To be honest it’s been a very mixed bag of fortunes and events in the last week or so.
I returned from the HRH gig in Wales a bit numb and out of synch with everything here at the studio and struggling the last 2 days to get back in the groove with Mexico looming on the near horizon!
Yatta had been away on a driving holiday with his wife for 2 weeks at a time when I could quite honestly really have done with more momentum being built up on the summer festivals and the European dates later in the year. The intention of working on line stuttered and ground to a near halt as French campsites didn’t offer much in the way of wi fi! It dramatically came to an end in Bilbao when the RV he was driving got broken into and his passport, laptop and all his meds were stolen leaving him with an horrendous drive to Calais to get back home. First priority was replacing the passport which he needs for Mexico in 2 weeks. On exiting the Liverpool passport office on Wednesday he proceeded to violently throw up and within hours he was languishing in bed evacuating uncontrollably out of every orifice! My production manager was most definitely down.
Shaun, the FTC arrived on Thursday late afternoon to pick up gear left behind in the studio for rehearsals including the monolith of a monitor system I thought I’d seen the last off . It had to go to Caernarfon for rehearsals on Friday so once again we were struggling and straining loading the behemoth onto the Clown Carrier vertebrae a popping!
Foss’s gear had been picked up on the way to the studio and we had to pick him up next morning at 10.30 to head the 6 hours South. I wasn’t taking any merch down as the 25% plus Vat commission asked by the organisers was a rip off as far as I was concerned. To top it all the gig fee that was supposed to be paid the Friday before hadn’t shown up in the bank. I was already amassing a barrow load of costs with hotels, catering, flights, fuel and wages for a band in the previous week all of whom were scattered to the winds and had to make their own way independently to Scotland and back. What I didn’t need was another cash hemorrhage and my production manager was not on top of his game and doubtful for the weekend.
Family issues were taking their toll as I tried to deal with 3rd party damage limitation in various guises with legal bills that were bubbling over a number of issues some of which could have been avoided and others that surfaced unexpectedly out the mire but which needed dragged out and dealt with.
I was still trying to deal with the video with David Barras who was putting in sparkling editing shifts while juggling his other work demands. The great news that Greenpeace liked the song and had agreed to give us access to reams of footage was a blessing and now gave us so much more weight to the thrust of the clip.
I was still however trying to deal with all the download set ups and meetings intended to open doors to the new digital valley were being postponed due to unavails of the people I needed to talk to. Gathering the lyric sheets late on Thursday night reminded me of my other job!
The relative tranquility of Naples was only 4 days behind me but it felt like another lifetime.
I packed my bags on Friday morning but as usual the webs of calls and e mails held me back and start times shifted. Tara had to go for X rays on her knee at the local hospital at 10 just as we were supposed to go. Elspeth took her down and I hung here knocking the frogs down that kept springing up from e mails with the mallet hoping to get the diagnosis before we left. At 11 Tara was still waiting and we couldn’t. The call after we had picked Foss up at his home and en route through the borders was as expected. She has the same knee problems as both my father and I have. Not great news by any means for a 23 year old and as I sat in the back of the speeding Clown carrier nursing my own aches and pains bouncing about on the aircraft seats I felt a genetic guilt!
The red wine was opened before Galashiels and only the excitement of seeing the trail of the Borders railway line being re exhumed from the landscape kept our minds from the unraveling trek !
Duck pies, scotch eggs in black pudding, venison chilli chorizo sausages, various condiments and a restock of organic wine were picked up at Westmoreland services and the news broadcast by text of the impending arrival of duck pies in particular to the other traveling units brought us all closer.
We arrived late in Caernarfon close to 7pm in the gloom. Rehearsals were in a small room in the local theatre and the others were already set up. It didn’t take long for Vince O’Malley our Sergeant of the backline to get the wires pulsing sound with Shaun Rogers . Yatta had driven to see us and had hung on until I arrived. He looked dreadful and was obviously suffering. I took the briefing and he handed over the chalet keys and passes for the festival before disappearing home. Half the gig fee was to be paid next day and he would come back to the site to meet up and deal with in the afternoon. For now he was in no fit state to operate.
Robin’s rig decided to get tech issues and was feeding back delaying rehearsals and we decided to fight our way through and get to grips with the set which was supposed to be an hour and 25 minutes. We were loose, rusty and ropey as we hadn’t played this set for months but after a couple of hours we had it broken and operational. The gear was taken down, loaded up into the carrier and we set off into town to find some food as the duck pies had been scoffed by the band pretty quickly on my arrival.
The intended convoy of vehicles separated in the tight winding roads under the floodlit castle walls and as expected the FTC got lost in the labyrinth of ring roads. Eventually we found a lonely kebab shop and stuffed ourselves with over salted slimy meat with a sparse decoration of limp salad leaves. I did for a moment consider Yatta’s state and wondered if I was courting Murphy’s law!
The road wound on and we eventually arrived on site at Pwllheli in the darkness to once again get lost in the forest of mobile homes/ caravans and chalets. The maps we had been given I couldn’t make sense of as there were no landmarks just lots of mobile homes with numbers that didn’t seem to make any sense of order. I had a dreadful flashback to Great Yarmouth! We eventually came across the missing members of our convoy, who as expected got there before us, standing outside our designated aluminium boxes. They had those smiles that registered as “wait till they see this shit!”.
Of the 2 fixed mobile homes one was more welcoming with a bigger lounge and as the FCT had brought his new lady and Gavin Griffiths had his lovely Andrea I elected to take the shabbier box with Vince, Steve and Foss. (The rider was due to be delivered to our place next day so there was an added bonus !)
It was freezing inside and it took us a while to work out how to get the gas fire on and activate the heat. We lit the gas rings on the stove to add to the assault on the cold and then the smoke detector went off! The high pitched beeping was curtailed by Sergeant O’ Malley’s swift removal of the battery as getting heat in the place was paramount. We had a few towels and 2 rolls of toilet paper and that was it! No coffee, milk, hand soap or anything else! It was 11.30 and I had the dregs of a bottle of wine left. Some of the troupe elected to venture towards the bright lights of the venues in the distance over the railway line to get food but the prospect of getting lost in the maze of aluminium boxes, dying of exposure or even worse getting to the venues and discovering last orders had been called was enough to dissuade me! Vince agreed with me and we watched the others disappear into the darkness toasting them with what remained of the organic wine!
I’d commandeered the only double bedroom in the caravan, not because of just being singer but because I didn’t think I would actually fit in what was designated as a twin bedded room! The sleeping areas were tiny. My double bed just fitted in the space and I had to climb over my holdall to get in to what seemed to be and felt like a large camp bed. Vince decided to go for the sofa and the others took a twin room each and dragged the 2 beds together. There was an air of slight depression about and I vowed to myself that this was the last holiday park I would ever play.
I woke to wind buffeting the mobile home and the incessant sound of clattering rain. Sleep had been wanting under a “waffa thin” duvet and despite the pale sun outside the closed curtains I tried to avoid getting up for as long as possible in order to get through the hours until the gig. Sound check had been designated for 9am and I’d already opted out of that. However it was now 11 and I couldn’t stay in this box any longer. The fire was on but the heat was only in the corner of the living room. I set up the hot water heater as per instructions on the boiler and wasn’t surprised to find a tepid shower once I’d managed to squeeze into the cabinet. At least I had a towel! The empty fridge provoked me into action. I desperately needed coffee!
The walk down to where the action was didn’t take as long as I thought it would but it was still a wee dance. It took me a while to get directions and arrive at the venue we were to be playing in and I didn’t expect to find the band on stage just getting into sound check! The FTC had got lost in the camp and had taken 40 mins to find the stage area and the load in.
The venue was pretty good, a hell of a lot better than at Yarmouth with a larger stage and higher ceiling which seemed to be trapping a lot of racket.
I was up on stage and at the mike in a few minutes as I thought I’d better take advantage of my good fortune having discovered the check ongoing. “What Colour is God!” is not the kindest on a voice in the late morning but I opened up and ran through that and “Feast” with a touch of the medley to wrap. It sounded quite good but the hall sound and the volume on stage was identified as potentially tricky. As we had to break all our gear down and take it off stage to be replaced before our show at 10pm there were always going to be variables we had to deal with. The crew guys were really helpful and I knew most of them from before, all pros and old hands at this type of set up, so at least we had something in our favour.
As the stage was cleared I dropped into the retail outlets at the back of the venue and the first person I bumped into was none other than Rodney Matthews who I’d admired from afar for a very long time with his artwork for Magnum in particular. He had a vast display of signed framed works on sale and a lot of them I recognised. We had a natter about various bits and bods and he was obviously very aware of my work with Mark Wilkinson over the years. I do like what he does but I still prefer Mark’s style over the fantasy stuff.
I picked up a CD copy at one of the stalls of Man’s “Welsh Connection” one of the very few albums of theirs I didn’t have and had a good browse in the racks before the desire for a strong coffee got the better of me. I had a day to waste and I wasn’t going back to the box!
It was Saturday and there were some big games on including Arsenal against Chelsea in Arsene’s 1000th game in charge!After discovering the football wasn’t being shown on anywhere on the camp for some reason or another I was directed to the town. A disgruntled Steve had just cleaned up his car after a squadron of seagulls had taken exception to it and singled it out for a concise and effective bombing raid! He was up for getting out to the footy as was Foss so we headed off camp to find a pub that had the game on. We eventually arrived in the Crown Hotel 23 minutes into the match to find Arsenal 3-0 and a man down. Cue despondency as I knew I’d be meeting up with Chelsea supporter Jerry Ewing sometime in the day. At least they had Leith ale on draught and we met up with Peter and Lee from Manchester who’d also left camp for the game. The company and the ale anesthetised the pain slightly as another 3 goals hit the Arsenal net in a real let down performance. We headed back via a pie shop and a wine emporium. Yatta was approaching the area.
I met up with him in the box and we sauntered down to the band reception area and media centre to meet up with the promoter. Maybe it was the seriousness that had been wrought by a 6-0 defeat from Chelsea; maybe the beers coupled with the pissed off factor at being the turn in the box; maybe it’s just that Yatta and I can be quite intimidating and he wasn’t exactly having a feel good moment kind of day. No matter what. We walked into the area probably looking like the main characters from “Breaking Bad”, me with darkened shades and the black hat, Yatta with his “why am I having to deal with this” face and within minutes were with the Scottish promoter , who we both knew, who was straight on the phone to Ibiza where the money was and 20 minutes later it was transferred and receipted and the problem was all solved! Magnificent! Yatta was gone straight after, his inners still as effective as an empty Smarties tube holding hot chocolate! He was struggling to do anything and I knew he was gutted to miss the show – a rarity!
I then found out that I had a raft of journalists to deal with and the interview schedule that I thought had not come about was hanging about in the ether on an e mail sent on Friday that I’d not been able to download as there was no wi fi in the vicinity of the box! At least they would keep me out the bar for an hour or so and we rescheduled for later that afternoon.
I went back to the venue and bumped straight into an almighty jovial Jerry Ewing who to give him his due avoided gloating and reacted in an unusually gentleman like manner for which I duly bought him a pint! It was great to see him again and we had a natter at the bar before parting, promising to hook up later. I knew there would be little chance as both of us would end up on independent missions and if we did by accident discover each others orbits in the night it could get very messy indeed!
I caught some of the “Panic Room” set and they were on good form. First time I’d seen them live and it was quite weird watching Gavin Griffiths on stage with them.
I was then off to the media centre for a few interviews and to be honest was glad of having something to do to eak out the time. I opted for a couple of Angus Burgers rather than the catering which had a long queue to retrieve the steak and kidney pie, watery chicken curry and veg and seemed to end with everyone walking away slightly disconsolate.
Interviews went well and I bumped into Robert John Godfrey from the Enid with whom I’ve had a couple of mild run ins with over the years most notably back in 82 at Reading festival where I’d got rather angry at a flier he was distributing on site having a go at Marillion and EMI regarding our “sell out” and their “manipulation” just after our signing to the label was announced. He most definitely got the message that day and he has always remembered it. Now a lot older, less impetuous and not quite so confrontational my demeanor was more gracious, however I felt he was still slightly wary and his drummer who was at the table seemed edgy. I have no issues with Robert these days. He’s an affable and intelligent man and a very talented musician who like me has seen more than his fair share of corporate battles over the years.I was actually looking forward to their set as I was a fan of the band back in the 70’s and word was out that the new reinvention they’d undertaken was getting plaudits. Nevertheless I was aware they were on directly before me and although I wasn’t concerned at following them from the perspective of an audience reaction I was aware that it was a multi piece band with a ton of equipment and schedules were tight. I did not want to be hanging around side of stage waiting on a changeover at midnight!
My football Saturday went from bad to worse. Hibs lost 2-0 to St Johnstone and were doomed to bottom six at the league split. Worse was that we play Hearts next Sunday and a loss at Tynie could pull us into a battle to avoid the play off position. We beat them and we send them down and they will not want us to do on their home turf. It’s going to be a war and I don’t know if we will keep our bottle together as they have become very much a bogey team with a hoodoo over us in recent years!
I hid away in the box until it was time to move to the venue and stage. Word had come back that stage times were running 30 mins late. The Enid still weren’t on and they had technical problems.
I set up in the dressing room which seemed to be in a corridor full of doors to refrigerators and freezers. More of a hovel than a dressing room, or a howf as we call it in Scotland, the lights were tied to movement sensors so a lot of waving of arms was necessary when sitting down to keep them on. I went out to watch some of the Enid set and they were quite impressive. The singer had a fine range and was using it to effect. The crowd were into them too and it was good to know we had our work cut out and we would not be complacent – a danger in these situations when you’re late on and an audience is becoming jaded and tired after a long day. There were good energies around.
I’d already asked the stage crew for timings and they too didn’t intend to be hanging around till the wee hours. We should have been on at 10 and it was now approaching 10.15 as the Enid drew their set to a close. They had dropped some numbers. The crew cleared them and set us up to go inside 20 minutes. I saw Robert John Godfrey as he was leaving just as I was going to stage and thanked him for a fine set and for respecting the timings like a gentleman. Smiles all round.
We smacked the crowd with “Perfume River” and went into full on attacking mode following up with an angry “Feast” to get everyone on our side. An introduction to “Script” with a reminiscence on writing the first part with Mark Kelly at Bangor University at soundcheck back in 82 on our second visit the first being one of my first encounters with “blues” and 2 snowy days spent awake around a freezing cold February night on an iron bedstead with no mattress or bedsheets in an empty house belonging to some fan under the Menai Bridge, hot knives in the kitchen and wired up conversations through till the dawn and beyond. Paying dues !
At HRH it was on fire and we rocked the house with fantastic energies on stage. ” All Loved Up” and “What Colour is God” followed and the stage sound started to deteriorate. Robin’s amp was full of gremlins and feeding back and the volumes crept up. I lost where I was on “Loved Up”, missed a cue and threw the band out. Most people probably didn’t notice as it was loud, full on raucous rock and roll just like it says on the tin! The end section turned “Sex Pistols” and i couldn’t resist the “no future” lines over the guitar chords as it drew to a momentous beautiful collapse. Smiles between us on stage said it all. “What Colour” likewise suffered as we lost the loops and just drove it through on the groove with the end section again opening up into a jam of sorts as none of us could hear where we were in the song. It made for an interesting version though!
“Blind to the Beautiful” brought it back to basics and the crowd sing along at the end was joined by Anne Marie Helder who was watching us from the “pit”. I handed her the microphone and I went to Steve’s as the audience came with us clapping and singing the chorus line. It was off the cuff but worked well and every time I hear the audience joining in I can’t but help think I may have a hit with this song.
Foss sidled into the introduction to “1470” and I dashed over to the stage manager to find out where we were with time. I had 30 minutes to play with and a medley of 23 minutes to fit in. I called the medley after “1470”. “Crucifix Corner ” would have to wait for another day and to be honest with the stage sound I thought we’d be tempting fate. “1470” rocked and the first bars of “Assassing” tore the place up.
It was a great night and the band performed wonders considering what we were up against all across the field. “”Fugazi” and “White Feather” had the crowd jumping and as we fell into the strains of “View from a Hill” there was a sense of celebration. The reaction was fantastic and we exited the stage with a fine awareness of accomplishment. Altogether well worth all the effort to get there and deliver a memorable set in style.
Backstage was vibey and we were joined by Rosie and the guys from “Purson”. I’d missed their set but Foss had seen them and really liked them. They were great fun and fine company, perfect for an apres gig occasion ! Wine was quaffed and we nattered until the crew gave us the silent signal to vacate the premises. Handshakes and hugs and I wandered off into the night as Rosie and her guys centred their attention on the rock disco and another bar.A long trail through the aluminium forest to my own box where I found Vince up waiting for me. The others were in the deluxe caravan and I knew there was vodka there that needed avoiding. I stuck with a final tumbler of Riesling and slunk off to my cell. Sunday was going to be a long drive home.