Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Work Experience - Part I

I got my first job when I was thirteen years old, delivering papers for the local newsagent. It was my first experience of getting up early for work. I hated it. I'd get up a seven in the morning for my round which would take about half an hour, then I'd go to school. I realised pretty early on that I was a night owl.

My second job was at a social club called the Silver Band Club. I was a glass collector, or as my friend Stuart always calls it, a pot man. I love that expression... Anyway, I was fourteen when I started at the Silver Band Club. Upon turning eighteen I would graduate to the lofty position of bartender, something I would return to later in life.. But it's those days collecting empty glasses that hold a dear memory for me. I worked every Sunday, the same night my dad worked extra on the taxis. We'd finish at the same time and he'd come and pick me up in the cab. We'd get home in time for the start of MTV's Headbanger's Ball. I'd have a cup of tea, my dad would have a beer and there we'd sit and watch what was in those days a great show. My dad would normally head off to bed after a half hour or so whilst I'd sit up and watch the programme in it's entirety. The presenter, Vanessa Warwick, was my first love...

Neither Raj's paper shop or the Silver Band Club felt like real jobs though, which at the time suited me just fine. I earned around eighteen pound a week from the SBC, which was five pounds more than Raj paid me. It was pocket money. That eighteen quid covered a night out at Channel 2, the place where all us “freaks”, “long hairs” or “grungers” as the jocks at school called us, hung out every Friday. Two pound-fifty entrance fee, two pound a pint. Eighteen quid was more than enough to get pissed up on.. Things were good. I felt then that I never wanted anything to change. Life could stay this way forever.

And then come the summer of '94.

That summer was the first time I heard the term “Employment Agency”. I wasn't quite sure what the deal was, but a couple of my mates were suddenly working on these agencies which provided work in a selection of the many factories scattered around the town's many industrial estates. Until this time I'd never ventured into these areas of Corby, they were just a dubious grey shadow on the outskirts of town where all the grown-ups worked. The first of us to go to work was my mate Leon. He told us it was fucking horrible. He'd have to get on this bus with all these scumbags, that would shuttle them to the factory, where he'd work a mind numbing eight hours a day. The thing was, it paid three pound fifty an hour. A week's work would earn you around one hundred and forty pounds a week. That was a hell of an improvement on eighteen fucking quid!

It's just, this was supposed to be the time when we were on our summer holiday. I wasn't prepared for this. Nobody had warned me the previous summer that it would be the last time I'd know freedom. But still, one hundred and forty quid! How bad could it really be? I took myself down to Staff Line's office on George Street.

What got me was how arrogant the people who worked at the Agency were. I had to sit and fill in a questionnaire while this smarmy bastard sat behind his desk with a smirk on his face. There was all the mandatory stuff like name, address, national insurance number and such, but when that was out of the way came the next section, which dealt directly with the type of work you would be involved with. One question was, “Will you work with food?”. For some reason I felt compelled to say no, but Smarmy Cunt made it quite clear that unless you ticked that particular yes box your chances of getting any work were practically nil. With a heavy heart I drew a tick. I had a horrible feeling I knew what was coming next.

After completing the form and going through a quick interview, I'm told I'll be called if they can find any work for me. I left the place hoping I'd never hear from them again. Within in a hour Smarmy Cunt is on the phone telling me that I'll be happy to hear that he has found me work at Webb's Chicken Factory, starting at six am the next day. I felt like I'd just been sentenced to life imprisonment. Life as I knew it was officially over.

The first thing that hits you is the smell. That smell could turn your stomach like a kick in the bollocks. And this was before you even stepped out onto the factory floor. This was in the changing room, where you'd adorn a protective white suit with rubber boots and rubber gloves, topped off with a hairnet and white hat. For a couple of seconds I actually forgot about the smell and concerned myself more with the fact that I looked like a right twat. When I actually walked through the heavy steel door into the factory though, that particular worry subsided. That stink of dead chicken. I'll never forget it. That and the look of absolute depression on the faces of the other people working there.

As I enter the factory floor, trying to keep the puke down, I'm greeted by a guy called Mark who tells me he is the supervisor. He seems very proud as he tells me this and I learn quickly enough that he takes his job very fucking seriously. He gives me a quick tour of the factory floor, telling me about the different lines and stations. As I follow him about like a lost puppy trying my best to avoid the eyes of my fellow co-workers for fear of being devoured by the weight of their gaze, my gag reflex slowly adjusts to the smell. It's then that I notice how fucking cold it is in here.

I finally reach the station where Mark tells me I'll be working. The chicken wing line. It's like this:

The line starts with somebody opening a vat of raw chicken wings and shovelling them onto the start of the conveyor belt. A little further down the line somebody is stood spreading the wings out before they enter a machine that covers them in breadcrumbs. Upon leaving the breadcrumb machine, they continue along the belt where someone else, in this case yours truly, gives them a further inspection, separating any that are stuck together, before they continue along into another machine that rapidly freezes them, from where they exit into a funnel system, dropping into plastic container bags that are then sealed by someone else stood at the end of the line and thrown into a cage. Mark tells me it's of the utmost importance that I don't let any wings by that are stuck together. Ok boss. And that's me. I look down the line and notice there is a huge fucking clock on the wall at the end of the factory. Six fifteen am. First break is at eight-thirty. I just have to think about that first break. If I think about two pm I won't make it. If I think about the fact that I'll be here tomorrow, and again the day after, I'll probably break down and cry.

I stand there in silence sifting through cold, soggy, breadcrumb coated chicken wings, making sure they all go into the freezer separately. I look down the line at the two guys bagging the finished product and I'm hit by a wave of jealousy. What I wouldn't give to be on that position. I put my head back down and try not to think about it. Another thirty minutes or so go by before my gaze starts to wonder again. I have a scan of the factory. It's a pretty big place. And it's very white. White walls, white ceiling, white tiled floor. Everything is white, except for the various types of chicken flesh that have dropped to the floor, but they're quickly removed by people who have the job of constantly hosing the floor down with freezing cold water and shovelling up the waste, hence the rubber boots I'm wearing. As I make a one hundred and eighty degree scan around this misery, I do a double take at a face on the other side of the factory smiling back at me. It's my mate Heg. An almost euphoric relief washes over me. A friend. And furthermore, it's Heg, who has the talent of laughing in the face of almost any hardship. We make signals to each other across the factory floor and we arrange to take our breaks together. Maybe this is survivable after all. Just as things are starting to feel better, Mark creeps up behind me and tells me to get on with my work. And alas, misery returns.

At break Heg tells me that he's been here for about a week. He's worked on most of the stations and he tells me the place to be is dispatch, which is by far the best job in this joint. Dispatch is basically the warehouse side of the factory where the products are packed into boxes and then onto pallets, ready for shipping. It's warmer there and you don't have to wear all this protective gear. I need to get myself in there somehow.

The line Heg is working on at the moment though, where he's been for a few days, is unmistakeable at the other end of the Webb's spectrum. He's on the first line, where whole chickens, plucked and minus a head, come in to the factory. Heg's job is to stick these carcasses arse first onto a metal clamp which then moves them along the line to be chopped up and dissected into various pieces. As we sit there over a cup of tea and a sandwich I wonder what they fuck I'm doing here. I just try to convince myself that it will all be worth it at the end of the week when I have a hundred and forty quid in my bank account.

The trouble is, it never really turned out that way. The elation at that first wage had all but subsided by the following Monday. The best it got for me on Webb's chicken factory ladder was working on the bags at the end of the wing line. By day three I was fantasising about ways of murdering Mark and getting away with it. Even my parents, doing their best to install some sort of work ethic in me (my dad worked for years at the steel plant for fuck sakes), couldn't hide the pity in their eyes. My dad told me he felt awful picking me up at the end of the day in his Royal Mail van, seeing the despair in my face as I climbed into the passenger seat, my shoulder length hair stinking of chicken guts. It would take about an hour in the shower to even get near feeling clean again.

I only lasted three weeks, although it felt like an eternity. The end came on one dark hungover morning. Me and Heg had been out the night before at Reflections in Kettering, which had an alternative night every Monday. We'd had a few drinks by the time we left there around midnight. It was a great feeling being there with all our mates, dancing to good music, doing our best to impress the girls we knew. For a few hours Webb's was the furthest thing from our minds. As we were sat in our mate Mike's car on the way home though, the doom started to filter back to conscious thought. Heg suddenly turns round, half pissed and tells me he can't go to work tomorrow, or actually today, in five hours time. On certain days you would get picked up by a taxi, paid for by the Agency, today being such an occasion. Heg begged me to tell the cab driver he was sick. I disgruntledly agreed.

The taxi pulls up outside of my parents house around five thirty. It's dark and cold. I hop in the back and tell the driver not to bother going to Heg's place since he's called and said he was sick. I don't know why he gave a piss, but he tells me that he'll just go and double check anyway. “What the fuck is this?” I wonder, although secretly I'm chuffed. He pulls up outside Heg's place, a few streets away, and beeps his horn. Nothing. He beeps again. And again. “Fucking hell, this cunt is evil!” I think to myself, a smile by now spreading across my face. Eventually a light turns on in the house. Within a few minutes Heg appears at the door and I can swear I see his dad's boot kicking him up the arse on the way out. He looks absolutely destroyed as he collapses beside me on the taxi bench seat. We drive to Webb's in silence. By the time we're sat in the canteen at five-fifty, Heg is in tears. It's only then I realise how fucked up this situation is. Today will be my last day in Webb's. I don't give a fuck what my parents say, I'm willing to face the shame of quitting.

When I leave at the end of the day and get in my dad's Royal Mail van I tell him I'm not going back. “Don't fucking blame you boy!” he says. We drive away from the place and I feel like I've just gained my freedom back. I'm almost in tears myself by this point, but they are tears of relief. I only hope Heg's dad is as understanding as mine...

Still, that money in bank is bankrolling what is the beginning of a life-long obsession, namely collecting records. I have to think of another plan. There has to be better alternatives to working than Webb's. I decide that I'll give it another go and hope for something better at another agency. And this time I'll stand my ground and abstain from ticking that fucking yes box...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bloodshed Fest

There is some footage bandying around of our show a couple of weeks ago at the wonderful Bloodshed Fest in Eindhoven.  Here is a little taster.  Thanks again to Luc for a great night!


The plane touches down and as soon as it's come under controlled speed and taxiing to the gate I turn on my phone. “Just landed darling. What's the score?”.

Liverpool are at home to Man Utd. today and typically enough we're flying during the fucking game. I'm nervous as I await the plinging sound of a text message coming in. Within a minute Jen has texted me back. Half time, 0-0. I'm hoping Stachel is late so Johan and I can at least catch the end of the game.

Schiphol is an absolutely huge airport but unbelievably enough, there isn't a bar anywhere that is showing the game. There are a couple of places with television's showing tennis, but no football. Only one of the biggest games in club football anywhere in the world... Tennis for fuck sakes?

Resigned to the fact that we're not going to see any of the game, we retire to the toilets. Just as I'm zipping up I get another text through. “Gerrard! 1-0 Liverpool!” I almost catch my knob in my zipper as I'm half pulling up my jeans, half dancing with joy. I shout to Johan who is sat in the adjacent cubicle. “Yes get in!” he says, followed by the sound of turd splashing down in to the water below.

Stachel texts and tells us he's twenty minutes away. By the time he arrives the Scum have equalised and the game ends 1-1. Can't help being a little disappointed, but the main feeling, as is always the case when we play that shower of shite, is relief that we didn't let them beat us.

The drive to Eindhoven is a short one. We're playing a slot on a festival called Bloodshed Fest, which is at the renowned Dynamo Club. It being a predominantly grindcore festival, Jon has obviously played it before. He's psyched about the show, promising us it's going to be good. There are a few other punk bands playing, like Doom and Vogue, the latter of which I'm particularly looking forward to seeing since they are splitting up and this is one of their last shows. We're playing second to last on the smaller stage in the basement which should be a great slot. To top things off, there will be a contingent from the UK in attendance, led by Bloody Kev and Goy. I'm looking forward to hanging out with them tonight. It's far too seldom an occurrence these days..

We arrive at the festival about five hours before our stage time. We meet Luc, the promoter of the show, outside. He tells us that yesterday went really well but today has already done over a hundred more tickets and it's still early. He is of the consensus that our show tonight is going to be wild. It seems that tonight has a lot to live up to. I head inside the venue and find Kev and Goy almost immediately, hanging out in the foyer area of the club where the distros, bar and kitchen are situated. Everything I need. It's great to see the guys. These two were the reason I wanted two lead singers in Raging Speedhorn, their band Hard To Swallow being one of my all time favourite hardcore bands. Funny really that Kev would become one of the Speedhorn singers years later.

They're both looking a bit worse for wear, although Kev is looking particularly pale. Goy tells me the old fucker hasn't slept for three days. Apparently it all started when he hooked up with a feisty Italian girl at the Bird's Nest. He shows me the top of his left arm, which is covered in bruises after a rough night with this girl, who beat the shit out of him in the sack. Kev is like Benjamin fucking Button, he just seems to get younger as the years go by. Whereas I of course seem to be ageing like a dog.

I hang out with the pair of them for a while, the two of them ensuring me that by what they witnessed yesterday in the basement room, our show tonight is going to be mental. This is shaping up to be a good night. Goy tells me that Dennis Doom has been on at him, asking when the Swedes are getting here. He's on the look out for some snus. Dennis lives in Göteborg these days and has become an avid fan apparently.

I see Dennis later on downstairs, he looks the worse for wear. Apparently they'd been at the 1 in 12 Festival at the club in Bradford last night, which was quite a heavy night obviously. The rest of the Doom lads had refused to get on the same plane as Dennis this morning, instead sending him ahead on an earlier flight. Not quite sure that was such a good idea. He's made it here though, barely. He's stood there, hunched over like Ozzy, with a sad look on his face. When he sees Andy, he comes over to our merch table and in his broad northern accent, asks Andy if he has any snus, a hint of desperation in his voice.

We'd set up the merch in the room downstairs, opposite the gig room where we're playing. The gig room is just the right size. Decent enough size stage, low to the ground, the room itself capable of holding around two hundred and fifty people. The room upstairs, where the main stage is, is more akin to a school assembly hall with a capacity of around six hundred. I'm glad we're playing downstairs. We spend the next few hours flitting around between the stages, watching various bands. The Vogue show is great, shame they're splitting up. I watch their set with Kev, who had put them on in London earlier this year. I ask him why they're splitting up to which he replies, “Ahh, they've been together five years!” I laugh at the thought. What an unusually long existence Victims have had it seems. Credit to them.

It hits me as we're watching Vogue that my guitar, which has been in Germany since we played Ieper Fest a couple of months ago, is missing a strap. Or, missing a strap that isn't gaffa taped together in the middle. I'd totally forgot that I snapped the fucking thing in half during our set at Ieper. Kev rescues the day and kindly asks the Vogue bass player after their show if I can borrow his strap, who is only happy to help me out. I'm very grateful and very relieved.

At one point during the evening I happen to go for a piss just as Jon is himself going to the Gents. I need to relieve myself of the two beers I've consumed. Jon is blowing the cold he's had for the last couple of days out of his nose. I'm standing there pissing and just happen to catch Jon out of the corner of my eye. As he blows his nose one of the lenses in his glasses falls out on to the dirty floor below. He bends down with a big sigh and picks up the lens, wiping it with some tissue paper. I laugh and say to him “Time for some new glasses maybe?”, to which he grunts, “Time for some new gaffa tape...” and then goes on to inform me how much glasses cost. In all fairness, the cost of spectacles is indeed a scandal. Jon puts the lens back in place and heads off to our merch table in search of some new gaffa tape to replace the current-past it's-sell-by-date tape that currently holds his glasses together.

The tokens Luc gave us are good for a small glass of a beer. He's kindly given us more than enough to get us through the night. Although it's actually a very good idea drinking small beers as opposed to pints, after four or five I realise that I should get some food in my stomach and then take it easy until after our show.

If there is one thing the Dutch do quite brilliantly, actually there are a few things the Dutch are good at to be fair... but fuck me do they make good peanut sauce! Earlier this summer our friend Jos changed my life by introducing me to chips and peanut sauce. I'm delighted to see one of the options from the vegan kitchen at the festival is Fried Rice Satay. I shovel it down sat by our merchandise table. The snot-thick peanut sauce is absolutely stunning.

From Vogue onwards the line up starts to really get interesting. We're sandwiched between the sets of Doom and Bastard Noise. The system they have here is that the shows on the main and basement stages overlap seamlessly so knowing that we have to get our gear on stage sorted out, I can only stick around for the beginning of the Doom set. They manage a couple of songs before something happens with Bri's guitar. It just cuts out. After a few seconds of silence Stick starts up with some sort of of hip hop beat and lo and fucking behold, Dennis starts rapping over the top of it. This goes on for about two minutes. Dennis is actually banging out verse for a while, the chorus following it consisting of “Fuck da police!”, all in a quite terrible American accent. I stand there with my face cusped in my hands barely able to watch whilst Andy is stood beside me with his phone in the air filming the scene, “This is going straight on Youtube!” After a while Dennis's vocabulary fails him and all that's left is the randomly spaced “Fuck da police!” chant. Thankfully Bri eventually gets his guitar sound back and they break into some good old Doom. The place erupts again and normality is restored. We check out one more song before heading downstairs to start setting up.

The backline gear is all rented and it takes a while for us to locate everything, but there doesn't seem to be any stress with stage times. When everything is set up and we're on stage tuning our guitars, the small basement room starts to fill up. It's already as hot as the devil in here. This is going to be a real test of endurance.

By the time we're ready to go, the place is packed, with members of the crowd already spilling on to the stage. We blast into V5 and the place goes nuts. By the time we get to the end of the second block of songs I'm gasping for water. The energy in the place is amazing though, the crowd going crazy and singing along with the songs. During This Is The End I almost get sucked in to them as if by force of vacuum. I'm up on the monitor singing along with crowd, pumping one fist in the air as I play the chorus with the other hand. It's a great feeling as I see friends like Kev and Goy, Loffe and Luc, dotted around the crowd. In fact Loffe and Kev are down the front going for it, Kev having wisely taken his glasses off. Another couple of friends of ours, Nathalie and her sister Esther, who run the Crowbar in Groningen, are also packed in near the front of the crowd. I think it's Esther I hear shouting between songs, “Why the fuck is this not on the main stage?”. I'm glad it isn't.
During Nowhere In Time Jon gets pulled into the crowd and lofted on to a sea of hands, whilst somehow managing to keep up with the rest of us on stage. This has to be the best show we've played this year, a great way to cap off 2011. By the time we get to the last block of three songs, I feel like I'm about to puke up, such is the heat on stage. I can see we're all struggling. I'm relieved to hear Johan say that we're scratching Broken Bones and going straight to Circles/Scars. Two short, fast songs and then we're done...

I put my guitar down, turn the amp off and slumber behind the drum set and into a tiny squared room behind the stage that is full of equipment. It's offers only a slither of fresh air but I happily take it. I feel sick. The rest of the guys gradually join me in the small room. The crowd is boisterously chanting for more, but we all agree we've had enough.

A couple of minutes later the crowd is still chanting, and just as enthusiastically. Some punk kid appears in the doorway and tells us we have to go back on stage. We collectively shake our heads. Jon says to the kid, “Tell the dj to put the music on.” The kid quick-fires back at him, “You put the music on!”. That seems to win the argument because at that the four of us trudge back on stage. Broken Bones. Fuck am I happy that it's only a minute long! We blast through it, the crowd kicks off for one last time and then that really is us. If they want to hear more they can fucking play the songs themselves!

It takes a while to cool down, but once the sick feeling in my stomach subsides, the buzz of what was a really fun show starts to revive me. After throwing about a litre of water down my gullet, I'm ready for a beer.

We hang out in the side room where we have our merch. The cold beer tasted magic. There is some crust punk guy from Singapore hanging about, wanting a photo with us. I haven't really caught what's going on, I just hear Jon saying to Johan in Swedish, “Shall we get this photo done and get rid of this guy?”. I crack up, typical him. He doesn't really mean anything by it. We take a couple of photos with the guy, who is actually a really nice guy. He talks to us about putting on a South East Asian tour. It's sounds like a dream but until it happens, until I see the flight tickets in my hand, I'll treat it as just that. I know bands that have gone over, like Fy Fan and War All The Time. By all accounts the shows were fucking wild. Who knows? One day maybe...

Andy and I check out a little bit of Bastard Noise, but in all honesty I can't really get into it. I've had enough by now and all I want to do is drink a few beers and hang out with friends. Which is exactly what I do. The guys from Reproach are here too.  It's always great to see them. We put our drink tokens to use by trading them for shots and beer, although I seem to have an endless amount since the tokens just never run out. I'm feeling that nice warm buzz now. Not too drunk, just good. Happy.

As we're stood at the bar, Dennis Doom slides over to us, looking tired and sad. He says something about snus in between a lot of sighing. Andy asks him how their show was, “It was alright”, he replies in the least enthusiastic manner possible. He rests his head on Andy's arm, saying he's fucked.

We're all back in the merch room as the night draws to an end. Jon is hanging out with the Bastard Noise people, getting his photos taken with them. I guess now he's that guy. He tells me later that when he asked the bass player for a photo together, the response he got was, “Well if you want a picture with someone who sucks, just do it!”. Jon was chuffed.

Kev has now finally fallen asleep, sat upright in the chair beside me, with that silly grin he always has on his face when he passes out drunk. Three days of partying finally catching up with the old boy. Goy, pretty drunk himself, is laughing at him.

There seems to be some confusion as to what is going on with the sleeping arrangements tonight. Stachel had gone and checked out the hostel with Luc but is now back saying that there wasn't enough beds reserved. Actually, there are three bands, Doom included, that are each supposed to have a room. What in fact appears to be the case is there are only three beds reserved. That's one bed per band. Luc seems a bit stressed by the situation. He tells us he's going to look for another hotel and that he'll be back. We tell him it's no stress. It's two am. and I'm hungry. I'm thinking chips and peanut sauce...

After numerous goodbye's and drunken hugs with Kev and Goy, Johan, Stachel and I head off in search of food. The venue is slap bang in the middle of Eindhoven and the streets are now packed with drunk people, with the three of us adding to those numbers. Actually Stachel is sober, which seems to be depressing him a bit..he hasn't really been able to party tonight. I feel bad for him.

We find a large fast-food joint which serves just what I'm looking for. I'm completely chuffed with my chips ad peanut sauce and devour them like a buzzard. My joy turns sour though when I meet Stachel outside on the busy street and he has what seems like a portion twice the size of the one I just ate. I go back and forth, drunkenly debating with myself whether I have time to run back in a buy more chips. It turns out that the time I spend farting about on the street looking at the long cue inside the shop would have been more than sufficient to get another hit. Alas, I go back to the venue with Stachel and Johan, convincing myself I'm still hungry...disappointed with myself.

We're stood out on the street by the van, waiting for Luc to return with news of where we're sleeping. It's three-thirty am now. The booze is ever so slightly starting to wear off and hanging about doesn't seem as fun any more. Eventually Luc returns though, and with a reservation for an expensive hotel. He feels bad about everything, which in turn makes me feel bad for him. He's put on an amazing festival and the fuck up with the hostel was in no part his fault. He needn't feel bad, he's done a great job.

We get an address for the hotel and drive off in search of it. It takes a little while. When we locate the hotel and we're driving into the car park, the Doom guys pass us in their van, heading in the opposite direction, giving us a thumbs up as they do so. It doesn't really register, we just return the thumbs and keep driving, looking for a space in the car park. It's really cold now. Or, it's a bit nippy and I'm tired and drunk and have a shiver convulsing through my torso. The hotel looks very dark and there seems to be nobody at the reception desk. We knock.

And we knock...

I start losing my rag. Johan, keeps his cool as always though, telling me that if I do go through with my shallow threat of putting my foot through the door then we won't have anywhere but the van to sleep tonight. I just grumble like a kid that's been put in his place, feeling like a tit. After about ten minutes of aimlessly knocking fists on cold glass, it dawns on us to check out where the Doom guys were heading to. We find them in another reception on the other side of the building, Dennis spread out on his back across the floor. They've been waiting for us since Luc gave Johan the booking details.

The Doom guys still seem in the mood to party, and for a split second I think Andy and Jon are going to take them up on it, but it's four thirty in the morning and we're getting up at nine thirty.

Johan, Stachel and I share a room. I decide to shower before I go to sleep so I can have a longer lie- in in the morning. All cleaned up, I curl up into what is an astoundingly comfortable bed. What a fucker that I'm only going to be in it for about four and half hours.

The alarm goes off at nine-thirty. My head is thumping a familiar beat...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Learning to Drive

Our US tour ended six weeks ago. Since I came home from my three day vacation with Jen in New York, directly after the tour ended, my time, or at least my thoughts, have been dominated by one thing. My driving test. With that, work and school starting up for the autumn, I've hardly felt inspired to write anything, never mind had the time. Until now, where I find myself back in the company of my fellow Victims, on board a KLM Boeing 737-800 series bound for Amsterdam.

We're playing the Bloodshed Fest at the Dynamo Club in Eindhoven tonight...

But back to the driving test.

It's completely ridiculous, but this process began in Corby over ten years ago with a nice old guy called Jim Scales. He was my first driving instructor. I was nineteen years old, quite late to be starting my driving lessons compared with the average age of learner drivers in Corby. The driving licence is essential to anybody living in small town England who wants to get out and explore further afield. Most of my friends by that time had had their licence a couple of years, but nonetheless, I was finally taking a grip on the issue.

After six months of weekly driving lessons, it was time for the theory test. My younger sister, who was also driving with Jim, took the test the same day. My dad gave the pair of us a lift in his post van to the test centre in Kettering. I remember we were both pretty nervous. The theory test had recently been made a lot harder. In the past the test had consisted of nothing more than a few verbal questions from the test instructor, sat in the car at the end of the actual driving test. Now it was our turn, they had transformed the fucking thing into a sixty five question multiple choice nightmare, which you would undergo sat in front of a computer in a, soulless, sterile room somewhere.

As it happened, for the first time in my life I had actually taken the time to study for a test and both my sister and I passed without any major issues. We were both chuffed as we waited outside for my dad to come along and pick us up again in his post van to take us back home. My dad has always taken full advantage of the post vans and trucks he's had at his disposal during his years of service to Her Majesty's Royal Mail...

So that was that. Now it was just the actual driving test to conquer.

Thanks to Raging Speedhorn, I never even attempted it. I had my driving test booked and was raring to go. My sister too. I couldn't wait to get my own car and break free from the shackles of Corby. When I had my car I'd be able to drive anywhere to see bands play. That was my overriding inspiration. As it happened though, we'd formed Speedhorn somewhere during the period of my driving lessons and of course, just as I was gearing up to take my driving test, the band was busy booking it's first real tour. A two week shunt around the UK with Ninth Circle from Scotland. The date for my driving fell right in the middle of it. As much as I was desperate to get my licence, I didn't even hesitate to cancel the date for my test, in order to go on tour. I didn't care if we were playing toilet venues in front of fifteen people a night, we were doing our first ever tour. Shows every night, beer would be flowing freely (or so I naively assumed), sleeping on people's floors, the adventure of it all consumed me. The driving test could wait.

If I knew then that it would wait another twelve years I may have felt differently...it's probably my only major regret in life. I don't regret the tour of course, even if the beer didn't flow freely and the shows were indeed attended by an average of about fifteen people a night, that tour set me on my path in life. My regret is that I never got off my arse and picked up the momentum again. Instead of booking a new test, I just waited. Even the driving lessons stopped. The thing is, we got home from the Ninth Circle tour and within a week or two we were back out again, this time with Breakneck from Kent. And then shortly after that we landed our first “big” tour, opening up for Earthtone 9 on a four week tour that took in the entire UK. Shortly after that we landed some support dates with Will Haven. Before I knew it a few months had passed and my cancelled driving test was nothing but a distant memory. - I'll sort it out at some point, I told myself.

Like said, it took over ten years to happen. I didn't even get around to booking a driving test at the first time of trying here in Sweden. Although, for different reasons entirely. Ten years on, and in another country, learning to drivng had become a whole other science. Not to mention insanely expensive!

Jim Scales' lessons, back in 1997, set me back fifteen quid for an hour's lesson. Now I know you have to take in to account the small matter of inflation, but an hour and twenty minutes of driving lesson in Sweden costs you the arse raping sum of ninety fucking quid! Even if the pound, low as it is now, would veer a little back towards it's usual rate, it would still work out at around seventy five quid per lesson. It just doesn't make sense to me.

All the same, I'd decided to finally get off my arse and sort my driving licence out, once a for all, aged thirty two years old. Those costs though, are simply not economically viable. I bought a couple of “ four lesson packages” for around four hundred and fifty quid, but when the robbing bastard sat beside me in the car told me I'd need at least another twenty lessons, I told him no fucking thanks. Time for plan B.

Plan B came in the form of my good friend Olle, who plays bass in our band Battle of Santiago. For the nominal sum of about one hundred quid per person, you can go on a course where you sit in a room for four hours whilst a speaker tells you the dos and donts of being a passenger driving instructor, a “handledare” as it's called in Swedish. This worked out great for a while. I drove with Olle on a weekly basis and just as once again, I felt progress was being made, things went off track. Olle and his brother opened their own restaurant, the wonderful Parkliv, right in our neighbourhood. That was great but the driving lessons with Olle dried up as he was forced into working two hundred hours a month to make his restaurant float.

I decided to take up with another driving school, a few months later, once it became apparent that driving with Olle wasn't happening. Olle felt that I was as good as ready anyway, but I felt that it would be a good idea to book a few more professional lessons just to touch up on things before I booked a test. The first lesson I took with this new driving school, although a little nervous whilst driving around with the teacher watching me, went well. Or so I thought. At the end of the lesson the driving instructor, a middle aged man called Amir, told me that I would need at least twenty lessons, at ninety quid a pop. He may as well have asked me to bend over and drop my fucking kecks!

After another couple of “package lessons”, the mandatory courses of “halkbanan” (where you drive around on an ice track and try to steer the car without crashing it, actually really good fun) and “riskettan” (another afternoon spent in a classroom, this time the speaker informing you that drinking alcohol and taking drugs are not activities one should mix with driving a car...I kid you not) all for another couple of hundred quid, and it was time for Plan C. The final push.

Jen had by this time been driving for five years and with that, was now eligible to be my “handledare”.

Since we have a car I could now drive constantly, practically every time we went out in the car together. Within a couple of weeks Jen thought I should apply for my test. Time for the fucking albatross to be removed from around my neck. I thought to myself that ready or not, always prone to self doubt, I had to at least experience what a driving test is all about. It had now been over ten years since my sister passed her test at the second attempt. How the fuck did I let it go this long?

It was only a couple of weeks before Victims were going to the States for a three week tour, so the theory and practical tests would have to wait until I got back. What the fuck, I'd waited this long, what's another few weeks? The usual inner rationalising rearing it's ugly head. The truth is, just thinking about the test made me nervous. They say it's the most nerve-racking experience one can go through...just the fact that “they” say that had my arse twitching.

By the time I got back from tour I had four weeks until D-Day. Driving Test Day... Doomsday, both fit perfectly well. The weird thing is, I was really nervous before my theory test. The fucking theory test is what pained me the most. I'd already done this once, and now I have to do it all over again, in a second language. Talk about doing things the hard way. The trouble is, studying driving theory was as boring as shit back then and it was just as fucking boring now. I've never been the most disciplined when it comes to studying, and this was no exception. With everything else happening, such as work and school (I'm studying Maths for some reason...), I found it hard to get inspired to open that damned theory book. It took until the week before the actual test to really start cracking on with things, reading the book and trying out old theory tests on the internet.

I packed it in that last week and by the time the test came around I felt confident. I still couldn't shake the nerves though. I felt that it would be far more humiliating to fail the theory test, as opposed to the driving part. After all, nobody can really expect to pass their driving test first time around, we all know it's a fucking scam and chances are you've failed it before you set foot in the car.

Case in point. My mum failed her test first time around because apparently she looked in her mirrors too much! Not that she didn't have her eyes on the road, just that the inspector was grasping at straws for something to fail her on. She drove just fine, but it's a fact that they can't pass everybody, they have statistics to adhere to and my mum just happened to be on the wrong end of them that day. Her driving teacher was so furious that he wanted to lodge an official complaint...

Anyway, the theory test came and went. I passed it. I felt that I could breathe out, even if only a shallow, trepidatious breath. Your theory test certificate is only valid for two months. If you haven't passed your driving test by that time, you have to re-take it. Of course, it can take up to six weeks to get a time for a new driving test so really the whole thing is a piss take, just another way of fleecing money from you. It's not like once you have your licence you have to take a theory test every year. You never have to take the fucking thing again so where do they get this two month bullshit from?

The weird thing is, with the theory test passed, almost all of the nerves I'd been feeling had disappeared. One week to go.

The weekend before the theory test we'd taken the car, with me at the wheel, over to Jakobsberg, where I'd be taking the driving test. Outside of the driving test centre, at the very first junction, is a heavily trafficked roundabout. What I hadn't noticed whilst driving around the fucking thing was the fact that it had pedestrian crossings at each exit. I drove right through a red light. Jenny had called it but I panicked and drove right through. Fuck, I had been a bit of a wreck after that. I could only reason with myself that it was better to make such a colossal fuck up then than on the day of my test.

The weekend before D-Day, we spent the Saturday driving around Jakobsberg. I must have drove around that roundabout twenty times. I wasn't falling into it's trap again. That day in Jakobsberg went well and I felt, for the first time, that I might just have a chance of passing my driving test.

Two days to go and I still felt no nerves. I had drilled it into my head that it wasn't the end of the world. The percentage of first time passers wasn't very high. It would be no great shame if I fucked it. Everybody gets nervous whilst taking their driving test. It's OK Gareth.. I spoke to my parents a couple of days before who were full of encouragement for me. My mum, for not the first time in my life, knocked me sideways with a couple of pearlers.

I asked her again about her driving test episode. She told me about the first time and how she was robbed. The thing is, she'd felt no nerves whatsoever then and was shocked when she failed it. The second time around she was a nervous wreck. So nervous in fact, that she took a shot of vodka before leaving the house! I almost spat my tea out as she revealed this to me. My mum is this little woman who would have you believe that butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but every now and again she'll tell you something that stuns you. Who the hell would drink a shot of vodka before a driving test? My mum, that's who. Obviously she failed the second time around, and in spectacular fashion. She was still so nervous, despite the vodka, that she couldn't stop her leg from shaking. Whilst performing a manoeuvre, the engine stalled. It put her in pieces. She couldn't keep the engine ticking over and eventually started balling, telling the inspector that he would have to drive the car back. “Get a hold of yourself Mrs. Smith!” boomed the inspector, but it gave no effect. He had to drive the car back and my mum failed the test again.

She passed at the third time of asking, this time with the help of a valium pill. She was totally chilled for that one apparently. Again, tea shooting out of my mouth, I insinuated that she must surely be joking. “Ah, it was only half a pill”, she reasoned. Somebody down the Rock had given it to her... It didn't really make much difference by that point anyway since she'd discarded the Learner Plates from her car long before that third and final test, at my dad's insistence. My dad, a law unto himself apparently, had thought the whole thing a complete rip-off, and with only my dad's approval of her driving ability, my mum did indeed take herself to work every day in her little red Mini.

The day for my driving test finally arrived. Still no nerves. I almost started wondering if something was up with that. Jen had decided to work at home for the day and she came with me to the test centre. I drove over there as one last practice. It was only when I stepped out of the car and started the walk towards the doors of that very nondescript building that the faint pang in my stomach started to appear. By the time I was sat in the waiting room, along with six others, although not paralysing, the nerves were well and truly in the fucking building!

I'd arrived far too early. There was a big clock on the wall. My test was in twenty minutes. Tick. Tock.

Eventually a gang of inspectors walked out of a side door into the waiting room, all of them holding clip-boards. I quickly scanned their faces. A couple of middle aged guys who looked normal enough. An older lady, stern look, not the kind you'd want to fuck with. Surely not her! They started to call the names of the other testees in the room. My name was called last, by a young man, well, my age at least, appearing through the crowd with a friendly smile spread across his face. Thank you Jesus! I felt my chances had just greatly improved.

We sit in the car, I await to hear which safety check I will be asked to perform. These checks have been whizzing around my head for the last few days. There is an outer check, and inner check and a pre-drive check. Each check has about eight or nine points that needs to be attended to. Or so I thought. In actual fact the only thing this friendly inspector, who's name is Magnus, asks of me, is to check the hand-brake is functioning properly. No problem. That cleared, it's time to drive. My thoughts go straight to that fucking roundabout. If he asks me to go left, I'm praying there is no traffic and the light is green.

He asks me to go right. Shit, haven't been this way before... He calmly asks me to drive towards Jakobsberg. OK, there's the sign, straight on. I move into lane and ease my foot on to the gas. Magnus politely tells me that Jakobsberg was actually the first right. Right? What fucking right? I weakly mumble a “Sorry”. Don't really know why I said sorry, I feel like a right tit already. “It's OK, just head towards Viksjö instead”, he calmly says. I don't know if he's patronising me now or just being nice. Shite, I'm guessing I've already fucked it. Within sixty seconds. What a fucking waste of eleven hundred kronors! I've heard people say it before, but it's true, because from the moment I'm sure I've fucked this test, before I've even really got started, I completely relax and just start driving. It crosses my mind that now and again those people have gone on to pass their test, since they were so sure they'd fucked it that they just relaxed and ended up driving well. I'm sure that that only happens to others though. One thought is rapidly crushing the other.

This car feels weird. It's a six geared Volvo, quite a big car. I'm having trouble getting a feel for second and third gear since there doesn't seem to be much pull in them. I drive relatively well for the next fifteen minutes and when it comes for the time to pull into a car park and perform a manoeuvre, in this case reverse parking, it goes flawlessly. I'm pleased with that but can't help feeling that it's a waste since I've already failed this test.

It's what happens next that assures me I'm not going to make it this time. Magnus asks me to take the next exit, which is heading towards the motorway. I'm on the acceleration lane heading towards the E18 and I'm flouncing around somewhere between second and fourth gear. I can't seem to get any speed and by the time I arrive in the three-laned 110 clicks and hour zone I'm chugging along like a dehydrated slug at around sixty-five. Embarrassing. I know exactly what Magnus is jotting down on his clipboard. We're soon off of the motorway and we've pulled over again. As if to confirm my fears, Magnus gives me a time-out pep-talk.

“Stop driving like you think I want you to drive, and just drive how you would normally in your own car, how you feel for it. And for fuck sakes, when you hit the motorway, keep it in a low gear and get your speed up.” He says it in a friendly, encouraging tone, but I'm guessing that he's just kindly handing out words of advice that I can take with me into attempt two.

I start the engine again, and resigned to failure, just kick back and drive the car back to the test centre via the same strip of motorway. I pass that fucking roundabout on the way back in. See you next time, I think to myself.

Even as I pull into the car park, I miss the parking space and have to readjust a couple of times. Fuck this, get me out of this monstrosity of a car! Magnus, with a voice now a prophecy of doom, says, “Well then, that was that.” I just let out a big, frustrated sigh. “Yeah...” I'm already thinking about when I can book another test, sure that I'll pass second time around now that I know what to expect. I only hope I can squeeze it in before I have to take another fucking theory test.

“I have to say, it wasn't the most eco-friendly driving experience I've had, and it's a close call, but you've passed.”

For a moment I can't quite gather what he's just said. I start to laugh, as much in shock as anything else. I look at him to check if he's taking the piss out of me. He has a wide smile across his face, as if he's genuinely happy for me. I almost hug him. I can't fucking believe it! Even as he's filling out the certificate, I have to double check that he's ticked the green “Approved” box. Fuck me. He has.

We talk for a while longer but none of it registers. All I can think about is how kind this Magnus is, how lucky I am that I didn't have that old boot inspecting me. I almost ask him if he's on Facebook, maybe we could go for a drink sometime. I can't think straight. And then that feeling of jubilation turns to panic. I want to get away from the test centre as soon as possible just in case they realise they've made a mistake.

I thank Magnus one last time, wish him a good day and hop off out of there. When I get to the next street I realise what a glorious autumn day it is we're having. The sun is shining high in a clear blue sky and the air is as crisp as a packet of Walker's. A feeling of relief washes over me. I've never, ever experienced such a weight being lifted from my shoulders.

I call Jenny, who I know is nervously waiting for the phone to ring. I consider for a second about pulling off the classic Smith parp and pretending to sound all depressed when she picks up. Jen answers and hesitantly asks how it went. “I got my driving licence!” I scream down the phone, tears of joy welling in my eyes. I haven't felt this good since Liverpool won the European Cup in 2005.

So that's that. I finally did it. And as the messages of congratulations began to flood in via my phone and online through the various social medias I have an account with, a recurring theme kept coming to the fore. “Congrats on your test, just think, now you can drive the van on tour!”


Monday, September 5, 2011


We've made the decision, now we have to stick with it. We're driving up to Syracuse to play the show tonight and then we're going to wait for the storm to pass and hopefully, all being well, we'll travel down to New York City on Monday.

It's been a weird couple of days. It seems all we've done is sit glued to the news channels, hoping to hear something positive. Johan and Andy have a flight to catch from JFK on Monday and as it is right now, the airline company is telling them their flight is still on schedule and that they have to be at the airport to catch it otherwise they'll have to pay for new tickets for another flight. With the looming menace of Hurricane Irene causing the city of New York to effectively close down, the chances of us being able to even get them to the airport on Monday night are rapidly diminishing. If we have to pay for new flights then financially, we're fucked on this tour. The problem is, the news on the hurricane is constantly changing and we just don't know what's going to happen. On top of all this is the very worrying thought that my wife is holed up in a hotel in Chinatown, just waiting it out. With the news coming through today that New York is closing all of it's bridges and tunnels, our choices are made slightly simpler. We either wait it out in Pittsburgh, long clear of the storm, or we drive to Syracuse and play the show we're booked to play. We know by travelling to up-state New York we're risking putting ourselves into the path of the storm, but it feels like it's worth it. If New York gets hit bad then Johan and Andy's flights are going to be cancelled anyway, and the show tonight in Syracuse is of great personal importance to us since it's our close friends, Another Breath's farewell show, in their home town. It really would have been gut wrenching to miss it.

We leave Ben and Aubrey's place around eleven am. and treat ourselves to a hearty breakfast before we leave Pittsburgh and drive the five hours to Syracuse in up-state New York. It's an early show tonight so we need to be there for six pm. We get some breakfast at this great vegetarian diner in the Bloomfield area of Pittsburgh which sets us up for the day. I attempt a country breakfast burrito but it's so huge that I only manage two thirds of it. Matt is shocked. He's always on my case about how much I eat, he's even changed my nickname for this tour from Tea Bag to Snacks. Snack is no match for this burrito though. When we get into the van and I'm so full I feel fucking weird.

We haven't even travelled five miles out of Pittsburgh before we hit a huge traffic jam. Totally backed up. We move three miles in just over two and a half hours. All of a sudden we're going to be very late for the show tonight. What amazes me is that when we actually creep up level with the cause of the traffic jam it turns out to be no more than a few workers re-painting lines on the side of the motorway. Matt loses his rag, “Fucking line painting?! Are you fucking kidding me? You choose the busiest travel day of the week to paint fucking lines on the road?” This brings a smile to my face for the first time today.

To add to the stress caused by the uncontrollable circumstances in New York, we're now going to have to load in and play as soon as we get to the venue tonight. Great. The next five hours roll on in near silence, disturbed only slightly by a chuffed snigger when I place Johan in check mate for the third time in as many days.

We pull into the car park at the venue in Syracuse just as the band before us on the bill starts their set. It's a dark and chilly night in the north east. We'd phoned Scotty earlier in the day, to let him know about our traffic situation and he seemed a bit pissed off, but when I talk to him on arrival I quickly understand that he's just in a delicate emotional place with this being the final ever Another Breath show. I know how he feels, I went through it all with Speedhorn. I remember High Whore, the last song in the last ever set list, me and Gordon crying our eyes out as we played it. We jump out of the van, relieved to finally be here, and we're greeted by hugs from all the AB guys. I feel guilty for even pondering the idea of blowing this show off.

It's been a while since I played a show right after hopping out of the van. There is a certain feeling you can take into such a show. For some, the stress of it all hinders them from being able to enjoy playing, but for me, and it happened a few times with Speedhorn, I'm just relieved to have made it and through that relief I get an extra energy once hitting the stage, even if setting up the gear and line checking is rushed.

Within thirty minutes of jumping out of the van, we're blasting into V5. It's a huge stage in a large nightclub, there are about four hundred kids filling the place out, the AB guys are all stood side stage with huge grins spread across their faces and the monitor sound is great. For the next thirty minutes all thoughts of Hurricane Fucking Irene are pushed to the back of my mind.

The show turns out to be one of the best of this tour. The crowd here tonight are in celebratory mood, the atmosphere is intense, very emotional. The crowd go for it from the start. It's as hot as the fucking Devil on stage but the energy from the crowd keeps me from waning. Jon is in great form between songs tonight. He cracks jokes about being Ted, the Another Breath singer's father, about how he fucked his mum and had to put a pillow over her head since she was so ugly. I don't really know where that comes from but it has the crowd and Ted side stage, cracking up. He gives a mention to to the fact that this will be our last show of the tour since the gig in New York tomorrow has been cancelled due to the storm. Somebody shouts in response, “Play here tomorrow!”, to which Jon just chuckles, responding, “Oh no, tomorrow I'm going bowling”. I love it when Jon is on this form.

The highlight of the set is undoubtedly when Steve and John from Another Breath join us on stage and take over the vocals on We're Fucked. They do a brilliant job and the crowd goes berserk, Ted and Scotty side stage screaming along, Mayo, their bass player down front in the middle of the mosh pit. It's a great moment.

The Another Breath set is one of the most brutal, emotionally charged shows I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing. The crowd go fucking insane from the first note and halfway through the first song Ted somersaults into the sea of outstretched hands in front of him. For forty minutes, it's just pure madness. The crowd sing along to almost every line, and the wave of stage divers simply never ceases. I stand behind John's amp, beer in hand, singing along. Ted, one of the most gifted public speakers in the world of hardcore, is on absolutely fine form and at one point in the set gives a long speech explaining what the friendship with Victims means to Another Breath. Call me emotional if you will but it's a beautiful moment. All the Victims guys are stood side stage, Jon half pissed and close to tears, waving our beer in the air and screaming along to our friend's songs. The guys couldn't have asked for a better way to go out, and as I'm stood there side stage looking on, I realise how glad I am that we've been a part of it. It would have been sit for us to bale out because of that fucking storm. Another Breath close their set and indeed, their era as a band with their song, God Complex. As soon as John plays the opening riff, a shit load of people jump up on stage and pile on top of Ted, who does his best to sing the words to the song, but before long his voice is lost to the herd of people on top of him who take over the mic. As the song comes to a close the stage is completely taken over by members of the crowd. I happen to catch a glimpse of Scotty who looks close to tears. I know exactly how he feels. I can't help thinking back to that last Speedhorn show in Yamaguchi, playing High Whore, both Gordon and I crying as we played out the long outro..

I speak to Jen after the show and she tells me that the storm hasn't quite arrived in New York yet and that when it does it's expected to hit as a tropical storm. It appears to be weakening all the time. For the first time in days I feel that everything is going to be ok. When I hang up the phone, Matt is stood out in the parking lot looking stressed. His house in Richmond got some damage from the storm and they've lost power there, leaving Sarah in sweltering heat and very stressed. It seems Virginia took a bit of a blow, as did New Jersey. I feel for Matt. It must be terrible being out here, knowing your wife is at home dealing with that shit.

I head back inside the club and make my way to the merch table where Johan is waiting with a round of shots.

By the time we pack down, get photos taken with the AB guys, load the van, hang out some more, drink some more shots and a couple of fine porter beers from the bar, we're all drunk and giggling like school girls. Steve AB tells us that we're staying at his parents house tonight since they have a big house and they're away for the weekend. Sounds great. Steve has to pack up his drums and take them back to the rehearsal space first though, so we decide we'll head to Denny's and grab some food whilst we wait.

When we pull up to Denny's it soon becomes apparent that Johan is pretty fucking drunk. He's up front, laughing at almost everything. It's great to see him like that. He's such a controlling element in the band, the pappa of the band if you will. The fact is, that every band needs one. I was that person in Speedhorn and after ten years, I was more than happy to let go of that responsibility. As was the case with me, when Johan lets go, he really lets go. Only natural that tonight, being the last night of the tour, no more to than to get back to the airport and fly home, is when Johan is more drunk than anyone else. Although, in truth, nobody, except Matt, is far behind him.

We take a large table for the five of us, and we're all giggling like idiots as we sit down and try to order. There are two waitresses attending us, one of them being a trainee, learning the ropes from the other girl. I've decided on fish and chips and a coffee, but Johan is having a hard time understanding the fact that there is no alcohol on the menu. “Do you have any beer we can order?” he enquires. The girl, to her credit, just laughs politely and shakes her head. “I want five shots!” Johan blurts out immediately, holding up the five digits off his right hand as if to clarify the matter. We all piss ourselves laughing, the two waitress girls included. They seem like nice people and for some reason, probably our weird accents, they seem to like us too. Johan eventually orders five shots of milk, but they never arrive.

The rest of us eventually get a chance at ordering some food once Johan is done. We're all laughing constantly though. Fucking after party at Denny's, who would have known that could be such a blast! As Matt is ordering his meal, Johan points his finger at an old couple, sat at the table behind us. The old lady has short, bright red hair... Johan says quite loudly, “She has a wig!”. Matt starts cracking up, “What's that buddy?”.

I think they're going to make it...” is Johan's cryptic reply, nodding his head looking content. By now we're all holding our stomach's laughing.

We do manage to get through the meals, and by the time we're done, Matt is desperate to get back to Steve's, park the van for the night, and crack open a beer. He certainly deserves it. And for the record, the fish and chips were superb.

We get back to Steve's parent's place which is in a suburb just outside of downtown Syracuse. The house is huge. I walk directly in to a living room area to the left of the hallway, only to be told by Steve that that room is never really used by anyone, it's the other living room to the right of the hallway where we'll hang out. As I said, huge..

As per usual, Johan and I head for the nearest available of the four bedrooms and bagsie the bed. We hang out in the kitchen for a while, drink a couple of beers with some other friends that have come back to the house, people like Colin and Heike, as well as some others. After a couple of cans I'm ready to call it a night though and I head upstairs, wondering how it's going for Jenny.

I awake around ten am. It's absolutely pissing down outside and the wind is gathering pace too. It seems the outer bands of the storm have reached us. I check my phone and see that Jen has messaged me. She tells me that she's slept all night and that the storm seems to have passed without major incident. I can't describe how happy I am to wake up to this news. I check CNN's weather report and it seems that the storm has weakened considerably now, although it has wreaked some havoc on New Jersey where there has been a lot of flooding. The storm has indeed reached us here in Syracuse, but it will only be the outer rim of the storm that touches us.

Matt comes into the room after a while and confirms the weather report I've just read. I'm hoping that he'll tell me we can make the journey into New York City today, but it's not to be. We'll leave tomorrow. I can't blame him for not wanting to chance driving through the storm, even if it has passed New York, we'd still have to drive through a large part of it to get there..

Steve tells us that we're more than welcome to stay another night, in fact, he's happy about it. The guys in AB are playing with their various side projects at a DIY space in town, so we'll head down to that in the afternoon. It's an early show, which suits me just fine.

When all is decided and the mood is markedly happier than it was a couple of days ago, a smile spreads across Matt's face as he remembers what he'd laid his eyes on as he passed through the living room on his way up to us. We go down to check Jon out.

There is a girl, a friend of Steve's I think, sat on the one chair, watching the news. There are a couple of guys who are also friends of AB's, sitting around playing with their phones whilst Andy is sat on a armchair on the other side of the room, shaking his head. Jon is curled up on the sofa, fast asleep. He has no t-shirt, or indeed, leather vest on, his sweatpants (the give up on life pants as our friend Scuba calls them) are down around his ankles, his sleeping bag is on the floor and his hand is inside his boxing shorts, with a firm grasp on his balls. To add to this, he's farting like a fucking trooper! The lot of us line up to take photos.

As much as I'd rather be in New York with Jen, it turns out to be a really good day with our friends in Syracuse. We go to the gig in the afternoon, which is a lot of fun. It's a tiny place and it's packed out, the crowd go absolutely wild. The bands are great too, all of them, although I'm completely blown away by John's acoustic project, Whiskey. Kind of reminds me of William Elliot Whitmore, but better. John sings quite brilliantly. He's one of those talented fuckers that really makes you sick.

Steve arranges a chilled out party for us back at his parents for the evening time. None of us are in the mood for a piss up but it turns out that it isn't like that. Steve buys in a load of food for the grill and some beers, and we all sit around in the living room, chatting and recounting stories. Ted is there, as well as a few others. It's a bit sad at the end of the night when Ted leaves, it feels like we'll never see these guys again. I hope that isn't the case. We end the night early, since we're leaving at six in the morning.

I head up to bed and try to get a few hours sleep, although funnily enough, sleep doesn't come easy. The tour is over and tomorrow we're going to New York. Johan and Andy are flying home, Jon is heading back to Philly to hang out with the Greghans for a week and I'm meeting Jen for a short holiday in New York. Matt will be trying his best to make it back to Richmond and take care of his home and family.

As is always the case, time seems to have it's own schedule on tour. What was the first show two and half weeks ago seems like yesterday but at the same time years ago. All in all, it was a good tour. We didn't make as much money as we'd hoped and if it wasn't for the European dates we played during the summer we wouldn't have covered our flight costs. But that's how it is over here, when you play this kind of music. Even though most of the shows were well attended, shows that in Europe would easily make you five hundred euros, here you're lucky to get two hundred dollars. At the same time, I'm grateful that we do well enough in Europe to cover a tour like this. I know many bands that would do envy us for that.

So that's almost that for this year. We have one show left, which is at the Bloodshed Fest in Holland in April. Otherwise we won't be out playing show until next year due to work commitments and other stuff. We're not twenty years old living with our parents any more, we have bills to pay and jobs to hold on to. And besides, I'm totally fucked from these three weeks, I'm only too happy for the break.

I'm sure that feeling will subside after a few weeks back at work though...

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I wake up on the sofa in the living room, drenched in sweat. It must be around ten, ten thirty. Johan is on the other side of the sofa, Andy and Jon are on the floor, they're all fast asleep. The room fucking stinks, someone's feet are humming. I can almost hear it. Just as I'm stirring myself from slumber, a girl in pyjamas walks into the room, apologising for disturbing us. It's the girl from the toilet last night. I just sort of mumble incoherently, something, nothing really.

As soon as my head clears, my thoughts return to Jenny. She's due to land at one pm. We have some big decisions to make today.

We all eventually stir and take turns in the shower and then hang out for a while on the side porch of the house with a couple of the guys from the house and the girl, Sarah, who lives here too. They're all really friendly people. They have a couple of absolutely beautiful pitbulls too and we spend a while playing with them. The people at the Masakari house are all huge dog lovers, and the dogs they have all come from rescue centres. The youngest one, who is still a puppy and a little wild in her playfulness, was due to be put down the day after the guys had found her. Looking into her eyes makes me wonder how anybody could even consider closing them forever. As usual when I'm around dogs, it makes me think of Bonzo and of home and I start to long to be back there.

We have a short drive today, only two hours. We leave the house around midday and search for a Panera Bread, something we have had no luck in finding so far on this tour, which sucks, since everyone in the band loves the place. We have no luck today either and instead end up at a roadside diner, which is actually pretty good. As we're sat around drinking coffee, as is always the case, the phones come out and everyone goes silent. On this occasion though, everybody is checking the same thing...

We have to start making a serious plan. We start off by calling the airline to find out what's going on with Johan and Andy's flights. There is a long wait on the phones but we're eventually told that as of now, the flight is still on time and that they'll have to be at the airport to make sure they get their flight! Fucking unbelievable. We have three options:

One: Play Pittsburgh tonight and then head straight to New York City and try and get there before the city closes.

Two: Play both tonight and the show in Syracuse tomorrow and wait it out there, and then try and make it into New York somehow, sometime during Sunday or Monday.

Three: Call and end to the tour now and make our way to New York.

Cancelling shows is the last thing we ever want to do, but as it turns out, the decision is made for us shortly after we get back in the van. First off we get a call from our friend Bill, who owns the club in New York, confirming the show there on Sunday is cancelled. And then we get some news through telling us that even as of now, it's almost impossible to get into the city. So that's that. We'll play these next two shows and wait things out in Syracuse. Now my next mission is to get Jenny on a train from New York to Syracuse.

We're just pulling into the outer limits of Pittsburgh when Jen texts me saying she's landed at JFK. The news concerning Hurricane Irene just seems to be getting worse, I have to get in touch with her and tell her to get out of there is she can. One agonising hour goes by before I get to speak to her. I'm surprised to hear she's in calm and positive mood. She's got to the hotel and she's going out for a couple of hours to do some shopping! That's my girl..

After a bit of a strained conversation, where I'll be honest, I got pretty stressed out, we decide to try and get a train booked. Of course, when Jen had checked into the hotel, the people working there in reception were very calm about everything and she obviously hadn't had a chance to see the news yet, so it's not surprising that she was calm. Of course, I'd rather that than have her really scared on the other end of the phone. She tells me she's going to go out for a while and get some food and then she's going to book the train for Syracuse that leaves at 1pm. tomorrow. I feel a little relived but won't feel completely happy until she has that ticket confirmed.

We arrive at our friend's, Ben and Aubrey’s house up in the Polish Hills in Pittsburgh. I've never been to this city before and therefore had no idea that the city was situated in a huge valley. It kind of reminds me of Stuttgart, and indeed there are a lot of German settlers here and that has greatly influenced the architecture. It's a very characteristic and to my eye, beautiful place.

We hang out with Ben and Aubrey for a while. It's there wedding anniversary today so I feel a little bad about crashing here tonight, but they're only too happy to have us. We meet so many kind, accommodating people on our travels that it genuinely humbles you. We're staying here tonight, but with tonight being a late show, we're going to a barbecue with a gang of their friends, before heading to the venue. Jimmy Annihilation Time, whose girlfriend Christina is putting on the show tonight, is meeting up with us there too.

Ben and Aubrey’s kid, Axel. is four years old and quite mental. He's also extremely cute. The whole time we're there, he doesn't stop talking. Showing us demonstrations with his shoes, his sleeping bag (he's staying at a friends tonight on a sleepover), his magic penny that turns green in vinegar, explaining for us every step of what he's doing. We end up hanging on the street for a few minutes, whilst Ben and Aubrey get ready to follow us. Axel continues his running shoes demonstration by running back and forth and showing us how suddenly he can stop in his super sneekers. He also seems to be very fond of the word “penis”, and keeps saying it over and over in his cute little accent. Great kid.

We drive over to the house where the barbecue is at and hang out there for an hour, sitting around in the back yard with some of the Pittsburgh punk scenes finest. Ben has made some superb vegan bean burgers, and the beer is readily available. The back yard we're in is full of characters, including the likes of Jimmy and his friend, Sam Wicks, who is a character completely in his own right. He turns up in a suit, since he's been at a seminar about, from what I can gather, sliding screen doors? When he turns up in his attire, the other punks all piss themselves laughing. He takes it all in his stride though. Really mellow guy, he would fit right into a Kevin Smith movie. He seems to love Swedish punk rock too and latches on to Jon, firing a barrage of questions at him. The camaraderie between these people is a great thing to witness and I sit there, with a can of beer, slowly warming in my hand, wishing I could enjoy the experience. But I still haven't heard back from my wife yet.

We drive over to the venue around seven pm. and hang outside the venue, chilling out before we have to load in. Tonight is going to be another wild show by all accounts. There is this old guy hanging out on the steps outside the venue, which is a function room above a pub called Kopec's, who is absolutely off his fucking tits! He comes over and looks into the van and starts mumbling something, but only Matt can understand enough of what he's saying to be able to form any sort of reply. He's apparently telling us that we can load in whenever we want, and where to do it. Matt tells him the score, that we're in no rush and we're waiting for Jimmy to turn up, but the guys continues to babble on. I have to admit, I like the guy.

As he stoats off, Matt tells us that he is what they call a Yinzer. They're local to the city of Pittsburgh apparently. No sooner has the old boy stumbled off than is back at the van again, and the nonsense continues. And it continues, for the next thirty minutes, until we give up and decide to load in.

The load in is a bit of a bastard, since it's up a narrow flight of carpeted stairs. And it's already hot inside the room we're playing. The room itself looks great though. There is a small wooden dance floor in the middle of the room, which is no larger than sixty square meters. The rest of the room is carpeted floors, and there's no stage. Everything is set up in front of the wooden area of the floor. There is a small bar at the back of the room and beside that, a door leading out to a small balcony area, where we'll spend most of the night until it's our turn to go on. There are seven bands total tonight, so we're playing late.

After load in is done, I finally hear back from Jen. She hasn't been able to book a train ticket since all the trains are full. My heart almost stops for a second. I call her and do the only thing I can, which is to try and comfort her. She's in good spirits though, she's mainly upset about the fact that as it stands, we don't know when we're going to able to see each other again. My wife is an incredibly strong person, she amazes me really. I feel like a weak, panic stricken child compared to her.

It seems like the only to do now, is for Jen to get supplies and stay in her hotel room when the storm hits. I would do anything to be there with her now, or even swap our positions. I'll be making my way there as soon as the access into the city has opened again, whether we travel in the van or I take a train. We talk for a long while on the phone and there are times where I feel myself close to tears. The positive thing is that the storm does seem to be weakening a little, it's went from a category three to a two, and the signs are that it will continue to weaken. I just hope it weakens enough.

When we get to the end of the call, Jen tells me that she wishes I was there with her, but that I should have a good night and enjoy the show. I hope she knows how much I love her. We tell each other we'll stay in touch as much as possible and I'll call in the morning. The storm is due to hit New York City tomorrow night. They've told her that it is highly unlikely they'll evacuate the area the hotel is in, but they'll keep them up to date with everything. I know she'll be safe, I just hope the damage to the city isn't so bad that it hinders me getting to her at some point on Monday. Despite the shite situation we're in, I feel better having spoken to her. I always do.

The seven band event seems to go on for an eternity. There are a lot of punk kids turning up though, and it should be a good show for us. I spend most of the time hanging out on the balcony drinking beer, or in the van sharing sips of Johan's whisky. Pentagram are playing in the city tonight and Jimmy has been at the show to check them out. He gets back to the venue as we're sat outside in the van and he tells us that all the punks who were at the show know we're playing at midnight and they're coming down. We hang out in the street with Jimmy for a while. Jon's girlfriend, Ana, has been on tour with Annihilation Time in the past and Jon and Jimmy know each other through that. They're quite a pair, they really get on with each other. Jon ended up going on that tour with them for five days and claims that he shaved off five years of his life in that time. I guess there was a lot of drinking involved...

The show tonight is basically two tours combined, since there are four grind core bands who are out travelling together. The funny thing is they're all in the same van since three of the four bands are two-pieces, the other has three members. So there's those bands and then a couple of locals, one of which, Killer of Sheep, are awesome. They played rough, old New York hardcore style, punk rock, with the guitarist pulling out the odd Greg Ginn style guitar hooks. It was fun watching them. The crowd was getting pretty wild and to adding a little surrealism to things, there were even a couple of drunk crack-head ladies in the middle of it all. They were brilliant, just stood there going crazy shaking their tits to the music in their mini skirts and tight, leopard print tops. They turn up to a lot of the shows, according to Jimmy. Apparently when they really get into it, one of them in particular is known to latch on to the singer and start dry humping their leg. I'm not going anywhere near a fucking microphone tonight.

As is par for the course, there is no door on the cubicle of the shitter. I'd spotted it earlier and had been relieved that I hadn't needed a shit. I cracked up therefore on one occasion when I walk into the bog for a piss and find Johan sitting there doing a shit and Matt stood beside him taking a leak in the urinal. What the fuck can you do really? The attitude towards shitting in this country seems to be far more liberal than back home...

We end up playing a little before midnight. The place is pretty packed, and it kicks off the second we blast into V5. I notice that Matt is crouched down over by Jon, waiting to pounce if the crowd starts piling into the space in which we're playing. As I'm tuning up after the first block, I hear Matt on the mic, telling the crowd that if they keep smashing the mic into Johan's face, he's not going to be able to sing. They heed Matt's warning and manage to withhold themselves from doing Johan any damage, but sure enough, at one point during the show Matt receives a flailing boot in the jaw, sending his spinning. I honestly don't know any other driver who would put themselves in that position for the band hiring his van. He really is a legend, and luckily for us, he loves driving Victims on tour.

Tonight was probably the best show of the tour, as far as how fun and how crazy it was, and as I sit on the floor in front of my amp, gasping for breath, reflecting over everything, Jimmy comes up to me and plants a big, sloppy kiss on my forehead. Everyone is happy tonight. I just wish Jen was here with me.

After we've cooled off, we pack out, back down the narrow stairs and head back to Ben and Aubrey’s house, the two of them having long since disappeared into the night. We drop off our bags and head out to a local bar, where all the guys from the show are hanging out. It's a great little place, and we catch up with everyone over a couple of beers. Jimmy, Corey from Aus Rotten, Sam Wicks and all the others are there. It's a very relaxed end to the night.

We head back to Ben and Aubrey’s around two am. to get some sleep. When we get there, Ben greets us at the door in nothing but his kecks, looking pretty fucked. We go down to the basement where there is a bed and floor space for us. I have one last check on Hurricane Irene before I call it a night. She's now down to a category one. It's still weakening. All I can do is hope everything is going to be ok.


In the van, driving towards Cleveland now. We have about an hour to go. The load in tonight is late, around eight thirty, so we've got plenty of time to kill. Surprsingly enough, the guys want to go shopping.  

Woke up this morning and lay in bed watching the news for an hour or so. Hurricane Irene is looking like she's going to be a big fucking storm. I'm really starting to worry about Jen. She's flying in on Friday night. For a start I'm worried about her flight being cancelled and then if she does get in, she's going to be on her own at the hotel in Manhattan when the storm hits on Saturday night. I'm sure she'll be ok but the thought of her being there on her own if it gets bad scares the shit out of me.

Matt's been taking calls this afternoon from different people involved with the show on Sunday. As it looks right now, the show is very much in danger of being cancelled. There's not much you can do about a fucking hurricane! If it doesn't get cancelled then I guess we're going to be driving into the city on Sunday afternoon in some pretty interesting weather...There really doesn't seem to be a good way around this right now. All we can do is stay in touch with the people in New York and keep our eyes on the news.

We just pulled out of a service station, have about an hour to Cleveland. Jon is chuffed, he just saw a poster advertising some sort of burger that had the slogan, “Nobody high fives after eating tofu!” Jon thinks it's the best thing he's seen all tour.


Sitting by the merch table, second band of the night are about to go on. The mood is somewhat sombre as we try to figure out exactly what we're going to do this weekend, everyone just constantly keeping checks on the news about Hurricane Irene. As of now, Jen's flight is still secheduled with her landing in New York tomorrow at two pm. All I know is that however things work out, whether we travel straight to New York before they close the city down, or whether we travel up to Syracuse, I want to be with my wife. It all depends on what happens tomorrow when the storm hits the east coast, and what's going to happen with Johan and Andy's flights on Monday. If they have to be at the airport to await a new flight then we don't have much choice but to travel to New York after the Pittsburgh show tomorrow. Hell of a way for this tour to end.

There are a lot of people at the venue tonight anyway, and Masakari are playing next. Going to get myself a beer and try and enjoy tonight at least. Decision time for us us tomorrow, not a lot we can do about it right now.

Later still:

Strange night. The show itself was really good, but throughout the entire set I found myself thinking about this weekend, about Jenny coming in on her flight, about how we're going to sort out this mess once she gets here. It's looking like a real shitstorm is about to unleash on New York City.

The toilet situation at this venue was not ideal either. First off, the men's toilet had no door on the cubicle (what the fuck is that about really?), and then the toilet was broken anyway. I really needed to shit and decided to chance the women's. I walk in and I'm faced with two cubicles, both with doors, but neither of them has a lock or indeed a door handle. I choose the cubicle furthest in and sit down. The fucking door swings open so I have to go about my business using one hand to hold on to the door, which for good measure is only about three foot high. Just as I drop my load, someone else comes into the room and sits down in the cubicle beside me. Fuck. My shit stinks too. This is akward. I wait it out for a while but the girl in the cubicle beside me seems to be going nowhere. I have to get out of here. I pull up my kecks, whilst trying to keep the door from swinging open, and then go to leave. As I do the girl in the cubicle beside me is doing the exact same thing. Fucking embarrasing! The girl kind startles and I go, “Whoa, sorry!” like a complete fucking geek. I rush to leave but then decide to wait around and apologise for scaring her. She's actually really cool about it. I just sort of shoot off and hide somewhere after that. Is the concept of a funcitoning toilet door completely beyond comprehension in this fucking country?

I've heard a lot about how the Cleveland punk and hardcore scene is special. Jon told me about the time they played here on a previous tour with 9 Shocks Terror, about the crowd being brutal. When we loaded in earlier the girl working the sound asked us if we wanted to set up on the floor. The room itself was pretty cool, with a high stage at the one end and a big skateboard ramp at the other. Matt had warned us to take the stage, so we did, although I was thinking that it could have been fun to brave the floor.

After watching Masakari though, I understood why Matt told us to play on the stage. Three songs in, and the place just erupts. I'm stood by the side wall on a long bench, watching the show and a surge of about twenty people hurtle towards me and then hit the ground hard. They get picked up, but from there it just escalates. The singer from Masakari, Tony, is right in the middle of it all. Next thing I see, there is a large, plastic rubbish bin being thrown around aimlessly. Just I'm starting to think that somebody could really get hurt, Tony puts the bin over his head and shoulders and charges at the crowd, getting the shit beat out of him as he does so. The rest of their show carries on in the same fashion and how the band escape without any injury is totally beyond me.

Our show must have seemed pretty tame in comparison, although it was a lot of fun all the same. The lights up on the stage were shining brightly into my eyes, so I couldn't really see much of what the crowd was doing, but I could sense it. There were a load of people hanging off the front of the stage, at times they were up on stage with us. Within the first couple of blocks the stage had been drenched in beer, making it almost impossible to keep a footing. I found myself with my feet rigidly keeping a grip on the floor, whilst still trying to play as I normally would . It wasn't easy. Between each block of songs there was a lot noise, people shouting for old songs, people shouting at us that they'd been waiting a long time to see us.

In different circumstances I would have been really buzzing with this show...

After we played and packed down, we hung out with a lot of people at the merch table. The Masakari guys offered us their place to stay, which we were happy to take, but with Paul, the owner of the bar handing out the extra drink tickets, we hung out for a couple of hours, drinking pints of Cleveland's finest ale. I felt like I really needed it.

We got back to the Masakari house around two am. and sat on the front porch with Joe, their guitarist, for another couple of hours, drinking beer and shooting the breeze. At one point I get up to go to the toilet and find Jon in there, looking lost. I ask him what's up and he tells me he's having trouble with flushing the toilet. I tell him to move out of the way and let me fix it. For a long time at work we had problems with the toilet in the bar and after months of dealing with it, I now consider myself quite the expert with a plunger. I lift the toilet seat and reel back in horror at the sight of a bowl of brown, sludgy shit that is on the verge of overflowing. Jon stands there with a guilty little smirk on his face. The two of us go about ridding the house of this filfth for the next five minutes or so.

Quite literally a shitty way to end a strange day.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Today we had the longest drive of the tour. We left the motel just outside of Nashville, via a quick stop at Waffle House just after nine thirty am. and arrived outside the venue in Chicago just before six thirty pm. We've done far worse in the past but nine hours in the van is a long stretch whichever way you look at it.

It was good then that we started the day off with a solid breakfast at Waffle House. You can't argue with three eggs, hash browns and coffee for six dollars. One thing I really love about the south is how friendly the people who work in the service industry are. I know they're working for tips but still, the friendly middle aged waitress calling you “baby”, or “honey” every time you speak to them really makes you feel warm inside. Maybe I'm missing my wife, I don't know but I'm a sensitive guy and need some love every now and again.

So this is what a nine hour drive in a van, cutting north through four states on a barren highway looks like this:

Matt at the wheel, full on driving machine mode, earphones in, listening to either Iron Maiden, early Metallica or some hair metal band, focused on the road. “Sometimes listening to crappy heavy metal is very fulfilling” according to the man himself.

Andy sat behind me on the back seat, inflatable neck cushion supporting his head as it yo-yo's up and down, earphones in, some form of punk or hardcore playing to oblivious ears, the rest of us taking the odd photo of him now and again, purely for our own entertainment.

Jon sat behind the driver's seat, either reading a book about Russian prisons or something about the secret destiny of America or sleeping with his swollen, bare foot resting on the cooler box between the driver seat at the passenger seat. Jon actually sleeps more than any other person I know, in transit at least. He must have slept for at least seven of the nine hours we were in the van today.

Johan in the passenger seat, either the Jamie Carragher autobiography (a great book I might add) or playing Angry Birds on his Iphone.

And then there's me, sat behind Johan, either writing my diary, reading my Hank Williams book or looking over Johan's shoulder, hoping for a shot on his Angry Birds game. Today we actually passed an hour or so, playing a game of chess on Johan's Iphone. I won, I might add...

All things taken into account, the journey did not seem so bad today, we somehow even managed to avoid city traffic as drove over the Chicago Skyway and down into the city streets. We'd all been bitterly disappointed with yesterday's frankly awful Chinese buffet dinner and today we had our hearts set on some quality Mexican food, that is usually always really good in Chicago. So we were delighted when we pulled up to the venue and saw that the show was actually taking place at a Mexican restaurant. Or so we thought. It was actually a Cuban restaurant, but there was a Mexican restaurant on the next block, so we loaded in and went straight there. And it was good. Very good. The outlook for today was already positive.

The promoter for the show tonight was a young, friendly faced guy called Vito. The venue was actually a rectangle room connected via a hallway to the Cuban restaurant beside, with a long bar down the left wall and a low stage against the back wall. The place looked it had potential.

After we ate, we just kind of hung around outside the venue for a while, with not a whole lot to do. As is usually the case, it would have been fun to take a trip into the city and check it out for a while, but there just wasn't time. I've been to Chicago four or five times now, and have been lucky enough on one of those occasions to have a close to a whole day in the city, the other times have all been like today. It's definitely a place I would like to come back to on holiday sometime though. Anyway, being so full of Mexican food I thought I might puke, I decided to tag along with Andy and go for a walk. Johan stayed behind to set the merch table up, Jon still can't really walk far on that foot of his and Matt followed us as far as on block until he found a liquor store and decided to stock up the cooler in the van. Andy and I didn't get all that farther. We walked a couple of blocks, found a record and book store, checked that out, walked another couple of blocks and decided the area we were in was getting decidedly shady and turned back towards the venue. Still, killed a half hour or so.

When we got back to the venue an old friend of Johan and Andy's, from their home town of Nyköping, has turned up. Jonas is married with kids here in the States and has been living in Chicago for ten years. It's been close to fourteen years since the guys saw each other. It was really nice to meet him. We stood outside the venue, chatting away for a good while, before the three of them went off to the bar beside the venue. I headed into the venue and sat by the merch stall, watching the other bands and drank a couple of beers wit Jon.

The venue filled up steadily throughout the night. It was an early show tonight, we were playing at ten fifteen. By the time the third band went on the place was pretty full. It's good to be back in Chicago. I had a good time sitting by the merch table. We were selling pretty well and I got to meet a bunch of good people. At one point this girl came up to me and was telling me how much she loved the band. We got talking for a while and then she wanted to buy a shirt. I bent down under the table to pick out a shirt from the box underneath and knocked my can of beer all over the floor. Felt like a right tit. The girl insisted on buying me a new beer, which was very kind of her. And then she bought a t-shirt and refused to take any change from me. Another guy did exactly the same thing. Friendly town.

The old guy who owned the bar, Pancho, was another real character, in much the same way as Brad from Nashville was a character. Pancho was working the bar, and by working it, I really mean working it. He had an entertainment show all of his own going on. Very happy. Very vocal. A constant big cheese spread across his face, he stood and joked with the patrons of his bar the entire night. When the third and final support band were on stage, he pulled up a large percussion jug and a drumstick and starting jamming along with them. And then it was maracas. And the next thing you know, he's got a saxophone in his hands and he's jamming along with the band from behind the bar. He's fucking ace too! He can really play that thing. Before the show is over he's made his way on stage with the sax, cheesy grin spread wide across his face between blows, and he's jamming along with the noise core band, loving it. I stood there pissing myself. Great old guy.

By the time we go on stage, the place is filled out all the way to the back of the room and the it's buzzing. It's a great show, although I personally don't play that well. Just before we went on stage, the PA blew up, leaving only enough capacity for vocals to go through it. This being the case we have the amps cranked full and the feedback is pretty hard to control. There is a lot of energy on stage, and the room full of punks are giving a lot back, but I hear myself numerous times missing notes. It's probably only myself that notices it, but it still bugs me a lot. By the time we get to Nowhere in Time, about half way through the set, I've sorted it out. I feel a little disappointed in so much as what is turning out to be a great gig otherwise is being a little tainted personally by my sloppy playing. We're forced into an encore by the chanting crowd anyway, and we blast out the Avail cover again, which is quickly becoming a fixture in the set.

Afterwards, we hang out for a while at the bar, having packed down immediately after the show. I get talking to this friendly guy called Lee, who has just moved here from Philly. The girl from earlier, who's name is Britney, also comes over to chat. The three of us enjoy conversation until old Pancho starts closing down the bar, telling us that if we load out within the next ten minutes he'll shout us all a shot. We're done in around seven..

Unbelievably, the van has been given two fucking parking tickets, despite the fact we're parked in the loading area that the club itself pays for. Apparently Matt and the lady from the restaurant had gotten into an argument with the traffic police as it was happening, but the cop didn't want to know and stuck the ticket on the window anyway. The cunt comes back fifteen minutes later and bangs another one on, just for good measure. Matt couldn't really give much of a fuck to be honest, he doesn't have any intention of paying it. As it is, Pancho is annoyed by the incident and tells us he'll sort it out. He then ushers us back into the bar and dishes out the shots of Patron, which is beautiful and in all honesty, knocking it back in one is a waste of good tequila. But out of courtesy, I knock it back all the same. We sit there, chatting for a while, although Pancho is a little hard to understand, he seems like a really good guy though. Jonas is still hanging out as well. He was really impressed with the show, and we have a laugh talking about old times and old bands. Jonas played bass in a few of bands back in the day with such brilliant names as Metal Suicide, Concrete Heads and the curiously christened Mr. Hang Pike and Adam's Leave. Apparently Andy's first band shared a rehearsal space with Metal Suicide. Apparently Jonas was a really tight bass player, but the bands weren't so hot.

We say goodbye to Jonas, Vito and Pancho and then it's time to leave. After that shot I could easily be persuaded to go to a bar somewhere for a few drinks, take in Chicago for a while, but it's not to be. We don't really have anywhere to stay tonight, so we have no choice but to take in a roadside motel again. Which means that Matt has to drive again unfortunately and understandably wants to get it over with, after so many hours already clocked up on the road today. We're expecting a good party tomorrow in Cleveland anyway, since we're staying around and the drive to Pittsburgh the day after is only two hours. Chicago is definitely on the list of places to visit without the band in tow though, although it's been on that list for years now..

As we drive out of the city Matt spots a large casino off in the distance to the left. We discuss the idea of staying there tonight, since the rooms are always really cheap at casino's, being that they want you to spend all your money on gambling instead. We decide to go for it. Maybe tonight we will have a party tonight anyway.

As we approach the casino, we're all in the back of the van, gearing ourselves up for a night of booze and gambling, Matt threatening to take all of our money from us. He's quite the poker player. Of course, we pull up to the parking house, looking in vain for a place to park the van, there seems to be height restrictions on all the parking lots, and the guy tells us there is no hotel at the casino. Fuck. That's that idea fucked then. We head back out to the highway, stopping at a run down petrol station to buy crisps and other shite and then go back to looking for a Red Roof Inn.

Losing a hour through the time zone, we find one just before four am. Matt does the usual and sorts one room out for the four of us, meaning we have to sneak in through the side door. Matt even charms the lady behind the desk into giving us an extra hour in the morning to check out since we arrived so late.

I've been sitting in my sodden wet t-shirt since we came off stage. I desperately need to shower.