Subject: Fish 99 - Voices in the fog!
Dear Fishheads, Freaks, Fans and the Company,
Well I finally got home from the first tour leg at 2.30 am. My voice ragged and my body racked by a coughing fit.
The last week has been an intensifying period of dramatic stress as I tried desperately to recover from an infection picked up in Bern. The pressure had been building considerably since Offenbach Capitol on the 5th October. Part of the recognized most difficult section of the tour, the centre run of 5 in a row the morning of the 5th was where it really started to go seriously pear-shaped. Yatta had woken up and immediately called a doctor as he thought he was having a stroke. The entire left side of his arm and shoulder went numb and had started to swell considerably. The doctor diagnosed a blood infection and removed two syringes of fluid from his left elbow. Yatta was given instructions that should no response to the treatment which included massive shots of antibiotics be observed or felt the next day that he should attend a hospital for a possible operation. No sooner had the doctor left the building than Steve entered the dressing room, blood streaming from a nasty cut in his left forefinger from catching it in the bus door. Any deeper and it would have been 3 stitches and any heavier and we would have lost a bass player. The gig that night was wonderful considering the set-up to the evening and Steve was a hero playing with a rubber condom-type arrangement on his damaged digit!
The next day we hit Stuttgart and a new world of terror hit us! The trailer with all the equipment on board was only moments away from parting with the bus. The bus trailer hitch had a massive crack in the main frame and was in imminent danger of breaking altogether. If this had happened in transit there could have been a potentially lethal traffic accident never mind an abandoned tour. With this in mind and the attendant responsibility of the repair no-one would touch the job except for the official repairers who couldn't deal with it until the next day. We had no choice but to bed down in the bus after what turned out to be a great gig in the Longhorn. The only other negative was the Yatta situation. I took him to hospital that afternoon and the doctors wanted him in for an operation the next day as the swelling was worsening. As we had to wait in the garage for repairs I went with him to the hospital the next morning. As I awaited developments outside the building I had to conduct a bizarre interview with the Trisha show, a 1.6 million audience on mid morning UK TV. As I awaited the endless connection to the piece on dealing with obsessions I was hearing that Yatta was seriously ill and had to be operated on that day. I waited for 3 hours in the car park on the show to overcome technical problems, desperate to deal with an ever increasing dilemma there in Germany. The section of the show featured Frances Connely a Company member from near Glasgow who was to be put in the stocks by the audience for having an obsession over my good self. Her oldest daughter led the attack on Frances for ignoring her children in favour of her infatuation with me. I have known Frances for years and met most of her 7 kids at one stage or another. She is a sensible person but on the programme she was made out to be a nutter of sorts. I felt a wee bit sorry for her as she is a devoted fan who has been getting through a less than perfect life after 3 marriages. So there I was on a mobile in the car park outside the hospital surprising Frances "live on air" with a wee chat and a bunch of flowers given to her by Roadrunner Records. (yes that's right! The UK office got it together and hats off to them!)
Meanwhile back in the Fog Yatta was now on a serious list. He was off the tour and I was now acting tour manager and doing two jobs that would take me into a tiring 12 hour working day. The first thing I had to deal with was the Hannover show which was now out of the question. When I reached the bus we still had to get the trailer from outside the gig and head up the 315 miles in heavy traffic to Hannover. It was 1 o clock when we set off and with the driver having to take a legal break somewhere en route we would never reach the gig till at least 10 o clock. There was no option but to cancel the show. I was gutted. The repair was in order and at least we had avoided a serious disaster and could continue confident in the knowledge that the trailer would be there behind us for the rest of the tour. Thankfully Yatta has prepped most of the shows so the crew were aware of the forthcoming rigs and venues etc. I was in contact with Yatta at least twice a day through the rest of this leg of the tour and although tough I knew that I could handle the workload till he could return. I didn't realise just how long that would be. As I type this he has just been repatriated to the UK. The arm got worse and the infection spread up the arm even with 4 drainage holes (one 3 inches long and 2 and a half deep, he could put his finger through his elbow at one stage!) There was an extreme danger of the infection penetrating his bone which would have meant the possible removal of the arm above the elbow. I had no choice but to leave him in Stuttgart and as the days went by and the situation deteriorated I was becoming seriously concerned about one of my best friends.
We pushed through Rotterdam and Koln with great shows and into Switzerland. Dave Gould the merchandiser was next in line for the bug and I gave him a single room in Bern on the day off before the show in order to both recover and quarantine him. I had to get up early as we had a potential 150 metre up hill load in to the gig. There was a lot of work on and I helped with the load in. Cold sweat drenched my shirt and the warning signals came on full beam red. Incoming!
The gig was great and even though Squeeky fell off the drum riser and twisted his ankle it wasn't too bad!
That night was a trek to Vienna, 531 miles for which we needed to fly an extra bus driver out if we were to move through the next few days and hit the show in Milan, another 500 miles plus away.
I awoke in Vienna with a throat full of petroleum and a bus driver leaning towards the stroppy side. A massive argument nearly resulted in an on tour firing and yet another potential tour reckoner as he was threatening to leave Vienna that day.
I was dealing with the problem all day and had it sorted before sound check. The gig was well received but even though we had a day off for travel I was aware that it wasn't a real rest day as we wouldn't even arrive in the Milan hotel until late afternoon. I spent the night enveloped in a coughing fit and light-headed from the increasing infection that I knew was going to make a the next gig a tough call. I was in bed at 10.30 after a meeting with the local promoter to discuss logistics and arrangements but couldn't sleep as the stress was accumulating. I watched "Still Crazy" on the pay per view channel, a comedy about a band from the 70's reforming for a comeback tour. I found it really sad rather than humorous. It was all too real!
In the morning the coughing from the night before had virtually blown my voice. We headed for the gig, a small club with a PA system hopelessly inadequate for the job but better than the monitors I'd have to rely on to support a weakened performance. The dressing rooms were freezing and there were no showers that night. I cancelled all interviews and went silent all day preparing for a long warm up to try and get the voice on line. It was hopeless. After only a couple of numbers I was in desperate trouble as the voice faded while trying to coax some sort of response from the monitor system which I was struggling to hear myself in above the band. The hall sound was dreadful and performing from a 4x4 metre stage didn't add to the jollity. Just before the introduction to "Plague" some wag shouted out "The Knife!!" and I was propelled toward the dark side.
I didn't even feel like coming back with the acid witty retort and instead launched into a very pissed off rant on my feelings toward the situation on tour in general. Here I was with exactly the situation we had dreaded and tried to avoid on this tour. Here was my argument against using In House Pa's and lights. I was 41 and playing a shithole for 3000 US dollars which could only break even if we sold enough T shirts to cover the 4000 dollar gig costs. I wanted to play in Italy but in order to do so I had to take a risk and a reduction in facilities and offers. The crowd wasn't particularly dense and as always I was exceedingly depressed at going on stage with a voice ravaged by infection. I really had had enough and decided to let my emotions out on stage. I swore to myself after that show that this would be the last time I would ever allow myself to play venues like this even if it means never playing certain territories again. It's demeaning and insulting to both the audience and more importantly the artist, crew and band who have to deal with this sort of environment in which to create a professional show. I was pissed off with my performance and even ably backed by the band and some great work from Mike the newly upgraded monitor to out front engineer I felt it was one of my worst performances on stage for years as a singer. After singing so well on the previous shows to be taken out by a bug at this juncture was hard to take, especially after coming this far under such pressure.
I was in my bunk 40 minutes after coming off stage and into another restless night in the centre of Milan, not well known for it's clean atmosphere. The bus parked up outside the venue caught most of the club disco and street noise until about 4am and just after falling asleep to dream of being caught in falling trees I was awoken by a loud bang and a rocking bus as a passing car clipped the wheel arch. It was 11am and my throat was a write off after yet another restless night accompanied by the sound of endless coughing. I let the driver deal with the accident details.
I decided to head for Genoa and pray for divine intervention. I had a doctor arranged to meet me at the venue and after only a few minutes he declared me unfit to sing after diagnosing a respiratory infection in the upper lung and voice box.
He advised me to rest my voice a day or risk singing a woefully inadequate performance and losing the next two shows or more. The PA and monitors were even worse than Milan and I knew that to over sing again on a throat in this state would mean a long recovery. I decided to blow the show on the doctor's advice and head for Luzerne praying that the extra 24 hours would aid a speedy recovery. The local promoter was disappointed to say the least and all sorts of pleas and appeals were made for me to perform at least a minimal set to qualify the ticket price. I refused backed by the doctor who added his concern to the conversations. The club had only sold around 100 tickets. It was a shit hole in every sense of the word with the only toilets available in the public area none of which had locks or toilet rolls. The showers were in an apartment about 6 blocks away and up about 15 floors. Only 4 brave souls ventured there as you turned right just after the Salvation Army hostel which was well monitored by local police.
The club's equipment was totally inadequate and the tiny stage covered by a monitor system that looked like it could be bought out of a catalogue for aspiring 17 year olds to practise Rock Gigs in their bedrooms without disturbing the folks downstairs. It was a disaster waiting to happen so I decided to cancel compromising with the promoter who was on his last appeals and electing to hang around for an explanation of the events and a signing session which could at least give some small satisfaction to the fans who could never be as depressed as me at the situation. The photographs at the autograph session were gloomy. The thing was that once again we were taking a gamble on backing an Italian show and only being paid 2000 US dollars for the effort. The promoter found it hard to accept the decision even though at the end of the day even with our insurance we would lose out as the gig could only work with merchandise sales which would not be now achieved as the show was cancelled. I thought it would have been too cynical to bring the stall out for the signing.
I went to my bunk and awaited Luzerne.
The Schuur club was where "Fishhead Curry" was recorded. Alas the quality of performance was nothing close but a better monitor system helped get somewhere close to the control we needed to manage a somewhat decent show under the circumstances. The travel next day was short and as it was the last show for 6 days I went to a local doctor for a steroid input to reduce the swelling in my badly strained and infected vocal chords. As it was a last show everyone relaxed and the fun was evident on stage with numerous gags and incidents including a local yodeller jamming with us and a game of "Beerhunter" in the early stages - similar to the Russian Roulette sequence in "The Deerhunter" except with one severely shaken beer can placed in a bucket for someone to pick out at random and open close to their heads at front of stage! Guess who lost out? Yep!
The gig may not have been of great vocal quality but the entertainment value was sky high!
I got back to Scotland last night after driving from Winterthur at around 2.30 am.
The situation at the moment is that I have 5 good days to rest up for the next leg and I feel confident that that is enough time to recover properly. Yatta left Stuttgart hospital today and may be able to deal with the next part of the tour.
Squeeks' ankle healed as has Steve's finger. Tony's stitches from his "Tumbledown" in the showers at Basle were removed leaving him a rather attractive macho scar. The bus is fixed including the front wheel that nearly came off on the road to Bern which I forgot to tell you about and the bug has claimed it's last victim.
Me? I'm generally ok apart from the blown out voice. I made a decision in the last few weeks. This is as far as I am concerned the last time I will embark on any tour unless I can control the environment I work in. If this means no gigs in certain countries then so be it. These gigs are self defeating. Nothing is achieved except added stress and a terrible waste of time, money and effort in order to play to a dedicated few who choose to witness and hear substandard performances in dreadful venues from a band that are attempting to remain professional against all the odds. It's demeaning to us all. I refuse to comply with the line of thought that touring benefits the artist.
If I can't make a decent living and don't see any real benefit in album sales then why tour?
The only countries that will see live shows from now on are the ones that can support the activity financially and provide the equipment and facilities that enable us to put on shows to our requirements and to the best of our abilities.
That is now law as far as my agent, Yatta and I are concerned.
I know this will disappoint quite a few people especially in Italy but after the last week I can't bear to go through this fiasco again. With all the bad luck on this tour which has at times been surreal I honestly feel that someone is trying to tell me something.
The movements on the acting front that I will tell you about tomorrow will back this up.
Just so as you don't all get the wrong idea on this the next album is provisionally titled "Candlelight in Fog".
hear you later
lots of love
Email 20th October 1999