Hanging Out With Andy Nicholson: Ex-Arctic Monkey, Producer & Photographer

andy nicholson, 2014, sheffield

Ten years ago, student union DJs were pretty limited in their ability to cater for the masses. One option was to drop 500 Miles by The Proclaimers, and trust every group had at least one Scottish mate to jump around with. Thankfully Arctic Monkeys weren’t far behind with I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor, a sort of Jumpin’ Jack Flash for Millennials.

Then came the fastest selling debut album and a demand for UK shows so great, friends of mine had to travel to Paris for any chance of seeing them live. Andy Nicholson was on bass but, in early 2006, left the band.

In the present, he’s making me a cup of Yorkshire Tea and giving a tour of his studio in Sheffield city centre; a kitchen, two recording rooms and his managers office. I was expecting (and hoping) to meet a kind of Hugh Grant character from About a Boy. Living off yesterday’s fame and fortune with nothing more than spare time to show for it.

However, this isn’t the case. He’s a renowned producer (with both Sticky Blood and hip hop outfit, Clubs & Spades), runs his own studio and has ran The Bowery, a New York-subway themed pub, for the last 6 years. He’s also bang into photography.

Tour of the office

Andy’s recently back from recording around the country, which explains the luggage lying around. His yellow bass guitar, that he used on the early Arctic Monkeys records, lies in an open case. It’s instantly recognizable from the music videos, though with the addition of “Andy” etched into its body.

“My favourite bassist, Paul Simonon of the The Clash, did the same with his. So one day I ended up doing the same with mine” he says, referencing the markings similar to those under the boots of Buzz Lightyear and Woody.

“I keep telling my wife to get that as a tattoo, on the foot. But she’s not up for that”

Like his old school mates, who now live in LA, his appearance has changed somewhat from the days of Lyle & Scott polo shirts. It’s more tattoos and bandanas.

“It’s growing up, I think. Growing comfortable in your own skin and feeling comfortable in what you’re doing. Regarding anything; photos, music, tattoos. You’re always pushing your boundaries.”

“I never intended to be covered in tattoos, but they all just spilled over. There’s no real psychology to it all, though you could have a field day trying to figure them out”.

Birds, nautical equipment and the words ‘Steel City’ to name just a few.

In the smaller studio, hanging on the wall, is a triple platinum vinyl record for Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not.

arctic monkeys, andy nicholson, bass, 2005

Andy Nicholson (far left) during his Arctic Monkeys days, 2005

I recall the time they cleaned up at the 2006 NME awards, when the Sugarbabes did a cover of I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor. Alex Turner thanked them on stage, before Andy joked “wrong key though”.

“What a dickhead thing to say” He laughs, shaking his head “what an unreasonable thing to say”.

I’ve only been here 10 minutes and it’s already clear to see the ‘band wit, reliably swift with a self-deprecating quip’ called out by Blender magazine all those years ago.

Despite confessing to knowing “little about technology” the main studio is pretty well kitted out with all the latest gear; drum machines, MacBooks, synthesizers. In the one corner sits the TV and Playstation where regularly Pro Evo tournaments take place.

“People say they like FIFA because of the names, badges and kits. Well why don’t they just go and watch Sky Sports, then?”


andy nicholson, clubs, spades, matic mouth

With Marcus ‘Matic Mouth’ Smith of Clubs & Spades

As one half of Sticky Blood with Jamie Shield, Andy collaborates with various artists including Tom Prior, Terri Walker, Jenna G, George the Poet and Mic Righteous.

“Through Sticky Blood we’re always working with local artists here in the studio who end up collaborating with Clubs & Spades stuff. We had a big collaborative push 10 years ago; it’ll probably come back around. There are loads of people doing loads of different stuff in this city.”

Clubs & Spades also provides him the excuse to get the bass out for live shows, a welcome return from the world of the laptops.

“I’d been in bands before. So me and Jamie moved on to experimenting with just laptops, syncing stuff and triggering things [for Clubs & Spades]. We did one show like that, and were like this is just…shit. It sounded good, but when you see two rappers on stage standing in front of two blokes on laptops, who look like they’re talking to each other on emails, it’s just not right. So we sold all that gear, and concentrated on adding a band feel to Clubs & Spades.”

Though it was never that big a jump from the indie album of his generation to hip hop.

“I’ve always listened to hip hop. Al’ will tell you, we used to listen Outkast, Dre, Ludacris before we could play instruments. Me and Helders used to go to Al’s house on a Saturday, to mess around making crap hip hop.”

He also recalls seeing The Strokes at Alexandra Palace, with Alex Turner & Matt Helders, and spotting Carl and Pete from The Libertines in the crowd – “somewhere there’s a photo of them two, with the three most excited kids ever”.


Andy carries his Fuji x100s everywhere. I flick through some of his most recent shots. The Lake District and his dog, Dolly. Then there’s one of him and Turner grinning next to a snowman.

“I went up to Al’s house a couple of days ago [who was back from LA for Xmas]. We built a snowman and his Dad took a photo. It’s always good to see him. He’s not Alex Turner to me, he’s just Al’. My mate I went to school with.”

Sitting on a Chesterfield, he takes me through photos I’ve curated from his site TwoGoldTeeth.

“I approach photos as I do music. Most things are computer generated these days to get perfection. The perfections are in the imperfections. I think that’s why people fall in love with demos. I’m all about it feeling right, not looking right”

There’s certainly some reoccurring themes: Sheffield, his studio, train stations, countryside. Like Britpop, he’s successful in making everyday facets of British life look remotely interesting.

“There are two sides. There’s the documenting side of things, like trips to Amsterdam. But then there are things I see regularly. I’m not documenting that I went to a chip shop, but it’s a regular site”.

So going through his photos…

M1, andy nicholson, gold, teeth

M1, somewhere down South (Via TwoGoldTeeth.com)

“That was after me and my mate had just been to watch Sheffield Utd play Hull at Wembley, losing 5-3 in the semi-final of the FA Cup”

“What I like is it’s got the ‘The North’ written on the sign. At first it was about the sunset, not the sign, but if only I had taken it sooner would’ve got the full text in”

We move on. Next up is from the theme of travel.

jamie, andy nicholson, cheltenham

Jamie “Manakin” Shield, train to Bristol via Cheltenham (via TwoGoldTeeth)

“It’s very British. The train itself looks like it’s one of them old school carriages, where you’d sit opposite each other. But it’s not, it was a CrossCountry train to Cheltenham from Sheffield.”

“It’s about 6am, as we were just about getting off. Those houses look like red brick ex-Council houses that’ve been converted”

attenborough, rocket, 01, andy nicholson, charles street, sheffield

‘David Attenborough’ by Rocket01, Charles Street, Sheffield

“It’s very Attenborough. There’s a place me and my wife like to go to, called Tamper Coffee, which is right on the corner there. This was Christmas Eve and we’d just met her parents in Tamper for some food”

Marcus (rapper from Clubs & Spades) describes how Sheffields graffiti artists from the 90’s have turned street artists. This piece is by Rocket01.

andy nicholson, two gold, bramall lane

Bramall Lane, SUFC (via TwoGoldTeeth)

“That would’ve been a shit match, against somebody crap and the most interesting thing happening was back of his head. That’s Utd for you, football’s amazing you can’t keep your eyes off it”

“The ground is literally 5-minute walk from here. In fact I’ll take you up roof to show you”

Up on the roof

andy nicholson, studio, sheffield, 2015

Up on the roof: atop the roof of Andys studio with the snow covered City below

Up on the roof Andy points out Bramall Lane, where he attends most home games thanks to a friend at the ground. He talks through the skyline; an old BT building, the Grosvenor hotel (earmarked for demolition) and the surrounding valleys.

“They say Sheffield was built on seven hills”, pointing out towards the snow covered suburbs on the distant hills.

With an American Dad, he spent a couple of his early years in Santa Barbara but mainly grew up in Sheffield. First in Manor Park. Then Stocksbridge, where he met the gang. While the others lived in High Green, he moved to Hillsborough as documented in Red Lights Indicate Doors Are Secured.

As depicted in his photography, the City is changing and no more evident by the cranes and demolition going on around us. Next door they’re building a cinema/Primark complex.

“They’re always building something around here. Hopefully it’ll bring some people to this side of town. All they’d need to do is build an Apple shop and that’ll rejuvenate the whole area”. Marcus tells me they have BBQs here in the summer. The people down below on the street have no idea, “nobody around here looks up”.

The door to the roof opens, it’s Marcus’ sister who’s come to pay compliment to Andys leather jacket. After satisfactorily passing as authentic leather via the trusted smell test, Andy confesses its origins.

“I got this in Amsterdam, just in a shitty mens clothes shop” he says, scanning the street below “bit like that Blue Inc down there”.

Our conversation quickly descends into the British High St, the mysterious C&A in Amsterdam and the longevity of 90’s clothing; NaffNaff, Spliffy, The Sweater Shop. “Unless you chucked that gear out, it was never going anywhere”.

Wrapping up

Andy’s kind enough to humor me with some stories of the old days. Like when David Bowie came backstage after they’d played the Bowery Ballroom in New York 2005, and they pretended to mistake him for the club promoter.

“We weren’t massive Bowie fans, some of the others might be now, but we just had a laugh going ‘thanks for the extra crate of Strongbow, you didn’t need to do that’”

I guess when you’re 19 years old, you say what you want. Time has moved on and nobody more than Andy. Constantly evolving as a creative conglomerate, he’s somebody who’s genuinely fulfilled in what they’re doing.

“I’m only 28. I feel like that I’ve not achieved anywhere near what I want to”.

Publishing a cookbook? Presenting a Ross Kemp-style travel documentary?

“To work with the best artists in the world, keep progressing, going to other countries to try new things, growing up, learning to play our instruments better. We’ll probably outgrow this studio soon, and look to build a bigger one”

“As we grow, we might get a few new band members, as coming from a live background I want everything to be live. Ideally with no backing track. It’s certainly getting there”

And with that we said goodbye, with him suggesting a museum and some local ale pubs to fill the void until the 16:57 back to London.



A rare glimpse inside Britain’s Humourless Correction Centre

Birgitte Hansen, sad man, painting, humourlessFor the first time ever, the UK’s Humourless Correction Centre has opened it’s doors for a rare glimpse into the world of ‘Comedic Conditioning’ – the process of curing those unable to find humour in what popular culture dictates to them as being funny.

In light of the recent case of 24-year-old Jeff Cook, who was recently sectioned for his defected Sense of Humour (SOH), the HCC has been pressured to shed light on its activities.

We gained exclusive entry to the centre, a 19th century Manor House set in a leafy North-London suburb, to speak with Jeff about his experiences.

Jeff’s condition first came to the attention of the authorities last February, when he questioned the comedic qualities of Eddie Izzard on Twitter. Since then he has been under constant pressure from friends and family to seek help. This has seen him subscribe to the services of Dr Hargrove, the HCC’s most senior figure.

When we found Jeff he was slumped, motionless, in an old armchair in his room at the clinic. Though Jeff had come voluntarily, Dr Hargrove informs us he’s considering a more serious approach and sectioning the humourless twenty-something under the Mental Health Act.Man, Melancoly, 1990, Zeng Fanzhi

“I mean, if an old man wearing a leather skirt, with constant TV and stage exposure for the past 20 years isn’t hilarious, I don’t know what is” Dr Hargrove said. Shaking his head and muttering under his breath “I mean, a leather skirt for Christ sake”.

Hargrove then began to explain an interesting case from 2012, whereby a patient could not fathom why Miranda was still being commissioned, and to critical acclaim. That patient was lobotomized and now accepts that comedy is what the general consensus says it is.

“A successful case…” Hargrove trails off.

The silence is interrupted by commotion behind us. One of the patients has escaped from her room and is being restrained by staff as she gouges at Jeff’s soulless body.

“Why isn’t it funny?” She shrieks, “I’ve always been told that Izzard is funny, why would he be on TV if he wasn’t funny?”

She breaks down into sobs as the orderlies wrestle her into a straitjacket.

“This happens sometimes” Hargrove says shaking his head, “it’s as though questioning universal truths is contagious. She’ll be OK after a cup of tea and an intensive round of Vicar of Dibley

After the ordeal, we’re told that Jeff needs rest. However, we’re taken to another wing of the hospital to meet Tony, the oldest patient here.

He’s considered to be one of the most severe cases ever brought in. His crime? He’s the first of his generation to question the comically quotable Monty Python.

Dr Hargrove has to rush off to an emergency but allows me 5 minutes to sit with Tony, who’s considered a lost cause. Although he’s been under constant conditioning, he appears to be more coherent and sane minded than the rest of the patients.

eternity's, gate, old man, van goughHe even admits enjoying the early Monty Python, but began questioning it more and more after it’s popularity in the US grew beyond recognition. A former aviation engineer, he attributes the transatlantic pollination of Monty Python with the success of Freddie Laker airlines in the 1970s. For the first time, taking the English to America in droves and with them bringing the series with them. Ultimately, he began to question whether it was ever funny in the first place.

“The yanks wouldn’t stop telling us how much they loved it, until it was one of the first things they told us whenever we met them” says Terry, who often travelled to the States for business during this time.

Although he appears relatively upbeat, it’s clear Tony yearns to be released. Whenever one of the nurses drift in to check-up on us, he breaks into Monty Python quotes in a desperate bid to convince them he’s cured.

“Is he dead?” He shouts in a shrill fake women’s voice “well he’s nearly dead”.

However this only exacerbates the problem, and he is quickly restrained and we’re told that our time is up.

“I don’t even think that’s the correct quote” one of the nurses says to the other, as they strap him into his bed.

One can only hope that Jeff is cured. And quick.



Day 13: Flying home #KentuckyTour2014

chicago, bubba gump, shrimp, lexington, girl, reading, highlightsWe’ve been incredibly luckily with weather during our stay in Kentucky. Not only has it shone bright everyday, but it’s now pissing down with rain as we’re leaving for the airport to catch our connection to Chicago; an unavoidable sign it’s time to call it a day here.

The 6 hour layover is filled with an enquiry into the life of Bill Collis via Me, Myself and Eyes, going on the hunt for a giant bag of M&M’s to bring back to the office and one last look at the Chicago skyline with promises that’ll be back soon to stop off and say hello.

I spotted some Goths in the departure lounge. Admittedly, I didn’t know these guys were still knocking around, having assumed like all subcultures they’d ceased trading. Though I suppose somebody has to be propping up Underworld in Camden.

It’s fair to say I’m not ready to go home. I don’t have any cravings for a Sunday pub lunch or a bed that isn’t a blow-up mattress, in the same way I usually do after a long trip in a foreign land or the Monday after Glastonbury.

For the flight back to London I’m sat next to a girl from Reading, who’s spent the last few days on holiday in Chicago. She asked me what the highlight of my holiday was. And I honestly couldn’t think for the life of me. It was a combination of having far too many, and being far too active to allow any to yet sink in. Of course it was the wedding weekend, but which part?

I’m sure she was just being polite, but I actually sat and racked my brains for ages thinking of one solitary example to give her to hold onto. But couldn’t, so defaulted to the easy yet effective option of ‘spotting a bear in the woods’. Her highlight was the BBQ prawn skewers at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

Bubba Gump Shrimp as the zenith of your 8,000-mile round trip? Jesus. I suppose mine could’ve easily been food based, but I don’t think I’ll know until I’ve had a good sit down with a cup of tea and the photo album.

But, Kentucky you’ve been great. We’ll do this again sometime, yeah?

The End: Happily ever after!


Day 12: Sunday Cook-out #KentuckyTour2014

cook out, bbq, kentuckyEveryone’s up early for breakfast that is hosted by Ellen’s aunties, which is closely followed by the Chelsea-Liverpool title decider.

We soon order cabs to take us out into the countryside for the last hoorah; a traditional southern cook-out laid on by Molly and Becca and their two husbands Bull and Ryan. The ranch is now home to Molly and Bull, and the place is littered with dinner tables, garden games and the vast majority of the remaining wedding guests.

“Wow, look they’ve got a keg, and everything!”

Bill brought me a signed copy of his book too, and took me through some of the characters he’d been fortunate enough to meet over his career.

After a few days of fast pace, this was exactly what everybody was after; sun, beer, beef, ribs,cook out, bbq, kentucky, winchester chicken and corn hole.

Corn Hole? Right, a lawn game consisting of two teams of pairs. The pairs stand opposite each other, at a rough range of 30ft, each trying to throw bean bags on to each others wooden platform (1pt for landing it on, 3pts for getting it in the hole). The first to 21pts is the winner – though of course as interest peaked we reduced this to 11pt.

Right about now, I’m pretty certain my Dad is midway through constructing his own version, smashing up some old chest of draws in the process.

corn hole, kentucky, summer, bbq, cook out, USA

Day 11: Nupitals #KentuckyTour2014

moundale manor, winchester, weddingAfter breakfast with Dad, Joe and Luke at Shakespeare and Co to discuss last minute details, we join the rest of the Groomsmen on board the shuttles to take us up to Moundale Manor.

Moundale Manor is a 38-room private house in Winchester and only minutes from the church. Similar to Bullock-Bodley House, Moundale is a classic example of antebellum architecture, typical of neoclassical and Greek revival mansions of the Southern states. In essence, most likely a former slave plantation.

It’s here where we’ll get changed into our tuxedos, play killer on the pool table, play air hockey in the games room, watch Man Utd/Norwich in the home cinema while sinking a few beers on reclining sofas and wait for the call. It’s the sort of place you’d dreamed of having when you’re young, where the Sports Bar of the 90’s failed to replicate.

The place is so big, that up on the second floor Ellen and her bridesmaid are also getting ready. It takes a good 10 minutes to find one of the many bathrooms.

Hot sunny day, men walking around on fresh cut grass in suits, coaches to and from venues. It was all very FA Cup Final day like. After a few photos, it’s time to board the coaches for the short trip to the First Christian Church for the ceremony. It’s a church that’s been in the Collis family for generations, attended by Ellen’s Dad and his brothers.

The guests started to fill the church as we arrived, with Angie, the wedding coordinator, given us the final reminders of where to stand and where to hide.

The ceremony went without a hitch (sadly I’m not the first person in the world to crack a wedding related pun here). Tears, cheers and many happy years.

Luke wore that crown, and not a single person lined up at the alter felt the need to chuckle.

We congregated outside, lining the steps from the church to the street. Then the two stars of the show came down the steps, through the cheering crowds and into the waiting white Bentley, where they’d meet everyone back at Moundale Manor for cocktail hour.

It was here at Cocktail hour that I met Bill, Ellen’s uncle. He’s a former eye surgeon and has recently published his memoirs called Me, Myself and Eyes. I instantly had a hundred questions lined up for him, as you normally do when you meet somebody so interesting. Dad had met him last year at Luke and Ellen’s engagement party, and so I had been looking forward to hearing some of his many anecdotes since.

Then it was back on the coaches, and onto the Winchester Opera House for the reception.

On every table, at every seat, lay a personalised note for the guest. Ellen and Luke wrote one for every single person. 160 guests. I genuinely wondered at what point they realized the scale of the operation, yet conscious they’d gone way too far to back track.

But as Liza pointed out in her Maid of Honour speech, the pair of them, Luke and Ellen, genuinely value everyone in their lives. And so it’d never be a case of “actually, this is ridiculous, told you this would take too long”.

winchester, opera, moundale manorMine was written by Ellen, as was most peoples (Luke’s ones will no doubt surface in several years as collectors items) and have to say was very touching. I’ve welled up a number of times over the last few days, in particular around the speeches; mother of the bride, mother of the groom and the bride herself giving particular touching speeches. Though I must admit, I do wonder where the emotional energy gets transferred to if not in the form of salty tears. And are there any side affects? Bags under the eyes? Brain tumor?

Then Joe’s speech; a brief history of the pre and post-Manhattan Luke Oliver.

Anecdotes from being forced to play Sunday League football by Dad, to Saturday afternoons shopping for World War 2 rifles at Islington war market (aged17), to working at the local fruit and veg shop to ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

I think it came in at around 17 minutes. He’d read it out to me earlier that morning at Moundale Manor shortly before getting ready.

The first dance was followed by a good healthy stint of Greek dancing led by Mrs C and her gang. I really enjoyed the Greek dancing, a perfect way to trick everyone onto the dance floor.

The live band played a great set, the Greek music fed into Irish ballads. It really was a great night.

We all piled back on the Hilton-bound coaches. Luke’s London mates were leading a sing song at the back. Never in my life have I more wished I knew the full lyrics to Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Still I manage to slide in on the parts I did know, and sip my drink during the parts I didn’t.

Once we’re back at the Hilton we, if somehow by default, head to the main centre of Lexington, an area that had hosted almost every after party of the last few days. Between running back and forth to the hotel to coordinate groups, I find myself on my jacks, still wearing the full-piece tuxedo and being subjected to taunts about attending ‘prom’ from various pissed college kids. Half thinking I might get my head kicked in, the other half assessing how much I probably deserved it for looking like this whilst on my own, I continued my search for everybody on the next street. Spirits are soon lifted when I meet Kateri and Casey, who’ve come to round everyone up.

Day 10: A rehearsal to end all rehearsals #KentuckyTour2014

Up early, and on form, to head to the church with the rest of the wedding party for the wedding rehearsal.

I’ve always taken a Gary Linker approach to warm-ups and rehearsals; why waste a goal in the warm-up?

Though given the Greek twist to it (such as Luke having to wear a crown), a run through is essential. A crown? Liza is quick to ask that that we don’t succumb to childish laughter during the actual ceremony, which lets face it is quite a big ask when somebody has to wear a ceremonial headpiece.

The rehearsal dinner itself is at Bodley-Bullock House in downtown Lexington, a 3-storey town house built in 1814. The 70-guest dinner was in the main room, though the house itself was a pleasure to explore. The Bullock’s snuff bottle collection a must-see, though unfortunately we only found out about it once the night was over. The house is used by the Junior League of Lexington as their headquarters, but is also a popular spot on local ghost tours.

After drinks and photos in the back garden we head back in to the main room to join the other 70 guests for dinner. Followed by some speeches.

I think it’s fair to say I paid the price for my stance on rehearsing when it came to my turn to play the role of after dinner speaker. Cautious few people ever really want to hear about somebody else’s day, I decide to keep it quick, managing to stagger through some stuff about me and Luke staying up all night writing unreadable novels and unsellable sitcoms, having a new cool sister and our introduction to Grits and the Waffle House via Mrs C.

On the otherhand, Mum’s was brilliant. A perfect combination of anecdotes of a much younger Luke, and context around his departure to New York. And also, quite rightly, pointing out that Ellen has far exceeded the expectations of a Daughter-in-law.

Ellen and Mrs C both touched on Luke’s ability to master human qualities that are often hard to maintain simultaneously. In that he’s both “well liked and well respected” and “interesting, and interested”. If you can pull both of those off, you’re pretty much sorted.

All three also mentioned the very special loved ones that weren’t present at this special occasion.

Dad went for the instant crowd pleaser, orchestrating the cheering crowds as he called out the places that people had travelled from. From Los Angeles to Singapore and everything in between. Of course going East to West.

It was just great catching up with lots of old faces from the last time I was on the East Coast back in 2009. Second cousins Caroline and Susie, and their mum Rita and auntie Eileen. This lot gave me a tour of Philadelphia on that trip and are hugely popular amongst our family in London. Not least for their ability to appreciate puns and regurgitated Tommy Cooper jokes from the 70’s that we pass off as our own – “just like that”.

And Ellen’s old school friends Molly, Bull, Rebecca and Ryan – I’ve not seen this quad since the latter two kindly let me sleep in their attic when I was in Washington DC for Obama’s inauguration.

And nothing’s changed since that 2009 trip – I’m sure Obama’s legacy team would like to hear otherwise, but I refer to how familiar everybody seems. Though of course social media probably has something to do with that.

Also from that trip, and more specifically my stay in New York with Luke, is Casey a very talented photographer. And her boyfriend Josh, who had a tattoo of that Octopus that can open a jar of pickles; a decade of engineering undermined by a billion years of evolution. And also her good mate Kateri from Harlem, another whizz with the lens.

I’ve never been one to question the “meaning of life”, as it always seemed futile to ponder something that can be answered by a novelty T-Shirt slogan, but essentially this must be it; a series of coming togetherness to celebrate the love of people we know and love.

You don’t need to be some 19-year old philosophy student to get down with that.

Joe definitely has the same curse with technology that has seen me go through a number of laptops and software virus’ over the years, as his plan to surprise the room with a selection of video messages from home takes a hit when the projector and sound fail to work. After messing around with the cables, we get it up and running. But the wait (and the corresponding red sweaty faces) is well worth it, when everyone from my Grandparents to our local shopkeeper are beamed on to the main wall to wish Luke and Ellen well.

“Isn’t that Mistry from the Pied Piper?”

“Yeah, he’s been getting ripped off on the pick ‘n’ mix since 1974”

Who needs luck when you’ve got Church Lane’s finest on your side!!

So after the rehearsal, we make the short walk in town for more laughs.

Ellen is rightly concerned that Luke will continue to lead the party crowd late into the night, a Pied Piper of Lexington. Afterall, the wedding is tomorrow, and everybody needs to be on form after a good solid year of planning. A whole lifetime depending on which way you look at it.

Given the track record of the Oliver Brothers, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be the first to leave a party. History will dictate that we’re there until the lights come on. It’s not necessarily a symptom of our lust for life, just merely an irrational fear of missing out.

Myself, Joe and Kate didn’t find it hard to persuade Luke however to get a relatively early night at 1am, he knew the score. But Kate suggested (just for the craic, ya’know) we send Ellen a photo of the three us lying down next to some black bin bags. So, we do.

Of course Ellen knows the score (everyone knows the score nowadays), but she was probably still be a tiny bit concerned that despite the jest intent, we were still drunk enough to think lying face down in some alleyway wearing our best clothes is somehow a good idea.

I’d actually stopped taking notes for this trip some time after arriving in Lexington. Since arriving it’s been non-stop. It’s been hotel bed to shuttle bus, shuttle bus to designated event, designated event to afterparty.

All these events are just the headlining acts. But in between they’re filled with serendipitous lookalikes, quick pints at the hotel bar, good solid handshakes, generous word play, film references, looking for plug adapters, applying quotes from The Office, charging iPhones and everything else that is worth writing about but not worth jotting down at the time.

And everybody has been up early, and on form. Though the beer is evidently fresher and lower in alcoholic volume, I think it’s more to do with adrenaline and the enthusiasm that every day demands of us. This is a once in lifetime trip, and we cannot afford the luxury of staying in till ‘noon with a dry mouth and a banging headache.

At some stage of this trip we’ll crack on with some Moon Shine from the Appalachian Mountains, digesting the strawberries that have been preserved in alcohol for a number of years…but that’s a different story for a different time.

Day 9: Suit fittings and horse racing #KentuckyTour2014

lexington, winchell's, geno's, kentucky, bloody maryI broke my Bloody Mary duck over breakfast, and what better group to do it with than the rest of the Groom party; Joe, Me, Dad, Andy K, Jimbo, Johnny, Mark R, Mark W, Bruce, Will, Foster and Paul.

We’re at Winchell’s Bar for breakfast, next door to Geno’s who have the honour of being the official suit supplier to the #TeamColliver Wedding. We’re here to get our final fittings for our Groomsmen tuxedos before heading off to Keeneland Races for a day of gambling with the rest of the gang.

Despite us all providing our sizes 6months earlier, they’ve still buggered up most of the kit. They’ve pretty much gone for the much practiced and much failed one-size-fits-all approach, despite clearly getting a heads up that unlike Ellen’s Bridesmaids (a fine collaborative cohort of Southern Belles), Luke comes equipped with a band of men of all different shapes and sizes.

Anyways, after given the store clerk a wedgie and leaving him hanging from one of the outside lampposts, we jump in Paul and Foster’s shuttles and head for Keeneland.

Now’s a better opportunity than ever to say the ease would not of been possible without Foster and Paul. Jumping from one vendor to the next, these two made sure of a seamless experience. We did our bit (i.e. waking-up in the morning) but they did the hard, and often thankless, bit of making it all come together.

Meanwhile, the Bridesmaids party spent the morning in a town called Nonesuch, about 20 minutes from Lexington, for a Bridesmaids Brunch at a restaurant called The Glitz. Mum said how the beautifully lit restaurant sits below Irish Acres, a huge gallery housing antique furniture, jewelry, dolls, toys and glassware. It sounded a bit like my Nan’s house back in Kingsbury.

keenland, kentucky, horses, racesWe all meet at the prestigious Keeneland, the no.1 thoroughbred horse race track in the USA, for a day of laughs in the sun.

Day 8: Back to Lexington #KentuckyTour2014

lexington, winchester, hellenic, bluegrassRight, enough pissing around; let’s get up to Lexington for what promises to be the wedding of the decade.

But in all seriousness, the State of Kentucky has impressed me massively. Prior to this trip, telling people my plan to spend two weeks in Kentucky was often met with looks of disbelief, eyes searching for an explanation and/or a punchline. Me too, I was quick to justify it with “my Brothers wedding, he’s getting married to a girl from there” before making sure that they understood “they both live Manhattan, New York”.

But I’ll say now, and I’m rarely wrong about these things, add this State to that US roadtrip you’ve got penciled in.

So we jumped on the motorway and set off, cruising past the signs to the birthplace of Colonel Sanders. And no, we didn’t stop.

We gathered our thoughts at a Cracker Barrel on the outskirts of Lexington, before making the final leg of the journey to our hotel, the Hilton. But first we popped into the nearby town of Winchester where the actual wedding was taking place. Winchester is where Ellen’s Dad grew up, and was also the location of her Grandparent’s restaurant that was famous for its Irish stew for over 60 years. It’s still fondly remembered by locals, with the site recently being honored by the Hellenic Ideals Program of the Bluegrass. Now here stands a metal plaque to mark the spot where “4 Greek Immigrants served the public from 1909 to 1973”.

The first person I bumped into at the hotel was Johnny and his girlfriend, one of Luke’s oldest mates. The last time I saw him was at Kilburn tube station? Or was it the Claddagh Ring in Hendon last Christmas? Eitherway, this is Kentucky and the rest of the London gang come pushing through the doors to check-in; Andy, Lou, Gary, Orla, Patti, Lawrence, Martin, Jimbo (another expat living in the US), James K, Sheryl, Conor and Tara.

Then Mum followed by auntie Maureen and Michelle; a Nolan Sisters tribute act if ever I’ve seen one. The two aunties flew over with uncle Patrick and auntie Paula this morning.

Mum has been in Lexington since Sunday, staying with Mrs C and helping with the preparations aswell as heading out to the Woodland Reserve distillery with Joe and Kate. Her roles have ranged from the essential (driving to the civic center to get wedding licenses) to the essentially thoughtful (helping the A-team put together the wedding buckets).

Wedding buckets? Civic Centre? Two terms that may suggest traditionalism is on its way out. But no, wedding buckets were the carefully put together welcoming gifts that everyone received when they checked in at the hotel. A large KFC bucket, filled with goodies including a can of Ale-8-One (bottled in nearby Winchester since 1926 and the only soft drink invented in Kentucky still in existence), local guidebook, local history book, an apple bearing the “I love NY” logo sticker and a pack of Walkers crisps. Also the wedding itinerary that included an illustration by their friend Jason, featuring Luke and Ellen outside their New York flat flanked by landmarks from both New York, London and Kentucky. In addition to the big names, it also included several personal sites of specific interest including the place they met and The George pub in Kingsbury.

Later the family headed out to the suburbs of Lexington, to Mrs C’s house for the first night of the wedding. A perfect first night over nibbles and beers in Mrs C’s lovely house, getting to know the family more and more on a minute-by-minute basis.

Ellen is one of three triplets. On one of the walls was a framed newspaper cutout from The Lexington Leader (dated 4th Sept 1981) with the headline “Triplet threat… Parents think thrice about it” accompanied by an image of the three children, which went some way of describing their uniqueness. Ellen, Liza and Foster were local heroes according to 1980s folklore.

I’d met Liza way back in 2009 when I was last in New York but she’s since moved down to Washington DC where she manages a designer shop. She’s got one of the biggest roles of the weekend as the Bride of Honour.

I’d never met Foster, her brother, but heard nothing but great things. I’d tried to glean as much from Facebook as I could pre-Kentucky, but was none the wiser. Would he index highly as the All-American hero, or higher as a Pee Wee Herman? Truth is, he was neither, but simply an original nice guy.

After having a read of the article, Luke took Joe and me down to the basement, where the rest of Triplet Mania memorabilia from the 80’s could be found.

“Wow, it’s the actual triple seated baby carrier from the actual front page photo!”

It was this same night we met Angie and Paul, Ellen’s Auntie and her boyfriend from Columbus, Ohio. It’s fair to say you don’t meet truly good people everyday. But today we’ve met a batch of them. I’d thought today’s quota had already been exceeded by Foster and the waitress at breakfast who let me pocket an extra bottle of syrup. But then these guys too!

We headed to a bar called Cheapside in town to meet up with the rest of our family, Luke’s London friends, Luke’s New York friends and any other person who’d just arrived in Lexington for the wedding.

Day 7: Searching for falls in the physical space #KentuckyTour2014

mammoth cave, geography, teacher

Me, rocking the Geography teacher look!

Our last full day in Cumberland Falls and so we head out to the train yard which would dispatch Kentucky’s coal to the rest of the Country during the industry’s heyday. It’s closed, but the lady kindly lets us have a look around the yard and museum.

So we headed out to Yahoo Falls instead.

“Bet you had to use a search engine to find that one” somebody said, most likely me.

It’s a real optical illusion. When you see it in photos or from the many viewpoints that hover above it, it looks big but not worth-the-trip-big. It’s only when I climb aboard one of the boulders next to it do I realize just what we’re dealing with. I’ve let Dad, Kev and Mary follow the pathways into the rock behind the waterfall. Within minutes, they’re almost lost amongst the vast backdrop of grey, resembling nothing more than little florescent rain-proof dots.

yahoo falls, cumberland, kentuckyThe downpour from up above is no trickle, as first thought, but a pounding of water. Nonetheless we get the photo of Dad pretending to take a shower underneath it.

“Would be a great place to have a music show in this cave, think of the sound and the natural acoustics” says Kev.

“That’d be some rock concert” I hit back quickly, secretly knowing that Kev was lining that piece of word magic up for himself.

We make tracks out to the viewpoint where The Natural Arch of the Daniel Boone National Park can be viewed. We also continued along a dirt pathway that loops around the northwest end of the arch for more specular scenery of the thick forest below.

Even at the height of the financial crisis “Recession? What recession?” appeared to be a key phrase said by many in London, whilst marveling how it was possible to get a full English breakfast and a pint of Stella for less than £6 in JD Wetherspoon. I mean the graduate market was dire and even when employed you had to be constantly reminded of how good things used to be by management. But really, after the initial panic, jobs came back and restaurants and pubs seemed to do okay. But it was never London that felt the real pinch but places like Chester, Warrington and Red Ruth.

Assumingly the similar of the USA, where a severe drop in standard of living wouldn’t be New York but places out here. Driving back from Yahoo Falls, I noticed an out of business petrol station. A petrol station? No longer in action? That’d normally be quite symbolic, making an apt cover photo for a book entitled The 1970s: A Retrospective Look. It wasn’t the only sign of a once thriving tourist spot falling into a spot of economic decay.

Eagle Falls Resort, a large classic American motel about 2 minutes from the actual Cumberland Falls waterfall, lies derelict and abandoned. After asking about it at the front desk at Du Pont, we’re told it’s been in some state for a few years after going bankrupt and falling into the hands of looters. People around here loot?

Jerry Hoake for Mayor.

Day 6: Kayaks and black bears #KentuckyTour2014

Two things I remember about this day.

The first was Kayaking towards Cumberland Falls.

The second was the bear.

Joe and Kate had left shortly after dinner, as Joe wanted to get back to Lexington for some pre-wedding Best Man duties. Whilst having a few drinks on the balcony and reviewing the great day we’d had, came the call from Kev.

“We’ve got company” Kev shouted from the kitchen.

black bear, cumberland, daniel boone, kentuckyAnd right we did. Right outside the kitchen window, a giant black bear was going through the bin. He quickly scrambled and raced across to one of the other cabins when he heard us fumbling around for our cameras.

To be honest, bears are nothing but scavengers. And the state of California decided to put one on their flag. Bloody liberals.

We rang Du Pont lodge, as instructed, and they sent out a Ranger to track the bear’s movements. It’s actually quite mad how wild they actually are; they’re not electronically tagged, and only manually recorded when sighted.

One regular visitor said there could be as many as 11,000 bears in the region (Kentucky and surrounding states). That’s mental. That’s the equivalent of the population of Henley-on-Thames. This same visitor had never actually seen a bear in the 30 years they’d been coming here.

The population is actually believed to be much lower, at around 500 black bears in Kentucky. That’s like a whole Lenwade in Norfolk populated by bears. Or a decent turn out for an early FA Cup preliminary round.

We later headed into the nearest town for some dinner. On our return, driving through the darkness towards our cabin we noticed what assumedly was a stray dog lurking around in the trees. It looked scared, as if it was hiding out.

We parked up and that’s when we saw the bin had been smashed to bits. The bear had ripped off the thick wooden slates, removed the metal container from inside and flattened it. Needless to say we didn’t waste any time getting in.

Nothing was going to beat that. So we watched a documentary about the life of Pat Tillman, a former NFL footballer who retired to enlist in the US army following the 9/11 attacks. He was killed in friendly fire. The programme sought to reunite the man who may’ve been responsible with one of Tillman’s fellow soldiers.

If you don’t particular appreciate the wit of Bill Hicks you may still be aware of his stance on advertising and marketing. Essentially, if you work in advertising, kill yourself. That’s literally it. Like too many things, his style of comedy is applied to our stages via your ‘alternative comedians’ and others who grew up with Hicks as an inspiration. But having sat through my 8th or 9th TV commercial break in one sitting, I can kind of empathize. If they’re not manipulative (Quick Buck Solutions Ltd) they’re undignified (Place4Mum.com).

We all awoke at different stages of the night by the apparent movement lurking outside our bedrooms. If the bear could smash that bin, there was no reason he couldn’t break the wooden bannister and kick through the glass sliding door of our rooms. We knew he wasn’t too happy with us.