Amsterdam to Eindhoven


On down the toy motorway


Chocolate box Amsterdam terraces lean over their canals like kindly big brothers. Saturday mornings are easy here; none of that London mania or Glasgow hungover fermenting madness, just serene bicycling adults sailing by like swans, watchful and aloof. You can spot the stag-weekenders crowding into tiny corner cafes looking miserable and wondering why they came abroad with this shower of dicks. You know and they know that copious amounts of beer will be their only salvation. It is before midday and some are already nervously eyeing their watches. There is good time for a stroll and a few coffees. A girl is bumped from her perch on the back of her boyfriend’s bike by a passing van. She dusts herself off and remounts without complaint. How far can you push these folk before they become, well, intolerant?

Everything in Holland looks like a toy. It’s as if they have had to scale it all down minutely to fit it perfectly inside the border. The motorways are so neat, the white markings so flawlessly painted. They remind me of those plastic mats of road plans that little boys drive their Matchbox cars around. The lines of trees that delineate plots and fields are suspiciously uniform and rigidly straight. The road is lined with a huge array of modernist sheds; warehouses, shopping malls and corporate hubs. They so closely resemble their architects’ own models that the world seems not quite real. Only in a place so flat could it be possible to impose your vision so comprehensively, without being compromised by the chaos of landscape.  Here they have to impose landscape on the blank slate scenery.

I check in to our Holiday Inn with its large US style rooms with two Kingsizes and plug in my box. Eventually Dylan comes out and my mood improves. Nothing in the view from my window is older than me except the sun. Thank you, Operation Market Garden.

I iron my synthetic shirt, the same one I have worn for every show this year. It’s a useful way of knowing in which year a photograph was taken. Between 1990 and 1994 I wore the same outfit every day; 501s, black T-shirt, black suit jacket and black cowboy boots. I think of it as my National Service years. There I am by some baking hotel swimming pool on a day off in Arizona, with all the band in trunks and shorts, sweltering in my rock burka.

After soundcheck, a walk is undertaken around the ultra-modern town centre during Eindhoven’s Light Festival. The streets are crowded with polite, average, contented people. Everyone is pointing their little digital devices at the exhibits and I remark at how over-recorded parts of the 21st century are going to be. All those horrendous flashes of pub violence, domestic cruelty and quiet catastrophe will be missed by the chip and caught only by literature.

Last night’s show in Amsterdam was my first official solo performance to a paying audience. I have been slowly shedding players against my will and am at the end of the downsizing process. I might have to lose a leg or an ear to maintain this efficiency drive. The beginning is a slow climb, the middle a mad blur and the rest an embarrassed dwindling. I’m like a scrap of flesh circling in the whirlpool above the plughole. I’d rather this orbit than the profound obscurity of the dark plumbing. I can hear folk crying down there, washed inexorably out to sea.