Part of the Union

The Walls and The Jimmy Cake do their bit for European unity by bringing their music – and an insatiable appetite for the craic – to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Our reporter Danielle Brigham survives to tell the tale.

Every year for one week in March, the Irish Parliament adjourns and various Ministers are deployed abroad for what is commonly referred to as the St. Patrick’s Day Junkets. How our elected representatives go about ‘fostering foreign relations’ often remains a mystery, but this year there was one diplomatic party with a very specific objective: Government-sanctioned Rock and/or Roll.

That’s right, folks, in honour of Ireland’s EU Presidency and the Eastern enlargement of the club in May, a team of highly professional musicians and artists were appointed to act as the official welcoming committee.

Drawing from two very different music camps, The Irsko Tour featured Irish rock legends The Walls (ex-The Stunning) and the eight-piece instrumental force that is The Jimmy Cake. Providing visuals for the whirlwind ten-day tour through Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, were DJ Donal Dineen and Galway filmmaker Mike Casey, who helmed Des Bishop’s Work Experience.

hotpress joins The Irsko Tour (meaning Ireland in Czech) on Day Four. The results so far: three bang-up gigs in Poland, one accordian player left stranded in Katowice, one pair of split Jimmy Cake underpants (due to severely executed wedgie), one bus driver disturbed by a sleepwalking Jimmy Cake (in underpants), one Polish stowaway of the female variety, plus three-day cumulative hangovers across-the-board.

Where do nudists seek employment in the EU?

Hungary’s accession to the EU brings a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘free movement of labour’, with nudists of all EU nationalities encouraged to seek employment in Budapest’s world famous thermal spas. And judging from The Jimmy Cake’s experiences, employees possessing any language other than Hungarian – widely considered one of the world’s most complex – would certainly facilitate the process. Forget the massage, steam rooom and Sumo-style nappies – sometimes all a tour-weary Paddy wants is a bleedin’ shower.

As the only female (and declared a male “for tour purposes”), Lisa Carey is particularly thrilled with the gender segregation at the Gellert Spa. “It was the most relaxing thing I’ve done in days – just sitting in this enormous bath full of really hot water, with my shoulders being pummeled by this fountainy jet of water, surrounded by naked Hungarian women. And none of the Jimmy Cake!”

The Good Ship Jimmy Cake

Arrival at the venue, which to everybody’s delight is a converted ship, docked on the beautiful World Heritage-listed banks of the River Danube. It’s a far cry from Wexford Street, and as Dip from The Jimmy Cake confirms, “the coolest venue on Earth.”

Sound checks completed, the crew enjoys a dinner at the venue’s lavish restaurant. Punters filter in slowly and the proceedings begin with a screening of Steve Wall’s surreal short film, The Birth of Frank Pop. Meanwhile, Steve has located a Corkonian resident of Budapest and is receiving a lesson in Basic Hungarian For Touring Artists: “Hello”, “Thank you”, “This is our first time in Budapest”, “One beer please”.

Up first are the Jimmy Cake, playing a characteristically mammoth set before an uncharacterstically small and static arts studenty crowd. But the aforementioned Corkonian assures us that “Hungarians are Hungarians – they don’t dance, they’re not spontaneous.”

By the time that The Walls finish their set (declaring to “drink Budapest dry”), some impulsive Hungarians have broken free and are ripping up the dance floor, perhaps spurred on by the arrival of some jolly Irish ex-pats. Also making a cameo appearance is visiting party from the Irish Department of Health. hotpress is delighted to make the acquaintance of Ivor Callely T.D. – Minister for Services for Older People, EU enthusiast and now number one Walls fan of the Dáil.

The wheels on the bus go round and round…

The craic is mighty at 2am on Paddy’s Day when the bus is loaded with gear and crew. The party assembles in the living room area, but even Van’s ‘Moondance’ cannot soothe the savage beast within John Dermody of the Jimmy Cake – the first to pass out and also the most dramatic. “He’s the tour idiot,” says Dip observing his bandmate breaking into the Centipede along the aisle. “I think his body’s about 90% alcohol at this stage.”

Crime doesn’t pay

Pit stop at the motorway service station to expend the group’s remaining Hungarian currency and stockpile fluids for the long journey to Slovakia. Notwithstanding the near-criminal exchange rate of the Forint to Euro, the pooled shrapnel of twenty-odd people translates to a ludicrous amount of beer, crisps and stuffed toys. And even with the combined spending power of a Hungarian prince, Simon O’Connor cannot resist the temptation to pocket a length of plastic hose-pipe. Joe Wall, being the upstanding EU citizen that he is, ends up paying for the plastic tube, which sets him back about 10 Euro, or 50 cans of beer. (The hosepipe is found the next morning, filled with beer)

Back on the bus, sing-a-longs continue well into the dawn with band members drifting to their bunks one by one. Steve Wall proves particularly dangerous as the night wears on, administering his patented Vodka Mist to people’s faces and decapitating heads during another guitar-wielding frenzy.

Welcome to Slovakia, circa 1970

At about 7am the bus pulls into the Bratislava city centre – an assorted mix of beautiful old buildings and gloomy concrete structures from Slovakia’s period under Communism (1948-89).

The 15-storey concrete edifice of the Hotel Kyjev is also a product of this era. As the site of today’s Day Room, it provides the dual opportunity for band members to shower and refresh as well as an experience akin to stepping onto the set of 1970s Slovakian porn flick.

Each room comes complete with transistor radios, stained brown carpet and an equally retro reserve of decades-old oxygen. Once the windows are opened – it’s 20 degrees and sunny outside! – the room happily meets the EU standards for our hungover Paddies. Lisa emerges from the bathroom describing her experience as “simultaneously the best and worst shower I’ve ever had.” The brown, smelly water does run clear after several minutes.

A sobering St. Patrick’s Day

After a comforting lunch of goulash and garlic-soup-in-a-bread-loaf, the bands knuckle down to the business of setting up gear and instrument repairs. Sound check complete, The Jimmy Cake set off for an aimless stroll around the beautifully preserved Old Town. Nearing sun down with ice-creams in hand, the lads remark on how “remarkably sober” their March 17 has been. A Paddy’s Day without beer? A Paddy’s Day without a shred of shamrock or leprechaun paraphernalia?

“Last night was particularly freeform lunacy,” remarks Lisa. “But there’s been a fairly steady amount of drinking tasty and inexpensive Eastern European beer going on during this jaunt. My poor liver, it’s going to leap out of my body in search of a more tolerant host.”

And the gigs? John Browne, the Cake’s trumpet player: “It’s nice to come away from Dublin and play to people who’ve never heard you before and the receptions we get are usually pretty warm. In Warsaw they made us do two encores. It was cool.”

Simon O’Connor: “We got our new number one fan in Katowice – a Tibetan surgeon.”

“He chased myself and Jurgen down the street to tell us that he loved us,” adds Lisa, “and he kept getting his photo taken with us.”

The final word from John ‘The Centipede’ Dermody: “If I could work out how to not get drunk every night I’d happily do this [tour] for a few months.”

The Slovak Pub

Return to the venue, which is reason enough to visit Slovakia, with its Catacomb-like design and medieval-meets-Celtic murals and furnishings. With free pints served by the dozen, it is unanimously declared the best hospitality on the tour so far.

The Walls are up first, delivering a sweat-drippingly superb set of songs – all new and untested on Irish audiences. These are also the first Walls gigs to feature their new bass-player, Jon O’Connell, who replaced the spot of departing keyboardist Carl Harms. And hotpress – along with the hundreds in attendance at their Whelan’s homecoming last week – can attest to the exciting developments of The Walls Mk II. Their album is expected to be out September, perhaps – if Bratislava is anything to go by – with guest appearances from The Jimmy Cake.

The previous night’s sing-a-longs are given a spectacular airing in The Jimmy Cake vs. The Walls Grand Finale. Rory Doyle swaps drumsticks for mic and leads the packed stage in roof-raising covers of The Band’s ‘The Weight’ and Black Street’s ‘96 classic ‘No Diggity’, which was clearly a smash in Slovakia. Even our Kyjev concierge is throwing shapes. The Paddies have mopped the floor with the Slovakians.

Later, during the lock-in, the female bar staff give the Irish musos a run for their money, singing traditional Slovak folk songs without so much as a guitar or accordian for accompaniment. Steve Wall responds with some acapella Sean Nos tunes and a remarkably vertical John Dermody brings some positive Damo Dempsey vibes to the table – a veritable cultural exchange. And it wasn’t just the absinthe – on that St. Patrick’s Day in a small pub in Bratislava, it truly was a warm and fuzzy moment for the European Union.

The Jimmy Cake play The Village, Dublin on April 17

Further details of the Cultural Programme for Ireland’s Presidency of the EU can be found at www.eu2004.ie

 

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