Europe Nov - Dec 2011 w/ Nitkowski

Wednesday 23rd November 2011 | The Unicorn, Camden. United Kingdom.

Tour usually starts with an early rise, Marmite on toast and as much tea as I have time for. The difference this time was that we were all doing a day’s work before the first show. I spent my day in a school with a child that insisted on trashing the room and trying to escape out of a window, Phil spent his fitting double glazing and enduring Kiss FM, Gareth spent his making spreadsheets, Alex and Ed would have both been selling bicycles, and Dan was probably making techno.

Phil got home late from work so we loaded the van as quickly as we could. We made our way through the slow Central London traffic, arriving with thirty minutes to spare before Death Pedals went on. Lots of people were on hand to shift the gear from the van to the stage and in no time the stage was set up and ready for Death Pedals to get the evening underway.

This was the Launch show for the new Nitkowski record ‘Stay in the Home You Love’ and The Unicorn was packed with both friends and the general public. Death Pedals treated everyone to a set of fully-mint-full-throttle-rock, leaving the crowd very happy, and Gareth with a huge man crush. Gareth believes that Death Pedals are not only one of the finest bands around, but also the best looking one too. We went up next and were crap. The sound on stage was horrible, and despite our pedals telling us otherwise, we sounded out of tune. Apparently it sounded good out front, but by then we had beaten ourselves up so much about it that we were already on the road to forgetting it had ever happened. As expected, Nitkowski were great. Nitkowski are always great, and by the end of this tour diary I will have run out of simple adjectives to describe them.

While Ed dealt with the large queue of people waiting to purchase their new record, we packed down the equipment and started to load the van. Alex is a master of Van Tetris so we brought out the gear, plonked it down and let him figure it out. With the van loaded we said goodbye to our friends, who wished us a good tour, then headed to Kingston via Manor House to pick up the rest of the gear. We would have been in and out in no time but Dan hadn’t yet packed. He had woken up late that morning and spent his day making techno instead of sorting his stuff out. Dan found some clothes which weren’t yet dry and stuffed them into a bag. We were nearly ready to go, but only after Dan had found his passport that he had lost, despite having it in his hand only moments earlier.

We got to Kingston at 2am and had to be up again at 7am. Ed decided to sleep in the van so we didn’t have to unload the gear. I headed for bed, and as my head hit the pillow, I could hear the sounds of Dan and Phil lacking any intention of sleeping or stopping drinking.

Thursday 24th November 2011 | L’escalibar, Reims. France.

My alarm woke me up at 7am. I emerged from my bed and got showered, Marmited, tea’d, and headed to the newsagent to stock up on Rizla and Filter Tips. By the time I returned to the house everyone was awake and getting ready. We put our bags into the back of the van, trying to leave 25% of the mass free, and then headed for the Channel Tunnel.

This was the first time we’d travelled across the English Channel by train and were told to leave 25% of the mass of the van free. With this in mind, and knowing that our gear would take up a lot of space, we decided we would take less personal belongings. We had emailed Nitkowski explaining the situation and that they would need to pack less. Alex hadn’t quite understood the whole concept of travelling lightly and had packed a large bag, a day rucksack and another rucksack with a laptop computer inside. We had left around 7% free in the back, but when we got to Folkestone, no one was interested in looking anyway. We were waved through to a large car park which had service station like amenities where we had a look around while we waited to be called to board the train. I changed my last £20 into Euro’s and paid £5.50 to do so. I told Ed and he called me a dick. After half an hour or so of window shopping, we got the call to board the train, joined the queue, then headed in single file towards the bleak and dusty looking Dame Joan Sutherland. The train was named after an opera singer, but it would have been more fitting had it been called The Lori or The Melina after the characters in Total Recall. Once we were loaded on we were told to wind down our windows and informed that the toilets were at each end of the train. There was nothing to do on the train, so we spent our time peering out of the tiny window and obstructing people making their way to the toilets.

We exited the train, passed passport control and joined the sunny French motorway. We hadn’t been on the motorway for long when we decided to pull into a service station for a drink and maybe something to eat. As we pulled into a parking space, another van pulled up alongside us. It was a band we knew from Kingston called OK Pilot, who too were over to play a few shows. We had a brief chat, wished them luck, then rejoined the motorway and headed for Reims.

As we approached the venue we passed the beautiful Notre-Dame de Reims, drove slowly over the cobbled roads to limit damage to the valve amps, and then parked up outside L’escalibar. We were a little early so we loitered out the front of the venue and waited for someone to turn up. Alex had a look through the large pane of glass on the front of the cafe and noticed that the floor was covered with dead leaves. When the bar owner arrived she said that they had been put there for a festival celebrating the autumn. Under the leaves was a stone tiled floor and our main concern was slipping on them while playing and breaking our skulls.

TV Buddha’s arrived shortly after us and we introduced ourselves, set up the gear and the merch, then sat down to be fed. The bar owner brought the food out with wine and a cheese board. The French are miles ahead of the world for band hospitality and we gratefully tucked in, and practiced saying ‘Thank You’ in French every time the bar owner passed our table. We played L’escalibar the last time we had toured France and when nature called, I headed for where I thought the entrance to the toilets were. The door was still there, but had been sealed as the entrance had been moved to the other wall. I unknowingly stood outside for ten minutes waiting for it to become free. Suspecting something wasn’t right, I went back into the bar where I found Phil waiting outside the new entrance. The singer from TV Buddha’s was engaging with the toilet so I had to wait even longer. He eventually exited the loo looking a bit embarrassed as he’d left a strong smell in the cubicle. Personally, I would have been more embarrassed about ignoring the sink and walking straight back into the bar. Phil got his turn and added a good few levels to the smell but did wash his hands. When I sat down, the seat was nice and warm but there were only three sheets of toilet tissue left. I had been eating well in the build up so it was fine and only needed one to wipe, one to polish, and one to make sure.  

When Nitkowski took to the stage the room had filled with dust from the leaves which had broken up because people had been walking on them. It was a good show with a good crowd and Nitkowski were excellent. TV Buddha’s weren’t my cup of tea, and to be honest, got a bit boring. The large crowd watching them thinned out, but an undeterred TV Buddha’s carried on. And on and on and on and on like Ariston [80s VHS tape]. I try to watch all the bands we play with regardless of my opinion of whether or not I like them, and I had put in a long shift so I decided to go to the smoking room for a quick, cheeky cigarette, and anyway, I knew they’d still be playing when I got back. The smoking room was at the far end of the venue, in a tiny room behind a butcher's like plastic curtain. The room was crowded and I found Ed in there chatting to a local. This local didn’t agree with the beer prices so thought it was perfectly reasonable to bring his own. He was explaining to us where he had bought the beer from when his face lit up. He smiled at us then shared his cultural knowledge and some English words that he had learnt.
“In England you say Paki shop. I got this beer from a Paki shop. In France we have Algerians and Moroccans.”
Ed insisted that we don’t call them Paki shops, but the guy was far too impressed with himself to listen to Ed and continued laughing and mumbling while Ed and I looked on in dismay. We made our excuses and headed back into the bar to catch the end of TV Buddha’s set. TV Buddha’s announced that they would be playing their last song, and when it finished, asked the crowd if they wanted more. The people in the room continued to chat amongst themselves and TV Buddha’s ripped into another three songs.

After the show we went back to Michel’s [Promoter] house for a party. TV Buddha’s didn’t join us as they were on a longer tour and didn’t fancy staying up late and getting shitted. The party was fun and lots of people from the show came back. Our friend Dom turned up too, which was great to see as he was unable to attend the show because of a back and neck problem. It was the first time he had been out socially since the problems started and he had brought along some Gin and Vodka as an apology for missing the show. We know Michel and Dom because they had put us on the last time we visited Reims and we were stoked that Dom had made such an effort to say hello. It had been a fun evening, and after discovering that I enjoy drinking neat gin, and realising that I was completely shit faced, I headed for bed.

Friday 25th November 2011 |  Student, Brussels. Belgium.

Michel had to be up early to prepare another venue for a couple more shows that he was putting on that weekend. It was all part of a weekend festival that Shield Your Eyes were playing too. Michel let us sleep in and left us with the fob so that we could get out of the enclosed car park. I woke up in a world of pain and headed for the kitchen to make myself a coffee. We had been left some chocolate brioche,  so I ate breakfast, then went and got a shower. Gareth and Alex followed suit and eventually everyone was up and about. After a quick tidy up, we headed to the venue that Shield Your Eyes would be playing in that evening to drop the fob off to Michel. When we arrived at the venue, Gareth and I tried the entrance. It was locked so we headed into the cafe next door, where we asked people who either didn’t know Michel, or didn’t understand us. After many ‘what shall we do now’ moments, we spotted someone we had met the night before, who showed us the other entrance around the back. We found Michel and he gave us a quick tour. The show was taking place in two rooms, one was a medium sized room, and the other was an auditorium with tiered seating. Shield Your Eyes and Don Vito [they were doing a few shows together] were booked to play the auditorium! We knew Stef would love it, but later found out that Don Vito didn’t and had asked to play the smaller room. 

On our way to Brussels we stopped off at a supermarket to grab some lunch. We’ve been going on tours for six years now and still haven’t mastered the art of eating cheaply. I grabbed some food, went to the till to pay, got my rucksack searched (French cashiers double up as security guards) then headed back to the van. Because of our rucksacks and the sheer volumes of food, we had little room for our legs. We positioned our feet into a comfortable position, put Queen II on, and continued our journey to Brussels.

Just as ZZ Top’s first album was finishing we entered Brussels. It was dark by now and we’d hit the rush hour traffic. The streets were lit by car lights, street lamps and shop signs and the sound of car horns and verbal abuse had replaced the sweet noise of ZZ Top. We found Student, the bar we were playing at, and pulled onto the pavement so we could unload.

The bar was very much like that of the night before and had a large pane of glass looking out onto the street behind the stage. Actually, that was the only thing that was the same. There were no leaves on the floor, fit owner, or a racist in the smoking room. There wasn’t even a smoking room.

We met Yannick and Clement [the promoters] and a chap from the band Escarres whom we had played with at the Urban Bar in Whitechapel. I think his name is Greg, but I’m not certain. I do however know that he has a branding from a hot potato masher on one of his arse cheeks, once filled a pair of Wellington boots with vodka and spent a weekend at a festival wearing them, and once got his friend to stuff a rag that had been soaked in red wine, up his anal passage.

The show was a tad quiet but we still managed to sell a few records and t-shirts and Nitkowski were fantastic. We hung at the bar for a bit drinking and chatting to people and when it was time to leave, hid our equipment in a room above the bar that was being renovated. We then grabbed our sleeping bags from the van, and made a two minute walk to the promoter’s flat for food and more alcohol.

It was a very nice flat, with plenty of space to sleep. They had lots of posters on the walls and many trinkets upon the shelves. We ate lasagne and salad and drank minty fruit Vodka, and listened to music. Yannick put on a record by a band called Neptune just as Gareth was checking the Silent Front mailbox. In the mailbox was an email from a promoter offering us a show with a band called Neptune! After congratulating each other’s part in this extraordinary coincidence, we chatted some more, drank, and Clement promised us he’d let us eat breakfast on the roof in the morning.

Saturday 26th November 2011 | The Cold Barn Out The Back Of The Warm Cafe du Coin, Rumelange. Luxembourg.

My sleep had been somewhat disturbed by Phil pinching my nose with one of those grabber things you pick litter up with. If it was because I was snoring, Phil should have been the last person to take action and should have been sympathising with me considering his own record of sleep related noise pollution crimes. Phil is in denial about his snoring, and despite being the worst out of the two of us, takes offence when I do it. He has actually convinced himself that it is somehow different, and when I say that he is worse, he denies it, even though we’ve both been there when people have told us that it is him. When I got out of bed [sofa], Yannick was up making coffee and breakfast. He had already been to work and had come back to feed us. We grabbed the food and coffee and all made our way up to the rooftop for a 360° view of Brussels. We looked on in awe at the fantastic view and a few of us dared to go as close to the side as possible. After a few saved your life* moments, we all lined up and Alex took a group photo.

We collected our gear from the venue and said our goodbyes. On the way to Cafe du Coin we made a few stops. We filled the van with cheap diesel, bought tobacco, and Alex became enemies with the kid on the Kinder chocolate wrapper. As we approached the venue, and after Alex had passed around a photo he had edited of the kid from the Kinder wrapper with TWAT written on his forehead, some dick in a blue Toyota van cut us up and squeezed ahead of us at a red light. It was Shield Your Eyes. They too were playing that night at Cafe du Coin.

It was late November and it was very cold outside. Cafe du Coin is a nice bar with wooden interior, traditional decor and a nice atmosphere. They had football on the television and it was lovely and warm. They even had ashtrays as smoking hadn’t been outlawed yet, and any lobbying by the Roy Castle fan club had almost no impact.

We were playing in the barn out the back. It had stone walls and an uneven stone cobbled floor. There was no heating, except from a fan assisted gas heater that was blowing a flame into a metal tube. It was a brilliant fire risk, but not so good at heating anything more than a metre away from it, so we asked them to turn it off, or at least move it away from our combustible equipment.

Christoffe [promoter] was a great host and had laid on a couple of crates of beer, some food, and an alcoholic drink that tasted like you were eating both a Black Jack and a Fruit Salad sweet at the same time. Before the show started we sat in the warm bar watching football and fondly reliving the days when you didn’t have think about air quality, or how comfortable other people were. Henri [SYE] came in from the cold with a sausage in a roll that he had acquired from a barbecue outside. He had been given it free of charge, so we all went outside to try our luck, and succeeded.

Cafe du Coin filled up with people and there was hardly any room to move. Unfortunately, not many people made the short trip to the freezing cold barn to watch the bands, and instead stayed in the warm bar waiting for us to finish so that the DJ could start. The DJ was added to the bill to draw a crowd, which he did, but the promoter hadn’t taken into account that the bar was warm and free to enter, and the barn was freezing cold and cost money. The DJ set was taking place in the bar. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, after all, we’d still get to watch Shield Your Eyes! And so while three British bands played to each other in the barn out the back, the town of Rumelange partied in the warmth of the Cafe du Coin.

Once we had finished, the DJ started. I didn’t go inside to see him. Apparently he was standing on a table playing guitar along to the music. We packed our gear into the van and stood about in the cold,  drinking, and eating sausages in rolls that the barbecue man still seemed keen on giving to us for free.

We drove a short distance from the venue to Christoffe’s house, which felt as though it was in the middle of nowhere as it was surrounded only by fields and trees. The house had lots of mattresses on the floor and plenty of cats making themselves at home on them. Ed is allergic to cats so he slept in the van again. We stayed up for a bit drinking, and Stef told us tales of a Leeds based American who kept jumping on to their gigs in Eastern Europe, then demanding he got paid.

*Hilarious act of shocking someone and making them think that they are about to plunge to their death by grabbing their arm at a very vulnerable time and shouting “Saved your life”.

Sunday 27th November 2011 | Kavka, Antwerp. Belgium.

Shield Your Eyes had already left by the time we all woke up. Everyone gathered their belongings and we left the house and traipsed through the mud to the van and woke Ed. It was raining and I was hung-over.  Our first stop was at a supermarket about ten minutes from the house. The supermarket was called Cactus and looked like something from the seventies or early eighties. Everything from the clothes they were selling to the food packaging was like something you’d only ever seen in photos or during the adverts on that Ariston VHS tape of the A-Team your dad recorded for you when you were a kid. I’m not sure if it was my mood, the weather, or a combination of the two, but the people seemed a bit odd. It was in their eyes. It was like something had happened to that town but they didn’t speak about it. Like one big secret, and the whole town was in on it.

I came away from the supermarket with a small bag and huge food envy as everyone else’s bags were filled with cheeses, meats, crisps, chocolate, sweets, and Dan had even bought three jars of tapenade. Dan had been seeking out tapenade since we left London and I’m pretty certain that tapenade was his first word of the day. We squeezed ourselves into the van and continued the 80s theme all the way to Belgium by listening to Tina Turner, Phil Collins, and that dead nonce - Michael Jackson.

We arrived at Kavka at 15:30, half an hour before we were supposed to. We unloaded the van and discovered that another band had been added to the bill, and weren’t going on first. Instead, the promoter thought it would be fair to put them in-between us and Nitkowski and bring the stage times forward, which meant that we would be starting earlier. It was clear early on that the show wasn’t going to be great. It was a Sunday, the other bands were nowhere to be seen, we were going on stage before the advertised door opening time, and the headliners were a Refused tribute band. I’m not a fan of Refused. Nu Metal was never my scene.

We took to the vast stage in the vast room and once the stage technicians, the two sound men and the other nine people watching were ready, we started. The second band played after us, then Nitkowski played and were brilliant.  

When Nitkowski finished I went for a wander around Antwerp on my own to find an off licence. I don’t mean to over romanticise a simple trip to the offy, but this felt great. The city was beautiful in the dark, it was raining lightly, and everyone looked happy. I found a Nacht Winkel [the offy] and bought a few bottles of Duval and some cans of Leffe then headed back to watch some Belgians pretending to be a Nu Metal band that made a career out of pretending to be anti-capitalist punks. They played ‘The Shape of Punk to Come’ in its entirety and we all watched on, gawping at their incredibly hot drummer.

Once she had stopped playing we retreated to the bar out the back. Gareth arranged for his phone to be plugged into the stereo and we all danced. Gareth was very drunk, which was good to see as he rarely drinks because he does all the driving. We were staying in the sports hall above the venue so the van didn’t need to move. After all the dancing we still had the energy for a quick game of football in the room we were sleeping in. We played with a beach ball and the game quickly turned into a contest of how high we could kick it. Dan broke a ceiling panel so we decided to call it a night, and get some sleep.

Monday 28th November 2011 | Exhaus, Trier. Germany.

We were woken up at 10am because the cleaners needed us to shift our gear from the venue.
“I’ve got fucking tapenade everywhere” was Dan’s first sentence of the day.
One of the jars had exploded, thus getting everywhere and making the contents of his food bag sticky and smelly.  We packed our gear into the van and drove five hundred metres around the corner, where we saw an Irish pub, and made the decision to get ourselves a Petit Déjeuner de Anglais [Irish Breakfast].

On the drive from Belgium to Germany we got news that Gods & Queens had to pull out of the show. They had been involved in a car crash and their European tour was over. We knew it was going to affect the attendance, but in the circumstance, feeling sorry for ourselves wasn’t really an option. Queen II got another listen on the tape deck, and as we passed through Luxembourg, thick fog engulfed the van making everyone feel slightly nervous.

We arrived safely at Exhaus and loaded in, set up, and sound checked. The soundman was a top chap and the sound was great. We also said hello to Benny [promoter] and he gave us a rather tasty tofu and noodle dish and some beer. The attendance was down as expected, but this was more a case of shit happens and was swallowed as easily as Benny’s tofu and noodle dish. We had fun and Nitkowski were fabulous.

After the show we guzzled more beer and spoke to some friends. Exhaus is an amazing place and is well equipped for bands. Once everyone left we headed upstairs to a room with eight bunk beds. The previous time we had been in Trier we played with the American band, Cough. We watched YouTube clips and drank beer that time; we did the same with Nitkowski, only this time Alex drew a massive cock and balls with wings on to the wall and Gareth drew a cock flying into the world trade centre.

Tuesday 29th November 2011 | Coco Cabana, Metz. France.

I woke up before everyone else to grab a shower. Not because we were short on time or I thought there would be a queue, but because the shower didn’t have a door. If anyone had walked in, not only would they have had to endure my wet, naked body, but also the sounds of Carter USM being played through the tiny speakers on my iPod. If those two options were posed as a question in a game of ‘Would You Rather?’  I reckon at the very least, two would choose my wet, naked body. After nervously flossing myself dry I went back to the room to find Gareth eating everyone’s breakfast.  Gareth had eaten his share the night before but thought it to be perfectly reasonable to eat more when he woke up. He’d also kept Ed awake with loud snoring. Like good Christians we forgave him, and Dan and I let him play football with us in the sports room. 

Metz is a beautiful place and as we had arrived a little early, we went for a gentle stroll, appreciating her châteaux’s, churches, hills and river. As darkness descended we found a bar twenty seconds from the venue and got into the Christmas spirit and each bought a glass of mulled wine while Gareth parked the van closer to the venue. Due to road works outside the venue, parking was a git. We had to move some road furniture so that we could park on what would soon become the pavement, and then we unloaded down some steps into a very posh basement. We met Le Singe Blanc, sound checked, set up the merch and then headed up to the bar to receive a plate of spaghetti with a gammon steak and a drizzle of gravy. It was a bizarre combination, not something I’d expect from the French, but it tasted great and did the job.

The venue filled up nicely. You Freud, Me Jane were brilliant, Le singe Blanc were great, and predictably, Nitkowski were tekkers. The crowd were fantastic, as too was the sound. It had been a very successful night and just the right thing to get the tour back on track. It was definitely worth celebrating, so a befuddled Phil and I ordered some Picon Bier from the bar and manned the merch stall.

The last time we played Metz we were put up for the night in an F1 hostel by Joe [the promoter] because he didn’t have space at his house. This time around, Thomas from Les Singe Blanc was letting us stay at his. It was a short drive from the Coco Cabana and a few roads away he had a garage where we could park the van. Joe came back too, as did many of LSB and friends. Thomas was very hospitable and provided everyone with beers, two homemade spirits, and a hip flask of something unknown. Even to Thomas. After a couple of hours of fun and frolics people started to leave. Thomas showed us where we were sleeping and I made the decision to drink a load of water to cushion the impending hangover.  

Wednesday 30th November 2011 | Le Sonic, Lyon. France.

We had a long drive ahead so we needed to be awake early. When my alarm went off I got straight out of bed and searched out the toilet. The water had done nothing for my hangover, but had ensured I woke up with a raging erection that would have me angling awkwardly over the toilet to drain my bladder. Thomas came in a few moments later to tell us that he’d made us some coffee and breakfast. I couldn’t wake Phil or Ed so I put plan Carter-through-iPod-speakers into action, which resulted in them both waking up in a foul mood and grumbling like I’d just shat on their pillows. After the much needed breakfast, Thomas walked us to the van where he handed us more food for the journey. Thomas is a great lad and had firmly placed himself on the long and ever growing list of ace people we have met whilst touring.

With stops, the journey took roughly five hours. The weather improved the further south we drove, and considering we were just a few hours from December, it was impressively warm. Phil’s and Ed’s moods had improved greatly too, though, Phil was periodically reminding everyone of the great pain I had inflicted upon him that morning.

By the time we reached Lyon, and had navigated its complicated road system, daylight had ceased and it was now dark. We parked the van on the bank of the river Saone, next to Le Sonic [Le Sonic is a boat] and headed out for a walk to find a shop. We walked towards a train station and found nothing but a cola vending machine. We carried on our quest through a multi-storey car park and found ourselves in a fairy-tale-like Christmas fayre. All the stalls were wooden huts that had been decorated with spray on snow and bright lights. Every stall seemed to be selling either candles or chocolate, and as I passed through, I was overcome with that excited feeling I got as a kid, like we’d just put up the Christmas tree and Superman was on the TV. We found a shop and discovered that we’d done a huge loop, and in actual fact, it was right by Le Sonic.

Daminos and Paul [promoters] were at Le Sonic when we returned. We greeted them and met Oxen Coax, loaded in, set up, and then sound checked. Once again Daminos and Paul had laid on an amazing spread. If I was an obese lady desperate for love, I’d want either of them to be my feeder.

A lot of people turned up for the show and Oxen Coax were mint, Nitkowski were superb, and we had a fantastic time on stage. The Lyon crowd had been great to us in the past, and this time was no different.

When we finished playing, we dried off, sold some records, and then caught up with friends. Matt [English chap, ex-Kiruna vocalist] was there; as too was Pauline [a lass we had helped find accommodation for her stay in England]. She was joined by Jack who lives in Tottenham, Middlesex [around the corner from Nitkowski]. Pauline had stayed with Jack during her time in England and he had travelled to Lyon to visit her. Had it not been for us and the Lyon DIY music community they would probably have never met. In a way, it was very fitting that us, them, and the Lyon DIY music community were all in the same place at the same time!

Grrrnd Zero was still standing but the threat of eviction was looming. The days of gigs happening there had ended and the squat was only being used as rehearsal space and accommodation. We were staying there the night for what looked like the last time. We headed up the stairs to the communal room where Paul put on Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, and Daminos produced a bottle of homemade Alcohol. The last time we stayed with Nitkowski at Grrrnd Zero we built a human pyramid with the six of us. We had four extra people with us this time so we made a bigger one, with Pauline at the top. Grrrnd Zero has superb facilities, all of which are clean, so when the time came we were able to retreat to our rooms and sleep in a warm and comfortable bed without having to remove our sleeping bags from their cases.

Thursday 1st December 2011 | La Miroiterie, Paris. France.

We had a 09:30 rise and once again Phil was having trouble getting out of bed. I gave up on trying to wake him and instead went and got myself some breakfast which Daminos and Paul had laid on for us. The point came when we couldn’t wait for Phil any longer so I attempted to wake him with an Enablers record. Enablers didn’t have much effect so I threatened him with more Carter USM. Everyone got their stuff together, and because we were running late, we decided against going to Atac – our favourite non-local supermarket [we go way back]. We all said our goodbyes to Paul and Daminos, jumped into the van, most of us whipped our tops off to feel the full benefits of the hot winter sun, and then drove north towards Paris.

The roads in Paris tend to be narrow and were not built with the automobile in mind. La Miroiterie happens to be on a busy road so loading out was going to have to be quick. To make things more difficult, it’s also on a hill. Once we had speedily loaded out the next problem was the parking. Finding somewhere to park was a pain in the balls, and then once we found somewhere to park, buying a permit was an arse ache. In Paris they don’t have pay and display machines so you have to find a tobacconist that sells scratch-off permits. With painful balls and aching arses, Gareth went off in search of a tobacconist while I watched the van. He found one, but the guy serving didn’t understand so we left the van and just hoped that it wouldn’t get towed away.

La Miroiterie was the very first place we played on our first ever tour of Europe, back in February 2006. That time we met a mad Brazilian lady, who told us about how skinheads had come into the venue with guns and were threatening people. She also explained how we [British people] are stupid because we are not multi-lingual and that she was far more superior because she was. This time around we met an Indian fella who was there cooking Indian food to sell cheaply to the crowd and residents of La Miroiterie, which is Paris’ oldest squat. He claimed that he was doing it as an act of philanthropy and that by day, he was actually a very successful physiotherapist. A world famous physiotherapist at that. He told us how his work had brought him to Paris and that tomorrow he could be in London, or anywhere else for that matter. He would just answer his phone and go wherever he was needed. Like some sort of one man physiotherapy A-Team. I’m sure, once the technology permits it, every city will have its own custom made gobo to shine upon the Moon when he’s needed. He also went on to thank us for giving India back, he explained to us how the Queen still runs the world, how he still thought Britain was wonderful despite the whole empire thing, he told us that the French were too lazy and were therefore not so wonderful, and that Hitler was actually a great guy. He argued that Hitler was just a puppet with no power and that all the decisions were happening behind closed doors.  While he was telling us all of this, we were eating some amazing food that Vincent and Thomas [promoters] had made for us. It was rivalling the food in Lyon, and two more names had been added to my list of potential feeders.

Our good friends Greg and Agnes [Rejuvenation Records], Tiff [Pied Le Biche], Alex [To The Happy Few, ex-Revok], Claire [all round awesome lass], Eric [Revok] were all there, as was Vanjya [Alex’s old housemate]. The first band were excellent [I can’t remember the band name or find any record of them playing] and Nitkowski were marvellous. We played a long set with songs both old and new and had a fully mint time.

When we finished playing I headed outside to the courtyard. I was standing by the merch table when I heard a women shout the word ‘Rapist’ at a man being escorted out of the premises. Her friend then picked up a huge rock, ran a few metres to gather pace, then flung it at him! It missed, which was a shame.

We all went back to Claire’s tiny flat afterwards, where we managed to piss off the neighbours. We stayed for about an hour then headed to Vincent’s house for even more booze. Ed slept in the van again and Vincent made up a few beds, which I don’t remember him doing, but did somehow make full use of.

Friday 2nd December 2011 | Grand Wazoo, Amiens. France.

In the morning we drove Vincent to work because we were heading into Paris anyway to visit our friend Tiffany at her shop [Pied Le Biche]. It’s an awesome little shop on Rue de Charonne that sells books and art in all shapes and forms. We had a look around and Alex and Gareth bought some t-shirts and Phil bought a graphic novel [comic book]. We had been meaning to visit Tiffany’s shop for a long time and were glad that we finally got the chance to do so.

Paris to Amiens only took a couple of hours so we had time to take a little stroll, buy some after show beer, and navigate the van backwards down a narrow street pavement with shops one side, and barriers on the other, so that we could unload outside the venue. The band My Dear Hunter were the promoters and we knew them because they are three quarters of the band Anorak. We had played with Anorak at the Grand Wazoo on the tour we did with Roll Call For The Second Site a year or so earlier, and had booked them a show in London a few months before this show. Tim told us that he had some food for us upstairs, and when I enquired as to what it was, he replied
“it’s a savoury dish that is a bit like cake. In Amiens we call it cake.”
It was like cake and it was savoury. It was also very tasty and definitely a dish I would try and recreate at home.

My Dear Hunter were great and the crowd kicked off with a type of enthusiasm rarely seen at the shows I attend. I had spoken with Tim before the show about crowd reactions in England, to which I explained that we did jump around when we were kids but toned down as we got older. I realised after  I had said it that my words could have been misconstrued, and he might have thought that I was saying that jumping about is childish. I was actually trying to insinuate was that we are old and boring! The crowd continued with their energetic response during our set with one very drunk guy getting too involved and trying to play a tom on Gareth’s drum kit. He had also jumped on to the stage knocking me off balance and got a kick for his efforts. I didn’t mean to, it’s how I react to all physical threats! Ed and Dan spent the rest of our show doing the stage security. I was going to return the favour when Nitkowski went on but it became apparent early on that I wasn’t needed as the crowd simply bounced off of Dan and Ed, who had both made the brave decision to play off of the stage and in amongst the crowd.

We sold a fuck load of records that night and sold a t-shirt to the bar owner. He collects the t-shirts of every band that plays there. He’s a good lad. The last time we were there he kept on feeding us Picon bier, which resulted in us getting completely shit faced and running around Anorak’s home with pots and pans on our heads, while Anorak were at the hospital waiting for Nick to get stitches in his forehead. He still has the scar, and it serves as a reminder of a very rad evening.

As we were packing the gear away, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen happened. What I’m about to write may not seem funny, but I can assure you that it was – The bar had shut and the crowd were hanging about outside the front of the venue. The bar owner had filled a black bag with cans and bottles which he was about to put into the bin a few metres up the road. A drunken guy was trying to be helpful and picked up the heavy, bulging black bag and started to walk towards the bin. He tripped on the pavement, and rather than just fall over, he sped up. He was leaning forward at a 45° angle, and running wasn’t going to stop the inevitable climax. At first it actually looked like he was joking. It took so long before he did finally hit the ground that I had time to debate with myself as to whether or not he was just mucking about. The biggest regret of the tour is  that no one filmed the fall.

We headed back to the home of Tim and Nick with a couple of girls on our laps (not each, collectively) who were insisting that they were not groupies. This was to be my first encounter of the wonderful world of Gaelle and Claire. They spent the rest of the evening trying to convince us that they were living at the local mental hospital and had been allowed out for the evening. Through the powers of social networking, I later discovered that they are not really mad and that they have their own very special brand of humour.

Saturday 3rd December 2011 | L’Oreille Qui Traine, Rouen. France.

I went and got Dan from the van while Phillip Mann and the rest of the clan slept. The night before I had promised him that I would wake him up when I got out of bed in the morning. Dan didn’t have a phone so I had to do it manually. The van was parked a couple of streets away but the fresh air did me the world of good. I got to the van to find Dan in desperate need of a wee.
“Why didn’t you just knock?” I asked.
“I’ve forgotten where the house is” replied Dan.
Dan is quite possibly the most intelligent person I know and I can only assume that he forgot where the house was so that he could store something much more interesting instead. On our return, Nick and Tim were up and the others were stirring. We had some coffee and breakfast and most of us got a shower. We let Phil sleep in because we weren’t in any rush. We even had time to go back into town and have lunch in a proper restaurant. In town we debated long and hard about what we wanted to eat and chose the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. We got turned away at the door because they were closing for lunch*. Instead we went to the kebab shop next door to eat overpriced and undersized portions of meat and chips.

The venue in Rouen was a community centre and the night was being run by a rather rad collective. Nico [the main man, or at least, the person we had been communicating with] showed us around and told us about some of the great shows they had put on. Tonight’s show was Testa Rossa, Nitkowski, us, and Pneu. We know Pneu well and have met in many towns in both England and France over the years. What we didn’t know was that we knew one of the members of Testa Rossa. Adrian [Testa Rossa] was the first promoter of our first show on our first ever European tour which was at La Miroiterie in Paris back in 2006! He was also in the brilliant band Looking For John G. I was considerably more enthusiastic about seeing him than he was he was about seeing me. I was thinking thoughts like ‘Look, it’s Adrian! I’ve not seen him in years! I know you! We are both in Rouen at the same time! What are the chances? What a coincidence!’ Adrian wasn’t as impressed and said hello like we see each other every day. I don’t think he was being rude, I just think that he had a more relaxed outlook on the whole situation.

The room we were playing in was large and it seemed like the whole town had turned out. When I say the whole town, I actually mean the whole 18-35 music listening demographic. Which was a lot of people. It was a great show to end the tour and after Testa Rossa, Nitkowski and us finished playing on the stage, Pneu set up in the middle of the floor and everyone surrounded them.

 The merch table became very busy once all the music had finished and as I couldn’t get to it, and Gareth and Ed were already there doing a fine job, I chose to mingle with the people on the balcony outside. I got into a conversation with a drunk guy about how happy he was to have seen a couple of English bands. He was of the opinion that all bands outside of the UK and USA can’t be, and are not as good. I listed a load of mint French bands but he’d never heard any of them. I would have argued my point a bit more but he had a copy of Dead Lake under his arm.

It turned out that Adrian was now living in Rouen in a farmhouse with Nico [promoter]. It was where we’d be sleeping that night so we loaded up the van, got the address, and then tried to follow Pneu all the way. Inevitably we got lost down the small dirt tracks of the French countryside but somehow  came across the correct house. We made ourselves comfortable in the living room and shared some tour tales with Pneu and Nico and whoever was listening. We played with their lovely cat, which once again meant that Ed was going to have to sleep in the van. If you worry about van security but don’t enjoy sleeping in the van at night, take Nitkowski on tour with you and make sure every promoter has a cat.

*I made that up, but it was lunch time. We fear that they might not have liked the look of us.

Sunday 4th December 2011 | Home, Kingston Upon Thames. England.

We woke up early and had no time for coffee or breakfast. The weather was grim, as too was the hangover, and worst of all, we were on our way home. I do like home, I just think that the home to touring ratio could be balanced a little better.

On the journey home we stopped off at the most expensive service station in the world, had to queue for ages at passport control, stopped in Folkestone for a pub lunch, gave Queen II and Kate Bush one last listen, witnessed Dan knocking over the bin he was trying to squeeze rubbish into, dropped Nitkowski home, and finally, sat through the Sunday London traffic on our way back to Kingston.

So that was that. Another tour was over, and come Monday, I’d be spending my day in a school with a child that insisted on trashing the room and trying to escape out of a window,  Phil would spend his fitting double glazing and enduring Kiss FM, Gareth would spend his making spreadsheets, Alex and Ed would both be selling bicycles, and Dan would probably be making techno.

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