Tuesday, 25 February 2014

At last, the beach

I'm going to the beach today for some much needed R&Aaaaaahhhhhh.

First Demente has to play dodgems with the traffic of Sao Paulo to escape the city and then we are on the road of freedom, the motorway! Only there is a riot taking place ahead of us and the traffic has come to a stand still. We decide then to get off of that road and find an alternative route.We managed to do that without too much of a problem, only to find that the alternative motorway had had an accident on it, and it too had ground to a halt. We sat for some time in the sweltering heat as a thunderstorm broke over us. Apparently Sao Paulo was going to experience extreme flooding and we so wanted to get away from both the city and the gathering storm, that it made it unbearable to be stationary in a traffic jam. Then we heard that the riot had finished and our original route was clear again, aaaaahhhhhh. That was the last straw, we pulled off of that motorway and went looking for the other. Eventually we were back on track after losing an hour or two, trying to outrun the storm.
As we drew near the coast, we could see the original trees and vegetation that used to exist in Sao Paulo but is all but gone, Atlantic forest I believe it was called. At last we reach the town of Itanhaém and we seek out an old friend of Demente called Meire. Whilst in her house I also get the pleasure of meet her daughters Bianca and Beatriz and her son Matheus. I am made to feel very welcome and we drink coffee and Meire tells me about the old days. She was an original Sao Paulo punk rocker and had worked with thousands of bands. She showed me the posters she had collected over the years and one that caught my eye was a Sao Paulo birthday party bash for Joey Ramone which was attended by all the other original Ramones plus many other punk rock celebrities.I would have loved to have been at that.
She tells me that Sao Paulo was slowly killing her, so she saved up enough money to buy a place near the beach and although she is poorer for it, the life is richer. Strangely, here the poor live near the beach and the rich in the cities.
So all three of us take off for the beach but it is overcast and raining, just like England. But it is not really the same. Actually it is a different experience to a sunny beach trip but it is wonderful nonetheless.
I feel silly, I am as white as a clean piece of paper, I have left my t shirt in the car as it is the only top I have and need to keep it dry. I don't want to chance carrying my phone in my swimming trunks pocket so that put paid to any atmospheric photographs of the beach. The thunderstorm rumbled ominously in the distance and Meire said we couldn't go swimming in a thunderstorm because if lightening hit any part of the water it would fry us, however it fizzled out, so Demente and I ventured in. It was so weird for me as the water was brown like at most English beaches but the difference was it very warm, warmer in-fact than my local swimming pool. Demente, being Brazilian didn't think it was very warm at all. For me the rain was warm and so was the wind so I didn't really need the sun.
So we had a nice swim and we were both amazed at gaining a little friend in the shape of a tiny dark angel fish who followed us everywhere. No matter where we swam, it was there, when I was floating on my back, it would like to swim along my chest as if to take a closer look at my face. Every now and then he would change from me to Demente. It was either a very friendly fish or had the curiosity of a cat-fish.

After a good swim we decided to get out and return to Meire who was looking after our sandals. We then parted company with  her and went into town to look around and have some dinner and a few beers at a table outside a restaurant. As we watched the world go by, we were confronted by some unusual sights such as a beautiful young girl with her hair tied up in a dark bun, wearing a pure white silky dress in a sort of ballerina style, looking for all the world that she was going to a dance. The only problem was she had a massive cast on her leg and was hobbling at about a five foot an hour.It was painful to watch.
Later a similar looking girl cycles past us with her neck in a brace and we began to wonder if it is dangerous to be female in Itanhaém, but that thought was swept away when another girl breaks of from her group of females friends and says to Demente, "I'm sorry, I'm bit embarrassed about this but my friend fancies you and she asked me if I would ask you, if you would go out with her". Demente smiles, turns on the charm and says he is very flattered that her friend would like to go out with him but he already has a girlfriend. And I thought that sort of thing only happened in Harlow.
Just as I thought we were leaving to go home, we pick up Meire again and I am shown a high view point from which not a lot can be seen at night time apart from lovers having a bit of private time and a house that is now a squat. It was once the show home of a developer who wanted to build loads of luxury apartments on this high cliff but was stopped in his tracks by local opposition. A luxury squat it is now overlooking one of the best views of the Atlantic ocean.
I am also informed that this town was the first ever (non-indigenous) settlement in the whole country, so modern Brazil started here. A little way away, is a place that has the distinction of having the most recorded  sightings of UFO's in the whole world. Hhhhmmm, I used to be sceptical about UFO's because of the vast distances that they would have to travel to get here, but as more and more Exo-planets are being discovered, some being quite near to us, I now begin to wonder if those distances are not as huge as originally thought. It's a small world and now a smaller universe and they like to come to Brazil for some reason.

After being in this county for some time, I am quite laid back now but I have been a little concerned that we need to get back to Sao Paulo soon as I leave for Brasilia in the morning and we have quite a drive back. At this point Demente realises how late it is and we quickly call it a day, make our goodbyes and hit the road.
As we drive back, we discuss what we have to do and it isn't easy for both of us, especially as we need to squeeze as much merchandise as we can into my hand luggage plus personal effects and I still have to do a wash of some socks and t-shirts that I need to perform in.  They will not be dry in the morning so I will have to hang them up somewhere in Brasilia or on the wings of the plane.

As we bounce up and down through the city, I have a sinking feeling that I am not going to be getting much sleep tonight and I will be dog tired at a time I will be leaving my Sao Paulo friends, who I love dearly and heading off, on my own to a strange city, meeting new people and rehearsing with a completely new band and I will feel like death warmed up when I arrive.

Oh hum, what's new?

Monday, 24 February 2014

I am an Alessi Pleasure squeezer!

The final gig of this week is also the final in Sao Paulo before I move off on to Brazilia to do three gigs.The venue is our rehearsal studio but as it also has a stage in it, it can and does often become a host to gigs. The journey for me is negligible and the surroundings are familiar.
The response to the gig is phenomenal, bringing in twice as many people as expected, making it wall to wall in there. That was fantastic but it brought with it a problem, the heat was unbearable. It was so hot in there that the evaporated sweat was pouring down the walls in a stream. When we prepare to take the stage we can barely breathe. The only stage light is one red bulb, that must be the most rudimentary stage lighting I have ever performed under and I was just about able to see what I was doing.
Until, someone starts filming with a professional camera. Now I know that it is impossible to manage filming done by people with cameras in their phones but when someone is filming with something as big as a profressional camera, you would expect that person to gain some permission to do the filming, but no, not this person.
It is a shame he did not, because he is a big Neurotics fan, we could have worked something out for him, but no! Out of the blue he comes on with this thing with a blinding white light to help him film in crisp high definition. The effect on me, who has little or no light to counteract his, means as he keeps trying to film from below I cannot see anything but blinding light. Despite my shades I cannot see anything of my guitar neck or fret board. He keeps on sticking it in our faces too, with no idea of how obtrusive it is. He has just changed a difficult lighting situation into an impossible one and is now helping to ruin the beginning of our set. As soon as I finish with 'Wake Up' which was a mess because of him, I shout at him to stop it, the light has to go off. Eventually he films in ambient light which is fine and we try our best to turn a mess into The Mess, which takes off to a thunderous start.

Each time we finish a song we have to have a moment to breathe a bit. I am being filmed by multiple cameras and also there are a couple of professional looking photographers there all capturing the snot, sweat and gunk coming out of every facial orifice, not nice!
In this heat, I am struggling but I've mentally calculated that I think I can just make it through the entire set, just.
The scene in front of me is astonishing, the audience are going wild, they don't care about the heat and here's the thing, they are singing along and often drown out our vocals, I have never known anything like it and these moments are going to be cherished by me for years to come. It reminded me of the Cavern in Liverpool in the sixties where there was no ventilation at all and those nights at the birth of rock 'n' roll caused the smoke, the perfume the sweat to coalesce on the ceiling and drip onto the heads of the kids in the audience. Our night was a bit like that, we're not the Beatles but this was down to earth no nonsense dirty, sweaty rock 'n' roll, straight from the heart to the heart with no corporate nonsense in-between. Grade A content shot straight into the vein of desire to create a need for more, more, more bullshit free rock. Down with corporate music, down with the music corporations who what to keep us in our places, down with corporate influences who wants creativity to fit the right shapes. It shouldn't, be awkward, that's what it is all about. Be different, don't follow, lead!
Don't take No for an answer, take it as a challenge.

The sweat is now running down the inside of my shades so that the entire audience looks like one, a seething sea of excitement, I'm still trying to play my music accurately but the only place I can clearly see is directly below me, when I am not looking through my glasses. I look at the puddle at my feet, the sweat dripping off my arms, my soaking clothes, the waterfall of a face and I am alarmed.
I didn't know I had that much water in me and now I definitely don't. Soon in a desperate measure, my body will be forced to take water from my brain and then I will fall, guitar around my neck in to the very audience that normally sustains me.

But I am one stubborn sonofabitch and I want to complete this set, I can do this and I will do it. I am enjoying this and I will squeeze every drop of pleasure out of this moment, I am an Alessi Pleasure Squeezer, rain it down on meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
We finish the number, Demente comes over and says that David is feeling really ill because of the heat and can't do the full set.
That is fine, that is completely understandable, drummers have the most physical job in a band such as this, if I am  struggling, then he definitely would be. He valiantly agrees to do three more numbers which only leaves a couple we dont do. I know it's cruel, but I think, Brazilians Nil, Pasty Northern Europeans One....yes!
We finish to deafening applause and do not go back on, we are done, we are finished.

Yes and I am still standing, and after I do some photo posing for people and have secured my guitar, I accept some help worthy of James Brown and his stage managed feints when he is helped from the stage because he is so funked up. Mine has a little more reality and I was lead by a punk down some very steep steps out into the street where I catch a breeze and begin to recover.
There isn't a single scrap of my clothes that is not soaking, I needed ringing out.The punk offers me some of his cold water and I would dearly loved to have finished it all but I guzzled heartily and then gave it back.
I then happily sign some cd's and records as I am beginning to come around.
This is the greatest gig of the tour so far, in a few days time I will be leaving for Brasília and another backing band, the Brasilia Neurotics perhaps?

Could it better this.

We shall see.


The night we needed a little bit of magic and a book on the table.

Gig two of the second week and we are heading out to the east of Sao Paulo to what is expected to be a very good gig. On the way Demente pulls over for some food but I am not too hungry as I was treated earlier to a late lunch by Isabela's mum along with Isabela and her boyfriend Bruno. The restaurant was very, very good and I had some of the best steak I have ever eaten out side of Gallagher's in Manhattan, New York. A lovely afternoon meal. And so now I am not too hungry but I am aware that the lunch was a few hours ago and that I do need to line my stomach for the evening ahead.
Many of these streets have shops and businesses open during the day I guess, but at night time there is no friendly, lit up shop window displays, all is shuttered and locked up tight. That can make the streets look very desolate in the evening and there was no exception to the one we had just pulled into. Nonetheless out in the dark on a street corner there is a vibrant little bar full of people enjoying a meal out and a drink. Customers were arriving as others left so it was a popular little place and I liked the vibe very much.
Now Demente want's to treat me to the second best meal in Brazil when he asks, "are you hungry Steve?" I reply "not too hungry but it would be a good idea for me to have a light bite".

What do I get.....?

Piranha Soup, a light bite indeed!

There is a lot of Piranha in Brazil so they make a soup of them and it is very tasty indeed. It was in-fact (for me) a very tasty and unusual meal, just what I needed. But I couldn't get those beady eyes of those angry/deadly little fish out of my mind, they look eternally hacked off.

We have the usual difficult traversing of the big city but it isn't too long to drive to this one. I have a general feeling of insecurity whenever I turn up at a new venue, especially when the concert has already started. Arriving later in the evening is very good in one way though, because it saves hanging around in a hot gig just waiting to take the stage. On this occasion it was very lucky we were not there earlier.

Here is the ignorant little me story of arriving at the club.

I don't like the look of the place from the outside, the building is crumbling but it appears to have a newish elaborate metal walkway from the entrance, across the car park into the club. It's almost like it
got hold of a grant that could only be used on a walkway and not repairs on the hall. It was overkill and looked weird.
Anyway once in, I do not like the look of the stage, the PA, or the guitar amplifier I am to use. I have never heard of the make before and the band I see using the amp, do not get much of a decent sound out of it.
However, there is something very magnificent about its crumbling glory on the inside and I begin the usual acclimatisation to a new club. I am greeted very warmly when I walk in and everyone is making sure I get a beer as soon as possible. The owner greets me and tells me there was some trouble earlier but it is all over now, also that it is his birthday that very evening and that his nickname is feio which is Portuguese for ugly. Hhhmmm, strangely he didn't look ugly at all, in fact he was quite good looking. All these other weird and wonderful facts buried the news in my mind of the earlier trouble and I relaxed, leaning on the bar drinking a beer and thinking about my new surroundings.

Then a thin Brazilian who could speak no English decides to speak non-stop to me and even taps my arm every time I try to look away. The first thing he does is to take my hand and start lightly caressing the underside of it with his fingers. As he looked a bit Indian I thought maybe he had some sort of shaman powers to heal the Dupuytren’s contracture in my hand. I give it two minutes and then decided he was a weirdo and withdrew it. His response was to make a 'V' sign in his hand, place the tips of the two fingers on his closed eyelids and then point the two fingers at me as though there were now eyes on the end. This is too weird, I gotta move.

Demente wanders over and says very honestly, "This is a shit venue isn't it?" I agree, but with some surprise as he booked the gig (maybe he did it though someone else and had not been to this place before). Anyway, I complain that there is very little light on the stage and that the amp is some weird make but he assures me it is a copy of a fender amp and should have a similar sound. He wanders off again. There is a reasonable audience in the room but they are spread out over a large area, some play pool on several tables at the back, there is a sort of side room that you can see from the bar with people in it and some are hanging around just outside to take in the slightly cooler air. I notice in the corner of my eye some people leaving and it irritates me, you're leaving before seeing the Brazilian Neurotics? You have got to be mad!

That was actually the moment the gig was saved for us.

This is Demente's story of our arrival at the venue.

We go in and he sees that there is a very bad element in the club and a poisonous atmosphere, everyone is anxious, he talks to the manager and learns that there was a fight outside earlier between two rival gangs and one of the gangs came back with guns. At this point, Demente realises that we are all potentially in harms way. He tells the manager that this is not good, some bad elements are still in the club and that gang warfare complete with guns could break out at any minute. He tells him he is responsible for the safety of all the people he has brought with him. He tells him that he can keep the money, we are going to blow the gig and get the hell out of there. Demente goes to Isabela and tells her to pack up the merchandise and put it back in the car and he was getting ready to move the guitars back into our transport.

Then, the bad elements leave, fearing the return of their rivals tooled up with firepower and it is then that we decide to stay. Phew.....

I was later chatting to our drummer David whilst we waited to go on and he said, "we are going to have to create some special magic to make this gig work". "Yeah", I reply, "we are going to need some special magic indeed".
Eventually, it is our turn to take the stage and I find that I can just about work in the light that we have got and that the amp sounds fine, much better in fact than for the person who owns it, who played earlier. We are now ready, and I do the opening staccato notes to Wake Up, wondering how all this was going to go. Then...

BANG!

Not the bang of a gun but the bang of a band exploding into life. We can hear each other fine, an audience has thrown themselves down the front and are mouthing all the words. The band is hot and the room is boiling. From where I am, it looks like the' bug bar' under the Mexican hat in Pixar's 'A Bugs Life'' and I can clearly see that we have a good audience, responding well, and people in the back are grooving to the music too as they play pool. Fine!
We are really enjoying ourselves now, to such an extent that when we get to 'Living With Unemployment' there is a bit near the end that David has never been completely clear on what we should be doing. We have had no time to do a run through, so we do it live, I hammer out a constant power chord then let it ring, I then shout to David, "when I start hitting this cord again just do normal crescendo drumming" (whatever that means), I start, he does. Great, again, there is another power chord I have left to ring when I notice David's spare sticks fall in front of the drums. I pick them up hand them to him, all while the chord is still ringing and then I shout, "you now bring us back in as you usually do".
David does exactly that and we moved through the whole of the middle section of  'Living With Employment' correctly and without missing a beat. At this point we realise that we had come up with the magic we so desperately needed and that this had now turned into a great gig.

We and the audience were blown away.

Later I was found having the time of my life with people, chatting, laughing drinking beer and more Cachaça. There was also a very lovely Brazilian woman who couldn't speak much English who kept hugging me and shouting "we love you". Then she told me very earnestly, "The book is on the table" to which I reply (somewhat puzzled but refusing to be fazed), "oh, good", then she said " The book is on the table, do you understand?" and I say "Yes the book is on the table, that's where I like it to be". "No" she says, "do you understand, the book is on the table". Well, I went through that many times with her, without any enlightenment suddenly making an appearance, but it was some bizarre fun. Later I look it up on Google and find it is the first part of an English lesson that all Brazilians studying our language tackle first, and has now become legendary for being used as a way for people who cannot speak much English to say "welcome, we love to have you here". So that's solved then. I continued soaking up the love until I had to be pulled out because the others needed to get home.

Which is just as well as I had overdone it a bit and instead of traveling in Demente's car I felt like I was traveling in a coal mine truck (as in Spielberg's Indiana Jones) which was threatening to come off the rails at any moment. It didn't though.

That was a great gig, now we all needed rest for the next one, and boy, would we need that rest!


Sunday, 23 February 2014

It's a family affair, it's a family affair!

Wow, does this city never end? Gig one of the next part of the tour is at Cordeiropolis so we are going from Megatropolis to Cordeiropolis and the journey is a two hour hurtle in very heavy Friday night traffic.

The outlook is alarming and constant but once over half way it quietens down a bit and then we gain a waiting motorcyclist who gives us a motorcycle escort right to the door of the gig.
It is a long way out here, as we enter the town Demente says "Welcome to the Twilight Zone"
We arrive to a concrete bar with veranda with a performance space at the end. It seems normally to cater for refreshments for a couple sports courts next to it but tonight it is punk night, bands are already playing ( well I say already, it is one o'clock in the morning) and I am knocked off of my feet to be mobbed by fans. But not just any fans, no this is a first. This is a family and every one of them is a Neurotics fan, I think they consisted of Mum, Dad, Uncle, Aunt, four sons and a daughter. One of their boys can speak English and he is dispatched to tell me of their massive fan base.
I am flabbergasted and have to ask the boy, "Do you mean to say, you have a totally Neurotic family? And he replies, "Yes I suppose I have".  Surrounded by them all we fight to get everyone into a picture. Boy, I wish I had a copy of that but it wasn't taken on my camera, I do hope it appears on Facebook because I would love to have a copy of it.
The family were lovely and I cannot think of a better welcome for a musician in a strange town, at a strange venue than this. I felt well and truly at home.
Because we were so late in pulling in, we were not there for long before it was our turn to take the stage. The lighting was so rudimentary that I was concerned that I would not be able to see the fret board of my guitar clearly with my shades on. It turned out not to be too much of a problem and only caused a couple bum chords as I missed a fret. The vocal fold-back was good but I had failed to notice that there was not a lot of drums coming through it and so me and Dave lost contact with each other 'rhythm wise' a couple of times.
Nonetheless we were having fun and the result of that was we done a very long set, played our cannon of rehearsed songs including Ohno, a song I haven't played for years, now given a second lease of life by my new Brazilian band. We played it as a thank you treat for Isabela for all the work she had done to make this tour possible. Others also have worked just as hard, Demente sweated hard to put the tour together and the band for getting rehearsed for it but it was Isabela who instigated the whole trip and has done some inspiring work on social media to oil the cogs of the Brazilian Neurotics touring machine.
'Oh no' sounds different and magnificent and I think Isabela will be hearing a lot more of it on this tour.
The gig turned out to be a blast and gave us a chance to spread our wings with our material. As we leave for the long journey home, I feel sorry for our motorcycle escort, he seemed so lonely, cold and vulnerable out there ahead of us but he was fine and we waved goodbye to him at about the same point as he joined us.
Demente, steely eyed with endurance driving eventually drove us into a beautiful Sao Paulo morning and deposited me at my apartment almost spent of energy.

It was 6am or thereabouts

We had another gig later in the day.


Saturday, 22 February 2014

The worst dinner in Brazil

Just before we set out for our next gig, I am bought a fat Subway sandwich to refuel before my performance. We settle back in Demente's car (Now devoid of chinking bottles due probably to my earlier post mentioning it) and begin to eat. Now eating in a moving car is difficult at the best of times but added to that, is that Demente is driving plus these are Sao Paulo roads and traffic, so it is a disaster waiting to happen. First the lettuce, onions and countless over fillings of my roast beef Subway sandwich scattered in a fan like pattern in front of my face and dropped on to my clean performance t-shirt. Then Demente braked suddenly, for whatever reason I do not know because my face was now IN THE SANDWICH!

Demente looked at me and laughed. He then said, "I have now treated you to the worst dinner in Brazil". Oh how we all laughed as we continued into the night with my dinner jumping up and down in front of my face until I had finally managed to consume it all.





Is **** OFF! Universal?

My final leisure day of this week finds me almost springing out of bed, feeling better and more acclimatised with each passing day. As I am alone and speak little Portuguese, Isabela (who is indisposed at the moment with real life) works hard to team me up with available friends who can speak English and are happy to show an off duty Punk Rocker around the city a bit. This time it is Christine who helps out as she is not working at the moment. She shows me around some of her favourite parts of the city and we spend a lovely afternoon talking about Sao Paulo, London and the Beatles. I have my first Japanese meal in Brazil and although I enjoyed it I suspect that my appetite and taste buds have not fully recovered yet.
Later Chris shows me the best way to remember the route from my apartment to the subway and we part with much muito obrigardo from my part.

Later I am picked up by Isabela and Bruno and we go off for a Lebanese meal which was really good, but I have been spoilt today with good food but I am not tasting it with the vibrancy I would expect.

We are then joined by Demente making his presence felt in the restaurant as only he could. We then take off for a Student celebration to welcome it's fresh wave of newcomers to the biggest and most prestigious University in Sao Paulo. We go there to see David who is currently drumming in the Brazilian Neurotics,  play in a band to entertain the students but arrive after he has finished, which was a shame.
We resign ourselves then to enjoying the moonlight evening, I'm drinking beer and listening to a drumming troupe get the students all hot and excited and the others in conversation. It's at relaxed times like these that you don't expect the unexpected and I didn't expect something unexpected.

Whilst I stood there, I suddenly became aware that someone was fondling my buttocks. My first thought was, there was no-one in our group who is familiar enough with me to do that, my second thought was, oh no, (fearing the worst) please, please, please make that the actions of a beautiful Brazilian woman and not.....
Yeah, worst outcome possible it was the actions of a pug ugly Brazilian man who in a state of high jinks decided he wanted to molest me. Now my good friends in Brazil have not told me any naughty words in Portuguese so when this man advanced, embraced me, put his head under my chin and kissed my neck I had to resort to some old fashion Anglo Saxon which I believe is understood universally (but not by the indigenous people of Brazil granted).
I pushed him will all my might, making him stagger about five feet away and shouted at him

**** Off!

I do, of-course understand, that the Brazilians are a much more touchy feely kind of people and I am very happy and comfortable about that. I have also been known to kiss a man when it was consensual and light hearted but I think that invasion of personal space is still valid.
More important, was that I had considerable valuables on my person and I was concerned that this could be an attempt to lift them.

Oh no, he's coming back...

He makes a grab to embrace me again and again my left arm propels him five feet away

**** Off!

Now I can't make the asterisks any bigger but you can catch my drift on increased volume.

At this point I decide in a flash, next one is the big one, if he returns a third time, then it is a block with the left arm and a swift punch with the right fist.

I wait...

he does not return, sem retorno

I go back to watching students acting like students, I am aware he is not far behind me but I am not concerned by him any longer.




From a whisper to a SHOUT!

I wake to my third leisure day after having a much better night's sleep. I still have a bit of a cough but I am feeling a lot better. At last I can fully appreciate the world and to celebrate that I meet up with a couple of friends of Isabela, Lissa and Bruno and they take me for a walk around some of the city particularly to the municipal market in which we have some lunch and later Lissa goes home and Bruno and I set out for a radio station in which I am to be interviewed. The weather is lovely, rather warm, which makes a long hilly walk a bit of a tough thing to do but the alternative is an uncomfortable crowded subway or a slow expensive taxi, so walking it has to be.

 Bruno talks about the difficulty tourists have in Sao Paulo if they do not speak Portuguese, the city is so big, the roads so complicated, the streets not named or poorly signposted and the police do not speak a word of English and all have diplomas in belligerence and indifference and can easily muster up hostility if pushed (or not even pushed).
Everyone gets around by asking other people and so if you can't ask you will find it difficult.
So we walk and it is tiring but I convince myself that it is good to keep my fitness up, when I am playing I am always driven around so it is good to be doing this.

When we reach the radio station, I am knackered and then I have another taste of Sao Paulo life. No-one is there, despite my interview being requested by the radio station Desobediencia Sonora, no one is in the building. So we retreat to a bar on the corner and wait there. I find it pleasant enough sitting almost in the street drinking a beer and watching the world go by. To my European sensibilities, no-one is there and therefore the interview is not going to happen and as a hour passes I seem to be right.
But no, after a hour Bruno knocks again and then returns to say they are there now.
So we enter the radio station, they offer drinks and I opt for water to revive my tired body and we grab a bit of Wi-Fi time while they set up.

Once we get underway Bruno acts as translator and I become aware that the guys had done their research on me and the Neurotics and ask some really good, intelligent questions. However, they do not get the best of me, I come across as quiet and somewhat tired, my speaking voice still husky. I am not talking with my usual enthusiasm and vigour. I enjoy it but I just haven't got the energy to spark.
Once we completed that we then made our way to our rehearsal studio so that the band can do some finishing touches to the songs in our set and to try to work on a couple we haven't attempted yet. Yes that's right, as exhausted as I was, I still have a rehearsal to do, it's now 8pm and I have been out all afternoon.
Once the rehearsal is under way I have fun and that revives me, it is confirmed that my singing voice is fully back (even if my speaking voice isn't) but I try to hold back a little so I have full voice for my next gig. Left is an image of the view from the studio that night.

Finally, it is time to go and I go off to bed a happy man!







Friday, 21 February 2014

The one in which I walk out of the Harlow Square and into the Brazilian Jungle (ish).

Here's the thing, when I got up that morning, it was overcast and a little chilly and I decided, that seeing that the Brazilian punks considered the climate right now for returning to their leather jackets, that I would wear my denim jacket and don jeans instead of shorts.
This was all fine but led so some weirdness later on.

Just as we hit the countryside, we pull over to a supermarket to buy some provisions. We are heading for Demente's grandmothers house on the edges of the jungle. Typically, the moment we agree to have a BBQ there and we have bought the coals and food, it begins to rain.
Now the car, having left proper roads long behind, is heaving through the sort of terrain that you would normally not tackle without a four wheel drive, rocks alarmingly wallop on the bottom of car and I keep getting visions of shattered brake lines. The windscreen wipers are desperately waving MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, as we dive headlong into a pot hole full of muddy water and emerge the other side like an Alton Towers Jungle experience.
Then Demente says, "If it carries on raining and gets heavier, we shall have to turn back or we will never make it home. These roads quickly deteriorate if the rain gets torrential". I couldn't imagine them worse or I didn't want to.

Finally, the car limps into a dead end, far, far away from the deafening noise of the city into a quiet solitude with only the sound of a light breeze caressing the tops of the trees, creating a sound of a sigh, like it was greeting yet another day in a billion years. 
The house was playing hide and seek in the forest but we soon track it down and Demente shows me around it, he has big plans for this place in the future but then, all plans are big when you are this isolated. We walk to the forest edge and stare into it. Demente explains that it's so thick that there are very few ways into it without a big slashing knife type of thing. Then he says, we can get in here but be careful it is very dangerous.

We gingerly enter and descend down a slippery path of sorts, interlaced with organic trip wires everywhere. We stop for a moment and despite the fact that we are not standing in true jungle (that is way up in the North, we still wonder at people being able to live their lives in an environment like this. We both agree that we have a lot of respect for the indigenous peoples of Brazil. Anyway, back to the fantasy. Demente, taps the floor with a stick ahead of him to remove snakes and spiders in advance. Fortunately the rain had stopped so no quick getaways were now being contemplated,
but then the sun came out and sunshine shot through the trees, searching desperately for the forest floor. At this point the whole engine of the life jumped further into action. It was now humid, sweaty, damp and uncomfortable. Photosynthesis was pushing with renewed enthusiasm, untold trillions of litres of water and nutrients through every living thing, aided and abetted by an advanced rotting process, the true circle of life. We were stumbling over both the digestive and breathing organs of the world's eco system. The jungle, even this pseudo one, could eat endurance for breakfast and spit out the bones of the foolish.

And I did feel foolish.

In my mind, I had always imagined that to be in a Jungle, even this sort of countryside outside of Sao Paulo, required specialised equipment, a kaki covered water bottle that always runs dry at the appropriate moment, a pith helmet and a mosquito filled tent. Now I looked at myself and found I had on a t-shirt, Levi denim jacket, black 501's, black socks and a pair of Converse's. Because I dressed in the city when it was overcast and cool, I was now ready for a night out in my home town Harlow, not here, not this. It was if I had walked out of the Harlow Square straight into the Brazilian jungle (ish).

One thing I did have in my favour, was that in my pocket I had 50 deet mosquito repellent spray which I shared out with Demente before we entered. I also assured myself that, had this been a 'real Jungle' I would definitely have a empty water bottle, a mosquito filled tent and a pith helmet.

We went as far as it was safe to go and then just stood there listing to the sounds of the forest and it's animals for a while. I felt all wrong, like I had dressed in a suit for a punk rock gig and as tendrils reached out slowly but surely for our ankles, we cheated them as we started to climb back up to scant civilisation.
We then had a similar expedition across some grass filled land devoid of trees with Demente continuing his tip tap tipping of the stick until we reached a river he had often swam in as a youth. He asked me if I would like to go in for a swim but I declined as I thought it would not be considered irresponsible to take such risks when I am on a tour. The last thing they needed was for me to be swallowed by a giant water snake (my imagination yes, but I'm sure they had them in jungles on the TV of old).
We then tippy tapped slowly but surely back to the house where Demente got a BBQ going and after two hours I was able to completely devour a string of sausages (I had to, Demente is a vegetarian and we can't let food waste), whilst a hungry dog stared at my every mouthful with his head tilted in a quizzical manner (or was it my head that was held in a quizzical manner?). I thought his name might be 'Patch', he thought I might drop a bit of sausage. I did dear readers, I did.

After dining well, washed down with some fine wine, we decide to return and so we clattered, chinked and crunched our way back to the joy and misery of urban life.
As we tore back through the city limits and I could not help but hum once again that infectious refrain.

Bum bum bum, bum bum te dum, bum bum bum, bum, bum te dum. Dooooo, do,do do do do do,do,do. Do, do do do do do,do,do, Do,do do do do do do do, do wah, do wah do wah!

BRASIL!

Day two of my free time finds me crawling out of bed after another unsettled night's sleep. This is annoying because I am relying on good sleep to repair my voice and to bring me back to the land of the living generally. I have a theory though, the city of Sao Paulo is so loud, so brash, so crowded and so in your face that by the time I get into bed, no matter how tired I am, my mind and body are still ringing like a bell, reverberating throughout the night.

Eventually, it is decided that I am going to the Brazilian jungle today. Not into the deepest darkest bits though, there is no real jungle in this part of the country,but far enough into some countryside to not want to go further. Demente picks me up and we go hurtling through town as he tells me the background to Sao Paulo life.
He tells me that everyone is late, it is so hard to get across town either in a car or on the public transportation system because of traffic jams and the crippling rush hour on the subway. He says that arrangements are always fluid because people find they can't make it to a certain place or they have run out of money or their credit has run out on their phones so you never know if something you have arranged or some plan you have put in place is going to happen right up until they happen.
He said, people coming from Europe cannot adapt easily to this culture shock, as they are used to things happening as planned most of the time, here it is the other way around.

"It is incredibly frustrating but you just have to be adaptable". he says.

Hmmm, I thought, yeah I see that, and I do need to get a bit more adaptable and relaxed while I am here. Now, I don't know if that conversation was deliberately instigated to soften me up, it didn't feel like it at the time. But 15 to 20 minutes later he turns to me and say's...

"It's such a pity that the band cannot play with you on your series of gigs in Brasilia"
"What!" I reply.
"Yeah, it is bad, but I have arranged for another band to back you while you are there".
"Another band" I gasp!
"Yes, it is a real pity because David cannot get out of work and by the time he could get away, Brasilia is so far away that he would never make it on time. The band I have for you is the Squints, you know them, they have done a cover of Kick Out The Tories".
"Yes, I know them but that is only one number" I say.
"Yes, I know", Demente replied. "But I have sent them our set list and told them to learn all the other songs".
 This is devastating for me, the Brazilian Neurotics are so good that I don't want to lose three gigs in this tour when I could be playing with them. Plus, being backed by another band is reaching the pinnacle of adaptability for me. Lets see, I'll be playing with a band I have never met or rehearsed with, I will be using an amp I have no knowledge of and everyone around me is going to be new and unfamiliar. I will be flying out to Brasilia with one companion and I will be there three days.

I resign myself to this craziness and chant 'adaptability' again and again to myself like a mantra.
They are doing a great job, don't get me wrong and I am really enjoying it but life at the moment is full of surprises.

Meanwhile, Demente's car is a real joke with everyone here, because the floor of it is covered with empty beer and water bottles so when you get in, there is the sound of chinking of bottles right up into the moment you get settled and when you move position. It is like trying to get comfortable in a recycling skip.
Anyway, to get to the our 'little jungle' we need to escape the city and to escape the city we need to drive through a ton of it, to the last outpost of this megatropolis.  I watch it peel by my window and at times if feels like it is a large photo on a drum that is rotated next to me like on a film set.
As we hump, heave, jolt and bash across the uncertain roads, I (despite seat belts) am springing into the air and back down again at regular intervals, the bottles sound like drunken maracas and I can't help it, but in my head I am humming the Xavier Cugat song Brasil. you know the one, it goes...

Bum bum bum, bum bum te dum, bum bum bum, bum, bum te dum. Dooooo, do,do do do do do,do,do. Do, do do do do do,do,do, Do,do do do do do do do, do wah, do wah do wah!

And I continue to hum as we disappear through a cloud of dust into the beginings of the countryside.



Thursday, 20 February 2014

My first day off is offish

When I woke up to my first day off since I arrived I was in a state. I hadn't slept well as I was having unexplained panic attacks which woke me up periodically. I should have slept well as I was exhausted. My cold and the gigs and the stress had reduced my voice to a whisper that people struggled to hear on the noisy streets of Sao Paulo. I felt awful and now I had diarrhoea too. I had finally woken up in the late afternoon and was in too poor a state to go out on my own. The tour had stopped for the moment but my head hadn't. I only knew a few words of Portuguese, I had forgotten were the subway was because it was shown to me when I first arrived and I hadn't retained it and I had a map which didn't say 'You Are Here' so I couldn't work out our exact road was, and Sao Paulo is one of the most complex cities in the world to navigate to the extent that everyone gets lost or uncertain of their bearings at times. The taxi drivers get lost, my hosts get lost, and the locals get lost. Overall, the city is very difficult for tourists to navigate. I am a bit uncertain about going out.

Anyway, I need to update my blog and that will take an afternoon, plus I needed to have a nap to make up for lost sleep, that's the day sorted then.
By the evening time I was hungry and a little stir crazy so I decided to go to the Pizza restaurant just across from my apartment. I had been there the night I arrived, the food had been good and the atmosphere convivial, I'll try there after I finished writing this last paragraph was my plan.
An hour later I was still typing and still promising I would go out after I finish the next paragraph so I thought that was odd. I decided that I was very hungry and needed to go but another part of me said no, you can't go out there! The more I thought of it, the more terrified I became, this isn't right, I thought, this feels irrational. Irrational it was. I must have pushed myself beyond endurance and that now I was beginning to crack up. I felt lonely, anxious, my self confidence had been stripped away and I was left a mere husk, but a hungry husk, so I have to go out. No I don't, yes I do. I wash and gather myself up, checking I have everything to the extent that it appears an excuse not to go out. I take my netbook and a phrase book and leave the apartment. In the lift I am going cold and shivery, then I'm boiling hot. I walk across the courtyard towards the front of the building,
and my heart is pumping in my chest. I walk slowly down the steps to the security gate and pause for a moment. I can't do it (but I must). This is now feeling like acrophobia and it is horrible, I am super anxious now, my heart is racing faster and faster and I feel faint.
I take resolve, open the gate with the security key step out and close it behind me. I push myself away from the gate with a velocity that I hope will place me on the other side of the road. It does and I hurtle through the entrance of the Pizza restaurant and down on to a seat at a table before I could change my mind. I order an unknown Pizza because I recognise the word Broccoli in it and sit back to wait to see what my food really looks like.

This is absurd, I thought I really must get some rest.

I can't stand the rain, on my dancefloor

The third gig of the tour is thankfully not a long drive, it is in Santo Andre and the club's name is Tupinikim. Our journey was marked by heavy rain that turned torrential whilst we were on a manic multilane road. The biggest backwash, I have ever witnessed in a vehicle, hit our car, Demente, bass player and tour organiser was driving at the time and he looked at me and said "good job I have this", which was a sort of overhang thing ourside the window, because his window had been partly open. If that had not been in place, we would have been soaked. I shook the imaginary water from my clothes and stared at fixed point in the rain ahead and tried not to think about too much. Sometimes thinking can be so worrisome.

We arrive at the venue and I dash like a lillie livered Englishman into the relative safety of the entrance and after exploring a little further found to my astonishment that there were two or three people squeegeeing gallons (imperial reference)/Litres of water off of the dance floor in front of the stage. "Hmmm", I thought, "wont be much moshing tonight more like sloshing!" There appeared to be a hole in the roof over the stage. I viewed that fact with some dark satisfaction because we have an annoying leak in our roof at home which we are having trouble getting fixed because of the availability of our roofer and when you have a leak, you feel you are the only person in the world who has one. Now I know, there is one in Brazil too! Hmmm and perhaps a lot in England also,

At this point the venue looks pretty bleak but once the audience began to turn up and the rain eased off,  it was transformed. At the entrance there is a long tunnel-like corridor with vines or something growing along the ceiling and you could hear the rain on the corrugated roofing above it. The lighting was subdued aand inviting, further in was where you paid your entrance at a little table and then the room opened up to a bar area with tables and chairs. Walk beyond that and you found the stage and the dance floor. A little beyond that was a staircase that let to a dressing room/sanctuary. Once the people were in the club it was a brilliant place to spend an evening and the owners and bar staff were so lovely to a lost Englishman. (Image here shows David our drummer in our dressing room)

There was however a serpent uncoiling in the room but more of that later.

Every gig is a late one here but in this establishment it was a pleasant place to pass the time before our performance. I spent some time watching the other bands on the bill (who were very good) and trying not to make the most of the free beer that as a performer, I am entitled to.
Finally, it is our turn to squeeze on to the small stage and we begin our set in a confident way that is the manner of a band that knows it can produce a fantastic performance given the right conditions.
I am happy in the knowledge that tonight I am playing through a Fender amp, one that I have used before and love the sound of.

Then it happens, two numbers in (or one number in, I can't remember now), as we attempt the next number,  howling screaming feedback fills the stage and it is really hurting our ears. I make frantic attempts to isolate the problem, checking if it was the mike ,my leads or the volume set too high on the amp, or my guitar feeding back but to no avail. Sometimes feedback only plague's you when you stop playing, so we attempt to start another song but it is impossible, it was screaming and howling like a bad spirit of rotten roofs and damp destruction had descending and now spun around me laughing as I despaired at having the initiative on this set blown asunder. We were now likely to drive people away rather than draw them to us.
I was also puzzled because Demente  one of our two bassists is normally in the wings waiting to
 do his bass duties and providing additional backing vocals, was not there. It was his amp and he should know it inside out, but he was not here to help and I was just left helpless. In a futile gesture, I threw my arms up in the air and announced to any that would listen, "I can't work like this". At this point a really helpful guy called Nino jumps up on stage and tries to help but the amp will not stop its incessant shrieking. Finally, help arrives in the form of a guy from one of the groups who played earlier, handing over his Peavey amp to use instead. This turns things around, now we sound like the early Who, I'm not so keen on the compressed top end but the bottom end is murderous!

We now fly at trying to regain the initiative, whilst simultaneously I was wondering where Demente was? I play a tormented and angry set, fuelled by the frustration of our earlier difficulties. My voice was holding up to our third gig in a row but was sounding like my vocal chords were a silk stocking with cigarette holes burnt in it (thanks Swells! Where ever you are in the afterlife). We have indeed lost some of the audience because it is Sunday night and many have work in the morning, but there is a good showing still here.
Demente has by this point joined us and we regain the potential of our performance even if it was too late for some.
We finish to calls for encores which we dutifully do and then once finished,relax and pat ourselves on the back for pulling through with only a bit of injured pride to show for the disruption.

Problem was, there was bad news on the way, the serpent had indeed uncoiled and had struck at Isabela's purse left unattended for just moments. She lost the evening's T-shirt money and some personal items too. Demente had been missing on stage during the amp problem because he was desperately trying to locate the money.  When I found out, I was so upset too, Isabela was the reason I was here in Brazil, and she has been so fantastic in making this happen and had worked so hard for it to be good. I had a desperate desire to make it all right for her, I was so emotional and needed, so much, to be able to magic up the lost money. But eventually, the realisation finally came to me that I have been in this situation before and when its gone, it's gone, it really has and nothings going to change that. With my feelings now dampened down with a downpour of reality, I turned to pack up my guitar.
Final memories of the gig are of trying to leave the club but being waylaid by lovely friendly bar staff, owner and other assorted people and having a real laugh together with very little language to so it with. The owner supplied me with a fresh drink and we then attempted to break the Guinness Book of records on how many people we could get into one photograph.

Their laughter was still ringing my ears as we raced through the darkened city to our homes.

Classic, I love you all!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Introducing the Brazilian Neurotics


 On this particular post I just wanted to introduce this fantastic Brazilian Neurotics band.

 
From left to right:
Thiago (Thiaguinho) Lopes: Bass and backing vocals.
David Moore: Drums and backing vocals
Demente - Bass and backing vocals
 
The sharp eyed among you will notice that I have another 'Dave' on the drums in my band.
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Bread and Circuses

The next gig is upon me and this is now feeling like a tour, as there is little time to luxuriate over the success of the previous night because we have a new conquest to attempt. We are now traveling to another district, we are going to Pocos de Caldas/SP

This turned out to be a very long drive in some appalling road conditions as the rain became torrential and took four or five hours, I can't remember exactly it was so long. The first part of the journey was watching a huge sprawling urban environment roll pass us and as we approached the countryside the light failed and I found myself in the 'Catch 22' of 'seeing the world in a band', the catch is, you don't, you just see motorways and sometimes you see motorways during the day. Finally out in the darkness of a hilly town in a ramshackle street is the club we are to play in, the 'Drinks and Parts'. The club is fantastic in performance space and quality of stage and PA. It has a feeling of Americana about it, you know, good ole boys, Budweiser, blues and whiskey. Have no doubt, this is a rock bar!

However the most jarring thing about it to my gentil northern European sensibilities was the broadcasting on the back wall of the stage and on a flat screen in the pool area of some kind of wrestling that only came over to me as some homo erotic pleasure dome. It is apparently really, really big in Brazil but to me the sight of big muscle bound men with sweaty bodies pinning each other down to the floor and in their pseudo fight for survival were rubbing their themselves together, sometimes a head resting on a chest like an act of love then next punching, kicking and brutal domination and there they were, raping without rape, killing without killing but the brutality was there, that wasn't simulated. I was appalled and the worst thing, I couldn't take my eyes off it, but was that because of my European sensibilities or does it have a dark fascination for everyone? It's not as far as I know my sexuality, I do not have any hang ups, I am comfortable with my sexuality and others if they may be different. This, to me, it has connotations of slavery, of cruel domination of those who own others, of brutality for the sexual arousal of others, that is the real pornography.

Bread and circuses, bread and circuses, it's always the same.

One of the strangest things I found in my short time so far in Brazil is that people will say to me would you like a drink and I would say "oh, yes please and instead of buying me a beer they offer up their glass of spirit for me to take a swig. In the band, glasses of spirits are a communal thing like sharing a cigarette or a joint.

The strangest occurrence of this was in this bar where a guy was sitting at a table and he looks at me and says "Steve Drewett" and I say "yes that is me" and he replies, I love your band and I never thought I'd ever get to see you. I think your Beggers Can Be Choosers is awesome. Hey would you like a drink and I say as usual " oh yes please that would be nice and he then offers up his tin of beer that he had been nursing for god knows how long and once I realise that I say " er, that's alright don't worry"

I am acutely aware of this sharing thing because I have a cold and I don't want to pass it around but me and the band have shared things and none of them caught my cold. I don't get it.

Unfortunately the heavy rain and the bar's age restriction had depleted the audience so we took the stage to a smaller than hoped for crowd. This was not going to have the same specialness of the night before despite having better facilities but every gig is a fight to convince others of your greatness and you work with what you've got.

It was nonetheless an enjoyable blast but it was hard too. I'm almost working a different amp every night, something I have never done before and I have become very adaptable but to be quite honest you can keep your Roland Jazz crap thing with it's crap distortion knob.

Anyway, we finish and soak up praise from both audience and bar owners. We take a little time to hang, for we have a tour bus and a sober little old man who will take us home and eventually we clamber on board with a few beers and some weed to smooth things along. I fall asleep in the dark and wake in the morning to see the slightest hint of jungle receding in the mist before the urban environment fell upon us again like Jenga blocks.

I got dropped off at 9am and we go to the next gig at 5pm but I am confused now with the time because summer time has ended here and we have now gained an hour or have we lost it, I don't know. I am as confused as in England at this type of change,

My voice is going through some punishment without enough rest to fully recover but finally I fall into bed and then I get out of bed.

Welcome to gig three.

 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Are we not alchemists?

Sometime around 2.30pm my weary legs took me up the steep staircase leading from the Garden of Eden back into the venue and began the ritual of preparing my stuff onstage.
This is it, the concert my hosts and I have been obsessing over for what seems like forever. Will my voice hold? Also, only two rehearsals with a band I have known for only two days, how good could this possibly work? We will see. The room is packed and expectant as I start the single note repeat of the intro to Wake Up, sounding now like an insistent alarm call.
The band kick in, my voice kicks in, we kick ass! The sound of the band is a revelation because it is not the norm for my usual set up.

Let me explain...

We have three musicians (that's three without me) who are big Neurotics fans and all seem to want to get involved in the band and, whether by design or not, one bassist has got most of the bass parts down pat apart from a handful, that the other bassist knows inside out. So we do a swap around mid set but when either of the bassists are not playing, they performing additional backing vocal duties. Now visually this is different from my norm and maybe a little cluttered but I am billed as Steve Drewett not The Newtown Neurotics and this is my band and they do not have to be three in number.
Actually, the backing vocals are a revelation, everyone contributes and no-one is struggling to play their instrument and sing, if a part is tricky for anyone of them, someone else is covering. They are all great singers.

There is this great part in 'Licensing hours' where at the very end of the song there are a couple of beatlesque oohh la la la la's which I inserted into the song on the day of the recording and worked fantastically, but in a live context Colin could not sing it very well and play his bass part at the same time so it got left out. Years later we may have tried it in the current English line up but I think we may not have as I cannot recall (we have not played together for a while).

Now on this night in Brazil, the oohh la la la's come flying in with great beauty, sung by two people, the line hovers over the aggressive guitar work and velocity of the song, like angels descending from between the lighting of a tropical thunder storm.

This is the beauty; this is the thing we as musicians crave. When the interactions between the players inspire each other to greater heights, and that is happening to me now. I'm not saying we played perfectly, we didn't, but we started playing brilliantly and that is completely different. I felt my soul opening up, my fingers was finding virtually everything I needed without looking all the time. As I looked out at the audience I could see they were really enjoying it, but they were not at fever pitch, however as each song went by, their involvement was directly connected to us, so as we rose, they rose and together we climbed the mountain of punk rock pleasure.


That night, we became alchemists, we turned the stress, the worry and the bile of previous days and transmuted it into gold, we had no need for Eldorado.

The audience went wild. We had to play more, we did and we played Hypocrite, just re-released here and in the United States after originally being released in 1979, and it is another song again, it sounds so different, so right. Strangely though, my voice held up but I sounded very much like Joe Strummer at times with my huskiness which just added to the 'otherness' of the performance.

Once we had finished we could officially call it a 'triumph over adversity' but I am on the point of collapse. However, the love that came back from the audience who came to me to express how much they enjoyed it, more than buoyed me up to finish the evening still standing.

I do not take my music for granted, I believe in it with all my heart but I realise it cannot always be great. Despite its aggressiveness, it is still, in my mind, as fragile as butterfly wings.

The time, the place, the people and above all the band (more on them soon) were just right tonight.

This what I came for and I will never forget it.

 

Heaven is a garden under a banana tree!

I begin to sing... the voice is there, hallelujah!

My voice is husky and does sound like it has been affected by a cold but it does seem enough to complete a gig. A great weight begins to lift off of me and then stops!

We are not there yet and I begin to put into place a couple of strategies to ensure I remain 'in voice' for when we take the stage. The first one is, to only do a short sound check and the second one is,
 'not talk'. This second one is difficult and proves to have a very pleasant consequence later on.

The club begins to fill up with Steve Drewett/Neurotics fans and they all seem to be making a 'bee line' to me to say hi which is fantastic but I was trying not to use my voice.
The importance of these vocal saving strategies can be underlined even more. Do you remember that when I was picked up I was showered and fresh? We'll I still lacked some strength and by the time we had done the sound check at 10 o'clock, I was feeling weak again.

Then I found out that we would not take the stage until 2.30am! Aaaagghh, how am I going to do this? Well, do it I must, and I started keeping myself quiet, just watching the other bands, keep out of conversations and let the time pass. It didn't really work. The room was so hot I realised I couldn't stand for all that time and was much relieved when Isabela (who is constantly keeping an eye on me) hands me a chair which I accept gratefully but when I sit down on it I cannot see the band.
People keep coming over to talk to me and anyone would love that sort of attention, I have a room packed with Neurotics fans and it is a lovely feeling. Everyone wants to buy me a drink and Isabela is periodically getting my 'rider' drinks for me and eventually I realise that at this rate I am going to be smashed long before I take the stage.

I cannot let that happen, I've gone through too much for that.

The club is filled with very convivial people all at full flight with socialising and in this environment I am standing out like a sore thumb, on my own, talking to no-one, looking lonely. The surprising consequence of this was that I keep getting offers from some very beautiful women to join them as I looked so "lonely". Later, in the garden, one of these women caught my eye and gesticulated to a chair next her, I gesticulated back that I had a chair next to me if I wanted to sit down, (sometimes I am a little slow catching on, I must point that out) but finally the penny drops and I go over and sit down. Here, I find my perfect way to while away the time until we take the stage, talking to some lovely, friendly Brazilian women, they would in turn introduce me to their friends and another conversation would ensue. It really did pass the time in the most pleasant of fashions.

I felt like I had died and gone to heaven!



Sunday, 16 February 2014

Finally, the time has come, it is Punk Rock O'Clock!


All through the day on Friday I am trying to get extra sleep to help with my recovery. The problem is, that it is not a tired voice I am trying to revive, it is a sick one, because I am sick with a heavy cold. I need to begin to recover and I need to bring my voice back from the brink. I have a delivery from Isabela of the entire contents of a chemist shop (or so it seems) and I am left with a recovery regime to be getting on with, so with a vow of silence and a large lunch that Isabela has kindly prepared for me I try to sleep as much as I can, when I awake I need to keep myself hydrated and I periodically take some cough medicine, ibuprofen, drops in water, honey chewy sweats, ginger chewy sweets, throat spray, steam inhalation and repeat ad infanitum until I feel I will overdose on 'over the counter medicine'. My speaking voice has become a whisper (almost) and people sometimes struggle to hear what I am saying. To raise my voice to be heard is a strain and I do not want to strain, so it is difficult to communicate.
Finally, when it is nearly time to go  to face the moment of truth, I am showered and feeling fresh and a little better but unsure what lies within my vocal cords. Isabela arrives with Brazilian Neurotics bassist and tour organiser Demente and they both agree that I look much better and my voice sounds better too. Fingers crossed!

We head for the club in which the most important gig of the tour is to take place and I laugh to myself of the memory of Isabela trying to explain, earlier on in the day, how important this gig was to the whole tour and then becoming mortified that she had just put a ton of pressure on me to control something that I may just not be able to. I told her not to be concerned as I was perfectly aware of the consequences and had already been shouldering that pressure for some time now. There was no way around it, it just needs to be dealt with.

We arrive in torrential rain and I run for cover into the building and take a look at Zapata club where I will play my first gig, All seems well and good, nice audience area, the stage has minor level changes all in black whose unevenness seems to have little purpose than to trip you during a performance but I make note of it and hope I can hold it in mind (fat chance).
I am also shown a garden bar area at the back which is down a flight of concrete stairs with no banisters which is a rather tricky combination when drinking in a club until the early hours. The garden looks a bit forlorn in the rain but later the rain will stop and this garden will come alive in a big way and people will party hard under the garden's huge Banana tree. Very atmospheric!
Finally, I am set up, guitar in tune and approach the mike for our sound check and here comes the moment of truth for my voice.





Saturday, 15 February 2014

Tired, sick and alone.

I feel pretty sick and the idea was that I would stay in the apartment for the day resting up and maybe doing a little work on this blog. Later, around 6pm I would be collected to go to the second day of rehearsals, after that, something to eat and then we are off for me to do a sepecial DJ session where I attempt to keep the dancing going that will already be happening when I arrive, with a selection of my favourite tunes. Then I am to take the stage with a local Brazilian band when they do Wake Up and Kick Out The Tories with me doing the singing.

It turned out somewhat different to that. I had just finished my latest blog entry, which was following on from a bit of a cliff hanger and was just about to hit 'Send' when an almighty thunder and lightning storm hit Sao Paulo like some apocalyptic reckoning. It started with throwing down what appeared to be the entire contents of the Atlantic Ocean on to our district and then to took out the power to five or six tower blocks including the one I was staying in. I stared at my netbook in the dark, the battery power saving me from 'data loss worse than death' but there was no way I could publish because the Wi Fi was now out.

The lightning was pure shock and awe and ran horizontally across the sky. It is so unlike England where you stare expectantly at the heavens hoping to see the moment it strikes. Here it is a light show that cannot be missed. The other thing is that there is are constant smaller flashes with no sound that happen every second or two. In the darkened apartment I was in, lights dashed across the floor like stray baby bolts misfired from a larger trident. It was only reflective light but as I lay sick and sweating in the dark, if felt like the hairs on my legs were prickling up when ever the light skittered across me.
There is an apartment block directly opposite and very close to me and I as I peered out of the window at the storm I realised that I had hundreds of reality TV shows running simultaneously as the good citizens of these blocks struggled to carry on with every day life with no power. Some lit up bright LED torches and others lit candles. I was admiring the candle lit apartments, thinking how pretty and cosy they looked when it suddenly occurred to me that people in my block may be doing the same thing. Then I thought, if a candle gets knocked over and a fire starts in my block, I don't know where the stairs are to get out.
 I dash to the apartment door and pull it open, I fire up the 'assisted light' in my Samsung S4 an all I can see is a few feet and then a pitch black corridor looking like some horror movie set up. Hmmm, I thought, no emergency lighting. I go back to the window to calm myself by watching residents cut their toe nails by candle light. In one window, an oriental face appears, gazes at me dispassionately and then draw back into the dark, It surprised me at that moment but later I learnt that Brazil has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan itself. I returned to lay back on the bed for a minute, the storm has stopped flashing and now I felt like I was lying in a tomb. In the end, I broke and rang my tour manager Isabela who assured me that they were on their way to pick me up for the rehearsal.
Phew, much relief.

But the worse was yet to come.

They pick me up and we head in another vertigo inducing 'to hell in a handcart ride' to the rehearsal studio. I was feeling pretty rough but nonetheless I was really looking forward to the second rehearsal with this great band. We prepared to play Wake Up, I placed my fingers on the frets and away we went. It has a long intro but when we got to the part where I come in with the vocals...

there was nothing, well, I say nothing but a guttural croak, my voice had gone. It was fine the day before but the heavy cold had gone straight to my vocal chords and wiped them out. The shock could be seen in the faces of the band but we agreed to turn the vocals up and the guitars down. I didn't really want to continue but the band need the extra rehearsal so I sang the songs in a dispirited monotone. In the back of my mind is the thought that the biggest gig of the tour is tomorrow and then we have three consecutive gigs after that and I have no voice and not much opportunity to rest it.

Terror grips me.

When have finished, we leave the studio to get something to eat. On the corner of this rundown street is a small police station and earlier, as we passed it on the way in , me all in black with shades on in the dark, one cop eyed us suspiciously as we paseds. Apparently, they always do this but there is probably an extra edginess in the run up to the World Cup but no problem, we are soon past him.
On the way out however, we all tumble down the stairs and out into the street and I become aware that I was the only one with a tin of beer in my hand and a glance at the cop told me he was watching us. Now I have no idea if the authorities here at touchy about drinking beer in the streets but no-one in our group is telling me to conceal it but, conceal it I do because I don't want any trouble. I just lower it to the side furthest from the cop and I take no more sips of it. Wrong move! As we pass, he thinks I may be concealing a weapon and unbuckles the cover of his gun and rests his hand on it.
Demente, our bass player and tour organiser, then says to me, "did you see put his hand on his gun then?" I say no but I knew why he did it. I'm always getting this shit he says in a way that suggests that he is always getting this shit.

 In the car I finish up the stupid beer.

Anyway the club is really cool and a great place to spend an evening. I wasn't enjoying it as much as I could because I was ill and devastated at the loss of my voice. Two members of the band that were to cover my songs enquired if I was better to which they both  independently received a terse No! I didn't want a conversation on this subject, in fact I didn't want to speak again until the gig the following day but that was not to happen, it's too difficult without seeming like you are a complete bastard orelse you'd need instead to wear a sandwich board saying I cannot speak so don't expect a reply.
I tell Isabela that there was no way I was in a fit state to bellow Wake up and Kick out The Tories with this band and that they need to be informed, she being the tour manager does just that. I feel sorry for the band, they have worked so hard and love the Neurotics so much, their covers was meant to be a tribute to me but it one thing too far.
I do my DJ thing and find it very enjoyable indeed, Not only do I get to play my favourite songs but it is a real pleasure to seeing people dancing their hearts out. Included in my list of songs were tracks by a couple of bands that have covered Neurotics songs, when they are played, the audience sing along to all the words and I finally have the realisation that the club is full of Neurotics fans, they go wild. It is not a surprise really, the night was billed as me doing a DJ spot and they have come along to see the man. The fact that I didn't this shows you how unwell I was, I was just existing.

The band finally take the stage and at the end of their set they start 'Kick Out The Tories'. I'm standing watching (bad move) and become aware that the entire audience are pleading and gesticulating for me to get on the stage. This should be fun, this should be an honour. It is not. For me. I cannot afford to use my voice.
A girl in the audience comes up to me and say's go on, they want you to sing! I futilely point at my throat but then I have an idea. I jump into the audience and pretend sing with everyone there, punching the air during the "Don't believe, don't believe, don't believe what you read" A very weird experience I can tell you. Then I jump on to the stage to bellow one final "Let's Kick Out The Tories". "Now"!, the audience go wild, the band are pleased, they have had Steve Drewett on stage with them and I have fulfilled a promise to them that I would join them. Job done, voice not strained.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that my songs have been very important to many people in Brazil over the years. Who would have thought eh?
And tomorrow the tour starts proper and I have no voice. Can you imagine how bad that feels?

For the first time since I have been here I feel really alone, because I am.

The introvert in me has won.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Where's my silver lining?

Wow, these guys have done their homework, there is very little to do but enjoy the playing, they have done all the work and are ready to rock. They are  playing like the early Eighties Neurotics complete with Colin's backing vocals, this is beyond crazy, this is crazy, crazy and we are gonna be on tour together so the developing empathy could be amazing. We just played through the songs, one after another without pausing much. On a couple of them I led them through some very effective live changes we have developed over the years to enhance the delivery of the songs  and they picked them up right away. They are a great band who has played together for years and are all dyed in the wool Neurotics fans having listened to us for thirty years or more. Hypocrite is one we didn't attempt during the evening but we will on our second session tonight.
I was meant to be only half singing to save my voice but it was very hard to restrain myself. Also, the more exciting  the music got the more ill I felt which was strange. If it was on a graph, one line would be going down at the exact same time as one went up. There is probably a proper name for that sort of effect.

Finally, with much back slapping and praise being thrown around we packed up and started looking forward to the following day's rehearsal, although I was feeling really lousy by this time.

As a songwriter, it felt like a musical mirror had being held up in front of me and all that I heard was good. Very narcissistic, very rock 'n' roll.

Everything looked set and in place but I didn't notice the gathering clouds with no silver lining.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Bands on the run

First the rehearsal was for 9pm then I found myself rushing across the city to be there for 7.30pm, only to arrive one hour late at 8.30 pm. I didn't understand the change in time and was feeling too rough to ask. When we arrive, instead of rushing into the rehearsal studio to start work, I had a big cold beer thrust into my hand and taken out to a balcony in the warm night air where the moon hung like a silver plectrum in the sky about the city. I succumbed and chatted, for the first time, to the people who would be my Brazilian Neurotics. Here I was plied with more cold beer and asked if I wanted to smoke too, which I declined. Slowly, I began to realise what was going on, there was a band in the studio rehearsing and they would finish at 9pm and then we would start work, but the boys who are to play with me, are such big fans of the Neurotics that they couldn't wait to meet me and wanted to party before we start. This is a world away from the puritanical approach I take when working with other musicians, a beer is something that you earn after you finish playing not before and during, but hey, when in Sao Paulo!

Then I am told that the band currently in the studio will be playing in a club I will myself be frequenting the following night and they are doing in their set, two Neurotics covers, Wake Up and Kick Out The Tories. They want me now, to sing with them to rehearse both numbers.

Let me think here, I have a stinking cold, I have two days of rehearsals with my band and then four successive gigs, my voice is already fragile and now I have another band to rehearse with.
However, the welcome I got at the studio was phenomenal, I was treated like a long lost brother and this band had put so much work into doing these two versions to please me, that I could not refuse. So I started work with my first band of the evening. It didn't start well as there was something wrong with Wake Up, parts of which I couldn't sing, I couldn't hear myself either and my voice was beginning to crack. We brought my volume up and then I moved us swiftly on to Kick Out The Tories to see if there was work to be done there too, but no, they had properly cracked that one. So back to Wake Up.
 We tried a couple of things but I was expending to much energy on them and I told them so. I explained that I was unwell and that I needed to reserve my energies for the main rehearsal. As a final gesture, I slung on my guitar, quickly tuned It and then showed them how I do it. I must admit that as their versions of the songs were a translation from another key to another they had done a pretty good job and now I played it in front of the guitarist so he could see what he needed to do. But no more rehearsal time left for them so they must try the adapted version on the night with me on vocals hoping that it has been sorted. Kick Out The Tories will be terrific though.

Now, the moment of truth, will the band I am to be working with for the nex three weeks be any good. Are they too drunk, am I too drunk, am I well enough to do this long session in a hot room, we shall see. I place my fingers on the frets to prepare to do our version of Wake up...


Zombies to the left of me, transvestites to the right, Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

We battle our way back to the apartment through the crowds and exhausted and unwell I start to put a fresh set of strings on my guitar. Once done and apparently behind time, the current wisdom was catch a taxi to speed things up a bit, but the Taxi driver gets lost and we circle one small part of the city again and again. This started to kick off my vertigo and I was wishing for the journey to stop so  much. The thing is, other people were kind enough to carry my stuff and so I took on the manner of 'no responsibility' which is wrong because it is up to me to make sure we have everything when get out of a taxi and I didn't, so we left a really important bag behind with all my rehearsal stuff in it.

Fortunately the taxi driver was honest and he called us back. Later I was informed that if I didn't have my passport on me I could get thrown in Jail, I can't wear my jacket because it is too hot so I will neej carry it in my bag, the one I just left behind. Nightmare!


Sao Paulo is such a densely populated city,  all development and no urban development plan so the undulating hills and valleys have millions of side roads, identical corners, back ways, it is a maze and very difficult to traverse. Later that night I am given another example as we are taken home by Diamente our bass player. He navigates in a similar way we do in my home town Harlow, we locate ourselves or others requiring directions by the pubs along the way. Here it is somewhat different. It is... turn left at the coke zombies corner, right at the transvestites plying their trade corner, straight on down pass the prostitutes corner. I have to say that this is only one part of Sao Paulo, it just so happens that the rehearsal studios are located in the city's ripped backsides.

The coke zombies shockingly look like zombies, they seem to amble about aimlessly in the dark in a random fashion, I swear, if I was near enough to hear them they would go... mmmmooooooaaaaaa.
The transvestites and prostitutes had a dark beauty about them, I couldn't take my eyes of them, as though I was in their trance. They stared back with a tragic indifference wondering if we were trade.
They were a nightmare dressed as someone else's dream, Venus fly traps in the night waiting to bite down hard. SNAP

We all dream differently thank god!


Inoculated for everything but the common cold.

Day one of my trip and where as where the night before I felt invincible despite my long journey, I was in the presences of someone with a cold. This morning I awake to find I am suffering from a small irritating cough. No biggie I thought, but by the end of the day I was not well at all.
It started nicely enough, after making myself a late breakfast and attending my duties to bring my social media stuff up to date, my hosts call and we go out for a walk in the local district to find a restaurant to have lunch. The landscape is very hilly and the sun is merciless and in between coughing fits, my head is swimming and I realise that despite my water intake that morning, I was still dehydrated and little did I know' that I was also coming down with a heavy cold.

We find a restaurant and water is ordered for me immediately and then I am treated to a traditional Brazilian dish (name of which is now lost to me at the moment) which involve black beans, rice, pork chops, some other meat and some banana. It was delicious and I ate copiously, later I would be too unwell to want to eat.

After the meal we go into town and experience the seething mass of humanity that is rush hour in Sao Paulo. So many people live in this city that the public transportation infrastructure has at times problems with coping with them, The infrastructure is actually very good but there is just too many people and this is before the World Cup comes to town.

Finally, with a bit of sightseeing on the way, we head for record shop were we are to meet the man who is re-releasing Hypocrite. By now my body has taken over my mind and I am obsessing over drinking, each one I consume gives momentary relief to my coughing throat and is like manna from heaven.
We eventually get  to meet Mateause who shows are the art work he has prepared for the Hypocrite single and it is fantastic, a really quality piece of design work. Where as the original single in 1979 had no picture sleeve but a sticker inserted, now the single is inserted into a clear plastic sleeve and the sticker design is now on a transparency that slides in front of it. Sticker becomes sleeve, simple and effective. There are some high quality prints of the early Neurotics inserted too. This was very good to see but I was beginning to be aware of how justrough I was feeling and that I had a rehearsal with a band I had never met coming up in a few hours. The thought of which was draining me by the minute. More of this later.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

What a way to refresh myself!

My flight was smooth, enjoyable and very comfortable, helped by the fact that I had three seats all to myself. Out of customs, I meet up with Isabella and her sister Juliana  and boyfriend Luiz and I am warned that I am now going to experience the mad drivers of Sao Paulo and the frustration of driving in such a heavily populated city. Guess what? No mad drivers and an easy drive to where I am to stay. This incredibly long journey has been a dream.

So convenient! Across the road from the apartment I am to stay in, is a Pizza restaurant and it is here that I have my first meal in the city famous for it's food. Yeah, I know, but small steps. The Pizza is delicious and I am greeted by various people who want to meet me and make my stay as enjoyable as possible and I do truly feel welcomed.

After a lot of fun and laughter, especially over a joke I made up on the spot about Archimedes (you had to be there) we decide that I need to get some sleep and they were right, as excited as I was, I needed to switch off.
So back at the apartment I stumble dog tired around the bedroom and decide I need to pee before bed.
Already half asleep, tired, hot and sticky, I start to urinate only to discover a second later I was about to urinate into the bidet (very rock 'n' roll I know but this is a friend's apartment) so I quickly stop and, being the good person that I am, could not let the bidet be despoiled by my wee.
In one swift moment I turn the bidet tap and a jet of water shoots up and hits me in face! I stand there soaked, water running off of me and I realise that I am now refreshed and ready to hit a club, instead I hit the sack but I made a mental note of the experience in case I need to wake up quick in the coming days.

More later!


Fueling the Flux Capacitors!

Once we had landed in Sao Paulo there was the usual relief that one feels when one had been on a long flight, that of being glad to have arrived safely and that you will now be able to leave the aircraft and move freely again. Before I can fully relax though I need to know if my guitar has made the trip without being broken in two. At baggage reclaim I wait with the sort of anxiety usually reserved for concern for a loved one, as I watched the conveyer belt trundle other people's luggage past me. Then I see the flight case make it's appearance in the distance, here is comes! But wait! It is soaking, it has very heavy condensation on it and water is just running off of it.
I place it on the floor and open the catches, this is the moment of truth on whether I can tour or not, whether I have a broken friend or not. As I open the lid, moisture escapes like steam and the guitar has a film of condensation on it as it meets the warm Sao Paulo air. All of a sudden I feel like I am 'Doc' from 'Back To The Future' as I open the flight case containing the nuclear fuel needed to power the flux capacitors!!! Alarming, but the guitar has not snapped and has lived to sing another day.

Now the adventure can begin and I need to meet up with my Sao Paulo friends who have brought me so far to play.

Watching the world turn under my feet

I have had a bit of sleep now, I don't know how much, as I didn't have anyone to notice when I dropped off and when I awoke. I suspect it wasn't very long.

I watched the Netherlands turn to France and then France turn to Spain and then Africa turn to sand and then we turned and headed off across the Atlantic ocean to aim for the southern Americas. I feel a bit uneasy when I think of what is below me and indeed what is above me so I try not to think and I decide to do a bit of my blog.

Everything is beginning to feel real now and not such an abstract concept that I have talked about for so long. The name Brazil seems bigger than the imagination, just like New York or America, they cannot be fully imagined but both can be fully lived. To touch, smell, and hear other peoples lives is to be truly alive, a chance to walk out in the sun of our existence. Soon it will be visceral, good or bad or both, soon it will be real.

Strange thing is, I bring music to a land full of music, we are gluttons for it as human beings, we cannot get enough, there is no enough!


"the tenderest form of communication, does not need the power of speech, and while nations sings unto neighbours, there'll always be the chance of peace."

Scum Class Tourists - Steve Drewett and the Indestructible Beat
Finally, with three hours of the flight left to go, I get my first view of South America. The land peeking through the gaps of the mountains of cotton wool clouds tease me with glimpses of silted delta plains and the rise and the fall of the contours of the land. It is very hot down there, obviously you might think, it is South America, but in Sao Paulo at least, they are having their hottest summer for 72 years. I don't know how that bodes for having a packed venue heaving to punk rock but we will see.
As we grow nearer my destination, I am beginning to worry about my guitar. It has travelled a long way in a new and untested case and I left England with the tales of guitars getting broken necks during transit even when they were stored in a proper flight case.

The same result for me would put the tour in jeopardy and the sight of my beloved guitar all broken up would put a real damper on the very beginning of this adventure.