Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tour diary part 2.

Day 4: Hamburg. Hamburg is a great city. A certain energy pervades it. Hilariously our tour itinerary zigzags about four times in four days across the breadth of Germany, in some sort of cruel joke at the expense of our jolly suffering driver Dawson. So, we arrive in the late afternoon and unload our gear into the small and red Molotow Club. After soundchecking we take part in a photoshoot with a happy young photographer chap who pins name tags to our backs and takes pictures of our backs. One of his other ideas leaves us rather perturbed;

"What about sticking small squares of black gaffer tape to your top lips and posing in a line?"


Eyebrows raised, we to his disappointment decline this hilarious offer, deciding that slapstick Nazi-based humour will probably never form part of the Mirrors manifesto.

The gig is perhaps slightly quiet for some tastes, but I play better than in the other two, I feel, and we have changed the set around a bit and the consensus is that it is a better order of songs. Another great crowd, so spirits are decidedly up.

After the show PIAS, our European label take us out to a great bar on the dockside, passing on our ways the sights and sounds the city, including a daunder through a street of squatted houses along the banks of the port, and a bizarre thoroughfare (down which, to this day, only males are permitted to walk) lined with Amsterdam-style prostitutes gurning and beckoning from within their pink neon lairs. The bar is a graffiti-covered den on the harbourside. According to its flamboyant owner, Ralph, it was once a fisherman's cottage before becoming a prison for smugglers, and then a hippy commune. He has owned the place for fifteen years. Ralph sports a quite incredible head of hair - shaven all over save for one desperately long Bobby Charton-esque flapping waft of blonde - it is quite a thing. We sup local beers called Dithmarshen, punctuating rounds with schnapps proffered enthusiastically from Ralph, whilst a band playing a sort of smooth propulsive funk-based groove set the crowd in to a steady bob. It is a little too smooth for my tastes, however. Hilariously at one point the barman passes a note to me on which is scrawled "this is a punk club. we do not tolerate mopeds!" I think the combination of sharp suits and Brighton was just a little too unnerving for the poor bloke to let pass without address. Still, the bar was great and we left in a buoyant mood, getting in to the band-apartment laid on by the venue at some ungodly hour and falling asleep.

Day 5: Dresden. Today's morning shower is little more than a cold dribble. It is utterly redundant as an aid for washing, to be honest. Other than that, no complaints. Upon leaving Ally remarks to the bloke in charge of the room that his pronunciation of the number "foive" sounds remarkably Irish. "I am Irish" was the unexpected reply. We had been struggling with our German with this guy since yesterday!

We sit across the road in the window of a little cafe, with double espressos and croissants, watching the Hamburgers go by for a bit, and then head off in the van, east again, towards Dresden. It is a long old drive and as we wind our way across the countryside I sense the atmosphere starting to feel just that bit more eastern-european as the landscape becomes more drawn-out, the roads become less busy, and the names of towns become harder to pronounce. When the signs for Prague begin to appear, I can almost feel the Czech border lying just out of reach. There's nothing like even the hint of a border to excite the mind into dreams of travel, and dreams of discovery.

We pull up at a service station for petrol and a piss. Someone buys a sandwich. Motorways are mysterious; full of potential, almost a country unto themselves; and yet also deathly dull. You have to love them. Well, maybe not but you get my drift.

Dresden has high unemployment and in relation to the West of Germany it is comparatively poor. I have an image in my head of the city being all 60's concrete and greyness, a sort of equivalent to Coventry. It turns out that actually it's a lovely place with a pleasant atmosphere, and judging by the postcards and the proclamations of its local residents, it has a beautiful centre. Unfortunately we see little of Dresden, as we are playing somewhere on the outskirts. But even here it is very nice.

Anyway, the venue is beautiful, and absolutely enormous, which is a little nerve-wracking as this show is the worst-sold of all our gigs. In then end forty damn fine folk turn up to watch us play, and a great time is had by all, despite the rather echoey sound.

We are treated embarrassingly well by the venue, who offer four different kinds of beer in the dressing room fridge, and cook up a delicious spread of food which we eat at a candle-lit table with a bottle of red.

The hotel is a short way down the road, and we indulge in a cocktail at the bar before bed. It is exceedingly relaxing.

Day 6: Frankfurt. Back again! Westward we go, soaring down the autobahn with the sun streaming in through the windows and the wide open road stretched out before us. There is little traffic on what is essentially one long motorway all the way there, and we make great time. Germany is justly famous for its roads.

Arriving in Frankfurt we have little idea of what to expect, except for a profusion of banks, and little else. Essentially this crude way of putting it turns out to be somewhat true. Huge shining towers of glass and metal loom above you as you wander the city. The dom seems puny in comparison - the banks are the real cathedrals here - and its quiet interior feels like no more than a tiny shrunken enclave of Christianity. But, no doubt helped along by the glorious sunshine, my initial view of Frankfurt is pretty positive. There seems little in the way of tourism, and the atmosphere is actually quite laid back. We are staying in the red-light district, it turns out, and the area is full with seedy strip-joints, down-at heel bars full of old men standing at round tables, kebab shops and back-allys stalked by angry dogs. The gleaming banks twinkling in the sun just streets away provide a constant contrast, which I like.

The gig, it turns out, happens to take place so far out of the city that the drive there takes us back out on to the motorway, through fields of green, and into what seems to be a mere outlying town. The venue is un-signposted, and located on the first floor of a sort of office block. The idea that anyone is ever going to turn up here to see Mirrors seems absurd.

The actual room doubles as a live recording studio, and so the sound is lovely and dry, with none of the cavernous reverberations of last night. The backstage is also a record company who put out the likes of Daniel Johnston. Quite a little operation these folk have going on here. Anyway, after spending a ludicrous amount of time trying to strap the projector to the ceiling, we play the gig. 90 people turn up which is a nice surprise, and the place looks pretty full. The show goes well, that is, until the end of Secrets, where technical failures force an early abandonment of what is for me the most exciting section of the set. Being as we are, a band of perfectionists, this is deeply disappointing, and despite the good reactions we receive from those in attendance, we can't help but feel somewhat dejected. But to anyone who was there reading this, fear not! We still had a great time... up until the end!

A scalding hot (temperature hot not spice hot) chilli is washed down after the show with a few Beck's, and we head back to the hotel, where we sit on the balcony listening to the sounds of the Frankurt night.

Day 7: Frankurt. Day off today, and we awake to yet more cloudless skies and warming sunshine. Breakfast is an espresso in the garden of a lovely little cafe, followed by an absolutely glorious fry-up in an Irish pub just over the road. Never has meal been so welcome, and the plates are ravaged within seconds. Guinness and a fry-up go hand in hand very well, and we stay for some time, before heading to the nearby park for a kickabout. Again, the skill levels are fairly poor, but they are improving. Hot and bothered, we retreat once more to the Irish bar in order to watch the Arsenal vs. Liverpool game. Two late penalties provide an entertainingly hilarious end to the match, and most probably Arsenal's season. Oh Eboue. What a silly bloke. Do they never learn? Josef is distressed, and walks off for some air.

Continuing the day's theme of eschewing German fare in favour of more delicious food, we head out for a lovely Italian meal in town. Then, in a bizarre twist, we all pile into a stinking taxi and go and watch the end of the Wombats' set at some nearby concert-hall. I must confess to never having liked any of their songs, but at the end of their set I was humming along to them all. Now that they are constantly in my head I dislike them all the more. The crowd are all about twelve, and we all feel desperately old. We go back into town and retire to our balcony, where we are treated to one of Dawson's highly original private dj sets.

Day 8: Frankfurt (again). We continue our mini-holiday in Frankfurt. Today's weather is if anything even more beautiful than yesterday's. An initial attempt to get another fry-up at the Irish pub is foiled by its being shut, and so since it is midday James New and I plump to skip straight to lunch at the garden cafe. We have Spaghetti Carbonara, which, if you think about it, is bacon and eggs, so it kind of hits the spot. All too often carbonara is made with far too much cream, and this one was no exception. In fact, I say that it should be made only with bacon, egg yolk and pecorino cheese, but don't get me started. We left the cafe feeling decidedly lethargic. But that's what espressos are for, and so from then on, with New off reading in the park and the others embarking on an even later breakfast-mission than I, I take to the streets with map in hand and go exploring.

My exploring gets off to a slow start as I spend ages both looking for, and then lingering within, a Deutsche-Poste office trying to obtain the correct amount of stamps for my postcards. Needless to say, it was a boring affair and I shall not recount to you the details. So, re-entering the blazing outdoor light, I daunder towards the cathedral, or Dom. Newly rebuilt in the fifties after being destroyed by fire during the war, this cathedral is one of the oddest I have experienced. Unlike Coventry's which was completely redesigned and has since become a modernist icon, Frankfurt's cathedral has been re-made in it's old style. Being so used to wandering churches where one can palpably feel the age seeping from the smooth stones of their construction, I found it unnerving being in so fresh a sacred building as this. I began to think that maybe all cathedrals felt like this when they were newly built, and that their awe-inspiring grandness is only increased with age. This is not to say the place was not impressive. It was, but it just felt different .

Coming out from a cathedral into a city is always a great rush, as if emerging from a cold cave. It is like returning from a journey that for might for anything have taken years. Everything seems new and exciting, invigorating and loud. Emerging from Frankfurt's quiet cathedral was not quite the same as say, walking out of St. Paul's, or The Notre-Dam, but all the same I can't fail to have that same feeling of re-birth. I sit on the steps and write some postcards, and begin to feel as if my nose is catching the sun.

The shops around the cathedral are lovely, and I buy a little present for someone.

I decide to walk towards the financial zone, and begin to get snap-happy with my camera, taking copious photographs of angular sections of buildings and bits of road. Later, upon looking back through them I delete almost the entire lot. Some of these buildings are nevertheless incredible, and I find myself far more impressed with them than the cathedral. These silent gleaming towers are at once powerful, yet distant. I will never know what goes on inside them.

I pass a tailors selling handmade shoes and suits, and peer thorough the window, suddenly aware of my pair of Oxfam-bought Clark's' certain lack of je ne sais quoi.

Ignoring impending thirst and hunger I continue onwards, passing Goethe's house (the museum, the only one purportedly open on a Monday, is shut for repairs), and the lovely central square, which looks very pretty in the sun. Eventually, I queue in an Aldi for a cheap bottle of water which is somewhat rank-tasting, and head off towards the hotel in need of a sit, before heading out with the rest of the chaps for a sojourn with our promoter, Florian, on a house boat/bar.

Lounging on the sun-deck with a glass of local Pilsner is utterly perfect, the distant sound of the city drowned out by the quiet splashing of the moored boats and the quacking of the vivacious local ducks. We try another, much darker beer, which is delicious and comes in a massive one of those attractive Grolsch-style pop-the-top-off bottles, before the sun sets and we wander off at Florian's recommendation to the other side of the river for some food. We plump for a Japanse place and eat delicious noodles, though Jo proclaims them rather too mint-heavy. Feeling healthy, we nip next door to a bar. The healthiness doesn't continue, and we end up quaffing some fiendishly alcoholic local schnapps called Freisiangeist which you have to set fire to before swigging down. Florian is riding a bike. Good luck to him. There's always someone more drunk than yourself though, and in this place it was a doddery old man with a love affair for Franz Beckenbauer who kept making his friendly acquaintance with us before being repeatedly ushered along by the long-suffering barmaid.

We leave for another bar which is quite posh, and I make Dawson have a horrible basil-flavoured whisky sour, which I try. It certainly comes good on the sour, though the whisky and basil get less of a look in. I stick to the gin and tonic, which is delicious, and has a slice of cucumber in it which is a delight.

And so the day off ends back on the balcony again, basking in the woozy warm night.

Day 9: Munich. The chugging of the van's engine is welcome today, and we look forward positively to Munich. The sun is out, and the services seem all the jollier for it. A really ill-advised Burger King meal puts paid to any feelings of summeriness though, and we take to the van a hot and bothered pile of moaning lethargy. The journey seems long, but the drive in to the city is fascinating, passing many wonderful modern buildings, including Bayern Munich's amazing football stadium, and the Olympic Village.

Upon getting to the Art-Hotel, which is where we stayed here before when visiting with OMD, we unpack the bags and head to the biggest beer garden I have ever seen. Below a canopy of vivid green spring leaves, hundreds and hundreds of people gather round tables drinking vast glass mugs of beer and munching on hunks of meat and potatoes. There is no other option than to sit back, order a giant beer and share a sausage platter, containing five varieties of German sausages, ranging from a very odd, mousse-y white sausage, to a dense red chipolata with a resemblance to Spanish Chorizo. It is a proper way to spend an afternoon in Munich.

From there we make a bee line for any bar showing the Manchester United vs Newcastle match. We end up in a boxing-themed place playing horrendously irritating Ricky Martin-style Latin music. The game is a grim nil nil draw. Great.

Tired, we retreat to the hotel and sup a night time beer at the bar with some crisps, chatting about home and things such as that.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Embedded: The Mirrors' European Tour Diary.

I am writing in the delightfully adorned (fresh flowers, indeed) dressing room at our first venue here in Cologne. Ally and James are sitting by my side conducting an interview based upon a pack of Vintage Synthesiser Top Trumps cards. Shrieks of surprise and delight are emitted when the first two cards pulled from the pack are a Prophet 5 and a Juno 60. Four brand new tailored suits dangle enticingly from the coat hanger, waiting patiently until stage-time. The kettle is bubbling. In a country I had previously thought barren of proper tea and fresh milk, I ponder, where did they find those PG tips? Anyway.

Day one: Cologne. Upon arrival in Cologne last night we drop our bags and immediately take to wandering the balmy streets, the tarmac still exuding the day's heat. Glorious. Stopping at a pavement restaurant we sup at the first of what is to become a disgracefully long chain of Kolschs. We take up unofficial residence in a nearby bar and gradually the memories of the night fade to grey. Someone has the idea of a traditional Jaegermeister...

Day two: Cologne. Today, and we awake grimly to the sight of a hotel room that looks for all the world as if a student protest has passed through it. Hunger is all-pervading, and so a sort of Germanic version of a fry-up is duly russled up in the kitchen, using black forest ham in place of bacon and weird sweet bread for toast. Tea is rank, made as it is from weak (and brutally expensive) bags and UHT milk.

But if there's one sight to help prize open dreary hung-over eyes, it is that of Cologne's monstrous cathedral looming above the city streets, and the walk to the venue is invigorating for it.

The venue has a great feel. It is a cavernous brick room with a massive P.A and I can't wait for the gig. We are playing a few new songs tonight, so the nerves are jangling somewhat. I am especially looking forward to playing Secrets, as it is a long, heavy groove...

Well, Secrets is actually quite a heavy beast tonight, and we thoroughly enjoy playing it live for the first time. The crowd seemingly have a wunderbar time too, and the positive reactions festooned upon us after the show are flattering to say the least, so thank you Cologne for being such a great beginning to the tour.

Back at the hotel we watch Chris Morris' Four Lions, a grimly hilarious tale of four hapless would-be suicide bombers. It's great.

Day three: Berlin. Awake refreshed and reasonably early and quaff a brew and a drearily dry butter sandwich. As breakfasts go it is far from ideal, yet it plugs a gap until a service station offering the ubiquitous bockwurst und kartoffelsalat mit senf is descended upon. We buy a football and ally and I kick it about in the drizzle-soaked forecourt for a few minutes, before retreating back to the van, disgusted at the low level of skill displayed.

Six hours later the van pulls up at the lovely venue. Rather than unload the gear, immediately we order a jug of Pimm's, which we sip, reclined besuited in deck-chairs, contentedly in the beer garden. Ok. It is spitting, and we unload the gear quickly through a squalid area festooned with litter and the remains of of what appears to have once been garden furniture.

The venue's staff are once again fantastic, and come to our aid at on point by strapping our projector, balanced in a beer-crate, to the ceiling with metal chains. Unfortunately the projector's bulb then refuses to work, and so, as I write, the situation is uncertain.

All is quiet in the dressing room, save for the distant ring of an unanswered phone, and the muted flush of the nearby toilet. The bass throb of traffic rumbles from somewhere beyond the surrounding high-rise buildings. Ally and James are absent, gone as they are to a radio station to conduct a live to air interview. I would say that I am nervous for them, and hope that they do not embarrass themselves or shatter our carefully constructed image, but this is simply not the case. Maybe I am free from care, or maybe I am just supremely confident in them. Who knows? Not I.

A bag full of oriental take-away food arrives. It is delicious, but it is filling. Another interview ensues, and a photograph, before the time for playing starts to loom.

The crowd is nice and full, and we stride on stage to excitable cheers. I trip slightly on the stand of our new projector screen, but I think I get away with it. The introduction tape subsides, and the pulsing beginning of Fear Of Drowning is released. I stand at my my desk making some swirling reverb-soaked Moog noises until the tension builds and the beat kicks in. We have started the gig! It is very loud, and difficult to get my sonic bearings on stage, but I have a great time and am beginning to feel really good about our two new songs, Toe The Line and Secrets. They both sound massive.

Off-stage and ears ringing, we crack open some Berliner Pilsner and head over to the merch desk for a some pics and to meet some of the fine folk who have come down to see the gig.

We have all the intent in the world to head to nearby bar White Trash as it is something of a Berlin institution, but standing out on the drizzly balcony of our apartment with only a beer and the hum of traffic for company the feeling increases that this is where we want to be, and so we remain, long into the night.

See you in Hamburg.

Friday, 1 April 2011


Oramics from Nick Street on Vimeo.

Often overlooked thanks to Delia Derbyshire's Dr. Who Theme credentials, Daphne Oram is a true pioneer of electronic music. Hear here a demonstration of her 1957 invention, the Oramics Synthesizer.