Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Latte Pappa

I've never been a morning person. Ever. For as long as I remember I've embraced the stillness of the late, lonely hours hours of night. When I was a kid I loved the feeling of being awake past midnight whilst the rest of the household slept. There was something so very comforting about it. Even when I got older and school at eight-thirty became work at six did I have a hard time getting my head down before midnight, even if it meant sacrificing a few hours sleep.

I guess the reason I've never been a morning person is that I'm always fucking knackered in the a.m, which is obviously my own fault. That may change in a couple of months time when our baby arrives, and then again it may not. Let me make it clear though, I don't have a problem getting out of bed after a few measly winks, I'm just a grumpy bastard for the first hour or so.

On this particular occasion I had an early rise for my six-forty five train to Heathrow from Corby and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep through the journey. After five days of Christmas eating and boozing with my family and friends in the UK I was fucking beat. I was looking forward to getting home to my wife, her big belly and my dog. The thing is, even though my exchange at St. Pancras was the final stop for the train I was on, I still felt a little nervous about sleeping through so I forced myself to stay awake. I'd have to settle for a nap on the plane later. I sat down in my reserved seat by the window in the empty carriage and dosily gazed at the scenery between Corby and Kettering.

At Kettering it all went wrong...

A guy who looked to be about my age alights the train carrying his baby boy in one of those chest harness things and shifts along the aisle to my table. I shoot him a friendly glance and then return my gaze to the window. Fucking typical! The only other people on this carriage and they're sharing a table with me. The guy makes a bit of a fuss unharnessing his son and sorting his bags out before plonking down in the seat opposite me. The whole while I can feel him trying to make eye contact with me. I shoot him another quick look, give a compulsory smile to his son and then in what turns out to be a mistake, let out a slightly over the top yawn and return my eyes once again to the window.

“Tough morning?” he asks. Fuck. That was not supposed to be a conversation starter. Quite the opposite in fact. “Nah, just a bit early” I reply, “I've got a long journey ahead”.

“I'm going to Norway” he immediately replies, with just a slight tone of competitiveness in his voice. “I'm going to Sweden” I reply with more than a hint of pathetic, one-upmanship about it. “Fair enough, you win”, he says without even a hint of a smile on his face. I know then that the quiet journey I'd longed for is doomed.

If I'd been worried about how I'd manage to churn out small talk for the next hour or so, I needn't have bothered, my fellow passenger, Asa, did most of the talking. I certainly started the ball rolling though, and what a fucking ball it turned out to be. It was more like that boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Note for the future: Don't comment on anyone else's kid if you're not prepared to get into a dialogue about it and don't mention that you are expecting a kid yourself.. If only I'd known then what I know now..

“He seems like a happy little chap” I say, unable to deflect the weight of Asa's gaze any longer. I don't know where that came from, it doesn't even sound like me, although the kid was undeniably cute and he was sat across the table smiling at me, making him nigh on impossible to ignore. I felt I had to say something. “He certainly doesn't get that from his mother” comes Asa's reply, a look of untamed misery on his face. I knew then that things had just gotten a whole lot worse for me...

For the next hour or so I'm battered with an onslaught of Asa's sob story, with tips about how to bring up a small child and advice on how to keep my relationship with Jen together under the duress of parenthood. Asa is brutally bitter about how things have turned out between himself and his girlfriend since he moved to Oslo and they had their kid. Ironically this barrage started with the question, “Can I give you one bit of advice?” cue pause, although he's clearly not expecting an answer from me. “Take ten seconds... Before you react, take ten seconds..” he says it like he's just hit me with some radical new relationship technique he'd discovered whilst trekking through the mystical mountains of life experience... I nod solemnly. “Of course, she never took ten seconds, no no..” And from there it rolled.

He told me that he was joining the Royal Navy and mapped out the plan he had for his life and his son's upbringing for the next ten years. The whole while I keep glancing out the window, praying for the train to hurry along.. Wellingborough...Bedford..forty minutes to go. The verbal dissecting of his ex continued.. He had to work nights, she had no job yet still couldn't manage to take care of the kid in the mornings.. She was supposed to study. Study? Yeah that went well...

And then it was the turn of Norwegian society as a whole to hear what for. People are very closed. They say they're happy to speak English but unless you can speak Norwegian you have no chance of a job. Your education in England counts for fuck all. You have to start from scratch again and you will never, ever be accepted in the long run anyway. His job sucked. He was a bar manager apparently, and yet he was never given any hours.

My head is seriously being done in by this point. He seems to be completely undeterred by my lack of interaction. The boy starts to shift around and fuss, now waking from the sleep that his dad's ranting had no doubt induced. He really is cute, I have to say. Blond hair, huge blue eyes. Scando prototype. Asa stands up and starts to bounce on his heels a little, to settle the boy down. He then tells me that he'll need to walk up and down the aisle for a while, which by the way is something I'll have to get used to in the future. Taking a train and reading a book, fucking forget it! Won't be doing that again until I've retired apparently.. “At last!” I gasp inwardly, as Asa starts up the aisle. “If I'm talking too much, just let me know” he says. Why? Why can't I just fucking say to him, “You know what mate, you really are. Can you please just shut the fuck up for a while?”

“No mate, it's fine”. I hate myself...

He continues to ramble on as he walks up and down the aisle. There are other passengers in the carriage now, but it seems it's only me that's aware of them. Up and down, up and down, all the while giving me tips on how to get my kid to sleep whilst in transit. The funny thing is, the kid seems to be having none of it. He's attached to Asa's chest in that harness thing, pawing him in the face and gargling in that cute way they do. Eventually Asa stops back at our table. There is a woman sat directly behind him, opposite me, looking on with the slightest of smirks on her face. She can obviously see the torture that's being set upon me. “Gareth, do you have any friends back home that you can talk to? I mean, really talk to?”

“Err, yeah I guess I do..” Asa nods his head, his eyes closing as he does so, as if he's genuinely relieved to hear me say so. “Good, because you should warn them that there are going to be times when you need to talk to them. And you know what? There are going to be times when you need to cry, and when that happens, you just have to let it out.” His eyes are actually welling up as he says this to me. I'm actually starting to wonder if some fucker is filming me. I wouldn't be surprised if Beadle pops up with a ticket collector's uniform on and prods a microphone in my face announcing I'm on Candid Camera!

But Beadle never arrives, and Asa is seemingly on the verge of emotional collapse.

I hurriedly change tack. I ask him how long he'd been in the UK for Christmas and if he'd had a nice time. “A week. It was ok..” Ok, next question. I realise now that it's up to me to steer this sinking ship. I ask him how often his parents come to visit. “Once! They came when the boy was born and that's it. And they have the nerve to say that I don't stay in touch! I mean, my sister moved to Australia and yet I'm the one who has turned my back on the family?!” Balls...

We were nearing Luton now. Only another twenty minutes to go. Thankfully Asa is travelling to Gatwick, so I'm nearing the end of this agony. But Asa is still not quite done.. He asks me if we've thought of any names yet. I give him the standard answer, that we have a few ideas but you never know do you? I mean, until the baby actually arrives. “We had agreed that she would get to choose the name if it was a girl, and I would get to choose if it was a boy. Well, that didn't happen!” Asa, you are killing me here! I can't actually remember what the boy's first name was, so numb was my head by this point, but I do remember that his middle name was Attila. “Yeah, I got that one in at least. She hates it!”.

The train finally pulls in to London St. Pancras. I shake Asa's hand and wish him good luck for the future. I wonder how on earth he's going to stand the Royal Navy, or how indeed they're going to stand him. I can just imagine the fucker cracking one day and walking around the ship at night stabbing his fellow sailors in their sleep.

It's about six weeks until our baby arrives. I have no idea how it's going to feel to hold my kid in my arms for the first time, how overwhelming it's going to be to bring it home from the hospital and realise that for the rest of my life I'm going to be a dad. Adulthood has finally arrived. It's scary as fuck, but it's also unbelievably exciting. It's going to be weird doing all those parent/kid things again, this time with me taking on the parent roll. I do know one thing. If I can do half the job my parents did for me, then we'll be ok. I hope Asa will be as well. He was a boring bastard no doubt, but I did feel sorry for him. Thankfully though, instead of being scared to death by his tales of parenting woe, I find myself reassured that we're good.

A couple of days earlier I'd met my old friend Mike and his new baby boy, Colt. Mike hasn't had the easiest life, but despite being dealt a shit hand a lot of the time, he's remained incredibly strong. Not many would have coped with the shite he's had to go through. When I knocked on the door, it was the first time I'd met him since Colt arrived. I've never seen Mike so happy, he literally had tears of pride and joy welling up in his eyes. His pride in his new baby son filled me with a feeling of comfort because I knew I'd be feeling exactly the same way in about six weeks time...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Long Road Home...

The tour continued, a few more days.. It felt like we should have flown home from New York, it felt like that would have been the natural end to to things. Instead, we found ourselves still with a mammoth journey back to the middle of the country, Texas. Houston to be exact. And there were still a few remaining shows to play.

It was hard to get the momentum going again after what had been a little holiday in New York City. I'd almost forgotten that there was still work to be done. The atmosphere on the bus was heavy. Dutch, by this point, was barely talking to any of us and severely missing his wife. He'd told us as much. We'd joked with him on the way down to Virginia, asking him what was the worst, as in most mental, band he'd ever had on his bus. “You are fucking taking the piss right?! You guys are by far the craziest bunch of idiots I've ever met. No question.” We laughed. He didn't.

As if to punctuate the slow, winding down of this latter stage of the tour, Dutch told us that we'd unequivocally have to cancel the last two shows, which were in Florida. I don't know if he'd simply had enough of us and wanted to get back to his wife or what. To be honest though, the last date of the tour was in Ft. Lauderdale and if we played that show, we'd have about twenty four hours to make it back to Houston and catch our flight. Sense prevailing, we'd have to cancel the shows. It still felt like a welcome convenience for Dutch though. I hate cancelling shows for any other reason than a force majeure, it goes against everything I stand for. I did my best to explore all the options with Dutch, but he was having none of it. To be fair, he was right. And it wasn't his fault. We'd make a fuck up when booking the flights, if the truth is told.

So, we were heading down to Virginia for a couple of nights and then we'd play our final gig in Atlanta. In hindsight it would have been pretty insane to then head back to Florida only to race all the way back again over to Houston for our flight. We'd never have made it. Hopping off in Atlanta and driving back to Texas from there made far more sense. I was still pretty gutted though, it would have been fun to play Florida.

The drive down to Springfield, Virginia didn't take long. I wonder if this is the Springfield where the Simpsons live? It's funny how fast you get back in to the flow of the tour anyway. By the time we'd loaded the gear in and hooked up with the SG guys it felt like we'd never had a day off. It was a warm, sunny day in Virginia. Real t-shirt weather. My sagging spirits were immediately lifted and thoughts of home were once again put on the back burner. I've always had a hard time dealing with the last few days of tour, once the thoughts of home and your own bed, your wife and family start creeping in, it's hard to shake. There have been a few long tours where I've been completely miserable by the last few dates, more likely down to exhaustion than anything else I guess. I'd gotten over that by this point in time though, you have to realise there is no point dwelling on it, that it doesn't make time go any faster, that's for sure.

The venue in Springfield was a large hall with one of those big, high stages. There was just the one large, communal dressing room for all of the bands. It was nice seeing our touring friends again. The relationships you form on tour really are like no other. It gets to be this intense friendship and then when you part ways, it's over. Very few do you stay in regular contact with afterwards, even if you've felt like best friends having hung out every day for the preceding four or five weeks. Still, the great thing is that those friendships can usually be picked up immediately next time you see each other again. I had the feeling that the SG guys wouldn't be staying in touch with Nile after this tour though. There was still a lot of bad feeling about the whole merch situation. We told the guys that we were forced to pull the Florida shows, they told us they were considering doing the same.

We'd become pretty good chums with the Hypocrisy guys by now too. Pete, who is a bit of deal in the metal production world, had been talking to us about recording Speedhorn sometime. Fun as that was to hear, and flattering too, I couldn't see it happening. But you never knew what might be around the corner. It's just one of those things I'd heard so many times, and whether due to us not following it up or it just being bullshit in the first place, it never happened. Still, it was good to be hanging out with everyone in the big dressing room sharing a beer or two. Ironic really that with only three shows to go, I finally felt like we'd broken the ice with the majority of the touring party. The SG guys apart, we were probably completely out of place with everyone, but it felt like we'd been accepted if nothing else.

I don't really remember the show. It was just another one of those big, characterless halls. I don't think it was the worst gig though, since we actually had some girls hitting on us afterwards. We were in good spirits and most likely a little drunk and there was a party atmosphere in the dressing room. There was a fussball table and ping pong, and we were all taking part, even the Nile guys, which as much as they'd been pretty alien to everyone else on this tour, still felt nice that they were getting involved. Maybe like us, they were just a little misunderstood and out there on their own a bit..

Anyway, me and Kev are sat on this sofa and all of a sudden there are these two young girls, they must be twins since they looked very alike, unashamedly hitting on us. Fuck knows how they'd gotten in here. Anyway, they're giving it all the classic stuff like, “Ooh I love your accent!” and then mimicking everything I say and giggling. To be fair, it was quite cute and I didn't really feel the need to create any polite distance between us until one of them started gently rubbing my back. Daz, being single, rightly so cottoned on to what was happening and moved his way in. The girls seemed to have their sights on me and Kev though. “Are you guys brothers? You look really alike..” I cracked up at that. Me and Kev? Funny thing is, we do share the same birthday.. I thought this was an interesting fact that deserved sharing. “It's funny because, we do have the same birthday and we're exactly ten years apart.” I hadn't really thought about what I was saying, I was just babbling on in my married guy, haven't got a clue I'm being hit on and just warbling on with some nonsense routine. I was therefore a little shocked when Kev roughly dug his elbow into my ribs, “Five years!!!” I almost spat my beer out when I saw the distressed look on his face.

I hadn't really realised that Daz was pissed up, not like that was unusual in any way, but his patter and the slightly wonky left eye soon gave him away. He was making his move on the girls. “You know it's funny, because he's Gareth Smith, and I'm Darren Smith! But we're not brothers either, although a lot of people ask us if we are..” It's total Homer Simpson stuff, fitting I suppose considering the name of the town we're in. Not long after this, the girls leave, either unimpressed or realising it's not going to happen. After that we get back to hanging out with the rest of the guys. It's one of those drunk photo session nights that normally happen somewhere near the end of a tour. I got a great picture of Brian and Kev. Now they did look like brothers. It was fun listening to them talk, being a similar age and having grown up listening to the same bands, I could have listened to them reminisce the whole night.

The next day we were in Norfolk, Virginia, another short drive. The Springfield show would turn out to be the last big party night for us and the other bands. Also another common occurrence.. We knew we'd be leaving straight after the Atlanta show, so it was best to do all the contact exchanging and pics a day or two before. I remember next to nothing of the Norfolk show, except that it was another big venue with one of those classic billboards you only seem to see in the States. It's always a buzz seeing your band's name outside a venue. The place held about fifteen hundred people and there were a lot attending. I do remember feeling pretty satisfied with both the Virginia shows and thinking that we'd had a pretty good run since the New York gig. As said earlier, by now the standard of what made a good show had substantially lowered. Not getting spat on was considered somewhat a success.

There was still that overhanging feeling of being ready to go home though. We'd been out a long time and a lot of shite had come our way since leaving Heathrow for these shores in what seemed like a lifetime before. We'd all pretty much had enough of other for now. Just the small things were getting on my tits, like Lasse sitting for hours on end on the bus playing this acoustic guitar he'd picked up somewhere along the line. Lasse is an insane guitarist and it is genuinely inspiring to watch him play, his fingers contorted in all sorts of mad shapes over the fretboard, but after a few weeks it was tapping on my nerves. As was Dutch's constant moaning. I personally couldn't wait for Dutch to meet his wife again, something he would do on the penultimate day of our trip. The guy needed to seriously fuck away some pent up tension.. When I come to think of it, even the Meshuggah album, the admittedly superb 33, was now seriously getting on my tits. We'd played it to death on this tour..

Yes. It was certainly time to go home.. In hindsight I wish I'd taken the time to have a look around the city of Norfolk. We were there early with nothing to do and it seemed like a nice enough place with a river running through it. Like I say though, thoughts were mainly on staving off exhaustion, both mental and physical, and getting home.

And so on to the last show we drove. Atlanta, Georgia... No matter how you're feeling at the end of a tour, no matter how tired you are and how desperate you are to see your family and lie in your own bed again, to be able to wake up in the morning and jump straight into a shower, it's always tough saying goodbye to friends you've been hanging out with every day for a month. So it felt today saying farewell to the Soilent Green crew. Even John, the Nile stage manager. I kind of felt empty all day, a mix of emotions..

We were playing a place called The Masquerade. It was a huge old, decrepit building. I guess it was once a factory or warehouse.. It was all crumbling grey concrete and dust. As usual, we were in a run down area, so even though it was a brilliantly sunny day, perfect walking conditions, I dared not venture too far. Mostly heeding advice from Dutch if I'm honest.

I walked a couple of blocks up a hill away from the venue and then back again. The surrounding area did indeed look pretty poor and just a little sketchy. As much as I love exploring big cities, this was just one I'd have to leave. I simply didn't have the energy. Maybe I'd be back in Atlanta another day in more preferable circumstances.

The big venue must have been capable of taking in a couple of thousand at full tilt, but the show tonight was maybe a third full. We had a very average gig. There were large gaps down the front of the crowd, something all too apparent from the high stage we were stood on. The sound on stage was pretty crap, as is usually the case on these big set-ups, especially when you're not the headlining band. Brian got up and played $30 Bag one last time with us though, which was fun as always, although it didn't quite have the same buzz as that first time in the considerably smaller venue in Rochester..

It was one of those nights when all of the bands seemed a little fazed. I guess everyone was feeling the burn. It felt like everyone was going through the motions.. As had often been the case, a large portion of the crowd left after Hypocrisy's set. I remember walking through the venue whilst they were playing and taking note of the large number of Hypocrisy t-shirts being worn. One guy struck me in particular. It was this mean looking black guy, who had a Darth Maul thing going on, with the yellow cat-like contact lenses and small horns sticking out of his forehead. He looked like a right knob but I obviously didn't feel the need to tell him that. He was going crazy for Hypocrisy anyway. I remember thinking to myself that he'd most likely be straight out of the door after their set..

The Mastodon guys were mingling around backstage and John seemed to be hanging out with them. We'd played with them in London a while before but hadn't really spoken to them then, although they'd stood side stage and watched our set They seemed like nice enough guys, although I didn't really understand quite why they'd become immersed in this huge hype. I like the first couple of albums but after that it got a bit boring in my opinion. It's funny because whenever a band starts to get big like that there's this presence that seems to come with it, and everyone around them is fussing and buzzing. I could almost tell that someone “famous” was hanging around backstage before I'd even seen them, just by the way people in the vicinity seemed to be acting. Weird.

I knew that Dutch would be itching to leave as soon as possible after this show and true enough he was. He was asking if we could pack up the merch early and head off, since we never sold anything anyway. It was a fair enough point, but it fucked me off all the same, and for that reason I told him no. The anxiety on his face was plain to see. His balls must have been the size of watermelons.

Of course, we sold a grand total of two t-shirts and then packed up when the house lights came on. And that was that. Dutch had us pack the van in lightning quick time. We said goodbye to the other bands and left the tour. Soilent Green were playing Florida after all. That night on the bus was a bit subdued to say the least. A couple of beers, a film and it was time for bed. Dutch had his foot down up front. I had the feeling he wasn't going to stop until we got to his place in Austin.

We arrived early the next afternoon. We'd spend the night here and then we'd be driving to Houston in the morning to make our flight home. Lasse had been in touch with that cute emo girl he'd hooked up with in San Antonio. They were going to meet up for the night, so he was off. He promised he'd be back in plenty of time in the morning. I joked with him that I had no problem leaving him here. The van was parked up by the time we'd awoken. Dutch had already gone, he'd left a note on the steering wheel saying he'd be back in a couple of hours and then he'd take us somewhere for dinner. Lasse was just heading off to meet emo girl. I waved him off and wished him happy times. The rest of us had the day in Austin, which suited me fine since it's one of my favourite cities in the States.

Dutch turned up a while later with his wife, who seemed to be a really nice lady. They took us to a Mexican restaurant just off the strip, around the corner from Emo's. It was a beautiful day and we sat out in the beer garden noshing on great food. Dutch was without any exaggeration, a completely new man! He had a smile cracking the sides of his face. I felt really happy for him. At the same time, sad, since I knew he was heading off on another tour with another bunch of idiots in five days time. I don't know if I could hack that.

After lunch Dutch headed home with his wife for some well deserved quality time together. The rest of us went to a bar and played pool for a couple of hours before heading back to the bus to watch a couple of films. It was a perfect final day off before we headed home. I went to bed wondering how Lasse was getting on...

I have to admit that I was a little surprised to see Lasse back early the next day, I was expecting a bit of drama if I'm honest. I asked him how it had went with Emo Girl. Not good apparently... She'd taken him for dinner with her family, something Lasse wasn't exactly expecting. What's worse, they were all strict Christians, something Lasse most certainly is not. It must have been uncomfortable to say the least. The girl seemed to be this whole other person from the one he'd met in San Antonio a month earlier. He'd gotten out of there as quick as he could.

Unlike Chicago airport on the way in, the customs officers at Houston couldn't give a fuck. They barely looked at us as we went through the checks. It's obviously a different matter when you're leaving their country. We flew a few hours to Chicago and then changed there. All very relaxed. We didn't even have to pick up the gear at the lay over this time around. We just had to get off and wait for the next flight which would take us to Heathrow.

We had about an hour at Chicago O' Hare. It's a huge airport. Fucking colossal! We'd been sat by our gate for about fifty minutes when Lasse decides he's heading off in search of a sandwich. I ask him if he thinks he'll have enough time, my tone clearly stating my doubt. The food court was a good fifteen minute walk away, and that would be for someone with two working legs.. “Yeah no problem..” he assures me. The fucker literally hobbles around the corner way down at the end of the hall, his broken leg weighed down by the plaster cast, when the lady by our gate announces we're boarding. Lasse doesn't come back..

I wait for a while and then decide I'm not missing my plane for him. I take his guitar on board with me and leave it with on of the stewardesses at the front of the plane. He eventually turns up, last one on the plane, with a chuffed grin on his face and a sandwich in his hand. It's not only us lot that are fucked off with him, “You must fucking love a drama, you!” I bark at him. “What's up?” he innocently enquires. You can't help but love the cunt...

Before we take off from Chicago, a steward asks me if I could consider swapping my seat with some guy so that he can sit with his pregnant wife. I'm only to happy to oblige, of course. I move my gear and I'm filled with a warm feeling when I see how grateful the guy is. I end up sitting next to some older guy, businessman by the look of him, who is instantly chatty. He turns out to be this really nice guy, who is deeply into blues and jazz music. He has some great old live music clips on his laptop that he's happy to share with me. The flight literally whizzes by as we talk to each other about everything music.

Until we get to up and above Iceland... The pilot comes on the intercom and like something out of a film, asks if there is a doctor on board. It turns out some guy at the back of the plane has had a heart attack. We make an emergency stop in Reykjavik. Well, it's not like we nose dive down to the runway or anything, but it's an unscheduled stop. It's all pretty sombre on board as the ambulance crew rush on to the plane and try and save the guy. I can't see what's happening but we're on the ground for a good hour and a half. I wonder what ever happened to him.. And then without word, we're lifting off again. Five hours later we're back in London.

And that was that, a weird end to a pretty weird tour.