Diary 2006

MS COLUMBUS, 18.03.-05.04.2006
by Wolfman

24/03/06 Aden/Yemen
We head south in the Arabian Sea, along the Arabian Peninsula and reach the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea.
Yemen is still one of the poorest countries in the world.
Just the other day Jamie pointed out to me, how amazing it is that people could actually survive in this landscape for thousands of years, with nothing but camels (for milk, cheese and meat) and a single kind of root that grows here despite the sand, barren rocks, beating sun and lack of water.
It sounds funny, but all three of us had at one point been standing at the bow of the Columbus looking out at the land - when suddenly the light became more dramatic - thinking "It looks so…biblical."
And it took each of us a moment to realize that this makes perfect sense.
Aden is the second biggest city in Yemen and its most important harbor. The City looks somewhat like a construction site and has become the No.1 gas station for most ships planning to go on through the Suez Canal.
We are one of these ships right now, docked to a pipeline with our little shuttle boats bringing the passengers ashore.
I have already missed one precious shore leave on this journey (the day of my birthday) and it's not going to happen again!
Today I am the good example for a great explorer. Right after breakfast I mosey on down to deck one which is quite deserted. There is a shuttle boat waiting, but no sign of my spiritual brothers, yet.
"You're coming?" Jerry, the Filipino boat operator, and the security officer take turns asking me.
"No, no. I'm waiting for my friends." I say happily.
The boat leaves without me. Ten minutes later I phone their cabins. They are practically on their way, just putting on some sun cream…
"You're coming?" Jerry asks again.
"No, go without me. I'm still waiting for these good friends of mine."
"OK. There will be another boat in 10 minutes."
Again, the boat leaves without me.
I decide to go to the toilet quickly, what with all the breakfast coffee and the waiting.
(OK, OK. I realize this is a quite boring story, but the punch line is about to come…)
When I return 3 minutes later, it is all a mystery to me:
"THERE you are." The security officer says.
"Now you have just missed your friends."
"But, I…uh…no, problem - surely they will wait for me on the other side."
Another 10 minutes later I am standing in Aden harbor, alone.
Somehow I find my great exploring spirit is shriveling.
Yet, being on your own intensifies every impression.
It feels strange to be the rich tourist in a poor country, again. As usual I attract a swarm of people offering cab rides, souvenirs, quat (a local leaf that about 80 percent of the Yemenite people chew) and even alcohol (strictly forbidden in all Muslim countries).
One image I still have in my mind:
A group of small children is leading a donkey on a leash towards a crowded market place. The donkey, however, decides that it is not up to them to plan the route or realizes that there might be a chance of freedom - and suddenly makes a run for it!!
Somehow it is funny (and the people around me are laughing, too) to see a hollering group of kids charging after a donkey who is running like a madman. Everyone (kids and donkey) is screaming with joy and excitement!

Excellent! It is always good to hear two sides of a story. Jamie just handed in HIS REPORT of the same day that I will include here uncensored.

James' Tour diary, Aden, Yemen
I was terribly hung over again today. Luckily that didn't stop me heading in to town. The three of us had breakfast together, but somehow managed to loose each other on the way from the crew mess to the exit. An almost impossible feat, proving that there was still quite some alcohol in our blood. Wolff was simply not there anymore, so Joe and I wandered off…
The town is rundown and poor, but not without charm. The people are friendly but not too forward. Still, you can tell that they hope to sell something to us rich tourists or be of some kind of service that might bring financial reward.
Seeing as civilizations are generally ranked by the amount of table football played, Yemen seems to be doing all right. The kids play on the worn down tables that are set up in town squares or on the side walks. A heart warming sight that would leave most any hang-over an unpleasant memory. Joe and I immediately recruit the most promising looking street-table-football youths and challenged each other to a game. The old white guys on the tables seemed to be a bit of a highlight for the kids. Soon an enthusiastic crowd is cheering, using their broken English to coax the athletes to even higher levels of mastery.
"Yes, yes!" or "good, good" echoed from the crumbling walls. "shoot, SHOOT" is heard as the striker toys with the ball, waiting for the perfect chance. The tension just becomes too much for the youngest fan, maybe 5 years of age, he can barely see over the edge of the table, wringing his mind for that English word his big brother had been teaching him. It's in there somewhere, why hadn't he paid more attention, now when he needs it most, what was it, what was it… then he has it: "FUCK, FUCK, FUCK!!!!" finally bursts out of the gleaming young man. Then the familiar WHACK of the hard plastic ball in the goal.
In the casual conversation after the match we meet Omar. He is about 40 and spent a year in London in 1989. His broken, but comprehendible English opens a world of possibilities, and I ask him where I can buy one of those cool daggers that the men of Yemen traditionally wear in there belts. To be honest the men aren't wearing daggers but I had been told that there were such things as traditional knives, and I want one. We had also been told that, in the north of Yemen, tourists were occasionally kidnapped. Disoriented as we are, we presume we are in the north of Yemen (we won't actually be there till tomorrow). We feel slightly ill at ease when Omar explains that we have to get in the little bus with the 5 other Arab men for a ride through the hills, if we want to see a good knife. In fact he says, we have to go to another country, but we think he must mean town. No, "country" he insists but assures us that we will be back in time to get the ship.
The busses are used as a mix between a taxi and what we call a bus. They wait at the bus stops until they are full and then drive to where ever it is that they should be going. All is well. The town we go to is only 15 minutes away and is still in Yemen. Unfortunately it is Friday at Noon, and most shops are closed for prayer. Including the special knife shop we are looking for. I have to be satisfied with a standard, touristy version. A quick tasty, homemade lemonade and then back in a bus/taxi thing to the boat.
As the ship leaves at 13.00 the afternoon is spent dosing in the sun before the evening treadmill program begins. Most hamsters could learn a thing or two from us. Then we catch the end of Erik Emanuel's show (a selection of his favorite Sinatra songs) and up to the crew deck to try Anke's quat leaves. (Anke is a singer on board)
Quat is the national drug of Yemen. The leaves are stuffed into the cheek and chewed for hours, a bit like chewing tobacco. The effect is described as energizing, relaxing of even arousing.
The leaves look like they are straight of a hedge, and taste exactly how they look. For almost an hour I am stuffing this foul stuff into my cheek until I have a huge pouch and can no longer speak. The taste is nauseating. And the effect? Nothing! With a description as vague as it was, I might have guessed it was made up!
If I die of food poisoning now, I will never know if it was the Quat or the homemade lemonade. It is not recommended to drink the local water.

23/03/06 at Sea
Tonight is our first full-length show.
'Full-length' on the ship means 45 to 60 minutes - not your average night at the Academy in Hamburg! Sonja (the cruise director) introduces us as THE big attraction and makes the audience summon us to the stage one by one. With words like "You are going to love this!" and "We are going to hear a LOT from the Rockhouse Brothers on this journey!" she creates high expectations…
Now this can be a little bit tricky, sometimes. I personally always prefer us to be the "loveable little rascals" with the funny suits that slowly charm their way into the hearts of the audience. After all, this is an audience of mostly elderly people and pensioners and many of them don't really like loud music. (Last year one of the passengers even took two large paper handkerchiefs, rolled them up and stuck them in his ears, the ends dangling out a good 10 cm on each side. Somehow you just wanted to take a lighter and…just kidding.). In other words, you have to try to play quietly. Plus, in the setting of the "Columbus Lounge" - which looks exactly like you would imagine a cocktail lounge on a ship in an Eighties TV series - our 'funny' suits don't pass as funny or irony at all, more as a cheaper version of what everybody else is wearing on stage, anyway (at least in that series).
OK, enough of the complaining. Everything went well. And it is not to be underestimated to play before an audience that actually remember the Star Club in Hamburg and know every song we play as music they used to dance to in their youth! Everybody is really friendly.

22/03/06 Salalah/Oman
It is time to reveal a secret. Berlin didn't cure us of our strange obsession with running. We have actually signed up for this year's Stockholm Marathon (last time Joey had to come to Germany) in June!!
This is good ("Yes.") because it gives us a motivation to stay fit. It is also good because it gives us something to do, should we ever get bored on those long sea days.
So, what better ways to begin your day in Salalah than with a 20 kilometer jog through the desert and along the beach?
I think I have burned my nose!!!
Although we got back from our 2-hour run well before noon and I had even put on a thick layer of my UV-20 sun blocker, long jogging pants and a T-shirt, I still attain quite a "tan". Attain-a-tan. Like I am wearing the most important part of a clown's costume.
It was fun: Jogging out of the port area alongside the road. Truck drivers honking their horns, smiling and waving at us (probably thinking "The tall one must be a football player from Oman!" or "These guys are mental."). Camels, taxi drivers, port authorities - all wisely staying in the shade, clear off the sunlight.
Later Jamie and I take a taxi into the city, which is a bit disappointing. Almost everything is closed in the afternoon and the only "Souk" (my first Arabian word, it means 'market' or 'bazaar') that is open, turns out to be a Supermarket. I buy some washing powder and a razor and the poor woman behind the cashier almost gets into trouble for giving me back too much change.
Oman is a sultanate; a fairly rich Arabian country whose main source of income is the processing of oil. Things are a bit expensive here.

20/03/06 Muscat/Oman
The twentieth of March is the beginning of spring this year in Germany. But it feels good to have escaped Germany to a place where spring really feels like summer. 27 degrees Celsius, not bad!
The twentieth of March is also my birthday or more exact, the day after a glorious celebration into my birthday! I don't manage to get out of bed this morning and may forever wonder what Muscat looks like. Christopher Columbus wouldn't have been much of an explorer had he been like me. In fact, I doubt this very ship would be named Columbus today.
Jamie, however never misses a shore leave. I leave you in his capable hands:
The Day started with a fire drill. After just a few hours sleep all alarms went off announcing the end of the any rest. Maybe that was good. I doubt any of us would have made it out of bed with less than a full emergency simulation as a wake up call. Somehow Wolff managed to sleep through even that. Well, it was his Birthday. That left Joe and me to drag ourselves into Muscat, our first stop on this Cruise…
It is a very special sensation to be both exhausted and hung over while submitting oneself into an entirely unfamiliar culture. Leaving the ship the legs keep the feeling of the waves rocking with every step, rounding off the illusion of actually having landed on the moon.
The Country is called Oman. The people seem friendly but the landscape is made of barren, dark, rocky mountains. No green whatsoever. There is an interesting Arabian market in town. But I am in no state to enjoy shopping, what with all the nausea.
We did actually buy something though. In the Arab counties you are supposed to cover your knees, shoulders and stomach. (I didn't know there was a dress code for men) To ensure the execution of our tight fitness program we acquired long sweatpants. I rushed in to a deal on a some ¾ length number, but Joe took his time and was eventually rewarded with a pair of Oman national football team trousers. We don't know if they actually play in long trousers, but we feel at the peak of the local sporting fashion.
By lunchtime we were back on the Columbus, setting up for the welcome show…

18/03/06 Dubai
Flying guitars!
This is our third time on the MS Columbus ("Three is a magic number!"). The proud ship is already on its 7th cruise around the world for Hapag-Lloyd; the final stretch spanning from Dubai, Emirates to Venice, Italy.
But as usual our own journey begins with SOTI (Sonja and Tina) picking Jamie and me up from my Hamburg apartment early in the morning and kindly driving us to the airport in our tour van!
(Preceding this is normally a long, emotionally charged debate about when exactly we want to be where because of the overweight luggage check-in,
then a wave of protest and denial about the impossibly early time from Jamie and myself, a late-night-last-minute packing session, a late-night-last-minute drinking session or any combination of the above.)
I didn't manage to battle SOTI down from a (character building) 7:30 pickup time - but at least I managed to remain silent about the huge construction site in the street right in front of my house! That will give us a few extra minutes…
The check-in is surprisingly easy, though we end up using every last gram of our pre-paid overweight. Jamie and I both brought our acoustic guitars for a good reason,
- Jamie: "To write songs on the ship."
- Wolfman: "If Jamie brings his I also want mine."
But the crew let us carry them onto the aircraft to Frankfurt without any further questioning. In Frankfurt we meet Joey (Hey, he didn't miss his flight this time!) who had to take
- An even earlier flight than us to get here in time from Stockholm,
- His Gretsch guitar (an irreplaceable piece of musical equipment, also referred to as Joe's "lucky" guitar because he almost never goes to a gig without it),
- An extra acoustic guitar (Joey: "To write songs on the ship and if Jamie and Wolfman bring theirs I also want mine.").
So, with a total of four guitars (at least one of which is totally necessary) and our backpacks we stand around joking at the Frankfurt Airport. After a while a stewardess approaches us and says:
"These guitars, you can't carry them on. I have talked to the captain. They have to be checked in and put into the belly of the airplane. Or you have to buy an extra seat."
A swift investigation by Joey reveals that an extra seat at this stage of the journey would cost around 2000 Euros.
"I'll put these yellow stickers on. That way your guitars will be handed to you directly when the airplane arrives in Dubai. It doesn't always work but people will also see that it is musical instruments and not throw them around. That's all I can do."
"Maybe I shouldn't say it, but I have a good feeling about this!" I remember saying to Joey and Jamie.
Five and a half hours later we have landed in Dubai and my own words still ring in my mind.
"Look." Jamie says, pointing through the airplane window out at the runway.
My Martin acoustic guitar has just been tossed in the air, first spinning sideways and then crashing down into the bottom of the empty luggage trolley four meters below.
"No." I say in disbelief.
Next goes Jamie's Gibson: Sailing through the air more elegantly, but crashing down (on my guitar case) even harder.
Somehow we are forced into being judges at an obscure diving competition.
The lighter (and less protective) make of its case gives Joe's 1963-Gretsch guitar special flying advantages: Triple Summersault, touch down neck first.
"Whoa!" we gasp - definitely a 10!
The last contestant - about a hundred suitcases later - is a surprise guest.
Jamie's double bass weighs about 30 Kilos in its huge white flight case. Because of its size and shape it is hard to carry for one person alone.
"Well, they couldn't possibly…" I begin.
"Hmm…I guess they can throw it."
We have a winner: It seems to hang in midair for a second, defying the laws of gravity, but then the "White Whale" dives down in a beautiful arc, belly landing on top of the cart.
An hour later we are soaked in sweat but have assembled our entire luggage. Standing in the moist heat of the airport we don't know whether to thank God, Jesus or Allah first. Actually, nothing is broken.

by Wolfman

13.01.2006, KNUST, Hamburg
Finally, the great day has come!!!
We are truly looking forward to tonight, although we've been through quite an emotional roller coaster ride, these last couple of months.
For a while it looked as if nothing with our new album "Everything is happening" was ever going to come easily - or that in fact "Nothing is happening", really. I'll spare you the long list of disappointment, failure, bad luck, stress and mishaps - but must tell you that all three of us hadn't been our usual happy selves lately.
But then, a couple of days ago, things started to brighten up again. As usual, you fans and friends and family members ("the Pay-TV task force") have been great!! Flyers have been put out, posters hung up, tickets sold (not enough to minimize Jamie's chances of sudden heart failure, though), band members have been cheered up and even extra promotional activities (3 appearances on TIDE TV, the "Eventwerker" meeting) have been organized.
The press also seemed to take a liking to Pay-TV: The MOPO announced our gig - as well as the Hamburger Abendblatt - and then invited us to do a big interview which you can find in today's MOPOP section!!!
Also, Ralf Dorschel, who hosts the radio show "Nachtexpress" (one of the few good rock/pop programmes) - chose to play "Ordinary girl" on NDR 4 (NDR Info)! He also announced our upcoming tour dates.
Last but not least, SOTI invited us to come over to their house today, for an extended, twelve inch breakfast!
So, things really couldn't be much better. I am telling you, releasing a record must be a bit like giving birth to a child. We are all thrilled again - and ready to put on good show tonight!