Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
After the Manchester debacle some of the guys opted to head home. I arrived in Holmfirth on the bus around lunchtime on the Sunday, croaky, depressed and prepared for a couple of days in isolation. I'd make the decision on the next brace of gigs the next day once I'd seen a doctor. I knew it was a virus and that there was no cure apart from rest. I wasn't confident about recovering in two days and braced Yatta as to the possibility of more reschedules. I only hoped it wasn't going to be the entire UK tour, that was my biggest worry.
The hotel was in the centre of a town famed as the location for the BBC comedy series "Last of the Summer Wine" and was in fact where most of the cast and crew stayed while on location. A picturesque place which was bustling with tourists on a sunny day. I necked a couple of warm beers and eventually got checked into my room around 3! I discovered the hotel had a wireless network but you had to be 6 feet away from the router at reception to use it. The best place was either at the end of the bar or the table just inside the door. Dangerous! I picked up my mail and visited the forums to get a low down on the fall out. I was genuinely touched by some of the comments posted and most people understood my dilemma and the necessity to move the shows.
Sunday was spent in down/silent mode. A couple of pints and then upstairs to bed where I flipped on the PC and watched "Perfume". Meal at around eight and then back upstairs and a couple of Yatta's tranquilisers to knock me out.
Monday Tara was due to fly back to Scotland and so I was up relatively early to get her into a taxi and myself down to the doctor's surgery. Taz had done really well and we had decided to keep her on but it all depended on my voice recovering. Tara flew back to Edinburgh and I was in a waiting room at 1pm. Thirty minutes later I was told what I had already guessed. Viral laryngitis. No fast cure, just rest. No projection on my come back but it was obvious that I wouldn't be ready for Holmfirth or Nottingham. I aimed for St Ives on the Friday.
The rest of the day was spent between my bedroom and the bar area checking emails and reading the fall out. It was a real downer. The Fish and Marillion Forums were sympathetic and supportive but the unofficial Mostly Autumn forum, which I had been pointed at, had quite a few venomous digs and in fact some were celebrating my loss of voice. I was incensed and desperate to get back on stage with a full range by the weekend. Since the split with their singer a few had taken on the role of villagers with fire and pitchforks and were looking to burn down the "monsters" castle. As they had nothing significant to talk about on their forum for a couple of months, and obviously didn't want to discuss how good "13th Star" was, a vocal minority jumped at the chance to deride me and write me off. I was really looking forward to proving them wrong. So the rest of that Monday was spent in relative isolation apart from a few cups of coffee and a rare cigarette on the emergency stairs with the cleaning lady who happened to be a huge fan of my Planet Rock show. More of Yatta's "tranks" and a long sleep through to Tuesday. The signs were up on the venue next to the hotel and the reschedules were all in place. We were leaving later in the day for an overnight to Plymouth where I'd be holing up till Friday. My voice was loosening up but it still wasn't gig speed. No point in rushing in now, just small warm ups in the shower and avoid any strain or long conversations. It was coming back slowly as I knew it would.
On the bus with the others around nine and off down the road. It was strange getting back in my bunk again.
Plymouth and check into Jury's Hotel on Wednesday afternoon. Another relatively quiet day after lunch with Yatta down by the water. That night we both had dinner with JB who runs Trathens, the coach company, who have been supplying my busses for years now. A polite curry and a few wines with an endless box of tour stories. My favourite was the one Welsh rapper who had trashed a tour bus and refused to apologise or pay for the damages. His management picked up the bill and he was banned from Trathens who also passed the word round to other companies. JB still had to take the guy's equipment to his house end of tour and drove up himself to be met by a tirade of abuse. As he pulled away in the bus in front of the suburban semi detached he "dropped" the chemical toilet onto his beautiful mono blocked drive way! :-) JB also gave us some wind up stories to hit Chris our driver with in the coming weeks. Back pocket material! ;-) It was a great night with sparkling company. Just what was required. I had that feeling that we were back on schedule again. In bed early.
Thursday I slept till late in the afternoon and did a full run through in the shower. I was back to full fitness. Another quiet night.
Friday 21st September.
Show day and a short drive to St Ives after picking up the band and crew who had rejoined the bus after the enforced break. A wonderfully sunny day and I felt great. The gig was at the Guildhall as part of the St Ives festival. As the streets were so narrow we couldn't get the bus to the venue and so had to cross load all the gear onto a van. It was my first time there for years and so I spent the hours till sound check wandering the streets and alleyways exploring and picking up some tour essentials. A health store just round from the gig supplied me with some Manuka honey. I use the UMF15 normally but this store had UMF20 at £20 a jar. Perfect! I try and take a spoonful before bed and when I get up in the morning. It's a special honey with powerful healing properties originating from New Zealand. I'd heard about it from my Mum and tried it on the last tour to great effect. I also bought some extra Zinc plus tablets to bolster my immune system. A must have on a tour where lack of decent sleep and bad dietary habits can wear you down and leave you open to bugs and viruses. I wasn't taking any chances. I already had bought a container load of Berocca effervescent tablets that I'd been turned onto by Michael Hutchence's wardrobe girl years before. High doses of vitamin C and B and a mixture of other "goodies" that all go to aid a "hectic and stressful lifestyle", I take two dissolved in a couple of pints of water every day when I get up. Also great hangover cures! A tub of ibuprofen pills to take down swelling in my joints and vocal chords and I had my first aid kit together!
I picked up a classy "Weird Fish" jumper in a store and found a cool stained glass mobile for a friend's birthday present. The leather bootlace that held my favourite neck charm had finally given way so I popped into a jeweller and picked up a new silver chain. I couldn't resist getting a pair of Tanzanite ear studs to replace the tiny diamond stud that I'd got in Berlin years before. Taz hated it as it continually disappeared inside my piercing. As with the silver and glass pendant that I'd been given in Austria in 91, that was put aside last year in favour of a silver bear I'd been given, moving the Berlin diamond stud back into a drawer felt like a "cleansing" of sorts! Old symbols laid to rest! I felt brand new. I was grooving!
Consumerism now over it was time to hit a pub after the obligatory Cornish pastie munched on the way down to the harbour.
A couple of pints with some friends down at the sea front and then up to sound check. Time to test the voice properly down a mike!
Big smiles all round! :-)
The set list was changed again. "Vigil" was dropped and "Sugar Mice" and "Cliche" led into "White Russian" as final track of the main set.
"Incommunicado" and "Last Straw" took encore position. We also shortened the "Sgt Pepper" intro thanks to some choice editing by Steve during his time at home in the break.
There were about 250 people in, a result for a small town we had never played before. The gig went well. I was wary and careful not to over sing. It went down a treat and was just what I needed to boost my confidence. I knew the word would get out fast. I needed it to. I wasn't let down. I was back on form. A come back at strength 8/10.
Saturday 22nd September. Exeter Phoenix.
Tara flew in from Edinburgh after spending the week meeting careers advisors and housing associations. She was really happy and I was glad to see her again. Yatta, Stuart and I had decided to offer her the position of second merchandiser for the rest of the tour and she was overjoyed. I found a wireless connection in a coffee shop, picked up my email and checked out the forums. All was well and reports were filtering through that St Ives had been the success we had all hoped it to be.
The Phoenix is a great venue with all the "trimmings". It was sold out. 500 people due to turn the room into a sweat box.
I'd decided to tinker with the set again, moving "Cliche" together with "Incommunicado" as first encore and saving "Last Straw" as a final encore option. In St Ives having "Cliche" and "Sugar Mice" together meant we had two big guitar based ballads too close to one another. "White Russian" was definitely making its mark as main set closer. The shorter intro was also working but needed another cut to really work.
Before gig we had our first meal at Nando's courtesy of my friend "Big Nige" who was in charge of all the restaurants from London to Cardiff and from the English Channel up to Brum. The food was wonderful and a far better source of nourishment than we'd been managing to find with our traditional £10 "buy out" we normally get in the UK. That always left us foraging after sound check for kebabs or general pub food. It was our first Nando's experience and Nige said he'd try and sort out some more for us on the rest of the tour. We got the full run down of the history and it was pretty interesting. Started off in South Africa by a couple of guys who got the idea over a few wines to start up an up market chain of restaurants supplying chicken meals with a difference. I had to admire the aesthetics and the quality of the food. I was glad to hear they were opening up in Edinburgh soon! :-)
I was a bit worried when I got back to the venue to discover a guy wearing only a towel writing notes on a pad on top of an old battered suitcase near the merch stall where Tara was working. Nutter bells were ringing but I was assured by the local staff that he was harmless and was in fact a practising Buddhist who had a grant to write his first novel and chose to write every day in the venue which also posed as an art gallery and exhibition centre!
The crowd were well up for the show, as was I. Definitely our best performance to date on the tour and the band were clicking. The set ran smoothly and I felt I was close to the definitive running order. In my opinion a 9.5/10 which was echoed by the reviews we would get the next day. The place was bouncing and big happy smiley faces boarded the bus for an overnight to Cardiff. A great venue, great crowd and a great time had by all! I was glad we filmed the show for a future Fish TV special.
I had all good intentions to film blogs for programming but to be honest the shows were so demanding that I was knackered and not getting up till around 2 each day. Even these blogs were getting left behind and I was only managing brief updates to the web site re my vocal condition. We were starting to make waves now as we moved into mainstream venues and played to fans that included prominent forum posters.
Sunday 23rd September, The Point Cardiff.
I hadn't been here since the "Scattering Crows" tour in 2004 and had fond memories of the place. A converted church close to the docks it again had great facilities and a fine sound system. Advance numbers were good. A walk around the docks and the spectacular Millennium Centre before the pub next to the venue to watch Scotland get humped by the All Blacks in their second World Cup game in the group sections. I'd listened to Hibs beat Celtic 3-2 earlier on the BBC Radio Scotland wireless internet connection in the Point which had Steve V gutted and me ecstatic. We were top of the League for the first time since 75 - at least until Rangers played next day.
Around 400 rabid fans waited on us hitting stage with the set that would remain with us for the rest of the tour. "Vigil" returned directly before "White Russian" giving me the outro of "CAS" trio, new song, CAS track, solo track, CAS track to close the set with a solo and CAS duo as first encore and a CAS closer in "Last Straw". It would work brilliantly especially with the walk through on "Vigil" before "White Russian" ended the main set!
And what a reaction we got. I thought Exeter was best so far and would be hard to beat but Cardiff gave us a 9.8/10
The 400 sounded like a thousand and left us stunned afterwards! A tremendous show all round with a good balance of banter and kick ass playing. This was becoming a classic line up already.
Gavin, close to home turf, excelled himself!
Monday 24th - day off Liverpool Thistle hotel.
As is becoming the norm we didn't get checked into the hotel till around 3. The American way. I can't remember the last time we managed to get into rooms on arrival. We had to sit in the foyer for over an hour and a half waiting on keys.
A shower and then out with Taz on a shopping trip to the centre after lunch off Matthews Street. I picked up a waterproof pullover camouflaged hoodie and a round necked "Beatles" style grey jacket while Taz got a warm jacket and assorted clothes as well as a decent pair of boots for the tour. A stop at a chemist for vitals including "Fish" shampoo and then meeting the boys in the bar. A quiet night, early to bed, a good day off!
Tuesday 25th September - Birkenhead Pacific Road Arts Centre
Up at midday. I had decided that as the gig was on the other side of the Mersey that I would take the ferry across the water for the first time in my life. I left the guys on the bus and headed off alone to the terminal. I was an hour early and walked in the glistening sunshine back toward the city after picking up a ticket for the 2 o' clock crossing. I needed something to eat and after a short walk discovered an oyster bar at the back of the church opposite the hotel. A pint of Guinness and a half dozen oysters did the trick. Timing was perfect and I set off back to the river. As I strode down past the Liver building I saw a dwarf in a suit walking towards me. I knew I was in Fellini mode and as we closed I also knew he was going to say something. Just as we met on the pavement he stopped, held out his hand and announced "Got the new album yesterday, it's brilliant!" He then asked for a photo and there we were, on the steps outside the Liver building getting our photo taken together, me and a dwarf in a suit. He was a great laugh and apologised that he couldn't make the gig that night. A cool wee man!
I boarded the ferry and sat at the bow thinking it was going to be a quick trip across the Mersey. I was pleasantly surprised to discover us setting off up river and getting the full history of the city and the waterside for the next 40 or so minutes. A real eye opener. We drifted through showers and sunshine and stories until I arrived at the impressive Birkenhead terminal. Altogether a magical experience and I was glad I made the effort. A short walk to the venue which used to be a tram depot and was now turned into an arts centre. The bus was parked inside the building on the old tram lines. It was a fantastic venue but the acoustics were not that great. Another box with a load of reflections to deal with. The sound was splashing all over the place. So close to being a perfect venue as the sight lines were excellent.
I met up with Wayne Hughes and his tribe including my god daughter. As always gigs and back stage areas are not the best places to meet friends as there are always demands from all corners as well as the pressure of the forthcoming performance. My mind is never far away from the stage.
An interview for a forthcoming podcast on the Voiceprint site inevitably dragged recent relationship issues to the fore. I was becoming more wary with my answers although I couldn't disguise the contempt which had been rekindled by the attacks from certain individuals on that unofficial forum, which since the rave live reviews and the stunning album reviews elsewhere across the board, had gone quiet. As I pointed out on a post to my forum, it had become "mostly tumbleweed". I had a wry smile.
As always the crowd in Liverpool has more than its fair share of wannabee comedians and it makes for a difficult night sometimes. Kind of like playing table tennis with a pissed octopus and with eight balls on the go! Sometimes you score and sometimes you get overwhelmed. Best bet is to keep it short and sharp and get through the set without losing the impetus. There were about 600 or so in the hall so it was important to keep focused and not lose yourself in too many one on one heckling soirees. It is fun though and I enjoy the challenge! :-)
The gig apart from the sound and an awkward stage set up which was T shaped went down well. We hit an 8.8/10. The set was proving itself and we were all settling into playing without having to think about the mechanics of it all.
Wednesday 26th September - Cambridge Junction
The run up to the London show and nerves were jangling. I love the Junction, a great wee venue with all the trimmings. I was late up and the day flew by in a haze of nothingness. Nige had sorted us out with another Nando's experience and with the restaurant directly behind the venue it was a perfect chill out pre gig. It was great to see Mark and Julie Wilkinson and also Tony Turrell and Diane who had popped up to see us. A few wee saunters down memory lane with Tony before bouncing on stage. The show was a buzzing 9.4/10. My mind was already in London before the bus left.
Thursday 27th September London Shepherds Bush Empire
I love and loathe London gigs. Always aware that it is still the heart of the UK music business and that bands can still play brilliant gigs anywhere else in the country and yet die on the back of one bad night in the capital. The bus couldn't park outside or near the venue so we were all up and in the Empire at 2pm. A long day backstage in a cold dressing room. I spent most of the day answering the phone and adding to an ever increasing guest list. Tara and Stuart were stressed out setting up two merch stalls and had enlisted outside help to man the units. Will Smith came down early with his fiancee and his brother Oliver who I didn't recognise at first. It all clicked when wine was mentioned and then the face fell into place as the wine critic on the Saturday morning food and drink programme.
After sound check we all went out for a Thai meal next to the venue and danced some ideas around. Ollie was off to Chile in January to film a series about the vineyards throughout the country. I remembered the film "Sideways" and ideas of a road trip started to sparkle! :-)
That was a long way away and the gig was a lot closer. I passed the pub where Yatta and I had had a few pints with some friends and fans pre sound check and where the gathering was definitely growing. I was glad a couple of American fans had made it over and more so that I was on form vocally. I was in good shape overall. I'd discovered on my shopping spree in Liverpool that I'd gone from a 44 waist to a 38! That good old stress diet combined with getting back on a stage again after a long break. The trews that I'd been wearing throughout the tour and which had already been taken in before I left Haddington, were hanging off me!
"Stone Sole River" did another fine set and we were building to gig. I'd seen Dave Ling from Classic Rock magazine picking up his tickets so I knew there was a potential review of the night at hand. Trevor White and the Planet Rock crew were in as was Spike Edney and some of the SAS mob. I had good friends out there in the 900 plus in the theatre but was feeling the pressure.
I needn't have worried. The gig was the best show we played in London for years and drew the strongest reaction I can remember for a long time. Everything fell into place and the curve of the night was perfect. A stomping 9.9/10. The come down after show was tough as the high on stage was dizzy! Accolades all round, the band were magnificent and blew everyone away. I couldn't have wished for a better result.
Tara and I stayed that night at my great friend Jon Crawley's house up in Muswell Hill. The band bussed down to Southampton for the day off. Will Smith had arranged tickets for us to see Ricky Gervais at the Hammersmith Apollo as he was supporting on some of the 20 or so nights of Ricky's residency there. The band and crew were driving up in a mini bus that night and Taz and I were going back with them later. On the Friday I didn't get up till around 3 in the afternoon. I was so knackered from the previous night's show.
We headed into Soho and I treated Tara to her favourite sushi before the trip down to Hammersmith. I picked up the 15 tickets. £600!!!
I couldn't believe it! I am struggling to get promoters to get my tickets up to £18 and this was £40 for a one man show.
We met up with the guys who arrived too late to catch Will's performance. Less than two hours later we were in the minibus and on the way to Southampton. The show was good but the ticket price took the shine away. Ricky Gervais's jokes about how many million his house cost stuck in the craw a bit. I didn't even want to do the math on 20 Apollo shows! I'm in the wrong business :-)
Saturday 29th September The Brook Southampton.
A long sleep in the hotel and then down to the venue which was so close to being lost earlier in the year when property developers threatened its existence. My favourite venue on the south Coast. It's a pleasure to play there and if only some other UK venues followed its example then touring on our wee island would be a far more pleasant experience. Washing machines and driers hummed all day, PCs and Apple Macs clattered away on the wireless network, coffee gurgled, the shower steamed, the Chinese/Thai was delivered after a great sound check on a fine house system. Smiles all round all day!
Brin who used to be the owner and who's now employed by the firm that run the venue gave me the run down on what happened and appreciated the support that came through from our web site. We are all glad it's still going strong and the show that night proved just what the audience at the Brook can give out. Sold out again. It was a cracking gig 9.7/10. I didn't think we could get "up" after the London show but we all were lifted by the crowd who gave as good as they got.
It was great to see my old friends Sue Castle and her Mum, Brenda, who I'd met in Egypt the previous year when I'd discovered the "star". They loved the gig as did we all. And I was now two shows from home!
Sunday 30th September The Robin2 Bilston
This was the first time I'd played this venue since it was refurbished and extended. It's in an extremely depressed area and on a Sunday it seemed post apocalyptic. The only shop open was a Morrison's store on the ring road that took an expedition through a ghost town to get to. Backstage was mind numbing broken only by our great mate Nige delivering a take away Nando's and a box of booze for the bus.
The dressing rooms are in a maze of corridors and upstairs through a barrage of fire doors. Not the easiest to get around. The venue room is acoustically dry as it's soundproofed to extreme to deal with belligerent neighbours. That night curfew was tight as the Robin's license was coming up. My sound check didn't go well as I was having trouble with the monitors. I couldn't get any "life" from them. I was also very tired as were we all. The gig wasn't the most memorable and I had a pain in the ass sound on stage. James, our new monitor engineer on this tour had struggled and had some bad nights with the ever changing rigs in the various venues. This was his worst and he was visibly fading. It was his first time on the road and he wasn't enjoying it. Some people can handle this lifestyle while others simply can't deal with it. It's not easy.
The show was probably an 8.5/10 although the crowd got into it overall. I rabbitted too much, compensating for my sound problems, and we ended up having to drop "Last Straw" as we ran out of time and into the curfew. As I couldn't hear myself properly I'd "over sung" and with the final gig being the replacement Manchester show the last thing I wanted was to have a strained voice! I was in bed early.
Monday 1st October Manchester Academy
Groundhog day! I had been dreading this gig all through the tour. I had nightmares about it. Re entering the dressing room it all came back like a particularly bad dream. I remembered everything that had happened the last time I was here. Everything. It was truly horrible. I was determined to rack this up and spent the day trying to keep my mind away from contemplating disaster.
James had handed in his resignation so Yatta was now short of a monitor engineer for the next leg. James was determined to leave on a high so sound check was thorough. I sailed through check and gave my voice a solid run through. It was all in working order.
Back across the road to the Thai for dinner with Taz pre show and the same journey at the same time across the road to the venue.
She was having a great time and had impressed everyone in the band and crew with her attitude and professionalism. She had grown up so much in a short time and I was immensely proud of her.
Andy Williamson, "Hair Bear", our old sound engineer, popped in with his new wife. He lived down there now and was starting up a new sound company. It was good to see him after such a long time. Yatta was straight on to him about monitor engineers.
Gig was on us and I was itching to get it over and chalk this up.
I went on at full tilt and didn't stop. I knew there were some "fans" out there who were ready with the knives if I fell but a lot more who wanted this to be something special and to lay a ghost to rest. We didn't let them down and delivered one of the best shows of the tour. I'd say equal with London at 9.9/10. Funniest thing was probably seeing a guy in an "Odin Dragonfly" T shirt going absolutely mental in the front rows, singing his head off and clapping along with the best of them. I knew who he was and had met him on the steps of the gig on the way in. He'd seemed a wee bit nervous as we had a slight history re comments about the Summer's events but the change during the gig was phenomenal. It was as if someone had plugged him in :-)
It was quite simply a stunning way to end this leg of the tour with my best gig in Manchester for years. Backstage the sense of relief and accomplishment was palpable. Big smiles and hugs and as we all left the dressing room, at the end of the night I felt that there had been an exorcism of sorts.
McKinty and Chris headed back to York, James and Yatta to Wales while the rest of us headed to Birmingham in the bus, the Scottish mob catching a plane to Edinburgh in the early afternoon.
One of the most dramatic starts to a tour that I can remember and one of the classiest finishes.
The first part of the tour was in the pocket!
And now the landing on the mainland.......
lots of loveOnkel Fish