Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
Wednesday 17th October, Akademicki Klub Politechniki Gdanskiej.
Gdansk University student's union. The committee had been called to decide if we could get the key to the gates next to the venue to park the bus. We had been waiting for two hours for someone to make a decision. The traffic around the campus was horrendous. We couldn't load in. The bus sat, purring on the main drag, 200 metres from the venue, surrounded by a scrap yard of vehicles. They had forgotten to organise the parking.
Eventually a couple of security guards turned up with a hacksaw and 30 mins later the padlock was off and we were in after a great deal of manoeuvring and swearing. Yesterday had been Hawkeye's birthday and the celebrations had taken their toll. We started to get the gear in two hours later than scheduled. I helped, the alcohol sweating itself out on a hot October day.
I'd played the venue before but over the years it had been transformed into a club and the stage was now a lot smaller and a lot less artist friendly. On two levels and with a third of the space hidden from the out front by a plinth for dancers, it was an awkward set up.
At least the showers were warm. There were no towels.
I spent the time letching over the pretty young students until I had to head for the signing session in town. We were waiting on the return of our first laundry of the tour. We were all concerned. I remembered the last time we'd played here and sent laundry off. Ten guys worth of dirty smalls, socks and assorted clothing were sent out. It came back, dry cleaned, all individually wrapped, even the socks, in polythene on hangers. There was a pile about 6 feet deep in the dressing room. The bill was about £200. It took us ages to sort it all out. I prayed it wouldn't happen again.
Wojciech was the Metal Minds rep and I'd given him the name "Woody" as he looked like Woody Allen playing a young Cuban revolutionary with beard and peaked cap in "Bananas". My security guy had been given the name "Vinny" as he looked like Vinny Jones in "Lock, Stock and 2 smoking barrels". He didn't speak English but was a brilliant laugh. Crazy-eyed with a wicked sense of humour he was looking after me for the tour, not that we expected any trouble. I think he was there more to look after Woody who occasionally got himself well flummoxed.
Woody spoke perfect English and had the tendency to be unable to multi task. When a problem arose he went into his own little world and walked away for a bit stroking his beard and mumbling. A mobile was perpetually attached to his ear. I think it was a direct line to God. He was only about 25 and a smart cookie. Very likeable and, like Vinny, a great sense of fun when he relaxed. Although we shouted at him a lot we knew it wasn't his fault and he was trying to make the best of bad situations.
The signing session went well. No endless bits of paper, all signing was done first and then I stood up and we did the photos after. Posters were given out at the start and the interview session was blanked. Everybody happy and no stress. A success. Vinny was smiling.
Back to the gig and sound check. The hall looked like it held around 300 max. There were over 450 tickets sold in advance! Some of the gigs we did in Poland you would never get away with in the UK or other European countries with regard to numbers and available space. Eventually 500 people crammed into the hall on the night.
Laundry arrived and everyone was happy. No problems. I had clean stage gear for the first time in nearly two weeks.
After a good check it was dinner time in the refectory. No polystyrene tonight but we got our first experience of "donkey dick" in breadcrumbs.
A tube of grey meat wrapped around a cheese centre and covered in the obligatory golden coating it was truly awful. Some just ran away and headed for the dressing room bananas. Others shut their eyes and fought down the natural instinct to retch. This was straight out of the "I'm a celebrity" Bush Tucker experience. I thought it was squirrel, some thought badger. At least the three colour shredded cold cabbage was identifiable. Steve in particular was suffering but had the foresight to bring along a stash of Heinz beans and other tinned stuff from England.
At least I would lose some more weight on this tour!
The support band had been ditched as there was no way we could get them on the stage. They had driven 200 klicks to get here and as no one had told them of the situation in the afternoon they were, to say the least, disappointed. We felt sorry for them and gave them passes and vodka. It meant we were on at 7.30 again.
A few of us had PCs or Macs but wireless was hard to find. There was a Polish system but only Yatta had been given a card to log on. I hadn't downloaded since Copenhagen, which seemed like weeks ago! It was Wednesday and European Championship night. We couldn't get live feeds so had to watch the printouts that came in from 5 Live every couple of minutes.
I'd lost touch with the nuances of the results and was surprised to find that the England v Russia game was providing a result that effectively meant that, unless unlikely scores happened in forthcoming games, they were out. The English contingent was crestfallen. I was saying nothing, we had Georgia that night and being Scottish I knew it would be a typical night that would leave us with the Hollywood thriller ending to our group of having to beat Italy at home to qualify. I was right.
We went on stage at 1-0 down with the reporting suggesting that it was a lost cause.
I tried to forget about the game and launched into the gig. Another stunning night. It totally rocked. Despite hangovers and the stress of the day the band were cooking and everything fell into place. Another vibed up "Vigil" walkabout and a killer set of encores had the Gdansk crowd in the palms of our hands. I even managed to blag a tray full of Zubrowka from the bar during the intro to "Sugar Mice". It was too handy so close to stage left and, much to the delight of the audience, we slid the shots down in a toast to them! Nastrovia! A 9.6/10 and fantastic gig. Scotland went down 0-2, it didn't really matter, we were in dreamland and if this curve continues then I have no worries at Hampden in November. I may be having the worst year ever on a personal basis but everything else is hunky dory! :-)
It was a long journey tonight, 7 hours in the itinerary to Warsaw. Yatta had been really ill today and had discarded one of his morphine patches early on. He used them for his arthritic shoulder and his knee which was due to be replaced after the tour. A walking miracle is our Yats! I asked him if I could use it to knock me out on this journey which was going to be a gruelling, nerve shattering trek. He shrugged; I stuck it on my arm and curled myself in the arms of Morpheus within a couple of hours.
Thursday 18th October, Klub Stodola, Warsaw.
Capital city. Close to sell out in advance and the pressure was on to deliver. I'd played this a couple of times before and come away with great results. I slept till late, taking the opportunity of a still bus to rack up the Zs. I was a bit zappy!
Up at 2 and into the shower. It was cold but after asking for the heating to be turned on I was soon steaming away and checking out the chords to the bemusement of the local crew. Signing session, taxi at 3.30. Out of the building and into a congested Warsaw. 30 mins in heavy traffic to the store. Signing session was long as there were about 60 or so fans in the store. It took us another 30 mins to get back to the venue and I only had a short sound check with another monitor engineer who decided to play safe, setting up the sound and then pulling things back at the slightest squeek. The equipment was great and I just kept my fingers crossed.
When I eventually hit stage the mix was completely different and I would spend the night glaring at the guy who tried as hard as he could to ignore me. He wanted a quiet night. I just wanted a decent sound. One of those nights where you needed someone who actually cared about his job.
The food was dreadful. More "donkey dick" in breadcrumbs. We had had enough and everyone left the polystyrene containers open and untouched. We were promised pizzas after show. Whoopee! Nutrition! :-|
I was immediately hassled for interviews and was sent down to the venue offices to meet the first journalist. He wasn't too bad but I was narked and in a dangerous mood. The first interview went OK but the questions went down cliched, obvious cul de sacs and I wasn't too happy at discussing my former relationship. To be honest, most journos skirted round it as did I. It's hard to avoid but I try and avoid names and details. This one went for the jugular and I responded likewise. I was getting wound up but kept relatively calm and let him know when I was pissed off.
I felt sorry for him in a way, he was trying to do a job but I was tired and this was only about an hour and a half before I was due on stage. Bad timing! On another occasion it would have been fine, but not now!
The planned 20 mins dragged into 30 and when he left the next guy was straight in. "What about the reunion?", "What do you think about the new Marillion album?", "Tell me what your new album is about, what does it sound like?"...... aaaaarrrrghhhhhhhhh! I was finding it very hard. Inane questions, no research, banal questions, a total waste of my time in order to get sound bites. "What do you think of Poland?", "What is the relationship between you and your fans?", "Why is Poland so special to you?". I flipped and called it to a close.
I know I should be the cold professional but I was thinking about the gig in less than an hour, the 900 people who had paid to see the show.
It was local radio. It should have been done hours ago, not now. These kind of interviews I detest and find demeaning and insulting. I have a brain, test me, interest me.
I walked out and Woody stopped me in my tracks and said "Just one more". I turned and head butted the wooden door. Hard. Full on. I was incandescent. A girl in the office suppressed a scream. Silence took over after that.
An hour before I go on stage I go into mode. I focus and concentrate. I raise the energy levels. This was all wrong. I was 40 mins off show time.
The door and my forehead was intact, it was a "flat" controlled hit, no chance of damage but my point - childish, I admit - was made.
The journo sat down, worried. He opened with "Can you tell me what your new album is about?" You could hear my sigh above the PA which was bringing the support band to a close. It took 10 mins of quick monosyllabic answers and the obligatory ID before I gave my apologies and headed to the dressing room to do what I was supposed to be doing!
I don't mind interviews. I enjoy the discussions and the forced insight and introspection, the questioning and the examination. I hate the modern sound bite generation who have no real interest and only want the "name" for a few minutes of airtime. Show me a modicum of respect, please! Sometimes I really feel I don't belong in this business. I am not one of those "I wear Prada because.../my favourite colour is Azure/Justin's new album is just so... good/I recycle because the planet is important to me" crowd.
Get me on stage! Now! I need to vent!
The gig was brilliant. Quiet at first but it rose and rose to a deafening crescendo with the encores lifting the proverbial roof off. A total triumph. 9.8/10. Everything clicked and I sang myself hoarse. We gave it all and got it back threefold. The press loved it!
The new songs were going down magnificently and judging by the sales of "13th Star" on the merch on the "out" we were staring at a major hit album in Poland when the retail release kicks in. It has definitely hit a chord in Poland!
After show it was a quick shower as Tara and I were heading to Radio 3 for a live on air interview with Piotr Kaczkowski who had attended the show. He thought it magnificent and one of my best performances ever.
It was Tara's first ever interview and she was so cool. I was immensely proud of her as she talked Polish and charmed the studio and the listeners who were calling in from as far away as Michigan, USA where the show was broadcast on satellite to the vast Polish population there.
We played "Circle Line", "Zoe 25", "Arc of the Curve" and closed with "13th Star".
The conversation was excellent, a far cry from the earlier interviews.
As the programme drew on we got deeper and of course we broached the subject of politics in a round about way. We entered an area of heavy discussion about social issues and immigration.
Hard to sum up what we talked about but I made the point that it was sad that so many Polish people had to leave their own country to go in search of their dreams and that they couldn't find it in Poland. With the translation staggered and the pauses pregnant with drama it turned into a very poignant ending to the show and the studio was spellbound. The last song played was "13th Star" and we were off air. Everyone breathed a huge sigh. It had been a major interview. Piotr thought he might get a bollocking for it. He knew exactly what he was doing and had run with it. Damn the torpedoes!
Tara was over the moon and we both signed the "artist's wall" outside the studio. Mine was next to Leonard Cohen's signature.
We headed back to the bus and a night sleeping in our bunks outside the venue. I was exhausted. It was 2am.
Friday 19th October Lodz, Dekompresja.
Lodz (pronounced "Wootch") had been a very rich city in the early part of the 20th century. Famous for textiles and clothing it had suffered badly from the depression between the two world wars and in the second the largely Jewish population had been decimated with a large concentration camp operating outside the city. When the Russians advanced the Nazis flattened the place leaving very little standing. Now it's suffering from high unemployment and crime. The gig was in a brutal area of '60s tenement blocks all gang tagged with aerosols and nothing much else apart from isolated huts that sold cigarettes and vodka. It was depressing. The gig was freezing and rough as hell. It seemed to have been an old cinema but now served as a venue and a dodgy night club.
With the economics of the area I was surprised to discover we'd sold around 500 tickets in advance. The PA was pretty good but the monitors were going to be tough.
I'd awoken with a call from Tommy Z. He told me that Piotr had taken a call from the controller of Radio 3. He thought that he was going to be carpeted for the interview content. It was exactly the opposite. His boss had heard the interview going out live and told Piotr that the station was going to broadcast the show again that afternoon as he thought it was excellent. A huge sigh of relief and a massive smile. The interview would be broadcast another 3 times while I was in country. Tara was now becoming a star in her own right. :-)
Off to MPIK for the signing session and a chance to see some of the rest of the city. The main drag was impressive but the rest was pretty drab and grey. All 3 storey buildings in various states of decay. The session went well. Chris J came with me for a walk round town. It didn't take him long. We were soon both glad to be back at the gig.
Sound check and then the food trial. You guessed it! Cuppa soup, greasy chips, cabbage, a bit of salad that was brown round the edges and mystery meat in breadcrumbs. Even I struggled with this one.
But the gig was great! The audience really lifted us and made us forget about everything that had gone on during the day. The band was tight and everything clicked into a 9.5/10. Marek from the Company Poland loved it. He'd been with us for a couple of days and sadly had to leave the tour soon for work commitments. He was over the moon with the crowd reactions to the live sets and the album. A genuinely lovely bloke he'd been superb helping us out with translations and helping Evil and Oppo on the merch stall. We would miss him.
The press had been fantastic and the coup with the Radio 3 rebroadcast had made a lot of waves.
We were 4 gigs in, it felt like a month. Day off in Bydgoszcz and the World Cup rugby final, England v South Africa. Tensions would be high. Some fool opened a bottle of vodka!