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The Smell
Of Incense

European Tour 1998 (1)

Won't you, won't you come with us on a psychedelic holiday, sang my friends in The Smell Of Incense, and without too much hesitation I grabbed them by the words. The first gig was to be in a youth club in Berlin called Die Linse, which sounded all right to a vegetarian like me (Linse = lentil).

Most of the recorded output of The Smell Of Incense has been released by the German label September Gurls. It includes two albums and singles and half a 10" EP (the second album was released last summer and pre-reviewed at Luna at an early stage). Because of good reception to all their releases, they've had an offer for several years from the people of the Belgian psychedelic magazine Crohinga Well to do a low budget tour. Now finally they decided to make the great leap. Work and parental obligations had to be sorted out, a mini bus to contain eight people, lots of instruments and gear was hired. The tour was to include Germany and Belgium, and a gig in the Netherlands in addition. They were not sure how many gigs they'd play until the last days before departure. And they didn't have any written agreements (contracts if you like); Smell Of Incense is not a professional band. They set out on a rainy Thursday evening in the middle of October from their home town of Arendal, picked up a couple of the guys living in Oslo and left Norway the next morning. I went by train the following evening.

Time to present the Smelly Vincents: Lumpy Davy (guitars and vocals), Cool Kat (drums and sneezes) and Han Solo (bass and vocals) started the band about 12 years ago. Ernie Chung (guitars, vocals and brass) and Bumble B (vocals and fiddle) joined a few years later and naturally expanded the sound. On this tour they also brought along semi-permanent members Brt Blaster (voice and spacebubbling synth), Mickey Moog (keyboards, brass and vocals) and producer/soundman Bjorn F. The latter inclusions were very wise moves. I guess they would've had huge problems to get any sound, at least any decent sound, if it hadn't been for Bjorn F. in particular. The music is so-called retro, a blend of their own psychedelic and progressive songs and cover versions of highlights from the psychedelic 60s and progressive 70s such as The Smell Of Incense by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, A Visit With Ashiya by Merrel Fankhouser's HMS Bounty, Why Did I Get So High by Peanut Butter Conspiracy, Gong's What Do You Want and Magick Brother etc. These are not pale blueprints of the originals. The band tries to interpret them their own way. For instance, Incredible String Band's acoustic Witch's Hat is turned into a full blown electric folk-rocker, Kinks' Fancy (not part of the tour set) is taken to the extremes: a raga rock number with sitar and all, whereas with Pink Floyd's Interstellar Overdrive, they've only kept the opening and closing riff of the original. The 15 plus minute middle parts used to sound closer to Gong earlier, I think, now it's something else, probably their own sound. That's why they call it (The Smell Of) Interstellar Overdrive.

FIRST WE TAKE BERLIN

My journey by train took about 17 hours via Copenhagen and Hamburg. After a lot of rain, it was a clear and sunny afternoon in Berlin, almost summer. Hooray! I took the underground from Bahnhof Zoo to a station nearby Die Linse in Lichtenberg in the far east of Berlin. And guess what; the band hadn't arrived yet. They should've been there half an hour earlier at 17, but of course had troubles to: a) find the club, and finally b) find a way to drive the minibus to the entrance of the club.

They turned up within an hour and had enough time to do a decent sound-check. I was told of an almost sleepless previous night and how the bus had stopped on a Swedish motorway. "Well, the engine is broken down, this is it, end of tour", they'd thought. It turned out they had only run out of gas, but the trip to the nearest gas station took at least an extra hour.

We got an excellent and simple vegetarian meal and a few excellent German beers at the club. The local opening act Frustration des Elch had put a contingent of friends and fans on the guest list, and their set of heavy-progressive kraut-rock was well received. I particularly enjoyed their organ sound. The only problem was that half the people left after they had finished... I won't tire you with endless descriptions of how The Smell Of Incense's music varied from evening to evening. Now, the first gig abroad went smoothly. The local PA system was the best during the tour, I guess, and the stage was big enough for the entire six men and one woman ensemble in spite of Mickey's range of keyboards including an old electric Fender Rhodes piano, the Mellotron and an extra mixing console. They started and ended the show with Bumble B singing some Norwegian folk songs on her own. Then straight into Czar's Tread Softly On My Dreams with lots of mellotron. They continued with most songs off their singles, a few from the first album and the suite From The Third Hemisphere off the second album. They also performed a very memorable version of Memories by Soft Machine, the best I've ever heard, and a 20 minute version of Hawkwind's space shanty Space Is Deep, including some atonal and improvised parts. I guess there was an encore before Bumble B ended the show at about 1.30 in the morning. Brt introduced most of the songs from his low lotus position at the right of the stage. But the band seldom started playing straight afterwards, they had to discuss, hesitate, sip beer etc. first, which goes to show they're an amateur band. Anyway, they turned more professional that way during the tour.

I guess the band was tense at first, but eased off after the first three or four songs. They've had far greater audiences back home, but was very well received by the handful of people who stayed until the end, especially Gert, the main organiser at the club, Henning who runs the Lollipop Shop record label, and Sabina who on (too) short notice organised the German part of the tour. She is a tour manager in her spare time, working with Man and Fantasyy Factoryy among others, but surely lost more money than she gained on this tour. It was decided to leave the equipment at the club. After some more beers it was time to drive to the house in Wedding (yes, very matrimonial!) at the other side of town where we should stay for the night. Sabina drove in front in her car to show the way. A wise move. We arrived there at about 4 in the morning. Time for some more drinking and chatting. I eventually went to sleep in the bus with Mr. Kat. In the end I managed to kick him into a snoreless position... Soon after, it seemed, Lump entered the bus to get some of his luggage. It was broad daylight, and one more sunny day in Berlin. But evil omens were looming in the distance...

The very hospitable Wedding people had occupied the house some 15 years ago. Now the relationship with the owners were well arranged and they had rented their separate flats for quite some time. We had a long, relaxed and nice Sunday breakfast in a huge kitchen. Some of the inhabitants were old friends of Gert at Die Linse. Kalle had been the organ player of a successful krautrock band in the early 70s when he was still a teenager. Now he rehearsed with a heavy-progressive trio that was not quite ready for the public yet. It was his wife's birthday this very day.

coverpic Sabina offered a sight-seeing tour of Berlin if it was time after the sound-check for tonight's gig. First we had to fetch the gear at Die Linse. Once more Sabina lead the way through the streets of Berlin, followed by the band in their bus. The expedition took about two and a half hours. It was a long way to drive and a lot to carry - including Cool Kat's fan (well, not that kind of rock'n'roll fan; one to keep him as cool as his name indicates, you know), video gear and psychedelic light equipment - and it was time for a photo session, too, under the rainbow. At 6 p.m. we turned up in front of the Bumerang club, as agreed! This was much closer to the city centre than the club we had just left. Bumerang was small, sort of a pub, the stage was too small for seven people. And it was no room for the mixing desk in front of the stage. Bjorn F had to stand behind the bar at the side of the stage. Brt was to sit at the public side of the bar with his hand-painted synth, and Bumble B had to stand in the steps to the stage part of the time. Anyway, the people at the club brought along a case or two of beer bottles and we got the equipment and instruments into the room and in correct positions within a couple of hours. Two boys calling themselves Family Freshlight (a well known local name, I believe) had been hired and brought along a complete psychedelic light show and occupied most of the rear end of the club. At 8.30 the sound- and light-check was finished. No time for sight-seeing, of course, but some of us drove back to the house in Wedding to change clothes while the rest remained in Bumerang to handle some small technical difficulties. We got some warm and nice fish soup in the kitchen. Not quite the Norwegian way as intended, but excellent it was. Back to the Bang-bang a-boome-boome-rang at 10 along with Kalle and Paul.

The club was crowded. Gert and Henning had turned up. Everything looked promising, but Bumble B was tense. She was catching a cold and ordered a cup of tea at the bar. Because of misunderstandings she didn't get it for some time and it was not as hot as it ought to have been when she finally received it. Anyway, the band had a good start with their Gong suite. A long and psychedelic instrumental part with glissando guitar and all, then folksy and whimsical at the end. Bumble B sang a couple of songs, but not as convincing as usual. She was on the verge of losing her voice. The set had to be changed, to spare her vocal chord, and it ended with Tread Softly which had been intended for the start after a break. Bjorn ran from behind the bar to the centre of the room now and again to adjust the sound. It was better than expected, Brt didn't even manage to make feed-back from his position close to one of the speakers!

coverpic The members of the band were not in the best of moods, and found out they had to include both (The Smell Of) Interstellar Overdrive and Space Is Deep for the second set. Almost an hour of instrumental space oddities and free-form freak-out which was very well received. Ernie and Mickey used their horns to great effect during the middle of Interstellar Overdrive. In between they played Put The Clock Back On The Wall by San Jose's E Types. The Smelly version sounds almost as a country-pop-rocker in a Byrds'ian way. Quite schizophrenic to squeeze in among the 20-30 minute instrumentals if you ask me, almost as schizophrenic as the first Pink Floyd album. The band was encouraged to do encores and started with the old I'm Allergic To Flowers by Jefferson Handkerchief (off the legendary Pebbles Vol. 3 album) from the band's early days. But they couldn't remember the song and had to give in. No problemo! Instead we got Tread Softly once more. Great playing and singing, great lights and slides. One of the highlights of the tour for yours truely which still keep flashbacking in my head once in a while. Bumble B tried to finish the evening with a Norwegian lullaby, but her voice gave in. A charming end of what turned out to be a successful evening. The boys with the lights got away with half of the money from the door, but the band didn't care too much at the time. They were busy to talk to people, sell a few records and get the equipment back into the bus. It was nearly 2 a.m.

Back in Wedding the birthday celebration continued. The most eager boys of the band kept going until 7.30 next morning. They found it somewhat hard to get up again at 10 as agreed. Anyway, everyone was ready to leave the premises at about 12.30. Bumble B and Lump also got to have a shower at the nearby bath and brought along a pile of goods from the local chemist's shop to cure the former's sore throat. And Han Solo and Lumpy Davy even washed the dishes after breakfast.

At 1 p.m. they set off for the next town of the tour, Celle north of Hannover. I went for some sight-seeing of Berlin at last, and followed by train later in the afternoon.

IN THE BASEMENT

After a pleasant day in sunny Berlin and a comfortable journey by rail, I arrived in Celle at 9 in the evening. It was not hard to find the pub where the gig was to be. Celler Loch (meaning something like trap-door of the cellar) was in Bahnhofstrasse, i.e. Railway station street. I soon saw some familiar persons at the pavement. It turned out they had arrived only a few minutes before me. They had taken a wrong route out of Berlin and was well on their way to Leipzig (in the south) instead of Hannover (to the west of Berlin)... Also, Brt had been busy drinking in the bus and they had to get off the Autobahn at a turnoff a little too early, for him to pee, and of course they had difficulties once more to find the right direction afterwards. When they finally arrived in Celle after an 8 hour drive instead of 3-4 hours, the crowd at Celler Loch applauded in welcome. In fact the gig should have started at 7 and ended when the band arrived. Usually they only had live music on Sunday afternoons, and they expected a very relaxed Monday band with endless spheric sounds(!), according to the programme. There was a bedroom where children were sleeping at the first floor just above the pub. Or shall we say the small bar. It was small indeed, and crowded as hell. Bumble B had lost her voice completely, it started to rain, the band occupied about 1/3 of the room that made it even more crowded (and half the pavement outside). Perfect conditions! Lump wanted to call the gig off...

But wonder of all wonders! Before 10 they had got the most neccessary gear in position, managed to get some sound from the local antique amplifier for the voices and had a sort of sound-check that gradually turned into Space Is Deep. Not at all a bad idea! They managed to fill a nearly two hour set without Bumble B's voice. Lump sang better than ever, Mickey sang a lot more than usual and handled the little mixing console from his position at the keyboards. Bjorn F and I sipped our beers at the other side of the room in the crowd and Bjorn signalled to Mickey how to adjust the sound. Brt was to introduce the songs as usual. He stood with his back to the audience and got more and more hoarse and drunk and was finally asked to leave by Lump. He sat sulking in the bus for the rest of the evening. Rock'n'roll, eh? Anyway, some of the young girls with punky coloured hair left the pub, too, but the middle aged men were very enthusiastic, sang along to Put The Clock Back On The Wall and went bananas during Interstellar Overdrive. They looked up all band members afterwards, to get their autographs! That's the way to do it when you're pushing 50! Bjorn F was a bit disappointed that no-one was interested in the autograph of the patient producer of the second Smell Of Incense album or the man behind Melt ...

The concert was kind of a success against all odds, and ended at midnight, sharp. Then, when half the people had left, the organisers at the pub let a couple of hats go round to get some payment for the band... That was the Celler Loch policy. If they had a normal entrance fee at the door, no one would turn up, we were told. I think the band received about 130 marks, enough to cover the petrol expenses from Berlin and a little more, maybe. Well, we got a lot to drink in addition and were taken to the outskirts of the town where we should stay for the night. We were warned that the house was a sort of building site (just like parts of Berlin!) and very cold, but at least it was room for everyone. Otherwise we might have spent the night in two different camps. Anyway, we kept together, on the second floor of an old farm-house, it seemed. And a cold and seedy room it was. I was lucky to put my sleeping-bag in the huge bed at a comparably early stage (2.30 in the morning, I guess) and stayed there for the rest of the night while Mickey occupied another third of the bed. The others were sleeping on old mattresses on the dirty floor. Even more rock'n'roll, eh?

Next morning we were guided to a cafe in town and got the best breakfast of the entire tour. A long and luxurious meal. Great! We even got time for some sight-seeing of the old town with lots of houses from the 14th and 15th century that was not destroyed during the last war. At 3 in the afternoon I parted with the band. They had two evenings off before the next gig and intended to go to Amsterdam. I went to the railway station and headed for Belgium to visit some old friends.

Read all about even more troubles and the rest of the psychedelic crusade in Luna K's December menue.

Copyright © 1998 JP e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Smell Of Incense articles/reviews: A Curious Miscellany, European Tour 1998 (2), Of Ullages And Dottles, Through The Gates Of Deeper Slumber.

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