“Interview” with Hunters Palace, Friday 19th August. A slightly abridged version of this article appeared in Manic! Magazine on 26/9/11.
Step inside Coach and Horses on this particular Friday evening and you expect to find Hunters Palace waiting for you with a shirt and tie and possibly clean shaven, with arms wide open and a cold lager, ready for a not-so-young-anymore music journalist like me and his set of twenty questions plus two reserve to brighten up their boring urban lives.
I step in, duly, finding nobody but pub landlord Eugenio scuttling from one side to the other, soundman Emerson Vella trundling around with cables, and a skinny individual who is down on his knees having a hard time with his drum kit. Outside, guest saxophonist Jimmy Grima is complaining of a physical ailment. No sign of either Alex Vella Gera or Peter Sant. I, therefore, resign myself to the first cigarette of the evening.
Said skinny individual eventually resolves his drumkit gremlins (only in part as we’ll soon discover) and walks over to earnestly introduce himself as Vinnie, the London based Brazilian drummer Vinicius Duarte who allegedly turned Hunters Palace’s identity on its head when he joined them some years ago.
Within a minute, however, he scampers off to fetch some more gear. I eye my watch and I can tell the interview is going to be much tighter than the 1hr slot I usually request. Where’s Alex, I ask. “Oh, he’s gone to fetch the strings,” says Emerson almost tonelessly. Gone to fetch the strings: to me, it means he left them at home in bloodyBrussels, or damaged them here at Coach and Horses.
Deadline date whizzes in front of my eyes again. Cigarette two ensues.
Alex does turn up a few minutes later. “I’m sorry it’s a real mess today,” he proffers in his high pitched whimper as he follows wiry Peter to the stage where more plugging and rummaging for gear takes place.
In truth Alex had warned me that this gig would be surrounded by a few hassles. Peter Sant, I learn, will be a married man in less than 24 hours after the last chord rings in anger; the band themselves announced they will be sticking to a self-imposed 11pm curfew; and as I am to discover later, they haven’t even rehearsed their set.
I stick around during the soundchecks in the hope I will get my sixty – no, only time for thirty now – minutes of recorded interview. I order a lager. And then a bottle of water which is not cold enough. And then I decamp to the front yard to spend some time with myself.
Suddenly Alex and Peter pop out of the entrance and approach me with the urgency of two ambulance drivers who have lost their keys. “Hi this is Peter, Peter this isWayne…” says Alex as a quick introduction. “He’s here to interview us.”
I look at the two overly eager pairs of eyes standing in front of me. I’m about to say, What? Here? Now? But my manners and pretend professionalism get the better of me, so I say, Yes, sure, shall we start?
I’m literally only three or four syllables into my first question: Vinicius is banging the life out of the drumkit as his soundcheck commences. I look around me but nowhere is sheltered enough from the “racket” he’s causing. Around a minute later, I can pick out Peter saying “sound” but otherwise, I am now staring at two very distracted pairs of eyes wishing there were speech bubbles. A minute later Alex is apologising again as they are asked to resume the soundcheck.
I hadn’t been to a soundcheck in ages, since the sepia-tinted days when I (mis-)managed SKyN. At the time things were done by the book and everyone almost knew the lines. Tonight, as people gather slowly in the C&H courtyard, the gig is already shrouding itself in a veil of surrealism; eventually Skimmed’s Daniel Borg walks in holding a cowbell. Emerson and Vinnie joke about “all ofMalta’s cowbells being diverted to here” and I deduce that the Brazilian drummer was missing a piece of equipment. It doesn’t work out. Then it’s Sven Bonnici (The Freuds) to bring a second cowbell which kind of solves the problem.
They don’t ask me why I’m there without a cowbell, as I have recently interviewed both bands.
Today I’m here to interviewHuntersPalace.
Do I fuck.
* * *
My tinnitus is raging so hard that I can hardly make out what the hell Daniel is on about. He could have been talking about the knitting championships on Eurosport but all I could think of was that he was telling me about feedback. My ears, and consequently the grey matter between my skull, are fried.
By 20.30 around forty people are in the C&H front yard waiting for the gate to open, and it’s hardly surprising to see such a healthy turnout even at an early hour. Having established a steady following through the years,HuntersPalacefirst release harks back to their acoustic adventures in 2003 before the band split up as the members moved abroad. Alex, recently a father for the second time, left forBrussels. Peter Sant, filmmaker, lives inLondon. But it was Vinnie’s introduction to the band that changed their sound once and for all.
They are now something of a cult here in Malta, stemming from legendary gigs like the performance at MITP in 2008, their string of recent online releases (especially favourite Tal-Metall) and the fact that Hunters Palace don’t come home often. To further feed the hype machine around the event, they’re giving away a limited amount of 10” records at the door with the €5 entrance toll.
Instead of asking them 20+2 questions, I drive Vinnie to a nearby Turkish restaurant for a quick pre-gig kebap. We return to find an even bigger crowd. The 10” records are gone.
* * *
Merely an hour later a 150+ crowd is cramped in the yard, among social smalltalk and whiffs of cigarette smoke. It’s 22:05: Alex’s loud, shrieking guitar tuning echoes like a warning siren. Within minutes, the venue is packed, the airconditioning neutralised, any form of dialogue is drowned out instantly as they click into setopenersCityand In/Out.
It is something special indeed. I can hardly see them but the din is irresistible. Psychedelia and krautrock beats hover perilously behind an imperious wall of guitar reverb. Rhythm, lockstep consistency and an uncontrollable urge to wreak feedback, chase dissonance, thrill and deafen the crowd. You’d image a band of five, six people creating all that sound, but it’s just a trio. Not a keyboard in sight. Hunters’ Palace tonight are seriously messing with your brain, throwing at it waves and beats of seemingly repetitive information, just like Soviet propaganda.
It’s hot but I’m not really paying much attention to atmospheric woes: Hoedown follows with its Bedouin intro that soon gives way to more rhythmic pleasures. As it turns out it’s the perfect trailblazer for Tal-Metall, which is when the frenzy starts.
In line with the recorded version, Alex’s vocals never stray above the guitars and Vinnie’s pummelling of the drums; as he sings about walking home from Paceville at 3am and his wish for dehumanisation and loss of emotion, you can’t help feeling that Regional Roadhas turned into an endless autobahn of southerly winds, paranoia and suffocation. Never was the tedious drawl of its refrain kemm nixtieq li kont tal-metall (I wish I was made of steel) so appropriate.
We’re halfway through the gig, Peter is still cramped in half with his head buried in the amp, and here they hit top gear with L-Ohxon u l-Irqiq, a scathing piece of fine irony that swipes at Maltese village life and its incurable malady of confusing religion with social order. I now stand on tiptoes as they steamroll through it, catching Vinnie’s seemingly effortless drumming as he dials in the same beat for six consecutive minutes without missing a split second. As if to say that drum machines are for wimps.
The gig relaxes notably with “I Need a Man” before culminating with another crowd favourite, Ghal Madonna, which is not quite a prayer but arguably their catchiest tune. They lose five minutes and a bit of momentum before the last number as gremlins surface again. The audience grows a bit restless and DJ Bob Pisani is hoisted to switch on the fan. It’s 22:56: they finish their set abruptly as Alex announces, “it’s over people it’s not our fault,” among a general groan, followed by an “ok let’s blame the promoter” to ease tensions a little.
It’s over. A long, whirring flash of sounds and lights (even though there were none), an impressive gig to which probably they’ll say they could have done better. (I could have been picky and told you about the mistakes.)
“How long did we play for?” Alex asks me later.
Just above forty five minutes. Too little for a band we probably won’t see before another two years. Too good a show to miss, next time they’re here.