I woke up early to make some cheese sandwiches for the journey, have what was potentially a last shower for a few days and water the tomatoes. Alex our housemate promised me he would do it while I was away but in a spectacular lack of trust, I drenched them just in case he forgot. This was Phil’s last week as a 20-something-year-old so he was determined to have a good time, and knew that when he hit 30 the tour would be over. We loaded the van with our gear, whacked BBC 4 on the radio and hit the road.
About half an hour into the drive to Dover, I realised I‘d left my sandwiches back at home and that my only option was going to be over priced service station sandwiches, and more worryingly, I wondered what else I had left at home. BBC 4 was still on and Gareth announced that he sort of knew one of the experts on the show. Mildly impressed, we continued to listen, eventually changing to 1548 Capital Gold. Capital Gold was my Dads favourite radio station and could be often seen wearing the t-shirts he‘d won on the early morning phone ins. We boarded the ferry and Phil and Gareth had a little sleep and I played with my camera phone most of the journey [Gareth was going to take photos for the tour diary but had left his camera with the sandwiches].
When we disembarked at Calais, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we could still get 1548 Capital Gold. As it was hot, we wound down the windows, took our shirts off and listened to the greatest hits of all time as we hit the French motorway. As good as that sounds, my favourite bit of the journey was after we had outrun Gold’s signal and I was able to stick on A Thousand Leaves by Sonic Youth. It is perfect summer music and takes me back to the summer of ‘98. It is definitely in my top three favourite SY records, maybe even top two, with Bad Moon Rising being the other. Maybe it should be a top three with Daydream Nation in there too. - I had this conversation with Gareth and I didn’t really get to a conclusion. Gareth is not too familiar with all the records so his part in the conversation was to just nod and hope I got distracted and talk about something else.
We had been to Trier before with Roll Call for the Second Site, albeit briefly, and despite only ever seeing it in the dark, it seemed familiar. Exhaus is a squat [we didn’t get proper confirmation of this but we are sure it is] that is well kept and very well run. The venue was underground and was a good size with plenty of room on and around the stage to store our gear. As we were the first band to arrive, we set our stuff up and had a sound check. Cough were late and were not going to get a sound check themselves so we were able to leave our gear on stage, ready for us to go straight on when the time came.
When we headed upstairs for food, we met Cough properly for the first time. We introduced ourselves, loaded our plates with food and rather awkwardly sat around a big table eating with them in total silence. Phil turned into his mum briefly and said, “wow, the food is so good everyone has gone silent” but this didn’t stimulate conversation the way he had hoped it would. The conversation did eventually get going and we spoke about London and what a good lad Matt of Astrohenge is as they had met him a few days earlier.
I hadn’t been this nervous before a show in a long time, and I wasn’t sure why it was I felt like it. After a few small errors I overcame my fears and we went on to play a great show. The crowd were mainly there to see Cough but we went down just as well. German crowds always tend to be great. Cough, who are on Relapse and from The USA, were a great watch and they inspired Gareth and Phil to get on with their doom project [Moors w/ the aforementioned Matt of Astrohenge and the whole of Nitkowski]. They have been banging on about it for a year now but they have only had one practice to date.
As we had polished off the rider, we set out for some beers with Joey from Cough. I bought myself a can of Faxe because I‘d not had one in a while and because it comes in a litre sized can. We stayed above the venue with Cough in a room with eight bunk beds. They all lived in Richmond, Virginia and it was nice to hear them talking about Richmond as I too had been brought up in a Richmond. Richmond Upon Thames. They were also impressed with this. In fact, they were quite easy people to please, when I explained the history of football and the meaning of the word soccer, Joey said that his mind was blown. Brandon told us that if we ever went to the USA, we wouldn’t have any problems getting laid. Though he said that to Phil, then said that Gareth would definitely get laid, but never got round to me. We spoke some more about cultural differences and found some common ground in being citizens of the most hated nations on Earth. The best story of the evening was about the singer from Offspring, that a friend of theirs, who knew him, had told them. Allegedly, during the Smash tour of Europe, Offspring’s tour bus was pulled over and searched at customs. If you remember back, the singer had long plats/dreadlock things for hair and because of this was singled out for a full body search. By the next album, Ixnay on the hombre, he had cut his hair off and apparently, the ordeal of having his bottom searched was the reason for it. Not the greatest story ever told, but at the time, we found it amusing.
A nice proper set of lads were Cough and it was a shame sleep would have to get in the way of hanging out with them some more.
18th May 2011 Excalibur - Reims, France
In the morning, we attempted to eat what we thought was breakfast. It turned out to be bread that was meant for a band that had stayed there a few days earlier, the baguette was rock solid, and the loaf of bread was like rubber. The juice was fine so we drank that then I woke Phil up with a Synthesizer application on my iPod. We said our goodbyes to Cough and headed into town to source some local produce for breakfast. Cough went to Burger King.
We returned to the van that was parked in the communal area of the squat to eat breakfast. There were loads of children running about, swinging on swings and playing football. We sat there watching on and not one worker asked us who we were or why we were there. Phil, Gareth and I are all police checked but they were not to know that. In my days of running such play schemes, I would have had my clipboard out asking us to sign in or more likely, be asking us to leave.
The Sun was blazing so once again we wound down the windows of the van, but this time, waited until we had got out of the play area before taking our shirts off. On our way to Reims, we filled up with cheap petrol in Luxembourg and I bought a load of cheap tobacco. Because of the low tax on goods, the service stations in Luxembourg are busy and there are long queues for the petrol. Same goes for the tobacco, when you walk into the shop they have it on the shelves in buckets and stacked high and wide behind the counter. It was full of your Dot Cotton’s and Jeremy Clarkson’s of this world. I was Dot Cotton, Gareth was Jeremy Clarkson. Phil didn’t buy any tobacco because they didn’t have his brand and he believes in staying loyal to it.
Reims is a pleasant town and when we pulled up to Excalibur we were greeted by the friendly, very energetic and maybe slightly crazy lady who ran the bar. I don’t mean that in a horrible way - I was halfway to falling in love with her. We parked the van directly outside and were assured that the road markings meant nothing and that it was completely safe to park. Unloading was very quick as Dom and Michel [the promoters] and a few others helped us.
The venue filled up and there were people both inside and outside watching the bands and the only thing separating us from outside was a large pane of glass on the front of the café. It was still very loud outside and it made sense for some to be out there because it was crowded inside. Térébenthine were the first band on and I thought that they were excellent. If you look them up on the internet, be warned, the other Terebenthine are crap. The ones we played with are a two piece playing what I would describe as instrumental rock [some might add the word “post” before the word rock]. We got to play all our songs except Knot and played a new one for an encore, it was an exceptional night and the crowd looked like they were enjoying themselves too.
After we had played, one of the crowd members took a shine to Gareth and was hugging him, trying to kiss him on his neck and fondling his hair. There were two obvious problems for Gareth here
- He has a girlfriend
- The man was not in the slightest bit attractive and even if he was, Gareth is heterosexual.
We had met an English chap from Barnet called Sam who said that the guy in love with Gareth used to do it to him and was relieved that he got a night off. Sam was a great fella and had turned up early to help us out if we had any language problems. When he first introduced himself to us he mentioned that he was English which was not necessary considering his accent gave the game away - though it was confusing for a brief second when he first started speaking. Sam must have made a good impression on the town, the drummer from Térébenthine was wearing a polo shirt with a large Union Jack on the left breast and some lass had turned up with a Union Jack handbag.
We continued the party back at Michel’s house as it was his birthday. We were initially told to keep the noise down but as the room filled up and everyone drank some more, the noise level rose higher and higher. I took along my stash of beer, Gareth had his bottle of rum and Phil also had some beers. Dom gave us some red wine as well and Phil got given some hash. There was a great atmosphere and at one point I had a French guy, holding the French equivalent of a special brew, slurring kind words about my bass playing. It was nice at first but by the eighth repetition I wanted to change the subject or speak to someone else. I hit the alcohol hard that night so I’ve lost many memories of the evening but I do remember being given a drink that had [inside the bottle] a dead snake with a scorpion in its mouth. It tasted like rotting snake and I didn’t see the appeal. Oh well, when in Reims… [this was Gareth’s joke and he had repeated it a couple of times over the course of the day, also we thought it was pronounced Rem but it isn‘t, it‘s pronounced Rhen, which means the joke doesn‘t work, or at least, doesn‘t work as well]. I also have a recollection of us making a bong out of one of the plastic beer bottles. I had fun, and that’s all that matters.
19th May 2011 Grnnnd Zero - Lyon, France
Guillaume from Térébenthine was still in the house in the morning [he works in Paris but had not woken up when he was supposed to so he phoned in sick] and there were a few other people looking worse for wear stumbling about. We were given some much needed coffee and croissants for breakfast, had a shower then headed for Lyon.
Lyon is a five or so hour drive away so we each bought a baguette and some camembert for the journey [Gareth did his joke again]. I remember at one point the heavens opened and Gareth had to hold his nerve on the motorway because his vision was obscured by the heavy rain. There is something terribly exciting about heavy rain, especially at high speed. As we went further south the rain stopped and the blazing hot sun appeared.
We got to Grrrnd Zero on time despite the traffic and the heavy rain. We said hello to Daminos and Paul of Bigoût Records [they are one of the labels that put out Dead Lake] and unloaded our gear into the venue. Grrrnd Zero is an Extraordinary place and every city should have one. It was once a Bathroom showroom and office block but has been squatted and turned into rehearsal rooms and a venue. It also has rooms upstairs for the bands to sleep in and the place is always kept clean and tidy. They constantly have someone on duty and if you need anything during the night you can wake the on duty person up! It’s like staying in a hotel, only better. It is very sad that such a place is under threat of closure, especially when you see how much good it does for the community. I wish we had a Grrrnd Zero in London, the closest we have come was unfortunately run by Ironside’s rude cousin and an even ruder bloke whose party trick was to fit through a tennis racket. I prefer nice people and Grrrnd Zero has an abundance of them.
Every time we have been to Lyon they have not only fed us, but put on a feast. This spread consisted of bread, cheese, curry and a few different quiche type dishes which seem to appear on every spread in Lyon. It’s not just good food either, it is always top notch. This kept Gareth busy up until we played and every time I looked in the room he was filling his plate up with more food. You see, Gareth’s special ability is to eat, Phil’s is to sleep and mine is to talk nonsense when everyone wants to be quiet.
This show was with Torticoli, Sport and The Forgetters. Torticoli were a mint instrumental band and I enjoyed every second of their set. Sport were not the sort of thing I’d listen to at home but I still found myself enjoying them. The Forgetters were from the USA and consisted of members from Jawbreaker, Against Me and Bitchin‘. Again, not really my cup of tea and definitely not what I was expecting but I still enjoyed it nonetheless. We played before The Forgetters and had a great time. We did set two plus Across The River and played our unnamed new song for the encore. The crowd were great and afterwards we were told that two hundred and sixty people had paid to get in - we were given four hundred euros as payment which was a lot more than we had asked for!
We were going to be sleeping upstairs above the venue and didn’t need to pack our equipment away until the morning so we set about getting bladdered with Paul and Daminos. They had some homebrew which we helped them finish and the beer was free for us. Eventually the bar became self service so we continued drinking until the beer ran out. We then staggered up the stairs, found the room with our name written on it, set our alarms and went to sleep.
20th May 2011 Autonomes Zentrum - Koln, Germany
My alarm woke me up at half eight so I turned it off and went back to sleep hoping the other two had set their alarms. Shortly after, Gareth’s alarm sounded so we both got out of bed and started getting ready to leave. Phil’s alarm followed but he slept through it. After brushing my teeth and spraying deodorant over my body to mask any smells, I woke Phil up. Gareth refuses to do it because when you wake Phil he gets aggressive and makes out that you are being unreasonable and acts like you’ve just fed him a pube sandwich. It only ever lasts for about ten seconds but Gareth chooses to not be a part of it. Next we loaded up the van then went to Atac, our favourite French supermarket. To be honest, it’s not our favourite because it’s the best, it’s entirely due to the fact that we’ve been there so many times before and that it is as familiar to us as our local supermarket.
Gareth had had little sleep so I was going to commit to staying awake for the whole journey with him. To achieve this we decided that we’d only listen to mint albums. We started with Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and followed it with Shield Your Eyes by Shield Your Eyes, In Utero by Nirvana and Chauffeurs by Nitkowski. At least, that’s the order I wrote them down in. It’s not a lot of music for an eight and a half hour drive but the other trick to staying awake is to talk. We had been discussing the pros and cons of bringing another band on tour with us and we spoke about how when you are a single band, you get to know the promoters better as there are less people vying for their attention, but when you don’t bring another band, there are less opportunities for conversation and you don’t get a sentence of the week. Sentences of the week are great things but as the name suggests, they only last a week. You can try to make them last longer and take them home with you, explain them to your friends, but no one outside the tour van will understand it. Previous sentences of the week include “Daddy’s in Abu Dhabi Mummy (in a posh accent)”, “Shhh, it’s just a joke” (you whisper this one), “I’ve got a willy” (you have to say it while pretending to cry), “Smelly old wasp” (in a deep voice) and the classic “Crafty sonar”.
As we approached The North of France the rain started, eventually turning into a downpour causing low visibility and as we entered Luxembourg, we were treated to a tremendous display of lightning and loud Thunder. We stopped off to fill up with petrol [along with everyone else passing through Luxembourg] and I added to my collection of rolling tobacco. I wanted to buy six packets this time but six is sechs which sounds like sex so I opted for the other highest number I knew which was vier [four].
We got to Koln on time and found the venue with ease. We didn’t have high hopes for tonight’s show as we were the only band on the bill and we were pretty much gate crashing a dubstep night. Flo, the guy putting us on, showed us around Autonomes Zentrum [the squat] and gave us a full commentary on the squat’s brief history and explained that they had no electricity or water and that to flush the toilet you’d need to take in a bucket of rain water that they had collected. He said that it wasn’t a problem that the toilets didn’t flush because “if seventy percent* of the world can do without flushing toilets, then so can we” a sentiment not shared by Phil or Gareth who needed to shit. It’s one of those moments in life when you realise that you are in fact a spoilt little middle class prick. I always say to people who accuse me of being middle class that I was brought up in a council flat, a defence that probably wouldn‘t have worked here. I didn’t like Flo when I first met him, mainly because I judge people and I’m crap at it, but the more I spoke to him it became clear his dedication to good things and that he was a great person. Flo founded the squat and worked hard to get it to where it is today, he fought a battle with it’s owners [a bank] and won. It’s technically not a squat either as the bank gave him a lease! Flo runs the squat [there is a group of volunteers but I get the impression that he devotes the most time] alongside his full time job and lives elsewhere as he took the decision to not allow people to live there because some were shitting and pissing in their rooms. It’s idiots like that that give Anarchism a bad name because they think it’s about doing what you want when you want. I’m not massively clued up about it myself but I do know that it is about community, being nice and pulling your weight. And post apocalyptic clothing.
We sat down to eat before the show with Flo and a few other people who help run the squat and ate an amazing Asparagus soup. We were offered two types of beer, one a standard pilsner, and the other, a type of beer called a Kölsch that was local to Koln. We chose the Kölsch and that gave Gareth an opportunity to reprise the gag he had done in Reims. It worked better this time because Koln [Cologne] almost rhymes with Rome. The main course was a German/Japanese mix of noodles and pickles. I held back from making jokes about a previous German/Japanese alliance because I figured that mentioning the war to a German is about as cool as doing a scouse accent to a Liverpudlian. I might as well have whipped my top off, jumped on a table and started chanting the classic “one world cup and two world wars”, with my Kölsch in one hand, and pointing at them with the other.
The room that we were playing in was huge and had a high ceiling. This would usually mean that the sound would be crap, but it was fine. There was plenty of time so we played a long set and were surprised at how well we went down considering it was a dubstep night. The crowd even bought a load of records! The whole experience was pretty ace, the people I spoke to were nice and the atmosphere was very friendly. The dubstep was pretty good too, I would have danced but I dance like your dad and didn’t think it’d be appropriate.
After a while of watching people dance we headed up to bed. Because there were no lights we had a wind up torch that you had to continuously wind or it‘d just turn off. We stopped on the way for a rummage through a load of clothes, bric a brac and gewgaws [we weren’t stealing, Flo had told us to take anything we liked] but after feeling about for ten minutes and constantly asking the torch bearer to “shine it over here a sec” we decided that we’d have more success in the morning. We continued our mission to find our room, and after scaring myself with thoughts about how snuff movies work, I shared them with the others. If I was directing a snuff movie or a thriller I’d definitely set it in this building. One more thought occurred to me, no one knew where we were, on our gig listing it said Koln - Partyministerium and Flo told us when we arrived that it was wrong.
*I made that stat up because I can’t remember the actual one, but it was a high number.
21st May 2011 Espace B - Paris, France
Thankfully we woke up in the morning still alive. There had been no elaborate plot to murder us during the night and film it. The room was now lit with sunlight and we could see everything in the room including old sleeping bags and the stains on the mattresses that we’d just been sleeping on. We let Phil have an extra twenty minutes to wake up so once Gareth had got the van and backed it up to the door, we started loading in. We had a proper look through the nic nacs and trinkets and in the light it wasn’t as exciting as it was in the dark. It had become apparent why no one had taken this stuff before. I did find a European kettle lead which strangely enough I was looking for. I would have liked to have taken some photos of the place but Flo had asked us not to and even though no one was around and I was tempted, I decided to respect Flo’s decision. He was a good person, albeit, a very serious one.
We stopped in a town in Koln to buy some breakfast but I left empty handed as I was fed up with eating bread and that was all that was on offer in the supermarket. That and salty pretzel snacks and liquid based salads. Gareth and Phil bought a carrot and coleslaw salad each. The drive to Paris was largely uneventful but we did stop in a service station that we had visited on our way to Hazebrouck from Metz two weeks before. It was the service station that we had refused two hitchhikers a lift, but later discovered we were going the same way. Also, the toilets had been fixed and I made full use of them.
We were the first band to arrive at Espace B and had been very much looking forward to this show. We did have some sad news though, our old tour buddies Revok had had to cancel due to a rather unfortunate circumstance. A band called Howling Fever replaced them. I was also looking forward to seeing Kimmo who, if you’ve never heard, are amazing. It was nice because Natasha [singer, guitarist] appeared to be as honoured to be playing a show with us as I was to be playing a show with them. My second encounter with Natasha was in the toilets - the men’s toilet was a squat toilet [hole in the ground] and the ladies was the John Harrington style, something which is more my scene despite it’s medical disadvantages. After I’d finished laying a cable in it I left to find her waiting to use it. Firstly, I’d made it smell bad and secondly I shouldn’t have been using it at all [just to clear things up, I wasn’t technically in the girls toilets as the sink area was shared and the two doors opposite each other, one for Dames and one for Hommes]. How embarrassing.
Howling Fever went on first and were ace. I think they are a Parisian band, and from what I can gather, haven‘t been around for very long. The singer does this amazing falsetto thing with his voice which I found quite impressive. Kimmo were up next and to be quite frank, were even better than I thought they’d be. They kicked off the set with Kikkoman, the first song on their album “Bolt and Biscuit”, and continued to play mint song after mint song. They did a few tracks from “After The Show” which I recognised [that was the only record I had at the time] so I was a very happy bunny. We played next and at the risk of sounding repetitive, we had an ace show and the crowd were great etc. We have played in Paris more times than any other city [not including London] so people are familiar with us and we have many friends there. Narrows played last. Narrows are made up of ex members of Botch, These Arms are Snakes and more bizarrely, Ursa. Ursa, were around in the early 2000s and consisted of members who went on to form Ternary and Art of Burning Water. We played many shows with them and they introduced us to bands like Caretaker, Werm [now Art of Burning Water] and Windham Chikarah [now One Unique Signal]. Wayne Pennell and Kyham Allami of Ursa were also responsible for the recording of our Delete EP and Wayne recorded Misanthrope for our split with Shield Your Eyes. Ursa were a great band and I learned a lot from them. - I know I am supposed to be talking about the show in Paris but I figure that a brief history of West London DIY in the early 2000s is in some way relevant.
When the show had finished, I bought myself the two Kimmo records that I didn’t own and chatted with them some more about their music. Afterwards I went outside to talk to friends and anyone who would listen. We were staying at the home of Alex and Tiffany, two very good friends of ours. Claire, another friend was coming back too and we were dropping the promoter [Thomas] home so we all crammed into the van. We bought some beers and pizza along the way and set about drinking too much and staying up way too late. Claire and Tiffany told us a story about some person who ate a McDonalds too quickly and died as a result. They didn’t elaborate any more on how it happened but were happy to treat it as fact. It was a very good night and even though we had one more show to go, it felt like the end of the tour.
22nd May 2011 The Fighting Cocks - Kingston Upon Thames, England
With only three and half hours sleep, we woke to the sound of our alarms and got up quietly so we didn’t wake Tiff and Alex. Phil was in the van so there was no need to wake him. We stopped off at a petrol station before exiting Paris and were greeted by a young adult in children’s clothing demanding money off of us. I think he was in the red gang because his oversized clothes were various shades of red. He must have had one leg shorter than the other too because he had a severe limp. We refused him the money so he stood still, trying to look mean, but eventually limped off behind the van to harass someone else when he realised that there were three of us, and we could look meaner.
We boarded our ferry at Calais, found a seat at the front, and had a kip. I woke up to discover an audience of about twenty people had congregated in front of us and were all looking in our direction. I was confused for a few seconds, until I realised that they were there to get a glimpse of the famous white cliffs of Dover through the window behind us. I bought myself a pain au chocolat and a coffee and sat back down to watch the people watching me. On our way back to the van, and while we were queuing to get down the stairs, Phil got speaking to an elderly couple who had been listening in on our conversations. Phil gave them a short guide to DIY touring and they were most impressed. He gave them our web address and when we got to the bottom of the stairs we said our goodbyes. Strangely, I think he had made their day.
With plenty of time to spare before the show started, we dropped all our gear into the Fighting Cocks and went home to shower, eat and I checked my plants. They had come along way in the week we had been apart, and my original fears that Alex would forget to water them was proven to be mere paranoia. He had done a wonderful job and said that he not only watered them, but had been speaking to them.
The whole week had been Phil’s birthday week and each night we had done plenty of celebrating. Tonight was another birthday celebration, and lots of friends turned out for it. I didn’t make any notes about this show and from what I can remember, Lich and Ten Speed Bicycle were the first two bands on, and Big Kids had to pull out after not being let into the country. We had lots of fun and played to lots of new faces. This show was once again well attended. In fact, the attendances for the whole tour had been far beyond our expectations.
Even though we couldn’t be too loud as it was a Sunday night, we did some serious, slightly quieter partying back at our house. All three of us had taken Monday off of work so we were in no rush to get to bed. Phil hit the big 30 at midnight, and everyone sang happy birthday.