“Is it real, or is it a dream, I can’t seem to tell the difference anymore” – Innocent X, Therapy?
LK: Winter drags on, long dark nights pushing us into resentful house retreat. We need the hope of future adventures out the other side. Sat online with credit card in hand, the spring and summer start to be shaped by rail, flight, accommodation and gig bookings. It had got to late January and KK’s Twitter feed had given us a heads up on the Gods of Rap tour in May, featuring DJ Premier, De La Soul, Public Enemy and Wu Tang Clan. We had to go, and so it was that I was poised for the ticket sale window opening at 10am, to frantically prod through ever increasingly expensive options returning as ‘not available’ until I secured two. It was confirmed; I texted KK the good news with the proviso that we couldn’t see any other gigs for 6 months.
KK: Cut to me at my still relatively new job when the text arrives telling me that Mrs K has paid £196 for two tickets and the look of alarm on my work mate’s face at a seemingly unprovoked barrage of profanity from my potty mouth. There is a reason that we haven’t seen Wu Tang live before despite them being the coolest bad ass hip hop hombres in our CD collection that (counting solo and affiliate projects) numbers about 26 albums. They have a reputation: they are notoriously difficult to get on stage at the same time, most of them probably won’t turn up, the gig might not happen at all and, chances are, what does turn up will be disappointing. In April we rocked up for a GZA -The Genius (a founder member of The Clan) in Norwich and he shuffled and mumbled on stage like an ex-heavyweight boxer for half his set. It was so awful I was about to suggest we leave. Then Mr Genius clicked into 0% Finance and the gig was suddenly phenomenal, he rattled through some classic Wu Tang tracks and our hopes for Gods of Rap went from being on the floor to supercharged.
LK: Despite the significant financial investment we’d made, this didn’t seem to hold any sway for KK taking time off in his still relatively new job. If we both had the whole Friday as holiday, then travelling by train and stopping over for the weekend would have been a lovely idea. But we didn’t, and Fulham’s decision to charge £60 per ticket for their neutral area for the final game of the season against Newcastle meant we were going to limit our expedition to a drive down that afternoon and then straight back after the gig. We asked our Spurs friend Tim, now a veteran of Wembley travel, what he would recommend as the best way to drive in. “Get the train down and then the Tube,” he helpfully replied. But a surprisingly efficient route plan, avoiding the soul-destroying M25, saw us weaving through housing estates in North West London to reach Wembley well before any hippety-hoppitying took place.
KK: So we’re sitting with a £6 pint of really really bad lager up in our eyrie overlooking the stage as DJ Premier started warming up the crowd and we’re already seeing way more of the evening’s entertainment than we expected. Premier was in Gang Starr; our mate James was well into them when he and I used to DJ at the Riverside in Newcastle, we would play Tons ‘O Guns nearly every week. Guru from Gang Starr died in 2010 so Premier is essentially here with a box of classic hip hop to whip a crowd up that is already well into the red for excitability. It is the 30th anniversary of De la Soul’s Three Feet High and Rising they were fun, lot of crowd interaction, did Me Myself and I. Premier came back on for a spell and then Public Enemy attacked the stage. Boom! No Flavor Flav so there were no ill-disciplined interruptions from a daft lad wearing a big clock. Instead the legendary Chuck D is flanked by MC Jahi and two veteran S1Ws moving in military fatigues and strict synchronicity. DJ Lord is on the turntables so PE are lean, dextrous and muscular with back catalogue to draw from which few bands can match for snarling ferocity. All the classics mashed together with slamming versions of Shut ‘em Down, Black Steel and Harder than You Think. “Fuck Trump and Fuck the fuck out of Brexit!” barks Chuck and he gets the biggest single cheer of the night. Biggest single cheer of the night until The bloody Wu-Tang Clan come on stage.
LK: It’s a surreal experience, it’s like seeing a comic book strip of superheroes made flesh (although someone forgot to draw Method Man). There seems like there’s no organisation, no way that these larger than life characters randomly buzzing about the stage, wandering on and off for different parts of different tracks, can produce something coherent. Except it really works, and we’re all grinning our heads off, shouting along to Bring da Ruckus, Reunited, and the gospel truth that is The Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F’ Wit. RZA conducts the chaos with easy skill, Ghostface Killah is an imposing presence, GZA looks like he’s just come in from a particularly tiring supermarket shop. And look, they’ve got a Little Dirty Bastard as well (OK, he’s called Young Dirty Bastard, but I think they missed a trick), and backdrops with swarming killer bees, classic martial arts films, spinning jade dragons, orange licks of flames. The entire floor of the Wembley Arena bounced with the joyous spirit of Wu. As the set was nearing its end, we moved around to another viewpoint, definitely because it was closer to the car park, not because a drunken div had spilt two pints over my head. And were rewarded with a sprawling Gravel Pit, destined to stay in my head for days after this extraordinary experience.
KK: The World is too exciting at this point. While the actual human world is increasingly frightening, irrational and suicidal, the fictional worlds we escape into are also drawing to an end. We have invested decades into the Marvel Universe so Avengers End Game looming was a massive deal for us. We are also so deeply emotionally engaged with Game of Thrones that it has been affecting our ability to sleep. For years, but especially recently with us spending most of the winter re-watching the TV Show from Episode 1. I have been personally guilty of dealing with any stressful situation (mostly the infuriating incompetence of the people running Newcastle United) by picking up my Kindle and saying “Fuk this shit I’m off to Winterfell.” So, to have this story coming to an end is so thrilling and terrifying that we have been approaching the final episodes of this final series like we were preparing for physical combat. “Are you ready?” LK asks me. “No,” I say, press play and “Charge!” Newcastle finish the season on a high with a 0-4 away win at Fulham, there is a Deadwood film coming to tie up another loose end for us, Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s fourth and final part of the brilliant Cemetery of Forgotten Books is available, our Norwich City friends are taking to the streets to celebrate winning The Championship, we have got tickets to see Rammstein in Copenhagen and we are meeting our bestest of travel chums, James from Australia, in Lisbon. It is all so much closure that I think I must be dying.
LK: A 7am flight from Luton meant an early hours drive on mainly deserted roads. The sleep deprived spaced-out wait on harshly uncomfortable seats is enhanced by a mother telling her child that “you are not a pixie or a goblin” when she perches atop the seats cross-legged. This appears to be a conversation they have had more than once. We are delivered to a sparklingly bright Lisbon around 10am and take the Metro to the central Rossio square. Before we could even get to a bench to watch the world go by, KK was approached by the first of, what turned out to be, about a dozen drug sellers over the period of the 3 day stay. If Lisbon police ever want a raggedy punk rock undercover cop then KK would be able to clear the streets of pushers within a week. We met our wonderful apartment owner, unloaded our hand luggage and went out into the 30 degree heat to refamiliarize ourselves with the beautiful open spaces and the Sagres and SuperBock lager. We had arranged to meet James later that evening in a tequila bar in Bairro Alto; we had heard nothing from him in the last month and just had to trust that he would turn up. Like what people used to do before mobile phones were invented. The other customers got on with raucous singalongs and nifty dancing to Cuban tunes while the two English people sat at a table, wondering, waiting. When James walked in with his massive beaming smile our hugs made the bar staff cheer and James set about taming his clearly fierce thirst. And it’s like we’ve never been away from each other, drinking and chatting for hours about music, football, James’ tangled love life, what new rules Australians have invented to keep its citizens from falling down holes or whatever.
KK: We have to keep an entire planet between ourselves and James for most of the time or we would bad-influence each other to death. The next three days are a whirling beautiful blur: the morning sight-seeing is fuelled by strong coffee and scrumptious Pasteis de Nata during which I do a hilarious bit about my penchant for getting stuck into a Portuguese tart which never, ever becomes annoying (LK:” hmmm”) then somebody says “Beer?” and nobody can think of a better idea. Then follows a slightly less organised period of wandering about. Then we end up back in the Barrio Alto where James’s problem of not knowing which drink he exactly wants is once again solved by the answer “Everything”. And then and then and then repeat. Special mention for LX Factory which is a development of cool artisan shops and bars under the bridge that looks like the big one in San Francisco. We had an Argentinian beer outside one place then instantly discovered a Mexican restaurant that had a wrestling ring in the middle of it, food so fantastic that LK bought a staff t-shirt and smoky mescal served in not so tiny jam jars. We seem to be laughing all the time, which is great. Lisbon is great. As ever, special thanks to the people who pay for “speedy boarding” who keep the costs down for the rest of us. We always forget to thank them personally while they are waiting for their luggage because we are usually halfway back to our car. I would feel even more smug if we weren’t in Luton and in the rain.
LK: Two days later and we have a lunchtime meeting point at Liverpool Street station with James before going to All Points East in Victoria Park. There are plenty of bands across a number of stages but we’ve specifically come for Idles and Run the Jewels, both low enough down the bill for us to get a train home that same evening. Idles are full-on fierce in an enclosed venue space but how would that translate in the open air on a Friday afternoon? Very well, thank you; Never Fight A Man With A Perm rattled along just as powerfully; Mother raged out just as furiously; Samaritan delivered just as intensely. A rallying point of inspiring and informed anger in an increasingly blunt and ignorant country.
KK: A mate recently popped his head out of his baby-tunnel and asked if there was any new hip-hop that he might have missed recently. “There are only three words you need to know about hip-hop right now,” I told him, “and those are: 1. Run, 2. The and 3. Jewels. Two guys Killer Mike and El-P; established artists in their own right they teamed up and banged out three of the finest albums this century. They are fierce and relevant and funny and charming and utterly brilliant.” So much rap can fall flat on a big stage (we saw Run DMC die on their arses so badly in Leeds that they couldn’t generate enough enthusiasm for the encore that they had, presumably, kept all their best songs for / Kan Ye at Glastonbury anybody?) RTJ are masterful and powerful and the crowd go “RTJ!” AND THE CROWD GO RTJ!” and the bunny go “Boom!” We dance our asses off, we miss our train and because James and I hate goodbyes we just hug, drunkenly tell each other to fukkoff and trust to luck that we’ll see each other again sometime.
LK: We’re back to packing our rucksacks again after a remarkably bearable fortnight back at work. This is because we now think we only work two weeks on and then one week off for a holiday. Before our flight to Copenhagen, we escape into the fantasy of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures on show at Kew; blue starbursts, green furls, the biggest red hot poker ever all glinting in the sunshine like treasure. Copenhagen also does a good line in creating an other-worldliness with pastel houses, elvin people, grand castles with fairytale turrets, and things that just work. There still appears to exist a social contract between the Danish state and its citizens that quality public services are the upside of paying a lot of tax. The high standard (and cost) of living is obvious from the first sandwich, so as soon as we’d checked in I asked Google about Copenhagen dive bars and it didn’t disappoint. Who knew, we can get bottles of Tuborg for under £2. True, you forget how much your clothes stink in the morning after being out in a smoky bar but it didn’t stop us going back.
KK: To save Krone we gorged ourselves on the inclusive breakfasts at our hotel (which included the optional pickled herring – num.. and ..er… num?), drank Copenhell (magnificent lager with a bonny black and white wolf logo) from the 7/11 and relied on LK’s instinctive expertise in finding the kind of boozers punk rock pirate football fans love but normal tourists avoid. LK loves the exhaustive research which I was quite happy for her to get on while I lost myself in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Labyrinth of the Spirits. We walked virtually everywhere: The Danish National Museum tells the fascinating tale of a nation who would confidently and proudly pick a fight with nations with superior forces. This came to an end when Britain blew up their navy (along with a good proportion of Copenhagen) because we thought Napoleon was going to nick it in 1809. Understandably irked, the Danes sided with the French so after Waterloo the British gave a good chunk of the country to Norway and Sweden. On the other hand there is a statue of Winston in Churchill Park because the UK backed Danish resistance to Nazi occupation and helped liberate the country in 1945. Copenhagen is a cracking city where a good proportion of the population seem either happily drunk or whizzing around on a bicycle. Or drunk and whizzing around on a bicycle.
LK: Exploring new cities is always exciting, sometimes overwhelming, but Copenhagen makes you feel that everything will be OK so just go out there and live your life. Which provides an escapism from the intense, constant angst of the current shit shower that is the UK. We lost ourselves in the Botanic Gardens butterfly house, enchanted by the electric blue morphos which are damn near impossible to photograph. Hans Christian Andersen flits around the consciousness of the city, his burial place is in the serene Norrebro cemetery while back on the waterfront you can enjoy getting caught up in a Chinese bus trip to gawp at the Little Mermaid statue. A fairy tale of consistently bad choices, as far as I can make out, underneath the stories a darkness dwells. Thirsty and hot from a long morning’s wanderings we gleefully enter a local bar, the Klonvens Bodega and soon learn what the Danish word klonvens means – the decor theme is clowns. Fucking clowns. Paintings leering down at the wooden tables, and there’s a lifesize model in the window bay. But, as I said, we were thirsty and hot so sat there in the middle of all this weirdness. Which prepared us nicely for the gig that night.
KK: We’ve been going to see live music for 40 years, it’s kind of what we do. It became apparent after seeing Rammstein for the first time, about 15 years ago, that compared to them everybody else hadn’t been really trying. After this show it turns out that actually included Rammstein as well. Rammstein don’t so much throw the kitchen sink at a live show as weave the kitchen sink into some twisted faerie tale, paint it black, set it on fire and explode it out of a howitzer, which for some reason then destroys life as we know it. They came on stage to a massive bang and a burst of flame so intense that every time you blinked for the next five minutes you could see fire. Then. Every. Single. Song was jaw-dropping, or astonishing, or beautiful, or brutal, or hilarious or insane, or terrifying or all of the above with extra fire. And the audience were 30,000 lovely drunken Vikings. This might be the best gig I’ve ever seen and I hate stadium gigs. Then afterwards, as if Thor himself was showing his approval, there was the most violent thunderstorm with hammering rain and spectacular lightning. Despite this, the queue for the merchandise trucks went right down the street so we didn’t even get a t-shirt.
LK: Reluctantly, we had to get the plane back to reality, or post-reality, or whatever nightmare it is we’re living through. It doesn’t seem real that this is probably the last time we use our passports as European citizens. We’re returning to the horrific prospect that our government will be in the hands of some entitled Trump lickspittle, while that orange simpleton marches into fascism. Back to a land of madness, malevolence and make-believe, confusing and relentlessly grim.
If only there was some kind of Danish fairy tale which mocked and deflated the empty-headed pomposity of leaders merely by someone being able to tell the truth.
KK: Emperor’s New Clothes?
LK: Uh huh.