Dear Fishheads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
Oslo airport. First Guinness of the day bought on my credit card and "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life" is playing in the bar!
As I walked to the gate for the flight to Tromso a woman started to sing the same song to her child in a push chair. I knew I was walking with Frederico this weekend.
It was Thursday and I had rehearsals that night with the SAS band before the two gigs across the following two days. I was glad to be away from the ghosts. I'd left the studio at around 5am and had flown to Copenhagen and then up to Oslo for the connecting flight. It was going to be a long day. Scrambled eggs and smoked salmon in Denmark for breakfast and some comfort shopping. I found some XXL long sleeved Lycra T's and another black and white hooped "Alex Harvey" sweater in one of the outlets in the shopping mall that's disguised as an airport. I figured that if history repeated itself then at least I'd have some spare clothes when I arrived in the Artic circle. I must have been feeling brave or stupid as one of the tops was white and with my unfortunate habit of spilling red wine and the ability to turn a bowl of spag bol into a traffic accident it was destined for the laundry or the bin on it's debut. The Lycra was going to remind me that I needed to get into a better shape and with that in mind I'd brought gym gear and swimming trunks with the intention of keeping myself out of the hotel bar. With no physical exertions for quite a few months things have started to slip although thanks to the stress I haven't added to my burden!
I pulled the seatbelt tighter than usual when I got on the plane; not through fear, but rather vanity!
The descent into Tromso and the spectacular views of the mountains and the fjord were a welcome sight. It had been a long time since the Troll tour in 2002 and I had only been back once since with the SAS band at the Guffstock festival the following year. The place hadn't changed much. A weird mixture of bland concrete buildings, quaint wooden houses and architectural leaps of imagination all clustered together around the waters constantly navigated by a child's bathtub's mix of shipping vessels.
I was staying in the brand new Radisson hotel where we were going to be playing the show in a 1500 capacity room. I had thought we were actually playing a corporate gig as part of the opening celebrations but it turned out this was to be the one of the first gigs in the hotel and it was tied into the local beer festival! Yes folks! A beer festival! :-D The city was jumping!
I checked into my "business class" room and went in search of the guys who were rehearsing in the pub next door (it just gets better :-) )
I had no idea what the score was and was surprised to find only Spike and Jamie Moses were out on this trip. We were working with Ole-Jakob Larsen, aka OJ, and Jorgen Ytreberg on drums and bass respectively and Lasse Ingebrigtsen on rhythm guitar. All local guys who were great musos and great fun. The singers were a mixture of Norwegian artists and a couple of usual suspects, namely the maestro Chris Thompson and Paul Young. The big surprise was Terry Jacks who was on the advertising poster as headliner in big letters! It turned out he was one of the biggest selling artists in Norway and this gig was to be his first in over 11 years. A totally genuine and likeable guy of 63 years he was great company and very nervous at the impending performance. He was only going to sing "Seasons in the Sun" (his biggest hit which sold over 13 million copies) but was convinced by Spike that he had to sing at least another number. I first met him in the small rehearsal room upstairs in the Rorbau pub, the most famous pub in Norway due to it's hosting of a vastly popular TV show. We shared it with a 10 foot polar bear which was thankfully dead. The stuffed apparition was directly behind Spike and gave him a certain authority! :-D
Terry had the air of an eccentric old uncle and was flustering about an acoustic guitar as he hadn't brought one and had to rehearse the songs on his own for the first time. Every other appearance he'd made over the years had been mimed. This was the real deal and he was a worried man! I was told I had 4 numbers to rehearse, "Kayleigh" and Lavender" as always and "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Roadhouse Blues". No problem! Rehearsals were sweet and over in less than 30 mins. And that was only because we stopped for pizza and a beer mid set.
I was out and wandering soon after, heading into the centre and the beer tent which was only a short distance away from the hotel. I passed the wooden church and the tobacco shop, buildings which wouldn't be out of place in mid west America, following the music and the hubbub to what would become our second home for the next couple of days. Lasse and Odbjorn were playing a short set of covers in a while so I bought myself a beer (8 pounds?) and went outside for a cigarette just as Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" trounced me from the PA.
I caught myself just as the icy spectral finger reached out and touched my heart -
"Malta, the long walk past deserted dusty barracks, Syd had just died, we didn't know then.The crowd erupted as the black and white images rolled on the screen and the notes danced towards the sea. I had tears in my eyes, I was so happy, I tried to hide them, you couldn't understand, were worried then realized and smiled, brushing my eyes and embracing me. I had thought back to when I was a teenager listening to the album for the first time, about a girl I would meet somewhere in the future, I thought I had found her"
- and then I disengaged from the dream. It was getting dark. The midnight sun sank into the ocean. I headed back to the rehearsal room. Keep moving, let new images take over. Trace my steps past the church along smooth pavements to the water's edge where Amundsen's statue stares North and out to sea. A ferry had just docked spewing people and cars into the surrounding streets and the curve of the night - "I miss you"
The Rorbau, base camp. Chris and Paul hadn't arrived and were due in tomorrow. We got "musician's prices" in the pub, only 3 quid a pint, cheaper than London! They had Kilkenny on draught. Johnny Cash was on the jukebox. I was close to Milwaukee and with the sugar mice. Spike and Jamie had finished for the night and we sat on our stools in the middle of the bar and opened up the story chest.
Spike opened up with a beauty about how he had gone to Cuba with a mutual friend who was to say the least dodgy. A Swiss guy who I had as South American consultant for as long as it took me to realise he was a total deviant and bullshitter. Every city we hit he had at least two hookers waiting on him with a big bag of cocaine in the hotel. We never saw him much. He was fired in Brazil after an hotel employee chased him to the airport to get the extras bill paid.
Spike topped that one easily. The guy, let's call him the "Snowman" had taken Spike and a couple of guys out in the 90's to recce a possible gig in the main square in Havana which belonged to Fidel Castro. They had a meeting with the Minister of Culture that morning and lo and behold no "snowman". After nearly breaking down his door he eventually threw it open raving and screaming at them, covered in blood, sweat, snot and coke while two hookers in a similar state bedecked the bed. Meeting was in an hour. Spike went to the meeting without him and sat in an ante room for an eternity with a hundred other people who all had meetings with the minister arranged for the same time.
They gave up and later "the snowman" arrived immaculately dressed, acting perfectly normal and as if nothing had happened.
In the end the Cuban thing fell through (surprise!) and long story short Fidel sent them a letter saying that he would love to have his square used as a possible venue for major world wide acts as long as they donated all the box office to the Communist Party. No cigars that night.
The "snowman" melted somewhere and sometime in the late 90's.
It's one of the things I love when out with the SAS band, the stories, bouncing round bars, the alternative history of the music business from all sorts of eras that hold you in wonder and suspense and end up toppling you with laughter although some in their real time are potential heart attack situations. And Spike and Jamie go back a long, long way!
We headed out to dinner at a local restaurant. Jamie and I had reindeer steaks, Spike a local dish of cod which we discovered is known by a bunch of different names for different stages of it's life cycle; and all served up with more tales from the road - and beer.
Back to the tent for a while after making friends with the security guys who let us in for free. There was an "oompah" band on and they were awesome! The tent was jumping. A couple of expensive beers later and we dragged ourselves back to the hotel where Knut Magne Myrland, known to all as "KM", was performing in the main room. TV cameras were rolling as he battered out his set, all in Norwegian. It turned out KM was a major Norwegian country and western singer who tonight was playing his first gig for over 7 years after a long battle with drink and health problems. He reminded me of a cross between Chris Rea and Johnny Cash. His history was colourful to say the least. An ex trawler man who had his leg blown off in a gas explosion on a boat in the early 80's, he had learned how to play guitar as a way of making a living and released an album that had sold over 250 000 copies in Norway telling the story of his life and loves and battles with drink. He was brilliant and although I couldn't understand the words the feeling that came over I immediately recognized. He was coming up on stage with the SAS band the next night.
The night was not yet over and I was pacing myself and my wallet. We headed back to the Rorbau. Lasse Ingebrigtsen and Jorgen Ytreberg were playing in the pub with a guy on piano so we set up the pints and listened in. The quality of the musicianship up in Tromso is really high. I didn't hear one duff muso all weekend. As the boys pointed out if you want to be a professional musician in that neck of the Fjords you have to be good to survive. You also have to learn a lot of different styles and be flexible with your approach. It has resulted in a pool of talent and a musical community that you used to see 20 years ago in most Uk cities that has sadly been eroded by dance culture.
The clientele in the Rorbau lapped up the set. Three guys and a grand piano graced with candles. It was sublime!
Jamie and Spike excused themselves and went to bed. I was still on the curve. The guys took me to another bar open till 1.30 where Lasse's uncle was playing a country set. We diddly bopped our way back to the centre, the vibe was wonderful.
It turned out Lasse's family were the Norwegian Partridge family with no less than 8 musicians including the top heavy metal singer in Norway. The previous year they had thrown a surprise 80th birthday party for their Gran and they all performed together in a bar. I wish I'd been there!
Uncle Jack and his mate were already playing when we got in. A mixture of Elvis, Merle Haggard, JJ Cale and other obscure covers it was a great set. They sat cross legged on stools, each with acoustic guitars, at the front of a tiny stage before a small and crowded dance floor. Jitterbuggers spun drunkenly around the floor as if they were dancing on a trawler deck wallowing in a North Sea gale. This resulted in mike and music stands being bowled over on a regular basis with the only security measure being Uncle Jack's left foot which he held straight out in front of him with locked knee as careering couples got too close. He was a great player and the concentration on the songs never wavered as he defended his position. The joint was jumping. I was grinning and downing beers slowly and methodically, grooving along and turning my shoulder to protect my glass as the trolls caroused and pinballed across the floor. And then the ballad, a version of Styx's "Boat on the River" it caught me by surprise, I hadn't heard it for a long time and had forgotten about the lyrics. Sideswiped. I turned my eyes quickly to the window and tried to hide in my reflection.
"I am collapsing inside myself, an awful empty space that fills with cold twisted pain. I feel sick and want to throw up but there's nothing there. I could run to the other side of the world and I would still take it with me. I want it to stop. I want my life back as it used to be. I don't want this overwhelming feeling of loneliness. I know what's missing and I can't get it back or replace it with anything that could fill this void."
I went outside and smoked a cigarette I shouldn't have lit up. I submerged the thoughts and let the laughter of the crowd wash over me and went back to hear the last song. I put on my masque and smiled again.
I got talking to Jack after the gig and made a new friend. An impressive man who I wouldn't like to mess with, he's charming and fiercely intelligent. He told me he was heading South to a Suomi festival with tepees, birch fires and ethnic music the next day. I could feel the pull and so desperately wanted to travel and immerse myself in another world. He knew it. This wasn't the time.
Hugs and farewells and I once again walked the streets back to the hotel. They were still crowded, a fast food outlet served by two staggeringly beautiful girls, the "brown" bar jettisoning rogues and wastrels into the night, there was not even a hint of threat or violence despite most of the stragglers being in a pretty inebriated state, the lights floated on the water. There were no stars.
Friday. Gig day. I had slept sound and deep till 2. Chris Thomson had arrived and was rehearsing his numbers downstairs. I hadn't seen him for a long time. We caught up. He'd heard about what had happened in my life through the grapevine. I was glad to hear his life had been substantially different and he had just become a father again at 60 years old. He looked great and was happy but tired as his newborn baby was doing what newborn babies do. I let them get on with it and struck out for something to eat. Cafe Larrs just opposite the church was our lunch hole of choice. A small wooden frontage to a bohemian coffee shop that served soup and salads. You found your stool at the window or hijacked a table before ordering from the sweet female students at the serving bar. I arrived to find Terry Jacks in situ, slightly less nervous and animated. Two bowls of hearty fish soup and we struck up conversation. Terry lives in British Columbia, a sea plane's journey from Vancouver, in a beautiful house overlooking the lake. Turns out he's been twice divorced at 63 and still looking for his 13th star.
He gave up singing and writing over 11 years ago to concentrate on environmental issues and has won a couple of gold awards in New York for documentaries dealing with forestry practices and pulp mills discharging pollution into his beloved waterways. A genuinely interesting guy he told us stories about when he attempted to produce the Beach Boys in LA and met with a band in the middle of self destruction. It was scary stuff! A passionate and gentle man I was honoured to meet him. I couldn't imagine him standing up to a wasted Brian Wilson who was sleeping in tent in a sand box in the studio which his cats considered a litter tray!
Back at the hotel Paul Young had arrived but wasn't singing the first night. After he rehearsed we hit the pub and I got up to speed with his life which to say the least made mine look slightly less complicated. He'd damaged muscles in his throat and was struggling even after a 3 week lay off from singing. He'd lost a tour and was dealing with some other difficult issues which we gnawed over with some lubricating Kilkenny. It's strange these days when we all meet up and find ourselves discussing bringing up kids rather than the debauchery we all knew in the 80's. The story chests are still full though and later with Jamie and Spike we embarked on another round of tour horror stories over our pre gig dinner in the hotel. A couple of bottles of Chablis at 40 quid a pop (Thanks to Jan our generous promoter) and off to the beer tent to check out a happening Norwegian band and treat ourselves to some eye candy. Some of the local talent was jaw droppingly beautiful but asking someone out for a date at Edinburgh festival on Monday night was a non starter. Geographically any thought of a romantic encounter was totally out of the question. To be honest it's the last thing on my mind. I need to rebuild myself and heal before I could even contemplate another relationship. I actually get nervous if someone finds me interesting and the walls go straight up. I couldn't handle any more rejection at present so I smile and walk away. It still feels like an infidelity.
As we sat in hotel reception a kilted man walked out the revolving door. There was only one reason why someone would be wearing a kilt in Tromso! Spike said we could do with a piper for Chris Thomson's "You're the Voice" so Jan went in pursuit and discovered Michael was a piper working promotions for a Scottish whisky company. From Skye but now living near Trondheim where he was a PE teacher in his "real" job, he agreed to come up on stage.
The gig came around fast and the band hit stage at around 11. I had a while before my call and lost myself in watching the other singers from the crowd, around 600 people. Chris kicked off with "Blinded by the Light" and "Davey's on the Road Again!" before KM and a fantastic gospel voiced singer called Jardar Johansen, otherwise known as JJ, wrapped up "Since You've been Gone" and a couple of other tracks.
KM was shining and a great character. I'd got talking to him earlier and had to bow down to his resilience as he told me a short version of his life story and his struggles. I could only but admire him. Everyone seemed to be known by their initials, Ole-Jakob Larsen, the drummer was known as OJ and had a band called the Simpsons. It was too much for Spike and everyone was introduced on stage as a Simpson!
Fish Simpson went on to "Kayleigh" followed by a powerful "Lavender" before "Sweet Home Alabama" and a thundering "Roadhouse Blues". I went down well and was congratulated by Terry who, as you'd expect living in BC for the last 30 years, had no idea who I was.
I rushed out front to hear his songs. "Seasons in the Sun" was one of my sister's all time favourites and although I obviously knew it I didn't know the history of the lyric. I missed most of the first song as I ran through the kitchens to get to the mixing desk. I recognized the song but couldn't name it. And then "This is a song about my best friend who died of Leukemia. I was the first one he told." he burst into tears for a moment and recovered to hit the riff. "Goodbye my friend it's hard to die...." I went down with him and swallowed hard, again unprepared, the emotion within welling up and bursting out before I could catch it. I am just so sensitive and raw just now seeing the pure emotion in Terry's face pierced me like a lance. He sang it beautifully and I gave him a big hug when he came off and thanked him. It was a very special moment.
The SAS set roared on to a conclusion with "The Voice" and our wandering piper. Tremendous reaction and I got quite a few pats on the back as I mingled with the crowd round the bar. There were a couple of my fans there who wanted to know why I didn't play any other stuff like "Fugazi" or "Forgotten Sons". I pointed out that it wasn't my gig and it probably would have dumbfounded the audience. Spike's views on prog rock are pretty extreme after a few bad experiences so I think the idea wouldn't have got past the first pint :-D ! (BTW Jamie Moses played in "Garden Shed" an early 70's Genesis type band and he is a big early prog fan!)
The set ended with the new "anthem"! Normally we sing an acappella version of Frankie Sinatra's "All the Way" but as there were only 5 of the main crew out Spike changed it and we sang the "Flintstones" theme tune substituting "Simpsons we're the Simpsons". Cue bemused faces in the audience :-D
Backstage the party started to swing and Jan brought up some Vodka and Jackie D. It was pretty packed with musos already but a gathering of liggers ensured it was a jumping dressing room. The story chest was opened and soon I was on the floor howling with laughter. It was a terrific first night and I bounced my way off the corridor walls around 2 in the morning.
Saturday. Up at 3 and finished my book in the Cafe Larrs, "McCrae's Battalion" the story of the 16th Royal Scots by Jack Alexander. It's a great story about the raising of the 16th in Edinburgh before the First World War and how there were companies made of professional football players, mainly from Heart of Midlothian. It's a fascinating book and traces the raising of the battalion through to it's decimation in the trenches in Flanders. I'd mentioned it to our piper the night before after the gig. It turned out he came from a military family and his Dad had served in the SAS in the Middle East. He pointed to his wristwatch and said it was bought in Hamilton Inches jewellers in Edinburgh in 1914 by his Grandfather who wore it throughout the Somme and his service in France, and it still kept perfect time. A chill ran up my spine as Federico walked into the room.
Chicken curry soup at the cafe in my usual seat as newspapers rustled and espresso machines hissed in the kitchen. It was busy. I was joined at the in demand table by two women, one in her 70's, well dressed with a slight cascade of pearls on a necklace that hinted at old money, a film star in sepia with perfect stance, slightly distant and hinting aloofness while engaging with a shy smile. She must have been beautiful in her early years and held that air and grace of a woman who had left a trail of broken hearts in her wake.
The other, obviously family, I thought about 27, very attractive in that English Flower sense, smaller and with long auburn hair and a melting smile. It turned out she was 32, an air stewardess visiting her Aunt in Tromso on a lay over from Trondheim where she lived with her one year old child. Conversation tripped and started and revealed that the aunt had served on ships for years and had travelled the world in the 50's. She was a really interesting character who although couldn't speak much English, understood the bulk of what was being discussed. Her niece spoke perfect English with a slightly posh accent. She'd been trained as an actress for 5 years in one of the top private drama schools in England. It was a perfect lunch and spilled the hours before I had to float to the hotel to pick up the daily orders. The two were invited to the gig and the Aunt had that restrained excited look on her face. This was something new.
At SAS HQ I was told I had the same numbers and that PY (Paul Young) was up for 4 songs as well. We retreated to the Rorbau before PY and I headed down to the beer tent. Lass had another gig, this time with a funk soul band. PY and I parked up and were blown away by the playing. The band was excellent, the lead guitarist was particularly stunning. Lasse wasn't just a great guitarist he was also a great singer and belted out Tamla hit after hit as we swallowed our beers which we now got free thanks to a nice man from the Mac brewery who were running the tent. :-D
I went out for a smoke and was joined by a couple of girls who were sitting across from us at the table in the tent. One was incredibly tall and good looking with shoulder length blonde hair, deep sexy eyes and a tom boyish demeanour. She was 36, the only fire woman in Tromso station, had a couple of kids including an itinerant teenager, used to train rescue teams on Scottish oil rigs and her main hobby was salmon fishing in open rivers. More than enough to fill conversation. Great company and the laughter bounced under the umbrellas where we sheltered form the warm rain. PY and I stood and talked to them for ages and were joined by our Norwegian muso friends and clusters of locals all on their way to beer heaven. I had to be careful, it was too easy to fall into the trap. I had a gig that night! After Lasse's set we all moved to the Rorbau and another set from a band round the piano. "Whiskey in the Jar", "Wild Rover" a selection of Johnny Cash it was perfect for the gloomy pub vibe and the locals who wouldn't have been out of place in the "Prancing Pony". I felt like "Strider".
Dinner at the hotel and then back to the Rorbau till gig time. I was nicely oiled and was looking forward to the show.
It was a bigger crowd than the previous night, word had gotten around. I came on to a wee roar and went for it. A bit of Norwegian baiting re the Viking's ability to find America while pissed up after a night out went down well with the alcohol fueled audience and "Alabama" and "Roadhouse" rocked me home to a great reception. Big smiles.
Back on stage for the encores with a bottle of JD which I fed Terry who was falling over laughing. A great ending.
Backstage were the usual gremlins and some very drunk people including our fire woman who had made the most of having a weekend of being off duty. Lots of smiles and laughter and we descended into chaos. I had to leave at 8 next morning. One by one people tottered down the corridor including our fire woman but the musos held sway. I met up with the stewardess and her aunt who loved the show. The Aunt had a huge smile. Only downer was the stewardess' bag had gone missing with all her effects and money. They disappeared to report the loss and I sat on the balcony outside with a 34 year old Russian model smoking a cigarette and drowning my last vodka. We talked about bringing up kids as she had a young daughter with her husband who also worked away from home. Soon after I was alone staring out at the water and the bright lights under the bridge. Tomorrow was here and I was going home.
I packed before I went to bed knowing that the wake up was going to be tough.
Chris T and I were the only ones flying that morning as the others were involved in a jam session with the local guys and meeting up with some millionaire friend of Jamie's who was going to give them a lift to Oslo in his Lear Jet. All well and good but the main man was in one of the top Norwegian prog bands of the 70's who were reforming for a gig that day and I knew that Spike would be cringing for a couple of hours - my only consolation! :-D
We hit Oslo on time and made the Copenhagen flight with ease and luggage. An hour in the shopping mall observing beautiful people and on to Edinburgh. Federico walked with me at the gate when around 15 guys all dressed up in full 19th Century British military uniform with stove hats, red coats and backpacks raced toward the gate for Newcastle and bundled on the bus to the plane. Totally surreal!
And then I was home, back with the ghosts. I put on the album in an empty house and opened a bottle of chilled wine. I let the album get right inside me and let go. Somewhere out there I hoped the star was still shining for me.
till next week and the Aylesbury diaries
lots of love
PS. There was no gym in the hotel BTW :-D
Date: Thu, 23 Aug 2007 18:34:33
Subject: Fish 2007 - Interviews
Dear Fishheads, Freaks, Fans and the Company,
Just back from Edinburgh where I gave an interview to BBC1 Oxford for their local news section to be transmitted tomorrow (Friday) after the national news. It's a piece about the Hobbles gig on Sunday and my memories of early days in Aylesbury. Satellite channel on Sky 985.
11.15 there's a live phone interview on Mix FM Aylesbury with interviews on Planet Rock with Mick Abbot on the afternoon about 2 or so. I am visiting Total Rock that day as well to hand in the album and conduct a possible interview with Malcolm Dome depending on his free time on the show.
Also clicked up are interviews with the South Wales Echo, The Fife Free Press and the Central Fife Times today. Print dates are unknown.
I was slightly disappointed with the current Classic Rock pieces especially the review which concentrated more on my personal situation rather than the content of the album. I suppose it was an obvious angle and I am sure I'll get used to it as the 13th Star moves out of dock.
But the fact is the machine is switched on and I am sure as the weeks go by the impetus will be created and the waves will be created to carry me into the touring.
The new merchandise will be with me just before the Edinburgh show. It's a vast range and will include limited edition shirts as well as skinnies and 5 other T designs, hoodies, jackets, beanies, baseball caps etc. Stuart Graham, who was with me in '93, is back in charge to replace Dave Gould who has moved out of the frame for family reasons.
Mark has done some great designs and I'm sure you will like them ;-)
Off down to London tomorrow to catch Will Smith and Ricky Gervais at the Bloomsbury as their warm ups for the Scottish shows this weekend. After seeing the Foo Fighters and Nine Inch Nails on Tuesday it appears I have some semblance of a social life again. I actually went with Taz to the gig which was pretty cool. She hit the mosh pit and ended up with bruised feet and covered in sweat and dust. I chose the more relaxed position head banging at the mixing tower. Great gig btw. I thought NIN played a tight and slick set but everyone was there to see the Foos. Dave Grohl was in great form and blew everyone away. He is a master at stadium settings and the Foos are perfect for big rock ready crowds! Couldn't have been better! Taz loved it! :-)
Saturday is my interview schedule and then up to Oxford to stay with Mark Kelly before the Aylesbury gig which I am so looking forward to!
Now these are friendly ghosts I'm happy to embrace :-D