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The Smell Of Incense
European Tour 1998 (2)

Last moon we heard of The Smell Of Incense's heroic tour across the German continent despite little money and difficult sound systems on their way. We parted a Tuesday afternoon in the nearly medieval city of Celle. I went towards Belgium by train, while they set out for Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Their next gig was more than 48 hours away. I was going to visit a couple of old friends, Nadine Bal and Alain Neffe who live outside Nivelles, another Belgian town, south of Brussels. Together they're the avant garde band Bene Gesserit. Alain is/was also responsible for the tape label Insane Music Contact, he was a member of the Belgian group Pseudo Code, is still the heart of the international project Human Flesh, he's been involved in a project with Daniel Denis of Univers Zero etc. I also met an ex-member from the early days of Univers Zero, but that's another story.

INTO THE LOWER COUNTRIES

Meanwhile the members of The Smell Of Incense and soundman Bjorn F were once again packed in the bandbus and it was soon growing dark. We had started too late from Celle. I only got as far as Aachen close to the Belgian border and it was late in the evening when they reached the heart of Amsterdam. They tried to find a hotel for the night, but everywhere they went there were no vacancies. Also, because of environmental reasons, it is limited possibilities and dead expensive to park the car in the city centre. Later they were stopped by a policeman who informed that it is prohibited to sleep in vans and buses throughout the Netherlands... In the end they drove towards the outskirts of Den Haag and found no other alternative than to stay in the bus for the night anyhow. Some of the boys went to get a beer. It turned out only the local brothel was still open, but they got the beer they were longing for. On the way back they were stopped by a couple of locals who accused them of having knocked down some dustbins, which they hadn't, the visit at the whore-house hadn't been that jolly. They got back to the bus after picking up some garbage after all. Eight people in the comparably small bus for one night with only enough space for 5 or 6 people to stretch out, I guess. And the snoring in addition. I'm sure glad I wasn't there! But it would've been fun to be around when they got a nightly visit by a local policeman who suspected them of stealing. He jumped several (?) feet in the air when up popped Ernie's sleepy face wearing his black burglar's cap. But they got away with it and were not disturbed by any other outsiders for the rest of the night.

Next morning they went to the centre of Den Haag to relax and get fit. Only Bumble B and Lumpy Davy had the guts/surplus to return to Amsterdam that day to inspect the canals, coffee-shops and local brownies at close range. Meanwhile the others went sight-seeing in Den Haag and stayed most of the evening in a club with lousy blues jams. In the end they entered the stage themselves (it was two days since the last gig, remember!) and delivered a version of The Smell Of Incense. Bjorn took care of the female vocal parts. He had added some vocal harmonies from behind the mixing desk earlier and was ready for the limelight. During an instrumental part, he started to bang a cymbal with his fist. It was not approved by a big black guard.

This night some of the boys found out it was due time to stay in a hotel! They got the chance to sleep peacefully, get a shower and that kind of luxury lifestyle. The next day was Thursday and time for the real Dutch gig of the tour. They found the right place early in the afternoon for once. The building used to be an ordinary church, but now it belonged to some small and some strange religious societies. It was a beautiful building with stained-glass pictures and all, but marked by wear and tear. And behold! The people there expected an altogether acoustic band! There were no amplifying equipment for the vocals, and the community living on the ground floor didn't tolerate any noise. Wow, who mentioned a well organised tour? Eventually they persuaded Freddo Renier, the local organiser, to go and look for an amplifier. Otherwise they'd have to call off the gig. All he managed to borrow was two old loudspeakers from a local punk group. But they found out it was possible to use the amplifier intended for the clergyman's sermons for the vocals! Rock'n'roll, eh? And the concert went ahead with drums, electric instruments and all... There was quite a good assembly and people were sitting devout in the chairs. The band played the quietest songs in order not to disturb the people living underneath too much. To get to hear anything of the rest of the band, Cool Kat kept the beat slower than usual. Everyone was glad Bumble B's voice was back in business and the band was pleased they managed to get through the obstacles once more and delivered a decent set, though Bjorn thought the sound conditions had been horrible. The people living below agreed with him. It was the very last time an electric band should be allowed to enter the holy room! Michael Demmler and Eva Koehler of Smell Of Incense's German record label September Gurls had travelled 600 kilometres to attend the concert and finally arrived as the band struck the very last chord of the encore...

coverpic The gig was shorter and ended earlier than usual. They were taken back to Freddo's place that turned out to be the 18 year old collective Blauwe Anschlag consisting of spiritual freaks and hard-core punks. The smell of cats' piss and dope filled the air. The room where they were sleeping was even seedier than the one in Celle and looked very much like the home of a hard-core bachelor. There was a mystic and empty cage in a corner where some eerie animal seemed to have escaped. Brt woke up next morning and found a syringe under his mattress. Anyway, Freddo and his company were very friendly and had high ideals. Which also meant cheap tickets the previous evening and very little money for the band.

CHOCOLATE BARS AND BEER BARRELS OF BELGIUM

Thursday turned into Friday and it was time to say goodbye to Den Haag and the Netherlands and hello Belgium. It was raining cats and dogs on the road to Liège, but when The Smelly Vincents had found Jean, the person who was going to lead them to the arena of the night, the rain had ceased for a little while. Well, compared to Bumerang in Berlin and Celler Loch, L'Etoile du Nord was kind of an arena. It was a complex of many rooms with cafe, art exhibition area, stalls for records, big stage and space, little children and dogs wandering about... a sort of anarchic community that was more common 15 years ago. But pleasant in an almost nostalgic way. I arrived there at about 9.30 p.m. with my Belgian hosts while the rain poured down yet again. The gig was the opening evening of a 5 days event dealing with unemployment. The mayor of Liège had made the kick-off with a speech earlier in the evening. When we entered, the first band was ready to start. It was some industrial and experimental project that produced sounds and moods close to similar projects 10-15 years ago. One of the boys played a sort of guitar with added metal percussions while another person was eating the flames of burning sticks. Next was a female mime troupe all dressed up like clowns. The children loved them.

And finally, close to 11 p.m., it was time for the Norwegian head-liner of the evening. They had a fine start with the Gong medley. Some of the organisers were well into Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles etc. and the opening parts of the Gong suite tread the same paths. Great! It was the lady's night. Bumble B's voice had fully recovered and I think she sang almost all the songs of their live repertoire with female lead vocals. Her electric violin sounded splendid, too. The mixing desk was very good, only the loudspeakers were a bit small or too few for the big room. It was hard for Bjorn to get a punchy bass and the mellotron was a bit muddled at first. The only problem was they kept playing too long - for more than two hours - and it was too many of the short pop- and folk-tinged eccentric songs. They would probably have gained by playing more of the freaky spaced tunes such as their version of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit with a long instrumental intro and Interstellar Overdrive. Apart from the Gong stuff at the start we only got a 25 minute Space Is Deep at the very end. By then most people had left or were too tired or exhausted to digest what they heard. Only one or two persons shouted "Encore!".

I had said goodbye to my Belgian friends who went home before the Incents finished Space Is Deep. Time for a final beer or two, some chat, sell some records. Two children were sleeping in the dressing room backstage. The band was offered one more job in Liège two days later, Sunday afternoon, which they eventually accepted. Time to clear the stage and get the gear into the bus once more which took about an hour. Some of the local people drove in front to where the majority of the band should sleep. Which turned out to be another seedy youth or student house, but quite close to the city centre. Bumble B and Lumpy Davy on the other hand, were sleeping in a four-poster at Jean's place in a beautiful big brick house in a huge garden with salamander ponds... Mickey had managed to record tonight's show via his mixing console on stage, somehow, and played it on the car stereo. It was a strange mix, but he was going to save it for his future children anyhow. The boys hadn't eaten during the evening and wanted to find an open shop to get some food. It was 4 a.m. I had planned to leave for Norway early next morning and eventually brushed my teeth in the gutter and went to sleep for a few hours in the bus along with Mr. Cool. I awoke at 7.30, got dressed inside the freezing van, folded my sleeping bag and woke up Kat during the process. It seemed he wasn't too keen on the thought of the long drive home. As a railway employee he, naturally, envied me the luxury of going by train. I stumbled down to the railway station and got on the first train to Germany that morning a few minutes later. It was a 24 hour journey before I was home in Oslo.

And the band played on. They went to the small town Bastogne the same day and had a successful gig in a little club called Coleurs Cafés without the usual troubles. Sunday afternoon saw them back in Liège and another successful gig in a club. On both occasions they used the PA system from the first evening in Liège which fit better in smaller rooms than the huge premises of L'Etoile du Nord of Friday night. Finally they met up with André of Crohinga Well and a couple of members of the band The Tribe Of Cro including André 's son. The gigs in Belgium was much better paid than on the rest of the tour. They got a fixed fee, independent of the attendances.

It was nearly midnight when they started the long drive home. On the way out of Belgium they were stopped by the police one more time, who were not very pleased the way they were seated in the bus. Too many people and too little seat capacity. They got away with an explanation that it had been approved by the Norwegian authorities and they were on their way out of Belgium anyway... After 24 hours non stop driving they reached Oslo in the rain, and the girl and boys who were going to Arendal needed 4 more hours in the bus to get home.

coverpic Is there any moral in this story? Well, the band lost some money, had a lot of troubles and some disappointments, were freezing, were stuck inside a small mobile without the Memphis Blues for hours on end. If you want to go on a smooth tour with your band and don't want to loose any money, don't do it the Smell Of Incense way. Get written contracts in advance, state your requirements concerning minimum fee, accommodation, food and drink. On the other hand, if you want to meet nice people (with hardly any money), get a cheap and alternative holiday with free food and ditto beers etc. some of the time, along with exotic accommodation for free and a chance to perform your music and practice in front of a new audience for several evenings on end, go for the Smelly way!

It had been a tiresome, hard, rough, tough, rock'n'roll, amusing, interesting, instructive, memorable, hilarious and different journey, but the band and yours truly kind of enjoyed it. And the band improved their playing a lot during the tour. They ought to have kept going. So far they haven't had any rehearsals since their return home more than a moonth ago. But Mickey has already finished one more 7 gig tour in Norway with another band Velvet Belly accompanied by Biosphere, but that's a different story. I guess the memories and Cool Kat's video tapes of the tour might make The Smell Of Incense fiddle with plans for gigs and some time together on the road again, sooner or later. I saw an episode on a video where Ernie is driving the bus across a lawn with big stones around the edges in the suburbs of Berlin to get to the first gig and someone behind the video camera is saying: "I sure hope you don't show this to the guy who owns the bus!". I hope he doesn't read this either! (It turned out fine.)

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 (1), Of Ullages And Dottles, Through The Gates Of Deeper Slumber.

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