I used to be in a band.
That’s my line. That’s what I say when anyone asks me what I do now.
“What do you do?”
“I used to be in a band”
“Oh really? What band?”
“You wouldn’t have heard of us”
Even though I’m the one who implied that they wouldn’t have heard of us, I’m still annoyed and ego bruised that they don’t know WHO I AM. So I come out swinging.
“It was a proper band though. Signed to Sony. Two albums. Toured the world”
Then I feel embarrassed, and fatter than I used to be.
You may not have heard my band or seen a show. We sold few albums. If you can find any of our music online and it moves you enough to hunt down a record, good luck. The remaining stock of our two albums was burnt in a warehouse fire caused by rioting Londoners in 2011. Seriously, you couldn’t make up how cursed we were.
So, the music doesn’t live on. The memories of what I ate around the world as an unsuccessful touring musician do though. Here are the tour-dates. Tickets still available, unfortunately. I blame the promoter, the weather, religious holidays, sporting events, the record label. Why can’t I shift these tickets?
ANYWHERE IN ENGLAND- REHEARSAL ROOM:
A classic rehearsal menu of ingredients purchased in a petrol station:
-Crisp varietals from childhood: Pickled Onion Monster Munch, Cheeseburger Quarterbacks, Frazzles.
-Sweets, chewy things that stick in tooth crevices. Gum burning holdouts like hick survivalists in bunkers, with rifles. But sweets.
-Peperami, a terrible spicy cured sausage probably made from rubber and dead gutter pigeons.
-A packaged baked item created by Ginsters: Steak Slice, Chicken Slice, Ham and Cheese Slice*. Served cold. Also Ginsters Buffet Bar; coleslaw incased in mechanically recovered sausage meat incased in insanely over-peppered breadcrumbs. Strangest food item I can think of. The technique involved to create it, impressive. The taste, less so.
*A witty/heartbreaking aside concerning slices for y’all. When the band split up I spent six months watching my bank account dwindle while sitting in a horrible flat in Holloway. Every morning I got up, walked to Greggs and bought a Chicken Slice for breakfast. I ate it while sat on a sofa with a digital piano across my lap trying to write songs. At lunchtime I walked backed to Greggs and purchased a Steak Slice. I ate it while sat on a sofa with a digital piano across my lap trying to write songs. I waited for my flatmate to finish work and come home. When I heard his key in the lock, (Human contact other than the counter staff at Greggs!) I leapt to my feet and plied him with vodka tonics, expansively prepared meals and long winded lies about all the great new songs I had written that day. I hid the Greggs packets deep in the bin.
We are going to sign a record deal. Our silly dream of signing a real record deal, of recording albums and touring the world, is actually going to happen. We need to celebrate and they’ve flown out to try and sweet talk us even though we’ve already probably decided. The least they can do is buy dinner. Plates of jamon, room-temperature fat melting on our lips. Grilled langoustines, razor-clams, bright red salt flecked prawns. Our manager is crunching through the shells and bellowing for more Albarino.
“Ice-cold! Like Arctic fucking cold!”
There is nothing heroic and working class about us. Not all bands are the same. We are fat and greedy and happy. We have reached a goal and we want to celebrate it. We are greedy but we are grateful. The table is dusted with cigarette ash, shells and spills of sauce. Someone is predicting great success.
The next time I come to Spain, I look for this place. I search up and down the alleys but don’t find it again.
LONDON, ENGLAND- ‘THE ASTORIA’ VENUE:
Pre-show nerves mean that the only food to be eaten is picked at from the rider. Band at the height of their popularity means this rider:
Four pack of dip- Sour cream, salsa, guacamole, blue cheese. Tex-Mex themed dip platter all of which tastes like melted plastic and all of which coats your mouth like axle grease.
Houmous- Texture of road salt post-thaw. Flavour of old garlic and road salt.
Pringles- Always Pringles. Once you pop you cannot, indeed, stop. This leads to unwanted dip consumption, greasemouth, salt burn.
Aged carrot- Not ‘aged’, old. Wilting. Curiously dry, almost lacy edges. Smells and tastes of bubblewrap.
Alcohol- Jack Daniels bottle half drunk neat then refilled with semi-flat cola. Indigestion and early onset liver failure.
MESQUITE, NEVADA- A LOW-END CASINO:
Breakfast is a buffet. Everything is a buffet here. There is a buffet for lunch and dinner. A buffet for losing money. A buffet of crystal meth out behind the trash bins. A buffet of weird sort of ‘snaky’ looking hookers in acidwash denim and lipsores.
The breakfast is strange bacon. Thin, crackly red stuff that breaks like overcooked meringue but with the flavour of nothing but stainless steel and old oil. A pure distillation of the flavour of gun barrels. There are strange eggs. They are white and pools of yellow in a sliceable mass. Melon. I am unsure why.
I’m also unsure why the driver of our tourbus has parked us here for three days between shows. The soundtrack is modern country music and gambling hillbillies calling us ‘faggots’. I wish we were in LA.
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA- THE HOUSE OF BLUES:
The last night of the tour. As pasty Englishmen there is only one meal choice: American! We want to eat the Land Of Hope And Glory and drink Bud and know what the Mason-Dixon line is. John Kerry is delivering a stilted wooden beatdown to Bush Jr on the presidential debates and we are filling up on cheap gasoline, Pepperidge Farm cookies and the Sunset Strip.
Isn’t this the place where John Belushi died? Didn’t he choke on this sugary wing ‘n rib combo? Onion rings? We’ll take fifty four, stacked up to the ceiling like some terrible obelisk to artery death and deep-fried aortas. Burgers. We had In-N-Out yesterday. These are not burgers. Why do we live in such a woeful country with no In-N-Out? You can take the old buildings, all of our damn trees and all our florid history and in return we would like a single In-N-Out. We need some new menu terminology though. English people are way too uptight and buttoned to ask for anything ‘Animal-Style’.
Afterwards we stagger to a rodeo themed frat-bar. Our manager is flung from an animatronic bucking bronco and his flying legs break a girl’s nose. We drink watery margaritas and try and avoid being beaten up by the bleeding girl’s frat-boy boyfriend. There is ‘cue sauce on my shirt and sorority girl blood on my shoes.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK- LES HALLES:
Yeah I read ‘Kitchen Confidential’. I’m sold on the rock and roll debauchery and carnage of a kitchen. I’m thinking it sounds far more fun than the reality of being in my band. It turns out that our shows are filled with geeks who want to talk about guitar effects-pedals or weird gothy girls who want me to sign their well thumbed copies of the fucking ‘Bell Jar’. There is no sex, few drugs and we have a violinist in our band so rock and roll is thin on the ground too.
We expense account a big dinner in Les Halles and it’s great. Rossini burgers, awesome frites, choucroute, some pickled fish. Someone’s eating belly pork, everyone’s drinking heavy French red wine and the waiter will not shut up about taking us out to see some Venezuelan prostitutes. Thanks but no thanks Timmy Tips.
OMAHA, NEBRASKA- RED LOBSTER:
We are in a carpark in the middle of nowhere. Dining options are Red Lobster or IHOP. Neither is currently known to us. I take a risky punt on Red Lobster.
Parrot-Isle Jumbo Shrimp or Walt’s Shrimp? Both in high-vis jacket orange breadcrumbs. Who is Walt? He is a nasty bastard with a palate fashioned from rotting wood if these ‘shrimp’ belonged to him. Where did he store them? In a bin full of rat corpses? Under his scrotum before heading out on a long motorcycle ride across a desert?
Where is Parrot-Isle? Bhopal? A few yards from Reactor Two at Chernobyl?
The taste of these things is the flavour equivalent of being forced to watch snuff movies and that Nine Inch Nails video where everything dies, time-lapse rotting foxes and mouldy meat.
The others come back from IHOP and we loll, bloated, around the tourbus slagging off Americans and fast food. Someone throws up and we feel smug and English. We cleverly forget just how awful food back home usually is, especially in carparks. In an English carpark the only things to eat would likely be discarded shopping trollies, old condoms and dirty needles.
Cliche after cliche. Jet-lag, wonder, neon, harajuku girls, neon, efficiency, weird porn, tricked out toilets, feeling like the Beatles even though your band are nobodies. We gather the courage to push through a steamed up door and sit at a counter lined with bowl-hunched businessmen, kids with huge headphones on, a woman wearing white gloves. We point at what the bloke next to us is having.
This doesn’t exist back home. This paradoxical broth of heavy delicious flavour but utter lightness simultaneously. The slices of pork, bean sprouts, nori, noodles slurped along with everyone else. English reserve forgotten over a bowl that steam mists our foreheads. After a flight, exhaustion, strange interviews, utter disorientation, probably the most satisfying thing I’ve ever eaten.
TOKYO- SHABU SHABU:
The woman from the label is suspicious of me. I’ve told her that we love food. I told her that we want to eat whatever she eats. We are not like the band who were here last. That idiot band who brought their own idiotic food from home. Suitcases full of baked beans and Marmite. We are different. Fearless, interested and eager like just re-homed rescue puppies.
She takes us for dip-dip. It’s okay. Oh it’s the place from ‘Lost In Translation’. Ha Ha! That menu! All the dishes look identical! Ha Ha! Silly gaijin! Ha Ha!
The next night, dip-dip. Seriously, we are keen. We want to try everything. We do. Come on! Help us out, show us the real stuff.
“So tonight Hope Of The States, we are going…..FOR DIP DIP! Yeah! You know the ‘Lost In Translation’? You know it? Yeah! DIP DIP!”
“We are familiar with both the film and the shabu-shabu restaurant in said movie but please God. No more fucking dip-dip!”
TOKYO- KOREAN BBQ:
She finally believes me. I told her about the ramen place. She doesn’t believe we went in and ordered, and ate. She takes us six-stories up to a place she goes sometimes with her husband. We all kneel uncomfortably around a table with grill smoldering down the middle. They start bringing platters of meat, fish, shellfish, vegetables. There are fat mushrooms which taste of age and meat. There are spicy coils of some sort of skin which crackles and burns your tongue. They keep bringing food and we keep grilling. We’re drinking warm sake and icy beers and outside it’s raining on the set of ‘Bladerunner’. I’ve never felt further from home and been happier.
NEWPORT, WALES- RESIDENTIAL RECORDING STUDIO:
Studio food is identical across the country; gargantuan portions of something baked. Pasta bakes, tuna bakes, mince bakes, baked potato bakes are all regular offerings. Alongside these one dish monstrosities of molten cheese and dirty oven stench will sit an undressed, and usually untouched, mound of tired wilted salad. Clumsily hacked shards of raw onion bring a continental flair to the greenery.
The studio cook will always offer a pudding post meal, also baked, also vast. As your stomach is by now distended so far you look like a snake, post-buffalo take down, the dessert remains uneaten.
Helpfully, the cook will place mountains of whatever fruity cement they have concocted in individual bowls, top with cheap ice cream and leave them in a row on the table for later. At two in morning, ravenous with hunger, you will heartily down a bowl of curdled, separating ice-cream over midge spotted crumble mix and an oddly oil flecked compote. Through your booze and cigarette destroyed taste buds, the only flavour you can detect is that of cow blood from ice-cream drowned mosquitos, expiring in the sweet gruel.
REHEARSAL ROOM REDUX:
I’m back in the rehearsal room. I’m eating the same things. They still taste the same. I’m having the same conversations I had in rehearsal rooms when I was thirteen. Now I’m thirty. I should be eating new, adult, crisp flavours. Kettle Chips! I know about food now so why am I eating another Peperami? I am genuinely shocked that there is still a market for the Ginsters Buffet Bar and still unsure of how they make it.
It’s the only place I still drink cans of fizzy drink. It’s the only place where I have my own packet of sweets instead of stealing from my children.
I can’t believe I’m still here and still eating all this crap. Now the sugar and carbs hang about my bones for longer. The creep of middle age, laying heavy across my gut, over my shoulders, a fat cloak. My teeth like old boots, more patch than leather. The caffeine will keep me up past eleven, too late when I have to take the kids to school, wake up in the night with the baby. The sugar makes me moody. The salt intake needs monitoring. Indigestion always.
I haven’t even got a record deal anymore and all the albums I didn’t sell caught fire.