Sunday, August 18, 2019

Vyskov, Pod Parou Fest

It’s a fucking long day, just for one show. Honestly, I’m not even sure it feels worthwhile. Getting up at the crack of dawn, leaving home at six in the morning to play a show at midnight. Johan had it even worse though, he was driving an hour or so from Nyköping and then picking us up on the way to the airport. Fuck knows what time his alarm was set for. As I met up with a very tired looking Andy, pale faced and yawning, clutching a mug of coffee, and Jon at Gullmarsplan at six thirty this morning, the first thing Andy said to me was that this has to be the last time we fly anywhere just to play one show. Funny thing is, we had been offered another show this weekend, but Andy couldn’t do it.

We’re fully aware, also, that flying back and forth to the Czech Republic for one show epitomises everything we’ve been commenting on with our new album. Not that we’re claiming we aren’t a part of the problem. We are. We have to do better than flying for one show. Still, when we piled into Johan’s car to make for the airport, I was happy that this would be the last time we fly this year. As well as the effects of “flight shame”, it’s just a lot of fucking faffing around for one gig. The flight was on time, at least. Not that we would have been stressed by a delay. We were due to land at eleven-fifteen, and even with the three hour drive from Prague to the festival, we’d still have around nine hours to kill before show time.

As we sat waiting to taxi to the runway, I was thinking about something I read in a Rachel Cusk novel a few weeks ago, about how the pilot reduces the oxygen in the cabin before take-off to make the passengers sleepy and therefore calm. I wondered if this was true. I know I often feel knackered as soon as I take my seat on the plane, and that it’s hard to keep my mince pies open until we’re up in the air. I looked over at Jon, sat across the aisle from the other three of us, and decided that Cusk’s theory had some weight. He had began scribbling some jewelry designs on a block paper, it’s his new thing, but had fallen asleep with the pen in his hand.

When we arrived at Prague airport the first people we met were the Satanic Surfers guys. They were also playing the festival tonight. Andy, their bass player, who is always happy, greeted us with his usual smile. This despite the fact that their luggage had been lost. Or something, it wasn’t quite clear. They’d flown from Copenhagen and for some reason they had their luggage checked in all the way to Stockholm, since they’re flying there tomorrow to play a fest in Uppsala. Andy said that he’d tried to garner information from the people over at the Oversized Baggage pick up but an old guy there had replied to him in angry Czech. Andy made an impression of him as way of painting an audio picture of the scene. It sounded like an irritated wasp. Tickled me. Another thing that tickled me was the fact that both Happy Andy and our Andy were wearing the same KLF long sleeve, printed by and sold by our Jon. Anyway, the upshot seemed to be that their gear was somewhere at Prague airport in a container. We left them, wishing them luck and said that we’d catch up with them later. As mentioned, there wasn’t any stress for time, at least.

We were met by a father and son team upon exiting the baggage pickup. The son, Lukas, was driving us, and his dad was taking the Surfers. We explained to him that he might be waiting a while. The old boy looked like a right character, Cock Sparrer shirt, slicked back grey hair. We’re playing after The Exploited and UK Subs tonight, “Deadlining” as Happy Andy put it, where you play last but after the main attraction. If this old boy was representative of the crowd at the fest, then I can’t imagine many of the punters sticking around to see us after the Subs have finished. We told the old boy he might be waiting a while, but he didn’t seem that arsed, just smiled and gave us the thumbs up.

When we left the airport we had to peg it to the van since it was pissing down. The three hour drive to the fest would be plagued by sporadic rain showers of biblical proportions, not that it seemed to faze Lukas as he flew along the wet motorway at 160 clicks an hour. Not being able to see much out of the foggy windows, I just tried to get my head down into the new book by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and tried reasoning with myself that if we crashed at this speed we’d all be extinguished before we knew what hit us. Still, every time he slammed on the breaks when someone pulled out in front of him my head snapped up out of pure instinct. The couple of coffee stops we made along the way gave a welcome relief at least. I really don’t think Lukas paid it any mind, and I don’t think the people in this part of the world value life any less than we do up in Scandinavia, it’s just the way they drive here, after all, every other fucker on the road seemed to be driving just as fast.

Something that does seem to be a universal phenomenon, though, is the disgusting mess you find in men’s public bathrooms. It doesn’t matter where you are, and it never ceases to sicken me, but the toilet ring is always covered in piss and pubes. What the fuck is that all about? I mean, I get the piss stains, although it’s vile, but what’s with the pubes detaching all over the place? And why do men never feel the need to give the fucking ring a wipe when they’re done? It was the exact same crack today. I was sickened having to follow some old boy who had stood there with the door wide open, just pissing away. The ring was a disgrace, and whether he’d found it that way or not, he certainly didn’t consider cleaning it. I was busting for a tom tit as well, so had to clean up the bastard before taking a seat, cursing the male of the species in it's entirety as I did so. And then I thought back to earlier on at Arlanda and remembered the guy who had come out of the cubicle and found the cleaner waiting there with his wagon. He asked him if he could have some of his spray, and when the confused cleaner said that he would clean the toilet, the guy insisted that he do it himself. I guess he’d caked the pan and had an attack of guilt.

When we got to the festival we found that the Satanic Surfers guys were already there. Whatsmore they had already eaten and been paid. How the fuck did they manage that? And how fast were they driving? The festival was kind of how I expected it to be, kinda like the Chaos Piknik Fest we played in Poland last month, there were already a lot of pissed up punks despite the relatively early hour. Although I guess at a three day festival of this sort, time and relativity have their own dimension. The stage was a lot bigger here, though, like “big festival” size stage. Although the crowd didn’t seem to be “big festival” size crowd. Maybe most of them were still in their tents, but it felt like maybe the festival area was a little too big for this line up. The location was quite something, though. The merch stalls were set up alongside the big stage, and along the perimeter of the festival area the open landscape was dominated by a beautiful picture of rolling green hills that stretched all the way to the horizon. Happy Andy said that he’d been told that the place was the site of a famous battle during the Napoleonic wars, the Battle of Austerlitz, which took place among those very hills in 1805. Quite a strange sight, looking at the hills in the background whilst in the foreground there was boots and green mohawks passed out in the dirt.

We got called out by some pissed up Jock Punk, you know, the guy who wears a sports hoodie with the sleeves cut off, half-leg denim shorts and sneakers, the denim shorts starting below the ass, the studded belt wrapped around them seemingly failing miserably at its job? That guy. He came up to the merch stand where Andy, Magnus from Satanic Surfers and I were standing looking at our phones. I know this is not a good look. Although I couldn’t understand what Jock Punk was saying, I could tell he was saying it somewhat aggressively. When I asked him if he spoke English, he grunted and then asked us what we were doing with our phones. I’m reading about the Battle of Austerlitz, what are you doing with your shorts? He was too pissed to stick around though, he just smirked to himself, looking completely satisfied, and shufftied off. The three of us put our phones down and stood and stared into the oblivion of pissed up street punks shouting along to whatever Czech punk band of the forty or so there were playing this weekend. I had to crack up at some of the band names on the bill, Punk Floid, which I can only hope was not a decoy and actually was a band doing Pink Floyd covers in the key of Oi!, amongst the best of them.

I really didn’t know what to expect from the show later, but the woman running the production office seemed to be bang on the ball and really friendly. She came over to our backstage room, which was a party tent with a wooden table, with a couple of ice cold cans of pilsner, a list for the performing rights society and a menu for dinner. We had thought about trying to head to the hotel for a few hours, since we still had eight hours until show time, but Satanic were on at seven and we were going to lend them our guitars as back up, so decided we’d head back to the hotel after they’d played. As we were sat in the tent waiting for dinner and restringing guitars some old punk guy wearing a kilt came in to us with Driver Dad from earlier and started talking to us in very broken English. It was hard to process what he was saying though because, quite frankly, his outrageously big nose demanded full attention. I’m not being a dick, but it was the biggest nose I’ve ever seen. He actually looked quite like Hoggel, the troll from the film Labyrinth. Whatever he wanted, he seemed happy as fuck about it. Turns out he was the compere and was telling us that he would introduce us before we played later on. We all just sat there transfixed by his nose, though. Johan, who had been closest to him, said afterwards that he felt hypnotised and the whole time the guy was talking he was sat there imagining his arms slowly creeping towards the guy and giving his nose a honk, like the Mole scene in Austin Powers. I made a crack afterwards, in the same vein, “Nose to meet you,” which had Johan pissing himself.

Happy Andy asked us if we could watch their merch whilst they played, so the four of us took different turns at guarding the stall whilst the others watched their set. Hoggle was introducing them too, he was introducing all the bands I figure, and he stood on stage babbling on in Czech for about five minutes. Fuck knows what he was saying but when the time finally came it was clear to everyone he introduced the band as “Satanic!”. Rodde, their singer amended the error before they kicked off their set, “I don’t speak Czech but I know for sure he only said Satanic. He forgot the Surfers bit. We’re Satanic Surfers!” Then Andy added later, “It also said on the program next to our name SK, which I guess is Slovakia? Well we’re from Sweden. Thanks.”

I was a little surprised, since although there wasn’t a huge crowd watching them, a couple of hundred or so, they sold a lot of merch. They were superbly tight as well and had great energy on stage. I really enjoyed watching them. Andy is a great, great bass player, and never stops smiling, despite the furious speed of the riffs he’s playing. I cracked up laughing at one point during their set when Wattie from Exploited turned up and was stood down in front of the high stage, shaking a few hands at the crush barrier. Mid song, Andy shouted down the mic, “Hej Wattie! Exploited!” without dropping a note. Absolute genius.

I headed back to the merch to find our Andy in a bit of a pickle. He shouted over to me to come help him with some punter. I could see straight away that the punter was wankered, and Andy told me he’d been stood with him for about ten minutes. Punter had slouched up to the merch stall cross eyed and said, “CD” to Andy. Andy tried to explain that we didn’t have any records with us and after much confusion and back and forth the guy seemingly ordered a t-shirt, although identifying what size he wanted had caused further problems, and then on top of that he only had a one thousand kroner note and the shirts were four hundred, and Andy had no change. So the situation as I found it was Andy holding a one thousand note and Punter leaning over the barrier to the merch table, barely able to talk. And then I noticed that Punter had actually put his newly acquired Victims shirt on, well, half on at least, he’d struggled to roll it down over the other two or three shirts he was wearing. He had obviously stoated about the festival buying shirts and just putting them on, one on top of the other. I borrowed some change from the Satanic money and we finally sent the guy on his way, much to Andy’s relief.

Johan had purchased a couple of draft beers from the backstage bar and brought me one over as I stood to the side of the stage watching the end of the Surfers set, whilst keeping an eye on their merch. I’ve made a point this last couple of years of staying off the beer before the show, simply because I feel a lot better on stage without beer in my stomach, but given there was still five hours until we played, how could that possibly be?, I allowed myself the pleasure. And it was good. It was very, very good. Jon came up alongside shortly afterwards, and asked how the beer was. He’s still not drinking, which is great, but he likes to keep in the loop I guess. I noticed his feet were bare, and asked him where his shoes were. “In the backstage room”, he replied, as if it was a completely obvious answer. Johan told me afterwards that apparently Jon has a thing now where he walks around barefoot for forty five minutes each day. It’s his new thing. He has so many new things that I can’t always keep up. Some logic behind the bare feet, I’m sure though.

We headed back to the hotel once Happy Andy had taken back control of their merch stand. We had a pretty luxurious deal with Lukas who was seemingly assigned to us for the entirety of our stay. I’d assumed at first that it was the usual deal where the shuttle driver picks you up, drops you off at the fezzie and then bids you farewell. Lukas, though, was just waiting around to take us back and forth whenever we wanted to go. I appreciated even now, how happy I would be for that arrangement by the time we were done playing later. His dad was also in the van with us, since he was driving Satanic and he was going to check them in at the same time as us. Those poor fuckers were leaving at six in the morning to catch an early flight to Sweden to make the Uppsala show tomorrow. So happy we weren’t on the same flight.

The hotel was another very pleasant surprise. It was located on the other side of the small town of Vyskov, which looked very picturesque in itself and would have been worth having a deek at if we’d only had more time… The hotel though, was a quaint little place in beautiful surroundings, with a pretty little terrace outside their restaurant, with a little pond and tennis courts. The rooms were very comfortable too, relatively speaking. There is a difference of course between holiday standard and tour standard when it comes to hotels. This was most definitely a high standard in the tour measurement. We’d told Lukas to pick us up at ten fifteen, which would get us back to the fezzie around ten-thirty, but by about eight-forty five, twenty minutes later, Andy texted me from his and Johan’s room next door, saying that he was falling asleep and wanted to head back to the show and watch Mr. Wattie. I felt bad, though, having Lukas darting about back and forth, he was telling me how tired he was and was going to sleep for a bit. To be honest, I could happily have stayed there on my bed reading until it was time to go. Jon was sat on the bed beside me meditating, which I think might be another new thing. After a while, we decided to head down to the terrace and have a beer. I left Jon lying on the bed, telling him we’d come get him when it was time.

The cold bottle of Urquel, sat beside the little pond with the fountain, was just the trick. This was my third beer of the night, which I mentioned to the guys, saying it was the most I’d had to drink before a gig in ages. Andy laughed and said, “Yeah but over the space of seven hours. I think you’ll be okay.”

We made it back to the festival in time to see the end of The Exploited set. The sky was now pitch black, only the light of the stars and the full moon glowing within it. The crowd in front of the stage was considerably bigger now. It was the same for the UK Subs who played after them. I have to say, I was surprised by both bands. Wattie was in great form and looked pretty healthy, and Charlie Harper, what can you say? Seventy-five years old and still capable of banging out an hour’s set. He’s six years older than my dad! That’s unbelievable. And there I am, stretching out my bad back and groaning, complaining about the long day, a whole thirty four years younger. That’s pathetic. I felt embarrassed and inspired by Charlie all at the same time.

As expected, the large crowd that had been in attendance for the two main headliners duly dispersed afterwards. I remember Andy saying to me earlier that he was glad we would be playing in the dark, at least, but I didn’t know if that was going to help all that much. Happy Andy and the Surfer guys told us they had to leave, which was understandable since they were leaving at six am and it was now close to midnight. Besides, Driver Dad, who was taking them back to the hotel and then driving them tomorrow, was properly pissed up. He’d been on the beer for a couple of hours and had now moved to whiskey. Most of the Satanic guys were pretty boats too, but Andy and Rodde were keeping on their guard. We reasoned that the old boy had been in the game for a long time, though, and would probably get the job done without killing anyone. Stefan the drummer told me he’d been talking to him earlier and he said that he booked his first show in 1979, a year after I was born. Being that this was during the times of the old eastern block, he’d been sent to prison for booking punk shows, sitting inside for a year at one point. That’s fucked up beyond belief. And they say things were better before…

After Hoggle had finished presenting us we walked back out on stage, having just line checked about a minute earlier, and despite the bright lights, it was fucking cold. Not often I start a set in a sweatshirt. The crowd had filled out again somewhat, which I guess we could thank our friendly compere for, and although it paled in comparison to the Subs crowd, it was still a lot better than I thought it would be, a few hundred at least. My guitar was insanely loud on stage, though, and it took a few songs to get things adjusted, leaving me struggling through the early part of the show. Things went really bananas during the second song, The Sea and Poison. Andy had four counted it in with his sticks, but during the count-in one of sticks snapped and the top part of it flew off and landed on his sampler pad beside him. But it was too late, we had all kicked into the song. It wasn’t one of the “background noise” samples we have either, but a sample of some guy speaking about the end of the world. So as we were rattling through one of the faster songs in our set, we were all confused to fuck, some loud voice talking over the entire thing. Must have been equally as confusing for the crowd.

The rest of the gig went pretty well though. Despite the long day and the late hour, I had plenty of energy for the entire show. I’ve been running five times a week since I got home from holiday, I guess it has helped a little. Before we finished, Jon thanked the crowd for sticking around to see us and then made a comment on the full moon above the stage. I took a moment to myself, looking up at it on the other side of the valley. It was beautiful.

Even though the gig had been a little up and down, somehow I managed to make a slight fuck up in This is the End, we still felt up enough to go back on and play a couple of extras, since the crowd were shouting for them, and we still had twenty minutes of our fifty five minute slot left. And then that was that. The Russian band, The Svetlana’s were on after us. I passed them on the way down from the stage, happy to be done. We got settled up with the friendly production staff who gave us a crate of cold beers to take back to the hotel, packed up the merch and our gear and got ready to head off. Some punk girl, probably around thirty years old or so, came up to me and Jon with a piece of paper in her hand, looking confused, asking where Wattie was. She wanted to know if he was still back here or if he’d gone to the hotel. We looked at The Exploited’s party tent, which was a couple down from ours, and noticed it was empty and Jon deduced that he had probably gone back to the hotel. The girl seemed disappointed. “Why is he at a hotel? What’s punk about that? He should be here partying!” I guess if playing DIY shows for close on four decades, as well as having a bright red mohawk when you’re sixty odd is disqualified by sleeping at a hotel the festival is providing, then fair enough, maybe Wattie isn’t punk.

When we got back to the hotel the UK Subs guys were sitting in the little reception, enjoying a couple of tins. I wanted to take a perch and talk to Charlie but reasoned that I would have nothing much to say, and didn’t want to play the English card, so we left the crate on the reception desk, and took a can each out the terrace area. When we came back in, half hour later, due to the cold, Charlie had gone to bed. The guitarist and bass player were still there and we exchanged a couple of words with them. Even though we were leaving just after nine and it was already close to two, it’s always the case that after the gig that you’re too wound up to head straight to bed, the winding down process can often take a few hours and sometimes a few tins.

We went up to the rooms around two-thirty. I took a shower, deciding I’d be better doing it then so that I could just roll out of bed in the morning and into breakfast. Just as I’d tucked into bed, someone knocked carefully at the door. Jon looked at me curiously. I shrugged my shoulders. He opened the door and, lo and behold, the girl with the piece of paper was back. She asked Jon if she knew where Wattie’s room was. “He’s supposed to be in room twenty six.” Jon told her that this was room twenty six and that Mr. Wattie was certainly not here. I waved from my bed as if to provide further evidence that Wattie was not in the building. After some further gentle persuasion, the girl finally went on her way. Jesus fucking Christ.

By the time I did eventually put my head down on the pillow, those big ones you have to fold in two that seem to be all the rage in Eastern Europe these days, I read about half a page of my book before falling asleep in it.

It had been a long day. It would be an equally long day tomorrow to get home. Was it worth it? Probably. Maybe.