I’m awoken by a grunting Yorkshireman at 7.30am; an hour and a half after we’d pulled into a Buffalo Wild Wings car park in a vain attempt to grab a couple of hours sleep before completing our 570 kilometre through-the-night drive from Dortmund to Paris. A dull ache is behind my eyes, my mouth is dry; I’m so damn hungry but in absolutely no state to wait til 9 for the restaurant to open.
In the night I had reached into the back and stolen Chris’ (my that everyone was using to nap) pillow as he’d been sleeping in a bed made up of empty carrier bags and cold hard car window. I peel myself away from my deeply uncomfortable makeshift bed car seat to see Brendan Clayton sprawled across the passenger seat. Slumped forward and contorted like Quasimodo; chin pressed firmly down into his chest, feet stretched aloft on the dashboard with the sun piercing through the windscreen illuminating his little tired, drooling face like a hungover Jesus being spotlit by a heavenly presence. He looked possibly the most uncomfortable I’ve ever seen a human being. It is engrained in my memory as one of the funniest things I’ve seen in my life.
I welcome the day with a croaky hoarse ‘Morning’ before Brendan stirs, looks at me with bloodshot, tired eyes and grunts, “Joel. Look at us. Drive us to Paris. Now.” This hit the funny chord and I remember laughing maniacally for a solid three minutes before realising; A) it wasn’t that funny and B) Fair enough. We were three grown men slumped in a Volkswagen Polo full to the brim with musical equipment. This was no place for us to sleep. Relatively refreshed; well not refreshed at all but feeling able to function compared to the night before, the drive to Paris was easy. It was only once we actually emerged onto the city’s ring-road where things got mental real quickly.
We deliberately chose to put Paris at the end of the tour because neither me or Chris had driven abroad before, and with driving in Paris being so notoriously difficult, starting there would have been nothing short of a baptism of fire. However we’d now both been driving through city centres every day on the wrong side of the road for three weeks and we considered ourselves ‘experts’ of this city centre driving malarkey. We’ll be fine! How bad can it be! It can’t be THAT bad surely?
It can. It was. It will always be. Paris. Is. A. Fucking. Nightmare to drive in. Within seconds of turning onto the ring road 5 motorbikes shot past us weaving through traffic like something out of Grand Theft Auto (at 8am!). People don’t let you in no matter how much you indicate, lane discipline goes out of the window because drivers in Paris don’t acknowledge the existence of lanes. It genuinely seemed like no one cared if they lived or died. I drove the whole way with my heart in my mouth. It was a VERY difficult start to the day. It would have been hard anyway but running on 40 minutes broken sleep at most; it was hell.
We mercifully arrived in Paris around 10am. We were being hosted by a friend of ours from Manchester; Margaux. Margaux is a fabulous singer in her own right. She recently got pretty damn far on the French version of The Voice and has been accepted as one of twenty students to go to the top music colleges in France. We knew Margaux before this trip – we were friends but we’d never properly hung out. One thing all three of us agreed on after this trip was how much we all LOVE her for that one day in Paris. After such a horrendous drive she was exactly what was needed. She was wonderful host over the next day that followed. An absolute angel. We owe her massively.
We arrived and Margaux had bought us all Pain Au Chocolates and had Coffee ready. We decided that we’d rather head out into Paris and try and make the most of our time here rather than sleep. So… we did our best. We must’ve been pretty useless to be honest. We were seriously, seriously tired and couldn’t have been much fun. Chris still feels bad about how useless we were that day. Brendan had been given a shirt by a clothing company for us to wear on tour to get some photos in and we’d assigned our day in Paris as a major photo opp. Despite Brendans skill and all the beauty Paris had to offer us we couldn’t get around the fact that we literally looked like death.
We had a great time with Margaux though and hit the Sacre Coeur tourist hotspot and wandered around and found a cool spot for a beer. We would have loved to see more and Margaux had a few cool things lined up she wanted to do with us (still so sorry) but truth be told we were starting to cut it fine with making the show on time. We went back to Margaux’s and had a 20 minute nap before booking an uber and setting off to our final gig of the tour.
The show was at a small cafe on the other side of Paris. After a 20 minute car journey in the most beat up taxi we’d ever been in we arrived at the venue, ate and got ready for the show. None of us were in a particularly good way but we were rejuvenated by the size of the crowd pouring into our gig. It was amazing. The room was full of maybe 100 to 200 people wanting to listen to our music. Chris was up first then there was a great American trio called Slim and The Beast who played a particularly cool surf rock / pop inspired set then it was my turn.
I can’t remember much of my set. I remember struggling with the sound and missing my stolen pedals badly. I remember snapping a string while tuning, I remember nearly passing out during ‘This Freedom’ (the combination of tiredness, me stamping my foot constantly throughout the track and singing in full head voice with every note vibrating through my brain was getting too much.) I finished the set in a cold sweat and thoroughly milked it by doing the whole, “everyone get your phone lights in the air” thing. It was probably a bit douchey – I definitely didn’t play well enough to deserve that reaction, but Paris were up for it and it was a glorious send off for me and Chris to a glorious three weeks on the road. I sold a few CDs and shirts and chatted to anyone who could speak English and packed up.
After the show we went looking for alcohol with Margaux and had a quick drink and whole pack of pringles eating sesh back at her flat before crashing out into the deepest sleep in recent memory. The next day we predictably got up late, packed the car late and said farewell to Margaux, Paris and France and hit the road.
I drove us to a service station an hour or so outside Paris and we had a quick (very expensive) lunch before Chris took over the driving. We suddenly realised after checking the P&O ferries website that we were cutting the journey extremely fine and we needed to hit the road HARD. Traffic was building up around Antwerp and our sat nav destination time (and my nerves) was jumping around like a yo-yo. After some mild panic and some truly stunning scenery (our route had taken us along the top of the Netherlands, where we crossed some spectacular bridges over the sea and passed through vast fields with the sun going down) we narrowly made the ferry home. We took a minute to chill as Brendan went to photograph the sunset then indulged in the most over-priced buffet dinner ever and hit the bar.
All plans of having one last alcohol-infused blow out on the ferry soon evaporated when we realised how exhausted we were. We were knackered by this point. Even watching and critiquing the house band on the ferry eventually became too much effort. I went back to the room and all but passed out, thus bringing my first tour of the European mainland to an end. Chris and Brendan stumbled in soon after and we all hit the hay.
The tour had been physically and mentally draining but we had had the best times together and I couldn’t have chosen two better guys in Chris and Brendan to share the tour with, we also couldn’t have been luckier with the people we got to meet along the way.
We’d all like to extend our greatest thanks and send our love to everyone we met on this journey and everyone who came out to see us. Cheers to, Hayley and Luisa at Clink Noord Hostels, Stephanie (Gaze & Noise Lab), Benjamin, Brady, Dylan, Catiana, Heimo (legend), Ally (for coming to two shows in Hamburg and Berlin), Callie, David, Nate, Luke, Mike (legend 2.0), Liedl (for continued love and support and for all his help when my pedals got nabbed), Mari and her 2 chihuahuas and 4 cats, Sarah & sis, Margaux, everyone who booked us for the tour, everyone who let us stay at their place, Liam Mcclair, Chris Tavener, Brendan Clayton Photography and Lucy and the fam back home and anyone I’ve missed off this list.
Oh and of course, the usual, (cliche but SO important) – everyone who bought merch, liked us on facebook / followed on insta, said hi, had a drink with us. I hope our paths cross again and we’ll have a blast all over again.
Until next time Europe.
All the love in the world.