Andy and James also occasionally write about music. Here is a selection of their musings to download.
Article by Andy about underground music and the internet
Article by James about "Going on Tour"
Article by Andy about "USA Hegemony in Punk and Indie"
This month's Featured writing: Diary from 2009 January Tour with Reef!
That Fucking Tank Winter 2009 Tour Diary
That Fucking Tank is a duo from Leeds comprising Andy Abbott (Baritone Guitar) and James Islip (Minimal Drumset). They have built a substantial international following, famed not only for the power and energy of their live shows and innovative ‘riff-disco’ instrumental rock music, but also for their DIY ethos and uncompromised socio-political ideals embodied by the way their band operates. Not only do they shun management and commercial aspirations to keep control over their own music, but they are also one of a handful of bands in the UK playing small venues with such consistency and are unafraid to blaze new trails for other like-minded underground maverick bands to follow.
Touring, in fact, is the mainstay of what That Fucking Tank stands for; where they hone their craft, meeting new bands and promoters to expand the frontiers of the DIY punk network, and prove that you don’t need to conform to the industry standard in order to do music as a full-time passion. Thankfully James and Andy decided to keep a tour diary of their most recent escapade across the UK to provide a better insight into this radical world of underground rock.
Day 1 – Brighton – The Freebutt
Our tour has got off to a great start. This afternoon we set off early from Leeds and took the A1 so we could eat in all three southbound OK Diners. One of the guys that served us looked like Thin Lizzy. At the services near Peterborough we browsed the music weeklies to check for mention of our tour with Reef but sadly the press agents must have got the dates mixed up, or there must have been some terrorism at the post office, because there wasn’t any - not even in the back pages of Rocksound. I thought I saw something in Nuts but it was an advertisement for some bonging paraphernalia. James and I didn’t let it get us down though, Picnic bars were on two-for-one and everyone knows that the cool way to find out about gigs nowadays is through a computer virus or something.
When we arrived in Brighton it turned out that Reef were going to be a few hours late because they got held up at a Wimpy on their way from Cornwall and the bass player had forgotten his lucky beads. The text I got from their tour manager Jed said he’s never played without them and that if he did they’d probably all die like Cliff Burton later on. So, it was left down to James and I to take the headline slot in front of the thirty or so people that had come out to see them and us rock down the Freebutt.
We had planned on using Reef’s backline because they’ve got mega-pro gear that Sony bought them, but as they weren’t there we had to play a set of covers using an acoustic we found in a bin outside, a cushion and a mallet. After a dodgy start, where we got bottles thrown at us and the girls in the audience slapped me for not being Gary Stringer even when I did that thing he does where he lets everyone perv on his belly-button, things picked up and we got at least four of the crowd to join in on the chorus of Rubber Bullets by 10cc. We rounded the set off with a storming version of Place Your Hands, which the eight or nine people left started moshing to. James managed to sound well black just like Gary does and at the end a big hairy guy came up and asked if we had any demo’s for sale. I was well chuffed and took him to the merch stand were we had our tapes and minidiscs but when he opened his wallet to pay for it all it was just full of the ring pulls off sardine tins. He was a mentaller.
Afterwards we got paid our fifteen quid and given a couple of cans of Cream Soda as per our rider. I got another text from Jed saying that Reef weren’t going to join us tonight because they’d realised they’d left some surfboard wax at home in Glossop and that it’s important because Gary uses it for his hair and the guitarist needs it for his wicked chops. I guess we’ll have to wait until tomorrow in Bristol to get to meet them and see them play properly. I’m so excited I’m not sure I’ll even be able to get to sleep, despite the fact that they’ve given us an indoor sleeping place tonight!
Day 2 – Bristol – The Junction
I think the Cream Soda was a bit off last night because I had this crazy dream that Lenny Kravitz was on ITV’s Dancing On Ice. It was awful. After a small brekkie of Capri Sun and Findus Crispy Pancakes we set off to Bristol in eager anticipation of West Country antics with potential tour buddies Reef. However, an email from Jed scuppered our plans and meant we had to drive all the way Newquay to pick Reef up on the way. Their tour bus had failed its MOT because Jed had used clotted cream instead of wiper blades.
We managed to get to Bristol just before doors at the gig so we had to forsake our soundcheck. That was OK though because Reef’s stuff sounds proper mint, so much so a local farmer thought all our songs were cover versions! Apart from ‘Bicycle Ride’ by Queen and ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ by Steel Eye Span, they were all originals - what a nerd! All ten of the crowd had a whale of time and we ended up selling three tapes and a limited edition signed photo of me, Andy and Rory McGrath from TV.
Reef took about four and a half hours to go on stage after us which sent the mood of the gig from buoyant to impatient. After a less-than-mediocre version of ‘Come Back Brighter’, Gary whacked a pirate on the front row with his mic stand which didn’t go down well with the local seafarers’ association who’d invested in a VIP front row table to enjoy the gig from. An almighty ruck ensued, Reef ran out the venue screaming ‘I hate Bristol you salty bastards, we’re not from here and we’re never coming back!’
They took our van and drove it back to Cornwall. We got a garbled text from Jed saying they were sorry but we’d have to meet them in Newquay and that he promised their tour bus would be cleaned and fitted with the correct wiper blades for tomorrow.
The Junction threatened to withhold our fifteen pounds to pay for the damage but we lied and said that we didn’t really like Reef and that we’d only done the tour to try and get signed to Sony. As luck would have it, the daft farmer from earlier was driving back down to Cornwall that morning at 4am so we just stayed up all night and got a lift with him. He had an ace stereo in the tractor so we listened to ‘Surfing with the Alien’ by Joe Satriani and had a right good laugh.
Day 3 – Nottingham – The Chameleon Arts Centre
Whoah! My ears are still ringing from last night – ‘Satch Boogie’ is easily the most mint song ever, especially when it’s cranked up to seven and a half on the tractor sub woofer system. I think I might have overdone it on the Tizer though because when I woke up in the barn we stayed in I had a bit of the old ‘red-mouth’ or ‘Tizer-tongue’ as I overheard the guys out of Reef call it last night. They’re so funny.
Despite our slightly fuzzy minds we managed to track down Jed and Reef to a greasy spoon in Cornwall where everyone was sat around eating fried clotted cream with Rootjoose. I thought for a moment that they (Rootjoose) might be trying to replace us as main support on the tour but luckily they just work there. What a bunch of losers! James and I have never had a job in our lives, we failed all our GCSE’s just to make sure we wouldn’t be tempted into the world of work that might prevent us from touring with Therapy? or, in the second instance, Reef/Cast. Now we’re living that dream! Up yours, Rootjoose!
Jed is a real pro and managed to get everyone out of the caf and to where the tour van was parked in less than three hours. To our surprise he’d managed to wangle a helicopter for Reef to travel up to Nottingham in for free (it was carrying a banner advertising Ten by Pearl Jam on Minidisc) leaving James and I to drive the seven hours to Nottingham. When we arrived at half three in the morning with the equipment Jed and Reef were not happy to say the least! Gary called me a useless twollop (I think that’s a word from his local Leicestershire dialect) and I felt like crying.
We were forced to forfeit playing so that Reef could play at 6am to the few homeless people that slept in the venue. About half way through their set – which I have to admit was totally on the button, they are such inspirational musicians – the crowd got a bit busier as the Greek-Cypriot cleaner came in and began sweeping the dance floor. By the last couple of songs, though, there was only James and I left (everyone had gone downstairs to get some breakfast pasties from Greggs) but Reef, professionals that they are, still did three encores including the advert-edit of Naked. Wicked!
After they finished we tried to make friends with them by offering to play a game of monster truck Top Trumps and giving them some of the Dandelion and Burdock from our rider but our efforts were thwarted by none-other than bloody Paul Weller. Where had he sprung from!? Immediately after they had settled down in the backstage area he was buzzing around them like a fly around donkey-shit blabbering on about some big tour support and putting a thanks to them in his liner notes for Stanley Road. I was so angry that our chances to hang out with Reef had been interrupted by this has-been that I made some pretty harsh remark about the Style Council and Jed had to take me to one side. He said if we gave him our fifteen quid then Paul might not take the matter to court so we had no other choice but to hand it over. I was so embarrassed that I just skulked off to the van for the ten minutes sleep I can have before we unload and have to set off to Liverpool. Not a good day.
Day 4 – Liverpool – The Barfly
We got to Liverpool and parked outside the Tragical History Beatles' Museum. The Reef boys are enjoying a jaunt through the Fab Four's past whilst Andy and me sit in Reef's bus twiddling our thumbs. We've had a bit of a falling out with the Reef boys because Gary (the singer) chucked my iPod in the Mersey as revenge for what Andy said about Paul Weller. To be honest, the Style Council were just like Steely Dan meets Red Dwarf, Andy was right. Gary was really pissed and acting like a right clown. To be fair, he offered me a free Minidisc player but the only disc he has is Reef's 'Best Hits'. He's so up himself; as if I'm not tired of his band already!
Me and Andy have just been laughing 'cos we were talking earlier about trying to get Bono and Larry Mullen Jr to come to our gig at the Barfly tonight. Gary burst in and said 'who is this Bongo guy?' 'You're the Bongo Gary' we said. 'We're talking about the world's coolest guy, Bono!!' Hopefully the Beatles' museum will teach him some stuff about music because he really knows nowt!
Later, Reef were not happy about having to play upstairs in the Barfly rather than the main gig room. Jed went mental with the promoter and said that it was a tragedy that musicians of Reef’s calibre were being treated like Menswear. The promoter had the last laugh of sorts when only two people actually showed up to the gig, and they only came because they thought Phil Mitchell off of Eastenders was going to be autographing his new calendar.
Me and Jed took the promoter down to the nearest cash point and forced him to pay the guarantees out of his own pocket; fifteen pounds to us, eighty pounds to Reef, minus ten pounds off for booking both bands at once. Jed took Reef’s normal share so me and Andy took our fiver and bought some travel magazine games like ‘1001 Fucking Rock Hard Crosswords’.
We are a bit upset because we thought we’d be playing to more people on this tour. I think Reef are also a bit down because maybe they aren’t as popular as they used to be. It’s not all doom and gloom though. Gary is appearing on This Morning tomorrow so that might give this tour the kick up the arse it needs!
Day 5 – Saltaire – The Countesse of Rosse
We got to stay in a really nice bit of Liverpool yesterday near to where all the kebab shops and chemists are. This was good for me because unfortunately I seem to have picked up some nasty tour virus; roadie-toeshroom (or athlete’s foot to non-rock’n’rollers). I think it must have been from when me and the bass player out of Reef were up playing sock-swap poker with our Top Trumps last night. I’d had so much Mountain Dew that I really hadn’t a clue what I was doing. The drummer out of Reef managed to get a bit of action with a Liverpudlian girl last night too but only because he convinced her that his sister is in The Liver Birds. He looks a bit sheepish today because he’s married with eight kids, and in Bideford, North Devon, where Reef are from, it’s a hangable offence to share a kebab with another woman.
Anyway, you can’t get too hung up on all the crazy tour-shame, as Gary said to Philip Schofield on This Morning ‘it comes with the fucking territory, man’. I’ve got high hopes for the gig in Saltaire tonight. Not only because of the mass media exposure Gary got the tour this morning by being such a charismatic interviewee (he showed off his belly-button to Fern Britton and kept shouting ‘Alright Now!’ every time the camera angle changed, like he does), but also because Saltaire is within spitting distance of Reef’s hometown of Keighley, West Yorkshire. I think we should have a fair few bodies down ready to ‘place their hands’ on our tapes and merch after we rip the place up!
It’s now 12.42am and I’m happy to say that the Saltaire gig pretty much lived up to my expectations. We played a rip-roaring set including our best cover versions of the first side of Tubular Bells 2 and Delilah by Tom Jones. My foot was giving me a bit of gip so it was hard to press all the effects pedals in the right order but that made it sound like we were doing some crazy remixes. An old beardy dude even told James afterwards that we sounded like The Prodigy. Smack My Bitch Off! When Reef played it was the single-greatest concert I’ve ever seen. All eighty or so people in the bar came to the front of the stage and started waving lighters around and having a boogie. I think the drummer and the guitarist both fed off of the vibes because they started to crank the tempo up to mad speeds. Gary didn’t know what to do; he started pulling his t-shirt up and down around his belly button so fast that he nearly gave himself a friction burn. It was fucking extreme.
The only downside was that with all those people chanting along singing ‘It’s Your Letters, It’s Your Letters’ in the chorus of Place Your Hands you couldn’t hear Gary doing the alternative lyrics he uses live where he sings ‘Place your hands on, Place your hands on’ instead. This sent him a bit barmy and he started taking bites out of the arms of some of the audience in the front row and spitting them out at the sound guy yelling ’Turn me up or I’m going to fucking kill them.’ The audience didn’t mind though, they knew it was all part of the act and Gary was back to his normal self as soon as they kicked into one of their other songs that wasn’t that or Naked, and no one could sing along.
After the gig we hung out in the bar for a little while but my fungal toe had got so bad that I had to limp off home back to bed without any pop. It’s probably for the best though, I’m pretty worried that I’m starting to get a bit used to it and reckon I’ll be on to the harder stuff like Top Deck if I don’t take it easy for a day or too.
Day 6 – Sheffield – The Harley Hotel
Disaster strikes! Jed got an email from Sony this morning saying that under no circumstances can That Fucking Tank continue on the tour. Apparently some nob jockey in A&R only said we could play the tour for a laugh and as soon as the PR department got a whiff they have decided to pull the plug on us.
We just went on the Sony website and have pulled off the official statement;
“That F***ing Tank, in sound and name, is in no way in-keeping with the vision and values of Sony Limited Enc. PLC. We have therefore terminated their involvement with Reef UK Tour ’09.
Reef are our flagship act for the magneto-optical disc-based data storage device, the Minidisc. We firmly believe that Reef’s futuristic surf blues are the perfect sounds to showcase the Minidisc; the future of audio transportation and playback pleasure. We apologise to anyone who may have been contaminated by the music of That F***ing Tank because of our horrific mistake.”
For us this is a real shame as not only were becoming great friends with Jed and Reef but we also share the sentiments of Sony Limited Enc. PLC and their vision for the future. We loaded up Reef’s tour bus for the final time and said our farewells. To drown our sorrows, we spent our fifteen pounds from last night on four pickled eggs and some milk and shared ‘em with the rest of the lads.
Every cloud has a silver lining though and we have had a fantastic few days. Andy got to meet Fern Britton, and he has long admired her performances on the Ryvita adverts. I didn’t catch toeshroom and surely would’ve spending another day with Andy! Plus the Bradford Evening Rag published an excellent story and how we have single-handedly subverted mainstream culture and brought the systems crashing down. How funny!