Monthly Archives: November 2008

euro tour diary #3 – gone tits

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…

GENEVA


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. 

VIENNA



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.  

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eurotour diary #2

I’m typing this on a ten-hour train ride through the Alps, from Zurich to Vienna and it’s utterly fucking immense, by far the most beautiful train journey I’ve ever taken – but I’ll get to that later. So for now, rewind five days…

KÖLN
After Eindhoven we drive into Germany to the outskirts of Köln to stay in a Formule 1 motel. Formule 1 is a chain of automatic hotels with no human check-in staff or cleaners. It’s all done automatically (which means, um, self-cleaning showers) and it’s one step down in comfort and cleanliness from a Travelodge, if you know what I mean.

Actually I’m gutted to be so near to Köln without seeing it, it feels like an unfulfilled psychic conneciton.

Getting used to the inside-out driving, so the next day I manage to touch 110mph on the autobahn down through the German borders and the Black Forest towards Switzerland. Very proud.

The SatNav is Irish so we’re calling her Shannon.

LUZERNE
This Swiss town is absolutely bloody stunning, high-up, built on a large lake, with an ancient wooden covered bridge and the most beautiful city walls I’ve seen in northern Europe. It’s inevitably touristy but has a laid-back feel.

Tonight we play with cutesy Swiss folk-pop star Heidi Happy, who is launching her second album. Her first album was called Get Back Together and was – I’m told – entirely aimed at persuading her ex-boyfriend to come home. Apparently it worked for a short while.

She’s charming but it’ll be tough to break through in the UK any time soon (if they care about that) because she doesn’t look like Heidi and she’s not very happy. Funnily enough, the ‘cutesy’ thing is entirely an act and when we all go for pre-show dinner (in a place called the FuckHaus or something) with her nine-piece band, she’s a sophisticated bookish type with a dangerous sense of humour, just acting the quirksome thing onstage. Swiss indie label Little Jig, who get some money for each release from the government. This government support will become a recurring theme in Schweiss.

 Venue manager Gisé is determined to get us drunk and, almost aggressively, brings me glass after glass of scotch. Meanwhile Frank is fed some kind of hot-spiced spirit drink, which fucks him up badly.

 When it gets messy we escape to our four-star hotel down the road.

 Increasingly, Switzerland is about driving giddily through gorgeous mountain snow scenes listening to vicious hardcore. I’ve written an MS column about this but touring in Europe is so much easier, logistically, than the UK that it makes me want to do it constantly. Several shows in a row on this tour, we’ll park at the venue without any problems and then walk less than 100m to a hotel supplied by the promoter. Or they’ll drive us everywhere. We get breakfast as well as dinner and the one time we got a parking ticket, the venue guy instantly takes it to ‘deal with’.

BASEL
My joke falls flat: “in England we say Basel like this…” (does dreadful impression of Cybil Faulty).

A bigger city. We’re at a long-running collective-owned anarcho punk venue called the Herschenbeck. It’s in a slightly downbeat gay area a few streets back from the Rhine and not only has the venue existed for 30 years but the building is over 700 years old and survived the Great Fire Of Basel in the 14th century. Nice place to screw up with intense band graffiti. They’ve set up a series of attic bedrooms for visitors, including touring acts.

By which I mean we’re sleeping in a room covered with sharpie pictures of penises.

We play to 70 or 80 people crammed into their basement. It’s all very anarchist and exciting, although I’m a bit disappointed to see that – despite lots of ranting everywhere on various political themes – they serve meat in the café. At least they have the decency to be embarrased. Other acts are: A.J. Shanti, an NYC queercore singer who used to be a truck driver but now wanders the Euro hinterlands – having eloped with Dora, her Croatian girlfriend, playing impressive angry acoustic girl-on-girl songs. And Tilia a local Basel singer who is just starting out, with a cellist assisting. She has a lush voice, looks like Nora Zehetner and just needs to build confidence.

Don’t know why I’m going on about the other acts, don’t normally, I just was in the mood for exactly the music they provided I think.  

 

Got to stop to write a setlist but more very soon – because after another brilliant night in St Gallen in the snow, it’s all about to go excitingly pear-shaped…

 

eurotour diary #1

fucking did it again: rubbed huge blobs of shampoo into my eyes mid-shower. I have no idea what I’m suddenly doing wrong in my 30s to be unable to wash my hair without oracular self-harm. The third time in a week and it’s become a psychic burden whereby I’m convinced it will trigger a difficult day, so of course it does. Packed. Repacked in a different case. And again. Decided fuck it I’m not going on tour. Then left for the train. 

SOUTHAMPTON 

I’m here to open for – but much more importantly see – Carter USM‘s secret show, because I’ll be in Europe for their two larger reunion gigs. Plus Marc is back in the UK. Except that in the repacking panic I left my acoustic guitar pick-up, some cables and several other vital bits at home and I’m supposed to be on the Eurostar tomorrow morning. So I play a short set using a hi-hat mic on my acoustic (clarity but no balls), which goes surprisingly well – quite upbeat and jokey – then instead of sticking around I have to jump on a train back to Brighton to pick up the stuff. Missing Carter. And I carried all my stuff for the Europe trip all the way to Southampton then home again.

PARIS

In the French bakery at St Pancras, I’m waiting for Frank when an elderly couple wander over. He wants a croissant but she wants a crepe from the café next door. Their solution is to each go into the adjacent café and sit and order separately, but sit right next to each-other separated only by the glass window dividing the two cafés. They seem quite content.

Anyway, I’ve got to say Eurostar is lush, I’m sure we accidentally booked First Class because we get a gorgeous meal, much better than airline food, with dessert and wine if we want it (I have apple juice). On my mind is my key task for today: to pick up the hire car in central Paris just before rush-hour and drive it across town to the venue, over that infamous lethal roundabout that doesn’t count on anyone’s insurance, when I’ve only ever driven a tiny bit of right-hand drive in L.A.

So I’m nervous. But what transpires is worse: at Gard du Nord absolute muttons at Europcar won’t let us have the car we’ve booked. Frank has the credit card to pay – but no driving license. I have the license to drive – but no credit card. Despite us both being there and it being totally sound, because if I crash Frank pays, obviously, somehow they won’t let us take the car – the name has to be the same. And it doesn’t say anything about this on their shoddy excuse for a website, they deliberately gave Frank the impression when he originally booked that this wouldn’t be a problem.

None of the other car hire companies sat in a line can help because all their cars are booked.

We leave carless (and late) but hold the booking, hoping to resolve it over the phone. No such luck, in fact they attempt to charge us a €1,400 cancellation fee for not taking the car and the customer services woman is almost impossibly rude to Frank on the phone. They only relent on the fee after a shouting match – I’ve not seen Frank so angry. God, we’re stranded! Might as well get on with the gig.

Dinner at La Fleche D’or is delicious despite it seeming like quite a grimy club. It’s set above a railway bridge looking out over a set of railway lines. Seedy glamour abounds but the other musical acts are utter shite. I learn a harmonica solo for a smart new FT tune (quite a short, quick one) with a working title of Dan’s Song

Drinking heavily now (mixed emotions at not having to drive) I chat to this nut-job singer Cosmo Jarvis at the venue. He’s not playing tonight, his band are touring supporting Gabriella Cilmi around Europe and the TM knows Frank. The band are charming guys but Cosmo is filth: just one of his stories is about drinking some bloke’s piss, catching thrush from it, then giving it to his own band-member by snogging him. They’re good company but I find myself edging away in case I pick up something nasty.

Next morning, after struggling to work out train routes and fare budgets, leaving us aghast, we are rescued by Frank’s Parisian punkrock friend Cham from Jedethan, who used to work at Avis and scores us a Cleo. We’ll have to drop off in Geneva, leaving a gap in our transport plan between there and Vienna, but the deal is much, much better. A blessing in disguise. The icing on the cake is, the pick-up is in the north-west of Paris so we take a hefty Metro ride and I won’t have to drive through the city, just out onto the motorway north.

AMSTERDAM

Traffic, traffic traffic. Amsterdam rush-hour but I’m not scared of right-hand drive anymore, even when I turn right onto the tramline. SatNav takes us down several narrow alleys to the wrong Paradiso, so we’re scarily late.

Italian dinner. Hotel room on the fourth floor, with no lift and steep stairs but an amazing balcony looking out over the rooftops. Despite being on the edge of the red light district, which I’ve never seen, we decide to kick back in the room / on the balcony and go to bed pretty soon after that. Therefore apologies – I won’t be able to tell you about stoned late-night debauchery in the ‘Dam because there wasn’t any.

I’ve just discovered my new-ish mobile phone has a golf game on it. That’s what I was doing at 1am before faling asleep.

wherewithal and I

Ups and downs.

In the shower I got gallons of shampoo in both eyes at once and was in blind agony moderate pain for 15 minutes. Rinsed and rinsed but I was in a hurry. Decided the “I’ve been crying insanely” look was good to go.

Then I stumbled out of the house and went to Union Chapel to play piano for Turner, with Biffy Clyro and Friendly Fires for Jo Whiley’s Little Noise Sessions (for Mencap). Jo wasn’t there, she’s just had a baby (her 96th I believe) but I got to meet Mathew Horne (warning: his myspace currently has Keane playing, in case you want to switch your sound off before clicking through) from Gavin & Stacey. Normally Horne would be enough celeb for any event – he was lovely and better looking in real life – but he got out-A-listed by rock superstar Mr Bryan Adams, who’d come especially for Frank and came backstage to the vip bar with his gorgeous missus for a chat. Didn’t miss out the humble pianist either – was supremely down-to-earth and genuinely very interesting. I went on wiki today and now wish I’d been more up-to-speed because he’s a veggie and has done important work for animal rights causes that I’m down with – but of course we didn’t touch on any of that stuff.

I wish we had, cos I could’ve wound Frank up about his recent abandonment of vegetarianism in favour of getting vicious food poisoning from dodgy chicken. Korma or karma?

Later I became dreadfully seedily drunk on bourbon, ran away before everyone got the drugs out, found myself stuck on a broken tube train without the wherewithal to get out and walk, so missed my last Brighton service from Victoria, spending the rest of the night at Costa Coffee, Gatwick Airport.

You’re right of course, I should’ve hoovered indie-scene charidee cocaine, punched out the guy I hate, done the sex with the blonde and wound up frying comedown eggs in a TV star’s kitchen. One day they’ll get me but not yet, dear reader, not yet. 

[edited for content]

In other news, I can’t get any music made fo shit but I’ve just made sublime artichoke and sweet onion chutney of my own damn recipe. Maybe Anjum Anand‘s sitting at home writing songs.

real remembrance

Poppy Day thoughts after some personal stuff… Post-tour malais kicked in worse than usual, despite being delayed a few days by the excitement of the US election. I guess it was A) a fantastic tour B) cut short in its prime and C) we hung with some of the loveliest people, so I’m really feeling the lack of Hoodrats, sitting at home catching up on boring paperwork. We reunioned yesterday to catch Johny in Cottonmouth Rocks play some gothy bash in Brighton, alongside Mr Jack Cooper, Vile Imbeciles and Restlesslist. Absolutely lush bill. Not a duff moment, despite The Hope’s mediocre set-up. Young Thomas White was there with a big sexy beard and Restlesslist all dressed up as ladies which was almost as disturbing as Vile Imbeciles’ normal stage outfits.

I head for Europe in a fortnight – on the train, thank God – which will be a markedly different kind of adventure, driving Frank from Paris to Vienna, before we get chauffeured around Italy, playing solo and duo shows all the way. I’ve never driven in mainland Europe before, my only experience of left-hand drive is a few nervous trips around Los Angeles. I did make it from the 101 Café, up the 101 to Eagle Rock at night in the pouring rain without killing anybody (or spilling my spiced chai latté shake) but everyone’s hands were very sweaty upon arrival. So I’m not convinced the Gard du Nord pick-up in the centre of Paris at 4pm-ish is the ideal place to start… nor the Swiss Alpine roads in November the ideal place to continue. Hopefully we won’t meet Clarkson, James Bond or some super-rich Euro speedfreak coming the other way on a twisty bit, or it’s ravine time for us all.

Anyway.

This is the week we remember veterans, however I’ve always been profoundly uncomfortable with the dominance of the Royal British Legion‘s red poppy, especially during the years they used “wear your poppy with pride” as an aggressive slogan. Of course, I have absolutely no problem with people who decide for themselves to wear the red poppy but, similarly, I hope nobody has a problem with my decision not to wear one and to wear instead a white poppy, if I can get hold of one. I suspect, if I had a profile high enough to be on any BBC TV programmes this week, of any kind, it would be an interesting pre-air issue. They really seem to force presenters and guests to don the poppy. I’ve written to them to ask about their policy and, if I get a decent response, will let you know what they say.

Two contrasting problems with the red poppy.

First a pro-soldier argument. I think the red poppy signals tacit acceptance of the MOD’s abject failure to ensure the life-long welfare of veterans and their families. The very idea that we need to, even in part, provide for soldiers out of charitable donations is a disgrace, if the state (which is us) is to employ people and send them into battle. It should go without saying that they are looked after for life and their families are similarly supported. Anything less is disgusting – the duty of care is mine through taxation, not charity.

By embracing as an establishment a charity responsibility in that area, we both absolve the government of responsibility and, at the same time, distract attention / donations from other, equally (or even in my opinion more) deserving frontline professions such as firefighters and nurses. 

Secondly, an anti-soldier argument. The real victims of war are civilians. Soldiers decide to take the job – we don’t have national service any more and the army is a well-paid career in comparison to many. And they aren’t employed to die or get injured (armies aren’t armed and trained to lose), if we’re honest about it, they’re hired, trained and armed to kill people, subjugate and control those they don’t kill, and destroy ‘enemy targets’.

Civilians in war zones have no such choice. Particularly in recent years, when our armies have been sent to foreign lands to engage in highly politically-motivated invasions, occupations and military actions which have nothing to do with any direct defence of our own British sovereignty – and were sold to the British people and MPs on a bunch of fat lies – we show an astonishing lack of interest in civilian deaths and casualties by comparison. Half the time, we don’t even count them. They’re the ones I think we should be remembering.

goodnight / thankyou

Hey thank-you so much for reading – what a moving and wonderful evening. I’m going to sign off now, I think McCain’s speech was pretty noble and in stark contrast to a lot of the campaign (which says everything really) and now we’re staying up for Obama’s speech and then going to bed.

The USA did a fine thing! Sleep well.

xXx

the 333

At the start of the evening, Rifa predicted 333 and I laughed, but I did hope.

Listening to McCain’s (lovely) speech and watching the Florida call – tip the numbers up to 333, it was, yet again, a moving moment where Rifa was right all along.

What a night.