Sunday, 10 February 2008

Dancing With The Swan Bride

I love that feeling of sugar rush combined with the inhalation of smoke. Coke and cigarettes are great for this and I dwell in the sensation before buying my ticket to Zilina from Krakow and boarding the second class. I take a pew amongst a group of arty dreadlocked teens in an open carriage and discuss swimming styles with a skinhead fellow in his early twenties as the train hurtles towards Katowice. The skinhead is joined by a colleague from school, a midget gentleman with a hunch and teeth like Nosferatu. I open the sliding doors when the train reaches Trzebina where I mooch along the platform and up a flight of stairs to my next connection in the direction of Czechowice, a small down with a damp sky. I sit alone and ponder the open wooden shacks that loom all the way along the railway line. Temporary housing for the down and out with metal boxes for stoves and beer cans for company. The train fills with Polish village teens who swear and curse about this and that, poking fun at old ladies and spitting through the gaps in their teeth. I make my connection in Czechowice and get acquainted with two lady travellers from Krakow on their way to Bielsko Biala. I drink more coke and smoke in the rain before the train arrives, the sugar courses through me and I exhale a jet of airy white lush. I board the train with the Biala bound girls and they tell me that my Polish is nice to listen to, I was once told I speak like a retard as my grammatical mistakes are frequent. I tell my fellow travellers this and they chuckle before getting off at the next stop.

The train soon empties and I find myself lonesome in my carriage, the mountains surrounding the tracks are illuminated by the stars as darkness approaches. I feel unsettled as to what is in store for me this weekend, as long as I have my camera and enough money for whisky and cigarettes there should be no trouble. I must however also make sure that I capture something special. Six hours after departing Krakow I arrive in Zilina, the third largest city in little Slovakia. I crank Guided By Voices up to the max before I walk through the gloomy station to the entrance and locate my hostess for the next few days. Her name is Katarina and she is the manager of the band I will be working with. She hugs me quickly and we quickstep through the rain towards the city centre. She has dark make up around her eyes and hair blacker than midnight. The Gallery café on the market square is full of trendy Slovaks drinking coffee. I haven’t eaten all day and my stomach growls at me when I only order a latte. A tall, suave and polite character takes my hand as he introduces himself, his name is Fuxo and he plays bass for the Swan Bride. I take to him immediately and we discuss Nick Cave’s back catalogue until we are met by two more members of the band, Matko the front man and Miso the percussionist. We are sat in a corner of the dark café where we discuss plans for a film project. We speak in English. It seems that the differences between Polish and Slovakian are somewhat dangerous, so we remain in my mother tongue. Whisky flows and a copy of ‘On the Road’ is pulled from my bag and made the centrepiece of discussion. I find it almost uneasy that Katarina read the book when she was fifteen years old. We decide that we won’t start filming until tomorrow when then the band are scheduled to meet and MTV executive to discuss plans for a music video contract. Miso gives me and Katarina a lift back to her pad across town in a small village called Tarnowa where my hostess says that I can stay in her brother’s room.

My quarters are awash with Ozzy, Edguy and Dream Theatre posters as well as portraits of the occupant himself. I bid my hostess goodnight and try to rest. My mind swirls with flashy dizziness and I am unable to drift off. I sit up with the lights off and try and mediate for a while, my mind takes me to a corridor made of blue tak where there are stacks of motorbikes and a talking crocodile. I pursue the pillow but only manage to catch three hours of naptime. I wake up unsteady and starved, a state that makes meeting the parents for breakfast seem like a daunting task. It isn’t. In fact it is quite the opposite. I sit with the family and gauge on cereal, bread rolls and cheese while we talk about the differences between Poland and Slovakia. Katarina has to work a little as translator but my English and Polish crossbreed language is understood by most parties and we all get along just swell. I spend the morning with my hostess, listening to Venezuelan flamenco, drinking black tea and smoking cigarettes. We get a lift into town with Katarina’s father and sit in a Nighthawk diner while we wait for the band to show up. They are not with us for long before the MTV exec shows up with his sons, they are rather portly fellows with friendly faces and no interest in me. Katarina grabs hold of the situation firmly and enraptures the man with words I don’t understand. I spend the duration of the meeting talking about Nietzsche with Matko. We smoke plenty and discuss the differences between Polish and Slovakian society, he tells me that audiences in the Eastern part of his country are completely different to those of the west and I will have to go on tour with the band to experience it. He looks at me with a twinkle in his eye, his rugged stage show style, encompassing his surly speech about sub cultural divide and communism. The meeting is apparently a success, the exec offers the band a chance to support Nick Cave for his show in Austria. This is obviously very special but the Swan Bride must put on one hell of a performance tonight to sway the decision. MTV will be watching.

The line up for this evening is as follows: The Swan Bride, Lavagance and a DJ from Bratislava. The mentioned DJ gives Katarina, Matko and me a lift to the club where the band unload their equipment and I start filming. I neck straight whisky at the bar and it hits me like a freight train, I start talking currency conversions with my new companions and I feel myself having to prop myself up at the bar with my elbow. I film the Swan Bride sound check and the DJ grants Matko and me a lift to the singer's apartment where we drink white rum and I play him some Johnny Truant. We stagger back to the venue an hour or so later, I am wild eyed and on the subject of eating meat. I sing Morrissey lyrics and twirl myself about a lamppost, attracting the attention of the Swan Bride fans who line the streets waiting to get into the club. The venue fills with people and I fill my guts with whisky before plotting my filming strategy and getting prepared for the show. I smoke cigarettes with the band's make up artist and interview Fuxo about the Swan Bride's influences before they take to the stage and kick off. Scores of heads bounce up and down to the mind heavy wave of Rock N Roll as the Swan Bride leap and bound through their set list, incorporating everything great about energetic live performances. The sexy and smeared interludes the band put their audience through make their enthralling energy and tight composition even more of a treat. I duck and dive in the crowd, filming all I can before clambering onstage and sharing the limelight. I get some riotous footage and prop myself back up at the bar when the set comes to a close. Katarina is most critical of the bands performance but then again, I guess that’s the managers job. I befriend several gentle Slovakians and indulge in the delights of their Seven Crowns whisky, which is cheaper than chips and could strip a wall clean of paper. Lavagance appear on the stage in a glam-goth fashion with electronics and shouting, I like their style but don’t dig their set. Katarina eventually takes control and bundles me into a taxi where we zoom back to Tarnowa at the speed of sound. My head aches but my tapes are swimming in delicious footage.

I stumble across the hallway hung over and unshaven. I scrub the smoke off my skin in the shower and blow dry the blonde all ready and fresh for breakfast. Katarina’s mother cooks me a plate of fried eggs on toast, which instantly cures my hangover. We then retreat to the cellar to smoke Marlboro and drink tea. Katarina tells me that talking to me in English in the morning is like being at school. She goes upstairs to get ready for the day and I talk football and firewood with her father. He pours me several shots of Sliwowice, a homemade plum liquor and it sends me sideways. By the time Fuxo drives Katrina and me to the centre, I am singing to myself and talking make up. We head to Matko’s flat and I conduct some interviews with the rest of the band, I ask each member a series of bizarre questions and we retreat to the Gallery bar where the drinking and interviews continue. We don’t get back to the house until late evening, it has been a heavy weekend and I am ready to fall down.

I am a huge fan of Monday mornings, the first day of the week is a new start and the best day of the week to optimise old opportunities and seek out new ones. Today is an exception to the rule. I wake up at half past six and skulk downstairs for a bowl of cereal. I just about cram the last spoonful into my trap when Katarina’s father bursts into the kitchen and tells me that he needs my help. I understand that there is a problem with the car and he needs me to lift something. When we get to the garage I find that his tyres are flat and he needs me to help him pump. All four tyres are down and it takes us twenty-five minutes to pump them up again. The combination of sleep deprivation, hangover and belly full make the pumping almost impossible and I almost vomit over my shoes. I finish the job and collapse on the dining room sofa before we leave the house and I get the bus to the train station with my fantastic hostess. We smoke cigarettes outside Zilina Hlavna while waiting for Katarina’s lift to Bratislava, when he arrives I bid her farewell and jump straight on my train to Krakow. The train stops in Katowice and I get stopped by the police for smoking in a prohibited section. A drunken man in my carriage tries to teach me how to dance like a Cossack and a lady sells me a meat sandwich instead of a cheese one. Apart from that, the journey is straight and I am back home in time for tea.