Category Archives: The Fairy-Tale City: 2009

Alice in Chains

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The only gig I’ve ever been to alone (I don’t think losing your friends at Leeds Festival counts). I was living in Prague in the Winter of 2009. Several people at work, plus my flatmate , had almost been as excited as I was about the forthcoming date in Praha. They all swore they would go, but it never happened. So, when my sister was visiting, I sent her to buy my ticket the day they went on sale, while I was at work.

The gig was in late November. I had to rush home from work by tram, change into suitably grungey attire and rush back out into -9C. Before the gig I took photos of my arm in the air, loaded with bracelets; my own, solo version of Pearl Jam’s Ten album cover. I took myself for a glass of red wine in Lucerna Music Bar, underneath the gig venue. A girl drinking alone in a bar- something I wouldn’t dream of doing in  the UK- but in Bohemian Prague it was fine.

When I thought it was time I moved into the gig I went to the cloakroom. I was delighted to hear a grungey look girl speaking English with an Irish accent to a grungey Italian girl. “Are you off to Alice in Chains?” I asked Irish girl, “I think it’s upstairs.”

“We are, but it’s along this arcade. Want to join us?” she asked. Great, two friendly girls to hang out with. I love how you meet more people when you dare to do something alone. Good job I met them too, as I was heading in the wrong direction. We heard the opening chords of Looking in View and legged it along the ancient arcade, before bursting through the doors into an opulent, gilded ballroom. Golden balconies wound around the walls up to the high ceiling, while the dance floor offered plenty of space for three petite girls to squeeze through to the front.

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It was hot, laced with cigarette smoke and filled with tall, lanky guys with long hair, straight from 1993. I can’t even remember the set list. I do remember being spooked by how much the new singer, William Duvall, sounded like the late Layne Staley. Being Eastern Europe and generally free of the idiots who frequent British gigs, our little international trio was able to make it to the very front of the crowd without even getting squashed. At the end, I leaned over and touched Duvall’s afro, before finding one of the picks on the floor thrown into the crowd by Jerry Cantrell.

We bought t-shirts at the merchandise stand; mine a small, light grey Black Gives Way to Blue which I treasure to this day. While still in the venue I called the only other person who I knew would share the high I was on, before catching a tram home alone. I can’t remember those girls’ names, and although we texted a couple of times, I never saw them again.

Alice in Chains were awesome, everything I had expected and more. So much so, that four years later, when they were playing just a train ride away in Leeds, I decided not to go. The whole experience in Prague: from going to the gig alone, to nearly missing the start, to watching a flawless set right at the front and finding a plectrum at the end, was so perfect. It holds such a legendary place in my memory that I could not bear to see Alice in Chains, in Leeds of all places, and be disappointed if they didn’t live up to that memory. I have since heard that Leeds was a fantastic gig, but I’m happy with my Czech memories.

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Gothic Europe

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Prague, 2009

Another European city, another suitcase crammed into a cupboard; another room with bare white walls waiting to be blu-tacked with photos. Another transport system to navigate; more bizarre customs and frowns to become familiar with. Another set of colleagues to become comfortable with; more wild nights out to be had; weekends wasted recovering while trying to absorb art or history through an emotional hangover. Highs, simply from being a part of the fairytale cityscape that surrounds you; for being so brave to drop everything and venture there alone. Lows that crash down around you when you need a lazy Sunday in England, where the paper will not cost you the equivalent of £4.80 for a skimpy international version. Many, many moments that whisper, scream, “What the FUCK?! What the fuck is that? What the fuck are people eating? WHAT THE FUCK AM I DOING HERE?!!!”

And when you calm down, you remember why the fuck you left your country, again. It is the endless addiction of the traveller, the daydreamer, always wishing to be somewhere else and impulsive enough to act on the whim. Always missing someone, some place, something. Chasing and living the dreams that everyone else leaves as moving pictures in their minds. Not you; you have to follow them, to be able to say, “When I lived in Madrid…When I flew home from Prague…” And everyone, everyone back ‘home’ is always delighted to see you. You are the adventurer, the story-teller, drinking with your friends in the 600 year old pub, where everyone has remained since you left. You, who have been away so long, away and back, always wanting to settle, to call a place home. And you are desperate to run when you realise you are in that place.