Steve Drewett solo | Newtown Neurotics | The Indestructible Beat | Gigs | Lyrics | Social Media
Sunday, day of rest in the Peoples' Republic? No chance. George has business to sort out at his home, which is a short drive from the hotel and I set off with him in a hired car, leaving the others at breakfast.
East German cars match the state of the roads, being an average of over 20 years old (to get a car requires applying at the registration offices and waiting 8 to 10 years) and following a 20 minute queue for petrol the car breaks down. We manage to push start it however and make our way to George's home.
This is my first proper sight of buildings away from the modern city centres and it presents a greatly contrasting view - tall, grey, decrepit buildings with peeling brickwork and in ill state of repair.
The scenes are comparable with the decaying landscapes of the north of England but in West Germanys case this is less the result of economic deprivation by the state as it is the legacy of the devastation wrought during the war.
From an economy that was totally ruined only 40 years ago, it has taken until now for renovations to proceed on an extensive scale. Once inside, the buildings are actually well lived in. George lives with his wife and two kids three flights up in a spacious and homely five-bedroom flat with kitchen and bathroom. Equivalent accommodation in London would set you back around £80,000. George's flat was provided for him by the municipal council, as is the case with some 80% of the population. He pays 77M (about £25) a month rent. "Electricity is quite cheap and I don't have to pay for water. For heating costs I pay some 300 - 350M (about £100) for me whole supply for one year." Not bad at all!
Early afternoon back at the hotel and we're again setting off on the next leg to Suhl, now with two extra cars besides the van to carry Bragg, Wiggy, Jenner, Will, German drivers Detlef and Willy and additional translator fraulein Ute.
Attila starts dolling out fistfuls of cash to everyone and we give handfuls of notes away to people standing nearby. "How much did you just give them?" "I dunno, about £300 I suppose." We start devising other means of getting rid of the money. In the toilets Steve tips the attendant £3.00. Colin however procures the most sensible solution: "Why don't we roll up some money, put some money in it, set it alight with more money and smoke it?" (We didn't, I stepped in and pointed out that this was real money to the onlookers and that it was quite a silly thing to do actually. Steve)
The predominantly flat land gradually gives way to picturesque hills and pine forests. Colin is the first to be sick but we're all to take turns over the next two days - not so much from alcohol as roadside cafe food we consumed the day before.
On the motorway we're pulled over by the cops and everyone's shitting themselves, wondering how long our fingernails and gonads are going to remain in place. Apparently we were exceeding the speed limit by 20km/hr; actually as George explains, this is a convenient device for screwing some money out of the filthy rich Western capitalist bourgeoisie. We're fined 200M and feel suitably chastened, until it sinks in that we've found a mew method of getting rid of the money. "Oh, 200M, is that all? Can we call them back and tell them it's not enough?" "Can we give them some more money if we want?"
We arrive at Suhl in blazing hot sunshine to find out its another open air gig, on a small stage in a market place. A local band is playing as we arrive. Our first sight of the home music scene is not a particularly gratifying one as they're fairly bland MOR pop rock singing in English.
Introduced by Billy as 'Attila the Stickbreaker', tonight sees the unusual event of Attila blowing Billy off stage. Sizing up the greater than expected ease of acceptance by the Germans of his more tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Attila introduced the wild and wacky 'Holiday in Albania' into his set, as well as the brilliant ode to Kim Philby 'Another Country' and finishes to spirited applause. The Neurotics are also well received, ending with 'Strike Action' but the final response is not quite good enough for an encore. Even Bragg gets a mute reception, excusing himself with "I think they thought Attila was me". It takes ones mind back to the days when an up and coming unknown called Billy Bragg used to support Attila.
Still if the audience is on the lethargic side, you can trust Bragg to create his own pandemonium on stage and for the finale of 'Living with Unemployment' chaos ensues. Billy turns off Attila's amp midway through, then de-tunes his mandola; Attila rubs a beer bottle into Billy's nose and a friendly scrap follows. Meanwhile I'm over the road at the hotel with Ute, who's desperately trying to organise food for the performers. This is to be the biggest hassle throughout the tour; although the meals are booked till 10.30 each night, invariably the sets run late and the staff are packing up by the time we get there.
But after slight wrangling we're always served with first rate grub. "You should get a shave Dave," notes Billy, sliding down at the table. "You look like my granny". Tonight's accommodation, The Panorama Hotel, is located 12 miles away, this is the poshest hotel of our stay (even the toilet paper is marginally softer) and is appropriately named; situated at the top of a mountain it overlooks hills and forests that stretch unbroken into the distance.
In Steve's third floor room our drunken antics begin with an attempt to throw the TV out of the window. Only two things foil us in this:1. The plug won't come out of the socket
2. The window won't open
Now I bet the Rolling Stones never had these problems!
Simon recovers our rock 'n' roll credibility however by squeezing a toothpaste tube out the window. This is followed by attempts to chat up the receptionists and lots of silly phone calls (at 3 o'clock in the morning) to people in the UK. Simons' endeavour to phone his girlfriend is drowned out by Steve and Colin making loud kissing noises down the phone.
One of the curious customs of the hotel waiters is that unless you're in groups of at least three they completely ignore you. Come Monday lunchtime the twelve of us eventually coalesce around one table, looking like a somewhat shabby and overhung Knights of the Round Table. Uncle Bill is looking particularly exhausted - the rock 'n' roll lifestyle is catching up with him.
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