will be no beginning and there will be no end
wake up to the sound of alarms..."
night time, Julian and I are still drunk, and this coffee just ain't working.
He's had one hour, I've somehow grabbed four hours...loaded up like pack
horses we stumble downstairs and out onto the street, to the tube stop
and underground to Waterloo to rendezvous with our accomplices on this
five day, three gig, three capital city promo tour of Europe. Anthony's
already in Paris, presumably tucked up and sleeping far away from the
surreal lights and exchange students of the Eurostar terminal. So far
so good, Matthew, Martin, John and Fiona have all made it too, along with
our tour manager Carlos, and roadie Gab. Carlos is full of organisation,
hustling us through the check-in and onto our carriage. "Keep it
tight Matthew". Expletive response from Matthew, understandable,
it's 7am. I bite my tongue, take my seat and try to sleep.
At four pm
we're inside the Nouveau Casino, assembling unfamiliar equipment and gearing
up for sound check. We breath a collective sigh of relief at the sight
of all the requested items - including the seemingly mythical Akai 3000xl
sampler: just one problem, after three weeks of negotiating to get the
right equipment, the samples are sitting on a disc back in the bunker
in North London. Julian sheepishly tells the delightful stage manager
Delphine that we won't, after all, require the Akai's services...no, honestly,
we're total professionals.
us midway through sound check, and we eventually bash out a few loose
tracks whilst an odd little man films us. A slight hiccup with a lack
of English to European power converters leads the band to complete the
check without Matthew. At least we all made it here - in the scheme of
things it doesn't seem that much of disaster...
end of sound check and show time, we get fed and watered, and get ready
to rock. Arriving back at the venue around 10ish to find it surprisingly
full, the band head upstairs to our dressing room escape and wait for
the anointed hour. Except it just doesn't come. The support band have
decided to reinvent themselves as some kind of never-ending Stereolab
tribute ensemble, and we're not impressed. Already half an hour later
than we're billed to start they're still pounding out dodgy euro disco
with some seriously bad taste in Ukulele solos...a song ends, our hopes
lift, another song starts, we curse...we drink more...
it onstage at 11pm, does a beautiful reading of The End of the Way it's
Always Been, unaccompanied, to a totally silent and reverent room, then
Fiona joins him for a wracked and impromptu Gipsy Blues, then we're on.
Striding out into the limelight, I feel good. We're back on stage after
fifteen months away...let's make this a night to remember....and mostly
it is. A few nervous moments, the sound of a new unit trying to gel in
a ridiculously short time gives way to an awesome Nico's Children and
a pounding Biography of The First Son. I break strings, jump around and
totally enjoy myself. Matthew's smiles let me know he is too. Anthony
perfects his drunk man dance and sings like the King possessed. I've missed
him, but it's ok - he's back.
Meets and greets afterwards and Julian, Matthew, John and I head off into the Paris night with some new found friends and a seriously distorted view of the world. John gives his heart to Delphine, I give my heart to alcohol. I think we both may have got somewhere.
I tell you this faded glamour is a stupid art school idea"
I don't remember
waking up, I can just about remember the smell of croissants and cigarette
smoke, a bus journey and an incredibly comfortable and quick train journey
across northern France, through southern Belgium and into Brussels Midi.
We're accompanied by Stephane and Manu from the label, so little effort
in regard to working out where the hell we are and what the hell we are
doing is required. I have flashbacks to a roller coaster drive home with
a sweet but quite possibly drunken French man named Nicholas to our hotel
in the tiny hours of the morning...Nevertheless, we make it to our hotel,
a spit away from tonight's venue, in the seemingly soulless city of Brussels...the
venue looks stunning however - all bourgeois gardens and delicate fish
ponds - and the hotel, compared to last night's effort, is sublime. Check-in
is a pleasure. Our TV screens in the hotel rooms greet us with the cordial
"Welcome Mr Jack", and the venue's café provides us with
good Belgium beer. Why can't everything be this easy?
Anthony are off in interviews again, Julian is succumbing to a migraine,
and Martin, John and I munch our way through a huge buffet lunch. Sound
check again takes an eternity - and in these sorts of surroundings it
seems churlish to complain. But we still do.
feed after sound check and a few more beers with some Expat friends, we
gather backstage around 9.30pm. Matthew is missing, Carlos goes off to
find him. Anthony charms a bottle of vodka out of the second delightful
stage manager in two days, and Fiona, Julian and myself pour ourselves
a large one for the performance. Tonight is a posh venue, so we make the
effort - Fiona all spangles and high heels, Matthew full-on svelte corduroy
suit, Julian shirt and tie, and the rest of us? Forgot me shirt, guv.
heads out first, but this time is hamstrung in his attempted reading by
a deaf lighting engineer who refuses to acknowledge his request for more
light so he can at least partially focus on the words in front of him.
Instead he picks up the acoustic and strums through a breathless rendition
of Faster than Beauty. The crowd sighs and gasps...Fiona glides on, accompanying
Gypsy Blues again, and the rest of us make and entrance...and what an
entrance. Where the fuck is Matthew's pedal board? He's left standing
there, mid stage, band on the end of a leash ready to be released, and
no tools. Slow handclap starts. Anthony joins the audience and barracks
him with a few choice terrace chants. Matthew responds. You really could
not plan this kind of entertainment. The audience seem unfazed and eventually
show everyone is out to get hammered. Matthew commandeers John's prize
whisky, and gains a new friend in a toothless gentleman in the bar. I
find myself back in the hotel bar with the record company and some journalists
along with the last standing band members trying to communicate with a
charming hack named Christophe. Julian tells me to give up. I do, leaving
for my room to the strains of a spontaneous composition attempted on the
piano by Matthew and Julian. This ain't rock and roll, this is easy listening...
I want is my day in the sun"
So we wake
and struggle to our appointed taxis - flights awaiting at Brussels International
airport. Madrid here we come...
is an effort...I'm 10 minutes asleep when Matthew wakes me up from two
rows back with a request for batteries....I'm not bloody Dixon's...can't
get back to sleep...but things improve when Carlos, two rows in front
of us, tries his charm on the lady next to him:
We had a
vote before the tour at the city we'd most like to spend our night off
in - unsurprisingly Madrid won hands down. I've had a great relationship
with this city ever since I first sighted a barman just off the Puerto
Del Sol bearing down on me not just with a vodka and lemon, but a whole
fucking vodka bottle, a large glass, and a bottle of sweet sweet bitter
limon. They seem to have the perfect existence, including midday sleeps,
late nights and awesome bars....I am so happy to be back. The language
still remains a mystery, but it never seems to matter.
from the airport in a large people mover, and find ourselves staying just
off Calle de Fuencarrol, 5 minutes stroll from Club Nasti, tomorrow night's
venue, and a close distance to the centre of everything. First we find
our feet, not envying Anthony's 8 hour marathon interview ordeal; John,
Martin, Gab, Julian and I camping out in a local tapas bar where the value
of money is truly recognised...then it's to bed for Siesta.
We wake around
eight, and Fiona, Martin, John, Julian and yours truly are off into the
Spanish night for Sangria, Senoritas and languid conversation. We end
up in a black hole of a bar, close to the hotel, Anthony lost for words,
Matthew tired and emotional, and the rest of us...well every picture tells
a story. This is the site of our last brush with live performance, chased
out of club Nasti by a coked-up promoter eager for blood... conversation
bounces around, but we're too tired to notice. Bed. Again. And soon please,
Bob. Where's DJT when you need him? Fiona has the right idea, turning
up at 12 midday ...the next day...
We wake up
relatively early for Spanish time....1pm and we're out on the streets,
soaking up the last of our free time before our 4.30pm sound check...I
go shopping, Martin sleeps off the night before, Anthony frets about his
friend and gloriously talented photographer, Helen, who's not been seen
since 3am last night, Matthew gets fed by Gab, and Fiona tries to make
sense of soberness...
at Club Nasti...the headline band, Sing Sing, are still soundchecking.
More beers across the road. We return just as the lead singer, Lisa, is
exercising her considerable vocal gift. 10 minutes later it's our turn.
Except that Sideshow Bob has hijacked this show. We get through 2 songs
of the sound check when someone comments on the softness of the drums
- not normally a problem given that a drummer's dynamics normally register
somewhere between too loud and too bloody loud, but given John's sensitive
touch it's a problem. We discover that none of the drum mics are working,
cue 3 hours of faffing and muttering from Sideshow Bob, the sound engineer,
and a classic quote from Matthew, quaffing beer backstage:
be a long wait.
At 9pm we're
finished, and Anthony invites the whole touring party back to his room
for a bonding half hour. We chat, listen to Elvis, drink large quantities
of whisky and other not-too-sensible-substances-given-that-we're-due-on-stage-in-an-hour,
but no one cares, tiredness has removed that burden.
is two parts drunk and one thousand parts odd...we remain dressing room
side for a couple of hours, entertaining a fan who's driven 600 miles
from Malaga just to miss us play, painting mirrors with lipstick and tucking
into our healthy rider...I try to escape but am cornered by Martin on
a serious mission to find an absent part of his soul. We, in turn, are
discovered across the road underground in a dive bar by Anthony, me on
Martin's lap...I love Madrid, tonight has been a blast. Time for bed.
ain't no life for a Matador"
And it ends
like it began. A bunch of musicians and entourage hungover, unhealthy
and seriously tired in a bright, stark place wrestling with too much luggage
and a desperate need of a bed. We make it back home, somehow surviving
the worst flight of my life, bad weather combined with turbulence and
lots of screaming passengers almost ploughing us into the tarmac of Brussels
airport...Heathrow is all weary smiles and the comfort of Terra Firma.
Just the tube journey, our goodbyes and the knowledge that in a couple
of weeks this all begins again.
Carlos & Gab for getting us there
Copyright Simon Phipps 2002