David Westlake's Diary
Written During The Course Of The Band's Career...
'What We Do' - Date Unknown
They headed south under a veil of secrecy, two by car, two by train. They had no map and told no-one where they were going, just "away" for a while, for head space, for peace and quiet and freedom and sunshine. How they smiled when they saw London receding behind them into its permanent cloud and drizzle. They could be free from it all for a time. The people, the pressure, the grey inside and out. This place has lizards, butterflies, geese, cows, bees. It is silent like London has never been, a thick fat comfortable silence and, thank god and the precious baby Jesus, the sun is out.
"You’re a fucking idiot"
"Fuck you, fuck off"
How well we relate when the sun is shining and we’ve had a drink. Someone makes a point, someone replies with the same point put differently, different words, different angle. Ends up with "fuck you, fuck off you fucking fuck." There was a point somewhere along the way but we’ve all forgotten it, there’s years of petty irritation that we never quite resolved, day to day shit that we never got out of the way. People might not realise the amount of time we have to spend together, if we are touring we are sharing rooms for 6 months at a time, waking up with each other, hung over and gone on together, sick of the sight of each other. So there are arguments, yes.
We have finished song 1.
It is called "POLAROIDS"
Laurie Anderson meets Cyndi Lauper meets O.M.D. meets The Undertones. Or some such crap... that’s the kind of talk P.R. people come out with. It’s a good tune, it’s up-tempo, it’s pop music. It’s the first ever time all four pimps sang on the same song, even the straw-haired drummer.
We are now on a tune called "THINK HARDER, THINK DUMB"
Yes, you’re going to love this one, get dancing, go on. It’s never been a natural thing for the pimps to go uptempo, we have always avoided going totally ‘house’ but this tune kind of heads in that direction, but crashes into Frank Black along the way. We find it difficult to settle on one specific thing. Maybe that’s a weakness but if it sounds too much like one thing we tend to drag it in a different direction to avoid classification (or something dumb assed like that).
Christ , it’s quiet here. We’ve got little Chris recording his vocals outside and the atmosphere swallows it up. There’s a farmer on the other side of the valley wondering what the fuck "Loretta Young Silks" means. He hit a note the other day and we heard a dog howling a reply somewhere far away. The guy who owns the local bar wants us to play some songs for him and his drunken clientele. We might preview the new album to a couple of pissed-up French farm hands. How’s that for exclusive.
Oh god, the English abroad... Oh god, the ex-pats. There’s a reason they didn’t want to stay in England ( maybe they were driven out). There seem to be a lot of them in these parts, Daily Mail readers the lot of them. Little Englanders. Not evil or bad or wrong but depressing nevertheless. Defensive, driven by herd instinct and a mistrust of the ‘other’. We had to talk to one whingeing idiot today and he went on and on about the French and how awful they were, how they knew nothing about real food, they had no sense of humour... we look around us and there are French people smiling in the hot sunshine, kissing their greetings to each other, laughing and joking. Young people holding hands, Grand-meres holding babies, flowers, trees, sun. But this guy, the Englander is there on a fold up chair under a nylon umbrella, with socks beneath his sandals showing signs of sweat. The bitterness.. "I wouldn’t bother with that, not here, no…yer French, you see, yer French haven’t a clue about sophistication. It’s all image, their food might look good on the plate but does it taste good? Does it? Course not, it’s yer bleedin’ French food. Rubbish..."
WELL FUCK OFF BACK TO ENGLAND THEN, YOU’RE BRINGING US DOWN.GO BACK TO YOUR MONDEO AND SCREAMING AT THE KIDS AND SNEERING AT THE NEIGHBOURS AND COMPLAINING THAT PEOPLE HAVE NO RESPECT ANYMORE... Well, no, we’re glad they left.
God, the cabin fever...
Lost the will for a couple of days. But here we go again. We’ve finished 7 tunes and we’re pretty excited about them. We are having another go at "polaroids" as it sounds a little limp. It’s close but it aint right. Corner is out there right now trying to rough up his voice a little, yelling into his hands he sounds like a kidnap victim. So the kitchen is full of the smell of melting computer parts. Chris, the clumsy oaf, spilt his beer over the keyboard while doing a spot of programming. We dived on the keyboard draining out the fluid just in time to avoid an explosion but not quick enough to avoid damaging something, somewhere in the chain. The computer, the centre of our lives is sitting there, dead to the world (HAL). Clutching at straws we have placed the keyboard in the oven(gas mark 3 for twenty minutes until piping hot throughout). This is never going to work but we might get a good hit off the fumes. We are being slowly poisoned by cheap red wine bought in plastic canisters. It is twisting us up like something out of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’. It costs next to nothing and kills brain cells quicker than poppers. Corner is screaming his eyes out in the next room. My head is being ‘done in’ as we speak. Another scream... soon the gendarmerie will arrive with a swat team. STOP THE SCREAMS, LORD, STOP HIM.
We debate haircuts. With this much time away from the real world we can try stuff out in relative safety. Corner is skirting good taste with a frightening moustache, I’m trying a kind of trashy thing out. Liam has had his cut by Joe and looks a little like Alan Shearer.
Where’s the sun gone.
Joe has taken on the cooking duties and we are realising he has been ‘hiding his light under a bushel’ He has come up with some pretty crackin’ meals. He could make a treat out of an old boot. He did ‘lemon sole with caper butter and a roasted pepper and tomato salad’ last night and we all just sat there in stunned silence, like, when the fuck did he learn to do this?Yes this is the pimps cookery page. We aspire to the level of the lifestyle magazine. We will shortly be providing you with a handy pull-out gardening section and a shopping guide.
So we are settling into a routine. Get up at 9, faff about sorting our caffeine levels, start work at 10.30, work till 2 by which time Joe has created a spectacular spread of the ‘come sample nature’s bounty’ variety, work through till 10 for dinner, then work till about 1am. It’s a bit of a shag working this hard when there’s a swimming pool sitting there idle but I guess it’s worth it. It is good to get away from all the shit we’ve left behind and focus our ideas on the new album.
We are determined to make it as direct as possible. We allowed ourselves too much time with ‘Splinter’ it dragged on and we put everything we had into it. As a result we love that album cos it took a whole year out of our lives and was a kind of therapy for us at a strange and complicated time, but we are making a concerted effort to be quick with this one. If you have an idea you should try to make it as understandable as possible, not obscure it and twist it beyond recognition. In the past we have possibly been a little guarded with meaning. But we are determined to be transparent. We want to make people dance again. We used to enjoy that. It’s not all angst after all.
Oh, Herr Doktor. Late night German T.V. Please stop.
If Becoming X was a predominantly ‘electronic’ album and Splinter tended towards the acoustic then it looks like Number 3 is going back towards the electronic. Though this is pretty inaccurate. All three are as electronic as each other inasmuch as they all were basically constructed on samplers. And they are all as acoustic as each other in that we use a voice, an acoustic guitar, a bass guitar, a drum kit and various bits and pieces. So, when I say this album is more electronic than the last that doesn’t mean we have changed the way we work. It is exactly the same (except the sunshine). A sampler is just a complicated tape recorder and the raw materials are sounds. Sounds sampled from records, from our instruments, from t.v., from the outside world. It’s just collage. We sit here, hour after endless hour introducing sounds to each other. Sometimes they get on well, sometimes they hate each other. We prefer the latter, it makes for something a little less mundane.
The sun is back. Work is becoming difficult. We are two weeks in, half way through our little trip.
We have finished 9 songs:
LORETTA YOUNG SILKS
THINK HARDER, THINK DUMB
We have tons more to do. But that’s not bad, nine songs in two weeks.
Escaped to the local bar again last night. "Tony’s". It’s a small quiet village drinking hole with a smattering of ex-pats. I’ve been there a few times now with Ian and each time we take a different third party. The first time was with Chris on a ‘letting off steam’ night, then we took Craig, our manager, last night we took Liam. There’s a very specific class thing going on there. Lacoste shirts, deck shoes, beige against sunburnt faces.(Not Liam, the people in the bar) They remind me of the kind of people who used to sit on enormous gin palaces around Torquay marina (getting a bit childhood memory here) chewing the fat. In the absence of anyone else it’s O.K. to sit with these people and hear their slightly troubling views. But if I was feeling more militant then, Christ on a rubber bike, I would be trashing the place. The complacency, the endless crass Daily Mail politicising. This guy, an accountant who’s into Grand Prix, was asking me what we are going to do about the work force. THE WORK FORCE? What work force? Don’t ask me, I haven’t done a day’s work in my life. And I recommend it as a lifestyle. He was telling me about a high court judge who owns a home around here somewhere and organises it so that he sits in court from Tuesday to Thursday each week in order to have an uninterrupted long weekend (every weekend) here in sunny France. Now, I don’t want to sound obvious but surely there’s something awry there. What possible understanding of people could a man with this lifestyle have? When he’s not sipping fine wines by the pool he’s sending people to prison.
Sitting here listening to the album tracks to date. They sound fine. Very fine.
Working on MIAMI COUNTING for 4 days now and, finally, a breakthrough. It was getting a bit ‘blood out of a stone’ for a while. Should we just sack the tune completely, it was going nowhere. But after a struggle it’s become hard as nails. It started out as a ‘honeyz round the pool’ type tune. Laid back summer vibe. Then it went all Dr Dre. Now it’s just huge. We broke a self imposed rule and allowed a distorted guitar. Corner went at it like dog with a bone, his guitar was squealing with feedback, his sinewy, wiry arms straining in a rictus of rock n roll angst. Much like Michael J. Fox’s guitar solo in Back to the Future. "I guess you guys ain’t ready for this yet, but your kids are gonna love it"
The paranoia around here is quite stunning. We went to "Tony’s" again last night for some food and, after our meal, Tony shut the door on us to protect us from his huge dogs. A couple of us freaked out, "he’s locked us in, he’s fucking locked us in. What does he want with us? Fuck this, we’re getting out... the door’s got no fucking handle, why’s he doing this to us?"
Just as our levels of paranoia are peaking the doors crash open and these two huge fucking dogs come hurtling in like Satan’s messengers and run rings around our table while we all yelp and whinny in fear, then, slowly Tony enters the room with a slight smile, the smile of the serpent, calm and considered. The dogs, silenced by Tony’s entrance, take up position at his side as he sits and lights a cigarette.
We left shortly after that.
We are genuinely quite perturbed by Tony, the lynch-pin of the village. One of the massive, slathering dogs is called Arkan. He has named his dog after an infamous massacre-ist and ethnic cleanser. Strange cogs are turning in his head. We have pretty much finished now. There are more tunes to come which we will record back in London. We had a champagne moment and then Chris went back to the computer to start tweaking an endless tweak.
Some more song titles for you:
AFTER EVERY PARTY I DIE
Thirteen songs effortlessly tossed off the wrist, quick as you like. No messing about, no over-analysis, no expensive studio. We’ve stripped it down to the raw skin and teeth.And now, at home again in London, I read in the paper that Loretta Young has died.
There is a tune on the new record called "LORETTA YOUNG SILKS" after the practice, invented by her cameraman, of placing silk stockings over the lens to achieve a soft focus. The song is about vanity and soft focusing yourself and, as such has nothing to do with Loretta herself but out of idle curiosity we went on to the official Loretta Young site and downloaded a pic of her that looked back at us every day. Sneaker Pimps do not believe in the pre-destined but there was something pretty spooky about the fact that she died the very day we left the house.
'What We Continue To Do' - Date Unknown
Aaah, back on the road. Very short roads at the moment but we are winding up to something bigger.
We played Aldershot, home of the squaddie, Portsmouth, home of the Navy, and Oxford, home of Radiohead. And then we played Brick Lane, London. A venue so new that we had to stop people touching the wet paint. It was like a family reunion, all these people we haven’t seen for so long coming back to say "Hiya" and take our rider. Familiar faces, some people I have no recollection of whatsoever, and, of course a violent brawl. In all, the perfect East-end night out.
The new tunes worked well, we think. It’s funny watching peoples faces when we play the new stuff, the gradual change from suspicion through inquisitiveness to acceptance (or not if you attended the Portsmouth gig).
So, London in the autumn then. High winds and stabbings.
What is it the Pimps do all day? Today Joe and I spent the afternoon customising T-shirts to give away to competition winners on U.S. radio. We went to town on them as a kind of therapy after having spent the previous night in something of a blur. We had been at the Robots in Disguise launch party, celebrating the arrival in shops of their mini-album "Mix Up Words and Sounds." We drank champagne and stumbled into agitated situations like inept war correspondents until we were all kicked out on to the lonely streets of Soho.
There is a very specific level of concentration required when destroying cheap clothes in the name of art, which just happened to be the level Joe and I were on that day. We tortured them to within an inch of their little cotton lives, stuck things to them, sprayed them, threaded them with guitar strings and quarter inch audio tape, sliced ‘em up good. Like art school all over again but with a bit of fun thrown in. Going to America next, oh the adventures that await us, that sordid state always throws up surprises.
'Shame Part 1' - Date Unknown
"What do most people die of in the wilderness?
They die of shame."
And so it felt in Macclesfield. Ever been to Macclesfield? Ever been to Northampton, Dresden, Offenbach? Nope.
We’ve just spent our night on the bus watching Anthony Hopkins fight a giant bear in David first Mamet’s "The Edge." What a movie. Man fights bear in the wilderness. What a man’s movie. Multi-billionaire battles his inner demons (and a huge bear) in a remote forest. He eats the bear and wears his pelt for warmth and fashions rudimentary jewellery from its claws and teeth. It’s like a lesson I must have missed in Being A Man, like a text book. He even saves his betrayer, God bless him. He is a wise, brave, strong man. A forgiving man. A BIG MAN. He is rich, has an encyclopaedic memory for detail, and a pioneering spirit. No situation can get the better of him. He fights a bear and wins. He wins with dignity and magnanimity for he is a truly great man. But there is pain beneath his craggy face, for he is flawed and brittle and his victory is hollow.
We, however, are touring Europe in a band. We will spend the majority of our time stuck on this bus gazing out of the windows or sulking in our bunks. For about one hour in each day we will experience the thrill and excitement of being on stage. The other twenty-three will be filled with journeys that make you want to shriek "Are we there yet?" to the driver. Or beg for a toilet stop. It’s no wonder people in bands act like children. We are conditioned that way.
We are in a service station off the autobahn somewhere outside Offenbach. It’s our second service station in what promises to be a tour full of them. German service stations are like toy shops for the easily distracted or suicidal, you can buy petrol and beer and hard liquor simultaneously and then drive off into the night unhindered by speed restrictions. The vast array of porn is openly displayed, unashamedly catering for every taste imaginable. Boys, girls, leather, lace, animals. In Britain this could never happen, we would blush and worry for the children. But this is our wilderness and the rules are different. We must adapt.
There is an unhealthy amount of American truckers paraphernalia for sale. Baseball caps, confederate flags, white trash titty figurines, 18 wheeler models, cowboy hats and cheap blue jeans. (It’s like when Camden Town tried to appropriate country and western music and gingham flowed freely. Dress trashy and keep it real). We sit here and watch people arrive and leave, and we count the hours. This is not a real place. This is a place in between places. No population, no life. As tourists we might visit here and imagine that the whole of Germany is like this, it’s so easy to fall into generalisations. I’m sure most Germans are as puzzled by this stuff as we were. Imagine if England was judged on its service station range, we would be pegged as line dancing fanatics chomping on boiled sweets or dainty fruit salads, queuing up with arms full of Roy Chubby Brown cassettes and Kendall Mint Cake.
The deal with the venues on this tour is that we cannot gain access until 3pm which means we will have to wake every day for five weeks in service stations similar to this one and kill time. Day two and the reality of this situation is dawning on us. We will visit some of the most beautiful cities in the world, alive and vital with culture but sadly we will be forced to wait outside the city limits in truck stops waiting for the shame to come. Waiting for the desperation and the panic. Waiting for the wind to change. At least we’re not in London any more.
Played Dresden last night, our first gig with Placebo. A night of soap opera, a night of coming through against the odds, of wresting victory from the jaws of defeat. Our MOST IMPORTANT MACHINE broke down in soundcheck, spewing forth chaos music and random noises and sending us apoplectic with fear. The crowd didn’t realise it but we were as frightened going on stage as we’ve ever been, facing certain humiliation at the hands of technology. We finished Kiro TV, the first in the set and after an agonising pause the audience exploded into cheers and whoops. It felt like rain after a drought, it felt like a rites of passage movie from the 80’s. Ah, the old magic...
We are only ever as good as the last gig we did... so today we rock. We stand astride the world like a colossus. After Macclesfield we felt grim. (It was a wilderness and shame came for us with a huge knife, skinned us and wore our hides as a hat). When the crowd doesn’t cheer you find it impossible that they ever will again, you start to doubt everything. When they do it’s total vindication. I am personally not much of a cheerer. I find shouting to be too much exertion. But I am glad that others enjoy doing it because on tour, away from home, it’s like oxygen. We need it for survival.
PYLONS. Beautiful pylons. Huge gay robots strutting across the landscape. Don’t you just love them? No? What do you mean, no? They are the best. I just can’t explain, they’re great! I love these pylons. All these pylons walking towards me, I just can’t get enough. Like a line of locals passing buckets to a barn fire in a Victorian romantic novel but huge and made of metal. What more do you want from a view? Fields are just fields, nothing more. But stick a row of pylons in one, or string them across a forest, or a river godammit, and we’ve got ourselves a view. Something we can play with. They should design hats for them too. Pylon hats. Nylon pylon hats.
Actually Joe and I share a thing for them and we are often to be heard cooing at them distractedly out of the window. They give you a proper idea of your size in relation to the world (as when you fly on Nippon airlines and they have the camera pointing at the ground on take off so that you can experience the flight as if you have been strapped to the bottom of the fuselage. At first you don’t quite get what’s going on, it’s like they’re showing footage of some gravel but then the earth rushes away from you and the sense of vertigo and smallness is all rollercoastery. It’s like they actually want you to be frightened, like fear is what they want for their passengers).
Better still are wind farms, massive windmills united in their task, stoic, determined and elegant. If a swan was a robot it would look like a windmill. Some people complain about them, think they ruin the view or try to pedantically suggest the gentle sound they make is noise pollution. Me, I would pay to have them nearby. I could gaze at them all day long... Maybe I could live in one. And I would fill my house with little scale models of them, all moving as one. Europe seems to have embraced its wind farms in a way that the moaning, sandal wearing Brits would find unacceptable, like Europe embraces new architecture and grown up licensing laws.
I’d like to see a skyscraper built on the top of a mountain too but are there any? Are there? Of course not. I’d like to see the whole of the countryside paved, hills and all. Or covered in astroturf. Or that stuff they make Olympic race tracks from, like rubbery red gravel. Why won’t they do it? Are they so frightened of change? I’m sending my suggestions to the Countryside Alliance. I’m sure it would make hunting more practical, the horses wouldn’t slip so easily.Heading into Paris, the sun is coming out and it’s a day off. Aaahh, Paris. Aaaahh, France.. Let’s go have fun.
Can’t believe it. My hair has turned to worms. Little vermicelli worms like a fussy Medusa. I knew I shouldn’t have come on this tour. My mood is index linked to my hair performance. My hair performance depends entirely on how well I sleep on it. How well I sleep depends on my mood. It is these circular frustrations that make life almost unliveable. I must go drink now...
Haven’t written for a few days because we’ve been having such a riot on the service station forecourts of Europe. Gadding about in foreign climes. It’s sunny now. We are driving a long drive across Portugal/Spain on our way to Barcelona. The sun is low in the sky and we are contented little bunnies having spent the day making little gasps and chortles at the landscape.
"Look at that castle!"
"Look at that huge cardboard bull!"
"Look, a ravine with a river and a single line railway overlooked on both sides by rock formations affording hiding places for snipers or bandits...BANDITS I SAY!!"
"Go on, Joe. Have a look.. Knock yourself out!"
Joe stares intently ahead. Joe has inner vision and thus has no need for external stimulation.
To recap: We played Paris for two nights in an enormous tent built for 6000 people, then onward to Bilbao where we caught the first glimpse of sunshine and were treated like stars by our loyal fans for whom we scribbled on tiny chits of paper, then to Madrid for our own show and then to Lisbon which had the best audience yet. They were leaping about like salmon before we even got on stage. They even did that clapping in unison thing to the huge beat on 6 Underground before they knew what tune it was. It still feels new when people cheer and scream.
"That look on my face was surprise!" Joe and I allowed ourselves the dubious pleasure of diving headlong into the bar and it’s neighbouring streets for an extended autograph session. When morale reaches low ebb it provides a boost to our idiot egos. I met more people there than I have in six years of living in London, but I guess conversation was limited to a sleazy "Who’s it to, love?"
Scribble, scribble, scribble... Shame, Shame, Shame.
'Shame Part 2' - Date Unknown
Still driving. Barcelona is full, there is no room at the inn. So we are driving around the resort towns nearby looking for a hotel or a beach with some bars we could park near. Cabin fever setting in. The bus is a jail.
Found myself in a brothel the other night. Now, there’s a first for me. It all sort of happened by accident. We were parked somewhere outside Barcelona in a sleepy little village with a beautiful, ancient church and one bar. The "Club for Men." I should have gone to bed early like the rest of the band, all snuggly and dreaming of synthesisers, but instead I took a trip to the dark side with the crew. It could have gone one of two ways judging by its name. "Club for Men." We were either looking at a gay bar or some kind of lap dancing joint. As it happened it was just a room with four women in tiny clothes, trying to have sex with us for money. They must have thought it was Christmas when they saw our bus rolling into town. "Look, a bus full of men, they look like they’ve been away from home for a while, they’re a weird looking bunch these English, but their money’s as good as anyone’s."
We got ourselves a beer and stood there. Me, Gaz (our guitar tech, he’s made of granite and knows eight ways of killing a man silently), Mark (monitor engineer, Brummie ,cheeky chappie), Andy (our put upon tour manager. He thinks we’re only here to send him over the edge) and Lloyd (our driver, the enigma. A man who shaves his head completely bald but buys beautifully crafted blonde wigs). One of the girls comes up to me (maybe I looked the most desperate).
"Erm, no.. thanks"
"Er.. no.. really.. no money.. I’m just here for a drink.."
"Fuckie, fuckie? No money, no fuckie, no money, no fuckie, ha ha ha, just drink English man.. ha ha ha." They must have wondered why we had bothered coming in if we weren’t going to avail ourselves of the services. We looked like teases. Whore teases, a futile hobby.. They totally stiffed us on the drinks and we got out of there. Their man, Greasy Pedro, stared single mindedly at us the whole time without saying a word. I’m sure if we had gone in to the back room with any of them, he would have very quickly appeared, snooker ball in a sock, and taken every last penny we had.
Insomnia comes visiting. I’m sharing a room with Joe and he’s sleeping soundly, the occasional grunt or parp breaking the endless silence. Wake up you bastard, I can’t sleep, I’m bored to hell. There is an imaginary tap dripping somewhere. The air conditioning in this building was installed by children. Time grinds on. I need water, a saline drip. I have the insatiable thirst of the drunkard. I walk into the village, it’s 6.30 am and I am the only person up. There is a small market setting up with strange garments from yesteryear. Huge knickers, cheap socks and T-shirts with arbitrary phrases plastered across them in English.
"SMOKING LONG AFRICA!"
"I WANT YOU SMOKE YEAH YEAH"
Empty pockets so I can’t even get a coffee. Ho hum.. tick tock. Nice view though.. Brain meltdown. My head is like raclette.
So all chronology has gone out of the window. I was in some town somewhere, oh, I don’t know, Portugal, Spain, Italy, somewhere sunny and a man sidles up carrying a photograph album. He speaks no English but proceeds to flip mechanically, dispassionately through the pages as if he were a carpet salesman with a book of swatches. He points at each photo, pausing to look me dead in the eye for reaction. They are shots of him shaking hands with a vast range of people in the public eye. I don’t click at first because some of his victims were locally, but not internationally famous, so I have no idea who they are. As he flips through to the more famous faces he starts mumbling their names at me.
"Mick Jagger, Yitzak Rabin, Julio Iglesias, Jacqus Chirac, Prince Andrew, Michael Stipe, Nana Vasconceles, Al Pacino, Tom O’Connor, Henry Kelly, George Bush, Mikhail Gorbachev, Kevin Costner, Steve Tyler, Nelson Mandela, Michael Barrymore, Cameron Diaz, Allan Holdsworth..."
He shakes his camera at me as if he expects it to make a noise like maracas. This is a ritual he has played out to world leaders and movie stars alike and now he wants me in his book, the guy from the band he’s never heard of. When he shuts the book there’ll be my pudgy face pressed up against Spike Lee’s. Tom Cruise on my back. My grubby face being presented to others in the future. And then when he shows it to others I will be one of the nameless ones, the forgotten. I imagine he’ll flip past me rather quickly.
See Naples and die, huh? You’re not kidding there. With interminable drizzle and psychotic taxi drivers there is little option. I’m getting a distinct sense of the wilderness. We have rolled up to the gig and have been mercifully allowed to park in the venue early as it is, apparently, " rough as fuck ‘round here." I claw back a curtain and find that we are playing in a circus tent surrounded by broken down cars and caravans. There is panic in the ranks as Liam has just got on to the bus quite pale with horror stories about the toilets here. We head through the rain into the town and gaze at the fog behind which lies Vesuvius. Only one thing can save me. A brand new Italian suit. In the back streets we find a cosy little tailors shop where my existing clothes are mocked by the proprietor. My flares, my pride and joy, are dismissed with "It’s.. er, how you say.. ELEPHANT, no? Elephant not the mode in, er, Italia." He mocks me with his little laugh and then he fits me with a beautiful suit, a la Dean Martin in the early sixties. Check me out!
After the show I watch as the security guards mob Brian Placebo, begging for his autograph. One of them comes to me afterwards, clutching a scrap of paper. "Who is he? What is his name?"
"Brian." I reply.
< "Does he sing?"
The whole idea of autographs is becoming more absurd with each day of this tour.
Last night was a very odd night indeed. We’ve crossed the half way point of the tour and nerves are rattled. We played a sports centre in Perugia, Italy and things went very wrong indeed. The crowd broke the barrier at the front and Placebo were forced to leave the stage while the local crew tried some very unconvincing attempts at shoring it up with bits of wood and handkerchiefs. The crowd went full on ‘nut job’ and started lobbing anything they could find, bottles, coins, stones, at the stage. We were warned backstage that if the gig was pulled, we should get out because the crowd would turn very nasty, lynch us and smash our teeth in. Stuck for things to do, and with the germs of aggression floating on the air, Chris and I found an Olympic-style wrestling mat and threw each other around for ten minutes. In my mind’s eye it was like "Women in Love" with the heady mix of charging testosterone and none too subtle homo-erotic underpinnings. I’m sure it looked quite different. There were actually a couple of fans who had snuck through the Italian "security" and started taking photos. I’m sure that far from looking like Alan Bates and Ollie Reed it looked more like an ant trying to attack a doughnut. My vast weight bludgeoning little Corner into submission. Come on Hopkins, where’s the bear, let me at him.
It felt very much like I would imagine those "REDISCOVER YOUR MASCULINITY" classes would feel. Beating drums in a forest with bare-chested stockbrokers. Throttling squirrels with bare hands and spit roasting them. It was at once violent and intimate. Simple and refreshing. Utterly unintellectual. Like being a kid again. Maybe if I was the kind of person who enjoyed hitting people I would be more in touch with my inner child. Maybe I need to start getting lairy with strangers in bars. "I was trying to connect with my inner child, your Honour." The night then disintegrated into total nonsense but instead of arguments there was laughter. Desperate, edgy laughter.
Now it’s getting interesting. We are heading into uncharted territory. The Pimps have never been to Eastern Europe before (that’s not even true, I dunno why I’m saying it. We played in Prague once). But this is interesting because there is a slight frisson of danger on going into the former Yugoslavia. Lloyds, our insurers, have said that they are not prepared to cover us while we are there so there is a chance we will not be allowed into the country unless we can buy insurance from a local person at the border. It’s just a technicality really but it’s given the bus a little edge, as if we are John Simpson or Kate Adie heading into a war zone.
What we didn’t expect was just how friendly the people would be in Zagreb, or how beautiful the city would be. Joe and I spend the day wandering around shops and bars, enjoying the sunshine and the atmosphere. The gig itself is strangely under-populated and we take to the stage thinking the reaction might be a little damp but instead the people let out a small roar. Then we all get drunk and laugh. The shame is fading..
I don’t want to sound like a cliché here but isn’t Prague just the best? I love coming here. Today was a weird day though as moods were a little grubby. Joe has the look of a killer as I greet him in the morning, interrupting his repetitive, cyclical trudge up and down the street. We are parked at some kind of building site outside "Sky Club Bromlovka" so Liam, Joe and I get a cab into town (Chris being fast asleep for a good few hours yet). Liam’s wife is visiting so we go to her hotel to rouse her. It is overcast but still the narrow, cobbled streets are brimming with romance and magic. Today we are free to wander, unhindered and unrecognised through ancient streets, weaving our way through troops of middle class American tourists. Just as our mood is lifting we take a wrong turn and literally bump in to our manager.
"Thank God I’ve found you! You’re not gonna like this.. I’m afraid there’s press. We have to hurry back. Sorry, should have told you before."
There’s nothing worse than surprise press.
Back at the venue we find our dressing room is also the catering prep room so we spend the day with Paul, Jo and Suzie who feed and keep us happy on a daily basis. We have a piano to keep us entertained. Before the show, in a rare moment of camaraderie, we have what can only be described as a ‘sing song round the old piana’ with all four of us banging away at a tune we first sang years ago in America:
"There’s gonna be a show tonight,
It’s gonna be a real humdinger!"
It’s from the unfinished Broadway musical we add to on each tour, ‘SNEAKER PIMPS: THE SHOW!’ It charts the meteoric rise of four simple small-town boys, their trials and tribulations in the evil world of music, the business we call Show.
The gig itself is a blast, a hoot, and we all agree it is the best yet. If we carry on like this there’s a danger we might end up having fun.
Poland, stuck by the road side. Our bus has popped it’s little clogs. Lloyd, the driver, was forced to break suddenly when some vodka soaked truck driver cut him up. I almost hurtle headlong through the front lounge, being on one foot at the time wrestling with a sock, but I am saved by Gaz who manages to pluck me out of my trajectory with one granite hand. The sudden stop burst a compressed air pipe which Lloyd calmly explains is crucial to the suspension, steering and braking side of things. As soon as we find a lay-by we pull over and Gaz sets to work patching it up. This was sent to test us, this will sort the men from the boys. Hopkins, where are you now with your encyclopaedic knowledge of the wilderness and compressed air pipes? "Fire from ice? Come on, man, fire from ice? THINK DAMMIT!"
This is definitely bear country. Joe and I go for a walk in the deserted woods and try to assess the situation, ever ready to make a drama out of a crisis. We quickly realise we have no booze and no food and would quickly lose daylight. Things take a worse turn when Gaz’s efforts explode in his face with a massive pneumatic pop. We are doomed to stay here in this forest forever.
A few bleak hours later and we’re limping into the outskirts of Warsaw like an episode of "Das Boot." A single drop of sweat glistens on Gaz’s vast brow as we all wait for the red light of disaster to appear on the dash board. This was to have been one of our only days off. A day with a proper shower and the chance to amble about Warsaw. Instead we make it to "Hotel Eden" for 9pm where the friendly tuba playing barman shows us Polish hospitality by force feeding us frozen vodka which hits the nerves at the back of the eyes. The walls are covered in furs.
So, we don’t get to see any of Warsaw but spend our time doing press instead. First question:
"So your album Becoming X was not a success and then Splinter was even less of one. How does it feel to be so unsuccessful?"
I take a deep breath and start talking...
'Shame Part 3' - Date Unknown
The gig was a mad affair. The audience were crammed so tightly into the room as to become one huge liquid mass, surging and breaking like waves, spitting little indie girls out into the pit beneath us where they’d be picked up by security and carried out.
"This means nothing to me.. Aaaah, Vienna!"
But it means something to me, Midge, for it is the home of the greatest vintage clothing shop known to man. A shop so fantastic its owners haven’t even bothered naming it. A shop that sells dreams. I had never bought a suit in my whole tawdry life until this tour and now I have two. The Dean Martin from Napoli and this one, an unworn 1970s black flared suit, in pristine condition, factory fresh. A perfect fit. God has smiled down on me and repaid my good behaviour on earth with this suit.
Joe and I were minding our own business, strolling around this enormous funfair near the gig, when we stumbled upon a little shop where an old lady and her older father (obviously..) have gathered hundreds of shoes, shirts, suits, ties, pairs of jeans and coats from the 60s and 70s. All still in original packaging, untouched by human hand. Not only that but the saintly proprietors are prepared to sort through their stock for us, finding sizes and waiting on us hand and foot. They would be heroes in Camden Town. There would be a statue of them outside the tube station and roads would bear their names. If only we had more time, we could have replaced our entire wardrobes, which at this point on the tour, would be welcome for I smell like a dog basket.
We have played eighteen gigs so far on this tour but you might not realise it from reading this. There is not much to say about a gig. I could go on ad nauseum about my snare lugs constantly loosening or the fact that I’ve cracked my favourite cymbal but I have come to realise from people’s expressions when I talk about such things that it is a desperately boring topic. I suppose I could tell you something about the experience of playing in a room full of 7000 people, you know, how it actually feels. Well, it’s umm, nice. And it’s frightening. I always experience nausea when taking to the stage and I always feel disappointed to be leaving one.
It’s one of the days where we break away from the Placebo circus to play our own gig at the Rotunda in Brussels, a weird one to play. It’s kind of tiny and has the feel of a lecture hall or recital room. Although it’s a beautiful room one can imagine the terrible crimes committed here in the name of performance art over the years. We have the pleasure of having our every move filmed by our sponsors who are visiting from America, camcorders permanently on. I hate cameras so this makes the day difficult. They are filming our sound check and we sit around a little bored while Gaz and Mark line-check all the instruments and iron out any technical creases that appear.
Then we take to the stage and play individually so that Andy can get the best sound from each instrument. Now, there is one argument we keep having on this tour and it concerns Liam’s peculiar talent for disappearing at exactly the wrong time. It’s uncanny. He is present up until the second he is needed and then he vanishes. As I was checking the drums Liam was there, in the stalls, keeping half an ear on the sound. Then Andy shouts "Okay, Liam, a bit of keyboards please." and he is nowhere. We carry on without him and our sponsors keep filming. Someone else does his keyboards and half an hour later it is time to play through a tune. We start whispering "Where the hell has he gone this time?" so as to keep the veneer of unity for the cameras but with our sound check time ebbing away we soon enough start turning the air blue with expletives. He has switched his phone off. In the end, after every room in the building has been checked I run back to the bus and find him sitting there with a glass of wine and the lap top, quite oblivious. Another day another row. They pass the time and clear the air.
After the show, which was strangely intimate and informal, we are taken by our old friend, Dis, to a bar where we drink with a group of teenagers who appear to be co-ordinated by a Robert Downey Jr. lookalike.
All right. Now this is a hangover. Wake up in a hotel room fully clothed in my suit with a head full of poison. Don’t remember coming back here. Don’t remember much. Oh hang on, it’s coming back to me.. in stroboscopic flashes. There was a club, a cordoned off guest area.. tequila.. Steve Placebo pouring drinks whilst laughing like Satan’s helper. Spinning out of control. Nausea. Need fresh air.. must walk. Can’t walk. Legs don’t work. Steve pouring another shot, bellowing out a huge guffaw.
This is Luxembourg. It’s Easter Sunday. Memory is returning. I came off stage feeling ill, as if coming down with a cold. Shaky and weak with the sponsors’ cameras still trained on our every move. I wanted to sleep but was persuaded instead to drink through it.
"Go on Dave, you know it’s the only way you’re gonna make the last few days of the tour. If you stop now it’s all over." "I can’t, I have no strength. It tastes like poison"
We were taken from the show in a people carrier on a diversion to avoid the fans waiting outside. We drove through them, around the block and then back to the club next door to the venue putting all but the most determined of them off the scent. Inside Steve became the Tequila Tormentor. I grew dizzy and crawled back here to the hotel.
Bourges. Two days left. Three if you count the last travel day. The end is near and it’s apparent from the way we look, sitting in this bar, gazing at the rapidly depleting pile of money in the centre of the round table. None of it is mine. The banks have conspired against me, twice spitting my card back at me, goading me into trying a third, risky attempt. We are drinking with Gaz and Mark’s money in this bar on some ornamental civic space designed in the eighties. The entire town is shut for Easter and as part of the celebrations there is a collection of crusties in the square playing instruments and bickering about their drinks. We are silently scowling as we watch their little spats develop and subside, as they clutch their beer cans to their chest defensively. The symmetry here is a little discomforting and might go some way towards explaining our unanimous contempt for them. There’s such a fine line between our different alternative lifestyles.
Our own conversation is pretty much exhausted. Five weeks, ten people, one bus. We are bonded by mutual experience but have little to say. Still, we laugh and things aren’t so bad. There’s no animosity, no anything. This close to the end there is greater danger of any exchanges descending into argument as there is progressively less need to maintain the equilibrium. Joe is away somewhere with Andy and I imagine they are getting drunk, like us but with more bile. Our manager, Caroline, is off somewhere skipping and gambolling about in her own way. As long as the money lasts we’ll be fine.
We have always suffered from audience ambivalence on the last date of any tour. No matter how successful the previous fifty dates might have been, the last show always sees the audience gazing confusedly at us as if we are somehow in the way of something. We have begun to see it as a curse of sorts. In Dublin, on the closing date of our wildly successful U.K. tour for the Splinter album, we were met with total silence from a crowd who seemed to resent having had to leave their homes that night. The disappointment we feel stems from our inability to realise that the audience hasn’t been along for the ride the whole time. We feel like pleading with them.
"Don’t you realise how big this is for us? Don’t you understand that this is the night when everything gets tied up. Where we achieve some kind of CLOSURE. When we were screaming abuse at each other in Dumfries, or when we were broken down in the middle of nowhere for a whole day, or out of our minds in Lisbon, this is the gig that is supposed to put a lid on things. Why are you just standing there looking at us funny?"
Although we are too superstitious to say so out loud I believe that we are all aware of the last night curse as we pad out our day with nonsense. If anyone had mentioned it they would have been punched by the other three. Chris and I do some press. An interview for the French paper, Liberation. We have been asked to comment on the music of Bob Marley for an article marking the twentieth anniversary of his death. We know nothing about Bob Marley. In fact we pretty much hate reggae if truth be told but after weighing up the pros and cons we decide to give it a shot if only to kill a bit of time. While we wait for the journalist we scrabble about looking for possible answers. I suggest something along the lines of "Well it’s the songwriting that stands out, it transcends any genre, let’s just go on about that for a bit"
"Chris, just what is it that draws you to Bob Marley?"
"Well, I’d say it is the songwriting more than anything. It just transcends any genre"
The interviewer turns to me.
"And David, what attracts you to Bob Marley’s music?"
"Well.. I’d have to agree with Chris on that one. It’s the songwriting, it seems to transcend any genre."
"What is it about the song writing that does this?"
"Ummm.. the, er, general.. quality of it."
"Which of his songs do you like the best?"
She turns to Chris.
"And you? Which songs do you like?"
"Well, Redemption Song."
"Erm, No Woman, No Cry, and umm..."
The sentence peters out.
"So let’s move on to Marley, the Man. Has his life proved an inspiration to you?"
"Well, of course. I mean he had such charisma, he was a very handsome man and he wrote such.. wonderful songs."
"Wasn’t he good at football?"
"Yes, that’s it. He was a good footballer. And of course he died."
"Yes, yes he died."
I can laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible.
So, on to the show. There is such a warm feeling the whole day between the bands and crew and the fans who had gathered at the gates. The Freestylers, who we met in Paris, come along and give Chris a bottle of wine to drink on stage. Then Steve Placebo wanders round to our dressing room to invite us to play an extended set to mark the last night of the tour. By the time the gates are opened there is a tangible sense of occasion as the crowds run in screaming. As we wait in the wings it becomes clear that tonight’s show will break the curse. Tonight there will be that rare, magical element that will infuse the whole room (well, tent). The music works, the crowds cheer and dance and scream and we leave the stage elated.
After Placebo finish their show we gather for drinks and photos in their dressing room. We only have a little time before we have to drive and our respective tour managers are circling us like sheep dogs to keep us from disappearing to the nearest bar. There are hugs, kisses and bouquets and then we are ushered on to the bus for the drive to Calais.
Everyone cheers when we see the white cliffs of Dover. As they gradually become visible through the grey fug of the English Channel it is suddenly clear that we are home. Home.
Home for us is symbolised by these white cliffs, a seemingly perfect white band which, as you get nearer, becomes stained and knackered and filthy. I remember as a child being disappointed whenever I saw them. People would beamingly describe them, sing old wartime songs about them, choke back patriotic tears for this stone curtain staunchly defending us from outsiders. But then the reality never quite lived up to the image. Especially now, after being away for so long. It’s like getting home and being struck by how grubby your house looks, all overgrown borders and peeling paint.
"Mmmm, must remember to re-paint the guttering."
And the next thing you see are the compounds where asylum seekers and political refugees are kept while the nation argues about what to do with them. It’s a shame most people enter England through Dover as it appears to me the most bleakly unwelcoming town in England.
The drive from Dover to London has never been fun. I only associate it with vast hangovers and the ending of things. We are going home. Going home to sit in silence, flick channels or stare into space. The crew seem excited (in a slightly impatient way) to be going home and as if some switch has been flicked. We do what we always do on this journey, we start the process of acclimatisation (through food).
"Ooh, fish and chips!"
"Nooh, curry and chips."
A dreamy look descends upon us.
"Mmmm, no a proper curry, Brick Lane, Jalfrezi."
Appreciative gurgles, then back to silence.
Chris shouts at the big chair on Deptford High Street.
"Where’s the big chair? Have we missed it? The big chair? There it is: THE BIG CHAIR!!"
(There is a big chair chained up outside an antiques shop near to where Chris used to live and its sheer size appears to have made a big impression on little him. It really is very big and we always cheer it whenever we drive by).
As soon as we see the Big Chair we know it’s time to get our stuff together. After five weeks our belongings are scattered throughout the bus. Stuff we had forgotten all about. Random garments from distant thrift stores, footballs, frisbees and trinkets. We always get off the bus, or ‘de-bus’, with plastic carrier bags of clutter and rubbish straining at the handles and bursting out on to the street. The end of any tour sees me on my doorstep scrabbling though eight bags of crap trying to find the keys I last used five weeks previously, dirty underwear and Belgian chocolates spilling into the gutter.
Where are the squealers now, Mr Pop Star? Now that you’re scraping about in the dust. Where are the crowds? The beautiful public? What’s the use, huh, you petty, desperate fool? Shame!
Home, home, home.
'North America, Winter, 2002' - Date Unknown
Off again we go… America, land of the free. What a piece of work.
We are filling in some of the gaps we left on our last visit here, doing the Eastern side of the country from Chicago to Florida via Canada. At Heathrow the band and crew gather like criminals summoned for a job and have a pre-flight drink to break the ice. Steve, our new Tour Manager has two pieces of good news: he has blagged us an upgrade and Toploader have been axed. Now I don't usually relish another band's demise but this is the single most positive piece of news to have come out of the otherwise moribund British music industry for years. The clock ticks over into afternoon and we drink a toast.
Drink is crucial to most aspects of our professional lives, but never is it so important as when getting on a plane. We fly so often that we go in phases between confidence and fear. The more we travel, the more the probability rate tips into the red and booze is our way of putting it out of our minds.
On our first night in a snowy Chicago we go out to a seafood place that offers the added bonus of live jazz. We are, as ever after a long flight, hallucinating with tiredness. To hear such jazz-fusion crimes in the home-town of Herbie Hancock is enough to make a man weep. Food was a bit rubbish too. People are slurping at each others faces (they call it kissing) and singing. Oh well, there’s always insomnia to look forward to.
We wake up to Thanksgiving weekend and venture out looking for thrills in Chicago. We find very little as everyone is at home forcing turkey and goodwill into their relatives. The only food we can find is in an English Pub of all things and we reluctantly go there for breakfast. To think we’d come this far, across oceans and mountain ranges and then find ourselves sitting in The Elephant and Castle. The faux cockney décor sits uncomfortably with the grinning automaton waitress who brings us our eggs. In the real Elephant and Castle things would be quite different. We would get beaten up.
We wander about and I buy some trainers. Chris buys earmuffs.
In the evening we go for Thai food. It is very good. Tell me if I’m boring you.
Suitably rejuvenated we wake up bright and early for our first gig day. It’s just so cold. After a stroll we locate our bus and introduce ourselves to Calvin the driver. Bus is good, interesting lighting options and satellite TV to keep us from killing each other. The gig is in a cool part of town but don’t ask me what it’s called ‘cos I don’t know (the travelogue element of this journal is sadly deficient). Suffice to say it’s where all the thrift stores and independent boutiques are and we bankrupt ourselves on clothes and trainers. As ever, none of our equipment is working. Our crew are gathered around some box or other, scratching their heads. They really are beginning to hate us, they are always pleading with us to replace bits and pieces and we always forget. But, hey, what does it matter? If something doesn’t work we’ll do it a different way.
Gig is good.
Can it get any colder? The snow is thick on the ground now, and Detroit, like every other time we’ve visited, is deserted. We go en masse to get breakfast and much hilarity ensues. It’s got to be said Americans aren’t much cop at making tea. They think hot tea is a dubious sub-species of Lipton Ice. Like drinking microwaved 7 Up. In fact, to be pedantic, the needless use of the word ‘hot’ in conjunction with ‘tea’ suggests a vast missing of the point. I’m sure they won’t lose any sleep over this criticism. And then Chris tries to order Earl Grey… The show is fun. Afterwards Caroline organises fans into an orderly line and we parade up and down it signing shirts and having our photos taken. It is a strangely structured moment, like a politician's baby-kissing photo opportunity. We remember it was in this club that we first discovered our incompatibility with the Devil’s Drink, Jaegermeister. We drank too much and Liam fell out of a window on to the pavement below and damaged himself. Actually we all damaged ourselves that night in different ways and since then I can’t even look at the logo without feeling waves of nausea. We manage to avoid it tonight, opting instead for a cheap sparkling wine that erodes anything with which it comes into contact. We trudge out through the blizzards and get all snug on the bus. It already feels like we’ve been away for weeks.
A huge shopping mall, the inescapable, nauseating smell of cinnamon, oversized porky legs bursting out of lycra, we are in a labyrinth of shops, drenched in artificial light. A mechanised piano sits proudly at the centre of the mall eerily playing jazzed up Christmas carols, its moving keys the only clue that it is the source of the muzak. There is terraced seating around it like a scaled- down colloseum and people sit stuffing enormous sandwiches and buckets of coffee into their faces watching the piano, watching as an invisible chip presses and releases its keys in a sequence determined months, possibly years earlier on a computer far, far away.
Outside the streets are worryingly empty, there is nothing. No people, no dogs, no rubbish, no graffiti, no dirt. Might have seen a pigeon but it wasn’t doing much. There are, we've been told, 60,000 students here somewhere...
In spite of the promoter’s best efforts the gig is a bit of a let down. He’d been looking after us very nicely all day, and everyone in the place was at pains to state how busy it would be, how many tickets had been sold. Everyone we see, sound engineers and lampies, caretakers and bartenders, stop us and gush "Tonight’s gonna be wild, man, the phones haven’t stopped ringing, the whole town is talking about it." As the day progressed we started to see cracks appearing in their stories. Normally promoters don’t say much. People grinning this much can only make a person suspicious. And then we met a man with such dramatic trousers as to take the breath away.
Ahh, Canada. Never quite sure what to make of it but I think, on the whole, they are good people. One thing's for sure, they know how to do vegan food. Oh yeah. Now, slow down, I’m not getting ‘new age’ on you, that’s not going to happen. I am an unreconstructed omnivore but after a week of eating American food it feels good to eat something that looks like it came from the ground or a tree. Chris and I order healthy food and gorge on it, feeling the colour return to our cheeks, the vitality racing though our systems, repairing those mutating cells. It's just too damn cold outside to do anything and I spend the afternoon painting the 'Bloodsport face' on my bass drum head. It's reached the point where arts and crafts are required to alleviate the boredom.
Still freezing we set out to find clothes and misadventure. Joe is on a mission to buy a sailors’ jacket. We’ve been here before (figuratively as well as actually) and yet again his plans are unsuccessful. He’s noticeably disappointed. I buy loads of sew on patches. We have a quick look at the Museum of Modern Art which is alright if you like that sort of thing.
At the gig I take a dislike to an unnecessarily grumpy lighting engineer who seems reluctant to allow us to show our projections. After the show we all go to some party ‘only three blocks’ up the street. Half an hour later, with one eyelid frozen shut, I find myself in a strange club where the dj is trying some funny business with records from the eighties. Drinks flow and we meet a few people but we are so tired from seven nights getting drunk that we retire early.
What a strange place. Was it built yesterday? We can’t work it out. The architectural style is Post-Rapunzel, with turrets and twee little niches. A bit like Disneyworld. The deep snow only serves to heighten the fairy tale effect. Joe and I wonder about, kicking our heels wondering what to do with ourselves, a familiar kind of blankness. We enter a tourist shop and experience the most threatening bit of spoon-playing I’ve ever seen. A guy who looks like he spends too much time at one with nature is clacking two wooden spoons together in time to what we assume to be Quebecois folk music. Rrrrickety-pickety-rickety-pickety. He doesn’t take his eyes off us. I had a friend at college who used to play guitar at you in the same way. He’d come into your room, uninvited, and play some Simon and Garfunkel while staring disconcertingly into your eyes. I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it now.
At the soundcheck everything starts to break down. We have a small but growing pile of equipment that has stopped working and at each gig we add to it. The plan is that if the crew get a spare minute they will start fixing things but each day something new breaks and they never get a chance. By the end of the tour we imagine we will be doing just acoustic sets, chris on guitar, Joe on Harmonica and me with the bass drum on my back and cymbals strapped to my knees. This time it is my sampler that has gone down and we try everything we can think of to get it working again. We fail.
We wake up in Brooklyn. Outside the gig. It is a beautiful, crisp day. I’m excited to be here as a tourist. My guide book tells me that if Brooklyn were counted as a separate city it would be the fourth largest in the U.S. This is my fact of the day, I repeat it ad nauseum to everyone I meet. I fail to meet anyone who is impressed by it. Joe and I go for some Mexican food for breakfast. It’s great, we are happy. Joe reminds me of a row we had had the night before. I have no recollection of it but it sounded like fun. We then walk ourselves into the ground, the thawing snow seeping into our boots.
At the gig we have a special guest star, Fernando, a fan who is celebrating his birthday. Chris drags him on to the stage and he dances like a man possessed. Happy Birthday!
Jersey City (Day Off).
Somehow, through a managerial oversight Joe and I have been put in the Presidential Suite in the hotel. The suite is big enough to run around in. Joe and I run around. The sitting room is furnished with all mod cons including a telescope with which to enjoy the panoramic views of Manhattan just across the river. I fail at voyeurism, no exhibitionists undressing by their windows, no murderers furtively destroying evidence, just the city, silent from this distance, with its plumes of smoke and steam and the massive nothing where there used to be two big towers.
It’s a crisp winters day, a Sunday and I set out to explore Jersey City. Joe has gone across to Manhattan but I want to find out what makes this place tick. I find nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I walk for 45 minutes without seeing a living soul. I thought I saw an old lady, but she vaporised before I could focus my failing, booze addled eyes. I call home and talk to my family and get attacked by forty thousand angry pigeons who want to eat my hair. This is not turning out quite as expected. Then just as I start to regret not accompanying Joe I come across a place so bizarre looking that I have to go inside. All around me are stubby high rise buildings from the 80s and 90s, corporate hotels and lazily conceived office blocks that could have been built in any city in the world, and nestled in the middle of all this conspicuous growth is a wooden shack called the Harbour Casino. I stand, dithering on its doorstep for about four minutes trying to summon the courage to step inside. On the one hand I think the scratchy, handwritten advertisements for crabs and shellfish are a sure sign of its credentials, its staunch resistance to the pre-fabricated tower blocks that overshadow it. But on the other hand I cannot get past the threats of four simultaneous televised football games and the fact that it has a reinforced steel door. I step inside and take a seat at the bar, thankfully going unnoticed by the clientele. An ancient old woman, Annie, comes over and serves me a beer. She has the oldest face ever, her white hair yellowing, her eyebrows are painted on in black. I get some crab cakes and try to start a conversation but her hearing is even worse than mine. Next to me at the bar is Joey, fortyish, overweight. He works with cars and doesn’t stop talking. This place has been here for as long as he can remember, he used to play here as a kid. He used to get the ferry over to the World Trade Centre and play in the elevators when they were brand new, bating the security guards and playing hide and seek in the stairwells. It seems strange now to think of those massive towers as playgrounds for local kids. Talk unavoidably turns to 9/11 and he becomes agitated, the beer glass in his hand shaking as he vows vengeance on ‘their country’. I ask which country and he looks blank for a second then answers questioningly "Iraq?"
It turns out the Harbour Casino has only a couple of months left. It is to be demolished, the site redeveloped. Joey says he’ll have no need to visit this part of town any more.
No offence to its citizens but I don’t much like this town. On an earlier tour we were made to endure a couple of days off here. Trying to find the ‘happening’ part of the city we were directed to Georgetown, a humourless culture-vacuum populated by the worst kind of smug, preppy, Gap wearing, good-for-nothings I’ve ever had the misfortune of drinking near. All those dreadful, dreadful haircuts and cable knit sweaters complacently sipping Californian wines while less than a mile away there are ghettos so degrading and suffering such blatant inequality as to make D.C. the murder capital of the United States (as it was then).
There is always a silver lining of course. The more conservative and unimaginative a place is, the more vociferous and passionate its alternative culture becomes. So it is that we enjoy vodka shots till the early hours with our marvellous hosts from the 9.30 Club.
A weird bit of routing sees us heading North again. We are in Hoboken New Jersey, birthplace of Frank Sinatra. We find an amazing record shop run by a withered old man who has all the stuff we’ve never been able to find. I buy a video of Miles Davis playing in 1974, Joe finds a copy of the Rolling Stones film, Cocksucker Blues. The proprietor was a rock’n’ roll photographer who had toured with Roxy Music, he told us stories.
Maxwells is a great gig to play. There is no dressing room so we are forced to take the stage by wondering through the crowd. The temptation is to stay mingling with them and have a drink or two but they have paid money so we have no option. We have to play them some songs. It turns out to be fun.
This sounds terrible but I have no recollection of anything happening here. We watched some movies on the bus. We did the gig. We had drinks afterwards with a few people. Other than that I just can’t remember. Oh, wait a minute…we did some laundry in the hotel…that was good. It meant that our bus would no longer smell like a pet shop.
We are approaching the end and Calvin takes us on a long ride from Atlanta to the Southern tip of Florida. It’s Calvin’s home state and he has perked up somewhat. When we leave the bus we are surprised to feel the heat. The problem is it’s not sunny, it’s overcast and humid. We go for a swim in the hotel pool and before long it starts raining heavily. I float on my back staring at the vanishing point of the rain as it hits my face. I feel that feeling when you know you are going to remember a moment for as long as you live.
It’s a strange gig. The kids are got up in a strange mix of Nosferatu and Miami Vice. The stage is so high up all we can see is a collection of disembodied asymmetrical haircuts bobboing in time. These strangely dressed people seem oddly pissed off. Which proves contagious.
Here we are, the last day of the tour, we’ve made it. We were expecting sunshine, we had imagined ourselves on a beach hanging out, playing volleyball, but it’s overcast and an icy wind whistles through the deserted streets. We wander about. It’s a Saturday but everything is shut. I’ve got dollars to spend. C’mon America, I wanna spend some money… I’ll buy anything…
Our bus has no satellite reception so we can’t watch movies. This is going nowhere. We retire to our hotel and gaze at the TV. From across the way we can hear some performance going on. I go and have a look. On a covered stage like a mini Hollywood Bowl children dressed in tin foil are performing Christmas carols and readings with a gospel choir. Rivalling this is the noise from the hotel bar, which appears to be hosting a corporate event. The corridors are filled with the sounds of drunken office workers whooping, high-fiving and trying to get off with each other. We feel thoroughly miserable. It’s gig time so we wander up the hill with our spirits at low ebb, wandering why the ends of tours are always anti-climactic.
As we approach the gig we see a long line of people snaking around the block. It takes a while for it to dawn on us that they are queuing to see us, it seems somehow unlikely. We take to the stage to a sea of people cheering and shouting. We are genuinely surprised. No matter how long one does this job there are still gigs that are totally unexpected, that leave you grinning uncontrollably like a fool. This was one of those.
Afterwards we make a lot of new friends and drink. Then it’s straight on to the bus where we all dance and hug and wave bottles of champagne around, falling out when we make it to the hotel and continuing in the foyer. Caroline is as drunk as we’ve ever seen her and the crew are mooning us from the elevators. It could have been worse. It could have been the other way around. We stay up until the booze runs out and then we collapse.
'Huddled Masses Part 1' - Date Unknown
U.S.Customs Officials. We're trying to get in to America. It's always the same. You fly for six hours, get a little drunk and bleary, restless and bored, queue for endless hours at U.S. Immigration Control and then, when you think you are safe, you think the ordeal is at an end they descend on you like podgy vultures, eyeing you up and down in their sleek black uniforms. The alpha male comes over first. We are stuck in no man's land, our tour manager occupied at the customs desk with all our cases of equipment. Sitting targets.
" Hey, are you guys a band?"
We murmur sleepily as he circles us, observing our movements for clues. The others, the rest of the pack, have looked up and are surveying us with interest. He glances back at them.
"You guys a band?" He repeats. "What's the band called?"
"They're a band," he's shouting over to his colleagues, who are slowly approaching, "say they're called Snicker Peaks"
"SNEAKER PIMPS. Sneakers, like shoes, y'know, sneakers." We all, as one, point at our feet. " And pimps, like, ummm, pimps."
"THEY SAY THEY'RE PIMPS. You coming over here to do your pimpin' huh? Say, you coming here to do your pimpin'? heh heh heh"
We smile. These guys are scary. They have the power to strip and humiliate us. They could probe us with rubber gloved hands. They could hold us here for hours sorting through every last case of equipment, checking serial numbers, weighing things, opening delicate electrical boxes with their meaty fists.
"What is it? Heavy metal?"
I attempt a drunken response. "No, it's sort of Electronic, umm"
"Hey, you're Simon Le Bon. Heh heh. Pimps huh? So, you're the singer, right?"
"No, I'm the drummer"
"You should be the singer, you look like Simon Le Bon. I had those guys come through here, yeah, those guys know me. We get 'em all through here."
His colleagues are with us now, but standing slightly removed from us. Their manner has changed. Where seconds before they had looked threatening they now look nervy and reticent, as if queuing up to ask questions. We start to realise the U.S. Customs and Agriculture officers are not going to strip search us, they're actually excited by us. Questions start flying from all directions. "What's the band called?"
"I haven't heard of you. Are you famous? Have I heard of you?"
"Well, I guess not."
"Do you like Starship?"
"Not especially,no, not really."
"Hall and Oates?"
"Mmmm, not really."
"What's the music like? Do you have CDs?"
"Yeah, in the shops, but not with us."
"I'm going to phone Rosie. She'll know you. If you're worth knowing Rosie will know you."
The leader is punching numbers into his mobile. The menace has left him. He's become life and soul of the airport party. His expression is pure New York. A wide, dumb, emphatic smile that says 'Hey, You guys are alright. I like you guys.' That welcoming smile that will always contain molecules of threat right down there in the grain if you look close enough. While waiting for Rosie to answer her phone he turns to Joe.
"So big fella, you like Jethro Tull? You look like the bass player from Jethro Tull. You know that band? Jethro Tull? You look like the bass player."
Joe growls silently to himself. Joe doesn't like looking like anyone.
"Yeah, Rosie. You got any CDs by Sneaker Pimps? A slight pause. "You do? What's it called? Bloodsport. Okay, I'll be right up. You got two?" He terminates his call abruptly and turns to us, businesslike. "I'm going up to Rosie's store. I'm gonna buy two of your CDs. You are gonna sign 'em for me. Okay guys?" This is said in the tone normally used for "You have the right to remain silent, although anything you do say may be used in evidence against you" then he's off, jumping onto a baggage conveyer belt, up into the roof of the airport. We wait and wait and wait but he doesn't return. Without their leader the others scatter and disperse.
There is nothing more frustrating than the short trip between an airport and your destination. The top three worst journeys are:
1. The drive from Dover to London, invariably taken drunk and at some ungodly hour. It takes you through the very darkest parts of South East London and always makes you wonder why you are coming home at all.
2. The two-hour traffic jam that is the M4 heading into London from Heathrow. Usually drunk, usually at about 9 am. Body clock says it's bed time and yet the people are just going to work.
3. The drive from JFK to Manhattan. Yup, always drunk I'm afraid (complimentary drinks on plane). Again, a body clock confusion which makes you snappy and impatient. "Take me to Manhattan, dammit, take me to a bar."
We are met by an excitable puppy who turns out to be our new tour manager, Geoff. I think he actually skateboarded to the airport, high-fiving everyone en route. Our tour mangers always have nice, big soft eyes, I think this must be one of the basic criteria our manager, Caroline (who is also here, done up like a Christmas cracker) requires. There's the usual confusion as we are herded about like a kindergarten on photo day until we are stuffed into a yellow cab. As we pull away there is a loud thump on the back of the cab and the driver brakes jerkily. He's back, it's the U.S. Customs guy clutching two copies of Bloodsport.
"Guys," he seems genuinely hurt, "Guys, where are you going? You didn't wait for me. You said you'd wait. Can you sign these for me?"
We are in the Tribeca Grand Hotel. Which is very nice, except they don't have our rooms ready yet, so we sit in the bar catching up on things with Gaz, our roadie who we haven't seen since the Placebo tour hundreds of years ago. It's about 11pm in our heads but it's actually 6pm NY time. We are off to a party tonight and we are beginning to fade a little. We had had our first drink at Heathrow at about noon and hadn't really stopped since. Time for a disco-nap before heading out.
After a snooze that has made me feel decidedly strange we head out to a party hosted by Bruce, an old friend of the band. The cab pulls up at our destination and we realise to a mixture of horror and gruesome fascination that the massive vacuum we have arrived at is Ground Zero. Bruce lives in an apartment overlooking it. We went inside hypnotised by a hole in the ground. Bruce is the epitome of cool Manhattan living. His life is perhaps everything you wish yours might one day be. He oozes an effortless charisma, his apartment is furnished just so. You look around wondering where he puts all his stuff, or more accurately if I were to live here where would I put my stuff, my piles of books and boxes of detritus that are all I have to show for my time. He serves us champagne when we arrive, and then makes us perfect vodka martinis, never losing his thread in whatever anecdote he might be telling as he mixes the gin and vodka with scientific precision. If you came to my place you could sit on a pile of CDs while I fumble with an Ikea tumbler of gin and tonic and maybe, if you were really lucky I might have found the time to put some olives in a bowl, though crisps are more likely. Our sound engineer "Whispering Dave Cooper" is all Armani-ed up, the most suave engineer we've ever had the pleasure of working with. He suggests going for a cigarette and having a look at Ground Zero. Chris and I need the air so we accompany him. Two minutes later and we're there in a crowd of people staring sombrely at a void. It's such a difficult thing to fathom, especially at the tail end of a very long and drunken day, this hole in the ground and what it stands for. There was no way of connecting this huge redundant space with the footage we have all seen repeated and repeated and stamped on our memories, the explosions, the clouds of smoke and dust, the horror, the panic, the people, the twisted girders in the aftermath. All reduced to nothing, a hole in the ground, as if the earth sucked it all in, like the film had run backwards to nothing. There are people here crying and there are people selling souvenir picture books and trinkets and there are people having their photos taken in front of it and then there¹s people like us just speechless with it all, looking up at the nothingness trying to picture where the towers would have topped out. In the centre of the space a crucifix has been erected and we feel uneasy about this unbalanced symbolism. It just doesn't seem right but, drunk as we are, we lack the vocabulary to say why. You would have thought...oh, you know... We head back to Bruce's apartment for another drink. We've made it this far. From London to here. The world really isn't that big. Time for bed.
The next day is hot as hell and there is a dense mist obscuring the sun, making a perfect orange disc. We are off to rehearse as it's been weeks since we last played our set and we are using hired equipment which will take a bit of getting used to. I'm afraid the least interesting thing we do is play music. I'm not going to bore you (who are you anyway? Who reads this? You should be out meeting people, turn the damn computer off, come on already.) with the details. The grubby minutiae of the rehearsal room. More importantly we went for a great lunch. Big American food.
The first gig is a private party on a rusty old boat, the Frying Pan, moored on the Hudson. It spent a few years on the ocean floor before being raised and turned into a party venue/death trap. The interior was rusted out, the erosion exposing razor sharp edges on every surface. Wherever you sat or walked there was a danger of slicing yourself up or snagging your clothes or falling twenty feet into a hole, never to be found. What's more it swayed dramatically with the tide, creaking and groaning and sending equipment toppling. Also creaking and groaning was Joe who had had an unfortunate encounter with some dodgy chicken the night before and was barely capable of standing without throwing up. We had been warned in advance about the logistical difficulties of this gig and they were by no means underestimated. The PA had to be brought in specifically on this, the hottest day of a heatwave, and the crew where sweating like whores in church. The ship's bilge pumps kicked in intermittently with a loud growl that came through the (pretty lousy) PA, there was no monitor desk, not enough room for us to set up, what¹s more the boat appeared to be full of useless middle aged stoners who just kept shouting "DUDE!!" as if they were at a frat party. When we arrived our crew looked at us with undiluted hatred. They wore faces that cried "Why are you doing this to us?"
As if to compound their annoyance we are whisked off from sound check to have a swanky dinner with the Musicmatch folks who are sponsoring this tour. I think now is as good a time as any to thank Dennis and Pam Mudd, Jonathan Gear, and Meredith Merkin for enabling us to make this trip. Hopefully this won't sound too much like an Oscar acceptance speech but we really couldn't have done the tour without them. Now I feel like bloody Paltrow.
So the gig was fine. Not brilliant of course but okay. Joe managed to avoid throwing up on the audience so it was a victory of sorts. Afterwards Chris and I sat on the roof of the boat tossing Geoff dog biscuits and looking across the river to Jersey. It was a balmy night and we could relax now. There was a party going on below decks but where we were it was peaceful. Oh no, spoke too soon, Caroline has spotted us. No, oh no, she's bringing them all up here. They're all nutters. They're out of their minds. What are they on? Don't make me do any. Maybe a little...
'Huddled Masses Part 2' - Date Unknown
The next day we're in Cambridge, Ma. Geoff had driven us up here and the heatwave had finally become a storm. Waiting outside the gig is Fernando who we hadn't met before but loyally followed us to every gig on the tour and deserves a shout for his efforts. Inside, the gig was actually no better technically than the previous night. The crew were running around rewiring the PA, trying to get it to make sense. At one point it looked like we would have to pull the show but eventually we managed to get a short sound check by pushing the doors back half an hour. Only when we went to our hotel did we realise there had been a queue around the block getting drenched in the rain. Apologies to all. The drive to the hotel was perhaps Geoff's finest hour. The trip should have taken fifteen minutes but we found ourselves on the freeway, then back in Boston, then on the freeway again, then in Cambridge, freeway again, confusion and frustration rising in the car, Geoff trying to keep a professional sheen on things, making smalltalk about bands native to Boston, all the while the torrential rain and the tropical heat, and us thinking "Are we ever gonna get a freakin' shower here?! We're on stage in half an hour..." On the way back to the gig, the route is no clearer. At one junction Geoff fails to notice a red light and puts us in the path of a monstrously huge truck, which looms up at us from the left like it was designed specifically to kill us, to mash us into the road. We all see it and are breathlessly trying to put the right words into a sentence ("RED! TRUCK! DEATH!") but Geoff, regardless of those massive puppy eyes, is blind to it. The gig is good, very good, the people dance and shout. We do what is required of us and they reciprocate by doing what is required of them. We eat pizza and give thanks.
We are driving to Philadelphia and Geoff's navigation is as erratic as ever. We have loaded up on food in preparation for a seven-hour drive. Apparently Americans don't think twice about covering such distances, it's a walk in the park to them, but to the English this is an epic voyage, for which provisions are crucial. Joe spends ages trying to find a decent radio station to help us pass the time or even, God forbid, educate us with what's new and exciting in American music. Well, that turned out to be a thankless task. All we could find was 'Classic Rock.' Station after station of classic rock: REO Speedwagon, The Eagles, Heart. God help us.
Geoff does two things on this journey that earn sidelong looks from all of us. Firstly he decides to take his T-shirt off while driving in the fast lane of a six lane freeway, allowing the car to veer dangerously to the right as he tries to disentangle his head. Secondly, he pisses in a bottle while at the wheel. He'd tried to jump out of the car while it was in stationary traffic, obviously under the misapprehension that he could piss and be back in the driver's seat before the traffic started moving again but no. Now he's here with a plastic bottle. We are not normally a squeamish bunch but we were a little uneasy when, in the rear view mirror, his eyes glazed over and his shoulders slumped in relief while the world flashed by at five hundred miles per hour. Joe, who was riding shotgun, noted with some distaste the "fine mist on the steering wheel."
The show is a little better set up than the previous two but has a stage so high up you need to be physically thrown up on to the stage by Gaz and Dan (our monitor engineer). When we take the stage for our encore they throw me a little too enthusiastically and I crack my head on the speaker stack that is suspended above me. For a moment I think I'm going to faint. (It's something Joe and I talk about actually, just how humiliating it would be to incur some injury on stage that necessitated the use of a stretcher or paramedics.) I thought for the briefest moment that I was done for, that I would topple, dazed, into the audience. But as it was I remained conscious and played whatever song it was with my head humming and eyesight blurry. Good show, Goodnight Philadelphia.
We leave Philadelphia in the morning and head back to NYC where we are expected for a photo shoot. We have skipped breakfast to get there in time but still manage to get there late. I'm never particularly happy with photo shoots. It's the whole styling thing that does my head in. Some guy turns up with a few bits and pieces he's picked up from Diesel and suggests you wear them. He doesn't know the first thing about us and we never particularly like what he's got to offer. I always find myself trying to like his stuff out of some misplaced politeness, so I'm there putting on jackets in front of a mirror going "Mmmm, I suppose I could wear this..." And he's going "Oh my God, that's great on you." So I end up in fancy dress, which seems okay for a while and then, a few weeks later, the photos are published and I go white with shame. The guys today are quite sweet. They are fun to get along with and they let us wear our own clothes for a few shots. Caroline turns up at about 5pm and we finally eat something, nine hours after we got up.
We play a gig at a club called Shine, which is practically next door to our hotel. The gig is great and Chris invites the audience to an after show party at our hotel bar.
Next morning is rough. I went to bed at about 7.30, a little worse for wear having spent the night sitting up with Chris and 'Whispering Dave Cooper' drinking and talking endless nonsense. I am woken by Joe who barks "You're supposed to be downstairs now, we've got a plane to catch." I fall out of bed, all co-ordination lost and throw what I can see into my suitcase. I'm on auto-pilot and am quietly chuffed with myself when I get to the lobby and I'm told I am half an hour early. What I fail to realise as I dozily wander the streets looking for food is that I have left behind a pair of shoes, a jacket, a shirt, countless socks, assorted underwear and the band laptop which had been my responsibility last night. The day is otherwise smooth. I survive the flight to San Francisco and soon enough we are sitting around the pool of the Phoenix Hotel, an old haunt from many years ago. A place with too many memories attached to it. It is renowned as a 'Rock n' Roll' hotel. Every band who ever tours the U.S. will stay there at some point, will get drunk there, will have ill-advised encounters there, will throw an unwilling tour manager or roadie into its pool.
Where New York had been unbearably hot, San Francisco was chilly and we sat like true British people with our jackets on, shivering by the pool clutching plastic cups of Californian 'Champagne'. Time for the only argument of the tour, but it's not worth going in to, except to say that I was right and everyone else was wrong. (Which is, strangely, always the case). Joe and I get unapologetically pissed.
Next day we go down to Fisherman's Wharf and get involved with some shellfish. We feel like proper tourists, with Joe itching to take the trip over to Alcatraz but the queues preventing us. Instead we go to the aquarium to look at the sharks and rays, and shoals of anchovies, the sea bass, skates, catfish and dogfish swimming over and around us as we are transported on a moving belt through a glass tunnel. We move on to the section entitled "Touch the Bay." Here we can touch fish. I push my way through the crowds of children and touch a ray and a tiger shark. Joe's not so sure, it's a bit interactive for him. We play at Bimbo's, a gig we played a long time ago in our previous incarnation. It hasn't changed a bit, still the model of cabaret chintz. The show is fine, if a little quiet (there is a limiter on the front sound desk preventing us from playing too loud). Afterwards we return to the hotel where they have installed a nightclub. More drunkenness and shame but who wants to hear about that...all that matters is that we escaped with our reputations untarnished. We are getting better at avoiding trouble these days. When we started doing this we would run headlong into trouble like it was a bouncy castle, leaping into it like kids at a party. We have learnt to be self censoring, self regulating, almost entirely convincing human beings.
Another flight. San Diego. The gig is the best of the tour, the people here being nuts. It's as if we have been waiting to play in San Diego since we finished a long eighteen months of touring with Kelli back in 1997/8. The whole experience drove us to the very edge and culminated in Chris trying to swim home to Middlesborough across the Pacific. Anyone with a basic grasp of geography will understand the flaw in his plan but there he was, in his little suit, giving himself to the waves. Liam ran after him and fished him out and then they wrote a song about the whole thing called 'Low Five'. Tonight is the first time we get to perform it in its hometown. Everyone sings along and it feels like one of those moments.
Afterwards, drenched in sweat and booze we meet our fans out in some sordid back alley for a photo session, the resulting shots looking like publicity material for Alcoholics Anonymous. But it's genuinely heartening to meet all these people from so far away, who've bought our records as imports, made their own t-shirts and even know our names. Then, all too soon, we find ourselves in L.A.
This place has so many terrible memories for us from years past. It was always the place that saw us at our most debauched or unhappy or psychotic. Maybe it's the simple fact that most tours we do end in L.A. that we get so trashed or we argue so much there. One of our abiding memories of past tours is approaching L.A. by plane, Chris and I shuddering as the pilot calmly tells us "we are about to DESCEND..."
We are determined not to make the same mistakes all over again so we settle into the hotel and relax by the pool, playing backgammon and talking about cookery. There's no danger of debauchery if we busy ourselves with such respectable pursuits. Whispering Dave Cooper is an obsessive chef so, today being his birthday, we present him with the culinary bible, Escoffier. As we laze about in the sun the afternoon is punctuated by Cooper murmuring "Ooh, you blanche the tarragon..." and smiling knowingly to himself.
The gig is fine. It takes place at the Roxy, and we are quietly impressed by the fact that it appears to be like a normal gig for a change and the building isn't falling down, the PA isn't buzzing like a geiger counter and the rider is edible. What's more, we're feeling like human beings again, having visited earlier a (slightly belligerent) dry cleaner. We take to the stage clean and fragrant and play songs. Afterwards we experiment further with drunkenness at an aftershow party. Nothing much to report there. Old friends, new friends, the idea that feeling drunk is a novelty. We successfully avoid some of the more suspect chemicals and people and are each presented with a bouquet of flowers, the first time this has happened at a show. And then, before we know it we are off, flying out, leaving the new world and Geoff, the pup, behind.
This is to be one of those awful journeys that make your eyes bleed. We are flying ten hours to Heathrow, then taking a two hour bus to Dover, then an hour long ferry crossing, then a six hour drive to Wiessen, Germany. We are last on to the plane and are all seated separately, the films are identical to the ones we already watched on the way out, and the food is grim. Hooray. At Heathrow we are met by the suave, sophisticated Giles, our new tour manager. He instantly brings a sense of decorum to proceedings. While he doesn't appear to have the regulation puppy-dog eyes this is more than made up for by his smooth, effortless, old-school Englishness.
We are in a state of auto-pilot. Without really knowing it we play a gig in Wiessen, (a jazz festival!) and then we find ourselves in checking in to a hotel in Trencin, Slovakia. It is 2 am and we're really beginning to wonder where the hell we are. Jet lag is still with us along with day after day of compounded hangovers, each one built on the last. We are turned away from the bar.
The next day is very humid and we are feeling decidedly strange as we embark on a session of press. Our bodies are rebelling and we are drenched in sweat, feeling as if we are about to collapse. As we are driven through the festival we see the crowds of mud people, walking smudges from whom smiles suddenly appear. Our hosts tell us just how much these people have been looking forward to this festival, how important it is to them, how grateful they are that all the bands came. We stare out at the people partying and it looks like war.
The interviewers eye us with a degree of suspicion, our hair all mangled and dripping with sweat. Why did we decide to come to Slovakia? Is it just for the money? It feels like an accusation. It's a difficult one to answer. We don't really decide to go anywhere. We just go wherever we can. As we answer they can hear us clunking and grating and failing to get into gear. It feels like we've finally made all the answers we can. There's nothing left to say.
Later, the gig works. But speaking doesn't. We have exhausted our supplies of energy and we're on a twenty-four hour drive back home, staring into space. As I drift in and out of sleep on my bunk there hovers above me a vast map with a red laser dot moving slowly along its route back to London. As I focus in on it I realise the dot is perfectly still and it's the map that's moving, small towns and villages we'll never visit silently passing by. The place names are all the same size, villages are the same as capital cities. Geography falls apart and New York suddenly appears next to Berlin, Lausanne is near San Francisco. The map is meaningless. We're just here in the glow of the red dot, the sound of the road putting us to sleep. This is what we do, we travel around and play songs. Travelling this much depersonalises every town we see. Whether it's Los Angeles, Glasgow or Paris the streets and the buildings are indistinguishable. Joe and I tend to try out the metro or subway in every city we visit, to take in a bit of the atmosphere, get an idea of the civic umm...vibe. You know what? It's the same EVERYWHERE. The shops are the same, maybe not the same names but the same stuff for sale, same clothes, same records, same, same, same. Forget travel, it will teach you nothing and it will make you tired and grumpy.
'The Germ Of Panic' - Date Unknown
HAMBURG. I wake from my sleep and drowsily poke my head out from behind the curtain. It is very high up and I take my time assessing the task of clambering down ten feet from my bunk. Yet again I am the exception in the band in that I enjoy sleeping on a moving bus and find the bunks that others refer to as coffins rather cosy. They have something of the cradle about them. Every night, after playing our songs we draw our curtains and are rocked gently to sleep by a middle aged driver from the north of England. He holds our lives in his hands. We wouldn't know if he had had that extra drink before setting off, or if he is bent on suicide, but somehow, once the curtain is drawn I feel perfectly safe. It is an extension of the mistaken belief of the child who, when afraid of monsters will bury his head under the covers for protection.
I stare down into the aisle where Chris is just stirring. We had been drinking the night before. What else is there to do on a fifteen hour journey? We had started at the pub near our studio at 5pm, drank through to Dover where we boarded a ferry (the worst mode of transport, we all agree), then drank through France, Belgium and Holland. The whole time Chris was mute, scribbling occasional comments on scraps of paper as his voice had collapsed into a husky nothingness during rehearsals. (He has been placed on the same antibiotics as are being prescribed in America for anthrax cases and is quietly pleased with how zeitgeisty even his medicine is). He kept a resolute silence throughout the whole journey but had the air of someone who was judging our every action. When someone is unable to speak it changes the way you perceive them quite profoundly. He¹s been like this for a couple of days now and he appears aloof and miserable until you read his scribblings and they are all pithy one liners and jokes. No time to waste, I might as well get up. Swinging my legs out from my bunk I lazily say,
"Hey , I slept really well"
His reply is short and furious but marks the return of his voice. "WELL I DIDN'T GET ANY SLEEP COS YOU WERE SNORING LIKE A CUNT ALL NIGHT."
This trip is unlike any other that we have undertaken as Liam is absent, preparing for the imminent birth of his first child, and we are working with a whole new crew. There is an underlying sense of everyone on the bus trying to get a measure of one another: sound engineers, drivers, roadies, band, management etc. Taking Liam¹s place is an old friend and collaborator Chris Tate, a.k.a. HUNCH. We've known him since college days and are excited to have him along. To avoid confusion we have taken to calling him "Tatey" or sometimes "Taters" or sometimes "Potaters". He is expecting some rock¹n¹roll thrills from this trip but stepping out of the bus he is hit by the stark reality of a freezing cold car park in Hamburg. The air is white with fog and the town appears deserted. Looking down from on high is an enormous stone bull, half collapsed on to its front legs, its head scarred by a gash of red paint left by a vandal. Such a bizarre thing to see on such a scale. We have been using bull imagery in the music and the visuals for a year or so now and the presence of this one seems almost inevitable, as if it was just meant to be somehow. (Our manager, Caroline has been trying to indoctrinate us with all things psychic and astrological of late and she is leaping about the car park in spasms of excitement at this supposed omen).
There is no time to waste for we are behind schedule already. We are to rush to a nearby hotel for a day of promo, starting with a photo session. Look at us here, shivering in this icy cold car park, hungover, our faces still creased and dimpled from sleeping. We have just minutes in which to become pop stars. We shave and drink coffee simultaneously before being introduced to our photographer who turns out to be almost criminally strange. It¹s like we¹ve been spiked with acid. The three available pimps in a hotel in Germany, minutes after waking up, wrapped in a densely patterned duvet cover, with a madman making growling, slurping noises into his camera. Things don't bode well. This duvet idea of his isn¹t really working, we look not only ridiculous but uncomfortable too. He senses our displeasure and slurps all the more worryingly, panting and coughing as he manhandles his tripod into place, trying to find his shot. I'm not sure that he got it, so I guess our faces are plastered uncomfortably across a German magazine somewhere.
The rest of the day is taken up with interviews. Chris is resting his newly regained voice so it's Joe and I answering the questions. Interviews can become repetitive very quickly and over these four days in Germany we found ourselves finishing each others sentences or adopting each others answers as our own. There were few surprises.
Then we played a gig. And it was good.
COLOGNE. We wake up in Cologne. I am now quite sensitive about the possibility that I may be snoring so I sleep fitfully and inefficiently. Straight to press. Couple of interviews and another photo shoot. Too much caffeine again. Rabbiting on about any kind of nonsense that springs to mind. Making excuses, thinking up meanings to things we hadn't fully considered. It's strange but you know, we don't always know the answers to most of the questions we are asked. Why did you call your album "Bloodsport"?
Whim is the real answer but journalists don't really want to hear that.
"We just thought it sounded okay as it was the only thing we could all agree on."
That's not a good enough answer. Try again.
"Don't know. Stop it with all these questions."
Lunch break. Good food in an Italian restaurant, a few glasses of wine, feeling better. Oooh, let's have a snooze, mmm. No! More press, go on, talk gibberish for another four hours. Then let's do some shopping, I have nothing to wear on stage tonight, some kind of shirt would be a useful thing. I lost one of my favourite old shirts at the gig last night and I need a replacement. Our guide, Steiney, takes us to the shops. En route we notice all the posters advertising our gig. This looks good. In Britain our erstwhile record company had been useless at poster campaigns so it's exciting to see our faces stuck on bus shelters and derelict buildings. Time for Steiney's test. It's his job to look after Chris, Tatey and myself while we shop, to show us the best places but also get us to the soundcheck within forty five minutes. He doesn't stand a chance. We have become kids on a school trip trying to escape. All these shops, all these clothes? Forty five minutes? I don't think so.
We head off in three separate directions leaving Steiney floundering, his voice lost in the mass of people. "Guys, just forty minutes, okay?"
I make a purchase within minutes. Any hesitation and I would have been dragged into the retail guilt vortex, dithering and ending up empty handed. Corner strolls in and sees me making my purchase.
"Have you found something already"
I show him the shirt.
"Nice. What shall I get?"
I can see the germ of panic in his eyes. Shopper¹s panic.
"Okay, twenty minutes guys."
It's Steiney, he's found us. Corner is off like a shot, he's seen a vintage store. I follow. Steiney glances heavenwards checking his watch. This place is huge and Corner is in the midst of it all, scanning the rails like a pro, stopping for the occasional item, a micro second of thought before discarding it. He's getting more tense as the seconds tick away.
"Five minutes guys."
Steiney has found Tatey and is practically holding his hand to prevent his escape. He too has made a purchase. Corner is frothing with anxiety. He dives into an accessories bucket, throwing a splash of gloves and scarves.
"Okay guys, time to move."
Corner grabs semi randomly and leaves with a bag of belts and leather gloves. Not what he wanted but the urge to shop has been satisfied.
At the gig we do one of the worst TV appearances ever. We are asked to tell anecdotes direct into camera. I cannot look directly into a video camera, I have a supernatural fear. I can't remember what I came out with, suffice to say it was neither amusing nor insightful. And doubtless accompanied by the silent scream of panic in my eyes. Jeurgen, our record company boss sits and listens as we try to sputter out interesting stories. His presence makes us uneasy.
After the show we drink in the venue. The staff of Gebaude 9 are very friendly and acommodating, and we meet a lot of people who had seen us last time we were in Germany when we were supporting Placebo. Alcohol flows and we end up back at our hotel drinking whiskey till 6 am.
Three hours later, almost hallucinating through lack of sleep, Joe and I conduct another interview where the poor guy cannot stop us talking. We are drinking coffee like maniacs and spewing nonsense into his microphone. Some of it is useful.
The day is taken up driving from Cologne to Berlin. We stock up on booze, get our duvets off our bunks and settle in the lounge to watch some videos. We start with "Logan's Run" which is easily one of the best films ever made. Except it goes a bit rubbish towards the end when Peter Ustinov appears and the young folk start feeling his craggy face in awe and wonderment. It¹s like me signing autographs, the fans reaching out in disbelief at my tired, careworn face.
Then we watch "Caligula" starring Malcolm McDowell, which was fantastic. Especially the field of heads/monstrous lawnmower scene.
We arrive in Berlin at about 1 am and have a few nightcaps before going to bed. I share a double bed with Taters and, despite all my best efforts, snore all night.
The next day is the same again. Press all day, the same questions. We are beginning to feel unwell. We sit drinking our coffees while a succession of journalists is brought to us. Our only opportunity for some sightseeing is when Chris and I are driven out to Potsdam to do some radio interviews. Jeurgen becomes a tour guide for half an hour as Berlin shoots by the window. It's a shame to be so busy when you¹re in such a great city, but such is our lot. The bars can wait till next time.
At the gig we have friends from home visiting and they get to see the slightly unenthusiastic Berlin crowd who, like London, Paris or New York crowds, show you little sign that they are enjoying themselves. They stare curiously for the duration and we leave the stage a little deflated, then they go nuts and we come back on feeling a little better. Our reception in Hamburg and Cologne had been more rapturous than this, but it is still a good gig. Then after a few drinks (unwittingly drinking the non-alcoholic beer from the fridge) we are forced to commence our 18 hour drive back to London. It¹s been a successful trip, we've made good friends here, Jeurgen and Steiney being the perfect hosts, and already they are hatching plans for us to return.