It’s my thirtieth birthday next month. I don’t tend to make a big fuss of birthdays (I have long been at an age that permits me to drink, vote and wed whilst simultaneously being ineligible for the train and bus discounts that would make getting to the appropriate venues a lot cheaper).
But this is one of those big round birthdays that can mean only one thing: if I don’t make a fuss of it, someone else definitely will. And one thing’s for sure, I’d rather play a concert than be subjected to a surprise party.
So I got together with the band and told them what kind of show I’d really like to put on. Then I made a mental note of how many of them responded by rolling their eyes (all of them) and interpreted that as incontrovertible proof of their boundless enthusiasm.
I’m almost always relatively unsatisfied with the amount we can achieve at a show (beyond playing the songs as well as we can). So this is the gig in which I am going to put everything I have into creating as much spectacle as possible. Yes, most of the time the main limiting factor is money but often it is simply a matter of time and preparation (when one is on tour there is rarely much one can do about stage lay-out etc beyond the tech spec sent to that venue months earlier). In terms of location I now have a pretty realistic idea of our reach, I know that if we booked Manchester Arena for this show we’d be pretty embarrassed by the turn-out (and besides, it lacks a certain magic anyway). That’s why I opted for the Dancehouse Theatre. Not only does it look the part with its red curtains, art deco design and deep stage but it’s a good medium sized room that seats 415 (with no restricted views anywhere) and has disabled access (unlike so many rock venues). Also the last time we were there we sold it out so I know that whatever fantastical ideas we come up with to make our show as ridiculous as possible, at the very least the event will have a strong foundation in realistic expectation.
I am delighted that heading up the set design team are two critically acclaimed visual artists: Mari-Ruth Oda (who currently has an exhibition on at the Central Gallery in Manchester) and Kirsty Almeida (who recently got rave reviews as part of Manchester Art Gallery‘s Paper Installation for Weekender Festival). The three of us had a look at the space last week and came up with some big ideas. That’s the only brief: BIG!
As for the content of the show, I looked to the past (after all, isn’t that what birthday’s so often do?).
One of my favourite films is Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz. I’m a huge fan of The Band and have even visited Levon Helm’s house in Woodstock (for his New Year’s Eve party in 2005). That film about the group’s (supposed) farewell concert was a huge inspiration to me. It made me want to form a band like that, a band that could have a strong identity of its own whilst channeling very old influences, a band that you’d recognise the sound of even when they’re playing another artist’s songs. Once The Bedlam Six had been on the circuit a while I drew inspiration from the film again, this time in the range of special guest performers The Band managed to entice to join them onstage for the concert. We formed Debt Records out of a desire to create a label based on that idea of creative cross-pollination, of artists working together (officially and unofficially), informing each others’ material and generally having a great time playing music.
So that’s what we’re doing for my birthday. We’ve approached some of our favourite performers that we’ve encounterd since the Bedlam Six started and asked them to join us for a song or two, some duetting with me on things I’ve written, some playing their own stuff with The Bedlam Six as backing band, some doing unlikely covers. It should be a really fun night. We’ve not announced the guests yet (indeed, I think we may keep that part a secret) but the audience won’t be disappointed. I’m already pretty astounded by the response from our mailing list and social media, some people have written to tell me they are driving the length of the country to be there, while others are flying over from places as far away as Ireland and Germany. I’m really touched.
I think this may be my best birthday party ever!
Tickets are available in person from The Dancehouse Theatre box office plus selected outlets in Manchester City Centre. If you’re booking online the cheapest place is, as ever, the Bedlam Six online shop.
For those who can’t make it, the event will be filmed and released in late March as a live DVD to coincide with our next European tour. We may attempt to live stream it too. Not done that before. We’ll see what’s possible…