So it’s nearly the middle of June, s’what? Johnny Foreigner don’t follow your rules. They’re too busy following their rock dreams, out on the road, playing parties and hanging with stage-ignoring LA dudes. With debut LP Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light out right now, this is where things get s-e-r-i-o-u-s for our Brummie threesome. Work, rest, play? Skip the middle one and we’ll talk.
Words, as always, from frontman Alexei Berrow. Check out past instalments as follows:
Manchester, Jabez Clegg. We make a brief stop in Liverpool (best city) to fill out new passport forms (see the entry for April 26 – Ed). We tried before to get same-day replacements but every phone call we made ended in a categorical denial and a lecture on international safety... Of course, Liverpool is awesome, so we walk in and order four-hour replacements without so much as showing ID. Slight bummer because we already spent stupid money on train and ferry tickets, but at least we get to go on an aeroplane instead of peasant land transport. The passport man, having spent years touring with bands himself (because everyone in Liverpool is awesome), is sympathetic but there’s nothing we can do. “If you lose them again you know where to come…” Ahahaha… [Tour manager and driver] Lea also makes us stop in some shady garage somewhere and talks mechanic talk to some men who swap some wheels on [the band’s tour van] Maddy. Garages scare me slightly because I have no idea what anything does, even though I’m a man. The gig is pretty fun, the stage is a load of tables pulled together and one of the support bands has come all the way from the mid ‘90s, which is a fair old trek, but [bassist] Kelly still refuses to “get ‘em out” for them. There’s a clear divide between those hear to see us and the Britpop lad contingent, we do some fun heckles and hang around talking to Manchester peoples. The first-on band, City Lights, are pretty special… they do the post-punk thing only with a cello and extra drums and they’re about 15. We drive back to Liverpool for the night and stay at our friend Simon’s. He’s the best drunk ever.
Darlington, Club Strut @ Inside Out. Weirdy club night, we soundcheck in the afternoon and the soundman leaves us to our own devices for the rest of the day. Once the novelty of wandering round an empty club has passed, we start writing new songs, yayerzzz. The gig is bit pathetic; people just gawp at us, freak show style. One particular zombie just stands right in front of the stage. I scream in his face and I whack my guitar on his head (accident!) and he still stands there. In between songs he mutters stuff about marrying Kelly. Goodnight Darlington. When we get back the DJs have left us a message saying they enjoyed our set. Good manners, I guess…
Belfast, Spring & Airbreak. Yay, aeroplanes!! I’d never flown Ryanair before. It’s like the Netto of the airline industry. We’re pretty practised for the customs strip but it’s still completely annoying. Junior gets told he can’t take jack leads on as hand luggage in case he strangles someone. We reason with the customs dragon, “he’s never done it before ma’am”, until she relents. Racist. We get to Belfast about six hours too early and eat a really slow Wetherspoon’s breakfast. The show has been amazingly hyped, it’s like a Jack Daniels promo gig and we’ve had a ridiculous amount of good press. And about eight people turn up, most of them journalists who’d written glowing pieces on us. Oooops! One boy wins a guitar signed by us; he’s probably the only person to enter the draw but he’s super happy. Everyone we meet in Belfast is beautiful and polite. We stay at our old friend Stu’s house, which was pretty lucky - we didn’t know he’d moved and we were going to sleep in the airport. Bass flight case makes a good mattress if yr tired enough…
Day off. After our flight got called we went thru ticket control and joined the line, and we get told we can’t board because a stewardess has fallen ill on the plane. We stand in the holding pen watching suits and medics jog on and off the plane, then after about an hour said stewardess walks off like the healthiest person in the world to a jetplane’s worth of black stares from tired passengers. I have an aisle seat and every time I fall asleep my head leans over and I get banged by the drinks trolley. We get reunited with Maddy and our weed box, rest of day spent in a pleasant daze.
Cambridge, Graduate, DiS tour. Day starts with the police, badmans! Seriously, an inspector is at Lea’s door in the morning asking to see inside Maddy! On one of the walls we have an epic, never-finished collage/drawing, with a few newspaper headlines stuck up around. One of them, from The Mirror a few weeks back, says “I’d like to kill them myself”, and some anonymous but clearly gifted citizen had seen inside at Tebay Services last week, realised that we were obviously mass murderers stopping for coffee and ice cream, and grassed us up. Luckily Maddy just smells of petrol and boy, instead of severed limbs, or more plausibly weed, so inspector useless sees the funny side and leaves. I think this means some kind of double jeopardy situation where we can get away with at least one murder, which is a pretty sweet feeling. Then we go and start the DrownedinSound tour. Woot. We play pretty sloppily, I break a string for the first time in about six months and realise my spare guitar is louder than my normal one... Cambridge is always kind to us tho, it’s like Oxford only with nice people. Zing. The Mae Shi are amazing, they keep all the pop of the new album but it’s way more raaaaaaaah. And, predictably, they’re super nice and get us straight away: so, Chicago art rock, yeah? Were swapping mix CDs and phone numbers within half an hour of starting up a conversation.
York, Fibbers, DiS tour. I know I said that they were amazing but what I meant was, it’s the most fun happy show I have ever seen ever, ever. They treat the stage as a suggestion, they give their instruments to the audience, they cover everyone in a big white sheet, it’s fantastic. We played too, it was fun… I like Fibbers, everyone parks their vans outside and it’s like a little community.
Aberdeen, Snafu, DiS tour. Maddy traditionally gives up halfway to Scotland, so we pull over by a field and wait for the RAC man to come with a replacement Flux Capacitor. It’s a nice day, so we’re not that bothered about missing soundcheck; we watch some sheep and I kill my DS battery having the brightness up because Lea won’t let me sit in the van on the hard shoulder. We get to the venue ten minutes before our stage time and it’s predictably empty. Still, both our bands are on guarantees, and the few that come don’t leave disappointed. We stay at Richard Haho’s flat and stink it out with smelly weed. Sorry!
Glasgow, Barfly, DiS tour. A slightly bigger audience, woot. Gemma and Fiona come and do merch for us as well as making us confectionary. Have gin, nicely drunk gig, go back with The Mae Shi to Kunal from This July’s luxury flat. I fall asleep to the sound of some MDMA’d voice in from Bill Mae Shi all about the Twin Towers and how it was a big conspiracy. This is my absolute worst party nightmare. We get slightly raped in the amount of booze we drink and the amount we pay for, but still manage to wake up with evil hangovers.
Liverpool, Barfly – LOFT. Liverpool is a great place to arrive after a party gig. The staff are super relaxed about how late and shambolic everyone is. A couple of kidzzzzz sneak into the soundcheck and we put them on the guestlist. Jeff Mae Shi tries to have the crush barrier removed - “there’s going to be more health and safety issues if it has to stay there” - but the security man stands his ground. So The Mae Shi just wait until they’re about a song in and move them themselves.
Birmingham, The Place I Love. Right, yeah, you know how we hate our Barfly yeah? Imagine how pleased we were to see a different Birmingham venue on our dates. Then, imagine our disappointment to find they share the same staff… The Lionheart Brothers, the first band on for this tour, turn up slightly too late and the staff tell them they can only play without a soundcheck, lie to them about door times, and tell them their engineer can’t use their desk. Lionhearts go back to hotel, another band disgusted with my home town... The Place I Love is a rubbish-sounding room but it looks lovely, like a preserved school hall. Our friend Heather is responsible for the décor, she got sacked a week ago… A load of our friends come down, the gig only serves to sober me slightly and we sit outside in the car park/smoking garden. I find a tenner on the pavement and pay for drinks without the ‘cheaper in off license’ alarm going off in my head. I also have my traditional dispute with the security hassling our friends who stay to help load out; my heart’s not in it but I still win. Practice, that is.
London, King’s College. Massive venue! There’s nuff people there but the room still dwarfs us all. The Mae Shi rule as usual, their sheet seems to expand to cover the whole audience and the barman won’t let me pay for my drinks. Woot. Loads of people apologise to us for not dancing. Yeah London, feel the shame… gigs are becoming a bit weird in that we’ll recognise people at our shows that we converse with on The Internet fairly regularly, but they never talk to us when they see us. Either they’re all shy or we let them down when they see us. Unfortunately, we’re shy and paranoid. Meh. There’s an aftershow with amazing views but we don’t stick around save to say some goodbyes.
Live photography by Lucy Johnston
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Brighton, The Great Escape. We’re at Audio supporting Young Knives. Spend the day doing promo like a real band. Interviews in pubs and clubs and hotels. We do some TV thing for a Japanese station, the name of the program translates (apparently) as ‘pop music!’ and they give us a selection of logo stickers to stick on our guitars like we’re on Japanese TV all the time.. realise that we can’t even slightly master the Japanese accent, we do a load of takes but were so inept compared to their English skills it’s pretty embarrassing. We also get given the first copies of our actual album, much relief and joy that the cards have come out like what we wanted. Our bass amp blows and we borrow Ida Maria’s. The Laurel Collective open and they’re dead good. The gig is awesome, a capacity room and everyone dancing and me not being that much more sweat-drenched than anyone else. We have to leave straight after to go do a radio interview on the other side of town, people keep stopping us on the walk back to say nice things, and when we arrive Lea and our pressganged roadie Louis have pretty much packed everything up, yayzzzzz. We drive to our friend Henning’s, end up parking nearer the venue, fail to find anything fun in town and predictably end up on the beach.
Brighton, The Great Escape. We’re at the Honeyclub supporting The Teenagers. We do a photoshoot for some dodgy t-shirt company; I make faces and keep my hoodie on until we get offered free badges. We trek up the pier to see Tubelord but they’re running late so we go back and play. It’s another packed show. The Teenagers let us borrow their bass amp without asking Kelly for sexy favours, shamesss. The venue won’t let us take any drinks in after soundcheck (like, not even our water) so we have to result in drinking emergency gin from my guitar case on stage. At the end of the gig, I try seeing which lead is longer, guitar or mic, by running out of the fire escape. Both were pretty long, I manage to get to the beach. I look back and see I’ve managed to pick up almost every drum mic on my exit and they’re all merrily scattered over the pavement. Best gig ending ever. The soundman, bless him, is more amused than annoyed, and gives us his card. When we’re packing away, we lend the gin to Joe Tubelord who immediately gets it confiscated by lousy Honeyclub bar woman. Shit venue, nice gig. Joe buys more gin, we all head back up the pier for The Mae Shi and Hot Club de Paris. We get there as Mae Shi are loading out. Joe smashes gin, disaster. Him and Kelly back up into off licence land. I’m outside when the venue reaches capacity, but one of the barmaids recognises me and pretends to the security that I’m in The Mae Shi. Hot Club’s new songs are awesome, everyone’s in festival-happy mode, we declare a beach party and drag as many people as we can to sit in front of Maddy on the stones. Later on we declare ourselves too drunk to do anything. Lea reverts to three-word sentences, “lea go bed”, “go bed now”, and we fall asleep in the van like trampies.
Brighton, The Great Escape. I don’t remember much about this day. Whatever we did, we did it slowly. We went and watched some friends’ bands, sat on the beach for a while throwing stones at the sea, and got trapped at some industry awards ceremony whilst raiding a hotel free bar. The award presenter has a bit of dig at our label boss, “Anthony, stop talking at the back there…”, like he’s a naughty schoolboy, and we find this bizarrely reassuring. Went for a curry, Lea made another aviator, end.
Return to van, van gone. Panic. Brighton awash with Minis (Mini convention). Ask Mini man, where’s our van gone? “Put it over there.” He points to distant road, like moving a four-tonne Hi-Cube van around to make space for Minis is part of the everyday. Oh, we say. Cheers. Find van, drive home, sleep in real bed.
Video: Johnny Foreigner at The Great Escape
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Sheffield, DQ. Yay, Mae Shi time again. These last two gigs are independently organised, so we’re assured to play to a decent crowd. The rider is super special, fridge overflowing with various spirits and snacks. Sound engineer says to Kelly: “Can you turn down the feedback, love?” Sound engineer = idiot. We find out after soundcheck that Manchester has been cancelled because the promoter’s scared of football-related rioting. So this is our last gig with The Mae Shi, Gutted. We had plans for Manchester… still, there are a load of people, we’re out of touring rhythm and a bit sloppy… Mae Shi are hungover and exhausted and sloppy but still magical. We say sad goodbyes and listen to HLLLYH really loudly on the way home knowing there’re couches and drink and weed and parties waiting for us should we ever get to LA…
Manchester, Moho Live. We stay at home, Manchester stays unburnt.
May 23, 24
We spend a couple of days rehearsing for upcoming tour, trying to remember how to play old songs and working out how to do new ones. It’s well fun; it’s been a long time since we just played to ourselves. I also tidy my room and put a giant TV at the end of my bed, yip.
Hereford, with I Was a Cub Scout. All-dayer kind of thing, but there’s nobody we particularly want to see so we sit in the van in the shitty rain and panic over who to get to do sound for our tour. We’ve wanted a soundman for ageeeeeees and now we can sort of afford it, the one we’d asked drops out at the last minute. Meh. The gig is pretty ropey, my guitar keeps cutting out and the monitors don’t work so we don’t know what we sound like at all. We sell a load of merchy on the floor after tho, we have stickers and badges, and sometimes people like stickers and badges more than music.
Xfm session, Cardiff. We went and did recorded some songs for Xfm Wales. We did three songs, including a proper loud version of ‘Salt, Pepa & Spinderella’. They came out pretty well, a nice man called Luke came in on bank holiday especially to do it. Four days later the station got shut down and the staff made redundant. Shame, we’ve always been treated well when we’ve been there, even if I have said rude things about Nicky Wire’s ‘speech’ on the big plaque in there.
I scav the internet and read the reviews of our album. In one of those weird, nice for a change situations, the best written is NME and the worst is DiS. (In My Opinion.) The general tone of the music press seems to be: we made an 8/10 record. Safe. I really want to start the next one, like, nowwwwwwwwwwwwwwww…
Northampton, Roadmender. First gig of our tour, gin on the rider, yayersssssss. We’re the first band to play the venue, usually something to dread, but it’s a decent loud room and the soundman knows his, um, sound. He makes me turn my amp away from the audience, which at first seems wrong, but means I can turn it up well loud. Decide I want a backwards amp. The NME press, I’m guessing, has lead to proper likkle pop kidzz turning up to shows. They’re dead excitable and keep running over to the merch stand to ask us questions and take pictures of us. It’s pretty sweet. Later Kelly talks to one of them on The Internet; he’s 14 with a pink and blue quiff and wants me to know he thinks I’m scrummy.
Bradford Music Week. We turn up in Bradford to find the town having a mini Great Escape-style festival that we seem to be headlining. There’s people drinking on the streets and the rider gets delivered to our van. No gin, black marks for Bradford, but everything else runs to plan. The gig is well fun, no soundcheck and we sound huge, yay, Despite me being mostly sober. We go for a super cheap curry. It’s super awful. Then we go sneak ourselves into a Travelodge. Luxury is not having to ask someone where the toilet is.
Next month: the mighty Tubelord and Dananananaykroyd join our tour, I buy a radio-controlled plane, and we start the festival season proper in Cornwall. On a Tuesday. Yip!
Find Johnny Foreigner on MySpace here. They play live as follows:
12 Kingston The Works
15 Bristol Thekla
6 Ashford Zoo Festival
10 Wrexham Central Station
12 Canterbury Lounge on the Farm Festival
13 Balado T In The Park
18 Suffolk Latitude Festival
19 London Lovebox Festival
20 Oxfordshire Truck Festival
24 Dublin Button Factory
1 Hertfordshire Standon Calling Festival
2 Manchester New Century House Festival
9 Tokyo Summersonic Festival
29-30 St Agnes Surfstock Festival