Monday, March 30, 2015

Punk Rock and Coffee Podcast

I've been planning for a while now to invite guests to share their stories with me through the blog, whether that be in the form of me interviewing said guests or said guests writing in themselves.

I've been touring in bands for almost twenty years now and as well as having countless stories of my own to tell from that time, I've also had the pleasure of hearing a vast assortment of others from friends and acquaintances.  I don't know how many times I've sat in a van, in a backroom somewhere, a café or a bar or someone's house and been gobsmacked, horrified or in tears of laughter as someone has recounted a story from their own history in this life we call underground music, and the thought has occurred to me that others should hear these stories.

I've decided that instead of interviewing different people and putting the conversations into words, or indeed asking others to take the time to write the stories themselves, that I'll simply record these conversations and make them available in the form of a podcast.  The idea is that when I'm out travelling with bands on tour, or on holiday somewhere, or indeed simply at home here in Stockholm, to entice different friends and acquaintances with a cup of coffee and a sugary bun of some sort, be it at a café or somewhere else suitably tranquil,  to come and sit with me and retell some of these stories from life on the road, or just share their experiences from a life dedicated to music that belongs in the "underground".

Helping me produce this will be my editor/mixer Gonzo, he who knows how to work recording programs and the like, I've got no fucking clue.  The pen, or in this case, the dicta-phone is my tool.

I decided that the first episode, the first in the spotlight so to say, is yours truly, Gareth Smith.  I was in Corby last year visiting family and my friend Pat McMahon, who is a DJ at the local radio station, asked me along to talk about my life growing up in Corby, my life in Raging Speedorn and what came afterwards.  It's kind of where the whole idea for this podcast was born.  There will hopefully be an array of others to follow, although I don't promise to keep myself to any form of timescale.  Life is busy enough as it is.

Anyway, enough reading, more listening.  Just click on the link in the right hand column and enjoy.

Post script:  The podcast will soon be available in the Apple Podcast Store.  So Gonzo tells me...      

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


From Alvik to Antwerp, Victims is starting to get about again.  Last week we played a very last minute show in Stockholm at Sick Sound’s release party for their latest fanzine.  It was a bit of a strange one, a few bands had hopped off at the last minute for various reasons, ourselves jumping on due to the fact First Blood from the States had cancelled their tour, so the whole thing ended up being a bit flat.  In all honesty we did it for the money.  We wouldn’t usually play Stockholm twice in the space of four months but with studio time for the new album coming up we’re not in the position to knock back income.  And despite it being a low turn-out it was fun to play a new song, Errors, in the set.  Plus my dad was in town visiting and he came along which made it all the more fun.  The new Sicksound zine looks ace too, they really take fanzines to another level.

Today’s show in Antwerp had been planned a few months in advance however and I was really looking forward to it.  I went to bed worried that I was going to wake up in the night vomiting though, the dreaded stomach bug is going around Polly’s nursery and I lay there thinking how fucking typical it would be to start puking in the middle of the night and have to cancel the show, or even worse, get sick in Belgium.  That fucking bug can pounce at any given second, without warning.  I’ve been washing both mine and Polly’s hands hysterically this last week, she probably thinks I’ve lost the plot.  The alarm went off at six and thankfully we were all still in good shape, I’d even managed to sleep pretty well, something I normally have a hard time with the night before I travel.

Johan came for me just before seven.  He’d had the night to himself, Pia and Billy having headed off to Nyköping for the weekend.  We spoke about the luxury of having your apartment to yourself, how rare that is, and as much as you love your family, isolation now and then is good for the soul.  His night alone turned out just like all of mine do though, you have these plans to do this and that, listen to this record, watch this film or read that book or whatever and before you know it you’ve passed four hours without doing much or any of the above.  We picked up Jon and Andy and made our way across the still sleeping city of Stockholm to Bromma airport, which is the smaller airport that is actually within the city limits, just out by where we used to live.  A very easy start to our trip.

The flight was just over two hours, it was one of those planes with the wings on top and we were sat underneath them, just behind the engines so the noise on route was constant and gave me a headache. Probably didn’t help that I’d drunk nothing but coffee all morning either.  We get to Brussels airport and make our way to the train station from where we take a simple half hour journey to Antwerp.  The sun is shining and spring seems to have arrived in this part of the continent.  We’re all pretty chuffed as we stand there by the cab rank, feels like we’ve arrived on holiday.  I’m already regretting bringing my thicker jacket with me since it’s a pain in the ass to carry about.  Jon on the other hand is stood there in his trusty sheep skin 70’s football manager coat, Venom hoody pulled up over his Bolthrower beanie hat, scarf wrapped around him, puffing away on a fag with a pained look on his coupon.  I ask him if he’s not hot in his garb, “I’m always freezing”, he mutters, taking another drag.  Must be poor blood circulation I guess…

We take a cab over to the venue which is only a few minutes away and right by the harbor, where we meet Peter who runs the place.  He’s got one of those friendly faces I recognise from somewhere in the scene.  He tells us that he booked Victims way back in the days before I joined the band, fuck knows where I know him from.  I doubt very much that he booked Speedhorn… The venue is a squatted place, although they seem to have a good deal with the council, relatively hassle free.  The place used to be a warehouse or storage space for what I can’t remember.  The gig room is a simple square room with a bar in the corner and an open stage where the PA speakers hang from the roof as opposed to being towered on the side, really decent size.  The place resembles a bunker.  There is an outer room where we’ll sell the merch and besides that in the same building but separately run is a café.  Peter takes us here first and tells us to order some coffee which will be on the house.  I don’t know why, but the free cappuccino feels fills me with a feeling of joyous appreciation.  I was fucking gagging for some caffeine and having proper barrister treatment on the house was a hell of a bonus.  It’s the little things in life.

We sit around and talk about this point a little, that of the “little things”.  We don’t want or expect rock star treatment, we don’t expect five star hotels or bottles of fine wine on the rider, just something as simple as being greeted with a friendly smile and being made to feel welcome makes a huge difference.  We speak about how what a contrast England is for example, not on a punk level I have to add, but on that tour bus “next level” where you’re met with an attitude designed to make you believe you should be grateful to even be there, that the venue is doing you a favour.  Touring on the continental mainland, on all levels, has always been a far more pleasurable experience.  This free cappuccino just made my fucking day.  On top of that Peter hands us a tenner each for buyout.  Not sure if this is for the afternoon or whether it’s to cover dinner later, as stand up as Peter has been so far, he gave us cash back straight away for the train and cab, a buy out for lunch might just be pushing it.  There was a big kitchen upstairs though…

We sit and enjoy our coffee and ponder what to do with the afternoon.  My eye catches this really nice book of paintings that some artist has left for sale.  Full of skulls and weird abstract images, twenty Euros, I wish I could afford it.  We’ve got about five hours to do with what we please, total luxury.  We were here a few years ago when we played a show with Napalm Death in this bigger venue a little outside of the city centre.  We took a walk into town that day and the little we got to see of it looked promising.  Now we’re right in town, the sun is shining and we’ve got all afternoon to enjoy it.  After dumping our bags Peter shows us around the corner to the harbor and points along quay to the Museum Aan De Stroom, telling us that should be our first stop.  It’s this wacky glass building built on misaligned platforms of red brick.  Peter tells us you go can go to the top and stand on the panorama roof for free.  Sounds like a good plan, we make our way up.

From up there you can see the whole city with the cathedral protruding proudly above the surrounding rooftops, right in the middle of it all.  Peter told us that is where we’ll find everything else we’d need.  We hang out up there for a while taking pictures and enjoying the fresh air, enjoying the panoramic views.  The museum itself has what seems to be an exhibition on Antwerp during the First World War and there are some stunning pictures lining the walls of the escalators that take you from floor to floor.  Johan remarks that it would have been a great alternative had the weather not been so inviting.

We head over into the labyrinth of old cobble stone streets and alleys, which are broken up on a regular basis by numerous plazas.  It’s not the most beautiful city I’ve been in, although there are some stunning churches dotted about, there is an element of dirt about the place, but it certainly has its charm.  We walk around exploring the place for the best part of an hour before hunger starts to impinge upon us.  There are countless cafés and bars to choose from and we dither around from place to place in a fog of indecision.  I spot some place that is selling soup and fresh bread for five Euros which we look at for a bit but then carry on.  We keep saying to ourselves that we should stay away from the main square next to the Central Station since it’s bound to be swarming with tourists and tourist prices but nevertheless we end up there, as if sucked in by a tractor beam.  We head into a Tex Mex place called Chi Chi’s that may as well have had Shite Franchise written on the sign.  One look at their sorry looking buffet should’ve been enough to warn us off, but still we sit.

We leave the place about fifty minutes later and I’m filled with a mixed feeling of regret and anger.  Johan and I decided to share a plate of nachos and cheese quesadillas which despite the place being empty took around half hour to arrive and when they did caused a choke/laugh.  The plate of nachos was actually four nacho chips with a bit of melted cheese and a jalapeno on, a blob of cream and guacamole on the side.  The quesadilla was one pirogue cut into four measly sections.  They cost seven Euros each and then when we got the bill they’d charged us two fifty each for the tap water.  Felt like a complete kick in the balls.  Of course when the waitress came over to clear the table and asked us if our food was ok we mumbled that it was fine, yes, and then left the place cursing them in Swedish.  Really brave.

Feeling aggrieved from spunking the ten euro buy out on effectively nothing we felt the need to find a decent bar and rectify the anxiety with a nice draught glass of something Belgian.  We made our way past the main square where there were a load of people stood around watching what seemed to be a cow weighing competition.  Beyond them were two guys, maybe farther and son, playing bongos and singing We Will Rock You, Jon looked over at us, “If this is what tourists do then fuck going on holiday!”
We made our way from the square and back in to the smaller streets, trying not to look at the vast array of menus offering infinitely better food than what we’d gone for.  It’s important this food thing, it’s like when you go on holiday, food is one of the crucial factors and you’re gutted if you end up with something crap.
Anyway, we meander through the streets, looking in a record shop or two, which is never fun when you’re broke, before landing in one of the many smaller squares off the back of a church where there is a cosy little corner bar with some tables outside that are bathing in the sun.  The girl working in the bar speaks some Swedish and has a friendly demeanor.  Johan asks her what the best beer they have is, to which she bashfully replies that she doesn’t have much knowledge on the matter.  Two locals sat at the bar point to the tap of Le Chouffe.

The beer fully redeems Tex-Mexgate, I enjoy every drop of it as we sit there basking in the sun’s warmth, idly chatting away.  If only every day on tour was like this.  I could easily have sat there all evening drinking the Le Chouffe but it’s soon time to go and we pop into one of the many Frituur shops and pick up some chips and satay sauce, something that just has to be consumed when in this part of the world.  You tend to forget how far along Sweden is with eradicating cash from the system though, it’s easy to assume that you can pay for everything, everywhere with card, like at home, but when I try that here the guy tells me that the minimum transaction for card payment is twenty five Euros!  The chips cost three.  Thankfully Andy has cash.  Johan does too, he brought thirty quid with him from the band account, although what he thinks he going to do with that in Belgium I don’t know.

We arrive back at the venue around five-thirty, the rest of the guys from the other bands are there, sorting out soundcheck.  We’re playing with a bunch of old friends tonight.  The headlining band, who invited us over to play and sorted our flights is Blind to Faith, which has Stijn from Reproach on vocals as well as Vincent and Cedric from Rise and Fall on guitars.  The two other guys I don’t know but I immediately take to the bass player, this little, long haired heavy metal looking dude with a cheeky look on his face.  We’re in the back room where there are some beers, some regular pilsners and then a couple of local blondes, one at six percent and the other at nine.  The bass player, whose name is Loek, starts to tell me about the beers and asks me if I would like one, I take a sip of his six percenter.  It’s pretty nice but you can tell it has the capacity to blow your tits off.  I’m still feeling a little warm from the Le Chouffe.  Loek explains to me that you’re fine with a couple of these blondes before the show but after that you should move on to the regular beers, otherwise the show could get messy.  A couple he says?  A couple would put me to sleep.  He sips away, chuffed.

The first band on the bill are White Jazz, which is Bjorn and most of Rise and Fall, really looking forward to seeing them play, I’ve heard good things.  It’s nice to see Bjorn, always really friendly.  We soundcheck once Blind to Faith are done, always a good idea when you’re lending most of the gear.  And it’s just as well we do since a couple of minutes in and Jon’s guitar, his trusted friend Judas, packs in.  He stands there looking confused for a couple of seconds and then flips the guitar over to look at the back.  Much to Johan’s horror the protection plate that covers the wiring has been removed and one of the wires connecting the volume pot has come off.  When Johan asks Jon why he removed the plate in the first place, Jon answers sheepishly that it’s been like that for ages.  “That’s a really British answer” notes Andy.  Luckily enough the sound engineer is on top of his game and he’s got his soldering iron out and fixed it in a couple of minutes. That sorted, soundcheck commences and by the time we’re done and everyone is happy and it’s pretty much time to open doors.

The outer room where we have the merch set up starts filling straight away.  We catch up properly with the guys from the other bands for a while.  It seems like we’re getting no more food, making the Tex Mex disaster all the more miserable, so I head into the back room to looks for some crisps for me and Johan. We’re getting pretty fucking hungry again.  The room is full of people, seemingly most of the guys from the second band, Wrong Decision, and their brawny shell-suited friends, this one guy dressed in all white like he’s just came straight from Wimbledon, a little party going and the beer and food, crisps, is being devoured at a rapid rate.  I help myself to a can of the regular pilsner and fill up a plastic cup with some crisps for Johan, after scoffing about half a pack of Sweet Chili Doritos with Andy who has now turned up.  The Wrong Decision guys look like the typical gang of local tuffs you see hanging around the Esso garage up Abbey Way in Corby.  I get the feeling that the fridge is soon going to be emptied.  I head back to the merch and warn Jon of the situation in the backstage room, he tells me he’s already stuffed away a couple of those strong beers in his bag.  Thinking ahead as always.

White Jazz play first, although I miss the start of their set having not knowing it had commenced.  Peter wasn’t joking when he said the room with the stage was like a bunker.  There is a little tunnel going into the main room that acts like a vacuum, the noise all but disappearing by the time it’s got to the outer merch room.  Inside it’s packed and I can’t really see that much of the gig.  I notice the drummer from Link is here and I say hello.  The gig is really good though, a lot more angular and maybe arty than the Rise and Fall stuff, three of whose members are in White Jazz.  I catch the last half of the show anyway and I’m really impressed.  I look forward to the seven inch when it comes out.

I also sit through the best part of the Wrong Decision set as I’m out by the merch chatting away to the Reproach guys about punk and being a parent, Frank from Reproach having also recently become a dad. Andy has bought a couple of records from the distro but right now that’s not on the agenda for me, my student budget already stretched to the limit.  After a while Johan goes in to check out the band and comes back almost immediately saying they sound as their appearance would lead you to expect.  I can’t help but let my curiosity get the better of me and go to check it out, although through the side door which takes you to the right side of the stage.  There I find Jon, still with many layers of clothing on despite the heat of the room. Jon is digging it big style, being that it sounds like old school NYC hardcore that doesn’t really surprise me. “I really like hardcore” he reasons as I smile over at him.  In all fairness it’s a pretty okay rendition of that style although there are some berks in the crowd throwing windmill moves around, Wimbledon amongst them, which is disappointing.  They play for quite a bit longer than the scheduled twenty minutes and I’m guessing they started late too, but they’re young kids though so it’s not that strange I guess.  I have to crack up though, when they finally finish the emotionally drained, bare-chested singer gives a big dramatic kiss to his girlfriend who is stood up front.  Looks fucking daft.

And so it’s time for us to play.  Or at least, I assume it is.  We’re all tuned up and ready to go, I’ve tuned Cedric’s guitar that he’s lent me as a spare, checked the settings on the JMP amp he’s also lent me, the others guys seem to have done the same, so I start to strum my guitar, quietly at first.  Thing is, only after I’ve started making considerably more noise do I notice Andy crawling around on all fours looking for something.  Turns out his hi-hat clutch is missing.  Andy isn’t ready, not by a long shot.  Thing is, now me and Jon have started making noise we can’t really quit, people have shuffled into the room and they’re now waiting.  I can see this is stressing Andy out considerably.  We stand there for around five minutes making noise whilst Andy readies himself.  I feel pretty bad for him, the glaring, open stage set up hardly helping matters either…

We finally get going and the long doom intro is soon forgotten.  It feels great on stage.  There is plenty of room, it’s a nice surface that doesn’t have you slipping about the place and although the sound isn’t great everywhere, I find it best over in front of Andy, I have a lot of energy.  It’s one of those gigs where you feel fit as fuck.  Some gigs you look down at the set list after five songs and wonder how you’re going to make it, others, like this, you feel like you could play all night.  The guys from Reproach are down front over by Jon, fist pumping away, shouting between songs.  I have to laugh, Tim their guitar player had said to me earlier that our album Killer is one of his favourite records of all time, that he’s listened to it at least once a week since it came out in 2008.  He said the same thing to Andy, Andy told him he needs to buy more records. Anyway, Tim and Bjorn, Stijn’s cousin who drives Reproach on tour are over there in the corner, shouting for the song The Burning Fire from that album, pretty much between every song, after a while they even start singing the intro bit.  I doubt the guys ever played that song live, even when it was fresh.  I toured a lot of the Killer period and that song never came up in discussion.  Horses for courses and all that I guess.

Anyway, the set flies by, and by the time we’re done I’m pretty spent.  It’s fair to say this is the most energy I’ve had on stage for a while.  We pack down and everyone seems happy with the show.  Once I’ve caught my breath I head to the back room and exactly as I expect I find an empty fridge.  Those fuckers have stripped the cunt clean.  Johan and Andy are stood there shaking heads, not amused.  As much as I would have liked to come in and help myself to a cold Belgian beer I can’t help but smirk to myself, thinking back to when Speedhorn were kids and we’d wipe out all the booze that came across our path.  Little bastards.
Bjorn Reproach is in the room too, leaning over the table sorting out lines.  He asks me if I’m interested, I’m not.  He gets on with it and then goes into turbo mode, he’s chatty enough at the best of times and the fucker is always laughing, but this takes him to a new level.  Bjorn Rise and Fall is also in the room and whilst Bjorn Reproach blasts on relentless, the rest of us talk kids, Bjorn RF having an eighteen month old at home.

Presumably having noticed the situation with the fridge, Peter sorts us out with some beer tokens for the bar, very appreciated.  Thirsty as fuck now.  I head to the bar just as Blind to Faith are starting.  I head to the side of the stage with a small plastic glassed, yet very tasty draught blonde beer and enjoy their set.  Bjorn is there, still buzzing, and I hang out with him enjoying his company.  When he sees I’m out of beer he asks me if I want another.  I gratefully accept his kind offer.  He comes back a few minutes later with a Triple Bos, and shouts something in my ear about it being from the forest, that Bos means forest, that the beer comes from around here.  All I know is that it’s the nine percent stuff.  I give it a clunk, it tastes every bit a nine percent beer.  Bjorn swigs away on his whilst I treat mine with a little more respect.  It’s like fucking drinking crack!  I’m only half way through but I start to feel weird, almost stoned from this beer.  Bjorn turns around to me again, “I hope you like it!”.  “Yeah, absolutely”, I assure him, not wanting to appear rude but knowing full well that I’m not going to be able to finish this beer.  How the fuck Loek reckoned you’re okay with two before a show is beyond me.  Satisfied with my response, Bjorn gives me a big smile and clinks my bottle with his and gets back to watching Blind to Faith.  He turns around again about a couple of minutes later, and asks if we can take a picture together, he’s obviously still buzzing his tits off.  Of course, we take a pic and Bjorn shows me it, complaining that his flash is crap.  A few moments later he turns to me again, “I’m gonna head off to find my girlfriend.  Is that okay?”  I just laugh at him and give him a hug before he scoots off into the crowd.  Feeling stoned from this evil beer I feel the need to get out of the room and into the significantly cooler, more open space where the merch is at, dreaming of coming back down to the normality of six percent beer.

I head out to find the other guys there, Blind to Faith finishing shortly afterwards.  Andy is having exactly the same experience as me, complaining about the mental beer.  Jon has obviously tanked his because he’s laughing extremely loudly at everything.  Johan seems to be the only one who’s avoided it.  He has a sup of mine and shakes his head.  I leave the remaining half of the bottle on the merch table and find a normal pilsner placed into my hand almost immediately.  Thank fuck for that.  Loek comes up to me after the show, same sly grin on his face that he’s had all night.  “You’re from the UK?”  I answer in the affirmative.  “Do you know Bloody Kev?”  It is indeed a small punk rock world we live in.

Turns out Loek, who plays bass in BTF, as well as the drummer Nabbe, played in the great Dutch band Insult.  They toured with Hard to Swallow years back and they’ve been friends ever since.  I can’t believe it. This gets me going straight away.  Nabbe comes over later on and the three of us talk about the HTS guys and Kev and all the other common friends we have.  This, more than anything is what I love about playing punk, that connection you make with people from all over. We spend a good half hour babbling away over another beer.

I take merch duties for a while which I always enjoy since it’s a great place to meet people and chat.  A lot of the punks here seem to be shocked by the cheap prices of our shirts.  Ten Euros?  Weird.  This one girl comes up to us later on and shows us this book she has with her, a project she’s worked on that is a collection of set-lists from all over.  It’s really nicely laid out.  Jon says to her, “That’s a really nice idea!” “It’s not an idea, it’s a product” she replies.  Touché.  Again, I wish I could have afforded.  Could have done some really nice shopping on this trip…

The night draws to a close about half hour after Blind to Faith finish.  The mental buzz from the Triple Bos now have subsided I find myself in the mood for a beer at some chilled out bar.  Ideally somewhere nearby to where we’re staying, just one or two before bed time.  The place empties pretty quick and we say goodbye to everyone.  Peter tells us he’ll call a cab but we decide to head off and get some food first.  We find a kebab place after ten minutes or so, almost everywhere else is closed.  A bit stuck for choice, we order a veggie wrap.  It takes ages and turns out to be pretty crap, it’s essentially diced red peppar and onions in a tortilla bread with some sauce they call samurai which is sickly sweet.  The guy who runs the place is a chirpy little guy though, who it turns out, used to live in Malmö and merrily goes about impressing us with his Swedish.  Jon engages.  The conversation bumbles along whilst our stomachs rumbled in anticipation.  It wasn’t worth the wait.  The samurai sauce they seem to love is not my bag…

We head back to the venue, the city by now well and truly wrapped up in bed and asleep.  It feels like the chances of us finding a cosy bar to enjoy a beer in are minimal.  And if I’m honest, I’m starting to feel pretty tired myself, it is past two after all… By the time the cab arrives my eye lids are heavy and the bar idea is well and truly canned.  If it wasn’t for the cab driver slamming his foot on the gas as soon as we sat down I would have fallen asleep in the cab.  “I love the driver,” Jon says as the engine revs all the louder.  We drive about five minutes and arrive at our destination.  They have a band flat above some practice rooms, although it seems to be in the process of being built.  We’re met by a friendly woman who shows us in, Andy looking back in horror at me as the first room we enter resembles a building site.  But after climbing a very steep and narrow spiral staircase we come to the flat, where there a numerous beds, a couple of showers and kitchen that contains breakfast for us in the morning.  This will do just fine!  A quick wash and into bed it is, I lie there and read Primo Levi for all of thirty seconds before my eyes give in.

The next day we awake early(ish) and find another glorious spring day awaits.  I put the coffee on, make a couple of sarnies and afterwards I embrace the shower.  A cab is coming at two to take us to the airport for our flight at five.  With a few hours to kill Andy, Johan and I head into town for a walk, Jon opts to sleep until we leave.  We spend an hour or so walking about before taking a seat at a café back in the area where the flat is and enjoy some cappuccino and some sunshine.  Fucking perfect.  If only every gig on tour was as luxurious as this one has been.

I’ll soon be back out on the road with Diagnosis? Bastard! for a ten date trip around Europe.  I very much doubt I’ll come home feeling quite so refreshed after that trip.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Make Punk Not War

I’ve been playing in Victims since early 2009.  In that time I’ve got to travel to some really interesting places and I’ve played some amazing shows.  In a lot of ways, I’ve realised many of the dreams I harboured during my days with Speedhorn.  Not just the travelling so much, we did plenty of that with Speedhorn, but more the type of shows we’ve played.  Sure, we played some monumentally big festivals with Speedhorn, before a sea of people that rippled off into the surreal.  But the thing is, my dream when I was a kid was not playing those kinds of shows, it was playing on a floor in a tiny room full of likeminded people, all going nuts.  I can genuinely say that my favourite show with Speedhorn wasn’t Ozfest, it was a house show in Bradford.

I’ve played a lot of those kinds of shows with Victims this last six years, house shows in the States, punk squats in Europe, as well as some great DIY Fests, but one dream of mine has still not been realised; Russia and the Baltic states.  Everyone who knows me knows I have a bit of a thing for Russia and the old Soviet, I suspect that it stems from my childhood obsession with football and teams with exotic sounding names from Eastern Europe like Spartak Moscow, Dynamo Kiev and Skonto Riga, for whatever reason I find the territories behind the former Iron Curtain fascinating and it’s always been a dream of mine to go and play there one day.

We’re very privileged in Victims in so much that we have a regular flow of emails coming in offering us shows.  The situation this last few years, namely that three quarters of us have become fathers, and add to that the fact that we’ve just so happened to relay our paternity leave, has meant that we’ve had to politely decline the majority of shows that come our way.  It’s not just the time away that is the reason behind us knocking back shows either, it’s the fact that the added responsibility of having kids means that we can no longer just fuck off and play shows and come home with nothing to show for it, or at least, we can no longer afford to come back with debt for the sake of playing shows.  We’ve been offered tours a couple of times this last year in South East Asia for instance, which of course would be incredible, but the fact is it would cost us a lot of money to travel there and play because their isn’t the economy in that part of the world to make it possible for us to at least cover our costs.  Victims going to Asia on tour would be an amazing experience albeit a very costly one and right now, with young kids at home, we can’t afford it.  Maybe by the time our kids leave home and we’re in our late fifties we’ll be able to take that gig...

Russia though, well that’s something different.  I think we’ve had at least four offers this last two or three years to go there and play and if it was up to me we’d have been every time, or at least, we’d have gone once.  It seems that the scene in Russia carries with it a bit of a stigma though.  The other guys in the band simply aren’t interested and I’ve often had my enthusiasm for the offers knocked down with, “Gaz, if you want to go to Russia you’re gonna have to go there as a tourist”.  I think Andy was there with an old band in the Nineties, although he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it so much.  He just shakes his head and grumbles a no at me.  The worry is that apart from the country being a little well, you know, corrupt, there is a strong Nazi presence in the punk scene.  This is nothing I can vouch for either way since I’ve never been there.  I’ve heard it a few times from reliable sources although the understanding is that it’s gotten better over the years.

That’s not to say it’s not there.  My friend Ove went there filling in on drums with Massgrav a few years back and he told me all about it one day over the counter at Sound Pollution.  Ove told me that the shows they did went really well, all soundly organised and well attended, the crowds were really into it and they got paid.  I was delighted with the report, thinking immediately how I would use it as a source of encouragement next time we got an offer.  But in the midst of my delight, Ove added a postscript:

“Everything went fine until the last show, which was some place in the middle of nowhere a couple of hours drive from Moscow... We’d played the gig and it was good, a load of kids bouncing around to the set.  Then afterwards whilst waiting to get paid, the guy who had booked the shows and travelled with us came up to us and said that we’d have to wait at the venue for a while because a bunch of Nazi’s had turned up and were hanging around outside waiting for the punk kids to leave.  We asked him what were we gonna do and he just said, totally unmoved, “Ah it’s ok, pretty normal, they can’t get in so we’ll just have a disco and get drunk and sooner or later they’ll get bored and fuck off””.  And it seems that indeed they did.  Sooner or later...

This unfortunately confirms some of the fears over on this end.  For me though, despite this, I still really want to go.  I’ve come across Nazi’s before and I’ve been fucked over by promoters before and I get that it’s a risk, but I figure the likelihood of being killed in Russia if we went to play there is pretty fucking minimal and whatever shit happens would simply provide great writing material.  Sometimes it’s the crazy, scary stuff that makes the best stories.  The other guys don’t necessarily agree.  Although Andy has been making noises of late that he’s heard it has gotten better and maybe he’d be willing to give it a go, if it was through a referenced, reliable source.

This year I got as close as I’ve ever come.  We received an email inviting us to headline a punk festival in Ukraine, offering to pay flights and accommodation.  To my surprise it wasn’t kicked into touch directly, the guys all said it sounded interesting.  There was just that little thing called The War that was going on but Andy mailed the guy and asked him about the dangers of going there and received an email back assuring us that where the festival was being held was a long way away from the conflict.  Ukraine is a big fucking country after all.  After a lot of uming and ahing we went ahead and accepted the offer, the promoter even throwing in five hundred Euros extra.

There were a lot of bands from the Baltic states and Russia playing the bill, with only us and our mates Reproach from Belgium coming in from the West.  As much as the worrying shadow of the war was looming I was still really chuffed that we were going to Ukraine, finally I was going to play a gig in this part of the world.  A fucking dream coming true.  The nearest I’d been previously was a two hour stop over at Kiev airport with Jen on the way to Thailand, which was pretty cool in itself.  Totally old school place where the line for the customs took almost the entire time allotted for the stop over due to the fact there was just one old, worn out lady who looked like she despised the lot of us working and the system they were using was from an era many moons before the digital age.  It’s just this kind of thing I love.

As the weeks went by the tensions in both the country and the Victims camp steadily rose and I noticed that I received the same slightly worried reaction every time I told friends or family that we were off to Ukraine in May.  With the situation intensifying all the more on the Ukrainian-Russian border Andy mailed the Swedish embassy in Kiev asking for advice.  They wrote back saying that they weren’t warning people to stay away from the region we were travelling to right now but they couldn’t guarantee how it would look in a couple of months time.  That was enough for everyone, for me too.  As Johan put it, “I’ve got a family to think of and as much as it would be an amazing experience to go to a place like Ukraine and play I have a lot of respect for war and don’t want to die”.  Johan’s words hit home to say the least.  As much as I love playing punk and travelling to places you’d never hit up on “holiday”, I have a beautiful little girl to think of and putting myself into a risky situation just to play some songs is grossly negligent.  Last time I checked Reproach’s web page they had a list of upcoming gigs for the year up, the Ukraine festival conspicuous in its absence.    

I guess if I ever do end up going to that part of the world then it will indeed have to be as a tourist.  Maybe not when there’s a war going on though.