I wrote this blog, which first appeared here in Uber Rock, after a tour to South America with TV Smith. The events, all of which are true, were the inspiration behind the song “One Night in Rio” on “The Difficult Second Album”. You can see a video of a live performance of the song at the end:
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. Pa.s, 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!