The singer-songwriter has a secret soft spot for Rage Against The Machine
More Gotta Start Somewhere
No matter how successful entertainers become, they’ll inevitably always remember the first gig—whether it was disastrous, wonderful, or absurdly strange. Gotta Start Somewhere embraces these nostalgic moments by asking established entertainers to retell the first time they ever graced a stage. In this edition, The A.V. Club caught up with British singer-songwriter (and Twilight fan favorite) Bobby Long before he and his band come to Turner Hall Feb. 16 in support of his first full-length, A Winter’s Tale.
Bobby Long: I’d just moved to London to study at university, and my friend had set up a MySpace page for me. I didn’t really know how to do the whole thing, and so I just recorded two songs and put them up there really quick. I sent out a message, like, “Hey, I wrote some songs. What do you think?” A few people got back, but they were kind of random people of not really any industry importance, and they were like, “Yeah, they’re cool. The songs are okay. The production’s bad,” whatever. But then this one woman e-mailed me, and I think her name was Kristen Anna, and she was really lovely. She was running a gig at Hackney Empire in this bar called The Marie Lloyd, and she said, “Would you like to come on and open up?” Ed Harcourt was headlining with his group, and I’d just bought his record, and I’d just moved to London—so I was a bit starry-eyed in general.
So, I opened that show, and I played for 25 minutes, and my friends came down. It was really nerve-wracking. It was probably too good a gig to play for my first-ever show, really.
The A.V. Club: Did you play all originals, or did you throw some covers in there?
BL: I played all originals, I think.
It was also the day that Syd Barrett died, and they had all these pictures of him up in the café. It was quite a big deal. I remember that fairly fully.
AVC: How old were you?
BL: I was 19 or 20.
AVC: And you never had a show before that? No bad, 14-year-old talent-show performances?
BL: Oh, yes. That show was just my first kind of own thing.
I played in a couple of secondary school bands—high school bands, and we’d do Rage Against The Machine covers. I was 18, and our band was called Grand Old Duke. We used to play these songs, and for one battle of the bands we decided to paint ourselves. Some of us took it more literally than others, and our bass player painted himself all in red paint, from head to toe. It was weird. I think it was because we were into Red Hot Chili Peppers.
So, we played a Jimi Hendrix cover, “Fire,” Deftones, Rage Against The Machine’s “Ghost Of Tom Joad,” and The Kinks’ “All Day And All The Night.” We were just four or five guys in paint, and it’s very far from what I’m doing now. That’s fully my first show, though I don’t really count it as a show, because we were just mucking around with a bunch of friends. We did think we’d rule the world, though.
AVC: Did the crowd eat it up?
BL: It was good, but it was our friends, so it wasn’t like … well, no one was going to be critical. I’d only started playing guitar, so you can imagine how the whole thing sounded. It was very loud. Everything was turned up to 10. There was a lot of screaming and shouting.
AVC: When you did that first solo show, was it everything you thought it would be?
BL: It did lead to more shows, but it wasn’t quite the thing I was expecting. You know when you see films or biopics, and these performers play? The thing is that these films are two hours [long], so they have to cut out the first 150 shows before someone goes, “Wow! Who is this guy? Who is this band?” I was really hoping that a record label would be at the show and would want to sign me up, but it doesn’t work like that. I mean, it might work like that if you’re singing and you have a great voice and want to do pop music, but for anything else, it just takes time.
I’m not sure my first show went well, but I remember thinking, “Okay, this is cool.” But I knew that I needed to do it all the time, and that it would take a couple of years before anything happened. I’m happy for that to have been the case, though, and that I’m not in some private jet behind the bar on a flight to a recording studio to make a record or something.
AVC: Have you had shows since where you’ve thought, “This is something special; this matters,” or anything?
BL: Both times I’ve played at the Troubadour in L.A. have been good. I’ve had lots of great shows that have been equally as good in New York and Boston, but I think the Troubadour’s important because it was just someplace I’d always read about. I’ve only played there twice, and the first time was about eight months ago. It was basically sold-out, and I really wasn’t expecting it to be anywhere near what it was, which was like 400-odd people. It was a bit shocking. Me and my friends who I used to play with, we walked downstairs, and we were just like, “Jesus Christ, this is a big show.”
I played there about a week ago, though, and it was exactly the same, but with more people.