Tunabunny in the UK, part one
By Scott Creney
I’m sitting in a kitchen in Preston well past midnight above a restaurant called The Continental where we just played a show to 25 people or so. They’ve put us up for the night in a couple of bedrooms that were vacated a month or so ago by some German interns who had been staying here for reasons that I’m not quite sure about. Based on the nail polish remover near the shower, I’m willing to guess that they were female – or at the very least, Alsatian crossdressers (which is the very best, come to think of it). Tunabunny and Shrag have been on tour together for four days now. Before we go any further, I should say that anyone out there who thinks they’ve heard Shrag before is in for a wonderful surprise when their third album comes out in the Spring. The new songs are amazing. Lyricist Helen King has gone from writing about Mark E. Smith to embodying his best qualities.
Shrag performances are messy – ripped and torn to shreds. Helen pouts and stomps like a five year-old kept up well past bedtime. Earlier tonight, bassist Russell rode his amp like a surfboard and played half of the set with his bass on top of his head. Their drummer’s father passed away the night of the tour’s first show, and Shrag accepted Jesse and Brigette into the drum stool with no hesitation. The two drummers sat side by side and played the same kit, only adding to The Fall comparisons. Andy, the bereaved, stunningly handsome, drummer rejoined the tour tonight, and Shrag got only more amazing. Miss them at your peril.
In the two months or so leading up to Tunabunny’s UK tour, folks around Athens would get disappointed when they would say, “You’re going to have such a great time”, and I would respond by sighing and shaking my head. Don’t misunderstand me. Touring is wonderful. I’ve dreamed of visiting England since I was a teenager, and being able to do so while meeting interesting people and playing music with my friends is one of the most rewarding experiences of my life so far. But it’s hard fucking work. It’s filled with moments that make you wonder what the fuck you’re doing here. It’s a long way from a bedroom in Athens, Georgia to an apartment above a restaurant in Preston. You wake up in Athens at eight in the morning, drive around picking up your bandmates and tour manager, then drive two hours to the airport in Greenville, South Carolina. You wait around two more hours to catch your connecting flight to Charlotte, North Carolina, then you fly overnight to Gatwick Airport about 30 miles south of London. During the flight, stewards and stewardesses keep harassing you with offers of stale rolls, duty free cigarettes and booze, and microwaved suppers. It’s impossible to sleep, and so even though you were thinking you would be landing in England somewhat well-rested, everyone in your party is bleary-eyed and confused as you depart the plane and head through customs.
They want to know about the boxes of records you’ve brought with you. And Mike Turner, your crafty tour manager, explains that they are promo copies to hand out to DJs and writers. Customs lets you off with a £30 tax. We’ve already made seven times that amount.
At this point, sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, everything becomes a blur. The rental car guy takes us to a trailer somewhere in Crawley.There’s an insurance shakedown that we just go ahead and pay. I’m put behind the wheel of a Hyundai, the model of which I’ve never heard of, which mercifully is an automatic transmission. That night’s show is in Brighton, an easy enough drive, but everything is switched – the lanes, the steering wheel, the signs – and it’s like I’m driving for the first time. I’m 16 again and everything is new. It turns out that there are two types of signs in the UK – ones on the highway which are informative and perfect, and ones in the cities which are pretty much entirely fucking non-existent. I’m having fun until we hit Brighton and I have no idea where to park the car. And neither does anyone else. I had asked Lucy Cage and Tamsin Chapman, our Collapse Board buddies, for advice on what to do in Brighton. I hadn’t asked them where to park the fucking car. [Oh fuck. Should have warned you about that – Ed] We end up, after an hour of circling the city that nearly brings me to tears of frustration, parking at a meter along the seaside for a pound an hour. By this point we’re starving. Before we can even make it into the cool part of town, we’re standing outside some restaurant called Scurvy Anderson’s. or Henry Cumberson’s, or some similar pedophile-sounding name. It’s overpriced but a couple of Tunabunny members are going to eat the rest of the band if they don’t get some food, so we head inside. The meal is nothing but disappointment. I’m close to vomiting – half from the food and half from the stress – and Mike picks up the check and tells us, “This is as bad as it will get”. He’s not entirely right, but it’s part of why I love him.