Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Gareth’s cold threatens to spread through Van Morrison like wild-fire, as we make our way from Luxembourg to Breda, Holland for what may be our most poorly attended show of the whole tour. Perhaps the venue itself should have been warning enough. A very incongruous piece of modern architecture, brown in colour, and shaped like an obese earthworm, dumped onto the main square of town. There are quicker and easier descriptions I imagine, but that one will suffice. So we scrape another chalk line down the bluestone wall, and head from that town, to Ludwigshafen, Germany. Now THIS was an odd show. From what we could gather, the legal drinking age of this town is fifty-three, and further to this, you have to be male and creepy to guarantee your entry into their dimly-lit venues. Still, a marked improvement on the night previous. We take in a spot of MTV back at the hotel. There’s a big festival on in Germany which they’re simulcasting live. Mike and I silently sit through an entire set by the reformed Smashing Pumpkins, too tired to even summon up any glib running commentary. What’s wrong with us? We must be getting sick. Or is it just the fatigue? Whatever it is, I reach for the remote just as Billy Corgan begins quoting Jim Morrison, and we drift away.
The next day sees us making another long drive to the town of Graz in Austria. We’re all sick now. Tonight and tomorrow night, we are in support of American band “Botanica”. We agree to let them use some of our equipment in order to make things easier with the changeover. This however, proves to be a mistake, as their perplexingly confident singer spurs the band on to a completely unwarranted two and a half hour performance, while we sit in an alleyway waiting to get our amps back, and dreaming of our hotel. Our very charming, elegant and aptly-named Hotel Daniel. They’ve gone to great efforts here, to provide the guests with a sultry and romantic atmosphere in the room, right down to providing a glass wall in the shower, which looks straight onto the sleeping chamber. One lover is able to watch dreamily, as the other prepares his or herself for the day. Mmmm, how very delightful.
Except it’s not really, because it’s Mike and I in this room, and the last thing we feel like doing is studying each other’s forms and cleansing techniques in the shower, so we devise a complex system of averted gazes, wash, get out of there, and drive to Vienna.
And my, isn’t Vienna something else.
What a glorious looking city. We had two nights here, with only one show to play, so the opportunity presented itself to actually have a look at one of these places we come to inflict our art upon. And Vienna is, as we all know, no stranger to having art inflicted upon it. The various statues and shrines commemorating the likes of Mozart, Liszt and Handel are testament to this, and provided me with the sufficient awe and inspiration recquired to clumsily strangle and grope my way through tonight’s show.
As I sent mistaken chord after botched lead break through the p.a, I could almost feel these long-decomposed composers’ disapproving gazes from afar. Nearer though, I could actually SEE the disapproving gaze of what is perhaps the most family-oriented monitor guy in Europe.
Having a photo of your wife nearby at the workplace is not uncommon, so I’m not sure why I should find this so strange and amusing.
I do, though.
What a sweet and loving…….dork.
Having enough time the next morning to wash all of my clothes, but not enough time to dry them, I heave a bag of soaking wet rags into the back of Van Morrison and we make our way through the Czech Republic to Dresden, Germany. If you take the back roads, which we always seem to do thanks to our agoraphobic GPS device and it’s perpetually befuddled operator, you wind your way through the woods where all the prostitutes live in their natural habitat. Or perhaps more accurately, where they hide behind the trees and jump out at oncoming traffic. Strange phenomenon this one.
“Oooh, look at that waterfall”
“Oh, that’s nice”
“Can you see that little cottage with the smoke coming out of the chimney?”
“Oh yes, how cosy it looks”
two minutes of silence
“Look, a prostitute!”
“Yeah, saw that”
three minutes of silence
“DID YOU SEE THAT DEER?”
“YES! YES! How Amazing!”
two minutes of silence
“Uh huh…………amazing view of the lake over there”
Etc for thirty kilometres.
(This photo depicts our tour manager, Gorka, consulting a map near the Czech Republic/ German border. Whenever this employment of the traditional navigation system occurs, we know we're in a new kind of trouble, and the necessary protective clothing is required)
We arrive in Dresden and take our lodging in an apartment provided by the venue. This gives us our first chance to live “Monkee” style for the whole tour, and we seize the opportunity with all twelve hands. After the show we head back to our pad and stay up all night telling groovy stories, breaking into impromptu musical performances and having tricycle races around the room.
Which puts us in terrible stead for our show in Arhus, Denmark the next day. Luckily though, the town of Arhus was in equally terrible stead for The Drones coming to play there, so we made a silent agreement with the city that if they don’t come and bother us, we won’t bother them. Twelve or so people didn’t get the memo though, and the show is played on empty bellies through gritted teeth.
We notice as we load out the equipment that the sun is on the rise, which means we’re edging nearer to………
“We come through the lands of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs blow etc.”
- Robert Plant
We wake at 6 a.m, exchange our Danish Kroner coins (the ones with the holes in them) for Norwegian coins (the ones that don’t), and catch a ferry full of gambling adolescents to Oslo, Norway. We had a good show here (thankyou Yann), but it was marred somewhat by yet another altercation with the booking agent. It seems the four of us threatening to cancel the remainder of the tour unless sanity and professionalism is restored, has become so de rigueur that we barely even notice when it’s happening. Still, our very reasonable demands are met, which means we are able to fly to Tromso, and actually bring Ryan, our indispensable sound engineer, with us. Something that, if you can believe it, was not arranged or agreed upon until we were about to go the airport.
But we made it folks. We made it to Tromso.
A Norwegian town situated north of north, seven hundred kilometres inside the Arctic Circle. Land of midnight sun, and land of some of the most charming and passionate people we’ve come across on this here jaunt of ours. We were greeted by one of the most stunning views from an airport terminal I’ve ever laid eyes on, and then by our host Egon, the king of Tromso. As he whisked us straight from the airport to the venue, I couldn’t help but notice how strange it felt to be a) in this impossibly beautiful country with it’s awesome glacial surrounds, and a beaming sun firmly fixed in it’s place, and b) to go from one place to another without getting lost.
(Gareth outside the world's northernmost Hungry Jacks)
This given night, to use the term loosely, we were playing with a local outfit called “The Considerate Lovers”. What a fine band. Great sound, and great people. By the time they hit the stage the venue was sold out, with many people being turned away. Our show will remain one of the more lasting memories for us all. Of all the gigs played, none had been met with such a degree of celebration from the audience as this one. so thankyou very much, good people of Tromso. Having made our way to the oxygen outside, we were met at 2 a.m by completely disorienting daylight and alarmingly visible drunk people, who insisted that we be whisked away to an after party hosted by our new friends in “The Considerate Lovers”. If anyone out there is unfamiliar with the practice of “the walk of shame”, it refers to the syndrome of party-goers making their way home in broad daylight, amongst the more respectable members of the community who are just beginning their day. So perhaps the best description of Tromso at two in the morning on a Sunday, is an entire city of people doing this “walk of shame”. Every stumble, every vomit in the gutter, every fireman’s carry takes place in full, glorious daylight. Marvellous.
(taken immediately after the show, 2 a.m)
We find ourselves in the house of Andreas and Morit in the suburbs of Tromso, being plied with Norwegian hospitality until way too late in the night/day. Unfortunately, my entire conversational repertoire was reduced to memorising eighteen Norwegian Christian names, and repeating them back to everybody until it was time to leave (I still remember them though. Quiz me sometime).
We manage an utterly pointless forty-five minute sleep, and are slopped onto the aeroplane like mashed potato onto a soldier’s meal tray.
Poor Fi leaves her beloved leather jacket on the plane, never to be seen again. Poor Mike drops his laptop on the floor of the airport terminal, never being able to watch a DVD again. And poor all of us eat cold Norwegian pizza for breakfast and head to our show in Helsinki. A two day car/ferry trip from Oslo. Did somebody say ferry? Did somebody book ferry tickets? Gorka? No? Better book them now then, buddy. What’s that? Ferry’s sold out? We can’t go to Helsinki? O.K.
So no Finnish experience for The Drones, I’m afraid. Would’ve been nice to see Helsinki. The countryside, the people…….the architecture. But not this time. Maybe next, huh.
Still, you gotta turn that frown upside down Drones, for what have we here? Why, I believe it’s four days off!!!
Four days off!!!
FOUR DAYS OFF!!!
Due to the travel-time allowances on either side of the Helsinki show, we have, yes, four days off.
Our next show is in rural Sweden at the Hultsfred Festival, sharing the bill with our peers Korn, Ozzy Osbourne, Velvet Revolver and 50 Cent, so we decide to head to the country and stay close to the festival site (80 km away) in the town of Vetlanda. A small town with a population of ten thousand or so. We spent six days of suspended reality here, swimming in lakes, tenpin bowling and getting to know a comical amount of the locals by sight, as they in turn became familiar with the six aliens with brown hair in black clothes. Not being accustomed to free time, we kept busy. I took a job at “Willys” bagging groceries, Gareth opened up a bicycle repair shop, Fiona waited on tables at “Dangs”, Mike started up an internet café in our hotel room, Ryan taught kids how to assemble Ikea furniture, and Gorka could be seen on the hotel verandah, performing the mysterious ritual he refers to as “working”, which usually involves the shuffling around of many different pieces of paper and long, searching gazes into the horizon.
The whole town shut down around eleven at night, which took a little getting used to. One particular night, Gareth, Ryan and myself found ourselves in the middle of Swedish suburbia at 1 a.m,, ringing people’s doorbells and sprinting away (I forgot how much fun that was). There may or may not have been one or two letterboxes relocated to new houses as well. This desperate attempt at amusement, performed completely sober, mind you (buying a drink in Sweden is akin to paying kidnappers for Bill Gates’ immediate release).
The festival itself could have been a better experience for band and punter alike, had it not been for the cold, cold wind that blew, and the ridiculous sound restrictions placed on all the stages. This was something we came up against quite often in Scandinavia. The governments here have decreed that anything over 100 decibels (approximately the volume of a hair dryer in a neighbouring apartment) is an unsafe volume level for the listener. So you can imagine the kind of impact our peers Korn might have made. As for Ozzy, “Fiddy” and “The Velvets”, no idea. Maybe it’s not very rock n’ roll to leave the festival for the warmth of your floral and lace quilt, but that’s exactly what we did.
With the Hultsfred festival completed, it is now time to hand in my “Halloo, me normen os Dan” badge at Willy’s and check out of the Best Western, Vetlanda. We noticed though, that the staff here spent five days growing colder and colder towards us for reasons we could never figure out. I suppose all guests, even hotel guests, are like fish (in this case, herring). Fresh at first, but after a few days, start to smell like Mike and Dan’s room (215). On the last night, as we assembled in the lobby to dine out in one of the four restaurants in town (“Dangs”, where Fi used to work), we were ambushed in the lobby by the staff, and made to cough up our room charges there and then. They seem to be convinced we were going to do a runner in the morning. This hurt. For one, Gorka takes too long sitting in the van figuring out the GPS to ever make a hasty exit anywhere, and secondly, these people were like inept, sheltered and uptight family to us.
But o.k, that’s fine. We’re leaving now
I can see the local paper’s headline now:
GOODBYE TO EVIL BLACK-JEANED RELIGIOUS SECT
We drive three or four hours to Stockholm, and play a terrific show at the venue known as “Debaser”. In stark contrast to Ludwigshafen, here were assembled some of the most ridiculously beautiful young things under the sun. In stark contrast to every other show, Gaz, Mike and I fought over the souvenir stand duties, finally agreeing to do it together. Unfortunately none of us could retain our knowledge of basic mathematics, leaving Fiona to take care of the actual purchases while we made the charming small talk.
“Uh…yeah….we have t-shirts. They’re……um…….black….with The…..er…..Drones written on them”
The next day we take the ferry back to the continent, and drive some hours to Germany, the whole time with Louis Prima blaring out of Van Morrison’s ever-suffering little speakers.
Our spirits were fractured and frayed yet still somehow buoyed, due to the end of this tour being deliciously nigh. All we have left are our obligations in Hamburg, Cottbus, Jena and Stuttgart, with two final shows to be played in Switzerland. Every night, Fiona leads the chants of “Five/Four/Three shows to go, five/four/three shows to go” accordingly, and we sing along with gusto, much to the annoyance of the driver. After our show in Jena, we decided to walk to the hotel as it wasn’t far, and passing a “Southern Comfort” party bus and noticing that there was a karaoke competition taking place inside, I grabbed Mike’s arm and forced our way on board. My patience being what it was, I pushed to the front of the queue in the manner only a stranger in a strange land can, and chose ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine” from the first page that opened in the song list. Mike and I swapped lines like seasoned pros. Expecting to secure nothing but the ire of German Southern Comfort drinkers, imagine our astonishment and gratitude when the crowd broke out into a rabid applause, and the organisers came onto stage with a Southern Comfort prize hamper (hamper consisting of fresh limes, muddling stick, straw cowboy hats, beaded necklaces??, and a big bottle of nasty blue light disco flashbacks), announcing that we had won the competition for the evening. We made our elated acceptance speech, and attempted to leave as quickly as we’d arrived, however the organisers insisted we regale the audience with a version of Men at Work’s “Down Under” before we left. But of course…..
If the organisers are true to their word, the footage will be up on www.southerncomfort.de sometime in the next week. Enjoy.
So what will the next day bring, hmm?
Wearing straw cowboy hats, and beaded necklaces we pile into the van. As we’re about to pull out, a staff member of the hotel sticks her head out of the window and screams out “YOU PEOPLE LIVE LIKE PIGS” (I failed to mention that the hamper was put to use the night previous), but in our defence, the room was NOT THAT MESSY, and besides, I thought German people loved pigs. Why else would they make breakfast, lunch, dinner AND dessert with them? We left quickly, fearing they might wish to gobble us up like the little pigs we supposedly are.
About seventy kilometres out of Jena, Van Morrison falls eerily silent on the autobahn. We pull over, and after several attempts made in vain to get the engine running, make a campsite on the side of the highway. Here we waited, while Gorka made desperate phone calls, not to the German roadside assistance company, but to the Spanish insurance company, who in turn were making calls to their German office, who in turn were making calls to the German roadside company. Well that was the idea anyway.
While all of this was happening, we sat around a fire that we’d made out of Fiona’s tour blanket “Old Yeller”.
A cumbersome, yellow woollen blanket, acquired many moons back from a forgotten Barcelona hotel. As we warmed our hands, we thought long and hard about what was happening here.
• Van Morrison has ceased to operate.
• Van Morrison belongs to Gorka, our booking agent, and not to a proper Van rental company who could organise a replacement vehicle.
• We don’t know where we are. Remember, even though Gorka Tour Manager has a GPS, he doesn’t know how to work it, and is having great difficulty providing our exact location.
• We could be here forever.
• We certainly will not make it to the show tonight.
• We may not, and most likely won’t, make it to the other shows in Switzerland.
• The tour is over?
• THE TOUR IS OVER?
Is it really possible that this is how this tour ends?
Of fucking course it is! How else should this extraordinary tour end, but with a smouldering yellow blanket, a confused and crazed tour manager running up and down a highway looking for a road sign, a half drunk bottle of Southern Comfort being passed around, and gathering clouds of grey and black?
No other way, is how.
Then it began to rain. Rain hard.
26,748 kilometres by road.
48 shows played, 5 cancellations.
The tour is over, folks.
But our battles?
(R.I.P Van Morrison)