This weekend I found myself in Brussels for a short trip. I was there to see Ennio Morricone perform with a two hundred-piece orchestra and choir. I arrived in Brussels just after lunch. I made a swift journey to my hostel and left a jumper on a bed to make a claim for it. All the other beds in the room are empty and hopefully it will remain that way and I’ll have the room to myself tonight. I head straight out and walk towards the city square. On the way I walk past the Manneken Pis. I remember growing up at home with a Manneken Pis brass ashtray in our living room. The small boy in the ashtray was pissing on a Nazi symbol. I believe my Grandfather brought it back from the war, I’m unsure but he may have been stationed in Belgium. I was fascinated with the figure and what it meant. It probably went someway to shaping my political beliefs. So I thought I best stop by the actual statue and take a minute to reflect. I’m a little disappointed that someone has dressed Manneken Pis in some traditional clothing. It may be a kind of traditional gesture however I would’ve liked to observe the statue in its purest form.
I’d arranged to meet my friend Audrey from Nijmegen who is also in the city. I’m instructed to be outside Bours at 4pm. I’m a little early and I kill some time in a very expensive Irish pub. When Audrey arrives she tells me that she knows some better bars than this, which I am more than pleased to hear. I quickly finish my Guinness and we set off in the direction of a bar called Archipel. It is closed but Audrey knocks on the door and talks to the barman who recognises her and he kindly agrees to open and to allow us in. I’m pleased to notice that they have Jupiler on tap. It’s my favourite lager these days and we don’t have much of it back home. We spend the next couple of hours catching up and talking. The last time we had seen each other was on a Yallas tour over a year ago. It was the Zomerfeesten in Nijmegen and we had played a show at De Bijstand. I often find myself talking to Audrey after our Nijmegen shows, she is an interesting woman and she also has the perfect amount of energy. After gigs I am often exhausted and I just want to relax a little. Naturally some people in the audience are pumped full of adrenaline and want to party with us all night and that’s fine but Audrey has a calm aura about her. I feel comfortable just sitting at a bar and talking whilst regaining my composure. I can talk to her all night. I have a feeling that the same might happen again this evening. Around 7pm I start leaving the bar to go to the Ennio Morricone concert and I’m briefly introduced to an American lady called Suki who is working as a tour guide in the city. I tell them both that I might see them in here after the show if they are still around.
I take the tram to the venue near Heysel stadium. I have time to eat a pulled pork baguette and grab a pint before taking my seat. I’m very near to the front and I have a wonderful view of the stage. The sound of the orchestra takes my breath away. I have never seen an orchestra live before. I’m awestruck. The movements of Ennio Morricone fascinate me. I try to study how his motioning to the musicians affects the sound. Before the show I was skeptical about the role of a conductor. Now I realise and appreciate that he is the heartbeat of the performance. Magical. My emotions are everywhere. I’m smiling, crying, and amazed by the noise. I could not stop scanning the musicians to see who is and who isn’t playing but there are too many to understand it properly. My favourite song ‘Ecstasy of Gold’ doesn’t disappoint me. As soon as the song finishes I need to leave to room to take a minute to myself. I then head to the toilet and grab a beer. Luckily the end of the song had signalled the interval so I didn’t even miss any of the show.
During the interval I find myself talking to Jim Kenis from The Sick Boys and his partner Pauline. We have played with The Sick Boys a few times and they are one of my favourite bands in Belgium. We talk briefly about the show before returning to our seats for the second half. The second set is equally as brilliant as the first and I easily return to being mesmerised. I decide to leave the show as soon as they finish Ecstasy of Gold for a second time. Something about that song makes me feel like I need some time alone. I only ended up missing the final song as I head for the tram and back into the city beating the rush. I don’t like leaving gigs early but I enjoyed the empty tram carriage back into the city.
The journey back I am trying to process what I had just witnessed. It was outstanding. I find my way back to the bar Archipel and I’m pleased to see my friend Audrey is still here. Her friend Suki is also here. I’m introduced to more people and I’m instantly made to feel welcome. The next few hours are filled with heavy drinking and lots of dancing. Suki insisted that I danced to Led Zepplin with her and the musical selection meandered through Heavy Rock, Rap, Punk and even stopped off with the monstrous Rednex Cotton Eyed Joe single. Still this didn’t deter us from dancing the night away. In between the dancing, Suki tells stories about her days growing up in the Seattle punk scene. We swap war stories and declare that we’re made out of the same kind of wood and we raise a toast to that. Audrey informs me that I look like I’m having a great time. “I am” I replied. “I’ve not seen you dance like this”, she tells me. “I LOVE TO DANCE” I proudly declare. Sometime around 3am the bar closes and it’s time that I should leave. I think they are preparing for a lock in but I’ve drunk enough. The barman informs me that I was the very first and also the very last person that the bar served today. That is some drinking.
On my way back to the hostel I order a kebab to walk with and I eat about half of it. I stagger up four flights of stairs and I failed to remember that there might be other people in the room. I crashed through the door and fell over someone’s luggage. “Oh shit, sorry” I yelped. “Just get in to bed Rob” I instruct myself.
I awake the next morning to an overly aggressive alarm clock. It is my own. I think it also awoke everybody in the room. The man in the next bed doesn’t seem to be too impressed. He angrily gets up, gets dressed, and leaves the room in a hurry. I feel my entrance into the hostel in the early hours may have dictated his mood for the day. In the opposite two beds are two ladies in their early twenties. Their alarms break out just minutes after mine although they are of a much gentler tone. I decide to get out of bed and go to the bathroom. I smash my head into the top bunk and yell out a broad Yorkshire “Argh”, one of the two girls laugh out loud at my injury. I join in with the laughter and respond with “I think I’m still drunk” “Me too” replies a girl but I’m not sure which one until she sits up. I immediately apologise for my loud crashing entrance in the early hours. “Not a problem, I didn’t even hear you, In fact I was about to apologise myself for drunkenly falling into bed” she replied. “That might explain the grumpy guy in the next bed”, I explain. “Where you from?” I asked. “LEEEEEEDS” she proudly declares and our drunken behaviour makes a whole lot more sense now. We chatted a little more before I checked out of the room. Its nice to hear a homely accent on your travels.
I can feel my brain sliding from side to side as I climb down the four flights of stairs. I find a piece of tomato in my jacket pocket. It must have come from the Kebab I ordered last night. I discard it in the cleaners cart before closing the door behind me. The air is cool and I take in a few nice breaths. That feels so much better. Its only 10am and I’m unsure how best to deal with this hangover. The bars are closed so that rules out the old hair of the dog routine. I’m feeling a little nauseous and I don’t feel like eating just yet. So I’m left with the option of walking until I either get hungry or a bar opens. I open up my news app on my phone and the headline reads, “MAY IN BRUSSELS TO AGREE BREXIT DEAL”. Fuck it! I thought. I’ll head to the EU. Maybe they’ll let me negotiate and I can put a stop to this madness. It takes me about 45 minutes as I meander through the quiet Brussels streets. When I reach the EU I’m left largely unimpressed. It’s just these incredibly large government buildings and all the places I’ve seen on the news are behind security gates and I don’t have any credentials. I could try blag it through but I’m not too fussed. I have a little potter around and I take a really nice walk back through to the city centre.
On the way I walk past palaces and huge parks filled with sculptures. I’m feeling much more awake now and I’m starting to feel ready for a pint. I make it back to the centre and most of the bars still don’t seem open except the big Irish pub. I thought why not. The bar lady remembers me from the previous night and asks me how my night was. I told her that I spent all the cash back she gave me and now I’m suffering for it. I sit in a quiet corner with a TV screen and slowly drink my Guinness while watching the sports channel. My only plan for today was to meet my friend Katrien in Mechelen at 2pm.
Katrien picks me up at 2pm and she tells me the restaurant she wanted to take me to was closed and said that instead we should go to her place. I said that’s fine and I apologise for my hangover. I’ve stayed at Katrien’s place before on my last solo tour. She had come to my rescue after I wasn’t too comfortable with my sleeping arrangements organised by the gig promoter. I was due to stay with another act on the bill and I had a real dislike for him.
He was a real over the top American self help guy who was trying to sell a book and diagnose everyone with some kind of disorder. He’d even psycho-analysed my song lyrics and tried to sell me a path back towards the light. I wasn’t going anywhere with this fucker. Let alone socialising with him until 4 or 5am with no means for escape. I’ll forever be grateful for Katrien’s rescue.
I had met Katrien a couple of times before when The Yalla Yallas had been touring Belgium. She had been the official photographer at two or three of the shows. I really like her photography. The colours are especially vivid. Like Audrey she is great to talk to post show because she is very interesting and sociable and I’m more than happy to listen to her whilst I regain my energy and composure. The same is happening today. My hangover and the long walk have worn me out but I’m really pleased to see Katrien and I find a sociable energy. At home her boyfriend and her son join us. We drink tea and talk before I’m invited to stay for the evening meal and I’m even offered a ride to the airport. Her boyfriend is also hungover and worn out after a heavy weekend with his friends. Katrien’s son is a lovely kid. He tries his very best to speak in English to me and I try my very best to respond in Dutch. After dinner we all watch a science based Dutch TV show aimed at kids, teaching them how to make things or cook meals. I understand most of the language and enjoy trying to make sense of it.
Later in the evening Katrien takes me to the airport and by now I’m dead on my feet. Maybe I can manage an airport beer before my 9pm flight home. My flight is delayed and I’m worried that I’ll miss my connecting train home to Leeds. I arrive in Manchester much later than scheduled and it leaves me 14 minutes to get off the plane, through customs, and to the train station. Can I do it? Yes I can. I used all of my remaining energy to run for the train. I’m tired, grumpy, and I just want to get into bed. The train seems to stop at every single station between Manchester and Leeds. I’ve not been so irritable in a long while. I arrive into Leeds station just as the clock ticks midnight. I take a taxi home. On the way I’m finding that I want to fight the driver. He’s angry that I asked him to take a much shorter route. He tells me that he can’t fix the meter. “No, but you can drive the long way round” I remind him. He informs me “there’s no difference in route” and continues to ramble at me. I ask him “If there’s no difference in the route then why does it matter so much to him?” He then continues to label all uber drivers as rapists. “I’ve had a long day and I don’t give a fuck pal”, I sternly tell him. I finally make it home and I make a cup of tea before going to bed. Another wonderful weekend but I’m exhausted.