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bad medecine interview 1973

London, may 1973 – It is 4pm when the receptionist ushers me to the third floor of a hotel near Covent Garden. I remember how bad medecine has been in London a year ago, when they had camped in Blackheath for about a week, and I realised how different it had been. Last time they had been in convoy and played on their lorry’s trailers. Now they were scheduled to play Royal Albert Hall three times and tonight will be the last night.
When I enter the lobby, coffee and tea is being served and part of the band sits in sofa’s. They offer me coffee when I take place and Papa Beer (vocals + guitars) introduces me to Gérardo (keyboards) and Bello (drums). At the table, Haybo (guitar) and Matthew (guitar) are being interviewed by different journalists. Bobby (bass) is nowhere to be seen, and when I ask the band about him, they tell me jokingly he is lost.
Papa Beer wears black boots, black jeans with wholes in and an army jacket over his denim shirt. His dreadlocks and goatee are painted yellow, contrasting his dark skin. Bello is completely in black and Gérardo’s in colourful trousers and a psychedelic blazer. They just ate and, when I ask my first question, accompany their coffee with hand rolled cigarettes.
Q: How are you, gents? How has London treated you so far?
Bello: Not too bad.
Gèrardo: Very well, thank you.
Papa Beer: London is great, good vibes.
Bello: How are you?
Q: I’m good, thank you. How was the concert yesterday?
Papa Beer: It went very well, I guess. There was a lot of response, the audience was nice. The sound was good - at least on stage.
Bello: The venue is amazing. You can really feel the history of it. When you walk backstage, you can feel that there’s been a lot going on there.
Papa Beer: And the view from the stage is amazing. We really had a blast.
Q: Speaking of venues. Do you guys prefer a bar, a gig outside or a concert hall?
Papa Beer: It is very hard to say.
Gérardo: For me, it would be a concert hall I think. It is really flattering to see so many people to come to check you out.
Bello: True.
Gérardo: Outside this might happen as well, but the hassle with the stage and weather can really have a negative impact on the atmosphere. For me, at least.
Papa Beer: I agree, tho’ it also can be very beautiful, if the sun sets, or when all you see is people enjoying.
Bello: But the sound is always terrible, for me. I prefer small concert halls. Maybe three - eight hundred people. I think the connection with the audience is best then.
Q: Any specific venue in mind?
Bello: We did a couple of gigs in NY, when we just arrived there. Do you remember?
Papa Beer: Yeah, true. With the low ceiling, right?
Bello: Exactly.
Gérardo: I wasn’t there.
Papa Beer: It is a bit like where we did the try outs last year. Those gigs were great as well. Contrary to the last NY gigs we did, which were really too massive, outside, difficult to hear ourselves. Maybe this one is even too big, although I think we can handle.
Bello: Just about…
Papa Beer: I remember when we were just three, with Bobby, and we played all these small pubs and venues, the vibes were good and there was a connection.
Bello: And you could ask for request…
Papa Beer: Exactly, and then the venues grew and I really felt we needed more people on stage to be able to reach more, more volume, more body, to really be able to communicate.
Q: So you’d say playing now is different than before?
Bello: Yes.
Papa Beer: Five years ago we were just teenagers trying to convince people, no not convince, we just wanted to play and have fun and entertain and create something beautiful, which we still do, or try, but it is indeed different to do this
Bello: I think - sorry to interrupt - I think the biggest difference is if you play for an audience that comes to see you on one hand, or play for an audience that is just there and you, as a musician, you are there accidentally.
Papa Beer: Most definitely, and also the intension we have has slightly changed.
Q: Could you explain that?
Papa Beer: The intension? Well, yeah, we, how to say this. [He lights another cigarette] When I started playing guitar, it was more of time to kill time and I had never imagined to be able to fly around the world in first class and be treated as stars. [Bello laughs] Or so, I don’t know. wouldn’t you agree?
Bello: Yeah, kind of.
Papa Beer: Not that the intension has anything to do with fame, because it was not something I’d fancied.
Gérardo: Don’t be so modest. [Bello laughs aloud again]
Papa Beer: Ok. Maybe I’d have to admit that I dreamt of being a star. However, it is not the intension of getting rich, not the intension of being famous. What I, we, want to reach is to be with peers, make music with and for them, we want to travel around to educate ourselves and share opinions and moments.
Gérardo: If I can add?
Papa Beer: Please, yeah, help me out here. [He gulps his coffee and smiles]
Gérardo: I remember Papa Beer and Bobby coming in the studio for the first time, about five - six years ago now, and they were so excited to be able to play seriously, I think they were more concerned with the blues, whereas nowadays, the melody is more important, as well as the message.
Papa Beer: That’s it. We were young and along the way we got more - I don’t know if I can say sophisticated - let’s call it refined. I want to share my emotions and opinions in my music, I want to transmit feelings and draw my soul.
Q: Is it only because you’re older, and maybe wiser, now?
Papa Beer: That certainly has to do with it. You know, I was just hanging in parks before we started intensely with bad medecine and nowadays I see a lot of the world. I have discovered how much impact we can have on people’s live, and I hope not only on personal base but - I might sound naive - also on the general public. If I see how them Americans still think they have the right to go to any country and be bossy, make war, it really frustrates me, so I write about it and I share it with the world in the hope that more people come to realise this, and that we might be able to revolt. At the same time, politicians never listen to the people, do they?
Q: That is a rather hard note to end your answer on, I have to admit. I honestly hope that things might get better.
Papa Beer: Me too. And hopefully it will. Shortly but slowly, I’d say. I mean, there’s so much injustice in the world. I guess there always has been and always will be, but I think as well that whoever can do something about, should do something about it. I was discussing this the other day, and I never had a classical education or so, but the guy told me about Sartre and how he was against this as well, but rather than going on the streets, he kept in his room or so, and he was doubting the efficiency of himself.
Bello: But you’re not staying in your room, man. I mean, we travel, you interact with all kinds of people, posh, poor, black, white and I think that spreading the word is important too. At the same time, it is celebrating life we want to do and experiencing music is one of the most beautiful ways of doing so, I’d say.
Papa Beer: That is true, at the end of the day it is joy that makes us happy.
Q: About happiness, are you happy?
Gérardo: We cannot complain.
Papa Beer: At all.
Bello: It is hard sometimes, to realise it, tho’. I mean we play and play and travel and sometimes you don’t realise how privileged we are.
Gérardo: Or you cannot enjoy it because you’re too tired. I honestly have difficulties keeping up sometimes.
Papa Beer: I don’t. I was made for this nomadic life I guess.
Gérardo: Not me, I can do it for a couple of more months, but afterwards I really need a break, and I think Matt as well.
Bello: A break would be welcome, yes. Otherwise it might indeed become something like work and an endless succession of tours. But we are really excited, still. I am at least.
Gérardo: Me too, I didn’t wanna be the complaining one. Summer’s coming and the travels we are gonna have really seem amazing. And luckily it is organised. I really couldn’t do another tour like we did in Asia.
Q: What happened?
Gérardo: We drove from India to Turkey.
Papa Beer: That was kinda crazy, yeah.
Bello: Madness I’d say. Who’s idea was that anyway?
Papa Beer: Still, I enjoyed the landscapes, and the anarchistic approach we had.
Bello: I was happy arriving back in Europe and having a decent bed, and a shower.
Q: What I always wanted to know, speaking of trucks, is what you were bringing along?
Papa Beer: Too much. Now we are travelling with eight in total. Two trucks full of instruments, guitars, amps, drums, keys, another two with pa and speakers, equipment to mix and one truck with all our clothes and merchandise and what not.
Bello: And then there is four to sleep in. Wait, that makes nine. Three then, three times five makes fifteen, yeah, that makes sense. So those three have beds and a small lounge in each. We also used to have the ones that we transformed in the stage, but we left them in Pakistan.
Q: Pakistan?
Bello: Yeah, right?
Papa Beer: Yes.
Bello: We sold them for gas for the rest of our trip, and we really didn’t need them anymore.
Papa Beer: I’m curious if they’re still in use.
Q: Did you also play in those countries?
Papa Beer: Hardly.
Gérardo: Especially not when we had no stage anymore.
Papa Beer: We did quite a few gigs on the Indian coasts, but the Asian market - I don’t want to say market, yikes, I don’t know, blues or rock music is not very present in the Asian culture. The same for Africa, actually, but music in general is very present in Africa so it was less weird to play there. For Pakistan, I don’t know. A couple, probably.
Q: What was your itinerary?
Gérardo: We had our instruments shipped from Chili to Australia, where we stayed for about a month, then we did the cities on those islands, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, then Sri Lanka and the West Coast of India, through Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Bello: I remembered we played in Afghanistan, on this great square with the mosque and mountains in the background, and there was no stage at all and just old men sitting on the ground and smoking I don’t know what and we didn’t really dare to distort or go really loud.
Papa Beer: Yeah, just pretending to be some Kashmiri sitar players with Western instruments.
Q: Did you play with sitars?
Papa Beer: Not really, that instrument is quite difficult to play. But we asked local musicians to play with us. And that was really beautiful, in India I remember one gig where we had played an hour just the five or six of us, and then we invited five percussionists on stage and just jammed. That must’ve been Goa.
Bello: Yeah, those features were really amazing. But Afghanistan I’m quite sure there were sitar players. The guys who played before us were these mystic sufi men with beautiful beards and repetitive melodies. And, after Afghanistan it was Iraq, where we didn’t play, and that was January last year I think, when some of us really wanted to go Jerusalem and Africa but everyone was so broken of the miles and miles and miles of travelling with hardly playing so we decided for Turkey which was even more than a week more and then we just took the airplane to Tèxord.
Q: Before recording your last album ‘famous’, isn’t it? Could you tell me more about recording that album?
Bello: To put it simple, after this tour we came back in Europe and realised we didn’t really have a house anymore plus the Flammen theatre was empty. We bought it and invited an orchestra.
Papa Beer: After nearly two years of intense touring, we had written loads of songs and we had discovered so many different styles, we’d done hundreds of gigs and we needed some rest so we stayed in Tèxord for the summer. Beautiful times.
Q: Whose idea was it to record with an orchestra?
Papa Beer: Not sure.
Gérardo: I guess it was Matt. But I think we all wanted something new.
Bello: It is not that we were the first rock band to do it. I mean, Deep Purple and the Beatles did it too. It is just that we had grown used to playing with six or more people and we had so many ideas and there is so many instruments so it fitted together.
Q: What is your favourite non-Rock instrument? Just name one.
Bello: Tuba.
Gérardo: Violin
Papa Beer: Harp.
Q: And what is your favourite guitar, Papa Beer? I saw you using at least three different ones yesterday. How do you choose which one you are going to use?
Papa Beer: My favourite? That is hard to say. Maybe my resonator Gretsch, because it was made for me specially. But I don’t take that one on tour because I’m too afraid something would happen to it.
Q: And to play live?
Papa Beer: My Gibson SG is the lightest, so that would be the practical answer. But my choice depends on what the song needs, I guess. Playing with three guitarist makes it easy to divide roles, so as to say. Haybo mostly plays the rhythm and he’s a fan of the Les Paul, Matt plays mostly melodies and riffs which goes very well for his Fenders. Me, I tend to be between them so I switch mostly between the SG and the Firebird. And Matt taught me how to get different tunings, so I use the Firebird for lower and the SG for normal tuning. It’s a bit annoying that I’m a lefty because otherwise I could use their guitars. What we always like to do if we visit a new city is to stroll around and find music shops. Yesterday, I purchased a Flying V guitar and I’m really looking forward to using that one. Probably tonight I will. The colour is a bit ugly tho’, so I want to paint it soon.
Q: Are you already looking forward to play tonight? Is it not difficult to get excited every night?
Bello: I am looking forward. It is what I, we, love most.
Gérardo: It can be difficult. But we will play a new song tonight, and the venue is beautiful.
Papa Beer: What they said. I’m looking forward to some good burger and ale before playing, and then rock on.
Q: Thank you.


a cufnosed circus

billy navrovski