… March, April & May: Tour of England

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The internet can be a marvelous thing, can’t it? Sure, we all find our reasons to complain about it, but you’re reading this on the internet right now. February Records wouldn’t exist without it and, to some extent, the trip I’m about to write about wouldn’t have happened without both. At least not in the capacity that it did.

I traveled to England for several different reasons. I had some time off from work and, having only been living in Europe for a month, I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity. So, why England? I ultimately decided that it would be nice to fully understand the language around me again, which somewhat quickly transformed into meeting the first two bands I worked with on February Records — Finnmark and The Swapsies. During the planning stages of their releases, and even afterward, we stayed in contact. I didn’t have to think twice about contacting any of them when I decided England was my destination. And, within hours of my decision, I was already confirmed to spend time in Liverpool and Leeds.

Arrival

After a long bus ride and sitting around a very small airport for hours, I finally landed in London and caught the first express train from Stansted Airport to the Liverpool Street Station. It was late by the time I reached my apartment in Rotherhithe, some time after 10 p.m. I was worn-out from waking at 7 a.m. for work followed by all that traveling, but I was in London for the first time. Instead of giving in to my exhaustion, I followed signs through gardens and parks, past the roar of the famous Angel pub, and eventually found my way to the banks of the Thames. I followed that path until I reached Tower Bridge, lit up magnificently in the darkness. It was the beginning of a great adventure.

I spent the following few days in the south of England, wandering around London and taking an impromptu trip to Brighton on an unseasonably warm Sunday. I frequented record shops in both cities where I found myself flipping through rows and rows of garage and pop vinyl, though I held back on making any purchases. I did far too much walking and saw the sights, went to the British Museum on two separate occasions, and shared pints with friends, both old and new. The Lexington had great wallpaper, but The Mayflower still remains my favorite pub.

Liverpool with The Swapsies

I caught a train to Liverpool on Tuesday. The overcast skies covering London eventually broke to a clear blue, littered with only a few sparse clouds. The book in my lap was never opened; instead, I stared at the landscape as it passed by. Rolling green hills, growing richer and brighter as the trip progressed. The half-crumbled ruins of old stone houses mixed between farmland and sheep pastures. Narrow canals cluttered with small boats and roads lined with hedges on both sides. I sat and absorbed everything I could, listening only to the hum of the train as the wheels rattled over the tracks. Those hours passed so peacefully and pleasantly. I also knew what was awaiting me on the other end of those tracks.

My first stop was to see The Swapsies, the four lovely Liverpudlians who had become great friends over the course of the past several months. Huw met me off the train, determined to give me a warm welcome. He succeeded. We wandered around the city center: Albert Dock, the Mersey, the bombed-out church, Liverpool Cathedral and Saint James Gardens. Sean, Huw, and I eventually made our way to the studio and were met by Elaine and Andy. There, The Swapsies re-recorded a couple of vocal takes for their Between Two Waves collaboration. The song is quite good! I only regret not being brave enough to sing one of the lines myself when given the chance.

It was surreal for me to be in that environment — I looked around the basement studio and saw collages of Swapsies artwork, the Feb Recs logo right in the center. Andy was wearing one of the badges I sent them on his dufflecoat. The Swapsies were celebrating a milestone (happy belated birthday, Swapsies!) and there were these endearing, heartfelt DIY books passed around. These books were full of images, reviews, and even some of my emails from over the course of the past year. What a sense of delight that gave me — knowing that I somehow played a part in all of this, however small it may be. Little did they understand how much I’ve appreciated all they’ve done, as well. Finally being there and meeting the people I’ve exchanged an untold number of emails with, both professionally and personally, had already been a great experience even after a few hours. I got to see the band’s dynamic and each individual’s personality for what they really were, though they weren’t far from what I imagined them to be. All sweet, shy, and friendly. I even met Fruitcake, Elaine’s lhasa apso and perhaps the band’s unofficial mascot. She didn’t disappoint, either.

The remaining days of my visit to Liverpool were spent in Sefton Park and the city center, with each member of the band in different capacities, almost always accompanied by large pots of tea. Four people after my own heart. There was indiepop on the stereo: The Icicles, Belle and Sebastian, Jam on Bread, Banana and Louie. There were collectable football coins, Irish monopoly, the 1983 UK edition of Trivial Pursuit, and autographed Stephen King novels. My first ever Bounty — which was basically a Mounds bar. The group sent me off with my very own personalized poem from the Lark Lane poet, the bar playing an album by The Shins from front to back. I felt like I was with friends I’ve known for ages, people who went out of their way to make me feel at home. Leaving was so bittersweet.

Leeds with Finnmark

Alas, there were two more cities to visit before my return to Sweden. I only spent a few hours in Manchester, but that was enough time to do the reasonable thing and find the Salford Lads Club. I also had to limit my purchases in Piccadilly Records, but walked away with Lightships’ Sweetness in Her Spark 7” and the new Withered Hand album. I spent what seemed like ages waiting for Edward at Manchester Piccadilly. So long, in fact, that we ended up missing the last train of the night — a Leeds right of passage, I’m told. We had a pint at a lively Manchester bar before finally catching a train to Leeds just after 1 a.m. and arrived an hour or so later, where Betsy the cat eagerly greeted us.

Apparently people don’t visit Leeds just for the sake of visiting. Despite that fact, Edward is actually a great tour guide! I saw all that Leeds has to offer; the mix of new architecture overtaking the old. The area of Leeds University that was used in a scene of A Clockwork Orange. The Dark Arches and subsequent bizarre underground compartments turned into expensive parking spaces. The art gallery where Edward educated me on the paintings of John and Paul Nash. The vast rows of identical looking houses once used for the employees of the now inoperative factories of the area, entirely disorienting as to how alike they all looked. We frequented several different bars, in which I remember a conversation concerning Half Man Half Biscuit. We met various people throughout the course of the day. I even managed to meet two more members of the “Finnmark Four,” the members of the live band, Ben and Sandra. Sadly, I missed seeing Owen, the fourth member of Finnmark and the talented musician behind The French Defence. I tried a great deal of local beer, though I couldn’t tell you what they were now. Edward is exactly as I’d expected him to be – charming, friendly, and entirely entertaining. It was a whirlwind of a day and waking up to catch my taxi at 6:30 a.m. after a Saint Patrick’s themed night at The Brudenell was incredibly tough.

Departure

I was sitting on the coach driving down the M1 between Leeds and London when I wrote most of this, the memories still fresh in my mind. Now I’m sitting on the express train back to Stansted, having spent one last sunny afternoon in London and having said one final goodbye before I catch my flight back to Västerås. I’m still trying to recover and struggling to simply stay awake after complete sleep deprivation from last night’s outing, the lull of the train not making it any easier. But as I look back on the previous ten days, it seems like I have been in England for much longer. Though I’m returning to another city that I love, I feel a bit sad about leaving this country. Being a part of February Records, and, to some great extent, this little indiepop community we all speak of, has brought a lot of people into my life. I know I’ve written about that before. I had the chance to finally meet some wonderful people on this trip, several outside of the bands I visited, who have gone unnamed in this account but have had an equally positive impression on my journey. I can honestly say that I have even left a couple of real, true friends in England.

By the time this is posted online, I’ll already be back home in Sweden, removed from the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, and all the things I’ve just described to you now. I know this isn’t the last time I’ll be seeing Huw, Sean, Elaine, Andy, Edward, or anyone else I spent time with over the last 10 days. There’s a summer full of pop festivals right around the corner, after all.

Photo by Kristin Gill. Photo illustration by DG.

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