Tour diaries, blogs & stuff – archive

Still Revolting European Tour Diary October-November 2008

Pre-Tour diary diary (Hamburg, 23-26 October 2008)
DateCreated 11/29/2008 10:35:00 AM
PostedDate 11/29/2008 10:30:00 AM

In real terms, the ‘Still revolting’ tour didn’t actually start properly until the good Mr. Sputnig arrived in Hamburg on Monday 27th October. For me, however, it was in full swing from Thursday (23rd October). I arrived in Hamburg on an extremely comfortable, punctual and carbon-footprint-inflating flight from Manchester and was met on the Reeperbahn by my good friend Birgit, who then plied me with huge quantities of coffee and breakfast while I searched franticly for the cobweb-lined German-speaking bit of my brain. After a hearty feed and a stumble around prepositions and the case-system, we headed off down to the River Elbe for a walk, in order to reacquaint myself with the lifeblood of Hamburg, namely its docks, river and surroundings. We took a bus-boat trip across the river to Finkenwerder in the glorious sunshine and went for a walk around the small village overlooking the enormous river. It was great to have some time and space, everything having been a bit hectic over the last few weeks, what with a new CD to produce and design, songs to get up to ‘live-speed’, and of course real life to be lived too. We proceeded on a long and rambling conversation about getting old, ‘the kids’ and their language and behaviour, cultural production, destruction, recreation and alienation, music, fashion, the reinvention of language, etc etc. We also checked out the local cobweb-infested art, the police bicycles and the old blokes fishing in the side-bays of the river. By tea time, I was more than ready for a lazy couple of hours – having arisen before six that morning.

However, other plans were already in place for me, and one of the most important jobs of my trip remained to be done before (or in conjunction with) the serious business of drinking and dancing: namely, the delivery of the greatly anticipated Kein Wort der Reue CD. I should explain that Kein Wort Der Reue (KWDR) are a bunch of forty-something blokes from Hamburg who make beautiful, noisy, intelligent, aggressive German-language punk rock music. In June 2008 they came to Huddersfield to my house for a week of recording a DIY album of ten songs in my cellar. A heavy week of rock ‘n’ roll, computer stress, huge dinners, gallons of homebrew and even the inaugural Mathias Bierfest ensued. Since their departure (on the 7th June) my mate John (with a little help from me) has been mixing, matching, mangling and manipulating the raw material into a stonking set of 10 songs for the unsuspecting Anglo-German market and beyond. Of course, the band (Mathias, Jan, Peter and Stefan) are to be allowed a small say in the final product too, and so my task was to deliver Mix 2 (Oct 08), for listening, critique, conflict and approval. As Brian Clough would have it, I was aiming for a 20-minute open and honest discussion, after which they would all agree with me. If only emulating Brian were that easy!

And so, on that early Thursday evening, Stefan came to Birgit’s flat, where we looked at (and were quite blown away by) some of her photos. Birgit is a photographer who works freelance, often taking shots of music events in Hamburg. However, I would say that her best work concerns landscapes, animals and most importantly texture. We explored her photos from Cuba where she went on holiday this year (some of which are quite striking, but also quite familiar in their ‘faded elegance of Cuban architecture’). I personally thought her photos from her trip to an island in Baltic were absolutely stunning. I believe that she should at least put them on display, if not in an exhibition and for sale. Artists often doubt the value of their own work (myself included, of course), but I genuinely believe that her work deserves a much wider audience. She is in the process of developing her website:

Eventually, Stefan and I walked round to Mathias’s flat, had a bottle of beer thrust into our hands, and we listened to the KWDR CD at least twice through without annoying the neighbours too much before Jan and eventually Peter arrived. The feeling was one of general approval (in fact, I think it’s brilliant) but there still remain criticisms about the power of the bass and drums (‘It’s not powerful enough for a punkrock album!’). I will let you know when the finished product finally escapes for general consumption, so you can add your ha’porth to the debate. Just remember, it’s brilliant!

I eventually left the boys arguing the toss at 8.30pm or so, and went back to Birgit’s for delicious Thai curried veg soup and fried apple, pinenut kernels and coconut, having made a plan to reconvene the following afternoon for more band discussion.

We demolished the soup and a couple of beers and then sped off to the Astra Stube for a gig with Geoff Berner, Canadian klezmer punk accordionist, supported by Dusty Awe. My main interest was to go and see and meet Dusty Awe (Michael to his friends) because we are due to play with him in Denmark on Tuesday, and I had emailed him severally, but had not yet met the great man in the flesh. I was also interested to see Geoff, having bought one of his CDs already simply on the strength of his ‘punk-klezmer-accordion’ strapline.

The Astra Stube is a nice little bar, surprisingly smoky for one freshly arrived from the clean air of British public spaces, with a small stage and an expectant and mixed crowd of twenty-five or thirty persons. I made myself known to Michael and confirmed that we would be on the same train on Tuesday to Aalborg, but didn’t engage in small talk as he was preparing himself for his gig. He played a lovely set of self-penned acoustic guitar songs with some great finger-picking interludes, attention-grabbing stops, and a nice line in banter with the louder and more intrusive members of the audience. Michael has an unusual but engaging voice, and the audience was suitably impressed, and I particularly liked ‘Not too bad for a song’. My only complaint was with the ‘popping’ on the mic, which is a perennial complaint about sound technicians who don’t listen closely enough to their subjects.

After Dusty Awe, we had a short break and then Geoff Berner took to the stage. His entrance was interesting because he didn’t say or do anything, just stood and waited with an expectant air about him. After a few seconds, the whole of the bar had gone quiet and he had grabbed our attention completely. I don’t know if this is his ‘natural stage presence’ or a performance device, but it certainly worked, and much better than trying to batter the audience into listening with extra loud playing or shouting. Anyway, Geoff Berner is great, with his strange tales of life told to an accordion accompaniment. He is no virtuoso klezmer player or traditionalist, but he weaves klezmer tunes around often funny but also tragic observations of life. I thought ‘One shoe’ was poignant and excellent. I don’t like the ‘Fukher’ song because it just seems such a cheap joke, but I do feel that Geoff’s klezmer stuff far outstrips the more ‘rock music’ songs he does. Maybe that’s just the East European Jew in me! Anyway, it was the first time I had seen Dusty Awe and Geoff Berner live, and I have to say I enjoyed it very much. Birgit even bought Geoff’s CD. After the gig, we staggered back through St. Pauli and home, pissed, happy and completely knackered.

Friday (24th October). The morning didn’t really feature much. After a well-deserved lie in, a long and late breakfast ensued, as is almost obligatory in Hamburg, with the rubbish weather excluding most other possibilities anyway. It’s amazing how you can fritter away the hours over a pot of coffee, a few CDs, and a bit of conversation. However, by 4.30 I was raring to go to meet Peter at 5 outside the football stadium for the St. Pauli vs. Wehen-Wiesbaden game (kick-off at 6). St. Pauli are the smaller club in Hamburg, but have an unusual fanbase, in that they always get a 20,000-odd crowd whether they are in the first, second or third tier of German football, but also they have avowedly anti-racist policies and statements, a crowd including punks, squatters, alternative types and lots of people wearing black (along with the club’s colours of brown and white!), and mostly going to watch them is great fun – even when the football is shit!

I had managed to borrow a season ticket for the Gegengerade (a terrace down one side of the pitch), and was soon settling down to a beer and the usual pre-match banter among the packed in crowd. The ground has had a new stand built since I was last there, and the amazing thing about the front terrace of this stand (probably three or four thousand people) is that they have all signed up to sing and dance all through the game, no matter what. From where I was standing, this was an amazing sight and sound, with a whole mass of people bouncing in waves and singing like crazy. Obviously we couldn’t allow anything like that to happen in English football: it’s quite simply more than my job’s worth!

Another unusual thing about the St. Pauli crowd, and the South Stand in particular, is that they have loads of political banners, many of them opposing racism and promoting internationalism and tolerance. I addition, there was a theme at this particular game concerning sexism and homophobia, and the fact that these have no place at the football any more than racism, as they indicate a lack of acceptance of difference and try to reinforce the idea that ‘male, white, straight’ is the only ‘normal way to be. I think English football (and society) has come a long way regarding racism; I think we could learn a thing or two from the St. Pauli crowd and club about sexism and homophobia.

Anyway, the football was not the greatest game ever, but St. Pauli dominated their lowly opposition, and during a purple patch in the middle of the second half they managed to score twice, finishing the game a deserved 2-0 up. Unlike English football, the stadium does not then immediately empty: the team do a circuit of the pitch, taking a pantomime-style bow to each stand, and taking the cheers from the crowd. Having won most of their home games this season, but having gained no points away, a restless chant of “Auswaerts Sieg!” (“Away win!”) slowly rose through the assembled masses. A bloke next to me pointed out that an “Auswaerts Punkt” (“Away point”) would be nice! (But more on this later!)

Anyway, the ‘Boys in Brown’ won convincingly, and we left the ground happy and headed off to the Schanzenviertel a few hundred metres away for a meal (spinach pide with salad for me) and a few beers in a Turkish restaurant, and then more beers in the punk rock pub the Dschungel. The beer and the conversation flowed, the music thrashed, and I think we were all as happy as pigs in shit!

Before it got too late, I decided to head back to Birgit’s through St. Pauli and along the Reeperbahn. I was a bit shocked at the number of older men collecting empty bottles and cans for the deposit or recycling value at one in the morning. It just seems a bit of a harsh and desperate life, but maybe that’s just the old woolly liberal in me, and it’s really your own tough shit of you’re old, poor and haven’t got any savings when you get old, especially if you a wino or an immigrant! And then the prude in me was shocked when I got propositioned by one of the legions of prostitutes on the street. Thirty Euros for a quick shag, eh? I know lots of people say that some women do it for the pleasure as well as the money (a myth perpetuated by books, films and TV such as ‘Belle de Jour’). I’m afraid I don’t believe it. If you want to have loads of sex with loads of people, then that’s fine and dandy; but I really don’t believe that doing it with horrible, sweaty pissed-up blokes for the £25 a time has anything to do with fun, being horny or enjoying yourself. Germany and other countries have far more civilised (and safer) laws concerning the management and regulation of prostitution than Britain, but I still remain to be convinced that the vast majority of the sex industry (here or there) has much to do with anything other than exploitation, coercion, power, domination and bullshit! And anyway, I’m worth more than 30Euros!

Saturday (25th October) was another beautiful sunny Autumn day. I walked with Birgit to Altona, taking photos of the leaf colours, the sunshine on the river and the general loveliness of the day. We sat up in park overlooking the harbour and waited for Snel (Birgit’s bloke) to arrive, at which point we drank coffee and generally enjoyed the sunshine, before I sped off to Stefan’s flat for the KWDR music meeting and discussion.

Essentially, the meeting all got a bit fraught, as different members of the band had differing ideas as to the importance of certain details compared with the overall sound. Eventually, it was agreed that John’s and my work was just about done (“Only another couple of hours’ tweaking, lads!”) and that the band would then enquire of friends and colleagues regarding mastering and finishing the whole thing off.

As a process, the most important point for me is about how difficult it is to manage democracy, consensus, opinion, insecurity, empire-building, trust and personalities – and that’s just in a band of four blokes plus a couple of interlopers, but all of us coming from a similar point of view, and all of us having a similar end-goal in sight. Anyway, not too much blood was spilt(!), though some sweat and tears, and then the meeting split in different directions, leaving me, Stefan, Christine Stefan’s partner) and Boris (a friend who had just arrived from Hannover) to eat, drink and play Puerto Rico (a boardgame about building colonies in the New World). I managed to win the game, but I’m still not sure I understood how or why, but I did convincingly buy slaves, sell maize, coffee and indigo, and amass a small fortune in cardboard coins.

Birgit and Snel were due to meet us in a Bar near the Grosse Freiheit off the Reeperbahn (I’ve forgotten what it’s called), so we walked down there for 10pm or so, and played a kind of musical chairs round a beautiful but impractically sized table, in order to allow everyone to converse with everyone else (the mix of people mostly being ones who only meet up with each other on rare occasions, if at all, and often when I am in town). I managed to catch up with Boris’s life and work, as well as conversing at some incoherent length with a very pissed bloke who (I think) plays double-bass. We all went our separate ways at a reasonable hour, with plans for breakfast on the roof of Snel’s place if the weather permits.

Sunday (26th October) dawned in the least ‘breakfast on the roof’ kind of fashion, in that it was windy, raining and generally horrible out (and therefore a perfect day for a game of football in the park). Boris was mightily relieved, having expressed some horror at the concept of going anywhere near anybody’s roof, but it seemed a bit of a shame to miss the opportunity to me. Anyway, we had breakfast at Birgit’s instead, and then me and Boris walked to Stefan’s for the allocation of football kit and generally pre-match pep-talk (and coffee and cigarettes). Appropriately attired, we stumbled our way through the deluge to a puddle strewn patch of park and huddled under the awning at the front of a neighbouring building. Damp but dedicated figures emerged from the gloom to join us, one or two carrying balls, and eventually we decided to go and splash about in the puddles under the auspices of ‘warming up’. Of course, apart from this being a regular Sunday fixture, today was Jan’s (he of KWDR drumming fame) birthday, so we were all eager to play a good game in his honour. Sides were picked, names were exchanged, positions were allocated, and the splashing around began. Actually, it was not as much of a mudbath as it could have been , and there were even one or two moments of guile, beauty and elegance. My team (including Jan, Boris, Christine and a couple of others) were outclassed in the opening twenty minutes or so, going four or five goals behind. However, bit of organisation, positive talk, determination and excellent running off the ball created numerous chances, some of which were firmly slotted past the opposing goalkeeper. The game went on for at least an hour and a half, with little let-up in the rain, but elegant, balletic and mud-spattered we blundered on regardless. Eventually, with an injury to Stefan and little likelihood that Jan’s plucky side were going to pull back a four or five goal deficit, we elected to call it a day. The post-match beer and juice flowed, birthday presents were given to Jan, and the local homeless punkrocker/wino added his wisdom to the mix. All in all, when all’s said and done and in the final analysis, I would say that football was the winner, and that we were all in desperate need of a shower and some dry clothes. We returned to Stefan’s flat, via the cake shop, feeling we had fully earned a little empty-calorie based treat.

After much showering and tea and cake, Boris left us for his train back home, and we drifted into an evening of: more Puerto Rico (I understood the rules better this time, and therefore lost); a curry from the Indian takeaway (nothing like a good old-fashioned British curry, though, but pretty stonking all the same); the incomprehensible German internal politics and economics news on the telly; and a traditional Sunday night’s cop/thriller/drama show (which I didn’t really follow either). However, despite my lack of comprehension, it was nice to eat well and the veg out with good people and no booze (for one night only!) I can already see the headlines writing themselves: “Bowen in Rockstar Sobriety scandal!”, “My lack of drink and drugs hell!”, etc etc. However, normal service will be resumed tomorrow…

Eventaully I blundered back to Birgit’s flat where she was similarly slobbed out in front of the telly, but was also working on some of her photos on the computer. I was knackered and am far too old for all this healthy living, so I soon went to bed.

The Still Revolting Tour Diary (Hamburg-Aalborg 27-28 October 2008)
DateCreated 11/29/2008 10:43:00 AM
PostedDate 11/29/2008 10:35:00 AM

Monday 27th October This is officially the first day of the tour, since the good Mr Sputnig arrives on a flight from Manchester to Hamburg this afternoon. After the customary huge and delicious breakfast, I plotted a walk down along the river and then into the City centre to the railway station to meet Jim. A pleasant enough day gradually turned filthy, and I spent much of the walk cowering in doorways. However, I did discover the Nikolaikirche which is a half-destroyed church which has been kept in that state as a memorial against war. I have since discovered that it was the tallest building in the world from 1874-76, and even in its current dilapidated but kind of restored state, it is the second tallest in Hamburg (after the TV tower, I presume). It is very impressive, and I always like to get a bit of old-buildings-and-especially-churches kind of tourism into my trips. There is also a fabulous statue in there of someone with their head in their hands, looking as if in total despair. For me, this is a beautiful and evocative setting for a beautiful sculpture, and a powerful statement about war and destruction. The rain and heavy skies just add to the atmosphere.

However, all was not art and philosophical musings. I still had to find Jim and then get us safely back to Birgit’s. His bus from the airport eventually rolled in, and, after some indecision and confusion, we found the right Underground train and went back to the Reeperbahn to dump Jim’s luggage. Having been through but never properly to Hamburg, Jim deserved a quick tour of the Docks area and a visit to the Bismarck statue before nightfall, and a stroll past the Millerntor football stadium to the Jolly Roger on Budapesterstrasse, wherein we are due to play on Wednesday.

The Docks were busy and beautiful, Bismarck was huge and imposing, and the Jolly Roger had our poster up in their window, so we felt suitably pleased with ourselves. We then went to buy supplies for tomorrow’s train journey to Denmark (heavy rye-bread sandwiches and coffee, it looks like), and then back to Birgit’s for Thai curry soup (still going strong after all these days) and the organising of the Still Revolting merchandise stall.

Most people would be pleased enough to have a few CDs in plastic or paper covers. We, however, are fussy and demanding, as well as hopefully a bit innovative and unusual. Our tour ‘split CD’ (four tracks each) has a cloth cover (red fleece, red cotton or black and white houndstooth), sewn in nametag ribbons (‘James Bar Bowen’ and ‘Jim Sputnig’), a button badge (‘still revolting’), an insert card, and all this collated by hand by Jim and Jacqueline over the preceding few days. Much sewing-machine and overlocker-based stress had ensued, but the covers were done, ready to have the dangling threads tied and the CDs inserted. This we did, over a couple of beers in Birgit’s kitchen (amidst much cursing about the fiddliness of the task), but eventually all were done, the non-functioning CDs removed from the process (about 5%), and the merchandise stall was ready to rock. All we need now are some eager punters at our gigs.

By way of celebration, we three went to the Dschungel, met up with Stefan, drank far more beer and until much later in to the small wee hours than is advisable, and staggered home, having set our alarms for 8am (or so we thought, eh, Mr Sputnig!).

Tuesday 28th October dawned grey and miserable, but we were unaware of this, being collectively in some alcohol-induced stupor. Eight o’clock came and went, with no squeak from Jim’s alarm. By some quirk of fate, I peeled open my eyes to see that it was 8.10am, and panic set in! Were my eyes deceiving me? Was there some kind of mistake? Had my watch conked out? Why was my head as fuzzy and incoherent but curiously headache-free? I croaked out an unintelligible exclamation, at which point Mr. Sputnig cursed loudly and freely and we variously ran for the shower, the kettle, the breakfast and the picnic-making accoutrements. Sandwiches were thrown together; coffee was brewed; Birgit was awakened; breakfast was consumed; bags, guitars and CDs were packed; farewells were said; U-Bahn tickets were bought; an underground train was caught to the Hauptbahnhof; the train to Aarhus was located; seats were taken. And we’re off! (Just!)

Michael Dusty Awe was due to get on too, but there was no sign of him until we got to a second station in Hamburg, at which point he came and found us and we all settled down for the ride. Living in Britain, there is a culture of slagging off trains, whether that be a nationalised British Rail or a tax-payer-subsidised mish-mash of ‘private’ companies. (Either way, we pay!) I would suggest that this is unfortunate, because a lot of the time train travel is a fabulous thing. You’ve got reasonably comfortable seats, a table to eat at, somewhere to stash your luggage (and no weight limit, customs and security nonsense), room to manoeuvre and walk about, and reading on them doesn’t make you feel sick. You race along at high speed, chatting to your mates or chatting up the other passengers, reading your book, eating your sarnies and generally having a great time. This was the case, all cliches aside, with the clean, efficient, well-run German and Danish rail system, with even a sign up in the toilets telling men to sit down so as not to piss all over the floor and the seat. There was glorious countryside, impressive bridges over large stretches of water, eagles, herons and other big birds, appropriate information from the rail-staff, a short wait for a connection in Aarhus, and we arrived bang on time in Aalborg, and all for 78Euros each. If only life could always run so smoothly!

It was mid afternoon, and Michael led us through the streets to 1000Fryd, a Cultural Centre including cafe, cinema, venue, library, rehearsal space and somewhere for us to sleep. It was down a backstreet in the city centre. The kitchen was a hive of activity, preparing for tonight’s event with fizzing pans of frying tofu and a throughput of various people, mostly black-clad, tattooed and pierced, as we drank tea and settled in for the evening. We were introduced to Neil, our Scots-Danish soundman for the night, and went and dumped our stuff, and then went out for a walk around. There is a huge river and bridge, a cool looking old-town with a big white church in the middle, a couple of cheesy-looking clubs and a wholly unreasonable number of women’s boots on sale throughout the town. Maybe they’re hoarding them in anticipation of some kind of world shortage or something, but, even as a fan of sturdy boots as well as fuck-me shoes, I thought this surplus on sale was excessive! The town, and the boots, would probably warrant further inspection, but rock ‘n’ roll being what it is, we had to get back for the gig.

The stage was set up with huge banner saying “Racisme-fri by” (“No racism here”) and a fabulous hand-painted fist smashing a swastika. We plugged in and sound checked, and then did all that pre-gig strumming to ourselves, wandering about upstairs, getting showered, going outside for nervous cigarettes, making up our beds upstairs in the ‘dormitory’, and the ritual demolition of a huge plate of vegan spaghetti Bolognese – which was absolutely delicious. The Folkekoekken (‘folk kitchen’) was surprisingly well attended, cheap vegan food (less than 3Euros for as much as you can eat) was clearly a big draw; optimistically, the man with the money-tin asking around to see who was staying and therefore paying) for the gig was getting a good response, so we thought we could be on to a winner here.

At about 9ish, Michael Dusty Awe took to the stage. Slight in stature but confident-looking, he immediately settled the audience down, including his mates who had turned out in some force. Dusty Awe has an unusual and quite beautiful voice, and some of his songs make you sit up and think before they are a few bars old. Once again highlights were ‘Not too bad for a song’ and ‘I love to complain’. I have to confess that I don’t fully understand what his songs are about or where he’s coming from, but it all makes for a glorious and chaotic mix of performance and guitar playing, and the members of the audience who were listening were clearly enjoying it. Unfortunately, a number of the audience were not fully acquainted with the concept of ‘live performance’ (too many nights in front of the telly!). Dusty Awe was competing with a group of international students who clearly had no concept of how you behave at a gig (i.e. you sit and listen, or you go outside to talk and stop spoiling it for everyone else). Anyway, he and we coped, and some of his mates were even so moved (and possibly so crapulent) as to stand up and sing along during the high points. Generally, the whole thing was a bit chaotic, but Michael kept his act together, and did a great gig.

He was soon followed by Jim Sputnig, who similarly had to compete with the excessively loud talking from stage front right. However, The lad Sputnig did not let such trivialities put him off his stride, turning in a great performance which drew the audience into his (slightly skewed) worldview. The highlights for me were ‘Tiger’s eye’ (a song about self harming) and ‘Come Down’ (about apathy and seizing the day), but I have to say, Jim took the stage by storm and rose to the (sometimes difficult) occasion.

Last on was me. Apart from breaking a string and having to borrow Michael Dusty’s guitar, it was fairly uneventful. I tried all the old performers’ tricks of playing extra loud then quiet, making eye-contact with the individual members of the audience, vamping on one chord, and trying to make myself physically more imposing, but nothing seemed to quieten the loud-talkers. And then they decided to go elsewhere. So I put in a fairly regulation rest-of-gig, with a bit of love, a bit of hate, a bit of politics and a bit of laugh. Afterwards, we still had our beer allowance to finish. I have to confess that the eight pints of strong lager on my tab remained only half finished, which is not very rock’n’roll, but Mr Sputnig endeavoured to make the most of his quota. We all staggered to bed, pissed, at a relatively reasonable hour, having completed Gig No. 1 of the Still Revolting Tour.
General impressions: Venue: (1000Fryd) fabulous. Organisers: friendly enough, but mostly ‘business-like’. Audience: a mixed bag. Performance: alright, not earth-shattering. CD sales: minimal. Went to bed: happy enough!

‘Still revolting’ Tour diary (Aalborg-Hamburg 29-30 October 2008)
DateCreated 1/24/2009 12:38:00 PM
PostedDate 1/24/2009 12:24:00 PM

Wednesday 29th October dawned optimistically enough.

However, we didn’t see this bit of the day, as we, like any sensible rockstars, were still slumbering like babes in arms. However, mid-morning was greeted wit a cracking breakfast consisting of huge plates of the same vegan spaghetti Bolognese that we had for tea last night, plus proper superstrong Scandinavian coffee. [Where did that tradition of strong coffee in Scandinavia come from? It’s hardly a local delicacy! But I’m not complaining.]

Along with picnic preparation, we then did a bit of obligatory scouting for souvenirs, including taking photos of the table football team dressed in hand-made black vinyl sleeveless shirts with a skull and crossbones logo and St. Pauli written on. Could this be a good omen for the day, since we are heading back to Hamburg into the arms of the St. Pauli fans at the Jolly Roger? We trundle through town to the bank, in order to change our Danish Kroner for Euros, and realise (to our joy) that we have only lost a few quid on the whole Aalborg trip (excluding our initial ‘escape from Britain to the Continental mainland’ costs). Clearly we are safer sticking to being international acoustic punk rockstars than money-grabbing capitalist pigs! Anyway, we got to the train station in glorious sunshine and realised we had ages to wait, so went to the local park and hung out with Michael Dusty Awe there for half an hour.

Train time came, and we left Aalborg. The journey was uneventful enough, but it was my turn to see all the eagles and big birds, whereas it was Mr. Sputnig’s turn to make the constant and repetitive Sesame Street-related
quip. After a couple of hours, this special ‘humourless joke’ started to wear thin, but he redeemed himself with some cracking avocado and salad sandwiches in bread donated to 1000Fryd by a bakery in Aalborg. We sped on, changed trains in Aarhus again, and arrived in Hamburg a couple of minutes early, just before 7pm. We grabbed a dodgy-looking pizza at the Hauptbahnhof and then got a U-bahn to St Pauli, and arrived at the venue by about twenty past. It was heaving, with drunken people spilling out on to the street. St Pauli had won by a streaky 2-1 away, and the crowd were celebrating this rare occurrence in the time-honoured style. This theme continued throughout our gig.

We set up on the little stage, acquired bottles of beer, did a rudimentary soundcheck, had hugs and kisses with the assembled friends, and then Jim took to the stage. He looked great, and performed a great gig, far more confidently that last night. It is also available on DVD, thanks to Mathias out of KWDR and his modern technology. The only drawback is that the guitar sounds a little bit like a ukulele But otherwise, it looks great. I thing Jim is planning to put a song or two from this up on his myspace (/jimjimsputnig), so that you who couldn’t be there get to see what he really looks like in full flight.

The beer flowed, the crowd enjoyed it, and the sound wasn’t bad at all, so I was very much looking forward to my turn. When it came, I took to the stage for the first time in Hamburg since probably about 1993. It felt good, doing much the same set as last night, but with a bit more German thrown into my patter (the phrase ‘Auswaerts Sieg’ being a popular one for the night). I thought I played pretty well, and chatting to people after the gig, it appears that they did too. The drunken celebrations continued late into the evening, and we made the most of the free beer – and got paid by the Jolly Roger, as well as having a hat passed round. Maybe we’re not as uneconomic as we previously suspected!

I do find the whole St. Pauli phenomenon a curious one, because the leftist, anarchists and punks have built a genuine alternative, anti-racist and anti-capitalist scene around their football club, despite the fact that professional football absolutely stinks as one of the most dubious rip-off capitalist entertainment industries. I suppose the interesting point is that it is possible to somehow distance yourselves as fans from the activities of the club, the players, the officials and all that they do. Except, in terms of merchandising, St. Pauli have cornered an anti-capitalist market with their skull and crossbones logos, and all these anti-capitalist types spend vast amounts of their hard-earned cash on all this cool St. Pauli stuff. Blimey, how’s that for double double think?

Anyway, we stumbled home at a reasonably respectable hour (and it’s only ten minutes walk back to Birgit’s flat from the Jolly Roger).
General impressions of Gig No. 2of the Tour: Venue: very good. Organisers: friendly, laid-back, and let us get on with it. Audience: them that were listening, very good; the rest were pissed! Performance: I thought we were excellent. CD sales: a good handful (plus some giveaways to mates). Went to bed: knackered, happy, looking forward to a day off.

Thursday 30th October dawned bright and early. We did not. Well, it’s a day off! Breakfast was the usual leisurely affair, followed by a trip round the CD shops of St. Pauli. We failed to find anything really worth buying, but had a nice walk up the Schulterblatt and around the Schanzenviertel before trundling back to the Reeperbahn to buy the makings of a picnic for tomorrow. Jim went off for dinner with his Bosnian friends and I went round to Mathias’s flat to collect some salmiak schnaps (a curious concoction of cheap vodka or schnaps mixed with salty liquorice sweets). Mathias had brought some of this charcoal-grey liquid to England in the Summer, and John (producer of the KWDR album) had very much enjoyed it, so I had promised to bring some back from my travels (along with the makings of more). We spent a pleasant couple of hours listening to punkrock, drinking coffee and discussing the merits or otherwise of myspace and other means of creating a ‘web presence’ for musicians and bands. Mathias had also videoed last night’s gig, so you can judge for yourself if you think it was any good (remind my to put up a link).

Anyway, after a couple of hours, I went back to Birgit’s, scoffed down a delicious bowl of gnocchi and red sauce with veggies that I had prepared earlier, and thenwent to meet Mathias at the bus stop. We went to Eimsbuettel, discussing the meaning of history and the different ways of interpreting the actions and the Zeitgeist of, say, those involved in post-Revolutionary Ukraine or the North of England pre-World War I (relating to both our own current private historical projects!) I have known Mathias for the best part of twenty years, but I feel like I have only really got to know him well this year, and what I really love about him is that we can have intelligent conversation (in a confused mixture of German and English) about anything from music to creative ways of getting pissed to homebrewing to obscure historical figures and their impact on their corner of history. And usually we mange to deal with all of these, all of the time!

Arriving at the Urknall (the pub where I first met Peter and Stefan and by extension just about all the other Hamburgers I know), Peter was already there, and we tucked into large glasses of pils, listened to some surprisingly cheesy music, and chewed the fat for a few hours. Stefan arrived, followed by Jan, then Christine, and eventually Jim Sputnig found his way there. The usual banter and beer flowed; it almost feels like home! As it got later, people again headed off, after hugs and kisses and promises to write, email, keep in touch and so on. As soon as Stefan left, I remembered that I had forgotten to give him a large wedge of cash that I owed him for train tickets. I left it with Peter, and presume he passed it on. At some ungodly hour, someone called a taxi and we (me, Jim and Mathias) went back to Birgit’s, feeling a little sad to be leaving these lovely people again. Mathias went home. Me and Jim went to sleep, having correctly set the alarm for the morning!

Still Revolting Tour Diary (Den Bosch Friday 31st October 2008)
DateCreated 1/24/2009 12:41:00 PM
PostedDate 1/24/2009 12:38:00 PM

Friday 31st October. Joe Strummer is (or was) a hugely influential singer and songwriter, and I greatly respect his oeuvre. However,this is no reason to have him ranting on about knowing your rights at 8 o’clock in the morning after less than enough sleep and a head full of last night’s beer. However, it may have been unpleasant as an alarm call, but it was certainly effective.

Like a well-oiled machine, the ‘Still Revolting’ tourists sprang into action. Sleeping bags were rolled up and packed, showers were had, flasks of coffee and Mr.Sputnig’s specialist dark-rye sandwiches were constructed and packed, breakfast was eaten, tea was drunk, big kisses and thanks to Birgit for her total hospitality was imparted, and we were out of the flat before 9a.m.

We caught the Underground to Altona, had a couple of hours’ train ride to Osnabrueck, a change to Nijmegen, and then another one to Den Bosch and the unknown. As one might expect, the Dutch and German rail systems ran efficiently (on-time to the nearest minute at every change), and we arrived in a cold and drizzly Den Bosch with a vague idea of where we were heading (thanks to some foresight and Googlemaps). It was about a ten minute walk, which is quite a long way with a hangover, a full pack on your back and a ridiculously heavy but nuclear-bomb-proof guitar case (my guitar in its posh travel case weighs 11kg, to be precise!).

Having seen photos of Knoflook (which means garlic, for the non-Dutch speakers – of which more later!) we sort of knew what it might look like, and it was, as expected, a long square red-brick block of buildings. However, no-one answered the door, at which point, much cursing and swearing was to be heard from the tourists, because we didn’t have a phone number or any other means of contact. We knocked again, and tried the bell, at which point someone heard us upstairs and let us in. Arriving at venues is always a bit strange, because you may have had an extended correspondence with someone you have never met or spoken to, but when you actually meet them or see the venue, it is rarely like you expect. Quite what I expected, I don’t know, but Knoflook is a squatted community cafe above a free shop (like a second-hand shop, but no money changes hands), a few half-finished workshops and other facilities, and then a flat upstairs at the other end of the corridor from the cafe. Thomas, my contact, greeted us warmly and immediately made us a cup of tea and showed us where to dump our stuff, where we were going to sleep, and then we went to the cafe to organise the tables and chairs and to meet some of the other residents and people who work there.

Thomas lives there in the squat with Meindert and Kaj, and there were some people making food in the kitchen for this evening’s Folk Kitchen (much like the one on Tuesday in Aalborg!) Basically, there is cheap vegan food, the bar is open (also cheap), and then we are to be the post-prandial entertainment (also cheap?), and they are expecting anything up to about fifty people. There are also racks and baskets of right-on and radical literature, badges, stickers and posters. We had a cup of tea, and then Jim and I realised that we were probably going to be more a hindrance then a help, so we went off for a walk around Den Bosch. The usual canals and canal-side tall building and then mix of medieval right up to brand new buildings make it pretty much what you would expect from a small city in southern Netherlands. There were some horrible touches of crappy modern town centredom (the usual chainstores, bullshit burger bars and multinational coffee emporia) mixed with little ginnels with cozy-looking bars and ancient churches. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time or the inclination to avail ourselves fully of the facilities, and soon enough it was time to head back to Knoflook to prepare for tonight. In fact, the only real preparations required were a change of t-shirt and taking a seat among the assembled punters in the cafe for a delicious bowl of peanut soup (remind me to try this at home!), followed by a carbohydrate-rich plate of lentils, spinach bread, winter greens and some kind of stew (I can’t remember what it was). It was all delicious, and the meal was rounded off with a spicy carrot cake, with the additional interest being that it was the birthday of two of our cooks for the night: Ryanne and Anne-Marie.

Of course, being on tour, and therefore turning up somewhere you’ve never been before, with only an email address, a contact name and a scabby old printout of some Googlemap, is a very strange thing to do. On the one hand, you are arriving as almost complete strangers at a venue run by people who have no real idea what they are
getting (unless you have some kind of ‘profile’), and they are going to entrust the evening, the entertainment and their regular punters to your fair hands, voices, songs and charm. On the other hand, you’re just some ordinary geezers from the outskirts of Huddersfield who havethe brass neck to say “We can do this performance thing!” On the third hand (assuming you are thus endowed), it could all be a complete shambles, ranging from the wrong kind of hippies in charge to the wrong kind of audience orsimply to some complete fuckwits playing their guitars badly, singing crap songs and having the stage presence of a sack of spuds. Fortunately, the Knoflook gig was the antithesis of this last scenario: for me it was the best gig of the tour.

I have, over the years, spent a fair bit of time in the Netherlands in various capacities: from indigent hitchhiking busker desperately seeking cannabis to pretentious MA student checking out (and creating) great art. I have had mixed receptions, usually depending on my scruffiness and my impecuniousness: the scruffier and skinter I have been, the harder it has been to make good contact with thelocals. However, on this occasion, I have to say I felt completely welcomed by our hosts at Knoflook. We were given the run of the flat and the coffee-making facilities, and when it came to gig time, almost all of the diners from the folk kitche stayed to hear us sing.

As was becoming traditional, the lad Sputnig trod the boards first (or, at least, the bit of floor in front of the fire escape). The audience was a bit restless and talkative, so I have to say that Jim’s task was no easy one: he battered, strummed and picked his way through much the same set as Wednesday’s, doing so with growing confidence and panache, but it was difficult to hear his every word due to audience hum. Like a pro, however, he kept going and wasn’t distracted by the noise, and I think he was particularly proud to be playing for his friends who had driven up from Tilburg to see him, having not crossed paths for some years. I thought he played as well as Wednesday night’s effort, but I think he was a bit less impressed with himself.

Anyway, having seen the problems of a talkative audience, our host Thomas requested that the audience members who wanted to talk and not listen move to the back of the room and the bar area, leaving me (the performer) and those who wanted to listen to get on with it. This was an absolute bonus, because I had been steeling myself and all my attention-grabbing tricks for this gig (having seen Jim’s struggle), but the majority of the audience listened attentively and appreciatively, and seemed to really get into my own brand of acoustic-political-folk-punk with a vengeance. They even sang along with Teenage Kicks when it came round late on in proceedings. For me, it was an absolute stormer of a gig, and when I went round to chat up the audience and sell some CDs, they seemed to think so too. The chatting and the beer flowed, especially in honour of our birthday girls, one of whom was serving behind the bar and playing some dreadful music on the sound system, and a fabulous night was again had by all. I called it a day at 3 or so; Mr. Sputnig (among others) again flew the flag for intemperance and staying up late. All slept well, once they finally got round to it.

Venue: (Knoflook) fabulous. Organisers: A lovely bunch of people, totally welcoming (and they paid us far more handsomely than we expected). Audience: Once they settled down, they were brilliant. Performance: Quite honestly, I thought we were brilliant too. CD sales: Loads. Went to bed: ecstatic (and pissed again)!

Still Revolting Tour Diary, Amsterdam, 1-2 November 2008
DateCreated 2/4/2009 7:14:00 AM
PostedDate 2/4/2009 6:53:00 AM

Saturday 1st November.
Today was my Mum’s birthday.
However, I wasn’t there to celebrate because I was otherwise engaged in a squat in Den Bosch, recovering from a hangover, eating bread and jam and strong coffee with Jim Sputnig and the residents of Knoflook, so apologies to you, Mum! By way of contrast, we were looking to get a train to Amsterdam,in order to find a self-appointed Free State somewhere in the Pijp district. Fortunately, some of the Knoflookers had been in contact with the Swompers (in fact, it was through them that we had made contact to get the gig) so we cobbled together some vague instructions, a mobile phone number and a rudimentary knowledge of the Amsterdam tram system. Thus armed, we left Knoflook with hugs, kisses and promises to return soon, and then trawled back to the railway station with all our gear and guitars (and a few less CDs and badges than we’d arrived with). The instructions to Swomp worked almost like a dream (apart from a short detour round the block) and we were greeted cordially by a couple of the residents there.

Now Swomp is a curious beast. Apparently (and you can find them online ), the site was a school, but when the council closed it down, they decided to demolish the buildings in order to stop squatters from moving in. So the squatters moved on to the site with caravans and pallets and fabulous ideas for an urban vegetable garden and a whole sackful of ideas about sustainable living in the city. I believe that this is the second such site that the Swompers have occupied, and as of February 2009, they seem to be thriving, with vegetables growing, eco-toilets in the making, solar panels collecting power, straw-walled buildings in construction (despite it being the coldest winter for decades). When we got there, the gardens were being developed, and there were a couple of solar panels in place, but I have to say it looked a bit unprepared for winter. They had a few veggies coming through (broccoli, kale, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes and the like) as well as some well developed herb beds, but it was serving much more as a ‘show garden’ than a means to feed the local populace. But then again, in the space of a few months they really had got their act together with a variety of horizontal and three-dimensional vegetable beds (for the city gardener with really limited space), and they had had advice from permaculture experts about sustainability, companion planting and the importance of attracting birds, insects and wildlife to develop the whole eco system. Quite honestly, I found the whole set-up hugely inspirational, and it was a real honour to be able to come and stay, and even do a benefit gig for them.

The space that we were to be playing in was a bit ramshackle when we arrived, particularly due to the pissing rain and wind, and the fact that they had only just finished constructing the roof out of sheets of wood and tarpaulins. It was a bit unpromising to start with, but Alex and Linder brought out a light, some old pallets for burning on a stove made from a converted gas canister, and a few of us went down to a bar called Molli round the corner to make some food and dry out and break up the wood. Realistically, we only tagged along for the dry and warm (and the chance of a beer) while others made a leek, artichoke and carrot stew. Jim and I went round the corner for a takeaway curry (since eating the stew was still a good few hours distant) and got on with the serious business of trashing the old pallets for the fire.

At mid evening, we went back to Swomp, and the party slowly took shape. A variety of folk turned up, mostly from the squat scene; new friends were made, delicious stew and beers were consumed, anarcho punk CDs were listened to, the fire was lit, and we eventually got out our guitars for a performance.

As is traditional, Jim went first and, sitting down in the corner, did a competent but fairly low-key rendition of his set. It feels as though he really has settled into his songs after performing them a few times on this tour, and his confidence as a performer has grown immensely. I went second, and elected to stand up, feeling that it is easier to really perform if you can move around and dominate the space. I did a reasonable but not earth-shattering set, and the punters were respectfully attentive to both me and Jim. However, it did feel as though we were merely part of a greater whole, in that this was also something of a networking and idea-sharing event, so the most important of the evening was talking to people. This we did, with a constant crowd of twenty or so assembled in the space, but with a steady turnover of people leaving and arriving. Eventually we were escorted back to the Molli to collect our bags and bedding and leave our guitars (in the safe and dry), and we were shown to our caravan for the night.

Venue: (Swomp) the ultimate in DIY. Organisers: Friendly and welcoming (but very busy). Audience: attentive and respectful, but not ecstatic. Performance: I thought we put in a regulation ‘good gig’, but the earth didn’t move. CD sales: a small handful. Went to bed: happy enough (and a bit pissed!)

Sunday 2nd November Today was designated as an ‘open day’ for Swomp, for the local community to come and have a look at what is going on there, and to prove that the residents don’t have three heads or anything. Jim Sputnig had made plans to go to Tilburg to visit his friends, and I took the opportunity to go and do a spot of tourism while the Swompers prepared their lair. Beforehand, we managed to organise the promise of a final impromptu gig down the road in a squatted bar called Eigenaardig for that evening, which would be the final date of the tour, before heading back to Blighty and real life.

I wandered towards the Rijksmuseum and the city centre, taking in the sights and the sunshine but, on seeing the huge queues for the museum, decided not to go in. In fact, I spent a very agreeable few hours wandering about over canal bridges, down side streets, through little art markets, and even had some lunch in a kind of vegetarian kebab shop. I have to say, it was all rather idyllic, and even the pissoir at the edge of the canal behind the Rijksmuseum was worthy of a photo.

Eventually I drifted back along the canal in order to educate myself about the joys of urban gardening at Swomp. As a novice allotment holder (we are just entering our third year), I was keen to pick up tips about the dark arts of feeding whole populations for the price of a few seeds, a bit of sweat and toil and a bucketful of well-rotted vegetable compost. In real terms, I didn’t learn too much to enhance our own plot (I think we’ve just about got the hang of forging some potatoes, onions, leeks and beetroots out of the windswept Yorkshire sod, and anything else doesn’t seem to thrive in the rubbish weather and slugs), but I did see some ingenious ways of organising soil, pallets, bricks and plants so as to make the most of limited space. I’m sure all this info is available
elsewhere on the web if you’re really interested in urban gardening and sustainability.

Anyway, cups of tea and biscuits were available, and a steady stream of interested locals came to have a look round the plot. It was all remarkably friendly, and, quite honestly, doing a benefit gig for a self-declared squatted Free State in Amsterdam is much tamer than it sounds. As darkness fell, a few of the locals and me went to Molly and played darts, drank coffee and beer and chatted. The whole ‘open day’ idea is of course completely exhausting because everyone involved feels permanently on show, as well as being on call at all times to answer questions and appear intelligent about things that they are only just learning about. Compound this with being on tour and meeting new people every day, and trying to sound intelligent about that, as well as having too much fags and booze and not enough sleep all predictably makes for a very exhausted me. So a couple of hours of down-time were perfect. My darts playing was, however, distinctly less than perfect. In fact I was rubbish.

Anyway, after another feed of yesterday’s stew and bread, I wandered down to Eigenaardig a few hundred metres down the street with one of our our main hosts Linder (I don’t know how to spell his name). We chatted loads about the squat scene in the Netherlands, the radical and antifascist scenes across Europe, as well as all sorts of smaller but equally important stuff about what they’re trying to achieve at Swomp. And then someone came in with a bottle of whisky, and the whole evening took a turn for the drunker.

After a couple of hours, we decided to kick off the gig, despite there only being a handful of punters and no sign of Jim. A bloke whose name I didn’t catch played a load of tunes on his oud (a kind of Turkish lute). It was great, and very hypnotic to listen too. There are obviously a huge range of different ways to listen to music and therefore types of music to play. This oud-playing was much more improvisational, experiential and mellow than what I or Jim play and the assembled punters enjoyed it very much.

It being the last night of the tour, I had relaxed my own professional standards regarding not getting pissed before playing, and so when I stepped up to play, I was more than three sheets to the wind. However, I like to think my professionalism, my guitar-playing muscle memory and my nightingalesque voice stood up to the rigours of the performance. It was by no means the best playing I’ve ever done, but I right enjoyed myself, and I think the punters did too. It was pointed out that my Dutch was merely badly disguised German, and that I should desist from even trying to introduce songs in anything but English, but overall it was a bit of a laugh.

Halfway through my set, Jim appeared, similarly bibulent (it was clearly all getting a bit end-of-termish at the ‘Still Revolting’ School of FolkPunkProtestSkaPop Excellence), and so his set was about as chaotic as mine, but equally good fun.

And then that was it. The tour finished with more drinks at the bar. A Polish bloke (who’s name I have also forgotten) who lives in a local squat played a few nicely political songs of his own, which was well received, but I think the main attention of the room was on the bar. A ridiculously short night’s sleep ensued, culminating in creeping off to the airport in the dead of night and a flight back to Leeds/Bradford, and a failure on my part to get to work on Monday as planned because I was completely shattered.

Better start planning the next one, I suppose. Any ideas and offers of gigs, meals, drinks or beds for the night to the usual addresses…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s