Sunday, October 10, 2021

Stockholm, Practice Space Show

It’s a couple of weeks shy of two years ago. We could never have imagined then what the future held in store. That it would be two years until we’d be together playing music to an audience again. Eighteen months ago we sat in this very practice room, an impromptu band meeting with Victims before we practiced the set, to decide on whether we should cancel the festival in Belgium we were booked on two weeks later. Things were beginning to get a little scary by that point. Up until that point we’d tried our best to ignore it, but then our booker Zoli mailed us with a simple question, “Guys, it’s time we confronted the elephant in the room. Covid.” It was an elephant in a room then. Even though it was by then absolutely rife in the north of Italy and a lot of people were beginning to die. We cancelled the Belgian festival out of fear of getting stranded in a foreign country. It still only felt like a slight risk, but it was enough of a risk for us to decide to call it off. The next day we announced publicly that we were cancelling the festival. There were a few groans written in reply, along the lines of “Oh not another cancelled band”. I remember Wattie from Exploited going out with a statement along the lines of how there were lots of “so called punk bands” cancelling gigs and tours for the sake of a cold and that he, as a true punk, would never cancel a gig. About two days later the festival was cancelled completely and the entire country of Belgium was in total lockdown. Country after country followed suit, except Sweden famously, and it would be another eighteen months until we’d play a gig. The year 2020 would be the first since 1994 in which I would not play a single show.

I remember the sadness I felt on the day of what would have been that festival, thinking about what an absolute feeling of elation it would be when we’d finally take to that stage and play to people again. It wasn’t quite elation tonight, it wasn’t quite a festival stage abroad, but it still felt pretty fucking magic. Our practice room turned out to make for a pretty fucking great gig space. It’s been our sanctuary since everything turned upside down. If we hadn’t had this place to hide away and play music I don’t know how I would have coped. Society didn’t lock down here in the same way it did in many other places, but everyday life still changed dramatically. Being able to get together and play in the practice space was by no means a given. Victims couldn’t practice since Johan was working from home in Nyköping, and we couldn’t really claim to have a Victims bubble. Instead we created a bubble with A\\VOID. And being that there were seven of us, it wasn’t always a given that we could rehearse as a complete entity very often. In fact, before this show tonight, we’d only ever played together as a whole band three times. Three times in the space of eighteen months. In this practice space. Even the recording of the album was done in staggered phases. Still, it was A\\VOID that kept us going. As Andy said, “If we hadn’t started this band when we did I would have gone insane by now.” Family is the most important thing in my life, of course, but creating and playing music isn’t far behind. I knew exactly what Andy meant. I’m happy we started this band together. We certainly talked about it long enough.

Being that Covid restrictions hadn't been lifted entirely yet, this gig would prove to be a couple of weeks too early for that, we were limited to the amount of people we could invite. So it was more like a private party with around forty people plus bands. And being that it was both ours and our practice room buddies Neutra’s first show, it felt kinda like a celebration. A celebration of releasing our new bands into something concrete, a celebration of life slowly getting back to normal again.

Funny how some things feel normal straight away. Andy had already shifted most of the extra gear and equipment that we weren’t using tonight towards the back or out of the room, whilst Erik, Bea, Vik and Patrik buy beer and booze from Systemet. Of course, leaving Erik in charge of the booze situation you know he’s not just gonna stick to the decided amount of crates of beer. I’m not surprised in the slightest to see a few boxes of wine, bottles of bubbly and a couple of bottles of Jagermeister in the back of Patrik’s car. “Its supposed to be a party for fuck sakes!” he remonstrates as I stand there smirking at him.

We soundcheck each other’s bands, everyone helping out to get levels sorted. We have the set up now in gig mode as opposed to the practice circle set up and I had no idea how it was going to sound this way, but with all the other stuff removed from the room there’s not as much ricochet in the room, so it sounds nowhere near as chaotic as I’d feared it might. In fact, I’m pleasantly surprised to find that it sounds great! After Neutra soundcheck Bea tells me that she’s literally shaking with nerves, just playing in front of us. This will be her first ever gig. I’m so happy for her, almost jealous of that buzz I know she’s going to be on after they’ve played later. I remember my first time when I was sixteen years old like it was yesterday. I was nervous for about a month before my first gig, could barely sleep the few nights leading up to it, and then have never felt so high as I did after it. Adrenaline is an amazing rush. Music is an amazing rush. I’m so glad I found it when I was a kid in Corby. How the fuck would my life had turned out if I hadn’t?

After soundcheck we head over to our regular bar in Midsommarkransen, Tre Vänner. Well,Tre Vänner is normally where we have a drink before practice. And if we have one after we head to the Swan. Erik is no stranger to both, and he’s already buzzing about the after party later. We all sit down to dinner at Tre Vänner, everyone except Martin who is working until around five. It’s the first time I’ve actually ever eaten there. I’d stayed behind to finish stringing my guitar, and when I arrive at the pub I’m greeted by a table full of pints. Proper pint pots with the handle and all. I could devour one in seconds, but have to contain myself since I really can’t drink before shows anymore. I have a sip of Patrik’s, just to experience the taste of the golden elixir, and then order a perfectly good non alcoholic Pale Ale. The food is pretty decent too. The usual barmaid is there and she always enjoys the crack with us but she’s not used to us all dining in the place. She treats us all to free coffee afterwards.

It’s only around two by the time we’re done with the grub and we’re now left in the familiar scenario of having a few hours to kill before “doors”. I remember this now, it’s all coming back, it’s just like being on tour again. Except we’re in our home town and going for a walk around would just feel daft, just plodding about Midsommarkransen. We joke about wishing we had a van with us that we could sit outside the venue in, and then someone makes a crack that we could sit in Pigge’s car and drive it over to the garage to buy shitty snacks. We end up just heading back to the room and laze around for a couple of hours. Vik watching Djurgården on his phone, me watching Liverpool on mine with Gill kind of hovering around over my shoulder, both me and Viks making grunts and groans at the game whilst Erik lays on his back on the floor in the corner having a power nap. All the while a playlist from Andy’s old iPod he’d just dug up the other day rolls along in the background.

When the footy is over and it’s almost time to get things going I decide to put my amp on, some obscure old ritual about warming the amp up before the gig. I don’t really know if this is an actual thing but it’s something I’ve always done. I decide I’ll let it warm up during the Neutra set. NOTHING. What the fuck? Now it really does feel like we’re on tour again. The proper fucking genuine experience: Amp sounds great during soundcheck. Amp no longer turns on right before gig. Now this is something I haven’t missed. That 0 to 100 on the old stress scale because all of a sudden your amp is fucking dead. Unbelievably it turns out the actual power switch has broken, hence the no power. Unreal. What are the odds? Thankfully Bea is on hand to save the day and lends me her amp, which is another Fender, similar to mine. As happy as I am for that, it still bugs the shit out of me that my amp broke.

Before long people are streaming in through the door and Erik, with help of our friend's kid Rufus, are pouring complimentary glasses of bubbly as they arrive. Nice touch, Erik. The smiles on every one of the faces that enter the room are a joy to behold. I was at my friend’s Ragnar and Danne’s book release party a couple of weeks ago and it was the same then. It’s as if we’ve all been let out of some invisible prison and we’re all taking tentative steps out into freedom again. If this is what it’s like here, I can only imagine what it must have been like in places like Italy and the UK where there were full-on lockdowns. Actually, I imagine the steps there were not so much tentative as a thundering stampede.

As Neutra starts their set and I look around our completely transformed practice space I can’t help wondering why we never did this before. It’s not just that we’ve been starved of live music and culture this last eighteen months, we’ve been starved of music spaces like this in Stockholm for a long time. Our friend Henke is in my ear saying how much we should make this a regular thing, that it’s so fucking nice not to have to stand at a bar for twenty minutes making puppy dog eyes at the bartender, desperate to be noticed, desperate to be served. Lucas is moaning that we should have done this ages ago, and that he said this very same thing many times during the time his band Vidro shared the space with us. Maybe it takes a pandemic for us to get our shit together, I don’t know, Neutra have their shit together anyway. They play a great set and the sound is spot on. It’s so fun watching Bea play, I don’t know if it’s the case or not, but she doesn’t look nervous in the slightest, she’s just there looking cool as shit. It’s great seeing Viktor play drums again, too. After spending six or so years playing with him in DB, where he just played stupidly fast all the time, it’s incredible to see what a brilliant, unique drummer he is. You can certainly hear his jazz heritage coming through more in Neutra’s stuff, than it did with DB. I’m psyched to play by the time they’re done. It should be fun to see how people like it since what we do is completely different.

Whilst Erik and Patrik take five before getting into gear for their second set of the night, I try and get a sound that works for me out of Bea’s amp. Patrik soon comes to my aid anyway. Once I’ve got it as close as possible to my Twin Reverb sound, we level check Martin’s sax through the PA and then get going. We start with a new song, which amuses me just thinking about it, since we haven’t released the first record properly yet, and this our first gig. Thing is though, we already have the second album written and ready to record in January, and if this last eighteen months had been anywhere near normal we would have played our first show about twelve months ago. The two songs we’ve released in public so far have been heavier, so I like that we open with a “new one”, Autonomia, which is a lot mellower. It’s not until about four minutes into the second song, A Black and White Sky, that things get heavier. By that point any sort of nerves have dispersed, not that I had many, but it’s always a little bit special playing a first show with a brand new band that nobody has heard yet. Our friend Ika grabs my leg at some point during the second song as she’s crouched down taking photos and shouts, “This is so fucking good!”

The rest of the set floats by in a happy cloud. I can see most people are really enjoying it and it really feels like after eighteen months of regular practice, we deliver exactly as I hoped we would, which given that we’ve only ever practiced with the full constellation three times, comes with a bit of relief. It could easily have fallen flat on its arse. The set ends on an apocalyptic high with Erik on the floor, fiddling with his pedals, as the rest of us blast away at the end of When the Wind Blows, until Erik joins back in with his guitar for the last two bars. Totally thought out by Erik, even if he makes it look spontaneous. He’s always been the showman. Although to be fair, he’s exactly the same even when it’s just us in the practice space. He’s always been the same. He genuinely loves playing music and his energy never wanes.

After the gig our friend Hjalmar, who is a bear of a man, grabs me and licks my face. I guess the pandemic really is over… Judging by the blue tone of his lips he’s been on the red wine, but he’s ecstatic about the gig. He just keeps repeating “Roadburn” over and over, saying we have to play there. I tell them that if he can fix that for us then I’d be delighted. I love the big guy, he’s the same as Erik, fanatical about music. In Hjalmar’s case, slow, heavy music especially. Henke liked it too, although he admits he’d been skeptical beforehand, “I was thinking with three guitars and blah blah, it was going to be some boring Mogwai shit. But I really liked it. You guys should play more of the fast stuff like that one you have with the Stooges piano bit on it, though!” That made me think of two things. First, I love Mogwai, although this didn’t feel like the right time to tell Henke this. And second, I was pretty proud of Pigge being able to hammer that chord on the synth for around the four minutes the song lasts, considering he just had half a fucking rib removed a couple of months beforehand. Fucking legend.

I head over to where Jen is standing with Alma and Mattsson, and they’re all smiles. Alma said she had no idea we were doing this film music stuff, and that she absolutely loved it. Mattsson, obviously a little bit sauced as well, tells me his review of the band is “Hawkwind on heroin.” I tell him I’ll gladly take that, whilst wondering to myself if Hawkwind actually did take heroin? Or was it LSD? Or meth?... Anyway, glad they all liked it.

We hang around and chit chat, mingle for a while, before we decide to call it time. We’d put on the flyer that proceedings were to be between 5pm and 8pm. Again, something that can happily stay permanently as a new normal as far as I’m concerned. Erik is itching to get the after party going at the Swan pub around the corner, and with the lights on, and is walking around the room shouting the news, but it’s to little effect. “It feels like nobody is listening to me Gaz.” A few minutes later, he starts shouting again, “After party at the Swan! Please, fuck off!” He happens to be right in the ear of Big Matte, one of Vik’s old football firm mates, which makes me laugh. Matte laughs at him and carries on. We do eventually clear the room, and after a quick clear up, we get going ourselves.

Andy, Vik and I lag behind and by the time we get to the pub, the place is heaving. It’s karaoke night. Gill and Pigge have taken a seat outside underneath the heater, it looks absolutely perfect, and I’m making eyes at Gill’s pint of stout. I’m a little surprised when the bouncer engages us and asks us how we’re feeling. For one, I’ve never seen bouncers here before, and for two, by the look of things through the window, it’s absolutely raging inside, and for three, I’ve only drunk two people’s beers. He tells us it’s full inside, but we reason with him that we’re in the same company as Gill and Pigge and we only want to sit outside. Reluctantly the sour-faced bouncer lets us in. A couple of minutes later a sweaty, goggle-eyed Erik practically falls out of the door to greet us, telling us he’s up on the karaoke soon. He’s obviously hit the sauce full on since he got here thirty minutes ago. It appears also that Sour Face is only concerned with what’s going on out here, and that once you’re inside the pub it’s no holds barred.

After the first pint we head inside, Sour Face seemingly no longer arsed with us. There are about twenty or so of us from the gig inside, and the atmosphere is pretty wet. Henke is at the bar asking Andy how things in Nyköping are, Andy tells him he hasn’t lived there for seventeen years. Erik is steamboats and hopping about with anticipation at his slot on the karaoke. He tells me about five or six times he’s gonna be doing Whole Lotta Rosie. Right then Bea and Erik’s girlfriend are up, doing Whitney Houston. After that some trainspotter looking guy does a very serious China Girl by Bowie, which sets me and Gill on what a great fucking album Let’s Dance is. Then it’s Erik. And exactly as expected, he’s up on the chairs and tables, screaming along to the words, only catching about every third or fourth line. It’s all about the show. “Total poseur” comments Patrik. We all agree. We all agree we love him to bits though. He certainly gets the place rocking. The bartender looked horrified at first but when the entire pub, even all the old farts in the corner, are up on their feet clapping, he’s soon smiling. Shortly after he’s finished the tune he’s talking to the bartender about us playing a gig there.

Erik is soon on the shots and insisting on buying us a round. I tell him I’m good, as he well knows it, I don’t do shots any more, haven’t done for years, although Erik will always try me, so he takes mine himself. He’d bought four of them, and Gill and Andy were with him when he made the order, so I assumed he was buying with them in mind, but the shots seem to go elsewhere. Gill decides to buy himself one, and then immediately afterwards declares it as a complete waste of money. He was about to head home anyway, and just sort of shakes his head and makes to leave. I’m close to joining him since we live in the same part of town, but decide to stay for one more pint.

Our friend Kalle Blix, the doctor, is pretty blasted. Haven’t seen him for a while. He tells me how much he loved the gig. He also tells me how boats he is. He will end the night checking into a hotel in the center of town at four am. since he will realise that he’s forgotten the keys to his parents house, and his wife and kids are on Åland, where he now lives. This will be after first being taken care of by some guards at the station who tell him he’s too drunk and should accompany him in their car. “I’m an adult man, and a doctor!” he will decry. Fucking nightmare.

It is just the one more and then it’s time to head home. It’s only eleven and I’ve only had three pints plus the two peoples beers. I can still tell that I’m going to be feeling it tomorrow though. Not drunk in the slightest, but can almost feel the hangover already kicking in as I put myself to bed around half past one. Still, it was nice to finally play a gig again. I can’t wait for more. 

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