|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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.