Birds and Bollocks – The British Invasion in Reverse

Did you ever experience something, come out the other end and think, “Whoa, what the heck just happened?” That just happened. I can tell you what happened, but I can’t explain it, that being the nature of experience. You have to experience it. So, I’ll relate the bald facts as best I can remember them (there was alcohol), and I’ll do justice to the experience, as best I can. You extrapolate from there.

The whole deal came out of the conversation with Jacque Champe, she of Killdeer, round about the early part of December last year. The nature of that conversation went thus:

The Dog’s Bollocks and Killdeer should do a tour of England

“OK.”

Next thing, we’re doing a tour of England, which will be no surprise to those who know Jacque Champe. The words “Jacque Champe” and “getting shit done” appear in the same sentence with alarming frequency. Without being indelicate, Jacque got the shit done and next thing you know, on Saturday, May 25th, Killdeer and The Dog’s Bollocks hoved into Hackney in east London and presented themselves at the door of Biddle Bros, one seriously cool venue, BTW. And, with that, what became the Birds and Bollocks UK Tour 2019 kicked off big time.

I’ll note here that I’m leaving out a few salient details. Do you really need to know all about the renting of our own nine-seater kick-arse tour van complete with drum stuff and amps? (Contact the awesome Matt Snowball for all your one-stop shopping in this regard). And do you really need to know about the booking of the rehearsal space at the similarly awesome Camden Guitars in – coincidence – Camden? You already know that the Dog’s Bollocks is now just two, Regan and James, making this tantamount to small Bollocks, So, I won’t bore you with that here. Nah; I’ll just give you the high points. For more, meet us at the Bitter End this coming Friday, June 7th, and I’ll tell all. Most of it was classic. We go on at 8pm.

So, back to Biddle Bros. First thing, when you’re next in London, forget Big Ben, the Tower of London and all that old shite. Get yourself over to this fantastic venue for some live music in one of the friendliest and most intimate watering holes you can imagine. Although they never call them watering holes in England; it’s basically just the boozer or the local.

The Dog’s Bollocks kicked off the evening with our stripped down set (bare Bollocks), although we were seriously thankful to have the legendary Jacque Champe – there she is again – and Robin Marsico, both from Killdeer, sitting in with us on a handful of songs that needed more heft. We were nervous, we were excited, we were hesitant, we were inspired and we had a serious blast. Killdeer followed us playing a set that literally rocked the house, including songs from their just-released awesome album. (Buy it here). And, closing the night was the simply amazing Crack Foxes, an all-girl band from all parts of the south of England who were as delightful as they are talented, which is to say seriously. Check them out here. Seriously. (Plus, they sang awesome harmonies with us on Suspicious Minds).

Got to be said, that became a common theme throughout this tour: amazing venues run by the most welcoming people, and awesome bands comprised of the nicest people. Without question, every step of the way. Nick Crispin, for one. He was the gentleman – and I use that word in the finest sense – who booked us at Biddle Bros, who was as kind and encouraging as he could be, and who made the serious mistake of saying we could come back again in the future. Which we most certainly will. Nick – dude, you are a gent. You can see the whole Biddle Bros set on Facebook by clicking here.

This is an appropriate interlude at which to talk about Wiggy. He did tell me his name, but I forget what it is. He calls himself Wiggy, as does everybody who knows him, so that’s what he is. Legends only need one name, after all. Think Elvis. How to describe Wiggy? He’s an enigma. Through some convoluted process that was explained to me but the memory of which has been jettisoned along with a billion alcohol-obliterated brain cells, Wiggy knows Bonnie’s father. Bonnie is the awesome singer in Handsome Pete. Jacque Champe also plays in Handsome Pete. So, Wiggy knows Bonnie’s father, Bonnie, Jacque and, by extension, Killdeer. He lives in Newbury, 50 miles west of London, but came all the way in to see the Biddle Bros show. Wiggy is one serious dude when it comes to music.

Wiggy, it was revealed at some God-forsaken, beer-sated hour in the Biddle Bros morning, also plays bass. At what level was not made apparent at that precise moment. However, a conversation along these lines ensued:

“I play the bass.”

“We’re playing at Poco Loco in Chatham, Kent tomorrow evening. You should play with us.”

“OK.”

You don’t need to be told. Somehow, Wiggy gets his alcohol-fueled, bass-playing arse out to Newbury, then back in to London and on to Chatham with a handful of hours to spare for the Poco Loco gig. Remarkable. How did he spend his time on the train? Learning half a dozen songs that he’d never played before. We had a run-through in the warm-up room in the hour before our set. With 15 minutes to go, he seemed to have it all sorted. No problem; so, let’s learn a couple of originals. You may pause here, dear Bollocks fans, for a moment of cynicism. But I shite you not. Regan and James out front, Jacque and Robin sitting in, Wiggy on bass – it just rocked.

And what a wonderful venue. Abby Ziering booked us, cooked us mouth-watering tacos, offered to let us stay in her apartment, and then rocked the house with her own band, Luna Lacuna. Then came Killdeer. With three vocalists – Jacque, Keri and Jennifer – plus Robin playing rock solid, kick arse drums, they brought the house down. Did I mention that you can buy their new album by clicking here?

That was two down, four to go. The next day was Monday, May 27th, which we had off. Which was just as well, as it gave Wiggy the 15 minutes he needed to lock down our whole set, plus the harmonies on “Fire” and “Suspicious Minds.” Thing is, there’s a venue in Camden, north London called Fiddler’s Elbow. And the next thing is that Fiddler’s Elbow is a venue in the sense that it’s a VENUE! It’s a breeding ground for greatness. Madness were regulars there, and Amy Winehouse, plus others too numerous to mention. Think London’s version of the Bitter End. (Did I mention this coming Friday, June 7th, 8pm? Beer, music, Bollocks, tour tales. It will all be there).

Anyway, Dan Maiden is the gentleman – and I say that in the Nick Crispin sense – who owns the iconic Fiddler’s and who also books the bands. Thing is, Dan wasn’t convinced that he should book the Bollocks and the Birds. But, two more things: Dan is a gentleman (so noted), and the aforementioned Jacque Champe paid him an advance visit. That was only going to go one way. So we were booked, and….another absolutely brilliant evening. Killdeer was developing a cult following at this stage – understandable – and with the Wigmeister at full force, plus Jacque and Robin – well, the Bollocks were in high gear, as well. Plus, we had a great turn-out. Thanks to all who made the journey to north London to see us.

Do I need to say, or can you surmise the rest of the evening? With the sets over, we hung out, we drank beer, we BS’d into the wee hours, we drank more beer and we made friendships that we know will endure. Even if it all went to total shite after this, it would have been an amazing tour. Three spectacular venues – Biddle Bros, Poco Loco and the Fiddler’s Elbow; three awesome shows and encounters too numerous to enumerate that were nothing only warm, kind and encouraging. What a concept.

Thing is, it didn’t all go to total shite. It just got better and better. Wednesday morning – painfully fecking early after the previous night’s indulgences – we picked up the Matt Snowball van, by some miracle found our way out of London and headed north on the M1, M6 and M something else to Nantwich in Cheshire. Why Nantwich?, you ask. Or not; up to you. Well, on said Wednesday we were booked to play in Percy’s in Whitchurch, Shropshire. Nantwich is half way between there and our Friday gig in the Salty Dog in Northwich, Cheshire. So, Nantwich worked.

And here, a word for Nantwich. Go. That’s all the word you need. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it.

You may note here, no mention of Wiggy. We begged, we cajoled, we pleaded. It was not pretty. If our money hadn’t all been carefully allotted for beer, we might have offered a bribe. But Wiggy couldn’t work it. The last we saw of him – 2am, Wednesday morning – he was leaving the Fiddler’s Elbow, then changed his mind because he needed one more pint and went back in. Word ensued that it was a 4am finish. Last we heard, he was in the south of France. Enigma, Riddle. Legend. Who was that masked bassman?

So, here we were at Percy’s, an appropriate juncture at which to make note of another legend, Steve Iles by name. Jacque Champe – there she is again – has got a brother who plays in a kick-arse punk band named Choking Susan. The brother knows Steve Iles, made the call, and Steve – a gentleman in the Nick Crispin/Dan Maiden mold – took a shot and booked the Bollocks and Killdeer into Poco Loco, Percy’s, the Salty Dog and our Saturday gig at the Royal Standard in Sheffield. Not only that, he showed up to all of the last three gigs, offering support, buying beer and generally being a righteous dude. They don’t really say that in England, but it applies. A legend.

Percy’s is wonderful. Killdeer, at this point were just consistently spectacular with a hard rocking, seriously tight set that never failed to get the joint jumping. The Bollocks, too, rocked hard, even sans Wiggy. Plus, the green room contained the two oldest taxidermed tigers in the UK. Plus some skeletons. Plus some other stuff. Plus a fridge full of Bud. Plus, Mark Powell, who booked us and was as warm and welcoming as a man could possibly be, and plus an owner who took kindness and courtesy to Olympic levels. Interestingly, this was the first Wednesday ever on which Percy’s had had live music. So, thanks to Mark Powell, the Bollocks, who played first, made history. The small things count. Plus, the occasional stuffed tiger. Personally, I’m going to insist on a stuffed tiger at every venue from now on. And, they’ve got to cut the crusts off the little cucumber sandwiches.

Forgetting tigers and sandwiches, headliners at Percy’s were Desensitised. For this show, they were without their drummer, so they did an acoustic set. Well….acoustic me bollix. These two ladies rocked, and rocked hard. Check them out here, and get yourself over to England and check them out there. It’s totally worth it. And lovely people, too. But that hardly needs stating, at this stage.

Thursday was an off day, so we all wandered. (Not all who wander are lost, just so you know). I went for a long run; knee was tolerable, in case you were wondering, as distinct from wandering.

Friday was May 31st and that was our night for the Salty Dog in Northwich. In terms of size and vibe, this was of the order of Biddle Bros and Poco Loco, which is to say cool, with a cool edge. The Bollocks opened, Killdeer killed it, and then Yur Mum closed it down, in every good sense of the term. Hard rocking, raucous rock and roll, played hard and loud by three of the nicest musicians you could hope to meet. Lead vocalist and bassist, Anelise Kunz Cuoto, was seriously thankful to the ubiquitous Jacque Champe, who handed over her axe without a second thought after Anelise’s went on the blink. Camaraderie and empathy are beautiful; but, that’s just me. Got to be noted, Yur Mum has the most awesome t-shirts. I bought one. They’ve all got Yur Mum tattoos, too. I didn’t get one of those, although I was tempted. Plus, if I got one, it should really be a Bollocks; and, I dunno; walking around with Bollocks tattooed on me. I get enough shite as it is without inviting more. Anyway, Yur Mum – see them here. Awesome.

That was five down. Unreal. One to go – the Royal Standard in Sheffield. This involved a two hour drive through the spectacular scenery of the Peak District. We stopped, we saw sheep, it rained, we took a detour through some pristine and ancient village whose name I forget. It was beautiful, a seeming soft embrace from England as we got close to our departure.

Forget the soft embrace, for now; first we had some rocking to do. The turn-out was light for this one, mainly due to the fact of the entirety of the UK watching the Champions’ League final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. You can find the details of that on their blog. They’re not writing about us; until they do, I’m not writing about them. Even with a light turn-out, this was a seriously hard core evening. Steve Iles was there, of course, and the landlady and staff were charmers as only people from the English north can be; and Nat, the sound guy, in addition to being a master of the board, was as nice a bloke as you could hope.

The Bollocks were up first, usual form. We had truly lovely time. That hardly sounds like hard rocking; but, here’s the thing; it was our last gig of an awesome tour, and we were carrying with us so many indelible and endearing memories that it was all but impossible not to soften, enjoy and appreciate. Killdeer, of course, kicked serious and solid arse, yet again. So many times on this trip, I sat out front and listened objectively. The conversation in my head always went the same:

“This band is as good as any band out there.”

It was always a short conversation.

So, with Bollocks done and Killdeer done, we all stood out front for the headliners, Diablofurs. There is no way to describe this band. Genre-defying sounds trite. So, you just have to go and see them and figure it out for yourself. They are absolutely, unquestionably, indisputably, off the charts, rock solid awesome. As I told them, you see bands, and some songs you like, others less so. I loved every single song. They all went at warp speed and wall cracking volume. But sooooo tight. And every single one of them maestros, each with their own enrapturing stage presence and personality. Entrancing. See them here. But you really need to get your arse over to England and see them there. In fact, if you follow the venue route outlined here, you will be guaranteed a magical musical mystery tour that you won’t forget in a hurry.

Part Killdeer and part Bollocks got the train from Sheffield to London on Sunday morning (another painful rising) to get flights back to the US. I say “got the train to London,” but use that phrase loosely. Train broke down at Leicester. We were told to take the train “across the platform” to Birmingham, then take another train to London, the rail services giving no evident shite about our flights. Said “train across the platform” was jammed to the gunwales, so we had to Uber the 60 miles to Birmingham, where we made a London train with five minutes to spare. That was tension; but, then all was fine. We needed a little drama, anyway, just to add some spice to the tale.

So, that was it. All done. And now I’m saying, whoa – WTF just happened?

All that’s left are the memories, that and the two thousand photos. And the videos. And the Facebook posts. And the Instagram stories. For the record, no scars, tattoos or hospital bills.

If I could possibly bear to raise one more glass of something appropriate, I most surely would and offer a toast of heartfelt gratitude to this wonderful cast of characters who have left a deeper impression than they can ever possibly know:

Nick Crispin, Sad House Daddy and all at Biddle Bros, Hackney, London
Abigail Ziering, VL Presents and all at Poco Loco, Chatham, Kent
Dan Maiden and all at Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden, London
Mark Powell, POW Productions and all at Percy’s, Whitchurch, Shropshire
All at the Salty Dog, Northwich, Cheshire
All at the Royal Standard, Sheffield
Matt Snowball
Camden Guitars
Steve Iles and IndigoBravo Promotions
Wiggy Wigmore
Crack Foxes
Desensitised
Yur Mum
Diablofurs
…and, never to be forgotten, Daz at the Crown Hotel, Nantwich, who served us innumerable late night pints and literally dozens of bags of crisps and who, despite it all, said, “I will miss you when you’re gone.” Now that we’re gone, the feeling is deeply reciprocated.

Last, but in reality top of the list, the deepest and most heartfelt thanks go from me (James, BTW) to the beautiful, delightful, funny and enormously talented ladies with whom I had the privilege to share this unforgettable journey: Regan Glover, Jennifer Robinson, Jacque Champe, Robin Marsico and Keri Buster. Ladies, you rock.

The Dog’s Bollocks.