Jamie Hutchings: Euro 2011 Pt 1
Following stints in 2009 and 2010, JAMIE HUTCHINGS made his annual pilgrimage to Europe in July-August, playing shows at the Binic Folk Blues Festival and encountering some eminently quotable characters along the way. Part two tomorrow. Photos by REUBEN WILLS.
We fly China Southern this time. I am accompanied by Mr Jared Harrison on drums and Mr Reuben Wills on bass. Jared has spent time with me on some of my solo ventures; he was also in the last line up of Bluebottle Kiss and pummels the tubs for Peabody. Reuben has played bass with me for ages and doubles as both my brother-in-law, as well as helping us out a bit in the eye candy department.
China Southern unfortunately only allows you to check in one piece of luggage. Perhaps it's the sparseness of the flight but the ladies at the check in counter graciously ignore the half a house or so that's hanging off my back and passing for “hand luggage” and kindly accept my one piece of luggage, which is actually two guitars wrapped in an infinite amount of cheap duct tape and now resembling a black port-a-loo. This will haunt me among the subterranean confines of the Paris subway system in the future. The innards of the aircraft have a sophisticated share house kind of vibe. No strident patrolling by the stewards and a simple communal TV which plays a film starring Yogi Bear twice in a row followed by some ancient Mr Bean re-runs with the audio sounding disturbingly like it's being filtered through a vintage Super Fuzz Big Muff pedal. This is rounded out nicely with a Chinese film sans English subtitles. A four course feast for the senses.
After some fairly diligent security checking at our stopover in China we begin our descent into the bowels of the Parisian subway system. I struggle with my turtle back and coffin-sized gaffe-taped two guitar assemblage while the handsomely dishevelled Jared and Reuben breeze ahead to our place of accommodation. After hanging in the foyer of the building next door for a while we finally reach our hosts residence.
Her name is Elodie. Elodie is a classic graceful Parisian who is also a life coach. She later tells us of her feelings of relief when she discovers that we do not wear long shorts, sport asymmetrical haircuts or guzzle rivers of beer. This is her image of the Australian male and we do our best to bury this myth. At least until we leave her place. We check out the venue we will play the following night and I go to bed after 30 hours of enforced wakefulness which has left my left eye looking like it's been repeatedly stabbed by a blunt lead pencil.
I discover over the next couple of days that my email account has been closed rendering me virtually uncontactable. This sets the scene nicely shrouding the rest of the tour in a fog of mystical uncertainty. Our pal/promoter/creature Ludo who has kindly organized for us to stay at Elodie's has also organised a couple of last minute shows and gear in Paris after the show we had booked at Le Feline mysteriously shafts us. We play a venue called L'angora the next two nights in a row. There's a tiny upstairs room with a vocal PA. Two local friends of Ludo's rustle up some gear for us minus a snare stand, a microphone stand, and some other essentials. A quick panicked disappearance on their part sees them return triumphant around an hour later. We keep being asked to turn down to the point where Jared is pretty much playing air drums. Elodie comes along with some friends and tells us that she has been crying and miserable all day and that we sound how she feels. I think that's what she says anyway.
After waking up with a head full of cement I am nursed back to health with the help of some Propolis spray kindly donated by Elodie. She treats the boys to a lovely platter of wine and cheese and we play the next night downstairs to avoid noise complaints. Sonia, a French Bluebottle Kiss fan, now residing in Brussels makes a three-hour train journey to this very humble hastily organised show. She is quite thrilled but a little disappointed that I don't dredge up any of Bluebottle's late-’90s heavy metal-period tunes. One must answer the call of artistic progress.
The next day we take the train to St Brieuc which is the nearest station to the Binic Folk Blues Festival and where we will spend most of our time playing. We are informed we are on the wrong train around halfway through our journey and after some sprinting manage to right our route. Ludo picks us up. Time and space limit a full analysis of Ludo's virtues and eccentricities though I will pepper some of this commentary with the odd golden Ludo quote as generally each day provides a kernel of Ludonian wisdom. We are given a fairly candid overview of Ludo's personal health in the car. Elodie mentioned earlier that the French like to talk about two things in general: food and sex. I've found this to be true.
The gig we have tonight is on an outdoor stage in the town of Yvignac La Tour. Pretty early on we run into Aus/US expat Chris Mazuak of Radio Birdman fame who is playing with a band called The Outside on the same bill. He's refreshingly chipper and we chat about Jazzmasters, Birdman, European chaos – he gets a full taste of this later. We struggle through soundcheck with a shirtless tattooed chain smoking bald middle aged rock'n'roll bad boy who even with Ludo acting as translator appears to have little respect for the art of audio engineering. We play competently. Not a show to pull a David Lee Roth at, but not one to commit hari cari over either.
After watching an unusual father and son vaudevillian styled act that play guitar, sing, ride bicycles, operate drums with their feet and manage a great level of simpatico with the crowd, we settle in to watch Chris and company who pretty much have their whole set single-handedly massacred by the gent mentioned earlier. There’s some kind of bizarre interference going through the front of house. Chris keeps signalling for the sound guy to cut one of the fold backs as it seems to be the main protagonist but even when the bassist disconnects it in a very physical display mid-set, the rumbling continues. The vocals have some kind of random cookie monster effect with a dash of brown sauce drowning them. This does not ice down Chris' face-shredding solos but as we begin to make our exit the power on the whole stage blacks out and the show appears to come to a premature end. We figure this is our cue to make a swift exit. Jared is nodding off in the front seat only to get a brief eyeful of Ludo's speedometer. It's at 160 km/hr. You can sleep when you're dead.
Ludo has procured a number of shows in the surrounding area. Most people are too scared to give him a “no”. Many of them are establishments unused to the trials and general obnoxiousness of live music. Restaurants, small bars etc. Nevertheless we are wined, dined and paid with no issue at every one. This is foreign fare to us although the downside is that, while we are not Danzig, we are not a Christopher Cross tribute act either. Still they serve their purpose in the lead up to the festival and Ludo has done a sterling job arranging them all.
Come Monday we head down to Ludo's bar, Le Chaland Qui Passe, which is about the size of a laundromat. Plenty of local music lovers have turned up though and it's the best show so far.
The day before Reubs has noticed a huge crack on my acoustic and in no time this is whisked away to a local luthier named Jan who has it back in sterling condition in no time at all. After the set he is both inebriated and enthused declaring the performance “magnfi-kent-lie tor-tored”, he confiscates my Jazzmaster and pretty much rebuilds it the following day. A wizard.
The following gig is at a bar called Le Fût Chantant, where we are again well watered and dined. Jared and I spend most of dinner bitching about the general lack of hospitality in Australian venues. Why is it so hard to score a plate of spag bol and a few bevies? Why do you have to wait a month to be paid your one percent cut after venue costs, support bands and such? Why do you have to sheepishly approach the bar to see if there's any chance of a complimentary soft drink? I digress. The gig is uneventful, the locals colourful. I sell a CD to an unusual looking man who sells poetry at the local market. My Australian demographic is clearly contagious.
The next day the American contingent begins to roll into town. Lots of smoke and loud talking. Most of the headline acts are of the American punk-blues ilk thus marking us out as the definitive red-headed stepchildren of the festival, and given that I have the social networking skills of a stinkbug things go a little slow but we make some unusual matches eventually.
After another local show we head to the small town of Dinan. Ludo seems happy to get out of town. He talks a lot about “fighting” we begin to realise this refers to the intimate relations between man and woman. Is it his term? A local term? We've been hitting the ocean a fair bit near his house and I ask if he ever swims. He replies, “The ocean does not see my balls more than 10 times a year.” We discuss his general driving speed over dinner before the Dinan show and he offers, “When I am drunk it's better I drive faster so I get there more quickly you know? That way I am off the road and more safe...” The more I get to know Ludo the more I believe a monument of him should be erected on the Binic roundabout.
Dinan is quiet yet eventful. I break a string early on. (Ludo is waiting with a replacement string and a replenished glass of wine after the conclusion of this song. The man is a king.) My tuner also goes AWOL. Prior to the show we notice a couple of gypsies drinking themselves to an early death outside the bar. Nevertheless, they seem to be musically proficient and one of them is armed with a flute. In a desperate ploy to create some kind of unique diversion I invite said gypsy to the stage for some impro flute action on the tune ’Cicada Symphony' This is much to the chagrin of the bar owner who gently evil eyes me, but it is too late. After some flourishes in a key unknown to the song the gypsy begins to punish Reubs before breaking into some primal sub human free singing. It's superior to his flute playing and I quite enjoy it.
At the conclusion of the show some more punishing takes place in the form of a middle-aged intoxicated and overly amorous woman. Clearly intimidated by Reuben’s wasted cherub look she hones in on Jared and I. As her demands become more explicit we notice she is sporting a full caste on her left leg rendering her immobile. We beat a hasty retreat with her unable to follow. Ludo corners her and flogs her two of my CDs.
We pop by Ludo's bar the next day. He is surviving on around two to three hours sleep, his house is thick with smoke and American accents and he must be everywhere at once. The last time he tells me he had a nap was while he was driving. I tell him he should rest. He says, “I am like shark. If I stop moving? I die.”
The festival kicks off. There are a lot of one man bands. Many of them local. Many of them sing in strong rough American accents with lyrics about their “ding dongs”, or “I like boobies, give me more boobies.” Ludo insists we play for an hour and fifteen minutes. Later on a punter says, “I like ... but you play too long.” He's right. I hate long shows. I can't really hear the drums on stage so I play to Reuben. Reuben can't really hear the drums either so he plays to me. It’s free jazz. Our gypsy flautist has somehow made it from Dinan to the festival and dances freely at the front. Despite our misgivings we sell more CDs at this show than any other.
The show closes with a young three-piece from Iowa called Radio Moscow. They have ultimate chops with a strong early '70s heavy metal influence. There's a smidge of Bill and Ted's in there too. These guys turn out to be real champs and a pleasure to get to know. After they finish I head back to the other stage to catch the tail end of The Black Diamond Heavies’ set. I got to know these guys a little last year but this time the line-up has changed. John, the singer/Fender Rhodes player, has a different drummer, and Johnny Walker (of Soledad Brothers fame) is on guitar. John is having a total intoxicated lizard king styled meltdown on stage. There's a touch of Colosseum voyeurism split with some concern from the crowd. After a drink at Ludo's bar I begin loading some of my gear into Ludo's van in a back lane and run into John stumbling into the night with some locals who look like the cat that got the cream. He's not in a good way and he tells me a little about it. I gently try to coax him back to Ludo's but he farewells me with no promises that he'll be hanging around this mortal coil much longer. Fortunately I run into him the next morning. Worse for wear but with a pulse. Reubs, Jared and I take a “short cut” home which goes badly. Still the sky is full of stars and the ancient houses sit beneath them all witchy poo like.
“While we are not Danzig, we are not a Christopher Cross tribute act either.”
Jared and I are a bit nervy before the second show after yesterday and we're determined to cut our set a little shorter. No use testing a garage rock festival audience’s patience more than necessary. We are having a running joke about band names. “We are, ‘Jamie Hutchings,’” just doesn't check out grammatically and “The Jamie Hutchings Band”, well ... Dave Matthews Band, Steve Miller Band, John Butler Trio? That’s just not a world we're ready for. We're thinking something colloquial. “Jamie Hutchings and the Bogan Poofs”. Or “Jamie Hutchings and The Bush Oysters”. The one that is appealing to us the most currently is “Jamie Hutchings and The Rock'n'Roll Bonfires”. This has a twofold appeal. Firstly, it makes us sound like a garage/rockabilly act that would dupe the French rock'n'roll mafia into coming onside nicely. Secondly, and in a bid to add some integrity to this moniker, this name could act as a metaphor for the sacrificial rite of touring overseas. When things get a little cold you just grab some of your hard earned cold hard cash, bundle it together and set it on fire. Watch it burn baby burn.
Anyway this show I feel goes well. Unfortunately, there is no sandbag to stop the kick drum from running away and Jared spends the majority of the show chasing the kick drum around the stage. He plays with his usual rhythmic finesse but is not a happy chappie post-show. Radio Moscow take these dramas up a notch with the drummer's kick pedal going straight through the skin. They are forced to jam away without a kick drum for around 10 minutes. So it goes.
It's around this time we meet the inimitable Mark “Porkchop” Holder. Much of the bill for the festival has been handpicked by John of the Black Diamond Heavies and Porkchop is an original member of the Heavies. He's a big boy, though not as big as he was he says. According to Reubs he got his nickname for possessing the talent of being able to devour a pork chop whole with only a single bone to present licked clean afterwards. He's also a fine bottle neck slide blues guitarist steeped in the Tennessee tradition. After Ludo he is the most quotable personality of the tour.
One of my earliest conversations with him is the most memorable. He carries a cane and often wears a pair of denim overalls as in his words this denotes “that he is a working man”. He also carries a pistol in the pouch of his overalls back home. “Look Jamie I'm not interested in the colour of red. I'm interested in the colour of green,” he tells me, “but if someone refuses to pay me back home? I point the gun like this. [Through the pouch] Now I've never had to kill a man, thank God, but I’ll say, ‘Sir, I know you may have a habit of short changing folk at your bar and that's between you and them but things with me is different.’” Apparently southern gentility has developed through people being afraid of their neighbour blowing their brains out. He's also a former Baptist preacher turned drug dealer turned blues man. It's kind of like his whole life is being played out in front of a camera. We will be heading down south with him. It gets interesting.
Sat, Oct 29 - The Gate No Fixed Address, Sydney, NSW (w/Wintercoats + Oliver Tank)
Fri, Nov 18 – Notes, Sydney, NSW (w/The Maladies + Mark Moldre)
Sat, Nov 19 - Yours & Owls, Wollongong, NSW
Sun, Nov 20 – Grace Darling, Melbourne, VIC (w/Single Twin + Sui Zhen)
Sat, Dec 10 – Beetle Bar, Brisbane, QLD (w/We All Want To + Tall Tails)
Fri, Dec 16 – The Clarendon, Katoomba, NSW