Mushroom Tour Day 10: The Road – Thursday 18th April
Today there is only one task, to get from Prague to Paris. Google estimates 8 hours of driving without breaks, without traffic and without a loaded van, so we expect to spend the day on the road. As the day isn’t eventful, we will take the opportunity to talk about the tour in general, and to utter a few thanks.
First, a huge hats off to Fred and Zac, who have been taking turns to drive Fred’s transit van across Europe for ten consecutive days now. They are taking on two jobs, the driver’s and the musician’s. Whenever one isn’t driving he sits in the back resting amongst the mountain of instruments. On top of that, they have to stay sober and cannot enjoy the delicious beer (the Czech legal limit of alcohol in blood is zero, drivers aren’t allowed to drink anything at all)
Then, a tribute to the tour manager, Jiri Slavik, who single-handedly organised the whole thing and who has been making sure everything ran smoothly. He is also our ears and eyes, as he has to translate many conversations, order for us, explain the customs, navigate, make sure we’re always on time and much more.
We’ve been listening to a lot of music in the van, and it seems an opportunity to address the question of “influences”. When we are doing band promotion, we always get asked “who are your influences?” which we dread because we don’t know how to answer. It seems strange to us that a musician’s identity would be described as a composite of well known musicians. A UK radio jazz show came up with a system describe musicians with coefficients for how much they resemble each jazz icon (for instance, Zac would be Roland Kirk 67, Ben Webster 42, Monk 98, Mingus 58…) which would save time and unnecessary verbal constructions .This ridiculous system parodies the influences mindset; in fact it amused us so much we started jokingly using it in rehearsals. We also struggle with the term influence, which is of extreme vagueness. The question “who are your influences” can mean “who do you listen to right now”, or “who did you listen to growing up”, or “who have you transcribed”, “who do you sound like”, or “who would you like to sound like”, or “who do you think of emulating”, or “who inspired you”, “who’s image do you wish for yourself” or “which audience are you trying to associate yourself with”… Above all, the question leads to an embarrassing self examination and an arrogant comparison with the great musicians of history, which makes us take ourselves way too seriously. Nevertheless, we cannot be so rude as not to answer the people who show an interest in our music, so we have to say something, and so this time we will answer in a literal fashion, that is, by listing out the albums we’ve been listening to during the tour. A small sample of our listening habbits reads as follows: bach (musical offering), jazz (paul motian), bach (art of fugue), jazz (lee konitz), bach (trio sonatas), jazz (lester young), purcell (fantasia), samba (ivone lara, jair do cavaquinho), the beatles (white album), hiphop (laurin hill) ,aka pygmees, fela kuti (j.j.d., expensive shit, edge mi o), rumba (muñequitos de matanzas)… Wagner, Fred’s latest obsession, has been banned from the van radio.
Another album which we keep listening to recently, especially in parties, is “London is the place for me Vol.3”, a compilation of recordings from Trinidadian musicians living in London in the 1950s, featuring old time calypsonians such as Lord Kitchener, featuring songs like “I was there (at the coronation)” or “Kitch’s bebop calypso”. Not only are the tunes fun and funky, we also enjoy the way that patois fits really in short spaces really long lyrics which talk about any subject. Early in the tour, as were learning the lyrics of “Saxophone no.2”, Fred had a dream, a vision, inspired by that song but with different lyrics, which told the story of the travels of four monogamous musicians in a van, far away from their girlfriends and trapped in an atmosphere of manliness. The dream came with a melody which replaced the original “Saxophone” by “Testosterooone!!”. Since then, we have been slowly trying to realise his grand vision, writing a line here and a chorus there. Last night, at the Lokal, in Prague, the beer cheese provided some invaluable inspiration for a few verses, and today, trapped in the van for the whole day, we go through them in an earnest team effort to have a full song ready before the end of the tour.
As for the band dynamics, the many characters that we put on (clouseau, borat, white van driver, ali g, zu pato, chico marx, lord kitchener) are blending into quite a formidable monster which shows up at any time on any topic of conversation. “The voice” has opinions about everything and anything, has virtually no inhibitions, mocks as well as praises, and in a way is our wild collective consciousness with a life of its own.
As for today, the motorway day, we begin by a shy attempt to tidy up the van, which has been consumed by entropy, spreading around instruments, clothes, a jar of pickled cabbage, raw broccoli, a box of dates, cigars… We try to clear the air, but all is in vain as the consequences of the beer cheese will accompany us for the whole day. Zac laments that the second plate of beer cheese was a bit excessive. We stop over at the border of Czech and Germany, eating lunch in a restaurant next to a house of delight, called the Hunter’s House, and where some of the staff take their lunch break next to us. It’s our last Czech meal, the last dumplings, the last gulash, the last pivo. Fred asks about vegetarian food and they bring us the only vegetarian dish in the menu, a plate of battered fried cheese. In Germany we stop over for coffee and cake, and in France we have a sundown Frisby game. Fred tries in vain to teach Francesc and Jiri the correct throwing technique (counterclockwise, you coughq).
As we get closer to Paris, where two of our girlfriends are waiting, the excitement of some band members is apparent – pancake, pancake! But outside Paris, at 11pm, we find the motorway closed and we hit a huge traffic jam, a solid grid block, and we’re diverted onto suburban roads packed with angry French cars. Our drivers are exhausted and a disagreement about a wrong turn ignites the only tense argument of the whole tour so far. Finally, at half past midnight, after eleven hours in the car, we arrive to Jiri’s flat in Paris. Some of us finally get to see their loved ones. The girlfriends find out what a week of tetra-testosterone has done to their men- they be talking funny and they smell funghi. Cesc and Zac are the unfortunate ones and will have to do with each other’s company for consolation, by playing one of the dozens of chess games they’ve been playing throughout the tour.