BELIEVE it or not, I’ve never actually been on tour with a band before, not officially. I’ve cadged plenty of lifts between shows, blagged x amount of guesties and even provided DJ support services at odd gigs over the years, but nobody has ever been daft enough to invite me on tour.
Not until Gad Whip came along, anyway.
The tour, to promote Gad Whip’s debut long player, Post Internet Blues, has been organised by Armin who runs X-Mist, the label releasing the album. There are eight gigs in 10 days at the start of November, mostly in Germany, plus a couple of dates in Switzerland and France.
Pete doesn’t have to ask me twice.
I’m incandescent with excitement as the tour approaches. I’ve never been on tour, never even been to Germany. And, let’s not forget, Gad Whip are a shit-hot band containing two people I’ve known for decades and I get to see them – and open for them – every night for more than a week.
Even better, every venue we’re playing at is very different, from a boat in Hamburg and an art gallery in Berlin to a squatted factory in Leipzig and a punk rock club in Duisburg.
I mention the trip to a few people at work and there’s a fairly even split between total indifference, utter incomprehension and a kind of resigned, wistful low-level envy – the latter mainly from men of a certain age still harbouring their own dreams of rock n roll excess.
While I’m affecting an air of studied nonchalance during all this, mentally, I’m doing cartwheels.
Our first date in Siegen gets cancelled and I spend a few days trying to find a venue within driving distance of Calais that will have us at such short notice. I have zero luck but Pete gets a few useful contacts for next time around and I develop a wide overview of the low countries’ more interesting non-mainstream live music venues.
I have to record a promo mix which reflects the music I’ll be playing on tour. The first rather challenging and confrontational version is two-and-a-half hours long, and, I’m dismayed to realise, would only serve to actively discourage listeners from going anywhere near a venue playing this stuff.
I eventually hack it down to a more manageable, slightly less confrontational 90 minutes of dubby post punk, shouty agit-prop and wonky house music. Partly by design and partly by circumstance, it bears very little similarity to the music I end up playing on tour.
There’s still plenty to do, and I set about buying flight cases for my decks and mixer, selecting tunes, arranging insurance and the like.
Except I leave everything until the last minute, obviously. I find out that the version of Pink Flag I was going to take on tour goes for up to 150 quid on Discogs, so that goes back on the shelf pronto. I have to reassess everything.
Luckily, Pete is much more organised, and sorts us a luxury four-wheeled touring machine from Ding Archer – complete with DVD players, charging point, a toilet, the lot – but a few days before the tour begins, it bursts into flames somewhere in France and gets written off. Truthful fact.
Ding’s other vans are booked out and he can’t sort us a replacement so Pete has to schlep over to fucking Stoke to pick up a battered 12-year-old white LDV Maxus splitter that looks like shit but actually has plenty of room – and by that, I mean that there are three seats on either side of a table at the back – with a separate compartment for the gear.
Wednesday 31 October: Manchester to Barton-upon-Humber (96 miles)
I arrive home from getting some last-minute ‘business cards’ done to find Pete has wedged the van halfway into our drive and it’s stuck in third gear, so he can’t reverse out. There’s not even room to get my bike past it, so I have to leave it next door.
I am immediately reminded of Debbie Allen’s words:
“Fame costs, and this is where you start paying…”
Mr Stoke Van Rental is convinced the RAC man will be able to fix it. Happily, he does and we leave Manchester to pick up Jim in Saltaire, trying not to think about these running repairs too much.
It’s getting late so, after a lovely curry made for us by Jim’s partner Katie, we head over to the mythological heartland of Gad Whip in medieval north Lincolnshire to meet up with Bill and Lee at the latter’s house in Barton.
I bed down in the living room. Do I just imagine the screams of outsiders being chased up lamp posts by pitchfork-wielding locals in the dead of night? I share the room with a cat who, it turns out, often pisses on people with whom he shares the room.
The cat has a lucky escape.
Thursday 1 November: Barton-upon-Humber to Nagold (690 miles, ferry departs 12.15)
We rise at five, and collect Geoff from a service station near Lincoln. I’ve not seen him in years and years but he’s not changed much. Imagine Barry Chuckle with dreadlocks and you’ll be halfway there.
The journey to London is not stress free – our motorway system is fucked – but I make everything much more relaxed and chill by blasting out Flipper’s Love album on my mini soundsystem. Jim likes it, though he may be the only one. Tough crowd.
We get caught in roadworks around Cambridge. Everyone has a FFS moment. Two or three hours later, we take a wrong turn in Dover and get on the ferry with just minutes to spare.
Let’s not focus on the seven-hour drive from Calais to Armin’s place in Baden-Württemberg, and particularly not the last bit, through the Black Forest, at night.
Suffice to say, as we head through chocolate box villages made entirely of wood, and trundle up unlit mountain roads surrounded by eerie, heavily forested areas, everyone is pretty much tripping with exhaustion, including our designated driver, Pete.
We’ve gone through a couple of time zones, so I can’t say for sure, but I think we’ve been on the road for more than 19 hours by the time we get to Nagold. Armin and his missus Ute greet us with pasta and wine. They are lovely. I’ve literally no idea what day it is.
In the morning, I have to sort some blog stuff I was supposed to do before the tour began and the lads go into the village to visit the first of a number of castles with Ute.
I step out onto the terrace out the back and contemplate the pines poking out of the mist-covered slopes surrounding the town. The air is cold and sharp and clean.
There’s a very pleasing tranquillity to the place. I have a bit of a moment.
I dig through Armin’s extensive record collection – it would be rude not to – and it’s full of German punk albums I’ve never heard of and loads of top-quality classic US hardcore. I also find an album he did with his band, the SkeeZicks.
He tells us about X-Mist’s origins as a tape distribution service in the mid 80s (I think this is how he and Pete first came into contact) over a truly excellent breakfast.
It’s lovely to meet someone who, as the X-Mist website puts it, is dedicated to finding “challenge and excitement in music, not commodified entertainment”. It continues: “If your music does not fit in, then probably it’s exactly what we’re looking for”.
You can see why Armin was drawn to Gad Whip.
Ute and Armin tell us about Calw, where they both grew up, and its image as somewhere still dominated by Catholicism, and slightly conservative and old-fashioned in its ways.
Around here is entirely different in character to the places we’ll visit in northern Germany, Armin and Ute tell us. Apparently, you know when people in the south like something because they don’t say it’s shit.
This is a familiar vibe for us. Substitute Methodism for Catholicism and we could almost be talking about north Lincolnshire.
Friday 2 November: Nagold to Tap Tab, Schaffhausen (50 miles, soundcheck at 18:30)
We say our farewells and head off to our first gig a couple of hours away in Switzerland. Lee, who, in addition to being a madcap musical genius, works with wood in various capacities, points out areas of managed woodland as opposed to natural forest. The hours fly by.
We catch a glimpse of a big tower as we pass through the plain on the other side of the forest, looking like a monumental drill bit just stuck in the ground in the middle of some very flat countryside. I mean, it looks like it goes up like a kilometre. We fail to locate it on Google Maps.
I’m not entirely sure we didn’t all imagine it.
While the border between Switzerland and the Schengenzone is not quite frictionless, the Germans clearly do not give a fuck and don’t even man their side of the border. The Swiss cops seem pretty relaxed.
Schaffhausen looks like everyone modelled their house on the witch’s gingerbread house in Hansel & Gretel. I am enchanted. Luckily, I’m not driving or navigating.
We quickly locate Tap Tab, a medium-sized but well-equipped club beneath some kind of cultural centre next to the headquarters of posh watchmakers IWC Schaffhausen, with ostentatious sports cars parked in front.
A mezzanine bar overlooks Tap Tab’s basement stage, with actual decks – top-of-the-range SL1210GRs, obviously – already set up on a console to one side. I am very impressed by a pair of chunky, hemispherical and expensive-looking chrome stabiliser weights. I could get used to this.
A Swiss/US three-piece, C Gibbs & the Handsome Two, are headlining, so we wait for them to soundcheck before the lads get on and get it done with a real sense of purpose. They seem like they’re properly up for this. As you’d hope.
I’ve never seen them live before – they’ve only played one gig as an actual band previously, and that was in Todmorden – and I’m impressed. In a Room is pretty much as it was on the EP of the same name but with the kind of energy you’d expect for the first gig of the tour. It sounds big.
We have a walk around town. Schaffhausen is ridiculously pretty, with loads of very old buildings. We walk up to the Munot castle overlooking the town, which has grapevines on the south-facing slope of the mound it sits on.
There’s a really impressive, huge interior space in the circular tower on top, with three massive columns in the middle. Apparently, they have salsa dances in the big open circular space at the top of the tower.
We go back to the venue and Gaby the promoter takes us around the corner to the flat used by overnighting visiting bands. It’s lovely. Someone called Claudia makes us Kase Spatzle. I could get used to this too.
Back in the club, AR Kane’s enormo dub punk opus, Baby Milk Snatcher, has never sounded finer. I respond to Lee’s Bauhaus T-shirt by playing the spectral She’s in Parties dub and the woman doing the door rushes over and says, I was just singing this song earlier. How did you know? That’s just amazing.
I tell her that everyone who lives in Manchester is psychic.
Even after the soundcheck, seeing the lads perform a full gig is something of a revelation. They’ve been doing this shit, in various guises, for years but they sound big and fierce and fantastic. Clear as Mud sounds particularly expansive. The venue is pretty busy and they go down well.
I am fascinated by a distinguished silver fox in an expensive suit who is either the venue owner or an influential drug dealer because everyone seems to want to say hello to him.
Another older guy, who isn’t wearing shoes but otherwise looks like quite the well-dressed older hippy about town, gives me a lolly. Sadly, it does not contain any traces of Albert Hoffman’s vintage Sandoz acid stash.
I’m not sure how great a job I did warming up for C Gibbs & The Handsome Two but they come on stage to an enthusiastic crowd, who seem to know a lot of their stuff.
Christian, the C Gibbs in the band’s name, is a shit-hot Brooklyn-based guitarist, backed by two friends from New York now living in Switzerland, American drummer Kristin Mueller and Swiss/American bassist Frank Heer.
I get chatting to Christian later. It turns out he moved to the UK in 1989, lived in what sounds like a succession of hideous squats in north London and played guitar for 4AD act Modern English.
Back in the States, he joined Jim Thirlwell’s Foetus live band, and formed NYC post-punk trio Morning Glories, a chamber-rock group called Lucinda Black Bear, and his latest solo project, He Arrived By Helicopter.
I’m not sure how C Gibbs & The Handsome Two fit into all this but Christian is an interesting bloke and the trio are a tight outfit who, when they allow themselves to rock out, really blow the cobwebs out.
I’m not really in the mood for their more reflective, country-tinged stuff but what do I know? The crowd love them and they come out for a couple of encores.
Afterwards, there is some enthusiastic dancing going on to my tunes and everyone seems to be into it.
Some guy says that Balearic Mike’s Spidermen Get Fresh mix of Parliament, Funkadelic and the P-Funk Allstars’ Follow the Leader has blown his fucking mind and insists on taking a photo of the label. I wish him the very best of luck finding it on Discogs.
Stupidly, I chose to save a fiver by choosing an insurance policy which specifically precludes leaving stuff unattended and, despite some significant misgivings on my part, we leave all our equipment in the van outside the venue.
Nobody has had anything stolen in Schaffhausen in like 20 years, says Gaby.
We’re all as giddy as fuck after a pretty great opening gig, so we sit up bullshitting and drinking until way too late in the morning. Bill can’t figure out how to get into his bunk so somehow ends up on the roof of the building before collapsing on the sofa.
We have another great breakfast, although nobody goes anywhere near the eggs with multicoloured shells.
Happily, our equipment is still in the van outside the venue. I resolve to never do anything as stupid as leaving my shit in the van overnight again, not even in Switzerland.
Saturday 3 November: Schaffhausen to KOMMA, Esslingen (115 miles, soundcheck at 18:30)
We head back over the border into Germany for tonight’s gig at KOMMA in Esslingen.
On the way, we see that weirdly alluring art deco threaded Tower of Mordor again. It turns out we did not imagine it, it does exist and it is in fact the world’s tallest elevator testing facility.
KOMMA is a state-sponsored youth and cultural centre in an old factory by the side of the river in Esslingen. It’s mostly staffed by volunteers. There’s community stuff happening in the main hall when we arrive and it’s overrunning, so we have a walk around town.
We pass a big tangle of brass oompah band instruments outside a bar and settle in a pavement café by a bridge over a river that doesn’t exist anymore a little further down the road. A little later, all the oompah lads tumble out the bar, pissed, and take turns cracking a massive bullwhip in the square in front.
I want to tell them that it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye but, fortunately, I don’t understand how to use the translation app on my mobile camera telephone.
Back at the venue, with the main act, the excellently-named Locust Fudge, having pulled out, we’re faced with the prospect of filling a hall with a capacity of 500 on our own.
This is unlikely to happen but the soundcheck sounds fierce. The sound team really seem to know what they’re doing here, and they have a top-notch system to boot. We go up to a dressing room upstairs where we are fed vegetarian delights but I did not take notes and so have no clue as to their precise nature.
Max, the venue’s promoter, seems curiously reticent about me DJing in the hall itself, despite that kind of being the whole fucking point of me being here.
After a period of moderate grumpiness over having to hassle people for the privilege of playing for fuck all, I have a word and Max introduces me to the lovely Annie, who runs the Fuenfbisneun bar attached to the venue, which is still full of ooh-so-spooky Halloween crap from a couple of days before.
It seems the bar is an important community resource for the young people of Esslingen, as it’s one of the few places in town with no entry fee, cover charge or minimum spend. They have decks too. It’ll do for me.
I get a massive buzz playing Kraftwerk, Can and Mouse on Mars in Germany. No, you fuck off. No one seems to notice anyway. It gets pretty busy and I get on it.
Nobody seems too fussed about the random English guy in the corner playing Joy Division and Swans covers of Joy Division. I also play a Radiohead cover. But it features the divine Me’shell Ndegeocello, so that’s okay.
Saturday night party time!
Either way, no one tells me it’s shit, which represents enthusiastic approval in the context of southern Germany, right?
I’m supposed to be doing the merch while the band are on but the lads, bless ‘em, see how much fun I’m having behind the decks and leave me to it. I’m oblivious until Jim comes back and tells me they’re just played.
I am genuinely gutted to have missed them but manage to mask the pain by drinking all the booze people are suddenly buying me.
I get an actual request from the dancefloor and play the closest thing I have to jungle (the Luke Vibert Plug mix of Meat Beat Manifesto’s take on Asbestos Lead Asbestos, not-quite jungle fans).
It’s Esslingen man-about-town Leon’s birthday so we all get free prosecco. I’m suddenly leathered and stick an album on while I scoot upstairs – cue headrush – to try to locate my various charging devices in the dressing room next to the kitchen.
A group of young people are sat around the table in the dressing room having what turns out to be quite a serious discussion about something or other. Just as I’m grabbing my stuff, someone mentions a word I understand without my translation app: auslander (not in relation to me, I’m pretty certain).
Having located my stuff, I’m just leaving the room at this point so I throw them all a big grin and say “Auslander raus!” as I walk out. I’m a foreigner and I’m leaving the room, right? It’s supposed to be funny.
No one laughs and instead everyone just looks at me, open mouthed.
I practically sprint downstairs to hide behind the decks, mortified. While, on one level, it’s useful to know that I can inadvertently offend people in more than one language, I should probably try to avoid making any more of my funny jokes in German.
Meanwhile, Gad Whip are now almost certainly banned from the venue for employing a far-right tour support act.
Some time later, Jim tells me everyone is going to bed in the small flat above the venue. I’m staying here Jim, they’re all buying me fucking drinks, I tell him. Jim later reports that there were precisely three people in the venue by this time.
There weren’t that many more people at the last supper though.
Outside, in the bar’s huge and very civilised courtyard – the weather remains unseasonably mild throughout our trip – I get talking to the jungle request guy and a couple of women with him. He’s from Leipzig and he tells me that Leipzig is where it’s at in Germany.
People in other parts of the country may refer to his hometown as Hype-zig, but they are, it seems, just jealous.
Once again, I hear that people in northern Germany are not very friendly, not like us, they say. The charming trio are indeed very friendly but I turn down an offer to accompany them to a party in Stuttgart. Even I can see this is an accident waiting to happen. I stumble into bed.
It’s Pete’s birthday when we get up the next morning, but none of us has got him anything. That’s lads for you. We’re fucking useless. I’m not even sure if we have any breakfast. But Pete gets to talk to his kids so he’s happy enough. A castle we see on our way out of town goes unvisited.
Sunday 4 November: Esslingen to Djazz, Duisburg (280 miles, no assigned time for soundcheck!)
It’s another long drive to Duisburg.
Rather than the sweeping, graceful arc – perhaps rendered with a quill – I imagined, our progress around Germany is probably best represented by someone scribbling on a big map of the country with a biro.
I’m not complaining, mind. There are worse countries to drive around (in my case ‘be driven around’) than Germany.
But a note of caution: Germans, or at least the Germans who order stock for motorway service stations, need to understand that sandwiches without meat products are valid sandwiches and have worth in themselves. Give it a rest with the bratwurst, mein kinder. There’s no need.
Duisburg is an inland port where the Rhine meets the Ruhr and so I imagine it will be something like Goole or Salford but of course it isn’t anything like either of them, or at least the bits we see are.
Duisburg does, however, immediately seem more diverse than anywhere we’ve been previously, certainly in terms of the number of black and brown faces we see on the streets around the venue.
Everything seems a bit more urban, gritty and modern than in the south of the country. There are very few old buildings but apparently the RAF pretty much bombed the shit out of the place in WWII and most of it had to be rebuilt.
Thanks Bomber Harris!
Djazz sits on a backstreet just off a broad pedestrianised thoroughfare lined with cafes, banks and department stores. Promoter Schippy and owner Orcan meet us outside a small but perfectly formed little basement punk rock club that is exactly as you’d hope a punk rock club down a backstreet in inner-city Duisburg would be.
It is just perfect. And, crucially, while the toilets are just covered in graffiti and stickers, they do not smell. There is toilet paper and there are toilet seats. Unprecedented.
There’s even a glitter ball. Over the dancefloor, not in the bogs – Djazz isn’t that fabulous.
I finally get to set up my own decks – even though, inevitably, the club has its own, neatly stowed away in flightcases under the table – and the lads set up and soundcheck like a finely-honed medieval psychedelia soundchecking machine.
Me and Geoff are as hungry as heck and hit pay dirt when we discover a busy food festival on the main shopping drag. I have the currently modish but tasty jackfruit burger and Geoff eats some meaty shit while we watch what seems like a local reggae band go through their paces.
I wonder how out of order and racially profiley it would be to ask if I could buy some weed off them.
Back at the venue, Schippy gets us food from the Ethiopian takeaway next door.
“There is hot bread and,” he takes the foil lid off a large tray to reveal an impressive Ethiopian vegan mezze arranged in neat rows beneath, “and whatever this is.”
What it is, in fact, is ace.
Resisting the temptation to continue the red, green and gold i-rational vibe, I kick the music off by getting straight into some vintage anarcho tackle. Someone spots Bjork’s unmistakable tones on Dismembered, and we’re both thrilled to bits.
The band sound tight and powerful, and they go down well with those visionary souls who made the trip out on a Sunday evening. These people are clearly the coolest people in Duisburg this evening, probably.
I get to play more records after the band have finished. Bill scoops the trainspotter of the evening award for recognising I am Kloot’s rocking Life in a Day, while Schippy is very impressed by the rework of Witch Hunt on Ten Inches of Fear and resolves to track it down on Discogs.
We decide against going halfway across the city to stay in three separate flats. We’ll just sleep in the club instead.
Orcan has given us the run of the bar and keeps plying us with tequila, Jagermeister and most alarmingly, some garlic vodka that a touring Russian band left behind – presumably because it was even more hardcore than a nihilist black metal band from the Urals could tolerate.
It tastes like you’d imagine. You can’t un-taste the garlic vodka. It’s not something you forget. Luckily, I get more over my face than down my throat.
Orcan tells us that he’s had Djazz for about 15 years. It was a jazz club originally, but it seems jazz fans do not drink enough, “they buy like one drink all night”.
This is not an issue with a punk rock audience, it seems.
We have a lovely time. A slightly manic local woman tries to attach herself to band heartthrob Geoff but he’s an old hand at rebuffing adoring women throwing themselves at him, and she ends up staggering off into the night, just another broken-hearted casualty on the trail to rock n roll oblivion..
I play some actual house music and then just stick a Can compilation on, and bust some freestyle moves live and direct from the freakzone. Clearly impressed, by the music as much as my dancing, Orcan asks me who it is.
When I tell him, he says he’s never heard of Can and I’m like what the fuck, mate, are you kidding? Apparently not.
I dial down the incredulity and we get talking about music. Orcan is from a Kurdish family, and he tells us about the difference between Turkish and Kurdish musicians:
Basically, Turks like to put on a formal performance, with the audience sitting down, politely listening to skilled musicians on a stage, whereas Kurds aim to get everyone up and dancing and involved – because music is supposed to be about celebration and people coming together, not virtuosity.
I suspect that Turkish musicians might have a different view on all this.
He shows us videos of some distinguished old guy improvising some wild shit on a tanbur, a stringed-instrument that is something of a Kurdish speciality. There isn’t too much audience participation but, y’know, the You Tubes, what are you going to do?
Orcan wants to take a photo of us all, so we start to stand together as a group but he wants to photograph us all individually. And then he takes some more of Geoff.
“You have a great face,” he explains. He’s not wrong.
He shows me the photo he took of me. I do not have a great face and in fact, once again, look like the Buddha carved out of Spam.
We get talking about Brexit. The UK will really lose out, he tells us, I don’t know why you want to separate yourselves from us. It’s crazy.
He’s got a point. We glumly agree and have another drink.
I haven’t a clue why we in the UK want to separate ourselves from these people when we’ve still got so much to learn from them, and vice versa (even if it is just the importance of Can). It is simply beyond me. It’s come up a couple of times on our trip already and none of us really know what to say to people.
It’s a weird one. It certainly feels like we’ve got more in common with Orcan and Schippy than we have with any of those fucking pigs supposedly running the UK.
We finally crawl into our sleeping bags and find whatever couch or, in my case floor, that we can. I get the giggles over some nonsense, possibly involving my excellent and powerful headtorch – you had to be there – and fall asleep with a big smile on my face. It’s been a wonderful evening.
In the morning, Orcan eventually turns up with a lovely little dog but no breakfast. We can forgive him that. He has proper looked after us and it feels like we have made a new friend.
Meanwhile, I am not in a good place. I feel a bit sick. And my face smells of garlic.
Monday 5 November: Duisburg to Geyger Art Gallery, Berlin (350 miles, no assigned time for soundcheck!)
It’s another long-ass drive to Berlin and, like a Trojan, Lee takes the wheel the entire way.
When we eventually get there, Berlin immediately makes a massive impression, not least because everything is so fucking massive. Each street seems like half a mile across. I notice an elegant cast iron / spun sugar tower, which I mistake for the Fernsehturm Berlin. I prefer my steampunk tower.
It’s nice to be in a big city again. Further into the centre, we begin to see people with, let’s say, a more finely developed sense of style than we’ve seen previously.
We pass Chanel, Dr Marten’s and Fred Perry franchises. Tantalising hints of some very expensive cologne waft through the van’s open window.
We pull up near a busy intersection in Mitte in the east of the city and you immediately get the sense of a vibrant, cosmopolitan metropolis all around you – well, you hear English and Spanish as much as you hear German, particularly in the Spanish restaurant we pitch up in while we try to figure out where the fuck the venue is.
Andrea, the promoter, isn’t answering his phone.
We saw a few edgy characters in Duisburg – it’s an inland port after all – but Berlin is the first place we’ve had people trying to beg money off us.
A German street paper vendor gives me his spiel, so I tell him I’m English and don’t understand German and he immediately switches to excellent English. We end up buying three copies of the mag off him.
Eventually, after a slightly worrying hour or so, we meet Andrea in the tiny venue, the Geyger Art Gallery, cunningly tucked away down an alley way, around the corner, above Museum Otto Weidt Workshop for the Blind.
There may as well be a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the leopard’.
Andrea had a late one at the venue the night before, he’s till tidying up, and a little bit stressed out.
It’s on the second floor but the museum’s lift will take us halfway up. It’s a tight fit upstairs, and the bass drum barely fits through the door. There’s a tiny bar and then the larger main room, which is a little bit smaller than my living room at home, with a drum riser – the stage – at one end.
It seems that the gallery is a space dedicated to the “development of sonic experimentation, performance driven sound works, and cross-disciplinary art”.
There are carpets, sofas and armchairs. It’s v boho but cosy with it.
As well as the building’s incredible history before and during WWll, it seems it also used to be an important squat in the years immediately after the wall came down. I am drunk on history, and fascinated by everything.
Jim, an old friend of the lads from Barton who now lives in Berlin, turns up but can’t stick around for the gig as he’s got a stinking cold. We’re staying at his gaff tonight so the plan is that we’ll let ourselves in and see him in the morning.
Andrea takes us to a Vietnamese place around the corner for food. I nip out for fags and very nearly get myself hopelessly lost, with two per cent battery life, and only a very vague idea of the name of the venue. That is living the rock n roll life on the edge.
I manage to stumble across the road where the venue is, after 10 minutes of aimlessly wandering around, shitting it. The lads soundcheck and despite the slight unconventional and constrained nature of the venue, Andrea seems to know his stuff and gets the most out of a small vocal PA. They sound great.
I nip out to try finding fags in the other direction. I’m thrilled to come across Rosa Luxembourg Strasse but can’t take a bastard photo because I still have no power, so how do we know it really happened, right?
I get propositioned by a couple of working girls, one after the other, in absolutely perfect English – in fact I’m not sure that one of them doesn’t a slight London accent. They look like the most glamourous goth chicks you’ve ever seen.
I tell them I love my girlfriend, and resist getting too involved in the ensuing fascinating if entirely unexpected debates on the difference between love and sex.
It does strike me that this is a novel twist on my previous experience in that actual women are finally trying to argue me into bed. This is unprecedented.
Stupidly, I miss an opportunity to invite them to the gig and reap the lads-on-tour madbantz kudos of turning up with a chic lady of the night on each arm.
The local support act for the night is an old friend of Pete’s called TT or Tom Tom (I’m not sure which). It seems TT is from somewhere in the Balkans and worked with David and Iggy in their Berlin days.
He plays an electric violent with tremendous enthusiasm and passion, stomping on a series of effects pedals with his Cuban heels, accompanied by a drummer shakily keeping time like an as-new metronome.
And did I mention that TT is wearing a purple velour cape, an industrial face mask and PVC trousers?
Even within the context of East Berlin, TT seems slightly eccentric.
Imagine D&V meets Violinski but with no vocals and you’ll be heading in the right direction. It reminds me of Sonic Youth at times, I tell Geoff, who looks a bit doubtful. It is probably more accurate to say it is like a Lee Renaldo solo record. Members of our party have seen TT do this stuff for one and a half hours at a stretch previously.
There’s a lot of scope for piss taking, clearly, but isn’t this what Berlin is supposed to be all about? Grassroots venues, run on a shoestring by lunatics who care more about music and culture than they do money, who put on resolutely leftfield, uncommercial and just downright fucking odd shit like TT and his mate. And Gad Whip. And me.
“This is just the support act, right?” some guy in the bar asks Andrea, and I briefly consider bullshitting him that it is in fact Gad Whip.
After the end of a well-received but briefer-than-usual performance in front of an audience that is mostly seated on settees, I tell TT and his drummer how striking and intense and memorable I found them, and he asks me if I enjoyed the Stereolab cover.
I am mortified to admit that, no, I didn’t spot that one – although I did nip out for a fag halfway through so maybe it was then? It was French Disco, he tells me, so I distract him by pulling the 10-inch of Jenny Oniodone out of my box and he delightedly shows it to his percussive partner in crime.
Vive la Resistance indeed.
It’s time for the lads to do their thing. Cooped up on top of each other at the end of the room, jammed together at odd angles like a living rock n roll tableau recreation of Picasso’s Guernica, they don’t look particularly relaxed.
Jim is on the riser, Lee on the lefthand side in front of him, Bill in the middle holding up the neck of his bass to avoid banging into Lee and Geoff, who is jammed into a small space on the right, with Pete stalking around the room – in a room, with you.
They sound fucking immense. The lighters-aloft stadium-sized ballad Puddle of Death, built around an achingly tender guitar motif from Jim, sounds particularly profound, especially the line about “this age of irony is starting to wear thin, just like the Stasi in East Berlin”.
I mean, we are in East Berlin right now, yeah? Amazing.
It’s probably the best performance of the tour so far, to the least amount of people.
I play more records afterwards. One of the blokes who was in the bar earlier sees me cueing up Neighbourhood of Infinity and shouts, “Yes man, the fucking Fall!” at an inappropriate volume. We get talking and it seems his mate knows Armin, and he passed on his guesty when he couldn’t make it.
Serendipitously, it turns out this guy is a booker for Shokoladen, a club in Mitte where we tried to get a replacement gig for the one we lost at the start of the tour, without success. He loves the band and wants to sort something out next time around.
Some American hippy chick is very impressed by stuff like Floating Points’ Peroration Six and asks how much it would cost to hire me for her forthcoming birthday party. She promises to get in touch. I’m still waiting, hopefully.
We leave the buzzy Mitte, where the night is just getting started, and head to Charlottenburg on the other side of the city, where Jim lives with his missus Almuth and son Fin. They have a lovely apartment, with a balcony looking over the Spree, powerpoints, wifi, a washer and dryer, the lot.
Almuth gets breakfast together and it is one of the two or three top breakfasts of my entire life, never mind this tour. I eat myself to a standstill.
I have a shower and wash some clothes. It would have probably been helpful to also dry these clothes but we run out of time. As a result, they are too damp (and then too damp and smelly) to wear for the rest of the tour.
Tuesday 6 November: Berlin to Zoro, Leipzig (125 miles, be there for 19:00)
We have a relatively short trip over to Leipzig, a couple of hours away, further into the heart of what was once East Germany.
Where once, from what I understand from the memoirs of such towering literary figures as Shaun Ryder and Bez, touring bands roamed Europe looking for sex, drugs and booze, we are zig zagging our way around le continent on an epic and seemingly endless quest for power points, plug adapters and free wifi.
I’ve decided to take every electronic device I own on tour, and so regularly need to charge a Kindle, an iPod, an iPad, a Flip, a digital audio recorder and a pair of portable speakers. And my iPhone.
We bought duty-free battery packs on the ferry to charge up our various devices. For me, this process involves digging around various bags and pockets to find the right lead and/or adaptor. Endlessly.
I don’t have the self-awareness to know for sure, but I think having to witness this might, potentially, get a bit annoying for other people cooped up in the same space, after a while.
I could be wildly off the mark here.
Zoro is down a little road from Bornaische Strasse in central Leipzig, next to a bunch of blokes sitting outside a shed, drinking beer, Deliverance-style.
The venue, which is tantalisingly described to us a former “vinyl factory”, is surrounded by solidly proletarian, no-frills apartment blocks that don’t appear to have had much done to them since 1989.
Everyone goes inside for a tour while I, wanting to look like I have a sense of purpose for the beer lads, start unloading the van.
I end up moving much of the equipment into the big venue-shaped room on the ground floor where I meet the promoter Annette. After Berlin, the room seems massive. How many people are they expecting tonight?
You’re in the small room downstairs, says Annette. I begin taking the gear downstairs into a reassuringly smaller space with a small drum riser in the corner. Big chunks of rusting metal have been welded together into disturbing shapes, more Saw than steampunk.
Having dragged everything downstairs, it seems there is a question mark over who is playing first, the lads or the other act on the bill, the Martin Bisi Band, and we might not need the gear down here just yet after all. I lug the bass drum and the decks upstairs again. No good deed goes unpunished.
It’s a bit rough around the edges, but Zoro just blows us all away. Annette tells us that the venue has been here for around 20 years and the members of the non-profit collective that runs the building decide everything by discussion and consensus rather than a formal show of hands.
Everyone who goes to Zoro has a stake in it. The venue’s facilities – a café and bar with ping pong tables, cheap beer and food etc – are used by locals with no apparent interest in punk rock, but everyone seems to know each other and there is no security on the door. It reminds me of a larger version of the 1 in 12 in Bradford.
Everything is very industrial and utilitarian and covered in rather direct graffiti and stickers for bands with parody punk rock names – where they probably came up with the elaborate logo before anyone had played a note – but the welcome is warm enough, particularly when someone puts the central heating on by sticking a load of wood into the big, industrial furnace in the corner of the room.
We all spend a good hour or so in the venue’s record shop. Yes, they have a record shop and it is excellent. It’s like Christmas.
Geoff was raving about someone called GLOSS earlier in the week and buys two of their singles for €4 a piece. Bill hustles me off the listening deck like a boss but does not buy the Slipknot remix he wanted to listen to (which I think you’ll find is called karma).
I have to remind Pete, money-fixated corporate whore that he is, that he has records we need to get rid of and perhaps this guy might want to sell some in his record shop. He ends up swapping a couple of Gad Whip albums for four Leatherface records, or three magic beans or something.
I hear Martin Bisi give the same guy behind the counter his spiel for the BC35 albums he’s selling on this tour.
Bisi has been doing this shit a long time and he’s pretty slick, particularly since, let’s not forget, his big selling point is that members of Swans, Live Skull and the Dresden Dolls, plus the likes of Bob Bert and Jim Thurwell, appear on the album. It’s pretty niche.
Bisi’s pitch is at an entirely different level to Pete’s no-pressure, reserved and slightly apologetic sales approach.
The grizzled punk rock veteran may look like a wild-eyed outsider of the gnarliest hue but he is a proper salesman. I want to buy one of his fucking albums at the end of it. Once again, the guy behind the counter only takes a couple of albums, but this time he pays cash.
I end up dropping €70 odd on shouty Swiss-French duo Hyperculte’s excellent debut album, an ARE Weapons album that I like a little less every time I hear it, the strange but compelling Rotorotor by turbo-folk big band Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp, and top Argentinian punk rock girl group les Kellies’ ace debut album, plus an EP of remixes.
I even pick up a secondhand copy of Quirk Out by Stump.
The band soundcheck and sound great, with a clearly hyped Pete and Lee providing a non-stop surreal northern commentary throughout.
I set the decks up on a big metal workbench and suddenly realise that I’ve managed to lose the lead that Geoff lent me in Berlin last night, but the guy doing the sound eventually gets the mixer linked to the PA.
I head upstairs to the dressing room where our food awaits. We’re famished and would have literally eaten anything but it is fantastic. A very hearty stew – TVP may have been involved – amazing potato salad and some fiery, ochre-coloured sauce than leaves a tingle on my lips all night. And it’s all vegan, prepared by Leoni and other volunteers in the adjoining kitchen.
I have second helpings and probably would have had another but I’m called down to the decks where my adoring public await. Zoro begins to feel like a real home from home. Except I usually do the washing up at home.
Having had a look at a steadily growing crowd downstairs, I sack the dub once again and get straight into sparse post-punk grooves and, where I have it, loud, fast and shouty punk rock.
A DJ opening up for a band seems to be something of a new concept around here, so maybe they don’t have much to compare me to, but it seems to go down alright and there’s a steady stream of people wanting to ID tracks by the likes of Gang of Four, Killing Joke and CSS.
Either way, people immediately get onto the Gad Whip vibe as soon as they start playing, so warm-up job done I guess.
A couple of local lads arrive, looking as edgy as fuck. It seems like they’re enjoying the music but one lad in particular doesn’t seem to get the idea of giving performers a bit of space to do what they do best. He gets right in Pete’s face as he’s trying to sing.
It’s the kind of situation where, if you were in the UK, you’d expect it to kick off but everything is a bit more civilised in Germany. Pete more or less elbows him out the way and they eventually wobble off elsewhere, no doubt looking for fresh mischief. It all just adds to the atmosphere.
The whole vibe of the place reminds me of gigs in places like Scunthorpe, Gateshead and Hulme in the early 80s. It’s fucking hardcore.
For me, this results in the best performance by the band on the tour so far.
I am aware that I am saying this every night but I swear it is true.
Someone has welded a load of heavyweight wrought iron to some pipes immediately behind where I am DJing for no discernible reason. It’s absolutely fucking lethal.
Continually bending down to grab records from my box before standing up again, I forget about the metalwork behind me and twat my head about five times in exactly the same place.
I move my boxes to the other side and, straight away, practically trepan myself on the other side of my head with more protruding metalwork. I literally see stars.
Is this karmic payback for not washing up?
The Bisi Band is a revelation. It’s just Bisi and a younger guy on guitar and a younger drummer, plus a shit load of processors and effects pedals. They play immense psychedelic jams of looped vocals, spiralling guitar riffs and some simply insane drumming, building layer upon layer of sound. They do not stop until the end.
They pull off a very neat trick by clearly being very competent and skilled musicians – there’s more than a touch of jazz in what the drummer does, for example – but they are also very extreme and hardcore at the same time.
One ‘song’ seems to involve Bisi yelling ‘Anarchy’ and looping it over and over. Another finds him screaming ‘Fuck your war’ for about five minutes.
It’s just batshit and a real trip. Though stylistically miles apart, they very much remind me of the Gad Whips in some respects, and I like the Bisi Band a lot.
We chat to a few people after the gig. A very sweet, very laid back kid, with excellent English, tells me he’s off to see Psychic TV in Berlin next week.
I wonder if they are playing the UK but he tells me, no, they’ve been banned from every venue in the UK, coz of some old bullshit tabloid story that may or may not date back to their Throbbing Gristle days.
I tell him that Psychic TV aren’t banned from anywhere in Britain, except in their own heads. The guy looks crestfallen.
I instantly feel like a massive, massive shit house. There was no need.
Both bands are staying in an impressive multi-bunk dormitory on the top floor of the venue but there’s a fridge full of beer and the remains of our earlier meal to finish off, and I chat to the non-Bisi elements of the Bisi Band – Italian guitarist Diego Ferri and American drummer Oliver Rivera Drew – after everyone else has turned in.
I have form for talking drunk shit with interesting people in the middle of the night, and Diego and Oliver are very good company.
Clearly in awe of Bisi, they are both now based in Berlin and work with him when he’s in Europe.
I kind of recognise Bisi’s name but they tell me about how he originally set up his Gowanus studio in Brooklyn with his mentor Bill Laswell and Eno, and his subsequent involvement in a succession of groundbreaking music from New York, including stuff that I genuinely adore, like Bad Moon Rising, Death Valley 69 and The Whitey Album (which I’ve been caning every night of the tour so far).
That’s some illustrious history, but, even better, the stuff Bisi’s doing with these lads now is just wild.
Having learned that we’re all from the north of England, Diego and Oliver tell me how this incarnation of the Bisi band’s sole experience of Manchester is playing at the excellent Islington Mill in Salford to approximately four people a couple of years back.
Improbably, they are also eager for insider information about early 80s Sheffield electro-funkers Hula. I have none but promise to ask a man who does, probably.
I mention that I introduced someone to Can earlier in the week, and could not believe that anyone in Germany had never heard of them, given how highly they’re regarded in the UK (and I say this as a Can fan of approximately one year’s standing).
Oliver and Diego say that I’d be surprised at how many 20 and 30-somethings they meet in Berlin who have never heard of Can or Einsturzende Neubauten. We bond over our collective shock and disgust.
We wake up to actual showers and more food in the shape of delicious vegetable pasties. I don’t know whether this was Leoni’s tribute to our northern heritage or whether she genuinely thought we were Cornish but, either way, she must’ve got up at like 6am to make them and accommodate our early start, and they were ace.
I have to say, I’m a little sad to leave Zoro. I make a mental note to email Annette to ask if they need a live-in resident DJ.
Wednesday 7 November: Leipzig to Schute, Hamburg (250 miles, no assigned time for soundcheck!)
It’s another long drive to Hamburg, on the other side of Germany, obviously.
En route, we continued to be amazed by the revolving, self-cleaning toilet seats in autobahn service stations. Pete films the entire operation at one place.
It’s all fun and games but, the thing is, a week in, this fucking van is starting to feel like a mobile prison cell, and smell like one too. And we’re all getting a little less tolerant of each other’s little foibles.
I have no yardstick to measure this by – and I’m not great with groups of men in the first place – but I think we’ve done alright so far.
It helps that nobody is a dick. It’s nice to be a part of that ‘little gang of northerners abroad’ vibe but, crucially, one that is not disrespectful to women, or racist, or drunk, or violent or any other traditional offensive attributes of English blokes on the continent.
Collectively, we have absolutely nothing to prove except our ability to rock the fucking sky, on a nightly basis.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m having the time of my life. I’m merely the lowly support act, and the tour is very much the band’s gig, but they’re going down well and I feel like I’m contributing to the whole experience.
However, I’m also glad that there is an end point in sight. It might do little to boost my non-existent rock n roll credentials but I’m missing Suzie. And, truth be told, these cunts I’m sharing the van with are starting to do my head in.
Rather than the crusty old trawler holding a thousand dark tales moored up to the side of the Reeperbahn that I’d hoped, tonight’s gig is on a houseboat – named die Schute – in an old dock next to a theatre and arts centre in the southern suburb of Wilhemsburg.
Imagine if most of Manchester Ship Canal dissolved and Trafford (“Yeah, yeah, industrial estate”) Park joined up with swanky Salford Quays, and that gives you a rough idea of the type of area we’ve landed in. The main venue is in a refurbed old factory.
We eventually locate the promoter and then the PA guy, and then go and sit in the café bar on the ground floor of the arts centre and browse the vinyl records they have on sale. It’s all very civilised.
I get Talking Heads’ Naked album and an Ashford & Simpson 12 and Pete buys a Tim Curry solo album, €2 a piece. I could get used to this.
We’re all a bit jaded today. I read the list of shots on the bar’s wall and wonder aloud what “Mexikaner” could be, given they mention tequila further down.
The woman behind the bar hears me and tells us Mexikaner is a mixture of tabasco, tomato juice and vodka, and it is her special favourite.
I could definitely do with steadying the ship, so to speak, but if she’s angling for one, she’s out of luck. Me and Jim have a glass each. He downs it in one but I take my time and sip it, savouring the unique taste of this fiery, alcoholic soup.
It would be nice in a bowl, with some croutons. I have another one just to make sure.
It seems Mexikaner was invented in a Hamburg heavy metal bar called Steppenwolf and has since spread all over Germany like some insane savoury liquid drug cult.
It sounds plausible. The Germans have definitely got their shit sorted in many, many ways. They even sell secondhand vinyl in café bars. They just need to work on their sandwiches.
Later, back on das boot, after our heroes’ soundcheck sees a minor meltdown over alleged ‘messing about’, I notice a record deck by the sound desk and it turns out the PA guy also DJs.
After hearing the stuff he plays – the kind of implausible face-melting noisecore that makes Discharge sound like the Carpenters – I tell him that maybe I should do the warm up for Gad Whip and he does the same for the support band, Glue Teeth.
We use his deck and one of mine. This is a beautiful example of European integration, I tell him.
Given Glue Teeth are local, and will probably bring most of the crowd in, the lads decide to let them headline, so I start laying down some primo punk funk shizz – such as the Au Pairs, the Raincoats, ESG and the like – ahead of the entrance of the mighty 10-legged rock behemoth that is the Gad Whips.
Everything is going to plan until I find out that Glue Teeth are actually on first, and I’ve just been warming up for them, not Gad Whip.
Fortunately, they are not the sullen purveyors of slo-mo grindcore angst I imagined from their name and the PA guy’s musical selections – it turns out he would have been playing that no matter what bands were on – and in fact are angry purveyors of very sharp, Fugazi-style hardcore.
They’re all in their early 20s, the singer and the bassist are good looking lads and have been sprinkled with a little stardust – and after the gig they leave with pretty girls. The general consensus among the touring party is that Glue Teeth are the most favoured band we have played with on the tour so far.
Me, I’m sticking with Bisi.
After the earlier dischord – possibly even, I guess, in part, because of the earlier dischord – the lads play a blinder in the small, intense space. There is literally nowhere to hide. They just get on with it. And they deliver.
It’s been interesting to see how they have developed over the tour. Like the venues, every performance has been different, depending on the size of the PA, the preferences of whoever is doing the sound and the reaction of the audience.
Sometimes they’re more hardcore, sometimes they’re more psychedelic, sometimes they’re like some poorly recorded garageband from the first Bullshit Detector, despite playing more or less the same set each night. They’ve grown in confidence and got more cohesive as a unit.
I’m a lucky lad. I get to see them every night for a week. I have officially seen more Gad Whip shows than anyone else on earth. I guess that makes me their number one fan. I can live with this.
I get to play a few records after the show but nobody is particularly arsed. Some bloke, who seems to be about eight-feet tall and fantastically pissed, slowly collapses into me as I’m cueing up the next tune.
He recovers and immediately starts fiddling with the sliders on the mixing desk, cutting the bass and treble at unfortunate times. I manage to talk him down from that, go to grab another tune and he starts scratching with the record that’s playing on the deck.
I have a number of questions for him: What the fuck are you doing? Why are you messing with my shit? Can you just fuck off now, mate?
The guy is really starting to get on my tits but, compared to me, he’s built like a fucking brick shit house – as are all of his mates. And they’re all leathered.
It is unlikely that I will be able to physically restrain them without the aid of a sledgehammer, and maybe not even then.
It turns out that Moritz is something to do with venue, thank fuck, and not interested in actual mayhem. They do things differently over here, clearly, but, from a British perspective, respect for what we would regard as the traditional physical boundaries is often lacking. Perhaps this is what people meant by unfriendly northern Germany?
Either way, when he’s not doing freestyle sound design, Moritz is actually a very sweet bloke.
Later on, he asks me who the record I’m playing is by. I give him a big, theatrical sigh. It’s Kraftwerk, Moritz. I’m not getting involved.
I do, however, end up playing Karen Finley’s hilariously profane Tales of Taboo, effectively clearing everyone off the boat. Job done. That’ll teach ’em.
The promoter, who’s name evades me but now but seems pleasant enough, says we can stay at his apartment on the other side of the city, but we have another early start tomorrow so we end up sleeping on board.
We’ve been warned about how it can get cold on the water but we’re all from the north of England and we can handle anything.
To quote Gibson J Haynes, it’s as cold as fucking shit, but I only wake up a couple of times and soon get back off.
The truth is, all this moving decks and amps and drum kits around is starting to take its toll on my old bones.
Thursday 8 November: Hamburg to La Chaouée, Metz (430 miles, no assigned time for soundcheck!)
We get off without any breakfast, again, many of us as hungover as hell, again, and grumpily start the long journey to Metz.
Much of the journey will be in France, so that means expensive toll roads but, accentuating the positive, it also means French motorway services instead of German meat snack-orientated emporia.
Auf wiedersein Germany, it’s been real.
Somebody in Hamburg told us that Metz is a really beautiful town, “not that you’ll see any of it” and he is correct.
It’s getting dark by the time we arrive at the venue, La Chaouée, on a corner by a junction in the old German quarter. It seems to be some kind of non-profit, community-orientated gaff, despite looking for all the world like a regular neighbourhood bar.
Bar managers Victor and Lena look after us. I’m ready for a drink. The venue has a low-key but very classy vibe, with some really impressive art on the walls (apparently rendered by a local tattoo artist and absolutely not for sale, unfortunately).
Everybody is impossibly tall and good looking and well dressed, and, when they’re talking to us, speaking perfect English. I look around and see the state of us. Jim is still looking dapper, of course, but as for the rest of the band and me … we look like we’ve spent a lot of time in a small van recently.
I suddenly feel very English and very unsophisticated.
There’s a tiny stage in the corner. Another intimate performance then.
Happily, we’re playing in the cellar beneath the main bar. I’m buzzing just walking down an ancient spiral stone staircase, only to be confronted with your actual vaulted medieval rave cave beneath.
Having a fag outside, I witness an exchange between Victor and someone who appears to be the venue’s chef coming in for the evening shift.
While I have very little understanding of conversational French, the frequency of the words “seis vegan?” followed by a series of comedy gallic shrugs, reveals that the arrival of six hungry food puritans is perhaps new information for our man in the kitchen.
I make the mistake of getting involved and ‘clarify’ that there is just one vegan and the rest of us are vegetarian, when in fact there is one vegan, three vegetarians and two carnivores in our little party.
We have to wait for the person who is dealing with the PA to turn up so I take myself off to find a cashpoint.
Unfortunately, somewhere in the process of getting myself and all my shit, plus all the various instruments and bits of equipment out of the van and into the venue, I have managed to misplace a vital element of my phone charging apparatus. And I have very little power in my phone.
I don’t find a cash point but do find the town’s historic German Gate, which must have been lovely before they put all that artex on it. I like how they don’t lock stuff up at night too.
I have a walk around a courtyard. No one is spraypainting the walls with gang tags, having a shit or murdering anyone, like they would in the UK, despite the doors being quite literally open to the public. I am amazed.
I take a picture and discover my phone is on like one per cent. This is fine, I tell myself, I’m five minutes away from the venue and it’s straight down that road there. Not a problem.
After a couple of minutes of walking, I realise it is a problem. I’m hopelessly lost, I have no phone, zero French and only the vaguest idea of the name of the venue. And I’ve been told it can get a bit moody round here at night. Brilliant.
Shitting it, I end up throwing myself on the mercy of a passing bohemian who not only knows the venue but is actually going there too. I am pathetically grateful.
Back at the venue, about 30 seconds around the corner, after a soundcheck where the lads are sounding like they’re a bit weary, to be honest, we’re introduced to about three different people who describe themselves (or are described to us) as the boss, each one more handsome and stylish than the last.
We go upstairs to eat. We are served up a very simple consommé, with big flavours from enormous chunks of potato, carrot and leak, that the guy seems to have rustled up on the fly. It’s probably just the stock for tomorrow’s real food but 10 out of 10 for our chef – a French chef at that – for entertaining ‘vegans’ at such short notice. It’s delicious.
Poor Bill and Geoff, however, are not fantastically impressed by missing out on their meat fix once again. This is why I don’t get involved in this stuff. I’m a fucking liability.
“We have a little surprise for you upstairs in the apartment where you are staying,” Victor tells me, and I wonder what shit they think we’re into.
Cocaine? Hookers? Ralgex? I really hope it’s not weed because, to be perfectly honest, I think I’m going to have trouble finishing the green I’ve got as it is.
Thankfully, it is none of these things. It turns out a local friend of the owner has fallen on hard times and is staying in the flat usually reserved for bands playing at the venue. She doesn’t have anywhere else to go.
You’ll have to talk to the band, I tell him, but I can’t see it being a problem. Sure enough, it’s not. We go up to say hello to Christina and all is cool.
The support band, Acetate, a duo from Metz, have turned up and, once again, the lads ask them to go on last as it’ll probably be most of their mates at the gig.
I get talking to singer and guitarist Nico and tell him I’m looking forward to hearing what a post-punk band from Metz sound like. Nico is not so sure about the post-punk tag.
I’m just going on what it says on the venue’s Twitter feed but I’m also too tired to get into a discussion about the nature of contemporary French post punk. Okay, whatever you say, mate.
They were bouncing off the walls upstairs, I’m sure.
The lads go on and a decent crowd congregate in the cellar. Once again, there is no stage, no separation between band and audience, and nowhere to hide. They summon up some energy from somewhere and blast out an invigorating 25 minutes of vintage north Lincolnshire gothic weird.
I want to film the gig but run out of power halfway through the first song, and have no means of recharging. This also means I won’t be able to ring Suzie tonight. I’m not right happy. I grab Pete’s phone and get some footage of Clear as Mud.
There’s no bar down here so everyone fucks off upstairs after they’ve finished, and I’m left playing records to myself. C’est la vie! I play Can tracks, loud.
I’ve done alright this week. I didn’t have to set up onstage with the band, as threatened, I’ve always had enough space to do what I need to do (impossibly tall and pissed-up German lads on boats excepted) and, on the whole, despite some very diverse audiences, people seem to have been into hearing the stuff I’ve been playing.
People don’t really grasp the concept of a DJ warming up for a band but they respond to it in practice, usually.
Maybe not tonight, but that’s okay. I’m too tired to care. And everyone seems lovely, just not very interested in my shit. That’s okay too.
Acetate start with some sound collage stuff and the room rapidly begins to fill. They start cranking out a very agreeable but also strangely familiar kind of drum-machine rock, which is not dissimilar to Joy Division having a fight with Hawkwind and the March Violets – sort of – only in French.
I go outside for a spliff and immediately manage to alienate the hitherto friendly soundman, also called Nico, by offering him some.
Fuck, Nico, when did we all go straight edge? It’s not exactly Motley Crue is it? FFS, thanks for killing my buzz, man.
Acetate are going down well when I get back. They play for maybe three quarters of an hour. Everyone immediately fucks off upstairs again.
I know, get me: playing FRENCH songs in FRANCE.
Some guy wanders over and seems to think it’s an acapella mixed over something else. Unfortunately not, I tell him, this is what the record sounds like.
This is amazing, he says, that you are playing this.
Yes, I tell him, triumphantly, and Carmel comes from Scunthorpe, where me and the band come from, sort of. It’s an invasion!
I’m not sure ‘our lads’ ever got down here but given England’s inglorious history of medieval rampages around the French countryside, it’s a poor choice of words.
He takes a picture of the sleeve. Fucking Discogs should be giving me a percentage.
A little later, I’m chatting to Tom, the bassist in Acetate, and he points at my board of three-point plugs powering the decks and mixer, and says, you fucking English, you always have to be so different.
We go on to list the various ways in which the fucking English insist on being different: Ampage, Brexit, Imperial measurement, driving on the right side of the road, Sterling, shit coffee …
What can I say, Tom? We live on an island.
Yes, he says, and that is why we love you.
Nico the sound guy wants to be off (probably to avoid me offering him more reefer), and turns off the PA, so I insist Tom and Nico from the band have to listen to Moonshake on my headphones. They humour me.
Neither of them have heard Can before, God bless them, and they approve, hugely. Obviously.
You are very welcome Tom, Nico, Orcan and Europe in general.
I was a bit worried my bluntness might’ve offended Nico earlier but the pair of them seem a bit more relaxed after the gig and he gives me a copy of Acetate’s For a While album. I promise to see if I can get them a gig in Manchester.
We head upstairs to the venue’s apartment, taking great care to avoid freaking out Christina, the woman staying there, given that we’re six drunk, smelly Englishmen turning up at 2am.
I’m concerned that we don’t make her feel uncomfortable, so make a big deal about leaving her in the other room on her own and we all end up just jamming ourselves in the adjoining smaller room. Except Geoff, who simply goes in and lies on the top bunk in the living room.
When I go into check everything is okay, he is busy communicating with a clearly-unperturbed Christina via the medium of tobacco-based sign language.
Meanwhile, I discover my charger was in my bag the whole time, apparently. I do not find this remotely funny.
A slightly bleary Victor, good lad that he is, turns up at the allotted time in the morning, makes us some very strong coffee in the bar and we start out on yet another journey, to Calais to catch the ferry – but this time I know that I will end the day in my own lovely warm bed with my own lovely warm lady.
Of course, I have unknowingly hexed the whole fucking thing.
Friday 9 November: Metz to Mirfield (620 miles, ferry departs 15:30)
It’s a beautiful sunny day but the mood in the van is a little subdued. Everyone seems knackered – I’m thoroughly exhausted from lugging decks and records and drumkits around Europe, and ache in places I’d forgotten existed. I think we’re all looking forward to getting home.
As predicted, there’s still quite a lot of weed left, and clearly, I can’t take it through the border. Selflessly, I smoke the lot – about an eighth of an ounce, I’d estimate, your honour, I’m not sure what that would be in metric – over the course of an hour or so.
A similar scenario in Jamaica excepted, possibly, I think this is the most cabbaged I’ve ever been. Having carefully removed all incriminating evidence, I stick my headphones on and spend much of the rest of the journey getting spaced out by my profoundly cosmic Bisi band live recording.
At one point, I get madly fixated on the concept of the Glitterball Deathstar, which is such a great idea that no one could possibly have thought of it before. When I eventually get a 4G signal, it turns that pretty much everyone has thought of it before.
Bemused by the thin line between clever and stupid, and back on the Bisi vibe, I get a rude awakening when we get pulled over by French customs at the port, who check our passports before handing us over to their British counterparts for individual grillings in their office. I tell the lads to act natural.
I’m not sure what I was saying to my guy – some shit about how people in eastern Germany are different to people in southern Germany, I think – but somehow we’re all waved through and get on the ferry.
I have the munchies big time and relax with a large Courvoisier and one last morsel of excellent French cuisine in the shape of a little raspberry tart as I watch la Manche go by.
I also buy another fucking 15 quid charger in an ultimately futile attempt to get some power into Pete’s computer machine so I can make notes on the last two gigs before my brain manages to blot it all out. This does not happen.
We’ve gained an hour coming over, but it’s late afternoon when we arrive Dover, the actual arsehole of the south coast – and an arsehole seemingly composed of 90 per cent artex and Union flags at that – and the weather immediately takes a turn for the worse. It pisses it down.
We hit rush-hour congestion at the Dartford tunnel and then we hit congestion on the M25 and why does the UK have to be so shit all the fucking time?
I didn’t expect the post-tour blues to set in this quickly. It is a spectacularly grim journey but our ever-dependable drivers Lee and Pete do us proud. And, luckily, I’m still spectacularly wasted.
We eventually reach 14th century Lincolnshire. It’s dark and it’s raining. We drop Geoff at the same service station near Lincoln, where his lad Kirk has come to pick him up, and then onto Barton, where Bill and Lee alight.
We cross the bridge and immediately hit motorway closures, so end up being diverted around East Yorkshire until we eventually get on the M62 to take Jim back to Saltaire.
It’s at this point that Pete realises the van’s brakes have stopped working, so we have a very tense drive through some truly horrible weather to his place in Mirfield.
Given we’re travelled more than 3,000 miles in a little over a week, this is actually a brilliant result. Thank you, shitty white transit van. After unloading everything once again, we call it a night.
I don’t end the day with my nice warm lady in my nice warm bed.
Saturday 10 November: Mirfield to Manchester (37 miles)
A low-loader turns up for our van the next morning. It does not look good.
Suzie arrives, with Frida, to take me back home over the Pennines. My bitches! The journey home is a blur.
I unload the decks one last time.
I can still smell garlic.