Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hellfest - Part Two

I met the guys for breakfast down in the lobby of the hotel. It was the usual fare of bitter, black coffee, white bread rolls and tasteless cheese. Today was going to be a long one. We were to be at the festival grounds for ten thirty am for an appointed stage slot at five past three. All very specific, all very professionally ran. With Tragedy playing last at around one in the morning, and with us all wanting to see their set, we were due to catch a shuttle back to the hotel at two am.

Johan had arrived with Stachel and the Swarm/Doomriders guys around one am. They'd got lost looking for the hotel in this industrial estate due to a poorly updated GPS system they had with them. Fucking last thing they needed after a non-stop thirty hour drive.. Mackan and Uffe from Swarm had went ahead with the Doomriders guys to another hotel nearer the festival site since they had load in this morning at nine. Doomriders are on stage at eleven thirty am... I'm guessing they're all feeling pretty fucked right now. I tuck in to my tasteless cheese and bitter, black coffee and feel a sense of gratuity for the eight hours of sound sleep last night, the only slight disturbance being Andy singing in his sleep this morning...

Johan looked surprisingly fit at breakfast, considering the journey they'd made. Apparently Mackan had driven twenty one of the thirty hours. One band, three guys, two band papa’s. Uffe must be chuffed. Anyway, less healthy looking this morning was Jon. Stachel had shared a room with him and had mentioned that he'd been woken up by a bang in the middle of the night, a bang he assumed was Jon stumbling around the room in a state of inebriation. All becomes clear when Jon, supping on a cup of the black stuff, proudly announces he'd spent a few hours at the bar with Corpse Grinder from Cannibal Corpse. He shows us the photos as way of proof, totally chuffed.

We're picked up by the shuttle at nine forty five and briskly whisked off to the festival. I say briskly, I mean in actual fact, driven at breakneck speed by a kid that seemingly had a death wish for he and all around him, including us. It was the same guy who'd driven me and the From Ashes boys yesterday. You know when everyone in the back of the van is a little nervous when the conversation peters out into silence and all eyes turn to the road ahead as the driver darts between lanes, cutting fellow motorists up with brazen abandon, playing chicken with the roundabouts, seemingly refusing to break for them until the very last second, as if he actually expects the roundabout to jump out of the way for him. Thankfully we make it in one piece to the festival site around twenty minutes later.

It hits me as I gratefully jump out the back of the van that this festival is a big fucking deal, the likes of which I haven't played since the Speedhorn hey day. It's a rumbling hive of production. We're dropped off at the “artist reception area”. A young girl shows us to our dressing room before giving us a tour of the backstage area. It's pretty insane. There is a full on canteen, artist bar, massage area, a hair dresser, even a backstage tattooist. Fucking nuts. Victims have played festivals like Fluff Fest and Obscene Extreme, even Hultsfred, but this really was a whole other league. It felt like we didn't belong here.

Despite the huge production staff, or maybe more like due to it, they'd managed to make a fuck up with the passes. Arvid, who is doing the sound for us today, had picked up a pass yesterday since he'd been here hanging out. Now we arrive and there isn't a pass left for Jen, who is arriving in a few hours time. Luckily Stachel, being a man with many fingers in many pies, has passes available to him in both the Victims and From Ashes camps, so he's able to sort the situation out and I leave him to keep a hold of Jen's pass since ironically she's arriving roundabout the time we finish our set. I was sweating for a minute there though, would have been a bit shit to have to tell the wife that she'll have to spend the night on her own at the hotel in Nantes.

So, stress over, we head over to the stage where Doomriders are playing. Mackan and Uffe look pretty fucked it has to be said. The Doomriders guys don't look much better themselves having made an epic journey to get here. Despite this, they put on a great show and even though it's only eleven thirty in the morning, the tent they're playing in is packed out. They blast through the first couple of songs before Nate addresses the crowd, “Hello Fest!” It's a simple joke. I have to giggle. The simple ones are always the best. Standing side stage watching the Doomriders set really gets me in the mood to play. Is it too early for a drink? Actually fuck that, it is too early.

After their set there isn't really much to do except hang out by the van. There aren't a whole lot of bands I want to see at the festival and we still have a few hours until we play. It's been raining for a few days and the ground is pretty soggy but thankfully the sun is shining at the moment. I hope it stays that way. Festivals really haven't been my bag since I was a teenager and standing in the mud at them even less so. I used to love them when I was a kid, my whole summer was based around saving money to go to the Reading Festival. I went to that festival every year between 94' and 98' and I had some of the best times of my teenage years there. But it's like Jon said as we stood by that van waiting, “Festival's are so 90's!”. He's so right.

After a while we decide to take a walk back to the artist area. As we do so I notice that the festival site is surrounded by vineyards Stachel tells me that the festival actually harvests and bottles wine from these very grapes and then sells it to the hard rocking public here. I have to laugh as shortly after telling me this we pass some pissed up metal-head taking a leak on a grapevine, right behind one of the tents where they're selling the stuff. I make a metal note to myself to stick to the beer..

The situation back at the artist area is pretty much the same as everywhere else. We hang out for while, but we have nothing to do. Stachel has booked himself a massage. Apparently a couple of years ago when Disfear had played here Tompa had got himself a haircut. I feel neither in need of a trim or a massage, having only been to the chiropractor last week. As it is, I remember that my guitar needs re-stringing. It's normally a tedious job, but with nothing to do between now and Vitamin X's set, who play on the same stage right before us, for once it doesn't seem like such a task.

Just as it had been for Doomriders over on their stage, this place is packed out for our Dutch friends. I'm now starting to appreciate exactly what Hellfest are doing here. Even though there are twenty thousand people here, the majority of which belonging to the hard rock crowd, the smaller stages that are a bit away from the two main ones are almost set up like their own little mini festivals. I say mini, but there must be fifteen hundred people watching Vitamin X. They put on a great show as always, treating the crowd as if it were any other small, sweaty punk show. It's great fun standing to the side of the stage, watching them blast through their set of old school hardcore. With the crowd going wild and the atmosphere absolutely buzzing in this big dome of a tent, it seemingly all bodes well for our set to follow.

The last show we played was the final date of the Black Breath tour in Stockholm. That night there had been around three hundred at Debaser and mainly due to Johan and his tense vibe, I'd been pretty nervous. It's not something I'm used to. Of the eight hundred odd shows I've played since I was sixteen years old, I think I've been nervous maybe two or three times. Walking out on to the stage at Hellfest, welcomed by the friendly roar of fifteen hundred punks I felt nothing but an excited buzz. Not the slightest trace of nerves. It felt good to be back to normal. Although the tent was pretty huge, the stage was surprisingly compact, which allowed a feeling of comfort. I was ready for this. Theft starts the set as has been the case since we released the last record...

Although the stage is a good size, the sound isn't quite right. The guitars are blasting in the monitors, especially Jon's, and they're just swallowing up the drums. I have a hard time without the snare and bass drum. I get through the first three songs on instinct alone, but the atmosphere is so good that it doesn't really matter.

The communication with the guy doing monitors is not all that great and although I keep motioning to him for more snare, it's slow coming my way. Broken Bones completely loses me and I play most of the song clueless as to where I am. I position myself in front of Andy's kit in the faint hope of trying to synch myself back in with the rest of the guys but before I know it the song has reached it's one minute-twenty second conclusion, with me still chasing it like a dog does it's tail. I glance over at the rest of the guys and try to gage whether they've noticed..

The rest of the set goes pretty well, although instead of being able to fully enjoy it I have to keep my ears sharp and really concentrate on the songs, which always takes a little away from the fun of playing. I like to play without thinking about what I'm doing, just really letting go. The crowd seem to be enjoying things though, and by that I mean they're happily kicking the fuck out of each other. I spot a couple of familiar faces in amongst the melee, faces from the last tour. There is the bartender from the Heretic Club in Bordeaux, who had kept us waiting all morning the day after since he was home sleeping off a hangover. He's right in the middle of the pit with the same His Hero Is Gone t-shirt that he had last time our paths crossed. There is the singer in the first band from that played the squat with us in Groningen, the little guy with the blond mullet who can't be older than seventeen. I even spot Boulty, who had done us the service of sorting us out with a great show at his rehearsal space in Nottingham, in fairness he's not that hard to spot since he's about seven foot tall with a smile almost as wide. “Alright Boulty?” I shout to him between a block of songs. As he gives me a wave I can't help thinking what a weird contrast it is between this and the floor show he'd arranged for us a couple of months ago. I honestly don't know which of the two I think is more fun. It's a close call.

We conclude the set with Circles and Scars, though not before Nate from Doomriders gets up and sings along to We're Fucked. I always get a buzz out of friends getting up and singing with us. We even throw in For We Are Dead, which is a bit of a rarity these days, mainly because Andy doesn't like it. Fuck knows why, I think it's a great song, but then when it comes to the early Victims albums, I'm still viewing them from the fan's perspective. I've been trying to get the boys to play Moments from the From Ashes split for fuck knows how long but it's not happening.. They just laugh at me when I suggest we play something new/old. I guess they've played those songs a few times down the years though... I can imagine if when Kev joined Speedhorn he'd wanted to play Necrophiliac Gluesniffer we would have pissed ourselves laughing. Funnily enough, he didn't...

I get a text from Jen shortly after we're finished packing down, telling me she's here. Talk about bad timing, although I think she's actually more concerned with seeing Big Business tomorrow than seeing us for the twentieth time. Since we're travelling up to Paris for a few days the day after tomorrow, she's got a large suitcase with her, so I don't want to leave her stranded for too long. Stachel and I go off in search of her, doing our best to work out where she is from what she's telling us she can see around her. This festival is fucking huge and it isn't the easiest job getting to her. The fact that there is barely any phone reception does not make things any easier. We mistakenly think at first that she's by the artist entrance but it turns out she right over the other side f the festival. After about twenty minutes of fucking about I'm starting to get stressed out, but luckily I've got Stachel with me, and he's far better than I at keeping a level head. We finally track Jen down to where the festival shuttle has dropped her off, funnily enough by the main entrance. I spot her on the other side of the turnstiles with the big case. I wave to her and start to make my way through, only to be stopped by some kid with a badge on telling me I can't go out that way. I try to explain to him that I just want to give my wife, who is standing no more than ten meters away, her pass so she can come in. No can do apparently. I ask the guy if he's fucking joking. He's not. I could understand if the area was packed but it's deserted, there is barely a trickle of people coming through the turnstiles by this point, everybody is already inside. I continue trying to explain the situation to him but the prick keeps cutting me off. He tells me he doesn't care if my wife is just there, we can't go out this way, we have to go back and walk around. I'm getting close to chinning the twat by this point. I know he's only doing his job but this fucking ridiculous. I call to Jen sarcastically, telling her to wait whilst we walk around to the “exit” over on the other side and come back to get her. Jobsworth sheepishly says “Thanks” as I walk off in a huff, to which I reply “Thanks for fuck all!” Temper disperses immediately and I feel guilty for arguing with him when he's only doing his job..

After a lot of fucking about, we finally make it to Jen and give her her pass. Now to enjoy the rest of the day...

There are a few bands to watch at this shin-dig... Discharge are awful it has to be said. It's not even a nostalgia trip, it's just cack. I wish it wasn't but it is. GBH on the other hand put on a great show. There is just something a bit more genuine about them and their set. It's really weird seeing my old mate Tony Sylvester from Dukes of Nothing, now up on the main stage as singer of Turbonegro. Fucking trip seeing him up there in make-up. I'm really happy for him though, getting to play in front of thousands of people with one of his favourite bands. He does a great job too. Any nerves he must have had for his first show with them in Hamburg seem to have disappeared by now.

If it's weird seeing Sylvester singing with Turbonegro then it's positively mind blowing watching Jon perform with Nasum. Last time I saw Nasum was at Kafe 44 with about a hundred other people, today they're playing in a tent that holds around six thousand people and it's fucking packed! Adding to the weirdness is obviously the gaping hole where Mieszko once stood, I can tell it must be pretty fucked up for Johan and Andy watching, being that they were close with him. But the guys put on an awesome show, Keijo doing a great job on vocals. It's great to see Jeppe back up on stage going mental too, I'd almost forgotten what a great stage presence he has. I have to say I'm surprised by Jon though. I love him dearly, even though he's off his tits a lot of the time, but as nuts as he can sometimes be, up on stage he's an absolute star! It's been a long time since I've watched him from this viewpoint. I stand in the middle of the crowd watching him up there on that big stage, giving it everything he's got, knowing that he's wondering if we're out there watching, and I feel huge love for the guy. It really is pretty touching. We leave right before the end of their set to avoid the crush getting out of the tent. As we're leaving, our backs to the stage, I hear Jon speaking into the mic for what is the first time of their whole set, weird since he's pretty much the voice of Victims during our shows. “Ingen krångel!”. I crack up as I squeeze my way through the crowd.

I catch up with Jon back at the artist area a while later and tell him that I loved the show. He looks like he's ready to cry as he gives me a huge hug. Johan admits to the guys that it was pretty weird seeing Nasum up on stage without Mieszko, Ubbe nods his head in sombre agreement, and says it feels weird for them too. With that we make our way to the bar.

Stachel is looking chuffed after his massage, although now he's back in tour manager mode, it comes automatically to him, and he's busy trying to help the From Ashes guys find equipment they can play on. Their gear is still missing. John lends my guitar since it's really not looking likely that his will show up before they go on stage tonight.

It's still only eight pm, yet it feels like we've already been here a whole weekend. From Ashes are playing in a few hours time, so there's really nothing to do but grab a beer and head over to the VIP bar where they're showing the England-Sweden game in the European Championships. We say goodbye to Jon and the Nasum guys who are travelling up to Paris tonight to catch an early flight for a festival in Gothenburg tomorrow.

Johan, Jen and I manage to get seats right in front of the big screen tv that is showing the game. To be honest, I haven't give a fuck about international football, or at least the England team, for a long time. As the game kicks off I'm inundated with text messages from friends back home, most of them saying something along the lines of, “Woah, split allegiances tonight eh?”, or “Who are you supporting?”. The truth is, I'd be happier if Sweden won. Even if Stevie G is the captain, the team is still littered with scum like Terry, Cole and Rooney. How the fuck can I possibly get behind that lot? As if to confound the matter, we're surrounded by drunken English football slobs, the type that make you cringe when you're unlucky enough to come across them abroad, don't get me wrong, Swedes abroad are every bit as bad, screaming at the tv in that pathetically overdone cockney accent, the one that literally has me struggling to keep my dinner in my stomach, “Inger-lund, Inger-lund, Inger-lund...” Fuck off. One young skinhead in particular is getting right on my tits, as he slurs out this chant for the best part of the next ninety minutes, occasionally mixing it up with God Save The Queen. I sit there, hoping for someone in a yellow shirt to bang in a goal, privately thinking fuck the Queen, and fuck you.

At half time I go to the porta cabin toilets in need of a piss. There is of course a huge cue which I'm hoping suggests that the quality of these backstage toilets are better than those out on the festival grounds. It turns out that they are, although as I'm standing there taking a piss in one of the cubicles I notice some cunt has taken a shit on the fucking floor. I had thought it a little odd that the relatively clean toilet had such a rank smell, but then I noticed a fat, brown log, lying on the floor behind the porcelain throne, proud as you fucking like. I stand there pissing, eyes transfixed on it, wondering who had made the effort to place it there..

Back to the second half and for a while it's looking good, as Sweden score two quick goals to turn around a one-nil deficit. It doesn't last though and England finally win three-two. That being that we shuffle off out the VIP bar, Jen and Johan gutted. I'm glad I don't really care about international football, supporting Liverpool gives me all the heartache I can handle..

When we get back to the backstage bar, Andy is showing the tell tale signs of having drank a few. It's the eyes with him, you can always see it in his eyes. The night is now getting on and this has really been a mammoth day. We walk back to the stage we played earlier to watch the From Ashes set, stopping briefly on the way to watch a bit of King Diamond on the main stage. Andy loves it, although if I'm honest I find the whole thing a bit silly. To be fair, the stage set is pretty fucking cool, but Diamond's vocals are a bit nonsense aren't they? Andy stays behind for a while to watch them as the rest of us head off to see one of the best punk bands of the last ten years. As we walk down the by now dirt track behind the stages, trying our best to stay out of the worst of the gloopy, muddy pools that have built up due to the constant drizzle, Johan and I look back and notice Andy way behind us, taking a piss in the bushes, swaying back and forth. He stands there for over a minute, pissing like a fucking horse. “Piss Andy,” Johan laughs to himself. This will become our name for his drunk alter-ego from here on in..

Of course, the tent is packed for From Ashes, just as it has been the whole day. As usual, they play a blinding set, and I must admit, in a teenage kind of way, it's pretty cool having John play my guitar. It looks good on him. There is a gang of us watching from the side of the stage, drinking beer and sharing a bottle of the Hellfest wine, I try to block out the image of the metaller pissing on the grapes, generally having a great time.

Jenny reminds me of the last time I drank wine from a bottle at a festival, namely when Victims played Hultsfred and I got so drunk that I puked all over my Langos and then had to be helped back to the van to sleep it off, but I assure her that won't be happening tonight. In fact, I haven't had the slightest buzz all day and I'm not getting one now. Andy on the other hand is buzzed off his tits. I notice him sort of bouncing around between the From Ashes and Tragedy sets, talking at people instead of too them. Right before Tragedy go on I see him stood behind Billy, looking like he's thinking of something to say. He ends up grabbing him from behind and when Billy turns around to face him, Andy just kind of belches a few syllables at him. “Whoa dude!” Billy says before heading off to play the show. I'm now starting to worry about getting Andy from here to our two am. shuttle since I know I'm going to have to get him to leave a little before the Tragedy set is done..

Tragedy as always, are fucking solid. I really like the new album, I think it's cool that they've done something new, slowed it all down a bit, I mean Tragedy putting out a record with hardly any d-beat whatsoever on it is pretty gutsy. It's fun seeing them play a few songs from that record live. They of course still play a load of songs from Vengeance, which keeps everyone happy. Starting to panic about this two am. shuttle, the time now being one-fifty, I start to tug at Andy's arm in an attempt to get him to come along with us. For a minute it looks like it's going to be a futile effort as all I get from him is a confused mumble, but eventually he follows. Johan and the rest of the guys are leaving at eight am. for what will be a long drive to Bruges, so they're staying together at another hotel. We wish them a good tour and head off back to the artist area.

Finding the person who is driving our shuttle back to the hotel is surprisingly hassle free. But then as I'm throwing our bags in the boot, some drunken idiot, turns out to be Swedish, starts putting his bags in the back too. “Who are you?” he grunts at me. “Hello, I'm Gareth, and who sir, are you?” I reply. He just sort of stands there, swaying a bit. I inform the girl who is driving the van that there are some confused people out back who are under the impression that this is a public taxi. Thankfully it gets sorted quickly and at long last we're on our way. It has been a hell of a long day!

Unfortunately things don't go as smoothly as I'd hoped for on the way back to the hotel. Due to the festival, a lot of the country roads surrounding the site have been blocked and for the next half hour the girl drives around lost, hopelessly following her phone's GPS system. It takes us the best part of an hour to get back, with her turning back on herself three of four times. I'm sat up front trying not to lose my rag as Jen (sober) and Andy (boats) are in the back chirping like robins, completely oblivious to what is going on. It's not the young girls fault though, and by the time we finally arrive back at the hotel I'm just grateful to her for bringing us back.

Andy is off home in the morning. We bid him goodnight and I go to bed looking forward to seeing his hangover in a few hours. Jen and I are going to hang out with Stachel and the From Ashes guys for the day tomorrow, looking forward to seeing Big Business. After that we're off to Paris for a few days holiday. What the hell, if the festival is paying for the flights then I may as well make the most of it. Besides, I really need a holiday. 

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