As we loaded the Galaxy in preparation for our departure from Milan I went through my morning routine of taking all the pilfered sandwich meat and olives out of the pockets of my duffel coat, putting them in a ziplock bag and throwing it into our bloated food hamper.
I had a nagging hunger that morning, and I remembered that at dinner in Metz I had casually swiped 4 whole fried chicken breasts from the Pompidou staff kitchen. They were still sitting in the bowels of the hamper, wrapped in tin-foil, but I was afraid to touch them. A really bad bout of food poisoning can have knock-on effects that will derail an entire week of touring, and I didn't want that on my conscience.
The hamper was less your wholesome wicker number filled with goodness, more a kind of big, plastic half-way house for trans-fats down on their luck.
The hamper was constantly overflowing with cans of soft-drink, stale sweet-breads, miniature Mars bars, potato chips and many bottles of beer. One thing we had learned on our last tour was that hunger and thirst can strike anywhere, at any time, so we saw each free snack platter and complementary buffet breakfast as an opportunity to keep costs down and insure ourselves against deprivation.
Hi. My name is Ben and this is my good friend and colleague, Baaron Von Cuddles III. Is this zebra carcass yours?
This scavenger mentality is common amongst people "on the road", and is usually the unspoken prerogative of the headline band. If you are going to fuck with that unwritten law and heist, say, a big cheese platter from the back-stage fridge, you have to do it while the headliners are on-stage. But make sure you're not around when they finish, because once they realise what you've done there will be very ugly vibes backstage, and possibly violence. I myself have gone stone-crazy bazonkers with black rage every time we have been the victim of even minor support-act piracy, despite the fact that I am a repeat offender on the other side of the coin.
Baaron Von Cuddles' eating habits are worth mentioning here, if only because they are another facet of his overall super-humanity.
Would you remain in the car after someone fed this huge sandwich directly into their gullet, in one piece, like a fucking pelican?
For days he will eat nothing but a few nuts and seeds, like a parrot, always shrugging and saying he's "not that hungry" when a meal gets laid out. But every so often he will sit down at the dinner table and inhale about 10 kilograms of pasta or rice salad in under 10 minutes. It is a hideous spectacle.
The first time Andy saw this happen, at dinner in Lucern, he was so sickened and disturbed by watching such a massive volume of food disappear inside The Baarons skeletal body that he fled outside and threw-up in the snow. After that he took to eating by himself, which suited us fine.
My own habits were far more predictable. I saw every free meal as a once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity, and ate like a stray dog locked overnight in an abattoir. I would also stash left-overs in my bass-case and swipe things from the plates of venue staffers while they were in the toilet. The net result of all this was that as the tour went on The Baaron looked exactly the same as when we left England while I was blowing up like a balloon.
Computer simulation of bass-player weight gain over 3 weeks.
Furthermore, because Cuddles was doing all the driving, I was free to sit in the passenger seat and drink massive quantities of beer during each days drive. Within an hour of setting forth I would be obnoxiously drunk, singing and farting in the car and writing long piss-poems in the snow at every fuel stop.
This too had an expanding effect on my waist-line and I was rapidly becoming a social embarrassment and a PR liability. Everyone knows that guys in Indie bands are supposed to be pale, anaemic spectres, like Von Cuddles. But now people I'd never met before were making "when are you expecting?" jokes and only creepy, nerdy boys would talk to me after the shows.
*******It made me reflect on the Goode Olde Days, back in Australia, when my friends in successful bands would return from Europe with wild tales about being fed like prize-winning pigs, for free, by the venues. I would screw up my face and tell those sleazy liars to fuck off with their crazy tour-yarns.
For me, the concept of venue catering lived in the same universe of flimsy horse-shit as original sin, the cheque that's "in the mail" and the Loch Ness monster.
It was totally inconceivable. You could play for ten years in all manner of venues "down under" and never even be offered a dish-rag to suck on behind the monitor desk, let alone a fine home-cooked meal, with salad and dessert!
Stitching the Melbourne to Brisbane run together with shows in places like Albury, Wollongong and Coffs Harbor was a kind of brutal, crash diet. You'd usually get a ten dollar per-diem, with which you were expected to do whatever was necessary to keep your body up and running. But that tenner would disappear at the first fuel stop, on a pack of Peter Styvesent reds and a can of Coke and after that it was all about will-power, shutting out the deep, volcanic gurgles rising up from your knotted stomach.
The very idea that I would one day gain 8 kilograms in the first 20 days of a tour was complete nonsense, a fish-tale dreamt up by the same giddy water-heads who think that if you have a song on the radio you must be rich.
But there you have it. If the venues had thrown in free packs of Camel lights and chewing gum I wouldn't have spent a single cent on the whole tour, except on that 2 euro beanie I bought in Gothenburg to stop my scalp freezing and peelingoff my skull like old wallpaper.
To summarise, having a full tour-tummy is not really an issue on "the continent", unless you set out to make it one, for personal reasons.
I wish I had.