Despite the infestation of tourists, Prague is still probably one of the most beautiful and captivating capitals we’ve visited on the continent. However, like every other capital, it is completely unlike the rest of the nation within which it lies, and all of our shows here are a million miles away from the throwaway chaos of elsewhere in the Republic. Nevertheless, it was great to be back for a night of Sunday night noise at Modra Vopice (“Blue Monkey”, I believe), hosted by our good friend “Charlie”, who was astonished and excited to find his name shouted out in one of our new songs (and only a little disappointed to find out it’s about the destruction the cocaine industry wreaks across the American continent, and not really a tribute to him – similar, but different). After the first couple of bands, the mood seemed a little too “static” for our liking – it’s a Sunday night, and it FEELS like a Sunday night. We’ve also noticed that when there’s not a massive turnout, people start to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable – as if they are somehow less able to enjoy the same experience because 100 more strangers didn’t join them to share it. This doesn’t bother us – we’ve played to 1 person and we’ve played to a 1000. I’m sure we will many more times. To be honest, it sounds and feels exactly the same to me in front of my 50W Orange amp. So anyway, we started from “maximum” and went up from there, and with Team Brilliant now firing on all cylinders it was a night in which went from (metaphorically) freezing cold to burning hot, one of those when you feel the resistance melt away and the people let you in, and you go through the catharsis together, and in the end arrive at some kind of euphoria. I love these gigs the most.
After the crazy driving of the previous weeks, the drive to Vienna from Prague is pleasantly swift and easy. Vienna is another amazing capital city, and we often just spend whole days walking around in awe soaking it in (and for some reason we’re usually really lucky, like on this day, and the weather is gorgeous). Or sometimes we spend the day in the huuuuge music store, either gaping at all those amazing instruments and pedals we’ll never own, or running down bank balances with essentials to repair/improve stuff that’s needed at this point during the tour. Everyone knows I’m not much of an impulsive spender, but I usually walk out with a significantly lighter wallet (but much improved – or at least ‘working again’ – set up). Arena Beisl is a magnificent place, and one of our favourite places to play. Their Monday night shows in the smallest bar are a mainstay and being free allow everyone to come and sample new bands at no risk. It’s fantastic. I also discover someone who I I think I can trust to be able to do my next long thought-about tattoo, so all-in-all a 100% successful trip.
Next stop is tiny Polna, a village in Czech Republic that even most Czechs have never heard of and which we only discovered quite by accident due to it being the family home of a very good friend of ours. Last time round we were just enjoying a couple of “writing days” (ie days off) in the small bar there, and we thought “hmmm be awesome to play in here” so we asked Ivo, the bar owner, if we could play the next day, and he said “yes, but no-one will be here probably”. The next day we set up and the whole village turned up and it was awesome. This time round, it was more-or-less Ivo’s leaving do, and it was an even more awesome repeat of the previous. It really was a special night. Flo, our dear and faitfhul roady, must have seen Djevara for about 50 times up to this point and still said this was “special”. But what got me was this: after the show, a gentlemen came up to me calmly and asked if he could have his picture taken with my bass guitar. I get weird requests all the time, so I said “sure” (after quickly looking him over to make sure he didn’t look like he’d do a Cobain on it). As he took it and moved into the light for the photo, I noticed Ivo and his girlfriend (and the guy’s daughter), Renata, staring wide-mouthed in disbelief. They later told me that he used to be quite a respected and well-known bass-player in the country, and something had happened (I couldn’t get it) and he had resolved never to touch bass again, and hadn’t done so for FIFTEEN YEARS. But something about this show tonight made him re-consider. He said the show was one the best things that had ever happened to him. I mean, WOW. How is one meant to respond to this? I honestly don’t know. The power of live music will never cease to surprise and sustain me. And thank goodness for that.
After a cancellation, I was left pondering what to do with our next day. Several times I had been attempting to see if there would be some opportunity to visit our friends in Koprivnice in the East, perhaps tied in with an acoustic show or some rehearsal time, and thought maybe today… but then Ivo and Renata had another idea, and before we knew it another “secret” gig was planned for us up at a house at the top of the hill. This is the other side of the “happy chaos” that makes Czech Republic such a wonder for us; almost everywhere else it would be inconceivable or at least a massive heave-ho, but here the move from idea to reality is one broad, swift stroke. And even when the police (inevitably) arrive, it’s actually only to say “hi” and they almost seem sorry to miss the concert. Totally different rules, and once more I find myself praying they never become like us. It’s very hard to describe what may be one of the most memorable (and certainly one of the most different) gigs we’ve played. The “house at the top of the hill”, belonging to the gentleman who had newly re-found his love of bass guitar, turned out to be over-seeing a lake, and we set up to play outside overlooking the sunset while the audience of guests rocked out on the grass. Absolutely amazing. Our host kisses every member of the band during the set, even as we watch the sun go down over the lake, set behind the silhouettes of the dancing throng. And then of course, when it’s all over, the (rest of) the band jumped into the pool. As I said, amazing. Sometimes, better not to question the script of life, but just accept and enjoy it’s madness (at least, when it’s not being an absolute ****).
Another short drive (ie same country), to Olomouc for a show at the fourth venue we’ve played in this town. It’s a student town, and most of our shows here have been totally crazy – I remember the one a year ago people literally climbing over chairs and tables and Geoff having to kick people off his pedals (not-too-hard hopefully, but he’s not known for his patience haha). This was probably the only slightly disappointing gig from my perspective – the venue was not really well suited, and then unfortunately we made the wrong choice of set-up. Sometimes we try to change things up a bit to suit the vibe, and Malc had suggested placing the drums up front (off-stage) and playing facing the band. It’s worked well before, many times, but on this occasion it was a terrible move – Geoff and I were totally separated from the audience, who instead of feeling invited in felt pushed even further back, and the drums just deafened everyone else. It was only perfect if you happened to be seated exactly in the drummer’s seat… and unfortunately there’s only room for one (maybe two if you’re cosy). The venue also didn’t have anything like the vibe of the other places. Of course, we played our hardest and gave it 100% as usual, and I don’t really believe in comparing shows – they’re all important and unique after all, but it was difficult not to notice this was a little less fantastic against what had become a flow of truly amazing experiences. Still love this town though (gorgeous and vibrant in many, many ways) so we’ll definitely be back.
The final gig in Czech Republic was way back in the West, to play a festival in Blatna. It was punk-oriented and the vibe was energetic and friendly from the get-go. The atmosphere when we got on stage was absolutely fantastic – it was like lighting a match. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed playing a festival show as much. It’s funny because “enjoy” is not usually a word I feel comfortable using when playing, as I’ve probably said before I don’t really play to “enjoy” it necessarily, but this really was so much fun. The new songs really must be quite catchy too since a crowd of people who could barely speak English were shouting the lyrics back at me within seconds. Awesome, awesome, awesome. Later on Flo teased me for being a “rock star” when I complained that, after attempting to do a mini tour of the festival grounds (after the show), I got repeatedly stopped and asked to pose for photos with people (at one point there was actually a queue! I didn’t realize other countries did those! Maybe just for photos). Now, it’s not that I don’t like photos or am not flattered that people want to have them with me, but it’s not my idea of a good time spending an hour doing this, and it’s definitely not why I make music. It must be a nightmare to be actually really famous. Anyway, so the love affair with Czech Republic – long may it continue. I was genuinely sad to leave…
But leave we had to, at the lovely hour of 4am. The Saturday was Flo’s birthday, and all tour the challenge had been where to host this birthday party/show in Cologne. The problem had been complacency; Cologne is practically our adopted home town in Germany, and usually we’ve played the Autonomes Zentrum (where Flo is the very aptly named “Party Minister” haha) or Sonic Ballroom. Unfortunately, this time neither option was possible, but knowing so many people there we figured it would be no problem to sort something out. And as each week on tour extinguished, our options came and went. By the end of this last week we’d practically run out of options, and had decided to go for a ‘plan B’ – an outside show under a bridge in the centre. Slightly risky, but also what could be more punk rock? There was just one place to try, Flo announced, but he didn’t hold much hope. It’s amazing how life works sometimes; the place did indeed come through, and in retrospect it really could not have been more perfect. Bauwagenplatz Schöner Wohnen is a punk encampment embedded off a main road in Cologne, camouflaged so well you almost wouldn’t notice it. Inside, it is it’s own anarchist republic. Run on generators, the venue is small, cosy and totally “vibey”. Some of the audience consisted of Flo’s friends from his party (the first part held on a beach), some our friends/fans, some of the people travelled many kilometres to come to this show. It really was an awesome birthday party and final show for Flo and us, and we honestly could not have engineered a better tour conclusion. It was fantastic and definitely one of the best shows we’ve ever played. It was actually also really challenging for me personally – the illness and cough I couldn’t rid myself of for the whole second half of the tour had taken hold again with a vengeance, and I really genuinely didn’t know if I’d be able to make it through the entire gig through what was yet another smoky venue. But I knew how important it was, and I just didn’t want to let ourselves or Flo down, and somehow made it through the over two-hours of Djevara noise. Unbelievably, this wasn’t enough, so despite my genuine dislike of encores (as a cliche, not as a real phenomenon if people genuinely want more and it’s not “planned”) and feeling like I may actually just collapse, we played another fifteen minutes. Adrenalin is a much more powerful drug than you think. Thus ended the tour – on a massive high in one of our favourite cities with so many of our favourite people. As I sat in recovery, huge bottle of water in one hand and clutching a wet t-shirt in the other, trying to catch my breath and taking in the aftermath, glimpses and memories of parts of the last four weeks flashed before me. Thousands of kilometres. Did we achieve anything? Was it worth it? One of the greatest ironies in my life, I think, is that because of my ostentatiously loud and exuberant behaviour, it’s natural for people to assume I’m supremely confident, even arrogant, when the truth is that like most (all?) men I’ve ever met, I’m actually just a small boy trapped in some man’s body and doing my best to deal with it. And so then I looked in front of me, and there was a guy, not saying anything but just smiling, holding his hand forward in some kind of gesture. Couldn’t make it out. Still. Coughing. Was he reaching or holding something? Cough. Or pointing? Wipe the sweat and tears, and focus. Focus. Ah. OK. I see. I drop the wet T-shirt, smile back and make the same simple, silent gesture in response. Thumbs up.