Email September 6th 2006

Subject: Fish 2006 - "What I did this Summer!" by Derek Dick age 48 (part 1)

Dear Fishheads, Freaks, Fans and the Company,

Before I even start this I want to thank you one and all for an outstanding Haddington Convention. It has taken me over a week to recover from the high of the event and to try and get my Life back in some semblance of order. I am still shell shocked and jet lagged by it all but have a beautiful warm set of memories to cling onto for a long time. A couple of weeks ago it was all a bit different and I didn't even know if we would make the convention!

Switzerland had been a trial and the airport carnage was raising questions over whether we should even attempt to get to Mexico.
Frank and I were scheduled to fly from Edinburgh to Atlanta with the others flying from a beleaguered Gatwick terminal via Houston to Mexico City. We had flown back from Zurich on the Sunday with a 4 hour stopover in Heathrow for Frank and I, arriving home at 11pm. Monday and Tuesday were assigned to last minute organisational duties for the convention and interviews for the September Polish tour. I watched the BAA Internet reports for the expected cancellations and delays and studied the back pages of the Independent for articles following up on the recent earthquakes in Mexico City and on the tense political stand off between the principal political parties there who were disputing the election results from a few weeks ago. This was not a good mix.
Wednesday came and the Atlanta flights were scheduled on the Edinburgh airport web site with no delays for that afternoon. Frank and I were driven in by my Dad who dropped us off and with hugs and farewells we trudged into the Delta check in 2 and a half hours before the flight was due to leave. The check in desk was empty and a queue had formed at the Delta ticketing counter. And then it all started to go pear shaped! The flight was cancelled and we were told it could be Tuesday until they had spaces on the next Edinburgh flight. I told the Delta rep that we had a gig on the Friday with press conferences arranged for Thursday, we had to get there. With the others leaving Gatwick earlier we couldn't get in touch as thanks to the new regulations in the UK all the mobile phones were in their luggage.
The Delta lady was brilliant and arranged for us to fly to Paris later that day with a hotel to be sorted out for us when we got there. We would fly Aero Mexico early the next morning. We tried paging the others at Gatwick to no avail. We didn't know whether they were en route or facing a cancellation like ourselves. I contacted the promoter and gave him the details of our arrival on the Thursday at around 4pm. The rest day before the show now didn't exist! We had to go for it!
Frank and I went home and came back later for the Paris flight to be told at the airport that the Delta office was closed and that we had to fend for ourselves when we got there. Luckily I had a credit card with a concierge service who sorted us out a 'Holiday Bin' near Charles De Gaulle and we fell onto the bus on arrival and eventually into the restaurant for a few wines and a lump of horse and fries before a comatose sleep and the 6am alarm call for the next trial.
Aero Mexico were quite simply brilliant. We were both astounded to find ourselves in First Class with full use of the lounges during the regulatory two hours of captivity at the airport. It was like being in a big band :-)
The plane was a brand new 777, all polished steel affair and Frank and I held our breath as we saw our seats for the first time. I say seats which is like saying a Lamborghini is a car! These seats folded all the way down to beds through a myriad of other relaxing positions, had massage units installed, their own personal games/video/sound consoles and enough leg room in front to play a game of five a side football! And alcohol on tap!!! We kicked off with Bloody Mary's! :-)
Now you may think that we would have taken advantage of these nice air stewardesses and either arrived in Mexico City to be met by federal agents or taken off on stretchers but you would be wrong. It was one of the most civilised flights I have ever experienced and Frank and I both chilled out, sipped slowly on the elegant assortment of wines, watched movies ('Ice Age 2- The Meltdown', 'Over the Hedge' :-) ) and slept in our acres of space in our huge seat/beds in the clouds. We arrived in humanoid form.
The terminal was an impressive and spacious palace but the best bit was a relaxed, tuned in and friendly immigration and customs. It was a breeze and the smiling uniforms and "welcome to Mexico!" greetings were vastly different from the reception we had expected as we had to get visas there at the airport. It was all so chilled that we exited with a smile rather than a sigh of relief. And then?
A taco and tequila with Conrado, the promoter, who we had caught in the middle of his lunch. He was a lawyer promoting as a hobby and worshipped rock music, his two main altars were for 'Kiss' and 'Marillion'. He was nursing a slight hangover. The band had arrived yesterday and as a gesture of thanks to the promoter had run up a huge margarita bill and carried him away on a tequila tsunami. Pedro - one of Conrado's partners and best friend - had fallen in love with Steve Vantsis who he now called 'Braveheart'.
I was due at a press conference in a bar in just over three hours and as we got in Conrado's car I asked the fateful question "So what's the traffic like in Mexico City?"
Three hours later.
It appeared that the opposition party's followers had set up a huge tented encampment across the centre of the city, cutting off major thoroughfares and forcing city traffic to take huge detours into bottlenecks and rat runs that snarled up 24 hours a day. And we were in rush hour!
The press conference was drawing close and as we drew up in front of a trendy looking bar Conrado started to park up. There was no way I was going into a press conference without cleaning up. My sandals could have brought down a buffalo at 2 metres never mind a wee prog fan with a dictaphone at close quarters. The hotel was "5 minutes away depending on traffic". You can always depend on traffic in Mexico City. It'll be there behind you, in front of you, either side of you and over you if it had the chance - everywhere you go!
From being 30 mins early for the conference we went to being 45 mins late and urgent messages from the bar telling us the band were answering questions. I could smell the margaritas. The scene from 'Gremlins' sprang horribly to mind.
Conrado pulled up in an explosion of flashes from a decent rank of cameras firing from steps of the bar.
This was 'Proper'! I squeezed through the throng into a room crammed with journalists and my elusive band and crew sitting around long tables obviously having partaken of a few vases of devil juice. We greeted each other like long lost explorers. The drink arrived.
Now you know I am a talker at the best of times but take me directly from a transatlantic flight, throw a couple of hefty Mexican cocktails down my throat 2500 metres above sea level, put me in front of an audience and ask me questions! Never mind the hind legs, the donkey would need a set of wheels to get home.
I actually enjoy press conferences. They are like playing ping pong as subject matters shift so fast and the range of questions offer great chances for comedy and seriousness, you take your choice how you want to play them. In an early surreal moment as the tequila kick started the brain into a Mexican time zone the question "What did you want to do as a kid?" was hit with "F*** Mary Poppins!" and a straight face. Cue room collapsing in laughter. An hour plus of what became a conversation ended with a blur of photos and autographs and I started to collapse. The bear needed space and a quiet moment. It was nigh impossible to find and I admit growling a couple of times as yet another mobile phone popped up in front of my face for a photo opportunity. I retired to a corner with Conrado and Pedro, my boys strung out in the bar. I was sinking fast and opted out at the preposterously early time of 10.30. I was a lightweight! Next day was gig day and I was out of bed and out the small private family hotel to the cafe nearby and breakfast by 11.30. I felt a bit spaced. A mushroom and chilli omelette reminded me of where I was as I had woken up in the middle of the night in a panic, totally disorientated and trying to work out how long I had till the flight or if I had missed it already. Not good!
The boys started to drift toward the cafe/bar over the next hour or so. It was the second night of Tequila frenzy for them and Gavin, who had passed out on the table in the bar the night before, looked particularly sensitive to light. He was in shock as Yatta had given him a full tongue down the throat kiss while he was in a terrible state of inebriation and had that FNG sense of "derring do" about him. The effect was startling. You would have thought Gav had swallowed a deadly poison - but then again?
Photos of course were taken and Gavin was taken full advantage off, as should be expected while in our company. The bottle of water applied to his crotch area while he slept in the bar meant a long period of grinding embarrassment in his room the next day when he came to. ("Did I?")
The journey home (15 minutes depending..) turned into a huge wind up on Steve as Frank and I said that as the older members we had a different hotel and we were being dropped off first. The tales of first class travel had drawn envious comments and as our hotel had a pool ("doesn't yours?") and our suites had balconies ("Ya bastards!") and that we hoped he didn't mind the detour (sullen silence) it was all stifled laughter till we turned up eventually 45 mins later at the "Halls of the Countess" private/family hotel. (Ya bastards!").
There was a distinct frazzling round the edges of some band members and crew that morning. Nothing like a margarita apres breakfast for sorting out that blurry vision.
Pick up for sound check was at 11 in the "pamphlet of lies", moved to 1pm and then eventually at 2pm we set off just as the devil began playing his Tequila tunes in our heads and the two rounds of Marg's began to root us to the bar. A journey time of "40 mins depending on traffic" had us exchanging worried looks. We should have brought a flask! It was an hour and a half of crawling through a Volkswagen Beetle museum with thousands of other visitors all in cars jostling for that extra metre of distance between strings of red lights. As always the gig was in the middle of nowhere but 'nowhere' still had it's traffic jams and we were parked in the middle of a road 100 yards from the venue for 15 mins. The venue was a large low-ceilinged affair, wide and with a balcony around it's entirety. The PA and lights were as spec and the backline was up and running. Only hassle was the digital desk which is great for touring rigs with it's memory available to store mixes, effects and cues and instantly set up the system at every gig. With a one off show it's a nightmare and the sound check became an endurance test for Chris Archer who let everyone know how long he had to spend programming before we arrived.
For us, and especially me, for the next 4 or so hours it was purgatory. Nibbling on Hershey bars avoiding the wine stacked up in the ice boxes in the corner of the dressing room. Walking back and forward from stage hoping for your chance to soundcheck. Warming up the voice and checking the breathing as the 2500 metres above sea level turned your lungs into crisp bags. Talking endless shit in the D room with Conrado and his team until finally breaking down and popping into the restaurant next door for some 'M and M's' to break the humdrum of sound check. The crowd was queuing outside where there was a long line of merchandise stalls all selling bootlegs from T shirts to DVDs, coffee cups to pirated CDs and towels. Steve Van swapped three signed guitar picks for a T-shirt. To be honest it was a cool tie dye design that reminded me to speak to Drac! I went out and was immediately surrounded in the middle of the street. I gave in to demand and started signing frantically at anything that appeared in front of me, shouting out to fans to watch out for the huge Mac trucks maneuvering along the road. It was frenzy but everyone was pretty cool once they knew I was staying for a bit. It swallowed the time and made happier some fans who had met the 'bear' the night before! I was eventually ushered back into the venue for my sound check. If the vibe outside was anything to go by then this would be a happening gig. It couldn't come quick enough. We were all fading back stage. Our watches said 9pm our bodies said 3am!
The build up was incredible and from the side of the stage the expectation radiating from out front was tangible. We started to lift off and the band sprang onto the stage to begin with 'Faith Healer' as a warm up to it's convention outing.
The crowd went wild but the expected build from stage didn't happen. Steve's rig had gone down killing the all important bass line. The intro circled as crew scuttled around with mag lights trying to identify the problem. After an eternity it kicked in and I entered to a sea of hands and a roar that promised a big night ahead. 'Big Wedge' followed on and then the gremlins came on stage. Tony's keys went down, not for the first time that night, followed by Gavin's kit trying to escape the riser and Frank's pedals seizing up. The lead came out the microphone at least 6 times during the show and always in those prominent places where you are either exposed or cueing the next section of something. I can't remember so many technical problems occurring on stage during a gig. Everyone was on edge as Murphy's law had been invoked.
The band were superb and the solo set rocked out, the newer material taking, I think, a lot of people by surprise.
But the 'Misplaced ' set, I knew, was the main attraction and the noise that greeted the Magpie intro drowned out the PA. The reaction from the crowd to the next hour would match anything we had received on the tour so far, and some! We were carried away with the audience as every section received rapturous applause. We all forgot about the time zone and the altitude and the techy problems and were taken to that magical place where really special gigs are forged. All the effort and the thousands of miles we had travelled to get here vanished in significance and the communion between ourselves and the audience took emotions to an incredible high. The encores flew by and suddenly we were staring at each other in the dressing room. It was over. The buzz was overwhelming and Conrado, Pedro and the rest of the Mexicans back stage were electrified by it all. I was now teetering on the edge of complete exhaustion and talk of bars and clubs fell on deaf ears. We exited the venue to a few diehard fans and the mercy of city traffic. 30 mins to the hotel and after phoning my girlfriend I wandered to the street cafe, sat down and promptly got up and went back to my room and slept a deep, deep sleep. It was around 8am UK time. Saturday we had been scheduled to fly home but flight availability meant we had to stay over a day. The band and crew decided to visit the pyramids, just over an hour away. It was a day trip and as I had been there before I opted out for a day in the City. Yatta had been having problems with the altitude and a climb up the steep pyramids which were another few hundred feet higher with knee joints that made mine look like an athletes was not a good idea. He had also visited the site before and didn't fancy the long day on his feet. We went out with Conrado, Pedro and their families while the rest disappeared on another bus journey through the endless traffic congestion.
We went to the bohemian quarter and walked through the park taking in the boating pond with it's fleet of radio controlled model boats purring round the mini man made ocean. The flea market followed into the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls where we floated through an endless assault of smells and colours on our heightened senses. If it hadn't been for the strict import controls into the EU I would have been filling a suitcase with provisions. We were going out for lunch in a trendy French restaurant so the final gauntlet of food stalls, bubbling and hissing around us was a real trial. It would have been so easy to munch our way along the street at all the various outlets with their bright green and blue soft tacos, sampling the feast on offer and turning up at the restaurant for dessert.
The park with it's massive Gothic empty bird cages and sculptures of all styles scattered throughout the shaded paths combined with the street market and the swirling characters to make a true Fellini moment.
Lunch continued the theme. A French restaurant in Mexico city and a table with two Mexican couples speaking English and Spanish and Conrado's two girls speaking in German to me (They go to an International German school) while Yatta and I did our Black Country/Scottish routine. I ordered a drink in German at one point! The food was superb, the company wonderful, all in all a perfect afternoon.
The others were on their way back from the cultural excursion and were headed to Conrado's house to meet us. He has a beautiful place well up in the hills and as such was on a couple of levels one of which was a "cellar" with a huge window that he has turned into a bar/den/altar. It was a rock fan's paradise. A gallery of signed photos including a range of Marillo stuff post '88 with Conrado posing with H, Ian, Mark, Pete and Steve in various locations. A few hours and a few tequilas later he was forced to show his 'Anoraknaphobia' tattoo on his lower leg. A few comic coughs and splutters from certain elements of the band and crew. He was quickly forgiven and we drank more tecky's and beer while "Lady Nina", Conrado's and Pedro's favourite song from their youth, blared out for the umpteenth time. ("A dozen tequilas and you're feeling alright!"). We introduced Gavin to more drink and "Quadrophenia" both of which agreed with him. The party rattled on until about 12. We posed for pictures and saluted our gallant hosts who were by now signing on for the entire next South American tour and crept into the night. Tomorrow we were due at an airport!

The return leg was not something I was looking forward to and I had a bad vibe all morning. Pick up at 1.30 and a dash through traffic ("only 30 mins away, depending...) to arrive at 2.30 for a race to the Delta desk for Frank and I as we were leaving earlier via Atlanta, the others traversing Houston to London.
We stood in a queue for over an hour waiting on our luggage to be individually swabbed for explosives before being checked in. Then there was the hour in security (special treatment for US flights!) a short wait in the departure lounge, where we said our goodbyes, and then another individual check before boarding. And we were in Zoo Class again. Ironically "Over the Hedge" was on and I squinted at the overhead screen a few metres away to try and distract myself from the discomfort of an aisle seat.
3 hours later Atlanta was approaching and we were told that due to a storm over the airport we would have to take a holding pattern. 40 mins later we started to descend and landed just as all hell broke loose. An immense lightning storm had hit the airport accompanied by torrential rain. We taxied to within 100 feet of the gate and stopped with the engines shut down. We had flown into the eye of the storm and as Frank pointed out later when we were towed to the gate rather than on our own power, we were probably running out of fuel which was why they let us land in such a short window! We spent another 40 mins on the plane waiting on ground crew to bring us in. The Edinburgh flight was due to leave and despite the storm and the airport effectively closed they were loading at a gate and only had to wait on clearance. We had to get through immigration and customs, pick up our bags and recheck and then get to the gate through the usual security. This would be a near run thing and I didn't want to be stuck in Atlanta for a night. We were already getting back on the Monday to recover for the convention 4 days later. Immigration was not too bad (How long are you staying here? I'm not. Where are you staying? I'm not staying. How long is your visit? I am travelling to Edinburgh. What is your intended visit for..........!!!) and customs a waste of time (What articles are you bringing into the United States?) The luggage took over 40 mins to clear the belt and then we dragged it over to another chute and threw it onto the next set of belts. Then security (remove shoes, belt...) and a run to the gate. Flight delayed. Two margaritas and then the phone call. The band and crew had been "turned over" at immigration and had missed their flight. They had to stop over in Houston. They were fuming.
Frank and I had to go. Another individual security check (no cigarette lighters). They asked the questions and told us we weren't allowed da-da-da and searched our minimalist hand luggage (we could take mobile phones now). What bothered me was that I had a 4 inch thick book in my luggage which they didn't bother opening and a rolled up scarf they didn't unravel. I could have hidden anything in there! It gets me that a lot of this security that causes the endless queues and delays is done half-arsed anyway.
The flight was half full so Frank and I got a window "bunker" each in Zoo Class. It wasn't too bad but the stewardesses looked like glamorous prison wardens or the Stepford Grannies. Smiling and helpful with that underlying menace and false sincerity that makes me very uneasy.
One word out of place and you would be landing in Boston to face an FBI firing squad. They wrote the rules on air travel and made up the rest to suit. I didn't feel like a customer who was always right, I felt like a schoolboy in detention. I was never so glad to be back in Edinburgh.

I got home around 1pm on the Monday. The messages on my mobile from Yatta suggested things hadn't turned out too bad. They had found a lap dancing bar in Houston and started on tequilas. Gavin had fallen asleep on the edge of the stage.
They were all arriving in Edinburgh on Tuesday. The final rehearsal was at the studio on Thursday with the girls and Dave Haswell on percussion. I was already bushed so God knows how they would be on arrival.
I checked my e mails. The Norwegians were suggesting huge campfires at the campsite in the football pitches which were now suddenly in question as the Council had forgotten to tell the parks department who had literally moved the goalposts. People were looking for last minute accommodation, security meetings and press interviews and photo calls, set lists and "get ins" for the PA/lights and recording equipment at two venues. It all was coming at us 3D! Elspeth had valiantly held the fort and was holding the reins. Now's the time and now's the hour. Only problem was that I was 6 hours behind with my brain still in Mexico!
Don't panic!!

more to follow
 

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