Germany 2008: “My English isn’t so good, but I dig your vibrations,” Or; “Don’t get vast with me!”


November 1, 2008 by cosmoakacitizensmith

Once more into the breach I go, armed only with a guitar, a rucksack and a pocketful of shrapnel. Maybe it’s the midlife crisis kicking in again, but aren’t I supposed to have a full-time proper job?

Am I not meant to be mortgaged to the hilt with property yet doshed up to the max with savings and pensions? What about the wife and kids that are supposed to be in tow?!!

It aint the first time I’ve felt like this, but the lo-budget rock-n-roll lifestyle gets harder to justify financially as you get older, and the knock on effects of this make things more difficult in the long term.

Or does it? This is the subtext of the mission to Germany: a tour is not just a whole itinerary of shows, but verges on a spiritual quest to answer some of life’s profound conundrums!

If you let it….

Don’t get vast with me, I hear you say! You’re probably right. But bang on cue, here comes Mr. Vast!!

Mr Vast, aka Harry Harry from dance-prog-psych legends Wevie Stonder, was plain old Henry when I met him as we kicked around Brighton town chasing and choking on dreams.

We shared a flat, and we could never work out which one of us was Withnail and which one of us was I, (until we realised that everyone, of course, has a bit of both in them). The result of this confusion was we ended up speaking like Danny to each other. And still do.

Kind of annoying if you’re looking in, I suppose.

Danny and “I” in Withnail and I

Mr. Vast is now living in Hamburg in an artists’ community in Vorwerk Strasse. It’s kind of like a hostel divided into cheap flats with a huge open plan workspace upstairs where I’m staying. It’s run as a co-op, and there used to be lots of live-in vehicles in the park surrounding it until a mass eviction a while back. Round the corner is a huge squat that got raided during the campaign against the G8’s presence in Germany last year, but is still going strong.

Round the other corner is the stadium of Europe’s foremost anarchist football team, FC St. Pauli.

That’s right folks, TWO alternative centres and an anarcho-soccer zone nearby and that’s just one small area of the city! This is the first important thing to say. Anarcho-style initiatives are a much bigger part of urban life in Germany compared to the UK. It’s frustrating and inspiring at the same time.

For example, the first gig is in Hafenklang. It’s an anarchist/arts centre with a bar and three floors of dance mayhem – right in the middle of a shopping centre! I ask the promoter when he wants me to play. “Whenever you like.” And what time he wants me to wrap it up by. “Whenever.” And what time the venue closes. “Whenever.” He hands me a massive strip of beer tokens.

This is a whole lot different from the UK, where you turn up and get told to shorten your set to ten minutes and f@ck off!

Although I don’t smoke, it’s actually relaxing being in an environment where people are able to if they wish and not running outside every five minutes for a fag. The crowd is very mixed: they’re expecting a load of gold chain wearin’ dance dudes to turn up later – definitely NOT just anarcho ghetto!

Like it or lump it, we’re a lot more part of the furniture here, and so much more of a presence. Great – but why isn’t it more like that back home?

See what I mean?!!

My own theory is that countries on the Continent have a direct experience of fascism that we don’ have. As a result, there is more understanding of the importance of this street-level politics than there is in the UK. You only need to look at the prominent posters advertising anti-fascist events to see this.

I hope we don’t have to go through a period of fascism in order to remedy this! (Maybe we are and we aren’t…if you catch my drift).

I was interested to see how my songs would stand up in a crowd who may not be that familiar with English. Not too bad, it seems. People listen intently to the intros I give by way of explanation. There’s some joking about the recent death of Austrian yuppie Nazi Jorg Haider in a car accident: “I’ve got a 20 year old punk record called Nazis Can’t Drive!” shouts the promoter form the floor as I do F@ck The BNP.

I guy in a suit says to meet afterwards: “My English isn’t so good, but I dig your vibrations. Are you anarchist? Cool!” I then get into a deep conversation with a lady about why British people take ketamine at raves, free shots are dished out and everyone dances on or by the bar.

John Lennon once said: “I might have been born in Liverpool – but I grew up in Hamburg”. The Beatles came here and served their musical apprenticeship at various bars and clubs on the infamous Reeperbahn, the city’s night-life centre and red light district. There’s a memorial to them near to where the Star club used to be situated.

This was a venue when many of the greats of the time played, as you can see from the photo. Amongst the names you may notice Screaming Lord Sutch, more famous as the founder of the Monster Raving Loony Party. He used to perform in a band that specialised in pre-Alice Cooper style Gothic rock. The Monster Raving Loony Party themselves went on to finish off the old UK Social Democratic Party in 1990 by polling more than them in the Bootle by-election, a fine political achievement in my book!

One night after a show, Mr Vast and I spew out onto the Reeperbahn, in all its neon late-night glory. It’s a Monday though, and it’s a bit deserted, except the prostitutes plying their trade on the street. One of them offers her services, and then shouts “Cowards!!” as we walk past uninterested.

Ooo, a bit if domination, sirs?!!

Their prices are midrange for the sex industry, because they’re on the street in the city centre. Out in the suburbs is where the cheapest ones work. The high priced hookers are slightly off the main drag, secreted behind a metal front. Walk beyond it, and there they all are, sitting in lit-up shop fronts and shouting at you for custom. I find out later that no women are allowed in this part of the city, except the prostitutes, otherwise the pimps get really pissed off. 150 euros, 45 minutes and anything you want.

One thing you can say about all this is at least it’s out in the open, not secreted behind closed doors and shoved out of the way like it doesn’t exist.

A few minutes later, we end up in a rock bar slightly further up. It’s small and dingy, and the people who man the bar look like caricatures, larger than life. A guy who serves us looks a cross between offended and affronted when I tell him I don’t drink booze. He fills up a glass of soda water with a venomous sneer. He looks like Popeye the Sailor Man. I laugh.

“Don’t worry,” says Mr. Vast in German, “he’s on all sorts!” They give each other a knowing wink.

We go outside and and I put my guitar and plastic bag of CDs down on a wooden table. We stare down at the Reeperbahn below and laugh at its madness. Cardiff used to be a port too, but it has lost all its sprawling, port city insanity, unlike Hamburg. Maybe the bay was a bit like this before it got listerine-cleaned and redeveloped into a corporate nightmare.

Suddenly, a scary-looking lady from the bar comes out and says to me, “OK, what’s in the bag?”

She thinks it contains the secret highs that I must be so evidently on, given that I’m not drinking.

“CDs!” laughs Mr. Vast.

“OK,” says the scary lady, and walks off back inside, unbothered. We double up again: we’re the dodgiest geezers in the dodgiest bar in the dodgiest part of town. It wouldn’t have been the first time, but hey, we’re supposed to be older and respectable now.

Don’t fear the Reeper(bahn)

We end up in a small drinking den near where I’m staying, all spray paint on the walls and Eminem’s new album on the decks. The woman behind the bar sees I have a guitar, and I do a short set.

It’s this sort of attitude, together with getting paid properly and treated like a human being for a change, that makes the experience of playing in Germany as an unknown musician so much more preferable compared to the UK!! Together with the fact that there are so few chain pubs playing shit chart music!!

Everywhere bar I go in an independent, informal feel to it. No Wetherspoons bollocks here, mate. Decks are always available and DJs tend to play a massive variety of stuff. Cowboy music seems a popular choice, which may sound like shyte, but at least it’s something different to what I’m used to!!

One day back at Vorwerk Strasse, I hear some dulcet musical tones coming from a room. It turns out they belong to a lady called Kristin, from Swabia in the south. We end up collaborating, and do some recordings and an unamplified gig for punters who live in the house. The same thing happens the next night at a tea bar in Berlin, the Tee und Kunsthaus Tschaikowsky: a nice, intimate, unampified gig! Plus no fags or alcohol in the venue! Whoop!

I stay with my mate Dom while I’m there, and play lightsabres with his kid Luka. He can’t be much older than me and Dom when we started our first band together aged nine: the Flying Cyclops (!). And here we are still, trying to keep the music going, wondering about the intricacies of record companies as opposed to going it alone a whole lifetime later…..does anything change?

Recently it’s been great spending time with old friends as we try to work out how to balance life, love, money and non-money-making endeavours as we get on a bit, a lot of us even giving birth and sorting out the development of a whole new generation!

The answer comes in a puff of understanding on my stopover in Stockwell Park Estate, South London, with Gibby and Fergus. A DVD goes on featuring a man called Joseph Campbell, who specialises in how myths transcend entire cultures and have resonance beyond all of them. Maybe it’s the bang lassie, but things seem to make sense:

Nirvana is a psychological state of mind. It’s not a place like heaven. It’s not something that’s not here. It IS here in the middle of the turmoil, (it’s called samsara the whirlpool of life’s conditions). Nirvana is what? It’s the condition that comes when you are not compelled by desire, or by fear, or by social commitments: when you hold your centre, and act out of there.

Oh yeah? Oh yeah?

Don’t get vast with me, mate!!

Thanks to Claire, Quinn, Krisitin, Gimmo, Fergus, Dom and family and all the gang who helped me out. Special thanks of course to Sarge!! Nice 1 all round!!


One thought on “Germany 2008: “My English isn’t so good, but I dig your vibrations,” Or; “Don’t get vast with me!”

  1. harry says:

    Well said that man, you can remember so much more when you dont get off yer tits innit….time is a waste of life and life is a waste of time , so lets get wasted all the time and have the time of our life….yeah yeah, but you wont remember any of it… which will be a darn shame!
    Come back to the Burg anytime Cosmo, they loved ya..

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