Duncan and Tim's South American Jaunt: Parts 1-3 Print E-mail
Written by Duncan Reid   
Saturday, 18 May 2013 04:00


Part 1: How I Wowed Rio de Janeiro


It's a long way to Argentina and there's no flight that goes straight there. Even the BA flight that claims to be direct makes you wait on the tarmac in Brazil for ever while the crew changes, and then takes off again for a few more hours to Buenos Aires. It's a gruelling journey.


So why not stop over in Rio de Janeiro? Party capital of the carnival world, samba dancing lovelies, and Copacabana beach-footballing geniuses.


It also has one of the world's greatest disparities in wealth between a rich upper middle class and poor incomers, who live on cardboard boxes or in the "favelas," shanty towns on the hills which are in the process of being freed by the police from the dead grip of drug gangs.


There's a great, Oscar nominated film called City of God. If you haven't seen it then please do, for a flavour of life on the wrong side of Brazil.


But there's also the picture postcard side. Sunny people living a sun kissed life, world class bikini clad backsides on the beach, never ending bars, and great, African derived food. A city which, especially during the very short dusk as the sunshine fades and the twinkling lights turn on in the hills, is one of the most beautiful in the world. And all overseen by a towering figure of Christ on high, trying his best to make sure the population don't get completely out of hand.


And it started very well. Pierre, a local fanzine editor and singer, had hooked me up with Davi, a drummer, and Mauk, a local rockabilly guitar legend, and a plan to play 3 songs as guest at a pre organised gig. We had a sweaty rehearsal on the Saturday afternoon and ran through 'Sick on You', 'Terminal Love' and 'First Time', all of which went perfectly, almost from the off. As we still had an hour booked at the rehearsal studio I showed them 'Montevideo' and 'Thinking' and those went very well too. So our 3 song set had almost doubled in length and had an interesting, rockabilly slant to it coming from Mauk's vintage Gretsch guitar.


I asked Pierre when I would be playing, bearing in mind the 4 hour time difference between the UK and Brazil that I still hadn't adjusted too. It was explained there were 2 bands on before me, starting at 11pm, so I would perform about 12.30. Now, I've played in Brazil before and so knew that my Northern European sensibilities about time and punctuality would need to be softened. If a Brazilian says he will be round in 10 minutes you have time to order a 3 course meal and probably fit in the coffee, cognacs and cigars as well. "So I'll be playing at 1.30," I thought, which would be 5.30 in the morning for me but, what the hell, plenty of time to sleep on Sunday.


Mauk picked my wife Liz and I up at 10.30 in a taxi to go to the gig. "It's a 20 minute journey," he explained and all was fine for the first 15, whereupon we appeared to have come to a stop. There was animated discussion between the taxi driver and my bequiffed guitarist. The Portuguese language is not one of my strong suits but I'm pretty sure I was getting the gist. The taxi driver was advancing something along the lines of "You want me to drive down there!?" To which the reply was "Sure. It'll be alright."


A financial arrangement was struck and on we drove ............ into a world for which an upbringing in an English cathedral town was not the most apt preparation. Imagine Mad Max meets modern day Syria. Empty colonial style buildings either falling down or about to fall down. Cobbled streets with grass sprouting through the stones. Cul de sacs ending in barbed wire barricades. "The Buzzcocks played round here once," said Mauk. "That's alright then," I said.


There were no snipers, however, and every 50 metres or so was a bar. Our gig was in one of these and and apparently Rio's red light district was conveniently situated one block away.


I had a look inside the gig. No furniture except a table for the merchandise, one bar, one unisex toilet directly in front of the bar lending some confusion as to who was queuing for what, and a small stage set up with drums and amps. "That's an interesting looking PA," I thought. PAs, the large speakers through which everything and especially voices are played, usually come in pairs, i.e. 2 sets of speakers, one on either side of the stage. They have on stage monitors, so that the band and especially the singers can hear themselves, and a mixing desk. This PA appeared to comprise of one speaker and amp with a few wires at the back of the stage.


It was a hot evening and even hotter inside so Liz and I, being pale skinned ice dwellers not used to these climes, were kindly offered a table on the pavement outside to while away the short time until I would be playing the relative hop, skip and a jump of a mere 5 song set. I would afterwards, of course, receive the adulation which would be my due, before making fond farewells.


A large crowd of about 300 had arrived to create a happy atmosphere, spilling out of the hot small bar into the street. All were saying hello, thank you for coming, photographs were taken, as ever, more or less successfully depending on how well people knew their mobile phones, CDs and vinyls were signed, and everything was extremely jolly in our little bomb site.


I queued up for the loo in front of the bar. The olive skinned beauty in front of me turned round, talked in rapid Portuguese when she saw me, and then fell into my arms. She was, by her own admission, very, very, drunk.


The first band went on at 12.30. "OK," I thought, "I'll be on at 2 am. Six in the morning really but still alright," and returned to our table outside. The vocals could not be heard and I made a mental note to turn down the guitars and bass amp.


It was then that the night's main cabaret began. The sound of the band had achieved more than accelerate the crumbling of the neighbouring buildings. Along the street marched 50 leather clad, booted, studded and very vacant teenagers. They had clearly been roused from their enhanced reverie by the sound of fresh meat ready to eat and were lined up on the pavement across from our table, arms folded, eyes glaring ready for the signal to charge over and devour their prey.


"Let's run for it," said Liz. "It's going to kick off." "We can't," I said. "You've got heels on, the streets are cobbled and we wouldn't make 10 yards."


And if it had been England there is no doubt it would, indeed, have kicked off. The mixture of strong alcohol and teenagers striking aggressive poses would have lead to at least one of the big guys present taking his index finger across the road, jabbing it in the chest of the most aggressive looking kid and asking who the fuck he was looking at like that? From there blood would have ensued.


But this was Brazil. So a couple of very big looking gentlemen did amble across, smiled at the feral near adults and asked what was happening. Soon all was sweetness and light. The kids got bored with threatening everyone and marched off down the street to carry on stoning police cars and taxis, which was what was keeping them amused before.


But by now it was 2.30 am and only one band had played. I went off to find the promoter to "ask" that I play next and, like, "now please." He had a worried look on his face while he explained that the home made PA had blown up. But, not to worry, another one had been sent for and it would be there in an hour.


Liz and I had a conference with Mauk and Davi. All were in agreement. This wasn't going to happen and everyone was drifting off home in any case. Which is what we did.


So, all in all a less than successful but completely invigorating evening. Many new friends made, a few CDs sold, promises to come back again and sights seen that no tourist would witness in a decade of weekend jaunts.


Next up Buenos Aires when, as we came in to land on the other side of the world, I would discover I had lost the hotel address together with my phone. All in a day's work!




Part 2: A Partially Successful Radio Interview


So, we last left our intrepid travellers landing in Buenos Aires as night descended with no phone and no directions as to where to go. Would Liz and I be alright? Or would we be left to wander the streets forlornly looking for help?


Of course not. I was just being artificially dramatic to create a cliffhanger ending in the style of the best Brazilian soap operas which play on their TV channels for most of the evening.


Liz had a phone and, in any case, trusty Mariano, my Argentinian friend and collaborator, was there at the airport to meet us.


We were therefore safely ferried to our hotel, bags were dropped, faces were refreshed and off we set to pick up a newly arrived and very much jet lagged Alex, multi instrumentalist and vocalist from the Big Heads. We passed by the rehearsal room to say hello to Dave Grohl lookalike Tomas of The Mamushkas, and Juan and Jose from local legends Katarro Vandaliko, who were lending extremely able backing on guitars and drums for the following gigs in Argentina and Uruguay.


They played us a couple of songs and all was extremely reassuring. Hugs all round and, very worryingly, Alex was starting to assimilate the local culture at an alarming rate by joining in with the custom of kissing male colleagues. Admittedly, there were no tongues involved and the manoeuvre was lips to bearded cheek, but - still not to be encouraged.


Male bonding achieved off we went. It was 10.30 at night and Alex who, even when not knackered, could sleep on a high wire strung between two skyscrapers, was coerced into finding something to eat. As the food was ordered in the bustling restaurant Mariano's phone rang. "It's a radio show," he said. "They want to know if you will do a telephone interview now." "Does the DJ speak English?" I asked. "They want to do it in Spanish," was the reply.


Now languages are one of my hobbies. I hate going anywhere and not being able to converse. At the same time I love the greater understanding that a little comprehension brings as you learn how people express themselves. So, I have a completely misleading grasp of French, German, Spanish and, many would say, English. Misleading in that I can appear to be conversant in a language while having no idea what people are talking about.


"I'll give it a go, then" was my foolhardy response and Mariano passed me his phone.


Liz, meanwhile, was completely oblivious to the fact that I was trying to conduct a radio interview in a foreign language and all she could see was that I was carrying on the completely unacceptable social practice of talking very loudly on a mobile phone in a restaurant. There was only one appropriate response to this and that was to strike up a very loud conversation with Alex to make it difficult for me to hear whoever I was talking to and so stop at once!


And so the interview began. Against a background of a bustling restaurant enhanced by marital misunderstanding the interviewer fired off his first question at machine gun speed. I had not a clue what he'd said. "Que?" was my Manuelesque response and so the question was repeated. Again, not the slightest shred of comprehension on my part. Panic set in and quick action was required if British honour was not to be lost. I said what came into my head. "Yes, I am delighted to be back in Argentina and really looking forward to playing here again."


There was stunned silence at the other end of the line. A silence which quite eloquently conveyed the message "what on earth is this half wit doing talking about that, when we've asked him something of far greater import?"


And so a second question was ventured. Again, quite inaudible and unintelligible against the restaurant and wifely din, but a question which clearly contained the words "Margaret Thatcher," who had died that day.


I had long ago discovered that, as an Englishman, discussing anything to do with "The Malvinas" in Argentina is best avoided, especially by telephone from a crowded restaurant on FM radio in a language which is not your first, in answer to a question not understood in the first place. It was then that I pulled my master stroke.


"I'm very sorry," I said, "but I can't understand a word you are saying because my wife is sitting beside me and won't stop talking in my ear."


There was audible relief at the other end of the line from the two male members of the team who collapsed into gales of laughter. They were not dealing with a half wit and normality was restored by means of a macho cliche: the wife who won't stop talking. Very unfair on Liz and, not for the first time, she had come riding to my rescue by taking the blame for a scrape I had got myself into by overestimating the extent of my abilities.


The aural equivalent of back slapping commiserations were conveyed down the phone and the interview proceeded in English, with no further mention of Margaret Thatcher nor anything connected to military skirmishes in the South Atlantic.


Disaster averted and normality restored: Englishmen conversing in English, the rest of the world joining in, and not a hint of men kissing each other on the cheek.




Part 3: The Real Work Begins


Tuesday and a beautifully sunny, mishap free day arrived in Buenos Aires. There's no blue like a clear day in "BA", as the locals call it.


Liz and I wandered the haphazard, cobbled streets around the hotel, popping in and out of shops and lunching on the pavement of a "Parilla" restaurant. A mountain of steak, salad, grilled tomato and wine set us back a fiver a head.


8pm saw the first rehearsal which went on till 11 at Tomas, local Dave Grohl lookalike's, apartment. Out the back he has a wide, tiled, walled garden. The kind of space you'd kill for in a London townhouse. It was now midnight. Tomorrow was a working or school day depending on the age of our new friends so, after a long day, everyone did the logical thing.


They all called their wives to bring the respective tribes of children round, the barbecue was lit and a delightful few hours were spent into the early hours eating, drinking and talking under the stars, music playing with no complaints from the neighbours.


South American logic, you see? Sleep isn't very important, having a good time is.


Wednesday arrived and all the parts were assembled. Tim "TV" Smith arrived early in the morning after his 24 hour flight, with a day to be spent staying awake to avoid being completely messed up by the jet lag.


So, a day sight seeing at the stunning Recoleta cemetery. And La Boca, home to Boca Juniors and vividly painted houses. At the lunch restaurant one of the cocktails offered on the drinks menu was "Vodka and Speed!" Perhaps a translation error but we decided to pass as everyone had ordered the "all you can eat pasta buffet" and thought it might be a waste of money after such an aperitif.


Having just come from the cemetery across the road we also passed on one of the main courses, labeled on the English menu as a "Stiff."


Another 3 hours rehearsal in the evening but this time bed at a reasonable hour before the 5 hour journey south to the farming city of Tandil: home to the most famous sausage, salami and cheese in Argentina and soon to witness the respective Southern Hemisphere debuts of TV Smith and Duncan Reid and the Gaucho Big Heads.


There were 2 support bands that night. Tim was to play at 1 in the morning and myself at 2 am. This was a Thursday night gig, remember, not a weekend. Try getting people out midweek in London past 10 pm!


We checked into the hotel and all were in agreement that these were not the roomiest,  brightest nor most recently decorated and furnished spaces we had ever stayed in. In fact, we were all looking forward to checking out. What didn't bother us, though, was the dull thud of drums and bass coming from the band in the bar downstairs. We wouldn't be getting to bed before 4pm so, of course, the din would be finished by then and wouldn't disturb the precious few hours sleep to be grabbed before setting off on tomorrow's 8 hour drive back north to Rosario. It's a big country, Argentina.


We arrived at the venue in time to catch The Nylons, a really entertaining Ramones tribute act. They feature a singer who gives a truly remarkable vocal impersonation of Joey. Close your eyes and it's him.


I'd wondered how Tim would go down here. He's great of course, but Argentineans like their music with driving guitars and drums. How would our acoustic guitar backed political troubadour fare among a crowd with little grasp of English?


No need to worry. Argentinean audiences are magnificently welcoming and Tim had them eating out of his hand, the reaction growing with each song towards a rapturous finale.


And so it was with us. Absolutely bloody exhilarating. From the kick off with 'Montevideo', through highlights from Little Big Head and The Boys, to a finale with Tim on 'One Chord Wonders'. Varying degrees of pandemonium ensued. At times a stern, school masterly, Mariano was required at the front to keep things in check. His magisterial gaze even made me feel naughty and I was meant to be on the stage.


Afterwards, having towelled down a bit, there was a deluge of Latin warmth as I went back out to the venue. Photos, CDs for signing, kisses on the cheek, unfortunately from both sexes, hands to be shaken, backs to be slapped and hugs to be exchanged. At one point I was surrounded by 5 extremely interested and gorgeous teenage girls. Not the worst experience I've ever suffered but it would soon be dawn and I needed my beauty sleep. But help was at hand as I spotted a nearby Alex.


"Here's my friend, Alex" I explained to each of them before sneaking off, looking back at a slightly bewildered, but mostly delighted multi instrumentalist. "Mmmm," I thought to myself. "There's a song in there." And, indeed there is. I'd been saying to Tim earlier that I'd a good tune in my head but was struggling for a theme to write the lyrics to.


Downstairs a band was playing Gaucho, horse riding, cow punching music and people were dancing. Outside, at 4.30 pm in the morning, in the equivalent of Kettering, people were queuing 4 abreast for 50 yards to carry on partying the night away.


The whole of Tandil was up and at it. A multitude of dogs were joining in, engaged either in canine courtship or playing with the traffic up and down the roads.


Back in the hotel the underlying band were in full swing and the paper thin walls were keeping neither their sound nor that coming from the other residents. The latter were either returning back, or just as likely, heading out for a little reverie before work in a few hours time.


We did manage a couple of hours sleep though. On departure for Rosario shops were open and the populus were at work and in school. How, I don't know, but there is much that is unfathomable about this admirable country.


Tomorrow: the long road to Rosario when our intrepid troops would suffer from "car journey backside."


To pick up your copy of 'Little Big Head'- CLICK HERE


To visit the TV Smith store on Amazon - CLICK HERE