Joe McCallum has been the regular drummer guy in the wave of popularly alternative musicians who have emerged from Christchurch’s port city in recent years. As musician, songwriter and producer Delaney Davidson is a figurehead of the ‘Lyttelton sound’, but additionally has a life on the roads and small stages of Europe. Joe joined Delaney and partner Nicole Garcia for a one month tour promoting Delaney Davidson’s latest ‘Lucky Guy’ album / Manos Del Chango in Europe. He more than generously offered NZM this internet café run down of events.
I’ve been in Munich for less that two hours and I’m playing some strange old drums alongside my host Evi’s John Lee Hooker-inspired guitar. His old wood-floor apartment is filled with vintage radios, amps and records, and sits above a bar overlooking the street. He has an extensive record collection and an Alex von Schlippenbach, Paul Lovens and Evan Parker flyer on the noticeboard.
Tonight Delaney Davidson and Nicole Garcia will join us after celebrating Halloween in Switzerland. They have picked up the Peugeot wagon with French number plates that is to be our voiture around Europe for the month of November. 25 shows across Germany, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Italy, ending up out east in Croatia and Serbia.
On stage Nicole plays an old Yamaha keyboard providing an organ sound, with a smaller keyboard for the bass. She also sings in Spanish and joins Delaney for a few killer duets. Delaney has his classic one man show set up, amp with a DI box to boost the low end on his tiny Vox amp. In Nicole’s new song Patos Locos he cranks out an octave pedal to give a slurred, crunched up bass sound along with a scratched guiro sounding loop.
We have been toying with the idea of using loops and used the rehearsal and first show to try out some ideas, borrowing a friend’s amp and buying a signal splitter. Without consistent on-stage monitoring or using headphones we ended up ditching the concept, just using it for two of our new songs. Delaney found some other atmospheric places to put it in the show. I love playing a string of shows and seeing how the music and people’0.s playing develops over time.
I have been hearing about Delaney’s collapsible drum kit in Europe for a number of years and it’s a beauty. Handmade in Zürich in the 1960s I get comments from nearly every seasoned sound guy on the tour saying they have never seen anything like it. Some call it the ‘babushka (Russian doll) kit’. The bass drum splits in half around the middle when you undo the small latches and there is a nice interlocking groove to help it fit together. Inside the bass drum you find the floor tom. Open this in half and out comes the rack tom. In an old purpose-built suitcase is the shallow snare drum. There are some calf skins and some Remo Ambassadors and with a bit of work it starts to tune up well.
We put in a huge amount of hours driving on the highways. Occasionally getting a bit loopy, we sing and enjoy the radio of the country we happen to be passing through. To get to Leipzig from Vienna we drove the length of the Czech Republic. As soon as we hit the Czech border the beautifully groomed highways of the EU stop and our GPS starts taking us through small towns. Prague’s old town teases us as we drive through at speed. That’s the thing about being on tour, you’re in all these places but you rarely get to see the sights properly.
In Leipzig we walk through an arch into the dimly lit alleyway to get to the venue and I recognise a face. Kiwi singer Will Wood comes up and gives us all a big cuddle. He happens to have a night off on the same night as our gig. He’s done over 80 shows in a few months and is looking forward to getting back to NZ for the summer and to record a new album in Lyttelton.
The Leipzig club is an old punk squat, still running from 1990s when an abandoned East German factory building was turned into a music venue and creative space. We played on the first floor in a large, dark concrete room with grime and band stickers on every surface. Up three flights of wide concrete stairs was a kitchen where the anarchist, punk, vegan volunteers who keep the place running cooked us a delicious meal.
The set list gets refined each show. We have been playing a mix of stuff from ‘Lucky Guy’, new Manos del Chango songs and a few covers like Johnny Dowd’s First There Was, and Latin Simone by the Gorillaz.
Most of our shows are in rock’n’roll venues that have been running a while. Talking to people after the Berlin gig I happen across some girls who are from the same tumbleweed part of Germany my great grandad is from, and ask why my parents would ever take me there to visit.
Doing the nightly ritual of loading up the van with gear one girl asks me, “Did you hear about Paris?” They read out the headlines from their phone, hostages taken at a concert and attacks at a café with serious casualties. We are all shocked and the French lady who came from Paris earlier that day gets on her phone to start getting in touch with friends.
As we drive into Brussels we see soldiers with large guns standing outside official buildings and patrolling the streets with police. Some streets are closed and it’s hard to navigate. It’s getting dark by 4:30pm and everything is starting to feel a bit heavy. We play a show opening for Shannon and the Clams at Madame Moustache. The show is well received but it seems other bands’ tours and shows are starting to be cancelled.
Crossing the border back in Germany from Belgium we are stopped at a checkpoint in a rest area by German police, again with large guns. We wind down the window and in German are asked our nationality and intentions. Delaney replies in his Swiss German, “Two New Zealanders and an American, we play music. He is then asked something else and responds, “Err, Mexican folk music mixed with blues…”… The officer gives us back our passports and sends us on our way with a smile.
From Belgium we head to Martigny in Switzerland to play a show with the legendary Swiss punk act Reverend Beat Man and The Monsters (of Voodoo Rhythm Records). Post the Paris attacks we have been following the news and keeping in touch with the venue about our show. Sitting down with the Monsters at breakfast on the morning of our drive to Paris we had a talk about heading that way. It was strange having a conversation about doing a gig in the same suburb as the attacks, with all the crazy media and government warnings coming out. We rang people we knew in Paris and talked it out as a band. The decision was made to go.
We loaded in and sound checked at the basement venue in Paris then headed out for some dinner. It’s the first time I’ve ever taken a peek at where the nearest exit is when showing up to a gig. Like counting the rows of seats to the exit row on a plane. We have a great turn out, they really got into the show. Some people we know still stayed away and the general feeling in Paris was pretty edgy.
Four great gigs in Italy and we head further east for our last shows. We pass the city of Trieste and arrive in Rijeka, Croatia. The music venue and hotel are on 1930s boat, moored to the docks. We get a huge welcome and the promoter says he has been waiting six years for Delaney to come through this way.
At the Serbian border we have to show a special letter sent to us by the promoter to give to the customs officers. It allows us passage with our instruments as there are restrictions on imports.
The last night of the tour in Belgrade and we are treated to a real wholesome and hearty eastern European home cooked meal by the mother of the promoter. All the people and we have met along the way have contributed to the making the tour a special time for the three of us. We have driven 10,000km in one month played 24 shows, eaten a lot of cheese, bread, cured, meat and schnitzel. Hvala.