The Rakes' progress: Tales from a band on the road

There are few better ways of seeing the world than by joining a band and going on tour – as The Rakes have found out. Alex Hannaford reminisces with them about some hard travelling
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The Independent Culture

Alan Donohoe, Jamie Hornsmith, Lasse Petersen and Matthew Swinnerton were fairly exhausted. Better known as The Rakes, the four-piece were halfway through a two-week tour of the US and their sleeper bus, driven by an improbably named ex-marine called Bodean, had already taken them from New York to DC and Chicago, and they still had Portland, Seattle, San Francisco and LA ahead of them. At that point, they were in the middle of Idaho and looking forward to a well-earned rest.

Bodean, who claimed his "other job" was a bounty hunter, liked to drive on to the next destination at night, after The Rakes had played a show. That night, he had rolled up in Wallace, Idaho, a historical silver mining town with a population of just under a thousand, about 360 miles east of Seattle.

A year later, and back in London, lead singer Donohoe is keen to reminisce. "The next day we found a bar that had steak and chips on the menu," he says. "The landlord said they didn't see many people from outside America there, and he persuaded us to do a show on our day off. He wrote on the chalk board outside: 'Tonight: The Rakes from London, UK'. There were just 15 people there, all in lumberjack shirts and baseball caps, so we decided to play half the speed we usually do, turn the amps down and omit any swearing. We're quite secular guys and some of the lyrics may not have gone down too well, so we left those bits out. And we actually went down pretty well, except with a table of four octogenarians who left straight away. We got free beers all night."

The Rakes formed in the early 2000s in the wake of The Strokes and The Libertines, and it wasn't long before they were touring much further afield than their native London. New Musical Express said their debut single for their new label, "Work Work Work (Pub Club Sleep)", released at the start of 2005, offered up a "neat encapsulation of the mundane everyday routines of post-millennial English culture".

The band had been on tours of the UK and France before they got their record deal – supported by the full-time jobs they had at the time (Donohoe worked in an office for the NHS, bassist Hornsmith worked for a travel company, drummer Petersen was a male nanny and guitarist Swinnerton was on the dole). "I'd used all my year's holiday going on tour in the UK," Donohoe says. "I begged my boss to let me go away again. So I went from partying every night, straight back into a nine-to-five job. And then had to work weekends for the rest of the month to make up the days owed."

Once they had the support of a record company, Europe, Japan, Brazil, Singapore, Australia and the US beckoned. In 2006, Bloc Party asked The Rakes to support them on their tour of Japan. Donohoe says none of the band had been there before. "We're well-travelled guys but it was a culture shock – it's so different. Plus the jet-lag is fairly odd, particularly when people take you out partying.

"We were boozing on the plane on the way over," he says. "That first night in the hotel, I woke up at dawn thinking I felt an earthquake. I had no idea where I was. I looked out the window and there was no one in the street – it was like in Vanilla Sky where Tom Cruise goes to Times Square. But actually it was just Sunday morning in Tokyo and no one was up yet.

"I had a couple of drinks after our first show, while Bloc Party were on. But the next thing I remember was waking up fully clothed in my hotel room. I had blacked out after just two drinks – probably due to jet lag. Apparently, I had wanted to stage dive but that's frowned upon – the fans are pretty conservative – and Jamie walked me home and put me to bed. I didn't remember any of it."

On a two-date tour of Brazil, Donohoe says aside from the huge favelas, incredible samba clubs, seeing "the big Jesus on the mountain in Rio", and drinking caipirinhas (Brazil's "national cocktail" which he says is "like rocket fuel"), a particularly novel moment was seeing people "walking around supermarkets doing their weekly shopping, singing to themselves, wearing nothing but flip flops and Speedos."

Moscow, Donohoe says, was quite a bizarre city. "No one smiles very often, which may be a cultural thing. But saying that, we met some younger Russians who came to our show and we went to a club with them afterwards. They were sharing vodka with us from the bottle."

On their last morning in Russia, they went to Izmailovsky flea market, near the Partizanskaya metro station, Donohoe says. "I bought a Russian military hat. They had original Lenin memorabilia. The market was good, but there was something there to offend all the family – from SS memorabilia to machine guns. Further in, there were hunters selling racks of dead bear and wolves."

Donohoe says the most bizarre story from touring was when the band went to Singapore. The promoter took The Rakes out for a meal before their show, but when they finally saw the venue, it had been dressed up to look like London Tube station and all the barmaids wore uniforms like English bobbies. "Then, over the course of the evening, in what Singaporeans would think was a really posh English accent, but which actually sounded like a digitised, non-human voice, someone began counting down to our appearance on stage. But they would say 'The next train will be in one hour'."

Donohoe says the promoter had planned for two doors to open and steam to pour out, before the band appeared on stage to the disembodied voice declaring, "The train has arrived".

"It sounded like Stars in Their Eyes. We really didn't want to emerge in a cloud of smoke, so we had to put our foot down," Donohoe says. "Tonight, Matthew, we will be The Rakes."