I’m hurtling across France backwards. By that I mean I’m sitting in the seat that faces the wrong way. I’m passing lorries with strange names (“Willie Betz”, anyone?), enormous warehousey factories with strange names (“Houtsch”?) and the less strange names of the towns between Lille and Dijon: Amiens, Valenciennes, St Quentin. We’ve got Talking Heads on the stereo, courtesy the eclectic iPhone of our lighting conductor Argy, the dirty mugs are making that really annoying jingling sound in the tour bus sink (and the taps have just run out of water), our pianist and general Dutch pop star Ruben Hein is enveloped in a huge pair of headphones as he composes some funky, samply tune on his loop Maschine, and our jolly nice opening act Douglas Dare is making himself some breakfast. All in all, a picture of domestic tour bus bliss.
France and Fink go back a long way. Back in 2006 when Biscuits for Breakfastemerged from the Ninja Tune warehouse, France was one of the very first places that “got” us. Consequently we’ve played bloody everywhere, from Alençon to Antibes, from Nantes to Nice, and most places in between. It’s been the scene of a truckload of experiences for us, some of our best (supporting Massive Attack in Arles), some of our weirdest (a freak hurricane blowing all our gear off the stage in St Tropez) and some of our most amazingly surreal (having the god-like Manu Katché guest-drum for us on the sadly departed music TV show One Shot Not). We feel like we’ve driven up (and down) every Autoroute, stopped in every service station, eaten every variety of pre-packed sandwich (“Three Pains! Three Sensations!”) and drank from every different size of Kronenbourg container. We actually haven’t – particularly in the case of the Kronenbourg containers – but after eight years it feels that way.
One thing I often forget about France is the sheer size of the place. It’s TWICE the size of Britain, and with a staggering range of climates and terrains. I’ll never get over the feeling of heading down the Autoroute du Soleil between Lyon and Marseille and seeing the landscape and temperature shift to Mediterranean in the space of about four kilometres. Apologies to Boulogne and Calais-dwellers, but when you’re driving along the south coast between Monaco and Montpellier, it’s difficult to believe you’re in the same country.
Weather, food, wine, beer and scenery aside, the things that keep us happily heading back to the big hexagon are the loveliness of the audiences and the quality of the French rock clubs. The owners, staff and often volunteers who work on gig evenings at theses places take such immense pride in their venues, ensuring that they’re completely unique, hand-picking the bands who play there, then when show evening comes, all eating dinner together with the bands and crew (a moment we have come to call “Stuffed Courgette O’Clock”) before the music kicks off. Playing shows in places like Le Brise Glace in Annecy, La Laiterie in Strasbourg, Le Cabaret Electric in Le Havre and Le Grand Mix in Tourcoing is an event in itself, a reason for all the travelling.
We played Le Grand Mix yesterday evening, a nice show and incredibly lively for a Sunday night. The owners were telling us of their struggles to keep things alive, and of their expansion plans for the club, an elaborate venture which will further boost the sheer coolness of the place. We hope they get the cash they’re seeking, it’s an essential cultural mission.
We’ve got two more French shows this week: our fourth visit to Lyon on Tuesday where we’ve been upgraded to the scarily large Transbordeur, and then onwards to the gloriously vibey melting pot that is Marseille, where we hit Espace Julien for the second time. Personally I’m excited because there’s a great Algerian barber around the corner from the venue where I’m gonna get my barnet chopped to within a millimetre of its life.
For now it’s another few hours of roads, trucks, péage and me trying a powerfully garlicky pate I’ve just bought to go with my baguette. What could possibly go wrong?