This post was originally published before the one on Lille. Somehow it went AWOL so I’ve reposted it here. In sequence it should be read before the entry on Lille. Apologies for the foul-up: that’s life on tour I guess.
Gregor, Richie and Andy B wash back onto the shores of the Crown in the small hours of the morning like pieces of human flotsam. Gregor has to be practically dragged, kicking and screaming, to bed. He’s laughing and carrying on like a pork chop.
“Shut up, you fat Maori,” Andy B bellows. Everyone is laughing, even those of us who are trying to sleep. Gregor finally flakes out and immediately starts to snore like a brontosaurus, with his feet up against the wall. It takes Andy and Richie to get him prone and roll him over.
I WATCH them all stagger out one by one in the morning. Everyone slumps on the steps of the hotel, smoking quietly and trying to get their bearings.
Gregor is last to emerge. It’s as sunny as it’s been in Amsterdam since we arrived. “Keep on rockin’ in the free world,” he says with a nod to the bemused barman. He reaches the steps of the hotel, spreads his arms wide and gives one of his impish grins.
“GOOD MORNING AMSTERDAM! HOW WILL I FUCK YOU IN THE ARSE TODAY?”
“You could try the front for a change,” Tamara suggests.
“Oh no,” Gregor replies. “I’m a back door man.”
“As if we didn’t know that.”
We walk to the Old Quarter for breakfast. Tamara is amped. Tonight is the first show of the tour. “We’ve gotta rock like fuck tonight,” she says.
All nod in agreement except for Richie, who has his head in his hands. He is very ill. He’s ordered orange juice and tomato soup, and the combination – on top of last night’s scotch and coke, and everything else – is intensely disagreeable.
“Try to have some of this,” Tamara implores, offering some bean soup. “It’s really nourishing.”
They swap. Richie tries the bean soup. “Yeah, that’s better,” he says. Then he turns pale. “No it’s not. I can feel a vomit coming on.” He excuses himself and wobbles his way outside.
There’s a pause. “We can’t keep this up,” Tamara says.
Andy shows the first sign of faltering. “If we keep this up we are all going to die.”
No one’s about to tell Gregor that. The Fat Maori has morphed into a rapper. He’s getting stuck into Richie’s tomato soup and spouting doggerel Muhammad Ali would be proud of. “When you need him the most he won’t be your host/But when there’s a free meal/he’s in on the deal,” he jives, finishing with a flourish: “FAT MAORI!”
Richie comes back in to tell us he has to lie down, and heads back to the hotel. The rest of us finish our breakfast then hoof it to Amsterdam’s Central Station to buy train tickets to Lille for tomorrow’s show.
Tamara can’t stop thinking about the night ahead. She’s relaxed and happy. “At home last week I was purely fucking terrified,” she says. “Now I just want to get on stage.” The girls resolve to go shopping and Andy B, going green, is the next to follow Richard back to the hotel to sleep.
Gregor goes wherever Gregor goes, to do whatever Gregor does. It’s a relief when I return to the hotel later to find he, too, crashed out on his bed with the other boys, dead to the world.
THE rest of the day passes in a remarkably non-alcoholic blur. Guitar strings are changed and stretched; guitar necks oiled. The hotel is effectively the band’s dressing room. I’m jittery, nervous on the band’s behalf, possibly more than they are themselves.
But the atmosphere is decidedly different. This ain’t no party, ain’t no foolin’ around, and it will never be anything remotely resembling a disco. I give the band more space today. There’s a zone they’ve got to get to, and I understand that I’m not part of that.
HITS play their share of train-wrecks, but the flip side of that is their ability to produce when it really matters. It’s their first gig on overseas soil. Andy B is perpetually chilled and Gregor is simply Gregor, but Richie and the girls are as quiet and serious and determined as I’ve ever seen them. And often their best performances come when their hangovers are so intense that they simply can’t maintain the inebriation levels.
Finally they’re all ready. I take a quick bathroom break of my own and when I return they’re all in the hotel lounge, waiting.
It’s time. “Hello, Amsterdam?” I say.
We file out of the hotel and into the red light district in search of a cab.
PACIFIC Parc is pumping. There’s probably 250 people in here, maybe even 300, more than double the number of an average HITS show in Brisbane. Of course, not all are here for the band. Many are here to eat, but there’s a solid rock & roll crowd too – maybe only a few of them know of HITS, but they wanna rock and they’re ready to take whatever this oddball group of Australians in Europe can serve up.
The venue give us a choice of complimentary meals – cannelloni or chicken with rice – with sourdough and salad. The rider is particularly generous: 50 drink tokens between us. One token bought us any beer we wanted; two was good for spirits; and if you splurged with three you could get yourself a smoke as well. In Australia you’re lucky to get a couple of pints of free camel’s piss.
After about 10pm the dining tables are cleared away. Bone – DJ and promoter of tonight’s show, and 6’5” singer/guitarist with Amsterdam psychobilly masters the Anomalys – appears at the sound desk, and cranks up a non-stop medley of primo ’50s and early ’60s rockabilly.
The crowd are into it: it’s old school but it’s a familiar sound to young and old alike, and it rocks like mad. The dance floor fills with punters, some of them pulling off some great retro moves, while the less self-conscious just let their bodies go with glee.
In the meantime I’ve set up the merch stand. We’ve had 100 T-shirts delivered in a massive cardboard box, and it occurs to me immediately that it’s going to be a real trial to carry later. I set out the vinyl – LPs and singles – a heap of badges and a variety of the shirts. No CDs yet, and in true Spinal Tap tradition, delivery of the band’s new single Take Your Pills (to be released by French label Beast Records) has been delayed, so there’s no new product to promote.
Richie once chided me for wearing a HITS shirt at the merch stand (one of his rules – no band member is to wear band apparel to gigs – not even anyone else’s band). I try to explain this to the guy who brought the shirts when he asks me why I’m not wearing one. “You’re not in the band, you’re in the sales department,” he says incredulously. I smile and pull on a red shirt with a cartoon big bad wolf caricature below the name. The band’s first shirts featured a dog. Now they’re onto wolves.
The band’s supposed to be on at midnight, then they’re pushed back to 12.30 when Bone says he’s waiting for some friends to arrive. By now the band are almost beside themselves with tension, dying to get on, and although they’ve used up a fair proportion of tokens, they’re still about as collectively sober as I’ve ever seen them. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when you hold off drinking until the PM.
Finally the rockabilly grinds to a halt. Bone pulls his huge frame on stage and gabbles excitedly in Dutch. There’s a cheer, Tamara slams into the riff of Fuck The Needy, but the fireball that ought to be released when the rhythm section kicks in is muted. There’s no bass. Our sound guy, an affable New Zealander named Trevor, takes a minute to fix the problem, and the band is yet to find its rhythm: they’re almost too wound-up; their energy unharnessed and diffuse, Richie’s screams off-pitch.
No one in the crowd seems to care much, though. A few down the front are thrashing about, and there’s at least one guy who’s clearly got the first album and is pumping his fist and singing along. Slowly the sound improves and the group begins to lock in. Big Black Car is the first new song to be tested, and Tammy’s Mosrite roars as she chops through the intro’s blistering stop/start rhythm. That’s more like it. The band really clicks into gear with the crushing power of G-Banger, and by the last song, Peter And Paul, everyone’s playing with demented fury.
It’s all over in 35 minutes; not long enough, even if you like to leave a crowd wanting more. Bone leaves enough space for an encore, but Richie’s not about to give one for the sake of the few scattered enthusiastic cheers. Another rule, and not one I agree with: if an audience wants more, it seems churlish not to give it to them, especially when you haven’t given a great deal in the first place.
Still, it’s a good beginning, if not a great one. The rockabilly resumes and so does the action on the dance floor. Merch sales are slow, though: just a couple of T-shirts and a handful of badges, even at the prices we’ve knocked down on local advice. The Dutch have money but they’re not great at spending it.
Time to get paid. I go to see Bone and he asks me if I have my passport. I stare blankly at him. I’d finally decided to leave it back behind locked doors at the hotel as a precaution against getting pick-pocketed, or mugged and turned inside out by thieves. So had most of the rest of the band.
“To pay you, I need at least four passports from the band. You all have to fill out forms for our paperwork. Otherwise, we have a very serious problem.”