Meanderings

Bad Gig? No Such Thing. Czechoslovakia around 1990.

Bad gigs are, of course far more interesting than good gigs. Good gigs are like package holidays. You go, you return and not much really happened. But bad gigs are like stories on the road. They’re far

I won't bore you with them all, but here's an interesting one. Was it a bad gig? You tell me.

First we have to get there.

We are on a train parked on the East side of the German/Czech border. The Iron Curtain is still up. Soldiers in brown uniforms are walking along the tracks, searching under the train for anything illegal.

Inside the train, the passengers are being frisked and questioned. The guards scrutinise travellers' wallets. There are 2 well armed inspectors in our car. They scrutinize my brother’s papers and stamp them. Next they check out my American girlfriend's papers. They too are in order. Next it's my turn. They are not satisfied with my university credentials. I've told them I study art at Stirling University. That's not enough detail for them. They want the course and the university address. They seem very agitated and a little threatening: perhaps taken by a sudden desire to shoot someone foreign. I take my visa and fill in the appropriate info. They stamp it and leave. My brother then informs me that Stirling University has no art department. I inform him that I gave a phony address anyway.

On we go into Czechoslovakia where due to cutbacks in the nation’s ink budget, many of the vowels have been removed from place names. We negotiate the town of Pilzn which sadly must rate as the filthiest town I ever entered. Clouds of reeking smog blew down the streets. Cars belched black oily

My lasting memory of Pilzn is an image of a converted cattle truck thundering down the main street with the words, "TAXI" handwritten across its windshield.

Surprisingly, just outside of town was a great campsite on a beautiful lake. We spend the night there and move on next morning to Prague. We stay there a few hours and hang out with some cheap beer (pevo) and some deep fried bread from a street vendor in a van.

 A day and a half after leaving Regensburg we arrive in Brno. We have

We stay in Brno with Pavel, a friend of my brothers. His hospitality is wonderful. We are housed in the basement suite of his parents 3 story home, which overlooks the town

Later we take our guitars and go off to a bar where we plan to play some music. Pavel leads the way. We enter. The bar is jammed. Not even room to get a guitar out. We exit. Pavel goes back in. Two minutes later he exits and we all troop back in. We meet the owner, a burly guy with a butcher’s apron. He beckons us to a large round table. The inhabitants look up. The owner points at them with a big sausage finger and says. (Excuse rough translation) "You lot. F#@K off." He points his thumb over his shoulder.” This table is reserved”.

The table thus vacated, we sit down. The locals gather round looking down at us, gnashing their teeth. Nervously, we get our guitars out. Schnapps glasses and 6 bottles of wine materialize on the table. The owner hovers. I look at Joe and mutter, "This had better be good". It's do or die time. I take a deep breathe and we're launched into Knocking On Heavens Door. There is a cheer. The natives are friendly. 

Next morning is bright and warm and hung over. We take advantage of the "free" public transport and head off to a lake. It's fun fun fun. I’m working on my swimming strokes. Lately I’d been doing the Brick but I make progress at the lake on this day and graduate to the Flailing Log stroke.

Next stop is lunch in the village of the festival. Here we eat a local delicacy known as baldy Chicken which looked a bit uncooked but was actually very tasty.

This is wine country. People drink wine in half litre glasses. Or at least they do today. They drink a lot of it. Me and Joe are scheduled to play in the mid afternoon. We all sit around in the village, relaxing and trying not to overdose on the white wine.

The festival is taking place in the village hall. It’s been organized by Pavel who had met Joe in Greece some time back. They’d stayed in touch and Pavel had asked Joe to play at his festival. Joe in turn asked me to play along and Hil had come along for the adventure.

The village is a tiny little place that seems build around an abandoned farm. Roofs sag, dandelions yawn, sidewalks are non existent. Traffic is rare and the place feels half asleep under the summer sun.

Due to some mix up in the schedule we are now due to play around 6pm. But 6pm comes and goes as do the pints of wine. Pavel tells us we’ll be on in an hour. There is no beer to be had. In fact it appears that wine is the only liquid in town. By 9pm, we still haven’t played. The wine and the sun have fried and shrunk our brains to the size, shape and mentality of prunes. We are all talked out. We go for a twilight saunter around the village. The only bar in town has just closed and we wish we’d known about it earlier. A beer would have been nice to wash down all that wine. Some food would have helped too.

Back outside the town hall we can hear the muffled screams and distortions of a punk heavy metal band. I go inside and watch them play. They appear to have come straight up from a coal pit. Their clothes are black with coal dust and some wear miner’s hats. Their faces are blackened like negative raccoons. They are very animated and somewhat theatrically disgruntled. National flags are being spat on, shat on and stomped on. Most notably the US flag.

At 1:30 am. We are told it’s time to play. We’d rolled into town about 14 hours previously. It’s been a long day. Backstage I wrestle in the dark with my guitar case. Joe is somehow miraculously already on stage. I can hear him introducing himself. Then he says, “And here’s my brother James…” And that’s the last I recall for a while.

I awake atop a packing crate in a fetal position. The show is over. Hil is urgently saying we need to get on the train quick. "Jeez was the gig that bad"?

My winelogged mind is still lost in La La Land and I’m thinking through fog. “Train? Here? What train? Then I remember we have to catch the train home to Regensburg in the middle of the night. I jump up and begin blathering like I’m in control of whatever situation this is: as if the train driver is a personal friend and he'll see us personally to our seats. Then Hil says the words that were to be immortalized forever in busking lore,” SHUT THE F@#K UP”. I fall immediately silent like I've just melted pathetically into chocolate slush. All around us the Czechs are laughing and parroting Hil. “shut ze f@@k oop. Shut ze f@@k oop”.

Next I remember me and Hil are on a train. Joe is still back at the festival, perhaps wisely contemplating a solo career. It’s the middle of the night. I have a horrible thirst and there’s nothing drinkable on board. It will be hours before we get to a watering hole. I walk the corridors like a ghost on a ghost train. I find an open can of what seems to be beer. It sits abandoned on the floor in the aisle. I circle it a few times then I swoop it up and drink it. I have no idea what it tastes like as my taste buds are still knocked out. But it wets my cracked throat.

For me, I guess the gig didn’t happen. It seemed to have gone well enough without me. I doubt I was missed. People weren’t clamoring for autographs or demanding their money back. According to eye witness accounts, I had been right behind Joe but had failed to emerge on stage. Joe had forged ahead and played the gig. Hil had tried in vain to raise me from the dead. She’d pleaded, shook and kicked me. The latter strategy I suspect was more in anger than to awaken me. Finally she’d given up and settled for getting me awake in time for the train. Apparently, the moment she mentioned “Train”, I was on my feet and babbling insanely to the assembly.

Good trip I guess. Not such a good gig. But wasn’t that a party.

And the moral of the story?

None whatsoever.