Tagged: Lorient

Deliverance: Lorient

Like Brest, Lorient was smashed to pieces during World War II. It’s a seaport on the south coast of Brittany in north-west France, and a former German U-Boat base. All the allies’ bombs combined couldn’t penetrate the three giant reinforced concrete structures that sheltered the boats, so they reverted to plan B, destroying the city in order to cut supply lines to the base.

On Rue Florian Laport, which runs down to the docks, you’d be forgiven for thinking some parts of Lorient had never actually been rebuilt. If you’re a dirty, filthy rock & roll band and you wanted to grime up your image by picturing yourself in a setting of authentic urban decay, here you will find an overload of photo opportunities: abandoned buildings, huge slag-heaps of dirt and smashed windows abound.

They have great graffiti here, though. The band photos didn’t materialise, but I did get this shot of Stackers in one of those bombed-out buildings:

Appropriately, it’s on this street, amid all this detritus, that you’ll find the dirtiest, filthiest and best rock & roll club in France, if not all Europe. Le Galion was once a sailor’s bar and, from all accounts, a violent place; if you look hard enough you’ll probably still find the odd tooth that’s been knocked out of some poor seafarer’s head. About six years ago it was taken over by owner Jean-Baptiste, a swarthy fellow with a taste for music as tough as the surroundings.

The place was apparently christened with a performance by Brisbane’s 6FtHick, which would have set the tone of the place from the outset. The love was reciprocal, too: large parts of a documentary about the band, Notes From The Underground, were filmed here, and my understanding is that the band’s 2008 album On The Rocks was at least partially inspired by their shows at the venue.

There’s a painting of a crocodile over the bar and another of the docks over the stage, augmented by images of a female rock goddess and a demon drummer. Perfect. Capacity is roughly 250. It’s obvious it’s going to be a big night.

Fred, who does sound at the venue, tries to explain Le Galion’s history. “It’s a great town. Simple people, kind people,” he says. “We are near the fishing port – the industrial part of town. We are far from home. That’s why we can make such big sounds. It’s cool. Twenty years ago it was really dangerous; a jungle. Bad guys, drunk people. Now it’s, how would you say, arty? Something changed here about five years ago – when Le Galion started putting on shows.”

Hopefully, this tilt towards the arts won’t infect the docks of Lorient with the virus of urban gentrification that invariably end up being the death of places like Le Galion.

WHEN HITS are in enemy territory – like, say, La Louvière, where they found themselves on a bill surrounded mostly by Ameripunk bands – they like to take the show to the audience. Stacey and Richard especially have spent almost as much time on the dance floor as on stage on this tour. At La Louvière, Richard pulled out every trick in the book, hurling himself at the mike stand, singing while collapsed in a heap on the floor, planting kisses on the ladies.

That’s not going to happen here at Le Galion. The place is packed to the gills and, for the first time on tour, the audience takes the show to HITS. In other words, they go completely bonkers. It seems a large proportion of them know the band’s material: we actually don’t sell as much as merch as I expected, probably because the band are preaching to the choir. There’s a real mosh pit, slam dancing and an almost scary level of energy.

So the band stay on stage, except for a small round podium planted just in front. It allows Rich and Tamara to put on their Bon and Angus routine to full effect: mostly, Rich stands on the podium, until it’s Tam’s turn to take a solo. Then he stands over near her amp. “That is something I picked up from them [AC/DC],” he admits. “You don’t want to grandstand at those times. You want people to hear the solo, because it’s fucking great.”

After the nerves of the previous night, it feels like deliverance, a magnificent show. They look like stars and they’re treated accordingly. But it’s also the first time after a gig where I’ve seen Richard ready to retire straight away. As it is, we’re up until 5am. “I was fucked,” he says afterwards. “Nothing left. I usually feel that way after a show in Australia, in summer, in a heatwave.

“And it was weird. There were a lot of idiots in the crowd. You have to keep your eye on them … If I was using a mike stand, then I’d just [mimes whacking an imaginary idiot]. But then you think, I can’t worry about them.”

In particular, both Tamara and Stacey are subject to a disproportionate amount of leering. One punk in the sort of spiky jacket that screams of a man who has never let go of 1977 stands dead in front of Stackers for the whole set, barely moving, just staring at her. He probably thinks he’s giving her the eye, but it’s crudely menacing. A few others try to lick Tamara’s guitar – or maybe it’s her strumming hand – when she steps forward.

Later, outside, they have to be rescued from the locals by Andy and Gregor. Marriage proposals were the least of it. “I like a bit of seduction, but these guys were touching my legs, telling me how they wanted to go down on me, like, right now,” Stacey says later, shuddering. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Truthfully, as one of two single members of the band – Andy being the other, and both have at times been, in Stacey’s words, as toey as Roman sandals – I’d expected Stackers to go off and make her own fun at some point. It’s not going to happen. “I’m loyal to my band,” she says. “If I woke up, in a stranger’s place, I wouldn’t feel good about that. And if I did meet someone I like, I’d rather get in contact later and establish something that way.”

Later, though, she exchanges details with Fred, the sound guy “with such a beautiful smile”.

THERE’S a gig in a beautiful town called Lannion the next night – the day Nicolas Sarkozy is defeated. Richie dedicates a rare performance of The End to him. Then we’ve got a day off. We drive seven hours to Clermont-Ferrand before making for Lyon, in the south. The final, brutal stage of the tour is approaching. There are 11 shows to go. In a row.

“I can’t comprehend 11 in a row,” Richie says over a subdued dinner near the Formula One hotel on the outskirts of town. “It makes me feel a bit ill.”

“We’re just gonna have to put ourselves to bed early,” Tamara says hopefully. “It’s not gonna be 11 parties in a row … We’ve had such an awesome time. I suspect the awesome times are about to diminish.”

The fear: Brest

Brest is a naval port on the north-west coast of France which was largely rebuilt after being blown to bits by the British in World War II. It’s cold and wet. Apparently it rains about 200 days a year here. I’m tempted to use that for an explanation for the depressed-looking nature of the place, but that would have a lot more to do with prevailing economic conditions.

It’s two days before the general election, and times are tough. The population is waiting for Sarkozy like Australians once famously waited for Paul Keating: with baseball bats. “Under Sarkozy, one million out of work,” one sad-looking fellow tells me, baulking at the prices on our merchandise. “When your tour over, we will have new president.”

The band’s just played another crazed show in a beautiful room under a hotel called La Vauban. Pity there weren’t many more than 30 or 40 there to see it, in a room that you could comfortably fit 300 into, thanks to a band competition across town that sucked away most of the town’s eligible punters for the night.

Most of the audience were fellow musicians: the guys from Head On, fronted by Beast Records’ inimitable Seb, and Ultra Bullitt, whose singer/bass player extraordinaire Erwen La Roux has put on tonight’s show. He’s printed 5000 flyers, 500 posters, and lost money, but he doesn’t care. “Je ne regrette rien,” he says.

Ben Salter – who’s been in our van since Paris – opened, mostly thanks to the generosity of everyone else who slotted him in to play at the last minute, after Andy B’s promise that “his voice will bring them in off the street”.

“Yeah, to complain,” quips Ben.

Of course, Ben has the sort of voice that will stop a room, and that once routinely stopped passing traffic during his busking days on the Queen Street Mall at home in Brisbane. There’s barely a paying punter in the room but everyone else watches, transfixed. He does a set of his own songs – mostly from his last solo release The Cat – before finishing with covers of the Stooges’ Gimme Danger and the Velvet Underground’s I’m Set Free, adding a diehard rock & roller’s edge to his own songs.

It feels like a very good audition for his overseas sojourn, which he’s doing out of a small suitcase. Have guitar; will travel. Ben’s dad is a Vietnam veteran, and once, marching in an Anzac Day parade with him, he found himself explaining to some his dad’s fellow diggers that he was a musician. He saw them screwing up their faces, trying to understand his choice of vocation; to comprehend the different ways you can measure success.

“Why don’t you go on Australian Idol?” one eventually offered, genuinely trying to be helpful.

Ben tried in vain to explain, politely, how such a move would fly in the face of everything he was about as an artist. Andy nods. “It’s like wanting to be a Formula One driver and someone telling you that you should settle for driving taxis.”

Some things can’t be rationally explained. Most of the creative people I know – writers, musicians, visual artists – do what they do because they love it and because, more crucially, they have to; something inside them is fighting to be released. And sometimes you need to feel the love of a new audience to know what you’re doing connects with people other than your friends in your own little corner of the world.

Ben’s made some fine albums, but I have a feeling this trip will be the real making of him.

THE cold, the rain and the constant balm of alcohol are catching up with me. I haven’t been able to wash any clothes – it feels like it’d be easier to find crack than a Laundromat – and all I want in the world are dry shoes and socks.

Ben had already noted my decline the previous day. “You look like you’ve got The Fear, Staffo,” he’d said. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but I was starting to sail close to the edge, even if I didn’t understand quite what he meant at the time. “It’s just generalised anxiety, existential dread,” he explained cheerfully when I asked him later. “Everyone on tour gets it at some point. It’s the drinking that does it.”

Gregor appeared at that point, having slipped off on his own to find a kip, eventually settling for a park bench, or it might have been someone’s front yard. Ben quickly makes an exception.

“See, The Fear just bounces off the Maori,” Ben says. “It just ricochets, like ping-pong balls off a Centurion tank.”

I try to deal with The Fear by having an alcohol-free day, something that usually wouldn’t be a problem for someone who can happily not drink for a couple of weeks, but isn’t so easy when you spend all day surrounded by pissheads and the grog, including beautiful French wine, is free.

“Are we making it harder for you by drinking?” Stacey asks, as she catches me gazing longingly at her glass of red before grabbing another bottle of water. Richie, at this point, is clutching a cigarette in one set of fingers, a joint in the other and clasping a beer in between.

“No,” I say desperately. “I’m making it harder for myself by continuing to drink and I need a night off. It’s just the hanging around in bars that kills me.”

My old friend Simon McKenzie – who gave me my start in music writing nearly 20 years ago when he was editing Brisbane’s free street weekly Time Off – has also joined us from Oslo, where he now edits an oil and gas industry bible. He remembers a journalist who, around the mid-1990s, had asked Charlie Watts how it felt to have been in the Rolling Stones for 30 years.

Watts’ reply was as laconic as his approach to playing drums. “It doesn’t feel like 30 years,” he replied. “More like five years of actually being in a band. The other 25 years was spent waiting. Just fucking around.”

AFTER all that fucking around, the show is a blinder. HITS are leaping from peak to peak, scaling heights I didn’t know they were capable of. The band throw every shape in the book – Richie hurling himself bodily at the mike stand, Iggy Pop style, before tossing it away – and that’s before the gig even begins.

Later he’s climbing up the lighting scaffolding at the side of the stage while Stackers kneels before her amplifier as if it were an altar during Bitter And Twisted, drawing wails of anguish from its electronic entrails. She repeats the trick during Lost In The Somme, which finally came out the night before in Rennes. It worked, big time, and now it’s here to stay.

The band can’t refuse encores by now and the show stopper, again, is Shadowplay, the Joy Division classic that draws cries of recognition from the audience from its opening rumble of bass.

But it’s just a warm-up for the next night, in Lorient. Afterwards, Richie is unusually subdued. “Tomorrow night is probably the most important night of the tour,” he says, adding meaningfully, “So if you could just bear that in mind as you could go through your day…”

“No,” Stacey replies nervously. “I don’t want to bear that in mind at all.”