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Things I Have Learned

Chuffing Heck! It's Tim Rice-Oxley Of Keane On The Night Train To Berlin
Luke Turner , March 3rd, 2009 04:49

Tim Rice-Oxley of pianoforte rockers Keane tells the Quietus of the joys of the overnight rail journey to the German capital

There are many reasons to take the train

I like the idea of starting from small town England and ending up in the heart of Berlin. We’ve done it seven or eight tiems over the course of the past year. We made a lot of the last album in Berlin, and all of us hate flying – I’m petrified of it – so we decided to try and take the train, which was quite an adventure. There’s the environmental factor too. I pretty much refuse to travel any other way now.

Innovative music can be found in the nether regions of Brussels

The first time was great. It brings a smile to my face thinking about it. We got the Eurostar to Brussels, and by the time you get there it’s mid evening, so there’s time to go out for a couple of beers and wander round Brussels. That was quite strange, I seem to remember. It’s a bit hairy round the Eurostar station, it’s in a slightly intimidating part of town. Tom and I ended up in a bar where there was a guy playing tuba and someone drumming on a barstool, a really minimalist band, which I really liked.

We became regulars in the most non-atmospheric bar in the universe

After our first experience in Brussels we decided it wasn’t a great idea to just wander the streets totally lost, so we started going to the only bar that’s open near the station. By the time we got there we were totally sober in early-on-in-the-journey travel mode, and everyone else seemed to be businessmen who were totally pissed and trying to tell you their life story. It was very peculiar. We’d sometimes get different Eurostars, and meet in that bar before getting on the night train. Then it’d be a race to get a seat in the train bar, and once you’re on it you don’t have to panic about getting from A to B so we’d sit there, breathe a sigh of relief, and have some beers.

You feel connected to an older, more romantic way of travelling

You really have a sense of travel, you go through all these towns that you’ve never heard of. We spend so much time flying around the world where you basically get on a plane in London and the next thing you know you’re magically on the West Coast of America, there’s really no great sense of having done anything, or how you got from A to B without looking at the in-flight map, which is not a particularly real experience.

The night train to Berlin is good for the soul

I have a great fetish for transport, especially in the middle of the night. Being in Brussels and watching this enormous train hove into view – you’re boarding the Moscow train in the middle of the night, that’s where it’s going. The journey takes something like 15 hours from when you start until when you fall off the train, bleary eyed, in Berlin the next morning. There’s some sort of spiritual value to making a journey that leaves you feeling sleep-deprived and exhausted, and being surrounded by people talking in different languages, it’s a much more real experience than we normally have of travelling.

The only thing to do on the train is drink

You meet all these really strange people. Every time we went to Berlin on the train we’d just sit in the bar until they kicked us out at about 2am or something. We’d just sit there, watching the lights go by.

There’s no better way to arrive in a city

Another thing about it that I love is that you wake up at whatever time it is, and you’re going through Zoo station and the outskirts of Berlin, and then you’re right in the middle of town when you get there. So as well as being slightly weary, you also have that huge buzz of being in the middle of an incredibly exciting city, which you just don’t get when you fly to an airport. You walk out into the street and you’re in the middle of it, you don’t even want to stop to have a shower or anything. I’ve only really ever experienced that in New York, until we got to Berlin.

Sleeping is on the Berlin train is difficult

I thought I’d love it, because I sleep really well on a tour bus, which is a similar womb-like motion, but a train is incredibly noisy. None of us slept very much, but that didn’t bother me, and in Berlin I was able to survive on no sleep anyway, which isn’t really like me. I wanted to be awake all the time.

You’ve got to taste the tastes of the overnight train

I think it might be overly-organised to take a picnic. There was nothing to eat at Brussels station, so you have a Twix and a can of warm beer for dinner. And that, while slightly revolting, is also part of the experience. Having the air-packed croissant and incredibly bitter, petrolly black coffee when you wake up in the morning is part of it. I love all that shit. I drew the line at the yoghurt, though.

Pack properly

Make a point of taking a t-shirt to sleep in, as it does get pretty cold at times. And earplugs, because of the immense din of the train bowling along the tracks, and a camera is a very important thing to have, we got some great video stuff – it’s one of the trains that’s open at the back so you get an amazing view.

There’s something mystical about the journey

I suppose it’s quite a primal thing that you don’t really often experience these days, making a journey that takes 15 hours in the middle of the night, but I think for us as a band it seems doubly significant because we felt like a gang on an adventure, which was something we hadn’t had for a very long time. I think it’s one of the reasons that for me was important about that journey. It wasn’t by design, but it did become this symbolic thing where it felt like the ideal way to start the recording process. It reminded me of when we started touring in a van and to get from London to Glasgow for a gig felt like an achievement in itself. The experience of getting there and back made us feel like a gang and gave us a bond and a common experience that really made for an amazing time, that spirit continued the whole time we were in Berlin.