My Life In Travel: John Cale

'Siouxie Sioux and I raced each other all the way to Albuquerque, New Mexico'

First holiday memory?

Weston-super-Mare. I have this memory of being in an old-fashioned lido. My parents told me they were sitting by the pool and suddenly heard an announcement saying: "Would the parents of the little boy who's climbing the diving board please come and retrieve him." My father came up, walked me to the end of the board and showed me how it was done.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

Carreg Cennen castle in Llandeilo, near where I was born. Every Whitsunday, I would walk across the Black Mountains with a bunch of kids from school to chase girls. It was a lot of fun. We would trek from Garnant, past the River Towy and up a steep hill to the castle, where we hoped the girls would be waiting.

Best holiday?

There was a time when my parents sent me away from home because I suffered from very bad bronchitis as a child. Our house got damp in winter, so I'd go off to my uncle's vicarage, down by the water in Laugharne. It was always a relief to get there because I could breathe.

What have you learnt from your travels?

Joey Ramone once told me: "If someone ever comes at you with a knife and asks you for your money, throw it on the floor and run." I always thought that was sound advice.

Ideal travelling companion?

Someone with a knowledge of the language. Russia was impossible for me – I couldn't understand what was going on. I tried to make sense of it, but it felt like opening a babushka doll: there was always something else going on under the surface. I was well taken care of but the language barrier made the whole experience pretty opaque.

Holiday reading?

Crime novels – I love Ian Rankin, Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke. When I go on tour, I always take about five or six with me, and one history book too. I've recently read Hilary Mantel's Bring up the Bodies, Denise Mina's Gods and Beasts and The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje.

Where has seduced you?

Ravello, on the Amalfi coast. I've spent some time at the Palazzo Sasso [soon to become the Palazzo Avino], which is one of those places that you just want to disappear into, especially when you've just come off tour.

Worst hotel?

I was on tour in Canada in the Seventies and got booked into this place in Winnipeg, which turned out to be a biker hotel. It was pretty horrendous. There was a police car permanently stationed in the car park.

I did what I had to anyway – played the gig, came back and went to sleep. Then, in the middle of the night, the door to my room opened. Some drunk lady had managed to get the key from reception and decided to pay a visit. I had to throw her out. It was really unpleasant.

Best hotel?

The Cawdor Arms in Llandeilo. Whenever I'm back in Wales, I make it my base. It's very relaxing and they take good care of you there. When I lived in New York, I used to come back and they would host Welsh-language meetings in the boardroom. I would sit having dinner in the bar and listen to the sound of home.

Favourite drive?

I remember being on tour with Siouxsie Sioux and the bus broke down outside Flagstaff, Arizona. Our manager hired us all cars so we could drive to the next stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The roads were like glassine – absolutely flat, smooth and gorgeous. Siouxsie and I raced each other all the way there. I won.

Best meal abroad?

A restaurant near Cinecitta Studios, in the hills outside Rome. My tour manager took me to this place and the film producer Carlo Ponti was eating there with his family. I had some pasta that was just amazing.

Favourite city?

Paris. I like rummaging around there. It's always interesting to find out where the new music studios are. They tend to pop up in very unlikely places.

Also, New York. Every time I go back, I get that same jolt of excitement. I'm always inspired by what I see.

Where next?

I'm on tour – playing in Cologne, Berlin, Munich, Basel, Luxembourg, Amsterdam, Hamburg and finally Porto.

Welsh musician John Cale was a founding member of The Velvet Underground. He performs tonight at the Royal Festival Hall in London as part of the Ether festival and his new album, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood, is out now (

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