Breakfast isn’t bad for one of these plastic hotel affairs, although the scrambled egg looks like it came straight out of a square box. And the toast is disgustingly sweet. The coffee and croissants work though. We sit around discussing the alternative outcomes with gear. How nice it would be to head over to the airport and find it there waiting for us. None of us truly believe that will be the case though, but you can always hope. We finish up and gather our bags together. Andy and I are stood downstairs by the parking lot for quite a while waiting for the other two. No doubt Johan is sat on the bog as usual. Whilst we’re waiting Rainy from Discharge comes strolling out with his wife. He asks us if we’re the shuttle that’s taking them to the festival. We explain that we’re not and then proceed with a pleasant chat. They’re both very friendly and it’s fun having a natter with them. We tell Rainy about the baggage situation and he scoffs in empathy with us. He tells us that one time they were out playing and their gear ended up in four different countries. He says they were playing this festival and they ended up loaning Jamiroquai’s gear. Funny as fuck thinking about Rainy playing Protest and Survive on some six string bass up around his neck. We talk about the upcoming punk boat gig they’re playing in Stockholm in March, Andy seems pretty psyched by the idea of trying to get Victims on it. Playing hungover on a ferry with no escape doesn’t seem like the best idea to me though.
We head over to the airport, it is indeed walking distance as the itinerary had promised. We head for the luggage claim department where we’re met by a very sweet, but stressed out girl working there. She’s got a lot of work on after the strike it seems and as the phone keeps ringing she rabbles off a load of French, the only word I can pick out of any of it being “Merde!” We go through the procedure of making the claim. She tells us the strike is now over and there is the slightest chance that our gear might be on the incoming flight from Nantes in half hours time. It doesn’t turn up though. As we’re waiting in hope, the Napalm Death guys come trudging off the plane. I spot the guitarist first. I go up to him to say hello and with a pained grin on his mug he tells me that their bags have been misplaced. They have their instruments but their other luggage is nowhere to be seen. After playing Hellfest today they’re flying to Brazil at six am tomorrow. I catch up with Barney for a while, but Embury is clearly in no mood to talk. Looks like the old miserable Shane for a while, the one I haven’t really seen since he became a dad. He’s back in full force now though.
We leave them with a “good luck” and head through security once checked in, a little deflated that the gear is somewhere out there in the world. Jon fucks off for a fag before going through security. Johan and I are stood in line and Johan laughs, recalling yesterday when they went through security at Brussels airport. He says that Jon emptied his jeans pockets of his phone, wallet etc and then put them in his leather waistcoat pockets and walked through the metal detector with it all still on him. He gets really nervous around these situations and sort of goes into a silent lockdown. Johan had asked him what he was doing and he just vacantly replied that the cops had told him he didn’t need to take off his jacket. Brilliant.
Nantes airport is small and the food options are practically zero outside of one little cafe. We sit around and wait for our two thirty flight, watching the football highlights on the tv and reading the news about the British politician that has been murdered by some scumbag Britain First supporting nazi. Funny how this is guy is being portrayed as mentally deranged by the media and not as a racist biggot terrorist. And the American with Afghani parents who shot forty nine human beings at a gay club last week is a Muslim terrorist. Funny that.. I head to the bog and whilst I’m away Johan and Jon spot the singer from Offspring. Jon seems pretty chuffed to tell me the news when I return. Never could stand that fucking band.
The flight to Paris takes less than an hour, just and old up and down job. Third flight of four in four days, it’s been a while since I made a stretch like that. I’ve certainly become a more nervous flyer since becoming a parent. I wouldn’t call it fear, it certainly wouldn’t stop me getting on a plane, and once we’re up and in the cruise I’m fine, but if there’s any bumping around going on then I like to be next to the window. Don’t know why, makes me feel better. This has been the topic of conversation within the band recently, twice I’ve had to ask Johan if he would swap with me. The one place I don’t want to sit is the aisle if the plane is bumping around. I feel like a right cunt though as Andy ridicules me.
When we land, safe and sound, as always, we’re met at the airport by a young guy who looks like he plays in the Doors holding a sign with Victims on it. He takes us to the Fiat Punto he’ll be driving us to the gig in. Lucky we don’t have any gear with us since we would have had to have gaffa taped it to the roof. The ride only takes about twenty minutes though. Doors tells us that the venue we’re playing is in an area called Saint Ouen, which is a district in the north of the city famous for its flea market. The small street are indeed packed with cars and people as we snake our way through traffic to the venue.
We climb out of the car and head inside the venue for a deek around. We’re met by a crew of young people who are putting tonight’s show on. Some big guy called Viktor and then the main man, Vincent, who is the guy that’s been in touch with us the whole time. He’s a bit rushed at the minute since the first of the seven bands have just started and he has some things to take care of, but he soon leads us up the to the next floor where a large communal dressing room is. The Unsane guys are sat around stringing guitars and munching on chips. The place is buzzing with various band members. They have some snacks and coffee on the go and food will be coming around seven. Since we’re playing at eight we opt to eat afterwards and get tucked in to the snacks. Nice with an early show anyway, the whole thing is over by ten thirty.
We hang out with Vincent and the guys for a while, as well as Raphael and his band Bain De Sang. Raphael and Vincent between them have sorted equipment for us tonight. I’m told there is an SG I can borrow so I’m chuffed with that. Raphael is an old friend of the guys, he put out the In Blood album on cd years ago, in Europe, or in France at least I think. Really good guy. They all are. I devour what there is of the crisps on offer but decline the beer for now, although the others are supping away. The Unsane drummer catches my eye. He’s sat against the back wall of the room with some other old guy who reminds me of the American comedian Fred Willard. Looks just like him, has the same smirk and everything. They’re sat there gabbing away and checking out some lady who is in the room, seems to be a photographer. They’re not too subtle.
We decide to go for a walk around the area and see what’s happening. The market is still on so we check that out. This area is really cool. The streets are swarming with market sellers and open bars with lots of gypsy style jazz bands playing. It’s what I imagine New Orleans to be like. There are also lots of galleries with artwork and trinkets for sale. Really cool place, certainly somewhere you wouldn’t end up if you weren’t a well researched tourist. We walk around for an hour so, checking everything out, before heading back to the venue. It’s around six thirty and I decide it’s time for the first beer of the night.
We check out Raphael’s band who start just as we get back. The place downstairs is buzzing with people. There is a cafe area where we would be selling our merch if we had it with us. There is a bar there as well as little corner selling pieces of art. The gig room is to the side of the bar. It’s one of those completely sound proofed box rooms, it’s like walking into a vacuum when you go in. It’s hot as fuck in there too and the sound is kind of dense, like there’s nowhere for it to escape to. I’m sweating my ass off just watching Raphael and the guys. I enjoy their show nonetheless. The bass player is pretty frantic as he plays and I lose count of the times he comes within centimeters of smashing his bass on the pillar on his side of the stage. Really good show anyway.
I head off a little before the end thinking that we’re on next and that I need to get my leads and all that shit sorted but it turns out there’s been a swap around in the line up. Willard and his mate are still sat by the wall gabbing away, I swear they haven’t moved since we got here. With time to kill and no food in the stomach, and in need of a bit of a kick before we play I convince Johan to take a shot with me. Jon is right in on too, of course. Vincent comes up and asks if we’re sorted for the gear and all that stuff. We’re all good except Johan, who isn’t sure what bass he’s playing. Vincent tells him it would be an honour if he played his Rickenbacker. We laugh but Vincent appears serious, “If you’d told me ten years ago that Victims would be playing my bass live…”
Time to play, we head downstairs to the sweatbox. Hugo, the sound guy comes up to the stage and hands me his guitar case. I pull it out and to my delight find that it’s exactly the same model as my brown SG that is currently missing in action. Couldn’t be more chuffed. We take a little while setting up and as we do people gradually filter in from the cafe area and the room is full by the time we start. The sound on stage is great and I’m raring to go. Already this feels better than yesterday.
And so it is. I enjoy every second of the gig tonight. THe stage is the perfect size, it sounds great and the crowd are ripping the place up. It seems Andy isn’t having the same show as me though. I don’t notice until he tells us that we’re dropping Theft from the set. I ask him if he’s okay but he just shakes his head and says he’s pissed off. Fuck knows what’s going on. I try to encourage him but it doesn’t seem to be working. It’s only when we play the next song, Errors, that I notice something is weird. During the chorus when he goes to the crash there is nothing there. At first I think he’s dropped his stick but when I look over I see him hitting the fuck out of the cymbal but there is nothing coming out of it, as if it were made of rubber. Turns out that none of the cymbals he’s playing tonight are whole and it’s making things difficult for him. Thankfully, the longer the gig goes on the more the crowd kicks off the lighter Andy’s mood becomes. I’m surprised when we go back for two extra songs at the end of the set, I was sure Andy would have been straight off the stage. We play Your Life is Red and My Eyes as two last songs and then I walk off and lay down behind my amp on the floor, pissing sweat and totally fucked. Great show.
We hang out upstairs for a while, cooling off by the open window and enjoying a cold beer. The beer isn’t great, but it is cold and does the trick. Once back down to earth and non perspiring I tuck into the dinner the guys have sorted for us. Veggie quiche and tabbouleh salad. And cheese, always cheese. As I’m stood there devouring the brie Vincent comes up to me and says that he’s got some cheese in from his home town down on the Swiss border and we can tuck into it for breakfast in the morning since we’ll be staying at his place. Nice one.
I head down to watch the end of the Unsane set. I’ve seen them a bunch of times so I’m not that fussed. I used to love them when I was younger but that period has passed somewhat. I still like the band but it’s been a long time since I put an Unsane record on at home. Just so happens when I get down there they’re just finishing up with four songs from the classic Scattered, Smothered, Covered album. Good timing. Chris Spencer’s famous baseball cap is dripping with sweat, literally dripping. He never takes the thing off either, I stand there sweating myself over a by now lukewarm Johnny Walker Red on the rocks wondering what his cap smells like. Andy comes over to me and says he’s got goose bumps, so good was the gig. He was stood over in the middle of the room so I guess it sounded better over there, where I was stood the sound didn’t quite carry and it was missing a bit of punch. Wish I’d gone over into the crowd now to listen from there now.
Afterwards we hang out upstairs and start getting stuck in to the bottles of booze the guys have now lined up on the bar. It’s only ten thirty, the night is but young. Being in France we do as the French do and get stuck into the bottle of pastis. I have a really nice chat with Raphael, he’s asking what we all do for work outside of the band, and from there we get talking about school, and kids, and life in general. I really enjoy chatting with him, the booze slowly but steadily going down. Doors appears and heads over to join the conversation. Both him and Vincent had been down the front of the crowd for the gig, huge smiles on their faces, hopping around with the crowd. We get talking about the gypsy music scene around this part of the city, Doors is an avid fan of it and tells us all about the legends of the scene and the history of the music. Fascinating stuff. Something I’ll have to check out more thoroughly.
The night rolls on and before I know it it’s one in the morning and most of the booze is gone. Still, I don’t feel too bad, just nice and warm. It’s been a good night. Chris from Unsane comes over to Jon and shakes his hand before leaving. They’d been chatting earlier. Jon knows every bugger. Chris had lead us downstairs to their merch and said we could have anything we wanted but as nice a gesture as that was I didn’t really fancy any of the designs they had. Still very kind though. I’ve come across him a few times, played with them with Speedhorn once. Always looked hard and serious, but he’s a friendly enough guy. “Respect”, says Jon as Chris approaches him. And that’s that.
We get our stuff together and head downstairs to the street. The people organising the gig are mulling around on the street outside and we stand there having one last chat. As we say goodbye Jon starts kissing everyone on each cheek, embracing the French custom. Cracks me up. We walk with Vincent a few blocks to his car. I thought he’d had a few drinks so I’d figured we’d be walking to his place but he unlocks the Punto and we climb inside. Maybe he hadn’t been drinking.. Or maybe he didn’t give a piss. Sometimes you just go along with things and don’t ask. We drive ten minutes or so to the Stalingrad area where he lives, just on the north side not far from Pigalle where me and Jen stayed on holiday after the last time we played Hellfest four years ago. He has a really cool attic conversion flat. There are two double beds, one in each of the rooms. Me and Jon are teaming up tonight. There are two beers in the fridge. A German pilsner and a can of piss that is 6.5%. “Woah, that’s a proper crust beer”, Vincent comments as Jon cracks it open. I’m not sure if it was here already or if Jon had it with him in his pocket. Either way, as we share the two beers around I end up with a drop of the crust beer and it is absolutely fucking disgusting. Maybe just as well, I really don’t need any more.
We stand around in the kitchen talking with Vincent for a while. He’s a really sweet person. He tells us that he’s sleeping at his girlfriends just a hundred meters away and with that we head to bed. Jon and I lie there talking away, telling old stories, Jon laughing hysterically and extremely loudly. I’d actually say he was screaming with laughter. I can only imagine what Andy and Johan are thinking in the other room. Gradually the stories turn to normal conversation and finally into some sort of pillow talk before slowly ebbing into sleep around four am.
The next day we’re woken by Vincent ringing the buzzer downstairs and when he arrives he apologises for waking us up whilst clutching baguettes and croissants. He had actually come twenty minutes after we’d agreed on so it was our bad sleeping in. We sit around tucking in to this delicious breakfast with his hometown cheese and jam, orange juice and tea. Vincent apologises again for the lack of coffee but explains that he doesn’t drink it. He really is the sweetest guy.
We have the day in Paris since we’re not flying home until nine tonight so we decide to spend the afternoon walking around. Jon stays at Vincent’s since he has to study, he has a deadline for the next day, and Vincent has things to sort out at the venue so Johan, Andy and I head off for the afternoon. We walk for around four hours. First down to Pere Lachaise cemetery, check out the Jim Morrison grave. It’s fucking tacky though, there are people hanging around drinking rum and listening to Break On Through on some small speakers. As we walk away Andy moans, “Overrated shite, one hit wonder”. The cemetery is amazing though, with all the cobbled streets and house like tombs, it likens a city of the dead. I’d been here before with Jen and really wanted to show the guys the place. I wanted to find August Comte’s grave too but unless you know where it is you could spend all day here looking for it. When Jen and I were here last we actually got lost and we started to panic a little as they announced over the tannoy system that they were closing and we couldn’t find our way out. Place is like a labyrinth.
It’s a gorgeous day and after leaving the cemetery we make for Sacre Coeur. When we get to the junction of Avenue de la Republique we hear screaming. There is some hysterical young guy, stood in the middle of traffic, screaming bloody murder at anyone and everyone. He is beyond pissed off. He’s walking around kicking everything and screaming. We walk along, feeling no need to make eye contact with him and for a moment it sounds like he’s following us. It’s a pretty fucking sketchy scene. He turns away and the screams quickly become more distant. I notice the faces of the people in the cafes and bars though, just staring at him with a blend of pity and disgust in their eyes.
Our walk takes us past the Bataclan where the massacre happened. Fucking weird feeling looking at the place. What hits me is what a normal, almost anonymous little music venue it is. It certainly doesn’t look like any kind of symbol for capitalist western society, just a normal little venue. It could easily be Debaser or anywhere else. Fucking horrible. We move on up past Place de Republique where they held the mass and then on to Sacre Coeur take in the views. It is of course, as we should have expected, full of football fans drinking and singing. We see some football trickster guy stood on a column at the top of the stairs juggling keepie ups. He’s pretty impressive to be fair. At one point he climbs to the top of a lamp post, ball wedged between his legs and then hangs there for fucking ages juggling the ball with his feet. There are men walking around selling beer and if I’m honest I could happily take one but we decide to leave it.
We stop for a spot of lunch back down on the corner of a cobbled streets in the back end of Pigalle. I realised this little hole-in-the-wall creperie place is somewhere me and Jen went to on the tip of it being one of the city’s finest. It was really good too. Makes me think of her and miss her, wishing she was here. As much fun as it is doing this stuff with the guys my absolute favourite holiday partner is my wife. We work great together as travelling companions. We sit down across the street from it at an Italian joint and tuck into a simple olive oil and garlic dish and now I can’t help myself and order a glass of cold rose wine. Fucking perfect.
We get back to Vincent’s around five. Jon has just finished up his studying and is pretty chuffed with himself. He reads through his work to me and Johan whilst chugging on a little bottle of red wine. Andy has gone to the other room and has fallen asleep. Vincent turns up around six and drives us to Orly airport in the south of the city, takes around an hour with traffic. We chat all the way with our new friend. When he drops us off we takes turns to hug him and thank him for everything, promising him we won’t leave it another eight years until we play Paris. He says, “Good! Although next time I won’t be organising the gig, I’ll just be there moshing and enjoying it”.
Four flights in four days. I’m getting a little bored of airports now. I’m glad this one is the last one. I miss my girls. And my guitars...