Smoke Fairies - European Tour Diary

I dragged my exhausted body into the lobby of the hotel in Madrid at silly o'clock in the morning and the driver said, “We’re stopping en route to the airport to pick up some people from Edwyn Collins"  and for a brief moment I forgot my extreme tiredness and am reminded of what the hell I've been doing for the last week and a half.

Day 1 - Paris

As with most days on tour much of the day is taken up being on a variety of motorways and on this particular day being under the sea in a tunnel for a bit too. I'd never been to Paris before so was looking forward to catching a glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. We were travelling along this french motorway when we noticed the Sat Nav claiming we were a mere 5 minutes away which I hoped was all lies but it turned out to be pretty accurate; we arrived at the venue Fleche d' Or and it's like we're in the Willesden of Paris, not an Arc or Tower in site. Despite that, the venue itself was lovely, the decor nicely reflecting its name; Fleche d' Or meaning The Golden Arrow, a defunct train line that ran through the area in the 1920s.We were fed well and the show was well received. 

In the van on the way to the hotel after the show someone shouted out "there's the Eiffel Tower!" and the rest of us turned around in different directions and missed it. That pretty much sums up this touring lark.

Day 2 -  The long drive to The Hague

What makes a long drive tolerable? Michael Bolton on the stereo that's what. Someone, I think it was Jess, thought it would be a great/silly idea if everyone bought an embarrassing CD with them, hence Michael Bolton. Smooooooth. 

We arrived at this nice hostel Den Haag, dumped our stuff then headed over to the Crossing Border Festival. We caught Ed Harcourt playing the Deuite Kerk (German Church) which was the same place we played the following day. His voice sounded ultra luscious in the cavernous church surroundings and Black Dress sounded particularly lovely. He did one song sans amplification and took on the wandering minstrel role, strolled up the aisle of the church and perched on a pew next to Kaf. He dedicated the next song to Smoke Fairies which was sweet.

Day 3 - Still in The Hague

We had a rare opportunity to wander around the city so wander we did and we passed many a cafe that brandished a sign with the words 'Slag Room' on it. We were pretty bemused until we stopped off at a pancake house and discovered the words were Dutch for whipped cream, and what better to go with whipped cream than hot chocolate and lashings of vodka. The dutch certainly know how to treat a hot drink.

Our show in the church that night was a little problematic to say the least. The guitar amps were behaving like they had a particularly bad cold, which incidentally most of the band did have at this point. I turned round on stage one moment and saw one of the coughing and spluttering amps being stretchered off to be replaced by a nice healthy specimen. The next moment Jessica's tuning pedal had been infected and her guitar cut out resulting in a sharp piercing noise when the offending article was replaced. Instead of looking embarrassed Jess wittily remarked "well, that rather destroyed the atmosphere we were creating" and carried on like nothing had happened. It was a valiant show. 

After the show Kaf and Jess tootled off to do some kind of promotional radio thing and the rest of us were left with the task of loading the van before Local Natives' show in this impressive theatre round the corner.  We also had time for a nice alcoholic beverage but not enough time to fully make use of the ample  supplies in the fridge. Drummer Rob happened upon an idea to take a few cans with us for later so he asked this guy in a smashing cowboy hat if he thought the people would mind, unbeknown to Rob that guy was Kurt Wagner of Lambchop fame. In that American-country drawl Kurt simply said "take the whole crate and walk out looking like you know what you're doing" . 

Local Natives were incredible, all youthful energy and fervent enthusiasm. They walked on stage and after the first note every single person stood up out of their seats and started dancing. It was one of those moments where it feels like you're witnessing musical history where nothing will be the same again...but then the next day nothing has changed. I think I have a bit of a man crush on the bassist too. He finger picks - on the bass - has one of those 'cool' indie partly shaved haircuts and mid length trousers and still I think this.

Deeper into the night the few that remained somehow found ourselves on a karaoke bus. It was a classic flourish.

Day 4 - Antwerp

Part two of the Crossing Border Festival after handily crossing a border. We arrived at this maze of a venue which had a main auditorium, a couple of other smaller stages and a cafe type place on the ground floor where we were due to be playing. Sound check was going fine until the moment Jess strummed her guitar; the strap fell off and her lovely old Hofner crashed to the ground causing the neck to snap. Tragic. The spare guitar was dug out and we carried on.

The room was packed for the show, Ed Harcourt was in the audience and a song was dedicated to him at which point I thought to myself  'don't mess this up, don't mess this up'
We had to leave straight after the show and drive to this little guest house in Germany. We had to wake up the lady of the house at 2am to let us in and were up early morning to have breakfast, thus continuing our late finish, early start pattern of tiredness.

Day 5 - Copenhagen

After a particularly long drive, some of which was taken up by Kaf and Jess doing a bizarre set of phone interviews with guitar magazines, and a short ferry trip we rolled up to this area where every surface has graffiti and it looks like a Mad Max film with people gathered around burning oil drums and an open hash market. That place is the free town Christiania. It's pretty much an anarchist state and apparently if you run in the main square they set the dogs on you because they think it's a police raid. Setting dogs on the police is totally fine. It's a pretty incredible place. 

During sound check I went to tighten my viola bow as per usual but to my dismay realised that the hairs weren't stretching out and despite several frantic attempts to make it tighten I had to concede defeat. Luckily, Kris had a budget 'cello bow with him that he occasionally uses on his bass guitar to mimic the sound of Humpback whales mating. So I used that. It was like playing the viola with a tree trunk.

5 days in: 1 x broken amps, 1 x broken Hofner guitar and 1 x broken viola bow.

Day 6 - Hamburg

The few hours we had spare in Hamburg were mostly taken up with searching for replacement amp valves and a new viola bow. Both things were acquired with surprising ease, mainly due to the incredibly friendly and helpful Germans. Also, as if by magic, a brand new Hofner guitar in the box was waiting for us at the venue. I guess there's a reason why the band is called Smoke Fairies. 

The venue, The Molotow, reminded me of the Buffalo Bar with its red lighting and punkish demeanour. My brother and sister in law turned up too which must have amplified the similarities with London. 

We opened up the door to our hotel room later on to find what should have been a room for 4 people only had one bunk bed. After a little searching we found another bed in a draw under the bunk and one up in the gods above the top bunk and over the door. Contained.

Day 7 - Berlin

We arrived in Berlin early as Kaf and Jess had numerous promo based things including having their every move filmed by these seemingly anarchic film crew who later on shone bright lights and stuck cameras in our faces as we tried to play the gig. This gave the rest of us enough time to walk around and get lost in the snow and chose ill advised places to eat. 

To add to our growing list of broken stuff the other amp died during soundcheck but the support act Miracle Fortress kindly lent us his.

It was a full, attentive crowd at the gig and they were surprisingly vocal too with one guy marvellously exclaiming “you’re not ZZ Top, you’re AA Top!”

The hotel we stayed at (Michelberger Hotel) was ace, I think it's specially designed for arts/ music type people which I think just means it's cheap. There were plasma screens dotted around every corridor all showing The Big Lebowski which prompted a few white russians in the bar later on. 

Day 8 - Travel to Barcelona

We left the van in Berlin to be driven back to London and undertook the jet set leg of the tour arriving at the airport for Spain. It was a pleasure to touch down in Barcelona following the bitter cold of Germany. Snow was replaced with sun and palm trees. 

We came across this food market which was like Borough Market but much larger and cheaper and not full of middle class people with lots of money. 

Day 9 - Barcelona, Primavera Festival

Pleasingly, we had most of the day to soak up Barcelona. We travelled up this steep hill in a cable car to the Castell de Montjuic and the views of the harbour and city were breathtaking, almost as breathtaking as the journey in the cable car which I found embarrassingly terrifying. 

We then headed to Gaudi's Sangrada Familia which is an astonishing piece of architecture clearly designed by a lunatic. It's an incredibly imposing gothic structure. Kris took it on himself to test out the acoustics of the place, the results of which you can see here: 

The show in the evening was part of Primevera and we were on just before Teenage Fanclub which meant playing in a pretty large venue with a crowd who for the most part were pretty attentive. The Spanish love a good smoke in the venue, something i was looking forward to but when you were faced with the claustrophobic reality I ended up smoking outside most of the time.

It was particularly long but fun evening and I awoke fully clothed with most of the contents of the mini bar scrawled across the floor.

Day 10 - Madrid 

After nowhere near enough sleep we took our fragile selves to the train station for the high speed train to Madrid. They showed a film dubbed in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. Helpful.

The show was a similar affair to Barcelona still being Primevera. The venue was this ornate council room where you'd imagine important people making important speeches. We just played a few songs, which was good. This final show was initially a bit of a challenge for me; the combination of lack of sleep, general lingering flu-type thing, hangover, searing heat on stage not helped by this three piece suit I was wearing and the claustrophobic smokey atmosphere meant that at one point I thought I might pass out on stage but luckily that feeling only lasted one song and it went on to be one of the best shows we played.

Day 11 - leave Madrid

...which is back where I started at the top of the page.

I can't finish this piece without mentioning the unflappable manager Matt who not only made sure we got where we were supposed to be but also did a fair chunk of the driving and put up with our constant stream of questions and affably dealt with such problems as us breaking pretty much everything. He is great. 

I should also mention Finian the sound man who travelled with us. He had a routine of playing The Rapture's Don Gon Do It at the beginning of every sound check. He'd put it on really loud while we were setting up and walk around the venue to test out the sound system. Always the pro. It also marked our arrival at each show which turned out to be rather reassuring.