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Finally it’s complete bar some judicious editing and correcting I’ll embark on tomorrow morning. The ‘Field of Crows’ sleeve notes for the next remaster. 9089 words at the moment with 4000 written today. The most complex of the sleeve notes so far as so much has been left out in order to compress 3 years of a tumultuous period in my life into something relevant to the album and at that same time making sense of the period.It’s 2.20 am, I have severe indigestion from perhaps too much coffee and a school run in 6 hours.Tomorrow is going to be a long read and I hope it all makes sense.
The last section of the sleevenotes
“In 2014 I’d decided to embark on this remaster series and wanted to review the original recordings. There was an option for remixes but due to technical difficulties the only album that was possible to work on out of the 3 I felt could benefit was ‘Field of Crows’. At the time I’d bumped into my old and dear friend Chris Kimsey who’d produced ‘Misplaced Childhood’ and ‘Clutching at Straws’ for Marillion and my second solo album ‘Internal Exile’. Chris was at a loose end that summer and was looking for a project. I suggested ‘Crows’ and sent him down a copy to listen to. Like many others he had never heard it and I was surprised at his genuine enthusiasm for the material. We talked it over and I handed over a couple of multi tracks for him to play with. What he came back with brought an entire new energy to the songs and I really liked his approach, accentuating the horns, tightening things up and layering the sound into something a lot more dynamic than the originals. It was groovier and yet still had a rocky edge I always felt was missing from the 2004 release. I green lighted his remix and he went ahead and began work on the rest of the material. What he delivered surprised everyone who heard it. It sounded like a new album and I designated it as the primary disc on this remaster. It’s sat around for too long but I’m glad that this is now in the public domain and can be heard in all its glory. I loved it back then and I love it even more now. This is how it should have sounded.”
Back home after a couple of days in Karlsruhe visiting family and tidying up some business issues.It was the first time Simone had been back since she moved here with Liam at the end of July so quite an emotional return accentuated by the fact it was my lady’s birthday on Wednesday. It was wonderful seeing her daughters again both of whom have settled well into our new arrangements. The visit was good timing as Simone’s youngest daughter Mona is heading out to South East Asia and Australia in a couple of weeks for a 6 month trek and her oldest daughter Tara starts her final year at Uni with a masters degree in economics her aim in 2017. With my own daughter Taz ensconced in France for the foreseeable future Simone and I are embracing our own lives here with her son Liam happy in the knowledge that our young women are finding their own places in the world.We are creating our own beautiful space together and my lady’s visible happiness was commented on by her girls who recognise that we are both so good for each other.Simone’s parents and their partners are also hugely supportive of our situation and their initial worries have all been dispelled as they have seen us all settle into our respective positions. Spending a couple of days with them all really brought the family together and with Simone’s Tara visiting us in a couple of weeks and her mother and partner coming over for Christmas we all feel a lot closer and less concerned about the distance than we did in July.
As well as quality family time we spent Thursday night after dinner with Simone’s Dad and his wife at the Kranz with our friends #steffenmross #petrapetti #michaelschneider #carstendelaporte Simone’s brother #torstenroesler , his girlfriend and some of Simone’s friends and her daughter #monagolecki splashing some Grauburgender around and me going over all things football with a good dose of Euro politik thrown in. A fine baying of party animals was to be heard before we retired for a relatively early night as we had a flight home next day.
We were glad to get back to the Studio as I had a workload to deal with. The material is now all chosen for the ‘Moveable Feast’ project which is now 4 CD’s across 2 German shows, one with Foss Paterson and the other with John Beck on keyboards. It’s a wealth of material and #SteveVantsis has done a great job compiling and processing the audio. I should be finished writing up the ‘Field of Crows’ sleeve notes by Monday and can then start collecting the photos which thankfully are now in digital folders rather than printed photos that are a trial to find. Steve is now focusing on filtering through the ‘Farewell to Childhood’ material and I’ll be writing up and choosing images for the 2 projects which should be a lot less demanding on my memory banks than the ‘Crows’ era which straddles a lot of history.
The only downer among all this is that my back problems have intensified and I have been in increasing pain in the last couple of weeks. In Karlsruhe they took a turn for the worse and I lost all feeling in the sole of my right foot due to trapped nerves. I had been waiting on my doctor getting back to me on the possibility of having what is now the inevitable operation on the NHS and after calling him yesterday when I returned I’ve been advised to follow the private route as I’m looking at a long wait otherwise. I’ve reached the point where something has to be done very soon and so on Monday I’ll be booking the operation at the Spire hospital in Edinburgh.Hopefully this will happen in November but the 6-8 weeks recovery are going to have a big effect on both current and future plans. Financially it’s a big hit at over £8k just for the op with physio topping that up into eye watering numbers. However this has to be done and the sooner the better as it’s not only extremely painful and de-habilitating but also affecting my mental processing and making it difficult to focus on doing anything creative. Long term this is my only option and thoughts on retirement will have to be postponed for now as album writing, recording and touring will all have to be moved back.
There was a very sad and concerning irony as when I was at my mum’s before I went to Germany she showed me an article in her newspaper about Phil Collins who is now walking with a stick after he had an unsuccessful ba
ck operation. I’ve no idea about Phil’s exact problem but it sent a shiver through me. The good news is that he is about to head out on a tour and all I can hope is that my problem isn’t as exacerbated as his and that my operation literally gets me back on my feet as soon as possible, unaided and relatively pain free. I’m now committed to getting this done and hopefully my procedure will sort my problems out. There’s a garden to be dug and stages to be conquered next year and I want to be all singing and dancing again before the season starts.
You’re probably well aware of my ongoing back and legs issues and the search for a solution. A week after I arrived home from Switzerland in a lot of pain I received a letter from the Edinburgh Spire hospital accepting the referral from my local doctor. I called them in the morning and that night I saw a consultant who set up an MRI scan which was organised for the next morning. The scan happened on the Tuesday and on Saturday I went in again to see my consultant Dr D.
When I saw the words ‘degenerative damage’ on the screen of his PC which had images of my spine in detailed display I knew I wasn’t going to be getting good news.As a layman I recognised that what I was seeing wasn’t a healthy specimen.
I took in as much as I could from the medical spiel and recognised that what I was hearing had already been mentioned by my Dutch consultants in April. Bulging discs, trapped nerves, bone growths, protruding vertebrae plus a host of other issues were discussed.
In short I was given 3 options which were quickly thinned down to the only one that offered me a relatively long term solution. Physio and other remedies were ruled out as were more injections as it had gone too far and it required a ‘mechanical’ intervention. I’d been told in Holland that this would eventually be the case as injections could only provide me with short term relief and they were only masking the real issues..
And so I am now looking at a small surgical operation in November ( if I go down the private medical route) with 6-8 weeks rehabilitation and lots of post op physio. Dr D has told me that this procedure will take all the pain from my legs and vastly alleviate my spine issues. It involves cutting away bone to allow the disc and nerves space and thus removing all the pressure that is giving me this hellish sciatica and knee problems. It won’t deal with all my back issues and I may need to have vertebrae fused together in the future but for now this is a welcome first step to having my movement returned and getting rid of the increasing pain.
I’m annoyed that I had an MRI scan done on the NHS a year ago when I first went to the doctors on the behest of the Dutch team. Whoever looked at those September 2015 scans must have seen the damage back then as all this didn’t happen in a year. I didn’t receive any contact from the NHS about those scans and if I hadn’t elected to take a private health route I could still be waiting on that consultation. I managed to arrange 2 consultations,an MRI scan and get a diagnosis in the space of 7 days but it’s not been cheap.
I am one of the lucky people who have the ability to pay for a private option and I genuinely feel for people out there who are trapped in waiting lists and unable to move forward and receive treatments because they can’t afford it.
If I continue down the private route and take the operation in November it’s going to be a hit and a half but I have to look at the long term and without remedial treatment I will probably be unable to tour again.
The prospect of being able to walk properly again and to get a decent night’s sleep without pain has no financial value as far as I am concerned and in all probability this means ironically that I may have to put my retirement plans back for at least a year.
It shouldn’t affect the album writing too much but I will lose a chunk of time at the end of the year. I’ve been told I will, be able to walk out of hospital next day but will have to take it very easy for at least the first 6 weeks. I’m just glad I have Simone here as I don’t think it would be easy to cope with the rehabilitation and recovery on my own. Thankfully my lady is a trained doctor’s assistant and I know she will take great care of me.
I knew on Saturday that there was a high probability that a surgical operation would be the only answer so I wasn’t particularly shocked at the news. I’m just glad there’s a way forward now.
I’m being positive and looking forward to getting down the gym, riding a bike, building up these leg and back muscles and getting back to some level of fitness again. Hillwalking is something else I’ve been unable to do for a couple of years but the grail of grails is the possibility of playing 5 a side football again.
one step at a time, one step at a time
It turns out the fluffy wee bunnies cavorting down in the orchard are making forays into the kitchen gardens. I’d thought the tall raised beds would act as a deterrent but it appears I have “wererabbits” who’ve climbed up and nipped all the tops off my carrots. It’s not feasible to wire off the garden and make it rabbit proof and the family won’t let me get out the air rifle. ( a dilemma as I love rabbit stew as well!). The only solution seems to be bringing forward the acquisition of a dog or at least a couple of cats. We want to wait until end of October for the cats as we have a week away in Germany visiting family during the school holidays but the dog was scheduled for next Spring and now might appear earlier than planned.
pellets required would probably be very unorganic and give us all lead poisoning. The only answer I have apart from squishing them between my fingers is a good dose of pyrethrum, the organic pesticide nuke. I’d planted a lot of nasturtiums in the kitchen garden this year as they are a ‘sacrificial’ plant that the Cabbage whites prefer to brassicas. The problem is that the CW’s have laid eggs on the nasturtiums which have hatched and the hairy bastards have crawled down below the nets and onto my purple sprouting broccoli where they are currently feasting.
Strangely enough recent strong winds blew the nets off another Sprouting broccoli bed and I left it off hoping the butterflies had gone for the season. There’s no damage on those particular plants and I’m putting it down to a lack of nasturtiums in that corner as well as it being next to the bird feeders.I’ll leave the nets off the infested bed today and see if there’s a sparrow feeding frenzy. That would save my aching shoulder from pumping pyrethrum spray over the critters which in all honesty I’d prefer not to do as it’s harmful to bees of which I have hundreds on the big lavenders and who also flit among the nasturtiums which are still in flower!
The orchard is overloaded this year and it’s visited more as we put the table and chairs from ‘The Balcony’ down there. It’s a wonderful place of peace and solitude and the chairs are next to the cairn we put to mark the cat’s burial spots and where the ashes of ‘Borgumil’ the Irish wolfhound that I brought back from Durlach on the tour bus are to be buried. Our dream was always that ‘Borgie’ would one day run in this garden but it wasn’t meant to be and we lost him before we could make our move to here. We plan to put something special to mark the spot where they all now lie together and where we can sit and take in the tranquility and where I know I will find an inspiring place to write. It feels like another dimension has been added to the garden as the orchard draws us down to another space we only really looked at but never spent real time in.
The ‘Blue house is the next works project to be nominated as after 13 years weathering and despite the paint overs and tarting up it’s got to the point where I have to replace all the woodwork on the front door area as it’s rotten and falling apart. Originally just indoor softwood frames from B and Q it had been hoped the outdoor paint would weatherproof it for longer but it’s past the point of saving now. I’m hoping to cut one of the huge panes of glass from the studio renovation in half and create 2 big windows with a hardwood door between but we’re not sure if we can or if it’s cost effective to cut the laminated glass. Either way it has to be repaired as I want to grow plants under LED lights in the ‘Blue house’ throughout the winter and need it sealed. I’ll be digging up the sprawling globe artichokes that are in front of the house and now overshadowing it, moving them to another bed and paving that small area to use for a cold frame set up.
One thing that has been considered is setting up video blogs on a dedicated section of the website where we can schedule weekly programmes and talk about what we are doing and giving general updates on the garden. I’m no Monty Don or anywhere near having the knowledge and expertise of the Beechgrove garden gurus but that’s the point. Rab and I thought over this at coffee break one day as we were pondering over the brassica net problems. Rab has no experience of gardening but he’s been learning fast and has come to love it. I have a basic knowledge of most things green but spend a lot of time googling and reading up and have learned a lot in the past year or so. I’ve been passing this new knowledge onto Rab and we have both been getting an education. I love the professional shows but also like finding tips on You Tube from amateur gardeners some of whom are not particularly great with cameras on both sides of the lens.
extension a couple of years ago. Simone’s terracotta pots that were brought over fitted perfectly into place and with the wisteria, scented honeysuckle, jasmine and roses all starting to take off the ‘New Balcony’ has been born. I added to this last week when I threaded 3 lengths of solar powered LED fairylights around the pergola and it is now a little slice of heaven sprinkled with starlight. Even if it’s cold we find ourselves huddled up outside and taking in the night air just as we did in Durlach.
In April this year I was approached by my German agency representative and good friend, Dominik to ask if I could play a show in Switzerland in September. He’d been contacted by another good friend , Norbert Mandel who runs the Z7 venue in Pratteln and who also promotes a festival just outside Basel. Norbert needed a huge favour as his headline act for the last night of the festival had pulled out of all their scheduled shows due to the sudden death of one of their members.The band, ‘Riverside’ were old acquaintances and I’d heard about the tragic death of their guitarist, Piotr Grudziński the month before. I told Dominik that I would not have a rehearsed band available then and to bring them together for a one off show in Switzerland did not make any sense. He offered me a German pick up band who could rehearse in Karlsruhe and I could work with them a couple of days there before playing the festival on the Sunday. This was out of my comfort zone but after checking out the musicians on You Tube I decided to go for it. Norbert was exceedingly grateful but in all honesty he had helped me out with shows in the past and had always been supportive so this was the least I could do for him.
The arrangements were made and everything was put in place. I just had to choose a set list for the band to learn. I decided against a full performance of ‘Misplaced’ as I’d declared Bilston Robin as the last outing and didn’t want to be seen to be perpetuating the tour. I also didn’t want to put the new band under pressure too much so opted for some more straightforward songs that didn’t require lots of sound work.and back up effects. I chose Feast of Consequences, Long Cold Day, Family Business, Misplaced side 1, Lucky, Market Square Heroes and Internal Exile with the Company as an encore. I only had to fill 70 mins and these songs gave me a good variation for a festival set. The months crept by and it was all on pause in the back of my mind until a few weeks ago.
I was aware that I hadn’t sung a full set since end of April and with all my ongoing back and knee problems I wasn’t exactly a specimen of health as any fitness training outside of gardening duties was out the question. I was glad it was only a 70 minute set. Rehearsals were scheduled for the Friday and Saturday before the show in Durlach at my good friend and former BAP drummer Juergen Zoellers studio. I’d hoped the trip would coincide with Liam’s September school holidays so we could all be there but I ended up with the strange experience of being in Durlach staying in the ‘Blauer Reiter’ hotel just 10 minutes walk away from our old Balcony on my own. I arrived in Stuttgart on Friday morning and Dominik drove me to the hotel where we had lunch before rehearsals.
The band had just set up when I arrived and were about to play the set together for the first time as all their homework had been done alone.We were all a bit nervous for the first 20 minutes but got into the nitty gritty pretty fast. Apart from a few sound and groove issues that were easily sorted out they had really got to grips with the songs and on the second set run through I was very confident that by Sunday it would be more than just acceptable live. Willy Wagner was bass player and MD for this show. I’d met him once before when he was playing with Juergen Zoeller’s band and they were on a night out at the Kranz. A highly affable guy and a great bass player with wonderful textured sounds he knew what he was on about and had prepared well for the sessions. He had the added bonus of having a birthday on gig day. Tony Clark was my guitarist. An American with a German mother, brought up in Seattle and moved back to Frankfurt in the 90’s he was a real likeable character with a healthy touch of the zany about him. Also an accomplished musician he surprised me when he took out a Japanese flute from his stacks and wowed us with a few deep trills. It turned out he’d studied Japanese music and was in fact a man of many talents. Michael Hauser was our keyboard player and like the others had done his homework on the arrangements and the sounds before he arrived at the studio. Well together and another easy going character he had the keys well under control. Our final band member was Moritz Mueller. A highly respected drummer with a list of credentials like the others he was so busy that the first 2 days he headed back home to Frankfurt after rehearsals for other sessions. A great player he had the set in hold on the first run through with only a couple of pointers to be made. He never stopped smiling.Considering this was our first meeting and run through it went exceptionally well.
Juergen Zoeller popped in to see us and he was suitably impressed. I’d know about his rehearsals studio for a while but had never been there. His drum collection needless to say was impressive and he played back the video that was promoting his new album due for imminent release. It was great to see him so excited and animated with this new project and I loved his energies that were still high after decades in the music industry. You can catch the first video of the title track from the Zoeller and Konsorten album here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLplwn1DmZ8
Juergen joined us later in the Vogelbraeu beer garden as we indulged in a “band bonding session” with schnapps and beers a go-go. We were joined by my sound engineer Alistair Lindsay who flew in that afternoon to be at our final day of rehearsals to get to know our stage set up. My good friends Steffen and Petra were also there and with help from our Irish waiter Nyall we managed to trip the light fandango till I crashed just before midnight. It had been a long day having left the Studio at 5 o’ clock that morning for the journey out leaving Simone to take Liam to school on her first solo outing in the car. We called each other just before the zeds took hold. It was quite surreal talking to my lady in Scotland from a hotel in Durlach!
I was surprisingly fresh next morning considering the previous nights session. Clean corn schnapps and beer had something to do with it with no toxic fall out registering in my system. I did hug the duvet till late morning and emerged into another blistering day for coffee in the garden before rehearsals. I’d arrived later than expected but had brought a tray of coffees as a token of mild apology that was graciously accepted by one an all. Alistair was slightly bleary but everyone else had already racked up the first 3 numbers of the set and had springs in their tails.We ran through a faultless ‘Misplaced ‘ and the rest of the material and decided it was all in place and ready for a stage. There was no point in continuing the run throughs as the band had mastered the songs and in my experience over rehearsal is as bad as under rehearsal. There’s a point the brain saturates and you start to overthink, screw up and then lose perspective on what you’re trying to achieve. I considered us more than ready for Switzerland and called a wrap on the day. It was sunny outside and the Biergarten was calling us.
I took in the Celtic Rangers game on my laptop in my hotel room then joined Alistair for some precautionary “Radler” shandies before moving gently into the curve of the evening. Yatta was due in around 7. I’d offered to fly him in for a ‘busman’s holiday’ and as he is now acting as agent for ‘Lazuli’ he could catch both our shows, set up some business and enjoy a weekend away from home with no pressures. I hadn’t see him since he left Durlach in the Clown Carrier bound for Scotland with the returning German merchandise. Again it was strange catching up here again in the biergarten where we’d had our last meal together. Even stranger was meeting up with Simone’s daughter Mona who works part time as a waitress at the Vogelbraeu and who I’d arranged to see when I was over. We hadn’t seen her since we left for the airport in July and Simone and Mona obviously deeply missed each other. Simone was worried that Mona might be upset at the fact her mother wasn’t there this time and that meeting me now might be difficult for her. We shouldn’t have worried as a smiling happy Mona bounded up to our table and big hugs were to be had. It was great to see her and we talked about Liam’s school and how he was fitting in and how her Mum was finding Life in Scotland.We swapped photos and videos and I called Simone at home so she could talk to her. It was a lovely short time and we both promised to try and get together in Scotland before she goes off on her 6 month trip to South East Asia and Australia.
Yatta finally arrived with Dominik and we dined on roasted pig knuckles with accompanying beers and schnapps. The band, minus a gigging Moritz, elected to move to the Kranz to meet up with Steffen, Petra and Carsten so we settled the bill and said our parting goodbyes to Mona to head up the main drag to the pub. Carousing continued and it was great to have new story boxes opened with Andy a fine teller of tales that grew wings and wildness as the shots of schnapps became an endless parade.I had one eye on my watch and as midnight approached I took my leave and avoided the procession to the only kebab shop still open. We were up early for the 90 minute drive to Basel and our festival venue. I needed a decent sleep before the big day.
The band were at breakfast when I hit reception around 9.30 on yet another blue sky day. Alistair was peely wally and had been throwing up all night. He blamed the pig but the jury had it down to schnapps intake.Yatta was shaken but not stirred and the rest of us were slightly fuzzy but nothing a long drive with an open window wouldn’t sort out. We headed for Basel and Pratteln beyond.
Everytime I’ve read a tour itinerary and seen “Pratteln- day off” mentioned I’ve sighed as with all due respect it’s a particularly boring town with nothing going for it.I’ve spent hours in the past reccying back streets for restaurants and things to do and the most interesting establishment I ever found was a Sex Supermarket on the second floor of one of the many banal concrete structures that make up the bland urban landscape.The Z7 club is the only reason to go there as far as we were concerned. Today’s venue was an open air only a few minutes from Pratteln and I admit I didn’t do my homework before coming out. If I’d known of the existence of Augusta Ruarica a few years ago my days off in Pratteln would have been a lot more interesting.
As we came into the area you couldn’t but help notice the occasional lonely Roman pillars and sections of broken ancient stonework along the streets among the village buildings. It turned out that this was a major Roman metropolis that had been constructed in 50BC and thrived until it’s eventual destruction around 330AD when the Empire collapsed. Only a few major structures remained but the entire area was a huge ongoing archaeological dig and new information about the town and it’s inhabitants was being discovered all the time. It was a truly fascinating place. Our stage was facing the old amphitheater, one of the largest remaining North of the Alps and it was a magnificent setting. I wandered around the site in the baking sun soaking up the history. 15000 people had once lived here and it had been a thriving place of culture and commerce it’s position on the banks of the Rhein making it a very important trading centre. As the Roman Empire crumbled and the native tribes pushed South and reclaimed their territories the colony had come under prolonged and sustained attacks. The town had shrank and eventually near disappeared by 350AD helped along by starvation, disease and a harsh climate. Today it lies mainly beneath modern structures but the maps and models that can be seen by the amphitheater make you very aware just how important and extensive Augusta Ruarica was back then. http://www.augustaraurica.ch/en/ https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g2538993-d3458199-r171431463-Augusta_Raurica-Augst.html
After a quick wander in the backstage area and it’s surroundings I was looking forward to more exploring but soundcheck was first up. Alistair quickly got the channels to hand and one by one the band checked in. We ran through ‘Feast’ together and all was tickety boo. There was no need to play anymore and everyone was confident with their sounds on stage. We headed to the hotel to check in and quickly get back on site as I wanted to go to the nearby museum with Yatta. Urgent messages on the mobiles to return to deal with a “huge problem” were ominous. ‘Lazuli’ were using the same outfront desk as us and their engineer had accidentally deleted our sound files that Alistair had saved on the desk thereby wiping our soundcheck and requiring us to go onstage that evening after a line check. It wasn’t what we needed but I had faith in my out front engineer to come up with the goods. The band I knew were good enough to handle it as well.
It was great to see the ‘Lazuli’ boys after such a long time and I had the added bonus of catching up with Chris Thompson and his Norwegian backing band again. I’d worked with Madds the guitarist and the guys before in Bergen with Chris and we’d done a couple of German festivals together in the past.Gunnar the keyboard player and I got on particularly well and there were lots of smiles when we all caught up. As expected Chris and I shared ailments and he recommended a support to try out on my knees. He looked in great shape and his plaited beard had come a long way since I last saw him. My daughter had driven over from France to see the festival and spend some time with her boyfriend Romain.Taz hadn’t seen Chris Thompson since she came with me to New Orleans over 10 years ago for an SAS band corporate gig so the catch up photo was obligatory.
I had time to kill and after the sound situation was dealt with Yatta and I headed across the road to the museum. We are both suckers for historical stuff and a museum less than a spear’s throw from the backstage tent and with a treasure on display was a serious draw.
The local council or whoever deals with Ruarica have done a fantastic piece of work with street displays and signposts to various locations around the town to give the visitor a great insight in to what it was like back then. None more so than a fully reconstructed Roman villa an annex to which was the museum. It was well laid out with pride of place going to a massive collection of silver objects that had been found during excavation works back in 1961. The biggest hoard of ancient silver discovered in Europe is reckoned to have been buried just outside the walls of the fortress and belonged to 2 men , one a Roman commander. I thought it was a pretty smart move burying it outside the walls rather than in their villas and obviously the marauders or whoever were on the rampage took care of the owners and the silver was subsequently undiscovered until a digger ripped up the hiding place. It wasn’t even as if it was immediately recognised as a silver hoard as it lay in mud and snow for months with some people thinking it was just old rubbish. There were pieces found that were about to be thrown out by their owners as they considered them just scrap metal. The artifacts now cleaned up are dazzling in every respect and the silversmith work leaves you open mouthed. My favourites were the soup spoons and the huge traveling candle that broke down into pieces for transport. There were copies of the spoons for sale in the museum shop at 100 quid a pop and I’m sure an oligarch or two had picked up a set to impress their dinner guests. The price tags were out of my league even though the wee voice in my head was tempting me with “go on, buy one, it’s an investment!”
Yatta and I wandered around the exhibits and had a laugh later as both of us had been thinking about a heist after noticing security seemed pretty lax! ( If anything happened after we left we both have cast iron alibis). It was fascinating and I couldn’t but help being reminded that this had all once been part of a huge thriving colony of a bygone Empire that has long since disappeared in the murk of ages. The reconstructed Roman house was also to be marveled at. It had been paid for by private investors and was worth every penny. Wandering through the villa made it easy to imagine the simplicity of Life back then and the atmosphere was so tranquil. At the same time I shivered at the thought of what happened to people here once the defenses eroded and help from the South was cut off leaving them alone to fend for themselves.
It was a great way to pass an afternoon and we headed to catering for something to eat before ‘Lazuli’ hit the stage. The crowd was a bit sparse and spread out in the amphitheater but by the end of the set the boys had done their work and encouraged the audience to dance and get involved.The went off to a fine reaction but as always it would be great to see this band playing in front of bigger crowds as they deserve more. Yatta has set up a clutch of dates for them in the UK at the end of November and I hope they get the attendances they need to keep things moving forward.They were happy with the show and that is all that matters.
Chris Thompson and his band were up next and he delivered exactly what you expect from an old hand at this game. The band were tight and put in a great set containing old stalwarts like ‘Blinded by the Light’, ‘Davies on the Road Again’,’ Mighty Quinn’ and ‘Don’t Kill it Carol’. Pro and on the dot it was another great performance from the vocal meister who shows no sign of slowing down and for a man who’s 70 next year he is still hitting all the notes. He never ceases to amaze me.
A longer set up for us as we needed to line check after the desk debacle and I’d decided that I’d approach this gig from a different angle as the crowd and setting suggested a more intimate approach. I entered centre stage and mentioned why I was there , dedicating the set to Piotr Grudziński. I introduced the band onstage one by one and we fell into ‘Feast of Consequences’. ‘Long Cold Day’ and ‘Family Business’ followed and everyone had settled down quickly into playing and enjoying the performance. I did not for any moment feel uncomfortable or out of place and the band with only a couple of run throughs in the previous days was pretty tight. ‘Misplaced side 1’ was up next and there were no trip ups or awkward glances as we sailed through the sections. The only problem I had was with the inevitable cameras that came to bear and as there were so many it was pointless getting too upset. However there was one guy who parked an i phone with a microphone on stage right in front of me and who showed little interest in the actual performance that did nark me. He was standing alone with his back mostly to stage and ignored me when I shouted down to him to move his equipment. By ‘Heart of Lothian’ I was fired up and tried to kick it off stage. This just irritated him and next time I didn’t miss but lost my glasses in the process. A bit of verbal followed him as he left the auditorium and I was close to letting the remonstrations get out of hand. The crowd were, I think a bit shocked at my outburst and I was in danger of blowing the great vibe we’d had up till now. I reined myself in and then intro’d and launched into an attacking version of ‘Lucky’. ‘Market Square’ kept the ball in the air and after another ‘Scottish’ introduction we ended the set with ‘Internal Exile’. The adrenalin and white wine took away the pain and I jumped from the stage to dance with the crowd as the band jigged away above me. A great reaction carried us off stage and then we hit them with ‘Company’ as our only encore. Watching ballet dancers in an amphitheater has a lot to beat.
It was a wonderful show and the boys did brilliantly. We took our bows and left with heads held very high indeed. Photos with the Company Italy afterwards and lots of smiles and quaffing of wine among friends old and new. It was a fantastic vibe and we carried it back to the hotel with us and rode it out till the bar closed. Thankfully for me that was earlier than anticipated and I hit my room before 1 as I had a flight home next day and a relatively early rise. The weekend had been a huge success and although I enjoyed the gig I was glad that this would be my last full show until at least June next year.
Dominik was pushing me for more shows with this band but I am not considering anything until after I have written and recorded ‘Weltschmerz’. I may use some of the guys on the album and nothing is ruled out regarding the future band line ups. There may be times like with this Swiss gig where to make it happen I have to consider changing personnel and with so many unanswered questions after Brexit who knows where the European touring situation will go. If visas are required in the future, as we have to deal with in North America, then one offs and small tours may only be feasible with European musicians. Who knows at this point? I enjoyed playing with the guys and we all had a load of fun together. I’d like to do it again sometime but as I said my focus is now on writing a new album. I’m sure there will be space for some Japanese flute playing on it ! 🙂
Monday was pain. I arrived home bent, twisted and aching in every bone, tendon and muscle. A hot bath with magnesium mineral oils took away the edge but I was regretting that off stage jump and the jigging on ‘Exile’ 24 hours before. It was great to be back with a smiling family and sitting around a table together eating dinner as the sun set over the Blue house. I’m glad I am off the road for a while and getting my Life into some sort of normality with a sense of routine to deal with instead of pinballing around airports, backstage areas, hotels and venues. I’m looking forward to this relative downtime with my lady and my stepson and getting on with our new lives here. This is a happy place and I intend it to remain so. Our northern villa on the edge of empires.
When I settled on the working title for the new album a couple of years ago I had no idea how much things would change in that time and just how relative it would all become. It seems as if the world has gradually edged into a darkness that is touching us all in some way or another and I personally find it a lot harder to come to terms with what I read and hear and see around me. This year I’ve found myself retreating more into myself and focusing on my immediate surroundings, in particular the garden where I embraced the relative simplicity and the natural order of things. I found it reassuring and positive and felt a sense of control as I attempted to manage the ever changing environment and perpetual challenges. I found my mind drifting towards the album.
Trying to decipher the constant stream of pain, anger, injustice, hate and ignorance coming at us from so many different points on the planet and in so many guises I’ve found impossible to manage. Just watching Channel 4 news last night on the Syrian crisis when they attempted to unravel the multi faced fighting factions,their friends and foes, allegiances and supporting shadows was nigh impossible to fathom. My head was reeling from rewinds on the hard drive as I tried to unravel it all and even glimpse any solution. I couldn’t find any input balance from this constantly sprawling and engaging conflict with all it’s devastating worldwide consequences and was struggling to stop my mind from shorting out as it was reaching overload. I had to find a way to deal with this in the lyrics but I had no idea how to approach it. Add together the dark energies from natural disasters and the other manmade madness and It was all too big. Weltschmerz indeed.
When Romaine Thorel, keyboard player from ‘Lazuli’ had sat down with me in the control room just over a couple of weeks ago the first thing he wanted to know was what was the album about and how did I hear the direction. I’d just seen a story, again on Channel 4 news about an old man who operated the last “garden centre” as one of their series of articles on the besieged city of Aleppo. He worked together with his 2 sons trying to hold together a small corner of normality, pruning roses and growing lavender plants that he sold to people to put on the traffic roundabouts that were traditionally islands of flowers. The attempt to keep them planted up throughout the airstrikes and bombardments was an attempt to hold back the chaos and provide a reminder of what it used to be like before the war. The man was known as “The Guardian of the Flowers” and referred to the daily sound of conflict as like “listening to Beethoven”. He passed on many wise sayings dressed in gardening allegory and I was reminded of the Peter Sellers character in “Being There”. The article struck a chord in me and I was captured by the man’s story as it played out on screen. As you would expect there wasn’t a happy ending and at the end of the piece the broadcaster announced that the old man and one of his sons had been killed in an air attack 3 weeks after filming and the garden completely destroyed. I’d been genuinely touched by the film and was upset as the piece concluded with an interview with the distraught and confused younger son who had survived the bombing and who was now alone in the living hell of Aleppo.
I knew then how I had to approach the lyric content of the album and told Romain that rather than attempt to encompass the big picture that I’d wrap it up into bundles of stories about people; individual characters with their own experiences and ways of dealing with Weltschmerz. I already had a few in mind. By patching together these tales I could employ different styles, influences and techniques and if there were 10 songs to be written I could work with different co writers on each one but use a core band to hold the playing together so it didn’t become too sonically diverse. I’d have to deliver my own take and comment and saw that as 2 “bookends”.
When I started writing the aborted autobiography back in 2009 when I was recovering from my second vocal operation I’d started to think about the spaces I’d grown up in and inhabited over the years. When I was about 4 years old my parents had moved my young sister Laura and I up to the converted attic space in our house in Glebe Street, Dalkeith. My grandfather had come to live with us and we didn’t have enough rooms. The attic would become my bedroom, playroom and den as I got older. It was my special place where I hid away and allowed dreams to take hold. I climbed up to it on an aluminium 2 section pull down ladder and through a hatchway that had a cover on it to stop us falling through it. My parents locked our doors at night to stop us wandering around and at the time I had no conscious thoughts about what could have happened if there had been a fire below. There were no windows only an iron opaque glassed skylight that for years I couldn’t lift and which became my spyhole on the small world I knew outside. It might sound claustrophobic but I loved that room and felt safe there. In 2009 when I started to think back I came to realise that in all the places I have ever owned I have had a “big room” and every one has been brightly lit through big windows or French Doors. Even the Studio renovation which created yet another big space had velux windows added. I’ve been recreating ‘the attic’ everywhere I have lived but I’ve added the components I missed including “escape routes” along the way. I’d been thinking again about the ‘Big Room’ and what it meant to me when my father died and I revisited a lot of memories around then. It had played a very important part in my development including being the environment where I first started listening to music and where I used to spend a lot of time reading. ( It doesn’t take much mental effort to join together the dots and see a version of the ‘attic’ on the first 3 Marillion album covers! ) I’m not exactly sure how yet but that’s where I can see the lyrical ‘bookends’ coming from.
The album was starting to take on a shape of sorts and there are enough ideas flying around to catch and nail down. The green book designated for this project’s scribbles and scratchings now lies on my desk and can be found next to me on the couch when I’m watching TV hoping to trap those fleeting moments of inspiration before the wine takes hold.The pages are filling and there are some interesting notes already.
Romain had asked for lyric ideas before he came over but I had only sketches. I’d bought a #Yamaha P115 digital piano on recommendation from Steve Vantsis as I needed a keyboard for Romain and others to play during the writing sessions. I’ve decided to take the same approach os on the ‘Feast’ sessions where the songwriting will come from basic instruments and not from copying and pasting on software programmes. Romain liked the idea and after our initial discussions in the control room he started to rummage around on the keys for ideas. We only had a couple of days but I felt that was enough for our introductory session.The Yamaha was inspiring being played through the studio #KEF LS50 monitor speakers and I let Romain find himself before we sat down and started to sculpt something together.
He came up with something inspired between early ‘Blue Nile’ and Erik Satie. A melancholy melodic piano piece that later grew into a slightly held back epic saturated with cross rhythms that had a tip of the hat to early ‘Yes’ and ‘Elbow’ as it suggested a lot of vocal cross play. At the moment it is a rough sketch but we were confident enough to nominate it as a potential final track on the album and as my ‘bookend’ lyric started to evolve, a title of “The Fat Lady Sings”. It’s early days and Romain and I plan to get together again later in the year in between his commitments to ‘Lazuli’. Steve Vantsis will be coming up here as well in that time and eventually we will bring people together to work on ideas in groups once the one on one sessions start providing basics. There are a number of people out there who I’d like to co write with, some past contributors others new faces I have to speak to. This album is going to take a while to write and I won’t commit to recording until I am sure it is ready to move to the next step. I’m lucky in that Calum Malcolm, who will be producing ‘Weltschmerz’, respects my idiosyncrasies and understands inevitable delays. We have penciled in studio recordings here for next May/ June for a potential album release in early September. It all depends on the writing and I really want this album, my last, to be special on all counts.
It could mean that we will be recording and playing festivals around the same time but that could be a positive as the early ‘Feast’ performances definitely helped us in the studio.
One factor which is coming more and more into the equation and which I have to seriously take on board is my physical health. As you have probably become aware in the last year I’ve had recurrent back problems and these have to be addressed sooner rather than later. Cortisone injections in my spine helped me get through the ‘Farewell to Childhood’ shows but as a long term solution are inadequate and are only masking the real problem. They last about 3 months and as I had my last injection in April I am currently in a lot of pain and discomfort as the spinal issues are manifesting themselves in my legs and I have trouble with balance and movement. I had MRI scans on my spine a year ago but heard nothing back from either that, the X Rays on my knees or the ultra sound on my shoulder in May when I was told I had a torn tendon by the operative who said a surgical operation may be required. I’ve become exasperated and told my local doctor that as much as I sympathise with an underfunded and overstretched NHS system which has been great to me over the years I have to look for other solutions as the bottom line is that at the moment I could not even consider touring. Somehow I have to manage this problem within the writing of the new album and find time for a potential operation and recovery before the intended shows next Summer. I have to admit that this is first and foremost in my mind just now as it’s debilitating me on a daily basis. I am seriously concerned as without a long term solution I may have to completely reconsider touring as part of my career. And that is a game changer. I have to look forward and stay positive about all this. Obviously I can still write and sing but the physical demands of touring on a bus are out of the question until I can find a solution either through extreme physio or an operation to deal with my spinal injury. The good news is that I’m not dead yet 🙂
The year, as I have mentioned in recent blogs , has been demanding and draining on every level and I am now in a position to address a lot of outstanding projects. Steve Vantsis has been an invaluable help and in the middle of his own ‘Tilt’ band project has managed to put together and engineer the live album from the ‘Moveable Feast’ tour from 2013/14. It’s been a very long time coming but we settled on 2 live shows, one from Wurzburg featuring Foss Paterson on the first incarnation of the touring band and the other from Karlsruhe featuring John Beck to give us 2 very different sets with vastly changed setlists to take in that extended event. They sound magnificent and Calum Malcolm will be mastering the recordings in the next month or so together with the ‘Farewell To Childhood’ recordings to give me 2 live releases to coincide with the “Field of Crows” remaster with the brand new Chris Kimsey remix of that studio album in November.
The live albums will be in the same physical format as the remastered albums; hardback folder with 16 pages of images and sleeve notes incorporating photos from Kai R Joachim who shot both tours as well as my own backstage shots. “Moveable Feast” will be 4 CD’s of audio while “Farewell to Childhood” will have a live DVD from Berlin together with 3 audio cd’s. With both live releases the prices will be kept competitive and we will be offering free tour t shirts with multiple orders across the live albums and the remasters as part of the drive to finance the ‘Weltschmerz’ album.
The ‘Polska” DVD/ blu ray as part of an elaborate Fishheads Club acoustic set release will be put together some time this year and more announcements on fund raising for ‘Weltschmerz’ will be announced as the months go by. This will include the remasters of ‘Vigil’, ‘Internal’ ‘Songs from the Mirror’ and ‘Suits’.
‘Weltschmerz’ is going to be an important album for all of us I hope. It’s going to need your support on every level. It isn’t just another piece of disposable plastic. I would like to make a statement with this. It’s the last one I intend to write and it has to be special.
Indy and Proud
Another breakdown in communications between the removal agent and the crew on the road train who were scratching their heads in front of a monstrous black 19 metre vehicle stranded on the main farm drive. I’d provided all the information required on both properties months before and had told the agent that the farm road wasn’t suitable for a road train. He’d told me that our belongings were coming up from Liverpool in a long wheel based truck. After 3 weeks of waiting on it to finally arrive here we were facing up to the possibility of having our stuff returned to Liverpool to be reloaded and delivered as the added shit cherry of this situation was that our consignment was on the trailer and not the detachable truck. The two operatives were entirely sympathetic to our dilemma and we placed all our hopes on maneuvering the Goliath between the storage sheds and containers and up the back road which involved a tight turn and a climb up a short steep slope with a broken uneven surface that ran all the way up to the studio. I’d had a double decker tour bus up there but that was with a confident driver used to squeezing around stage load in areas. I left the road train driver to recce the route and headed back to the studio to await their verdict. There was no point in hanging around and getting wound up as ultimately it was their decision.After about 20 mins I was still waiting and decided to go down to the storage sheds. I found them parked up and just starting to unload our boxes into the container we’d recently hired to store all the German merch that Yatta had brought over. I’d caught them just in time. They explained that our friend Arthur who worked on the farm had pointed them at the container thinking it was just more merch arriving. Rab had been working in the container that morning and had left the doors open. Cue bad comedy moment! The good news was that they’d got past the difficult section and 10 mins later after reloading were parked up outside the Studio. It was a different team from the Durlach pick up and they struggled a bit in the heat that was shimmering in the fields beyond. First things off were the rose and the hydrangea which were remarkably healthy considering 3 weeks of incarceration. The ground team at the Liverpool storage base had obviously let them out into the daylight over the period as our Durlach Britannia team had promised.
The guys shuffled and shuttled back and forward and the truck was emptied pretty quickly. Simone’s prep had paid off with all the boxes and items designated for various rooms and areas now in situ.We’d thought this all out well in advance on the Balcony and everything was slotting into place now. The only tricky question was how to deal with the couches. Two were already on the trailer having been out in Germany for a couple of years but we had a massive 3 seater taking up space in the studio. We needed all 3 of them in the container as they had been sold and were to be picked up that weekend by the buyers. A smile and a pass of folded notes to the guys as a contribution to their beer vouchers that night sorted out our problem. They puffed, cursed and heaved the gargantuan couch out to the trailer and I was so glad it wasn’t my back taking the strain. A scribble and a shake of hands and the road train disappeared in a cloud of dust into the sunset leaving us smiling in a landscape of cardboard boxes and disassembled furniture.
The only thing broken was a terracotta pot holder. Even the hastily packed Liberty lamp shade had arrived unscathed and it had been earmarked as a possible casualty of the move. It was an incredible feeling watching the flat in Durlach emerging from boxes and bubble wrap and taking it’s place here in Scotland. Although we had imagined it many a time over a glass on the Balcony here it all was seamlessly merging with the existing Studio to the point where it was difficult after a few hours to tell what had been here originally. In the space just short of a day it would become our home.
Tara’s old rickety bed had been dismantled and taken out that morning to await pick up from the recycling squad with the mattress added to the container and destined for her Mum’s house. Rab busied away rebuilding the Durlach bed and the 19th century wooden wardrobes which slotted together much to his amazement with no nails or screws involved. The old Biedermeier furniture had been designed with easy movement in mind and broke down into pieces that could be easily transported. Some of the joints were a bit loose and shrunken after years of central heating but a few well placed strips of monster tape held them together and made them moth proof.Simone had organised the pack so well that within only a couple of days there was a stack of disassembled boxes outside and nearly everything had found a place in our new home together. It was truly remarkable how similar our tastes were and we lay together on the couch that night with the fire on and marveled at just how in tune everything was.
In the middle of the unpacking we had another big moment to deal with. The day after the truck arrived Liam started school in Haddington. He’d visited the school a couple of times in the last year and had been really positive and excited about starting there. We’d managed to get his uniform together the previous weekend and everything was prepared for the big day. The last time I’d done a school run was about ten years ago when I used to drop Taz off and the prospect of early rises I probably found as much daunting as Liam starting his new school. I do not do mornings well and with a similarly gened daughter I only had memories of silent, moody journeys in perpetual darkness from my previous experiences. Luckily I’ve found Liam to be a cheery chappie of a morning and his good moods infectious. I offered to be designated driver as Simone wasn’t confident of UK roads yet but after a few days I was finding it easy. Rediscovering mornings was interesting. Greeting Elspeth and Rab in something other than a dressing gown was new as was realising mid afternoon that it wasn’t early evening and there were a lot more hours in the working day. Needless to say I was finding myself turning into bed a lot earlier. My i phone now had a sequence of alarms programmed.One to wake me up to rouse Liam at 7.30, one at 8 to rouse me again to shower and dress for an 8.30 leave and the other at 3.45 to remind me to pick him up at school ( 12 on a Friday). He had a great first day and a sigh of relief was to be audibly heard at the kitchen table when we returned. It was vitally important for us all that Liam managed to transpose himself into a Scottish school and fit into a completely new system and environment. After the first week he was doing brilliantly with no problems and Simone and I were so proud of him. No complaints, no issues, no severe language difficulties he was the wee man.
Saturday was the next big milestone when Simone and I went into HSBC in Princes Street in Edinburgh to open up a joint account to deal with our domestic and personal needs. A young Polish girl took us into a soulless cubicle, one of many in a clinical white room on the first floor of what was the flagship bank with stunning views across to the Gardens and the castle. She was very friendly and efficient and took us through the entire process, turning the screen and keyboard around so we could input some of our details ourselves. It was quite frankly depressing and annoying and I remembered fondly my old local bank manager in Dalkeith when I was a kid who knew everyone in the town and his customers inside out. Despite having 3 business accounts there for many years I still had to take in my passport, proof of residence and other ID and go through all the questions the most ridiculous of which was after I’d given my occupation as singer / songwriter – “And how many hours a week do you work?”. I had to give an answer as “computer says” I had to. I said 40 which was the answer I should have given to my doctor when he asked me about how many units of alcohol I drank a week. The coffee I’d had at the beginning of the process added to the couple I’d had earlier and I asked if I could use their men’s room. “I’m sorry but we only have a staff toilet but there’s one in Costa Coffee just round the corner”. And that is where I went as Simone went through her conversation with the computer before returning to go through all the online banking passwords/ security questions/ log in codes that I’m not supposed to write down and for the life of me I know I’ll never remember if I don’t. It was a thoroughly dehumanising process and followed up with the usual “sincere welcome to our bank” paperwork handed to us just as we left. I don’t blame the young lady in the slightest, she was just doing her job and she was thoroughly pleasant. It’s only a matter of time until they get rid of her in favour of a new more efficient computer interface. Then they can create more room by getting rid of the staff toilet as well.
That evening we had visitors as Tom and his wife Jima were driving up from Lichfield to pick up the couches they’d bought from us after I’d put them up for sale on the Facebook pages months before. The extended return from Germany and availabilities had meant that this was the only weekend of opportunity and as they were driving a long way we had offered for them to have dinner and stay over here at the Studio. They arrived late afternoon and with Rab and a mate at hand we loaded up his Luton before we opened our first of many bottles of wine that night. They were great company and Tom’s Thai wife Jima passed on a couple of great cooking tips for our chili harvest. A beef Madras was fare of the evening and we stayed up a lot later than planned chewing the fat into the edge of the small hours. Simone and I had another big day ahead as Taz was arriving with Romaine and I was picking up my Mum from North Berwick as she hadn’t been up for a while and this was the first chance she had to see our new home.It was a fine gathering and Simone and I teamed up in the kitchen to put together a Sunday roast for us all. My mum was overjoyed to see the house and so happy that we had finally managed to be together. Romaine and Taz were staying the night as he was working with me next day and Taz was tidying up her room and getting stuff together for her trip to France where it looked like she could be out there for the next 3 months. Her caravan of belongings were dispersing between Lyon, Edinburgh and here and as my daughter has the same collective tendencies as I have little was being jettisoned. I was glad I’d rented the container as we needed to clear her room out for the procession of visitors we are expecting over the coming months including Simone’s daughter Tara in November, her mother and partner over Christmas as well as Steve Vantsis and other writers on album duty.
On Sunday after dinner Romain had set up the new Yamaha piano I’d bought for the writing sessions. Nothing too special but it has great basic sounds and weighted keys and is enough for what we need for the approach I want for the new album. Romain and I would work over the next 2 days and our fledgling writing sessions proved very interesting. I’ll deal with all things ‘Weltschmerz” in another blog that will take in the new ideas and projects I’m starting working on.
It was great having Taz and Romain at the house with us for a couple of days and watching them get ever closer. Taz is still getting used to our new set up here and it’s probably as disorientating as it is for Liam just now. We are all growing up and older and both Simone and I are watching our children go out and find new experiences in the World. Taz is off to France for 3 months, Tara, Simone’s eldest daughter is just coming back from 2 months coaching windsurfing in Fuerteventura before continuing university in Karlsruhe and Mona her younger daughter is heading to Sri Lanka and Australia for 6 months traveling in November. We both miss our kids badly but thanks to technology we are never out of touch no matter where they are out there. One day we hope we will get all the children here together for at least a long weekend and bring all the family together in our new home.
For the first couple of weeks it was strange not having to think about checking in online for flights and realising that we’d finally made it. Waking up in the same bed every day without having to think about trains or planes was wonderful. The garden is our mutual love and it’s been so gratifying heading out to the garden to forage for vegetables and fruit to bring into the kitchen where we both share cooking duties. We are finding a beautiful balance in the house although I have to admit it’s weird having things done or me. I’ve been so used to doing my own laundry and cooking and cleaning for such a long time here that I feel a bit guilty taking a step back. We are making a great team and getting stronger every day. Simone is now driving and helping Elspeth in the office while I find myself back on a keyboard and putting cunning plans in motion in the control room in between our mutual gardening activities. Touring is the last thing in my head just now and we are just enjoying being here and together.
And that’s the story of our summer so far.
I’m off to Germany on Friday for rehearsals in Durlach with the pick up band for the festival in Pratteln in Switzerland on Sunday. It’s going to be weird as it will be the first time I’m there without Simone with no Balcony and thinking about getting home as quickly as possible. It’s taken nearly 6 years to get this far and although we always dreamed and hoped it would happen the reality is truly something special and we are looking forward to many happy years together here at the farm in our little slice of paradise with many more summers to come – although preferably a little less hectic.
Early Saturday evening touchdown Edinburgh from blue skies.The approach over the Forth was special that day and I stared out the window at the river and the glorious bridges watching the toy town of Crammond growing ever closer and the fields zip past as we came into land. I’d been sitting on my own on the flight over as overbooking meant that Simone and Liam were together at the rear of the plane. It wasn’t what we had wanted but we were glad to finally be here. I’d distracted myself with my Hans Fallada book for most of the way but my mind was constantly returning to thoughts of our arrival at our new home. I waited in the corridor before passport control for the two of them to exit the plane. It took a long time and a security guard eyed me up suspiciously as I waited by a locked doorway that exited landside. I was glad in more ways than one when they finally appeared and we breezed through immigration to pick up our luggage that had been absolutely on the limit for allowances.Simone and I had permanent smiles all the way to the Studio in the taxi while Liam struggled to stay awake. It had been an exhausting day so far on many levels.
The house wasn’t quite as I had expected it to be. Yatta had dropped off our personal belongings the previous Tuesday and the sight of ‘Borgies Rose’ and the climbing Hortensia standing outside the front door was a reminder that Durlach had moved to Haddington on a permanent basis.The first of the boxes had been offloaded along with dribs and drabs of stuff that had been hustled into the Clown Carrier at the last moment to save time on delivery and give us a bit of leeway on the roadtrain pack. Garden related stuff was outside, house stuff mostly in the control room with all the merchandise now in a local container we had to hire as the garage was already jam packed.The big surprise was that Taz’s caravan of belongings had arrived from her flat in Glasgow which she had just vacated that day. The Studio looked like a flea market and Taz’s bedroom was unnegotiable.Most of it should have gone to her Mum’s house in Edinburgh but time constraints with the guy who was helping her out meant it had all been deposited here. Luckily we still had a couple of weeks till the main act arrived but there was a lot to shift, a lot to organise and a lot to sort out officially. I didn’t expect the registration with the local health centre to be our first log on.
On Sunday after a long lie we’d found ourselves gravitating to the garden and as I dealt with all things vegetable and greenhouse Simone launched her talents at the rose roundels that had been neglected and invaded by every weed imaginable. Rab and I knew that this was Simone’s line of expertise and had done nothing but watch the overcrowded bluebells hide most of it for the last month. With them now well past their best the kitchen garden was looking a bit tatty and the roses really needed some TLC. It was while I was feeding the tomato forest in the greenhouse that I heard a yelp and saw Simone holding her right hand. While grubbing and snipping away at the base of an established and gnarled rose bush she had inadvertently caught her ungloved hand on an ancient woody thorn. It had raked her deep and she was in a great deal of pain. Within a few hours the hand had swollen badly and Simone couldn’t move her fingers. This wasn’t good. I was now in charge of all things domestic. Thankfully the wonderful Elspeth had made us spaghetti Bolognese for our first night to save us cooking on arrival and there was enough in the fridge for me to put together something that night for the 4 of us. Taz was staying at the Studio another night as she started her new job in Edinburgh next day and was moving back to her Mum’s till she started her next job in France at the beginning of September. Monday was going to be a hectic morning as first thing was to get Simone to the doctors as the hand continued to get worse and she refused to go to A and E at the Royal.
And so it was that less than 48 hours after arriving Simone was at the medical centre and left with a tetanus booster and a course of antibiotics as the infection had spread. It would be nearly a week till she could use her right hand and as such there was nothing she could really do anywhere in the house and most definitely not in the garden. At least we’d instigated registration at the doctors but as we had no proof as yet of her official residence she couldn’t complete the procedure. It would take a while.
No sooner had we moved over when I had to fulfill a gig with the SAS band at the Wickham festival near Southampton. I would have preferred if it had been another weekend especially as Simone was not fully fit but this gig paid the removal bill from Germany and I’d signed on months ago. Here’s the post I wrote up on Facebook about it when I got back
“A grand gig at the Wickham festival this weekend and wonderful to catch up with my SAS buddies again.
I flew down on the Friday night and had a long Saturday in an early 20th Century red bricked hotel with expansive gardens that was like a railway station for weddings and functions over the next few days.7 hours on my own waiting on the gig drinking expensive pints of soda and lime and reading Hans Fallada’s “Prison diaries 1944” between the bar and the sunshine on the patio I finally headed to the festival site just down the road with Spike and his lovely wife Kyle early evening.
Chas and Dave were closing a typically boisterous set and Trevor Horn was about to hit stage with a glittering assemble of musos to perform his ‘greatest hits’ including Frankies ‘Relax’, ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ and Seal’s ‘Rose’ among others. The band and vocalists were top notch but like Chinese food I had enough of Fairlight keyboard sounds after a while. As to be expected it was a show with high sound production values and the renditions were perfect.
We hit the stage after 9.30 with Toyah following Jamie Moses introduction of ‘Born to Run’. I’d last seen Toyah on the set of ‘Pointless’ and had caught her show at Cropredy last summer. She was on sparkling form and rounded of her contribution with an energetic version of ‘Suffragette City’.
I was up next with ‘Feast of Consequences’, ‘Kayleigh’, Lavender’ and ‘Roadhouse Blues’ and with time tight I curbed the talking to a minimum and sang out good and proper. I was pretty pleased how it went down and I got the field up with ‘Lavender’ probably the pick of the crop thanks to a fine piece of guitar work from JamieMoses.
The beautiful MadelineBell followed me and her version of ‘Natural Woman’ is one of the best you will ever hear. Magnificent enigmatic and powerful as always she left stage after her set with that eternal smile as we waited on the wild card to be played.
I thought someone was having a laugh when I was told that Bill Oddie was in the line up and as he hadn’t turned up till well late in the set we all thought it was a wind up. But lo and behold the wee man suddenly appeared and ‘Mama told me not to come’ ( a song I used to sing with my first ever band ‘Blewitt’ in the ‘Golden Lion’ in Galashiels in 1980) opened his account well. His other song in the set, ‘Wild Thing’ turned into an epic and time started to get swallowed up. I think a few beers in the VIP tent and a rush of confidence and adrenalin from a a good start to his contribution took his eye off the clock.
Finally our star turn RogerTaylor hit the stage to expected rapturous applause and he dished out a couple of #Queen numbers including the effervescent ‘Radio Ga Ga’ before launching into my favourite track of the night, Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’. Despite his nervousness at attempting the song with barely any rehearsals apart from a backstage flutter on the dressing room keyboard he pulled it off brilliantly and the band were sparkling. One of the best versions of this I’d heard outside Bowie’s own live performances.
The time had drained and our finale ‘With a Little Help from my Friends’ had to be dropped due to curfews on site.In all honesty we didn’t need it as ‘Mars’ had been so uplifting. Altogether a brilliant set with everyone concerned on the ball and in the zone. The night closed in fast and as the SAS band and entourage faded into the night I wangled a lift back to the hotel, forsaking the VIP bar for a clutch of zeds before a relatively early flight home next day.
I got home mid afternoon to a welcome Sunday roast gammon with resplendent crackling and dished up with veg from the garden. It was the first weekend I’d been away leaving Simone and Liam in the house and it was a lovely feeling returning to a family home rather than a bear’s den. We both sat up and watched a flurry of episodes of ‘Man in the High Castle’ ( a Philip K Dick book I’d read in my 20’s and completely forgotten about) until our eyelids grew too heavy and we headed to bed to snuggle up under the duvet as the wind lashed the garden making it sound like we were afloat on very high seas.”
What I didn’t mention was that my back and knees were extremely painful and I struggled on and off the stage, only the adrenalin of the performance buoying me through it all. This was a problem I was going to have to address much sooner rather than later. The sciatica was making gardening work heavy going and I was grateful Rab was on hand to take care of most of the chores.Simone was back out there as her hand had vastly improved with the antibiotics. I did what I could around the house and office and there was a lot to do.
My Dad had left Simone his car before he passed away recognising she needed transport of her own to take Liam to school, go shopping and visit my Mum with whom she is very close. I had to sort out insurances for both vehicles and knew this was going to be a mind sapping, frustrating and lengthy process. I was online for over 4 hours on Monday tracking down car insurance and had to step away from the PC a few times when I was thrown off application forms just as I was closing in on something that made sense. After much gnashing off teeth I settled in on an offer from a company called “Go Girl” who quoted for my Dad’s old Corsa and my Volvo on 2 separate policies under my name. I filled out everything correctly notifying that I owned both cars and that Simone was main driver on the Corsa and second on the Volvo which had me as main driver.Go Girl phoned me up soon after I went for it and we ran through the proposal making sure they had Simone down as a German EU driving licence holder/ living here for less than a month etc etc.I paid up front and sent the copy of my new offer from my present insurers which showed 13 years no claim bonus. ( in fact it’s a lot more but I couldn’t prove it) Copies of our licenses were uploaded to their site and another phone call was dealt with and everything seemed ok. It wasn’t cheap but it was worth it to get Simone on the road and with Elspeth volunteering to give her initial lessons on UK driving we were both happy that she would soon have her own much needed transport to get about. Another big tick on the “to do” list.
In the week after I got back from the Wickham festival there was a lot on that list and Romain Thorel was flying in on Tuesday from Paris with the intention of starting the initial writing sessions for ‘Weltschmerz’. Liam had pretty much locked himself away in his room and Simone and I were letting him ‘acclimatise’ to his new home. His room was pretty fab and he was happy at what we had done with it during the renovations earlier in the year.He’d chosen the paint, the carpet and the Ikea units that Rab had built up while I was in Germany and Liam was in control of all decisions on decor. We wanted him as comfortable as possible as everyone realised that this was a massive move and change of Life for him. We maybe made it too comfortable as we hardly saw him for the first week and a half apart from at the kitchen table for food and on the way to the bathroom for showering. I’d forgotten about teenage habits but was relearning fast.
On the Tuesday we decided to winkle him out into the daylight and went on a day trip to the Falkirk wheel where I could pick up the acrylic dust cover for my Thorens turntable on the way. I’d bought a new one from the US on E Bay but when it turned up it didn’t have the tabs cut out to take the nylon hinges I’d also bought on E Bay, both items for no mean price I have to add. I’d found a company called Acrafab in Whitburn who said they could do the job for me and left the dustcover there before I went to Germany. It was now ready and I was delighted to have a replacement for my record deck that was going to be put through a lot more revolutions as my vinyl collection was now to hand in a storage unit built in right next to the hi fi during the renovations.The hinged cover was going to make my life a lot easier and my vinyl a lot safer as after a few vinos it was so easy to knock the arm while replacing the dustcover. Another one of those little things on the “to do” list that took a tick mark. The Acrafab guys had done a great job and told me that if I ever needed another dustcover they could build a better one for me at half the price I’d paid on E bay with all the associated taxes and postage costs. ( anyone out there needing a dustcover made for an old record deck get in touch with Kathryn at www.acrafab.com and mention my name).
Whitburn wasn’t too far away from The Wheel but first I had to pass through the “Falkirk Triangle” where many’s a time I’d found myself lost down weird country roads going round in circles. Maybe it’s just me but I lose complete sense of direction around there and time goes into a wormhole. I switched on the Tom Tom on the i phone and followed it’s instructions implicitly. We still arrived late and missed the boat we had booked our trip on the night before. The staff at the Falkirk Wheel ticket office were really helpful and we got a booking on a later boat. With an hour to kill it was pizza time and as we were picking up Romain at the airport on the way back I wasn’t that concerned. That was until Taz’s Mum phoned me to say that her partner Andy was now picking him up. With the late boat trip we would now be heading back east in rush hour traffic and would probably be home at the studio just before Andy, Tammi and Taz arrived from the airport with Romain. We thought positively and offered them all to stay and have chilli with us forgetting for a moment the alignment of wine drinkers in the company.
The pizza was great and the boat trip slightly underwhelming. The mechanics of the wheel , the construction, the scale and the presence are altogether breath away stuff especially for former meccano set owners but in the end we got on a canal boat, did a small maneuver, sailed onto the gondola that then took us up 35 metres and let us off onto the Union canal where we sailed through a tunnel for 10 mins, did another manouver and went all the way back again to be deposited back in the Forth and Clyde canal. It wasn’t exactly Alton Towers and at 12 quid or so a pop not cheap. Outside the wheel there wasn’t much to see from the boat and in all honesty it didn’t add that much to the experience of watching the wheel turn as an onlooker. The engineering is awesome and the statistics mind bogglingly clever but I would have preferred if we had taken a longer boat journey with the wheel ascent in the middle as a cherry rather than as the entire cake. I was glad we went there and both Liam and Simone had a great day out that we all needed. I would have liked to have gone to see ‘The Kelpies’ structures further along the canal but we were running out of time and had a rush hour to negotiate as well as cook chilli con carne for our soon to be arriving dinner guests.
As expected it got slightly messy but it was especially fine to see Taz and Romain together after such a long time apart. Company was fun and the dinner a success. Having Tammi and Andy here with our daughter Taz and Romain as our first dinner guests since Simone and Liam moved over had a certain symmetry to it all. We’d all become friends and in recent years had met up and gone out together quite a few times but as an inaugural dinner here in the Studio it made perfect sense in the grand circle of things as a wider family came together.
The original intention was for Romain to work with me the following Wednesday but with Taz’s work schedule constantly changing and our Durlach furniture now announced to be finally arriving on Tuesday we agreed to postpone the writing session to the following Sunday giving Romain and Taz time together and Simone and I a chance to clear the decks and prepare Liam for his first day at school which also happened to be on the Wednesday . The next days were spent clearing cupboards of my t shirts and other clothes to make way for Simone’s incoming wardrobe. I found myself becoming increasingly ruthless. Anything that didn’t fit, that was damaged or hadn’t been worn for the last year or so went into bags for the charity shops. Suits that I’d had made in Vietnam that were now a squeeze, a Tux I’d bought in Berlin in 89 that had been tight even back then, tartan trews with waistlines I couldn’t even dream of achieving, tour shirts that were never worn and swag that I couldn’t say no to at the time, moth eaten woolens and jackets that had gathered over the last decade all ended up in bin bags for the Chest, Heart and Stroke shop in Haddington. It was truly a great cleansing but even then it was only a third of the total quantity that went back into the drawers and cupboards. It did however create the space that was needed which combined with Simone’s wardrobes and other furniture that was coming over provided the storage she needed. Some of the stuff could have gone on E Bay ( and you might still find it there in the coming weeks when some “entrepreneur finds it on the racks) but in all honesty I just wanted to let go of it and move on.
Monday I was in the city with Simone and Liam for a hairdressing appointment for the lady and a bit of diddly bopping round town for the boys. We were heading back to Waverley Station for the train home to Londgniddry when my mobile went off just as I crossed Princes Street. It was the car insurance company, Go Girl with whom I’d thought everything was sorted after filling in the forms, ticking the boxes and talking twice on the phone since they’d sent me the quotation which I’d accepted 13 days before on 2 cars on separate policies . So there I was walking across Princes street being told that my no claims discount was only available on 1 car and that it was going to cost me more than a hundred quid more just as I went over on my knee on a tram line and uttered a rather loud “fuck” on the phone. “There’s no need to be abusive sir” came the surly voice from some call centre down South. I was then coldly told about the small print I’d missed somehow and which no one in the last 13 days had mentioned despite talking on the phone to me about the 2 policies in question. It turns out my 13 year plus no claims discount is only valid on one car and they were bumping it up.I asked them to cancel my policies as their terms had changed from the original quote I’d accepted. I had to do it on e mail. I was then told later that I would be charged ninety quid for cancelling the policies despite them being within a 14 day “cooling off” period. I phoned ‘Which’ legal services and was told how I could challenge but if the unavailability of the No Claims bonus on 2 cars was mentioned on the site it was going to be tough. I went back to “Go Compare” from where I’d found “Go Girl” and lo and behold on a pop up box for explanations on the No Claims bonus question there was the 2 car ruling. I was screwed. The ‘Which’ legal guy was helpful and thought the charge for cancellation was “on the heavy side”. A complete wasted 4 hours of my life filling in the tedious forms that it appeared no one at Go Girl had really bothered to go through properly and join the dots otherwise it would have been brought to my attention before I bought both the insurances. They were totally unhelpful from then on and I’ve still not had the receipt for the cancellation fee despite e mailing them both for that and an explanation. They deserve the low start count on reviews they have.
I should have paid more attention to the small print and all the minefields in pop up boxes and I made damn sure I was more attentive the next day when I went hunting again on line. Long story short I found exactly what I was looking for at Direct Line. A 2 car insurance policy, my no claims working on the Volvo and Simone accumulating her own no claims bonus as of now from my Dad’s Corsa with us both driving either vehicle. No hassle about Simone’s German EU license which she’s had for 30 years with no claims in that period ( which isn’t recognised for a UK policy) and it all came in at about half the price of those hustlers at Go Girl. I also managed to talk through all the details with a real person and she sorted it all out making it a relatively simple process. This isn’t an ad by the way but thought I’d throw some appreciation where it was due. I didn’t get a stuffed toy or cinema tickets or anything else and if I ever see that irritating opera singer he better duck in the shadows and shut the fuck up pdq.
And to end this third part of the blog ,which is growing faster and bigger than my courgettes outside, I’d like to leave on a happy ending after the ” Go Girl” saga. I bought a Lotto Lucky dip that weekend and on the Sunday I discovered 4 numbers had come up and for the first time in my life I actually won something more than a tenner. A hundred and seven quid in fact. 90 to cover my screw up and enough for a couple of bottles of chilled Savvy for the sunset looking out at the Lammermuirs from the new Balcony with my lady. Yin and Yang indeed.
We fell asleep to the last frog chorus coming from somewhere out in the darkness of the Aue. Our last night on the Balcony had been slightly hijacked by Simone’s ex sister in law, Monika who had previously rented the flat. She turned up with a bottle of wine, 3 Jagermeister miniatures and a screwdriver to take away the 2 brass plates of a small pissing Dutch boy and girl on the bathroom door that she’d omitted to take with her last time she moved out. Simone and I were both lagging when she eventually left, the day having taken a heavy toll with the prospect of an even more stressful one ahead drove us to bed.The frogs saying their goodbyes was a sweet lullaby.
We were up early as we hadn’t managed to get in touch with the road train and wanted to give them a heads up on the route through Durlach that was easiest for a long vehicle. Carsten had saved us a headache as he had arranged the street notices to forewarn locals not to park in the 19 metre area outside the flat. I’d just finished replanting the front balcony boxes when I saw the wee hero below me lugging these huge iron weights and poles into position on his own a few days before. He’d finished before I could even offer to help and had managed to swing us a favour from the local council. This meant that any car parked there on Thursday could be ticketed and removed by the police. We’d been told to expect the removal guys at 10 by the agent in Norfolk but by 11 no one had arrived and we had no contact with the road team. We’d been shouting down from the balcony at drivers parking up while they went into a bakery opposite the flat as they were just ignoring the signs. I expected a monster vehicle anytime and the prospect of gridlocking the Aue was not what we wanted today. After an hour it was becoming tiresome and the call from the driver telling us they were 45 mins away and just dropping the trailer was heartening as it meant only the truck was coming in which was far easier on every level to deal with.
We had 2 cups, powdered coffee, a kettle to be filled in the bathroom, no milk or sugar and we were getting hungry and impatient. Liam had just finished his packing and was heading out to meet his girlfriend after he returned from the bakery with serious coffee and a couple of sandwiches. It was just then, shortly after 1 that the truck could be heard coming up the Westmarkstrasse. It was unmistakeably ours. The huge letters on the side of the vehicle spelled out ‘Britannia’ and the blue white and red design gave no doubt as to where this truck came from. Only a couple of weeks after “Brexit” I considered it a brave statement as I’d discovered quite a few people in Germany weren’t too happy about the referendum result. ( I can remember sticking SCO stickers and hanging St Andrews flags in the back window of a tour bus in Italy when English football thugs were making headlines and few friends. Nothing like flak deflectors to be on the safe side!)
It turned out one of the reasons they’d been late was that a car driver had tried to deliberately block them from maneuvering from an on ramp lane onto the autobahn and in doing so had got so close he’d rattled his nearside mirror off the truck. The truck had pulled into a rest area and the driver of the car had called the police. It all ended up with a hefty fine for the Britannia crew and a longer wait for us on the Balcony.
We’d expected about 4 removal men as they had the stairs to negotiate and although we didn’t have that many belongings there was a landscape of cardboard boxes, wardrobes and a double bed to dismantle, a large and heavy couch that had taken 4 of us to get up the stairs 2 years before, enough large terracotta pots to build a ‘Bill and Ben’ city and those pesky kitchen units that weren’t on the manifesto and that I needed deposited in the street garage downstairs for pick up that evening by Steffen. Simone and I looked at each other as 2 small guys got out the truck and no one followed.
They introduced themselves as Andy and Paul from Liverpool. They were no sooner in the flat when the first box disappeared after they both declined a break for coffee and sandwiches we’d bought in for them. I was taken aback at the speed and the fitness of these two guys. They just bounced up and down the stairwell, which was now sweltering in over 28 degrees carrying box after box and showing no sign of fatigue. Their only complaint was that the agent in Norfolk had given them no info on the flat and they didn’t even know the load out was down 4 flights of stairs. In saying that they just got on with the job before them and I never heard them moan once all afternoon apart from at the heat we were all struggling with and which against I was constantly filling water filter jugs in the bathroom. I was wringing with sweat and I was only making a tenth of the descents/ ascents they were making as I tried to make sense of the contents of the cellar that also had to be emptied out.
It was Paul, the older of the 2 guys who recognised me and sometime during a water break we had a natter and I had a selfie with Andy the team leader. They were incredibly helpful guys and they told me they had a lay up that night at a hotel in a rest area after they finished our load out.I told them about the kitchen and offered some beer money if they could help out getting it downstairs. The cynic in me expected a union meeting but they were immediately positive and at the end of a sappingly tough shift they carted the entire kitchen down to the street garage. I cannot praise them highly enough for what they did on the day against all the odds and I have never seen blokes work like that in those conditions with those fitness levels that could still retain genuine smiles at the end. They promised to look after our stuff which we discovered was arriving in Liverpool that weekend to be stored awaiting a move to Scotland. That move we discovered from the agent was now going to take close to 3 weeks! We were glad the special plants had gone with Yatta and only another climbing rose and an hortensia plant would have to survive this trek to the Studio garden. Andy and Paul said they’d do what they could, keep the live plants at the back of the truck and make sure they looked after them in Liverpool. We signed off, exchanged paperwork, shook hands and said our goodbyes to these amazing wee guys.
We stood alone in the flat and stared at the detritus around us. Liam’s late pack meant he’d thrown out a lot of clutter and even after 3 trips with his Mum to the recycling centre that afternoon ( where they now knew us by name) we still had more in the cellar. Some of that belonged to Mona, Simone’s daughter, and she was supposed to have been at the flat with her Dad at 11 that morning to clear her room and take away a large Ikea kitchen unit for her Dad’s holiday caravan in Poland. They didn’t show and the refugee centre pick up was also in question. Steffen works for the fire department and he’d been put on the roster for working the Formula 1 race that weekend at the Hockenheimring. On the Thursday, move day, he had drills and incident rehearsals at the track and we got a call saying he might not make it back in time that night.The landlord who owned the apartment block wanted the street garage cleared out as she parked her car there. We assured her it would be done by midday Friday as Steffen had guaranteed transport for then. The rest of the boxes for the refugee centre would go at the same time. The flat wasn’t as clear as we had hoped when we got up that morning but it was close. We hoovered, wiped down and picked up debris until about 7.30 until the running on empty signs appeared. With no word from Steffen we drew a line under the night and headed to the Biergarten for Schweinshaxen ( pigs knuckle) and Radlers ( beer shandies- so called as Rad means “bicycle” and these drinks are intended for thirsty cyclists who have journeys to complete). Our day we thought was over until the mobile phones rang out.
Steffen was on his way with others and we were moving the kitchen units that night. It was a mixture of resignation to the task and elation that another proverbial log was heading down river. In this case it was a jumble of white units and failed electrics heading to a garage somewhere near the Turmberg. Simone and I headed back to the flat where we had our luggage ready to go to an hotel that night. Steffen was already there with his stepson Marvin, his partner Petra and Carsten. We had a small van, a car and our transporter to fit everything in and had to split the kitchen into vehicles with our suitcases was a Rubik’s Cube.It was achieved and after a short journey we ended up in Berghausen where we met up with Carsen’s ex wife and her partner to offload the convoy.Their hospitality was immense with cookies and a variety of whisky on offer. Simone and I were too tired to indulge and we had to meet Liam at the hotel where we were staying a couple of nights. We still had to deal with the final clearance next day and return the flat keys. It wasn’t over yet.
It was with a hysterical laugh I entered our hotel room to find that it was on 2 levels and a brain defying split step staircase took us up to the bed. With my leg muscles and tendons in small tiny painful knots, my back pinging shockwaves and knees crunching like an ‘Action Man’ doll recently found in an attic this was not what I needed.We showered and headed to the nearest available wine bar. Simone’s daughter had phoned us just as we checked in at reception to ask if we could bring the van back to the flat as she had arrived with her dad to load her stuff out and they hadn’t realised it was so much . Simone and I were done. This was one trip too far and we reluctantly hung up the white flag. We hunched up together in the bar and drank slowly and blissfully and enough that I wouldn’t feel the agony of the ascent to our hotel bed. We nearly had a long lie in if it wasn’t for the wasps darting through the velux window, their nest close by in the roof space. Cue thrashing phone books and flicking towels as we tried to dispatch them, the rush better than any hardcore Columbian coffee could provide. We faced our final day in Durlach weary but happy to be facing the dream up close and personal.
Take away coffee and ‘Berliners’ ( jammy doughnuts plus) from the bakery for breakfast on the Balcony before the final mop up. The pipework behind where the kitchen sink was had been leaking as Steffen had redirected the hot water so we could have a shower on move day. The bucket to catch the drips was full and I had a worry we might have a serious problem as Simone didn’t know where the stopcock was. It was eventually found and logic triumphed, the possibility of a 2 floor ceiling cascade averted. Final trips to the recycling centre with the rest of the cellar detritus and a visit from Carsten to pick up the last remaining bags of usable stuff for the refugee centre left empty rooms. Only the sad Ikea units in desperate need of a rejigging and straightening that the new tenant had volunteered to take remained. We tidied up the final smatterings of evidence of our habitation. The Balcony was bare. Carsten took the last photos of us before he left us together in what had been a special place for us over the years. Simone took the last box downstairs. I was the last to leave.
I admit to having a tear in my eye as I remembered all that had been and gone and done. Phonecalls to my Dad after Hibs games on Saturdays, Borgumil the Irish Wolfhound – the Life and Death of, writing ‘High Wood’ ,’Perfume River’ and sketching other songs for ‘Feast’, tour scheduling and business confrontations on e mail and occasionally irate phone calls from the kitchen table, my first meetings with Simone’s kids and long “Gerglish” conversations introducing them to mince and tatties, tablet, fudge, Irn Bru and the fact their stepdad could cook reasonably well; late night kitchen sessions on laptop watching ‘Father Ted’ on You Tube or footy matches on dodgy websites on a Sunday, fireworks at New Year under the Turnberg, the valley a Hollywood war zone, 9 magpies in a tree, crows heading out on winters days to the hills beyond the Aue, the mimicking parakeet that belonged to the landlady, her Alzheimer cursed husband smoking at his window and waving up to me; Fritz the neighbour/ gardener with his Koi carp, tomato house, banana plants and immaculate garden holding conversations like old friends between the ground and the balcony, shouting at each other and bluffing understanding across the language barrier; Thomas the mad eyed upstairs tenant who could be threatening and friendly across a blink of an eye and who we were never sure of as he dragged the pack of dogs he looked after past us on the stairs, cursing in heavy local dialect at every misdemeanor from a tenant as he was lord and master of the tenement and living on the top floor in the attic, a self righteous deity. So much, so much, so many memories all now tied to this empty space we were now vacating. There’s a book in all this and I will find it one day.
And in it all, and in it all there was born a dream over chilled Grauburgunder wine on a remarkable Balcony between 2 people that would one day live somewhere together. This was where we cherished our future and where we grew the crystals of a reality. It was our special place, never to be duplicated but now an empty dried up cocoon to be left behind in the sunlight as we flew elsewhere to begin the rest of our lives.
And the strangest of the strangest were my last words, uttered irrationally and so naturally that they seemed somewhat perfect calming and final for the moment.
When Monika, Simone’s once sister in law had lived in the flat her son Tim had died of a cancer related illness age 9 and had spent his last days there.The previous night Simone’s daughter Mona had freaked out in the cellar as a musical chime of her favourite tune started up inexplicably from an old toy and a bible fell into her hands from a collapsing pile of books opening up to a photo of Tim. She was understandably spooked by it all and I have to admit I had a chill going into the cellar next morning. I’d never met Tim but knew him from the tragic story I’d been told. Liam slept in Tim’s old room and always felt uncomfortable there. I never had any bad feelings in the flat or in the cellar that Friday on the day we left but right at the very last moment just as I was closing the door to the flat for a reason I will never understand I said “Goodbye Tim”. And it was over.
The final trip to the recycling unit who’s staff greeted us like old friends. We were covered in shit, sweat and dust. There was a meeting at the accountants straight after and neither Simone or I gave a damn. The numbers were crunched, the balance announced and we signed off on the Fishheads Club DE and left the building. It was done.
The rest of the day was spent chilling in town, Pho soup at Sen by the Ludwigsplatz for lunch after shopping for shirts that was curtailed by my aching knees before a night in the square with Simone’s daughter Tara, her mother, Christiane and her partner Rolf. It was another emotional night as we had said goodbye to Simone’s father Gunther and his wife Gabbi the previous Saturday. We were all aware that this was the leaving and that it was a huge change for everyone involved. I wasn’t unaffected by any stretch of the imagination and really felt for Simone as she was making a huge commitment .
The night concluded with ice cream cones on the Kaiserstrasse and a walk back to the hotel via an Italian restaurant serving wine into the relative small hours. We’d had a free ride on a rickshaw to meet the family but the walk back was spiritual.We met up with Liam who’d been saying his own farewells to his girlfriend and all headed back for our last night in the hotel. Tomorrow was the journey to our new home together in Scotland but we had one more last goodbye and we all knew this would be the toughest.
The hotel was in an area devoid of street cafes and we ended up in a dodgy bar nearby it’s only occupants 2 Croatians attempting to learn English from the young barmaid they were drunkenly leching over at 10 in the morning.Turning up with Simone, her 2 beautiful daughters Tara and Mona and Mona’s Vietnamese boyfriend in a dive like this was like a scene from a Tarantino movie. The diverted leching towards our group was quickly extinguished as the 2 girls, both black belt Shotokan karate gave them fight stares. Being with a 1.9m Scotsman might have helped on an appearance basis but my 2 Amazons were the real deal. I was unperturbed. The request for id’s from the barmaid was quickly forgotten by everyone including the barmaid.
I felt incredibly awkward and conversation was difficult at first. I was taking their Mum and brother away to another country and we were leaving them behind. It took a while to find our balance but when we eventually moved back to the hotel to await the taxi to the station we were together as we knew we would be in this different repositioning of family. I made my promises to the girls and we all hugged and said our farewells. I found myself crying as they were all part of our bigger family now and having a daughter of my own who was going through her own repositioning within the family I appreciated and tried to understand what Simone’s daughters were feeling .It was tough for everyone but with Simone and her kids it was an exceptionally difficult and emotional moment. I will never forget as the taxi headed off and we were silent throughout the journey, each of us deep in our own thoughts with sporadic optimism breaking out as we moved to the railway station.This was all now very real.
The railway journey a blur as was check in. We were on time.
At the gate there was the disturbing irony when we were told the flight was overbooked and that Lufthansa may not be able to get us on the flight. Maybe it was the horrible laugh worthy of The Joker that turned it but I was in absolutely no mood to take prisoners and the young lady at the boarding gate recognised I was not a man to be dallied with in these circumstances. The seats were confirmed, the flight was boarded and we took off into the blue for Scotland. We were on our way to our new home. It had been a very long week.
(to be continued)
A few days ago I switched on my PC in the control room, plugged myself into the world and saturated my mind with weltschmerz over a sultry Sumatran coffee.I fed off my usual sources of choice; The Independent for nuts and bolts , goings on in the world and general ins and outs; The Edinburgh Evening News for things local but mainly for footy; The National to balance of the politics from other sources and the BBC and Sky news websites for a simplified media precis. I walked out of the office for a top up of caffeine and a natter with Simone in the sunshine outside the kitchen and it struck me that I hadn’t checked out my Facebook pages. I also realised that this wasn’t the first time and that over the last few months my presence and output had pretty much been neglected and that I’d subconsciously shut down my social media comms to trickle feed. It was later while sitting alone down in the orchard after reviewing the fruit trees that the pangs of guilt from a lack of application to a work ethic came to bear and I started to question why I’d switched off to some degree. I began to realise that this was the first for a very long while that I’d given myself some space after over 3 years of roadwork that never obliged me with enough time to push pause and simply relax and enjoy where I am at for anything more than a passing through or temporary stop over phase . I was no longer in “day off – travel day” mode, this was deep recuperation and i really needed it more than I had thought.
I had finished the ‘Childhood’ tour in May and had come home to a further deterioration in my father’s health and ultimately his death at the end of that month. I barely had time to empty my suitcase and had hit the ground hard from the tour bus. There was no time to think, I just had to react to fast evolving circumstances. I still don’t fully understand how I managed to deal with it all and if I am honest I’m still processing the emotions. I found myself deep in the garden immersing myself in growing and nurturing, planning the green year and just spending time pottering empty headed in the greenhouse. I’d spend an hour quietly sitting alone on the couch in the living room taking in the birds flitting around the feeders on the pergola outside the French doors, ‘Readers Digest Book of British Wildlife’ before me, trying to identify what was what. The first Green Woodpecker at the peanut stall the biggest thrill with the comedy acts of fat wobbling pigeons scouting for fallen seed dispersed by battalions of battling sparrows that were only outperformed by a gallus gang of jackdaws that had become regular visitors. Their food of choice are the suet balls that hang in small cages and they have a voracious appetitive emptying the contents in a morning. I was trying to outwit them by moving the cages around as they were using the hanging flower baskets for ‘base jumping’ as they couldn’t maintain flight next to the feeders, their large wings beating the hanging cage into an impossible twirling landing stage. They had worked out how to leap from the baskets onto the feeders and gorged themselves till they could hang on no longer. Every couple of days another stainless steel hook would be screwed in the pergola to move the feeders and I’d smile and watch 5 or so grey hooded birds gather below trying to work out their next move. In short I was becoming captivated by the nature around me. The brace of young hares darting through the long grass in the orchard, a deer strolling through the field in
front of the studio past bemused horses, rabbits hiding in the wild rocket patch, the endless procession of bees to all the flora I’d been adding over the years to encourage the now fascinating surge of flying buzzing whirring pollinators, all played a part in slowing me down and I was consciously walking away from the ‘day job’. I just looked at that particular mountain from afar and was seriously pondering whether I could or would attempt those particular slopes again.
I had other things on my mind that had to be dealt with the most important of which was to arrange the move for Simone and her son Liam from Durlach to Haddington. We had decided last summer, with all things considered, that The Studio in Scotland offered us the best chances of creating a long term home for us all and after Liam agreed to come over the plans were set in motion at the beginning of the year. Removal companies were contacted and arrangements were made to coincide with Simone’s mother’s shop, where she worked, closing down, Liam’s entry into 3rd year at school over here, her daughters, Tara and Mona both in further education and taking sabbaticals abroad and my lack of touring activities. I’d traveled to Durlach the week after my Dad’s funeral and the respite and sanctuary of the Balcony was just what I needed. I was able to compose myself and refocus on what was needed, to move the relocation forward on both sides of the sea and to try and come to terms with the changes in my life. It was a week of wine, tears,smiles of remembrance and of optimism as we realised our particular dream of living together was finally coming true. I wouldn’t see Simone for another 7 weeks, our longest separation for years, as a lot had to be done back home to prepare for the landing.
My great mate Rab had been a saviour in the garden and had taken on a lot of the jobs I just couldn’t handle. My back and knees were starting to play up badly as the cortisone injections I had been given in Holland during the tour stated to wear off and the sciatica returned. Light manual labour on the patch was all I could muster and the nights were spent massaging magnesium oil into my tendons and joints while trying to avoid painkillers that I knew would only mask the real problems that had to be dealt with on a long term basis. I stopped drinking alcohol for 6 weeks and freely admit that apart from the endless joint aches I felt the best mentally that I’d felt for a while. It was only when Steve Vantsis came up here just before I headed back to Germany that I jumped the wagon and cracked a few seals.
Up till then my life was dominated by garden demands and creating house spaces for Simone’s belongings. Balcony conversations revolved around where things would go and how we would organise the Studio so it became as much Simone and Liam’s home as mine. It was fundamentally important that she would make her marks and that it would be our house and not a shrine to my career as my daughter often pointed out. The ‘clutter’ Tara frowned upon would have to be sifted through and tough decisions made on what had to go. Framed music posters made way for watercolours and prints with potential positioning going back and forward on Whatsapp between Durlach and here as I left a trail of tack holes in my indecisive wake. The couches were sold, the harmonium given to a local craft workshop to sell for funds, the rickety double bed in Taz’s room off to recycling and the control room I finally managed to find the will to reconfigure and clear out in anticipation not only of creative space for me but also for the new Yamaha keyboard I’d bought as the keystone of the album writing sessions which would begin in August when Romain Thorel from Lazuli was coming over for our first attempt at trying to find new material.
In July the days became blurry as I pinballed between advancing the house move and everything that went with it. I was dealing with accounts as questions I’d raised with my previous accountants in January and that had been raised for the past few years necessitated a complete recalculation of 5 years figures to straighten them out into something that made sense to everyone including HMRC. I’d become increasingly concerned I was getting tied up in potentially dangerous knots which had prompted me to change my accountants from being London based to a new firm in Edinburgh. Having them close to home rather than flying down to brain churning meetings that I never walked out feeling any the wiser made a difference and as the knots were unraveled I was discovering myself in a lot better situation than I’d been led to believe.With Simone coming over the last thing I needed was a potential meltdown in my accounts and I’d decided to investigate my own figures and get the answers I’d been looking for rather than someone else asking questions. It had been eating at my mind for quite a few months and with everything else had created some unwanted back pressure. I still get the heebie jeebies with accounts as past memories from the dark 90’s are never far away. There was a palpable sense of relief when I was told by my new accountants that there were no monsters in the books.
There were periods during the 7 weeks when I waited to get on the flight to Frankfurt that time seemed to stand still and both Simone and I grew impatient and frustrated. Her mother’s shop took up most of her time as the closing sale gathered momentum and her mum’s serious leg injury in February when she was hit by a car meant Simone was working pretty much full time there. When she wasn’t in the shop Simone was packing the flat up as well as looking after Liam and Mona. It was all pretty stressful and I felt guilty that she was dealing with it all on her own. There was all the associated bureaucracy on top of all that and the removal company were proving difficult in providing exact dates for the pick up. Simone was jettisoning most of the flat contents as all the basics – plus were already here. A couple of car boot sales and some friends and neighbours pledging to buy a couple of bigger articles we didn’t want or need whittled it down but we still had quite a few hundred cubic feet of boxes and furniture to deal with. A dedicated truck turned out to be too expensive so we elected on a road train dealing with a number of pick ups on a European circuit to bring the Balcony to the Studio. The problem was it was a 19 metre vehicle and trailer and it had to negotiate it’s way though the narrow streets of the Aue in Durlach to reach the flat on the second storey where it had to park outside on the busy road. We had to get official “no parking” notices a couple of days before they arrived. But when would they arrive? We’d also been told that as the road train was dealing with a number of pick ups and drop offs we could be looking at 2 weeks until the stuff arrived in Haddington.We accepted the waiting time as the only other options were a lot more expensive and I’d researched it thoroughly. I’d read and heard horror stories regarding international moves and some of the contenders I discovered when I was gathering quotes didn’t have a lot of fans on some independent review sites. Simone and I were a bit nervous but as there was nothing we considered of any great value apart from on a personal level we decided to go for it and take a chance.
Our biggest concern were the Balcony plants as we knew that 3 weeks in the back of a trailer would probably kill most of them. A couple really meant a lot to us. A climbing hortensia and a climbing yellow “moonlight” rose that Simone had bought just after her Irish wolfhound Borgumil died had both been nominated for the studio garden and we were loath to risk them. A solution arrived in the shape of Yatta.
With the Fishheads club EU/DE mail order service now shut down we had a couple of problems. We had to get all the stock back to Scotland as we had been storing it in the back of Simone’s mother’s shop and as that was closing it had to be moved in July before we left ourselves. The other problem was the official winding up which included transferring all the stock at Amazon DE into the ownership of my company Chocolate Frog Record Company. All the legal and accountancy was done, the FHC account was suspended at Amazon and we waited on them to tell us how we could set up the transfer. After endless e mails we are still at this time of writing waiting on a solution with all the Amazon DE stock still offline. It’s pretty frustrating working our way through the endless red tape involved in communicating with them and despite writing back and forward as well as a couple of phone calls where we thought we had it sorted it’s still an “open case” and unresolved. The transport for the FHC DE stock in Karlsruhe was to prove a lot easier.
We couldn’t lump it in with the flat move and after talking to Yatta he volunteered to drive the Clown Carrier over, pick the merch up and deliver it to the studio. We fixed a date when I would be over there and Yatta worked out the logistics on his side and I mine. If there was space in the clown carrier then the special plants could travel back with that load which was only going to take a couple of days rather than a few weeks. A plan was coming together.
I continued persevering with everything here in the studio but it was all non music related. To make things more difficult my Quad hi fi had decided to break down just as Steve Vantsis was coming up to play me the live material from the ‘Moveable Feast’ tour. He was splitting his time between seeing me, picking out live material and filming the video for his ‘Tilt’ project with Dave Barras. It gave us a chance to catch up, talk through some ‘Weltschmerz’ ideas and forge some plans. We had a great couple of positive days interspersed with some fine gin sessions under the pergola in the sunsets and it was the first in a long time that I’d started to get excited about the music again. However I was Germany bound soon after and everything was focused on the move. The music could wait a while longer.
I arrived in Durlach to an unrecognisable Balcony in late July. Boxes were everywhere and already some of the furniture pieces we didn’t want had gone to new homes.Our great friends Steffen and Carsten really stepped up to the barricades and I can honestly say that without them the week could have ended in a disaster. Yatta arrived in the Clown carrier the day after I arrived and we celebrated our first time together since my Dad’s funeral with a suitable session in the Kranz on the Saturday night. Sunday was a typical 27 degrees in town but thanks to Steffen, Petra, Carsten and a couple of trolleys we emptied the shop and loaded up in just over an hour. As we’d hoped there was plenty of room left in the van so we headed back to the flat to perform the ant routine down 2 floors and 4 steep flights of stairs delivering the plants, breakables and awkward fragile pieces to the comparate safety of the Clown Carrier. We were locked and loaded and ready for Yatta to head off early next day for the journey to the Channel Tunnel and Scotland.
The move was on Thursday so the next 3 days were spent filling boxes and driving to the recycling centre. Carsten and Steffen both had links to refugee centers in town so a lot of the basic kitchen stuff including dinner sets, pots and pans, kettle and cutlery was all destined for there. Bedding and unwanted shoes and clothes were bagged and boxes of old toys stood waiting to be collected. I had to sort out the plant pots as Simone had a good collection of terracotta containers we wanted to take to Haddington. As most of them were filled with lavenders and herbs of which we had more than plenty back home I decided that rather than throw them out that I should replant the sad containers on the front balcony overlooking the street that we weren’t taking with us. Cue a righteous mess which wasn’t helped by discovering a large ants nest among the roots in one of the Balcony pots. I managed to bag most of the nest for removal to the dump and only had to throw away 3 scraggy lavenders leaving the front balcony resplendent in greenery and a pile of terracotta containers all clean and dusted and ant free for transportation. My only fear was that we’d missed a regiment that were now traveling back with Yatta who’d already been bitten to deformity by mosquitoes on the way out after leaving the van window open at night when he took a nap in a services.
Our 2 main concerns and first topic of conversation every morning over coffee on the Balcony were what’s happening with the piano and how are we going to get rid of the kitchen units?
The first problem wasn’t really ours but was becoming so. The upright piano belonged to Simone’s youngest daughter Mona and had been moved to the Balcony years before when it was about to be thrown out of their previous flat. I’d just met Simone around then and they had just moved to the Aue in Durlach. I knew Mona loved playing and she is a pretty accomplished pianist so I offered to pay for the transportation and set up in the new flat. We’d had some lovely nights sitting on the Balcony listening to her playing in her room , strains of melancholy Chopin and chilled grauburgunder a perfect mix of an evening. Mona was supposed to arrange for 4 burly gentlemen to transport it but they turned out to be 4 young men from her karate club and the thought of this piano careering downstairs and hurting someone gave me chills. It also had to be detuned to prevent damage and I couldn’t imagine anyone in the karate Dojo owning a tuning key. Mona was constantly working and hadn’t even finished her packing. Time was fast running out. On the Monday night it was executive decision time and I decided to engage professional help rather than risk damaging the piano. It was late in the day and the piano movers couldn’t do anything till the following week after we had flown. Luckily the new tenants were understanding and allowed us the leeway to pick it up from them. Job done. Problem solved and the piano was addressed to it’s new home in Mona’s dad’s flat where she was moving in with her sister Tara.
The kitchen was more problematic. Unlike renting flats in the UK tenants in Germany have to remove everything they have added to the flat unless agreed with the landlord and/or future tenant. Simone had a kitchen fitted soon after she moved in. Nothing too special. The only thing we wanted from it was the dishwasher that was relatively new. The operational fridge freezer, the cracked halogen hob and oven that worked by guesswork rather than indicated temperature settings, the nearly dead but revivable small freezer, the cracked Belfast sink and the stained wooden worktop with accompanying drunken doored units was proving harder to shift. After the above write up you’re probably sitting there thinking “no wonder” but the thing is we were offering it for free! We contacted friends if they knew any one who wanted a “starter pack” and advertised on the German version of Gumtree but had not even a nibble. Carsten and Steffen had told us that the guys that dealt with recycling for the refugee centres were on holiday that week and we were now sitting on the Balcony 2 days before the removal guys came with a kitchen that had to be dismantled and removed from the premises. By this point after several, what seemed hundreds of trips in an airless well in 30 degrees carrying boxes, plants and bags down 4 flights of knee crunching stairs I was quite honestly close to the knackers yard. Pit ponies were treated better. I was in agony every evening and moaned into our bed amidst the cardboard rubble that made up what used to be our bedroom. And every night I had nightmares about the kitchen. I didn’t have the tools nor the flexibility to dismantle the units or shut off the utilities never mind carry the broken up edifice down 4 flights of stairs.
On Wednesday the sound of trumpets was to be heard as the white charger of Steffen the Awesome came to the Aue. He’d called us the night before to say he’d be round next night to dismantle the kitchen and if I could get the units downstairs on Thursday he could get them picked up and delivered to someone’s garage from where the guys from the refugee centre could pick them up when they got back.
And so it was. Steffen the Awesome arrived with Lady Petra around 6 next day and with tool kit asunder prepared for dissection . They set about their work like pros and after only an hour or so the dismembered corpse of our kitchen was stacked in the corner of the room, now functionless . I still had to organise the “cleaning”. I was now the Harvey Keitel of white units! Tomorrow was scheduled ‘move day’ and Simone and I were as prepared as we possibly could have been. This was to be our last night on the Balcony.
( to be continued)