Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Big cream taxi: On tour with The Monochrome Set in Holland and Germany - Part 2

Not even mid-December, and Santa has had enough of Xmas!
So Christmas has been and gone since my last post...I didn't agonise about the turkey nearly as much as in previous years, and it was surprisingly succulent all the way through. It did take me ages to get everything together, mind, and Truffle could have been...ahem!...a bit more hospitable to my guests, but on the whole things turned out fine.

Then today has been spent replacing blown light bulbs and troubleshooting a myriad of stains and dirt: from mud on a bike to spilt wine on the carpet (my overexuberance while watching an Agatha Christie), to adhesive marks on a lamp, tea stains on a door, and sundry food splatter on pretty much every kitchen surface. And on a favourite top...So you can readily imagine that writing Part 2 of my tour report was preferable to soldiering on with a panoply of futile solvents, including 'Still There!' (aka Vanish) and surgical ('God help me if I was actually ill rather than just removing glue') spirits.

As in Part 1, I shall stick with the thematic format...

Seat number Sudoku

One of my jobs as 'Logistics Manager' was to marshal the troops on the exact spot of the correct platform where our train was going to pull up, thereby minimising aimless walking around railway stations encumbered with gear and luggage. With everyone in one place, I then proceeded to call out the numbers of our seat reservations, so that if our party got split up during the inevitable melee of boarding the train, we would all know where to aim for. The act of committing these seven numbers to memory became known as 'seat number Sudoku', which we agreed was a helpful plank of our collective dementia-deferring strategies.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

You can whistle for Bachpfeiffen

One of the more unusual missions with which I was entrusted on this trip was to track down a box of Bachpfeiffen - a chocolate speciality from Leipzig in the shape of organ pipes! As the name suggests, they are a tribute to the composer Bach, who worked in the city and is buried in the Sankt Thomas Kirche. The singer had the bright idea of getting some to give as a birthday present to the keyboard player, whose instrument is after all an electronic relative of the organ, and whose birthday coincided with our visit to the city. A spot of googling fetched up two outlets for this chocolate novelty, both in the old town. I secretly briefed the taxi driver to make a detour to the more accessible of the two shops en route to the station, and, with the singer a few steps behind me, I hurtled in, breathlessly demanding that the two sales assistants produce their Bach-themed wares at the double. My urgent, panting request was met with a look of disdain and the curt explanation that Leipzig's most celebrated souvenir had been discontinued 18 months ago. Well, so much for the Tourist Board's website being bang up-to-date.

Source: Geschenkkorb-laden.de

There was a further chocolate-related disappointment later in the trip...here is the singer, off duty in Hamburg and looking every inch the Milk Tray Man, minus the all-important chocolates! I daresay you could cadge a cigarette off him, but that's about it.

Assorted closed things

This complete dearth of Bachpfeiffen leads me neatly on to my topic of 'closed things', starting with the railway station in Holland where we were headed on the first day. It is a suburban stop in Utrecht called Zuilen, and has the advantage of being bang next to the venue. The Belgian national rail company had, moreover, sold us seven tickets to this specific destination. In hindsight they may have done so out of mischief, as Zuilen station is currently closed, not unlike Mornington Crescent tube station in the 90s. Anyway, that realisation prompted the first of our many requisitions of a big cream taxi...

Source: Wegenforum.nl

Later, on the band's day off in Hamburg, we trooped en masse to the seaside - I hesitate to call somewhere so cold a 'resort' - of Blankenese. There would have been serious shopping potential in the many festive-looking gift shops, however, owing to their luxuriously long lunch breaks of up to three hours we ended up buying nothing and taking silly photos by the sea instead.

The bass player doing a fine impersonation of The Invisible Man

Before I went away, when I mentioned where I was headed to friends, most would immediately pipe up: 'Ooh, all those Christmas markets!' And sure enough, that was one of the aspects of the tour to which I was most looking forward, not least for their excellent Christmas shopping opportunities. Ironically - and most tantalisingly - we did not manage to make it to a single Christmas market in any of the six towns and cities on our itinerary. Or rather we made it to one moments after it had shut for the evening, and to another while it was still closed in the morning - but comprehensively failed to coincide with any markets during their opening hours.

By way of compensation, in Weikersheim the band decided to stage a nativity scene of their own, in which the Three Wise Men offer the baby John Paul gifts of gold (a bauble nicked from a nearby unmanned market stall), 'He's Frankincense', and fur.

Gnomes a gogo

We may have been foiled at every turn in the Christmas market department, but we didn't go short of gnome statuary on this trip - in Weikersheim at least, dotted around the Lustgarten (sic).

There were even one or two 'personalised' gnomes: a drummer for the drummer, and a lady gnome who was clearly empathising with me over the fact that I had left my phone charger in Hamburg.

Incestuous intra-band device lending

So yes, much to my alarm I left my phone charger plugged into the wall of my hotel room in Altona (that's room No 3 for anyone keeping scores). I need not have worried though, for having gone over to the dark (as in Android) side, there were now about five people in our party who had compatible chargers, and I ended up borrowing one off Dave, the husband in the husband and wife merchandise team. Meanwhile, the singer had pulled his phone charger out of the wall, but accidentally left his adapter behind, so I lent him one of my two adapters for the remainder of the trip. And lastly, the keyboard player lost his mouse somewhere along the way - which he had been using to programme special effects during the gig, I infer - and was delighted to borrow the one I was using with my netbook. On the last day, somewhere between Cologne and St Pancras, devices were duly returned to their rightful owners.

Dry ice in the house

I have just googled 'dry ice' to check that it IS dry ice that creates those smoke effects on stage, and learnt that there are in fact many ways to skin the 'theatrical smoke, fog and haze' cat, not least the fact that there is so much more to the effect than mere smoke. Dry ice is commonly implicated in the creation of 'low-lying fog', certainly. Anyway, I just wanted to explain that right from the first gig in Holland there were joking calls from band and audience alike for this theatrical fog - though I can't tell you exactly how they termed it. As you can see, sometimes people got more than they bargained for, and it was hard to discern the band members in the resulting pea souper!

"There are offers on everything green"**

A highlight of the tour for me was the striking light show at several of the gigs, most memorably in Frankfurt.

I told the club owner afterwards - who had personally done the lighting - that I hadn't seen anything so impressive since Genesis at Knebworth in 1978. ;)

Speaking of fetching colours, the keyboard player with his coordinating stripey jumper proved to be an interior stylist's dream at this restaurant in Hamburg.

While at the Roter Salon in Berlin, a wonderfully retro function room within the famous Volksbühne Theatre, the red theme was rigorously respected.

Courtesy of Caryne Pearce

It was also at that gig that one of the venue staff laughed at the description I gave of my role on tour. I used the German word 'Gefolge', which roughly approximates to 'retinue'. "That's very good", he said. "Say that, as it is a step up from 'entourage'. Entourage may just be hanging around, while retinue are there by appointment."

Source: Alex 1011 via Wikipedia

(** For the benefit of those not familiar with the band's music, this is a quote from the title track of their new album, Cosmonaut.)

My big red big cream taxi shame

While on the subject of all things red, and in case I have given the impression that I acquitted myself uniformly well throughout the tour in the fulfilment of my duties, I have to confess that this was not at all the case. For on the morning of the second day I let the side down so spectacularly that I still cringe to remember the incident in question. It all came down to my having two phones with me: one with a SIM card that had automatically switched to continental time, and one (my old iPhone) that is Internet-enabled, but still resolutely on UK time. So having ordered a taxi for us all for 8.20am, I proceeded to set my alarm for 7.20am...on the wrong phone. Accordingly, at 8.20am the next morning I was woken by the reception ringing to tell me my taxi was there (she drew a diplomatic veil over the additional presence of five members of our party, all packed and ready in the foyer - the sixth having taken it upon himself to bang on my door and politely inquire where the hell I was!).

In five minutes' flat, I was dressed (in last night's discarded clothes I hastily scooped up from the floor), and packed and downstairs - unwashed, unmade up, dishevelled, with mad bed hair and a sense of mortification so deep that it lasted well into the next day. We didn't miss our train at least, and some time later the bass player amiably remarked that he had appreciated the delay, as it meant he got to stand in the warm hotel reception that little bit longer...

A word on perfumes!

Well, the truth is that although I took about 10 different perfumes away with me, I ended up only wearing four: Mona di Orio's Tubereuse (a curious choice you might say for cold weather, but it seemed to hit the spot), Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Cimabue (I drained my purse spray, boo!), Aroma M Geisha Noire, and Amouage Journey Woman (for the journey home...).

Beyond satsumas...

As the tour wore on I began to grade venues not so much by their food - though we had some lovely meals along the way - but by their tea making facilities. To be fair they all measured up pretty well, even if you had to rummage in the tea bag selection to find the classic yellow Liptons under all the more or less 'out there' herbal stuff. But the first venue in Utrecht comfortably took the tea station prize!

Two of my favourite foods from the tour would have to be a pumpkin-flavoured hummus and a honey and salted almond Ritter chocolate square. Yes, I did manage to get hold of some chocolate eventually!

And I have good memories of the wine too, from a rather special black Riesling - who knew there even was such a thing?! - to the very drinkable house red on offer everywhere we went...

Next up - a New Year's post of a kind - just not the usual kind!


Carol said...

I love your travel posts, V!
Hope your holidays are going well xoxox

Tara said...

Do you post these dispatches on the band's FB page, V? The fans would love the insight not to mention your excellent writing.
Rotten luck about missing out on the Christmas markets but that nativity scene with "baby John Paul" was quite something :)
Don't berate yourself about your alarm not going off. That was an easy mistake to make and wow, you got ready in super quick time!
Love your sophisticated perfumes choices. Doesn't dry ice have a very distinctive aroma as I recall?

Unknown said...

Great travel write up. I really need to go to Hamburg next year, haven't been for more then 12 years. I love the Volksbuehne building, and have fond memories of chain smoking anxiously during a photo shooting on its roof, just behind the OST sign.

Vanessa said...

Hey Carol,

Thank you! My holidays are going great, and I wish you the same. For once I am watching a bit of TV, and doing a lot of knitting, of course. ;) xx

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

No, I have never posted my travel write ups on the band's FB page, mainly because it might come across as a bit 'overly', to borrow the phrase of my Scottish friend and fellow fan, Ruth. You know, a bit indulgent - it's hard to explain.

Glad you liked the nativity scene - it really amused me, I must say. I particularly liked the quick substitution of fur for myrrh.

Haha, I was quick all right, but you should have seen the state of my suitcase. It was so badly crammed with stuff every which way - risking breaking and squashing things, I felt - that once we got safely to the station platform I simply had to repack it in full public view. After the shame of 20 minutes ago, the exposure of my untidy bag to the world was the least of my worries, and I did sort of drag it under a set of stairs first.

Do you know, I can't tell you the answer to your dry ice question as I never got close enough to smell it!

Vanessa said...

Hi Sabine,

Thank you! I thought you would appreciate the German setting. Do go back to Hamburg, it is such a jumping place, more and more so. It and Berlin are my two favourite cities.

Loved the story about your photoshoot on the roof of the Volksbuehne! How many people reading could say the same? ;) I would certainly be anxious if I was that high up, hehe.

Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa,

Wonderful, you seem to have had a great time in Germany! With the Volksbühne you and your Gefolge has really been promoted to the first league (but I like the Monarch as well) of music business. (Your role must be that the band is your Gefolge not the other way round…)
I enjoyed reading your roundup very much – and we have the same taste in choclate, that Ritter Sport salty almond stuff is addictive, isn’t it? (I’ve never heard of red Riesling, have to google it later.)

Vanessa, I wish you a great Rutsch into 2017!!!

Undina said...

I don't know why it bothered you so much that you've overslept: I could have understood being ashamed of making a reservation for wrong time (you being a retinue and all that :) ), but not being ready on time?! Pfft! ;)
I have an important question though, not related to your trip: which Agatha Christie were you watching? I've just recently finished re-watching Poirot series.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Oh, that is easy to explain...normally it takes me about an hour to get ready and pack (assuming it was a hair washing day, which it was). Based on when I woke up, there was just forty minutes to get into town in a taxi and orientate ourselves at the railway station - including my getting ready. So I was ashamed of nearly making us miss our train, basically. I didn't realise how quick I could be in an emergency, haha.

The Agatha Christie was an adaptation of Witness for the Prosecution. The script writer has deliberately messed with the story to make it darker, so even if you thought you knew that one, prepare to be surprised!

Vanessa said...

Hi Anka,

A great Rutsch to you too! As a Berliner, you will be familiar with the image of these various venues. Although we felt the Volksbuehne was a promotion too, we really liked the informality and special atmosphere of Monarch, so I hope they will play there again some time. LOL at the notion of the band being my Gefolge - eher umgekehrt, aber danke!

Ooh yes, that Ritter square was very moreish. The Riesling is known in French as Pinot Meunier, or just Meunier, apparently. The one we had came from Weingut POTH in Roettingen, and was called Tauberrettersheimer Koenigin!