At the beginning of June we were invited to Switzerland to play at the prestigious week-long music festival, Gwenstival. The trip took in dates in Caen and Zurich along the way – and we figured the mini-tour would be as good a time as any to showcase the new Zapoppin’ duo line-up incorporating the ‘Z-kit’ and Tom switching between harmonium and banjo.
After pressing up some promo singles, packing our stuff and getting treated like prize stooges by car hire firm Enterprise, we were on the road to Portsmouth (in a phat Ford Focus from Cornish Motors) to rendezvous with driver Jim and catch our ferry. We made it in 4 hours and even got to visit Tom’s folks for a cup of tea along the way.
The first show was in Caen on a Wednesday night. We arrived in the city early and looked around the old streets as the place was waking up. For the afternoon, we went to meet our friend Laura in nearby Rots – one of the most French-looking villages you’re likely to see and home to the biggest supermarket we ever did see: CORA. Laura had helped us sort out the show (with Pascal at Ecuyes) and was putting us up for the night in a sweet farmhouse with loads of musicians/creative types hanging out, working on projects and making us feel quite at home.
The gig was pretty special. The venue was a boat called The Jolly moored on a canal near the centre of town. We’ve played on a few boats before, but this was quite a different affair, with the vessel itself serving as a stage and the audience gathering on the quay giving the whole shindig a free party vibe. We couldn’t have hoped for better weather as Height With Friends opened the show with his unique rap brand. With songs about sugar addiction and Link Wray we were all fans after he played – and he was a bloody nice bloke too.
We followed Height with what felt like a bit of a patchy set, but it was a good laugh. The drums were set up on wooden box in the middle of the boat which gave Luke a makeshift mega-sub for a fine boomin’ sound. And even though it was part of the architecture of The Jolly, this could technically be his first riser. Some tracks certainly came across better than others – but it was a cool first set o’ the tour.
PT Burnem headlined like a pro with a diverse hip-hop set drawing on a range of sources. He was great to watch, climbing up the rigging, pulling in-crowd acapellas and making use of his sampler/drum machine. He looked quite at home on that old metal tug. The sun shone, we drank some Burgbrau stubbies, hung out with some new cool dudes and cruised back to Rots.
The following day we started our long old trek down to Lugano. To break the journey Laura in Caen suggested we stay with her friend Seb in Clarmont-Ferrand, home of Volvic mineral water and Michelin tyres. It was a good job we took her advice, it was around 7pm before we got into town, drove the wrong way up a one way street and finally met up with Seb. We had a good night drinking, listening to records and eating falafel. We will be back to play here next time.
Our trip through the Alps was tolled to high hell. We paid to see the inside of Mont Blanc, the inside of smaller mountains and even paid for more pedestrian roads and scenery. This said, it was pleasant, verging on deeply impressive. The weather held up until we eventually got into Italy. Where they write political opinion on the side of hills. Again, verging on deeply impressive. Our inclination by this point, was to see if any supermarket would beat CORA in Rots. This one had a multi-story car park. But I am unsure of whether this was a plus point or not. It did have a trolley collection guy who was bent double, heaving lines of trolleys that would make ASDA Penryn turn further pallid.
In anycase, we arrived in Lugano after crossing the Swiss border. It was like a queue into a crazy hiking theme park at the border. The queue went pretty much into the centre of the city, a rich James Bond city. We were spotted by a man who later turned out to be the sound man and all-round nice chap, Gianmaria, as we approached the venue. It was mizzling over a collection of buildings that made-up two stage rooms, two bars and a courtyard with merch stand and seating.
We sound checked and met fellow musicians of that night, one of several nights of the Gwenstival; a Swiss electro-fusion guy called Sexomodular, avant-acoustic casio duo I Camillas and one man blues dude and anecdote machine Bob Log III. All thoroughly enjoyable.
Despite some small soundcheckin’ worries, we opened the whole darn thing at a time which I forget. The crowd were in good spirits. It was always a gamble taking such a lyrically focussed band away. I felt I totally over-estimated the language barrier. I barely look up when I play, but it looked enjoyed and understood. It was nice playing on the same level as the crowd. This was an important one for us to get right, and I think we both gave it some guts. We were spoilt rotten by those guys that night, food and drink and a little caravan to sit in.
We all drove in a convoy to a hostel. I cannot comment on this as I was drunk. And I was drunk when we woke two hours later to begin our trip to Zurich for the show at Binz. We rushed into the car and started north through the country.
The scenery got more deeply impressive, and we got diverted by a small town where we went swimming in an Alpine lake alongside the mountains and a big ferry boat. We made slow progress toward Zurich and eventually made it in good time to get lost. Our man, Nino, found us on his bike and directed us to the venue (between which we got lost again).
The venue was an epic industrial complex housing workshops, art, studios and a fair whack of inhabitants. We were a part of a five band night (I recall?), the other bands being various varieties of metal. We were fed tofu after a sound-check and went on sometime around 9 or 10. Days and times were beginning to blur. I remember this set was us two on the edge of it. Well, I was. My voice was going, the room felt hard to crack (but I think they were on our side and enjoying it) and the lines were wearing me out. We were in danger of it falling to pieces more than the other sets, but in retrospect I reckon it was our loudest.
We decided after much deliberation to drive solidly through the night and spend the spare time in France before the ferry. We caught a set by a metal instrumental duo called Minor (or could be Myna, Miner, Minah… ). They won the award of loudest thing we done see this tour.
We drove through Basel, a storm, lots of tolls, and eventually ended up in Le Havre with hours to spare. We found respite in a pub from the endless rain before getting searched by the musician detection squad, enjoying the “reclining” seats, and getting back solidly to England.