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Tour Diaries

Jamie Hutchings: Euro 2011 Pt 1

Following stints in 2009 and 2010, JAMIE HUTCHINGS made his annual pilgrimage to Europe in July-August, playing shows at the Binic Folk Blues Festival and encountering some eminently quotable characters along the way. Photos by REUBEN WILLS.

We fly China Southern this time. I am accompanied by Mr Jared Harrison on drums and Mr Reuben Wills on bass. Jared has spent time with me on some of my solo ventures; he was also in the last line up of Bluebottle Kiss and pummels the tubs for Peabody. Reuben has played bass with me for ages and doubles as both my brother-in-law, as well as helping us out a bit in the eye candy department.

 China Southern unfortunately only allows you to check in one piece of luggage. Perhaps it’s the sparseness of the flight but the ladies at the check in counter graciously ignore the half a house or so that’s hanging off my back and passing for “hand luggage” and kindly accept my one piece of luggage, which is actually two guitars wrapped in an infinite amount of cheap duct tape and now resembling a black port-a-loo. This will haunt me among the subterranean confines of the Paris subway system in the future. The innards of the aircraft have a sophisticated share house kind of vibe. No strident patrolling by the stewards and a simple communal TV which plays a film starring Yogi Bear twice in a row followed by some ancient Mr Bean re-runs with the audio sounding disturbingly like it’s being filtered through a vintage Super Fuzz Big Muff pedal. This is rounded out nicely with a Chinese film sans English subtitles. A four course feast for the senses.

 After some fairly diligent security checking at our stopover in China we begin our descent into the bowels of the Parisian subway system. I struggle with my turtle back and coffin-sized gaffe-taped two guitar assemblage while the handsomely dishevelled Jared and Reuben breeze ahead to our place of accommodation. After hanging in the foyer of the building next door for a while we finally reach our hosts residence.

Her name is Elodie. Elodie is a classic graceful Parisian who is also a life coach. She later tells us of her feelings of relief when she discovers that we do not wear long shorts, sport asymmetrical haircuts or guzzle rivers of beer. This is her image of the Australian male and we do our best to bury this myth. At least until we leave her place. We check out the venue we will play the following night and I go to bed after 30 hours of enforced wakefulness which has left my left eye looking like it’s been repeatedly stabbed by a blunt lead pencil.

 I discover over the next couple of days that my email account has been closed rendering me virtually uncontactable. This sets the scene nicely shrouding the rest of the tour in a fog of mystical uncertainty. Our pal/promoter/creature Ludo who has kindly organized for us to stay at Elodie’s has also organised a couple of last minute shows and gear in Paris after the show we had booked at Le Feline mysteriously shafts us. We play a venue called L’angora the next two nights in a row. There’s a tiny upstairs room with a vocal PA. Two local friends of Ludo’s rustle up some gear for us minus a snare stand, a microphone stand, and some other essentials. A quick panicked disappearance on their part sees them return triumphant around an hour later. We keep being asked to turn down to the point where Jared is pretty much playing air drums. Elodie comes along with some friends and tells us that she has been crying and miserable all day and that we sound how she feels. I think that’s what she says anyway.

 After waking up with a head full of cement I am nursed back to health with the help of some Propolis spray kindly donated by Elodie. She treats the boys to a lovely platter of wine and cheese and we play the next night downstairs to avoid noise complaints. Sonia, a French Bluebottle Kiss fan, now residing in Brussels makes a three-hour train journey to this very humble hastily organised show. She is quite thrilled but a little disappointed that I don’t dredge up any of Bluebottle’s late-’90s heavy metal-period tunes. One must answer the call of artistic progress.

 The next day we take the train to St Brieuc which is the nearest station to the Binic Folk Blues Festival and where we will spend most of our time playing. We are informed we are on the wrong train around halfway through our journey and after some sprinting manage to right our route. Ludo picks us up. Time and space limit a full analysis of Ludo’s virtues and eccentricities though I will pepper some of this commentary with the odd golden Ludo quote as generally each day provides a kernel of Ludonian wisdom. We are given a fairly candid overview of Ludo’s personal health in the car. Elodie mentioned earlier that the French like to talk about two things in general: food and sex. I’ve found this to be true.

 The gig we have tonight is on an outdoor stage in the town of Yvignac La Tour. Pretty early on we run into Aus/US expat Chris Mazuak of Radio Birdman fame who is playing with a band called The Outside on the same bill. He’s refreshingly chipper and we chat about Jazzmasters, Birdman, European chaos – he gets a full taste of this later. We struggle through soundcheck with a shirtless tattooed chain smoking bald middle aged rock’n’roll bad boy who even with Ludo acting as translator appears to have little respect for the art of audio engineering. We play competently. Not a show to pull a David Lee Roth at, but not one to commit hari cari over either.

 After watching an unusual father and son vaudevillian styled act that play guitar, sing, ride bicycles, operate drums with their feet and manage a great level of simpatico with the crowd, we settle in to watch Chris and company who pretty much have their whole set single-handedly massacred by the gent mentioned earlier. There’s some kind of bizarre interference going through the front of house. Chris keeps signalling for the sound guy to cut one of the fold backs as it seems to be the main protagonist but even when the bassist disconnects it in a very physical display mid-set, the rumbling continues. The vocals have some kind of random cookie monster effect with a dash of brown sauce drowning them. This does not ice down Chris’ face-shredding solos but as we begin to make our exit the power on the whole stage blacks out and the show appears to come to a premature end. We figure this is our cue to make a swift exit. Jared is nodding off in the front seat only to get a brief eyeful of Ludo’s speedometer. It’s at 160 km/hr. You can sleep when you’re dead.

 Ludo has procured a number of shows in the surrounding area. Most people are too scared to give him a “no”. Many of them are establishments unused to the trials and general obnoxiousness of live music. Restaurants, small bars etc. Nevertheless we are wined, dined and paid with no issue at every one. This is foreign fare to us although the downside is that, while we are not Danzig, we are not a Christopher Cross tribute act either. Still they serve their purpose in the lead up to the festival and Ludo has done a sterling job arranging them all.

 Come Monday we head down to Ludo’s bar, Le Chaland Qui Passe, which is about the size of a laundromat. Plenty of local music lovers have turned up though and it’s the best show so far.

 The day before Reubs has noticed a huge crack on my acoustic and in no time this is whisked away to a local luthier named Jan who has it back in sterling condition in no time at all. After the set he is both inebriated and enthused declaring the performance “magnfi-kent-lie tor-tored”, he confiscates my Jazzmaster and pretty much rebuilds it the following day. A wizard.

 The following gig is at a bar called Le Fût Chantant, where we are again well watered and dined. Jared and I spend most of dinner bitching about the general lack of hospitality in Australian venues. Why is it so hard to score a plate of spag bol and a few bevies? Why do you have to wait a month to be paid your one percent cut after venue costs, support bands and such? Why do you have to sheepishly approach the bar to see if there’s any chance of a complimentary soft drink? I digress. The gig is uneventful, the locals colourful. I sell a CD to an unusual looking man who sells poetry at the local market. My Australian demographic is clearly contagious.

 The next day the American contingent begins to roll into town. Lots of smoke and loud talking. Most of the headline acts are of the American punk-blues ilk thus marking us out as the definitive red-headed stepchildren of the festival, and given that I have the social networking skills of a stinkbug things go a little slow but we make some unusual matches eventually.

 After another local show we head to the small town of Dinan. Ludo seems happy to get out of town. He talks a lot about “fighting” we begin to realise this refers to the intimate relations between man and woman. Is it his term? A local term? We’ve been hitting the ocean a fair bit near his house and I ask if he ever swims. He replies, “The ocean does not see my balls more than 10 times a year.” We discuss his general driving speed over dinner before the Dinan show and he offers, “When I am drunk it’s better I drive faster so I get there more quickly you know? That way I am off the road and more safe…” The more I get to know Ludo the more I believe a monument of him should be erected on the Binic roundabout.

 Dinan is quiet yet eventful. I break a string early on. (Ludo is waiting with a replacement string and a replenished glass of wine after the conclusion of this song. The man is a king.) My tuner also goes AWOL. Prior to the show we notice a couple of gypsies drinking themselves to an early death outside the bar. Nevertheless, they seem to be musically proficient and one of them is armed with a flute. In a desperate ploy to create some kind of unique diversion I invite said gypsy to the stage for some impro flute action on the tune ’Cicada Symphony’ This is much to the chagrin of the bar owner who gently evil eyes me, but it is too late. After some flourishes in a key unknown to the song the gypsy begins to punish Reubs before breaking into some primal sub human free singing. It’s superior to his flute playing and I quite enjoy it.

 At the conclusion of the show some more punishing takes place in the form of a middle-aged intoxicated and overly amorous woman. Clearly intimidated by Reuben’s wasted cherub look she hones in on Jared and I. As her demands become more explicit we notice she is sporting a full caste on her left leg rendering her immobile. We beat a hasty retreat with her unable to follow. Ludo corners her and flogs her two of my CDs.

We pop by Ludo’s bar the next day. He is surviving on around two to three hours sleep, his house is thick with smoke and American accents and he must be everywhere at once. The last time he tells me he had a nap was while he was driving. I tell him he should rest. He says, “I am like shark. If I stop moving? I die.”

 The festival kicks off. There are a lot of one man bands. Many of them local. Many of them sing in strong rough American accents with lyrics about their “ding dongs”, or “I like boobies, give me more boobies.” Ludo insists we play for an hour and fifteen minutes. Later on a punter says, “I like … but you play too long.” He’s right. I hate long shows. I can’t really hear the drums on stage so I play to Reuben. Reuben can’t really hear the drums either so he plays to me. It’s free jazz. Our gypsy flautist has somehow made it from Dinan to the festival and dances freely at the front. Despite our misgivings we sell more CDs at this show than any other.

 The show closes with a young three-piece from Iowa called Radio Moscow. They have ultimate chops with a strong early ’70s heavy metal influence. There’s a smidge of Bill and Ted’s in there too. These guys turn out to be real champs and a pleasure to get to know. After they finish I head back to the other stage to catch the tail end of The Black Diamond Heavies’ set. I got to know these guys a little last year but this time the line-up has changed. John, the singer/Fender Rhodes player, has a different drummer, and Johnny Walker (of Soledad Brothers fame) is on guitar. John is having a total intoxicated lizard king styled meltdown on stage. There’s a touch of Colosseum voyeurism split with some concern from the crowd. After a drink at Ludo’s bar I begin loading some of my gear into Ludo’s van in a back lane and run into John stumbling into the night with some locals who look like the cat that got the cream. He’s not in a good way and he tells me a little about it. I gently try to coax him back to Ludo’s but he farewells me with no promises that he’ll be hanging around this mortal coil much longer. Fortunately I run into him the next morning. Worse for wear but with a pulse. Reubs, Jared and I take a “short cut” home which goes badly. Still the sky is full of stars and the ancient houses sit beneath them all witchy poo like.

 Jared and I are a bit nervy before the second show after yesterday and we’re determined to cut our set a little shorter. No use testing a garage rock festival audience’s patience more than necessary. We are having a running joke about band names. “We are, ‘Jamie Hutchings,’” just doesn’t check out grammatically and “The Jamie Hutchings Band”, well … Dave Matthews Band, Steve Miller Band, John Butler Trio? That’s just not a world we’re ready for. We’re thinking something colloquial. “Jamie Hutchings and the Bogan Poofs”. Or “Jamie Hutchings and The Bush Oysters”. The one that is appealing to us the most currently is “Jamie Hutchings and The Rock’n’Roll Bonfires”. This has a twofold appeal. Firstly, it makes us sound like a garage/rockabilly act that would dupe the French rock’n’roll mafia into coming onside nicely. Secondly, and in a bid to add some integrity to this moniker, this name could act as a metaphor for the sacrificial rite of touring overseas. When things get a little cold you just grab some of your hard earned cold hard cash, bundle it together and set it on fire. Watch it burn baby burn.

 Anyway this show I feel goes well. Unfortunately, there is no sandbag to stop the kick drum from running away and Jared spends the majority of the show chasing the kick drum around the stage. He plays with his usual rhythmic finesse but is not a happy chappie post-show. Radio Moscow take these dramas up a notch with the drummer’s kick pedal going straight through the skin. They are forced to jam away without a kick drum for around 10 minutes. So it goes.

 It’s around this time we meet the inimitable Mark “Porkchop” Holder. Much of the bill for the festival has been handpicked by John of the Black Diamond Heavies and Porkchop is an original member of the Heavies. He’s a big boy, though not as big as he was he says. According to Reubs he got his nickname for possessing the talent of being able to devour a pork chop whole with only a single bone to present licked clean afterwards. He’s also a fine bottle neck slide blues guitarist steeped in the Tennessee tradition. After Ludo he is the most quotable personality of the tour.

 One of my earliest conversations with him is the most memorable. He carries a cane and often wears a pair of denim overalls as in his words this denotes “that he is a working man”. He also carries a pistol in the pouch of his overalls back home. “Look Jamie I’m not interested in the colour of red. I’m interested in the colour of green,” he tells me, “but if someone refuses to pay me back home? I point the gun like this. [Through the pouch] Now I’ve never had to kill a man, thank God, but I’ll say, ‘Sir, I know you may have a habit of short changing folk at your bar and that’s between you and them but things with me is different.’” Apparently southern gentility has developed through people being afraid of their neighbour blowing their brains out. He’s also a former Baptist preacher turned drug dealer turned blues man. It’s kind of like his whole life is being played out in front of a camera. We will be heading down south with him. It gets interesting.

Jamie Hutchings: Euro 2011 Pt 2

In the final installment of his European tour diary, Jamie Hutchings plays on boats, in castles and runs after trains for 12 hours in Italy. Photos by REUBEN WILLS.

The next day is Sunday and we head south with the last minute generous help of a lady named Natalie who borrows a car and happily drives us to the town of Lorient where we play a venue called Le Galion. The town is near a harbour and seems deserted. The bar is an old sailor’s bar and is decked out in a suitably nautical fashion. It looks ace. It’s also surrounded by deserted graffitied warehouses and you can hear the seabird screams echo about the place. Kind of eerie. Both the sound guy and the owner of Le Galion are total champs and we sit with the headline band, Henrys Funeral Shoe, smack bang in the middle of the dance floor and chow down while the punters watch, which is unusual. Henrys Funeral Shoe are from Wales. There’s an amazing difference in their demeanour in comparison to our often larger-than-life peers here. So down-to-earth and unassuming. It’s weird how those cultures beaten down by the commonwealth have an instant rapport. Pretty much every band that plays at Le Galion is of the garage variety but the audience is kind and the owner is especially effusive and keen to have us back and it is nice to play at a rock club.

Jared has come into the habit of repeating some of the things the Americans say but in a flat Australian accent. It’s an interesting experiment particularly in reference to some of the grand orations delivered by our favourite American, Porkchop. On the Monday night we play a town called Saint-Quay Portrieux. It’s another outdoor show on a hastily assembled stage supporting a US band called Left Lane Cruiser. They kind of seem like a cross between Willy Nelson and Metallica on first listen. The opening act is a local one man band called Chicken Diamond. He does a strange version of ‘TV Eye’ and is the author of the song about his “ding dong”. He does have quite a killer guitar tone though. Jared and Reuben begin musing charitably on the financial advantages of me touring Europe as a one-piece. Not the swimsuit kind but as a guy armed with a guitar, a kick drum, and maybe something else for my other foot. I can’t help but allow my mind to race forwards to one of my favourite pastimes. Coming up with band names. I suggest, “Hot Dog Explosion”. It’s met with approval. Of course there’s always “Jamie Hutchings and the Hot Dog Explosion”.

During our set I’ve been dragging out my Jazzmaster for the odd extended guitar wig-out which seems to satiate the French’s hunger for rock. In particular, we’ve been having our way with an extended version of the Bluebottle Kiss tune ‘Let the Termites Eat Our Riches’. While the original is fairly concise we now tend to bend and twist within its modal drone in whichever way we choose on the night. We do it again tonight and I am cornered by a female senior citizen who insists on knowing the name of this tune but still buys Avalon Cassettes. The other major fan tonight is a girl of around 11 who chatters away enthusiastically in French. She proclaims the show “superb” and is apparently known for haunting the local cinema in search of obscure art-house films. It’s a contrast from my mostly male, mostly IT industry-employed, though mostly very loyal crowd back home. Chicks dig us over here. But mostly chicks under 15 and over 60.

 A drama has unfolded over the past few days. Apparently at the finale of the festival’s celebrations some kind of altercation broke out between Ludo and our potential driver Jules. We hear it’s quite ugly and my professional discretion prevents me from going into all the details but our means of transport to Bordeaux is now hanging in the balance. We play a final show on a stationary boat harboured in St Brieux with the Heavies and Radio Moscow. Playing between these two hard rocking acts creates a particular friction between us and the crowd but it’s no bad thing to challenge a crowd every night. Why give these greedy punters what they want? We attempt to give them what we feel they require in this beautiful harbour setting. Some thank us, including two Australians who have driven a couple of hours to see us after spotting a poster. They are as surprised as I am to see me here.

Thankfully, Jules comes on board for the drive as does his ultra-sweet girlfriend Fanny. Ludo also lends us his van and amp in a typical display of his limitless generosity. We love him. We are almost in Bordeaux when Jared makes the very reasonable suggestion of a toilet stop. Business done Jared climbs back into the car and steadies himself on the side of the front passenger door. At the same time Reubs slams the passenger door shut. On Jared’s fingers. There is a seemingly endless moment where Jared monotones, “Reuben open the door. Reuben open the door”, before the penny drops. There are four massive creases on Jared’s fingers. Reubs and Fanny race into the servo to get ice but can only find a Calypso Ice Pop. After awhile Jared ends up eating it as it’s a fairly useless ice pack. In a supreme display of percussive machismo he manages to play the show anyway. We open for a stack of bands in a big outdoor square by the river in including the Heavies, Left Lane Cruiser and so forth. All the bands have breakfast together the next morning and we farewell them and Bordeaux and head down south towards Biarritz, this time with the mighty Porkchop in tow.

On the way down, our driver Jules gets a call informing him that our first show in the Biarritz area, a place called Bayonne, has been cancelled. Apparently the bar owner has had a heart attack but on further investigation over the next couple of days it sounds more like a case of alcohol poisoning. Given we’ve played around 15 or 16 shows straight it’s not so bad. We go to the beach. We stay at a guy called Michell’s place. Him and his girlfriend are really lovely. Michell plays in a doom metal band called Monarch who have toured Australia. His left arm is tattooed black. We all sleep in the same room and Porkchop pretty much rips the roof of the place. I used to call my friend Justin “the nasal orchestra” but he has some stiff competition now. When Porkchop asks if he snored last night Reubs denies hearing anything. Such a liar!

We follow the instructions regarding our next show and turn up at a car park on a beach opposite a bar/kiosk. We discover that yes indeed we are playing a car park at the beach tonight and assemble a PA, which is really just somebody’s hotted-up home hi-fi system. The barman is a bit of a boofhead and keeps trying to hurry us up while we try to make the PA sound less like a glorified practice amp. Reubs’ bass “rig” is an all in one combo made by an esteemed amplifier company called “Gorilla”. This rig pretty much sounds like one long continual bowel movement. Typically Reub’s breezes through it uncomplainingly. Porkchop gets on with the show as always. Definitely one of the better one-man band proponents we’ve seen, and while he’s a prolific orator, his stories are mostly thoroughly entertaining. He tells me of the 90-year-old blues guitarist T-Model Ford asking if he could find a woman for him.

“What sort of a woman?”
“I want a woman with no bones.”

He’s also a walking encyclopedia of most musical genres and it’s great to be turned onto lots of stuff I’ve wanted to get into but now have further motivation to do so. We play our last show with Jared. It’s a strange gig to end on but I guess there’s worse places to play than a beachside car park in Biarritz. We stay in a flat above a school this time mostly with separate rooms. Porkchop’s nasal orchestra is more like a distant roar. It’s almost soothing. Like a distant roaring surf whispering to you from your bedroom window.

Our last show in France together is at a small bar in the town of Ciboure called “Le Factory”. It’s outside. Porkchop soundchecks and then pretty much starts playing. The man is unstoppable and we encore him onto a second set. The French have no issue with stopping and checking something out. If it appeals then they simply walk in, grab a beverage and sit themselves down. If they like it enough they’ll buy a CD. They make Aussies seem so self-conscious and stiff in comparison.

We seem to be being fed in drinks tonight, and so we’re a little starved and overwatered during our set. It’s interesting reinterpreting the songs all of a sudden with just acoustic guitar and bass but I’m starting to feel a weird halo of depression floating around my head. I’m not a good-time musician and playing these shows to whoever is walking by or standing around is starting to make me wish for a trapdoor. I’d like to rid myself of it but it’s coming to the fore more and more. Porkchop adds a bit of harmonica to a couple of tunes but I screw up one of my tunings turning the final song into nonsense and I at least am keen to get off. Porkchop comes up for round three and then Cofi the owner asks Reubs and me if we’ll do another set. I oblige wanting to redeem myself somewhat. It’s a bit quieter now and everything seems to sit better. The songs from my last album His Imaginary Choir especially seem to suit the acoustic and bass combo, and Reubs is starting to become quite the accomplished backing vocalist. Porkchop reckons he wants to cover the old Bluebottle Kiss song ‘Let the Termites Eat Our Riches’. That I’d like to see.

Reubs and I spend the next day running after trains for 12 hours. There’s been some unfortunate Italian chaos meaning the cancellation of some of our Italian leg however our tickets are totally inflexible so we have to hang around in Europe regardless. An old friend of ours called Jan and his wife Jasmine have invited us to stay with them for a few days in Switzerland to hang out and meet their newborn. When I wake up the next day in their loft I look out through the skylight and see a cat stalking imaginary prey under an endless blue sky. It’s so pretty I feel guilty. We spend the next three days in this state. Eating, drinking and swimming in the local river. Jan decides to take some time out to drive us to Italy and we can’t refuse this generous gesture. En route he buys the cheapest GPS he can find and it works well but no matter how many times I reprogram it into English the voice remains a hissing Fraulein. Often we will be in a meditative stupor cruising through the beautiful Swiss mountains without a care in the world only to have her hiss suddenly put an ice pick through everything. I can’t seem to adjust the volume either. We stop for petrol in Italy and the petrol attendant insists we owe him 95 euro despite the bowser clearly indicating we owe 78 euro. He tries his luck insistently hoping to take advantage of the language barrier but Jan stands his ground. I guess the GFC has settled in deep here.

We stay in a town called Marostica. It’s near 40 degrees and the next day we spend melting. It’s in the middle of the holidays and the town is totally ghosted in some kind of extended siesta. We soundcheck at the Rive Jazz Club outside and it sounds OK. People start turning up for dinner. We get a more than generous meal but pretty much after this, Gio – our effusive host – is run off her feet while Reubs, Jan and I sit nervously. Between us we’ve had around 18 espressos today so we’re a little edgy, dehydrated and too awkward to ask Gio for any further refreshments. When the time comes for Reubs and I to hit the tiles outside the sound has got a little farty. After some adjusting based on Jan’s sound opinions we soldier on. Breaking our set into two parts is not encouraged so we nervously plough through 20 songs. I really feel we’re just trying to play well tonight, not make mistakes, just try and play the tunes as best we can. The audience is polite enough but they’re here to graze so fair enough if they contain themselves. We don’t really connect with them tonight. We head back to the house Gio has kindly provided us and drown our sorrows in beer and our own sweat.

Which brings us to our final chapter. It’s still roasting. We see a local kid stack his bike in slo-mo in the town square. He loses his footing on one pedal followed by the inevitable domino effect until he’s sprawled out bawling and roasting. It looks especially painful in the blinding heat. Tonight’s show is in a town called Pozzolengo. It’s apparently a festival called “Castelli in Musica”. Music in the castle I think that means, which it kind of is. The town is deserted, in the middle of nowhere and even more roasting than Marostica. We eventually see a poster and wind our way up a tiny cobbled street towards a ruined castle surrounded by small apartments.

I get out of the car and spy a small square littered with plastic seats with a tiny make shift stage assembled in front. There’s no one about and it looks like it’s set up for a local council meeting or graduation ceremony. Eventually a couple of older guys turn up with a small PA system. Franco and Roberto. We get the sound happening and then go for pizza. Franco is dressed for a tennis match which is fair enough given the climate although he turns out to be a total music nerd after my own heart. He once owned a record store back in the late ’80s. He’s the president of the local blues society but pretty soon we’re talking about everything from Czech prog to the Fat Possum label and, of course – every older European music fan seems to know something of this – ’80s Australian garage.

We return to the square and pretty much every single seat is full. When I get to the front there is a sea of grey-haired, fan-wielding patrons. I guess this is a regular community concert that gets put on and they turn up loyally for whatever is on offer. The main thing being Celtic music. I imagine we were a hard sell but what else is new? Despite there being the odd walkout it goes well. We sing like The Everly Brothers and get all flamenco on a couple of tunes. Having an attentive audience does wonders for our performance. Franco gives a speech prior and post performance resplendent in his ’80s-influenced tennis gear and the president of the local music society speaks at length. He mentions Reuben a lot however the “whys” and “whats” of his address will remain forever a mystery. I sell a lot of CDs to this eclectic crowd which is gratifying.

We head back to our sleepy hotel. Jan has loaded up on provisions and we crack a bottle of red with the help of a hunting knife Reubs has somehow procured off a friendly music loving policeman in France. He cuts some plastic water bottles in half to use for glasses and we have our three man barbarian soiree beneath the stars. For the next hour we feel really good.

Jamie Hutchings: Euro 2010 Pt 1

Last year, he endured hooligans and sleep deprivation on his maiden solo European tour, but that didn’t deter Bluebottle Kiss’ JAMIE HUTCHINGS from a return visit in August/September with his brother Scott on drums.

‘Legging It Around Paris’

British Airways this time. There’s some very thinly veiled misanthropy going on beneath those taut facemasks. Scott’s hard-line gregariousness manages to stun most of the stewards into action though. It’s an enviable skill he possesses. I watch Shutter Island’, which stops and starts constantly. When added to the plot it does whip me around a bit. By the time we get to Singapore for the stopover I’m a little loopy. I stand at the urinal and can hear one of my new songs being played through the tiny system. After clawing through my bag I realise my iPod is playing itself sans headphones. I’m not famous in Singapore after all.

 We go straight into legging it around Paris all day long spending around two years in the Louvre. By the look on the Mona Lisa’s face as she endures flash after flash it’s hard to know whether she thought Da Vinci was a bit of all right or beneath contempt. An enigma.

 The next day we train it up to Binic in Brittany. Ludo our host and promoter for this run picks us up. Ludo runs on more cylinders than most humans dream of. He’s half man/half machine. Often when we are chowing down and ask him if he wants to eat something he’ll mumble, “You must keep the lion hungry.” Intense. The first show is in a little town called Plouha. Like most of our French shows it’s on an outdoor stage and I feel pretty naked after only playing a few smaller club shows with Scott at home before we left. It’s one thing creating something with the two of us in an intimate environment but with just the two of us in broad daylight in a public square it’s something else and my nerves mess things up a bit. Scott does his famous disappearing act just before we start. He does like to toy with me. The show is in front of a huge church in the main centre of this quaint town, surrounded by stalls and people of all ages. We do our best and sell a few CDs.

 We’re followed by Texans, The Black Diamond Heavies, a duo of Fender Rhodes/vocals and drums. A blindfold listen to these guys would convince you that the singer John should look like Fats Domino instead of a skinny white bloke, he sounds like he gargles glass. Very good garage/soul kind of combo. Our host for the evening is an eccentric six foot plus she-male with a solid handshake named “Poppette” who has cooked us some very watery spaghetti and bemoans her lack of marital prospects. As usual the night winds on till all the bands beg for bedtime.

Binic Folk Blues Festival

After some swimming in the brisk ocean we head to soundcheck for the first day of the Binic Folk Blues Festival. During soundcheck an elderly man implores me in French for something or other while his wife who is confined to a wheelchair stares at me stony-eyed and poker-faced. Ludo mentions the gent is somewhat of a freak and is infamous in the town for engaging in a number of unsavoury activities. Eventually we deduct that he’d like his wife to be given the opportunity to sing. We hand her the mic and she performs a couple of a capella styled versions of old French standards, her monotonic inflections reverberating across the harbour.

 Later I watch a French two-piece garage band called The Magnetics thrash away. I see a girl all of five-years-old in a complete solo rock’n’roll reverie. Eyes closed, weaving all over the place, I get a little lump in my throat seeing such a gorgeous primitive reaction to what’s going on. It’s something we really notice about this event, and others like it: that there’s tiny tots to grandparents all up late and getting in on the action. All the acts here are very much of the blues/garage scene or more traditional old time bluegrass or rockabilly in style, quite a lot of one-man band types too. One girl from Arizona called Becky Lee shows a bit of one-upmanship by managing to hold a drumstick in her guitar picking hand while going at the rest of the kit and the neck.

 Thus we are a little sore thumbish and I’m still feeling somewhat self aware during our set which is complicated by an amplifier that sounds like it’s had its valves dipped repeatedly in Colonel Sanders’ secret sauce. People are tuned in though and queue up to buy CDs, have them signed and ask lots of questions. It’s good. I am repeatedly asked, “Are you famous in Australia?” Yes. Yes I am. Scott and I eat upstairs at Ludo’s bar afterwards surveying the scene. The streets teem with people while boats ebb in the distance over the noise. A bung amplifier is of little consequence now.

 The next day we play a bigger stage, despite being a little different to much of what’s happening I’m feeling more in tune and Scott has no such problems. He’s started speaking in bad French and they are taking to his Mafioso stage persona. Slicked-back hair, aviators, leather jacket – he is out-rocking me big time.

 We get a great response and sell plenty of CDs, some of them to old ladies. The next night is a hole in the wall show in the beer garden of a restaurant a little further up the coast. I go for a walk and get some kind of bearing as to where this part of the world is. We get spoilt at the restaurant again, which probably explains the diners being a little more absorbed in their plates than us. It’s good though, Scott and I are starting to play seamlessly, it’s like a mechanical horse you can just ride at will now.

 On the Monday, Scott and I do a little more swimming and then head down the coast a little to do another outdoor show with the Black Diamond Heavies and Shake it Like a Caveman. We head to the end of the pier and watch all the teenage Frenchies impressing each other with their aerial hijinks into the water and nonchalant ciggie loving. The tobacco kings are hauling it in this part of the world.

 The set-up for this gig is pretty laid back being Monday and we take a few bends and twists in our set. The Black Diamond Heavies do a great rendition of ‘Sinner Man’ by Nina Simone and we all head upstairs for a communal dinner which involves sea snails, choice vino and group photos.

 I’m a little worse for wear the next day and spend the morning battling with a computer. Those who know me will know how fierce this can be.

 Ludo and his brother Higgins again spoil Scott and I at a restaurant with our protests falling on deaf ears. We head into the medieval town of Dinan to play our last French show. This time a gent called Stefan who camped in Ludo’s backyard during the festival insists on buying everyone dinner. It’s a hospitality overdose. The town is full of tiny glued-together terraces with sinister little attics with wooden shutters. We play in a tiny bar in the corner. It’s pretty much the only place open being a Tuesday night and the crowd is subdued but healthy. An Englishman gives us lots of unwanted free advice regarding my lack of banter and the price of CDs. It reminds me of the Brit in Anvil! The Story of Anvil when they’re playing some dive in Eastern Europe for nix. His lovely Kiwi mate is not dissuaded and buys a CD.

 Catch the train to Paris and then a train to whoop whoop to fly with “Povo Air” or Ryan Air as they are more commonly known. They have inspired me to build an airport in Dungog. We are herded like cattle to board and the whole plane turns into some kind of backpacker party. Ugly.

 ‘Welcome To Italy’

Amanda, my northern hemisphere manager/booker/girl genius, has booked us into a B&B near the airport. Antonella, the host, is late as someone else decided they were me when they saw her holding the sign and tried to get into her car. Scott asks if there’s anywhere open where we can eat something (it’s midnight) she says she’ll whip up some pasta which she does as well as gelato and some beers. Championess! There’s no sign of it on the bill the next day. Welcome to Italy.

 We pick up the hire car the next day and get acquainted with “Frieda”, our GPS. Frieda proves to be mercurial in temperament, Takes us off the highway only to put us back on it, loves her roundabouts. When she gets cross she speaks in a clipped icy German accent. I use whatever persuasive powers I possess to placate her mysterious wiles. It takes patience, kindness and a listening ear. We eventually hit it off but not until we’ve hung out at a few random cul-de-sacs and disused car parks.

 Anyway we get to this hotel in a small town in Alessandra called Tassarolo. It’s closed as its siesta time, some old chaps’ gesture for us to take a seat and shoot the breeze with them. Through sign language and such they tell us there is a huge castle in town that people like to jump off and that the hotel we are staying at is very hot. Both pieces of information prove to be correct. We are booked to play an outside square near the beach in Savona. It’ll be a tough gig but it pays OK until they call us halfway there to let us know it’s raining and cancelled and that we’ll be compensated with half the cash. Looks pretty sunny when we arrive but they won’t be persuaded. We swim, take the money and head back to the country. We are greeted by the humiliating sounds of a local covers band blasting through the square. An inauspicious start.

 On the way into town the next morning we spy the castle discussed brokenly with our elderly Italian friends. It’s an ominous scene. One half is well preserved and barred. The roof is covered with pigeons while the other half has been totally torn apart by nature. Vines and trees grow through dilapidated roofs, a distant bell tower peers above a collapsed turret. A huge rusty iron door and barbed wire fence bars entry, however we spy a path that is only made inaccessible by thick weed and bramble. Scott being quite the guerrilla photographer insists we break in. Once we get through the path we’re met with an astonishing site. A whole series of ruined castles, part of the main castle is a church. All the murals have faded; the floor is strewn with rubble with stairs that lead to nowhere or collapsed rooms. Ideal for a death metal photo shoot. A pitch black cellar full of enormous busted wine barrels, while outside the air is full of fresh mint and butterflies. I keep waiting for some gun-toting caretaker to scare us off but none arrives.

 That night we head to the venue in Franca Villa. With a bit of help we discover the venue is named after the year the castle was completed (1340). It was last occupied by the Germans when they took control over it and used it as a detention centre in World War II. No one has used it since. Spooky.

 The gig is OK; the hospitality, however, is outstanding. So outstanding that Scott has quiet a heavy reaction to their generosity particularly in regards to the copious amounts of cured meat offered. We really do overdose on meat and cheese in Italy. A vegan holiday maker would have to be airlifted on a stretcher out of this place. Scott learns how to say, “I don’t speak Italian” with Pavarotti-inspired gusto and uses it to dramatic effect during the rest of the trip. They like him a lot.

 Due to the state of Scott’s intestines we move pretty slow the next day finally hitting the road in the early afternoon. It’s bucketing rain all the way and when we get to the venue no one is about so we have a look around Torino, the nearby city. It’s a pretty squalid claustrophobic place, crammed with huge old apartment blocks. The venue seems to be in the middle of nowhere. We meet the owner; an old rocker ironically named Elvis. He informs us that he’s had no luck with sourcing a drum kit for us. However, he can access a Cajun drum or perhaps a djembe. Scott is nonplussed. He takes us back to the hotel which has a lobby Vince Sorrenti would kill for.

 Eventually, Elvis finds an old pal, who is kind of a hippy version of himself who has “some bits and pieces”. Shortly before we play, his friend arrives resplendent in a paisley waistcoat etc. with a weird bongo type drum ingeniously attached to a kick-drum pedal. A toy snare drum, matching hi-hats and a cymbal with a stand. Slap bass and bongo circuit we’re a comin’! Seriously though, it’s better than a djembe so we’re kind of indebted to this guy in a backwards kind of way, and Elvis and co. keep us well watered.The ghost of Frieda seems to inhabit the PA most of the night with monitors turning off and on at will, but we manage to churn through our marathon set with a couple of fans converted by the end. When we get off stage, Elvis’ wife is pretty keen on having a sing and asks me if I know any Jefferson Airplane or Carole King. I tell her I’m a Carole fan, but don’t know how to play any of her songs. I hand my guitar to her friend, Scott remains onstage on his sci-fi kit and our percussion lender adds some very zealous bongo fury. They murder ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and something else. I do front-of-house sound. Sweet as. I ask Elvis if I have to fill out all the myriads of papers that you seem to be required to fill out to get paid here. He replies, “No”, then pauses searching for the words to explain in English: “We … we … we bandit.”

Jamie Hutchings: Euro 2010 Pt 2

In part two of his European tour diary, JAMIE HUTCHINGS and his drummer-brother Scott encounter an ‘American Banjo Master’ in Italy, some ludicrously expensive Big Macs in Copenhagen and a bill full of tribute bands in London.

‘Why You Here?’

Frieda, our GPS guide, really comes to the rescue as we drive endlessly through a labyrinth of tiny streets surrounded by farmlands to reach the Rive Jazz Club in Bassano.

It’s a very groovy retro-inspired venue. Out the front on the blackboard reads “Jamis and Adam Hutchings. Great!” Giovanna, our effervescent host, greets us and when she realises her mistake and sees us posing in front of the sign she shrieks and tries to rub it out before the evidence can be documented.

 She proves to be a great woman setting us up in a beautiful ancient terrace owned by a local painter who is away for a couple of days and offering us beautiful Chianti from Tuscany. She collects vintage television sets and old French magazines. It’s a quiet night as it’s in the middle of the holidays and so loads of people are away at the sea, but the audience are very attentive. We sell quiet a lot of stuff and meet some great people who are keen on helping us get some bigger shows next time including one of the local festivals. Giovanna’s mum reckons we are the best thing she’s seen at the club from more than 200 gigs and insists on paying for a CD. Mums know best.

 We have a day off so we check out Venice the next day, which is way more crowded than last time. Scott snaps a picture of a gelato owner, who totally loses his mind over this unlawful intrusion screaming at us all the way down the street but unfortunately he is glued to his stand and simply can’t do to Scott the true harm he threatens.

 We head to Ravenna where we are playing a couple of nights in a small town at a bar called Lismore. The sound guy is a retired psychologist and Dinosaur Jr fan so we get on pretty good. We play an outside stage equipped with some American Indian-styled props, a tepee and some other stuff. Plenty of people, but we get a bit lost. The two CDs we sell are to the sound guys. We head back to the hotel and Scott is leafing through a glossy magazine. He finds a two-page advertisement for what appears to be a very popular longstanding band from Italy who have just released “their definitive collection”. The name of the band? “Pooh”. One of their old albums is called Boomerang. Think about that for a while.

 We play another show at the same venue the next night this time supporting an American guy or “American Banjo Master” as our worksheet bills him called Tony Trischia. He’s a champion guy who saw Dylan in ’63 and ’64, which is pretty impressive. His backing band are all Italian guys who play in a very authentic bluegrass band called “Red Wine”. They sing in perfect American twang-y southern accents. We make a couple of fans and one guy invites us to his table where his wife is waiting. It turns out he’s an Italian soldier who has spent time in both Afghanistan and Iraq and is very keen on getting out. Italians are “lovers not fighters”, he says. We tell him we’re keen on him getting out too. Says the Americans are very gung ho over there and that he’s missing watching his daughters grow up. He’s a pretty discerning music fan and asks if I remember an Australian band from the ’80s who played great ’60s garage pop. “The Stems?” I offer “Mama Mia!!” he cries. Then he looks around and asks a question that has been put to me since time immemorial in my performing history albeit in a strong Italian accent: “Why you here?”

 The next day involves driving, driving and more driving. We have a brief stop in Pisa to check out the leaning tower of Pisa. Frieda again takes us by the hand and leads us up through the mist to a town on the peak of a mountain called Bardineto. We are playing at the Balla Coi Cinghiali festival. When we finally arrive we see swarms of feral youngsters. In true Italian style there doesn’t seem to be a festival rep about for miles just loads of people and noise. I text Marco, the contact on the worksheet. A while later I get a text from a Marco from Sicily who has no idea what I’m talking about but wishes me luck.

 We work it out. A lot of the bands here seem to partner Julio Iglesias- styled romantic dramatism with heavy rock theatrics. Scott spies a goth rock band on the large stage who have one guy in the band who dresses in a grim reaper outfit. No instrument, just hanging out on stage. The best band we see is a group featuring two singers who partner Italian-styled traditional pop with Mr Bungle-styled spazz metal. They’re pretty good. The band before us do a rock’n’roll triathlon-length set that sends things an hour overtime.

 The folks here are pretty enthusiastic though, or perhaps super intoxicated. I figure this gig will be an abomination. It’s not though. Despite ridiculous spill from the other stages we manage to hold their attention really well, finding some kind of synergy together. The spill from the techno stage is so insane that we invite the audience onstage to sit in front of the foldbacks so they can at least hear us better to which many of them happily comply. It’s probably our best show here and we sell a stack of CDs frantically from the stage while the next band is trying to set up. Feeling fairly smug we head back off down the mountain at around midnight.

 ‘A Gig In Berlin’

The tail-end of this tour is somewhat of an experiment. Physically, psychologically, geographically and financially. The first stop is Berlin. The flight leaves at 6.45 am which means a three-and-a-half hour drive to Milan straight from the festival to once again fly with the infamous “Povo Air”. Sleep is a luxury obviously for those coined up enough to fly during waking hours. Not us. We hang outside the airport from around 3.30 am with the other sullen backpackers until it opens and eventually arrive in Berlin around 8.30am. We do the sweaty zombie thing for awhile till we stumble into the hostel we’re staying at, and amazingly, are playing at. The receptionist sheepishly informs me that due to some confusion our rooms won’t be ready until 4pm. Do we want to help ourselves to breakfast instead? Do we?!

 We run into my old mate Chris Hogan, a man I am generally indebted to for all manner of goodly music helping deeds. He offers to show Scott around Berlin. Scott is keen to continue waging the war against sleep and takes him up on his offer given that he has never visited before. Berlin is amazing, however, I have been here before and am having sleep fantasies. Thankfully, the receptionist has rectified the room situation so I climb the four stories and collapse.

 We are playing in “the courtyard”, which is kind of a Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii situation. A huge concrete slab a million miles from the outside seating arrangement. Scott and I have a debate on how to rectify this, but reach a stalemate and decide to roll with the empty arena vibe.

 Berlin resident Harry Coltello doubles as PA provider, as well as opening act and does some tasty Ry Cooder Paris Texas-styled solo instrumental pieces. We drone away and it ends up sounding pretty good up there. It’s no Wings of Desire, but it’s a gig in Berlin. We get invited to make some musical noise with some friends of friends who have a drum kit and some amplifiers set up in their apartment. Given that it’s now midnight and they live in an apartment I decline but not Scott. Despite his sleep debt he takes up the offer. He later tells me that, yes, they did indeed have a drum kit and amp set up; and, yes, it was in a very small flat in a crowded block of units, but they assured him that noise was not a problem in this neighborhood. They bashed their instruments for a half-hour or so before being politely interrupted by the local police. Fair enough. I am coaxed into walking to a nearby night club where we are greeted by a mile-long queue. Chris and I do a U-turn and head back.

 We get up at 6.45 am. Scott has managed to clock up an awesome three hours of sleep in 48 hours and spends the majority of these hours conducting his own private nasal orchestra. It’s quite a racket! This man is tired.

 Copenhagen is full of very helpful good looking people but it’s also three times more expensive than anywhere else on planet earth. While hanging outside the local McDonald’s we work out that a Big Mac here costs around $12-14 AUD. Yummy. Our host Jacob packs our stuff into a cart attached to his bicycle. He lives in a council flat out of town with two chinchillas. We’re here to play at the Copenhagen Songwriters festival. A last minute gig that Amanda has wrangled us that I know very little about.

We crash for a while before meeting a friend called Trina, who has kindly rustled up some bicycles and insists it’s the only way to see Copenhagen. My threads are suave but I look a fool with my hideous quicksilver backpack and total lack of pedaling coordination. It’s liberating though. We briefly check out a free local doof festival before heading to the show.

 The drum kit has arrived sans any hardware. I suggest to the organiser the option of someone holding the snare while Scott hits it and balances the cymbal on their pinky, but he wisely decides to make a few calls. The fest is pretty thin on people, but thick on earnest singer/songwriter types. You think I’m earnest? You gotta check this place out.

Our spot is at 11pm but we have been pushed back as a surprise special guest has agreed to play an exclusive secret show. We are told this will work a treat for us as she will play to a full house and everyone will hang around to check us out. Ever played after someone really popular? Remember what happened? Anyway she plays a Missy Higgins-type set to a reverential audience who exit when she exits and we enter at around 1am .It’s a little tough going and my acoustic sounds a little like a tennis racket with strings but we’re good.

 Get back to our place of lodging around 4am. As we are stumbling through the endless back alleys to the flat we are staying at Scott says, “I don’t how you keep doing this.” I’ve been asked this a few times. I’m still thinking of a clever answer. Text me suggestions.

We snooze deeply till mid-morning and then hightail it into the drizzle back to the airport and fly to London. We are playing at a place called The Half Moon in Putney. Except for Damo Suzuki, who is billed here, most of the other acts on their schedule appear to be tribute bands. Remember tribute bands? It seems this antipodean plague has finally left our shores and landed in full force in London.

 Anyway, we lug our junk from the train station. The backpacking/acoustic lug is really wearing thin now. Our mate Tom meets us there with an amp which is sweet. We are staying at our friend Chantelle’s house and she has managed to drum up a few friends to come, but apart from them it’s a little lame on numbers. London has a million bands and if you think venues in Sydney are tough on bands they seem to take it to a new level of extortion. Well, at least some of the places do. None of the bands get paid tonight. It’s not packed but it’s not empty either. I do my best to argue our case to the bar manager but realise quite quickly it’s an exercise in futility. It’s time to blow this popsicle stand and sit on a plane for 24 hours.

Jamie Hutchings: A Mexican Troubadour In Paris 2009

Hooligans, sleep deprivation, fine food and vino – JAMIE HUTCHINGS reports on his first European solo tour in November.

Milan via Seoul
Flew Korean Air as it was a sweet deal. Felt a bit like one of those characters that gets thrown out of the space station in Total Recall, head swelling like a ripe pubescent zit. Don’t take a window seat. The notion is romantic but the couple next to me obviously had bladders of steel.

Stayed overnight in Seoul in a schmick hotel room as part of the Deal. Similar Total Recall airlessness but I did feel a bit like Batman standing in my undies in front of the full-length window overlooking the dark, rain-streaked streets below (except my nose was a bit blocked and I had a headache). Took an aisle seat on the second leg, could do random yoga poses at will and attend to my ADD bladder whenever it prodded me. Got picked up in Milan by Luca, the promoter. He bought me pizza and beer and is a huge Lynyrd Skynyrd fan. Great guy.
Monday, I went to the Duomo, biggest gothic cathedral in the world; funereal organ droning away, intimidating place. Had dinner with Luca, who painstakingly translated word-for-word a glowing review of my album which was really nice but my head was almost in my pasta. Very sleepy.

On Tuesday, I caught a train to meet a drummer. Luca said he found my music “very percussive” so he acquired a local guy who I met at the train station. “Mr Jamie?” – and there he was, Pablo. Pablo couldn’t speak much English, but it kind of made it more fun. You just skip the small talk and go for the big stuff and you laugh so much due to the constant incomprehension. He turned out to be a bit of a gem. We rehearse in his mum’s basement, he’s worked out the patterns pretty well, has big ears. It’s a relief indeed to know the tunes will not be accompanied by a man building a shed behind me. His mum chatters to me constantly in Italian, she’s totally unfussed as to whether I comprehend her or not. I try her homemade white wine and she gives me a bottle of the family made vino as a pressie.

The first gig is at the Paprika Jazz club. As is the pattern over here hospitality reigns supreme. Food, drink etc., generally very un-Australian behaviour. I do my best to act as if I’m being treated in the style to which I am accustomed, but I’m no thespian – it’s pretty awesome.

We don’t play to many people but Luca is pretty stoked with the performance and is proud of pairing Pablo with me. Doing a two-piece show with just acoustic guitar and drums is kind of exciting, particularly when you’ve only had one rehearsal and neither of you speak the same language. At some stage, Pablo gets the set confused and things get a bit wild but generally it’s a success: you’ve gotta throw out different shapes and find ways of creating certain frequencies. We do an off-the-cuff cover of Neil Young’s ‘On the Beach’ and pack up.

The next day, I check out a gigantic cemetery, effigies everywhere. Either these people are after immortality or they’re loved a lot by the people they’ve left behind. I’ve never seen anything remotely like it. I haven’t travelled alone for a long time and there’s this heightened sense to seeing even some of the most mundane things, the realisation you might not see them again. Pablo and I head out to the country in Alessandria. We get totally lost – winding roads, vineyards, creepers up ancient villas – and finally arrive. Very comfy place, super friendly people who buy CDs off me before I’ve played. I must look hungry. I am and they feed us very well. The owner can’t speak any English but insists on showing me a bottle of Bundaberg Rum just so I know he stocks it. We head home – Pablo plays shows with me every night and has to work during the day. He drops me off at the hotel at 2am and he’s still got another 40 minutes to go. Luca is the same: two kids, his booking business and other work. They don’t stop. Generally, they talk on their mobiles constantly while driving and if they have a GPS system or map they show no interest in using either; it’s “mi scusi…? to get directions. Often they just stick their arm out the window and wave a car down. It’s gold.

The next night we head around half-an-hour out of town to a place called Stomp. Kind of swish but larger and more traditionally rock. As a result the crowd is a little bigger but also a little more barbaric. It’s more of a challenge playing in the two-piece format in a larger venue but we make it happen. One gent has come along from Buscadero magazine which is sort of Italy’s answer to mags like Uncut. He leaves impressed and takes a set list as he wants to write a live review, so that’s something. Another guy buys a CD for the girl he’s with in the hope that she will become more enamored of him. By the time I leave it seems to have worked. Luca and I have a brief discussion about the original vocalist in Iron Maiden (who is playing this place soon we see) being superior to Bruce “The Human Air Raid Siren” Dickenson and then we head off.

Next day, I check out another museum full of paintings of martyrs being beheaded or filled with arrows while maintaining totally mute expressions. Very tough times. Pablo and I head down the coast to Savona. When we get there it’s night so you can’t see the sea but the air cuts right through us as soon as we get out of the car. We have a stupidly sized dinner and get into the club which is called Raindogs. It’s tiny, a very cool little place that looks like it’s been lifted from a David Lynch film but the show proves a little tough. I’m falling asleep in my chair before we hit the stage. The thing to add here is that there is no support act for any of these shows so we have to play for at least an hour-and-a-half each night. I generally try to convince them to let us do it in two sets to make it a little less punishing but the owner is scared the small crowd will leave so he requests we play the 20 songs straight.

There’s just no vibe from the audience this night, it’s icy and I tell them Pablo and I will be hitting the water tomorrow in our budgie smugglers. No one is roused. Around halfway through the set I’m feeling a little like Jane Fonda’s character in They Shoot Horses Don’t They?, but at the end a big burly guy who speaks no English pumps his fist to his heart and buys a CD. This makes my night.

In the morning, Pablo translates Italian pop songs that are being played over the radio into broken English. Golden sentiments such as, “Baby you have no soul … take your clothes off.” Pablo says the two worst things about Italy are the Mafia and the Vatican and we are heading to the heartland of these two worlds: Sicily. Sicily is like a totally different country, really Mediterranean, ancient. After the postwar boom loads of new estates went up so it’s really incongruous at times seeing ugly huge blocks next to centuries-old villas in glorious disrepair. We get picked up by the woman who is running the show. There appear to me no lanes on the road and everybody’s cars are the length of a toothpick. It’s chaos.

The venue is makeshift, it’s a night run bi-weekly or so by a music society. We ring a bell out the front of an old building walk up some stairs and walk into what looks like a big flat but it’s the venue; a room with a basic stage and some chairs. We play to a very eclectic and attentive crowd. Pablo is really coming into his own now and living inside the songs more. Halfway through I break a string. It’s a real stress with a dead quiet audience that has difficulty following my ramblings and an awkward moment for everyone. I decide to replace it with the wrong gauge while Pablo attempts some native banter. I try a second time. I also look down at my shoe and notice my sole is flapping in the wind. Perfecto.

Afterward we wonder the streets for a while. It’s pretty much deserted with those ancient buildings looking down at us ominously. We get to some lane and it’s suddenly wall-to-wall with gothic kids. They’re fierce-looking like sticky vampires, and I feel the whole place coagulating in the din and stink. I’m dead on my feet. Pablo is up for a night on the tiles but I’ve gotta go.
I try a local specialty the next morning at his prompting. Batter enveloping corn, rice, mozzarella and pork. It’s food Elvis would love: heavy. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say the Italians’ obsession with meat, cheese and bread can possibly only be equaled with Austereo’s unending romance with Cold Chisel. It’s a love affair that’s exhausting me a little. We spend most of the next day waiting for a plane that never seems to want to arrive before doing our final show together in Milan. Luca has got as many troops together as he can, and we again pull off a really together show.

I speak to a local after the gig who is keen on Died Pretty, The New Christs, The Church – the whole ’80s underground Australian scene – and wonders what’s happened since then. Tells me he first saw Died Pretty over here playing to 1000 people. Golden days. It’s a relief after being bailed up a couple of times with enquiries about Tommy Emmanuel.
It’s the last show and I feel pretty indebted to Luca, Pablo and, of course, my American saviour Amanda who has organised all of this. I have a couple of days off so I decide to see Venice before it ends up underwater. I walk out of my tiny hostel a couple of times and somehow am at the front again. It’s kind of like someone has dredged this city out of the murky subconsciousness of some deranged genius. An amazing labyrinth. I’ve gotta catch a 6am flight and ask the desk clerk for a wake up call at 3.50am. I get one at 3.15 am. I guess 15 and 50 sound really similar.

Paris via London

I am flying via London to get the cheapest deal to Paris. I get to London and there’s a bomb scare at Heathrow. The bus drops me in an out of the way point as the terminal is closed. Some dodgy directions crossed with unwise panicked decision-making somehow sees me on a train to Paddington while my flight heads to Paris. I hang around to catch a later one. I have no idea where I’m gonna to sleep tonight.I get a text message from Ludo, who is putting a couple of shows on for me up in Brittany, saying there’s a band leaving for Brittany after their gig tonight if I want a lift. I’ve been up since a zombie hour, the band won’t leave until midnight and it’s a 500-kilometre drive. Why not? I queue for a train ticket and in front of me is Peter Fenton of Crow infamy’s son Jasper. The world grows tinier. The Paris subway is full of shickered football hooligans. They’re like an endless dunderhead army and I have to crawl against them with all my junk. Later, the Algerians beat Egypt and it’s even more out of control, bums hanging out of cars etc., and the trains are crammed.
I get to this bar called Le Feline, where the guys I’m meeting are playing. “They” turn out to be a one-man band called Shake it Like a Caveman aka Blake from Tennessee. He plays dirty sub-delta blues in a space suit while manning a kick drum, hi-hat and electric geetar. This place is mental, a couple of girls barely out of their teens dance and half molest Blake throughout the show. Though, as I find out later, this is regular fare. The surly bartenders seem as intoxicated as the patrons. I owe a hefty sleep debt, I really can’t keep up here.
Eventually, Blake, Julien (his mixer/driver) and I get out of there and I cuddle up to a seatbelt for the 500km haul arriving at Ludo’s house at around 5am. I resemble a single-celled organism. I fall into a very deep sleep and dream that my new hosts are attacking me. This proves most un-prophetic. Binic is a quaint seaside town a million miles from Paris. Ludo runs a little bar/cafe here and I play that night there. He says yes to everything, sleeps rarely and has a heart of gold. It’s Beaujolais nouveau day, where the new vintages are bottled and everybody is on it. Ludo cracks a bottle of St-Emilion Bordeaux ’03 that tastes like it was sourced from a single vineyard somewhere in heaven.

Playing the show in Ludo’s bar is a little like performing in a lounge room, or Madam Fling Flongs in Newtown, or somewhere. I don’t get to play these kind of rooms often. There’s something that happens between the audience and performer that can’t (or won’t) happen in a proper club, and I have a bit of a record CD-selling night.
The next day we head a bit further north where I play at a restaurant/ bar overlooking the sea. It’s chilly and the streets are totally deserted. I get fed very well here. French food is very sophisticated and tasty though a good vet would be able to get many of their steaks back on the road. They sure like them super rare. A woman gives us 20 Euros and requests I play a song at their table. I feel like a Mexican troubadour and don’t know how to refuse in French, but they buy three albums so I figure it’s no time to pull out the indie diva card. Ludo and friends play pretty hard and I’m a party soft kind of guy so I crawl away eventually from the after show rabble and snooze while they revel into the very wee hours.

London via Paris
I head south to Paris to catch my connecting train to London and stay with a girl called Sonia who is Paris’ number one (and perhaps only) Bluebottle Kiss fan. I’m very sleep deprived but she gives me a whirlwind tour of the city of lights. It’s raining, making the whole city pretty and blurry. My head is spinning but she’s keen on a couple of tunes so I sheepishly clunk through a couple of substandard versions before keeling over into the land of nod. I get to London and my phone dies. I have no way of calling my hosts to work out where they live or even getting their number as being the genius I am I have not written it down anywhere. It’s in the dead phone. I wander the streets of London until I access the number online, spend a bunch of change dialling the number incorrectly and finally hit paydirt and make it to the flat I’m staying at.

There are so many human beings in London. The tube is sardine can-like and when you add a guitar a backpack and a total lack of directional sense it gets ugly. But funny. The first show I have is at the windmill in Brixton. It’s kind of in the middle of a residential nowhere and I walk through what seems like a blizzard for a small eternity before getting there. It’s a rough-as-guts kind of layout, but Tim the owner is a nice guy and it’s the third time I’ve played there. It’s pretty quiet, but I sell the last of my CDs and an old fan/friend from Adelaide called Jared and his girlfriend shout me a cab which is super sweet.

I spend a day recovering in a strange suit-shaped sleeping bag that my host Rob has laid out for me. It’s Monday night and I’m playing at a place called The Slaughtered Lamb. I get squashed again in the tube and wander lost for around half-an-hour before a kind librarian points me in the right direction. Despite the death metal overtones of the name, it’s a very sweet room in the basement lined with couches and, as usual in London, a nice loyal and mostly ex-pat turnout. My battery runs out and I break a string, but each time the support act magically saves the day with a fine surplus of replacements and technical solutions. I even manage a cover of ‘Head Full of Steam’ by the Go-Bees to make the homesick Aussies a bit more homesick. I get a lift from a lovely acquaintance called Tom. We get very lost, the London directory looks like a map of veins.

It’s my last show in London the next night. I’ve been offered a last minute show the week before at the UCLU (University College London Students’ Union). Playing at universities is weird – even more so when it’s in another country. This night is called “Folkulture” and it’s smattered with earnest and not-so earnest spoken word performances. The support act is an impressive guy called Jack Cheshire who does a nice contemporary take on ’70s style, English folk with Nick Drake kind of fingerpicking. He’s even a little like our own Ned Collette. By this stage, I feel pretty much in the zone and do what I’m sure is a totally mistake free set. There’s a period film playing behind which concerns a young maiden and a count who has gone AWOL. It’s distracting but a nice touch.
I visit the Royal Academy of Arts the next day and watch an installation by Anish Kapoor. One of the pieces is a cannon that fires red wax against the lovely academy walls. It gives everyone a bit of a fright. I’m trying to squeeze myself back on the tube again to get to the airport. I am rammed out the way by three people in a row thus further damaging my take on general humanity here. The last guy is half man, half elephant. Survival of the fattest, or fastest … it’s time to go home.