Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit

TBH Vertical With Sky 150dpiphoto by Angus Rowe MacPherson

2018 has been, is, and will continue to be a busy one for the three musketeers of The Burning Hell, with life outside the band interceding in both pleasant and necessary ways. So this year, we’re listening to the sage advice of the masters of 20th century relaxation, The Eagles, and taking it easy. I can’t tell you why, but we’ve been living life in the fast lane for too long, taking it to the limit, letting the sound of our own wheels drive us crazy—and now we’re really getting desperado for some kind of peaceful easy feeling.*

Plus, we need time to work on our long-threatened stage adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

That being said, we do have a handful of summer tour dates coming up. There are a few more to be announced, but most of them are listed below. Hope to see you this summer; for now, take it easy.

02.06. St. John’s – The Ship
13.07. Bryne NO – Ranglerock Festival
14.07. Bjørke NO – Indiefjord Festival
20.07. Frankfurt DE – Dreikönigskeller (w/Boo Hoo)
21.07. Nürtingen DE – Schön am Neckar Festival
22.07. Nürnberg DE – Hemdendienst
24.07. Darmstadt DE – Riegerplatz (w/ Boo Hoo)
25.07. Munich DE – Kulturstrand München
26.07. Freiburg DE – Swamp
27 and 28.07. Schorndorf DE – 50 Jahre Manufaktur – Das Festival
29.07. Port Eliot UK – Port Eliot Festival
30.07. Bristol UK – Louisiana (w/ Jennifer Denitto and ¡Ay Carmela!) Tickets
31.07. Brighton UK – Hope & Ruin Tickets
01.08. London UK – Lexington Tickets
02.08. Manchester UK – Soup Kitchen Tickets
03.08. Beauly UK – Belladrum Festival Tickets

14.08.19.08 – Woody Point NL – Writers at Woody Point Festival

 

 

*I have been assured by my editor that there is no such thing as too many Eagles puns.**

**I have no editor.

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It takes all kinds of people

Hamburg 2013 by Vera Gronke

(photo of us & friends in Dresden, 2013, by V.G.)

The music industry of today is peppered with endless laments about how people just aren’t supporting music anymore. Most people don’t buy CDs. Vinyl sales were back up for a while, but now the smell of a plateau is in the air. Streaming revenue is rising overall, but any relatively bright toddler with an abacus can do the math and tell you that it doesn’t add up to artists actually earning more (plus, as Liz Pelly explains in a rather frightening article, streaming is only beginning to make some of its bleaker effects on music felt). Us humans still love and need music, but being a fan of a band these days doesn’t always mean financially supporting that band.

Be that as it may, I don’t want to use this (un)limited virtual space to debate this new musical landscape. What I want to do is make a simple but important observation: whatever the relationship between music and money is or will be in the future, I am eternally grateful to the people who come see us play, send us emails, and talk to us at the merch table, whether or not they actually buy any merch (but please, buy merch; I admit to crying inside a little every time someone comes up to the table and tells us they liked the show and might check us out on Spotify). If it’s a great show packed with fun people and good vibes, we leave the venue feeling like we’re doing something right with our lives. Even if it’s a mostly-empty gig on a rainy Tuesday night in a filthy techno club and the owner sleeps through most of the show only to wake up at the very end and throw up on the floor (‘yes’ is the answer to the question you’re about to ask), meeting one or two nice people who go out of their way to tell us they love our music can be a crucial night-saver and a reason to avoid sliding into musical melancholy.

We have been fortunate to meet a mountain of really incredible people over the years. Some have started as fans but have become show promoters, like the amazing Massimiliano in Palermo, Glaswegians like Lloyd and Neil, Juraj in Brno, Max in Sheffield, or Zuzana in Banská Štiavnica. Other people show us they love what we do by coming to more than one gig on a tour, like father-daughter team Rob and Alex, Stefan of the Black Forest, dynamic trio Ross, Sandra, and Ed, one-and-a-half lawyers Viktor and Ralf, power-couples Nigel and Lydia or Simon and Claire, or solo acts like Chris the Comedian (who once went to every gig we did in the UK, and inevitably ended up on stage by the end). Then there’s people we love seeing at our shows just because they bring indescribably great vibes to a room, like Lily and Ashley of Brighton or the Thomas quadruplets of Sackville (the first time we encountered them they stood in the cold watching our gig through the window of the venue because they were underage).

There are people we haven’t met in person that often, like Monique in Edmonton or Travis in Saskatoon, who have nonetheless gone out of their way every year to let us know that they’re on our team. Thanks to the connective power of the Information Superhighway, we’ve even had fans get in touch from exotic locales we’ve never been to (Denver! Pittsburgh! Houston!) and knowing that our music has somehow reached beyond us is a very special feeling indeed.

We’re pretty good with names, but we forget more than we should, and for that we apologize. There are heaps of people I’m forgetting to talk about right here. Brains are faulty and it doesn’t mean we don’t care. Sometimes we never get properly introduced, and then it’s that situation where you’ve talked to someone a bunch of times but don’t know their name so you don’t ask because it would be awkward, but it’s also awkward that you don’t know their name, really, but you think they’re swell and would like to know them better or at the very least know their names (here’s to you, nice Nottingham couple). It’s even worse when we forget the names of children who come to our shows, because there aren’t that many in the first place and they’re so fantastic, and children are always getting forgotten, and really the size of a human has an inverse relationship to how badly we feel when we forget their name (special shout-outs in this department go to Jack, who rode a ferris wheel with me at End of the Road, and Heidi, who sang every lyric to every song better than I ever could, and very bravely got on stage with me during “Amateur Rappers”).

Jack & me by Claire

Photo by C.G.

Some folks have given us amazing and unprovoked gifts, like art, books, bottles of gin, packets of wallflower seeds, or home-brewed beer. Others have shared their homes with us, and a notable few have taken us back to the farm with them (not a euphemism, and we love a good farm), like Chris and Emma in East Briscoe or Vic and Deb in Clonakilty.

From time to time, people even do things like tattoo our lyrics (or even our faces) on their bodies, or name their baby after one of us. Nobody has tattooed our lyrics on their baby’s face yet, but we’d be very flattered. However, if you don’t like tattoos or babies, we want you to know that it means almost as much when folks just come and talk to us and tell us that what we’re doing is meaningful to them in some way.

On that note, and doubling back to my original point: in this and any other era, supporting music is important, and it doesn’t have to mean (only) financial support. As I’ve said in previous posts (see previous post), the best part of playing music is connecting with real human beings. Without people’s ears and minds and hearts to connect with, there is no point in doing this. Every night, I am just another bearded idiot with a guitar shouting into the darkness until someone offers a gentle heckle or strikes up a conversation after the show. So if you’re ever hanging back, feeling like it would be awkward to come and say hi and tell us a story or ask a question or show us your lyric tattoo, please don’t be shy. As long as you’re not into things like murder, kidnapping, or racism, and as long as you don’t want to talk to us about Spotify or Bitcoin, we totally want to talk to you. Your support honestly does mean the world to us.*

*check us out on Spotify here.

me and ben with me tattoo

 

 

What are you talking about? I thought 2017 was actually pretty good. At least if you ignore all the bad stuff.

nero-fiddling

2017: a dizzying collection of 365 circumnavigations of the sun in which each new dawn found me peering at a dim screen through half-closed eyes to check if we had been plunged into nuclear war, or if there was a new trailer for the newest Star Wars, or maybe both. I’ve now seen the new Star Wars, and on this first morning of 2018 I woke up to the news that North Korea had indeed “completed” its nuclear arsenal (though how often does any collector know when to stop?). Hello future!

Yes, but as much as I love talking about the apocalypse, the worldwide rise of fascism, the destruction of the planet, and why even dogs are going to the dogs these days, I have been persuaded by management to make a list of good things that happened to us as a band in 2017, because there were a lot of those, really, and in the face of future adversity the best advice is to plunge oneself blindly into nostalgia. So here are a collection of some of last year’s stats and superlatives:

Total number of gigs played: 110

Total number of gigs played on islands: 9

Smallest island we played on: Pellworm, Germany

Island featuring the most imbalanced sheep-to-people ratio, where we still had a pretty decent human crowd at our gig, despite the demographic odds: Eysturoy, Faroe Islands

Most enjoyable “secret” gig: Piano Stage, End of the Road, UK

Most enjoyable radio performance of a censored version of the same song from that video above: Loose Ends, BBC4

Best audience chant at a show: “Ariel! Ariel! Ariel!” at the Burdock in Toronto.

Best comment about my how my hair and beard make me look like a dude from Mumford & Sons: Dave Hill, Slade

Best post-show ride on a dangerous machine with an audience member: Young Jack, Ferris Wheel, Larmer Tree Gardens

Favourite cat: newborn kitten in a basket on the ferry from Livorno to Elba, Italy (runner up, and only a runner up because nothing is better than a newborn kitten: Sooty, Bernie’s place, Manchester)

Favourite cow: Daisy the Dexter

Venue that we were sure couldn’t possibly live up to the hype about how great it is, but totally did: Hebden Bridge Trades Club

Smallest venue: Grayston Unity, Halifax

Oldest venue: Upstairs at Monks, Beverley

Venue requiring the most effort to get to for both the audience and us, but really it wasn’t so bad because the tiny little ferry had a tiny little bar in the hold with tiny little glasses of whiskey: Community Hall, Knoydart

Best impromptu venue set up inside an old ceramic factory: Medalta, Medicine Hat

Venue with the best drinks: All You Read Is Love, London

Venue with the shiniest golden stage curtain: The Ivy House, London

Northernmost venue: KIAC Ballroom, Dawson City

Southernmost venue (also the only place we’ve ever played on top of a platform inside a cage, which we thought would be intimidating but was surprisingly fun): Hole in the Wall, Malta.

Best thing I was given unexpectedly: my new hurdy gurdy, made by Claire Dugué!

Best artist, who we still can’t believe we get to wear on our “sleeves”: Shary Boyle!

Favourite version of It Happens In Florida: End of the Road, UK

Most amount of butterflies: Schmetterlinghaus, Vienna

Newest official Master in The Burning Hell: Ariel Sharratt

Newest official Doctor in The Burning Hell: Mathias Kom

Best recording studio of all time: Big Jelly, Ramsgate, UK

Favourite new bar: Arch Rivals, Leytonstone

Best “lost weekend” with musical friends: Elbasonica Festival, Elba, Italy

Best band we met for the first time: The Vanity Project

Best day off on tour with Jeffrey Lewis: Roshven, Scotland

Best day off on tour with Construction & Destruction: Art Café, Banska Stiavnica, Slovakia

Best day off on tour with Shotgun Jimmie: Spa Day, Moose Jaw

Handsomest tourmate: Steven Lambke

Most beautiful place in northern England: East Briscoe Farm Cottages

Place we all decided we were moving to and starting new lives as cannoli makers, so see you later, everyone, music has been fun but cannoli is better: Palermo, Italy


 

This is the End

MontecarottoWe arrived late at night into St. John’s, where we’re about to play the last show of our three-and-a-half month, 78-date tour supporting the release of Revival Beach. Our wonderful friends Jud and Krista of Mightypop picked us up at the airport and took us to the Celtic Hearth, the only place open in the wee hours downtown, where we ate poutine and drank Guinness and listened to The Doors’ Greatest Hits over the tinny, squawking restaurant speakers.

The Lizard King sang:

“This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend, the end
Of our elaborate plans, the end”

I reflected on the mystery of Jim Morrison, dead for decades, reaching out through the ether to sing just for us, all about The End of our long tour and The End of another album cycle. The End. All the shows, all the songs, all the people. The End. And then he sang:

“Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane, all the children are insane
Waiting for the summer rain, yeah”

And I started wondering if maybe the song wasn’t about our tour after all. In any case, the poutine was great.

But it IS the end, still, and it’s been a weird and wonderful time. We’ve returned to well-worn haunts and discovered so many new and incredible places—Palermo, Banska Stiavnica, Knoydart, Hebden Bridge, to name just a few of the best—and everywhere we’ve gone we’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of the people we’ve met, the new and old friends, and the outstanding bands we’ve played with.

Many people have remarked over the years that we seem to enjoy going on long and gruelling tours to far-flung and unusual places, and have wondered why we do it. Most bands stick to shorter tours of the big cities that “make sense” in terms of their “career.”

In case the scare-quotes didn’t give it away, I am skeptical at best of thinking of music as something one does as a conventional profession, with all the trappings that come with such an idea—calculated choices about “target markets,” playing for “exposure,” pleading social media campaigns, crafting songs that will appeal to the widest audience, desperate pitches for licensing deals, and so on. Music offers us an alternative to that kind of life, close as it may inevitably be to the grasping cult of microcapitalism we call entrepreneurship. Yes, we do have to pay the bills, and no, music shouldn’t be free, at least in a world where nothing else is. But music is, at its best, a different way of participating in society, connecting with each other over a shared love of sounds, art, and words. With apologies to Sean Combs, it isn’t all about the Benjamins.

We write and perform and tour because we want to connect with as many people in as many ways and places as possible, because we can be brought to tears by a room full of strangers in Sicily singing along with Darren to “Via del Campo,” because we enjoy the beautiful challenge of communicating across languages and cultures, because of the unforgettable kindness and warmth we find in the most unlikely corners, and mostly because one small, perfect moment of reaching someone through a song is worth a thousand industry showcases, festival lanyards, Spotify plays, or “likes.”

There is more than one way to “do” music. We will keep doing it our way, because you have shown us how. But for now, this is The End. All the children are insane.

And introducing Neptune on tambourine

TBH Grotto PhotoIn this photograph, taken by Claire Goldthorp at End of the Road Festival only a few weeks ago, you can see us posing with Neptune, Roman God of the sea and Protector of Tambourine Players. Neptune—so the legends say—rose from the Adriatic to play the tambourine at every new dawn, and his jingle-jangle morning routine called the sun from the horizon. One terrible day, the sun would not rise, no matter how he jingled and jangled, but steadfast Neptune continued to play, eventually beating the tambourine so hard that his left hand came off at the wrist. Thus he is always memorialized without his left hand, as he is here in the grotto at Larmer Tree Gardens.

Cue awkward segue: the tambourine player is often overlooked, always in the background, but often brings the whole song to life. Same goes—and it’s not really much of a stretch—for the labour and love poured into music by the folks that don’t clamber up on stage and yap and yelp and bang and jangle. There are lots of them, fortunately for the rest of us, from indie record label owners, to promoters, to college radio DJs, to fans who go the extra mile for the bands that they love.

At this point, three weeks into our 101 nights of Revival Beach touring, I’m feeling overwhelmed with gratitude for the work of all of these kinds of kind people. We’ve experienced such incredible help and support over the years, and it would be a gargantuan and probably impossible task to list everyone I feel particularly indebted to or fond of. In the last few weeks, the enthusiastic volunteer work of Lloyd from Olive Grove Records in Glasgow and Jamie from Netsounds in Inverness (two dudes I’ve never even met in person) sent us on a fantastic journey through the Scottish hinterlands with Jeffrey Lewis; Ro Cemm, Claire of Kent, the Tipi Stage crew, and Brave Jack at End of the Road made an already-great festival unforgettable; Alex and Mike of Black Isle Brewery and Alison of Wildwood Bushcraft reached out to us out of the blue and achieved new heights in the Kindness of Strangers International Rankings. I’m writing this, right this minute, from the home of Donal McConnon, a visionary musician and songwriter who has given up his own bed so that I can write blog entries in comfort and safety while he seeks shelter under the Spanish Arch, or more accurately at his friend Richard’s house.

I could go on and on. The point is that music is a collective effort, and we wouldn’t be doing any of the things we’re doing otherwise. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who do a lot of work behind the scenes and never get any credit. I am ashamed to admit how slack I’ve often been myself in attributing props where props are due, but believe me, we really appreciate everyone that has ever helped us on our sometimes difficult, often ridiculous journey into whatever dimension we find ourselves inhabiting now. We like it here, and you all deserve our thanks and our hugs and high fives.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for Neptune, God of the Sea, and master of the tambourine!

Armies of Friends and Beach Revivals

While we were on tour this past spring, we made this video for “Friend Army,” the first song on our new record Revival Beach. It was shot by our frequent sonic collaborator and friend Captain Al Harle, and edited by our very own Ariel Sharratt. In the video, you can see what inevitably happens when the members of The Burning Hell attempt a race to the death on some islands in the north Atlantic (no spoilers):

As for Revival Beach, it comes out on September 29 on BB*Island and you can pre-order the album on LP, CD, or wax cylinder here. We’ll be releasing more videos, songs, and details about the record and our tour as the summer goes on, but for now, here’s the cover—a painting called “Revival Beach” by the extraordinary Shary Boyle. We remain honoured and thankful to Shary for allowing us to use her work for our record. She’s the best!

20525981_1587395007977377_741515416999659284_n

Scotland with Jeffrey Lewis, summer gardening plans, and a few other bits and bobs.

Scotland.poster.COLORw.NO.datesOh, Scotland, we will be all over you this September, spending two weeks traversing your lochs and glens, exploring your back alleys, tree forts, and chippies. Ariel and Mathias will be supporting the outstanding Jeffrey Lewis, and these three amigos will be starting in Leith, ending in Stirling, and would love to see you and your extended family and friends at any or all of these gigs along the way.

But first, we will be spending the summer months at home on the farm alternately tending our young apple trees, fending off the chipmunks, and getting our new album “Revival Beach” all ready for its release in late September.

We’re also playing a nice handful of festivals, like this one, this one, this one and this one, but not this one.

More news coming extremely soon. Winking heart emoji.