by Hepzibah Sessa


As confirmed 'nervous flyers' who despise the entire process of travelling, we were surprised and delighted to swan through Gatwick Airport without a single hitch. Minimal queuing (which despite our national stereotype we all actually hate), no embarrassing bag searches (anyone here enjoy having their underwear spread out on a metal table in front of fellow passengers?) and an incident-free flight - in spite of the Scouse flight attendant who fancied himself a comedian.
When we exited the plane at Prague airport, we were accosted by the wonderful Igor Dvorsky (our host and party organiser) and whisked Becks and Posh-like into a VIP area while our bags were collected. Accompanying Igor was Franta, our driver (a man of great stature but few words), Ivana, Igor's lovely wife and photographer, and Peter, the cameraman, who would film Alan's every move. Following the delights of Prague's rush-hour, we finally arrived at our hotel which proudly boasted 'Philippe Starck styling'. Er, not sure a flat-screen telly and a couple of glass doors quite warrants this description but they managed to dupe us. In fact, this is a mistake we often make when booking hotels blind. Neither of us can stand establishments in the style of the Palace of Versailles (all swag curtains and gold taps) and we usually attempt to find a more contemporary look. However, this often results in ending up somewhere more akin to a Holiday Inn but with a distinctly brown/beige slant. What is it with 'design hotels' and their obsession with brown? 


Does the guest achieve a better night's sleep when surrounded by the colour of shit? Beats me. It also doesn't help that the suite is a duplex and therefore split over two floors. Sounds great but the reality of breaking a leg as you try to find the bed after 10 tequilas always fills me with dread. 

Our disappointment was further compounded by the fact there was no facility to play music on whatsoever, in spite of this being the finest suite the hotel had to offer. This omission always throws Al first into a state of extreme anxiety, then furious anger, followed by a very male compulsion to 'fix the problem'. And so, armed with a selection of unusual plugs and cables (purchased from a one-of-a-kind 'Unusual Plug and Cables' shop in Berlin's Turkish area) he proceeded to remove the entire TV from the wall and jab at it with a screw driver. I'm afraid that on this occasion he did not succeed in routing the music from his MacBook and through the TV speakers and so we had to listen to weedy sounds for the rest of the trip - either that or MTV.de, which transmits almost continual teenage EMO bands or ringtone ad's at deafening volume. I might add that this attack on the television is just part of an H.R.R.R. (Hotel Room Reorganisation Routine) that Alan must perform before he can feel settled in his temporary home and is something he has perfected after years on the road. This includes shoving all superfluous or offensive furniture out of the door and into the corridor and ensuring that the porn channel is on when someone from housekeeping comes up to bring us some extra hangers (they don't tend to bother you unnecessarily after that).
So we headed out into the Prague evening to find a restaurant, armed only with a trusty TimeOut guide and a tourist map. Unfortunately it was getting dark so the map was discarded and I put myself in the capable hands of Alan's finely-tuned sense of direction. "I'm a bloke and I always know where I'm going" he boasted. Unfortunately his radar wasn't the piece of precision engineering he thought it was because I got a tour of Prague's back alleys and roadworks. I can imagine there must be nothing funnier to the locals in any city than the site of two bickering tourists trying to find out where they are. And this is doubly amusing if the language is as frustratingly difficult to understand as Czech. It tends to go somewhat like this:

"We're not on fucking Skolvsk....skooklyf....skllookvy fucking street. We're miles away and my fucking feet, fucking hurt."

"Oh, shut ya face you miserable old cow. I'll get us there. Have I ever let you down before?"

Well, you have led me to one or two long-abandoned places and I've seen my fair share of the more salubrious parts of major cities in our travels, my dearest......

We did eventually find a restaurant - not the one we'd booked - and enjoyed a very nice meal and a couple of bottles of fine wine. The night finally ended with a hair-raising taxi ride back to the hotel - where I couldn't get TimeOut's warning of dodgy cabbies and a possible re-enactment of 'Hostel' out of my mind - and the sweet sounds of My Comical Romance to lull us to sleep.



The day started with an early morning interview courtesy of Radio Express and the dulcet tones of Septic ex-pat Dr. Robert. As usual, Alan slipped effortlessly into 'interview mode', sounding cool and calm, throwing in a few humorous comments and totally belying the fact that he's been out of the promo. loop for 7 years. By contrast, I sat there dribbling and prising my eyelids open Tom and Jerry style with two matchsticks. This consummate professionalism continued at the Retro Music Club cocktail bar for the official press conference attended by a roomful of hacks, radio and TV, and followed by a succession of further interviews until late afternoon. I do have to admit that the grumpy bastard can really pull out all the stops when he wants to - or has to. 

Later that evening, Igor arranged a gastronomic Czech extravaganza consisting of about 13 courses at 'La Degustation'. Yes, there were 13 courses but each one consisted of a single mouthful of some delight or other, accompanied by a different wine. Joining us was the inimitable Franta (who looked sullenly at his miniscule portion of 'Cheek of Veal' while dreaming of the golden arches), Robert (keyboard player with Lakeside X, of which Igor is the drummer), a couple of dodgy Danes, Peter (DJ for Saturday night) and Robbie, and finally Big Pete Harper from Nottingham, Alan's security man for the party, who turned out to be an old acquaintance from the Mode days. The meal was quite stunning and a great introduction to Czech cuisine - thank you again Igor. 

Naturally we wanted to continue the night in true Prague-style so we left the restaurant in search of Pilsner, now joined by the chef. I confided the intimate details of my Bouillabaisse and he told me the secrets of his Tafelspitz (if you're confused, google it) before we crawled home in the wee small hours and up the stairs to bed, limbs still intact.


With a free day there seemed nothing better than to pound the streets of Prague like true tourists and cruise her multitude of watering-holes. It is an incredibly beautiful, if somewhat chocolate-box city, which would leave you Septics with mouths aghast. This is the REAL Disneyland and not a talking mouse in site. We wandered through the old town and crossed the Charles Bridge (Karluv most) towards the castle, stopping at appropriate moments to whet our whistle and watch the people go by. 'Spot the nationality' is always a good game and you too can play it at home, kids. Just remember the basics and you're on your way to a whole afternoon of fun.


White sox, sneakers and LOUD voice = American
Long black hair, black sunglasses, designer handbag (men too) = Italian
Ginger mullet with matching handlebar moustache, over-tight, stonewash jeans and blue leather jacket (women too) = German
Ben Sherman shirt, pasty complexion and pissed = English

I will resist the temptation to mention the national dress of our Czech hosts, suffice to say, that unisex Suzie Quatro haircut has got to go........

We opted for a more relaxed evening to offset Thursday's exertions and went to dinner in the old town. It wasn't until we were leaving the restaurant that the owner professed his love of all thing DM/Recoil-related and the kitchen staff were dragged from their duties to take a photo. "This is the most amazing day of my life!" he gushed. Mmmm, not amazing enough to offer us a pro gratis glass of champers though.....


Saturday saw the final nail hammered firmly into the coffin when our room service coffee took more than 45 minutes to arrive - and then without the requested hot milk. Now I'm not a demanding person and I have no time for 'diva' behaviour but it is best not to trifle with me in the mornings if I haven't ingested a substantial quantity of caffeine, and his Lordship is even worse. Thursday's enormous cup was stone cold, Friday's was miniscule and tasted like mud and it appeared that Saturday was not going to be a case of 'third time lucky'. Never mind, we'd forgo our fix for now, hope no-one pisses us off in the meantime and find a nice cafe for breakfast. 

And so, taking TimeOut's advice, we made our way to "Easily the most epic cafe space in town!" at the "...magnificently restored Municipal House". Of course, many of you will know that Alan and I are very fond of early 20th Century design so it's "...balconied Art Nouveau sipping space with grand piano..." produced waves of excitement rarely seen in us pre-coffee. Er, yes, Art Nouveau it may be but it looked like the aftermath of a fight between a wedding cake and a large can of gold paint - with the added touch of a cheap Lino floor and some nasty looking replica furniture. We had to agree that "...no more memorable a venue for an espresso in Prague" was technically correct but "...a must for any visitor" was taking things a little too far. 

Luckily, to counterbalance this experience, we did happen across the recently renovated 'House of the Black Madonna', Prague's first cubist building (1913) which now houses the Museum of Czech Cubism, 'Kubista', and upstairs the excellent Grand Orient Cafe. By contrast, the space was calm and inviting, the fixtures and fittings consistent with the period and the coffee delicious. So impressed were we that we took up the waiter's offer to "come again tomorrow". How sad is that.

When caffeine-equilibrium had been achieved, we joined the convoy of tourists across the bridge once more and into Mala Strana, with the intention of visiting Petrin Hill. Always a sucker for a funicular railway and an observatory, we engaged in the usual discussion about whether the cables were well-maintained or whether we would meet our deaths in a bizarre tram wreck, before listening to a lecture on sunspots delivered by a physicist from the University of Prague and wandering through the park snapping photos of the superb city views. At the bottom of the hill a new stereotype appeared across the road. "Mode fans at 11 o'clock" said I and sure enough, as soon as they recognised Alan, my suspicions were confirmed. We were pleased to see the official uniform had not been corrupted in any way: Black jeans, black t-shirt, Dave flat-top circa 1985 and large black bag containing entire Depeche Mode collection. I have to say I was quite surprised to see them, especially as the sun was shining strongly and by nature 'Modesters' are nocturnal creatures, rarely venturing outside in daylight, preferring the cloak of darkness so as not to sully their complexions. I took a photo of the gang (who had travelled from Poland) with Alan and we continued on our way back to the hotel to prepare for the official release party.

To thank them for their considerable efforts in furthering the Recoil cause, we invited a few people to a private Meet & Greet with Alan in our hotel bar, prior to the official party (see mini film - recoil youtube channel). This included the indispensable Oliver Thiede (and his beautiful wife Sandra) who is responsible for the official Shunt web site and always on hand to help when it comes to web matters, Fabian 'Steve' Istvan and Istvan Gyorgyi who hold the fort in Hungary and have organised many Recoil 'bashes' over the years, Thomas Köckeis from 'Recoil19.net' in Austria, the lovely Angela Spadola - web master of 'Recoilogy' in Italy, and Vladimir Litovkin from the collectors forum 'Depmod'. These reprobates have been on the Recoil scene for some time now and also happened to tell us they'd be in Prague.
For the meet & greet film go to: recoil youtube channel

True to form, the hotel bar was blessed with revolting overhead lighting which illuminated every conceivable blemish and made its occupants look like showroom dummies. Oh, how I despise Halogen spots. The inventor, and anyone who dares to include them in their design spec, should suffer a long, slow, painful death in my book; preferably in the similarly-illuminated hotel lift, whilst being forced to look at enlarged pictures of themselves taken on a cheap mobile phone camera. Digital hell on earth. 

Just before 10pm, Franta drove us to the Retro Music Hall, up onto the pavement and into a frenzy of fans awaiting Alan's arrival. Whisked through next door's restaurant, we were shunted through a labyrinth of tunnels and into the bowels of the building ("Hello Cleveland, raack 'n' roll!"), stopping off briefly in our dressing room (where we encountered suspiciously Spinal Tap-esque sandwiches) to eventually emerge in the VIP area. Situated on a balcony above the main hall, one could look down on the action below and watch the masses dancing to what was always going to be a bit of Recoil and rather a lot of Depeche Mode. Alan meanwhile, settled into an area nearest the entrance and the stairs began to fill up with fans keen to meet him and have their bits and pieces scribbled on (literally, in some cases). The signing extravaganza that ensued merely cemented my belief that he is a very special type of artist. Let's face it, I think most of us would find it mind-numbingly boring, not to mention exhausting to hang around for 3 hours continually signing our names and posing for photographs. The fact that there are many people in Alan's position who wouldn't even consider turning up to such an event in the first place, merely makes me respect him more. Right, there you go. Compliments over. Any more and that ego will be completely out of control.

Musical entertainment was supplied by various DJs, including Igor Cech, Igor Dvorsky our host and DJ Peter2 (that should read as Peter 'squared' but I can't work out how to type it). Thanks Pete for playing the Bill Bit remix of 'Walking In My Shoes' for me. However, I can't move on without remarking on the 3 superb Dave look-a-likes who kept us amused for much of the night. Sporting identical tattoos and haircuts to Mr Gahan, I resisted the temptation to show my appreciation in the style of the World Ice Dance Championships by holding up score cards as they vied for attention on the stage, gyrating their hips in a display that I'm sure would have impressed the man himself. I wish I could have presented the winner with a cup, a la Princess Diana at a polo match, but alas, it was virtually impossible to make it down the stairs and back again without being manhandled. I did spy a couple of Martin clones but no Alan's - perhaps that loaf 'o' bread hair cut is just too embarrassing to want to emulate. 


Once the final CD cover had been signed, Al's hand had completely seized up, lockjaw was setting in from all that smiling and he was half blind from over-exposure to flash bulbs, we decided it was time for Elvis to leave the building and head for a less Recoil-related environment. Leaving Igor and Peter 'squared' to wrap up the party and join us later, we asked Lakeside X's singer and guitarist to take us to a late-night bar and stumbled out into the night trailing a gaggle of fans behind us.
Now, the details of the next 4 or 5 hours is somewhat of a blur to me ("I'm afraid I was very, very drunk") but I do know that Alan said he was going home around 6am and I apparently insisted it was far too early and refused to leave the club, enlisting the help of Big Pete to see me home safely. I arrived back at the hotel an hour later, dragged myself on my knees, step by step, up the lethal slippery open-tread staircase and found the old man face-down on the bed, snoring into his pillow (although I did here him mutter the words 'dirty stop-out'). After that - oblivion.


Waking up the next morning (er, wasn't it morning when I went to bed?) with a stinking headache and an frighteningly indecipherable taste in my mouth would not be rated as a highlight of our trip to Prague but I had to atone for the previous night's debauchery and keep my grumbling to a minimum. All the two of us could manage for the day was to don our darkest sunglasses and get some air by jumping on a tourist boat and floating up the glorious Vltava river.


It was strangely soothing to hear a softly-spoken female voice giving a commentary on the architectural delights of the riverside in several languages and it had the desired effect, lulling us both to sleep for a while. We wandered along the river, enjoying a gentle 'hair of the dog' glass of red at the Andy Warhol exhibition and back over a different bridge into the old town. Then, after hunting for some time for a suitably chilled eating establishment, we ducked into a TimeOut recommendation just as a gang of kilted Sweaties in full song approached us. 'Nostress' turned out to be absolutely perfect and our favourite restaurant of the trip; big, comfy leather club chairs (to rest our war-weary limbs), an Asian fusion menu (to cleanse our battered livers) and relatively dark, serene decor (to keep the heebie-jeebies at bay).


I began packing early on Monday morning because I knew it would involve a degree of military precision to accommodate all the extras we had acquired over the past 5 days. These included t-shirts and posters from the actual release party, gifts from fans and a couple of pressies for our kiddies. Like most people, I hate this part of any trip, not just because you have to find ingenious ways of keeping the less palatable parts of one's clothing (i.e. dirty unmentionables) away from cleaner items but also because in contrast to when you packed to come out on your trip, you can never be bothered to take the same amount of time to fold everything really nicely. Inevitably, you're not feeling your best what with the extra 3 stone in weight you're carrying after all the rich food you've stuffed down your gullet. Or the great big puffed up face and piggy eyes that now stare back at you in the mirror because your body's lymphatic system's gone into overdrive trying to cope with the gallons of alcohol coursing through it. "I just want to be beamed up" Alan says to me every time we get to this stage in the proceedings as he jumps up and down on the suitcase to force it shut. We checked the room one last time to be sure we hadn't left anything and confirm that there was most definitely nothing worth nicking, then hauled our luggage down to reception. I don't know who the two people were in the lift because I didn't recognise them. They seemed to know us though because when we grimaced, they did the same thing.

Alan had one more radio interview to do with Radio Wave which was in a part of town we hadn't visited before and situated behind a block of flats and across a piece of waste ground ('Hostel'!!!). Then, with 5 hours to kill we took our hosts out for lunch at Kampa Park to thank them for taking care of us so well and celebrated the success of the trip with a bottle of Moet and a group photograph.
And that, my friends, was pretty much it. I won't bore you with the details of the journey to the airport or the flight home although I should remark on the surreal signing session that took place in the short-stay car park. Why our dear friends waited until this final moment to produced posters, CDs and stacks of vinyl for Alan to autograph is still a mystery to us but then again, I'm sure they're baffled as to why we drink so much.

Now that we're safely back home, firmly on the wagon and blessed with a clear head, we'd like to thank Igor and Franta (whom I wrongly assumed was simply driving us around - my apologies) for organising everything so expertly and bowing to our every whim. Also, Ivana and Peter for documenting the whole visit, all the fantastic DJs and Big Pete. A big shout out to the Retro Club security posse who had to keep the crowds on the stairs in check and looked decidedly grumpy for most of the night (although Alan did manage to get a smile out of one of them). As the groom at a wedding gives the bridesmaids a thank-you gift, I wish I could have given them all a cheap gold necklace but I am doubtful it would have cheered them up much. However, the biggest thanks goes to all the fans who stopped Alan in the street to ask for autographs, attended the party and have left so many lovely comments on our Myspace pages. I know that Alan really appreciates the fact that so many of you believe that "that bloke who left DM 12 years ago" is still worth turning up for.


PRAGUE - The Official Photo Book 

You can now download an exclusive, special edition photographic booklet recording Alan's recent promotional trip to Prague.  Alan and Hep were followed everywhere - from airport to radio stations, restaurants to release party - by official photographer Ivana Dvorsky.  We think she captured the whole trip beautifully...

This is available now as a high quality downloadable PDF file (7.9MB).  It also includes (in the language of your choice) an introduction from Alan and 'LOST IN TRANSLATION' - the story of the event written by Hepzibah Sessa.  For now, there are options written in English, German, French, Hungarian & Russian.  A Czech translation will be added soon.






Recoil in Prague '07 Video