Dear FishHeads, Freaks, Fans and the Company,
It seems as if my rain god powers have deserted me as I sit here writing this in 23 degrees of sunshine in Scotland after a weekend of downpours in Edinburgh which I thankfully avoided.
We left for the two German festivals on Friday, Gavin and Chris from Cardiff and Leeds respectively heading to Amsterdam, Yatta, Vince and Steve V from Birmingham heading for Zurich, Mike Hogg (sound engineer for this weekend) from Glasgow to Heathrow and Foss, Frank and myself heading for Heathrow from Edinburgh, all with the ultimate destination of Stuttgart. As they say "the best plans of mice and men aft gang aglae" and boy did they go "aglae" this weekend. I took the call from Steve telling me that Birmingham was under a torrential downpour and that flights were affected just as we turned up at the airport. Flights to Heathrow were going down fast and thankfully after queuing for over an hour at British Airways ticket sales we got alternative routing on Lufthansa to Frankfurt where we would connect to Stuttgart at 6am tomorrow. We had left the farm at 3pm and arrived at our hotel in Frankfurt at 11pm.
Calls on mobile discovered that the Brummy mob were caught in Zurich for three hours, Mike was trapped at Heathrow till an early flight next day and had to sleep in the airport, the Schiphol connection got through eventually and that we were all going to get there eventually for sound check at 2pm next day in Calw.
Foss, Frank and I staggered to check in on gig day and were met in Stuttgart by the promoter's rep who told us only Mike was now delayed and that our team had made the beaches! Fishy commandos :-D
A 40 minute drive to the site and at 11 we parked up in the dressing room in the town hall looking down on a wonderful market square surrounded on all sides by ancient timber framed buildings (Hermann Hesse was born and lived just opposite where we were encamped. He wrote "Demian", the inspiration behind "Misplaced Childhood") and with a superb piece of staging facing the length of the cobbled area where later on a sold out audience of 5000 would see us hit the stage before Jethro Tull closed the festival. Well that was the idea!
As the hours went by and all our guys assembled we were told that Jethro Tull were trapped in Heathrow.
They had gone to the airport in the afternoon the day before to be told all flights were cancelled. The band hung around all day and was scheduled on the last flight out at midnight. After waiting all day and with one flight on the departures board the message went up that the flight was cancelled. Ian Anderson and the band managed to get hotels while the rest slept in the terminal in the queues at the ticket desks holding their place in line .Ian and the guys were back at 6am only to be told that the flights were fully booked. The news was filtering through to Calw. I was texting James Anderson, Ian's son and he was doubtful if they would manage to get there. The promoter tried to get a private plane for 7 people out of Luton but in the end it didn't work out as Ian, I was to find out later is uncomfortable at flying in small aircraft after previous bad experiences. Completely understandable, especially with violent weather systems across Europe. I would have been concerned myself!
The headline act for Calw was a no show.
I had long talks with the promoter and offered to play the show as we were all present and correct. Some of his staff were in tears and calls were going back and forward to the insurance companies regarding what should happen. I was desperately trying to find a solution as there were not only going to be 5000 people on their way, including a legion of Fish fans that were coming in from all over, but our gig was being recorded for SWR, a major German radio station. This would have been a great asset to the forthcoming German tour.
I suggested that we play for free but the promoter said it would complicate and possibly invalidate the insurance claim if a band took the stage. I then suggested that he offer some money back on the tickets by stamping them and allowing fans to send in for the refund later thus allowing the purist Tull fans some compensation. That was entertained and became a possible solution until the insurance company turned it down. The festival was cancelled. I called Mo and she was brilliant at getting the news out and helped some fans from making a wasted journey. As the stage, sound and lights were dismantled we watched on in frustration and disappointment. I even tried to find a local venue to play in but there were none available. After all our efforts to get there we were left feeling empty and depressed by events.
There was nothing left to do and so we embarked on a long curve of a day off fuelled by the backstage riders for three bands. We met a few fans in the square and took them backstage to drink some beers and play the demos to at least soften the blow.
The film ran in the camera as we all degenerated and disintegrated with laughter as the afternoon wore out. We eventually ended up drinking in the square with a bunch of German fans as the rain pelted down on the town. Ironically it stopped just as my intended stage time came about. As I said the rain god is no more! :-D
We hit the hotel around 10 after another meal in a Greek restaurant with more wine and laughter. Chris and Gavin had a double hit as they could have been playing with their other band at Murrayfield supporting Bryan Adams. They felt a lot better when later that night I received some messages from friends who were at the gig, among them Elspeth. It transpired that it rained cats and dogs all day (I heard there were a few prominent Fish umbrellas in the crowd :-D ) and that the organisation was put out of kilter by the weather resulting in their band playing a short set to a mostly disinterested crowd who were to say the least dampened by the occasion.
Playing to a less than quarter full stadium under those circumstances is usually put down under the "to be avoided" column of most musos. But at least they played that night. We just got the after show party! :-D
Back at the hotel by 11 and straight to bed after my last reminder on this summer's excursions of recent ugliness when I got my room card with two keys and two names. I slept soundly and alone.
We had our show the next day and we were headlining this time above Jethro Tull and Pendragon. Up at 9 and then waited on the bus to take us 3 hours up the road to Loreley. A fantastic trip through the Black forest and along the Rhine valley through some of the most beautiful country in Germany. The sun was pouring down!
We arrived around 2 at the site which was already jumping to "The Watch" from Italy/France. I missed most of their set as we had lunch then I had 3 simultaneous interviews just as Pendragon hit the stage. My first interviews in Germany. A lot of ducking and diving round some issues and I used my words carefully. One of the interviews was for the Company Germany web site and was filmed.
I caught around 30 minutes of Pendragon who I hadn't seen for a long time. They were really good and a lot more powerful than I remembered. Nick was in great spirits and the band was on the ball. They got a great reception. I really enjoyed watching their show.
Jethro Tull were up next and I had a good chin wag with Ian pre gig who explained the horrors of Heathrow. He looked tired as you would expect after that ordeal. James, his son, and I also had a long natter about recent events and the band were unnecessarily apologetic about the Calw deal. I hadn't realised that James was on drums that day as I thought he was tour managing. James had spent the night at Heathrow on the Friday and had been there till late Saturday afternoon. His tiredness didn't show and I admired his playing in a set that took me back a bit. The band were solid and got a great reaction but I wasn't worried as I knew from the number of Fish fans in the 6000 or so crowd (we tripled figures from last year) that we had a ready made audience that was waiting on us. The Company Italy were present in numbers and they did an ID for 'Fish TV' which was incredibly funny! (Their gift of a bottle of Limoncello made it back to Haddington =-O ) Tara arrived with her mother shortly before Tull went on. It was a surprise and good to see them both and with Mario, Joergen, Franz and Christiana from the Company Germany all in attendance it was a bit of a reunion.
Tara had recovered after being rushed to hospital by ambulance in Berlin a few days before with acute food poisoning after eating dodgy carpaccio in an Italian restaurant. She was on an IV drip all night and the doctor said that she could have died if she hadn't come in for treatment.
I got this news on the morning I left the farm. Just a wee bit of added stress I didn't need.
In true trouper style she made the gig! :-D
It was actually 20 years to the week when I played Loreley with Marillion, 20 years to the week I met Yatta and 20 years to the week I was first married. I decided to start the set with an appropriate intro and duly set up "Sergeant Peppers Lonely Heart's Club Band" followed immediately by "Slainthe Mhath" as opener as I did on the first Loreley. It was a brilliant entrance if I say so myself.
I wore my black Monty Python shirt with the proclamation "I'm not dead yet" :-D Thought it appropriate :-D
We didn't get a sound check on the day but the crew are great pros and we hit stage on time and with a great out front sound (as I would later discover for myself). Monitors were a bit hazy and the intros to the new material which are on iPod got lost a couple of times causing some hairdos to come undone on stage. We could have done with the Calw show in all honesty as we were still short of gig time. Nothing was totally out of order and the band coped well and recovered from minor misadventures. The set ran with "Perception" and "So Fellini" sandwiching "Circle Line" as first of the new numbers to come under scrutiny. "Square Go" and "Manchmal" followed with a wee bit of tongue in cheek banter with the crowd re the cancelled wedding and asking if there was anyone in the crowd fancied getting married in a couple of weeks as I had one all ready to go and just needed a bride - as long as she was a size 12! :-D
The "Hotel Hobbies/Warm Wet Circles/That Time of the Night" section took us into orbit and then "Vigil" drove us home. I had decided to use a radio mike and get into the crowd for the opening section and boy did it do the trick. I had a surge of adrenalin just walking out and up into the arena and the response was phenomenal. A big high of the day for me and I think for a lot of other people.
Tara was at the front of the stage with her mother and was filming the show. She was in her element and loved every moment.
It was about this time I gave Chris his wee surprise and mentioned to the crowd that he had missed out on a stadium gig the night before and that this was his biggest gig of his career so far. Chris was handed centre stage and I retrieved the camera from Taz and filmed Chris with his rock star pose in front of the roaring crowd. The smile on his face was ecstatic and he loved his moment. I think it more than made up for his "loss". I think he likes being out with us ;-)
"White Russian" rocked out next before "Dark Star" took everyone by surprise. I think that "Dark Star" and "Manchmal" will turn out to be huge favourites once fans get to know the album. Just on these outings alone they are drawing massive responses.
I was knocked back a bit during those two numbers and had to swallow hard a couple of times to avoid being carried away with all the emotion flying around.
"Sugar Mice" was stunning and Frank delivered a killer solo and again emotions threatened to get a hold of me as I told the story of it's origination with Taz and Tamara in the front of house.
We ended with "Last Straw" and tore the house down! The response was phenomenal and we walked off stage to the promoter declaring that we took the festival all hands down! Yatta was in his element and I felt really bad after as I had forgotten to mention our own anniversary! Sorry Yats!! :-[
First encore was "Cliche" - "a song for no-one". Again strange to have my ex wife directly in front of me during this performance of a song associated with our past. She understood my sentiment. Frank was again blistering and even made me react with singing the end section from the album which I haven't sung for years, he was that good!
"Incommunicado" finished the night and rocked everyone out the arena. Hands in the air and off on the roller coaster. A fantastic end to a stunning show. We all had huge smiles as we took our bows to tumultuous applause. A result and a half and it more than made up for the disappointment of Calw.
A large section of about 700 or so of the audience refused to budge and after twenty minutes or so of continuous applause and calls I had to go out and thank them and apologise as the PA was down and we had run out of numbers to play! I was seriously moved by the reaction.
The first major German gig couldn't have gone better. A perfect introduction to the new material and the new set.
We retired to the backstage where we were once again Lords!
Wine was quaffed and the sweet fragrance of herbs played round the windows and under the umbrellas that were only necessary as shields from the sun on a day that marked a new beginning. I said goodbyes to Tara and Tamara and evacuated the site toward the hotel with that warm comforting afterglow of a memorable gig and the hazy promises of a future fraught with potential. I again slept well and awoke to a transport call at midday. Another eye popping drive and Frankfurt airport again bound for the dehumanizing portals of Heathrow. I hate the place, the worst airport in the world. Also the last time I will have to deal with unwanted "baggage" on a check in.
The Limoncello arrived intact but Frank's guitar didn't make the outbound Frankfurt flight for "security" reasons. My Dad picked us up and drove us back to the farm and two weeks off before the launch party. Aylesbury can't come soon enough!
It's Tuesday night and the deal for downloads is done as is the packaging and delivery dates for "13th Star". Calum is mixing away in North Berwick and will deliver the first "proper" mixes next week when Steve V comes up to go through the material so far with me.
Tara arrived home healthy and tanned. "Communion" now has a scheduled retail release date for the re packaged jewel case in October, a new press officer is on board for the tour, the DVD to accompany the new album is in progress, the artwork from Mark is looking fantastic and will be on time and ready for the proposed production dates, the PA is booked for the party and the catering etc is all on line. The garden thanks to all my Mum and Dad's hard work looks fantastic, I have two new lyrics for the next album in progress "The Fourth Wall" and "Starf***er" (working title - the Stones already have that one! Similar to the "She Chameleon" vibe, but rockier and darker!) taken from observations this last weekend, the cats are great (despite my Dad shutting the cat flap because he doesn't like them bringing in "livestock" - my Mother is petrified of mice!), the diseased goldfish is back in goldfish shape, the new tatties are ready and the onions are about to go into drying mode, the salad beds are brimming and the flower beds in the back lawn look fabulous with the dahlias being my pride and joy! The next tour dates are confirmed and on sale, a big interview with "The Sun" on Thursday based about the "Zoe 25" lyric (possible photo session ;-) ), eye tests for laser treatment tomorrow, tickets for Hibs v Bolton tomorrow and against Middlesbrough on Saturday, an interview for the Hearts v Hibs programme on August 6th in the bag, it's all positive and zappy!
Starting to feel better about everything and myself again and getting the drive back to make things happen and realising I have just had a very lucky escape from something that could have taken me down and possibly out. Really looking forward to getting on the road again with this album and this set. I have a feeling that something very special is about to happen! ;-)
Lots of love
Onkel Fish xx
aka Billy Shears :-)
PS. nearly forgot the ninth lyric :-D
A 'Square go' is a Scottish term regarding fighting. When you ask someone for a 'Square go' it means you offer to fight on level and agreed terms. A square is formed and it kicks off with no-one allowed to "jump in" i.e. intervene. It's between two people and to transgress is more than "frowned" upon. Combatants can choose weapons or just to "go for it". Spanish version is "Mano a mano".
This is about frustration and anger.
I'm a soldier in the forever wars, no photos of a family in my wallet,
No i.d., no credit cards, I don't exist, I never have.
I never have.
Raised in jungles I quickly learned to read the trees,
Schooled in deserts I walk on shifting sands.
Neutral shadows, unseen beneath a bed of leaves,
I await the call, open frequency to the square go.
I want a square go! A square go!
I want a square go! Square go!
My blood is ice, the temperatures rising,
My soul a glacier, I move alone,
A pilgrim's progress in a shadow world,
I learned to sit in silence with my sounds.
I want a square go! A square go!
I want a square go! Square go!
(spoken section - jammed)
My blood is ice, the temperatures rising,
My soul a glacier, I move alone, I move alone,
c Derek W Dick 2007