Wednesday, August 25, 2010

This is hardcore

I mentioned the other day that I have a number of ambitions for this tour, of which growing a beard and making money are only two. One of the others, and a very important one, was to be invited to play violin in a psychedelic instrumental band at a hardcore metal festival in Belgium. Everybody said that it was unlikely to happen and that I should probably think of a different ambition if I wanted to actually achieve my goals, but I like to aim for the spectacularly unlikely in life. And now I can report that the events of last weekend permit me to type a sentence people thought I never would, which is this: I went to Belgium to play violin in a psychedelic instrumental band at a hardcore metal festival. A lot of this blog, like much of my life, is pure fabrication, but that sentence is nothing but the truth.

Here's how it went down: a couple of weeks ago, Reuben got an email from these guys who run an event called Ieperfest saying essentially that an Emerald City were booked to play at it, along with Agnostic Front, Converge, and a bunch of bands with names like Alien Foetus and Satan's Autopsy and basically combinations of words calculated to trouble peoples' parents. He was confused, because who wouldn't be? But he replied and said yeah sure we'll do it, but you have to get our violinist over from the UK and back in time for him to play at the 12-bar club on the Monday. I guess he thought they wouldn't go for it.

We should be clear: An Emerald City are not a hardcore band. They rock out and stuff, and there's probably a few bands out there that they could beat in a fight, and they like to jump around, but they're not hardcore and I'm pretty sure they don't want to be. I'm not hardcore either, for the record. I play the violin, and when I'm not doing that, I play noodly fingerpicking guitar, and when I'm not doing that I play mandolin in a psychedelic folk band. I write songs about birds. Hardcore isn't on the menu ordinarily.

Nevertheless, on Sunday morning, after playing four of our London shows over the previous few days, I dragged myself out of bed and onto the Eurostar, which dropped me in Lille. While I was in Lille I experienced a feeling that I'm coming to associate quite strongly with that part of the world, which is the one you get when you forgot to Google the town where you were supposed to end up to find out what country it's in. I was thinking France, but Belgium was a contender also, then there was a good twenty minutes when I couldn't remember if Belgium's even a country, and if it is, where it is. Then I remembered about places like Luxembourg and I stopped trying to figure it out.

As it turned out I didn't need to know where I was anyway, because these two guys picked me up with a little sign and a chillybin full of beers, and I don't know what language they spoke at all. They drove me down some motorways past a whole heap of cemeteries, and it started to dawn on me that Ieper is actually the same place as Ypres, but in a different language, which means it's one of the places where a lot of people's great-grandfathers got sent to die face-down in the mud. That kind of made the whole thing a bit more hardcore.

If you close your eyes and imagine what a hardcore festival might be like, you've pretty much got Ieperfest sorted. A lot of black clothes, a lot of guys who looked like they could waste me at Dungeons and Dragons, and a lot of guys who looked like they could waste me in general. Actually, mostly just a lot of guys. I think hardcore music might be more of a boy thing. Certainly my brief and unscientific observations of the bands playing on the same day as us revealed that Jess Emerald City was one of only two women playing that day, and the crowd was mostly boys. Nobody was as well dressed as Sam and Reuben, and you can read why here. Actually, just look at them:

We played our really not hardcore set, which was mine and Jess's Emerald City onstage debut, and it was tons of fun for everyone. So we all went back to the van and had a little disco with music we'd brought with us, because honestly and with great respect, hardcore music is really quite hard to listen to for any length of time. Even very short lengths of time. It wasn't long at all though before I had to jump in a van with a guy called Paul, who runs a bookshop, and had been dragooned into driving me to Calais. Unfortunately for him, he spoke pretty good English, so he had to listen to me talk the whole way there.

What with one thing and another, one thing being the GPS and the other being a pretty casual approach to programming the GPS on the part of whoever's job it was supposed to have been, we were running late by the time we got to the ferry at Calais. That meant that I was moving pretty fast towards the terminal as I pulled my ticket out of my pocket to check the fine print. Trying to do two things at once has ever been my downfall, but usually my downfalls are of the more metaphorical kind. This time, though, a poorly placed flowerpot type thing combined with my inability to multi-task to make the metaphorical literal - I tripped over it and executed a beautiful swan-dive into the pavement.

I must have really had my eyes on the prize, because I rolled to my feet spitting out bits of tooth and barrelled straight up to the check-in counter, where the nice man told me firstly that my ferry was delayed so I needn't rush, and secondly he would get me something for my face, which I then realised was bleeding enough to make me look seriously anti-social. Going through UK immigration looking like I'd just been in a fight was a lot smoother than I'd thought it might be, which gave me a fair bit of time before my boat to investigate the tooth situation. It turned out I'd broken the top of one of them. I didn't really mind, though, because it's one of those stupid teeth you don't really need. It's one of the plant-eating ones that are basically just an evolutionary hangover from when humans were herbivores, before we developed better teeth to eat awesome things like meat. I try to only use my meat-eating teeth anyway, so it's no loss really.

When we got to Dover, the implications of a delayed ferry in England on a Sunday night began to sink in. I hadn't had much of a hand (actually any of a hand) in booking my travel, so I was only when I limped up to the Dover train station that I realised that my ferry had been perfectly timed to connect with the last train to London, which wasn't going to wait forty minutes for no delayed boat. Fortunately I tend to not really experience emotions when I'm by myself, beacause there's no point really unless someone's watching, so the situation didn't get me down much. I thought 'that's a bit shit,' made myself a little camp outside the station out of an umbrella I had with me and the outside of my violin case, and spent the night on the pavement. That was about as comfortable as it sounds, and my face hadn't even stopped bleeding. I did have the enormous satisfaction of being the only person on the first commuter train to London the next morning with two seats to myself though, because I looked like I'd played at a hardcore festival, fallen on my face in a carpark, and slept in a train station, so nobody wanted to sit with me.

I got back to London about 24 hours after I left, and way more hardcore. That night me and Tim did a gig at the 12-bar club, and I had a lot of fun walking around looking like I'd been in a fight. That's what I thought, anyway, until I had a conversation with the barman as I was packing up my gear.

'Do you reckon I look like I've been in a fight?'

'Not really mate, no.'

'what are you talking about? I've got a fat lip and chipped tooth, and I'm limping like a pirate.'

'It's just that you're a bit of a skinny lad, and if you'd been in a fight I'd imagine you'd look a lot worse, you know what I mean?'

'But what if I knew karate or something?'

'Wasn't that you playing the violin earlier? I doubt you know karate, mate.'

'What if you didn't know that I'm really a bit of sissy, would you think I'd been in a fight then? I mean, look at my lip and stuff.'

'To be honest mate, when you walked in I just thought you had a coldsore and a gammy leg. You can't really see the tooth.'

'Oh right, thanks then.'

Why did I say thanks? Because I am well brought-up, that's why. Not really hardcore at all in fact.


  1. Think I have to agree with the the photo I thought the blood under your fat lip was a little goatee! I guess that would fit with the growing a beard ambition.

  2. I like the conversation with the barkeep. Seeing as you appear to have some amounts of spare time, you might appreciate the following, as the best previous use of the "this ain't hardcore" sentiment. At about 2 minutes in:

    Hope all's well,


    (I'm using my 6 year-old daughter's account here due to my own laziness - long story)