I knew we were on to something special when the Viking thunderclap started up.
The rest of the time – those sad, negligible 362 days of the year when we’re not at Indietracks – it’s easy to feel discouraged because no-one is listening. To feel the zine or blog, the club night, the label or the album you’ve been pouring all your soul into is just echoing in the void. You sing, you blog, you release, whatever you do, and all you get back is silence. It’s all call and no response.
At seven o’clock on 31 July 2016, it was different. Stepping off the stage at St Saviour’s Church, I felt two things.
The first was, perhaps for the first time in my life, a genuine, vivid sense of what it must be like to be a confident human being. The realisation that this prolonged and raucous applause was not for me being a brave person to get up and play in front of all those people, or saying something funny and self-deprecating in an introduction, but because I’d written some good songs and poems, and I’d performed them well, and that I had a right to be recognised for that.
I know. It sounds odd that so basic a component of the musician’s rewards should have been beyond my compass all this time. But such is the defeatist mindset of the fish-filleter’s son from Grimsby, who got a first-class honours degree and then a highly prized scholarship to study for a masters, and then signed straight on the dole again afterwards. Perhaps that’s also the reason I found a home in indiepop – where confidence in a performer is not merely dispensed with as a prerequisite, but viewed with outright suspicion. Either way, for a minute or two the imposter syndrome think-habit of a lifetime was broken, and I realised it was just a think-habit, not the immutable truth, and that now I’d stepped outside it, nothing would be impossible.
The other thing I felt – as a corollary of the first – was vindication. That all the effort and expense of making We’re Never Going Home were worth it.
The set had gone well. My collaborator Daniel Hartley had become so adept at cueing in the backing tracks and field recordings using his iPod that he chimed in with a ukulele part on ‘When I Close My Eyes I See The Sea‘. An autobiographical preamble to ‘Golden Goal‘ may have played some part in the emotional response it elicited from several listeners. Then, towards the end, I was thanking the audience, and expressing particular gratitude for their attendance given that Haiku Salut and Trust Fund were performing on the other two stages at that very moment.
“It’s like a group of death,” I improvised. Then, mindful of one team’s surprising exploits at Euro 2016 a few weeks previously, I added: “And we’re Iceland.”
At that moment Jonathan Howell, seated in the front row to take pictures, launched into the primal Nordic ritual of accelerating claps and booms that had stunned stadiums and TV audiences across the continent when performed by Iceland’s fans. Unthinkingly, I joined in. Within an instant it seemed the whole room had followed, and the very walls and floorboards of the ‘tin tabernacle’ (originally built in 1898 as a place of worship for Victorian railwaymen) were resounding as if pounded by the hammer of Thor.
A little later, once I’d finished the set, soaked up the applause, and packed up my stuff, I was over in the merch tent, taking my turn to try and shift a few copies of the new album (and indeed the old album, and indeed, as it turned out, some singles by The Regulars, my old Birmingham band of around millennium time, brought along by Alan Farmer of Bearos Records). I enjoyed an amazing conversation with a listener who approached me right after the gig to tell me that – exactly as per ‘Golden Goal’, he too was a Grimsby Town fan, and he too had been at the 1998 Football League Trophy final, and he too had attended it with his dad, and he too had later had a son, and the lives of his dad and his son, too, did not overlap.
I knew the buzz would dwindle away, a few hours or a few days later. But something of it has stayed with me. I’m starting to believe in the value of what I create. And while it seems harder than ever to persuade people to pay for music, at least now it’s finally registered with me that shifting a few units is the least I deserve.
Maybe it was the Viking thunderclap that did it – and all that it symbolised: a borrowed underdog defiance as apt as it was inspirational. It came from Iceland but it perfectly suited Indietracks. And it worked for me.
Last time I played Indietracks, in 2013, a veritable handful of reviews popped up afterwards. I’ll blame the relative scarcity of write-ups this time on the group of death. But there’s a nice mention in Hayley Scott’s appraisal at Clashmusic (“triumphant”), and some kind words from Rafa Skam at El Planeta Amarillo. The observation puso los pelos de punta a los presentes en la Iglesia en ese momento means those present in the church at that moment experienced a little moment of woo (as would make the hairs stand up on the back of their neck). Do not look up that phrase on Google Translate.
Rafa has also posted videos of a couple of songs from the set – ‘Get Drunk With Me Tonight’ and this one, ‘Tangents’ (featuring Dan and Ian).
A little bizarrely, the set has ended up featured in the Alamy photography library (not that I’m Googling myself every hour, you understand).
Finally, while I was playing, there were several nice tweets. I’ll include one here because it expresses both musical and sartorial appreciation from a genuine hero of my formative years. And, really, what could be better than that?
Thanks for reading, and thanks for listening. Please do give the album a spin if you’ve not already.
Top photo: Jonathan Howell