Spring Offensive Tour Diary Part One: Holland, Luxembourg & Belgium
First, some context. I joined Spring Offensive about 6 weeks ago and since then, life has been somewhat of a whirlwind. The Masters I had been scheduled to start in September was postponed, exchanged for intense rehearsals, writing, gigging and tour preparations. I can't complain in the slightest. Who needs security and career prospects when you can play music in a band you dearly love right? I've known the rest of the band for a little over a year but we've never lived in the same city let alone in the back of a van or budget hotel room. We've never spent more than a few days together and certainly not a month and a half in pretty much constant proximity, performing every night, sleeping in the same room, eating at the same table. As a result, my thoughts in the days before we left were filled with nightmare scenarios not of the on-stage variety but off-stage, that the band will realise that I have countless character flaws, a bad sense of humour (I do) or just unbearable body odour (I don't).
That's the background. Soon enough, it was time to tour...
The first rule of tour planning is this; everything bad that can happen, will happen. The final twenty-four hours before leaving are always stressful (or so I've been told) but in this case stress was increased when we realised that we didn't have a vital piece of vehicle registration that could've caused us to cancel the whole tour. Flash forward to the morning of our first date and after a day spent frantically driving from one DVLA centre to another, we held the document in our hands. Deep breaths, crisis averted. But only for another crisis to strike. A crash on the M20 meant we were an hour late for our train, something which usually would've delayed us by perhaps thirty minutes until the next train. On this day however, the delay was more like three hours and put our first date in serious danger of cancellation for the second time in one morning. Welcome Breaks are a bleak place to contemplate one's shortcomings.
We arrived in Utrecht around five minutes after our scheduled stage time. With the show pushed back by an hour we hurriedly set up and sound-checked without paying much attention to our surroundings. The show itself was a blur of first night nerves, awkward stage banter and fatigue. Spring Offensive had never played in the Netherlands before so the fact that people actually showed up, listened attentively, applauded in all the right places and encouraged us coyly back out at the end for an encore was miraculous. After the show most of the band moved to an adjoining room to meet some of the audience, drink, smoke and unwind. Pelham and I chatted idly to three women about the show, our tour and Utrecht. As the conversation dried up Pelham broke the silence to ask "so what do you guys do?" Their response, a mixture of awkward looks, laughter and a blank refusal to reveal their occupations led the two of us to a single conclusion. I'll leave that to your imaginations.
We rose early and left the characterless hostel, in which we had stolen a few hours sleep, for a long day driving to Hamburg and Reeperbahn Festival. Reeperbahn is an industry focussed, city based affair, the German equivalent of The Great Escape or Liverpool Soundcity. Hamburg is a strange city, a patchwork quilt of architectural styles, the old contrasted sharply by neon signs and gaudy adverts for fast food and sex shops. Even the police station has a dazzling blue fluorescent signature attached proudly to the buildings efface. Come stage-time and people were pressed to the windows of the tiny upstairs room of the Molotow Bar which was packed.
Despite the tiny stage and sweltering heat, the overwhelming response we got from the jostling audience compensated ten-fold and we finished the night on an adrenaline fuelled high, knocking back Mexicana shots (a concoction of tomato juice, tabasco and vodka) and catching up with some of the European booking agents that have made this incredible run of shows possible. With shows running late into the night there was even a rare chance to catch some more live music as downstairs in the same venue Swim Deep emerged into a basement rammed with a crowd of inebriates and a layer of smoke so dense you could hardly see the stage. The band sauntered through a set of lo-fi, grunge pop infused with euphoric synths and reverberating guitar hooks with aplomb. They remain the only band I've actually managed to watch so far on this tour.
It's a strange quirk of European shows that they often only comprise of a single act. The following night we were back in Holland for a gig in Zwolle and, as with the first night of the tour, we were the only band on the line-up. It can be difficult to connect with a crowd in such circumstances and the audience seemed strangely quiet throughout the set. It remained unclear whether this was out of respect or just plain indifference until the show was over when sales of vinyl at least proved we'd gone down well.
It was the same at our next gig in a provincial town called Heemskerk where our spirits shrank as we arrived at a venue in the middle of a vicious storm. As it turned out, the mixture of locals of all ages who braved the rain were the kindest audience we could have asked for. Everyone bought something, most stayed afterwards to talk to us and the beer... oh the beer.
I should say that between Zwolle and Heemskerk we had a day of in Amsterdam. I could go into details but I'd rather leave it to your imaginations. What would you have done?
From Heemskerk we travelled south to Luxembourg, one of the wealthiest nations in the world apparently. Who knew? Luxembourg city is supposed to be incredibly beautiful. I wouldn't know. We drove straight from Heemskerk to a University of the outskirts of Luxembourg city to play an impromptu acoustic show in a car park. It's an old tactic to drum up some extra support in cities Spring Offensive have never played before. Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails miserably but on this occasion the correlation between those stood in a cold car-park watching as we blasted through four acoustic numbers and those in attendance later that evening was high so let's call it a success!
The venue at Rockhal in Luxembourg city is scarily big for a band of our level and surrounded on all sides by rough, industrial buildings, smouldering wasteland and huge stack chimneys. Our thoughts were again that no-one would make the trip out to see us so we wound our way through the labyrinthine passages from the backstage area to the stage expecting to play our now well rehearsed set to a crowd of lukewarm bar staff. As it was, the bar was pleasantly full by the time we'd made the Spinal Tap-esque journey to the stage. The show that night was one of the best of the tour so far, starting in the cavernous entrance hall with an acoustic version of Carrier performed directly under a hanging sculpture of an exploding car. Check it out...
We left Luxembourg on a high and headed to Belgium for a festival in Leuven the home of Stella and more importantly, a frightening number of students. Bear in mind that at this point I have been playing in Spring Offensive for a grand total of a month and a half, the first show being at 93 Feet East on Brick Lane at the end of August. With that in mind you can imagine how it felt to walk out onto a huge festival stage with this building as the backdrop.
I don't think I've ever felt more important that I did that night in Leuven. Our dressing room was a classroom decked out for the festival with a fridge full of beer, a coffee machine and enough fruit to start a small grocers. After playing we ate and drank. Only in this town is it actually cool to drink Stella and only here does it taste so good.
After the stage at Leuven, any venue is a step down but pulling into Korrijk the next afternoon and unloading our gear into the only basement rock club in the predominantly Catholic town, it felt like a welcome return. I've always felt like Spring Offensive are best enjoyed up-close, in intimate spaces where the tight harmonies and careful dynamics are exposed, naked. That sounds like an arrogant thing to say upon reflection but I still feel like an outsider at the moment, I'm still establishing myself, proving my worth in the band so perhaps I can still be objective to some extent?
Den Trap (which translated means 'The Stairs') is just my kind of venue. Down a narrow flight of stone steps you emerge into the type of venue every city should have. Oxford has the Cellar, Liverpool has the Shipping Forecast, London has Old Blue Last (if you swap a basement for an attic). Sometimes it doesn't even matter who's playing in these places, they simply attract audiences who know they'll find something new and interesting. I guessed around half of the crowd at Den Trap had heard Spring Offensive before, perhaps the other half had come on the recommendation of a friend or just because the beer is cheap and the night was free! In a way I prefer these kind of shows, the sense that you have to work to win over a new audience gives added incentive to play your best, to sing for your supper.
So that brings us to now. The morning after Den Trap we headed back to the venue to pick up the equipment before rolling casually down to Brussels, a mere hours journey, for an afternoon soaking up some culture in the Belgian capital. It really is a beautiful city and the venue two floors below me is sleek and hipster, perhaps more at home in Shoreditch or Dalston than on a cobbled street in the centre of the European Parliament.
Home from home? Maybe not...but tomorrow we make the 8 hour journey to Switzerland for a week of shows in the foothills of the Alps.
- Full European Tour Itinerary
- 20.09 (NLD) Utrecht, Tivoli
- 21.09 (DEU) Hamburg, Reeperbahn Festival
- 22.09 (NLD) Zwolle, Hedon
- 24.09 (NLD) Heemskerk, Lokaal
- 25.09 (LUX) Luxembourg, Rockhal
- 26.09 (BEL) Leuven, Welcome Festival
- 27.09 (BEL) Kortrijk, Den Trap
- 28.09 (BEL) Brussels, Mme Moustache
- 29.09 (CH) Geneva, La Graviere
- 30.09 (CH) Porrentruy, Secret Show
- 01.10 (CH) Bern, Ono
- 03.10 (CH) Baden, Merkker
- 04.10 (CH) Basel, Hinterhof
- 05.10 (CH) Zurich, Exil
- 06.10 (CH) Wil, Gare De Lion
- 15.10 (ITA) Milan, Transito
- 16.10 (ITA) Trieste, Tetris
- 17.10 (ITA) TBC
- 18.10 (DEU) Munich, Feierwerk
- 19.10 (DEU) Freiburg, Raeng Teng Teng
- 20.10 (DEU) Stuttgart, Keller Klub
- 21.10 (DEU) Bedroom Disco Secret Show
- 22.10 (DEU) Dresden, Ostpol
- 23.10 (DEU) Leipzig, Theater Neues Schauspiel
- 25.10 (DEU) Berlin, Secret ‘Wohnzimmer’ show
- 26.10 (DEU) Berlin, Secret ‘Wohnzimmer’ show
- 27.10 (DEU) Berlin, Lido
- 02.11 (DEU) Berlin, Magnet
- 03.11 (DEU) Hamburg, Molotow
- 05.11 (DEU) Munster, Pension Schmidt
- 06.11 (DEU) Hannover, Glocksee
- 07.11 (DEU) Cologne, Stereo Wonderland
- 08.11 (DEU) Heidelberg, Haell
- 09.11 (DEU) Mainz, Schon Schoen
- 16.11 (UK) All UK dates announced soon.
Thereâs just 36 hours left to download Spring Offensiveâs new acoustic EP Between You and Me on a pay-what-you-like basis. You can download the EP for free, but if you choose to pay Â£4 or more for it you also get credit on the next single, which is due out in April, as a co-funder. For more information, or to pick up a copy head to www.springoffensive.co.uk [read more]
If you'd had told me a month ago that the hardest part of being on tour would be the breaks, I'm one hundred percent sure my immediate response would have been to ask what you'd taken that morning. And yet finding myself, with three weeks of intense touring, five countries and almost four thousand miles under my belt, sat alone in a rented room in Stoke Newington with no plans, no schedule, no show or soundcheck to prepare for was a pretty unpleasant experience. [read more]
The Spring Offensive are a bunch of guys from Oxford, who are hell bent on bringing a fresh angle to indie music. Though putting them in a box is pretty pointless. They cite bands like Death Cab For Cutie, I Like Trains, Anathallo, A Silver Mt. Zion, Reuben as influences - but were quick to tell us they probably didn't sound like any of those guys. I agree. Listening to 'Every Coin' (video below) and 'I Found Myself Smiling' (download below) gave me a real sense of claustro... (continued) [read more]