Sunsets on Empire, Raingods With Zippos, Fellini Days and Field of Crows are now available in the Fish Shop!
The time shifts were hard to get my head around and not helped by a wristwatch that seemed itself to fall asleep and lose hours. Back in the hotel room I went on the internet to get my e mails ( which I couldn’t answer) and Skyped my girlfriend Simone in Germany where it was 10pm. It was 1pm in Baja and margarita time! I figured a civilised lunchtime session could break the afternoon up. I headed back over the rail tracks to the open air site where Steve, Robin and Gavin wanted to catch Spocks Beard who were soon due on stage. Shaun and Yatta were also on the mound as the band finished their brief soundcheck in front of a gathering crowd, some under umbrellas to thwart the Mexican sun. They had supported me at the Roxy in LA way back when and to be honest it wasn’t a particularly good experience for one reason and another. Yatta in particular didn’t like them and the band had been a bit offish with us. As much as I appreciated their musicianship I wasn’t a great fan of the material and between watching them or heading back to “Los Arcos” with Yatta for margaritas there was only one choice. We watched a couple of numbers until the drum solo which cued our retreat. A large jug of grail juice and fish tacos were exactly what we needed and it gave my bro and I a chance to stock take on the cunning plans and other stuff. It was good just to get away from the festival for a while and take some “us” time.There’s a lot going on in the background just now and we had to make sure we were all on the same wavelength with it all. The weekend was a gig and a trial of traveling but for me it was also a break from all the demands at the studio.
After lunch we meandered back to the site but I didn’t hang around for long. Spocks Beard were still playing but my mind was now focused on the gig that night. Later at the hotel I caught up again with the guys from Saga who were soon bound for Miami to meet up with the “Cruise to the Edge” boat trip which Marillion were playing on board as well. It sounded like a fun thing to do and maybe next year I’ll see if we can get a berth on the ship! Worrying news was that there had been a “bonding” session between their keyboard player Jim Gilmour and Foss. Jim’s a lovely guy and a Scot who was originally from Motherwell who I’d met a few times over the years and had some grand moments with. I’d had a great chat with him the night before and knew that they were now on free time waiting to take off for Florida. Two Scottish keyboard players on a “bonding ” session involving beers was a slight concern! I didn’t see Foss until we left for the show and it was obvious he had had a fine afternoon judging by his beaming smile!
A Mexican dinner with Yatta, Vince and Shaun in the hotel restaurant and a shared bottle of wine tore down an hour and then we were ready for the excursion to the theatre. We set up shop backstage and i wandered around to the front of house to catch some of French band “Shylock” who I’d never heard of before. Their guitarist was very Fripp like and the band tight and dynamically very interesting. the crowd loved them and I was pleased we wouldn’t be playing to an audience just there to listen.There was a lot of energy in the room and a little more than backstage where my mob looked like they had already done the gig! Energy levels were low as body clocks were registering 6 in the morning UK time. I knew they would rise to the occasion though and the crowd would lift us into the performance. I felt pretty good although the chili from dinner was poking back on top of the white wine giving me some unwanted reflux. Not good for the chords! I wandered around killing time at the front of the venue and signed a few autographs, posed for a few shots and had a talk with a couple of the artists exhibiting in the foyer including Paul Whitehead who gave me his card and the aforementioned piece of artwork offering to be considered should I ever need an artist. As I said to Mark Wilkinson when I got home it was like some woman trying to pick you up knowing you’re already happily married and who knows your wife! I’m not the unfaithful type! 🙂 No offense was taken and I considered it a compliment! 🙂
I was given a beautiful limited edition poster of the event created by a talented artist called Juan Carlos Lizarraga. It’s an art deco style print in watercolour, acrylic with a splash of gold leaf and my finest souvenir from the festival which will be framed and hung in my office. I was honoured to be presented with it as it’s an amazing piece of work.(I’ll photograph it when it comes back from the framers) I diddly bopped around until the support band came off stage on time ( surprising for a prog festival) and then set about a warm up and wake up to get me in the zone for the show. The others were waking up for the moment and behind the drawn stage curtains the crew scurried around removing and replacing gear to get us on stage. We would be ready for 11, behind schedule but who cared at this point. I knew the audience were patiently waiting for us.
Behind the curtains the pipes of “Perfume River” droned with the band already in position on stage. As they opened the crowd rose and the energies filled the venue. I walked on stage to an enthusiastic welcome and we set off on the curve of the night. Sounds were good on stage and my voice was powerful and on song.Straight into “Feast of Consequences” and the hands were in the air. As I announced on stage “It’s Prog Jim but not as we know it!” 🙂 I think some people were taken aback at our level of attack and the aggression in the performance. Despite all the fractured time zones and the hanging around our energy levels were high and on full beam. The opening chords of “Script” after it being introduced as “this is the first live performance of this song in Mexico” were greeted with a deafening roar and we delivered a passionate rendition that disappointed no one! “All Loved Up” with the poke at professional fame in the intro rocked the house and “What Colour is God” with it’s set up was also a high octane delivery and a great version despite it coming close to leaving the tracks half way through. “Blind to the Beautiful” was poignant and led wonderfully into “1470”. I think Foss had been listening to too many prog players in the afternoons as he distinctly went off piste with his keyboard intro straying into jazz mode and confusing us all! It did groove in the end section and got a great reaction. “He Knows You Know” hit the nostalgia buttons and “Crucifix Corner” and “The Gathering” followed.Despite perhaps being unfamiliar to most of the crowd they were vastly appreciated. The medley was always going to do the business and from “Assassin” onwards it was a devilishly successful roller coaster ride to the end with everyone involved and jumping. The crowd were on their feet throughout and as “View from a Hill” drew the entire piece to a climax we had delivered exactly what was said on the tin! 🙂 We encored with “Freaks” but it was “lavender” that delivered the coup de-gras ! Majestic and powerful and moving it was the perfect ending to the evening and everyone out front loved it. A cool way to say farewell!
As we exited stage right to the dressing rooms we were all pretty much exhausted and running on the dregs in the adrenalin tanks.All our energies were pretty much spent and the after show partying was pretty much subdued. The promoters were ecstatic and lots of smiles and congratulatory handshakes made all the effort to get there so worthwhile.It was great to pay them back for all their efforts in making it happen and bringing us out to Mexico. I think we did surprise the audience. I don’t think they expected a frontman who talked to them and engaged. I don’t think they quite expected the groove and rock that’s in my music these days and a band playing Prog with so much aggression.I wasn’t going to get much feedback from the fans as we were soon leaving the building with the news that we were leaving for the border in 5 hours. Unusually there was wine left in the dressing room which was squirreled with the intention of a late poolside soirée. It never happened for me. I got back to my room after saying fond farewells and virtually collapsed after I’d first packed my suitcase for the early leave. I can’t remember being so sober after a successful gig. I wish we’d been able to soak up the vibes a bit more but the bungee cord was at it’s zenith and about to retract violently eastwards.
Maybe because of the relatively subdued aftershow and a rack of Zeds in my head I was surprisingly fresh at 7am when I headed downstairs to the van. Although the border was on the edge of Mexicali and about 10 minutes drive we’d been told to expect at least an hour to get through.The long queue of traffic we hit soon after leaving the hotel was foreboding.Newspaper and taco sellers stole up and down the lanes of cars with wheelchair bound beggars and most surrealistically a guy selling painted alabaster crucifix bound statues of Jesus Christ that were about 2 feet long. He had a bundle of them! I passed over my remaining pesos to a guy in a wheelchair who looked utterly disconsolate. We inched towards the border check point that looked like something out of a science fiction movie set. It was quite monolithic and threatening, dirty concrete with thin window slits, ranks of CCTV cameras and aerials;not exactly welcoming by any means. The guys cleaning the moving cars with dirty rags for small change didn’t go that close to the border and the presence of uniformed flak jacketed officers with bulging equipment belts and hand guns did nothing to alleviate the sense that this was not going to be an easy. We hit the first checkpoint and that’s where it all started to go wrong. Passports were handed over and it was taking too long to check.”Who’s Derek Dick?”. My heart dipped. And that was when the echo of the little ink stamp at US immigration at Toronto airport returned to haunt me. I didn’t have one in my passport. The idiot there had forgotten to stamp my passport so I had no record of entry to the United States.The first checkpoint then sent us through to the secondary checkpoint where we sat in the van surrounded by Border officials none of whom paid us any notice for about 15 minutes. Around 12 of them were just wandering around or standing chin wagging in groups while we were very aware of the clock ticking down on the flight leaving San Diego airport for Houston at 1pm. Eventually someone opened the van door ( I wasn’t venturing out to demand attention with the prospect of a confrontation that would only have one result that involved me on the ground). Questions were asked and I answered all with a smile ” yes it’s a terrible unfortunate mistake officer!”. A solution was found. I would have to go through to the USA as a pedestrian, sort out the paperwork and then rejoin the van. The officer I have to say was really pleasant and helpful and led me into the dark bowels of the immigration shed where I was met by another likewise friendly officer who led me to the front of the seemingly endless queue to a desk where I was once again fingerprinted, photographed and my passport eventually properly stamped. I paid my 6 dollar visitor fee and was then led straight to the next desk where I would be checked and jettisoned into the USA through some big glass doors! It was all very cool and I think a lot of people in the queue were wondering who the hell this guy with the black hat and shades was who was laughing and chatting away to the officials and getting all this VIP treatment. The guy who led me through was officer Young who turned out to belong to an Irish family who’d left the island during the potato famine and emigrated to Boston. Generations later he’d signed on to the Border agency, ended up being posted to Mexicali and was now leading a Scottish singer through a surreal experience at the Mexican border. I shook his hand and thanked him for all his help exiting once again into the bright sunshine to find myself alone on the American side of the border. It felt like an escape.
So there I was with no mobile ,as I’d thought I’d be taken back to the van, a wallet full of Euros and no idea where the guys were. A slight thrill ran through me. It had the beginnings of an adventure! I walked around the plaza for a while looking for our white van and eventually it appeared with a circus troupe who were slightly unimpressed at a situation that was not of my creation! I had a slight disappointment myself as my mind was relishing a challenge of how to get to San Diego under my own steam! The van set off towards the desert staying within the demanding speed limits which was irritating Yatta in the front seat as he had one eye on his watch.
It was a wonderful journey with blue skies and windmills, tumbleweed and shattered boulders, intriguing mountains in the distance and vast swathes of sand that took over from the irrigated verdure landscape on the outskirts of town.I was tired bit couldn’t sleep as this was too much to miss. The van trundled on most of the passengers dozing with one eye out the window. Every time we came to a rise in the road the engine labored and trucks, cars with caravans and burros, if there had been any on the highway, passed us. It was a long slow agonising trip.I could sense Yatta’s blood pressure. I didn’t see any point in getting stressed out by it all. If we missed the plane we missed the plane. This ride was glorious and I was captivated by the rock formations and especially the small winding trails up the sides of the mountains we were passing through which reminded me of all those Westerns I used to watch as a kid. This was where bandits thrived and where lonely heroes threaded their way on plodding weary horses to adventures with Colt 45’s, Winchesters and saddlebags full of gold nuggets! The horsepower on our van dwindled on the ascents and warnings about overheating radiators were posted on the side of the road. We were struggling so much that I expected the vehicle to just expire in the heat and die. The settlements we came across had a magic about them and up in the hills there were houses and farms independent of modern life. I wondered what these people did for a living. The boulder fields must have been infested with rattlers and looked pretty unnegotiable to anyone on foot. A good place for a hideout! We were approaching the top of the mountain range around 4000 feet when we came across the Border patrol checkpoint. As luck would have it they decided to pull us over and once again all the passports were handed over. Yatta was unusually narked by it all but we stayed calm and smiley and let the officer go through his slow methodical examination. It all just felt a bit over the top. There was a Mexican driver and 8 UK passport holders. We didn’t exactly look like illegal immigrants and it wasn’t as if you’d expect UK citizens to be attempting a breakthrough from South of the border! The Scottish, Welsh and English dialects should have given it away but then again it may have been part of an elaborate plan to get into the USA! :-0. Having seen the immense wall and fences at the actual border it all seemed very draconian. More than happy to utilise the cheap labour down there and build factories to produce cheaper goods for the American market but there wasn’t a welcome mat at the border.In all honesty the entire process reminded me of the first time I came through the Iron Curtain and came across as just as oppressive. There’s some very serious money being made and spent in homeland security, a lot of which is in private corporate hands.
The van picked up speed as we rolled downhill into San Diego and our next trial at the airport. The 15 minutes at the highway checkpoint had added to my passport problems in Mexicali and put us on the edge of making the flight out.
We pulled up at the terminal and thanked the driver who had the unenviable drive back South. I felt sorry for him. We had to check through to Houston so the kerbside option wasn’t. We made the United Airlines check in and were told we were late but it could be done. The staff were the most helpful I have ever come across at an airport and 3 of them worked the bag tags and boarding passes sending the first individuals through to security. I watched my luggage laze along the belt into the bowels of the airport and was just heading to the queue when the lovely lady at the desk shouted a halt and announced the flight had just been closed. I ran down to security and caught Yatta just as he was going into the security check and pulled Gavin out the line. We were all standing in front of the check in desk wondering what was going to happen next and if we were going to make it home to the UK that day. The crossover between the flight to Houston and the flight to London was already tight in our itinerary and some of the band had already experienced an overnight stop in Houston on a previous trip memorable for the fact that Gavin had fallen asleep in a lap dancing bar, the only available refuge to waste away the hours , with his head on the stage! No one wanted that again! The UA staff stepped up to the plate and reorganised everything. They checked us in for the next flight to Houston in 2 hours time, booked us on the connecting London flight, called back and re-tagged our bags and did everything they could to sort it out including setting us up with decent designated seats on the big haul to the UK. Foss and I would miss our Edinburgh connection but that was a problem for the future.I was so impressed with how they handled it all with no complaints. moaning or “jobsworth” attitude being thrown about. At the end of the day it was our fault for being late for the flight but never once did they make an issue about it!
And so into the security channel again. My hand luggage got pulled by a tall black guy who weirded me out by saying as he opened them up ” I hope you’re not an Arsenal fan!”. I said yes. He said “tough day then you just got beat by Everton 3-0!”. As he went through my bag he continued the conversation and he told me he liked “the Scottish team that plays in the green and white hooped jerseys!” I was laughing. I asked what he was looking for and he said he was searching for a torch or something. I opened a box and showed him my vaporiser that I always broke down going through security putting the vial that contained the liquid nicotine suspension in the clear plastic bag. I put it back together and took a puff to show him and then ended up in 3 way discussion with him and one of his colleagues at the x ray machine who also turned out to vape and who was impressed by my machine. Surreal!
We had 2 hours to kill so we ranged the glittering interiors of the airport getting edibles and I paid for a chair massage to sort out my aching shoulders and neck that had more knots from traveling than existed in the rigging of a British 18th century warship! Of course it was margarita time and we all gravitated to the bar some opting for Bloody Marys in preparation for the next flight. They wouldn’t let me buy the bottle of Don Luis tequila in San Diego that I wanted for Tara at duty free despite me having a London boarding pass from Houston but that was the only negative in a chilled out wait before the test that was coming up.
I can’t remember much of the flight as I slept most of the way. I tried watching a movie but after a couple of Hobbit sized bottles of wine bought from the trolley I flaked out. It was only a 3 hour flight, a mere skip in the scheme of things.The landing was coming up and Shaun asked the stewardess to help us out as we had a 30 minute changeover and that lap dancing bar was in all our minds for all the wrong reasons.She asked over the in flight tannoy for the other passengers to wait in their seats to allow us to get off first. The seatbelt sign pinged off as we reached the gate and everyone crammed into the aisles ignoring the plea, We were so pissed off at the sheer ignorance of it all and patiently waited, hopes fading to get into the terminal and the charge to the next gate. We were lucky. Once again UA helped out and we were directed on getting off the plane by a member of their team to the gate which was only a mild rush away. We were last aboard but as we sunk into our relatively spacious seats that were scattered throughout the cabin that was only two thirds full it felt like we were in heaven! The plane was one of the new Dreamliners with all the trimmings. Steve and I had 3 seats between us and the others likewise had space to stretch out in. It was going to be a near 10 hour flight and the only downside was we had to buy our own drinks which as expected were the Hobbit bottles that weren’t cheap.Steve and I started working on the flight attendants to get deals asking if there was a Happy Hour on the plane or bulk discounts on offer! The exotically named Dagoen Bousheae, a feisty wee curvy black woman was having none of our patter and greeted our smiling beggar routines with friendly disdain.
She was a great laugh as we kidded her and tried everything to get cheap alcohol. It all became a game we were both reveling in and we were buying the hobbit bottles for me and the gin and tonics for Steve as it continued. Jeffrey was the other steward working our area and we brought him in to play. We told them we were musicians and it turned out she had a thing about bass players. Steve could get a freebie but not me. And then the quarter dropped when Jeffrey asked who we were. It turned out he had the “Fugazi” album that he’d bought way back when he was a fan in Detroit in the 80’s. We started taking about music and I ended up in the back of the plane in the galley having a great natter with them both. They were great company and both really looked after us on the journey, a bottle of good white wine from first class heading my way and a bucket of gin and tonics for my bass playing friend who by this time I’d sold off as a sex slave! 🙂 It was a fantastic flight! I managed to watch most of “American Hustle” on the brilliant entertainment console but passed out before the end, the day finally getting to me and I fell through the big Zed window. I woke an hour before touchdown in London for coffee after the best transatlantic flight I can remember. United Airlines were terrific at every stop and really delivered for us. I took Dagoen’s and Jeffreys addresses and delux versions of “Feast” are already on their way to them! 🙂 I know who I’m flying with next time I have to go over to the States! 🙂
Compared to everything we’d experienced in the last few days London Heathrow was gray , drab and unwelcoming. We said our goodbyes to the troops and picked up our luggage from the carousels before heading to our next jump off points.Foss and I had already missed the 12.40 British Airways flight we were booked on and which we would have made easily if we had hit the original San Diego/ Houston/ London schedule. As such we had to renegotiate this path. We set off to the Heathrow express to get to terminal 5 to be greeted on the platform by some youthful padded uniformed jobsworth who moved us along a near empty platform as we were “blocking the entrance tunnel and endangering children”. She then officiously ordered us off the train as we had climbed on when it arrived as she had to do a security check which amounted to her walking along the carriages and pretending she could identify a threat if there was one. We had already waited 15 mins for it to show up.Long trudges along dank tunnels with a wheeled suitcase that I’d identified as being damaged, the corner of the hard shell completely trashed. I couldn’t be bothered complaining, I just wanted to get home.I still maintained a smile when we reached the British Airways ticketing desk in the vast glittering hall of terminal 5 my United Airlines experience still warm in my mind. I explained our predicament to the helpful rep and asked for the next available flight which was till mid afternoon and out of the “rush hours”. He was totally sympathetic and apologised saying that we had to buy new tickets to Edinburgh. I asked for stand by on the next flight which he’d told us wasn’t full but he said he couldn’t do that. We had to buy new tickets. British Airways wanted £300 each for single fares to Edinburgh! His hands were tied, there was nothing he could do to help us no matter how he agreed with our plight.He told us there was a Virgin Airways Rouge flight operated by Aer Lingus leaving at 3 and we could just make it back to terminal 1. He contacted the Virgin desk to confirm seats were available and reserved them for us at less than £300 for both Foss and I. We were thankful for his help after the extreme disappointment that was far removed from the United Airlines attitude and understanding. BA could easily have put us on standby and we would have taken our chances but as far as I was concerned this was a corporate rip off that lacked any sympathy. It wasn’t the rep’s fault by any means and I didn’t blame him. He personally went out of his way to help us and we sincerely appreciated his humanism. We set off back to terminal 1 on the “Express ” and checked in without any hassle with helpful staff and reached the gate on time. Sitting in our seats in the plush art deco styled decor with suitably themed attired stewardesses, staring out the window at the chromed engines sipping our free chilled white wine from 30’s styled purple plastic glasses it was a relief to be heading home. Only a taxi ride left to negotiate and that was the easiest part of the journey. I dropped Foss off at his home and said goodbye for the last in a long time. This weekend had been his last gig for us but that’s another blog.
I stopped off for some wine on the way back and arrived for a warm hug from my daughter before she left for her own commitments next day. Home alone again after a weekend that seemed an unbelievable effort to make a show happen. I had had a fantastic time, met some fabulous people, had a fine gig and a great adventure and brought back some great stories of a brilliant experience despite all the trials and tribulations. Thanks to everyone who made it happen and who participated, all your efforts were sincerely appreciated. To any musos who are reading this and who may get offered the chance to play Baja prog I suggest you ignore all the daunting travel prospects and embrace it. It’s worth it and it’s what makes our world go round! Life – it’s out there grasp it with all your might you may never get another opportunity!