Saturday, 22 March 2014

Ireland: A craic-ing time.

I've never really managed to create any sort of written record of tour before, but a number of factors have combined recently to make me want to try and document more of what we're doing and this trip culminated in a fairly lengthy train journey for me, so this trip seems like as good a time as any start.

Recently my good friend Jeff Rowe has been recounting his most recent European tour over on his blog ( if you're interested, it's good!) and he had a bit of a nightmare with the UK leg of the trip. Fortunately he enjoyed his stay in Dundee and said some really nice things about Scotland in his dispatch. We had had something of a quiet show with the Survival Tour the same week and it really brought something home to me – touring and promoting shows can quite often seem like a pretty shitty idea. Feelings both good and bad are amplified and a bad time can easily become a terrible time. On the flipside though something going well can make it all worthwhile and seeing someone who I have a lot of time for talk about how a good show in Dundee made a whole portion of his trip worthwhile reminds me that while the bad times can be pretty crushing, the good times make it seem pretty minor and they're what's worth remembering and talking about, so here goes...

I'll admit that I had some pretty serious reservations about this Irish trip before we started – details of the shows were pretty fluid going into the weekend changed pretty frequently for a number of reasons and I foresaw a bit of a disaster unfolding, but fortunately thanks to the help of a bunch of friends over the sea, by the time we departed everything was pretty watertight. The journey across the Irish Sea was far from the easiest we've ever done – hiring a van and paying to get it on the ferry was not financially viable for us at this point so the four of us, our hardware, instruments and merch were crammed into my long-suffering father's estate car for the weekend. This made sure that we were not going to be living in luxury when we left Dundee at 6am for what it turned out would be a 13 hour trip to our first show in Galway.

After the aforementioned number of replans on the shows, we were lucky enough to be hooked up with the guys from Vamos, Antipop records stalwarts and Galway locals, for what would be their final weekend of shows before bass player and vocalist Vinny departs for pastures new in Iceland. We'd be playing with them the whole weekend in Galway, Dublin, their hometown of Tuam and Belfast and we'd be joined by Sheepy from Liverpool for the first three shows too. On arrival in Galway it was pretty clear that Vamos planned on going out with a bang for their final weekend. Uniforms have never been a great deal of a “party band” but we're certainly not shy of the odd beer if the occasion is presented, so we were happy to be in the company of guys who were clearly as up for the weekend of shows as we were and we resolved to let them do their thing and enjoy the experience of being in a whole new country to do ours. Vamos comprised of Vinny, his brother Tom on guitar who shared vocal duties and former Dead Class drummer Tony, while Sheepy was another 3 piece – singer/guitarist Luke (Also called Sheepy), Drummer Olly and another Dead Class journeyman Villy on bass. Along with Vinny's Icelandic girlfriend Una and their dog Toby, who was enthusiastic but terrible at fetching sticks and sneezed a lot when he was excited, this would be our group for the weekend.

The trip to Galway was something of a slog even for us. I always feel like an asshole when people ask me about tour or say things like “I hope you have a good holiday” and the only reply I can muster is something along the lines of “it's not like you think”. Don't get me wrong, we always have an incredible time when we're away and I like to think that Uniforms cope as a whole pretty well with the rigours of travel, but it can be hard work being faced with an entire day of motorway travel, especially on trips like this one, or in fact most UK trips, where there are a limited number of said motorways and you can find yourself driving the same stretch 3 or 4 times in the space of a week. We arrived in Galway just after 7 in the evening and I must say I was a big fan of the city, but it wasn't long before we were faced with the second “wild card” of tour trips. UK shows are among the most organised affairs I've been a part of – 3 or 4 bands, efficient changeovers, shows wrapped usually by 11. In Ireland, not so much. For our first show of the weekend there were 6 acts and doors were at 9pm, which meant that by the time we took the stage it was around 1.45am, close to 20 hours before we started our journey. As previously mentioned, we take a degree of pride in our ability to face down the rough spots of touring and taking it in our stride and so we did what we always do, we found a mexican restaurant and waited. Despite my initial apprehension, Galway treated us to a great first night – a good mix of local bands, good first chance to see Vamos and Sheepy, a big and enthusiastic crowd, some of the best stage sound we've experienced in a long time and most importantly some top quality Mexican food. I'm happy to admit that when I finally crawled into bed (and by bed I mean floor) near the dark end of 4 in the morning, I was feeling a lot better about this trip than I had been previously.

Regardless of how tired I still was waking up on Saturday morning, I've long said that one of my very favourite things about this band is being presented the opportunity to experience things that otherwise I'd have no chance of, and being in Dublin on St. Patrick's weekend was certainly one of them, so I was perhaps a little insistent in dragging everyone out of bed the next morning. We've discussed before the importance of experiencing as much as we can while we travel and this is especially true now that we've dialled back the drinking between shows, but after a 20+ hour day and 4 hours sleep on a stranger's floor that's a much more appealing theory than it is practice. Regardless, I reasoned that this was not an opportunity that would come along very often and throwing into the mix that Ireland were attempting to wrap up a Six Nations Championship that afternoon, we should take in as much of the Dublin atmosphere as possible, so we were into the car by a fairly decent noon for the 2 hour trip back up the M6 to the capital. While we're keen to take in all the “famous” sites anywhere we visit, we can also be quite cynical about our tourist experience (look out for my impending Tumblr collection “disgruntled tour photos at Stonehenge” coming soon). Nevertheless, the lure of a St. Patrick's weekend was too strong, so first stop was St. James' Gate for a Guinness brewery visit. In our traditional style, we wandered around the area, looked at the queue and price list for entry, made a disparaging comment and with a “well that's that over with” attitude, moved on. We were all more interested in the fact that a visit to a metropolis of the scale of Dublin gave us the opportunity to sample all 3 of our band's main interests – artisan coffee, mexican food and record shops. Eat your heart out Sid Vicious. After spending more time than is probably tolerable to most people indulging these, we ventured back to the venue, Sin E on the banks of the Liffey. 

Tonight's show was an entirely different situation to last night in Galway – similar length of show, similar late running, but this time rather than being an advertised, pay-at-the-door affair, it was an open rock bar with a great mix of Dublin bands and our tour party. Kudos once again to the Irish public on their level of interest and enthusiasm for a bunch of Scottish roasters who they didn't even know.

In discussion with our hosts, we decided that finding a sleeping place for a party of 10 in Dublin on the Saturday of St. Patrick's weekend was a near impossible task, so all that was left after loading out was the daunting prospect of a late night drive back to Vinny's house. Derrick did an admirable job keeping me attentive to the road the whole way back and we once again crawled into our sleeping bags towards the business end of dawn to try and catch up on rest. After a similar sleeping experience to the night previous, we were up again and thankful that the drive to Sunday night's show in Tuam, Vinny and Tom's hometown., was a mere 15 minutes. Before the business of the show could be tackled, however, there was the matter of finding a venue to settle down for the afternoon's Manchester United vs Liverpool match. Luke and I are thoroughly disinterested in football, and I doubt Derrick would admit to more than a fleeting interest in the English game, but Jamie was keen to see the match and the guys from Sheepy (obviously) wanted to see Liverpool, so we ventured to Tuam after a hearty breakfast thanks to Vinny to find a pub. I can honestly say without reservation that I can't remember the last time I enjoyed watching a football match so much. The pub we picked, The Brogue, was jam-packed full of supporters of both sides and the atmosphere was tangibly crackling by the time we arrived 10 minutes in. Jamie pointed out that “it's always more fun watching a game if it means something to the people you're with” and watching Luke and Olly really come out of their shells as they watched Liverpool deliver something of a masterclass certainly made our afternoon much more enjoyable. 

The evening's show was a third totally different approach, meaning we'd run almost the full range so far this weekend. It had the feeling of something of a going away party for Vinny, who was playing a cover set with some of his work colleagues as well as his Vamos set. It was also the first time to my knowledge that someone on this trip had come out specifically to see us. Jack, who we had communicated with previously, was from Galway but had been unable to make it on Friday, so he'd driven down with a carload of friends to see us play. This was probably my least favourite show of the weekend performance-wise (Derrick and I share a dislike of stage lighting and we were struggling to see under the effects) but the feeling of being on your first trip in a foreign country and having someone tell you that they've taken time out of their day to drive out and watch you play is an incomparable feeling so it's hard to look back on it unfavourably.

On Monday morning we made what I hope, and I'm sure will, be a short term goodbye to the guys from Sheepy and prepared to make a trip back to the North for the final show in Belfast. This show fell on St. Patrick's Day itself and, with not a great deal of intention given the date, we made quick stops at the Fields of Athenry and the Battle of the Boyne site. Neither carried much fanfare but it was one more opportunity to tick something off the “not everyone gets to do that” list. We arrived in Belfast in good time and the show, in the iconic Warzone Centre, already had a feel more similar to our usual UK experience. This was the first time this weekend that we got to catch up with the catalyst for the trip, William. Our first face-to-face meeting was at last year's Book Yer Ane Fest and William carries the familiar air of a punk doing what they can for the scene for no other reason than the love of the music that we all share. He's truly one of the good guys and I for one was happy to spend some time in his company. As is usual for these kinds of shows, the DIY community who frequent the Warzone treated us admirably, laying on top notch vegan food, beers and snacks on our arrival. It's hard to relate how well appreciated it is when you're away from home on tour to have someone take care of you and, especially from my driver's point of you, I will always be in a great mood if I arrive and there's a decent meal. Add to this the fact that I'd just been told that we could leave the car at the venue overnight and walk to our sleeping place and I instantly became annoyingly happy. 

I've always assumed that the Irish treated St. Patrick's Day as somewhat cheesy and a bit of a cringeworthy event but our experiences over the weekend were causing me to call this into doubt and the events of Monday night's show blew that theory clean out of the water. Imagine the sort of drink-fuelled carnage you'd find in any Student Union or Irish theme pub in Britain, multiply it by about 10 and sprinkle it liberally over an entire country and that's Ireland. What that essentially meant for us was that by the time we took the stage, every Irishman in the vicinity was beyond lubricated. A weekend of celebrating their hiatus had taken its toll on Vamos, who it must be said stumbled through their final performance and the sound engineer for the venue had over-indulged himself to such an extent that myself and Derrick decided to tackle our sound ourselves with a little help from Vinny Vamos, who manned the desk while we played. While the venue and company in Belfast held more of a UK type vibe, the somewhat lax approach to show times had carried over the border and we once again took the stage in the early hours of the morning. While the crowd was probably the smallest of the weekend, they were certainly the most “into it” and we had a couple of hairy moments with enthusiastic stage invaders before we eventually wrapped it up 40 minutes after curfew.

After what can only be described for tour as an incredible sleep in William's well-located flat, none of us were much in the spirit to do any of our planned sight-seeing around Belfast on the morning of our departure. Late nights and long drives had taken their toll on us over the last 4 days, so we vegetated at William's for as long as possible, leaving just enough time to fuel up on burgers before checking in at the ferry. The drive home from tour is a difficult one – there's none of the excitement of the initial journey, you're worn out from the trip and everything just seems to take far longer than it should when all you want is your own bed and, in my own borderline OCD case, a bath. To be fair though, it's also a great chance to reflect on the events of the last 4 days, and we spent most of this one planning our next trip, which will hopefully be accompanied by a more concise report than this one.