Sunsets on Empire, Raingods With Zippos, Fellini Days and Field of Crows are now available in the Fish Shop!
It was always going to be a tough call! We were bungee jumping into Mexico for 4 days to play one show at the prestigious Baja Rock festival. The promoters had been trying to get us for years and for one reason or another it didn’t fit in with our schedules. We’d finally signed off to play last November and initially the idea was to try and get some other Mexican shows and a short tour of California.It turned out to be too ambitious with other Mexican dates cost prohibitive and US visas a problem. Once again the red tape kiboshed us and then band availabilities got in the way. It was going to be one show!
I’d decided to awake as long as possible the night before Foss and I were due to fly to Heathrow to meet the others. I was leaving the studio just before 6am, picking up our keyboard player en route for an 8am flight South. I knew the trick was to eat small and often so scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was breakfast at Edinburgh airport and then half a dozen oysters and a couple of Bloody Mary’s with Steve Vantsis in the 2 hour stopover in London set me up for a long Nytol induced sleep on the 9 hour Air Canada flight to Toronto. All slightly posh but I was going to have as good a time as I could. It was helped vastly by my new vaporiser/electronic cigarette which I puffed on as I headed to the gate for the first test. I had a desired window seat to rest against the frame and avoid my knees getting smacked by trolleys but the seat was right at the back and I was crammed into a very tight space. My eyelids by that time were drooping and I fell into Zed world just as the plane took off. I was woken from a deep sleep by an excruciating pain in my right knee. The guy in front had thrown his seat back and caught my tendon directly on my knee cap raking it with his metal seat frame against the frame of the passenger sitting next to him. My first reaction on coming to was to push the chair away to which he took exception. I apologised and tried to explain but he just whined and moaned. I asked him politely to move his chair slightly forward explaining I was 6 foot 5 and would appreciate some understanding. At this point the woman next to him deliberately threw her seat back with force. This was bordering on ugly. I called the stewardess and asked to be moved to avoid trouble and she just said there were no other seats available and the 2 passengers in front had every right to put their seats in the reclining position. I was fuming and told the 2 dickheads in front that when I get up for the toilet I will be banging their chairs as I had no other choice to extricate myself out of the tiny space I was left with.15 mins this was exactly what happened. Cue outrage and I came back from the toilet to try and reason knowing that I could be picked up in Toronto for causing trouble on a flight. It turned out they were Canadians, she older than him with badly dyed blond hair and redneck demeanor. She started to rant and I said I had no wish to talk to her.That pissed her right off! He seemed to be her toy boy and was nervous but standing his ground. They called the stewardess.I explained my predicament again to no avail and asked to speak to the crew member at the back of the plane. She was sympathetic but said she could do nothing.I seriously considered decking the guy when we landed but reason prevailed.At meal time they were told to put their seats up and whether they had a twinge of conscience or realised that I was teamed up and very angry the seats didn’t recline again. We landed in Toronto and I sincerely thanked them for their understanding. I think they thought I was being sarcastic. We parted ways in silence and the band , crew and I headed into the red tape jungle.
The 2 hours stopover ended up with us being in a never ending series of queues. Steve discovered he’d lost his wallet as we came up to American immigration. A slight whiff of panic added to by me having left my boarding card for the next flight to San Diego in the seat pocket on the Toronto flight. Not a big problem and I queued at flight services for a new one which was duly handed over. Next up the machines to scan the card which showed the name “Dic” on the screen with a question “is your name spelt correctly? ” to which I answered “no”. The screen came up with “please go to flight services” and I was back in the queue again with the sands of time gathering speed. It turned out they only used three letters of your surname on the board that announced you could go forward to another queue to the US immigration desks. ” Yes we should really point that out on the screens he said as it’s confusing!” . Eventually “Dic D San Diego” came up on the board and I walked through yet another boarding pass check to another Disneyland type snaking queue. We were getting nervous as there was only 40 minutes to boarding. I’d commented quite prophetically that with all the computer software and card readers that the 2 boarding card checkers were using ink stamps and that it still came down to rubber stamps on documents! Little did I know what would happen later!
I eventually ended up in front of an immigration officer who was no stranger to a dough-nut ( like most of them at the desks) and he appeared quite lackadaisical as he went through my documents, finger printed me and took a retinal scan. ( The immigration services must have millions of international travelers on their database!) . I stood there after the check and the next guy came up to the desk. I had to ask for my passport and papers as they were lying on the desk. I was now in the USA! A hard walk to the gate and we got on just as it was closing. I had an aisle seat at the back on this flight, an Air Canada Rouge operation and the flight attendants in their maroon sweat tops reminded me of the old Easy Jet orange uniforms. We already knew we had to buy food and beverages on this 5 hour flight. This was economy basic! Thankfully Steve’s wallet was discovered on the last flight and was sent over to the gate. His weak attempt at getting out of buying a round hadn’t come off! 🙂
Squeezed into yet another space I asked the guy in front right from the off to keep his seat up and he thankfully saw my predicament and agreed. I had no idea what time zone I was in or going to but my stomach told me it needed food.We’d last eaten over 6 hours before and that was a very small aluminium tray of pasta. We watched as the trolleys pushed up the aisle from the front of the plane an hour or so after take off. They were agonisingly slow to reach the us at the rear of the packed cabin and the smell of pizzas coming out the galley as they fulfilled orders in the front rows drove us insane with hunger. Shaun and Foss had seats down the aisle and were tucking in. I’d told the stewardess that I’d pay for their food and drink but as more pizza slices went forward I said to Steve sitting next to me that we were going to be struggling to get food. Sure enough the trolley arrived with the row in front getting the last pizzas. All that was left were 3 manky sad beef rolls that were about 6 quid! The 6 of us in the row were despondent but after explaining where we’d come from and thrown a few smiles we were given complimentary wines, some cheese and biscuits and humus with crackers. They tasted truly wonderful. I somehow managed to fall asleep for an hour or so in a cramped upright position and came to just as we landed in San Diego. It was now just before 9pm. We still had a drive of over 2 hours to Mexicali !
The luggage had all come through and we exited with no hassle to the arrivals lounge to be met by a Mexican driver with a battered white personnel carrier parked up out front of the terminal. His English was pretty meager but we chirped away quite excited to be driving through the bright lights and gleaming towers of San Diego. It didn’t take long for the first wrong turning and energies in the van waned badly. A fuel stop enabled me to buy some waters and a deck of beers for the guys and a couple grabbed some dodgy looking burgers from a heated case. I declined the opportunity.
And so on the road we went hurtling through the mountains to the desert in the darkness.Most of the guys had fallen asleep, Yatta out for the count in the front seat and me behind the driver who was starting to make some wide curves on the twin lane road and touching the verge all at speed. I was genuinely worried he’d fall asleep at the wheel so I talked to him at regular intervals and cracked a few jokes that were greeted by bemused smiles.We were picking up speed on a straight when the pitter patter sound filled the cab. I thought we’d ran up onto those rubber cobbles to indicate you’re moving off the road and then the van started to fishtail. I shouted at the driver to slow down just as the van veered to the edge of the highway and the volume went up a number of notches. The others woke up startled as we ground to a halt in the darkness. We had suffered an almighty blowout. We exited the van in the pitch black, the stars overhead not touching the desert around us. A shooting star fell out the heavens as we stood there in disbelief. I think all of us wished we were in bed at the hotel and some wished they were home! The luggage and equipment was offloaded so we could gain access to the spare wheel and the jack. Shaun, a wheel fitter in a previous incarnation, stepped up to the plate. We feared the tiny scissor jack might not be able to lift the vehicle high enough to remove what was left of the wheel and fit the replacement. A suggestion to find a brick or stone brought a flurry of searching on the roadside but then I mentioned rattlesnakes and scorpions and everyone retreated to the hard shoulder. I couldn’t see anything in the gloom that could have helped. A mag light was dug out and with the illumination from that and the torches on our smart phones Shaun set to work. We switched tires with a centimeter to spare and Shaun got an extra beer for being hero. Just as we loaded up again a border patrol vehicle pulled up and a female officer asked if we needed assistance. They must have been watching us. Friendly waves and off we went to Mexicali and the border at which we were waved through with no inspection of our papers. the town was deserted and we pulled up at the hotel at 1am. I was starving, exhausted and on the verge of hallucinating. A photo request from the guys from Moon Safari in reception as we checked in probably will show us to be the zombies we were. I wasn’t exactly communicative. There was a hotel bar still open but a half hearted suggestion of meeting there for a beer was doomed. We all just wanted to get to our beds. Room service was still available so I ordered a chicken enchilada and water and then promptly fell asleep on the bed still fully clothed. I was woken by a hammering on the door some time later and sat down for a meal more out of necessity than anything else.It had been a testing day and a half! It was 10 am back home! I was so hungry but too tired to finish my food and just wanted to get under the sheets with my head on a big soft pillow!
I woke at 10 am and surprisingly felt quite refreshed.The sleep tactics via Toronto had paid off. I was still hungry and thought I’d missed breakfast. The car park view from my bedroom window said “scorchio! The landscape was unremarkable, just flat topped factory buildings stretching as far as I could see. Friday was a day off to recover and explore but judging by my first impressions that wasn’t going to take long. I’d been told by bands who’s been to Baja before that there was nothing to do or see of note. I wandered down to the restaurant and was pleasantly surprised to find them still serving. A filled omelet and a plate of mixed Mexican food set me up and the guys started to wander in. Most had been up for a while. Shaun and I decided to have a mooch around the open air part of the festival site and headed over the road and the railway tracks to the site.It was a pretty cool area with stalls selling the anticipated Prog Cd’s, jewelery and brick-a-brac as well as local beers and food. I found copies of “Return to Childhood”, “Communion” and “13th Star” on a stall but I got the impression the owner was not too chuffed to see me as these were the only titles distributed in the US and both he and I knew that I wasn’t distributing in America anymore because of the wholesale outlets who pay a pittance for albums and sell them on down the chain.Nothing was said but there was no friendly greeting! Shaun and I took the photo opportunity at the cut out and bounced around the site where I was constantly signing albums and being photographed with fans who were really friendly and genuinely excited at the fact that I was there. Lots of smiles and handshakes but as word spread it started to get a bit overwhelming as I couldn’t take a step without being approached by someone with a smart phone camera! My favourite stall out of all of them was a food outlet with “Burgers Ready” on a painted hoarding done in the style of the early Genesis cover art. I did have a chuckle! Very clever! 🙂
We weren’t in the mood for beer and I had a craving for a margarita. I asked at the hotel reception where most of the fans seemed to be staying and they pointed me in the direction of a local diner as I was told there were no bars in the area. We headed back to the hotel to rally the troops and headed back across the rail tracks in search of some refreshments with everyone in tow.It was to be a huge disappointment. We all sat in great anticipation at the counter after explaining to the wee Mexican lady in the garishly coloured costume that the margaritas should be made from tequila not the vodka she was pulling down from the shelf. She disappeared laughing into the bowels of the kitchen and came back with tumblers of pale liquid under a salted glass rim that we all recognised as fakes! Watery and seemingly made with a lemon cordial we were all to a man disappointed. They had a kick but this was not the grails we were searching for. I paid the tab and we exited. I wasn’t giving up. The others were despondent and some moved back to the festival site while Yatta and I went to the hotel for more directions. Luckily we bumped into a couple of the promoters who suggested a nearby restaurant called “Los Arcos”. They decided to come along and so we made our way up the street until we eventually came across a building with a fish sign outside! A sign! 🙂 We took a table in the covered open air section and ordered up. Yatta and I demolished 2 large jugs of perfect
margaritas and to top that I had fish tacos for the first time. Deep fried breaded white fish in a taco wrap with salad – absolutely brilliant and seemingly a local delicacy that I’d heard about on a TV programme about Baja peninsula cuisine the night before I left home! Company was superb and we nattered away with the promoters who I think were a wee bit surprised at our capacity for margaritas especially at that time in the afternoon! We were happy boys indeed! We discovered that one of the guys worked for Gulfstream aircraft and we asked him why he hadn’t just flown us in on a private flight – our tongues firmly in cheek! We were well set up for the afternoon and our new Mexican friends led us back to the festival site where we took up residence on a small grassy slope at the side of the stage to spend the rest of the afternoon. A few of the younger guys from PFM were there. They’d played the night before and I was gutted to miss them having been a fan for years. Sadly I missed Franz the drummer who I’d met in Italy when we’d discussed performing together a few years ago. Steve and Robin were already there with Shaun and we copped the rays and drank beers as I vaped away quite merrily taking in the bands and chatting to our new Italian friends. The FTC was on a roll and had found giant sunglasses which amused all and sundry and offered numerous photo opportunities for fans and musos alike.Ignacio or “Nacho” as he was known was to be the host of the BBQ later that evening. For some reason I’d thought it was to be on our arrival at the hotel the previous night and was most certainly glad it hadn’t been.He had been with Yatta and I in the margarita bar and was now beer butler! It was near impossible for me to go out and watch bands as I was constantly surrounded and I felt very self conscious as the performing musicians could easily see the hubbub around me.He was highly efficient and as the afternoon wore on and we drank under the hot sun in 28 degrees I was careful that the warm fuzzy feeling didn’t spill over into a numb from the neck down one! The Prog on show was pretty good with some highly talented musos going through their paces with aplomb. IO Earth were pretty good, had decent chops to hand and went down well to a crowd of a couple of hundred who’d gathered in the sunshine for a proggy fest. They provided me with the biggest smile of the weekend when Adam Gough, their keyboard player kept it together after his rig collapsed.
It was getting close to moving back to the hotel as the sets finished at the outdoor event. Saga were playing at the theatre down the road, our venue for the next evening. We had a marvelous afternoon but it was time to decamp the mound and say farewells. One person I met up with was Tony G from San
Diego. He’d come down to see us play for the first time but I’d met him before the last time I was in the city with the SAS band way back in 2000. It was he who was the founder of “Tiki 4” the establishment I’d written the song about with John Wesley way back then for the “Fellini Days” album.We had a great catch up and he filled me in on the current state of all the characters I’d met in that house where I’d spent a mind bending night in the company of genuine beautiful and charming freaks.Ironically it’s a song being considered for the new set so it was a “Fellini day ” in more ways than expected. I asked him if he wanted to come out with us that night and he agreed to meet us at the hotel in a couple of hours. I was a bit wobbly but still a weeble! The 2 hours respite was exactly what I needed together with a shower and a clean up. I was feeling pretty good when I got in the car to go to Nachos. Foss had decided to go and see Saga some of whom I’d met around the hotel poolside earlier on. We hadn’t seen much of him all day.
Nachos garden was a guy’s dream.He had bar tops, multi screen TV’s showing Floyd and Roger Water’s videos when we arrived and his chef was cooking up a paella for what looked like a small army. I was starving and drooled over the ingredients as they were added to the mix. I took in the garden and a few beers. The bar tops were mosaics modeled on Eddie van Halen’s guitar body and another mosaic on the wall was the Rush 2112 cover. Yatta was impressed by the model of Neal Pearts drum kit that I was astounded to hear was a
merchandise item for the band.It was all guys in attendance, most of them involved with the festival organisation and far too many names to remember as introductions came thick and fast. It was a fine vibe and soon the tequila was broken out. Not any old stuff but Don Julio tequila, the equivalent of a very fine malt! It was getting knocked back at a rate of knots and we soon had to send out for another as Yes live came up on the screens. Tony G was following our lead and matching us shot for shot but he was with the big team and everything started to go pear shaped for him. One minute he was ok then the next thing was a major whitey and one of our Mexican friends offered to take him back to his hotel. He went downhill so fast from there, in fact he fell of a cliff as everything started to buckle in Tony world! He exited stage left.I felt sorry for him as he fell off the roller coaster. I was also starting to wilt. It all started to become a bit of a blur. A famous Mexican actor and political activist showed up and we engaged in some serious talking. I embarrassingly can’t remember his name but we had a great passionate natter as “Heart of the Sunrise” played in the background. He was one of the good guys! Steve told me I kept on pointing out Chris Squires bass playing to him. The world was crumbling as jet lag and fine tequila seeped away my energies. The light bulb saying “hotel” was blinking defiantly! I didn’t care, this was a day off in Mexico, gig was tomorrow and I was in Torch mode.I eventually poured myself into the car. It was barely midnight but 8am back home. A decent shift at a party! 🙂 Shaun and I ended up poolside with the Saga boys who were coming down off their gig. I knew them from a previous life and we spent a while catching up on stories. I’d curtailed my alcohol ingestion and was only biding time till the crash hit full on. FTC crashed
before me but not in his room. He elected to sit on a polystyrene chill box which collapsed totally under his weight leaving us all in hysterics! My own crash was oncoming and I headed up to my room to hit the Zed wall. Tomorrow was the reason we had come and i wanted to be fighting fit and in the groove.Despite the tequila consumption I was actually in good shape.The night wasn’t over for the FTC however. In the middle of the night he got up to go to the toilet in his room,splashing the ceramic he then took a wrong turning and walked out his hotel room door, closing it behind him to discover he was stark bollock naked in the corridor! he had to go down in the elevator to reception to get them to let him back in to his room. I discovered this the next day at morning sound check from Yatta who was desperately trying to get the CCTV footage for You Tube. Cruel but fair! 🙂 Everyone apart from Shaun was disappointed to discover it hadn’t been captured on film! 🙂
I should have been at the theatre at 9.30 but I hate morning checks at festivals preferring to work on the balls of my feet on the night. It isn’t that difficult. A decent engineer can react to calls and a basic mix was all that was required. I woke at 11, slightly bleary and dehydrated and nothing that couldn’t be fixed with omelet, coffee and water. I headed up to the theatre in the transport and discovered the 9.30 check wasn’t and the band were still setting sounds up.The monitor engineer was called Tequila! Calling out my mixes raised a smile.It wasn’t a big venue, only about 900 capacity seated, but the set up was ideal for a front man, raked in front and easy to project to. It was dusty, dark and a bit grimy backstage with plastic flowers in vases. A typical lovely provincial theatre that felt neglected and underused. Battalions of staff in orange uniforms were round every corner and it was a big helpful stage crew. All the makings and doings were there and FTC was brewing a fine sound out front. Robin struggled a bit getting used to his pedals set up as he couldn’t bring his normal effects rack and the tip toe dance was a new one. Check went well, voice, despite the relatively early call was strong and on song and I felt confident. I decided to call “Lavender” as an encore as I knew it would be appreciated by the Mexican fans and other nationalities that were coming on the night that hadn’t seem me for a while if not ever before. We exited into the harsh sunlight at the stage door around midday. 10 dangerous hours to showtime!
A small bespectacled man came up to me and introduced himself. It was none other than Paul Whitehead the artist who’d created the “Foxtrot” and “Nursery Cryme” covers for Genesis and the Van Der Graaf covers for “Pawn Hearts” among others. It was an honour to meet him and we chatted away in the sun. His friend Robert brought out a couple of old Marillion posters to sign , one being the Hammersmith Odeon gig in 83 with Peter Hammill as support. There was quite a bit of synchronicity around as I’d bumped into Van Der Graaf’s saxophone player, Dave Jackson earlier at breakfast who I hadn’t seen since those early days. A fantastic and gifted player we are determined to get together sometime to have him contribute to an album in the future. Paul was a lovely bloke and had a small exhibition in the foyer which I visited later before the show. He gave me a small hand made print depicting “the Slipperman” painted on a photo of a street front with “Broadway” in neon prominent.Having met Rodney Matthews recently at the HRH gig the only artist that was part of my youth I still have to meet is Roger Dean having met Storm Thorgerson a few times in the past before he sadly died recently!
Most of the others walked back to the open air venue up the street and I hung around with Yats, Shaun and Vince waiting on a van that was taking far too long. I gave up and headed up the road in the sun. I needed to waste time. The main event was hours away and ultimately that was why we were here in Baja. There was a lot of expectation from the fans, most of whom had also traveled for miles for the show, and a lot of pressure to deliver something special on us. I paced the concrete sidewalk back to the hotel with a lot running through my mind.