Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Two Thin White Rope tales of Germany

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, June 17, 2007)

I fully expected to write all the Pino adventures for you this month. But it's a major story that will probably take at least two installments and I'm still processing the facts. I'll get to it eventually, and I promise you won't be dissatisfied when I do.

So I'm going to tell two stories that took place in Germany instead. I think you'll find these stories entertaining as well. There are few stories better than those that involve drunken idiocy.

I was always very lucky during Thin White Rope tours because I found myself meeting, and sometimes touring, with many of my punk rock heroes. We played Italy with That Petrol Emotion, who had members of the Undertones in them. We did a short tour of Holland with ex-Swell Maps member Nikki Sudden and later we did a short tour of Germany with a band called the Hill Bandits. This band was made up of some members of the Mekons, a band that is one of my favorites from the British punk rock era. I can only remember three of the members now, Kevin Lycett, Eric "Rico Bell" Bellis, and a girl singer named Fiona. Kevin and Eric were members of the Mekons at the time. Kevin has since quit, but Eric plays with them still. For those who don't know, they have been around for some 30 years now and are well worth checking out. You can do so here:


When we met them at the first date, the first thing I did was tell them how impressed I was when I saw them the first time at a show in London in 1979. This was at the Lyceum and I was just blown away by the band that night. It turned out that that night was Kevin's birthday and his parents were in the audience to help celebrate. So he felt that it was a special show and was one of the best they ever did. Well, that thrilled me to no end.

The two bands bonded very well. The Mekons sort of left their punk rock sound behind early in their careers and became entrenched in a more country sound inspired by British folk and American Bluegrass and Hillbilly music. The Hill Bandits were an extreme version of that sound. So with both bands' love of country, it was natural that we would all get along greatly.

The first show was in Dortmund at a club named The FZW, I believe. (Thanks, Christof!) Both bands played great sets and were in great moods after the show. We all piled into our respective vans and our German booking agent, the already thanked Christof, led us to our accommodations for the evening. And this is where the story really begins. It turns out the we were all staying at what I remember as a orphanage, but may have just been some sort of extreme youth hostel. The kids there were very young. The building had been split in two and the boys were housed on one side, while the girls were on the other. We were placed in several rooms somewhere in between. We were asked to leave the kids alone and were told that they couldn't get to us. And then we were left alone to do what we were going to do.

I have no idea why we were booked into such a place and the people involved have little memories of the reasons we came to be there. But it was one of the most unusual and surreal places I've ever stayed on tour.

Now remember that both bands had just met. And we were all getting along famously. We were all in the mood to talk and get to know each other better and that included drinking large amounts of alcohol. Fortunately, we all had brought along all the extras left over from the club show. That amounted to a whole lot of beer and a good amount of whiskey and cheap tequila. So we sat around and drank and talked and laughed. Of course, the kids staying at the place were mesmerized by the "rock stars" in their midst and even though we were promised that the kids couldn't get to us, quite a few still managed to overcome the hurdles in their way and make their way into our section of the building. Most of them just stood around on the other side of the room and made a little small talk with us or just stood and stared at the crazy musicians, but as the evening wore on and we all got drunker and louder, the kids all fled to the safety of their own respective rooms. I don't remember ever seeing any of the people who actually ran the place after being left along earlier.

Then someone made a comment about long hair and someone else made a comment that they needed a haircut and before anyone knew it, a couple of pairs of scissors were produced and everyone was cutting everyone else's hair off. Even Fiona, the lone girl in this group, decided she needed a new hairstyle. We were all sloppily cutting each other's hair and collapsing into hysterical laughter and that's the last I remember of that evening.

I do remember waking up the next morning and everyone staring at themselves in the mirror wondering what possessed them to do that to their heads. But hey, it grows back. And it made for a great and fun evening.

We did several more shows with the Hill Bandits, but nothing like that first night happened again. I don't think we actually stayed with each other again after that first night. The German portion of the tour ended in Berlin. Thin White Rope had their own show and then the next day we went to a small bar where the Hill Bandits did their last show. TWR bassist John Von Feldt got up on stage and sang "The Green, Green Grass Of Home" with them. I wish I had a tape of that.

The second story is even more of an approximation in that I don't exactly remember where it took place and no one involved seems to recall anything. After a whole lot of research, I believe I may have figured it all out.

We were touring Germany once again and we had a couple of days off between shows. Christof suggested that we stay at a hotel that was situated in the wall of a small and very old city that was located under one of Germany's castles. He told us it was relatively cheap and we were up for something different and someplace nice to spend a day off. So we headed to what I now believe is the small town of Braubach, along the banks of the Rhine River and under one of Germany's more beautiful castles, Marksburg. You can find out more here:



The hotel we stayed at was located in the city walls, right along the Rhine River, in the heart of Germany's wine area. We checked into our rooms and decided to take some time to relax before setting out to explore the town. During this down time, Roger and I decided that we were sick of road food and made plans to eat at the hotel restaurant. It wasn't cheap though and the rest of the band opted out, deciding instead to go to a local market and get cheap eats and drinks that they could enjoy in their rooms.

While I don't remember what Roger and I ate, this is a meal that I will always remember because it was my first experience with a serious wine. We ordered a bottle of what I think was a nice German Riesling and when it arrived, I hated it. But that all changed once the food arrived and I discovered that the food changed the wine and suddenly it tasted beautiful. That was first time I ever realized that fine food and fine wine were made for each other.

We enjoyed a great meal and at least another bottle of wine and then left to join the rest of the band in their rooms, where we found them already happily buzzed on German beer, which we joined in drinking.

It was dark out and we still hadn't explored the town and we had to leave the next morning. So we decided that a drunken tour of the town was what was needed. So we each grabbed a few beers and left the hotel to find a dark and deserted town outside the doors. We walked down to the banks of the Rhine and then stumbled through a few of the streets until we came upon a sign pointing us to a path leading up the hill to the castle. We had no idea what was in that castle, but we didn't want to turn in just yet and decided that a late night walk up the dark path would be a great adventure.

The path was steep and very dark. The only light came from the moon shining through the tree branches. We were very drunk and somehow the conversation turned to vampires and werewolves and before we knew it, we had each other spooked. Each animal noise we heard was a new monster ready to rip our throats out and we started giggling to the thought of the newspapers the next day when our torn and bloody bodies were found half way up the path to Marksburg.

In retrospect, we were probably lucky that we didn't drunkenly walk off the path and fall down the side of the hill with broken necks. But we finally made it to the top. We had ourselves completely spooked by that time and to our surprise, the gates to the castle were wide open and loud voices could be heard within. This immediately led to new conversations about mad scientists and Frankenstein monsters that just got us even more worked up. We were laughing about it, but all of us were still very nervous and we couldn't get the courage up to actually walk into the castle and see what was going on.

Suddenly, a couple of the voices got louder and we could see shadows growing on the far side of the castle wall. Someone was walking towards us. In a panic, we all ran and hid behind trees or rocks. I managed to actually squeeze myself into a crevice in the castle wall. And what were we so afraid of? A couple of young Germans walked out of the castle and down the path, laughing and talking merrily amongst themselves.

After they had gone, we all came out of hiding and quickly decided that we had to find out what was going on in that spooky castle. So we went in. But we didn't just march in, we inched our way along the wall, ready to bolt as soon as some crazy doctor in a white lab coat ordered his minions to cease us and remove our brains. And when we finally got to the end of the castle's entry corridor we found a large group of young Germans, sitting around in the middle of the castle, drinking and talking under the beautiful night sky. We were immediately welcomed into the group and we spent the rest of the evening making new friends and drinking even more of that fine German brew.

But boy, did we feel silly.

And that's it for this month's installment. I'm sorry that so many details are so sketchy in these tales, but it was a long time ago and I foolishly didn't keep journals, although many friends told me I should. The folly of youth, and all that… A couple of weeks ago I asked for more comments about my political rants and all, but I would also like to hear more stories about any of the encounters you readers might have had with members of the bands I worked with, especially Thin White Rope. They may help me remember more details; such as the years and places these stories take place.

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