“I wonder if Ivan the Terrible was always Ivan the Terrible,” Rory muses. “Maybe he started as Ivan the Alright, then Ivan A Bit Full-on,” offers Chris”
band’s dorm, there’s a map of the world covering an entire wall. This leads to ideas about where to play next.
Niall is keen on the Azores. Chris fingers the map, pointing slightly regretfully to a place in Siberia, near Mongolia, where they were meant to play. In the morning, some stragglers are still there, asleep on the couch under coats, as the band heads out for anoth- er 500km drive. Andy drinks three cans of Red Bull and promptly falls asleep. Next stop Samara. Driving through blinding whiteness, endless stretches of snow and ice interrupted only by forest, they reach the city. This is the place that inspired a track on their Choice Music Prize-nominated album Gangs, Samara To Belfast. It’s a complex, 10-minute epic that Niall has yet to perfect so they won’t be playing it tonight. In their pleasant apartment accommodation, Chris finds a puppet of a cow Johnny instantly christens “Mos-cow”. Last time they played here, Johnny and Rory were brought to the top of a tower block where they got tattoos of Russian bears, an inking which was preceded by the tattoo artist’s rather unsettling quip, “Don’t worry, I won’t give you the AIDS.”
The kids who brought them to get tattooed, a two-piece band called DEAFDEAF, are supporting them again tonight. When they first met DEAFDEAF, Rory felt as though he wasmeeting his own band years previously in Portrush – DIY kids in a place with no discernible musical culture to identify with, scraping together instruments, PA systems and friends to create their own scene. Backstage, boxes of costumes – presumably meant for podium dancers who populate this kind of cool, mirrored venue that looks something between a gay bar and a strip club – are raided.
Outside the chants start, “AND. SO. I. WATCH. YOU. FROM. AFAR. AND. SO. I. WATCH. YOU. FROM. AFAR.” Chris dons the tiny yellow shorts Rory bought him for Christmas. Fans are lining the stairs and balcony of a club. The chants continue at the end of At dawn, it’s off to Penza. En route, Alex, a master of logistics and serenity, withstands another bout of police intimidation. The cops, corrupt, are constantly stopping the van trying to extract money through inventing fines: “you don’t have the right visas . . . you don’t have the right documentation . . .” and, rather hilariously, “you are transporting drug addicts” – hilarious because the band’s drug intake involves beer, cigarettes and tropical-flavoured chewing gum. Zahvat is the kind of club where it’s perfectly acceptable to punch and shatter a bottle of beer out of someone’s grasp.
People hang out smoking at the squat toilets when the all-kicking, all-elbowing crowd gets a bit too much.
“Where is Tony?” someone in the crowd shouts during the gig.
“We love Tony very much,” Rory says from the stage, dedicating A Little Bit Of Solidarity Goes A Long Way to their former bandmate. The possibility of an after-party is thwarted when no one else can fit into the van. Voronezh’s rock club is called Tarantul. The stage is a giant metal spider whose body is formed by the drum riser. Mind Portal, a Russian prog metal group ASIWYFA are fans of, are supporting. Rory and Niall have covered the backstage yellow dressing room door in fake band names and logos with black permanent marker, a tour game they play persistently that has also expanded to Twitter. “Tricked Into A Cave”, “Oceans Of Shit”, “Cornered In The Gymnasium”, “Wrecked Futures”.
Right now, the band is scraping by. Any money that’s generated goes back into it. Rory would like to be able to come home from tour and take his Mum and Dad out for a meal. Johnny would like to be able to afford rent. But most of all, they want to be able to continue to make music.
“We really never want to repeat ourselves, we want to diversify, keep doing it,” Rory says. “We want to make people happy,” Niall adds.
Before the gig in Voronezh, they’re trying to think of a memory they most want to keep from this tour. “Chris in that drag suit!” Rory exclaims, referring to Chris’s shirtless pre-samara-gig costume of giant pink glitter wings, a silver mask and foot-high gold platforms. “Off the record, off the record!”
Chris intervenes. And once more, like all good mates, they collapse into laughter around a table of beer and cigarettes. That night, again, they play their hearts out. Suddenly, naming a song Don’t Waste Time Doing Things You Hate makes more sense than ever before.