DM on tour

The intro...

"Falling asleep on the loo, chucking TVs into the bath, "naughty" dreams, "naughty" magazines and see-through body stockings... YES, IT'S TWO TYPICAL DAYS ON TOUR WITH DEPECHE MODE Words: Ro Newton Photos: Tim Baurer

"Oh, wow. Another gig. HEAVEE." A strangled voice, sounding strangely like Neil from The Young Ones, drifts from the dressing room. Seconds later, a spiky-topped, sickeningly tanned Dave Gahan pops hishead round the door with a mopey look on his face. "Oh man," he sighs, "I was lying on the settee last night at home watching a video of Bladerunner (for the fifth time!) and wishing I didn't have to come on tour today. I mean that's what I call a really heavy experience."

Depeche Mode are preparing for the 71 st concert of their world tour. In the last four months they've played to over 300,000 people, sold out stadiums in America in less than 15 minutes and been as popular a live act in New York as Madonna. It's all been a bit much for the singer of the Basildon group who began six years ago with three keyboards and an amateurish D.I.Y. light show consisting of a couple of coloured neon bars which they carted about in the back of a van.

These days Depeche Mode on tour is a full-scale professional operation involving 25 people who are responsible for making sure that everybody and everything gets from A to B on schedule and that the group are clothed, fed and generally kept happy. The whole system normally runs fairly smoothly, although things have been known to go wrong ... like on this final leg, for instance.

"These are what we call the 'funny gigs'," chirps Dave. "We just treat them as a bit of a laugh. We're playing open-air concerts throughout Europe but this time in all the more remote parts of countries we did before. We're nearly at the end now and, I can tell you, I'll be glad when it's all over. Where did you say we were again?"

The answer to that is France - somewhere between Nice and Cannes in a little village called Frejus. Tonight's concert is to be held in a large Roman amphitheatre which, when not housing a visiting pop group, is used as the local bullring.

Backstage, everyone seems to know it's the first of the "funny gigs" and there's a flurry of excitement as the Depeche Mode production team scuttle around making sure all the arrangements are in order. Of the group, there's only Dave Gahan and Andy Fletcher here at the moment and they're already finding these open-air concerts a little too hot to handle. The only shelter from the blistering sun are "portacabins" brought in to be used as dressing, rooms and a small, stripey and precariously constructed canopy that has become the "dining area". In a vain attempt to cool down, Dave brews himself a refreshing cuppa and Andy discards his black jeans to expose his Persil-white legs to the world (bleugh!).

It's not long before Martin Gore and Alan Wilder turn up showing off tans the colour of gravy browning and looking a picture of health.

They're both in high spirits after spending a restful week on the island of Bali (near Thailand), despite all the "drunken Aussies" they encountered there and the two day plane journey it took to get to France. Martin, as usual, is looking especially weird, sporting black shorts with white polka dots, a skimpy black t-shirt, green mascara an black nail varnish. (The perfect summer outfit. You'd hardly believe he used to be a bank clerk!) Someone is sent to find some beer and before long they're all bawling at each other over the din of the ghettoblaster on which some woman is babbling in French like a female Gary Davies.

Dave seems to have cheered up a bit and he's soon dishing out sarcy quips and comments at 90 miles an hour. When Martin cracks a joke, he tends to find it more funny than anyone else and lets out a hearty laugh that can be heard above any amount of noise. Andy seems far more serious in comparison and is, by all accounts, the "business man" of the group. Alan is just, er, fairly quiet really, and doesn't seem to know any jokes at all.

As the concert draws nearer rumours begin circulating that the support group, Eyeless In Gaza, have got lost in France so there's a possibility that their place will be taken by the "famous" Blah Brothers-actually two of Depeche Mode's road crew called Daryl and Nobby who (much to the group's amusement) fancy their chances at mega-stardom. Eventually it's decided that this is ver Blahs' "night" and on they go to bombard the audience with their tinny Casio rock. Unfortunately they sound like a weedy version of Blancmange, with every song having the same drumbeat and squealing saxophone (not to mention a singer who sounds like he's got a ton of cement lodged at the back of his throat). Eyeless In Gaza, who were only told about the concert yesterday and have driven all the way from Nuneaton, arrive 15 minutes later, looking very fed up.

Leaving them to stare miserably into their sweetcorn soup (yum!), I creep around the grassy backstage area and spy through the wooden fence (designed to give them some "privacy" from the rest of the crew) Depeche Mode limbering up for the evening. Martin and Dave are strutting about in not very many clothes admiring themselves in front of a full--length mirror propped up against a chair and, if my eyes don't deceive me they seem to be wiggling bodily particles very suggestively to get in the mood.

When the curtains eventually drop to reveal Depeche Mode, they're dressed properly again (boo!) but the girls still clutch their friends, screw their eyes up, open their mouths and the lads in the audience still start punching the air with their fists. Everyone also chants the words to the songs, although it's doubtful if they fully understand what is being sung. One confused girl seems to be under the delusion that "Just Can't Get Enough" is actually "Just Can't Get It Up". What?

And, as Martin starts to sing "A Question Of Lust" - wearing a (predictably) black, short-legged romper suit complete with studs, buckles, suspender belt and a fetching pair of sheer black stockings as well as a macho pair of handcuffs fixed about his person - the whole arena is immediately lit up with thousands of flickering flames and the dewy-eyed onlookers sway back and forth to the music. Aaaaah...

After the concert the group have only 10 minutes or so to towel themselves down before all the guests arrive backstage to meet their "heroes". I'm beckoned over by Dave and, although he's pretty knackered and sounding croaky, he's in an extraordinarily chatty mood, - launching into the tale of how he recently sprained his ankle - a major trauma, by all accounts "I got really drunk at the last gig we did and didn't get back to the hotel until four in the morning," he explains. "There I was lying on the bed and suddenly I wanted to go pee. I went into the bathroom and fell asleep on the loo. After about an hour I tried to stand up but I slipped on a towel and went flying through the shower - flat out on my backside, I was. I cried out for Jo (his wife) who got me back to the bed. I sneaked a look down at my ankle and nearly died when I saw the size of it. It was like an elephant's foot. Huge. It still hurts me now..."

Suddenly a fan comes across and interrupts Dave's extremely detailed story to ask him about his wedding anniversary which was the day before.

"Oh yeah," he groans, "I had to celebrate it all on my own because Jo has gone away with her mates to Ibiza."

There's a rather stagnant pause as Dave stares glumly into his beer. The fan pursues the line of questioning and when he moves onto the subject of babies Dave surprisingly percks up.

"We've been thinking about having a baby during the last year. We even considered it before we got married but it was hardly practical then.

"Jo's great," he continues with added enthusiasm, "she does everything for me. She's so organised it's unbelievable. She doesn't like me being away, though. It gets worse as well. Towards the end of the European leg of the tour (first time around) I was heavily depressed. I just wanted to go home. I did a lot of sulking because, even though this is an ideal job which I love, it's also physically and mentally exhausting.

"I'm not being bigheaded or anything, but I can see Depeche Mode going on forever. We're a good live band and I know I can perform. There's been times I've thought I couldn't go on - but I'm happy really."

As Dave chatters on, the road crew are struggling with a huge packing case which turns out to be his wardrobe.

"You wouldn't believe how much money I spend on clothes. Tonight I actually ran out of leather trousers so I had to wear white cotton ones. I get soaking wet every night and the leather goes all hard. Five gigs and they're ruined. Tonight I even slipped about on stage it was so wet."

With all this physical and mental exhaustion and their leather trousers seizing up, do Depeche Mode ever actually have any fun on tour ?

"We've been up to some tricks on this tour," he reveals, obviously getting into the spirit of things. "There was this guy who works for our music publishers and he was just so boring - he must've been the most boring person ever. It came to the day he was leaving and he had to get a really early flight. Me and Alan crept into his room while he was in the bar and piled everything on his bed, then I put the lamp on the top and plugged it in. We also put the TV in the bath and pushed this huge chest of drawers into the bathroom as well. It was wicked, man. We just creased up. The poor guy had to sleep on the floor for the rest of the night and then he told the hotel to charge any damage to us.

"Mind you, the crew tend to play trick on us a lot. At one of the last gigs they covered the riser (back bit of the stage that Dave has to climb up on) with all these porno pictures to try and put me off. They succeeded." By now it's some ungodly hour in the morning and time to board the coach for the journey back to the hotel in Cannes. As we get on Martin suddenly has a fit and starts spouting gobbledygook at the top of his voice to the whole bus. Then it becomes more understandable. "You want a scoop for Smash Hits?" he yells, "Well gerraloadathis! Everyone thinks I'm gay because of what I wear but it's not me! There's only one member of Depeche Mode that's gay ... and we all know who it is!" With this he points an accusing finger at Andy, who's experiencing a reddening of the cheek and sliding sheepishly down his seat, and is not entirely sure what's going on.

Eventually Martin calms down, Alan and Andy conk out on the bunk at the back of the coach and Dave keeps his droopy eyes open by talking about dreams.

"Most of my dreams have been about us on the road. Usually everything goes wrong, which isn't surprising. I've only had a couple of sexual dreams and they're quite good, I must admit. " The next morning we're out on the hotel roof where Depeche Mode are doing a photo session. Looking out across the Riviera, Dave recalls the time when the Sunday papers reported that he "supposedly" rescued Fletch from shark-infested waters in Los Angeles.

"It even made the local papers in Basildon which splashed it all over the front page! Can you believe that? Apparently I've got gold medals in swimming.

"I even got a pat on the back from this newsagent at home when I went to buy a paper. I wish I knew where they get all these stories from..."

After the obligatory autograph signing sessions, we're off again on the coach to Italy - a three hour journey ahead.

One of Martin's (many) fetishes at the moment is computer games, and he whiles away the hours on the coach in deep concentration, bleeping away. "I'm the record-score holder at clay pigeon shooting," he announces proudly. Martin also shows off his passport as we approach the border and, as you can imagine, it's no ordinary passport - it's kept in a special studded leather wallet (a present from his girlfriend) and his picture Was taken from a very posey photo session.

The coach is now winding its way around the coast of France into Italy and we look down onto the beaches of many exclusive holiday resorts which, from this height, resemble tiny toy villages. Depeche Mode are not impressed. "Not more scenery," groans Dave. At least they're hardened to this travelling lark - the rest of us are glued to the window in case we miss anything.

Eventually we arrive at Pietre Ligure - somewhere in the middle of nowhere - and the coach driver has difficulty in guiding the bus through the narrow streets without splattering any of the fans who keep leaping about in front of us. There's a few familiar faces in the crowd from the night before and a few weird ones covered in the most horrendous make-up.

"I don't think that purple lipstick quite becomes you, dear," shouts Dave to one fan through the window, but she just beams anyway. Once off the coach, it's discovered that the venue for tonight's concert is actually a football field and the backtage "facilities" are a couple of grotty old toilets. Depeche Mode aren't surprised. "After all, this is Italy," reasons Andy, as he sprawls out on the grass. "In this country absolutely anything can happen," says Alan. "It's renowned for being totally disorganised. The last gig we played here was in a tent and it was actually raining with condensation over the keyboards! We also did one somewhere like this where the power chord ran through the crowd and just as we started the last song someone cut through the cable and everything went off. It was pitch black." "Oh yeah, and remember that Italian TV show we did?" adds Andy. "They kept saying we'd be on any minute and we ended up waiting 13 hours." "There was that bloke poking fun at our haircuts," continues Dave, warming to the conversation. "I said 'Well at least we've got some'. He was wearing a toupee. And when he said to Mart 'Boy or girl?', we beat him up. We're banned from that station."

To pass the time we clamber back on the bus and "check out" some of Alan's videos of the tour. Highlights include a very horrible dressing room in Berlin, electricity failure in Washington, a party at Alison Moyet's house in Los Angeles and, Martin cavorting around in a black see-through body "stocking" without the stocking Well kinky. Out on the football field the gathering crowd doesn't seem half as big as the previous night's but they make up for it by being twice as bonkers. Near the front a scuffle breaks out between a fan and a local security bloke and, without further ado, the police move in and gave the unsuspecting fan a quick squirt of what look like fly spray. At the back, young spooning couples revel in the chance to be intimate in a secluded corner, until the local coppers cotton on and rudely interrupt their activities. As Dave said before, "These are the 'funny' gigs".

Backstage things get even "funnier". Three Italian girls make a direct beeline for Alan and won't leave him alone, demanding kisses and taunting him with the fact that they'd somehow managed to get his home phone number. He isn't too chuffed. Dave is also looking mightily irriuted and is heard to mutter "Get me away from all these Italian girls" after they've unsucessfully mobbed him as he tried to retrieve more beer from the coach. Fans are blocking every exit and thumping their fists against the glass. Eventually the group get on the coach but still the fans won't let them be. One girl in particular seems to have a deathwish - they christen her Psycho as she tries everything possible to get on the coach. As Dave Gahan would say Depeche Mode concerts can sometimes be really "heaveee"... Stefan (Une Vie a La Mode)

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