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Friday, 26 November 2010

Home again

So that's the tour over and done with - I write this back home in nithering Lincoln as I ponder just how I'm going to prepare my delicious steaks this evening while drinking a cold bottle of Old Speckled Hen. The last couple of shows were good, though not necessarily from a lighting point of view - poor spec once again thwarting Stefan Wolf. We arrived hours late in the impressive city of Bratislava where yet again smoking appeared compulsory among gig-goers, giving my already sore throat even more to grumble about. Despite this the Slovak people were all very nice, though it takes them an age to hoover a carpet. Support "The Ocean" missed the gig by being even more tardy than Anthema but this was no great loss as they'd developed a special way of annoying the hell out of me. How a band can complain they have too little space to set up when they have more lights on stage than amps and instruments is beyond me. Still, good luck to them.

The Prague show was also good, and I finally got the load-out pizza I'd been badgering Les about since the beginning of leg one. Another victory for pester power.

Thanks to some heroic driving through snow and rain we ended up back in blighty way ahead of schedule and dropped all the gear at Matt's handy lock-up near Derby. Later that evening, as I cracked open a bottle of wine bought on the ferry, I got a phone call from driver Tim.

"I thought you might like to know what happened on the way back to the depot," he said.

Apparently he was passed by his own trailer as he drove along the motorway. It had come uncoupled from the bus, most likely due to some idiots or other trying to nick it while he was parked up at services. I don't know why but this seems a fitting end to the whole tale. Maybe the trailer had finally had enough and was making a run for it. I wouldn't blame it after what happened in Romania.

We reconvene for three shows in Ireland in a few weeks. See you then.

Monday, 22 November 2010


As mentioned in a previous post the venue for the Bulgaria show had to be switched due to a roof collapse, and what this meant in reality was that Anathema became the first rock band ever to play the prestigious Sofia Philharmonic Hall, a grand old room that was the perfect setting for a great show in front of some nine hundred-odd very loud and eager punters. Later a good few of us tucked in to some top grub at a local restaurant while others bopped along to "Shakey and the Blood Rain" at an after-show party, Shakey being a fat greebo with a builder's cleavage. We then set off on the punishing journey to Bratislava, a trip which would take us through much of the terrain already endured over the past few days. So I retired to my bunk, drifting off to Doug Stanhope on the iPod.

I don't know how much later it was but I woke to the sound of Les screaming,

"Everybody get up and get off the bus now!"

So we did, quickly. The bus was filled with the kind of foul smelling smoke which comes from burning plastic. Not good at all. We stood in the road in the dark as Tim explained that the brakes were overheating as we'd just come down a particularly steep mountain road. Indeed, smoke was billowing out from the wheel arches (where you could warm your hands if you so wished) and some of this had found its way into our quarters, leading us to think quite understandably that the bus was on fire. We stood in the night for a while to let the brakes cool and to let a bit of air in, stepping out of the way for the odd passing car and the even odder old man on two horses.

The next time I woke was the next morning around ten o'clock. I wandered downstairs to make a cup of tea and found several fellow transportees still drinking heroically. Les was sporting comedy Fu Manchu eyebrows fashioned from gaffer tape and was spouting gibberish between blowing raspberries at people. He decided he needed to be off the bus for some reason, taking advantage of the fact we were parked up in the middle of ugly nowhere. Just as he stepped off the bus pulled away forcing him to run like hell to get back on board. In a scene reminiscent of the opening credits to "The Little House on the Prairie" he fell head first into a ditch. Most amusing.

A short while later we were required to show our faces for the cops at the border with Romania (these particular public servants not requiring several hundred euros in bribes unlike their fat, lazy counterparts in the traffic service) and it then became apparent we were taking a shortcut - hundreds of kilometres shaved off the journey by taking a ropey little ferry across the Danube - a good idea in theory though the reality was somewhat different. First of all the bus got stuck for a good twenty minutes trying to get on the thing, the entire vessel having to move to level the ramp and free us. A short hop across the river later and we were ready to disembark, though this time the trailer hit a kink in the ramp and the tow bar was ripped clean off the back of the bus. Not good news at all. A kindly soul hooked the stranded trailer to his truck and pulled it off the ferry for us while we drove a hundred yards or so down the road to a staggeringly dreary yet extremely handy garage for a spot of emergency welding. Thankfully we weren't stuck there for as long as expected. While the welder welded, a two litre bottle of cheap lager always by his side, we fed pressed ham to stray dogs and then scared them off with weird chords, watched two massive cranes do their work and marvelled at the sheer depressing ugliness of this Romanian border outpost.

After two more bored coppers relieved us of another hundred euros for no good reason and then ordered us out of town (we were leaving anyway, thanks) we drove through interminable nothingness for hours until we finally set up camp at a weird roadside truck stop where we ate undercooked sausages while soft porn played on the television in the background. We then drank sickly local wine at a bar across the way, arriving just as the house band were packing up for the night - a lucky escape I think. We're currently making our way to Bratislava where we hope to arrive at around six pm so it'll be another mad dash to get set up. Crazy times. 

Saturday, 20 November 2010

The Leader of the Starry Skies

In 2008 the genius behind the greatest band there's ever likely to be, Tim Smith, suffered a serious debilitating stroke and he's been in hospital ever since. In a noble and moving effort to raise funds to help with Tim's ongoing care many who owe a debt of gratitude to Cardiacs for their inspiration and influence have contributed cover versions of their songs for an album to be released in early December. The album is "The Leader of the Starry Skies" and is available for pre-order here. It features, among others, Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree, Andy Partridge of XTC, Oceansize, The North Sea Radio Orchestra and Julianne Regan of All About Eve.

If you pre-order you also get a bonus cd containing even more tracks for free. If you're unfamiliar with the music of Cardiacs then do yourself a favour and check them out on iTunes. "Sing To God" part 1 is as good a starting point as any, but don't expect it to be an easy listen. Perseverance will reap rich rewards though.

Here is an amazing performance from their 1992 "Mare's Nest" video. Enjoy.

Bucharest (part 2)

We got there alright, setting the stage in record time in front of a sizeable and impatient crowd. We had to pack down pretty sharpish afterwards as well, the stage being required for the Romanian equivalent of Fat Boy Slim or somesuch. We were in the venue for a grand total of four hours and now we have to negotiate the same roads again (but with the added twist of it being dark and foggy) as we make our way to Sofia for the band's first ever show in Bulgaria.

Home soon. Mine's a pint of Landlord.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Bucharest (part 1)

I write this on the bus as it makes its way towards our gig in Bucharest. It's currently seven pm local time and we're still a good fifty kilometres from our destination. The doors are already open to punters and the venue has a strict ten o'clock curfew. We left Budapest at two in the morning and have done what seems to be the equivalent of driving the length of the British Isles via the back roads. Seriously, we've been through some proper nutty terrain - village after remote mountain village of tumbledown shacks, the only indication someone's living in them being the lines of washing hanging outside. Cows are herded across the (very busy) roads, donkeys pull hay-filled carts and entire families wander along with little regard for the trucks thundering by mere inches from them. Add to that the suicidal overtaking manoeuvres attempted by local drivers and the manky stray dogs running out to attack passing vehicles and you've got one seriously uncomfortable ride.

Thursday, 18 November 2010


Day seventeen of this leg and the crew have been hit by a spate of falling over. Matt toppled twice in the crappy Viper Room in Vienna yesterday and Mark blacked out in the bus bog (after a healthy dose of Jim Beam though I blame the overpowering stench myself) leaving him with a nasty bump on the back of his head. So far I've managed to remain vertical but I'm having to be extra careful just in case.

The Viper Room has quite a bit of history it seems. It's deep underground in an ancient tunnel system where in the twelfth century the bodies of some eight hundred unfortunates were found buried during the second Ottoman siege. After that it was both an orphanage and a convent, finally becoming a shitty dive of a club in more recent times.

In marked contrast today's venue is superb - we're in the lap of luxury backstage with the legendary Sandra looking after all our culinary and towelling needs.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010


Heading to a gig at the Viper Room having dodged a bullet on our day off in the Slovenian city of Maribor - an electrical component behind our driver's seat shorted out and melted the circuit board. Matt and Tim spent much of the day attempting a repair only for it to burst into flames again when reconnected. A work-around has been found and the only things not working are the lights in our bunks meaning we can't read in bed. Group literacy levels may fall as a result but that's a small price to pay for not burning to death.

Incumbent merch spiv Brian Moss had an unexpected day off in Milan as the local (supposedly mafia-run) venue demanded nearly fifty percent of our takings meaning selling the stuff would earn them more than it would the band. The merchandise stayed in the trailer and the venue received fifty percent of nothing.

Stentorian support The Ocean seem finally to have perfected the art of putting their equipment on stage without trampling all over ours in the process, so good work there, lads - keep it up.

The photo shows lake Geneva a few miles from Vevey where we played a week or so ago.

Saturday, 13 November 2010


Back at the New Age club where two years ago, if memory serves, Matt got rather hammered on red wine and vodka and as a result spent much of the day giggling like an idiot into the PA system. Talking of being hammered, a certain Norwegian singer/songwriter who shall remain nameless is currently on a period of probation after waking the hard-working crew on several occasions during the night with his debauched drunken behaviour. As a result ear plugs will from this moment onwards be referred to as "Anti-Petter Plugs" (ah, I wasn't supposed to name names now was I).

Earlier when we were setting up the stage, a single black sock fell out of a flight case, and out of that sock flew a moth. It was a moment of quiet poetic beauty that nicely broke up the drudgery of the tour.

It's driver Tim's birthday today so I expect we'll be having a few drinks in his honour later, and perhaps a whip-round for a present. It shouldn't be too difficult to find something for him - his two favourite things in the world are sports cars and breasts.

Thursday, 11 November 2010


It was jolly nice being in Switzerland for a couple of days - it's amazing how much the catering improves the nearer you get to Germany. As usual the chef (Barbara) at the Z7 in Pratteln cooked up some smashing grub, highlights being the home (or venue)-made vegetable soup and the fish-filled pastry parcels. Onstage hassles with cables and suchlike marred the previous evening's performance at the Rocking Chair in Vevey, though the equipment was so well behaved the following day (in front of film cameras as well) that I've decided to take it all out for a Mcdonalds when I get the chance. It looks like we'll be in a different venue in Bulgaria on the 20th as the roof has collapsed at the one we were supposed to be playing.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010


In a break from the usual format of this page, today's post is given over entirely to monitor man Matthew Rowley's account of his dream of the previous evening:

According to Matthew, our entire entourage were in a narrow corridor in some hotel/theatre hybrid. For reasons unknown, our task was to remove all the plaster from the walls, an act which revealed a bank of soil behind. Using a fork as a digging tool, Matthew himself uncovered a small portal from which countless centipedes began to emerge. Utilising the previously mentioned fork, he pulled out one of the centipedes, splitting the poor thing in half in the process. We took half of the creature to an entomologist who was situated, rather conveniently it might be added, at the end of the corridor, and he confirmed that it was indeed a centipede and that we should put it back where we found it. Unfortunately, before we had a chance to do so, another "fucking massive" centipede emerged, forcing us to sprint for the bus and make a speedy getaway to the next venue on our tour. After some time we arrived at the hotel where our next gig was to take place. It was staffed entirely by people in Edwardian dress (including one particularly sinister gentleman with a pipe), and resembled the famous establishment from the movie "The Shining". We were asked to surrender our passports upon arrival and were given green ones as a replacement. Matthew soon found himself in his attic bedroom where in the corner there lurked a human skeleton. This didn't seem to bother him much as he took the opportunity to speak with some of the other hotel guests who appeared nervous and jittery. Rather worryingly, they told Matthew that if we didn't get the hell out of there we would all be killed and used a fuel for a steam train whose purpose it was to convey the hotel staff to a place where they could find food. Apparently anything was fair game to power the train - a grand piano and sundry items of furniture were seen being stuffed unceremoniously down the funnel.

Intermission. Well, I need one.

Escape became our first priority. The skeleton at this point revealed itself to be Les, who'd been planning an escape by utilising springs attached to his knees (what the hell?). This prompted Matthew to cover himself entirely in icing sugar, a disguise rendering him white in hue, and to climb out of the window and shimmy around the ledge in an attempt to get to the lobby. Upon arrival there, Danny sprinted by wearing a French maid's outfit (??), making good his escape. At this point I appeared, extremely perturbed due to my lack of two green passports which I could exchange for my own, thus securing my release. Still covered in icing sugar, Matthew selflessly and heroically gave his passports to me, allowing me to join my colleagues on the waiting bus. What was Matthew to do? The sinister man with the pipe approached, intent on causing him some serious harm. Matthew then opened his coat to reveal he was wearing rather a lot of high explosives. Calling his bluff, the sinister man appeared nonchalant about our hero's threat, a tactic which literally blew up in his face. Matthew, the sinister man and the entire hotel were gone, the rest of us saved by this noble act of self-sacrifice.

Matt, you need to see a shrink.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


We find ourselves at the rather run-down El Tren club in Granada, a venue visited by us only last year, and which has somehow managed to get even crappier since. Frankly the entire place is falling to bits, and Vincent worryingly reported seeing cockroaches in the shower. A couple of our entourage have reported intestinal discomfort during our journey through the Iberian peninsula, a couple of close calls having narrowly been avoided with impromptu roadside stops, the bus's onboard toilet being out of bounds for anything other than liquids. In fact, one unnamed bus-mate found himself having to fashion a makeshift lavatory out of a cardboard box this morning (that reminds me of a song - "Am I shitting in a box? Am I shitting in a cardboard box?") in the car park of the El Tren when such an emergency presented itself. Just as relief was assured the van carrying support act Slamo pulled through the gates. Perfect timing I would say, though that's hardly surprising as one-time Anathema stand-in Daniel Cardoso is their drummer. The photo shows "Gimp-affe" (well, you explain the one-piece leather suit) which has become something of an unofficial tour mascot.

Friday, 5 November 2010


The second gig of four in Spain and unsurprisingly the venue facilities have taken a rapid nosedive and show times have got progressively later. For example, the gig in Granada will in fact be taking place the following day, the band expected on stage at around twelve-thirty am. Hot running water seems to be a scarce commodity here, as does toilet paper. Eagles aren't though. We often see huge ones wheeling in the sky as we drive from one show to the next, a most pleasant sight that I'm not used to back home.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010


Les, Matt, Brian and myself only just made it in time for the show in a beautiful big theatre in Lisbon, having missed our flight from Liverpool after being caught in massive traffic on the trusty old M62. We ended up dashing down to Gatwick for replacement passage on a TAP airbus which got us there with just an hour to spare. The band had found themselves having to set their own stage as a result, and whilst their efforts were commendable they fell some way short of the standards I rigorously impose upon myself. Having said that, I can't sing anywhere near as well as Vincent.

We awoke parked by the sea in Porto the following morning, Jay almost finding himself in it (see photo). It was a spectacular swell coming straight in from the Atlantic, hitting the harbour wall in great explosions of water, and taking me back to the times I spent as a kid dodging the best the North Sea could throw at us in East Yorkshire.