Oliver Mann: ‘Hello Europe’
A performance in a de-consecrated church complete with frescoed ceilings was one of the highlights of OLIVER MANN’S recent 16-date tour of Europe. A slew of exhausting train rides were not.
Fresh off the plane and feeling a bit seedy for the show. Nonetheless, a warm crowd at Club Heller. Greeted warmly by Freaky Franky from Foss in Frankfurt who wore a red beret. Hello Europe. After show at the promoter’s house, food-poisoning struck which resulted in the cancellation of shows in both Innsbruck and Bologna. Recuperated in the most beautiful motel next to a forest in outer Frankfurt. Then, back on track in…
First taste of what the Italians refer to as un-plugged gig – no mic, no amp and just the wall and the floors and a group of friendly and bookish looking Italians to bounce the sound off. A tiny bar called Esposta with support from Preservation label-mate Nicola Ratti.
Fed an amazing meal before playing in Faenza the following night (yes, the Italians look after you – very well) and the no-frills and utterly hospitable promoter/bar-manager Morena.
Then a nice little bar buried in the alleys of Rome called Fanfulla. This was a real-quick pass through with the train arriving, heading straight to a radio station, Radio Citta della Futura – Rome’s oldest independent radio station, right in one of Rome’s biggest squares (finding it really hard to adjust to all this amazing beauty) – for an interview and live set and then straight to the show.
Run by a group of young Roman hipsters, the audience were encouraged to sit on the stage as I played. A young couple had travelled to see me play and asked for a photo together after the show. I felt at home now.
A big pizza bar in a little town called Massa with marbled cliffs surrounding that apparently has one of Italy’s last remaining enclaves of anarchists (they live “in the hills”). Definitely one of the more colourful line-ups of the tour with solo female doom-metal opener from Berlin, Alos, who began her set by blessing the audience with a swig of red wine from a deep plate. And headliner Nero, a crazy Roman jazz band with a guitarist that babbled and cackled throughout their set. All touring bands are asked to sign bowls that are hung on the wall. Ours was placed right near similar bowls signed by Sodastream, Ninetynine and … Napalm Death.
But Pisa was my favourite show of the tour. In a ridiculously gorgeous de-consecrated church with frescoed ceilings and yawningly high proportions. It was a full-house. I played with no mic and no amplification and the crowd tuned in. The singing went round the whole space and bounced back to me like a ghost. Even the whispers sounded loud and I have rarely felt as elevated as I did playing in Cantiere di San Bernardo.
Interesting line-up in this little “borough” of Venice called Mestre. Supporting hip-hop act Uochi Tochi who kicked off their set with a 15-minute (no less) diatribe of gracefully break-neck-speed Italian MC-ing that I didn’t understand but was riveted by. Caught a boat down the canal after gig back to the hotel. Unusual.
“The singing went round the whole space and bounced back to me like a ghost. Even the whispers sounded loud.”
Then headed down south. Stayed with a promoter in Salerno and caught the train into the near by Piano di Sorrento where the show was. Three-and-a-half hours later having caught four trains and walking from one end of Pompeii to the other, we arrived at the venue rather miffed – missed the soundcheck and got straight on stage. Not really a stage actually – this was a brightly lit cafe that looked like Franco Cozzo had completed the interiors – but the crowd showed out of the darkness of the night slowly but surely, and when I began to play there was a warm friendly crowd there in this tiny Italian town.
Shared the bill in Bari with the Texans of Bari and met them again in Giovinazzo. Billed as “The Voice of Australia” at the underground club Sotterannei in Copertino. I will always feel John Farnham owns the title of “The Voice of Australia”, but I knew if I told them about him, they wouldn’t understand, so I let it stick.
Then continued what was beginning to feel like one long continuous train trip, albeit through beautiful surrounds back up to Carpi near Bologna. I was collected by the promoter from the station who spoke English just like Ringo on Thomas the Tank Engine and when I told him he shrugged and said with pride, “I am big Beatles fan. Other people also tell this me for my accent too.”
This was the last Italian show, apart from an impromptu appearance with my good friends Italian experimental guitarist Stefano Pilia and Portuguese experimental guitarist Manuel Mota in Rimini. A real buzz to be asked to play with these killer guitarists.
London: The Borderline.
Ah, the English language. Supporting US country folk outfit The Bowerbirds. It was a packed house and most people tuned in. Even a few dancers up the front (show was reviewed here).
Not much to look at this place until you see the bands that had played there: Sugarcubes, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Whiskeytown, Crowded House, Ryan Adams, Bryan Adams and the Dirty Three. Jeff Buckley played his first UK show there as well.
London: Institute of Contemporary Arts
Supporting Portuguese sensations Deolinda in a big black box of a room in what was quite literally an institute for contemporary arts – theatres, a library, a cafe and a live music room. Crowd full of Portuguese expats and they were into it. Had my own dressing room for this one and someone to make me a cup of tea.
After this I spent a day recording a 7” with Andy Ramsay who is a long-term member of “soopergroop” Stereolab. This was a massive highlight for me – I ended up using the Mars amp from their Mars Audiac Quintet album and Tim Ganes’ Fender Mustang. Holy sheet! Tracked and mixed two songs in a day for release soon.
London: The Windmill
Old Brixton staple venue with a Rottweiler on the roof. Seems like it lived there and scared the bananas out of other dogs passing by. The venue had that good ole beery carpet smell going on and I felt like I was back home again. Helped along by Ned Collette on the house system before I played. Also by the fact I went to high school with the singer from the next London act, To Arms, etc. Then the New Zealand dudes from Batrider headlining. Tube strike in London made getting there and away a struggle (we were like little sardines in a can on public transport getting to the joint).
London: The Slaughtered Lamb.
This show was originally cancelled and then I was squeezed onto the following night’s bill. The underground venue had flooded in a deluge and was a bit whiffy till a healthy crowd rolled up. Most intense show of the tour with the crowd dead silent all the way through. Felt too hushed to breath sometimes, but again, the London crowds were friendly and attentive. Eight hours later I was on a plane back to Australia and 48 hours later beginning work on an opera with the Victorian Opera company in Melbourne. It was almost like it never happened.