Before I start, I’d like to make a short statement. I have long resisted writing anything about Calla. Not because of them, but because of me. They deserve better than me, more than I can give. My writing is, and always has been, frivolous. My analysis, where it exists, is shallow in the extreme. I am, as somebody in a movie once said, not worthy. But, for various reasons which might be revealed in due course, the time has come when I MUST try, at least, to say something. Something rambling and incoherent, probably, but something. Right now, at the time of writing, I have no real idea of where this is going to go.
My relationship with Her Name is Calla has been, for me at least, an odd one. I don’t usually do the whole fanboy thing. Very few bands penetrate deep enough but, somehow, Calla has made it right through to my core. I’ve been a ‘fan’ of theirs ever since the first moment I heard ‘Pour More Oil’, maybe 12 or so years ago. Heard accidentally, listening to one of those ‘If you like that, you’ll like THIS too’ internet things that appear and disappear all the time. LastFM, I think it was. I can’t remember what I was looking for, but I found Her Name Is Calla and knew, right away, that I had found something special.
Over the years since then, I have bought their records and have seen them play a number of times. I have seen them in an arts centre in Berwick upon Tweed, in sweaty little venues in Edinburgh and Glasgow and Leeds. I’ve driven hundreds of miles to see them play an anniversary gig in Leicester. No other band has ever made me do that. No other band can break me apart like Calla can. No other band can be relied upon to make me cry.
I have known and loved many, many bands over the last 40-odd years but not one other has taken hold of me like Calla. I really can’t say why, and I still can’t quite understand how music which seems rooted in despair, loss, guilt and pain can feel so life-enhancing.
Calla can be heartbreakingly beautiful. Calla can be ugly and chaotic, brutal, delicate, fragile and hammer-heavy. And now, as they are just about to release what I and many others believe to be their finest album, Calla is calling time. Calla is coming to an end. And that hurts. They played some final gigs that I just couldn’t get to, and that hurt too.
As I write this, I am making last minute preparations for an adventure. Y’see, Calla are to play their last ever gig at the legendary DUNK! Festival in Belgium in three days’ time. I’ve wanted to go to DUNK! for years, but have never been able to justify the cost. Not even, sadly, in order to witness the last Calla gig.
Then, a few weeks ago, Tom Morris contacted me and asked if I wanted to join them on the Calla bus to Belgium. All I had to do, he said, was get to Leeds and the rest was on them. How, I ask you, could I possibly refuse? I had to book holiday time at very short notice, and I had to get a last minute passport. Ever trickier, I had to persuade my wife that this was a thing that I had to do, an opportunity that would never be repeated.
So I got the holidays, I got the passport and the wife is grumpy but resigned, and I am heading off to Leeds tomorrow. I still have no idea why Tom asked me to go.
(Imagine, if you will, the passing of some time here, because I will have no way to continue this story until it is all over, in a few days. What is, right now, an eagerly anticipated journey shall be a memory when I resume this thing. Don’t go away, I’ll be back.)
That was something.
OK, let’s give this a go. A story of a weekend, a road trip, a farewell.
Leeds, Thursday 30th May. I’m crashing at Tom’s flat tonight, as we have an early start tomorrow. We talk of stuff and things, work, family, politics, music. I find out Tom’s position on Britain’s exit from the EU. I learn that he is a sensitive, vulnerable man, absolutely devoted to and proud of his wife and his two girls. He is generous and modest, a man who seems constantly surprised by how much other people admire his music and baffled when someone takes time to say something negative.
I learn why he invited me along on the trip. He felt, he says, that he owed me something for a favour I did the band a few years ago when they needed help. I won’t go into details, but he was in a bad place at the time and things didn’t work out well, so he wanted to make amends. I tell him that I did what I did because I wanted to, and I never felt that he owed me anything. I’m not sure that I convince him. Still, I’m immensely grateful for the invitation.
On the road, Friday 31st May. Van loaded, we set off for Leicester, accompanied by Calla violinist Anja Madhvani, Woody the immensely tall travelling fan, and our infinitely patient driver Summers. Anja has beers, although nobody knows quite what they are. Investigation will prove that they are very strong IPA style beers with added oat milk. Not nearly as horrible as they sound. Anyway, they’re for later. 7:00am is a little early for beer.
I begin to get a feel of what it’s like being on tour with Calla. Even with half the band missing, to be picked up in Leicester, it’s clear that there will be endless silly banter and in-jokes. But for now, it’s relatively restrained. There’s a mild panic when Tom realises he’s picked up the wrong pills, but a few phone calls and a visit to a pharmacy in Leicester provide an emergency supply, and all is well.
We pick up drummer/banjoist Adam and bassist Tiernan at the latter’s place in Leicester, with all of the band’s kit, and the full Calla tour experience is on. Adam sits up front with Summers, but the banter in the back increases dramatically. Tom and Tiernan have been best pals since forever, and it shows. The constant flow of silliness and in-jokes – the ‘D. D.’ chant1: the frequent outbreaks of Green Day’s ‘Basket Case’: the insistence that Anja is, in fact, Chinese: the non-stop party bangers courtesy of Spotify: that weird noise from something off the telly called ‘Home Improvement’ – is, to an outsider, baffling but endlessly entertaining. It is to their credit that they don’t make me feel like an intruder.
I wonder, though, how these road trips used to be before the advent of the smart-phone. Everybody in the bus has one constantly to hand, apart from Summers(driving) and myself(don’t own one). It’s not just for Spotify, but they all seem to be in constant communication with family members, friends, colleagues and each other. What went on in these buses and vans before phones? Did bands play board games? I Spy? Stare dully out of the window at the passing motorway verges? Anyway, I think the question that I will hear most frequently over the weekend is ‘Does anybody have an I-Phone charger?’ That, and ‘Can we stop? I need a wee!’ Apparently, one of those new-fangled podcast things will be posting an extended review of ‘Animal Choir’ today, and much time is spent checking the site for updates.
The trip passes mostly uneventfully, and Tom is surprised that nothing has gone wrong. Things, he says, usually do and time is built into the schedule to account for unforeseen mishaps. As a consequence, we arrive in Dover three hours ahead of plan and manage to hop onto an earlier ferry.
Anja and Adam
This is a good thing, as Tom has agreed to provide guest vocals on a new song for his pals in hefty German post-rockers Kokomo, and it was doubtful if we would have made it to the festival site in time. On the minus side, Tom has less time to rehearse his part, listening – on his phone – to a demo of the song and practising his bit in the face of constant interference from the others. Tiernan offers to provide extra throat singing, and demonstrates his considerable skills therein. A quick message to Kokomo – via the phone – results in a general invitation to the others to join Tom on stage. So they practise together, Tom and Anja improvising harmonies and Tiernan making noises like sludge going down a drain. This can’t possibly go wrong.
The podcast review has appeared, and it is gratifyingly positive. As are, it must be said, all of the reviews so far.
I won’t describe the ferry trip, other than ‘get on big boat, cross flat water, arrive Calais, get off boat’. There’s nothing else to say, really. However, I will not recommend sitting on a faulty ferry toilet whilst it rapidly fills with water and inadvertently moistens your scrotum. Don’t try that.
The view from the toilet
Calais/Zottegem, Friday 31st May The countryside between Calais and Zottegem is flat and pretty, but ultimately rather dull. Lots of odd little houses, small farms, that sort of thing. It passes by.2 Anyway, we turn off the motorway and are soon on a tiny road through some fields, pass through some ridiculously narrow and twisty little village streets and suddenly we are at DUNK! There are almost no signs pointing to the site, as if the organisers expect everybody to know where to go. And that’s probably true.
While Summers is off doing stuff with the bus, we visit the DUNK! Records pressing plant and see the first vinyl copies of the new Calla album, ‘Animal Choir’. It’s a thing of beauty, a 2 x 12” work of art, and Tom is overcome with emotion. It’s as if he’s holding a newborn child, he sheds a little tear and the other three gather round for a hug.
They’ve been waiting for this moment for three years or so and I’m not sure whether they’re bursting with pride or relief. Both probably.
In the background, I can hear A Swarm of the Sun winding up their set, and I feel slightly sad that we didn’t make it in time to see them properly. Ah well, some other time, perhaps.
I’m not needed here, so Woody and I wander off to organise our wristbands for the day (Oh, those fabulous wristbands! Those magical bands that allow us free food and drink from any of the on-site feeding places! Free beer! Free sausages in buns! Free noodles!) and bump into Shy, Low in the office, filling out their paperwork. I catch a glimpse of their home address, and I find it quite amusing that they are from Midlothian in Virginia, as I live just a few miles along the road from the original Midlothian in Scotland. I don’t think they’re quite so tickled, but they’re nice guys and laugh politely.
We head to the campsite and pitch Woody’s tent. I think, at the time, that I will be sharing it with him, but later on I will be invited to share the Calla B&B. No offence to Woody, a lovely guy, but I’m quite relieved. A bed holds more allure than the ground, especially as I don’t have a sleeping bag with me. I expect that Woody is equally relieved.
Some wandering around ensues, as I try to find my bearings. Where are the toilets? How do I get to the Forest stage? What’s that over there? Where’s the Calla table in the merch tent3? Can I have beer please? I’m here, officially, as a ‘merch guy’ so once the table is set up for later, there’s not much for me to do and we all disperse to do whatever takes our fancy. I have a vague plan and a list of the bands I want to and/or MUST see. Plans rarely survive first contact with reality, but let’s wait and see…
Soon enough, it’s time for Kokomo, so I enter, for the first time, the big tent housing the main stage. I’m impressed. It’s bigger than I had expected, and much, much hotter. The sun is beating down outside and it’s like an oven in here, but it’s appropriately dark and I’m impressed by the huge wall of lights behind the stage.
(I’m not here to write a festival review, by the way, – that’s somebody else’s job – so I’ll skip most of that kind of stuff, and just cut to the relevant bits.)
I can see Tom pacing about at the side of the stage, waiting for his cue. Kokomo, to everybody’s surprise, cut a huge chunk from the intro to Tom’s song and he has to run on stage to catch his cue. He does his bit, slightly shaky and not entirely according to plan, but on time. The audience is variously bemused, amused, annoyed and enthusiastic. Anja, in the crowd, whoops and hollers for Tom, to the irritation of the large German fellow in front of her, who tells her to calm down. ‘That’s MY BANDMATE there!’ she retorts, and he is hushed up by his companions.
We meet up in the merch tent afterwards, and Tom isn’t overly happy with his part in the show, but everybody had fun so it’s all OK. He wishes he’d been warned about the abbreviated intro, though. Somebody, after the set, posts his discontent on Facebook and makes the effort to tag Tom in the comment to make sure he sees it. ‘Why would they do that?’ he wonders, and I can’t help but agree.
It’s getting dark now, and I wander off to see Wrekmeister Harmonies on the Forest stage. It’s a short stroll down a rustic path through the woods, and I see the venue for the first time. It’s a magical place, a natural amphitheatre surrounded by trees. More trees are randomly scattered throughout the audience space providing convenient leaning points for old farts like me. It’s warm and still, the stage is lit up like a jewel at the bottom of the hill, and Wrekmeister Harmonies are making a lovely noise. It is, I think a perfect introduction to the outdoor half of the festival, and I want to stay here forever. At one point, a bat flits across the stage – not something you see at regular venues. Adam is here, somewhere, but is less impressed than I am, probably because he claims to be too tired. Tch, young folks these days. No stamina.
It’s time to head off to the B&B, so we round everybody up and find the bus. As we prepare to leave, I can hear Efrim Menuck – that guy from Godspeed You! Black Emperor – droning away in the background, and I don’t regret having to miss his set. Apparently he is playing to a half-empty tent, so I’m not the only one happy to give him a swerve.
It’s a short drive to our bed for the night, a nice little place at the top of the only hill in Belgium. The nice chap waiting for us is a little surprised to see six people instead of five, but takes it in his stride and shows us to our apartment. There are a few surprises waiting for us within, not least the very public shower and toilet in the corridor4 and the mad-eyed stuffed hawk murdering an equally stuffed jay on top of the wardrobe. There’s a DVD player and a collection of hopelessly dated movies that no-one wants to watch. There is also a nice supply of beer in the fridge, which won’t survive the night5.
Tomorrow is the big day. G’night, everybody.
Bedroom Murder Hawk
Zottegem, Saturday 1st June
Breakfast has, for some reason, been arranged for 10:00am so I’m up early with nothing to do. I go for a wee walk down the hill past the weird grotto/shrine thing where the Virgin Mary stands watching and the garden with the incessantly barking dog. Back up the hill, just past the B&B, the countryside opens out to fields, and a path that heads off into the distance. Any other day and I’d be off up that path like a rat up a drain, but instead I wander back down to base to see if anybody else is around. JR Robinson from Wrekmeister Harmonies is in the yard, and I say ‘Good morning’ and thank him for being excellent last night. He nods in acknowledgement of the compliment, and I leave him alone.
Shortly, Tiernan shows up, looking for food, and we round up the others. We dine amongst a collection of dubiously stuffed animals, none quite as intimidating as the bedroom hawk. Breakfast is your classic Continental6 , all crusty rolls and meat and cheese and entirely fine. Our host asks us ‘Would you like eggs?’ We certainly would. ‘With bacon?’ Oh yes. And a huge omelette is presented, set in front of Adam. He reaches for his fork, accepting the challenge. Someone points out that it is PROBABLY for sharing, and I’m not sure whether he is disappointed or relieved. Either way, we all have eggs.
(If you want to imagine a bunch of people getting ready for a short trip in a van, now would be a good time to do so.)
Today is, it would seem, my reward, that favour returned, and I have it mostly to myself. I’m not obliged to be anywhere, or to do anything, so I just enjoy the day. In my opinion today’s line-up is the best of the festival, which is fortunate as it’s the only full day I have here. As I said before, it’s not my job to review the festival, but I’ll skip through my part in it anyway for the sake of completeness.
There’s some bands here today that I never expected to see for one reason or another, and I’m stupidly excited at being able to change that. I’ll get to them shortly. Before them, I catch excellent Spanish post-metallers Le Temps du Loup in the main stage tent. It’s only 1:00pm and it’s already stiflingly hot in there. Obviously, the weather is not DUNK!’s fault, but it’s that which makes me avoid the tent for most of the rest of the day. Sadly, it means that I will miss Silent Whale Becomes a Dream and Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, both of whom were on my ‘to see’ list, but I can live with that if it means I can continue to breathe.
I make my way through the woods to the Forest stage, very much more my kind of place. It’s open and airy, with the lightest of breezes wafting the aroma of ‘herbal’ cigarettes around. There are butterflies, and there is Summit, a robust post-rock outfit from nearby Ghent. They’re very new, but confident enough to overcome their apparent awe at being invited to play Dunk!.
A couple of hours of wandering around, beer, hanging out, beer and noodles, and then it’s our merch tent neighbours Shy, Low in the Forest. They’re the first of my ‘MUST see’ bands and they are magnificent. Being, as they are, American and not international megastars, they are never likely to play a gig in Edinburgh, so it’s a joy to get to see them here, although they do start off on a sombre note, remembering the 13 people recently shot dead in their home state of Virginia.
Next is a band I DEFINITELY thought I’d never see, because Zhaoze are from very, very far away in China. I heard, a while ago, their recent album ‘Birds Contending’ and bought it on the spot. It’s a genuine masterpiece, and it’s only fitting that they are playing it in its entirety tonight, considering that it was recorded live, right here in this very forest. Everything about the performance is magical, especially the bonkers ‘bird dancing’ of the band’s front man. Anja sits with me for a while, but she has urgent business elsewhere and has to go. I’m going nowhere until they’re done, and they receive a well-deserved standing ovation. Also, I find out how to pronounce Zhaoze correctly. It is 沼泽, and not Zhao Ze, as I had previously imagined. Obviously.
Gifts From Enola are one of the bands responsible for my fondness for post-rock. They went into hiatus some years ago, and my chances of seeing them vanished. They had, once, booked a gig in Glasgow but it was cancelled. But now they’re back, celebrating the re-issue of their classic album ‘From Fathoms’. How long they’re back for remains unclear, but they are here now and I CANNOT miss them, so I endure the boiling tent7 for one last time, just for them. I feel that their sound is a little ropey, but I’ll forgive them anything just for being here.
Gifts From Enola
I’ve seen Bossk a number of times before, but never outdoors, and never with so little obscuring fog. It’s good to be able to actually see what they look like. They play tonight as a four-piece, doing without their vocalist for whatever reason. Still, they play ‘Define’ from their first EP, something I don’t recall seeing them do before. Which is nice. Tom is watching from the wings, because Calla are up next, and he will tell me later that their set was exactly what he needed at that time.
Like I just said, Calla are up next on the Forest stage, closing the day here, so I sit down to wait8. I’m glad I do, as the soundcheck provides one of the best gig moments ever. The sound engineer is checking the vocals, and Tom does his bit. Anja doesn’t sing, or do the standard ‘One,two,one,two’ thing, but tells us what she has been doing during the day. Then it’s Tiernan’s turn. He steps up, says he’s not going to tell us about HIS day, gives the mic a hard look and ‘DOOOOO YOU HAVE THE TIME, TO LISTEN TO ME WHINE?’ C’mon everybody, join in!’ And they do. They all do. The DUNK! choir does Green Day. The rest of the band crack up, Tom laughing so hard that he has to rush off to the unspeakable stage-side toilet to avoid an accident. The crowd is won, and Calla haven’t started playing yet.
Somebody has brought a dog to the festival. A black’n’white border collie. The dog is called Wolf, it seems, but someone dubs it Dog is an Astronaut9. Anja wants to take the dog home. Tom also wants the dog. The dog just chases sticks, over there amongst the trees at the side of the stage.
And then they play. The last Her Name Is Calla gig ever, if we are to believe them10. Afterwards, I will see various opinions offered. Some say that the sound was uneven, Tiernan’s bass dominating the sound, but it seems fine where I am. Someone says “I didn’t expect much, and I wasn’t disappointed.” Well, OK then. But the majority of the crowd seems to disagree. It is, in essence, a classic Calla set, favourites from every period of their history. They are not perfect, they never were, never the ‘tightest’ of bands, but we love them for their lack of mechanical precision.
Adam Anja Tom Tiernan
They play ’Nylon’ and ‘Pour More Oil’ and ‘Wren’. They play ‘Long Grass’, hitting me right in the feels, as the kids say these days, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I cry. I realise then that this is the last time I will ever see these songs played, and that’s a hard thing to deal with. I’m not the only one. There are many wet eyes in the crowd.
They’re running a little late, so they skip a song and carry on with ‘Condor and River’, and then they tear me into tiny pieces with ‘Frontier’ from the new record. It’s beautiful and devastating and I’m a soggy mess. I will NEVER be able to hear this song without breaking11. They finish, as ever, with ‘New England’, because Adam will be sad if they don’t. Tom hands his guitar to someone in the crowd12 whilst he does horrible things to his pedals during the apocalyptic orgy of noise at the end, and then they’re done.
But the crowd won’t let it be finished, not just yet, and demand an encore.
“We’re going to be in so much trouble”, says Tom when they come back, and play the song they missed out before, ’The White & The Skin’ from the very earliest days of Calla, and they are joined on stage by an unexpected giant bug. No-one is quite sure what it is, exactly13, but it’s fucking HUGE and crashes into everything and terrifies everybody. And then it really is over.
I’d tried to persuade Tom to finish the set with ‘Robert and Gerda’ from the new record, but he said they couldn’t. Why not? It’s a classic set closer, I reckon, with a huge sing-along chorus. ‘Too difficult’, he said. The arrangements, the vocals, the strings, all far too complicated for a sketchily rehearsed live performance. He is, of course, correct. I’ve never really considered the technical stuff before, just reacted to the music. Never noticed the complexity of the songs. And the vocals, never considered that Tom’s singing voice might be something that takes hard work and effort. He dislikes, he tells me, male singers and has tried to sound as female as possible in his singing. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is hard. So I guess it’s not surprising when he tells me that he feels, not sadness, but a kind of relief after each song, relief that he’ll never have to do it again.
Anyway, while they’re packing up, Woody and I head back to the merch tent. Somebody, after all, has to handle the rush of fans keen to buy the new record. And that’s not me being sarcastic, there really is a hefty crowd at the table. Now, I’ve never worked a band’s merch table before, so I don’t know whether sales are good, bad or indifferent, but it seems to me that we shift a decent amount of stuff. ‘Animal Choir’ vinyl is popular, the older records do well too, and everybody wants everything autographed. One lady even asks Anja to sign a copy of Adam’s ‘Usidoh’ book/CD , which is nice, but weird.
With the band off mingling with the fans, chatting and signing things, I finally feel that I’m justifying my presence here. Quite clearly, today I am a vital cog in the Calla machine. It just couldn’t function without me14. I am important. Oh yes.
Eventually, we pack up to go. DUNK! has been awesome, but we have to go. Back to the B&B, and another night under the mad-eyed gaze of the hawk on the wardrobe.
Zottegem, Sunday 2nd June. Prompt breakfast today, as we need to head off early-ish. Extra folks to pick up, and an earlier ferry. Breakfast is the same as yesterday – except Adam now knows that the eggs are not all for him, and I get the chance to introduce the others to Filet Américain15. Then it’s back to the festival campsite to find our new passengers – a nice young couple whose names, to my shame, I can’t remember – and away. On the way back to the motorway, we pass a field with some horses in it. There is one very young foal, and Anja and Tom melt into puddles of ‘Awww’ and want to take it home. Wolf the dog is forgotten.
To no-one’s great surprise, things are running a little late. It’s touch and go whether we’ll make the ferry and everybody is a little tense. Things don’t improve when we hit heavy roadworks north of Calais, and there are urgent toilet stops. Tempers are getting a little frayed in the bus, although we all know that there is no real urgency. Nobody NEEDS to be home early, and there’s not going to be a problem getting a later ferry, but the frustration of delays on top of the stresses of the weekend is making everybody a bit snappy. Still, there is Spotify to provide the tunes, and the bus banter is relentless.
Calais, Sunday 2nd June. We are, of course, stopped by French Customs officials and are asked to unload the van for inspection. We all blame Anja, because she is slightly brown and obviously a terrorist. Everything is tipped out onto the ground behind the bus and then totally ignored. No search, no check. Nothing. Just load it all back in. An utterly pointless waste of time. This does not ease the tension in any way.
As expected, we miss the ferry and we have to wait. Despite the glorious weather, Calais ferry port is a bleak place and there’s nothing to do. We sit and wait and wander about and wait and look for coffee and wait some more. An hour and a half later, the ferry arrives, and we wait and watch as it unloads. As the last vehicles are disgorged, we get ready to board, but the marshals seem determined to frustrate us and keep us waiting whilst, it seems, everybody else gets on first. Enquiries are fruitless and, in fact, entirely ignored. We are invisible, inaudible and ready to kill.
Eventually, after having checked under rocks and behind lamp-posts for any other stray vehicles which might possibly have priority over us, our marshal grudgingly lets us on. Merci beaucoup, monsieur, and fuck you too.
On the ferry, time is spent signing a pile of CDs that people have ordered. As usual, a great deal of care has gone into the packaging, and all of the various bits have to be placed into the pretty tins. It’s a limited pressing, all have been sold, so if you haven’t got one, you can’t have one. Maybe they’ll make more. I watch the French coast slip by. It looks nice.
As we depart Europe and cross the channel, we leave the glorious weather behind us, and things turn a little bit greyer16.
England, Sunday 2nd June. Dover. We take a detour into town to drop off our two new chums at the station, and then head off up the road to Leicester. The trip home is much more subdued than before. Everybody is aware that this is the end of something, and nothing will be the same afterwards. Amid the banter, gags and weird noises, there are promises made. To keep in touch, to meet up regularly, to do things together. And I imagine that these promises will be kept, as Calla wasn’t just a band, it was a gang of best mates. BFFs, as they say these days.
It’s getting on when we reach Leicester to unload Tiernan, Adam and most of the gear. Tiernan’s wee girl is sleepy, but delighted to have her daddy back. She’s a little shy with all of those big beardy men in her kitchen, so I go outside to wait. I am not needed here.
Family stuff. It is, I think, one of the principal reasons for the end of Calla. Being in a working band must use up a fair chunk of one’s family time, and I guess there must be a point where one must prioritise. Also, unless you’re somebody like Ed Sheerin17, it’s a punishingly expensive hobby.
Unsurprisingly, it takes quite a while for the two halves of the band to separate but, after many, many hugs, we set off up the road on the final leg of the Calla trip. It’s uneventful, but quite emotional. Anja gets a bit weepy, and I offer to sit up front to give her and Tom some space, but it’s OK, they say. Still, I feel a little like an intruder. Anyway, it’s not like they’ll never see each other again. They both live in Leeds and often meet on the train to work. They talk about the future and skirt around the possibility of doing something together. I reckon that a little acoustic tour, just the two of them on guitar and violin, would be a very good thing. I’d pay money to see that. Oh, yes.
We arrive at Tom’s place in Leeds, and we say our goodbyes. Anja makes me promise to look her up next time I’m in Leeds, and I will. I’ll probably be there for StrangeForms 2020, and that seems to me like an ideal occasion for a meet-up. We’ll see.
Tom and I lug all of the left-over gear up to his flat – praise the gods for lifts! – and we get some food in. We’re nearly at the end of this story, but there’s still one little chapter left.
Tom, it seems, has never heard the album on vinyl, and wants to listen to it tonight. Fine by me, although I’m certain it’s going to end in tears. He digs out a little turntable and fires it up. It sounds a bit wonky, but it’s just the non-hi-fi equipment sitting on an uneven floor. I’ve never heard it without headphones before, and it’s glorious, despite the wobbles. I’m going to break.
And, of course, it’s ‘Frontier’. Now, I’m not really an emotional guy, but ‘Frontier’ is one of those songs that just destroys me. So, right there, sitting beside the man who wrote it and sang it, I’m in tears.
Am I embarrassed? No, not a bit.
Is Tom? Possibly, but then it’s all his fault. He made me do it. “Aww, mate!”, he says, ‘”Are you OK?”
Absolutely. I’m just fine. I love music that makes me cry. It reminds me that I am not an unfeeling lump of meat. I am human and vulnerable. And Tom makes me cry more than any other singer. Songs like ‘Memorial Day’, ‘A Year in the Wilderness’ and ‘I Won’t Ever Go To Sleep Again’ should be arrested for murder, because they kill me every time. Every. Single. Time18.
Leeds and Scotland, Monday 3rd June. It’s my birthday today, and it’s time for me to go home. The adventure is over. Tom lets me out of the car park and I promptly get lost in the centre of Leeds. Breaking the habit of a lifetime, I actually follow some signposts and find my way out of town. To the North!
I reach home, and park outside my house. I step out of the car, and it starts to rain. Welcome to Scotland
Time for reflection. Have I learned anything over the last few days?
I think that what strikes me most about Her Name Is Calla is what genuinely lovely people they are. Tiernan is very ‘blokey’, perhaps, but he is funny and warm and generous, and utterly devoted to his wife and daughter. Anja is sweet and kind and modest, but eternally unconvinced of her amazing talent. We tell her that she is special – and she IS – but I don’t think she ever believes us, really. Adam is the ‘quiet one’, fiercely intelligent and seemingly able to learn how play any musical instrument just by looking at it.
And then there’s Tom, the fragile, troubled, vulnerable heart of Calla. Tom, like Tiernan, lives now for his family, his wife and his two girls. He is immensely proud of his older daughter and her emerging talents, but is deeply troubled about her – and her sister’s – future and the direction this country seems to be heading in. He cannot understand how we got here, how we could ignore the lessons of the not-so-distant past, and how we seem to be throwing away our security in exchange for some nebulous idea of sovereignty.
As for Calla, he says that it is time to stop and to give newer, younger bands a crack at stardom, or at least a little bit of success. He says that Calla’s time is over, they did the best that they could. He’s proud of what the band has created and is happy to let it end now on what everybody19 believes is their finest moment, the astonishing ‘Animal Choir’.
I’ve seen, over the last few days, how it is being in a working, touring band, and it’s really not easy. It might seem to be fun, and it certainly can be, but it’s damned hard work when you’re doing everything yourself – writing and recording and organising tours and paying for this and for that and getting your records made and sold and so on. It must be physically and mentally exhausting, demoralising when things don’t go well, and maybe Tom’s right, calling a halt now.
Maybe Tom will keep making music – it’s hard to believe that he won’t – but it’ll be a gentler thing, I suspect. A song here and there, as and when life allows. No stress and no pressure. But now it’s family time.
I’ve also discovered that I really, really like the DUNK! fest, especially the magical place that is the Forest stage, and I’d happily go back every year, forever, if only I could. I’d like, therefore, to thank Calla for letting me be here with them, to experience this place. I’d also like to thank them, Tom and Tiernan and Adam and Anja, and Sophie, and all the other Callas I never got to meet, for giving me so much joy and so many tears over these last twelve or so years.
Thank you, Her Name Is Calla, and farewell. My life would be less without you.
- I won’t explain. You’d probably find it insensitive and possibly offensive. It was neither, but you had to be there.
- I do notice, though, that Belgian cows seem to be particularly muscular.
- At the back of the tent, in between Shy, Low and Alcest, just round the corner from Bossk and, I think, Wang Wen. I feel slightly awed.
- How very continental!
- To clarify, it’s the beer that won’t survive the night. The fridge will be fine.
- Well, we’re in Belgium. Do you expect a full English?
- And the excitable girl who keeps demanding that Nat should remove his shirt.
- As much as I like the venue, I have to say that sitting on the ground here is very hard on the arse and the back. If I ever come back I will bring a camping chair, as many among the crowd have had the foresight to do today. Experienced Dunkers, I expect.
- Post-rock humour.
- And why should we not?
- I did manage to record a video of this song which you can find on YouTube if you want to look, but I have never watched it. I can’t.
- Turns out to be one Jonas Abrahamsson, well known in Post-rock fandom circles. There is, I believe, a follow-on story here. After the gig, Calla sold off a lot of their gear, including this guitar. JA bid for it, but didn’t win. However, the winning bidder read about his attempt and, apparently, just sent the guitar to him. Post-rock generosity.
- I thought it was a big beetle, Anja says it was a hornet, but the popular opinion suggests that it was some kind of colossal moth, very possibly that one from the Godzilla movies.
- Well, me and Woody. Mostly me, though. Obviously.
- A peculiarly Belgian raw beef paste thing which is a lot nicer than it sounds. Looks like pink sludge, but is damned fine on fresh crusty bread.
- Kinda like Bre… NO! No politics here!
- As I write this bit, I’m actually listening to ‘Animal Choir’ and that chorus from ‘Robert and Gerda’ starts. Yeah, like I said. Every fucking time.
- Everybody whose opinions matter, that is.
Well, there it is. Like I said at the start, I had no idea how this was going to go. Safe to say, though, I wasn’t expecting it to run to nearly 7000 words. Whether or not it says what I wanted it to say, I can’t really tell, as I still don’t really know what it WAS that I wanted to say.
Anyway, I’ve finally managed to write something about Her Name Is Calla after many years of failure. It’s here to be read, if anybody is interested. It’s been a while since the events described actually happened, so maybe nobody cares any more. Still, unless you’re the kind of reader who goes to the Afterword first, you’ll have, at least, skimmed through the preceding meandering waffle. I’d like to think you enjoyed it, or even just tolerated it enough to push through it. Or perhaps you hated it.
Either way, thanks for reading.
Wrekmeister Harmonies on the Forest Stage
The DUNK Forest Stage
Le Temps du Loup
All photos courtesy of Bruce Cowie.