Liam Howe's Diary
Written During The Course Of The Band's Career...
''Liam's Tour Diary Part 1'' - Dated Individually
Thursday 15 March, 2001
We’re travelling through Belgium on the way to Dresden on a sleeper bus with our name written in big white letters along the windows. Last night we played Macclesfield, a depressing warm up gig. Before the show we trawled second hand shops and browsed the army surplus stores, stocking up on girls’ shoes and camouflage. It was Gaz’s birthday so cider was drunk in a theme pub around the corner from the venue. The gig was shite, our gear spazzed up and post gig Dave and I had a trial barny in preparation for 5 weeks of inescapable proximity. More importantly Joe and I stuck up pictures of Darren Day (Dave’s doppelganger) on the notice board at the back of the bus.
Today is a travel day and luckily Dave has found the travel sweets left by Coldplay. They taste of nothing at all, much like the dry Dutch sandwiches. Moustachioed Euro truckers leave truck-sized smells in motorway service stations. We have adopted a glazed look already. Somehow even with so much time on your hands you seem to achieve very little through the day. I have brought 6 books and hope to read at least one of them.
Friday 16 March, 2001
Dresden is bleak. A big sports hall, loads of local crew with porno perms, and a gaggle of Euro-goths moping around the front gates. Went shopping but quickly realised that army navy stores here are meeting places for right wing extremists. I have never been able to explain the link between military goods and ‘smoking’ accessories typically stocked by this kind of store. Counter-culture my arse beard. It makes it easier to spot a twat I suppose - dressed head to toe in combat gear sucking ‘dangerously’ on a bong. Hate the whole world of cannabis. If only it were more toxic. "Have you got any skins mate?" No I freaking haven’t.
The gig is a ‘seat of the pants’ gig. More technical spasms. It’s good to see the Placebo lot. It’s Billy’s birthday (Placebo’s secret member) so after the show Brian plays with his travelling discotech as we drink as much Pilsner as our booze ravaged bellies can hold. Haven’t had a chance to buy any records. We aren’t allowed access to the venue before 3pm, so mornings are spent in service stations watching trucks and ‘skinning up’.
Saturday 17 March, 2001
Offenbach. Arrive at the venue and walk for several miles in search of civilisation. Fail. The highlight of the day is the evening meal. Duck breast with plum and cinnamon sauce. The catering is quite awesome. Have a glass of Tuscan wine with the meal and proceed to seek out as much wine as possible during the remainder of the night. The show is sound and my MS10 behaves. After the show another micro disco ensues in the Placebo room. Have another row with the band over absolutely nothing at all and skulk off to my coffin wishing I were with my beautiful wife at home (being apart makes me very sad even though it has only been a couple of days).
Sunday 18 March, 2001
Arrive in Dusseldorf hungover and miserable. Go for a very long walk through a sculpture park on the bank of the Rhine. It rains all day. We invited Kraftwerk to the concert through our American lawyer who has represented them for many years. Ralf and Florian don’t turn up or if they did I overlooked them for a couple of balding dads accompanying their adolescent offspring’s first rock gig. I thought at least they could have sent their robots. Maybe an all night vigil on the doorstep of Kling Klang studios was required (although I believe one is more likely to bump into them on a bicycle rally).
Sell 52 cd’s and 28 T-shirts. Germany is buckling under the shear mass of our merchandise. Give a fragile performance, or at least it felt like it for me. A day off the sauce every two or three days means sober gigs and it can feel a little cardboard when you play at 8 o’clock in a massive sports hall to a stern audience awaiting a different band. Everyone else seems to enjoy it.
Sit on the bus, eating tomorrow’s sandwich already. Now eating toast and marmite kindly supplied by Dave who has got the ‘munchies’ (as I believe you call it after smoking a great big dirty tulip from Amsterdam) (I take advice from the smokers’ dictionary).
Tonight we have a 7 hour drive to Paris and I’m hoping for a good rest (usually a nightcap is required to induce bus slumber). Another obstacle to sleep is the mountain of complimentary trainers piled high on my bunk. We had a very welcome visit from Mr Dunlop today who gave us some very funky swag indeed. Green Flash are back: those tennis shoes championed by Jed, Howard Jones’ mime buddy. I had a pair when I was a kid and I can happily report that they have improved the comfort factor. Good night. It’s curtains for me.
Monday 19th March, 2001
Had the most dreadful sleep. Was convinced that the bus driver was falling asleep at the wheel instead of me in my bunk. I believed every swerve to be our last, the only comfort being the potential boost in sales after such a tragic end. What would we amount to? A bunch of flowers on the roadside near the Belgian border and barely three albums to mark the ambition of some 30 years. Mortality can, in the right circumstances, be an inspiration, an affirmation of life, a yes sayer as Nietzsche has it. At the wrong moment, miles from purpose, it trembles like a street sign back to your birthplace, the eternal return to the void we all came from. I find out that Joe has gone to visit Serge Gainsbourg’s grave today (we arrived in Paris this morning). I believe the Parisians have a very healthy obsession with death.
Being without rest is tortuous, it is negation of life. To sleep is to live (the Cartesian would say I sleep therefore I am). When I am happy I feel an overwhelming desire to sleep, this is the strongest of responses (narcolepsy). Some people see slumber as a void; indeed death is described in terms of an endless sleep. On the contrary, a suspension of the immediate consciousness, especially with a fellow human, is a most beautiful thing, not a waste but a creation, a bond. Insomnia is what I imagine death to be like, something without punctuation, without contrast, without end.
Tuesday 20th March, 2001
Last night we slept in a stationary bus. The upside of which is avoiding the dreams of motorway carnage, the downside is that you can hear every sound that anyone makes, whether conscious or not. So there becomes a sleeping symphony of squeaks, sighs, and sleep talks. Everyone performs in this operetta both with utter-awareness (going to the toilet or unzipping a bag become cacophonous events) or obliviously (laughing in your dreams and other things too). The only preparation for this soundtrack of some 12 hours would be those privileged or unprivileged enough to have slept communally (at boarding school for the wealthy or in the very real dormitories of misfortune that life offers those out of luck). I haven’t experienced either. It would seem that the middle classes miss out, exclusively, on the shared sleeping experience, unless they end up in a band.
Today I awake to more rain bouncing off the tin roof of the bus, and of course the occasional shuffle or sigh from my sleeping companions. Go to a local brasserie and eat cheap yet exciting food with a glass of very agreeable table wine. Read my book in the café watching the umbrellas dance along the boulevards. Feel at home reading a novel on my own in a public place, something that is often uncomfortable in Britain. Paris still has a genuine feeling of freedom for the arts. Not like in London where art is only met with wretched suspicion. Not only Paris but most major European cities welcome people with a catholic attitude to the artisan.
The concert is held at the Zenith in the north east of Paris. What would seem to be an enormous silver tent pumped full of air like a bouncy castle designed by Rogers and Piano. This will be a venue we play twice. I don’t think we have ever played consecutive nights at the same venue (maybe the Southampton Joiners Arms?). I have no opinion on the gig itself. Lots of people and more tomorrow. Playing support feels a bit like being a ‘fluffer’ in a porn movie, someone who keeps the actors, well, ‘up’ I suppose. Now on the bus back to the car park where we will sleep, or try to. Stopping for a midnight sandwich fails and catering has not supplied any food stuffs for the remainder of the evening. So it’ll be tomorrow before the fabulous catering machine brings us more gourmet treats.
Wednesday 21st March 2001
Had a good sleep, get up before midday and go for a walk to Porte Clichy with Chris. Do the second hand clothes shops but the smell of old suits is overpowering and curtails the Parisian thrift experience. Lunch in a fantastic seafood restaurant, crustacea piled up in baskets on the pavement, old fellas sinking Pernod. Have moules mariniere, Chris curried Creole shrimps? So good to walk around Paris with my old friend talking about old stuff and growing up in the North East of England. I realise that we have made music together for 15 years, half of my life so far. Even though we spend such a lot of time together, real intimate moments are rare, and it is heart warming when they happen.
Preparing for the second Zenith show. Feels a lot spunkier on stage tonight. The monitors are right on. The front of house is louder than last night. Last night you could have heard a pin drop, I’m sure. So we are set for a real humdinger. Backstage a pair of decks and a PA is assembled for the party afterwards. Wondering if I can find the energy to disco dance with Daft Punk. I’m hoping they’re as bad at dancing as I am, which would be why they spend all their time in the studio behind home-made cyber-masks rather than showing off on the dance floor. We’ll see.
Thursday 22nd March, 2001
Hotel Ibis between Paris and Bilbao. A day off miles from nowhere. Check in and sleep through the afternoon. Walk around outside the hotel, nothing but an electrical store and a Belgian theme restaurant offering every accompaniment to the humble mussel a true Belgian gastronome could beg for. Don’t do the mussels plumping instead for the in-house restaurant experience at the hotel. Eat, go to bed, sleep.
Friday 23rd March, 2001
Get up, on the bus by 9am. On to Bilbao where the Guggenheim Museum awaits. Spain is my favourite European country for no particular reason. Maybe I like the way the grandiose and the rustic exist together in what would seem to be a truly unpretentious culture. France for me is too self aware for its own good, as are Britain, Germany and Italy. Spain doesn’t believe itself to be a super power but for me embodies most of what Europe is about. On the other hand I might have been unduly influenced by Hemmingway as a child, or Salvador Dali as impressionable teenager. We have three Spanish dates with Lisbon in between. Tonight is Bilbao with Placebo and tomorrow is our very own gig in Madrid. Instead of 6000 it could be 60 but it’s exciting to headline, to play the lead role in the middle of a month of ‘fluffing’.
Go to the Guggenheim and wander around the exclusively minimalist exhibition. It is also exclusively exhibiting the work of the middle aged American white male, still dominating the post-war art world. Donald Judd, Frank Stella, Bruce Nauman, Brice Marden, Richard Serra. Good to have a temple to modernism but it all looks a bit dated, unlike the spectacular building housing these outmoded gestures to formalism.
After the gig I’m restless. I know my wife is flying into Madrid for the weekend so get the overnight train at 11.03pm in an attempt to join her as soon as possible. Not having checked the arrival time of the train I’m already sitting in an empty compartment when I realise that it is a 9 hour journey. In my haste I have nothing with me other than wallet and toothbrush. It takes some time to get to sleep but the time on my own proves invaluable. When on tour it is like being in a travelling circus and every movement is dictated by an itinerary. Even though my choice of transport isn’t particularly expedient it gives me distance from the regime of group locomotion and for the next couple of days I know I can enjoy a feeling of pretend freedom. I meet my wife at 7.15am at the station in Madrid and tonight, after our gig, I will stay overnight in a Hotel with her, and wake up beside her. Instead of boarding the bus to Lisbon I will fly on the next day.
Saturday 24th March, 2001
Wake and wonder the streets of Madrid. Have lunch and meet with friends who have come to meet us from various parts of Spain. Drink Rioja in dark little rooms in the late afternoon. Talk about things other than music, about people and happenings, not bands and instruments. Inevitably have to leave the real world and get back to the big top to sound check for the forthcoming show at the Revolver Club. As predicted it is indeed 60 instead of 6000. Yet 60 of the most appreciative people Spain could gather judging by their applause. After the show I say ‘adios’ to the boys and got out on the town. Being entertained by residents of the city makes for easy fun time. No decisions as to where to go, what to eat, how much tip, just follow the leader and enjoy the tour. We go to several bars and clubs. The biggest difference between nightlife in Madrid and London is that people not only appear to be having a good time, they actually are. There is a real mix, some are pretty trendy and some are not. This doesn’t stop the sexy now-people having fun with the more anachronistic clubbers. In London if you sport the wrong hair cut you are instantly excommunicated and sent to the salon for the compulsory ‘experiment-in-progress’ hair do.
''Liam's Tour Diary Part 2'' - Dated Individually
Sunday 25th March 2001
Get the plane to Lisbon. Only £1.50 from the airport to the centre of town on the local bus. Meet with the band and Dave and I go for a walk around the old part of town. Not suprisingly there is a distinctive Moroccan influence to the city. Very different from everywhere else we will be visiting. People selling cocaine and hash on the street, beggars, amputees, and yet very expensive hotels and restaurants. I can see why Lisbon is such a hit with travel journalists: enough poverty to keep it ‘real’ but plenty of upmarket hotel lobby toilet cubicles to accommodate their narcotic needs.
The street that the gig (The Coliseum) is on is the scariest street in Lisbon according to the locals. Take loads of photos of the crowds queuing. Boys in skirts silhouetted against crabs hanging from string in restaurant windows.
We play a set strewn with technical obstacles yet to the most ecstatic of responses. It is always the strugglers, the stragglers and the scribblin’s that the punters get off on most. I think we enjoy it.
Monday 26th March, 2001
Travel day to Barcelona. My sleep on the bus is still plagued with anxiety. Last night it was the chattering crockery above my bunk that interrupted my sleep. It was not loud enough or regular enough for me to jump out of my coffin and remedy it. Instead it became the sporadic soloist in the symphony of sounds that was Sunday night.
Today I’m writing this very journal so there is little to report.
Tuesday 27th March, 2001
Arrive in Barcelona mid morning. The venue is out of town as usual. Rather than spend the day in the peripheries of this glamorous city we catch two cabs and the band, en mass, go on a sight seeing adventure to Guel Park, Antonio Gaudi’s enchanted gardens. The park is high on a hill and the whole of Barcelona lies at its feet. You can pick out the unfinished towers of the Familia Sagrada, Gaudi’s most famous legacy. It is dead hot. Unfortunately the nonchalant inhabitants of this fuggy city seem more interested in being aboard Spain’s cultural flagship rather than getting excited about a couple of Britpop imports just sailed into town. Everything is late in Spain. And in Barcelona it is later still. I’m sure come the end of the gig most of the city haven’t even decided where to dine that evening. Lisbon and Barcelona couldn’t have been more different.
Wednesday 28th March, 2001
Wake up by the ocean. Have a wander on the beach, roll up our trousers and have a token toe dip as we watch Andy, our intrepid tour manager, swim out to sea. Felt too Brits-abroad to join him. We drive up the coast to Marseilles. Another sports hall, another European city on the skids. Waste a whole afternoon in a cyber café trying to collect email. I’m sure that every email ever sent is processed by a blind double amputee sat behind a ZX81, or a BBC micro. It should be so simple, but no, I could have written and received 20 letters for the time it takes to get a French PC to allow me access to AOL. Snail mail, huh. Short message service is the tour lifeline. Hardly 5 minutes will elapse without someone’s phone beeping or vibrating with the sheer excitement of receiving a text from the outside world. I’ve even ventured into the dangerous world of emoticons, those cheeky little faces that read side to side. Although Dave, our cultural informer (and Guardian addict) has told me off as they are already passé in serious net circles and more suited to bouncing around the handsets of the pupils of primary schools. Hell, it must be my only concession to youth.
Thursday 29th March 2001
9 hours in an Italian service station. Avoid Burger King and go for a wander in the local village. There is a large square where we sit at a café and drink the local Chianti and watch kids and parents run around in what would appear to be their lunch break. The feeling of community was really marked. Strangely, in these rural environments, there are always young and old people but seldom do you find those in between. All in the big cities doing drugs and making porn movies I guess. Build up a raging appetite for cheese, so return to the services where a delicatessen of some merit supplies as much parmegiano as I can carry and so complete my evening by munching this dipped in balsamic vinegar (to the disgust of the crew). Fall asleep with Andy chortling away to American Pie in the back lounge.
Friday 30th March, 2001
Uncle Terry’s gold tooth nearly gets nicked. Naples, Italy, a city I’d expected to be all sunglasses and scooters isn’t. Again the stadium we play is on the edge of town and this time actually is a Big Top. The poverty is very visible. We travel into the centre of town, the port area, in search of another sodding cyber café. Fail. Instead go suit shopping with Uncle Terry. A small child sniggers as we meander down a back street with our possessions on full show. "Hey Mister", in Italian of course, "careful with your jewellery, they’ll have yur gold teeth out ya gums with out ya knowin’ it". Accordingly, Uncle Terry doesn’t smile for the rest of the afternoon for fear of betraying the true value of his tombstones, even though the urge is great having just bought his first Italian suit. In the tailors Uncle Terry was close to taking his trade elsewhere when the elderly assistant makes easily translatable remarks about his attire. When Uncle Terry asked for his usual cut in trouser leg the assistant replied "No, No… Elephant legs not mode, not mode". Trying to convince the well dressed Italian that back in the smoke the kids indeed flap around in flares as if ‘Saturday Night’ had never had a ‘Fever’ proves too confusing, so Uncle Terry buys the suit with skinny legs. As we leave the assistant repeated "Italy no elephant legs.. no elephant legs", and makes the gesture of a trunk with his right arm and a tail with the left.
Saturday March 31st, 2001
Last night we had a discussion about the relationship between creativity and vanity. What do we do for a living? We grandly present our opinions in convenient 3-minute packages for all those interested in buying into our collective vision. These act as adverts, little showcases, tiny struts of promo pride akin to the mating dance of a peacock to a peahen. Art, Music, Film, any creation, is intrinsically vain and that vanity pulses at the very heart of the work. It is the life-blood and rhythm of its purpose. Modesty is impossible, as no gesture would be posed if the author were truly modest. There can be no such thing as a modest author. Artistic modesty is a creator’s construct, an oxymoron, a cover to make appalling arrogance morally acceptable.
There are degrees of arrogance I guess, and it would appear to be in inverse proportion to the quantity of work created. Minimalism Minimalism on the wall, must be the vainest genre of them all. How self important to believe in your genius to the extent of reducing it to a single nugget of wisdom. How pompous to believe you have discovered a truth, such an intrinsic axiom, that you can repeat it with endless self-assurance. Maybe the more maximal the more honest. The more brush strokes, the more notes, the less sure they become, and in that way the more fallible. Art that attempts to be conclusive is driven by fear of contradiction.. it brooks no debate. Art that embraces its frailty is surely stronger.
I would be happy to return to the sentiments of the Romantics and make art or music to satisfy my own humble interest. If the world happened to hear or see it, well, that would be fine.
Sunday April 1st, 2001
As I was saying to Proust, it’s by food that we remember things. Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, that’s how I remember Rome.
No one ventured into town. Not even those with the time and money to do so. The venue was made of laminated wood. Again. Two venues on the trot supported by wood alone.
Anyway, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. By way of subtle torture the caterers taunt us with menu memories of home. Huge folds of meat sodden with gravy, with puddings the size of countries. Peas, the little fellas, bright green and sweet. AND CAULIFLOWER CHEESE.
Read my book in the sunshine. Look longingly at a pool full of algae. Play a gig.
Monday April 2nd, 2001
Lido de Jesolo. A resort near Venice. A day off and a sunny one too. Weird place. Actually swim in the sea. One very long street with trees and cafes. When evening falls Joe and I go to a restaurant. We have a really special time. Despite the close proximity of tour-mates, one-to-ones are the only way to really communicate with any intimacy. The boys made a fire on the beach and bonded with local hip hop kids as they gazed into the flames. They returned to the bus heavy with sand and slept soundly under the influence of Italian wine. Uncle Terry snored all night.
Tuesday April 3rd, 2001
Pordenone. Halibut with herb butter. Big empty sports hall. Dave asks me to hold hands for 100 metres in the Town Square. I lasted only 30 as a feisty local in a white transit van nearly mows us down. But it felt good to be his pretend boyfriend for a minute. Fail with the Internet again. God only knows how rancid computers are.
Wednesday April 4th, 2001
Zagreb. Pretty town. Buy some old skool Adidas. Feel happy in the cafes and the squares. On my own all afternoon, which is healthy. Sit near the university and watch the students coming and going. Whilst wandering the streets bump into Dave and Joe. They have had a productive day shopping. Take a lot of photographs of three cheery blossom trees dropping their petals like snowflakes. The photos have chimneys chuffing smoke in the background. We play another concert. We drink in Sport’s Billy’s after the show. Too much cheap Croatian wine. Talk utter shite and fall into a blissful sleep despite the potholes and the bends. Tomorrow is Slovenia.
Thursday April 5th, 2001
Wake up feeling so grouchy. Misanthropic to an extreme. Am unreasonably terse with the local promoter. A no booze day. We are led to a restaurant where we were fed, very kindly, the worst food: a circle of flesh and a dome of rice. Feel so grumpy that I go back to the bus and sleep. The gig is pure torture. My poor little keyboard is ailing. A tiny bunker in Ljubljana, sober as an accountant and miserable as one too. Make sounds like the sounds made by R2D2 being lifted from the swamp. Come off stage feeling like my contribution to the evening was completely laughable. Get straight on the computer in the dressing room and collect my email for the first time in weeks. Amazing that a lonely PC in a dark back room in Slovenia should be my lucky portal into the electronic universe. But as usual my mailbox is all but empty. Nevertheless my lovely wife has written and cheers me from my depression, making me recall the sweet scent of life. Dave brings cake from his former in-laws onto the bus, so I fall asleep to the taste of marscapone and poppy seeds.
Friday April 6th, 2001
Wake in Vienna. Thoroughly angry and upset about my failing synthesiser. My keyboard is in desperate need of repair. We ring some friends in Vienna, Kruder and Dorfmeister, and Richard was very kind to introduce me to his personal repair expert, Herr Georg from Klangfarbe (‘hit colour’ in German). I feel comfortable at last, in the hands of Austrian proficiency. The Korg MS 10 was in pieces. Screws, buttons, synthesiser stuff everywhere. I watch the deconstruction of a loved one. I have a hunch about what is wrong so I help the surgeon dissect the components of my dearest synth. Neither of us is very hopeful and quietly fear the worst. But then, from a radio strapped to the rafters of the repair room come the sounds of ‘Low 5’, our first single from Splinter. The sweet tones of a synthesiser are falling from heaven, but this was not any synthesiser but the very synthesiser that is now in a hundred pieces on the slab. By way of the divine airwaves of FM 4 the synthesiser on the brink of extinction hears itself singing in a previous existence and slowly but surely regains the will to live. From the crackles and pops come the first coherent squeak, and beep by beep a melody of rejuvenation replies to its own self from the keys. The synthesiser throws aside its crutches and walks. And so the little Korg and its owner lived happily ever after.
Saturday April 7th, 2001
Wake up (having been forced into a pepper vodka session on Placebo’s bus) very early, excited at seeing my wife (who is flying in this morning). Waltz into the venue and get Ivo, the very friendly local promoter, to get me a cab to the hotel. Only five minutes towards town and Joe and Dave are walking aimlessly in the same direction. They join me in the cab and we sail over a hill to a beautiful yet rainy panoramic view of the most enchanted of European cities: Prague. We have coffee in Hotel Sax while I await my wife. We are staying in the old part of town Marla Strana, just over Charles Bridge. We wander the cobbled streets, drink wine and eat toasties in a tiny bar come gallery. Reluctantly return to the venue. There is a piano in our dressing room, which is also the kitchen. A piano is fun to play but painful to hear. So a steady stream of amateurs (including myself) hammer the poor instrument to the displeasure of everyone in earshot. We compose a Gothic opera ‘Nosferatu’ which seems to fit the surroundings very well. All in all we have a great gig, and a bit of a laugh afterwards. Better still Gaynor and I return to our hotel knowing that we have a whole day and two nights to ourselves. I am temporarily separated from the Caravan of Love that is the tour bus.
''Liam's Tour Diary Part 3'' - Dated Individually
Sunday April 8th, 2001
Have a luxurious sleep in. Outside the weather worsens and our sightseeing plans are curtailed somewhat. We buy an umbrella but fail to reach the top of Marla Strana where the old castle looks across the city. Meander from café to café, where local drink hot wine and tourists rustle maps. Prague is a truly magical place. I can understand why it has always held such an attraction for artists, filmmakers and intellectuals. You are more likely to hear people talking loudly in English about their next screenplay than native Czech’s talking excitedly about ice hockey and mushroom hunting (which are the only national interests according to the guidebook).
The weather doesn’t change and neither does our behaviour. Cafés turn into bars, and bars into restaurants. We find ourselves in a restaurant on the river under the arches of the gothic Charles Bridge. We approach it along a driveway lined with candles and poplars. Inside is a blazing log fire and a huge fish tank. We are led downstairs to a covered veranda where tables and chairs are arranged at what appears to be only just above water level. In the lobby are photographs of famous guests: Ben Kingsly, Bruce Springsteen, Juliette Binoch. Everything about the venue is memorable. It feels that there are contraband activities afoot. Famous guests puff on complimentary Cuban cigars, pretty young women are dined (and the rest) by singularly shifty businessmen, mountains of caviar are consumed, wines so fine to make a French man weep into his onion soup.
In fact the excitement of this city lies in its secrets. I have never been to Russia or Sicily but nevertheless it feels like a Mafia convention in Moscow. Stuff is going on, stuff nobody would ever make public, especially to two tourists. We leave a sizeable tip and exit without asking questions. Drop into a late night bar on the way to the Hotel. Drink Lagavulin and listen to a local DJ play a most varied set. At 2 a.m. he packs away his CD’s and the venue turns into a bikers’ smoking den. At which point we make our excuses and leave.
Monday April 9th, 2001
Wake up early to catch a plane at Prague airport. I should have guessed, seeing that it is a tiny domestic flight from one not very rich Eastern European country to another that it would not be via Boeing 747. In fact I walk across the tarmac to a tiny propeller powered aircraft with Polish writing on the fuselage. There are only 6 people on the flight, including the flight staff. As soon as we have taken off we enter dense white cloud and that is all I see until the wheels touch the runway in Warsaw. Begin to think I am suffering from snow blindness after an hour and a half of staring into a cumulonimbus. When the paparazzi (gathered en masse at arrivals) start flashing furiously, lurching and leering, I wonder how on earth we have become such a legend, such a high profile act, in sleepy Poland. Little do I know that the attractive fur clad business lady in the make shift first class section of the plane is in fact a famous local celebrity and she is just a step behind me through customs. The cameras are ready to pounce, not for the keyboard player of the Sneaker Pimps, the unsung hero of the synthesiser, but for a semi-glamorous Polish personality. I quickly get over the disappointment and return to my anonymity (something I proudly maintain even during a performance to 7000 people).
I have a thing about getting public transport in foreign countries. In addition taxis are too expensive when you’ve spent a weekend eating and drinking outside the complimentary world of tour catering. The bus service seems to be free, or at least I don’t pay for it. Turn up in the central station in Warsaw. Register a big Ikea, which reminds me of weekends doing up my house; a McDonalds, which reminds me of how crap the world is; and a fierce drizzle, which reminds me of weekends doing up my house and how crap the world is.
Walk to the gig. It takes a good hour, but I know that I’ll beat the band to the venue as they are on the bus and aren’t allowed into the venue before 3pm because that’s The Rule. It turns out that they broke down in a forest some distance from the city. They found shelter in a gothic brothel. It seemed like God was on their side after all.
Tuesday April 10th, 2001
Oh God. Placebo are in Berlin for their day off (one of my favourite cities) whilst we are in a service station in the former East Germany for 9 whole hours. The waitresses are incredibly rude. My German is moth eaten but I try. It’s the first time we’ve been bullied by the staff in a roadside diner. To make things worse it is an American style diner, furnished with Hollywood memorabilia: a superbly ugly effigy of Marylyn Monroe, a podgy Elvis, various baseball bats and caps (I think they spent their money on the Monroe). We do nothing what so ever before getting back on the bus to travel to Amsterdam, the capital of the Euro-Flake, a city fuelled by the gimmick of its ‘ever-so-contentious’ drugs tolerance. Weed, hash, double zero, slate, grass, skunk. I would like to roll every last smoker into one enormous human spliff and incinerate the goofs. Burn, burn you dopers!
It is usually very difficult to get the bus to stop, for whatever reason. Only if someone can physically prove that their bowels are about to erupt like Vesuvius, does Lloyd, our heroic driver, pull to the side of the road (the bus is a strictly no solids zone). But as soon as we cross the border from Belgium to Holland there is an entirely different agenda. A grubby little coffee shop with the all important leaf symbol proudly displayed in red, black and green in the window was spotted from a considerable distance and the normally unstoppable bus performs a dramatic U-turn on the dual carriageway. Gaz, the happiest I have ever seen him, charges towards the venue with terrifying intent and disappears, well, in a cloud of smoke. He returns with an ‘education pack’ of marijuana and proceeds to explain in extraordinary detail (and in a progressively slurred comedy Netherlands accent) the differences between the contents of the some 10 little packets.
Wednesday April 11th, 2001
Dave’s girlfriend and her girlfriend are arriving in Amsterdam today. So the incessant clatter of hair tongs wakes me as Dave attempts to banish the curls from his hair. This was also the last sound I heard before I fell asleep because those poor pretty ringlets were tortured likewise just before he retired to his bunk. If I hadn’t been so comatose (I’m sure that I passively smoked a whole cannabis ‘tree’) I would have heard him teaching those tendrils a lesson in the middle of the night too. So this morning, just like ‘Stars in your Eyes’, he walks down the steps of the bus, out of a cloud of ‘recreational’ smoke, to the cheer of an imaginary crowd as they realise that he is indeed Darren Day.. for the Day. Spruced like Bruce Forsythe he swaggers off to a Bulldog pub to meet his ladies. There are 20 different Bulldogs in Amsterdam. The chances of them meeting swiftly are slim. Entirely by chance, Joe bumps into the lost and confused girls and escorts them back to the bus, like a Eurotrash Lothario, one on each arm. There they wait solemnly for the hair and the suit to return in one mighty fug of a mood.
We bleach some more t-shirts, without the success of the first batch. I blame Amsterdam for the fact that the bleach was too weak and gave the garments a tie-dye appearance. Nevertheless it was the correct location to sell such fashion faux-pas. It is a lesson to everyone: there is a very fine line between the traveller aesthetic and that of new wave and punk. (Take Julian Cope for example: originally known for his rebellious new wave antics, he is now recognised for his new-age, quasi-academic research on ancient burial cites, and his wardrobe has hardly changed at all.)
Thursday April 12th, 2001
Back in France. Joe, Dave and I all get up about the same time whilst in transit and watch the countryside turn into suburbs and the suburbs into the city. We decide to go for the obligatory wander around town. On the way out of the stadium car park, on the public side of the automated gates, a small group of admirers takes photos as we try to explain, in very poor French, that we have only just woken up hence our horrific appearance. They are undeterred and I am sure that one day they will wonder what on earth those three dishevelled strangers are doing in their photo album. As we enter Lille we chant ‘mussels and chips, mussels and chips’ (Dave accompanying with ‘Moules et Frites’). So the first task is to find a restaurant to satisfy our hunger. We do, and have three sizeable helpings and three beers all for under 200F (£20). We go shopping. I buy a pile of old records from a French ‘cash converters’. We duck in and out of a few clothes shops (mainly second hand, not by my request) and return to the venue for sound check.
The rest of the day is a bit of a blur: I daydream about going home. The roof in Catering slopes dramatically down at one end so all the tall people have to sit at one end of the table and the tiny ones at the other. I find that quite pleasing. Sadly this is Catering’s last night. We are at the mercy of the local promoters from now on.
Friday April 13th, 2001
We park outside the venue, the Botanique in Brussels. It is a very beautiful building and was, or is indeed, a botanical garden. Joe has already marched off into the town and texts me about an exhibition he stumbles upon. The Belgium artist Marcel Broodthears has a retrospective at the National Gallery. I fail to locate him but nevertheless have a very healthy stomp around Brussels before returning to the tiny cylindrical venue (we are playing our own gig to an intimate crowd of Belgians). The show is really special even though it feels like we should be reading poetry instead of playing pop music. I always enjoy the art establishment gigs. Everyone listens very carefully and applauds like they would in a theatre. The only mishap is my low-slung army belt falling around my knees whilst we play a particularly heart felt rendition of ‘Flowers and Silence’. Both hands are busy so I have to squat a little (like a girl pissing in a park) to prevent this season’s essential fashion accessory dropping to my ankles. A couple in front of the keyboard stifle their giggles. At this point two American guests from Digibox, our sponsors (along with MusicMatch), are acrobatically swooping around with camcorders. I am sure the incident has been recorded to be given to Jeremy Beadle ("You’ve Been Framed" T.V. show). At the end of the song, my lesson learnt, I let it drop like an unwanted hula-hoop. Fashion huh. We meet some good people after the show and drink wine and talk about art and psychotherapy. It almost felt like we were back in London doing our ‘concept club’ ‘Home Taping’ at the ICA.
After the show a Virgin Records representative (who we knew from our previous European tours) takes us to a whiskey bar. We share several fine malts with the Americans and explain that not all whiskey is called ‘Scotch’. I blame JR in Dallas for that.
Saturday April 14th, 2001
Luxembourg. We are playing two nights at the same venue. It is most unusual to do this. It’s a bit like the film ‘Groundhog Day’ where the same day is repeated until it’s gotten right. So maybe if we played here forever we would eventually perform the perfect gig and be allowed home.
The venue is small in comparison to the others, hence the two nights. But this is Brian’s hometown so we had little choice. Luxembourg is odd. There is a marked absence of litter, of poverty, of opinion, of fun. Every car here is worth more than the average European house and when some fans befriended last night in Brussels turn up in their rusty Scoda it sticks out like a boil on the Queen’s face.
I wander over an enormous bridge that joins the new town to the old and was amazed at how easy it would be to fall off it. A gust of wind would send you over the knee-high barriers. There is a bridge where I used to live in London, which is not so wide, tall, or impressive in anyway; nevertheless it is covered in barbed wire and iron spikes to prevent people jumping off of it. The bridge is known as Suicide Bridge. If I wanted to end my life in this way I think I would save up the train fare (one way of course) and travel back to Luxembourg to topple off the magnificent bridge which connects the new town to the old. There is the added bonus of landing on beautiful green grass as there is a park in the valley beneath. Psychologically I would prefer to land on soil than a concrete dual carriageway, and I’m sure from that height it would make no practical difference to the end result. Further more if there had been a heavy rainfall the night before the earth may well swallow you up whole upon impact.
We stay in a hotel this evening. By this time some of us are so used to the bus that they sleep in their bunks rather than have a room with a TV, shower, fridge, and pleasant odours. Fine. Whatever.
Sunday April 15th, 2001
Get up early and walk back across the bridge, avoiding the edge. Meet Joe and Andy as they came out of the National History Museum. By all accounts quite a dull experience. Waste as much time as possible before sound check, which is still set up from the night before. Then all are taken to a Chinese restaurant. That’s about thirty or forty people including drivers, lighting guys, tour managers, band manager, riggers, sound technicians, monitor people and so on. It must look very peculiar from outside of the entourage. There is no reason why this group of disparate characters should be together. A small make-up caked pop star sits next to a huge trucker, a skinhead lighting guy next to an aristocratic manageress, a drummer next to a musician. Every combination is comical but at the same time this travelling family (let me have my Desmond Morris moment), yes this family of odd balls, demonstrate all the positive and magical inter-human faculties that make this life liveable. After five weeks I really can say that everyone (nearly everyone) has a respect for what everyone else does and more importantly for who everyone is as individuals doing their thing in a group of people otherwise unsuited.
After the show we have a bona fide after show party at a small club in town which, rather disturbingly, is done out as a London tube station, the kind that we stand at for hours every day. There is a drinks tab behind the bar and although I wasn’t in the mood, free pints of cider revive my flagging evening and by the end I am being dragged out. There is a real feeling of camaraderie and achievement. This is our chance to have a bit of a social with Placebo and their mob: in two days time, after our final gig together, we travel home immediately after the show.
Monday April 16th, 2001
Bourges. We arrive at midday and park at by the big top that we are to play in the follow evening. It’s a day off so we find a Harvester style pub at the foot of a great cathedral. We overlook a plaza where there is a herd of travellers with dogs juggling with fire. We casually discuss how we could kill them and get away with it. The day disappears.
Tuesday April 17th,2001
Last day. Buy lots of records from a second hand record shop. Sound check and everything is hunky dory. Play a sturdy and by now very well practised show. Everyone feels a bit flat, I think post-tour rehabilitation is looming over us. We talk about other times when we have returned from our collective travels and found it near impossible to communicate with even the closest of our friends. This time is different only in that I have a wonderful life to return to.
After Placebo’s last performance we go back to their dressing room for a brief but touching farewell, and like kids on the last day of their first summer holiday, hug and exchange mobile numbers and promise never to lose touch. And indeed we won’t.
Wednesday April 18th, 2001
Get on the Ferry, my least favourite form of travel. This one reminds me very much of a nightclub in Newcastle (the ‘Tuxedo Princess’), which was indeed a Tethered Ferry on the river Tyne. I was taken their with my brother by our dad who decided we had come of age (15 and 16 respectively) and wanted to show us what night life was all about. I can remember dancing to Grace Jones and Dead or Alive. Now every passenger vessel brings back those memories and my feet twitch involuntarily to the muzak that dribbles from the tannoy. We escape the smell of Diesel and vomit and get back on the bus for the last leg of the journey. Like most things in life there is no climax, no real ending to enjoy, instead we say goodbye and dissipate. I return home to do the biggest wash of both clothes and body that I have ever done.