Archive for June, 2011

Everybody Hates a Tourist: Part I

Posted in Travel on June 29, 2011 by Noise Road

Or

Southampton, This is Not a Love Song

I fucking hated Southampton.

I have visited a number of places around the world – some for only a few days, but some for weeks, and even some for months.  Before Southampton, I never disliked anywhere that I visited.

I did not see Bratislava at it’s best.  After stepping off the bus into Slovakia, a one-eyed man bailed me up for cash.  Immediately afterwards, I boarded a local bus to ask the driver if he was headed towards the centre.  He shook his head, closed the doors and left my girl and my bags with our new Cyclops friend.

On the deserted Xmas day streets of Chicago, a latin-king-backed dealer forced me to buy goods that I did not want.  It was not the best Xmas day, Chicago.

However, I do not hate Bratislava or Chicago.  Actually I really enjoyed Chicago, it’s music scene and the friendly people who welcomed me in Kuma’s Corner, the Empty Bottle and Gino’s Pizza.  I look back and laugh at those misadventures.

Even things that I did not like about towns formed part of their charm.  Non-existent transport or rude service I eventually laughed off.  I love travelling, and the sh!t parts are the best stories to tell your mates over a pint of Coopers Sparkling Ale.

But…

I liked everywhere that I travelled because I was a tourist.

Sometimes I knew that I was a tourist.  When we visited the Kremlin in Moscow I was under no illusions.  Similarly when we climbed the Space Needle (America’s vision of the future) in Seattle I happily knew what we were doing.  My brother, my sister and I hit a local brewery afterwards – a perfect day as a tourist.

However, I often like to think of myself as a traveller rather than a tourist.  I often visit places with no sites or attractions.  I try to frequent cafes and bars where the locals hang.  Not too many people travel to Poland to see Napalm Death play in a small club on the outskirts of town

But…

It is a lie.  It always was.  A tourist isn’t just someone who visits the sites, buys tacky memorabilia and pays too much for a coffee.  A tourist isn’t just someone who only spends a few days in a town.  I rented a room in London for 3 months and I was still a tourist.

I worked in Western Australia for 4 months and then in North Spain for 6 weeks.  I remained a tourist throughout.

In the words of William Shatner via Jarvis Cocker

`cos everybody hates a tourist
Especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh…

But still you’ll never get it right,
cos when you’re laid in bed at night,
watching roaches climb the wall,
if you call your Dad he could stop it all.

Whenever bad sh!t happened in my travels, it formed part of the adventure.  Worst came to worst, I am leaving in a few days or a few weeks.

In London, I held no job.  I lived off savings.  I did not have the day to day grind that locals had to deal with.  It was a holiday from reality.  Even though I knew every underground music venue in London, I remained a tourist.

In Perth and again in Spain, my employer paid for my accommodation.  They even paid me “a living away from home allowance” for the “inconvenience” of working in another city.  It was a working holiday.

A couple months into the move to Southampton, travel took the bank balance to zero.  Bills loomed.  Two colleagues conspired to get me fired – one to protect his own job and cover his incompetence, and the other to find a scapegoat.  My bumbling boss (the RAF version of the Office’s David Brent), with the wool firmly pulled over his eyes, tried to extend my probation period.

In the words of Jack Black, until I came down to the mucky muck, I believed Australian and English cultures to be very similar.  Any differences were novel and interesting.  Everything is such a laugh to a tourist.

Australians are, in general, an easy-going people.   Apparently easy-going gives some people the sh!ts in England.  Outward calm was taken as Australian laziness – the Australian beach bum.

I also found that some English people do not tell you if they have a problem with you.  They tell you everything is fine and then bag you behind your back.

English workplaces are not worse than Australian workplaces.  They are different, and not all the differences are good.

They finally sacked one of the conspirators… However I then had to pick up his project, which was due in a week.  He had completed no useable work.  I was given 9 weeks to turn this sh!t around.

I had no money.  I couldn’t quit without returning to Australia, jobless, in debt and with my tail between my legs.  The Noise Road dream would be over.

I worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week for the 9 weeks.  All that time, I was told that I was doing a terrible job.  People who had never designed a thing told me that how quick and easy my work was.  Senior managers who knocked off at 4pm, and never appeared on a weekend, told me that I wasn’t working hard enough.  The lazy Australian.

My ear swelled shut with infection for an entire month.  Unfortunately, with no exercise and eating what was at hand, my belly also swelled.  The pregnancy tests all came through negative.

I had travelled half the circumference of the world for adventure, for gigs that will never make to Oz, and for new experiences.  Instead all I saw of Southampton was the inside of my office at the shipyard and the inside of my tiny, one-room flat, next to the Itchen Bridge.

This is Southampton.  Fucking Southampton.

You ain’t no tourist now, are you Noise Road?  Think it’s all a big adventure now?  Still think its all such a laugh?

Eyehategod @ Sheffield, England 24/06/11… by way of Karlskrona, Sweden

Posted in Gigs, Travel with tags , , , , on June 26, 2011 by Noise Road

Eyehategod and Church of Misery are on the same bill in Sheffield, England.  That’s a massive night of riffs, right?  Well it would have been if I hadn’t woken outside a remote Swedish naval base on the morning of the show.

With no Eyehategod date in Glasgow,  it was either a train to the Sheffield date on the Friday, or a plane to the Bristol show on the Saturday.

Ridiculously, it was cheaper to fly to Bristol rather than to train to Sheffield.  I love Bristol.  The town has a great energy and there are good, cheap hostels.  I’ve caught both Titus Andronicus and Hold Steady gigs there….  but I’ve never visited Sheffield.

Karlskrona, Sweden

At a few days notice, my employer flew me out to Karlskrona on Sweden’s south-east coast.  Awesome.  I was due to fly back on Wednesday, but my stay extended until Friday.  More awesome.  However, I was now a long, long way from Sheffield.

Work finished at the naval base before 5pm on the Thursday of summer solstice.  Summer solstice is a big deal in Scandinavia.  That’s either because pagan energies run strong here, or because its the start of summer holidays.  As a result, what had been a quiet town all week now bustled.  A massive street market covered the square and all the surrounding streets.  Unfortunately the market was absolute sh!t.  No local crafts or foods or drinks – just the same tacky cr@p that you would find at any Sunday street market anywhere in the world.

However, the atmosphere was lively.  The restaurants and bars were so full that it was hard to find a feed or a drink anywhere.  With no work in the morning, we didn’t feel too guilty buying our sixth beer at 11pm.  It was fecking expensive though at over £6 a throw.  I’m glad my supervisor charged the first four beers to the company credit card.

I didn’t feel so positive about the sixth beer when the northern sun woke me before 5am…  We met for breakfast at 6:30am and were moving towards Copenhagen an hour later.

The train follows the south coast of Sweden – the sea on one side and green fields of cows on the other…  well that’s what I saw when I wasn’t nodding off, or re-reading Hunter S Thompson’s the Rum Diary for the third time.  I really need to remember to change out the book in the pocket of that overnight bag.

The train drops you at Copenhagen airport.  We were at a Boston themed bar, eating a “celtics” burger when our flight was called.  Unfortunately we hadn’t realised that we still had to clear passport control.  My supervisor was allowed to join the EU line, but as I was waiting in the “all other passports” queue, my name was called twice for the flight.

A small jet flew us over the spectacular Scottish highlands.  The undulating landscape covers the horizon from coast to coast.  I’m heading up there as soon as I can.  Hopefully I can burn a cop there like they do in that documentary on rural Scottish life, the Wicker Man.

Back at my flat in Glasgow, I restocked my bag, showered, and burnt my clothes to rid the world of the boat-engine-room stench that had coated my soul for the last week.

At Glasgow Central, I boarded the 4:40pm express heading south.   A couple of hours later, I changed at Preston for Manchester…  another hour later in Manchester, I finally boarded a train to Sheffield.

Travelling in the UK

I read Henny Rollins’ Black Coffee Blues recently.  It is merciless on the UK – merciless on the people and merciless on the towns.  Black Coffee Blues’ painful honesty and lack of self-censorship to protect ego or image is unique.  But I find it hard to reconcile the negativity and judgemental nature of the Rollins of 1991 with Rollins 2011.

Hank has it wrong.  The UK is a good place to travel.  Sure, the weather is miserable a lot of the time. It was a bit disappointing to land into a sunny Glasgow only to have it turn to rain as I headed south.  But a rainy day isn’t the worst thing when travelling by train.  We passed through soft rain falling on lush green rolling hills all the way to Sheffield.

It’s relaxing, man.  Back when I had a sh!t job in Southampton, I remember catching a £13 train to Bristol a couple of times.  I felt burdens lighten with every mile of track left behind.

The sun shone for the return trip to Glasgow.  A direct train wound its way through the historical centres of Leeds, York, Newcastle and Edinburgh.  From Newcastle to Edinburgh the track follows soft green fields falling into the deep blue of the North Sea.

The outward trip from Glasgow to Sheffield proved less direct.  Noise Road left Karlskrona at 7:38am (6:38am UK time) and arrived at Sheffield at 9:13pm UK time.  We shuffled into the Corporation venue at 9:30pm, just as Eyehategod built a wall of feedback to launch into their first track.

Sheffield

For the remainder of the weekend, the northern gods showed mercy to Sheffield, Yorkshire.  Sunny days make a big difference to the English.  Like lizards on rocks, locals sunned themselves on any available patch of grass.

On occasion I’ve been known to curse the sun like Gollum.  40 degree days are not a friend of mine.  I suspected sun-worshippers to be some sort of cold-blood relation to our reptile masters.  But living in the UK, where the sun makes rare appearances, I am starting to mellow my sun-cursing ways.  Maybe I have some latent reptile blood.

I knew nothing about sunny Sheffield, and I wouldn’t have visited if not for the show.  It is bigger than I expected.  Situated in a green valley, the centre sprawls around into squares, shops, malls and pubs.  Lots and lots of pubs.  You’ll never go thirsty in the UK.

The pubs, restaurants and shops towards the university become gradually funkier.  At the end of the strip stands the excellent secondhand bookstore, Rare and Racy.  Avant-garde noises and stoner rock piped around the rooms, while I checked out old Hemingway books.

After the gig on the Friday night, I finally checked into the budget hotel.  Reception had shut long ago, but the bar downstairs is open until 4am.  The bouncer had to rouse a staff member to check me in.

The girl on the desk asked what brought an Australian to Sheffield.  I tried to avoid the question, but she finally extricated that I was fresh from a show in town.  Cool!  Who did you see?  Eyehategod.  She visibly twitched.

Eyehategod

In the words of the great 80’s philosopher, the Ultimate Warrior, “Normal people, the people that walk the streets everyday, we can not understand”.  The people that walk the streets everyday can not understand Eyehategod.  It is not just the band name that generates twitches…  Song titles such as White N!gger and Sister F_cker, a band history of drug addiction and jail, and a sense of humour that saw the drummer repeatedly beg for heroin at the close of the set – none of it sits well with the everyday people.

I caught Eyehategod a bit over a year ago at Roadburn 2010.  I had heard Eyehategod before that show, but I hadn’t listened extensively.  Over the last year their records Take as Needed for Pain and Dopesick soundtracked the way home from sh!tty days.

At Roadburn, Eyehategod seemed dangerous.  I couldn’t understand a lyric, but without doubt it was disturbingly dark.  The singer repeatedly dropped the mic and the music always hovered on the edge.  The whole thing seemed on the verge of falling apart… but it never did fall apart.  It was exhilarating stuff.

I don’t know if I have changed or if Eyehategod has changed, but tonight they didn’t seem dangerous.  No matter how far they pushed, I was confident that they were on top of it.

The music is loose where it needs to feel, but tight where it needs to lock in.  I think it is this tightness (and maybe my increased familiarity with the material) that removed the sense of danger.  From the outside, it seems that Eyehategod have their sh!t together.

Initially the band seemed a little disappointed that the crowd wasn’t tearing itself apart.  Vocalist, Mike Williams, repeatedly asked the crowd to “wake up”.  He was playing a bit, but the crowd could have been livelier in the earlier stages.  I think that the reduced danger from the stage played some part in the initial response… but also it’s only 9:30pm and we, the old men that form the core of the EHG fan base, haven’t had time to get in enough slugs of alcohol…  Actually the only drink I could manage for the weekend was half of a glass of Danish beer while I waited in Copenhagen for a plane that I was already slowly missing.

The crowd sweatily rived by the time that Dixie Whiskey reminded us that EHG are the kings of the sludgy riff.

Dixie Whiskey rolled straight into the first new Eyehategod track in years (titled either New Orleans is the New Vietnam or just the New Vietnam).  I’m glad that they’ve held together long enough to record new material.  Its been a long, weird trip for EHG – Hurricane Katrina, detoxing in jail…  But they are alive and match fit.  They don’t sound like a band covering themselves. The new song matches the quality of the messy old days of Dixie Whiskey.

I cried out the chorus “Burn Her!”, partly because its one of the few EHG lyrics that I can consistently decipher…  Well, that lyric and the word “rape” that follows a few seconds later.  But a catholic upbringing ensures that I remain too guilty to yell “rape” unless I am actually being raped .  Hopefully that is never tested.  Too many episodes of the prison drama, Oz, make me fearful to even bend a law that could locate me with ethically-barren men that find me sufficiently attractive.

Its been said before, but EHG is the sound of the dark side of their hometown.  New Orleans is too hot to play fast. The blues are issued with birth certificates.  And dark, self-destructive energies and humours aren’t limited to author John Kennedy Toole.

Occasionally EHG work up the energy for a fast hardcore break only to descend into a wall of feedback, resuming play even slower than before.  The tightness of these slow swamp-stomping riffs brought to mind Melvins’ Gluey Porch Treatments.

Towards the end of the night, blues flung out of the stage as Williams’ stream-of-consciousness introduced the band.  “We flew out of N’Awlins on a 757, we flew out of N’Awlins on a 767…”

Sure, some excitement is removed from Eyehategod 2011 because you can be more confident that the show won’t end in a train wreck 3 songs into the set…  But the actual performance of the songs is better.  And being in a good place in their lives ensures that they’ll be out there playing gigs and releasing records.  I hope that they remain in a good place, so that for years I have records to soundtrack the inevitable sh!t days.

Basque Separatists, Anarchists and Voivod

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , on June 12, 2011 by Noise Road

All photos taken by Dee Kay O’Dea.

We passed several pro-seperatist posters.  On a church, hundreds of years old, locals had scrawled graffiti supporting the ETA.  The same ETA that bombed Madrid and more recently Ibiza.

A Voivod tour poster plastered to a wall in Bilbao’s old town brought us here to Durango.  Durango is a smaller town in the Basque Country of Northern Spain.  Growing up, the only time I heard anything about the Basque country is when a member of the basque separatist organisation, the ETA, planted a bomb somewhere in Madrid.

Two years ago, I worked in Galicia, in Spain’s North West for 6 weeks.  Like the Basque country and Catalonia, the people of Galicia hold a tense relationship with the Spanish government.  Many view their regions as nations, and the Spanish government as occupiers.  What I learnt in my time in Galicia is to never broach politics.  I tried once and witnessed the easy-going, siesta-taking, manana types turn to ferocious political beasts.

I don’t know the intricacies of the regions.  I do know that they desire independence.  Although currently under a “ceasefire”, the basque separatist organisation, ETA, has sought this independence through violence.  They have bombed and they have killed.

It was this ETA whose support we saw throughout the city centre of Durango.

My internet research of the location of the Voivod gig failed us.  The address that I pumped into the Sat Nav dumped us into a square in Durango.  Initially the square looked promising.  Those kids look like gig-goers – but I didn’t really expect that many crust punks at a Voivod show.

After several tours around the square, it is clear that there is no Plateruena venue here.  We could just wait and see where the kids head…  but Durango isn’t that big – we’ll just walk around the town, looking for the venue.  Initially I’ll admit I was a little curious about the ETA posters.  Next to a fence of posters stood what appeared to be a multi-storied anarchist squat.  Banners of protest slogans streamed from the windows.  The only one in English read  “No Peace”.  Those crust punks in the square weren’t gig-goers.

Under normal circumstances, I would now ask for directions.  But what would anarchists in a Basque separatist stronghold make of a couple of tourists?  Would they think of us as capitalist pigs complicit with the oppressor from Madrid?  Probably not.  But my traveller-spidey tense was tingling, and I was hesitant as feck to ask them.

The scheduled start time of the gig passed.  What are we going to do?..  Just go back to our room in Bilbao?  No.  Being forced to buy drugs by the Latin Kings on the deserted Xmas day streets of Chicago hadn’t scarred my travel instincts that much…

I bought a 2 euro beer at a local bar, and asked the waitress “Donde esta el Plateruena?“.  A blur of words and a lot of pointing followed.  All I know is that the directions did not contain the words “queso”, “jamon” or “cerveza”.  A pen was produced and the kind girl drew the way to the club on the back of a receipt.

Less than ten minutes later, we entered the Plateruena.  No irrational fear of a bunch of harmless kids can keep Noise Road from a gig.  Victory!

The Plateruena is a modern complex with excellent facilities.  In a town of beautiful old churches and abandoned squats, a modern venue was the last thing I expected.  A restored heritage building, maybe.  A makeshift squat, more likely.  Actually I was kind of looking forward to seeing Voivod in a squat.

Inside the venue, the punters were not separatists.  They were not crust punks.  They were the same mix of dudes, you would catch at a Voivod gig anywhere in the world – mainly metal dudes, but some hardcore punk and prog rock types…  The average age of the crowd was probably older than at a lot of shows.  Voivod have been around a long time, dude.

Voivod have been around a long time – but not as long as the Basque Country.  Check that transition sentence out.  I learnt that in Miss De Ieso’s Year 8 English class.

Basque Country and Identity

Dee Kay took the photograph below.  It is the exterior wall of a bar in the Bilbao old town.  The text states:

“Up with us and our kin”

Drinks have been toasted to it for centuries.

The Basque language resembles no other language in the countries surrounding it.  Spanish, Italian and French all are based in the language of the Roman conquerors.  The Basque language pre-dates the Roman empire.  No one else in the region was able to maintain their language, except this tiny little region in the North of Spain.  The Basque identity has survived all invaders.

After the Spanish Civil War, Franco declared the language illegal.  But the language survived.  And the Basque identity survived.  It is valued above all.

This kind of passion is bound to produce extremists…  But in the main, it is remarkable thing.  In a world of homogeneity, the Basque value their uniqueness.

The Romans homogenised language and culture a couple of millennia ago.  Today, the internet makes the Romans look amateur hour.  Few have a unique identity.

Voivod have a strong sense of identity.  Whether they’re ripping through old school thrash metal, prog rock or even a Pink Floyd cover, everything they touch sounds like Voivod.

The crowd in Durango is not the largest the Canadians have seen in their long career.  I saw them to play to thousands at Wacken last year.  They played the main stage at Roadburn just a few weeks previous… and now here they are playing to maybe a hundred punters.

But Voivod seemed genuinely grateful that anyone had turned up.  They repeatedly stated “what a great crowd” and to my slight nervousness “viva la revolution”.

In fact, enthusiasm was high on the stage.  At one point the bass player climbed into the crowd and grabbed some poor local’s handbag that she had left by the front of the stage.  It is not a common sight to catch a man trying to play bass, while a woman tries to wrestle a handbag from his shoulder.

The band reached back to Nothingface, Voivod and even a new song.  No matter the age of the song or the style of the track, they all had that distinctive Voivod sound.

Armed with a Voivod back catalogue, we prepared to explore Basque country in some depth – San Sebastian, Bilbao, La Rioja, Pamplona…  Come to Glasgow, buy me a glass of scotch, and I’ll tell you all about it.   Or I suppose you could wait a few days for me to post a blog.  I’m such a cheap date.