maybe it was the prospect of being forcibly snogged on our entrance by someone who seemed, in our befuddled state, to be Rodney Marsh in a dress
fear of organs...
Ah Antwerp, city of beautiful architecture and cosy bars; and home to the organ at the Beveren cafe. Quite what it is about Belgium that makes for surreal days out is beyond me; suffice to say that something is always a little unexpected. The train in front of Incendiary's blew up unexpectedly. The train drivers decided (unexpectedly) that they could not (as they explained over the train's tannoy system) "enter Belgium unaccompanied by Belgians" and so we had to wait for an hour on the border. Then, quite unexpectedly the journey terminated two stops before it should have, leaving those wishing to go to Brussels stranded in an Antwerp suburb. Later, we entered a hotel staffed (so it seemed) entirely by children. Then, whilst wandering round the city's beautiful centre, we (two fully grown male editors, away from the wives on a boozy jolly) seemed to embark on an unexpected gay odyssey; (winked at suggestively by old men on bicycles and men pretending to be female statues, hounded by boy scouts, inadvertently sitting under posters for a band called Homo Erectus and to cap it all, making the acquaintance of Little Willy, Antwerp's smallest William.)
Oh, and we saw Christ having a fag. In the street. And then the venue, Petrol, was miles out of town, an area on the docks that looked like a set from Apocalypse Now. We'd turned up far too early at this warehouse cum pop podium only to find the place was full of fake stuffed longhorn Scottish cattle heads... Luckily Brakes were inside and Marc and Eamon came out to help us through this ordeal. Marc answered some questions over a beer or two whilst Damian regaled Eamon with his tales of Tom Jones's true skin colour...
IN: You are getting very trippy & loose as a live band at times, (well as trippy as a minute song can allow...) In any case, there's certainly a feeling of freedom when you play live. Are you so confident now that it's just second nature to wig out?
M: Are you sure that's not just the weed? Personally I hadn't noticed. As a bass player it's my job to be solid, I gain satisfaction from presenting a strong and powerful rhythm section. Tom tends to ad-lib quite a bit as it's just in his nature to try different shit out. This leads to the songs slowly morphing over time. We certainly change the way we play songs over time just because we get bored of playing them like the record. We've been thinking about new album recently and a lot of stuff we've been jamming is quite stoner rock, swaggering stuff with ethereal vocals so I reckon we're probably going to get more that way, so crank up the dry ice machine!
IN: Brakes will be diversifying yet again and doing a jazz LP next on Blue Note I take it?
M: I learnt jazz when I started playing bass, now and again I have a real urge to get a double bass however I've forgotten all the scales so I'd be useless. I can't quite see Eamon scatting, can you?
IN: I know you have extremely diverse musical tastes as a band... but what were you listening to again? One of you told me in the pub in Groningen... Genesis? Post Gabriel? Explain that one away.
M: You're asking the wrong guy; personally I prefer Genesis before Gabriel left... Alex has a schizophrenic attitude to music; he likes a lot of shit! I'm more inclined to just wait till a band or album comes to my attention and if I like them then cool. I've been getting into the Zombies recently; their b-sides album has some gems.
IN: Glad to see the European birth of No Return as a live song
M: We did it first in Manchester and it only took a couple of gigs to perfect it although it's still different every night. I was scared to play it at first but we just forgot about the album version and played it how it needed to be played with 4 people. Its quite powerful stripped back like that. We'll do it with a string section eventually.
Cometh the gig cometh the men...
Although it's a support slot for Belgian stoner combo Absynthe Minded, the place is pretty full and the audience are very, very enthusiastic. Maybe Brakes' Catholic approach to their music is more simpatico with Les Belges... Who knows? What is noticeable is the enthusiastic response; in some quarters there is jumping and whooping. Brakes are really cranking out the noise tonight, Porcupine or Pineapple sees the return of the flying pineapple, All Night Disco Party is particularly psychotic and I Can't Stand to Stand Beside You the highlight of a great set. One comedy moment to tell; a guy to our immediate left who throughout the gig has spun around like a dervish, hollering and whooping to all present, suddenly stops mid jump after If I Should Die Tonight and shouts in an unbelievably restrained and reflective tone, "Yeah, that's a nice song"; a statement which floors Tom White. I mean, why are you being so reasonable now, Belgium?
Still, a fab, fab gig made all the better by the dull nature of the headliners. Afterwards it was off into the night with one Brake who wishes to remain nameless, his head having been retrospectively fried by the Cafe Beveren's huge mechanical organ, and the worshippers of said organ, none of whom could have been a day under 60. It says something when some hip young things desirous of meeting said Brake would not enter the Beveren's doors; maybe it was the prospect of being forcibly snogged on our entrance by someone who seemed, in our befuddled state, to be Rodney Marsh in a dress.
Being laughed at by the hotel's staff is not something I'd endorse. Still we paid up and went, nursing our sleep deprived selves home towards Lisse (Damian) and The Paradiso (my good self) for the final gig of the tour. Damian's woe is increased when he finds that my vitamin pills and the constant movement of the train are no longer working harmoniously together. Amid screams from the other passengers, he is inconvenienced on the stairs. Me? I'm dandy, and looking forward to seeing the gig. Meeting up again with Cath Aubergine, http://www.myspace.com/upthedownescalator who has somehow survived Das Killers in Germany, we head off to a few pubs to meet with the wondrous Dutch band Appie Kim http://www.myspace.com/appiekim and Henk Koorn of Dutch trailblazing indie rockers Hallo Venray http://www.myspace.com/hallovenray.
All is going real well... the sun sets on a beautiful evening and we enter a Paradiso mercifully full, both with Brakes fans and those followers of the mighty Saxon who are playing downstairs. Saxon... well... what can you say? Firstly their banner refuses to rise (I wonder what the boy scouts in Antwerp would have made of that?) and then it is revealed that Lo! the rhythm guitarist has 4 stack Marshall amps to himself. And Yea! It was said that Saxon did Come and they did Rock, and It Was Good.
living in a hell hole...
courtesy Cath Aubergine http://www.myspace.com/upthedownescalator
But that's nothing, for tonight Brakes tore up the stage with a blistering, almost dazzling display of power-pop and country punk. Excitedly I told Eamon that their gig in the Paradiso's upstairs room had to be one off the top five I'd ever witnessed. Looking back with a tad more sobriety about my person, I see no reason to refute this claim. Tom's guitar work was incredible and his leaping about entered a whole new dimension as he jumped into the crowd during Huevos Ranchos. Eamon simply screeched his lyrics out, whilst the rhythm section threatened to take off into the night sky. Even some Saxon fans forgot about fighting Orcs and came and nodded along appreciatively. It would be hard to pick a highlight, but If I should Die Tonight and NY Pie were simply joyous.
Off into the night once again for Brakes' choice of venue, the Jazz Bar, nestling behind the Leidseplein. Tom & Alex whoop and scat appreciatively, like the two elderly critics from the Muppet Show, Eamon sniffles through a pint, beaming and relieved the month long tour is over, whilst Matt from Actress Hands and Marc Beatty chew the cud. Time to go, it's late and I'm knackered but beaming.
Really, how many more words do I have to write to convince you of this band's brilliance?
Words: Richard Foster.
Photos: Cath Aubergine, Eline Moormann
back to part one here