Drunk Folk Stories is the new compilation of tales and adventures from Beans on Toast. Take a sneak peek of what you’ll find with this adrenaline filled tale.
“I AM ALIVE.” That was my opening line when I walked on stage at The Hammersmith Apollo. It was the first time I’d ever played a venue of that size or calibre. I was opening for the amazing Kate Nash and I walked on stage soaking wet from head to toe and shouted it at the top of my voice.
Not the usual start to a show, but I’d not had a usual day. In fact, I’d had a brush with death – a high speed brush on the M3. I’d met Kate a year or so before. We did a few London pub shows together at venues like The Lock Tavern and The Old Queens Head. She was lovely and you could kind of tell it was about to kick off for her. Great songs and a wonderful charm. She must have liked my songs because she asked me to join her on a UK tour. This was just before her debut album, ‘Made of Bricks’, came out. There was a great excitement around her music but she’d yet to bust open the charts and become a fully fledged pop star and household name. This tour was playing to sold out rooms of around three hundred people. I was opening and Peggy Sue and The Pirates were main support. The tour was a whole load of fun, heading up to Aberdeen and back. At the time, I didn’t drive, or own a vehicle, so I called on an old mate from school. Stretch was working in Braintree as a plasterer at the time and had the classic white transit van. The summer before, he began to clear his van out on weekends, stick a mattress in the back, and we did festivals together (more on that later). He was the obvious choice so I asked if he fancied a two week jaunt around the country. He was up for it. We also picked up another schoolmate, Stockley, who had some time off work and was up for splitting the driving. This did mean that one of us had to travel in the back of the van, in the dark, bouncing around on a mattress – but that’s how it went. As I said, it was a great tour. I became closer friends with Kate and her band and crew. Soon after the tour, Kate’s album came out, followed by the single, ‘Foundations’, and things blew up. I was very happy for her. She deserved it.
As these things usually go, I didn’t see Kate for a while after that. She went off to tour the world. In fact, the next time I saw her was in New York.
I was in New York by accident. I was supposed to be in Barbados. This was towards the end of the FROG days. I’d started pimping myself out for DJ shifts as FROG DJs. Generally, I’d book in a gig then just one or two of us would head down, hang an old FROG banner, and play a bunch of indie tunes from a laptop. It was easy money. It was especially easy on New Year’s Eve when everything goes double bubble in the party world. I got a DJ gig at Brixton Academy. Xfm (a popular London indie radio station of the time) were throwing a big party with a bunch of live bands and DJs in the main room. They wanted FROG to host the second room. We blagged a one thousand five-hundred pound fee off them and just Dave and I headed down. We blu-tacked a banner to the wall, stuck The Kooks album on, and spent the night in the main room watching the bands. Then we got paid cash at the end of the night. As I said, easy money. I got home hammered on New Year’s Day. Feeling suddenly rich, I decided that I needed a holiday. I’d never been on holiday alone before but I thought
That evening, while still plastered, I booked myself a solo trip to Barbados.
that was the sort of character building, interesting adventure that I should have under my belt. So, that evening, while still plastered, I booked myself a solo trip to Barbados, not even sure why I chose there. The flights were expensive but a drunk me found a really cheap hotel. I found all this out the following morning when I woke up hungover and realised my flight left in a matter of hours.
The next time I woke up, I was in JFK airport and getting off a plane for a transfer – it was all a bit of a whirlwind blur. It was 8 o’clock and my next flight left at 8:30. As I cleared US customs, and ran frantically to try and catch the next plane, it didn’t feel like I’d planned it very well at all. I presumed I’d missed it when I couldn’t find any information relating to the flight. But after some confusion, I found out that I hadn’t missed it at all. It was, in fact, at 8:30am the following day. I had twelve hours to spare. I was in New York. Sweet deals.
What do you do with one night in ‘The Big Apple’? Well, you definitely don’t hang around an airport. So, I jumped in a cab and headed towards Manhattan. I’d been to New York a couple of times before but only for short visits. I knew nothing about the beast of a city that it is. I did, however, know a girl called Chelsea who lived there. I didn’t know her that well but I knew she was hot. I actually had a bit of thing for her. What the hell? I gave her a bell.
“I’m in NYC for twelve hours. What shall I do?” I said. She said I should go to the party that her and her mates were all going to. Yes, New York! She sent me a text saying it was at a club called Beatrice. I hailed a taxi (very New York) and headed to meet her.
I don’t remember a huge amount about the club. I was told later that I was hanging out with Heath Ledger. Apparently, I kept blagging cigarettes off him and winding him up about something or other. Everyone was pussyfooting around him because he was a big Hollywood celebrity, but I had no idea who he was so he got the same treatment as everyone else (please note that I am nice to strangers). Not sure if it was that, that earnt me some New York cred but I definitely made some new friends as the party went through until the morning. As I departed to catch my flight, Chelsea said that if I ever wanted to go back to NYC for more than twelve hours, I’d be welcome to stay with her. I didn’t really want to leave – but hey ho. There we go.
I can be extremely ignorant at times. This is especially true with things like geography. I knew nothing about Barbados; it just sounded like a holiday destination. I knew it was an island but in my head I think I thought it was a tiny little island with nothing but sun, beaches and good times. It turns out there’s a lot more to it than that. I still know pretty much nothing about the place. With that in mind, I don’t want to talk trash about it or its culture. I just don’t know it well enough. But, for me, that trip was a total disaster.
I hadn’t changed up any money to the local currency so I hit up an ATM on arrival at the airport. My card was blocked due to bizarre patterns of use and it wouldn’t give me any cash. One long, boring phone call to my bank later, and I was informed that it would take twenty-four hours to reset my card. Nightmare.
I had twenty pounds in my wallet so I changed that up and headed to the taxi rank. I told the taxi driver the address of my hotel and he wouldn’t believe me. He really didn’t want to take me to that part of the island. I presumed this was only because I didn’t have enough cash so I started laying on the charm. He was a funny chap and we were having a bit of a joke about it but I soon realised that he was strongly suggesting that I didn’t go to that area. “Not safe,” he said.
I was sure I was being kidnapped.
I told him not to worry, that I was from Essex. “I got this” I said. At some point, he looked down, he took one look at my shorts, freaked out, opened the back door of his cab and hustled me in. He chucked my bag in the boot, jumped in the driver seat, and took off out of the airport at high speed. He looked worried. Even though he seemed like a kind and caring man, I was sure I was being kidnapped.
He pulled over just outside of the airport, turned to me and said “we need to get you some new shorts.” What kind of kidnap- ping was this? As per usual, I was wearing a pair of cut off army shorts. I’ve been wearing this style of shorts since I was sixteen. I find them comfortable and convenient (naturally, I’ve got a pair on as a write this). He then went on to explain that in Barbados army camouflage is used as gang colours. He also explained it was a big deal. It had actually become illegal to wear it. My shorts had basically put me in the firing line of local gangs and the police alike. Shit me. I was definitely not in Essex anymore. The problem was, of course, that I didn’t have any money or any access to any money. I was traveling light and didn’t have any other shorts to change into. I showed the guy exactly how much money I had and told him again where I needed to go. No way in the world was he taking me to that address in those shorts. He drove off, parked outside a shop, and made me stay in the car while he went inside. He came out with a pair of bright yellow swimming shorts and threw them in the back. What a legend! Once in my new, safe swimmers, I wondered if I could start my holiday. Where were the beaches and the good times at?
The other direction apparently. Where I was staying was a four- hour drive away from where most of the tourists would holiday. A four-hour drive? What the fuck? I thought it was a little island. I was surprised they even had so many cars, let alone motorways and gang colours. There wasn’t really much I could do, though. I knew the guy was driving me for a lot less than the actual fare, so off we went. It was a long, hot drive to my destination and the hotel turned out to be a bit of a dive. I’ve stayed in plenty of cheap hotels before and since, though, so that wasn’t a big problem. I bid the kind taxi driver farewell and checked in.
It’s with a heart full of regret that I inform you that I used to have dreadlocks – scraggy, natty, dirty dreads grown using the simple art of not touching my otherwise thin straight and wiry hair. Looking back, it was probably a mistake, but whatever. We live and learn. But at this point in my life, alone on my solo, character-building holiday, I had dreads, no money and an after- noon in paradise (?). The lady at the hotel told me how to get to the nearest beach. It was a long walk, and I was advised that it wasn’t the best beach on the island, but I headed out anyway. I’m not sure if it was the white guy with dreads, or the silly shorts, or the Englishman in me, but I stood out like a sore thumb.
“Yo, Dread Man” someone shouted. I hadn’t made it to the end of the road when they came running up and followed it with “you wanna buy some weed?” I didn’t have any money and the idea of being stoned at that moment was not appealing at all. I told the guy I was fine but he was strolling next to me telling me how good his weed was. Apparently, it was really good. He didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t have any money.
Instead, he said “you want some coke?”
Apparently, his coke was also good – the best, in fact. The guy wasn’t threatening at all, quite the opposite actually. He was all smiles and I believed that his weed and coke were top quality. I stopped walking and said one hundred percent no. I was not interested. I thought this would put an end to the exchange but it was like the guy couldn’t hear me. Every twenty seconds, he’d start again. “Want some weed?” He just kept going, so I started walking again and he was off with me, right by my side “want some coke?”
Then, all of a sudden, someone else shouted from the distance “Yo Dread Man, you want some weed?” Almost as if he couldn’t see the other guy. He came bounding over and walked to my other side. Apparently, his weed was the best and, who would have thought it, he had coke as well. The whole thing got crazy repetitive and monotonous. By the time I’d got to the beach, I had five guys surrounding me offering weed and coke. Again, I didn’t feel particularly threatened, but it was far from ideal and I didn’t really know how to diffuse the situation.
I got to the beach, left my t-shirt and trainers on the sand and went in for a swim. That seemed like a great plan. My new buddies didn’t really react much. They just waited patiently with my shoes and t-shirt as I walked off into the sea. It had been a pretty hectic forty-five minute walk but, as I’m sure you know, the sea has a wonderful all-encompassing effect. It was a hot day and the sea was clear and empty, so I walked out and started to swim. It was great: peaceful and calming. I figured it’d be cool, I’d just sit it out for one night and find an ATM the next day. Maybe I could look at getting to the other side of the island. Maybe I would buy some weed but, for now, I’d just swim and prepare myself for the hectic walk back to the hotel. I was lying on my back pondering these thoughts when I heard the massive roar of an engine. It appeared out of nowhere and came flying towards me. I span around to see a jet ski coming full pelt in my direction. Before I really had time to think, the jet ski had reached me, slowed down and stopped right in front of me. I looked up at the chap riding it. He, in turn, looked back at me. Then he said “wanna buy some weed, Dread Man?”
I needed to get my haircut.
I stayed in Barbados for a week. A couple of times I got the long taxi drive to the other side of the island. The hotels that side were way too expensive and it didn’t take me long to realise it wasn’t really my vibe over there anyway. I spent most of my days dodging the dealers on the way to shop and then reading on my hotel’s tiny balcony. It wasn’t all bad but it wasn’t great either. It certainly wasn’t my dream holiday. I needed to change it up. I kept thinking about Chelsea and my wild night out in New York. I looked into it and my flight home was also stopping in New York. If I could find a cheap flight to New York, I could spend my second week there and then still catch my flight home. Sweet. I was out of there.
I put the plan into place and headed back to ‘The Big Apple’. Once I booked the flights, I had a little look to see what was going down while I was there. It turns out that Kate Nash was playing at The Bowery Ballroom on the evening that I arrived. I legged it over from the airport. Unfortunately, I missed the show but snuck into the venue while people were still milling around. As I mentioned, I’d become friends with Kate, her band and crew. Everyone was doing the pack down so I jumped on in.
“What the fuck are you doing here, Beans??!!”
I presumed by that point there would be labels, management and promoters who didn’t want a swearing, drunk punk on the bill of a sold-out mainstream pop concert.
I told them about my misadventures in Barbados and how I might have missed the show but still had a week in NYC. They had an after party planned so I headed there with them. That was Kate’s first big visit out to the States and she was also going to be in NYC for a week doing press and being wined and dined by the label. I ended up hanging out all week in fancy bars and restaurants drinking and eating for free with that gang. Chelsea joined us and it felt like I’d spun my holiday around into a success. One night, in a classic American pizza restaurant, I was chatting with Kate about how they’d just announced a huge UK tour with Hammersmith Apollo as the London date. I was actually joking when I asked to open the show. I presumed by that point there would be labels, management and promoters who didn’t want a swearing, drunk punk on the bill of a sold-out mainstream pop concert. But Kate thought it’d be a good idea (she was a little drunk at the time) and agreed.
Fast forward a few months. The holiday was firmly in the rear-view mirror and I was back at home in Holloway. The Hammersmith show was just over a week away. I was excited and looking forward to it. It was sold out and was going be the biggest gig in the most prestigious venue that I’d played. Then I got a phone call from Kate.
“Where are you?”
I could tell I’d fucked up. “I’m at home,” I said. “The gig’s not until next week, isn’t it?”
“Yeah but you’re opening on the whole tour. You’re supposed to be playing tonight in Glasgow.”
Fuck. It was 4pm. I was supposed to be on stage at 6:45pm. No way in the world was I going make it. I was happy (I’d got the whole tour), confused (how didn’t I know that?), and annoyed (I’d missed the show and let people down.) I apologised profusely and explained that I thought I was just doing London. Kate was cool about it. It was too late to do anything that night but she wanted to know if I wanted to join the tour the following day in Newcastle. Fuck yeah, I did. No one could have stopped me.
I still didn’t own a vehicle or know how to drive. I needed to put a plan together fast. The first person I spoke to was Ally Wolf – an absolute legend and a dear friend of mine. He was a Nambucca resident and managed a band called SixNationState. They had a band van and I thought maybe we’d be able to use it. The van was out of action but Ally said he was free. If I could find some wheels, he’d be up for driving. Next up I called maths- genius, life-winner and all round superhero, Johnny Manning of the band Captain Black (also a dear friend to this day. If this book ever gets a launch party it will be held at the brand new bookshop that he and his wife have just opened). They had a van, yes we could borrow it – no problem. The van was a bit knackered but had heart and was reliable enough for a trek up and down the country. Ally was added to the insurance and we were all set. First thing the next morning, we hit the road.
The tour was brilliant. The crowds were quite young, but the audiences were bigger than those I’d played to before, and the shows went down a treat. I got a feel for the big rooms which made me even more excited about the upcoming Apollo show. As tours do, the whole thing flew by in a blur. The night before the London date we were in Portsmouth at the Guild Hall. I sung a new song that I’d written called “Health and Safety”. It’s an upbeat, cheery number about paedophiles, terrorists and disease set around a car crash on the M4. I made a joke that we would be driving on the M4 the following day before I played it. Terrible joke. Especially since, as Ally pointed out, we’d actually be driving back up the M3. I told you I’m terrible at geography.
On the day of the big show, it was raining. We woke up in a Travelodge just outside of Pompey and hit the road. The tour had been a blast. The van had done us proud and we were on our way to play my biggest show to date. Ally was driving. I was DJing. Life was great. And then, screeeeeech, “What the fuck?” We were skidding. We were in the middle lane of the motorway and we skidded into the fast lane. We were surrounded by cars all doing seventy. Amazingly, they managed to dodge around us. Ally spun the wheel. We careered back into the middle of the road. The steering went and the wheel was doing nothing.
“I’ve lost control!” Ally said and the van went into a full on spin. Ally and I looked at each other then instinctively leant in and tightly hugged. It all happened very fast. My life didn’t flash before my eyes but I was scared shitless and kind of accepted that I was probably going to die. I actually thought about the gig. Maybe I’m not going get to play Hammersmith Apollo. BANG! We hit something. Our grip on each other became even tighter as insanely loud scraping noises filled the whole van. Then all of a sudden…the noises stopped. The van stopped. It felt like the whole world stopped. It was a stillness like I’d never experienced before or since. We were just two grown men holding each other in a van while Belle and Sebastian played gently in the background.
The world slowly started spinning again and still locked in our embrace, Ally said “are you alright?”
Yes. somehow I was. “Are you?”
Yep, it seemed Ally was as well. We slowly let go of each other but something wasn’t right. The van seemed to be higher than it should be. It was at a funny angle and the floor was all fucked up. Slowly, we got out the van. It was clear that no other cars were involved. Thank fuck. Somehow we’d survived. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that I’m an idiot, but I didn’t even have my fucking seat belt on. It seems that we’d hit a skid on the motorway. As we were taking a corner, we’d spun around the road and come off then hit the crash barrier. We’d hit the barrier at the start and the van had pretty much done a rail slide (Tony Hawk style) for a few meters along the barrier before coming to a stop. We were alive. Nobody was hurt. The van was fucked. It started to rain.
We called the police. I managed to process the information and the world started to regain its regular speed until it was back to its usual pace. I quickly realised how lucky we both were. A motorway patrol car arrived. The chap didn’t really say much considering how mental the situation was. I wasn’t sure how people were supposed to react but I guess he saw that stuff (and much worse) everyday. He said that since nobody was hurt to just hold tight. We’d have to wait away from the road and somebody would come by and find a way to get our van off of the barrier. Of course, though, it wasn’t our van.
I decided to call Johnny right away while the adrenaline was still pumping around my body, and while I was looking at the van in a sorry state. Johnny didn’t answer so I called Keith, the singer of Captain Black. He took it well – he was more concerned for our safety rather than the van. More bad news came, though: the van only had third-party fire and theft insurance. That meant it wasn’t covered for our accident. The van looked like a right- off. I promised Keith that I would sort it out. I had no idea how, but I promised that somehow I’d make it okay. I’m not sure if he believed me or not.
We waited in the rain watching cars fly by for over an hour. We were soaked through and time was ticking by. How long did stuff like that take? Even when they got the van off it was not going to drive anywhere. What about the big gig? I was supposed to be at the venue for soundcheck and it started to look like I was going to miss that. Ally suggested I go for it. He’d look after the van situ- ation so that I could find a way of getting into town. Like I said, the guy’s a legend. I didn’t know exactly where we were but I knew we must have been on the edge of London somewhere. We hugged again. I grabbed my guitar and walked off down the hard shoulder.
Motorways are not designed for pedestrians. I had to scramble up the side of a bridge that led to a dual carriageway. I walked along the side of that for a bit then I found an industrial estate. I went in and asked for directions to a train station, a cab rank, whatever really, just some kind of transport. Seemed we were further out than I thought. It was a forty minute walk to the nearest train station and nobody knew a taxi number. I had my phone but this predated Google Maps, Uber and all that jazz. Not that they would have done me any good anyway. I went to call the tour manager to explain I was going to be late and I that I would probably miss soundcheck but that I’d make the show. My phone was dead. Shit. Nothing I could do. I walked on.
I like to think of myself as a reliable person. Of all my years of playing shows, I’ve never knowingly missed a gig. I’ve had to cancel one or two due to illness. I’ve also had double bookings or changes in schedule that meant pulling shows, but not many, and I’ve played a fuck load of shows. One thing I would never do is just not show up for a gig. In fact, the only time anything like that had ever happened was in Glasgow at the start of that very tour. I was forgiven due to the confusion but if I didn’t show up for the Hammersmith gig, without any word of warning, I may as well have just died in the crash.
I squeezed myself through the London rush hour and made it to Hammersmith just before doors opened. Kate, the band and crew, were all sat down for dinner backstage as I fell into the room, soaking wet, out of breath and rushing.
“I’m sorry I’m late. I was in a car crash!” I didn’t have anytime to explain more than that. I needed to get my shit ready. I had a gig to play. At Hammersmith fucking Apollo. I tuned up, was given the thumbs up and I stepped on stage. The place was huge. The audience cheered.
“I AM ALIVE.” That would be a nice way to wrap this story up, going full circle right back to the start, but we can’t do that now can we? Ally was still left in the rain on the side of the M3 with a totalled van that I’d promised to replace, repair or make good in some way or another.
I spoke to Ally after the show. Apparently they’d had to close the M3 and bring in a mini crane in order to lift the van from the crash barrier. It took a while and definitely did even more damage to the van. He signed up to the AA who came to the rescue and got the van on a flatbed truck and took it to a local garage in Holloway.
It turned out the van wasn’t an absolute right off, but it was going to cost seven hundred pounds to fix it. Even though it was
only worth around eight-hundred pounds, getting it fixed was the cheapest option, so it’s the one I went for. I wasn’t the sort of person to have that sort of cash lying around, though. Nor could I get my hands on it anytime soon.
This was while Nambucca was in full swing. Ally and I both lived there. Ally was, and still is, a brilliant promoter and I know a few things about organising gigs and parties. What the hell, we thought. Let’s do a charity gig. Van Aid was born. We figured we could do an all-dayer the following Saturday and try to get a bunch of bands to play. We could do a little door cover and pass the buckets around – see if we could raise enough money to fix the van up. Seven hundred pounds felt like a lot to make on one event but it was our only real option.
Ringing someone out of the blue and telling them you’d recently been involved in a high speed crash on a motorway has quite a shocking effect.
We got on the phone and rang the best bands that we knew. Ringing someone out of the blue and telling them you’d recently been involved in a high speed crash on a motorway has quite a shocking effect. It seemed that if you hit them up with the idea of playing a free show the following weekend they would be up for it. It was very humbling because pretty much everyone we asked said yes and before we knew it we had a full bill of some fucking incredible bands. At the time, many of these acts were new and playing pub gigs but many would go on to do great things. Looking back on that all-dayer, we actually booked a festival line-up that would be recognised the world over. It featured Mumford and Sons, Dan Smith (of Bastille), Frank Turner, Soko, Eliza Doolittle, The Noisettes, SixNationState and, of course, Captain Black. I had a huge piece of paper pinned up behind the bar with the seven hundred pounds target to get the van fixed and I’d update it on the hour so everyone knew how close we were.
It goes without saying that the day was a blast, full of musical collaborations, brilliant shows and three stages in a pub that normally has one. It was rammed and the target was smashed.
With the left-over money we said we’d pay any speeding fines or parking tickets for anyone at the show. If they brought them to the pub within a week, we’d pay them off.
We counted up the cash and it was presented on stage, school fete, charity-style back to Keith, Johnny and Captain Black. Keith said I could crash his van whenever I wanted. Ally and I hugged and the mission was complete.
Another band that played that day, a late edition that got in contact once the show was announced, was called Handshake. A London based, seven-piece, instrumental folk band. They played danceable, traditional bangers full of fiddle, harmonica, and accor- dion. Brilliant players, all of them. While watching them, an old mate, and another Nambucca resident, Andy Peyton, said “You should get these as your backing band.”
Backing band. What the fuck was he on about? I was solo musician. I didn’t need no backing band!
The thought stayed with me, though, and a couple of years later, after I’d released my first record, I was thinking about my second and it came to mind again. Since Van Aid, Handshake had played a few more shows at venues I was working at (by then, Nambucca had gone up in smoke) and I’d become friends with them. I met up with Bob and Beth for a pint and put forward my suggestion. Did they wanna come on board for the summer? They could play back-up for my songs and then jump into a studio and make a record. I told them that, where possible, I’d help get Handshake their own gigs at the festivals as well. They said yes and that’s exactly what we did. We had a great summer and followed it up by making my second record, ‘Writing on the Wall’.
Asking people to play as a backing band for a summer is one thing. There was little to no money in it, especially for seven people. However, festival tickets and good shows, plus the chance to get Handshake’s name out a bit, was enough to make it work. I knew full well that the band wouldn’t be able to commit to anymore than that. It’s not like they’d all be up for trekking around the country to get paid twenty pounds to play for twenty people. At the time, that was the reality of a tour I was hoping to put together. I did think that maybe Bob would be up for it, though. I’d become close with the whole band over the summer, but especially Bob. He was the banjo player and for one of the weekends over the summer the rest of the band couldn’t make it, but Bob could. He suggested we do it as a duo. Musically, it worked really well and with just two people the logistics of a tour looked a bit more realistic – so I asked Bob if he fancied coming on tour.
Something of a love affair was born. We’ve never been physical but we’ve shared many a bed, many a hotel room, many long drives, many drinks, laughs and songs together. We’ve travelled the world and we’ve pretty much talked about everything there is to talk about. It takes a special kind of friendship for two people to do a ten thousand mile drive around the USA and we have that. He’s been involved in every record I’ve made since. He was one of the best men at my wedding (I had three, because why the fuck not?) and he arranged for my wife and father-in-law to be driven to the ceremony in a vintage Rover. That’s the kind of guy he is. Thanks, Bobby Banjo, you legend.
So, there we go. That story kind of went all over the place. I’m not sure if it’s even supposed to have a moral. Maybe don’t wash your hair? Or don’t wear your seatbelt? Maybe it’s worth taking a punt and doing a random holiday alone. In a roundabout way, you may end up with a new pal.