Steve’s Gig Diary: E-Live 2008
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
Thursday, 9th October 2008
For this trip our travel arrangements are somewhat elaborate. Duncan is travelling up by train from London to meet me in Stockport (Manchester) where we will both load the gear and drive to the Hull to Rotterdam ferry and on to Eindhoven. Gary will be flying from Liverpool to Amsterdam and driving to Eindhoven, and our fourth element Martin will be taking the same ferry with his wife a day later. As long as we're all in the same place by Saturday evening I guess things will be fine.
I awake to the not altogether welcome news on the radio that the motorway I need to use to get to Stockport and then back across to Hull (M62) is suffering from severe delays due to a lorry fire. Still it's only breakfast time, it'll be cleared by lunchtime. Wrong. This the UK after all. Luckily I pass it on the clear side heading west and see enough to know that there's no way we're using that road to get back east to Hull for the ferry. The stress of being in a jam can be bad enough, but when there's a boat to catch it's too much to contemplate.
I pick Duncan up at Stockport station and when we're loading up at The Greenhouse I tell him that we need to think about another route to Hull, which should stretch his navigational abilities. Luckily he's up to the task, and at least we have a map (for this side of the pond anyway). Everything fits in the car perfectly...this time we're on a no messing `booze cruise' ticket, as the prospect of buggering about with a van and being classed and charged the earth as freight is beyond the pale.
Time is at least on our side, and after a slow start getting our bearings we're soon heading out to the scenic environs of the road to Holmfirth (a charming little place where they've filmed the last 38 series of `Last Of The Summer Wine'). We text Gary to tell him how we're getting to Hull "I hope you know what you're doing" he says. Duncan's abilities with a map are proved to be second to none, and despite a couple of circuits of Barnsley town centre, we're on to Doncaster then the M180 (which I've never even heard of, so it can't be busy) and as a treat coming into Hull, we take the route which crosses the Humber Bridge. It's not exactly San Francisco but a glorious feat of engineering, and we make it to the ferry port in time for the overnighter with not a traffic jam in sight.
After checking in to our shared cabin a night's drinking awaits, and it already feels much better than flying which let's face it, just isn't much fun anymore. We are delighted that up on the windswept and freezing `Sun Deck' it's still possible to smoke and have a drink at the same time. Hallelujah for small mercies. The music is rocking (Quo, Free, Purple etc...) and we think wistfully of Gary who has been known to enjoy a hearty tune plucked on the electric guitar. Of course it's only after a couple of hours that we realise that they only have one CD as the same songs come round and round again, and that even this CD probably fell out of someone's Sunday Express as a freebie. To think I was actually foolish enough to compliment the bar staff on the music. Would it be too much trouble to get an I-Pod and hook it up and play some really good stuff along the same lines? Still at least it ain't Clodplay or Shit Patrol and for that let the lord make us truly thankful once again.
We have a couple of beers together, then I have a couple more while Duncan phones Miss Spain back in the cabin, after which we saunter down to the restaurant not realising it is by now nearly 11 O'clock and everyone else on the boat has eaten already. Luckily they like the colour of our money, and we sit down to a huge self-service plate of curry or two washed down with red wine. This is the life ! Up to the deck again for some air before turning in. In the cabin Duncan's I-Pod dock mingles with the Eurogarbage coming from the dance floor and the low shuddering of the boat ploughing the open sea.
Friday, 10th October 2008
We're woken by a series of irritating announcements on the cabin speaker, only one for breakfast though, at some ridiculously early hour at which the idea of eating is plainly ridiculous, then a series of "go to our shops so we can take even more money from you before we kick you off" No I am not going to make a trip to your shop of tat for the honour of defacing my car with a `GB' sticker when it's patently obvious to anyone that my car's from there by looking at the registration .As for a reflective jacket and a red hazard triangle (total cost £20) I'll take my chances. We're only going to Eindhoven, not the Himalayas. The Dutch don't care about that 'compulsory' shit anyway. It's only the English who seem to like being told what to do and pay through the nose for stuff they don't really need...
As we lay in bed wondering why they haven't made anymore breakfast calls and feeling a bit peckish, all of a sudden they want us off the boat! How rude. Two showers in record time later and we sit in the car still dripping and somewhat hungry but happy in the knowledge that we've probably saved 25 quid each for a breakfast we couldn't eat.
Our meticulously constructed journey plan consists of following the signs to Nijmegen and waiting until we see a turn off for Eindhoven. We haven't got a map. We follow a knife and fork sign off the road to find a restaurant which only seems to do lunches, and a McDonalds which doesn't do breakfast and isn't even open until 10 o'clock. What the hell's that all about? It's a bit early for a chicken salsa or whatever they're calling the hydrogenated crap they're serving this week. Instead we stop at a simple old petrol station a few miles further up the road where cheese rolls and coffee await ("they've only got Ham or Cheese!") . They have a roadmap under perspex outside and as we check the 'You Are Here' arrow for clues we note with a raised eyebrow that the crucial turning we need off the road from Rotterdam is in fact the next junction, which is visible not half a mile up the road. Eindhoven is not in fact mentionned on this sign at all, and will not be visble until we've been on the next road (the A2) for another half hour."That was lucky" we think.
But no, everything's cool, I'm getting into using the other wing mirror and Duncan has helpfully re-programmed my dashboard display to read out in Kilometers per hour. In fact it's all great and still only about 1030 when we begin our approach to Eindhoven. Of course we have no directions to the hotel either (one feels that my usual meticulous tour management was somewhat lacking on reflection) but we do know it's immediately off Exit 31. What could possibly go wrong? The Exit is closed and blocked with piles of concrete barriered roadworks that's what.
No worries, we come off at Exit 32 and attempt to head back in the general direction of 31. We are instead unwittingly seduced into a bunch of roads with promising 4-digit numbers which for some reason I think might correspond to the 5657 in the address of our hotel. We faithfully pass the 1000's, the 2000's until we feel sure we are on the right road reaching the 5000's. How helpful of them to set the roads out this way for us we think out loud.
What we don't know of course is that we are on some kind of business park for which the numbers are relevant only to this micro-world and have nothing to do with our hotel or indeed the rest of Eindhoven and the world in general. So for the next hour and a half we trawl round and round looking for road numbers which don't exist, going up and down streets where promising number sequences dissolve into ordinary residential streets at the drop of a hat. After eventually submitting to the inevitability and shame of actually asking someone where we are, we find out that we are in fact a good 2km away from where we need to be....
Duncan's intuition proves to be sound and the next garage we stop at has a map which shows we are now literally yards away from the hotel. It's too early to check-in anyway, but after a short wait in the car eventually we're allowed into our rooms. I have a shower and couple of relaxing hours stretching out on the bed with the I-Pod and a book before closing my door and sauntering down two doors to Duncan's room where he has already turned it into a studio and has all the gear set up and humming away, tweaking the sounds with agentle set of cyclical piano chords. I notice that the birds are singing in the trees outside his door and record a little of them both together. Who knows, it might end up on an album one day.
By 2200, Gary's asked for directions three times, considered ringing a taxi just to follow it to the hotel, and has taken to buying cigarettes for the first time since we left the USA in June ("I'm on tour!") At about 2230 as Duncan and I are losing the will to live he finally arrives at the hotel reception and in a surprisingly undamaged state. A couple of drinks and he's as right as rain. It was more than a couple actually, but he might as well keep me company as I'm on a roll, it's been very nerve-wracking for us wondering where he is. All thoughts of a night out in Eindhoven town centre are wisely put to bed. We get a reasonably early night instead glad that at least we're all together in the same place.
Breakfast at the hotel, and an attempt to fill up with enough fuel to keep us going for the day ahead. We are reasonably confident of finding the venue and arrive without a hitch at about 11am in the familiar leafy grounds of the University, finding a load-in at the back ably assisted by a couple of E-Live crew, and into the massive lift to the hall itself. There's a huge amount of gear already onstage, and a third of the stage's worth of space where we're going to set up. Mark Jenkins is studiuosly setting up all manner of audio visual delights wearing headphones, while Mssrs Fanger and Schonwalder fire up their impressive banks of modular equipment and keep us entertained as they soundcheck. Duncan's galvanised into action so I leave him setting up to go and sort out the merch table, thoughtfully situated just by the hall exit near the stage.
The doors open at 1330 and interest at the stall means that we're kept very busy chatting with visitors and selling until the first concert of the day, Fanger and Schonwalder. We then take a break and wander round the grounds of the University. Gary and Duncan engaging in a deadly game of 'jumping between concrete bollards' which I point out is perhaps not the most sensible thing to do hours before we're due onstage, to no avail as usual.
Julie gallantly takes over the stall while I'm rushing about doing other things, and it all runs smoothly with her expert help. We're doing a roaring trade despite having nothing brand new to promote today. Some visitors are seemingly unaware of who we are but buy up back catalogue in anticipation of our performance.Harry and Quirine our No.1 Dutch friends arrive with the gift of a few nice looking beers for later (which come in very handy when the bar is closed and we're still buzzing up in Duncan's room in the early hours). I am interviewed at the stall by Gaston Klares from a Luxembourg radio station, telling him "no time like the present". When that is over I saunter into the green room to find Gary and Duncan and indeed the mighty Arthur Brown changed into his stage gear and ready for action: "How do I look?" he asks of us in lieu of a relective surface "you'll have to be my mirror". Suffice to say he looks great and we all tell him so. Just as Gary is engaging him in conversation about his favourite Kingdom Come album (Journey) in bursts Klaus Hoffman to meet Arthur. "I just wanted to say that you wouldn't believe how many spliffs we and my friends smoked listening to 'Journey' " ." I would !" I chip in cheekily. Arthur says they really should have had sponsorship from the Rizla company.
Sticking with the excellent principle that 'quiet is good' we keep the monitor volume onstage very low, and give Ron on the PA Duncan's pre-mixed feed from our multitrack. We're done and happy very quickly. Moral: 'Happy soundcheck = Happy gig'. Then the obligatory dash around the building for a nicotine fix ("otherwise we'll get grumpy with each other onstage") and we're nearly on, with no time to even worry about being nervous, there's nothing to remember apart from keys as we're making it all up. Ron is talking to the audience and is in full flow. Martin and I wait patiently by the steps to the auditorium for the other two to have the all important pre-show Sir Geoff (Hurst = Burst). "This is the bit I love best, I say to Martin, "It's all downhill from here" he quips. Eventually Gary and Duncan emerge from the toiletten and we're bounding onstage in no particular order to an encouraging welcome from the audience.
Time dissolves, we go to work carving out something meaninful and slowly but surely we get this thing off the ground and it really begins to fly, Duncan's rocking out with a fretless bass solo, Gary's soaring and Martin's playing is a delight at every turn. I'm manipulating the sequencer and adding sprinkles of keyboard decorations all over what has evolved into a dancing beautiful musical celebration. The dynamics are nigh on perfect and as the 35 minute 'opening number' draws to a close I already know it's a good one in the bag. The audience reaction says more than that, and we're hit with a volley of long and lasting applause. It's for such moments that we live...
The second piece follows an abstract beginning where I thrash around on my percussion, toys and cymbals I've liberally sprinkled all over the stage to Martin's 'ghost of Mike Ratledge' wind-synth. The piece takes an unexpected detour as Gary lays down a sweet guitar motif and then as a slow bassline steadily emerges, Martin picks up his beast of a Baritone Sax and hollers a mighty roar which startles everyone in the hall, so much that there is the odd bout of spontaneous laughter which then spreads to us on stage. A fine moment, and possibly an affront to those of our audience not au fait with the work of Albert Ayler. To us, Martin adds a new dimension to the sound and helps ignite the new ideas bouncing around on stage, enriching the experience and filling his own particular space. It's our first improv show with him. We really feel in control with the audience willing good things from us and the second extended piece goes over really well too. I say a few words and introduce the band. As I'm at the front introducing Duncan who's behind me ("he's behind you!") he does a little dance! and I missed it!! (please write to the author with scores out of ten). Maybe this was inspired by Martin's recent breakthrough discovery that sequencer music actually goes well with the Salsa, keen eyed spectators will possibly have noticed that when Martin isn't blowing up a free jazz storm he's a bit of a mover himself. In fact we're already working on 'Shadows' style routines for our next summer season in Blackpool.
Onstage as we launch into a final extended piece it's improv all the way, and we leap off into unknown once again. We usually have some kind of recognisable material in the set, but this time we really are making it up as we go along, the mood is great and there's some good music being beckoned into the world. From a moody, looped bass harmonics beginning through more percussion showboating with her majesty's coins of the realm being thown at cymbals, we move through a fast and aggressive rhythmic climax and down onto a gentle slope as we enjoy the magnificent acoustics of this place. I helpfully add some low notes in entirely the wrong key as my mind temporarily takes leave. As we wind this one down to virtual silence there's a palpable feeling that this is the end, and as the applause and demands for more ring in our ears, we take a bow and then make a somewhat shambolic exit, it's hard to explain how that much concentration really puts you in a different place and that simple things like leaving the stage become a challenge as normality returns. We decide that we can't top what we just did and leave it on a high rather than playing a poor encore to a stream of people drifting away. A good decision.
As the audience disappear into the night, there's a mad scramble to get everything packed up and back to the hotel as quickly as possible. We're delighted to learn that Mark's bunch are staying at the same hotel save for Arthur, who has already hot-footed it to meet friends in Amsterdam (these young 'uns, I dunno, always on the go). Apparently his 'chipper' demeanour is partly down to having a new girlfriend, which at 66 it must be said gives hope to us all that there's a few years of fun left.
With nowhere to grab hot food in sight between the venue and the hotel, the local McDonalds drive-thru sees a large influx of hungry English people who really need to line some stomachs with anything hot before sinking a few. Hydrogenated crap? I'm lovin' it. We all sit thankfully undisturbed back at the nice respectable hotel restaurant surrounded by brown paper bags, burger cartons and fizzy drink containers before settling in and ordering a few 'proper' drinks. At the table are Martin and Julie Archer, Gary, Duncan and I, David Vorhaus, Mark Jenkins and Alquimia and we pass a thoroughly pleasant couple of hours during which drinks are bought, stories are told, opinions given and ambitious plans for the future are hatched.
Sunday/Monday, 12th/13th October 2008
...and from now on it's everything in reverse. Gary left in great time and made Schipol in an hour and a half from Eindhoven, five hours before his flight time. Duncan and I ambled up to Rotterdam wasting as much time as possible but were still very early for the overnight return journey, and Martin and Julie managed to drop in on Amsterdam and still make the same boat as us. Views from the deck over Rotterdam are great as the sun sets, and we take dozens of photographs. We meet up with Martin and Julie on the boat for a few drinks, before hitting the buffet again for a bumper feed and few more drinks. Getting off the boat was not enhanced by the fact that Duncan and I unwittingly joined the foot passengers scramble to get off before realising, and well, England on a Monday morning is a drag at the best of times. Hot footed it to Stockport to meet Dave and drop the gear off. Dropped Duncan at Stockport station and made it back to Harrogate in the early afternoon in the usual state of confusion, exhaustion and happiness.
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