On Thursday we didn’t think it was going to happen as the environment agency broadcast severe weather warnings for the entire Eastern coast of the UK with our designated travel destination in Great Yarmouth lost under red triangles on the map!
Yatta told us to hold steady and await a site report at 10am before leaving. I was facing a 7.5 hour drive. The motor was prepared, serviced, MOT’d and winter tyres on. The Volvo would pull me through most conditions but the prospect of driving in darkness through floods wasn’t welcomed.
Early to bed after checking the status of Norfolk before I went to bed. Yarmouth was flooding as the first of the Spring tides whipped over the sea walls and began flooding parts of the town. My route was going to take me through a forest of red triangles designating areas being hit by the storm.
The Planet Rockstock web site had an all clear in the morning and I raised the troops for the leaving just as Yatta messaged the gig was on. Tara was driving down with Angus in his Fiesta and Foss and I were following in a packed Volvo containing merch for the weekend and the keyboards. The forecast was dry and sunny and I set off with confidence. A traditional stop at Scotch Corner to let Secret catch up as we had passed him after Newcastle and then another for coffee just as darkness fell on us near Boston. I ranged ahead, sluggish in traffic on the A17 and 47, roads I detest as they are long straight stretches of boring flat asphalt with occasional patches of dual carriageway where everyone jumps into the overtaking lane and races to the inevitable bottleneck as yet another section of double white lines unravelled. The speed cameras were everywhere perched in ambush and my Tom Tom tweeted continuously.The endless black road and glaring oncoming lights were wearing me down and I had to really concentrate on the last hour, welcoming the bright lights of the Vauxhall Holiday Park on the fringe of the beleaguered town.
We were first to arrive and I entered reception just as Phil Campbell and his band “The Temperance Movement” were checking in. I’d met them at the Classic Rock Awards where they’d picked up a gong for Best New Band. I’d met Phil, a Glaswegian, years before when he was signed to EMI with his “White Buffalo” project which I’d really liked at the time.The Marillos were also fans of his music and he’d supported them way back when before disappearing off my radar. It was a pleasant surprise to meet him again in London with a band of accomplished musos. They’d played a difficult short acoustic set at the awards to a crowd more concerned in the main with their starters which were then being laid out on the tables. They did well and impressed many including Tara and myself. We were both looking forward to seeing them play a full set later that night.
I bumped into Jon Norman from Planet Rock outside and with the help of the lovely Julia we got ourselves organised with our chalets. Names were allocated to our 4 units, I was sharing with Yatta in our 2 bedroomed affair somewhere out in the jumble of chalets at the back of the main blocks where everything was happening. I had to smile as we were given our towels and £4 of cards for the electricity meters in our respective homes for the weekend. Yatta and the FTC pulled up in the Clown Carrier just as I was finishing checking in and we handed out the laminates and wrist bands and prepared to go in search of our accommodation. The maps of the site were pretty confusing and we drove past Louie’s crazy golf course with the crashed plane amongst the palm trees and Louie’s adventure playground with it’s rope ladders, slides and overhead walks that could prove a dangerous attraction to wine fuelled musos later on! Left at the bookies and into the maze, the Volvo followed by the Clown carrier through a field of chalets whose numbers were nearly impossible to see and which seemed in no logical order. The small roads got narrower and more confusing. I ended up driving across the grass between trees, the Carrier lost behind me, squinting out the window into the gloom trying to identify where we were. The soft crump as I nosed into a bricked up flower bed at the base of a lamppost was depressing ! I jumped out the car expecting the worst but everything seemed intact, the lights were untouched and I couldn’t see any damage apart from a couple of dislodged bricks. Lucky break! Our chalet was directly ahead of us and I pulled up just as Yatta arrived.
It was more of a mobile home than a chalet. Perched on a concrete base with plastic steps at the entrance. Inside it was sweltering with the heating on full blast. I figured we would need the meter money soon! It was clean and modern with en suites on the bedrooms either side of a spacious living room that had a fake fire, a flat screen TV with Sat channels and am empty fridge. I’d anticipated the lack of mini bars and had bought a couple of bottles of savvy which were duly left outside as the fridge wasn’t on. It was pretty comfortable and we settled in before arranging to meet up with everyone at the bar / restaurant sooner rather than later.
We got lost within minutes of leaving our chalet. The roads and pathways didn’t seem to make sense and we wandered through the forest of bland aluminum cream boxes until we found a main drag and followed the lights. I couldn’t make out any points of reference and knew that the return journey was going to be interesting!
Wine flowed as the circus assembled and we made our way into the main venue just as the Quireboys hit the stage. A low ceiling with variable sound throughout the room as the sides had tables and chairs with the main floor standing room only. Shaun took it all in and we knew he could make something of it. A soundcheck was scheduled for next morning at 11am. I wouldn’t be there!
My old mate Spike and the Quireboys were rocking out with their drunken laddish swagger as always and working the room. I got caught up in a conversation at the bar with comedian Al Murray who had been introducing his band the T34’s. A lovely bloke and really interesting we nattered about stand up and this and that as the wine started to loosen me up. Someone I’d love to sit down and talk more with we were soon overtaken by snappers and it was impossible to chat as the i phones flashed. We both slinked away, me backstage to say hi to Spike and the boys. As expected Spike was loose and funny and he ended up pulling me into his interview for Planet Rock backstage where we seemed to be both leaning on each other for support in more ways than one! Great to catch up as it had been a while. We headed back to the bar just as “Temperance Movement ” hit the stage running!
They played a stormer set finishing with an old Faces number “Too Bad” that suddenly propelled another figure on stage. It was none other than Spike who’d disappeared from sight only to emerge on centre mike next to a rather disgruntled Phil Campbell who was not impressed at the intrusion. Spike moved off to the guitarists mike before Phil came over and asked him politely to leave. “One singer one song as they say in Glasgow” raised a smile as Spike wandered off stage! I kind of understood Spike’s euphoria and misplaced judgement as both singers were raised on a diet of early Rod Stewart and both bands have that fun, rocky, groovy attitude that invites partying!I think if it had been suggested before the show it could have been a fun ending and if I’d known I might have been up there too! 🙂
I decided to disappear into the night as the weeble was wobbling!
I’d been getting glasses of wine put in my hand all night and had been giving them away to the FTC and others as it was becoming overload. I hooked up with Yatta and negotiated my way through the emptying crowd visibly slightly the worse for wear. Defo time to go! I avoided the temptations of the clutch of fast food outlets still racking up beer fueled customers and bounced into the darkness !The journey back was as expected longer than anticipated and again I found myself squinting for numbers in the gloom. There was an audible sigh of relief from both of us as we eventually found the corresponding number to our key! I was not going to be up early! It had been a long day!
Saturday I hid in my bed as long as I could and turned down the soundcheck which had been moved to 9am! I looked on it as a pointless exercise as our gear would be moved to allow other support bands onstage. We had a designated monitor engineer that night and I trusted him to rack me up a workeable sound later. He wouldn’t let me down.
A late lunch in the restaurant with Robin and Foss and I worked out a set list over coffees to give to Yatta. We hadn’t played a full set for a while and everyone was slightly nervous. I was still a bit frazzled from the night before and decided to hang around the chalet rather than catch the bands in the afternoon. Before I ducked out I bumped into my old friend James Cassidy who’d written the “Suits” album and produced both that album, “Songs From The Mirror” and the “Yin and “Yang” collections in the 90’s. I hadn’t seen him for nearly 5 years and he was now running a management company that dealt with publishing and other areas. It was a welcome talk and in the short time we had there were some interesting topics covered including a potential remix of the “Suits” album. In that wonderful Fellini vibe I’ve come to expect a fan walked by as we talked wearing a “Songs From the Mirror ” shirt as if to cement the moment!
I retired to watch TV in the chalet as Yatta slept. The atmosphere was distinctly surreal and I wondered how I was going to get “up” for the show. We’d all been thinking the same! The rider appeared at my chalet at 5! 3 bottles of white wine, 3 red and a crate of beers together with party packs of Pringles and sandwiches. Yats and I decided to keep it quiet for now!
As the gig approached the circus assembled. Foss came round to us and discovered the rider which then drew texts from one and all as the rumour went out. I lied so much about our chalet number I would actually forget which one we were in!
We took half the rider down to the venue leaving the rest for the party zone after show. We’d forage for more at the gig!
An hour before showtime nerves were jangling a bit. Everyone was trying to remember parts and there were some tricky passages to negotiate. I did a long warm up backstage and found everything was working. The Von Hertzen Brothers were on stage and coming to the end of their set. I heard Rush and Floyd influences and I knew this Finnish band were getting rave reviews. I was aware they’d put up a bench mark and I wasn’t complacent. I’d taken in the crowd the night before and worked out some semblance of a strategy to hit hard and get them over.
As expected the Brothers did well but I knew we could match and more.
A quick changeover and we were ready , on time and in the zone. No projections and Angus was tonight our guitar tech and very nervous at this new role as Vince was out with 10CC!
A word with Matt the monitor engineer on preferred mix and then I was moving to stage as “Perfume River” launched.
A hesitancy over guitar handover and a slightly awkward delay raised the heart rate and then I was on and we were in.
The control on the front section engaged the crowd and then we took off, the crowd coming with us hands in the air in unison. I’d decided to push hard right from the start and injected a touch of venom in the delivery. Energy was high and we were getting it straight back from a crowd that contained a decent representation of Fishheads eager to get involved!
Planet Rock had “Feast of Consequences” on the A list and as second number up in the set it gave us a huge foothold with the assembled rock fans. It lit the place up and again the high energies were winning people over.
A bit of nattering and joking on the Hi De Hi theme and the chalet maze before “Script” kicked in. We needn’t have worried about memory loss as the band played it immaculately with my voice reaching the places it was supposed to reach. The reaction was superb and the ending soared to disappear into huge appreciation from a crowd we were now bossing.
“All Loved Up” and “What Colour is God” kept the place bopping the latter being particularly venomous and edging punk attack.
“Blind to the Beautiful” had an introduction that took in the Phillipines and the current storms in the UK linking the global weirding and the ecological impacts citing Mother nature as a woman we have wronged and need to redress. There were tears on some of the audience as the song hushed the crowd rising into an outro where they joined in a mass choir that moved into gospel handclapping where I took it into a “free Nelson Mandela ” chant for a few bars ending it on ” we just won’t hear the beautiful anymore”. It was poignant for us all and I admit to a tear at the end.
I was wary of the time and I’d wandered with the intros into a tight set time. I quickly introduced “Crucifix Corner” and we charged out to deliver a full on version the singer tripping on the lyrics a couple of times but recovering to stay in the saddle. The early applause before the closing section gave an indication that a lot of people didn’t know the song but that in itself was a great sign as I was obviously playing to new converts.
I called off the next intended song, “The Gathering” and Robin and Angus had to revise the guitar changeover as I named the medley to close the set. It was always going to be tight but by dropping “Gathering” I had space to play with the crowd in the medley. They were up for it right from the start of “Assassing” !
The sea of hands stayed with us through “Credo”, into “Tongues” and right through the “Fugazi”, “White Feather” sections to rally on “View From a Hill” in a wild crescendo! The band drew massed applause from the crowd and we had reached into the seated crowd who were on their feet. It was a tremendous result for us and I knew we had made a big impression.
There was no time for encores as “Hawkwind ” were up next and the changeover was tight. I hate when bands go over time in their alloted slots and I always respect other musos as I expect to be treated. My crew cleared the stage quickly as I tried to recover back stage. It had been an exhausting set on an extremely hot, low ceilinged stage ( I could touch the roof). I’d been careful with my energies directing them into the voice and restraining from cavorting too much. I was soaked through and exhausted, a litre of water drunk during the performance.
Jon, Badger, Liz and other members of the Planet Rock team delivered their congratulations and a short interview with Paul Anthony backstage drew my participation to the event to a close.
The wine was opened, drunk and Jon Norman managed to replenish the stocks which were going down fast. I wandered out front to see Hawkwind but there were so many fans wanting photos I was becoming a distraction at the bar. I had to return backstage and watch the band from the side. It was pretty cool hearing them play “Warrior on the edge of time” and songs from “Astounding Sounds” which I hadn’t heard since I last saw them in the late 70’s! Watching the 2 dancers move out from the dressing rooms and through the backstage area to the front of stage changing into endless weird costumes on stilts and wearing masks was like being in a Fellini movie!
I quaffed wine with a couple of the Von Hertzen Brothers and had a chat on the sofas about kids and Christmas and other non muso subjects. Really nice and grounded people they were a pleasure to meet.Discovering that they had been trying to break out of their native Finland for ages and after 10 years they had finally managed to get an album recognised and acclaimed earlier in 2013 and were now taking overdue credit was great to hear. However as Kie told me they now had to get back into writing mode and come up with a new album after Christmas I was reminded of the machine I try to avoid at all costs and can to some degree because of my approach. Their latest album had only been released in May! I sympathised!
My night was coming to a close and the rest of my circus was looking for the rider in the chalet as we’d run out of blags at the bar. I left the FTC bouncing around the dance floor bottle of honey vodka in hand. A casualty waiting to happen! We drifted back to our respective chalets a few survivors popping in for sandwiches, Pringles and the dregs of wine that remained. I was glazing over and the Duracell Bunny was playing “Last Post” before keeling over. There were no wardrobe races, the adventure playground saw no casualties and I shuffled off to bed knowing I had a huge trek North next day. The result was sweet and it was a perfect ending to the first batch of touring to support the new album.
It was only sad that we all drifted off to our respective homes with no definitive farewells. Steve, Robin, Foss and Gavin had put in incredible shifts this year as had Yatta, Angus, Tara and the FTC. We missed Vince who’d been part of the circus all year and couldn’t be with us. A huge thanks to all of them for being with me out there on the road and a huge thanks to all of you who made the shows and made them happen. Without you it doesn’t come together and we wouldn’t have half the smiles that carried us through our journey. It’s been a great 2013 , thank you one and all for being out there for me!