Tuesday, June 25, 2019

St. Petersburg

The first time I ever saw Kev was at the Willow Room in Corby. I must have been sixteen, I guess. Our friend Roddy had booked an all day show there and one of the main bands was this lot he knew from Nottingham, they were called Hard to Swallow. I’d never heard of them before. Nobody had, I guess, since it was their first ever show. I had no idea what to expect. There were five or six of them in the band, quite a bit older looking than us, and they all looked hard as fuck. Like, proper “don’t fuck with us” types. What caught my attention more than anything, though, was the fact that they had two singers. One of them had red spiky hair and these intense eyes, he looked totally unhinged as he stood there waiting for the gig to start. When they did begin, all hell broke loose. It was manic, spastic hardcore and the singer with the spiky red hair and intense eyes was completely freaking out as he screamed into the mic, like, completely all over the place, as if he was recieving an unholy series of electric shocks. This, I would soon find out, was Bloody Kev. I could have no idea then, of course, how interlocked our futures would become.

Weird thing is, for some reason an argument kicked off between the Nottingham crew and a bunch of Corby twats at the gig and the HTS van ended up getting rocks and eggs thrown at it as they dashed off after the show. Fuck knows what that was all about.

Anyway, that gig was the first major turning point in my life. I’d never heard such brutal sounding hardcore punk before, I’d never seen a band play so viciously on stage before, and I’d never seen a band with two singers. I didn’t even know that was a thing. It changed the way I thought about music and it inspired us later on to have Speedhorn as a dual vocal band. I’d never have imagined for a second back then that Kev would later on become one of those two singers, and one of my best mates. I’d also come to learn that Kev is blind as a bat and without glasses or contact lenses has a weird, intense eye thing going on. Although the person on stage is a projection of who he is in a sense. He is fucking mental at times. In a good way. Most of the time.

As interlocked as our futures would become, playing in the same bands and touring the world together, becoming really close friends and all, there is another weird connection between Kev and I. We share the same birthday. Exactly ten years apart. Although me telling everyone that last little detail hasn’t always been thoroughly popular with Kev. Although we’ve known each other for almost twenty years, we’ve rarely spent our birthday together. There was the one time we were on tour and had a day off in Ljubljana, which turned fucking epic, due to us finding a bar serving vicious cocktails for about 50 pence a pop. Other than that, I usually just wake up to a text message on the morning of the day, “Happy birthday cunty”, or something to that measure. Last year, though, was different. It was my fortieth, which meant of course, Kev’s fiftieth. Ninety fucking years between the two of us! There was no way my wife, or our friends, were going to let that one go by without a party.

As much as Kev said he didn’t want any fuss, Jen sorted a really nice do for us here at our place. She made this great bar in the entrance to our garage around the back of the house and we had a parking lot party with a whole bunch of friends. Kev told me it was the best birthday he’d ever had, which made me really happy. What really blew me away though, was that Jen had arranged with all of our friends to buy us a trip to St. Petersburg. Flights and hotels all taken care of. I couldn’t believe it. I’ve had a bit of an obsession with Russia for a long time, and I’m always banging on to the Victims guys about going to play there since we get gig offers all the time, but it never happens. Although if those guys thought that chipping in for this trip for us was going to quench that particular thirst, they’d be mistaken.

I don’t really know what it is with Russia. It’s actually Eastern Europe in general. I think it started when I was a football obsessed kid and found all the teams from the east, with these exotic sounding names like Lokomotiv, CSKA, Spartak et. al really fascinating. And then as I got older and interested in history and social politics the interest in the east just grew. To be finally going to Russia was something I couldn’t quite get my head around as my daughter Polly presented us with the present in front of all our smiling friends. Felt like fucking crying.

Of course, it’s Russia. It was never going to be simple. I was aware that you needed a visa to get in, and that it wasn’t just a matter of turning up in your holiday best and wafting your passport. Although there were some pretty mental required fields on the application, like your parents jobs, your social media accounts, dates and locations of every trip you’ve made over the last ten years, your last three passport numbers, a print out of an official invitation from the hotel you’re staying at… it didn’t take all that long to suss out. You then had to print out the form and make an appointment with the Russian visa office and send off your original passport with the application, if the interview at the visa office was deemed to have gone well. Kev had a look on some internet chat boards and found some Russians saying about how the Russians like making it particularly awkward for Americans and Brits when travelling to their country since we make it so hard for them when the shoe is on the other foot. Fair enough, I guess. There was one little moment at the end of my interview, though. After going through the form, speaking about what our intentions with the tip was etc, the woman asked for my passport and bank card to pay for the visa, which would cost 350 kronors. When she saw my British passport she said, without even a hint of a smirk, “Oh, you’re British citizen. Then it costs more. 1300 kronors”. Fucking arse. Next time I go at least I’ll be carrying a Swedish passport…

Jen felt a little bad about the fact that she'd booked Kev on an early flight out of Gatwick, but there were no direct flights from London to St. Petersburg, so Kev was going to meet me at Arlanda for a flight from here. I assured Jen that Kev was used to travelling early. He always goes for the piss cheap flights with Ryanair or whoever when he’s travelling, which usually entails getting up at the arse end of dawn. As I expected, he looked perfectly perky when I met him by passport control, despite the fact he’d left home at three am. Sometimes it feels like there's been a mix up somewhere with our dates of birth. The energy he has puts me to fucking shame at times.

As we sat there on the plane, waiting to taxi, we were going through the plans we had for the weekend. We’d hopefully get to the hotel around four pm, which should leave us plenty of time to explore some stuff tonight. The thing that’s great about Kev is that he’s a perfect holiday match for me. We like doing the same things, namely: walking, looking at obscure shit, looking at old building, punk rock, art, veggie food. In the Speedhorn days we’d always fuck off together if we had a day somewhere, leaving the rest of the lads to sit and stew in the van. We decided that tonight we’d simply just walk, no particular aim, just walk and look at St. Petersburg. Jen had booked us a hotel which seemed to be in the middle of everything, so from there we could just explore and then find some decent dinner somewhere later on. The next day we had a hook up with a guide, some guy called Krzys who was an acquaintance through the punk scene. Jeff from Hello Bastards had met him when they played here last year, and he’d told him about us coming. Apparently he was up for showing us around the real St. Petersburg. Seemed like a great plan.

We’d barely left the ground, still in the very first stages of the climb to the clouds, when a rank smell wafted our way. I looked around, assuming someone had dropped their guts, but couldn’t locate the source. Then I noticed a few rows ahead and across the aisle, some old pair chomping on hard boiled eggs. The dirty bastards. Fucking stinking the place out. Kev looked at me and laughed, chuffed, “Fucking different rules where we’re going Gaz!”

The flight over was just over an hour, really just a hop over the Baltic. Funny but Russia always seems so far away, but I guess that has more to do with just a false geographical perception. As we came into land we flew in low over what I guessed was some suburb of the city. I’ve never seen compact living like it in my life. Just gigantic blocks, long row upon row upon row of tower block buildings. It seemed to sprawl on forever, an ocean of grey. It matched perfectly the picture of Russia portrayed in the Moodysson film, Lilja 4 Ever.

Obviously, the positive side of going through the whole rigmarole with the visa application was that there was barely any fuss at customs once we landed. The stern looking young woman in the uniform glanced at my passport and then waved me through. No smiles. Not that I was expecting any. We jumped in a cab, taking heed of the warning we’d been given about booking it through the official desk inside the airport. It was about a twenty minute trip. The driver was this huge wrestler looking guy with a neck the width of the Volga, Kev noticed he had some tattoo on his wrist which signalled that he belonged to some secret society, or Kabbalah, that he was aware of. Much more Kev’s domain than mine, all I knew was that I wouldn’t fuck with the guy.

The hotel was indeed right in the middle of the city, within walking distance of the Winter Palace and the Church of the Saviour on Blood. First impressions were good. I kind of expected no less, given that Jen had booked the hotel. I can sleep in a squat or in a five star hotel, I’m happy either way. Jen, though, has left that attitude behind her as the years have passed, she feels she’s done enough of the sleeping rough game and has made peace with herself that now we’re entering the maturer years of our lives and we can afford it, only four star and above will do. All the same, I wasn’t expecting complimentary champagne at check in. Kev was nigh on astounded, “Fuckin hell Gaz, Jen has got good taste!” he chirped as he swilled the bubbles down his throat. As if the trip alone wasn’t enough, this hotel was a really wonderful gesture on top.

After chilling out in our room for an hour, Kev observing all the little luxuries about the place like hand wipes and free nuts, as well as dubiously reading the information channel on the TV which gave helpful tips about how to react in the face of a terrorist attack or bomb strike, we head out into the late afternoon, ready to explore St. Petersburg.

The first thing that struck us was how European the city looked, and felt. I know that the city was built by Peter the Great with the intention of rivaling the great cities of Europe that he so admired, but I still expected to feel more of a Russian vibe to the place, whatever that may be. But the long avenues could have easily belonged to Berlin, Paris or London. The colours were different, though, somehow. An array of fantastical, shiny greens and blues, and the golden domes on the buildings, as if the city was a display of grandeur at the entrance gate to this vast land to the east. Which I guess was old Pete’s very idea. But the young people swarming the streets looked every bit as free, easy and modern as their west european counterparts. But we soon began to notice small hints of the Soviet shadow, creeping through the cracks of the gleaming streets. There were souvenir shops everywhere, literally hundreds of them, all of them selling Russian dolls and small, cheap Fabergé eggs. What especially caught the eye was that every shop seemed to sell Putin posters of t-shirts, in all forms of display, but not seldom with his top off fighting a bear or doing something else “manly”. I wanted to take a photo of it, but for some reason felt the need to do that inconspicuously, as if I’d be adjudged to be taking the piss, which of course, I kind of would have been. I don’t know why but I got the feeling that rocking up in Russia and taking the piss out of Putin wasn’t the best idea. On this topic, I started laughing to myself after recalling a song Kev made up about Putin one time: I boofed Pootins mum, it wasn’t up the bum. Pootins ma son, Pootins ma son.

Probably best left unrecited in our present location, too.

We walked along to the magnificent Blood Church, which was only about ten minutes away, finding it to be exactly as you’ve seen it on the hundreds of images in the media. Only the protective covering on the spire took the shine off of things a little. Kev complained, saying it looked like a big fucking sock. But still, the building was incredible. Pretty fucked up when you think about it, how much these holy buildings must have cost to build, all shiny gold and shit, whilst the peasants inside them praying had fuck all. We had a look around inside and viewed some amazing artworks, shuffling around in hushed reverence, and then carried on walking. It was the perfect weather for a stroll, and the light was eerily dampened by the slowly setting sun. We walked for the next four hours. With no particular aim, we didn’t need one.

First we came to the river, where we found a bunch of old stereo parts sat on the stone wall guarding the water. Just left there. It was a strange contrast with the otherwise spotlessly clean streets. Then we walked over one of the long bridges and found ourselves, unbeknownst at first, in the Fortress of Peter and Paul. By the time we got there the light was perfect, just a dark blue as the last of the sun's rays lit the yellow tower of the main church in the square. There were very few people there beside us, leaving the place almost silent. It was a fantastic experience, hard to put into words. The various statues of Peter, the weird looking tall bloke with the small head and the fetish with dwarves, he really did seem like a proper fiend. The statues of rabbits everywhere, as well as the busts of the countries favourite sons and revolutionaries. I could have walked around there all night. It was simply breathtaking. But there was so much more to see, and so little time.

We walked back across the river via another of the bridges, which brought us right into the heart of the Palace Square, home of the beautiful Winter Palace, the scene of the takeover of the provisional government’s takeover by the Bolsheviks. It was as magnificent in appearance as I’d imagined. We toyed with the idea of going inside, since it is a museum, but given that the night was already rolling in and we’d soon be needing dinner, we decided against it. I imagine you’d need at least a couple of hours in there. The Palace Square was buzzing with Friday night’s merriment. There were street musicians and artists, and lots of young people enjoying the start of the end of their week, drinking beer and wine, eating picnic or take out food. There was also a long line of young soldiers, very young most of them, forming a parade of some sorts as a couple of tanks marched around the square. “Now it feels a bit more like Russia” Kev commented.

We found a pretty cool vegan restaurant, what would you do without Trip Advisor?, just a few blocks away from our hotel. We had a drink there with the food and then made our way back to the hotel. Kev was finally starting to feel the burn off his early rise, so we decided we’d take a nightcap at the cosy looking pub on the top floor of the hotel before bed. There was barely anyone left by the time we got there, so we took a stool at the bar and engaged in conversation with the young bartender who looked chuffed to see us. The place actually brewed its own beer on site, which I thought was great, Kev couldn’t give a piss, though. The bartender poured us each a pint of his own favourite ale and then insisted he pour us a shot of the local poison. After minimal persuasion I accept. Kev is already on his second by the time I’ve supped mine, “Come on Gaz, live a little!” he chorts, clearly chuffed, and clearly over his bout of tiredness. However the fuck does the old sod do it?

Had an absolutely golden night’s sleep, and woke up fresh as a daisy, ready for a day of exploring with Krzys. We found a really hip little vegan café, just down the road from the Blood Church. We sat there and noshed on black coffee and vegan omelette, muesli and yogurt, or soygurt, and then headed back to the hotel. It was a glorious day. We sat in the lobby bar at the hotel and waited for Krzys to call. He was there only a few minutes later, big smile on his face, delighted to make our acquaintance. He was a young looking fella, flat cap and sunglasses. He told us that he was from Poland but had been living here for a few years and worked as a bike courier, as well as having his own tour guide business, that had a purely Polish clientele. So he knew all the history of the place. He was happy to show us around for as long as we wanted today, free of charge, happy to help some fellow punks out. What a great hook up. I felt a little bad, though, since today was his only day off this week, and he had a young family at home. I asked him where he lived, “Out there in the sleeper town, you probably saw it on the way in when you were landing”.

We set about the day, ready to walk. And that we did. Almost eight hours. Krzys told us he was going to show us the real St. Petersburg, the side of the city you wouldn’t see as a tourist. Being a courier he had knowledge of all the city’s nooks and crannies, as well as that, he was a punk, so he would also show us the places where that was happening, too. Absolute perfect set-up. Before we got started for real, he asked us if we’d like to take a guided rooftop tour. Apparently his friend ran a business taking tourists on the roofs of the city. He told us that he was always booked up, every weekend, but if we wanted he could arrange to fit us in for an hour. It sounded great. I asked him how much it would cost and how we paid for it. “Oh, cash, it’s not completely legal”. Kev and I cracked up. Love the punks. Same everywhere.

That booked in for the afternoon, we began a hike around the grand city of St. Peter. The city is full of these “yards”, as Krzys called them, hidden behind the facade of the grey stone tenements. They were basically inner courtyards, but gated off. Krzys had codes to a lot of the places, otherwise we’d just wait for someone to come out and shuffle in before the iron gate closed. They were really cool, though. When you walked into them the buzz of the traffic from the main streets seemed to dampen, and it felt like you’d walked into a time portal, a few decades backwards. A lot of the houses themselves had these wonderful broad stairwells, covered in patterned tiles of marble, that at one time or another had obviously belonged to the richest of the city, but today were somewhat worn out. We checked out a few of these places, weaving our way through the city via it’s inconspicuous “yards” for a couple of hours. Krzys showed us the punk house where Hello Bastards played, which was kind of right in the middle of the city. Right there and then I thought about Andy Victims, and him telling me upon receiving this amazing present that he hoped I would stop hassling him about touring Russia. No fucking chance.

By mid afternoon we arrived at one of the city’s main squares, where we’d meet the rooftop tour guide. He was another young guy, fresh faced and smiling broadly. He suggested a few nice spots where there were great views of some of the city’s finest buildings, as well as a place next to the river. We set off, just a few blocks, and then walked through the main entrance of an old apartment building, taking the small iron elevator all the way to the top. When we alighted the lift we walked up another half stairway to a steel door with flaking brown paint and a little keyhole. Our guide pulled out a large iron ring with an array of keys hanging from it and laughed, “I’ve got the keys to the city”. We ducked through the door and came out on to the flat roof of the building which offered a panoramic view of the city and it’s many golden domes and spires. It was quite a sight. Like Krzys, the guide was very knowledgeable on all the different buildings and their history. This city has its fair share of that...

We stayed up there for a while, taking pics and admiring the view. And then walked on to the next place which was the building Krzys was really eager to show us, the place next to the river. It was the same deal again, in through an innocuous old apartment building and up to the top and a small rusty door. We crept through it and into the delepdated attic of the house, creeping under croaking rafters and walking along floorboards that acted as gangways across the debris of bricks and dust. At the far end of the attic was a short but very steep wooden ladder that led out through a skylight window. We squeezed through, at a bit of a pinch and not entirely comfortable on the old back, and out on to a long, slanted green copper roof. This was nowhere near as comfortable for me. I don’t have an overbearing fear of heights, but enough to make the legs wobble a little. The roof didn’t just slant off to the edge and drop off eight floors, though. There was a small brick wall along the edge of the house. Still shat myself a little though when the guide sat himself on it, legs dangling over the side, and lit up a cig, waving at the tourists boats way below that were cruising along the river. It took me a while to get used to it, but I eventually joined the others and sat there on the side, trying to relax whilst enjoying the vista. The sun had been hidden behind the clouds for a couple of hours previous, but now it was shining in all it’s glory and that moment on the roof was made all the more special, for it. Now this really was something you wouldn’t find at the travel agents.

We sat there basking in the sun, the legs never quite getting to 100%, and then the guide was on to his next party. The three of us headed back to the streets and carried on about our walking. Before long we came upon a Anna Achmatova museum. It was a really nice little place, basically a green little courtyard garden with decorated with various statues and images of the great Russian poet, as well as a little information hut and shop. I was hoping they would have a copy of her work Requiem in English but no luck. Oddly, though, there was some guy sat at an organ under a tiny little tarpaulin tent, just big enough to house the organ and its player. He was just there with his back to us, playing some sorrowful tune. Weird.

With the idea of finding Requiem now firmly implanted in my bonnet I went about looking for books shops that might have. We found a few cool spots, but nothing that had the book I was looking for. I did find a nice little place that sold handmade soft toys ran by some middle aged woman who looked like a bit of a bohemian. Krzys translated for me as we conversed. There were a lot of cool little cat figures, hand knitted, wearing different striped colours. I picked one out for Polly. Later Krzys told me that the city has a very special relationship to cats, for it was cats that saved the city from starvation during the Nazi siege. The cat population was as good as wiped out as the starving citizens fed on them to stay alive. Krzys told me that cats have an almost sacred position in the city ever since. How fucked up a race we are…

We’d been walking and sightseeing for almost five hours straight now. We stopped by a hole in the wall for some falafel that K told us was the best in the city. It was indeed top fucking notch. As the afternoon was running away with us we began to discuss what we’d prioritise for the rest of our adventure. I didn’t want K to feel like he had to stay with us the whole night, he had done more than enough already. I told him I’d very much like him to get home in time to read his young kid a goodnight story, and he assured me he would. Before that though he would take us to a part of town, a market area where there was a punk record shop and a couple of bars. The metro station closest to it was apparently the deepest in Europe, too. I figured it would be fun to pick up a record by a local band if there was any going, and a beer sounded appealing, too. I was starting to feel parched.

The market place was pretty place was pretty cool, and to my disbelief, the first thing I noticed when I walked into the record store was a bootleg print of a Victims poster. Really nice print, too. It just confirmed to me that Victims must come and play sometime. The guys would just have to face that fact. I didn’t find any records of interest though, and to be honest, the need for beer had now taken precedence. As much as I really wanted to see the real Russia, the real “east.” fuck me was I happy to find a hipster bar serving hipster IPA. Russian, no less! Kev was less impressed, of course. I was absolutely gagging and the cold condensation running down the side of the glass, just the feel of it running on my fingers as I held the glass, had my mouth watering. We must have walked around thirty kilometers today. And we weren’t quite done yet.

It was by now early evening, around eight pm, but K wanted to show us one final building that he insisted was a must. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral. Situated down by the river, everything about this building was immense. The pillars, the dome, the gardens behind it. It was just incredible, even more so in the moody, bruised sky behind it. K pointed out that if you looked closely you could see tens of bullet holes in the concrete, a haunting reminder of the war. It was a spectacular end to the day. We walked along to a bar and sat outside of it, treating to K to another beer before he finally made his way home for the evening. We’d been blown away by his hospitality. We could not have dreamed of such a bonus when this trip was given to us. K told us he had some Polish clients to meet at the airport tomorrow, so he would meet us at the hotel and take a cab with us. We waved him off and then took a slow walk back to the hotel, smirking to ourselves as we walked through Palace Square and saw some old drunk giving one of the street buskers some shit about something.

We dropped our bags and shopping items off at the hotel, got showered and then headed for some veggie Indian restaurant that was nearby. There was only us and one other couple there, and the young lady serving, who immediately caught Kev’s eye. “It’s amazing how good looking everyone is here”, he said. “The younger ones anyway. Don’t know what happens when they get older, their skin turns to leather and they wrap a scarf around their ‘eds.”

After dinner we made for a bar that K had tipped us about, called Bukowskis. The name in itself appealed greatly. The truth was, though, after the day we’d had already, we were exhausted. The beer was wasted on me, it just sat heavily in my gut and sloshed around. The young, hip crowd in the bar and the loud music made me feel every day of my share of our ninety years. After just the one, we headed back to the hotel. The pub bar was closing already, and our bartender friend from the night before didn’t seem to have the same interest in us now, which left me feeling a little shunned, I have to say. Maybe he was as tired as we were. But having perked up, just the tiniest amount on the last walk home, we felt like one last beer before bed, so we took one in the lobby bar. There was only one bartender, looking bored off his tits, and a couple of young girls dressed up to the nines, looking very middle class Russian. After a short while a couple of young lads turned up, and for the next twenty minutes I observed them gleefully. One of the young lads was as a quiet as a mouse, obviously very nervous in front of the girls. The other guy, diamond blonde hair slicked back with tits muscles almost bursting through an extremely tight, light blue shirt, was like a fucking cartoon. He was brash and loud, grabbing one of the girls that was obviously “his” all over the place, whilst she just laughed on, looking completely impressed. Tit Muscles then went stumbling to the bar, not like drunk, but just the most over the top swagger, and demanded a bottle of vodka, which he then banged down on the table and harried his friends into drinking. I swear I could read the young, geeky looking bartender’s thoughs… You absolute fucking wanker! Top class entertainment.

The next day we found a restaurant serving breakfast just around the corner, on one of the quieter streets. We sat there in the sun, enjoying strong coffee, feeling not quite ready to go home. We had a couple of hours to kill, though, and our bags were stored in the baggage room at the hotel. The streets were packed with some parade. Loads of young kids dressed in military uniforms, waving flags, cuddling parents and friends. I figured that it must have been like, graduation day from military school, or something. “Now this feels a lot more like Russia,” Kev commented. I guess it did. For all the European flavour to this city, at least on the surface, there is something else here, something unlike our place. Something kind of quiet, but prominent. I guess those Putin t-shirts everywhere aren’t that quiet…

We tried one last souvenir shop before returning to the hotel for our bags. Something about it caught our eye. It looked like all the others, except that it was gleaming a little brighter, it looked like the Fabergé eggs and the Russian dolls were a lot more expensive at this place. We ventured in to find a team of striking looking young women greet us. One of them attached herself to us and said she would be our guide, if there was anything we needed help with. A little embarrassed, we said thanks, but we’re just looking, immediately wanting to leave but feeling forced now to look around, I hate these situations at the best of times, and then nervously walked around a bit as the shop staff looked at us. We checked out the basement floor to find more of the same, Putin t-shirts, eggs, dolls, flags… Then the woman who had welcomed us appeared behind us with a tray of vodka shots. “Complementary vodka?” with a big smile on her face. She nodded as if to answer my silent question, Yes, no joke, it’s free. I just kind of felt bewildered, it’s ten thirty in the morning! and politely declined. “Now! Now it feels like Russia!” Kev chirped.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

London



The van was parked around the side of the pub. It was a miserable morning. Cold, grey, and a drizzle that stealthily soaked you to the bone. Frank’s bright red face certainly lit the scene up a little, though. Despite the weather, he was in fine spirits. In fact, he was fucking wasted. He’s sat in the back of the van, shouting, a lot, about how he hasn’t slept a wink. Been on the cocktails all night, as well as some other shit, I imagine. I sit up front with Daz and Walpole, to gain as much distance as the van will allow from the constant cacophony that is Reagan.

His moods divebombs rapidly south, though, when Tony turns up, minus John. Poor Tone, ever was it thus… Just because he’s his brother, everyone expects him to have some sort of a check on him. When Franks barks at Tony, asking him where John is, Tony just laughs. “How the fuck should I know?” I remember even in the early days of the band, when the two Loughlin brothers were made to travel down to London to do press, Bianchi telling me that when he went to pick them up from St. Pancras that they’d alighted at opposite ends of the train… Frank is not amused by John’s piss poor punctuality, which in turn amuses Daz and I. The volume of Reagan only escalates when Gordon calls John and is told that he’s at Gregg’s buying breakfast. Frank erupts in a barrage of exasperation, “Nothing fucking changes, does it?” Followed by, “Still wiping his arse after all these years Gaz!” Then silence for a couple of seconds. And then, “Nonsense CUNT!” Daz and I piss ourselves laughing as Frank sits there shaking his head. Just then an ambulance flashes past the car park, sirens wailing. “There he is!” Frank parps up again, and with that he returns to amused with himself. I’m still laughing at Nonsense Cunt…

John and American George turn up five minutes later, by which time there is only a whiff of annoyance left in Reagan. I assume he’ll pass out as soon as we hit the road. I assume wrong. But he’s back in good spirits for the entire journey down to London, him and Daz tucking into a couple of tins on the way. Until we get to the outskirts of the capital city. “Fucking hate this place…” he mutters in disdain.

The weather hasn’t picked up any by the time we arrive outside the back of the Electric Ballroom in Camden. The situation with Polly has improved a little, at least, but speaking to Jen she still isn’t sure if she’s going to be able to leave her with Lindsey tonight. She hasn’t puked since last night, which I guess is a good sign. It would fucking suck if Jen couldn’t make it to the show tonight. Polly had really been looking forward to playing with Lindsey and Leon’s boys, as well. Kids and sickness...always the worst fucking timing. Jen is toying with the idea of coming by the venue with Polly to hang out for a while in the daytime, which would be really nice, too. She says she doesn’t have to check out from the hotel for another couple of hours, so we’ll see how the little cub is then.

With not much to do, we head inside and up to the tiny dressing room to check out the rider. Dressing rooms in London venues are always tiny, no matter the size of the venue. Don’t get it. The rider is healthy, though. Chuffed that they went to the trouble of putting on some vegan scran. I make myself a sandwich and take a handful of crisps and sit myself down next to George. It had been great to see him last night, but he was a little wiry since he was stoned off his tits. Today he’s in better form. It’s great catching up with him, it’s been years. We used to be really close when he toured with us back in the early days. I’m glad to see that he hasn’t changed a bit, still the same old pisstaker, Frank his main target, as usual.

Gordon makes a point of saying to Big Jim in front of everyone else that he doesn’t want the dressing room filled with hangers-on, rinsing the rinder later in the evening. Just partners and old crew. He says he’ll be fucking fuming if there’s no beer left after the show. I can’t imagine who he’s making the point to…

With no soundcheck in the foreseeable future I decide to head over to All Ages records to do a bit of shopping. Daz tells me he’ll gladly follow, so the two of us head off. Again, it’s nice to hang out with Daz, just the two of us, for a while. When he’s not drunk, and he’s on his own, he’s pretty chilled. I pick up the re-release of the Negazione 7” that Paco put out on La Vida Es En Mus a while back, which I’m pretty chuffed to get my hands on. Daz buys himself a copy of the latest Church of Misery album. Always like coming to the store when I’m around, picked up a lot of good punk records here over the years. Whilst we’re stood there flicking through records some random guy comes up to me and tells me he’s a big fan of the blog, says he’s been reading it for years. I’m always taken aback in these situations, it’s always really humbling to meet strangers who like the stuff you’re doing. Daz looks a bit confused by the whole situation. Afterwards we walk back down the road and stop in for a pint at the Camden Head, which I know has my favourite tipple on tap, Beavertown Brewery’s Gamma Ray IPA. I treat myself and Daz to a pint.

After a while a couple of older Corby lads turn up and start talking a lot. From what I can make out, one is Daz’s father in law, the other is his step-father-in-law, or something like that. They’re friendly enough but I get the feeling they have their sights set firmly on getting sauced up. I finish my pint and leave the three of them to it. It was nice hanging with Daz for a while, anyway.

By the time I get back to the venue Jen has texted and says that Polly has perked up quite a bit and wants to go to Leon and Lindsey’s, so they’re on their way to the train now. Then Jen and Leon will head back into the city. It’s a big relief, both over Polly feeling better and Jen being able to make the gig tonight. She has been on the Speedhorn journey almost as long as I have and I really wanted her to be there tonight.

John has a friend with him who he has brought along to take some band photos of us. She seems friendly enough, but I can’t help thinking that this could easily become a hassle. I know the guys and how hard it is getting everyone to gather and stand still for two minutes. I also want the day to be as stress free as possible, and I can sense that this might lead to obstructing that aim.

We stand around on the big stage, with all signs suggesting that we’ll soon be ready for soundcheck. I take a look out at the venue and reflect over the past, back to a short window of time when we were much younger and we were headlining venues of this size. I haven’t played a headlining show of this magnitude for a long time, although we’ve played to some very large crowds with Victims at festivals over the years, but this type of gig isn’t really part of the agenda anymore for me. I get a slight shudder looking out at the huge room. This is going to be fun. For one night only.

Unfortunately Daz is striding back towards his worst side already. From what I can make out he’s been drinking since we left this morning, as has Frank, although it doesn’t seem to affect him as negatively. He just turns into a big loud tool, and it’s fun for the most part. Daz always seems to go a bit darker. He shuffles up behind me, bass strapped over his shoulder, eyes slightly glazed, and asks, “When are we doing the photo shoot with this tart, then?” I could swear he thinks he’s in a Guy Ritchie film. I ask him why he’s talking like that, and tell him he sounds like fucking Alf Garnett and I don’t think it’s funny. Not for the first time this weekend, Daz looks at me confused.

After soundcheck we get around to taking the pics, and it goes by without much hassle. There is a lot of chirping, but it’s all piss taking focused within the group. It’s yet another flashback to a time gone by. How many times have I done this routine with this lot, I wonder. It’s now that the real reunion-theme of the day will begin in earnest.



The Scurge guys have turned up, as well as Charger. To have Jay and Little Dave here playing, as well as Jim in Charger, all three having played a part or still playing a part in the Speedhorn story, as well as those two bands as a whole, means a lot to me. It’s nice having everyone who ever played in the band on stage in some form tonight. Everyone except Kev. I really wished Kev would have been here. He’s at some witch convention in Sheffield, or something.

Everyone else is waiting over the road at the World’s End pub. Bianchi has booked out the balcony above the bar for the gig party tonight. It’s wonderful to see everyone. Bianchi, Carter and his family, Doug and his wife Jo, George and some other old Corby friends. Our friend Richey who used to play in Shaped by Fate and then A Thousand Arrows with Gordon, who now is one of the most sought after artists in the music industry, is there too. It’s great seeing him, such a lovely guy. It’s a nice story that, in Richey’s own words, the Victims album cover he did a few years ago kind of got him on his way. On top of everything, he’s a great person and it’s lovely to catch up with him. Everyone, except Kev, who’d I hoped to see tonight, is either here or on their way. There is only one person that is truly conspicuous in their absence, and that is Roddy, our long suffering roadie and mentor. Frank had texted him yesterday and asked if he was coming to the gig. “No. Because of the shit with the Corby gig before”, was his simply worded answer. I have no idea what that particular beef is about, it’s in reference to something from the latest period of the band that I wasn’t involved in. The fucker sure can hold a grudge, though.

It really is great seeing everyone else. It’s like being back at a high school reunion with your closest friends. There is a buzz in the air, it feels like everyone is pretty excited about seeing the original line up of the band one last time. I don’t think anyone would ever have imagined it was something they’d see again. Bianchi is visibly delighted. He’s been buzzing about this night since we agreed to it over six months ago. It’s nice having the chance to speak to Carter and his partner, as well as his parents. His dad is over promoting a book he’s written on the decline of various industrial cities, former giants now sleeping. It sounds really interesting, right up my street, and I’ve been on at Carter for a copy. It’s great speaking to them. More than anything, though, it’s great speaking to Doug. We were really close during the time he was our tour manager, but we lost touch after it all fell apart. He was one of the funniest people I’d ever met and I’m delighted to see that hasn’t changed. He still has that cheeky smirk plastered to his face.

Jen and Leon arrive just before Scurge go on stage, which is not that long after doors. Our old friend Slaven is here, too. Two of the people from my first bands in Corby, and still two of my finest friends. I’m glad they could be here for this show. I’m happiest of all, though, that Jen is here. Watching Scurge is a buzz, they were always a vastly underrated band. I’ve been watching them since they were fifteen years old, it was great to see them up on the big stage. Jen is chuffed, she always loved them. It’s funny looking at Jay and Dave, what a journey we’ve had together. It’s funny, because as much as this show tonight is about the original line up of the band, I have some of my happiest memories from the era of the band when Jay and Dave were playing with us.

Afterwards we’re hanging around in a little room with a couple of sofas, just behind the stage. It’s all hugs and kisses. It is a little awkward, though, no denying that. It was only a couple of weeks ago that both Jay and Jim, who is playing next with Charger, left Speedhorn. The situation with Dave is unclear. He’s still officially the bass player, but with his brother now gone, that might change. Fucking soap opera, as always.

It’s starting to get busier now and there are more and more people buzzing around the backstage area. Precisely as Gordon had feared, Daz and his Corby clan of four, his wife and her best mate have now joined the two dad-in-laws, have completely besieged the dressing room and swarming over the rider like flies on shit. I can’t be arsed, so keep myself downstairs. Gordon is getting more and more angry about everything, though. As a tension-reliever, Doug comes to the fore. One of the production people wade through the crowd in the tight room and start asking people for their passes, obviously wanting to clear the space a bit. Doug doesn’t have one, or if he does, he refuses to show it. He simply points at his face and making a circling motion around his coupon, and says, “This is my pass. It’s the only pass you need to worry about”. The promotion bloke looks flummoxed by the giant Scotsman and leaves.

To add to the ingredients of the already vastly incenstious mix, Frank is now singing with Charger. I have to say, the big lump impresses me. Despite the fact he’s been drinking since four pm yesterday, and taking fuck knows what besides to perk him up, he still puts in a monster performance on stage. His fucking pipes just seem to get stronger with age. Fucking respect to him. He always puts on a show, no matter what condition he’s in. The first time I saw Speedhorn without me, as in the first time I went to a show after they’d reunited, Jen and I had bumped into Frank in the pub in the afternoon and he’d almost fallen into me. He had white powder in his moustache and a piss stain on his crotch. He somehow still put in a banging performance that night. I’m happy he’s not quite as bad as that tonight, though, despite the incredible innings with the booze.

Charger put on a great show. We toured with these guys a lot back in the day, and although there aren’t many members left from back then, it’s brilliant to see Jim and Jez up there again, with their first love. I couldn’t have imagined anyone better to take over my position in the band than Jim. We had some great times together. I’ll never forget the time he crashed at my parents house one time, and he was absolutely wankered by the time we got back. For some reason my mum and dad had this stuffed squirrel on the wall of the stairs and Jim couldn’t get past it, he thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, at that moment in time anyway. Then the next day my mum had put on a huge fry-up breakfast for us, giving it the usual Smith-family hospitality they were known and loved for, and Jim was so hungover he couldn’t bring himself to eat it. He was exhausted with anxiety by the end of the ordeal. My parents had seen it all before, though. Even if it’s all a bit up in the air at the minute with Jim and Speedhorn, I get the feeling he’ll be back in the band again soon. I hope so.

Crowbar were on after Charger. It was a bit of a random slot on the bill, more to do with the promoter than anything, I guess. We barely saw them all day and nobody exchanged as much as a sentence with them. It was a bit of mismatch for them, maybe. They probably felt like the outsiders at the party, which is what they were in all honesty. I didn’t see them but apparently they made remarks along those lines before they started the show. Fuck knows. I’d had a mild interest in them once upon a time, but nothing that did anything to excite me enough to watch them tonight. But it might have been different if the occasion wasn’t what it was tonight, and we weren’t on stage right after them.

As they played, we retreated to the small dressing room upstairs, Big Jim had told the Daz party in no uncertain terms to clear the room. One of the dad’s had actually asked Tony who he was as he helped himself to a bottle of what they apparently assumed to be their rider. It was fucking nice to get rid of everyone. Now it was just the band, Jen, Katy and the crew. It was time to concentrate on the job at hand.

As we walked down the narrow staircase to the back of the stage, I could really feel the buzz starting to rise inside me. It had been a long time since I’d played what felt like a “concert”, as opposed to a punk gig. We made our way through a passageway of smiles, Bianchi at the end of the line, like a chuffed dad. We gathered behind the curtain at the back of the stage. The lights went down, and the crowd erupted into a familiar chant, “Raging fucking Speedhorn! Raging fucking Speedhorn!” It sounded more like a football match than a gig. It was amazing to be part of this one more time.

We walked on, and, even though I’d heard it was pretty much sold out, I was still blown away by the size of the crowd. A sea of faces and arms held aloft. I looked down to the front at my side of the stage and saw Jen, Leon, Slaven and Richey, all with huge smiles on their faces. Another mate, Jimmy, had flew over from Sweden, and he was at the front on the other side. I’d only had the one beer during the day, but this feeling right now would top any booze rush. My whole body, from the tips of my limbs, was tingling…

And then Gordon counted in Deathrow Dogs and the place erupted. I don’t think anyone was expecting us to start with a seven minute sludge fest. It was the perfect statement of intent, I felt. Unfortunately, Gordon missed the phase into the second riff, which comes in at about four minutes, and for just the shortest of moments of chaos, it was all falling apart. Gordon looked at me, smiling panic, not knowing where he was in the song. It was so close to just grinding to a halt, which would have been a fucking disaster, but somehow, somehow, we pulled it back from the brink. I’m sure most of the fourteen hundred in the crowd noticed it though, you wouldn’t have had to have known the song to realise it was going tits up for a little while there.

Even though we’d pulled it back in line, just about, I was still anxious now that Gordon was going to lose it. He’d been so looking forward to this, and he’s so involved behind the scenes, that I could imagine this fuck up throwing him off completely. And right enough, he looked mardy as fuck through Hate Song and Superscud that followed. But I knew how to handle this. During the next block I made my way over to him and played as hard as I could, right in front of him, giving him a smile as I did so, hoping it would perk him up. It did the trick.

The next hour, which is more than twice as long as I’ve been used to performing this last ten years, simpy flew by. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded on stage and how tight we were. The gang of friends and family behind us were cheering and smiling, the crowd in front of us were moshing like fuck. The only thing that came close to spoiling the experience was when Daz stood on my pedal giving it the ridiculous Steve Harris move, and cut my sound. I stamped it back on quickly and gave him a hefty elbow to the ribs, letting him know he should fuck off. I don’t think he even noticed.

As we walked back onstage for the encore, the house lights were lifted as I played the long solo intro to Heartbreaker. It’s still on of my favourite songs, even to this day. It was the first time I’d had a proper chance to look at the crowd. I was almost overwhelmed with emotion. As I looked out at the sea of raised arms, I realised that I hadn’t always been just with my views of Raging Speedhorn and it’s fans. I’d always been so focused on making sure the band was about us and nobody else, on the attitude that it was us against the world, that I’d neglected to consider what this band actually meant to the fans. That it wasn’t simply just about us. Right at that very moment, I knew. And I realised that I hadn’t always appreciated what the band meant to me, either. Being the emotional type that I am, I felt close to tears.

Before we played the final song, High Whore, the tears did just about trickle. As Frank was making a crack about how the band had started twenty years ago, and that if we reformed again in another twenty years he’d be fucking sixty!, Tony and I met in the middle of the stage for a hug. I knew how much this had meant to him, but not as much as I thought I knew. He grabbed me tight and said thanks, that it really meant the world to him.

And then after five or six minutes of the long outr riff, it was all over. It had been an amazing night. There wasn’t much left of it as far as the venue was concerned, they wanted everyone out because they had a club night opening afterwards. It was perfect for me, though. It was only ten pm, and having only had the one beer all day, I was now ready for a couple of pints and a chat back over at the World’s End, where the entire party was heading. We hung out for a short while in the dressing room with Doug and Bianchi, the two of them on top form. Doug telling me how he’s officially announced himself the mayor of Weldon, the village connected to Corby where him and Frank live. He says Frank lives at the trampy end of the village. Gordon was pissed off, though. There wasn’t a drop left of the rider, and he also couldn’t find Katy, who he thought he might have given his phone to. Just another jog down memory lane. I didn’t want him spinning out though, I was really looking forward to a drink with him after the show, and now he was banging on about just going back to the hotel. Fuck sakes. I got ahold of Jen on the phone, and she told me that she was with Katy and they were having some food at some place next door, and Katy had indeed Gordon’s phone that he’d given her. It wasn’t quite all sorted in Gordon’s mind, but he levelled out just a tad.

I went back upstairs to get my bag from the room and there was Daz, at his worst by now, lurched on the sofa. I was just passing through, he was there on his own otherwise. “Yo Gaz, I heard that there were some people pissed off about the fact there was nothing left on the rider after the show?” he asked me. I just kinda shrugged, just couldn’t be arsed. I said yeah, I guess there was a bit of a bad vibe about that.

“You know what I reckon, mate? If you want a beer then you should fucking drink it when you have the chance!” he continued, smugly chuffed with himself. Yeah cool, I said, and left him to it. It would be the last time I saw him that night. Maybe ever, who knows…As of now, I didn’t know when I’d see these guys again after tonight, but it had been over ten years since I’d last saw Daz and our paths aren’t that likely to cross again anytime soon, I imagine.

Gordon and I went to meet the girls at the falafel place next door and then we went over to the pub. It felt like the entire crowd from the gig was in there, the place was packed. Gordon still couldn’t really settle, it felt like he was having a hard time relaxing until all the business side of the gig was taken care of. Been there many times before. Don’t miss it. The only thing that felt like a bit of a anti-climax after the gig was that I barely saw the rest of the guys in the band, or Carter and the crew. Bianchi had fucked off already, since he seems to be in a lot calmer place these days, too. I saw Doug for a while at the bar and we chatted a while longer, saying we’d meet up again next time I’m over, but I barely saw the rest. Only Gordon, who handed me an envelope of cash with my share of the earnings for the weekend. I’d been looking forward to hanging out with everyone for one last trip down memory lane, but it wasn’t to be. You could barely move in there and everyone was dotted around various parts of the establishment. I did have a good chat with Richey, Leon and Slaven, as well as Jay and Dave and the other guys from the Kettering crew. It was a nice couple of hours.

Jen, Leon and I took an Uber back to Tring around one am, Leon up front chatting away to the driver the entire time. I was knackered and grateful for Leon taking that particular duty. After all of the emotions I’d been through during this last couple of days, it came to a head when I went and checked on Polly and found her fast asleep in the spare bed we’d all be sharing, her gorgeous cute cheeks resting on the pillow.

We had a nightcap with Leon downstairs before hitting the hay. Gordon texted me, telling me Daz had been kicked out of the hotel they were staying at for acting the cunt with the receptionist, and was now sleeping in the van. Fucking brilliant.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Corby

I was sat at work, checking out for the day, that’s procedure at the shelter, it’s important to “pulse out”, to wash yourself of any stress that the day has incurred. The day at work had been fine, though. That wasn’t the reason I was feeling anxious. The source of anxiety I had turning screws in my stomach was the upcoming trip. I was rushing home after work, picking Polly up from school and then heading out to the airport, meeting Jen on the way. The team at work seemed a little confused by my not overly enthusiastic demeanor. Surely it was going to be fun reuniting with the old band mates again? I was sure the actual show was going to be fun, yes. I had no fucking clue as to how everything else around it was going to be. I hadn’t even spoken to Daz since his rather acrimonious split from the band back in 2006. And Frank, well, we’d been back to talking for a few years, but I didn’t know how hanging out for a couple of days in Corby would be with him. More than anything, I was wary of just how much I’d changed since we all last played in a band together, and how that would bother some of them, and how little they’d most likely changed would bother me.

I’d been trying to get a hold of Tony on the side, to ask him how it was going. Like Gordon and I, Tony had left Corby and created the final piece of the expat group. He’d been back in Corby since the Monday. It was now Wednesday and we’d be practicing for the first time tomorrow, before a warm up show in Corby on the Friday. He’d been offline all day today. When he finally got in touch, it only confirmed what I’d suspected. He’d been lying in bed all day, feeling like the devil had taken his soul. When he finally pulled his hungover ass out of bed, around three pm, he’d driven himself over to the KFC two hundred meters away from his hotel, and sat in the car park shaking. Frank had destroyed him the night before with jug after jug of cocktail. It was precisely this that I feared. I hadn’t been drunk in about five years, could I stand firm against the might of Reagan’s charm/demands?

I didn’t really know if I could be arsed with three days of being called a Swedish nonce because I didn’t want to get fucked up. When I first stopped raging on the booze, I thought it was just a period I was going through. I understand how fucked up that sounds...as if cutting back on the booze is some kind of deviant behaviour. But I’ve heard the concern in the voices of old acquaintances and family members when I’ve been back in the UK visiting: “Is Gareth not drinking? Is everything okay?” Fucking mental, when you think about it. I’ve been over five years without a hangover now, though. I simply can’t take them anymore. But more than that, I don’t enjoy the feeling of being drunk, like, properly drunk, which was always the hook before. The buzz of the party almost made up for the feeling of despair the day after. No longer. I still love a good beer, though. Just after the show. And just a couple.

So the plan was to practice all day on the Thursday and then meet up with Jen, Polly, my dad and whoever wanted to tag along from the band, for dinner in the evening. Gordon picked me up at my dad’s house in his splitter, which we’d be taking down to the London show. We drove up to the practice room which was located on the edge of town, in the car park of the Rugby Club, the place where all of my uncles were members and driving forces in the running of the place. It was also the venue for the first Speedhorn show upon reforming a couple of years ago, with the new lineup that didn’t include me, the place which was run by Roddy, The Zombie Hut, he called it, which was actually the old function room. I’ve never seen a show there. I’ve been to a few naff weddings and birthday parties there when I was a kid, though. It was also right behind the cemetery where my mum’s ashes are buried. Mixed feelings as we pulled into that car park.

Of course, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The practice room, or “Practice Pod”, as it was advertised, was actually a steel shipping-container. Fucking tiny. And the only people here waiting, despite the fact we were already a half hour late, were Tony and John, sat in Tony’s car, looking bored. The others were nowhere to be seen. Frank was sorting something out down his yard and Daz had to work until twelve, so wouldn’t be here for another hour or so. The three expats, the ones who actually travelled to get here, first as always.

It was good to get the chance to have a bit of a chinwag with Tony, anyway. I figured he must have been feeling pretty nervous about the upcoming shows. He had barely played guitar since he got his P45 back in 2003, nevermind played a gig. And now he was about to play to a pretty much sold out show at the Electric Ballroom, which holds around fourteen hundred people. If my feelings were mixed, his must have been all over the place! It was good seeing him again. We’d met up on a couple of occasions over the years, at Gordon’s wedding, and a couple of other do’s, and it felt like we were pretty good. I still carried guilt about the way we sacked him from the band, though. And as well as this being a chance to celebrate twenty years of the band, this was something I wanted to do for Tony, as much as anything. We owed him this...

It felt surreal, standing there with the five of them, in that tiny metal box. Looking at them all, Frank’s beaming grin across his coupon, Daz in his work gear, John stoned, it literally felt like the last sixteen years had been erased, that nothing had changed. At all. We didn’t really even say that much to each other before we started, a bit of small talk but nothing else. We just looked at each other, and then said, “Okay, let’s doing the fucking set, then!” If I’m honest, I hadn’t gotten that much of a buzz whilst playing through the old songs at home leading up to this trip. It felt pretty difficult plodding out riffs to songs I wrote almost twenty years ago, when we were in the middle of writing the new Victims album. But when we banged into the intro riff of Deathrow Dogs, which is the same riff for about four minutes, the buzz came back. It was way heavier, and slower than I remember it. In that tiny space it sounded like the pit of hell opening up. I was wondering if Frank was actually going to be able to sing since he was smiling so broadly. In that moment, none of the rest of it mattered. Whatever had passed under the bridge, all the bullshit we’d put each other through, it all washed away.

We got through the entirety of the one hour set with barely a hiccup. Even if I’ve played these songs thousands of times, I was still positively surprised by how well the set clicked. Daz hadn’t played in a band for at least six or seven years, but he was still a hell of a bass player. “He might be a weird cunt, but no one can beat that fucking bass sound!” Frank chirped afterwards in the car park.

It was a beautiful day, defying the time of year, and we sat around on the curb in t-shirts during the break, for the first time having a proper catch up. I had been most nervous about Daz, I think, since he’d turned pretty sour after he quit the band, and he could always be a narky sod when he’s had a drink, even when he hadn’t sometimes... But sitting there with him sober, chatting away as he puffed on a roll-up, was really nice. It was just simple stuff, about what we’re doing with our lives and shit. It hit me then how weird it was that we all had kids now, even John. Daz had been the only one who hadn’t been in contact during the lead up to the show since he wasn’t on any form of social media, there were rumours going around that he’d taken himself off after clocking some stepkid of his or something, but it wreaked of just the normal Speedhorn bullshit gossip led by Reagan, so this really was the first contact of any kind we’d had since he quit the band, apart from a text after my mum had died, which I’d really appreciated. He told me that his mum was on the go now, same bastard disease as always… He seemed to be doing okay, though.

We played through the set one more time and then headed over to the pub just down the road for some lunch. After a pretty cack veggie sausage and mash and a markedly better pint of Greene King IPA, we decided that we didn’t need anymore practice. It had gone way better than expected. One more run through the set tomorrow and then we’d take the stuff down to the White Hart for the warm up show. Daz give me a lift back to my dad’s in his work van and said he’d see me tomorrow. He was having a night in with the family so wouldn’t be able to meet the rest of us down the Weatherspoon’s for dinner later.

Everyone else turned up, though. It was great, sitting down to a band dinner, with Jen, Polly and my dad, even my auntie Chris and uncle Vic turned up. It was a proper family dinner with everyone. To my surprise, and after all the concern I’d had about the guys wanting to go out and get fucked up tonight, I was the last of the band to leave the pub. I guess the other night had knocked them out for a bit. I only had a few pints of weak bitter, though, and was enjoying the evening, so we stayed for one more after the others guys all left for home. It had been exactly the night I’d been hoping for, and I was really happy that everyone had gotten to meet Polly.

The next day, Jen was heading down to London with Polly to meet up with Kev and the rest of the Deptford crew, taking in a nice hotel for the night. I felt kinda jealous to be honest. I’d have rather just done the one show, but I understood that Tony needed the practice. We all needed the warm up gig, in truth. I was probably being overly cocky thinking otherwise. I’d been the same with the question of having a road crew. I’d quite deliberately made the point in our chat group about not wanting any techs on stage. A driver/merch and a sound tech/tour manager I thought was fair enough, given the size of the gig, but I made it quite clear I could manage myself on stage. Bianchi had jokingly reprimanded me, pointing out that, unlike myself, Tony hadn’t been changing strings in pitch black Polish squats for the last ten years.

We met up at the steel box and ran through the set one more time and then packed the van and made our way to the White Hart pub. It had been a long time since I’d set foot in the place, and it had changed a lot since. What used to be the bar was now a fully kitted out venue. I was pleasantly surprised. It was good to see Walpole, one of the old Kettering crew, who would be driving and selling merch, as well Big Jim who is Speedhorn’s tour manager these days. But most of all, Carter. If it was anyone else, I’d have been shocked at them making the journey from LA to Corby to see Speedhorn. Not him, though. He was always as big a fan of the band as he was its manager. It was wonderful to see him again.

There wasn’t a whole lot to do before and after soundcheck. Frank and Daz were already piling into the beers, but I wouldn’t be having one until after the show, and sitting around watching them drink wasn’t all that fun, so Tony, Gordon and I went for a walk around the old village area of Corby, before grabbing a bag of chips for dinner and sitting on a park bench to tuck into them. When we got back there were a few more people buzzing around the place and Walpole was setting up the merch. Much to Daz’s annoyance, he’d hung a rainbow flag above the table. “What the fuck’s he putting that there for?” I asked him what he had against it, to which he replied, “A lot!” I had the feeling he was already on his way, and I could sense that it wasn’t going to get any better. I told him that I thought it was a great flag. He said nothing to that, but the chasm between us was painfully obvious, a chasm that could not be measured in geographical miles alone. He sort of grumbled, and then walked off, a little confused.

Jen had texted me earlier in the day, saying that Polly had gotten a stomach bug and had began puking as soon as they got down to Deptford. What an absolute nightmare. Jen had to make her way across London back to the hotel, comforting Polly and keeping her from throwing up all over herself. I felt so sorry for my girls. You couldn’t make it up. It feels like Polly gets sick every time we come to the UK. Jen was supposed to come to the show tomorrow whilst Polly stayed with our old friends Leon and Lindsey. Leon would accompany Jen to the show and then we’d all head back to their place afterwards. But Jen could not possibly leave Poll if she was sick. I called to check in on them. It wasn’t looking good. I was really hoping she would be better tomorrow.

The pub started filling up quite early on, obviously a lot of old friends and family in attendance. I hadn’t thought about the need for a guestlist, but rumours were going round about half hour after doors that it would soon be sold out and my dad and a couple of other relatives were at some other pub. I was by now acutely grateful for the presence of Big Jim, for he came to the rescue and snuck us a couple of extra wristband passes that he’d found. Unbelievably, my dad seemed to spend most of the gig in the other room with his mates. I don’t know, He’s seen us a bunch of times before I guess, and I understood that his other mates weren’t too keen on paying the tenner to get it. Besides, the room was packed by the time we went on and he could well have popped in at the back for a while.

The gig itself was pretty fun. It was a little strange in the fact that I couldn’t really get a grip of how the crowd was, the stage was deep in an alcove so it kind of felt like we were playing in a boxed off corner of the room, and in front of the stage there was a clearing made by some overly enthusiastic moshing. But the actual playing experience was cool. We played really tight and it sounded good from where I was stood. I wasn’t overcome with any massive high, though. It just felt like a solid gig. It felt exactly like what it in actual fact was, a dress rehearsal for the next day.

It was pretty hot in there after the gig, and I was grateful for a pint, even if it was just pissy lager in a plastic glass. I hung around chatting with some old faces and friends for a while, but the night quickly came to a close after the show was done, the landlord wanting to close up quick sharp. As I was loading the van I met a by now cloudy-eyed Daz at the back doors.

“You enjoy that?” he asked, somewhat curtly.

“Yeah”, I replied.

“You wanna do it again?”

“Well, yeah… tomorrow night, like”, I said, completely aware of where he was going with this.

“Yeah, but after that?”

“No”. That was all I could offer. I had no wish to get into a conversation about it.
I don’t think he was even serious, but if felt apt to nip that subject in the bud all the same. Everyone who had been part of any correspondance leading up to this gig was aware of my stance. This was a one-off thing. Tony felt exactly the same. In fact, he told me that he was probably going to get around to selling his guitar after this weekend. I realised then that this was something he’d been waiting on for a long time. He’d never played in any other band after we’d sacked him. But he’d been waiting for this. Some kind of closure, I guess. I felt really touched by that thought. And then like a fart at a funeral, Daz, totally boats, turned the mood completely sour. When Tony had gone out to the van with gear, Daz had informed him that the only reason we weren’t getting back together as a band was because everyone hated him. He was always a fucking arsehole when pissed. I don’t think Tony took much notice of him, and rightly so. Daz’s drunken nonsense was ironic on a few levels, though. For a start, the band was already back together. Daz, nor I, nor Tony, had any bearing on the future of things, whether we wanted back in or not.

Like a lightning bolt from a clear night sky, the reality of this band struck me. It had been a mildly warm, nostalgic trip during the last couple of days, as whenever you jog your memory back over the past you only filter through the good times, but Daz’s shit had brought reality crashing back with a bang. This is how we always treated each other. Not just Daz. All of us. And it fucking sucked. Not to say there wasn’t a lot of good, but the negative shit hit me hard.

So the plan was to be back at the White Hart at eight-thirty for departure. We had an early get-in. The van would be staying put and we’d all have to make our way back to it in the morning. There would be no pick-ups. With the clock closing in on one already, I was more than ready to head home. Frank and a bunch of others were going to hit some cocktail bar. The only thing that surprised me with that was the fact Corby had a cocktail bar. My dad and I took a walk back to my old house, the place I grew up, where he still lives. That walk, often a stagger, I’d taken so many times as a teenager after nights out at Channel 2 in the old village, the place we played our first ever shows with our old bands. I didn’t really think I’d play a show in Corby ever again. I didn’t ever think I’d play a Speedhorn show ever again, to be fair. After tomorrow, I think I could safely say that those two particular chapters would be well and truly closed.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

I'm Still Here

It's been a long while since I wrote here. This last year has been by far the least active on Punk Rock and Coffee since I started the blog ten years ago in 2009. It's not for a lack of want or enthusiasm, it's simply a case of not having the time, being that other aspects of my life have forced a lull in blog writing.

First and foremost, the book I've been writing about Raging Speedhorn, has taken all my free time. It's not like I'm a full time writer, it's something that I squeeze into an already packed schedule of family, study, work and music. Although "squeeze" makes the whole thing sound forced, and therefore a weight around my neck, which it isn't. Writing is something that provides me with an escape and peace of mind, much like yoga, chess or video games does for others, maybe.

Anyway, I've finished the second draft of the book, and after a third, and hopefully final draft to follow shortly, it should be done. Writing a book is a lengthier process than I'd assumed. Especially when it's something you "squeeze" into your spare time. I'm really excited about the book, though, and will have some concrete information on it in the not too distant future.

Another aspect of the inactivity on the blog has been the fact that there has been a severe lack of activity on the gig front. 2018 saw four shows, which is by far the lowest amount of shows I've played in a calendar year since I began playing back in 1995. Diagnosis? Bastard! played one show in Holland last year, and have kind of unconciously fallen into a lull. It was always a risk that the band would end up this way, given that we don't all live in the same country. The other guys have started some great new bands during the lull, though, Lucas with Vidro, Viktor with Marches and Kev with Atavistik Death Pose. And as far as myself, I've been busy with Victims writing and recording a new record, which has just been mastered. It's title is The Horse and Sparrow Theory, and it will be released by Relapse Records, something eighteeen year old me finds kinda surreal. I sincerely hope that Victims haul of two shows in 2018 will prove to be an anomaly. I'm happy to say we already have more than three times as many shows as that booked for 2019 already, with hopefully more than three times as many as that to be later confirmed. Shit, even DB has a show on the horizon, someting that kind of came out of the blue.

The other thing that happened last year was the Speedhorn 20th. anniversary show. I never thought I'd be sharing a stage with those guys again, to be honest, I never felt any particular need or want to, but I allowed myself to be surprised, and it was in actual fact, one of the most amazing shows I've ever played. I wasn't expecting such a wave of emotion around the whole event, and I'd foolishly underestimated how much the band and those old songs meant to all the old fans. I had intended to write a blog post about the show, but have decided instead to write it in the form of an epilogue in the book.

This year, I am studying for the final year of my degree in social science/sociology. So along with everything else, it's going to be another busy year. One that will hopefully involve an increase in writing here, too.

I wouldn't have it any other way. 

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.