Eurokong Diary

This is a pretty wired experience, even though there isn't a cable in sight.

I'm sitting in a car on the open boat deck of a ferry just outside the port of Patras, Greece, writing naked HTML on the tiny keyboard of a Nokia 9000. In a moment I'll upload my journal directly via satellite to my website.

In my yellow 'digital bag' I have the tiny gadgets which make the Eurokong Tour possible, portable, and shareable: the Roland PMA 5 which plays the backing tracks at our shows, the Nokia pocket internet device, and my JVC digital video camera which will illustrate this diary when I get back to London.

Here's how it all begins.

Thursday 27th November 1997

Gilles and I drive our rented Nissan to Folkestone in heavy rain and heavier traffic. The morning routine we musicians so rarely see (office workers in gnarled congestion) is softened by the tape Gilles has snapped in: a compilation of french chanson, 50s to 70s -- Polnareff, Dick Annegarn, Pierre Louki, Joseph Racaille. The last two I've never heard before. Racaille has a breezy little number, about thirty seconds long, which just says 'Someone ripped off your arm, but don't worry, you've still got the other one'.

At the Folkestone terminal we marvel at the fat slobs in tracksuits wheeling trolleys stacked high with duty free beer. These people's arms are nothing more than ring pull pullers. If someone tore them off they'd probably tug the cans open with their dentures.

Drive to Hamburg, where Gilles takes a walk in the red light district, pressing his nose against windows he first saw when he was sixteen, here on a school trip with a pervy teacher.

I'm meanwhile doing an interview with a gay journalist for Spex, Germany's biggest trendy rock magazine. I ask him why, after about ten years of ignoring me, Spex is once again paying attention. 'Oh, fashion goes in circles,' he says.

Friday 28th November 1997

More interviews in Hamburg, then the drive to Berlin. I pick up E mail on my pocket internet gadget while Gilles drives at 110mph. We're listening to 'Fantasma' by Japanese band Cornelius, my album of the year.

We reach Berlin at about 7pm and are guided by phone to Bungalow's office in Kreuzberg.

Shoichi Kajino from my Japanese label L'Appareil Photo soon arrives with Pretzel and Francoise from Stereo Total. He is jetlagged to hell, and while I do phone interviews demonstrates the catlike Japanese talent for sleeping anywhere by curling up on the office sofa.

We eat then play the show in a comfortable loungey basement club, the Privat. Gilles begins his set with a song which includes the line 'It's so invisible it's blinding'.

Gilles' set is marred by crackling sound which veers from left to right and cuts out frequently. The club owners have routed the signal through a limiter after complaints from neighbours. We bypass the electronic censor. There's no way our timid and girly sound is going to blow anybody away.

Knowing there are several Lufthansa employees in the audience, I start my set with 'Shaftenberg'. We play up the physical theatre, standing on chairs or holding guns to each others' temples. In 'The Animal That Desires' I screech alarmingly.

Afterwards poor jetlagged Shoichi says 'Great show... very long'.

Saturday 29th November 1997

Gilles and I buy groovy secondhand clothes in Made In Berlin, a huge 'fripperies' store right next to our hotel. Amongst my purchases is a lacetop suede smock. I look like a hippy scoutleader in it.

Hit the road south, driving all day and into the dark. We dine at a traditional inn at Innsbruck. Gigantic mountains surround us. We try to imagine ourselves as skiers who have been waiting here six months for the first snow.

At the Brenner pass between Austria and Italy we encounter it in the form of a blizzard. The road goes white and we slither our way along the edges of precipices.

Reach Trento at around midnight. The only visible inhabitants are prostitutes. We take a room in a hotel in the Centro Storico, a breathtaking medieval cathedral square with the mountains overhanging it.

Remark again how theatrical Italian cities are. The people, well-dressed and extravert, stride through the narrow streets three abreast with the swagger of Elizabethan actors.

We watch a Nanno Moretti film on the hotel TV. I love Italy.

Sunday 30th November 1997

Even the names of the towns here -- Padua, Mantua, Verona -- are Shakespearean. We wind the car through a mini-scaled landscape which resembles the one behind the Mona Lisa.

Believing we have to be at Bari by 8.30, we rush headlong down the autostradas at 180kph. This gets us to the south of the peninsula in no time, and we find we have about five hours to kill before the boat leaves.

So we slot an Ennio Morricone CD into the portable and take a left into Italy's 'ankle'. Lark with seaweed on the beach as the sun sets, taking photos with the pink Hello Kitty disposable camera Konishi from Pizzicato 5 gave me last Sunday.

Then decide to cut across the mountains through a huge forest, the Dantesque 'Forest of Shadows', Foresta Umbra.

This turns out to be a big mistake. The road is so twisty that I get really sick and have to take breaks every six hairpins or so to calm my stomach and inner ear. Some of these breaks are, despite my condition, quite beautiful. In one I hear a random orchestra of goatbells tinkling down the hill in the dark. In another I take a mossy shit under the Italian stars.

We race down the mountainside and autostrada to Bari only to find that I've got the date wrong. Our boat doesn't leave until tomorrow night!

So we have a day in Bari, a rich, charming port with a semi-arabic medieval fisherman's village at one end and a grid of prosperous shopping streets at the other. We find a splendidly 70s hotel and eat at a Chinese before surfing until midnight in the town cybercafe.

Monday December 1st 1997

The next day is gorgeous, sunny and warm. We walk to the fishing harbour and watch octopi being flung repeatedly against the rocks. Wander through the Fellinesque labyrinth of the old town then check out the literature department of the university.

Everywhere I'm marvelling at the classic and cool 70s design (olive green benches in the post office, bright yellow shop signs) but in my white flared suit and hideously groovy paisley patterned shirt I'm actually the most 70s thing here.

I tell Gilles that I'm old enough to have worn this sort of thing first time around without irony.

We drive aboard the ferry at 7pm. There are only about three cars. All the other passengers are truckers. They look at us, skinny and girlish and fancily dressed, with amused derision. They must think we're gay. We in turn think that they're all killers.

We retreat to our pleasantly ascetic cabin and play Stereolab's Dots and Loops. The ship glides smooth as a knife into the night.


Tuesday December 2nd 1997

At about 7am we wake up to find the boat has stopped unexpectedly at Igoumenitsa, a town on the west coast of Greece. It's sunny and we contemplate getting off and driving to Athens -- it would be quicker. But there isn't time to jump into the car.

So we stay put for another seven hours, sleeping in the cabin or sitting downstairs in the cafe playing our own version of the horribly boring 70s board game Mastermind.

Ours is a purely aesthetic version. We arrange the colours in blocks that look nice. I use mostly orange and white.

As it's getting dark we arrive at Patras and hit the road to Athens. This is not a motorway, it's a single lane affair. I learn to place the white line dividing the verge from the lane directly between the wheels in case anyone wants to pass me. When people on both sides of the road are passing at the same time, things can get scary.

This ersatz road is just the first in a list of Greek Cultural Exceptions, things which make it the most eccentric and, shall we say, happy-go-lucky of European countries.

Gilles notices Exception 2: the skeleton houses by the side of the road, often capped by vast Marlboro adverts, which look as if their owners ran out of money and put their construction programs on ice, preferring to use their half-built homes as legs for huge billboards rather than places to live.

There are also many dead dogs and cats lying in the road, left to rot.

We reach Athens and sit at the agreed meeting place, Ommonia Square. It's a warm and vibrant evening, there are palm trees and kiosks, crazy traffic, stinking pollution, Albanian refugees and cripples washing windscreens and trying to sell lighters and flowers at the traffic lights (the flowers are actually selling like hot cakes).

Demetrius, a cool young greek designer who is in the middle of his military service but is today dressed in skateboy gear, meets us on a scooter and guides us to our hotel, the Titania.

Nikos Triandafullydis, a film director and occasional concert promoter (just artists he likes: Blaine Reininger, Monochrome Set, me) arrives with his assistant Thoula. He shows me the tour poster then whisks me to my first interview, an important one with Athens' most liberal daily paper. They will give me two pages on the day of the concert.

The journalists are gay, and have dug up an old quote in which I say I sleep with the people who come to interview me. 'Which of us do you choose?' they ask, then roar with laugher.

These boys are rather fanciable and fun, and I rather regret that I'm not gay. They take a photo of me wound round with telephone cables then we drink Greek- measure whiskies (enormous).

(When it appears three days later the article is titled 'The Lord Byron Of Cyberspace').

Dine in a rather art nouveau and bourgeois restaurant. There are three Nikoses round the table (including me) and three Demetrias (including Demetrius). On Saturday all the Nikoses will have their name day, which is what the Greeks celebrate instead of birthdays.

After the meal Gilles and I go for a walk to Plaka, the quaint ramshackle district at the foot of the Acropolis. From the restaurants little sprigs of bouzouki music are sprouting. Cats wander the steep and narrow streets wild. For me the smells are the most evocative thing, bringing back the two years I lived in this city twenty five years ago: eucalyptus, lemon, diesel, mothballs, retsina, and the humid, ancient smell of the soil itself.

Back at the hotel there's a late TV screening of Radio Moscow, Nikos's first full length feature film. It's noirish and menacing, and stars Nikos' own father (the well known Greek comedian Harry Klynn) as the baddy.

I have a copy on video back home, which is a lame excuse for zapping to the two hardcore sex films on adjacent channels.

Wednesday December 3rd 1997

The indefatigable Nikos has arranged a press conference this morning in an impressive lecture room at the hotel. About ten journalists show up and I sit on a platform behind a mike answering questions about my lyrics. It's somewhat surreal.

Gilles and I drive out to Psychico, the suburb where I used to live. The lamp- posts are covered with big pink posters advertising my show. I look incredibly gay in the photo, wearing a suede jerkin with an extravagantly fluffy fur collar and cuffs. In several of the posters my face has been scratched out, presumably by homophobic little boys.

I visit my old house and school, video the kiosk on Platea Evkhalypton. Now it sells a wide selection of the international press, including music magazines in which my photo can be found. It's strange to be here as both a private person and a semi-public figure.

I buy chocolate. The wrapper hasn't changed.

Outside the house of our friends the Garners on Odos Byronos (I used to play in this garden with Sisi and Lala, the hippy twins) there is a heap of posters and paintings on the pavement, as if someone has just moved out. Nearby there's a bag of about fifty cassette tapes. I take them to listen to in the car.

And so it comes to pass that as we drive north to Thessaloniki later that same afternoon we are listening to Supertramp, Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and Simon and Garfunkel. Exactly the sort of music I was listening to in Athens in the early 70s. Music is a spooky time machine.

We check into our hotel in the chaotic and very Balkan city of Thessaloniki later that night. The journey has been hellish, the rubble-strewn ribbon of a road dug up all the way, and heavy rain lashing down. Gilles and I pass the time discussing the difference between talent and genius (he says he is a genius without talent, I decide I am talented without being a genius) and the sinister power of art curators and historians.

(Their versions of the history of talent are only provisional, I argue, which is why we should never throw anything away. The future will constantly be reassessing our detritus).

Nikos and Thoula have flown up. They tell us the plane was flying more or less upside down and was barely able to land in the fog.

We eat at the Mylos Club, a converted warehouse complex just outside town. It resembles a movie set street scene. The club is big and excellently equipped. We watch a rather dubious local rock band then check out the beautiful local faces in the bar across the cobbled street, nodding our heads wisely to St Etienne and Massive Attack records.

Thursday December 4th 1997

Nikos guides us through the city. There's a fantastic covered food market, really a Balkan souk. I read in the guide book how St Paul lived here, founding the first church and writing his Letters to the Thessalonians. The city was later occupied by Goths, Danes, Mongols, Romans, Slavs, Turks... just about anybody who liked the look of it, in fact.

We fix a nasty puncture and soundcheck. I do a half hour show with the local radio station, who have made I Want You But I Don't Need You a bit of a radio hit here.

Before the show there's a projection of the documentary Nikos made about me when he was a student, Amongst Women Only. Then Gilles plays four songs. When I join him, Nikos videos us and projects the image onto the screen behind us. Instant U2.

Friday December 5th 1997

Back to Athens. A landslide brings all traffic to a halt for half an hour in a particularily rugged and beautiful mountain reservoir area and suddenly all the drivers who, a minute ago, were risking death in their reckless efforts to overtake each other are chatting and stretching in the sun, eating sandwiches or peeing in the olive groves.

Athens is jammed solid. There have been riots in the city centre. Left wing revolutionaries have burned cars and attempted to set fire to the national library.

When I perform at the Anh Club (a cool tiled basement) I do a special performance of 'I Was A Maoist Intellectual' in honour of the rioters. 'When I died the energy released by my frustration was nearly enough for the foundation of a small communist radio station'.

When Gilles and I do our usual silly dances we are joined on stage by a zany wiry Greek man who has been heckling me goodnaturedly all night. It becomes a taverna disco, and the crowd loves it. All inhibitions go. It's the best show so far.

Saturday December 6th 1997

Thank god, a day off. No equipment to load and unload, no soundcheck.

It's a gorgeous day, sunny, almost 20 degrees. Gilles and I head out into Athens. The plan is to see some art galleries friends have recommended.

We walk through a beautiful fruit and vegetable market, then head towards Kolonaki Square, where my father used to work. I video the British Coucil building.

We find a fantastic secondhand record shop called Music Machine. I buy a disk from 1972, Sensuously Sin-Thesised. It's a weird Moogs-through-gauze affair featuring gloopy synth notes and a girl in the throes of an endless orgasm. Sort of Donna Summer played by monkeys.

Gilles buys a kazoo and a jew's harp in Athens' biggest music store and perplexes people on the street by twanging and trumpeting wherever we go.

We try to find the galleries, but confuse the Panathenakos Arena with the stadium of the same name. It doesn't really matter, though; just walking here is a delight.

Late afternoon and we're due out at Halandri, where Nikos has his flat and his office. There's only one little problem: getting there.

Here people share taxis. A driver with a spare seat slows down and asks where you're going. Normally when you answer he accelerates quickly, shrugging with his eyebrows as if to say 'Fuck that, you must be mad'. Even if he does take you, you will pay the full fare, as will the original passenger.

There is a chronic shortage of taxis, or maybe it's that they're ridiculously cheap, and therefore always full. Anyway, it takes us about forty minutes to hail one.

We dine with Nikos and Demetria, who gives me a name day present of a lizard ring.

Then, at Nikos' office cum recording studio, there's a jukebox jury- type interview with some fanzine people. This turns into a debate on the merits of Peter Hamill, whose work I don't know and don't much want to on this first hearing.

The interview lasts three hours. It turns out that I am much more trendy and superficial than these serious young Greeks imagined. We agree that Karelia are cool, though.

To Nikos's apartment. While the others watch ludicrously bad old Ed Wood videos I spend three hours updating my website. The phone system doesn't work too well here, and I have big problems sending text from my Nokia to a mailbox then to my site. In terms of the way things work, you really are half way to the third world here.

Sunday December 7th 1997

Gilles is wondering what to film with his Super 8 camera. He doesn't want to reproduce what's on my digital video tape. I suggest specialisation: I'll film concrete things while he shoots abstractions, like Truth.

This, while admirably Platonic, will be difficult to achieve. We decide that Gilles will film his own hand in different locations. This idea and all its ramifications (gestural and of course onanistic) makes us laugh a lot.

Lunch with Nikos and Demetria in the glam scenic restaurant on the 11th floor of our hotel. Nikos spends most of the meal fascinated by the girl at the next table. She is perfect for the lead role in his new film, Black Milk. When we speak to her it turns out she lives in London and used to work for Cherry Red, my old label!

We drive via Pireus and Corinth to Patras. The mad traffic is high stress, and I'm almost relieved to be getting out of this loveable but shambolic country.

The boat back to Italy is crowded with hearty truckers again. This time there's a bit of wind and we rock... which is a pretty strange thing for a Momus tour to do.

Monday December 8th 1997

The sea, though not as heavy as we feared, still manages to thrust the boat up and down quite violently as, for several hours, we hug the south Italian coast.

Gilles is attacked by a zany gesticulating busker up on deck who's been allowed on free because he has no money. The dishevelled man must be psychic because out of the blue he says to Gilles, in french, 'You're one of those fucking computer musicians who are putting the rest of us out of work, aren't you?'

Gilles assures him that he plays nothing but the piano.

I stand by videoing the scene rather than coming to the rescue. In fact anything which keeps me up on deck in the wind and the sunshine is okay. Downstairs I've been feeling pretty ill.

After an agonising wait to get off the boat (white bandana-clad customs men are searching the lorries one by one) we speed north through the dark, stopping to admire some boxes of 'pannetone natale'. When I check my E mail on the Nokia I discover that Brian Eno wants a copy of my CD ROM.

We reach Venice at about one in the morning, park the car, and wheel our suitcases through the ghostly labyrinthine mise en scene.

At last find a reasonably priced hotel, the peeling three star American. The decor is absurdly baroque: lights in the shape of coral branches, whorled and fluted chairs, all mismatched and hideous, like a cross between Poseidon's grotto and a furniture repository.

In the spookily quiet, creaky and fusty smelling room we watch Star Trek in Italian. Spock and Kirk are in mufti on Earth, trying to foil an evil computer.

Tuesday 9th December 1997

We breakfast amidst the carnival kitsch of masks and pink coral. Decide we can spend until 1pm in Venice.

To the exquisitely patina-ed and ludicrously expensive Florian's Cafe on the Piazza San Marco. I take out the Nokia and start writing an E mail to Brian Eno. Gilles and I probably look quite exotic in our lush suits. An English photographer who is preparing a book about Venice photographs us, and we chat about the rents here. Apparently it's quite affordable.

We visit the Cathedral San Marco, climb the belltower, then take a river taxi back to the hotel, grab our cases and continue by boat to the car. Bobbing in our wash are several gondolas full of Japanese tourists being serenaded by tenor-gondoliers.

I'm writing a song for Kahimi Karie as I drive, taping the words and melody with the camcorder. Inspired by some spilled mineral water in our hotel room, it's called 'La Pisseuse'.

Je joue a touche pipi
Je pisse au lit
Dans ma chambre d'hotel a Venise

While the audio is capturing the song, the video records the rapidly changing landscape: umbrian plains give way to Alps and tunnels, sun turns to cloud then heavy snow surrounds us. I'm still writing to camera as Gilles films me flinging snowballs at the Austrian border.

We eat at a very Twin Peaks-like hunting lodge. The food is heavy and stodgy. On the radio they're playing 'Only The Strong Survive' ('...the weak fall by the wayside'), which seems an appropriate welcome to the land of Schwarzenegger.

I tell Gilles about my first visit to Vienna in 1990, when I noticed a statue on the Heldenplatz (once known as the Adolf Hitler Platz) which seemed to show David being cudgelled to death by Goliath.

We drive to Vienna and are guided by fax (yes, our satellite-savvy car can receive faxes too) to the home of Wolfgang, the local promoter.

Click here for the sequel: Eurokong... The Return!