Ranges Eu Tour 24: Bristol, Manchester & Cambridge

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Day 1

Monday 6 May 2024

Rough Trade Bristol, Bristol, England

w/ Fort, Din of Celestial Birds

Baggins is back with Ranges, baby!

It’s been aaaages. Last time I saw these guys was 2018. We’d planned on reuniting in 2020 but the pandemic cancelled those plans, and I was too cautious to try international travel when they next toured Europe in 2022. They’ve released three albums since I last saw them: Babel (2019), Cardinal Winds (2021) and 33 (2023), as well as re-releasing “Night & Day“, the release that first introduced me to Ranges. So I’m looking forward to seeing them play some fresh material.

A few updates since I last toured with Ranges: Jared the bass player moved to Ohio. And Joey on guitar moved to Idaho, where he is currently playing in a heavy band called Onsetter.

So Ranges are down to a core trio.

Wilson Raska contributes to the overall vision, concepts, and art. Seems a bit weird to include someone who doesn’t play the instruments, but anyone familiar with Ranges will know that their art and overall concepts are vital to who the band is. Wilson and CJ co-own A Thousand Arms – a record label, printing workshop and distro. Chances are high that if you’re a post-rock fan, you’ll have seen Wilson’s art on t-shirts or posters.

CJ Blessum is the band dad. The most driven person I know. He’s the guy up at all hours, coordinating with people, running merch stalls, driving all through the night to get to the next gig. On top of that, he writes some pretty damn good post-rock music. CJ used to contribute to Will Not Fade now and again, and invited me to tour with Ranges across America in 2017. That was one of the greatest things to ever happen to me.

And then we have Mark Levy. New York Hardcore drum legend. He’s a bit older than the others, and talks different, being from Brooklyn. And he is always the life of the party, and has a million amazing stories to share. He’s the guy I always turn to if I need drum advice.

Damn, I’ve really missed these guys. It’s amazing how spending time stuck in a van with a bunch of dudes for a few weeks can galvanise such friendships.

Last time I came to Europe I was in an absolute state for the entire tour. One of my flights – Auckland to Doha – was the longest commercial flight in the world at the time. Jetlag hit me hard and I felt too out of sorts to really enjoy myself. So this time I’ve opted to get to Europe a week earlier, hoping that the extra time would help me recover from jetlag before I join the band.

Also joining Ranges are Tim (guitar) and Tom (bass) from Astodan – an incredible Belgian post-rock band who Ranges first played with back in 2018. Tim is keeps up with Mark in terms of being larger than life and also being a drummer in a bunch of other bands in Belgium. Tom is a lot quieter, but he is by far the funniest person of the group when he cracks a joke.

We also have sound engineer Chuck Goodwin, who has also made the trip from Montana to keep the guys sounding great, and Sean Oliver is the Fanta-loving driver from Utah, charged with transporting us in the huge van.

I flew into London a week before meeting up with them, and arranged to meet them in Bristol on the day of the first show. They’d spent some time in Belgium rehearsing with Tim and Tom from Astodan.  We were due to meet at Rough Trade, the venue, at 4pm for load in. But they’d encounters issues when trying to come across the channel on the train. They’d been sent back to Belgian to obtain signatures that disclose something to do with taxes before they were allowed across into the UK. This put them way behind schedule and they were pushing it to make it to Bristol in time for their set.

In the meantime I introduced myself to the other two bands, and helped Nick the sound tech set up. The house drum kit was a Natal – a brand I’d not encountered before. It was a really cool orange vistalite.

I’d seen El Ten Eleven play at a Rough Trade in Brooklyn, New York in 2017, so I’m assuming it is a chain of record stores. It was a nice venue. There were loads of cool records and books and posters for sale, as you’d expect. The venue was a great size and I got along great with Nick the sound tech. They had these interesting extractor fans that Nick told me they had been required to install before reopening after the covid pandemic. They suck fresh air into the room and filter viruses out, or something along those lines.

The first band to play, FORT, are Welsh. I’d been in communication with them leading up to this and I found them very friendly. They are high energy and the best part was during the final song when Gavin jumped down into the audience with his guitar and they all went nuts during the big climactic part.

Din of Celestial Birds are also playing dunk!fest at the end of the week, and have recently signed to A Thousand Arms. They give a more professional vibe, using backing tracks and even bringing their own fog machine and a lighting rig similar to the one Ranges had when I toured with them in the USA. There’s a lot more to take in, with six of them onstage.

 

We’d been nervous about when Ranges would arrive, given their big delay, but they arrived just in time. It was a rushed set up and line check, and then they played at their scheduled time. It was such a buzz to see the guys again after six years. It was mostly newer material that they’d written since I’d seen them last, but I got a bit emotional when they played a few Ascensionist songs. Tim and Tom were feeling a bit nervous about playing the set, being fill ins, but they did a stellar job and honestly, I don’t think anybody would have known that the band had only just arrived, or that they hadn’t played together much.

After the gig we drove to Bath and stayed at a YMCA. I bunked with Tim, Tom and Chuck.

Day 2

Tuesday 7 May 2024

The Deaf Institute, Manchester, England

w/ Fort, Din of Celestial Birds

Bath was named after ancient Roman public baths that were situated there, taking advantage of the natural hot springs. Like many English cities, there were grand, stately buildings everywhere with ornate masonry. I gave Sean a hat I’d bought for him at Primark that had the Fanta logo all over it. He was chuffed. Sean is a Fanta connoisseur, and loves trying the Fanta in every country he goes to because they’re all slightly different. French and Belgian Fanta are among his favourites, and American Fanta is sadly not up to par. We spent the morning soaking in the hot pools and steaming in the saunas. It was a great relaxing way to start the day.

L-R: Wilson, Tom, Mark, CJ, Me. Photo taken by Sean

Sean had stayed somewhere else, and had managed to maim his left hand when returning the key to the lock box. He showed up at the van at the agreed time, with a bunch of bloody napkins held to his palm. We stopped in at an emergency room on the way to Manchester, but there was going to be at least a three hour wait, so we got some dressings at the pharmacy and continued on our journey.

Mark was quite excited to go to Manchester because he’s a fan of The Smiths. He insisted on having a photos taken outside the Salford Lad’s Club, which I thought was the name of a brothel. He wanted to replicate a photo from God Save The Queen, by The Smiths. I don’t really know much about it, but please enjoy this photo that I edited of Mark, Sean and I at the Lad’s Club.

Tonight’s venue was The Deaf Institute. The facade read “ADULT DEAF & DUMB INSTITUTE”. Tom cracked a joke about there being a translator up the front to sign the lyrics, which was hilarious because all the bands are instrumental. There was another gig happening in the same building on the floor above.

Sean managed to get his hand seen to while we were setting up, which was a relief.

I liked the venue but the stage was tiny. Two members of Din of Celestial Birds had to stand on the floor in front of the stage because there was no way all six of them would fit. The lighting was also terrible. But the show was good and the band sold lots of merch.

Lots of people had mentioned that Manchester is great to visit. I had a little wander round during soundcheck but didn’t really see enough to form an opinion. I did find a place with a huge MF Doom mask though, which I loved.

After the gig we found a pizza joint that was still open after midnight, before heading back to the hotel we stayed at.

Day 3

Wednesday 8 May 2024

The Portland Arms, Cambridge, England

I would say this was the best day of the UK leg of the tour.

Wilson and I had matching shirts.

We stopped in at Croxden Abbey. I’ve been seeing lots of old churches and castles during my time in the UK, but I still get super excited about it every time. Many have been bombed during the WWII, or fell casualty to prior wars. Henry VIII also disbanded many churches, convents etc when he formed the Church of England so that he could divorce his wife. I love walking amongst the old ruins, admiring the workmanship that is still so evident hundreds of years later, and getting the sense of history of those locations. We did some cool/cheesy photoshoots before grabbing lunch.

Lunch was at a quaint countryside tavern. We all ordered fish and chips. I didn’t think they were very good, but the others all loved the novelty of having such a distinctly English meal, complete with pints of ale, mushy peas, tartare sauce and lashings of malt vinegar.

I really liked The Portland Arms, our venue for the night. The stage lighting was on point, Chuck had the sound dialed in, and the green room was a welcome haven where we could relax, charge our devices, and use WiFi.

CJ took us on a walk around Cambridge. We climbed an old motte – the hill from a former castle where they would have built the defensive keep. We walked around some university grounds (around, not through. They were very clear that visitors are unwelcome), and saw a small apple tree that is theoretically linked to Isaac Newton somehow. The place reminded me of Oxford, although nowhere near as impressive. We finished up with some great doner kebabs from a street vendor before heading back to the gig.

It looked and sounded fantastic. Ranges really came together tonight and locked in well. Everyone was on a high.

Day 4

Thursday 9 May 2024

En route to dunk!festival

We got up bright and early for a 7am departure. Touring can sound fun and glamourous, but the reality is often it means late nights, inadequate sleep, eating crappy food obtainable at petrol stations, spending all day in a van. Sometimes it wears you down. We spent hours at customs. The government wanted to ensure that we aren’t selling items that they could be claiming tax on. It just meant sitting parked up in a bay with hundreds of trucks and a lot of waiting.

This pushed back our departure time for our train to Europe. Which meant more waiting around. But we finally got on the train and left just before 2pm.

We’ve got a long day of travelling ahead, but we’re excited to get to Belgium for dunk!festival. Din of Celestial Birds are scheduled for 17:40, and Ranges are on at 22:00