June 20, 2002
Brian Kelly reports the 20th anniversary tour
June 8, 2002
Ich Bin Ein Hamburger!
A loooong first day. After all, I left Minneapolis at 1:00 pm, arriving at 10:30 am Hamburg time. The connection from Boston to Amsterdam was some 6 hours long, and the seats unreasonably close together. Clearly they were designed with legless pygmies in mind. The in-flight movies were 'Snow Dogs' and whatever the hell the Brittney Spears movie is called, thereby completing the aesthetic.
Arriving in Amsterdam officiated my first experience outside of the continental US. The airport was a good primer for the foreign experience, in that English appears to be the default language. The flight attendants were all blonde Amazon supermodels in bright sky blue uniforms. So far, Brian like-y this 'Eur-ope'.
I arrived in Hamburg to be met by the wonderful Owen Jones - Drummer, tour organizer and hamburg-host with the JBC. We rode the train into town, and sat in the front room of Casa de Jones, listening to David J's most recent demo tape. We talked a bit about the itinerary and proposed set lists, while he tried diligently to find a bootleg that I didn't already have (success came with Munich '85...he was so pleased to have stumped the one they call 'the archivist').
When I awoke, I found Owen, his girlfriend Baerbel and the just arrived Max Eider out in the little garden wood-house/ bar. Max and I caught up while Owen went off to prepare a fantastic pasta supper for everyone.
Then it was off to the local pub, where the band will be playing on Tuesday night. We played darts (501) after which I taught them how to play cricket. It seemed ironic to be teaching a couple Brits how to play darts (and cricket no less), but by the second round, Max had got his game on, and put us all to shame.
It is, of course, world cup football (soccer) time, and apparently most of Europe and certainly the Jones household revolves around the tournament schedule. Me, I plan to sleep in...until I am awakened by a couple of aging British rockers drunkenly shouting 'GOOOOOOAL'.
June 9, 2002
I awoke to find Owen once again bustling about the kitchen, preparing a wonderful vegetarian breakfast, which we proceeded to enjoy out in the yard. Again today, the boys were keen on watching football. They were most excited to cheer on Japan, having found a recent kinship after playing there for the first time last Summer.
So, while the displaced English gentlemen watched soccer, Baerbel and I went walking. Altona, which is the county we are in, was having a festival. Sideshows and music, food and drink and fantastic people watching. Max & Owen soon joined up with us, and we took the ferry boat down the river (gorgeous) and took the train back. I was glad of this, since all the shops are closed on Sundays, and I desperately needed my diet soda fix. I took advantage of the vending machines at the station, and loaded up. I felt very much the ugly American, buying four 1 liter bottles of diet coke...I'm sure the Euro-perception is that we Yanks have coca cola in our veins...hmm perhaps they're not half wrong in my case.
Still a bit jet lagged from the long journey over, I went down for a nap. I was awakened by the boys blasting 'Southern Mark Smith'. They laughed and said they considered a number of ways to wake me up, but that seemed the most kind. Too true.
Chef Owen had prepared a homemade spinich pizza that was unbelievably good. I did the washing up, wanting to earn my keep. The generosity of these guys is too much, really...I've barely spent a Euro since I arrived...every meal has been prepared, every train ticket paid for. I had to insist on paying the bar tab at the pub this evening... fortunately for me, it was a tame night for the fellows who once sang 'I don't wanna think about how much I drink/ it's a habit that's out of control/ I hope I never get dry before I get old'. Little chance of that! Me on the other hand...
At the pub, the song 'He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother' came on, and Owen confessed that 'soppy' as it is, he loves this song. He asked the bartender if she would turn it up, which she did, and upon it's conclusion, played it again. Our table just sort of sat and swayed, enjoying the music. Just then an elderly gentlemen wearing a bathrobe came in to buy cigarettes. I informed Owen that he'd gone and woke the neighbors.
We returned to the flat, and I played DJ, introducing the Brits to some of my contemporary favorites, Gorillaz, and Soul Coughing. Then, in honor of the recent passing of Dee Dee Ramone, I put on the Ramone's 'Blitzkrieg Bop' which then had us talking about punk rock history until it was time to retire.
Tomorrow, Pat Fish, the Jazz Butcher hisself, and Ms. Kathy McGinty arrive. No one is sure what time, and Owen refuses to call and ask him. 'Feck him, if the bastard can't be bothered' was his and Max's attitude, 'so long as he brings the rubber reptiles (JBC mascots) for the tour bus, otherwise, there'll be hell to pay.
June 10, 2002
Today was rather quiet...call it the calm before the storm. The storm, of course being the arrival of a certain mad Northampton tunesmith. Hurricane Pat, as it were.
We split up during the day, Owen went to get the beer, Max went to the music store for guitar strings and such, and I went to the shops. I had planned to go to the airport to greet the Northampton faction, but Max had yet to return, so I stayed behind to let him in.
Now, many of you know of my notorious sense of direction (or lack therof), but it pales in comparison to Mr. Eider. Owen told me that they once stopped off at a pub across from the airport before their flight...across the street, mind you...and Max managed somehow to get himself lost and nearly miss the plane.
Well, once again, Max entered what the band calls 'the Zone'...that being the Twilight Zone, and what should have been about an hour long errand became something of an all day exercise. The good news, is that Max is quite at home in the Twilight Zone, as he's spent a lot of time there.
Pat and Kathy arrived at about 8pm, and after hugs and warm greetings, we all made our way out back to 'Fritzi's Bar'. I should describe this. In Owen's back yard he's got a wooden...well, clubhouse rather aptly describes it. A handpainted sign reads 'Fritzi's Bar', named for his and Baerbel's first cat. The Jolly Roger flies over the door.
Inside, there is a fully loaded bar, and 3 stools, which, when occupied, means the place is packed. As Pat pointed out, the bartender was clearly behind the design, in that there is as much space behind the bar as there is in front of it. But, we all agreed that the ergonomic design is neccessary...for nothing must hinder the barkeep from the swift fulfilment of his duties.
Then, 'Barkeep Owen' became 'Chef Owen' once again, and we supped on couscous. The inn is now at full capacity, so now it is really a matter of feeding the troops.
Owen asked if the plan was to go to the pub afterwards, at which Pat and Max looked at each other incredulously...
Max: "is the Pope Catholic?"
Pat: "Does a bear shit in the woods?"
Owen: "Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back" ... pause
Pat: "Thank you so much for that enduring mental image."
And so, off to the Pub it was. Pat and I had the chance to catch up some. When we last met in LA, last year, his mother had just died, a scant two weeks after my mom passed. We talked a bit about dealing with that, although unfortunately, his situation is compounded by having to deal with his mother's estate. From the sound of it, it has been an altogether terrible ordeal. I think this tour is the best thing for him...A chance to redirect his energies and let loose.
Wishing to let the three old mates have an opportunity to catch up on their own, and wanting to be rested for the whirlwind that is to follow, I decided to retire early. Tomorrow 'Baby' arrives (aka Steven D. Valentine, bassist and legal representation for the JBC), and the pub will serve as something of a warm-up to the tour ahead. Not to mention, at midnight's chime, the band celebrates it's official 20th birthday. June 12, 1982 was the first Jazz Butcher gig, and that same day, Pat said, they signed on the dotted line. If they knew then that they would still be doing this some 20 years later, They might have dropped the pen and run screaming.
Today was mostly business in preparation for this evening's show.
Owen & Kathy & I went to sort out the business of the tour bus, whilst Pat & Max headed off to the airport to pick up Mr. Valentine.
A little background on Steve...he is a California native and a JBC fan like myself. He volunteered to play with the boys at one point, and...like many fans...was abducted. He helped Max record his solo record last summer, and, in that he is a lawyer, he serves as legal representation. As I say, he is quite a bit younger than the pop stars he's gigging with, and looks even younger than his age, hence the nickname of 'baby'.
So it was that we loaded up the bus, and went to the venue. This was not an 'official gig' in any real sense, more of a party and a warm up for the next week's shows. The pub itself is not really designed for a rock show...they have folk music on Tuesdays. So it was that the quarters were most tight on the 'stage'...also, it was commented upon that the bar had never heard music so loud before.
So loud, in fact, the politzei were called. As Pat pointed out, 'we may be old, but we're still antisocial.' So it was that the gig was cut short...but they did make it to the midnight mark, at which point baerbel brought out a birthday cake for the band & guests.
The strangeness of the evening left the band feeling a bit out of sorts, but a few pints and things looked brighter. At any rate, tomorrow we leave for Munich, thus starting the official tour.
Day 5 was mostly travel. The day began with a phone call booking the band for a second gig in Belgium...rock! We got on the road at a fairly reasonable hour, Baerbel kissed us all good luck, and we were on our way.
Everyone was still a bit weary from the night before, not to mention getting up at an unGodly hour to watch football. The drive was long, but we reached Nüremberg in about 6 hours or so. The initial plan was to go straight on to Munich, but Pat's judgment at Nüremberg (pun intended) was to stay the night and pick up the additional two hours or so the next day.
The hotel we stayed at was French, and had all of the modern conveniences of a plastic room with a mattress on the floor. Indeed, we got onto the elevator, which promptly trapped us until Owen smartly came to look for us. Good thing, too...for we know what happens when you leave a Fish too long in an elevator (don't we?)...Also, no phones in the room (hence, no internet connection, hence no report...QED)
I enjoyed a much needed shower and a good night's sleep, and in the morning, we had breakfast outside a small cafe. We again took to the autobahn, arriving in Munich mid-afternoon.
After setting up, the band did a rehearsal (since they hadn't had one...even prior to the Hamburg gig) and really tightened up. By soundcheck they were in the groove, and well looking forward to the show.
The club owner prepared dinner for all, after which I went for a stroll. Former JBC alum Peter 'No Show' Crouch turned up, to everyone's delight. I ran merchandise before and after the show, and once again got to be 'JBC answer man', a job I am uniquely suited for. Pat decided that I was in charge of 'Public relations', and was pleased with the number of CDs that sold...so I am earning my keep. :)
The show itself was great: a nice club, a good audience, and the band was keen to play. Crouchy even got up (after a chant of 'Crou-chy, Crou-chy') and played on 'Zombie Love'. Three or four of the people that I sold CDs to hadn't heard of the band before, so that itself speaks to the performance.
Tonight we are all flopping in one big room over the club... Beds strewn about the floor, slumber party style. In the morning, the band plans to go to the pub to watch more football. (The good thing about not being into sports is, you get to sleep in.) Then we make our way back to Nuremburg for the show there. No cheap French hotel tomorrow though, an old friend of Owen's will be putting us up.
So to bed, to dream of windmills off the autobahn and breakfast strudel. Mmmmm.
It is incredible how different each and every day is.
I woke up this morning and realized that I'd only been in Germany a week! It seems like so much longer...not in a bad way, it's just that so much goes down day to day.
We left Munich and took the short jaunt back to Nuremburg. This time, Crouchy was with us...making the crowded bus even more crowded...but, the more the merrier with the JBC.
The club... how shall I say it? Well, it made the bus seem positively spacious. But, with the JBC it's roll up your sleeves and get to it. After sound check, our hostess du jour, Katarina (an old friend of Owen's) took us for a stroll en route to get dinner. We went walking through the garden of a castle that overlooks the city...and me without my camera, grrr...but it was gorgeous. We all just sort of strolled in silence, soaking in the beautiful surroundings.
For dinner, we sat outside a small cafe, and while my vegetarian comrades ordered Camenbert and potato pancakes, I felt compelled to try the ostrich. I didn't even know people ate ostrich. Pretty much like steak. Good, and curiosity satisfied.
The show was great, and the owner, Stefan (this sort of Gregarious Fabio) was soooooo pleased. Many free beers for the band...Kathy, Katarina and I practically had to drag the boys from the bar, but not before Stefan had smuggled them a bottle of strawberry vodka for the road.
We returned to Katarina's flat, where the combined presence of vodka & Crouchy ensured that the party continue on well into the morning...
Woke up and hit the road, sans Crouchy, who returns to London, and made the trek for Bielefeld. A four hour drive stretched waaaaay long by construction on the autobahn. We arrived with just enough time to set up & soundcheck before the club opened its doors. The sound was excellent, and though the crowd was small, they were impossibly enthusiastic, demanding no less than three encores.
After the show we went to an Irish pub, where a horrible British cover band was playing. It occurred to me that I was in Germany, listening to a British Band in an Irish pub doing covers of 'Boston'. It was like the UN...if Butros Butros Ghali played piss poor Jimmy Page licks. But, we had spinich pizza, which was niiiiiice.
Tomorrow we must leave early for Belgium...probably a six hour drive. But Tomorrow & Tuesday's shows are both in Belgium, so we will have a few days without hectic schedules and lengthy bus rides.
When we last left our heroes...We were in Bielefeld, which was kind of a downer...but what a difference a day makes!
The drive to Belgium was quite a long one. Pat told me that in Belgium it is 'the future'. I didn't know what he meant. I told him that that must be why everyone drives so fast...so that they stay in the future. But all I saw of it was quaint and rustic living.
We arrived in Kortrijk. It was to be an outdoor show, and lo! the outdoor in question was a serene garden affair...gorgeous, and the weather, perfect for a concert outside. Max confessed that he was sorry to disrupt the serenity...and so the show began rather quietly. Turns out, those in attendance very much enjoyed the squelch.
The sound technicians were TOP! Sooo much can vary from venue to venue, but these guys were true professionals. The sound was glorious. There were several 'punters', but many sort of stumbled upon the event. There was a family sitting dead center, young and old. Kathy and I were certain that these were fans by their response, but they came up to us afterwards and informed us that they had just come in to eat, but LOVED the band. (Kathy & I laughed as the father bounced his daughter on his knee singing 'sha la la la, ooh my my - she's on drugs'.)
Our host du jour was another old friend of Owen's by the name of Jean Pierre. He is a very earthy guy with an intense love of music. He positively BEAMED during the show. Afterwards, we all had dinner & drinks (I should mention, I am still the sober man I was when I left, tempting though it might be) and were escorted by Jean Pierre to our accommodations for the next few days.
The farmhouse! Wow. Basically a friend's summer home. Beds for everyone and a shower (HUGE bonuses when on the road), with all manner of animals living next door. Quiet and peaceful...well, until this group gets wound up.
June 17, 2002
Monday. Our day off. I feel that I should mention at this point that I had some concerns going into this trip. I mean, I have gotten to know these guys over the last few years, and although we have developed something of a friendship, two weeks and many miles is a different story. When I first arrived, I realized 'holy shit, you have put yourself in a position where you could wind up being in the way or becoming an annoyance...
But, I am happy to say that the opposite is true. I have been something of a help, where and when I can, and each of the group individually has expressed that they have been happy I was along. As Owen observed, my presence kind of diffuses some of the potential 'incidents' that sometimes erupt amongst a band in it's 20th year. Like a family being on best behavior when company's over.
Aaanyway...I awoke to find that Owen, Max and Steve had went and gotten breakfast for everyone. We spent some time relaxing, and then All but Kathy & Pat went into town, presumably to buy musical equipment, but really to watch football in the pub.
I took the opportunity to explore the square. Ypres, the city we were in, was a front line during WWI....and basically, the entire place was just leveled. The Cathedral that stands in it's center was rebuilt EXACTLY using the same stones, brick by brick. It was completed around 1968 (to give some indication of the length of the process), yet it is very much as it was when first built in the 1400's.
After the game (Belgium lost, sadly...would have made for an exciting time had they won), we hit the shops, loading up on groceries & beer (one in the same, for some). We then returned to our rural paradise.
In the evening, we went to Jean Pierre's for a regular feast (I swear, our hosts on this trip have been unbelievably kind!) We stayed the evening, but called it (relatively) early so that everyone could rest up.
Owen's Birthday and the gig in Ypres. I sang Owen the ComedySportz birthday song, which he enjoyed (I guess if you've never heard it before, it's still funny). We watched football (Italy vs. South Korea) which was (apparently) the most exciting game of the cup thus far (overtime, with Korea pulling it out with a beautiful header in the final minutes). Okay...I confess, I have taken the most PASSING interest in the sport. It's the obsession here, so...when in Rome, or Belgium as the case may be....
A cat had had kittens in the shed. The runt of the litter, the cutest & friendliest, Owen named 'Corea'(sic) for the victors in that morning's cup. Lengthy debate was held as to the logistics of bringing the kitten on the bus back to Hamburg. In the end, Owen thinks he will go back in a few month's time, and retrieve the tiny cutie.
We went to the venue, situated right next to the cathedral, and got set up. Another outdoor show...more punters, and even more passersby. This was a two-set deal, and the first set, found Pat a bit reserved. He was disconcerted by the huge number of people, yet the mere smattering of applause. We informed him that everyone was drinking, and therefore, no one had hands free to clap. Armed with this information (not to mention Pat finding some kind of undisclosed inspiration in-between sets), the band launched into the second half in high gear, filling the square with the 'ROCK show'...a far cry from the more pop-flavored garden show of two nights before. Beers were being dropped in favor of clapping and cheering. This was the sound of the band having fun, and Pat in particular going positively MENTAL. Needless to say, the band went after the post-show festivities with a similar fervor to that of the show itself. Max nearly had to drag Steve from the pub at the end of it. We left Jean Pierre DJ-ing the night away.
We gave Owen his birthday cake and gift, complete with card (which I illustrated) signed by all. We had cake, listened to music, and basically gave the rooster next door a dose of his own medicine, waking him up at an unGodly hour.
June 19, 2002
I awoke to find Jean Pierre & his wife laid out on the lawn. Everyone slept in (well deserved), and we packed and cleaned (yes, some bands trash their hotels, others restore their farmhouse to it's original state). We bid farewell to our gracious hosts, loaded up the bus and began the long journey home.
Fast forward 8 hours...well, I wish we could have. That was how long the drive from Ypres back to Hamburg was. Even the relative comfort of the 'Eiderlounge' (Max's permanent and pillowed haven in the back of the bus) proved uncomfortable by the journey's end. But, we left at just the right time (afternoon) to avoid traffic, and Baerbel was waiting to greet the weary travellers.
Owen's brother, Billy, had arrived for the concert on Saturday. We all piled into Fritzi's bar for drink and tales of the last week. Max and I decided to retire to the accomodations down the street (out-of town friends of Owen's), and found it after a brief foray into the Twilight Zone.
Which brings us to the present moment. The wee hours of the morning...or closing in on 10 in the evening if you're in Minneapolis, which I will be soon. Tomorrow, breakfast at the Jones residence, and Pat has said he will see me to the airport. So, next you hear from me, I will be a great deal closer to you. And, you'll see me coming a mile off, because I almost certainly will be beaming for weeks to come.