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Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite recalls a chaotic, five-month European tour

In this extract from his new memoir ‘Spaceships Over Glasgow’, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite recounts a particularly gruelling tour around Europe involving knives, prescription drugs, and some incredible bands

By Stuart Braithwaite

Mogwai performing live in Reykjavik (Picture: Courtesy of White Rabbit Books)

After we ended what had been a brilliant run in the UK, we went on to Europe. Before the tour had started, our manager Colin Hardie had come to where we were rehearsing in Maryhill (with five of us now, we’d outgrown Martin Bulloch’s bedroom) and talked us through the tour. The European dates seemed pretty far apart from each other and it was suggested that it might be a good idea to do them in a tour bus. Stevie, our driver, was adamant that we could manage fine in his van though, and we accepted that. He said that there were ‘one or two big drives’ to contend with. When we actually got to Europe we realised quite quickly that Stevie’s optimism had got the better of him. The drives were insane. It was the norm for us to only manage a few hours’ sleep in whatever motel we’d got to after the show. With all of us having to exist on hardly any sleep our nerves were starting to fray. We were extremely tired. The venues in Europe treated you far better than the UK, but there were some cultural issues we had to contend with, as far as some people on the tour went. The night after playing a great show in Paris, we played another good one in Bruges in Belgium, after which Gav our T-shirt seller ran into the dressing room to proclaim that he’d sold everything. ‘Everything? Are you sure?’ I said, only for Gav to affirm that he had indeed sold every single T-shirt we had with us. It was then that we worked out that he didn’t realise Belgian Francs were not the same value as French Francs and he had sold all of our T-shirts for about a tenth of what they would normally go for. Things with Stevie were getting a bit strained too. He could be quite stern and it was causing a bit of stress.

In Paris we were invited to go on a mainstream TV chat show. It was a surreal experience. Robert De Niro was on explaining why he was returning his French knighthood after a false accusation of being part of a prostitution ring. He was speaking through a translator and things were clearly very tense with the hosts. I’m sure us appearing to play at deafening volume in between the to and fro didn’t help things either. The other musical guests were the pop group Aqua promoting their hit ‘Barbie Girl’. They were a friendly bunch and we hung out for a bit after the show. The big bald guy from Aqua asked Stevie what kind of music we made and he replied, ‘Ambient hard with hard bits’, which amused us greatly.

About halfway through the gruelling run we had a day off and decided to spend it in the Eastern European city of Prague. We had just arrived in Prague when Stevie made a wrong turn and decided to rectify his mistake by reversing a long way down the road, a manoeuvre that was somewhat of a speciality for him. Gav was in the passenger seat, and when Stevie rhetorically asked, ‘Where are all the cars coming from?’, Gav pointed down the road and said, ‘Over there.’ Delirious with exhaustion, we were in stitches at Gav’s reply and before long the whole van was in a fit of giggles. Gav took severe umbrage at what he perceived as us laughing at him and told us to shut up. However, the more he told us to stop laughing the funnier it got, and eventually in a fit of rage Gav punched and smashed in the windscreen of the van. It was a Sunday. In Prague. So much for a relaxing day off. Michael Brennan, who was doing our sound, managed to calm the situation and we all went out for dinner while poor Stevie searched for someone to fix the van. On the way to dinner, Michael (who was a big stoner) went looking for weed and managed to get a knife pulled on him. Eventually we found somewhere to eat and it was one of the nicest meals I’d ever had. Not only that but it cost hardly anything.

Things weren’t going well with Stevie. The massive drives and his somewhat Victorian communication skills were causing a rift between him and the band. After a gig I asked him to lend me a pen to get a friend’s phone number, and he said no. I kept asking him and he kept refusing, and eventually I lost the plot. My patience was running thin and I could have a fiery temper at times. Eventually Stevie lent me the pen but it all seemed really unnecessary. There was a gap between the first leg of the tour and the second and we decided that we should try someone else for the second half. As great a guy as Stevie was, it just wasn’t working out. We weren’t the band for him and he wasn’t the tour manager for us.

The tour was massive and, bar a few weeks off, lasted the first five months of the year. We were all in a rotten state of exhaustion so decided to get a tour bus for the final leg, which meant we could sleep while travelling and be in better shape to play the gigs. Well, that was the plan anyway. Simon Smith, who had been the drummer for The Wedding Present, was our new tour manager. He was a bookish, bespectacled Yorkshireman, an affable chap who gave off an aura that you should not, under any circumstances, get him angry. Something of a Leeds Bruce Banner. Simon had considered becoming a park attendant but had decided to go into tour management as that had been his forte when in The Wedding Present. With our shiny (and expensive) tour bus and our new tour manager, we embarked on our final run around Europe. What could possibly go wrong?

Fucking plenty it would seem.

The cover of ‘Spaceships Over Glasgow’, Stuart Braithwaite’s new memoir documenting his time in the band Mogwai
The cover of Stuart Braithwaite’s ‘Spaceships Over Glasgow’ (Picture: Courtesy of White Rabbit Books)

When we got to Italy things got a bit weird. A pal of ours called Kiko, a pharmacist who now presented a show on MTV, came to hang out with us for a few shows and brought some pharmaceutical gifts: bottles of Valium and various painkillers. After our final Italian show in Bitritto we had a few days off before playing a gig at the Bikini in Toulouse, where we’d played with Stereophonics a few months before. With some time off we decided to partake in Kiko’s gifts. Of course, I was an extremely willing participant. I can’t remember much about what happened next, though I have a few hazy memories. I remember John in a service station filling a bowl of chips pretty much to the brim with olive oil. I remember listening to a mixtape that my girlfriend Adele had made me featuring ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys on repeat. While rolling about semi-comatose in this state, things were getting extremely weird with Gav. He’d become really aggressive in his fucked-up state and Simon had had to hide the drugs from him. This didn’t go down well and he’d developed a toxic paranoia. He was sharing a room with Martin, who’d heard him on the phone to someone back home saying that he was going to kill him. The next day we found him in a wheelbarrow next to the hotel. Simon realised that things were not at all good with Gav and got him a flight home and sent him off to the airport.

When we arrived in Toulouse we were shocked and astonished to find a remorseful Gav in the dressing room, having apparently missed his flight.

I was barely in any state to play a gig and spent much of the day trying to climb fences. Unfortunately I had to do an interview with NME, who had flown a journalist over from London to do a feature on us. We did the interview with the somewhat bemused writer Victoria Seagal and somehow managed to play the gig. The interview had been an unholy mess — we regaled her with an a cappella rendition of ‘Frozen’ by Madonna while she tried to ask serious questions about our music. I would try to avoid prescription drugs from thereon in. To her credit, Victoria didn’t mention the state I was in; she could have had a fi eld day but clearly saw we were just daft boys and thankfully concentrated on writing about our music.

A few days after that debacle we went to Madrid to play the Festimad festival. We got in the night before and made the most of it. The Cramps, one of my favourite ever bands, were playing and I was thrilled about seeing them. Our bus was full of booze that we’d accumulated from the month on the road and we made sure to party that night. The Cramps were unbelievable. The drummer played with bones as sticks and the singer, Lux Interior, climbed the PA like some kind of demonic horror movie Iggy Pop. Poison Ivy, the guitar player, was coolness personified. She is one of my guitar heroes and was on fi re that night. They finished their set with a version of ‘Surfing Bird’ that lasted about 15 minutes with Lux climbing underneath all the stage cables and rising up like some kind of Swamp Thing. It was hands down the greatest rock and roll show I’ve ever seen. Backstage I introduced myself to them as Plasmatron. Giddy from the amazing show, I got absolutely annihilated on booze. Our friends Ash were playing the stage we were due to play the next day, and during their set I climbed up the scaffolding only to be chastised severely by the stage manager. Back at the bus my excesses caught up with me and I puked everywhere, so hard in fact that all the blood vessels around my eyes burst, which resulted in my face becoming so blotched that I resembled a lizard. A sweaty Scottish lizard in human form. The next day when we arrived to play, the stage manager saw me and said I wasn’t allowed on the stage after my antics. Thankfully Simon assured him that I really was meant to be there, so we got on and played, hungover and sweating buckets in the Spanish heat.

A publicity photo of Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite
Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite (Picture: Courtesy of White Rabbit Books)

As summer approached, so did the festival season.

The weekend of Benicàssim was epic. Benicàssim is in Spain, next to a beach town frequented by tourists. Back then it was the biggest for alternative rock, with Sonic Youth, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Björk and Primal Scream all performing. We were playing before Tortoise on the second stage on the Sunday. With so many bands we liked on the line-up we decided to make a weekend of it. The festival is notorious for hedonism and as well as a backstage swimming pool there was a guy appointed by the festival to cater for all the bands’ pharmaceutical needs. Our old pal Kiko was also there in a somewhat similar capacity. From the get-go it was carnage. Being in Spain next to the beach with so many of my favourite bands playing was incredible. Adele had come out for the weekend and we had the best time, swimming in the sea during the day, hanging out at the pool backstage and watching bands. It was also the first time we met Primal Scream. They had been one of my favourite bands since I was a kid and it was great to meet Bobby and Innes. Bobby was super friendly and clearly happy to see another Glaswegian band doing well. At that point Primal Scream had Mani of The Stone Roses and Kevin Shields from My Bloody Valentine in their ranks. As a live force they were visceral. These were guys we’d grown up idolising and it was amazing to spend time with them. At that point Primal Scream were nuts. One of their crew was on hand at all times to make sure that they had speed. They were constantly wasted, taking Dexedrine as if they were sweeties. The whole weekend was a narcotic haze. I remember floating on my back in the pool, looking at the stars and listening to Sonic Youth play ‘Shadow of Doubt’, out of my mind, thinking that things didn’t get better than this. By the time our set came around we were frazzled. We knew that the company we were in meant that we had to perform. We were on before Tortoise, who were our peers, and surrounded by so many of the bands that had been the reason we’d picked up guitars in the first place. We played with a focused ferocity, performing many of the songs that would go on to make up our as yet unrecorded second album. We felt that we were on the crest of a wave, about to really make our mark. After we played we watched Tortoise and then Primal Scream absolutely obliterate a massive crowd on the main stage. It felt like it wouldn’t be too long before we’d be up there.

This is an edited extract from Stuart Braithwaite’s Spaceships Over Glasgow, available now via White Rabbit Books.