Day 1: Birmingham

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Talk Normal at Travelodge

And thus begins my first attempt at driving on the wrong side of the road, using a stick shift with my left hand, and driving a big van (well, big by UK standards) through their tiny streets. So far so good – only once did I smack a car with my mirror. He didn't notice, so I think we're all good as long as no one from the insurance agency sees this. In fact, the left-handed stick shift and the left-side of the road are the easy parts, the tough part is trying to gauge how close you are to objects on your left. Having always driven on the right side of the road, I found myself veering to the left on more than one occasion. Otherwise, it's not that hard. Oh yeah, and those damn roundabouts. Fuck them.

Our ride for the next three weeks.

The Wimbledon train station.

Most of our drives are four hours or less, and we comfortably rolled into Birmingham a quick three hours after leaving the comforts of BedZed – an eco-friendly complex where Talk Normal's manager Jason lives. Birmingham is/was clearly an industrial city. One person we met (who I will explain later) told us we were a mere 200 yards from where Harry Houdini would get his handcuffs made, as the city was once the world's capital for making handcuffs (or at least the UK's capital). With towering, hallowed out factories, warehouses-turned-hostels and graffiti-strewn walls, I quickly assessed Birmingham as the Brooklyn of England, but considering I haven't been anywhere else outside of London yet, that may be a bit preconceived.

Unloading in Birmingham.

After Andrya and Sarah set-up their gear for the first time, noticing they were without cymbals (Wire's drummer Robert was kind enough to let Andrya use his high-hats for this first night), they soundchecked and the venue fed us. All of Wire and Andrea are meat-free, so of course we're traveling on a vegetarian diet. Sarah and I find ourselves trying to make due with the “meatiest” of vegetarian options. I got a “sausage” made out of lentils and some other woodsy shit. It was actually really good, I should be more open-minded.

But it wasn't until the Wire fans started showing up that the fun began. Let me begin with Graham's explanation to us that their crowd in many countries (like the US and Japan) is a bit younger and “artier”, but that here in the UK, it's much more punk. Now combine that with the average age of their fan base (mid-fifties) and I got a quick glimpse of what my future will be – an awesome dad/grandpa. That said, the crowd was – not surprisingly – about 95% middle-aged males, with the other 5% consisting of wives and/or sons (which I thought was rad – imagine if going to a show with your dad meant going to see Wire). Everyone was nice, and surprisingly into awesome music. We heard Battles and Mastadon playing before the show, and most of the people in attendance knew who they both were. The best part was hearing the people asking to buy Talk Normal's “least melodic” albums. No wait, I take that back, the best part was the drunken old man who went by the name of “Wire”, who was witnessing the band in his hometown for the first time in 32 years. He beraded us about being American with a nice limerick about the “Statue of Bigotry – Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, and I will piss on them.” I thought he was a reciting a punk song, but when I asked him what that was, he told me it was his own.

Talk Normal's set was great – as expected. Maybe a bit nervous considering this was their first with Wire, but they settled in nicely and the crowd was super appreciative. Which led to the highlight of the night. The DJ came out to say how much he enjoyed the set, and proceeded to buy a record. About mid-way through Wire's set, another gentleman came out to talk to Andrya and myself at the merch table and started with the line, “I'm bored as fuck in there, I figured I'd come and talk to you guys.” At first we assumed we were going to have another run with an annoying fan – quite the contrary. First he tells us he's here with the DJ (thus the segue) and explains how they run a noise festival there in Birmingham called Supersonic and how he would like to have Talk Normal come and play. Cool enough. Then he proceeds to talk about how this year he's playing with Skull Defekts, who we are all very familiar with, and Talk Normal are good friends with. Very cool. This leads into a discussion on noise bands in Birmingham (see, it IS like Brooklyn), and how he's been playing out some new material under his birth name of Nick Bullen. I told him he would go over well in Brooklyn, to which he replied (and I'm paraphrasing here) – “oh yeah, well I've lived in New York and played with John Zorn, do you know him? And Bill Laswell, guys like that.” Um, yeah. “I'm on that Subsonic 2 record, it's actually Bill Laswell and Nicholas James Bullen, my full name.” Holy shit!

Then he hits us with the banger.

“I used to play with this band Napalm Death.”

Um. What the fuck?

“Yeah, me and my mate started the band when I was 13. I recorded the first album Scum with them, but left because I thought they were becoming too commercial.”

Keep in mind Napalm Death is widely-considered the godfathers of Grindcore, so if they were too commercial for his tastes at 13, I can only assume what kind of knob-turning squelch he's pushing these days. This guys is seriously one of the coolest people I've ever met. Needless to say, we left in high-spirits knowing that the founder of Napalm Death is now a Talk Normal fan.

Which leads us to the reason for this blog – the Travelodge. Of all the beautiful amenities Birmingham has offered us, this Travelodge was not one of them. Though the room looks like every other Travelodge, the stains on the couch (where I am sleeping) are something I hope is not at every Travelodge. But it filled the need of a warm bed, and we got the longest sleep of our jet-lagged start. Woke up just in time to check-out, and off to Manchester.

Andrya in Travelodge number one.