michael jackson

Astoria Park Concert Series to host LYs…

10 July 2013

Astoria ParkWe’ve played quite a number of gigs in New York over the years, but the Astoria Park Concert Series in 2010 was a real highlight.

We rocked up at the venue not knowing quite what to expect. It was our first time performing in Astoria, so we had no idea what kind of audience would turn up. It was a beautiful warm night, primed for live music, and the setting was quite spectacular. The iconic bridges, the trees, the sun setting over the East River – glorious.

And then an amazing thing happened. Out of nowhere, two thousand people flooded in. The good people of Astoria, ranging in age from 3 to about 73, came in their hundreds to perch on the hill and watch us rattle through a varied set of Lightyears originals and a few high-energy covers. We were joined onstage that night by a couple of special guests – NYC councillor Peter Vallone Jr, who hopped on the bass guitar for a spirited rendition of The Monkees’ I’m A Believer, and our good friend Ant Law, a superb jazz guitarist from the UK who was in town with the touring Michael Jackson musical Thriller.

A rambunctious time was had by all, and afterwards we were overwhelmed (as we always are in the States) by the enthusiasm of the music fans who came up to speak to us. A few days later the New York Daily News ran a double-page feature on the gig – take a look here.

In light of all this, you won’t be surprised to hear that we’ve been itching to get back. We’ve been busy having babies, completing doctorates and writing novels since 2010 so it’s taken a little longer than we’d planned, but on Thursday 15 August we will be kicking off our 2013 American Tour with another headline show at Astoria Park. Entry is free, and the show starts at 7.30pm. You can find more details on our GIGS page.

Hope to see some of you there. I myself plan to pack my entire body in ice in a probably futile attempt at combatting the insane heat you folks have out there. It’s a little too much for our pasty British constitutions, I’m afraid…

Chris Lightyear

Just as glorious as I remember…

7 March 2010

The Lightyears boys chilling with The Golden Seal.Wednesday 3 February, 11.30am (Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa):
We landed in South Africa this morning to embark on our 2010 Cape Town tour and the place is just as glorious as I remember. Ten minutes ago we checked into our hotel rooms at the Table Bay, Cape Town’s swishest hotel, and whilst the rooms are being prepared we stroll out onto the Waterfront, bathed in sunshine, to have a little shufty at the famous Golden Seal statue.

The Seal statue is the hotel’s emblem and sits atop a plinth adorned with a series of golden plaques, bearing the names of the many famous and illustrious figures in film, music, politics and sport who have stayed there over the years. I investigate more closely and am suitably impressed. Here are some of the highlights:

– Michael Jackson
– Snoop Dogg
– Maroon Five
– Wesley Snipes
– Vladimir Putin
– Manchester United
– The England football team
– Stevie Wonder
– Robert De Niro
– Quincy Jones
– Barack Obama
– …and, just above Obama and slightly to the left… us.

The Lightyears.

Our proudest moment.We have a plaque on the Table Bay’s Golden Seal. And in case you don’t believe me, I’ve posted a photo on the right.

I suspect that if Putin discovered that he featured on the side of a statue, he’d play things pretty cool. Not us. We proceed to take a variety of shameless photos of ourselves pointing and grinning at our name, flipping the thumbs-up and generally behaving like the worst kind of tourists. But we don’t care. We’ve got our name on a statue. With a little union jack under it.

Our mothers will be so proud.

Best start to a tour… ever.

(By the way, this got me thinking – how many other plaques have been forged in our honour without us knowing? If we were to return one day to the Knutsford M6 Travelodge, would one of the concrete parking bollards bear the legend “The Lightyears stayed here – and they saw that it was good”? There’s simply no way of knowing for sure.)

'One day, my son, all this will be yours...'Thursday 4 February, 8pm (Green Point World Cup Stadium, Cape Town):
Being in a touring band has landed me in some pretty unusual places. I’ve performed the Korean national anthem with a world-famous opera singer for Her Majesty’s Ambassador. I’ve played my piano in the centre-circle of a football pitch whilst Rio Ferdinand and Carlos Tevez kicked a ball about above my head. And I’ve sung my heart out to a hundred and fifty Belgian farmers in a cow-shed in Kortrijk whilst a massive bull looked on, apparently completely nonplussed by the music (perhaps he wasn’t into indie). Tonight, I’m drinking free beer and eating tiny little miniature hamburgers at the brand-new 60,000-capacity World Cup Stadium in Cape Town whilst a rugby talk show is filmed on the pitch – the first time cameras have been allowed inside. And I know almost nothing about rugby. How did this happen?!

In the Players' Tunnel at the World Cup Stadium.In case you were wondering, it happened because the organisers of the Cape Town Tens (the event we’re playing at this weekend) are big names in the rugby world and in some cases were being interviewed tonight live on camera. When the filming finishes, we make our way back into the players’ tunnel in order to be as close as possible to the bar. I stand, beer in hand, gazing out at the immaculate flood-lit pitch and an interesting thought occurs to me. In six months’ time, the greatest footballers in the world will emerge from this tunnel to an enormous stadium crowd and a global TV viewing audience of millions. There is something wrong, and yet at the same time so wonderfully right, about me – a man who throws like a girl, would struggle to explain the offside rule and consistently came last in the high jump at school – beating them to it. Bring on the 2010 World Cup…

The stage is set.Friday 5 February, 8pm (Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament, Hamiltons RFC, Cape Town):
Here we are, back at Hamiltons RFC (South Africa’s oldest rugby club) in the shadow of Green Point Stadium, making the preparations for our gigs this weekend at the annual Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament. Last year’s event was spectacular and it seems to have doubled in size for 2010. The stage looks fantastic, all kitted out with a fancy lighting rig and an epic sound system. It’s also quite strange for us to see the drums set up on a riser at the back of the stage, which has happened on account of the fact that, for the first time ever, Tony isn’t on tour with us. Tony, you see, is having a baby (or rather his wife is), and for our South African trip he has been replaced by the inimitable Andy Paine, who is a little more conventional than Tony and play the drums sitting down at the back of the stage. Soundcheck is a very straightforward affair – the in-house engineers are excellent, and in combination with Danny Lightyear they have the whole thing sounding absolutely cracking within about twenty minutes. We’re all very excited about tomorrow…

The Lightyears onstage in Cape Town.Saturday 6 February, 8pm (Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament, Hamiltons RFC, Cape Town):
The marquee is packed for our show tonight at the Tens… and let’s just say that the crowd are “well-oiled” after a day’s solid drinking in the Capetonian sun. After a storming warm-up set from Me & Mr Brown, we take to the stage amid flashing lights and dry ice and bask in the sonic glory of the Tens’ epic sound system. It’s a real joy to play on such a quality rig. The crowd are in the mood for singalongs tonight and the best moments come when we chuck in the odd South African number (Prime Circle’s “She Always Gets What She Wants”, for example – unknown in the UK but, boy, did that kick off in Cape Town!), as these really seem to capture the imagination of the locals. True to form there’s quite a bit of male nudity and playful wrestling going on during our set, as well as a practise in which one unfortunate chap is unexpectedly leapt upon by ten or eleven others until he turns red, like a tomato. Plus, these are BIG guys. All part of the fun of course.

My only disappointment tonight is that the increased security this year – as well as the barriers that separate us from the crowd – have rendered stage-diving pretty much impossible. Another time perhaps…

What do you give to the man who has everything he could ever possibly need?Sunday 7 February, 6.30pm (Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament, Hamiltons RFC, Cape Town):
We spent today lounging by the pool and sampling the hotel’s excellent range of cocktails. If you look to the right you’ll see a photo of me and my blue margarita, which is admittedly something of a girly drink but is admirably offset by the book I’m reading (I would heartily recommend Slash’s autobiography, incidentally – any book which contains the sentence “This is exactly the excuse we needed to fire Bob Clearmountain” is worth a look, if you ask me). By the time we return to Hamilton’s RFC for the second gig of the tour we are feeling mightily chilled out and this definitely feeds into our set which, in keeping with the Sunday night atmosphere amongst the crowd, has much more of a laidback vibe than yesterday. We’re really settling in to performing with Andy and, as the sun sets and the tournament draws to a close, it’s a genuine pleasure to simply play music together. The highlight of the evening is when we join Me & Mr Brown onstage for a collective performance of Coldplay’s “Viva La Vida” and everybody present absolutely sings their hearts out. Magic.

Me, staring poetically at a wave at Cape Point.The rest of the tour is seen out in typical style with a celebratory last night out on the Waterfront, a frightening number of Jäegerbombers (for which we chiefly have Danny to blame) and a hotel-room party complete with the inevitable and merciless mini-bar raiding. John, Danny and I stayed on for a few extra days to climb the spectacular Lion’s Head, indulge in a little winetasting out in the countryside and marvel at the beautiful scenery of Cape Point, the southernmost tip of Africa – but that’s another story, for another time…

ps. Jacob David Lyons, the world’s first ever Micro-Lightyear, was born on Thursday 18 February at 10.33pm weighing 8lbs 10z. The race is on to turn him into a drummer/guitarist/keyboardist/bassist (depending on which member of the band you ask). The grown-up Lightyears are all excited at the prospect of little Jacob joining the LYs as soon as he’s ready, on account of the fact that he would bring our average age down really quite considerably.

Blue Moons and seven-foot transvestites…

25 August 2009

Oh yeah. Check out our big American truck.WEDNESDAY 29 JULY, 8.30pm (Business Class Cabin, British Airways Flight 183, Heathrow):
The last time we toured to America, we flew Business Class. It turned out that Tony had a “contact” who was able to pull some strings for us at British Airways (I didn’t ask exactly what this meant – Tony has East End gangster blood in his family and I generally find it’s best not to enquire about his methods) and we had our tickets upgraded. Sadly, this time round, on account of the flight being absolutely packed, we have been condemned to flying World Traveller Plus, which is the next rung above cattle.

As a result we are now having to shuffle ignominiously through the Business Class cabin on our way to inferior seats in a perverse re-enactment of that moment in 1980s game shows when the presenter would excitedly announce: “And here’s what you could have won!” (it was always a speedboat, for some reason). You’d watch the forlorn faces of the unsuccessful contestants, struggling to look gracious whilst a small army of bikini-clad beauties clambered all over the star prize, stroking it lasciviously and batting their eyelids. We are having the upmarket wares of high-society living literally paraded about in front of us. The champagne. The leg-room. The seats-that-are-actually-beds. It’s almost too much. I long to turn away, but cannot. Oh the shame.

And then, unexpectedly, I spot a small boy in one of the seats. He’s sitting next to his very glamorous-looking mother. It’s unusual to see young children in Business Class but he looks somehow at home here, at ease, waiting so well-behaved in his window seat. He’s a beautiful kid, Italian I think, a mop of jet black hair and an innocent, thoughtful expression drifting like gentle waves across his eyes. He is playing quietly with a small wooden model of a fire engine. Our eyes meet momentarily and I glimpse the fleeting intangibility of youth in his handsome young face, the soft, unblinking wonder of boyhood – unaffected, it seems, by the transitory comforts that surround him, and I find myself thinking…

“You little bastard.”

Me in Ashley's apartment after four Blue Moons. Don't ask me who the other guy is.THURSDAY 29 JULY, 2.15am (Merrion Square Bar, Upper East Side, Manhattan, New York USA):
Having somehow survived the flight to New York without even the slightest whiff of fillet steak, we arrived into JFK airport at around 10.30pm local time and were met by Ashley, one of our US tour managers. We immediately took a cab to her apartment on the Upper East Side in the expectation of going straight to bed.

Instead, somehow, we currently find ourselves on our fourth round of Blue Moons (a deliciously fruity local beer) in an almost empty Manhattan bar whilst a Phil Collins live album plays over the PA. Now, without doubt, we are officially “on tour”.

THURSDAY 29 JULY, 6.15pm (Union Square, Manhattan, New York):
This is our second performance in Union Square. Our first was last September, as part of one of the more manic episodes in the history of The Lightyears, in which we succeeded in playing two gigs in two continents, three thousand miles apart, in under twenty hours. This time around it’s all a lot more straightforward. We’ve been in New York for a day already and have begun the process of acclimatising to local culture (i.e. eating more than our own body weights at each meal – this morning for breakfast, for example, I ate a pastrami sandwich that contained so much meat I actually felt like it might have been endangering cows as a species) and developing a tolerance for the intense heat you get in the peak of summer in Manhattan.

This evening’s gig, which is part of a summer-long concert series run by the Union Square partnership, is outdoors. Last week’s concert was rained off during one of the city’s dramatic July thunderstorms, but today we’ve been lucky and the sun is blazing. Jukebox The Ghost, a fantastic Philly band who supported us in London a couple of years ago and were the unfortunate victims of last week’s cancelled performance, have joined us on the bill and are just finishing their highly entertaining and accomplished support slot in front of a rapidly burgeoning crowd. Top band – check them out here. When we jump up onstage and look out across the park, I begin to wonder whether this could turn out to be our biggest audience yet in the States, and it turns out I’m right – by the time we’ve played our first few songs and the passing trade have assembled in front of the stage, the crowd has grown to several thousand. This is brilliant. Summer evening, outdoor concert, Union Square, the British invasion – nothing could be better. I’d go as far as to say that it turns into our best ever show in the States.

The LYs rocking the crowd in New YorkWe play for around an hour and the set includes songs both old and new – recent tracks such as “Johannesburg” and “Speedway 105” sit alongside songs which we haven’t played since last time we were in the USA such as “Miles Away” and “Brightest Star”. We’re having a whale of a time. I spot some familiar faces out in the plaza – fans from Philly who have travelled into the city to see us, friends from previous tours and even a couple of Lightyears fans from London. I speak to one girl afterwards who tells me: “I was walking through Manhattan and heard some band covering “Sleepless” by The Lightyears. Then I took a closer look and discovered it was you!”.

Afterwards we sign a bunch of autographs and have our photos taken with new fans, which is rather brave of them considering how disgustingly sweaty I am (see some of the pictures here). Follow this we assemble a motley crew and head for Revival where our after-party is being held. At Revival we gorge on pizza and more Blue Moons and at some point in the evening end up dancing with seven-foot transvestites to Michael Jackson tunes in a club that is, apparently, also a beauty parlour.

Today has been probably one of my favourite days ever.

FRIDAY 30 JULY, 6.15pm (WAWA Food Hut, Riverton, Philadelphia):
Today we head for Philadelphia. Which means one thing above all others.


Wawa, as far as I’m aware, does reasonably good business most of the year in the states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia. It’s a popular brand of roadside supermarket-cum-deli and Americans have responded favourably to its easy level of convenience and innovative touch-screen sandwich-ordering technology.

That said, I don’t think I’d be out of line in ultimately attributing the massive success of the brand to the amount of business it does once-yearly when The Lightyears land in Philadelphia.

We just can’t get enough of Wawa. Sure, we have sandwiches in Britain (we invented them) but the typical deal is two, maybe three fillings, limited to a small number of essentially quite similar combinations. Not so with Wawa. In fact, I’d confidently assert that The Wawa Food Hut is a very effective microcosm for the entire American Dream philosophy – in the USA, you can have exactly what you want, when you want it, and in huge quantities to boot. Just like in Wawa. For example, one of the options at the very beginning of the sandwich-ordering process is “2-foot”… a TWO FOOT SANDWICH! That’s insane. It’s like eating a boa constrictor.

On this particular day, we head into Wawa giddy with expectation. It’s been nearly ten months since our last hoagie and we’re all salivating with the thought. In The Lightyears, we tend to fall prey on tour to what we like to call “competitive eating”. It’s essentially a way of asserting masculinity over other band members by out-eating them, often to disgusting lengths, and I’ll be the first to admit that George is running rings around me on this tour.  I think the heat may have sapped my appetite. Whatever the explanation, I am destined to lose this particular bout.

After you’ve ordered your sandwich, the little computer prints a receipt for you, listing all the ingredients you have chosen to include in your hoagie. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat, George saunters over to me and says: “Look at my receipt”. He unleashes it. It’s about a foot long.

“How long is yours?”

I’m ashamed to produce it. It’s half the length of George’s.

“Are you on a diet?” goads George.

I think about defending myself by telling him it’s not the size of your sandwich but what you do with it that counts, but I know I’d be lying. I’ve failed. Admittedly my Wawa Philly Cheesesteak is no tiddler, and it fills me up, but that’s not really the point. In The Lightyears, unless you’ve eaten until the point of debilitation, you’ve not really eaten.

Once we’re back in the ridiculously massive truck that we’ve hired to get to Spring City, George begins the arduous process of actually ingesting the behemoth sitting in his lap. When he opens the paper wrapping, I actively wince. I swear I can even hear his heart-rate increasing. There are so many fillings in this sandwich that the bread walls have been breached and are hidden beneath a steaming mountain of meat, cheese, vegetables and sauce. It’s less of a sandwich and more of a dreadful pizza. I can immediately read the look on George’s face – “I can’t eat this like a normal sandwich”, he’s thinking, “because I can’t pick it up. There’s only one option.”

And with that, George plunges face-first into his food like a pig in a trough.

Whilst this disgusting process is unfolding beside me, I take the chance to study the receipt. My jaw drops open. Here’s a rough approximation of what it said:

– Cheese
– Extra cheese (3)
– Pepper Jack Cheese
– Grated parmesan
– Chicken
– Meat
– Extra meat
– Extra bacon
– A little bit of oil
– Extra oil [this isn’t a joke – you really can order this in America]
– Peppers
– Roasted peppers
– Sweet peppers
– Sweet roasted peppers
– Onions
– Extra onions
– Ranch sauce
– Barbeque sauce
– Horseradish
– Tomato relish
– Mayo
– Garlic mayo
– Honey mustard sauce
– Mustard
– French mustard
– Salt
– Pepper
– Oregano

In some counties in England, it would actually be illegal to eat this.

When he’s done, George is looking distinctly peaky. We are just a few miles outside of Spring City and will need to load our gear into the venue within the half hour.

“Chris…” he begins, struggling even to form words, “Chris… I don’t think I can do the gig. You’ll have to go on without me.”

I turn to face him. He looks like he’s been sat on by a bear.

“George mate, it’s going to be fine. I think you know what to do.”

He nods slowly.

“You’ll have to do the Christmas Walk.”

George invented the Christmas Walk back in the late ’90s. Typically it is used but once a year, on 25 December, at the close of Christmas dinner. In England it is customary on this occasion to eat and drink yourself into a stupor before crashing down in front of the TV to watch Noel Edmonds mince about in a woolly jumper for about five hours. Problem is, George has a habit of eating such a colossal amount of food during dinner that he is unable to straighten his body into a walking position upon leaving the chair, making a normal walk impossible. Necessity being the mother of invention, some years ago he patented the Christmas Walk, an ingenious method of walking whilst remaining in a sitting position. Basically you’re bent over at a sharp right angle, staring at the floor and waddling like an infirm duck. This enables you to muster a brief burst of (albeit limited) movement in spite of your creakingly full stomach. All you need is enough momentum to get you from the dinner table to the armchair. It doesn’t take much. But the Christmas Walk makes it all possible.

And so it was that George found himself Christmas Walking from the parking lot in the quaint town of Spring City, Pennsylvania, to the front door of Chaplin’s Music Cafe, where the second gig of our US tour was taking place. Passers-by regarded him with suspicion. “We’re British,” I explain. “He’s had a little too much cheesesteak. Nothing a quick Christmas Walk won’t sort out.”

FRIDAY 30 JULY, 8.45pm (Chaplin’s Music Cafe, Spring City, Pennsylvania):
Spring City is a small, attractive and incredibly quiet town north-west of Philadelphia. In England, a place like this wouldn’t have a music venue. In England, it wouldn’t even have a post office. But they do things differently in America.

Spring City also has a music store, conveniently situated opposite the venue and coincidentally named George’s Music. Naturally we had to go in there so George could do his “I’m a musician from England and my name’s George” routine. Rather splendidly the chap behind the counter gave us all free t-shirts in recognition of this fact. I left the store and discovered that mine was “Triple XL”. Not altogether useful for me at this stage in my career but I thought about it and concluded that it will come in handy when, after our 11th album has gone platinum and we all harbour such unrelenting and undisguised loathing for each other that we have begun taking separate limos to gigs, and I sit in my keytar-shaped swimming pool all day eating cheeseburgers and Findus crispy pancakes from a bucket and I’m wildly obese and need to be airlifted to gigs, it’ll be just the ticket. Always good to plan for the future, I reckon.

Chaplin’s is a fantastic little venue. The sound system is incredibly crisp and juicy (that’s right – “juicy” is a technical term in sound production) and it’s a great place to see live music. There’s a friendly crowd in tonight and we play, if I may say so myself, a very accomplished and well-balanced one-hour set that moves from the gentle acoustica of “Fine” and “Girl On The Radio” through the sunny upbeat harmonies of “Brightest Star” and “Emily”, closing on the theatrical coda of “The Last Night”. I do a bit of banter about sandwiches, which seems to go down well, and we sample a couple of flagons of the excellent local beer known as “Sly Fox”.

The LYs with Brooke Shive & The 45s at Chaplin'sWe are supporting a blues/soul act called Brooke Shive and The 45s, who are great fun and sound really superb. They are joined by Andy Goessling of Railroad Earth, who at one point manages to play two saxophones simultaneously. Now THAT’S a trick worth seeing.

Tomorrow – Ardmore, Pennsylvania.

Sunday – Burlington New Jersey.

Keep your eyes peeled for Part Two of my USA Tour Diary 2009 – coming soon!

Chris Lightyear

The Great AEG Hologram Debacle

2 July 2009

Imagine having your very own one of these, shaped like Michael JacksonDoes anybody else think that AEG Live, the company responsible for booking Michael Jackson’s gargantuan run of shows at the O2 in May, got what was coming to them?

Against the star’s wishes, AEG extended MJ’s initial run of 10 shows to 50, virtually overnight. Michael himself wasn’t happy about this but it seemed he had no choice in the matter. It was obvious to everybody that he was going to really struggle to make it through 50 concerts – the people knew it, the media knew it and the insurance companies knew it. As a result, AEG were only able to secure insurance against a small proportion of the concerts they’d booked and now they are in the hole for something like £300 million. 

It has recently emerged that the company are offering fans a “souvenir ticket”, featuring a hologram of the great man, as an alternative to a refund. I’m sorry, but what?! A hologram? You used to get tat like that free in cereal packets in the 1980s. That is clearly the result of a group of executives sitting around a boardroom trying to figure out how they can exploit the memory of Michael Jackson just to save themselves a few quid.

Now, I don’t want to come across as naive – businessmen exploit musical talent for financial gain all the time (that’s why we have a music industry and it’s also the reason bands are able to get their music out to millions rather than just hundreds, which is clearly a good thing) –  but I think in this case it’s a little crass. The problem, however, is this. I wish I could say that the fans will see through AEG’s hokey offer. I wish I could say that devoted Jackson-ites will boycott the scheme on principle. But they won’t. And AEG know that. 

Personally, I wouldn’t accept a shiny ticket for a concert that never happened created by a desperate corporation as a suitable memento for the loss of the world’s greatest entertainer. Mind you, maybe that’s just sour grapes from one of the schmucks who failed to get a ticket in the first place. 😉 

What I will say is this – if you can’t decide between a refund and a souvenir ticket, why not join me on my soapbox and take the cash? Then, later on today, in place of framing AEG’s ground-breaking hologram technology and hanging it on your wall, why not bust out a huge ghetto blaster and strut the streets of your hometown playing “Speed Demon” on full blast and grabbing your crotch? That’s a better tribute to the King Of Pop than anything that could have been dreamed up by the suits at AEG…

Things We Love/Hate About The 80s

27 March 2009

The news today is that Spandau Ballet are re-forming and becoming the next in a long line of former stadium acts to get back on the road for a mammoth nostalgia tour and the opportunity to perform once again in front of their legions of screaming fans. Take That, Spice Girls, The Police – it’s all the rage these days.

The cynics consistently interpret moves such as these as transparent attempts to make a fat pile of cash without having to do anything original. “They’ve just got mortgages to pay”, they cry. But so what, I say? Musicians are normal people like anybody else (well, except Mariah Carey). They should be allowed to pay their mortgages if that’s what they want. I mean, when Wispa bought out the Wispa Gold back in the ’90s, people didn’t go around saying “No man, that is WAY cynical. It’s just the Wispa executives trying to pay off their mortgages”.

Anyway, that’s not really the point I’m attempting to make here. What I’m more interested in discussing is this – which elements of the ’80s would we all like to bring back and which should remain forever buried?

To start everybody off, here’s my tuppence worth:

– Marty McFly
– Michael Jackson making decent music
– Supergran
– The Dukes Of Hazzard
– Paul Daniels
– Jim’ll Fix It

– Shellsuits
– Shoulder pads on anybody except superheroes
– Thatcherite government
– Me wetting the bed

OK, I’m done.

……Contributions welcome!

Chris Lightyear

My very own Rock Supergroup

20 March 2009

Writing consecutive blogs about Guns N Roses and Michael Jackson has got me thinking about my rock supergroup. To be taken seriously in muso circles, every self-respecting, self-aggrandising rock fan should have their own supergroup, just as they really ought to be able to reel off their Top Five “Track One Side Ones”*** on request.

I’ll cut to the chase. Whilst I’m on the subject of MJ and GnR, the King Of Pop (circa 1987) would take on vocal duties whilst Slash would provide lead guitar. As tempted as I would be to include Axl in the line-up as well, I believe that supergroup regulations forbid any two members to have come from the same original band and, in any case, you can’t have two frontmen. Well, unless you’re The Beatles. Or The Libertines. Anyhow, I digress. Since the band would OBVIOUSLY be piano-led, I’d have to employ Jerry Lee Lewis on the ivories and have Ben Folds waiting in the wings to fill his shoes when the inevitable happens. Tim Commerford from Rage Against The Machine would play bass and Zeppelin‘s John Bonham (resurrected) would be my stick-man.

And so, I hear you cry, what kind of music would this pure pop/hard rock/hip-hop metal fusion/50s throwback leviathan pump out? Well, exactly that – heavy riffing, face-melting, boogie woogie hook-laden pop with wicked dance moves.

And I shall call them “Dangerous Killing In The Name Of A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On Heaven’s Door” (yes, it works).

Coming to a stadium near you.

Chris Lightyear

ps. please do comment back with your own supergroups and we’ll see if we can out-do each other like Top Trumps.

*** “Black Dog” from Led Zeppelin IV, “Taxman” from Revolver, “Jackson Cannery” from Ben Folds Five, “La Breeze” from Simian’s We Are Your Friends and “Slam” from Pendulum’s Hold Your Colour (if you discount the 53-second opening prelude, which for these purposes I do)

Have we been played?

13 March 2009


Last week Michael Jackson came out of hiding to announce that he was playing ten shows at the 02 Arena. These were to be his last ever performances in London. This is it, everybody said.

This is it, at least, aside from the other forty gigs that were later added to meet the enormous demand for tickets.

Even once you set aside the question of whether the lovable old fruitcake will actually make it to show number 50, consider this – have we been played? Surely they knew all along there’d be more than ten concerts. In hindsight, wasn’t the whole “This is it” schtick just a clever ploy to sway the floating voters?

By which I mean that, whilst MJ has a legion of loyal fans over here who would spend their life savings to watch him perform in a swamp, the promoters must have also realised that there was a large portion of the public who might go either way – casual of fans of his music (for who in the WORLD isn’t at the very least a casual fan of Michael Jackson?) who had asked the inevitable question “Will it be any good? Will it not just be a bit like watching a marionette operated by a one-armed stroke victim?”. 

Scarcity, as we know, drives up demand. The dudes sitting on the fence were given a cunning nudge in the right direction: “Well, I wasn’t that bothered about going to see him until I discovered there were only ten shows and he’d never be playing London again. I have to get tickets now. I mean, come on, this is IT! ”

As I write I am currently trying, and failing, to secure my tickets to see the King in the flesh. Maybe it was never meant to be for me.

If only “Jim’ll Fix It” was still around.

Chris Lightyear

The King & I…

10 March 2009

Michael Jackson's house is actually bigger than thisHere’s the news – Michael Jackson is coming to London. No, not to dangle infants out of hotel windows, shop for priceless Ming vases or anything batty like that. He’s coming here to perform. That’s right – ten shows at the O2 Arena in July of this year. 

I am very excited. Michael Jackson is one of my favourite artists of all time and, although in recent years he has morphed into a character of the most riveting strangeness, he remains pop music’s greatest achievement.

Who knows whether he’ll actually be any good but, as my fine friend Ben pointed out to me on the phone but half an hour ago, “Smooth Criminal” done half-arsed will still be FREAKING SWEET. Let’s just hope we can get tickets.

I’ll be interested to see if this prompts a renaissance in the UK’s love affair with Michael Jackson and, more importantly, whether it will ultimately help shift the focus of his legacy back towards the music and away from the scandal. MJ is a nutcase in the fabled mould of the great Victorian eccentric – reclusive, enormously wealthy, gloriously weird. Back in the late 1800s, such eccentricity was actually celebrated. Now we slap a straitjacket on it and call it “mentally disturbed” – or worse, as in the King Of Pop’s case, we collectively condemn it for appalling and fantastical crimes with, seemingly, the sole purpose of selling newspapers. 

What I mean to say is that Michael Jackson may be as mad as a box of badgers but that doesn’t necessarily make him a pervert. We have an grossly unattractive tendency towards iconoclasm in this country, owing to the strange belief that because we make celebrities famous it’s our prerogative to lay waste to their careers – we giveth, and we taketh away (Matthew, XXVI: 4). This has been created by the media and is a total falsehood. You wouldn’t tell a stonemason that, if he failed to build your house to your satisfaction, you were entitled to stone him to death. That’s just bonkers.

Anyhow, before I lose myself yet further down the road of shamelessly defending the reputation of one of my musical heroes, I’ll simply say this – shamawwwwwwwwwwn people!! And I’ll see you at the O2.

Chris Lightyear

We are staying in JACK BAUER’S hotel…

9 March 2009

Johnny Lightyear chilling on the beachTUESDAY 3 MARCH, 3pm (Brass Bell Restaurant, False Bay, South Africa):
I am dressed in shades, boardies and flip-flops. I am starting to look quite tanned, having spent a decent amount of time on the beach over the past few days. I am exhuding an easy, care-free demeanour on account of the sunny weather and the leisurely pace of the Cape Town lifestyle. I am drinking a crisp gin and bitter lemon. The afternoon waves of the Indian Ocean lap hungrily at the walls of the famous Brass Bell restaurant in False Bay, where we’re enjoying a few cocktails and a plate of delicious fried calimari.

Bearing all this in mind, I find it very hard to reconcile the fact that, glancing across the road to a world news poster nailed to a lamp-post, I can read the words “SNOW SHUTS LONDON”.

That’s right – were we at home right now, we’d be building snowmen and perhaps even doing some sly a-wassailing. Yesterday London experienced its most severe snow storms in 18 years. The whole of the capital ground to a halt, which in theory ought not to have affected us all the way out here in South Africa, but as it happened we were waiting for Tony to leave Heathrow and come out to join us in Cape Town. The airport cancelled a staggering 800 flights. Only six actually left the runway and Tony, the jammy rascal, was on the sixth. Which was just as well, as tomorrow night we’re headlining at the Speedway 105 Cafe and we’d been rather relying on Tony’s presence to complete the line-up!

It’s been a wonderful few days. Aside from a few casual, sun-kissed meetings and the odd telephone interview, the business end of the tour hasn’t really started yet. We’ve made the most of our long weekend of freedom with afternoons on the beach and evenings on the town. Yesterday we took a day trip out to Hermanus, a beautiful coastal resort about an hour outside Cape Town, where we walked along the cliffside and Andy cooked us a traditional South African braai, complete with fresh steak, calimari and a dollop of local hospitality.

Yesterday evening I was interviewed by a journalist from The Argus, one of Cape Town’s foremost daily papers (click here to read the article). I conducted the interview strolling along the sand, listening to the ocean and watching the sunset. If only, I thought, I could conduct all my interviews from the beach. What a life that would be…

WEDNESDAY 4 MARCH, 9pm (Speedway 105 Cafe, Cape Town)
Tonight we are playing our first fully-fledged show in South Africa – a headline slot at the Speedway bikers’ bar – and I’m delighted to report that there’s a full house in. What a genuine pleasure it is to visit a new territory, set up camp in a new venue, and watch as the place fills with an audience of complete strangers. I’m excited about performing again and it’s great to have Tony back on the team.

The Scandinavian motorbike club from Saturday night have returned, which I find extremely flattering, since by their own admission they don’t normally listen to anything except Motorhead and AC/DC. Could be an interesting audience. Will we win them over? 

Well, yes, as it turns out. Although for a while it’s looking dicey. We decide to split the evening into two sets, starting with 45 minutes of Lightyears originals and ending with a set of dance numbers. We chuck in “Beat Alive”, “She’s The One”, “Fine”, “Sleepless” and “Emily” too. The crowd respond really well to our songs and the first official airing of “Johannesburg” proves a hit as well. During the break I’m standing at the bar waiting for a beer when the bikers’ ringleader taps me on the shoulder.

“Do you play heavy metal?”

Jings. Should I lie? Mainly we’d been planning Jerry Lee Lewis, Van Morrison and The Monkees for set two. Is there any way in which “I’m A Believer” could be considered metal? Probably not.

“Erm, d’ya know, I’m afraid to say we don’t. It’s not really our ‘thing’.”

“Come on,” he replies, throwing back his big scary Norwegian biker’s head. “Led Zeppelin! You must do some Led Zeppelin! It is the classic of all times.”

I heartily agree with him that, yes, it is the classic of all times – but sadly it’s just not in our repertoire. He’s pretty persistent though and so, by the end of our conversation, I’ve agreed to ‘see what I can do’. I have no idea what I mean by this.

Racking my brains, I remember that last year, when we were on the bill at the launch of State music magazine in Dublin, I played a set of ‘Easy Listening Heavy Metal’ on the grand piano, comprising a whole host of rock classics performed in a lounge style. And one of them was “Black Dog” by Led Zeppelin. Was this a good idea? Would the bikers appreciate the irony?

Dash it all, I thought. I have no choice. This is the only thing we do that even vaguely resembles Led Zeppelin. It will have to suffice.

And so it is that, twenty minutes later, to break up the set, I make an announcement. 

“The extremely fine ladies and gentlemen in the corner there have requested some Led Zeppelin, and we’ve never been a band to let people down. So here’s ‘Black Dog’ – Track One, Side One from the classic album Led Zeppelin IV……”

I’m glad to say that the ensuing performance – although perhaps not quite what they were expecting – prompts enthusiastic applause from the petrolheads and I come to the conclusion that we’ve got away with it. This is later confirmed when we encore with “New York, New York” and it brings the house down. Andy’s brother, Dan, confesses to me after the gig that the sight of twenty leather-clad bikers singing their hearts out to Frank Sinatra brought a tear of joy to his eye and was something he would never, ever forget. 

Pina Coladas in the hotel poolTHURSDAY 5 MARCH, 1.30pm (The Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town):
Today we check into the hotel where we’ll be staying for the remainder of the tour. I’ve been looking forward to this moment. By reputation, the Table Bay is the finest hotel in Cape Town and, in fact, one of the top hotels in the country. It’s a glorious day and the sun is beating down as we arrive outside the front entrance and unload our luggage and instruments. Spotting our guitars, the concierge immediately saunters over.

“Hello sir, how are you today?”

“I’m extremely well thank you,” I reply, absolutely meaning it.

“You’re musicans, right?” he points out, astutely.

I nod in agreement and this prompts a barrage of stories about previous musical residents of the Table Bay. “We’ve had all kinds of bands checking into the hotel over the years,” he explains.

“Who was the last musician to stay here then?” I ask, testing the water.

“Snoop Dogg,” he begins, casually. “We’ve had Kanye West too. And Maroon 5 were here last month. Plus we’ve also had Counting Crows, Robbie Williams and Michael Jackson. The Table Bay is the only place Michael will stay when he’s in Cape Town. I’ve met him personally.”

He can see I’m impressed. But he’s not done yet.

“Oh, and Keifer Sutherland. Keifer Sutherland often stays here. Nice fella.”

We are staying in JACK BAUER’S hotel. 

Rock and roll.

THURSDAY 5 MARCH, 7.30pm (The Toad In The Village, Noordhoek, Cape Town):
We are at The Toad In The Village, a bar/restaurant in the rather quaint Noordhoek, owned by legendary former Springbok captain, Bob Skinstad. We’ve been invited along to the launch party for the ‘Noordhoek Vikings’, one of the teams taking part in the Cape Town Tens Rugby Tournament this weekend. This will be our first proper experience of hanging out with large gangs of rugby players.

We turn up early and take our designated seats at a long, wooden dining table by at the far end of the room. The other half of the table is empty. It transpires that we are to be joined shortly by six or seven professional rugby players from the ‘Sports Illustrated Legends’ team, a side headed up by Bob himself, along with Robbie Fleck, another former South African international who is also involved in organising the tournament. The guys are coming along tonight to meet the rest of their team-mates and sink a few* lagers.

We’ve been there for about 15 minutes when a group of enormous blokes appear through the main entrance and head towards our table. As they arrive, I stand up to introduce myself to the guy at the front. The blood drains from his face. 

“Who are….. what is…. erm…?”. He seems shaken. “What position do you play?”

Odd greeting, I think. My next thought concerns how powerful, almost debilitating, his handshake is. He still looks a bit freaked out. Then the penny drops. Blimey. They think we’re on their team

“Oh gosh, gosh no. Hah! No. I’m not a rugby player. Golly. No. Imagine that! You’d probably snap me in half. I mean, look at you, you have arms like anacondas.”

Actually, I didn’t say that last bit. But I did think it. Danny later tells me that he was transfixed for the entire evening by the sight of me sitting next to a bloke whose biceps were WIDER THAN MY HEAD. I could have climbed inside his arms and made them my home. “You look so tiny,” Danny kept saying. Yeah, whatever mate. I could play rugby. I just choose not to.

By the time I have finished shaking hands with all seven of them, the bones in my right hand have been ground to a fine powder. I may never play piano again.

FRIDAY 6 MARCH (Hamilton Rugby Club, Cape Town):
Earlier this evening we sat down to a truly delicious dinner on the harbourside near the hotel. Tanned, rested and fully settled into laid-back Cape Town life, we sat round the table beaming at each other, soaking up the warm night air. John summed up the feeling most succinctly when he said: “I can’t ever remember being this happy”.

Despite being so chilled out we could almost have sat there until sunrise, we decide to head over to Hamilton Rugby Club (where the Cape Town Tens are kicking off with an evening of hardcore boozing) to show our faces and generally get a feel for the vibe of the tournament. The matches themselves don’t start until Saturday but, as the recreational side of the event is generally considered equally as important as the sport, we figure it would do us good to get a taster before things kick off for real tomorrow morning.

When we turn up we are greeted by a sobering sight – 600 huge rugby players, standing around, necking pints and challenging each other to violent drinking games. Once again we are suddenly made very aware of how much we stand out. Feeling like Year 7s who have just accidentally wandered into the Year 11 common room and are met for the first time by that bewilderingly unfamiliar cocktail of sweat, Lynx deodorant and Tizer, we head cautiously for the bar, trying our hardest not to make eye contact with anyone

We are mere seconds from our destination when the mission fails. We’ve been spotted. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one of those wildlife programmes where leopards are filmed hunting gazelles, but this is pretty much a human equivalent. Looking back over my shoulder I see young Danny Morriss being picked off from the herd by a man off such terrifying visage that I can actually feel my sphincter tightening. He seems to be trying to engage Danny in conversation, although the sounds coming from his mouth are definitely not words and his only other method of communication is to squish Dan’s immaculately-engineered mohican with his enormous hand until it’s entirely flat on his head. I am genuinely torn between the two conflicting instincts in my gut – one is telling me to stick by my friend and wade in for rescue, the other is telling me to sod Danny and run away screaming like a tiny little girl.

For the first time, I am beginning to feel quite nervous about this weekend’s gigs. These people will be our audience. Will they accept us as their own or will they weed us out as the namby-pamby pretenders we are? And if they do accept us, will we have to drink our own urine through a plastic funnel as part of some kind of dreadful initiation ceremony? At the moment, they’re curious about us because we’re quite demonstrably outsiders – but maybe once we’ve been up onstage, we’ll have more authority.

“Do you think it’ll be better once they know who we are?” I ask George, praying for the answer ‘yes’.

“No mate,” replied George, “it’ll be worse. Because they’ll know who we are.”


Will we survive a weekend boozing with rugby players? Will Cape Town rock to the sweet sound of The Lightyears? Stay tuned for Part 3 of my South African tour diary, coming soon to www.TheLightyears.com.

* a “few” to me is approximately three. To a rugby man, it is somewhere in the region of twelve.

The Lightyears’ International 5-Star Hotel Breakfast Richter Scale

13 February 2009


As you will probably be aware if you have been following our band for a while, food is incredibly important to us. We just got back from a storming tour of Cape Town, South Africa, and the many hours spent anticipating, enjoying and rating the various breakfasts on offer has prompted me to create something which I really should have dealt with a long time ago – The Lightyears’ International 5-Star Hotel Breakfast Richter Scale.

Man cannot live on chord sequences alone and when you’re out on the road it is imperative that you are adequately fed, lest your capacity to rock serious ass is threatened by low blood-sugar levels.

In short, eat your heart out Lonely Planet – this is the intrepid explorer’s real guide to eating abroad. Venues are listed in top five order, with number one representing the crème de la crème of hotel breakfasts:   

5. Somerset Palace, Seoul
The Somerset was our first experience of 5-star hotel breakfast-buffet eating and as a result will always hold a special place in our hearts. It has a simple elegance to it and is the only hotel on this list to offer live TV news during your meal. It opens early, at 6am, which is obviously of no use to us until the morning after the gig, during which we have become infamous for turning up at 6am on the dot, still suited, for a post all-nighter nosh-up before crashing into the jacuzzi and, eventually, bed. Pastries are reasonable, eggs are adequate and the bread-toasting machine is a pleasing little gadget, almost Wallace & Gromit-esque in its inventiveness. Slightly suspicious of the little sausages though. Always gotta wonder about the sausages.

4. The Laguna Beach Resort, Phuket
The Laguna scores points early on for effectively being outdoors. It rates highly on the Yoghurt Counter too for variety of flavours and from what I can remember also serves decent baked beans. Beans are often a problem when one is abroad – some hotels consider themselves too chic to serve baked beans (this is obviously ridiculous) and others go for a sort of posh bean medley containing butter beans, kidney beans, mung beans and the like, which I’m not averse to per se but which if I’m honest only over-complicates a classic breakfast staple. The Laguna also turned a blind eye to us appearing for our morning meal dressed only in matching hotel bath-robes and sunglasses, for which I believe the staff deserve a special commendation. Oh, and where else but in Phuket are you joined for breakfast by a dancing, juggling, harmonica-playing elephant? Mind you, I requested “Love Me Do” and received only a blank look in response. One-trick pony, if you ask me. 

3. The Table Bay Hotel, Cape Town
Like Thailand’s Laguna Resort, the Table Bay boasts the accolade of being one of the “500 Leading Hotels In The World”. However, it inches ahead of it’s Phuketian classmate by the skin of its teeth, thanks to a few high-class cherries on the cake that might surprise even the most discerning traveller. How imaginative, I thought, how recherché, to serve freshly roast duck in hoisin sauce for the opening dish of the day! The sushi was a pleasing touch too, although I couldn’t quite stretch to oysters. It’s one of my many travelling mantras that one should avoid eating anything that closely resembles phlegm for breakfast. Oh, and Michael Jackson, Snoop Doggy Dog, Kanye West and Jack Bauer have all dined here (although I doubt Bauer got much eating done – he was probably too busy uploading government schematics to his PDA and de-wiring suitcase nukes using only his eyelids).

2. British Airways Business Class Cabin, International Airspace
Yes, alright, this is technically not a hotel; however, I feel it warrants its place in the Top Five because we had to sleep in it and nice ladies bought us whatever we asked of them without once ticking us off for being immature and in that sense it mimicked my experience of hotels precisely. Plus I have stayed in hotels with less comfortable beds, believe me, and none of them faced the challenge of being 40,000 feet above the ground and hurtling around at 600mph. The thing about this particular breakfast experience was that, well, the attendants had furnished us with fine champagne before we’d even sniffed a soupçon of the food on offer. And a day that starts with champagne can never, ever be a bad day. What followed was a preposterously sumptuous smorgasbord of delights that included quails’ eggs, salmon roe, truffles and fillet steak. And I got to watch The Big Lebowski whilst I was eating. Everybody left happy. 

1. The Grand Hyatt Hotel, Seoul
And so we have a winner. As a hotel, The Hyatt may not have the flare of the Table Bay or the easy charm of the Laguna, but by George it steals the breakfast crown with flying colours. It has a carvery. It has pastries that will melt your face with desire. It covers every corner of the juice gamet. It boasts a view of the entire city. When we ate there we rubbed shoulders with the Dutch national football team. It has everything – and, most importantly, the Hyatt has Eggman. Eggman stands solemnly by a majestic breakfast hob, awaiting instructions, weaving his yolky magic on request as if it were the easiest thing in the world. He is a mythical figure, very much like Zeus or Agamemnon, except that Zeus couldn’t simultaneously flash-fry five immacuate omelettes whilst also scrambling a cheese, chive, pepper, bacon and egg combo to perfection. He has nothing to do with John Lennon’s eggman, who as far as I know was never employed by the Hyatt hotel chain and in any case can’t speak fifteen languages like Eggman can. He is our saviour. He is Eggman.

And so there you have it. Next time you visit one of these locations on tour you can dispense with your over-priced Rough Guide and instead simply heed my words. For it is impossible to feel sorrow when God bestows upon you a plentiful and resplendent breakfast buffet. 

Munch it down. 

Chris Lightyear

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