On The Road with Aki Onda and Jac Berrocal
November 2005

 

A 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!).
The 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.
So, 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. Bon voyage!



Tours, 12th November

We're 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," concedes Mathieu.

*

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.

*

Having vaunted 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.

*

Against all 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.

*

Wrong. 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 a break!"

*

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

Our 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

The 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!"

*

Check-in desk. 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?!"

*

At Skåvsta 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.

*

Another fun 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 des Frites.
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 long though.



Norrköping, 19th-20th November

On 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 grey sky.
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).

*

The auditorium 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 to shit.

*

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 on something."
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 the tarmac.



Geneva, 24th-25th November

We're 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.

*

"There 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).
It's fine 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 later.
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 this.

*

The Cave 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.

After 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.

*

After 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 and Metamkine.
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

The 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.


*

Joëlle, not 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 light.

*

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.

Un jour tu verras
On se rencontrera
Quelque part, n'importe où
Guidés par le hasard

Nous nous regarderons
Et nous nous sourirons
Et la main dans la main
Par les rues nous irons

Le temps passe si vite
Le soir cachera bien
Nos cœurs, ces deux voleurs
Qui gardent leurs bonheurs

Puis nous arriverons
Sur une place grise
Où les pavés seront doux
A nos âmes grises

Il y aura un bal
Très pauvre et tres banal
Sous un ciel plein de brume
Et de mélancolie

Un aveugle jouera
De l'orgue de barbarie
Cet air pour nous sera
Le plus beau, le plus joli

Puis je t'inviterai
Ta taille je prendrai
Nous danserons tranquille
Loin des gens de la ville

Nous danserons l'amour
Les yeux au fond des yeux
Vers une fin du monde
Vers une nuit profonde

Un jour tu verras
On se rencontrera
Quelque part, n'importe où
Guidés par le hasard

Nous nous regarderons
Et nous nous sourirons
Et la main dans la main
Par les rues nous irons

Thanks 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 Innocenti.

 


The Strange History of the Doctor's Violin

The Strange History of Dan Warburton

The Strange History of CHO

Interview with Philippe Robert, Revue & Corrigée, June 2000 (French)


Interview with Jon Mueller, Crouton Music, 2002

Interview with Noël Akchoté, Skug, June 2004

Interview with Noël Akchoté, Skug, June 2004 (German)

Invisible Emergencies RA Clip

Metro Pre St. Gervais RA Clip