Thursday, July 14, 2011

GGI 2011- Skit Central on the Continent

The first of a two part tour diary in which we played the GGI Fest in Groningen and blew the doors of the Vera. Best fest, best town and best venue in all of Europe possibly the world. This diary is dedicated to Motser of who there will be more information later.
The thing about my house is that it's fucking tiny. If you make a sandwich, the place is destroyed. When you take into consideration that any time a sandwich is made, it's made for my wife and I as well as the two kids, the kitchen looks like we've been robbed by a couple of very messy thieves who have helped themselves to everything we have ever bought. So you get the point, just living in our cramped quarters takes some amount of energy. Energy I am more than happy to expend, don't get me wrong. My family is deadly. Thankfully, the night before the GGI, my wife and kids were all away and I had made an arraignment by telephone with the Chinese lads down the street to exchange euros for meat, rice and sauce for Euros. If they had a service where they dropped the food off on paper plates and stuck a bin beside the couch, I would have gladly taken advantage of it. Anyways, a night of relaxation before the madness was an absolute blessing. I still had to do the radio show, but that'd be a piece of piss compared to a night of parenting. Besides, the Chinese was gorgeous.

I was a bit giddy about the upcoming shenanigans. I didn't really know what to do with myself. I knew what I wanted to do- Jump up and down and scream 'Fuck Yeah!' Instead I stuck a few tunes on the stereo and put together The Loving Room Floor. The radio show turned out a bit odd. I decided to pretend that it was being broadcast live from the jax of the train on the way from Eindhoven to Groningen. I put a track of a crowd and a track of a train underneath all of the vocal links. I even went so far as to stage an extremely short two man play in one of the links involving a fictitious conductor and myself. It was a bit of craic to do anyways although a mong on the couch would have been pretty nice too if I'm honest.

Conzo was staying at my place, not for the free gaff status, but because a taxi from Crumlin to the airport would be the equivalent of his beer budget for the entire weekend. So he gave me a shout just as I was putting the finishing touches on the show to let me know he was on his way. It gave me time to pack- a spare pair each of jocks and socks, a pair of shorts and three sets of drumsticks. He showed up at about 11 and besides a bit of a natter, we both hit the sack post haste. Half 4 was calling.

Gaz was supposed to collect us at 5, having already collected Tommy at 4.45 and then he'd give us a lift to the airport and park in the long term parking at which point we would all walk the few hundred yards from the car park to the terminal. I got a call at 20 past 5 from Tommy to say that he was still waiting on Gaz and as Gaz doesn't believe in carrying a working phone, we had no way to check his status. The flight wasn't until half 7, but me and Conz were dead in the water with no lift and short on time. We just looked at each other and walked out the front door. Regardless of whether everyone else made the plane, we were. The session was calling our names.

It was a beautiful morning and the walk down to the shops was quite peaceful. The kind of walk you get walking home from watching the sunrise after a night on the tiles. We didn't see a soul until we got to the shops and fortunately the very first car was a taxi that picked us up and drove us straight to the airport.

The airport was busy. Well busy. There were people everywhere. I got a call from Tommy; he was waiting outside of Motser's gaff and starting to get stressed. I could tell by his voice that he was still in good form, but I could also tell in his voice that things were not going according to plan. Motser lives 20 minutes in the opposite direction from the airport and Gaz had just realised that the long term parking is a fairly dear taxi ride to the airport and much farther than the airport is from his own gaff. There was still plenty of time, but fingers would want to start being removed if the three of them still wanted to take part in the weekend's activities.

Me and Conz had made it anyways and because we didn't have any bags to check, we had fuck all to worry about. Young Thomas showed up, followed by the New Ross crew who were already looking worse for the wear. They'd left at half 2 in the morning and there'd been a few heads drinking in the back of the van for the drive. Eventually Gaz and the rest of Retarded Cop showed up and set to checking in the guitars. Even though we were definitely on time, I was still a bit stressed that something was going to happen to keep us from making the plane/session. I was just so excited about the weekend that I wouldn't be able to relax until we were physically in Groningen or at the very least on this plane. So I said a quick hello to Gaz and then headed to gate.

It was all very, I don't know… straight. There were 22 GGI heads on the flight, I'd expected it to be a bit like a takeover of sorts. It wasn't. There were just a few people we knew on the flight…and Motser. I suppose that when Gaz was still drinking it felt like we were taking over wherever we were, based purely on the spectacle he would undoubtedly be making of himself. Luckily Motser was willing and more than able to step into that position and give it his own unique flavour. The flight was uneventful in the extreme. You could hear Motser giggling every 12 seconds, but it was rows and rows away. You know when you wake up an hour before you have to and it's nice to know that you still have an hour to lay there? I felt kind of like that about Motser. I could hear that someone was really throwing themselves into the holiday and going mental and I could enjoy that and feel that I was in some way part of that, but I could still close my eyes and relax and not be part of it until I was ready.

Once we got to Eindhoven, it felt more like a takeover. We looked like a lot more people once everyone was standing around the entrance to the airport smoking fags and having a bit of a laugh. One great thing about Holland is that everything works and it works to a schedule, and everything runs according to the schedule, and that even though the schedule is in a foreign language, it's still simple to understand. In other words, getting the bus to town was a piece of piss.

The train station on the other hand was a bit of a disaster. All of a sudden the fact that there were loads of us became a distinct disadvantage. Too many cooks in the skit kitchen as it were. At one point too many train tickets were bought. Everyone wanted something different to eat, the men's toilets and the women's toilets were at opposite ends of the corridor, etc. To add insult to injury, it started lashing rain. The train was a long one and provisions needed to be acquired. Mainly about 6 trays of beer and a bag of crips. As this is Holland, all of the shops needed, were across the street, Tommy and Motser were elected to do the running and in jig time we were on the train with all of the necessaries.

We had to change trains in Utrecht and as there was a wait and Utrecht is one of the most beautiful towns in Holland, we went for a bit of a wander in search of food and coffee. Of course it took ages and we lost everybody twice, but eventually we found a place to at least get a cup of coffee. It was right on the canal and within 10 minutes of us walking in, they were playing Moutpiece and Retarded Cop tunes on the sound system. You make quite an impression when 2 full bands show up anywhere on a rainy Friday afternoon. Even more so when both bands share a very outgoing front man. The coffee was strong and by the time we started heading back to the train station, time was tight. It was so nice to not be carrying any of my drum gear. I carry my cymbals in a hard case I have had for about 15 years. It does the job alright, but it weighs a fucking ton and is akward to carry. No matter how you hold it, it is aiming for a kill shot on your shins. Add a snare, bass pedal and a bag of socks and jocks, it is a lot to carry. So it was great to not have to lug all that shite around. Plus, as I said, we were short on time and the walk was more of a march to be honest. Gaz decided at the last minute to grab a kebab in the middle of the train station which had nearly as many platforms as I've had hot meals and had people seeping out of every corner. In the confusion we lost Tommy. So as the doors were getting ready to close on the train, Me,Conzo and Gaz tried to frantically figure out if Tommy was on the train and if we should get on it as well. We decided to chance it anyways even though we could see the lion share of the platform and no Tommy. Once on the train and pulling out of the station, we got a hold of Tommy. Let me say that at my stag party Tommy was once of a group of people that got on the wrong train heading home even though the right train was clearly marked and ended up having to hang out in Wexford for hours. So even though he said he was on the train I had my doubts that the train he was on was the right one. He said he was cars and cars away from us, but that he was on the same train. About half way through the journey, it became clear, at the very last moment possible, that the train had been split in half at one of the stops and that Tommy's cars and ours would soon be going very different directions. I don't think I have ever seen Tommy run even though we've been mates for nearly 15 years, but I saw him run and dare I say dive into our car just as the doors tried unsuccessfully to grab his feet. We were all on the same train at long last anyways and it was back to the plane buzz. I was able to really relax. I was on a train to a great gig that I was playing with a bunch of people looking to have a serious laugh. I was too excited to sleep. I just sat there in a bit of a trance, buzzing off the buzz of it all.

I arrived in Groningen feeling totally rested and relaxed. It was strange. I'd been up since 4 in the morning and had travelled about as far as you can go and still be in Holland, never mind that I had only eaten a two bowls of cherrios and an awful train station roll that unfortunately had raisins in it. I felt more rested than I could have possibly expected to.

Everybody else fucked off and it was just the four of us checking in to the Vera. It was nice to be travelling with the Retarded Cop lads and all, but once we got to the Vera it was a relief for it just to be the four of us. The four guys doing the gig tonight, no hangers on of any kind, no one to worry about, but ourselves. We got settled in the back stage room and put our feet up. Well, Gaz didn't exactly put his feet up. The room had Wi-Fi, so Gaz was already online blogging about the journey so far. The internet is an addiction for Gaz and as far as vices go, especially for Gaz, it's not the worst. There is something strange about the fact that it was the first time the four of us had been away together in a while and Gaz was away somewhere else even though he was in the same room, but this was a very familiar setting for us all and one that has previously been soaked in gargle. So anything to keep the hands and brain busy was a good thing. There was very little to do besides the obvious so I could understand why Gaz was keeping himself occupied. I looked for a bit of food, but a combination of what must have been nerves and the fact that the nicest food in town, possibly in all of Europe, would be delivered to the Vera shortly meant that I couldn't find anything that would fill the proper sized whole in my improper sized stomach. So eventually I just settled on pacing back and forth in the venue looking for something to grab my attention.

Even though Gaz hasn't tried to convert any of Moutpiece to the straight edge lifestyle and it would be a frosty reception he would receive if he tried, it does make me examine my drinking a bit more. There is no way around it when someone in the room doesn't drink, it makes you think, it's why drinkers don't like hanging out with tea totallers in general. In my experience, a tea totaller better have at least one of the following to be included in any craic at all: a rapid sense of humour, an easiness on the eye, a car. The last one will usually suffice. I'd say a lot of people might say that Gaz has all three. In fairness, being an alco hadn’t been working out for Gaz for a long time. I have never seen him as happy as he is now and although there are still demons to be wrestled, he seems to be up to the task. The fact that without the lump hammer to the memory box that is often the result of excessive fermented beverage consumption, Gaz is a much better guitar player and performer has been the success story of the year for Moutpiece and for Dublin music in general. I fully support this new found and clean lust for life and only wish that it had been found years ago when I had more time to put my whole being into music. So, I was holding off on the drink until show time, which left me very little to do with Gaz on the internet and the sound check still waiting to be done. The sound check ended up taking fucking ages and by the time we ran through a few songs, I was feeling a bit rattled. I hadn't eaten anything all day, I had spent the afternoon vainly trying to keep busy, and I think for one of the few times in my entire history in Moutpiece, I was nervous. With the gigs before, we had to prove ourselves- I prefer that. This gig was all about living up to expectations, and mine were the highest. We have been playing so well lately and personally, I have been playing the drums better than I have in years, so all of the pressure I was putting on the gig was coming from myself. I needed to just relax and enjoy the ride and I would once I got comfortable in the skin that I was in once again. I needed to re-acclimatize myself to the skit.

With the sound check in the bag, it was time for a Malaysian feed and it didn't disappoint. I think I had three full plates of some of the nicest food I've had in ages. Sitting in the Vera Café with the sun beaming in the giant windows and all of the evening's bands digging in took the edge off. I began to feel more normal anyways and when Natalie suggested we go somewhere for a pint in the sun, I jumped at the chance. It briefly occurred to me that we were being entertained by Natalie in the same way that bands that headline big venues in the real world are entertained by promoters. It felt good. Natalie is a friend and one that I would be happy to have a pint with any day of the week, but just for a second, I felt like a bit more of a rock star than usual. The beers were deadly and the night was progressing well.

Gaz had been asleep in the Vera hotel since the sound check and Tommy'd had a bit of a snooze as well, but the evening was really starting to hot up by the time we got back to the venue. All of the bands and various hangers on were hanging in the back stage room drinking and chatting. The Easpa Measa lads had arrived and they are sound. It's always great to get to hang out with them, especially Ken Sweeny. I know his family years and they are all highly intelligent and quite witty, a good combination for the auld hurry up and wait scenario you so often find yourself in as a musician.

I caught most of Putrefaction who were pretty good. A bit screamy for my taste, but the Roscommon twins never cease to keep me entertained and Eoin has turned into some kind of drumming animal!! Next up were De Fuck Ups who were absolutely brilliant. They had a great gig and everyone was really impressed. They sounded great and they looked great. It's always a real buzz to share a bill with a band that you genuinely think are top notch.

Once they were done, it was time for us to start thinking about our own gig. I retreated to the hotel room so that I could limber up. I wanted to hit the stage warm. I ended up having a roasting power shower in the hotel room which massaged me into a kind of tenderised drumming machine. Limber as a yoga instructor after 10 pints. The hotel room had a balcony so we hung around outside talking about who knows what and every once in a while I snuck off into the room to do a few lunges or to stretch my arms or shoulders or anything that I thought might cramp once I threw myself wholeheartedly into the gig. Gaz was up and in good form, Tommy was in the best form I've seen him in for yonks, taking full advantage of the jolly boys holiday and Conz as always looked as if it was the most natural thing in the world to be hanging out backstage at a gig in one of the best venues in all of Europe. We missed all of Easpa Measa anyways, which was a pity because Byrneos later said that in 8 years of playing in the band, it was probably the most enjoyable gig he has ever had.

The nerves kicked in again once I realised that we were next on. Like I said, I haven't been nervous in years and I honestly can't explain what was causing the nerves. Part of me just wanted the gig to be over so that I could relax and look back on it. That is definitely something I haven't felt in a long time. I think I might have even looked into the mirror in the jacks at one point and told myself to snap out of it (out loud!!) Which I did. Rock and Roll isn't about thinking, it's about feeling. I'd been doing too much thinking. Once we hit the stage, it was all about the feeling.

I love playing the Vera more than I love just about anything, bar my wife and kids. The stage is gigantic, the sound system is animal and the size of the room is enormous. As we were the last band on, the crowd was pretty excitable. It was a sea of people and they were all dancing. They were the kind of crowd that you'd get in a small venue where everyone is rammed into the place and full of gargle except that the venue was huge. There were arms in the air for the whole gig, ladies cutting serious rug-idge and thunderous applause after every song. I nearly expected the credits to roll at the end of the gig and to be informed that our entire lives had been filmed for a Truman show meets a Behind the Music kind of documentary. It was a kicker, a triumph, a hooly for the legs. I felt good, I felt healthy, I felt the power of the rock. Every song was received by the crowd with such gusto that by the time we finished, I knew that an encore was inevitable. Actually, I can change the first line of this paragraph to I love coming out for an encore at the Vera more than I love just about anything... Who wouldn't want to walk onto a stage and have a crowd erupt?

It felt so good. It felt to so good to play a great gig. It felt so good to be in the Vera. It felt so good to have the gig behind us. Now I could let me hair down and finally have a few drinks. Bar the two bottles of beer in the Irish pub and a bottle of beer on stage, I hadn't really drank all day. In hindsight, it was a bit of a mixed blessing. There is such thing as a loosener. I'd say that just the right amount of pint-age would have erased that nervousness and allowed me to relax a bit sooner. Getting just the right amount of pint-age in while on holiday in Holland is easier said than done though. Never-the-less, the job was done and now it was time to unwind. The old Vera basement bar I loved so much in our pervious adventures was like a ghost town. The back stage room was running low on beer and loads of European freeloaders were hanging around trying to beg a sup of beer or a drag of a cigarette off anyone that would look at them. We hung out in the hotel room for a while with Pierre and Natalie and talked about Moutpiece and Gaz and his transformation as well as our own. Those guys just love Moutpiece so much and have seen us so many times that if they say it was a great gig, I know it was a great gig. I love that I have seen them every year for the past 8 years and that it is always so much fun.

The reason that the Vera bar was empty is because Holland is not the real world. In the real world, bars like the Crowbar don't exist. Bars where no rules of any kind apply, the music is rockin and the place closes when it runs out of beer. Esther owns the Crowbar and from the moment you walk in the door that is blatantly obvious. It's as loud, obnoxious and lovable as its proprietor. So once the gig was over, everybody high tailed it to the Crowbar. Bad news for the Vera, great news for the punters. By the time we arrived, the place was absolutely rammed and you could hear the music before you could see the door. It has got to be one of the best bars in the world. Everyone from the gig was there and the craic was mighty. Eventually they did run out of beer and we were forced to head back to our lodgings. In the hustle and bustle and general shenanigeniry, we lost Tommy and Gaz to a party in which we were somewhat posthumously invited, i.e. when we called them from the hotel, they told us to head down. As it was 6 in the morning and even brighter outside than when we'd left the Crowbar, we had a last beer on the balcony and headed to bed. Day one complete.

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