A CHAPTER OF NORTHERN MADNESS - RETURN TO VINLAND 2008
Memoir by Ville Sorvali / Moonsorrow
Day 1 / Nov 14th
St. Paul, MN, USA
Just the usual proceedings
"What the hell am I doing here again?", I ask myself when standing in the cold outside my apartment at 5:30am. "And why do all these flights have to be so damn early?", I hear myself mumbling to the other members of the band while having a cigarette outside the Helsinki-Vantaa airport, roughly at 6:00am.
Early or not, this is where we start. Our flights to Minneapolis have been booked through London and Chicago, so there is a lot of travelling ahead. We check in, walk through the security and have a beer. No problems so far.
A few hours later we're in London. Heathrow, probably the shittiest airport in the world. Enormous distances between terminals, insane queues, anal security checks, no decent eateries (at least with decent prices) and no smoking. Bleak, but I shoudn't be complaining. The next 7 hours will pass on the plane to Chicago.
In Chicago we are welcomed to the United States by the authorities in immigration and customs, double-checking all the necessary travel documents, asking a bunch of weird questions and asking us to re-check our luggage. Mitja goes through the security check with almost all of his belongings displayed on 7 separate trays. Don't know if he looks like a criminal or what, but it's him who always gets stuck there.
Finally, at the end of the day, we're in Minneapolis. Or actually, it's not the end of the day because that damn jetlag has thrown us 8 hours behind. So we have no choice but to go through the liquor store and buy something to keep us occupied in our hotel rooms. When we finally go to sleep around 10:00pm, most of us have been awake for 24-26 hours.
Tomorrow will be a big day. Just like all the days following tomorrow, I'm afraid.
Day 2 / Nov 15th
St. Paul, MN, USA
Heathens on a long crusade
We wake up fresh in the morning, having conquered the jetlag in one night, have a breakfast (mainly of eggs and bacon) and go outside for a walk (yes, we're in the middle of nowhere in America and still found a pedestrian way to the mall). Mitja broke his bag, so he buys a new one: one very ugly, gold-coloured bag that says "bling bling" on it. It will be searched by the authorities later on, I just know that.
(Mitja also insisted on saying that his bag was the most expensive bag at the whole mall, labeled Diane von Furstenberg. I still say it's ugly.)
Back in the hotel we gradually start drinking again and bump into groups of people who came from wherever in the country to see Heathen Crusade III, as well as our comrades in Metsatöll and Woods Of Ypres who will also be playing tonight. Everyone's preparing in their own way; I caught the cold one day before the tour, so I switch fluently between beers and medication.
The venue is a cool little place and it's almost packed. We spend a while checking out local bands and then lock ourselves in the backstage (which we really have to do, because the only access to the backstage is through the stage) changing strings and whatever is necessary. I struggle through the set because of my throat, but I think I can pull it off. Somehow. The audience is about half of the audience we had here last time, but it looks like they're actually more intense now - singing through all the songs (trying, at least) and creating moshpits at all possible times.
After the show we take a while to mingle with people, and then drive back to the hotel to mingle with more people. There is a huge party evolving, but of course we have to leave to Canada right now. Our driver picks us up around 5:00am with a station wagon, which is just small enough for the 6 of us. We're not particularly excited, because the drive to the Canadian border somewhere north of Detroit will be 14 hours.
Day 3 / Nov 16th
London, ON, Canada
A borderline case
At this point, it's quite unclear which is day 2 and which is day 3, because it all feels like the same long day. We can hardly sleep in the car, and we keep stopping and switching places so everyone could find a comfortable seat. Oh well, there isn't one anyway.
While there are not many stories to tell about the drive (except that after that experience no one will be complaining about any travels whatsoever), we get shaken awake again at the Canadian border. The talking part goes smoothly, but at the customs we all have to step out from the car while it's being thoroughly checked. The authorities go through all the luggage, and one specific bag seems to get an especially careful inspection. Just guess which one...
So, there wasn't anything illegal in our car after all, though we are being questioned why do we have cigarettes and alcohol in the car even if we said we didn't. I don't know, maybe it was some sort of miscommunication. They let us go with a warning and we are finally able to proceed to the paperwork (work permits and all that). Everything goes smoothly and we get back to the car.
Just to find out that's the engine is not starting anymore.
The tour management (which is not present) starts to browse the options, and it seems we can't get a tow-truck or a rental car to drive us to London, so we have to wait at the border until they can send the repairman from exactly where we are going. Standing outside in the cold is not an option, which we realize after smoking a few packs of cigarettes, so we go to the nearby hotel to have something to eat.
After some hours someone check's the time; it's about when we were supposed to start, we're still at least 1 hour away and the repairman isn't even here yet. We walk back to the border station.
The repairman (who is none other than the legendary cigar shuttle driver - introduction is pointless, you have to see him to believe he exists) arrives and provides us with alternative transportation; a van with four seats for the 6 of us! Luckily we only have to drive with it for that one hour. We get going, and the cigar man starts to work with the broken car. Apparently he only looked at it and it started again, because he's right behind us when we arrive to London.
In London we get straight onto the stage and play. I don't know how late we are, but the people have been waiting for long enough, so we want to thank them for their dedication and let them home so they can rest well before the work day tomorrow (it'll be Monday). The ticket count is 18, so we didn't quite break our record this time (last year in Sudbury it was less than 10).
It also turns out that Janne has lost one part of his luggage. Luckily it turns out that it was simply forgotten to the lobby of the hotel in St. Paul, so we would be calling UPS tomorrow to pick it up and send to Montreal for Friday. Well, as we later find out, it did seem too simple to actually work. Anyway.
One beer after the show and we're on the way to our hotel. That was one long day and one sudden show to say the least. We lock ourselves in our rooms and have a glass of Bailey's to welcome the sandman (who is very welcome indeed).
Day 4 / Nov 17th
Toronto, ON, Canada
Janne's trip to hell and back
After a good night's sleep (which, at least for me, will be one of the two on the whole trip) we pack our stuff and start driving around London in search for a proper eatery. The cigar man will be our guide for this stint, after which he returns to Montreal to work.
After eating a nourishing breakfast mainly of eggs and bacon, we return to the hotel, switch to a new driver (who indeed is new, and not the cigar man or the guy who drove us to the border) and head to Toronto. After driving to a different corner of a different street maybe 10 times we finally find ourselves at the venue, unpack and start preparing for the show.
Janne calls UPS and arranges the delivery of his luggage to Montreal. Everything is in order.
This is the first time we see our touring buddies Utlagr and Les Batards Du Nord playing, because last night in London they had already played hours before we even came there. While I really can't seem to get a grip of their music just yet, it will be evident later on that I'll be enjoying watching them both on most of the nights. Especially Batards, which is something you simply have to see to believe it exists...
The night turns out to be a success for everyone, and while we get on stage the venue is somewhat packed. The crowd is insane, like good Canadian people should, and there are a lot of stagedivers in the weirdest parts of our songs. We can also see that at least a few people from yesternight's show in London have turned up in Toronto. After the show we quickly put our stuff together just to realize the bar is closing and there will be no bars open nearby either.
It's outside the venue where the confusion starts. Our tour manager is now with us, and he needs to drive in our car - but we don't have enough seats. After discussing this obvious miscalculation, our touring guitarist Janne agrees to travel to the hotel in the old schoolbus that serves as the bus of the Batards, and our tour manager takes his place in our van. Poor Janne, he didn't know what he got into, and neither did we.
A moment after we've started driving we realize how far the hotel is. It's not even in Toronto. We end up spending one hour not only driving there, but also searching for it, stopping and asking for directions, and searching for it again. It's in Brampton. Check the map.
All this time Janne, separated from our group, is travelling with the Batards. The moment their bus left from the venue, they started playing loud music with an accordion, whistle, acoustic guitar and percussion made from hitting the wooden table with a knife, and heating their bus with an open fire on one of the tables. The first text messages we get from him show that he's clearly quite amused, but after we have gotten to the hotel and he's still there - somewhere - it becomes obvious that he's not amused anymore. All in all we spend two whole hours waiting in the hotel for the other bus to find its way there. Reportedly they stopped thrice at the same gas station asking for directions, and still didn't find us, so Janne had to take a taxi for the bus to follow. Go figure. At least it's evident that none of us will go to that bus from now on, so we have to find a new solution with the tour manager.
So, we've been drinking beer for a good while in the hotel when Janne and the Batards finally arrive, and some of them also seem to be in the party mood (regardless or because of the recent incident) so we get things started. It's sometime between 5 and 7 am when the last ones go to sleep.
Day 5 / Nov 18th
Montreal, QC, Canada
Temptations of the night
It was supposed to be a show in Sudbury today, but it was cancelled and moved to Ottawa. Then, Ottawa was also cancelled. We decide to go to Montreal and spend the day there, because 1) we've been there many times and we all feel like home there, 2) it's quite conveniently on the way to the next city, 3) our driver and tour manager both live there so they can sleep at home instead of uncomfortable double-beds in run-down motel rooms. A quick breakfast (not including eggs and bacon) and we're on our way.
Our solution for having one seat too little in the van is that we squeeze in and make the tour manager some room on the floor. It seems to work. Now the line-up is complete and no one has to travel in a stranger vehicle.
We arrive in Montreal sometime around 4:00pm and check ourselves into this one hotel, Lord Berri. You see, we've been there every single night that we have spent in Montreal. Our two-man crew heads home, while we head to find a place to eat. After eating Marko, Mitja, Janne and our soundguy Jukka go to do some shopping, but since Markus and I don't have anything to shop, we head straight to the bar. Yes, this one bar we're always at when we're in Montreal, so you guessed it right. The name is Foufounes Electriques.
In the bar we meet the guy who organized (and misorganized) most of the tour and one of my Montreal-based friends, so it's obvious we're going to spend the rest of the night without moving anywhere. Marko and Jukka also join us later on, but if you expected a ravaging rock'n'roll party on our day off, you will be disappointed. Mitja and Janne already went to sleep, and the other guys won't be staying long either. One by one everyone disappears into the night, just to meet in their hotel rooms and/or at the hotel breakfast in the morning.
Day 6 / Nov 19th
Chicoutimi, QC, Canada
Battles in the north
Today's venue will probably be the most remote we have ever played, and it's another long way to get there (6 hours they promised, but I think it was longer than that in the end), so we should get going early. However, the driver is caught in the traffic and we end up being already one hour late at the take-off. We drive all the way to Quebec City, where we have to stop to buy some new clothing to Janne (he's without his belongings, as they are on their way to Montreal) and Mitja (he simply didn't pack enough), and from there we continue as far north, all the way to Chicoutimi. The closer we get the more I start wondering what were people actually thinking when they established a city here...
As usual, we have to stop at a gas station to ask directions. As we step out, we can feel the freezing winds of the north - much colder than in Finland at this time of the year. Still not as cold as Sudbury last year, though.
After some traffic-related confusion we find ourselves to the venue and walk in. Because we're constantly comparing this with last year's Sudbury, we're also positively surprised that even if the backstage isn't really huge, it's actually warm. Markus and I go out to buy some beers and the waiting can begin.
The turnout for tonight's show isn't huge, less than 50 people, but they're downright insane (just as good Quebecoise people have proved us to be) and we enjoy playing as always. After the show it's the usual deal, no surprises. We pack our stuff to the van and start driving to the ho... house of the Batards singer, which is somewhere even more remote.
I decide to step into the bus of the Batards, because Janne had recommended that to me (even if we agreed that none should go there after his experience). I eagerly join their playing and singing company, but the trip is way too short to actually display any bestial sides of these people. The other guys are travelling as safely in the van.
Half an hour from the venue we get to the house, which is a beautiful, apparently hand-crafted wooden building. The Batards singer shows us around, and I have to say I'm impressed if he did it by himself just with his wife and friends. It's also a nice shelter against the cold breeze outside. There seems to be more beer than anyone can drink, so we party hard until we drop and find places to sleep from wherever we drop. It's supposedly something a.m. by then.
Day 7 / Nov 20th
Quebec City, QC, Canada
Ridiculous amounts of booze
Ok, so we wake up whenever we wake up. Haven't checked the time, but my head is humming. The lady of the house has prepared us a delicious breakfast, and after eating we all start feeling slightly alive again. Then, we bid farewells to all non band-related people at the party and start driving towards Quebec City. On the way I wonder again what were people actually thinking when they established a city here; you see, between Chicoutimi and Quebec City there are just miles and miles of nothing. And it's cold.
In Quebec City it's the usual; we drive around in circles searching for the venue. The streets are narrow so turning with the van/trailer combination doesn't seem to be that easy. But we get there. While we are preparing for the soundcheck, the tour manager informs that the Batards will be late, because their bus broke down. If you ever saw the bus, it shouldn't come as a surprise.
The time between the soundcheck and the show doesn't seem to pass. Good thing that they have wireless internet connections almost at every venue nowadays. After surfing, I change the strings to my bass guitar (have to do it every now and then, even if you wouldn't think so), we go to eat and come back to surf some more. The Batards arrive as well.
Sometime during the day, Janne also calls UPS to check on his lost luggage that was supposed to be on its way to Monreal. It appears that it's stuck in the customs on the border between US and Canada and it will be delayed until Monday. Which is nice, since we're all leaving on Sunday. It's getting ridiculous, I know.
What else is downright ridiculous is that I remember we were promised "ridiculous amounts of booze" when we get to Canada. Which turned out to be more correct than we would've expected, since there are again some three beers for everyone to drink. Well, it's not that expensive to buy your own anyway.
So, there seems to be quite a lot of people when we hit the stage. And, as the show proceeds, we realize that there is quite a lot of smoke as well. As if the lighting guy wanted to kill us, we all keep coughing through the set and struggle singing even one note. Now, it might look cool but using common sense isn't forbidden either.
A couple of minutes after the show we're alive again. And go out for a smoke. I didn't see much of the audience, so I can't tell how many of them were there. They seemed to have fun, though.
This time getting to the hotel is not such a pain in the ass as in Toronto (and no one will be travelling with the bus), or then we just got used to it. We drive onto the parking lot, take three or four spaces with our van/trailer combination, get inside and start partying. There is nothing unusual in this part anyway. It's 5am when we get to sleep, or so.
Day 8 / Nov 21st
Montreal, QC, Canada
The mystery of the lost hotel
Our heads hurt. Still two more shows to do, we can do it!
We leave Quebec City sometime around noon and start driving to Montreal. The weather is nice, cold, but sunny. We stop somewhere along the way and eat a breakfast mostly consisting of eggs and bacon. At some point the tour manager also gets a call - the Batards will be a bit late. Their bus broke down, again. Maybe they should get a new one, but that one looks so nice!
In Montreal it's suddenly a lot colder than 3 days ago. And suddenly, it's not that nice smoking outside anymore. We load in quickly and check our backstage facilities. Why are there no showers at any venue in North America, we wonder.
Today's show will be special, because the organizer of the tour has arranged two fire-dancing girls to breathe fire and stuff during the first and the last songs in our set. We go through the plan with them, but we won't rehearse it. What could happen anyway, it's just fire you know.
Janne agrees with the organizer that he will take care of the luggage whenever it arrives with UPS to Montreal. Finally everything is in order with that one.
As the night grows older, we realize that the turnout will be huge. I don't know how many, hundreds anyway, and it seems packed. The Batards have some additional people on stage tonight, and they take up the whole stage. As they also seem to own the whole audience. Very nice.
It's our turn so we climb on stage while the intro is playing. Oh yeah, the fire-dancers were here too. We stand back, enjoy the warmth of the flames and watch the reactions in the audience. Everyone seems to be impressed and we didn't even have to play a note.
The show itself is definitely the best on the tour, we're really giving it everything. Huge thanks goes to the audience who always make us feel so welcome in Montreal. Ok, what else - during the intro to the last song the fire-dancers climb up again. Since we didn't rehearse, they dance a bit longer than we expected (well, no one told them!) so we end up just enjoying the warmth at the back and playing most of the song as an instrumental version. Sounds pretty cool actually, maybe we should do it more often.
After the show we disappear into the night again. Almost literally, since we can't find our way to the hotel. I mean, seriously, the hotel is booked and we have the address, but we can't find it. It is simply not there! So what happens - we check ourselves in at Lord Berri, where the receptionist even welcomes us back. And we have no idea how all this happened.
Some party, some don't, some find alternatives for the endless drinking. We will meet each other at the hotel breakfast in the morning again.
Day 9 / Nov 22nd
Saint-Hyacinthe, QC, Canada
When all golden turned to shit
Finally, this is the morning we've all been waiting for; the distance to Saint-Hyacinthe is less than an hour, so we can sleep! Believe me, it is definitely very refreshing to leave after having eight hours of sleep instead of two. (Then again, no one forced us to stay awake until morning hours every single night.)
The Trash Bar in Saint-Hyacinthe is a legendary place, so we're fortunate to actually know what to expect since we already visited there last year. I mean, you simply have to see the place to understand what I'm talking about. The name is fitting, to say the least. There's space for roughly 150 people and then it's thoroughly packed, the stage is one of the smallest I have ever seen (with a total of two monitors for the musicians) and the backstage is more of an underground storage room than any decent place for relaxation.
And the proceedings later on, well, that's another story.
It's going to be a punk rock show tonight, so we prepare ourselves accordingly. And we know it's going to be a lot of fun. You can't get any closer to your audience than here. We watch as Utlagr start drawing the people in and amuse ourselves with the thought of Les Batards du Nord actually fitting on stage with all their percussives and stuff. Earlier on we agreed with them that they will headline tonight because their exceptional instrumental setup would take too much time and hassle to change between Utlagr and us. I don't know, we're just happy to play and hence be able to start drinking a bit earlier.
On stage it is very intimate. I'm constantly hitting Mitja with my bass guitar, getting scratched on the back from Marko's cymbals and probably spitting on the first row all the time while singing. And everyone's enjoying it. There are also two guys in the audience who came all the way from New York City to watch the show, so we play the jukebox and play one of their personal picks in addition to our set. And, there are also people from yesternight's show in Montreal.
After finishing we quickly pack our gear, mingle a bit and hit the backstage where the Batards are already getting excited.
And this is when it happens. If the tour wasn't full of odd confusions and weird mishaps already, Saint-Hyacinthe will provide us with the best of them. While the Batards are on stage, one of the pipes at the ceiling of the backstage starts leaking. Well, it's water, so what, but we don't want to drown here so we call the maintenance.
We take away the stuff that's under the pipe so it wouldn't get wet, but now there's something weird about this. As the maintenance gets us a bucket to put under the leak, the water doesn't seem to be that clear. In fact, it's yellow and brown. And the leak just keeps getting stronger. We relocate ourselves to the furthest corner and hope it would go away. At least the Batards will have a nice welcome when they get off stage.
By the end of the day, the floor at the backstage is covered in human excretion and the sewage pipe is still leaking. We quickly pack our stuff upstairs and throw a small farewell party. Something's probably happening at the backstage, but at least no one's there anymore.
After getting wasted and saying all the necessary goodbyes to our loyal touring partners (we met a lot of cool people here, so thank you all, no names needed, you know who you are!) we pack the trailer for the last time and drive to the hotel. It is time for the last party, the second leg of it I mean.
And then, sometime in the morning I wake up from my bed, having crawled even under my bed-sheet because it's so goddamn cold right now. You're right, our front door goes straight to the courtyard and someone simply forgot to close it after being out for a smoke. Don't know which one was it, but I just wonder how can you not notice it's minus 20 degrees Celcius inside when you go to bed? Oh well.
Day 10 / Nov 23rd
The final confusions
The last travel day. It starts with a breakfast, eggs and bacon. I really have to start eating some fruit and vegetables when I get home.
At the airport we declare the tour finished. We probably shouldn't have done that, since the odd confusions and weird mishaps will not be quite over yet. After the check-in we have to take our instruments to an additional security check with an x-ray and all that stuff, which should be a normal procedure but we always keep forgetting that Mitja is travelling with us. It appears that some residue from the chemicals that the fire-dancers in Montreal used for their performance has stained one of his guitar cases, so he has to go through a specific test for explosives. Then, an interview with the head of security to make sure he hasn't been engaged in terrorist activities while in Canada. Something's wrong with the airports today, I know.
While Mitja is being interrogated, the others go through the security check, circle around at the airport in search for something to buy for their girlfriends (I'm sorry on the behalf of everyone, but the airport really is the only place you can do any decent shopping at while on tour) and find a bar to sit down while waiting for the flight. And well, the bar we find - Mitja is already there. He survived without a bodily examination.
At this point we count the monies and decide there is not much to bring home with us. Well, at least we're one experience richer. Or a few, actually.
The next stop is London, UK. This god-forsaken Heathrow airport, again. After having slept on and off on the plane we all feel the need to wake up for a second and have a decent breakfast somewhere. Which, obviously, isn't something you could find at Heathrow. Having given up, Mitja finds something else instead; a record store with the new Guns N' Roses album that was just released. Three of us have to buy it simply to believe it exists.
After a long wait that feels even longer we're finally on the plane to Helsinki. We already feel like being in a completely different time zone. Whether it is the east coast time zone or something else is undecided, but it certainly feels somewhat otherworldly.
Back in Helsinki, at the airport, the tour seems to be finished. But no, there is still one. Janne's guitar seems to be missing - well, usually something is missing, so whatever. But, it does arrive - relatively late, with a luggage tag of a completely different airline company and from, eh, Dublin, summarising the nature of this tour perfectly.
And yeah, he got his luggage back from Montreal.