Welcome to Paul's 2011 tour blog, in which Paul will be detailing what daily life is like whilst touring with Monica and The Explosion.
In his blog, you will find descriptions of venues, support bands, and of the various people that Paul meets along the way.
Paul will also share various photos from his travels.
The first entry for this month is at the foot of the page, with the latest entry at the top!
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13th and 14th September – Le Mont-Saint-Michel
We met Steve and Guillaume at Le Café du Boulevard for coffee and to say our goodbyes. We had planned to do a bit of sightseeing around Melle but the weather was grim with a steady drizzle falling. And as today was always going to be a day off we’d booked a hotel for the night in Cèaux, a village not far from Mont-Saint-Michel, somewhere we’d been meaning to visit for quite awhile.
Despite only being about 20 minute drive from Le Mont our hotel was in the middle of nowhere, so after checking in and freshening up we decided to have a look at the famous abbey. We’d seen Mont-Saint-Michel several times this year as we travelled up and down the motorway. It had always looked impressive from a distance but up close it’s an incredible sight. We arrived just as the sun was setting and the Abbey and village lights were coming on.
Because of the tide, to gain access to the Mount would have meant wading across a short causeway through icy water about 9 inches deep, which we didn’t really fancy, so we decided to return in the morning.
The next day we woke to a bright sunny morning, perfect for sightseeing. The abbey looked completely different by day, though equally picturesque and imposing. See the two photos below:
To quote our guidebook;
“Situated in the borderlands between Normandy and Brittany, the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel was one of the wonders of the Middle Ages. A masterpiece of monastic architecture, it was built on three main levels around the Mount’s granite rock. The Romanesque nave and crypts, the Gothic choir and the Merveille form a vast religious and artistic ensemble whose beauty and importance were unrivalled throughout Christendom.
At the foot of the Abbey, the village of half-timbered houses is crowded inside a ring of fortifications, which are unusual in that they are built on sand.”
It was interesting to discover that in 1793 the entire abbey was turned into a huge penitentiary. And that by 1863, the year the prison was shut; more than 14,000 prisoners had done time on the rock, making it a sort of Medieval Alcatraz.
Below: Mont-Saint-Michel pics by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
We wandered around until lunch, which we took in one of the numerous restaurants on the Mount. Fortified by omelettes, virtually the only vegetarian food available in France, we headed back to the car and set off for Le Barock in Rennes, the last gig of the tour.
12th September - Celles-sur-Belle and Melle
Today we left Nantes and headed south to the department of Deux-Sèvres and the small town of Celles-sur-Belle. We were due to play at a bar called “Le Lion d’Or” nestling in the shadow of the Royal Abbey’s Gate Tower. We arrived at the bar around 3:30pm. Guillaume Laffond and Steve Wells the joint promoters were there to greet us, as was a rather large problem…
The bar’s refrigeration and pumping system was “en panne”, ergo no cold beer, a disaster for the owner. We hung around whilst an engineer arrived, scratched his head, shrugged his shoulders and whistled through his teeth in the manner that suggested there was no quick remedy.
Unfazed, our intrepid duo immediately set about trying to hastily find an alternative venue. No mean feat at such short notice in an area hardly brimming with choice. It was agreed that they would take us to our hotel where we would then wait for further instructions as they believed they could organise something in the neighbouring town of Melle. We just had time to stop and admire the Royal Abbey.
Earlier and from the direction we entered Celles all you could see of the Abbey was the Gate Tower. From the other side of the town all you could see was the Abbey.
We’d hardly checked into the hotel when confirmation came through that we’d be playing at Le Café du Boulevard that night. We arrived at the venue just as they were starting to set up the PA. There seemed to be a lot of people involved so we let them get on with it and went with Guillaume to find a restaurant.
Considering it was such a last minute arrangement the concert was a great success. After the show we were offered a gig that was to be staged in the grounds of Le Château de Javarzay in nearby Chef-Boutonne, but unfortunately the date clashed with our next trip to Sweden.
Before the night was finished a “jam session” broke out, and as most of the people in the bar could play some instrument or other it went on long into the night. Even I joined in, which is something I never do. I suspect the nettle beer I’d been downing all evening may have clouded my judgement.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Steve and Guillaume for all their hard work in putting the show on. We’d also like to thank Le Café du Boulevard for supplying the venue and contributing to a great evening.
Below: 1. Chef-Boutonne (Deux-Sèvres) Château de Javarzay &
2. The Royal Abbey, Celles-sur-Belle pics by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
Last night we played two sets at Le De Dannan, an “Irish” pub in the heart of Nantes not far from Le Château des Ducs de Bretagne. The crowd was a bit disappointing at first but the place slowly filled up and by the end of the night we were watched by a young, attentive audience.
It was good to see Yann Faurie, former drummer with El Royce in the crowd. Yann had been at the previous night’s gig at Mon Soleil and had again made an hour’s round trip to see us.
Today we returned to the area known as L’Ile de Nantes for more sightseeing.
Until the 1970s, Nantes' harbour was located on the Île de Nantes, then it moved to the very mouth of the Loire River, at Saint-Nazaire. In the subsequent 20 years, many service sector organisations moved into the area, but economic difficulties forced most of these to close. In 2001, a major redevelopment scheme was launched, the goal of which is to revitalise the island as the new city centre. Former cargo hangars have been converted into clubs and bars, and new life has been injected into the area. Some of the dock’s giant cranes still remain, hinting at its historic shipbuilding past.
To quote Nantes Métropole;
“Working collectively in a culture of innovation has catapulted Nantes to its place as one of Europe’s most dynamic cities. Its problem now might be that nobody’s leaving.”
In 2003, the French weekly L'Express voted Nantes to be the "greenest city" in France, while in both 2003 and 2004 it was voted the "best place to live" by the weekly Le Point. In August 2004, TIME designated Nantes as "the most liveable” city in all of Europe.
To me there’s something quite unique about Nantes, of all places we’ve visited, over the past year or so, Nantes is probably the place I’d most like to live. The death of the dockyards gave Nantes the chance to reinvent itself and it is doing so with an innovative approach that should be a blueprint for future urban regeneration projects.
In the evening we played at Le Dynamo in the Rue du Marechal Joffre. We were supported by El Royce playing an unplugged set. This is a very cool bar indeed. Nicolas del Puerto did a great job at making us feel at home as did Charlu Desprez. We’d been really looking forward to this gig and we weren’t disappointed. El Royce played a great set and the crowd were really up for it from the start. Thank you to everyone involved in making it such a great night…
Below: El Royce playing an unplugged set. Click images to enlarge.
A huge bonus was that immediately after the show Nicolas booked us for a return gig on 11th November. Three visits to Nantes in 6 months…
Perhaps, after all, we should move there.
Below: L’ Île de Nantes pics by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
10th September - La Machine de L’ile Nantes
Today was the day we finally got to see the unusual Elephant everyone in Nantes had been urging us to visit.
Located in the warehouses of the former shipyards of Nantes, and created by François Delarozière and Pierre Orefice, the Machines of the Isle is an artistic project which aims to combine the imaginary worlds of Jules Verne with the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci.
François Delarozière was also the designer of The Sultan’s Elephant once used by Royal de Luxe, the French mechanical marionette street theatre company founded in 1979 by Jean Luc Courcoult. The original elephant no longer exists. Apparently, by the end of 2006 Royal de Luxe were so fed up with being invited all over the world to perform The Sultan's Elephant, they just destroyed it.
The current mechanical elephant is a non-exact replica of The Sultan's Elephant. Built in 2007 it is 12 metres high and 8 metres wide, and made from 45 tons of wood and steel. It can take up to 49 passengers for a 45-minute journey around the docks.
On Richard’s advice we decided against boarding the beast, instead we chose to watch its stately progress from ground level (see the footage below). We visited the museum and the machine rooms where the puppets are produced; all in all it made for a pleasant and diverting afternoon.
At the moment La Machine are constructing a huge carrousel which will eventually rise nearly 25 metres and measure 20 metres in diameter. It will feature 35 moving underwater creatures on three levels: the ocean floor, the depths, and sea and boats. Visitors will be able to move about amidst a ballet of aquatic animals and sea carriages, as well as climb aboard and guide the movements of the Machines.
The project is due to open in the summer of next year…
...no doubt coinciding with another Monica and The Expolosion French tour.
Below: La Machine de L’ile Nantes pics by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
Daniel and Gretchen had taken over the Jug and Jazz, in the small Normandy village of Ger, in May this year. They’d originally met whilst Daniel was on exchange at art school. After they both graduated they lived in Kingston-Upon-Thames for a while before moving back to the U.S.
To quote Gretchen;
"About us: Dan's British; I'm American. He's from the city; I'm from the countryside. We're chalk and cheese, really. We came from very different career backgrounds (graphic design in the fashion industry and international HR) before arriving in rural France, seeking a more family-friendly life in which to raise our two children, Alistair and Elodie. Now we run a bar and restaurant in Normandie. We are doing our best to collaborate with and provide a venue for interesting artists - including yourselves - to bring some interest to the area; it's a labour of love, and we have met many, many kind and talented people off the back of it."
Dan and Gretchen had been trying their best to get the local French villagers along to the show, but Normans can be quite fickle and in the end the crowd were almost all ex-pats who had moved into the area. But these are early days for their new venture and I really hope they can succeed.
Anyway, the Brits that were there ensured we had a good evening; we certainly enjoyed ourselves and hope to return before too long. We said our goodbyes around 11am the next morning and headed off to Nantes arriving there around 4pm, having stopped for a leisurely lunch at Pontaubault on the way down. About 20 kilometres from Nantes we finally reached the end of the cloud that had been with us all the way from Amsterdam, eventually arriving to a Nantes that was bathed in warm sunshine.
The first of our three gigs in Nantes was at Mon Soleil, the café/bar where, I suppose, our love affair with the city began. We’d had such a great evening playing there in May that it was a real pleasure to return and see Karol the bar owner.
Richard Royce from El Royce, who was supplying the PA was there to greet us when we arrived. Richard had also organised the gig for the following night at Le De Dannan, and Steff, bassist with El Royce had got us a gig at Le Dynamo. You couldn’t wish to meet nicer people and once again we were blown away by their kindness and generosity.
I forgot to mention in the last blog that on our way down to Ger we crossed Le Pont de Normandie, the cable-stayed road bridge that spans the river Seine linking Le Havre to Honfleur. The bridge opened on 20 January 1995 and at that time it was the longest of its kind in the world. It took seven years to construct and cost $465 million. It’s a remarkable feat of engineering but then again so is the giant mechanical elephant of Nantes…who I'll introduce you to in the next instalment.
Below: Le Pont de Normandie pics by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
7th & 8th September - Amsterdam and the long drive south
Late in the afternoon we drove up to Amsterdam and the Maloe Melo club. The place didn’t open until 9pm so we had plenty of time to find something to eat. On all the posters and various on-line advertising we were listed as the headline act with support from Morgan O’Kane, an acoustic punk/bluegrass band from New York.
We sound checked first as is the custom then hung around for a bit before grabbing some fresh air. When we got back to the bar we were greeted by Pieter Duiverman and his girlfriend Rafke. We’d met Pieter back in May when we played at the Exit Club in Rotterdam, his band Sidewalk were on the same bill and we’d stayed in touch ever since. It was nice of them to have come to the show, especially as Pieter explained as he cheerfully puffed away on a cigarette, Wednesday nights were their gym nights…
No sooner had we started chatting when we were told we were on in 10 minutes. This meant the running order had been changed. We now suspect that some toys must have been thrown out of the Morgan O’Kane pram whilst we were out. Normally I wouldn’t stand for this kind of shit, but as it was already 11pm and we had an early start in the morning, as well as an hour’s drive back to Delft that night - we let it slide.
By the time we left the club it was hammering down, and with the Alfa’s windscreen wipers struggling to cope, we headed back to our hotel. It was a difficult journey having to negotiate canals, trams, other cars and hundreds of speeding cyclists all desperate to escape the deluge. Thank god for GPS as one wrong turn might have resulted in us testing the car’s buoyancy.
We woke the next morning to leaden skies and the discovery it was “groundhog day” in the breakfast room as our hostess treated us to the same muddled performance of the previous day (see previous blog). Let this be a lesson to you all. “Don’t do drugs”, because at some point in later life you may need to boil an egg.
Our journey to Ger took us 8½ hours and for the whole of the drive the sky didn’t change, it remained grey and overcast with intermittent showers. I can’t tell you how relieved we were to arrive at the Jug and Jazz. I don’t think any pint has ever tasted as good as the one Daniel, the bar owner, poured me that evening…
6th & 7th September - Staying in Delft, playing in Amsterdam
The Delft Explosion, also known in history as the Delft Thunderclap, occurred on 12 October 1654 when a gunpowder store exploded, destroying much of the city. Over a hundred people were killed and thousands wounded. About 30 tonnes of gunpowder were stored in barrels in a magazine in a former Clarissen convent in the Doelenkwartier district. Cornelis Soetens, the keeper of the magazine, opened the store to check a sample of the powder and a huge explosion followed.
Luckily, many citizens were away, visiting a market in Schiedam or a fair in The Hague. Artist Carel Fabritius was wounded in the explosion and died of his injuries. Later on, Egbert van der Poel painted several pictures of Delft showing the devastation. The Delft Explosion is the principal reason why Delft University of Technology maintains explosion science as a key topic within its research portfolio.
Monica and the Explosion, needless to say, didn’t cause as much devastation, although we did come close to a highly incendiary incident when the curry Monica ordered in the local Thai restaurant failed to come close to her expectations. I guess the restaurant’s name “Silly Thai” should have given the game away. The weather did nothing to lighten our mood as we trudged back to the car in the pouring rain.
We were staying at a slightly strange place about 20 minutes walk from the city centre. Run it seemed, by a couple of ex-hippies, no doubt casualties of the sixties who gave the impression of not quite “being there”. Breakfast was served at one long table by our hostess who flitted around without being able to concentrate fully on the task at hand. I speculate, of course, and I may well be doing her an injustice but it looked like one tab of acid too many had left her unable to multitask. This was evident as she struggled with the mechanics of boiling an egg whilst at the same time reducing several croissants to small piles of ash. This was breakfast as a spectator sport.
The skies had cleared a little so we set off into town to explore. I love the Netherlands. You’re never far from water here; so much so it’s a wonder the Dutch don’t have webbed feet. Delft is typically crisscrossed with canals; the streets on either side of these waterways are connected by numerous small bridges. With hardly any cars around - just lots of bicycles - it was perfect.
One of the reasons we’d chosen to stay in Delft was because the day after the Amsterdam gig we had a 450 mile drive down through Holland and Belgium and across France to Ger in Normandy. Delft is approximately 50 minutes south of Amsterdam therefore reducing our travelling time the following day.
This was our second visit to this amazing city this year. The last time was in May at the start of the tour which included the shows we did with Le Bal des Enragés. I didn’t blog about that tour which is a shame because we had such a great time, maybe I’ll get around to it one day.
Below: Latest Blogpix by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
The surprising thing for me was just how dirty Hamburg was. As we walked down to St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn we couldn’t help but notice that the streets were littered with rubbish. There was also a huge amount of infantile graffiti scrawled everywhere although we did come across one or two works of merit.
This is the red-light district of Hamburg and the streets were lined with restaurants, bars, strip shows, sex shops and brothels although early on a Monday morning it all looked a bit shabby and tired, just as Gesine had warned us.
The name Reeperbahn comes from the old Low German (Plattdeutsch) word meaning "a rope-makers way". In the seventeenth and eighteenth century, the ropes produced here were for the nearby harbour. These days the only ropes in the area are presumably used to tie up some of the visiting clientele.
In the early 1960s, The Beatles (who had not yet become world-famous) played in several clubs around the Reeperbahn, including the Star-Club, Kaiserkeller, Top Ten and Indra. Stories about the band's residencies, onstage and offstage antics are legendary; some stories are true (John Lennon played a song set with a toilet seat around his neck), others inflated (the band urinating in an alley as nuns walked past was told rather differently later).
Famously John Lennon is quoted as saying: "I might have been born in Liverpool - but I grew up in Hamburg".
After lunch we decided to head to Bremen where we were staying the night. We had no gig so a night off beckoned. The weather had changed for the worse with wind and rain replacing the clear blue skies. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived at our hotel and after a quick run through of the songs we were playing on the tour, including several new numbers, we headed out to dinner.
Bremen looked an interesting city, but by 9pm it was pouring with rain and not much fun walking around, which was a shame as there were many fine old buildings in the city centre. As we still had a bit of a drive the following morning we decided to cut our losses and retire early. Delft awaited us and we couldn’t wait to get there.
We couldn’t wait to leave Essen and besides, we wanted to give ourselves as much time in Hamburg as possible. Hamburg is approximately 230 miles north-east of Essen and our route took us through Münster where we stopped for lunch, just in time to witness a parade of over-weight people in funny costumes. I have no idea what it was about; possibly they were celebrating the joys of over-eating - who knows?
Münster was another city deeply affected by the Second World War. Ninety-one percent of the Old City and sixty-three percent of the entire city was destroyed by allied bombing, although some of the Prinzipalmarkt area survived. Münster was a definite improvement on Essen but we didn’t hang around for long, the weather started to look a bit threatening and we made it back to the car just as the first heavy raindrops of a torrential downpour fell.
The road from Essen to Hamburg, the E22, is possibly one of Europe’s most boring roads. Other than regular contra-flows, nothing happens for mile after mile. Germans are possibly amongst the most inconsiderate of all European drivers.
At any given time on an autobahn there will be a wannabe Michael Schumacher with a “get the fuck out of my way” attitude bearing down on you. This attitude isn’t confined to the young. At one point two octogenarians with blue rinses shot past us. We were cruising at 90mph so we estimated their speed to be around 120mph, pretty impressive.
On the Kent/Sussex border, where we live, women (and men) in their eighties confine themselves to 42mph. It’s a strange phenomenon. It doesn’t seem to matter what the speed limit is, 30, 40 or 60mph, these people are comfortable with 42mph thank you very much. Perhaps it’s because the first cars they owned had a maximum speed of 42mph and they’re unaware the vehicle they now own won’t fall to pieces at a greater speed, or maybe they’re simply afraid they’ll be starved of oxygen if they were to go faster. Whatever the reason they’re a fricking nightmare. All I know is that if I make it to 80 years old please God let me drive at 120mph…
We arrived at Yoko Mono in the Karolinenviertel district of Hamburg around 5:30pm.
The instant we parked we were greeted by Gesine, the bar’s owner, who immediately made us feel welcome. Hospitality offered in mainland Europe is almost without exception far better than anywhere in the UK, not only were we being well paid for the show but we were given the use of a flat above the club and taken out to dinner by Gesine. In fact Gesine and her staff couldn’t do enough for us, always making sure we had a drink or whatever else we needed. It makes me feel ashamed of the UK and it’s attitude towards bands. Back home it’s all about money, sure I appreciate venues need to make money, but so do we. Recently I was told by a club back home that regularly puts on music.
“Yes we’d love to have you play but we don’t pay bands. Still you’ll get good exposure.”
To me that’s like telling bar staff they won’t get paid but the upside is they’ll get to meet lots of people and pull a few pints… Fuck off!
How can a venue that survives by putting on bands pay its staff but not the musicians who perform there? They do it because they can, that’s why, and we collectively as musicians allow them to get away with it.
Being treated with respect gives you an added impetus to put on a good show, as does the vibe you get back from the crowd. These were nice people in Hamburg and we had a great night. So thank you Gesine and everyone else involved, we hope to see you again soon.
Below: Latest Blogpix by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
The alarm roused us at 5:10 a.m.
Despite the hour we were both pretty much instantly alert because this was day one of a tour we’ve both been looking forward to - a tour that takes in Hamburg, Amsterdam, Nantes, Rennes as well as the smaller towns of Celles-sur-Belle and Ger.
We’ve arranged this tour ourselves or to be more precise, through the network of friends we’ve built up over the last year of touring. Richard Royce and Désideri Stephan from the band El Royce have arranged three shows in Nantes, Kassandre Onzeroad (who we met whilst touring with Le Bal des Enragés) fixed us up with a gig in Rennes, and Guillaume “The Fool” Laffond booked, and is promoting the Celles-sur-Belle event. The other gigs we booked ourselves through the power of the internet.
After a short delay due to fog we left Dover around 8:15 heading for Dunkerque then on to Essen, in the central part of the Ruhr area of North Rhine-Westphalia, where we were spending the night before pressing on to Hamburg the next day.
On the way we stopped for lunch in Ghent (Gent), a city we’d briefly stopped at before on our last tour in Europe. This time, and under no great pressure to get to Essen, we had time to explore this beautiful Flemish city.
Below: Pictures of Ghent taken by Paul. Click images to enlarge.
Up until the 13th century Ghent was the biggest city in Europe after Paris; it was bigger than London, Cologne or Moscow. Today, the belfry and towers of the Saint Bavo Cathedral and Saint Nicholas' Church are just a few examples of the skyline of that period. It was incredibly hot, over 30 degrees, as we walked along the banks of the River Leie marvelling at the fabulous architecture on offer. Everywhere there were people out enjoying the late summer sunshine. When you’re surrounded by so much history it’s hard not to be hugely impressed by ingenuity and industry of past generations. The buildings often seemed to lean at almost impossible angles and you’re left with the feeling that they’re propping each other up and if one was to fail then they’d all fall like dominos.
The city promotes a meat-free day on Thursdays called Donderdag Veggiedag with vegetarian food being promoted in public canteens for civil servants and elected councillors, in all city funded schools, and promotion of vegetarian eating options in town (through the distribution of "veggie street maps"). This campaign is linked to the recognition of the detrimental environmental effects of meat production, which the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization has established to represent nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions.
What a great city…
We arrived in Essen around 6:30 p.m. and wasted no time in freshening up. After obtaining directions to the city centre we set off in search of food and entertainment.
Both, however, proved to be pretty elusive. There were a few bars and restaurants around our hotel but as we walked towards the centre these all but disappeared. We wandered around for a while in the hope that if we turned the next corner we would suddenly come across a bustling street full of welcoming eateries, but it wasn’t to be. Eventually we gave up and retreated. Essen was brutal and charmless, the complete antithesis to Ghent, and as we retraced our steps back to the hotel I couldn’t help but think that something pretty catastrophic had happened here.
So this came as no surprise…
In 1937 a sign facing the main railway station welcomed visitor Benito Mussolini to the "Armoury of the Reich". During the Second World War the weapon factories in Essen became so important that the city inevitably became a target for allied bombing. Over 270 air raids were launched against the city, destroying 90% of the centre and 60% of the suburbs. On 5 March 1943 Essen was subjected to one of the heaviest air-raids of the war. 461 people were killed, 1,593 injured and a further 50,000 residents of Essen were made homeless.
Well we did find a reasonable Indian restaurant called the Shere Punjab and a couple of half decent bars but on the whole our Essen experience was disappointing.
It was definitely time to find the “ausfahrt” as they say over here.
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