Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Tour Diary, part three...

Day 10: Munich. This morning I awake and write all that has happened since Hamburg. Then, I take to the streets of Munich and walk towards the central square. The call Munich "the most northerly Mediterranean city". Well, that is according to Peter the Geordie from yesterday's Latino Boxing Bar, and it's true that today it does have a certain energy in the air. It is hot and sultry today, and the people seem more sprightly than those further North. Indeed, Munich is the capital of Bayern, or Bavaria, one of the oldest states in Europe, and as most Bavarians will attest, the prevailing notion is that this is not really part of Germany at all. The religion here is predominantly Roman Catholic, the accent is markedly different, and, as you gaze over the city from the top of the Dom, it is not too hard to imagine, lying just beyond the hazy mountains to the south, Italy. The reality is however that Munich is hardly any further south than Paris.

I traipse down the spiral staircase of the Cathedral, disappointed with the experience and three euros down. I like my Cathedral summits to be whipped with a cool breeze, and the vistas to spread before me uninterrupted. Up here is a closed room, its walls punctuated by fairly small windows. There is a lady in a booth selling postcards, shouting loudly down a phone the whole time. Anyway, upon descending, I walk onward, past a shopping mall selling Fendi and Luis Vuitton bags at unmentionable prices (there were no price-tags on most of the specimens), and into the central square, which is dominated by the incredible Rathaus, or town hall. Unfortunately I didn't arrive at the right time to hear its famous glockenspiel, and after a few minutes taking tourist snaps of its facade, I turn the corner at its far end and find myself confronted by a long row of butcher's shops selling a vast array of German sausages. Resisting the temptation to purchase one to take home (the idea of its guaranteed steady release of pungent pork-aroma during the impending sixteen-hour drive back to Brighton from Vienna renders it too much of a risk), I content myself with window shopping. Time to go back to the hotel.

I arrive back feeling very hot, as if I just as easily might have been exploring Rome. We pile in to the van and drive off. As soon as we arrive at the venue James New begins to panic as his lovely tailor-made Gresham Blake suit is missing. He and Dawson drive back to the hotel and sure enough, there it is, lying lost and lonely in the hotel lobby.

Today's rider is exceptional! Smoked salmon makes an appearance, as do little marinated peppers, taramasalata, and even a bowl of Kellogg's Special K. We are all starving, and immediately set about destroying the immaculately presented spread.

Today's show takes a while to fill up, but it eventually does (see - they're more laid back here!) and we take to the stage half an hour late. We have swapped the set about a bit again, and I think it is even better now. Its flow is much improved. Despite enjoying playing a lot today, the atmosphere on stage is a little muted, and it feels as if the engineer is not pushing the sound to its maximum volume, but the reaction upon leaving it is wonderful, and I feel then that the show has been a success. Apparently the mix was turned up from after the first song anyway so our worries are not entirely founded. When we return for the second half of Secrets suddenly Dawson goes crazy with the lights. Strobes and flashes ricochet around the little stage, and James New's flailing limbs scatter themselves disjointed through the flashing black as he intones maniacally his now perfected German; "meine taschen, voll, mit kleinen geheimnissen..." The sound gets heavier and heavier, and upon its climax I leave the stage for the second time feeling light-headed and energised. There is nothing quite like heavy loud pulsing noise to rid the mind and body of extraneous fluff; In an ideal scenario, be it as performer or punter, I like to leave a concert feeling rinsed, cleansed, calm; kind of like having a sauna and a sky dive all rolled into one, if that is not too ludicrous an analogy. On this occasion I can't help but feel that more moments of energy like that would be welcome in future sets.

After the show a free club night begins. I think we pick up a few extra people at the end of the set thanks to our late running which is a pleasing bonus. As much as we all enjoy the idea of gyrating to the Kooks' "Naive", we decide in the end to give it a miss tonight, and Joe knocks up a perfect jack and coke in the dressing room instead.

Day 11: Zurich. Germany fuzzes into Switzerland just as the Alps begin to loom into view over the top of the gently rolling flower-strewn hills of Southern Bavaria. Unsurprisingly, the views from the roadside are beautiful, as milk cows graze on verdant grass in front of wooden alpine shacks. And don't call me sentimental because I did actually see that! The blue skies make everything seem unreal.

Upon arriving in the outskirts of Zurich, for a Swiss T.V interview, the temperature is at its hottest for far. We walk into the offices about an hour and a half early and are greeted with abounding enthusiasm by the lovely staff there, who immediately as we arrive take us back out again to a sort of salad-based restaurant offering up the healthiest food I have so far encountered on the tour. Alas the hunger does not grip me, however, as I sit watching the others cramming Japanese-dressed smoked salmon, sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach and the like into their greenery-deprived faces (Wish I hadn't already had that pre-stashed hotel breakfast sandwich!). We try one of the local lagers. It is OK, tasting pretty much like every other lager sampled so far.

Back at the studio, and we get into our posh suits and linger on the settee until the jolly man interviewing us gets the whole thing underway. The Live and Kicking style interview is desperately light-hearted and fun. Entertaining? I'll leave that to the viewers to decide... the fact that Mirrors are highly unsuited to this sort of tomfoolery is not a problem for me as I sit, on-air, munching the complimentary meringues and getting their dust all over me, breezily thinking that old classic thought; "Why, look where I have ended up!".

After the show it's high-fives all round and the host gets the beers in. I failed to pronounce its name correctly when pressured to do so on air, and I have forgotten it again now. Needless to say, it is a perfectly pleasant strong continental lager.

Eventually we leave. We are staying, yet again, in the red-light district, and a walk around the hotel's immediate area is far from boring. The prevalence of alcoholism, drug-dealing and prostitution is evident every which way, more explicitly so than anywhere else we've been so far. For tea we manage to find a little Italian place run by a Portuguese man with a penchant for chat. The food is obscenely expensive, as it is everywhere in Switzerland, and of fairly reasonable quality, though the minute scraps of grey ham in my spaghetti carbonara were pretty much redundant.

Tonight sees fellow Brightonian "Beardyman" beatboxing his way into Zurich, and so, since we have yet another gig night off, we all go down with the T.V crew to a big club to see him play. It turns out to be an eventful evening, the details of which are hazy, but I can say with confidence that it ends with a rap-battle to rival "Eight Mile". One local hip-hop star is left with a bitter taste in his mouth...

Day 12: Zurich. This morning's lie-in is a beauty, however hot and loud the hotel room might be. And Dawson's afternoon one is good too, I hear. After a lovely breakfast that includes two freshly and perfectly boiled eggs thanks to a table-top egg-boiling device that merrily chirps when ready, I write a bit more of this diary, and then head off with Ally and James into the town for a coffee. Ally though is starving, having gone without breakfast, and so we alight at a Brazilian cafe serving definitely the cheapest food in Zurich - 6 Francs for a massive deep-fried mince pasty. Sitting beside the quiet roadside on a warm afternoon watching the world go by is one of the pleasures of Europe, and today is no exception. It may not be Paris; it may not be Rome; but people are people, and for the pleasures of the idle cafe-sitter, the seedy side streets of Zurich provide them in abundance for us to watch go by.

James heads off back to hotel to read American Psycho (I am beginning to worry for him), and Ally and I take a dander through the streets. It is absolutely glorious weather. We poke our heads into a little church. Inside, where the vicar usually stands, is a series of three monitor screens, showing a head and two outstretched hands, gently moving. To the side, more screens are erected to the wall, showing an unmistakably Christ-like figure in a crucifix pose, again, gently moving as if in a breeze. And to its side, we find a collection of close-up photographs attached to thin wires on stands, which upon further inspection are revealed to be incidental images of the cross found in the every-day mundane world, for example; a window-pane; a road marking; a graph on a computer screen etc. The artist even finds Christ in the folds of a pair of buttocks. Anyway, it was a diverting experience, and a nice change to find a working church embracing modern-looking art and attempting to make people think outside the box.

Eyes blinking, we emerge into the quiet town. Yes, this area of Zurich doesn't feel much like a city, though as we walk back towards the hotel, its city-ness starts to return, a little.

Time for the gig. We find the venue nearby, and it is beautiful; and old converted cinema, not unlike Brighton's the Duke of York's. The sound is massive and we have projections covering the entirety of the back of the stage. Unfortunately, tonight's gig is fairly under-attended, but we put on a great show as we always try to, and afterwards all we can think about is that wouldn't it be great to return here and play to a packed house? The excuse for the lack of crowds, we tell ourselves, is that as it has has been such a lovely day, the people of Zurich are still lingering at the lake...

Weirdly, our dressing room booze goes missing, but is replaced by a bottle of Prosecco. Dawson recovers said booze, but we drink the mystery fizz anyway. As soon as we drain the last drops, three dancers pile loudly into the room, and begin to complain about the lack of beverages provided them by the venue (oops). We kindly offer to donate them two remaining half-drunk bottles of wine and head off on their recommendation to a nearby Chinese restaurant, as we are completely starving. The food is disastrously salty but fills the gap admirably. Our plans to head back to venue are scrapped. Upon leaving it was empty, and after last night, we are ready for a night off. Mirrors are no Primal Scream, it has to be said.

Day 13: Vienna. Today's drive is a brute, but what a drive! Eight hours of glorious scenery pass almost uninterrupted by our windows today, as we zoom across the northern extent of the Alps towards Vienna. The sun on the green hills and the deep blue sky above the shimmering hazy snow-capped peaks creates a picture-postcard vista stretching for hundreds of miles. We stop at a lake and gaze across the water toward a castle perched on an island, standing resplendent at the opening of a vast valley. The place, being as it is, a service station, smells of stale schnitzel, but by now our selective powers of appreciation have become finely honed.

Finally we arrive into Vienna, and just as the surroundings are becoming enticingly grand and the city is beginning to reveal snatches of its famed beauty, we roll up at the venue, which is a boat moored at the side of the river. How quaint! The interior is bizarre, but exciting; there is virtually no room on stage thanks to a wall of television screens, and no room for a projector screen, but an entire ceiling made of L.E.D lights instead. Needless to say, after a long-winded discussion as to where we should all stand, our excitement at the prospect of playing in front of a t.v wall and under a light-up ceiling is palpable. The question of cheesiness is not an issue. Now, to get our visuals on to the T.Vs is no problem, but the efforts to get them into the ceiling are gargantuan. No end of memory sticks, hard drives, wires, dongles, ropes, pulleys, superglue and trained monkeys are one by one cast uselessly aside before we eventually resort to loading up an entirely wrong set of visuals and looping them at twenty-minute intervals. Not that this matters much in the end, as, rendered in LED, all it looks like is abstract movement of light.

We are exceedingly hungry by this stage, but before we can eat we have to have a few photographs taken on the deck of the boat and beside the bar's swimming pool (yep, the bar has its own pool!). The temptation to push one and other in is too strong, and so we leave promptly. To the disappointment of the photographer the lovely sunset glow has just vanished beneath the skyline, but he gets his shots anyway.

Anyway, for tea we tuck into the most vast schnitzel yet seen (its edges flop across whole plate and over the sides), topped with a lump of potato salad. The addition of a squeeze of lemon is much welcome. We have all been craving sharp flavours ever since entering Germany. Anything to perk up the simple (bland) flavours of starch and plain meat!

The setting for the dinner is lovely. We sit beside the flowing water of the river below a giant office building over which moving patterns of coloured light play. It is quite a sight. Perhaps there is something in the Viennese that cannot resist fancy light-shows?

Anyway, to the show. It is a late one tonight, and our fears of low attendance are proved unfounded as a steady stream of people descend into the bowels of the boat, ready and waiting to watch Mirrors! We have a great show. It is far too loud on stage, but that makes it more fun, and it is a novel one for me as I am standing directly opposite Joe, facing him across the table, side-on to the audience. I can't say how professionally we might or might not have played (I suspect little), but the energy on stage is actually the best of the whole tour for me, and I think the others would agree. The cheers of the audience resound even as we descend into the dressing room, and a wave of satisfaction flows over us as we realise we have completed our own first tour of Europe and that it has been a success. Everyone puts the thoughts of tomorrow's thousand-mile journey to the back of their minds as we relax in the boat with some drinks.

Temptations to go out all night are running high, but due to poor old Dawson's impending drive of doom, and the general desire of us all not to feel dreadful for the entirety of it, we decide to call it a night. Hey hey, my my. Not that any of us get to sleep until four a.m. anyway.

Day 14: Austria, Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, England. Yesterday's drive was long, but this one is crazy. It takes us something like 16 hours to get home. The roads are absolutely fantastic though: straight, free of traffic, smooth, and punctuated only by football and coffee stops. It couldn't have gone any better. At about half past twelve in the morning we roll into Calais, and the Mirrors spirits are surprisingly high in the City d'Europe shopping centre as duty-free is raided, espressos downed, and some quality long balls are lofted across the flood-lit car park. I buy a packet of delicious looking smoked duck. Continental. Gloriously, we make it on to the earlier departure to our scheduled train, and so we arrive in England a couple of hours earlier than planned. All is looking up. But, in stark contrast to the previous fourteen hours' travel, most of the band become grimly ill within minutes, as the combination of the endless chicane bends around Rye combined with the oppressive fragrance of Dawson's bag of duty-free French cheese take their toll on tired minds and bodies. We also experience a change of driver at this point, the defiantly awake Dawson having now retired triumphantly to the back with a bottle of Old Speckled Hen and a JD and Coke. But that has nothing to do with it.

Anyway, we drop Dawson off at his home in Hastings. Three giant bags full of rubble lie glowing greyly in the moonlight on his garden path, at the sight of which Dawson grows twitchy with anxious excitement. Has the wife been doing up the the house in his absence? We find out later that she had in fact being building a little pond. Anyway, we say our emotional goodbyes and off he goes, clutching in his one spare finger a four-litre bottle of 9% German black beer and another of vodka.

Joe is let go in Hastings too, on the windy litter-strewn seafront of the Old Town, resounding with the bleak cries of seagulls. "Smells of fish" are his final words as he trudges off into the dark.

James New escapes the van at Bexhill, which is a wonderful town.

And so to the final leg. There is no traffic to speak of as Ally and I wend our way along the south coast, rocking gently to the sound of Radio four's soothing tone, which babbles away at that perfect volume just below discernibility. Bizarrely none of the band has slept once during the journey. Why I do not know.

I am released at about half three in the morning. There is that infuriatingly slow process that happens when arriving home from a long journey: Shuffle to the door laden with bags and extra bits and bobs dangling from spare fingers. Put the bags slowly down in a heap by the door. A bag containing bottles falls over, and the bottles roll into the road. Pick the bottles up and go back to the door. Realise you've forgotten something and go back and get it. Put that down. Realise you can't get on to the doorstep now because it is blocked by bags. Can't be bothered to move them again so lean over and unlock the door, stumbling over the pile of bags as it swings open. Try to pick up all the bags in one. Fail, leaving just one little bag left. Think why did I not just do two simple journeys into the house rather than one awkward one, bashing into things and waking people up, trying to turn the light on with your nose, followed by another one just to pick up a small plastic bag of wine? Suddenly bed seems so heavenly that the fantasy brew I have been dreaming of the entire tour is put off til morning.

Come the dawning of the next day, it is all the better for it.

A tour is like a stitch in time; on the road, it is your life, and it seems like forever; afterwards, it becomes but a fleeting dream, relived in a second's thought.

Thank you all who came to see us, and for making it a joy. See you again soon.

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