I have dreadful visions of four hard-edged garage pop bands giving it some and more to a couple of sexagenarians.
Dutchrocksampler - Tall Poppies Tour.
Incendiary Happenings: Tall Poppies – a true-ish story...
Appie Kim, The Sugarettes, Hallo Venray and Vox on Braun hit the UK
Due to the fact that I couldn't get my head round writing a retrospective article (coupled with the other fact that we'd never actually done a tour diary before – which was due to the further fact we'd never actually been on tour in the Inner Sanctum of a band's - or in this case a loose collective of four bands' - retinue), I've decided to attempt that most hackneyed of things, a Tour Diary. I shall endeavour, however badly, to be a Boswell to my own Johnson. And if that doesn't fill you with horror, then read on...
(Note also that I have also included other articles primarily as a balance against my frenzied ramblings, and as a timely reminder to all and sundry that Beauty, that most capricious of handmaidens, lies always in the eye of the beholder...)
Wednesday September 26th, London. The French House Soho
I am, for the purposes of this tour, "deejay" and (self proclaimed) vibe master to a tour idea hatched many moons ago by myself and Subroutine records supreme leader Koen ter Heegde. I am at present engrossed in cranking up the vibes to various PR people and seriously high up management types, who luckily happen to be old and trusted mates, making them happily immune to my own particular brand of bullshit. Band members from Eindhoven's Sugarettes sit quietly in the corner as the conversation turns to dinners with Brian Eno... this press/management speak is bewildering them, and they shoot off to get some pre-gig kip. In time honoured fashion, Subroutine Records (the label who the Suggies and Appie Kim's previous incarnation, de Nieuwe Vrolijkheid have recorded for) plus the odd Dutch journalist, sit and chew the cud in this most atmospheric of Soho's boozers. Not for the first time my thoughts wander off to the same, depressingly insistent idea... "What am I doing?" I mean, it's not as if a management team responsible for artists such as Robbie Williams are going to sign any of the four bands on show...
I console myself with the thought that it's because all four bands are great, maybe some will be greater than great in years to come. And, like a fool, like a hapless fool, I care. Their music; for me some of the best new pop music around, needs to be heard.
It's quiet. Despite an advance/reserve ticket list the size of a baby's arm there's about 50 people in. This is less than half of what we'd hoped. I play the same Ivor Cutler song twice due to some appalling deejaying skills. Show time comes around all too quickly and activity on the door is still very slow. First up are The Sugarettes who kick off their set rather hesitantly. Still, there's enough in their effervescent pop to get people interested to a certain degree. By the end I can see that we have heads nodding along in the audience which means they've got through it okay. Following the Suggies, Vox Von Braun saunter on, preparing to blast out their Pavement style scuzz-rock vignettes. Which they do, only, its sounds as if singer Wymer has a mouth full of sand that he is vigorously chewing. I'm no technical expert but the mic is way down in the mix. Vox's charming and crystalline pop songs become muddy and a bit pedestrian. A reviewer thought so too (though generously conceded in the following sentence that the band's songs were reminiscent of the Velvet Underground... quite a volte face*). http://www.fortyshadesofnoizz.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=163&Itemid=1
Things have gone a bit flat, and it is down to Appie Kim to reinvigorate the crowd. Which they do, in time honoured fashion. Singer Natasha is a star in waiting; forget the basic thing of startling looks and tremendous songs, it's her sheer rock and roll presence that send shock waves out across the room. The audience watches spellbound as Appie – now rigorously propelled by Marcel's drumming bash out a set that's little short of brilliant. The mood lightens, and the thinned crowd await Hallo Venray, heroes of the Dutch underground with no little anticipation. Hallo have been about since the late eighties but that doesn't stop them hammering out a short and visceral set high on white noise and feedback. The drumming threatens to destroy Catch's foundations and those who stayed are very glad they did.
Afterwards I sample mead and whisky in quick succession, something I shall never do again.
Thursday 27th September, The Royal Hotel, Great Harwood, Lancashire
This is unpleasant. I have never liked London in the morning and the prospect of taking a set of tour vans through its paranoid arteries fills me with dread. The sat-nav is off and I console myself that I stopped the first bus from taking the Oxford turning. By Luton, all is better with the world and a motorway service station pie and peas dinner is purchased (and voted surprisingly nice). There was some disgruntlement in the camp due to money matters, but hopefully all can be resolved over a pint of bitter in the Royal. A pint in the Royal... East Lancs hasn't many pubs left worthy of the Royal. It's even got its' own function room and a coin-op juke box with Viv Stanshall on. I fret the whole way wondering what Peter the landlord meant by a 4 point PA, surely to goodness it's not a karaoke machine. Mental note to self. Don't book gigs blind.
Luckily "it" isn't a karaoke machine, it's a whopping great pile of amps and speakers and monitors. Brilliant! And everything gets set up smoothly. All we need now are some punters. Of which, so far, there are two; this paper's long-time correspondent, Mr C Dawson and his brother Mr A Dawson, both happily ensconced in the pool room. I mean, I knew this would be a low key gig but even so... When my parents turn up to see what's what, I have dreadful visions of four hard-edged garage pop bands giving it some and more to a couple of sexagenarians. To add insult to injury, Vox, The Sugarettes and some of Hallo Venray went to a local take away to get some fish n chips; an act that has now rendered some of the more delicate band members prone and close to violent acts of vomiting. A dose of instant food poisoning isn't on my tour schedule at any rate. Bizarrely my friend Simon (who is a gynaecologist) goes to help. By the time we have four serviceable bands we have an audience, and quite a decent one at that, including legendary rock writer Cath Aubergine. Her immensely entertaining blog is accessible here http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=59983142&blogID=314815705 .
To say the gig is immeasurably better than Catch's would be an understatement. It's fantastic. A line up change sees Appie Kim start. Once again Natasha Van Waardenburg's rock genie is triumphantly let out of the bottle. Her songs of love, loss, anger, poetry and cats are utterly mesmerising and Marcel is really growing into the role of drummer. Natasha's otherworldliness really does need a steady presence and he provides that with some great skin bashing and moments where he reads fairly scary poetry. The Sugarettes kick off any traces of yesterday's nerves with a punchy, fizzing performance of classic girl-boy garage pop that has my rowdy mates silenced. Suddenly it seems the Sugarettes have decided that yes, they really are a band, not an idea, and yes, they are good and could be a damn sight better. Next up are Hallo Venray who are shattering in their intent. My rowdy mates are silenced further by the drumming and the incredibly intense nature of Henk Koorn's guitar playing. It's real theatre at times. If only Dinosaur Jr were this good... As for Vox Von Braun, well... despite Wymer rabbiting on to the locals about allotments and real ale, it seems that they have clicked. The mic is no longer muddy and their songs shine through with a real effervescence. They truly do sound like The Velvets tonight; their songs are fabulous gems full of laid back, perverse charm and wit. Wymer laughs all the way through whilst Janwillem and Maike hold together a pulsating rhythmical undercurrent. It's brilliant. Afterwards I play some records and dance badly with assorted band members and friends. Koen decides to drink my father's whisky and tell him about Groningen. A minor triumph methinks.
Friday 28th September, The Magnet, Liverpool.
As day dawns, grey and sombre over East Lancs, I realise there is one more show ahead of us. I am feeling battle weary and I've only done two gigs. How the hell must Genesis, or Sting feel? Serves them right I say... After a sight seeing tour of Lancashire countryside and Liverpool's docks it's off to the incredibly attractive Magnet bar on Hardman Street. The promotion is not in my hands for this one and I can only hope we have a crowd. In fact I'm feeling shit. I can't be arsed playing any records tonight and I just want to lie in my hotel bed. Still, off we go, we set up equipment, merchandise stall, records, and lo! No bugger turns up, apart from an incredibly seedy pair of punters in the corner. I go over to say hullo and discover that it is Nick and Dom from brilliant Manchester band Politburo, gentlemen who I have been corresponding with for a good year now. We can't hold any longer, so Appie Kim start to a room of about 25 people, ten of them Dutch. Where the hell are you Liverpool?
Appie Kim play a set that is as good as anything I have heard this year. The sound is terrific in the Magnet, and (maybe it's because it's Liverpool) there's a feel of Crocodiles-era Bunnymen present in some of the numbers they play. It's fragile, sharp, intensely dreamy music with an incredibly vicious edge that stops anything getting sentimental. Now, a question. What on Earth has happened to The Sugarettes in two days? From hesitant standard indie pop wannabes to shiny silver beast with a rock and roll heart? Unbelievable, and the smattering of people think so too. Nick from Politburo runs around like an excited puppy, slack jawed and mouth agape... Hallo Venray are feeling a bit fatigued but still manage to play a set that has the few locals present stunned at their brilliance. It's quite funny to see the lads who have turned up (and lads in every description of the word they are) mutely watching this whirlwind of noise and passion, and of course a display of drumming not seen since Bonham or Moon. Hallo Venray batter the room with their set and it occurs to me that this gig is such a crying waste of an opportunity.
Last up are Vox Von Braun who are even better than the night before. The duet with Appie's Natasha is just fabulous, a low-fi Kylie and Nick Cave Murder Ballad... The lads assembling for a deejay set – not mine I hasten to add - after the show, applaud; at first politely then with more vigour. People like Vox here. Sadly at this moment I am embroiled with some very unhappy and disappointed people who are in the process of giving me an earful over low crowds and money. It's a weird scenario, with an onstage show of happiness and a backstage wigging over circumstances about which I can do nothing. And oh happiness squared, I've got to play a deejay set to ten or so remaining hard scousers, merry Eindhoveners with drumsticks in their hair and Politburo who by this stage are dancing with wild abandon and individually praising the band members. Crazy.
That night I pass a disturbed night to the sounds of collective Liverpudlian drunkenness. Never again? Who knows, who knows...
Words: Richard Foster.
*Please note the 40 Shades review has mixed Hallo Venray and Vox Von Braun up....
Oh and instead of punctuating this story with photos, we've created a "page" full of the astounding work of 3voor12's David Markus. You can find it elsewhere on the site...