Tagged: Lyon

The beginning of a breakdown: Lyon

“Welcome to the big, fat south of France,” says Andy.

Actually, we’re not fully in the south yet. We’re in Lyon, which is more in the central east, really. But it’s sunny, it’s very warm, and after a day and a half’s driving, the cold and wet of Brittany feels another world away. The road had taken us away from the major highway, through winding hills and small Terracotta-topped villages. Then we’d spent a good hour poking our way through the city’s outskirts to its mad, pulsating centre.

There’s less than half a million people here, but it feels like more. Maybe that’s because I’m still driving the Big Black Car. The streets in the city are narrow, the roads are chaotic, and parking is slightly … desperate. We want to check out Dangerhouse, a famous record emporium near the city centre, but it’s impossible to find a space for the van anywhere, so in the end we just head for the venue. It feels hot and crowded and stressful.

Actually, it’s not that bad, just a bit of a taster for what’s to come in the real south – in Marseilles. And the stress falls away pretty quickly once we’re on the boat. Which just adds to the surreal change of scene, really. It’s an Australian-themed boat called Ayer’s Rock – “The Boat That Rocks”.

It’s a big brown barge, moored permanently on the banks of the Rhône River, and it’s monstrously kitsch – the logo is a map of Australia embossed with the flag and the proclamation “The Authentic Australian Bar.” Which is to say it’s about as authentic as your average Irish pub; or any Australian-themed bar in Europe really. There’s a stuffed kangaroo with a joey in her pouch downstairs; a mounted crocodile on the rear deck. The Bondi Bar serves Coopers and Fosters and Boags. You get the idea.

Still, it could be a whole lot worse. It’s mid-afternoon and, too tired to think about sightseeing and with not much else to do otherwise, we’re hanging out on the rear deck, admiring the view up and down the river and drinking.

Mallards and swans drift by. Couples sunbathe and make out along the river’s wide embankment. One canoodling pair look like they’re intent on going the whole nine yards. When she climbs on top to straddle him, I think of suggesting, loudly, that they might consider getting a room. That would be very Australian, and probably very offensive, so I don’t.

The bartender offers some snacks. “Food?” says Rich. “That doesn’t have beer in it.” He and Tamara have caught the same lurgy I’d picked up a couple of days earlier, in Lannion, despite all of us having flu shots. Tamara is resting on a couch at the stern of the boat, clearly feeling like Johnny Thunders warmed up. Richard, for his part, is just warming up.

“I’m a cheap drunk,” he says. He’s already tipsy, thanks to the combination of over-the-counter cold meds, cough syrup and cognac (to protect his flagging voice) already in his system. Now he’s adding beer to the mix. And this is before the mohitos begin.

“You’re not as cheap as me,” I say. (This would, under normal circumstances, be true.)

“Well, you start off cheap,” Rich says genially. “When you get more experienced, it gets more expensive. Look at Coleman.” Stacey, who most agree can drink the rest of us under the table put together, has just joined us.

“I come from a long line of alcoholics, so I can drink til the cows come home,” Richie goes on.

“Me too. I’m gonna live forever,” Stackers says.

“You’ve got good genes?” I ask.

“Yep. Drinker’s genes. My great-grandmum lived to be 105 and she drank, like, every day.”

I start getting the feeling it’s going to be one of those nights.

A BIT later, still pre-gig, I have one of those occasional conversations with Richard that I’ve come to cherish. We’re halfway through the tour and, sitting in the late afternoon sun and on the Rhône, we’re in a peaceful, reflective mood, despite the fact that we’re talking to each other through a head full of premium-grade snot.

“We couldn’t have done this without you, Andrew,” he says suddenly, with feeling. I’m startled, proud and moved all at once.

“Well, I’m proud to be part of this,” I say back. “I always knew the band was this good. I always knew you could find an audience over here and that you could cut it. To actually be here to see you do it is a beautiful thing.”

“I don’t know if I would have been ready to do it before,” Rich says, looking straight at me. “I’m not sure I would have coped … You’re a stabilising influence on us.”

I’m blessed with a deep, almost primal feeling of acceptance, of belonging. Rock & roll has always attracted misfits, people that don’t feel like they have a place to go. If you never ran with the crowd at school – or the crowd never let you in – you might have found solace as a teenager in the voices of Iggy, of Morrissey, of Patti.

Outside of society, she sang. You wouldn’t resign yourself to your status as an outcast; you would celebrate it. That’s where I wanna be. HITS say they’re a celebration of resignation. Their songs are full of loneliness and pain and defeat and struggle. But part of what makes the band special is the delivery of those songs, which is so joyful and so inclusive.

One of the reasons for being in a band is you’re actually not outside of society, not entirely. Instead you join a secret society of fellow outcasts that validate you. If no one cared what you thought in school, then singing in a band might give you a flock to preach to.

I never felt part of a gang. My half-hearted attempts at forming bands of my own always fell flat. I’ve spent a lifetime lurking on music’s fringes, wanting desperately to be part of it and never quite making the transition.

Being a stabilising influence doesn’t sound very rock & roll. But somehow I’ve found a place in this setup as the straight man in a comedy act. Well, that works for me. As Jonathan Richman once said, I’m proud to say I’m straight.

WHETHER it’s complacency (it was all going so well); relief (no one was sure whether it would or not) or just the usual combination of booze mixed with cough syrup, the show is a debacle. Well, not a complete debacle, but certainly the worst since Amsterdam, and the polar opposite of Lorient. There, the audience came to HITS. On Ayer’s Rock, Richie takes HITS to the audience – but the audience is backing away.

Because unlike, say, La Louvière, this plainly isn’t a show; isn’t a cartoon. It’s real life, and real life is scary. There’s a sad, awkward silence after one song. Richie, hopelessly intoxicated by now, suddenly catches the mood of the crowd.

“Why is everybody staring at me?” he asks, almost a little plaintively. I’m guessing it’s the first time anyone on a stage, certainly a rock & roll singer, has ever thought to ask that question.

“Because you’re so drunk!” someone replies, in perfect English, and possibly just a hint of an Australian accent. It’s a moment full of pathos, humour, and simple, sad truth. Richie asks the bar for beers. I get them, feeling slightly queasy. HITS – 1; Responsible Service of Alcohol – 0.

There are still a few punters dancing and we manage to sell a fair bit of merch afterwards – mainly to the owner of Dangerhouse, who’s made it along and is still impressed enough to buy our very last copies of Living With You Is Killing Me on vinyl, as well as a bunch of CDs. But only someone who’s never seen the band play before would be fooled that it’s a good show.

While I’m selling the gear, Richie is already passed out, his shirt wrapped around his head. Later, Tamara holds his raggedy mane of blond hair behind his head, like a girl, as he rejects the entire evening from his body. As if the whole thing never happened.

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.”