The Road with Aki Onda and Jac Berrocal
tour diary? How exciting! Or boring, depending on your taste. The last tour
diary I read, Mark Wastell's description of a handful of dates he played with
Bernhard Günter and Graham Halliwell, included as a pdf file with the second
+minus album A Rainy Koran Verse (trente oiseaux TOC 043), was –
well, sorry Mark old chum, more the latter than the former. Though you wouldn't
expect it to be anything else, really; if you're the kind of reader who gets
a kick out of tour diaries for their Dionysian excess – dirty spoons,
bloody syringes, empty bottles, smashing up hotel rooms, dangling teenage girls
out of windows and doing unspeakable things to them with fish, etc etc –
you're better off investing in a copy of Danny Sugerman's Wonderland Avenue.
Face it kids, even though Mark did dedicate one of his pieces to the memory
of John Entwistle, +minus are not The Who (though you could have some
fun imagining possible tabloid headlines – AVANT GARDE IMPROV TRIO TRASH
VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT! GERMAN ELECTRONICA IDOL GINSENG OD! HALLIWELL SMASHES
PA SYSTEM IN FEEDBACK RIOT!).
simple fact is that most tour diaries, if they're intended for public consumption,
usually amount to little more than polite Thank You letters. Put it this way:
you're not going to complain about the stale beer and cold chips at Jim's Café
and expect Jim to give you a gig next time you're in town, are you now? And
describing your fellow playing partners as debauched drug-addled drunken assholes
probably won't endear you to them very much and doesn't bode well for the future
of the group. So why do I bother? Three reasons come to mind: firstly, I've
been in the habit of keeping a personal diary ever since I went off ("up",
they say) to Cambridge as a student in 1981 (it started out as a rather perverse
record of how many cigarettes I smoked each day, so that at some later stage
in life, wracked by bronchial problems, I could sit down and calculate exactly
how many minutes of my life had literally gone up in smoke), so writing about
what I've been up to during the day is something that comes naturally. Secondly,
tours are fun: the sights, sounds, smells, the sheer pleasure of making
music far away from home with people you care for, and being paid to do so to
boot, the people you meet, the food and drink, the landscapes you travel through
and the music you listen to along the way. Thirdly, tours aren't fun at
all: the lack of privacy, the stress, the hangovers, the inevitable problems
with transportation, luggage, accommodation, roadies, mics that don't work,
showers that don't work, soundchecks that last forever, above all, the waiting,
the tedium. It all makes for a jolly good read.
for better or worse, here is On The Road, my own collection of anecdotes
about the six dates I played recently in the company of Aki Onda and Jac Berrocal.
PT readers should need no introduction to Monsieur Berrocal – you can
still check out the interview he gave me in 2004, which also formed the basis
of an extended feature in The Wire 247 (complete with some smashing
photos by Frank Bauer). And the good news is that his second solo album Catalogue
– not the group Catalogue, the album – has
finally been reissued by Alga Marghen. So buy now or cry later. So far I haven't
done an interview with Aki (though I did record an afternoon's conversation
with him a while ago), but the extraordinary music he makes with a couple of
cassette recorders, a sampler, a rhythm box and a few special effects should
be familiar to you. If it isn't, there are only 300 or so shopping days to Christmas.
Tours, 12th November
headlining the second night of the Total Meeting festival at Le Petit Faucheux
in Tours (see opposite), at the invitation of Bernard Aimé (and Claude
Besnard and Vonnick Moccoli, aka Alma Fury, who are, as they say, "curating"
the programme on the 12th). Tonight we're a quartet in fact, and Alexandre Bellenger,
fresh from a controversial appearance at Densités (where he pissed off
improv crusties by dressing up strangely, smoking a cigar onstage and generally
looking bored to death during his set with Otomo and Martin Tétreault)
has gone on ahead by car to set up his turntables. Meanwhile, I've arranged
to meet Aki and Jac at a café in the Gare Montparnasse so we can take
the train together. Berrocal has been worrying for some time about what he calls
the filage, the "threading together," a kind of structural
safety net whereby the set we play is roughly planned out according to a running
order of sorts. "How are we going to begin?" he keeps asking. "Loud,"
I reply. "How are we going to end?" "Louder." "What
are we going to do in between?" "Play." (Of course, when Jac
gets onstage the filage goes to hell and he does his thing, but if
it makes him feel more comfortable beforehand, so much the better.)
Typically transparent, the model of discretion, Aki Onda has been sitting quietly
at the café reading his copy of Newsweek long before I actually
notice he's there. Berrocal arrives bang on time, sporting a black leather greatcoat,
black leather rockstar pants, black glasses and a kind of fuzzy waistcoat that
looks like it could be a dead dog, or a doormat. Black, too. He's also sporting
a shit-eating grin. "I know how we're going to finish the show
tonight!" he beams. "Well, tell us!" we ask. "Not here,
I'll tell you in the train," he whispers conspiratorially, and lights up
one of his Gauloises. Once we've carted the gear into the TGV and taken our
seats, I ask him again what The Big Idea is. "Well," he grins, "we
can end up doing something really loud and fast, rocky you know, rhythm, boom
boom boom.. and then – "– he bends down and pulls
something out of his trumpet case – "BANG! BANG! BANG!" he screams
at the top of his voice. He's holding a fucking pistol. A real one
too. "Jesus Christ, Berrocal, what's that?" I ask. "It's a gun!"
beams Jac. "I haven't got any real bullets, but I've got three blanks.
If I fire at the ceiling it'll be OK.. as long as you're more than two metres
away from me you won't get hurt. Of course if I fire this at you now at this
range I'll burst your eardrums. And you'll probably get cut and burnt by bits
of plastic," he adds matter-of-factly. Sitting opposite, Aki is in hysterics.
The other passengers in the compartment aren't. In fact, they look distinctly
terrified. I have fleeting visions of someone pulling the communication chain
and the three of us hauled off to spend the afternoon in a local commissariat.
"Jac," I try to explain, "erm, we're going on tour next week
to Sweden, right? We're all travelling on the same ticket. If you bring a bloody
gun with you we'll all end up in jail. Don't bring the gun, OK?"
Berrocal looks rather deflated. "If I check it in in my suitcase would
that be all right?" "NO, you daft bugger, they X-ray all the bags!
We'll end up spending the weekend in the bloody police station! DON'T BRING
THE GUN, OK?!"
Aki is still chortling behind his copy of Newsweek. "Jac – he's a
– BIG KID!" he laughs. This tour was Aki's idea. I wonder if he knows
what he's let himself in for.
We're in the van driving from Tours station to Le Petit Faucheux. Berrocal is
curious about the venue, and alarmed to learn it's an all seater. "Well,
yes," says Mathieu, our driver / sound engineer. "It's a converted
theatre, actually." "Cant' you take the seats out?"
asks Jac, deadly serious. "Er, no, because it's a converted theatre,"
Mathieu explains patiently. "So people won't be able to DANCE?" Berrocal
fumes. "Well, I suppose they can stand up if they want,"
Also appearing on the same bill: the Will Guthrie / Ferran Fages / Jean-Philippe
Gross trio, playing the final date of an exhausting European tour, Brit leftfield
techno/EAI outfit Ticklish (Phil Durrant, Kev Hopper and Rob Flint), Alma Fury
(Vonnick and Claude on electronics plus video and live art onstage). We're on
last. When we get to the venue, Alexandre Bellenger's gear is already set up
onstage and he's sitting behind it looking suspiciously demure, almost as cute
as in the photograph opposite.
There's a piano – nice surprise – and it turns out I can use it
in the show. After the soundcheck we retreat to the dressing rooms, where Jean-Philippe
Gross has already made a concerted attack on the fridge. It's about 4pm and
at least 7 hours before showtime, but I have no intention of hanging around
there drinking beer and eating crisps. Aki and I decide to go to the hotel and
put our feet up, as Berrocal launches into one of his many Vince Taylor stories,
this one about how the fallen angel rockstar insisted that fresh female flesh
should be part of his playing fee. "Once he asked for three girls, and
when he arrived at the club there were no girls around, so he refused to go
on! The manager went out in a panic and ten minutes later sure enough there
were three girls in Vince's dressing room," Jac recalls, with evident affection
for the man who helped secure his own claim to fame by providing the voice on
Berrocal's legendary "Rock'n'Roll Station" on Parallèles.
"Actually," Berrocal continues, drawing furiously on his Gauloise
and filling the tiny dressing room with a cloud of noxious blue smoke, "we
should have asked to be paid in girls tonight." I can't decide if he's
serious (Jean-Philippe and Alex are laughing their heads off but Will doesn't
know quite what to make of that black leather outfit), but I rather suspect
he is. "Will there be any girls here tonight?" Jac turns to me. I
reply that, the male to female ratio being what it is in the population of France
as a whole, there should by rights be a considerable number of members of the
opposite sex in the audience. "No, I meant girls," says Berrocal.
the qualities of French gastronomy, and Bernard Aimé's splendid bottles
of Bourgueil (fond memories of the last two times I played here) to the members
of Ticklish, I'm distinctly alarmed to find out that the food, served in a canteen
next to the theatre, consists of a strangely fluorescent and thoroughly tasteless
pasta salad (yoghurt sauce is provided in an empty blue plastic mineral water
bottle, adding to the weird extraterrestrial glow of the salad) followed by
what should be spicy African chicken dish, yassa, but which turns out
to be as bland as the salad. I'm reminded of the caustic remarks of American
humorist Calvin Trillin: "All English girls are taught to boil vegetables
for at least a month and a half in case one of the dinner guests comes without
his teeth.." But this is France! The next French person who dares make
fun of English cooking will get a free invite to dinner here. The wine comes
from one of those 5 litre supermarket squeeze-and-pour things, and the word
for it is plonk. At least it helps dissolve the dessert, a kind of
fruit tart whose crust is so hard I suggest Ferran Fages uses it to play his
acoustic turntable with. Berrocal is at the end of the table, deep in conversation
with a pretty girl (it never takes him long to find one) who turns out to be
a friend of Alexandre's (Jac looks distinctly crestfallen when he finds this
out). Overhearing our conversation about the ingredients used in the pastry,
she evidently feels a rush of sympathy for the kitchen staff (who are, I should
add, perfectly adorable) and orders a second helping of the tart. "It's
delicious," she smiles. I hope she's got a good dentist.
Since Jac is
suffering from his traditional stage fright, I suggest we step out for a couple
of stiff drinks before showtime. These work wonders for Berrocal but successfully
ensure that I can recall very little of what actually happens onstage except
for the heart-stopping moment when I get my leg tangled up in the jack-to-jack
lead and send Philippe Simon's electric violin, which I've borrowed for the
occasion, crashing to the floor, where it lies in pieces. There goes the gig
money, I think. As the end of the set approaches, I see Berrocal rummaging in
his trumpet case. Shit, he's going for the gun! I gesticulate wildly to Aki
and Alex to drop the volume and end the set quietly, figuring Jac wouldn't dare
fire his pistol in the middle of a pianissimo. They don't see me, but
they've obviously been watching Berrocal too. It's a soft landing. The only
thing that explodes is the public.
At this stage I'm sorry to disappoint you if you're expecting a blow-by-blow
description of the music we played, a) because in this case I really can't remember
very much of what happened (those two glasses of calvados before the gig took
care of that) and b) because the improvising musician him/herself is about the
last person you should ask about the music. I've played gigs that I thought
were absolutely ace at the time and later listened to recordings that made my
toes curl up in embarrassment; conversely sets that I recall as being catastrophically
bad sometimes sound fabulous when you listen to them later. Exactly how the
guys from Phosphor in Berlin can sit around after each gig and do a detailed
post mortem is quite beyond me. If you want to know how the Tours gig went you'd
better ask someone who was there. Everyone I spoke to afterwards seemed to like
it, though I daresay Phil and Kev still think we're all absolutely barking mad.
sensible impulses, after dropping the gear off at the hotel, I agree to go for
an after show drink at a cocktail bar about ten minutes walk from the theatre.
Berrocal wisely decides to call it a night. One of the drivers from LPF drops
me off at the bar. Aki and Alex are already there. Aki won't touch a drop before
he plays, but certainly makes up for it afterwards. He offers to buy me a drink.
The barman here's an "avant-garde" musician himself (baaad news)
and all the cocktails are named after them. The "Stockhausen" is a
hideous blue fluorescent affair, reminding me of the yoghurt sauce in the canteen.
There's also a "Schaeffer", I think, but I settle for a "Merzbow"
(it's not spelled like that but never mind – you're not likely to find
it in a book of World Famous Cocktails so I wouldn't bother trying to find out),
which, all credit to the barman, is indeed the alcoholic equivalent of Masami
Akita's music: it's brash, vicious, lethally strong and impossible to determine
what the basic ingredients are, though there's an evil dash of angostura bitters
in there. It's enough to send me into a spincycle and trigger off the Amazing
Homing Mechanism that, thankfully, always seems to kick in when I've had enough.
This is a little voice at the back of the mind saying "time to go to home
now Dan" and, without warning, I leave whoever I'm with and find my way
back to where I'm staying. The Amazing Homing Mechanism is usually accompanied
by L'Appel des Frites, a strange and utterly irrational craving for junk food
– chips, burgers, kebabs, curries, anything greasy to hand – to
round off the evening in style and ensure an intestinal conflict of Vietnam-like
intensity will continue throughout the night while I snore peacefully. Tonight
it's a kebab shop across the street from the bar. I eat the thing en route to
the hotel, as a light rain falls. On the way I run into Jean-Philippe Gross,
who seems to have got lost. We get back to the hotel at about 3am. The train
back to Paris is at 9.30 next morning and the station's right across the street.
No need to wake up early. For once I can sleep in.
At 7.30am the phone by the side of my bed rings out, shrill and deadly. It's
Berrocal. "Dan, c'est Jac. Are you going down to breakfast? We've
got a train to catch, you know." "Bloody hell, Jac, it's 7.30, the
train's not for two hours! Leave me alone, I'll see you down there in an hour."
I hang up. Fifteen minutes later it rings again. "Dan. C'est Jac.
Are you coming to breakfast?" "Fuck, Berrocal, that's the second time
you've woken me up, man! Go to breakfast yourself if you want, but leave me
alone, right? I'll be down about 8.30." "Do you think they've got
eggs for breakfast?" he asks. I can't decide for a moment if he's taking
the piss or not, but I realise he isn't. "Jac, if you ask them nicely they'll
bring a fucking hen to the table and it'll lay them for you. Now gimme
Later, on the train back to Paris, without warning, Berrocal loses his temper.
"You know there was a PROBLEM last night! Nobody was DANCING! They're all
sitting there politely clap clap clap" (he mimes polite applause) "like
a fucking IMPROV audience!" "It was an improv audience, you
daft bugger," I retort, "and from where I was standing they were cheering.
That not good enough for you?" "I fucking HATE improv audiences!"
he screams, in a voice that can be heard throughout the compartment. Heads are
turning, and one woman looks at this strange angry little man in his leather
pants with an expression of disgust tinged with fear. I wonder for a moment
if she wasn't on the train yesterday when he pulled out the pistol. I tell Berrocal
to shut the fuck up and he storms off to the bar. "He's such – a
BIG KID!" laughs Aki, unflappable as ever (though even he looks the worse
for wear this morning, having got back to the hotel at 4.30am). When Berrocal
finally returns to his seat half an hour later, he's wearing a huge grin. He
introduces us to an accordionist friend of his who's travelling on the same
train. Turns out this bloke, who's pretty as a picture and openly gay, lives
in an authentic ménage a trois with a top civil servant and
some high-ranking military figure. "He doesn't have to pay for a thing!"
Berrocal explains. "They take care of everything! He gets to spend his
gig money on cigarettes! I asked him what he'd spend it on if he gave up smoking.
He says he'd give it all to charity."
Paris, 17th November
one and only Paris gig on this tour is at the Point Ephémère,
a former warehouse space on the banks of the Canal Saint Martin on the Quai
de Valmy, near where the Métro rolls round overhead between Stalingrad
and Jaurès. We're headlining again. The first band to play is a laptop
noise outfit called Mime S. Lalie, whose members include a bloke called Charles
who came to take some photos of the Aki, Jac and myself at Berrocal's flat a
couple of months ago (as it turned out they weren't used, which is just as well
as we looked particularly stupid). Charles finds himself at our table for the
pre-concert dinner, which is another black mark against French Cuisine, consisting
of a chewy steak smothered in greasy shallots and served with what they call
pommes sautées (that's potatoes sauted with fresh garlic and
parsley) but which would be more accurately described in this case as pommes
cramées et rechauffées, since I happened to notice a huge
metal tray of them being pushed into the oven to be reheated at a temperature
sufficiently brutal to burn both garlic and parsley to a crisp. Today's the
third Thursday in November, which is traditionally the day of the Beaujolais
Nouveau, a vulgar marketing stunt whereby Burgundian wine producers offload
zillions of gallons of cheap grape juice to gullible punters the world over
(many of them Japanese, sorry Aki). To their credit, the kitchen staff at Point
FMR haven't provided us with a bottle of this rubbish tonight, preferring instead
a generic pitcher of vin de table which is probably even fouler but
at least doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is – plonk.
Jean-François Pauvros, Berrocal's old compagnon de route from
Catalogue, who's playing the second set solo tonight, is having none of it.
He announces he's heading out to a nearby Nicolas for a "bottle of something
real". I tell him if he brings a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau back I'll
bite his balls off. "No chance!" he laughs, and returns ten minutes
later with a magnum of Bourgogne Pinot Noir. A man of class, Pauvros.
I skip Mime S.
Lalie's set and head out alone for a quiet café calva. A large
crowd of Berrocal's old fans has turned up by the time I get back, including
Gilbert Artman and director Guy Girard (whose DVD on Berrocal, Les Chants
de Bataille will, I'm told, finally be out in the New Year). Also on hand
is the resident local improv mafia, Patrick Boeuf (of the late lamented
Peace Warriors magazine), Jacques Oger (Potlatch), Théo Jarrier
(In Situ) and a whole slew of musicians including guitarist Pascal Marzan, laptopper
Hervé Boghossian (of List records) and bassist Jean Bordé, who
I've had the pleasure of playing with on several occasions, notably twice in
a trio with Charlotte Hug when she was in town last year. I drift into the concert
hall part of the venue where Pauvros (left) is trying to smash down one of the
iron pillars with his guitar. It sounds awesome. Then he launches into his hit,
a stunningly lugubrious cover of the old chestnut "Mon Homme" (dunno
if the 7" single he released of it on Rectangle a while back is still in
print, but if it is, GET ONE). Berrocal is in the crowd, digging every minute
of it. "And now I'll hand over to my vieux camarade," says
Pauvros as he lopes off the stage twenty minutes later.
Our set goes
particularly well and we're even called back for an encore. No surprise as to
what the punters want, either. "Rock'n'Roll Station! Rock'n'Roll Station!"
they holler. Berrocal leans over to me. "I've forgotten the words!"
he hisses. "Don't be bloody stupid," I say, and step up to the mic
and start reading them myself. "It was 1959, do you remember?"
The crowd goes ballistic. I haven't had as much fun onstage since I played the
mythic Ubu in Rennes eight years ago in a dreadfully pretentious French rock
group called Tanger, when the bloke who runs the place told me the most memorable
concert he'd ever staged there was by – Jac Berrocal. They even start
singing along, which is just as well as I can hand over to Jac, whose memory,
miraculously, seems to have returned. Meanwhile Onda is laying down a wickedly
cheesy funk groove with his rhythm box. We're having a good time. Philippe Simon's
fiddle, by the way, is now repaired (75 Euros – I was right about the
gig money at Tours) and it sounds evil.
The first person I bump into when I step off the stage after the gig is Jean
Bordé. He grabs my arm. "What the fuck was that?"
I realise he hasn't enjoyed it at all. "C'était une horreur!
What the fuck are you doing in this trio?" "Oh, you didn't
like it?" "We have to talk," he glowers, and heads off
outside. I'd say he was in a minority; everyone else seems to have enjoyed themselves
quite a bit. I recall a line of Eric Dolphy's to the effect that if his music
arouses strong emotions – either positive or negative – he's done
its job. In fact I'm delighted Jean has hated the set; there's nothing worse
than a limp handshake and some non-committal "Oh that was nice, thanks
a lot." (As it turns out, Jean goes home and sends me an amazingly long
email later that night – at 2.30am! – explaining exactly what he
didn't like about the gig. "Berrocal doesn't come anywhere near Miles on
Bitches Brew," he fumes. I write back saying Jac would be the
first person to agree with that, but reminding him that considering Berrocal
merely as a trumpet player is missing the point. "Get yourself a copy of
Musiq Musik, Parallèles and Catalogue and
then we'll talk.")
I pack up my gear and head over to the table, where Satoko Fujimoto, our wonderful
and indefatigable agent for this tour, is selling CDs. Or not, as it turns out.
"We haven't sold any," says Eric Cordier, who's helping her man the
stall. "But we could have sold ten Berrocal albums if he'd brought any."
(I did tell Jac to come along with some copies of Catalogue to sell,
but he didn't seem to be interested in the merchandising aspect of it all. "There
are shops for that," he said dismissively.) Eric seems quite happy with
the gig tonight, even though he looks rather miserable. But he manages to look
miserable even when he's delighted. "Who was that bloke with Satoko?"
Berrocal asks later. "He looked like a dog left out in the rain."
Stockholm, 18th November
next day we're flying from Paris to Stockholm, where we're to play the mythic
Fylkingen. Actually, that Paris – Stockholm bit is misleading, as we're
flying RyanAir, which means we fly from Beauvais (80 km north of Paris) to Skåvsta
(120 km south of Stockholm). The flight's at 2.45 pm but we have to be at Porte
Maillot in Paris at 11.30 to get one of the RyanAir shuttle buses to Beauvais.
As we pull into the airport, Berrocal remembers he once played a gig there.
"In the airport?" I wonder. "In the control tower!" Berrocal
corrects me. "We were there with Gilbert [Artman, and I suppose, Urban
Sax] to inaugurate the control tower! (photo above) There were all these dignitaries
and rich bitches in fur coats and there was a fantastic buffet lunch with
foie gras and good wine and whisky, and we [the musicians] had to eat some
fucking old sandwiches in a back room. After the gig there was tons of booze
left over, so we shared it out with the policemen who were on duty! Look! There
it is!" He points out of the window. "La Tour Berrocal!"
I tell Berrocal to be on his best behaviour. You don't joke with these buggers.
Of the three desks displaying our flight, I choose the one with the friendliest
looking check-in clerk. We're all flying on the same reservation number, which
is just as well as the guy totals up all our baggage and divides the weight
by three (if not, Aki would have had some serious excess baggage to pay). He
turns to Berrocal. "Are you carrying any knives?" he asks. "Yes,
five of them," says Jac with a wink. I cringe. The bloke takes
it well. "And are there any dangerous objects in the suitcase you've checked
in?" "Y a que ça!" grins Berrocal (which translates
roughly as "Nothing but!" French is a cool language at times.. when
Samuel Beckett was asked once to participate in a survey of writers each asked
the question "Why do you write?" his reply was "Bon qu'à
ça!" "That's all I'm good at." You've got to admire
the economy..) Again, the check-in clerk seems to have a sense of humour. But
then he asks me if my violin is a cello. "If it is a cello it's an awfully
small one," I reply. "No, in fact, it's a violin." "Are
there any strings on it?" he enquires. I point out that as the violin is
usually considered as a stringed instrument it's quite normal for it to have
strings. Four of them. "No, I meant do you have any spare strings in that
case?" Uh-oh. I see what he's getting at: of course I have a spare
set of strings and they cost 70 Euros to replace, but I answer "No. Why?"
"Because violin strings can be used as deadly weapons and we can't allow
them in the plane as hand luggage." It occurs to me that you could probably
kill somebody with a RyanAir plastic fork, let alone your bare hands if you're
a karate expert, but I decide to take another tack. "So what happens when
a symphony orchestra goes on tour?" He doesn't answer this. We're issued
our boarding cards and head off to the gate.
As the violin case comes out of the metal detector a rather imposing woman takes
me aside. "Could you open the case, please?" Shit, she's going to
see the strings. Fortunately she's standing behind the case when I open the
lid and can't see them, as they're in a thin plastic tube tucked just inside
next to the bow. But she finds a small bottle of 90° alcohol instead. "What's
this?" she asks. "Well, it says on the bottle – 90° alcohol,"
I explain helpfully. Then, seeing her glance at me suspiciously, I add: "It's
to clean the strings. After the concert. If you don't clean off the dirt and
the sweat the strings corrode and snap quite quickly." I'm not sure she
believes this. "You can't take that on board the plane," she says,
firmly. "Why not?" I ask. "It's inflammable!" I point out
that the plane itself is full of about 30,000 litres of highly inflammable kerosene
and that, if we're going to crash, my little bottle of alcohol won't make any
perceivable difference to the conflagration, but she's having none of it. "I'm
going to have to confiscate this," she says. Meanwhile, I turn and see
Berrocal waiting for me. He's wondering why I've been held up. "What's
the matter? What's the matter?" "Oh, nothing, she just confiscated
my bottle of alcohol," I reply. "PUTAIN!" cries Berrocal, "What
the fuck are we going to drink in the plane?!"
it's pitch black, barely 5pm and -2°C. Onda has disappeared inside the terminal
in search of food (I have no idea where he puts it all, but he's invariably
hungry), which means we miss the first two shuttle buses for downtown Stockholm.
We eventually arrive in the Swedish capital at 7.30pm, and are met by Mårten,
who's organising the gig for us at Fylkingen (photo, left - and it was the best
one I could find). Typically Swedish – tall, blond, deadly serious (a
smile occasionally plays around his lips but I'm still not sure it's not just
a muscular twitch rather than evidence of a sense of humour, or maybe it's a
peculiarly Swedish sense of humour), he's also a little worried. Showtime is
barely an hour and a half away, and we still have to set up. As it turns out,
Fylkingen is just across the bridge in a converted brewery, less than ten minutes'
drive away. The place is spotless, the acoustic outstanding, the sound men fully
equipped and totally professional. It sounds like a million dollars.
There's no time for dinner before the show but we're invited to make ourselves
sandwiches at the bar, which is just by the entrance, so arriving punters are
treated to the somewhat ignominious sight of tonight's featured artists stuffing
their faces with black bread and cream cheese. "There are beers in the
fridge", says Mårten, but I notice he's making a note of how many
we have each. Eyeing me not a little suspiciously, he says, "If you have
more than five you'll have to pay for them." "It'll be my pleasure!"
I reply cheerily. "Can we smoke in the dressing room?" wonders Berrocal.
"No," says Mårten firmly. "Now in Sweden smoking is completely
forbidden in all public buildings." Now there's something that's changed
since last I was here in 2003. "Bars, hotels, theatres, restaurants, concert
halls are all non smoking." "OK then," says Jac, picking up his
bottle of beer and heading for the door. "Wait!" says Mårten.
"You can't drink outside! It's against the law!" "Wait a sec,"
I interrupt. "We can smoke outside but we can't drink, and we can drink
inside but we can't smoke, is that right?" "That's right," says
Mårten. "So is there anywhere in Sweden where you drink and smoke
at the same time?" I enquire. "At home," comes the reply.
aspect of Swedish law pertaining to theatres (which is what Fylkingen is classed
as, not being a place that serves food as such) is that the sale and consumption
of all alcoholic beverages is forbidden both before and after the show, but
not in the intervals between the sets (curiously, it seems it's OK for audience
members to take their drinks with them into the auditorium). So in the interest
of bar sales, Mårten wonders how many sets we'd like to play. Just two
sets means only one interval, not much time to sell booze. I tell him we'll
play a trio set, then I'll do a solo violin set and then a second trio set.
My solo fiddle set – the first one I've ever done as it turns out –
is a Derek Bailey-style accompanied monologue informing the public that the
rest of the evening will be divided into 200 sets of 3 seconds each interspersed
with long pauses at the bar.
At the interval I'm approached by an earnest young chap with close cropped blond
hair who introduces himself as Henrik. I've often wondered exactly who reads
the stuff I stick up on the Internet – now I have an idea. If there's
such a thing as a Paris Transatlantic Groupie, Henrik is it. He appears
to have read every single thing I've written, bought his records according to
my recommendations (risky move, that, but never mind) and is able to quote huge
passages of my own reviews back at me verbatim. What's more by the end of the
evening he's bought four albums of mine (which means he gets one free –
what the hell, wouldn't you give him one?), so I out of gratitude at least I
feel rather obliged to make polite conversation. For some reason he wants to
know about Jason Lescalleet, who I've never met (but struck up an unlikely email
friendship with four years ago when he wrote in to complain that I'd completely
overlooked a piece of his on the Intransitive Variious compilation).
It turns out Henrik drives a Stockholm underground train for a living (which
explains why he jumped on the copy of Métro Pré Saint Gervais
as soon as I put it on the bar) – I try to imagine a Parisian Métro
driver with a similar taste for difficult new music, but can't quite do it –
and what's more speaks absolutely perfect English (and I mean perfect:
I teach English for a living so you can take my word for it). He's awfully impressive,
in a rather overwhelming kind of way. And of course after the gig he's waiting
patiently. "It's so great to meet you, I'd like to go out for a drink if
you're not too tired!" I point out that we're some way from our hotel and
we have to drop our stuff off. "Oh, I know where you're staying!"
he says cheerily. "Mårten says there won't be any room in the car
but it's only half an hour's walk! I'll set off now and see you there!"
And off he goes, accompanied by my pal Kristoffer Westin, who's organising tomorrow
night's show down the road in Norrköping and has come up to Stockholm especially
to see us tonight.
We arrive at
the Columbus Hotel about 12.30am and take the stuff up to the rooms. By the
time we get down to the lobby again Henrik and Kristoffer are waiting for us.
Berrocal isn't going out for a drink, but has come down to brave the night air
(it must be about -4° now) for a final smoke. Aki, surprise, is hungry.
"I know a nice little Greek place down the road," chirps Henrik.
" They do very good souvlaki and what have you.." In my mind's
eye I picture a cosy Greek restaurant, with candlelight, soft bouzouki music
and pictures of dazzlingly white churches overlooking impossibly blue seas.
Think again, Dan. Henrik's "little Greek place" is a fucking kebab
stand in the middle of the square. While we're trying to extricate scraps of
meat from soggy pita bread with plastic forks without freezing to death (with
the Wind Chill Factor I reckon it must be about -15°), a whole bunch of
extremely drunk Swedes rolls up. I recognise the tell-tale signs of the Appel
Now we've finished the kebabs I'm wondering where we're going to get a drink.
Long queues have formed outside the bars that are still open – some close
at 1am, some at 3am – as punters wait for people to leave before they
can get in. Two come out, two can go in. Bouncers bouncing through the night.
Bit like a night club, really. I suppose this is because of some new Swedish
fire regulation, but as nobody can actually smoke anymore inside these
places I wonder exactly how they're supposed to catch fire. "Isn't there
anywhere we can go without having to queue?" I ask Henrik, after we've
covered about ten blocks in search of a watering hole. It's now 1.30am and fatigue
is beginning to kick in. Aki's feeling it too. "Feeling – rather
– sleepy!" he yawns. But Henrik is indefatigable. "Oh, I know
a place not far from here.." "How far's not far, Henrik?" I
ask. "Oh, about fifteen minutes' walk!" he says brightly. "Listen,
forget it," I reply. "We had a late night last night, we all got up
really early this morning and we've got another gig tomorrow. If you don't mind,
I'd prefer to head back to the hotel." "Me too!" shivers Aki.
Henrik looks crestfallen, but says he's already looking forward to my next
visit to Stockholm. I hope it won't be in November. Meanwhile, Kristoffer has
to spend the night in a youth hostel which turns out to be a draughty boat moored
in the harbour. A miserable night too, he tells me later. I can't complain –
the Columbus Hotel is warm and clean. God knows what the people in the next
room are doing, but it sounds distinctly painful. It doesn't keep me awake for
Norrköping, 19th-20th November
the bus on the way to Norrköping, a city with a population of about 130,000
some 200 km south of Stockholm (sometimes called the Swedish Manchester, but
that's doing a disservice to Manchester), Kristoffer gives me a present. It's
a handpicked compilation of Norwegian and Swedish Black Metal featuring tracks
by Bathory, Burzum and Mayhem. I'm tempted to stick it in the CD Walkman but
I'm too busy enjoying Bryan Eubanks and Doug Theriault's Creative Sources release,
Big Clouds in the Sky Today, which seems curiously appropriate for
the landscape. Lakes of black water snake between brown forests under a leaden
We arrive at
the bus station in Norrköping at about 1pm. Kris assures us it's "only
200m" to the Centric Hotel on foot (and it's not as grand as it looks in
the photo), but I've been here before (Norrköping was the second stop on
the 2003 tour of the Return of the New Thing quartet, with Jean-Luc Guionnet,
François Fuchs and Edward Perraud: the third ROTNT album, Crescendo,
was recorded here in the club of the same name) and I can confirm Kris needs
some maths lessons. He's even further off the mark when he says it's "only
400m" from the hotel to the Kunstmuseum, where we're playing tonight. It's
at least a kilometre, but as he's pulling Aki's big red suitcase and not me
I'm not complaining. I wonder why he hasn't ordered a taxi. The first thing
though after checking into the Centric is lunch, as Kris reminds us that the
restaurants here close at 3pm. And this, folks, is a Saturday afternoon! So
we duly pile into a pizzeria-cum-kebab (again) joint and chow down on steak
and bearnaise sauce. There's at least as much sauce as steak and the steak's
the kind of steak my mother used to serve up – i.e. it's like eating one
of Fred Astaire's old dancing shoes. I wash it down with two cans of local "light"
beer (2° - I figure if I drink about 20 cans of the stuff I might just get
a buzz, failing which I might least be able to float the rest of the
way to the Kunstmuseum).
seats barely 80 people. I can't help wondering what Keiji Haino made of it when
he played here a couple of years ago. Damn, that must have been loud.
There's no sign of the sound man, Peter, but I do spot a face I know when we
arrive. It's Roland Kindal, the accountant from Annan Musik, the association
that's booked us for this gig (and that booked ROTNT back in November 2003).
"Hello there!" I call cheerfully. He looks at me with a pained expression
on his face and gives me a soggy handshake. " Hello.. I'm afraid I have
some bad news.."
This can only mean one thing. No money. I'm right. "Let's sit down,"
I say, showing him to a table in the art gallery cafeteria. "What do you
mean, there's no money? I can't believe it!" "Well," he said,
apologetically, "we have the money in our bank account but I can't get
it out." At this stage I'm not interested in why – I want to know
what he's going to do about it. "Well, I can make a transfer to your bank
account," he says, with a watery smile. "For a start I don't know
the international bank code offhand," I reply, "so I'd have to call
my wife in Paris, and secondly that doesn't really suit us, to be honest. Mr
Onda has to leave for London after the concerts next week and I won't see him.
We need this money to live on for the rest of the tour." I call Aki and
Jac outside for a conseil de guerre. I explain the situation. Aki seems
to accept it almost fatalistically. If I'm not mistaken he even smiles.
Berrocal isn't happy, though. "I told you I should have brought the gun,"
he growls, menacingly.
I go back in to Roland. "OK listen here's the deal," I say. "We're
here in one of the supposedly most civilised countries of the world and you're
telling me that nobody in your association has a Visa or Mastercard? That's
bullshit. You find somebody in the association to go to the bank and come back
here with 10,000 Swedish Crowns right away. You can write them a cheque tomorrow
– you're the accountant, right? You get back here with the money and then
we'll unpack and set up. Not until. As Paul Lovens once said, 'No Pay, No Play'.
There are about two hours to showtime, I suggest you get a move on."
I think I see now what's been going on: Kristoffer has gone out on a limb to
persuade Annan Musik to book this band (like he did with Volcano The Bear, who
came last year). Most of the time the people at Annan prefer straight ahead
good old new jazz – William Parker, Hamid Drake, Marco Eneidi.. think
of the Ayler Records catalogue and you'll make the connection, especially when
I tell you Ayler Records' Jan Ström is one of the association's prime movers
– having to spend their money on some weird electronic music made by a
Japanese kid with a couple of Walkmen, not to mention a psychotic French trumpeter
and a decidedly unpredictable English violinist must be painful. So it looks
as if they've decided to make it as hard as possible for Kristoffer by cutting
down on the budget. That's why there's no money for taxis, and (as we find out
later), we're limited to 150 SEK (Swedish crowns) each for the restaurant after
the gig (whereas when we were here in 2003 the whole restaurant bill was paid
by Annan. And you could smoke in the bloody place.)
After some frantic phone calls Kris marches out and returns half an hour later
with Peter, the sound engineer, and 10,000 SEK cash. Turns out Peter has got
it out of his own account. "Now we'll do the gig," I smile, pocketing
the money. "But you're lucky, you know," I say to Roland. "You
had Sunny Murray here a couple of years ago with Arthur Doyle, right? If you'd
tried that 'we can't pay you' shit on with Sunny your head would have gone right
through that wall over there."
As it turns
out, describing Peter as a sound engineer is pushing it a bit. All he has to
do is plug the mics and DI boxes into a console on the wall of the auditorium.
There's no mixing desk as such, and Berrocal's trusty reverb unit (which has
been the source of much merriment between Aki and myself throughout the tour)
sounds like shit. It's the cue for Berrocal to throw an authentic Artiste's
Tantrum. "If I can't have that reverb I can't hear myself, I'm
going to bust my lips, I'm nearly sixty years old and I'm
going to kill myself trying to make myself heard.." And
so forth. I take Aki aside. "YOU understand sound systems, you sort it
out." I seek refuge in the dressing room, which in fact is a kitchen next
to the auditorium. The fridge is empty except for half a bottle of flat Coca
Cola, a bottle of vinegar and about 40 large batteries. I wonder if I can make
a primitive explosive device out of it all and blow the whole fucking place
The gig goes surprisingly
well, and 33 people turn up. For Norrköping this is pretty triumphal. We
hitch a ride back to the hotel with Jan Ström, who I find out later has
also been warned to come with 10,000 SEK in his pocket just in case. I'm also
surprised and delighted that Jan has enjoyed the gig, knowing he's not normally
a fan of things electric. "But Aki's music is very human!" he enthuses.
"Not like one of those people who sits behind a laptop and just clicks
Dinner is at the same Thai restaurant up the street from the hotel where we
went two years ago with Edward, Jean-Luc and François. Kris has thoughtfully
called to reserve in advance, "because they close the kitchens at 9.30,"
Jan explains. (I'm reminded of that tetchy American in the old Fawlty Towers
episode. "The chef finishes at 9? So why does he finish at 9? Has he got
something terminal?") Dinner is good, and Aki and I pig out on
Thai curry. Kristoffer explains we only have 150 SEK each, but I refuse to allow
him to pay the extra out of his pocket. The poor bugger's suffered enough. There
are seven of us at the table, Aki, Jac, me, Kris, Peter, Jan Ström and
Roger Bergner, the President of Annan Musik. For once I leave Berrocal to struggle
with his English without translating. He does remarkably well. Jan and Roger,
die-hard free jazz nuts that they are, want to know who he played with back
in the glory days of BYG Actuel. They don't seem to understand that was a little
before Berrocal's time, but Jac's got plenty of juicy stories all the same.
Their ears prick up when he mentions playing with Michel Portal. "We'd
like to book Michel Portal for a concert for Annan Musik," says Roger earnestly.
"You'd better rethink your budget strategy double quick," I fire back.
"If you think we're expensive you should see what Portal will ask for."
After the meal we repair to the same bar we went to two years ago. Except this
time, smoke free, you can actually see the bar when you step through the door.
I order an Aquavit. The girl looks as me as if I'd asked for a glass of fresh
camel's milk. "A-qua-vit," I repeat. "That's Swedish, isn't it?"
I look around in panic. "Kris, I'm not imagining this am I? The Swedish
national digestif is Aquavit, right?" The girl suddenly remembers
that the drink does indeed exist, burrows round in the back of the fridge and
comes up with a bottle that's nine tenths empty. I wonder if it isn't the same
bottle I started here two years ago. Turns out the youngsters here prefer whisky
and vodka to their national tipple. I double up with a beer ("drink a Tuborg,
the local beer's shit," advises Roger) and settle down for some rather
serious Aquavit chasers. After an hour or so Berrocal and Onda are showing signs
of weariness, and decide to head back to the Centric. But I decided to stay
on, out of a sense of obligation as much as anything. Poor old Kristoffer's
been looking forward to this for months and if he's going to be deprived of
the opportunity of chatting with his hero Berrocal (anyone who's on the Nurse
With Wound list is a hero to Kris) I figure I might as well stay and keep him
company. As it turns out, about ten minutes after Jac and Aki head off, half
a dozen others come in who were at the gig. We're having a fun time discussing
each other's record collections when suddenly the house lights come on full
blast. It's 1am, closing time.
Sensing (correctly) that I'd rather like to carry on drinking, Kristoffer mentions
another bar round the corner that stays open until 3am. "It's a bit of
a dive, though," he says apologetically. I tell him that after having misspent
my youth in the Baths Hotel, Rochdale, his idea of what constitutes a dive is
hardly likely to correspond to mine. "And one thing about this bar,"
he adds with enthusiasm: "It's got a rökrum!" What's
a rökrum? "It's a smoking room!" "You mean there's
a place in the bar where we can smoke?" I ask in surprise. "Yes!"
"Well," I reply, trying my best to sound like William Holden in The
Wild Bunch, "let's go!"
The bar is down
a flight of steps in a cellar. As soon as I push the door open I sense something's
wrong. There's nobody there! Well, not quite. There's a bouncer minding the
cloakroom, a barman behind the bar, and, on closer inspection, two girls sitting
at bar stools sipping bottles of beer. But nobody else (and there's ample seating
room for at least 150) – and not a sound. No music. Just the
occasional squeak of a barstool and dull thud of a bottle of beer being placed
on the bar. "Is it open?" I ask Kris. "Oh yes.. it'll fill up
later," he assures me. I bloody well hope so. This is turning into one
of those near death experiences you read about in dentists' waiting rooms. We
make our way to the bar, order beers. The girls turn to look at us. There's
a chubby blonde and a very pretty brunette. Way-hey-hey, it's fucking ABBA!
The brunette looks me straight in the eyes, long and hard. It's an unswerving,
unblinking and unambiguous look, but not so much "wanna fuck me?"
as "wanna get me the fuck outta here?" I smile sweetly back, finger
my hotel room keys in my pocket, remember Mr Potato Head's line from Toy
Story 2 ("I'm a married spud! I'm a married spud!") and concentrate
on my beer instead. After about ten minutes I remember the rökrum.
"It's over there," points the barman. I pick up my bottle of Tuborg
and head for the door of the smoking room, but before I get there the bouncer
clamps his arm on mine. "No drinking in the rökrum!"
he growls. "What?" I laugh, "you mean I can't take this in there?"
"No, you leave the bottle outside," he explains unsmilingly. I can't
fucking believe this, but I put the bottle down on an adjacent table and open
the door to the rökrum.
Inside it's like a sauna, with wooden benches skirting the walls and two huge
metal buckets full of fag ends. It's tiny, and it stinks. In one wall there's
a thick plate glass window with a view onto the cloakroom. The bouncer is standing
on the other side of the window watching me, presumably to make sure I don't
try and sneak a swig from a hip flask, or, heaven forbid, skin up a joint. I
wave back cheerily. I only notice the two loudspeakers mounted high up in the
corner of the room when suddenly they burst into life filling the dingy little
space with absurdly loud and utterly hideous Belgian New Beat-style techno.
The music is so goddamn loud it nearly blows me off my feet. I reopen the door
to the bar beyond and discover to my amazement that it's as silent as it was
before – the music is purely for my benefit, and believe me, benefit is
not the word. It's so fucking surreal I burst out laughing, when suddenly
the door to the rökrum opens and in come.. the two girls! The
brunette asks me for a light, but any chance I might have at extending this
into an authentic opening gambit (not that I have any desire to do so, mind)
is immediately thwarted by the arrival of at least three other members of our
party. There are now more people inside the rökrum than there
are in the bar itself, and we're all screaming at each other to make ourselves
heard. It's totally fucking crazy.
By about 2.30 I've had enough, and Kristoffer offers to walk with me back to
the hotel. Outside the streets are empty, but not silent. At every set of traffic
lights in Sweden there's a little machine to help the blind cross the road.
If the light's against you it goes tick-tick-tick and when the light
changes to green it goes tickatickatickatickatickatickatick. The streets
of Norrköping at 2.30am sound like a forest full of electric woodpeckers.
A tram cruises by (they run until 3.30am), empty except for the driver. Somewhere
not too far away there's the sound of breaking glass, and a girl throwing up.
If the buildings weren't so spotless and the tram shelters weren't equipped
with the latest JC Decaux "next tram in five minutes" electronic signs
(and those buggers cost about $10,000 each too), you could swear this was a
scene from Eraserhead.
"If I lived
here I'd kill myself," says Berrocal over breakfast next day. As it is,
we've got time to kill instead; the flight's not until 6pm and Skåvsta's
only an hour up the road. "What are you guys doing tomorrow?" I'd
asked the lads in the bar last night. "Oh, maybe we'll go back to the Kunstmuseum,"
they said, adding despondently: "There's not much to do in Norrköping
on a Sunday." I resisted the temptation to comment that there wasn't all
that much to do on a Saturday night, either.
Aki's gone back to the museum to pack up his gear, which he'd left there last
night, so Jac and I wander the streets of Norrköping when it's time to
check out of the Centric. "We really should record for ECM!" says
Jac, suddenly enthusiastic. I put it to him that I doubt Manfred Eicher would
be all that interested in the kind of music we make. "Well if he doesn't
agree, I can always go to see him and take the gun!" says Berrocal.
I venture to suggest that waving a pistol in Manfred Eicher's face, even if
it is only loaded with blanks, might not be the most effective way of securing
an ECM record deal. Berrocal is not convinced. "What about Tzadik, then?"
he counters. "Aki's released stuff on Tzadik, he knows John Zorn. Of course,"
he added, "it helps if you're Jewish." "We could have ourselves
circumcised," I suggest, helpfully. Berrocal roars with laughter. "He'd
never believe us!" "We could send him our foreskins by way of proof,"
I continue. At this Berrocal's chuckles evolve into a full scale attack of smoker's
cough, and I half fear he's going to collapse and die in the streets of Norrköping.
And before his Bar Mitzvah too, what a shame. "Of course," I go on,
"we'll have to change our names.. you could be Raz Berrocal.." "And
you're.. Ariel Warburton!" Berrocal guffaws. "A-and what
about.. Moshe Onda!"
There weren't many people braving the cold of the Sunday morning in downtown
Norrköping, but I'll hazard a bet that anyone who was there will never
forget the sight of the lanky bloke with his snap brim fedora and the black
leather clad character literally in convulsions as the empty trams clattered
by on their way to who knows where.
When he gets off the plane later that day at Beauvais Airport, Berrocal kisses
Geneva, 24th-25th November
playing at Geneva's mythic new music venue, Cave12, on the 24th. But we only
know it for sure two days before the gig! The club is in the basement of a building
which goes by the name of Rhino, a squat in fact, but a well-established one
(it's been in operation for 17 years) with gallery spaces, bars and eateries
on the corner of Boulevard de la Tour and Boulevard des Philosophes, ten minutes
walk from the old town. A huge red horn pokes out from the corner of the building,
as if giving the finger to the city of Geneva below. A couple of months ago
the city decided to give them the finger back by announcing the closure of the
premises on November 22nd. The good people at Rhino, including our contact at
Cave12, Sixto (first name Fernando but he prefers to go by the name Sixto),
have managed to negotiate some kind of deal with the local authorities to keep
the club going for the foreseeable future, and on the evening of the 22nd I
receive an email from Sixto confirming that we're on. Berrocal and I are travelling
to Geneva together by TGV on the 24th. Aki's meeting us there for the soundcheck.
He's already in Zürich, where he's playing solo on the 23rd.
I try to call Jac
on the 22nd to tell him the gig's confirmed, but later find out he was in hospital
that evening. "I was having dinner with Joan of Arc!" he says cryptically
over the phone when I speak to him the following day. "What?" It turns
out he's referring to his friend, the actress Florence Delay, who played the
Maid of Orléans in Robert Bresson's 1962 classic Procès de
Jeanne d'Arc (photo, left). "You see, Florence likes a drop of whisky,"
Berrocal explains, conspiratorially, "and she smokes a bit too, so we had
a few drinks here before going out to a restaurant together." During the
evening, apparently, Jac had another one of his coughing fits (maybe he was
telling her about the plans for that mass circumcision we discussed in Norrköping),
but this time he couldn't stop. He checked himself into La Pitié Salpêtrière
and underwent a series of rather painful blood tests, after which he was told
to stop smoking – well, that's a surprise – and not to
play the trumpet for at least ten days. He decided he was having none of it,
and announced he was going home at 5am the following morning, but they wouldn't
let him unless he signed a paper discharging the hospital of any responsibility
for any subsequent health problems including death. Not that death is in itself
a health problem – it's more of a solution, I'd say. Anyway, I certainly
seem to have a knack for finding playing partners with serious respiratory problems.
I remember when Edward Perraud and I recorded The Basement Tapes with
Arthur Doyle in 2001 we were half expecting Arthur to croak on the spot in Edward's
basement. I tell Jac to lay off the fags and rest up. We've got a date for coffee
in Le Train Bleu, the mythic 1901 bistro in the Gare de Lyon tomorrow morning
and I don't want him to miss it.
are no girls here!" snorts Berrocal in disgust, looking around
the lounge in Le Train Bleu (photo, right) at dozens of fat, pinstriped businessmen
in leather armchairs stuffing their faces with tartines of pain
poilâne and scrambled egg. I'm more interested in the spectacular
painted frescoes restored at the request of French Culture Minister André
Malraux, who had the restaurant classed as a historic monument in 1971. Prior
to that, the place had been a popular hangout for Cocteau, Coco Chanel and Sarah
Bernhardt, who would surely have found something dramatic to say if she'd had
to wait as long to be served as I have this morning. It's also ridiculously
expensive – 5 Euros for an espresso! Screw that, I'm going for the hot
chocolate – it's 3 Euros more but at least you get two cups. Not surprisingly,
when it arrives it's not hot anymore. Normally, I'd complain, but since it's
taken them twenty minutes to get this far we'll likely as not miss the bloody
train if we have to wait for another one. We step out of the revolving doors
of the restaurant just in time to be immortalised on film by two smiling Japanese
tourists. "You see! They've sent the press to meet us already!" quips
Berrocal. "This is the famous English violinist Dan Warburton!" he
says. The Japanese gents smile and bow. They haven't understood a word. "Don't
listen to him, he's talking a load of shite," I explain. "As Monte
Cazazza once said, 'I'm very widely unknown.'"The Japanese gents smile
and bow. They haven't understood a word.
I'm traditionally antisocial on long train journeys, preferring the company
of my Discman or mp3 player. While the TGV is batting through Burgundy at 250+
km/h, I'm listening to the first of 4 CDs of previously unissued Kapotte Muziek.
It's splendid stuff, but doesn't quite suit the rolling countryside around Chablis
and Tonnerre. I take the 'phones off to inform Jac that our train is passing
by the village of Jouancy, where he, Roger Ferlet and Michel Potage recorded
one of the wildest tracks on Parallèles – on a pig farm.
I suggest the site be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site to commemorate the
event. Berrocal smiles, and returns to his magazine article about the latest
craze sweeping France: who wants Battlefield 2 or Burnout Revenge when you can
go out and burn some real cars and throw petrol bombs at real cops?
Sixto meets us at the station in Geneva and we take a cab to Rhino, where there's
a plate of pasta waiting for us (foodwise, this is already looking much better
than the French and Swedish dates). The place is a bit upside down, but there's
an Internet connection (good news for email junkies like myself and Aki, even
though it's a Mac with a QWERTY keyboard which means if I type without looking
what I'm doing it comes out looking like a Bob Cobbing poem) and I'm shown to
a large, draughty room piled high with old banana boxes full of all kinds of
odds and ends in case the Rhino dwellers have to move out at short notice. It's
not exactly somewhere I feel like spending the rest of the afternoon (soundcheck's
not till 6.30), so Jac and I decide to head out for a walk around the old town.
We've got one set of keys between us. Aki's staying in the building next door,
we're told. Talk of the devil, the first person we bump into when we step out
of the door is Aki, dressed to impress with his trapper's hat complete with
furry earflaps. He looks like a giant beaver. He takes us to a nearby park where
there's a permanent Max Neuhaus installation, which turns out to be a forlorn,
grey drone coming up out a metal grill in the ground. It must sound pretty strange
at night, but in the middle of the afternoon its nuances are somewhat lost in
the roar of the passing traffic. We carry on to the Place du Bourg du Four,
Berrocal stopping off to admire a 1930s Art Nouveau bonbonnière in
an antique shop (of which there are many, and they ain't cheap).
but chilly, and we seek refuge in the cathedral (photo, left), where a choir
and orchestra have just finished rehearsing something by Bach. Berrocal tries
to start a conversation with a bloke leaving the stage with a baroque trumpet.
The bloke's not exactly forthcoming. I don't suppose he's heard of Berrocal,
anyway. Aki's got his cassette recorder in his pocket (Aki's always
got his cassette recorder in his pocket), and looks as taken as I am with the
sound of the baroque wind instruments. Maybe they'll pop up in tonight's concert.
He's rather good at inserting extracts from recordings made on the day of the
gig. When we rehearsed at Bellenger's place during the summer we had lunch outside
with a couple of screeching ravens in attendance, and I was surprised and delighted
to hear Aki looping and sampling them in Alexandre's basement studio an hour
A sign outside the Café de l'Hôtel de Ville says "vin chaud",
and we head in. Berrocal and Onda are being good boys, and settle for cappuccino,
but I'm not passing up the opportunity of a glass of mulled wine. It's excellent.
Next to us a young couple are pigging out on a huge platter of assorted cheeses,
washed down with a carafe of rouge. The café is warm, woody
and welcoming, about as far removed from Norrköping as you can get. And
you can smoke. Berrocal, happy to report, is going easy on the Gauloises,
though. We've got a free day here tomorrow, and I suggest to Jac and Aki we
make a night of it by eating here – there's a five course Menu de
Dégustation for 59 Swiss Francs and it looks mighty tempting. They
agree. "Oh yes!" says Aki. "Maybe you don't know but –
for me – food is – very important!" I had, as it happens, noticed
is small, low ceilinged, painted black, lit garishly with coloured lights, most
of them red, and smells dank and musty. It could be a torture chamber from an
amateur porn flick. We love it. Soundman Adrien Kessler – whose own music
is well worth checking out, by the way: check out his post-RIO style power trio
Darling if you get the chance – is on the ball and Aki's got a wicked
bass amp. Even Berrocal's 45-second reverb sounds convincing for once. Showtime's
not till 10.30, which leaves plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely and tasty dinner
(if an eclectically postmodern one – potatoes and aubergines in coconut
milk?). The first set tonight will feature Texas pedal steel guitarist Susan
Alcorn and Swedish bassist Joel Grip, who are, it seems, passing through and
looking for a gig on the fly. I make it sound like I wasn't forewarned, which
isn't true: Joel had sent me a mail three days earlier asking me if we minded
if they opened up for us. I said we didn't, but declined his offer to end the
evening with an Alcorn / Berrocal / Grip / Onda / Warburton jam session. "We're
a hard act to follow," I wrote back. "You'll see."
He does. The set we play is the toughest and most intense of the tour so far,
and Berrocal excels himself (though I'm beginning to worry about his lips –
we really push him hard, and like in everything else he does, he doesn't go
in for half measures). At some stage just before the end Aki's got into one
of his mesmerising Cab Voltaire grooves again, and I go into a kind of trance.
I also start babbling something about "thousands of millions of millions
of thousands" or something (I find this out later when I listen back to
the recording). The punters out there must think I've gone absolutely crackers,
but the strongest thing I've had all day is a neat Ricard before dinner. Go
figure. Anyway, Susan Alcorn seems particularly thrilled by it all, and visibly
disappointed that she has to be whisked away to bed to be up and off to the
airport at 5am the following morning. Jac, of course, offers to show her around
Paris next year if she comes to town. They don't even have time to realise they
have a mutual friend in common in Baltimore in the form of Jason Willett, who
plays "anything" on a track called "Time Was Nothing" on
Susan's excellent Concentration CD recorded at High Zero in 2004 (Recorded,
017 – check it out).
The bar at
Cave12 stays open all night, and the drinking gets pretty intense. There aren't
as many people here as I'd hoped – put that down to the uncertainty about
the eviction, and what have you – but there are a good couple of dozen
and they're all knocking it back. Don't these people have to go to work tomorrow?
One girl is stoned immaculate and I wonder if her boyfriend, slouching at the
back of auditorium listening to Jandek – what else – isn't in fact
comatose, or even dead, until he gets up and starts picking a fight with another
bloke who's started chatting up his Little Miss Pothead. Aki and I have graduated
from rouge to calvados (not exactly high quality calva either, but
it has the desired effect) and everything seems to be going fine until about
2am, when I realise that Berrocal has got himself into some kind of argument
with a bloke about twice his size. Haven't got a clue what it's about, or who
started it (Berrocal later claims it was because he tried to make a move on
the guy's girlfriend), but insults are beginning to fly thick and fast, and
"racist" is the one I hear above all others. As Jac has now switched
over to vodka – a dangerous move – I decide to intervene to save
his ass. This other bloke looks pretty angry, and there's another blond woman
sitting next to him about the size of a Jersey cow who's weighing in with a
few choice insults too. Meanwhile, behind Berrocal (thank God he can't see her),
Little Miss Pothead is bobbing and weaving like a prizefighter, giving Jac the
finger and looking to all intents and purposes as if she's going to sock him
one. For a fleeting moment I wish I had a video camera. "Give me another
drink!" yells Berrocal. "No," he's had enough,"
I intervene, stopping the barman in his tracks. "Who the fuck are you to
tell me to stop drinking?" Jac turns on me. "I'm defending you here,
these cunts are saying some awful things about the English!" "No,
Jac, I'm defending you here and they can say what they like about the English
as far as I'm concerned, I don't mind. Now drink up and get the fuck outta here
before this stupid bitch behind you actually hits you." Little Miss Pothead
starts screaming at me, and I give her a mouthful back. I head for the door,
and turn round in time to see Berrocal necking another double voddie at the
bar. "BERROCAL! Get your ass over here! It's BEDTIME!" I drag him
out of the door and up the steps into the street. It's snowing, and the city
is silent, that special silence that accompanies snowfall. Alone and quiet,
Aki Onda is standing in the middle of the street. I wouldn't be surprised if
he's recording it.
I show Berrocal
to his room and tell him to go to bed. The booze has really kicked in hard and
it's a classic case of drunken I Love Yous. "Go to sleep, Jac, for Chrissakes.
I've got the key, I'm locking you in. You'll be OK. Bonne nuit."
I step out again, look up at the sky and take a minute or two to enjoy the feel
of snowflakes falling on my cheek, before returning to the bar to repair the
damage. I make excuses for Berrocal (not that it was necessarily his fault)
and drift back to the calvados again. I sit on a sofa with Aki and Marion Innocenti,
Cave12's in house photographer, looking at the shots she's taken of tonight's
gig. They're very good. Next thing I know it's 5am, I'm flat on my back on the
sofa and Aki's waking me up. Time for me to go to bed this time. For once, the
Amazing Homing Mechanism didn't work. But my banana boxes aren't far away.
Waking up at 10
next morning with a mouth like a postman's sock, I decide I don't want
to share a hangover breakfast with Jac (or anyone else for that matter), and
decide to follow Aki Onda's advice: "If you go to Lausanne, go visit the
Jean Dubuffet Museum of Art Brut! It's my – favourite museum!" I
have to be back by 6pm because Aki has scheduled a photo shoot with Marion (Jac
thinks he's fallen in love), but that leaves plenty of time. I pack the mp3
player and my copy of J.G. Ballard short stories (picked that up in Stockholm,
actually – for some reason it's almost impossible to get hold of Ballard
books here in Paris; I even went into Brentano's on Avenue de l'Opéra
a while back and they said "J.G. Who?" – how about that for
what's supposed to be one of the French capital's best bookshops?) and head
off on foot to the railway station. It's bright, sunny and about -4°; the
snow has stuck and the views of the French Alps across Lac Léman as the
train speeds along are magnificent. So's the music I'm listening to, the latest
(last?) Voice Crack disc on For4Ears with Günter Müller and Philip
Samartzis. I love the EAI stuff that incorporates field recordings – the
contrast between the beeps and buzzes of Möslang and Guhl's "cracked
everyday electronics" and the tweeting birds and snatches of children at
play (Samartzis, I presume) is perfect for a train journey, being in a mobile
space that blurs the distinction between inside and outside.
I'd asked Aki
if the Musée d'Art Brut was far from the station in Lausanne. "Not
far! It's a very – small city!" he smiled in reply. What he didn't
tell me though that it was up: Lausanne is built on a hillside and it takes
45 minutes to negotiate the rather slippery avenues leading up to the museum.
This is probably not the place to go into the history of Art Brut – you'd
be better off buying a copy of Colin Rhodes' Thames and Hudson paperback
Outsider Art, which is what I did (and a damn sight more interesting read
it was than the Ballard) – but while I might not go all the way and say
like Aki that this is my favourite museum, it's certainly one of the most moving
I've ever been to. As you probably know, a lot of the artists whose work Jean
Dubuffet set about collecting spent most of their life confined in mental institutions.
You've probably all heard of Adolf Wölfli, but you should also check out
the bold slogans and primary colours of August Walla (photo, below right.. Basquiat
can take a hike) , the amazing maniac precision of Madge Gill (photo, right
above) and Edmund Monsiel, the disturbing dolls of Michel Nedjar and the simply
extraordinary body of work left behind by Henry Darger (photo, left above),
who worked all his life as an ancillary worker in a Chicago hospital while secretly
creating a huge body of painted and written work, including an 8 volume autobiography
and a 15,000 page work called The Realms of the Unreal, that
was only discovered shortly before his death by his landlord. If you're ever
in Lausanne, don't miss it. And if you're not in Lausanne, go there.
three hours in the presence of this divine madness, I'm back outside, walking
the streets of Lausanne, feeling moved and humbled. Thank goodness there's nobody
with me – these are emotions that I can attempt to write about now a month
down the line but even so can hardly share. I think about the absurdity of it
all, worrying about how many people are going to turn up to the show, whether
I'll sell any albums, whether we'll land a gig next year on the other side of
Atlantic, as if it all matters. I think of Aki – and I understand not
only why he often works alone but why he loves the Musée d'Art Brut so
much. In a way what Aki Onda does is a kind of Art Brut (though he's certainly
not in the least bit deranged as far as I can tell, and if he's receiving messages
from the spirit world he's playing his cards close to his chest) – I can
see parallels between his work and the extraordinary cluttered collages of Willem
van Genk and the bold strokes of Jimmy Roy Wenzel – but unlike the outsiders
he's a fabulously well-read and cultured gentleman who brings a wide knowledge
and considerable technical expertise to bear on his music. I'm walking up the
slimy wooden steps to Lausanne cathedral and I'm suddenly overcome with a profound
sense of gratitude, of feeling lucky to be able to make music with him. And
Jac too – if you really want to check out sheer musical insanity coupled
with ferocious energy and creativity, you can't do any better than Berrocal's
two Davantage albums, Parallèles and Catalogue.
The snow lies untouched on the terrace in front of the cathedral, with its spectacular
views over the lake and mountains. I walk to the edge of the park, stomping
through the virgin white powder right where it's at its deepest, wanting it
to fill my shoes. Everything is so vivid, so right there – the
sound of snow crunching under my boots, the flecks of pale winter late afternoon
sunlight out on the lake, the cathedral bell chiming four, the smell of wood
smoke and freshly made coffee rising up from somewhere below, out of sight.
I walk down the covered wooden stairway to find out where it's coming from.
Meanwhile, back at Rhino Berrocal is having what looks like a late breakfast.
It's 6pm. He apparently surfaced at midday and then went back to bed until 3.
Or something like that. But he's on fine form now, and, as Marion is busy getting
things ready for the photo shoot in the next room, takes it upon himself to
answer the phone when it rings. I'm perched on a stool nearby still trying to
figure out the QWERTY keyboard. It's some woman doing a telemarketing survey
on something or another, but I never find out what, and nor does Berrocal –
but that doesn't stop him. "Ooh, a survey!" he purrs. "That
sounds exciting. Is it about sex?" (I have no idea what she answers
to this, but there's pause long enough for me to fall off my stool laughing.)
"You have a very beautiful voice," he glows, laying it on treacle
thick. "What's your name? My name's Jac, by the way.." Again,
he's got a twinkle in his eye, but I half suspect that if the gal at the other
end of the phone rose to the bait he'd try and pull in the line. Sadly, this
time our telephone Casanova doesn't pull it off. Miss Whateverhernameis has
got a job to do, and like most poor sods who have to work in call centres is
probably paid a bonus depending on the number of calls she makes, so she's having
none of it. What's more she's probably calling from Mozambique or somewhere.
You'd be amazed where they put these call centres these days.
the photo shoot, which I try to get through as quickly as possible because it's
bloody freezing in the room and I'm supposed to take off my pullover, Aki does
his best to get Marion to come along to the restaurant with us (without success,
unfortunately). "He is in love!" hisses Berrocal in a stage whisper.
Whether that's true or not is impossible to discern, especially when the inscrutable
Mr Onda dons his beaver bonnet and ushers us out into the night.
The restaurant is full of rich looking folk, most of whom are speaking English
but none of whom are English. I've been pilloried by readers in the past for
talking about food too much so I won't bore you with the details of the gastronomic
menu (you can probably find it on a website anyway, go Google Café de
l'Hôtel de Ville, Geneva). Suffice it to say it's very good – ask
Aki. Don't ask Jac, because for some reason he chickens out and ends up going
all Belgian on us, ordering mussels and chips, of all things, followed by ice
cream. I'm amazed he doesn't order a beer with it all. Can't remember much of
the conversation, to be honest, because I spend most of my time translating
Aki's English into French for Berrocal and Jac's broken English into Japanese
English for Aki. I've been doing it throughout the tour and I'm getting a bit
tired of it (this is what it must feel like working as one of those simultaneous
translators for high level political meetings – the people who do it get
well paid and they deserve every penny if you ask me, because it's bloody tedious).
We splash out on some digestifs, and Berrocal's armagnac costs nearly
as much as the rest of his meal. Aki's developed a serious calvados habit; meanwhile
this is Switzerland, so I order a glass of eau de vie de poire. "Jérôme
Noetinger's favourite drink!" I announce. We drink a toast to Jérôme
It's pushing 11pm by the time we leave the restaurant and though there's a new
club opening up somewhere across town with a free gig by the Vandermark 5, we've
decided to be good boys tonight. Just as well, as the alarm clock's set for
4am – we have a taxi booked at 5 and a plane to catch at 7. Even so, when
we get back to Rhino, Berrocal invites Marion to the bar in the adjacent building
for a beer. Aki goes along too. Go figure why, I'm too tired. I fall asleep
with the light on trying to decipher what looks like musical notation on an
Adolf Wölfli reproduction in Colin Rhodes' book.
Nice, 26th November
day begins in style with an episode straight out of Playtime (photo)
at Geneva Airport. I jump out of the taxi first and the automatic doors swing
open to let me into the airport concourse. They then swing shut – and
stay shut. Jac and Aki can't get in, and I can't open the doors from
my side. They try jumping up and down on the mat, to no avail. I'm reminded
(once again) of Toy Story 2, when Buzz Lightyear and the toys try to
get into Al's Toy Barn, and start laughing my head off at the other side of
the glass door. Meanwhile they've been joined by some yuppie type in a suit
carrying a snazzy laptop carrying case, and he can't get the door to open either.
But he's not amused. He keeps making wild flailing gestures in my direction
which I translate as "Don't stand there laughing asshole, go and fetch
somebody!" I gesture back: "There's nobody in sight, it's 5am and
don't call me asshole, asshole". "Please try again," Aki asks
him politely, and eventually – miraculo! – the doors swing open.
Yuppie boy comes in and mutters something obscene in French in my direction.
"Fuck you very much!" I reply, cheerily. Another one my favourite
Frank Zappa quotes. Meanwhile Berrocal is in hysterics, and I'm afraid we're
in for one of those lungbusting relapses. "C'est du Tati! C'est du
Tati!" he chortles. Fortunately for all concerning the coughing fit
peters out without us having to call the paramedics.
Later on I see yuppie boy sitting at the same departure gate as us. I consider
pouring a scalding hot café au lait over him and his laptop
(a Sony Vaio TX, the bastard), but decide against it. There are better things
to do in life, like listening to the CDR of the Cave12 gig, which Adrien has
burned up for us double quick. It sounds pretty good, but I'm not sure I'm ready
for "Rock'n'Roll Station" at 6 in the morning. A chocolate doughnut's
about all I can handle.
The gig in Nice
at the auditorium of the Bibliothèque Louis Nucéra has been organised
by Joëlle Vinciarelli and her partner, music journalist Philippe Robert,
who are also putting us up for the night (putting up with us, more like) and
ferrying us to and from the airport (photo). They're waiting for us when we
arrive at 8am. It's a short drive to their house in the hills at La Colle Sur
Loup, directly opposite Saint Paul de Vence. The Fondation Maeght is clearly
visible across the valley in the bright morning light, and our thoughts turn
inevitably to the pioneers of new music who played there at the end of the 1960s
– Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Cecil Taylor of course – but also Riley,
Stockhausen and Young. As any serious record collector will tell you, many of
those performances were released on the legendary Shandar label, and these days
original Shandar LPs in good nick at affordable prices are as rare as rocking
horse shit. Philippe had put me in contact with the shop at the Fondation Maeght
a few years ago, when there were still a few to be had on sale. I managed to
pick up the Sunny Murray one and a signed limited edition copy of La Monte Young
and Marian Zazeela's book (not telling you how much I paid for that one either)
before Michel Henritzi and his Dust Breeder boys came down on a guerrilla raid
from Metz and cleared out what was left, if I remember rightly.
Though I've exchanged numerous letters and mails with Philippe, and even given
him an interview (in Revue & Corrigée #44, June 2000, recently
remixed and dished up again at http://www.jazzmagazine.com/Musique/oreille/oreille92.htm),
this is the first time we've actually met. It's always odd to finally put a
face and voice to someone you know well by email. While Joëlle prepares
a pot of coffee in the tiny kitchen of their apartment, I inspect Philippe's
impressive collection of vinyls. A whole wall of original ESPs, BYG Actuels,
Saravahs, Oguns and HatHuts (plus of course the Shandars – he's got a
copy of the Stockhausen Illimité, the swine!). I tell him the
story of when Erstwhile's Jon Abbey and journalist Brian Olewnick came to dinner
at our place in Paris a few years ago: Jon's first words after "Hello"
and "Nice to meet you" were: "Oh you haven't got many records!"
At the time I had about 6000.. today there must be more than 7000, but I'm guessing
Philippe has twice as many, and we're small fry compared to cats like Thurston
Moore (who Philippe exchanges discs with on a regular basis). "Yes,"
Philippe sighs, "and I've worked out that if I tried to sit down and listen
to everything I have here now I'd never do it. I'll die before I finish."
A sobering thought – and he's only 48. While we discuss the absurdity
of collecting records, I give him five more of mine.
content with laying on the best breakfast of the tour so far, has prepared a
giant picnic for us all after the soundcheck. Berrocal is looking weary and
fragile, Onda is as ever busy organising his cassettes and has stayed behind
in the auditorium – it's a mysterious part of his pre-show ritual and
I just let him get on with it – and I'm starving. Showtime's at 3pm –
for once! – and the concert is free, so we can expect a good crowd, says
Philippe. I wander out for my traditional pre-show libation, past the new Modern
Art Museum (photo above.. already partially closed because a bloody great plaque
of marble fell into the street recently and nearly killed a passer-by.. an authentic
case of Einsturzende Neubaten, but hardly a good advert for Nice or its prestigious
past as a centre of modern art – remember we're on the Place Yves Klein
here, and the walkway opposite is named after Arman, the recently deceased painter
/ sculptor and ex-husband of Eliane Radigue) and into a nearby café.
"Nice weather!" I say to the barman, brightly (typical English conversational
gambit I know, but it's true – a comfortable 12°, mild and sunny).
He looks at me as if I'd just gobbed a ball of phlegm into his pastis. "What
do you mean? It's freezing. We were in T-shirts two days ago."
"Oh, well it's nice compared to where I've just come from," I add.
"Where's that?" he enquires. You can see he's trying to place my accent.
"I was in Geneva yesterday and it was -6°." "You don't have
a Swiss accent," he fires back (told you). "Nah, I'm from Manchester,"
I reply. "Oh, you know all about bad weather then," he counters, stalking
off to man the candy stand next to the bar where two small boys are about to
make off with enough Haribo jelly babies to keep a dentist busy for a lifetime.
All the concerts
on this tour have been recorded – except this last one. And, Sod's Law,
it's the one you don't record that usually turns out to be the best –
though, bearing in mind what I wrote above, you should take that with a pinch
of salt: I'm probably not a position to make such a claim – well it feels
like the best. And if you judge a gig by how many albums you manage to
flog afterwards, this is the winner by far. Henrik excepted, album sales during
this tour haven't been all that spectacular, but here I sell six. Jac later
asks me about this, and I tell him again to stock up on promos for future gigs
(he could have sold a dozen this afternoon) but for the time being he's quite
happy autographing old Berrocal vinyls that dedicated fans have brought along
with them. He's happy but visibly exhausted – the wear and tear of days
on the road plus the fun and games in the Accident and Emergency service of
La Pitié Salpêtrière have taken their toll. He doesn't want
to finish his champagne, so I guess I have to help him out. While Joëlle
heroically offers to drive all the gear back to La Colle Sur Loup and
see to tonight's dinner, Philippe takes the three of us on a brief tour of Old
Nice. Aki's got his tape recorder to hand I see, and records me whistling "Amazing
Grace" in the cavernous Berrocalian acoustics of the underground car park.
You can probably expect to hear it in an Aki Onda concert coming to a theatre
near you soon. Out in the street we come across a tattoo parlour / piercing
place called The House Of Pain. "That's a great name for a bakery!"
says Jac. We stop off at a local caviste and buy three bottles of good
wine – two Burgundies and a Bordeaux: there's no way we're going to let
Philippe and Joëlle provide everything here – and we make our way
back to La Colle Sur Loup.
"Funny, isn't it," says Philippe, as he cues up another tasty old
vinyl platter to accompany Joëlle's delicious home cooking, "how we
spend so much time reviewing difficult new music, improv and noise, and yet
when we just want to listen to something just for pleasure we go back to the
old stuff. Words, melodies, emotions." (We're listening to Dean Martin,
as it turns out. Hard on the heels of Sinatra and just before Barbara.) I recall
an email I received from John Butcher wondering why I'd only included one disc
of recent improvised music – Taku Sugimoto's Opposite –
in my own decidedly self-indulgent Top 40 a while back. "I think it's the
only disc I've had the time – and the inclination – to listen to
over and over and over again in the past five or six years," I replied.
I also think of the interview I did last year with Jason Kahn – a cutting
edge EAI performer if ever there was one these days – and what he chose
when I asked him to name his ten all time favourite albums (The Beach Boys Pet
Sounds, John Cale Paris 1919, Nick Drake Five Leaves Left,
Genesis The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Joni Mitchell Blue,
Steve Reich Four Organs, Todd Rundgren The Ballad of Todd Rundgren,
This Heat This Heat, The Velvet Underground The Velvet Underground
(third LP), Scott Walker Scott 3). Dunno if you describe This Heat
as all that melodic, but there are certainly words and emotions. Are we just
a bunch of sentimental old timers, then? I wonder. "No," said Philippe,
"but what made your concert this afternoon special was precisely that –
the fact that there were words, songs if you like, and there were melodies and
there were certainly emotions."
The evening moves
on, from LP to LP. It's a vinyl fest tonight, if only for the simple reason
that Philippe's CD player is in the room upstairs. He manages to catch Jac out
with "Re-make / Re-model" from the first Roxy Music album (this is
response to Berrocal's wild admiration for Bryan Ferry's later crooning in an
interview he gave Philippe a while back), and makes my day by reintroducing
me to a Julie Tippetts album I heard a long time ago but never bought, Sunset
Glow (which I promptly order on Amazon on returning to Paris the next day).
We sit in silence and thrill to Marc Charig. Monsieur Robert's now in his element,
blind test in full effect, but he can't slip Julie London past Berrocal and
he doesn't catch me out with Dual Unity, Paul Bley and an uncharacteristically
laidback Han Bennink on Freedom in 1970 with guest appearance by Annette Peacock.
Philippe suggests we should play with her. (Turns out he's more serious about
this than I thought, as I get a volley of emails from him over the next few
days, complete with names of people to send CDRs to – well, whaddya know,
Berrocal might get his ECM album after all.. I still have my doubts though..).
The evening moves on, from bottle to bottle. The red's all gone, and Aki's yawning
visibly. "Feeling – really – sleepy!" he smiles. "Not
tired! Just sleepy!" He sticks around long enough to try a glass of 1979
Montbazillac, which Joëlle has excavated from the cellar. The cork's half
rotten and a bitch to get out, but the wine is extraordinary. That old, sweet
smell of decay, that specially rich tawny decadence that old wines have, as
rich and resonant as an old story – and Berrocal's in old story mode tonight,
reliving some of his more outlandish exploits in garish technicolour. We're
in stitches, but he isn't. Far from cheering him up, these memories of faces
and places, several now gone forever, seem to be a source of deep pain. "Every
time one of my old friends dies, all I want to do is drink, smoke, make love,
do everything I can to excess – prove to myself I'm still alive.
Buvons, fumons, baisons! I was brought up in a religious environment, brought
up to believe, but I don't anymore. Haven't for a long time." He hides
behind a cloud of Gauloise smoke. "And I'm so afraid of death."
An angel passes. There's not much anyone can say to that. A million thoughts
pass through my mind in the space of an instant, like a shower of tiny perfect
crystals. I feel the snow under my boots again in the late afternoon Lausanne
Throughout the tour, almost always right at the end of the set, Jac's been slipping
in the melody of an old song by Marcel Mouloudji, "Un jour, tu verras."
One day, you'll see.
jour tu verras
On se rencontrera
Quelque part, n'importe où
Guidés par le hasard
Et nous nous sourirons
Et la main dans la main
Par les rues nous irons
temps passe si vite
Le soir cachera bien
Nos cœurs, ces deux voleurs
Qui gardent leurs bonheurs
Sur une place grise
Où les pavés seront doux
A nos âmes grises
y aura un bal
Très pauvre et tres banal
Sous un ciel plein de brume
Et de mélancolie
De l'orgue de barbarie
Cet air pour nous sera
Le plus beau, le plus joli
Ta taille je prendrai
Nous danserons tranquille
Loin des gens de la ville
Les yeux au fond des yeux
Vers une fin du monde
Vers une nuit profonde
jour tu verras
On se rencontrera
Quelque part, n'importe où
Guidés par le hasard
Et nous nous sourirons
Et la main dans la main
Par les rues nous irons
to Satoko Fujimoto, Eric Cordier, Bernard Aimé, Claude Besnard and Vonnick
Moccoli, Kristoffer Westin, Mårten Sahlen, Fernando Sixto, Marion Innocenti,
Philippe Robert, Joëlle Vinciarelli. And to Aki Onda and Jac Berrocal.
All black and white photos of Berrocal, Onda and Warburton by Mathieu de France
- check out www.mathieudefrance.com ! - except Cave 12 by Marion Innocenti.
Colour photos from bar at Cave 12 by Joel Grip. Trio photo shot Geneva by Marion
Strange History of the Doctor's Violin
The Strange History of Dan Warburton
Strange History of CHO
Interview with Philippe Robert,
Revue & Corrigée, June 2000 (French)
Interview with Jon Mueller,
Crouton Music, 2002
with Noël Akchoté, Skug, June 2004
Interview with Noël
Akchoté, Skug, June 2004 (German)
Emergencies RA Clip
Pre St. Gervais RA Clip