Day Two (cont) A Night Of Rock!   Leave a comment

OK, I know I’ve been wandering round Berlin all day quivering like paranoid English jelly, but cometh the ROCKING HOUR destiny goes pssst! and I suddenly know what I’m all about again and slip into a PRO-GROOVE. However, Nathan and I arrive at the Schokoladen venue to find that the door staff and management team are unaware of my late addition to the bill, the Um phenomenon in general, and indeed my specific physical existence. Happily we are able to overcome this via sheer force of personality, i.e. Nathan.
A band is soundchecking. The leader of the band, who is also the promoter, knows what he wants but he isn’t getting it. The soundman knows what he wants too. He wants to kill the band bloke. A lot more soundchecking goes on and a lot of tense energy fills the room like evil smoke in a Chinese ghost story. I sit quietly and wonder when the best time is to announce my presence to the uber-livid sound boy. There isn’t a best time. Scenarios involving me telling disgruntled engineers that I represent a fourth and previously unmentioned act on a fit-to-burst bill of entertainment are not new to me, and I can be very diplomatic when I want to get my own way, but when I broke the news to him I swear that he almost snapped his mixing desk in half with unbridled rage. He was a psycho-bunny: not happy. I began earnestly to say soothing stuff along the lines of: This is a cosmic injustice. You are a good and true spirit whose pure intentions are thwarted by numberless fools and cunts and savage combinations of the two. I of all people feel your pain along with you, and I will share your burden, if you just do me this one last thing, which is to plug these two jack leads in those little holes. He breaks down into shaking sobs as I hug him to me like a child. Then I go off and enquire about free beer, which also seems to work. I’m on a roll. At this point Nathan leaves to fetch Dallas Boner from the airport, so I mingle with some local hepcats (we talk about the pressures of tour life) and the free beer mingles with my cold-blooded red blood.
And then, even though I’m only doing a few tunes between the other bands, and I’m standing in the crowd in front of the stage, and there are a few problems with microphone leads, I manage to tear the roof off the sucker, albeit in my own quiet, humble way. People are grinning at the skinny man in the brown suit. Life is beautiful. I must be in Europe. Nathan’s flatmate and her friends have come along too, and it feels good to show them that I am not just a guy who has hangovers in kitchens while Nathan eats all that stuff I might have mentioned a couple of times.
Now the two German bands weren’t too shabby by any means, but The Chap were fucking awesome. When I saw them at Hugo’s Speaker Palace (now no more, or so I hear) they were a lot looser and a lot tighter than I’d seen them before, which is what you want really, but here they were like an unstoppable art-pop hovercraft without any brakes, and the crowd seemed to know it too. Classic rock spectacles such as Iggy and the peanut butter, Carlos Santana peaking on mescaline at Woodstock, or the bit where Hendrix’s fingers seem to fly off his hands during Machine Gun at The Fillmore, must all now rank alongside that of Claire grinning and dancing and rocking to the beat like an English teacher unleashed. Obviously I’m taking the mickey here, but I am sincere when I say that this sight is both life-affirming and groovy. I like it when people have fun onstage. Why the fuck not? Anyway, The Chap are so good that when they finish and someone looks at me to see if I’m going to do any more songs I just shrug as though to indicate the general unecessaryness associated with the consideration of that option. All around are Germans staring in wonder at their own bare feet, trying to work out where their socks might have been rocked to.
Then promoter boy DJs lots of incredibly Pete Um-friendly music like Fela Kuti and, astonishingly, Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens. In fact I go up to him and tell him that that is what he’s playing, as if he doesn’t know and there’s been some sort of mistake. Then I get caught up talking to a slightly fey but really rocked-out old English rocker-boy, the type who’s been blasting away at himself for so long that although he’s retained his intelligence and his decency, he’s also got the dignity to never try and pretend that he’s anything other than a spaced-out loon. We talked about Daevid Allen, whose influence he was able to discern in my work. After this I get talking to the Australian manager lady. I think my opening gambit was something like “You’re Australian aren’t you? I could tell from your voice…” She tells me that CRAZY ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MADNESS is dwindling in Berlin, but that for a while after the fall of the wall, the former East was a lawless playground for hungry freaks. It sounded exciting, and I felt nostalgic for something I had never known and possibly wouldn’t have really bothered with. At this point the barmaid remarks that “Elvis is crying,” and it is a second or two before I realize that she is referring to an infant somewhere upstairs in the building who needs attention, and is not making a comment about an underground bohemian scene in decline.
Then Nathan and Dallas Boner, who we will henceforth refer to as Patrick, arrive back from the airport and we all do some confused drinking in a happy manner. Then we go and get kebabs. Actually, if I did grasp anything from my cultural survey of Berlin it was that, along with the beer, kebab shops are very cheap in comparison with our own traditional English kebab shops. The one I had that night was a bit gross but the one I had the next with haloumi was the bomb. Next we cross the road to the bus stop and proceed to wolf the economy food. Also at the bus stop are two slightly girlish and unfledged German youths with long hair, one of whom is draped in a kaftan. They are singing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon unselfconsciously and with a quiet intensity in soft German accents. We push food into our mouths for about five seconds before Nathan turns and snarls “Oh give it a rest, for fuck’s sake!” like the punk he used to think he wished he was, and some food flies out of our mouths again. My memory of this section of the evening is a bit hazy, as can sometimes happen, but as I recall they did stop singing but continued to regard us with a sort of camp disdain, as though utterly unthreatened by our English yobbery. There was also another young bloke there who tried to persuade a female member of our party to try and lift up his rucksack from the pavement, just by way of being friendly it would seem. He was refused, but we nevertheless subsequently discovered that he was trying to draw attention to the fact that he was carrying around a breezeblock in a cheapo lightweight nylon rucksack, for some stupid fucking reason that I never fathomed. It was that kind of time on that kind of night. Finally we caught the tube home, which was the same tube that Turkish cleaners go to work on, and I felt ashamed with my snappy suit and my slooshy eyes. Right, see you in a couple of weeks, most likely.

Posted April 5, 2005 by peteum2013 in Uncategorized

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