Sunsets Tour Stories
Onkel Fish here again.
Backstage at Cambridge with another dose of trauma behind us. Last night at Portsmouth the tour nearly ran into a wall when Squeaky Stewart, our beloved stick man, was taken to hospital with a suspected broken finger after tripping going up the bus stairs the previous night. He was unusually sober at the time and even more so on the wake up. We loaded into the gig and sat waiting for 3 and a half hours on the diagnosis, which arrived at 8.30 - one hour before showtime, thus saving the audience from a reshuffled set and a long stand up routine to fill the gaps. " Jump" , our support band for the English leg, were incredibly helpful and extended their set to give us extra reorganising time and Andy Barker, their drummer, offered to sit in if Squeeks couldn't play. As was, Squeaky returned arm in sling and declared himself fit enough to play. At first we were going to drop " Jungle Ride" and " Credo" , the heavier tom numbers, but as the set rolled on Squeaky gave us the nod and all went on according to plan. He now nurses a badly bruised digit which is recovering quickly. Not only did Squeeks pick up an injury but Steve Vantsis now limps with a badly bruised big toe from a football injury resulting from a 50/50 tackle with Michael " darling" Rose, our monitor engineer, in an early morning kickabout in the car park. Andy Williamson (Hair Bear) also has a broken wee toe after kicking a bed in the hotel on the day off in Wolverhampton. Weird thing was, when Squeaky went with Yatta to the Queen Anne hospital, they immediately recognised the band and remembered having the singer in casualty there in 1990 when I decided to punch out a plate glass partition in the Holiday Inn, and for my troubles got a GBP400 bill, a lifetime band from the hotel, and 13 stitches in a wrist wound. Rock 'n' Roll phew!!
The gig went well though and Squeaky soldiered through it lightly tomming his way across a 2 hour set. for the first time Keith's gear worked and although Hair Bear's still struggling with his sound Keith managed to cope with the set. His onstage antics as personality guitarist have disguised a lot of the hassles he's been having with his equipment from the audience. His confidence as a player has been badly affected by his rig which Duncan (Radar) Ross has manfully been reorganising for him. I still don't feel that Keith is providing his full potential and after a disastrous opening to the Liverpool show, where we were at least 2-0 down before the medley due to rampant guitar problems, he admitted that he was fully expecting to be replaced.
The recent leg of the tour started off well with a great Newcastle Riverside show on the 3rd of June. Liam Shiells gave it a 5 out of 5 rating in Kerrang (and he also drove down from Sunderland to see the Wolverhampton show!). Apart from a " tumbleweed" joke (silent or adverse reaction!!) about Alan Shearer the English football hero, it was a hot sticky, happening occasion with audience figures well up on last time. The only shitty thing that darkened the gig, I was told about two days later by Steve, an avid fan who'd proposed to his wife Vanda at the Haddington convention last year. Vanda is now 8 months pregnant with twins and was with Steve stage right out of harm's way thoughout the gig. He asked me to dedicate " Cliché" to them which I dutifully did, pointing them out to the audience and informing them about the upcoming birth of 2 new fans. At the end of the show as the crowd were leaving, she reached up to the stage for some water which Yatta had previously said was OK for her to have. One of the bouncers took umbrage, started shouting at her, and pushed her over, breaking a GBP50 camera and ignoring her pleas that the bottle of water had been given to her by Yatta. Steve went for the security guy and was thrown outside by his mates and not allowed back in the venue. Steve's a peaceful guy and not one to get easily wound up. Eventually Vanda came out of the gig and was found to be bleeding. She was taken to hospital and let out the next day. Thankfully, the twins are OK despite the actions of one gorilla representing the venue's " interests"! The owner of the venue has since been contacted and the security guy has been dealt with. Sincere apologies were offered by the manager and Steve has been told to contact them for compensation.
On a lighter note after all I said on the last message, lo and behold I got a nutter at Newcastle. After the Alan Shearer " joke" this guy who was obviously out of his tree took exception and a slurred roar of " don't have a go" , " fuck you" etc" came out of the mouth of a weasel eyed stocky guy with a Marillion " SE" shirt which he proceeded to point at giving me the eyeball and mouthing either " I'll have you" or " I love you" (It was difficult to tell through the drool). I'd tried initially to pacify him with a few winks etc. which got nowhere so I returned the eyeball, all the way through " Worm" . He looked pretty menacing, so when " Internal" came up I dived into the crowd keeping a fix on my new friend. He tried to grab my leg and lift me single handedly to which I grabbed him and told him to forget about any intention while dancing fiercely with the mosh pit.
After the show, he hung about on the edges of the autograph hunters. I kept an eye on him until eventually he came up to me right on the death, and standing full on said " Steve Hogarth's fucking brilliant" . I said " Yeah, so what, he's a good guy" . Cue confusion in his eyes and the realisation that he was drunk and I wasn't, and that I had about 6 inches on him. " Yeah, but Marillion are brilliant" . " So What" I said quietly. More confusion, and then he visibly wilted, sorted himself out, and came back with " But you're the fucking best" and wandered off, smiling, having finally asked for and receiving a personalised autograph, his SE shirt tied around his waist and an SOE shirt on his back. Funny old game ain't it!!
One other note on that night was that Keith being not well acquainted with bussing, forgot to lock the rear door before he came into the gig after changing into his stage gear. Luckily nothing was nicked during the two hours it was left standing in an empty Geordie back street. Yatta was not a happy chappie!
Manchester was next up and I was woken up at 1pm in a sweaty humid sweltering bus, in order to partake of my second interview with BBC Scotland on an ISDN link from a local BBC station. It just seems ironic that I can't get the interviews with the local stations even though I'm there for the link ups. This one was an interview pre-recorded for a transmission across 5 night time shows where I had to pretend I was in a dungeon in isolation and the presenter " came down" to visit me and see how I was doing. It was really funny and didn't go according to plan as I enthused about having some peace and quiet and my experiments with mosquito larvae and pond water to create an ersatz pint of 80 shilling beer. My keep fit regime in the humid atmosphere and new diet added to my enjoyment of the situation which added to the weirdness. It went down well.
The gig surpassed Newcastle and was only a few short of sell out. The set is beginning to gel apart from " JR" which is still too loose at the front end. The medley again really kicks it off but at Manchester, the front end of the set had the gig jumping early. The album's sinking in. After the show, Gordon Oakes, a long serving Company member had been asked to invite us back to his brother's pub outside Manchester. How could we say No? We trundled in at 2 and rolled out at 4.30 continuing to party down on the bus till 6.30 as we careered toward Liverpool. I woke at 4 and could if truth be known have felt better. I was told that there was a problem (surprise, surprise!) Judith Mitchell (aka Benny) of the Company Scouseland had offered to put up posters to advertise a badly advertised gig. So, out she went on Wednesday morning in broad daylight armed with a staple gun and did raids on a number of sites from the back of her mate Wayne's van. The " professional" poster guys who needless to say are not the sort of people you'd meet on a weekly sojourn to a Buddhist temple, got a bit upset and were threatening all sorts of retribution. A mate of Wayne's who runs a security firm in the 'pool had a " quiet word" and it was sorted. Benny, I salute you! The initial figures had been disappointing, but with her work and a walk up we pulled a healthy 350 or so people. But the nightmare was just beginning. The gig was black hole of Calcutta hot, and Keith wandered onto stage to begin POJP. The guitar was out of tune, the gear went down big time, and we had no Keith or just bits of him, the bad bits, for the first 20 minutes or so of the set. It nearly fell apart and the audience, most of whom had been in the local bars for the last couple of days were " difficult to communicate with" . It wasn't even tumbleweed time - it was just that most of them didn't want to listen, they just wanted to participate - all at once.
Thankfully, the medley held its own and in the end we scraped a boisterous 3-2 after a host of guitar problems. That was the night Keith met the bear for the first time. He blew up his amps again and new gear had to be shipped in for the Blackwood show next day. Keith went to bed early, we stayed up and got drunk. The audience enjoyed it, we didn't. Blackwood was a strange venue, a miner's club at the bottom of the famous Welsh valleys. Fin Costello an old friend and famous photographer, turned up for a few pints and to see the show. Perhaps one of the best known rock photographers of the 70s (Aerosmith's classic shots, Rush album covers, Deep Purple's photo biographer amongst many others) we'd become buddies when he'd taken my press shots for the Suits era as well as the FOW cover. He loved the show as did the crowd, who were mostly male and mostly built like brick shithouses. It was like playing Mad Max's Thunderdome and I was very careful with the banter. It was all really friendly and we had a great laugh having been drinking with most of the crowd in the bar pre show. Keith's rig was improving but his confidence was low after all the grief he'd been having. He still had hassles that night and was very reserved after the show. We all thought he might have quit after the Liverpool fiasco. The fact that Steve V. and Squeeks have come together brilliantly, and that Mickey is playing out of his skin has also added to the pressure. In any other unit Keith would have got away with a lot of things, but in this band, the quality is so high that the standards are tough to reach. And that pressure applies to me as well as a frontman and singer.
As is always the case, the quietest night from an R&R (rest and relaxation) perspective, was the last of the four in a row. The journey from Blackwood to Wolverhampton for the day off in a hotel was quiet and reserved. I was sharing with Mickey, and after getting in at 12, we showered, (not together BTW) went out did our laundry, had a few pints, had a curry, watched the football (Lucky England!) played pool, drank vodka, and were in bed, not together, by midnight. Phew!!
It was just as well - Wolverhampton Wulfren Hall was a stormer. Again only 10's short of a sell out of 700. We hit a gold patch and the crowd came with us all the way. The day was always going to be a good 'un as Scotland beat Belarus 1-0 to take us closer to the World Cup in France and a few pints pre-gig set me up brilliantly for an occasion to be remembered. Even Keith's rig worked without a problem. After the show a couple of us went out with Roy Wood (Move, Wizzard), an old mate and SAS accomplice, for a traditional post Midland gig curry. More news on that later. I'm off now - it's five minutes to showtime at Cambridge.
Hear me again soon.
Email 12th June 1997