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For those of you who don’t want to know the 2014 set list go no further!!!
It had been a pretty chaotic week for me dealing with the ongoing building with the weekend immediately prior to the band arriving spent cleaning and vacuuming the studio with Simone as we attempted to get rid of the blanket of dust that had been accumulating since the work on the extension had begun. It was a particularly challenging job as the surfaces of the space where we actually set up to rehearse are covered in acoustic cloth and vacuuming walls and ceilings is not one of my favourite jobs as the dust is knocked out in the process and I could feel it in my chest and throat. We managed to get it under control but even after a concerted effort we all felt the fine dust get in our system and swollen nasal membranes and coughing was prevalent amongst all the musos although nowhere as severe as in previous rehearsals. I was especially affected and on Friday I had a slightly sore throat at the end of our final run through. It was enough to give me a worry but I knew I’d get through the Haddington show. If I’d had a run of shows after it that would have been a concern and as I write this a slight chest infection and a tickly throat are testament to the plaster dust that I took into my system last week. I’ll be glad when the studio work is finished and I’m out on the tour bus in 3 weeks time.
On the night of the show I had no problems and the songs had been geared for my voice so as not to put undue strain on what is the longest run of shows I’ve taken on for a long while.Keys have been dropped to give me access to a strong area for my voice to work in and allow me to have flexibility and deliver with power. With some numbers written 30 years ago I knew there was no way I’d be hitting notes I even struggled with live back then as little consideration was ever given to where I’d be comfortable. I just sung in whatever key that was put before me and I didn’t know enough about music to question. I’m wiser now and Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult accommodate me as it’s in no ones interest to have a singer with a strained voice. I accept I am getting older with as much grace as I can muster! 🙂
Elspeth had done a remarkable job holding it all together and Yatta felt a bit redundant when he arrived on Friday night. She had set everything up from the weeks hotel rooms for the guys, which had proven a challenge with Robin and Steve in a B and B in Longniddry and the others scattered in various rooms in pub, as well as the ticketing, the security, the paramedic, the health and safety check and in fact everything to do with the gig apart from the actual music production side. As always she handled the pressure brilliantly and added to her array of medals on the night by marshalling the extensive merchandise set up that was clearing out a pile of old stock from the studio. The back of the Corn Exchange looked like a TKMax store!
I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning the studio again after the last remnants of the band equipment were moved down to the venue. It felt quite bizarre armed with dusters and Mr Sheen, mops and hoovers in the run up to sound check but it definitely got my mind off the fact that this was the opening night of the 2014 tour and the nagging worries about set list choices. We had only concentrated on the new additions to the set in the main over the past 5 days with John Beck having the biggest workload getting up to speed with it all as the festival sets hadn’t contained some numbers the rest of us knew from last year.
We were confident but nervous as we all gathered for sound check around 4pm.A late get in hadn’t helped as a sale had been booked into the venue in the morning and a PA had to be loaded in and set up. The afternoon dragged and I walked to and from the Plough tavern next door catching up with old friends and sampling a few pints with time going against us. I’d been impressed at the new acoustic treatments in the Corn Exchange with curtains going the length of the building and a drape hanging from the beams that allowed us to shorten the hall from its 1000 or so capacity to half way for the 400 or so people we expected. The harsh flare of sound we’d dealt with on previous visits had all but disappeared and the space was a lot more controllable. Shaun was under pressure and doors were moved back 15 minutes. I finally got my wedges sorted out and we finished sound checking at 7 with run throughs of a couple of numbers. It had been a frustrating time and no one was entirely happy with the stage sound.
Gregor had prepared a meal for 15 at 6pm at the studio but it was too late from some and Simone, Yatta, Gavin, Vince and his wife were the only takers. It would be chicken for me for a couple of days then!
The taxi picked us up at 8.20
It’s always slightly surreal leaving the house and going down to the town to play a gig. One minute you’re putting on the dishwasher and switching off the TV the next you’re backstage in the hubbub of pre-show. It’s added to by being surrounded by familiar faces and friends all of whom you never have enough time to speak to properly as you’re focusing on show time.
The stage was set. Angus, now returned as back screen projectionist for the tour and who I had barely had a chance to sit down and talk with, set the controls and the familiar intro to “Perfume River” rolled up onto the screen. Our entry was greeted by a roar and I felt a surge of adrenalin as I walked on to centre mike letting us all settle before starting singing, taking in the hall and the crowd, the sound and the atmosphere. A calming finger to the mouth to bring the clapping down and set the scene before the first verse cast the spell on the proceedings. When Robin’s acoustic guitar opened up the gates on the end section the hall was up and ours. “Feast” followed directly and kept the tempo high and the hands in the air. The band was powerful and my voice was in the pocket.
I’d decided to bring back a couple of numbers from “13th Star” this time around and Robin duly delivered the intro which I could barely hear in my monitors. Frantic signaling to the desk after a fluffed vocal intro and we slipped into “Arc of the Curve” nerves settled.
“Manchmal” was up next and with John Beck and Steve adding vocals the delivery had a venom and weight and I could play with the dramatical element. It got a great reaction and it was more powerful than how I remembered it from 2007. Robin has definitely brought something very special to the band these days and the sounds have really filled out.
Next up was our big card on this tour; the entire “High Wood” suite! We’d pieced it together the week before but had only run it through once in its entirety. To be honest I wasn’t sure if it would be too demanding as it’s a huge chunk of music and listening to the recording from a couch is very different to hearing it live at a gig. I gave a short introduction mentioning that my grandfather William Paterson had signed up to take the king’s shilling in Haddington in 1915 and that on the war memorial there were the names of 4 sons from the same family, the Cranstouns who’d been killed with another 2 out of the 7 brothers horrifically maimed and only one surviving unscathed. The songs would tell the rest.
I was a wee bit nervous as John started the piano intro and I freely admit my eyes were constantly scanning the lyric book on the music stand as it’s an epic amount of words to get right and keep in order so I don’t throw the musicians off. Any mistakes are very difficult to recover from and I was not taking chances.
The power of the choruses even took me aback. There was a lot of passion on stage as we all wanted to prove a point. As it slipped into the end section I had a shiver down my next as I recited the German lyric!
“Crucifix Corner”, “The Gathering” and “Thistle Alley” were in more familiar territory and they fused together seamlessly, John more than holding his own in “Thistle Alley” which he’d not played in the festival sets. Gavin and Steve shone and created a dark dynamic. It faded to a close and once again John’s piano spookily re-entered the scene to guide us into the closing song, “The Leaving”.
Any doubts I had were dispersed as the audience raised the Corn Exchange roof at the end. It was thunderous applause and I think we all breathed a sigh of relief within very smiley faces. The world premiere of High Wood in Haddington seemed so appropriate given the primary influences.
I’d mentioned the “auspicious” date earlier as on the 23rd August 1305 William Wallace had been executed in London and in 1297 he had written the famous Lubeck letter in Haddington that had declared Scotland independent and “open for business” too our trading partners in Germany. I hadn’t wanted to “politicise” the gig with regard to the Scottish referendum and had decided to avoid a soapbox lecture. Choosing “Slainthe Mhath” to follow High Wood seemed appropriate given the references in it to World War 1 but on the night it took on a whole different life. The crowd reacted to an incredibly powerful and passionate delivery from us all and lifted it into another level. I didn’t need to say anything, the lyrics said it all. I can’t remember a version like it and the Corn Exchange simply erupted at the end! All I had to say was” Yes”, nothing more was required, everyone knew what I meant.
The opening chords to “Vigil” calmed everything down but as the song developed once again the lyrics were entirely relevant to present day circumstances and it was obvious from looking at the faces in the crowd that they were touching the psyche of a lot of people. It had hardly faded before the opening salvo of “Incubus” hit home. One of my favourite Marillion songs I’d decided to resurrect it on this tour and it sat so well in the set after “Vigil” bringing in another different dynamic
The key has been dropped from the original but it’s left me in a stronger position to sing and weave the voice in the theatrics of it all. It used to be a chord shredder but now in a more controlled state I can get more out of it and it’s retained its overall power. Judging by the response from the crowd it does more than just work well!
After the huge ending of “Incubus” we hit the “rock out” switch with “All Loved Up” and “Big Wedge” which had returned to the set list during the recent festivals. Hands in the air to the back of the venue all the way and then just as Big Wedge finished the piano delivered the opening chords to our last song in the set.
Again so appropriate on the night “Heart of Lothian” crashed anthemically from the stage and everyone in the venue knew exactly where they were on the night. A wonderful ending and we exited the stage with huge grins to a massive roar!
First encore was the debut of “Great Unravelling” with Robin blinding everyone with a terrific solo. It sounded great, the reaction was wonderful and it’s definitely a stayer but I’m not sure about its position as a stand-alone encore.
I had no idea of how long we’d played for and we still had “Blind to the Beautiful” and “The Company lined up. After hearing we’d passed the 2 hour mark I took the decision to cut out “Blind” and go out with a rousing version of the Company to bring it all to a close.
It hadn’t felt that long a set at all and as the proverbial curtain drew on the night and the final chorus resonated in the Corn Exchange I could tell from Yatta’s grin at the side of the stage that we’d hit the spot.
A tremendous round of applause followed us off and I gathered myself just outside the back stage door pretty exhausted at the delivery of the performance but so pleased that we had pulled it off with honours.
The circus started to dissolve in the night. Fond farewells, hugs and kisses, a short rum and a beer in the Plough and then I was heading home in a taxi with my lady. As I said before a surreal experience coming off stage and then being on the couch in the studio with a chilled Savvy Blanc watching the tail end of Saturday night TV an hour or so later!
It had been a fine evening and I was glad to be back in a house that had been declared off limits as a party zone. Celebrations were continuing elsewhere I really needed some peace and quiet after a pretty hectic few weeks. Our Corn Exchange gig had been a success thanks to a magnificent Elspeth, Yatta and the crew and a band who had done me proud and mastered and performed the new set with honours.
Thanks to everyone who made the effort to come to the show and support us on our inaugural performance of the new set. I’m excited at where this will go once we really settle into our new roles and get comfortable with the songs and the 60 date tour isn’t quite as daunting as it was a few weeks ago.
There are so many people to thank and so many people I wanted to spend more time with over the weekend. You all know who you are.
Thanks for everything and for being out there for me. You keep us going and lift us every time!
take care, stay alive
photo on stage – Glenn Kelly ( Thanks 🙂 )