BACK STAGE AT PEPPERMINT IGUANA HQ: Gigs, Festivals, Parties, CDs, Books, Protests, travels, photography and Cardiff City FC

Saturday, September 30, 2006

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?: Sick Note take it to the home of pub rock

Dirty South, about to get dirtier

This is becoming a bit of a Sick Note fan club blog. Never heard of ‘em? Don’t worry, you will. Today we headed off to London on a coach full of Sick Note fans to see them playing at a showcase gig organised by the Alabama 3. The night can be split into two, both parts being equally memorable for different reasons, the journey and the gig.

We were quite impressed by the bus when it arrived, brand spanking new and top of the range, but with one draw back… no toilet. Now if you are off with the kids on a trip to the museum, no toilet is an inconvenience, when you are armed with 8 Cans of bow on a mission to get pissed before the gig it is a major problem. The driver was cool though and was quite happy to make regular stops, the first one being Newport (for our international readers, that is ten miles into a 150 mile journey). That was pretty much the theme for the trip, regular stops. It would not have been so bad if the stops were actually at proper toilets but it was generally the side of the motorway or peoples gardens becoming impromptu toilets. The drive that should have taken about 3 hours was dragging on and on. We thought it would be compounded by the driver not knowing his way through London, or even which part of London Lewisham was in, but the Artist formerly Known as Ginger finally proved he does have some use by navigating (the venue was just down the road from our mate Jon and Jackie’s pad). We arrived 5 hours after setting off, and all sprinted for the comfort of a proper bog.

Dirty South is a nice little venue; a proper Eastend pub with no pretensions and all the locals welcomed the busload of wrecked welsh boys and girls with open arms. Despite the late arrival we had plenty of time to sink more beer while watching local indie band Dirty Sam. Jon and Jackie had arrived well before us so it was nice to catch up with them again for an hour or two.

Somebody call a doctor!

Then came the main attraction. The Eastend did not know what had hit it. One minute they were swooning along to Smiths like teen angst, the next they were being rocked to the deep down and dirty rhythms of a depraved Alex Harvey on E. No time for warm up or a gentle intro, the Note belted straight into it, lowering the tone of the evening and raising the funk levels to 11.

This is the future London, remember you were here!

The 50 from the bus filled the dance floor but soon had to compete with astounded locals who also wanted a piece of the action, as the whole pub rocked like its life depended on it. In years to come people may look back on this gig like people look back on the Sex pistols at the 100 club.. or maybe not, but the Iguana crew will always remember this one.

The dirty downstairs backstage

After the Note had done their dirty business on the stage, Ultraviolet stepped into the fray with their “soaring melodicism charting the inner recesses of the human condition”, which, to be quite honest was something of an anti-climax.

As Ulraviolet did what they do, we headed backstage (or should I say down into the cellar) to chill out with the band. Up until this point we had all thought that the Alabama 3 were going to be doing an acoustic set, the website had actually stated in advance… “ALABAM 3 PRESENT: OUTLAW. Live bands, beats and burlesque mayhem from the 'Bama boys, Larry Love, Tattoed John and the Rev. D. Wayne Love. Acoustic performance and DJ sets from the famous 3 comes accompanied with the best in upcoming live talent, featuring:…”….but when we realised that only Larry Love was present, it was clear it was more likely to be a Larry love DJ set. No matter, it was the Note that we had endured the bus trip for. After a few more drinks we headed off to the chippy and tried to ‘prepare’ ourselves for a bus ride back to Wales without a bog. The journey was pretty much the same sketch as the way up, eventually being dropped off in Newport at 7am. All in all a memorable trip.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

THE SICK GO WALKABOUT: Sick Note get sporty

Doghouse, in da house!

We made our way down to the ‘Diff tonight to catch the (soon to be) legendary Sick Note. We went down early so we could grab 5 minutes with the band for a pre-gig interview with the band for the Iguana Website (I really must crack on and get that on line again!).

The Oracle (bass) and the Grinder (drums) are well known to us here at the Iguana, being valley boys that we have known since well back into the last century. Ironically they were no-where to be seen so we sat down with Doghouse (vocals) and Flappsandwich (mouse) who are much less familiar to us. The fact that we hardly know each other though was no real barrier as we hit it off quite quickly. Interviews with bands that have been around for a while and have 15 albums to talk about are much easier than newer bands without much of a history, but this little crowd have already been making waves and stirring up a bit of controversy so there was no shortage of things to talk about. Even when we were struggling and asked pretty mundane questions the answers were pretty comprehensive, on times surreal, always interesting. When I get around to writing the interview up in the next few weeks I am sure I will have more than enough material.

Who needs reality when you can phone in sick

The gig itself was a bit strange, it was in a pub that forms part of a chain of Australian themed sports bars, the walls were covered in murals of rugby players and I could imagine it normally being full students bolting pints of testosterone and lighting their own farts. I had never been in there before and was surprised to find out how big it was, with a large downstairs centred around a stage. It was quite a good little set up with a balcony available to get a birds eye view of the bands, although the acoustics were not that clever.

There were two support bands. The first band were to be quite honest completely unremarkable and drove me back upstairs to the bar; the second band, Steadler and Waldorf, were an improvement and I can imagine their brand of drum ‘n bass going down quite well in a club… but this was not a club and they were not really suited to a gig scenario. The whole thing was not helped by the fact that we had landed early to do the interview and it seemed like an eternity before The Note finally hit the stage.

The hours of standing around drinking shandy soon became a distant memory as Sick Note grabbed the night by the balls and shook the pub like voodoo witch doctor raising the dead on some tropical island. Techno is hard to carry off live but the deep tribal funk they pump out is on its own enough to catch your attention; add the magic of their own brand of video visuals and throw in some art house dancers to clutter up the stage and you have a stage show to rival a Paris burlesque.

The audience thinned out by the end of the night.... cos everyone was on stage!

The band had the audience bumping and grinding in no time, much to the bemusement of a couple of rugby heads that had wandered in by mistake. The number of dancers on stage slowly started growing, first three, then four, then five… and in what seemed a perfectly natural way almost the entire crowd was up on stage. One minute Doghouse was telling everyone to get on the dance floor and dance, the next thing he was telling everyone to get off the dance floor and on the stage. Yep, they is truly an interactive bunch these Sick Note characters. Expect to read more about them soon.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

CULTURAL EXCAHNGE WITH CZECH REPUBLIC: Football, beer, absinth and anti-fascism

Gathering in prague, ready for the trip to Teplice

The last time I went to watch Wales playing away it was in Poland. We stayed in Krakow, and could not be bothered to travel the 500 miles to Warsaw, where the game was actually being played, so watched it in a pub near the hotel. This time, for the game against the Czech Republic, we stayed in Prague, even though the game was in Teplice. On this occasion though we had transport sorted and virtually the entire 2,000 welsh fans that had gone out for the game hopped onto busses for the 90-minute journey to the ground.

Snowy, gawd bless him, the RAMS international trip organiser, was looking after our bus, and had gone to the effort of taking a cool box all the way from Pontypridd to Prague to make sure our free beers on the bus were chilled, so it was luxury all the way (apart from the lack of a toilet).

Valley boys never leave home without thier sheep!

When we got to Teplice the nearest pub to the ground was packed, which was to be expected but with beer costing £1.50 for four pints, the bar was chaos. Amongst the crowd, we found some lads from Oakdale; 3,000 miles from home and you just cant get away from the Valleys!

An explanation of who the Soul Crew are

Just down the road there was another pub in the town square. This was the scene of a massive discussion between the Cardiff Soul Crew and a local mob. After the Soul crew had ‘explained’ to the locals who they were the police actually shook the hands of the City fans, it turns out that they were not a football firm but a gang of neo-nazis that are a headache for the police and all the locals, so they were quite happy to see them put in their place. I don’t normally condone football hooliganism, but on this occasion I will let them off.

A small selection of the Welsh flags on display

Wales on the attack, but a last minute goal scuppered the celebrations.

In the ground the Welsh support was incredible, only 2,000 of us, but we certainly made our presence felt with singing all the way through, even when we went down a goal. When we equalised we went nuts, but it was not to last and they put the winner in with one minute to go.

Final Score at teplice

Final three Absinths in Prague, complete with flaming sugar spoons

At the end, loads of Czech fans came across to applaud us for making the journey and for making so much noise. That is how footy fans are supposed to treat each other!

Then it was back to our favourite pub in Prague for more Absinth, happy in the knowledge that CITY ARE STILL TOP OF THE LEAGUE!

Friday, September 01, 2006

PRAUGE: Party capital of Europe.... and much more

The amazing Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square

Prague. I have to say, it is one of my favourite cities. It has more amazing architecture in one place than any other city I can think of, it has a shed load of history, it has possibly the best beer in the world, it has a pretty wicked nightlife, it is still amazingly cheap and it has Absinth.

This particular visit was slightly less laid back than my visit two years ago. On that occasion I walked a million miles, around the castle, around the Jewish quarter, around the old town, around museums and art galleries, had a trip on a boat and saw ALMOST everything there is to see. We even went miles out of town to a really dodgy club called Abaton to watch the Misfits.

I was glad I had seen it all before because this visit was more about partying. The purpose of the visit? It was a Valley RAMS tour to watch Wales play their first match in the euro 2008 qualifiers. Not being into lap dancing clubs and strip joints, we did not have quite as hedonistic a time as some of the lads. We found some nice little local pubs with good local food, good beer at cheap prices and we found a nice little pub that stayed open till the early hours, had a wicked music policy and sold Absinth. Prague aint quite Amsterdam, but there is plenty to keep you going till dawn.

We did not spend the entire week in pubs, we did have a look around, Charles Bridge being an absolute must see. Last time we were there, there were psychedelic cows everywhere; they are gone now, but there is still plenty of art lying around in the streets giving the place that bohemian feel, it is after all, the capital of what was Bohemia.

There is a golden rule with football tours ‘What goes on tour, stays on tour’, so with that discreet moto in mind, here endeth the blog, and here be some photos.

Taxi for Mr Iguana!

Art is crap (or should that be crap is art?)

Hep cats 'take it to the bridge'

Northeren side of charles bridge. No matter which way you look, there is more stunning architecture than you can shake a stick at.

Rocky Orileys, 'the biggest irish pub in town'

Irish Pubs abroad not really my thing, but no matter what time of day (or night) you called in there would be City fans off our trip in there (and they did serve Strongbow!)

This is more like it, a local pub selling wicked beer and traditional Czech food, at local prices. this particular pub was a hunt for dissidents back in the 1968 prague Spring

The massive Prague Castle, the only way to get the whole thing in shot is from accross the river

Wencleslas Square, site of massive protests against the oppressive communist regime during the velvet revolution, now home to Marks and Spencers, McD*nalds, and Darlings lap dancing club. That's 'progress' for you!

Not all of the RAMS flew out, and if you are going to drive, make sure you go for 'No Mileage Charge'!

Well, that is the blog over.... but before we went I wrote an article about Prague to go in the RAMS international 'RAMzine' about the city...... here be it:

Prague is a MASSIVE city, with a population of 1.2 million people. However, virtually everything worth seeing is in the compact city centre and everything is within a reasonable walking distance, including Letná Stadium, home to the Czech Republic’s most successful football team, Sparta Praha.

Prague, the centre of ancient Bohemia, has changed hands many times over the last 2,000 years, with the Germans, Romans and Celts fighting over it. Therefore it has more history than you can shake a stick at and you could spend several days looking at sites of historical and architectural significance. Despite its history it has been almost completely undamaged by war and natural disaster and is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. The ‘Old Town Square’, Charles Bridge, the Jewish Quarter and the Castle are ‘must not miss’ attractions, but there are dozens more sights for the keen ‘tourist’ to check out. Most recently of course, it was part of the former Soviet Eastern Bloc and the Museum of Communist life is worth checking out. The best way to check it all out is one of the many walking tours that leave the old town square every hour, which can range from a couple of hours to a full day and often include a pint and a meal.

Since the fall of the ‘Iron Curtain’ it has become a popular destination for Western Tourists … and it shows. Wenceslas Square, site of huge rallies during the ‘Velvet Revolution’ in 1989 now looks like any other western European city, complete with McDonalds, Benetton and Marks and Spencers. Don’t expect any bargains, Prague’s popularity as a tourist destination has put an end to that.

Because of the number of tourists the city now attracts, in the centre virtually every one has a grasp of the English language. If you venture away from the Tourist areas you will be struggling a bit.

As part of this influx of westernisation, stag and hen parties have been attracted to the city in search of the legendary cheap beer, resulting in the city resembling Cardiff’s Saint Mary Street on a high season weekend. A consequence of this inevitably been a rise in prices and many of the pubs in the centre will charge the same prices as a Cardiff pub. If you wander a little off the beaten track you will find pubs where the locals drink and still be able to get wrecked on a fiver. You can go on a guided walking tour of the best of the traditional pubs, but these are more of a ‘pub history’ walk than a pub-crawl.

The beer in Prague is among the best in the world, with both dark beer and light (clear) beer. The local pubs are generally quite small, and you will find your pint being replaced almost as soon as it has emptied, without the need to go to the bar, and you will be presented with a bill on your way out. If you are desperate for a pint of ‘Bow you will have to visit one of the many English and Irish bars with names like ‘The George and the Dragon’, that have materialised to entertain the massed hoards of UK beer monsters. These bars will often show live football and MTV on big screens.

There’s a host of nightclubs including many casinos and the usual ‘adult’ venues. You can even go on ‘Top Tottie’ walking tours.

Even during the days of the Soviet Union, Prague boasted a healthy artistic scene with a host of jazz musicians playing in underground clubs. Jazz still has a health presence in the nightlife of the city but lately many new ‘super clubs’ have opened up to keep the visiting ’cheesy quavers’ happy. The city has also managed to attract a healthy dose of big name bands on tour.

Local food is mainly pork, with more pork and a side order of pork. Vegetarians beware, only eat stuff that actually says ‘meat free’ because even the most innocent sounding of dishes will contain… pork! If you are not the sort that likes to try the local dishes, don’t panic there are plenty of Western fast food outlets about.

Taxi drivers everywhere have a bad reputation but in Prague even more so. Many hotels will book a taxi for residents but you are strongly advised not to flag down a taxi in the street unless you enjoy being ripped off. Being an ex-communist state they have a very efficient public transport system with trams running all over the city and a modern underground system. Unless you are venturing out of the city though, pretty much everything you want to see is within walking distance.