Swim Tour Diary
It's Thursday; it must be Villeurbanne. "Where?" You ask. It's kind of in France (near Lyon to be exact) and we are reaching it at the end of a day (12 hours and counting) which has truly introduced tour virgins Ronnie & Clyde (Ron & Rob) to the dubious delights of "life on the road" and reacquainted Malka and I with these same pleasures after an absence of ten years.
It started very early. A very grumpy crew exited Swim Towers on the 'post-everything' European tour at 5 am, ably driven in our 'functional' rather than luxurious tour van (which would become our true home for two weeks) by our tour manager Luke Wuurmli. We would be joined for the first two dates by Billy Campbell, DJ extraordinaire—the man responsible for the Assari Club and the pre-eminence of the Beggars Banquet record shop, both in Putney.
It had more-or-less sheeted down all day. The channel crossing offered little respite and some green faces. France was a blur even if the motorways were mercifully empty. So, the first gig sets the pattern for the tour. The night opens with some down-tempo DJing from Billy (later Rob or Ron) after which Malka and I come on and play a set comprising of stuff from My Pet Fish with a few extra Newman/Spigel/Immersion things added. We play guitars and sing (although those familiar with the material will know that beats abound a-plenty).
Then came Ronnie & Clyde with a more up-tempo set than their album would suggest, heading towards a breakbeat climax at the end. Then whoever was up for it span until local DJ relief was needed. In short, a slow build through DJ and live. The locals seemed friendly and the club put on a top meal (well this was France) which got an especially good 'star rating' from Ronnie & Clyde (it should be pointed out here that Rob & Ron's partners are both cooking professionals so good food is important, right?!)
Friday: Bologna Italy—One of the most spectacular journeys of the tour. The normally taciturn Billy decides he wants to live in the Alps and the rest of us actually spend long periods window-gazing as opposed to battling with the tour book (Marilyn Manson's biog, a good read which nonetheless won't make you like the music more!) Still, all good things must come to an end, and end they did in a traffic jam outside Parma. The motorway was at a standstill and we were very late for an interview, but what could we do? When we finally got to Bologna, way after interview and soundcheck time, we found the gig had been moved as the police had closed down the original venue the previous week. However, this being Italy, it all turned out well in the end with the gig being one of the best received of the tour, the combined crew having built and built from 9 pm until we vacated to let some of the local junglists grab the crowd at 2:30 am. Sweet.
Saturday, Basel, Switzerland—Blimey! Three countries in three days—this is getting surreal. Malka and Rob have developed a disorientation exercise (involving sunglasses and imagining there is no ceiling) as we cruise so many tunnels in our transalpine wanderings. No drugs involved, honest! Basel was good but anything after 800 Italians going mad would have been a let-down. However, the hotel was nice, and I succeeded in driving Ronnie mad with my DJing (I guess dropping my track May with it's hugely long guitar intro into a g-Man track is pretty mad, but they all started dancing like crazy as soon as the big break came in! But fair play to him for keeping the kids dancing way after everyone else had dropped off the edge.
Sunday, Konstanz, Germany—A much-needed day off. Another country, more tunnels, and more stunning alpine views. This is the most scenic tour I have ever been on. In fact, I'm starting to be convinced that it's really a holiday with a few gigs added. This is compounded when we reach the ABC hotel in Konstanz, a great hotel by anyone's standards. We all get apartments. Cool!
Monday, Vienna, Austria—Come on—this is getting absurd! Our sixth country (if you count the UK) in five days. The day starts promisingly enough with a lake crossing from Konstanz (scenic or what?!) but blustery conditions on the motorway dampen our spirits. They are further depressed by the hotel (one of the worst ever) and weather (October in Italy means mild, early-autumn, October in Vienna seemed to be pretty much winter!) The canal-side club, which boasts the best sound in Vienna, is nice though and interestingly a mere stone's throw from the site of the 1995 Swim night on a boat.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Ulm/Konstanz/Augsberg, Germany—Phew, a country we've been to before. Ulm is solid little town in Southern Germany and a place where people like Bar Industries and Bernd Karner have been trying to establish a scene for a few years, but it's hardly rock and roll central. Still, the small audience really appreciated it, so we must be doing something right.
The following morning Luke, who had started the tour with a mass of curls, got himself a haircut at Rob's suggestion and much improved he looks, too. Tonight's gig is in Konstanz so there is a chance for a bit of shopping (In fact, this is more of an outbreak than a mere passing incident, as constant road has made us all desperate to spend money!) Plus it's also back again to the ABC! The promoter at the University is our tour organiser Christoph Linder from Planet Rock. Nevertheless it's a bit of a soundclash as there's a dub soundsystem downstairs who are loud enough to shake the entire building. The audience is big though and Ronnie and Clyde seem to go down very well. The guys from Metrobreaks in Toronto with whom we are discussing doing something over in North America next year were raving about the whole night. The next day we are on the ferry again and off to Augsberg, not one of the tour highlights although special mention should be given to the local soundman.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday—a weekend in Berlin—Due to a promoter falling out with a club owner and the fact that Swim's German distributor, EFA, have their promotional offices in Berlin we ended up having a weekend there. Friday was a mad drive up a sometimes blocked autobahn to make a radio interview in Potsdam (which we got to with seconds to spare) followed by a great gig to a small but enthusiastic audience. The next morning we set off for the short drive to Berlin but got waylaid in a market where everyone got dazzled by the 15DM 'g-shock' watches on sale. Not exactly accurate forgeries, but the blue light offered hours of mindless fun! Neither Malka or I have been to Berlin since 1988 and a lot has changed. The city always had its 'tough cool' but the demise of the wall has caused a softening—you could even call it romantic! We stay on the corner of Freidrichstrasse and Torstrasse so the nearby Irish bar gets some serious custom! Ronnie's girlfriend Merilees was over for the weekend and Julia and Suzie from the EFA promotion department took us out to a truly great Thai restaurant. It's kind of a relief not having to play but we are far from home and alcohol encourages a tad of whistfulness amongst some members of the party.
Sunday—More sightseeing, the market by the canal and the Berlin Biennale. Monday: interviews and a gig. As it turned out this was the last and I must say it was one of the best for Malka and I. We'll definitely be back in Berlin.
The end of the tour was a bit anti-climactic. The gig in Koln got cancelled due to administrative error but we had to go there to pick up the fee. So we ended up going from Berlin to London via Koln in a 21-hour epic journey compounded by a very rough sea crossing that didn't allow us to dock for an hour. Then we were home—battered, but wiser and somehow better people. Full English breakfast in the local café never tasted so good!
We'll be back...
Colin Newman, November 1998