In Search of...: The (not so) Secret Diary of a Band

Thursday, 30 July 2009

WOMAD (by Ben)

This week Urusen played at WOMAD festival. It was a last minute booking from the organiser. A new stage had been planned in the Real Ale Bar and the organiser, Paula Henderson, had sent us an email inviting us to play. Sunday night, 7.50pm, in the bar. Cool! Work cancelled, shifts moved, and we were good to go, except of course Nick, who couldnt shift the due date of his and Ellie's baby, so we were playing as a 4-piece for this one.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon, catching a bus, then a train, then a bus, then another bus. I was feeling quite smug as I had just bought a trolley and bag for all my gear. Except that the trolley adds another 10kg to the whole wait, and Chippenham train station is ALL STAIRS. The nice bus driver wished Urusen well as I disembarked for the long walk to the Artist's camping area, same as normal camping, just a lot further. Having hoisted up my little fake tee pee I then realised I'd left my phone behind, so for the next 24 hours it was going to be a big wander, as the rest of the guys weren't arriving till Sunday afternoon. What an idiot!

A cider, well, three, later I finally bumped into someone I knew. Sarah, who I went to school with since I was 5 years old. She was heading for home with her children but gave me a hot tip to look out for purple and pink wigs in the Sian tent which were donning her sister Kathleen and mum Caro. Sarah's family actually RUN Womad so I felt pretty chuffed to be hanging out with them for the rest of the evening. Had a retro-boogie-reminisce to Peter Gabriel and was blown away by AMAZING beat boxing later that night.

As the inevitable rain eventually passed over us I headed to sleep, carefully positioning my mat between the four puddles that had already strategically collected themselves under the window's of the tee pee. It was a cold, wet night.

Skip forward 13 hours and the first car to arrive was Jay and Little Pete, slightly shaken from a high speed chase through the back streets of Kilburn as they were coming out of London. "Never talk back to aggressive drivers" is the lesson. But if anywhere can relax you, WOMAD can. Despite the rain, the atmosphere is warm. With some cider and food inside them, we swayed to high-octane bass clarinet by the BBC 3 stage. As the clouds drew in we headed back to meet Kieran who had just arrived and load our gear into the Real Ale Bar. It was one of these huge long marquees, could probably hold about a 1000 at a push, but the poet before had meant it had emptied a little. But then, as a way of a gentle push, the heaven's opened, and people flocked back in to drink. The drum kit was missing a floor tom, so while the sound engineer Steve ran off to find one, I lugged Peter Gabriel's stage piano into place which we were using. (Thanks Peter!).

After a surprisingly nice floor tom arrived (more on that later!), we sound checked, beckoned the crowd forward and set off with 'Now that she has flown'. It always takes a song or two to get the levels right, warm up our voices, but each song flowed. The crowed cheered, and cheered. I spotted Rob from Realworld (our lovely publisher) and his wife in the middle. I think I even saw him dance, just a little. During one song I saw a guy running across the front of the stage with a another floor tom. Didn't think anything of it. We played all the new ones, except Step off the Train, arguabley the most delicate song we do. We thought the mood was too high for a slow quiet one, and Nick has a nice little solo which we couldn't replicate. The set ended with 'From this country' and we filed off the stage to much applause, which I have to say, feels great. The crowd pulled us back on, so we went with Train Song as our encore and made sure we got a big cheers for Nick, Ellie and the forthcoming baby. It actually feels like a good song to end with.

After the gig lots of people came up to us. It was quite funny (and nice). All the organisers from the big festivals we'd played at seemed to be there. First came Lisa from Avalon at Glastonbury festival. She apologised for not seeing us when we played there, but gave us all a big hug and said she really enjoyed it, and see us next year for sure. Then Amy from Larmer Tree Festival came up and echoed the sentiment. And of course Rob, representing WOMAD came up too (rumour has it Dave T, one of the head honchos of WOMAD was their too). Big smiles all round. I wonder if Peter G made it too?

Kieran came up to me afterwards. He had had a great gig, but there was one moment when mid-song I guy had come up a switched floor toms, virtually mid-beat! Apparently Steve had mistakenly taken a floor tom from the Main Stage kit, worth about £1500, new skins and all. Whoops! Still, we had a great floor tom sound for at least half the gig. Steve made good by giving us a recording of our gig, which we'll pop up some tracks from soon on had gone way better than we could have hoped. Great crowd, great gig. Apparently we'll be "as big as Stornaway by next year!" We all retired for a nice cider, except poor Kieran and Pete who had to drive back, for work the next morning.

Jay and I finished off the evening wandering around with Jay's girlfriend and her family, watching WOMAD slowing down as the night drew deeper, and the ever more manic attempts of the WOMAD revelers to catch the last glimpses of each tent, trying to find that elusive bar that stayed open those few minutes longer. People didn't want it to end. Happy and tired we all eventually headed to our respective tents. I crept into my tee pee, dodging the creeping puddles that would chase my foot every time I put it down into the groundsheet. I lay down onto my mattress island and fell into a deep dream filled sleep.

The next morning it was back to reality. I waved goodbye to Jay, and then tramped across the fields, out the wrong exit and onto the main road, walking along the verge crushed up against the nettles and thorns as the lorries tor by. A little wake up call, don't get above yourself Ben. No limo here. Finally I reached the bus stand heading home, happily munching away on the best bacon sandwich I think I have ever eaten in my life. There were two ladies standing in the queue behind me, chatting about what they had seen at WOMAD, their highlights, what CD's they had bought. I stood there eating my sandwich thinking. Hmm, wouldn't it be nice if they mentioned us, little laugh at myself and continue munching away. Back to reality Ben. But then... "oh, yes, and there was this band called, umm, Urusen. I saw them at Larmer Tree last week, twice. They were amazing! Then I saw their CD in the WOMAD shop and had to get it as they had sold out at Larmer. You should check them out." Ha ha, maybe REALITY is starting to change after all!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

More positivity!

Just a quick note to let you know we are the featured artist today on Rather nice of them, so check it out if you fancy.

P.S. keep checking back for info from WOMAD plus possibly some videos from eyefest and some live recordings!

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

One Crazy Weekend

3 festivals, 4 performances, 350 miles and a lot of cider.

On Thursday the madness began at the Larmer Tree Festival near Salisbury. The festival was sold-out and with headliners including The National Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and Dreadzone, it was likely to be a good start to the weekend. After unpacking the tents and gear (more on that later) we had a look round what has to be one of the coolest festivals in the UK. The atmosphere was very relaxed and there were so many cool things to do and see (including the horticultural sitting room, right) we all agreed it would we would have loved to have stayed all weekend.

Our first set was in the Arc Tent which was a good size with a real listening crowd (sounds silly but a lot of festival crowds aren't!) One thing I particularly liked was the fact that they ran an open mic at the side of the tent during band changeovers. I thought this was inspired, and much better than bombarding people with the sound engineers i-pod all day.

Anyways, we had an early evening slot so took the spare time to have a quick rehearsal next to the tents as we hadn't played together in 2 weeks. The gig itself went really well. The stage crew in the tent were great (especially Tim the Jimmy Page look-a-like stage manager!) and we were very well received by the crowd, who we did a bit of a meet and greet with after the gig (including our competition winner Nigel and his son - lovely to meet you both!) which was a bit surreal but hopefully a sign of things to come! We then partied the night away to Dreadzone and, from what I remember, we indulged in playfighting in a big tent, ate dirty burger van burgers and met the irrepressible 'Mad Mick', a toothless farmer who imparted wisdom on subjects such as going bald ("hair today, gone tomorrow") and his love for Tina Turner!

Friday morning we got up 'lateish' and waded through what had been the festival site but the rain had turned into a bog. After getting some sustenance inside us, we watched some great acts including The Travelling Band who Ben and Pete have played with previously. Then it was time to pack up the tents and head south to Dorset for our second performance of the weekend at the Tolpuddle Martyr's Festival. Celebrating its 175th anniversary, it promised to be a good gig, irrespective of the inclement weather. On arrival, we noticed two things. Firstly, although we were aware of the likely political leanings of many of the punter's at the festival, some of the t-shirts were still a great sight to behold.
Secondly, we can say with a certain amount of confidence that, as far as 5 piece bands go, we must be pretty near the top when it comes to abundance of equipment. The scale of the operation only really becomes apparent when you see it all piled together, and thus I decided to document this. For scale, we put Pete in the picture. While he may look like a relatively diminutive chap the photo is misleading. He's far smaller than that.

We were opening the festival so whilst the crowd needed a song or two to get in to it, the gig went off really nicely. The sound was brilliant in the tent, and a special thanks to Keith and everyone at the festival for making us feel so welcome, would be lovely to come back next year - if only to sample what had to be the best festival showers I've ever seen! It was also lovely to again meet people after the show, be great to see you all again at some point!
There may be no rest for the wicked, but the same applies to Urusen, as we had to pack up again and head North to Bath so Ben could help to apply the finish touches to the mini-festival he has run for the last 3 years, EyeFest. So half of headed that way to set up camp for the night, whilst Nick went back to Larmer tree with our roadie for the weekend 'Colin' (or as he is normally known, Nick's brother Max!)

EyeFest is set in the beautiful surroundings of a farm overlooking Bath. In its 3rd year, we have been and played every year (it helps when one of the band books the bands for the festival!) and although I'm sure I'm biased, it is great, for a good cause, and we always enjoy ourselves. This year was nautical themed and luckily the weather held off on the whole, so we were treated to a Saturday in the Somerset sun. Dinner and breakfast is provided (Hog roast for most, bean chilli for non-meat eaters like me!) and the music included the welsh rockers 4th Street Traffic, returning to headline after their triumphant set last year. Other notable mentions were the ever-wonderful Naomi Roper, The irreverant Stanley Forbes, and the guys from Lindy Hop, who taught everyone (including my mum and aunty a few 1950s dance moves!) Must also give a mention to our friend Chris the sound man for his sterling work throughout the day.

So with our final slot of the weekend starting at 11:15 back at the Larmer Tree we rose early, more than a little sheepishly, and loaded all the gear back into the vehicles and got back on the road. We arrived with a certain amount of trepidation, a lot of festivals don't even start until midday so what sort of crowd could we expect on the final day of a festival at just after 11? Needless to say, Larmer Tree did not let us down. In what was probably the best gig of the weekend, we were given a standing ovation and sold out of albums in the signing tent within 25 minutes. To all the people who signed up to the mailing list for albums - we will be in touch soon! It was also cool to meet one of the guys from Stornoway. Would be great to do some gigs with guys at some point so get in touch!!
The gig also had added significance as it will be the last one for a little while with Nick, our Cellist. He and his girlfriend Ellie are expecting their 1st child in August and thus he will have more than enough on his plate for the near future. The rest of us are all excited about becoming Urusen Uncles and we wish Nick and Ellie all the best.
And that was that, another weekend of great gigs, wonderful people and not a lot of sleep. WOMAD next week!!

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Just a quick note to say we're featured in The Independent newspaper today in their 'Ten best gigs' section under 'Jazz, Blues, World and Folk'. This is due to us being the opening act of next weekend's Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, celebrating the 175th anniversary of the Tolpuddle Martyrs. You will see on the picture that the 3rd event listed is the Larmer Tree Festival, which we are incidently also playing at - how on it are we?!?!
Seriously though, very cool to be mentioned, and hopefully see some of you down at the festivals. Next weekend promises to be fairly manic with 4 performances at 3 festivals across 4 days, so look out for a full report and pictures and the like!

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Glastonbury Diary: Day 3 (4 & 5)

Saturday was the day of our last gig and thus I will truncate the rest of the days into this bit of the blog. We were moving stage again onto the bandstand stage. given it is situated in the middle of the site, getting there with all our gear involved a land rover, some wheel barrows and a fair amount of sweat; I wish I had pictures but sadly I don't. Anyways, gear safely dispatched we had a few hours to kill in order to buy silly hats. (See picture right of myself modelling the classic "straw trilby and wife-beater look!) There was lots more elaborate headgear on show throughout the weekend so if you'd like to see it, plus all the other pics from the festival, check out our facebook group ( ) for all the pics we didin't have space for here. (While your at it, join the group, and our artist page, and our myspace, and...and...)

Moving on...the bandstand is quite a special space to play on. because of its location (in the middle of a thoroughfare with no "front" (its a bandstand) you really get the feeling that you're playing to the festival rather than a particular crowd. Either way, it seemed to go down well. With it being our last performance of the weekend we gave it everything and by all accounts rocked it. I also received one of the most beautifully worded compliments for the band from one of the bandstand staff who told me that he felt "privilged to have seen [us]." Certainly a step up from "yeah mate...great gig." or my personal all time favourite "your keyboard sound is sick!"

We got a load of stickers printed to bring to the festival that spawned the game: "phantom stickering". Basically, it involved trying to sticker someone without them noticing - and everyone on site was fair game. The best ones of the weekend were two coppers, who removed them from their behinds and stuck them to their cans of MACE (whilst delivering the chilling line "it'll be the last thing someone sees!") and also a certain Mr. Newton Fawlkner, who was happy to take one on the front of his chest, but blissfully unaware of the numerous one stuck to his back (abit like Pete, right)

The rest of the festival was a blast, band member highlights included Blur, Florence and the Machine, Bat for Lashes, Bon Iver and stumbling across a tiny Johnny Flynn set in "The Snug" (plus seeing a rather worse for wear looking Keith Allen in Arcadia at about 3am, on a stage, baning a drum!) And then it was over.

To get serious for a minute it certainly felt like this weekend was a big step for the band. We know now we can play on big stages to big crowds and they, and we, love it. We've always suspected as much, but now we've done it. the newer songs in our sets are getting the biggest responses which shows we as a band are getting better in not only how we perform, but what we are performing. Onwards and upwards, the summer has only just started.

Glastonbury Diary: Day 2

Woke up with a small hangover and a little damp (cheap tent!), but still buzzing from the prevous nights excitement and raring to get back to the Avalon Cafe for our second show there. We knew the festival had offocially begun when we heard the sweet sounds of Bjorn Again travelling over the breeze from the Pyramid Stage and so headed into the arena to sample the Glasto atmosphere (after a quick trip to a camping stall to purchase some waterproof trousers and a gazebo!).
It is impossible to explain (for those who haven't been) the sheer size and scale that Glastonbury operates on. Almost a quarter of the 177000 people on site are staff, security or performers, thats over 40,000 people. The term organised chaos comes to mind, but it does not even begin to describe what Michael Eavis has achieved.

With Neil Young and Fleet Foxes both playing the Pyramid Stage today, it seemed fitting we were playing today - treating the crowd to an extra helping of harmonies and country/folky loveliness!
So we headed back to the Avalon Cafe for our 3pm slot. We changed the set up slightly for this gig, and knew that while the crowd would undoubtedly be smaller (the previous night we hadn't had to contend with, amongst others, the Pyramid Stage, the Other stage, the John Peel Tent, the Jazz World Stage...) but we still pulled a crowd in, including people who had come the night before, and also some people from some bigger stages regarding next year - we will let you know if/when we do!!

We had the rest of the day "off", so went off to enjoy the festival and took in some amazing music. I won't gloat by telling you how amazing Neil Young was, but istead just give you a couple of pictures of the rest of our day - including a super cool lady playing guitar-umberella!

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Glastonbury Diary: Day 1

So this weekend was a big one for us as we we're off to Glastonbury! It was the 1st time at the festival for Urusen as a band, as well as the 1st time ever for Nick and I. So stocked up with rum, face wipes and pepperami (150% pork - figure that one out!) we set off down our favourite stretch of British tarmac (the good old M4) for Worthy Farm.

We arrived at the sight after some negotiating with security to ensure that my van Valerie was allowed to park in the special reserved area (not because she's ugly, she just had the wrong ticket!) where we were met by Colin who ferried us down onto the site (1st bit of luxury!) along with our gear. We were joined in transit by a band called Mik Artistik who had been travelling since 11am the previous morning and were taking it easy this year after having played 14 times last year - we thought 4 on our debut was impressive!

Anyways, campsite made (Ben arrived the night before and literally hoisted a Urusen flag to mark our territory) we sped off to our 1st gig - a 2pm slot in the backstage theatre stage bar. It was a perfect way to open our Glasto account, a really chilled affair with cajon instead of drums and doubling up on mics for harmonies. There was a moment of excitement when I thought I'd spotted Johnny Lee Miller in the audience, but it turned out to be a false alarm!

With a couple of hours to kill until the next show (8pm in the Avalon Cafe) we went for a bit of an explore. The sun was baking and there was already 1000s of people milling around the site - a trigger for us all to very much get into the
festival spirit. Meanwhile, Ben slipped off to do a quick interview for Glastonbury Radio, which led to an interesting meeting that could end up with Urusen doing a Ministry of Sound chilled session - who'd have thought!!

The Avalon Cafe is the second stage in the Fields of Avalon. It had doubled in size since last year and was a great venue for us. When we took to the stage the crowd was a good one but then, as if things couldn't get any better (we were playing at Glastonbury after all!) the heavens opened, driving ever more people into the shelter of the tent and by the end of the gig the whole place was rocking - in a Urusen-stylee! We all agree it was up there with the best gigs we have ever played - we were all walking on air for the rest of the night, and so a big thank you is in order for everyone who braved the rain to come out and see us. We celebrated with a few Ciders and a bit more exploring, before heading back to the tents to escape the rain. What a day - and the festival hadn't even begun yet!