“Sing Up, You F*ckers!”: A Heavenly Coach Trip To Paris

Heavenly Recordings is currently the Quietus' go-to label for smart, cosmic indie pop. Laurie Tuffrey jumps on a coach to Paris with label Pied Piper Jeff Barrett and his charges Toy, Stealing Sheep, Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs and Temples. Photographs courtesy of Neil Thomson

They say you can’t escape your past, and for Heavenly’s Record Store Day trip across the Channel to celebrate France’s Disquaire Day, that means retracing an excellently outlandish trip they took Paris-wards with their 1991 roster of Manic Street Preachers, Saint Etienne, Flowered Up! and East Village back then. For this year’s passengers – TOY, Stealing Sheep, Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs and Temples – it means ringing echoes of school registers on field trip coaches. 10.04am and we’re all aboard at Liverpool Street, and Carl from the label is reading out a roll call of names, the very act of which is met with mocking enthusiasm. “Charlie Boyer?” “Yes, sir!” comes the response. TOY’s Panda gives a more rawk “yeeaahh!”, and, with everyone present, we depart. Also a little like a school day out, we all get handed itineraries, though perhaps unlike a school trip (well, not those at Bamford Primary, at any rate), there’s beer and whisky doing the rounds.

Stop one is Eurotunnel Folkestone Terminal. The ever-responsible Carl gathers the bands around and hands out some per diems in envelopes (TOY’s Alejandra Diez, excitedly ripping open her envelope: “Guys, we have £20!”), before the group en masse moves into the motorway service station-like hulk. Gathered by the bar Alejandra and TOY guitarist Dominic O’Dair (trip latecomer, having misplaced his passport) discuss volume levels permitted in France, and the rest of Europe’s more cautious approach to loudness. “It’s 100 db,” O’Dair insists. Alejandra, meanwhile, is adamant. “No, it’s 120 db; in Switzerland, it’s 100 db. If Swiss people hear you and think it’s too loud, they’re like ‘fuck you’ and they leave the venue.”

Our coach safely ensconced in its protective brown cage aboard the Eurotunnel Shuttle train, we’re headed under the Channel, only to appear, a mere 25 minutes later, in France. The mixtape label head Jeff Barrett’s prepared for the trip comes into its own as we emerge into daylight to the sound of Little Eva’s version of ‘Stand By Me’, everyone joining in for the chorus. “Sing up, you fuckers!” shouts Barrett, conducting. 

Tearing through the greenery of Picardie – by this stage, it’s emerged that we’re already two hours late for the first of the in-stores at the agnès b. clothes store – though there’s little sign of panic.

A crush of Peroni bottles rolls down the gangway in time to mark Paris looming into view, the Oise limestone buildings dappled by the early evening sunshine, cast solid against the clear blue sky. A chorus of “mais oui”s greet the Eiffel Tower, but disaster strikes, and we hit the tail-end of the Paris rush hour. By the time we arrive at agnès b., a glacially white boutique nestled under the auspices of the soaring edifice of the Church Of St Eustace, it’s well past stage time, and there’s a distinct frostiness emanating from the staff and assembled crowd lining the room, as each member of the party bundles in laden with guitar or cymbal. Once on, though, there’s nary a sign that there’d been any concern. Temples’ is a dab-handed performance, made all the more impressive when you consider that the band are less than a year old. They open with new song ‘Solid Structures’, where 60s snare patterns underpin a flurry of backwards guitar and sitar tones, before they jump a decade for another solid structure, the glam pop of ‘Keep In The Dark’. They close with their now-familiar calling card ‘Shelter Song’, wonderful in the echoey, fiddly glory of that 12-string guitar line. 

Charlie Boyer and his Voyeurs are up next. The sound mix is a little strange, the vocals perhaps damped by the chicness of the €90 t-shirts lining the walls, but unperturbed, Boyer’s trademark strangulated howl peaks through. Another effect of the sound is to play up some previously hidden shoegaze elements: the sheer force of the five-piece takes on a stomach-drubbing quality, powered on by Samir Eskanda’s occasional MBV-esque snare raps.

It’s an unintentionally early start the next day. 5.30am comes around and there’s some fumbling at my door, before it opens, revealing the silhouette of the hotel manager, with Alejandra and friend behind. Returning from some nocturnal gambolling around the boulevards, Alejandra and co didn’t know which room they were in, meaning the owner had to take them round every room Heavenly had booked. Needless to say, he wasn’t best pleased. "He said ‘Toy?’ 16 people have already said they’re with Toy," reports Alejandra.

TOY’s Tom Dougall and Charlie Boyer, meanwhile, had accidentally stumbled upon a carnal cab, which not only drove them miles away from the hotel, but played them a sex tape while doing so. "At first I thought it was his mate doing a joke,” ponders Boyer, “but then he wasn’t laughing, and she wasn’t laughing…"

Back at agnès b., there’s time for some unfeasibly tasty baguettes before TOY’s set. Their propulsive psych-grind is delivered with almost preternatural synthesis, here bolstered by some natty backline amps (“We tend to sound better when we don’t go through other people’s equipment!” observes Dougall afterwards). The sound’s been recalibrated and the drums sound colossal, while the guitars take on a stadium-strafing resonance, uniting to critical effect on ‘Dead And Gone’ and ‘Kopter’. 

Following TOY, most of the bands have to depart to get to tonight’s venue, La Maroquinerie. Waiting for the coach to pick them up, Charlie Salvidge hops a fence and jumps into a be-tuliped flower bed, assuming the pose of a classical idol, shortly joined by Panda and Charlie Boyer, who visualise what Notre Dame’s gargoyles might look like had members of Can and Television been Jean de Chelles’ muses, all the time filmed by intrepid cameraman Samir Eskanda (thereby making good on his earlier directorial insistence “we need someone to do something!")

Back at agnès b., Stealing Sheep’s Scouse chatter following the exquisite pop of ‘Genevieve’ is conspicuous in the French crowd. Introducing their new song, ‘A Real Clown’, drummer Lucy Mercer declares: "This record’s special for Record Store Day. Special: ooo! We’re a bit nervous… secretly". If it’s true, it doesn’t show, and they follow with the primal drums and windswept moor top flutes of ‘Gold’, the intricacy of which is now tour-honed and immaculate. 

The set done, and the ‘Sheep bundled into a people carrier, we make our way up to La Maroquinerie (on the aptly-named Rue Boyer). Formerly a leather factory, it has a contrary kind of brilliance: it’s simultaneously an open-air courtyard restaurant, sun-dappled (today, anyway) and street-secluded, so much so that it could feasibly be located somewhere much further south (a feeling ably aided by a courtyard live band dealing out some smooth Mediterranean yacht-rock) while downstairs there’s a 500-capacity music venue, the kind that could (and sadly would) be a piss-soaked affair elsewhere, but here feels strangely spacious. And, crucially, it has excellent sound. This is made abundantly clear when the strains of ‘My Heart Skips A Beat’ rise up from the catacombs as we arrive. Soundcheck finished, Alejandra, Tom, Panda and Dominic are out in the courtyard, voicing their regret at missing the opening times for the Pere Lachaise cemetery, just up the road and famous for housing the remains of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and countless other bon vivants. "I want to do an ouija board in the cemetery,” says Alejandra. Have you ever had any contact from beyond? “I’ve never had anything happen with them before,” she answers, “nothing that couldn’t be attributable. Like, someone farting.”

Quick to dispel any lingering yachtishness are Charlie Boyer & The Voyeurs, on first, with the floor tom-driven battle cry of the thoroughly charming ‘Be Nice’, followed later by its A-side, ‘I Watch You’. Urgency is a frequently overused conceit in musical terms but here, with the guitar and keyboard lines fervently pushing against the rhythm’s tide underneath Boyer’s desperate squawk of "one of you is not enough”, it feels right, nowhere more so than in the organ’s triumphant closing volleys.

And this feeling doesn’t go amiss. “Brilliant!” says Barrett, striding into the dressing room after the set, and now it’s Temples’ turn to try and match that. And they do: opening with ‘The Golden Throne’s sneering guitar riff statement of intent, they shift to new single ‘Colours To Life’, similarly adept in proffering pure cosmic escapism, another killer guitar line matched to astral plane-traversing mellotron chords, underpinned by the rhythm section, more gently coaxing things forward than overriding.

"I always feel proud when I break a stick and that’s the second stick I’ve broken in two gigs", says Lucy Mercer, during Stealing Sheep’s set, following it with a swift fist pump that gets a rowdy response from the hitherto respectfully appreciative crowd. La Maroquinerie’s sterling sound brings out an even more impressive set from the Sheep, playing up an almost highlife-like spark in ‘Gold’s fluent, jerky guitar runs, while the madrigal stateliness of ‘Shut Eye’, immersive on record, becomes all-encompassing live, dousing us in waves of echoey, ricocheting guitar.

TOY open up their set with new song ‘Fall Out Of Love’, which shares in ‘Dead & Gone’s scope and head-on blunt force, breaking down halfway through to a tumbling, 6/8 time prance, out of which comes a glaze of feedback. Another new song ‘As We Turn’ throws out the sense that there’s something alchemical about the motorik rhythm that leaves people in states of self-contained euphoria, someone next to me rapidly fanning themselves (with, impressively, a real fan) while an unforeseen mosh pit start down at the front. ‘Left Myself Behind’s carnival-esque sneer of synths rears up, before once again ‘Kopter’ pounds, with the kind of weightless fury that means you theatens to make your teeth rattle in your skull.

Post gig and with all the equipment cheekily packed into one room, everyone has set off for a house party, only to be turned away on the door. It’s maybe not surprising – our number counts all four bands and company. Not to worry: we’re halfway up the hill to the Sacré-Cœur’s sugar-white beacon, and we end up sat in front of the church, availing ourselves of some excellent petites bières françaises (it earlier transpired that the label had gently advised against anything of a more pharmaceutical basis trans-Channel). Paris unfurls beneath us, shadows seeping from the streets and its monuments hulking in darkness, Notre Dame’s twin towers only half-illumined, following the city’s 1am lights-out. And it’s getting cold. While a few call time, others though have one eye on the horrific 8.30am coach departure time, and are set on making it through the night. 

A plan’s formed to go to one of the bands’ friend’s flats in Oberkampf, near the Bastille area. First, to get down from the butte Montmartre, and what better way than the humble arse-slide, promptly undertaken by Panda and his friend, shortly followed by Charlie Salvidge. Off the sides of the steps, possibly lubricated by something other than sheer enthusiasm, Salvidge fairly flies, though to the detriment of his back pocket’s integrity, and his passport within, a quarter of which gets neatly sheared off. Various groups get in taxis and depart one by one, while Dominic, Panda, Tom, their friend Sam and I find ourselves unable to afford one between us. Instead, we get acquainted with Hausmann’s boulevards by foot, Panda adopting his most “formal, cordial” English accent to get us some directions. By the time we make it, we’re so proud of the show of navigation that when we get approached to ask directions to the Oberkampf, Tom Dougall points at the Metro station and utters “the Oberkampf – THERE!” with such gusto, our fellow gets frightened off. We stop at a newsagent, and, going on sage advice that even cheap French wine is heavenly manna, scrape the barrel with a €2.90 bottle of vin rouge (travel tip: the advice was possible errant).

But the morning sun has already begun to tint the window, and it’s time to depart the City Of Light for a return trip marked by sleeping in the seemingly perpetual French sunshine. Parisian élan is markedly absent as we turn a corner in London to find late stragglers and Sonic The Hedgehogs in the marathon. And, with a resultant “COME ON YOU FATTIES!” from two of the Voyeurs, we bid you, till 2035, farewell Paris.

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