Czechs, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll

Gentle Ihor's Devotion picture

Left to right: The Gentle One, Eddie Tempest and Nigel Goodwin.

A comment in my last post reminded me of my rock ‘n roll days. I kept a diary of a little tour we did in Europe. Here it is.

Gentle Ihor’s Devotion on Tour

Wednesday, December 2nd 1992. Arrive at Harwich at 11.03 a.m. to catch the 11.00 a.m. ferry to the Hook of Holland. Fortunately it’s waiting for us which is lucky as we had arranged to meet our driver – an ex-girlfriend of mine called Christy – on it. As we are having our carnet stamped (a list of all our equipment required by customs), a beat up white transit van screeches to a halt behind us. We are not surprised to discover that it is another band on their way to Holland to do a few gigs. Hello Snatch from London.

We are so relieved about catching the ferry that as we board the ramp we holler and whoop with joy. Rock and roll.

Christy and I sleep as best we can in a cabin. As Nige and Eddie (lead guitar and keyboards respectively) can’t drive, they get pissed in the bar. Unfortunately it is a smooth crossing. I just love those big-dipper crossings when everyone is dying in a sea of vomit and I’m having a whale of a time. Ah well, maybe on the return journey…

Before we leave the ferry we exchange singles with Snatch then head out for the open road and Nuremberg, then break down at the petrol station just outside the port. We have a fault in our cooling system and we have to call out National Breakdown. A man who couldn’t speak a word of English came to our rescue – but we did know a woman who could speak some words of Dutch! Christy’s experience as a traveller was proving to be invaluable even at this stage. The man fills up the radiator with water and instructs us to follow him for several kilometres After several kilometres we stop. He inspects the engine and declares all is well. We head out for the open road once again.

We drive through the night until we reach Nuremberg. It is 6.30 a.m. We are supposed to meet Martti, our promoter in Nuremberg, at 4.00 p.m. We wait until 7.30 a.m. before we deem it respectable to ring him. He is very good about it and asks for half an hour to sort out his flat, i.e. kick out the guests he already has in there. We learn that Martti is also a musician and drives a van. Musicians must be the same the world over – dilatory van drivers.

Christy and I get our heads down for the afternoon. Nige and Eddie get stoned with Martti.

The gig that evening is in a rock club called Kuntsverien or something. We are told it is the pits. “Don’t worry” I say, “we are used to pits.”

The club made the worst venue we had ever played in England look like Buckingham Palace. A foul stench greeted us. Someone had left a damp, dubious looking rag on the stove. To mask the stench, the proprietor – a man who looked like he’d just walked off a Spaghetti Western set in his leather attire – offered us all a cigarette. “Be careful” he said, “It’s all grass.” Nige and Eddie feel at home.

The evening bears more of a resemblance to an English venue when only 12 people turn up for the gig. The bar staff have a whip round for us they are so embarrassed. We perform, as the saying goes, a blinding set. The few people in the club go berserk. Beer is forced upon us, encores are demanded and given, t-shirts and singles galore are sold, and Walkmans are produced to record our impressions of Nuremberg for the benefit of various fanzines. This is what it must feel like to be a rock ‘n roll star. Martti is so impressed with our music he offers us a tour of Germany in May with decent venues. We accept. Nige and Eddie get pissed.

Reality returns when we have to load up the van in pitch blackness and the pouring rain. There is only a muddy track from the club to the van, a distance of about 20 yards, so I’m not exaggerating, it IS worse than any venue we have ever played.

Christy and I have to keep each other awake as we drive through the night to Prague. Nige and Eddie sleep in the back of the van. The bastards.

Our last instruction from Vladimir, the Czech promoter, was to go to Prague and meet Abigail our road manager. Now Prague is a big place, so we were a little concerned about the vagueness of this message. However, all turned out well, and after several ‘phone calls we meet Abigail in a MacDonalds (this was some feat: there are four MacDonalds in Prague and Abigail only knows two of them). Abigail is dressed in blue denims and a black and white checked headscarf. OK for an English Spring, but foolhardy for a Czech December. Her only luggage is a black leather shoulder bag – two packets of tampons, a pair of socks and a lipstick and it would be full – and we’re on the road for 10 days! Abigail is young. Twenty one. She is pretty with curly black hair and bright red lipstick. What the hell is she doing here? We find out later – she can drink like a fish and smoke like a Trabant, the only qualifications needed for the job. We meet Vladimir briefly then set out for Koprinici, the first town on the tour. It is approximately 600 kms away and we are already late, but then we are musicians.

Arrive at venue two hours late. I am so tired I bang my head on the door frame of the van and close the door on my foot. The venue looks to be a club in a block of high rise council flats. I’m told there are some flats but also offices. They obviously don’t like specialising in this country. We get a gorgeous food rider and a fridge stocked with so much beer we have to take a photograph of it. Abigail informs us that this is the best rider on the tour. Nige and Eddie get pissed.

We check in at the hotel before the gig. Christy and I are in one room, Nige and Eddie are next door. We go back to the venue to rock ‘n roll.

Approximately 150 people are gathered for our performance. They are mostly young and gauche. It’s almost as if they want to enjoy themselves but don’t know how to: they dance stiffly and need at least 45 minutes to warm into the idea. Christy explains later, than under Communism they were not allowed to express any appreciation of a performance, in fact the performers were supposed to applaud the audience. We encountered this mute response several times on the tour and it unnerved us, we assumed they didn’t like us but Abigail was emphatic – they loved us; if they don’t like something they leave. Afterwards, I was reassured somewhat by people coming up to me and saying enthusiastically “Try again!” I interpreted this as meaning ‘more.’

After the gig, Nige, Eddie and Abigail elect to stay behind at the venue to finish drinking the large quantity of remaining beer with their new found friends. Christy and I go back to the hotel for some much needed sleep. As I doze off I congratulate myself on being so sensible; it’s a long tour and I have to pace myself. I mischievously imagine the state of the others in the morning before I dive into a deep and dreamless sleep.

I’m woken up at 5.30 a m. by Nige’s barracking voice next door. He’s polemicising about some inconsequential footnote to the history of rock ‘n roll to whoever will listen to him over the faint strains of The Style Council. I bang on the adjoining wall. The music gets louder. I put my ear plugs in and console myself with the thought of waking them up later on. I go back to sleep.

I wake up at about noon to the sounds of gusting rain on the window and the groans of a couple next door making love. When I am fully awake, these sounds turn out to be Christy rustling plastic bags and zippering up her holdall. I take out my earplugs and incredibly I hear music and voices coming from next door. I look at Christy and she says that they have been up for hours. I’m incredulous.

Had a breakfast of Fried chicken and potatoes. Couldn’t get over the Rat Pack looking perfectly OK. Left for the next venue at about 2.30 p.m.

And this was pretty much the pattern for the rest of the tour. I felt a bit like one of those cartoon characters in an old series looking for Arnie Saknusen in the centre of the Earth because everywhere we went there were scrawled messages from Every New Dead Ghost and the Psycho Surgeons.

The most memorable impression I retained from Czechoslovakia is that every one smokes and drinks a lot – an awful lot. Not a meal went by where I didn’t ingest some tobacco smoke nor see beer on the table. It soon became apparent that there was nothing else to do here and as these items were so cheap to buy it made sense to get your entertainment this way. Dope is incredibly prevalent here and smoked openly as the police turn a blind eye towards it. We had a couple of cancellations on the tour and we were supposed to fill in the time at the ‘House of Grass’. This turned out to be a farmhouse about 12 kms outside of town that had no running water and a hole in the ground for a toilet. It had electricity but this seemed to have been installed specifically for the state of the art hi-fi which dominated the room. The most significant feature however was the inspiration for the houses’ name – bushels of finest grade hashish hanging from the wooden rafters. The sole occupation of whoever sojourns here (and there was always some weird looking misfit hanging about) is to smoke as much dope as possible whilst listening to Legendary Pink Dots tapes. There is never any danger of running out of the stuff as they grow it on the farm. In fact it seemed to be their only crop. Needless to say, Christy and I beat a hasty retreat to an hotel while the Rat Pack got completely vapourized.

It was in this town of Olomouc that we visited a ‘vegetarian’ restaurant. It was called a vegetarian restaurant because it had vegetables. Meat was served with every meal on the menu but they had vegetables – lots of them; a rare thing for a Czech restaurant. It turned out this was considered a very classy and expensive restaurant by the people of the town. We had a three course meal of excellent food complete with drinks and coffee. It cost us the equivalent of 2 English pounds each.

Prague was beautiful but dilapidated. We walked over King Charles’ bridge and the sights were stunning – misty vistas of romantic horizons steeped in history, glorious architecture washed in muted colours of red ochre and burnt umber, itinerant street traders flogging rubber spiders than crawled slowly dawn any walls they were thrown at. Oh well, every beauty spot on Earth gets an ice cream van parked on it eventually.

The gig at the Bunkr Klub that night was the best one on the tour, everyone had a great time, including me! Most of the people in the place were from different parts of Europe, lots of Germans and Britons. We added our moniker to the extensive roster of grafitti in the changing room.

Prague is a great place, a sort of, Paris as it used to be, I’m informed. And of course everything is twice as expensive as anywhere else. My only painful memory of the place is that I caught a nasty cold here which made the last two gigs of the tour very uncomfortable experiences indeed. In fact, on one of them, Nige and I came to blows over smoke exclusion zones. I had imposed one in the changing room and Nige had violated it. Water and cigarrette butts were thrown before fists came into play. It was like being back at Secondary school in the playground. The fatigue, beer and illness had regressed our mental development and we were back with the animals in the jungle. Who would have thought it, but that is what being on the road does to you; emotions are raw and tempers are drawn as tight as drum skins. Tours can break some bands.

Our last gig was in Pilsen. Any idea what this place is famous for? We took our payment for the gig in lager. Czech currency is worthless outside the country so it made sense to convert our money into consumables before we left. 174 bottles of it got loaded into the van. For myself, I was glad to be leaving the place. It was grey, dirty, run down and poverty stricken. The people were friendly enough but they all smoked incessantly and seemed to spend most of their time face down on the floor in a drunken stupor. One of our gigs was nearly cancelled because the sound man turned up so drunk he couldn’t operate his mouth let alone electronic equipment.

The contrast was made all the greater when we stopped off in Würzburg in Germany on the way back to the Hook of Holland. Here was magic and joy. It was night time, about 9.00 p.m. and as we wandered the streets, which were lined with parked Porches and Mercedes, looking for a place to eat we were all struck by how clean and tidy the place was. It was decked out in Christmas finery and all the shops were stocked full of the most beautiful things you could imagine. We gazed longingly at them through enormous pellucid windows. I was transfixed by its utter charm. From lamp-posts hung wind chimes that were stirred gently by the breeze. The fragile musical notes were the only sound to be heard in the quiet town. Fairy lights glowed brilliant white on tall, perfectly conical Christmas trees. Wedding cake buildings, newly painted and rigorously maintained, stood illuminated along the edge of the square. Here was perfection. Here was security. It was a scene straight out of a Speilberg movie.

On the way back to the van a brightly lit tram car passed us; it was restaurant full of happy diners. We saw a sex shop on the high street that was fronted as boldly and as proudly as any Boots or Marks and Spencer. Christy said this was just a typical town in Germany.

Roll on the German tour.

5 Responses to “Czechs, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”

  1. Eddie Tempest says:

    Is that what happened??? Apart from The House of Grass, the backstage bout with Nige, and the beer ladened van we drove out of Pilsen, and Abigail and Christy of course, the rest could be made up for all I know. a great time though, and my first overseas tour with a band! Enjoyed th read. Over 20 yrs ago…sigh…

  2. Ivor Tymchak says:

    It’s Eddie! The prodigal keyboard player of GID makes an appearance on my blog. How’s it going? I take it you’ve checked out Malaria Death Ring and lately, The Temple Priests?

  3. gid says:

    hey fellas! holy smoke, 20 years! still had my sex junkie t-shirt until recently. last gig i saw was at henry boons, just up the road from nigels place in wakey. was a super cool gig. loved the band. happy you fellas are still about, is nige still with us?

  4. N G says:

    Yes I’m still with us. Is that you Wayne?

  5. Dave Rooney says:

    trying to contact Eddie Tempest, can you help?

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