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Sitting here backstage at the Robin in Bilston I am glad I am not on a helicopter costing over £5k plus coming down from yet another Hampden park disappointment.As most of you know from previous posts I couldn’t make the times work on regular flights and despite having a ticket and a bag of hope it wasn’t to be. I drove down from Wakefield this morning arriving around 1pm with Tara to spend another 30 mins tracking down the hotel and then getting to the venue to find a Sports bar nearby. A trawl round 6 pubs, a series of “wrong directions” and I arrived in The Greyhound in the High Street where Formula 1 was on a TV in a near deserted lounge as most were outside with beers in the sun. I asked the shady Dickensian bar maid if they were putting the match on and was pointed to her man , an equally Dickensian character who said yes but only at 3. I got the impression from the surly barmaid that she wasn’t a fan of Scottish strangers. I bought a pint and sat down in the lounge to be approached around 2.30 by an unfriendly greasy Indian gentleman who said ” there’ll be no Scottish football on here, there’s a problem with the Sky box!” ( as he stood there watching the F1 race on Sky). He wasn’t pleasant and on the verge of threatening. I marked him as someone not to engage and went to the bar to check with the moody characters behind the bar. “There’s no point asking them” , he said “I’m the owner”. It was patently obvious he didn’t want me in the bar and seemed to be looking for a confrontation. I had a cup final to find and didn’t need the aggro. I eventually returned to the ‘Dog and Partridge’ which despite having large screen Sky had a disco on. I’d turned that option down on first discovering it but I was left with no option. I sat there alone with my pint as Tamla Motown filled the lounge, the match screened in silence. Tara arrived soon after our defence blundered to put us one down.Ten minutes later it was 2 but I still had hope.Unlike the ‘Greyhound’ the bar staff were friendly and made a stranger welcome. At the end of the game I asked them if they wanted guest tickets as a thank you and he was really surprised to discover who I was. Favour for a favour, easy to make things spin nicely and create smiles all round.The result, 0-3 to Celtic wasn’t unexpected, we can’t compete with their money but at least today we put up a spirited fight and didn’t buckle like last year. Don’t mind so much losing to a better team and there was some good football played on the park. 112 years since we won the Scottish Cup now. Dice have to roll for us sometime!
Now backstage in The Stables , Milton Keynes and it’s a bit strange being past the halfway point already with 5 shows , including tonight’s, to play! After all the build up and preparation it’s going by so fast. The lyric writing for the 3 remaining songs has been stalled as tbh I have been exhausted by the shows and the accompanying drives in the Volvo. Last night at the Robin 2 was a fantastic show but with the venue’s central heating on for most of the set it was a serious sweat box and stage, totally draining over the 2hrs and 15 mins we played. Having laptop wi fi issues since Stockton ( it’s a new one I got just before the tour) it took John Reid a “hands on” session at Warrington when I had to go to a local bar to get a hard wire in so he could access my machine and finally iron out the glitches.Since then time has escaped me or logging on was a problem. Yesterday the hotel wanted about £5 an hour for a connection and after the final I didn’t have the energies or the space to get typing. After show Mick, one of the security team, gave us a lift back to the hotel Taz and I were staying in as the Robin didn’t have enough rooms. I quite simply crashed into bed on arrival and had to be up at 11 for the drive to the Stables after Yatta dropped the car off as it had been left at the venue. The drives have been ok and it’s been great spending time with my daughter who is really enjoying being on the road with us.
The Stockton gig, which despite the lowest turnout of the tour so far was still a fine show and in all honesty after 3 fantastic gigs at Glasgow, Aberdeen and Gateshead we were due a leveller as they can’t always be on an ever upward trajectory. The faraway balcony, which in retrospect should have been closed, the powerful spot in my eyes that meant I couldn’t even make out the fans up there and a sparse crowd in front of the stage didn’t help the energies in the venue and although we played well we didn’t get the vibe up to the level we had enjoyed on the previous gigs. We still delivered a set slightly short of 2 hours and there were some sparkling moments. It was slightly subdued backstage aftershow and the drive to the Travelodge was reflective and quiet. I’d decided onstage to drop ‘All Loved Up’ and ‘Family Business’ in the main set and dropped ‘Lucky’ from the encore mainly because in the case of 2 of those songs I didn’t feel the audience were particularly into getting involved and we were throwing energy out that wasn’t coming back.Too many people standing in front of us with beers or cameras, or both, in their hands is not conducive to audience participation and at time it felt like a record company showcase. I dropped “FB” in order to get into the more introspective “High Wood” suite where we could play about with new material. Their removal didn’t effect the overall outcome I think. I was in the bar talking to some fans after and they really enjoyed the gig and judging by Facebook comments after so did most of the people who attended. It was just one of those nights, tick it off and move on.They happen. Nobody died! 🙂
Pulling into Stamford next day was like entering a jigsaw puzzle photograph. A beautiful wee place with a special venue, run independently by genuine, caring staff who all pulled together to make it a great day. A labyrinth backstage that was entered into from the street through a glorious fancy dress shop that had me thinking about potential costumes and props everytime I came in during walkabouts in the town as the soundcheck dragged on and on. It transpired there were problems with our desk and the PA equipment and Shaun was stressing out trying to fix glitches.2 much needed pairs of shoes , one a cool blue suede desert boot the other hikers for the exercise walks I need in the summer, before a traipse around the shops in search of footwear for my daughter that evaded us, a pint in a beer garden and back through the fancy dress shop to a sound check that was still underway had me concerned.The PA was dropping out for nano seconds as were our monitor mixes and to make it dangerous when they returned they were different.This was the first night with support act, female singer Lu Cozma and Steve Askew on guitar. I was concerned they wouldn’t get their turn at set up and we all called our check to a close not particularly confident that problems were resolved. I disappeared to a nearby restaurant for a much needed “proper” meal. (Stockton had been Domino’s pizza backstage!). First asparagus of the year with chicken and a bunch of veg set me up nicely and I headed back to the Corn Exchange to be let into the fancy dress shop by the venue staff despite it being closed for the day. It was very surreal and quite creepyt wandering through the expansive store in the dark aiming myself at a distant light that was the door to the backstage area. Hanging gorilla outfits, priest and pirate costumes and racks of fantasy character clothes were just visible in the gloom as I warily made my way through the store. I welcomed the light of the dressing room where I was greeted with concerned faces.
The PA had gone down during Lu Cozma’s set and we were due on at 8pm in 30 minutes time. It was a minor disaster and only the fact that the sound crew had another desk in their van was enabling Shaun to go through a fast “festival” sound set up to get us on stage to an audience which despite low advances had swelled on a walk up to make the venue more that three quarters full. Calls were placed to Behringer in Seattle and to their support staff in Germany but tonight we were on our own.It was all pretty fractious and I felt I had to explain our predicament to the assembled crowd as there was a shuffling of butts on seats and a minor murmuring developing. They took the explanation well and I prompted them to continue buying ice creams from the staff selling them at the front of stage at the bottom of a severe rake of seats similar to a cinema set up but which had been installed in the redesigned Corn Exchange not that long ago. By 8.20 we had a semblance of a sound and I decided to take a wild card approach to proceedings. After discussions with the band I elected to go on with Robin and start with “Blind to the Beautiful” bringing on Foss midway and giving Shaun a chance to build the mix. It worked well and “Family Business” followed adding the band members to the out front mix. I think “Script” was up next followed by “Perfume River” with a shortened intro. It all seemed to clip together and a hastily rearranged curve made for a different and exciting set in front of enthusiastic fans who appreciated everyone’s efforts to make it happen and make it special. The venue were fantastic and allowed us to go over curfew by 20 minutes giving the audience and us a 2 hour set. I hit the ramp of the seated area for the medley and it was a hike and a half but well worth the effort. A really great show but we did have another spook in the mix to deal with as Gavin’s snare drum broke just as we went into “Credo”. The fabulous McKinty was up to the task and changed the snare while Gavin played around the groove elsewhere on the kit. The string holding the actual snare wire had somehow snapped. We said Gavin was hitting it too hard with industrial sticks! 🙂 It all made for a wonderful show and the smiles were backstage and beaming again.It had been a test of will and a trial but we’d pulled through. Shaun was a star that night!
Warrington was a trek literally through sleet, hail, rain and snow. The next Travelodge was only a hop,skip and jump from the venue and Taz an I managed an earlyish check in on arrival. It had been a while since I’d played the Parr Hall and could hardly remember it. The afternoon was spent trying to sort out e mails and I eventually ended up in a local bar who after an introduction from the friendly local hall staff agreed to give me a hard wire connection for my laptop so John Reid could tinker with the gubbings on line. He had been working overtime plus to get the new mail order shop up and running and I’d been frustrated being unable to see what he was doing and communicating with my office with regard to the impending launch of the pre-order sales of “A Feast of Consequences” which was intended to be on the Friday. All sorted and I was on line by soundcheck .The advance sales were good and there was a buzz about the place. It was out only gig in the North West, a stronghold for years. I wasn’t to be disappointed.