The Incredibly Quiet Lives Of Others

I was going to write about the Fosca gig in Berlin. Really, I was. I kept sitting down to write, listing everything that I did on the trip, looking over notes. But then I found I couldn’t gear myself up to properly compose the thing.

And I think I now know why. An awful amount of travel writing bores me rigid. It’s the prose equivalent of holiday snaps. Big deal, you went abroad. Interesting for you, less so for your readers. How did the gig in Berlin go? It was fine. No one died.

No, I feel like a brattish child sulking at having to write ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ on the first day back at school. ‘We went abroad and it was good’. Find your angle, dear child, find your angle!

Trouble is, when you play a gig or act in a show, you often only tend to recall the flaws, the mistakes, and what went wrong. ‘Ah, yes, that was the gig where my guitar’s B string snapped on the fourth song. I was playing it, then it snapped. So I had to put a new one on. I’ve got a ton of stories like that: stick around!’


But of course, now I’ve started writing this at about 2pm on December 21st, with the sun of the Shortest Day already fading at the window, and interesting details are coming to me, and they remind me of further details, and so on.

That’s always been my trouble with writing. Being able to start. And then being able to stop, because writing calls down writing. I’ll have to split the results of this session into easily digestible morsels, or risk getting emails again. ‘You don’t write often enough! And when you do, you write too much!’


So: the venue was a clean, cosy and brightly-lit bar in the former East Berlin. It seemed to have once been a tiny theatre – pre-War, I’d say. But the stage was built for vocal lectures rather than amplified bands: no DI boxes, meaning the keyboards and laptop and mikes had to be plugged straight into the mixer directly to our side.

Apparently the neighbours had threatened to call the police if we got too loud, so our guitar amps had to be turned down to the absolute minimum. During the gig, Charley told me she could hear my electric guitar’s unamplified sound – the scratchy, tinny sound of the plectrum against the strings – far louder than the amp it was plugged into. That’s pretty quiet.

Despite this, the venue owner got on stage halfway through our set and asked us to be even quieter, or the police definitely WOULD be called. I decided against making on-mike jokes involving the word ‘Stasi’. Or indeed referencing ‘The Lives Of Others’ – the recent movie about unkind people in East Berlin listening in on their neighbours. But it did mean I went into a whispered rendition of the Fosca song immediately after this warning, complete with ‘Shh!’ noises and a finger to my lips, to the amusement of the audience.


Other Berlin memories:

– One of Charley’s Berlin friends apparently saying I looked too good to not be on a stage – and that I should play James Bond.

– Suddenly seeing a huge poster of my face as I open the door to the venue toilets (an advert for the gig, using the cover of the single).

– The man on reception at the hotel literally throwing sweets at us as we check out, in a jokingly grumpy way. ‘Here you go! Have your flipping souvenirs of Berlin, now get lost!’ They were little packets of Gummi bears. Which always makes me think of Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

– Seeing traditional German Christmas markets everywhere I look, reminding me how they’re getting more popular in British cities these days, along with ice rinks. The Lufthansa meal on the flight back includes a chocolate Santa.

– The kiosks on Berlin tube station platforms selling novels which seem second hand, alongside softcore porn mags, which I’m hoping are not second hand.

– As ever, the difference in pedestrian crossings. The red and green flashing man in Berlin traffic lights is slightly rotund and wears a hat. Apparently he’s an actual character with a backstory. Presumably involving a lot of standing about, then walking, then standing about again.

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