Sunsets on Empire, Raingods With Zippos, Fellini Days and Field of Crows are now available in the Fish Shop!
Brilliant gig in Gdansk last night! One of the best venues I’ve played in Poland. the Stary Manez club is beautifully designed with great acoustics and unlike the arena in Szczecin the crowd were on display on the floor and a surrounding balcony making the contact so much easier than the dark bowels of a sports hall.
‘Lazuli’ again delivered a powerful show and we have to keep our game up to follow them.We hit the stage in a high gear and ‘Pipeline’ got the place bouncing before a rampant ‘Feast’. Sound and lights were great and we reveled onstage playing a stand out show to a very receptive audience.
Although I cannot speak Polish slow careful deliveries of introductions seemed to hit the mark and ‘Perception’ in particular was a bit inspired. I recounted some old history with the city from 87 and took the opportunity to take cameras off the photographers in the pit and turn the tables handing them the mike so they could pose while I took shots of them.
As always everyone was waiting on ‘Misplaced’ and we didn’t disappoint.It’s just so inspiring to play and the entire album just glides effortlessly along a wonderful curve.It goes by so fast I sometimes wonder if we have played a short set and I’ve sometimes checked my watch as I walk off after ‘Feather’ to make sure. By the time we delivered an energised ‘Market Square’ and a rousing ‘Company it was 2 hours on stage last night as I took the opportunity of having a full communion with an attentive crowd to explore the intros more than I normally would do.
I genuinely wish I could speak the lingo and admit it’s frustrating but I just can’t get my head round the language. I just try to find the balance in the intros, keeping them simple and short enough and employing a few bits of visual comedy like the camera turnaround to get over the language barrier. It seems to work and the music speaks for itself.
The hot shower after show was exquisite. It’s far removed from our early forays in Poland where venues were quite dismal and lacking in the basics. I can remember having cold showers for 3 straight days in what seemed to be abandoned factories and eating the infamous ‘donkey dick in breadcrumbs’ with 5 colours of cabbage from a polystyrene box. The dinner pre show in a local hotel added to the components of a fine day.
I walked back from dinner on my own to the venue through a magical landscaped area that had been created by the developer who had financed the new purpose built venue from the shell of what had been an indoor training area for cavalry horses. All the derelict army barracks around the venue were being renovated and turned into student accommodation and I was mightily impressed and pleased that this historical area was being brought back to life and not just demolished and turned into modern flats. I shot some footage on the phone for Angus and I to include in the back screen projections we are building on tour as we go along. It’s our little project on days off now.
After show the pizza arrived and we splashed a few glasses of wine together before heading to the bus signing autographs with happy fans on the way out. Best gig in Poland so far and if Warsaw tonight is as good we will all be happy campers.
I’m sure we won’t be disappointed
Smiling in Zoetermeer on a hotel day off before the first of 2 sold out shows at the Boorderij. We arrived after a long haul from Liverpool through lumps of fog in Belgium to a sunny Netherlands.
Have to say that the sleep was intermittent as Simone and I had to share a bunk because spares were taken up by our ‘double driver’. her son Liam, who’s joined us on school holidays and a much needed ‘junk bunk’ as the bus is crammed.
Needles to say my restlessness had nothing to do with romance in a tight space rather a body that felt like it was broken.
As you know I’ve been having problems in recent months with a shoulder tendon injury and a bulging L5 disc that’s trapping a nerve causing me terrible sciatica and back pain. It tends to come and go but hits me if I am standing for a long period. It decided to visit me last night on stage in Liverpool just around ‘Threshold’ and it felt like I had completely popped the disc. I was in agony for the last 20 minutes or so and ‘ Childhood’s End’ was excruciating to perform.The irony is my voice is the best it’s been for a while and I was enjoying belting it out last night despite the intense heat on stage that made breathing difficult and had me drenched from about the second song into the set.
The ‘Lazuli’ boys had warned me before I went on and I had to acclimatise quickly. I was necking water constantly throughout the gig and really taking care of my breathing, not squeezing notes and straining.
It was all going well until ‘Kayleigh’ when the kebab I’d eaten as my ‘hearty dinner’ more than 2 hours before stage time decided to revisit me on top of all the water I’d drunk. Just as I started to sing the chorus my mouth filled with chunks and bile and I had to quickly try and swallow to keep it down and the song in place. I felt the acid and the chilli bite my chords and I choked, missing out some words before recovering. A couple of heavy duty gargles were needed to clear me up and wash the chords.It threw me and I decided to let the keyboards on ‘Lavender’ run an extra sequence before starting singing again.
I was blown away when the audience took control and the entire crowd started singing on the correct entry point. I gave up with a smile and joined in with them. I have to admit it was a high emotional point and the entire album was celebrated by a fantastic reaction that blew us away when we finally drew ‘White Feather’ to a close with the finest sing along of the year so far.
It was a very different vibe to the previous show here which had been like playing the ‘Gremlin’s Bar’ as it was so unruly and impossible to control. I was actually a bit thrown on my first introduction after ‘Feast’ and before ‘Long Cold Day’ and had anticipated trouble.It was exactly the opposite and although there was a hell of a lot of talking in the auditorium there weren’t the barrage of drunken heckling I’d expected.Everything settled own after that and both ‘Family Business’ and ‘Perception’ got great receptions.
The introduction to ‘Misplaced’ and the dedication to Mylo made it all a bit more special and I was very aware of this being the final performance of the album in Liverpool. It was altogether inspiring.
I was worried when my back gave way and left the stage after ‘Misplaced’ a very concerned singer. ‘Market Square ‘ was a trial for me. The crowd were again brilliant and uplifting , in great voice and full of energy. Standing side of stage after that reaction I felt terrible. There as no way I could dance ‘The Company’ and I wasn’t even sure if I could sing it on my feet.
The crowd wanted more and I had to deliver something. Just then my trusty Vince delivered a stool centre stage and I sat down as the Val Doonican of Prog and sang my heart out to an appreciative audience dancing from the waist down!
Backstage I was in agony and Simone laid into my back with a massage machine that took away the edge of the pain after about 10 minutes lying on the dressing room floor. It all clicked back into place and some Voltarol and Ibruprofen and a hot shower got me back into a decent upright position. Luckily I’ve already anticipated the ongoing problem and a good friend of mine over here who’s a back specialist has set up appointments for me to have injections that should bring things under control and see me through the tour. (We tried to steal the stool from the O2 but Vince was caught red handed smile emoticon )
Liverpool was the first night for our new sound engineer Alistair Lindsay who joined us on recommendation from Andy Williamson, my out front guy from the ‘Suits’ tour. I had decided to make a change during the summer and felt that the sound needed ‘refreshing’. Shaun Rogers had been with me for a long time and had done a great job for me in the past. For various reasons I felt that these final indoor shows needed something different out front and onstage and Shaun had been told during the German festivals that the Dalkeith show was his last outing.
It was a difficult decision for me to make and for Shaun to take after so many years. Partings like this are never easy as I know he had built a lot of great relationships with fans over the years. I sincerely appreciate what he’s done for me in the past and he’s been a loyal member of the crew and a good friend providing a lot of laughter out here on our road trips. I know he will find another position with another band and I’m sure he’ll bring something special to someone else s party. I wish him all the best and I’m sure a lot of you like me will retain happy memories of times spent together.
Alistair stepped into 2 difficult shows, his first in ‘Hell’ in Norway and last night in the O2 where judging from comments he did really well despite the pressures of working in a reverberating sweat box that robbed a lot of high end frequencies ( sweat was dripping onto my head on stage from the ceiling) and made mixing very awkward. With 2 nights at the Boorderij coming at us I am sure he will get to grips with the set up and the mixes very quickly and we are all confident that he can deliver some great quality out front sound. He’s very nervous having only been in our company in the Circus or a few days and I hope you’ll give him a welcome if you come across him. We are all looking forward to working with him.
And so it begins. Darkness falls in Zoetermeer and I have discovered I have a live radio interview with a local station tonight at 8pm. Shower and back massage now then a cheeky wee Savvy before venturing out. The circus is back in town.
The dust is settling on the Summer season and I’m gradually re balancing myself and finding my domestic feet. Although there is still the Hellfest show in Trondheim in October I’m staring at a 5 week stint dealing with a mosaic of a “to-do” list that’s had me out in the garden the last few days since the Dalkeith gig taking advantage of some decent weather to get some autumn prep done. Today the chainsaw was out to take down stems of a hornbeam tree that has been overshadowing the greenhouse. It took quite a while to get back to grips with dismantling and reassembling the saw and sharpening up.I’m always very respectful of the chainsaw and methodical when operating it and after a long lay off it was a slow deliberate process taking down the wood.
I’d been reminded of my past career on Saturday at Dalkeith estate where I worked for a short time in the woodland nursery as an assistant forester back in 1980 during my middle year from Newtonrigg college in Penrith where I was studying an OND in forestry. . This was just as I started singing with my first band “Blewitt” in Galashiels and about to make the big jump that summer into the music business.
The stage was directly in front of Dalkeith Palace in what I knew as the “Dukes” estate.I used to run around in the woods and down by the Esk river that flows through it and had wonderful adventures there as a young boy. Coming back to Dalkeith to perform ‘Misplaced Childhood’ there on it’s final UK open air outing was therefore always going to be an emotional experience.
I hardly recognised the place these days and arrived late afternoon to be met by the estate manager and the woodland manager of the Buccleuch estates who’d invited me to plant a tree to mark the occasion.Thankfully they’d saved me the back ache and dug the hole in which I planted a young Sequoia tree and was complimented on my technique! It seemed apt to be sticking a Giant Redwood in the ground on the day and I was quite proud to be asked in all honesty.
The planting helped break up the wait till showtime as did the short walk up to the high street where I saw my Dad’s old garage, Dick Bros on the New Edinburgh Road ( also known as “Dickie’s Brae”) from which I’d named my first independent record label. It was all very different but I still felt the memories creep in as I sauntered past old haunts.
I was slightly nervous not really knowing how I would react on stage. The sound up there was not what I’d hoped for and we started with “Pipeline”, the keyboards drowning out everything in my monitors.There was no point in getting finicky and I just had to get the engineer to adjust as much as he could by using hand signs. The sound wasn’t helped by the fact that the staging was a plastic shell that had mushed a lot of frequencies up.
The crowd were into it from the start and the 5000 that were there were more than the organisers had hoped for. When we started “Misplaced” it was obvious a large proportion had come to see this performance which as it unwound took me through some high emotions that had me choking a couple of times as memories intruded.
“Heart of Lothian” was awesome and passionate the crowd ignited.It was made even more special than normal because of the location and there was a huge roar as it closed.
By the time we hit “Childhoods End” the field was ours with “Market Square” riotous and a sea of hands before us signaling we had done the job and fulfilled a lot of people’s expectations.
It was a strange feeling coming off stage and sitting in the dressing room. I find it difficult to explain even now.There was a definite sense of ending and also of a new beginning.
I didn’t want to hang around and left shortly after the “Fratellis” started their set. A lot of handshakes on the way to the transport and we drove out of the “Dukes” gates leaving something behind me that I had known I had to achieve on the night. I felt I was saying goodbye to something but there was no sadness in me.
The studio emptied around midnight and Steve Vantsis and I sat alone in the control room with another bottle of wine dealing with the come down, the others retired to their hotel in Haddington or on the Clown Carrier to Wales. Sunday would be a hangover in many ways within the circus.
Steve drove home late afternoon and I was alone again staring at the fire with a barrowload of issues to deal with in the coming week. There were some long overdue changes due and on Sunday night I was preparing to face up to new challenges and demands.
I am still trying to get my head round writing up the sleeve notes for ‘Fellini Days’ and ‘Field of Crows’. To be honest I have been procrastinating as to delve into those years is quite painful and I have to write up a period that takes in my first divorce, the financial meltdown, losing the house and a lot of other dark moments that are inextricably linked with the albums and the lyrics.
‘Sunsets’ and ‘Raingods’ are pretty much ready to go into production and they will be available on the tour but whether I can get the next 2 up and running is another question and I have some finger bleeding typing sessions coming at me.
As I said the garden needed nurturing and as I pretty much got on top of it with Rab the last few days I’m facing up to starting the writing this weekend.
I’m preparing for what is supposed to be the worst winter since 1963 and it looks like my touring schedules will just miss the beginning of it all.There’s road patching to be done here, fences to be erected and a wood pile to be built. I need to get everything in order and set up in the weeks I have left before the circus hits the road.
For now I’m gorging on a mass of home grown vegetables, looking forward to making my first horseradish sauce tomorrow from tubers in the plot, all the outside containers have been dosed with nematodes to wipe out the vine weevil larvae, the globe artichokes cut down, the winter brassicas in their beds, the garlic and onion sets arriving next week, the lavender and reams of hedges to be cut back, the orchard to be pruned and the ground rotavated to allow the sowing of a new wildflower meadow to feed the bees that will inhabit the new hives I hope to get next summer.
And all this while listening to the new remasters and scribbling away on an ever expanding to do list that will take me into the ‘Weltschmerz’ writing sessions that will begin early next year.
And in all that there is the tour that looks like it is potentially the most exciting and successful that I have been on in years.
It’s hectic, stressful, demanding and sometimes overwhelming but I like it that way.
Arriving in Durlach after the maelstrom of the post tour holiday period that was fraught with organisational responsibilities and the delightful pressure of playing host to Simone’s mother and partner was a welcome respite. It was the first time our parents met and we both recognised the further coming together of our respective worlds. Although we had a quiet New Year together mostly spent in our own company after her mother returned to Karlsruhe on the 30th I was still coming down from a tour and in a slightly confused state.
I found myself still disorientated and with an unemptied suitcase in my bedroom which was still in my mind a hotel room waiting to be checked out of. I was still leaning with my head against the wall in the toilet when I had a pee as I had done for weeks on the moving bus as that was the way to steady myself and not create unwanted spillage. Getting back into domestic routine was proving difficult and watching TV until after 2, devouring movies and catching up on endless recordings, my want. Wine flowed too freely but the kitchen became an obsession as we cooked and ate heartily and the lurgy with attendant lung racking coughing up of evil phlegm receded in the face of decent and regular food. It seemed too short before we got the taxi to the airport and the flight to Frankfurt on the 2nd January.
Sausages and beers on the trains to Karlsruhe signed us in to the next residence and we got to the flat in Aue courtesy of a pick up from Simone’s eldest daughter Tara who arrived at the hauptbahnof with Borgie the Irish wolfhound and a plateful of home cooked fudge she had made for me from a cookbook I’d given her for her birthday and which she had used to good effect for my Christmas present! The next few days we treated as holidays from the World and I took up residence on the balcony once again. We didn’t need a fridge to chill the wine and I loved staring at the stars above the valley in the wee hours as the frost dropped in.
Ideas were forming in the darkness and plans were afoot.
Simone’s other daughter Mona was staying with us, as much as teenager’s with overcrowded social diaries do, while Tara stayed with her father who still had her youngest ,son, Liam in Poland with him snow boarding and skiing. It left Simone and I a welcome near empty house for a few days.
It kicked off on the Monday when Simone went to work and I was left with a full beam on to business on the laptop and the office phone here.
Yatta was churned up with the European rescheduling, the previous accounts and the ongoing insurance claim, so I stepped into the gap and took point on setting up the summer. It proved fruitful and some early breaks got my spirits high. Like putting together a jigsaw puzzle with other players working on similar puzzles, all of the pieces in the same pile and all of us vying to finish before the other and doing deals on exchanges of bits in order to complete the picture for the summer.
Some e mails went disturbingly unanswered, others closing quickly. I could only cast the lines with what I thought was the correct bait and hope my intended catches would bite and I could land what I needed to thread the summer together into a concise, consecutive and viable routing that Yatta would have to verify and we as a circus could feed off. I used to do this in the old days and was having to get to grips with hunter and gathering again pretty quickly as Yatta was close to being overwhelmed with responsibilities. It was working and by close of day at the end of the first week between us we’d doubled our tally of possibilities and beyond!
I was working hard and playing hard and with a return of family to the flat they were bemused by my eternal phone calls and engrossment with typing on my laptop. The bottle bank was visited more regularly than they expected on normal visitations and eyebrows were raised somewhat. I was in “battle” mode, rising late, typing manically and fervently and occasionally raised voiced as the puzzles began to get solved.
An evening with “Bucchi”, aptly named as booker of the Sean Tracey band where I decamped a bottle of fine whisky with him while discussing touring scenarios didn’t ingratiate myself with Simone’s kids but led to a major rethink about my position here in a future life in Germany. It also led to my involvement a few nights later when I took to the stage at the Jubez in Karlsruhe to perform “Feast of Consequences” and “Sugar Mice” to a highly appreciative audience!
The dog walks with Simone’s Irish wolfhound, Borgie gave me time to think on my own and after the gig we had to de socialise and return home so he could take me out, the strangest thing I can ever remember as a come down from a show. I’ve been loving the solitude of walking with him at nights and during the day as Simone works at her mothers shop in the city despite the pouring freezing rain interspersed with sharp sunshine and lung filling wind that clears my sometimes bleary mind.
The ” cunning plan” changed, I have an idea for a novel based on my balcony experiences and overall the time here has been searingly productive.
The funniest thing was that when I talked to my mother the other day I responded to a comment she made by saying “Genau” which in German means exactly. I have found myself actually dreaming in German these last few nights! Maybe it’s just the time spent here, maybe it’s watching “House of Cards” with German subtitles on our empty dark Winter nights and continuing to absorb the language. I do feel a lot more comfortable here these days and find myself thinking in the language rather than translating between the two when I have conversations.
I’ve been reading the Cormac McCarthy “Border trilogy” novels these last few weeks in moments of pause and loved his use of Spanish within the dialogue. Maybe it’s had a subliminal influence but I have to say there’s a huge input to experiences over here and a massive addition to observation that has sown the seeds for something more different and bigger than I thought. The finest writing I have read for a very very long time
The lines are still in an ever flowing deep stream and my concentration on developments is sharp with my reactions trigger ready. I cut myself off from a World of madness and focus. I can only deal with matters in front of me, the rest I have no control over. I deal with the moment.
He moved from the perimeter of the crowd and stood next to the fire blazing away on the sand in the ring of stones and stared at the flames with wide wet eyes. Around him were seated parents with young families on wooden cubes in a rough circle,eyes wincing at the swirling smoke and some shielding their faces from the searing heat as the chill wind picked up the flames. Around us the weihnachtsmarkt was in full swing.
We’d noticed him earlier in the supermarket buying batteries which were obviously for a camera that he was now holding half in and half out his pocket as if he wasn’t sure to take a photograph of the fire or not. He’d apologised to the cashier as he had broken the seal on a multi pack as he didn’t want them all and was embarrassed when he realised that he shouldn’t have done that. At first I’d thought he was drunk but then realised he was slightly mentally handicapped and was struggling to understand what was going on and what to do. The manageress was a bit annoyed but was sympathetic and put him at ease, she knew him.I watched him slowly shuffle out the supermarket clutching his small bag of loose batteries.He looked lost.
And then here he was again, standing close to the fire, on his own in the circle, staring at the crackling flames with wide wet eyes under his military cap, hands fumbling at the small red camera. He stared at the families and the young children and I felt an overwhelming urge to tell him everything was ok as he evoked a deep sadness and loneliness in his face. Nobody else seemed to notice him as he stood there and I wondered if I was seeing a ghost. A young man, mid twenties,medium height, a drab green jacket and jeans and that lost look, it was if he wasn’t there for anyone but me to see. I turned to Simone who was drinking her gluhwein and talking to friends behind me and I mentioned that it was the guy we had seen in the supermarket.She too identified him and before I could say anything else I turned around and he was gone. I don’t know what it was but I felt I had to talk to him. I left my honey wine and set off into the crowd to find him.
The soft thud of arrows into straw filled targets at the archery range drew me but there was no sign of him in the queues of young children and teenagers waiting their turn to try their luck and impress their friends. The racks of longbows in the stall nearby a lure for adventure seekers with large wallets.
A hand turned carousel with small children in wooden swings at the end of ever tightening ropes screaming “schneller, schneller”, the spinning circle going ever higher as the lean faced, sharp nosed large elf with pointed hat and sewn on pointed ears did their bidding and turned the wheel with all his might. The smoke and dancing sparks from the nearby braziers added a demonic feel to the scene. My sad friend was nowhere to be found.
I came back to the fire and sat down next to Simone to nurse another honey wine, my feet warming in the sand by the glowing embers. I was disappointed I hadn’t met him and couldn’t quite explain why. The carousel was turning again with a new batch of children hurtling in the darkness their screams and laughter echoing under the old castle walls. We decided to head home.
We stopped by the open air stage to catch a number from the suitably medieval costumed 3 piece band. The fiddle player announced their next song as ” Jacobite by Name”. Perhaps historically inaccurate for the period but an old Scottish song never the same and the coincidence couldn’t be ignored.The passion was maybe not quite there in the singing and slightly lost in translation but I still had some goosebumps hearing that song in this place. At the end I took off my hat, waved it in the air and gave them a big cheer which I think surprised them as I was the only one in the crowd that did so. Others in the audience smiled but were obviously bemused at my reaction. The band waved back also unsure of why I was so animated!
And then we met Gunther.
He was standing directly behind us.
I shook his hand and introduced myself and Simone and asked him in German if he was ok as he looked so sad and lost.
It turned out he’d just recently got out of hospital after being badly mauled by his neighbour’s bull mastiff. He told us he was glad because he could have had his little neice with him at the time and if so she could have been killed. It transpired he was trying to move house to get away from this neighbour and the dog as the police had done nothing. The story unravelled and I think he was just glad someone had talked to him. He was a lovely harmless guy and after a few minutes a smile appeared on his face and he was obviously happy. He said he was having a great night and enjoying himself for the first time in a while. We all shook hands again said our farewells, wished each other a happy Christmas and disappeared into our nights. I still don’t know why I felt this urge to contact but after talking to him it just felt the right thing to do.
Sometimes this carousel of a world we live in spins so fast we stop noticing things that are maybe sometimes important to us and others or maybe just beautiful moments to be shared with perfect strangers that we just don’t recognise in the blur of it all. I like when it all slows down and you can start to make sense of yourself and your surroundings and get the perspective back on where you are and where you should be going. The carousel is an exciting ride for a while but it has to stop eventually and there is something reassuring about having your feet back on the ground again.
I could still smell the woodsmoke in Simone’s hair as we walked through the empty streets by the Basel Tor and past the old cemetery, the honey wine glowing in my head. The shadows were still dancing under the ancient parapets of the castle.
For those of you who don’t want to know the 2014 set list go no further!!!
It had been a pretty chaotic week for me dealing with the ongoing building with the weekend immediately prior to the band arriving spent cleaning and vacuuming the studio with Simone as we attempted to get rid of the blanket of dust that had been accumulating since the work on the extension had begun. It was a particularly challenging job as the surfaces of the space where we actually set up to rehearse are covered in acoustic cloth and vacuuming walls and ceilings is not one of my favourite jobs as the dust is knocked out in the process and I could feel it in my chest and throat. We managed to get it under control but even after a concerted effort we all felt the fine dust get in our system and swollen nasal membranes and coughing was prevalent amongst all the musos although nowhere as severe as in previous rehearsals. I was especially affected and on Friday I had a slightly sore throat at the end of our final run through. It was enough to give me a worry but I knew I’d get through the Haddington show. If I’d had a run of shows after it that would have been a concern and as I write this a slight chest infection and a tickly throat are testament to the plaster dust that I took into my system last week. I’ll be glad when the studio work is finished and I’m out on the tour bus in 3 weeks time.
On the night of the show I had no problems and the songs had been geared for my voice so as not to put undue strain on what is the longest run of shows I’ve taken on for a long while.Keys have been dropped to give me access to a strong area for my voice to work in and allow me to have flexibility and deliver with power. With some numbers written 30 years ago I knew there was no way I’d be hitting notes I even struggled with live back then as little consideration was ever given to where I’d be comfortable. I just sung in whatever key that was put before me and I didn’t know enough about music to question. I’m wiser now and Steve Vantsis and Robin Boult accommodate me as it’s in no ones interest to have a singer with a strained voice. I accept I am getting older with as much grace as I can muster! 🙂
Elspeth had done a remarkable job holding it all together and Yatta felt a bit redundant when he arrived on Friday night. She had set everything up from the weeks hotel rooms for the guys, which had proven a challenge with Robin and Steve in a B and B in Longniddry and the others scattered in various rooms in pub, as well as the ticketing, the security, the paramedic, the health and safety check and in fact everything to do with the gig apart from the actual music production side. As always she handled the pressure brilliantly and added to her array of medals on the night by marshalling the extensive merchandise set up that was clearing out a pile of old stock from the studio. The back of the Corn Exchange looked like a TKMax store!
I spent Saturday afternoon cleaning the studio again after the last remnants of the band equipment were moved down to the venue. It felt quite bizarre armed with dusters and Mr Sheen, mops and hoovers in the run up to sound check but it definitely got my mind off the fact that this was the opening night of the 2014 tour and the nagging worries about set list choices. We had only concentrated on the new additions to the set in the main over the past 5 days with John Beck having the biggest workload getting up to speed with it all as the festival sets hadn’t contained some numbers the rest of us knew from last year.
We were confident but nervous as we all gathered for sound check around 4pm.A late get in hadn’t helped as a sale had been booked into the venue in the morning and a PA had to be loaded in and set up. The afternoon dragged and I walked to and from the Plough tavern next door catching up with old friends and sampling a few pints with time going against us. I’d been impressed at the new acoustic treatments in the Corn Exchange with curtains going the length of the building and a drape hanging from the beams that allowed us to shorten the hall from its 1000 or so capacity to half way for the 400 or so people we expected. The harsh flare of sound we’d dealt with on previous visits had all but disappeared and the space was a lot more controllable. Shaun was under pressure and doors were moved back 15 minutes. I finally got my wedges sorted out and we finished sound checking at 7 with run throughs of a couple of numbers. It had been a frustrating time and no one was entirely happy with the stage sound.
Gregor had prepared a meal for 15 at 6pm at the studio but it was too late from some and Simone, Yatta, Gavin, Vince and his wife were the only takers. It would be chicken for me for a couple of days then!
The taxi picked us up at 8.20
It’s always slightly surreal leaving the house and going down to the town to play a gig. One minute you’re putting on the dishwasher and switching off the TV the next you’re backstage in the hubbub of pre-show. It’s added to by being surrounded by familiar faces and friends all of whom you never have enough time to speak to properly as you’re focusing on show time.
The stage was set. Angus, now returned as back screen projectionist for the tour and who I had barely had a chance to sit down and talk with, set the controls and the familiar intro to “Perfume River” rolled up onto the screen. Our entry was greeted by a roar and I felt a surge of adrenalin as I walked on to centre mike letting us all settle before starting singing, taking in the hall and the crowd, the sound and the atmosphere. A calming finger to the mouth to bring the clapping down and set the scene before the first verse cast the spell on the proceedings. When Robin’s acoustic guitar opened up the gates on the end section the hall was up and ours. “Feast” followed directly and kept the tempo high and the hands in the air. The band was powerful and my voice was in the pocket.
I’d decided to bring back a couple of numbers from “13th Star” this time around and Robin duly delivered the intro which I could barely hear in my monitors. Frantic signaling to the desk after a fluffed vocal intro and we slipped into “Arc of the Curve” nerves settled.
“Manchmal” was up next and with John Beck and Steve adding vocals the delivery had a venom and weight and I could play with the dramatical element. It got a great reaction and it was more powerful than how I remembered it from 2007. Robin has definitely brought something very special to the band these days and the sounds have really filled out.
Next up was our big card on this tour; the entire “High Wood” suite! We’d pieced it together the week before but had only run it through once in its entirety. To be honest I wasn’t sure if it would be too demanding as it’s a huge chunk of music and listening to the recording from a couch is very different to hearing it live at a gig. I gave a short introduction mentioning that my grandfather William Paterson had signed up to take the king’s shilling in Haddington in 1915 and that on the war memorial there were the names of 4 sons from the same family, the Cranstouns who’d been killed with another 2 out of the 7 brothers horrifically maimed and only one surviving unscathed. The songs would tell the rest.
I was a wee bit nervous as John started the piano intro and I freely admit my eyes were constantly scanning the lyric book on the music stand as it’s an epic amount of words to get right and keep in order so I don’t throw the musicians off. Any mistakes are very difficult to recover from and I was not taking chances.
The power of the choruses even took me aback. There was a lot of passion on stage as we all wanted to prove a point. As it slipped into the end section I had a shiver down my next as I recited the German lyric!
“Crucifix Corner”, “The Gathering” and “Thistle Alley” were in more familiar territory and they fused together seamlessly, John more than holding his own in “Thistle Alley” which he’d not played in the festival sets. Gavin and Steve shone and created a dark dynamic. It faded to a close and once again John’s piano spookily re-entered the scene to guide us into the closing song, “The Leaving”.
Any doubts I had were dispersed as the audience raised the Corn Exchange roof at the end. It was thunderous applause and I think we all breathed a sigh of relief within very smiley faces. The world premiere of High Wood in Haddington seemed so appropriate given the primary influences.
I’d mentioned the “auspicious” date earlier as on the 23rd August 1305 William Wallace had been executed in London and in 1297 he had written the famous Lubeck letter in Haddington that had declared Scotland independent and “open for business” too our trading partners in Germany. I hadn’t wanted to “politicise” the gig with regard to the Scottish referendum and had decided to avoid a soapbox lecture. Choosing “Slainthe Mhath” to follow High Wood seemed appropriate given the references in it to World War 1 but on the night it took on a whole different life. The crowd reacted to an incredibly powerful and passionate delivery from us all and lifted it into another level. I didn’t need to say anything, the lyrics said it all. I can’t remember a version like it and the Corn Exchange simply erupted at the end! All I had to say was” Yes”, nothing more was required, everyone knew what I meant.
The opening chords to “Vigil” calmed everything down but as the song developed once again the lyrics were entirely relevant to present day circumstances and it was obvious from looking at the faces in the crowd that they were touching the psyche of a lot of people. It had hardly faded before the opening salvo of “Incubus” hit home. One of my favourite Marillion songs I’d decided to resurrect it on this tour and it sat so well in the set after “Vigil” bringing in another different dynamic
The key has been dropped from the original but it’s left me in a stronger position to sing and weave the voice in the theatrics of it all. It used to be a chord shredder but now in a more controlled state I can get more out of it and it’s retained its overall power. Judging by the response from the crowd it does more than just work well!
After the huge ending of “Incubus” we hit the “rock out” switch with “All Loved Up” and “Big Wedge” which had returned to the set list during the recent festivals. Hands in the air to the back of the venue all the way and then just as Big Wedge finished the piano delivered the opening chords to our last song in the set.
Again so appropriate on the night “Heart of Lothian” crashed anthemically from the stage and everyone in the venue knew exactly where they were on the night. A wonderful ending and we exited the stage with huge grins to a massive roar!
First encore was the debut of “Great Unravelling” with Robin blinding everyone with a terrific solo. It sounded great, the reaction was wonderful and it’s definitely a stayer but I’m not sure about its position as a stand-alone encore.
I had no idea of how long we’d played for and we still had “Blind to the Beautiful” and “The Company lined up. After hearing we’d passed the 2 hour mark I took the decision to cut out “Blind” and go out with a rousing version of the Company to bring it all to a close.
It hadn’t felt that long a set at all and as the proverbial curtain drew on the night and the final chorus resonated in the Corn Exchange I could tell from Yatta’s grin at the side of the stage that we’d hit the spot.
A tremendous round of applause followed us off and I gathered myself just outside the back stage door pretty exhausted at the delivery of the performance but so pleased that we had pulled it off with honours.
The circus started to dissolve in the night. Fond farewells, hugs and kisses, a short rum and a beer in the Plough and then I was heading home in a taxi with my lady. As I said before a surreal experience coming off stage and then being on the couch in the studio with a chilled Savvy Blanc watching the tail end of Saturday night TV an hour or so later!
It had been a fine evening and I was glad to be back in a house that had been declared off limits as a party zone. Celebrations were continuing elsewhere I really needed some peace and quiet after a pretty hectic few weeks. Our Corn Exchange gig had been a success thanks to a magnificent Elspeth, Yatta and the crew and a band who had done me proud and mastered and performed the new set with honours.
Thanks to everyone who made the effort to come to the show and support us on our inaugural performance of the new set. I’m excited at where this will go once we really settle into our new roles and get comfortable with the songs and the 60 date tour isn’t quite as daunting as it was a few weeks ago.
There are so many people to thank and so many people I wanted to spend more time with over the weekend. You all know who you are.
Thanks for everything and for being out there for me. You keep us going and lift us every time!
take care, stay alive
photo on stage – Glenn Kelly ( Thanks 🙂 )
With the Scottish Independence referendum fast approaching and both camps seeking support from media figures and personalities I, like many others, have been asked to declare my voting intentions and to become actively involved in campaigns.
It will come as no surprise to fans of my music, and to most people who know me, that I have been an advocate for Independence for a very long time and as such my views have not changed in recent months. I have listened to the debates and arguments with interest and an open mind and have considered both sides of the equations on offer. … Continue Reading
I was now moving into gig mode after a thoughtful and introspective start to the day. I had to stop of at the hotel on the way back to pick up my stage clothes and lyric book which still had to be adjusted to take in the re-jigged set list and the hour of reckoning was approaching. A diddly bop through traffic to the venue in Aprilia and we pulled up at the front door of what was obviously a night club. I was filled in with the details of events leading up to the show. Apparently it was intended to be an outdoor event and then switched to an old theatre. As the booking was for the local town festival they decided to put all the fee in one basket and hire one main band rather than a host of smaller outfits. My name had come up. With that and the unworthiness of the first venue it was suggested we play at Smaila’s night club whose owner was a famous Italian musician,actor and TV presenter Umberto Smaila who hosted the Italian TV show “Colpo Grosso” in the late 80’s infamous for it’s sexual content and featuring scantily clad women ( allegedly the first Italian TV show that had full nudity!). It had the air of a venue fit for a Fellini movie set. All shiny black, loads of glass surfaces , a sparkly tiled floor with a balcony rigged up with dining tables you reached by climbing up a black staircase which in the murk and wearing bi focals is a treacherous ascent! That was where lunch was being served as the backstage area had a faint whiff of sewage! I was ravenous after the earlier exertions and found Gavin Griffiths and Steve Vantsis, who I’d missed the previous night and who had gone to the venue early to set up equipment, munching into the sandwiches with various fillings but mostly, as the Universe dictates, variations around the cheese and ham theme! One question I have always had is why do Italians always cut the crust off sandwiches leaving them as sad, wilting damp tit bits with an appeal for only those people with dentures? … Continue Reading
Rehearsals completed with John Beck we were now in the lap of the Gods! I flew to Frankfurt on Thursday night arriving in Karlsruhe and glass of wine in hand by midnight. I couldn’t but help think about the upcoming gig on Thursday in what we had been told was an open air festival in Rome! We’d prepared a 90 minute set which we thought more than enough to deal with a festival headliner slot.
I spent the days leading up to the event trying to sort out the Amazon Germany deliveries which were becoming a frustrating lesson in how to unravel red tape in 3 different languages and finding a way through a maze of automated responses. John Reid was on point duty with Simone and I on regular party calls with him on Google trying to make sense of it all. It was supposed to be easy. It wasn’t!
I was flying with Ryanair from Baden airport on Wednesday night. We were still trying to process the delivery up until I left around 7pm. The drive there from Durlach took less than 45 mins. I’d taken a small piece of luggage and my satchel so as not to get in a tussle with Ryanair check in staff. Yatta had booked me a piece of hold luggage which cost around 90 Euros above my ticket. As I was traveling texts started coming in from Yatta telling me that a strike by baggage handlers at Rome airports meant that Ryanair were advising passengers to take carry on luggage only or get another flight. A re think was required. We arrived at the ex military airbase with 2 hours to spare before I flew. As expected there was no one there to advise and when I did eventually find Ryanair staff they knew nothing about any strike.I decided to play safe and go with hand luggage only cross packing essentials like stage clothes, lyric book, laptop, basic toiletries, spare underwear and socks and a shirt taking it all down to a bare minimum before checking the size in the “size guidance” box. It passed! I said farewell to my lady and went through security to the unwelcoming former military surroundings that was airside. I had an hour and a half to kill. … Continue Reading
A rather entertaining weekend was had that ended up with a wonderful performance by Ian Anderson formerly known as Jethro Tull at the Festival Theatre in Edinburgh. 🙂
We go back a long ways our first meeting being at the Theakston festival outside Wakefield on the 28th August 1982. It was Marillion’s first ever festival and we were first on stage on Saturday afternoon ( I opened with “good evening” just after midday! ) I walked out of the dressing room area to come face to face with non other than the singer from the headline act and having been a fan of “Tull”‘ since I was a teenager I was as taken aback as Ian was when confronted by a 6ft 5 Scotsman wearing full face make up. We eyed each other up slightly bemused at what to say or do. He’d chosen us to open the day after listening to our demo which we had sent to the festival which he was co promoting. I found out, as we reminisced on gigs gone by this weekend, that he’d chosen Marillion over Runrig .
We were treated really well and had a “rider” in the backstage for the first time. It disappeared in minutes. I’ve never seen musos demolish a fruit tray so fast and not seen the like since!
We played a great short set despite heart stopping technical problems that our crew eventually dealt with as they were too busy taking instamatic photos of the audience. It was the biggest stage we’d been on and at 2000 scattered across the field the biggest crowd we’d played to at that time. We were a bit overawed at first but delivered the goods. I missed Jethro Tull that night as we were playing Liverpool and about to be told that EMI wanted to sign us! … Continue Reading