23.03.02 – Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff / 24.03.02 – Monkey Café, Swansea / 25.03.02 – Sams Bar, Cardiff
Wow! Real food! Fresh orange juice, proper coffee that doesn’t cost £1.79 for a small cup, my own bed, and clean clothes! It must’ve been a bad dream; there was no way I have just spent 3 days abusing my body with junk food & alcohol.
A weekend break in South Wales with Pocket Venus is what the holiday brochure read. It was my little tester to see how they’d cope being away from home, living out of bags in a van & living in each other’s pockets [sic].
There is nothing false about Pocket Venus, they wear their hearts on their sleeves, what you see is what you get, there is no play acting or hamming it up. They don’t act like rock stars, they are rock stars in their own right & this type of behaviour when the big break comes will make them tabloid fodder. I can’t wait. Being genuine people has its advantages, you know there is absolutely nothing staged about their live performances, so when the normally quiet Steve Jones starts destroying the equipment on stage in Sam’s Bar, Cardiff & the band get into a ruck with the soundman, you know this isn’t theatre. No, this is real. The disadvantage of being as genuine as Pocket Venus is that diplomacy flew through the window taking the glass with it long, long ago, which can upset those of a nervous disposition. It also makes the band vulnerable when things don’t go to plan for you’d swear their whole world had just collapsed if something negative happens.
Like the 2nd track on their ‘Make It Through Your Day’ EP the weekend was a Rollercoaster of emotion, of success & let downs. The rollercoaster began in the shape of the A470 when I took the wrong advice by suggesting we travelled cross-country through the heart of Wales. The journey wouldn’t be too bad in a car, but to do it in a long wheel base van had the band complaining after a couple of hours. What’s wrong with a couple of hundred miles of Z-bends? It’s no wonder there is a north-south divide, who’d want to do this journey on a regular basis anyway?
The side of being in a band people don’t see is the waiting game, the hanging around, kicking your heels. Seasoned touring bands have it sussed, they’ll bring a book, a laptop, a football or take in the sites, they know how to occupy themselves. Bands new to the touring game either die from boredom or, like Pocket Venus, get pissed. Fine for a couple of days, but take on a longer tour & Betty Ford would be licking her lips. With too much time to think & too little to do other than swig those bottles of Stella you can lose track of how much abuse your body has taken & after 3 days feel like shite.
The hearts stitched to the sleeves certainly makes Pocket Venus passionate about their cause & the music. The negative aspect makes them over sensitive & over analytical of themselves. After the opening show at Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff vocalist Chris Yates & bassist Naldo Algieri were almost grieving what they thought was a lacklustre performance. Pete Ryan on drums, Dave Robinson on keys & guitarist Steve Jones on the other hand thought they had a great gig. Chris & Naldo had taken their point of view from the fact the on-stage sound was pretty crap; they reckoned the monitor engineer was stoned. But the sound up front from the audience’s standpoint was only bettered by the Big Leaves gig a fortnight earlier. It was a real gutsy sound with the drums thumping right through your mid-riff, providing the backdrop for near perfect sound separation. Unfortunately the on stage sound that the band could hear through the fold-back monitors was a shambles so the band couldn’t hear themselves properly.
Blissfully unaware of this, the crowd nodded, danced & cheered their way through Get Away, Rollercoaster, Through Your Day, Sell your Friends, Fall Away, Like You, How High. The dressing room afterwards could have been like Old Trafford’s after United had lost to The Boro (ha!). It was like a morgue & I have learnt to sit back & let them argue things out in the heat of the moment or risk having my head bitten off by a side swipe comment, & leave the reasoning to when they’ve had time to calm down a bit.
With the van & home tucked neatly up the side of Clwb Ifor Bach we finally got our heads down by about 4am. For the last 12 months Paul Sutherland of ESP Productions has followed Pocket Venus around filming their movements, so this van had to accommodate 7 grown men. Having manager’s privileges I had the driver’s cab & a phallically threatening gear stick to contend with.
The leisure centre in Cardiff provided Pete with a free shower as the rest of us opted to wallow in our sweat for the whole of Sunday. It was the LDV Vans Trophy Final between Blackpool & Cambridge Utd at the Millennium Stadium, so breakfast was shared with swathes of soccer fans & Chris, Pete, Paul & myself decided to become Blackpool supporters for the day & made plans to attend the game. So with 3 hours to kill before kick off we found a pub near to Sophia Gardens Cricket Ground, away from mobs of football fans & sank a few pints. It gave me the opportunity to talk to Paul about his filming of a sci-fi horror B-movie called Infestation & also why does he follow Pocket Venus around.
’Well, you see documentaries on bands like U2 & Oasis, & it’s always footage from after they had made it, whereas this is a warts’n’all from very early on.’
Paul told me that when he first began filming the band they were constantly pulling faces at the camera & acting up, but now they’re almost totally unaware of the record button being constantly switched on. There are some classic footage moments, from rip roaring gigs to vicious arguments between band members, the highs & lows are all documented & awaiting an audience when its ready.
We decided to take a few publicity shots on the actual cricket pitch, which led to Yates dropping his pants & streaking across the turf, making it 2 creases at the centre of the pitch (I have the photo if you’re willing to pay). Then onto the Millennium Stadium to cheer on our adopted 2nd team, Steve McMahon’s Tangerine Army stylishly romped Cambridge 4-1 to lift the cup.
I had serious doubts about the Monkey Café in Swansea as a venue, it didn’t feel right on the phone & I had made numerous enquiries to other parties over it. All were positive & all said it was small. We waited an hour filling our faces with yet more junk food until someone turned up at 7.20pm & the dummies were immediately spat out of the pram when we realised that on Sunday’s the room upstairs was closed & bands played in the bar downstairs, which was very small. I too let emotion get the better of me when I first suggested we didn’t bother playing it & Yates got back in the van to smoke a fag to calm down. The rest of the band started unpacking their gear until Steve said he wasn’t going to do the gig as it wasn’t worth it. Then came one of those moments caught on camera for prosperity as Naldo came close to losing his temper, ranted & raved about the whole purpose of playing in a band was to do gigs & to get the gear out of the van & stop whinging.
The other band Chalk Circle turned up & brought a great crowd with them & it wasn’t long before Naldo’s attitude was adopted through Pocket Venus & they all realised they were here to enjoy themselves. The posters billed PV as ‘a sensational indie band playing their last date before a US tour.’ Whether a showcase gig in New York constitutes as a US tour I don’t know, but who cares – live the hype! Dropping Fall Away from their set they played superbly to a packed house with excellent response & many new friends. You would never have realised that they were pissed as not a note went astray.
Chalk Circle were different from the usual dross around, with fantastic musicianship & something better than your average 3 minute punk, pop or indie band. With The Fox on drums who was a marvel to watch Pete decided he wanted to be his pupil & asked PV if he could change his name to The Cub. Chalk Circle’s bassist made his fretless instrument sing & he moved about as if he was playing Twister on the mosaic-tiled floor. Hey, & the sweet Maria on vocals even trashed the stage at the end having consumed a bottle of red wine through the set. Nice one, & it’s very rare for PV being so protective of the band rivalry badge to appreciate their peers, but Yates screamed:
’Let’s hear it for The Fox.’ And up went the cheer.
The Travelodge near Port Talbot had to be my sleep over tonight for it would be me driving back home tomorrow, so I needed a proper sleep. When I asked at reception at 2am how many could sleep to the room, he asked me if it was my family; I told him: ‘No, it’s a rock band to be honest with you.’
’I’ll let you bring 2 of them in & no fucking noise.’
Fair enough, so Chris & Dave opted to share the double bed & I took the single. Dave did announce he was going to knock one off in the toilet, then re-emerged a minute later to say that the thought of Chris & myself on the otherside of the wall put him off. What the receptionist thought when 7 people left the room in the morning after the rest of them had climbed in through the window to use the shower I don’t know, but her face was a picture.
We had a meeting with a PR company in Cardiff on Monday morning to agree to buying PV onto a tour & paying a plugger amongst other things. The band again held no bars in negotiating exactly what they wanted. What they didn’t want to be was a name on a tick sheet & if the company were just ‘yes men’ then they would just be wasting their own & everyone else’s time. Again, Paul had all this filmed with close ups on expressions & body language all documented for the future. We shook hands agreeing to meet tonight at the final show & headed back to yesterday’s haunt near the cricket ground for another dose of Stella Artois. Between this place, Wetherspoons & the venue, Sams Bar, the beer really flowed & Chris Yates was on top in your face form.
With Frequency from Newport on first, it was evident by 9pm that this was a big mistake – they brought a rent-a-crowd with them & I anticipated the place emptying after their set. I was expecting a quiet night anyway with the excellent Mclusky playing an album launch at the Barfly, but had PV opened tonight’s proceedings they could’ve played to Frequency’s crowd.
Ironically PV’s set was all about frequencies as the small cramped stage & other band’s guitar amp meant Steve’s guitar was feeding back so badly it hurt your ears & no matter how much he tried to stop it, it wouldn’t. So short of stopping & sound checking again the show had to go on. The soundman finally got a sort of balance after 4 songs, but it was too late, the rent-a-crowd had moved one leaving only around 20 people to witness what was to come. Twenty or 200, it didn’t matter for Pocket Venus gave the same full on performance, but you knew it wasn’t a happy one. This was a band half-pissed, tired, frustrated & very angry at the sound & when the finale of How High came about I knew something was going to happen. Steve started swinging his Fender about & virtually chopped a mike stand in half before kicking a monitor off the stage. I was stood near the sound desk & was pushed aside as the soundman legged it to the stage screaming:
’That’s my fucking gear that’s my fucking livelihood.’
And grabbed Steve, Chris immediately grabbed the soundman & shouted:
’If you want a fucking target try me first.’
And a fiery slanging match ensued, all caught on camera.