Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
Home. Absolutely exhausted. Last night in Manchester was an exclamation mark and the much needed pause before we head towards the European mainland. I was never so glad to complete a gig and an opening leg of a World Tour. I had been dreading returning to the venue that presented me with a potential disaster only a couple of weeks before. With Cambridge and Bilston, two demanding shows in the run up to the replacement show, I was petrified when I re-entered the dressing room at the Academy and remembered the occasion when my voice had just deserted me 40 or so minutes before show time. It was everything it took to keep my nerves under control and keep the stress at bay. It wasn't until sound check and a full run through of the chords that I started to relax but even as I sat in the Thai restaurant in my "Groundhog Day", drinking warm sake and clutching dim sum in slightly shaky chopsticks I remembered walking over the road with Taz thinking all would be OK after a Newcastle show where the voice had wobbled and I had found a couple of gaps opening up in the crossover between "head" and "chest" voice. I had never though that there was a serious problem unfolding. Less than two hours later I was walking on stage to call off a gig with an expectant audience about to be doomed to silence themselves.
I'd had a bad start. The high of Aylesbury was short lived as once again my personal life took a left hook from the chaos fairy. Tara had just returned to school and was not settling in. She had come over from Germany to live with me and had entered 3rd year at school as a 14 and a half year old going on 17 in World experience. She completed her GCSEs and smacked up seven 2s and a 3 together with a 1 in Higher German. Pretty good going, I was well proud of her. But all her friends were older and leaving school and she found herself in 5th year and out of place. A 16 and a half year old going on 19. We were not seeing eye to eye and the week after the Market Square high was most definitely torpedoed when she decided she didn't want to live in the Studio anymore and also decided to leave school. I don't need to say any more!
And then, add to the glorious mix the revelation that Tara's mother has decided to move back to Scotland later this year, and switch on the blender!
My ex wife has been living in Berlin since she left me in 2001 and subsequently divorced, but since Tara decided to move over here in 2005 contact has been difficult and Tamara has obviously missed our daughter. Although I completely sympathise with and understand my ex wife's decision the return to the local area creates its own issue none of which I really want to deal with in this blog. It's a difficult and awkward situation and one I never expected to have to deal with or wanted to deal with especially in the run up to a tour.
The week before rehearsals was tense and fraught. Tara left home. We weren't talking. It was major.
I was so stressed out my system ran to the ground, not for the first time in recent months, and I found myself mentally exhausted. Rehearsals were a non starter as I got hit by a chest infection and was on antibiotics in the run up to the Edinburgh show for Planet Rock. I had a 5 day run up to the show but knew I had to take care. Not the start I wanted. I was well and truly behind the eight ball! And the bus hadn't even turned up yet!
The band rehearsed upstairs in the Victoria Inn for three days putting finishing touches to the set and especially the new tracks which we now had the benchmark of the album recordings to hit.
The "13th Star" finally arrived at the studio just after 3pm on Wednesday and that set in motion the great packaging run with my Mum and Dad, Hutch, Gregor, Lynne the local postie and Elspeth frantically filling envelopes and postal sacks. I added my bit as well and did the first runs down to the Post Office that afternoon in order to catch the last pick ups. It was all starting to get very exciting!
Edinburgh, The Jam House:
The packing team started early and were still hard at it when I headed into the city for the first warm up show. The guest list was exploding and emails were flying into Planet Rock with updates every half an hour. The gathering was underway.
I drove the Volvo. Gregor was driving it home and seeing us later to help out with the merch which had arrived in the morning. The main tour shirts were held up in London. Stu was confident we had enough "specials" to work with. The "Jeckyl and Hyde", pints in the sun. Rabitting with Stu about the set up and old times on the "Muppet tour". Trevor showed up with Yatta. The inauguration of the "Beerkats", flirting with passers by and shooting the breeze waiting on sound check. The set list wasn't right. I felt it.
The intro and first half was well balanced but the end? The idea to put 'Slainthe' as opener after the Loreley gig felt right even though we were starting with a track from 87. But the second half had 3 Marillo tracks to close with 'Sugar Mice’, ‘White Russian' and 'Last Straw' closing with 'Vigil' following the "Clutching" trio of 'Hotel Hobbies', 'Warm Wet Circles' and 'That Time of the Night'. To add to the unbalance 'Incommunicado' followed the first encore of 'Cliche'. We decided to try it out. This was a warm up after all although to be recorded for transmission on Planet Rock later in the year. I had retained control of the usage and Trevor White and I had an agreement that we would give them a later show if the Edinburgh gig wasn't up to standard for whatever reason. It was going to be interesting. That we all knew.
Sound check went well and the voice was there. The room was not ideal. Tall ceiling, hard surfaces, square box. We were bouncing all round the place. We all hoped the crowd would dampen the hall and take the flare and boominess out the sound.
A solitary Thai dinner. Taz was trying to make up and wished me well. It was the first time we had talked for over 8 days. More tension.
News of a Tsunami hitting Sumatra reminded me that my recent ex was in the region with her boyfriend for the next couple of months. A cold blade. I turned away from the temptation to induce bad karma. I didn't want to risk that tonight. I had the best album of my career on my hands, a wonderful new band on the edge of greatness, a world tour with the potential to put me firmly back in the spotlight and tonight a show to be broadcast later in the year on the Sony award winning and biggest digital rock radio station in the UK and guarantee me maximum exposure just as the album moves to retail. I'd rather be here and now than on a beach in Bali!
We moved to gig and as Will Smith's intro film projected onto the screen for the first time and the laughter rose we knew we had a show on our hands. We were all nervous, me especially! I hadn't sung a gig since Aylesbury!
The intro went down well but the "Sergeant Pepper's.." went on too long and we didn't get our timing right. The band stood uncomfortably on stage before I came on to 'Slainthe' with the piano intro taking the steam out of the overall intro rather than being uplifting. It would take me another few days to suss this out.
My first time out at the front in an enclosed space I got too caught up in the audience and took the song intros too much into stand up. I wasn't slick enough yet to recognise what were sketches and what were snappy intros and where I could afford to expand and when I should zip it. I was nervous and talked too much. The laughs were there but the momentum of the overall gig was lost as I over-compensated.
First half was great but I was over reliant on the lyric sheets especially on the new stuff despite listening to the album constantly as I prepared dinner and tried to make myself useful during rehearsals. The second half clunked due to my yakking and the wrong run out.
The reaction was great but I knew as did everyone else that we could do far better. I chalked it up as a good warm up.
Back at the farm I was asked why I didn't call 'Dark Star'. I was convinced we had played it. That was how tense I was! 7/10 a final score.
The Evening News write up next day was pretty good. It'll be better next year when we come back with a honed set and a tight band.
I spent the day dealing with family issues and preparing for the next shows. Tara and I were talking at least.
It would be a strange start to the tour. Getting in the bus and driving to gigs, returning at night to sleep in my own bed, the band bunked up in the guesthouse next door and in the Plough.
Saturday 8th September - Inverness Ironworks:
We left for the Highlands early. I slept in my bunk most of the way there arriving just after lunch time. The sight of over 200 Tai Chi enthusiasts in orange t shirts going through their moves in the square just round from the station being checked out by a small tribe of cider drinking Goths draped around the war monument implied Fellini was around. The Ironworks was a relatively new venue and the rig had been installed by Mike Hogg, one of my journeymen sound engineers. The room was going to be difficult. Another box. Facilities were pretty good and ticket sales were reasonable considering this was the first time I'd played this city since ‘92. It's a notorious hard sell here and the 250 or so expected were pretty good numbers considering. This was still warm up territory for us. I went on walkabout.
With Tara intending to leave home and find her own place and her Mother moving over at the end of the year I had decided that this Christmas and New Year I was going away and taking advantage of their time together. I have not had a "proper" holiday for as long as I can remember. Not in the last 10 years at least. Apart from a week in Egypt and a couple of trips to Malta for short periods I hadn't had a decent break when I could relax and chill out. With everything that's happened this year I decided it's time to spend some time with myself and do something I have wanted to do for a very long time. I decided that I want to go to Vietnam for a month at the end of the tour this year.
With this in mind I trawled the bookstores and eventually found a couple of books, "Lonely Planet" and "Rough Guide to Vietnam". I now had a goal and something to study on the road. As I walked back to the gig I could already taste the Pho in Ho Chi Minh city!
I picked up a Himalayan shirt from a charity fair and another Weird Fish shirt before checking out the backpacks in a hiking centre.
I was trying to pass the time before the first big event of the day. Scotland was playing Lithuania in the European Championship qualifiers at 3pm.
Steve V and I headed for the sports bar just up from the gig where it seemed that the lost legion of the Tartan Army had encamped. The beer was flowing and as always I was wary of not getting caught up too much in the atmosphere. A tense game and lots of screaming at the TV screens especially when the Lithuanians equalized after a midget Hearts player conned the ref with a blatant dive in the box. Normal service was later resumed and we came out winners 3-1. Qualification was looking a strong possibility but we had the French in Paris on Wednesday, the same night as the Glasgow gig! By 5pm everyone in the bar was well on the road to oblivion. I wasn't expecting a big walk up that night. Rock and roll was the last thing on most people's minds and the bar tills were taking care of any spare cash in their pockets. But I'd take the result any day! I was thinking long term and the possibility of getting the tour bus down to Austria and Switzerland next Summer for the finals! Football, music and beer! The perfect combination!
I'd decided to change the set list slightly moving 'Vigil' and 'Dark Star' immediately after the "Clutching" centre piece with 'White Russian' and 'Last Straw' closing the main set. 'Sugar Mice' would precede 'Incommunicado' as encores.
The gig went well, the audience went with us and it was a smoother set than Edinburgh. I cut down the talk and went for it. Overall a far better performance but the second half still didn't feel right. The reaction was terrific but we still weren't on our game yet.
My cousin Tommy, his wife Maria and son Chris were there who hadn't seen me since Marillo days and they loved it. Don't get me wrong I wasn't down on the show; I just knew we could get it better. We were all having fun and the band was most definitely bonding.
It was a little bit strange at first having McKinty out with us as he is married to Angela Gordon who should have been out supporting me on this tour. We get on famously and I genuinely enjoy his company but it was a reminder of what could have been. It took a couple of days for us both to "acclimatise" but our friendship supersedes anything else that has occurred. He is proving himself to be a major asset in our travelling circus. Chris Johnson, like McKinty, I had met through the York connection and my ex fiancee had recommended him as replacement on guitars for Andy Trill. I had been concerned that after the split in May that Chris may have had second thoughts. We discussed it at the time and he reassured me that it wouldn't affect his commitment. He put in some great performances on the album and drew high praise from Calum. In rehearsals he was obviously nervous but as the weeks went on and the festivals took place over the Summer he grew in stature and confidence and was now more comfortable in his position in my band. But bus banter has its own edge and I am wary when the subject of my previous relationship occasionally comes up, usually after a few wines in a passing comment. As the weeks go by though there are more current things to bitch about and Chris is more than holding his own in the back lounge! :-)
He has been readily accepted into the fold and is obviously enjoying the shows and the audience reactions. I’m really glad he is fitting in well and like McKinty is proving an asset to the band. The band and crew as a whole have bonded well and I have a great unit on the road with me. I hope to keep it together for as long as possible.
We crawled into our bunks and headed back to the farm. We’d taken a result from the Ironworks despite the awful sound in the venue and a stage that was so high the front ranks looked like star gazers. I’d say 7.5/10. I woke up in the bus and crawled into my own bed around 5am. Sunday. Day off. Sleep as long as possible. I still had the Tara situation to sort out as she was still living at a friend's house in Haddington. We were talking but it was difficult as she was generally unhappy and her mother and I were not seeing eye to eye on the solution. I had been to see the school the previous week and discussed the problem with the relevant staff concerned with Tara's education and career opportunities. They were totally sympathetic and were to offer various options the following Monday. I was stressed out by all the domestic upheaval and I now had three gigs in a row. It was getting real now!
Monday 10th September - Lochgelly Arts Centre:
A short drive over the Forth Road Bridge into Fife and to a town I had last visited in March. It was a Mostly Autumn gig, Chris Johnson’s birthday the following day and my fiancee had just had her ring returned from a refit at the jewellers. I remembered her showing it off to one and all and we had our photo taken by Chris, the MA "official" photographer. The "future in laws" were up and everyone was excited about the wedding in August. It was difficult to not sense the ghosts backstage. But my feelings were different now. There was no pain, no real sadness. It was just another cold empty dressing room that I'd been in before. It might have been only 6 months ago but it seemed like 6 years now. The sorrow is quickly dissipating, if not gone already, and if any feeling rises to the surface over the entire affair these days, and especially since the end of August, it is contempt. And that I'm afraid will take a lot longer to disappear.
The Arts Centre is a great venue with good facilities, friendly, efficient staff, spacious stage and sound PA, great access and dressing rooms etc. Everything going for it but it was in Lochgelly. A prosperous mining town which like many others in the area was now dilapidated since the pits were closed and now rife with unemployment. It is a sad, grey, empty place with little to offer. The two pubs close to the venue were sorrowful. One playing host to a funeral party, the other, bereft of any vibe with the TV capturing the attention of the handful of regulars all with small bets running on the backs of horses in far away places. The floor and the furniture were of the "easy clean" variety that I normally associate with bars used to swabbing up the aftermath of rumbles. The bar was so simple as to look like a make shift unit you would find in an NCO's mess in Bosnia in the mid ‘90s. It was quite simply depressing. I watched a guy wheeling a pushchair with triplets up the High Street, another child running alongside. I withered at the idea of bringing up a young family under these circumstances. But as with all mining towns there is that sense of community I knew well from my youth in Dalkeith. That sense of humour against all adversity. The tenacious spirit that can find a laugh in the darkest circumstances. That Scottishness!
The fans arriving in the car park behind the gig had stunned faces and set off in a fruitless search for restaurants. The "chippy" was the only game in town. I knew that from previous visits, twice to see Mostly Autumn (I sang on 'Lucky' and 'Just Good Friends' on stage with them at the Arts Centre in 2006) and when I had last played here on one of the first gigs on the "Songs from the Mirror" tour back in ‘93 in the Town hall. That gig had been memorable for all the wrong reasons when a disgruntled local truck driver, who we had taken on to freight the equipment, attempted to run away with the box office takings, had hit our production manager during the confrontation in the main street and then tried to drive off with most of the computerised lighting system loose in the back of the trailer. That ended up in a legal case that dragged on for months and caused a lot of unnecessary hassle and grief throughout the entire tour.
There was no darkness today. A good size crowd assembled in the all seated hall, the only one on the tour, and they were obviously up for it from the start. Jo McCafferty, our support for the Scottish shows went down well and we came on to rapturous applause.
It was a tremendous night and we were starting to gel. The banter was always going to be good and I had a great laugh with the crowd of around 300. The new album was filtering out and it was noticeable that some of the crowd knew the "13th Star" material. The set was well received and we hit the dressing room on a high. Sales of the new album on the merch stall confirmed that the new material was going down well. But I still felt as did the others that the set wasn't right yet. The 4 pre ‘88 songs at the end was a cluster that needed broken up and I felt that 'Last Straw' wasn't in the right position. We slipped home across the bridge with an 8/10 result behind us.
In my own bed at 3.30am and up again to trek North to Aberdeen.
Tuesday, September 11th - Aberdeen Lemon Tree:
Tara was on the bus. We had made up in previous days and had a long chat about what she wanted to do with her education and where she wanted to live. She told me she wanted to leave school and go for higher education at college where she'd feel more in tune with fellow students. She wants to concentrate on art and as the education would be part time she wanted to get a job. She wants to move out to her own place as she can't live with me at the studio, I couldn't leave her alone here and she doesn't want to be looked after by my parents who in all honesty find looking after a teenager an exasperating responsibility at their age. Moving out is the only option. It was a tough one to accept as a father but I respect her wishes and told her I'd support her in her decisions. A big mental jump. More letting go for both of us.
I believe she can do it as she is highly independent, strong willed and ambitious as well as being very intelligent and wise for her age.
And there we were on the tour bus, father and daughter laughing again, on the way to a gig.
The last time I was there was in 1997 and Steve Vantsis had just joined the band. In fact it was his first gig with me. (Railway Tavern warm up doesn't count ;-)). Another wee anniversary and Fellini pointer!
As usual nothing to do but traipse around waiting on sound check. The previous night I'd bust my stage shoes, the ball of my right foot completely collapsing the under sole. It was painful. I needed trainers if I was going to continue bouncing about. Fitness must be coming into play again! :-D
First of all I found an amazing Army Surplus store. More of a bazaar really, apart from threads of aisles every square foot crammed to the ceiling with every outdoor and military shoe type imaginable, Russian army fur hats, American helmets, British berets and ranks of uniforms and other military wear as well as mountains of outdoor clothing and equipment. Totally fascinating. I could have spent days there just rummaging around in mysterious corners recapturing a childhood. Stuff I hadn't seen for years jumped out of boxes. I wasn't going to find trainers there but lo and behold in front of me was a rack of various styles of desert boots. My footwear of choice as a young prog fan and the coolest treads to wear in my mind at the time. They called me back! I couldn't resist :-D. Ten minutes later I had my "Roamers" on and was away up Union Street. I headed back to the venue with a brand new pair of Vans (which Steve V has been digging me to get for years) after a pint with Yatta in the "Tilted Wig". We went through the pros and cons of the set list and I decided to give the set one more try.
Another great venue with everything we needed plus an all singing dancing kitchen with happening chefs. We ate well and retired to the dressing room upstairs to veg! Tara was out visiting friends and arrived before we hit stage. I’d broached the subject with Yatta and Stuart, my returning merchandiser of old from Muppet Tour days, who'd learned his craft then and gone on to deal with merch for other bands and on major tours. I’d brought him back to take over the tour after Dave Gould had to move on for family reasons. He was proving superb at his job and reports were coming back that the fans loved his style and sense of humour. I had a genuine salesman on board. The merch line was already extensive but the main tour shirts were arriving tomorrow for the Glasgow show. They were late as we had rejected the first samples and had to go to another printer and supplier to get the detail we both wanted on the shirts that would show off Mark's artwork at its best. Stuart, who'd already picked up the nickname "Evil" after it was pointed out that he looked like an "evil George Clooney", and I were both agreed that we should go for top quality right across the board and to keep prices reasonable. It was working beautifully and fans were responding. It was a lot of work on the stall and despite Chris, our bus driver, lending a hand we were still struggling but with long drives and sleeping time coming into play the operation would be short of hands. The proverbial light bulb went off. Stuart agreed it could work and Yatta said we could give it a try. Tara could come out on the road as second merchandiser. I talked it out with Taz and she was totally up for the idea. Rules were defined. She was cool. We would give it a try at the weekend when she was due to come away with us for a long weekend, previously arranged for her school mid term break. She was due to fly back on Monday from Leeds on the day off after the Sheffield show. If it didn't work out or she didn't like the job then we had our "audition" period. She would spend tonight watching and learning. I would spend tonight rocking the Lemon Tree!
The stage was tight and small with a ceiling I could touch from standing. It was impossible to back project the movies and images. Angus, who had also picked up a nick name "Secret" as he hardly said anything to anyone and always looked a bit furtive, had to organise his projections onto the side wall of the room on stage left. We could see most of the film show this gig! The audience however had a 90 degree turn of the head and it was quite disconcerting watching chunks of the audience staring away from stage all in the same direction. It looked sometimes like an art installation. :-D
After the space of Lochgelly stage we suffered a bit and on stage sound was not pleasant with temperatures high and oxygen levels low. There were close to 400 people in the venue. It was very sticky! It kicked off from the opening piano of 'Slainthe' but again the strange curve of "La Gazza Ladra" into "Sgt Peppers" and then down into the piano section didn't work right and we kind of staggered into the set rather than launched. From then on it was a curve through the "Clutching" trio and turbulence. The 'Vigil' walkabout with the radio mike was reborn in Edinburgh as part of the spontaneous "Uber attack" of a front man on his first gig for a while. And I decided to keep it. It had always worked in the past and it was making a dramatic return to great effect. Yatta and I define the route off stage and into the crowd before the gig and obviously work out a return trail and stage re entry. In Aberdeen I had to leave the building and come in an exit door behind the audience. I love those first looks of bewilderment, shock and then the huge smiles as you sidle up to people singing to their faces. Sometimes you have to tap a shoulder and that look is a killer! :-D Its fun and a great piece of theatre.
I decided to try the set list out again to see if familiarity would smooth it out. I still wasn't entirely convinced. The gig was fantastic and a great return to the Lemon Tree. The staff was congratulating us as we literally steamed upstairs. Another extremely positive reaction to the new material which was now sitting in the grooves intended. The banter was under control, the moves and shapes were coming in, the drama was naturally defining itself and my voice was sitting soundly. I was finding my own gig and as a band we were just getting tighter every day.
But now I knew I had to change the set and I was starting to understand what was needed. Aberdeen gave us a lift to an 8.5/10. We were moving in the right direction.
Wednesday 12th September - Glasgow Carling Academy:
I hit my own bed after waking up in the bus at 5am. I was up at 12 and off to Glasgow for an interview with Tom Russell at 96.3FM Rock Radio on the eastern outskirts of Glasgow. I was to be dropped off at the station but as Willie Docherty, station DJ and fellow inmate of Haddington had over simplified the directions ("turn left after the big wired Clydesdale horse" - a sculpture not a veterinary experiment btw - "and the station's virtually right in front of you!") We invariably got lost. Not a good idea with a double decker and trailer in Glasgow negotiating housing schemes. I got there at 2 just missing the live slot we had hoped to get to advertise the gig. The boys had been pushing it all week when they could and playing tracks from the album. Tom and Willie who had been at the launch party to hear the first mixes were blown away by the fully mastered album. I did a long interview with Tom for broadcast the following week. I have been interviewed by him since the early Marillion days on the first Scottish tour in '82 when we were an unsigned band and he had the rock show on Clyde. We go back a long way! He considers "13th Star" my finest album to date! He drove me to the venue after we popped in to see station boss and another old friend, Jay Crawford, who gave me my first radio gig on Forth with "Fishhead Curry". He had tried to lure me to 96.3FM in 2006 but by then I had already said yes to Trevor White and to the gig at Planet Rock. It hadn't gone down well working for "the competition" so I was glad to get a chance to see him for the first in a long time. We’re both cool about it all and we chewed the fat for a while and caught up on Life's journeys. He’s doing an amazing job there as he also runs three other stations from the same building including one of Scotland's biggest stations, Real Radio. Jay is from North Berwick and I first knew him when he was the rock DJ on Radio Forth and I was a teenager who phoned in requests to his show. We since became friends and have spent many a beery moment at Scotland matches and at after show parties! I know he will give me the full support when I decided to go with the single next year. One of the good guys!
We needed all the help we could get with the gig as Scotland were playing France in Paris that night as the second game this week as part of the European Championship qualifiers. We had to pull off a highly unlikely result and the odds were against us. I had tried to move the gig when I found out we clashed with the game but it was contracted. I wanted to get the gig put back but it would finish too late and outwith public transport and train times. I wanted to get the match projected onto the screen but Sky Sports had the rights and the license to screen as a one off was too expensive. I was stuck with it. Never the less we had sold over 850 tickets, not bad for a conflict with the biggest game Scotland have this year. Yatta and I both reckon we would have sold it out any other night.
I decided to watch it down a local pub until the last moment and then run back to the Academy and straight on stage. I figured I'd see the first half until I discovered the game kicked off at 7.45!
A good sound check and I was confident. I'd gone for a set change and this time brought in 'cliché' for the first time since Edinburgh.
'Dark Star' would come out the "CAS" trio followed by 'Sugar Mice' and 'White Russian' with 'Cliche' and 'Vigil' closing the main set. It split the eras up and moved 'Incommunicado' next to 'Last Straw' as the encore pairing. Was 'Vigil' going to be a big enough ending? I was also using a big "visual" that was great mid set but maybe might get lost at the end and cause a gap as I still had to get out to the audience while Foss played the intro. I'd take the chance.
Italian take away back stage and then off to the bars for the match. I headed off alone and stood in a crowded bar impatiently waiting for the match, watching the clock and the beers. I met up with Elspeth and a bunch of friends and fans and managed to hold out till 8.38, 7 mins before half time. I then did my Masai warrior stride back up the road to the venue leaving Elspeth and the others trailing in my wake, popping my head into bars to be made aware the game was still balanced at 0 0. And that was the score when we hit the stage to a tremendous reaction! I knew from the off that this was a special night. McKinty had been told to keep an eye on the score on the BBC Scotland website on the laptop side of stage and to tell me if anything happened. The crowd obviously knew what was happening in Paris and were as anxious as I was. I told them that if I suddenly erupted in a huge smile we had scored. That was after ripping them apart with the opening 4 song salvo and just before we went into 'Perception'. I think it was just before we went into the second chorus when McKinty signalled and held up a sheet of paper with "France 0 Scotland 1". I had the grin the size of a Cheshire cat on steroids and started to punch the air. The crowd erupted and for a moment I forgot the song. McKinty again "McFadden", another jump for joy. It wasn't a wind up.
The song ended on a complete high and I sung my heart out "one of those days when you know that something's going to happen, something's gone and happened, yes it has, yes it has" and then a consummate roar from the crowd. "We are one nil up in Paris". The place went mental! I will never forget that atmosphere in my entire Life. Stellar! :-)
From then on the gig was a total celebration. The "CAS" material whooped everyone up and the new material was going down as if it had always been in the set. 'Dark Star' was in its correct position and the run out felt the best it had done so far on tour. 'Sugar Mice' held it's own but the pairing of 'Cliche' and 'White Russian' felt natural. It was hard to tell if 'Vigil' worked as an "ender" that night but I felt as it closed it could have been "bigger". It didn't matter at that point, the place was going nuts!
The encores however worked a treat, 'Incommunicado' and 'Last Straw' providing the rock out ending we had been looking for.
It was one of the best shows I had ever played in Glasgow for years and one of the finest crowds. We were ecstatic in the dressing room as we watched the football highlights on the TV still in our wet stage clothes. Fans and friends had filtered down and everyone watched in awe as McFadden's goal flashed into the net again and again on replay. What a perfect night! We were now top of the group and had just played a cracker ourselves to boot! :-) 9/10
Thursday 13th September - Day off for some!
My press officer had been scheduling interviews and as this was the only day when I could get into the Tun Studios in Edinburgh I found myself locked into 6 hours of interviews with 9 principal BBC regional stations down ISDN lines from a small recording booth. I got back from Glasgow at 3am and was up and driving into the city at 12.30, exhausted after the last three shows in a row. The coverage Alan Robinson had got was phenomenal and eclipsed anything the previous plugger hired by Snapper had achieved throughout the entire "Return to Childhood" campaign. And these interviews were to support the retail release of "Communion"!!! I managed to combine the "Communion" promo with talking about the upcoming tour and the mail order release of "13th Star" in all the interviews and it took a wee bit of explaining and juggling of the content to get it all in! But I did and the result was everyone was so happy they wanted to re book me for the retail release of the new studio album next year. This was amazingly positive. The interviewers were loving "Communion" and were playing tracks already. The "Communion" retail release has jewel case packaging and the booklet has been changed to accommodate the change in my personal circumstances. The dedication to "My future wife.." removed and the passages relating to the church and the August wedding struck out as well as some other edits. I also changed the catalogue number from 040807 to 260507 (easy to figure out!). The 700 or so digipaks we have left are now an unintentional limited edition!
The radio coverage has been incredible with the radio edits of the "13th Star" material not even in the equation yet. This is a slow but powerful burn and I intend to keep this spinning throughout the year and into next with the retail release of the new album.
"Communion" is now giving me important profile at retail and being picked up by browsers in search of "13th Star". It's all working well and according to plan. The main rock press is being geared up for the end of the year with all major interviews, articles and reviews held off to support the retail release. I have a number of aces up my sleeve as well! ;-)
I would have preferred to have had the BBC schedule a week or so earlier but in the end it was on my day off or not at all. The opportunity was too much to turn down and I would find it had its yin and yang effect on the tour.
On the way back home I visited Phil, one of my best mates, in hospital where he had just undergone a massive operation on a recently diagnosed aneurysm on his spine. It was a dangerous and complex op and he was told after it he would have had a one in ten chance of survival if it had blown and that it would have done in the next year for certain. He was a lucky man. It was still a shock seeing him tubed up like something out a science fiction film. He was under a power of medication but was compos mentis and obviously in recovery. I wouldn't see him for a while and felt bad that I was leaving on tour. We spend a lot of time together and I was really feeling for him. I was however so glad that the operation had been successful as the build up to the event had been a major stress for him. We would keep in touch when I was away and his girlfriend Jan would keep me up to date as she was looking after him. I still hated to be away from him at this time.
Back home and a Polish interview before heading down to the Plough for something to eat for the first time that day. The interview schedule had been crammed and my lunch break disappeared. I was exhausted and starving. I was in bed before 11. Tomorrow was to kick off with 6 Polish interviews starting at 10.30am.
Friday 14th September - Newcastle Carling Academy:
My voice was slightly strained from the previous day and I engaged the first interviewer in not the best of moods. Especially when the traditional "Marillo" reunion questions rolled out. He wasn't listening what I was saying and kept on asking me questions I had already provided the answer for within previous questions. Totally infuriating. As with yesterday there was the obligatory probing about the marriage walk out which I try not to get involved in too much. It's very difficult as it had such a dramatic effect and the Polish interviewers knew the history. I kept the content of the responses to a minimum. I am not looking forward to the press conferences in Poland in October as they can be very pressing and inquisitive to the point of unintentional rudeness. I carry "yellow cards" these days and am not frightened to use them if a journalist doesn't cease a line of questioning when I have declined to comment further on a subject matter. That's when the bear comes out, especially when you have just got off a tour bus without a shower or food and are facing a wall of camera flashes. It gets a bit like King Kong in the theatre! :-D
But they are genuine fans and I find it hard to be nasty generally speaking and try to accommodate as much as possible. This is what I was trying to do in the morning and early afternoon on the Newcastle show day. I could feel my voice tiring. I could sleep in the car on the way down. My other best mate Hutch had offered to drive me there. I finally finished at 2.30 and had wanted to leave by 3. Then it was water the greenhouse, top up the two ponds and clean the filters I should have done yesterday, water the house plants, send the important emails, change the mail settings on the home PC so I can pick up mail on tour. All those last minute issues that swallow the time and stress you out. I was heading down the drive at just after three. We were going to hit the rush hour in Newcastle! Endless joy!
I didn't sleep and we did hit the traffic getting to the venue as sound check began. My check wasn't that great. There were "holes" between the head and chest voice. I knew I could fill them with a good warm up pre show.
Taz was setting up the merch stall with Stuart and pulling her weight. She was happy and had come down on the bus in the morning with the band and crew and got her briefing from "Evil" and her Uncle Yatta. It was all looking great. The new shirts had arrived in Glasgow and were simply stunning and well worth the delay. Stuart definitely has the stall arrangement off to a tee and impresses every day.
I headed out with Taz to grab a fish supper which drew comical looks as we walked past the gathering queue out front!
"Stone Sole River" was the tour support and were sounding pretty good. The audience appreciated them and they were getting a good response. I spent the hour before going on warming up the chords in sections. It was coming together.
It was the first Newcastle gig for nearly 10 years and to be honest a ridiculous amount of time since I had played one of the rock cities in the UK which was only a couple of hours in a truck away from my house!
We walked on to an amazing reception and struck off in to the night. The new songs weren't as recognised as in Glasgow but still took a great response. I'd slipped a bit on a couple of high notes and was a bit nervous. I was so preoccupied I thought I'd sung 'Perception' and missed it out the set which was the same as Glasgow. It definitely took the crowd but I wasn't relaxing and guarding my "output". I didn't want to get carried away and over-sing. The gig was great. 'Vigil' was a lot better with a bigger ending and with no walkabout tonight due to a lack of radio mike the beginning didn't hang about. I was struggling a bit by the time we reached the encores. Despite my contribution the band played well and we carried the night. The boys were 8.5/10, I was 7.5!
Backstage I met up with Gary Townsend my old tour manager from the '82-'83 tours who had come along with his wife and we had a good catch up. His ex wife and great friend Vicki was there with her boyfriend and we all waxed nostalgic while the crew broke the gear down.
The gig had finished early as there was a rock club on in the venue after our show. I joined Tara, Steve V, Paul Kennedy, my out front sound engineer, Evil, Secret and some of the others for a few drinks. I had a silent boogie on the dance floor to burn off the adrenalin. I didn't speak and signed to avoid any more wear and tear. I was first to bed at 1am. The others burned into the wee hours. I knew I had "incoming".
Saturday 15th September - Manchester Carling Academy 2:
I slept as long as I could in my bunk. Got up at around two. I felt really healthy and alive but my voice had a thickness and my throat an edge. The Academy 2 has a vile backstage area. You have to climb stairs to the second floor and then enter the dressing rooms up a tight spiral staircase to the third. Water was pissing through the floor from the shower next to the dressing room and I had to manoeuvre past the cascade, up the staircase carrying my luggage to the empty "corridor" that was our holding cell for the day. No towels yet. Nothing had arrived yet. I hung about tried to get connected to the wireless to at least amuse myself with the Forums but couldn't get on line. Terminal boredom and the constant nagging feeling that something was wrong. The only working shower was down the spiral staircase and I eventually got under it and tried out my voice. It was strained and I again resigned myself to a longer than normal warm up before sound check never mind the gig. Tax was working the merch and Stuart was singing her praises for her contribution in Newcastle. I was proud of her.
I went for a wander and ended up in a pub with Gavin and Foss watching the Welsh World Cup Rugby game. I had two pints but was too preoccupied to take the game in. Back to the holding cell and more hanging about, reading about Vietnam, passing the time.
I warmed up for sound check. There were the "holes" again. Monitors weren't that great. I was tense. We ran through 'Circle Line'. I squeaked a couple of times. 'Slainthe' had me worried. I called my check over. Taz was about to finish setting up and we headed out for a Thai meal at a nearby restaurant at 6.15. I had spicy seafood soup, a green chicken curry and washed it down with warm saki and water. The "heat" sometimes helps and warm saki is an old reliable with the equivalent effect of honey on the chords. It warms and relaxes.
I left the restaurant at 7.10 as Taz was on the stall for doors at 7.30.
I went back to the downstairs shower area and tried out the voice. It was opening but slowly. I gently coaxed notes and scales through my chords for around 15 minutes and then sat down and tried to relax. At 8 I tried again. My throat was closing up. It was getting worse. The crowd were in and the support on stage. At 8.15 I went to Yatta and said I had a problem and told him we may need to blow out Sheffield. I walked through to the dressing room and in the space of around ten minutes my voice totally disappeared to a squeak. It would have been comical in other circumstances. There was no way I could perform a show tonight. I told Yatta I had to blow tonight and Sheffield and he went off to see Pod the promoter to attempt to find replacement dates so we could at least somehow placate fans who were bound to be disappointed if not completely pissed off at losing the show at this stage. Pod and Yatta were on the ball and as "Stone Sole River" finished an extended set that we had called for we had the new dates and I insisted on going on stage to announce the cancellation of the show, It was a lonely walk and the initial cheers quickly died when people saw the look on my face. I felt terrible but there was nothing I could do. I was totally screwed. The round of appreciation felt hollow and it was tough looking out on so many downed fans. I was so depressed. Everything going so wrong this early in a tour.
I couldn't have sung and I knew from past experiences particularly in '99 when a similar infection took me out in Milan and I tried to sing through it, the consequences are disastrous. It took me 6 weeks to eventually get myself together as I tore myself to shreds trying to get through shows. So much goodwill had been created by the new album and the dates so far I was in danger of destroying it and my reputation. I knew there were some people out there who would have rejoiced in my fall and who would bury me under the "Fish's voice is permanently shot" heading! If I sung I was damned and if I didn't I was walking into a storm of complaint and protest and rumour. I decided to retreat and regroup, cancel the two shows, determine on Monday on the following shows in Holmfirth and Nottingham and if necessary cancel them and continue to hole up until I was ready to come out and prove myself again. Very much between a rock and a hard place!
I hung about the dressing room for a while and met some friends offering heartfelt consolation. Yatta suggested that I go down to the merch stall and sign some things for the few fans still hanging about. Everyone showed understanding but I felt most for the Irish fans and the Dutch fans that had made a great effort to get to the gig. It was a truly shit feeling and I was glad to get on the bus. Everyone else had gone out and Tara joined me, desperately upset at what had happened.
I drank a couple of glasses of red wine and decided to watch a DVD in the upstairs lounge. I couldn't sleep. The DVD player wasn't working so I opened the CD tray and took the film to the downstairs player which is in the narrow galley between the sink and the seating area. I opened the tray of that machine and then found I'd picked up the wrong DVD from upstairs. I then went to go back to the top lounge and just as I moved into the narrow gap my left knee caught the DVD player and snapped the tray clean off. I couldn't believe it! I went upstairs and as I put the disc away my jeans caught the open tray of the other player and broke it from its mechanism. I had just wiped the entire bus visuals out! It couldn't get worse.
I had to explain it to Chris and only minutes later he appeared upstairs holding a prawn curry he told me he'd bought or me to cheer me up. I felt terrible and apologised for what I'd done. He wasn't happy but told me we could get it fixed in a couple of days and as most band and crew were heading home and we were in a hotel for the next two days it wasn't that much of a problem. I offered to pay for the replacements. He said he'd sort it and left me to my curry.
After I'd eaten I went straight to my bunk and collapsed.
At nine in the morning I woke up, grabbed a plastic bag from my case and ran to the back lounge to violently throw up. I managed to crawl downstairs and sat on the bus steps my head in my hands and my stomach in the bag. The curry had been off. A perfect end to a truly shit night in Manchester. It could only get better.
to be continued..