Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuska Fest, Helsinki

I haven't been to Finland for a long time. Actually that's not true, I passed through Helsinki airport on the way to Thailand a couple of years ago. We spent four hours here on our way out and about twenty minutes on the way back. Neither of those occasions were particularly fun. Hanging out at an airport is quite a boring way to spend four hours. On the way back, we'd been forced to run from one plane to the other and is if that wasn't stressful enough, I'd ran in to a bald giant of a border cop, he looked like Zangief the Street Fighter character, and he seemed to be angry at the world and wanted to take it out on me. As he held me up at the passport queue he made it abundantly clear he didn't give a fuck if I made my flight or not.

The last time I was on Finnish soil proper though was actually the first time too. The first show we'd ever played outside of the UK with Speedhorn was in Helsinki, in 2000. We'd driven all the way from the UK, a journey which took two days. By the time we got to the venue we were all a little dazed since the last leg of that journey was spent on the overnight ferry crossing from Stockholm. It had been quite a night. Within an hour of being on the boat we clocked on to the fact that the place was actually a giant, floating nightclub, full of pissed up Scandinavians. We of course, duly joined them. We were on tour with Biohazard and this being the first show of the tour, we'd never met them, but just as we did, they stuck out like a sore thumb on the boat and we soon found each other. A few beers at the bar around five pm quickly escalated into drunken karaoke, in-band fighting, sleeping in corridors unable to find allocated cabins, a puking incident involving our merch guy and a bottle of Jack Daniels and our tour manager being locked up in boat jail having gotten into a fight with the Norwegian rally team. I didn't even know that such a thing as boat jail existed.
On that occasion all I'd managed was a quick stroll around the harbour in Helsinki, since the venue was right next to it. Today should provide ample opportunity to make up for that. I usually hate getting up early, hate it. But even though I'd risen with the cockerel's crow this morning, well I would have if there were any cockerels in Sumpan, I was in good spirits. Getting out of bed at five am is certainly made easier by the sun shining brightly through the bedroom window...

I'd sat on the sofa watching the early CNN bulletin on tv, debating with myself whether I had time to put the kettle on and make a cuppa, when my phone beeped at the incoming of a text message from Andy. “Oi Brit, put down your cup of tea and make your way outside, we'll be there in two minutes”. It's almost as if the big bastard had read my mind.

The flight from Arlanda to Helsinki only takes forty-five minutes. You literally take off, get up to cruising height and then come back down again. One big arch over the water. Despite only having slept for five hours, I felt pretty good. Well, awake anyway. My back felt far from good. The night before, as in any other night that precedes and early rise, I had a hard time getting to sleep. I'd lay on the sofa until half past midnight, nursing a glass of single malt and watching the film on tv, the Forty Year Old Virgin with Steve Carrell. I lay they wondering if Johan was doing the same thing, since he's the same as me when it comes to both rising early and stupid films. I asked him this morning what time he went to bed last night, he smirked and told me he'd been watching the film.

Whether it's a lack of sleep, a hangover or any other shit circumstance, I always feel better knowing there's someone in my company that's feeling worse. Today, as is often the case, that someone is Jon. When I'd awoken this morning at five am, Jon was already in the middle of an epic night. In fact, it's been a bit of an epic week for the poor bastard. After playing with Victims at Strand on Wednesday, he then travelled up to play the Peace and Love Festival with Nasum on the Thursday before flying down to Leipzig on the Friday to play the Full Force Festival. Nasum were on stage at the un-Godly time of two-thirty am, as in this morning. They'd played the show and then Jon and Keijo, along with Hannes and Antti, their two Finish sound crew, had taken a festival shuttle to Berlin for an eight am flight to Helsinki to meet up with us again and play tonight's show at the Tuska Festival. Just thinking about that lot makes me fucking snoozy. I have no idea how he's coping. I remember going through a couple of festival seasons in Europe with Speedhorn, and as much as the shows were often big and a lot of fun, everything else around it was a fucking drag. It didn't take me long to become disillusioned with festival touring.

It's just past nine am by the time we touch down. Jon is still in the air and won't land for another hour. An old friend of the band, Petri, is working for the festival this weekend and he's here to pick us up and take us to the hotel. Petri managed a tour that had a line up of Victims, Rotten Sound, Trap Them and The Ocean a few years back, shortly before I joined the band. He's going to be out with Nasum on their European club tour at the end of the summer, which will be the very final leg of their mammoth round the world trek, ending sometime in early October. After greeting Petri he asks us if we want to stick around and grab a coffee at the airport whilst waiting for Jon, of if we'd rather he took us to the hotel directly. Apparently most of the bands are staying at a hotel near the airport but for some reason we've been moved to one right in the middle of the city. We unanimously decide that we'll meet Jonny boy later. With that we head off.

Petri swings by the festival site before dropping us off at the hotel. There we leave our merch with the festival sellers and obtain a brief look around the place. Unlike Hellfest, Tuska is bang in the middle of town, set up on large asphalted parking lot. It reminds me a little of Maryland Death Fest in Baltimore, only on a larger scale. Two main, outdoor stages stand side by side at the far end of the compound. Flanking them to the left is the merchandise area, to the right, a little further back, the bar area. The bar area, which is fenced off, creating a barrier between those old enough to drink and those who are not, is almost as large as the crowd standing space in front of the two stages. Andy laughs at the thought of bands playing on the main stage, across a barren no-mans-land to the bar area on the other side.

There is a smaller tented stage which lies opposite the bar area and then further back still, to the immediate left of the entrance is the building that houses the stage where we're playing tonight. The warehouse like building has a large stage and it's own little, cordoned off bar area in the far left hand corner. I wonder if this building is a venue in itself during non-festival times...

I have no idea how the show will be tonight, if it rains I guess we'll be in luck. The line up is a veritable hotch-potch of Finnish goth and war metal, along with some international acts like Megadeth and Ministry as well as the odd hardcore band like ourselves and Napalm Death. We'll see. I'm glad for the asphalt though, much more civilised than the muddy bog of Hellfest.

Petri drops us off at the hotel a little after ten am.

My back has now become completely rigid, so that I'm walking around as if I have a broomstick stuffed down the back of my shirt and jeans. I can't even be bothered thinking about how I'm going to manage the show later. I console myself with the fact that it's the last show for a while, after which I'll be able to get it sorted. We dump our bags in the rooms, nice hotel by the look of it, and walk about the city centre looking for some coffee and a spot of lunch. I need a pharmacy, but I need coffee and food first.

We end up walking about a large shopping centre in vain search of something decent to eat. The options are looking slim. We spot an Irish pub and decide that some pub grub could probably do the trick. We walk in and pick up a menu that is stood on the bar. The menu only has beer in it though. We laugh, making stereotypical jokes about Finish people and alcohol. I wonder aloud if they have the same laws concerning alcohol here as they do in Sweden, as in, you can't sell booze without serving grub. I doubt it somehow. Johan assures me that they must have food in this pub though, picking up a different menu a little further down the bar. This menu only has cider on it. Four pages with nothing but cider. “Fucking Finns!”, Johan chortles as we exit, continuing on with our search.

Our ambitions for lunch slowly quashed, we settle for one of the shopping center cafés. Although the queuing system seems a bit fucked, with disgruntled locals pushing in from all angles, the menu offers a few decent looking veggie options. I order a brie and mango bagel with a cappuccino to accompany it. Unfortunately the picture on the menu in no way represents the food on my plate. The chunks of mango in the picture are in reality a sugary mango flavoured jam. As my dad would say, “It's probably never seen a mango!” The cappuccino is all fluffy milk and no coffee.

Not entirely satisfied, we eat up and leave in search of a pharmacy. The pharmacy has far more to offer than the café and I come away with an assorted bag full of salvas and pain killers for my back. I imagine this is how it feels to be Jon.

It's around noon by the time we arrive back at the hotel. With nothing to do between now and four pm, when Petri will come back and transport us to the festival site, we decide to retire to our rooms and relax. I would like to explore Helsinki a little more, maybe check out Janne's Combat Rock record store, but I'm tired and the store moved to the other side of the city a couple of years ago and the hotel bed is calling me to it. I leave Andy and Johan and head to the room I'm sharing with Jon. I find him fast asleep on his bed, that awful Nicolas Cage film National Treasure playing at low volume on the tv set. I crawl into the twin bed beside his and watch the rest of the film, my eyes fading into shallow sleep every now and then. Has Cage done a decent film since Wild At Heart?

Petri arrives at four pm as planned and we head off to the festival. Hannes, one of Nasum's crew is in the van with us along with Petri's girlfriend and another friend of hers. Hannes is going to do monitors for us tonight. Antti, Nasum's sound man, will be doing our front of house. We'll meet him there later. We chat away amongst ourselves as we tour the streets of Helsinki. We're planning to come back here in January and play some shows with Rotten Sound. I really do hope to get a better look around the place then.

We arrive at the festival a few hours before our stage time. We load out the gear into the back stage area of the warehouse building. It's a simple set up. Behind the stage is a large black curtain, behind that a couple of sofas, a table with a few bags of crisps spread about it and a couple of fridge's with beer for the various bands playing. We'd loaded in through an adjacent room where five or six people were sat washing used plastic beer glasses from the festival bars with water hoses. It's a pretty depressing scene. By their expression on their faces I'd guess they've already been here a while. The room is decked out in beige tiles, there is a drain in the floor, although it doesn't seem to be doing much of a job given the pool of water we have to walk through whilst loading in the gear, and there is a large, stainless steel table where plastic bins full of dirty plastic glasses are awaiting a hosing. The whole scene reminds me from Solway Foods back in the day. I hope these guys are being well paid.

We drop of the gear beside the stage, meet the stage manager, who immediately asks us if we want a bottle of booze, I don't remember it's name but Jon excitedly gives me the lo-down on it. A genuine Finnish treat apparently. Johan politely declines his offer and tells him we'll take it later. Along with Avgrund, who play before us on the same stage, Napalm Death are the only other band I'm interested in watching today, and they're about to start. Some of us are hungry though so we decide to cash in our meal tickets and grab some scran and then catch the second half of the Napalm set.

I myself am not that hungry in truth and I'm only eating now for the sake of time. It's no idea playing a show on a full stomach... When I view the food on offer my appetite recoils further, like a scared dog backing into it's kennel. The vegetarian option is a lasagne based on pickled beetroot. I kid you not! I'm far from being a picky eater, in fact I'll eat almost anything that didn't once have a conscience, but pickled beetroot is where I draw the line. I've had a phobia of it since my days at infant school, where on one nightmare inducing occasion we were forced to eat a dinner consisting of: one hard boiled egg, one mound of grated, tasteless white cheese accompanied by a side ration of pickled beetroot. Everything on the plate stained like a disease by the beetroot's purple juice. I've never been able to eat it since. In fact, for a while there I refused to go to school, for fear of that disgusting so called meal. My parents were even brought in for a talk with the teachers who were concerned that I was being bullied, such was my depressed disposition. Up until about a year ago, I couldn't even eat fresh beetroot, but Jenny taught me, or actually, went on a mission to convince me, that fresh beetroot was a whole other thing. She was right about that, and for her efforts I'm grateful. There is, however, no fucking way I'm touching this pickled beetroot lasagne. What the fuck is that all about?

Johan has a theory that the Finns take the same approach to food as they do to music, in that they throw any old combination into the pot. Like techno and death metal, or symphonic synth and math metal, lasagne and pickled beetroot. He also asserts that they never put salt on anything.

Anyway, I end up with a plate of sauce-less white rice, a few leaves of lettuce and a few fallafels. No sauce on them either. Hardly the finest meal I've ever eaten. We're soon done with it and we head off to watch Napalm. The sun is shining on the boys as they power through their set, playing the same mix of old and new they had a couple of months ago when we played with them in Antwerp. I always enjoy watching Barney perform. I have to laugh though, as Andy had indeed predicted, there are just as many people stood way back in the beer area watching them as there are down in front of the stage. All the same, there are still a lot of people watching and despite the sound being the typical crap outdoor festival fare, it's still a good show.

We don't have much to do but wait around for another few hours until it's time for us to play. I string my guitar again. Getting to be a regular occurrence these days. An hour or so before show time I douse my lower back in Tiger Balm and crack open a can of Kharu beer. It tastes better than I remember it tasting at Carmen, where it's still the beer of the week, same as it has been since I moved to Stockholm. I have another as I watch the Avgrund set right before ours.

From what I can hear from the side of the stage, the monitors are more than up to the job. It sounds great from where I'm standing. There doesn't seem to be a lot of people watching them although to be fair to the guys, they put on a really energetic show. I'm not the biggest grindcore fan but if it's done well, like it is here, it's a lot of fun to watch. It all stems from punk at the end of the day anyway. I can't help thinking as I watch the Avgrund set that it's too bad the Hellfest show wasn't our farewell show for the year. I soon put the thought out of mind though. As long as my back holds up, I'm going to enjoy this show as much as any other.

It started well enough. For a kick off, the room was almost full. There must be about eight hundred people in here. I figure it must be raining outside. The sound on stage is perfect and for the first few songs the energy alone carries me along like a surfer on the crest of a wave. The crowd are going for it and we're playing full throttle. And then about five songs in, it starts to really fucking pound in my back. At the Strand show the other day I hadn't thought about the pain until after we'd come off stage, when the adrenalin had died down. As great as this show was turning out to be though, adrenalin wasn't enough. This has happened to me once before, years ago on tour with Speedhorn. On that occasion we were on a twenty date tour of the UK and I'd pulled my back somewhere in the middle of it. It all came to a head at a show in Brighton and I was forced to play most of the gig sat on a monitor, almost paralysed from the pain. Tonight wasn't as bad as that, but I could barely do more than stand still in one position and nod my head to the beat from Andy's snare.

Even so, the gig was still a lot of fun. There was a full on pit for This is the End and I hadn't even noticed that we were running short on time. The stage manager appeared by Jon's side and was telling him we only had three minutes left. I was actually disappointed because we'd been planning to play For We Are Dead, a song we don't often play these days. But in the end we had to cut that and abruptly finish with Circles/Scars. I almost didn't want the gig to end because I knew the pain in my back was only going to get worse once we came off stage.

Pissing with sweat under the heavy stage lights, packing my gear up as rapidly as I could manage, I heard someone shouting my name. I look into the crowd and see a face I haven't seen in a long time. It's a girl called Chrissy who toured with us in the States back in 2005, when Speedhorn played a doomed tour with Nile and a bunch of other metal bands. Chrissy sold merch for Decapitated and Hypocrisy for those seven weeks and we'd all became good friends. I'd forgotten that she'd left the States and moved to Finland. I jump down from the stage to give her a sweat-drenched hug and chat for a few seconds. I have to get sorted but we agree to meet up at the VIP bar later. Before I can jump back on stage some crazy old punk, who looks like one of the alkies that hang out by S-Grillen in Sumpan, starts shouting at me in some weird mix of Finnish/Swedish/English. He's waving a cd of our Killer album, and I realise he wants the band to sign it. I try to explain to him that I have to pack up first and then I'll get it sorted, the rest of the guys by now have long since packed up and left the stage, but he doesn't seem to understand. He just keeps waving the cd in the air and shouting “Please! Please!” This goes on for the next five minutes whilst I pack down my gear, and after offering the odd apologetic shrug of the shoulders his way, begin to find the whole thing funny and it ends up with me and the festival stage hands all laughing. Crazy Punk doesn't give a piss though, he just keeps on waving the cd. I finally get packed down, take his cd, go back stage and get it signed and then take it back to him. “Thank you please!” he rejoices whilst kissing my hand. Chuffed, he stoats off.

My back is really fucking killing me now and the Tiger Balm and pain killers I bought earlier aren't up to the job any more. I take another beer and a few swigs of that booze we'd been offered earlier, Jon had now been given the green light to go and retrieve it, and Johan asks me if I want some of his special shit, being a fellow sufferer he has such things. I rub in a load of this special balsam and within five minutes I'm pissing sweat like I've just gnashed down a Bradford vindaloo. It does the job though, even if it is a little uncomfortable.

There isn't a whole load more to see at the festival. Sabaton are amusing for about two minutes but that's about it. The joke soon wears thin. I catch up with Chrissy and her Finnish husband Ossie over a beer at the VIP bar, it's good to see her and Ossie seems like a really nice guy. We say something about meeting up again in January, if we come over and play those Rotten Sound shows, and then I catch up with the rest of the guys. We're all in the mood for a beer to celebrate the last show of the year. Weird being that it's only June. After a beer in the wooden shed that is the VIP bar we contact Petri and ask him to come get us.

After settling with the merch people we head back to the hotel and drop our gear off before heading down to Tavasti, a great music venue that has a decent restaurant beside it. We sit down to a meal of veggie burgers and fries, the burger is awesome by the way, made of chickpea and mint with a tzatziki sauce, before settling into a few pints of beer, the odd Jack and Coke and even a Balvenie 12 year old single malt. We pay for the night with the merch money. There is a festival-after-party going on at a bar near the hotel but this is far better, just sitting down with the boys at a restaurant, chilling out over a few drinks and shooting the breeze.

It's must be one am by the time we leave and we're all getting a little sauced up, although in a very low-key manner. We decide to pop into that bar with the after party on the way back anyway, since it is literally only a block down from the hotel. It's a small bar with a dance floor in the cellar and it's absolutely packed. We get a round of beers in. They have Brooklyn Summer Ale by the bottle which turns out to be the only good thing the place has going for it. Compared to the chilled out atmosphere of the restaurant this feels like Bips Nightclub in Corby. We drink a couple anyway, the four of us stood tight up against the back wall. At some point, it's getting a bit hazy by now, some young girl who has been sat next to us, chatting with a friend, looks at me and says hello. In English of course. I say hello back and she asks how long we're in Helsinki for. She then asks me if I want to go and dance downstairs. I barely manage a reply, just kind of carry on talking to the boys, a little embarrassed. The girl is obviously hitting on me and I'm absolutely useless in such situations. I'd never make it in the singles world. Or, more like, if I was ever plunged back into the singles world I'd probably stay there for the rest of my days.

We call it a night shortly afterwards. Well, all except Jon, who decides to stay on and hang out with Hannes. I barely remember crawling into bed and I'm not woken by Jon whenever he returns. I hadn't felt that drunk until we'd left the place, but then instead of going straight to my room I'd tagged along with Johan and Andy to there's, devouring the peanuts from their mini bar and opening a bottle of Lapin Kulta, although I barely drank a drop. Goodnight boys, their mini bar ravaged I fuck off to bed.

I wake up around seven am, dying for a cack and with an agonising pain in my back. I make it to the toilet and carefully lower myself on to the seat. When I'm done the realisation hits me that my back is so fucked I can barely reach around to wipe my arse. In a brief moment of panic I think about calling through to Jon to help me, but quickly reconsider it. I get the job done eventually but it's fucking excruciating and I have to hold on to the sink for support. I finally drag myself up and crawl back into bed, the only consolation to this horrid state of affairs being that check-out is not until noon...

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant as always Gaz! I hope your back is OK now! Andy x