Tagged: Amsterdam

Fat Maori: Amsterdam

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.”

Oh, shit.

Dogs in the wheelie bin: Brisbane-Guangzhou

We assemble at Brisbane International Airport at 6am. Our friend Dave Kettley, from the New Christs, has emailed advice about flying on China Southern Airlines. The New Christs are hardy veterans of the European touring circuit. “Spread the load and definitely all go to the counter as a large group,” he writes. “Is your manager coming from Oz with you? The Staph?”

That’s me. The Golden Staph. Thanks, Dave.

“Make use of the extra person,” Dave’s email continues. “Pack as light as you can. Put your pedals in your bag but your leads in your case – they’re considered a strangling weapon and will be confiscated.”

We’re all at the counter, but my carry-on luggage is full of strangling equipment: computer cords, phone chargers and the like. Who knows what or whom I’ll need them for? I put the computer cords in my case, but forget about the others.

Thankfully, it doesn’t matter. Kelly, our customer assistant at the China Southern desk, doesn’t seem to like her job much but she’s incredibly cool. She checks our passports and her hand’s like a magic wand as she waves through everyone’s gear, probably saving the band a few hundred dollars in extra weight.

“It takes a disgruntled employee to do you a favour,” Tamara observes.

Rhonda, Stacey’s extremely lovely and supportive mother, has arrived to see us off. She and Stackers head for the currency exchange. They return with several hundred Euro and hand the wad of cash to me. I’m officially the keeper of the cash as well as the flame.

It’s about now that Gregor, HITS’ drummer, realises he’s stepped in dog shit – probably his own dog’s – and is walking it through the airport lobby. There’s a merino wool display there: a bronzed Aussie, bending to shear a sheep, surrounded by a large pile of wool. Gregor pauses to wipe his foot on the display. Well, there’s no grass around, I guess.

He goes to the newsagent, and emerges with a fishing magazine.

“The only slut I wanna bag is a Queenfish,” he says.He heads for the bar for the first beer of the day. It’s about 8am. I hit the duty free shop to buy a camcorder. Everyone else in the band has iPhones or Androids, but my phone is a piece of junk and I need something decent to record on myself. I buy a cheap-ish camcorder and, feeling daring, pick up a small flask of Chivas Regal: 200ml. I don’t drink much at the best of times.

We head for the lounge. I start fossicking nervously in my carry-on bag. It’s got so many pockets I feel like Howard Moon, from The Mighty Boosh. Howard Moon in a band full of Vince Noir’s.

I announce I have some Diazepam, handy for the two long flights ahead of us.

“Way ahead of you as usual, Andrew,” Richie says. Everyone already has Diazepam or Valium at the ready. My first attempt at procuring drugs for a band fizzles like flat beer. Gregor, by this time, is onto his third. We still have an hour before boarding.

We eventually file on. We’re spread out across the one row, me in a window seat, next to Gregor. He has another beer at the first pass of the drinks trolley, then another, and when it’s time for a meal he orders two more. The hostess politely tells him he can’t have any more, but she seems to forget that later.

I pull out Scoop, by Evelyn Waugh. Stackers has a copy of New Scientist and a tome on the history of women in rock & roll. Gregor has Modern Fishing and a dog-eared book on America’s war on drugs. The others settle in for the in-flight movie, A Dolphin’s Tale. Richie loves it and declares it among the best films he’s seen. He’d be a marine biologist if he weren’t a born rock & roll singer.

Gregor came to Australia from the North Island of New Zealand when he was about 20. He grew up in Dannevirk, birthplace of Queensland’s former premier/hillbilly dictator Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and worked in a local abattoir there after finishing school. He’d started with the grim business of helping herd animals to their execution and graduated to making bacon out of the pigs. There weren’t a lot of employment opportunities in Dannevirk, so he split for Brisbane, where he works as a contractor for a phone provider.

His twin passions are fishing and his beloved bull terrier dogs. Three are tattooed on his torso, from chest to waist. These are the dogs to have passed through Gregor’s life – two have died, while the other was lost in a relationship breakup – while he is now the proud owner of a new boy he calls Lemmy McFlea.

He’s a sweet-faced, cherubic soul, but barrel-chested, with biceps like ham hocks. The best thing about Gregor is he genuinely doesn’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks of him. I’ve rarely encountered someone so comfortable in his own skin. He walks through the world in what looks like a perpetual state of bemusement that not everyone is as free as he is. Tamara regards this attitude with wonder: “Science wants to know what’s up with that.”

I look down at his hands. They’re as gnarled and calloused as a woodcutter’s. He plays drums like a woodcutter, too: at the end of a HITS gig it’s a wonder there’s a kit left on stage at all after Gregor’s all but reduced it to firewood. Off stage, though, he’s as gentle as a lamb.

“Do you do anything to protect your hands before you play?” I ask.

“Nothing much. Getting pissed is the main warm-up procedure,” he says cheerfully. “It’s a fine line, though, between getting maggot and being too fucked up to play. I’d rather walk off stage and think, I nailed that, than let myself and the rest of the band down.”

There’s a pause. I confess to him I don’t really feel prepared for this journey. I barely know where we’re going. I haven’t even opened my French phrasebook. I’m just hoping to take it as it comes, basically, which is how the band mostly seems to get by anyway.

“Yeah, like a dog in a wheelie bin mate,” Gregor says. “Nose down, legs in the air, get into it!”

The hostess is back, carrying a tray of warm disposable towels, perfectly rolled like cigars.

“What sort of spring roll is this?” he asks. I think he’s kidding, but then he bites into it, before recoiling. “That’s no spring roll!” We all dissolve in laughter. I’m not sure if he’s just winding us up now.

TOWARDS the end of the flight I’ve polished off the flask of Chivas Regal. I show it to the band. They are impressed, except for Richie. “It’s only a baby bottle,” he snorts. He’s right: effectively, I’ve sunk a little less than seven standard drinks in 10 hours.

“You realise people on our Facebook page are saying we have to get you munted,” Stackers tells me.

“You gotta have mushrooms,” Richie adds.

“No. No way. I’m not having mushrooms.” Hallucinogens are so not my scene.

“Are you gonna shag a hooker?” Richie asks.

“No. I am actually seriously in love with my fiancee.”

“Slack!”

“Hey, I have trouble even getting stoned,” I say, switching the subject back to the topic at hand. “I’m looking forward to Amsterdam. If I don’t get stoned there I’m never going to manage it.”

“Maybe you could eat a really strong hash cookie,” Stackers offers helpfully.

“Maybe we can spike his drink,” Richie says.

“We arrive at quarter to seven in the morning,” Tamara says. “We can’t even check in for hours. I say we get fucked up.”

“I’m gonna get off my head and go visit windmills and shit,” declares Andy B.

We’re on the descent now. China Southern treats us to an in-flight video of stretching exercises, badly translated into English. The exercises promise to banish our wind and align our meridians, or something. The entire band (except Gregor) being rotating their wrists, rolling their shoulders and craning their necks in unison. Two hundred and fifty passengers join in. New age music fills the cabin.

Finally the plane touches down at Guangzhou. A few Chinese passengers break into applause. It’s been a beautiful flight, distinctly lacking in turbulence.

Richie stares out the window. “It reminds me of that airport in Geelong,” he says.

“What, Avalon? Why?”

“Oh, I dunno. Just the grass.”

GUANGZHOU airport (Baiyun) is horrible. We’re waved off the plane and herded into a severely overcrowded bus which takes us to another terminal. Stackers realises she’s left her jacket on the plane. No one at the airport is keen on getting it back to her. There’s no reliable WiFi and the air conditioning is on the blink. Airport staff terrorise the unwary zipping around on what look like dune buggies, at speeds well over whatever the limit is for dune buggies at airports.

Gregor makes the most of this situation by catching a joyride on one of the buggies after giving the driver a couple of Australian dollars. Other than that, the only excitement for the next six hours arrives in the shape of an almighty kerfuffle outside what was to be our gate. A woman is apparently refusing to disembark from her flight. I can’t say I blame her. (“Nooooo! I don’t wanna go in there!”) A crowd of people anxious to board their own flight start yelling and banging on the gate doors.

A harried-looking customer service lady appears and is immediately besieged by less than gruntled passengers, many of whom start filming the scene on mobile phones and iPads. Eventually the woman is all but frog-marched off the plane. She’s a large-ish African lady and she’s not happy. But instead of getting her the fuck out of there, they just turn her loose in the crowd, which isn’t exactly a great idea because she’s in a mood to take them all on, lashing out in all directions. Eventually police are forced to step in and escort her away.

The show over, we collapse in an exhausted, sweaty heap. I’ve never been so glad to get on the next plane in my life.