The Coral are having the time of their lives.
Older, wiser (well, occasionally) the Liverpool group released new album 'Distance Inbetween' earlier this year, a warm, absorbing piece of psych pop that benefits from their years of experience.
Live shows have been celebratory, with The Coral taking their catalogue out on the road. The band's Nick Power has sketched out a number of diary entries, giving a glimpse of what it's like to actually head out on tour.
Clash catches up with The Coral as they reach France, and some rather disturbing events...
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Another terrorist incident in France tonight. A devastating attack which left more than seventy people dead. It's all over the news as I write this, between packing for tomorrow's excursion to a Spanish festival called Benicassim. The media is in overdrive. I'll watch the rolling reports until the early hours, as Europe slips predictably back into its petrified state.
The next evening we land in Barcelona, decamp outside the airport and wait for Big John to arrive in a hire car. After that, the two and a half hour drive toward Valencia. We're splayed on the cool pavement, bodies and bags everywhere, a mass of scattered luggage and pale exposed ankles.
Somehow, between trips back inside the airport to the bar and the toilet, two rucksacks are stolen from where we'd made the temporary base. Everybody swears they didn't see a thing. Amidst the panic, it's decided they must have been nabbed by a skilled thief- there were no less than three people watching the bags at any one time - and the panic is exacerbated by the absence of any security in the vicinity. Airport staff brush it off as if it were a daily occurrence, shooing us towards a non-existent staircase; policia, policia.
After a short stay in a motorway hotel, we're back on the road the next morning. I realise one of the bags that was stolen had my iPod in, which contained about ten years worth of songs. Rare stuff, that I don't own any more. Still, what I lost doesn't compare with some of the others in the group; clothes. Prescription lenses. Medicine. Shoes. An expensive set of headphones.
Still, it's a good, warm morning and spirits are high, despite last night's theft. The landscape is unchanged from when I was here over ten years ago: distant, burned out hills that crumbling stone forts jut from. Olive groves running long past the horizon line, studded by strange lone warehouses with cartoon pictures of electrical goods and bright letterheads. The chirp of crickets running through everything like some relentless electrical pulse.
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The festival too remains unchanged, almost to the centimetre. The clinical bright white tarp of the dressing room area and the huge stage that looks out into a dry, arid field, framed by a brow of mountains that run off to the right, preserved exact in my memory.
At one o'clock, the heat is searing, relentless. We skulk off to a free bar which sits on a wide vista of multicoloured carpets and beanbags, shaded areas and sandpits. We sit and drink rum and ginger ale, while the day away listening to a Bowie cover band soundcheck. They go on for around two hours. They haven't quite got the nuances of Ziggy's operatic cockney, come off sounding more Dick Van Dyke than Thin White Duke. They keep slipping their own songs in, too, which is utterly bizarre.
I realise halfway through our own set just how many Muse fans are here. Every other person seems to have a t-shirt emblazoned with their logo. They're headlining this stage tonight, forty-five minutes after we play. Throughout the gig, our own fans are fantastic, and it's the newer, heavier songs that seem to unify everybody. I realise how schizophrenic our set must sound to people who don't know us so well. But that doesn't bother me too much; it's the way I've always listened to music. Genre-hopping mixtapes and playlists, mostly.
Back in the artist area, Ian McCulloch is holding court. Echo and the Bunnymen have just come off stage and we're drinking around a circular upright table, a huge screen projecting the end of Muse's set into the backstage, lighting up the darkness with bright flashes of dancing neon.
Meanwhile, McCulloch is in full comedic flow: he's written a tune about a dwarf and is explaining the hidden meanings behind the lyrics. We also (somehow) brooch Mike Tyson's The Undisputed Truth, The Sopranos, Joe Fagin, existentialism and Happy Death Men.
He remembers a time when "there were fucking seventeen of you Coral-oids... you're easier to remember now there's only twelve, you gang of gypsies." At some point, I offer to ghost-write Ian's biography and he says "I'll fucking write it myself - I'm more than qualified." Which is probably true, to be fair. The night rolls on, and he's got most of us creased with laughter. We'd stay if we could, but we've moved hotels from last nights - a glorified shanty where some of the toilets didn't flush. Our new one is much nicer, we're told, but two hours away, just outside Barcelona. And so we pile into the van and roll into the darkness, the van stereo turned up to breaking point and sing our way back toward the city. There's a point where we pull over to piss, and a plague of winged bugs fills the van. They stay put, like demonic hitch-hikers in migration.
Just behind us, the second van containing the crew and all of our instruments breaks down. From there, they embark on their own nightmare oddessey, which involves distress calls, broken petrol caps and attempts at bribing angry local policemen who eye them with suspicion. They won't make it back until nine o'clock the next morning.
In the witching hour, we arrive in a plush, air-conditioned city hotel, and crawl off to our own rooms. I fall into bed, too drunk, too tired to enjoy it.
The next day in the departure lounge, the sharp jab of airport lager is like an elixir, all of us sat around a scuffed table in a place called Rib Shack, sunburned and parched as gringo explorers in the Sonoran desert.
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