In Part 2 of his interview with Ross Murray from Vladimir, Andy Wood discusses Pete Doherty. Mark E. Smith and record label interest and finds out how the band got stuck on the wrong side of the barrier to a gated community …
How did The Libertines gig in Nottingham come about? That must have been a bit of a coup for a group of Libertines fans.
“It was pretty mental, Davey [Speirs] who is managing us now is friends with Pete Doherty so I was like, ‘I’ll send you a CD, can you give it to him and see what he says?’ He gave him the CD at the Glasgow gig and Pete was like ‘Do they want to come down and support us tomorrow night in Nottingham?’
“I was in bed and got called at 3 in the morning and Davie was like ‘Ah, you’re supporting The Libertines in Nottingham tomorrow’. I was like ‘Nah, I’m going back to bed.’ I thought he was drunk and joking but he said ‘You are. You need to get it sorted and get your shit together.’. I was saying ‘there’s no chance, it’s 3 in the morning and we have to get to Nottingham for 5.’
“I called everyone and obviously everyone was up for it. Apart from Peter. Peter slept ‘til 9 the next morning and nobody could get hold of him. He must have turned his phone off when he went to sleep. It was just mental.
“Then when we played Pete watched us from the side of the stage and Carl watched us from the balcony. When we came off they both came and spoke to us. It was just class. I’m a massive Libertines fan and just supported them!”
What was the crowd response like?
“It was class actually. It was dead young. I think I’m young to be a Libertines fan really, I can’t remember them first being around and got into them as I was getting into music. It’s the biggest venue we’ve ever played and we were on right as the doors opened. People were queuing for hours and hours because they wanted to be at the front so everyone just charged towards the stage as they came in. Everyone was going mental. When we came on I was like, I wish we were playing a headline set and could just go on and on. Brilliant. Showing up and there’s four tour buses and fans queuing all around. When we pulled up fans were trying to look in the van to see who it was. Crazy.”
Like The Libertines are going to turn up in a wee Transit van.
“Yeah, exactly. Meeting Pete Doherty was something I’d wanted to do my whole life. For my age, he’s like Joe Strummer or someone of that calibre. I don’t know who else there is. So meeting him and him liking the band was just really cool for me.”
Were there any moments of panic on the way down that Pete might be a no show?
“I think there was more of a panic that we didn’t show. We got there about 5 minutes before we were meant to be on. It was hard getting a van booked and I thought we weren’t going to make it. Pete Doherty was there when we got there so there was no panic for us. I guess some people may have been panicking.
“I think they had 5 shows that week we played with them and I think they played 2 and pulled out of the other 3. The London gig he didn’t show up and the others were cancelled due to illness so we were quite lucky. The Libertines said it was the best gig they’d ever played so that night might go down in band history. People were setting off flares and everything. I was dead surprised. They didn’t have security. It was Hells Angels. It was scary but cool. It was just one of these things… In the morning we were asking, what if we get there and we’re not actually meant to be playing but we were all just in agreement to go, we didn’t care. It’s still going to be a story to tell in years to come.”
How about the gigs with The Fall?
“Kind of the same sort of thing. We sent Mark a press pack. You’ve got to do it all by letter because he doesn’t use a phone and sits in the pub all day. We sent press stuff, pictures of the band and a CD so he can listen to it. Then he’ll write back to you or call you depending on how he feels. That’s pretty bizarre in any world. Peter never says he believes he’s supporting The Fall until he’s on stage.”
Did you meet Mark E. Smith and was as scary as he is made out to be?
“Everyone seems scared of Mark. We turned up at the gig in Hastings and the promoter was like ‘Uh are youse with Mark? Is he here yet?’. I was like, ‘Mate, I barely get to speak to Mark. What are you asking me for? I’m just a boy from Dundee. I don’t get to speak to Mark E. Smith.’ But actually, Mark has been really nice to us. Every other band seems to think he’s like hell on earth but with us he’s just dead nice. Intimidating still for an older guy but class. Just sits there and drinks his beer and gets on with it. If you’re nice to him he’s nice to you. He doesn’t like people who try to be something they’re not. I suppose if he’s playing London and some London bands have blagged on he’s pissed off but with us he’s fine.”
Are you still pretty much booking your own gigs?
“Yeah. We’re trying to get a Booking Agent but it’s impossible. People say to us ‘How can you be playing so many gigs and not have a Booking Agent.’ There are bands out there that have played no gigs and have Booking Agents but nobody seems to want to take a punt on us and we don’t have a clue why.”
If you had a Booking Agent wouldn’t that be someone just taking off 20%of what little you do earn?
“They could take 20% of what we earn now as it’s nothing (Laughs). Every gig is a minus. It just kind of always feels like it is us against the world but it’s a good feeling. ‘Cos when something goes well it’s all us, nobody else can take credit for it. Whereas I suppose a lot of these bands that show up, everything’s booked for them and when they go up it’s like I’m thinking impostors. Everything is done for them by someone whereas when we’re doing it it’s all us. It just feels really good.
“When we played Sheffield, a headline gig a few months, it was just a small room but everyone there was there for us. People had travelled from York and stuff to see us, two hour train journeys and stuff to see us and after that they were coming up to us and saying ‘Love you. How do you never play in York etc.?’ We can only book ourselves in certain places unless you have a contact but knowing they have came to see you is amazing. If they’re willing to travel we’re willing to travel as well.
“There have been a lot of cool moments this year that people wouldn’t have thought would have been cool moments. I’m dead appreciative of it. Hopefully though, one day we don’t need to book the shows because it is hard going. Maybe next year.”
How about London? It’s got a reputation of being a very hard place to impress an audience. You’ve played quite a few dates there though.
“London’s, I don’t know. Everyone always goes on about how London crowds are shit and stuff but it’s hard to get a London crowd let alone a shit London crowd. We’ve been lucky enough to support big bands there and get class crowds but we’ve never really had bad moments in London. The crowd for The Fall are all mad for it, they just want to go mental. We played two sell-out nights with The Twilight Sad and people going to see The Twilight Sad are just music lovers, same with The Fall really so playing there it’s never been hard for us I suppose but I do think it’s hard to get gigs following those in London. You need to have a name in some places.
“Sheffield’s always class for us. I think it’s us, we’re nice people (Laughter). Some places are a total nightmare to get gigs in. We’ve never played in Liverpool and it’s the one place we all want to play. Manchester’s all right. We do have a good following in Scotland now. I feel like when we go and play places in Scotland there are people who come to see us.
Have you had any record label interest?
“There was some last year. They show interest, tell you they like you but keep a distance at the same time. I’m guessing they say they like you but will never put anything on the line until they can see that you will make them money. Labels come to see us and they keep in touch. I’m not that bothered about a label. There are plenty of bands out there who don’t have labels and do great. If I can make enough money to play shows and write and record music then I don’t care about a label.”
As your audience grows how do you keep in touch with them? I get a sense that you’re a little more reticent as a band about what you share on social media and recall earlier this year when Peter and Scotty were posting stuff about Vladimir getting lost on the way back from a gig and having an argument and you were kind of like, ‘This is stupid, this is not what it’s about’. I think that some fans like this kind of thing. What are your thoughts on it?
“Some bands post everything they do and I think is that what is really happening? Then I think, maybe it is. Maybe we’re totally different from everyone else.
“If this band fails I will write a book about everything that’s happened. Some of the stuff is just mental. I always want the music to be the talking point. So many bands out there do too much talking and the music just doesn’t back it up in any sense. I want people to judge us on the music before personalities and stuff. I mean, I think we’re all dead nice guys, funny guys but if the music is shit then who gives a shit? It’s just going to end up a comedy facebook page or something.
“We could post stories and have people rolling around on the floor laughing but then people might think the music’s not as good as their funny stories.”
I can vouch that you are all nice guys and dead funny as well. You certainly have your share of scrapes and mishaps.
“Oh yeah. We went down to play with The Fall. We left at about 8 in the morning from Dundee and drove down to London. Stopped a few times as we were making great time, just chilling in Service Stations. Got to London in plenty of time and made it to the apartments we were staying in. We’d booked a flat as there was loads of us going down so rather than paying for a few Travelodge rooms we rented a flat. We thought, class, we’re here.
“This Mercedes drove in through this gate and we just went in rapid after the car. The gate shut behind us and it turned out this was a gated community that just happened to share a name with the place we were supposed to be staying.
“We were stuck in this gated community in this big Ford Transit that’s all rusty and there were flats all around but no sign of anyone. A couple of people jumped the fence and were out but the van was still stuck. And nobody would come out and approach a load of guys dressed in black in a white Ford Transit. Everyone would be thinking, posh London houses, we’re going to be robbed.
“Eventually we called the Police and said ‘we’re stuck in this gated community and we need to get out of it’ and they were like ‘Oh we’re going to be a few hours.’ So eventually this young girl was going in and she obviously wasn’t scared and we were like ‘Oh we’re stuck’ and she let us out. We thought we were going to be stuck there for the gig. It could only happen to us.”
I bet if one of the residents had called the Police and reported you there would have been a rapid response. How do you think you have changed as people and as a band over the last few years?
“We’ve got more mature and more immature at the same time. Even up until Christmas we used to try and push each others buttons as much as possible just to try and get a reaction out of each other. That used to be the game. Let’s see how far we can push someone until they break.
“Now it’s just try and have a good time rather than annoy each other. It used to be ‘I know what winds him up, let’s see how long I can do it for in the van until he breaks and we have a big scrap on the motorway.’ Now it’s more like let’s have a good time so we’ve matured in that way.
“At the same time it’s just stupid stuff we do. Like at soundcheck see how we can annoy the sound engineer. Going into Service Stations to see who can order the stupidest things. Hotels, moving all the furniture into other rooms. Just immature stuff. But with each other we’ve got a lot better. We try to annoy other people rather than the band because then you sit in the van with everyone dead awkward. When you have that awkward moment when you have to say sorry to each other.
“For a band who has next to no money and has never had anyone showing us how things should be done I think we’re a lot more professional now. We’ve learned a lot playing gigs of different sizes with a lot of different bands. A lot of it is pretty positive and you learn a lot about being organised doing the tours that you wouldn’t have thought about when you’re first playing gigs.”
What plans have you get for the coming months?
“We’ve got a few gigs with The Fall coming up. Can’t wait ‘cos we’ve never been to Brighton before. We’re going down to play the John Peel Centre next month then we’re going to do some headline gigs, mainly in wee venues, and I’m really excited about them. Then we’re going to start booking stuff for next year. We’re happy with what we’ve done this year so unless something big comes along we’ll start working for next year.
“We felt like we let ourselves down on the festival front this year, we didn’t play as many as we felt we could have done. Not through us saying no. So next year we want to do more. We did Belladrum and got a massive response despite being an unsigned band especially compared to some bands who’d been really hyped. I always thought in the early days we were playing in the band that people thought that we would never be a festival band.”
At T in the Park I thought that you more than fitted in. It seems silly but I felt, I dunno, quite proud of Vladimir that day. You looked like you belonged there. You certainly didn’t seem overwhelmed by it.
“I do think when we play festivals we belong there.
“When you’ve started out playing in front of Dundee crowds as a young band nothing fazes you. Early on, you’d have people like, some drunk Ned from Fintry, coming up to the front of the stage and telling you exactly how much they disliked you while your playing. That didn’t faze us.
“Luckily that doesn’t happen these days but as someone wiser than me once wrote, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. A maxim which seems to have applied to Vladimir well.”
Here’s the video for the band’s last single:
Vladimir play the Cool Cat Club at Beat Generator Live in Dundee on Saturday (7th November) with support from Sahara, Melophobia and Francis Duffy & The Kingpins. More info.
More information on gigs and merchandise here – www.vladimir.bigcartel.com/