SLEEPING WITH A BEAN: 7 DAYS WITH SOUVARIS ON TOUR IN EUROPE
For one week of April 2004, Souvaris were lucky enough to play a few shows in mainland Europe. After a ridiculous amount of time faffing about, and several glimpses at absolute failure to bring such wonderful events about, we somehow found ourselves actually headed out over there. These are some of the thoughts that I recorded on our travels.
Cast of regular characters
Jim, aka ‘Thing One’ – roadie, driver, merch stall impresario, fasting vegan
Stuart, aka ‘Thing Two’ – roadie, driver, merch stall lackey
Aaron – drums
Dan – guitar/bass/keyboards
Simmo – keyboards/accordion/bass
Ian – bass/guitar
Dave (your host) – guitar
* * *
Wednesday 7 April: Reims, France
Half an hour into our maiden voyage, the first sign of trouble looms on the horizon. After much searching about in the front of our beauteous van (ceremoniously dubbed and hereafter referred to as ‘Doris’), Simmo asks me what happened to his copy of Will Oldham’s Arise Therefore. I realise that I’ve left it in my bedroom, and thus we will have no opportunity to listen to any of ol’ Will in the coming week because I’ve forgotten to bring any other of his albums too. Simmo calls me a cunt.
A good few hours later, we are well immersed in Saint-Gobain; a welcome conclusion to the hellish miasma that was trying to find our way around Dover and then setting foot on a shitty ferry that we would spend an hour trying not to be seasick on. Calais was possibly even more repulsive than Dover, too. Now we’re surrounded by forests and rolling hills, and though the weather is somewhat unpredictable, everything looks lush and appealing. We’ve been up since half past six, so Doris already feels like (and looks as trashed as) home. The back row, piled up with drums, guitars, keyboards and sleeping bags, and leaving scant space for two, has already been dubbed ‘The Heart of Darkness’ – such are its womb-like qualities. By now, we’re only thirty miles from our first gig outside of the UK, and the panicking is beginning, if only because of our poorly-translated directions.
After much searching around, we find ourselves at a theatre in Reims University, and shortly after unloading we are greeted by the friendly faces of Simmo’s girlfriend Angela and her friend Gail, who have travelled over from a holiday in Paris to meet up with us. We are then treated to what will be the most welcome part of touring in continental Europe – being fed with complimentary hot and nutritious food by our kind hosts. Even our roadies and guests are warmly welcomed to sit and eat, and there is far too much to go around. After filling our empty bellies, we sit contentedly and try not to get nervous about making our debut performance on foreign soil without so much as a soundcheck.
After the 100-odd seats are quickly filled by gladly paying punters who seem to have appeared from nowhere, Scrape open up musical proceedings by indulging in forty minutes of free improvisational squeaks, noises and clatters made by a guitarist (who clearly has been studying Thurston Moore closely) and a drummer (who used to be in Sloy, which gets Dan all excited). Some of us try and sit down/collapse to rest our weary souls before we play, but one by one we slink out as Scrape become more maddening than entertaining. Then a guy from Reims local television approaches Simmo and asks if he can film one of our songs for broadcast in a news programme. Cue lots of amusing attempts to communicate as we try and warn him that the shortest song we’ll play will be ten minutes long.
Eventually, after finding the beer fridge in the ‘backstage’ area, we get to set up on an absurdly wide stage, and try and linecheck without disturbing a hundred people. We obviously have some difficulties trying to tell the soundman what we need, and we end up playing with levels abominably fucked, where Dan is inaudible and Simmo is twice as loud as anything else. No matter, we struggle through a three song set without any major disasters (except for a woeful Mnemonic, which is sworn off all setlists from this point), string breakages or distress, which is no small wonder given our physical state and nervousness. We are afforded a warm, if slightly confused reception, and then quickly get our shit offstage so we can go and hide.
Shortly after, headliners Rroselicoeur take to the stage and are ecstatically received, which only befuddles us when we hear their slightly tired, over-processed take on the most boring elements of so-called post-rock. One section of their songs causes me to blanche as it heinously rips off Explosions in the Sky, but the crowd lap it up like they’ve been deprived post-rock clichés for far too long. Poor dears. We diplomatically keep ourselves to ourselves, collapse on chairs, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, sell about three records in total (I guess we didn’t go down that well then…) and meet our hosts for the night – some lovely local boys called Bertrand (aka Bébo), Julien, and Marc. They immediately insist on us signing their 12″s. Ordinarily I’m generally inclined to laugh and shake my head whenever anyone has sugges ted taking part in such appalling rock star genericisms, but such is the [slightly drunken, but also incredibly] genuine enthusiasm of these guys, we feel obliged to fulfil their desires. Simmo signs his thanks as Henry Kissinger. I am David Ginola. Our friends fall about laughing.
After the gig ends, Marc kidnaps Simmo in his car and we give chase to his flat, which involves driving around a lot of backstreets and confusing alleys before we arrive at a block of flats. After parking up, there is some debate about what to do with our stuff. We couldn’t get insurance on our instruments, y’see, so we’re more than a little concerned at leaving something like six grand’s worth of equipment alone in a van on an open street, without any supervision. In an act that would become a staple act every night of the tour, I take our Travis Bean guitars up to Marc’s flat with us to sleep with, whilst Jim and Ian bravely volunteer to sleep in the van for safekeeping. Glad I am not forced to submit myself to such horrors – I later find myself shivering in a gossamer-thin sleeping bag on a cold tiled floor with a stinking headache. But before then, didn’t anyone tell us? Marc’s hosting an after-show party with a few friends! Listening to a terrible Ramones live album from the mid-eighties on repeat, we try and look enthusiastic and join in on the drinking and laughs. Everyone there is incredibly friendly and nice, which makes me feel all the more guilty for feeling completely wiped out and not being able to talk much. No matter, everyone else does a sterling job of ingratiating ourselves, and soon the catchphrase of the tour is uttered by Julien, who spends most of his time in our company on the receiving end of various ‘camp Guy Picciotto’ jibes: “FUCK YOU SOUVARIS!”
* * *
Thursday 8 April
The next day, it’s almost 6 in the evening before I feel remotely able to record some thoughts. On reflection, Wednesday night was fucking greatness smothered by fatigue. We travelled over 300 miles and stayed up for almost 24 hours, played outside of England for the first time, got (¡be he that lives to telephonic only!) recorded for local television, were catered for handsomely in terms of food and drink, and were party to a slightly crazed soiree before turning in for the night. I guess this is the rock band on the road lifestyle that people starting bands must dream of. I have to confess that I never really had those daydreams myself, especially when it came to the lengthy noise improvisations of the early days of Souvaris, but now they were coming true.
Dan, previously a long-time friend and supporter (not to mention the guy who recorded our first EP), had agreed to join us a mere few weeks before this point, and is especially delirious at us actually being a proper touring band and everything. We all spend an inordinate amount of time with ridiculous grins on our faces at the prospect of all this happening to such an unlikely band.
So of course, we go and blow all the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle by getting up four hours after we finally passed out, sporting cracking hangovers. My headache from last night seems to have somehow magnified in the scant hours I was unconscious, and I find myself unable to be anything other than mute or grumpy for the majority of the daylight hours. Luckily, we’ve no gig tonight, so we get to stagger around Reims as tourists and fail miserably with our hair of the dog strategies at lunch. Simmo suffers especially from ordering the cheapest beer on the (inordinately expensive) menu, and is on the receiving end of Kantebrau, which is quickly dubbed Cuntybrew, and remains distinctly unquaffed throughout our Croque Monsieur meals.
After lunch, a photo-op rears its head in the form of a carousel… at least it does for the others, as my head still feels like two tectonic plates being prised apart. Aaron also stands aside stoically, so we both get to laugh at the other three adopting suitably ridiculous poses. Then we venture unto Reims Cathedral, which is where all the French kings and queens were crowned before the Revolution. It’s a stunning sight on such a clear day, even if it is strangely shorn of its spires. Once we get in and see the amazing pipe organ (and hear the cavernous acoustics), cue facile comments about “Let’s do the gig right here!”
As the evening approached, Bertrand says something about ‘scoring’ some illegal champagne… a life of crime and indulgence beckons. After making our way to Bébo’s parents house, he grinned and pulled out three green bottles without any labels – apparently bought directly from local brewers, who reserve their best stock for such matters as giving and selling them to friends and family. And this stuff was amazing: a few small sups later we were all happy and giggly as hell, and playing with the family dog. After an hour spent in such giddy heights, and despite Parts & Labor‘s Probably Feeling Better Already being dubbed Official Souvaris European Tour Song for being so fucking good, our moods were subsequently dampened somewhat by a trip to the depressingly mall-esque local hypermarket to buy stocks of bread and cheese, and then getting lost trying to find the hostel we were staying in that night. But no matter; once we had got our stuff (including the ubiquitous guitars) into our rooms, we promptly broke out the food and drink to illicitly prepare an impromptu meal that was clearly in breach with the hostel’s stern signs declaring that eating in its rooms was strictly forbidden. Yet more illegal behaviour! Disgraceful.
After restocking, we set about making our way into the city centre to meet up with Marc and Bertrand in an overpriced ‘Irish’ pub that was full of wannabe football hooligans watching Marseilles despatch Inter on the television. We got seriously intimidated when we found our hosts to be chronically late, as we were confronted with the sight of a guy Nazi-saluting the screen. Thank fuck Marseilles won. Once Marc and Bertrand graced us with their presence, and we had admonished them enough for their bizarre choice of pub (that was justified by supposedly making us ‘feel at home’), we all quickly departed for sunnier heights of drinking establishment. Unfort unately, we soon found ourselves devoid of decent places, and ended up wandering between a Welsh pub and another Irish place… an authentic continental experience, to be sure. It wasn’t intentional, though – we genuinely thought the last place was a metal pub purely through dint of everyone sitting outside it having tatty leather jackets on, but when we sat down at the back, l’Europop confronted us on some dodgy sub-MTV on a giant screen. No wonder everyone was sat outside. The pussies. We sat it out, and finally bid a fond farewell to Marc and Bertrand when we finally returned to our bunks. Seeing as it was ridiculously late, I took the opportunity to use the communal showers whilst no one else was about, which was a beautiful experience – assuming that you didn’t remove your hand from the ‘on’ button, otherwise the flow of water would immediately staunch.
* * *
Friday 9 April: Athus, Belgium
After checking out of our rooms and making a quick visit to the local boulangerie for breakfast, we soon got on l’Autoroute and set about driving to the legendary province of Luxembourg to see some sights. A few short hours later, we found ourselves wandering around a fairly drab city, wondering if there was anything worth getting fussed about in Luxembourg. Cue three hours of snide comments about the place, tempered only by indefinite gratitude at the fact that we were no longer paying over £3 a pint for beer. Plus, there was a guy who regularly blew his nose like Coltrane blew a sax, so we managed to keep ourselves entertained.
Then it was back in the van to cross the border once more, passing through Luxembourg’s highlights on the way, in the form of some beautiful rolling hills and forests. We shortly found ourselves in the middle of Athus, an apparently one-street town in Belgium, at a venue that had been visited by our previous gigmates 90 Day Men the week before, and would find itself hosting friendly acquaintances The Unit Ama, This Ain’t Vegas, and Brown Owl but a week later. Small world, eh? By this point, we were all once again on the point of collapsing from lack of nourishment, so it was with infinite gratitude that we set about devouring a fantastic vegan meal provided by our genial host Cedric, who also sported an admirably deadpan approach to sarcasm that instantly ingratiated him unto our hearts. It was just as well too, in the face of interesting approaches to competence by the soundmen as we tried to set to soundcheck for a good hour, hampered only by the dismal failure of the PA to work at all. Thankfully, after a good deal of teeth-gnashing, things got sorted and we got away to discover the joys of buying Belgian beer in its domestic country for ridiculously cheap prices. Shortly thereafter, as the other discovered the even greater joys of a crate of complementary beer, Dan and myself barricaded ourselves behind the merch stall to read and watch the other bands performing that night: Half Asleep and Tom Sweetlove.
Yes, that’s Tom Sweetlove. Awesome name for a band, which we couldn’t seem to remember properly, and so which henceforth was referred to as ‘Billy Lovewhistle’, ‘Fred Poofpants’, ‘Johnny Sweetcheeks’ and ‘Tom Strangelove’. They were lovely boys though, which made things harder when we realised that here was another band who obviously liked Explosions In The Sky a little too much, despite their attempts to ‘escape’ post-rock, and I don’t know, sound more like a lo-fi Massive Attack, or something. Anyway, there was a fairly decent crowd of mildly boorish, boozy Belgians who had taken the trouble to turn up and watch these locals play, who then promptly left as soon as they finished playing, to our minor dismay. This, along with a certain nervousness created by the imbibing of some serious amounts of alcohol in the previous couple of hours, somehow wound up the players collectively to some strange new heights, and Souvaris promptly played our best set in literally years. During ¡be he that lives to telephonic only!, I swear I can hear someone screaming along with the melody, only to turn around and find out it’s Simmo going nuts as he plays the keyboards. We are all grinning like loons again.
A fair few of the locals returned once we started making noise too, so we got to rock out to a good sixty or so people that were scarily enthusiastic: Dan recorded a couple of songs to Dictaphone, and the noise of applause, hollering and whistling at the end of each is deafening.
Cue a ruckus at the end of our show, as people storm the merch stall and demand more autographs. We are dazed and happy, but slightly confused. Each of us gets trapped and we find ourselves desperately trying to converse in broken English, French and Franglais to some very nice people indeed. I get the cream of the crop: some vintage gear nut, who demands to know what amp I use, the answer to which he uses as an excuse to launching into intimately detailed descriptions of his own setup… I let him the hook though, when he describes Boris’ AbsoluteGo as his favourite album of all time. Simmo gets accosted by a girl from Islington who is on holiday in the area and decided to turn up to see a British band quite randomly, and Aaron gets the barmaid trying to persuade him to give her a drumstick as a memento. He has none of it, which is just as well, because we don’t have any spare sticks with us.
Quite a few celebratory drinks later, we eventually heave ourselves to Cedric’s parents’ house, and fail miserably to keep quiet in our tired stupor, especially when we’re clattering about with heavy hard cases for the Beans. By this point, Aaron has lost the ability to speak due to a fatal combination of wine and tequila, and the rest of us find ourselves approaching the same point rapidly… well, except for Simmo, who is doing a fine job of being a drunkard patronising our straightedge host. Vive le British boorishness! Thankfully, as mentioned before, Cedric has a wicked sense of humour. After retiring to sleeping bags on a bare wooden floor, we find ourselves freezing our arses off and therefore totally unable to sleep, whilst Simmo whispers sweet nothings about hypothermia in my ear. He soon pussies out and joins our lucky roadies in a double bed – we figured they deserved some reward for their heroic efforts to date. Unfortunately, all they got was Simmo.
* * *
Saturday 10 April: Fernelmont, Belgium
This was the day to end all days. It was Rhâââ Lovely Festival day: the biggest gig any of us could probably hope to play at any point in our humble lives. We started the day well, waking at some ungodly hour in order to get to the venue on time, and getting all confused by the shutters on the windows that prevented any light from entering the room. We then instantly started bickering over who got to go in the shower next. To say we were at all well-rested would be a goddamned lie, but such was Cedric’s hospitality that we couldn’t exactly complain, especially when he fed us all with breakfast too. Plus, his mum had a worrying collection of owls that was far too disturbing to comment upon in public. Soon enough, we set off for some tiny village in the middle of nowhere, Belgium. Shortly thereafter, as we circled the village of Fernelmont three times in search of our destination, we found ourselves marvelling at the idea of 20 bands and electronica artists and 600-odd people managing to find their way to the primary school that was hosting the festival.
Upon finally managing to find the damn thing and unloading, we were given proper artists’ wristbands and backstage access, along with complementary beer called ‘Silly Pils’ (best name ever), which lasted a good hour between all the musicians appearing. There wasn’t much to do now for a good six hours before we were due onstage, so a lot of waiting around nervously ensued, along with Billy Sweetcheeks‘ drummer telling me that they were opening new doors for post-rock. Things improved immeasurably when we started setting up at the merch stall, and accidentally met Jason Noble of The Shipping News, who was sat right next to us, and was an extremely agreeable man. Almost scarily so, in fact. Or maybe that was just his luminescent teeth. Things got even better when Explosions in the Sky finally turned up from the farmhouse they had been staying in just around the corner, and we got to catch up and shoot the breeze. Plus, I got to laugh heartily whilst the aforementioned Johnny Lovewhistle were onstage, and sat backstage Munaf mistook one of their songs for Greet Death playing on a radio.
After a few hours of alternately relaxing and pacing around nervously, we were finally granted access to the stage, and quickly went about setting up and intently ignoring the five hundred people in the hall in front of us. When I finally bothered to look up, I realised I had nothing to worry about because we were all blinded by stage lights anyway. So this is what being a ‘proper’ band is like. Maybe that’s why all the photos from this event look slight hyper-real too. Anyway, after some faffing about, we played a slightly mangled ¡be he! (during which the strap on Ian’s bass snapped off, leaving him sprawled on the floor for the rest of the set) and launched into our 20-odd minute opus A Summer Spent Observing Green Leaves, which seemed to be going well, when the festival organiser started gesticulating madly at me. With only a couple of minutes of this song left, he informed me that we had five minutes in which to play our final song, which was something like ten minutes long at best (sixteen, at last count). I involuntarily raised my eyebrow and tried not to look too panicky, so he shrugged, smiled agreeably, and said “okay, you’ve got seven minutes!” Gee, thanks! So we decide to drag out the ending, and play a forty minute set with only two songs, which actually sounds GREAT as we get noisier and noisier, only to stop on a dime – possibly the best finish we’ve ever mustered on A Summer… We get a nice healthy burst of applause, and finally get to see just how many people there are out there. I am glad this is only revealed after we have finished, because it’s just goddamned scary. As we clamber offstage, we are variously accosted and praised by each of the bands playing above us – Migala, Shipping News, Explosions, and Berg Sans Nipple. BSN are on next, and one of them expresses concern about them being able to follow our performance, which just causes us to blush and blanche. We all love the Nipple and think they’re an incredible live band, so we can’t get higher praise. Of course, after we get back, the only reviews that friends point us to on the ‘net slag us off incessantly for being boring and obvious, so I gu ess that’s our egos kept firmly in check.
After we get our stuff cleared away, we get to sit down and eat spaghetti Bolognese, catch a little of Berg Sans Nipple’s set, and then have our first ever interview in the flesh with a guy who clearly was trying to play devil’s advocate and was clearly surprised to find us agreeing with his slagging off of post-rock (all the more funny when you consider that Rhâââ Lovely is probably the ULTIMATE post-rock festival) and enthusing about noise, drone and minimalism. I don’t know if the interview will ever get broadcast or written up, but I’m torn between a fascination about how it turned out and a mortal fear of sounding like a right twat. Oh well. Ian and I then go and watch Explosions and Shipping News from the crowd, whilst the others finish off complementary drinks and do the collapse as exhaustion finally takes its toll on everyone. Explosions are great as always, and probably blow everyone else off the stage that day. Plus, they’re watched by the chef and a couple of very small children, who turn out to be offspring of the people they’re staying with.
Shipping News debut a lot of a material from an album that they’ve just recorded, and despite a number of technical problems, they sound fantastic. Not as good as their linecheck though, which saw Jason Noble and Jeff Mueller repeating various mantras into microphones, including reeling off breakfast menus and the immortal phrase “Marsupial. Marmoset. Mandrake.” Awesome stuff.
After t’News have finished, Ian and I join our gang and the Explosions boys in collapsing onto plastic school chairs, and spend the rest of the night exchanging stories, anecdotes and plans for the forthcoming year. It’s some of my most treasured time of the tour, as it’s the most amount of time we’ve been able to spend in each other’s company, and I won’t be able to catch up with them when they visit the UK in May. One day we’ll actually get around to finding the time and money to head over to the United States/wherever and actually tour properly with them, like we said we’d do about three years ago. Oh well.
After Explosions depart for another European tour, we stagger around/try and sleep in the van, as we wait for our host for the night to introduce himself. We also get to talk to Berg Sans Nipple some more, and some mutual love exchange takes place, with us promising to put them on in Coventry or Nottingham the next time they tour. We also talk more to the Shipping News, and Jeff freaks me out by greeting me by shouting “Hot Snakes!” My t-shirt that night is a passport to diplomacy. Todd Cook, their new bassist, also regales us with remarkable tales of recording with Brian MacMahan for The For Carnation album, and indulges in a bout of Travis Bean geekery with me (he was playing an Artist bought for $400 from a pawn shop a few years ago) – even admitting that he’d gone and checked the serial number on mine, and was pleased that his was older. This scares me almost as much as Jeff did but a few minutes earlier.
By 1am or so, Migala have just about finished their late set, and everyone is staggering around in a drunk/knackered manner. Simmo has gone slightly insane between drinking and having had virtually no sleep for the last couple of nights, and starts scrawling “I want to die” and “Fuck you Souvaris!” in French on blackboards. Dan and I get accosted by a Belgian guy who is quite clearly utterly wasted, who begins his gambit by being extremely complementary, but then quickly descends into an illegible rant (in slurred French) about the music industry, trapping us against a door for a good ten minutes before we manage to beat a hasty retreat. It is now 3am, and we are all completely fucked by sheer exhaustion, so it is with some relief that we finally manage to persuade our host Benjamin to stop helping clean up and take us to his house, where we can all stretch out on air beds, mattresses and sofas, and immediately pass out. We like Benjamin. We also like his house, which is distinctly opulent and refurbished by his hands. He also has a bathroom the size of our ground floor in Nottingham, and a shower that will come in fairly handy the next morning. I pull the shortest of some fairly lengthy straws and sleep in an armchair, with guitars within easy reach, despite this place being the middle of (a very wealthy) nowhere.
* * *
Sunday 11 April: Martigny, Switzerland
And so Easter begins somewhat inauspiciously, what with us having to be up at 7am to get a quick breakfast and begin a journey through four countries (Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland – and we go within a couple of miles of Germany too) that will take us something like 10 hours to complete. No Easter eggs or anything – in fact, we’ve all forgotten the significance of the day, and our moods are somewhat grim until Benjamin unexpectedly greets us with freshly baked croissants and pains au chocolat. These taste absolutely heavenly to our nutrition-starved bodies, and it is with some pleasure that Jim breaks his vegan fasting to indulge in some Easter pain au chocolat.
We bid fond farewells, and our brave drivers begin a back-breaking journey whilst we try and get some more rest squeezed into Doris. Once again, the Heart of Darkness is coveted by all who do not occupy her, because she is by far the easiest place to get to sleep. The rest of us console ourselves with books, sleep, and listening to album after album on the stereo.
Cut to several hours later: we get stopped by Swiss border police, obviously looking for drugs, significant quantities of alcohol and cigarettes, and some naïve young musicians they can charge thirty euros to for use of their motorways. We narrowly avoid having to unpack the entire van for their perusal by showing them just how crammed in all our shit is. After a hefty amount of nervous waiting around, we finally get the all clear to go, and quickly depart whilst darkly muttering a number of insults and expletives. We are all getting dog-tired and distinctly crabby.
Cut to several further hours later: after some tortuous roads and uneven driving by the enthusiastic but unskilled Mr Whitehead that tested everyone’s patience, the Alps finally majestically unfolded in front of our eyes, and our black moods are lifted by some breathtaking sights on an unbelievably clear day, accompanied by some Stars of the Lid and the dulcet tones of Mr William Melvin Hicks, whose classic Rant In E Minor album cracks everyone up. We find Martigny, a tiny town with a population of something like 14,000 with surprising ease, and even find the venue without much fuss. We are most disappointed that Les Caves Du Manoir are not in fact a bunch of caves, but a wine cellar beneath a small mansion that is now an excellent gig space. Greeted by our host and future tour guide Christophe, we unload, squirrel our stuff into the cellar, and wander around Martigny, basking in its mildly disturbing affluence. There’s no litter, no dirt, no homeless people – just lots of expensive fashion shops and ridiculously overpriced restaurants.
Simmo buys two small veggie spring rolls from the cheapest place we could find for the handsome equivalent of £3.50. The rest of us salivate, but decide to save our appetite for the spaghetti waiting for us back at Les Caves. Did I mention the food put on by everyone who let us play? Europe is the best place to tour, if only for this reason alone. Tonight, Dan, Aaron and I indulge in second helpings because the food is so good (and we’re fucking hungry, and unable to afford bars of incredibly sugary chocolate that Ian’s choco-addiction requires), and then we find the backstage area replete with a huge bowl of fruit, another of sweets, and then a load of cake! Switzerland is strange, but at this point we are not exactly complaining.
Actually we are complaining, but at this point in the evening/tour we are obviously a fair way beyond any kind of sanity, so it seems entirely natural and extremely big and funny to us when the genius that is Mr Layton decides that for the night he’s from Chicago – an opportunity to mangle an accent and talk so obnoxiously loudly that we cannot help but join in. Cue much light-hearted piss taking of friends made the night before, references from Ice Cube films, and winding up of the poor bewildered friendly soul who dares ask where we came from. All this threatened to blow up in Dan’s face when he was asked where he came from by a guy who lives in New Mexico… but somehow he pulled his impression off – the guy says to him, “I thought I recognised your accent. Do you know Steve Albini?” Nice.
What? Oh yeah, we played after a band called Natsat, who were perfectly nice chap s who made perfectly reasonable music that I struggle to remember much of. They had a guitar with four strings though, so I’ll let them off. We went on next, and pulled some outrageously sloppy mistakes, but we also definitely had our moments. Certainly not a bad way to end three consecutive nights of fun, and it was nice to stretch our set out to an hour (that’s, uh, four songs, played without any long jammy bits or blather) after yesterday’s shenanigans. We get a scarily enthusiastic response from the fifty or so people there (the biggest crowd of the night), and the guy from New Mexico’s seven year-old son stood right in front of the drumkit for the whole hour. Which was actually kind of freaky, but I guess he was digging it in his own way. We also got Swiss francs thrown at us when we claimed to be poor and starving, which I wish we’d actually picked up, because they’re probably worth a relative bomb.
The evening actually improved thereafter, what with more Chicago japery, a really enjoyable set from headliners Honey For Petzi (and Their Incredible Grinning Boychild Drummer) (which sees the band being heckled by a crowd insistent on shouting “SOUVARIS!” in every break between songs for a good half hour or so – we have no idea who’s doing it, and are generally baffled and embarrassed), an enjoyably short and sweet second interview ever with our friend Christophe for the local paper, an actual equal number of male and female attendees at a post-rock gig (a rare phenomenon, you can believe me) and a general basking in last-night-of-the-tour fever – a delirium that succeeded in grabbing us all. From hereon in, we’ve got just about 48 hours until our ferry leaves Calais, and we can do whatever we want in that period. Of course, once the night reaches its conclusion, the first thing for us poor travel/play-weary souls to do is to go to bed.
And what beds we have for the night: our ridiculously handsome payment for our music tonight is three rooms in the three-star hotel around the corner, complete with fresh white sheets, comfy mattresses, insanely powerful showers, and even televisions – in front of which we toast our final performance of the tour – and faithful roadies – with red wine, as a strangely/hilariously compelling Melvyn Bragg-scripted Jesus Christ Superstar blows our minds. We then enter an easy slumber, relishing the fact that we don’t have to be up until 11am, and then only to get out of the hotel and to be shown around some of the nicer local parts of Switzerland by Christophe, who is a very nice young man indeed. With Beans safely tucked under the bed, I quickly drift off into a very welcome deep sleep.
* * *
Monday 12 April
After such an opulent sleeping experience, we struggle a little to extract ourselves from our splendour, but then we catch the view from the windows of the Alps surrounding Martigny, and soon everyone is wide awake and drinking in the sights. We soon pile back into (what seems like a relatively shabby and smelly) Doris, and drive over to the local train station to meet up with Christophe and his friend Aline, pausing only to narrowly avoid a head-on crash with a car trying to turn into a junction we were pulling out of. Ian is at the wheel at this time, and a quick 6-1 vote decides that he’s banned from ever driving Doris again. Ian looks perplexed. We look relieved at not having to risk our lives in quite the same manner ever again.
We stop in at another inordinately expensive café, and inadvertently manage to avoid paying for our breakfast, before moving onto the most breathtaking sight of the tour: a huge waterfall on the side of a mountain, on an incredibly clear and warm day. We are lost in wonder and scamper around excitably like small children, catching glimpses of rainbows in the spray, and trying not to break an ankle or slip into the water on the wet rocks at its foot. Stu and Jim also persuade us to stage the only official Souvaris press shot that will ever be taken, atop a seven-foot-high rock in front of the waterfall. This is just ridiculous, and hilarious, but absolutely amazing. We are all high as kites on nature, and the tour has just turned into the best holiday ever.
Soon after managing to persuade ourselves to re-enter the murky depths of Doris, we alight at the foot of a mountain which features a church carved into one of its sheer sides, and it soon becomes clear that Christophe intends us to negotiate a somewhat steep and windy staircase in order to reach it. We look perturbed. Jim looks enthusiastic, the dastardly (smoking) health freak that he is. We attempt it. (Smoking) Dan almost passes out once we have ascended the summit. Nice view (coughcoughcough), he manages. I go to take a piss in the holy toilet, and smack my head like a good ‘un on my way out. We enjoy the mildly thin air, lizards flicking in and out of bolt-holes, and (to some) a good cigarette before we descend again, to venture unto a supermarket to get some items for dinner, where Simmo repeatedly admonishes me for spending a fiver on some salami. But being a damn veggie, he cannot taste said meat, and it is well worth the moolah. We also buy what is reputed to be horsemeat, but tastes much the same as any other meat. Harrumph.
No matter, we head over to Christophe’s parents’ house, where we are treated to a hearty meal, and Simmo gets to chop at a piece of wood with an axe whilst we all try and hide. After meeting aforementioned parents, who faintly remind us of Vincent Gallo’s folks in Buffalo 66 if the film was actually about how great they were, we all drop Aline off at the station, and drive over to Lake Geneva to idly skim stones and chuck bits of wood like the young hooligans we are. It’s another awesome sight, but by now we’re almost taking these Alps for granted. Plus, dark and mist is encroaching on our wonderful views, so it’s time to hit the pub and sample some ludicrously expensive/authentic Swiss beer with our final francs, in some gesture of solidarity with Switzerland’s bizarre and somehow disturbing opulence. After quaffing such richness, we bid adieu to Christophe, and begin a journey over to Dijon, where we supposedly have beds at a suitably dirt-cheap hostel waiting for us.
It would be my personal happiest hour of the tour that followed, where we pummelled ourselves with Sleep’s mighty Dopesmoker album at healthy volumes as we ascended to 1500 metres above sea level on our way back to France… hmm, increasing light-headedness leads to greater appreciation and enjoyment of the greatest stoner rock song/album ever made. Who would have thunk it?
A fairly nightmarish journey actually then ensued, as we do our first bit of extensive driving in the dark, and Simmo finally goes mad on the edge of Dijon and won’t stop playing his old Yamaha keyboard which is battery-driven. It finally reaches a point where we stop, throw open the sliding doors, prise the damn thing from his clutches, and confiscate its power source. We then return it to him, and he continues to play it unplugged. We then have a fairly nihilistic time at 1am faffing around in central Dijon looking for this damn hostel, which turns out to be in the town’s dodgiest area, and we are assured that Doris will be on the receiving end of rocks and bricks from local kids if we dare park it anywhere within the area. On the eve of returning the damn over-priced thing to its owners, we declare Fuck That, and go for broke on trying to find somewhere else appropriate to stay (and to our meagre funds) or contemplate all seven of us sleeping in the van tonight.
Luckily, we hit jackpot on Hotel Formule 1, which ends up costing us something like £3 each for the night. Sure, it looks like a gaudy cartoon version of THX1138 inside, but it has beds, showers, and a place to stash the Beans. Plus, it’s in a complex of hotels and the car park is secure, so we thank our good fortune and bed down for the night.
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Tuesday 14 April: Dijon, France
The final day of the holiday begins with desperately poor attempts to flee our rooms before the cleaning staff arrive, so we look sheepish as they look on at us getting our collective shit together, and we quickly depart to spend a slapdash hour in Dijon. We get to munch on crepes for an extremely pleasant brunch and manage a quick glance at the town hall before time dictates that we depart for the outlying villages, at which we intend to sample and purchase some good wine. This is Simmo’s opus, and he looks suitably chuffed as we quaff copious amounts of plonk in the name of trying to find “something we like” (virtually all are fantastic, and five billion times better than the shit we normally indulge in back home).
By the time we realise that we’ve spent far too long indulging in alcohol and trying to pull down Ian’s trousers to make him look more Emo, everyone is looking a little shakier on their feet. No matter, for we have a seven-hour journey in front of us, which means that everyone in the back can continue drinking exploits/get some final amount of rest/finish books/argue over what we’re going to listen to for the final stretch of our tour.
The fact that we arrive in Calais at the allotted hour with any bottles left for loved ones leaves me surprised, and then rueing not downing them myself, for Calais truly is a shithole that is only really visible by night. Our moods take a collective nosedive at this atrocious sight/smell, plus we realise that the bliss/mayhem of the week is finally at an end. A little before midnight we board our ferry, and spend the journey drinking watered down and overpriced lager in an attempt to condition ourselves to domestic habits once again. We also talk excitedly about coming back at the first opportunity, and of touring an album that we will one day get around to releasing in our birth country.
Then it is back into the comfortable confines of Doris for a final stretch of a mere couple of hundred miles to our various homes and chosen beds. Most of us spend it asleep, but I am in the front with eyes wide open, thinking of all we have experienced in the last week. It has been an absolute blast, blessed in many places, and hampered little by any kind of problems at all. We have met several fantastic people that have already become good friends, and have been warmly welcomed and treated like kings wherever we have gone.
We have, in short, been incredibly lucky to be able to do such things, and are all incredibly grateful. We drop people off, and reach our beds by something like 4am. Now all I, Stu and Jim have to do is get up at 6.30am to return Doris. But we will still in some kind of deliriously happy stupor when we arise. Unsurprisingly, this soon fades to a numbed depression at going back to normal domestic life that stays with each of us for a good few days.
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The end bit
If you’ve made it this far through this heinous trawl of an ego trip, then I both congratulate and thank you. The point of writing this diary up for diskant was not to celebrate ourselves, but to show how it is possible for bands operating at any kind of level to book and organise tours outside of their home country. Our week abroad did take some organising over a number of months, but no one would dispute that it was worth all those hours on French messageboards, chatting to complete strangers and trying to persuade them to put us on, looking desperately for vans big enough to take everything we needed, but also somehow affordable (we ended up using www.thrifty.co.uk, but would definitely recommend using a DIY van guy if you are contemplating doing any touring of your own – email me if you’re after any contacts).
The result of a lot of honest, hard work was probably the best experience of our lives, and easily the best tour-cum-holiday that anyone could ask for. And YOU CAN DO THIS. It takes effort, but I would recommend the experience to anyone. We travelled without insurance, without any experience of doing this kind of thing before, and without ever having played more than three gigs in the space of a week before. And it was nothing but an unadulterated success. In the space of four gigs we sold out of virtually every record we brought, thanks to scarily enthusiastic and friendly audiences (well, except for Reims), and we almost made back the money we laid out in the first place for the van/ferry tickets. All our final costs came down to hotels, petrol, and the food we weren’t served at venues. We took only ourselves, some instruments, a few sleeping bags and a bag full of fifty CDs, and spent a week having the time of our lives. Thank you to everyone who helped out, came to a show, bought a record, or even just gave advice: you are too numerous to list in detail here, but you know who you are.
Phew, that’s it!