The Wildhearts - European Tour supporting The Darkness - Feb 2004 · Words by Ginger
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Tuesday 10th February - Amsterdam
We've already been on tour for 4 shows and no-one has yet begun to document the proceedings. Judging by the response, and the off-stage nonsense, to continue the European Darkness tour un-reported upon could miss an opportunity for an informative and perhaps eventful read. At least.
Amsterdam started the tour in typically messy fashion. The boys in the band and crew all enjoyed a good quality and very legal smoke. Some then disappeared for drinks, others for more dubious forms of entertainment, all ensuring the makings of a Herculean hangover, in time for the show the next day.
Wayne, from the web-site, showed us around, and attempted to keep the band entertained until showtime. This is, however, impossible, as showtime is always at least half an hour too long a wait.
First gig, first reaction. I'm humbled by the situation, saddened by the lack of stage room and numbed by the lack of recognition in Europe for The Wildhearts. This tour is going to be a lot harder than I imagined.
In fact, I hadn't imagined this tour.
I figured I would hit some kind of auto-mode that would lift my spirits (mentally, physically and spiritually) to cope with whatever flak was thrown at us. Dodging the shit, that's what we do. Fuck man, only a week ago Gut records decided that touring with The Darkness in Europe was not appropriate and pulled the tour budget. Not only were they quite incredibly wrong, but they, like us, had underestimated the power that The Darkness yield in today's rock and pop market. They're fucking huge. We are nothing. Work's gonna be hard.
But we played a few warm-up shows prior to this tour to obtain enough cash for the tour bus. We're here and we're staying. We are doing this tour!
Amsterdam is so fucking cold that there isn't much emotion flying around. Seems kinda spiritually cold. Like London without the aggression. Even the dodgy characters can string together an articulate sentence. They could all get out of crime, you just get the feeling that they don't want to. I dunno what it is, but for such a chilled out, laid back place there is an incredible lack of joy. Or maybe I'm just used to chaos?
The show went kind of good. Nothing much to write about. The Darkness audience are a nice bunch. No bottles thrown, no hecklers. The ones that didn't like us probably just talked to each other politely as we ploughed through our set... which we did in extremely workmanlike fashion.
Met some very old friends from way back when I used to come to Amsterdam with a Heavy Metal band, called Avenger. The drugs consumed since then have had less of an effect on their memories than they have on mine. I enjoy hearing tales of my exploits as a young 'un, and seeing pictures of myself as a skinny, nervous little boy. Jesus Mama, just look at your blue eyed boy now.
Wednesday 11th February - Hamburg
Hamburg is outside of the bus when we next stop. And outside of the venue is the ugliest lady-boy street merchant (!) I have ever seen. Like Dee Snider crossed with a large ugly monkey... on steroids. I get really lonely at this sight for some reason, and begin missing my family like hell, so I decide to go for a walk... a long, long walk.
Within ten minutes I'm talking to a homeless guy with the nicest clothes I've ever seen on a bum. He can't speak a word of English and I speak even less German, but we walk in the freezing cold, around the freezing canal, through Hamburg's seedier underbelly. I dunno why, but when I get sad I sometimes need to go visit the kind of places I would have, in the past, headed for in search of drugs. I have no intention to buy anything of course, but maybe I need to just remind myself that no matter how low you feel, there is always somewhere further down. The walk cheers me up anyway, and the guy gets some money to warm himself up. Job's a good 'un.
Our manager, Rudy Reed has turned up for tonite's show, as has Rad, our agent. Nice to see familiar faces around, especially in a place as emotionally lonesome as Hamburg. I learn that a lovely friend of mine has just started working for our agent, so a smile becomes a welcome exchange of expression. I'm happy to be happy for the first time today. The reality of the situation has kicked in. We are the support band to a band that were supporting us almost a year ago.
Don't, for one second, assume that I would ever begrudge The Darkness their success. In fact, to be honest, I could never keep up with Justin's work-rate if I were given the same success. The guy is tireless. Superhuman. The Darkness sit through an endless onslaught of press every day, then meet and greet a crowd of strangers every night after the show. Some industry types, some fans that have won some kind of competition to meet the band. All of whom will be distant memories in 24 hours time, when it all starts again.
The funny thing is, Justin is my friend. They all are, but Justin seems to have been hand picked as the spokesperson for the group. And he's a mate. Not my famous mate from the telly, but someone that me and my missus know to be a sweet guy, who comes round the house and watches my son playing with his manager's daughter. Here, in this environment, it's pretty surreal to see him being pulled and prodded like some kind of Rock 'n' Roll Cilla Black.
I can't get my head around it, I don't understand how it makes me feel. I am as proud as fuck for him; like I said I couldn't do what he does - no way - but I also feel a little sad at the situation for some reason. Believe me, it's not envy, it's more like confusion. How could things change for someone you know so well, so quickly and so dramatically?
I have never been in a situation like this before. I mean, when we toured with the Manic Street Preachers they exploded all over the newspapers and TV, but we didn't know them, y'know? I didn't want to sit down with any of them for a few hours and shoot the shit.
This is work, we are the support band, and they are the facts.
The Hamburg audience is great, and a very warm welcome is afforded to us. Second show, band are tight, lots of healthy business types to impress tonight, and from what I hear, they all like us. Let's hope we get some festival appearances and album distribution from this exposure.
Playing to The Darkness audience is a bit of a headfuck. An awful lot of these kids are just that. Kids. This may be their first ever Rock concert. And if that is the case, then we are the first ever Rock band that they've seen play. Man, what kind of corruption are we spreading in the sensitive young minds of these children? The first bass player they ever saw in their life was Random Jon Poole? I just hope they have the correct counseling in Europe for that kind of thing.
Another thing that is becoming mildly upsetting is the amount of girls in attendance. Not a bad thing in theory. Playing to a crowd made up almost entirely of beautiful young ladies sure beats supporting a band that play to a predominantly male audience. It doesn't take much explaining. While churning through the same set night after night, girls are much nicer to look at than boys. Makes the gig more fun. Gives the eyes something to enjoy and the mind a comfortable place in which to relax and play.
But every night you will spot a stunningly pretty girl giving you the eye from the front row, and every night you will feel like Brad fucking Pitt for a second or two. Then every night you will realise that most of the girls at these shows are below the age of consent, some way below. Stage lights have a habit of making the young look the same age as the old. They're there for cosmetic reasons and the illusion works the same way for the audience as it does for the band. And nothing makes a guy feel lower than the thought of getting excited about a bloody kid finding them sexually stimulating. Yuck, fucking p'tooey.
Thursday 12th February - Copenhagen
By the time we play onstage in Denmark, we are all in full agreement that everyone in Denmark is good looking. The guys as well as the girls. Perfectly bone structured, tall, catalogue males and leggy smiling, toothy females. On the surface it seems like heaven, the kind of place that single guys should all relocate to. That is until beauty-overkill kicks in, and you realises that no-one is actually standing out as being exceptionally attractive. It's all begins to take on a general look, all surface, all fantasy. It numbs the senses the way that being surrounded by pornographic images, and prosthetic genitalia, in a place like Hamburg or Amsterdam, can kill the libido.
And it makes you miss the security of a hug from someone that actually loves you. Fuck, ain't that the truth.
The show is great, the crowd are appreciative and vociferous... and very, very pretty!
But the highlight of the day comes in the form of the bus entertainment, involving a drunken Hot Steve inviting everyone to hit him on the forehead as hard as possible, with any available object. He's drunk, and can, apparently, feel no pain. The game begins with video cassette cases, to books and then to water bottles. The sounds that come from each impact are almost as funny as the expression of surprise on Steve's face when the shots fail to hurt. People are actually running the distance of the bus in an attempt to improve the blow. "White Line Fever", the recent book by/on Lemmy, ironically, puts the game, and Steve, to bed.
Needless to say that the next day Steve is the last one out of his bunk, provoking mild fears of concussion. As I lay in my bunk that night, waiting for the prescription Diazepam to kick in, the sounds of laughter from the lounge is a soothing final soundtrack to the day. I don't feel sadness any more. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Saturday 14th February - Stockholm
I wake up in Stockholm, Sweden, a place where you instantly get hungry whenever you step outside. Swedes like meat. I like meat. I like Swedes.
Conny Bloom comes to the show. It's great to see him again. Like seeing a brother, only from a better looking Dad! We're playing Stockholm in a few days time, headlining the legendary Debaser club, with SG5 supporting. We're both talking up the excitement to the Heavens, but I can't hide my apprehension at playing two full-throttle sets in the same night. Still, I like a challenge, and they don't come much more challenging than that.
Brian Robertson arrives backstage at Stockholm, to say 'Hi', and wish us well for the show. I can't remember if we've been previously introduced, but he is one of the most approachable men on the planet, and makes you very relaxed within his company, to the point where you feel like you've met the guy before. This is what comes from having seen it all, I guess. This is a man that has seen it all at least three times. He has come armed with some ancient Thin Lizzy T-shirts for Dan of The Darkness. Holding up the faded grey shirt, with a classic picture of Phil Lynott peering stylishly over his bass guitar, I get the first twinge of jealousy for the headliners status!
Show's a good 'un, crowds great, the girls are getting younger.
The Darkness all convene for another post-gig meet and greet, where they are presented with Gold discs, as they were in Denmark. Sue, their manager, has turned up for the show, and as we talk she explains how amazed everyone in the Darkness camp is at the sudden Worldwide success they are currently experiencing. She has worked tirelessly at making them the band they are, as well as also being a Mother. I am impressed beyond measure at her strength, and calm in this crazy situation. And also slightly saddened at the distance that the Darkness have between themselves and the world that was their reality 12 months ago. I wonder how someone comes to terms with such a rapid rise in attention? There is no point of reference when life changes as much as it has for all of them. You must have to make it up as you go along. You must also be a natural. They are.
I hear of Jon Bon Jovi having a nasty bite at The Darkness, claiming that he hates the band with a passion. Justin's reply, is simple but typically classic. "I'm very disappointed to hear that. I wonder what the rest of the cast of Ally McBeal think about it?"
If they can keep up their sense of humour they will keep up their success. I'm praying that they do both.
15th February - Oslo
And in Oslo, they do keep up that most British of humour, the art of laughing at oneself. Justin is a master at this, and has the audience ready to copy every silly sound that he decides he wants them to make. Excellent!
A sense of humour is, in fact, essential in Oslo. Small club, minimal response and no stage room for us tonite. We played okay, but on the first beat of the first song a pint of water flew onto the stage, right under my feet. With approximately a metre in which to groove to the music, this 'welcome by water' ensures that even the most restricted of movement will be terminated. I just wanted to get the set over with, and escape. Maybe headlining in Olso is when it all makes sense?I guess that the aftershock of having a few 'good 'un's' on the trot has to subside, at some point, and tonite I would have rather been anywhere in the World than Oslo. The people I met after the show were very cool, polite and eager to let us know about Turbonegro stealing one of our choruses. Everyone I talk to lets me know that a song called "Drenched In Blood" sounds like one of our songs called "Just In Lust". I personally couldn't give two monkeys, as I've copied a few styles in my time, although I usually own up to it. I sense that Turbonegro must be a Norweigian band, or something? Who gives a fuck. Have as many of our songs as you want, we've got plenty more coming in. The people of Oslo seem to take their rock n roll pretty seriously and I'd love to come back on our own terms and headline. Some Scando audiences are instantly into our filth and fury brand of pop, whereas some seem to need some decent foreplay before fully entering into the spirit of the experience. Olso strikes me as the latter.
Can't shake the feeling of sadness tonite, even though we are told repeatedly that we 'rocked' and we sold even more merchandise than we did in Stockholm last night, which had twice the capacity.
I really want to drink tonite. Dunno why I'm not in better spirits, but I know that this frame of mind isn't good to drink in. So I won't. But I will get as stoned as a cunt. I need to get away from everywhere for a while. And on a bus, getting stoned is the only option available for obtaining a little distance within your tiny environment.
A time and a place, as they say... and I think this is the time.
Skin up Bradley.
The Darkness are off to the Brits after the show, where I hope they pick up all four awards they're nominated for. They deserve everything coming to them. Sometimes I can't help feeling that we deserve at least a little more than is our lot. It's hard to escape the connection, and the reality of the adulation afforded The Darkness within this business, and the complete lack of attention towards our band.
The only award I want is a card on Fathers Day, and I get to ride private jets enough to know that they scare the shit out of me more than Jumbos. Still, some recognition for our work would not be wasted.
This is a business that confounds and angers me way beyond description. A representative from Gut Records apparently attended the show tonight. I also hear that Gut have offered to contribute towards the European tour support, now that we are here doing the tour, having found the cash ourselves. The hard way. By being made to work like dogs in order to survive.
Record companies will never make sense to me. History has shown a ton of bands that are termed 'live' bands. From Motorhead, to Ramones, to Thin Lizzy, to Rolling Stones... the list goes on, as does the tradition. Some bands need the volume and the audience to be presented fully. The Wildhearts are such a band. Live bands sell concert tickets, concerts make fans happy and happy fans go and buy the album to remind them of the great night at the concert. Simple really. It would seem.
17th February - Stockholm
On entering Stockholm, we find out that the Darkness US tour has been offered to us. I pray that Gut Records wake up and support us financially on this one, because the way it seems to be going for the Darkness, America would be the perfect place, and the perfect time to expose the Wildhearts. This looks set to be the most interesting year so far, in the history of the band. If we can follow the Darkness around the globe, then things are gonna change for this bunch of under-achievers, and no mistake.
Me and Jon hung out at Conny Bloom's home the night before the SG5/Wildhearts co-appearance, running through the songs on acoustic guitars, and catching up on the shit. It's a lovely evening, and makes me far less nervous about the gig after hearing everyone play, and far more homesick, as Conny and his lovely lady Louise have a daughter a little older than my son, and a son a little younger than my daughter. It's quite an emotional night all round and a fine set up for the show.
When the gig-of-the-year (for me, at least) finally arrives, the entire thing flies by in a blur of raging volume, beautiful women, crazy drunken Swedes and sheer adrenalin.
The fear of doing anything is always far worse than the actual deed. And this evening is no exception.
The Hellacopters keep everyone entertained at they provide DJ duties, and play the absolute best tunes from the past 30 years. SG5 begin the nights live entertainment to rapturous applause, and the band play great. Conny is having a ball, Tom is attacking the drum kit in his Keith Moon approach, and Jon is back to performing the most intricate bass lines known to Rock 'n Roll, a talent that he has ignored for far too long. It feels comfortable, effortless and just great to be playing with the guys again, well... until the playing stops, and the power goes down.
SG5 blew up the PA, in the middle of "Church Of The Broken Hearted". I know we have a habit of overloading inputs until combustion... but in the middle of a power ballad?
A power ballad fucked up the PA in the legendary Debaser club !! That is delicious!
This looked set to be one of those nights. And it really was.
A satisfyingly full house provided screams loud enough to cause some internal damage. The Wildhearts played a 'punk' set, as chosen by the crew, which didn't let up on the energy for one and a half hours. No songs from the Darkness shows were allowed into the set (although we ended the show with an impromptu "Caprice"), so a slightly confusing set comprised mostly of b-sides and fast stuff was chosen by Shirt the sound man, and Hot Steve the guitar tech... with a little help from Bradley the swag man. The band played in storming fashion (even though we completely forgot how "In Like Flynn" goes!), the bar staff were dancing, a Scandinavian audience sang along to every English word, there were scuffles in the crowd, a large beer glass (not plastic, but heavy fucking glass) flew right up to my head and ricocheted off the microphone, inches away from my face. People were spitting, some were moshing, others were standing nodding and watching. Some had travelled from all over Europe for tonight, while some had waited patiently for over ten years to see this show. Total dedication. Total extremism. I was touched.
The audience comprised of a healthy mixture of borderline-psycho headcases, rabid collectors, guys in bands doing some reconnaissance, straight looking music buffs... and stunning girls. One particularly curvaceous blonde catches everyone's attention, band and crew, and although I'm a good boy who behaves himself while away from home, holding her gaze yet still resisting the temptation to follow the devil on my shoulder and move in was a tough one, but made easier by a baying crowd of autograph seekers, pulling me in every direction to sign hundreds of album covers.
So, a huge victory for moral standards. I'm a very faithful man, but a human one nonetheless. And this particular lady was exceptionally well assembled. Tomorrow, another pretty face will turn your head, and the next day another, and the next another. Resisting temptation is one of the many duties afforded to fathers on tour. Having a beautiful woman and gorgeous children waiting for me back home, I understand how lucky I am. They are the best thing to ever happen to me, and I never forget my fortune at any point of the day, or night.
Still, it's flattering as fuck to have a stunning Swedish woman giving you the eyeball!
Hey, it's only window shopping. It was our first European headline gig, and it's a good sign that there were a lot of pretty girls present. Where there are girls there will be boys.
Now we just need enlarge the percentages of both with a headline tour.
Feeling spent, but very satisfied at managing to pull off both set's with aplomb, I'm struck by a dreadful homesickness that forces me to drink a few beers, and try to forget about things. I'm drinking again, it would seem, although very much in moderation. This, however, is how the spiral always begins. I am sure I'm tough enough to keep things under control. I really hope so, anyway. Justin and I have planned to come off the wagon in Berlin, which is the next show. The Darkness will be coming back to the tour, after picking up no less than three Brit awards. Greeting their huge smiling faces with our huge smiling faces should make a celebratory party mandatory.
Can't wait to meet the boys in Berlin, congratulate them on their Brits success and thank them for giving us the chance to tour USA with them. But for now we have to brave the awfully dull ferry ride from Trellebord to Rostok. Everyone has spent every dime they have on duty free booze and fags, and Jon seems to have ushered in the official beginning to the party by crawling along the floor of the boat, biting people.
Looks like tonight isn't going to be the laid back affair I had anticipated. Ah well. Bombs away. You only live once... unless you are The Wildhearts, that is.
The night has turned into Morning by the time that everyone decides to succumb to slumber. Jon Poole has had the bus in stitches for at least 18 hours, and we're finally sick as fuck of laughing at the mad bastard. We reluctantly open our eyes again in the former East Germany, a place that has yet to catch up with the expected niceties of society, like smiles, conversation or even waitress service. There's an almighty 'Invasion Of The Body Snatchers' vibe around the service station that we visit. You wait in a queue until your time to be served, and they don't serve you. Literally, they walk away. Same as in the diner. The waitress hears that I am not local, and she won't come to serve me.
You can't help feeling sorry for the people around here. The shit that they have put up with, having been sheltered from foreigners due to confinement within a wall, means that they are wary of anyone from outside of a radius of a few villages. There are track marks either side of the roads, where armoured cars would have recently been seen patrolling. With the paranoia here abating by the year, the roads are not the assault course they used to be and the television shows now feature alternative viewing to political propaganda. Let's hope that the joy of being financially aided by West Germany, and culturally aided by the rest of the World, shows up on the lower half of their faces soon.
19th February - Berlin
When we eventually reach Berlin, the mood backstage is jubilant. The Wildhearts are match fit, after the success of our first European headline show, and The Darkness are still floating on air from the Brit awards. Dan talks of the confusion behind the scenes, as they had already played but were told to wait back stage until after the best album announcement. Not expecting to win, Dan assumes this is a ploy. Dido wins the best album award, and The Darkness close the show. Better a live band than a video, right? The winners are announced. And the winners are The Darkness. Dan tells me that the complete surprise of the victory numbed everyone into a zombie like state, as they walked for seemingly miles to collect it.
If you're gonna win something, then the best album award is the award that REALLY counts, let's face it.
Ed is his typically laid back self, telling everyone that he enjoyed the glamour of the occasion, but is more concerned by a recurring foot problem, currently plaguing him. Frankie looks tired, but very satisfied to be official A list celebrity material. He tells me that got a bear hug from 50 cent... ouch... gotta say that I'm not exactly jealous. Justin, however, manages to stun me into silent envy by telling me of Andre 3000, of Outkast, stepping into the Darkness' dressing room to let them know of his love of their song "Friday Night". I am in love with Andre's half of the new Outkast double CD album, and would love to meet the guy and let him know how much it has affected me. And Justin got to do it. Lucky bastard!
In fact Andre's album has been the soundtrack to my Xmas, forging the idea to record a new Wildhearts album, and inspiring me to write again, with song after song arriving after a slight dry period.
Andre's "The Love Below" piles layer upon layer of sensual melodies atop a stylish, '70's inspired, backing soundtrack, reminiscent of early Prince. A male and a female character are interweaved into the story of the hopes of a single man to meet the perfect female, played on the album by the gorgeous Rosario Dawson.
Both this album and, the Status Quo track "Dirty Water" have kept me grounded throughout a very emotional Xmas, spent in the Philippines, where my lady and I decided to split, only to fall even deeper in love than ever before.
The sweet melody of "Dirty Water" is floating through my head as I turn away from Justin, and walk straight into Status Quo guitar player, Rick Parfitt ! As I tell him how inspirational the track has been to me recently, he seems quite taken aback. Thrown by the sudden reminder of a presumably semi-forgotten gem, he warmly thanks me and we clink glasses. Hey, look at this... I've got a beer and he's got a beer. I thought we were supposed to both be on the wagon? Come to think of it, so is Justin, who has just attended a relatively debauched Brit awards, and left the halo at home.
What was supposed to be a clean and sober tour has now started to get a little more messy. A pleasant stranger chops out lines of cocaine in our dressing room, and we politely take advantage of his hospitality. Old sensations of feeling on top of the world are back, as the white powder takes effect and the warm buzz slowly spreads through the body. There are dozens of girls backstage, and the cocaine has put a glowing aura around each of them, giving them an even more angelic appearance. I remind myself that this is only a drug, and the hangover tomorrow will ensure that I forget every pretty face here tonight.
The American Darkness tour has sparked a lot of interest in The Wildhearts, as European industry types do things like introduce us to Actresses, shake our hands a little too hard (my right hand is still recovering from a break at Xmas, and at this rate it'll never fucking heal) and generally make us feel like specially invited guests at a Royal function.
Something is in the air, and The Darkness constantly rising popularity is rubbing off on us.
Just who are these Wildhearts? And why are the new press darlings dragging this dodgy looking bunch around the World with them?
Justin tells the biggest promoter in Germany that they are returning a favour, as we were the only band willing to help them out when they started. This makes me feel very proud, and strangely touched, but I suspect that the respect between The Darkness and The Wildhearts goes deeper than merely paying lip service. There is a musical bond, for sure, but bubbling within the relationship you get a feeling of genuine love. As stupid as it sounds, we are as proud as fuck for their achievements, and they are proud as fuck to help us along, as well as have a band to give them a much needed kick up the arse every single night. There's no getting sloppy when you have to follow The Wildhearts onto the stage. All the lights and screaming girls in the world won't make you play half as good as a stormingly tight Rock n Roll band, moistening up your audience, prior to your appearance.
They can't afford to get the slightest bit sloppy right now, and with us around they won't.
The feeling on the bus is one of self congratulatory bonding. We did this tour on our own, and now we have the American tour in the bag. Where it goes from here is anyones guess, but nothing short of the end of the world could stop The Wildhearts taking full advantage of the position afforded to us. It looks like this is going to be the biggest year of our very checkered career, and we are in the right frame of mind to embrace the changes for the better. The mood within the band is the best it has ever been. We feel positive and confident. It reminds me of when we first started the band, and the whole world looked like a huge party we were just about to crash.
Only this time we won't just be there to steal all the booze.
We have decided to call the next album "Sod's Law", as it's existence is evident from everything that has surrounded this band, since the turn of the year. From being unable to just call it a day without a ton of good fortune coming our way. From losing a bass player to gaining another who now acts as band mascot, and who's energy drives the band and crew harder than they would naturally go. From having no-one in the world give a shit about us, to meeting, and impressing every major player in the European music industry. From our record company telling us they don't think this tour will be good for us, to it being the best move we have ever made, and The Darkness being on everyone's lips worldwide.
"Sod's Law" sums up the Wildhearts current situation perfectly.
We can't even bloody split up in peace!
Talking about the new songs in an earlier Polish radio interview, is starting to make me even more anxious to record a new album. This will take the form of a double CD album, with songs from all members of the band. We want to explore everyone's influences, and bring the entire collective talent of every member to the table. In other words, to make probably the first 'band' Wildhearts album to date. I already have a ton of songs ready for recording, and as soon as we get a break from touring I'd like the band to relocate to Philippines for the recording of the new material. That place will bring out such great performances from the guys, as well as bring in a lot of cultural influences and sounds, not present in a sterile London set up. Basically, our next album will feature everything under the sun. We've never set out to make such a diverse collection in the past, but the positive chaos surrounding us at the moment is throwing all plans into the air, and we're just standing prepared, waiting and watching them fall in whatever order fate deems them to fall.
"Sod's Law", it seems, is the only law that makes sense in our bizarre schedule, at the moment.
Driving from Berlin to Vienna is a pain in the arse, as we have to go around the entire Czech republic to avoid various unavoidable hassles, where merchandise is often confiscated, or bribes worked out to get through customs. Wasting the day off/travel day sitting for hours at a border sounds like the least amount of fun that you could have with a hangover, but Czech women are of the prettiest in the world, and hanging around in a bar filled with Veronika Zemanova lookalikes doesn't sound like hell. But the tour must run as cheaply as possible, and so we can't afford let bribes eat into our minuscule budget.
If anyone could see how broke the Darkness opening act actually are, I think the world would set up a new charity for us.
21st February - Vienna
The inevitable stop and search by the German border police slightly marred easy entrance into Austria, but the band are asleep as Chopper, bus driver, produces passports and generally sweet-talks the authorities into letting us pass, unwoken.
Chopper is a fascinating character. Named due to a huge tattoo around his genitalia, and the one appendage not inked sporting a huge silver ring through its end.
He's seen a lot over the years, and is fond of reciting stories involving him having his face halved in motorbike accidents, and such like. Chopper gets the most shit from the bus members as he proudly displays one of the most OTT mullets ever to be cultivated, but he gives as good as he gets. His loud Welsh retorts are easily the equal to the Brummie and Geordie jibes.
Chopper's next job is driving Glenn Hughes' band, who feature Tom Broman (SilverGinger 5) on drums. Tom tells me that Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Trapeze, Hughes and Thrall... check 'em out kiddies) is aware of The Wildhearts. To think that Glenn Hughes, the guy responsible for such vocal performances as "Feeling So Much Better Now", and "Coast To Coast" knows who I am, leaves me feeling slightly exposed as merely an in-tune shouter, compared to his vocal talents.
But then, compared to his vocal talents I guess 90% of white vocalists are in-tune shouters.
Austria, is an awesome place, with some of the most breath-taking architecture never to be bombed by that most evil of Austrians, Adolf Hitler.
Okay, so the Blue Danube, that we park a couple of miles away from, isn't as blue as one would be given to believe, but the magnificent buildings, standing proudly like grand entrances to the skies, mask the fact that were are about to hit what has to be the biggest dump ever to assume itself a part of the major rock touring circuit. The Flex club in Vienna seems to have been designed by two separate artists.
On the outside, the most exciting graffiti specialists in the whole of Austria appear to have flexed some awesome artistic skills, where the inside looks like it was conceived by someone with a vendetta against people enjoying shows. The club is in the shape of an L, where half of the audience can see absolutely fuck all, while the members lucky enough to be crammed onto the dance floor, are so crushed that standing deadly still, and avoiding eye contact, seems the popular dance of the area.
In all of my years of playing to audiences, I have never seen anyone stand motionless in the front row and spend the entire set texting people on his mobile.
Like Oslo, I'm sure the place comes alive for the headline band (who knows?... we were all in the comfy little bar next door when The Darkness went on), but for a support band this venue is a thankless exercise in selling your wares to a jaded audience, that seems to have already been satisfied enough, over the years, with the talent that has passed through their City, and don't feel the need to give out any gratuitous enthusiasm.
There are a few die-hard Wildhearts fans in the audience, that stand out like horses in a hat shop. Bouncing around, singing every word and generally confusing the fuck out of the locals as to why they aren't intensely ignoring the opening band.
I am actually glad to see that some people have travelled a fair distance to be here to see us tonight, as we play really well. One girl has travelled from Tokyo to Vienna, for tonight's show. Wildhearts fans sure are dedicated to the cause, this is in no doubt! I feel really bad for the US fans that just found out about our cancelled US tour and are suitably irate.
We are going to play as many of the dates leading up to meeting The Darkness for their US tour, but I don't expect most of the fans to understand our situation at the moment, or even our total surprise at being invited to join the tour.
There are record companies offering fortunes for the Darkness support slot to go to some bright young hopefuls, but Justin and co have specifically asked for The Wildhearts. Offers like this just don't fall on your lap very often, and when they do you just have take them and roll with the punches.
Playing this US tour with them will mean that we can headline US tours for years to come, then everyone gets to see us play full sets. It'll take a while before this makes sense to people, but I have faith that it eventually will. But for now there are a lot of incensed US fans, seemingly ready to drop the band from their 'favourite group' slot.
Maybe this is part of the deal you make in the pursuit of success. I dunno. We never tried to succeed before.
The band have never sounded so focussed, and so musical. Everyone's personal styles are now effortlessly melding into a tight, sonic stab to the senses, that must come as sweet relief to unsuspecting Darkness audiences.
Non Austrian Darkness audiences, that is.
There is no dressing room in the venue, so both bands use their buses as changing rooms. Obviously this is much more of a hassle for Justin than it is for us, but somehow the sanctity of the bus comes as a welcome haven away from the discomfort of the venue itself. The bus also provides the setting for some impromptu girl on girl action, as two Goths decide to give CJ's on-going tour documentary an X rated dimension. The Flex club was the first club ever to transmit a live show via internet, and has more internet connections than any internet cafe I have ever seen. The place is cyber heaven.
Big Shirt, our soundman, gets everyone technologically up to date by installing wireless internet connectors into all of our computers. The internet still impresses the fuck out of me to this day, so this much of an advance towards a wireless future is slightly mind blowing. And incredibly handy.
So Vienna? Other than a great place to catch up with your e-mails, it means nothing to me.
Sunday 22nd February - Munich
On arriving at the outskirts of Munich, bleary eyed and in desperate need of a toilet, the first thing I spot in the truck-stop shop is the most hideous pair of horse hair clogs that ever stunned a man to distraction. Against my better judgment I decide to spent today's Per Diems on said footwear.
This is the most eventful thing to happen in the entire day.
Munich audiences are pretty static, and barely responsive. The fucked up thing is that you get the feeling they're really loving our music, but refuse to show their appreciation until right at the very end of the set. Shame they didn't use the rest of the duration to have a good time and physically enjoy themselves.
I guess some people go to gigs only to see the headline band. Take the blinkers off, you foolish people, you might miss the future. Or at the very least a good time.
The changing area is a large room, split into two by a couple of large grey lockers separating headline band from support band, and our half looks as inviting as a wake. I decide that this would be a good excuse to take all of the copies of Maxim, Marie Claire and FHM from the bus and stick the most beautiful ladies all over our dressing room. It brightens up the area a treat, while ridding the bus of unnecessary sexual frustration. I have never understood the concept of having porn, or material of a glamorous female nature, on a bus comprising solely of men. The last thing I want to do is sit with a hard on, surrounded by guys, y'know?
The show in Munich is played well, really well. Our vocals are starting to sound quite startlingly good. I think the German audiences are picking up on this, and hope they'll give us the chance to come back and show them what we do with a couple of hours, as opposed to 45 minutes. Time will tell.
The girl from Tokyo has brought us a liquor called ChoChu, a vodka like drink, with gold flakes floating in the bottle. As sober as I am intending to remain, I can't pass up the chance of trying a tipple I have never tried before. And this stuff is lethal, cheering everyone up massively.
A couple of The Darkness crew come and hang out on our bus afterwards, and we talk to Pedro (The Darkness's producer and soundman) about producing our next album. It's only slightly drunken spraff, but I'm nevertheless as excited as fuck about the possibility. I couldn't produce our next album (the last one nearly killed me), but we'd find it almost impossible to locate a producer that we all get along with, both musically and socially. Pedro fits the bill perfectly.
The evening begins and ends with Jon making what can only be described as 'deafening vocal raspberries' to the tune of Bohemian Rhapsody, who then starts taking requests. Whether it was the dullness of the show, or the happiness to be driving away from this particular gig, or both, but this bus episode turns out to be the funniest thing I think I have ever seen. There are eight men on the floor in hysterics as one man sits, red faced, concentrating madly on hitting every note perfectly with possibly the stupidest noise imaginable. I guess some things don't translate as well as being there.
Monday 23rd February - Milan
The valium must have kicked in quickly because the next thing I know I have woken up in Milan, Italy.
The gig is fucking huge, about ten times the size of yesterday's venue. The outside of the venue looks like Glasgow Barrowlands, and inside like a huge black aircraft hanger. It takes about fifteen minutes to walk from the front door to the dressing room. We have hangovers and can't take in the largeness of the occasion, until a lot of coffee is drank and a lot of showers have been taken.
This place holds 2,700 people, and is sold out.
It's quite a headfuck going from tiny clubs without enough onstage room to swing a guitar move, straight to what is tantamount to an arena.
It must be twice as confusing for the Darkness.
Certain members of their crew are beginning to annoy our band and crew. In this business you get two kinds of crew, one are rock star crew, and the other are team players. And while The Darkness' lot are largely made up of seasoned team players, there is the inevitable presence of the odd 'star'. One guy is standing out as the most likely to fall out with us at some point. He says everything REALLY FUCKING LOUD, and, assuming presumably, that he's funny enough to warrant such volume, repeats everything.
Funny, then, that The Darkness who within the band have NO rock star antics at any time, would employ an Axl Roadie.
When things get this big for a band, I guess choice of personnel is out of your hands. I pray that we never get this big, as I would hate to have anyone around me who tried to wind-up what is already a stressful and emotional enough time.
I would never like to be in a band that wasn't of a controllable enough size.
If anyone in our camp was acting the cunt they would be doing it to the stewardess on the plane back home, before they knew what hit them. Arseholes on tour are one of the most irritating aspects of this job, and should be working for acts that match their own imagined celebrity, like Celine Dion or Diana Ross.
It would be a greater place if rock crew could work only with rock bands, but in the confused state that the music industry is in, I guess a little overlapping is inevitable.
The show is great, in Milan. Italian audiences are into having fun, and not giving a fuck who's watching. Jon is on brilliant form tonight, bounding around the unusually large stage, like a child given speed. Rudy, our manager, has turned up tonight due to the magnetic pull of actually being Italian. What a place. The food is great, the women are exotic looking and stunning, the wine tastes really good, shit, even the showers work. And The Darkness are inspirational tonight.
Rad, the agent, has turned up, and last thing I see before the Darkness ascend the stage is a 'group-hug' "let's go gettem boys" kind of thing, which isn't altogether necessary, but makes for amusing viewing. We have acquired a new member of the crew, Danny from our last tour with Amen. He's a great guy, and popular with the ladies, so there should be plenty of eye candy following him around for the rest of the tour as is usually the case. He also increases the chaos element. Backstage, afterwards, is a mass of people, mostly female. Oh yes, it's most definitely ladies night tonight. They are in the corridors. They are in the dressing room. They are on the bus. Italian ladies like groups, it seems.
Being a popular band with the female percentage of the record buying public is a lot of fun.
Touring, though, can get really lonely, and just being in the company of females can cure all manner of emotional ills. It can also make you miss your missus a whole lot more. Tonight I can't find a phone anywhere, and am desperate to speak to Angie. Just to hear her say hello. Instead of letting the frustration eat away at my evening, I decide on going to the bar and getting a huge Jack Daniels, knocking it back in one, and waiting for the warm rush to hit my head. So much for the intention to stay sober for this tour, or indeed, in fact, this year.
Being on the road brings with it hours and hours of missing your family, waiting around (especially when you're a support act, and have finished and packed away by 10pm), and questioning the motives in which you conduct your vocation in such a corrupt and patently fake business. I now detest the way alcohol makes me feel in the morning, I am becoming allergic to hangovers, but crave alcohol's time bending effects, from close of work until climbing into a tiny, empty bed. I'm not drinking anything stronger than water during the day, and keeping to a strict exercise routine, and as long as I can keep up this minimal approach to discipline, I should be in safe waters.
But fuck, man, those hangovers suck.
Tuesday 24th February - Day Off
I wake up with the feeling that I have a sock in my mouth and a crash helmet on my head when we stop in the Swiss Alps. There can't be a better way of ridding yourself of the pitiful effects of alcohol consumption than stepping off a bus into two feet of snow, surrounded by the panoramic view of purely virgin snow covered Swiss white mountains. It's like you and your hangover shrink to a meaningless size. Awesome.
The toilets seem futuristic, and cleaner than a fish's arse, and the small selection of truck stop shops offer a vast array of fantastic crap, from Samurai swords to flashing codpieces. CJ is getting followed by a Swiss gypsy woman with gold teeth, while the guys are playing bus game #5002, name a band beginning with the last letter of the previously named band.
The Clash counts as a 'T'. Ramones is an 'R'.
Dan Darkness was admiring my striped Newcastle colours sweatband the other day, so I've bought him identical ones in the craziest accessory store I've ever had the pleasure of shopping in. He'll be made up.
Dan is, along with Ed, the most down to earth member of The Darkness (which counts as a 'T'), and that's some achievement when the rest of the band are as humble as Justin and Frankie. A nicer bunch of blokes you couldn't make successful. It's a pleasure to see them lapping up their new found glory, while still knowing they're watching the support band's set every night, from the side of the stage. Like fans. Dan has even threatened to change his now famous Thin Lizzy shirt to a Wildhearts shirt, for the US tour. Not sure I believe him, but it's still a nice thing to say.
As nice as Switzerland is, everyone on the bus is righteously pissed off that we didn't spend today's 'day off' in Milan. I feel sad. Days off suck cocks. We walk about the freezing rusted area to the city. It looks like Birmingham covered in snow. I've decided to wear these stupid fucking clogs and within a mile my feet are blistered to a pulp from trying to keep the ridiculous things on.
I manage to talk with Angie and the conversation drifts to her current minor band problems. I can't help but imagine that every band in the world has the same problems within its internal dynamics, and I secretly harbour an attitude that all bands are a bit silly, really. Bands tend to fight over things that haven't happened yet, like publishing splits, artistic statements and how the singer thinks the sun will shine out of their arse by association to the role. Teams are drawn, and personalities established. It's funny to hear about another bands bickering, when The Wildhearts are getting along better than we probably ever have. The irony is very ironic.
While I'm unsuccessfully attempting to offer some welcome advice, that all bands have their ups and downs, I turn around and find myself smack in the middle of a crack deal, as the buyer proudly holds his glass pipe in the air, and the police drive by nonchalantly.
I am in crack and smack heaven, in pain, homesick and miserable as fuck. The urge to score hits immediately, and takes a great deal of effort to shake off.
Instead, we find a cool bar with a fantastic juke box, and sit with beers, watching dealers go by the window. Jesus, this is a strange place. Vice City. At Xmas.
After hitting another bar, where kebabs come with the beer, we retreat back to the relative sanctity of the first place, where the music cheers everyone's spirits for a while. Then a huge argument breaks out between me and Stidi. Previously unspoken band cancers are aired and the fight becomes a much more dangerous parody of the conversation with Angie.
Stidi and I have fought the entire time we have been in a band. Since being children. We're Geordies, and Geordies will go at each other like pit-bulls, after a few. But now we are in our late thirties, and the machismo comes off as slightly sad and ever so retarded.
Fucking hell man, we're on the hottest tour of Europe, and we still can't enjoy it.
Needless to say, the experience leaves us spending the remainder of the day in sullen, and petulant silence. Being stuck in downtown Zurich, pissed off and cold, after having a fight, has got to rank alongside eating one's own shit, for fun value.
As I'm sitting here, after being up all night thinking on overdrive, it's nearly morning. It isn't possible to miss my woman and children any more. Fuck, I bet if we kept an acoustic guitar handy on the bus there'd be a great Steve Earle song in this, somewhere. But now there's just the feeling that I should stop drinking as from tomorrow.
I'm going to enjoy the last of this cheap Austrian wine, and think of home. A place where a strangely parallel drama is going on.
From now on it's heads down and play. Got to get the band head on again. Fuck the arguments, we are here to sell the music. The arguments didn't sell the first time around.
Wednesday 25th February - Zurich
Morning/afternoon finds me confused and angry. After all this time as a band, we still haven't mastered the art of getting along. I spend the entire day sober, and intent on maintaining this regime, but I just cannot think how I'm going to achieve it, with this current rift that is seemingly based on past grudges, left for years to fester and enlarge.
It's times like this I cannot stand being in a band. Being forced into such close proximity to people that you'd like to be on the opposite side of the world to. The best way to work through these dates (with yet more being added, by the day) will be to keep a decent distance between me and Stidi. So how the fuck am I going to sit on my own, for the next three months without the comfort of drink?
I'm stumped. Just what the fuck am I going to do?
There is no dressing room for us tonight so The Darkness have let us use theirs. I stay on the bus to get ready for the show, establishing that a distance has been drawn, happy in the knowledge that no one can say anything to provoke me if I'm alone.
Just spoke to Angie about the falling out yesterday, and I'm missing her like hell right now. She's coming to Paris, with lots of pictures of my rapidly growing kids. I can't wait. It sounds like sanctuary is on its way, but the week until Paris feels like a year from now.
Shirt (soundman) has started to get annoyed at the Axl Roadie I mentioned before. Shirt is very big, Axl better watch his ego doesn't get him into the wrong kind of trouble.
Let's just get this fucking Swiss gig out of the way, and get the hell out of here. I've had enough of this place already, and the show is just making the experience drag even more.
Get on, get off and get out. And if I can make it to bed sober I will be happy.
I walk to the side of stage, bypassing the dressing room, to get this one out of the way with as little pleasure as I am expecting it to be. Except that the PA has decided to stop working. We wait, and wait, and wait, as technicians rush around troubleshooting.
Jon turns to me and says "If something really strange happened tonight, do you think it would be out of place?". Not giving a fuck about the band, the gig or what Jon has in mind, I reply in the negative. Next thing Jon is out onstage doing a stand-up comedy routine, while the PA sits in silence. It has the audience, and people side stage, in hysterics.
The mad, mad fucker.
After what seems like 15 minutes of solo performance, the power is re-instated and we plough through what has to be the least enjoyable set I have ever played. There is zero chemistry onstage, and the phantom of The Wildhearts of old governs the entire set. I am so fucking miserable at the moment, I can't begin to put it into words.
Shirt describes the Wildhearts past as 'defeat grasped from the jaws of victory', but the irony is that the mood of before is identical to the mood now. Just as we are about to get everything we've worked hard for, been broke for, cried and clawed for, it all seems just as likely to classically and monumentally go tits up. As it always has in the past.
Friction within bands resulting in great music has always been a concept that I've had trouble accepting. I think it's just an excuse for some people to legitimately act in a generally socially unacceptable way. Almost masking some hidden fear, or lack of confidence with bravado and aggression. Confrontation is, after all, the act of a man that has ran out of ideas. The band have been getting along great since the beginning of the tour. Talk has been all about album plans, and the glossy future that our new found friendship seems to be ushering in. When we get along, and don't wind the fuck out of each other, the world seems to agree that we are a shit hot band. People like to be around us when we are being friendly, and this has shown to have massive advantages.
The only thing you get from fighting is a pub band.
All I can think of doing is keeping as far away from Stidi as I can, which isn't easy in a small bus. I'll stay and write my little entries in the small, dark front lounge while he parties in the back. That's the only way to play this like a team. I am the only one offended, so no-one else should be affected. Unless Stidi keeps his promise and goes home, of course.
I have done the day sober, and that's at least something to write home about. Yay for me. I feel fucking wretched.
I'm tired of the senseless dramas that have plagued The Wildhearts since day one. Tiny little problems that have to be aired with a megaphone. It's fucking childish and it's fucking irritating. I am going to work as hard as I possibly can to fulfil every promise we have given to people. Tour Europe, tour America, get good distribution for Europe and US, let the music be heard by as many new ears as is possible. But this bullshit I would not miss one bit. It would be a relief to walk away from this band, and instead make music for the love of the music, and the pleasure of creating organic soundscapes with different people. Move to the Philippines and live in paradise, with my family.
I'm going to take a Diazepam and have an early night, and hope to fuck that when I wake I feel like carrying on. As opposed to painfully honouring our contractual obligations.
Thursday 26th February - Frankfurt
Wake up from a sober sleep with the sole intention of not fucking up this tour at any price. Willie has decided to have a man to man talk with all members of the band, and alcohol is to be barred before the show. Things have to get serious now, otherwise we'll be home quicker than a kid after his first day of school. We have had our first official warning from The Darkness organisers after concerns about our behaviour yesterday has raised questions about our future on the tour. It seems that The Darkness dressing room yesterday was left a shit-hole when they arrived, with eggs being splattered at the pictures on the walls, and cans being thrown all around the place.
The Darkness is a business, and a big one at that, and if we are to stand any chance of staying on this tour we have to conduct ourself in a business-like manner.
Everyone is now in the right frame of mind again, and dying to get up onstage. Me and Stidi have decided to agree to disagree, and take only our talent onstage tonight. Judging by the size of this particular stage, there won't be room to fit any grudges AND a four piece band anyway. We can't wait to play tonights show. We had a wobble yesterday, and now the only course of action is to get in there and crush the place senseless tonight. Then fuck off. Be as professional as is possible and surprise the headline setup enough to trust that we won't self combust. We have to rock like animals tonight. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about. To fuck this all up now would leave us looking like the biggest bunch of cunts in the business.
Forever known as the band that made a complete mess of it. TWICE!!!
Jesus, I couldn't live the life of a fool. An underachiever? There have been some magnificent under-achievers in the past, some of my favourite bands and artists have been given a fraction of the recognition they deserve. Their talent, however, has never been in dispute. But to have been given the chance to achieve something and dropped the ball twice? I'd have to move to the Philippines and never show my face in Britain again.
We are learning a lot from The Darkness, but keeping our shit together is turning out to be the biggest lesson. They do it like pro's, we do it like chancers. This has got to stop. The Darkness have achieved what they have because of their attitude towards what they do. Having great songs, and playing them well, is not enough to get the music business behind you, but combining these abilities with a professional attitude will, most definitely. That's why there are millions of bands, and only a few successes. It isn't about kissing arse, or being someone's dog, it is about not acting like an unreliable prick. No one likes to deal with pricks when there's a lot of money involved. Or alcoholics, for that matter.
Kerrang! want to come to Belgium to do a feature on us and stay on the bus until Paris. Spin magazine want to come on the road in the US, for another major feature in another major magazine. People are starting to take the band seriously again, and if we don't follow suit then it'll all be over, in public, naked. Now that's humiliation.
In the end, Frankfurt was fucking amazing.
I feel like I'm in two bands sometimes, such is the polarity of the band's combined personality.
In Zurich we were a sad parody of a past glory; in Frankfurt we fucking destroyed. It felt like being in your first band again, with all of the anxiety beforehand, and the unbridled, almost uncontrollable energy of your first gig.
I remember being told that Dan Darkness gives a band pep-talk before every show, so I decide to give it a go. We've never much went for band hugs and gee-up's before going on stage, but in Frankfurt we have no option. We have everything to play for tonight.
I tell the boys "we kill tonight or we end up going home".
The first song, "I Wanna Go Where The People Go", steams along as it never has before, replacing subtlety for sheer fury. Four guys pounding away at an opening track, like their careers depend on it, which is actually the case, must be a thrilling surprise for the audience. We keep piling on the passion. Keep hitting them with the riffs. Keep pounding them with the urgency. Like Cassius Clay changing his name to Muhammad Ali, and regaining his rightful position after being branded a washout, we mentally will ourselves to physically push ourselves beyond the expected limits.
We change the set around to feature some of the more 'riff orientated' songs, and the audience lap it up. I had an odd feeling about this show when we pulled in. The posters advertising future shows reminded me of starting out with the band, supporting Wolfsbane, Love Hate, Manic Street Preachers and The Almighty. Pulling into venues and seeing their name in huge letters on the posters outside. I always knew that one day we would be playing those same venues, but next time OUR name would be on those posters. That feeling is with me today, and if the band can stay this focussed then we will. And more. Much more.
Tonight's show reminds me why I love this band, as well as hate it. Why Stidi is both my emotional sparring partner as well as my favourite drummer.
We simply fucking rocked.
After a quick change of clothing we retire the bar next door to the oversold, and absolutely jam packed venue. Everyone in the band and crew are in celebratory mood, and even though I'm drinking nothing more lethal than a 'cherry and banana on ice' (in a bar that specialises in Absinthe, my favourite tipple), the adrenaline charge of the show is still giving me a rush to rival any beer buzz.
Funny how, before the show, I hear that Justin fell off and went back on the wagon exactly the same days as me. Sitting amongst the boys, and some exceptionally zealous fans, the bar begins to fill up with Darkness fans. One fantastically pretty girl walks past us and everyone wonders who the lucky bastard is that she's walking towards, as she leaves a perfume trail that has everyone inhaling like Bisto kids. I get up and order another strange, non-alcoholic German cocktail, and before I am aware of change of atmosphere, this vision of sheer beauty that previously floated past is standing talking to me.
We chat for a while, and after finding out that the prettiest person in the building is also the smartest, I am hit by the revelation that I am, by far, the luckiest.
The bar is closing, the young lady is long gone but the bus is still rocking.
Packed from top to bottom with girls, the bus is crammed. Everyone is loud and crazy, and extremely drunk. I decide to sit in the front with Shirt and CJ, as CJ shows me today's documentation of pornographic display. I gotta say, he does have quite a talent for filming ladies in states of disgrace. I am trying to compartmentalise the day's events, from its frosty start to its fiery end. Too much good to take in.
I'm not used to dealing with this much Wildhearts related elation. And it feels like the best cocaine I ever had.
Five in the morning and I am still on a very sober, very tangible high. Valium and Pulp Fiction finish me off eventually.
What a fine, fine day.
Friday 27th February - Bochum
The next day, in Bochum, we intend to continue the 'full-roar' approach, and treat this tour like a military operation. Striking the audience when they least expect it. Appearing in the guise of a support act, then blowing away their expectations. Unfortunate then, that security is on full alert, and everyone is being frisked vigorously at the door, resulting in a half-full room at the beginning of the set, which thankfully, slowly, starts to fill.
The mood within the band is still jubilant, that is until I find an internet connection, and receive the most insulting, spiteful, vicious attack on the band I have ever heard from anyone in the business. The e-mail comes from a guy called Todd, from 'Leafy Green', the promoters of the former US tour.
It says.....ah fuck, here it is:
RE: email from your manager
You should be ashamed of your self for letting assholes like this represent you and your band. Not only is this guy completely unhelpful and not speaking the truth, but disrespecting Gearhead, the Dragons and Leafy Green Green Booking. For a guy that's all worried about being perceived as a rock star, you sure are acting like asshole cunt rock stars.
Just for the record......Nobody here is suggesting you should not be doing the Darkness tour either, it's just the way your management is taking this " we're done using you little guys, get our of our way and our larger agenda' attitude that makes me hope I never have to work with people with you again in my life.
Our passions are for the music, lifestyle and culture, not some rock star hope for two minutes of fame. You and your band led Gearhead on to believe you shared their believes, and that is why I worked on this project, but that is obviously not true.
This email is 100% from me alone , and I have no qualms about writing and telling you and the Wildhearts to fuck off mates!
Leafy Green Booking & Mgmt
Quite what I, and the band have to do with booking tours is beyond me, we are out working our asses off, trying to gain an audience by playing music. Nevertheless, this kind of thing, first thing in the morning, can put you off your stride.
I can't eat for the rest of the day, my stomach churning from a blend of anger, confusion and insult.
I'm reminded, by Justin, of something I said to The Darkness in their early days, about every successful man being judged by the amount of his enemies. I guess this means that we are starting to succeed.
News comes in that we have a mention in 'Kerrang's all time classic albums, "The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed" is in at number 8, one up from The Darkness even. News comes in that we are on the cover of 'Classic Rock' this month.
News comes in that we should be in for the huge Darkness September US tour.
News comes in that US record deals are being talked about. One of the biggest German promoters is buying the band drinks, and talking up a storm about working together. The prettiest girls in the bar are eyeing up the band like the stars they think we are. It's all good, right?
Still, I can't shake this sinking feeling that some Americans have an irrational aggression that just doesn't make sense to me. It scares me.
Just very few, and a very certain type though, don't get me wrong. I have massive respect for all the Americans I know. Especially Mike Lavella at Gearhead, and his self made vision and belief. I find this kind of aggressive approach to business nowhere else in the world. And it makes Mike look bad.
It makes sense to me that The Darkness US tour is going to open up a lot of opportunities to go back and headline. So why would a seemingly professional booking agent turn down future work with us on the strength of his relationship with our manager? And why isn't he keeping this between him and our manager, away from the unnecessary involvement of the band themselves?
Punk, to me as a young kid, was all about aesthetics, and in the ugly late '70's, where the footage still looks black and white, doing your own thing was a visual movement. Standing out. Being colourful. Creating excitement. Getting out of the rat race. Taking every chance you could take to make a better life for yourself.
Ramones wanted to be commercially accepted. The Pistols wanted to be the biggest band in America. The Clash wanted to be The Rolling Stones, they even managed to play Shea Stadium, for fucks sake. To me, punk was a place for misfits to fit in, and maybe even achieve something.
Sometimes I think this is an incomprehensibly fucked up world, and sometimes I wish I wasn't in it. Now is such a time.
The show tonight is stunning. The pep-talk revs everyone up to perform as good, if not better, than last night. We show that we are a world class band, with a future. We are going to America with the UK's hottest property, and we will, more than likely, still be followed by aggression, from, presumably, the most unlikely of directions and sources.
It's snowing like a motherfucker outside. The buses can't move. We're trapped in Germany, and I want to disappear from everything. I can't drink, and drugs are out of the question, so I opt for a long chat with CJ and Jon. It's great to have such good band morale at a time like this. And they're great guys to talk to, when you want someone to listen. Still, I can't shake this melancholy mood.
I try to sleep, but valium isn't even doing its trick. So I lie, for seemingly a lifetime, pondering the worth of being in this fucked up business, and trying to remember why I want to succeed at all. Ah, that's right. The music is fucking great, I have a family to feed, and it's what I do.
Saturday 28th February - Day Off
I eventually wake up in Strasbourg, and am told that there is e-mail access inside the venue. It's a day off, so I decide to catch up with the mailing list, and see what the fans are saying about the tour.
More aggression. Insults. Mindless personal attacks. I can't even get angry any more. Just sad. Just fucking really really fucking sad.
Since when has it been wrong for a band to want to do better? To break America? Isn't that the one thing that bands have wanted to do since The Beatles?
After over ten years in this business I think we deserve a break, but it doesn't look like we'll get one without a fight. Right now The Darkness are the coolest fuckers to walk the planet as far as I'm concerned, because they're at least trying to help us. They have respect for us, for the amount of time we've been around and the quality of the material we have recorded and released in that time.
The road to fortune must be a long and lonely road. Let's just hope the blisters are worth it.
Everyone is in party mode, and are in the club next door to the bus, where Techno music blares out into the street. Stidi gets kicked out. I attempt to get rid of this awful day, and go to sleep. It works for a few hours, until the mob arrive back at HQ, and the music and madness starts blaring. I get out of bed to witness a brand new bus game: "Quiet At The Back There!"
It involves two close opponents shouting "quiet at the back there", before throwing a small, dangerous looking plastic bottle at each others bald heads.
The opponents are Tasty Dave (drum tech), and Random. The music has stuck on the CD player, which gives the game an element of tension, as the bottles ping off each others heads. Good, painful stuff! The bus are in hysterics as the sport invents new rules, or lack of, and becomes the Rollerball of bus games.
Dave's nose is bleeding, and Jon is playing like a topless pro. At 5:00 am, an extremely angry Big Shirt stops play.
He furiously slams open the door adjoining the back lounge to the bunk area, sticks his head into the room, and yells "can you lot be fucking quiet in the back there?".
It is a priceless moment.
This is one of the tour's great reminders of why I love doing this. Having a bunch of lunatics, all with different sleeping patterns, individual behaviour and various lengthened fuses. Then sticking them in a bus together and seeing the sparks go off.
Next day, hugs will be issued and apologies accepted, but this great little bit of chaos will be the catalyst to a cool bond tomorrow. And then we will rock.
It's great to be part of a team.
Sunday 29th February - Laiterie
The show the next day is fucking great as a result!
The band is on fire, there's a bit more room on stage and we play well to a great crowd. Even the Darkness crew are all into it. Axl Roadie actually gives us a round of applause as we come off stage. Considering he was caught earlier by a toileted Shirt, inside our dressing room, talking on his mobile about what time the support scum were going onstage, it's quite a compliment.
Strasbourg, La Laiterie, is largely filled with young girls and middle aged people - presumably the parents - maybe brought up on '70's and early '80's rock. There seems to be no barrier of behaviour tonight as young and old alike cheer, clap and generally have a ball. The Darkness are really great tonight, Dan is on demonic form.
There is a balcony and a system of walkways restricted but for band, crew and staff, that spreads throughout the entire venue. It looks like the inside of the ship in 'Alien', and serves as a brilliant vantage point to check out any pretty girls in the audience. It's an innocent sport, unless the audience is this young, in which case it also doubles as the best seat in the house in which to watch band. We wonder how whenever you look at a girl in the audience tonight they instantly look around at us. French women have an extra sense, in fact all women do, that presumably alerts them to predatory gazes. Especially from sex starved English bands.
I decide to instead retire to the bus as the boys hit the bar, post gig. It's a bit of a quiet night. Jokes on the bus. Bad, bad jokes. Scraping the floor beneath the barrel, type jokes. Kerrang! are coming tomorrow to write a feature on us. Might be a good idea to get an early-ish night and leave the mayhem to the boys.
Monday 1st March - Brussels
By the time I get out of bed, the 'pink cloud' process of alcohol withdrawal is in effect. This is the moment when abstinence starts to make sense. The body is successfully rejecting the toxins within, and the world begins to look like an interesting place, as opposed to a self imposed jail sentence. I'm running around the bus like a speed freak, and can't wait to get onto the stage, and absorb some of that same energy that we have been pulling out of the bag for the last few days, once again. The thrill of being in love with this band, again, is as irresistible as it is infectious. And habit forming. I await our stage time like a football player looks forward to playing for his team.
We get to the venue and run straight into Tony Wooliscroft (Kerrang! photographer, who joined us for a Japanese report a couple of years ago - a loud Scouser, with a reluctant fondness for the band), and first time Kerrang! features writer Owen, who also plays drums with The Crimea (formed from the best bits of The Crocketts, and ace. Check 'em out).
Pictures are taken all day (something that makes me intensely uncomfortable, but always produces better results than posing in a studio) as the band get ready for the show.
Which is a fucking belter.
Belgian audiences are a very affectionate lot, and give us a welcome to rival a headline show. After the gig we are mobbed by over zealous, mostly pre-pubescent girls, telling us how much they enjoyed the set.
I get to meet one of my favourite new bands - Hulk - who seem like a great bunch of guys and I leave them with the promise that we will definitely play some shows with them in the future. They're everyone's favourite bus band. The album "Party Time" plays like a hypnotic radio station, varying in textures and styles, and you should really find and buy this album.
Tonight, The Wildhearts sing beautifully, and play with the passion that we have demonstrated over the previous few shows. The Brussels crowd leave us all feeling pretty damn un-beatable. So much so that I decide to have a few drinks on Justin's advice, and by the time we retire to the bus, the "Quiet At The Back There" showdown this evening features Owen and Hot Steve. It ends in a draw, presumably because everyone is too stoned and drunk to correctly aim with any formidable accuracy.
Tony gets some very revealing pictures of Stidi and Jon in an affectionate clinch at the mouth, which will hopefully make the Kerrang feature, and some shots of Jon's genitalia, which hopefully won't.
And Owen gets fully inducted into the bus family, if only for one night.
Tuesday 2nd March - Paris
The bus arrives in Paris as everyone drifts sleepily from our mobile home of the last few weeks to a brand new bus that will continue to take us back to UK.
We don't get a chance to say goodbye to Chopper, but I have a feeling that he prefers to leave like a ghost than endure the emotional drag of long goodbyes.
The day in Paris is spent being interviewed all day and having pictures taken atop the roof of the Ibis hotel, with an awesome view of the dusky Paris skyline, containing the Eiffel Tower.
Angie has arrived today, with Stidi's wife, Mika, and provides a lovely familiarity to an already family -like atmosphere.
Again, we play like a storm hitting town, and the friendly Parisian crowd show a tremendous amount of respect for the band. At least half of the audience are Brits, who stare in confusion as Justin reels off an evening of effortlessly spoken French. Yet absorb and enjoy every second. I stand with Angie, sidestage, and we wonder aloud at how someone could possibly hate The Darkness. From this vantage spot there is nothing about them that I don't absolutely adore. "Love Is Only A Feeling" gets me in the throat every time, and the line "in the eye of the storm, we keep each other warm" ("Love On The Rocks (with no ice")) is a moving statement on relationship breakdowns that never fails to hit the shiver button.
After the show, goodbyes are issued to The Darkness, but no sadness is evident. We are meeting up again in Milwaukee, in a few weeks, so it's more of a "see ya later" session of hugs and drinks. We spend the remainder of our time in Europe, on our newer, bigger bus. Everyone feeling that the job has been carried out in style, and the bond between band members and crew has grown sensationally.
My final thoughts are of how quickly this tour has flown past, and how much further the band have come since Amsterdam, physically, emotionally and sonically.
We have turned into the band that we always wanted to be. With a little help from The Darkness, of course.
There doesn't seem a thing that can stop us now.
As I share the larger than usual bunk with my girlfriend, I drift off to sleep, satisfied. Confident to attack the rest of our dates with The Darkness, with the same zest that we have shown.
The last thing I feel is the valium hitting home, and my face is covered with Angie's candy smelling hair. It is the best I have felt in a long time.
In the end, the ups and the downs always meet in the middle.
The ride has just begun, but the band are match fit and the future never looked better.
Ginger, March 2004