The Cradle Of Filth Cryptoriana World tour, European assault, began with an afternoon flight from Stansted (a mere forty five taxi journey from my house) to European love nest, Prague, in the Czech Republic.
Meeting Chris our new merchandising chap at the airport, we proceeded through a relatively relaxed check-in and flight, arriving in a snowy capital with our multitude of luggage thankfully arriving too.
The local Ramada was the same hotel the band had stayed in for the last Brutal Assault festival we played, but luckily the receptionist doesn't connect us with the previous visits incident'.
A Sumptious schnitzel mit chips and a fine Czech beer later I'm sharing a suite with bassist Daniel Firth, spending the last few hours of the day swapping Christmas holiday stories, bemoaning insignificant problems, listening to grindcore and the wind howl through the practically useless air-con unit.
An eight o'clock lobby call begs hitting the hay fairly early. We can only hope that Martin and Ashok, who are driving from their home city of Brno, arrive in reasonable time, as the motorway they're coming by is completely crippled by the weather.
Thursday 18th Jan 2018e.h @ Roxy, Prague, Czech Rep
I feel surprisingly active this morning and the arrival of the bus is a welcome sight to behold, like Luke Skywalker witnessing the arrival of a sun-flecked Jawa Sandcrawler.
After the initial hug-a-thon that is the meeting up of the band and crew, it is time to explore the bus, as the crew play luggage Tetris with the trailer.
Bloody love the bus!
We'll have to post a video walk-through over the next few days to show off it's magnificence in full.
It has four door-enclosed bunk areas with a forward lounge that changes into a cinema at the press of a button... I kid you not, a screen pops up to cover the front window, whilst the side windows are also blocked by raised shields and further mood lighting is set by a variety of different colours. Yet to test out the subs, mind!
This also doubles as a private bedroom with a pull-out bed (I'm planning to barricade myself in here somewhere around mid-tour) and a Seventies roller disco. The aisle also boasts a sun roof making it a lot less claustrophobic than normal buses and the top row of bunks either side possess windows. Sadly mine doth not, just a support bar I keep kicking my bastard shins against.
Downstairs has a pretty extensive seating plan with two kitchen areas and a very glammy bathroom replete with heated floor, gilded mirror and an enclosed flat-screen TV displaying nature scenes to subtly relieve the fact that you can't have a poo when you sit down to pee. There's TVs here too and most other mod cons, though I truth all we need is a coffee machine and a fridge for beer.
The venue we're playing today Cradle Of Filth played some twenty years ago on the Gods Of Darkness 2 tour with Gorgoroth (Ghaal's first tour singing for the band), Old Man's Child and Einherjer in tow. It certainly has changed for the better in the following years, with a full refurb across it's various floors and cellars. Indeed our backstage room is in fact another subterranean venue, complete with bar and DJ deck area, with ever-changing floor lights to add to the medieval sex-dungeon vibe.
The day kicks off with a sightseeing uber-ride to the St Vitus cathedral to see the stain-glass window by the Godfather of Art Nouveau, Alfons Mucha, before heading back through the cobbled streets and across the famous Charles bridge to Old Town Square, which is fantastically dominated by the Disney-esque Gothic Church of Our Lady before Týn and also features the Prague Orloj, a medieval astronomical clock located on the Old Town Hall.
Lindsay is enraptured.
Plus we also poke our proverbial heads into the sex machine museum and Costas.
The rest of the day is spent back at the venue redistributing our luggage and equipment, getting familiar with the onstage set-up and sound-checking. Of course, this takes us tightly up until doors despite the early load-in and it's not long before were preparing for the show whilst Moonspell hit the stage for their hour-long foray into Lusitanian gothic metal madness.
Our show -when it arrives like a some nasty, rabies-infected bat- is frenetic and by Sod's Law it encounters a variety of first-day teething problems, but even so, the freshness of the band and the voracity of the awesome sell-out crowd makes it an incredibly special occasion and it is nigh on an hour and three quarters later that we arrive back at the dressing room; sweaty, elated and more than a little f**ked.
First day finished, we chill out backstage with our European booking agent and our manager, drinking Czech beer and talking business until we're forced to leave, whereupon we retreat to the warm fuzzy belly of the bus and spend night number one getting used to the continuous rocking, snoring and other nefarious night activities that beset our intrepid voyage through oblivion.
Friday 19th Jan 2018e.h @ Garage, Ostava, Czech Rep
I get up early once again, chasing the nine o'clock venue entry into coffee, breakfast and a brutal shower, which is either freezing cold or flesh-meltingly hot and I narrowly miss being pinioned to the wall and burnt alive.
The day is spent is spent catching up on work and idling about the fantastic venue. First thing off the bus I see a kids lay area with a climbing frame that features both a comical crab and an imperial eagle. A hotel is also enclosed within the building, which is a great idea that should be applied more often at home in the UK. Create a purposefully built venue with an attached hotel (preferably with a pirates theme) complete with a restaurant/fast food counters a pub, other forms of entertainment and people will travel. With an adequate enough car park everyone will be free to stay and drink. If it's cooly themed (pirates!) and thoroughly self-contained, the remoter the better!
Inside, a balcony runs flush with the floor and stage, linking the two dressing rooms with a seating area at the rear of the venue and catering. The theme appears to be rock'n'roll, with a pudgy cherubic Elvis Presley and an anaemic Little Richard painted garishly on the walls. There are also lots of photos of bands, old pieces of cars, record players and fifties memorabilia scattered throughout the venue. Even the stools are seated with record discs.
Chairs not faeces.
I like it and once a lengthy soundcheck for the show is done -with many of the problems being ironed out from the night before- we have enough time to lounge over a three course dinner, with a birthday cake brought out for Chris the merch guy.
I will be a blimp on stage tonight.
From our lofty vantage point were able to watch the majority of Moonspell's set, which was a belter (loving the tracks from the new album) but the route to catering was beset by VIP ticket holders who evidently paid that little bit extra to just get in the way.
The show, when it arrives, is totally off the scale, supported by another sold-out appreciative audience and the sound is spot-on. We play very tight tonight and my really high screams seem to be on point, even as I narrowly miss nosediving off a monitor. 'Bathory Aria, 'The Death Of Love' and 'Dusk... And Her Embrace' all go down emphatically well with the crowd and we take our first onstage band photo at the end of the show, as the fans throw a forest of horns at our backs.
We chill out afterwards backstage and once showered wend our way down to the bar to gabble to friends and fans and partake of the local beer and bottled nail polish remover.
Acknowledging the various stragglers haunting the bus outside once we finally drag everything home, I'm too tired to stay up any further, plus the large absinthe shot I had half an hour ago is still burning a hole in my belly.
Sleep comes on swift black wings.
Saturday 20th Jan 2018e.h @ MMC, Bratislava, Slovokia
An eleven o'clock load-in finds us all vacating the bus as it is required to park a few blocks away from the venue here in Bratislava.
It is Martin's birthday today. He is thirty seven years old (practically a hag) and his wife and parents are making the journey tonight to see him. Undoubtedly his Mum will bring us more cakes than it's humanly possible to devour, though it's not for want of trying!
At first impression the backstage is a communal disaster, but each having settled into our respective corners beneath the glare of bright yellow walls like fat covetous spiders, both bands sharing becomes a colourful, noisy afternoon of doing little than fulfilling the everyday requirements of being on tour, though the showers are shit and pretty much open to all.
Friends come to visit, our European booking agent Nick appears with his scruffy little dog Morgan -who is more than excitable amongst the clamour and clash of catering- and Martin's folks arrive with -yes you've guessed it- a multitude of cakes! I am actually eating one right now as I'm typing and it's actually Tuesday, almost three days on from the moments I'm writing of, and there's still enough left over to sink a battleship!
The show eventually arrives after a sumptuous dinner-time banquet; meat borsch, big juicy steaks, fried pork, sea-side chips, vegetables and gravy with a Cradle Of Filth 'Cryptoriana' birthday cake to follow, again I'm feeling like a Michelin blimp by the time Moonspell have delivered the goods to an absolutely packed venue.
Being just by the stage offers a good vantage point to watch their hour long set, and it's a cracking one once again, really firing the audience up for our forthcoming attempt at music.
With the lights dimmed and a belly complaining under the weight of food, our infamous 'Ave Satanas' intro music sweeps in and no sooner than the last notes spiral out like fireworks to die, we are blasting through the beginning brace of 'Gilded C**t' and 'Beneath The Howling Stars' to a maniacal audience.
The set is relentless and other than a short detour into Ashok speaking to the crowd in Slovakian and leading everybody on a charge of 'Happy Birthday' for Martin, the set flies by.... All hour and forty minutes of it.
We take a customary photo in front of the crowd at the end of the encore and then It's back to the chaos of the backstage, with music blaring and people milling through the throng of our black-clothed refugee camp.
Eventually the night fizzles out and the bus returns to pick us all up on the street outside, as we lug our gear back into it's more-than-ample bosom.
A few drinks (and cakes) happen to finish the day off, with everyone very pleased to see that Martin had a terrific birthday on the road.
Sunday 21st Jan 2018e.h @ A38, Budapest, Hungary
My favourite day thus far!
Ever since I spent the best part of week here back in 2002 watching the recording of the choir and orchestral parts to 'Damnation And A Day', our Magnus Opus for Sony, I have loved Budapest, the absolute quintessential European city.
That time was spent with the album's engineer, Martin Foul our previous keyboardist and the American scorer, Daniel Presley and it was very hot and more like a holiday than work could ever be.
Today is snowbound and our show is on a moored boat on the river Danube that divides the two cities of Buda and Pest.
Ingrid Pitt, the narrator of Elizabeth Bathory on our album 'Cruelty And The Beast' and Hammer Horror's glamorous Countess Dracula, once confided in me the tale of her swimming the river to avoid capture by the Nazi's during the Second World War. It was quite literally an escape from the East to West.
But I digress...
I'm up early so I can grab a much-needed shower in one of the cabins, which is at the stern of the ship and above a large catering area that more resembles a coffee shop In a boat amidst an exposed engine, banks of dialled pulleys and switches and other nautical paraphernalia. It is certainly a very interesting venue and I can't help but feel a tad inspired by walking the galleys or climbing up and down ladders like Roger the cabin Boy or an able-bodied Seamen Staines.
The shower revitalises me and I feel like a new man (I'll have him please...) and so when a walk is suggested by Richard and Dougal, I jump at the chance of climbing through the chill to the top of Gellért Hill, so named after Saint Gerard who was thrown to death from the hill and from where all of Budapest can be seen.
It is quite an amazing view and as we take it all in with a much-needed styrofoam cup of mulled wine, the lofty clouds part and a sallow sun picturesquely bathes strips of the capital in a wintry postcard glow.
The way down is a lot more treacherous that the climb up and we're prone to a few slip-ups as we circumnavigate our passage back, but we return to the venue with plenty of time to have Richard mocked for losing not only his original tour pass, but also it's replacement, which is rightly derogatory and also a bloody millstone to wear.
Soundcheck is followed by yet another fantastic buffet of food; chicken, beef medallions, pasta with spinach, potatoes, mushy peas (yes!), Hungarian sausage (easy now Ashok!) rice and various accompanying sundries.
I watch a bit of Moonspell's set to yet another capacity crowd and then it's to the cabin of filth to get corpse-painted up and donned in the skin of the bezerker for tonight's performance dans la Cradle, whilst the lit river rocks right outside the cabin window.
The show is hot, but the best of the tour for me at least, with a really good sound courtesy of the hull. Indeed, tonight all 'Hull' is let loose and we even extend the set to include 'From The Cradle To Enslave' before leaving the stage to tumult and roses.
Backstage a party eventually forms once showers are partaken of and there's on-tap beer and a bottle of Slivovitz that Martin's parents provided. An impromptu mosh pit develops during a dose of Sepultura's 'Beneath The Remains' and eventually, despite clinging on valiantly, we are urged from the venue and back across the gantry to where the bus sits like a waiting Sphinx.
Naturally as we have a day off tomorrow, the party continues long into the night as we travel onwards toward Poland and our next show in Kraków and we all appear magically in our bunks despite not knowing how we got there.
And we shall finish those damned cakes!
A note to the wise...
I'm already developing a smidgeon of cabin fever, and the cure for this I have learnt over the many tours taken in the name of Heavy Metal, is to go for a nice long walk on your own as I did on the day-off, which is in the customary position of being parked up in the arse-end of nowhere next to the club and many many blocks of flats.
The day passes disjointedly and is a much-needed break I must confess, but unless we're out sightseeing or exploring the locality then these dead days bore the living shit out of me and I'm glad when I eventually steal off to sleep in eager anticipation of the (live) events to follow.