LaFaro European Tour Diary
New recruit, bassist Oisin O'Doherty on navigating the Alps, staying motivated and uncomfortable Italian toilets
February 14, 2012. Austria and Switzerland
So it's the end of day 15 of a 35 day European tour. 12.45am and I'm in my bunk in a shared hostel in Vienna; the two girls already in the room are not happy with the noise we're making.
The show tonight was great. Fair turn out and, as a band, we killed it. It's starting to gel with me now. I only played three shows with the guys prior to starting this tour.
It's freezing outside. -6 I think, and snowing. I've been loading out and travelling back to our accommodation recently in my shorts, as I don't feel the cold after a show, but the extreme cold stops me from sleeping.
I helped [singer and guitarist] Jonny [Black] to bed a few moments ago. He broke his ankle in four places before Christmas and now has a few plates and screws in there. He's still on crutches and wears an air boot. When we play, he has to sit for the duration of the set.
We have to get up in six hours and drive to Berne in Switzerland, a ten-hour drive in a tightly packed van that we have named the Retardus due to it being too small, but we manage to squeeze in a full back line of equipment and six men. Off to sleep now...
We're 79km from Salzburg and it's snowing heavily. Didn't get much sleep and had an awkward moment in the van when I woke up – my face almost froze to the window!
I'm looking forward to the show tonight as Henry Rollins is performing his spoken word in the room upstairs from us. I pray this bloody journey doesn't kill us or dent our determination to put on a great show tonight...
A few minutes from Switzerland and there is smoke coming from the engine – the smell of diesel coming through the vents. Thankfully it's just a loose connection, easily fixed. We fly through the Switzerland border no problems. On we go...
February 15, 2012. Switzerland
So the show last night was us playing after Rollins' spoken word. We pulled up beside his tour bus, a huge beast fit for any band to tour anywhere in the world at anytime of the year. No jealousy at all. I had a chat with his tour manager who explained that it's only him, the driver and Rollins on the bus. It can hold about 12 people comfortably. But Rollins deserves it more than most.
He's one of the reasons why I'm in Switzerland playing in a band. I heard stories of his book Get in the Van, a bible for any touring act, many years ago. It's a rite of passage for all bands to read and then live.
The show started with no sound check due to Rollin's spoken word show demanding complete silence, so we went straight into it and, during the first song, [guitarist] Dave Magee's head went down and for a few songs LaFaro returned to a three piece. But Dave got back in the game and the show continued to a relatively packed room.
No one here knows who we are. Halfway though the set, though, there was a small mosh pit building up, and by the end of the set the crowd demanded an encore. Good night all round. We met a girl who is moving to Belfast and a guy who has lived in Derry for seven years. It's a small world out there at times.
Got up and loaded the van early, straight on the road. It is the heaviest the snow has been and it has taken a good hour to get out of Berne, leaving us another ten hours to Rome...
We have been stuck on the Swiss Alps for a few hours now. The roads are so bad and there have been a number of accidents. But the views are stunning. I don't think I have seen anything as beautiful. I'm in awe, but my heart is in my throat as we are low on diesel and the road is covered in snow – we have no snow tyres. I may pee myself for a number of reasons.
February 16, 2012. Italy
It's Wednesday morning and we have just left our very nice hotel in Rome and are on the road again, heading for Turin. Yesterday it took us 14 hours to get to Rome. We got there and had to sit through some pretty dreadful support bands until we took the stage sometime after midnight.
I felt so sick from the drive – and from six men farting, sweating and eating in a cramped van for hours – that I didn't move on stage. I stopped singing backing vocals as I thought I was going to throw up. I was at a low point. The first time being under the weather and de-motivated.
It didn't help that there were only three people at the show. The venue held 250. We drove 14 hours for this? Are we mad?! Yes. You need to be in order to put your body and mind through this.
It's not all parties, booze and groupies at this stage. But it’s not about any of that for us anyway. It's about sharing what we feel music should be. Real live music with energy. No fancy make up or stage lights. No auto tuned voices or backing tracks.
I was a bit disappointed that I didn't give the show 100% last night, as someone or three thought enough of our music to pay to see us perform. The venue was down a long road littered with rundown buildings, prostitutes and drug dealers, not exactly what I expected considering the wealth and treasures contained in the Vatican close by.
We were put up in a very nice hotel and I managed some sleep. When the alarm went off it felt like I had just closed my eyes for a second. But a shower and breakfast helped me pull myself together and psych myself up for another 8 hour journey.
I get to see Italy in the daylight now – blue skies. It's beautiful in this 12-degree heat, and a huge difference from the -19 temperatures we experienced in Hamburg. The snow dusted mountains dotted with stone buildings, the rolling fields and vineyards fill me with a new sense of life.
It's a world away from the situation I was in six months ago. I had been living in Sheffield in England and working for the NHS. Things didn't make sense any more and for personal reasons I decided to take a career break. I moved back to Norn Iron to follow my dream of playing music full time.
February 17, 2012. Italy
Played in Turin last night. Great show and we sounded tight. I was rocking out a bit more on stage, looking less like a scared rabbit. The material is becoming comfortable to play. Crowd-wise, they were up for it. Even a mini mosh pit formed during ‘Chopper is a Tout’, and we played an encore.
I feel slightly embarrassed when people ask to have a photograph taken with me, but it's very flattering. I'm just happy we put on a great show. Those 14 hours in the van – and that show playing to three people – seem worthwhile after last night's gig.
Italy's good points: great people, very enthusiastic, great food, amazing scenery. Bad points: crazy drivers and – wait for it – a hole in the ground for a toilet! That was an experience, let me tell you.
As I write this we're driving through the Alps on our way back to Switzerland. The sun is shining and I'm listening to the new Kvelertak album. There is a huge smile on my face. The temperature change – from -19 to 10 degrees – has improved my attitude and recharged my energy levels. Can't wait for the show tonight.
February 18, 2012. Switzerland
Basel was good, but I was tired from the previous day's travel. We loaded in early, sound checked and had dinner all before 8pm. We haven’t done that in a while. I didn't know what to do with my free time, so took a nap for an hour, then caught the second support act.
Musically they did not sit well with me or the band. Either there are no good bands in Europe or the promoters are dumb. This constant mismatch of bands can wear you down, make you seem like you don't care. It's better to say nothing rather than lie and say 'Great show man, the crowd loved you'.
The reception we got was warm. The small but dedicated crowd head-banged along and demanded an encore. But encores – for us, anyway – are not as glamorous as they sound. Jonny can’t get off stage that easy, so when people ask for more we say OK and thrash through another song or two.
After the show we discovered randomers in our dressing room drinking our beer and eating our food. Our tour manager pulled down his trousers and they left pretty fast. We call him Ted DiBiase, after the Million Dollar Man from WWF. He convinced the promoter to get us some more booze and we sat up talking nonsense for a while. I crashed out and managed nine hours kip...
We loaded the van set for Germany. I mentioned to the lads that I could easily do this for another two months. I love touring so much – the freedom of being on the road, meeting new people, seeing new cities and countries – although I may need a few days with no beer. Not that I have been drunk a lot, just to give my throat a rest.
There isn't much I miss about home. I have no kids, no wife, and with Skype I can see and talk to my family. I no longer have a 'home', as such. I left that back in Sheffield. We have a day off there on the way back to Northern Ireland and I can't wait to see all my friends.
I think it takes courage to jump into the unknown, to truly question your self and your life. I was scared when I decided to leave work and move back to Derry, a place I moved away from as soon as I was old enough. But I have no regrets. I am very set in my ways and domesticated when I'm home, but touring is the total opposite and I don't feel weird about it at all.
Pooing in holes in the floor, not showering for days, eating as and when you can, sleeping as and when you can, living close quarters with five other men, some of whom I don't know all that well. It may sound like some people's idea of hell, but to me I have never found an environment so easy to fit in to because, at the end of the day, it's all about playing the shows. That is all I want to do.
Listen to me getting all philosophical. I think I'll stop here.