Wonky IV – The Stranglers Family in Black – Wonky Bus IV weekend.
A travelling hoard went abroad,
Across the Eastern Sea,
To see The Stranglers in Holland and France,
And home by Sunday Tea!
…Apologies once again for the delay in transmission… Once more much activity in the time stream, including being stuck in 1977, has necessitated such… I mean you’d think with time travel and all that I’d be able to go back a couple of days and post this earlier but no, can’t possibly do that, might upset the fabric of space and time itself! Oh well, it is what it is, here goes anyway…
Part 1 – We came across The West Sea – The gathering, the departure and the outbound journey (or Shakespeare burnt down my boozer or Whatever floats your boat!)
Early morning somewhere in London…
Rising to the dawn chorus, springtime…
Thinks… “Ok, today’s the day, I and a good few others will be losing our Wonky virginity, there’s no going back now!”
…Arrive at Victoria Station around 6pm and meet Ravenette in The Shakespeare pub. Joined by Flores De Negro and Alexinblack we make our way to Paradise in search of sustenance. During our supper I’m drawn to beauty at the adjacent table like a moth to a flame. We exchange sporadic seemingly mutual glances of appreciation and the odd smile. All too soon, fed and watered, it’s time to leave! I wish beauty a pleasant evening and we head to our Rendezvous with Bag Lady at The Willow Walk where we arrive, only to find that it burnt down that morning… A hasty bit of texting to notify of change of venue and we head back to The Shakespeare. The Family in Black are here en-masse now and have taken over the pavement outside the pub. We receive a warm welcome and meet and greet family friends old and new.
The time arrives, we head for the bus (after being herded by Bazzainblack) where we are cordially welcomed by PaulinLondon and Owen. We board and take up refuge on the back seat (Just like school days). The driver Carl skilfully navigates us toward Dover, stopping twice en-route to collect more Wonkyites.
Evidence of sleep deprivation part 1. Conversation on the bus takes in such subjects as the branch of medicine known as Vagina Tree.
Boarding the Ferry we set sail for new horizons. Although it’s now getting rather late, the buzz of anticipation for the coming adventure seems to be keeping most of us going. A fair few of us chill for a while in the lounge and I take refuge in Costa Coffee for a couple of inversions. Then we make our way to the bar where PaulinLondon greets us once more.
We arrive in Calais at around sunrise and head north through France and Belgium toward Holland. After some masterful driving from Carl and tuneful snoring from fellow passengers we eventually arrive at our hotel near Schiphol on a beautiful sunny day.
Part 2 – Amsterdam/Haarlem – ben je mijn oom?
Evidence of sleep deprivation part 2. I make my way toward the hotel reception when bellabelle asks me “where’s your suitcase?” which I’d completely forgotten about. Panic sets in and I go back toward the coach to find that Bag Lady has very kindly lived up to her Moniker.
We’re informed that we won’t be able to get to our rooms until late afternoon. A large part of the Family decide to go into Amsterdam (where former ‘Dam’ resident ‘Uncle’ Burn e 77 plays tour guide – mint fella!) while the rest of us decide to stay and chill in the spacious and comfortable hotel lounge.
I ponder on the possibility of getting forty winks, not having had any shut-eye for about a day and a half, after some discussion, I decide against it.
Eventually the rooms are ready and while I’m generally impressed with the hotel I’m a little concerned that the dimensions of the room will not allow for any inversions. So after a little freshen up I head back to the lounge and find a nice spot in the corner where I partake, much to the amusement of my fellow FiB. Ravenette is suitably inspired and decides to go for a backbend, I offer to spot her but she declines and sets about walking backward down the wall into an impressive posture!
After the inversions, several herbal teas, some raw chocolate Bliss Bar and an herbal supplement (Rock & Roll!!!), I find my second wind and feel completely revitalised for tonight’s proceedings…
Henry and I head off for Haarlem early to go to the pre-gig drinks at La Pien Noir. I text my mate Mark, who lives in Haarlem, that we’re on our way so he can meet us in town. On arrival Mark meets us as arranged and we head off for the bar where we receive a warm welcome from the lovely Jacqueline and catch up with some of the others. We have a swift one then Mark and myself head off to meet up with some of his friends for dinner.
After a fine dinner in excellent company we make our way toward the venue, the band are on early tonight at around 8.30. The place is already fairly packed when we arrive, I make my way down to the front and meet up with some of the other Wonkyites.
Before too long the dimming lights and some wierd tones herald the arrival of our heroes…
Opening with an urgent and stunning Toiler on The Sea tonight, this is the best I’ve ever heard it! The sound tonight is second to none and the band seem to be really at ease and totally into it. Next up; No More Heroes, Was It You and Threatened. Then another change Summat Outta Nowt is replaced by crowd pleaser Relentless. The crowd are lapping it up and the venue is heaving. The home crowd and the Wonky crowd seem to be like peas in a pod and it has to be said that it is one of the nicest atmospheres of any gig I’ve ever witnessed.
Peasant is perfect tonight, this song has been a Ruby highlight for me and tonight they’ve nailed it!
Peaches goes down well and during the show various items of lingerie are thrown at the boys. JJ and Baz respond in the appropriate and proper manner by carrying out the sniff test.
On to the slower part of the set allowing a welcome breather with Midnight Summer Dream, Golden Brown and Always the Sun.
Picking up the pace again it’s time for Never to Look Back with the bass and drum arrangement on the opening being somewhat reminiscent of Public Image by Public Image. Then we’re disco dancing for Thrown Away before ramping up for Nuclear Device.
A slight breather with Skin Deep then another crowd fave Time To Die. Lowlands goes down nicely in an appropriate setting. During the keyboard sequence in Nice N Sleazy, JJ and Baz come right to the edge of the stage and really get in the face of the appreciative crowd, a nice menacing edge.
Walk on By sounds amazing tonight and the solos are just out of this world, with Dave receiving a healthy applause at the end of the keyboard solo. Staying in the zone, Freedom is Insane sounds nicely psychedelic tonight. The classics Duchess and 5 minutes follow, then Hanging around sees Bazzainblack giving it his all with a bit of crowd surfing and an attempted stage dive. Encore time…
The boys come back with a stonking Norfolk Coast then a welcome surprise, Grip is thrown in tonight and we even have the honour of being joined in the pit by none other than Mr Carne!
At the risk of repeating myself the sound tonight is awesome and the band are playing like they mean it! JJ’s growling bass, Dave’s swirling keys, Baz’s biting Tele, and Jim’s relentless pounding beat. First class! Surely this is unprecedented – a band in their fortieth year of existence going from strength to strength.
During All Day and All of The Night a good humoured bit of banter between JJ and Baz ensues over a tuning issue. JJ goes back to check his tuner and confirms he’s in tune giving Baz a real “Oops!” moment, as he confirms he needs to tune up. None of this deters from the delivery of the song which again is the best I’ve heard it played along with some fantastic improvisation (loving the improv!).
Then we’re at Tank and then it’s all over…
…Or is it?
Well the band have finished but we’re left with a good 90 minutes of a Punky Disco we have a darn good boogie with the fantastic Dutch crowd at this awesome venue, before we have to board the wonky Pumpkin back to the Hotel. Top night!
Back at the Hotel the party atmosphere continues and after being in the bar until closing people adjourn back to the lounge to carry on carrying on. I estimate around this time I must’ve gone around 42 hours without any kip, so I decide to call it a night. My head hits the clean linen and it’s good night…
…Later that same evening in an Amsterdam Hotel, a lone and lost pigeon is wandering/prowling the corridor…
Knock knock knock!
“Are you my uncle?”
“Is your Uncle Dutch?”
“Err, I don’t think so!”
“Then I’m probably not you’re Uncle!”…
Suitably refreshed after a few hours slumber we gradually start filing up to the fourth floor for breakfast and Pidge has us in stitches with his story of the previous night’s adventure, which puts me in mind of Dr Who “Are you my Mummy?” replace Mummy with Uncle and that becomes one of the Slogans of Wonky IV, along with an ode to Dave Higginson’s Hind quarters!
After breakfast, some of us gather and chill in the lounge again, whilst others make their way to the airport for some shopping. Then it’s all aboard the wonky bus again for the road trip to Lille.
Part 3 – Lille – êtes-vous mon oncle?
En-Route to Lille, PaulinLondon and bellabelle run the raffle, while Pidge provides the DVD entertainment of the Paris Olympia gig. All very entertaining plus EiTC won a raffle prize! Also, rather incredibly, MiB Mark Mulkeen’s Mrs has lovingly made stranglers themed cup cakes for the whole bus, yum!
Before long we arrive at our Hotel in Lille and get our allocated rooms, we have a few hours to kill before the gig tonight and a pattern appears to have emerged; while some stay at the hotel and chill, others go and explore (well at least 30 yards down the road to the first boozer and or McDonalds!)… I do a bit of both as Non-wonky Fran had arrived earlier on his Guzzi, he’d already scoped out the town and pointed me in the right direction of a decent supermarket, so that’s where I head for supplies.
I chill out in the sunshine on the window sill of my 5th story room, whilst having some banter with my fellow travellers in the garden below.
In a trice it’s bus time and we all board for the wonderfully named Le Splendid…
The mood is upbeat on the bus, everyone is rested and up for it!
Evidence of sleep deprivation part 3. Upon arrival I come to the gloomy realisation that I’ve left my bleedin’ ticket back at the hotel. PaulinLondon suggests that I cut my losses and get another at the box office rather than mess around with taxis to and from the Hotel. I walk up the road a bit to see if the coach is still there but it’s gone. I see no taxis either. After walking a couple of blocks, Paul’s words of wisdom sink in and I turn around and head back for the box office.
Inside I see Owen who thankfully has a solution to my conundrum.
I make my way to the front and find the Wonky crew mingling in with the locals. It’s packed and it’s hot and sweaty.
Tonight we have a support act, a lone troubadour who introduces himself as David Zinc. He receives a fair bit of flack/banter from the crowd but he skilfully brushes it aside. Every put-down he has an immediate come back for and you’ve got to admire this man for his super sharp wit and for having the balls to take on this crowd.
Crowd interaction aside, David Zinc has a great voice and is an accomplished guitarist playing a great fingerpicking style using alternate tunings and having a small kick drum for accompaniment. It really sounds great and his material is good. Responding to heckles of “play something we know!”, he asks “what do you know?” Some smart Alec replies “Postman Pat!” And he immediately responds with the opening verse of the Postman Pat Theme. Much to the astonishment and delight of the crowd.
Soon enough, he has the crowd eating out of his hand and his rendition of The Boxer gets the crowds sing-along juices flowing nicely. Great stuff!
In the interval I meet up with evonx (great to meet you sir!) and a few other familiar facesinblack. The DJ keeps the sing-along spirit going by playing ELO’s Mr Blue Sky which gets just as hearty a sing-along as it received at Birmingham in March.
The Lights fade… Waltzinblack…
Kicking off with Toiler on The Sea again tonight, the sound is once again really good and the band are tight and up for it. The crowd respond accordingly and it’s difficult to say what the locals are making of the rowdy Brits. It’s a bit tighter in the pit tonight and not as laid back as last night but after a while it all settles down and everyone appears to be getting on and enjoying the band.
The set is similar to the previous night but the big change tonight is the song everyone is in anticipation of! And it arrives… La Folie.
During the early part of the set I located myself at several different places within front few rows of the crowd and had established eye contact and sing-along recognition with several of the locals, including a rather statuesque red-headed lovely. Who, when La Folie began, turned to me and said “It’s our turn now!” I assured her of our love for this song too and joined in where I could (i.e. the chorus!). The locals really did seem to click with Midnight Summer Dream, Golden Brown and Always The sun too.
It is boiling in here tonight, lots of bare chests and gallons of steamy sweat. Kudos to Mark Mulkeen for making it all the way through in his fabulous MiB outfit, how cool is that!
The crowd is really lively and Thierry gets the ball rolling with the crowd surfing (Bazza follows suit during Hanging Around and is joined by an enthusiastic local. Big al and one or two others join in).
The band very generously donate their water bottles to the flagging crowd for some much needed hydration. Thank you!
Once again Walk on By sounds very good tonight with Dave’s keys and Baz’s guitar solo both sounding superb.
JJ is both in fine voice and on it bass-wise tonight.
Jim’s drums are top notch and tonight he gets some recognition… A late night discussion in the lounge in Holland the previous night led to a plan being hatched to honour Jim with a chant in the “Jet Black! Jet Black!” style, saying instead “Jim Mac! Jim Mac!” The moment arrives and we get right into the chanting and it must be said the bands reaction was a picture… At first they looked a little confused, then you could see it register with JJ who turned to Jim to acknowledge the fact. Then he came to explain in French to the locals. A golden moment! Which leads me to wonder if that had anything to do with inspiring the particularly lively drum solo at the end of Something Better Change tonight.
Tank and a few pics then Elvis left the building.
We board the bus back to the hotel then set off to the centre of town for some supper we end up at a restaurant called La Chicoree (if my memory serves me correctly) where we settle for dinner. PaulinLondon declares that we will not be going home tomorrow and that the party will continue and we will make our way to Lessines. A plan is hatched to hijack the bus and we start to assign roles – PiL is the Mastermind, Henry the Bankroll, Bag Lady the Cashier, Fran will provide the fire power (badabing!), while TBC and Myself will provide the distraction… Simultaneously TBC has inspired us to form Punk Supergroup – The Hitler Cats… Our raucous laughter is heard down the street by Audrey and Sandra who come in and join us for a while. Slowly we start to disperse I get back to the hotel at around about 4am and it’s at least two hours before the rest return (bearing in mind that we need to be on the bus to leave at 10.45!).
I just about manage to get up in time to make breakfast and meet up with some of the other Wonkers. After perspiring and being slightly dehydrated at the gig the night before, I ended up with cramp and am craving minerals. Surprisingly there is no salt available, I’m not sure if this is normal in France?! I ask one of the waiters who supplies me with some of the white powdery substance and implies rather humorously that it’s very Rock and Roll to be having Salt with my breakfast!
With 20 minutes to go I return to my room on the fifth floor to find my key is no longer working. I knock on the door to see if Henry is awake or still there but no reply. So I head to reception to get my key re-programmed.
Evidence of sleep deprivation part 4. I return to the room with 10 minutes until departure and discover Henry is still fast a kip. I apprise him of the situation thusly “Oi Henry you better get up mate, we’ve got 10 minutes till the bus leaves!” Henry responds accordingly. “F*ck!…”
Happy that he’s awake and getting it together I collect my stuff and head out to the bus. On the way I play knock-down-ginger on Bag Lady and Ravenette for one last time and also See Thru Being Cool. Aboard the bus, Owen asks if there’s anyone else to come so I inform him of the four I know of. The others arrive and lastly Henry makes it to the bus just in the nick of time to rapturous applause and we set off for Calais.
Part 4 – Homeward bound – Got the post Wonky Comedown Blues…
The party mood just keeps on keeping on… The wine flows freely. I share some of the supplies I’d bought the previous day with those who’d missed breakfast. While once again Pidge provides the DVD entertainment with the excellent Damned MGE 25th anniversary concert. Turkey Troter is in on the Hijack operation and will be providing the stockings… but somewhere along the way it all goes awry… We get distracted by the Rise and Fall of The Hitler Cats and their greatest hits such as “Un, Deux, Trois Cats!”, “Tumbleweed”, “Don’t Spurt!” and the cover of “Chanson d’amour”.
By the time we get to Calais the skies have clouded over and it appears to be a rather dull day, no complaints though as the weather has been with us for a beautiful mostly sunny weekend. We alight for passport control, I’m a little concerned as I look nothing like the short haired clean shaven chap in my passport photo of 8 years ago! I only hope that Henry’s skills at forgery stand up to the test… No need for concern as I sail through and the customs officer chats to me about when he used to have long hair!
Aboard the ferry we head straight for the bar, then a few of us decide to go up on deck, where we spend the rest of this leg of the journey; discussing The Hitler Cats, renacting scenes from Titanic and general other shenanigans; Inversions for me, gallons of wine for the rest and most of all laughing. Reports come back to us that those in the bar have found the MiB on the juke box and are extending the party below decks. Before we know it the klaxon sounds the announcement that it’s time to reassemble down to the lower decks for our arrival. A quick group wee then it’s back on the wonky bus to Blighty.
After a couple of drop offs in Kent we tunnel under the Thames into East London and work our way to Victoria. Lots of fond farewells then a group of us head for The Shakespeare to spend the time waiting for buses and trains later that day. Upon finding that the Shakespeare is closed I suggest the Wetherspoons in Victoria Station where we adjourn for a few final drinks. There’s a real sense of a slow come down but still a great buzz from the whole experience I stay for a while and eventually pootle off home (which is only a couple of stops for me)…
It’s nearly a week later as I finish these ramblings… I’m still not fully recovered and still buzzing!
Thanks to Owen and Jac, The band, The FiB and all involved in pulling off such a fab weekend. Here’s to the next time.
Stranglers Photography courtesy of Marcel Van Oosterhout
taken at Haarlem Patronaat 18th April 2014.
MiB and Thierry pic courtesy of Rebus Bloggs.