ST GALLEN (calm before the storm)
I forgot to tell you how boss our dinner was, back in Lucerne, in the Fuckhaus, where I had breaded aubergine and polenta – discovering against expectations that I love polenta. Here in St Gallen it’s also delicious: potato-cake things with a rich sauce and vegetables, plus incongruous unsauced pasta on the side, which I ignore. No more pasta til Italy. Switzerland has provided some of the best posh veggie food I’ve tried.
The hotel is also nice but the shower is in the corner of the bedroom with not even a curtain, so we take turns to sit outside the room while the other jumps in the shower. Would be fun for lovers but a bit annoying today.
Grabenhalle is ace fun. A slightly older, folkier crowd. During the time it takes for Frank and me play our sets, standing in front of a big circular window (hence tonight’s ‘Porthole Concert’ event name), almost two feet of snow falls, totally burying the town. I’ve got lush footage of the sets with fat flakes falling behind us.
The night unfolds messily. Half the audience sticks around and Frank jams tipsy NoFX covers sat on the edge of the stage. We’re alternating appenzeller with whisky thanks to a(nother) forthright bar manager who won’t see us empty-glassed and at the very end I do three uberdrunk extra songs, including a Swiss-German-ised Hedgehog Song. Then we all pile outside, build a massive snowman called Steve in the carpark and have a vicious snowball fight. Frank falls down and cuts his elbow quite badly. That night he’ll leave a disturbing amount of blood on his bedsheets, leading to an embarrassed check-out.
In the morning, covered in snow, St Gallen is an opulent Catholic town but bits of the old town were ruined when a bank bought it all, tore it down and build a ‘red square’ precinct, painting several streets bright red and commissioning a former socialist artist to sell her soul, building massive red-painted installations. It’s gross.
We’ve had a fantastic morning. Then we drive four hours through driving rain and heavy traffic to Geneva and at some point during the journey our karma goes to shit…
The airport straddles France and Switzerland. We need to drop the car off at Avis on the French side of the border, to avoid a massive international surcharge. It’s only half a mile away from the main Swiss airport but somehow SatNav can’t find it and Avis have no address for it. We drive around a bit getting frustrated, then go to the Swiss branch of Avis to ask for help and they kindly give us a hand-drawn map. It’s getting late so we phone the promoter, who will come to the French side to drive us to the venue.
But the Swiss map proves to be utter shit. We drive around Geneva Airport 11 times (I shit you not) adding an hour and 70km to our journey. Meanwhile our promoter Luc got there just by walking through the airport.
We finally find it. At which point Avis stick us for an extra day because apparently we should’ve dropped the car off by 11am. First I’ve heard of it. Also, we slipped over the mileage limit driving round in circles. After a fight, they relent on the mileage and fuel at least. Here’s the beef: according to French staff, the Swiss map we were given is deliberately inaccurate, because the two Avis branches hate each-other and the Swiss side loses money when punters drop cars off on the French side. Or something like that. Anyway, utter smackable fucktards in my book.
So finally shot of the car, we head across town to the venue, at which point we discover we left Frank’s laptop in the hire car. Aaargh! Luc, who is a prince, drives back to the airport while we soundcheck. Tiki’s is a sexy Hawaiian-themed retro bar run by hardcore punkers. It’s fantastic but we’re super-late (and knackered as shit) so just check and play. Luckily it doesn’t affect either show but afterwards I feel so self-consciously stinky and tired, it’s hard to talk to anyone properly.
And then, the worst conclusion to the day possible. Because we’re up at 5am, Luc has just put us up in a Youthhostel and – fuckfuckfuck – we’re in a shared room with strangers! If I’d known even an hour earlier I would’ve happily paid the difference for a private room. We walk into a space the size of my own bedroom at home, but it’s crammed with bunkbeds full of smelly, drunk, snoring and farting Eurofucks. Utterly dismayed but tiredness defeats disgust and I collapse fully-clothed onto an odourous bottom bunk.
GENEVA – ZURICH – VIENNA
Four hours later, we’re up, unshowered, legging it through dark frozen streets to catch the 6.30am train from Geneva to Vienna, via Zurich: 3 hours to Zurich, 12 minutes to change trains, 8-9 hours to Vienna. Croissant and coffee. Guardian.
What follows, despite kinked circumstance, is the most jaw-droppingly beautiful journey I’ve ever taken. We sleep at first. Then after leaving Zurich we head high into the Alps and cross above a series of snowbound, forested valleys like nothing I’ve ever seen.
We’re in an old-fashioned private compartment of six seats. We have our laptops linked via Bluetooth, so we can talk shit about the various people who come into ‘our’ compartment during the journey. Eventually we get rumbled by two haughty women from Liechtenstein who were offensively blasé about the scenery and don’t react well to being mocked by two scruffy English musicians.
There’s even a reasonable restaurant car, although we have to take turns to go eat because all our luggage is in the compartment.
We get to Vienna four minutes late, after eight hours traveling, and other passengers are moaning. I wish them all a long British train ride for healthy perspective.
Flying Pig bar owner Paul picks us up. Paul and me lived together for a year at college in the mid-90s but I haven’t seen him since and we’ve only had contact on Myspace. He’s different from how I remember: a quirky bar owner, complete with full-on Austrian accent, married to a Korean action movie star. The bar and gig and whole night are eccentric. The sound is almost impossibly quiet because the speakers are spread through the Flying Pig and there’s no monitoring. Sounds like a truly unplugged show. It’s also very busy with a heavy hardcore contingent but the crowd is weird and can’t decide whether to talk through us or get into it. We both win them over and I begin to think Vienna might have a happy ending.
…btw at this point I realise I accidentally smuggled a (very small) helping of something naughty through seven countries. Moron! Was forgotten in a coat pocket – must be a really common thing to do and I’m just lucky it wasn’t the kind of stuff that a sniffer dog might notice. I’ll leave it behind in Vienna – there were too many armed cops on the train and at the Swiss border… nasty thoughts…
The most interesting people in Vienna are two Stoke guys and an Australian girl living in Budapest offering open house to anyone who strays by (and through couchsurfing.com), making their living by online gambling. They are scarily young, only just out of teens, yet like something out of a hip movie and their leader is one of the brightest, almost eerily composed guys I’ve ever met. I suggest they watch Grifters because they’d make a stunning scam team and they’re currently locked out of half the gambling sites. We would love to party late with these dudes but we’re just too flaked. Pause to add Budapest to the next EU tour city list.
We stay in Paul’s flat, while he sleeps in the backroom of his bar. Oddly, his flat has a shower in the kitchen. He says he’ll pick us up at 7am the next morning from the flat, to get his keys back and pay us.
We wake up at 6.30am. A second day operating on 4 hours’ sleep.
At 7.15am there’s no sign of Paul. We phone him and leave messages. At 7.30 we phone again and pack our gear in a panic. By 7.40am we’re wandering the streets desperately seeking a taxi. Forty minutes and €50 later, we’re at the airport. More phone messages: we still have Paul’s keys and he still has all our money! Come on, where are you man!? Fuck!
We check in and just make the flight, mainly because it’s been delayed by 30 minutes. It’s a tiny prop plane with 20 other people onboard. Coffee and croissant. Financial Times. Flying low over more Alps and across the Adriatic, south-west into Italy, towards Bologna Airport. And as the Italian booker’s assistant Laura meets us at Bologna, Paul is waking up and leaving messages. But we’ll leave him to our agent now to get our money and I’ll tell you about the last three days in Italy when I’m safely home.