Tagged: Andy Buchanan

Give them the merde: Lille

It was Stackers who got us out of trouble. I’d tried to gather everyone together and was talking about getting a cab back to the Crown to get our passports quickly enough to make the return journey to Pacific Parc so we could get paid before the place shut. Hey, we’d lose out on cab fares, but 350 Euro were at stake. And Bone seemed pretty adamant that there was no other way.

Stackers was having none of it. “There’s always a way,” she said quietly. She and Gregor are the only ones to have brought their passports to the gig. There’s also a friend of the band, an ex-Brisbane girl called Jules now living in Denmark, who’s joined the band for the gig, and she has her passport too. Stackers marches back to the mixing desk with them and charms Bone into filling out the paperwork as if the three of them had been the band that night.

It was nearly 3am by the time we’re finally free to go, and by then the elation of the first gig of the tour is wearing off. It’s damp and cold and we’re lugging not only all our gear but a large cardboard box of 100 T-shirts. We set out in the opposite direction to that by which we came, after Tamara spies a small bridge 100 metres away that will get us back over the canal to the main road in what we hope will be half the time.

But the bridge isn’t a pedestrian bridge – it’s actually got a drawbridge at the end blocking us. A few nimble punters are trying to pick their way across and around the drawbridge – there are enough places along the edge of the structure to put your feet, at least if you have the grip of a mountain goat – and Tammy is briefly keen to join them until we point out that while she might make it across, her Mosrite would most likely end up in the canal.

Putting her guitar’s safety before her own, Tammy reluctantly follows us another several hundred metres to the next proper bridge. I’m about to collapse under the box of T-shirts – I briefly have a vision of John Cleese buried under the boulder in the stoning scene of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian, arms and legs protruding – and for the rest of the way Tammy and I share the load, walking like crabs with the box between us.

Once we’re finally over the bridge it’s time to find a cab for seven people (including Jules) plus gear. That proves a predictably hard ask in the small hours of a Saturday morning in Amsterdam, so we end up flagging down two vehicles. Unfortunately the cabs aren’t allowed into the red-light district between 8pm and 7am, when it essentially turns into a giant shopping mall for sex-mad tourists, so we’re forced to walk some more.

Inevitably we end up taking a wrong turn and find ourselves further from our destination than from where we started. Andy pulls out his Android and lets his GPS do the work. We set out back on the correct path, except for Gregor and Richie. Gregor is particularly adamant we’re going the wrong way, so we let them struggle on with the cardboard box.

Once we’re safely back at the Crown, Tammy immediately starts to worry about Richie and Gregor and plunges back out into the night. I start worrying about Tammy wandering around the district and chase after her, past the writhing girls in windows and gangs of sex tourists who point and stare and haggle over prices. We quickly find Richie and Gregor, Richie staggering under the weight of the box. We take it off him and once again, like a pair of drunken crabs, we lurch our way back to the hotel.

It’s four in the morning before anyone gets to bed.

WE’RE up at seven. All six of us need to have showers and be ready in time to make it to Central Station for the train trip to Lille, which leaves at 9.45am. To my surprise, the operation all runs with uncharacteristically military precision and everyone’s showered and ready by half-eight, even if they still feel half dead. “Well done, band,” I say. “Speed and efficiency.”

It’s pouring rain, though, which is a problem, considering the gear – it’s too far to walk with it to Central, and too short for any self-respecting Amsterdam cabbie to bother with. I remember Stackers’ resolve in the face of adversity the night before – “there’s always a way” – and make for the station myself. For getting soaked to the skin, I’m rewarded when I spot a seven-seater cab on the rank which charges 25 Euro to drive me back to the hotel, pick up the band and get us to the station. Cab whisperer is added to my job description.

Today we play our first gig in France – we’ve got a five-hour journey to Lille ahead of us, with a change at Antwerp in Belgium. We’ve got a 45-minute wait at the platform, which is devoid of any seating, cold, wet and hungry. Richie, Gregor and I find a shop and return with some fruit and croissants and coffee. Then I realise I’ve still got some hash that I bought from the Trinity, and not wanting to waste it before we cross the border, we roll up – or should I say, Richie does, since I still don’t trust myself to roll my own.

Gregor asks for the address of my blog. He says he wants to send it to his wife Renée, so she can keep track of our adventures. I give it to him but advise him not to read it until we get back, since I don’t want the band to get self-conscious.

“Me, Staffo? Self-conscious?” It’s true – Gregor is the least self-conscious person I’ve ever met.

There is one exception, though. Gregor has trouble when it comes to number twos – specifically he won’t, or can’t defecate in public toilets, particularly on planes, where queues of passengers are likely to form. He likes to take his time. “Well, shitting is sort of a personal thing, isn’t it?” he reasons. “I like to be in a familiar environment, where I know I won’t be disturbed.”

It’s the same for the train to Lille. “I’ll wait,” he says cheerfully. “I want to be the first of us to shit on France.”

“Give them the merde,” Stackers says.

He has no problem peeing, though, having been done for public urination back home. HITS had done a gig at the Beetle Bar on Upper Roma Street, and Gregor, who was nicely soused, had wandered out of the venue and down the road towards the train station. Spying a large potted plant, he relieved himself – right outside Brisbane’s Gestapo-like police headquarters. A cop appeared right as Gregor was doing up his fly. Busting, busting, busted.

“WOULDN’T it be good to own your own train,” Andy says, as we pass into Belgium. “You could deck it out with a big double bed and just curl up and go to sleep.” Most of us have crashed out at this point.”

“That’s very rock & roll,” I say. “Why own a Lear Jet when you can go by train?”

“Yeah. You could ride into town in full dictatorial style. Whole timetables would be delayed when Andy B comes to town…”

I ask Andy whom he would choose if he could be anyone in human history. I figure he might have been a Roman Emperor in a past life. “Nah,” he says. “I prefer Mao.”

The change at Antwerp is a trial – we find ourselves holding up a different kind of queue as we try to exit the train, as we try to safely escort out all our gear. For the next change, at a place called Kortrijk, we’re more organised, sitting together near a cabin exit, and we start getting our stuff ready to go before the train stops. We’re all off in good time, with a 10-minute wait until the next train.

But the train we’ve just exited stays where it is, until we realise that it’s the same one we need to be on to continue to Lille. We lug our gear back on board all over again. For the first time, the thought occurs to me that I might not actually wish to do this again.

I ONLY speak a few words of French, but knowing even just the basic pleasantries will get you a long way, at least as long as you’re polite. It’s harder, though, in the provinces than in Paris, where most French speak about as much English as I speak French. That can leave you with nothing but pleasantries to exchange. “Bonjour! Excusez-moi, parlez-vous Anglais?” “Non, m’sieur.”“Ah, oui. Pardon! Au-revoir.” “Au-revoir.”

There are no maxi taxis on the rank at Lille station, so we’re again forced to use two, the driver of one of which seems to have just the one word of English in his arsenal: “Bonjour! Pardon, parlez-vous Anglais?” “Pitiful.” Thankfully, Andy speaks respectable French – it was another of his university majors – and the other cabbie speaks better English, so we’re able to commandeer our way to tonight’s venue, L’Imposture, in a rather run-down part of the city.

There’s no one there, which is not surprising, since it’s not much past three in the afternoon. We peer in the window and I swear, it makes Brisbane’s Ric’s, which can comfortably squeeze about 80 bodies into the front room, look like Madison Square Garden. We stand outside with our gear while Tamara makes a phone call. It’s not long before a van appears and a willowy, smiling lady dressed in black appears, closely followed by fellow who, if a biopic of the Clash were ever made, would make a great Joe Strummer.

Jenny and Malik run the best rock & roll club in Lille and are our hosts for this evening.

Jenny tells us the club’s owner, Katrina, is out of town for the weekend, and we’re welcome to the run of her apartment, a narrow three-storey terrace. They’re so incredibly kind that Tamara is momentarily close to tears. “Our personal comforts are a great displeasure for some people,” she says. “To them we’re full of inconvenient needs and unfulfillable wants. We’re valuable for 40 minutes, on stage. We’re not people, we’re a band, that’s what’s happened.”

Jenny and Malik treat us like old friends. We dump our gear at the apartment, rest for a few hours then return the few blocks to L’Imposture, where Malik has made a mean chicken and vegetable stew and lets us drink to our heart’s content. The band hasn’t had a drink all day to this point.

Slowly, the venue begins to fill with Lille’s tiny contingent of rock & roll degenerates. We’d though it would be an early show, but there’s a support band playing called Jimi Was Gain, and they’re wonderful – a two-piece guitar/drums setup whose leader owns a Rickenbacker that looks more like a hotrod. He plays it like one, too; it’s all white-hot ’60s-style garage, with a tasty slew of originals alongside classic nuggets like Dirty Water, Psychotic Reaction and the best version of Surfin’ Bird I’ve ever heard this side of the Ramones.

Suddenly, it’s looking like a really bad day’s about to turn into a really good night. “There’s no bad days on tour, Staffo,” Stackers reminds me. “You could be at home driving cabs, you know.” I grin.

I’m reminded that it doesn’t matter how small a venue is; if it’s full, you might as well be playing Madison Square Garden after all. Only a handful of people here will have heard HITS’ album – the same as last night’s show at the much bigger Pacific Parc – but everyone in the room who hasn’t wants to be here anyway, on the strength of word of mouth, much of it spread by Malik and Jenny themselves. It’s a Saturday night, and everyone wants to rock out.

Richie’s fired up. He wants to hit the unsuspecting crowd with more of the new songs tonight. The band tears out of the blocks with Loose Cannons, then Smash Hits, then G-Banger, none of them yet available, and although Tammy’s Mosrite’s not loud enough and Stacey’s guitar keeps going out of tune, the vibe is there and the crowd is into it.

By Take Your Pills, the band’s on fire – Stacey’s bent at the knees, pumping out the rhythm furiously. She’s the most reserved member of the band, and her body language is a good indication of when a gig’s going well. Then the band plays its trump card. Bitter And Twisted is a new song – this is only the third time it’s been played live – and it’s a masterpiece, reminiscent of the slow, druggy menace of the Stooges’ I’m Sick Of You.

The band rips into a cover of I Need A Million, an obscure track by New York’s great, unheralded Laughing Dogs, and although probably no one recognises it, the crowd responds instantly to its irresistible surge of energy. There’s no question they know Joy Division’s Shadowplay, though: 40 French go mad. It’s a great show.

Later it’s just a long party. Drinks flow freely. Tamara scores some extremely smelly cheese, soon to be known as the Cheese of Death as it permeates our van.

“Let’s get busted for trying to smuggle cheese into Australia,” Richie says.

“We could put it up our arse in a condom,” Andy says. “At the beginning of the tour you’ll be scoring cheese. By the middle, you’ll have a dangerous habit. By the end you’ll be mainlining griere into your neck.”

Gregor caps the night by doing a haka. It’s a tour highlight. Richie thinks maybe he should start opening shows with it.

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.

Euro Double-Vision

Sorry for the late post (and late notice), but I’ve been packing/panicking. I’m about to set off on a grand adventure. Tomorrow morning, I’ll be flying to Europe, tour managing a Brisbane band on their first tour of Europe. Heeeeeere we go…

dblev

Actually, “tour managing” is a bit highfalutin’ (HITS prefer to say they mismanage themselves). Basically, I’m their driver, merch pimp, nanny, fan, friend and documentarian. I’ve driven a van for 10 years – a maxi taxi – so this is a far more enjoyable way to use those skills.

It’s not every day that a band changes your life. HITS changed mine about five years ago: 7 April 2007, to be precise, which happened to be my 36th birthday. I’d still take that one over the other 40 in a heartbeat. The venue was the Colombian Bar, in Brisbane, and the first song they played was I Swear I’ll Never Sing A Song Again. I liked them right away.

It was their first gig in their current five-piece incarnation. Visually, to say they were striking was an understatement. I’d known the singer, Richard Hunt – known by his nom-de-punk Evil Dick – for around 15 years by then; I’d last seen him in an earlier band, the Aampirellas, whom major labels had shown some interest in, despite severe reservations about the greasy-haired singer/guitarist. Eventually the Aampirellas sacked him, which was a bit like the Clash sacking Mick Jones.

As Joe Strummer admitted later, you don’t sack the talent. Richie was the talent. He had the songs, the charisma, the vision.

HITS were immediately different. This time, Richie was the frontman, it was his band (so no one could get rid of him) and he was flanked by not one but two women. This could not be underestimated. The sight of a male singer pouring out all his insecurities in a killer rock band backed by two very aggressive female guitarists upended the usual setup of mixed-gender bands, where women usually either sing or play “supportive” roles, i.e. bass.

One of the guitarists, Tamara Bell, had been in Gazoonga Attack. She’s also Richie’s partner of around nine years’ standing. Together, they’re the heart of the band. Richie writes most of the songs. Tamara plays guitar like Angus Young stuck in Chrissy Amphlett’s body.

The second guitarist, Stacey Coleman, also plays in Butcher Birds. Mostly, she plays hot, thick rhythm guitar, but also makes a significant songwriting contribution of her own. Gregor Mulvey, the drummer, is in another band, ShrewmS. He’s the wildest drummer in town. The bass player was Edward Niznik, ex-of the Disables; he was replaced by Andy Buchanan a couple of years ago. He also plays in Los Huevos and New Jack Rubys.

Wanna listen?

I kept a close eye on HITS for a couple of years after seeing that first show. They got better and better, and finally, in late 2009 their first album Living With You Is Killing Me was released. I reviewed it ecstatically here (scroll down). Then I became personally involved, going halves with their record label, Mere Noise, to make a vinyl pressing of the album – 300 copies. I’d never done anything like that before. Then, in January 2011, I toured with them through Sydney, Katoomba and Wollongong.

But there’s no point being the best rock & roll band on the face of the earth if you’re stuck in Brisbane, is there? The world wants HITS! Well, the French do, at least. And a few people in Amsterdam. In fact, Amsterdam is the first date on the tour. Lord have mercy.

gutterrich

Anyway. Tune in. Check out the dates above (and if you’re reading this from France, especially, come and say hello) and keep an eye on this blog. I’ll be keeping a tour diary right here.

See you on the other side.