24 Mar 2011

And I’ll remember these nights always…

After a journey of over 12,000 miles and five weeks of travelling, we’ve finally arrived home to London. So many things happened I wanted to write some of it down to let you all know, and to thank those who had helped us so much during our time in Europe.

After saving our pennies we decided with Sean Fortuna Pop that what would make most sense would be for us to buy a van before we travelled to Europe – hiring a van for 5 weeks would cost us over 2500 pounds, and for less than that amount we could halves in a van with Sean and then have something to show for it at the end. It seemed like such a grown up, sensible idea at the time…

The first day of the tour was a drive to the Continent, aiming to get somewhere on the German border, before a show in Hamburg the following evening. Having picked up the van the day before, we suspected there might be a problem with one of the fuses as the cigarette lighter didn’t work, which we needed for our sat nav. The stereo also didn’t work, but that was a problem we could deal with later. We all met with the van at Mike’s place, loaded her up and were on our way, via a trip to Halfords on the Old Kent Road to pick up a fuse.

eurohamburg

Turning into Halfords, perhaps a little excited to be on the road, Giles came across a very tight turn into the carpark – I yelped a little too late (perhaps not wanting to be seen to be a backseat driver) and we hit the gate with the side door of our van. The gate had a thick chain around it which scraped along the side of the door. We all swore. I got out to assess the damage. A small crowd had gathered – it was bad. Backing the van off the gate was difficult, but Giles managed it with the help of a passer-by.

We all stood in front of the van, not knowing what to do. The damage was serious and it was obvious we couldn’t take it on a ferry – we couldn’t even open the door. Still optimistic, we remembered that we’d seen a van repair garage not far away, and drove it there. Bill was talking to Ingrid on the phone and said the typically Bill-optimistic words “It’s just surface damage, we probably just need a panel beater.” The man at the garage said “Start saving your pennies now, it’s going to cost 3000 quid to fix and will take ten days.” Mike said “I think we need a cup of tea.” So we drove back to Mike’s, heads in our hands.

We realised that we needed to hire another van, while ours was repaired. We could then do a switch somewhere in Europe. I rang Al because he knows what to do in these situations, and Mike rang Sean. Al was very sweet and gave us a list of van hire places – finding a van last minute in London suitable for touring is a near impossible task. Everyone said no – it was doubly difficult because we didn’t know how long we would need one for. After trying everyone in Al’s book we finally found a van that was close to the garage where we could get the van repaired. It would cost 120 pounds per day but at least we could go and we didn’t have to cancel the tour. We drove to Wembly to pick up the van.

Strangely, the van that we had hired was the exact same one Mike had driven to Paris in December for the Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It was a beautiful van. At the time, Mike thought to himself “Allo Darlin’ will never be able to tour in a van like this.” Well we did in the end Mike. Just not the way we expected…

Giles was so upset about crashing our van but I hugged him and said “I know you don’t believe me, but there will be worse things that will happen to us on this tour.” I didn’t know then how prophetic this was.

The man who was fixing our van was called Prince, and filled us with confidence. He said he could have it done by the weekend, and he fed us lots of chocolates in his garage. He was the first in a long line of people who were to lift our spirits on this tour.

By this time it was late in the evening, and we realised it made no sense to try to make the ferry crossing, otherwise we’d have to find somewhere in the middle of the night to sleep in France. Giles’ parents live in Dover, and if we slept there we could take a ferry at 4am. We made it to their house, and Giles’ mum had made us supper and fed us wine. I think we counted 6 bottles – this on a tour where I wasn’t going to drink at all. We couldn’t believe this was only the first day…

Then we drove to Hamburg in the beautiful van. Beautiful city, lovely people. We arrived and the promoter told us that the headline act had pulled out, and that people who had bought tickets for our show would have to buy them again to watch us play. Obviously this was crappy, but they fed us and at least the show wasn’t cancelled.

About 40 people came – some who had been told that we weren’t playing in the end and only found us by chance. One girl was in an Allo Darlin’ t shirt. St Pauli was playing Hamburg in the annual derby and they were showing it in the bar upstairs – St Pauli scored and beat Hamburg by one and the crowd upstairs went crazy. Then they came down and watched our show. We played with spirit. Everyone came to buy something – we worked out that every person in the crowd bought 5 euros worth of merch. This made us unbelievably happy. We walked back to the apartment in the snow.

Those few days with the beautiful van are like a dream – nothing bad happened. We drove to Sweden, the sea was frozen and it was minus 20 in Stockholm. The shows were good and we got to see some old friends like Patrik, Nils, Daniel, Kasja, Antonia, Jonk and Mattias. On our final day in Sweden we drove from Malmo to Stockholm, played a show, then got back in the van to drive overnight to Berlin via Hamburg where we would meet our van and do the switch. Our van was being driven by the manager of the Brian Jonestown Massacre – obviously the only man crazy enough to drive across the continent and back in a day. We said no one sleeps until everybody sleeps. That wasn’t quite possible, but there were always two people up the front and we managed to sleep a little at the ferry. We made it to Hamburg, did the switch and drove on to Berlin.

That Sunday afternoon in Berlin is a bit of a blur. We met our friends Silke and Dirk, met up with our buddies Tigercats and felt like the worst of our troubles were over. We ate mexican food and drank a little beer in Kreutzberg.

The Monday morning of our show we went to the van to drive all of the backline to the venue. It was minus 10. The van wouldn’t start. We thought perhaps she was just cold, if we went for breakfast and left it for a couple of hours she might start when we came back at midday.

We came back at midday and she still wouldn’t start. Thankfully Silke had a car, and we thought perhaps we could jumpstart the battery. We did this and it didn’t work. We rang the man who sold us the van, and he said it sounded like a battery problem and to buy a new battery and he would pay for it. We bought a new battery and the van worked. We all did a dance on the sidewalk. Then we played the show with Tigercats and Berlin was great.

The next day our show was in Leipzig. We all piled into the van because Tigercats were playing that show with us too. The van wouldn’t start. I think this was the first point I started crying – I rang Nik and he made me feel better but I was a bit broken. Dirk found a garage that would send a callout man and we wished that we had European breakdown cover. Silke and I went to Lidl and and bought things to make everyone scrambled eggs. Without Silke and Dirk we would have been completely lost.

The man said the van needed to go to a garage, and he got the van started using a mega generator. We didn’t have time – we needed to make the show and it was 4 hours drive to Leipzig. If we didn’t stop the van we could get there at least and deal with the next problem in the morning. We decided to go – all of us piled in and drove through the German countryside. We saw a lot of flat land and a lot of wind turbines. It was beautiful.

Leipzig was a last minute show and we didn’t expect anyone to come. Actually 100 people piled into a tiny venue above a bike repair show and it was well and truly sold out. This was great for us because we had done a door percentage deal so we got more money than we thought possible. We celebrated in Leipzig.

The next morning we went back to the garage where we had left the van overnight in Leipzig, knowing that we wouldn’t be able to start the van in the morning. The men there were very friendly and figured out what the problem was – we needed new glow candles to make the engine work. They could order the parts but it would take days – our show was in Munster the following day and if they could start the van for us, we could drive it to Munster and have the parts fitted there. They started it for us and didn’t charge us for an hour’s work – more people who lifted our spirits.

We made it to Munster where we met lovely Ivo and the club was great. The show was ok – the boys enjoyed it more than I did. Tigercats were awesome as usual. We sold the most merch on tour that night and I wondered what the connection was between feeling completely disconnected from a show and merch sales. We were happy.

At the garage in Munster they didn’t have the parts and told us again we would need to wait days to fix the van. We had to make it to Paris the following day so again couldn’t wait. By chance we had driven past a Bosch dealership down the road and wondered if they had the parts we needed. They did, but the garage said it would take a day to fix because they needed to take the engine out to fit them. We couldn’t wait, so instead they gave us some starter spray that would at least get us started.The garage also fitted new tyres for us because apparently ours were illegal. We were totting up the van repairs and realised we were going to lose money now but we still hadn’t missed a show…

Paris was great. Monster Bobby sang with us and said he loved the new songs and there were 500 people in the venue – not all to see us obviously but they were enthusiastic. Lille was also great we played with Young Michelin who I liked a lot. The rest of the French shows were fun and our van behaved – we played a cinema in Colmar, an art gallery in Dijon, a beautiful cabaret venue in Nantes. We felt like we were hitting our stride and met lots of lovely people. There was a hint of Spring in the air and France was beautiful.

eurodijon

We were asked to open for Those Dancing Days in Vienna which would be a 12 hour drive from Lyon where we were playing the night before. Markus, the brilliant promoter in Vienna promised us a good show and also a follow up show in a record store the next day. We said that would be fine so had 3 hours sleep after playing for 1.5 hours in Lyon (somebody came backstage and pulled us back on stage after our encore – we were exhausted but couldn’t stop playing) we started the drive to Vienna. Some advice for touring bands – always check whether you have to pay road tax. At the Swiss border they charged us 40 euros road tax but we didn’t have to pay tolls – in Austria they stopped us just before the German border and fined us 120 Euros for not buying an 8 euro road tax sticker. That stung a lot. But Vienna was awesome and Markus made us all laugh so much and was such a great host. We love you Markus.

Then a night off in Prague – our hostel floor was empty and we had a kitchen all to ourselves. Prague is so beautiful, but all we wanted to do was cook ourselves a meal and drink wine and listen to music and talk about big and small things. We did all this and had one of the best nights of the tour.

Then a show in Dresden where everyone in the club smoked which was like going back to the nineties. Everyone in Dresden bought vinyl and hardly anyone bought a cd – trendy crowd. We were sleeping in the room upstairs and a band was having a rehearsal next door until 3.00am – Giles nearly lost his temper with them but tried his best and we managed to get some sleep in the end. We got up at 7am to drive to Bern – another long day in the van.

The club in Bern was lovely and around 50 people came to the show which the promoter said was unheard of for a Tuesday night so we were pleased. They fed us delicious food and good coffee and we enjoyed Switzerland. Giles and Paul was less happy because Arsenal lost to Barcelona – having been on top at the start of the tour, Arsenal were gradually losing everything. We were losing money but winning the shows and the irony wasn’t lost on me.

Then another long drive to Toulouse where the club was nice and the people were beautiful. The show was one of those where you pay 5 euros to get in and see two bands and stay for the club afterwards – unfortunately there were a couple of really drunk people who only wanted to go crazy to our songs and I was a bit worried they were ruining it for everyone else. Joanny and Emilie drove from Paris to see us and we were so touched. After the show we went back to Chez Julian for a fun afterparty. We played a little set on an unamplified electric guitar and a kids toy drum machine. Julian had 26 jackets on his coat rack which I couldn’t quite get over and we had a ceremony when they opened the pastis bottle. I wish I liked the taste of it more than I like the idea of it. That was our last show in France and it was a happy memory.

The next day we drove to Spain – it was sunny and gorgeous. We ended up in Vic where we met Pau who was putting us on in a Jazz Bar. He was 17 years old and booking international bands to come to his small town – we couldn’t believe it. We slept at his parents house after the show and had to creep through the garage and we felt like teenagers too.

The long drive to Madrid was through incredible desert and we felt sorry for everyone else in the band who was sleeping through it – I’ve never seen anything like it in Australia or America. On the way into Madrid it started pouring with rain and strangely the wipers weren’t working. We thought it was a fuse problem again but any fuse we put in blew straight away. We were racing to get into Madrid because we were late for a radio session with Julio Ruiz who is the John Peel of Spain and we didn’t want to miss it, we didn’t want to disappoint the Popfest kids who were coming with us either. Driving through torrential rain in Madrid traffic was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen anyone do – Giles you’re a hero. We made it to the radio 15 minutes after we were meant to be on air and set up in a couple of minutes to play two songs. Julio spoke to us through a translator and was the most incredible interviewer I’ve ever met – I mean he knew everything about our bands, songs we’ve made and not released, previous bands, other bands we’re in, Darren and Amelia and all these people. We were bowled over and they were very happy with the session. Paul said he wants the Tallulah we recorded there to be the one on the record but I don’t know it might have just been so emotional at that stage.

Madrid Popfest was my favourite show of the tour, if not my favourite show we’ve ever played. Paul said it’s his. Everyone was so lovely and happy to have us there and we got to meet up with the Orchids and Horowitz and Zipper and of course Tender Trap who I hadn’t seen for so long. We played well and the crowd was amazing and Jorge and Eva and Maria and everyone was so wonderful. Julian even came across from Toulouse. It was an amazing evening. At the afterparty across the street Bill yelled out to Paul “I haven’t paid for a single drink tonight!” and looked so happy it was brilliant.

Barcelona the next day we didn’t soundcheck until 11pm and play until 1am. It was booked for us by Primavera so we were a bit nervous because we’d love to play that festival sometime. Unfortunately we just weren’t feeling it that much and it felt a bit too much of a showcase, and was so different from Madrid the night before. You never can tell which ones will be the best ones.

The following day we had a night off so had to find somewhere to stay between Barcelona and Milano. The wipers still weren’t working and we couldn’t find a garage that would fix them so the drives had been stressful. I do not recommend driving through rain without wipers – particularly in foreign cities where you need to follow a sat nav. Giles drove like a King. This was fitting, because the cheapest room we could find in France that Sunday evening was an apartment for 5 people on the Cote d’Azur between Monaco and Nice for 80 euros. We couldn’t believe it. Again we did a little dance once we were in the apartment and cooked a meal – sadly they don’t have supermarkets in Monaco so we had to buy food from a BP station. But the view over the Med in the morning was incredible, and that drive along the coast from France to Italy was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever done in my life.

In Italy we met Ale who had booked all our Italian shows. He was nervous about the show in Milano because the Go Team and Glasvegas were both playing that night at other venues. By the time the first band started playing 3 people had paid to get in. We were down about this because that meant we wouldn’t get paid, also it’s terrible to play to so few people. But gradually the room filled up and there was about 20 people there when we played – some of them who knew all the words. Where do these people come from who know our music? One guy said he’d seen us at End of the Road and bought the album there. Anyway we sold 10 t shirts and very few records in Milano – not surprising in the fashion capital eh?

The rest of the Italian shows are a bit of a blur – it stopped raining, we ate real pesto in a secret restaurant in Genova that was one the most amazing food experiences of my life (the basil has to come from a special hill outside Genova to be real pesto), met more indiepop kids in Forli and Carpi who wanted to put on their own popfests. In Roma at last we met up with our friends Eux Autres and despite having the worst onstage sound we’ve ever had (constant feedback throughout the set) we had a brilliant time hanging out with Heather and Nick and Yoshi and Ethan and swapping tour stories. Can’t wait to see those Larimers again in a couple of months time when we play SF and Ethan is going to stay with us when Maths and Physics Club play Indietracks in July. Eux Autres played one of my favourite songs of theirs that I’d asked them to play back at the Rickshaw Stop in October – a City all unto Himself. Bill and Paul and I all wore Eux Autres shirts onstage and felt like total fanboys/girl.

And so Italy was done and we were on our way back through Germany to play our last show of the tour in Belgium. We stopped over in the Black Forest to stay the night and the moon was enormous through the tall firs and the landscape through Switzerland was spectacular. The strange little hotel we stayed in had a sauna so we all got into our togs (having not had the chance to swim in Spain) and had the first annual Allo Darlin’ sauna. We didn’t get the temp up to Swedish style 70/80 degrees but we stayed fairly strong just under 60. It was fun. We had no idea what the next day would have in store for us.

The last show of the tour was in Leuven, Belgium. The van started fine, and we were happily driving for around an hour through Alsace. Suddenly Mike noticed some smoke coming through the hood and it didn’t smell good. We pulled over and looked under the hood and there was liquid on the engine, we thought it was coming from the coolant above it. Already running a little late for the show we used what we could to mend the leaking coolant container – a little gaffer tape. What can’t it fix! We figured it wouldn’t get too hot and carried on carefully driving.

About ten minutes after gaffering the coolant it was smoking again – this time really badly. The van was filling up with smoke and we all started to feel a little sick. We had to pull over again. Under the hood there was so much more liquid than before and there was something leaking under the van too – upon closer inspection we realised it was diesel and what we had been breathing in the car was carbon monoxide. No wonder we felt ill. At this stage we had no idea what to do – we were already 2 hours late for soundcheck and were stuck at a tiny service station in the backwoods of Alsace. We decided we could not go on in our van but what could we possibly do? We rang Mike’s dad who speaks fluent French, I rang Nik who’s mother lives in Brussels and maybe she would know somebody who could tow us, pick us up, anything could help at this stage. Nik started looking into trains from Luxembourg to Brussels. But what would we do with the backline? We rang the venue and let them know we would be very late and asked them to look into hiring backline for us.

I noticed a man at the service station in a high vis jacket in a van that looked potentially like a mechanic’s. Just as I went to speak to him he started driving away in his van. He must have seen my crestfallen face in the rearview mirror because he turned around and asked “Problem?” “Oui Monsieur grande problem!” I replied. He took one look under the hood and replied “Oui. Grande problem.” In our broken French we understood he was going to call a garage for us, then Mike’s dad got on the phone to him and we were told our van would be towed to a garage 20 minutes away, and they could help us find a hire car if we needed. It would take 45 minutes for the tow truck to reach us.

Once the tow truck arrived the situation was so bad we were just in hysterics – we couldn’t have written the final chapter of our tour disaster better. We all piled into the front cab of the tow truck and laughed all the way to the garage. Once we were there they told us that they couldn’t fix it, it needed a new fuel injector line and that could take 8 days to get because the parts were in England.

At this stage I had completely run out of faith, I had no idea how we could possibly make the show. It was 5pm and Leuven was still 4 hours drive away and the latest we could go onstage was 10pm. Even if we could make the show in a hire car, what would we do with the van? Leave it in the backwoods of France for 8 days? Bill had to get home because it was his daughter’s first birthday in two days time and we had promised that we would make it home at any cost. I gave up. I thought we could re-schedule the show and count our losses and somehow find our way home.

But the boys hadn’t given up – Mike said “If we find a hire car now, would you still say we shouldn’t play the show?” I said that if we could find a hire car of course we should play, but we had no time left to find one and it would be so stressful the show would be bad. I was trying not to cry through my sunglasses but I think everyone could see I was. Paul gave me a hug but it wasn’t much use – we were all so tired and just wanted to get home safely.

Amazingly they found a car. We took our the bare essentials we needed to play and packed into this little car. Mike was behind the wheel. About ten minutes after getting into the car I fell asleep, and so did Giles. Sometimes I think a situation gets so stressful your body stops working the minute it can take a rest, and we slept for a few minutes. Bill was playing some Henry Rollins spoken word on the ipod – I think reading from the Get In The Van book. The sun was settting and was one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. I just remember Henry talking about all the stuff that happened to Black Flag on tour and feeling such empathy with him – I know Black Flag had it much tougher than we did, and feeling the tiniest flicker of hope that maybe we could make the show, maybe everything would work out ok in the end. Listening to Henry Rollins inspired me.

Giles managed to speak to Sean, who started searching for the part we needed to fix our van. The next phone call we had from Sean he was on a train to Croydon, going to pick up the part. Sean is an indie pop hero. He could then take it to UPS across the street and see if they could do an overnight delivery to our garage in France. At this stage Mike was driving like Michael Schumacher – I won’t tell you how fast it was, but it was the fastest any of us have ever driven. And I’ve driven with Rob Pursey from Tender Trap! It started to look like we would make the show.

UPS wouldn’t do the delivery because Sean didn’t have his passport or license with him, so we were stuck, again. At least we had the part. This time I rang Nik, and asked him to look at Eurostar tickets. If we could get to Brussels, somebody could take the Eurostar there with the part and then we could go back to the French garage and they could fit the part. Nik found a Eurostar ticket for 90 pounds that left at 6.20am the next morning. He arranged to take the day off work, and finally we had a plan. We pulled into Leuven and played the show without a soundcheck and half an hour to spare. It was an incredible feeling.

The rest of the story is reasonably uneventful – the men in the garage fitted the part in 5 minutes, and we got on the ferry at Calais the night before Matilda’s first birthday. We got home around 3am.

euroferry

What is the point in telling you all of this? Well in a way to thank all of the people who helped us so much throughout our tour – Sean Fortuna Pop, Nik Vestberg, Ian Collins, Silke and Dirk, Tigercats. Most of all we have to thank Giles our beloved tour manager and friend who had never gone on a big tour before but ended up being the most incredible person to have on our side. He helped us all keep it together and we made it across the finish line together. But I think the story also shows a little bit that indie pop isn’t about what kind of music you make, or how jangly your guitar is, or what you say your influences are. It’s about your attitude. We lost all our money on tour, but we had an amazing time and got to play our music to loads of people. We count ourselves among the lucky ones because we have done something so many bands can only dream about. And the people we have to thank the most for this are you the ones who came, because you are giving us the chance to do what we’ve all dreamed of doing since we were kids. So thanks to you, and we hope it won’t be the last time we see you on the Continent. Now we’re off to record our new album, and it’s going to be called Europe.

Elizabeth xx