James Brown on his endless European love affair

PUBLISHED: 08:59 29 July 2016 | UPDATED: 09:26 29 July 2016

James Brown. Benecassim watching Oasis with Marlais

James Brown. Benecassim watching Oasis with Marlais

Archant

How can you not love Europe? Want to be a part of it? Spend your life drenched by its wonder, differences and opportunities? In the mid 1970s between the ages of eight and 12, I was catapulted from Leeds to Dortmund every year in school exchanges, part of the ongoing post war social reboot that manifested itself in the twinning of cities and

the need to make sure there’d be no more wars with out European neighbours.

They created a Dortmund Square in the Leeds city centre with a large statue of a bloke holding a huge beer barrel, I’m not

sure if there’s a reciprocal statue in Leeds Square, Dortmund of an LUFC fan with a scarf hanging from one hand and a pint of Tetley’s in the other.

We kids lived on a diet of bread rolls, black German Haribo liquorice cats and a weird orange drink called Fanta, in whose brown bottles we used to dispose of the frankfurters we were endlessly given. We shot up the high-speed lift in the Westfalen Tower, drifted on slow boats down the Rhine, putted through the craziest crazy golf course with nets and streams in beautiful Heidelburg and were shown and paraded round ball-bearing and magnet factories in the German industrial heartland. In Baumholder, as an unplanned reminder of what had ended 30 years before, within our teachers’ lifetimes, we were rescued when lost in a massive forest by American GIs and directed to a pub of full ageing Germans who’d fought in the war, one of whom promptly called me over and gave me 10 marks.

As educational jaunts go these trips to Germany would serve me well in later life, letting me know there was so much more

out there across the crashing grey North Sea waves we would dive into on family holidays to Filey. As football and music

hipsterism goes, my credentials because of these trips are hard to beat. In 1976 I visited Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion and picked up stickers for BVB and a Rolling Stones gig on their forthcoming Black and Blue tour.

Eight years on I spent New Year’s Eve 1984 staying in the famous Kob squat in Berlin, flying out on my own and then

travelling around, as was my transport of the day, in the back of a van belonging to a band called Serious Drinking and their

friends The Dead Trousers. In West Berlin we were paupers, staying on the floor of a vast old building that had been occupied and rescued by anarchists and punks. Berlin was full of them, the Kreuzberg streets looked like Shane MacGowan’s mouth. Broken buildings in dead end streets, the odd light, tenements full of Turkish immigrants and on the ground floors endless kebab shops.

On the east of the Berlin Wall we dined like kings, paid for with hundreds of eastern marks bought on the black market in Alexanderplatz by my friend and host Trevor Wilson.

The East German generals looked on with utter discomfort as scruffy western punks ate venison and expensive wine in the

discreet fine dining establishments Communism wasn’t supposed to have.

The key to all of this, the magnet which pulled me away from the drudgery of dole life in Leeds, was how different it all was. I could jump in a van with a band and go to Hull or Sheffield or Liverpool or Aberdeen and things would be the same. A narky s*** bag of a country, in the early ’80s Britain served up a daily diet of dead young soldiers in Northern Ireland, miners being criminalised, more and more jobs disappearing and right wing idiots handing out NF stickers and Sieg Heils at football matches. It was not a nice place to be coming of age.

Thankfully by the end of the ’80s European influence had made its way over here. The brilliantly robotic Kraftwerk had

re-programmed the charts with songs about Computer Love and the Tour De France, the Balearic Beats of Ibiza had revolutionised British clubbing and European food was familiar enough for comedian Jerry Sadowitz to announce in 1990 that now Glasgow was the European City of Culture you were less likely to get bottled and likely to get stabbed with a croissant.

That was just the start of it. We’re so soaked in European life now a generation born since then probably don’t even realise

it. Every high street has a pizza place, every supermarket has a bin full of baguettes, every city shopping mall has burgundy branded international sandwich shops Ready To Eat. But as someone who spent the first 35 years of my life living in the 20th century, when the gateway to adventure was a trip to the Cambio, Europe seemed like the best alternative to the unpleasant predictability of the British life on offer. This was a time when we wanted a tunnel into the continent and with it, and the subsequent cheap flight revolution, so many of us flocked through it to visit or live. A good deal has to serve both

side and you know a tunnel goes both ways.

And I was quite happy with the land that was a hitchhiked lift and a ferry ride away.

Before I’d even gone to Berlin in ’84 I’d walked the old town and hippy markets of Ibiza with my mum in 1977, I’d played football against schools in Holland and Belgium in ‘79. Going to Europe was natural and fantastic. When I left my comprehensive school employment wasn’t available in Britain, but, if you had a thumb, contacts or a sense of adventure, international travel was. And as a generation roamed so the customs and fashions they encountered came back.

The contemporary nationwide British love of sportswear as leisurewear, all trainers, tracky bottoms, kagouls, came from

English football fans following the likes of Liverpool onto the continent and returning with the shoes and shirts Germans and

French were already wearing.

Today our food and fashion is overwhelmingly European, so much so that the superb Wyatt and Jones in Broadstairs resolutely

announces itself as serving British food. French avant-garde cinema, Spanish surrealism and Italian actresses have long been

championed but in he late ‘80s and early ‘90s there was a new generation of cinematic creativity that was bold and vivid, from the stunningly disturbed Betty Blue which gave the world Béatrice Dalle and an amazing organ soundtrack, to the sheer beauty of Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources or Sicily’s Cinema Paradiso, the extremely funny medieval time-travel comedy Les Visiteurs or the genre-creating spy thriller La Femme Nikita – both which were given subsequent Hollywood make-overs.

I don’t think Brits of the ’50s and ’60s had European sporting heroes like my generation did. In the mid 1970s there were kids all over the country doing ‘hai karate’ volleys pretending to be Johan Cruyff, in the early ’60s there had been the great Real Madrid side that influenced the likes of Alex Ferguson and Don Revie but it wasn’t the wallto-wall continental wonders who actually started to appear and play here. In the late ’70s the Polish captain Kazimierz Deyna had a mixed time at Manchester City but Bobby Robson at Ipswich set the trend for successful European players with Frans Thijssen and Arnold Mühren.

By the 1990s we had game-changing European football heroes on domestic soil in Gullit, Cantona, Schmeichel, Zola, Vialli,

Henry, Viera and co. Just as Europe’s influence changed our food, fashion and music, so our football was much better for the influence and presence of the best Europe had to offer. It continues to this day. The world’s best football managers almost all work in England. I should point out here I am not a blatant Europhile, I don’t own a house in Provence and shop exclusively at Italian delis, I don’t sit around in Soho reading pink Italian football newspapers, I don’t make pilgrimages to obscure legs of the Tour De France or read books about the romantic history of bull fighting. What I love is the

ease with which you can dive into Europe and find somewhere totally and utterly unlike the last place you visited, how a train

ride the distance of Sunderland to Stevenage can take you into different worlds, languages, customs and people.

I like that I can’t understand the languages the people speak. You can go there without hearing the same small town petty

bollocks you overhear in the UK, or if you do hear it you can’t understand it. Ever since those trips as a kid, going abroad seemed as natural as going to Manchester, Nottingham or Brighton. Only the mystique of travel made the women look slightly more interesting, and the wine certainly was cheaper and tasted better.

The days of hitching lifts and sleeping on people’s floors, cheap pensions, massive Italian trains, Irish cliffs, and warm beaches were educational. Not in the way my former teachers had in mind though. In Berlin and Amsterdam, I remember bartenders collecting huge towers of foamy straight-sided beer glasses. In Amsterdam, selling T-shirts at three nights of Ramones gigs, matching blonde mother and daughter punks wanted to take me home to look after me. At Sneek, in The Netherlands, I watched a twister tear through a mini-festival as The Fall, The Ramones, The 3 Johns and I looked on.

In Paris, I learned how to uncork a bottle of wine with a leather jacket. In Arnhem, I watched an orchestra make music on human bones. None of this was happening in Leeds. In Spanish mountains, my girlfriends Julie and Alison and I had a huge empty

Shining-like hotel to ourselves to run amok in Europe seemed like a place where anything seemed possible and no-one seemed

to care what you did, how much you drank, how little you ate or slept. I didn’t go to university, I went across the sea. It still has that sense of freedom. A few years ago I met and was befriended by one of Europe’s all time most expensive football players who was DJing at Benicassim, we had such a good time he left the festival site on his hands and knees. By comparison, he wouldn’t go out into town when he played for a northern English team because the city centre looked

like chaos.

Throughout my twenties I progressed from travelling without cash to being flown around by record companies as I became a

professional music writer for first Sounds and then the NME. Europe wanted our musicians, particularly the Mancunians and

others from the north west, and they wanted us to go with them and capture it. Staying in a former prison hotel in Sweden with the Stone Roses who played a converted meat store, spending a month of Thursdays in Paris at transported Hacienda nights headlined by the likes of The Charlatans and James, filming with The Happy Mondays for documentaries in Holland. Watching

Depeche Mode play a massive arena on stage supported by a bank of artificial turf. Going to a totally insane all-night four-storey fancy dress party in a huge gallery in Madrid. The opportunities were endless because Europe loved us as much as we loved it.

I spent one New Year’s Eve at this time in Paris and for some reason the locals went so nuts that year it was reported on the News At Ten back home. My girlfriend and I spent the night driving across the city, hopping on and off bonnets of drivers who were hanging out of their windows cheering, drinking champagne and waving flags. The celebrations were even greater when France won the World Cup in 1998, more people lined the streets than had done so since liberation from the Germans. I walked home from a party that night passing bus shelters that had buckled beneath the weight of ecstatic people on top of them. And don’t get me started about covering the Icelandic leg of Miss World for the Independent.

I still go to Europe as often as possible. Sardinia has Europe’s best kids holiday camp in Forte Village. When I was in Berlin

two Christmases ago, my teenage son skateboarded in an enormous old warehouse that had once been hidden behind the Wall.

I’m 30 years older and have a much better budget, so when I need some rest and recuperation there’s no end of luxurious places

to hide in Italy like L’Albereta in Lombardy or Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia.

We live and breathe European events, news and culture whether we are aware of it or not. The Berlin Wall coming down was

the most momentous European event of my lifetime, the continental equivalent of Mandela’s release. Our better festivals like

Bestival owe more to the Love Parade of Berlin than what has become a very corporate mass market Glastonbury. Europe’s influence has created a more relaxed Britain.

The Britain I grew up in was stale, uptight, mean-spirited and culturally unambitious. It had many great natural things going for it and no end of startling, entertaining and peculiar public stars and personalities and a great literary history, but at street level it was grim.

Earlier this year I spent a weekend in Juan les Pins and Antibes, where I stood outside the modest apartment block our

great 20th century novelist Graham Greene lived in. He could have afforded to live anywhere but he chose to live here in a block you’d miss as you walked by. He wasn’t the only writer to have made the area his home.

We were staying in a hotel Scott Fitzgerald had once lived in for the summer. But as I stood in the doorway and went into the

flats Greene lived in, ever curious about the solitude the man sought, I knew why I was there, why I like Europe so much, maybe why he was there. It’s not about them, it’s about me, us.

Most British are descendants of the Commonwealth, the Danes, French and Germans and just as they came to us so we have

the instinct to go back to them. We have an international instinct and right to roam.

ugh the craziest crazy golf course with nets and streams in beautiful Heidelburg and were shown and paraded round ball-bearing and magnet factories in the German industrial heartland. In Baumholder, as an unplanned reminder of what had ended 30 years before, within our teachers’ lifetimes, we were rescued when lost in a massive forest by American GIs and directed to a pub of full ageing Germans who’d fought in the war, one of whom promptly called me over and gave me 10 marks.

As educational jaunts go these trips to Germany would serve me well in later life, letting me know there was so much more

out there across the crashing grey North Sea waves we would dive into on family holidays to Filey. As football and music

hipsterism goes, my credentials because of these trips are hard to beat. In 1976 I visited Borussia Dortmund’s Westfalenstadion and picked up stickers for BVB and a Rolling Stones gig on their forthcoming Black and Blue tour.

Eight years on I spent New Year’s Eve 1984 staying in the famous Kob squat in Berlin, flying out on my own and then

travelling around, as was my transport of the day, in the back of a van belonging to a band called Serious Drinking and their

friends The Dead Trousers. In West Berlin we were paupers, staying on the floor of a vast old building that had been occupied and rescued by anarchists and punks. Berlin was full of them, the Kreuzberg streets looked like Shane MacGowan’s mouth. Broken buildings in dead end streets, the odd light, tenements full of Turkish immigrants and on the ground floors endless kebab shops.

On the east of the Berlin Wall we dined like kings, paid for with hundreds of eastern marks bought on the black market in Alexanderplatz by my friend and host Trevor Wilson.

The East German generals looked on with utter discomfort as scruffy western punks ate venison and expensive wine in the

discreet fine dining establishments Communism wasn’t supposed to have.

The key to all of this, the magnet which pulled me away from the drudgery of dole life in Leeds, was how different it all was. I

could jump in a van with a band and go to Hull or Sheffield or Liverpool or Aberdeen and things would be the same. A narky s*** bag of a country, in the early ’80s Britain served up a daily diet of dead young soldiers in Northern Ireland, miners being criminalised, more and more jobs disappearing and right wing idiots handing out NF stickers and Sieg Heils at football matches. It was not a nice place to be coming of age.

Thankfully by the end of the ’80s European influence had made its way over here. The brilliantly robotic Kraftwerk had

re-programmed the charts with songs about Computer Love and the Tour De France, the Balearic Beats of Ibiza had revolutionised British clubbing and European food was familiar enough for comedian Jerry Sadowitz to announce in 1990 that now Glasgow was the European City of Culture you were less likely to get bottled and likely to get stabbed with a croissant.

That was just the start of it. We’re so soaked in European life now a generation born since then probably don’t even realise

it. Every high street has a pizza place, every supermarket has a bin full of baguettes, every city shopping mall has burgundy branded international sandwich shops Ready To Eat. But as someone who spent the first 35 years of my life living in the 20th century, when the gateway to adventure was a trip to the Cambio, Europe seemed like the best alternative to the unpleasant predictability of the British life on offer. This was a time when we wanted a tunnel into the continent and with it, and the subsequent cheap flight revolution, so many of us flocked through it to visit or live. A good deal has to serve both

side and you know a tunnel goes both ways.

And I was quite happy with the land that was a hitchhiked lift and a ferry ride away.

Before I’d even gone to Berlin in ’84 I’d walked the old town and hippy markets of Ibiza with my mum in 1977, I’d played football against schools in Holland and Belgium in ‘79. Going to Europe was natural and fantastic. When I left my comprehensive school employment wasn’t available in Britain, but, if you had a thumb, contacts or a sense of adventure, international travel was. And as a generation roamed so the customs and fashions they encountered came back.

The contemporary nationwide British love of sportswear as leisurewear, all trainers, tracky bottoms, kagouls, came from

English football fans following the likes of Liverpool onto the continent and returning with the shoes and shirts Germans and

French were already wearing.

Today our food and fashion is overwhelmingly European, so much so that the superb Wyatt and Jones in Broadstairs resolutely

announces itself as serving British food. French avant-garde cinema, Spanish surrealism and Italian actresses have long been

championed but in he late ‘80s and early ‘90s there was a new generation of cinematic creativity that was bold and vivid, from the stunningly disturbed Betty Blue which gave the world Béatrice Dalle and an amazing organ soundtrack, to the sheer beauty of Jean De Florette and Manon Des Sources or Sicily’s Cinema Paradiso, the extremely funny medieval time-travel comedy Les Visiteurs or the genre-creating spy thriller La Femme Nikita – both which were given subsequent Hollywood make-overs.

I don’t think Brits of the ’50s and ’60s had European sporting heroes like my generation did. In the mid 1970s there were kids all

over the country doing ‘hai karate’ volleys pretending to be Johan Cruyff, in the early ’60s there had been the great Real Madrid

side that influenced the likes of Alex Ferguson and Don Revie but it wasn’t the wallto-wall continental wonders who actually

started to appear and play here. In the late ’70s the Polish captain Kazimierz Deyna had a mixed time at Manchester City but Bobby Robson at Ipswich set the trend for successful European players with Frans Thijssen and Arnold Mühren.

By the 1990s we had game-changing European football heroes on domestic soil in Gullit, Cantona, Schmeichel, Zola, Vialli,

Henry, Viera and co. Just as Europe’s influence changed our food, fashion and music, so our football was much better for the influence and presence of the best Europe had to offer. It continues to this day. The world’s best football managers almost all work in England. I should point out here I am not a blatant Europhile, I don’t own a house in Provence and shop exclusively at Italian delis, I don’t sit around in Soho reading pink Italian football newspapers, I don’t make pilgrimages to obscure legs of the Tour De France or read books about the romantic history of bull fighting. What I love is the

ease with which you can dive into Europe and find somewhere totally and utterly unlike the last place you visited, how a train

ride the distance of Sunderland to Stevenage can take you into different worlds,

languages, customs and people.

I like that I can’t understand the languages the people speak. You can go there without hearing the same small town petty

bollocks you overhear in the UK, or if you do hear it you can’t understand it. Ever since those trips as a kid, going abroad seemed as natural as going to Manchester, Nottingham or Brighton. Only the mystique of travel made the women look slightly more

interesting, and the wine certainly was cheaper and tasted better.

The days of hitching lifts and sleeping on people’s floors, cheap pensions, massive Italian trains, Irish cliffs, and warm beaches

were educational. Not in the way my former teachers had in mind though. In Berlin and Amsterdam, I remember bartenders collecting huge towers of foamy straight-sided beer glasses. In Amsterdam, selling T-shirts at three nights of Ramones gigs, matching blonde mother and daughter punks wanted to take me home to look after me. At Sneek, in The Netherlands, I watched a twister tear through a mini-festival as The Fall, The Ramones, The 3 Johns and I looked on.

In Paris, I learned how to uncork a bottle of wine with a leather jacket. In Arnhem, I watched an orchestra make music on human bones. None of this was happening in Leeds. In Spanish mountains, my girlfriends Julie and Alison and I had a huge empty

Shining-like hotel to ourselves to run amok in Europe seemed like a place where anything seemed possible and no-one seemed

to care what you did, how much you drank, how little you ate or slept. I didn’t go to university, I went across the sea. It still has that sense of freedom. A few years ago I met and was befriended by one of Europe’s all time most expensive football players who was DJing at Benicassim, we had such a good time he left the festival site on his hands and knees. By comparison, he wouldn’t go out into town when he played for a northern English team because the city centre looked

like chaos.

Throughout my twenties I progressed from travelling without cash to being flown around by record companies as I became a

professional music writer for first Sounds and then the NME. Europe wanted our musicians, particularly the Mancunians and

others from the north west, and they wanted us to go with them and capture it. Staying in a former prison hotel in Sweden with the Stone Roses who played a converted meat store, spending a month of Thursdays in Paris at transported Hacienda nights headlined by the likes of The Charlatans and James, filming with The Happy Mondays for documentaries in Holland. Watching

Depeche Mode play a massive arena on stage supported by a bank of artificial turf. Going to a totally insane all-night four-storey fancy dress party in a huge gallery in Madrid. The opportunities were endless because Europe loved us as much as we loved it.

I spent one New Year’s Eve at this time in Paris and for some reason the locals went so nuts that year it was reported on the News At Ten back home. My girlfriend and I spent the night driving across the city, hopping on and off bonnets of drivers who were hanging out of their windows cheering, drinking champagne and waving flags. The celebrations were even greater when France won the World Cup in 1998, more people lined the streets than had done so since liberation from the Germans. I walked home from a party that night passing bus shelters that had buckled beneath the weight of ecstatic people on top of them. And don’t get me started about covering the Icelandic leg of Miss World for the Independent.

I still go to Europe as often as possible. Sardinia has Europe’s best kids holiday camp in Forte Village. When I was in Berlin

two Christmases ago, my teenage son skateboarded in an enormous old warehouse that had once been hidden behind the Wall.

I’m 30 years older and have a much better budget, so when I need some rest and recuperation there’s no end of luxurious places

to hide in Italy like L’Albereta in Lombardy or Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia.

We live and breathe European events, news and culture whether we are aware of it or not. The Berlin Wall coming down was

the most momentous European event of my lifetime, the continental equivalent of Mandela’s release. Our better festivals like

Bestival owe more to the Love Parade of Berlin than what has become a very corporate mass market Glastonbury. Europe’s influence has created a more relaxed Britain.

The Britain I grew up in was stale, uptight, mean-spirited and culturally unambitious. It had many great natural things going for

it and no end of startling, entertaining and peculiar public stars and personalities and a great literary history, but at street level it

was grim.

Earlier this year I spent a weekend in Juan les Pins and Antibes, where I stood outside the modest apartment block our

great 20th century novelist Graham Greene lived in. He could have afforded to live anywhere but he chose to live here in a block

you’d miss as you walked by. He wasn’t the only writer to have made the area his home.

We were staying in a hotel Scott Fitzgerald had once lived in for the summer. But as I stood in the doorway and went into the

flats Greene lived in, ever curious about the solitude the man sought, I knew why I was there, why I like Europe so much, maybe

why he was there. It’s not about them, it’s about me, us.

Most British are descendants of the Commonwealth, the Danes, French and Germans and just as they came to us so we have

the instinct to go back to them. We have an international instinct and right to roam.

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