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…
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.
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’.
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…