Wednesday, April 7, 2010


Nobby and the Impregnators

I started to get a bit excited when I met up with Tommy and Gaz at the bus stop. I’d been busy all morning try to sort out money (I’d just gotten married a week earlier), feeding myself (its apparently not punk rock to eat), and trying to pick which t-shirts to bring (I was heading to places much more punk than me). We got the bus out to the airport and checked in. I must have been a bit nervous because I actually buzzed in the metal detector, ending a streak that went back years. Gaz had a few tins in the terminal and scoffed a few of his home-made sandwiches. We’d had to talk them into letting us take Gary's guitar as carry on, so I didn’t feel like pissing everyone off by drinking in the terminal. And as for the sandwiches, there was no way I was going to start the trip with raw onions and the stink of eggs. The smell going in was bad enough. Gary luckily schmoozed his way onto the plane with his guitar. There was no way he could check it through, the case was in bits. It was held together with shoelaces. Even the shoelaces were tied together with shoelaces.

Rotterdam is a tiny airport, I think it only has two gates and one luggage carousel, so when our luggage didn’t show up, we knew it wasn’t going to. We had no idea what to do. We had no idea where we were staying, the women didn’t speak as good English as I had assumed every Dutch person did, and they were using a computer older than me. The monitor wasn’t even in colour for god’s sake. We had to identify our cases off a poster on the wall. Of course the closest looking case to Tommy’s bass case was an assault rifle case, which with all of the broken English led to even more broken English. I had plenty of confidence. The gear couldn’t just go missing, but Tommy was a bit more stressed. The fact that they couldn’t or wouldn’t call Dublin airport only made matters worse. Nothing we could do, but get on with things.

It took us ages to find a pub. We caught a bus to town, ended up in the financial district and couldn’t figure out where the coffee shops would be hidden. We finally decided to just sit down and have a few beers, calm the nerves and set the bags down. Thank fuck they lost the luggage, we would have been miserable carrying all that gear around. We found a few seats outside, the weather was nice and we all wanted to just do a bit of people watching. Gary grabbed the most expensive beers of the entire tour, 3 Euro a piece for bottle of Tuborg Gold Label. They were gorgeous and ice cold. The bar was actually pretty wild inside. An old man bar, full of very drunk old men at 5 on a Thursday, including a man in a wheelchair who seemed to relish his ability to make sure that it was nearly impossible to get to the jacks.


The train to Utrecht was nice. No one talked much, we just kind of stared out the window at the darkening landscape. Irrigation canals every 50 yards for mile after mile after mile. Utrecht Central Station is enormous. It takes up a large part of the central business district. It’s a giant mall. It didn’t look European, it looked American and even worse, it looked suburban American. I was unimpressed to say the least.

Time for grub and somewhere not-so-neon to eat it. I’d been hearing about the ‘Pebo’ from the lads for ages and there it was. It’s a wall of old fashioned sandwich machines. You put in a Euro, open a hatch and food comes out. Unfortunately, it’s all written in Dutch so I had no idea what I was getting. I got something that looked like a burger and thank god I was absolutely famished. I looked at the cavity that my bite had made in it and it looked like a cocktail of worms and maggots. As I moved the ‘burger’ around to get a better view of what exactly was going on, the street lights made the intestines of my purchase seem to move. My first, second and third reaction was to gag, but I have eaten some funky shit in my life and was able to think rationally in time. As it was hotter than the inside of the sun, I knew it couldn’t be alive. I did have to question who was in charge the day they decided to put chow mien noodles in a burger. It was slightly gross, but I’d paid for it and I was going to eat it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve paid for food and not eaten it. I am a value junky of sorts.

Food out of the way, address in hand, general direction decided and we were off. Once outside of the train station/American shopping mall, Utrecht is a stunningly beautiful city. Canals criss-cross the town and as it was still basically summer, there were open air café’s everywhere. There are maps all over, but they don’t include all the streets and there are no street signs anyways, so they are useless. We followed a street which the map informed us wouldn’t fork; it did and then did again. Finally, after an absolutely stunning walk, I figured it all out and led us right to JW’s gaff. It was on a big square and there were old couples taking dance classes in the middle of it. Very continental and very civilised.

The squat was an enormous 4 story building at the end of it with a 3 story mural of a backbone painted on it. The place was even bigger on the inside. There must have been 30 bikes on ground floor. All sorts. Some had motorcycle tires on em, there were a few choppers, a bunch of the typical Dutch bikes that look like something my Granny would have ridden in the 50’s, and even a couple of those huge ones you always see in postcards of Amsterdam with the giant box on the front you could fit 3 or 4 people into. James’s room was 2 stories up, quite a walk at the time and an absolute hike in the morning to rock a piss. The room was lovely, a couch in one room and a bed in another. New carpets and not a speck of dirt. It didn’t fit the mental picture I’d had of ‘squats’. James is a nice guy, but he could talk for Ireland. We were dying to go to the pub. Finally, he got the picture and suggested that we go to the pub he worked at. Thank fuck!

The pub was a true rock and roll establishment. The clientele was 20's to mid-thirty-somethings, the décor was good, the sounds were great. In Ireland it is almost unheard of to hear good sounds in a pub unless you’ve paid a cover charge. It didn’t take us long to make our table look like a bar table straight out of Dublin. Within an hour or two the three of us had filled it with a crate of empty bottles. The bartender was impressed. We moved to the back room where the music was really pumping. It was a much bigger room with ceilings twice as tall and disco lights a go go. This was the point that I started dancing. Dancing my hole off. Dancing like there was something physically and possibly psychologically wrong with me. I think Gaz was dancing too. Tommy was trading a perfectly good shirt to some guy for a Suicidal Tendencies shirt. (He ended up trading all of his shirts, for a drawer full of crap he wouldn’t want to be seen in in a room on his own.) The bar must have closed because the next thing I knew we were out in the street. Half the reason I drink is for the walk home and this walk didn’t disappoint. It was all narrow lanes and gorgeous buildings back to JW’s. I collapsed against a wall as Gaz and Tommy ordered what looked to be the best Gyros ever assembled. I was holding on for dear life. Then it was back up to JW’s, onto a mattress and out. Day one complete.

Tommy had to go back to Rotterdam to pick up the missing luggage. We all offered to go, but it would be a bit of a waste of money. Tommy volunteered and as much as I knew it was unfair that he had to do it, I wasn’t going to fight him for it. Me, Gaz, and JW spent the afternoon hanging out in Utrecht. Along the canals there were two levels. One at street level with all of the shops and one below that. Along the lower level, on the banks of the canal are walkways about 20 feet wide and lined with houses. Amazing houses at that. It must be the most romantic place on earth to live. The sounds of boats sputtering by, drowning out any noise of the city. We sat along one of these banks on a log that an artist had started to carve into the shape of a naked woman. Boats full of people gently moved along the canals and people often hailed us in Dutch and made comments we couldn’t even begin to understand. Between trips to the jacks and refills on the beer, we wiled away a very warm and sunny afternoon.

We met back up with Tommy and started to get our shit together. This was a tour after all and we were expected to play gigs as well. The squat we were scheduled to play in was well out in the suburbs and we’d have to take a bus there. That turned out to be harder than it sounded. If it hadn’t been for a fellow passenger who actually got off the bus with us and showed us where we were going, we would have never found it.

Gone was the romanticism of Utrecht centre. Out here overpasses ruled the landscape. The cobbled streets were replaced by roads with two lanes in each direction. The squat was obviously an 80’s style office building much like the ones I used to skate around in Oregon. The whole complex was surrounded by a 15 foot tall fence and barbed wire. There were probably a half dozen vans in various states of disrepair littered around the grounds and a few dogs trotting back and forth. This was more of what I thought of when I thought of the word squat. End of the world type stuff. After a few minutes of waiting outside, trying to get someone who knew how to work the electronic gate, someone touched two bare wires together and we were in. The place was cool. Not nice, cool in a post-apocalypse kind of way. There was a big bar on one side of the downstairs room that looked to have been built using firewood and fag ash. We were handed beers immediately, shown the room we were to play in and then ushered upstairs to meet the lads from the Impregnators.

I checked out the kitchen and was then offered food. I am a middle class kid. I’ve worked in restaurants. I’ve passed food safety courses in any number of different towns. Any one of these experiences would have been enough to stop me from eating anything out of that kitchen. If you can’t tell what colour the counter top started as, get take away. This would be a recurring theme throughout the tour and would ensure that I didn’t eat any food that had been sitting out longer than I had or drink any water from a glass handed to me. Most urinals I encountered were actually sinks, so I relied on beer and smoothies for my liquid intake.

First impressions of bands you’ve never seen play are always funny. You spend all your time trying to figure out who does what and don’t actually listen to anyone’s name. Then by the time the band goes on, the guy you thought was the lead singer, is the roadie, the guy you thought was the roadie is the lead guitarist (and already doesn’t like you as a result) and the singer turns out some guy that has been in a different pub all night. The Impregnators all seemed nice enough. A bit excited and loud. It was good to see Pier. A familiar face anyways although I’d never really gotten a chance to talk to him much. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the rest of them. It would be at least a day before I would know anyone else’s name.

I spent the next few hours doing that pacing around you do to avoid talking to anyone for more than a few minutes. I was a bit intimidated, I’ll admit. There is something to be said for being in a band with more than 3 people in it. It gives you more people to talk to for one. The Impregnators were going to do their sound check so we headed down to check it out, might as well see what were in for for the next week and a half. Adam’s drum set had a 26” bass drum, just like John Bonham! Serious gear. It was old and beat up, but you could feel it in your chest from 50 yards when he kicked it. Travelling around Europe with a 26 is like a dream come true. The sound check was impressive. Adam is a hell of a drummer. Loud and confident. He owns the drums. Nobby paced around the place like a boxer psyching himself up for a fight. As soon as the music kicked in he started jumping and running around the empty room. This wasn’t just a sound check, it was a declaration of intent. And it was not lost on us. Tommy, Gaz and I were well impressed. I loved the tour with Fleas and Lice, but I never accepted the music wholeheartedly. At the end of the day, screamy Hardcore is a lot of screaming. The Impregnators were a proper rock band. Together we would be a slammin bill. The sound check put me more at ease. Now I knew where they were coming from and I liked it.

The place started to fill up. We yapped and drank through the opening band. Free beer for the band, sweet. You never get that in Ireland unless you robbed it from the offie and snuck it in. The Impregnators gig was stunning. We were pumped. The beer was going down very easily. It was even easier to lose track of how many we’d had. They finished and we were ready to go. The gauntlet had been thrown down and we were ready to respond. As I grabbed my gear from our sleeping room, I could hear another band tuning up. Some of the residents of the squat wanted to play a few songs and as much as we didn’t like it, there wasn’t much we could do about it without looking like rock stars. They were shite and put a dent in the crowd. Even worse, they gave us all another half hour of drinking we probably didn’t need. By the time we went on, we were well lubricated. Gaz and I kept it tight, Tommy threw the shapes. It was tough.

The crowd loved the gig. The sound was good, it was late and everybody was drunk. The gig was a success, but we’d have to do better next time. The evening went roaring on. I am not sure about what happened next. I know the drinking went on till the sun came up. I wrapped myself tightly in my sleeping bag to try to insulate myself from the filth in the sleeping room and went to sleep.

I woke up to the sound of Gary singing to people in the car park. I don’t know how long I’d been listening, but when I woke up, I knew I’d been hearing him for a long time. His voice still sounded strong, so I couldn’t complain. Tommy was asleep beside me and hadn’t done nearly as good of a job of insulating himself from the filth. I’m sure the dirt wasn’t going to hurt anybody, but all the lads back home joking about scabies weighed on my mind. It took me about 20 minutes to find someone who could let me out of the electronic gates. I did a bit of exploring with that funny hangover head that is really more just still being drunk. I knew it was time to start rounding up the troops and the gear by the time I got back. Gary was still singing, the same song even. Tommy was unwakeable, Adam was missing, he’d left with a lady apparently.

This was my first chance to see the van. The tour posters were plastered on the back windows and inside and featured plenty of tough fonts and skulls. I nearly had to kick Tommy awake, but he eventually got up. We packed up and were sitting around waiting for Adam to return from a mystery girl’s house when Adam calmly walked out of the squat and asked what we were waiting for. The 10 of us piled in and we were off to the next squat, the next gig, the next session.