Sunday, August 26, 2018

Budapest

- Did you get much sleep last night? I asked Jon as he sat staring at me through swollen eyes from the other side of the cab. It’s the just the usual early morning small talk that gets you through the ride out to the airport. I wasn’t expecting much from his answer, although I had been a little confused by the picture of pytt i panna with the caption “Dinner” he’d sent to us at four am.

- I didn’t dare go to bed, he said, completely serious.

Seems like Jon is still scarred from the incident last fall when he slept in and missed the flight to Berlin, leaving us no choice but to go without him. We were talking about it in the practice room last night. When we have an early morning flight we usually take a cab out to the airport with Jon the first pick up since he lives furthest out. He was adamant he’d take the tube into town and meet us at Andy’s this time around, which seemed ridiculous because it meant him leaving home around four, instead of six. He still couldn’t come to terms with how he’d managed to sleep through both his alarm clock, and Ana calling him on the phone from Holland on that fateful morning. He said he’d never slept so deeply in his life. This is classic Jon. To the rest of us, it all seems perfectly simple. He’d gone to bed drunk at three am, and slept through his alarm that went off an hour later. We told him to get a grip and order the cab to pick him up first, P.S.ing that he should go home and get to bed early, since even on this occasion Ana was on away tour.

- Don’t talk to me like I’m a kid, he said, disgruntled. Didn’t for a minute think he’d sit up all night sewing, too scared to go to bed.

The flight down to Budapest was smooth and without delay. We landed around eleven, which meant we’d hopefully have the afternoon to look around the city and do some sightseeing. Jon and I had originally planned to come down the day before and do some proper touristing, it would have been a really nice end to my holiday before starting back at work on Tuesday, but it didn’t quite work out. The flight ended up selling out before we could make a decision. I’d hoped to hang out with my old friend Zoli too, but he was away at Brutal Assault Fest in Czech, so wouldn’t be around until the Sunday, although he was coming to the show. I’d only ever been to Budapest once before, back in 2007 with Speedhorn, we were playing with Zoli’s band, Bridge to Solace. In fact it was Zoli who booked the show. Probably one of the best European shows we did. It was also one of those rare occasions we actually had a spare few hours before load-in to look around the city we were playing. By my reckoning we should be in the city around twelve-thirty today, leaving us plenty of time for some sightseeing. The hotel we were booked into was right in the middle of the city, too, as was the venue, so it seemed like we had the day nicely set up.

We mull around outside the terminal for a while, waiting for our pickup. It’s blazing hot. One last blast of summer before the fall I guess. After an insane few months of heat, it seems like the temperature at home is finally beginning to drop. I wonder if this will be a summer they’ll talk about in years to come, or will it just be the way things are going to be from now on… Anyway, there’s another band from Sweden playing the show tonight who had been on the same flight as us. Spiral Skies, they’re called. Never heard of them, but they seem like a nice bunch, all smiles and “Tjenas”. Quite a young crew. We exchange a bit of small talk and they joke that they will be coming to us during the evening to ask us for advice on this whole band thing, since they’re just starting out. Andy laughs and tells them they’d be better off asking someone else.


The pick up is a little late, which gives me the chance to try out some Hungarian coffee, unfortunately the only place selling Joe is Camden Food Co, or whatever they’re called. Not what I was hoping for. I was pretty tired after getting up at five thirty and could have done with some disgustingly strong east European java. Still, the woman serving at the counter cheered me up with her charmingly stolid expression. Before I could even finish ordering a black coffee she turned to her assistant and began chatting. It took a while but I guess the essence of the conversation was about my beverage. She turned her head stone-faced stare back to me and told me the price. I asked her if I could also order one of the chocolate croissants I’d spotted on the shelf whilst they were having the conversation.

- No.

She looks at me sternly for a couple more seconds, before breaking the slightest of smiles. - Sold out, she said, whilst removing the sign with “Chocolate croissant” from the shelf.

- There’s only cinnamon left. I tell her that would be just lovely, now completely enamoured by the woman’s charm. I give her a huge smile and thank her upon receiving the goods. With a spring in my step I gander back out to the pick up area where the rest of the guys are waiting.

A short while later the two vans, red and grey as promised by Gaspar the promoter, turn up. We’re driven into the city which takes about twenty five minutes. The place we’re staying is right in the centre of everything, right next to the parliament buildings, so there’s some good sightseeing from the bench seats of the van on the way in. There is some confusion when we get to the hotel though. For a start, it’s not a hotel. It’s certainly not the place on the link that Gaspar sent me. The guy driving the Spiral Skies van, the grey one, stands around looking a bit perplexed as he knocks the heavy door that appears to be the entrance to a block of flats.

He eventually gives up on the door and tells us that the guy who runs the hostel isn’t there right now, so we should go to the venue and drop the gear off there. I guess the hotel isn’t happening. I know it sounds like I’m an old fart and a punk snob, but fuck I was looking forward to an air conditioned hotel room and the breakfast that comes with it. The two van drivers converse a little more and then one of them makes a call to the venue. The Spiral Skies bunch meanwhile tell us that this is their first gig outside of Sweden. They were asking us how we’d ended up on this show. We tell them that it was a pretty random offer. Weird that High on Fire are touring Europe, and playing Stockholm as part of it, yet we got asked to play this show. With flights, hotel, or hostel, and a decent fee on top of that, we’re not complaining. The Spiral Skies people tell us that they were also flying in and out for the one show, but that they had originally been contacted by some random guy about another show in Budapest. He simply wrote to them and said they should play Budapest because he thought they were really good. He then told them he’d ask around and then half fixed them a gig somewhere else. When he realised that High on Fire were playing Budapest the same night, he mailed them back and told them that they should play the High on Fire show instead, since there would be a lot more people at that show. I’m not entirely sure if the guy then contacted Gaspar or if Spiral Skies sorted it themselves, but their original “promoter” wrote back when it was all sorted and asked them if he could get on the guest list. We all laugh at that. Good tactic.

As we drive away from the venue I make a mental note to take a look around Parliament Square when we get back to the hostel tonight. The drive to the venue is only ten minutes or so, and it takes us along this long esplanade which ends at Heroes Square. The venue is only about another kilometer or so from there, so I know exactly where we’ll be going to once we’ve loaded in and sorted out the plan for tonight. I’ve wanted to visit Heroes Square for a long time.

The venue is some huge building on the edge of a large green park. Looks like a really nice place. There are two or three gig rooms as well as a large inner courtyard with a couple of bars. I’m already looking forward to chilling there with a beer after the night’s work is complete. Zoli told me that this venue actually used to be part of the university, and the big gig room where we’re playing tonight was one of the main auditoriums for lectures. Now it’s a concert venue for all sorts of music, one of the few places around that are still outside the clutches of Viktor Orban’s mob state, as Zoli calls it. We’re greeted by Gaspar and his friendly cew. Only when we get to talking face to face do I realise that we’d spoken to him a couple of years ago about doing a run of East European shows that we ended up having to pull due to Andy’s job not giving him the time off work. That would have been great. It clicks when Gaspar says that he’s glad to finally be able to book us. I tell him I hope we can make those shows again sometime in the future.

We’re shown to the dressing rooms and then the catering room. I’m again in need of coffee and some grub. There is a punk chef stood looking proudly over a spread of food he’s put out for lunch, which I gladly tuck into. We all plate up and sit ourselves down to eat before heading out for the afternoon. We’re told we don’t need to be back until we line check at 7pm, the show being at 7.40. This is perfect. Early show, plus plenty of time for a walk around the city. Sometimes it actually is like being on holiday. Jon sits over his food and sighs as he mechanically shakes the salt pot over his food.

- Do they hate salt in this country or what? he grumbles. To the rest of us it looks like there is shit loads of salt falling upon his food, but I guess we’re suffering some collective hallucination.

After lunch we head out into the midday heat and take a stroll through the park towards Heroes Square. It doesn’t disappoint. I remember the powerful image of the horses with the horned branch-like reins on them from the Neurosis album cover. I’ve always wanted to see them close up. It’s a powerful place, the square surrounded by grandiose statues commemorating the Magyar warriors of old. I try to imagine what it must have been like as the Stalin statue toppled here and the tanks rolled in back in October 56’. A lot of memories here for sure, etched into the place. We stand around, taking it in, along with the hundreds of other tourists, taking pictures and selfies in the sun.

Afterwards we take a walk down the esplanade in search of I don’t know what. A museum, a grande cathedral, maybe the river. There is a long queue outside the Museum of Terror, which my dad tells me was well worth the admission fee, he’d been here last year, but time against us, we stroll on, eventually stopping at a bar for a deliciously cold pint of Hungarian pilsner. Well, Andy and Jon go for iced coffees, which cost more than mine and Johan’s brews. We sit there discussing the new record we’re recording in November, and possible record labels that would be good for us, all the while Johan and I keeping an eye of the football on my phone. First Liverpool game of the season. The beer is absolutely magic. It’s at the end of my holiday period now, soon time to go back to the reality of work, and although it’s probably time to give the beer a rest, not that I’ve been drunk anytime but it’s been a little beer here and there each day… Today is still holiday, though, and there’s nothing quite like a cold beer in the scorching Budapest sun. To make things better Liverpool put four past West Ham.

We walk back to the venue and arrive around five. Zoli has texted and said he’ll meet me there, and I have my guitar to re-string, so it will be nice with a couple of hours to spare before we have to get on stage. I don’t have an extra guitar, or even extra strings today, which is always a bit of a worry. Jon had popped his head into the Spiral Skies dressing room and asked about loaning a tuner pedal but they had everything on big pedal boards. Then he looked at one of the guys playing some ESB guitar, or something similar.

- That costs around thirty thousand kronors, right? Jon inquires.

- Thirty three, the guy replies. Jon accepts there is no point asking to lend it as a spare.

It’s great to see Zoli. I can’t believe it’s been twelve years since we toured together. And nine years since we bumped into each last, when we were at Fluff Fest. Where the fuck did that time go? It’s great catching up with him, he seems to be doing really well. The rest of the guys arrive in the dressing room in dribs and drabs and I introduce them to my old friend. As has been proven time and again, it’s a small punk rock world. Johan was talking earlier about how he’d been to Budapest years back with Disfear, that they played some gig on a boat with Clawfinger, of all fucking bands. Zoli was the guy who booked that show, it turns out. He laughs about how his friend Balazs who played drums in Merzbow was at the show and how he got drunk and kept asking everyone, “Who the fuck is Cliffhanger?!” Later on after the show he went up to the Clawfinger guitarist, thinking he was from Disfear, and said, “You guys were great, but fucking Cliffhanger sucked!” Good times.

The guys from the venue tell us that dinner is available to those who want it and we decide it’s a good idea to eat now before it gets too close to show time. We head over to the catering room and serve ourselves a plate of bean stew and rice and then head out to the courtyard to sit down together to eat. Jon is already out there waiting for us. There aren’t all that many people here yet, but doors have just opened and the venue is massive so there are plenty of places for the punters to spread themselves about. Zoli had said that the show hadn’t sold as much as it would have on any other occasion that wasn’t Sunday night on Brutal Assault weekend. Gaspar said they’d done about four hundred tickets, though, so should be fine. When we’re done eating Andy and I take everyone’s plates and head back to the kitchen area, passing a smaller room with the second stage in. The six bands have been split up between the two rooms, and we’re in the bigger room with High on Fire. We realise the muted noise coming from the other side of the thick door leading into the smaller room must be Spiral Skies, so we pop our heads in to see how it’s going for them. At first I’m unsure as to whether they are soundchecking, since there is only two people in attendance, plus Andy and I stood there at the back holding dirty plates. I wonder if one of the other two is their “promoter” guy… The sound from the stage is pretty good anyway, but it’s not entirely my thing, quite King Diamond-esque, with the girl singing in a sort of operatic style, and they’re all wearing capes and masquerade masks. It’s a bit of a weird scene, but they’re playing all out and they’re sure good at what they do and I’m sure they’ll end up being more popular than Victims ever have been. Andy says, embarrassed after we walk out after a couple of minutes, that he hopes they didn’t see us. I inwardly reminisce over the amount of shows I’ve done like that over the years.

Johan comes back to the dressing room about twenty minutes later and says there were quite a few people watching them when he popped his head in anyway, which leaves me feeling less guilty about not sticking around to support them. I do have a guitar to string, though…

Before we head to the stage we bump into our old friend Jeff, who plays bass with High on Fire. Last time we saw him is when he came to see us play in Oakland last autumn. It’s great to see him, as always. He tells me that everything has been pretty hectic of late since he and his girlfriend have just moved house, and there’s been a lot with that, and now they’ve flown in just for four shows and are heading out on a five am flight tomorrow back to the States. It’s fucking mad to think of them flying over to Europe for four shows in August and then they’re back again in September for a tour. I couldn’t imagine living like that anymore, but then I guess they’re a full time band. And when I think about it, Speedhorn once played Los Angeles, London and Tokyo in the space of four days. Even then I realised that that was fucking mental. I sure as fuck couldn’t do it now.

The room is pretty well filled out by the time we go on stage. Andy had put the intro track on whilst most of us were still babbling to Jeff side stage, as well as another old friend, Peter who we toured with back in the day, talking about kids and families etc, so we’re not really ready by the time the track finishes and there’s a bit of a gap before we start the first song. Potentially a right brass, but nobody seems to notice, or care. I enjoy the first half of the show, it’s a good sized stage and although there’s little movement in the crowd, there’s a good response between the blocks of songs. It is early Sunday evening, after all, can’t really expect much more. The second half of the show is a hard fucking slog, though. It has been thirty four degrees out today, and along with the bright stage lights, it punishingly hot on stage. I’m going through water like nobody’s business during the breaks but it’s doing nothing to help the slow deflation of my body. It’s been a while since I had one of these gigs, where you’re looking at the setlist and willing it to end. Four songs to go. Three songs. Two songs… Fucking nightmare. By the time we were done with This is the End I thought it fucking well might be.

Thankfully it wasn’t. But it took me a while before I began to feel normal again. Then after a shower and about three bottles of water I was ready for a cold beer over in the courtyard. Johan too. He followed me to the bar and we got ourselves a couple of local IPA’s. Christ it was good to feel normal again.

We sat at a table with Zoli and a couple of his friends and chatted away for a while. There were a lot of people sat around, drinking beer, enjoying the gentle warmth of the evening. Even when High on Fire started playing inside quite a few stayed. After another IPA we shuffled inside to watch the second half of their set. The Sunday night crowd seemed to have livened up a tad and there is the odd crowd surfer here and there. We watch from the merch table at the back of the room, Jon stood beside us playing air guitar.

After the show we head back outside for a last beer and a bit of grub, I’m starting to feel the hunger. There is a food stall still open so we gander over and check out what’s what. We order a veggie burger but the young guy serving gives us short thrift. Only veggie food they have left is french fries, so we order them from the stone faced kid. Guess he’s not too chuffed to be working a Sunday night. I feel his pain. I’ve been there, many a time. The fries hit the spot anyway, but we’re still hungry afterwards. Don’t have the will to go back to old Stone Face and order more, though, so after a final beer we decided to find Gaspar, get paid, and see if we can get a lift back to the hostel.

It’s around one am by the time get back. I’m actually feeling just the slightest bit tipsy from the four beers I’ve consumed during the day, and it’s the slightly lowered inhibition which is lending me to toy with the idea of taking a walk over to Parliament Square. I figure it will be really pretty at this time of night. There are no takers, though, and I’m not that willing to go it alone, so decide that a night is a night and it’s time for bed. We’re in a room furnished solely by beds, six or seven of them. I take a seat on one of them and almost fall through the fucker, the broken wooden slats underneath the mattress laying a comical trap for me. I try a bed in the middle of the room and that one holds. There is no air conditioning to speak of so we’re left with little choice but to open the large windows.

I’m awoken by an unholy screaming, scraping kind of sound from the busy street outside. The sun is blasting through the open windows and the room is filled with this insane fucking sound for the best part of twenty minutes. It’s so loud I actually start laughing to myself, it’s fucking absurd. The rest of the guys seem to be sleeping through it, either that or they are extremely determined not to open their mince pies, refusing to let it get the better of them. I’m forced to get up out of bed and check out what the fuck is creating the din.

Bin lorry. Twat.

I finally get back to sleep, somewhat enjoying the gentle hustle and bustle of downtown Budapest on a Monday morning, if not the heat. We pull ourselves out of bed around nine, we have a flight at one and I arranged breakfast with Zoli at this vegan café not far from the hostel. Zoli has booked us a cab to pick us up from there. Andy seems a bit tired, saying he had a shite night’s sleep, and he’s not all that chuffed about having to walk and carry his cases to the café. He’s on me, saying that if the walk is any longer than the seven minutes Google Maps has promised he’s stopping.

The café is a nice little place ran by friendly staff, if not a little on the slow side. That said, the chickpea omelette with avocado and vegan cheese hits the spot nicely, as does the coffee. It’s been good hanging out with Zoli, he’s one of the good people I had the pleasure of meeting through music. Meeting for breakfast has been a nice way to end the trip.

The cab to the airport doesn’t take long, which is just as well because it’s fucking chaos when we arrive at the terminal. We’re flying back with Wizz Air to Skavsta, and the small terminal building is jam packed with stressed out travellers, it’s almost impossible to fathom which queue starts where. There are huge lines to the check-in desks that intertwine with the line for security control, which seems to be snaking around the entire building. Andy denotes that this could indeed be trouble. That’s the fucking thing with these types of airlines; every stage of the experience of flying with them is that little bit more hassle, that little bit less comfortable, that little bit more stressful, that little bit shitter.

I feel genuinely bad about it, but we cut lines twice, first to the check in and then to security control. It’s such chaos that nobody notices and we could easily claim that we’d genuinely made a mistake if anyone accosted us. There’s no way we’re missing our fucking flights home, though. When we’re done with check in, we’ve got about an hour until the flight takes off and the prospect of putting ourselves at the end of a line that is almost going out the exit of the terminal is an ominous one. Of course, Jon fucks off outside for a fag. I shake my head in disbelief at Andy.

- We’ve done the gig now, I don’t care if he makes the flight or not, Andy says, joking but not joking.

With little time to spare, we hurriedly buy some ice coffees on the way to the gate. As I’m farting about trying to get my passport from my pocket, ready to show for what seems like the hundredth time on this little adventure around the airport, I’m drop the entire coffee on the floor. I can only offer the meekest of apologetic looks to the woman in the uniform in front of me. There’s only the slightest of remnants left in the bottom of the flimsy plastic cup. I mournfully sip it down.

The next time I see Jon he’s sat on the floor in the boarding queue, in some satellite terminal which is actually just an old hanger with no seating, drawing on a piece of paper. Somehow he’s ahead of us in line.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Erica

For once, we decided to take the comfortable option. When we played Holland last month, we were barely in the country for twenty four hours. Andy seemed to be chuffed with that arrangement, but I wasn’t so sure. Getting up at five in the morning to travel home is not my idea of a good time, or a break from the day to day, which in my mind is what playing in the band is supposed to be.

This time would be perfect. Playing with both bands at a festival, flying in the day before and staying with Jos and Gerard in Amersfoort, and then flying home in the afternoon the day after the gig. I had a deadline on some coursework to hand in the day we were going, so opted for the five thirty flight to Amsterdam. Given that Victims flights were being paid for by the festival I could choose the slightly more expensive option and get away with it, so Jon and I were on that. Luc and Vik were taking a cheaper flight earlier on in the afternoon, and Kev was arriving around six pm on the old Easyjet shabang. The DB guys love to take the piss when they get the opportunity, calling Victims rock stars etc, so I took full advantage and hammed up the situation with having our flights booked for us. Of course, at the end of the day, my flight being covered by Victims gig made our travel costs cheaper with DB.

Anyway, the plan was that Luc and Vik were landing at three thirty, so they’d wait for Kev to arrive at six and then take the train together to Jos’ place, where Jon and I would meet them later, since we arrived at seven thirty. The original plan was for the lot of us to enjoy the night in Amsterdam but we’d missed that it happened to be King’s Day, which apparently is the biggest, craziest holiday piss-up on the Dutch calendar, and all the hotels were either booked or insanely expensive. Jos and Gerard offered to put us up at their place, which turned out to be a far nicer idea than hanging out in the Dam in a swarm of pissheads in orange. Jos was curating the stage we were playing on at the festival too, so it made sense to stay with him and then we’d all make our way to the gig together.

It was a very comfortable journey to Schiphol, except for carrying the heavy merch bag. Jon and I took turns with the fucker, carrying it from my place to the tube, to the commuter train, to the check in desk. It was a pain in the ass but watching Jon’s bright red face, shaking as he struggled along the road, hunched over like Quasimodo, made taking my turn with the twenty kilo bag worth while. Jon said it felt like he had cancer when he dumped the bag for the final time. When we landed I got a text on the DB chat group from Luc, saying they were still at the airport waiting for Kev. They seemed to be in good spirits despite having been at the airport for almost five hours by this point. It was the first time Luc had properly been away from his family since Debbie was born and he was cracking jokes, asking Kev where was, saying they were already drunk and were taking turns on the massage chairs etc. I cracked up at first, but then started to worry about Kev, since he’d texted three hours before saying he was boarding. It was only a forty five minute flight. Luc and Vik were both writing, saying that Kev’s phone was going straight to voicemail. Vik was making cracks, calling Kev senile and saying he was probably lost. I was just on the verge of going into some dark thoughts, worrying for real about Kev’s flight, and thinking to check the news to see if anything had happened with any flights that day, when Vik texted, the jovial tone now completely vanquished. - Located Kev. He’s already at Jos’ place. I kid you fucking not!

This threw me into a fit of laughter, the thought of those two waiting around for hours for Kev, only for the old bastard to get straight on the train and leave them behind. Vik was far from amused. - I’m glad I booked the day of for this! 1000kr down to spend the day at the fucking airport!

I was still laughing when we came out of customs to where Vik and Luc were waiting for us, Vik shaking his head in disgust. Kev reckons his phone battery died and he couldn’t find them, so he just got on the train. He was now enjoying dinner and a beer with Jos and Gerard. Although he’d even fucked that up. Gerard was supposed to pick Kev up at Amersfoort train station, but he’d gotten straight on the bus. He seems to have been having a hard time keeping up with the programme recently, we’d gone through the plan a bunch of times a couple of days before, but it seemingly passed Kev by. Maybe he is going senile… He is fifty in a couple of weeks time…

The remaining four of us arrived in Amersfoort just after nine. We crammed into Gerard’s car and made our way to their place. We were greeted by Jos and Kev, the former with a beaming smile emanating from his face, the latter wearing a wry, puppy-sat-next-to-a-pile-of-poo smile on his. All is forgotten as we sit down to dinner though. Gerard has made an absolutely superb pie of satay sauce and puff pastry, it’s absolutely heavenly. We sit there and munch down on it whilst drinking our way through and array of fine ales that Jos has bought in. Kev and Luc stick to the pissy lager, whilst Jon, who hasn’t had a drop for about six months, sits at the end of the table working on his new obsession, beads and jewelry. We sit there like that, for about five hours, listening to music and chatting away whilst Jon drinks coffee after coffee as he makes a necklace for Kev.

Kev tells us that his flight to Amsterdam was the most turbulent flight he’s ever been on, proper rollercoaster of a ride. He’s normally a good flyer but he said he was shitting himself this time around, as was the rest of the passengers on board. At least it was only forty five minutes, although it was forty five minutes of hell, as Kev put it. This has me thinking already about our flight home on Sunday. I wish I could shake this malign feeling that follows me on all flights these days, and return to the blase attitude I used to have towards flying. I think it’s definitely something that has developed since I became a parent. That worry. It’s always there. Not enough to disable you in any way, just enough hanging around in the back of your mind to disturb you a little.

It’s around three am by the time we decide to call it a night. Jon, wired on coffee, asks if he can sleep on the sofa in the living room, says he feels like watching some TV. Vik and I crash in the walk-in wardrobe upstairs, which is in actual fact just a bedroom like any other, but being that Jos and Gerard are in the DINK category of fifty-somethings, that is “double income, no kids”, a new piece of terminology I heard recently, they have such a huge accumulation of clothes and sneakers that they require their own room. Gerard assures me most of the stuff belongs to Jos. Seriously, I’ve never seen so many pairs of New Balance sneakers outside of a shoe store. On top of that he's got about five hundred band t-shirts. Jealous as fuck. If I was part of a DINK dyad I’d be exactly the same. How I'd love to systemise those shirts for him...

I wake up on stretched out on the wonderfully comfortable queen-size blow up bed, it’s like lying on a cloud, and could be tempted to lie there all day. The smell of breakfast that Jos is cooking up downstairs pulls me up into the day though. Vik is lying on a smaller inflatable mattress by my feet. He mentions how cold it is in the room. I look at through the curtain at the window and see that it’s fully wide open. I hadn’t thought about it, being that I like a cool room to sleep in. Downstairs Kev is already up, munching on bangers and scrambled eggs. Jos has put on a bit of spread, with smoothies, coffee, croissants and the fry up. I couldn’t imagine a better way to start the day. Jon is in a deep sleep on the sofa, not even slightly disturbed by the sound of us talking, or the records Jos is spinning. I swear, the fucker would sleep through a nuclear war. After we’ve eaten and showered I give Jon a nudge, guessing he’ll want to accompany us into town this afternoon. He startles awake, a little surprised by the time and the status. Jos asks him if he watched anything decent on TV. Jon shakes his head and says that the signal went literally the second we all went upstairs. I crack up at the thought of him staring at a black screen, buzzed on caffeine.

Jon comes to life after a coffee and a cigarette and we all head into town. It’s a really pretty little city this, it has these canals running through it like pretty little veins, all the houses in the suburbs with verandas at the end of their back gardens, sitting next to the water. Jos takes pleasure in giving us the tourist guide around the center, pointing out the city’s and the local punk scenes historic points of interest. We walk around for a couple of hours, checking out record shops, beer shops, chip shops, toy shops, book shops and a few antique stores, which seems to be Jon’s big new thing. And of course we accommodate for his big old thing, the coffee shop. He hasn’t had a drop of booze for about six months now, but he’s not adverse to eating a block of hash, which he does before we sit down outside a bar on one of the squares next to an old church, which rings it’s bells for about ten minutes, each hour, on the hour.

We order in some hipster beers and grub, but Jon is off again before long. Another antique store to be explored. Stoned off his tits. After a while Andy calls to let us know they landed so we drink up and make our way back to Jos and Gerard’s place. The guys are coming by to pick us up on the way. Jon returns just as we’re paying up, chuffed that he’s found some artefact or other to make a neck chain out of, or something.

The guys arrive around five thirty, as does our good friend Ronald, who is also coming along today. Another old friend, Drette, is in the van with the guys. He’s playing with The Lurking Fear tonight. He’s sat in the back with a very familiar, Finspång smile on his face.

It’s around seven when we get to the festival site, which means we’ve got about an hour until we need to be on the stage for soundcheck. DB is on at eight-thirty. It’s a cosy, little festival, set up by a golfing resort up in the north east of the country. All the bands are staying at the hotel belonging to the course, so we check in there and leave our stuff in the rooms. It’s only a five minute walk between the hotel room and the stage. Couldn’t be any better. I share with Luc, sensing that Kev and Vik are going on the piss tonight, I figure it’s best they share. Luc seems pretty chuffed with the room. He’s even more chuffed when we head over to the stage and he finds a box of hand towels for the stage.

“Now I understand why Victims stick to this format!” he says, pointing at the towels. I laugh, and welcome him to the big time. “It’s really good though, init? This level of gig” he continues, seemingly genuinely impressed. It’s as if his eyes have been opened to a new world. He packs two towels down into his bag, says he’s taking them home for Anja and Debbie.

Soundcheck is pain free and quick, like ripping off a plaster. The guy doing sound is this gigantic, shaven headed fellow who is chirpy as fuck. He literally fires through the channels. “Snare drum, thank you very much. Tom, thank you very much,” and so on. We’re done after about five minutes. The stage itself is the smaller of the two at the festival, inside a tent. There are probably around three hundred people in by the time we begin to play.

It’s the first DB gig for about six months, so a bit of rustiness is to be expected. But on the whole I’m pretty fucking chuffed with it. I have to motion to Vik a few times to slow the pace down a bit, but the gig feels pretty fucking good. And sections of the crowd seem to be really into it, which is nice considering nobody really knows who we are. We should have been playing a lot earlier in the day, but our travel arrangements forced them to have a rethink on set times, which worked out pretty well for us I guess. After the gig, there are a few people shouting for freebies, and another is beckoning Kev over to him, shouting, “You are really talented!” I’m not sure if he’s taking the piss or not. Jos certainly is, though. He can’t quite believe I had the gaul to match striped socks and checkered Vans shoes on stage.

Ronald comes up to the stage after the gig and says he has a Ruidosa Inmundicia t-shirt and a Blood Pressure lp for me in his car, that he released on his label a couple of years back. I take a walk with him and enjoy the fresh air and the chat along the way. We head back to the merch tent afterwards and hang out with the other Victims guys. Jos, Kev and Vik disappear to some stall selling a higher level of beer than the regular Amstel tent, although I’m not sure what Kev will be doing over there, whilst Luc and I hang out and chat to a couple of people. Some girl comes up to Luc and says that we were the highlight of the day, which is nice to hear.

I’ve got a couple of hours until the Victims set, so I head to the food stall and grab my Dutch favourite, chips and satay sauce. Luc joins me. As we’re stood there waiting for the food a trio of absolute fuck heads come barging into us, just mincing everyone out of the way as they pile on the gabb with the girl working in the stall. Big, shaven headed mongos, fucking assholes. I hate these types. Obviously they’re drunk, but that doesn’t excuse being a cunt.

Victims play last on the tent stage, around about eleven. The chripy soundguy is even more into his stride now and tells us he'll have linecheck done in three minutes. Whilst we're waiting for Andy to get his kit ready I blast out the solo to Brothers in Arms, which sounds awesome. It's mainly for Luc's sake, who is stood there out front to give a lending ear. Even though he's shaking his head and laughing at me like I'm a wanker, I can tell he's impressed. The tent is pretty full by the time we put the intro track on and Vik, Kev and Jos are stood behind my amp. We have a really good show. Vik keeps giving me sips of cold, standard lager between song blocks, which tastes like heaven in the heat of the stage lamps. It always gives me an extra buzz, playing on stage with your mates hanging out with you. Kev is pretty fucking boats by the time we come off. “Gaz, for the first time tonight, I understood those new songs,” he says, eyes slightly squiffed behind his glasses, newly purchased with the money he got from the Iron Monkey shows, referring to the two brand new songs in the set. “They were shit, but I understood them”, he punch-lined, looking totally chuffed with himself. He will repeat this another seven or eight times throughout the rest of the evening.

We all gather again by the merch tent, the night sky having released a slight drizzle upon the festival. Bloodbath, which apparently is the singer from Paradise Lost, who our old friend Olle is doing the sound for, are playing on the bigger stage. They sound pretty shite. Well, they sound good since Olle is working on them, but they sound shite… Both Kev and Vik are pretty fucking bollocksed by this point, even Jos has a cheeky twinkle in his eye. They’ve been on the strong ale. Well not Kev, he’s just been throwing the Amstel down. He’s complaining that he hasn’t got any more beer tokens left. Luc tries helping him out, with absolutely no thanks in return.

“Those poncey fucking Toilet Duck beers, you only get a small glass” Kev moans.

“For two tokens you can get a big glass of the Amstel Kev,” Luc points out.

“I’ve only got one fucking token left,” Kev, barely grunting.

“I’ve got a token, you can have that”, says Luc, handing him a little plastic coin.

“Fuck off”. Kev, end of conversation. Very silly conversation, at that.

It’s soon time to head back to the hotel anyway. I’m getting tired and it’s getting cold, but I fancy a little beer in the warmth of the hotel bar before bed time. There’s something about an open bar that I find extremely positive. We say bye to Jos and Ronald, thanking Jos for everything. It’s been great to hang out with them. And with that, we pack up the gear and walk back to the hotel.

The bar is venue to a Who’s Who of Swedish punk and metal, and as much as I’m friendly with a lot of the faces in here I’m already too tired to properly engage, and so sit contentedly with Luc and enjoy a relaxing beer. Andy and Johan are beside me but mainly in conversation with Tompa Lindberg, Vik, Kev and Drette are on the other side of me but they’re all pretty wankered, especially Kev and Drette. Vik is mainly looking tired by this point. Some British girl has latched onto Kev and is trying her best to start up a convo with him, but he’s being particularly awkward. She tells him that he sounds British to which he replies, “That’s because I am British!”. This seems to provide her with some hope of common ground.

“Where you from?” she asks him. Retford, he tells her, too drunk to apply any manners to his tone. He can keep it together enough to at least return the gesture and ask where she’s from.

“Cirencester”, she happily replies.

“Where the fuck’s that?” Kev barks, seeming genuinely oblivious. With that she walks away. She doesn’t even bother with Drette since he can barely talk.

I only have the one before deciding to head to bed. The one was all I really needed. Kev says he’ll soon be heading off himself, but then another beer gets put into his hand. “Gaz, for the first time tonight, I understood your new songs…”

I wake up feeling fresh and rested. I fell asleep sometime around two-thirty, CNN humming lowly on the TV, Lucas soundly away in the bed beside. We get showered and head down to breakfast where Johan and Andy are already tucking in to the old continental faire. There is no sight of Vik or Kev, so when we’re done we go knock their door. Vik answers wearing nothing but his kecks and a grimace as Kev comes darting out of the bathroom behind him, hair all over the place, looking like a confused witch. Vik mumbles that they’ll be down in five minutes. We tell them the bus will be here any minute.

The organisers have booked a coach that’s taking about six or seven of the Swedish bands from the Fest back to Schiphol. Drette is playing power ballads through these little speakers he has whilst supping on a bottle of rosé. The bottle is being passed around but I don’t need any of it. I could do without the power ballads and all, to be honest.

Whilst on route Jos texts me and tells me that there has been a huge blackout at Schiphol earlier on in the morning, which has caused huge amounts of delays. We all start checking our phones for information, fearing the worst, but it seems to be that our flight is okay. Luc and Vik are on a later flight though, and theirs is delayed an hour and a half. That pair have spent a lot of time at the airport this weekend. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t tickle me when we got here on Friday but today I feel genuine concern for them. I feel bad for leaving them behind, and I hope their flight won’t be delayed any longer than it is. I feel especially bad for Luc, being away from his baby daughter for real for the first time. I know exactly how he must be feeling.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tilburg

First show of the year. First show since we had the twenty year anniversary party. I hadn’t even been to the practice room for about three months before we got back together to rehearse the set for this festival in Holland. I really needed the break. My life has been pretty hectic since, well, since we started Speedhorn I guess, but this last few months has taken its toll a little. After the Mexico/US trip in the autumn I had a bit of a backlog with university work, which isn’t the easiest to catch up on when you’ve got family and work on the side, too. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not working in Solway or down the pits, but it was a bit of a strain all the same. I was glad for the few months off. Probably the longest stretch away from all band activities I’ve had in years.

It’s going to be a quiet year though, at least on the gig front. We have a new record on the go with Victims, which I guess maybe we’ll record this year. It’s a luxury in itself not having any pressure on that though. Doesn’t really matter if we release a record this year or in five, it will still reach the same crowd. And I don’t know what’s happening with DB, we have one show booked, which is together with Victims, back in Holland again at the end of April. Otherwise, fuck knows. Getting older, forty this year, I don’t stress any longer over filling a quota of gigs for the year, not like I used to.

On getting older... this trip to Tilburg felt like four business punks on a work trip. It was like the punk rock version of travelling to a work conference. We flew down to Amsterdam in the morning, got picked up at the airport by a taxi, were driven to the hotel in Tilburg which was just on the outskirts of the city centre, only a twenty minute walk to the venue, but far away enough in this cold weather to not be arsed leaving the hotel until it was time to go to work. When we arrived we sat in the backstage room drinking water and eating from the catering until it was time to soundcheck. We then played the show, watched Carcass afterwards, who were fucking great, and the headed back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours before being picked up at five am for the two hour drive back to the airport. We weren’t even in Holland for twenty four hours. I drank two beers. It was as far removed an experience from the last time we played the 013 in Tilburg with Speedhorn as could possibly be. The first time I played at this venue I ended the night stood in the back parking lot wearing nothing but my kecks, puking what felt like my entire innards up after consuming a shocking amount of hash cake. I don’t miss those days too much. This time I ended up the night drinking a beer in bed watching CNN with Andy, and that was more about trying to get to sleep than anything else. I have a hard time getting to sleep when you know you’re up again in a few hours time, especially when you’re getting up to catch an early flight. Being wired from the gig on top of that… The beer was nice, all the same.

We’d shared the shuttle back to the hotel with a couple of Norwegian black metallers from the band Aura Noir. I couldn’t understand a word they were saying and I was hoping Jon would take on the job of conversing with them, but he was more sullen than his usual self and the conversation was a little strained. They were staying in the room opposite us and one of them asked if we wanted a drink. I politely declined, saying that we were up at five and it was already one. He looked a bit sad, like a lost puppy with no one to play with, and replied that they were getting up at six. Next time, I told him. He smiled and repeated back to me, next time. If Jon was on the piss it would have been a different fucking story, that’s for sure.

The gig had been good, anyway. Total professional job. It was the Netherlands Deathfest show, we were playing in the smaller room which held about five, six hundred people. The room was packed, the sound was great and the crowd were really going for it. We had some guy called Erik doing the sound for us, he’d gotten in touch via mail and asked about working with us. Think the deal was he worked for free, entry to the festival being considered enough. Worked out great, anyway, he was a really nice guy. Older, with kids, just like us. I really enjoyed the gig, it’s hard not to when it sounds like a record on stage the crowd are going for it. It got less enjoyable towards the end when I stretched some muscle or other in my neck, which was pretty fucking painful. Had to play out the last few songs in a pretty rigid position. My mate Johan Wallin, jokingly told me a while back that I have the most consistent neck in hardcore, I’m starting to wonder if those headbanging days are soon to be over. Maybe it’s time, I guess.

We’d bumped into our old mate Petri from Famine Year, Finland at the airport earlier. He was with some metal band and they were sharing the same taxi as us. The dude from the band he was with, and his girlfriend, looked very metal. Not so strange I guess, given that we’re playing a death metal fest. If anyone looks misplaced here, it’s the four of us. Even Jon has cut his hair and is looking normal these days. Anyway, I fucking pissed myself when Petri told us that the metal guy had been confused over this show. First off, we make a stop at their hotel, which is a lot further from town than ours is. When the taxi driver assures him that this is the right address, the taxi driver has nothing to do with the festival, he’s just some random old guy, and that the hotel is indeed far out of town, the metal guy says in a simple fashion and not altogether amused way, in thick Finnish accent, “This is balls”. When Perti comes back out to the taxi, having checked in, he tells us that the metal guy had only realised a few weeks ago that the festival was in Holland. He’d thought he was playing the Maryland Deathfest in Baltimore, being that it’s the same organisers. He hadn’t thought to check his flight tickets that had been booked for him. When the organisers were booking his flight and had asked him how long he wanted to stay, he’d said, “Well, two nights at least”. He’s well pissed off now, realising he’s stuck in a road side hotel on the outskirts of Tilburg. Made me laugh, just as much, that thinking he was going all the way to the US, that he’d take advantage and stay a whole extra night…

Felt bad for Jon, since by no fault of his own, he was in a similar shitty position. He too was staying an extra night, although he’d planned to spend the second night at his friend’s place in Amsterdam, but his friend ended up moving back to Sweden a few weeks ago, must have been pretty abrupt, so now Jon was stuck here at the festival, taking the same five am taxi to the airport as we were, only a day later, and on his own. He’s not even drinking at the moment so it’s doubly boring. Good he’s not drinking, though… He told us afterwards that he ended up going to bed at nine thirty on the second night. Poor fucker had even had to pay for the extra night at the hotel. Not the best investment he ever made I guess.

We arrived back at Schiphol around six thirty am, fucking knackered. Johan and I had been getting stuck into some free peanut butter that they were handing out at a shop which exclusively sold peanut butter yesterday, and we’d made plans to drop by on the way home and pick up a couple of jars, but we were too tired to care about waiting a half hour for the shop to open. We’ll be back in a couple of months anyway. I didn’t even manage to squeeze some pommes frites with satay sauce on the trip. I had gone off in search last night whilst we were waiting for our shuttle back to the hotel after the gig, but the guy in the chip shop around the corner told me he only accepted Dutch cards, or cash. I had neither. The guy was out of satay sauce anyway, so I would have been purely striding ahead with the purchase out of pure pigheadedness.

As we checked our guitars in, I thought back to Jon yesterday and had a little chuckle to myself. He’d checked his bag into the regular hold on the flight, whilst all the guitars and merch had been checked into oversized. Whilst Jon went off to the regular belt the three of us went to pick up the heavier gear from oversized. We stood there chatting for about fifteen minutes watching the odd pushchair arrive. Jon eventually turned up with the whole load on a trolley, struggling with it down the ramp towards us, starting straight ahead in avid concentration, the three of us laughing at him.

I was jealous of the thought of him still tucked up in his hotel bed, though, as we were sat waiting for a flight home on about three hours sleep. Until I remembered that he’d be doing the exact same thing the next day, albeit on his own.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Biggest Thing That Never Happened

Another year, another clean slate. More water, less coffee, more fruit, less sweets, sleep more, read more, it feels like you can always read more… phone less, eat better, stress less, exercise more… It’s the same optimistic resolutions every year. January 31st. It’s going so so thus far. I think I’m drinking more water, at least.

In adhering to another immutable pattern, I’m still finding ways of adding to an already packed schedule. Sometimes my life feels like a game of Kerplunk. It’s hard saying no to fun stuff, though. Just as long as it doesn’t all come crashing down. So on that note, I decided that as I’m busy studying for a degree in sociology, working a job and raising a kid as well as playing punk rock, I’d release a book this year. Why not?

I’ve been thinking for a long time about putting Punk Rock and Coffee into print. I’ve achieved my teenage ambition of having my own records on my record shelf, now it’s time to fulfill a somewhat later ambition and have my own book on my bookshelf. I’m compiling a book from a lot of the writing I’ve done on the Speedhorn era of my life, and as well as rewriting large chunks of it, I’m also writing around another ten or eleven chapters of new material. It’s going to be in paperback format and will be a collection of short stories in loose chronological order, mapping the story of Raging Speedhorn as seen through my eyes. But it’s not just the story of Raging Speedhorn. It could be the story of any band. It’s also a story about friendship, about the ups and downs of belonging to a dysfunctional group dynamic. It’s about love and hate, ecstasy and despair. It’s about being a working class kid desperately searching for an identity. It’s about growing up and growing apart. It’s about taking your dream further than you ever thought possible and then blowing it up.

The Biggest Thing That Never Happened: Ten Years Of Snatching Defeat From The Jaws Of Victory With Raging Speedhorn will be released this year in late fall. Further details will follow in the coming months.

Now, back to working on those New Year’s resolutions...