Trains, Ferries, and Water Fountains

I have a little ritual every time that Catharsis announce a European tour.  Firstly, I excitedly check the dates.  Secondly, I realise with growing disappointment that once again their definition of Europe does not extend to these shores.  Thirdly, I start exploring to see whether I can make one of the other dates, only to realise that the logistics are not going to work, even if the costs could be justified.

Of course, I appreciate that this lifecycle also speaks to the relatively privileged life of a London hardcore fan – most tours reach our city and even if they don’t a jaunt to Sheffield or Leeds hardly compares to the trips faced by many on the continent and in the US.

I realised that, as a result, I have only ever enjoyed two gigs overseas.  One by good fortune in the US, and one by design in Germany.  The US show was back in 2009.  My partner and I had gone to the Pacific Northwest on holiday, where we were travelling on the train from Vancouver down to Portland via Seattle.  You can imagine my delight when I realised that Keep It Clear were due to be playing a show in Seattle, supporting Soul Control.  I tracked down the West Seattle American Legion Hall and, in hindsight rather foolishly, decided to take the ferry across the harbour to the show.

We soon realised we were very much on the wrong side of the peninsula for the venue and time was running very fine if we were to catch Keep It Clear’s set.  As we sat gasping after a frantic chase for the bus, we consoled ourselves with the thought of a pint when we got to the gig.  This was to prove a vivid example of how two institutions founded with the same core mission can evolve quite differently.  While the British Legion charity maintains a welfare mission, its halls are primarily membership social clubs (although I can’t ever recall seeing one host a hardcore gig).  It would seem that the US equivalent have developed rather differently, remaining specifically focused on veteran welfare and so the West Seattle branch was a much more austere affair than a UK counterpart.

So liquid refreshment was confined to the, unsurprisingly, extremely popular water fountain in the entrance hall and my domestic popularity was at something of a low ebb.  On the plus side, Keep It Clear had arrived late (which was not an unusual occurrence from chatting with some of the locals), so we had got there in plenty of time for their set.  The function hall itself was pretty spartan, brightly lit (until Soul Control’s set in any case), with no stage, but a healthy crowd in place.  And our various travails were soon forgotten as they unleashed an utterly blistering set ahead of a Soul Control’s intensely accomplished closing performance.  We didn’t take the ferry home.

Our second overseas venture was in 2015.  Now regular readers of these notes will know, I am something of a Trial fan and when they announced a European tour with another personal favourite, By The Grace of God, I was gutted to realise that we would be sunning ourselves on the Welsh coast when the tour hit London in mid-August.  My attempts to make one of their Central European dates floundered because of work commitments, but we could definitely get to Köln.  So, we hopped on the train for a weekend in Germany and on the Sunday evening I headed off for the show.

It was in basement venue, MTC, and by the time By The Grace of God took to the stage it was jammed to the rafters.  But while the crowd for both theirs and Trial’s sets were clearly deeply engaged with the material, it was perhaps the least animated crowd I had ever seen at a packed show.  Not in any sense apathetic, indeed intensely focused, but certainly surprisingly restrained.  The show was a great experience but undoubtedly a quite different one to the couple of times I had seen Trial before.

I still rather regret not being able to make one of the Central European dates, but perhaps that’s one for the future.  And in the meantime, I can content myself with revisiting perhaps my favourite tour diary, though that is barely doing it justice, The Humourless Ladies of Border Control by Franz Nicolay (for the uninitiated, formerly a member of the wonderful World/Inferno Friendship Society and now a thoroughly engaging solo artist).  This is a wide-ranging travelogue on the life of the touring musician that specifically explores the past and future of underground punk in the Central and Eastern European region.  Its concluding thoughts tie in with some of the themes I recently explored in respect of ‘The Lost Art of the Spoken Word’:

‘I found something life affirming in the opportunity to play for people for whom music and politics were meaningful in a concrete way, for whom the act of congregating and the investment of feeling in performing music were all serious business’.