Last weekend I took the train down to Birmingham and something nice happened. Not exciting, or especially interesting, just nice.
I used to be a frequent train traveller – you know pre-pandemic when we did stuff all the time without thinking about it. I am intimately familiar with the entire length of the West Coast Main Line all the way from Glasgow to London. Strangely, Birmingham isn’t particularly easy to reach from Glasgow so this particular journey involved multiple changes as well as the usual minor delays.
Ordinarily, once on board a train I sit back, put my earphones in and listen to music, read a book or perhaps try to do some work. This time I was all prepared for the 5 hours each way with my phone, earbuds, book and laptop. But then something strange and unusual happened. I got talking to my fellow passengers.
Not just the usual “Hi, how are you?”, “Where are you off to?” “Ah that’s nice.” We are British and polite after all. No, this time I had proper, extended conversations with multiple people on multiple trains. In fact I spent all of 10 minutes on my laptop, didn’t put my earphones in at all or read a single word of my book during the combined 10 hours of travelling.
Why did this happen? I’m honestly not sure. The delays, other train cancellations and imminent strikes certainly provided some fuel for discussion. The weather, obviously, a 30 degree heatwave had been predicted for that day which only came to fruition in half of the country. Perhaps it was the novelty of travelling and being among people again. For me this was the first long train journey I had done since early March 2020.
But all that could have just been the usual small talk, snippets of interaction before the earphones go back in, the book gets picked up again or the eyes gaze back down at the phone. People actually seemed more keen to talk, chat and converse. They were receptive to communication, not just grunting one word answers then getting back to minding their own business. Questions were asked and answered, willingly and easily, followed up on and supplemented.
The great thing about cross country trains is that you get all sorts of passengers. There were families, couples, solo travellers and even a dog. We were Scottish, English, European, Asian and South African. We were young, we were old. And for the duration of our journeys, we were friends.
An older man going to visit his daughter in Liverpool. A couple returning from a day trip to Blackpool where it unfortunately wasn’t anywhere near 30 degrees. A man coming back from his brother’s stag do. Another couple (and dog) travelling from London to Scotland about to rent a campervan and tour around for a week. Some I didn’t find out where find out where they were from or where they were going to but I did hear their views on sheep farming, mosquitoes and the RNLI.
Despite our apparent differences, it’s amazing how there’s always something that can be found in common with strangers. (More on that here) One of the men also worked in interpreting. A woman and I laughed together about how our kids freak out if there’s the tiniest of flies in the house. The merits of various Scottish football stadia was discussed with another man. It doesn’t take much to scratch scratch the surface to find some commonality, that thing that makes you go, “yes, I know!” or “hey, me too!”.
As much as I love listening to music and reading a good book, these conversations with strangers helped pass the time and made it rather enjoyable. There may have been no life changing event – I didn’t lock eyes with someone across the table and instantly fall in love – well except for Bimba the Cavapoo. I didn’t meet anyone who offered me a fantastic job or who will change my life in any way but for those few hours each day these people did make my life a little bit more interesting and pleasant.
Warning; I originally intended to write up 2 versions of this, a general shorter one for this blog and a longer, more detailed one for the WAS posse. I don’t have the time for that, so everyone is getting the longer version. I will understand if you have absolutely no interest in most of this, the bulk of it is for the benefit of the interational WAS posse who weren’t able to be there.
I love London. I lived there for a year, I used to visit several times a year. I had a break for about 2 years when I had my daughter, but I was down in November last year and have been itching to go back ever since. The opportunity arose in the shape of yet another We Are Scientists gig. Yes, yes, here I am banging on about these guys again. Let me explain. This time Adrian, who I’ve mentioned before here, was planning a visit to take in some UK WAS shows. I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to go to a WAS gig with the ultimate uber-WAS fan. Unfortunately WAS didn’t arrange any Scottish dates, so I decided to go with her to London. Oh and Brighton too. But that was mainly an excuse to go to Brighton. More on that later.
Any trip to London is also a chance for me to catch up with some of my good friends, so train tickets and gig tickets were duly booked.
Adrian flew in to Manchester a couple of days before the first show on the tour, so came up to Glasgow to visit me. It was great to finally meet her after being “internet friends” for about 3 years. First order of business, even though she had been travelling for about 24 hours, was exhausted and it was only 1pm was to head to Nice N Sleazy’s. I had promised her a drink in We Are Scientists’ favourite Glasgow haunt so there we went, had a drink (ok we both just had cokes) and talked about various WAS and non-WAS related matters. Adrian stayed at my place that night, then after a lunch of good British fish ‘n’ chips the next day she caught a train to Middlesbrough for her first UK WAS gig.
I set off for London the next day, and travelled down by Virgin Trains this time, the previous few times had been with East Coast. Man, I was not impressed. The seats were so uncomfortable it was impossible to sleep and not particularly pleasant to sit either. I only had a sliver of a window so could hardly see anything, and I was right next to the shop so had people traipsing past and queuing beside me the whole journey, staring at my laptop screen with no shame. I’d brought my wee notebook so I could pass the time and do stuff like write this up, but found that you had to pay for wifi on the train. I paid £6 for 4 hours, which was a lot, but the main probelm was that it was ridiculously slow. It took about 15 minutes to get through the payment part, then another 10 minutes for the actual browser to open up ready to be used. Once it was up and running the connection was so slow it was like being back in the bad old days of dial-up. God forbid you should try to open more than one tab at once cos the whole thing ground to a halt and displayed the sites in text-only format like it was 1992. Oh and there was no socket by my seat so I was lucky the netbook was fully charged and the journey was only 4.5 hours.
Anyway, technological difficulties aside I arrived in London on time and was met by my friend and first host, Kavita. A quick stop at her place, cup of tea, and we parted company shortly while she went to a party and I met another friend for dinner.
I was surprisingly tired that night, and Kavita had to get up for work the next day so I had a quick chat online to the people I was due to meet the next day then turned in.
So Wednesday Kavita upped and left for work, and I thought I’d have a lovely long lie-in just because I could, and in preparation for my day ahead, however it seems my body has forgotten how to sleep past 8am so I lazed in bed for a bit, listening to the radio, then thought I might as well just get up. Several cups of tea later and a prolonged internal debate about what I was going to wear to the gig later and I was ready to leave.
First on the agenda was to meet up again with Adrian, who had by now been to WAS gigs in Middlesbrough and Leamington Spa, and a bunch of other fellow We Are Scientists enthusiasts at Kings Cross. They had all come into London for the gig and I knew them / knew of them from various internet-based forums / twitter etc. Some I had met before, others I hadn’t. It was nice to put faces to names at last. Eventually everyone arrived, although by some mis-communication some of our party had been waiting at St Pancras rather than Kings Cross, but we’ll blame that on the fact that she was American. Naming no names of course.
Most of the group went off to dump their stuff at Adrian’s friend’s place, a few of us headed up to Camden to check out the venue of the gig and get some food etc. There were a few people hanging around outside KOKO but it was still only 4.30pm so we went up the road a bit to get some food before the eager beavers joined the queue. The less eager / older among us went across the road to the pub to wait for doors open time.
As the security guards emerged and people started to move in, we joined the queue, which wasn’t massive. As we arrived we saw Keith and Chris at the back door and they gave a wee wave to us. I was frantically texting Adrian’s party who still hadn’t joined us again yet, but they came soon after we entered the venue. Unfortunately the barrier was already filled, but we got a spot a couple of rows back.
The first support act was Ben Burrows, WAS current drummer Andy Burrows’ brother. He had a guitar but was singing and playing along to recorded tracks controlled from his Mac. He was ok, I’d be willing to listen to his songs again, but all the way through I was just thinking that he should either have stuck to the man-with-guitar set-up, or drafted in some mates to perform the rest of the roles, because it was quite off-puting having him fiddle with the Mac every few minutes, and he was clearly not fully concentrating on his performance for worrying about the next button he had to press or whether he was in time etc. It was all a bit strange.
Next support was Tall Ships. I had heard good things about them from the WAS posse who had been to the earlier shows in Middlesbrough or Leamington Spa. Sure enough they lived up to that reputation. They were energetic, interesting, catchy, melodic, atmospheric and all played their own, and sometimes each other’s instruments. I made a note to definitely check them out more.
Then after a suitably long build-up period of a break We Are Scientists took the stage. I had heard from other gig-goers that they came on to “I’ve Had the Time of My Life” so it wasn’t a surprise to me, but it was still funny. Well what can I say about the show? It was good, definitely better that last time I saw them in London, not as good as when I saw them last in Glasgow, but that was such an incredibly awesome gig that I’d be surprised if anything ever beat that. It was all the things I expect from a WAS gig – high energy, sing-until-you-are-hoarse (I already was, but that’s another story) dance-until-you-drop stuff. There was the usual on-stage banter between Keith & Chris and some interaction with the audience which makes WAS so special.
One thing I really noticed this time, which I’m sure they probably do all the time, but I was particularly aware of it this time was the way they changed the arrangement of the songs. Break it Up and Dinosaurs in particular sounded quite different, but in an interesting, good way. Some other songs too, that I can’t recall right now. I like that, it makes you feel like you are getting something special from the live performance and I like that they are revisiting and reworking older material. Another thing I noticed was the sound levels – at the Shepherd’s Bush gig last year the sound was awful but at KOKO they got it just right, especially with Chris, his vocals and bass came through much better than last time. In fact the harmonies they were producing were sublime at times. And although I’m not a big fan of Dinsosaurs on the album it was nice to hear Chris get to flex his fingers on the bass line and this live version was incredible, even more grungy and raw and head-banging than usual, but with beautiful quiet lulls that drew you in with anticipation before launching into another raucous thumping thrashing segment. .
And they played Pittsburgh again! I really didn’t think they would because they played it at Shepherd’s Bush, but I was so pleased to hear it. I know most people don’t love it the way I do, but I refer you to earlier posts for my reasons. They also played Foreign Kicks, which I have mixed feelings about, I love the arrangement but didn’t think much of the lyrics or melody. Well one look at Keith singing “I’ll drive you home” in his super-sexy smouldering manner and I changed my mind. That image will forever be etched in my memory when I hear that song and it will improve it for me 1000%. That’s what I love about live music, it has the ability to make you see songs in a different light and I always gain a deeper appreciation for a song after seeing the emotion and interpretation of a live performance come through.
The trade-off for getting those 2 slower songs is that we didn’t get Textbook and with it Keith’s foray into the crowd, which was disappointing because that’s always a highlight of WAS shows, but I suppose they have to move on and I can see why Keith wouldn’t want it to be this thing he has to do forever.
The crowd. Ugh. The crowd. Very similar to Shepherd’s Bush – we were further forward than last time, but still not on the barrier, so we got shoved and jostled and trampled just as much. I don’t mind crowds going crazy, and if everyone is jumping along to the music I’ll happily join in, but it really bugs me when people go mental during songs they know (again it was all the hits from Love & Squalor that got the reactions) and they do nothing / use their phones / talk during the other songs. It detracts from my enjoyment if half the folk around me lose interest every 2nd song. And the fecking “photographers”! Grr! I don’t mind REAL photographers, they are professionals and know what they are doing, it’s the people in the crowd who are hell bent on snapping / recording the whole damn show and view it entirely through their camera / iPhone and insist on holding it up to get themselves a better view, so then I have to view the stage through their camera. Ugh it annoys me so much. I didn’t even take a single photo during the show this time, I wanted to enjoy the experience and I didn’t want to ruin someone else’s.
But apart from that I had a great time bouncing around, dancing, waving my arms in the air and trying not to let people get me down. As I mentioned earlier, I was already hoarse having lost my voice a few days earlier, so I couldn’t really sing along, but that was probably for the best, certainly for the people in front of me.
It was so incredibly hot in there too, at one point I seriously thought I was going to pass out from the lack of air, I felt like I was breathing pure vaporised sweat. I was dripping with the stuff, probably half mine and half everyone else’s.
The venue was gorgeous, I had never been to KOKO before, it’s an old theatre, with several floors of balconies, some of which apparently have couches for comfortable viewing.
So after an appropriately raucous encore, it was time to leave. Thankfully the bar was dishing out cups of water, I badly needed some, but was then told I couldn’t take it outside, even though they were herding us out, so I gulped down 2 cups and exited into the fresh(ish) air. Some of our group had to leave to get back for work the next day etc, some went to the pub across the road, some decided to wait for the band to appear. I wasn’t optimistic about them coming out, London gigs are usually where their friends and family show up, not to mention the industry people they have to shmooze with. But I was chatting to some people anyway, and some random guys were doing interviews for some online mag thing, so I was happy just to hang about for a bit, cool down, recover and chat to some of the WAS posse that I hadn’t seen earlier. I checked the time and it was 11.45pm. I thought it was pretty unlikely that the guys would emerge so I started to say goodbyes and make some plans for the next few days, aiming to be heading off my midnight, but lo and behold at about 11.55pm Keith and Chris appeared out the back door.
There was of course a rush to get to them, we pushed Adrian to the front, albeit reluctantly (boy, how that would change as the night went on!) and she berated Keith for not buying her a drink. He launched into some story about how he sent it over on the wings of 2 birds, so clearly he was a bit tipsy. This came as no surpise to anyone, but it was good in that he was very chatty and effortlessly funny. He then wandered off and we were speaking to Chris. He asked Adrian how she was finding London and the UK, so I made her do her impression of a Cockney (saying “’ello guv’na” while swinging an arm and raising a knee) and show off her prowess in pronouncing “Middlesbrough and Edinburgh” correctly. A wee while later Chirs was mid-conversation when he suddenly looked up and saw the rest of his party start moving off up the road. He started to run after them, but turned to us and said that we could come too.
So we duly trooped on up the road in hot pursuit of Chris. Keith and Andy were there too, and most of the guys from the support band and a few other guys who seemed to be part of the show. We followed them up Camden High Street, entirely unsure who was leading or where they were going. Then we realised that Chris had vanished and we were just following Keith. Keith was engrossed in conversations with various people and I’m pretty sure he was unaware that we were all trailing behind him like he was the Pied Piper.
Conscious that it was Chris who invited us and he was no longer around we were a bit more reticent at continuing, but we thought we might as well see where we ended up. We stopped at a bar in Camden called Proud. Keith at that point turned around, and did look a little startled, but enquired at the door if everyone would be able to fit in, then got on the phone to see where Chris / his girlfriend were. We asked if it was a private club, but it was just a bar and they were letting anyone in who had a fiver. Half our party paid and went in, the rest of us were debating whether to or not. Some needed to get cash, so went to the machine while the rest of us waited outside. Once the cash-getters had returned we went up to the door, only to find the bouncer refusing us entry, apparently on the grounds that the place closed at 1am. It was 12.30pm. We tried to persuade, beg and plead but he was having none of it. We sat down, thinking that we’d wait the half hour til our friends came out and we texted them to let them know.
Then about 10 minutes later the bouncers had a change of heart and said they’d let us in for free so long as we had ID. This is where I panicked a bit, I’m 32 and haven’t carried ID for about 10 years, but luckily I had my student card from the local college where I do my evening class. So finally we got in. We found the rest of the posse, and the band members and their entourage were all there aswell. We thought we’d lucked out finding an empty booth, where we parked ourselves not wanting to appear too stalker-ish, but it turned out that had been the booth occupied by the guys before they went to the bar / dancefloor. So they came in and were sitting with their friends but Chris spotted us and came over and gave Adrian the drink that she had been promised. He sat with our group for a while chatting to some of us, I was over at the other side of the circle so I wasn’t able to hear what was going on. He moved away after a while and some of us got up to go to the bar or the dancefloor. Polly went to the bar and I asked her to get me a water, cos drinks in there were like £8 or something hideous. She vanished and I remained waterless, so after a while I went to search for her and found her and Adrian and a couple of others speaking to Chris again. I got my water and we all chatted a bit then Chris noticed my “I’m Barbara” t-shirt, which I had been swithiering about wearing in the first place and was feeling rather self-conscious about in the bar. But luckily Chris was then alerted to Adrian’s t-shirt, the infamous “I’m here 4 the lesbian orgy” shirt, which she had made herself. Chris was very impressed, asked all about it and took a photo of Adrian wearing it on his iPhone.. Adrian told me later that he had asked if he could have the shirt.
So then a wee bit later Keith came over and he was also shown the lesbian orgy t-shirt, at which point he did a comedy rubbing of his eyes in disbelief. Everyone was trying to speak to him at once, so I asked Adrian if she had told him about being in Glasgow and going to Nice N Sleazy’s. She hadn’t, so she did, and Keith said that Nice N Sleazy’s was his “jam” (?) but he wasn’t impressed when Adrian said she only had a coke. Keith looked at us in disbelief and said “you went to Nice N Sleazy’s and only had a COKE?” I tried to explain that is was 1 in the afternoon and Adrian was so exhausted from her flight that an alcoholic drink would probably have killed her, but other people were wanting a piece of him so he didn’t hear. Adrian then reminded him (again!) that he owed her a drink, but he said that the bar was closed, so he couldn’t. Adrian said, “but you’re in We Are Scientists, you can do anything!”, he looked sceptical and was about to say something, when 2 people wanted past and just shoved him out of the way. Keith just raised an eyebrow and shrugged as if to demonstrate just how unimportant he was. He then told Adrian that she could have his beer.
Shortly after the bar closed we started to get chucked out. Adrian was still holding Keith’s beer, and wasn’t going to let that go to waste so pretty much downed it in one. If the bar staff hadn’t made her leave the bottle she would have taken it and tried to extract Keith’s DNA from the top. Yep, Adrian has swallowed some Keith Murray saliva.
We all piled out on to the street and were trying to figure out what to do next. Everyone was hanging around the lane outside the bar, and Adrian got speaking to Keith’s girlfriend. She offered to get her “Murry Up” and “Feeling Dandy” t-shirts, which she seemed quite interested in, but Keith intervened and said “please don’t!”. Adrian then set about trying to persuade her to move to Portland, saying, “It’d be awesome, we could totally braid each other’s hair!”. I turned to Keith and told him what was happening, and he came over and said in an exaggerated way, “oh no, we’d better get out of here!” but he thought it was funny. However Adrian wasn’t for letting anyone go anywhere and gave both Keith and g/f massive long bear hugs.
We were standing around talking, when this man came up to our group, I didn’t know who he was and he looked a bit bedraggled. He asked, “so where’s the lesbian orgy then?” I thought he was just a random creeper, so I said, “sorry mate, it’s already happened” and turned back to our group.
The group started to move off, and Adrian had somehow managed to get herself arm-in-arm with Keith, partly from fear that he actually would leave, partly cos she needed someone to help hold her up. We moved out on to the main street, and some people left to head home, A few of us remained, and someone said something about going to a late bar. We started to walk on up the road, Adrian still arm-in-arm with Keith.
I noticed that the creeper fella was ahead of us, and realised he knew Keith and the others. Adrian said, “Oh is that Guy Eppel?” and Keith replied that it was. Adrian said, “Oh Polly loves him!”. Keith said, “Does she? Wait, who’s Polly?”. She was just behind him, so we pointed her out, (much to her embarrassment) and Keith turned round and did the most brilliant impersonation of a 13 year old school girl, “Do you, do you really luuurve him?”. I was torn between laughing out loud and cringing with embarrassment that I had been rude to Guy Eppel. In my defence I didn’t know who he was at the time and he looked NOTHING like I imagined.
We walked passed a Morrison’s and Adrian asked if that was where we were going, then made some comment abut the UK being weird cos everything was made of brick. Keith agreed, but I questioned them, asking what else would stuff be built out of, Keith suggested granite. I was trying to ask what the hell they were on about, but realised I would get no-where because they were both still quite drunk. A sample of the conversation would be,
Me: “Adrian you’re not making sense, you’re really quite drunk!”
Adrian: “Your face is drunk!”
Keith: “Yeah, your face is so drunk!”
So you can imagine the rest. Adrian thought she saw a McDonald’s sign, and said how she hated McDonald’s because their fries were too salty. Keith said that they were better over here, but then when Adrian asked, “really?”, he whispered to her that they weren’t really. They were like 2 best friends walking up that road together having the best time, it was glorious to behold.
So we kept waking up the street, Keith said they were looking for a kebab shop that had a late bar in the back, which sounded well dodgy but he assured us it was fine. We finally got there only to find it was closed.
We stopped and some people were debating where to try next. Adrian finally let go of Keith, but needed someone else to hold on to in order to remain upright so headed towards Chris. Then she said, “Oh I almost forgot, Chris, when we were at Indifest Renee ruffled Keith’s hair, so now I have to pet your moustache!”. Chris looked somewhat bemusd, but agreed that she could. I just had to get my camera out at that point but it took a little while for me to get it out and fiddle with it to get it to work, so I apologised and asked Chris if he minded if I took a photo, he said he didn’t, so Adrian just continued to pet his moustache the whole time I was getting ready. That moustache got a serioulsy long pet, but Chris was such a good sport he just stood there and let her get on with it.
Amy decided that Adrian should have a moustache too, so she took out a Sharpie and drew one on.
Chris thought that we were all terrible friends for letting this happen, but then thought it would be funny to get a photo of Adrian sporting her “Chris” moustache with Keith. We went over to Keith, and he posed for some photos. At first he pulled a really glum face, I asked why and he said, “this is what I always look like when I’m getting photgraphed with Chris”,
then he pulled some weird faces. I looked at the photos I had just taken and there was one particularly greusome face-puling, so I showed it to Chris, then tried to show it to Adrian but she refused to look, so I showed Keith and he said, “oh THAT’s an expression!” and laughed. I don’t know if he realises that his weird face-pulling is legendary among WAS fans.
At one point Adrian kept telling Keith how much she loved his demin jacket, he just nodded and agreed it was a cool jacket, but told her that there was no way she was getting it, if that was what she was asking.
No-one could come up with any alternative place to go that was nearby, it was 2am so we agreed to call it a night. Someone hailed a taxi and the guys said their goodbyes and headed off. Chris was a bit concerned about Adrian being able to get home in her drunken state, but I assured him that we were sticking together as a group and we’d make sure she was ok. We told him we’d see him in Brighton and said goodbye.
I parted company with the rest of the WAS posse and walked back to Kavita’s house, they took a bus onto central London to have more drunken debauched adventures.
The whole walk up the road I was just shaking my head in disbelief at what just happened. I mean I have met WAS several times before, and been out in the pub with them before, but this was something else, partly because Adrian and all the rest of the gang were there, partly because Keith and Chris were on such good form. I had a whole bunch of questions I was hoping to ask them, and I wanted to get my copy of Nice Guys signed etc but they were “off duty” just wanting to have a good time so I didn’t ask. I never even got my picture taken with them this time, but I’m certainly not going to forget that night in a hurry. I’m so glad that Adrian got to experience that night, and that Keith was central to it being an awesome night. It’s really hard writing up stuff about Keith because so much of him is about his facial expression and gestures and mannerisms that just typing his words doesn’t convey in the slightest how he actually was. I think the die-hard WAS fans among you will understand and be able to picture it. Hell who else but a die-hard WAS fan would be reading all this?
On one of our local radio stations last week they were discussing the story of a woman who gave birth in the London Underground system. The main theme of their comments was outrage that apparently no-one helped her. Cue presenters and members of the public declaring that this was typical of Londoners, how it would never happen in Scotland and how they would never live in such a dreadful place as London.
This kind of attitude really annoys me, because although it may be one of the few instances where Scots believe themselves to be the superior people, it is essentially based on nothing more than false generalisation and stereotypes.
I lived in London during 2003-4 and since then I visit 2 or 3 times a year. I always thoroughly enjoy my time there. I have never once encountered negative attitudes from anyone about being a Scot (though people do seem to think I’m Irish a lot….no idea why) beyond a few jokes but I am by no means alone in receiving them and people are generally able to take it as well as dish it out. I found the people that I studied with, worked with and spend time with to be, well, just people – they are the usual assortment of kind, friendly, bad-tempered and boring that you’ll find anywhere. Those I encountered in shops, on buses or on the tube are sometimes rude, but mostly indifferent – but then they are complete strangers so I expect that. If they were anything other I would have find it odd.
Having lived mostly in Glasgow in recent years I can tell you that some of the steroetypes about here are true, but equally some of them are false. I have never got into a fight, nor been mugged, stabbed or otherwise attacked. I have seen some violent incidents out on the street of a Saturday night, but I’d defy you to go to any town or city centre and not see something similar. I did once witness an attempted armed robbery, but other passers-by thought that it must be Taggart filming and they ignored it and walked by. A colleague of mine last year complained that she couldn’t travel by bus any more because despite being 8 months pregnant no-one gave up their seat for her.
So when I hear such comments about how Glaswegians are so friendly and Londoners are all so selfish and mean it really doesn’t match up with my experience and I think it is quite damaging when “responsible” radio presenters allow such attitudes to be repeated, further entrenching those views in people who may never have been to London or met people from the city.