'This Fire' A 'Dutch history' of Franz Ferdinand

"“Christ, that's a bit Spinal Tap, Bob...how many albums have you sold now, it must be going on for a million”"

 


 


 


I've never been to the Heineken Music Hall before and I've lived in Holland quite a while. The bands Incendiary normally hang out with don't play here, so tonight was going to be an exception to the rule. Still, Franz were in town, which is always a good thing, though never before such a big thing.


 


For the record, and (hopefully) stated without too much fanfare, Incendiary have been loud champions of Franz Ferdinand since their epic gigs in Utrecht's Ekko club and their first time at the Paradiso, an electric night if ever there was one, virtually a year to the day ago. We liked them a lot and they liked us, so an intermittent friendship started up. This friendship is based more on mutual love of art, books and history, (two of us are practising artists) rather than anything to do with music. The fact that we run a music magazine is of no concern to them. Typical Franz.


 


We walked into the, ahem, corporate surroundings of the Heineken Hall. Christ, you'd have thought there would have been more of a boozy atmosphere in here, in keeping with it's patron, surely. For the first time in my life I felt embarrassed asking for the passes. Heads turned. Pre-pubescent stares were meted out to Incendiary as we sheepishly affixed our pink after-party strips to our clothing (visible at all times please), and moved en-masse to the bar. After a while of lurking in the shadows of this slate grey and soul-less hall I spotted Paul cautiously skirting the edges of the crowd. "Hey mate, how's it going?" Affable as ever, Paul was with his mum and dad, who were justifiably proud of their son's progress.


IN; "How's life in Boy Division then, Paul?"


PT; "Oh God, did you hear about that?"


IN; "Well, yeah, I read that you'd said it in a magazine".


PT; "No, I didn't mean that, I meant, have you heard about the band? There's a band called Boy Division now, and they've got the guy who did Factory's artwork to do their covers."


IN; "Peter Saville?"


PT; "Yeah."


IN; "Bloody hell..."


Either there's some amazing synchronicity at work here or Paul Thompson's remark may have, in the words of Alan Partridge, spawned a monster.


 


Leaving Paul to ruminate his powers of autosuggestion, we headed towards the bar and bumped into Bob who was busy watching Sons and Daughters, who were first up on the bill. It struck me at this point that no-one was looking, even slyly, at either at him or Paul; with Franz, if you split the band up into their individual components, they become less recognisable it seems. Maybe testament to their remarkable normality and honesty? Or maybe it was just dark. "Big place Bob."     


BH; "Yeah...we've played a few like this....I'm knackered, Richard. I'm going home at Christmas and doing nothing."


IN; "Yeah, I reckon me as well. Maybe solitude with a bottle of whisky."


BH; "Yeah, that's exactly right."


IN; "What's all this about an orange carpet on stage, Bob?" Bob looked slightly queerly at me.


BH;  "Yeah, it's the tour manager. We have it at every show."


Hmm. I'll pursue the orange carpet question further after the show,  Mr. Hardy. Someone had told me that the Franz pre gig entertainment was seeing roadies (invariably wearing Iron Maiden t-shirts) hoovering a giant orange carpet, upon which the band perform. I asked Bob about the early Dutch gigs.


BH; "Yes. The Ekko. And the Paradiso. That was a great gig, one of our best, then".


 


It was. It was also instructive to see how they'd progressed between the gigs in November 2003 and the Paradiso gig in March of this year. The November gigs were presented like a manifesto, brimful of intent and an inner knowledge plus a confidence that almost knocked you over. And bags, nay, heaps of unbridled fun. I still remember Alex saying, almost sarcastically "thanks....for your...attendance" at the Paradiso, almost taunting us to find a better band than them. But the best parts were the songs, never heard before over in Holland, save "Darts of Pleasure". You just knew they were into the Postcard groups, Step Forward era Fall, Sparks, Roxy, etc etc etc. (And I know everyone's mentioned that since, but, before them it was all dumb-ass garage/Wire copyists. It was a shock to hear something so clever. Now, of course, it's dumb-ass Bunnymen copyists. Who've never really heard the Bunnymen.) What I really mean is, like all great bands before them, Franz really liked and understood the artists they drew inspiration from. I think they saw themselves, certainly presented themselves, as a further link in the long, sometimes honourable chain of arty, accessible pop acts.


 


I remember drinking with them after the show, talking about (of all things), the retreat from Mons in 1914, and Josef K. We were by the main stage bar of the Paradiso, staring out into the sea of dancers at the Paradisco. I just thought at the time how closely knit they were as a band and left them staring out at the main stage, like four Jay Gatsbys.


 


The next time we saw them was in March this year and by that time their behemoth single "Take Me Out", had stomped all over Europe. This time they had gained enough clout to play the main stage at the Paradiso and they'd sold out (as in sold a lot of tickets). The place was teeming with hip types, all checking each other out in that loathsome way hip types do. Incendiary propietor Jon had bought Paul a hat, I'd bartered for some champagne in a pub and I had intended to drink it with them later. When we met them pre-show they were sewing and checking trouser seams, sitting in a line, quietly chatting. They seemed expectant about something. We did most of the talking, and I jokingly remonstrated them that they'd mis-quoted me in a mag in January. We left promising to return.


 


Hmm. They were quiet backstage, but I needn't have worried. That gig was special. Now they were a well groomed machine, full of flamboyant gestures and flair. They seemed to grow into the bigger stage, and the crowd went apeshit. Now, it's not often the crowd go apeshit at the Paradiso, but they did. Everyone danced. Something was definately in the air. Franz had conjoured that something up and milked it for all they were worth. Some guy behind me kept dancing on the spot, long after the gig had finished, unwilling to let the moment go. Oh, and my champagne? Sprayed all over the audience, Grand Prix style. Afterwards they were all smiles and attention, talking about painting, exhibitions seen, books they'd read, bootlegs they were collecting. "Can you send me those Orange Juice live tapes Richard?" The usual Franz. That was the last time we'd see them till the Heineken.


 


Over the summer they played Pink Pop and Lowlands, both sets broadcast on the telly, showing a more grandiose performance in front of crowds going nuts. I had an inkling of what to expect, but nothing prepared me for the greeting they received when they walked out at the HMH. Jesus.


 



 


The first thing of note was the disappearance of the hip knobhound crowd, supplanted by stroppy seventeen year olds. Probably none of them realised who the face was on the banner that hung in front of the stage before the gig. Actually, who cares if they didn't? (And I'm not going to tell you now, you probably already know). The second thing was the singalong, anthemic quality the songs had. I mean I knew it was there, I'd never seen it so blatantly proposed before. Oh, and one other thing; the new songs sounded great, hard edged, epic, sonic, windswept even. The passionate nature of the band is much more in evidence with the new material. They are straightforward, honest individuals, who are not scared of standing their ground, a far cry from the manipulating formulaic automatons that some see people them as being. Bloody hell, they even covered the Fire Engines, and the teeyboppers swallowed it whole.


 


But to hell with all this. There are more important matters to discuss. Post gig, at a back stage party area that looked like an airport check in desk, we got down to the business of the carpet with Bob. He was in fine form, flushed after the gig with a beer in his hand. That beard suited him (I did call him a bearded behemoth, which he seemed quite pleased with. He even claimed it was just a few days growth. But then Bob's always joking...we think).


IN; "So, tell us about the carpet, Bob. You need to be more forthcoming. Can you get it dirty?"


BH; "Errmm. Well, we can't walk on it.."


IN; "With dirty feet?"


BH; "No, when we were doing the festivals we had to wear wellies from the dressing room to the stage, and then swap them for our clean shoes before we went on the carpet." IN; "Christ, that's a bit Spinal Tap, Bob...how many albums have you sold now, it must be going on for a million" A slow, triumphant smile suffuses Bob's face. "Two and a half million actually. Get it right."


At this point Damian and Bob got onto the relative merits of Bradford's


nightspots.


IN. "So you were at Bradford School of Art, Bob, same time as me, maybe just


after?"


BH; "Yeah."


IN; "I think that must make you the second most famous person to come from


there, after David Hockney of course".


BH. "Ha ha! Probably".


IN. "Although there is Andy Goldsworthy".


BH. "Well, we're bigger than him". (There's that cheeky smile again.)


IN. "So where did you go for a pint?  Do you remember the Union bar, the


Sound Gallery?"


BH. "Oh God yeah, it were a shithole. Real nightmare of a place".


IN. "Yeah, I ran that bar for a year".


BH. "Oh, sorry".


I left Damian and Bob to reminisce and went to talk to Nick, who had just


appeared, all smiles and greetings. Nick has never, in the time I've known him, really sat still. Always interested in things happening, always seeking out new sights and experiences. You could have a crazy night out with Nick. I suspect you'd find yourself in the British Museum, drinking whisky at 2 a.m. whilst sitting on the Elgin Marbles, listening to Devo and discussing vintage clothing, if it was left to him. A lovely guy. After this drink he's off to an artist friends studio in the Dam. "You coming? Come and check it out. You'll like it."


IN; "Mate, I've got to stay here."


NMc; "Oh, well, keep in touch and I'll see you soon." Off he goes into the night.


 


I pop to the toilet, and return to find our crowd chatting to The Kills, whose electrifying performance set up tonight's Franz gig. The two bands have been touring together for quite a while. This the last night of their partnership. The Kills make no bones of the fact that they will miss Franz and slug some beer in compensation. Paul's parents reminisce about his early drumming practice session in his bedroom. I bet they are glad they let him carry on. Well, they concede, it was noisy. I sympathise. When my brother took up sax at the tender age of fourteen, I could have killed him. Killed him. Especially as the only piece of music he could play was "Baker Street".


 


Alex had turned up, quietly. Like the rest of the band, and despite his courteous, friendly manner, he looked tired. And I'm not surprised, as they've not stopped touring, promoting and grinning at the press since, when, February? March? But Alex being Alex, (a gent), he immediately asks after us all.


IN; "Hey, that was some gig, but you must be knackered."


AK; "Yes, we all are, but the crowd carried that. When the crowd's that responsive we find it easy to raise everything. But, I can't wait for Christmas, when we can all have a break. I want to do absolutely nothing for a while and go back to Scotland to recharge.  


Oh and thanks for all the stuff you sent. I'm really looking forward to all the Orange Juice bootlegs."


And off we went, past subjects like The Fire Engines, who will be playing with Franz at the SEC, past Anthony Powell (or rather me boring Alex about Anthony Powell), Evelyn Waugh, Rodchenko, my mates' band in London, mutual friends; all the usual stuff.


 


Alex is one of the most direct, honest and determined people I've met whilst doing the rounds for the magazine. As always it is a pleasure to talk to him. He always wants to take things up a gear, never content to let things slip by. I will if I may, (and I hope he doesn't mind), give you two typical Alex moments.


 


Typical Alex number one;


AK; "Hey, how was your exhibition?"


IN; "It was great, a shame you couldn't make it. (I'm surprised you remembered it.) People actually came along."


AK; "We were going to play, remember?"


IN; "Ah, that'd never have come off; you were touring." (You were also getting big, and would have been mobbed Alex, however much I appreciate the gesture, and I really do appreciate it).


AK; "Oh but we'd have done it if we could have." (He means it. He always means it).


 


Typical Alex number two;


IN; "Hey, have you seen this artwork of a friend? He makes photo montages and just had a show in Den Haag."


AK; "God, he's really good...does he cut pictures up and reassemble them?"


IN; "Yes, and then re-photographs them. He was going to do you lot actually, but got too shy about it."


AK; "Really? Wow. You must send them to me. He must do them. He can't be shy with us. We could use them." (Alex : see the head of this article)


 


Soon we were being shepherded out by the bands manager, who must be bloody sick of all the talk about Constructivism, and the orange carpet must have been worrying him. I mean, was it folded away correctly? Franz have to go too, down to the MTV awards where they'll be surrounded by "in crowd" music-land people air kissing each other. Time for a quick photo shot and off into the night air and a 70 euro taxi ride home. Wonderful night.


 



 


Words : Richard Foster


Illustration : Paul Overdijk


Photographs : Damian Leslie