“It’s only rock’n’roll. Only it’s not”: This is Inhuman Nature’s relentlessly real tour diary

As they prepare for their UK tour with Crowbar this week, Inhuman Nature bassist Daragh Markham’s tour diary from their last jaunt gives us the sights, sounds and smells of life on the road with the Brit thrash crew…

“It’s only rock’n’roll. Only it’s not”: This is Inhuman Nature’s relentlessly real tour diary
Daragh Markham
Chris Barling

It's a long way to the top if you wanna rock’n’roll. Long way to the middle, as well. But there's something about underground touring that pulls people in.

London thrashers Inhuman Nature are just one of countless bands who know about this. Next week, they begin a UK jaunt opening for NOLA sludge legends Crowbar. Such is the pull of the eternal mile that bassist Daragh Markham has catalogued their exploits around Europe with High Command and Ninth Realm in a physical (and amusing) zine.

Here, we share a few highlights from the lad's weighty tome. It's not always pretty, but like travel writing hero Bill Bryson, bouncing around parts unknown sounds fun all the same. If boozy. Now, let Daragh take you on a voyage to the real heart of being in a band...

People say it’s getting harder and harder for artists to tour, but that’s missing the point. For bands at Inhuman Nature's level and of our style, it’s been hard for a long time, maybe even always.

It’s actually getting stupider. I mean, you’d have to be a nuclear-level dingus to want to do any of this for a significant length of time, like say a month, in winter. Thousands and thousands in up-front van hire costs? Oh, sure. Indecipherable Carnets requiring you to list every single piece of equipment you’re bringing? Why not. Ferries to the continent which are always, always late? Yes please. And those are the easy ones. The myriad of prohibitive, mentally challenging obstacles to navigate seems only to be growing each year.

And yet we do it. Crave it, even. Because we know deep in our hearts that being an artist in these endtimes is but a fool’s errand either way. If life is absurd then our only choice is to be absurder. And so we (must) Embrace the Stupid.

Unfortunately for my bandmates, I am so obsessive/compulsively committed, so stubborn with delusion, that I don’t just embrace the stupid on tour. I am the stupid. Do I bring any money to this outfit and its endeavours? No. Can I play bass to an acceptable standard? Also no. But am I prepared, excited even, to make 30-hour drives across Europe, to frequently get diarrhoea from ‘catering’, to drink myself stupid and engage in drug rampages? My bandmates know the answer. They are enduring it right now as the van trundles onward to horizons unknown…

November 3Manchester Damnation Festival

In a move akin to giving a chimp a loaded gun, my best friend and old bandmate Joe has lent me his beautiful (read: outrageously expensive) Gibson Thunderbird bass for the tour. Being responsible for it – and certainly not trashing it around the stage as is my style and wont – is causing me no shortage of anxiety. A perennial klutz, I destroy things with preternatural ease. Once, as a guest in a strange house, I merely hovered near some fancy electronic blinds and they came crashing off the window.

Get to Damnation feeling like turds out of the toilet bowl, but the festival is amazing. A tour manager friend we run into tells us a buddy band that just embarked on a tour, half the length of ours, has already incurred over double our debt. They must be bathing in Oranjeboom. We’re starting off 4K in the hole, but who’s counting? Simon [Grubb, drums] and Chris [Barling, vocals] that’s who, the long suffering yet levelheaded Band Dads.

First show of the tour, hard to get into it, but there's a generous crowd, and a bunch of friends present. We had to do merch ourselves while Chris' train was delayed. I say 'we' – I cowered backstage trying to get drunk and not succeeding.

Big shows are weird. Tons of people isn’t a problem, I just hate the flubby bass sound in these places, but I’m too inept to fix it so fuck it. The cacophony is still valid. Gave it the usual physical tantrums onstage, already bled on the borrowed bass (sorry, Joe). Simon driving tonight, so I’m sans a troublemaking partner. We’ll see what we can get into back at the hotel. Hunting down some action now, food tokens be damned. I have a violent, compensating urge to become a terror. I already know I will watch my Instagram stories with despair tomorrow morning in the van, such is my station. But the monkey is out of his cage…

November 4Bristol The Gryphon

Awake in the Milton, Manchester’s equivalent of the Hilton, to Simon necking Berocca in bed, watching The Bill and listening to a voice note of a 34-second fart. My knuckles throb from punching the bass. I scan the room for a mini bar but there’s none. No breakfast vodka-OJ. Berocca and The Bill it is.

The shower corners house substantial amounts of black mould. Quick and average Guinness in the pub, sized up by local hardmen (you never seen thrash godz before, mate?) before setting off to Bristol. Headline show, sold out, which is good when the venue is the size of a cupboard. Hooking up later with tour buddies, Maryland madmen Ninth Realm.

Hire van has broken headlight and coolant leak, as per. After last year’s exploding tire on the manic autobahn, this ain’t shit. Miserable weather on the road and the mediocrity of the English countryside make for great landscapes to blast Amebix to. It’s Bristol so gonna channel them tonight, which outwardly means occultic biker metal-punk vibes but inwardly means ‘give me cider and glue’.

Chaotic, shitfaced set. Somehow had room to thrash around in the cupboard. Ben borrowed my HM-2 [guitar pedal] and the feedback screech was wonderful. Thought we did alright, but who knows. Tiniest venue and I still managed to unplug my pedals, repeatedly, running around.

Ben [Taylor, guitar], Simon and I went across town to the hotel. Wandered the halls a good 40 mins trying to find our room. Went to front desk where they had none of our names. "You’re in the wrong hotel, lads." Great. Should have anticipated it, Ben and I always get lost. Couldn’t even find the van at Damnation and it was parked out-fucking-side. Finally made it to the correct hotel where Simon was so relieved he repeatedly threw his phone against the wall. On my phone, I made a call to my wife, was not in English.

Stood outside the hotel next morning, wavering. A woman went past and said "You’re really high!" I was about to say, ‘That’s none of your business, lady,’ until I realised she was talking to a child sitting atop her shoulders. Hometown show tonight, cannot wait to see all the maniacs who will get me out of this physical hell I have wrought upon myself. Coming in hot.

November 5London Black Heart

Joined forces with tour buddies, Massachusetts masochists High Command, and our wavelengths immediately synced up. Based on the mutual love for Poison Idea alone, it’s gonna be a good run.

Packed out show at home-from-home The Black Heart. Was cool to see the Americans enjoying the place. At closing, Ryan [McArdle, HC guitarist] raised a bar stool in the air but wasn’t prepared for its ridiculous weight, cast iron or some shit. We crushed our set though it was a struggle given the hangover. The day’s diet consisted of a vitamin pill (thank you, Simon), a Jammie Dodger (thanks again, Simon, really) and a pilfered roll-up.

In the BH office before the show Tyler Tuskar, our booker extraordinaire, expressed concern. "Why aren’t you eating? It’s a very long time on the road and it’s only day three and you’re…" ‘I’m fine, honestly,’ I say, actively coughing, retching, hunching over, trying not to spill either of my rider beers. Barely got out of the bar alive, later on.

November 6Brighton Green Door Store

Staying sober for a five-band bill tonight is a sadistic proposition, but my body needs the rest. Lovely sunshine on the way to Brighton, Sabbath on the playlist. Good omens. Americans very excited to see the beach but I’ve warned them to manage expectations – pebbles and that.

Coordinating getting our van coolant leak looked at for when we arrive. Managing expectations for that too. Load in early, just me and Simon, so we reward ourselves with beers and a few hands of his Star Wars themed Uno as we try to triangulate a mechanic.

Brighton show is sick, packed house again, lot of movement, pit action. Sad to say goodbye to Ninth Realm boys, they’re fucking dudes and it’s been great having them. Drunk, pleasantly stoned and listening to [Charles] Mingus, Dizzy [Gillespie] and other jazz greats on the midnight drive to Hastings to crash at Ben’s, before the obligatory post-Brexit Bureaucratic Bullshit Fuckaround. We’ll likely be penalised for something (van not up to scratch, suspect residue on my person, battle axe not included on Carnet inventory, take your pick).

November 7Belgium Trefpunt

Mechanic, unable to find us, angry, eventually arrived last night to assess the van. "You’ve got a weep of coolant coming out alright, but you’ve also got an oil leak. Probably have to remove [something technical I will never understand]." Fan-fucking-tastic. Heading to Europe now so no chance of a replacement. Apparently we can keep topping up the oil and coolant as we go along and pray that the weep/leaks don’t worsen. Looney Tunes shit.

Eurostar onto the mainland. All of us sound ill already. Simon, not awake, writing something, asks how to spell ‘Britain’. S-H-I-T, mate. We’re about to be back on the beautiful continent and I can taste the biers already. Decent show in picturesque Ghent. Went down the street after to a troll bar where people looked at us strange. Buddy, you’re the one hanging out on a Tuesday night with a disturbing variety of highly-detailed trolls, I’m just here for a post-show beverage.

Despite three hours' sleep the night previous, two hefty mac’n’cheese riders, many beers, and a sweaty show, sleep evades me. Doesn’t help that there is a symphony of snores and farts going on in this living room. Another night with the Arsehole Orchestra. Need to score some hash. As with our last EU tour, we weren’t checked beyond, ‘Do you have any drugs?’ as we crossed over. Fought the urge to answer, ‘No, have you got any numbers?’

November 10Dresden Club Novitatis

First time for me in Dresden rock city and couldn’t go to the bombing monument because it’s closed at this time of year – neo-Nazis periodically protest around it. Funny how bombing the ever-living shit out of people doesn’t de-radicalise them, only makes them double down.

Club tonight is tiny, packed, deafening. Crowd very into it, demanded more and more. No room to move, pedals knocked out. Also knocked out some frequencies from my ears that’ll never return. Rather green sound tech working the gig, he had a baptism of fire but that’s how we learn.

Having a much better time than hangover hell the other day. Simon finds me standing side of stage. "You’re always giggling, what are you giggling about? What a change from yesterday. You’re either always giggling or in the depths of depression. There’s no middle ground with you." That’s showbiz, baby. Laugh/cry.

Strange battlejacket guy hanging around backstage, obviously been turned down by promoter when he asked for more beers. He stood wordlessly staring at us, until we asked for more beer. Then when more beer arrived he helped himself. He stared at Ben and Mack [Stray, guitar] as they sat on green room couch, both covered in sweat, panting and smoking. "So, ah… what are you two doing? Are you merch guys?" Ben and Mack stared back at him. "We just played, mate," perspiration dripping from their faces.

Really like this city. Lot of metal/punk pubs in our area but by the time we played, loaded out and got to accommodation it was 2am, so it was vegan doner and weed time. Streets were full of action, dodgy clubs, howling-drunk lunatics. You know, there’s a lot of EU countries with nicer weather, nicer cuisine, nicer looking people, but I fucking love Germany. The streets vibrate with an energy unlike anywhere else.

November 13Budapest Dürer Kert

Crossing the border to Hungary it’s clear we’re in Eastern Europe. The irritation and suspicion people view us with is more overt. Petrol station staff gather round their colleague serving me, chattering in Hungarian. I make out ‘rock star’ and laughter. Very excited to go to Budapest, though, my first time.

Ashley's [High Command tour manager] delightful day sheet lists holidays; apparently it’s National Hug A Musician Day. Not sure if this is sarcasm on Ashley’s part but I do not recommend anyone embrace myself or Razzle [High Command guitarist]. My stage vest has the accumulated reek of 100s of gigs, and Razzle has been berated by Ashley for not showering for a week – "Oh, it’s been longer than that, honey," the scamp grins. I’ve cultivated my vest stench to a tactical reek – personal space on the road can be hard to come by, if you stankin' people steer clear. Crust as fuck existence.

The venue is a massive modern complex right on the Danube, amongst a landscape of industrial decay. Smashed brick and windows, pipes and rust. Factories, plants, giant trucks taking out debris, honking and leaving clinging dust clouds in their wake. Best sound of tour thus far (my pedals slide across the stage with the vibrations) and wonderful promoters. Delicious homemade food, treats.

Summoned to sign autographs, take photos with people. Will never understand that one. I’m an alcoholic manboy who can’t fulfil basic tasks. But hey, if it makes people happy (my ego loves it, the fuck am I talking about).

Another night watching High Command side of stage, feeling good. Shit’s fucking nice sometimes. One of the promoters plays in supports Türböwitch. In cheetah print leggings he ran into the crowd with his guitar and people made a circle-pit round him while he soloed. Sounded like Inepsy. Budapest city weapons. Their song title Fuck Off In Hell gives High Command much joy.

Türböprömöter brings me to their dressing room for their singer’s birthday cake, strange shit-your-pants shots, white wine spritzers, beers. They have a permit to open their friend’s bar, BlastBeat (closed on Mondays), for the birthday and gig, insist we come. We've got an 8am van call for 600km drive to Salzburg, so only a few of us go. Some visit a neon-drenched Mad Max-esque complex in central Budapest, dancing with High Command to techno DJs. Mountain (merch)man Tom busts out his famous Broken Legs Dance, exhibiting the grace of someone a third of his height and attracting various onlookers.

The toilets are simply medieval and easily the worst on this tour, or any other. ‘Lake of shit’ comes to mind. We run into Northern Irish cattle truckers, young lads who transport livestock all over Europe. They’ve been taking a break in Budapest for almost a week. They come over because we don’t look like anyone else in the bar, not least the annoying-as-all-fuck English couple Ben bums a smoke off.

An eight-foot-tall lad of the group asks where I’m from. "Scots-Irish? Ah yer a fookin' coloniser den!" he raises his chin and looms down at me. "I’m no fucking coloniser, pal." The Americans look uneasy during the exchange. Another of them, maybe Hungarian, says, ‘We can all agree that punk started in England.’ ‘No it fucking didn’t.’ It’s like these guys have been sent to enrage me. The giant cuts in again, issuing the same challenge, "Aye, yer a coloniser…" I can’t be doing with this hassle. I look him up and down and send forth my rebuttal: "I’ll colonise that ass, baby." "Oh! Don’t tempt me!" he winks and grins.

Now the macho bullshit is dealt with and a truce established, we can get down to business. "What’s the drug situation like here?" I ask a small, bespectacled, gnome-like lad. "Oh! We was trying for coke a few days ago and yer man only gave us four rocks o’ crack!"

November 14Salzburg Rockhouse

Feeling pretty sick so have opted to take orange slices with my tequila shots. For the health. Salzburg was a good show. One lady drove five hours, ‘I enjoy both bands’. Some people came from Linz.

Manicbrain sometimes worries I’m too much of a showboat with my stage carry-on. But all I know is to get crazy, this is what I’m made for. It’s only rock’n’roll. Only it’s not. When someone says they travelled many, many miles to see you on a rainy Tuesday, all the nitwit thoughts, the second-guessing depression, are negated, slayed for an evening. Play like you’re on fire. Ecstatic obliteration. This is the only way.

A fan tells us he was in London last week, "Very dirty. I saw three garbage bags on the street." I can’t bring myself to tell him the things we’d find in the alley out front of Black Heart some mornings.

Flee the pouring rain back to St Sebastian’s hostel, a sanctuary that is very literally a Christian institute, arched ceilings looking very ex-church. Above the door to our room there is a large wooden cross. In a drunken fit of heresy I snatch the cross off the wall and embed it in Simon’s bare asscheek while Ben summons the Devil. Comfy beds though, nice place.

Down the street they have a shopfront you can go into and there’s an automated pizza machine. Sort of like those Japanese vending machines. It smells real nice. Simon ordered two automatic robot pizzas for himself. Probably 3D printed and will give him diseases of the future. Luddites might’ve been right.

November 17Liege La Zone

Fell asleep in crummy Formula 1 (France’s answer to a question no-one has ever asked: what if a hotel, but actually a squat?) across the border in Mulhouse, after Zurich show.

Wake up 10 mins before van call time. Not using the abhorrent showers anyway – there's piss up the walls. Really going deaf so I’m sure I didn’t hear the alarm. Chris assures me I woke up, turned it off, went back to sleep. I’m covered in guacamole from eating in the dark as the van hurtled through gale-force wind/rain to Mulhouse. My sunglasses/jeans/boots are flecked with guacamole-whiskey vomit (Zurich really was good).

It’s Friday night in Liege. All coming up Mulhouse. Our six-song sets are becoming an issue no matter how we justify it (Chris’ ill health/being gentlemanly to headliner/our hardcore roots). Ashley thinks we need to play longer. McArdle [High Command guitarist]: "I got food poisoning in Czech Republic. I was gonna have diarrhoea. You guys started your set and I was like, 'Okay I really don’t have a lot of time.'" Only I find this hilarious. Guess we can throw in couple more songs, but what do people expect, Dream Theater?

The show is wild, great, apart from an obliterated bald c**t who repeatedly molests Ben and Chris. He looks like a big, bald alcoholic baby, has lunatic eyes, no eyebrows. He shouts and stumbles and climbs onstage, spilling beer on Ben’s pedals. This dance repeats itself until the finale where the babyman grabs Chris’ crotch. Chris is about to deck the guy but hesitates as he’s accompanied by an equally lairy friend who makes for us. The friend immediately falls into the stage, cracks his head, and lolls around, fully dazed.

We give it our all, play eight songs, even. The crowd respond, hungry, plenty of movement. A lady cuts her head, blood pisses out, ambulance called. Come the morning, after a couple hours sleep, it is us who require the ambulance.

November 18Leeuwarden Mukkes

Slept in the van all day, feeling like a mutant after the rager ’til 7am. Back in rain-soaked Netherlands. Nowhere to park to load into venue, legions of Dutch drivers beeping at us. We discover, via Ben’s jacket pockets, we accidentally took La Zone’s venue keys. Had to borrow ’em when we went out on the lash and were staying in the band bunk beds upstairs. Sheepishly break it to Momager. "You boys cannot go unsupervised."

Decent show. Besides festivals, we finally play a well-attended Netherlands gig, in a great bar. Almost had to psych myself up for performing, it being Monday again. Found out it’s Saturday. Of course. Simon’s last show, sad to see him complete his tenure for this tour.

High Command crush it, Kevin [Fitzgerald, High Command singer] brings out cow bell, brilliant. Then they deliver a storming cover of Cro-Mags’ It’s The Limit.

Crashed with friends with dog and cats who I fell in love with, and exquisite whiskey and weed. I’m so feline deprived, their black cat looks a lot like Suz did. Momentary heartbreak. Then, savagely stoned, unable to breathe as High Command, very unsoberly, initiate Feats of Strength out in the shed. McArdle terrorises sleeping Tom [merch]: ‘Tom! Get up! We’re doing bench presses and wearing wooden shoes! Get up Tom!’ I love these yanks. Picking up my musical life partner Chris from Eindhoven now, he assumes drum duties for the rest of the tour. From everything he’s heard, he worries ‘It’s gonna be like stepping onto the fucking Black Pearl, isn’t it?’ I can only warn him so much. Heave to, matey, and prepare to be boarded.

November 20Berlin Urban Spree

Awake with the specific type of hangover known as Karaoke Regret. Had most of the day to hang before the show, so brunched at Silo then wandered from Friedrichshain to Kreuzberg for street beers and a visit to [legendary Berlin punk record shop] Coretex.

Berlin winters are pretty brutal. The city looks extra grey and dirty, the junkies even more haggard. But it’s still Berlin, the promised land. Dirty old town of my heart. Freedom is in the air, endless possibilities down every needle-strewn street. Of everywhere I’ve been, Berlin’s burning spirit embodies the Graeber maxim, ‘the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free,’ like nowhere else.

Sometimes I still get nervous playing London and Berlin. You want to prove something. I think we did. Until next time. London expat friends from Berlin and beyond come to the show. Played a lot of new cities on this run so seeing familiar faces who I’ve missed for a long time is a real treat, the heart bursts. We talk about our old lives, how much we’ve changed, my book, the bands. People I admire and respect telling me they’re proud of me is almost too much to process when I have been living like a demonically possessed boozesponge for two-and-a-half weeks.

Like the intervals between my road diarrhoea, the reunions are too brief. Celebratory whiskey/weed back at the hostel that is playing desert rock in reception. Zoned out in the shower for maybe an hour. Up at six to get the ferry from Rostock to Denmark, that we miss anyway…

Inhuman Nature tour the UK and Ireland with Crowbar from February 23. The full, physical tour diary is available from Mercenary Press.

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