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The Italian Job

Posted on Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

Day 1
I’m on tour in Italy. I arrived yesterday in Catania. I’ve never been to Sicily before so it’s fun just to look around and enjoy being somewhere else. Catania is surprisingly close to Mount Etna. The Italians, apparently lacking good judgment in such matters, seem to have chosen really odd places for some of their cities, Naples and Venice for example. Um, Pompeii comes to mind as well. Anyway, I’m going to be here for the next 10 days so I thought I’d write a little about it to illustrate the glamourous life I live and the torment I go through just to bring some fine tunes to some folks in Italy, well at least the folks who have the good taste to actually come along to one of my shows. I, sort of, suspect that won’t be many on this trip, but then, no one who knows me would exactly describe me as an optimist. I kinda think of myself as an optimist with experience, however that’s not the same. I’m lodged in a funky B&B called BAD and eat real good food at a restaurant called, well something vaguely commie sounding, can’t remember. Pee in the street on the way back to the B&B..tout va bien

Day 2
Show day. After promising myself that I’d get up and look around town, I lay in bed until lunchtime regretting, well, most things, but more exactly the choice of staying up late and peeing in the street.
Now, before we go any further, and because this is important, I should fill in a few blanks. I’m not travelling on my own this time, I’m travelling with a dear friend, who I’ve not seen for some time, who we’ll call Mark. Actually his name is Mark Cox, we’ve known each other forever, but hardly seen each other in the last 10 years, but I won’t write that so as not to break his anonymity.
Doh
Anyway I met Mark in Paris after he took a flight from London, where he lives and I took a train from Rennes, where I live. It was lovely to meet at the airport, check out each other’s graying hair and set off on our little road trip, chit-chatting away like we saw each other last week.
Have a look around the fish market in Catania, quickly decide that I wish to live there, eat lunch at the ‘L’Etoile d’Or’, reaffirm the decision, start looking for houses, then suddenly realize that I made a promise to myself never to buy a house on an active volcano. Call me old fashioned but, hey, each to his own. Anyway, I don’t need an active volcano, I have women in my life.
Next up, went to find the venue at the appropriate time mentioned on the contract, gave up after a couple of hours looking around in the dark at, as it happened, the wrong building, squeezed in some a little dinner, which would have tasted much nicer had the promoter paid for it as agreed, then found the place the show was happening, only to find it abandoned. Sat around, not quite sure what to do. I figured I was in the right place as there was a poster up on the wall with todays date on it. Waited… waited…waited some more. Eventually some people arrived, it’s already 10pm or so, and showed me where I should plug in, play, etc, did a very quick soundcheck , then, well, played the show.
Did the best I could.
Always do.
Hungry, looked for snacks afterwards. Don’t like fucking peanuts.
Got my picture taken with seven forty year old men.
However that wasn’t the funnest part of the evening, no sir. On the way back to B&B got arrested by a fat necked, sweaty, fucking caribinierri who told Mark to walk back the B&B as he didn’t have his passport with him. Well, of course he wouldn’t. He’s English. Fat neck made me get into the driver’s seat and drive. Umm, OK. I was rather tired and emotional. Tired and emotional as a newt, I think Mark put it, but, hey, best not to argue with a sweaty guy with a gun.
Good night.

Day 3
Sad to leave Sicily, really good arancini. Have to drive a bit to take the ferry to mainland Italy, across the straits of Messina, surely one of the worlds shortest and least impressive ferry crossings, however the Italians didn’t fail to impress with their alarming lack of efficiency and dismal attitude to those of us born outside Italy and unable to speak Italian. It’s OK though as I have experience of such things, living in France. While all the cars seemed able to get on to the two ferries which came and went while we were waiting, we pondered the logic of having a ticket office only open between 11am and 2pm selling tickets for the rest of the crossings for that day. Anyway, finally we managed to cross the straits in about fifteen minutes, on a ferry that we had arrived at some two and a half hours before.

Day 4
I’ve always wanted to experience Calabrian cuisine and, as I have a show in Cosenza, here’s the perfect opportunity. This should mean, a home cooked meal by someone’s mamma, super spicy, in relation to most Italian cooking, and mouthwateringly fresh. However tonight’s performance had been booked into a rather small rock club, totally inappropriate for performing ‘Lumiere’ but with friendly helpful locals. One can’t be disappointed if one is aware of people making an effort. However, the rather sad frozen hamburger dinner which was offered to me did disappoint after hearing so much about calabrasi cuisine.
Oh, I played a concert as well, with ‘Lumiere’ showing on a screen the size of a small TV.
I probably sucked, I can’t be sure as I was paying as much attention my performance as the organizers had paid to my contract, however I played the best I could in those circumstances. Got my picture taken with eleven forty year old men. At this point I’m thinking of printing some ‘Robin Guthrie, Why the Fuck do I Bother? Tour 2008’ T-shirts but I doubt I’d get many sales.

Day 4
I’d never been to Salerno. It’s very pretty. I had a bit of an adventure trying to drive around the old town, which was definitely not designed for motor traffic. We were accommodated in an odd sort of a youth hostel place by the local promoter Paulo, who we dined with that evening. This was arranged, no doubt, so that he could take the opportunity to break it to me gently that this was another rock club with a tiny projection screen. This whole touring business was, quite frankly, starting to seem a little surreal and the experience of sleeping in a bunk bed pretty much convinced me that I may be getting filmed for some candid camera reality TV sort of thing. Anyway, at the restaurant, I had gnocchi which was absurdly good and happened to ask one of the guys what the local delicacy was and he informed me it was mozzarella di buffala. As soon as I said that it was a big favourite of mine he whipped out his cell phone and called his mamma and asked her to prepare some. True to his word 1.5kg of the finest mozzarella arrived at the venue the next day. Yum. Next day I bought some pomodoro secchi, basil, olive oil and ciabatta to compliment it and had caprese in a little picnic area by the side of the highway, while watching the autostrada prostitutes hopping from one truck cab to the next. Who say’s touring isn’t fun?

Anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah, Salerno, did a show, was probably OK, got my picture taken with nine forty year old men.
At this stage I start to ask myself some questions. Things are OK, it’s nice to be somewhere new, it always is, but what the hell am I doing here? I have got this Lumiere thing together, informed everyone involved of the requirements for the performance to work, and am starting to feel like someone is taking the piss. Sure, it’s nice to be playing but I’ve only done one show so far which is anything like the type of place I can perform this in. I’ve said it before. It’s a sit down, chill out, get overwhelmed by the big screen images which float over you while listening to some, rather lovely, quiet instrumental music. It is not me playing at 1am, playing after a deafeningly loud rock band, or a DJ that is obsessed with A Forest, by The Cure, in a sweaty club, with a big bar, and people shouting , the rabble of cocaine idiot talk and strangest of all, everyone standing. This is, how could I put it, ever so slightly challenging for me.
And then someone brings their face to withina couple of inches from mine and says “Hi, just wanted to say… You’re a piece of history” and I think to myself “you’re a closed minded fucking asshole who has just been dancing to echo and the fucking bunnymen. You are so stuck in the past, fuckwit” but of course I politely say “Thank you”.
Now I’m starting to understand why some artists choose not to play or make records, preferring instead just to stay at home and become legendary. They must have been to Italy.

Day 5
Rome. Same shit, different day. Another fucking night club, oh, and it’s not my show anymore, it’s a festival now and there’s a bunch of other people playing before and after me, so I haven’t really got much stage to play on, but that’s OK as the screen is about the size of my TV at home. I’m starting to feel sorry for any audience members that actually wanted to see me, as seeing me in those conditions must be very uncomfortable. I ate a thouroughly average Pizza, probably the worst Italian food I’ve eaten (and remember I live in France…) however I was very happy to see an old friend, Allessandra, that I haven’t seen for about fifteen years and catch up. To Rococo Rot play and I think I like them, certainly liked the people when we had a chat. Got my picture taken with fourteen forty year old men. Went to the supermarket. Considered throwing all my musical equipment in the trash, filling up my suitcases with food and going home. Had some prosciutto instead.

Day 6
Bit of a travel day, drive 600km to Milan. I’ve discovered something called ‘Pocket Coffee’, a small, liquid centered, chocolate filled with coffee. Life is beautiful, once more. I’m enjoying the driving, always do even when driving towards, what can only be described as, the low spot of the tour. And this is, don’t forget, a tour of low spots. It had all the usual ingredients, no projector, wrong cables, monitors made from cornflake boxes, sticky floor, The Cure playing, the cleaners closet as a dressing room but a new added twist, no audience, well at least very few, but hey, one has to play for the people that are there, not the ones that didn’t come. Strangely, I actually enjoyed playing, for the first time, even although the sound was horrible. I think I may be getting better as the days go on… Oh, I get it, it’s practice. Right. OK. Well, whatever, I enjoy getting lost in the music and feel less and less pressure from the audience to be good. Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, as the great man said. Another anomaly of the evening in Milan was that I saw Mark get cross with a waiter in a Restaurant. I’ve never even heard of Mark getting cross before. That can’t be the same guy I saw doing Tai Chi in the hotel lobby, could it?. As we left the venue and said our ‘goodnights’ and ‘thank you’s’ the promoter said “next time, bring a band”. I replied with a quick “next time bring an audience”. Well, it made me laugh. Truth is, I’d rather sever my own head off with a hacksaw than return to that place. Sorry. Got photo taken with five forty year old men.

Day 7
Guess What? Florence. Night Club… No wait, keep reading. What a fantastic place, a club called the Viper Theatre. Nice People, great sound, lights, 3 projectors, people that know what they are doing. Easily the most impressive looking visuals I’ve been able to present here. Wait, can this still be Italy? Ah, well actually, apparently so. Empty room syndrome again. Oh, well, at least there weren’t a lot of people dancing to A Forest either. Mark tells me to ‘Let it be different’. He has a point, but it will take me a day or two for the word to sink in. Got my picture taken with four forty year old men. Had a quick drive into the city the next morning to look around like tourists. Pretty, but it’s not a day off, so hit the road. Starting to feel like I’m coming down with something.

Day 8
Like something out of Heidi, Rovereto is a town with an alpine flavor, wedged between mountains, you can’t help but fall upon it when heading north towards the Brenner pass. It’s really rather charming with that model train layout feel. After the last couple of shows I didn’t imagine that even the janitor of the venue would be there to let us in, as the theatre, yes, I said theatre, is a couple of kilometers out of town on the way up a mountain. Did I tell you that this touring thing could be surreal? But happily the promoter greeted us and was very helpful. I arrive at the theatre, which looks perfect, check out the equipment, which is all that I asked for, start thinking to myself ‘well if this is all OK, what will go wrong? Something will.’ Well, after a couple of low turn outs I was pleasantly surprised to play to a rather full house, which seemed very appreciative. I thought it was as good a ‘Lumiere’ performance as I have ever given. It certainly worked. I couldn’t help wondering if there was a connection between me being able to present the show in the correct environment and a successful performance and happy audience.
Just a thought.
Got picture taken with nine forty year old men, then had an early night, as I’ve definitely got something nasty. Can’t breathe and feel like shit. Goodnight.

Day 9
Bologna. Oh, it’s a club. Well some of my frantic calls and texts to my agent must have paid off as they’ve put some seats out and have another artist, a guy called Christian, performing a nice downtempo film and music piece. More of the show later. Lasagne Bolognaise, what a wonderful thing, especially in the little trattoria, like something out of a movie, which we were taken to. The food was really ridiculously good, the ambience perfect, and most affordable, as the promoter was paying. Someone else paying never fails to add a certain richness to the whole eating experience. Now, about that show, well, although it was in a club, I think it was quite nice. It was nice that the promoter had made an effort to make the environment more sympathetic to what I was trying to put across and the people, seemed to be relieved to be sitting down, when they saw me play. I could have done with a seat as well, as I was feeling really rough now, a snotty stuffed up nose and sore throat. Too many late nights, I guess. Got picture taken with seven forty year old men.

And that was that.

Dropped of my rental car at the airport, flew to Paris, said my thank you and goodbyes to Mark, got on a train home, got there near midnight. Go to bed. Feel ill, looking forward to sleeping for a week…

post script
The next morning at 11am I get a text message from Steve from Heligoland. It read’s “did you get my email?, I’m at La gare de Rennes .” To cut a long story short, I never did get that week in bed, nor even a day, as I’ve spent the whole of the last week mixing the Heligoland album. Then I hopped on train back to Paris, with my luggage still unpacked from my time in Italy and as I write this I’m in Mexico City, minus, it goes without saying, my luggage. But that’s another story.