Silent Front – France & Spain Tour Diary
The BBC Website:
“Cross-Channel ferry passengers face major travel disruption over Easter due to a strike by French port control officers in a dispute over pay.
P&O Ferries has warned the action, due to start at 07:00 GMT on Thursday and end 24-hours later on Good Friday, is likely to lead to long delays to sailings to most French ports. Calais, Dunkirk, Dieppe and Cherbourg are all likely to be affected.”
We were travelling on the Thursday; We were going on P&O Ferries; We were going to Calais; We were potentially fucked.
Thursday 28th March 2013
Centrale Culture Libertie.
Tour had been planned months in advance, and as part of those plans, we had planned on not having to get out of bed too early on the first morning. With the French port police threatening to go on strike, we had to be up early to find out if the strike was still going ahead. On the assumption that some ferries would still be crossing, the idea was to get to Dover early and see if we could
blag onto an earlier one. I woke up at 07:00 and turned on BBC Breakfast with the hope that Bill Turnbull and Susanna Reid would have some good news. Instead I found Louise Minchin and Charlie Stayt banging on about the minimum price of alcohol.
Silent Front getting to Lille on time wasn't a major concern for the BBC, so we sat and waited for P&O to text Gareth. The text came and everything was going to be fine; the minimum price of alcohol bill looked unlikely due to politicians fear of a public backlash, and the French port strike was off.
We loaded our van with the gear, checked we had our passports and European power adapters, and made sure we had enough records and t-shirts to sell at the shows, then locked our front door and asked our neighbour to keep an eye on the house while we were away. I wasn't actually that bothered because all my valuable possessions were now in the back of the van and would be coming with me. Light drizzle fell on the van all the way to the port in Dover, and I prayed that at
some point during the tour, I'd get to wear the shorts I'd brought along.
We made it into Lille by 17:30 and found a parking space outside the venue entrance. We hadn't been waiting for very long when David [promoter] showed up. The last time I saw David he was screaming while having bits of his hair shaved off with a pair of clippers that were attached to a contact microphone. It was part of the performance of his band Toys Are Noise, whom we had played with in Caen a year earlier. It might sound terribly “arty”, but I can assure you that it was properly mint. David showed us inside and we had a look around. The gig was taking place in the cellar and had a stage hidden around a corner. We opted to play on the floor and use the stage to put equipment, and if necessary, some of the crowd. The ground floor had an anarchist book shop, a kitchen, and a toilet that you had to flush with a bucket of water. We had a look around the
bookshop but everything was written in French. David had made ratatouille with couscous, and we sat down with the other bands [Bute and Morojgovany's Dynasty]. I thought the food tasted great, but judging by the volumes of salt the other bands were adding, I'm not sure they agreed.
There wasn't a rush to get things started and we were told that it would kick off at 22:00. We had plenty of time to kill so we hung about at the unmanned bar helping ourselves to the Leffe and Stella Artois. When 22:00 came, Morojgovany's Dynasty started playing. They are one of those hardcore/violence bands with song names like: Cum, Nihilism, Saliva etc. There wasn't much of a crowd to see them, but they would later get the chance to play again. When it was our turn the
venue had filled up and people were sitting on the stage. It was pretty much a perfect beginning to the tour. We got to play a forty five minute set, the crowd were dancing, and during Confiance (our less noisy song), a women from the crowd shouted “Merci!”. And we got an encore. Bute were up next. They consisted of a guitarist, drum machine, and a singer singing through a megaphone. They were a crust/fast-core/power-violence type band. Good lads, but really not my type of thing.
When they had finished we thought the show was over, but while we were at the merch table selling our stuff, we noticed Morojgovany's Dynasty setting up. David had let them go again because most of the crowd turned up after they had finished. They played half of their set and when they had played their last note, we thought it was definitely over. A few drunk members of the crowd started shouting “Silent Front!, Silent Front!” and David came and asked us if we'd like to play again. We fully obliged, and played three of the songs that didn't fit into our forty five minute set.
The show was definitely over this time and we got back to the Leffe and meeting and chatting to the great people of Lille. We met an English lass called Yasmin who was from Rainham in Essex and was working in a school teaching English. She sounded and looked a lot like our friend Charlie Wyatt, and even pulled the same faces. Had you told me that it was his sister, I would have believed you. Other doppelgängers on show were Bradley Sargent from The Black Heart Orchestra who was the singer in Bute, and Ian O'Callaghan from Slugbait who had been playing
guitar in Bute.
We had planned on sleeping in the library but a couple of girls said that we could stay at their place with Morojgovany's Dynasty as they were having a party. We told David and he gave us a crate of Leffe to take with us. We offered him money but he refused to take it. The walk took about fifteen minutes and Yasmin came with us. She had to be up early because she had work, but the lure of
speaking English to English speakers and being able to chat about QI over ruled any worries of being tired and hungover. We stayed up way past our bedtime, and as the oldest person in the room, I fought hard against falling asleep on the sofa where I was sitting. I held out, but eventually failed.
Friday 29th March 2013
I was the first to wake (It's an age thing. Ask your grandmother), and after half an hour of staring out of a kitchen window, Miriam [it was her flat] joined me and made some coffee and offered me some bastard bread. Miriam told me that the word bastard meant something different in French, and is used as derogatory term for people that are mixed race - like half cast. The bread got its name because it is a mixture of two different grains. [I have since researched it, and it actually means the same in French as it does in English. But hey, lets not let the truth get in the way of a good anecdote.] The smell of coffee must have reached the noses of the sleeping masses and eventually everyone was up and ready to head back to the Centrale Culture Libertie to collect the gear. We thought Miriam was coming with us and we left the flat without saying goodbye. We did get to say goodbye to David, who was waiting at the CCL for us, and once the van was loaded, we set off for Caen.
It cost us a lot of money getting from Lille to Caen due to the tolls, which is one of the downsides of touring in France. On the plus side we got to travel over two amazing bridges. One was the Pont de Normandie bridge which crossed the River Seine Estuary, which, from a distance, looked a bit like the QE2 bridge that links Essex and Kent. It was once the worlds longest cable stayed bridge, measuring a whopping 2km in length. The other was close to the Pont de Normandie bridge and crossed the Grand Canal du Havre. It was less impressive, but still managed to impress us.
We arrived in Caen and found ourselves in an industrial area. The sat nav was telling us that we were in the right place, but we weren't sure that it was telling us the truth. It was raining and daylight was starting to fade. Everything was grey and it all looked very bleak. The Femmes de la Nuit [prostitutes] weren't doing much for our confidence either. The common thing for prostitutes in France is to park on the side of the road and “trade” in a van. They put candles on the dashboard to let customers know if they are available or not. I'm not sure how it works, but they have two candles. My guess is that one lit candle means that they are busy, and two means that they are not. We continued anxiously along the dim roads and arrived at our destination a little confused. It didn't look like a venue, and there wasn't a sign to indicate that it was. We were outside of a desolate load out area of an industrial warehouse. Gareth tried to phone Pascal [promoter] while I went inside to scope it out. Phil followed and we had a look around. It was completely deserted, and when we called out, no one answered. We climbed a set of stairs and called out again. There was total silence so we turned around and went back to tell Gareth. On the way back Phil decided that he couldn't wait any longer and was determined to use the toilet. It was a risky manoeuvre, but one which he was willing to take. Being caught trespassing is one thing, but being caught taking a shit while trespassing is another. I left Phil and went to keep watch at the entrance. As I was explaining to Gareth where Phil was, Pascal turned up in his car. I thought about letting Phil know that he didn't need to worry any more because we were at the correct place, but I decided that it would be funnier to allow him to think otherwise. We helped Pascal carry the PA into the venue, and as we climbed the stairs, we could hear loud music.
“It wasn't like this two minutes ago” I insisted to Gareth.
As we entered the huge doors, the sound of blues got louder. In the corner there were two men in matching white, visor-less crash helmets with a thick black stripe down the centre. They both had guitars and one was singing through a microphone that had been slightly distorted. They were both operating the drums too. One had the snare connected to a pedal, and the other one was playing the bass drum and the hi-hat. The helmets were for playing the cymbals. They were grinning at us as we put the PA down which made it all the more surreal, very David Lynch. The room was large and had a kitchen built in. There was a door at the far end, which I assume contained a bedroom and a bathroom. The building was once a refrigeration unit but was now someone's home. I met the guy that lives there, but I don't recall his name. Action Beat arrived, loaded in the ton of gear they had, then started to set up. I'm not sure what it was, but they tried to plug something into the mains and caused a power cut. We were plunged into near-total darkness, and all you could see was the glow of burning cigarettes. Suddenly, without any warning, the crash helmet lads started to play. They had a saxophone this time around, and they sounded fantastic. I would have been quite happy to sit in the dark and listen to them for the rest of the evening, but after about fifteen minutes, the lights came back on. Two minutes later, the same member of Action Beat plugged the same thing back into the mains. We were once again plunged into darkness.
“Yep, it's definitely that.”
The crash helmet lads started again.
First up were Mons Meg. (They were the first of the Action Beat bands. Action Beat had four other projects on tour with them, all of which using different members of Action Beat.) They played a set of dark noise which groaned over pulsating drum beats. Once they had finished, the crash helmet lads played (their real name is We Shot The Drummer). They were tucked away in a corner and would play between each band to save time and keep the music going. Next up was The Sense of Adventure Tape Deck Orchestra. This consisted of one man with a load of tape decks, a keyboard, a snare, and some toy instruments. He put the tapes on and played along using loops and different instruments. The tape recordings would sing along, and it all built up to a very triumphant, blithesome conclusion. The third band of the evening (not including We Shot The Drummer) were Bad Body. Again, it was dark noise, but this time had some very bleak spoken word over the top. The last of the Action Beat lot were The Crease. It's quite difficult to describe these, and I don't know where to start, and as I've done such a crap job at describing the other bands I'm not going to attempt it. Research them yourself. We played next. The room had been full of people all night, and they were very receptive and appeared to be enjoying themselves. It's always nice to be part of such a great occasion. The last band of the evening was Action Beat. They were made up of two drummers, three guitarists, a baritone guitarist, and a bass player. We had heard of Action Beat but had never heard their music. They were incredible, a sort of upbeat Glenn Branca. Funnily enough, Gareth and I had been speaking about our love of Glenn Branca's The Ascension on the journey from Lille to Caen. What is even weirder is that I spent a few minutes wondering how I could get hold of it on vinyl, and when I looked at the Action Beat merch table, it was there, on vinyl!
We spent the rest of the evening chatting to Action Beat, who are all very nice chaps. They are from from Bletchley (which isn't in Milton Keynes) and they know a lot of the same people that we know around the UK. Eventually Pascal came over and told us that the two lasses we were staying with were leaving. We quickly gathered our gear, wished Action Beat all the best until we saw them in Barcelona, thanked everyone that needed thanking, then followed the two lasses to their house in the countryside.
Saturday 30th March 2013
When offered a cup of tea in the morning they didn't ask us what flavour we wanted, and better still, the tea they were brewing wasn't Lipton, it was Yorkshire Tea. They offered us some home made bread with a selection of local jams and marmalades and delicious butter made with rock salt. It gets better. As I finished my first slice I spied a large jar of Marmite in the corner. My only regret was that this wasn't happening around the mid point of the tour; the point in which I would start to crave home comforts. The two lasses went into town and told us to shut the door behind us if they weren't back in time. Again, I have forgotten their names. I really should have written them down, or made an extra special effort to remember them. It was sunny outside but there was a bitter wind. It wasn't hot enough to be wearing my shorts yet, but I hoped that it would only get warmer from here on in. I needed it to; I had split my jeans down the crotch on the very first night during a jumping competition from the floor to the stage with Phil and Gareth. I was already wearing my back up trousers, and, including the travelling days at the end, there were thirteen days left. The girls weren't back from town when we decided to head off so we wrote them a note thanking them for their hospitality and the Marmite and Yorkshire tea. However, just as we were comfortable in the van and about to set off, the girls returned. We got back out of the van and said a proper thank you, leaving out the bit about the Marmite and the Yorkshire Tea.
We stopped off at a supermarket for some food for the journey to Rennes and all bought a salad. I'd usually buy a wheel of Camembert and a baguette, but my experience of France, and the ever increasing need to watch what I eat has taught me that salad is a great idea. And most promoters will provide a wheel of Camembert and a baguette anyway.
It was still sunny by the time we reached Rennes. We parked up outside the venue, said hello to Regis [promoter], unloaded our gear, then tucked into the bread and the wheel of Camembert that had been put on the stage for us. We noticed a sound limiter, which got us worried. Pushing the amps isn't necessarily about volume, it helps with the feeling of the sound too, and when you are asked to turn the amps down you lose that. We tend to be very loud because of this, and the limiter kept going into the red. Thankfully during sound check the sound man ignored it. We had a guest appearance during sound check too. Some drunken wally got up on to the stage and started doing his best Tom Waits impersonation into the microphone. Phil was sorting something out, so Gareth and I played and he sang along. His English wasn't very good, but it was his chosen language for this performance. The only words he knew, and the only words he said were “made of more”, which I later noticed was the blurb on the St. Arthur Guinness Day adverts that were hanging around the pub. He was eventually persuaded to leave the stage, and then told to go home by a member of staff.
We went for a walk into the town centre to have a look around and found ourselves down some narrow, cobbled lanes lined either side with 16th century timber framed houses. Some of it had recently been devastated by fire and a big renovation project was under way. We visited Place Sainte-Anne, a biggish square that had a carousel, bars and the rather large Saint-Aubin-en-Notre-Dame-de-Bonne-Nouvelle. We then did a big loop around the block until we were back where we had started. Rennes is an extremely beautiful place, and I gather from the age of its buildings that it must have a rich and extensive history.
We had been told that if we wanted a beer we could ask at the bar and they'd sort us out. Phil and I both ordered a Guinness, which turned out to be a pint of Kilkenny red. Phil said he'd seen the guy pour it from the Guinness tap. Because it was free and we are far too polite we didn't say anything. Later on in the night I ordered a Kilkenny in the hope that it would be a Guinness but it didn't work.
The first band were called Fevrier, consisting of a guitarist and a vocalist. I have very little knowledge of this style of music so I can only compare them with what I do know, which is The Throwing Muses. This may be entirely because the vocalist was female and the songs were delicate and charming. ChooChooShoeShoot (hearing the band say their own name has lead me to believe that the idea is to say it in under a second) have a sound that I do have subject knowledge of. ChooChooShoeShoot are part of the genre known as “Proper Mint”. They are angular rock, with throbbing bass lines and an excellent female vocal delivery. Uzeda would be the most obvious comparison; Uzeda with less groove and more punch, mixed with the best bits of the Fall. We got to play most of our set and did A Few More Moths as an encore. For the past year we hadn't played much from the album Dead Lake, so just before tour we practised three of the songs and put them into the set. We kept Moths back for the encore. In France, encores happen all the time, which is why we planned it. The silly thing is, when we get asked to do one, we act surprised! During the song Confiance, which I mentioned earlier, a few members of the audience tried to start a slow clap along. Thankfully it didn't gather any momentum! The crowd were immense though, and we had a super fun night.
Someone came up after the show to let me know that, despite liking our music, he wasn't impressed with my t-shirt. As a massive fan of the awesome, socially aware 90s pop duo Carter USM, I was wearing their 1992 The Love Album t-shirt which has the European Union flag on it. He told me that he liked Nigel Farage [UKIP] and said that if that made him a fascist, then so be it. I put forward a half-arsed reason for being pro European and we left it at that. Despite his political beliefs, he seemed like a nice enough chap. We met some lovely people that night, and when the bar closed we went back to Regis' house.
We crammed seven people into the van, made friends at a set of traffic lights with another crammed car belting out techno, and arrived at Regis' in a cheery mood. Most of ChooChooShoeShoot and many of Regis' friends also came back. Our friend Paul, whom we know from playing in Dublin, came too. He had spent the past year living in Rennes. There wasn't a shortage of beer and we kept on being asked if we'd like to try the local spirits, which all tasted like mead. When everyone decided to call it a night we were shown to our room. It was bright pink and full of children's books and toys. Manou [Regis' wife] offered Gareth the Peppa Pig book to read before bed but he declined. Gareth prefers audio books because his mind wanders and he finds himself re-reading pages to see what happened.
Sunday 31st March 2013
La Cantine de Belleville
The children in the house had been allowed downstairs again, and when we emerged from the pink room the house had been tidied and looked like a family home once more. Regis and Manou were there to greet us and introduced us to their children. It was a sunny day outside and I flirted with the possibility of wearing my shorts. As there were children present I decided against unleashing my hairy, pale-white legs and decided to wait a couple of hours to see if the weather held out. Regis cooked us some black wheat pancakes and filled them with egg, cheese and ham, and Manou made us coffee and offered us some fruit juice. Just before we left we gathered everyone up, including Philippe [ChooChooShoeShoot] and his wife and kids, and had a big family photo together. Everyone in the house came outside to wave us off on our journey to Paris, and just before we hit the motorway, we stopped at a supermarket where I invested in some tabasco.
We listened to the audio version of World War Zed all the way to Paris and turned it off as we hit the overcrowded mayhem of the Parisian streets. La Cantine de Belleville is in an up and coming area that was once occupied by the ethnic minorities. It still is, but the young trendy types have moved in too, to live their bohemian fantasies, pushing up the housing prices and creating hip hangouts such as La Cantine de Belleville. You could tell that it was trendy because no two pieces of furniture matched. We were in Paris' equivalent to Shoreditch. We had arrived before Victor [promoter] so Gareth went inside to ask about loading in. The bar worker rudely told Gareth that he couldn't speak English so we waited outside down a narrow road, partially obstructing other vehicles trying to get past. Down a small lane to our right was a bar that had been playing a football match, and as the full time whistle blew, the bar emptied into the alleyway and the crowd started letting off bangers. I took my Arsenal scarf off the dashboard and cowardly put it into the glove box just in case. In retrospect I should have put it on and joined them. With Arsenal's French connection they may have put me onto their shoulders and carried me around, chanting my name like some sort of hero.
We played downstairs in the man-made cavern which I imagine was intended to be a storage space as the beer barrels were down there in a room behind the stage. Electricity was in short supply and everything was running off of one plug socket. Henchmen and Made In Canada were great bands, but Made In Canada had some technical issues and had to cut their set short. The room wasn't a bad size, and plenty of people came to watch. Phil had problems with the shape of the room as the ceiling was arched over the stage, meaning that he had to lean slightly to his left to avoid scraping himself on the sharp brick wall. During our set the rude bar worker came down to change a beer barrel, which was behind the stage and the drum kit. As he returned from the room he was carrying some beer bottles and was clearly struggling. He needed Gareth's help and asked Gareth to move something out of his way. Gareth just shrugged his shoulders and said that he couldn't speak French! Despite my tendency to focus on the negatives of La Cantine de Belleville over the last two paragraphs, the gig was actually very good, and we got to play two encores. Paris has always welcomed us and we've played there more times than any other city with the exception of London and Leeds, though Leeds and Paris are very close [Leeds 16, Paris 15].
Because of the amount of times we've played in France we have accumulated lots of very good friends. We hung about with them upstairs in the rambunctious café area and learned that Rejuvenation records are expecting a baby [Agnes and Greg] and saw two friends who hadn't been on speaking terms, speak to each other for the first time in a couple of years. It was a wonderful evening, but the beer started to get the better of me.
I was tired by the time we left La Cantine de Belleville and my mood had declined into a foul, hwinsian mess. Phil and Gareth bore the brunt of this when we tried to buy some food from a night shop in Montreuil on the way to our friends house.
“Five quid for a shit sandwich!” etcetera.
Phil and Gareth did buy one and both confirmed that it was indeed a shit sandwich. My mood improved when we got back to the house we were staying at. Our friend Alex and his girlfriend had offered to put us up for the night, where we enjoyed some more beer and their good company.
Monday 1st April 2013
Up until this point I had been cleaning myself with strawberry scented, Hello Kitty! Baby wipes. The tour stars had aligned; time was on our side and the shower was spraying out hot water. It might sound very simple, but on tour these things rarely happen at the same time.
We left Montreuil at around 13:00 and arrived in Metz just after 18:00. Phil had slept for the whole journey and didn't even wake up when we stopped at a service station. The two previous times we had been to Metz, the road that the Coco Cabana is on had been having major roadworks. Over a year on and the roadworks were still taking place. The improvements were evident this time and it was clear what they were doing; they were building a new tram system and they had cut the busy road down to one lane to incorporate it. We unloaded the van while parked on the pavement, and carried our gear down the steps into the vast cellar. The Coco Cabana had also made changes since we were last there and had fitted blue lights in all the rooms, which rather than looking hip, made it look like some sort of cyber goth hangout.
Entry – Hip:
Part of Speech: adjective
Definition: fashionable, stylish
Synonyms: all the rage, chic, chichi, contemporary, cool, current, faddy, hot, in style,
in vogue, in-thing, latest, latest thing, mismatched furniture, mod, modern, modish, natty, new, now, popular, smart, sophisticated, trendy, with it
Antonyms: cyber goth
The other new thing in the Coco Cabana was the smoking room. It was still clean inside and had a slight draft from the necessary ventilation shaft. I know smoking is filthy and I'll regret it when I'm struggling for breath on my death bed with my weeping children by my side, but, full marks to the French.
We played with three other bands that night; The Heartbeat Parade, Hungry For The Truth, and Aleska, which, though not really my thing, gave a good account of themselves despite the noisy room and failing PA system. We used Gareth's amp for the vocals during our set which we had brought along to amplify the bass drum in case the sound person didn't do it. With the amount of high mids we like to blast at people's ears, the unforgiving shape, and the reflective surfaces, the room sound was a little too bright. Contrary to this, the show was excellent. We played a slightly shorter set than the previous nights because the other bands over ran, and we ended our set with A Few More Moths as the encore.
As far as compliments go, I particularly enjoyed this one which was said to us by a guy that told me that he'd liked the sound of the bass:
“I look at the bass and I thought – it's not the bass. Then I look at the amp – no, it's not the amp. Then I look at the man – yes, it's the man!”
I enjoyed this for a few moments before rejoining the disappointing reality that it is in actual fact the amp and the bass.
It dawned on us while we were at the merch table that we may run out of records. We hadn't expected to sell as many over the twelve dates and definitely didn't expect to sell as many after five, and we didn't even have t-shirts to fall back on; we had left the spare box of t-shirts on the dining room table* in our house. It wasn't a bad situation to be in, but it was slightly frustrating. We packed away our gear into the van with a little help from our friend Thomas [Le Singe Blanc]. He had just got back from a tour and came down to the show after it had finished to say hi. We had played with Le Singe Blanc in Metz on a previous tour and he put us up for the night and provided us with some class A hospitality**. Jo [promoter] hadn't known that Thomas would be about and had booked us a night at the nearest F1 Motel. We have gone on record before to say how much we like F1 Motels, and when we heard the news we were delighted. We dropped Thomas home via the beautiful, narrow cobbled lanes in the historic part of Metz. Thomas invited us around to his house in the morning for breakfast, then answered our pleas for the whereabouts of the nearest kebab shop. We each bought a kebab et frites and the guy inside the kebab shop asked us if we were Americans. There were two people in there [the chef and his mate who was sat at a table watching the television] and they were both very friendly.
We made ourselves comfortable when we got to the F1 Motel, cracked open a beer, and watched some French television. We watched the ending of a serious drama about terrorism, which ended with one chap driving his car, laden with explosives, into the American Embassy while his mate in another car chickened out at the last minute and ran for his life. This show was followed by a comedy about a bank robbery. It looked funny, but I only understood the words: Salut, Au Revoir, Oui, Non, Confiance, and Merde Alors.
*it's an extender.
**that's not a euphemism for hard drugs.
The story of the rest of the tour will conclude next week.