Birchville Cat Motel Tour Diary Part 2
Campbell Kneale's Birchville Cat Motel is one of the many reasons New Zealand's music scene is worshipped around the globe. The Motel draws from noise, drone and rock, settling somewhere between Alastair Galbraith and Motörhead (see photo). Kneale runs his own Celebrate Psi Phenomenon label, which always feature exquisitely hand-crafted album art, and has released records on Corpus Hermeticum, Ecstatic Peace! and Drunken Fish, among others. For more information on Kneale and Celebrate Psi Phenomenon, check out the label's web site at http://www.cpsip.co.nz/. Kneale was kind enough to record his thoughts for Dusted Magazine while traveling on tour across Europe.
Part 1 of this feature is available here.
Birchville Cat Motel European Tour 2003
Nothing to do but look! Thank goodness. Nicolas put on the tour guide hat and we checked out some of the sights of Copenhagen. What a beautiful city! I decided that this was where I wanted to live. I rang home from a payphone, sold the house, and arranged for everything to be shipped over immediately! You really should go there sometime...it's magnificent.
We returned cold and tired. Jasper and Sara from FLOWER came over and we had the most wonderful roast dinner, thanks to Nicolas' mum. A really warm night of Danish-English translation, we watched Gummo on video and drank Black Russians. I had been treated so well by Nicolas and his family/rock buddies and I was truly sorry to be leaving the next day.
COP-FRANK-HELS...bad weather...major delays...very boring. Pack ice, sunset, Sami/Jan/ 2 hours to Tampere. Jan's parents food. Telakka beer. Walk to apartment. Crash.
Another early start. I was escorted to the airport by Nicolas and we said our goodbyes. I was off to Helsinki but to save a considerable amount of money I had to fly back to Frankfurt first. Bugger. The weather at Frankfurt was sending everything coming in and out of there into turmoil. Major delays. I didn't leave Copenhagen until after midday and once I had finally arrived, my connecting flight was put on hold indefinitely. I eventually boarded only to sit on the tarmac for another hour waiting for the wings to be de-iced. Luckily I did find myself winging it to Helsinki and not stranded in Frankfurt like a lot of other flights and as I flew away from a spectacular sunset into the darkness of the Finnish winter, I was immensely relieved. The clouds slowly gave way and the pack ice below me came nearer and nearer as the plane descended into Vantaa airport. Finland had always held a great sense of mystery for me ever since childhood and I was blown away that I was landing there, to perform no less.
Once I made my way through the baggage formalities, I was met by Sami from Fonal Records and Jan from Kemialliset Ystavat: Two completely 'Nordic' looking guys complete with Asterix beards and shaggy hair, nestled uncomfortably between a slew of clean-shaven corporate taxi drivers holding up signs bearing the names of those they were to pick up. Sami too held a sign: a tiny used Yahtzee score sheet on which was scribbled in biro 'Campbell Kneale, follow me.' We piled into Jan's parents' car and headed out onto the snowbound motorway to Tampere which would be home for the next day or two.
We arrived late at Jan's parents place, ate, and headed off to the Telakka Bar, the site of the first show and a meeting place for pretty much everybody who does anything in Tampere. I began to feel the weight of the day pushing in on me halfway through my beer, and we decided to head off on the fifteen minute walk to Jan's apartment. It was 10 below outside, but oddly I was getting used to the European chill and I didn't really think it that cold. It wasn't long after getting home that I drifted off into lala-land.
I woke up late to find a roaring blizzard outside the window. I quietly supposed that was the point of going to Finland in deep winter...I think I was the only one smiling on the streets of Tampere that day as I bused over with Jan's studio at his parents place. Major ice and snow action!
Jan and I spent a very lazy afternoon strumming and plonking away on various instruments of torture, putting together a would-be 7" by a soon-to-be band called Iidesjarvi (named after the frozen lake a few minutes walk from the house, that we ambled down to in our afternoon tea break). All manner of broken acoustic paraphernalia was piled onto tape through some of the most archaic equipment. Jan's tape recorder/amplifier was a personal fave - it sounded like you were playing through an empty Coke can! I met the Anaksimandros 'Skullbow' too - kinda like a big violin bow with a Moomintroll skull wedged into it.
Satisfied with our days 'work,' we bused back across town and spent the evening arguing that all music will eventually become hip-hop, and perusing the highlights of the entire Finnish underground music scene (since about the mid sixties) via the magic of stereophonic recordings. I had no idea how absolutely FANTASTIC Finnish music was, and if its quantity you want...these guys have the goods, brother!
I remember drinking beer in there somewhere too, but to be honest, after this long on tour, beers were beginning to blur together.
The weather had eased, but it was still a bleak and miserable looking day in Tampere. We lazed around the house, drank coffee, and continued our exploration into the world of 'Finnish hip-hop' until mid-afternoon.
At this point we decided to continue out waiting around at a different location. We all made our way down to Telakka and began the most leisurely of set ups for the show which was part of a series called Mental Alaska. Previous shows had featured Acid Mothers Temple, and people were excited that Simon Wickham Smith was coming soon. Telakka was a biggish venue decked out in heavy, chunky wood that made it look lot like an ale-house from an Asterix story. The rest of Kemialliset Ystavat arrived and we were all fed and watered in rather grand style. It wasn't long before people started filing in for the evenings goings-on.
Es were first up. I had heard a number of Samis records and was really looking forward to seeing how his meticulous, layered sound would translate into a live experience and he certainly didn't disappoint. Seated on the floor, trapped behind an impenatrable wall of about a billion of Kemialliset Ystavats stringed things, a lone guitarist scratched out the most meager of sounds, carefully knitting and looping them together, and slowly assembling a golden cloud that hung in the air like cigar smoke. Joined by crashing waves and a maddening melodica motif, the cloud broke and rained down peace and love. Top-class Finnish hip hop!
Kemialliset Ystavat really tapped into the same vibe with their darkened, back-woods, doomcore. An absolutely magic band that deserves to be bigger than Jimmy Barnes. Of course there is always one cretin at every show, and this time The Golden Shithead award goes to the SUPER-LOUD, abrasive, New York chick who continuously whined at every quiet moment in KYs set in an extremely slow, drawly American accent "I fuckinHAAAATE this MEEEEEEuuusic, and I HAAAAaaaate this SAAAAAOooooond!" She was hilarious! Perplexed, Jan went and had a chat to her, and she rattled off on some tangent about how she had found the 132nd 'universal form of music' or some such bollocks. She wouldn't even tell Jan about it because she thought he would nick her discovery, but she did disclose( in hushed tones) that it did involve a mixing of TRANCE and BEETHOVEN! Holy Mother of God...that sounds like the 132nd Universal form of shite, don't you think? Apparently the album is going to be out this year. Go get it kids. What a phucknuckle!
My set was OK. The audience were kinda rowdy, but in a good way, and the PA was loud enough for my pretty relaxed set to be comfortable audible. Some of the guys apologised for the rude Finnish audience but I hadn't noticed. I'd had a good night. Apparently so had they...a record crowd for a Mental Alaska night.
After the gear was stowed, we went and found some stray drinks at another bar and made them into pets. Somehow we all toddled home without breaking our rumps on the ice.
Most of the day was spent inside. I was beginning to notice a pattern here and wondered if Finland really was a dreadful place to live. I guess being a New Zealander, I'm pretty spoilt when it comes to weather...the cold is not really very cold and the hot is not very hot either. Everday’s an outside day. Luckily we had the final installment of Finnish hop hop to go, and now I can say quite honestly that I know everything about Finnish music...go on, ask me anything. Anything at all. I'll know the answer.
Much later in the day we returned to Telakka for beer, and to load up the car for the trip down to Helsinki. I was beginning to feel a little nervous as I had a very long night ahead of me and then I had to go (almost) straight to England for the next days show. Have I told you how much I hate flying? We eventually jiggled all Kemialliset Ystavats guitars in, and we set off down that big ol' motorway for the capital stopping only once along the way for refreshments...I also managed to buy a studded wristband from a vending machine...a souvenir of Finnish Black Metal, something I have to confess being secretly pretty excited about. Very secretly.
Even in the dark, Helsinki looked like a beautiful city with its wide, uneven streets and grand stone buildings. In the back of the car I quietly wished I could have stayed longer, and it dawned on me that the tour was going to start winding down, and soon it would all be over. I felt pretty sad about that, and resolved not to think about it again.
Sound check went smooth and borsch was on the menu at Orannsi: a spacious music cafe with a punk/hip hop vibe. There seemed to be heaps of people there from the start and Jan informed me that they all here for the show already as there is no 'bar' as such...there is only music. It reminded me of my 'home-turf,' The Space in Wellington. Cool.
At the appropriate time, the throng piled through into the main venue and seated themselves about on brightly coloured mattresses. This place was boiling over with enthusiasm and as Es kicked off, everyone hushed and pointed their full attention stageward. Bless those little Finns. Es played like an angel of light and made the Telakka show look like an elaborate rehearsal. I grinned through its entirety like a dippy school girl. Ditto for Kemialliset Ystavat who managed to win the audience in a way that is pretty rare in my experience...putty in their hands. To be honest, what I had to offer was slightly more intensive than either of the preceding performers and I felt like a bit of a po-faced dullard after K.Ys captivating show. However, everything played itself well, and I left the stage to the shouts of "Thank you for coming to Finland!" and feeling like I had put another dream into my real-life bag. I had played Finland! How cool is that?!
Me, Jan, and Sami headed off to his sister's for some much needed sleep. Bed was at 2am...and it was really, really good to be there.
5am hit with the politeness of blunt force trauma. 3 hours of sleep was just not going to cut it today. I can barely remember going to the airport in Helsinki, or what I did until I took off for Frankfurt (again!) at 8am. Neither can I remember anything about how I got to Manchester from Frankfurt except for my 'flying paranoias' really kicking in due to a late-night induced, lack of mind-control. I do recall seeing the Swiss Alps. I recall being on a really dodgy British rail train that stunk of strawberry milkshake, passing the set from 'Coronation Street' and 'Last of the Summer Wine' alternately, over and over again, all the way to Leeds.
I recall ringing Neil Campbell about 3pm on a payphone and arranging to meet up out the front of Leeds Central Station in 15 minutes. I don't recall where I left my address book immediately after the call. I felt like I'd just toured mainland Europe shacked to the wheel of a tour bus.
So frazzled was I, that the only cure I could come up with was to eat shit food. Luckily there was no shortage of this commodity at Leeds Central and I limped into Burger King with my flight case and everything and was confronted by the large group of strapping young Belgian lads I had left behind a couple of weeks ago in Hasselt (all trying to cure hangovers the same way as me)! I was so happy to see them. I felt better immediately.
Then Neil turned up. That was a strange moment...and I suspect other people sensed it, too. The moment that Neil Campbell and Campbell Kneale met. Neil and I have more in common than our names and I was a little concerned that when we eventually met, one of us (the imposter!) would blow up in smoke like inBack To The Future. Thankfully we both lived to tell the tale and what’s more, we got on like a house on fire from the very start. Neil is a great guy: a relaxed, domestic, genius. We cabbed round to the Brudenell Social club, ditched the Harley, pottered about in second hand record stores, and caught some fine, fine pasta at a shiny little restaurant being run by a bunch of young kids.
Sound check was remarkable for the sad demise of my long-serving delay pedal. Goodbye old friend.
AND... I met Matthew Bower. Far from being the 7 & 1/2 foot behemoth that some Total records would have you believe, Matthew is short (like me), energetic, and has a imp-ish twinkle in his eyes. At this point I have to admit shyness got the best of me and I scurried off to plug more leads in to my desk.
Unusual as it may seem (being as far away from home as one could get), the show was full of people that I knew or had had dealings with somewhere along the line. Far more than at home in New Zealand. Betleys Phil Todd, Julian Bradley, the 15-strong Belgian crew, Elsie and Jacks' Phil Rodriguez (who had turned up with a box of brand new Birchville CDs!), Fenced Flatworms' Rob Hayler...even some friends from New Zealand (now resident in England) turned up. Kneeling at the very front of the stage, I served up something warm to combat the evening chill. The Belgians appreciated the bellowing, string-driven, and heavily agricultural 'Moooo's and 'Baaaaaa's that had become my trademark sound towards the end of each set and chimed in lustily.
Sunroof! played after and brought the house down! And they sounded just like...well...Sunroof! Much more astronomical and large than on the records though. Belgiums Kohn finished off the evening and blasted everyone halfway down the street with a full frequency audio-visual attack that was in turn, deeply melodic, and mountainously Merzbovian.
After much chatter, and many orange juices (I was most definitely off beer by now) I ended up on a mattress in Phil Todd’s lounge, eating buttered toast, glad to be lying horizontal with heavy, heavy eyelids after perhaps the largest day of my life.
Up late, me and Phil pottered about the house for a good while before heading down to the laundry 'studio' to make gentle ruckus with synths and tremelo-y things (which I've noticed the English are very fond of - everybody’s got one!). Some pretty nice results, too. Before long I caught a cab back to Leeds Central Station with a super-fast drivin' driver that spoke that heavy, heavy, Yorkshire accent. If you've ever been in this situation you'll know that it's truly the most unintelligible sound to ever be called 'English.' I had no fucking idea what he was on about...I politely nodded and agreed with everything he said...probably because he was driving so fast.
I trained out to Neil Campbell's place in Mirfield to stay with the family for a couple of days. A wonderfully welcome domestic experience that I had come to miss over the preceeding weeks, and was it GOOD? Oh yes, yes, yes. We ate fabulous curry, drank fabulous wine, and talked at length about babies, jobs, and rock'n'roll. Aaaaah...just like home.
Mirfield wins the prize for the 'Bed of the Tour,' and as I snuggled in, warm from a number of red wines, I resolved to be a mega-rock star and tour for the rest of my life. A happy man.
Spent a lazy day in the care of the Campbell household. We made a nice little day trip to a little milling town called Salt Aire, puddled through the David Hockney Museum, and finished the day off with dinner at a real English Pub! Fantastic! Steak, Chips, and Sauce! I'm coming around to the idea of being a rock'n'roll star as my first career choice next time I have to sign up at Employment New Zealand!
After another leisurely morning (Leeds is fast becoming my 'holiday capital!') I trained in to the city and wandered a few blocks up the road, Harley following close behind, to the CD Centre where the last night of the show was to be held. A small scale affair with me, Neil, and Phil Todd banging out a few numbers and selling off as many records as we could. I wandered into the shop, all bedraggled from the sleety weather, to be greeted by MYSELF playing on the shop stereo (something of a first for me!). I laughed out loud and introduced myself to the nice chaps behind the counter. Very nice chaps.
I dumped Harley and finally got to do some shopping with my tour winnings. And shop I did. I stopped short of buying a KISS action playset. Only just though.
In the early evening I met up with Neil and Phil back at the CD Centre and we set up our stuff to the sounds of Judas Priest's British Steel. These people seemed to grasp instinctively where I was coming from (in the psychic sense). I thought Judas Priest was a Lower Hutt phenomenon, but clearly they've heard of the band in England too...fancy!
Well none too many turned up for the show, but i didn't care - I flogged a cymbal or two for the handful of enthusiastic punters and set about setting anything that wasn't nailed down spinning across the floor. Neil and Phil piled on the psi-power and we played like furious retards in an orchestra pit. Afterwards I couldn't wipe the smile off my face. ME: mild mannered secondary school teacher, had just pulled off a tour of Europe...pretty fucking successfully if you don't mind me saying...and I felt as 'big' as Merzbow. There was only one thing for it...noodles. Me and Neil found some good ones before heading back to Mirfield for cuppas, a bit of Coronation St, and bed.
I decided I was on a roll, and that I couldn't possibly go home tomorrow. Not NOW!
I fucking hate flying.
A tense and agitated morning of sweating and handwringing that not even a trip into Mirfield township could cure. After what seemed like an interminably long time, I said goodbye to Ali and Noah (I had said my farewells to Neil the previous night) and began the long march home.
Mirfield to Huddersfield, Huddersfield to Manchester, Manchester to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Singapore, Singapore to Auckland, Auckland to Wellington. Wellington to HOME. And after 36 hours, it was so good to be there.
Hmmm... where shall I go now?
I have so many people to thank, and to name you all would render this epistle into a tome. If you have helped in any way, you will know who you are, and I have probably thanked you numerous times in person...but let it be said in print, for all to see, how grateful I am for your support. You have added something to my life experience that I could not possibly have deserved. You rock! You know you do!
By Campbell Kneale