It was a strange experience walking out onto a stage again after such a long lay off and I was glad I’d had a wake up call at rehearsals the previous week as I was rusty to say the least. The flight down to Southampton had me on edge especially as we had an aborted landing due to high winds. I had an hour or so drive to Sturminster Newton and couldn’t have picked better company for the drive. Nick was a retired master mariner and ex commander in the Royal Navy with a catalogue of tales to tell while our driver Martin had worked all over the world with all the top perfume companies as a display designer. Nick and I jumped straight into diving stories as he had been a deep diver with the navy. Tales of treasure hunts, sunken u boats, diving accidents to chill your bones and a host of other related incidents wiped the journey time and we ended up having lunch in the afternoon soaking away the hours before soundcheck. They were both fascinating and lovely gentlemen and I could have spent days listening to their yarns. In fact all the staff at the venue were so friendly and helpful and the day drifted by effortlessly. The ‘Exchange’ is a wee jewel of a place. and will definitely be in my plans when I take the next Fishheads Club tour out as the acoustics, staging and seating are perfect.
I was scheduled for 5 songs in the set, Peter Gabriel’s ‘Sledgehammer’, Lowell George’s ‘What do you want the girl to do?’, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Dean Martin’s ‘Amore’ and ‘Kayleigh’ with a joint vocal on ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’. I’d originally intended to record the tracks for the ‘Songs from the Mirror’ third CD but had blown out the idea when costs started to mount and it became infeasible. I was glad I’d made that decision as my voice wasn’t anywhere near ready and the long travel day hadn’t helped. Soundcheck went well and I ran through all my songs with no hitches.I was nervous and uptight about the performance and discovering I was last on meant I had a long wait until my slot. Spike never gets a setlist time right and marks every song down as being ‘4 minutes’. He never allows for the gabbing of which he is as guilty as everyone else. At 1 hour 40 minutes into the set I was backstage being very frugal with the wine on the rider and very aware that Toyah still had her 4 songs and Tom Robinson had 5 songs to sing.There was a curfew at 10.30 and it was already 9.40 and as I didn’t know how strict it was I was worried I might not even get on.
Toyah was wonderful as always and then Tom followed up with a strong set including a powerful version of Leonard Cohen’s’ First we take Manhattan’. And then it was my turn. ‘Sledgehammer’ was a test and I clung onto the vocal as the band stormed away, horn section ablaze. ‘What do you want’ was an understatement as hardly anyone in the crowd appeared to know the song. I leaned heavily on backing vocals of the ‘Fabba Girls’, Suzie and Zoe and was stretching myself in the choruses. ‘Kayleigh’ had me back on familiar territory and my confidence was raised. I blew out ‘Alabama’ on stage with Spike’s consent as time was our enemy and then launched into ‘Amore’, a song I’d never thought I’d sing on a stage and one of my favourites. I remember singing it on stage at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh with the band and my dad in the audience smiling with disbelief on hearing his laddie perform one of the songs of an artist he’d force fed me on the 8 track player in his car when I was a kid. The audience in Sturminster lapped it up and I had them on their feet singing along as Spike, Jamie Moses and the 2 Fabbas and I performed an extremely dodgy step dance routine.Last up was ‘Friends’ which I shared with Ryan Molloy, a talented singer who was one of the leads in the ‘Jersey Boys’ musical. It brought the curtain down. The band had been on stage for over 2hours and 20 minutes! The musicians were exhausted especially Steve Stroud on bass and drummer John Marter. Steve had a bout food poisoning and John was down with the lurgy that he’d caught from guitarist Jamie Moses who was also well under the weather.Despite all it was big smiles backstage and the staff at ‘The Exchange’ were overjoyed at the show.
Back at the hotel there were a couple of glasses of wine and then the batteries fell out of this particular Duracell Bunny.Next morning Tom Robinson had his smartphone out and was filming Spike, Toyah, Suzie and myself for his video blog on his Radio 6 show site to promote the Portsmouth show later that night. I drove with Suzie to Portsmouth and with Spike stopped off at Costcos in Southampton to pick up the drinks rider for the Guildhall backstage. I resisted buying the 2.5 metre ‘Halloween Frankenstein Butler’ that growled out his recorded greetings which had I been on a tour bus might have joined the circus.Suzie filled a trolley full of scented candles and various articles of clothing and Spike, who lives most of his time in the US these days waxed eternally lyrical about the great offers on display and admitted he never went into his store in Palm Springs without emptying at least 500 quid on a visit.The knowledge I was flying with hand luggage next day tempered my consumer frenzy but I noted there was a store in Edinburgh I should maybe visit one day when I’m over flush!
The Guildhall was familiar but I couldn’t place when I’d last been there. A beautiful old venue with a cavernous backstage area I walked out onto the stage and felt ready for the show. Soundcheck was delayed and there were many mutterings about the set list which had to be axed into reasonable shape. We weren’t going to get leeway on a curfew and overruns were expensive. Ryan was off the bill and replaced by none other than my old mate Tony Hadley who I hadn’t seen since he came to the ‘Childhood’ show in Aylesbury last year when we had a long natter about all things ‘Spandau Ballet’ as he had just come back from tour and he was not sure if he was going out again. I hadn’t realised he’d left the band a few months before and it became patently obvious that his exit hadn’t been well received by fans and the rest of the band. There was a press conference in London that night with his old band mates who were announcing they were looking for a new singer and carrying on without him. Tony was with his manager on the night and I could tell he was really wound up with what was said as he listened to the live press conference online backstage. It wasn’t the best way to line up a performance. I have to be honest and say I was sad to hear about the continuing confrontations having been there when Tony and John Keeble, the Spandau’s drummer and also a dear friend, went though the original bitter court cases back in the early 90’s. I’d got to know the boys well in the 80’s and even gave away John’s wife Flea at their wedding. The Spandau’s divorce was an ugly time for all concerned and very expensive for everyone. The settlement back then meant that Tony was not allowed to reference ‘Spandau Ballet’ in any shape or form in any solo engagements and his recent US tour was plagued with legal problems. Obviously when he was back with the band this didn’t matter but now he’s broken ranks the restrictions are back in place. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like for me if I’d been legally shackled when I left ‘Marillion’ as sometimes promoters without my knowledge have advertised shows as ‘the voice of Marillion’ or ‘former ‘Marillion’ singer. To be in a position where I could be taken to court for contempt if a promoter or press officer inadvertently used my previous band’s name to sell solo shows is a scary thought. For Tony who is known worldwide as the voice of ‘Spandau Ballet’ and yet not allowed to acknowledge it without risk of prosecution, in my opinion seems excessive. Obviously I have only heard one side of the story but it remains truly sad that the animosity and bitterness remains among people who were once great friends. I understand more than anyone how brutal and ugly a ‘band divorce’ can be and I spent quite a few years in a dark place harbouring grudges and grievances with people who I was once close with. I’m glad the rest of the ‘Marillos’ and I sorted out our differences, rekindled our friendships.and managed to move on.
I met up with John Reid, who looks after the Fishheads Club site, in a pub opposite the Guildhall. It was a rare chance for a good natter away from backstage areas. Later on we would be joined by Stuart James and David Richardson who’d been at the previous nights show and taken some great photos.Before they arrived I’d gone to the bar and came across this story that I’ve already posted to the Face Book timeline and which reached over 300 000 people!
“As is my want and custom around straggling soundchecks I often have a wee wander for some soothing nectar for the ‘thrapple’. At first I thought the till was tied into the jukebox and then realised the lovely young lady behind the bar had just logged on.
I said to her ” I gave you that name” to which she looked a bit bemused. “So your dad is a ‘Marillion fan’. The penny dropped and she was quite taken aback when she realised who I was. We had a photo taken together to show her Dad who she called later. He was blown away as was Kayleigh who gave me a pint of ‘Doom Bar’ on the house.
A definite first for me and a lovely coincidence. She told me she knew loads of ‘Kayleighs’ in the Portsmouth area and she even knew a guy with that name. As I said on stage later I hope it doesn’t end up like the story line in Johnny Cash’s ‘A Boy Named Sue’
The gig was fast approaching and with Tony on the bill tonight to replace Ryan Molloy I was on earlier. The set list had been thinned down and ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was dropped again. I followed a sparkling set from Toyah and another powerful performance from Tom Robinson. They had got the crowd buzzing and I was better prepared than at Sturminster with a voice that had the cobwebs blown away. Again ‘Sledgehammer’, ‘What do you Want’, ‘Kayleigh’ and ‘Amore’ made up my contribution to proceedings and I was a lot more confident in my delivery than the night before. The ‘Kayleigh’ story from the pub went down well and I got a few chuckles on my intros from both band and audience. I sung a decent set and left the stage for Tony Hadley. Being the same height I didn’t need to adjust the mike stand which is always a problem when following or being followed by Toyah 🙂
Tony , in my opinion is one of the finest and most distinctive singers in the UK and as I listened to his set I couldn’t but help admire his professionalism and be reminded that ‘Spandau Ballet’ are going to have a tough job finding his replacement. I got the chance to sing with him as we were to share ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ and standing next to that voice and taking in the sheer power and projection really made me feel slightly inadequate. We left the stage to a great ovation and as we took our bows I was reminded about just what a great bunch of musicians I get the chance to work with.
There was an aftershow party upstairs in the venue and as this was Spike’s hometown it was a family affair. I took the chance to have a look round the music exhibition upstairs where there were a couple of rooms dedicated to Spike.It’s incredible seeing just who he has played with during his career and the photos of him with heroes and dignitaries from all over the world is hugely impressive.
I headed back to the hotel on the seafront just as ‘Storm Aileen’ was picking up. I hoped it would be blown over by morning as I had a flight home at midday. It was an early night for me and I slept with the window open listening to the sea raging and the wind howling around the pier.
After fond farewells to Spike and his lovely lady Kyle I taxied to the airport and a flawless flight home to my own lady. It had been a fine couple of days and it whetted my appetite for my own December shows.I only had a few days to clear the control room before Steve Vantsis arrived to carry on searching for new writing ideas. It’s going to be a while until I see the SAS band again and with Spike out with ‘Queen’ soon there won’t be any traditional Christmas shows this year.Simone, Liam and I are invited along to their Glasgow show in December and with it being the night before the rehearsals and gig in Stirling it’s a perfect fuse to fire up my own stage sparks and send me back out on the road again.