Halle Again

Everybody in Holland speaks English. The exception that proves the rule is a brusque woman who works in the ticket office at the train station not far from Halle, Holland where I was trying to buy my train ticket to the town of Halle in Belgium. This proved very tricky. First I tried the popular English technique of just speaking more loudly. “I WANT TO GO TO HALLE IN BELGIUM” didn’t seem to work, so I resorted to my basic Dutch and just bought a ticket to Brussels which mercifully she had heard of and could cope with. I was determined not to be late. The train connections worked fine, and despite the lack of a restaurant car on the international Rotterdam-Brussels leg of the journey, I arrived in Halle completely de-stressed.
Halle has just one hotel, and when I enquired about a room for the night I was told that they were due to be full, but a band called The Stranglers had just cancelled their rooms the day before. At least I wouldn’t have to share a hotel with that rowdy bunch. The hotel looked a bit ordinary, but one glance at the restaurant and I realized that I had come to the right place.
After an hour or two of pottering I made my way to the festival site. Situated in the centre of the town, and therefore just a short stroll from the hotel was the venue for the gig. A large well-organised outdoor space surrounded by apartment buildings, a large stage, what looks like an awesome sound system, and best of all, enough bar space and bar staff for there to be no queue at any time for drinks (UK festival organizers please note).
After hooking up with some familiar faces, with just over an hour to go I made my way to the front. The advantages of securing an early place are obvious, but the disadvantage was that I had to suffer the band who were on before. It may just be a getting-old thing, but what on earth is the purpose of this rap drivel? Two bald guys rapping in Flemish over what sounded like the same track played again and again, no musicians in sight, and a guy called MC something-or-other pretending to DJ in the background. I’m sorry; give me rock and roll any day.
By the time the changeover took place I was in my favourite spot – centre stage, leaning on the barrier, and with two cold beers to keep me going.
The Stranglers were on early – 7.15pm – as they were second support to The Levellers (what kind of sense is that?), so it was a bit surreal to hear Waltzinblack being played in broad daylight. The dozen or so of us who knew what to do cheered the opening bars, as did the plump Belgian lady next to me who asked me what was going on.
As Norfolk Coast started, I realized that I had been right about the sound system. It was very, very loud and as crystal clear as you can expect in that kind of environment.
Baz has abandoned his black “Hooligans” T-shirt for a smart collarless black shirt, which gave him a sort of James Bond arch-villain look.
Dave’s new haircut suits him so well that I didn’t even notice until half way through, although the lack of mane may have disoriented him somewhat because the delicate solo piano parts of Long Black Veil sounded a little too Les Dawson.
Jet (who seems to have got his anorexia well under control) was huffing and puffing away and needed his minder with him throughout the gig. I’m not sure whether it was his drum technician or his nurse.
Paul was in sparkling form and smiled the whole way through. I thought there might be some French banter from JJ, but with just one hour and fifteen minutes of allotted time the band seemed on a mission to play as much of their full set as they could.
I heard the new song for the first. Its quite punky in a “Lost Control” sort of way, with a bass solo, and some interesting jazzy changes. It gets a cautionary thumbs up from me – I look forward to hearing the recorded version.
There were no other surprises or changes in the set. Paul enjoyed waving to an OAP who was watching somewhat bemused from the balcony of her apartment overlooking the square. I hope she had her hearing aid set to low.
Tank is a fitting way to end a set, and the final deep thundery keyboard explosion was so loud and deep that I heard it throughout my whole body. With time always an issue at these festivals, they were on again as quickly as they had gone off for an encore consisting of just NMH. The plump Belgian lady nudged me to show her approval and asked the name of the best Stranglers album to buy. Let’s see how many copies of Norfolk Coast they sell in Halle this week.
By 8:30 it was all over – leaving me time to check out the excellent restaurant at the hotel.
This was a great trip for me, the only downside being the thumping headache I have the morning after. Officially, I will blame being too near the sound system, but just between you and me it might be due to the quantity of Stella I chucked down my neck and the bottle of Pouilly Fume that accompanied by dinner. And the champagne cocktail. I wonder how you say “hair of the dog” in Flemish?

Anthony Goodwin

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