A World Of Moulded Pulp Products - On Tour With Peter Hammill

Jan 10th

"A World Of Moulded Pulp Products" - such was the legend borne by a passing lorry en route to Hamburg, which consequently and inevitably became the header for the tour. I'm in my mother's nicked green scarf since I forgot mine at home but had to nip down to hers to pamper the flowers and mailbox anyway. Eye still red - I think I'll essay a walk round Ottensen (the bohemian bit of Hamburg, where the gig will eventually be) in confidence and eye-patch just for the hell of it. Nothing keeps me here anyway - the fish is quite sensationally bouncy, and the mashed potatoes would make good inorganic analysis material, and might even filter better than the stuff some of my students come up with.

5.30 - I haven't attracted this much attention in a long time, though hardly anyone allowed themselves more than a two-second stare. A girl busker will remember me as the one-eyed woman who sang harmonies on a U2 song and liked her dog (I don't normally do either, but when in Hamburg do as the burgers do...), and a kid excitedly asked his embarrassed father if he could have one too. Eye-patch that is, not dog. Cute. I bought a suitably piratey dress in an Indian shop and am now considering being CountV's fantasy incarnate :)

Ian the driver speaks German with a kid called Max who wants to be a lighting engineer when he grows up, and until then staggers about happily on my recently-acquired mini scooter.

Aaaaargh - "Sleepwalkers"!! At ear-splitting volume, in the soundcheck, on piano. My mobile phone conversation dies a death, and I gape one-eyedly. Wow. Sadly, the show wasn't anywhere near as impressive - Ian took notes for me, and his comment on "Unrehearsed" ('wasn't it?') speaks volumes of truth. Stuart manages the rare feat of breaking a violin string, and Ian manages to keep me from bursting into tears as they play "Refugees" for second encore. He just kept chattering away, the considerate bastard...

Stuart is now The Man With 35 Toes as his new bright blue rubber shoes are just too far out - the boys looked like Gold & Silver thanks to the efforts of Daddy Lighting Engineer. I met a guy who had seen me read at a poetry slam in Mainz way back when, and an emissary from Andreas who buys my (!) album. The book (mildly carped about by Ian who spotted some of his home-made mythology in it) is selling like hot cakes, and I'm getting rich, and getting ready to see the Bremen version of the Universe at large.

Jan 11th

Thinking meat. A composite painting of the colour of lemon scent, consisting of a grid where every exhibition visitor gets to fill one dot with the colour he thinks most appropriate for representing the sensory impression of "lemon". Surprisingly, harldy anyone does yellow. Anyway, the place is a synaesthetic's heaven! I get to put together a shell model of the Earth in no time at all, and remember inordinate amounts of pictures only to be told that my memory is excellent but predominantly acoustic! Why can't I ever remember songs then?? The random assortment of A-Thing-A-Day gets augmented by a translucent mandala that is an excellent example of subtractive colour mixing, and fun to mess around with. I am exuberant and hungry, and my camera is broken.

Langwedel service station, collapsing fake primulas on the table. Entertaining and enchanting. I play with them briefly, admiring the otherworldly sun and feeling in need of a good joy-whoop and shower.

Jan 12th

A hotel in Karlsruhe's Madhouse district where, sensibly enough, War Street merges into Slaughterhouse Street without so much as an intervening roundabout! There was another new one en route theough which made finding the pace a bit tricky - will now tram it into town, then scooter down to the madhouse to catch the madmen.

On Durlacher Alle, a nightclub called "EV Cabaret".

A felt object entitled "Memories of A Pencil" in a local art exhibition - a soft oversized pencil shaving in vibrant colour. It makes me want to sit on it which is tricky as it's hung on a wall. Ugh, art galleries! The place is full of amazing felt objects - hats that could or could not be desserts or playthings - wonderful!

Tonight's set picks up the Hamburg vibe only in lyrical amnesia - "I might cock up a story or two" sings our hero, the keyboard shaking visibly from the onslaught. Stuart excels at gypsy jazz (he will later regale us with stories about Stephane Grappelli over dinner in Vienna), Faculty X lacks its entire first verse, and the encore is a most unexpected House With No Door, and testimony to the fact that PH should never ever rehearse songs because the ones he rehearses are always the one he messes up. This one was sublime, and totally unprepared! The gig just got better and better, as if the theatre ambience had seeped into the cracked actor and smoothed him out (treacherously so, as the screamy end to Stranger Still proved). A good one.

I get to be angelic (or heroic as Ian would have it) to a bunch of drunk Swebes, Paul shares with us some carping about the Box's layout and proofreading, and some secrets about the objects on the "This" cover. The hands are apparently his own. Woyng still doesn't like Stuart but announces he is going to get married in a pirate outfit. I offer him my eye-patch but he declines. Afterwards, pasta and chat is had by all, we get the Peter Tosh support act story again, and Stuart impersonates diverse Scottish accents and a didgeridoo, often at the same time. Price policy is discussed at some length, and I totally fail to follow Peter's explanations about who thinks charging 36 DMs is better psychologically than 35. It must make sense to him somehow. Ian hates a Kafka (the same one as me), Pauls asks if I'm driving, I lend him my Circus Maximus at which Ian complains he can't read the cover notes because of Nick Currie's handwriting.

Jan 13

Ebensee, Austria, a lost scarf frozen solid to the car park. Something called "Mangfallbrücke". Peter impersonating Phoebe impersonating him on piano. The sort of place where cafes are called "Hoppala" and flower shops named after their owners' Christian names. An implosion of gulls on the river, all parabolas and black-tipped wings.

Before the show, a tape of Johnny Cash murdering a Nick Cave song. A Better Time is so Baroque it's unbelievable tonight. The venue, an old movie theatre, shakes visibly at Amnesiac, and Out Of My Book reveals itself as the savage ancestor of all things Britpop. "Patient" proved impossible to end and went on forever - maybe PH was just comfortable (ha!) at being able, for once, to remember the album it came from. It is, of course, Patience. The improvised middle eight of Faculty X turns out a perfect sonic equivalent to the composite picture of jasmine scent in Bremen (another one), and the mirror in the loo allows you to admire your own feet while peeing.

According to PH, my switching the house-lights on by means of the big switch next to the door is "intelligence" - and I hope Ian took my Sistema Periodico which Alessandro brought... I was to busy heroically selling stuff of course...

Jan 14th

The Sistema is safe with the other books, and I set off again down Solvay Rd., named after the soda works, no less - a joke only a chemist could appreciate, after having heroically missed the lads at breakfast. Must have been more than that one Grappa after all... Paul chose to walk, declining even a lift from me; I sympathised.

Vienna, an Indian restaurant, where I'm the only customer. They put the tape on for me, sitar and guitar, and a good-natured tiny green katha kali face smiles enigmatically at me from above the door. I've decided to stuff my face now, and then go without food until tonight - parking's crap so I'm looking at another M1 lug across from the station multi-storey which is open through the night... 11 pm closure is just no good for us artists, is it? Koen V has offered me dinner tomorrow, I'm to check out Lemming's and Nadine's sweet-shop recommendations so I guess I'll stay on while the boys celebrate their day off in the altogether sickening town of Linz. On top, the hotel's cheap (staggeringly so - must be an Austian thing). Uncalled-for papadoms. What next?

Indian music bouncily played on very old synths. I feel reminded of Momus. Now where's my Currie?

A populace of flat shiny aluminium discs on mushroom-like blue stands awaiting Godot in a scrap yard, in the company of a mountain of bins, doors and the world's largest Carrera track, now dismantled. I turn one of the disc people into Nick by means of lipstick - and continue my journey through the fluorescent-postered (sensible in snow but not in Vienna) streets. Later, I find the populace are bin stands and lids (the actual bin goes inbetween), and my Currie has duly arrived in the guise of a Serge Gainsbourg feature in Mojo. Strangely, he's the most attractive out of the five fey eletronic admirers.

"Mineralwasser laut"

A backstage pass, received among much ridicule, gets pasted into the diary. Not being at the stall sort of stretches time. Out of boredom, I write down my own set: Sail, All The Yellow Stars (a new one Stuart will later comment on as a potential hit), I Snow, Ammonites, Niloufar (an even newer one), and finally Morality Is Vanity, tonight's only cover version. Peter's mock set list, starting innocently on "Easy To Slip Away" included "Flight", "4Pails", and "Killer"... Austrian State TV turn up to film PH's set and end up recording half of mine as well, and the half-hour on stage passes in a blur for me. I feel like I've been up there for all of two minutes, completely failing to be nervous, watched from the wings by my two heroes who think I'm very natural and in fine voice. Peter later reads us a paragraph from an Ian Rankin novel that namechecks him as he's just found out that afternoon. Stuart starts out having trouble with his DI box, resulting in a swift exit and some actorly miming from PH, then a solo My Room so full of train crashes it's half-accappella and makes me cringe with compassion. Peter's quip "it all goes to show we're very very very Unrehearsed" makes more sense than ever, and even though the anagrammatical swordplay is reinstated at long last this is not a confidence-inspiring gig. Catchphrase of the night is "A 440", as there is a constant need for re-tuning... the contageously insane bit of Modern gets distorted into a delay-sodden screamfest that has Paul sprouting extra arms at the mixing desk to keep Hammill's voice in check - the only impressive moment for me. An abortive attempt at getting the introductory chords to The Future Now right (or indeed get any chords right) is followed by an improbably (under the circumstances) beautiful Still Life, by which time I'm back at the stall talking to Hungarians and curios...

Well rock'n'roll - it's 5 a.m., and not only have I not just got up, I'm nowhere near going to bed yet, following the gig, post-show chat with the fans & lovers, then an erratic drive home during which Ian took some unscheduled left turns at red lights, a wee-hours haute cuisine meal at a place that took us ages to get to but less than five minutes to get back from, some discussion on the nature of "gift" vs. "Gift", the English language in general, kids' dress styles and Stephane Grappelli - we then (at 4 a.m.) decamped to Stuart's room for that last Tequila and a spirited discussion of the moon "being eaten" (there had apparently been a lunar eclipse the week before which I had totally missed), during which Peter got everybody staring & silent for a chilling description of what it must have felt like for a pagan 2,500 years ago, amid a pack of wolves, the scary mood rather amusingly spoiled by his ensuing wolf impression. Some agreement on how concentrating on stage is just not on (Stuart thought I'd been really good, but he also liked Frauenparkplätze and Momus for that matter), and it all seems very far away already. Like yesterday in fact. Yawn.

Jan 15th

The Esperanto Museum's door sign speaks anything but Esperanto - the little old lady inside does though, and animatedly so. I don't get a word of course, and instead begin to consider the possibility of an Austrian accent in Esperanto... the Museum of Ethnology is more sensible somehow: Japan intimidates me, the Inuit of Greenland touch me, and in the Aboriginal hut I get sudden erotic cravings. I also get some peach lipstick and loads of impressions, some of them courtesy of MaveRick and Koen V who invite me out to dinner. One of the impressions is about how half the people here in Vienna are either Hungarian or Japanese... and the former do brilliant palatschinken which I'm a sucker for anyway!

Jan 16th

En route from Vienna to Linz, I pass a junction sporting the most entertaining collection of Dadaist placenames: "Mank, Hürm, Kilb"! A petrol station that plays Kate Bush - and I'm still in search of that elusive Oskar Kokoschka museum I'd seen on the way here...

No, haven't found it - and Linz is living up to my negative memories of it by refusing to hand out, or even sell, maps to innocent strangers at the tourist information office. The venue is near the harbour, which I am not - instead I'm in yet another slightly seedy but charming sun-flooded cafe that surprises me by offering strawberry juice. Which of course suits my mood perfectly.

Well, the rest of Linz was closed - at least the Electronic Art Museum and everybody's faces were... and I hear Arizona Jim's made it here, so I might be in for a liftee tomorrow. The show is "as dated as marble" in PH's own words, powerful and wonderfully lit. That blood-red floodlight on the velvet backdrop was just otherworldly, and Out Of My Book keeps getting better, and Amnesiac keeps getting louder and more massive every night. A Way Out made its timely return in a wonderfully playful and frilly version, and of course that fifth verse came with a different set of lyrics again as PH can't for the life of him remember the original ones and doesn't seem to want to either. Tonight we get "out of set, out of time, out of sand I saw behind" which is almost too profound to be improvised :) Stuart ends the set on a two-minute note swelling and quivering over the final moments of Still Life - some unearthly beauty in this set, truly!

Ooh, it's a soft mattress... and a hard night for me as after a selling dozens of PH records (we're beginning to run out!) and even a few of mine I got deprived of the rewarding dinner-with-the-boys situation as I had to drive Arizona Jim to his hotel, being the only mobile person left. I get to see rather a lot of Linz that way... and Ian's considering flying back to the UK to get more supplies! Apparently the online version of the Vienna Standard ran an article on the PH gig which I can't seem to find. No picture in the Evening Standard then...

Jan 17th

Well, the drive was rather easy despite the fact it was six hours - and the soundcheck noise of the day was the first few verses of "Plague" segueing into Sleepwalkers until PH ran out of words... the Ancient & Modern quota was rather high tonight, as Ian claims there were a few notes of No More The Sub-Mariner in the intro to Unrehearsed, during which Stuart manages to unplug himself, leading to a whole new set of impeccable rhythmical breaks where there shouldn't have been any. The tuning-up is commented upon by PH as "Stockhausen Stimmung" which gets a few cheers of recognition from the Darmstadters. Patient is very loose tonight, and Faculty X starts on a Latin vibe courtesy of Stuart who just fiddles about over Peter's stoic left-hand octaves... "yeah and all the rest to it" is where the lyrtic starts tonight, and without even stopping we go into Traintime, the rawest, most (un)restrained and quiet version ever! Picking the pace up becomes difficult as Peter plays the grand piano with nerves laid bare, and Stuart is often reduced to gaping or making random noises col legno.

Still Life ends the show, just like all the others, on a wonderfully touching, open-spaced note. This gig just got better and better, and though Ian remarks PH might be catching cold he sounds marvellous by now!

Jan 18th

All I have in my diary here is a set list - we are in Halle, and it really is not a remarkable place at all so I'll refrain from remarks. The show is at times a shouting match between PH and his fans who scream back at him every time he gets loud during a song. Real aficionados, almost intimidating and for the most part heavily intoxicated anyway. Most of the screaming is along the lines of "we love you!!" though, and the concert proceeds to be the best of the tour so far. Squeezed into the back of the tiny venue, I don't see anything but hear some wonderfully intimate and loose versions of ths tour's set. Bubble finally begins on the words "let's begin", and my memory is beginning to cut out -

Jan 19th

Pension Altbliesnitz, Dresden - well, it's back. That was easily the best of the shows so far! The converted courtyard venue wasn't quite big enough to house all the old hippies and young hipsters and a bit of a squeeze ensued which left Stefan unintentionally legless and aching. I am kept awake all night by my sister's rats who are called Whisky and Cola and both either ill or hyperactive. I am reminded, a propos of nothing, of how "Fetter Alter Hippie", the Heinz Rudolf Kunze song, misspelled as "Fätter Alter Hippie", appeared on Peter's mock set list in Vienna... the bonus points of Halle: I met a guy who thinks Sex For The Disabled is a great song, and my sister didn't run away screaming but stayed the course. Well, what choice was there left seeing as I'd driven her to the uncharted backwaters of Halle, incidentally a place that is extremely easy to bypass and virtually impossible to enter. Maybe it has no city centre? She even demanded autographs afterwards, though only after we'd come home, the shy girl... it was Stuart I think that impressed her most with his amplified pyrotechnics - and here I am, in a room that looks like Gonsenheim Hall of Residence except it's full of old magazines and tiny windows, and looking forward to an afternoon off in Dresden (I'll take the bus - this snowed-in road looks scary) in bright, Stefan-baiting sunshine. Off we go then!

The buses feature bad poetry, drivers with wallets and a male voice announcing the stops... in the Schloss museum I encounter a pearl-bodied miniature Saint Sebastian. Moana and Thomas SMS me in there (where else?) - I attract the attention of dozens of attendants; as usual I'm the only visitor there. Berlin looks likely to be a load of peeeeeople. And I'll get some more Momus!

Dresden: all wide open spaces, the world's widest roads and stately, remote-looking buildings around them, ranging from the gilded Baroque to the downright modernist with little respect for style or indeed distinction of style... a statelier version of Halle, but no less of a reverberating, empty-hall feel to it. Well, a similarly spacious branch of Humana supplied me with a second-hand show-off velvet jacket that's just so 1980s pirate style (or for that matter 1880s pirate style) that I just had to have it... another step towards all-round Nickishness then :)

At the moment, Rick is waxing lyrical about Lucas Canach's paintings while attempting to fall of his chair, failing gloriously. The Star Club does professional chairs too apparently... and creaky creaky floors.

"Technisches Rathaus"??

The next season's buds are exceptionally tough ones tonight, staccati from Stuart, and "nothing is evolved" in Tango For One. A call for the whereabouts of the old guitar is answered by a cheery PH with "safe at home - not beaten up any more!". Stuart tunefully breaks another string during Comfortable, managing to incorporate the sound of unwinding it into the song, then briefly disappearing. He's back by the last verse with a spare fiddle, and gives it some on the wah-wah Hendrixoid intro riff to the next song which I totally fail to recognise until the words set in. "Sign"! I don't think I've ever heard that one live... Nightman revels in improvised lyrics as in "The book is open but it's all lost pages - shadows dance where I'm staring", Veronica is resplendent in splintered-glass violinings, Bubble features a "raft of contravention", and during Stranger Still (announced as "this one's called StranGER STILL (launches into first line without so much as a breath)) Stuart manages to recreate the 1945 air raids on Dresden faithfully. Ouch!

"Absolut Ruhe!" is Peter's vodka-indebted quip before a sublimely quiet Shingle Song, an end to a patchy but highly entertaining night.

Jan 20th

Berlin-Köpenick, a road called "Adlergestell". Eagle Scaffold?? Thomas regales me with more indie pop that I can stomach, and incidentally more Momus too - God, a spoken-word bit. I duly swoon. Later, a travelling Russian tenor regales me with classical songs to strummy guitar accompaniment on the S-Bahn. Surreal, anyone?

The gig was Rikki Nadir, soundwise too. Stuart keeps crackling throughout the beginning, and problems with the left-hand piano monitor are sorted during Nothing Comes, to devastating effect. Peter kept testing the boominess factor of his left hand by the first few bars of Sleepwalkers which went unnoticed by Stuart, despite Peter's taunting him to "join in if you like"! At the start of the guitar set, PH announces that he had deliberately tuned low "so that I can appear competent", and proceeds to losing his guitar strap. Laughter all around, then Amnesiac, another air-raid version. In the bar, the ceiling fan clicks away in perfect time to Veronica, and Stuart's soloing is as sublime as Peter's vocals in Been Alone So Long, possibly the only quiet song of the night. After so much Nadiring, the last song, Still Life, gets announced as "an enormous flare of nostalgia" (minus the flared trousers of course :) For encore, we get an excellently noisy Traintime, and after that and much more applause a Nadiresque Sign. Loud!!!

Jan 21st

I sneak out of Moana's flat while she's still asleep - a long drive to Cologne awaits, and more important, Marga awaits in Charlottenburg... whiling away the hours on the snowy motorway, we make momentous observations such as the fact that there are no female necrophiliacs because it just wouldn't work! :)

The last night of the tour is in typical loose last-night-of-tour mode, very much ouch and go (and that's not a typo) - Peter announces the Unexpected "in terms of the playing rather than the tunes", and then proceeds to making up some more funny lyrics such as "there's nothing in your p(r)ose, you'll stew in your own juices I suppose" in Tango For One, or even "I can't be your rehearsal for your deliberate mistakes" in a "terminally unrehearsed" Unreharsed. Despite the allegation from PH that "Stuart will now introduce the next song - in German!" he does nothing of the kind, and it is Peter who gets to spout some Kraut later, in the first line of a highly unexpected I Will Find You before reverting to the familiar English and the unfamiliar assertion that "a frightened runaway, yeah you know all the tricks". The last song of the guitar set was a Last Frame so half-murmured and suggestive that I really regretted being stuck at the back of the hall with not a female fan in sight. Hey, even I found that sexy, and I don't normally go for PH at all...

In perfect style, the second encore was a false start... "How does it start...?", then the first line of Again, surprised cheers from the audience, a quick and apologetic "no, it doesn't...", then some stage-whispers from Stuart who seems to know Peter's lines better than he does these days *grin*, and the quietest Shingle Song ever. Had us holding our breath. "No, no, no, I just don't get you" was this tour's last improvised line, and in perfect keeping with this tour's last encounter with the PH crew, as we managed to get lost in downtown Cologne in perfect timing which meant we reconvened at one set of red traffic lights to exchange estimates as to where we were respectively going!

Thanks lads, it was a great holiday!

The last thing in my diary is a scrap of cardboard I'd picked up in Dresden in a bored moment and decorated with a random assortment of symbols and objects that appeared to make sense at the time, headed "Step One: Make Up A Story", and containing, in order, a barn, a smilie with an eye-patch, a shower head, a glass of red wine, a supporting hand, a cat, a woolly hat, a heart-shaped balloon, a telephone receiver, a chess piece, a David star and an exclamation mark. Story of my life I guess.

Dagmar 41