Sunsets on Empire, Raingods With Zippos, Fellini Days and Field of Crows are now available in the Fish Shop!
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)
I was on my way to a funeral yesterday when I received a text announcing that Andy Newman had passed away at the relatively young age of 73. A highly innovative maverick and oft proclaimed musical genius I really got into his material through Pete Townshend who put together and produced his band ‘Thunderclap Newman’ back in 1969.
I never met him but he had a small part in my life when I first heard the magical intro to ‘Something in the Air’ on the radio age 11 while still at Kings Park Primary School. It had enough of an impact on me at the time to influence it’s inclusion on the ‘Internal Exile’ album as I thought it was in line with my ‘homecoming’ when I was rediscovering myself and my roots and my family.
I’d got to thinking about what we leave behind for people in the shape of memories and achievements when I attended the funeral on Friday at Borthwick church near Gorebridge where my mother’s side of the family came from and where my great grandfather is buried in the dark yew shaded cemetery . The last time I had been in this church was for my mothers cousin’s funeral about 10 years ago. Sadly there are few remaining members living there that I know and over the years we have drifted as younger generations don’t have the same ties as our parents did.
The service was for Brian Aitchison, the son of my mother’s cousin, who I’d regrettably met only a few times during his life which had been brought to a short and tragic end through cancer at only 52 years old. As I listened to the eulogy read by an army chaplain in a packed church I couldn’t help but admire the way Brian had lived his life to the full and achieved so much, winning the respect of so many people and capturing so many hearts on the way right until the end.
An ex Scots Guardsman who’d served in Northern Ireland and in the Falklands conflict, piping the troops to Tumbledown and beyond and finishing his military service in the regimental band traveling the world earning a reputation as a formidable musician and pipe major he was some character. He ended up as the ‘Macer’ in the High Court in Scotland defending judges, witnesses and jurors from ‘unwanted attention’ before moving into the records department which he ran meticulously and as with throughout his varied and colourful career had earned many accolades.
Another beautiful eulogy from Lady Paton, a judge he had served, together with a rendition of a Burn’s song, ‘John Anderson’ by two local musicians; as he was a true devotee of the Bard; added to what was a wonderfully touching memorial service.
Most of what I heard in the kirk I had no idea of as I mostly knew Brian as the person who sent my parents detailed history of my grandfather’s service records during WW1 including photos he’d dug up in archives as he was a fervent genealogist.
At the funeral service it was like being introduced to a stranger at times and I deeply regretted not having been in touch in recent years. I stood at the back of the church with Simone among people who knew him far better than I did and who had been profoundly touched by his life.
The sound of the pipes playing the lament outside the windswept kirk and the sight of military flags born by ex soldiers all gathered in respect of this man were truly humbling and moving.
Simone and I walked to the car parked on the hill outside the church with scores of others that had partially blocked the road to Borthwick with my mind birling with thoughts.
We didn’t attend the burial as my back was in agony from standing throughout the service but as I drove past the assembling mourners at the Harvieston cemetery towards Dalkeith I was reminded that you don’t have to be a media celebrity to leave behind a legacy that has profoundly touched people.
Brian William Aitchison RIP
Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman RIP
and today, Dr Spreng , my ‘voice doctor’ in Karlsruhe who’s looked after me for the last couple of years RIP
First of all a belated Happy New Year to one an all from the Balcony in Karlsruhe where I’m perched in a cold rainy drizzle trying to get back on my feet after a tour that was my most successful in years and also one of the most stressful for a very long time as we fought through a myriad of problems and events that at times threatened to derail us at every turn.
I will be writing up the blogs from the last section of the tour in the coming days but for now I’ll deal with the news as we enter another year that promises to hold a lot of new projects and opportunities and a new beginning.
On Christmas Day I proposed marriage to my wonderful and beautiful lady, Simone and can now announce we are engaged after 5 years together traveling back and forward from Germany to Scotland. Simone will be moving to Haddington this summer with her soon to be teenage son Liam. We’d been thinking long and hard about where we were going to live and after long and careful consideration and discussions with family we decided that for many reasons East Lothian was going to be our home. We weren’t sure for a long time and it wasn’t until Liam told us he wanted to live in Scotland last Easter that the wheels were set in motion. In November Simone was granted custody from a judge after consultation with Liam, his father and his mother and we were finally allowed to bring him over with us to start school in July. Simone’s 2 daughters are staying here in Karlsruhe and attending university and we will be in close contact and visiting each other regularly.
The girls knew I was going to propose to their mother as they had ‘stolen’ one of her rings in October to give to me so I could get the right size. They were sworn to secrecy. My daughter Tara helped me choose the engagement ring when we were in Birmingham on City Hall show day and we picked out a white gold design with an emerald and 2 diamonds as I knew Simone prefers simple jewellery. As the days went by the band and crew got to know but I kept the news within a tight circle of close friends. I wasn’t sure when the right time was to propose and had considered and rejected the idea of after the Glasgow show when Simone would be visiting for the weekend with all the kids. I showed her daughters the ring on the day they went home and they were beaming big smiles at the airport when we hugged our goodbyes.I decided to go for Christmas day.
My parents were having dinner with us and Tara was at her mothers in Edinburgh so I had a great opportunity. I picked up my Mum and Dad in North Berwick at midday and came back to the house with them to open presents by the Christmas tree Simone and I had decorated on the night she arrived 2 days before. I opened the gift Simone had given me to discover a white gold ear stud with a green tourmaline stone to replace an ear ring I’d lost months before. Seeing the same metal and green stone in the stud convinced me that she knew what I was planning and that the secret had got out.
I asked her what was her favourite spot in the garden and she said the Peter Pan pond area. We went out and I got down on one knee ,opened the box containing the ring and asked her to marry me. I thought she was going to faint as her legs started shaking. She didn’t expect it at all and it had come as a huge surprise. It had been a beautiful magical coincidence that we had both picked out the same white gold and green stoned jewellery and for both of us it was yet another sign we were totally in tune with each other and meant to be together. We went back into the house to tell my parents who were absolutely overjoyed and declared it their best Christmas present ever. Needless to say we are so happy together, very much in love and looking forward to creating our new home together with our extended families.
The announcement was delayed until the 2nd January as we had to inform our kids and other family members and with the sad death of Lemmy and then my daughters 25th birthday on New Years Day we didn’t feel it was the right time. It’s been great coming over to Durlach and meeting up with our friends here and we are both looking forward to Simone’s kids coming back from their holidays this weekend.
There’s a lot of organisation to take care of as I have to redesign the last remaining studio room and set Liam’s room up before they come over for Easter when we have to enroll him at the school. We then have the physical move of furniture and belongings to both the girl’s new flat in Karlsruhe and Liam and Simone’s to Scotland. With Liam starting school in July we both realise that our wedding will have to be put back until probably next year as I have to write and record the ‘Weltschmerz’ album and rather than try and cram our celebrations into an already crammed schedule we’d prefer to leave it until we have space and time to organise and enjoy the occasion. We are both just so glad that as of the summer we will finally be living together with Liam in Scotland in a house and garden we both love .
Well it’s been a hectic last few days with big shows, big crowds and big performances.
Bristol was a stunner and I admit to being in tears at the end of ‘Misplaced’. The sense of relief after the Dutch debacle when the wheels were close to coming off the tour only saved by Tony Turrell’s availability and his ability to step in at such short notice was palpable.Tony T did a brilliant job on his first night and we all applauded him on stage at the end of ‘the Company’. It was a night of high emotions and the crowd were absolutely terrific. I could not have asked for a more supportive and energised audience for out first UK show.We all left the stage with massive grins and there were lots of hugs all round.
The stress had taken it’s toll on my voice a little bit and I was weak on the top end,cracking a bit on the big throat holds.With 2 London shows up next I was taking no chances and was in my bunk early all potioned up.I woke up outside the gig in Islington and decided I needed something extra to take down the swelling on my chords. I jumped in a taxi and headed down to Euston to the University College Hospital A an E department where I would spend the next 4 hours until I was sent by a lovely doctor who I filled in on my situation. She gave me a short course of steroid pills and I made sure this time I got some back up amoxcyllin anti b’s which I recognised could have been the issue in Poland when I got hit by the virus. I’d had the injections in Holland and I now think that my immune system got whacked and opened the door for a hit as I didn’t have a back up.
I knocked back the first load of pills in the taxi back to a soundcheck and an interview with Team Rock that I was now missing. The doc had told me they’d take 4-5 hours to kick in and I was crossing my fingers they would be reacting before the show. They did.The warm up went well but I paid a bit for a lost soundcheck as my onstage sound was all over the place under the high reflective roof that acted like an upturned empty swimming pool.The show however was superb and although not as wild as Bristol was a brilliant London reaction.
The hospital visit gave me an off the cuff and wonderful curve into the introduction to ‘Family Business’ after ‘Pipeline’ and ‘Feast’ had rocked the room. It started with a joke about how you always find a drunk Scotsman in an A and E ward and how I was praying he didn’t recognise me as he was babbling away to himself. He was bordering on the aggressive but the arm in a sling indicated he wouldn’t be much use in a rumble. Everyone was avoiding eye contact and it was obvious he wasn’t a stranger to the premises.After a while a woman came in with a 4 year old boy sporting a mean black eye.The drunk guy started to engage him as the wee laddie sat on the floor in reception wrapping himself up in his hoodie to avoid interaction. The guy kept talking to him and then uttered what was quite a chilling statement. “Did your stepfather give you one then?” It was out the blue and the boy slid behind his mother and hid himself, I used that final utterance as the point break to introduce ‘Family Business’. It was perfect and threw a curve ball at the audience. The performance was inspired by it.
The last part of the story I left out but the seer Scotsman went out for a cigarette just as his name was called to see a triage doctor. He’s probably still sitting there waiting.
The ‘Perception’ intro also hit a chord and it was a pretty aggressive rendition that I think took some people by surprise.
Of course everyone was waiting for the main event and ‘Misplaced’ drew a huge roar of approval as it opened.What can I say? It was majestic and we careered and soared through the album to a conclusion that was met with a wall of applause.
‘Market Square’ and ‘Company’ led us home and I’d probably got the finest reaction in London for quite a while.
Backstage was beaming and we had the company of old friends to celebrate. We continued the party in the ‘New Rose’ pub down the road a few pints of Guinness salved the throat which had held up well. As I hadn’t checked in the hotel down the road and couldn’t be arsed wandering with a full quota of luggage down Islington High street at 2am I elected to stay on the bus which we shared with Lazuli who we’d given bunks to. They’d had a terrible day after breaking down in central London and having to get gear crossloaded to a van to make the show. They had no hotel so least we could do was offer our mobile residence for the night. I actually slept well and deep and woke up as fresh as you’d expect for the second night.
I discovered that 30 years to the day Marillion were in Japan so it was quite Fellini that I met up with Mark Kelly and our lawyer friend Guy for a Japanese meal before the show. We had a great natter about our experiences in previous incarnations in Japanese restaurants and the shenanigans that went on. It seems my memories are rather more clear and he did squirm a bit at the recollections. Wild days indeed smile emoticon
The voice was recovering and I went on stage confident and buzzing. The warm sake had done a trick and a decent soundcheck rectified all the faults from the previous night and I was in a good place.We hit the stage with a positive and fired up attitude.
It all went according to plan plus. ‘Family Business’ intro was retained as a lot of people had commented on how well it had worked. Dark curves and humour and a drop launch before people had come to terms with it all.
‘Perception’ took a slightly different twist as I’d been told 120 ticket holders hadn’t shown up the night before. It had seemed a little bit spacious the previous night whereas the Saturday show as a lot more obviously attended. The promoter’s rep wasn’t sure if it was unsold tickets from online sellers that hadn’t been bought or whether it was the concern after Paris. She said it had changed since the Bataclan massacre and people were concerned about going out to public gatherings. I added the fact to the introduction and it was well received as it has been since I developed it. ‘Punter’ was even more powerful for it as we all understood the connections and ramifications.
‘Misplaced’ opened to a roar of approval and expectation and we didn’t disappoint. It was high emotions from the off , ‘Lothian’ exploding in raised hands and a highly vocal crowd.The second half attacked but when we reached ‘Mylo’ I choked and cracked a bit as I remembered that it was Mark Kelly and I in Toronto when the news broke that John had died that morning. With his picture on the screen I wondered what Mark was thinking out there in the crowd.
The lift was tremendous and we reached the outro on an amazing high. ‘Perimeter Walk’ dark, broody and pulsing, ‘War Widow’ detonated and ‘Childhood’s End’ and ‘White Feather’ was performed to an ocean of raised hands. It was incredible to watch this reaction.from stage.
‘Market Square’ tore it up and ‘Company’ had a raft of ballet dancers on the venue floor. I thought it was better than the previous night by a notch.
The only annoying downer was that I was told just before the encores that there was some drunken prick who’d been nausing people off and had deliberately thrown 3 pints of beer over a woman and her daughters who’d been having a great time but were in his way as he came back from the bar. They were distraught and soaking wet. It wasn’t the right time to ‘out’ him as it would have destroyed the beautiful and positive atmosphere in the crowd at that point. Security couldn’t get to him and I hadn’t seen the incident. Tara was fuming as she had been putting up with a lot of sexist shit on the merch stall from drunks trying to grab kisses. The guy in particular that had thrown the beer was one of them. She shouted him down as he left the gig and refused to sell him merch. I was quite proud of her as she dealt with the problem, drawing security to the situation and then gave the 3 girls free t shirts as they were totally drenched. If the guy in question is reading this you should be totally ashamed of your actions and should apologise in public to these ladies whose night you ruined.
Backstage we were unaware of the entire story and I was showered and welcoming guests after a truly magical 2 nights in Islington, one of my favourite venues in London with the most friendly and helpful staff you could wish for.
With the bus wired up outside and a leave for the day off in Cambridge around 6am for a hotel check in at 2 we had time on our hands.
We elected to head for the ‘Hope and Anchor’ pub up the road, the home of Stiff Records back in the 70’s and famous venue that had hosted the early London ventures of U2 and so many brilliant bands over the years. I took Tara downstairs to the gig space and even I was surprised at just how small and cramped it was. I couldn’t believe that a band I knew from the 80’s ‘Nakd Lunch’ were playing and only to a tiny audience of about 20 people. They were brilliant, ‘Joy Division’ before ‘Joy Division’. I was sad that we only caught the last 10 mins o their set but when we were offered to sty downstairs for the lock in with out own company we had a great time having a natter and I even bought a t shirt from their merch guy who I’d met through mutual friends and had correspondence with here on FB . To make it even more Fellini orientated the sound engineer and gig promoter I knew from Charisma days back in the 80’s. It was a fine wee reunion and I exited the club with a slight wobble after quite a few dark rums.
It was a fine feeling diddly bopping down the road to the bus in the wee small hours after playing 3 brilliant shows in a row with no casualties.
The day off here in Cambridge was exceptionally quiet apart and I was glad to just calm down and rest after all the recent dramas.
Backstage now, 30 mins to showtime and feeling good about everything.
30 years on the album is still resonating with people and it’s great to celebrate the moment. I was reminded of just how long ago it was when I met with Robert Mead, the model for the original album cover after the show at the Assembly rooms.He joined us in the pub after show and we had a good natter. Strange to think that 30 years ago he was chalk marking hearts on a Berlin wall.
How the world weaves and curves on us all
Day off in Birmingham after another great gig in Cambridge last night. I managed a laundry at the venue yesterday but got worried as it was over 4 hours in the washer dryer which had a broken door and was a bit worse for wear. It looks like some of my stage T shits could fit Action Man and I’m concerned the jeans may be a couple of sizes smaller too. At least I have clean underwear again but they may be a bit tight around the crotch! smile emoticon
The venue was packed last night and w had the added bonus of a great house lighting engineer who gave us the use of 4 CO2 cannon at the front of stage that had been left over from a corporate event at the weekend. Simon also hung a couple of mirror balls from the overhead truss to give us a bit of sparkle in ‘Lavender’. He put in a great shift for us and made the show a bit more special with added visual dynamics to play with.
‘Pipelin’ literll fired off with the CO2 eruptions and we locked into the set quickly with ‘Feast’ energised before the ‘Family Business’ intro and a bluesy performance that it the mark.’Perception’ and it’s intro went down well and again hit a chord with the crowd, Simon adding red, white and blue lights across the stage to back the tricolour on the projection screen.
TonyT is really getting to grips with the set now and he is putting in some great playing as the band settles into the new line up. He deserves huge chocolate medals as he drove down from a day off in Liverpool where he’s teaching at the university and then was driven back after the show for another stint today thanks to his lady, the lovely Diane. It’s well beyond the call of duty. He obviously missed soundcheck so we had Romaine from Lazuli up on stage checking TT’s gear out and playing along on ‘Pipeline’ and ‘Lavender’ at soundcheck which was filmed by his band mates on their ever present go pro’s on selfie sticks. It was a fun moment smile emoticon
‘Misplaced’ was as always special and was greeted with high emotions all round. I am amazed just how much this album touches people and as well as the old hands there were a lot of youngsters in the audience singing along with me.The reaction at the finale was immense and it carried into the encores with mass ballet dancing particularly enthusiastic last night during ‘The Company’.
Robin set off home into the night with Tony close behind him. Steve and Vince are back home today leaving us with a depleted circus. The Lazuli boys joined us on the bus last night for some wine and pizza as we had to hold off on our journey as per usual as hotel check in was at 2pm leaving us with hours to spare on these short UK hops.
I wasn’t up late and left the wine rats in the downstairs bus lounge. It meant I woke up earlier than I wanted and found myself parked up by the canal. I opted for the walk along the tow path as it was a nice morning and the hotel was somewhere in the distance. After about 15 mins laden down with luggage I was regretting the adventure but it was a beautiful walk and I needed the cardio especially if I’m going to fit in my new shrunken jeans.
4 shows to go and the next run of 3 will be a toughie that I’ll have to take care with to reach Glasgow in good shape. The voice is holding up and I feel pretty fit these days. A lot more fit than I was a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to getting dropped of at the farm on Saturday morning as the tour bus passes by the studio on the way to Glasgow. Simone and her kids are all across for the weekend and arrive Friday night in Scotland. It’s going to be fantastic having them all over for the last show and it’s the first time Simone’s 2 daughters have been at the studio for quite a while and they are all excited to be coming to Scotland again.
But today is chill out and rest and take the deep breath before the spurt to the finish line in Glasgow on Sunday. I can sense the end of the tour now and will be glad to step off the bus for the last time on Sunday night with all my detritus picked up over the last weeks.I might just even manage to hold back a couple of bottles from the wine rats for Christmas.Doubtful though.
It’s been a tough last few days in the circus as I keep on searching for silver linings in the dark clouds that passed over us.
Tomorrow we reassemble on stage in Bristol at the 02 with Tony Turrell on keyboards. He’s been doing his homework and arrives for rehearsals at midday. Robin and Steve have filled him in on all the keys and sounds etc so we will be edgy but confident as we all know Tony T more than capable of learning and playing material at short notice.
It was sad to say goodbye to John Beck who was a forlorn figure on the ferry over to Dover. Watching him weave his lonely way along the upper decks that were rising and falling in the heavy Channel sea raked by 70 mph winds you couldn’t but help feel for him.
We’d been stuck in Calais for over 4 hours waiting to board and cabin fever was setting in having been trapped on the bus for the last 16 hours with only very occasional pauses in truck stops for relief and basic foodstuffs. It was a tough day for everyone and we all tried to mask our severe disappointment at losing the 3 Dutch shows.
The announcement of the replacement dates in April with the Groningen show moving to the bigger hall as it was now available gave me a lift as did the chance of 5 days to rest my voice before the UK shows.. With 5 shows to be replaced I’ve decided to extend the tour by adding a few more dates in areas we missed on this run to take it up to around a month on the road from 18th April onwards.
I have already asked Tony Turrell to continue on keyboards as John Beck is at least 3 months in recovery and will need extensive physio on his hand to get back to full fitness. We both agreed that banking on him being able to play by April was too much of a gamble.
He left the bus at 6am on Monday morning after we had parked up in Folkestone around 2 in a coach and lorry park where we could get power to the bus for the night’s stopover. Alastair, Vince and Robin left with John for the rain up to London and beyond while Steve, Gavin and Angus came with us to Bristol for their trains home for the couple of days we had off before the 02 rehearsals and gig.
Only Tara, Yatta and I stayed in the Travellodge and we were all desperate for a shower to get rid of the second skin that had grown under our grimy clothes.My throat was scratchy and my nose blocked from the near 36 hours of traveling in the bus which by the time we arrived in the city felt like a submarine. I walked up the corridor to my room still anticipating the swell of the ferry deck and the rolling of the bus in the winds that battered us along the motorway.
The shower was pure ecstasy and I ignored the box that would be home for the next couple of days focusing on the welcoming double bed and the promise of star shapes later. None of the remaining trio fancied going out in the rain and cold and we elected for the basic hotel fare of pie and mash and a bottle of wine ( a lot cheaper than the £40 for the same meal for Tara and I on the midnight ferry ).
A catch up on ‘I’m a Celebrity’ in my room with a bottle of wine from the hotel bar before the eyelids collapsed and I slipped under the heavenly duvet. I hoped that I’d be waking up in the morning to no more dramas and a relatively stress free day for a change.I needed some chill time and rest.
Tara makes her hotel room her home. I’m truly amazed at just how much stuff she carries around.
First day off lunch at 3 with Tara and Yatta on the Glassboat restaurant up from hotel. My first turkey dinner of the season. Barbers for a trim then holed up in hotel until later when a windswept Lazuli arrived to take us out for a fantastic curry in town.
The evening came to a close after meeting up at the hotel with my dear friend Andy Fox for an interview together with Romaine and Dom from Lazuli for his GTFM/BCFM Rockshow.
Bed around midnight then up at 1 next afternoon again. Felt a bit throaty so a long trudge up town to pick up supplies from Holland and Barrett to ward of any potential incoming. Bought some Christmas presents with Tara before some ramen noodles and another hole up in the hotel room.
It’s the first time I’ve actually had a chance to have a decent wander around this city despite visiting it on tours over the years. It’s a really beautiful place especially around the market areas where I could have spent hours investigating the stalls.
Really wary of keeping myself in shape for the next 8 gigs and trying not to get stressed out about them. Not sure whether to head out for food tonight or just eat in and have a really early night. Pressure is most definitely on to get through these UK shows in style.
It’s with deep regret and sadness that I have to announce that the 3 Dutch shows in Groningen, Tilburg and Amsterdam have to be rescheduled after John Beck our keyboard player broke his arm after tripping and falling over outside our hotel last night.
He has badly fractured his right arm at the elbow as well as fracturing a major bone in his right hand. The hand injury is serious and may have long term implications. His arm is in a cast for 6 weeks and he has been told the hand may take a further 6 weeks to properly heal.
The UK tour will go ahead with Tony Turrell taking over on keyboards. Tony already knows the set apart from ‘Feast of Consequences’ and ‘Pipeline’ having played in the band line up during the ‘Return to Childhood ‘ tour. He is a highly capable player and we are both supremely confident that we will have the set together and rehearsed by the Bristol 02 Academy show in 6 days time.
The 3 Dutch shows are being rescheduled for April and I will be able to announce the new dates later today.
I sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused and appreciate that these gigs have been hugely anticipated by a lot of people some of whom have made special travel arrangements to attend.
This unforeseen accident has totally taken the wind out of our sails just as we had regained momentum over the last 8 shows and about to play 3 completely sold out Dutch gigs on the way back home to a sold out UK tour.
I am indebted to Tony Turrell who has stepped in at extremely short notice and without whom I could have been staring at a far bigger problem. The UK tour is unaffected and all dates will go ahead as scheduled.
John is obviously despondent about his injury which has ruled out any playing for the foreseeable future and we all wish him well in his long recovery and hope that there are no long term implications.
Great gig in Saarbrucken last night and 30 years to the day when I played a venue only 10 klicks away in Volklingen on the original ‘Misplaced’ tour.
That gig is a haze in a maze in a fuzzy memory bank and I ached up the stairs to the dressing rooms to park myself in a room in a another city I wouldn’t discover until the night dropped like a stage curtain. Holed up in another shared space biding my time.
I wasn’t feeling particularly confident pre show as my voice was a bit ragged at the top end and despite a lengthy warm up it took 3 numbers for it to settle down and become flexible. The onstage sound wasn’t helping as the huge dome above us created all sorts of issues which thankfully weren’t a problem out front as Alastair had it under control. The 1300 people who filled the venue soaked up the reverb that had made for an awkward soundcheck and greeted us on stage with a mighty roar that immediately lifted me.
‘Pipeline’ saw a raft of hands in the air and I knew we were going to have a good night despite my initial anxiety about the voice. It was an energetic and appreciative crowd who were more than willing to participate any chance that came along.
There were quite a few mini mistakes and fluffs on stage but the energy was good and covered the traces as only rock music can when delivered with spirit.
‘Feast’ and ‘Family business’ both hit the spot and it was obvious this audience were no strangers to the solo catalogue. The intro to ‘Perception’ was well received and the song delivered with strong emotions that resonated with the crowd.
Needless to say the intro to ‘Misplaced’ was met with a massive cheer and we soared into the album with everyone out front lifting us ever higher through the sections. By the time we hit ‘Childhood’s End’ we were peaking and I don’t think there was anyone out in front of us who didn’t have their hands in the air. It was an awesome sight. At the end of ‘Feather’ and on the final rally the roar was immense and a wall of energy hit us detonating huge smiles all round.
A deep breath behind the stage and then ‘Market Square’ picked everyone back up again for another ride. A weary descent down the rickety stairs and the wine was opened before the final push. ‘The Company’ was the perfect send off with good ballet dancing skills included. A really great result that I hadn’t quite expected earlier.
It was Dominic’s last gig with us and the perfect farewell for him. Despite his dartboard tour routing that had ‘G’ our driver shaking his head at times he did a great job standing in for Yatta and at the end of the night he dutifully handed over the official Mag-light torch that is the staff of command to Vince.
We had an hour to wait on bus driver’s hours to kick in and diddly bopped to an Irish Bar a few minutes away for some welcome pints of Guiness with the Lazuli boys who’ve been putting in some serious hours following us in their camper van. Dominic bought the round and we all had a group photo taken before we sauntered back to the bus and a tipple in the downstairs lounge after big farewell hugs with our ever smiling German tour rep.
I flipped the bunk relatively early and racked up 6 hours of Zeds before waking just as we entered Dutch air space. Day off in Groningen and 2 nights in a decent hotel are more than welcome and much needed.The ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign is on the door.
Our stand in production manager Dominic Droese yesterday backstage in Oldenburg. He is a lot more rock and roll than this picture implies and had to endure Tara’s revenge after pocketing her i phone while under the influence on the bus leaving her in a panic that it had been left in the dressing room the night before. His bunk was taped up like a spiders web using ‘gaffer tape’ after he had had a few ‘libations’ in the downstairs lounge. Not what anyone wants to fight through to get to bed while wasted on a moving bus.It was his last night with us as we move to Holland and a returning Yatta tomorrow after tonight’s show in Saarbrucken.
The band played well last night and I had a good voice on song in a room that Alastair had concocted a great sound in. The problem was that it was our first seated venue of the tour and the crowd energies were low in the main. It would have been a better venue for a Fishheads Club show rather than the rock vibe we have just now. It was pointless getting the crowd on their feet in the early stages and I had to wait till ‘Perimeter walk’ to rack up the interaction and keep them up till the end of ‘Childhood’ where we took a great response. I enjoyed the show but it was tough going to get the crowd up to our level and I think that apart from some die hard fans indicated by old T shirts from Vigil days and beyond I don’t think the crowd generally were that aware of the solo material. It felt like playing to a theatre crowd rather than a rock audience.
I heard later that they had been told to remain seated for ‘fire regulations’ and perhaps people were a bit intimidated and self conscious thus the lack of involvement. Never the mind we had a great time on a tight stage that restricted my dancing moves and made me very self conscious about protruding drum and keyboard risers and monitors always threatening tumbledown moments. My back slipped towards the end and I had to sit down a couple of times to straighten things up. It looks like I will be revisiting the clinic in Amsterdam for some more injections in a few days.
One strange moment was when someone walked up to put a small plastic bucket on the front of the stage during ‘Misplaced’. I couldn’t for the life of me make out what it was and it looked like it held white tissue paper. It wasn’t the time or place during the performance to check it out and it started to give me the creeps as it was placed without a word being said and the person immediately disappeared from sight.I picked it up as we left after ‘Childhood’s End’ to discover on examination backstage that it was full of white sugar mice with the artwork from the single glued onto the bucket. A weird gift but to whoever presented it thanks from the downstairs bus lounge for the munchies! smile emoticon
And now a darkening Saarbrucken where I would have loved to have revisited one of my favourite steam rooms in Europe if not for lack of time today. A wander in the streets after dinner and soundcheck and some gluhweins at the Weinachtsmarkt before show seems to be the order of the evening. Big crowd tonight with again over 1000 expected. Looking forward to the day off in Groningen tomorrow.
Friedberg heralded the return of the voice although I admit to being very nervous pre show as to whether I’d stand up to the strain of a full show. I elected to drop “Long Cold Day” from the set and warmed up the voice before sound check and the gig.
It was an emotional night for all concerned and Paris was on everyone’s mind. I stood out front for most of ‘Lazuli” set and had a few tears as they delivered a beautiful eulogy before a passionate collection of songs that energised the room.
The local promoter’s had booked another support band who foolishly went on after ‘Lazuli’. Despite playing a shortened set our French friends took a fantastic reaction from a crowd which thinned out as the second act got into their set. Why they were even on the bill I don’t know as I discovered they had only played one show in the last year.
It made our job a little easier as following ‘Lazuli’ means you really have to up your game from the start. By the time we went on the 1000 strong crowd were waiting for us.
Having a working voice again and a virus on the run filled me with confidence and I was moving and dancing with a relevant fluidity I hadn’t had for a week or so. I was careful not to overstretch the chords, guarding against hanging around in the big notes too much. I was still missing a bit of range and crackled a bit ‘up top’ but nobody really noticed apart from me.
Alastair did another great job in a difficult room that had a lot of reflective surfaces including a wooden wall the entire length of the room facing the stage. He’s proving quite an asset to the circus and I have an on stage sound that is really helping me sing with a new confidence.
‘Misplaced’ as always was a diamond and the crowd were with us all the way lifting me out of the depression of the last few days as I had genuine worries about whether I could pull it back. The decision to pull Bielska Biala, Rendsberg and Haltern had been the correct one in the long run and I sit here in Nuremberg with a voice at close to 95%. I know this doesn’t make the fans who missed out on those shows feel much better but I will be back in April next year to fulfill those dates and with fingers tightly crossed I am over this lurgy, the worst I have had for many years, and all things going well will see out this tour in style.
I’ll write up more tomorrow in Munich as today has been taken up with reorganising meds and bags after a long sleep in the depths of the bunk. Waking up early I felt I’d been wired in as it was the first day that I was practically lurgy free. Long may it continue.
Arrived at ‘Backstage’ here in Munich to discover that our mates #TheBlackStarRiders are playing in the venue next to ours. Wonderfully cool to be able to say ‘not seen you since Marrakesh’ smile emoticon
Great to catch up with my good friend #RickyWarwick again and share road stories. Beautiful guy, first thing he did was mention the Hibs win last night against Livingstone. smile emoticon
Both gutted we are playing at the same time and missing each others gigs. Looks like we will be crossing paths in the UK next month as they are on tour with Joe Elliot.
Absolute sweat box last night in Nuremberg that had me struggling a bit at the end of the set as the heat drained me and tired my voice out. It was a brilliant crowd that kept me going as I started to wilt at the end of ‘Misplaced’. Not what you need while still getting back to full strength and I was a little bit worried this morning when I woke up in the bunk still a bit weak from the previous nights exertions.
Happy to say soundcheck went well and apart from a bit tiredness in the top end the voice is fine. 2 days off after tonight and I head to my lady and her family in Durlach straight after the show for some much needed rest and recuperation before we move into some demanding scheduling.
With the next 3 gigs within easy driving distances from Karlsruhe I’ll be taking advantage of a real bed and being chauffeured by my good mate Sven who’s staying with his family outside the city on the next run of shows.
The days off give me a chance to catch up with blogs on the balcony and get my laundry done ( Tara’s already given me hers to sort out as well) and most importantly rack up some deep zeds and fully recover from what has been the worst dose of lurgy I’ve had for a very long time.
Looking forward to tonight here in Munich, best numbers here I’ve had for years.
( Munich was an outstanding show and I am getting the best numbers and reactions there that I have done for a very long time. It used to be a tough crowd even back in the Marillion days but ‘Feast’ and this tour have definitely given me a strong footing here)
(Pratteln was yet another biggie with over 1000 in, my best numbers there ever. If Munich was 8.8/10 then this was a 9/10 with a fantastic crowd who delivered us an incredible reaction. I drove back to Durlach with Sven, Simone and Liam after the show arriving early hours of the morning. I’d spent the previous 2 days off there mostly on my back in bed as the last of the virus broke and left my system. Intended blogs were missed as I continued to recover. Next day in Mannheim I found out that the Facebook pages had been hacked and I was unable to post anything while my account was recovered)
Back again after some troll hacked the Fish pages for it appears no other reason than out of sheer badness. I logged on in Mannheim backstage to find a bunch of notifications from Facebook that some alleged female in Columbia USA had got into the pages and changed passwords etc taking them offline. It was a bit of a pisser and I lost Messenger on a night when a lot of friends from Durlach were trying to contact me re the gig. All sorted again and security updated so hopefully no more unwanted intrusions.
The Mannheim gig was special and the 1200 crowd in a sold out venue were brilliant giving both Lazuli and I a fantastic night on stage. My boys were on fine form and as always ‘Misplaced’ was special.
I’d been taking advantage of short distances between gigs with Durlach in the epicentre to travel back and forth from Simone’s flat and racking up the zeds in a static bed. It’s really helped me recover and get back to full fitness. The intended blogs got lost as I slept most of the time in between catching up on “I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here” and eating pizza in front of the TV with rationed white wine in a surreal domestic state.
The show is a big favourite of Steve Vantsis and I especially as my good mate #TonyHadley is in the jungle this time. Looking forward to when they get the bevvy into camp as big Tone must be well thirsty by now ! wink emoticon It helps break the backstage boredom and our catering is supremely better than theirs smile emoticon
In Stuttgart tonight with a day off tomorrow in Oldenburg fully deserved after 3 shows in a row. If tonight is as good as Pratteln and Manheim I’ll be a happy boy with over a 1000 people every night and riding a wave of great reviews.
Back on the bus later for the long trek North and I’ll have time on my hands to write up some stories tomorrow and the next day.
We’ve passed the half way marker now with only 2 more German shows before the home run through Holland and the UK with every one of those shows sold out apart from Sheffield where there are only a few tickets left. We are all buzzing on the vibes.
Day off in Oldenburg yesterday after a tremendous show in Stuttgart.I’d stayed over in Durlach after the glory that was the Mannheim gig to get my last night on the Balcony until I return in January and the last time I’d see Simone until she comes over with the kids for the Glasgow show. My chauffeurs Michael and Sven picked me up in the afternoon and we drove the hour or so down to the Longhorn, a venue I hadn’t played for years.
I was reminded of how long ago it was by the promoter who pointed out the broken plexiglass round the DJ booth. When I still had decent knees we had played football in the empty gig pre soundcheck and a misplaced shot had cannoned off the glass and broke it. Slightly embarrassed smiles at the memory but the promoter laughed, he was happy to have me back.
It was good to be in the Longhorn again and playing to over 1100 fans in what would later be a bouncing venue as we played a tight and powerful set with a great comedy moment as I recounted my stage trousers splitting in the Martin Schleyer Halle back in 85 during dipping movements in the “ooh wah” section of ‘Incubus’. One of the most embarrassing stage moments I can recall which left my tackle in the fresh air and only a patch of material between them and the 12000 crowd, my ass cheeks like a pink peach for all the band and crew to see. A decision not to wear underpants after discovering the only pair I had with me that day were stripey and showed through the stretchy white material of the Puma jogging trousers I wore back then proved costly for me but hilarious for everyone else especially Tony my ‘wardrobe guy’ who was on the floor laughing and incapable of helping me .A long solo from Steve Rothery came to my rescue and allowed me time to get to the dressing room and change. I can laugh about it now but back then it was traumatic!.
The story gave me a great introduction to ‘Misplaced’ which was greeted with a huge roar of approval by one of the finest audiences I’ve had there.The gig was a massive success and I was pleased to have a decent voice after this run of 3 gigs and 6 now since the worrying lurgy attack 9 days previously.
A rousing ‘Company’ and a mass ballet dance rounded of a successful night and my knees were aching as I climbed the open stairs up to the dressing room area waving at the crowd who knew I had put a shift in. I was a bit more sprightly last time when I still had football playing legs.
A long drive north on the bus and a return to my bunk for the first time in 8 days. A relatively early night and a midday rise to trundle through the streets of Oldenburg to the hotel 15 mins away in the rain and bitterly cold North Sea wind dragging all my cases and bags. I spent the day in my room catching up on a pile of e mails and calls and prodding the FB pages before I met up with some of the circus troupe to head into the old town for something to eat.
We discovered our first Weinachtsmarkt of the tour and a feeling of Christmas ebbed into the team. A great Italian meal and then a last chance gluhwein just as the markt closed for the night at 9 ‘clock. It was still early. As we dawdled back to the hotel the glittering lights of a Mexican restaurant in the centre of a road crossing threw temptation in our path and I suggested a nightcap to the team as there didn’t seem to be any other bars in the vicinity.
And that was how Tara, Angus, Dominic,Alastair and I ended up getting slightly trashed on tequilas and wearing Mexican hats on one of our best nights out on a day off this tour. A mixture of the aforesaid tequilas and various cocktails put paid to us all with Aliastair, still sporting a black eye from the last time he bounced off a bathroom towel rail after throwing up with the lurgy, definitely the worse for wear. He ended up in the hotel dropping his 3 week old i phone 6 outside the elevator, smashing the screen to smithereens and heading to the unlocked corridor fridge for beers for those who still wanted to further descend into oblivion. I declined the offer and was in my room with a bottle of wine watching ‘I’m a Celebrity’ until my batteries finally discharged around 1am. I prefer room based endings to my excursions these days as falling into bed is better than head scratching drunken wobbly wanderings trying to find the hotel. It feels slightly more civilised and incurs less bruising.
A great sleep I amazingly woke up feeling quite fresh and vibrant this morning and the return with baggage through the streets to the bus seemed less of an ordeal.
Tonight is sold out but and we have a tight stage and a seated audience for the first time this tour. It’s only 500 people but the venue has a good vibe and as a theatre is perfect for a frontman.
After show is another huge drive back down south to Saarbrucken. ( Dominic , our agent has already apologised for a tour that looks like it was put together using darts on a map of Germany) then a day off before crashing into Holland.
Everybody is relatively healthy and last night provided no casualties. There’s a stomach bug doing the rounds but compared to the plague we endured recently it’s trivial. Our only MIA is Yatta who left us in Stuttgart to go home to deal with some family issues. It’s weird texting him the gig results and getting his updates from home. He’s back with us in Groningen. We all miss him but Dominic is doing an admirable job as stand in production manager.
Spirits are high and everyone is well aware that we are on the homeward stretch with the UK just down the road a bit. I’m taking no chances and developing an addiction to lemon, ginger and honey teas. Another hole to be drilled in my belt soon. Happy days!