The Columbiahalle is in the old American sector of Berlin, just opposite the diplomatic and military buildings from where the Berlin airlift was launched. That’s why the Underground station next to it is called “Platz der Luftbrücke”. As we emerged from said station, anticipating a select and low-key evening with John Parish and his band, we were startled to find ourselves surrounded by thousands of rowdy, grungy, beer bottle-throwing youngsters. Blimey, John has a bigger following in the German capital than we anticipated.
And then it became clear: The Columbiahalle has a little brother called the “Columbiafritz” lurking in its shadows. Here was the venue for the John Parish show, while the stoners were out in force for the Queens Of The Stone Age next door. We treacherously toyed for a moment with the idea of pretending that our guest passes were for the main hall, but, having travelled half way across Europe, settled for the more discerning, better behaved, more intimate gathering in the “Fritz”. Two credibility-boosting things that John’s band has which the Queens don’t, however, are: 1. Their tour bus is bigger and more densely populated. 2. They got busted on their way through France and the Queens didn’t.
Well, you know that thing that only happens on rare and magical occasions? I’m talking about when the encore have been done, the house lights have been switched on and taped music is blasting out over the P.A. It’s obvious the band isn’t going to come back on, yet still the audience refuses to go home. Short of cracking open the tear gas, there’s no option for John and co but to re-appear one more time. “That’s it”, he gasps, “you’re all invited backstage for a drink. Every last one of you”. “Westward Airways” is reprised and the evening has been a winner.
This is no ordinary band, oh no. Just look at the state of them. The more “experienced” members (John, Jeremy Hogg and Portishead’s Adrian Utley) mainly keep their heads firmly bowed to concentrate on their enormously complicated foot pedal boards, thus revealing their uniform state of follicle fallibility. Then there are loads of youngsters like Jesse Morningstar (who also doubled as support act) and Ben Shillabeer (who also doubled as T-shirt vendor). Finally, the ensemble is completed by the demure Claire McTaggart (violin) and Tammy Payne (drums and vocals).
Last time John hit the road, he had a diverting backdrop of visuals from the film Rosie, but this time, with no stage antics and no particular visual focal point, it’s solely about the music. And the music is so strong and so atmospheric, (there are nine of them, you know) that there is a tangible feeling of affection and emotion throughout the hall as almost all of the new album “How Animals Move”, plus a good chunk of “Rosie” is performed with precision and spirit.
You might think I was mad to travel all the way to Berlin for a gig. Well, I wasn’t. I was bloody sensible. You should have done it too.
From AMPLIFIER magazine