From the foothills of the Pennines to the Mediterranean coast and back again. This is Total Victory’s French odyssey as told by the band.
Narrator = Dan (singer)
ML = Matt Leonard (bass)
ME = Matt Evans (guitar)
James = James (drums)
MM = Martin (guitar)
CONTEXT / PREAMBLE
Fans of rough and tumble rock diaries in the vein of Henry Rollins’ benchmark Get In The Van, Steve Albini’s in-character last slog around Europe with Big Black or Jon Wurster’s trips around the US for Superchunk’s website might find themselves a bit disappointed with the general alacrity contained within this write-up. However, when A Little Bit Louder asked the band to do this, ME leapt at the opportunity to make me do some work in light of having no gear to carry or vans to drive. So, here it is, the largely unexpurgated diary of Total Victory’s first European tour, complete with pictures, links and diversions. Recommended commute reading.
22/10/13 – MANCHESTER
It is four days until the van pulls out of Bolton. As a group, Total Victory have never spent longer than two days in each others’ company, let alone left the country on a tour expected to last 7 days and some 2500 miles. Previous performances in Blackpool and Leicester have been logistical nightmares. Cities we haven’t played: London (220 miles), Glasgow (204 miles), Birmingham (98 miles), Leeds (48 miles), Liverpool (35 miles). Cities we will have played: Marseille (987 miles).
For a couple of years we have had promoters in France saying to us “why not come over?” to which we have always batted away as mere kindness. However, when Fred and Don and the countless others screamed in our faces “LOOK WE HAVE DONE ALL OF THE WORK FOR YOU, NOW GET A VAN AND COME AND PLAY” in better English than us then there was little else to do but lift the couch and look for spare change.
The individuals of TV have history with our friends across the Channel. ML spent sometime looking at collapsed buildings in Annecy and got the idea how to master our second LP from this experience. I went to Nimes in 2008 to partake in a festival of walking and pizza consumption. MM once stowed away at Rosslare aboard a trawler bound for Le Havre and hitched to Paris to see Tom Waits frighten bats out of a belfry. James was briefly understudy to the role of Bustopher Jones in the Paris transfer of Cats.
However, ME has the saddest story of all: Once on a Eurocamp site a French youth stole my flip-flops. Two days later we were driving back to the site and he was stood in the middle of the road (in my flip-flops) urinating. I have never forgiven that nation for its disgraceful behaviour.
It’s not all misery memoir for ME though, as he dreamily recalls: I also rode a horse in France but that’s another story. Actually that’s the entire story.
24/10/13 – MANCHESTER
I am reading the story about the Guided By Voices drummer who wanted to sell his drumkit, as used on Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes, for $55000, thus invoking the wrath of singer Bob Pollard. Let me just put this out there: if James wants to sell his kit and advertises it with the legend ‘as played on The Pyramid of Privilege and National Service‘ then feel free. What a petty feud. Pollard attempts all sorts of burns in his email (which was published on Facebook by somebody) such as “you’re an amateur, you play too fast (which is the sign of an amateur).” I’d always thought it was not getting paid, Bob.
We convene tomorrow ahead of the tour. My underpants are drying on the radiator.
26/10/13 – BOLTON TO LILLE
The journey of 2500 miles begins at 4am from ME’s home on the outskirts of Bolton. A van (gun-metal grey, light modifications, no cup holders) and three further band members are accumulated and the M6 South is successfully located. To mark the occasion, ML puts his own The Best of Ted Leo compilation on at bum-quaking volume.
We arrive in Dover early enough to locate a branch of Timpsons in order to replace the van key that we’ve already broken. The white cliffs look nauseous. Dover looks like Leigh. Breakfast. Ferry port. No one bothers to check our passports. James goes into teacher mode, rendering human guardians of bureaucracy as jelly. The man from G4S wishes us well on tour instead of examining our amplifier valves for crack residue.
I always thought seasickness was a myth much like how some believe that travelling backwards on a train makes you ill. Walking around the boat means being pushed by invisible hands, one instance nearly landing me in an elderly man’s soup. James confines himself to quarters. ML & MM smoke contemplatively in the face of indifferent spume. ME roams airily around the floating waiting room, looking for action. The remaining few kilometres from Calais to Lille are soundtracked by the audiobook of I, Partridge and, after an entertaining battle between James and a French roundabout, we arrive outside La Malterie, evidently alive and with near-full mental capacity.
The next eight hours, if fully detailed, would read as some kind of self-aggrandizing fantasy narrative. In short: it is the best eight hours of the six-and-a-half years of the band so far. We meet Fred (who is largely responsible for this tour happening so if you’re enjoying this blog then you owe him thanks), Emilie, Guillaume and Gilles from Berline 0.33. They feed us. They look after us. MM becomes so overwhelmed with the milk of human kindness that his face threatens to seize up in a permanent smile.
Berline 0.33 are also great. Moody and threatening, almost remorseless, knotted balls of tension, guitar cutting judiciously, every cathartic moment earned. It’s difficult to follow. The crowd are plentiful and into it. Fear of failure strikes and panic briefly grips.
For the tour we had rehearsed one hour of material, 12 songs, rejecting material that was either too complex to relearn or not relevant to us as a band. In Lille, we performed 11 songs and left the stage. Fred entered the dressing room and demanded we do more. We went back on and played one more song and then walked off. Fred came back in and demanded that we do more. “We have no more!” we all say.
“Just play more!” says Fred. The ‘leave them wanting more’ maxim seems trite when the dressing room door is ajar and there is a roomful of paying people asking for more and besides we might never get to come back. We return to the stage and play two songs we already played. No one cares. It’s brilliant. We play them better the second time around and then we leave the stage.
As if good luck operated in a similar manner to a day job, it stamps its time card to signal the end of the day on arrival at Fred’s house: the van door breaks. ML grabs his sleeping gear and sets his face for a night on the parcel shelf.
27/10/13 – LILLE TO PARIS
After a good lunch at a Vietnamese place in Ronchin, we set out for Paris with Emilie. ML introduces Emilie to Hovis Presley (not the most heartwarming cultural exchange as the day, either). Crosswinds buffet the van, but the largest difficulties with driving are reserved for navigating Paris. Imagine every semi-xenophobic anecdote you’ve heard from a relative about what it’s like driving in a foreign city. It’s quite a lot like that. “You think this is bad? Wait until Marseille!” says Fred. Ulp.
Lleroy, the opening band, have pulled out, leaving the same bill as the previous night. La Cantine de Belleville seems like quite a cool place to grab a drink or a steak as big as my left arsecheek. The basement venue smells of masonry and can hold 40 if everybody breathes in. Violent noises from below stairs don’t affect diners, who eat what probably would seem like fine dining back home but probably qualifies as rustic and effortless here.
Not that we complain. Victor, promoting this evening, provides good food and beer and an audience. Later he provides accommodation and the finest array of Skin Graft Records memorabilia I’ve ever witnessed. The only regret of this show is not wearing breathable trousers; walking off-stage, it appears like I am wearing waders after a difficult day (wr)angling trout.
Afterward we wave goodbye to Berline0.33, who were even better tonight. James gives their friend David some PG Tips, bringing together our two countries even closer than they had been before. No more shall we say ‘up yours Delors’, instead children up and down Britain will tearfully utter ‘hold my hand, Mitterand.’
28/10/13 – PARIS TO LYON
Day off. Not much sleep has been had by anyone but ML and James still manage to hum the theme tune to every show screened by BBC1 from 1986 to 1992.
Morale is lower than you’d expect for the day after two gigs that went pretty well. We trundle into Lyon on energy fumes, low spirits pushing us into an English pub on the banks of the Saône. Evening falls and the lights come on along the rivers. The city is even more beautiful at night.
Our hosts for the evening are Matthieu and Christina (check out Matthieu’s fucking awesome band: Torticoli). There is a US Maple poster on the wall, as there was at Victor’s apartment in Montreuil. I take this as a good sign, correctly as it turns out. Burgundy and food, the latter mostly stolen from a Socialist Party buffet, is produced. We talk into the night, glad we don’t have a show. Ten fucking stars for hospitality, France, every single one of you. Before falling asleep in the van, ML & I wonder aloud when our luck will run out.
29/10/13 – LYON TO MARSEILLE
I used to read the Deerhunter blog regularly. Bradford Cox was (still is, possibly) a funny writer and would often share music that he had recorded in downtime on the road; full songs, not sketches, that would fill sides of lesser bands’ albums. I don’t know how he manages it. There is no real downtime. Talk of the wives and girlfriends of band members coming along for part of the tour was initially floated and eventually rejected. Whilst this has been fun so far, it has not been that kind of fun.
We roll out of town after a pleasant meander around Lyon in search of a cymbal stand, though I stand in dog shit for the first time in 15 years; nostalgically spending 20 minutes outside of a drum shop, attacking the tread of my shoes with a stick and stepping in every available source of standing water.
An incident-free approach to Marseille inadequately prepares us for the byzantine network of thin roads, low tunnels and collective vehicle-based mania. Women on scooters in fashionable heels weave in and out of men unloading washing machines from their car, parked in the centre of the road. Rounding a tight corner with a large kerb, the right hand side of the van is briefly tossed on a concrete wave. Tired from chain-eating Strepsils to soothe a ragged throat, I sleep in the van in Place Jean Jaures whilst everyone else, tired from everything else, finds beer.
Marseille is generally unkempt and appears gritty but ultimately recalls Bristol in its diversity, hills and tendency toward anarchist / squat-type arrangements. La Machine à Coudre (The Sewing Machine) is situated down a slender alley. Cars queue behind us as we unload all of our equipment, instruments and suitcases in record time. It is Tuesday night and we are 1000 miles from home. A Place To Bury Strangers are in town, as well as a well-anticipated punk show, so expectations are minimal. At 9.15pm, there are only a few people in the bar.
By the time local group Catalogue take the stage, the venue is bustling. They’re really good. Ticking, nervous rhythms and slicing guitars with moments of pop and noise, they remind me of forgotten Scottish group Motormark, albeit with less nihilism and more melody.
Our performance is greeted with greater rapture than 90% of the shows we have played at home. Roland and Pia from the group NTWIN, our hosts for the evening, have managed to drag out a great audience from somewhere. Disrepair shows; my voice, ME’s guitar and ML’s bass cabinet all go through their own minor wars, but ultimately things ran at least three times as well as our in-van prognostication would have it.
Back at Roland and Pia’s abode, we are introduced to regional liquors and the Italian band Lucertulas (on record, not in person) and finally, after a few days, everyone gets a decent sleep. Our luck holds out.
30/10/13 – MARSEILLE TO VILLEFRANCHE-DE-ROUERGUE
Our luck craps out at a service station near Nimes. Yesterday’s incident has become today’s slow-acting deflation. For three hours ML & I play a stellar round of the medieval English game ‘Throw the brick at the peasant’, only we replace the peasant with a litre bottle of water. ML wins 1-0. James and ME return from a nearby village with the van, €150 lighter, thus eradicating the slight profit margin we had steadily accumulated. MM remains unsullied and unflappable throughout.
Time becomes pressed with delay. Nerves fray. James enters the incorrect slot at a tollgate and, before we can reverse our increasingly cumbersome battleship, a queue forms behind him. After a dozen hectoring honks, a grey Mercedes Sprinter van becomes the site of the 21st Century Three Mile Island. “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO? I CAN’T DO ANYTHING!” ML lowers his head beneath the parapet as the van undertakes a ninety-six-point turn before squeaking pathetically toward sweet freedom.
The remainder of the route is incident-free, if long. When we have informed our previous hosts that we are to play Villefranche-de-Rouergue, they ask why. We do not know either. The agreed guess is that it is the French equivalent of Hebden Bridge: a relatively activist old town in the countryside with an active scene of punks and squatters. As estimates go this was not too bad.
We roll outside Les Hauts Parleurs at 8.30pm, wheel our belongings into the building, set up, gulp down a beer and commence performing at 9.10pm. A strong and appreciative crowd in an intimate space make up for the relative hardships along the way. Once more, the hospitality is impeccable. Fafun plies us with regional beers, champagne and curry.
A man outside that we name The Paramedic (green trousers) lists things in order to ascertain whether we think they’re good or not, though he tells us before we get our answers in e.g. “Edgar Wright? You know him? Hot Fuzz? World’s End? Fucking SHIT! What was that show, two drunk women? Yes! Absolutely Fabulous! FUCKING SHIIIIT!” Another man tells me to look after my voice, saying “a guitar is no good if it does not work, eh?” Can’t argue with that.
31/10/13 – VILLEFRANCHE-DE-ROUERGUE TO LORIENT
After a stroll around the attractive town and breakfast with a local character named Rachid, who laments the death of Lou Reed by singing ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ unaccompanied by anything but bewildered silence and chewing for a couple of minutes, we mount up for the 500 mile/800km drive to Lorient. And what majesty soundtracks the journey of this squat-playing post-punk group, making tentative steps toward the A20 north? Why, ML’s personal Best of Neil Finn mix-tape, of course.
It’s an arduous drive that saps the humour of most. Bank holiday traffic around Nantes, more toll hell and two thwarted attempts to get hot meals extend the journey from an 8-hour trundle to a 10-hour crawl. Manchester-based non-Mancunians Money are playing at a festival across town with personal favourite Colin Stetson so expectations are on the low side, with slight cabin fever setting in.
Le Galion (The Pirate Ship) sits near an industrial port. Had the bar existed in the 1880s, merchant seamen of all nationalities, rolling dice for the right to kiss the local stray dog and spitting teeth into the sawdust, would have inhabited it. We meet owner/soundman J-B and the members of the band Musicsova, both of whom completely rule.
After dinner and a couple of restorative tonics, the place becomes charged with people; members of the Turbojugend, boat skippers, fishermen and travelling rock fans up for a lark. We play, the loosest outing of the tour, but everyone seems up for a great time, saving the night despite our attempts to ruin it. I fall in love with another audience member. People dance. Afterwards, they say nice things and we are well looked-after and we get paid. Complaint is impossible.
Back in tonight’s designated crash pad, ML, ME & I are still van-lagged. Fortunately for Anglo-French relations, MM & James hold court with Musicsova and J-B until six am, topping up drinks, sharing jokes and yelling about Gallon Drunk.
01/11/13 – LORIENT TO RENNES
MM is still drunk. ML has his first hangover of the tour. The collective pallor of the band resembles a team of haunted undertakers. We have a great lunch with Vince, Corinne, Erwan and David from Musicsova in La Chapelle-Bouëxic. Armagnac and cheese lift the spirits for the final push home. Thankfully the road to Rennes is short. Rennes itself is fantastic. I have to come back here.
We faff about with our gear for a little while as I pace up and down the narrow venue. Walking toward the front door for the thirtieth time, I recognise a pair of faces walking up the stairs with broad grins on their faces: it’s Emilie & Fred from Berline 0.33, who have travelled from Lille for the send-off. The band’s spirits are raised by both this and a tartiflette pizza, and, after Musicsova play another great set, we throw everything at it one last time for Don and Lester and Niko and the full house and all the well-wishers and people who had helped us to do this, and who may help us do it again in future.
In the city square outside the venue, where we sit with the van door wide open to let the steam out, ML plays Dexys Midnight Runners at top note in celebration. It’s a great moment, brought back down to earth when some bloke pisses on our van wheels.
02/11/13 – RENNES TO BOLTON
A pleasant drive with Fred and Emilie along the quietly attractive and gently undulating rural roads of Northern France. Aside from a fond farewell in Calais, nothing happens of note for the 13-hour trip. We retain grip on our sanity. From Teddington services to home, Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World keeps everything alert and in check. In the pissing rain and to the sounds of a covers band murdering ‘Delilah’, we quietly unload the van, before talking about Thursday’s show in Preston and saying our hurried goodbyes.