future of the Left before he wandered off to become a dentist (true story -give him a couple of years and he’ll be ripping out teeth with a deft maniac’s swagger) and they’ve always been true to my heart. They said yes. We announced the show. It sold out in a few minutes so we announced another in Clwb Ifor Bach (↓16), Cardiff, which is slightly bigger and loads more in Cardiff. That sold out too, in minutes. It felt great, a triumph not for ourselves or an over-funded sports team, but for something else entirely. So much of being in a band at our level is, by necessity, self-centred (or at the very least, very carefully considered) so to contribute to the eco-system of those smaller, vital venues, the ones that raised us up and, for the most part sustain us, was a necessary reminder that a world exists beyond our own limited needs, however compressed or seemingly crucial.
I did a phone interview the next day. The guy asked me ‘what’s it like to be selling out hometown venues again with mclusky?’. The answer was that I didn’t know, because we never had before. He couldn’t believe it. ‘mclusky were big, right?’. Only in our living rooms, only on our imagined balconies. By the light of my memory I can only remember selling out two shows in the UK (both in London) one each in New York and Chicago and a couple in Australia in four years of touring, all notable achievements (there are bands of great worth who have achieved less) but hardly the stuff of legend. Hardly the stuff of … selling out a show in four minutes. I found myself, broke and unemployed, staring at the customarily slow tickets sales for the upcoming Future of the Left tour (in all good cinemas etc. etc.) and wondering about the events that define a life. About a show in Belfast that got pulled because it’d only sold three tickets then receiving twenty-one emails complaining about the cancellation. About an incredible gig in Zagreb which made me so happy I pulled muscles in my face through smiling too much. About a one and a half thousand kilometre drive to Stockholm to play to four people (two of whom had come from Finland). About Seattle, Melbourne and … Lincoln(↓17). About being wrong, right, doomed and drunk all at the same time, but usually sat in a van listening to other men snoring, a story, like the band, that becomes better and bigger and more popular with every retelling. About standing in front of crowds (and yes, sometimes there have been enough of them to demand that name) and feeling like I was communicating something just by being myself, even if I am an arsehole sometimes.
And then I got over myself, wrote a song, fed the cats and took (had?) a piss. Fuck you all. If you/we/us/it must venerate the past then I suppose that we should at least venerate it for a good cause. And it is a cause, at least, one where the need for venues for live music (and I say this with all due respect - Newport does not need to be losing places of cultural import right now) happens to happily coincide with the wish of some of the humans present to remember a thing which was special to us for a hour or so and see two actual bands banding with nothing else to live for beyond those moments. No pressure, eh? Just the thrill of being lost in music and thought/non-thought (as the individual sees fit). I’m sure I’ll look across once or twice towards where Jon used to stand and think, ah, wouldn’t it be nice to just … but I won’t, I swear, even finish the thought. It would be boring. Tedious. Normal, I think. It wouldn’t work. We can’t all be Mission of Burma(↓18).
Anyway, that’s my thing about bands reforming. I meant to be more general, but anecdote and something approaching an emotion got in the way. I hope any of you at the shows enjoy them, as well as the Future of the Left ones. I’ll love playing those songs and then I’ll love forgetting about them afterwards. I’ll have (four) beers and talk with friends and we’ll share memories and talk about the things that were and the things that could’ve been. I wish … nah. I don’t wish. I’ve stopped wishing. I just do. Compulsanated. Calm your wishes down, young man. They’ll just give you scurvy. It’s like staring at a picture of an old holiday, and insisting that your haircut is better now. Well, maybe it is, but you’ll still need a hat when it gets cold.
You terrible pricks.
Ps. I am well up for a proper mclusky reformation, incidentally. MY fee (which may or may not be set artificially high) is £200,000, which gets me for six months, with a day off from shows every five days (to save my precious little voice). I will also require cold lager and the usual selection of breads, meats and cheeses.
Pps. Still can’t get on with olives. Just thought I’d touch base with you all on that.
↓1 not really, but I assume that I have your attention now. If not, scurry off to read an article with a more provocative photo which ultimately tells you nothing about even less.
↓2 mostly. MOSTLY.
↓3 mostly. MOSTLY.
↓4 I would never dream of calling a woman a cunt unless that was her given name, and then with some reservations.
↓5 the only time either band got any real coverage in Kerrang (exclamation mark eliminated at author’s discretion) was when fotl released a live album called ‘last night I saved her from vampires’ and they got all fucking excited about how it tied in with Halloween. Wank-priests.
↓6 bread AND bread. Toast for pudding.
↓7 when he became a vegan I doubled the amount of meat I ate just to spite him.
↓8 pre weight-training, that is. Now he’d probably just break down the hotel room door and distil the transgressors into a twat-and-blood protein shake.
↓9 you could find a recording of this show on disc three of mcluskyism (our compilation, which was released with a straight face) or somewhere on the internet, I would think. Contrary to what people like to think or post-narrativise there was very rarely anything approaching tension on stage even towards the end, it was mostly really good fun. ULU though, was different. It was a big celebration of a band that was dead but couldn’t bring itself to tell anyone (yet). The Shellac show, as good as it was, was something of a come-down, for our performance at least. They were magnificent, of course. ↓10 and I’m not looking for pity here - I’m framing my world for you. In teak.
↓11 I hear Machine Head have a new USB dongle out.
↓12 I remember excitedly arriving at their offices in Wandsworth to talk about press interviews for our second record only to hear how elated everybody was about the new Horrors album. That was nice. They had, of course, already decided to drop us but not before wasting several years of our lives first. The whole episode with Beggars wasn’t entirely negative, I must add, but after the death of Too Pure and our migration to 4AD the writing wasn’t so much on the wall for us as carved into our unloved foreheads with a spoon.
↓13 not really. I was just enjoying language for a moment.
↓14 his recollection of this conversation, it turns out, is slightly different than mine. He reckons it was he who suggested Jarcrew. I think otherwise, but am prepared to open myself up to the possibility.
↓15 or the Ant Hill Mob from Wacky Races.
↓16 also known as the Welsh Club. It’s nice there.
↓17 okay, maybe not Lincoln. One of only two places where people made sheep noises at us because they thought we were Welsh (the other was Carlisle).
↓18 and we really CAN’T all be Mission of Burma. It’s just not fair.
Note. I can’t really use the term ‘wank-priest’ without properly crediting its source. Thankyou, Gordon Allison.
You can follow Andrew "Falco" Falkous on Twitter here: Follow @shit_rock
You can see Future of the Left doing something like what's in this video (as shot in Phoenix Arizona in late 2012) around the UK in October. click here for live dates.
1st October - Glasgow
2nd October - Leeds
4th October - Norwich
5th October - Manchester
6th October - Brighton
7th October - Birmingham
9th October - Bristol
10th October - London
And those mclusky charity dates have sold out already, sorry pal.
Lead photo by Simon Fernandez from that time Future of the Left played a show for DiS in London.