Europe Endless Part 2

Wednesday 19th.

The instructions were to meet somebody holding an Unsound sign on the platform of Krakow train station. No such sign appeared as I gently floated downstairs in the sea of commuters, exchanging my Euro for Zloty with half an idea of getting a cab to any place which had a horizontal surface of any description. At which point Alice, volunteer wrangler of wandering Australians, caught me, and guided me to my apartment over in the Old Jewish quarter. She told me many things and I nodded at the right places to appear awake.

This fine apartment had several horizontal surfaces which I began to inspect in great detail for an extended period of time. Now, next door to the hotel there began a night of celebration which I can best describe as if Laibach were performing an extended set of Vengaboy covers, mixed with a shock documentary about domestic violence and the truck that picks up all the empty bottles at the pub, except louder. Which I figure is your standard Polish night on the town. This managed to pierce my oblivion about every 4 hours, but defeated each time by sheer exhaustion.

Thursday 20th.

Eggs. This day was for the Artist talk, but time first to visit the Old Town.

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I was most impressed that Krakow has a Starbucks dating back to 14th century.

The Artist Talk was led by a fellow from The Quietus who seemed to treat the experience like an exam nightmare without pants. Then the fine moment where I was introduced and the audience had no idea who the fuck I was or why they should listen. Like most Australian artists I’m pretty expert in being obscure and winning people over with colonial charm, and by the end they had all laughed and seen the game in action so win.

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Alice wanted me to see some of the other acts. I wanted to make a closer examination of the horizontal surface. We compromised on a visit to the nearby Bunkier Cafe, which celebrates the Central European art of chain smoking cigarettes to the point where every surface is covered in soot. We had a long talk about female mystics and Australia and relationships and aging that went on as we walked back through the rain to the apartment, because what better way to follow smoke than with rain if you want to keep your singing voice?

No party that night. Oblivion enveloped.

Friday 21st.

Eggs. Time speeds up. A jackhammer started somewhere above the apartment. Stewart was in the air to Warsaw from New York via Dublin. He was on the train. Alice was somehow to get him from the train station to the hotel and to sound check in half an hour. The Friday traffic was foul and seemed to be as much on the pavements as the street. Somehow we arrived on time at Hotel Forum, built by the communist government just before the collapse of the USSR.

Down in the hall the PA was of a such size that every time Stewart played a bass note he got a foot massage. Apparently it sounded fine out front. To my ears it sounded like a jet aircraft taking off complete with smoke effects. Who were the people there? We will never know as time was already running out…

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Saturday 22nd.

Halfway through the set it became Saturday, and a mad rush to get back to the apartment, wash, pack and leave for Amsterdam at 4am. As we were in the air, bands were still performing at the Forum. But this is a tale for the next installment.

Australian and Alice

Lost Australian, and the ever patient Alice about 1AM at Forum.

Europe Endless Part 1.

Prologue.

Each time I confessed to a promoter that we’d last played their city a neat 30 years ago, you could see their eyes do a little dance, like – had I been sent away for murder? Did I go on a secret mars mission? What in god’s name puts a band back on stage 30 years later? Not a bug, but a feature of contemporary music – the complete collapse of new talent – perhaps faith in new talent, I am no judge. We were not nearly the only bunch of elderly crisscrossing Europe.

It must be said that our last extensive tour of Europe was a debacle. No fault of our own – the fates attacked on every level – sickness, equipment failure, thievery – the toll was awful and I recall trying to entertain 800 people in Zurich alone with TV set for visuals – would you book that twice? No, you would bury that as long as it took to forget.

Only BodyBeats in Antwerp risked the airfares on exclusive appearances, much to our mutual benefit in 2005 and 2011. This time it was Unsound in Krakow that wanted the exclusive, but a change of government funding in Poland meant that we had to find other income. Our recent collaboration with Dark Entries records provided a network of DJ entrepreneurs that were able to take the risk.

The shows grew organically, a bit haphazardly, with no one person in charge of it. From Krakow, we added Amsterdam. Glasgow was keen. Berlin also. Slowly a network of dates came together covering two weekends, with London suddenly wanting a third and Paris very late to the party. At no stage did we have a master plan or even a sense of profit versus loss. It was enough that a second chance had come and surely – surely it couldn’t be anywhere as awful as the first.

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En Route.

The first time a record label brought us to London they used the cheapest fare possible – a Garuda bus that bumped up and down for 36 hours at every plausible refueling point. These days you have a lot more choice and the metric is one of:

Potential of catastrophic death vs. Price vs. Misery.

  • Potential of catastrophic death: Garuda not an option, Aeroflot not really big on my wish list either. You want QANTAS, it doesn’t fall out of the air much. Nor does it fly into war zones like Malaysian.
  • Price: under a grand. Can be done but requires attention to the other metrics.
  • Misery: To get to Europe from Australia you need to hop somewhere near the equator. More hops, more pain. Too fast, miss the plane. Too slow… read below.

I can remember as a small child arriving at Dubai and not being hit by a missile, and found an Emirates/QANTAS flight through Dubai to Warsaw under a grand. That seemed a great idea with only one teeny weeny problem – the connecting flight left 7 hours later.

Seven Hours at Dubai Airport.

The flight from Sydney was in fact the venerable QANTAS QF1 flight to London that has operated as long as I’ve been alive. Probably since Captain Cook. Stuff of legends – so many Australians have hopped on QF1 hoping to make their fortune in the mother country. Not so many in 2016 as I had three seats to myself. Felt smug until I saw the lady next to me had five of them.

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Dubai is alleged to be the busiest international airport in the world, spanning three main centers linked by train, each with four terminals. After 14 hours I arrived at A, not knowing where I would depart. I walked in circles endlessly, a kind of Arabic Ballardian miasma. No place was better than any other – it could be here – it could a kilometer away.

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It turned out to be the gate next to the one by which I arrived. Or an identical gate reached by traversing the infinite bounded space of Dubai airport.

Warsaw.

The 7 hour flight to Warsaw was by Emirates proper, and the announcements made in Arabic. The staff were dressed in the mock Arabic costume you would expect, but spoke excellent Polish – as after all they were all Poles. (This weird costuming reached a pinnacle in Glasgow where a large Scottish lady of advanced years sat behind the counter dressed as if an extra in Aladdin, but I’m ahead of myself here).

At Warsaw a firm lady in military uniform asked me where I was going and seemed to find that amusing, stamp stamp.

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Built wide for ease of access by Soviet tanks.

The young man that guided me to the train station spoke impeccable English with an accent that would have suited a Gentleman’s Outfitter of 1800 and something. That is, it was all rather smashing and I do say old chap. Seems that if you learn English at a university level in Poland you end up with sounding like Lord Haw Haw. He wanted to show me Warsaw. I was extremely grateful but the further we got away from the train station the more visions I had of running frantically down the platform after the departing carriages.

A gift from Stalin. Better like it.

A gift from Stalin. Better like it.

But once prompted he delivered me back to the station on time and pointed at the right platform. ‘Make sure you don’t get on the train to Unpronounceable Destination’ he warned me. The train pulled in. It went to Unpronounceable Destination. But the station sign said Krakow. I asked the guard. He pointed to a carriage. I climbed in. The train departed. I was either going to wake up in Dubai airport or the train was going to end up in Krakow and by this stage, either seemed just as good as the other.