Sunday, August 26, 2018

Budapest

- Did you get much sleep last night? I asked Jon as he sat staring at me through swollen eyes from the other side of the cab. It’s the just the usual early morning small talk that gets you through the ride out to the airport. I wasn’t expecting much from his answer, although I had been a little confused by the picture of pytt i panna with the caption “Dinner” he’d sent to us at four am.

- I didn’t dare go to bed, he said, completely serious.

Seems like Jon is still scarred from the incident last fall when he slept in and missed the flight to Berlin, leaving us no choice but to go without him. We were talking about it in the practice room last night. When we have an early morning flight we usually take a cab out to the airport with Jon the first pick up since he lives furthest out. He was adamant he’d take the tube into town and meet us at Andy’s this time around, which seemed ridiculous because it meant him leaving home around four, instead of six. He still couldn’t come to terms with how he’d managed to sleep through both his alarm clock, and Ana calling him on the phone from Holland on that fateful morning. He said he’d never slept so deeply in his life. This is classic Jon. To the rest of us, it all seems perfectly simple. He’d gone to bed drunk at three am, and slept through his alarm that went off an hour later. We told him to get a grip and order the cab to pick him up first, P.S.ing that he should go home and get to bed early, since even on this occasion Ana was on away tour.

- Don’t talk to me like I’m a kid, he said, disgruntled. Didn’t for a minute think he’d sit up all night sewing, too scared to go to bed.

The flight down to Budapest was smooth and without delay. We landed around eleven, which meant we’d hopefully have the afternoon to look around the city and do some sightseeing. Jon and I had originally planned to come down the day before and do some proper touristing, it would have been a really nice end to my holiday before starting back at work on Tuesday, but it didn’t quite work out. The flight ended up selling out before we could make a decision. I’d hoped to hang out with my old friend Zoli too, but he was away at Brutal Assault Fest in Czech, so wouldn’t be around until the Sunday, although he was coming to the show. I’d only ever been to Budapest once before, back in 2007 with Speedhorn, we were playing with Zoli’s band, Bridge to Solace. In fact it was Zoli who booked the show. Probably one of the best European shows we did. It was also one of those rare occasions we actually had a spare few hours before load-in to look around the city we were playing. By my reckoning we should be in the city around twelve-thirty today, leaving us plenty of time for some sightseeing. The hotel we were booked into was right in the middle of the city, too, as was the venue, so it seemed like we had the day nicely set up.

We mull around outside the terminal for a while, waiting for our pickup. It’s blazing hot. One last blast of summer before the fall I guess. After an insane few months of heat, it seems like the temperature at home is finally beginning to drop. I wonder if this will be a summer they’ll talk about in years to come, or will it just be the way things are going to be from now on… Anyway, there’s another band from Sweden playing the show tonight who had been on the same flight as us. Spiral Skies, they’re called. Never heard of them, but they seem like a nice bunch, all smiles and “Tjenas”. Quite a young crew. We exchange a bit of small talk and they joke that they will be coming to us during the evening to ask us for advice on this whole band thing, since they’re just starting out. Andy laughs and tells them they’d be better off asking someone else.


The pick up is a little late, which gives me the chance to try out some Hungarian coffee, unfortunately the only place selling Joe is Camden Food Co, or whatever they’re called. Not what I was hoping for. I was pretty tired after getting up at five thirty and could have done with some disgustingly strong east European java. Still, the woman serving at the counter cheered me up with her charmingly stolid expression. Before I could even finish ordering a black coffee she turned to her assistant and began chatting. It took a while but I guess the essence of the conversation was about my beverage. She turned her head stone-faced stare back to me and told me the price. I asked her if I could also order one of the chocolate croissants I’d spotted on the shelf whilst they were having the conversation.

- No.

She looks at me sternly for a couple more seconds, before breaking the slightest of smiles. - Sold out, she said, whilst removing the sign with “Chocolate croissant” from the shelf.

- There’s only cinnamon left. I tell her that would be just lovely, now completely enamoured by the woman’s charm. I give her a huge smile and thank her upon receiving the goods. With a spring in my step I gander back out to the pick up area where the rest of the guys are waiting.

A short while later the two vans, red and grey as promised by Gaspar the promoter, turn up. We’re driven into the city which takes about twenty five minutes. The place we’re staying is right in the centre of everything, right next to the parliament buildings, so there’s some good sightseeing from the bench seats of the van on the way in. There is some confusion when we get to the hotel though. For a start, it’s not a hotel. It’s certainly not the place on the link that Gaspar sent me. The guy driving the Spiral Skies van, the grey one, stands around looking a bit perplexed as he knocks the heavy door that appears to be the entrance to a block of flats.

He eventually gives up on the door and tells us that the guy who runs the hostel isn’t there right now, so we should go to the venue and drop the gear off there. I guess the hotel isn’t happening. I know it sounds like I’m an old fart and a punk snob, but fuck I was looking forward to an air conditioned hotel room and the breakfast that comes with it. The two van drivers converse a little more and then one of them makes a call to the venue. The Spiral Skies bunch meanwhile tell us that this is their first gig outside of Sweden. They were asking us how we’d ended up on this show. We tell them that it was a pretty random offer. Weird that High on Fire are touring Europe, and playing Stockholm as part of it, yet we got asked to play this show. With flights, hotel, or hostel, and a decent fee on top of that, we’re not complaining. The Spiral Skies people tell us that they were also flying in and out for the one show, but that they had originally been contacted by some random guy about another show in Budapest. He simply wrote to them and said they should play Budapest because he thought they were really good. He then told them he’d ask around and then half fixed them a gig somewhere else. When he realised that High on Fire were playing Budapest the same night, he mailed them back and told them that they should play the High on Fire show instead, since there would be a lot more people at that show. I’m not entirely sure if the guy then contacted Gaspar or if Spiral Skies sorted it themselves, but their original “promoter” wrote back when it was all sorted and asked them if he could get on the guest list. We all laugh at that. Good tactic.

As we drive away from the venue I make a mental note to take a look around Parliament Square when we get back to the hostel tonight. The drive to the venue is only ten minutes or so, and it takes us along this long esplanade which ends at Heroes Square. The venue is only about another kilometer or so from there, so I know exactly where we’ll be going to once we’ve loaded in and sorted out the plan for tonight. I’ve wanted to visit Heroes Square for a long time.

The venue is some huge building on the edge of a large green park. Looks like a really nice place. There are two or three gig rooms as well as a large inner courtyard with a couple of bars. I’m already looking forward to chilling there with a beer after the night’s work is complete. Zoli told me that this venue actually used to be part of the university, and the big gig room where we’re playing tonight was one of the main auditoriums for lectures. Now it’s a concert venue for all sorts of music, one of the few places around that are still outside the clutches of Viktor Orban’s mob state, as Zoli calls it. We’re greeted by Gaspar and his friendly cew. Only when we get to talking face to face do I realise that we’d spoken to him a couple of years ago about doing a run of East European shows that we ended up having to pull due to Andy’s job not giving him the time off work. That would have been great. It clicks when Gaspar says that he’s glad to finally be able to book us. I tell him I hope we can make those shows again sometime in the future.

We’re shown to the dressing rooms and then the catering room. I’m again in need of coffee and some grub. There is a punk chef stood looking proudly over a spread of food he’s put out for lunch, which I gladly tuck into. We all plate up and sit ourselves down to eat before heading out for the afternoon. We’re told we don’t need to be back until we line check at 7pm, the show being at 7.40. This is perfect. Early show, plus plenty of time for a walk around the city. Sometimes it actually is like being on holiday. Jon sits over his food and sighs as he mechanically shakes the salt pot over his food.

- Do they hate salt in this country or what? he grumbles. To the rest of us it looks like there is shit loads of salt falling upon his food, but I guess we’re suffering some collective hallucination.

After lunch we head out into the midday heat and take a stroll through the park towards Heroes Square. It doesn’t disappoint. I remember the powerful image of the horses with the horned branch-like reins on them from the Neurosis album cover. I’ve always wanted to see them close up. It’s a powerful place, the square surrounded by grandiose statues commemorating the Magyar warriors of old. I try to imagine what it must have been like as the Stalin statue toppled here and the tanks rolled in back in October 56’. A lot of memories here for sure, etched into the place. We stand around, taking it in, along with the hundreds of other tourists, taking pictures and selfies in the sun.

Afterwards we take a walk down the esplanade in search of I don’t know what. A museum, a grande cathedral, maybe the river. There is a long queue outside the Museum of Terror, which my dad tells me was well worth the admission fee, he’d been here last year, but time against us, we stroll on, eventually stopping at a bar for a deliciously cold pint of Hungarian pilsner. Well, Andy and Jon go for iced coffees, which cost more than mine and Johan’s brews. We sit there discussing the new record we’re recording in November, and possible record labels that would be good for us, all the while Johan and I keeping an eye of the football on my phone. First Liverpool game of the season. The beer is absolutely magic. It’s at the end of my holiday period now, soon time to go back to the reality of work, and although it’s probably time to give the beer a rest, not that I’ve been drunk anytime but it’s been a little beer here and there each day… Today is still holiday, though, and there’s nothing quite like a cold beer in the scorching Budapest sun. To make things better Liverpool put four past West Ham.

We walk back to the venue and arrive around five. Zoli has texted and said he’ll meet me there, and I have my guitar to re-string, so it will be nice with a couple of hours to spare before we have to get on stage. I don’t have an extra guitar, or even extra strings today, which is always a bit of a worry. Jon had popped his head into the Spiral Skies dressing room and asked about loaning a tuner pedal but they had everything on big pedal boards. Then he looked at one of the guys playing some ESB guitar, or something similar.

- That costs around thirty thousand kronors, right? Jon inquires.

- Thirty three, the guy replies. Jon accepts there is no point asking to lend it as a spare.

It’s great to see Zoli. I can’t believe it’s been twelve years since we toured together. And nine years since we bumped into each last, when we were at Fluff Fest. Where the fuck did that time go? It’s great catching up with him, he seems to be doing really well. The rest of the guys arrive in the dressing room in dribs and drabs and I introduce them to my old friend. As has been proven time and again, it’s a small punk rock world. Johan was talking earlier about how he’d been to Budapest years back with Disfear, that they played some gig on a boat with Clawfinger, of all fucking bands. Zoli was the guy who booked that show, it turns out. He laughs about how his friend Balazs who played drums in Merzbow was at the show and how he got drunk and kept asking everyone, “Who the fuck is Cliffhanger?!” Later on after the show he went up to the Clawfinger guitarist, thinking he was from Disfear, and said, “You guys were great, but fucking Cliffhanger sucked!” Good times.

The guys from the venue tell us that dinner is available to those who want it and we decide it’s a good idea to eat now before it gets too close to show time. We head over to the catering room and serve ourselves a plate of bean stew and rice and then head out to the courtyard to sit down together to eat. Jon is already out there waiting for us. There aren’t all that many people here yet, but doors have just opened and the venue is massive so there are plenty of places for the punters to spread themselves about. Zoli had said that the show hadn’t sold as much as it would have on any other occasion that wasn’t Sunday night on Brutal Assault weekend. Gaspar said they’d done about four hundred tickets, though, so should be fine. When we’re done eating Andy and I take everyone’s plates and head back to the kitchen area, passing a smaller room with the second stage in. The six bands have been split up between the two rooms, and we’re in the bigger room with High on Fire. We realise the muted noise coming from the other side of the thick door leading into the smaller room must be Spiral Skies, so we pop our heads in to see how it’s going for them. At first I’m unsure as to whether they are soundchecking, since there is only two people in attendance, plus Andy and I stood there at the back holding dirty plates. I wonder if one of the other two is their “promoter” guy… The sound from the stage is pretty good anyway, but it’s not entirely my thing, quite King Diamond-esque, with the girl singing in a sort of operatic style, and they’re all wearing capes and masquerade masks. It’s a bit of a weird scene, but they’re playing all out and they’re sure good at what they do and I’m sure they’ll end up being more popular than Victims ever have been. Andy says, embarrassed after we walk out after a couple of minutes, that he hopes they didn’t see us. I inwardly reminisce over the amount of shows I’ve done like that over the years.

Johan comes back to the dressing room about twenty minutes later and says there were quite a few people watching them when he popped his head in anyway, which leaves me feeling less guilty about not sticking around to support them. I do have a guitar to string, though…

Before we head to the stage we bump into our old friend Jeff, who plays bass with High on Fire. Last time we saw him is when he came to see us play in Oakland last autumn. It’s great to see him, as always. He tells me that everything has been pretty hectic of late since he and his girlfriend have just moved house, and there’s been a lot with that, and now they’ve flown in just for four shows and are heading out on a five am flight tomorrow back to the States. It’s fucking mad to think of them flying over to Europe for four shows in August and then they’re back again in September for a tour. I couldn’t imagine living like that anymore, but then I guess they’re a full time band. And when I think about it, Speedhorn once played Los Angeles, London and Tokyo in the space of four days. Even then I realised that that was fucking mental. I sure as fuck couldn’t do it now.

The room is pretty well filled out by the time we go on stage. Andy had put the intro track on whilst most of us were still babbling to Jeff side stage, as well as another old friend, Peter who we toured with back in the day, talking about kids and families etc, so we’re not really ready by the time the track finishes and there’s a bit of a gap before we start the first song. Potentially a right brass, but nobody seems to notice, or care. I enjoy the first half of the show, it’s a good sized stage and although there’s little movement in the crowd, there’s a good response between the blocks of songs. It is early Sunday evening, after all, can’t really expect much more. The second half of the show is a hard fucking slog, though. It has been thirty four degrees out today, and along with the bright stage lights, it punishingly hot on stage. I’m going through water like nobody’s business during the breaks but it’s doing nothing to help the slow deflation of my body. It’s been a while since I had one of these gigs, where you’re looking at the setlist and willing it to end. Four songs to go. Three songs. Two songs… Fucking nightmare. By the time we were done with This is the End I thought it fucking well might be.

Thankfully it wasn’t. But it took me a while before I began to feel normal again. Then after a shower and about three bottles of water I was ready for a cold beer over in the courtyard. Johan too. He followed me to the bar and we got ourselves a couple of local IPA’s. Christ it was good to feel normal again.

We sat at a table with Zoli and a couple of his friends and chatted away for a while. There were a lot of people sat around, drinking beer, enjoying the gentle warmth of the evening. Even when High on Fire started playing inside quite a few stayed. After another IPA we shuffled inside to watch the second half of their set. The Sunday night crowd seemed to have livened up a tad and there is the odd crowd surfer here and there. We watch from the merch table at the back of the room, Jon stood beside us playing air guitar.

After the show we head back outside for a last beer and a bit of grub, I’m starting to feel the hunger. There is a food stall still open so we gander over and check out what’s what. We order a veggie burger but the young guy serving gives us short thrift. Only veggie food they have left is french fries, so we order them from the stone faced kid. Guess he’s not too chuffed to be working a Sunday night. I feel his pain. I’ve been there, many a time. The fries hit the spot anyway, but we’re still hungry afterwards. Don’t have the will to go back to old Stone Face and order more, though, so after a final beer we decided to find Gaspar, get paid, and see if we can get a lift back to the hostel.

It’s around one am by the time get back. I’m actually feeling just the slightest bit tipsy from the four beers I’ve consumed during the day, and it’s the slightly lowered inhibition which is lending me to toy with the idea of taking a walk over to Parliament Square. I figure it will be really pretty at this time of night. There are no takers, though, and I’m not that willing to go it alone, so decide that a night is a night and it’s time for bed. We’re in a room furnished solely by beds, six or seven of them. I take a seat on one of them and almost fall through the fucker, the broken wooden slats underneath the mattress laying a comical trap for me. I try a bed in the middle of the room and that one holds. There is no air conditioning to speak of so we’re left with little choice but to open the large windows.

I’m awoken by an unholy screaming, scraping kind of sound from the busy street outside. The sun is blasting through the open windows and the room is filled with this insane fucking sound for the best part of twenty minutes. It’s so loud I actually start laughing to myself, it’s fucking absurd. The rest of the guys seem to be sleeping through it, either that or they are extremely determined not to open their mince pies, refusing to let it get the better of them. I’m forced to get up out of bed and check out what the fuck is creating the din.

Bin lorry. Twat.

I finally get back to sleep, somewhat enjoying the gentle hustle and bustle of downtown Budapest on a Monday morning, if not the heat. We pull ourselves out of bed around nine, we have a flight at one and I arranged breakfast with Zoli at this vegan café not far from the hostel. Zoli has booked us a cab to pick us up from there. Andy seems a bit tired, saying he had a shite night’s sleep, and he’s not all that chuffed about having to walk and carry his cases to the café. He’s on me, saying that if the walk is any longer than the seven minutes Google Maps has promised he’s stopping.

The café is a nice little place ran by friendly staff, if not a little on the slow side. That said, the chickpea omelette with avocado and vegan cheese hits the spot nicely, as does the coffee. It’s been good hanging out with Zoli, he’s one of the good people I had the pleasure of meeting through music. Meeting for breakfast has been a nice way to end the trip.

The cab to the airport doesn’t take long, which is just as well because it’s fucking chaos when we arrive at the terminal. We’re flying back with Wizz Air to Skavsta, and the small terminal building is jam packed with stressed out travellers, it’s almost impossible to fathom which queue starts where. There are huge lines to the check-in desks that intertwine with the line for security control, which seems to be snaking around the entire building. Andy denotes that this could indeed be trouble. That’s the fucking thing with these types of airlines; every stage of the experience of flying with them is that little bit more hassle, that little bit less comfortable, that little bit more stressful, that little bit shitter.

I feel genuinely bad about it, but we cut lines twice, first to the check in and then to security control. It’s such chaos that nobody notices and we could easily claim that we’d genuinely made a mistake if anyone accosted us. There’s no way we’re missing our fucking flights home, though. When we’re done with check in, we’ve got about an hour until the flight takes off and the prospect of putting ourselves at the end of a line that is almost going out the exit of the terminal is an ominous one. Of course, Jon fucks off outside for a fag. I shake my head in disbelief at Andy.

- We’ve done the gig now, I don’t care if he makes the flight or not, Andy says, joking but not joking.

With little time to spare, we hurriedly buy some ice coffees on the way to the gate. As I’m farting about trying to get my passport from my pocket, ready to show for what seems like the hundredth time on this little adventure around the airport, I’m drop the entire coffee on the floor. I can only offer the meekest of apologetic looks to the woman in the uniform in front of me. There’s only the slightest of remnants left in the bottom of the flimsy plastic cup. I mournfully sip it down.

The next time I see Jon he’s sat on the floor in the boarding queue, in some satellite terminal which is actually just an old hanger with no seating, drawing on a piece of paper. Somehow he’s ahead of us in line.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Erica

For once, we decided to take the comfortable option. When we played Holland last month, we were barely in the country for twenty four hours. Andy seemed to be chuffed with that arrangement, but I wasn’t so sure. Getting up at five in the morning to travel home is not my idea of a good time, or a break from the day to day, which in my mind is what playing in the band is supposed to be.

This time would be perfect. Playing with both bands at a festival, flying in the day before and staying with Jos and Gerard in Amersfoort, and then flying home in the afternoon the day after the gig. I had a deadline on some coursework to hand in the day we were going, so opted for the five thirty flight to Amsterdam. Given that Victims flights were being paid for by the festival I could choose the slightly more expensive option and get away with it, so Jon and I were on that. Luc and Vik were taking a cheaper flight earlier on in the afternoon, and Kev was arriving around six pm on the old Easyjet shabang. The DB guys love to take the piss when they get the opportunity, calling Victims rock stars etc, so I took full advantage and hammed up the situation with having our flights booked for us. Of course, at the end of the day, my flight being covered by Victims gig made our travel costs cheaper with DB.

Anyway, the plan was that Luc and Vik were landing at three thirty, so they’d wait for Kev to arrive at six and then take the train together to Jos’ place, where Jon and I would meet them later, since we arrived at seven thirty. The original plan was for the lot of us to enjoy the night in Amsterdam but we’d missed that it happened to be King’s Day, which apparently is the biggest, craziest holiday piss-up on the Dutch calendar, and all the hotels were either booked or insanely expensive. Jos and Gerard offered to put us up at their place, which turned out to be a far nicer idea than hanging out in the Dam in a swarm of pissheads in orange. Jos was curating the stage we were playing on at the festival too, so it made sense to stay with him and then we’d all make our way to the gig together.

It was a very comfortable journey to Schiphol, except for carrying the heavy merch bag. Jon and I took turns with the fucker, carrying it from my place to the tube, to the commuter train, to the check in desk. It was a pain in the ass but watching Jon’s bright red face, shaking as he struggled along the road, hunched over like Quasimodo, made taking my turn with the twenty kilo bag worth while. Jon said it felt like he had cancer when he dumped the bag for the final time. When we landed I got a text on the DB chat group from Luc, saying they were still at the airport waiting for Kev. They seemed to be in good spirits despite having been at the airport for almost five hours by this point. It was the first time Luc had properly been away from his family since Debbie was born and he was cracking jokes, asking Kev where was, saying they were already drunk and were taking turns on the massage chairs etc. I cracked up at first, but then started to worry about Kev, since he’d texted three hours before saying he was boarding. It was only a forty five minute flight. Luc and Vik were both writing, saying that Kev’s phone was going straight to voicemail. Vik was making cracks, calling Kev senile and saying he was probably lost. I was just on the verge of going into some dark thoughts, worrying for real about Kev’s flight, and thinking to check the news to see if anything had happened with any flights that day, when Vik texted, the jovial tone now completely vanquished. - Located Kev. He’s already at Jos’ place. I kid you fucking not!

This threw me into a fit of laughter, the thought of those two waiting around for hours for Kev, only for the old bastard to get straight on the train and leave them behind. Vik was far from amused. - I’m glad I booked the day of for this! 1000kr down to spend the day at the fucking airport!

I was still laughing when we came out of customs to where Vik and Luc were waiting for us, Vik shaking his head in disgust. Kev reckons his phone battery died and he couldn’t find them, so he just got on the train. He was now enjoying dinner and a beer with Jos and Gerard. Although he’d even fucked that up. Gerard was supposed to pick Kev up at Amersfoort train station, but he’d gotten straight on the bus. He seems to have been having a hard time keeping up with the programme recently, we’d gone through the plan a bunch of times a couple of days before, but it seemingly passed Kev by. Maybe he is going senile… He is fifty in a couple of weeks time…

The remaining four of us arrived in Amersfoort just after nine. We crammed into Gerard’s car and made our way to their place. We were greeted by Jos and Kev, the former with a beaming smile emanating from his face, the latter wearing a wry, puppy-sat-next-to-a-pile-of-poo smile on his. All is forgotten as we sit down to dinner though. Gerard has made an absolutely superb pie of satay sauce and puff pastry, it’s absolutely heavenly. We sit there and munch down on it whilst drinking our way through and array of fine ales that Jos has bought in. Kev and Luc stick to the pissy lager, whilst Jon, who hasn’t had a drop for about six months, sits at the end of the table working on his new obsession, beads and jewelry. We sit there like that, for about five hours, listening to music and chatting away whilst Jon drinks coffee after coffee as he makes a necklace for Kev.

Kev tells us that his flight to Amsterdam was the most turbulent flight he’s ever been on, proper rollercoaster of a ride. He’s normally a good flyer but he said he was shitting himself this time around, as was the rest of the passengers on board. At least it was only forty five minutes, although it was forty five minutes of hell, as Kev put it. This has me thinking already about our flight home on Sunday. I wish I could shake this malign feeling that follows me on all flights these days, and return to the blase attitude I used to have towards flying. I think it’s definitely something that has developed since I became a parent. That worry. It’s always there. Not enough to disable you in any way, just enough hanging around in the back of your mind to disturb you a little.

It’s around three am by the time we decide to call it a night. Jon, wired on coffee, asks if he can sleep on the sofa in the living room, says he feels like watching some TV. Vik and I crash in the walk-in wardrobe upstairs, which is in actual fact just a bedroom like any other, but being that Jos and Gerard are in the DINK category of fifty-somethings, that is “double income, no kids”, a new piece of terminology I heard recently, they have such a huge accumulation of clothes and sneakers that they require their own room. Gerard assures me most of the stuff belongs to Jos. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many pairs of New Balance sneakers outside of a shoe store. On top of that he's got about five hundred band t-shirts. Jealous as fuck. If I was part of a DINK dyad I’d be exactly the same. How I'd love to systemise those shirts for him...

I wake up on stretched out on the wonderfully comfortable queen-size blow up bed, it’s like lying on a cloud, and could be tempted to lie there all day. The smell of breakfast that Jos is cooking up downstairs pulls me up into the day though. Vik is lying on a smaller inflatable mattress by my feet. He mentions how cold it is in the room. I look at through the curtain at the window and see that it’s fully wide open. I hadn’t thought about it, being that I like a cool room to sleep in. Downstairs Kev is already up, munching on bangers and scrambled eggs. Jos has put on a bit of spread, with smoothies, coffee, croissants and the fry up. I couldn’t imagine a better way to start the day. Jon is in a deep sleep on the sofa, not even slightly disturbed by the sound of us talking, or the records Jos is spinning. I swear, the fucker would sleep through a nuclear war. After we’ve eaten and showered I give Jon a nudge, guessing he’ll want to accompany us into town this afternoon. He startles awake, a little surprised by the time and the status. Jos asks him if he watched anything decent on TV. Jon shakes his head and says that the signal went literally the second we all went upstairs. I crack up at the thought of him staring at a black screen, buzzed on caffeine.

Jon comes to life after a coffee and a cigarette and we all head into town. It’s a really pretty little city this, it has these canals running through it like pretty little veins, all the houses in the suburbs with verandas at the end of their back gardens, sitting next to the water. Jos takes pleasure in giving us the tourist guide around the center, pointing out the city’s and the local punk scenes historic points of interest. We walk around for a couple of hours, checking out record shops, beer shops, chip shops, toy shops, book shops and a few antique stores, which seems to be Jon’s big new thing. And of course we accommodate for his big old thing, the coffee shop. He hasn’t had a drop of booze for about six months now, but he’s not adverse to eating a block of hash, which he does before we sit down outside a bar on one of the squares next to an old church, which rings it’s bells for about ten minutes, each hour, on the hour.

We order in some hipster beers and grub, but Jon is off again before long. Another antique store to be explored. Stoned off his tits. After a while Andy calls to let us know they landed so we drink up and make our way back to Jos and Gerard’s place. The guys are coming by to pick us up on the way. Jon returns just as we’re paying up, chuffed that he’s found some artefact or other to make a neck chain out of, or something.

The guys arrive around five thirty, as does our good friend Ronald, who is also coming along today. Another old friend, Drette, is in the van with the guys. He’s playing with The Lurking Fear tonight. He’s sat in the back with a very familiar, Finspång smile on his face.

It’s around seven when we get to the festival site, which means we’ve got about an hour until we need to be on the stage for soundcheck. DB is on at eight-thirty. It’s a cosy, little festival, set up by a golfing resort up in the north east of the country. All the bands are staying at the hotel belonging to the course, so we check in there and leave our stuff in the rooms. It’s only a five minute walk between the hotel room and the stage. Couldn’t be any better. I share with Luc, sensing that Kev and Vik are going on the piss tonight, I figure it’s best they share. Luc seems pretty chuffed with the room. He’s even more chuffed when we head over to the stage and he finds a box of hand towels for the stage.

“Now I understand why Victims stick to this format!” he says, pointing at the towels. I laugh, and welcome him to the big time. “It’s really good though, init? This level of gig” he continues, seemingly genuinely impressed. It’s as if his eyes have been opened to a new world. He packs two towels down into his bag, says he’s taking them home for Anja and Debbie.

Soundcheck is pain free and quick, like ripping off a plaster. The guy doing sound is this gigantic, shaven headed fellow who is chirpy as fuck. He literally fires through the channels. “Snare drum, thank you very much. Tom, thank you very much,” and so on. We’re done after about five minutes. The stage itself is the smaller of the two at the festival, inside a tent. There are probably around three hundred people in by the time we begin to play.

It’s the first DB gig for about six months, so a bit of rustiness is to be expected. But on the whole I’m pretty fucking chuffed with it. I have to motion to Vik a few times to slow the pace down a bit, but the gig feels pretty fucking good. And sections of the crowd seem to be really into it, which is nice considering nobody really knows who we are. We should have been playing a lot earlier in the day, but our travel arrangements forced them to have a rethink on set times, which worked out pretty well for us I guess. After the gig, there are a few people shouting for freebies, and another is beckoning Kev over to him, shouting, “You are really talented!” I’m not sure if he’s taking the piss or not. Jos certainly is, though. He can’t quite believe I had the gaul to match striped socks and checkered Vans shoes on stage.

Ronald comes up to the stage after the gig and says he has a Ruidosa Inmundicia t-shirt and a Blood Pressure lp for me in his car, that he released on his label a couple of years back. I take a walk with him and enjoy the fresh air and the chat along the way. We head back to the merch tent afterwards and hang out with the other Victims guys. Jos, Kev and Vik disappear to some stall selling a higher level of beer than the regular Amstel tent, although I’m not sure what Kev will be doing over there, whilst Luc and I hang out and chat to a couple of people. Some girl comes up to Luc and says that we were the highlight of the day, which is nice to hear.

I’ve got a couple of hours until the Victims set, so I head to the food stall and grab my Dutch favourite, chips and satay sauce. Luc joins me. As we’re stood there waiting for the food a trio of absolute fuck heads come barging into us, just mincing everyone out of the way as they pile on the gabb with the girl working in the stall. Big, shaven headed mongos, fucking assholes. I hate these types. Obviously they’re drunk, but that doesn’t excuse being a cunt.

Victims play last on the tent stage, around about eleven. The chripy soundguy is even more into his stride now and tells us he'll have linecheck done in three minutes. Whilst we're waiting for Andy to get his kit ready I blast out the solo to Brothers in Arms, which sounds awesome. It's mainly for Luc's sake, who is stood there out front to give a lending ear. Even though he's shaking his head and laughing at me like I'm a wanker, I can tell he's impressed. The tent is pretty full by the time we put the intro track on and Vik, Kev and Jos are stood behind my amp. We have a really good show. Vik keeps giving me sips of cold, standard lager between song blocks, which tastes like heaven in the heat of the stage lamps. It always gives me an extra buzz, playing on stage with your mates hanging out with you. Kev is pretty fucking boats by the time we come off. “Gaz, for the first time tonight, I understood those new songs,” he says, eyes slightly squiffed behind his glasses, newly purchased with the money he got from the Iron Monkey shows, referring to the two brand new songs in the set. “They were shit, but I understood them”, he punch-lined, looking totally chuffed with himself. He will repeat this another seven or eight times throughout the rest of the evening.

We all gather again by the merch tent, the night sky having released a slight drizzle upon the festival. Bloodbath, which apparently is the singer from Paradise Lost, who our old friend Olle is doing the sound for, are playing on the bigger stage. They sound pretty shite. Well, they sound good since Olle is working on them, but they sound shite… Both Kev and Vik are pretty fucking bollocksed by this point, even Jos has a cheeky twinkle in his eye. They’ve been on the strong ale. Well not Kev, he’s just been throwing the Amstel down. He’s complaining that he hasn’t got any more beer tokens left. Luc tries helping him out, with absolutely no thanks in return.

“Those poncey fucking Toilet Duck beers, you only get a small glass” Kev moans.

“For two tokens you can get a big glass of the Amstel Kev,” Luc points out.

“I’ve only got one fucking token left,” Kev, barely grunting.

“I’ve got a token, you can have that”, says Luc, handing him a little plastic coin.

“Fuck off”. Kev, end of conversation. Very silly conversation, at that.

It’s soon time to head back to the hotel anyway. I’m getting tired and it’s getting cold, but I fancy a little beer in the warmth of the hotel bar before bed time. There’s something about an open bar that I find extremely positive. We say bye to Jos and Ronald, thanking Jos for everything. It’s been great to hang out with them. And with that, we pack up the gear and walk back to the hotel.

The bar is venue to a Who’s Who of Swedish punk and metal, and as much as I’m friendly with a lot of the faces in here I’m already too tired to properly engage, and so sit contentedly with Luc and enjoy a relaxing beer. Andy and Johan are beside me but mainly in conversation with Tompa Lindberg, Vik, Kev and Drette are on the other side of me but they’re all pretty wankered, especially Kev and Drette. Vik is mainly looking tired by this point. Some British girl has latched onto Kev and is trying her best to start up a convo with him, but he’s being particularly awkward. She tells him that he sounds British to which he replies, “That’s because I am British!”. This seems to provide her with some hope of common ground.

“Where you from?” she asks him. Retford, he tells her, too drunk to apply any manners to his tone. He can keep it together enough to at least return the gesture and ask where she’s from.

“Cirencester”, she happily replies.

“Where the fuck’s that?” Kev barks, seeming genuinely oblivious. With that she walks away. She doesn’t even bother with Drette since he can barely talk.

I only have the one before deciding to head to bed. The one was all I really needed. Kev says he’ll soon be heading off himself, but then another beer gets put into his hand. “Gaz, for the first time tonight, I understood your new songs…”

I wake up feeling fresh and rested. I fell asleep sometime around two-thirty, CNN humming lowly on the TV, Lucas soundly away in the bed beside. We get showered and head down to breakfast where Johan and Andy are already tucking in to the old continental faire. There is no sight of Vik or Kev, so when we’re done we go knock their door. Vik answers wearing nothing but his kecks and a grimace as Kev comes darting out of the bathroom behind him, hair all over the place, looking like a confused witch. Vik mumbles that they’ll be down in five minutes. We tell them the bus will be here any minute.

The organisers have booked a coach that’s taking about six or seven of the Swedish bands from the Fest back to Schiphol. Drette is playing power ballads through these little speakers he has whilst supping on a bottle of rosé. The bottle is being passed around but I don’t need any of it. I could do without the power ballads and all, to be honest.

Whilst on route Jos texts me and tells me that there has been a huge blackout at Schiphol earlier on in the morning, which has caused huge amounts of delays. We all start checking our phones for information, fearing the worst, but it seems to be that our flight is okay. Luc and Vik are on a later flight though, and theirs is delayed an hour and a half. That pair have spent a lot of time at the airport this weekend. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t tickle me when we got here on Friday but today I feel genuine concern for them. I feel bad for leaving them behind, and I hope their flight won’t be delayed any longer than it is. I feel especially bad for Luc, being away from his baby daughter for real for the first time. I know exactly how he must be feeling.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tilburg

First show of the year. First show since we had the twenty year anniversary party. I hadn’t even been to the practice room for about three months before we got back together to rehearse the set for this festival in Holland. I really needed the break. My life has been pretty hectic since, well, since we started Speedhorn I guess, but this last few months has taken its toll a little. After the Mexico/US trip in the autumn I had a bit of a backlog with university work, which isn’t the easiest to catch up on when you’ve got family and work on the side, too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not working in Solway or down the pits, but it was a bit of a strain all the same. I was glad for the few months off. Probably the longest stretch away from all band activities I’ve had in years.

It’s going to be a quiet year though, at least on the gig front. We have a new record on the go with Victims, which I guess maybe we’ll record this year. It’s a luxury in itself not having any pressure on that though. Doesn’t really matter if we release a record this year or in five, it will still reach the same crowd. And I don’t know what’s happening with DB, we have one show booked, which is together with Victims, back in Holland again at the end of April. Otherwise, fuck knows. Getting older, forty this year, I don’t stress any longer over filling a quota of gigs for the year, not like I used to.

On getting older... this trip to Tilburg felt like four business punks on a work trip. It was like the punk rock version of travelling to a work conference. We flew down to Amsterdam in the morning, got picked up at the airport by a taxi, were driven to the hotel in Tilburg which was just on the outskirts of the city centre, only a twenty minute walk to the venue, but far away enough in this cold weather to not be arsed leaving the hotel until it was time to go to work. When we arrived we sat in the backstage room drinking water and eating from the catering until it was time to soundcheck. We then played the show, watched Carcass afterwards, who were fucking great, and the headed back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours before being picked up at five am for the two hour drive back to the airport. We weren’t even in Holland for twenty four hours. I drank two beers. It was as far removed an experience from the last time we played the 013 in Tilburg with Speedhorn as could possibly be. The first time I played at this venue I ended the night stood in the back parking lot wearing nothing but my kecks, puking what felt like my entire innards up after consuming a shocking amount of hash cake. I don’t miss those days too much. This time I ended up the night drinking a beer in bed watching CNN with Andy, and that was more about trying to get to sleep than anything else. I have a hard time getting to sleep when you know you’re up again in a few hours time, especially when you’re getting up to catch an early flight. Being wired from the gig on top of that… The beer was nice, all the same.

We’d shared the shuttle back to the hotel with a couple of Norwegian black metallers from the band Aura Noir. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying and I was hoping Jon would take on the job of conversing with them, but he was more sullen than his usual self and the conversation was a little strained. They were staying in the room opposite us and one of them asked if we wanted a drink. I politely declined, saying that we were up at five and it was already one. He looked a bit sad, like a lost puppy with no one to play with, and replied that they were getting up at six. Next time, I told him. He smiled and repeated back to me, next time. If Jon was on the piss it would have been a different fucking story, that’s for sure.

The gig had been good, anyway. Total professional job. It was the Netherlands Deathfest show, we were playing in the smaller room which held about five, six hundred people. The room was packed, the sound was great and the crowd were really going for it. We had some guy called Erik doing the sound for us, he’d gotten in touch via mail and asked about working with us. Think the deal was he worked for free, entry to the festival being considered enough. Worked out great, anyway, he was a really nice guy. Older, with kids, just like us. I really enjoyed the gig, it’s hard not to when it sounds like a record on stage the crowd are going for it. It got less enjoyable towards the end when I stretched some muscle or other in my neck, which was pretty fucking painful. Had to play out the last few songs in a pretty rigid position. My mate Johan Wallin, jokingly told me a while back that I have the most consistent neck in hardcore, I’m starting to wonder if those headbanging days are soon to be over. Maybe it’s time, I guess.

We’d bumped into our old mate Petri from Famine Year, Finland at the airport earlier. He was with some metal band and they were sharing the same taxi as us. The dude from the band he was with, and his girlfriend, looked very metal. Not so strange I guess, given that we’re playing a death metal fest. If anyone looks misplaced here, it’s the four of us. Even Jon has cut his hair and is looking normal these days. Anyway, I fucking pissed myself when Petri told us that the metal guy had been confused over this show. First off, we make a stop at their hotel, which is a lot further from town than ours is. When the taxi driver assures him that this is the right address, the taxi driver has nothing to do with the festival, he’s just some random old guy, and that the hotel is indeed far out of town, the metal guy says in a simple fashion and not altogether amused way, in thick Finnish accent, “This is balls”. When Perti comes back out to the taxi, having checked in, he tells us that the metal guy had only realised a few weeks ago that the festival was in Holland. He’d thought he was playing the Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore, being that it’s the same organisers. He hadn’t thought to check his flight tickets that had been booked for him. When the organisers were booking his flight and had asked him how long he wanted to stay, he’d said, “Well, two nights at least”. He’s well pissed off now, realising he’s stuck in a road side hotel on the outskirts of Tilburg. Made me laugh, just as much, that thinking he was going all the way to the US, that he’d take advantage and stay a whole extra night…

Felt bad for Jon, since by no fault of his own, he was in a similar shitty position. He too was staying an extra night, although he’d planned to spend the second night at his friend’s place in Amsterdam, but his friend ended up moving back to Sweden a few weeks ago, must have been pretty abrupt, so now Jon was stuck here at the festival, taking the same five am taxi to the airport as we were, only a day later, and on his own. He’s not even drinking at the moment so it’s doubly boring. Good he’s not drinking, though… He told us afterwards that he ended up going to bed at nine thirty on the second night. Poor fucker had even had to pay for the extra night at the hotel. Not the best investment he ever made I guess.

We arrived back at Schiphol around six thirty am, fucking knackered. Johan and I had been getting stuck into some free peanut butter that they were handing out at a shop which exclusively sold peanut butter yesterday, and we’d made plans to drop by on the way home and pick up a couple of jars, but we were too tired to care about waiting a half hour for the shop to open. We’ll be back in a couple of months anyway. I didn’t even manage to squeeze some pommes frites with satay sauce on the trip. I had gone off in search last night whilst we were waiting for our shuttle back to the hotel after the gig, but the guy in the chip shop around the corner told me he only accepted Dutch cards, or cash. I had neither. The guy was out of satay sauce anyway, so I would have been purely striding ahead with the purchase out of pure pigheadedness.

As we checked our guitars in, I thought back to Jon yesterday and had a little chuckle to myself. He’d checked his bag into the regular hold on the flight, whilst all the guitars and merch had been checked into oversized. Whilst Jon went off to the regular belt the three of us went to pick up the heavier gear from oversized. We stood there chatting for about fifteen minutes watching the odd pushchair arrive. Jon eventually turned up with the whole load on a trolley, struggling with it down the ramp towards us, starting straight ahead in avid concentration, the three of us laughing at him.

I was jealous of the thought of him still tucked up in his hotel bed, though, as we were sat waiting for a flight home on about three hours sleep. Until I remembered that he’d be doing the exact same thing the next day, albeit on his own.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Biggest Thing That Never Happened

Another year, another clean slate. More water, less coffee, more fruit, less sweets, sleep more, read more, it feels like you can always read more… phone less, eat better, stress less, exercise more… It’s the same optimistic resolutions every year. January 31st. It’s going so so thus far. I think I’m drinking more water, at least.

In adhering to another immutable pattern, I’m still finding ways of adding to an already packed schedule. Sometimes my life feels like a game of Kerplunk. It’s hard saying no to fun stuff, though. Just as long as it doesn’t all come crashing down. So on that note, I decided that as I’m busy studying for a degree in sociology, working a job and raising a kid as well as playing punk rock, I’d release a book this year. Why not?

I’ve been thinking for a long time about putting Punk Rock and Coffee into print. I’ve achieved my teenage ambition of having my own records on my record shelf, now it’s time to fulfill a somewhat later ambition and have my own book on my bookshelf. I’m compiling a book from a lot of the writing I’ve done on the Speedhorn era of my life, and as well as rewriting large chunks of it, I’m also writing around another ten or eleven chapters of new material. It’s going to be in paperback format and will be a collection of short stories in loose chronological order, mapping the story of Raging Speedhorn as seen through my eyes. But it’s not just the story of Raging Speedhorn. It could be the story of any band. It’s also a story about friendship, about the ups and downs of belonging to a dysfunctional group dynamic. It’s about love and hate, ecstasy and despair. It’s about being a working class kid desperately searching for an identity. It’s about growing up and growing apart. It’s about taking your dream further than you ever thought possible and then blowing it up.

The Biggest Thing That Never Happened: Ten Years Of Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory With Raging Speedhorn will be released this year in late fall. Further details will follow in the coming months.

Now, back to working on those New Year’s resolutions...

Friday, December 29, 2017

Assimilation

A short column I wrote for my local newspaper in Stockholm about a year ago.  Translated to English.  No offence intended:

I sensed immediately that the atmosphere had taken a nosedive. It was my debut in the archipelago. I didn’t even know what an archipelago was until I moved to Sweden. It didn’t exist in my world. My small, depressing, poor hometown of Corby. Not to be all “working class hero,” but summer in Stockholm’s archipelago was a world I couldn’t even envisage in dreams as a child. And now there I was stood, with my girlfriend’s best friend and her fella, having just tossed the unwanted capsule from my beer bottle on the ground. Horribly nonchalant but I simply didn’t even think about it. Such an act was like, natural to me. I could feel the uncomfortable silence that had occured since the act though, something quintessentially Swedish I would later learn, and I noticed the eye contact between the two of them and my girlfriend who was now returning to the scene of the crime. He motioned something to my girlfriend. She looked at the capsule on the ground and then at me, “We don’t do this in Sweden,” she said, gently but firmly. The shame I felt was suffocating.

That was sixteen years ago. I was just about to move to Sweden, to Kärrtorp in South Stockholm actually, the same place I live today, although we’ve moved a few times over the years. It seemed I had a few things to learn about life in Sweden. How times have changed. As have I. I’ve been assimilated. There will always be a little bit of Britain in me, I’ll always drink tea, for example, but sixteen years of Swedish assimilation has made me realise that certain elements of British society are mental. Such elements that never caused as much as a batting of an eyelid before I left the place.

A tragic example is that just mentioned: littering. If you take a promenade around my hometown you’ll be shocked by the sheer amount of trash lying around the place. Crisp packets, beer cans, kebab-remains everywhere. And then there are more trivial matters…

One always keeps one shoes on indoors. I was very strict with my parents the first time they come to visit, I made a big deal of them taking their shoes off at the door before entering ours or anyone else’s home. Even today, my dad is still prone to stroll right into my apartment with his shoes on. It drives me mad. But the fact is, in England this is completely normal behaviour. Fuck knows why really? Maybe the fact that it’s so fucking cold everywhere indoors that your feet freeze if you take your shoes off. Funny that, considering the fact that “freezing” isn’t normally anything the folks on the island worry about otherwise. We were home last Christmas and there was a storm howling for a couple of days. Despite this fact, I saw a woman at the local cornershop wearing flip-flops and a miniskirt. We joke here in Sweden that as soon as the spring sun pokes its face through the clouds, people sit outside cafés drinking coffee, wrapped up in thick clothes, but still desperate to sit in the sun. But in my hometown, we’re talking bare torsos and shorts. At least the men.

Another thing is taps. One cold, one warm. No mixer. And no plug. Especially the toilets in the pub. Somewhere one spends a fair amount of time. Before I moved I visited the pub pretty much every day. It’s the British version of what the Swedes call “fika,” which is socialising over coffee and a bun. Sixteen years later I’m still struggling to explain Systembolaget, the state-run booze shop, to dad. When he’s here visiting he’s constantly fooled by the supermarket “people’s beer”, which is in 3,5% alcohol, the legal limit of sellable booze outside of Systembolaget. “This stuff tastes weak as piss!” I’ve heard fuck knows how many times.

And that thing about “over serving”? It barely exists. In Sweden the responsibility for over consumption of alcohol lies largely with the selling establishment. A regular at my dad’s local in Corby, someone we call Iommi because he looks the Sabbath legend, totally floored my mate Viktor when he was in town with me on one occasion. Iommi was so fucked when he ordered his pint that he’d fallen asleep before the drink was even poured. The bartender simply slid the jar under his nose and woke him up. No problem. If I had been caught doing that whilst working behind the bar in Stockholm I would have been arrested.

All that said, I have to admit that I miss the pub culture in the UK sometimes. And chips. And by chips, I don’t mean “crisps”, but fat, greasy, fried spuds wrapped in paper. I’ve said for a long time that if an authentic chip shop opened up in Stockholm it would be a real hit. There are over ten thousands expats living here after all. It was actually the first thing my Auntie Barbara said to me in her review of Stockholm, during the one and only time she’d been here on holiday, “It’s a nice place, but where’s the chip shop?”


Since time of original printing an actual chip shop has opened in Stockholm!  I'd like to think maybe my column was influential in some way.

Also since time of original printing my hometown was found as the UK's most depressing place to live in a national survey.

https://www.fishandchips.se/
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/the-13-unhappiest-places-to-live-in-britain-a7687486.html

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Mexico City

Felt proper bollocks when I woke up. Head was completely mashed and stringing enough thoughts together just to get myself dressed was a struggle. I’d only slept around four hours, and even that was interrupted by a piss in the middle of it. I’d been having weird dreams the whole time too, those uncomfortable dreams, not exactly nightmares, but disturbing none the less, and just barely keeping you under the surface of sleep. I mention this to Johan and he replies, drearily, “I didn’t even manage to get below the surface”. The poor bastard looks completely fucked.

I pull myself off the mattress on the floor, glad that I decided to shower last night, I would never have been able to summon the motivation at this hour, and would have sadly gotten on the plane feeling like a tramp. I trudge through to the hallway where Jon is lying straight on his back with nothing but a quilt as cushioning on the tiled floor. Luzen is up and about, dressed and ready for work, looking a lot brighter than the rest of us. As we gather our shit together Luzen’s dog Misty sits on Andy’s bag as he’s trying to pack it, I can sense the irritation in him, “Please, not now”, he grumbles in Swedish. We stand around on the large terrace outside Luzen’s kitchen, with a view of the hills surrounding Tijuana, slowly coming to life, watching Jon smoke a cigarette as we wait for the Uber to turn up.

Luzen jumps in the cab with us and we drop him off outside the university where he works as an English teacher. The traffic to the airport is pretty jammed but thankfully Luzen’s estimated “ten minutes” isn’t far off the mark. We check in the gear and head through security in time to grab some much needed breakfast before we take off for Mexico City. Johan seems a bit down, he’s been really quiet since we left. The fact that he hasn’t slept a wink probably not helping, or the fact that he bought a baseball for Billy at the airport and had it confiscated at security. I feel really bad for him, I get all sensitive about that stuff, and can imagine how sad I would feel if I’d bought a present for Polly and some bastard took it from me. Johan heads to Starbucks on his own for some breakfast whilst the other three of us take in some huevos rancheros at some little taqueria, which is in some little hole in the wall a little way back down the passage between the gates and the security check. Fucking banging and all, I feel a lot better after consuming it.

The flight takes around three hours and is very comfortable. I try my hardest to sleep through it but give up after and hour and half or so and order some coffee, spending the rest of the flight writing. I really should be studying if I’m going to seriously consider taking an exam on this current module I’m doing but I have a hard time motivating myself since the course content is excruciatingly mind numbing. It’s the first module in three terms that I haven’t found fun in the slightest and my will to fight through it has been weak. On the other hand, if there was one module I was going to miss a couple of weeks of to go and play shows in Mexico then it may as well be this one. I decide there and then that I’ll take the exam at a later date and order more coffee. Now that I’ve accepted sleep is not happening I decide to power up on the old java.

I have my forehead glued to the window as we descend into Mexico City. The guitarist in Bio Crisis said to me last night that it was quite an experience and he wasn’t lying. The airport is in the middle of the huge city that seemingly has no end. There is sprawl as far as you can see. Even the mountains surrounding the centre of the city are a collage of different colours from the shacks plastered up the sides of them. I’ve never seen anything like it. We wait what seems like an age for our baggage once we get to the collection area. It says “Tijuana - bags arriving” on the monitor but after twenty minutes there is still no sign of them. Eventually the siren signals and the belt starts moving but only one of the bags shows up before the belt stops again. About twenty minutes later the signal goes again and the belt jolts into action, this time delivering the guitars but when it stops again we’re still missing the big suitcase with Andy’s drums in. Sighing and huffing and puffing about the manjana-manjana attitude we wait around for the belt start again. After another twenty minutes or so the monitor changes message to another flight. “For fuck sakes, there’s always something..” I moan. Honestly, I appreciate the laid back attitude of the latino people, until you’re affected by it yourself.. I’m stood there philosophising about how us Swedes complain about how uptight we are as a nation and people but when it comes to it, we can’t handle the whole easy going lifestyle so embraced by the…I drift back into focus at the sound of Andy’s voice, “It was a kind of dark grey colour, kinda looks like that one there”, he’s saying, pointing at a big case stood right in front of us on the stationary belt. “Fuck! That’s the case!” Fucking thing must have been stood there the whole time we’d been moaning.

We head for the exit laughing to ourselves but it’s soon cut short by a little Nazi cop/security guard by the exit. He stops us in our tracks and starts grunting at us in Spanish. Tired and confused I try to talk to him as politely as I can but he just points at a sign above the exit which says “No trolleys beyond this point”. Fair enough, hadn’t noticed it, but we’ve got three trolleys worth of gear. We turn back to dump the trolleys back in the baggage collection area when the morose little cunt grabs Johan by the arm and pulls him back. Johan is way more tired than I am and is totally scoobied as to what is going on. Ridiculously, Mini Nazi is now pointing at another sigm “No re-entry beyond this point”, and gesturing to an imaginary line on the floor where Johan has supposedly crossed. I explain to Johan who looks like he’s about to snap and usher him back out, telling him we’ll get the gear. Mini Nazi doesn’t even looked chuffed with himself, which in a way would have helped, he just stands there staring forward like he despises the world. Utter, utter prick. Now the three of us have a shit load of gear to shunt over the magic line knowing that we only have one shot at making it. Absolute nonsense situation. Jon heaves the huge merch bag over his shoulder and then picks up a couple of guitars as well as one of our cabin bags, face red as a ripe tomato and shaking like a leaf in the wind, he wheezes, “Are you ready?” I do my best to stifle the laugh bursting to get out but it’s not easy. Mini Nazi looks like he won’t even fart in our direction as we pass him like three overloaded donkeys on the way out. I laugh, a loud exaggerated laugh, as I pass but him but he doesn’t give a shit. Makes me feel a little better if nothing else.

The day picks up decidedly from here on in though. We’re met by a smiling guy wearing a cap and reddish beard who calls himself Moncho. He tells us he’ll be looking after us. We all present ourselves one by one, both to Moncho, his girlfriend Bianca and another guy with long hair. Moncho seems to be very excited about us being here and very keen to make sure that anything we need will be taken care of. We’re not really expecting anything, just happy to be in Mexico City. There is supposed to be a hotel and I’m hoping that we'll be able to go there before the gig and drop our bags, maybe Johan can rest up and get some kip for a bit. Having flown through two time zones we’ve gained a couple of hours back and it’s only two thirty pm. Moncho, almost hopping with enthusiasm, asks, “Yo bros, are you hungry? You wanna go get some food before we go to the hotel? Some tacos bros?” We give a synchronized nod and chuffed as shit climb into the back of one of the two cars they’ve brought to pick us up. Moncho, who addresses us as “bro” every time he talks to one us of, tells us that his friend Omar will be driving us whilst we’re here, and that they’ll be chaperoning us around the city tomorrow since we have an extra day here, say they’ll take us wherever we want, but they’ll keep us in the safe spots. Sounds good. And a little ominous. But mostly good.

We get taken to a restaurant not far from the airport where we tuck into some great tasting tacos. The food is amazing in this land, the produce is so fresh and I love how all the food joints are rough and ready looking, no frills or bollocks, just great food. On top of the grub this place serves up some quite superb freshly squeezed fruit juices, my cantaloupe smoothie tastes like heaven as it dampens the fire of the hot sauce I ignorantly threw all over my food. We sit around talking for a while and then when we’re done Moncho perks up, “OK bros, hotel now?” As we drive away I mention what a great restaurant it was and the guy with the long hair driving says, “Yeah it’s a really good place. Dangerous neighbourhood though. You don’t wanna come here at night on your own”.

The hotel is not that far away, about fifteen minutes in the car, which in this city I guess counts as the same neighbourhood. I try to get an understanding of how big the city is, but Omar just laughs, “It’s a monster”. We have a three star hotel with a big room housing two double beds. Moncho tells us that they’ll come and pick us up around six thirty, which gives us a couple of hours to chill out. “Anything else you need bros? You need weed? Porn?” he says totally matter of factly, pointing at the tv. “Nja, football will do”, I say. The thought of the four of us sitting around the box watching scud flicks is a bizarre one. Moncho just laughs and tells us he’ll see us in a bit. I jump in the shower and stand there for about twenty minutes, absorbing the heat of it. Feels absolutely wonderful. Afterwards I enjoy the coolness of the bedsheets as I lie there for the next hour or so watching whatever on tv. Johan has taken the other bed and pulled the sheets over his head.

When we head over to the venue with the guys, Johan and Jon jump in the one car and Andy and I in the other. We pull up outside the venue and there are already a few punks hanging around outside the door on the sidewalk. Sounds like a band is soundchecking upstairs in the venue. Andy and I stand around on the street, taking in the vibe of the place. Down the street is a hole in the wall taqueria, and there are a few other bars and convenience stores dotted about. There is some weasley looking, thin haired, middle aged guy with a sinister look in his eye on the door. He’s checking the few punks that are straggling through the door. He’s told by Moncho that we’re okay as Andy and I walk in. Andy says to me, “They’re checking for weapons”. I hadn’t caught that at all but now Andy says it, it seems obvious. We head up the steep stairs to the venue and into the backstage room, which is behind the stage, which you have to walk over to get to. I find Johan and Jon sat there with huge styrofoam cups of beer, proper two hands to hold them jobs, looking as guilty as a pair of puppies sat next to two piles of poo. Apparently they ordered a beer each and this is what they were given.

The venue, Salon Bolivar, is pretty big, kind of long, with the high stage taking up the entire back wall at one end of the long room. Moncho says that if they get one hundred and fifty people in here on a Monday night they’ll be pleased. So would we, but I do wonder how they do the math. I mean, they’re paying for our flights back to LA on Wednesday and a hotel for two nights. Maybe, I don’t know. A hundred fifty in here would look pretty good anyway, especially with the lights off.

The first band soundchecks and then plays their set not long after, doors obviously opening somewhere in between. It’s pretty tame grindcore, enhanced most likely by the fact that the fifty or so people in the place are all stood at the back leaving a huge gulf between themselves and the band. Feel a bit bad for them, they look a bit lonely. Andy and I head outside, he says he needs to eat something before it’s too close to showtime. We walk down to the street and there are quite a few punks hanging around outside, just chilling. I’m a bit surprised by how many there are and think to myself that if everyone goes inside later on then we’ll have a pretty fucking good gig. Or is this a London Scum Punk carry on, where the punx turn up to the gig only to sit outside and complain about beer prices in the venue, boycotting most of the night. Anyway, Andy spots that little taqueria on the corner of the big junction at the end of the block and so we both start walking towards it. Out of nowhere Moncho comes running up behind us, “Yo bros! Where are you going?” I innocently answer that we’re just gonna go for a walk around the block, stretch the old pegs, get some grub. “No, no bros, you can’t go walking around here. It’s not safe”. Fuck me. Would’ve been typical of me walking into the middle of Gangland looking for a fucking taco. Fucking clueless.

We assure Moncho we won’t go anywhere and when he tentatively walks back to the club, keeping an eye on us, the two of us discuss the risk factor and probability of being murdered somewhere during the twenty meters or so to the taqueria. We decide it’s probably safe. We also decide not to mention any of this to Johan as it will freak him out. I skip the taco and enjoy watching Andy trying to converse with the old boy and his wife in the little Spanish he knows. He gets there in the end anyway. The old couple seem pretty entertained by us.

I grab a pack of cookies and some Doritos for dinner and take them with me back into the club. There is this young d-beat band from El Salvador on stage now, Distrust. They’re in Mexico on a nine date tour. Their first time outside of El Salvador. Really cool to meet them. They’re pretty rudimentary but have a certain charm about them. As we’re stood by the merch stand watching them this punk comes up to us with his little boy, can’t be any more than four years old, cute as anything. His dad wants him to meet us. He’s so sweet, big brown eyes on him, we shake his hand, he even gives me a little fist pump. I could properly melt. Andy smiles and looks over at me, “Can really make you homesick when you meet cute kids on tour”. No shit.

It’s getting hot in here as the venue gradually fills, the amount of people in here soon making it impossible for them all to be crammed in together at the back if the room, they’ll have to move forward towards the stage sooner or later. Andy and I head out for a little air again, and find Jon there smoking a cig. “Fuuuuck. I just came out here and saw about thirty cops, all gunned up, charge into the house opposite! Fucking mental. Nobody here even seemed to give a shit, just stood around smoking”. “Don’t tell Johan!” Andy and I reply in chorus.

The third band of the night are called Sacrificio. I’m attracted to them straight away. The guitarist/singer looks like a Mexican Andy Dahlström and the bass player looks like a Mexican Christoffer Röstlund. One wearing a Barcelona shirt, the other wearing an army beret and a white Wretched shirt. They look the biz. And sound it. Totally chaotic punk, sounding at times indeed like Barcelona, but ten times faster. So fucking good. Halfway through the first song and Andy has joined me in front of the stage, looking chuffed. I enjoy every minute of them, the singer guy has so much energy, beating the shit out of his guitar the entire set. Now I’m really pumped up to play myself. Only thing is, there is another grind band on before we get to do that. Nice guys, certainly, I’d chatted to them earlier, but not really my thing. Jon is sat at the merch, nodding his head in appreciation though. Much more his thing. Moncho asks him if he likes them, saying they’re his friends. “I once was a grind freak”, answers Jon. Moncho is friends with the Sacrificio guys too and he arranges us to swap shirts and records, although we buy the records.

We stand and linecheck a while in front of the crowd which has now nicely filled out this place. It’s not always great sorting sound out in front of a crowd but they don’t seem to mind, patiently waiting for us and cheering when Andy occasionally goes into a d-beat. There are people right up against a barrier in front of the stage now. We’re ready. I have a feeling this is going to be good. The feeling proves to be correct.

Everything on stage, at least for me, sounds great. I’m blasting through the first couple of songs, hot as hell up here, don’t know how long I’m going to be able to keep that level up, but I just go with it whilst it lasts. Have to laugh when during the third song my sound dies and I assume the cable from my pedal has been ripped lose but then I notice that a hi-hat cymbal has landed on the tuning pedal and turned it on, cutting the sound. I’d noticed the cymbal innocently leaning against the wall by my pedals before we started but hadn’t really questioned it. Bianca, Moncho’s girlfriend, is also stood on stage taking photos for the first few songs, caught up in the buzz of it, she doesn’t notice Johan trying to tune his bass between songs, too polite to say that she’s kind of stood in the pedals. She heads to the side after four or five songs though and stands next to Moncho, the two of them looking happy as pigs in shit.

The whole set is an absolute blast, the crowd getting more and more riled up as the set develops. And me too. When Johan actually does rip a cable out of his pedal, just as the first verse to Killing is about to start, I spontaneously grab the mic and take over the vocals for the first verse and chorus. It’s totally without thought. I’ve never, ever sung on stage before, didn’t know I could. It just happened, got caught up in the buzz of it. It seemed like it sounded okay as well. Jon and Andy have huge smiles on their faces after the song. We end the set with My Eyes, to a vicious circle pit and we’re then called back on for one more and finish with Your Life is Red. Great show. Everyone made up with it. In the back room after the gig, after the usual high five from Jon and cracking open a bottle of beer that Moncho has come running in with, I look to the guys, “Well guys, we’ve now played Mexico City. Fuck me. Never thought I’d say that”.

We spend the best part of the next hour taking photos with punks and signing their records. It starts to feel ridiculous after a while. But there are so many cool people who are a pleasure to meet and talk to. It’s been a long time since I felt a buzz like this after a show. Andy and I hang out for a while with the Sacrificio and Distrust guys in the back stage too, talking shit and finding out more about the Mexico City scene as well as the Salvador one, which the Distrust guys tells me barely exists, that it's fighting for attention in the shadow of bad metal. When the venue closes Moncho is buzzing around, “Yo bros, you want some beer, or back to the hotel? The venue is closing soon but you can stay and drink for a little while bros”. With the venue starting to empty and the house lights on, all of a sudden the thought of heading back to the hotel, grabbing a couple of beers and some crisps on the way back from 7 Eleven and having our own little party seems very appealing.

Omar gives us a lift back and waits for us whilst we buy booze and snacks and then drops us off at the hotel around midnight. Perfect. He’s coming to pick us up tomorrow at eleven for a day of sightseeing, whilst Jon has actually arranged a travel day to the pyramids with some Slovenian guy he met at the gig tonight. He’s off early in the morning. I’ve never been to Mexico City though, and as much as I’m sure the pyramids will be mind blowing, I don’t want a day of sitting in the car tomorrow. We have a long enough journey home the day after, and besides, I love checking out big cities.

When we get back to the hotel room I grab a quick shower, and then all clean and cosy, just like when I was a kid in pyjamas after Sunday night bath, I settle down onto the couch. We bought a couple of six packs and an array of crisps. We toast each other and tuck in whilst watching a bit of tv. It could have been something to head out in town tonight and get in to some crazy party or scene or something, but those situations don't really appeal that much to me anymore, not like they did fifteen years ago, and quite honestly, it’s perfectly nice just sitting here with the guys enjoying a couple of beers in front of the box. Just the four of us. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Tijuana

We slept past noon and still had time to spare. Funny how sleep patterns have flipped over this last couple of weeks ago. The first couple of night in LA a couple of weeks ago we were struggling to keep our eyes open after eight pm, and the first morning we took Polly for breakfast at Caster’s all night diner at five am. Soon it will be time to turn it all back around again. Anyway, it was nice with the seven hour sleep, even if it did commence at five in the morning. Most of the rest of the guys are already up and Big Jon has popped out in the car to buy the Victims guys coffee, which is warmly appreciated by us. What a diamond.

I enjoy the coffee on Bruce’s backyard patio with Johan and Jon and Kyle. We spend almost a good hour talking American politics, with that putrid orange wanker Trump at the top of the bill, obviously. Kyle seems quite fucking destroyed over the state of his country at the minute. I feel for him. There are a lot of amazing things about this place, a lot of fucked up things too, and a lot of wonderful people, It’s just as shame that most of those in power are either thick as shit or pure evil. Or both. Isn’t that usually the way though? Still, it’s a very nice way to start the day and I thank Kyle for the company and the chat as we get our gear in order, ready for the next trip and the next gig.

The DIS guys have booked another van today with Rob, an old road dog and professional roadie at the helm. Rob’s van has a big trailer with it too and he’s an old hand when it comes to crossing the Mexican border in Tijuana, today’s destination. First time playing Mexico, can’t wait. We stop on the way out of town for some pretty rank quesadillas at Del Taco before carrying on to the border. It’s pretty fucking hot out today, if it’s like this in Tijuana it’s going to be a sweaty gig. The journey south doesn’t take much more than a couple of hours, a chunk of it is spent watching some old animated Superman cartoon on the tv screen in the van. It must be from the 80’s, it’s a film length episode featuring two Supermen; the original chisel jawed hero we all know and love, and then another alter ego who is all blue in the face and yellow eyed, Big Jon dubs him Partyman since he looks like a crack addict. There is no sound on the monitor so to the delight of us all Big Jon provides hilarious dubbing. We spend most of the way to the Mexican border laughing. When the laughter dies down Big Jon and I discover that we share a love of Twin Peaks and spend the rest of the way talking about the new series.

The border is a piece of piss. Rob knows a quieter crossing than the main one from San Diego which saves us a lot of time. The sight of Tijuana on the other side of the border as you approach it coming down the hill from San Diego always gets me. On the one side you’ve got a big open highway and on the other just a sprawl of houses and that huge Mexican flag in the middle of it. The crossing we take is indeed calm and we drive right up to it, no queue ahead. We stop and Rob gets out and has a quick chat with the cops. They ask him what we have in the boxes and I think for a minute we’re going to get busted for a carne on the shirts and records but they’re not arsed. A cop opens the back door and asks us all to turn around, then she takes a quick photo of us, smiles and closes the door, and with that we’re off. On the other side of the road there is an endless line of cars stood still, queueing to get into the States. Quite the contrast.

As we drive into the outskirts of Tijuana about ten minutes later the DIS guys are pointing things out on the streets and generally taking the piss, much to our amusement. In the middle of it all, Big Jon, who is in the middle of most of the banter, points at a huge billboard on a hill and shouts gleefully, “Is that Brad Pitt?!” In unison our eyes cast to where Jon’s finger is pointing and sure enough there is a chuffed looking Brad Pitt, with the cheapest looking photoshop of a huge moustache and sombrero on his bonnet. Doubt they sought old Brad’s permission for that fucker. We all piss ourselves laughing and the two Jon’s laughter tickle the fuck out of me and have me cracking up for the next ten minutes.

Rob locates the venue, which by all accounts is a small bar, and then parks the van and trailer in a parking lot across the road, saying he’ll stay with the van during our stay in the city. As soon as you get out of the van the smell of heavenly food hits you. It seems to be everywhere. We walk over to the bar, which is called Mous Tache, and find it closed, so we head into the bar beside, which is some small, rustic, sports bar with a few tables outside and we order a few beers. I feel a bit bad for Johan because I get the feeling he’s not entirely comfortable. He has a hard time dealing with situations and places he’s not in control of. Hopefully it will ease up for him. The beer tastes pretty good anyway. Well, no, it doesn’t really taste of that much at all, but being sat in the sun drinking the cold beverage is still a pretty decent gig. Shaun order a plate of cheesy fries and everyone piles in, it’s literally a plate of fries swimming in a runny cheese sauce. Disgustingly marvelous.

After the beer we take a walk up to the famous Revolution Street, which is parallel to the one we’re on. I say famous, I’d never heard of it, but Bruce had been giddily telling me all about it, saying about some of the things you see up there that you wouldn’t believe. Most of it sounds like stuff none of us would either want to believe or see. The tamest of it are the donkeys painted as zebras and being paraded for money. We see a couple of them and the Swedish contingency gather in pity for the poor things. Revolution Street is fucking nuts though. Just the fucking noise is intense, there are sounds blasting out of every single establishment along length of it. It’s not just music, it’s whistles and cars, police sirens, people shouting. Just fucking mental. And it’s early Sunday evening. Can’t imagine what this place is like on a Saturday night. It probably doesn’t make any difference what day of the week it is.

We’re all up for another beer and some snacks so after a lap up and down the street we end up getting sucked into a place by some old boy with a menu, shouting something in a mix of English and Spanish at us. Luckily Henry is of El Salvadorian heritage and can speak the lingo and he sorts things out. The bar is a big club that actually resembles a building site. The ground floor is simply a dancefloor in a state of decomposition and obviously not in use, and the upper floor where we’re lead to is pretty much the same story, but with an open veranda with high tables on the edge overlooking the street. There is some manic little guy with a squint eye serving tables, which is only our table and one other, running around with a whistle in his mouth, which is his way of communicating over the music that is blasting out of the sound system in here. We order some beers and nachos from him and we’ve barely got the order done before he runs off. Right nutter. The food, and even more so the cold bottles of Pacifico’s are banging. I enjoy chatting with Henry as we chow down, he tells me about his upbringing with El Salvadoran parents and life in LA, and also about his job. He’s been on the booze since I met him a couple of days ago basically and doesn’t seem to be letting up. “Oh man, tomorrow at work is gonna suck man! And I sell marijuana for a living!” Turns out he’s the main driver for a medical marijuana company.

Whilst we’re sat up on the veranda we spot our friend Luzen, the singer of Bio Crisis, who played with us last night and are also playing tonight. They’re from here and Luzen is the guy booking the show. One of the DIS guys shouts across the street to him and when he turns around and spots us up on the veranda just smirks to himself. “Of all the places in Tijuana you guys choose this place!” he laughs when he arrives at our table. He tells us that we can load into the venue now anyway so when we’re done with the drinks we call Whistler over and he comes running across with the bill.

We walk back down to the venue where Rob meets us with the van and we load in. The bar is tiny, and just as I’m wondering where the fuck we’re going to play Luzen opens up the door to the back yard where there is a low stage set up in a little space under the open sky. It looks ace. Basically playing in the little back garden of the bar. There is a staircase leading up the wall of the building behind the stage and up there we climb and take a bird's eye view of the city, ample opportunity for some nice band pics. This is quite a place. Even up here, the noise from Revolution Street is pounding. I ask Luzen how many people he’s expecting tonight and he says for a Sunday night he’ll be happy with fifty, sixty people. That would be enough to create a good enough atmosphere here in this little space. Luzen tells me that a big band on a weekend would pull around one hundred fifty people here, which I guess is about the size of the Tijuana scene. Still, when you think about it, playing to fifty people in Tijuana is fifty more than I ever thought I’d play to.

The first band of the night is a two piece d-beat band called Cánidos. They play pretty straight forward but do it really good, they just have that something extra about them that’s hard to pinpoint. The vocals are super aggressive and the guitarist/vocalist stands on the ground in front of the stage and just fucking kills it. Real fun to watch, and everyone in Victims has a good time doing so. They have the odd sludgy riff thrown in here and there too which they work into it really well. Nice start to the night simply put. Andy and I go up to the guitarist afterwards and ask him what the name of the band is and tell him how much we liked it and he looks totally chuffed.

It’s that time of the night when it’s time to decide whether or not to eat before the gig. Andy is thinking the same thing and we decide to go grab a quick bite somewhere. I ask Johan if he wants to come with and he nods, but says maybe we should get one of the locals to come with us. I tell him I think it will be okay and we’ll go somewhere nearby. I ask Luzen and he tells us about a place that does good veggie tacos just back up on Revolution Street so we head there, it’s only a five minute walk away. I have a couple of tofu tacos which hit the spot. The girl working there gets talking to us and after asking where we’re from starts telling us how much she loves Sweden, says she’s been there a bunch of times. Really friendly girl. We walk back down to the venue and laugh at the fact that the taxis here beep at you as they pass, as way of telling you they’re free. Everything in this town seems to be competing in the din of noise.

We miss the second band Bonebreaker, which Jon says were amazing and keeps banging on about how good looking the bass player was, “He was one of those fuckers that make you ashamed of yourself”. Don’t know how many times he tells me this. That and how the band were a cross between Terror and Trash Talk. He also nods to a big buff guys stood behind him, he’s set up shop just behind our merch table, selling an array of bootleg punk shirts, among them a couple of proper shit looking Victims shirts. He says to us, “I don’t know what we should do about that?” I take a look at the size of the big bastard and conclude that there is fuck all we can do about it.

Luzen’s band Bio Crisis play third on the bill and again I really enjoy watching them. I missed them last night, missed all the bands last night due to the size of the tiny room the gig was in, and Cooky was telling me afterwards how much he liked them. I can see why. Again no bassist, just two guitars, a drummer and Luzen on vocals. The one guitarist has a double amp set up though, I think anyway, and some pedals that take care of the bass sound in the band. They play epic d-beat, kinda like Envy playing hardcore punk, which is not always my bag but I really enjoy this. It’s really well executed with a ton of killer riffs and Luzen has a great voice. It’s set off really nicely by the dark blue and red stage lighting under the night sky too. And there are indeed about fifty or sixty people here now and it looks decent enough.

The DIS boys are on before us and I crack up as soon as I see them setting up. They’re all there except Henry who appears a couple of minutes later, walking across the stage grinning and letting out a, “Whoooooooo!” I haven’t seen him for a few hours but he’s obviously been hitting the sauce. I think maybe a couple of the others have too, they all seem pretty chuffed anyway. Big Jon gives the nod and they start. Henry is stood in the middle of the stage, Jon off it in the crowd. Henry has one of those chuffed faces that just kinda looks wasted all the time, his eyes half closed and his grin barely able to contain itself. He does all the guitar soloing in the band and goes sporadically nuts on the old whammy bar, giving it the full on Slayer treatment. Even pissed up he pulls it off pretty well. We all piss ourselves though at one point during a song when we look up and see he’s stopped playing and is just stood there taking a huge swig of beer from a forty bottle while the rest of the band play on, not giving a piss. When he finally joins back in with the rest the band there’s only another thirty seconds or so of the song left. Fucking love him. It’s fun watching the guys play in this very cool venue and for a while I climb up the rickety steel staircase above the stage and watch them from up there, taking photos, trying to get both the stage and the city backdrop on the other side of the surrounding walls in the frame. Can’t say I’ve ever played in a venue like this before.

We set up as quick as we can after DIS are done. It’s an early show tonight, Luzen wants it over by eleven, which suits us fine since we have to get up at six to catch a flight to Mexico City in the morning, and Luzen is starting work at seven. We’re staying at his place so it all works out well. Anyway, a little with that in mind we’re eager to get on with things. It’s a very fun stage to play and the small Sunday night crowd get more and more lively as the set progresses. Jon gives a shout out to the Mexican president for taking the piss out of Donald Trump, tonight’s intro for We’re Fucked. He cracks me up too when near the end of the set he thanks everyone for coming out on a Sunday night to see us and tells them that we have “official merch” for sale at the back of the yard. I have a good time playing tonight, have lots of energy. It’s great to see the two brand new songs in the set are going down really well, especially the slower one of the two. Before we played it tonight I was contemplating whether we should leave it out as the crowd hadn’t been all that lively up until that point but that song ended up being the one the seemed to kick the crowd off. It is pretty driving I guess, even if it is a lot slower than the rest of the set. Right at the end of the gig, before the last two, I spot some boots and braces skinhead in the crowd who is shouting “Tijuana skins” at Andy. At first I think there’s trouble on the go but it seems more like he sees Andy as a compatriot, much to my amusement. The skinhead goes mental in the mosh as we end with Killing and This is the End.

After the gig we stand around chatting with people for a while, cooling off in the night air. I get talking to a couple of different people from San Diego who tell me that they come down to shows in Tijuana pretty regularly. They just leave their cars at the border and walk over the bridge. Simple as shit. One of the guys is English, from Plymouth and he’s shocked to hear I’m a Brit too. We chat for a good while, he tells me he hates England and never wants to go back. I’ve heard it, and said it before, probably a lot around the time I was his age, but it’s mellowed in me now. I know where he’s coming from though. Plymouth is a nice enough town, but it’s not exactly San Diego.

When everything is packed up we do a photo session with the DIS guys. It’s been really fun hanging out with them and they’ve been so great to us arranging the vans and lending us their equipment. Truly lovely guys and it’s been an absolute pleasure. We stand around chatting for a bit, laughing at Big Jon barking at us, calling us Dad-beat as the three of us and Shaun from DIS show each other photos of our kids. Big Jon, who is in the process of splitting up with his wife contemplates, “Better than fucking Divorce-beat I guess,” and we all laugh together for one last time before they head off into the Tijuana night to do whatever they’re going to do before heading home back across the border. Gonna miss those guys.

We take a quick beer with Luzen in the bar, enjoying the quiet, kind of quiet, before sharing an Uber back to his place. He lives in one of the cheaper parts of town with his roommate, the street his house is on is more of a dirt road back alley. His house is nice and spacious though, all stone floors. He has a really cute dog called Misty, some reddish brown Staffordshire mix maybe, who is really happy to see us. I open my bag to get my pyjama bottoms out and she plonks herself in my open bag, panting at me. Doesn’t look like the smartest dog but she’s absolutely lovely.

Early show or not, it’s still gone one by the time we get to lay ourselves down in the backroom of Luzen’s place, three of take mattresses on the floor whilst Jon lays himself down on some quilts in the hallway. I feel knackered. I wish we weren’t flying so early in the morning.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Los Angeles

I woke around eight am and there was no sign or signal from the DIS guys yet. They weren’t knocking on the door and I hadn’t got any message from them. I didn’t have any internet on my phone though so I guess messaging me would have been hard since Kyle didn’t have my phone number. I head downstairs to the reception area in search of coffee, which I’d been told yesterday would be available. And it was. The only trouble was it tasted like water and had was a mild shade of brown in colour. I poured myself a styrofoam cup of the piss and went outside to look around. I parked myself on a bench on a lawn out the back the hotel that stood beside the Oakland estuary. Quite a nice view and peaceful just being sat there on my own. The coffee got thrown after a couple of sips though. I love weak American coffee but this stuff was taking the piss.

I walked back along the water in search of a Starbucks or anything that would serve me something that at least pretended to have been infused with a coffee bean but found nothing and headed back. Still no sign of the DIS guys. I stand there looking at the tiny pool in front of the hotel, it has to be the least inviting tub I’ve ever seen. It’s tiny, you could swim the length of it in a few strokes and it’s about as deep as a puddle. “No Diving” a sign says on the wall beside it. I’m not sure if that’s a joke or not. I can’t help thinking back to the holiday we just had and how even Polly would have had a hard time entertaining herself in this thing. As I’m stood there looking at it some hungover looking lady comes stoating across to me and seems to be asking me why the back light on her car keeps flashing. I tell her I’m no mechanic and woefully ill equipped to help her in such matters. She walks off saying she’ll just get in the thing and drive it, talking to herself the whole way to her car. On the way back up to the room some skinny, disheveled young guy with a big scar across his eyebrow asks me if I’m from the metal festival in town and asks me how many people were at it. I tell him that I was there yesterday and that it was good fun. He smiles, a little guilt in it, and says, “Nah man, I’m just needing to sell some weed”. I tell him I’m sure he’ll find some customers there.

The DIS guys turn up in the van around nine. Henry, the cheeky looking guitarist, looks hungover to piss, he’s still smiling though. The van is a long minibus although there are eleven of us travelling in it and there is barely any room for all of our gear and cases. It takes us a good while to cram everything into the van although it’s on the point of bursting, there are guitar cases under feet and drums in the aisles. Everything packed and us with it, like a can of sardines, Kyle asks where Bruce, the other guitarist is. He was sleeping here apparently. Kyle calls him and I can tell there is some grumbling going on. Bruce appears about five minutes later carrying two guitar cases, a bag, a pair of sunglasses and what is obviously a stinker of a hangover. When he approaches the open side door of the van he barrels into Kyle who sat nearest, “What happened to my warning? You were supposed to call when you were on your way!” He’s seems pretty pissed, maybe a bit embarrassed. Then he grunts, “Pack my shit in the van and I’ll be back in a minute”. Kyle looks at him and there is silence for a few seconds, and then simply says, almost laughing, “No”. “Alright I’ll be back in a minute”, Bruce mumbles and walks off. The van bursts into laughter at that. Jon, the singer, is a jovial big guy, full of bluster and a bit of a comic by the impression I get, “What the fuck? Who the fuck does he thing he is, Bruce Trump?!” Again more laughter. Takes me back to the Speedhorn days the way these guys take the piss out of each other. Fuck knows how we’re getting Bruce’s guitars in the van though.

When he comes back a few minutes later carrying another smaller bag the tone has changed a little and we help him tetris his stuff into the van. He turns to us and apologies for being late. We head off onto the highway, or freeway, or whatever the fuck it is, and begin the six hour journey to Los Angeles. Within five minutes exited and stopped in a parking lot because Henry needs to get out and puke. As he’s doing so Bruce moves up front, pinching Henry’s shotgun position. When Henry comes back he’s smiling but that soon dilutes when he sees Bruce in his seat. They bicker over that for a while as we drive off, Henry finally concluding, “Well alright man, if you want me to be sick in here then it’s up to you”. Five minutes later he’s chugging a huge quart of Coors Lite. I’m really starting to like these guys.

We pull up again a while later for a breakfast/lunch stop at a Denny’s. When we get out of the van I ask Henry if he’s feeling better now. “Ah yeah dude, now I’m drunk again”, he says, looking totally chuffed. There is something about that grin on his podgy latino face that just makes you want to laugh. I love people who are as chuffed as he is. The eleven of us sit down to some pretty standard Denny’s grub, but the girl serving us is great, running around taking the eleven of us on, sharing in the banter with us the whole time. It’s nice sitting down to eat with the guys, feels like a proper breaking of the ice since last night there wasn’t really much chance for that. I met Kyle last week in LA so we’ve had a but of contact but the other guys I had no idea about. When we leave Denny’s Kyle takes over the wheel and Shaun the drummer takes his seat in the back next to Henry. A while down the road Henry starts mumbling that he’s lost the top from his beer bottle and they start looking around for it, Shaun helping him. Shaun looks up at Henry as he’s helping him rummage around on the floor and laughs, “Dude! Your eyes aren’t even open!” The whole van erupts into laughter, except Bruce, who sat up front with his cap over his face, trying to sleep.

We arrive in Los Angeles a few hours, and a few stops later and head to Shaun’s house in the valley. It’s around five pm and we don’t have to be at the venue until nine. The plan is to hang around here for a way and relax before heading off. Shaun has a really nice house on a quiet street, he even has a pool in the back. He tells us that he shares it with his dad but it’s a pretty good setup they have going on here. Andy, Johan and I feel the need to stretch our legs so we decide to take a walk and grab some beers and snacks. We walk for quite a way along Oxnard eventually stopping at a liquor store. It’s nice with the walk. I grab a six pack of Session IPA and a three pack of kecks, since I’d miscalculated how many I’d need and was almost out. Never ceases to amaze me, how items of consumption seamlessly cross barriers between different outlets in the US. You can buy booze at the chemist, kecks at the liquor store, and guns at the clothes store. Weird fucking country.

We head back to Shaun’s place and find the two Jon’s on their way out to buy some weed. Our Jon says he’ll meet us later. We head inside and see the other guys out back lounging around at a table by the pool. I walk through the living room to make my out to the backyard and find a heavy set woman sat on a sofa looking at the tv. I say hello to her, but she just stares at me. I repeat myself but still get nothing back. She has a weird look on her face, kind of feel like I’m in a Lynch film for a second. I realise that the woman is Shaun’s dad. She finally gives me a welcoming smile and I carry on through to the patio. The pool is covered, which is a little disappointing, but it’s getting dark anyway and it’s not all that warm if I’m being realistic. There is a definite drop in temperature here when the sun goes down. I sit down to a beer and spot Johan coming through the living room. He walks straight into the screen door, bang, right in the fucking coupon. I stifle a scream of laughter as he staggers back a little stunned, “It was closed”, is all he can muster. Given the go ahead of Johan himself smiling, I burst out laughing. The screen door has proper come of it’s rails though, it’s just kinda hanging there. Right fucking brass. Shaun and his dad assist him as he puts the thing back in place.

Kyle’s girlfriend Adrienne is here and she’s telling us all the fires up in NoCal. Her hometown Santa Rosa has been all over the news and it’s devastating hearing her tell us about how her family and their homes have been fucked by it. She had a motorbike shop up there and she lost a few bikes. And plenty of others have lost their homes, and their lives. The scenes on the news are a fucking horror show. I came pretty close up to it last week, when me, Jen and Polly were driving from Orange County over to Joshua Tree. There was a brush fire there we got caught right in the middle of it. The interstate we were on was closed down and we ended up getting sucked right into it. Needing to fill the car with petrol we had no choice but to stop at a gas station. As Jen was inside paying for the gas, I was stood there filling the car up whilst the sky above was black and there were ashes falling on the car roof. The staff from the garage came and told us we had to get out and by the time we exited the place the fire was in the fields opposite us. It was truly fucking bizarre. They were evacuating people from the town as well as animals from the local zoo. It was a tough fucking task hiding my fear from Polly who was sat in the back wondering what the fuck was going on.

After a couple of beers and taste of rum that Henry has pulled from Shaun’s garage we head off to the gig. First we have to swing by DIS’s practice space, which is in a huge complex of practice rooms owned by former Megadeth guitarist Chris Poland. Kyle tells me it’s the biggest practice room complex in LA. There are about four or five floors of rooms and there must be about fifty or so rooms per floor. Anyway, after loading the gear into a couple of cars we head off to the gig. We take a lift in Shaun’s SUV, white knuckling it at times as he tears up the road. Just seems to be the way they drive over here but there are points along the journey where I can feel my arsehole properly tensing up. The tension is tamed at least by the chat we have with Shaun as he drives, telling us about his job and his family situation with his dad and his own kid, who he gets to see at weekends. He seems like a really good guy and it’s nice chatting about our kids and stuff, even if I’m sat there at times hoping to fuck I’ll see mine again.

We get to the venue which is in a residential area of Pasadena. The place is an old barbershop that has been converted into a punk compound. The actual shop space now acts as the gig room, which is pretty tiny with only the floor for a stage. In the backyard area they have a hangout area where bands are selling merch, with another little room between the yard and gig room where a record player is spinning and punks are smoking weed. I wonder how the hell they get away with putting gigs on here, since there are houses just behind the place but Gerzain tells me the first band is already playing and amazingly you can’t hear a peep. Some pretty bizarre sound insulation going on there.

Our good friend Cooky, a fellow expat and former cog in the Boston Indian Queen scene is here. He’s been here for a couple of hours apparently, sat in his car looking at his phone. He didn’t expect to arrive so early and says that the area is a bit sketchy. It’s great to see his big friendly face as always anyway. He helps us load the gear in and when we’re done he drives me, Andy and Johan to get some food. Jon stays by the merch, having a drink and chatting away. The short trip and meal with Cooky gives us a bit of a chance to catch up. As we’re sat there finishing up the last of our food at the Panda Express, another old friend, Joe, texts me and says he’s heading to the venue, says he’ll be there in five minutes. I’m pretty surprised since he was going to a wedding today and I didn’t think he’d make it, or that this would really be his scene. Not wanting to leave him there stranded we head off to meet him outside the venue.

When we get back Joe is waiting around outside. You would never know that the place was a punk venue since there is no sign on the completely anonymous door with white paint peeling off it. Joe meets us with that same old, mellow smile of his, the New Yorker in him smothered by years of the easy going Californian lifestyle. We all hang outside chatting for a little while until three punks walk up to us and start enthusiastically telling us how much they like the band. Tell us they’ve driven over from Compton. They almost seem a bit star struck, which feels pretty weird for us. Joe just stands there smiling broadly. We decide to head into the backyard of the gig and hang out there instead. As soon as I walk in I clock Jon’s smile, it’s almost screaming at me with excitement. He comes up to me, “That’s Pinkerton, right?” referring to Joe. By which he means the Weezer record which Joe recorded. Jon is almost hopping with excitement, “He came in a while ago asking for you, and I told him you’d gone for food. I hope I didn’t sound like an asshole!” Jon has been waiting to meet my friend Joe for a long time and can barely contain himself. For all of Joe’s status in the music business, at least to those in the know, he’s the sweetest, most humble guy you could meet. He’d met Jen long before I met him when he recorded and mixed a couple of Speedhorn records. I’ll never forget the first meeting with him at the studio, “So who’s the guy who’s together with Jen from Misdemeanor?” When I told him that that was me he hugged me and said, “Your girlfriend's band rules man!” I’ve had a great affection for the guy ever since.

I spend most of the next couple of hours chatting with him over a couple of beers. He shows me a couple of pics of Polly from when he took the girls out for some sushi last night on what was their last night of holiday before heading home today, tells me he had a great time hanging out with them. I see Jon tentatively inching his way towards us through the crowd, rubbing his hands with glee. “I’m really sorry, but I’ve been dying to meet you”, he tells Joe and the next thing he has his camera out and shunts it at me. I take a pic of them, Joe grinning, Jon with gaping open mouth pointing at him. Jon settles down a little and we stand around telling stories for a while before Jon starts grilling him on all the records he worked on. “Sorry, but am I right, did you work on Action is Go by Fu Manchu?” Joe tells him he worked in both that and King of the Road, at which Jon turns his back and strides away a couple of feet before stopping and standing there with his back to us, “Jag orrrrrkaaaaar inte!” he screams. I give Joe a look to assure him this is standard fare with the tit.

As the night creeps along and our scheduled eleven pm slot time becomes a thing of distant memory I can tell Joe is starting to become a little pensive of the time, I know he’s up early tomorrow. I tell him it’s okay if he has to go but he says he’ll stick around for a few songs at least. It’s almost one by the time we’re ready to start. I give him a hug and tell him I’ll catch him next time and when the feedback comes on the small room fills up like a decompression tank and I see Joe no more.

The gig is an absolute blast. There is barely any room to move and I have Gerzain, our good friend who has booked the show practically hanging on my back the entire show. What can you say, from playing a huge stage yesterday to eight hundred people to playing a tiny room of one hundred and twenty, packed to the walls, today. I know which of these two scenarios I prefer. Andy seems to be having a shit time of it for some reason though, I can’t figure that one out. Half way through the set I shout over to him, “Andy, smile for fuck sakes!” but he just shakes his head. The crazier the crowd get the more the gloom lifts on his face though and we power through the rest of the set. By the time we end with This is the End, Gerzain is beyond me and in a pile with a bunch of other, Cooky amongst them, screaming along with Johan to the choruses. Andy has cheered up enough to even play an extra song, even if Jon almost fucks it by shouting over to him about not fucking it up, since Andy has had a couple of whoopsies with this song the last couple of shows, but Andy barrels through it and it’s a great end to the gig. When we’re done Andy tells me that he’s stretched something in his back at the start of the set and he’s been in pain with it the whole time. I feel pretty bad for telling him to smile now. Poor Tallsy, he’s had some grief with his back through drumming all these years.

We hang out for a while, taking photos with chuffed punks and signing records. But as nice as it is hanging out, time is running away with us. It’s almost two and we still have to take the gear back to the studio before driving an hour or so over to Bruce’s place where we’re sleeping tonight. His place is about halfway to the show in Tijuana tomorrow, which is decent, but it’s still going to be fuck knows o’clock by the time we get to bed. Bruce had been hyping up hard rock karaoke at his place to me yesterday, can’t see that happening somehow. We pack the gear into the cars and me and Jon take a ride with Jon DIS and Bruce. Straight away Bruce starts lobbying to head back to his place direct, since the car is full with stuff that is coming with us tomorrow anyway but it turns out that Jon has the keys to the practice space and the other guys can’t get in. Bummed out, they head off in the direction of the practice space, Jon driving fast as fuck saying he needs weed. He doesn’t drink and he’s dying to get back to Bruce’s place for a smoke.

After dropping the gear we head off down the highway to Bruce’s place. Not long into the journey we hit stand still traffic on the interstate. Even at this fucking time of the morning there’s no escaping it. Seems like there’s been an accident and the cops have closed all the lanes. We’re right at the front of it though so by the time Jon, our Jon, has gotten out and taken a gigantic piss on the side of the road, much to the amusement of Jon DIS, Big Jon, and Bruce, we’re moving again as soon as the police have cleared the road. As we fly along the highway Jon and I chat away in the back, Jon laughing hysterically at times, and it’s almost five by the time we get back to Bruce’s place. Which is fucking huge. I find the first available spot and lay myself down in it. I’m glad we’re not leaving until early afternoon tomorrow.