Wednesday, March 18, 2020

This Too Shall Pass

An inner monologue with myself.

“Your flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle has been cancelled”. We were supposed to be playing in Paris tomorrow night. And then Lille on Friday. And then Aalst on Saturday. But a week ago the world turned upside down.

This time last week we took the very tough decision to cancel our trip. We spoke about it with Zoli, our booker, he’d brought it to our attention as the “Elephant in the room”. Until then, we’d been planning ahead as usual. Practicing the set, arranging merch and the van situation with the Bleakness guys in France. Just kind of hoping this virus thing would stay away. Stay in some part of the world, that, as awful as it is, didn’t affect us over here. That was only a week ago. Since then Italy, France and Spain have implemented a nationwide lock-down. Other European nations will surely take the same drastic measures in due time. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. I don’t know. Time has taken on a completely different perspective. Everything's happening so very fast.

Two weeks ago we were on a skiing holiday in Norway. The virus was already all over the news, but it was mainly contained to Hubei in China. And there were a few cases in Italy, which was slightly worrying. But at the hotel, on the cotton white slopes that gleamed in the sun, it was easy to push it back to the nether regions of your consciousness. Then came the news of a boat in Japan being quarantined with thousands of tourists on it, and then over a thousand in a hotel in Tenerife. I imagined waking up in the comfort of my Radisson Blu hotel bed and finding a note on the floor, pushed under the door, “STAY IN YOUR ROOM”.

The scary meter was ever-so-slowly starting to creep up a notch or two. But it still hadn’t come to Sweden, or Scandinavia for that matter. Containing this thing would still be possible. But imagine being fucking quarantined in another country, unable to get home. That started playing on my mind. There were no drastic measures being taken by France yet, or the UK. Two places we had booked in over the next couple of weeks. It’s just a fucking cold, a flu. How many people die of the flu every year? The things they’re talking about are going to destroy the global economy. Has the world gone mad? When Jen hinted at us cancelling our trip to the UK I reacted angrily. It was my dad’s 70th birthday! There were only a few cases in the UK, a few cases in a country of over 60 million. Don’t be ridiculous. If there is one person on this earth I knew wouldn’t be worrying about this shit, it was my dad. Not that he would be silly about it, he would act accordingly, but he’s never one to panic. He’s never let me see it, anyway. Which is the number one job of a parent, right?

We made it to the party. It was fine. It was a really nice do. A lot of my dad’s old friends were there, people I hadn’t seen for a long while, but people I was very close to. Or had been when we were kids. There wasn’t that much talk of Corona, although it was by then dominating every news channel. We were watching in the morning, and the evening, but I was trying not to let it bother us. I didn’t want Polly to have to deal with this, I didn’t want to have the news on all the time when she was around. She’s seven years old. She has the right not to to have to worry about this shit. The party was really nice, though. As were the few days at my sister’s, and the couple of days at Kev’s in London before that. I was happy we went. Although we had been sat across from some woman on the train who was coughing into her hand the whole time. And the flight home was packed. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t playing on my mind.

That was only a few days ago. Sweden has closed the borders now. As have the rest of the EU. And the USA. And Canada. The aviation industry is at a standstill. That tough choice we made last week about cancelling the gigs this weekend seems abstract now. It was all cancelled anyway.

This is the most dramatic thing our generation has been through. You could say this is our World War. Except there are no bombs dropping on our heads, we’re not hiding in metro stations with the terrifying sirens wailing overhead. We’re being told to stay and work from home, if possible. Of course, it’s a bizarre situation, life at a standstill, of sorts. But it also shows you what a privileged generation or two we’ve been. We in the western world that is. There are parts of the world where this is the reality of life, all the time. You know that war in Syria that’s been going on for ten years, the one that none of us can longer bear to engage in, look at on the news, because we’ve reached a saturation point with it? The lives of those people have been put on hold for over ten years. No job? Lock-down? Queing for food at the grocery store? This has been their reality for over ten years. Plus bombs. At best, we might have to put up with this for the next few months. And we might even get sick, we might lose loved ones, which would be awful, the thought of my dad being isolated at home kills me, but it will get better. When the Syrian war does finally come to an end, the chances are they’ll still have Assad dictating their lives. Or some other equally heinous asshole. As will many other people around the world. There are conflicts everywhere, but they only ever enter our lives in fleeting moments on the broadcast news, or in the newspaper whilst we drink our morning coffee. Our lives will return to normal a lot sooner than those in Syria, or Palestine, or those living through one of the fifteen wars currently waging in Africa. In fact, they have no “normal” to return to. Living in constant worry over making it through the day is their normal. Our normal doesn’t even exist in the same dimension as theirs.

That doesn’t mean to say that this virus is not causing me anxiety. Of course it is. And the hell that healthcare workers are going through right now in the countries worst affected I can’t even imagine. But my personal anxiety is over how much this will change the world we live in. The economy, not the virus, as for everyone else I know, is the biggest personal worry. But again, we have to remember, this will get better. We’ll recover. This too shall pass. My friends like Kev, who work in the service industry, or Tove, who work in the film and entertainment industry, are in real trouble if this lock-down goes on for too long. But governments all over the world will have to work out a way of helping millions of people like them. In a strange kind of way, the one thing that reassures me, as far as the economy goes, is that we’re all in the same boat. All over the fucking world. The world will have to get back to normal. No government on the planet fails to understand that a lock-down is unsustainable in the long run. The only winner here, is of course, the planet herself. It does make you wonder if Mother Nature has simply had enough. Or if Malthus and his theory of positive checks had a point.

What causes me anxiety more than anything, though, is the feeling that “It’s happening”. As I said, our generation and the one before us, in our part of the world, the privileged part of the world, has never gone through a societal crisis of this magnitude. Almost every other generation before us has done. Plague, famine and war have been the norm for as long as humans have existed on earth, yet it only takes a generation or two to confine them to history books and con yourself into thinking that it will never happen to us. It’s easy to cast it off as something that happened before. Fuck, even my dad’s older siblings were children of the Second World War. We really are, or were, the first generation to have thought we were saved from something so dramatic that it affects the entire planet. I have anxiety that Polly is only seven years old and it’s already happening to her. It feels so unfair. But then I remember that it’s our job to hide that anxiety from her and protect her from this. I think about what my dad always says, something that still comforts me. “In a -insert amount of time-, we’ll look back at this and think about how long ago it seems”. In less grave matters he would say that we’d look back and laugh. But I think about Polly, and about ourselves, and think about how we’ll be watching a documentary about the Coronavirus in ten years time, and it will once again be in the abstract realm of our consciousness. It will all have seemed like a weird dream. Unless, of course, we extinguished ourselves fighting over shit roll. 

This too shall pass. Life will go back to normal. This is not the first pandemic the world has seen, and it won’t be the most deadly. Far from it. This is the third of its kind my mother in law has lived through. We’ll adjust and we’ll survive. I’ve already spoken to friends in Spain and Italy, and they are all on board with the lock-down. It’s a bummer, but they're doing okay. Their biggest concern is for the old and infirm. As should it be. It seems to me though that they almost feel like, once the decision is made for you and enforced, it’s easier to deal with. Then you’re in the stage of it being “just the way it is”. When it’s beyond your control I think it’s easier to deal with. You just have to get in with things. If the lock-down comes to Stockholm then we’ll deal with it by watching Netflix and reading books, playing Mario Kart and thinking of every way possible to keep Polly entertained. We will have to put a daily limit on YouTube, though. There is only a certain amount of Tic Tac Toy I can tolerate before throwing myself off the balcony. And I’ll have to start some sort of exercise program. I’ve been social distancing for only a few days and already I’m consuming far too much sugar. The thing is, in two weeks I start my new job. And then I won’t be isolated anywhere. Social workers will still be going to work. I imagine how strange it will feel, biking through a deserted Södermalm on my way to work, and then walking through the doors and into the world of heroin addiction. What a strange reality that will be.

That is still two weeks away, though, and much will happen before then. It will probably get a lot worse until it gets better. They seem to think Sweden will be hitting some kind of peak around about the time I’m due to start my new job. What a happy way to start. But after the peak, it will get better. Restaurants, pubs, cinemas, airports will open again. Maybe the holidays I’ve booked for the summer will still be put to use. And we’ll start playing shows again. We already agreed to play the festival in Aalst on whatever date it is rebooked for. I look forward to walking out on that stage, whenever that will be, and feeling the joy that we finally made it there.

Until then, I’m gonna write a bunch of tunes, read a load of books, and try and be the best parent I can be to Polly. I’m hoping that when she’s older she’ll barely remember this. I’m also hoping that we, the adults in the room, learn lessons from this and maybe give Polly and everyone else her age a future worth living. It’s a nice thought, at least.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Sthlm -> GBG

Within seconds of exiting the Universitet tube station my feet were sodden. Properly fucking squelching through the grey brown slush as the sleet came down like icy needles. I had not prepared for this. It was the first day of winter and it had taken me by surprise. I had a lot of work on at uni, being in the middle of writing a bachelor's thesis, and I’d planned to go straight to the gig when I was done for the day. Trainers were a truly piss poor choice of footwear. My socks would agree. Thing is, I can’t play in winter boots, can I? Clamping around on stage like BigFoot. The situation would need to be remedied.

My thesis partner Freddie was in the same boat. The two of us walked over to campus cursing ourselves and the weather. Mainly the weather. We needed to use the computer hall today since we were in the middle of analysing the statistical part of our work and neither of us could be fucked with paying for the necessary software when the campus computers provided them for free. Problem was the main hall was closed today, it had been taken over by the Nobel Student’s Ball committee for their upcoming soirée, so we had to find somewhere else to work. We also needed a radiator to hang our socks on. The whole Nobel shabang got me thinking about how I would soon be finished at university and how over the last three years I’ve never once embraced any kind of “student life.” I’ve simply come and gone to the place like you would any job. When I was younger and most of my mates left Corby for uni, I used to tell myself that I hated students and could never have stuck being around them all day long. Even then, I knew deep down that that was just bitterness talking. The reality is that I felt left behind. Although I doubt I would ever have fully adapted to the student culture. I’ve spent long periods over the last three years feeling like an outsider at university. Not just because of my age and life situation, but also because I come from a working class background in England. Bourdeau was definitely onto something with his theories on social and cultural capital… Anyway, standing there in wet socks, looking at the sign on the door of the computer hall “CLOSED IN PREPARATION FOR THE NOBEL STUDENT’S BALL” I scoffed inwardly, “Fucking toff bastards!”

Freddie and I ended up finding another computer room over in the main campus building, a room I’d never paid any notice to over the three years I’d been here. It was kind of hidden away on one of the upper floors. I don’t think any of the other students knew about the place either, since there were only three people occupying seats, dotted about the room, and they were all old men. Fucking weird, the lot of them. One was breathing heavily at his monitor, grumbling to himself as he tried to make purchases through various Black Friday offers online but was seemingly failing at every turn. One of the others was looking at something dubious with his milk bottle glasses pressed up against the screen, and the third one looked like he was here just to keep warm. Apart from Black Friday’s grunts, it was totally silent, and Freddie and I sat next to each other communicating by Messenger. “What the fuck is this? A Lynch film?” There was in any case a radiator here, and although it wasn’t turned on, we still hung our sodden socks on it. Black Friday was making it impossible to concentrate on the multiple regression analysis we were supposed to be tackling, though, and after a while we sorrowfully drew our wet socks back on and left.

When I left university three hours later they were still wet. I had to jump off the tube halfway to the gig to buy a new pair. I was by now going fucking mad with the wet feet, so changed socks right there on the platform at Skanstull station, drawing, I imagine, similarly strange looks from passers by as we’d thrown in the direction of the three old stooges earlier on.

We’ve had a relatively busy time of it since we released the album in June. We’ve been out once a month since then, at least. Twenty-odd shows over the space of half a year ranks as “busy” these days. Overall the shows have been good, anyway. These two in Sweden are the last for the year, and the first since the short European tour we did a month ago. It feels kind of weird, as always, playing Stockholm. I have no idea how the show will be tonight, there is a lot of other stuff going on in town. Mayhem are playing Fryshuset, Boris are playing right next door at Slaktkyrkan, and Baroness are supporting Volbeat just across the road at the huge Tele2 Arena. John had texted us a couple of days ago and asked if we’d wanted to play with Baroness last night, at the same venue we’re playing tonight, Hus 7. But two shows in a row at the same venue felt like a bit much. Would have been more fun if Baroness could’ve jumped on our show tonight. Would have been fun playing with Baroness in a small venue again, though. One of the funniest Victims stories for me is the fact that Baroness supported Victims at some roller rink on their first tour of the US back in 2004 or something. Victims played as a three piece with Little Andy playing guitar and no bass, since Jon was in hospital after breaking his leg the night before. Baroness and Victims have embarked on rather different journeys since then…

Johan and Jon were going to head over to the arena to watch them play tonight, since they were on early. Johan had some business there with one of the sound engineers and through that had blagged him and Jon AAA passes, meaning they could watch the show from the comfort of the sound desk. Unfortunately for Jon, we’d left our van in front of the entrance to the club and Johan had the only key. Ronny asked me if we could move it, and the upshot was that Jon had to come running back with the key, since Johan was in the middle of some work thing. Jon was proper gutted when he was denied entry back into the crew door of the arena when he returned. Felt sorry for him. He really wanted to see his beloved Baroness play an arena. He was sat in the backstage room with a face like a bag of wasps, not really wanting to talk. He only interrupted the silence to inquire if there was any dinner left. When he returned with a plate of cold punk stew his mood hadn’t lightened any. Sensing it wasn't the time to make any kind of crack, I got up and left before the smirk on my face gave me away.

It’s a strange place, Hus 7. It’s literally Slaughterhouse Number 7, right in the middle of the old meatpacking district. The off-white tiled walls and grey concrete floors give the place a very cold feeling, as does the minus degrees seeping in from outside through the heavy plastic strips hanging over the holes in the walls either side of the stage. It's a bit off-putting when punters are walking in and out mid-gig to go to the bog, or whatever. That and the fact I have a hard time shifting images in my head of cows being put to their death and the blood flowing away through the drain in the floor. 

I’ve never met the Blessings guys before, and I’d never heard the band either. Andy had been raving about them, though. Their guitarist, Johan, recognised me. He was a good friend of my old buddy, Marco, who played drums in Logh, Cult of Luna and a bunch of other bands. He was one of the first really good friends I made after arriving here. He moved to Malmö a long time ago, though, and I haven’t seen him in ages. Johan wanted to take a pic of me to send to Marco. It was nice to meet him, real nice guy. It wasn’t the first time I’d had my picture taken to send to an old friend in Malmö tonight, strangely enough. Emma, the production manager of the venue, is best friends with an old work friend of mine, Amira, someone else I haven’t met in ages. Bit of a strange theme going on tonight.

Blessings are absolutely great. Really impressed by them. And whereas the place was pretty much empty five minutes before they started, not that strange given that this place isn’t exactly somewhere you hang out at at this freezing time of year, it felt like the majority of the hundred or so who had bought tickets for tonight had arrived. Loved every second of Blessings set, really liked the drive they had going on in all of their songs. It was nice to have a mixed line-up at the show tonight, with Horndal in the middle, blasting out their Entombed styled, social-issued concept metal. Pontus and Henrik’s parents were in the crowd too, and they got a big shout out, much to the crowd’s pleasing. Took me back to our show in Vienna a month before when my dad had received the same welcome. Made me smile.

Hometown shows are always weird, though. I’ve said this many times, I know. It’s strange though, playing mainly to friends and acquaintances. Tonight it was extra weird, given that four of my work colleagues were here, of which one was my boss. It must have been a right eye-opener for them. I had a hard time shifting them out of my thoughts for most of the gig, which seemed to manifest in a tense forearm, making it hard for me to relax during the show. Nerves, in other words. They would never have seen this side of me before, I’m always Mr. Calm and Humble at work. It loosened up a little as the show rolled on, although it never completely left. Luc and Vik were stood right in front of me the whole gig, which helped. Although I could tell Luc was wishing that this show was somewhere smaller and more punk, Vik was seemingly not arsed. For all the piss taking he gives me over Victims, calling us The Foos all the time, or lyx crust, every time we play he’s always there, in front of me, pulling at my legs and shouting along to the songs. Tonight was no different. Love him. At the end of the gig I notice John Baroness and a couple of the Wolfbrigade guys are stood side stage. Afterwards Micke Bull tells me that Wolfbrigade had been invited by the Volbeat guys to their show and given AAA passes to any show on their World tour. I didn't understand any of it. Haven't got a clue what Volbeat is. All I've heard from Andy is that they're huge and that they are papp.

I’d been looking forward all day to a nice, social beer after the show, but by the time we were done the place began emptying out. Again, not surprising. There are cosier places to hang out. I was a bit gutted though. The only people that were left were three of my work mates. They were pissed up and chuffed with the gig and had decided to get tattooed at the all night place here at the venue. That sure escalated quickly. First tat for Alex, which I couldn’t help wondering whether he’d regret it in the morning. Klara, my boss, had a few already, although she was apparently so drunk she was getting on the tattooist’s tits. Fucking wild. They really went all in on the punk experience.

So apart from that lot, who were busy doing that thing, most other people left. Even Jen, who had been on an after work with some colleagues since five pm, had fucked off home in a Joe Baxi, pretty boats herself. I ended up just drinking the one and driving Johan’s work van back to our place. Johan had driven home to Nyköping with Pia. We’d pick him up on the way to Gothenburg tomorrow.

It was just after one am when I got home. I cracked open a tin I had in the fridge, put on my cosy slippers, and watched an episode of QI.

Jon was taking the train to GBG, since there was only room for three in Johan’s work van, and since only Johan and I have a license, and Andy is too long to squeeze into Horndal’s car, it was Jon who elected himself to make his own way to the gig. I understood that he didn’t want to squeeze into a car for five hours with a bunch of guys he didn’t really know. That would have been more of a job for me I guess, but my license to drive was required in our van.

Given the shitty, shitty weather yesterday, and the predicted icy roads on route today, we left a little earlier than usual, but it was still a pleasant enough start to the day. Left around ten thirty. The drive turned out to be no bother at all, though, in actual fact it was really pleasant. It was one of those blue sky winter days, crispy air and glorious sunshine. The five hours flew by. The Horndal guys were already at the venue and packed in when we arrived, and within an hour we were soundchecked and ready. There wasn’t a whole lot left for us to do. The room we were playing in at Musikens Hus was pretty fucking big, and the stage was really high and wide. It sounded great, for sure, but when I heard that there was a much smaller venue in the basement, I couldn’t help but wish we were playing there instead. There was no way we were filling this room tonight. The old rocker doing sound, a chirpy chap, insisted there would be no way we could play the small room with the gear we were playing through. “It wouldn’t be fun for anyone, the noise would be too much.” We’d have to agree to disagree on that one.

We noshed into some grub from the small restaurant they had here, and then after speaking with the promoter, Jonk, for a while, we should play later on after the Mayhem show at Pustervik was over apparently, since a lot of that crowd would come here afterwards apparently, we went to meet our friend Samsa and go for a nice hipster beer somewhere. What was with fucking Mayhem following us this weekend?

Samsa already had some beer in his parka jacket, he’d come from some home party of this guy who runs a brewery, and said we were welcome to head back there if we wanted. Free beer and all. I had the feeling that was what he’d wanted to do, but he was more than happy to take us somewhere for a quiet beer. It was just what was required. Gothenburg has certainly got this beer game sorted. So many good places to eat and drink here, lots of great veggie places too. Samsa is certainly chuffed with his lot in life.

We sit around talking about the old days, what else do us old timers ever do really?, and laughing about a certain classic Swedish hardcore band and their new album. We get to talking about Samsa’s days with Satanic Surfers, since we’d just played with his old band in the Czech Republic this summer. Happy Andy came up in the convo, of course. Samsa was saying how Andy was always late and how this one time they were flying off somewhere and for Andy’s sake, set a cautiously early time for the train out to the airport. When he didn’t arrive, they finally had no choice but to get on a train and head off without him. As they were sitting there waiting for the train to leave, they saw him running towards them. Just as the train doors were closing he thrust the neck-end of his bass case between the doors and pried them open. Totally chuffed with himself he was laughing, “Told you I’d make it on time!”

After the one, drawn out, but delicious 4,2% ale, we took a walk back to the venue. Even after the one I had the beginning of that warm, fuzzy ears thing going on that I normally get if I approach anywhere near Tipsy Town. It was cold out now. The warm ears didn’t do anything to help.

When we get back to the venue Jon is sat in the grandiose little foyer of the venue where we have the merch table. He’s sat hanging out with Charlie Cimex, with the usual overawed, star struck coupon he normally has on when hanging out with a legend. He shows us some white Victims t-shirt that some giffer had made himself. It had a pencil drawing of a horse, with a red pentagram and also written in red, Malin Baryard, which is the name of a famous horse rider. He told Jon that he always thought our song Scars was about her and that he’d mistakenly thought the line, “Scars in my eyes”, was “Malin Baryard”. Hence the horse on the t-shirt.

Dennis Doom was milling around with Charlie too, both of them looking pretty pissed up, although Dennis was certainly the worse for wear. I received the usual sloppy kiss on the hand and an “Alright mate” from him before he stoated off. That’s about the usual content of our conversations when we meet. We’d already missed the local punk band when we were out drinking, but I managed to catch the second half of Horndal’s set. It’s a weird set up. The sound is massive, they play great, but the room is about a third full, and up on that big stage, with two metalheads gripping on to it’s cusp as they bang their heads, it just feels odd. I’m not exactly bursting with enthusiasm before our set, and getting on for midnight, I don’t envision that many of the Mayhem crowd arriving. That said, Johan from Blessings turns up and he’d just come from there. Shame they weren’t playing tonight. Jonk had insisted on the other band.

Despite the empty pockets or air dotted about the crowd, it always helps a little when it sounds huge on stage. It at least makes the “playing” part of the gig more enjoyable. I feel like I’m going a little through the motions in my head by the end though, as much as I put every ounce of energy I can muster into playing. I would never allow anything else.

Afterwards we hang out by the merch for a while before finishing the evening off having a quick beer with Charlie up in the dressing room above the stage. He’s sat there telling dad jokes and taking the piss out of Jonk, who after about thirty minutes of harassing him, finally convinces him to join him at a bar for one last beer. The rest of us wait for a cab to the hotel.

And the wait goes on.

It’s fucking freezing by now, the streets surrounding the venue are completely dead, and I want to go to bed. We’d called for some Uber-type deal called BOLT, which was ordered through Jonk’s account on his phone. Jonk has now fucked off with Charlie and we’re waiting with our nuggs shivering. For every car that passes that isn’t ours I get more pissed off. Horndal left ages ago, and we’d planned to have a quick beer in the hotel bar, but that time has now surely passed, I imagine.

When the car finally arrives, the old boy driving is so chirpy, that it’s hard to stay pissed off. The rage returns as soon as we walk into the deserted reception area of the hotel and are faced with a confused looking lad, “Victims? No, I don’t have any booking with that name? Jonk? Musikens Hus? Concert? No. Sorry. No.” How many fucking times have I heard this spiel at this time of the morning at after-gig hotels?! After a lot of fucking about, he arrives at the conclusion that he gave out eight room keys to a group of four who arrived earlier. So the upshot is this: For the two bands, we had one family room with four beds and two twin rooms. Eight beds each. Turns out Horndal were given all the keys and they’ve now spread themselves out over the three rooms. About twenty minutes later a tired, sheepish looking Eken arrives with our keys.

Finally in bed, about four hours after finishing the show. Originally we were supposed to have a hotel five minutes walk from the venue, but there was a balls up with that of course, so now we’re way out on Hisingen. No fucking matter. It’s nice to finally be in bed. I’m sharing with Jon, and when I’m getting ready to nod off I notice him rolling up a huge joint. I can’t imagine for a minute that he thinks he’s going to smoke that fucking thing in here, but then he has stripped down to his tight orange longjohns that pose as his pyjamas. When he’s done rolling, he tells me he’s off downstairs. I laugh to myself, imagining him walking through reception in bright orange longjohn’s and then standing outside in a bush puffing away on his spliff. That image tucks me off to sleep quite nicely. Snug as a bug in a rug.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Eindhoven

And then we were four. Strange feeling having one show left but it already feels like the tour is over and your mind is set on home. I felt like I just wanted to get this festival in Eindhoven over and done with and then get home. We have a fucking monster journey home, though. We’re driving to a hotel by Bremen after the show, which will take about three and a half hours, and then leave early tomorrow for another fourteen hours or so. Hard to get your head into a gig when you’ve already clocked out. It would have felt different somehow if Svalbard were playing this show, too. Maybe.

We all slept well, at least. The room at the punk house was warm and cosy and the bed comfortable enough to make me want to stay in it all morning. I was determined to make something of today, though, since the last two days we’d basically spent in the van and we’d be doing the same tomorrow. Since the drive to Eindhoven was short we decided we’d stop off in Köln on the way and do something human again. First we took breakfast with the house crew and the local band from last night. It was of an equally high standard as the dinner the guys made last night. Nice start to the day. After thanking Timo for everything again, we loaded the van and made our way out of little Wermelskirchen. Timo said they were having a big anniversary festival here next year for the house’s 20th. anniversary or something, which sounded good, although Timo’s estimation of being able to fit two and a half thousand in the place and it’s surrounding grounds seemed a little optimistic, to say the least.

Köln is on the opposite scale to Vienna, in that, I’ve also been there loads but only ever played one show. It used to be a regular day-off-spot on the Speedhorn tours in the era of the nightliner. We always used to park up by the river and then walk around the cathedral for a bit before hitting some bar. I remember one time waking up here and finding Roddy our guitar tech sat on the bottom lounge of the bus, looking distraught. He’d hooked up with some girl but then cacked his pants when he got to her place and had to make a sharp exit. And then when he got back to the bus he was caught throwing his dirty skidders in the bushes by some old couple walking their dog by the river. I think about that every time I think of Köln.

The couple of hours we spent in the city were much needed. The cathedral is an incredible building. I’ve seen its magnificence from the outside many times, but today was the first time I’d been inside, if my memory holds. Johan abstained and waited for us outside among the masses of tourists. Something about the inside of church buildings freaks him out a bit. It was of course, mind blowingly grandiose inside. I know what Johan means, though. There is something quite fucking heavy about being inside a gigantic church. Upon leaving we checked out a photo display depicting the devastation the bombs of the Second World War had left on the city. It seems like the cathedral was the only place left standing. It’s hard to imagine living through that, seeing Europe in the throes of war, but it really wasn’t that long ago. It’s easy to live in the now when both the past and the future are terrifying.

After taking a coffee down by the river at some cafe that had roofed outdoor seating, we walked back along the river to the van and made the short drive to Eindhoven. The information said we should check in to the festival at two pm, but we weren’t playing until seven-thirty and I couldn’t imagine what we’d be needed so early for. And then when we arrived at four we were immediately relieved that we had decided to do something else during the day. There were shit loads of people mulling about the massive, three staged-venue, most of them white men with skinheads, which made Andy a little nervous. I pointed out that we were also skinheads, although not completely by choice and not with sideburns, muscles and boots to match. We did meet up with our old friend Peter, though, who we’d sorted with some guestlist spots, although unfortunately we didn’t get much of a chance to talk and he no doubt had a bunch of classic HC bands he wanted to check out. We didn’t even have a dressing room available until five, confirming the point that we’d have been well pissed off if we’d have arrived three hours ago, so Johan, Andy and I went for a walk whilst Jon volunteered to fix the merch table in the huge hall with the main stage. I was glad we were on the smallest stage, at least.

There wasn’t much happening around the area, it looked like one of those places that is halfway between industrial estate being fazed out and culture moving in. The centre was about twenty minutes walk away, although we didn’t know that at the time, we just got lucky and stumbled across the correct direction. We only made it to the outskirts of the centre, though, since the first street we walked into that had any signs of life provided me with my target. A chip shop selling chips and peanut sauce. And fuck me, they were absolutely magnificent! Well worth the walk.

After that we made our way back along the same boring road we came along. I’ve been to Eindhoven a few times this last few years, and there isn’t that much to see. All I needed was the chips, and the walk there and back. When we get back to the venue Johan and I sit in the shared dressing room and watch the end of the Liverpool game.

Even the smallest stage that we’re playing is still in a big room that would normally constitute a massive gig. It is, of course, empty bar a couple of punks, one wearing a Tragedy t-shirt, whilst we line check. I wonder how this is going to go down, but Jon tells me he met some guy at the merch that had flown in from Greece to see us. Andy says he hopes he hasn’t just come to see us here. Doubtful. That would be silly indeed.

To my surprise the show goes pretty well. I guess the thing with Victims is that we end up somewhere between the crust, punk and hardcore crowds, which means that when we play these heavily niched shows we sometimes act as a welcome break. We probably still play to one of the smallest crowds of the festival, but there must be five or six hundred in by the midway part of the set and there are some mohawks flying around the empty semi circle in front of the stage. The sound on stage is a bit chaotic which makes it a little bit hard to totally commit to, but the crowd reaction is way better than I thought it would be. Johan took the merch afterwards and he says there was a long queue waiting for him when he got there. Sometimes you never know. I head over to see how he’s doing and en up watching most of the old New York HC band, Outburst, set. It’s pretty naff if I’m honest. The guitar sound is as dull as dishwater and after every song the old boy vocals bangs on about how punk rock they are. I don’t know, seems a bit lame. Of course, there are about fifteen hundred people watching them going mental, so what the fuck do I know?

It’s now officially over. We want to get going as soon as possible and the merch seems to be done. We’re driving three and a half hours tonight and then doing the rest tomorrow. There is nothing to do but suck it up. We grab a quick bit of dinner from catering before we go, as well as packing a bin bag full of Red Bulls, water and other snacks.

I drive the first two and a half hours, leaving is nervously close to emptying the tank of diesel before finally finding a twenty four hour place. I could not imagine the horror of being stranded in the middle of nowhere at this point. I saw the tank was getting low but then all of a sudden all the petty stations just seemed to disappear. It’s a relief to get into the hotel bed around two am. I just wish I’d be able to sleep in a bit longer than five and a half hours before continuing on the long road home tomorrow...

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Wermelskirchen

Last night’s gig t-shirt proved itself to be only marginally better for drying myself off after a shower than a paper hand towel. I felt pretty well rested at least. Nice to have a lie in until nine-thirty, even if we knew we were risking being late tonight. The drives have been longer towards the back end of the tour, and we have the monster journey home on the horizon so need to store energy. After a pretty shabby breakfast in a thoroughly depressing grey canteen we hailed a cab back to the venue. We ended up with some little old boy who was full of chirp. Jon did a bit of talking with him. When he heard we were from Sweden he said something about Ingemar Stenmark, who was obviously a hero of his since he drove his cab in the same manner that Ingemar threw himself down the slopes.

The drive to Wermelskirchen was fucking tedious to say the least. Jon took a ride with the Svalbard guys today, so it was just the three of us. Johan and I taking turns at the wheel over the course of the eight hours it took. It was solemnly miserable weather, pissed down the whole way with pockets of fog as we went through the hills. I’m sure it would have been some nice sightseeing if you’d been able to see further than ten feet ahead at any point. The only thing of note we saw, apart from the odd stau, was a car completely engulfed in fire on the other side of the autobahn. Thankfully it didn’t seem like anyone was hurt. It’s times like these where you wonder to yourself what you’re doing here. Jen sent me a photo of Polly curled up on the sofa with popcorn, watching a film. I would have happily teleported myself there if I had the chance. Hits like these always have a bigger impact at the end of the tour, though. It was also a bit of a bummer that this was going to be the last show with Svalbard, and that they had to leave for Calais straight after their set. It would feel empty without them tonight. Only one more show to go, though. I’m ready for home now.

A couple of things immediately cheered me up upon arrival. First off Liam told me he’d stood in dogshit at their last break and the rest of the guys were livid with him stinking out the van, meaning they had to drive the last hour with the window open. The second thing was that Timo, the young punk booking the show, was very happy to greet us to the punk house where we were playing, and assuring us there was no stress. To top things off, the dinner they made for us was absolutely superb. By far the best of the tour. This was the perfect place to come after a long, dark old day in the van.

We let the local support band soundcheck whilst we loaded in and set up and then noshed into dinner. We played here back in 2011 on the A Dissident album shows and they still had the poster up in the gig room. Can barely remember it, though. Been some time since then. After dinner we hung out in the big bar room where we had the merch. It was a pretty cool setup with a pinball machine as well as foosball table. I played a game with the Svalbard guys, Serena and I taking the game home in a next-goal-the-winner thriller. Jon was glued to the pinball machine most of the night and taking it very fucking seriously. At one point we’re stood around watching him play and Rob points at something over Jon’s shoulder, which Jon irrittadely swipes away without breaking focus on the marbles.

An old acquaintance, Rob from Plastic Bomb, was here selling records on his distro. He’s a bit of a special case, has a constant smile on his coupon, even when he’s moaning. And he’s constantly on the flog. He was trying to sell me the original copy of Virgin Killer by Scorpions, the one with the fucked up cover with the young girl on it... Even for it’s time that was a pretty naughty piece of artwork. No wonder it got banned.

I felt a little emotional watching Svalbard tonight. I stand in the middle of the room and watch the entire set. They’re absolutely on fire, and the sound is magnificent. They smash every fucking note. The crowd are well in to them as well. I can tell that they all really enjoyed their gig tonight. I’m happy to hear from Liam afterwards that they’re going to stick around until after our set to say goodbye, which is really cool of him since it’s he that is doing the night drive. It would have been completely understandable had they left straight away. We’ve been in that position a few times.

Our show is a bit of a different experience. The room hasn’t quite filled back up by the time I go to start the long guitar intro to The Horse and Sparrow Theory. I shout across to Jon, asking if we’re ready and then I literally break a string with the first fucking note. There’s nothing to do but stop and change guitar and start again, which causes a ripple of laughs among the slowly expanding crowd. I guess it’s better to break on the first note than at the end of the forty second intro. We’re a bit sloppy during the show tonight, I think it must be tiredness playing it’s hand. Jon is struggling the whole gig with annoying feedback coming out of his monitor, with the sound engineer seemingly scoobied as to what’s causing it. The gig is saved by Serena making a guest appearance on This is the End, which gives everything a lift. Even if I do break another string during the end of the song. It feels like a good ending anyway, I could have left it there. The crowd hadn’t seemed that enthusiastic for most of the gig, barring a few punks dancing down front and one pissed up old boy jumping up stage and staying there for an age, so I’m surprised by the chanting for an encore. I borrow Jon’s guitar, Judas, for the last block of songs. Before we can get back on with things the old boy is back up and seemingly refusing to leave. He puts his arm around Johan, who encourages him to sing. He shouts “Victims in Blood!!!” into the mic, much to everyone’s amusement except Jon, who seems to be fuming over something.

When we finally come off, Jon is shouting about how Serena saved the gig and otherwise it was the worst gig he’d ever played and that he’s going to punch a German if one talks to him. We all laugh at him, but he’s on the warpath. This only encourages us. Jon’s humour abates only for the short while we spend hugging the Svalbard guys goodbye, gutted to see them leave. When they leave, Jon goes immediately back into wrath mode. I piss myself laughing when I clock Rob trying to talk to him and Jon dramatically gesticulating with his arms that he does not wish to be stopped to talk. Rob just looks at me with that usual big smile on his face, which just gets me laughing all the more.

We get packed down and leave the gear on stage for the morning since we’re sleeping upstairs tonight. Johan and I grab a much needed couple of cold brews and we stand around the merch table selling bits and bobs whilst talking to some very friendly punks. When we’re done we join Jon for a game of pinball but he’s still in a stinking mood. Poison Idea is blasting out of a speaker directly above the machine and he’s not amused in the slightest by Andy and Johan’s singing along to it. They only amplify the situation by blowing in his ears as he’s banging the table around. And then some punk asks us if it’s too late to buy a shirt I ask Jon if he can help the guy out since it appears to be my turn on the flipper, to which Jon closes his eyes and lets out an exaggerated sigh.When some older guy (someone about our age) comes up and asks for a photo with us all, we all happily oblige bar Jon, who silently backs away, staring us out as he does so. We manage to encourage Jon to come take a photo and stop being an arse, and I hear Jon asking Johan if the guy wanting the photo is the bastard who was blowing in his ear. He seems disappointed to hear that it was in fact Johan.

We leave Jon to it and head upstairs to finish off our beer in peace and quiet. A couple of the punks from the house are up there and want to know if we will party with them, but we politely explain that we’re goosed after the day we’ve had, which they are completely sympathetic about. And when we mention our plans for a trip into Köln tomorrow on the way to the festival in Eindhoven they give us some tips on what to do there. Our main intention is to see the cathedral and just do something in general that doesn’t involve being in the van all day. Shortly afterwards the big singer from the local band appears in the doorway to the dining room we’re sat in wearing just his kecks and a t-shirt, “I did not see you guys play tonight. I will catch you next time,” and then stoats off back to what I assume is his bed.

Jon joins us a little while later and is finally back to his old self, thank fuck. We sit around for a little while longer and then call it a day. Nice not to have the alarm set tomorrow. We have breakfast here and then a short drive lined up. Which is most welcome since we’re driving after the gig to a hotel in Bremen to break up the journey home a bit. I lie in bed reading The Idiot by Elif Batuman for a while before turning my phone lamp off. Jon is sat on the bed opposite me in the meditation position. It takes me a little while to nod off, knowing he’s sat there in the dark like a phantom.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Munich

The first thing I had to accomplish when waking up was how to navigate my way down from the eight foot high bunk bed I was in. And I was only on the second bunk of a tower of three. The top bunk was simply fucking lethal. I sat there trying to work out how to twist my body around the thick wooden ladder without destroying my back for ages, and then I spotted Johan lying on his bottom bunk, looking up at me laughing. The thing with being last to bed is that the best beds get taken.

The big friendly promoter had left us a bunch of breakfast materials in the little kitchen outside the sleeping room, and after a quick shower in the freezing cold bathroom, I enjoyed a cup of filter coffee that Jon had made. I was relieved to find that this place provided clean towels, too. At the hostel in Budapest yesterday there were none, and disappointingly, I’d realised that I’d misplaced the towel I’d bought with me somewhere along the road. I first tried drying myself off with the pillowcase but that just pushed the water around, and ended up using paper hand towels from the dispenser on the wall. Proper fucking rubbish.

We decided that we’d spend a couple of hours looking around the shopping mall before leaving for Munich, since the end of the tour was in sight and we needed to get something for our kids before going home. Can’t go away from the kids on tour and come home empty handed, it’s just part of the deal. The shopping mall in the old gas tower was pretty spectacular from the outside, but on the inside it was dying. It’s glory days were obviously long behind it and bankruptcy was in the post. Strange place. And a little depressing. Kind of wished we’d just taken the metro back into the city centre instead. There was an outlet store opposite the venue that, although equally depressing on the interior, was a bit more of a success on the kids present front. And the middle aged woman serving at the counter was chuffed as shit for some reason. She giggled the whole time we dealt with her, which cheered me up a good deal.

The drive to Munich was, not for the first time in my life, somewhat of a disappointment. The scenery along this highway can be quite amazing, with the Alps off on the horizons along stretches of it, but today it was so foggy and grey for the most part that you couldn’t see any of it. And then Liam texted from up ahead and said there was a big accident and a long detour. We managed to pull off the autobahn just in time, it would have been a nightmare getting stuck in it, but the parallel country lane we ended up on seemed to be infinite. I was very relieved to finally get back on the main road. Johan drove the last bit of the way into Munich and I sat there in the back of the van looking at the rush hour traffic we were crawling through, about an hour late for load in, and contemplating our losses. I really like the city of Munich, I was here a lot in the early days of touring and always had a great time, but today, we would be seeing nothing of it. It was always a tradition to go to the famous beer hall with the giant pretzels and beers and the oompah band, the one that was the infamous venue of Hitler’s beer hall putsch. I was a bit gutted that the tradition would be broken today. I hope I donät have to wait another eight years for the next opportunity. It kind of felt like we could have left earlier this morning and had a couple of hours here instead since we didn’t really do any more of Vienna this morning, anyway. Oh well. Win some, lose some.

Liam texts saying they’ve just arrived and apparently the promoter is panicking a bit over our lateness, but when I meet the guy as we jump out of the van he is nothing but a broad, beaming smile. We’re a bit rushed, but it’s only us and Svalbard tonight, so the guys soundcheck and we sort our merch out. The slightly depressed feeling I had upon arrival, I think we’re all suffering a bit from weariness today, you can sense it in the tone in the van, dispersed as soon as I saw the room. It was small and we were playing on the floor. All of sudden I could feel the buzz again. From the sounds the promoter was making, it was going to sell out tonight, too. The tiredness was forgotten, rubbed out, just like that.

We had dinner in the house next door, this place, Sunny Red, is part of the whole Feirewerk cultural park. There were already people queuing up to get in, which felt promising. When we were here eight years ago, we played in the larger Orange Hall with Municipal Waste, but tonight there is a brass orchestra playing there, which means they’re taking the band apartment and we’re in some hostel a few kilometers away. Shame, since the apartment here was really nice. Still, the in house catering is banging and the vegan lasagne they’d made for us was absolutely beautiful.

It was another early show tonight, Svalbard on just after nine and everything done by ten-thirty. I went back over to our venue and found the room pretty packed already. The promoter told us there was only three tickets left on the door. From tired and slightly down to happy and buzzing in the space of an hour or so. On top of that, my really old friend Micha was just turning up. I met her through touring with Speedhorn back in the very early days, and we’ve been friends ever since. She’s one of the sweetest people you could meet, and always so happy and positive. When she comes walking through the door we laugh and embrace in a big bear hug. We haven’t seen each other since I was here last time, which sucks. But we stay in touch with each other and tell all about how it’s going with our families, etc. Micha met her husband Markus at a Speedhorn show in Essen in 2007, which is quite a thing. She was there to hang out with us and he was there to see Carnivore I guess. Still, just another nice little detail to add to our story. It was so great to see her. Her friend, although looking maybe a bit unsure of the cultural experience she was about to endure, was also really friendly, and we stood around talking about our kids and life in general. I only wish I had more time to catch up properly.

The show was by far the best of the tour so far. Berlin was great since it was a big venue and pretty full, and all the shows have been good, not a stinker anywhere in sight, but you just can’t beat a floor show for atmosphere. It kind of just runs itself. And when you’re playing in the crowd it just gives you a massive buzz. Although my body is starting to scream for home and getting back into some sore of exercise routine, the thirty odd minutes we played tonight just flew by, and I spent the entire time dancing around the space I had, singing along with the crowd at all the usual parts. Jon still went ahead with the barefoot routine, credit it to him. I noticed that part of his routine is that he takes them off during my long guitar intro at the start of the set. He knows what he’s doing. Cracked up yesterday when Liam told me that Jon had said to him at one of the gigs that the sub bass vibrating through the stage had given him an outer body experience and he felt he was being abducted by aliens. He’s on another plane from the rest of us sometimes. Love him to bits.

We don’t bother doing the mandatory break between set and encore, it would be silly to wade through the crowd, just to come back, so we blast through the quartet of old bangers and then call it a day, Jon encouraging everyone to take ahold of their lovers beside them and have a dance to This is The End. I’m floating after the gig for a while, and have a great time at the merch stall, selling and socialising. Johan is buzzing, too. He’d seemed a but quiet all day, but he’s now smiling like a toddler on Christmas morning as he fetches us a couple of beers. We aren’t moving the van anywhere tonight. It’s safer here than by the hostel, anyway, according to the happy promoter, who is telling me that the night was “Absolutely, kick ass amazing!” Chuffed.

Being All Hallows Eve, it’s a national holiday tomorrow, and we’re warned that the traffic on the autobahn is going to be a bit of a mare. It’s a six hour drive if all goes smoothly, so that’s my already wafer thin plan of getting up early and heading into the city for a quick walk around firmly quashed. The venue closes as soon as we’ve loaded the van and there are no bars open around here. Some other friends of ours, Claudia and Harry, who know Jon from Sayadina days, and were also big Speedhorn fans and came to the anniversary show last year, tell us there are some Halloween parties going on in town if we want a drink, but the thought of the drive tomorrow has put a bit of a cold wet flannel on things.

We’re told there is a bar at the hostel, but that turns out to be a disco in the basement and doesn’t entice in the slightest. Otherwise we’re just on a big long, faceless avenue, and the only thing in the immediate vicinity is a garage and a McDonalds. Johan and I head to the garage to get come crisps and I pick myself up a pretzel. We’re sharing an eight bunk room with Svalbard tonight, although Serena wisely takes her own room, since she knows the snore orchestra will keep her awake all night. We all sit around for a while and munch on snacks and enjoy an accompanying beer, although, the beer isn’t as enjoyable as the beautiful Pils I had directly after the show, the first one is always the best. The pretzel is the saltiest thing I’ve ever eaten, I can almost feel my liver shrivelling as it goes down. I give half of it to Serena who somehow manages to finish it off before agreeing it was indeed bizarrely salty.

Liam literally lies down on his bunk and begins to snore. I actually wonder if he’s joking, but Alex assures me he’s not. Sounds like a horse up there. And with that we decide it’s time for bed, and one after one, the snores join the choir. Serena made the right choice, sorting out her own room.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Vienna

Choices, choices… Are we going to join Svalbard at the thermal bath or head to Vienna for a look around there? I certainly could have done with a soothing bath after sacrificing a decent night’s sleep for a couple of beers, but I really wanted to see Vienna. I’ve played there four or five times and never seen anything more than the inside of a venue or squat. We met up with Zoli for a farewell breakfast and Liam mentioned that they had room in their van for anyone who wanted to join. It was a little tempting… But no, Vienna it would be.

Felt a little sad saying bye to Zoli, it’s been great hanging out with him again. But there will be other times ahead, I’m sure. Still, felt it a little bit, him waving to us as we jumped in a cab to take us back to the venue. The drive wasn’t too bad, and we got to see a little bit of Budapest on the way out. There is this really cool rock face on the other side of the bridge on the Buda side of town, with statues of what I assume are important old men and the like in the cliff face. Rather beautiful. Would be a nice spot to check out if one was here on a romantic weekend with your loved one I imagine, as opposed to having a bunch of grumpy, tired old men in tow.

The drive to Vienna didn’t take too long and we arrived at the Arena venue with a couple of hours to spare before load in. It was a long time ago I was last at this place, we played here a couple of times with Speedhorn in the early 2000’s. I remember being particularly fucked on one of the occasions, over in the little punk cafe on the left side of the compound. I remember something about someone smoking hash out of a dirt pipe in the ground, and maybe something about eskimos. Quite the night. This place is really cool, though. There are four or five stages, one of which is a big open air in the middle of everything. Then there are a few different brick buildings housing different small rooms, bars and stages, as well as a building where they have the band apartment. We’re playing in the smallest room, which is very good news as far as I*m concerned. It looks kinda like the room at Kafe 44 back home, holding about one hundred at a stretch. Saying that, last time Speedhorn played this room and there were only eight paying punters. And that was fucking rubbish. I remember the promoter telling me at the time that as bad as our show was, the week before he’d had Reo Speedealer on and they’d only sold four tickets, and even then only two turned up. What a kick in the tits that is.

We intended to make the most of the time we had and walked over to the metro station for the short trip into Stephansplatz by the big cathedral, right in the middle of the city, Sure beat the fuck out of haging around in the industrial estate the venue is in. The weather was perfect for sightseeing purposes. Cold, crisp and sunny, with the light just beginning to fade, giving it that perfect shimmering, moody blue/black sky as a backdrop to the sensory onslaught of magnificent buildings. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It honestly made me a little emotional. But part of that is to do with the thoughts of what a great time I would have here if I was here on holiday with the family. It kind of made me miss them a little, as much as I loved every second of the two hours Andy and I walked around, having left Johan and Jon at a pizza place. I wanted to try and find something for Jen since it’s her birthday next week, but it was all upper class designer shops or souvenir places. I did find a pair of joke Freud slippers, yes, they were actually called Freudian Slippers. I was so tempted. But at forty euros, even if they were genius, the price was a bit salty. All I ended up buying was a coffee and a delicious piece of apple strudel before we headed back to the venue for soundcheck. Bonus to find that Johan and Jon had already loaded in and set up.

Soundcheck was pretty fun. This punk lady was engineering and she was super sweet and really enthusiastic, buzzing about the place with a huge smile that infected everyone. Really cool person. The stage was tiny, though, so it was hard to get anything more than myself up there, but I’m sure it would be okay, you know, as soon as the room was full of people.

The promoter was this big bomber jacket wearing lad with a crew cut. Real military looking dude, but friendly as anything. He showed me the dressing room and proudly showed me the array of vegan food he’d shopped in, even stretching to vegan chocolate bars. Well chuffed. We had a buyout for dinner so walked over to this mall that was built out of huge old gas tower. There was a noodle restaurant there with very happy staff and good grub, so we sat in and I enjoyed a beer with dinner, just to top off a good afternoon of sightseeing. Dad was coming to the show again tonight, and he’d just texted saying he was sat in a bar across from the venue watching the football. Johan, Andy and I went by and met up with him. It was great to see him again. He bought a round in and although I was a little hesitative about having another beer close to gig time, it felt too nice to turn down. We all agreed and so sat with him and had a blether for a while. He didn’t seem to have enjoyed Vienna as much as Berlin, much to my surprise. But then it turns out he’d once again booked an absolutely shit hotel. Don’t know how many times he has to look at a few extra details beyond the price when books places, but he never learns.

We all head back to the venue with dad in time to see the second half of Svalbard. The room us pretty well filled out, there must be at least ten times as many as that Speedhorn gig here all those years ago. Seems like Svalbard had a good show, Mark tells me he really enjoyed it. Liam still wasn’t one hundred percent satisfied, but he’s admitted that’s kind of his thing. I really enjoy playing our show tonight for some reason. It’s not there was a huge response or anything. There we plenty of people but not much movement, although you could see people were enjoying it. I think it must have been seeing dad in the crowd with a big smile on his face that got me pumped up. And maybe those two beers. Jon dedicated the last song to him, saying we had a special guest in the crowd, “Gaz’s dad, Grandfather Victims, all the way from Corby.” I was a little taken aback when the crowd cheered and applauded loudly and dad’s face lit up as we gave a pumped fist. He looked well chuffed. I gave him a big, sweaty hug afterwards and he laughed, “Fucking hell, you’re minging!”

I took merch duties after the gig and gave dad a free shirt. He said he wanted one as it would be great for “Bullshit value” at the Rock among with his mates. He loves “Bullshit value”. He had to head off shortly after since he was up early for the flight home. I look forward to seeing him at Christmas when he comes to stay with us. It’s times like this when I realise I don’t see enough of him, which is too bad because we’re really close. But we’re both busy as fuck, doing our thing. The reason I’m “doing my thing” is largely down to the huge encouragement he always gave me as a kid. Some punk comes to buy some stuff and tells me how he thought it was awesome that my dad was at the show. I can only agree.

We pack the van, knowing it will be safe within the compound, and then sit down to a beer in the cosy little punk bar beside the gig room. At one point some crusty punk sits next to Andy and starts babbling about “Bookers”, saying that if we hadn’t done a show with a booking agent, our friend Zoli that is, then there would have been a lot more people at the show. I guess what he’s trying to say is that if the entrance on the door had been eight euros instead of fifteen then it would have been better. He doesn’t mean any harm by it, though, he seems like a nice enough guy. Andy is not interested, though, “I don’t care. There are far bigger problems in the world than punk rules.” Conversation over.

I laughed with Andy earlier, saying that when you sleep at the venue it’s usually when you sleep the least, since bed is comfortably close and you can go sleep at “any time”: So there’s always the chance of just one more beer since it’s all cosy and you’re enjoying a chin wag. That’s exactly how I played my hand, too. I only had two beers, but I ended up staying up until two thirty, even though I’d been ready for bed long before. It was nice sitting there with Alex, Mark and Liam though. The other Victims guys had all gone to bed, leaving me directions to the bedroom, since we were staying in a different house than the Svalbard guys and I hadn’t been to our place yet. Those two beers got me tipsy, though, and when I got to the door of the house and found it locked, it left me a bit scoobied. I rang Jon, but then found another door before he answered and hung up. I knew the fucker would be waiting for me to have a go, though. I went to step into the dark doorway and mistook the flat ground for a step and nearly went tits aloft, but saved it barely into a stumble. Not sure if the Svalbard guys saw it. Those beers must have been strong.

When I found my way up the stairs I see Jon has left a Yahtzee score sheet on the floor that he’s drawn a big arrow on, pointing at the door. I’d woken him, though, as predicted. He gives it a moan, as predicted.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Budapest

We met the Svalbard guys for breakfast, hard going on the vegans among us, but pretty good coffee, we were back on the road for the remainder of the journey to Budapest. It only took another few hours and was pretty nondescript for the most part. Sat with Zoli in the back listening to him reel off a list of assholes. I was taking the piss out of him and his pessimistic view on human beings in general and then we pulled up at a gas station to fill up the tank and are immediately accosted by some woman trying to flog us a mobile phone. “See? Assholes!” Zoli chortles, chuffed with himself.

I have a hard time compartmentalising shit. Jen is so much better than me, it’s one of the things I admire most about my wife. But when I get a call from the building blokes at home telling me there’s a problem with the bathroom renovation it puts a damper on the rest of my dad in principal. There is also some stress around our bachelor thesis that I need to sort out and all of a sudden the joy of touring is gone for a while. I know everything will work out in the end, but I’m not the best at dealing with setbacks in the immediacy. My first reaction is always emotional where as Jen is more logical and analytical, even if she is pissed off.

Anyway, we get into Budapest about an hour before load in and to add to my current mood it’s grey, cold and raining. We’ve been speaking since before the tour about going to an outdoor thermal bath here in Budapest but scheduling has gone against us somehow. I’m sure it would be fucking magical sitting in a hot bath right now, but I agree with Andy in that going after we’re done with soundcheck would just sink us completely and we’d be so relaxed that playing the show would be a real struggle. Then there are thoughts of maybe going in the morning with the Svalbard guys but we decide to try and make the most out of Vienna tomorrow, since it’s one of those beautiful cities that we’ve all been to numerous times and yet never seen anything of it. We load in and go for a quick walk around the park opposite the venue. We played here last summer and it was around thirty eight degrees, it’s quite the contrast today.

The venue is a massive complex, full of different rooms and bars, as well as three stages, of which thankfully we’re on the smallest. It’s like a huge military bunker inside, and the dressing room and catering is two long corridors away from where we’re playing. So everything kind of feels disconnected somehow. Svalbard in their room, Zoli is kind of off and about having to deal with work stuff. And then it’s his last day with us today since he has to stay home and sort work stuff out before he goes out with Tribulation and Ghost. Everything just kind of feels like a Sunday. When we’re done with soundcheck Andy and I head out for another walk around the block because the only other choice is sitting in the dressing room bored, sniffing the food cooking next door and getting hungrier and hungrier.

When we get back dinner is ready. The catering staff here are really cool people, really seem to love their job. They made a skull shaped cake for us with Victims and Svalbard written on it. Really sweet. Dinner is great too. A good meal certainly can lift the spirits. As well as game of Yahtzee with a couple of Svalbard friends, of course…

It’s a strange show tonight. There are plenty of people in for a Tuesday night show, must be eighty or ninety or so, and although far from being packed, the room is still filled out enough to create and atmosphere in. The sound is really big as well, it’s a proper professional set up. We have a bit of a meeting with Zoli about plans for next year but I catch the second half of Svalbard’s set. It sounds really huge and I really enjoy watching them from behind the merch table.

Since the bar is in another room at the end of the corridor from the main entrance, the room is as good as empty when we set up, and it takes a while for the crowd to filter back in as we get started. It doesn't start well. I fall off the stage first song and barely save myself from going arse over tit. Big fucking scrape down the calf as I miss my footing. Almost fall right into Alex is stood up front watching us. Feel like a right knob. Everyone is back by the time we’re into the second or third song. With the crowd filled back out, I start to get into the gig and feel pretty good on stage. It’s maybe the first time on this tour that it’s felt really easy playing. But then it kind of takes a dip again when a gang begins moshing and the rest of the crowd step back and to the sides, leaving that hole in the middle of the room I’ve seen so many times. On top of that there is some pony-tailed lad that seems to be having some sort of alcohol induced psychosis, over in front of Jon. He’s standing shouting at himself and anyone else around him. At first I think he’s really into the gig but I soon understand it’s something else. I say something across the stage during one break and he immediately jumps on it pretty aggressively “What did you say?!” “Love you,” I say in a slightly too sarcastic tone. I ignore him for the rest of the gig but see him being ushered out by a friend at the end of the set. The moshers all line up at the end for high fives and handshakes, and there is some cool old lady punk smiling widely, “I’m getting too old for this!” she jokes. “Me too!” I reply and give her a hug. Weird gig somehow, can’t really put my finger on it. I guess it was just a bit flat, but that could have been to do with the crowd’s caution around the moshers. “They had a good time at least,” jokes Johan.

Afterwards I join Mark and Serena in their dressing room for a chilled out drink, discussing the gig and agreeing that it was a little strange. We’re going to pack then van tonight and leave it here, since the venue is in a securely gated compound and the hostel we have is in the middle of town. Zoli and his girlfriend wants us to join them for a shot of some Hungarian plum moonshine. We meet by the bar and Zoli proudly lines them up. I get the feeling he’s a bit sad about leaving us. I really can’t do shots but on giving it a sniff it doesn’t seem to bad. It tastes wretched, of course. Zoli is chuffed though.

We load out the vans and try to work out the crack with the hostel. It’s called the Hive Party Hostel. Liam then shares with us the weirdest fucking “Sleeping Story” I’ve ever heard. All bands have “Sleeping Stories”, and I’ve some belters myself, but this was something else. Apparently they played Amsterdam and the promoter put them up with some guy she knew. But from the get go it felt off. He was making grunting sounds at Serena before they even left, which they had to tell him off for, and then when they got to his place he went into full psychotic mode, off his tits on coke, carrying an axe around. He was demanding the guys all took a sniff with him, and their polite attempt at a refusal just seemed to push him further into the rage. The mad bastard sat around sniffing coke off the fucking axe and shouting insanities, making a bee-line for Serena and obviously making her very nervous. They decide to just get down for some sleep and get the fuck out first thing in the morning. A couple of hours later they’re awoken by the terror of the bloke kicking the door open, axe in one hand, torch shining a light in their eyes with the other hand, and shouts something about the toilet being broken and not flushing it if they need to use it. To top things off they found him in the morning sat watching porn at full volume on his laptop. What a fucking scene!

The joint tonight isn’t anywhere near that level, but it’s not great. Can’t claim false advertising though, there certainly is a party going on. The rooms encircle a courtyard with a disco below and the shit music is blasting. As we make our way into the rooms Johan and I wonder if they are soundproofed.

Nope.

Apparently the disco is on until two, another hour away. Alex mentions some rock bar nearby that we could go to for a beer. Sounds better than lying here listening to this piss. Serena and Liam come along whilst Jon and Mark hang out for a smoke and a meditation session. We can’t find the rock bar and just as it’s starting to feel useless since it’s already one-thirty I’m suddenly being frisked by a big bouncer bloke. I’m not even sure if we’re supposed to be going in to the place he’s bouncing, but apparently we are. It’s actually a cool place, though, like some indoor market full of different bars. We get a round of draught beers in and find an alcove like room and sit down for a chat. One beer turns into two and three am. It was nice sitting with the guys though, and worth the sacrifice of sleep. Maybe. Liam tells me that he thought it was funny that I described Mark as a really mild mannered guy, telling me there’s a darker, road-ragey side to him. Hard to imagine. We’ve all got our dark sides, though. Liam asks us who has the temperaments in Victims. After some consideration I say that Jon and I are certainly the emotional ones. Johan offers that he and Andy are the grumpy ones. I guess that’s true, but thankfully those sides of us show themselves rarely.

By the time I get into bed it’s three-fifteen and we’re supposed to meeting Zoli for breakfast at nine. I text him telling him to make it ten instead. Hopefully we’ll still make it in good time to Vienna tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Prague

I slept pretty well apart from waking up at one point covered in sweat, literally dripping through it. Can’t be getting night sweats at this age already? DO men even get night sweats? No, it was the sun blasting through the huge, curtainless ground level window behind my head. I managed to drift back off, once the sweat that had turned to ice, after kicking the covers off, thawed a little.

The alarm was set for coffee and sightseeing this morning. Mark had just brewed a pot so we sat there enjoying a mug of java whilst I waited for the shower to become available. When I was clean and ready to go, Jon came walking out looking like the back end of a bus. “Morning Jon.” “Morning”. “Are you coming into town?” “No.” Didn’t even break stride, just walked into the toilet, did a piss and went back to bed. Zoli had work to do so it was just Johan, Andy and I that went off exploring. It’s not that often that we play cities I’ve never been to previously, but strangely enough Dresden was one of them. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to at the start of the tour.

We took the thirty minute walk into town. It was a grey morning but the air was just the right side of brisk. We stopped for a quick cup of coffee and a sarnie at some nondescript place just before the river across from the old town and then made our way over one of the bridges. The view from the river was quite something. It looks like the set from a gothic film, all black stone churches and grande architecture. We stood there looking at the almost overbearing buildings for a while. The ominous history of this city made me feel heavy hearted. Even though the old buildings are black due to being constructed of sandstone, it paints a picture of fire and ashes, an almost tangible image of the hell on earth the British firebombs created here. And, of course, once you walk through the inital facade you end up in an area of sterile, soulless modern buildings, which makes things even more eerie because it hammers home the fact that they really did destroy the whole fucking city. What a horrible fucking thing.

My main mission was the Bombing Memorial and walked in search of it as the other guys checked out a Lego shop in the shopping gallery. There was a church on the other side of the huge open square but I couldn’t find the memorial. After much head scratching looking at Google Maps, I happened upon it almost haphazardly. It was simply just a modest little plaque in the cobblestones. Fitting, somehow.

We all met back up, the three of us having had the morning gut shuffle as a result of the earlier coffee. Andy said he’d had to run from the Lego store as it hit him like a ton of bricks, and had a bit of a sweaty panic on since the shopping gallery was huge. When we were all back together Andy said he’d actually went inside the church I’d walked around whilst looking for the memorial, and that they’d had a photo exhibition of before, during and after the bombing, whilst some string quartet played music. I can not believe I missed that due to having my head stuck in Google Maps. I wanted to go back but we were pressed for time. Fucking bummer.

We took the tram back to the venue where Jon and Zoli were waiting for us and after loading out Johan drove the two hours to Prague. We arrived with about an hour to spare and Zoli took us to another one of his long string of vegan restaurant tips, some place called Moment in a part of town I’d never been to. In contrast to Dresden, it feels like we’ve been to Prague every summer for the last six or seven years, due to playing one of the many Czech festivals every year. As much as I love Prague, it wasn’t on our list of sightseeing priorities this tour. The drive to Budapest tomorrow is about seven hours, and with the curfew on the show tonight being ten pm, we’re playing with the idea of booking a hotel somewhere along the way, maybe drive a couple of hours tonight if we can get out of here by eleven. It feels strange to blow of Prague really, but the 007 club is up on this huge hill on the edge of town, and then the band apartment is on the outskirts on the other side of the city, but there is no safe parking there, and the recommended safe parking spot is actually in the centre, meaning a lot of faffing around after the gig. Feels easier just to drive a couple of hours and break up the journey since we won’t get much chance to do Prague tonight anyway.

The food at Moment is great anyway. Vegan fried cheese and hand cut fries. Fucking banging. Jon is not impressed though. Zoli had made him an offer, that if he tried it and honestly didn’t like it, then he would buy Jon three cans of Monster energy drinks, Lewis Hamilton edition. One of Jon’s current obsessions. Three cans of Hamilton, it was. Jon managed about half of it before lifting the remains of it on to my plate, which I happily gobbled up. It was a bit gluey in consistency, to be fair, but it tasted great, and the vegan tartar sauce was wonderful, as well as the chips. Reminded me of my mum’s, who always made the world’s best chips. The service was not quite up to the same standard as the food, though. Which annoyed Zoli. “Assholes!” It doesn’t take much to wind up in Zoli’s Asshole Book to be honest, but this time he had a point. The young woman at the till taking payment had a face like a bag of wasps. She was not impressed with Zoli’s babbling, or the fact that as he was paying he then asked for a slice of chocolate and apple cake, and then when she banged in the new amount Zoli had his back to her and dancing at us. I winked at Zoli and told him to watch my British charm in action, totally hamming up the confidence, knowing that if I pulled it off Zoli would be furious. No dice. She was indeed a miserable bastard.

We drove over to the 007. Last time I played here was actually with Zoli in 2007 on the Speedhorn, Bridge to Solace tour where we first met. He likes to point out that the night we played here was the night Liverpool got beat by Milan in the European Cup Final and he found me outside the venue, sat on a fence, sobbing. I debate that I was sobbing, but he insists. I’d had a few drinks I guess… I’m not totally confident in my denial of his story. Funny to be back here with him, anyway. We get all nostalgic about it.

The drive up to the venue is pretty cool. It snakes up the huge hill, giving amazing vistas of the entire city, and then when you get to the top you meet a huge, open roofed stadium that was intended as an arena for all sorts of things but, aside from communist rallies in the days of the Iron Curtain, seems pretty much to have been unused since. On the way up the hill there are all these big houses which look like they cost a fortune and then all of a sudden you’re in a project of student housing which is block after block of concrete grey high rises. The venue itself, is legendary, though. One of the best DIY spots around, and small enough that fifty people would make a good evening of it. Zoli tells me they’ve already done eighty and are expecting well over a hundred. It’s going to a good night.

It all starts with a bit of work, though. Nothing quite as boring as actually having to do some work on tour. The input jack on my amp fell inside the amp last night, leaving Johan and I, mostly Johan, although I feel my lamp work was an integral part of the operation, exploring all options of how to get thing back out. The amp casing is more secure than fucking Fort Knox so we end up fishing it out through the tiny hole that has been left in the front of the amp. It’s beyond tedious. Like Mission Impossible. One of the punks that work here even gets involved, the three of us having lengthy discussions about tactical alternatives. After an hour of this shit we finally get it back in action. By the time we’re done and I’ve restrung my SG, the doors are opening. By the time Svalbard go on an hour later the place is pretty much packed. I attempt to watch them but can’t get anywhere near the stage, and the ceiling us so low in the place that the view is just completely blocked. They sound great anyway. And the crowd seem to be well into them. Almost to the point where I think this one could be entirely theirs tonight.

I’m sat in the side stage room waiting for the Svalbard guys to pack up. Just as Serena walks in I go to congratulate her on a great show and my attention is caught by Jon’s pale spotty arse in the corner, changing his kecks for the show. He’s been sleeping all night and seems to be in a bit of a daze.

Gratefully, there is still enthusiasm enough left for us guys too. It hits me that this is a really good package, the two of us. Really compliment each other well. The sound on stage is a bit chaotic on the cramped stage with the roof right above your head. I can barely hear anything Andy and it’s one of those shows that you have to make your way through on energy alone. I’m a bit plink/plonky in the beginning, and the songs are all going a little too fast, but I settle in about halfway through and get to enjoying it as much as the crowd seem to be. I spend most of the gig on a block right on the edge of the stage, no intention of being Slash or anything, it’s just there’s a fan blowing down from the ceiling right in that spot and it’s lovely and cooling. But then as we play Scars at the end of the set I noticed two of the punks gathering together and before I know it two of them have picked me up and launched me into the crowd. I’m being passed around on a sea of hands, almost pressed up to the ceiling for what seems like an age. In the beginning I try to continue playing the song but there’s no chance. I assume that they’re going to pass me back to the stage but every time I start dropping down they lift me back up. It’s fucking crazy. I catch Andy’s glance and see his concern, but I’m give him a smile and let him know it’s okay. In truth, I’m shitting myself. That concrete floor looks hard from up here. In the end I manage to take my guitar off and hand it off and they finally deliver me back to the stage. Way too old for that shit! It’s a fun ending to the gig though.

It’s a quick load out tonight. Zoli is banging on about driving into the city to grab a Beyond Burger but I want to get going since I’m doing the drive. I’m incredibly thirsty for one of the cold cans of Gambrinus in the fridge and want to get the hotel as soon as possible and crack one open. Worst choice of city on this tour to skip an aftershow beer in lew of a drive. Svalbard have decided to join us too, since they had a whole day of Prague anyway, and Liam is really intent on us all going together to this outdoor spa in Budapest we’ve been talking about. The drive takes a little longer than two hours, and it’s repeatedly slowed down by roadworks. The hotel is decent though. Just on the outskirts of Brno. Another city I’d really like to see someday. Maybe next time.

Everyone is pretty knackered when we pull in around one am, but I'm in need of a beer and a wind down, so whilst most people go to bed, Zoli and Jon come up to mine and Johan’s room, having been chased out of theirs by Andy. We sit on the bed and play a couple of rounds of Yahtzee. Every time Jon throws a double three he comments on how it is a curse that follows him around. He says that he first began noticing it months ago, that even his regular Yahtzee friends at home noticed it. He tells us that at one point it got too much and he had to stop playing for a few months. Not to encourage Jon in this nonsense, but he throws an eerie amount of Double Threes, shaking his head and mumbling to himself every single time.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Dresden

I woke up in the Germany Vegas hotel room, foggy and confused, by Jon shuffling about the room getting dressed to go out. I looked at the clock on my phone. It said it was eight am.,but I felt like I’d had more rest than six hours. And then I realised the time had moved to winter time and we’d gained an hour back. Jon looked at me on the way out, “Proves my point about circular time exactly,” he says, continuing on from the weird conversation he was having with me/himself last night. He was off to the market with Helene for a few hours. I wished him well and went about enjoying a couple of hours relaxing on my own in the hotel room.

He got busted on the tram without a ticket and ended up with a sixty euro fine.

After breakfast in the enormous lobby area we dumped the bags in the van and went for some coffee and scones at some cool little cafe just round the corner from the hotel. Heike and Colin lived right nearby, as well as our friend Jobst from the bands Nothing and Munster, so we met up with everyone and hung out for an hour or so. It was nice seeing Jobst since he couldn’t make the show last night. We understand of course, he’s old like us and has two kids, and sometimes it’s hard to work things out. It has been nice being able to hang and socialise with friends these first few days, have to take advantage when you get the chance, there’s always a long drive lurking around the corner, it feels like.

I drove all the way to Dresden today, happy that it came in at the two hours as advertised. We got to the venue about a half hour before load in time, but the place was about a thirty minute walk from the old town and we have time in the morning to check the city out, so end up just hanging around in the backstage room drinking mug after mug of coffee and nibbling at the various vegan snacks on the table in the backstage room. Once again, the room feels a little bit on the large size tonight. I’m a bit confused though, since I’m sure Jen told me she played this place with Misdemeanor a couple of times back in the day and that it was a cool little place and they had really good shows here. But then a while later a friend of Zoli’s turns up, a guy who actually booked Victims years ago, and he tells me that the venue did used to be a lot smaller but they got a cultural grant from the government and built it out a bit. Typical. Sunday shows can be hard, I know myself that draggin my ass out to a Sunday show at home is a rarity. Would have been nice with a smaller room, all the same. As if to compound the Sunday feeling, Alex the promoter, a big German guy with a big smile, greets us, and tells us that he booked our show at Zoro in Leipzig five or six years ago. It stokes good memories, we played with our friends Moloch and Thou and the place was packed. Alex then laughs a little, slightest tinge of nerves in his voice, “I guess it won’t be like that tonight.”

After soundcheck Johan and I sit in the backstage room and watch the Liverpool Spurs game on his tablet, my neck straining nervously as the Mighty Reds come from behind to win 2-1. With that taken care of we nosh on with some dinner, and then get down to the all important business of Yahtzee. Serena and Zoli join in, neither having really played before, so Jon happily guides them through the match, advising them what moves to play, huffing and puffing as he critiques my every move, which then spurs me to ham it up completely. My first throw I get two sixes and a five. Jon insists you should always go for Yahtzee, but I defy him and throw the last hand for a full house. Jon shakes his head incredulously, as a five and a six bounce up and give him a huge whoop! He’s proper annoyed, “It was still an amatuer move!” The rest of the game goes shit for me, but I still get a kick out of winding Jon up. Zoli, after on game, is totally hooked. He stumbles upon a bit of beginner’s luck and after that he wants to play again. Jon has found a Yahtzee disciple.

The local band start playing, and from the first few notes Jon concludes, “They sound like a band that is going to play for a very, very long time.” They don’t really, though. A modest half an hour or so. Germany used to be famous for having local opening bands that would play an hour set and then encores. There are over a hundred people in the place by the time they’ve finished and all of a sudden it doesn’t feel too bad. Alex is a little relieved since we’d only done around thirty pre-sales. A hundred or so on a Sunday night is about as much as we can hope for, and it looks pretty good when Svalbard are playing, and they get a good response too. Heike and Colin made the trip over for this show too since Heike’s parents live close by and they could babysit for them. I sit with them in the bar room and talk about Dresden, the guys giving me good sightseeing tips for tomorrow.

I’m feeling good and ready to play by the time Svalbard are done. Always gives you a little push when you think it’s gonna be a bit of a stinker and then there ends up being quite a few more people that it originally seemed it would be. As we’re waiting in the dressing room the Svalbard guys to pack down, Jon asks us if we’ve seen this Marvel film that has some sort of Hitler character in it, or something. I don’t really catch it, but Johan and Andy jump on it straight away. “What, like, Superhitler?” “Spiderhitler? Awesome concept!”

It’s a really fun show playing wise, and the crowd are having a decent enough dance of it. It’s easily the best on stage sound of the tour so far, and it feels like it’s almost at the point where the songs are playing themselves. There is one guy grunting a lot between songs, shouting “Hallelujah!” and “We love you! We need you!” Bit weird, but okay. He looks chuffed as fuck, anyway. Jon seems to be doing some sort of ballet dance thing between songs at the minute, which just adds to the bare feet thing. Fuck knows. Anyway, all in all, a very, very decent Sunday show. As I’m packing up my gear afterwards some big crust punk with a mohawk beckons me to him and starts shouting German at me. I tell him I can’t understand and he just shakes his head and says, “No English! Singer!” I happily oblige and find Johan and smirking, tell him his presence is required. I check it out as I’m packing the rest of my gear up and hear them saying something along the lines of “Best singer!” Johan thanks them, Mohawk has a mate now, who seems to be translating his German into more German. It all ends with them giving Johan a pair of snazzy sunglasses and insisting he wear them. He looks like a right tit. He walks around with them on top of his head for a good while afterwards though.

I get chatting with Mark the Svalbard drummer once I’ve dried off and gotten myself a cold beer. He asks about my dad, since he thought it was great how he came to the show last night. We make a nice connection, although a sorry one, since we both have parents that have passed away. We stand chatting about that stuff for a while. I really like him, a real mild, easy going chap. We’ve made a really good connection with the Svalbard guys very early on, it feels like.

Liam has had a couple of beers after the show, first time I’ve seen him a but tipsy. He comes up with the great idea of trading in all the beer tokens and taking a crate back to the apartment. He’s making a few saucy remarks, obviously taking the piss. Serena starts laughing at him, and Liam says he’s going to go all out Tommy Lee. “Tommy Liam!” I chirp in, well chuffed with myself. Serena and I decide we’re gonna make that name stick. When we get to the place, it’s one of those typical German style squat/apartments, although I guess it isn’t squatted. But it’s rough and ready, a couple of rooms with hand crafted bunk beds made out of thick pieces of wood. There is a shower and towels, though, and most of the beds have quilts and pillows. Of course, I left my sleeping bag in the van and the bed I’ve been alloted is bare, but Johan gives me his since he has his bag. Going back to the van would have been a pain in the ass. Andy laughs, saying that it’s typical of me to forget the sleeping bag, since I used to have a bad habit of not bringing one with me, and now even the one I have was given to me as a birthday present from Andy and Johan, and then I leave it in the van. Liam has done the same thing, it turns out, but he can’t be arsed going back either and says he’ll sleep in his clothes.

This all leads to a conversation about sleeping bags as we’re sat around a long table in the front room whilst some of the gang play Yahtzee. Alex Svalbard tells us that he had once had this sleeping bag that had been left somewhere for a couple of years, he’d forgotten about it I guess. And then this one night they played in Bristol and were staying at Liam’s and the sleeping bag had turned up. When he went to remove it from it’s holder bag, though, it was no longer a sleeping bag and was now a scuba diving costume, the body suit you wear under the wetsuit. We all piss ourselves laughing as he says, dumbfounded, that he ended up just wearing that and sleeping in it. I’m laughing so hard it hurts my stomach. I don’t know why, but it tickled the shit out of me.

We sit up until around two thirty, the Yahtzee gang, now including a very enthusiastic and equally serious Zoli, at one end of the table, Andy, Liam, Serena and I at the other. Serena and I get talking about studying and it turns out she’s a kindred spirit, psychology and sociology major. We sit there talking about our favourites theorists and the stuff we are working on at the minute. She is in the first year of her PHD, and she’s interested to hear about how it’s going with my soon to be completed Bachelors. It’s been another nice day, and a really good end to the night.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Berlin

I could get used to this crack. Seven hours of solid sleep, minus one piss break, in a decent bed. Zoli was already lying awake in bed looking at his phone when I arose from slumber. I asked him if he slept okay, he told me it was fine apart from the fact that every time Andy moved around in the bunk above him flakes of concrete from the wall behind him fell on his head. Otherwise, everyone slept well last night. It’s nice to wake up on tour feeling normal. The back wasn’t even as bad as I expected. Bonus.

We were all booked in for brunch at some vegan place that Zoli has been raving about, and Feddi is meeting us there. We had a couple of hours to kill, though, so the Victims guys got showered and sorted and went for a stroll around the area. On the way to the van to dump the bags we saw a slew of drunk Hamburgers staggering around the streets like zombies. Must have been a heavy payday Friday! We passed a couple of blokes who were struggling to stand, looked like a right pair of wideos, I could swear they were gonna start shit with us when we walked by them but they didn’t notice us until about three minutes later when they then began shouting at us… “HALLÅ!!! HALLÅ!!!!” We just laughed and carried on.

We grabbed some very decent coffee to go and went for a wander around the backstreets of St. Pauli without any real plan, but somehow ended up on the Reeperbahn. It must be fucking magnetic or something, you always seem to end up here in this city, intention or not. It’s pretty fucking miserable really, hungover tourist and sadness. I’m walking with Jon and I ask him what he felt about last night’s show. “One of the best shows we ever played,” he says, totally serious. He never fails to amuse me. We turned off soon enough and back into the nicer, quieter streets of St. Pauli where we bumped into Feddi on his bike with his young boy in the box on the back, half asleep. He said they’ve just been to some gymnastic park, enjoying the fresh air. It is indeed unusually pleasant weather for this time of year. There are still plenty of people taking their coffees at tables outside the cafes everywhere. A very nice change from home right now. We asked Feddi if there were any record shops around he was happy to show us, so we walked along with him having a nice chat along the way. The little record shop was really cool, with some very happy looking old guy with a moustache and a cheesy smile keeping the shop, and there were piles of records everywhere, but it was far too expensive for our tastes. There were some hardcore punk and metal records in there that I’d bought once upon a time for like, five euros, that were now going for thirty or forty, When did this happen really? And how much is my fucking record collection worth?

We met up with Zoli and the Svalbards at the cafe. I love the fact Zoli gets very excited about good food places. He was buzzing around like a small kid, telling everyone the crack and giving tips. Of course, all the staff recognised his big mug and all. He told me he’d been here every time he’s been through on tour. It was a cool, rustic little place with a vegan buffet and coffee for €16, which was a bit steep, but the food was great, and they did freshly made scrambled tofu to order, which was the dog’s baws. There was a slight communication miss, though. Liam Svalbard ended up mincing down a piece of pork salami, believing that everything was vegan. Which was kinda how I’d translated the message and all, but then when I’d seen the buffet I figured there was no fucking way they were making Roquefort look that realistic. The ham slices had eventually stirred Liam’s suspicion but it was too late. Gutted. Jon was chuffed, though, when he heard that Serena is a meat eater like him. He was sat next to her enthusing away as he does. I warned Alex their bass player next to me that our guitarist was probably going to freak Serena out soon. I heard Jon saying to her that the only thing he refuses to eat is fish. I leant over and asked why that was and he replied stone cold, “Fish fuck in the sea.” Only Jon…

Apart from the slight mishap, brunch was a roarin success. After thanking Feddi again for his help and hospitality we made our way back to the van to get going towards Berlin. I’d drive the first hour and a half, Johan the second. Except, we should have learned by now, that you can never trust the autobahn. When it works it’s great, when it’s SCHTAU it sucks. It wasn’t even SCHTAU today, it was just fucking closed for twenty five kilometers, turning our three hour journey into a six hour one. It was pitch black by the time we arrived at the venue, two and a half hours late. The venue people were cool about it, though, and very relaxed, which always helps.

The first thing that hit me when we loaded the gear in was, shit, this venue is too big. It was a cool place, though. Seemed to be some old cinema or something, and there were myriad rooms and alcoves with stone walls, an outer courtyard with bar, another cosy little bar out front completely disconnected from the music room and even a little cinema room. I wish they had places like this at home. Zoli is chuffed, tells me they’ve sold over a hundred tickets in advance. Even then though, it would take twice that to fill the room out properly. Anyway, being late we decide that Svalbard should soundcheck and we can just linecheck later. There are only the two bands tonight and we’re using the same set up and backline pretty much. I’m happy to skip it and relax for a while, we have a few different friends coming tonight and most importantly, my dad is making an appearance. Zoli thought I was joking when I told him my old man was coming to the Berlin and Vienna shows. I’m really chuffed, I don’t see him as much as I’d like, but he’s making the most of his retirement and always travelling all over the place on his own, and he since he’d never been to either Berlin or Vienna he thought he’d kill two birds with one stone and spend a few days in each whilst catching a couple of Victims shows. Really cool.

“Gareth? Gareth?” That never changes, though. Dad has a habit of calling and then when you answer he’s busy doing something else. I hear him talking to some random German and he’s obviously looking for directions to the club. “Been walking back and forth like a tit, boy! Can’t find the place.” Obviously he hasn’t put the address into his GPS on his phone, he’s just walking about asking people in his Welsh/Corby accent. I figure out he’s by the Ostkreuz station which is just around the corner, so go to meet him. It’s great to see him. Plus, he has a book delivery for me, and a war protest poster from Vietnam that he picked up for me when he was there earlier in the year.

We walk back to the venue and after taking him in to say hello to everyone we go to the cosy bar at the front for a beer. I’m driving after the gig to the hotel tonight, but I can have the one with my old man. Especially when he’s buying. On the way I bump into another couple of friends who we’d arranged to meet tonight, Colin and Heike who we know from the States and the Another Breath crew, so we all sit down for a beer and a chat. Shortly afterwards we’re joined by the rest of the Victims guys and Jon’s dear friend Helene and her friend, who both live here. Helene put on an amazing show for us here at Kastanjenkeller years back. Probably one of the most fun shows I ever played. It’s magic having this little get together with everyone.

The place is a fucking maze, though. Going back and forth a couple of times, I get lost. Three times I end up in that little cinema room, and then when I finally find my way back to the bar I end up walking through a door that leads behind the actual bar and get bawled out by the bartender.

After sitting around chatting for an hour or so, over a very nice cold pint of pilsner, we head back into the gig room to see Svalbard. I’m pretty amazed when I see how many people are in the place, it’s pretty packed. Zoli is by the merch smiling profoundly. Apparently they’ve done over two hundred and thirty tickets. The place is buzzing and Svalbard get a really good reaction. My dad is stood at the back by the door to the merch room where I’m stood for Zoli for a while, “These are alright these ain’t they?” he chirps. They are a really good band, really good at what they do. And as a bonus, really nice people. It’s going to be a fun few days hanging out with these guys.

The punks filter out of the room for some well needed air after the Svalbard set and we get to work. My dad cracks up at some crust punk guy who has taken a spot on the floor, lying down with his hands behind his head looking at the stage, waiting for us. “Not a bit of a poseur,” dad says with a broad smile on his coupon. Dad loves a poseur, Totally laps them up.

The show tonight puts the rustiness of last nights show in perspective. It’s always the same with first shows. Even if it felt okay last night, tonight is so much better and so much tighter. We have a great time during the gig, I love seeing my dad stood against the side wall near the front with a big smile on his face, watching us and cracking up at the crowd moshing and crowd surfing. There are a lot of smiling, dancing punks down the front which always gives you that extra bit of energy. At one point Jon removes a pair of sunglasses from some punter and wears them for a song, chuffed as fuck. The only downer for him is that his guitar strap snaps off or something, but his old friend Breeder is on hand to help him out. It’s a proper banger and we’re all chuffed afterwards. Dad comes up to me as I’m wrapping my leads up and gives me a big smile, “No wonder your back is fucking knackered,” he laughs. He tells me he’s gonna shoot the crow, his words, since he’s been walking around all day taking photos of stuff and needs a kip. I tell him I’ll see him in Vienna.

Some young guys get talking to me afterwards, a guy called Lukas originally from DC. He wants to ask me about my guitar pedals, he says the guitar sound was immense. I’m not all into the pedal talk, but happily talk to him about other things, and we stay there and chat for a while. Really sweet guy. I love meeting new people, always have time for a chat. We do really well on merch tonight and even get a percentage break on the door, on top of the guarantee. Not often that happens. This just keeps adding to Zoli’s levels of chuffed. What a great night it’s been, meeting up with more friends again and a brilliant show. I have half a bottle of cold beer and then we pack a couple to take with us back to the hotel. The weird thing is, though, the promoter has booked us into this four star hotel, but it’s the only show on the tour that Svalbard don’t have accommodation which feels a bit embarrassing. We could have happily taken some cheaper place where everyone could have stayed.

When we’ve packed the van we go on a food hunt before heading off. Apparently there are places over by the Ostkreuz station so we head over there. The station is buzzing with Saturday night drunks and ravers, and we have to make our way through the concourse to the other side and through the rabble. There is indeed a cosy little area on the other side of the station and we find a little sit-down falafel place. The guy behind the counter seems less than happy to see us, though, he just stands there shaking his head as the nine of us order food. We sit outside at some tables and have a blather whilst we wait. I really appreciate the fact that it’s only day two and already it feels like we’re mixing well with the Svalbard guys. The food is worth the grumpy attitude anyway, really nice, fresh grub. When we’re done we make to go and Zoli starts complaining at us, saying he was thinking of getting another falafel wrap. Greedy sod. “Come on guys, it’s Saturday night in Berlin!” We walk off and he begrudgingly follows suit. The thing is, years back, of course we would have gone drinking until the early hours, but if I was out at one-thirty back home these days I would be falling asleep already. One-thirty in Berlin is more than a good enough innings, I reckon.

We walk back through the station and Serena and Jon make a stop at some bakery kiosk. As we wait around for them Serena comes up to us, half smiling, half shocked, and says some rude German woman had just barged behind her in the queue and then just shouted her order over her shoulder, leaving Serena speechless. I comment that I guess she must have been wasted, Serena has a different reflection in it though, “She was just a fucking cunt!” laughing about it all the same. Andy cracks up, “Love the Brits”.

The hotel we’re staying at us fucking ridiculous. It’s Germany, or maybe someone said Europe’s, largest hotel. It literally has thousands of rooms and we’re staying in the second wing of four, I think. It’s total Las Vegas. Pristine, huge and shiny, and somehow still tacky. The lobby has a huge glass ceiling about seven stories up, and there are bars and restaurants strewn about the place. It looks more like Central Station than a hotel. We dump our bags and decide on a nightcap before bed. There is some other band at the bar who we try to avoid, since one of the guys is wearing black metal clothes and has a man bun. Obviously a wretched person. I jest, of course. Zoli is curious, though, he always wants to know who’s who. We leave him to it as we take our beers to one of the sofas. Zoli joins us soon after and tells us they’re actually nice guys. I’m sure they are. We just couldn’t be bothered with band talk.

Jon heads up before us, since he’s intent on making it to this market in the morning. I’m not far behind him, though. I’m more than ready for bed. The one beer was perfect. I walk into our room and Jon is sat meditating on the bed, full on yoga style. I apologise for barging in and disturbing him and his eyes burst open, “That weed I got from Breeder was a real upper! I’m fucking buzzing!” and then he starts banging on about circular time for a while. I don’t really keep track with what he’s talking about, I just leave him chatting away whilst I nod off to sleep in the bed beside him.