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I was now moving into gig mode after a thoughtful and introspective start to the day. I had to stop of at the hotel on the way back to pick up my stage clothes and lyric book which still had to be adjusted to take in the re-jigged set list and the hour of reckoning was approaching. A diddly bop through traffic to the venue in Aprilia and we pulled up at the front door of what was obviously a night club. I was filled in with the details of events leading up to the show. Apparently it was intended to be an outdoor event and then switched to an old theatre. As the booking was for the local town festival they decided to put all the fee in one basket and hire one main band rather than a host of smaller outfits. My name had come up. With that and the unworthiness of the first venue it was suggested we play at Smaila’s night club whose owner was a famous Italian musician,actor and TV presenter Umberto Smaila who hosted the Italian TV show “Colpo Grosso” in the late 80’s infamous for it’s sexual content and featuring scantily clad women ( allegedly the first Italian TV show that had full nudity!). It had the air of a venue fit for a Fellini movie set. All shiny black, loads of glass surfaces , a sparkly tiled floor with a balcony rigged up with dining tables you reached by climbing up a black staircase which in the murk and wearing bi focals is a treacherous ascent! That was where lunch was being served as the backstage area had a faint whiff of sewage! I was ravenous after the earlier exertions and found Gavin Griffiths and Steve Vantsis, who I’d missed the previous night and who had gone to the venue early to set up equipment, munching into the sandwiches with various fillings but mostly, as the Universe dictates, variations around the cheese and ham theme! One question I have always had is why do Italians always cut the crust off sandwiches leaving them as sad, wilting damp tit bits with an appeal for only those people with dentures?
The PA was booming into the cavernous space with sounds reflecting from every surface. The equipment all passed muster and the stage was big enough to give us space to control our own sounds and concise enough to keep us in eye contact with each other, a major factor on our first gig with John Beck where a lot of cuing could be required especially if we went off road! Everyone was smiley and confident and I think John probably got tired of being asked if he was ok! I flipped my lyric book around and gave Yatta the set list to print out. With the addition of a couple of numbers that would normally have been in encore spots I thought we would have it covered.
I’d decided after Mike Varty left and John Beck joined that we’d prepare a set that would be “up” enough to deal with festival spots and amalgamated some of the 2013 setlist with some “newer” material to satisfy those fans that had already seen the old set and prepare us for the full changeover later in the Summer. The new medley I’d concocted was juddery and awkward to play and just didn’t sit right with anyone. It was a bit of a Frankenstein with sections of 3D, Tiki 4, So Fellini sandwiched between the opening and end sections of Shadowplay. In short it clunked rather than flowed and is now completely back on the drawing board! We had to leave another 2 “new” songs out as Robin needed a separately tuned guitar to play them and with luggage restrictions on the flights down and a mistrust over what we could be supplied on the ground we elected to drop them. This wasn’t a gig where we wanted to take chances and the less variables the better.
Soundcheck went well and Shaun did a great job on my wedges as I was trying to get back to grips with stage sounds again. It had as always run late but we managed to get everything we needed to cover ourselves in most eventualities and left the stage to head back to the hotel feeling reasonably confident. I had a live interview and signing session with fans in a function room downstairs before dinner which was scheduled for an hour. That was never going to happen! 🙂 The first question on the inspiration for High Wood took me about 30 minutes to answer as I explained the entire story and captivated the fans who were hearing my English answers and then had the translations from my friend Fabio. I enjoy these “meet and greets” especially when there’s an interview to work around. Questions from the floor allowed me to extrapolate into areas I never get the chance to talk about in formal interviews and I think some people were a bit taken aback when we moved into the subject of my future plans and I responded with an answer I don’t think they really wanted to hear. I declared that I plan to write another album next year which in all probability will be my last one and to follow that up with a tour in 2016 to lead me into a retirement that will allow me time to do other things outside music. The full explanation was met with slight shock but eventual understanding but sometimes it’s hard for people to accept the inevitable. At the moment it’s a cunning plan but I have to admit the appeal for me is growing and I find a new direction in my life more exciting and invigorating the more I think about it ! It will be a huge change and I also have to admit I find the thought quite scary sometimes. The idea is in the air for now so lets see just where it drifts and falls! There’s a lot to be done before now and then and a lot can happen that could change things! Best laid plans of mice and men etc!
The signing and photo session went well and lot’s of happy faces were created. I was being urged to bring it to a close as my pasta dish was on the table in the dining room and the band and crew were already eating. I finally extricated myself clutching a fine bottle of home made liquor ( now in Karlsruhe) a classy red (drunk in Karlsruhe) and an original advertising poster from the Napoli gig 1988 that I’d seen at the artwork exhibition there and which was given to me at the end of the session. As one of my last Marillion shows it seemed quite prophetic given the subject matter during the interview.
Dinner in the hotel restaurant was sublime with everyone raving over the “proper” home made Spaghetti Carbonara! We got the recipe from the waiter and Steve Vantsis was definitely taking notes as it surpassed his own signature dish and he wanted to know the secrets! Steak and salad and a wicked creme brulee did for us and we had an hour to recover before heading to the show. It was the first time I remembered the band and crew sitting down to dinner and no one asked for wine! Photo opportunity for the new line up outside the hotel before we left and last minute discussions on the set.
There were a couple of hundred people outside and inside the venue when we arrived. Enough to make for a decent crowd to dampen the reflected sounds of the room and give me an opportunity to work an atmosphere. It was a perfect environment for us to deal with on John’s debut performance. The last hour dragged, stage clothes donned, John surprising us by appearing in a suit, and then showtime! No back screen projection and no intro the boys entered to the pipes of “Sergeant Mackenzie” to start the show with “Perfume River”. I walked onto a warm reception and took them in with a steely gaze to come to terms with the “animal” I had to deal with. It was without a doubt a friendly one tonight! “Perfume” went down a storm and “Feast” followed to rock it up. John was flawless.
“Script” was next in line and again John weaved his way through the sections decorating them with little touches of his own that raised some smiles with the rest of us. If he’s doing this now what’s it going to be like in 4 months time once he really has got to grips with the material? 🙂 “Script” started with a roar of approval and finished with an even bigger one!
“What Colour is God” pitched in next and we pulled of an in your face version despite the singer forgetting a couple of lines.No one was thrown. An intro to “Crucifix Corner” was short and direct , as were all the intros on the night, and John delivered the opening chords confidently and with a great feel that already I am reacting to. This is one of his favourites in the set and it shows. “The Gathering” rallied as the last chord on “Crucifix” faded and again a faultless execution. This didn’t feel like a band playing for the first time by any means! I was checking my watch to see where we were in the set, still concerned we would be short. We were now going “off piste” and the surging drive of the intro to “Big Wedge” picked the crowd up. It had been out of the set for quite a while but I felt it was the right time to bring it back. There’s a new energy to it and it’s sounding fresh and punchy. John has really got the “brass” together and once we get more used to it and add the bv’s in the coming months it’s going to be special! “All Loved Up” kicked in straight after and again the band rocked out with the audience arms aloft and going for it.
I admit to feeling the pace in the heat and was glad “Blind to the Beautiful” was next up so I could catch my breath! John didn’t know this yet so Robin and I had decided to go it alone as we needed the song in the set. It lost nothing from this stripped down arrangement and as always the end cascaded into a sing along and a lovely rhythm that you can’t help but get involved with on or offstage. I decided to move “The Company” into the set to fill it out and we were all surprised just how well it sat in the position I’d given it after “Blind”. I clocked my watch and we were now over the 90 minute marker with the old medley about to be launched!
Needless to say it had a splendid take off and soared to great heights taking us all with it. Again the singer went into a Bulgarian version of the third verse in “Tongues” but apart from that you would not have known that John was playing with us for the first time on stage. It was a powerful and committed version and had everyone out front on their feet singing and clapping with us on the ride! “View from a Hill” ended the medley in style and we left the stage tripping over our smiles!
We had one song left in the box to play! A short intro and “Internal Exile” burst out with intent. A rousing version that carried me off stage for a quick whirl and a dance with the audience as the band jigged and reeled onstage. A perfect end to the evening and we took our bows and the acclaim like victorious gladiators.We’d pulled it off despite all the build up and worries and to deliver this set for me felt like a great achievement considering the effort that had gone into getting us to this point after all the trials and tribulations, the stress and disappointments and all the negatives that had been put in our way in recent months. The band were superb and had put in solid shifts to get us here. No one deserved the accolades more than John Beck who has proved himself a more than worthy member of the troupe and who put in an extraordinary shift to learn the set in such a short time and deliver a near faultless performance on his first gig with the circus. It was fantastic to see a happy unit again with everyone giving John huge hugs and pats on the back knowing we had finally found our man.
The wine flowed freely and I caught my breath outside exhausted from the exertions on stage. The one thing I realised was just how unfit I was and note was made to self to get things sorted out in the next 3 months if I am going to deal with the 59 odd shows coming at me at the end of the year! Even the FTC said he could hear me huffing and puffing like an old wolf down the mike and I definitely was feeling the strain. My jeans and shirt were soaked through and dripping wet while my shamag felt like a used kitchen mop!
The set had come in exactly on 2 hours and Yatta was extremely happy. I hadn’t talked that much, Yats counting it at just over 5 minutes “yakking”! We must have got our times wrong somewhere but everyone was relieved we now have a setlist that really works for the upcoming festivals and are developing a decent catalogue of numbers to call on in the future if we need to. Yatta especially was pleased with the running order as he was slightly doubtful pre gig.
Gavin had to leave earlier than anyone else as he had a 6am flight back to the UK for a “Panic Room” gig ( he’s regretting taking so much on now!) so it was big farewell hugs from the rest of us as we waited patiently on the transport. We weren’t that bothered to be honest as the promoter kept bringing out bottles of wine to us as we sat chilling outside, signing autographs and taking photos with Italian fans at the gate and having a great natter with our Company Italy mates all of whom were bowled over with John who by this time had changed out of a very damp suit and had his “pajamas” on! ( alternative stage clothes apparently 🙂 )
We all had a laugh when the “transport” did arrive. A definite first to go back to the hotel in a Volkswagen Camper! It was so cool and so Italian ! 🙂 Steve of course had to get his customary “V’s” as they drove off. He hates having his photo taken but since borrowing my old Nikon recently he’s discovering what it’s like trying to get shots of the rest of us after so much abuse from him over the years. I reckon I have less than 10 photos of him without the “flying V’s”! 🙂
We arrived back to set up a temporary camp at the outside sitting area in the garden and proceeded to celebrate. In all honesty most of us were absolutely knackered both physically and mentally after the show and people stared to fade away. By the time I’d come back down from my room after posting the result and calling my lady only the FTC was left from the circus.
Someone suggested Limoncello and after a couple we were down to just Shaun and I as our last friends put up the white flag and disappeared. We headed to the bar for a last shot and the barman in Wild West fashion put a half empty bottle in front of us telling us to help ourselves as it was the owner’s home made brand. We polished that off and then he came back and stuck another one up. No charge! I recognised the warning singles, threw back my last shot and disappeared up to the elevator to try and work out how to switch the lights off in my room again! On seeing the FTC in the morning I knew I had made the correct decision as he was a slightly yellow colour around the gills!
Final farewells before we struck off to our respective airports, the boys flying to the UK and me heading back to the balcony in Durlach. It was a far happier outfit than the one anticipating the UK tour. There was a sense of “oneness” again and a distinct feeling of confidence that John’s arrival has generated that we can carry on to Poland and the next show and beyond. I am as excited as when Steve agreed to come back and get involved and when Robin rejoined the circus. Together with Gavin I have a great band around me again and it’s only going to get better! 🙂
Welcome back to the Circus!