MUDKISS FANZINE

Mudkiss is now an archived site, there will be no more updates. Mudkiss operated from 2008 till 2013.

THE MISERABLE RICH: A TO Z OF ‘MISS YOU IN THE DAYS’ – BY JAMES DE MALPLAQUET

 
Brighton based Chamber Pop outfit The Miserable Rich release their third album “Miss You In The Days,” on October 31st, following their two previous critically acclaimed collections “Twelve Ways To Count” and “In Flight And Fury.” “Miss You in the Days” incorporates themes of ghost stories, sex and death, an atmosphere enhanced by the recording taking place in some of the most haunted houses in Britain, including the Jacobean palace Blickling Hall, birthplace of Ann Boleyn.    

The band have been 6 music favourites since the early days, particularly through Marc Riley, having deep rooted Manchester ties with record label Humble Soul and Dermot O’ Leary  on Radio 2 has also been a regular champion. Their lush, melodic, orchestral sound always belied dark, intense and on occasions, deeply personal lyrical themes, delivered by the beautifully controlled, haunting vocals of James De Malplaquet. When James contacted Mudkiss with an exclusive offer to host his blog, an A – Z outlining the thoughts and experiences behind the new album, prior to publication anywhere else, we literally jumped at the chance. 

Over the coming month, prior to the release, regular outpourings outlining the highs, the lows, the laughs, the tears......... the alcohol requirements, will manifest  to give you the reader, a spectral insight into the mindset and moods of The Miserable Rich striving to produce yet another musical masterpiece.  Read on if you dare.

The A to Z of Miss You In The Days

A is for Anne, Aylsham and Alcohol

Ann is Ann Boleyn, second daughter, second wife, but first for the chop and first in memory, as she is surely the most famous of Henry’s wives – with a reputation for innocence as much as coquetry. Ann was supposedly born in the original grounds of the palace where the album was recorded. It is her ghost – said to return to her birthplace on the May day she was beheaded, headless and drawn in a carriage by six equally decapitated horses. It is her story that inspired the lyric to the second song on the album Imperial Lines.
Aylsham is a small town outside of Norwich, most famous for being the nearest town to the Jacobean palace Blickling Hall. We first visited on a stormy January night, and found it easy to imagine it’s eerie, isolated tree-lined country roads to be populated by souls from the other side, returning to wreak murderous revenge or simply put the willies up the tourists. On a practical level, it could certainly use a better Chinese takeaway.
Alcohol. An inordinate amount of red wine flowed through the budget of this recording. A quite night would involve around 8 bottles – and there weren’t all that many of those. Many people would assume this is an example of our profligacy and recklessness (or wreckedness), but it is in fact professionalism. We will stop at nothing to give our music a certain liver-damaged
authenticity.

B is for Blickling, the Boleyns and The Bucks Arms

Blickling Hall is a Jacobean palace in Aylsham, commonly said to be the most haunted stately home in Britain. The chance to record there was something none of us could quite believe could happen. I mean, we are hardly The Rolling Stones. We will be playing a one-off acoustic show there on the day of the album release, Halloween 2011.
The Boleyn family were the owners of the house that previously occupied the grounds of Blickling Hall. The Historically astute will be no doubt aware the a Jacobean palace could not be the birthplace of a Tudor queen – and indeed, Blickling Hall was built over the site of the original house. Nevertheless, the old queen is said to be drawn back each year, doomed to return for a thousand years for the betrayal of her family and the scheming ambition of her father.
The Bucks Arms is the pub in the grounds of Blickling, run by an old friend of mine – Pip Wilkinson – of whom, more later. Pip was kind enough to accommodate us in the beautiful four-postered bedrooms at the pub, keep the bar open very late for us, and feed us copious amounts of comforting bangers and mash and hangover-reducing breakfasts. The pub is well stocked with spooks and ghouls, who largely appear at the window when Pip is locking up. The untitled last song on the album was recorded amid plentiful weirdness in the haunted loft and is thus known in the band as ‘In The Attic’.

After our initial foray into the ghostly A-Z world of The Miserable Rich, outlining the recording of third album "Miss You in the Days," here's the second gripping instalment from the fiendish mind of James De Malplaquet.

C is for Cooking and Cricket


Any group of people will eventually develop roles, and the cooks for the recording were Mike, Will and myself. Mike is well recognised, within and without the band, as its pre-eminent chef, conjuring all sorts of weird but very much wonderful dinners for us, often with ingredients from the garden or field we have actually never heard of. Will is the band’s resident egg-poacher and I fill in the other gaps.
Cricket is a fantastic game not so many are interested in and we are useless at. Nevertheless, at Wester Waveney, the house where we resided for much of the recording, the presence of a cricket net proved too much of a temptation, and we boldly bowled bad balls and long hops and ducked as an over-ambitious band mate tried to help us join Ann Boleyn’s headless gang of ghouls.


D is for drumming, David and depression

On our third album, and not before time in many people’s eyes (ears?), we had decided not to restrict ourselves in the rhythm section. Having made a kind of torched chamber music debut - Twelve Ways To Count - with plenty of guest friends, we had made it a rule on the second album, Of Flight And Fury, that only the five members of the band would play on the album, each singing and playing at least two instruments. With the ghostly theme of the new album, and with it being our third, we thought any musical restrictions should be removed – excepting that we wanted the immediacy of the first album and the musicality of the second – and lots of energy and dynamism. And so, the search for a suitable full-time drummer began. It wasn’t easy though, and we continually found that anyone who had the requisite caution and sensitivity to a band that had been playing for 4 years without a drummer, didn’t have the confidence to make a mark and rule in the recording. And so it was that, one week into recording and unsatisfied with how it was working out, we asked the engineer, one David ‘Badlace’ Slechtriemen (DE) became the album’s drummer. David’s been around the block, fitting in sound-engineering for Hercules and Love Affair, playing drums in Driver Drive Faster, Honeyfeet and with Denis Jones, recording the sundry Manchester greats, and building amplifiers around being a father and partner. Now he had to play drums on sixteen songs he didn’t know whilst engineering the tracks, with the project already a week behind schedule. He took it fairly well. Nevertheless, the stress, tension and homesickness had an effect on all of us – and I’m pretty sure the alcohol wasn’t always helpful either. It was a bit of a rollercoaster journey, far away from home in some cold, spooky, isolated places. We each of us were exhausted much of the time, as can be seen by the faces in the accompanying documentary. All the same, we are good friends at heart and there was plenty of mirth and merriment to accompany February’s traditional gloom. The album itself, though an emotional piece, is by far the perkiest thing we’ve ever done and, thanks to David, lends plenty of opportunities to *gasp* dance.

And onto Pt.3 of the A-Z of recording " Miss You in the Days," third album from The Miserable Rich.  Read on as we reach letters E & F to discover how The Edge's name cropped up in East Anglia, all about the expert foraging skills of violin virtuoso Mr Mike Siddell and the disturbing subject of fat girls and feeders. 

And you thought only metal bands had sick, twisted minds.......... 

E is for East Anglia, exhausts and The Edge’s electric guitar

The album was recorded in the flatlands of East Anglia. It is remarkable how a land so utterly devoid of hills and mountains can simultaneously have almost no mobile phone coverage. Perhaps they just don’t have anywhere to hide the masts. Nice people though – and the fish and chips at Cromer rocks. Coming from Brighton, we ought to know.
Band transport largely consisted of a rather rickety old transit van, rented in an hurry when the original Toyota Previa we had been borrowing developed a sudden engine seizure (after a mere 10 months without oil or water, I ask you). This, though far from luxurious, sufficed until the moment I turned to Mike while headed through the Norfolk countryside and commented on how well it had held up. I had barely uttered these words when we heard the exhaust fall off. I should know better than to talk.
During the recording, David mentioned how you never see our manager Howard and U2’s The Edge in the same room. It’s true, they share a similar hairstyle and are often unavailable for comment. We decided to test the proposition by dropping U
2 song names into our conversations with him. Cue lots of clumsy references to ‘not having found what we were looking for’ and meeting up on ‘Sunday, bloody Sunday’. What was it good for? Absolutely nothing.
Howard spotted the weird turn in the conversation in approximately 2.7 seconds. Nevertheless, he did still lend us lots of recording equipment and his gorgeous red Gretsch semi-acoustic guitar, with which we set up and amp in the basement and adorned the songs Imperial Lines, Honesty, Ringing The Changes and True Love.


F is for Foraging, Fires, Football, Fields, Farms and Fat Girls and Feeders

Foraging is one of Mike Siddell’s ‘hidden extras’. As a violinist, he is often in demand for his infinitely gentle touch, exquisite tone, dynamic command and musical knowledge – indeed, I don’t think anyone in the band, other than his modest self, would disagree that he is the most technically able with his instrument of the lot of us (no sniggering at the back). As a rather lovely, fairly legendary American muso we played with recently was moved to ejaculate – ‘You don’t fiddle, maaaan! You PLAY THE VIOLIN! Now – say something nice about me too…..’
In our band, Mike is also justly famed for his foraging abilities. I don’t know how or why he started to learn which wild vegetables and fungi of England the surrounding European states you can eat (probably because he was broke), but we have all come to look forward to the wild garlic, feather gills and many more things we had never heard of that he sources to add flavour and exoticism to our food fare. We’ve eaten plenty of fresh found food from his hand, and fed a few more too. So far, nobody has died. Watch this space.
I was going to fill the rest of F with Fires (we had a few – it was freezing!), Football (we watched a bit and played a bit less, dreadfully), Fields (we were surrounded by them and just them for a month) and Farms (there was one next door, meaning Fresh Eggs!) – but then I remembered Fat Girls and Feeders.
Fat Girls and Feeders is a deeply disturbing documentary once shown on ITV. I had been recommended it by a friend and should have known better for he is one sick pup (although he’s fast over-ripening into a very sick dog indeed). It’s the story of some incredibly overweight girls, unable to walk or even get out of bed, that some men called ‘feeders’ find so attractive they keep feeding them. It’s deeply unsettling, abusive and troubling, and it says some pretty horrible things about the power-based relationships show in the film. I think we all wish I hadn’t brought it with me to the recordings.

 

 German Ghosts, Giggs and G Love

As you may know, the big idea for the new album was to find some haunted houses and go away there to write and record an album inspired by ghost stories, sex and death.In the event, we managed to record in what is recognised as the most haunted stately home in Britain, the aforementioned Blickling Hall. I also spent the best part of a year of my life reading solely ghost stories in preparation – so you’d think a few friendly phantoms could pop along and say hullo. That’s the thing with the ghosties – they want to come find you, not the other way. Hunters as well as haunters.Well, in fact, there were one or two eerie moments. David, our engineer and drummer for the sessions, said he kept seeing faces peering in at the windows, and his pre-amps, all vintage jobs from various old and defunct German companies, kept picking up some strange and very old-sounding German radio voices. This slightly spooky development was met with a bit of a shrug, until the night they picked up commentary from a Manchester United match – ‘….and Giggs is running down the wing….’ etc. Thing was, Manchester United weren’t playing that night – and in any case, it was past ten at night. We never did find out what that was all about. And then one night, Howard and Ricky caught on tape what must surely have been a ghost at Blickling Hall , while I was recording my vocal in its most haunted room, the West Turret Bedroom….. But let’s save that tale for later….In the meantime, let me tell you about Rhys. Now, our beloved bass player is well known for his brooding good looks and floppy hair – but within the band he is also known for saying some of the most stupid things you are likely to hear. In the absence of a drummer for much of the last three years, he has maintained his position of butt-of-most-jokes with incredible consistency and an admirable determination to outdo any dumb thing the rest of us might have come up with – no mean feat. During the recording, various forms of scrabble went on, either on the board in the kitchen, or on iPhones that served no other practical use in the signal-less flatlands of Norfolk. Not an obvious talent with, well, words, Rhys tried not to get too involved with this particular pastime for fear of the rinsing he would receive on the end of an inevitably misjudged comment.
And so it was that Rhys’ most memorable moment of the recording came when he looked over my shoulder and said, rather peevishly ‘G.Love??? That’s not a word!’

I didn’t want to hurt his feelings too much, so tried my best gentle teacher’s voice as I explained ‘It’s glove, you tosser’.

H is for Hats, Hearths and Heating the Haunts

The time we were away was pretty damn cold. Eliot said April, but February must surely be the cruellest month, with everyone deathly pale from Winter, bored of the cold, awaiting the stubbornly slow Spring and nothing to take your mind of it but a spurious lovers’ holiday nobody wants bang in the middle of the month. Haunted houses are not known for their warmth, and jumpers, gloves hats and two pairs of socks were essential wear throughout the month. I kept my own purple bobble hat on at all times – as you can see in the documentary series we made, having picked up a cold on the day we arrived that refused to bugger off until well after we returned. Afraid of spending too much on heating bills, we gathered around the Arga in the kitchen for heat, and warmed ourselves by the fire of an evening, drink of tea and red wine sufficing to retain heat or numb the cold in the meantime. Listen closely to the record and you will hear each one of us shiver, even as you do so yourself.

 

I is for Isolation and Interviews

We had planned to go away to the country to record so that we could get away from the daily disturbances and distractions of home – and that we very much managed. What we perhaps hadn’t considered was how complete our isolation would be, tucked away in the Norfolk backwaters, far too from the comforts and supports of home and our loved ones, and with no wi-fi and precious little phone single to reach out to.
I think we each of us went a little mad at times, and doubtless the thing we chose, as usual, as an escape route – alcohol – enhanced this feeling of detachment in all the wrong ways. Joe Patrick (see J is for…), who came with us to document the recordings, interviewed each of us about what we had loved and hated about the process, and doubtless the isolation of ‘being in the bubble’ figured highly in for us all – but it was for David we felt most. Not only had he just joined us, but he had to engineer as well as learning and/or writing and recording drum parts, all the while away from the two women in his life – his girlfriend and two-year old daughter. Still, we did get him pissed quite a lot. I is also for Inebriation.

J is for Jan Brookes and Joseph Patrick

We are indebted to many people for their help in the recording process, but only two of them have names conveniently beginning with J. Jan Brookes is house manager at Blickling Hall. After a suspicious start – I’m not sure she really knew why we were there, and was understandably unsure what to do with a group of hirsute and dishevelled minstrels traipsing around the palace it was her job to protect – once Jan heard why we wanted to record at Blickling, she was incredibly helpful and supportive, her staff and herself helping out and making us feel welcome and as comfortable as it’s possible to be in the most haunted house in Britain. For this we are very grateful. Joe Patrick is a film-maker and one of the band’s best friends and supporters. I first met Joe in New York, on route to SXSW in Texas, where despite a sleeping disorder that had him nodding off standing up with a drink in his hand and out cold for 12 hours a day, he managed to make several films of our strange first adventure in the Big Apple and beyond. Since then, while being kind enough to shoot two great videos for us (Somerhill and Hungover), he has made two award-winning comedy films – HIV The Musical and The Girl Is Mime, with the likes of Martin Freeman (The Office, Sherlock, The Hobbit) and Julian Barratt (The Mighty Boosh), roping us in on the last one for a quick soundtrack. It is he who also made the mini-documentary series about the recording, with a pop video for ‘In The Attic’ to boot – and now it seems he’s gonna come on tour with us too. He has a neat line in provocative and slightly uncomfortable humour, and this and his undoubtedly warm, fair and honest heart will always be welcome when the last dregs are drunk down and dawn approaches. He also has a selection of hilarious dance forms I shall look forward to coaxing out at such times. Joe is a seething mass of ideas. They fly out of him when in full flow, and many are the friends and foes who have been lucky enough to be around at the time and gratefully snap them up. We belong firmly in the first category. Go Joe, you brilliant ballsy bastid.

K is for Keng

James Kendall, Ken to many of his friends, Keng to me, is the editor and owner of Brighton's premier listings magazine, the iconic Brighton Source. He has written for publications as varied as the Sunday Times and DJ Magazine, spins a few discs himself from time to time, and has become a fine photographer over the last 5 or so years, even giving college classes on, say, lomography and cross-processing. He took and processed the band portraits we've been using for the album and tour promo in all their double-exposure playfulness. James has done us many a favour over the years - as he has many others, and his thoughtful and helpful nature, quick wit and provocative sense of fashion have made him one of the most popular faces in Brighton.

His jauntily angled face and compelling horn-rimmed spectacles are welcome everywhere and his birthday parties are better attended than anyone has a right to expect at his age. Indeed, nobody has a bad word to say about James Kendall. So it's high time someone put that right. James Kendall is a high-handed brigand of the highest order, always ready to slander and besmirch the reputation of the sweet, innocent young workers he keeps slaving away in the dark dungeon lair he calls an office, til the smallest hours of the morning, often without breaks to eat, drink a cup of water painstakingly gathered from the slime coursing down the cold stone walls, to phone their dying mothers so as not to worry them about their continued absence from the traditional farmsteads they call home, or simply answer nature's triplet calls of sanitation, urination and defecation. His eye for the main chance, for the opportunity to exploit the dreams of his youthful charges has made him the Jeff Koontz of the popular-local-listings-publication world, and he has amassed his enormous wealth by routinely claiming the work of his brilliant but impoverished troglodyte workers as his own, slouching by day upon a leather chaise longue stitched from the pelts of the last 200 red squirrels to be trapped in Albion, resting his odious, fecund feet upon a kneeling journalism graduate intern who has been asked to prove 'Ottoman he is' (his humour is base), as he picks his tombstone teeth with the skeletal forefinger of a deceased relative and counts the blood money piled high in doubloons from Sierra Leone, while his quiet, sweet-natured wife scurries around scrubbing and scouring, cooking her overbearing overlord his enormous and luxurious meals in silence save for an occasional half-whispered 'sorry sir, if you please, not the fire-poker again'. His misdeeds are legend, his morals moribund, his merciless malignancy manifest. I don't like his shoes and he has a silly jacket.

L is for Llama (Mark), Labradors and the Long Gallery

When we first visited Wester Waveney, the house we stayed in during the bulk of the recording, it was June 2010 and we had just recorded a session at Maida Vale for Mark Lamarr’s show, the modestly titled God’s Own Jukebox. After a session for BBC Norfolk on the journey down, we arrived late at night, and snuck into the beautiful old 6 bedroomed house, not quite believing our luck or our hosts generosity.

I was woken the next morning by the banter of Rhys and Ricky as they played some inept footie in the extensive gardens – and it wasn’t til mid-afternoon that we noticed that the farm next door, with a proper menagerie among the 8 or so Labradors running around – peacocks, pigs, goats with beards to put any trendy folk band to shame, and a llama, who we inevitably christened Mark. The farmer told us he was a testy type – a little dominant and prone to spitting. Nevertheless, we managed to make friends.

The Long Gallery at Blickling Hall is an incredible 123ft (37.3m) wood –panelled room, designed in the 17th Century for the playing of music. It was one of the first places we got to see when we came to the Hall, and we were immediately taken with its two piano forte, its views, the 15 or so 2 metre portraits of local aristocracy through the years, and above all, its sound. We recorded some piano there, a lot of the group singing on the album , a BBC Introducing session and a few string ensemble parts there – and we’ll be delighted to return there for a one-off acoustic performance on the day of the album’s release, Halloween 2011.

M is for midway

So, here we are, halfway through this 26 step thingummy, and I’m realising what a ridiculous idea it was to embark on writing an A to Z of the album. I mean, really, TWENTY SIX STEPS – nobody cares that much. Nobody. I don’t think I’d read a 26 step guide to Sgt Peppers, Dark Side, Sign o’ The Times, or It Takes A Nation Of Millions…, so why would I think anyone wants to read a 26 step guide to our little album – written by bloody useless me – and the damn thing hasn’t even be released yet….Really, why am I here, two weeks from the album’s release, with an enormous amount of real jobs to be doing, on a Sunday night, typing away about nothing when I could be, I don’t know, having a bath with Jarvis (on the radio), watching a film, eating ice cream or just reading somebody who can actually write? There’s too many mediocre words out there already, filling the digital ether and making much ado of a mess – and right now, those are the only related words beginning with ‘m’ I can think of. I have no answer for me, let alone you – but I said I would do it, and that’s all there is to it. I suppose doubts like these plague the middle stages of any creative task – whatever the merit, whatever the medium. I can’t promise any merit to this – it may just be my own moribund little memo, if that’s all I manage, a memento on what might well be the last music I make.
Maybe less, maybe more. Maybe M is merely for momentum.

N is for Norwich, Norfolk and Nazi symbols

In the past 18 months, we have played 4 times in Norwich, and visited innumerable times and recorded an album around the neighbouring towns and villages of Norfolk. We have come to now it’s friendly people, strange little pubs, dearth of phone reception, late night garages serving Subways, sundry supermarkets, unexpectedly cool cafes and dubious takeaways. Whenever someone – a sports commentator, fellow touring musician or Stephen Fry usually – mentions Norwich or Norfolk within my earshot these days, I feel a little pull.
In short, we have history now, and I have a little soft spot for the flatlands.

I believe the same is true of our erstwhile host, Pip Wilkinson – of whom, much more later – but having spent most of her childhood and much of her adult life within spitting distance of Cromer (often testing the expression out), she has a more, er, balanced view of the counties triumphs and failings. Having been a chef, head waiter and restaurant owner for many of her years, Pip has a particular lack of poor eating establishments, and has developed her own method of passing judgment on anywhere (and there are many where) her wrath has been incurred by tardy service, wilted starters, lukewarm mains, or frankly, just a lack of how things should be done. I met Pip working in a restaurant, and though I haven’t been in the trade for many a year, I share her indignation at not being treated the way I would’ve once treated those under my care – but I would never have come up with Pip’s ingenious method of marking out the good from the bad – or merely mediocre (q.v.). If Pip has been displeased by her dining experience, as she was, perhaps inevitably, by the meal we shared in Norwich before our gig at the Arts Centre, she will ask for the bill, explain politely but precisely and exactingly what was wrong (ending each new complaint with a warm ‘darling’), pay in cash - including a generous tip, no matter the experience - walk casually to the door and exit, then turn, wetting her index finger in her mouth, and in full view of the other patrons, draw a two-foot square Nazi swastika on the front window of the establishment. - I love that woman.

O is for On The Road (again)

Sorry! That was a bit of pause, wasn’t it? I do hope you haven’t been waiting, have you, lovelies?
It’s been a few months since I wrote - at something of a crisis point, midway through this A to Z nonsensical nonsense, with a couple of weeks still to go til the album’s release. When I left you, round about the letters M and N, it was all moribund mediocrity and Nazism in Norwich. Not fun, not funny, not nice, no no nibblet. Seemed it was time for a rest. Recoup, regroup, eat soup – y’know, look after yourself. I’m not sure any hole has quite been filled, but at least plenty has happened since then.

The album is out there now, there are two videos up online for tracks from it, we’ve finished three new tracks for a Spring follow-up ep, recorded a Leonard Cohen cover for Mojo, a Kylie cover for some fans, lost one drummer and enlisted another, and toured an assortment of haunted castles, palaces, churches, crypts and, er, arts centres in the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

And now, after the small matter of Christmas and New Year, we find ourselves once more on the road, for one month on the continent, taking in the late-Winter sights and on the way to venues in Germany, Czech Republic, Austria and Switzerland. So, join us if you will on this new journey across the frontiers of music, taste and central Europe as we engage with novel experiences, new people, unknown foodstuffs and ways of getting lost on the way to gigs-we-are-already-very-late-or. It may not be the making of the album, but let’s hope it’s not the breaking of ourselves.

P is for ports, Potsdam, pools, Plauen and Prague


The journey begins, as ever in Brighton, and being pretty experienced travellers by now, we are none too surprised as the planned leaving time gets delayed two hours. Will has to pick up our tour bus – we’ve named her Yolanda Van Damme – from the mechanics having missed him the night before. There is a familiar, err, urgency to his driving once he does arrive, clipping pavements as he rushes from house to house on the pick-up, one hand frantically pushing carbohydrates into his mouth. He’s not at his best on an empty stomach – but he’s the one who’s had to get up early to collect us, so no complaints. Rhys has wisely booked a later much later than expected ferry. We miss it and get the next.

It’s a pretty gentle first few days. We stay with some kind supporters of the band in Bielefeld (thanks Maren and housemates!) the first night, having a morning walk in the nearby historic woods before heading to our first gig in Potsdam. We have a good show there and are taken out to a bar afterwards by some new local friends to soak up the local atmosphere – not to mention booze, smoke and kebabs. It’s a late night by the time we’ve taxied there and back, but we set off as early as possible the next day, lured by the promise of a swimming pool and sauna at the hotel in Halle. Yes! – the lovely people at Objekt 5, have upgraded us on our third visit to the Hotel Mercure – as small drive from the club, but worth it for the illusion of health. We variously swim, paddle about, gyms or pretend there really isn’t  gym and catch up with German tv in our rooms (no telling who’s who – you know who you are), before heading to the show.

As ever, it’s a fine crowd at tonight’s show, and we head back to the hotel later to bask in the warmth of three encores and watch episodes of Breaking Bad in the hotel. Some of us manage one more swim in the morning before we head off to another new town – Plauen. It’s the first time we’ve been there, and all we know about the place is that it is very close to the Czech border and was the first East German town to get a McDonald's. This last factoid excites Sam, our engineer, more than one might hope.

The van manages to make it through the cold weather and a panorama that reminds me of Canada, amid jokes of the usual depth and quality (Plauen through the snow, anyone? no?). We arrive late in the afternoon at the venue – an old brewery that fell into disrepair in the 80s, only to be renovated in the new millennium. The crowd – none of whom have ever heard of us – nevertheless give us a very warm reception, and have even laid on an aftershow party – with local favourite DJ ‘Lovebringer’ Harris – to ensure we arrive back at our guesthouse having nullified any healthy effects from this morning’s swim.

Next day is Dresden – a great city, and a lovely venue and possibly the best in-house chef of any venue we’ve ever played. Thanks guys – and please don’t take offence – we had a great night – but since I’m trying to keep this brief and there’s no ‘P’ here, I’ll move on. Sunday is a 4 hour drive up to Rostock, the biggest port in what was East Germany. The venue, Peter Weiss Haus, named after the writer, is a haven for artists and progressive thinkers in a tough old town down on to its last cents. The promoters are trying something new in putting us on, and are friendly and welcoming – as are the small crowd of 50 or so – despite my momentarily forgetting where we are the first time I speak to them. Luckily I have an ‘I love Rostock’ postcard in my pocket, and by the time we climb off the stage to play an encore in the audience, all is forgiven and new friendships have been made. We head to Leipzig on Monday, for what turns out to be a fantastic show – but as this is P, not L (or R for radio(not radio)), I’ll save that one for a couple of chapter’s time.

So let’s finish this little part with Prague. We’re all pretty excited about going to Prague. Some of us have been there before for gigs or romantic getaways, but we’ve never played there together before. It’s all been organised by someone who we met at our only other Czech gig, a couple of years ago. He’s a musician, not a promoter, but loves the band enough to put a show on himself, playing with his own band – ‘A Faint Smile’ – before hand. He’s a lovely man, is Zdenek, but I think I’ll save him for Z. Safe to say, we have a great night, getting the crowd to join in with us, and then repairing to a local bar to drink til 5 am.

During the night Will cultivates his air of mysterious otherness by somehow...

  1. Getting challenged to a duel by an(other) oddly eccentric man in the bar. (He accepts and this appears to be genuine as a date is fixed for a courtyard nearby at noon).
  2. Making friends with a man so drunk he is found by Mike when we leave, slumped in a corner, so tight he can’t even accept the kind offer of a local taxi driver to take him home free.
  3. Going to the toilet in the middle of the night and waking up later in another dorm room among some equally mystified Ukrainians.

This last one is particularly perplexing as we have a bathroom in our own dorm, the other dorms have a key code, and he wasn’t even in a bed in the same position in the Ukrainians’ room. As he has no recollection of what occurred, we decide we will need to get a dog collar for him with a web cam fitted to find out quite what goes on in the wibbly wobbly very very Will world of Calderbank. (Will himself is not sure he wants to know everything that happens to him when he gets drunk.)  Watch this space.

Q is for quintessential Englishmen and quitting smoking

Much has been made in the build up to this tour, in those publications and online presences who chose to write a little about us, of just how ‘very English’ the band is. Perhaps it’s the air of decadence and decline suggested by our moniker, but those who know a bit about us will recall that name came from Italy. Perhaps it’s our weakness for the demon drink – though don’t ALL bands imbibe rather too much? Perhaps it’s just that we say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and above all ‘sorry’ far too much – but surely these affectations of politeness are not the sole preserve of those from our much maligned part of the sceptred and splintered isle.

Maybe it’s just that people take a look at our rag-tag procession pulling up in the old LDV van, or shuffling awkwardly on to stage, and are reminded of our ageing, quirky, deluded, powerless little country in all its current confusion and incipient identity crisis. Either way, the receptionist at the hostel in Prague clearly doesn’t like what she sees, and who can blame her? What’s to like? We must look like the most unhealthy, unkempt, unhinged and poverty-struck Stag do group she’s ever seen. There is good news though. We are attempting to quit smoking. Most of us have even put in an extra special effort and quit several times since the tour began.

R is for Rhys reading

Once upon a time, there was a band who would travel Europe together, joining in boredom and alcohol and adrenalin come-down to play cards, share stories and make up awful puns of town and band names: a rich and bonding experience. That has now all changed.

Last tour, Rhys’ girlfriend bought him the first book in the Game Of Thrones series. Since then, our erstwhile bass-bothering skronky Jazz enthusiast and reliable source of unintentionally humorous observations has transmuted into a near-silent bookworm, physically here but mentally far away in a fantasy world of dragons, giants, mammoths, splitting skulls and unsheathings of every kind.

Nowadays, the only words one hears from him are ‘Can you switch the light on in the back’, and on more than one occasion, he has disappeared from soundcheck only to be found shivering outside in the cold, trying to make out the otherworldly words of George R R Martin by the muted light of a streetlamp. Like most addicts, he’s keen not to be alone in his distemper, and has managed to inculcate Ricky in his cult. Who knows who will be next to fall. To be fair, though, he is a romantic at heart, and managed not to read for a full 48 hours when his girlfriend came to visit. His first words after their emotional separation in Zurich? “Can you switch the light on please?”

S is for snow, snow snow

There has been a lot of the white stuff on this tour. Most times we’ve pulled up in a town to find it already crisply white, the snow having settled and stopped some time ago. It’s added at times playful tomfoolery with snowball fights in Plauen and sundry service stations. At other times, a fittingly frozen bleakness, bringing another layer of chill, of sombre, sober sadness to the visit we made to the Concentration Camp Memorial in Dachau, two days after Holocaust Memorial day, and very weirdly the day after we played in Braunau – a nice little town sadly lumbered by history with the infamy of being Hitler’s birthplace.

A light-hearted and trivial tour blog is not a fitting place to consider the horrors that humankind is capable of – nor to properly honour the dead. All I will say is that it seemed the right thing to do on that particular Sunday – and of course, not one of us was left unmoved.

Today, though, we are driving through the snow having successfully retrieved Yolanda from the 3 foot drifts and -14º of Sankt Gallen on our last Swiss date. The soft crunch of snow under my gaffa-taped boot, the sunny sky spectacularly reflected on the glittering whiteness all around and, most of all, the sleeping bag I am now wrapped up in as I write to you awaiting my turn to drive have all lightened the mood, and the boys are watching the Jamaican bobsleigh team in Cool Runnings’ in the back. So it’s ‘Kiss my lucky egg’ and ‘Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up it’s bobsleigh time’ all the way back to Frankfurt.

T is for Team Miserable

Perhaps at this juncture, coming as it does midway between tours and releases, it would be wise to introduce you to the players who make the miserable magic happen on a day-to-day basis. In reverse order of ‘doing time’ in the band, we bring you.....

Martin Deering

 
The explosive nature of drummers has meant that, after 4 years, 2 albums, 2 eps and countless tours without a drummer, we have in the last year played with 7 drummers. Fortunately, Martin is a considered man of an enquiring nature. His ‘safety-first’ policy means he is the polar opposite of the ‘shoot now, ask questions later’ lone gun stereotype beloved of many American cop shows. A stick man to be trusted. Survival odds: 7 to 3 on.

Sam Houselander

 
Soundman Sam has now done two tours with us, spending a total of 6 weeks stuffed into a small van before each night coming to our sonic rescue behind the big desk with all the knobs. His lack of fixed abode and babygrow-sleeping bag make him highly suited to life on the road, the latter as much for keeping the, er, ‘warmth’ in as much as the cold out. It’s good to know that, in the deep dark night, he’s still out there, somewhere. ‘Engineer of death’ Kill Factor: 3

Ricky Pritchard

 
Bouncy puppy dog, axe-wielding rugby fanatic and TV’s ‘Mr Fit’, Picky Richard has been a shot of energy, adrenalin, testosterone and (public) schoolboy charm since initially depping for the late Jim Briffett early in 2010. Christened ‘Goose’ for his trusty wingman capabilities and Top Gun stylings, he is the miserable joker in the pack except when taking on the serious business of dressing up as Brian May.  Often to be found in parks near Hackney randomly shouting “Twiglet!”. Daily sit-up reps: 6,324

Rhys Lovell

 
Lovable Welsh himbo Rhys ‘the money’ Lovell is a naturist and documentary-lover. Just say ‘bear’ (or ‘bare’) to him and watch his eyes light-up! Misshapen and frankly unlistenable jazz music often has the same effect. Bass-players are often tortured, misunderstood souls, and Rusk is no different. Most people seem to think his name is Maurice, Bruce or even ‘Rice’. Has recently adopted the name ‘Panda’ and an Alice band (tv performances only). Reads a ‘Game Of Thrones’ book in: 2 days

Carsters
 

 
Roving, raving tough-guy booker and tour manager, Carsters knows the rock’n’roll business like nobody else thanks to his Teutonic attention to detail and a father in Van Halen. Recently freed of driving duties and the nickname ‘Mum’, he has begun to show his wild side and an impressive talent for puns in a second language. In the last year, we’ve certainly seen a lot more of the Musical Mainztermind than we could ever have expected. Skinny-dipping success rate: 110%

Howard Mills

 
Music management guru and late-bloomer Howard is the caring-sharing super-helpful type, ever-willing to re-route his journey from Manchester to Hastings to drop off a tambourine to some poor soul in a studio in Edinburgh. He always makes time for a ‘quick chat’. Seen here with his heir apparent, there are no pictures in existence of Howard with U2 guitarist The Edge. Words per minute: 0 (it’s going to take a lot longer than a minute)

Mike Siddell

 
Founder member, Sultan of Strings and maritime master of the locks, Mike credits the scent of diesel that seems to pursue him to his boat dwelling. This may well also account for his ruthless approach to whitling down his own personal possessions (leaving them on trains is favoured) and his genius at foraging for both food and alcohol. An extremely well-travelled fellow, Mike is much sought-after both for his skills with the cat gut and his culinary excellence. In a bizarre twist of fate, he is both the most ‘Northern’ and most ‘Southern’ member of the band. Finds wild garlic in: 20 seconds.

Will Calderbank

Multi-instrumentalist, party sleeper and ever-popular ‘man with two hands’, Bilbo is a ceaselessly stirring sea of musical ideas. Highly competitive, and with two shovel-sized mitts to aid him, he is the undisputed band master of card games and table-football. Friendly but mysterious, many wonder at the workings of his mind and try to get to know the man behind the specs. A country boy at heart, to this day his beard still smells of sheep. Hand to shoulder ratio: 15 to 1

James de Malplaquet

Shy, retiring, secretive Jambo manages to combine the least musical ability with the biggest and most undeserved ego. Having been in all incarnations of the band possibly explains how the old man is able to get away with being simultaneously most bossy and least capable. Chances of going on stage ‘flying low’: 1 in 2

U is for Under Glass


The only song not written for the album sessions, Under Glass is both one of the first songs I wrote on guitar and our next single. We started re-arranging it a couple of years ago, with Mike suggesting the fast instrumental reel that gives the song it’s crescendo, and we’ve been finishing the live set with it more or less ever since. I wrote it having just read The Collector by John Fowles, a deeply disturbing novel told from the perspective of a sociopathic misfit who collects butterflies and gets the idea to do the same with a beautiful young woman.

We see how a fiery, privileged young woman, kidnapped and kept alone in a cellar, utterly dependent on her captor, gradually has her spirit and her will broken. At the same time, we see how the collector moves from obsession with his quarry, the excitement and desire in the chase, into disinterest and disgust. He eventually let’s her starve to death, pining for her family and friends – and chillingly, in the last scenes, prepares to abduct a new prize. I had just split up with a girlfriend at the time, and without going into details of her private life, she had had a very tough start and had managed to pull herself out of it. When I went to her hometown, a place ravaged by unemployment, boredom, alcohol and heroin abuse and commonplace domestic violence, my admiration for her strength, fortitude and good humour grew to disbelieving wonder – and it’s these qualities that give the uplifting element to a song inspired by some profound bleakness. A good girl. The title comes from an American slang term. To be ‘under glass’ is to be in prison, watched and controlled. Something about this term, the butterflies in their frames, and the photos my ex used to send to her mum to be framed by the bedside fused in my mind as I wrote the words and the tune.

V is for Vienna
 
Not the Ultravox song, the city. Vienna is one of our comfort towns. Our touring is full of surprises and inconsistencies, but with Vienna, there is always a feeling that we know what we’ll get. Ever since our first visit, playing at the Bluebird Festival at Porgy and Bess after a quick session at FM4 radio, we’ve had great times there. We’ve played twice each at the posh and perfect Haus der Musik and the gritty and grubby Chelsea, each time sold out with a fantastically enthusiastic audience. Each time we’ve rested our heads in faded grandeur at band and comedian staple Hotel Furstenhoff, each time we’ve asked when it’ll be OUR picture on the wall in the foyet. Until last Summer, the venues, the hotel, the shabby main shopping street nearby and maybe a restaurant or two were all we had seen in our 5 trips to Vienna – but on our late Summer trip, we managed a day off there, to see the beautiful old town and have the chance to take in ‘a bit of culcha’. The old town was indeed lovely, but sadly our bit of culture slipped away in the afternoon drinking. An evening planned to include Mozart recitals ended in vomit, broken toes and Will and Rhys playing ‘virtual handicock’ in front of the bemused Viennese glitterati at a highly fashionable and smile-free downtown club. I’d love to explain further but I fear it would indeed mean nothing to you. Oh, Vienna.

W is for Würzburg

Würzburg is a small city in Franconia, just inside Bavaria. It’s mostly known for its students, wines and religious architecture, the last of which has had drawn many a pilgrim over the centuries and still draws many a tourist to this day. Postcards from Würzburg proclaim it, perhaps with a little playful sarcasm, as a ‘Rock’n’Roll’ city, something that has stuck with the band. There are many other cities for which the title might seem more apt (and oh! dear dear Nuremberg, how we would love to write about you, if only you would leave us with enough brain cells to remember the details), but for us Café Cairo in Würzburg is the penthouse suite of Rock Central. It is here too that we began our tradition of playing a few songs unplugged and acoustically in the audience. This is always a high point in the set for us, and though it may have been an all too insistent elderly drunken man who kept shouting for it until we did it, it’s all worked out fine since then. And so – drunken burgher of the city that rock built – we salute you.
 
X is for X-rated

One might be excused for thinking a ghost themed album recorded in a haunted house might be x-rated in a horror film kind of a way – and there certainly is a bit of darkness amidst the Baltic bounce and gallows humour that we aimed for. All the same, while we were writing the album it did occur to me that death is a tricky thing to write about, but so is the little death – sex and the orgasm. Well, we all like a little challenge, don’t we?

It also occurred to me that while hearing moaning in the night might well make you think there was a spirit afoot were you to be resting your bones in an old rickety house of a dark night, the self same sounds might draw a very different conclusion were they to be heard in a hotel bedroom. Either way, the album is filled a plenty with things that go bump in the night.

Y is for Yolanda


Yolanda van Damme is the name of our little splitter van, the place we call a cramped home as we tour around the highways and b-roads. The ex-band van of a boy band called Injustice, she is our first official vehicle, and endowed with plenty of personality. In short, we love her. She’s weird. She fits us. Unable to start first time in normal weather, she started perfectly in the arctic conditions (-16º!) of our recent tour – and even developed a charmingly weird loose connection that meant to get her battery reconnected, the driver had to repeatedly slam the door. ‘Tis true she was born to be Fonzie’s very own van. And she never ever let us down. Thank you Yolanda, thank you.

And if you ever hear us singing ‘Yolan-da! Yolan’da!’ to the tune of Toto’s ‘Roseanna’, please do join in. We really do need to keep her happy.

Z is for Zat’s all from Ze Miserable Rich

Well, there we are folks. Thanks, those of you who did, for sticking with this strange little project for 26 instalments. I promise not to write another A to Z, but we’ll be back in Spring after a short holiday with more recordings and tours, making more stories for the next collection of songs. Til then, keep warm, healthy and happy, and may all your ships sail safely through the night…..

And finally......we have this new video for a song from the last album, it's made by the same director, Marc Biedel, who edited Youtube footage from last year's riots to the song 'Ringing The Changes'. He just wanted to do the song, and has done an amazing job - writing it, borrowing a red line cinema camera and getting one of the guys from Father Ted to star.