“The ferry to Ireland has been cancelled. We can’t make the show.”
It was raining. Berzerker was doing a UK tour in 2006 with Norwegian band Miksha, UK metallers Nekkrosis, and German DJ Bazooka, when we were told that we couldn’t play Ireland. This news was met with half déjà vu, half despair; déjà vu because we’d been booked to play Ireland three times previously and the gig got cancelled EVERY time, and despair because we were certain that THIS WAS THE TIME we were going to play there.
We were despairing extra-hard because the tour so far had been, as usual, a shambles. We were breaking in a new tour manager called Nobby Styles*, who ended up running off owing about four thousand pounds or so after the tour. I spoke to him on the phone post-tour and he was actually like yep-yep-yep, the-money’s-coming-I’m-good-for-it before moving to Italy, changing his phone number, and disappearing forever. I guess he had to do a runner, because the shows were so poorly booked that we’d only get about thirty people to each one. He must have lost so much money. I’m looking at some of the towns and places we played at on this tour….Rushden….Pontypridd….Weston-Super-on-Mare…
The tour nearly ended in Weston-Super-on-Mare when all the bands headed out after the show to see what nightlife existed in the town. Almost everyone had long hair and goatees and were wearing metal shirts. They walked down the road and turned the corner, and right outside a strip club were about sixty chavs all beating the shit out of each other in the street . The chavs all stopped mid-punch and turned to stare at the alternative types with long hair who had just materialized at the end of the road. Then they started coming for them. The guys ran back to the garage where our nightliner bus was parked, pulled the door down, and locked themselves in.
This is why we were looking forward to Ireland. People we’d met on tour were hostile. The shows had been poorly attended. I’d already fired one of the crew. Fans were getting used to seeing us in England and weren’t turning up in the numbers they did previously. We felt bad for the opening bands who were buy-ons (they paid us to come on tour) and we knew that the Ireland show would be different. We hadn’t been there before, and we knew that we’d get crowds of people all keen to see us play Dublin for the first time. Plus Luke was dead set on going to Ireland come rain, hail, or Ragnarök because of his heritage – “Kenny”.
The weather gods had something else in mind. There was a hurricane laying down some freak weather between the UK and Ireland and the seas were reportedly enormous. Did you know they get hurricanes out that way? You better believe it. There is genuine big-wave surfing off the coast off Ireland. Billabong – the surf company – do an annual XXL video compilation of the biggest waves and biggest wipeouts from around the world, and Ireland has featured on there a few times. We had just played Bolton and the idea was to make for the nearest ferry, take the two-hour trip, get to the venue, and have a relaxing day in Dublin before throwing down. Our local ferry had cancelled though, as had every other ferry on the west coast of the UK. And how long were they cancelled for? Oh, about twenty-four hours…..just long enough for us to miss the Dublin gig.
We were rather upset. We were upset long and loud, and at various people. Absolutely every last soul on that doomed bus understood that we really, REALLY wanted to play the gig. And it was under those conditions that our bus driver Mike** said to us – how badly do you want to play Ireland?
We’ve had many drivers over the years, ranging from inoffensive to the downright incompetent. Mike was the best one by far. He was a lovely guy, fully professional, and understood what a jerry-rigged clusterfuck tours could be. He always made sure that out of the numerous worries you were dealing with, the bus wasn’t one of them. He’s Old School Music Business. He knows how to get shit done. We said to Mike, we REALLY want to play Ireland. If there’s a way to do it, let’s hear it. And Mike said, we can do it but it involves sneaking you in. And it’ll cost 200 pounds. After a short discussion amongst ourselves we said let’s do it.
There was one remaining ferry service on the west coast going to Ireland. Mike put the pedal to the metal and we headed there. Rain was pounding down. We were quiet in the bus. There was an air of Are We Really Doing This? The timing to make the show was brisk under the original plan. Under the new plan, I had no idea how we were going to do it. We were in Mikes’ hands. We arrived at the ferry just before departure, drove into the hold, then boarded it. The ferry left the docks a few minutes later.
All the bands gathered in the lounge on the upper decks where there was a bar with an awesome panoramic view of the sea and an assload of rain. It was hard to tell if there was more water above or below us. We all settled down with some pints and that lovely feeling of comfort you get when you’re somewhere warm and its horrible outside. The weather was astonishingly shit. The elements were hammering down and the ferry slowly made its way from harbor to the channel. Mike was sitting with us as well. This boat ride would normally take a couple of hours, but today it would take ten. When I asked Mike why, he said that it would be dangerous for it to go faster. At this point the upper bar was full of passengers.
We were outside of the harbor and in the Irish Sea when the fun started. The waves were big, and increased quickly in size the further we travelled. People started having problems staying on their feet. The nose of the ferry would climb up the face and we’d reach a moment of equilibrium at the top, before a three to four-second free fall back down the other side. Sometimes the boat would land right in the face of another mammoth oncoming wave. The wave would fly over the nose and hammer into the windows of the upper decks with a force that made people jerk back involuntarily. It was a fantastic spectacle. On the big hits, you could hear the ferry make a strange groaning sound as if the entire structure was being tested down to the last rivet. I have sailed near the infamous Bass Strait, and had a memorable trip in Greece as a child when I sailed with my family during a storm in the Sporades. I had never seen seas like this before.
This was enjoyable for a good ten minutes or so. Then the rollercoaster drops started affecting people. Someone in the lounge vomited and managed to get it in a bin. But that was the trigger. From that moment the other passengers didn’t feel quite right and began filtering back to their cabins. Our little Poseidon’s Adventure was starting to get out of control. The drops became longer, and the hits were harder. My girlfriend at the time was on the tour and starting to feel a bit crook, so Mike offered us a spare cabin that came with the ferry booking. We headed back to that.
It was like a plague had hit the boat. People were swaying and bumping into the walls. There were random piles of spew hither and thither. Other people were lying on the ground in corridors: lying down was the only solution to sea sickness, or at least the only thing that made it manageable. Such was the onset that people weren’t even bothering to get back to their rooms before dropping in the nearest convenient spot. I was doing alright. We had nearly made it back to the cabin and had one staircase left to go. We arrived at the bottom of it just as a lone small girl appeared at the top. Without warning, the little gorgon bent over and projectile vomited all the way down the stairs. I went WOAH and stepped to one side and it spattered past me. Then the smell hit my nostrils and suddenly it became a rush to get up them stairs, get into the cabin, and lie down. I recovered after a while and had a shower, lurching and crashing about the cubicle before sleeping the rest of the way.
When the death-ship pulled into Ireland, I went back up to the lounge. The aftermath kind of reminded me of that scene from Stand By Me, the one where Lardass gets his revenge by spewing on everyone. The lounge was empty except for Miksha. The Norwegians had stayed at the bar drinking for the entire trip and looked none the worse for wear, and were now ready to make land and pillage and loot. We all got into the bus, and were given instructions by Mike: He would not be the one taking us to the gig. He would be driving us to a far corner of the ferry lot. There, we would take the minimum required equipment and our merch boxes, meet a driver Mike had organized for us, and climb into the back of a van with no windows. We would sit quietly and not talk until we arrived at the venue. Mike would exit through customs with the bus the official way, and meet us after the show. It appeared we were getting smuggled into the country, and THAT is how we were to make the gig on time.
Everything happened just as Mike planned it. When the bus stopped, we tiptoed off, grabbed our stuff, and squeezed into the back of the van. We were sitting on boxes of shirts, guitar heads, each other. It swiftly became hot and airless. It was most uncomfortable, especially the feeling that we were in Ireland illegally, in the back of a pitch black van, and we had no idea who the driver was or where he was taking us. I also had no idea what would happen if we were caught. I assumed jail was a possibility, and fines were a certainty. I guess we really wanted to play Ireland after all.
We arrived at the venue just in the nick of time. The security were a bunch of unhelpful bastards. It’s a shame that in a country renowned for the friendliness of its people, I met dickheads right off the bat. We double-timed our gear in, ran it straight up onto stage, and got the venue ready to go. We literally threw our merch up onto the wall, soundchecked the first guys -no time for us to line check – threw the doors open and the first band started playing. We’d done it! We’d survived and made it to Ireland! We were in Dublin about to play our first Irish show ever! We looked around and checked out the venue.
It was near empty. About twenty paying people turned up.
We were tempted to sob into our Guinness right there and then, but at least the Berzerker came out of it okay by the end of the night. Each person who turned up spent an average of 100 euros on our merchandise. The venue had great lights and a projector with a big screen backdrop so we all downloaded our logos, projected them onto the wall, and came out if it with some sick photos. So there’s something. I know bands say it doesn’t matter if only one person shows up, they came to see you so PLAY WITH YOUR HEART. Maybe when you’re starting out, okay. But the audience attendance is a measure of two things: whether you’re on the way up or down, and whether you’ve found a promoter you can work with again. Only a few years before, we could turn up anywhere and people would flock to us and lose their shit and promoters would battle to get our gig. Here, all we were good for were autographs and the whole night said to us you’ve hit the ceiling. This far, and no further. The promoters cut our gig short because they’d double booked us with a reggae night. There were hundreds of people waiting to get in. We double-timed our equipment back out after the show to the curses of the venue security.
We were smuggled back out of the country. We stayed on the bus in the vehicle bay on the ferry, swaying quietly in our bunks.
I have a dream that recurs, but very rarely. I think I’ve only had it three times or so in my life. In the dream, there’s a huge wave. It’s as high as an office block, maybe higher. The wave is right in front of me and it’s about to destroy everything. I can see the moment its mass launches the lip, and the lip starts coming down…tons and tons of water. Then I realize that there’s all the time in the world, and I can walk through the wave. I part it like cellophane curtains and there’s a stage behind it. I walk to the stage door and I exit.
* His real name
** Not his real name