In the days before I boarded the flight to join The Orielles in New York (early March) it was all knocking elbows instead of handshakes and mild jokes about “this new ‘flu thing”. Seemed a bit scary, but it’ll blow over I was sure. The tour had already been beset with issues, due to a huge hole in the middle of it caused by the cancellation of SXSW due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but we thought we’d stay in Austin for a few days before moving on to the west coast leg of the US tour. There were still some parties happening in Austin and the vicinity, so we thought sod it, let’s have a little holiday in Texas. Of course, nothing on this trip turned out as planned.

I landed at JFK and was hoping to get into one of New York’s famous yellow cars. All that was available the smallest car in New York, driven by the most miserable man on the planet. I folded all 6ft 4” of myself into it and gave the address of the Airbnb. The driver then regaled me with great stories about his life as a NYC taxi driver, while wise crackin’ and telling me interesting stuff about the sites we were driving past. Oh, hang on, that’s the fantasy version. My knees were up to my chin in the back of this bumper car toy thing. The driver had no social skills. He grunted at me, drove erratically, and only narrowly missed killing us as he hurtled from lane to lane, eventually dropping me off in Brooklyn.

James Hughes, our ever-patient tour manager, was at the apartment and let me in. It was pretty tiny and packed full of band gear and ephemera. You couldn’t swing a cat in there, but it was to be home for a week. I was sharing a bedroom with Henry. Now, I feel for Henry, because not only had he just done his knee and was hobbling about on crutches (he almost didn’t make this cursed journey) but he also had to share a room with a middle-aged man prone to night terrors. So, in the night if I wasn’t waking him up by screaming out in panic, I was going to the loo and tripping over his belongings, or crutches. It all added to the fun.

The rest of the trip is a bit of a blur, I couldn’t really tell you which day was which if we didn’t have a gig. Brooklyn surprised me with its mix of hipster cafes in the midst of African American barber shops and groceries. I loved it. We ate out at some incredible cafes and restaurants, had some of the best pizza ever, and got drunk A LOT. One night I performed slam poetry to the band, James and Neelam (photographer, who joined us the day after I arrived) using the local city guide/what’s on as source material (try it, it works).

The bad news started to hit hour by hour. The west coast tour began to disintegrate before our eyes. Cancellation after Covid-related cancellation as the reality of the pandemic began to take hold. The band were devastated. I think at the time it was hard to take it personally, like ‘bad luck’ being dealt to us. We’d had such a long slog organising this, and I personally had put in many hours: getting the visa sorted, budgets, liaising with bookers and press, to see it all fall apart as awful. But I’m nothing if not stoic and had to accept that this was happening to everyone, not just us. I’m not sure the band saw it like that, but their dream had been to play the states for years, and now it was, to put it bluntly, fucked.

We still had a couple of gigs to do though. The first was Thursday evening at Fred Perry’s new flagship store in Williamsburg. The gig went well, nice exuberant little crowd, free beer, free clothes for the band, and everyone was just happy to be playing an actual gig. I went for a coffee with our US agent’s rep and who should walk in but James Murphy, co-founder of DFA Records and of course LCD Soundsystem. This is Williamsburg after all. All in all, a nice afternoon, everyone buzzing, the band on form (Ez’s voice sounded so beautiful pared back too).

Friday came, and second stop was Piano’s. Pianos is a two-story bar/restaurant/live music venue in the Lower East Side section of Manhattan at 158 Ludlow Street. Its stage attracts local and national alternative rock groups as well as DJs, though a more typical performance consists of smaller name local and touring acts.

Pianos follows the example of Arlene’s Grocery around the corner by keeping the “Pianos” name and sign from the store that previously existed there. We played the back room, which was cosy, but cool. We got there in time to catch Spanish band Belako who were really great. The Orielles did their thing to a small crowd of local bands and our US press guys, and everyone was happy. But the bad news kept coming, and as James and I received increasingly depressing updates from our agents, and the news in general was heading towards talk of a total lockdown, we knew we just had to get home. We actually thought at one point we’d never be able to leave, with Trump’s increasingly confusing pronouncements about grounding flights, but we managed to book the last scheduled flights out of JFK. One of the worst aspects of being a manager is delivering shit news to your band, and this was a daily deluge of shit news…ho hum…so much fun.

The mood was pretty awful. We just felt defeated. All that work, gone. Looking back on the photos, I can recover some really happy memories. Walking across Brooklyn bridge and seeing the NY skyline and those iconic building for the first time. Rooftop drinks at the apartment owner’s terrace. The assault on the senses that is Times Square. Broadway, and it’s shimmering lights (I watched Birdman when I got home, which brought it all back). Shopping in Greenwich Village, walking around feeling like you’re in a movie. Met some great people, ate great food, and had a laugh now and again. New York is incredible, beautiful, crazy and one of the greatest cities on the planet.

Other memories…The madness that is the New York subway system: dirty, smelly, full of the city’s forgotten mentally unwell people who stalk the station and trains begging, shooting up, and in one instance vomiting spectacularly all over the wall next us. One annoying but funny incident: Getting ‘mugged’  by the shittest ‘rapper’ in New York…it’s apparently a well-known scam but was new to me: 3 guys playing music, start chatting to you. One of them hands a CD in a plastic pocket, supposedly a pre-release brand new rap album of the guy’s tunes. The way he wants you to take the CD is rather aggressive, but hey, you think ‘it’s noo yawk, go with it’. Another man of the gang does the same thing, even asking for your name and writing it on the plastic pocket. They even give you extra CDs, makes no sense! The trouble comes when they all start asking for money, talking about a donation. It begins by $1, $5… and it seems very difficult to say no as the guys do not want to take the CDs back. As they look physically in good shape and likely to have regular workouts at the gym, they appear impressive, and the idea of getting into an argument is just out of the question. So, I ended up with a cd nobody ever wanted, and $10 lighter.

A highlight for me was a trip in amazing evening light on the Staten Island Ferry. The unreal light matched the unreal mood that I think we all felt. Knowing we were leaving the US without continuing our tour. We were all very very deflated, but I think this beautiful light lifted spirits for a short while. I remember feeling so many conflicting emotions on that ferry. Mainly melancholy, and not knowing what to say or really feel because I just felt overwhelmed by my own disappointment, and the band’s, and I’m used to being someone who ‘makes things happen’. It’s taken me a while to process this trip, prior to everything going crazy. I can now look at these photos and feel some happiness. That light, those views. Incredible. A shared experience, on so many levels.