Almost Falmouth: A Farce in Five Parts

 

[1] “WE CAN’T STOP HERE. THIS IS BAT COUNTRY!” 

 

I say…or at least think…as The Black Tambourines’ tour van lurches out of Sainsbury’s carpark and away onto the open road. I’m here to ‘Recreate Almost Famous’, the classic Cameron Crowe flick in which young William Miller — cherubic, untainted — joins rock band Stillwater on tour. He writes for Rolling Stone magazine; I write for ShinyShinyNew…and, partly, the sweet convenience of a ride to London with a band I like a lot. What 15 year old William lacks in facial hair, he makes up for in doe-eyed dedication and grit. I hope to follow in his footsteps.

 After all, the A30 has always been known for its danger, romance and raw thrills. The road Kerouac pined for…a duel-laned dharma bum. We would soon be rolling by Bodmin moor, unreasonably large windmills and a number of illustrious service stations. Did someone whisper something about the American West Coast? This was the gateway to London and all that is ripe, unknown and glimmering…and we were in a van racing at almost 55mph towards that horizon.

But what was the story? Nobody had bothered to say. I would have to drum it up on my own. Free Enterprise. The Kernow Dream. Josh Spencer-Fletcher gone mad on Stella in Hackney. Do it now: impure Gonzo journalism.

Rewind the track. I’m loitering uncomfortably outside the store, still reeling from the band’s riotous headline show in Fal the night before. Truro Sainsbury’s is our elected neutral ground, but The Black Tambourines are late. “Turn around, go back, and be a lawyer or something”, Lester Bangs had urged poor William in Almost Famous. Right now, he speaks to me as well as the film’s protagonist.

Struggling to find the optimum mode of carrying a case of beers, I wonder how exactly I’m going to deliver on our premise that “the A30 seems the perfect setting for our generation’s Fear and Loathing”. I half expect a supermarket announcement to call me out and a faceless fleece-wearing Sainsbury’s mob to gently escort me through the sliding doors and away…

Still, Stella– an excellent way to break the ice at 11am.

When The Black Tambourines finally drop by, Jake — the unusually talkative bass player — dispatches with formalities. He wears a heavy sand overcoat, scarf and has scraggly unkept hair. My tame offer of a handshake is brushed aside as I’m pulled in for a brotherly hug. The Sainsbury’s lobby: a fine place to meet your musical heroes.

The band are huddled around the van, apart from lead singer and guitarist Sam Stacpoole, who stands atop the multi storey carpark looking out, surveying Truro and beyond like an ancient king. Turning, he greets me with a sudden ‘peace, man’ and I struggle for something suitable to say. Ultimately, as I scramble clumsily into the van, eyeing four carefully-chosen Meal Deals, I mutter something about their prawn sandwiches being pretty punk. My head still feels delicate. I present my offering of discounted lager as if it’s some sacrificial goat.

We roll out of the carpark with Sam behind the wheel, Jim Sibley and I up front, and Josh Spencer-Fletcher and Jake in the back.

Wait until you see those goddam bats…

[2] A DIFFERENT KIND OF JAM

 
We’re en-route to Mirrors Festival, a multi-venue live music feast taking place in Hackney. The Black Tambourines are on at 19:15, but then again the course of fatuous journalism never did run smooth…

“Whaaat is this?” “Shit man!” A real jam, extending as far as the eye can see, has halted our great journey into the unknown. …And we have not yet left Cornwall. Second home owners, returning to Home Counties comforts after a week of sea breeze, have disrupted our punk crusade before it had even got going. It’s nuclear families…radio 2 and ‘fun’ rear window pumpkins…on all sides. Sam had struck me as pretty easy-going, but he launches into a soapbox tirade at Cormac and their “campaigns” to block the Cornish roads. The allure of The Tour temporarily struck away, I appreciate how acutely frustrating it must be having to drive 5-6 hours to play a single show.

We’re on a pretty tight schedule, and Sam’s gone from cool cartoon mouse to angry cat. Somebody shrewdly slips on the mellow sounds of Beck in a bid to ease the tension.

It’s too little too late. The band just want to move…to hit the gas and get out of here. But we’re stuck behind a caravan that might as well be static. Those up front with me are blinded by the autumn sunshine, reflecting mockingly off the caravan, all brilliant-white. Minutes pass in claustrophobic silence. We really hate this caravan…and, soon enough, all caravans.

The band are on in just five hours. I decide now might not be the best time to delve into my extensive repertoire of wittily-prepared interview questions. As Thompson wisely put it, “Never mind the story. It would take care of itself”.

[3] THE OPEN ROAD

 
“They are gnarly!” We’re just about out of the slow-moving traffic and something has caught Sam’s eye. A sweet old lady, who must be at least 85, has stepped out into the world this morning sporting some of the most outrageous sunglasses we have ever seen. She looks like a rad psychedelic Robocop…and the best thing is she probably doesn’t even know it. “I used to have a pair of shades just like that”, Sam mutters wistfully. He imagines throwing the rock n roll lifestyle away, and taking up the seat next to her. The things they could do together. The times they could have.

But he doesn’t entertain the idea for long. The goddamn caravan is back. And this time it’s personal. We rumble past it with fury and vengeance, shaking our fists like young mothers.

We’re out of the deadlock. We’ve plowed through the icecaps. It’s all cool open road beyond us…a smooth black carpet to the stage.

With the Cormac Curse lifted, Jim leans over to turn up the volume. Mark E. Smith shouts and a cool wind blows as we cruise into the dark lands of Devon.

[4] ‘THE STORY’?

 
Now we’re really moving, we get a proper chance to talk music. [William: “So, Russell…what do you love about music?” Russell: “To begin with…everything.”] I totally forget to allude to this piece of film-defining dialogue. Re-watching Almost Famous last week was, it seems, for nothing. Conversation, regardless, spans everything from Thee Oh Sees to Theo Verney…The Pink Teens to Pavement on the Tonight Show in ’94. We can all appreciate the inconsonance of Leno and Malkmus.

Stacpoole is particularly enthused as discussion hits 60s, Acid Test-era Grateful Dead. “They’ve gotta be the luckiest band”, I somewhat reductively pose. “Just playing whatever they want, and everyone so out of their minds on LSD that they can’t get enough”.
Sam grins. “But they’re all incredible musicians. To improvise and just jam like that isn’t always so easy”.

I remind him of our earlier interview, during which he’d listed “Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, and bands like Wavves and No Age that were doing sweet stuff at the time” as early inspiration. “You seemed pretty mad for Brian Wilson back then”, I say. “Yeah man, it’s still The Beach Boys for me”, he answers…eyes on the road, head in the clouds. The Black Tambourines love a vocal harmony themselves, and had only half-jokingly considered honing their barbershop potential during our traffic fiasco. I figure Brian would be proud.

Stacpoole, I learn, also really digs Juan Wauters — my favourite eccentric Uruguayan, once of Brooklyn garage rock outfit, The Beets. Having featured alongside him on a bill once before, Sam says he hopes to once again hook up with Daddy Juan (the J is silent, amigo) if side project Holiday Ghosts (ft. Charlie Murphy and Kat Rackin) are to tour any time soon. This news pleases me. Wauters radiates an easy charm and the two acts would surely take the world as we know it by storm. Indeed, Pitchfork’s Mike Powell got it pretty right when he wrote: “I like Wauters; I want him to win because I don’t think he cares much about winning.” I ask Sam if the South American is really as breezy as he seems.
“Pretty much, man”, he replies. “Juan is just so…different. Sometimes you’ll be talking to him, thinking he can’t be being serious, and then you’re like ‘hold on, no — he totally is’.” There you have it, folks.

When we talk of Moore & music in general, Stacpoole seems torn, as if he’s yearning to have been a part of that sweet, free American time — of golden sands, iconic Chevys & unlimited creativity — but at the same time acknowledging the draw of home. It’s something the band’s recent song L.A explores: “I’ve been spending my life…trying to be a part of…someone else’s time”, Stacpoole sings. But he quickly undercuts himself, self-reflexively questioning: “What you wanna do that for?”.

….I don’t even consider the notion that the humble journalist is spending his life “trying to be a part of someone else’s time.” I crack open another beer and turn up the music.

[5] THE STORY?!

 

Innumerable CDs spill out all over the dashboard, filling everything from conventional cases to what look to my untrained eye like biscuit tins. Still, the band grumble, recent touring has left it a tired collection. I’m not complaining, as Stacpoole eventually selects, spits, rubs and spins some definitive Grateful Dead, followed by Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s 2010 LP Rush to Relax.

Calm down, breath in, breath out…chill out. Slow down, have a rest – don’t forget to take a breath. Put your feet up and sit right back.

Rush…Rush to relax.

…But I can’t relax. I’m receiving a barrage of messages from the editor of the site, Rob Knaggs:

15:14pm – “Start creating beautiful content”

15:16pm – “Get tweeting etc…Or send me photos and I’ll get tweeting”

15:21pm – “CONTENT”

So much for the story taking care of itself. My Sainsbury’s morning and a passing lorry get the better of me. It’s fear and loathing on the A30. I panic: “If The Black Tambourines were a supermarket, which would they be?” A dark moment in a limited journalistic career. And yet my question is met by surprisingly enthused and instantaneous agreement. “It would have to be Lidl”. “Cheap and nasty…though occasionally you’ll stumble across something of surprising value”, Jake surmises.

[6] Waxing lyrical

 

But The Black Tambourines are not just any band. Thompson, our intermittent muse, called the New Journalists of 60s/70s America “a gang…each doing different things, but a natural kind of hook-up”. When you’re ready to squeeze a 2000 word piece out of a few hours on the road, it doesn’t take too much of a leap of faith to claim the same can increasingly be said of the Falmouth scene. As Ken Kesey’s La Honda property amassed a congregation of poets, intellectuals, hippies and Hells Angels, Fal has comprised everything from the wistful Michael Clark to The Spankees, the garage punk of The Red Cords to the so-called anti-garage of The Golden Dregs. Anyone there on that Friday night will know we’ve got a real cultural vortex on our doorstep, as well as a pretty sweet Trago Mills.

Even the Pavilion felt the incipient sea-change….the tremors of a band that might’ve originally rebelled against their 11pm curfews & clean-cut sports hall aesthetics. A band they originally overlooked in favour of Eagles cover acts and washed up 80s C-listers. A band, and sound, they have eventually converged to bow down in front of.  It’s a testament to the guys on stage — including The Red Cords & Lost Dawn — that “the shed of sterility”, to borrow Dick Porter’s words, was transformed.

Sam told me back in March that “ocean rock was the natural progression of beach punk”. Right now, The Black Tambourines ride the crest of a high and beautiful wave. It’s a wave that they have created. ‘The Fal Sound’ — and the other bands it comprises — follows in their wake, as the body of water surges across county, country and beyond.

Mr Jim Morrison was onto something when he sung that “The West is the Best”. As luck would have it, this is far from The End. Tune in next week as the journalist heads yet further east…

All profits from this sorry excuse for an article go towards bassist Jake Willbourne’s ass job. 

 

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