Tuesday, 30 March 2010

530 THE SHEILA DIVINE, Lester, De Kreun, Bissegem-Kortrijk, BELGIUM, Friday 12 October 2001

Yup, that's right, Belgium! Our Boston friends The Sheila Divine were attacking the Lowlands, and Rachel and I were up for a piece of that action! So, with the aid of the AA and a superb hired Skoda Octavia to replace our battered Rover which had developed radiator problems the previous night at the thought of going Continental, plus 3 hotel bookings (which turned out to be 4!) and a great big road map, we were away! A re-arranged crossing saw us Sea-Cat over to Ostend the previous day, staying in Ostend (which smells of freshly baked bread and has lots of old baroque churches!) overnight, then moving on to Ghent on the day of the opening gig. Eventually found our hotel after driving (on the wrong side of the road, of course!) down some pretty but confusing roads, spending the rest of the day checking out Ghent and the Castle Of The Counts (ah ha ha!), before heading off early evening after planning our gig beat-route to Bissegem-Kortrijk!

Took a wrong turn off the E-Way, but found the gig nonetheless after asking at a local petrol station. "Straight on - you will not only see De Kreun, you will also feel it!" was the advice. Hmmm! Parked up by the nearby railway station and went into the pub which was attached to the venue. Hit the pool table, then Sheila Divine vocalist Aaron Perrino came wandering through, joining us to hang out, so I introduced him to Rach and we caught up with this softly-spoken and personable chap. He in turn introduced us to a new Sheila - drummer Ryan Dolan, Shawn Sears having left amicably and now managing Merrie Amsterberg. Ryan is a long-time TSD fan from Portland, Maine, so is well chuffed to be drumming for them, even if it means he can't wear his TSD t-shirt out anymore!

Bassist Big Jim Gilbert, our main TSD contact and the man who put us on the guest lists for these shows, joined us. Jim mentioned during an extensive catch-up that The Gravel Pit are "taking a break," well hopefully this means more Gentlemen material instead! We also find out the main reason why The Sheila Divine come over to Belgium so much; the beer!

We wander into the venue - a big back hall resembling an old barn, no less - to catch some of local support band Lester. They play a trad rock set which doesn't really inspire overall, but has some nice touches a la Daryll Ann, another band from the Low Countries. However, Rach and I decide to wander back into the pub for a drink, there being no bar in the back room, and run into the 4th Sheila, guitarist Colin Decker, and old friend of new drummer Ryan, who tells us TSD are due on at 9.30.

By now the venue is really full, so we head back in at the end of Lester's set and take our places - stage centre, down the front! The sense of anticipation is pretty high, particularly with Rach, who's not yet seen this lot, and it's heightened by Jim mentioning they're going to try 4 or 5 new songs on us.

After tuning up, The Sheilas kick off their set at 9.45, with a moody new song, "Calling All Lovers", which follows the usual TSD recipe of building to a spine-tingling crescendo before releasing it all in one "pop". However, "Sideways" and "Every Year", the strident and thrilling duo from recent album "Where Have My Countrymen Gone?" really kick-start things, and get Rach and I rocking for all we're worth. After that, it's superb all the way; a brilliantly paced, light and shade coloured set of this unique heart-crackingly emotive band's work. From "Countrymen", which builds and simmers like a pot coming to the boil, then overflows with the huge hook, through "Like A Criminal", with its' dramatic slashes of guitar and thrilling, "rock you, yeah yeah yeah!" finale, to "Wanting Is Wasted", where Aaron out-Mac's Ian McCulloch for downright vocal surliness, this lot have all bases covered. But it's a couple of newies which win through for me; "We All Have Problems", as straightforward a rocker as they've written, and dramatic finale "Running With The Devil", which I believe was called "Kiss Army" at their CD release shows earlier this year, during which Aaron eschews the usual stationary cool persona, and throws a wobbler, shuffling across the stage like a demented crab, wrestling the mikestand and screaming for all he's worth; "Back To The Cradle", indeed!

Elated and sweaty, and swept up in the tide of emotion this band generates, we take some time to gather our thoughts afterwards. Catch Jim after, who gives us free t-shirts (good thing too, as ours are soaked!), and to and about whom I remark, "looks of Andy Partridge, moves of Adam Clayton!" despite the fact that onstage in his green shirt, he looked like EdV tonight... We chat to the rest of the boys afterwards, particularly Ryan, who turns out to be another old fan of Big Dipper, Dumptruck and the like. We're also introduced to Jim's Belgian friends Geno and Helga, who are responsible for getting TSD over to Belgium in the first place! Then photos and final thanks before leaving, grabbing bratwurst and chips from a kiosk by the level crossing, and driving back to Ghent. No trouble at all this time!

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