European Tour Report (April 2015)
The Get It Together / Tragical History Tour “Rebuild, Recover” UK/EU Tour kicked off for me on Wednesday 1st April when Craig came to Dundee to pick me, my guitar and the MTAT distro up. We took the short ride in our hired banger of a van (who was a workhorse despite appearances) to Redd in Dundee, where my friend Dave Hughes was playing a show, to borrow a PA and load it into the back of the van. Years of touring with the likes of Papa Gain and Jonny Domino has taught me that you’re definitely better “looking it at than looking for it” and this tour proved to be no exception. After loading, we headed from Craig’s place in Alloa where we met Graham, played a few games of FIFA (at which I was awful), drank some tea then fell asleep to the hypnotic sounds of water flowing through the fishtank. Awaking around 6am with a desperate need to pee, we left to gather Mark and Fraser before hitting the road for our first stop in London; All Ages Records.
Once we’d dropped off some MTAT releases (grab your copies of the Franz Nicolay 7″, Get It Together 7″, Kaddish LP and Bonehouse LP now) and collectively spent a shitload of cash on records (I finally found a copy of “Everything Sucks”, on tangerine vinyl no less), we headed up to The Unicorn where we met up with our pals in Mug and met the dudes in Waco and Demon Smiles, with whom we’d spend the next two shows. The Unicorn is a great little spot where I played last year and the show was fun with a very attentive crowd, especially for a roaster armed with an acoustic guitar. I also met my old uni friend Bundy of Chi Weapon, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years, and all the bands killed it. Mug are, to my mind, one of the most under-rated punk rock bands in the country and are definitely due some kudos. Thanks also to Mark for hooking us up with the show and looking after us after such an early start and long drive. Once the show was over, we packed and went to my sister’s house that we used as home base for the next couple of nights.
Day two saw us playing in Brighton and we headed south after taking our time getting ready. We went for a walk throughout the city and paid the obligatory visit to Punker Bunker, where we dropped off some more MTAT releases and spent some more cash on records. Buz is one of the good dudes of UK punk and I can’t back PB enough; a quality little store. We then had our first burrito of tour and I have to say that I was left disappointed. While it certainly filled a hole, it lacked kick even with hot sauce. Bummer. The show was upstairs in an old boozer called The Quadrant and was quality. The room was tiny and quickly filled up with bodies. The assembled crowd were super respectful while I was playing and it was one of the more emotionally intense shows of the tour. It felt like we were connecting on a very cerebral level with punk rock the great unifier.
A local band called Barriers were up next playing on their third show and they showed great promise with their thoughtful metallic-edged hardcore before hometown troops Demon Smiles took to the floor. I enjoyed their set far more than I had the previous evening and they were very emotionally engaging as well as being in possession of some fizzy pop punk bangers that reminded me of Tilt. Good shit indeed. We spent a little time repositioning gear ahead of the Get It Together set, knowing fine well what was about to occur; utter madness. From the moment the band kicked in, the crowd kicked off and it was chaos throughout the entirety of the set, with circle pits, slam dancing and a fucking wall of death when the band were hollered back for an encore. Utter bedlam in the best possible way.
We loaded out down the tiny stairwell and packed the van, experiencing the only potential beef of tour when some roaster decided it was a good idea to repeatedly try and hit the bass drum as I was carrying it towards the van. I told said roaster in no uncertain terms that such actions were unacceptable, to which he replied “I do what I want”. Being the zen motherfucker that I am, the bass drum didn’t end wrapped upside his head but in the back of the van, despite the strong temptation. We headed back to London to crash out at Lisette’s for a few hours before getting our shit together and heading for the Channel Tunnel first thing in the morning.
The morning started in the usual haze of coffee and sleepyheads. Before we knew it we were driving onto the train and through the tunnel then driving through France. I slept all the way through Belgium, waking only to smoke at the service station where we shared knowing nods with another touring party of punk rock roasters. We reached Beverwijk, Netherlands in the early evening and went for a cup of coffee before loading into the venue and meeting our hosts in Sweet Empire. It was great to catch up with those dudes again and they absolutely nailed it with their set. They seemed to be having a lot of fun at their hometown show and played a quality cover of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. Sweet Empire are themselves back in Dundee on Monday 18th May with German punks Irish Handcuffs plus Shatterhand and Terrafraid at what should be a peach at Redd Suite. Thanks so much to Jort for sorting us out with the show and to Rowald for accommodating and providing us with a wonderful breakfast. Also, I don’t often get vinyl envy but I did on this occasion. Rowald has a wonderfully extensive collection of quality records and we all had a pretty good time flicking through them and being jealous!
The next show was in Heerlen, Netherlands and we’d been told that was this Dutch bat country, so we were all pretty excited to check it out. I’ve always loved playing shows in smaller towns that perhaps don’t have the chance to host too many punk rock shows and we were all pumped when we rocked up to Cafe Bluff. The venue was pretty much perfect for a punk rock show and after loading in and setting shit up, went spent some time talking to venue owner Andre and the dudes in Superhero Status who we were sharing the bill with. We met some crazy locals too who we seemed to connect with, especially after we played, and we had a great time talking and hanging out with everyone. At the end of my set, Mattias of Superhero Status came up to me full of compliments, declaring that I’d “blown my (his) fucking mind, man” and that Get It Together played “the true hardcore”. Cannae argue wi that!
We’d met up with my good friend Graham who lives in Njimegen and he had an empty flat for a couple of days so we headed south and spent the night there before heading up to Amsterdam the next day. This show was one that we were scrambling for before we left for tour and information was pretty scant going in, but there was an address and a gig poster so we figured that we’d deal with whatever came our way. We parked up the van and went for a wander through the city as it was the first time for a couple members of our touring party but, given our lack of proclivities in such directions, the Red Light District held very little interest and we spent our time just having a walk around the heart of the city. We took the ferry back to the other side and made our way back towards the venue, which was a car garage that doubled as a squat.
We met our host Goiz, a Zapatista from Mexico who had been living in the squat for the last year. He explained to us that they were facing eviction and harassment from the police, all the while apologising for the lack of people at the show, for which we assured him that there was no need. He was a sound guy and pretty much the only person that spoke to us while we were there, with many of the rest of the folk present absolutely burst oot their nuts. Fair play to them likes. There was no electricity in the venue so the gig was run off a generator at half-power so we set up the PA (better looking at it than for it!) plus backline and waited until showtime to fire things up. Fraser and I killed some time outside by filming some acoustic songs in the back of the van. Ye can check out “What Would Vinnie Mac Do?” below;
We also met the dudes from Black Volvo and it soon became apparent that the other two bands on the bill weren’t showing up and with them, the crowd of people who’d planned on coming with them. As such, I took to the floor and blasted through a quick set before Get It Together proceeded to blow out the power of the generator with their first note. We managed to kickstart the genny, which then blew out another couple of times before managing to maintain life for both the GIT and Black Volvo sets. Mark got screamed at by a feral punk for playfully blowing out a candle and I thought for a moment that he may get his eyeballs clawed out. Once the show was wrapped, Graham pointed out some unsavoury ongoings, at which point we packed the van and took our leave. It wasn’t quite The Warzone but it wasn’t a kick in the arse off it!
We headed back to Njimegen for a quick sleep at Graham’s before heading south to Freiburg, Germany and one of Europe’s oldest and most well-renowned punk squats in the form of KTS, an amazing space with living quarters, kitchens, artist studios, accommodations and a fully spec’d up performance space. We met my friend Laurin from the band Casually Dressed and were introduced to the wonders of Club Mate, a German caffeinated malt drink that was pitched to me as the equivalent of Irn Bru. I’m a no-sell on that idea but the stuff itself was magnificent and I must’ve drank at least a dozen bottles of it by the end of the tour. We also met the dudes from Daylight, a pop punk band from Barcelona who were charming and super keen. Mark talked to them about Catalonian independence (a cause that we all support) and football. We didn’t get a chance to go outside and have a kick about though, which was a bit of a bummer. They were really eager beavers but musically weren’t really my cup of tea but they were super-tight and full of saccharine sweet harmonies, although there was a little too much sugar washing down the medicine for my taste buds I’m afraid. I’d imagine the kids today would lap it up *ho hum, old punk grumble*
I really can’t say enough about how amazing I found KTS as a place and the warmth of the people who come together to make such places work. It was truly a privilege to play there and to be their guests for the evening, so thank you so much to Laurin and everyone involved for welcoming us so warmly. After the previous gnarly evening in Amsterdam, it was great to feel re-connected with like-minded individuals and morale in the camp was certainly lifted after some great food and a great show. The dudes in Daylight were also great for a banter too and seemed to appreciate our slightly off-kilter sense of humour; “sounds great, songwriting could be doing with a wee bit work though”.
We were up early the next day for a cross country drive to Leipzig so after a quick Club Mate and check-up that things had gone well at home with the Joe McMahon/Billy Liar/Broken Stories/Gone Wishing show the night before (I’m assured it went well even though I’m gutted to have missed it), we were all back in the van. We made good time, something that was a theme of the tour so kudos to all involved, so had some time to relax and gather our thoughts before loading into Kulturecafe Manfred. Leipzig is a very interesting place and the venue was in an autonomous zone in the city where all of the buildings are owned by the occupying anarchists. Sindy and everyone at the venue couldn’t have done more to make us feel welcome and invited us to join the community at the weekly supper club before we loaded in for the show. The street is full of different venues all catering to the various sub-genres and movements within punk rock, every scene active and full of activists.
The show turned out to be one of the rowdiest of the tour. Mark ended up getting busted open hardway after taking a beer bottle to the nose in the pit and concluded the set by hanging upside down from the rafters. The only slight bummer of the night was when I noticed an old crust punk helping himself to a couple of CDs from the distro table while I was performing, but we dealt with that in a quiet manner rather than making a public fuss about things. There is no call to steal from us. If you are so strapped for cash that you feel you need to steal music, I’d implore you to talk to us and there’s every likelihood that we’d just give you the CDs that you’re looking for. However, one bad apple need not spoil the harvest and I’d like to extend a personal thanks to everyone for the warmth of their welcome and for enjoying the show to the fullest. It’s nights like that that can remind us of just how vital and invigorating punk rock can truly be.
After making use of the showering facilities, having another great breakfast and talking punk, pop and politics, we piled back into the van and made our way towards the Czech border. We were all very excited to the heading towards Prague and were awestruck as we found ourselves winding our way through the narrow streets of this beautiful city. We parked up outside of what I thought was a pretty suspicious looking hotel and had to load the gear up a steep and winding cobbled street and down a tiny stairwell into the basement of the venue, a small punk rock pub called Sběrné Suroviny. Like in Leipzig, we were the only two acts on the bill so we both played slightly longer sets than we usually would and, in what would prove to be somewhat the trend, I found the people to be much more open, receptive and communicative once we had performed. As I’ve said before, punk rock can be a great unifier and it was heartening to see this being repeated night after night. There’s a power in the music, something in the ideas and delivery that transcends the limitations of language; the fractured English of the Czech punks being far better than my non-existent Czech skills, that brings indescribable joy. The Bohemians FC firm seemed into the Scottish hardcore anyways. It was great also to see my friend Ben, also of the aforementioned Chi Weapon, who these days lives and plies his trade in Prague. It seems that the cowpunk connections extend to all reaches of the continent.
After the show, we made our way to the home of our hosts Arnie and Jonas, a squatted house on the hills overlooking the city of Prague just below the near-derelict former Czechoslovakian national stadium. Jonas has lived in that house for over twenty years and for the brief hours that we were there, it seemed like one of the greatest places on earth. After some tea, we bedded down for the night before waking up early to go and see the sights in one of the most beautiful and amazing cities on earth. Arnie and Jonas were absolutely exquisite hosts, giving us a guided tour of the city and sharing stories about punk, anti-fascism and football whilst walking in glorious sunshine. I’m always so grateful to be able to spend some time in the places that I play and I’m sure I can speak for all of us when I say that we had an amazing time in Prague. Thank you especially to Arnie, Jonas and Anita for sorting us out with the show and making us feel so at home. Once we said our farewells to Arnie, Jonas and Boogie the dog, it was back out on the road and into Germany, where we were immediately pulled over and questioned by the German Border Patrol. Thankfully, they were fairly sound individuals and seemed frankly unimpressed when they questioned our rock’n’roll credentials for having no cocaine or marijuana in our possession. Punk’d by the polis, seick!
Next stop was Dresden and it was great to finally meet Gruni in person. Gruni is a punk that I met online a couple of years ago after we got talking about Uniforms. We were booked to play in Dresden on our tour that didn’t happen last year so it was great to finally meet and we seemed to get along straight away. Gruni fed us and took care of all our human needs before introducing us to our sleeping space for the evening upstairs in the squat. Luther 33 is quality spot on three levels, with the venue/bar in the basement, apartment upstairs and guest accommodation above that. As was the case in many of the squats that we visited, they exist under constant threat of eviction and harassment from the authorities, but the guys in Dresden definitely have their wits about them. Many of the punks in attendance at the show also shared a distinctly dry wit with the show being one of the most “banterful” of tour, with a great deal of back and forth between performing roasters and audience. I had some kind of strange out-of-consciousness moment during my set when I doubled-over laughing at the very thought of what was going on; I was ringleader in a room full of Germans singing along to “Smoke Weed Every Day” at the top of their lungs in an anarchist space in Dresden; in that moment it struck me as the most surreal yet beautiful thing on earth.
Once again, we arose early and left Gruni asleep as we tidied up after ourselves and left him some records as a token of our appreciation before heading to Berlin. I’ve been looking forward to playing in Berlin from almost as long as I can remember and felt like a little kid when we pulled up into the city and parked outside the Ramones Museum. We went inside and met Flo and his staff, gazing round the place in awe. This was another show about which we had scant details but had been set up by my friend Freddy Fudd Pucker, who is currently on tour in the southern hemisphere. We arranged a plan with Flo and it was set that I’d play at 8pm in the evening and that we were welcome to leave the van parked where it was. Absolutely perfect. We then spent the afternoon visiting some of the historic sites around Berlin and took in the panoramic Berlin Wall exhibition before talking a walk up to the wall itself, then walking down to the Brandenburg Gate. We then went for some amazing Mexican food (German burrito 1, English burrito 0) before heading back to the Ramones Museum. We were joined by our friend and Berlin resident Craig Dickson of Taking Chase/Elk Gang as well as drummer Graham’s brother and fiance, so we had a nice little crew assembled for the show. For me, it was an absolute joy and a very deep honour to play in such a prestigious place that has been visited and performed in by a great many artists I admire. To be asked to sign my name on the wall alongside some of the names that are there is humbling and something for which I am eternally thankful.
Post-show, we jumped in the van and headed for the East Side Gallery, a part of the Berlin Wall that remains standing and has been preserved as an art gallery. To be at the wall in the dark of night across the street from a massive O2 arena was slightly surreal and the darkness cast an ominous shadow over “The Death Strip” between the two parts of the wall, where trespassers or those trying to cross would be shot on sight. To be standing there for the first time, at night, with all the sounds of a metropolis around me set my heart racing. It was equal parts awe-inspiring, humbling, sickening, eye-opening and heartbreaking all at once, a feeling that I don’t think I’ve fully experienced since visiting Auschwitz many moons ago. To spend time considering the savagery of our species over the past century and, indeed, every century that preceded is a necessary exercise in humility.
We headed back to Craig’s, had some ginger tea then bedded down for the night as we had another gnarly drive for the last show of tour in Leiden, Netherlands the next day. We thanked Craig for his hospitality, loaded up on breakfast and set the SatNav homeward as everyone settled in for a seven hour drive. We rolled up in Leiden and met Jaap from Black Volvo at the home he shares with his wife and son where we were fed and watered before heading for the show. Black Volvo played with us again and absolutely destroyed it. We’ll be looking forward to having them up in Dundee at some point this year with their manic Dangerfields/Zeke meets Beastie Boys gonzo stomp. That shit is so good and I’d recommend checking out their new LP on Round Dog Records. The show itself was fairly quiet but was a uniquely intimate affair in another functioning squat that is facing closure. The European use of existent resources seems so much smarter than our austerity measures and it seems counterproductive to my mind that the authorities would want to close places that actually benefit the community. Money to be made, I guess!
After the show wrapped, we loaded out for the final time, said our goodbyes to the Black Volvo dudes and headed back to guitarist Roy’s place where we slept for around 5 hours before getting up and straight back into the van to drive through The Netherlands, Belgium and part of France to catch our train from Calais to Folkestone, where Fraser took over the wheel and slammed us back up the road to Stirling in around 8/9 hours. By the time we arrived at the Granada services outside Stirling, we’d covered somewhere in the region of 4000 miles and played 11 shows in 12 days. Papa D was kind enough to agree to come and pick me up so we unloaded the van for the final time, loading all of my and the MTAT shit in the back of Papa D’s motor and had a big group hug.
Get It Together are an incredible band and an incredible crew of dudes who I am proud to call my friends. It truly was a pleasure to share this adventure with you gentlemen, so thank you very much for sticking by your boy. To Mark Bell, Steve Todd, Cat Goodman; Jort, Rowald and the rest of the Sweet Empire dudes; Andre at Bluff, Goiz at Auto Control, Laurin and everyone in Freiburg, Sindy and crew in Leipzig; Arnie, Jonas and Anita in Prague, Gruni in Dresden; Flo and crew at the Ramones Museum and Craig in Berlin and the dudes in Black Volvo, thank you so much for an amazing time.
Tour was incredible and another wonderful experience, so thank you all. Thank you also to Abbie for being my eternally understanding better half and the MTAT crew for keeping things locked down while I was away.
Check out the Get It Together “Rebuild, Recover” 7″ here too!
Solidaritat Catalana per la Independència!