The ShortRead of 8 April
The Road Beneath My Feet
Author: Frank Turner
What's the story: Sex, drugs, rock and roll. But you probably expected that of Frank Turner. What might come as a surprise is the way in which the Million Dead frontman handles the other side to life on the road: The Road Beneath My Feet is a refreshingly (often startlingly) honest music autobiography, soaked in the jetlag, the hangovers, the nights spent on yet another grimy floor and the crushing emptiness of reaching the end of the road.
An essential read for Frank Turner and Million Dead fans, and anyone even half-interested in the magic of live music.
Release date: Out now
Show #247, Million Dead
The Joiners Arms, Southampton, UK, 23 September 2005
I remember noise. Walls of feedback, ringing ears, a sense of defeat.
Million Dead were nearly done.
We’d decided to break up a few weeks before the tour, so everyone knew that this was the end. We’d even announced it as a farewell tour, and as a result the shows had generally been packed out and feverish. Ironically I think these were probably the best shows we ever played. We’d been at the top of our game onstage – fast, visceral, tight, intense. The same cannot be said, alas, for how things were back in the dressing room or in the van.
What to say about Million Dead? It was the defining experience of my late adolescence, my early twenties – it was my formative musical experience. But we were also just another jobbing underground hardcore band that made some small ripples and fell apart. By the end of it, relations within the group had broken down completely and we’d essentially retreated into two opposing camps, with Jamie Grime (our stage tech) and Graham Kay (our sound guy) caught as innocent civilians in the middle. The final tour was characterized by moody silences, sharp words and nihilistic excess, especially on my part. The tour laminates had all the dates listed, and then, on the twenty-fourth (the day after the tour finished), it said ‘Get a Job’. Talk about focusing the mind.
The night before, we’d played a show at The Underworld in Camden, London. We filmed the show and looking back now, I still think that together we were fantastic – sharp and aggressive, melodic and anthemic. We played what I consider to be probably our best show to 600 or so people crammed against the stage and then I’d got titanically fucked up (again) afterwards. The final journey south wasn’t a fun one.
I grew up in Winchester, which isn’t a city on many touring schedules, so Southampton was generally the place to go for shows. In fact, I’d seen my first ever show at The Joiners in 1995 or thereabouts: a band called Snug, who happened to feature a youthful Ed Harcourt on guitar (more on him much, much later). Million Dead had played there many times before, but there was a sense of anticlimax hanging over everything. As well as being a smaller venue than The Underworld, the previous evening we had managed to skirt around the issues because of the fact we had one more show to go. Now that the end was staring us in the face and there was no more road to run, a dark cloud descended. No more pretending.
The problem with Million Dead was pretty unremarkable. We were terrible communicators and fell out of friendship with each other as time went by. We all built up enough resentment against each other to make the whole thing unworkable. That’s really all there is to it. Like most youthful, Arcadian ideals, the bald facts of the denouement are mundane rather than monumental.
I remember sound check. It’s not generally a romanticized part of the touring experience, and with good reason, but it made me feel very sad that night. Every drummer has their own drum-check ritual and I remember hearing Ben (Dawson) playing that same old beat when Graham called out ‘Full kit please!’ from the sound desk and thinking it was the last time I’d hear it. When check was over I walked out of the room feeling angry and cheated that it was all coming to an end.
The time for doors rolled around. The show was sold out and our guest list was already creaking under the strain, but still there were a lot of people hanging around outside, trying to get in to see us one more time. Their devotion made me feel humbled but also embarrassed. I had a girl with me who I’d met on tour a few days before who I didn’t really know but who I was clinging on to for some kind of stability. I also had a pack of cigarettes; I’d been wrestling with smoking the whole time I was in the band, but basically had it under control. However, I’d promised myself that if the band split I’d smoke a whole damn pack after the last show. I was prepared.
The show began. As it happens, the venue had recently been refurbished. The old stage had essentially been a glorified shelf in one corner of the room and bands often had problems getting the drum kit up there comfortably, let alone putting anything in front of it. The new layout was much better, but as it turned out they were still having teething problems with the air conditioning in the room. When the crowd was packed in there it was stiflingly hot, which started causing problems. I took my shirt off and drank water, but I was sweating incredibly hard and starting to get spots on my vision. The heat wasn’t the only thing to blame – after two weeks of being solidly drunk and high while pushing myself as hard as I could during shows, my body was starting to rebel. The atmosphere in the room was weird – negative, not happy. Unlike the previous night, the band wasn’t playing so well. It felt like the break between us was actually becoming physically real onstage as the songs went by. Finally we started cutting songs out of the set because we couldn’t handle the heat. I started blacking out. I lay on the stage, in the eye of the storm, surrounded by sound and fury, feeling heart-broken – these songs would never be played again.
During the last, desperate rendition of ‘The Rise and Fall’ – a song we always closed with because we could descend into a kind of free-form noise jam – I dived into the crowd. I’d always been close with Jamie and Graham, our crew, and as the band fell apart I felt closer to them than anyone else. I surfed over the crowd to Graham at the sound desk and held his hand in the air briefly, before heading back to the stage. In the spirit of the music I usually screamed some kind of stream-of-consciousness thing at this stage in the set and that night I remember yelling ‘I tried my best’ as hard as I could.
It all sounds pretty melodramatic when I write it down, but in truth, once the show was done, it was crushingly banal. I smoked my cigarettes and gave Ben a hug. We’d been playing together since we were eleven and now we were done. He wrote something on the dressing-room wall about it being our last show there. Everyone scattered, I don’t really know where the rest of the band went, or when. I went with my new lady friend to some nonevent of a house party, ended up staying up all night and caught the first train of the grey morning home to Winchester alone.
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