By The Talks, Sep 16 2015 01:23PM
France, Switzerland and Germany Tour - Part 2
16th to 19th July.
By Iain Allen
I woke up to dry lips, sticky eyes and a throbbing head - as in, the one on top of my shoulders. I looked round and noticed the window was wide open, which was basically like having a large part of the wall missing, practically enough room for a cow to wander through never mind some large lonely insect with a penchant for human snuggles.
We convened on the patio area at the foot of the main cabin for breakfast. Bread and Coffee! But really good coffee though. Although The Holt's (Joe Holt) experience was somewhat tarnished due to a larger than normal number of wasps kicking around the table. A lot of wafting, whimpering, sudden jerky movements and standing up and sitting down again ensued before it all became a bit too much and he retired back indoors. This is where we had spent a couple of hours drinking after arriving here on the previous typical French summer night, but this morning we had light and full visibility and the views were captivating. The hillside that the Gites were part of overlooked the full town of Dieulouard and various streams and wooded areas in the vast valley below, before climbing back up the opposing green, stippled mountain. This was pretty special.
We got our things together and faced ourselves south for Chiasso, Switzerland. The drive took us south east and through the more rustic parts of the Lorraine region before venturing into the Alsace, passing it's picturesque villages, famous vineyards and hilly, rural parts. Then into Switzerland, and if we thought eastern France was attractive than Switzerland is like an enchanting beguilement of natural beauty. The E35 trunk road that takes you from Basel right down to the Italian border really does just wind through the heart of typical Switzerland. For almost the full length of the country you're travelling through a vally surrounded by mountains and huge, clear blue lakes, mountainside towns and the high, snow peaked Alps. Immeasurably enormous bright green mountainsides that descend soaringly and plunge into sky blue lagoons of unworldly stretches of silently still water. Along with the colourful mountain towns, forests and fast waterfalls interject the descents. I don't mean to get too 'travelly' here but this place really is something else, one of the most breath taking and beautiful things that we've ever seen.
We pressed on through a series of sluggish, tailbacked areas consumed by holiday makers heading south; aparently every Swiss family had the same idea on the same day. During one of the hold ups we came across a trail of Thespian-esq 20 somthing's dressed in some kind of strange medieval costumes, walking by the side of the road handing out fruit to the trawling motorists. Pete and The Holt accepted a couple of apples and a pear. The apples were rotten and the pear looked like it had been stored under someone's arm pit for the past few days. Traffic picked up and we entered a mountain pass tunnel which must have ran for about 20 miles, as Pete exclaimed "it's like driving through the bawls of the earth, and about as hot", again it got seriously sweaty and uncomfortable down there.
We arrived in Chiasso. Chiasso is a Swiss/Italian boarder, hillside city in the Mendrisiotto region. Again, we're quite high up here and the humidity is really kicking off. It's not surprising it's so tremendously green around these parts. On route to the venue in the city, guided by the Nav, we're met with a road leading under a bridge that looks like it would struggle to fit a mobility scooter underneath, never mind 3 metres of van. We spin round and take the other route to the gig out of the city, up some fairly steep inclines by Pat's estimation - in fact, they were that steep I'm not sure how they managed to lay the tarmac - back down again and arrived at the venue. This in all took about 30 minutes of physical time and about 3 years off each of our lives. The bridge that we couldn't get under was about 50 yards from the venue. About 100 yards in the opposite direction was the Italian boarder. It's quite a bizarre and unnerving feeling that you get from the sight of 3 extremely casual, almost lazy looking police officers stood around smoking cigarettes with Sub-machine guns clipped to their belts. The gig was another outdoor festival affair in the grounds of a venue. At the entrance to the site we passed the the main outdoor bar which had an oversized Carlsberg fascia proudly presented on the front of it - we couldn't surely have driven all this way to be greeted with pale, warm piss!. Thankfully it was not the case.
The gig was a one day festival of which we were headlining. There was a cross section of bands on the bill, indie bands, punk bands, metal bands and one operatic rock band, which for once actually kind of works in Italian. Topping it off though had to be the French band that played the slot before us, an up-tempo blues band called 'Les Wayfarers'. They rattled and snarled their brand of raucous, sweaty, amped-up, biting blues into a frenzy of driven ferocity, rasping guitars and a pounding rhythms, leaving a previously somewhat tamer audience ready to beat the humidity. Real Dr. Feelgood / Nine Below Zero kind of stuff. We got ready. The sound man was not too committal and our line check became a bit of task as he really didn't get the gist of what we wanted. Line checks of this nature are always a tad on the awkward side as it's you, on stage, in front of the audience that you're about to perform to. We usually do this without Pat as not to lose all sense of impact when we actually go on stage and start our set, however it is still a procedure that you want to be wrapped up pretty sharpish. This dragged on and on with feeding back monitors ricochetting around the stage, Pete all the while trying to do his best to communicate our needs, but realistically he might as well have just taken a piss on the desk for the amount of attention the guy was paying. So we fucked it off and started the show. Surprise, surprise, a wall of noise; very little bass, even less vocal, the sampler just wasn't their, enough guitar to drown out an orchestra and I think the drums were OK... apart from the kick drum obviously, this is always the first thing to go, I think he must have ripped the fader off this channel, ragging it downwards when it's presence scared the shit out of him in the opening few bars. Verbal threats from Pete and lyrical interspersions of 'wake up Mr sound man' and 'do you're fucking job mate' during the opening numbers from Pat and it managed to become something near a mediocre mix.
Post gig and it was time to sink a few. We had our own beer kegs with pumps in the back stage area which housed a stupidly drinkable, exceptionally smooth, cold lager that slid down with ease. This was quite similar to the Veltins that me and Jolt got mullered on in Bad Nenndorf a few weeks previous, and the best since. We polished a few of these off with our new friends from Les Wayfarers and basically tried to dry out after the moister than moist gig. At the merch stand I was exercising my usual retail interaction along with Geoffrey, the bass player from Les Wayfarers; I don't know why but it's always Bass players. Kepple wandered over and we converted the prices into Swiss Francs - Me: "how much are we gonna sell these albums for?", Kepple: "10 Francs?", Me: "15 Francs", Geoffrey: "you're in Switzerland, 20 Francs!", so we took heed and made up our margins.
A couple of hours went by and me, Jolt and Pat found ourselves inside the venue. The venue was of moderate size with a stage at one end of the main open portion of the room, had a kind of traditional, tavern style feel to it with big, heavy oak tables, stone floors and various offshoot nooks an crannies. By this point the general festivities had moved inside from out and we carried on drinking at the bar with Les Wayfarers and made friends with the punters. We also got to know Los Infernos, a Mexican band that had played earlier on. These guys cracked open the tequila and insisted that we drink with them and try to match them drink for drink, professing that the English are supposed to be the hardest drinkers in the world and that we had to keep up the illusion; on the next days reflection I am absolutely certain that this isn't the case. The occasion seemed to be really heating up by now as the full bar was glowing with sweat and swaying. There was a group of us stood at one end of the bar and various others lining the front of it, to which by now the staff were just pouring, emptying in fact, bottles of spirits directly into our open mouths, gliding along the bar as they did it. At one point me and Jolt, managed to start off bar room shout-along of 500 miles, by The Proclaimers, that had faintly reared from the duke box somewhere in the distance, and every pissed up bastard in there joined in. Someone then tried to follow this up with Don't Stop Me Now by Queen, which impressively ran for about a minute before I think it's meter and lyrical flow became a little too much for the rooms seriously waning vocal control. More Whiskey, Rum, Beer and Tequila followed and it's around here that things get really hazy. At one point people were dancing on the bar and I got up to join them, falling directly off only seconds later and landing on a barman, which was lucky really as it was him or a bunch of beer glasses behind him. Apparently he caught me and I resided in his arms in a kind of a fireman's lift for a moment before he placed me upright and walked me back around the other side of the bar. At least I'll know where to go if the going ever gets tough in south west Switzerland for me again - my knight in shinning armour.
The next day proved a very weary experience indeed. I woke up fully clothed on top of the bed to an empty room with the door wide open; I was sharing with Pat and Jolt and I think they'd already exited. Still absolutely battered I stood up, shoved my face under a blasting cold water tap in the bathroom, picked up my bag and fled to the foyer. The rest of the band were lingering around in various places - Jody had gone to check on the van, Pete was getting to know the female receptionist and Titch seemed to be touching up on his Italian and Romansh over at one of the leaflet stands - if music doesn't work out for him, he's now gunning for a job with the Swiss tourist board. We gathered in the outdoor dinning area, sank a coffee, which did absolutely nothing to appease mine, Jolts and Pats still apparent drunkenness, and opted for Freiburg. The same serene journey as yesterday conducted us to southern Germany, and the same weather highlighted its amazing scenes. At one point we stopped at a service station, one of those real family orientated ones where it almost feels like people go to have a specific day out, I bought some ham, cheese and bread and it came to 20 Euros. I then said to the cashier 'I'll pay in Swiss Francs' and it came to the equivalent of 25 Euros. I tried to argue at what on earth was happening here but failing to decipher which of the possible 4 languages she was speaking, I accepted this daylight buggering and got back in the van - we had found Switzerland's catch.
We arrived in Frieburg. Gaststatte Walfisch was the gig, a really chilled out bar venue that suited this full scale hangover Sunday perfectly. We arrived mid afternoon so we had a bit of time to kill, with which we just lounged around in the beer garden drinking coffee. We managed to put in a detailed sound check and tried out some new tracks and ideas that we'd been messing around with. This was a really well equipped place as far as sound goes and never more prevalent than in Pat's lengthy geeking out session with the owner / sound man over his preferred choice of mics. Jody even joined in too. It came to show time and the hangovers were passing briskly by now, or at least we were almost fully sober. The on stage sound was near on perfect, one of the best we've ever had, monitors were just effortlessly delivering exactly what we needed with clarity, pretty much the polar opposite to the previous night. The front of house sound was equally as good, really crisp and clear, I'm assuming this guy had ran the place for years and just knew the room inside out, literally, that thrown in with not scrimping on his gear. We put in a good performance. During the show we had a group of guys wearing some kind of traditional German dress down at the front, kind of laderhosens but with trousers. They struck up some strange dance which looked like it would have been more suited to an ABBA gig in the 70's, tried to syncopate it and failed. After the show we got the van loaded pronto, cashed in all of our beer tokens, filled the bunk with a choice selection of the finest local brews and embarked on Dunkirk. This was around 1am. We arrived home at 6pm the following evening.