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Ragnarok Live Club, Bree, Belgium –  13 June 2019

As always, we set off super early from Southampton in order to catch an early ferry from Dover to Calais on the day of our first gig of a four-show run, teaming up with label mates Eliminator and our friends in Midnight Force from Scotland. We all had a maximum of maybe three-four hours sleep, but that doesn’t bother us ’cos we were all fired up for the gigs and are fans of necking the old caffeinated beverages!

It was only my second time driving on the other side of the road and I almost managed to take a turn onto the wrong side of a dual carriageway into oncoming traffic when we got over to Europe… I’ll blame that one on the lack of sleep! The sun was blazing down all day and we eventually made it safe and sound to the rural-looking town of Bree to check into the place where we’d be staying the night. Shortly after it was time to pile back in the automobiles and head down to the venue.

Upon arriving I thought maybe the satnav had fucked up ’cos all we could see was a stone farmhouse-looking building in the corner of a small field. Not long after, a long haired guy wearing a band shirt walked out so either this was a total coincidence or we were actually in the right place! The venue on the inside was absolutely brilliant, a decent-sized stage with a drum riser and the overall vibe was perfect: a lot of similar sized UK venues in busy cities have nothing on this place which is seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It was a Thursday night which meant an earlier curfew, so Midnight Force kicked off proceedings around 7pm and then were shortly followed by Eliminator. We took the stage last and in the blink of an eye the gig was over in a flash. This first show was the perfect warm-up for what was to follow. Roll on Day Two!

MTS Records, Oldenburg, Germany 14 June

We awoke bright and early with a 220 mile trip ahead of us into Germany to the city of Oldenburg. I think we all felt a little more rested than the day before even though we’d sat up till late with some high-powered high-percentage Belgian beers after getting back from the gig: zero hangovers all round though, luckily.

Once again the sun was shining and we were all excited for the next show. Even though it was a long drive, we had bags of time and didn’t need to have the foot to the floor the whole journey there. Fast forward to the afternoon and we’d arrived in Oldenburg. In comparison to the countryside setting of Bree, Oldenburg was a fairly modern-looking busy city. The venue proved quite hard to find initially because it wasn’t your usual venue; in fact it was a record store situated on the second floor of a busy high street above some other shop and below a tattoo parlour. Driving down the pedestrianised high street was like a game of human frogger and I’m sure some of the locals thought ‘who are these long haired jokers?’

After the shop had closed and we’d loaded in and set up we had hours to kill before show time as usual. Felix [bassist Felix Dock] and I went off in search of some quality local drinking establishments whilst Matt [drummer Matt Dobson] and Tom [guitarist Tom Potter] hung back at the venue and took advantage of the free beer on offer there. As you do.

Playing a gig smack bang in the centre of a record store was a cool new experience and, as always with Europe, the sound on and offstage just seemed to be so much more consistent than in the UK. This ultimately makes it easier and better for everyone. Tom managed to snap a string mid-set yet again but other than that, the gig was a blast and although it might not have been the busiest crowd the night went down well all round! Every band went for it and the vibe was great.

Gig over, we all had a few more complimentary beers then slept on mattresses laid out on the top floor of the building in the tattoo parlour.

Bambi Galore, Hamburg, Germany – 15 June

Saturday morning and our alarms went off nice and early because we had to be up and out of the tattoo shop before they opened for the day! We didn’t hang around for long in Oldenburg and decided to skip any form of breakfast in favour of making our way to Hamburg for gig number three. The journey time was pretty quick as we only had to cover just over 100 miles so we arrived at our hotel with time to wash off two days’ worth of sweat with a nice revitalising shower to put us in the right frame of mind for the night’s show.

The Bambi Galore is an iconic venue and I think we were all looking forward to this gig the most, especially with it being a Saturday night in a big city. We must’ve spent two-three hours outside the venue with a few beers in the sun by the car with music blaring out the stereo to kill time in the run up to the gig. Eventually, showtime rolled around and we hit the stage second after Midnight Force; the atmosphere was perfect and it was hot as hell. The adrenalin was running high and, as always, it all passed in a bit of a blur. We were all totally buzzing afterwards and enjoyed being able to properly watch Eliminator’s set knowing that ours was out the way for the night. Unfortunately, Eliminator wouldn’t be joining us for the following day’s gig in Kiel so they were setting off for the airport that same night and couldn’t stick around. They put on a great show to wrap up the gig and then had to shoot off, homeward bound.

Once the venue closed up, Felix and Tom went with a couple of the locals for a guided tour of the bars and clubs of the Reeperbahn. They must’ve been out till sunrise ’cos they stumbled back to the hotel crazy late – or, rather, early on Sunday morning.

Schaubude, Kiel, Germany – 16 June

The running theme of this trip was scorching hot weather and the day of the last gig was no different. Tom and Felix woke up a little worse for wear after being out all night, but as ever they would power through. We checked out of the hotel and met up with the guys from Midnight Force before walking a couple of miles back to the Bambi Galore to get back to our vehicles – the one and only major cock up of the whole trip we were about to experience…

Blasting music out of my car for three hours the evening before was great at the time, but we’d managed to run the battery totally flat and now couldn’t start it! [Musicians, eh? – Ed] For some stupid reason we didn’t pre-empt this happening at the time, and we now had a proper face-palm moment. I guess we were just so in the zone for the gig that it didn’t cross our minds at the time. Or maybe it was a combination of the sun and beer! Luckily before the trip I’d taken out European breakdown cover and, as we’d tried to jump start it ourselves but with no luck, the breakdown assistance guy arrived like some kind of hero to save the day. Before we knew it we were back on the road en route to Kiel for the final show of this run.

Once there, and having done the usual load-in etc, we decided to go check out some local cuisine at a nearby restaurant. This was only the second or third proper meal this whole trip for us. There never seems to be enough time for anything other than snacks or takeaway crap so this made a nice change. We were all looking forward to the show but were also unsure how it would be with it being a Sunday in a seemingly quiet place.

Later on the doors opened for the gig and people started to arrive, and by the time Midnight Force took to the stage there was a really good turnout and we were feeling proper psyched to get up there ourselves. Midnight Force’s set went down great as always, and now it was our turn. It was a tiny stage in comparison to the previous three shows so we felt fairly chained to the spot but it was great fun as always and everything went without a hitch. No broken strings or dodgy sound issues!

After the show it was strange, because there was a real sudden comedown. With it being a Sunday night in a quiet town, everyone left shortly after we’d finished. There was no hanging around chatting with a few beers, and no show to look forward to the following night – just a 700 mile drive all the way back to Southampton.

All in all it was a great trip on all fronts. We only wish we could’ve stayed out on the road for longer.

That was in theory the end of the piece, but then Rich offered his thoughts on two more shows and it would have been a crime not to have included them!

Ragnarok Live Club, Bree, Belgium – 2 August

Only about two months had passed since we were last in Bree playing at the Ragnarok. We were meant to be playing elsewhere in Belgium this time but there was a last-minute change of venue which we were totally OK with this seeing as it’s such a cool place! We were also looking forward to seeing how it would compare to the previous visit, with it now being a Friday night and playing alongside two other Belgian bands. Violent Sin were up first, followed by Speed Queen. Both bands absolutely nailed it and the turnout was brilliant, the room was packed and the atmosphere was great. We hit the stage about 11pm and it was crazy hot; Tom even had trouble gripping his guitar due to the amount of sweat, and by the time we’d finished we all looked like drowned rats. The previous gig there was great but this one definitely topped it. As always, we got back to the place we were staying at pretty late and discovered there was no oven. There was a hob though, so Tom and Felix stayed up and thought they’d attempt to fry a pizza. That didn’t end well!

OHK Club, Ostend, Belgium – 3 August

We were up and out of the place by late morning and it made a nice change to only have a couple of hours’ drive to the next gig. Ostend is right on the coast and we had hours to kill so we ended up hitting up this pretty cool beach bar. The weather was awesome and it felt like we could’ve easily been somewhere in Spain.

The venue was really cool but the only downside was that there was a massive pillar smack bang in front of the middle of the stage. I can think of countless venues with a similar layout and our local pub/venue in Southampton has the same problem, so we felt at home here at least. Once again the turnout was solid and the sound on stage was spot on. Along the front of the stage there were three smoke machines going off throughout the whole set. We’d never played a gig with so much smoke before; it literally felt like we were on stage in the thickest fog and apart from a few outlines of people at the front we couldn’t see a bloody thing beyond that. This made the atmosphere pretty intense and it almost felt like we were playing inside some kind of dream! This was easily one of the most enjoyable gigs for us of the year so far.

This brief trip had come to an end all too quickly, and we were soon on the ferry back to the U.K. Bring on the next bunch of shows!

Toledo Steel are currently working on their second album, due for release next year, and have a series of dates lined up to take them pretty much to Christmas. Get out there and give them your support! In the meantime, their debut album ‘No Quarter’ is available from Dissonance. To buy or stream a copy, click the link below.