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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

Kaiser Chiefs interview Melkweg Amsterdam.

In June 2010 I arrived in The Netherlands with the notion of finally ‘settling down’. Young, in love and still just a little wet behind the ears, my girl and I had all the typical rat race dreams. Get the jobs so we could save money. Save money so we could get the house. Get the house so we could have kids. Have kids so we could be a happy family, a regular functioning cog in this big old machine we call society. What could possibly go wrong?

It was a Saturday morning mid June 2013 when I woke up and instinctively realized it was game over. S was curled up on the far side of the bed, about as far away from me as it was possible to get without falling out. She’d gotten home late the night before, so late in fact that I hadn’t even heard her come in.

Gingerly lifting myself out of bed, I felt my heart beating a million miles a minute. Jesus, this was it wasn’t it? I shuffled off to the toilet for a pee before making my way to the kitchen, where I flicked the switch on the kettle. Then I just stood there for a moment shivering. It was the steam of the boiling water in my face that eventually shook me from my coma, forcing me to the fridge. Grabbing the milk, I set the carton down on the counter, popped a teabag into my cup and began pouring. Adding the milk, I clutched my brew in both hands and turned to find S framed in the doorway.

Breaking up.

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

Her shoulders were slumped a little and she had what on any other day I’d have considered an amusing case of bed hair. However, there was nothing even remotely funny about this situation. In fact, all it took was a momentary glance to know that her heart had sunk to the floor, where it lay spluttering hopelessly alongside mine. “Leighton, come…” she croaked, motioning to the sofa. I followed her wordlessly, understanding that everything we’d built up together over the last eight years had eroded into a sorry state of disrepair. We’d known this for a while of course. But now, in the coldest light of the coldest day, it was about to become official.

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

We sat there looking at each other for a few seconds before she finally spoke. “I think we should separate” she said quietly, her voice wavering, eyes puffy and red. “Right?” she implored, taking my hand when I didn’t respond. “Right” I confirmed miserably and then the floodgates opened.

Short story The Netherlands

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

My job almost certainly saved my life that summer. I seemed to exist in a state of detached numbness as I went about the daily routine. I cycled to work, wrote the daily movie news and headed up to the recording studio. In the afternoons I watched interviews and worked on the latest Star File. At lunchtimes I’d sit at my desk alone where I ate my sandwich, drank my coffee and stared into space without a single thought.

The only times I was forced to snap out of it were for the various interviews I did across Amsterdam. Old Harbour wanted to commission a music show, which would be new territory for the company. After plenty of brainstorming, head scratching and a hundred and one drafts, they finally seemed happy with a concept I’d drawn up called Wall of Sound. It was a standard template really. Music news, album reviews, interviews with rock stars and a rundown of each week’s various charts.

Wall of Sound music magazine TV Show.

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

However, making a music show was going to be way more difficult than producing movie content. When it came to Hollywood, Remy had full access to the stars. In contrast, we had no track record in the music industry and had to start from scratch. I was told to simply attack record companies and agencies with emails and calls, while in the background the bosses worked on trying to establish more long term relationships with record labels.

My approach of badgering people turned out to be surprisingly effective! Within a month I’d managed to arrange personal time with Kaiser Chiefs, I Am Kloot and Kate Nash. Consequently, we were able to start sneaking bits of music news into our daily videos. Sure, these guys weren’t the A-list names Old Harbour craved. But it was certainly a start and, thank god, it got me out of the office for a bit and out into Amsterdam. 

I Am Kloot Live Paradiso Amsterdam.

I Am Kloot, not exactly A-list.

I had almost an hour with Kate Nash. We met at Bitterzoet, a cosy, concert hall with black curtains, wooden balconies and stained glass windows. “Hi Leighton!!!” she chirped enthusiastically, “It’s so nice to meet you!” She was quite the sight in her lime-green princess dress and plastic tiara. We talked about her “unremarkable” pre-fame years scraping a living with jobs at River Island and Nando’s.

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

And of course we went over her subsequent explosion into the charts with her number one debut album Made of Bricks. Kate had plenty to say about the music business and not all of it was kind. “When you’re young and you’ve had success with a certain sound, especially if that sound happens to be commercial pop, people don’t want you to try anything different”.

Kate Nash interview Bitterzoet Amsterdam November 2012.

With Kate Nash at Bitterzoet, Amsterdam.

Kate was referring to the dramatic change of sound on her upcoming third album Girl Talk, which channeled a far more aggressive sound than her previous work. Moreover, Kate explained how her new songs had been heavily influenced by riot grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney.

Girl Talk clearly wasn’t going to sell as well as her past albums, but Nash didn’t seem to care. Funny, sweet and with a mischievous sense of humour, we dashed through a number of disparate subjects including sexuality, British home cooking, the English poet John Cooper Clarke and the brown suede shoes I was wearing (she liked them).

Kate Nash Girl Talk album cover.

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

Finally, Kate had to go and get ready for her gig. Sticking around, I completely lost myself that night in her performance as she switched between new tracks like Deathproof and Fri-End? and old hits such as Mouthwash and Foundations. I even hung around after the show to do some unnecessary fan interviews. I was just desperate not to think about what kind of atmosphere awaited me back home.

Kate Nash live at Bitterzoet Amsterdam 2012.

Kate Nash live at Bitterzoet, Amsterdam.

My interview with Kaiser Chiefs Ricky Wilson and Simon Rix took place at Amsterdam’s famous Melkweg venue, just off the city’s landmark Leidseplein Square. When I arrived security sent me directly into the main hall where the band was smashing their way through a raucuous sound check of Na Na Na Na Naa. It was a magical moment standing there watching them do their thing in the empty hall. I’d been a big Kaiser Chiefs fan from the beginning, their anti-romance anthem Everyday I Love You Less and Less always getting some special Leighton treatment whenever I did karaoke.

Kaiser Chiefs interview Melkweg Amsterdam.

With Kaiser Chiefs Ricky Wilson and Simon Rix. Melkweg, Amsterdam.

Ricky and Simon were in a great mood throughout our chat. Slouching nonchalantly on the provided chairs, they breezed through our forty-five minute meeting with a steady flow of sardonic in-jokes, cackling laughter and sarcastic observations on the transient nature of the celebrity world.

The Future Is Medieval Kaiser Chiefs.

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

We spent a fair bit of time discussing their most recent album The Future Is Medieval. The record had been released under unique circumstances, with fans initially ordering exclusively through the band’s website.

Presented with twenty-three streamable tracks, buyers were able to listen, ponder and construct a ten-song track listing of their choosing. It was also possible to play around with different bits of artwork, which could be edited to each fan’s personal preference. “It was an award-winning album that!” quipped Ricky, tongue firmly in cheek. “Yeah…” added Simon, eyes to the ceiling, “It’s just that none of those awards were related to music!”

We also touched on Kaiser Chief co-founder, songwriter and drummer extraordinaire Nick Hodgson, who’d recently left the band to set himself up as a songwriter and producer for hire. “You know we love Nick!” insisted Ricky, his trademark grin disappearing for maybe the first time that afternoon. “He was a big loss and he knows he’ll always be welcome back!” “How’s he doing?” I asked, an awkward silence descending. “Um… he’s good,” offered Simon. “I think he’s finding the whole freelance thing more difficult than he’d expected”.

Following the interview, Simon and Ricky graciously signed all my Kaiser Chief records. “These are going straight on eBay aren’t they?” smirked Ricky.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

I can’t believe that Old Harbour actually let me interview I Am Kloot singer John Bramwell. “I Am Who?” asked Ap, the production floor manager. “Kloot!” I confirmed emphatically, doing my very best to sell the situation. “English rock band, cult following in The Netherlands and Germany. Their last album was nominated for the Mercury Music Award!” Everything I’d told him had been the gospel truth. And yet of course I knew that our clients would have zero interest in the band. “Sure, go,” said Ap, who just seemed happy that we were starting to gain music interview momentum.

Wall of Sound, a short story from The Netherlands.

The interview took place on a midweek evening at Lloyd Hotel in Amsterdam’s Eastern Docklands. Dating back to the 1920s, I found this grand, brown brick structure a formidable sight as I approached it from the main drive. Actually, it brought to mind some kind of Dickensian boarding school for troubled teenagers. Only later did I learn that it really had been a juvenile detention centre! And before that, an actual prison!

Exterior Lloyd Hotel Amsterdam.

Lloyd Hotel, Amsterdam.

Consequently, it was a creepy experience as the lady behind reception led me through the hotel to meet John. Moving through a plush lounge with gabled ceilings and grand piano, I was taken through a series of sinister-looking corridors. Seriously, it was proper One Flew over The Cuckoo’s Nest stuff that made me wonder if… just maybe… I was being carted off for some manner of lethal injection. “Err… where are we going?” 

Creepy corridor Lloyd Hotel Amsterdam.

A Creepy corridor in Amsterdam’s Lloyd Hotel.

Much to my relief I was deposited in a wood panelled drawing room where John sat in deep discussion with a journalist from a Dutch newspaper. He had a pint of lager set before him and appeared to be quite animated, eyes wide, arms aloft. “Mishter Bramwell hash a few print interviewsh to do, he’ll be along shoon,” said the lady. “You can shet up your camerash over here!”

So we got our gear in order, made sure the setting was just right and waited. And waited. What we hadn’t realised was that John had a whole host of journalists lined up and that we were his last appointment of the evening. All the while the beers kept coming. By the time he finally got to us, Mr. John Bramwell was quite pissed. And he knew it. “Shorry mate!” he said, out-Dutching the Dutch woman. 

John Bramwell Interview the Lloyd Hotel Amsterdam.

With I Am Kloot’s John Bramwell – Lloyd Hotel, Amsterdam.

My chat with Mr. John Bramwell was a dream come true. I Am Kloot’s 2001 debut album Natural History is one of my favourite records and we spent a good chunk of that night discussing it. There were so many questions buzzing in my mind, from the idea behind his affected warbling on romantic opener To You, to his more disturbing lyrics on tracks like Twist. “I sound like a bloody choir boy on that record!” he muttered, stroking his beard. 

Humble, self-deprecating and more than a little nostalgic, John claimed his group were “the unluckiest band in the world”. True enough I Am Kloot had experienced endless contractual problems over the years. They’d had a record label that went bankrupt and another that didn’t even bother to promote them. As a result, John had a stark warning for me. “I don’t know much about your company mate, but be careful, you cannot underestimate the Kloot curse!

I sound like a bloody choir boy on that record!” – John Bramwell. 

With so much bad luck and so many false starts, I suggested their recent Mercury Music Award nomination for Sky At Night must have felt fantastic. “It was…. nice” he ventured, after a long pause. “We had no delusions that we’d actually win the thing. But just being recognised was… humbling really. It was weird when we took our places in the hall that night. I was looking around at Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher, that Dizzee rapper bloke. And I said to Pete, eh mate I’m not sure we belong here!”

At the end of the interview John shook my hand, gave me a big hug (you don’t get that with Will Ferrell) and posed for a few photos. At the same time, considerably drunker than when we’d begun, he quite suddenly launched into an entertaining anecdote abut Primal Scream frontman Bobby Gillespie. “An absolute c***!” snarled John at the end of the story. And then he burst out into laughter. Even taking into account the glitzy Hollywood interviews I did during my Amsterdam years, that evening chat with John Bramwell still remains a treasured memory.

John Bramwell Lloyd Hotel Amsterdam.

With John Bramwell at Lloyd Hotel, Amsterdam.

It was a sunny July afternoon and I was walking through Gerbrandypark with my parents. It was their first time in Amsterdam, a trip they’d booked months before my life had fallen to pieces. They had no clue what was going on, but must have sensed something was wrong as we strolled through the park together.

Wall of Sound.

Gebrandypark, Amsterdam.

I’d done my best not to make it obvious. I wanted to choose the right moment to tell them; to show that I was holding everything together. I didn’t want to fuck up their holiday. “Leighton, are you happy?” asked Mum suddenly. Oh Jesus, I hadn’t seen that coming. I smiled, caught her eyes for a second and completely lost my shit right in front of them. “No, I’m not” I croaked, unable to say any more as the tears streamed down my face. I remember my mum hugging me and my dad standing there, his own eyes reddening. 

——————

“Leighton, we need to rewrite the Wall of Sound pilot,” exclaimed Ap excitedly. “There’s a client interested and Aston has all kinds of comments. Clear your morning schedule”.

There goes my chilled day, I thought. Ah, well. Somehow I instinctively knew there’d be a thousand revisions. A whole bunch of re-records with Aston micromanaging things every step of the way. I knew that I should jump up and get going immediately. But instead, I popped my headphones back on and allowed myself the luxury of finishing the song I’d been listening to.

 Through my sleepless days I’ve found… that in my dreamless sleep I’m bound… to one night hear the sound of you calling” sang John, strumming his acoustic guitar.

Do not stumble through tonight, have no fear of falling!”

‘Wall of Sound’ is the fifth chapter from my short story collection Notes From The Netherlands.

For my travel reports on the Dutch capital, take a look at my articles on Amsterdam.

Leighton Travels logo travel reports and short stories.

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2 Comments

  • NattyTravels

    Great read! 👌🏽

    November 14, 2019 - 11:31 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Natty!

      November 14, 2019 - 1:49 pm Reply

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