Sweden is cold. Still, the venue is close and labyrinthine, there are early showers and clothes washing facilities, nice food and some nice solidarity after the sluggish day off.
The door to the bus still entrances me with its jet propulsion hydraulics
that threaten to clamp you against the bus's metal bosom should it catch
you, which it really fucking tries to do every time I try and shut it. It's like a carnivorous door on the Death Star!
The day is spent doing laundry, though truly it is Mick who is supervising the odd sock here, the grimy pair of jeans there. There are some interviews, two by phone, two face to face; a great dinner, showers, Internet, the basics of life, thus we were happy for a while....
The show is really good today and sound-wise it's as near to dammit perfect. The other bands also perform really well as there is easy access to the side of the stage, affording a good view of the proceedings. Our show goes really well and it's with some exultation that we return to the dressing rooms for the perfunctory showers and wine, after show pizza and catching up with a few old friends.
Tomorrow is a travel day on the ferry to Finland, John our merch guy's
birthday and as we have cabins for the day (and an extremely early start), no doubt there will be a few bevvies in one of the bars, surrounded either by under age drinkers, or overage drinkers, depending on what boat we win.
C'est la vie hippy campers!
Yesterday was fun, especially our self-contained Buck Rogers Iso-cubes way below the waterline in the hull of the love boat. Sleep was inevitable but we set our alarms for a one o'clock meeting at the bar to drink hideous aniseed shots and lager pints, then reconvene to the disco to watch some muppet play cover tunes for the old folk who throng the boat like harbingers of death.
Back on the bus we listen to music over a few beers and chat, eventually
conjuring forth a saviour out of a strange nozzled pan which becomes the
figurehead of our warped sense of humour... The Red Helmet. Who is he, where does he come from? What powers does he possess in this dark corner of the world? Why, he could be anyone... And so he is. Anyone who dons his mask becomes the formidable Red Helmet. Protector of the innocent, wherever they may wander.
Some people think that life in a touring band is all hams and plaques. I can assure you it is not, especially when you start getting ill as I did today here in Tampere, Finland. A stomach bug isn't all that you say, well it bloody well is when you have to sing and you're dehydrated for all the using of the toilet and nauseous to boot. Still, the venue is sold-out, there is a sauna downstairs in the subterranean hive along with a wipe-clean fuck bed, we have an in-store signing to undertake and again, the food is really good once we return from our session at a local record store, though times are definitely a-changing as there are no freebies for our troubles. Looks like I'll have to order the new Kiss album off t' Internet on my return...
The stage is a little odd as it seems to go round a corner so that James is actually pointing a different direction to the rest of us but the audience is great, even though we drop a couple of songs due to my erratic tummy problems. In fact everybody here is cool, from those who come out to the signing to those who serve us extra lashings of ice cream and sprinkly bits for our dinner. The day ends with the aforementioned sauna, all the band cramming in for a good long dousing, with the lads in towels and Caroline in what appears to be a 50's Bathing suit. The bus doesn't leave until really early in the morning so the guy's and Gaahl in Godseed wanna party but I slouch off to the bus, sign a few bits and bobs on the way and crawl into bed to watch a Hammer Horror movie before slipping into a haunted, restless sleep. I fucking hate being ill!
Welcome to Hell (sinki, that is). Well, them Helsinki, we Well Stinky!
Good venue here today, one that's sold out for tonight's show and the
dressing room complete with woodland scene wallpaper is a sight for sore
eyes after the long climb up several gruelling flights to arrive at it's
bachelor pad surroundings.
Today Metal Hammer are flying out to undertake a day of following us about, taking photos and interviewing us for the zine back in England. And that is exactly what happens, even following us to the signing session in a huge record store ( still no freebies mind, just rocket fuel coffee and a whole bunch of interesting fans who throng our impromptu signing area with it's faux leather seats, reminding us more of a chat show host's interviewing platform).
Food is devoured back at the venue, I undertake a video interview in the
bus, my friend Tomcat arrives to see the show (he actually lives back in
Suffolk, but is Finnish and has been working on the Katatonia tour which has seen a few bus problems, which is unsurprising as we learn that it is indeed the infamous Sweat Bus from last year's European festival dates that actually broke down on us too... Though their problem seems far more severe as apparently it actually caught fire with them on it!).
The show is slightly problematic as there are small issues with the in-ears but this is rectified as the show goes on and the audience anyway are a saving grace as they are maniacal this evening, with the aforementioned sold-out venue really raising the roof. We haven't played in Helsinki for a few years, so the response is pretty epic and knowing the Finnish, there has probably been a teeny weenie bit of alcohol consumed. We retire to the comfort of the dressing room after the full set is demolished, to hang out with friends and to chill after so hectic a day. Damn those flights of stairs! I pity the poor Crewdle!
Today is quite bland and my mood for the most part is black, partly due to shrugging off this illness, mostly due to the bleakness of the surroundings and some ongoing issues with the stage set (the projectors still requiring an operating code). The ferry ride across to Latvia is ignored by most, preferring a few more hours in bed to moving, then it's an arrival to somewhere that is strangely reminiscent of the film Hostel. Still, we make the best of it, and the show is a really bloody good one as the fans here are intense. Before taking the stage however, we head over to a restaurant for dinner through a throng of deserted buildings and ominous looking side streets where fans, already gathering, are drinking.
Today is also Paul's birthday, we manage to organise a cake, but anything
else is out of the question else I would've taken an impromptu slog about
the shops looking for something to cheer him up with (he is ill as well and subsequently the set is slashed by a couple of tracks to compensate).
Godseed aren't playing tonight either, something to do with their drummer
flying to Oslo for some other prior engagement, which is actually a small
blessing as backstage is minimal to say the least. Still, this is a killer show, really old-school in its intensity and vibe and everybody is vibrantly happy once we leave the stage to the strains of our outro music. There are fans all about the bus, but we don't mind a jot seeing as its a rare visit we pay to Riga, though I'm that shattered, I fear I may have developed Riga Mortis!
Our day off was spent mostly travelling and being halted at the border,
which has always been problematic for Westerners. We're there for a few
hours being rigorously grilled (the last time we didn't even make it
through for the show as the government made sure we were held up, as rock
music at the time was, well, outlawed) but eventually we make it through the drug dogs, iron and visa scrutinising, eventually heading into Minsk around five pm having watched movies to death and stopped at several questionable service stations.
The club we're playing is open for a show, so we all head inside for a few drinks and some food which is brought up to a table for us. The club is actually a converted cinema and dead modern, aside from the lack of toilets.
The band are a bit like Mogwai and appear to be a teenie band as the hordes of emphatic girls are testament to. Still, no complaints there, better than looking at hairy blokes all night. The night winds up with us still in the club, a few beers and some pizza and then it's time for me to hit the sack with a really good book ( Justin Cronin's 'The Passage') for a change.
Last night was great, the sleeping part of it wasn't. Because the heating
was on full tilt to combat the intense drop in temperature outside (minus 28 amidst the freezing fog), everybody was either bunged up or snoring like trolls. In despair at not being able to sleep having woken around four, I first tried moving my bedding downstairs, then to the back lounge (which isn't a back lounge as such, more a storage room whilst the extra driver is on board) but to no avail. In the end Klaus the bus driver is awoken (Tim Burton to me) and the upstairs heating is switched off so everybody can breathe. Subsequently everyone is a bit knackered the next day as sleep was erratic and nasal.
Still, we're at the venue so a lie-in can be had. Food hasn't arrived come 2 o'clock, so Big Martin orders all the Crewdle out and then proceeds to kick off in true Scottish fashion. Keeping out of the way for most of the afternoon aboard the merry ship of tools, the opportunity to watch the crowd build up is afforded me, plus the bus is spotlessly tidy for once, lending it a homely glow against the gathering dusk.
There are no other bands from the tour on this particular show, just a local support, so the show is fairly early, though the crowd take so long to file into the venue that stage time is put back anyway. Everybody is in high spirits as sound check went excellently, so the show really kicks off in formidable fashion and the crowd goes berserk. In fact, this and the following show in the Ukraine are the best of the tour thus far, with 'The Forest Whispers My Name' being added to the set for posterity.
Afterwards a large chunk of the crowd hangs around the venue for autographs and the band are so mobbed that a security detail is employed as well as our crew puffing their chests to help out, and a slightly nervous young Daniel Firth suffers a baptism by fire when he is thrown out to the baying crowd, and the door locked behind him.
Tonight, it would seem that, 'Belarus, Belarus, can you do the fandango?'
Next day was a long crawl to the next show. An early border (we were four hours being checked through, with the rudimentary drugs dog, t-shirt payoff and much standing around and smoking of cigarettes that every business deal seems to be accompanied by, happening). By the time we wound through the sprawling city of Kiev to our destination, it was four thirty in the afternoon in a thick and dismal soup of grey concrete suburbia. This is the same venue we played first on the Russian tour of 2011 and its a cool auditorium with a lack of backstage toilet faculties, despite the size.
Still, there some weird scaffolding that stretches behind the stage so I
climbed up there during Godseed's set, fully made up, like some creepy
phantom hanging about in the eaves.
There only being one toilet (with a dismal shower inside it), everyone had to use it, so the queue was one of those you had to be near it at all times for entry, else it was hours of finding it locked, each time more annoying than the last, dying for a poo. Again. Can't possibly be anything to do with the barrage of cabbage intake recently.
The show was awesome, fired up from having watched the other bands perform.
The stage was big but uneven, so a magic carpet was provided which plugged the trippy edges.
This was definitely one of my favourite shows as the crowd were awesome, and there was a real special energy in the venue, especially from the females.
Afterwards it was all shits and giggles for a while before a few of the
local speciality with a few fans at the bar with Daniel and James. Though
not Jack and Daniel. Really nice people here all round.
That night we set up a travelling disco aboard the bus as the promoter
Dmitri and chum are accompanying us onto Poland and unfortunately the
palatial suite is out of service so they have to sleep on the couch. Which they do way before the last vestiges of the human race ascend to bed. Hence why the next morning they awake to childish things like monocles, cocks and swastikas markered on Dmitri's face. All in good fun though as Dmitri and chums are fab.
Next day is a travel day spent mostly in bed like some fat pupating moth, as the countryside outside grew darker and darker. There was talk of a cafe at some stage, for food, as they accept the Euro, but what we eventually found was infinitely better. In the midst of such a slow, lazy, often necessarily dull day, the cafe Beda (Translation, trouble) was like walking into a winter wonderland. It was entirely styled like a log cabin, with wooden ornaments, statues and antlers hanging everywhere, all lit up like Christmas with traditionally costumed staff on hand. And the food... Pardon my French, but 'fuck me' it was good. And massive. And cheap. I ordered Duck in a cranberry sauce with dumplings and vegetables and what I got was a swan.
Literally, it was huge. James shared the mega platter of meat with the
promoter and when it came out dancing in flame, it was like some kind of
Medieval banquet being delivered to the table. There was even a whole
trotter in there amidst the meat empire, set upon a regime of mass roast
potatoes. It took four very heavy doggy bags just to salvage what they
couldn't eat between them!
We were only there for a couple of hours, yet, between the dark hours of
travel, that place shone like a beacon of hope upon us, weary travellers on the road to nowhere. To see such lit up faces feasting in silent delight, well it was enough to make one self sick! Still, it really was an amazing place and well recommended should you be travelling anywhere between and Warsaw, anytime soon.
Poland. Typically Polish, this first show is in an old military barracks
which is overly warm and underly decorated, being very reminiscent of Silent Hill or again, Hostel. There is an awesome shower though that features lights, a radio and of course, though not always optional, hot water.
Catering is as per, though dinner is good and there are clothes washing
facilities, so much so that one of the rooms becomes a part time laundry,
complete with hundreds of t-shirts from practically everybody on the tour.
The show is another blinder, and the crowd, as always, is maniacal here in Poland. We carry on the new-found tradition of playing The Forest Whispers My Name in addition to rest of the full set and leave the stage enraptured by the response.
Afterwards, everybody gathers for a few drinks in the common room with the other bands and various friends who have braved the weather to see the show.
A few good hours are spent larking about (we're not kicked out until after three) and everybody disperses, happy and quite possibly, drunk to the gills. Fortunately I am not, so I make the rounds to find everything that has been left behind, which in this case is my phone which Caroline rings for me to (very luckily) find under someone's discarded trousers. Christ, imagine being without your lifeline on tour! Nightmare central!
Next day finds us in Krakow, late as usual as we try to find the bloody
venue. Still, when we do, there is some nice vegetarian catering and our
friend Beatrice who has travelled from Switzerland to see us. This seems to be a bit of a hippy commune and is very reminiscent of Berlin for some
reason, but I really like it and the people are very friendly and helpful.
After a great sound check dinner is served, which is amazing, and we
generally hang around backstage, occasionally braving the balcony to watch the bands in full view of the audience. Still, it gets them fired up.
The gig is one of the best on the tour for sure, and we have a merry bloody time on stage going through the motions and playing an ultimately killer show. The crowd are a little strange in temperament, but I guess it's in their genes as the response is raucous after each song. Afterwards, and after a much-needed shower (I come off stage looking like a Coal man), I reconvene with Tom and the Godseed/Rotting Christ chaps in the venue bar, signing autographs and generally chilling out and having a wee laugh with the lads and some straggling fans who insist on buying vodka shots.
Today is the Winter Gods Of Metal in Zlin, Czech Republic, the only day of the tour that we play a festival which boasts Nile, Morbid Angel and Kreator amongst others, with nearly 6000 people present. The day is passed in the warm bliss of backstage coughing a lot, the bug still prevalent amongst these touring buddies. The catering here is awesome, plenty of fish and veg, red wine and weird vending machine orange juice and the time is spent bumping into people we've known from the past (such as Karl from Nile and Dave from Morbid). As its a festival show, we are on stage a lot earlier than usual, eight o'clock to be precise, but disaster strikes with a vengeance as we go on as Caroline is struck down with a stomach virus and exits the stage to be sick almost as soon as we start, resulting in us having to leave our show four songs in. Nightmare!
Still, Martin (whose locality this is, and whose girlfriend is here to see him), subdues the bemused audience in Czech, explaining the situation, and thus preserves our musical honour. It is a very sad state of affairs but one that unfortunately can't be helped, such is life on the road falling foul to the filthy fingers of illness. The main concern is Caroline's health and fortunately there are medics on hand who manage to calm her down and give her something for the pain, although she does spend the next two or three hours tearfully curled up in a knot in the dressing room. Still, we are afforded the opportunity to watch both Morbid Angel and Kreator from the stage during the course of the day and afterwards get to hang out backstage with the guys, with Dave from Morbid still trying to sell me real estate as he does every time I see him, and despite the horror of the abandoned show, the night turns out to be a good one, spent in some awesome fellow metal company. Oh and thanks to Mille from Kreator for the limited edition CD, one that I have been expecting from our American distributor since bloody June!
Anyhoo, all's well that ends well and we leave Zlin to return in a few weeks with a show in Prague to make up for tonight's disappointment. I say all's well, but that isn't totally true as the singer from the first support act Darkend (watch out for these guys, they're really good) has been drinking vodka since leaving the stage around lunch time and is now near unconscious, being dragged around the place by his band mates, who have quite a job keeping him upright as they cart him off finally to the bus.
Today was a day off (Sunday 25th) and we decided to spend it recovering from the events of the previous night somewhere between safe and tranquil. What we got was Sunday bliss, in a small camp site just outside the beautiful city of Gratz in Styria. Anyhoo, today was a godsend. Still blighted by this bloody cold that several people have fallen victim to, at least today provides sunlight, beautiful rustic surroundings, a block of clean showers with Austrian radio playing gently in the background and a local restaurant set in the village that provides us with two excellent meals. One at lunch when we were feeling a little out of place amidst the booked Sunday Lunchers in the posh dining area, the other around seven when we'd recovered sufficiently from the previous sitting. This time we were situated in the buffet area, which was like a huge bird cage housing only a smattering of
customers, being served by a nice girl in traditional dress while John from Merch told stories from his scandalous boxing promoting past.
There was time for a mountainous country walk, lengthy showers in the warm empty shower cubicles and a roaring camp fire which we sat around right up to the bus's departure at midnight. Fortunately we had permission to burn stuff, so we immediately proceeded to discover quite a supply of seasoned logs under a tarpaulin and managed to keep the fire roaring for around six hours, from early dusk right through an untended dinner break and onto a clear night of moon and watchful stars, listening to Black Sabbath and drinking tea.
Tomorrow, through the noble Alps and onto Italy!
Well hello vitamin D!!!
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