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Ben, in a plane from Beijing to Amsterdam, Thursday 3rd May
I can’t figure out taxis in China. They seem to decide at random whether they will take you or not, and if they don’t want to they think of some really bad excuses.
There was this French electro rock band called Nasser on the bill at MIDI Festival who sounded interesting. We missed them in Shanghai and again in Beijing, but spotted a flyer in a café yesterday that said they were playing again at the Temple Bar last night.
Mike and I decided to go, so we looked it up on Google Maps. 28 minutes walk from the hotel and we were setting off just as the band were supposed to start playing. Better get a taxi. Neither of us speak Chinese, so we got the hotel staff to write the address out on a piece of paper and went outside to hail a cab.
The first taxi to stop drove off before we’d said a word. The second one looked at the address, shook his head and drove off. The third one mimed that the second half of the address didn’t make sense and drove off. We went back into the hotel and got the staff to check the address, which was fine. The bar was about 5 minutes drive away and shouldn’t be difficult to find. The hotel girl came outside with us to help. We hailed our fourth taxi and the driver had a heated conversation with the girl, who kept handing him my iPhone with the map and the directions on it. He insisted that he couldn’t find it. We offered to point the way for him. He said it was difficult to get to by car. We told him to drop us nearby. This went on for at least 5 minutes, by which time we could have been there. In the end he said it was too close and that we should walk.
By this time we had probably missed the band, so we went to another bar and watched a Latin Reggae band (who turned out to be almost entirely Flamenco) with a bunch of ex-pats.
Juju wrote the last blog on the way to Nanjing. That journey ended up being long and arduous. It was a bank holiday weekend here, so when we got to Nanjing station the queue for taxis was 90 minutes long. We got the subway instead, then had to walk for about 40 minutes with all the bags and gear before dragging it all up a long flight of steps to the hotel. The hotel had no lift and we were on the third floor. The humidity was pushing 95% and it was at least 26 Celcius. By the time we arrived we were exhausted.
The gig in Nanjing was fun, and we went to get noodles afterwards. There was only one place open, this sort of outside kitchen with all the ingredients laid out on a table and a chef with a huge knife. The old women laughed their heads off as we tried to order something by pointing at random ingredients and saying “mien, mien” (the only useful word I knew – “noodles”). I suppose it would be like a Chinese guy walking into a kebab shop in England, pointing at things and saying “chips, chips”. A bit weird. There was a fish tank at the side with half a dozen fish, each about 8 inches long. As we were waiting, one of the women put her hand in the tank, grabbed a fish and gave it to the chef, who chopped its head off with his big knife and chucked it on the grill.
Catching a taxi to the station the next day was another adventure. Apparently Nanjing taxi drivers are particularly difficult. We thought we would be ok because we were going a fair distance, but two taxis refused to take us because our bags might mess up the nice white seat covers.
If I seem slightly obsessed with taxis, it’s because we’ve spent a lot of the last three weeks in them and the experience has been unforgettable. For a start, we’ve been packing so much into them we look like an episode of the keystone cops. Two suitcases in the boot, Abe (our tour manager) in the front with at least three bags piled on him, Mike and I in the back with suitcases between our legs, Juju in between us and a guitar across all three of us. And then there’s the driving. It’s difficult to explain exactly why it’s terrifying, but try this: imagine a three-lane motorway where everybody changes lanes constantly without ever looking in the rear view mirror, and just honks their horn every time they’re about to zip past someone in the vague hope that they’ll let you past. It seems to work, but I have no idea how.
Monday in Beijing was maybe the best day of the tour. We had two gigs: one in the afternoon at MIDI Festival (in front of 2-3,000 people) and one in the evening at the Hot Cat Club (in front of 50 people). Both were great.
In a festival line-up full of Chinese metal bands I think we gave them something different. The set went down really well, and even though we had a few technical problems on stage (a broken string and a mic cutting out) the crowd were singing and clapping along and Juju gave a top notch performance. They had one of those big screens behind the stage and cameras on huge booms swinging over the audience and around the stage, which always makes it fun for us…
We were a bit dubious about the Hot Cat Club when we arrived – the sound wasn’t great and they didn’t have a keyboard for me to play. It seemed like the gig was going to be a bit crap. But with the help of an enthusiastic sound man and a very excitable audience, we had a great time. I ended up playing an old upright piano and Mike came to the front and played percussion instead of drums so we could hear Jules’s voice over the dodgy PA. There was a great improvised call and response thing in the middle of You Me & the TV (“People! People!”) and the Umbilical Chord was absolutely mental. It was a great ending to a great tour.
Mike loves his dumplings, and he has been learning all the words for the different types (they all sound something like “Chao-tse”, “Bao-tse”), so we ended up in a three-story, all-night dumpling emporium at 1am and had the best meal of the tour with some Italian girls and an Indian English guy.
Somehow we had got the date wrong for our flight back, so we had an extra day in Beijing to chill out, try the local hotpot and see a few sights. It’s quite an extraordinary city.
And that’s it. We’ll be home by the time I post this. Mike took a load of photos so we’ll post them soon too. As they say in China, “bye bye”!
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We just found a demo of Error In Your Sunrise that we recorded with Gaz earlier in the year. We had almost forgotten about it, but it sounds great!
Nez is rocking away on drums, Juju is on great form and I seem to have discovered a tinkly synth of some sort, probably on the iPad…
It’s free to listen, embed, share and download so stick it on your iPod and make it the soundtrack to a beautiful moment. ;)
Update: Here’s the track in the new HTML5 Soundcloud player, which should work on iPhones and so on…
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We had a lot of fun at Guilfest yesterday and Juju took a load of Instagram photos.