Thurs 13 September, Amsterdam....Amphibious city, with its canals spreading out from the harbour like a virus. Despite the sleaze and countless dodgy characters rambling around, it's a city that has always seemed safe. If you meet the grim reaper here, it's most likely your own fault. After getting into Central Station I walked down the broad majestic Damrak, past the Hotel Monofa where I stayed last spring. I hung a right and found a small bar, ordered a beer and sat in the window.
Later, in Mulligans on Amstel , I set up , soundchecked and grabbed something to eat. Chatted to John, a native of Dublin living here in exile and contentment. Some American tourists came in, took one of the posters off the wall and asked me to autograph it, which I did. After the gig I got a call from my friend Cormac who is over from Dublin to see The Police play a show as part of their reunion tour. We decide to hook up in a bar called the Soundgarden. Having a drink with Phil at the bar, he tells me he knows where the place is, and will come along and show me the way. Another call comes in to say that the Soundgarden has just closed (it's 1am) but Korskvf next door is still serving, so off we go into the night. It's a part of Amsterdam I haven't seen before, but we have no problem finding the place. The DJ downstairs is playing terrible Goth music very loud, no sign of Cormac AKA Ted. Upstairs I spot him, with his cousin Nikki, who also made the pilgrimage to see Sting and Co. Drinks are ordered, stories are told and a thick cloud of smoke hangs over our barside table.
Fri 14 September, Mortsel....Had a late late sleep in, and I needed it. Took a ramble through the local market, buying a freshly squeezed orange juice to slate my thirst. On realizing I recognized more streets than I had expected, I decided to walk down to Amstel in an experiment to see if I could find my way without getting completely lost. Collected my gear, and had a cup of tea with Barry and we chatted about his recent trip to China as a live sound engineer, how he would never ever live in Ireland again and the general state of affairs for folks like himself and myself.Took a taxi to the train station and got on board the packed train for Antwerp. We had only got as far as Schipol Airport when the ticket inspector made an announcement through the tanoy system in both Dutch and English, saying he had put up with rude travellers all day long, he wasn't taking any more crap from anybody and in fact the train would NOT continue its journey. We all had to disembark. Needless to say, most people around me looked pissed off, some smiled. People started to get off. In disbelief, I stayed put as did a few others. 'Is this for real?' I asked a guy who seemed unsure what to do . 'This happens occasionally, I've been told about it, but I never take the train , and this is why.' After about 10 minutes the same folks that got off the train, started to get back on and following a wait of another 10 minutes the doors closed and off we went, heading south towards the Belgian border.
As the ticket inspector got over his temper tantrum the train slid down the track, passing through the Hague with the giant windmill near the station, past the Gothic church with it's enormous golden clock counting down the minutes to armageddon and the return of Our Lord and Saviour to redeem us from the clutches of the Prince of Darkness. It was a dark dull evening as I gazed through the dusty dirty windows. I read another chapter from Bukowski's 'Factotum.'Got a text message to say I should meet Inneke23 at 'the elephants' beside the train station in Antwerp. Walked through three packed carriages to find a toilet and had my first piss in five hours. Got off the train and out into the rain. Asked a Chinese guy outside the main entrance to the station where the elephants were, he said, around the back of the station, so off I went in search of these elephants and there I found a sculpture of three life size elephants, made of scrap pieces of wood, nailed together and impressive they were too.
After a short wait Inneke23 arrived in a small van, Wim from her band was in the back seat. Off we drove at high speed, picked up a PA along the way and drove to Mortsel. The gig was in a place called Malanga, and I was introduced to the owner, a nice guy who insists I have a beer as the PA is being set up. There's no food available so I go for a walkabout. Time is tight so there isn't enough time to go into a restaurant and have a proper sit down meal, and I don't want another Falafel, so I settle for a Balisto, a chocolate biscuit bar that costs 40cents.I met Inneke23 last June when Chris, Les and I played in Berlin. She was hanging out with Mark Mullholland, but we didn't really say much to each other as she was real drunk. That tends to happen to people at racketeers gigs. While I was in Canada, she wrote to me and began to help getting extra gigs for me in Antwerp, Ghent and Mortsel. I was curious as well to get involved with somebody who calls themselves '23'. To my amazement, I discovered that she had never read Robert Anton Wilson. (google Robert A. Wilson and the 23 enigma to get information on this. It's too long and complicated to get into here )
Was introduced to a lady called Alice who spoke of George Murray from the Record Collector shop in Dublin, and then Inneke23 & The Lipstick Painters did their set. Afterwards their friend Karo from local band Sodatune played a few cool songs. I did my thing and there was a mixed reaction. The barstaff's choice of dodgy techno between the nights acts didn't help the atmosphere, but we got the job done.Back at Innekes pad, I was left with a set of keys and she drove off to her mothers place for the night leaving me to my own devices.
Sat. 15 September, Herentals. Sorrounded by pictures, postcards, drawings and engravings of elephants I got to thinking to myself that it's fair to come to the assumption that my host has a slight obsession with these big beasts. A huge painting of Ganeshe with beautiful Asian eyes hung close to the poster of Hank Williams all sad and lonesome. In contrast, a one-handed statue of Jesus stared at me from a table in the living room, the spitting image of ex-racketeers bass played Paul Dempsey, circa 1999.Out on a ramble I found a quiet bar down a side street, just me, the bar lady and two old-timers. All was going good until suddenly , all together, about 70 people of all ages, kids, granny's, mom's and dad's all dressed to the nine's arrived as if out of nowhere. An automated machine cranked out 'Delilah' at high volume and a couple danced while all cheered them on. It was a very surreal moment. The machine was like something from a 19th century fairground, with an accordion that played by itself, and the hi-hat on the drum kit magically moved as if the drummer was the first cousin of the invisible man from another dimension. In the space of five seconds the place had gone from the quietest bar in Belgium to the most packed bar in Belgium. I was surrounded !I soon learned that it was a wedding party, but no sooner had they arrived, they were off again to the next bar, where I can only imagine they danced, had a quick drink, scared the living daylights out of some tourist and once again departed.
Arrived into Herentals and had a quick soundcheck through the wonderful PA. Top quality gear. Inneke did a solo set, I did my thing and went down well. Sold a lot of cd's and had a few drinks. The unfortunate thing about meeting Irish people in Europe is that they often get to thinking Aslan are on a par with Bowie and Christy Moore is a god. And you gotta make sure you don't say anything bad about Mother Ireland. God forbid. Thus, there followed a rapid descent into a Bukowskiesque nightmare. All phoney cocaine courage and bullshit, I was glad to get out of dodge and onwards to Holland.
Sun.16 September Hardewijk..On arrival at tonight's venue, Cafe Luxemburg, I checked in to the Great Western Hotel, relaxed as best I could, made a phone call and later did the gig. The folks here are a friendly bunch and people present me with shots of Geneva gin, which is supposedly good for toothache. Washed the gin down with a few beers and hung around for a while after my set, before the short walk up the street to my Hotel, where I only manged to sleep for about two hours.
Mon. 17 September, Antwerp...Walked around in the rain for a while to see what the town was like. Found the old town walls, still intact. Made it to Ammersfoort, where I had to change trains, then get another ticket and off I went back to Belgium again. Back In Antwerp late that evening, I found a bar called The Burning Plague, the sort of place where you don't go unless you've got a good size roll of 20's in your pocket. Got talking to some of the locals, asked a guy to keep an eye on my guitar while I took a leak. Had another beer and the phone rang. It was the elephant lady and she was on her way. Ordered another beer (€1.60) from the barman who looked just like Robert DeNiro.The guy who had looked after my guitar while I took a leak, leaned over and in a quiet voice said, 'Doesn't he look like DeNiro.' I couldn't believe it, I told him I'd just been thinking the same thing. We drained our glasses and stared into the distance as Iggy Pop screamed like a tortured soul through the stereo.
Up around the corner stood De Heksenketel, a nice old bar, with a hostel upstairs. The PA was in good working order and the mixing desk did what it was supposed to do. Not only locals, but tourists and people of a transient nature came in to the gig, and really got into it. Cd's were sold and off I went to a late bar, many of the folks from the gig came along too, and I made some new friends. I remember a bottle of rose being opened at 5.30am and after that I went off to the land of nod.
Tues 18 September, Ghent......Needed a coat so we took a tour of a few second hand clothes shop, until I eventually found a great big one which made me feel like a Russian gangster. Paid my €30 and off we went, unsure what to do next. Crossing one of the old squares, I spotted a bar so we went in and I grabbed a table . Overhead floated a few zeppelins. I had a beer, 23 had her daily coke & a smoke. The conversation turned to all things psychic and magickal, as they sometimes do. When you hang around with somebody who calls themselves 23, weird shit is sure to happen. Everywhere we went we saw the # 23, and we saw witches. Dropped into a corner shop and there was a sticker of a witch on the cash til. Walked past a new bar that had broomsticks outside and a statue of a witch in the doorway. The whole afternoon was like this.
Went down to Ghent to play in Kinky Star. As I got off the train a guy way up the platform started to shout at me. Here we go, I thought to myself. I certainly do attract the headcases. Dressed head to toe in black, late forties, not a lot unlike a Willie DeVille type cat, only a lot more sinister, it was obvious he was very wasted. I thought he was looking for a fight. He held out his hand and there was a bunch of grapes. He wanted to offer me a grape ! I accepted and on we walked. His name was Black and he had just put a band together called Romantica. 'Not Metallica, ROMANTICA !!' he proclaimed and laughed, and so did I. He insisted on carrying my guitar which made me a bit nervous as I thought he might fall down the stairs. Off he went, Mr Black went one way, I went the other.
After a beer or two and soundcheck the phone calls started. The wife wanted to make sure I was still alive and a friend from Dublin wanted to see if I wanted somebody dead. Played the good to a good listening and appreciative audience. Sold CD's and hung out. Promoter Luc took us out for dinner in a place across the road. The guy from the late bar in Antwerp the other night showed up and joined us. The conversation was in Flemish, so I drifted off into my own realm for a while.
Wed 19 September, Nuremberg.....Contemplated taking a flight to Nuremberg, but it proved too costly to book at the last minute, so the 7 hour train journey had to do. Arrived in to Nuremberg on platform 23 (where else) and went to catch a cab. There's a witch painted on the door of the car parked next to us.Get down to the venue, a cool place called Pegnitzbühne. After a few glasses of wine and a slice of pizza, I do the gig. Photos are taken the gig is filmed and I see more Cd's than expected. Most of the small gathering of people stay behind for a late drink and we all hang out together. Inneke brings her guitar over to the bar and gives us a version of Merl Haggard's "Tonight The Bottle Let me down" and i do Johnny's "I Still Miss Someone" and a few others. Chat to Marcus and Bea and Wolfgang, all good people who make me feel at home and very welcome indeed.
Thurs 20 September, Nurenberg.....Marcus and Bea have a great breakfast ready, and I get to re acquaint myself with the 3 cats. Then we hopped into the car, it being a bright sunny day, and went to visit the Imperial Castle , which is one of the most important imperial residences of the Middle Ages. Good old Emperor Friedrich1 Bararossa built the place 1015 years ago. We saw some great suits of armour, climbed the tower , checked out the well which is 47 meters deep. It was dug in order to survive several sieges, and in the courtyard stood the famous Kunigunde lime tree, the original of which was planted by the Empress Kunigunda back in the 10th century. She was canonized in 1200, for what, Im not sure, but she's a saint now, a sort of medieval B list celebrity. Down in the old town square we checked out the markets, and had a beer. Tourists lined up to turn a gold ring on the railings around the town square clock, which would, according to legend, bring them luck, but Marcus let me in on a secret. The gold ring wasn't the one at all !! Over on the other side was the real magick ring. Black as night it was and I spun it around three times, as I need some good luck.
Later Marcus's Grateful Dead Tribute band were rehearsing in Pegnitzbühne and we were invited down by Bea. A few bottles of white wine were opened and Bea told me great stories and we had a fun time. A phone call came from home, and I went outside to chat, missing the obligitary band arguement in the process. Just as well too.
Friday 21 September Greiz....After a boiled egg and bread, I bid adieu to Marcus and Bea and walked out through the back garden, down along by the river, crossed the bridge and walked in the Indian summer sunshine to the train staion. 10 minutes later i was in Nurenburg Haupenhoff, and set off for Greiz, getting there as dusk descended at 8.15 pm. They had sent a young man called Daniel to meet us, and it turns out he's also the sound guy.After the enjoyable gig, I talked to Evi who runs the Schlossfolk Festival that we played at earlier this year. We talked of the neverending hussle of rock n roll and she then drove us out to our countryside pension, where I went to bed and dreamed of a wonderful life as a recluse.
Saturday 22 September Leipzig...Awoke at 8.30 tossing and turning. Took a shower, read a bit of Factotum, and breakfast was delivered. . Its another hot sunny day and the birds are singing in the trees. The wife phoned and I told her I wanted to go home. A helicopter is necessary. I felt like the angel of death was hanging over me, then I also felt the great goddess Isis was sitting in the corner watching over me too.
Inneke23 had decided to indulge in her passion for hitch hiking, so she set out on the road with her thumb. I opted for the train. Two and a half hours later I was Leipzig and I surprised myself by navigating the complex tram system and I found the venue, the Kulturwirtschaft Waldfrieden. Said hi to Anders and had dinner and a drink. Went out for a ramble . Most of the shops were closed. Punks were everywhere. Typical east German graffitti covered the buildings that line the avenue. Went back to the bar, found a darkened corner and nodded off for an hour.Later, in the candle lit atmosphere, Inneke sang her songs about fairy men and elephants and I sang my songs and then I stopped singing my songs when I got tired. A lady told me she likes my sloppy guitar playing.
Sunday 23 September Berlin...On the train some ladies asked me for directions to the metropolitan museum , but I had to confess, although I had been to Berlin a few times, I had no idea where it was. In fact I find Berlin very confusing, its so big !Just after arriving into Berlin Haupenhauf, my friend John R Dalton phoned so I got instructions on how to get to Artliner, where im due to play.. So , I got on the U-Bahn to Friedrichshan and hung a right. Walked down the street in the hot sunshine feeling a little lost. Saw a cool looking Greek lady sitting outside a little corner shop, smoking a cigar and drinking beer from a white plastic cup. Cool shades hid her eyes. I asked directions to Gartnerstrasse, but she'd never heard of it. She hollered into the guy in the shop, so he got out a map and we both tried to locate the street of mystery. Customers came and went, we still searched the map. Then a friend of his arrived and got on his mobile phone to ask a friend. Eventually I got the information from these more than helpful people, and I bade my new friends goodbye and off up the street I went and hung a right.
Past the great Sunday afternoon flea market I eventually found Artliner. Had a beer, spoke to Andy, the sound guy and went out to the market. Bought a Baphomet piece of jewelery and a few other things. Watched the American ladies busking singing their country songs and went back to Artliner to soundcheck.John and his Peruvian ladyfriend arrived and I did my thing. The sound was real good, but Im not so sure if Im was all that up to scratch. Late drinks were had and as always, Berlin seemed like an old friend.