Another Friday moment for you!
This was the original version of the medley we were playing to close the shows in 2013 taken from a broadcast on Polish TV and filmed in Przemyśl on the Eastern edge of Poland and close to the Ukrainian border.
I remember the stage was made out of what seemed like table tennis tables wired together and the word “shoogly” came to mind!
It pissed down and we had to walk back and forward across the square from the dressing room in an adjacent building to stage during the afternoon as a very long never ending soundcheck took place. By evening it was freezing and still raining and the view from stage to a crowd of umbrellas was quite surreal.
It was a fantastic show and the band were on fire despite the downpour! “Goldfish and Clowns” and “Jungle Ride” in particular were superb and one of the finest renditions of those songs ever. It was a tough night for a frontman as it was a free gig and the majority of the audience were first timers and curious. It meant “full attack” mode and I threw everything I had out at them. During the show you can see the steam rising from the band and the breaks some of us had were under umbrellas at the side of the stage where we started to freeze in the plummeting temperatures.
The show was one of the best of that tour and I was glad it was captured on a multi camera shoot with all the trimmings!
This is just a clip from it but you can get the full show, ” Sunsets on Empire – live in Poland 1997″ on DVD from fishheadsclub.com
The DVD also has a documentary directed by Jorg Bushka that was filmed in Koln later in the tour and it shows the nitty gritty of a show day with interviews with all concerned. I have strange feelings watching it now as it was a particularly stressful time.
Just after the Przemyśl show I went down with a bad flu virus as the weather conditions and the performance weren’t conducive to our health. I lost some shows and was struggling for a couple of weeks and never quite got back to full strength after the virus left.
By Koln I was £70k in a hole with the tour as I’d gambled on audience and merch numbers. We were also waiting on 5 promised French dates that never transpired and I had to make a decision on going home or bluffing my way across France with club gigs set up by fans. In the end we got 2 which came nowhere near covering the bills which would all be paid.
A bad knee ligament injury in Barcelona finally took me down and I flew home losing even more dates. That’s the short version! That tour sent me well into the red and was a major contributory factor to the events in 2001 that nearly wiped me out.
No one knew at the time just how bad it was! “He’s the guy that wrote “Kayleigh” so he must be a millionaire!” I remember hearing in a back woods bar somewhere in Germany on a night off as one of my crew members told some locals who I was.” He’d never be in a place like this!” they added.
The band line up back then was one of the finest I had behind me with Steve and Dave Stewart really striking gold as a rhythm section and Robin and Mickey gelling brilliantly.
It was the first time Robin took over guitar duties on his own as Frank had left on the “Sunsets ” album as he didn’t like what Steve Wilson was doing.
Robin is still ill btw and needs at least another week to get back to full fitness. His skin is still clearing but he sounded a lot chirpier the other day when we spoke. This virus has really taken him completely out! :-0
This week has been the usual smörgåsbord of “to do’s” with getting Rentokil in to remove wasp nests in the wooden storage shed the most unusual. A memo had to be left in the office and the picture discs of “Suits” and “Fellini Days” were off the shop until the nests were sorted as they hung directly inside the shed door beyond which the vinyl was kept. It turned out they were old nests but the prevalence of some big wasps makes me think this will be on oncoming problem and with Gregor allergic to wasp stings we’ll have to be vigilant!
Another “to do” has been getting the tickets for the Haddington Corn Exchange gig on the 23rd August off to the printers. We should have them on sale beginning of next week and they will be £20 including VAT with a £1.50 booking fee to cover postage etc for those of you booking on line through the web site. I’ll let you know more news when I get it!
I’m still waiting on the definitive European tour dates.
Steve Vantsis has been mastering the live material for downloads this last week and I hope to have 15 shows up on the fishheadsclub.com shop that will be released across the next month or so. They are all stereo mixes taken from the out front mixing desk and Steve has sprinkled a bit of magic on them to make them special. Some shows had to be binned because of bad sound as the hall acoustics affected the out front mix which had to be compensated on the night and this didn’t give us a good source.
The shows that have been picked are pretty good and stand up well against multi track mixes. I am keeping prices down to £4.99 plus VAT for a complete show. I intend to release a “best of” on a double CD later in the Summer which will be available for £8.99 plus Vat and P&P.
A lovely breeze blows through the office window as I write this and the garden is calling me this weekend. Obviously I’ll be taking in the Cup Final tomorrow and I have a dinner date with James Anderson and an old merch friend tomorrow night in the city. Sunday I’m going to see James’s Dad Ian play at the Festival Hall and apart from the usual barricade watch It should remain
It’s only when the drums stop I get worried!
Some of you have asked about the vinyl track listing so I thought I’d explain. For those of you who remember the glory days of vinyl it will bring back memories!
First of all the album’s a wee bit quiet because of the information that had to be cut into the vinyl. All the sides are over 20 minutes long and I had to address the running order in a completely different way from a CD where you have one straight run to be designed. I always called it the “roller coaster” and the CD is a completely different ride to the vinyl experience.
Quiet sections such as the “High Wood”, “The Leaving” and “Blind” for example don’t require a lot of needle groove but in louder sections the groove is expanded to carry the info. Sometimes you can get away with 23 minutes on a side but not with loud music as the vinyl can’t take the expanse of cutting a large groove. If you look at the record you can see the quiet sections as the groove is tighter!
I had to stay true to the album and also take into account the physical movements involved from the listener!
Unlike a CD where it’s press and play the vinyl ceremony requires 3 breaks from the listening position.
So you put the album on, adjust volumes etc and sit down on the couch or beanie bag or whatever just as the drones of “Perfume River” ease you into the journey! I knew I couldn’t get the High Wood suite on one side so it had to be split. The issue was how? And that’s where my 80’s memory kicked in and I remembered how we used to do it!
So you sit back and take in “Perfume River” and then enter the “High Wood” which takes you into the charge to “Crucifix Corner” ending in the soft musical take out to the end of side 1. 23.39 minutes!
So as the needle bumps into the end of the spiral you have to climb out of your beanie bag and out of your hopefully semi euphoric state and go to the turntable to turn the album over to side 2.
It had to start with something that didn’t require a relaxed state as you are heading back to the beanie bag to re engage the music. “The Gathering” with it’s more up tempo vibe dealt the right card. ( Floyd do it with “Money” on Dark Side). Then you slide into “Thistle Alley” and “The Leaving” before “Other Side of Me” creates a high and a soft landing at the end of side 2. 21.50 minutes and enough groove to accommodate the bass and volume on Thistle Alley and Gathering etc. Just over 45 minutes across 2 sides and pushing the maximum on the vinyl. It is a slightly quiet album but the volume had to be reduced to get all the music info into the 2 spirals.
So here you are again up on your feet and changing across to side 3 with the added movements of replacing a disc in the sleeve and putting the next one on the turntable. Once again I decided to use a track that allowed the listener to get back to the comfort position before setting out on the next curve!
“Feast”, “All Loved Up”, loud and raucous before a quiet “Blind” and a relatively quiet “Great Unravelling” to take you into that place where it’s just you and the music. The guitar solo ends the album proper and hopefully you sit and listen to the stylus bumping at the end of the spiral not willing for a moment to get up and ruin the atmosphere that’s been created. 21.26 minutes.
Side 4 is the extra dimension and another physical movement to turn the disc and a different journey into the live recordings from Karlsruhe. The first 3 sides should have done their job and the live material is the optional bonus.
And that dear Fishheads is how I put together the vinyl edition and the thought processes behind it.
When you think that 30 years ago we only had to write 45 minutes of music for an album and that now “Feast” is actually only around 16 minutes and perhaps 2 or 3 songs short of what used to be a double album it’s quite an achievement and indicates the pressure on writing material nowadays.We would never have considered writing a double album back in Marillion days yet here we are now having to put together nearly that amount of material every time we embark on an album project!
In all honesty I was very tempted to carry on writing more songs for the High Wood and expanding on it but that would have taken me over the capacity I could possibly fill , just short of 73 minutes or so, on a standard CD.
I think the new tracklisting on the “Feast of Consequences” vinyl edition works really well and it is a completely different listening experience to the version on CD. It was a lot of fun to put together and I’m looking forward to putting the rest of the catalogue out on vinyl as the year progresses.
I hope those of you who get the vinyl enjoy it as much as I did !
The ceremony always remains special!
The time shifts were hard to get my head around and not helped by a wristwatch that seemed itself to fall asleep and lose hours. Back in the hotel room I went on the internet to get my e mails ( which I couldn’t answer) and Skyped my girlfriend Simone in Germany where it was 10pm. It was 1pm in Baja and margarita time! I figured a civilised lunchtime session could break the afternoon up. I headed back over the rail tracks to the open air site where Steve, Robin and Gavin wanted to catch Spocks Beard who were soon due on stage. Shaun and Yatta were also on the mound as the band finished their brief soundcheck in front of a gathering crowd, some under umbrellas to thwart the Mexican sun. They had supported me at the Roxy in LA way back when and to be honest it wasn’t a particularly good experience for one reason and another. Yatta in particular didn’t like them and the band had been a bit offish with us. As much as I appreciated their musicianship I wasn’t a great fan of the material and between watching them or heading back to “Los Arcos” with Yatta for margaritas there was only one choice. We watched a couple of numbers until the drum solo which cued our retreat. A large jug of grail juice and fish tacos were exactly what we needed and it gave my bro and I a chance to stock take on the cunning plans and other stuff. It was good just to get away from the festival for a while and take some “us” time.There’s a lot going on in the background just now and we had to make sure we were all on the same wavelength with it all. The weekend was a gig and a trial of traveling but for me it was also a break from all the demands at the studio.
After lunch we meandered back to the site but I didn’t hang around for long. Spocks Beard were still playing but my mind was now focused on the gig that night. Later at the hotel I caught up again with the guys from Saga who were soon bound for Miami to meet up with the “Cruise to the Edge” boat trip which Marillion were playing on board as well. It sounded like a fun thing to do and maybe next year I’ll see if we can get a berth on the ship! Worrying news was that there had been a “bonding” session between their keyboard player Jim Gilmour and Foss. Jim’s a lovely guy and a Scot who was originally from Motherwell who I’d met a few times over the years and had some grand moments with. I’d had a great chat with him the night before and knew that they were now on free time waiting to take off for Florida. Two Scottish keyboard players on a “bonding ” session involving beers was a slight concern! I didn’t see Foss until we left for the show and it was obvious he had had a fine afternoon judging by his beaming smile!
A Mexican dinner with Yatta, Vince and Shaun in the hotel restaurant and a shared bottle of wine tore down an hour and then we were ready for the excursion to the theatre. We set up shop backstage and i wandered around to the front of house to catch some of French band “Shylock” who I’d never heard of before. Their guitarist was very Fripp like and the band tight and dynamically very interesting. the crowd loved them and I was pleased we wouldn’t be playing to an audience just there to listen.There was a lot of energy in the room and a little more than backstage where my mob looked like they had already done the gig! Energy levels were low as body clocks were registering 6 in the morning UK time. I knew they would rise to the occasion though and the crowd would lift us into the performance. I felt pretty good although the chili from dinner was poking back on top of the white wine giving me some unwanted reflux. Not good for the chords! I wandered around killing time at the front of the venue and signed a few autographs, posed for a few shots and had a talk with a couple of the artists exhibiting in the foyer including Paul Whitehead who gave me his card and the aforementioned piece of artwork offering to be considered should I ever need an artist. As I said to Mark Wilkinson when I got home it was like some woman trying to pick you up knowing you’re already happily married and who knows your wife! I’m not the unfaithful type! 🙂 No offense was taken and I considered it a compliment! 🙂
I was given a beautiful limited edition poster of the event created by a talented artist called Juan Carlos Lizarraga. It’s an art deco style print in watercolour, acrylic with a splash of gold leaf and my finest souvenir from the festival which will be framed and hung in my office. I was honoured to be presented with it as it’s an amazing piece of work.(I’ll photograph it when it comes back from the framers) I diddly bopped around until the support band came off stage on time ( surprising for a prog festival) and then set about a warm up and wake up to get me in the zone for the show. The others were waking up for the moment and behind the drawn stage curtains the crew scurried around removing and replacing gear to get us on stage. We would be ready for 11, behind schedule but who cared at this point. I knew the audience were patiently waiting for us.
Behind the curtains the pipes of “Perfume River” droned with the band already in position on stage. As they opened the crowd rose and the energies filled the venue. I walked on stage to an enthusiastic welcome and we set off on the curve of the night. Sounds were good on stage and my voice was powerful and on song.Straight into “Feast of Consequences” and the hands were in the air. As I announced on stage “It’s Prog Jim but not as we know it!” 🙂 I think some people were taken aback at our level of attack and the aggression in the performance. Despite all the fractured time zones and the hanging around our energy levels were high and on full beam. The opening chords of “Script” after it being introduced as “this is the first live performance of this song in Mexico” were greeted with a deafening roar and we delivered a passionate rendition that disappointed no one! “All Loved Up” with the poke at professional fame in the intro rocked the house and “What Colour is God” with it’s set up was also a high octane delivery and a great version despite it coming close to leaving the tracks half way through. “Blind to the Beautiful” was poignant and led wonderfully into “1470”. I think Foss had been listening to too many prog players in the afternoons as he distinctly went off piste with his keyboard intro straying into jazz mode and confusing us all! It did groove in the end section and got a great reaction. “He Knows You Know” hit the nostalgia buttons and “Crucifix Corner” and “The Gathering” followed.Despite perhaps being unfamiliar to most of the crowd they were vastly appreciated. The medley was always going to do the business and from “Assassin” onwards it was a devilishly successful roller coaster ride to the end with everyone involved and jumping. The crowd were on their feet throughout and as “View from a Hill” drew the entire piece to a climax we had delivered exactly what was said on the tin! 🙂 We encored with “Freaks” but it was “lavender” that delivered the coup de-gras ! Majestic and powerful and moving it was the perfect ending to the evening and everyone out front loved it. A cool way to say farewell!
As we exited stage right to the dressing rooms we were all pretty much exhausted and running on the dregs in the adrenalin tanks.All our energies were pretty much spent and the after show partying was pretty much subdued. The promoters were ecstatic and lots of smiles and congratulatory handshakes made all the effort to get there so worthwhile.It was great to pay them back for all their efforts in making it happen and bringing us out to Mexico. I think we did surprise the audience. I don’t think they expected a frontman who talked to them and engaged. I don’t think they quite expected the groove and rock that’s in my music these days and a band playing Prog with so much aggression.I wasn’t going to get much feedback from the fans as we were soon leaving the building with the news that we were leaving for the border in 5 hours. Unusually there was wine left in the dressing room which was squirreled with the intention of a late poolside soirée. It never happened for me. I got back to my room after saying fond farewells and virtually collapsed after I’d first packed my suitcase for the early leave. I can’t remember being so sober after a successful gig. I wish we’d been able to soak up the vibes a bit more but the bungee cord was at it’s zenith and about to retract violently eastwards.
Maybe because of the relatively subdued aftershow and a rack of Zeds in my head I was surprisingly fresh at 7am when I headed downstairs to the van. Although the border was on the edge of Mexicali and about 10 minutes drive we’d been told to expect at least an hour to get through.The long queue of traffic we hit soon after leaving the hotel was foreboding.Newspaper and taco sellers stole up and down the lanes of cars with wheelchair bound beggars and most surrealistically a guy selling painted alabaster crucifix bound statues of Jesus Christ that were about 2 feet long. He had a bundle of them! I passed over my remaining pesos to a guy in a wheelchair who looked utterly disconsolate. We inched towards the border check point that looked like something out of a science fiction movie set. It was quite monolithic and threatening, dirty concrete with thin window slits, ranks of CCTV cameras and aerials;not exactly welcoming by any means. The guys cleaning the moving cars with dirty rags for small change didn’t go that close to the border and the presence of uniformed flak jacketed officers with bulging equipment belts and hand guns did nothing to alleviate the sense that this was not going to be an easy. We hit the first checkpoint and that’s where it all started to go wrong. Passports were handed over and it was taking too long to check.”Who’s Derek Dick?”. My heart dipped. And that was when the echo of the little ink stamp at US immigration at Toronto airport returned to haunt me. I didn’t have one in my passport. The idiot there had forgotten to stamp my passport so I had no record of entry to the United States.The first checkpoint then sent us through to the secondary checkpoint where we sat in the van surrounded by Border officials none of whom paid us any notice for about 15 minutes. Around 12 of them were just wandering around or standing chin wagging in groups while we were very aware of the clock ticking down on the flight leaving San Diego airport for Houston at 1pm. Eventually someone opened the van door ( I wasn’t venturing out to demand attention with the prospect of a confrontation that would only have one result that involved me on the ground). Questions were asked and I answered all with a smile ” yes it’s a terrible unfortunate mistake officer!”. A solution was found. I would have to go through to the USA as a pedestrian, sort out the paperwork and then rejoin the van. The officer I have to say was really pleasant and helpful and led me into the dark bowels of the immigration shed where I was met by another likewise friendly officer who led me to the front of the seemingly endless queue to a desk where I was once again fingerprinted, photographed and my passport eventually properly stamped. I paid my 6 dollar visitor fee and was then led straight to the next desk where I would be checked and jettisoned into the USA through some big glass doors! It was all very cool and I think a lot of people in the queue were wondering who the hell this guy with the black hat and shades was who was laughing and chatting away to the officials and getting all this VIP treatment. The guy who led me through was officer Young who turned out to belong to an Irish family who’d left the island during the potato famine and emigrated to Boston. Generations later he’d signed on to the Border agency, ended up being posted to Mexicali and was now leading a Scottish singer through a surreal experience at the Mexican border. I shook his hand and thanked him for all his help exiting once again into the bright sunshine to find myself alone on the American side of the border. It felt like an escape.
So there I was with no mobile ,as I’d thought I’d be taken back to the van, a wallet full of Euros and no idea where the guys were. A slight thrill ran through me. It had the beginnings of an adventure! I walked around the plaza for a while looking for our white van and eventually it appeared with a circus troupe who were slightly unimpressed at a situation that was not of my creation! I had a slight disappointment myself as my mind was relishing a challenge of how to get to San Diego under my own steam! The van set off towards the desert staying within the demanding speed limits which was irritating Yatta in the front seat as he had one eye on his watch.
It was a wonderful journey with blue skies and windmills, tumbleweed and shattered boulders, intriguing mountains in the distance and vast swathes of sand that took over from the irrigated verdure landscape on the outskirts of town.I was tired bit couldn’t sleep as this was too much to miss. The van trundled on most of the passengers dozing with one eye out the window. Every time we came to a rise in the road the engine labored and trucks, cars with caravans and burros, if there had been any on the highway, passed us. It was a long slow agonising trip.I could sense Yatta’s blood pressure. I didn’t see any point in getting stressed out by it all. If we missed the plane we missed the plane. This ride was glorious and I was captivated by the rock formations and especially the small winding trails up the sides of the mountains we were passing through which reminded me of all those Westerns I used to watch as a kid. This was where bandits thrived and where lonely heroes threaded their way on plodding weary horses to adventures with Colt 45’s, Winchesters and saddlebags full of gold nuggets! The horsepower on our van dwindled on the ascents and warnings about overheating radiators were posted on the side of the road. We were struggling so much that I expected the vehicle to just expire in the heat and die. The settlements we came across had a magic about them and up in the hills there were houses and farms independent of modern life. I wondered what these people did for a living. The boulder fields must have been infested with rattlers and looked pretty unnegotiable to anyone on foot. A good place for a hideout! We were approaching the top of the mountain range around 4000 feet when we came across the Border patrol checkpoint. As luck would have it they decided to pull us over and once again all the passports were handed over. Yatta was unusually narked by it all but we stayed calm and smiley and let the officer go through his slow methodical examination. It all just felt a bit over the top. There was a Mexican driver and 8 UK passport holders. We didn’t exactly look like illegal immigrants and it wasn’t as if you’d expect UK citizens to be attempting a breakthrough from South of the border! The Scottish, Welsh and English dialects should have given it away but then again it may have been part of an elaborate plan to get into the USA! :-0. Having seen the immense wall and fences at the actual border it all seemed very draconian. More than happy to utilise the cheap labour down there and build factories to produce cheaper goods for the American market but there wasn’t a welcome mat at the border.In all honesty the entire process reminded me of the first time I came through the Iron Curtain and came across as just as oppressive. There’s some very serious money being made and spent in homeland security, a lot of which is in private corporate hands.
The van picked up speed as we rolled downhill into San Diego and our next trial at the airport. The 15 minutes at the highway checkpoint had added to my passport problems in Mexicali and put us on the edge of making the flight out.
We pulled up at the terminal and thanked the driver who had the unenviable drive back South. I felt sorry for him. We had to check through to Houston so the kerbside option wasn’t. We made the United Airlines check in and were told we were late but it could be done. The staff were the most helpful I have ever come across at an airport and 3 of them worked the bag tags and boarding passes sending the first individuals through to security. I watched my luggage laze along the belt into the bowels of the airport and was just heading to the queue when the lovely lady at the desk shouted a halt and announced the flight had just been closed. I ran down to security and caught Yatta just as he was going into the security check and pulled Gavin out the line. We were all standing in front of the check in desk wondering what was going to happen next and if we were going to make it home to the UK that day. The crossover between the flight to Houston and the flight to London was already tight in our itinerary and some of the band had already experienced an overnight stop in Houston on a previous trip memorable for the fact that Gavin had fallen asleep in a lap dancing bar, the only available refuge to waste away the hours , with his head on the stage! No one wanted that again! The UA staff stepped up to the plate and reorganised everything. They checked us in for the next flight to Houston in 2 hours time, booked us on the connecting London flight, called back and re-tagged our bags and did everything they could to sort it out including setting us up with decent designated seats on the big haul to the UK. Foss and I would miss our Edinburgh connection but that was a problem for the future.I was so impressed with how they handled it all with no complaints. moaning or “jobsworth” attitude being thrown about. At the end of the day it was our fault for being late for the flight but never once did they make an issue about it!
And so into the security channel again. My hand luggage got pulled by a tall black guy who weirded me out by saying as he opened them up ” I hope you’re not an Arsenal fan!”. I said yes. He said “tough day then you just got beat by Everton 3-0!”. As he went through my bag he continued the conversation and he told me he liked “the Scottish team that plays in the green and white hooped jerseys!” I was laughing. I asked what he was looking for and he said he was searching for a torch or something. I opened a box and showed him my vaporiser that I always broke down going through security putting the vial that contained the liquid nicotine suspension in the clear plastic bag. I put it back together and took a puff to show him and then ended up in 3 way discussion with him and one of his colleagues at the x ray machine who also turned out to vape and who was impressed by my machine. Surreal!
We had 2 hours to kill so we ranged the glittering interiors of the airport getting edibles and I paid for a chair massage to sort out my aching shoulders and neck that had more knots from traveling than existed in the rigging of a British 18th century warship! Of course it was margarita time and we all gravitated to the bar some opting for Bloody Marys in preparation for the next flight. They wouldn’t let me buy the bottle of Don Luis tequila in San Diego that I wanted for Tara at duty free despite me having a London boarding pass from Houston but that was the only negative in a chilled out wait before the test that was coming up.
I can’t remember much of the flight as I slept most of the way. I tried watching a movie but after a couple of Hobbit sized bottles of wine bought from the trolley I flaked out. It was only a 3 hour flight, a mere skip in the scheme of things.The landing was coming up and Shaun asked the stewardess to help us out as we had a 30 minute changeover and that lap dancing bar was in all our minds for all the wrong reasons.She asked over the in flight tannoy for the other passengers to wait in their seats to allow us to get off first. The seatbelt sign pinged off as we reached the gate and everyone crammed into the aisles ignoring the plea, We were so pissed off at the sheer ignorance of it all and patiently waited, hopes fading to get into the terminal and the charge to the next gate. We were lucky. Once again UA helped out and we were directed on getting off the plane by a member of their team to the gate which was only a mild rush away. We were last aboard but as we sunk into our relatively spacious seats that were scattered throughout the cabin that was only two thirds full it felt like we were in heaven! The plane was one of the new Dreamliners with all the trimmings. Steve and I had 3 seats between us and the others likewise had space to stretch out in. It was going to be a near 10 hour flight and the only downside was we had to buy our own drinks which as expected were the Hobbit bottles that weren’t cheap.Steve and I started working on the flight attendants to get deals asking if there was a Happy Hour on the plane or bulk discounts on offer! The exotically named Dagoen Bousheae, a feisty wee curvy black woman was having none of our patter and greeted our smiling beggar routines with friendly disdain.
She was a great laugh as we kidded her and tried everything to get cheap alcohol. It all became a game we were both reveling in and we were buying the hobbit bottles for me and the gin and tonics for Steve as it continued. Jeffrey was the other steward working our area and we brought him in to play. We told them we were musicians and it turned out she had a thing about bass players. Steve could get a freebie but not me. And then the quarter dropped when Jeffrey asked who we were. It turned out he had the “Fugazi” album that he’d bought way back when he was a fan in Detroit in the 80’s. We started taking about music and I ended up in the back of the plane in the galley having a great natter with them both. They were great company and both really looked after us on the journey, a bottle of good white wine from first class heading my way and a bucket of gin and tonics for my bass playing friend who by this time I’d sold off as a sex slave! 🙂 It was a fantastic flight! I managed to watch most of “American Hustle” on the brilliant entertainment console but passed out before the end, the day finally getting to me and I fell through the big Zed window. I woke an hour before touchdown in London for coffee after the best transatlantic flight I can remember. United Airlines were terrific at every stop and really delivered for us. I took Dagoen’s and Jeffreys addresses and delux versions of “Feast” are already on their way to them! 🙂 I know who I’m flying with next time I have to go over to the States! 🙂
Compared to everything we’d experienced in the last few days London Heathrow was gray , drab and unwelcoming. We said our goodbyes to the troops and picked up our luggage from the carousels before heading to our next jump off points.Foss and I had already missed the 12.40 British Airways flight we were booked on and which we would have made easily if we had hit the original San Diego/ Houston/ London schedule. As such we had to renegotiate this path. We set off to the Heathrow express to get to terminal 5 to be greeted on the platform by some youthful padded uniformed jobsworth who moved us along a near empty platform as we were “blocking the entrance tunnel and endangering children”. She then officiously ordered us off the train as we had climbed on when it arrived as she had to do a security check which amounted to her walking along the carriages and pretending she could identify a threat if there was one. We had already waited 15 mins for it to show up.Long trudges along dank tunnels with a wheeled suitcase that I’d identified as being damaged, the corner of the hard shell completely trashed. I couldn’t be bothered complaining, I just wanted to get home.I still maintained a smile when we reached the British Airways ticketing desk in the vast glittering hall of terminal 5 my United Airlines experience still warm in my mind. I explained our predicament to the helpful rep and asked for the next available flight which was till mid afternoon and out of the “rush hours”. He was totally sympathetic and apologised saying that we had to buy new tickets to Edinburgh. I asked for stand by on the next flight which he’d told us wasn’t full but he said he couldn’t do that. We had to buy new tickets. British Airways wanted £300 each for single fares to Edinburgh! His hands were tied, there was nothing he could do to help us no matter how he agreed with our plight.He told us there was a Virgin Airways Rouge flight operated by Aer Lingus leaving at 3 and we could just make it back to terminal 1. He contacted the Virgin desk to confirm seats were available and reserved them for us at less than £300 for both Foss and I. We were thankful for his help after the extreme disappointment that was far removed from the United Airlines attitude and understanding. BA could easily have put us on standby and we would have taken our chances but as far as I was concerned this was a corporate rip off that lacked any sympathy. It wasn’t the rep’s fault by any means and I didn’t blame him. He personally went out of his way to help us and we sincerely appreciated his humanism. We set off back to terminal 1 on the “Express ” and checked in without any hassle with helpful staff and reached the gate on time. Sitting in our seats in the plush art deco styled decor with suitably themed attired stewardesses, staring out the window at the chromed engines sipping our free chilled white wine from 30’s styled purple plastic glasses it was a relief to be heading home. Only a taxi ride left to negotiate and that was the easiest part of the journey. I dropped Foss off at his home and said goodbye for the last in a long time. This weekend had been his last gig for us but that’s another blog.
I stopped off for some wine on the way back and arrived for a warm hug from my daughter before she left for her own commitments next day. Home alone again after a weekend that seemed an unbelievable effort to make a show happen. I had had a fantastic time, met some fabulous people, had a fine gig and a great adventure and brought back some great stories of a brilliant experience despite all the trials and tribulations. Thanks to everyone who made it happen and who participated, all your efforts were sincerely appreciated. To any musos who are reading this and who may get offered the chance to play Baja prog I suggest you ignore all the daunting travel prospects and embrace it. It’s worth it and it’s what makes our world go round! Life – it’s out there grasp it with all your might you may never get another opportunity!
It was always going to be a tough call! We were bungee jumping into Mexico for 4 days to play one show at the prestigious Baja Rock festival. The promoters had been trying to get us for years and for one reason or another it didn’t fit in with our schedules. We’d finally signed off to play last November and initially the idea was to try and get some other Mexican shows and a short tour of California.It turned out to be too ambitious with other Mexican dates cost prohibitive and US visas a problem. Once again the red tape kiboshed us and then band availabilities got in the way. It was going to be one show!
I’d decided to awake as long as possible the night before Foss and I were due to fly to Heathrow to meet the others. I was leaving the studio just before 6am, picking up our keyboard player en route for an 8am flight South. I knew the trick was to eat small and often so scrambled eggs and smoked salmon was breakfast at Edinburgh airport and then half a dozen oysters and a couple of Bloody Mary’s with Steve Vantsis in the 2 hour stopover in London set me up for a long Nytol induced sleep on the 9 hour Air Canada flight to Toronto. All slightly posh but I was going to have as good a time as I could. It was helped vastly by my new vaporiser/electronic cigarette which I puffed on as I headed to the gate for the first test. I had a desired window seat to rest against the frame and avoid my knees getting smacked by trolleys but the seat was right at the back and I was crammed into a very tight space. My eyelids by that time were drooping and I fell into Zed world just as the plane took off. I was woken from a deep sleep by an excruciating pain in my right knee. The guy in front had thrown his seat back and caught my tendon directly on my knee cap raking it with his metal seat frame against the frame of the passenger sitting next to him. My first reaction on coming to was to push the chair away to which he took exception. I apologised and tried to explain but he just whined and moaned. I asked him politely to move his chair slightly forward explaining I was 6 foot 5 and would appreciate some understanding. At this point the woman next to him deliberately threw her seat back with force. This was bordering on ugly. I called the stewardess and asked to be moved to avoid trouble and she just said there were no other seats available and the 2 passengers in front had every right to put their seats in the reclining position. I was fuming and told the 2 dickheads in front that when I get up for the toilet I will be banging their chairs as I had no other choice to extricate myself out of the tiny space I was left with.15 mins this was exactly what happened. Cue outrage and I came back from the toilet to try and reason knowing that I could be picked up in Toronto for causing trouble on a flight. It turned out they were Canadians, she older than him with badly dyed blond hair and redneck demeanor. She started to rant and I said I had no wish to talk to her.That pissed her right off! He seemed to be her toy boy and was nervous but standing his ground. They called the stewardess.I explained my predicament again to no avail and asked to speak to the crew member at the back of the plane. She was sympathetic but said she could do nothing.I seriously considered decking the guy when we landed but reason prevailed.At meal time they were told to put their seats up and whether they had a twinge of conscience or realised that I was teamed up and very angry the seats didn’t recline again. We landed in Toronto and I sincerely thanked them for their understanding. I think they thought I was being sarcastic. We parted ways in silence and the band , crew and I headed into the red tape jungle.
The 2 hours stopover ended up with us being in a never ending series of queues. Steve discovered he’d lost his wallet as we came up to American immigration. A slight whiff of panic added to by me having left my boarding card for the next flight to San Diego in the seat pocket on the Toronto flight. Not a big problem and I queued at flight services for a new one which was duly handed over. Next up the machines to scan the card which showed the name “Dic” on the screen with a question “is your name spelt correctly? ” to which I answered “no”. The screen came up with “please go to flight services” and I was back in the queue again with the sands of time gathering speed. It turned out they only used three letters of your surname on the board that announced you could go forward to another queue to the US immigration desks. ” Yes we should really point that out on the screens he said as it’s confusing!” . Eventually “Dic D San Diego” came up on the board and I walked through yet another boarding pass check to another Disneyland type snaking queue. We were getting nervous as there was only 40 minutes to boarding. I’d commented quite prophetically that with all the computer software and card readers that the 2 boarding card checkers were using ink stamps and that it still came down to rubber stamps on documents! Little did I know what would happen later!
I eventually ended up in front of an immigration officer who was no stranger to a dough-nut ( like most of them at the desks) and he appeared quite lackadaisical as he went through my documents, finger printed me and took a retinal scan. ( The immigration services must have millions of international travelers on their database!) . I stood there after the check and the next guy came up to the desk. I had to ask for my passport and papers as they were lying on the desk. I was now in the USA! A hard walk to the gate and we got on just as it was closing. I had an aisle seat at the back on this flight, an Air Canada Rouge operation and the flight attendants in their maroon sweat tops reminded me of the old Easy Jet orange uniforms. We already knew we had to buy food and beverages on this 5 hour flight. This was economy basic! Thankfully Steve’s wallet was discovered on the last flight and was sent over to the gate. His weak attempt at getting out of buying a round hadn’t come off! 🙂
Squeezed into yet another space I asked the guy in front right from the off to keep his seat up and he thankfully saw my predicament and agreed. I had no idea what time zone I was in or going to but my stomach told me it needed food.We’d last eaten over 6 hours before and that was a very small aluminium tray of pasta. We watched as the trolleys pushed up the aisle from the front of the plane an hour or so after take off. They were agonisingly slow to reach the us at the rear of the packed cabin and the smell of pizzas coming out the galley as they fulfilled orders in the front rows drove us insane with hunger. Shaun and Foss had seats down the aisle and were tucking in. I’d told the stewardess that I’d pay for their food and drink but as more pizza slices went forward I said to Steve sitting next to me that we were going to be struggling to get food. Sure enough the trolley arrived with the row in front getting the last pizzas. All that was left were 3 manky sad beef rolls that were about 6 quid! The 6 of us in the row were despondent but after explaining where we’d come from and thrown a few smiles we were given complimentary wines, some cheese and biscuits and humus with crackers. They tasted truly wonderful. I somehow managed to fall asleep for an hour or so in a cramped upright position and came to just as we landed in San Diego. It was now just before 9pm. We still had a drive of over 2 hours to Mexicali !
The luggage had all come through and we exited with no hassle to the arrivals lounge to be met by a Mexican driver with a battered white personnel carrier parked up out front of the terminal. His English was pretty meager but we chirped away quite excited to be driving through the bright lights and gleaming towers of San Diego. It didn’t take long for the first wrong turning and energies in the van waned badly. A fuel stop enabled me to buy some waters and a deck of beers for the guys and a couple grabbed some dodgy looking burgers from a heated case. I declined the opportunity.
And so on the road we went hurtling through the mountains to the desert in the darkness.Most of the guys had fallen asleep, Yatta out for the count in the front seat and me behind the driver who was starting to make some wide curves on the twin lane road and touching the verge all at speed. I was genuinely worried he’d fall asleep at the wheel so I talked to him at regular intervals and cracked a few jokes that were greeted by bemused smiles.We were picking up speed on a straight when the pitter patter sound filled the cab. I thought we’d ran up onto those rubber cobbles to indicate you’re moving off the road and then the van started to fishtail. I shouted at the driver to slow down just as the van veered to the edge of the highway and the volume went up a number of notches. The others woke up startled as we ground to a halt in the darkness. We had suffered an almighty blowout. We exited the van in the pitch black, the stars overhead not touching the desert around us. A shooting star fell out the heavens as we stood there in disbelief. I think all of us wished we were in bed at the hotel and some wished they were home! The luggage and equipment was offloaded so we could gain access to the spare wheel and the jack. Shaun, a wheel fitter in a previous incarnation, stepped up to the plate. We feared the tiny scissor jack might not be able to lift the vehicle high enough to remove what was left of the wheel and fit the replacement. A suggestion to find a brick or stone brought a flurry of searching on the roadside but then I mentioned rattlesnakes and scorpions and everyone retreated to the hard shoulder. I couldn’t see anything in the gloom that could have helped. A mag light was dug out and with the illumination from that and the torches on our smart phones Shaun set to work. We switched tires with a centimeter to spare and Shaun got an extra beer for being hero. Just as we loaded up again a border patrol vehicle pulled up and a female officer asked if we needed assistance. They must have been watching us. Friendly waves and off we went to Mexicali and the border at which we were waved through with no inspection of our papers. the town was deserted and we pulled up at the hotel at 1am. I was starving, exhausted and on the verge of hallucinating. A photo request from the guys from Moon Safari in reception as we checked in probably will show us to be the zombies we were. I wasn’t exactly communicative. There was a hotel bar still open but a half hearted suggestion of meeting there for a beer was doomed. We all just wanted to get to our beds. Room service was still available so I ordered a chicken enchilada and water and then promptly fell asleep on the bed still fully clothed. I was woken by a hammering on the door some time later and sat down for a meal more out of necessity than anything else.It had been a testing day and a half! It was 10 am back home! I was so hungry but too tired to finish my food and just wanted to get under the sheets with my head on a big soft pillow!
I woke at 10 am and surprisingly felt quite refreshed.The sleep tactics via Toronto had paid off. I was still hungry and thought I’d missed breakfast. The car park view from my bedroom window said “scorchio! The landscape was unremarkable, just flat topped factory buildings stretching as far as I could see. Friday was a day off to recover and explore but judging by my first impressions that wasn’t going to take long. I’d been told by bands who’s been to Baja before that there was nothing to do or see of note. I wandered down to the restaurant and was pleasantly surprised to find them still serving. A filled omelet and a plate of mixed Mexican food set me up and the guys started to wander in. Most had been up for a while. Shaun and I decided to have a mooch around the open air part of the festival site and headed over the road and the railway tracks to the site.It was a pretty cool area with stalls selling the anticipated Prog Cd’s, jewelery and brick-a-brac as well as local beers and food. I found copies of “Return to Childhood”, “Communion” and “13th Star” on a stall but I got the impression the owner was not too chuffed to see me as these were the only titles distributed in the US and both he and I knew that I wasn’t distributing in America anymore because of the wholesale outlets who pay a pittance for albums and sell them on down the chain.Nothing was said but there was no friendly greeting! Shaun and I took the photo opportunity at the cut out and bounced around the site where I was constantly signing albums and being photographed with fans who were really friendly and genuinely excited at the fact that I was there. Lots of smiles and handshakes but as word spread it started to get a bit overwhelming as I couldn’t take a step without being approached by someone with a smart phone camera! My favourite stall out of all of them was a food outlet with “Burgers Ready” on a painted hoarding done in the style of the early Genesis cover art. I did have a chuckle! Very clever! 🙂
We weren’t in the mood for beer and I had a craving for a margarita. I asked at the hotel reception where most of the fans seemed to be staying and they pointed me in the direction of a local diner as I was told there were no bars in the area. We headed back to the hotel to rally the troops and headed back across the rail tracks in search of some refreshments with everyone in tow.It was to be a huge disappointment. We all sat in great anticipation at the counter after explaining to the wee Mexican lady in the garishly coloured costume that the margaritas should be made from tequila not the vodka she was pulling down from the shelf. She disappeared laughing into the bowels of the kitchen and came back with tumblers of pale liquid under a salted glass rim that we all recognised as fakes! Watery and seemingly made with a lemon cordial we were all to a man disappointed. They had a kick but this was not the grails we were searching for. I paid the tab and we exited. I wasn’t giving up. The others were despondent and some moved back to the festival site while Yatta and I went to the hotel for more directions. Luckily we bumped into a couple of the promoters who suggested a nearby restaurant called “Los Arcos”. They decided to come along and so we made our way up the street until we eventually came across a building with a fish sign outside! A sign! 🙂 We took a table in the covered open air section and ordered up. Yatta and I demolished 2 large jugs of perfect
margaritas and to top that I had fish tacos for the first time. Deep fried breaded white fish in a taco wrap with salad – absolutely brilliant and seemingly a local delicacy that I’d heard about on a TV programme about Baja peninsula cuisine the night before I left home! Company was superb and we nattered away with the promoters who I think were a wee bit surprised at our capacity for margaritas especially at that time in the afternoon! We were happy boys indeed! We discovered that one of the guys worked for Gulfstream aircraft and we asked him why he hadn’t just flown us in on a private flight – our tongues firmly in cheek! We were well set up for the afternoon and our new Mexican friends led us back to the festival site where we took up residence on a small grassy slope at the side of the stage to spend the rest of the afternoon. A few of the younger guys from PFM were there. They’d played the night before and I was gutted to miss them having been a fan for years. Sadly I missed Franz the drummer who I’d met in Italy when we’d discussed performing together a few years ago. Steve and Robin were already there with Shaun and we copped the rays and drank beers as I vaped away quite merrily taking in the bands and chatting to our new Italian friends. The FTC was on a roll and had found giant sunglasses which amused all and sundry and offered numerous photo opportunities for fans and musos alike.Ignacio or “Nacho” as he was known was to be the host of the BBQ later that evening. For some reason I’d thought it was to be on our arrival at the hotel the previous night and was most certainly glad it hadn’t been.He had been with Yatta and I in the margarita bar and was now beer butler! It was near impossible for me to go out and watch bands as I was constantly surrounded and I felt very self conscious as the performing musicians could easily see the hubbub around me.He was highly efficient and as the afternoon wore on and we drank under the hot sun in 28 degrees I was careful that the warm fuzzy feeling didn’t spill over into a numb from the neck down one! The Prog on show was pretty good with some highly talented musos going through their paces with aplomb. IO Earth were pretty good, had decent chops to hand and went down well to a crowd of a couple of hundred who’d gathered in the sunshine for a proggy fest. They provided me with the biggest smile of the weekend when Adam Gough, their keyboard player kept it together after his rig collapsed.
It was getting close to moving back to the hotel as the sets finished at the outdoor event. Saga were playing at the theatre down the road, our venue for the next evening. We had a marvelous afternoon but it was time to decamp the mound and say farewells. One person I met up with was Tony G from San
Diego. He’d come down to see us play for the first time but I’d met him before the last time I was in the city with the SAS band way back in 2000. It was he who was the founder of “Tiki 4” the establishment I’d written the song about with John Wesley way back then for the “Fellini Days” album.We had a great catch up and he filled me in on the current state of all the characters I’d met in that house where I’d spent a mind bending night in the company of genuine beautiful and charming freaks.Ironically it’s a song being considered for the new set so it was a “Fellini day ” in more ways than expected. I asked him if he wanted to come out with us that night and he agreed to meet us at the hotel in a couple of hours. I was a bit wobbly but still a weeble! The 2 hours respite was exactly what I needed together with a shower and a clean up. I was feeling pretty good when I got in the car to go to Nachos. Foss had decided to go and see Saga some of whom I’d met around the hotel poolside earlier on. We hadn’t seen much of him all day.
Nachos garden was a guy’s dream.He had bar tops, multi screen TV’s showing Floyd and Roger Water’s videos when we arrived and his chef was cooking up a paella for what looked like a small army. I was starving and drooled over the ingredients as they were added to the mix. I took in the garden and a few beers. The bar tops were mosaics modeled on Eddie van Halen’s guitar body and another mosaic on the wall was the Rush 2112 cover. Yatta was impressed by the model of Neal Pearts drum kit that I was astounded to hear was a
merchandise item for the band.It was all guys in attendance, most of them involved with the festival organisation and far too many names to remember as introductions came thick and fast. It was a fine vibe and soon the tequila was broken out. Not any old stuff but Don Julio tequila, the equivalent of a very fine malt! It was getting knocked back at a rate of knots and we soon had to send out for another as Yes live came up on the screens. Tony G was following our lead and matching us shot for shot but he was with the big team and everything started to go pear shaped for him. One minute he was ok then the next thing was a major whitey and one of our Mexican friends offered to take him back to his hotel. He went downhill so fast from there, in fact he fell of a cliff as everything started to buckle in Tony world! He exited stage left.I felt sorry for him as he fell off the roller coaster. I was also starting to wilt. It all started to become a bit of a blur. A famous Mexican actor and political activist showed up and we engaged in some serious talking. I embarrassingly can’t remember his name but we had a great passionate natter as “Heart of the Sunrise” played in the background. He was one of the good guys! Steve told me I kept on pointing out Chris Squires bass playing to him. The world was crumbling as jet lag and fine tequila seeped away my energies. The light bulb saying “hotel” was blinking defiantly! I didn’t care, this was a day off in Mexico, gig was tomorrow and I was in Torch mode.I eventually poured myself into the car. It was barely midnight but 8am back home. A decent shift at a party! 🙂 Shaun and I ended up poolside with the Saga boys who were coming down off their gig. I knew them from a previous life and we spent a while catching up on stories. I’d curtailed my alcohol ingestion and was only biding time till the crash hit full on. FTC crashed
before me but not in his room. He elected to sit on a polystyrene chill box which collapsed totally under his weight leaving us all in hysterics! My own crash was oncoming and I headed up to my room to hit the Zed wall. Tomorrow was the reason we had come and i wanted to be fighting fit and in the groove.Despite the tequila consumption I was actually in good shape.The night wasn’t over for the FTC however. In the middle of the night he got up to go to the toilet in his room,splashing the ceramic he then took a wrong turning and walked out his hotel room door, closing it behind him to discover he was stark bollock naked in the corridor! he had to go down in the elevator to reception to get them to let him back in to his room. I discovered this the next day at morning sound check from Yatta who was desperately trying to get the CCTV footage for You Tube. Cruel but fair! 🙂 Everyone apart from Shaun was disappointed to discover it hadn’t been captured on film! 🙂
I should have been at the theatre at 9.30 but I hate morning checks at festivals preferring to work on the balls of my feet on the night. It isn’t that difficult. A decent engineer can react to calls and a basic mix was all that was required. I woke at 11, slightly bleary and dehydrated and nothing that couldn’t be fixed with omelet, coffee and water. I headed up to the theatre in the transport and discovered the 9.30 check wasn’t and the band were still setting sounds up.The monitor engineer was called Tequila! Calling out my mixes raised a smile.It wasn’t a big venue, only about 900 capacity seated, but the set up was ideal for a front man, raked in front and easy to project to. It was dusty, dark and a bit grimy backstage with plastic flowers in vases. A typical lovely provincial theatre that felt neglected and underused. Battalions of staff in orange uniforms were round every corner and it was a big helpful stage crew. All the makings and doings were there and FTC was brewing a fine sound out front. Robin struggled a bit getting used to his pedals set up as he couldn’t bring his normal effects rack and the tip toe dance was a new one. Check went well, voice, despite the relatively early call was strong and on song and I felt confident. I decided to call “Lavender” as an encore as I knew it would be appreciated by the Mexican fans and other nationalities that were coming on the night that hadn’t seem me for a while if not ever before. We exited into the harsh sunlight at the stage door around midday. 10 dangerous hours to showtime!
A small bespectacled man came up to me and introduced himself. It was none other than Paul Whitehead the artist who’d created the “Foxtrot” and “Nursery Cryme” covers for Genesis and the Van Der Graaf covers for “Pawn Hearts” among others. It was an honour to meet him and we chatted away in the sun. His friend Robert brought out a couple of old Marillion posters to sign , one being the Hammersmith Odeon gig in 83 with Peter Hammill as support. There was quite a bit of synchronicity around as I’d bumped into Van Der Graaf’s saxophone player, Dave Jackson earlier at breakfast who I hadn’t seen since those early days. A fantastic and gifted player we are determined to get together sometime to have him contribute to an album in the future. Paul was a lovely bloke and had a small exhibition in the foyer which I visited later before the show. He gave me a small hand made print depicting “the Slipperman” painted on a photo of a street front with “Broadway” in neon prominent.Having met Rodney Matthews recently at the HRH gig the only artist that was part of my youth I still have to meet is Roger Dean having met Storm Thorgerson a few times in the past before he sadly died recently!
Most of the others walked back to the open air venue up the street and I hung around with Yats, Shaun and Vince waiting on a van that was taking far too long. I gave up and headed up the road in the sun. I needed to waste time. The main event was hours away and ultimately that was why we were here in Baja. There was a lot of expectation from the fans, most of whom had also traveled for miles for the show, and a lot of pressure to deliver something special on us. I paced the concrete sidewalk back to the hotel with a lot running through my mind.
To be honest it’s been a very mixed bag of fortunes and events in the last week or so.
I returned from the HRH gig in Wales a bit numb and out of synch with everything here at the studio and struggling the last 2 days to get back in the groove with Mexico looming on the near horizon!
Yatta had been away on a driving holiday with his wife for 2 weeks at a time when I could quite honestly really have done with more momentum being built up on the summer festivals and the European dates later in the year. The intention of working on line stuttered and ground to a near halt as French campsites didn’t offer much in the way of wi fi! It dramatically came to an end in Bilbao when the RV he was driving got broken into and his passport, laptop and all his meds were stolen leaving him with an horrendous drive to Calais to get back home. First priority was replacing the passport which he needs for Mexico in 2 weeks. On exiting the Liverpool passport office on Wednesday he proceeded to violently throw up and within hours he was languishing in bed evacuating uncontrollably out of every orifice! My production manager was most definitely down.
Shaun, the FTC arrived on Thursday late afternoon to pick up gear left behind in the studio for rehearsals including the monolith of a monitor system I thought I’d seen the last off . It had to go to Caernarfon for rehearsals on Friday so once again we were struggling and straining loading the behemoth onto the Clown Carrier vertebrae a popping!
Foss’s gear had been picked up on the way to the studio and we had to pick him up next morning at 10.30 to head the 6 hours South. I wasn’t taking any merch down as the 25% plus Vat commission asked by the organisers was a rip off as far as I was concerned. To top it all the gig fee that was supposed to be paid the Friday before hadn’t shown up in the bank. I was already amassing a barrow load of costs with hotels, catering, flights, fuel and wages for a band in the previous week all of whom were scattered to the winds and had to make their own way independently to Scotland and back. What I didn’t need was another cash hemorrhage and my production manager was not on top of his game and doubtful for the weekend.
Family issues were taking their toll as I tried to deal with 3rd party damage limitation in various guises with legal bills that were bubbling over a number of issues some of which could have been avoided and others that surfaced unexpectedly out the mire but which needed dragged out and dealt with.
I was still trying to deal with the video with David Barras who was putting in sparkling editing shifts while juggling his other work demands. The great news that Greenpeace liked the song and had agreed to give us access to reams of footage was a blessing and now gave us so much more weight to the thrust of the clip.
I was still however trying to deal with all the download set ups and meetings intended to open doors to the new digital valley were being postponed due to unavails of the people I needed to talk to. Gathering the lyric sheets late on Thursday night reminded me of my other job!
The relative tranquility of Naples was only 4 days behind me but it felt like another lifetime.
I packed my bags on Friday morning but as usual the webs of calls and e mails held me back and start times shifted. Tara had to go for X rays on her knee at the local hospital at 10 just as we were supposed to go. Elspeth took her down and I hung here knocking the frogs down that kept springing up from e mails with the mallet hoping to get the diagnosis before we left. At 11 Tara was still waiting and we couldn’t. The call after we had picked Foss up at his home and en route through the borders was as expected. She has the same knee problems as both my father and I have. Not great news by any means for a 23 year old and as I sat in the back of the speeding Clown carrier nursing my own aches and pains bouncing about on the aircraft seats I felt a genetic guilt!
The red wine was opened before Galashiels and only the excitement of seeing the trail of the Borders railway line being re exhumed from the landscape kept our minds from the unraveling trek !
Duck pies, scotch eggs in black pudding, venison chilli chorizo sausages, various condiments and a restock of organic wine were picked up at Westmoreland services and the news broadcast by text of the impending arrival of duck pies in particular to the other traveling units brought us all closer.
We arrived late in Caernarfon close to 7pm in the gloom. Rehearsals were in a small room in the local theatre and the others were already set up. It didn’t take long for Vince O’Malley our Sergeant of the backline to get the wires pulsing sound with Shaun Rogers . Yatta had driven to see us and had hung on until I arrived. He looked dreadful and was obviously suffering. I took the briefing and he handed over the chalet keys and passes for the festival before disappearing home. Half the gig fee was to be paid next day and he would come back to the site to meet up and deal with in the afternoon. For now he was in no fit state to operate.
Robin’s rig decided to get tech issues and was feeding back delaying rehearsals and we decided to fight our way through and get to grips with the set which was supposed to be an hour and 25 minutes. We were loose, rusty and ropey as we hadn’t played this set for months but after a couple of hours we had it broken and operational. The gear was taken down, loaded up into the carrier and we set off into town to find some food as the duck pies had been scoffed by the band pretty quickly on my arrival.
The intended convoy of vehicles separated in the tight winding roads under the floodlit castle walls and as expected the FTC got lost in the labyrinth of ring roads. Eventually we found a lonely kebab shop and stuffed ourselves with over salted slimy meat with a sparse decoration of limp salad leaves. I did for a moment consider Yatta’s state and wondered if I was courting Murphy’s law!
The road wound on and we eventually arrived on site at Pwllheli in the darkness to once again get lost in the forest of mobile homes/ caravans and chalets. The maps we had been given I couldn’t make sense of as there were no landmarks just lots of mobile homes with numbers that didn’t seem to make any sense of order. I had a dreadful flashback to Great Yarmouth! We eventually came across the missing members of our convoy, who as expected got there before us, standing outside our designated aluminium boxes. They had those smiles that registered as “wait till they see this shit!”.
Of the 2 fixed mobile homes one was more welcoming with a bigger lounge and as the FCT had brought his new lady and Gavin Griffiths had his lovely Andrea I elected to take the shabbier box with Vince, Steve and Foss. (The rider was due to be delivered to our place next day so there was an added bonus !)
It was freezing inside and it took us a while to work out how to get the gas fire on and activate the heat. We lit the gas rings on the stove to add to the assault on the cold and then the smoke detector went off! The high pitched beeping was curtailed by Sergeant O’ Malley’s swift removal of the battery as getting heat in the place was paramount. We had a few towels and 2 rolls of toilet paper and that was it! No coffee, milk, hand soap or anything else! It was 11.30 and I had the dregs of a bottle of wine left. Some of the troupe elected to venture towards the bright lights of the venues in the distance over the railway line to get food but the prospect of getting lost in the maze of aluminium boxes, dying of exposure or even worse getting to the venues and discovering last orders had been called was enough to dissuade me! Vince agreed with me and we watched the others disappear into the darkness toasting them with what remained of the organic wine!
I’d commandeered the only double bedroom in the caravan, not because of just being singer but because I didn’t think I would actually fit in what was designated as a twin bedded room! The sleeping areas were tiny. My double bed just fitted in the space and I had to climb over my holdall to get in to what seemed to be and felt like a large camp bed. Vince decided to go for the sofa and the others took a twin room each and dragged the 2 beds together. There was an air of slight depression about and I vowed to myself that this was the last holiday park I would ever play.
I woke to wind buffeting the mobile home and the incessant sound of clattering rain. Sleep had been wanting under a “waffa thin” duvet and despite the pale sun outside the closed curtains I tried to avoid getting up for as long as possible in order to get through the hours until the gig. Sound check had been designated for 9am and I’d already opted out of that. However it was now 11 and I couldn’t stay in this box any longer. The fire was on but the heat was only in the corner of the living room. I set up the hot water heater as per instructions on the boiler and wasn’t surprised to find a tepid shower once I’d managed to squeeze into the cabinet. At least I had a towel! The empty fridge provoked me into action. I desperately needed coffee!
The walk down to where the action was didn’t take as long as I thought it would but it was still a wee dance. It took me a while to get directions and arrive at the venue we were to be playing in and I didn’t expect to find the band on stage just getting into sound check! The FTC had got lost in the camp and had taken 40 mins to find the stage area and the load in.
The venue was pretty good, a hell of a lot better than at Yarmouth with a larger stage and higher ceiling which seemed to be trapping a lot of racket.
I was up on stage and at the mike in a few minutes as I thought I’d better take advantage of my good fortune having discovered the check ongoing. “What Colour is God!” is not the kindest on a voice in the late morning but I opened up and ran through that and “Feast” with a touch of the medley to wrap. It sounded quite good but the hall sound and the volume on stage was identified as potentially tricky. As we had to break all our gear down and take it off stage to be replaced before our show at 10pm there were always going to be variables we had to deal with. The crew guys were really helpful and I knew most of them from before, all pros and old hands at this type of set up, so at least we had something in our favour.
As the stage was cleared I dropped into the retail outlets at the back of the venue and the first person I bumped into was none other than Rodney Matthews who I’d admired from afar for a very long time with his artwork for Magnum in particular. He had a vast display of signed framed works on sale and a lot of them I recognised. We had a natter about various bits and bods and he was obviously very aware of my work with Mark Wilkinson over the years. I do like what he does but I still prefer Mark’s style over the fantasy stuff.
I picked up a CD copy at one of the stalls of Man’s “Welsh Connection” one of the very few albums of theirs I didn’t have and had a good browse in the racks before the desire for a strong coffee got the better of me. I had a day to waste and I wasn’t going back to the box!
It was Saturday and there were some big games on including Arsenal against Chelsea in Arsene’s 1000th game in charge!After discovering the football wasn’t being shown on anywhere on the camp for some reason or another I was directed to the town. A disgruntled Steve had just cleaned up his car after a squadron of seagulls had taken exception to it and singled it out for a concise and effective bombing raid! He was up for getting out to the footy as was Foss so we headed off camp to find a pub that had the game on. We eventually arrived in the Crown Hotel 23 minutes into the match to find Arsenal 3-0 and a man down. Cue despondency as I knew I’d be meeting up with Chelsea supporter Jerry Ewing sometime in the day. At least they had Leith ale on draught and we met up with Peter and Lee from Manchester who’d also left camp for the game. The company and the ale anesthetised the pain slightly as another 3 goals hit the Arsenal net in a real let down performance. We headed back via a pie shop and a wine emporium. Yatta was approaching the area.
I met up with him in the box and we sauntered down to the band reception area and media centre to meet up with the promoter. Maybe it was the seriousness that had been wrought by a 6-0 defeat from Chelsea; maybe the beers coupled with the pissed off factor at being the turn in the box; maybe it’s just that Yatta and I can be quite intimidating and he wasn’t exactly having a feel good moment kind of day. No matter what. We walked into the area probably looking like the main characters from “Breaking Bad”, me with darkened shades and the black hat, Yatta with his “why am I having to deal with this” face and within minutes were with the Scottish promoter , who we both knew, who was straight on the phone to Ibiza where the money was and 20 minutes later it was transferred and receipted and the problem was all solved! Magnificent! Yatta was gone straight after, his inners still as effective as an empty Smarties tube holding hot chocolate! He was struggling to do anything and I knew he was gutted to miss the show – a rarity!
I then found out that I had a raft of journalists to deal with and the interview schedule that I thought had not come about was hanging about in the ether on an e mail sent on Friday that I’d not been able to download as there was no wi fi in the vicinity of the box! At least they would keep me out the bar for an hour or so and we rescheduled for later that afternoon.
I went back to the venue and bumped straight into an almighty jovial Jerry Ewing who to give him his due avoided gloating and reacted in an unusually gentleman like manner for which I duly bought him a pint! It was great to see him again and we had a natter at the bar before parting, promising to hook up later. I knew there would be little chance as both of us would end up on independent missions and if we did by accident discover each others orbits in the night it could get very messy indeed!
I caught some of the “Panic Room” set and they were on good form. First time I’d seen them live and it was quite weird watching Gavin Griffiths on stage with them.
I was then off to the media centre for a few interviews and to be honest was glad of having something to do to eak out the time. I opted for a couple of Angus Burgers rather than the catering which had a long queue to retrieve the steak and kidney pie, watery chicken curry and veg and seemed to end with everyone walking away slightly disconsolate.
Interviews went well and I bumped into Robert John Godfrey from the Enid with whom I’ve had a couple of mild run ins with over the years most notably back in 82 at Reading festival where I’d got rather angry at a flier he was distributing on site having a go at Marillion and EMI regarding our “sell out” and their “manipulation” just after our signing to the label was announced. He most definitely got the message that day and he has always remembered it. Now a lot older, less impetuous and not quite so confrontational my demeanor was more gracious, however I felt he was still slightly wary and his drummer who was at the table seemed edgy. I have no issues with Robert these days. He’s an affable and intelligent man and a very talented musician who like me has seen more than his fair share of corporate battles over the years.I was actually looking forward to their set as I was a fan of the band back in the 70’s and word was out that the new reinvention they’d undertaken was getting plaudits. Nevertheless I was aware they were on directly before me and although I wasn’t concerned at following them from the perspective of an audience reaction I was aware that it was a multi piece band with a ton of equipment and schedules were tight. I did not want to be hanging around side of stage waiting on a changeover at midnight!
My football Saturday went from bad to worse. Hibs lost 2-0 to St Johnstone and were doomed to bottom six at the league split. Worse was that we play Hearts next Sunday and a loss at Tynie could pull us into a battle to avoid the play off position. We beat them and we send them down and they will not want us to do on their home turf. It’s going to be a war and I don’t know if we will keep our bottle together as they have become very much a bogey team with a hoodoo over us in recent years!
I hid away in the box until it was time to move to the venue and stage. Word had come back that stage times were running 30 mins late. The Enid still weren’t on and they had technical problems.
I set up in the dressing room which seemed to be in a corridor full of doors to refrigerators and freezers. More of a hovel than a dressing room, or a howf as we call it in Scotland, the lights were tied to movement sensors so a lot of waving of arms was necessary when sitting down to keep them on. I went out to watch some of the Enid set and they were quite impressive. The singer had a fine range and was using it to effect. The crowd were into them too and it was good to know we had our work cut out and we would not be complacent – a danger in these situations when you’re late on and an audience is becoming jaded and tired after a long day. There were good energies around.
I’d already asked the stage crew for timings and they too didn’t intend to be hanging around till the wee hours. We should have been on at 10 and it was now approaching 10.15 as the Enid drew their set to a close. They had dropped some numbers. The crew cleared them and set us up to go inside 20 minutes. I saw Robert John Godfrey as he was leaving just as I was going to stage and thanked him for a fine set and for respecting the timings like a gentleman. Smiles all round.
We smacked the crowd with “Perfume River” and went into full on attacking mode following up with an angry “Feast” to get everyone on our side. An introduction to “Script” with a reminiscence on writing the first part with Mark Kelly at Bangor University at soundcheck back in 82 on our second visit the first being one of my first encounters with “blues” and 2 snowy days spent awake around a freezing cold February night on an iron bedstead with no mattress or bedsheets in an empty house belonging to some fan under the Menai Bridge, hot knives in the kitchen and wired up conversations through till the dawn and beyond. Paying dues !
At HRH it was on fire and we rocked the house with fantastic energies on stage. ” All Loved Up” and “What Colour is God” followed and the stage sound started to deteriorate. Robin’s amp was full of gremlins and feeding back and the volumes crept up. I lost where I was on “Loved Up”, missed a cue and threw the band out. Most people probably didn’t notice as it was loud, full on raucous rock and roll just like it says on the tin! The end section turned “Sex Pistols” and i couldn’t resist the “no future” lines over the guitar chords as it drew to a momentous beautiful collapse. Smiles between us on stage said it all. “What Colour” likewise suffered as we lost the loops and just drove it through on the groove with the end section again opening up into a jam of sorts as none of us could hear where we were in the song. It made for an interesting version though!
“Blind to the Beautiful” brought it back to basics and the crowd sing along at the end was joined by Anne Marie Helder who was watching us from the “pit”. I handed her the microphone and I went to Steve’s as the audience came with us clapping and singing the chorus line. It was off the cuff but worked well and every time I hear the audience joining in I can’t but help think I may have a hit with this song.
Foss sidled into the introduction to “1470” and I dashed over to the stage manager to find out where we were with time. I had 30 minutes to play with and a medley of 23 minutes to fit in. I called the medley after “1470”. “Crucifix Corner ” would have to wait for another day and to be honest with the stage sound I thought we’d be tempting fate. “1470” rocked and the first bars of “Assassing” tore the place up.
It was a great night and the band performed wonders considering what we were up against all across the field. “”Fugazi” and “White Feather” had the crowd jumping and as we fell into the strains of “View from a Hill” there was a sense of celebration. The reaction was fantastic and we exited the stage with a fine awareness of accomplishment. Altogether well worth all the effort to get there and deliver a memorable set in style.
Backstage was vibey and we were joined by Rosie and the guys from “Purson”. I’d missed their set but Foss had seen them and really liked them. They were great fun and fine company, perfect for an apres gig occasion ! Wine was quaffed and we nattered until the crew gave us the silent signal to vacate the premises. Handshakes and hugs and I wandered off into the night as Rosie and her guys centred their attention on the rock disco and another bar.A long trail through the aluminium forest to my own box where I found Vince up waiting for me. The others were in the deluxe caravan and I knew there was vodka there that needed avoiding. I stuck with a final tumbler of Riesling and slunk off to my cell. Sunday was going to be a long drive home.
Wednesday had all the makings of a bad day.
The postman arrived with a tinkling package and an embarrassed look on his face. Either someone had sent me a crystal collection or judging by the shape of the item, a badly packed photo frame. It turned out on opening to be the latter. He suggested I claim for compensation but the prospect of form filling and endless waiting on a decision and the slight possibility of renumeration on a small pane of glass deterred me. The actual frame was undamaged as was the photocopied front cover of a Hibernian v Clyde Scottish Cup final programme from April 26th 1958. It was a very early birthday present. The frame was covered in a newspaper and a fold of bubble wrap and placed with a cardboard envelope inside a padded package. Not nearly enough to withstand the heavy handed gremlins of modern postal service machinery.I emptied the glass in the bin and left the package in the kitchen without further examination. The gift was appreciated but at the same time my studio walls, already groaning from picture frames, had little space for a photocopied front cover of a match day programme despite the well intentioned effort to find the cup final date from the day after my birthday. The other 3 letters that arrived added to my slight gloom. A bill for a late tax return, notice of an increase in national insurance contributions and a demand for payment from a company we pay by direct debit! I sulked into the control room. A bad angle to enter the day!
From then on I felt like I was trapped inside a pinball as phones erupted just as I was trying to concentrate on a myriad of “things to do” that required concentration and application all involving computer inputting as I attempted for the umpteenth time to get my entire recording catalogue onto an ever growing excel spreadsheet. This involved racing ISRC codes, PPL numbers, the original release dates and catalogue numbers of all the albums, singles and other product across the various licensing agreements I have had over the last 26 years for 9 studio albums and over 15 live albums! I’d put it off for weeks and had been sidetracked and kidnapped by other demands and intrusions when I did allocate time to apply myself to the monumental task. With the digital download question now becoming increasingly important to address and having discovered this one free day in the middle of an otherwise stormy period I was focusing intently on the problem and determined to break it’s back.
The phone just wouldn’t stop ringing and I spent most of the late morning and early afternoon at the barricades fending off waves of assaults on my deflating energies.They arrived in the form of accountants chasing final sign off’s, polishing off the vinyl set up and listening to the Karlsruhe live tracks to round off side 4, listening to the radio edits of “Blind to the Beautiful” which is now whittled down to 4 mins 40, checking in for the flights to Brighton for 3 of us next day, checking the MCPS invoices that had all started to arrive, chasing the builders for the next quote on the extension, Yatta for the live dates and the last arrangements for the rehearsals due to start in a few days on which I knew very little. A message from Elspeth that Shaun the FTC was due to arrive in the next days with equipment was unspecific. An interview with Eclipse magazine in Germany on the phone was imminent.The cataloging was only touched upon but I had the late afternoon and evening marked out for a full on assault.
A text came in from the FTC and jolted me. He was arriving at 5. The phone rang. It was my interview. The doorbell rang. It was Shaun.He had a clown carrier full of the monitor equipment I had hoped I’d said goodbye to before Christmas. I was now locked into an uncomfortable reminiscence of the “Fugazi” album that was beginning to drag. My back was aching from the previous couple of days hiking about Calton hill in Edinburgh and I was beginning to feel slightly overwhelmed and very tetchy. It took a few very deep breaths and a long slow count to stay in control.
I unloaded the carrier with Shaun as no one else was around and the house was once again strewn with boxes and cables. I was most definitely not happy at the intrusion and the lack of info that I’d been given about movements and arrivals of the circus. Yatta was away on a 2 week holiday the next day and I’m sorry to say he left with a piece of my mind as to the absence of communications. It had taken me weeks to get the band timetable together and the 7 days rehearsals I had from Sunday onwards were not what I’d hoped for at this early juncture. Their availabilities had significantly decreased the options to get together and I now found that the week I thought I had free to concentrate on setting up all the downloads for “Feast” album and “Blind to the Beautiful” single had been immersed in rehearsing.I was coming to the end of an incredibly fractious day that had pushed me right to the edge of my capabilities. I was quite honestly fragged.
A Chinese takeaway was mustered and I retreated to the control room for a few hours as Shaun set up the monitor system in the living room. Phone calls and e mails with James Cassidy who has been advising me on the digital world inspired me to get most of the catalogue listed leaving only a few live albums to declare. A mountain had been moved and I could now see the trees on the other side of the valley where I was ultimately heading.
The bills were paid, the vinyl was cooking, the accountants were dispersed, the flights were ready for boarding, the video was moving forward, the interview was nailed, the monitors were sweet, the Chinese was delicious, the fire burned brightly in the stove, bags were packed, the alarm was set and I settled for a brief moment into the couch, exhausted.
I went through to tidy up the kitchen before bed and picked up the packaging from the morning that seemed a battle away. I read the message on the inner envelope which said ” thought we would let you read this before you framed it”. I opened what I thought had been packing to discover a pristine copy of the match day programme from the Scottish Cup Final 26th April 1958 between Hibs and Clyde. It was a lovely moment and made ever so much more special at the end of this day. I was aware that I was wearing a very wide smile. Thank you Darren and Kerry, Georgia and Jack for a beautiful thought. It is a truly special birthday gift and it will be hanging on my office wall once I get it back from the picture framers as a memory of those special moments that make up those intensely trying days when you feel all is against you.
I left the smile on my pillow the next morning as I forged toward the next mountain just as dawn broke
Fantastic Saturday night in Rotherham at the Classic Rock Society awards where I’d been asked to present the honours. The long drive down was well worth it and I was kept entertained by BBC Scotland sports on a fading and blurry AM radio signal that reminded me of my teenage years in the attic in Dalkeith trying to get a feed from Radio Luxembourg!
I met up with Yatta at the Holiday Inn Express after calling him in his room on my mobile as the pasty faced, thin hipped, Jedward lookalike jobsworth wouldn’t give me his room number or call him for me because of the data prevention act or some other bureaucratic nonsense. He obviously took an instant dislike to me and was on the edge of rude from then on after.
Yats and I took the chance to catch up with the state of the ever moveable Feast touring activities as we hadn’t seen each other since Great Yarmouth. We headed down to the Montgomery hall to be briefed on the night’s activities by Miles Bartaby, Stephen Lambe and the team including Steve Pilkington who’d interviewed me back on the last tour for the double issue spread in the magazine.
A few pints of local real ale and a catch up before the show started and then into the awards after a brief but shiny set by Andy Tillison.
It was never going to be quite as glitzy as the Classic Awards night at the Roundhouse in London but we had a lot of fun on stage amongst the flying by the seat of our Prog pants!
One of my favourite moments was when Steve Hacket came onto stage to pick up the best bass player award for Lee Pomeroy who’s in his band.The acceptance speech drifted into what Steve was planning over the next year and everything else and I thought at the time that he didn’t know he would be picking up his own award for best guitarist later . Sure enough when it came to that section Steve was nowhere to be found in the auditorium and someone shouted out he’d gone outside to the car park for whatever reason. Much waffling was to be had and it was decided after what seemed like an hour that we’d move on with the show. We never found out what he was doing out there and he was slightly embarrassed when he returned to discover he’d been noted as missing in action!
I was genuinely touched to find that a new award had been created, prompted by Andy Tillison and that this year there was a best lyricist award. I have to admit that when I was told on the night I had my suspicions but I was still a bit surprised to be on stage to have it announced and to hear the other contenders. I was exceptionally proud to pick it up for my work on “Feast” and it was the first time in my life that I’d received an award for my lyrics! A sincere huge wave of gratitude to all the people that voted for me and the award has a place of prominence in the studio.
The most deserving award on the night was for Christina Booth who picked up the award for best female vocalist. A beautiful tinny wee creature with a huge heart who turned up despite battling a serious illness and quite rightly took a grand reception from the audience. I was greatly impressed by her and take my hat off to the lady for her bravery and incredibly positive attitude. Her smile was justly huge on stage.
It was a grand afair all round and I tink everyone had a fine evening. Clive Nolan performed his “Alchemy” musical with a vast ensemble of musicians but despite wanting to catch it I ended up in the corridors in the company of old dear friends.
A long wonderful chat with the lovely Rachel Wilce and partner Nick Barrett who I hadn’t seen for far too long. A first time introduction to the guys from Dee Expus, big hugs with Bryan Josh
and his wife Livvy, a council with Steve Hackett on the Sioux Indian approach to surviving in the music business and various other brief encounters before Yatta and I commandeered a taxi for a relatively early night back at the hotel as I had a journey back next day to prepare for a video shoot. We’d had a great time and the guys from the Classic Rock society did us proud. A fine bunch of individuals who deserve a lot more support and recognition from the music community out there.
Next morning young bitter Jedward type relished his call to my room reminding me that check out was 11am. It was short of 11.20 but you would have thought it was mid afternoon by his manner. He was short and cursory and the “please leave the room as soon as possible” was delivered with distaste and reeked of a boy with a name tag and a mild power high. I had no wish to confront him as it would only feed his desire to wield his meagre authority. I smiled, thanked him, apologised for my lateness and vacated the premises leaving him with his pent up frustration to vent on some minor with an even less significant name tag!
The drive home was majestic and I rubbed around 40 minutes of the Tom Tom time. Only ruffled by a couple of maniacs, one a woman in a Golf TDI and the other in a Peugeot having a road battle on the A1 out of Newcastle as they continually tried to overtake and cut each other up at high speed. I misjudged the lanes on a roundabout near Berwick and both tried to undertake me blaring horns at my mistake despite me correcting and signaling my mistake. I followed the duelling pair all the way across the border, keeping my distance and at one point watched them hurtle at over 100 mph to the end of a dual carriageway both vehicles bleeding red light as they braked and swerved close to being out of control. I honestly thought they were coming off the road and that I’d be pulling over to deal with the wreckage. I held back and despite the Peugeot blocking me a couple of times on overtaking manouevres I stayed calm and collected. He was no match for a Volvo XC and I blasted by him on a roundabout in Dunbar leaving him disgusted in my wake without even giving him a cursory glance.
Home mid afternoon and not enough left of the day to entertain thoughts of work. A freak wind had hit the county and I discovered one of the vents on the greenhouse had been torn off and was now lying half way down the garden. I spent time trying to fix it as the greenhouse is full of young plants with a crowd of seedlings in the new propagation tray Mac the gardener had set up and to which I was obligated to keep a watchful eye over.
Darkness fell and I returned to the warm stove, some comfort food and wine and another session with “Breaking Bad” which took me into the night and to the mid point on series 4. I am so envious of the screen writing, the acting and the direction and can only dream of ever putting together something so epic. In all honesty I am in awe of this series and find myself somewhat exhausted and emotionally drained by the storylines. I don’t want it to end!
Today was the first day of the video shoot. But that’s another story!
Photo is me with the best lyricist of 2013 award! A very proud writer!
This is a 2 part blog I wrote for the Company website back in 2011 after my first visit to the Somme. I thought it was worth posting over here as it’s interesting to read this now as it pre dates writing the High Wood.
The pale limestone of the Garde du Nord railway station glowed in the morning sun giving it the appearance of an ominous mausoleum.The tricolours atop the towers bowed and the carved names of European destinations took on a different meaning today.Not the promise of travel adventures but the centres of past conflicts.
I sat in a sidewalk bar across the square with twin eggs, “cafe aux lait”, toast and marmalade ordered in stumbling French a breakfast chased down with a double cognac to steady the nerves for a meeting with destiny.I was about to walk in the footsteps of ghosts of strangers.
Even the station heralded my journey as I imagined the troop trains heading East to the Front and also delivering survivors and wounded from a carnage that raged less than a 100 years before.Inside the arches there was a chill before I embarked once again into the sunlight towards Arras and the fields of the Somme.
I was free of the tour and travelling alone.The others returned to Britain while I,thanks to the organisational skills of my brother Yatta,was sitting in a first class carriage staring out the windows at the gang tags shouting from the gleaming white concrete of abandoned factories and desolate buildings.Declarations of war by frustrated youth and unsung warriors proclaiming their territory and their existence to a world rushing by that was immune to their threats as it disappeared over the horizon leaving the sprawl of the Paris jungle behind locked in a memory.
My destination was 40 mins and 16 euros away through green countryside and blurred towns and villages.
My thoughts drifted to my 2 Grandfathers who had both served during the first World War, William Dick with the Royal Flying Corps and William Paterson with the Royal Scots.Both survived the conflict.Neither had spoken about it.
I had studied the period at school and had been mesmerised by it all.I had marched with the Boys Brigade on Armistice day,poppy ablaze on a blue uniform behind the ranks of fading veterans who would lay scarlet wreaths at the foot of the memorial in King’s Park and stand proud and straight in the long minute of respectful silence.Now those front ranks are replaced but the column on parade never diminishes.Even now I still hold my breath during the silence.
And on this day,the last of my 52nd year I am heading to the fields where the symbol of the poppy as a sign of remembrance was adopted
I exited the station into the harsh sun bleaching the square dominated by a 1914-18 war memorial ironically scarred by consequent battles of a following generation.Arras, a strategic town and the “scene of bitter conflict”, a cliche often used by narrators when describing incidents and places on the Somme and pointed out to me by my guide, Simon Moston who was meeting me together with his wife Cij and 2 daughters.
Simon had been urging me to visit the Somme for quite a while and I had never been able until now to find a space in the touring patterns to make it happen.It seemed spiritually appropriate and even bordering on the religious that I should make this pilgrimage now.
Simon is highly knowledgeable and well versed in the history surrounding the Great War and it has become a passion which has led him into becoming a willing guide for groups who want to discover more about the period at ground level. His wife and daughters share his enthusiasm completely and I admit to being slightly amused on occasions as they also volunteered information and identified munitions and artifacts that we would regularly discover amongst the furrows as we walked across the fields over the next 2 days.They would all turn out to be great company and I couldn’t have wished to have spent this time with a finer bunch of people.
Our initial encounter was slightly nervous as we met each other for the first time.Simon is also a die hard Fish fan but now he was with Derek and not the singer.Any awkwardness was quickly dispelled and we set off in his car after a caffeine injection to help us into what would be a long day.
As we drove past glistening cemeteries with their ranks of headstones I could feel myself immersing in the history.
We were staying at a B and B sited on what used to be no man’s land in front of the original British front line to the West of a small village called Beaumont Hamel which in 1916 formed part of the German front line.The collection of shell cases, bullets and cartridges,rusting weapons and other debris of battle inside the house left me in no doubt as to where we were and the period photos of uniformed strangers began to make the connection in my mind.
I admit to being wary as I knew I would have to build a wall around my feelings and attempt to close down my sensitivity settings.There was a danger of becoming overwhelmed by it all if I allowed my imagination reign.
The first foray along a dappled shadowy lane from Auchonvillers, or “Ocean Villas” as the British troops called the village, was walking into the past and in the footsteps of ghosts.The girls had elected to stay behind while Simon took me on a hike up the slopes to Hawthorn Ridge from the communication trench of which the lane was part of, through the site of the old British lines and into no man’s land and the German lines beyond.
I couldn’t but help sense the echo of the past and imagine young soldiers taking this same route through the shaded safe hollow of the lane towards the front before the artillery barrages blew it all away and turned it into a wasteland over the months and years following the first battle of the Somme on July 1st 1916
I sucked a breath and we marched up the hill across fields to a small cemetery in front of Hawthorn Ridge.
On the way we had discovered a couple of bullets and a cartridge case glowing green with age lying atop the dark furrows that had been slightly dampened by a passing shower.Casual reminders of how deadly the ground over which we walked once was.A heavy shard of shrapnel which had once screamed white hot at over a 100 miles and hour from the sky rusted at the roadside.A shell case disturbed by the plough stood on the edge of the field placed by a farmer unperturbed by a find he had made so many times before as he turned the soil which to this day still throws up lethal surprises.
Once my eye became trained it was difficult to walk without constantly scanning the ground for finds and disappearing into another world.
Simon relayed the history and images rallied as we stood under a yew tree in the cemetery as another shower passed over.The numbers cascaded into my mind as the story evolved of the events shortly after 7.30 am on that July day when the whistles blew out and the battalions moved forward into no mans land believing the 7 day artillery barrage had blasted away the impenetrable hedges of barbed wire and the German trench system beyond eliminating their occupants and the machine guns that dominated the fields with them.
They marched out with confidence not knowing the enemy were dug in so deep in entrenchments and underground bunkers prepared since 1914 when the Germans had carefully chosen the ground from which to fight and prepared elaborate defences for the assault.Although deeply shaken and shell shocked by the bombardment the artillery had not acheived the result it had hoped for and the explosive display turned out in the main to be just that.
Hawthorn Ridge was turned into a huge crater after 18 tons of explosive detonated at 7.20 am eviscerating an unknown number of German soldiers and creating a massive chalk parapet that the Lancs Fusiliers assaulted across the expanse of no mans land in a mad dash to gain control of the ridge each carrying over 50 pounds of equipment and fighting through barbed wire that had not been completely removed by the artillery.
I had to swallow hard and turn my head away as Simon told the story of how the machine guns opened up and around 500 young men fell on the slopes where we were now standing.The numbers continued to mount and the events of that morning ran in my mind.I was finding it impossible to truly imagine the horror of it all.
The crater itself is a dank,desperate pit that must have been the bowels of hell on that day.The dry croaking of crows overhead and the straafing fat flies added to the desolate atmosphere as I stared down into the undergrowth through the twisted scrub of trees and thorns that guarded the depths where so many disappeared from the face of the earth.
We made our way along the slope and down to the “Sunken Lane” past the area where the “Public Schools” battalion was annihilated and where 600 men cowered before following the whistle to march through the hedgerow and into a hail of machine gun fire.
One of the most poignant moments was when Simon gave me an envelope and as I forced my way through the hedge I opened it to find a name and rank and destiny of a soldier who had been there on that very spot 95 years before. J.Mitchell,24, private, Lancs Fusiliers, missing in action.His body never found.
I exited the hedge into the bright sun on the other side into an open field facing a ridge that once held the German front line.A field that would have been covered with 400 corpses in the space of an hour soon after the whistles blew at 7.30 am.
It was an incredibly moving experience.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking the old trench lines and visiting small cemeteries.Simon had done a lot of research and had discovered a number of gravestones where soldiers with my family name were marked. I was told that more often than not the names meant only that the bodies had been identified but were not necessarily buried on that spot.
Our family history is also vague and I couldn’t be sure that any of the Dicks mentioned on the stone were actually relatives as we scattered throughout central Scotland in the 1800’s.It’s an unusual enough name here so there was a possibility that there were blood ties with these soldiers.
Simon had brought poppies he collects after armistice day and rather than throw them away he places them on graves of people he has come across in his research.He gave me some and over the two days I added my own small tribute of remembrance to these strangers who I shared a name with.
Simon had old photographs, some of which I recognised from my own studies and reading,and it was fascinating to match up the exact spots where the photos were actually taken and to go through the identification of units and sometimes even individual soldiers.
The day provided me with a completely new insight of the battle of the Somme with the most startling and mind blowing awareness being that although we were only examining the conflict along an area of a few thousand yards this was repeated simultaneously along an 80 mile front.
After an evening meal at the restaurant at “Ocean Villas” we headed back in the dark to our “billets”.
A few splashes of a German Riesling with Simon and Cij after the girls were off to bed and then I made to retire.
I couldn’t help but go out on my own to the garden to sit under a clear starlit sky and let my thoughts wander back,imagining the lonely sentry on duty on the eve of battle close to the very place I was spending the night.I looked at my watch.It was midnight.I was now 53 years old.
I let the immense peace and quiet envelop me and allowed the ghosts to wander undisturbed in the darkness.I felt very alive.
I slept soundly until around 6.30 and felt the morning chill through the open French windows of my room which looked out across the Beamont Hamel road to the old “White City” trenches on the British front line of 1916.There was a light grey mist hugging the ground giving the landscape an ethereal and dramatic feel.Dawn had broken but the sunlight wasn’t yet strong enough to burn off the hanging vapour.I lay in bed and stared out onto the battlefield.
We’d agreed to an early start.I lay in repose for another hour and at 7.30 on zero hour of a day gone by I rose, showered and went to meet Simon and his family.I hadn’t mentioned my birthday and was taken aback when Simon, Cij and their daughters Sammi and Cerys burst into song and handed me a present of a book, “The First Day of the Somme”, a relevant card and some badges all neatly wrapped. It was entirely unexpected and incredibly touching.I felt part of the family and was for once speechless.
We drove down to “Ocean Villas” for breakfast ( a highly unusual event of the day for me and documented for the F’s and Yatta by Simon with a photo).Ocean Villas is a bed and breakfast/tearoom/restaurant and well known meeting and stop off point for battlefield regulars and visitors.
Run by the enigmatic Avril Williams it’s a fascinating place with a rich history.Archaeologists have been digging around the site and a complete communications trench runs behind the building with entrances into the cellars that were used as a first aid staging post for the wounded carried from the field.The tearooms are adorned with memorabilia,battlefield artefacts, relevant photos of the area and of relatives of visitors who had fought there during the Great War.Avril is a no nonsense highly likeable character with reams of stories and anecdotes to entertain over a wine or too much and I was enthralled by her passion and visions of how she wanted to advance “Ocean Villas” into something far more substantial and dynamic.She was a woman after my own heart and I completely related to her thinking.We would have stayed at her property but the inn was full so we were with her sister down the road.
Chickens and sheep, cats and an affectionate dog called “Bonnie” ran the yard. The day before we arrived her brother had culled 12 noisy cockerels with a machete and her niece’s boyfriend was quite titillated as he showed us video on his phone of headless chickens bouncing around the garden.In a place with a history of violence it all seemed fittingly surreal.The remaining cockerel crowed gamely from the safety of a high wall as we demolished a full English breakfast before my pilgrimage continued.
I didn’t have to go far.
Simon took me down to the candlelit cellars of the farmhouse which had been used as the medical station and only discovered after Avril had purchased the property some years before.It had been rebuilt after the war as shellfire and demolition to avoid becoming an obvious target for German guns reduced it to rubble.It was the only surviving cellar in the neighbourhood and as it hadn’t been discovered until much later was pretty much as it was back then.The small shrines cut in the wall with crucifixes and flickering candles reminded me that this was also a place where men died as well as survived from wounds.It was a sombre place and the carved names,units and service numbers in the damp orange brick were testament to those who had passed this way.Back then there was only artificial light as the windows were blocked and the cellar strengthened against shellfire.It must have been an horrific environment.Chicken wire had been laid on the floor to stop soldiers slipping on the blood and viscera as they delivered casualties and performed emergency operations in order to keep the wounded alive for transportation back down the line to the hospitals in the rear where they could be treated.All in all the two rooms of the cellar made up less than 25 square metres of floor space with a ceiling height of just over 2m.Two of the three entrances/escape exits were now blocked off and I emerged into the daylight and the comms trench outside with a lump in my throat.
The story of a soldier who had been arrested and detained there after trying to escape from the carnage of the front line had hit hard.Only a boy he had obviously cracked in the holocaust. Accused of desertion he was to face a firing squad .He had carved his name on the brickwork as he awaited his fate.I could read it in the moving shadows of the candlelight.
I phoned my parents from the garden as I wanted some information on my Grandfathers and to be honest I wanted to hear their voices on this day.They obviously knew where I was and understood why I was there.My voice was shaky on the phone as I talked to my Dad and on asking where his father was stationed with the RFC I broke and had to turn away from the others in the yard and find a place on my own.
William Dick served in Arras.When I told my father that I was staying there that night we both went silent and I knew he was crying with me.It was an incredibly emotional moment.
He passed me over to my Mum and I asked about William Paterson who had served with the Royal Scots.I had forgotten his battalion number.She told me that it was the 8th and I knew he was on the Somme in 1916.They were both proud that I was there as no one in my existing family had ever returned to France.I shared some of my stories and I composed myself before giving Simon the information he needed to discover where Private William Paterson had served.
It didn’t take long to check the book containing the battalion line ups in the history of the Somme.
To say the discovery took my breath away was an understatement.In 1916 his battalion was part of the 51st Highland Division and was involved in the fighting only a short distance away from where I was staying.Although not in the July offensive he was involved in the November battles where the 51st earned their honours.It was as if their spirits had drawn me there for some reason and to be on the Somme on my birthday gave it even more resonance.This was a special day in every sense of the word.I was walking in the footsteps of my Grandfathers.
The morning was spent visiting more cemeteries, uniform glistening white headstones standing to attention in rank after rank, their inscriptions,names, ages and battalions reaching inside and opening my imagination to a brutality and inhumane waste of youth and life as two forces collided on the orders of politicians and generals who never experienced the horror of the trenches and this despicable warfare.
I saw the headstone of the youngest soldier ever to die on the Somme, Private Horace Iles, 1784 of the West Yorkshire regiment who died on the 1st July age 16. Surrounding him were the headstones of other teenagers and men in their early 20’s, numbers to be repeated in every cemetery I visited.
It was difficult to take on board that these young men had hardly been out of their own villages,towns and cities never mind in another country
and here they were marked out in “the corner of some foreign field”.It was harrowing to imagine their fear and horror being transported into the cauldron of an unforgiving and cruel battle so far away from home and loved ones.
The Scottish regimental graves had extra resonance with me as I recognised family names.Simon pointed out men from Haddington one family who lost 4 sons on the field, one later to gas injuries and another suicide on discovering all his brothers had perished.
We followed the battle lines in the car stopping off at prominent sites where Simon would relate the historical relevance and the dramas they contained.
The Newfoundland Memorial park with it’s bronze stag atop a mound roaring at the German lines where machine guns cut down 684 officers and men as they charged over comms trenches crammed with wounded from the first disastrous assault wave and were cut to pieces before they even reached the British front line.A few brave souls made it through and vainly attempted to carry on the attack but it added to the high list of casualties on a day declared as the worst ever day in the history of the British army.
Walking the park which still has well defined trench lines visible and again marked out the superiority of the German defensive positions,served to remind me of the futility of the losses.I agreed with Simon that poor communications,bad intelligence and in a lot of cases bad tactics and timing had a lot to blame but the question was why were they there in the first place.Empirical egos and aged military swagger.We were not prepared, the army was in the main inexperienced and we served up a countries youth as cannon fodder.
There were gains on that day in July.There were successes.But was it worth the cost?
The Highland Division memorial in the same park stands proud as it marks the November campaign where huge gains were made, lessons learned and losses although still great were nowhere near the severity as the July debacle.
The inscription on the Highland memorial is “La a’ blair s’math n Cairdean” – friends are good on the day of battle.It sank into my mind as the most defining and profound soldier’s comment and summed up the comradeship that must have existed as they fought their way out of a hell on earth.
In all honesty there is too much to relate here and the second day of my tour began to blur around the edges as there was just so much to take in.
The Lochnaglar mine crater blown 10 minutes after the Hawthorn Ridge mine but with more success as soldiers were lying prepared in no man’s land ready to rush the newly created defensive rim of blown chalk subsoil.Staring down into the blank tomb gave me vertigo. In July fully laden troops charged down there to rush the other side.When the German artillery ranged in it became a meat grinder.
The monument to Macrae’s Edinburgh battallions who charged 5 miles or so from Tara hill to take ther objectives at heavy cost.Hearts and Hibs players and supporters with others from Falkirk ,Raith Rovers and other Scottish teams who joined as volunteers and stood and died side by side on the battlefield. I placed a poppy on the memorial only consecrated last year with money raised in the city.
The monument to the 23 000 Australians and New Zealanders who died between Windmill and “Mucky Farm” in the heaviest losses ever suffered in a specific small area of less than a couple of thousand yards.The small memorial flags placed by visiting relatives fluttered noisily in the afternoon breeze.Made even more poignant as today was Anzac day..
The tank memorial by the Windmill, the highest point on Pozieres ridge marking the first ever action with tanks in 1916.The bullet holes from a straafing US P38 shooting up a column of Germans in 1944 again marking the wounds of 2 wars across generations.
The British cemetery at Ancre where the Ulster division was decimated charging across the shallow valley, a 100 metres or more through barbed wire piled 2m high, routes blown by British artillery and sealed again by German artillery leaving the troops hung out in the wire at the mercy of the enemy who took their time dispatching the survivors.
The Thiepval monument on top of the heavily contested ridge, a truly massive brick built monument to honour the 80 000 missing in that area was overwhelming. I walked around the pillars and read the inscriptions on tablet after tablet of those whose bodies were never found.Every wall of every pillar was covered in names from regiments from all over Britain and it’s commonwealth.
It’s horrifying to think that so many bodies were never recovered or identified.
And these were the missing of the victorious armies.The Germans also suffered in equal numbers but their dead have never been provided with the same forms of remembrance, often buried in massed graves with few markers.All soldiers performing their duties and like our troops had no real wish for battle and killing if they had a choice.All caught up in the machinations of kings, emperors, archdukes and politicians.
The place I found most threatening to the soul was the High Wood where 8000 men went missing in action, blown to smithereens by blanket after blanket of artillery rounds and where viscous hand to hand fighting occurred to hold a strategic position on a high ridge.The barbed wire fencing in the private property dealt it an even more evil air and the dark confines we could see from the car suggested a presence that still lurked menacingly amongst the trees.
My grandfather William Paterson was attached to an entrenchment battalion there and was a machine gunner with the Royal Scots.
I identified with his silence as this was a place where the souls of survivors were mortally wounded.
The day was tiring out and we spent the last hour wandering a recently harrowed and seeded field all 5 of us in line scanning the soil for uprooted relics.Simon’s youngest daughter Cerys won the day with a shell cartridge and German bullets.I managed some British shrapnel and topped it with the centre plunger of an 18pounder British shrapnel shell.
It was time for the Moston’s to head for home but not before they dropped me off at Arras where we visited the last cemetery of the trip.The RFC memorial. Another emotional moment and I walked a while on my own thinking of my Grandfather Dick and what he must have experienced out here.I never really knew him as he died when I was very young.I wished my father had been with me and I hope to be able to bring him with me when I next return as I know I will.
I bid fond farewells to Simon, Cij, Sammi and Cerys and thanked them as much as I could, and it will never be enough, for a beautiful two days and the best birthday I had had for a very long time.It was an incredible experience and one I will never forget. I can’t really relate all the images and thoughts here as there are far too many to communicate.A wonderful caring and generous family. I envied their closeness and love for each other and their mutual passion for discovery and investigation of a time in history that means so much more to me than it ever did before.I was genuinely sad to say goodbye as they drove off to the channel tunnel and Blighty.
I checked into the Hotel Du Angleterre and spun off into town.I wandered through the old centre with it’s vast squares stopping off at yet another sidewlak cafe to nurse a beer or two in the fading sunlight.It was strange to think that William Dick and most probably William Paterson had walked the same covered walkways and heard the same bells chiming on the cathedral.
A fold in time.
I ate alone in a restaurant.Garlic soup, snails in a cheese fondue under pastry and scallops with duck breast on skewers washed down with a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse and topped with a couple of large Armagnacs and coffee.
The table next to me was occupied by 2 Dutchmen visiting the area.As always a conversation developed and it turned out one was a publisher and the other a war correspondent who had been in Bosnia in the 90’s.But that is another story.
This one ends with a Scotsman sitting on his own on a war memorial in an empty town square, a big smile on his face toasting 2 men who came home and without whom he wouldn’t be here today on his birthday.
La a’blair s’math a Cairdean
Well glad we got through that white water ride! Fantastic Christmas day with Tara, my parents and Simone although I drove Taz up to her mother’s in Edinburgh before the meal as she’d elected for German goose this year while I stuck with the traditional turkey which was delivered in style! It was great to have her here with her grandparents and to open the presents together in front of the fire.
My Mum and Dad retired to North Berwick early evening after watching “Ted” with us. I don’t know what was more entertaining, watching the movie or my parent’s reaction! My Mum had to be convinced that it wasn’t a “wee man in a bear suit!”
Just having the 2 of them around was the best part of Christmas.
Simone and I monged out and raided the wine stocks, got trapped in Spacey’s “House of Cards” and went through about 5 shows in the series before collapsing in the pre dawn murk. We had rattled the clocks and Boxing day was lost in the confusion and a slight whiff of sulfur!.
The wind and rain kept us pinned down and huddled in front of the fire yesterday and it’s only now I am emerging into daylight. The furtive visit to the bottle bank a must and that guilty feeling as we shudder at the sound of endless breaking glass by the bins. There’s already talk of gym visits and detox and we haven’t reached New Year yet!
At least the turkey’s gone now after feeding us for 3 days! The legs devoured during the closing marathon “House of Cards” session yesterday. Stock from the carcass has been acquired, green and red lentils, pearl barley soaked and a visit to the garden for leeks and greens is due before twilight. There’s a sweet smell of bread in the oven as Simone takes over the kitchen to weave her magic and after we’re contemplating a drive out after the bottle smashing ceremony to visit friends.
There’s a couple of interviews in the wings but for now I am avoiding thinking about work too much as the mountains are hidden in the haze beyond New Year!
The storms have quietened but the satellite sends the sad images of the floods from elsewhere in the UK. I really felt for the families that had their Christmas celebrations washed away and are now facing a bleak New Year and the prospect of more bad weather as the Global Weirding continues. It throws everything in perspective and I’m just grateful our little piece of the world was tucked away from the worst of it all this time around.
I welcome the peace and quiet at this time of the year and the chance to just stop and take my Life in for a week or so without phones ringing and eternal demands being made is a blessing.
Tomorrow is a visit to Easter Road for the Hibs Kilmarnock game, my second in a week, and we return on the 2nd for the Derby match for which I got Simone and I tickets with pre match hospitality ! I hope that will be a celebration!
The only outstanding issue is Christmas cards! I missed the post dates and despite good intentions I never got round to writing them being the procrastinating bear that I am sometimes.
It’s always the same every Christmas and I end up sending them out in the New Year with notes of apology. In reality what would you expect? I’m a singer and always late in !
Hope you’ve all had a great holidays and wishing you all the best as we approach the next assault on our constitutions at Hogmanay!
Thanks for all your messages to us all here it’s a good feeling being part of a larger family out there, take care and stay alive
Onkel Fish xxxx
3 litres of ginger beer and 2 Nytols after an early night done for my morning. Woken by call from my film agent asking for my response to a script he’d sent up for a movie shooting in March that I’d read yesterday evening over 3 sittings. It didn’t grab me and the fact it took 3 sittings was not a good sign. There was a possible conflict with shoot times for the movie I have already signed on for next Spring in Canada and that is definitely a more interesting project.
I’d like to think I can get involved in more film work next year but I’m not going to jump at every fly that hits the water! It’s going to be busy enough in the next 12 months so I need to choose carefully.Good to hear from my agent though!
A meeting with a representative from the Haddington Trust as finally people are looking at renovating the Corn Exchange and creating a venue of note. As someone who’s used it over the years and has a fair bit of experience of multi purpose venues in small towns I was asked for my opinions. Needless to say I relished the opportunity to finally provide some input into a venue that is sadly underused and which could be a sparkling gig!
I’ve decided to get more involved and if the ideas and plans move forward as we hope then I might consider bring the convention back to it’s spiritual home in Haddington next Summer. There’s a lot of work but the first phase which is intended to address the dreadful acoustics could make a huge difference and attract other acts who’ve been off the same opinion as me regarding the sound in the hall. There’s a meeting at the Corn Exchange on Monday night with the other “user groups” and it appears there’s a lot of agreement on the renovation plans and future usage of this Grade 2 listed building. After all these years of inaction it’s exciting to feel the energies gather and focus on this neglected historical building which could return to it’s place as a hub and gathering centre for the local community and beyond.
The FTC was up to drop of tour equipment and remove the old monitor system that we rarely use these days that was bought way back in 90 in the days when Andy Field was my production manager. It’s old, heavy and impractical and takes up too much room in my garage. It had been occupying too much space in my living space as it had been there since rehearsals and my cleaner was complaining!. There’s room for the Christmas tree now!
Gradually, bit by bit, I am reclaiming the house again although the control room is still a hectic packing station as Lofty and Gregor fulfill the orders which are constantly streaming in. Elspeth has told me she will be working on the mail days between the designated holidays so orders will keep moving out and we can stay on top of everything.Our plan is working and the great reviews keep on coming in to spur the sales and introduce “Feast” to a lot of people out there who are rediscovering what I’ve been up to over the years!
Visiting my parents with Tara today and trying to get my head around Christmas.Time to get the tree and start decorating the house methinks. As always it’s last minute with me although I’ve grown a fine Santa Claus beard for the festivities! Now where did I put the outfit ?