The Final Act: New Young Pony Club's Tour Diary With Katy Perry
, April 12th, 2011 07:26
Ty Bulmer wraps up her tour diary with Katy Perry by concluding that, although life on the road with a mega-pop star is a "nice holiday", it wouldn't be much fun all of the time...
Act Three: Brussels, Cologne, Hamburg and Amsterdam.
As soon as we arrive in Brussels, we realize something is slightly off in the state of Belgium. We have the day off and so attempt to enjoy ourselves, but it's hard going. The hotel staff are sullen and unhelpful at the Hotel Astrid in the centre of town. (Note to self: don't ever go there again). Gamely, we head into the HISTORIC quarter including the Grand Place, a slightly gothic square, housing both the worlds' most beautiful municipal building and a collection of highly over-priced restaurants with fancy names. In the shops people are similarly grey faced and it's not even raining.
We finish the day with an excruciatingly bad Vietnamese meal served by truculent waiters. Our drum dep, filling in while our drummer goes to her sister's wedding in Thailand, speaks fluent French. He says that in French the word Brussels means "lame". We don't really believe him.
The next day is no better. As we sit down to a lunch of pomme frites and omlettes, we begin to see the problem. Our bass player is wearing his favourite hat. It's knitted and slightly worn. But he loves it. We imagine his grandmother may have produced it. The staff in the restaurant are relatively friendly in comparison to the previous days' waiting staff, until he shows up in the hat. Once the hat has been observed, the waiters' attitude deteriorates in matter of minutes and immense waves of hostility lap at us from the direction of the kitchen. It is something worth knowing should you find yourself in Belgium. The Belgians are very, very Hattist.
Despite our general sense of unease, the gig is unexpectedly great. The crowd are vocal and excited when we appear and receive the whole of our set with some enthusiasm. We recognize several of the kids in the front row from Paris and realize that K-Pez has some very serious young fans - apparently with a lot of cash as they are bedecked in the finest selection the merch stall has to offer and even a tee shirt is 35 Euros. Once Katy descends down her lollypop staircase, one has the definite sense that she has hit her stride. The video screens behave, the playback is timely. She is revelling in her success and the show is more polished and slick with every performance.
We are all - NYPC, K Pez and all the various crews - so happy with the evening that an impromptu party is staged on our bus and by 11pm we have 25 people in our top lounge, a space perhaps seven foot square and mainly filled with modular seating. "Wow," says Jeremy, Katy's jocular drum tec, waving an almost empty bottle of Jameson's (the drink du jour among the glitterati), "this really is the party bus!" "What happens on the other buses?" we respond. "Oh, you know, sleeping, working, whatever." Good to know we are upholding the reputation of English bands as responsible, hardworking, and sober.
Cologne. What can we say about you? Well very little, as the ensuing hangovers post bus party are pretty cataclysmic. We spend the day trying to find the showers in the venue and watching the Beatles Anthology on DVD, a pastime indulged in by bands of every shape and size during downtime. There's something very comforting about watching Paul McCartney and George Harrison contradicting each other from the comfort of their separate back gardens.
Today, we have decided, will be the day that we attempt to get a photo with Katy. Despite the fact that we have been within 15 feet of her, through various walls and curtains for the greater portion of the last three weeks, we have seen very little of her, apart from her stage performances. For posterity, for our excitable nieces and parents, we are honour-bound to produce photographic evidence of her existence and our own in her immediate sphere of contact.
The event is handled with the sort of covert orchestration and meaningful stage whispers that usually accompany sneak attacks on occupied enemy fortifications in war movies. There are clandestine meetings with Katy's PA and watches are synchronized. It is pretty fun. After our performance and mere moments before hers, we make a dash for her dressing room where her PA is waiting. Katy comes out beaming in a frothy sparkling confection, the first of about 27 costume changes that the show requires each night. She is chatty and friendly. Her eyes really are that massive. It is very hard not to compare our own slightly sweaty and tired demeanour with her very teeny, very tanned, buffed, primped and perfectly made up perfection. There is a bead of sweat trickling in between my shoulder blades. It must be great fun to be a huge doll for a host of renowned glamour technicians but at the same time, I love being able to pop to the corner shop for milk in my pyjamas.
Katy seems to have cornered the market in charm, even nailing that preserve of the very famous: the ability to remember the people she's probably not really even expected to want to meet - our technical crew, in this case. "Where's the ginger guy?" she asks, referring to our sound man. "God, he's so shy, he won't even look at me!" She is a flirt. She pats Andy's jaw and remarks on his five o'clock shadow. The minx.
The pictures go according to plan. Parents and related children/godchildren will be thrilled. We smile, she twinkles. We crowd around her carefully for the snaps, not wanting to muss her flawlessness, and then she rushes off into the venue surrounded by hair, makeup and costumers.
Another day off mean yet another opportunity to indulge our love of CULTURE. Germany does seem to have a great deal of really excellent art galleries, and its KunstHaus is no exception. The Picassos rub shoulders with medieval triptychs and mirror installations. We ruminate for hours before finding a truly terrible Vietnamese Restaurant in the middle of Sexy Town, which is where our hotel is.
Germany is also the only place where one can purchase peanut butter flavoured Wotsits. Not as gross as you would imagine. Not gross at all.
The next day, the gig is brilliant. The mega KP fans that we are getting to know are present in the front row. They seem to trust us now and attempt to throw themselves into the specially cordoned off area that makes up the traditional "pit", but at Katy Perry shows is reserved for fans who have paid extra to meet her before the show and have the privilege of standing in front of her for her set.
The final show. We are rather sad to be leaving this circus, with this amazing catering and lovely people. It is Tom's birthday so we head in to town early so that he can procure himself a birthday spliff. Lou organizes cards and flowers to give to Katy and her PA at the end of the evening. Back on the bus, we sit down with a few members of the crew who have known Katy for a while. One relates a story of how a few years before when Katy turned to the assembled crew and band at a rehearsal and said "I'm part of the problem now."
"She'd been dropped from two labels and she really believed that [this] was her last chance. She was all like – I'm 24 now. This is my last chance. I have to go for this in the biggest way possible or I'm through. So she went pop."
"She wasn't always pop then?" we wonder.
"When she started with the record label and her managers, the idea was for her to front a band. She plays guitar, writes stuff. She wanted that. Her managers now are the most amazing I have ever worked with. They have the B52s as well. They really saw Katy as a Joan Jett figure but that's not how things worked out. But this has come from her. The image, the way things work. She's a clever girl."
Outside the venue's carpark, the crazy Katy Kats of the previous few shows are waiting. "It's great being a Katy Kat" says a tall slender boy in a pair of pink fluffy cat ears and cream squirting corset Katy tee. He's German. He's been following the tour since Milan. "She is very good to us. If you have been part of the forum since the beginning, you don't pay for tickets, you get in before everyone else. Sometimes you can meet her too. "
The venue is quite new. Acoustically perfect which means there is no natural reverb and no atmosphere, the sort of venue that soundmen love and bands hate. The gig is not as good as the previous night's and it is very hard not to attribute that in part to the peculiarities of the lack of ambiance. We are happy enough though. We are going home which seems much more importance now it is hours away than it did a few days ago.
When we get back to the dressing room, there is champagne and a handwritten note from Katy, which is very sweet, thanking us for being part of the tour and saying what a fan she was. We are elated. Chris from Holy Ghost! has flown in a day early to catch the show. It's Tom's birthday. It's definitely time for another party. Champagne is quaffed, then vodka. Then the room starts to go a little blurry. We head outside to finish Tom's birthday treat, when the message comes down the pipeline – Katy wants us to come to her bus.
Its almost 12 o' clock. Katy's bus is black and white leather inside, very plush. Apparently there is a room upstairs with a double bed in it, pretty standard for a starmobile (though Katy apparently prefers to sleep in one of the bunks). In it, sits an unassuming girl, her face freshly scrubbed, her dark hair gathered at her crown. She is wearing pyjamas and newly "bedazzled" grey Uggs. She seems about ten years younger and I am surprised by the difference in her appearance from pop goddess to attractive, but very young girl.
She jumps up as we pile in. She seems nervy or maybe it's just post stage adrenaline comedown. She offers us cherry beer. We would never decline the chance to drink cherry beer, even though we are rather the worse for wear and could probably do without it. Katy says "You look really drunk." Yes, and the rest.
Also present are Katy's very sweet PA, her makeup artist, her sister, and her two rather suave managers, Bradford and Steve. Imagine if Don Draper and Roger Stirling from Mad Men were in band management rather than fictional 50s advertising. They are very charming.
Katy's all over it. She pins Andy. "You guys are doing your next album. Who are you working with?"
We do our own production, Andy explains.
Bradford says, "I told you that. I'm the one who turned Katy on to your guys in 2008. I loved Fantastic Playroom. I can really hear the B52s in you guys. New Order, right?"
Bradford is a music lover it seems and we talk about that. "I've been trying to get Katy into the Smiths forever. And she never liked it. Then she calls me from Hawaii and her husband's played her some, and she's all – 'Oh My God, this stuff is great.'" One gets the sense that Bradford gives Katy quite a lot of things to listen to he enjoys. They seem to have a fraternal or paternal sort of vibe.
The first portion of this blog had been published on the Quietus site the day before. I have spent the past two days wondering whether any of the A team have seen it. "Who wrote the tour diary?" asks Bradford. Uh oh. This is officially a cold sweat moment. But I'm going to square it out. "Me!"
"OK. I read that. I thought it was you. I thought it was very clever."
"Oh good." I say, which probably doesn't really convey my relief that I haven't been chucked headfirst out of the bus. "What's this?" says Katy.
"Oh, I wrote a tour blog. Nothing horrible."
She throws her hands up. "I don't read anything about myself anymore." I know what she means. In the internet age, everyone feels that they should comment on everything and an offhand comment from some faceless entity that you'll never meet can still send an arrow of self doubt into even the seasoned professional performer.
But despite this common ground there is still a chasm between us; between her aspirations and ours. She has made us reassess what pop means, not only in terms of her music and its persuasive appeal, but also in terms of our own uneasy relationship with the music we love to make and the music that the masses want to hear. 20 years ago they were one and the same, but no longer.
It's been interesting to see behind the wizard's curtain, but we don't know whether to feel relieved or cheated that the kitschy, frothy, innuendo spouting goodtime girl is apparently mostly illusionary or not. Behind the masks, there is a woman who's both young and seemingly complicated. Looking at pictures of her previous incarnation, it seems the naivety and charm of the sunny California girl is quickly but surely being superseded by the brash glamour of the global pin up girl with her multitude of conflicting readings and fan demographics.
But one definitely has the sense that this is her decision along with all the other momentous decisions along the way. Every time she raises her Swarovski encrusted microphone to her lips, the tattoo reading simply Jesus is still there, clearly visible on her arm, so perhaps she hasn't disappeared entirely but is looking out at her own towering construction, infinitely pleased that the decision to be part of the problem rather than just fading away, was the right one for her.
We talk some more. We've enjoyed the tour and the many people on it who have made us feel welcome. It has been a great experience as this life at the centre of the storm is not something I have ever wanted for myself. Nice for a holiday, but I wouldn't want to live there.
We make our excuses before the conversation runs out and leave.
"What just happened?" Andy wonders.
Damned if I know…
New Young Pony Club headline the Quietus stage at the Stag & Dagger Festival in London on May 19th. For more information and ticket details, please visit the Stag & Dagger website