Saturday, July 09, 2011
What The Scrivener Saw.....Dan Melchior Und Das Menace Tour Diary!
When "Reese" (my nickname for Nigel Rees-Moog) informed me he was taggin along w/Melchior & co. for a potential tour diary, I informed him I'd be only too eager to publish his musin's, should he bring them to fruition.And thusly he followed through. Scintillating stuff to be sure! But I'd expect no less for ol' Reese. The man can lock you in w/a narrative.Why, there was the time we was at a post United Nations somethingorother & Reese had an entire table captivated by this tale of a rice puddin he'd ate at some diner in New Jersey. A Greek diner to be specific. He went into the whole history of Greeks & rice puddin & they's penchant for diner cuisine in the US. He even had a theory why the Chinese weren't no good at it. Seein as how rice come from the orient (he opined), you'd think something like that would be as natural as a bowel movement to'em. Reese says while the Chinese might've invented gunpowder, they sure didn't know the 1st thing about blowin up rice! He reckons some Greek fella just keep boilin his rice one day till them little kernel's just exploded. And forthwith you got all this meltin starch, add some milk, cinnamon & what have you's then before you know it, presto! Just about the best desert an Englishman could ever ask for. Stateside anyway. And he got the table of us laughin pretty good about the irony of how the Greeks could civilize the western world, but they could not make a hash brown potato edible if they's lives depended on it. Ain't THAT the truth!
Anyways, Reese is a truly fine citizen of the world & I'm happy to have him aboard this one time.
*The above artist rendering of Nigel Rees-Moog is unknown. Disclaimer - Any resemblance to the late Lord Lucan is entirely hereditary.
By Nigel Rees-Moog.
When I was invited along on the Dan Melchior Und Das Menace European tour as chief scribe, and procurer of petrol station victuals,
I was obviously honored. I have known Dan for 20 years or so, having attended a rather low wrung Art School with him in the early 90's -
and have followed the arc of his myriad releases ever since. I felt it was an offer not to be scoffed at, after all, how often does one get to spend time
with a genuine underground 'Bluespunk' combo on the road? Oh the shenanigans! I was sure that much malfeasence and debauchery would soon
be afoot, and I would be the one to immortalise it all. My very own 'Hammer of the Gods'! (how wrong I was)
On the days before the upcoming voyage I stocked up on the things I knew would be hard to find abroad (cornish pasties, baked beans,
marmite, jellied eels) and threw caution to the pungent continental wind. You know what they say - When in Rome! I bought a pair of
espadrilles, a hooped jersey and a bavarian hat just to have all bases covered (not being sure what constitutes Belgian national dress)
and on the 13th of May I was as prepared as a man can be for such things, and went to meet up with the U.S contingent in Barcelona.
I met the others at the airport in and was immediately taken aback by their somewhat stoic countenance. It was true that
the drummer was highly enthusiastic about eating native meats and cheeses, (all pronounced with 'authentic' guttural cadence) and giving anyone
who would listen a history lesson in whatever passed before his dazzled gaze, but other than that I sensed none of the 'Hard day's night'
like devil-may-care attitude that I had been expecting. The keyboard player seemed like a man of distinction, and I was somewhat assured
by his presence. Dan's wife too, had an air of 'get it done' American resourcefulness, and I thanked god that organisational things would not be left
to Dan or I to deal with (I had been present once when he was trying to renew his passport, and the experience did not bode well) As for myself,
I felt I was up to buying some sandwiches, and jotting down this account, but not much else.
We set off to rent the van and equipment, and within an hour we were on the road. Just like 'Keroauc' but without the drugs, or enthusiasm.
It was a long drive to Lyon, and when it turned out that there was no way of plugging in an ipod to the car stereo, the more modern of us
were confounded. Luckily Dan had brought along a copious amount of Cds, and we were treated to an endless stream of obscure and abrasive
noise that seemed to find little favor with anyone in the van other than Dan himself.
On pulling into the parking lot of the Lyon venue we were met with the greeting 'You are very late'. I jumped out of the van looking for the green
room, and was bewildered to learn that such a place did not exist. I was then handed a lukewarm can of French beer and directed towards a table from
which food that would seem to have been almost entirely made out of garlic was being doled out. I gave it a miss, and got to work ingesting
The show started around 10.00, and Dan's rented amp had stopped working by 10.10.
Letha (Dan's wife) immediately showed the resourcefulness I had spotted in her, by plugging Dan's guitar into her amp. The show went on, but without her, unfortunately. What a brick!
The rest of the show went off without a hitch, and when Das Menace had finished, a trio of very serious French men in black sweaters got up on stage and started twiddling knobs. The result would be best described as 'Whitehouse lite' (though mercifully free of mincing 'power' vocals) No one in our entourage was spellbound by the spectacle, or it's resulting din, and we soon set off in search of more warm beer.
There was no 'gig' to play today, so it was a late start.
I had un-judiciously partaken in a French Whisky called 'Sir Robert Peel' the night before, and started the day with what the French call 'Mal aux Cheveux'
The fact that the French are not well known for their Whisky is no longer a mystery to me.
We made our way hastily to Calais, where we were to take the 11.30pm ferry. I felt a bit of a fool crossing back over the channel to Blighty so quickly after my
initial flight, but I was still quite hopeful for some 'Shark insertion' type hi-jinks, so I felt I ought to tag along even though, as Dan said 'Nobody in London likes us' The ferry was largely deserted except for a few drunken oiks who insisted on sitting uncomfortably close to our party. Still, it never fails to rouse a little bit of patriotic pride in one to see the white cliffs of Dover emerging from the murk, and it is always nice to observe that Dover does smell a little less like shit than Calais.
London was as over cast as usual.
The journey into town went quite smoothly until we hit the Great Western Road, and were mired in the inevitable gridlock.
The show was at Ryan's Bar, Stoke Newington (of which Alexie Sayle famously said -'Have you ever seen the 'What's on' Section of the Stoke Newington Gazzette? It's a big piece of paper with 'Fuck All!' written on it') and our contact was Russell of the Pheromoans/Bomber Jackets. He was a charming fellow, with a dry sense of humour much to my liking, and his offer of a pint of Bombardier was most gratefully accepted.
It quickly became clear that the organisation of the night's events was suffering from what those in big business call a 'power vacuum' though. There would be no sound man for the night, and no one working at the bar seemed even remotely interested that we would be playing there. We carried the many heavy pieces of equipment (some of which were not even functioning) down the steep and precarious staircase, while Tony (keyboard king) and Matt (drum banger) went off to park the car. They didn't return for at least two hours, during which time I got drunk enough to seek solace in a battered sausage and chips.
The show was a mixed blessing at best.
The Bomber Jackets played a great set, augmented by a spiffing female drummer who used those drum pads that were so popular in the 1980's.
Our man Russell sat hunched over his mic, spinning his tales of mundane profundity, while Dan the keyboard man made varied and exciting sounds on various tiny casio devices. It was extremely good, though I'm not sure the audience noticed.
Next up were Spin Spin the dogs - who I was informed hailed largely from the land of Robin Hood. I would like to be able to say something positive about them, but as I am not likely to bump into them any time soon (stoke newington being a place I would not set foot in unless I was forced to do some kind of court ordered
community service there) I will tell the truth. They were dreadful musically, and hateful personally. Their music reminded me of nothing so much as a bored wedding band tackling the That Petrol Emotion songbook (if this means nothing to you, you are lucky) I vacated the basement and entertained myself with watching a Greek football match in the bar.
Das Menace played a great set, blasting the sparse and stoic audience with shards of noise that they seemed largely unable to process. House music and Oasis seem to have neutered the English's previously highly developed sense of aesthetics, and one can only harbor a sense of loss at this development. Would these
wooden people have heralded a Barrett era Floyd, or Vertical Slit performance if it'd been presented to them? I very much doubt it.
We all retired to Christian's (Pheromoan's guitarist) house, where much fun was had, and many interesting records listened too.
By the time I decided to retire, a conversation about George Lucas had begun to gain momentum. Sensing that things were rapidly going pear shaped I made my excuses, and wandered off to sleep in the bathtub like John the scouse.
The next day we drove down the road to the Stag's head public house.
The Americans were all very cheered by the ambience of said establishment, as it was (relatively) old, wooden, and unspoiled by the prevailing Starbucks design aesthetic.
Once again no sound man was present, and the organiser of the event was indignant with rage about something or other. Rumor had it that some of the bands on the bill were not 'beat' enough for him, and to that I can only say 'Hard cheese!'
We chose to drink in the snug bar instead of placating him with glib flattery, and the Pheromoans were good companions in this.
After scoffing down a ropey kebab at a dump across the road, I came back to find the first band in full swing. I heard some muffled Flat duo Jets like warble
through the bathroom wall whilst taking a long overdue leak, but by the time I came out they had stopped playing. I will not venture an opinion on their set, as it would be presumptious of me to do so (I'm no Everett True, after all)
The Pheromoans were next up, and while I must admit that I was predisposed to like them, they certainly made it easy to do so. A great band, if I do say so.
I never saw the Door and the Window play (too busy at the ashram) but I imagine it would've had a similarly skewed trajectory. It rocked, but obliquely.
Das Menace shaped up to the task again, and blasted all and sundry with a dose of good old sonic violence. There was much guitar wailing, and I think a couple of those in attendance even liked it.
We packed up hastily and beat a retreat to Dan's parents house in the sticks. I have never been as grateful for the use of a twin bed with clean sheets in my life.
There was no gig today. I went for a walk by the river and threw some bread at a swan.
What a strange town! Kortrijk! - the venue has a urinal that stands slap bang in the middle of the backstage area. The Belgians buy records after the show
and prop them up on the top of the urinal whilst taking a piss.
There is much strong, dark beer, and much discussion of the European monetary system.
A sign in the house we are all staying in says 'Puerto Rican showers only'. It is hard to imagine that many Puerto Ricans pass through Kortrijk, and it also hard to say why their showering habits should be so much more notorious in Belgium that they are in the USA. I suppose someone saw something on television. It's a curious phenomenon, this 'cultural misappropriation'
Still, it's a very clean house, and the people are extremely nice and appreciative of loud and abrasive music.
I take one of the top bunks, and lay awake all night listening to the four members of the band snoring in unison - another concert, just for me!
Off to Germany. Why does my scrotum seem to recede into my body slightly at this prospect?
It's true that my Grandmother's house was flattened by a German bomb in WW2, but it is something apart from that.
The language? Perhaps. The leiderhosen? I don't know. Perhaps it's that dreadful woman I worked for in that restaurant in Windsor. I'm sure she could've secured a high rank in the SS if she had been born 60 years earlier, and such things had been permitted.
I will spare you a description of the Northern German countryside. Suffice to say it looks a lot like Ohio. No big surprise there.
We were playing in Hamburg, and not just Hamburg, but the Reeperbahn.
If you have ever been to Amsterdam then just imagine what that place would look like if a bomb hit it, all the decent looking prostitutes escaped, and the place was invaded by severely sunburnt, obese androids with blonde flat tops and eighties style leather jackets. You are now halfway to visualising the hell of the reeperbahn. Add a layer of filth 2 inches deep and aimlessly rendered US style graffiti to every imaginable surface, and you are getting closer.
Every five minutes or so one is forced to vacate the street as a group of drunken storm troopers come rolling by on a 'beer bike' This is a small bar mounted on a multi person bicycle which is hired out by germans celebrating an upcoming wedding. The barman steers, whilst serving the grinning simpletons seated at the bar ridiculously alcoholic lager. What fun!
The club (as usual) was several flights of dangerous stairs underground - and to add to the fun, no one knew where the light switch was!
Still, once we settled in, there was at least sound man present.
Our contact, Jens took us all back to his apartment and fed us pasta and wine, which was much appreciated. The giant New York Dolls mural on the wall was slightly disconcerting, and Dan's championing of Neu, Faust, Can and La Dusseldorf was met with mild incredulity. We were in Garage country, and something told me that the band would not find a lot of favour amongst this crowd.
We made a way down to the club in much the same manner as a man makes his way to the gallows.
The show was good (no support) but some of the sparse crowd were scandalised at it's brevity. I heard Tony being berated by a bespectacled German -
'But why are you only playing 7 songs? This is not good practice I think'
'The set lasted 40 minutes'
'I paid 5 euros, and this is not standard practice'
'Well, what can I say?'
'I thought your music was okay, though it lacked dynamics, and the guitar person was not very engaged'
'Well, why would you want to hear more then?'
'I paid my 5 euros for US garage, and 7 stoner jams is not good practice'
and so on..........
Leaving Hamburg was like being giving an 11th hour reprieve. I felt more alive, and the air was sweet. Things could only get better!
The scenery remained banal, but the trees seemed to get greener as we left the environs of the 'fetid city'
Munster was interesting.
I was given some very dirty looks when I crossed the road against a red light, and the profusion of kebab shops was just as high as it was in Hamburg.
(Thank god for our Indian Empire!) Still, it was very, very clean.
The venue was a veritable wonderland, with soundmen, promoters, flyers, posters, fans and everything else one may reasonably expect.
The band played, (Great version of ATV's 'Splitting in Two') and orderly lines were formed to buy records. These Munserites put their
money where their mouths were, which was a good job, as the door deal (100% after staff were paid) was hardly likely to be a big earner.
Still, I think all present were well pleased with the result.
Unfortunately that night Letha was sick, and the crash pad we were presented with was fairly thick in cat hair. I did not envy her predicament.
I suggested that her and Dan take a double bed in the loft, but Dan discovered an insect of indeterminate species under the duvet, and understandably declined.
I grabbed one of the mattresses that had been packed together (bomb shelter style) on the floor of the room, and moved it into the kitchen. I then put on my jeans, socks, jacket, (with up turned collar) and laid the cleanest looking thing I could find (a shopping bag) under my head. I slept soundly until an angry arian burst into the room with the already infamous cat in tow, squealing to be fed.
Goodbye Germany, hello France!
Who would've thought one could feel so at home among the French? Everything is relative I suppose.
The land of connossieur Gas stations was a most welcome change of pace. Beautiful scenery began to roll past our bird shit encrusted windows again, and I was
full of expectation for our visit to 'Jolie Paris'
Of course, we would have to actually get to the venue first. Luckily the drummer was an expert with the 'stick shift', and although he was near gibbering break down by the time we pulled up outside 'La Mecanique Ondulatoire' he did a great job. Claire, our promoter stood outside, wearing a skirt that resembled a belt. I didn't notice anyone complaining though, and I was certainly not going to be the first. Everyone was all smiles and bonjours, and the stereotype of the rude Parisien was quickly laid to rest.
After the inevitable descent into the basement (much cleaner than usual) we were confronted by a very pro-active French Canadian sound man. Would the wonders never cease?
The band performed an honest to goodness sound check, after which we set off in various directions into Paris. I was keen to find some good Duck Terrine, and did not have to walk far to find some. I perched myself by the Seine and gorged myself with the stuff, dozing off so that I almost completely missed the Pupils set. I came in on the tail end of the last song, and found them playing to a good crowd - especially for a Monday night. Things boded well for Das Menace!
It was a very good show indeed, with particularly strong versions of 'Swamp!' and 'Town Feeling' (Kevin Ayers) and the Parisians really seem to 'get it'. They were very forthcoming with their money after the show, and cleared the band out of a number of releases.
Accommodations were a distinct improvement too, and I got into bed in my underwear for the first time in days. I even got to watch Bear Grylls eat a spider in French on a flat screen TV!
I feel asleep harboring all kinds of passionate feelings for the great city of Paris.
Off to Bordeaux.
I was eager to see this city, having never previously visited it.
The scenery continued to beguil, and the gas stations continued to proffer up fare that one would only find in a high classed bistro in the UK.
Every now and then it would dawn on me that the salmon, herbs de provence, goat cheese and rocket baguette I was eating had been bought
at the French equivalent of a Mini Mart.
Bordeaux was another beautiful old city. Scrappy, but charming in the best way.
The promoter Ruth, was of the highest possible order - a veritable rock in the sea of wishy washy-ness that is the budget rock tour netherworld.
Her presence was infinitely re-assuring, and I found myself feeling almost 'at home'
I skipped sound check and strode off into town looking for a roadside cafe. Call me a tourist if you will, but there are simply some things that must be done in such a place.
After fending off several very aggressive beggars with curt reproaches learnt the hard way in the streets of London, I settled down to drink my coffee.
Sipping ostentatiously at my tiny cup (with my hand placed firmly over my wallet) I decided that the band would not miss me for the night. How many ear splitting
T.S Mc Phee- esque guitar meltdowns does one need to endure in a 10 day period?
Bordeaux offered up her charms to me in no uncertain fashion, and I spent some very enjoyable moments perusing the shops in town. The erotic outfits for sale in the modest red light district, were quite something, and if I had been a bit more flush with cash I may have been tempted to buy a studded catwoman get up
for my girlfriend.
Arriving at the club when Dan was already manning the 'merch' table I was surprised to find the place packed with attractive women. What a night to wander!
I had stayed until the bitter end during the sausage fests of Hamburg and Munster, but here I had gone on a jaunt. Silly bugger! Mind you, how was I to know that this kind of music could actually draw nubile females out of their houses? France, you mysterious mistress!
We then piled in the van, and made our way down several roads that were barely the width of a renault compact to get to Ruth's 'maison'.
And what a maison it was! The place was like something you would see in a Bela Lugosi film - with an ancient looking spiral suitcase, and rough hewn sandstone walls.
We drank some wine, listened to some crazy middle eastern music (from Ruth's boyfriend Stephan's collection) and attempted (with very little success) to use a French keyboard to send emails. All in all it was a wonderful night.
It was with some trepidation that we left France. It was unanimously agreed amongst the group that the 3 French gigs had been the highlight of the tour, and we wondered what Spain, and the Primavera festival had in store.
Dan confided in me that he considered the real tour to be over, as the Primavera shows were bound to be schmooze fests above all, and he fully expected the grounds around the stage to be largely vacated once their sets commenced. I listened dispassionately, making no judgments of my own. I had seen some strange things on this tour, and I wasn't too sure what I thought anymore.
France turned slowly into Spain, and we pulled into Barcelona just in time to return the equipment. The van would have to go back in the morning.
We drove some miles outside of Barcelona and found a hotel. Beers were drunk, and I was asleep by 12am.
Today there was no gig.
We returned the van early. It had been our prison for an average of 8 hours a day for the last 11 days, and consequently I was not sad to see it go. Tony practically ran into the office to hand them back the keys.
From there it was off into Barcelona - what a city!
I must admit that I got throughly lost, and ended up in some fairly dangerous looking neighbourhoods (note - Barcelona's hookers are not the cities best attribute) Still, the atmosphere over all was 'muy simpatico', and I felt full of the joys of spring.
I rented myself a small apartment in La Rambla for a fairly paltry sum, and set about getting pie eyed on sangria at various bars. It was a long and enjoyable night.
I awoke to find that I had a fairly severe headache. I'm not sure what they put in the sangria, but for a minute I was suspicious that I'd been rufied.
After going down to the supermercat for some ibuprofen, and swilling 4 of them down with cup of strong coffee, I started to feel connected with my surroundings again. By 12pm the city was right back in full swing, and I ventured back into it's 'raging torrents of life'
Das Menace had to play a show at 8pm, and I was loathe to leave Barcelona proper and enter the performance area. I had been to one too many festivals to get
excited at the prospect of sharing a chemical toilet with 15,000 drugged up proles.
I was having my 4th 'Estrella' of the day, when I realised it was time to make my way over to the grounds.
The usual flotsam and jetsam that attend these kind of things were swarming towards the entrance, and I stole myself for the task of becoming one of them.
Once inside, I made my way over to the appropriate stage and waited for Das Menace to appear. The band who played directly before them (who's name I don't recall) did at least two punk versions of Phil Collins' ode to the homeless 'Paradise' and I was beginning to lose the will to live when a grinning female flower child standing next to me handed me a damp brown joint with a vacant grin. At this stage in proceedings I was extremely happy to take it and inhale deeply.
It soon became apparent that this was what our friends in America call 'some serious shit' and my bearings were soon lost. I saw all kinds of terrifying things -
balding, potato like, minor rock stars in lumber jack shirts, someone who looked like a taxidermied version of Alan Vega, a huge inflatable cucumber wearing nipple clamps - - - who knows what was real and what was not!
Das Menace's psychedelic spew took me by the balls and shook! - I felt molten waves of violent otherness cascading over me, and I looked at my hands only to discover they were voguing. I laughed (what else could I do?) and turned around to see the original colonel from MASH standing behind me in a bondage mask (I don't know how - I just knew it was him) Things were beginning to get a bit intense. I looked up at the stage to see Dan shooting me daggers - -there were green luminous things coming out of his eye sockets that looked like those little pasta bow ties, and I decided he was definitely trying to kill me with his guitar. Tony, Letha, and Matt all seemed to be ganging up against me too, and I was convinced that they were all trying to finish me off with their respective instruments. Notes shot out and stung me deep in my synapses. It was not very enjoyable. After a particularly queasy shard of sound from Tony's keyboard lodged in my lower abdomen, I made a break for the porta-potty where I vomited extensively and exhaustively. I immediately felt better, and made a mental note not to accept drugs from strangers anymore. Had Reading 93 taught me nothing? Apparently not.
It was an early night for me.
I was a little sheepish after the day before's meltdown, but wasn't sure that any of the band had noticed. I was fairly concerned that they might have.
The gig for the day was in a beautiful park about 10 minutes drive from the hotel. We sat quietly in the van until Dan started to make some awkward jerking movements and everyone burst into laughter. Obviously they had seen me. I sunk my head in shame. Things were quiet for 5 minutes or so, during which time I remembered that my Mother had told me that the best way to discourage mockery is to laugh with your detractors - so I did. Unfortunately my giggles turned into maniacal laughter and finally tears. It was not the result I had been looking for.
Everyone slunk off into respective corners of the park and I went to the food trailer where I ate two packets of crisps and several tiny jam sandwiches.
The show was a good one, but I made sure to sit perfectly still as they played. No more dancing for old Nigel. I vowed I would never dance again.
We made our way back to the hotel and bid each other awkward and hasty farewells.
I had to get on a plane at 7am the next day, so I decided to stay away from town, and make do with lounging around my luxury (paid for by Primavera) hotel room. Everyone had been ranting on about the 'amazing showers' in the rooms - but being a bath man (I prefer to marinade in my own filth, thank you very much) I partook only briefly in it's supposedly mind boggling attractions. I then fell asleep while watching a spanish game show and woke up about 30 minutes before I needed to be in the taxi.
My luggage was mislaid on the way home, and I finally got back to my house late that afternoon to find that no one had watered my plants like I'd asked them too.
In closing, I think it is safe to say that I never got to pen the expose of the seedy nether regions of the 'entertainment' industry that I was hoping to.
However, I did learn a few things in my time on the road -
1. Constipation is unavoidable on tour.
2. Never engage a German in a conversation about the New Bomb Turks.
3. If you are going to have a drug meltdown, have it in your hotel room.