zac wondering into the lake amongst the ducks

Mushroom Tour day 8: Pisek – Tuesday 16th April

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Some people find it easier to wake up than others. Jiri, for instance, is always up first and has got a rocket up his bass from the get go. Others, like Fred, go through a traumatic experience every morning, which he describes as “being born again”. This morning is no exception.

We spend the morning in Vienna, going from the Czech Centre to visit Felician Erlenburg, who couldn’t play with us last night, but who gives us a tour, taking us through the narrow streets, local bars and parks. We request to eat the mythical Schnitzel, the real Viennese Schnitzel, the original version, which we are told the Viennese don’t actually eat themselves.

Felician is at first taken aback by some of the band talk. After a few days we have been developing a number of voices, accents, and quotations from Inspecteur Clouseau (“The minkey is brraking the leuw”), Ali G (“Easy now! International relations ain’t just about havin’ a Bangladeshi cousin”) the Marx Brothers (“soup and a rice, soup and a rice… surprise”), which we interject at random moments, and makes us sound slightly on edge, to say the least. By noon, however, Felician has started to join in the chorus, too contagious to be resisted, and he starts to sound like another band member.

Luckily for him, we leave Vienna and head back to Czech. On the way we stop by the countryside, by a moor around a lake surrounded by fields and forest. A beautiful space with a bird watcher’s cabin and a few nests. We play some frisby, we wonder around absorbing the peace and quiet, but, to Fred’s utter disappointment, we are asked to leave by the owner of the land, who did not want us anywhere near the duck nests.

We make our way to Pisek, in Bohemia, in the south of the Czech republic. The venue is a restaurant/bar which appeared on the Czech version of Kitchen Nightmares (Gordon Ramsay’s reality show), which does not give us much comfort. After the soundcheck we drink some pivo (czech for beer) by the riverside (the oldest stone bridge in central Europe, tells us Jiri proudly). There is something mythical about the arrival of a fresh tray of beers to the table, the clinking of glasses, the uttering of na zdravi (cheers in czech), the thumping of the glass on the table and the dipping of the lips in the creamy foam until the liquid meets the tongue and pours down the throat, all concluded with a satisfied ritualistic grunt. The first sip of pivo of the day is hard to beat.

Now that we are relaxed, here comes the band meeting, a discussion about the future development of the band’s artistic identity and the next albums, a conversation which Jiri begins by saying “it seems that this artsy shit isn’t working”…

Ivan Slavik, Jiri’s uncle, and his wife Lenka, come to hear us from the nearby town of Cesky Krumlov. They bring gifts: chocolate bars, Cuban and special cigars. Ivan organised two tours for Jiri and Francesc back in the day, and many of the stories from those tours have become legendary (“no more saxophone”, “tonight I want fresh musicians, so one hour swimming pool, one hour sleep, so ok”…). We discuss with Ivan the possibility of playing  in Southern Bohemia and upper Austria later this year…

The gig itself goes quite well. The first impression we get from the audience is that they haven’t come to listen, but we are proven wrong and they cheer for us and even ask for an encore. “The night is young”, says the owner, who is very warm and generous. As Francesc and Jiri  hang out with him Zac jumps on the piano and fred on drums for another impromptu set. Zac gets out his Thelonious Monk tricks. The drivers are really thankful for not having to drive after the gig, and they make the most of it, hanging out till late, playing chess, smoking a cigar with the owner, and making a sleeping bag choreography in the middle of the square. The owner shows us our accomodation for the night: the chef’s flat. We effectively kick this man out of his bed and make him sleep in his living room. Jiri and Fred share the parents bed, whilst Zac and Francesc sleep in a eight year old’s room full of stereotypical boys’ toys (monsters, cars, guns…). Whatever happened to the boy and the mother we are not told.