It’s warm here in London, but sometimes a couple of layers are required when the temperature suddenly drops. That was not the case a few days ago when we were in the Czech Republic where one local told us that 34C was not a typical temperature for this time of the year. It was hot!
We’re back in London now after completing our first cluster of shows on our biggest tour to date. Before leaving Aotearoa we had about 33 shows scheduled across multiple countries but a few were not confirmed and we were still looking for other performing options.
We approached the booking of this tour like we had done previously: where would we like to go? where have we got friends? where is the good food? where have we been in the past and can continue to grow connections? We mostly follow a d.i.y philosophy which means hundreds of hours juggling multiple conversations across timezones. There are always many conversations early in the morning and late into the night in order to line up all the dots. It’s a bit like an octopus balancing on one leg while the rest of the tendrils are in the air attending to family, the day job and the random chaos of living.
But time and effort doesn’t always produce the result you hope for. By the time we land in London we still manage to have no shows booked in this city.
After a few days rest and recuperation from the jetlag we spend time with family and meet up with friends. One evening in Dalston while out for food we pass by a pub promoting an open mic evening. We spontaneously enquire if it possible for us to play, giving us at least one show in London and a practice opportunity before we fly to Czech the following day. And it was brilliant fun. There is something quite delightful in making an effort to be included into these generally local events. We meet some good people, and you never know who may be able to help sort out something else out somewhere.
The Czech leg also unfolded in unexpected ways. Our dear friend Romek, who had organized our previous tours as well as the current group of shows, became deeply unwell in April this year. It was heartbreaking to hear of his death in the weeks leading up to our departure. Romek had been a central event organiser for many years in Czech, as well as being guitarist for the pre-revolution era punk band F.P.B (recently reformed) and also guitarist in Už Jsme Doma.
We also expected to travel and play with Už Jsme Doma on this trip but again plans were scuppered as their bass player had an arm in plaster. But a positive upshot for us was that our friend Mirek Wanek decided to accompany us for the whole time and became both awesome guide and tour manager. Mirek also hosted us in his home and we had the pleasure of attending the local village primary school end of year event with his family.
Our final show in Prague was at the memorial event for Romek which was held in a venue called Meetworks. It was programmed with acts that Romek had help promote over the years. It was an honor to be able to acknowledge our connection with our friend and the Czech community around him. It was also a pleasure to perform on the same stage as great Czech acts like Už jsme Doma, Zuby Nehty, Plastic People of the Universe and Dunaj.
Finally we spend a couple of days at CESTA in Tabor. We first visited CESTA 15 years ago on our first trip to Czech. It was established by Chris Rankin and Hilary Binder, the power duo behind the group Sabot, as a ‘Cultural exchange station’ with a philosophy based on social justice and liberation. Hilary now lives in Italy, Chris had remained at CESTA. It is our extremely good luck that fortuitously Hilary is here helping Chris do the catering for a conference on activist wellbeing and care (I think) . These chances at reconnecting are one of the main reasons that we travel.
We return to the UK midweek for some rest time. We had tried extensively to book shows into this period but after contacting multiple venues in Poland, Germany, Amsterdam and Scotland we hailed in a grand total of zero offers. However, while on the train from Stansted back to our London accommodation and checking in on the old social media, a post popped up via one of the new connections gathered while looking for shows, asking for bands for a show at a London bar that had experienced some line up disaster. Some rapid text exchanges ensued and we scored the opening shot for a band from Portsmouth called Black Helium- a doom rock, stoner sonic barrage, skillfully executed and nice people to boot. The bar, The Underdog, was wonderfully receptive and welcoming. So all and all something that at one point felt disastrous turned into a perfectly good night out. The lesson is just to put yourself in the front of random opportunity and see what happens.
End of leg 1
And that octopus with seven legs in the air still looks like a brilliant dancer to us.
On the 10th of December 2004 Hulagu, the first album for the mr sterile Assembly, was released into the world. And today marks it’s tenth birthday. Who would have thought this project would still be going after this length of time?
It was a monumental first release, no clear plan or direction but an exuberant outworking of the first songs into the sterile world. It gained wheels and traveled and played. We managed to even tour eastern Europe on the back of this release, with the help of great community support here, and brilliant friends in the Czech Republic.
One abiding precious memory was arriving to play in a small cafe in Slovakia, the album had no distribution here but when we played the song Feed the Machine the whole front row started to sing along! This was a first direct experience of the beauty of peer-to-peer sharing. Somehow these people had found access to the audio files via a much younger internet and adsorbed the tune, it was magic and a great lesson in connectivity!
Massive thanks must be lain at the feet of Hilary Binder and Chris Rankin, from SABOT, then based in the arts space CESTA, Tabor, Czech Republic, for planting such an awesome seed of an adventure in our minds.
But more so, the bigger thanks need to go to the players in this early iteration of sterile: Jana Whitta, Elisa Kersley, Cara Conroy, Aaron Lloydd and Francesca Mountfort for adding their music, enthusiasm and confidence in this endeavour.
On listening to this album a few months ago, for the first time in many years, was pleasantly surprised at how much it still seemed to hold it ownt, it seems to pass a continuous personal quality and remain comfortable in the continuum of what we have gone on to make. Line-ups, instrumentation and presentations have changed greatly but essentially the song still remains the same, looking for optimisms, cracks in the accepted narrative, words from the shadows and front-lines, words of different angles, words of hopes.
Also, a huge shout out to Aidan and Rob who were the very generous and responsible hosts. They were the team who had their hands on the mics, knobs, faders, making sure what ever we did sounded as good as it good.
Finally, an ongoing thanks is towards the local animator Mike Hayes who made this lovely stop motion animation to the title track, it still holds an enduring magic!
It’s been a remarkable journey, full of silly stories, tiny adventures, and wonderful life-validating moments.
Thanks for it all!