Fish 2008 - Suits
Dear FishHeads, Freaks, fans and the Company,
The temples of Manhattan glittered across the Hudson river as the ferries splashed back and forward carrying landing parties of commuters and tourists to and from Hoboken where I viewed the endless movement from my hotel room window.
Tonight I was picking up an International Gold for "best regularly scheduled music programme" from the New York Festivals Radio Broadcasting Awards. I'd known I'd won it over a month before the tour and as luck would have it I had a day off in the city after the show at BB Kings and before the Nearfest gig.
I'd asked Yatta to come along with me as Trevor White at Planet Rock had organised a couple of seats at one of the very expensive tables on the night. I'd hoped to take the entire band but the combination of rescheduling all the hotels and the expense involved together with the lack of places meant I was going with my best mate and production manager. It was Yatta's first time at an awards ceremony and we both had hauled suits all the way cross country for this one event.
I'd slept long and hard and didn't get up till after 2pm. A real bed and no check out as we were moving to Bethlehem and Nearfest next day.
An entire day in a hotel, a rarity on this tour, and a chance to relax and recuperate.
The others had headed to Washington in the bus the night before leaving Yatta and I the prospect of finding our own way to Nearfest on gig day. Our only option appeared to be public transport and a long bus journey. I'd come up with a cunning plan the day before and had asked on the web site forum if anyone was travelling down and could give us both a lift to the gig. I'd come up trumps and some poor unsuspecting fan was going to be subjected to two road veterans with probable vicious hangovers for a couple of hours in an enclosed space. I had a pile of replies but picked someone who was staying in the next town. David Gargano was his name and we would meet him tomorrow.
That afternoon Yatta and I had arranged to meet my agent Larry Webman up by 42nd Street. Yats was late. His US mobile had run out of credit and he had gone wandering in Hoboken trying to find a store. As luck would have it he had lost his UK mobile in a taxi after meeting me at San Fran airport. Not a great start but easily overcome. Now he was trawling Hoboken and wasn't contactable.
Yatta is famous for his treks. Despite a dodgy knee (the other one was replaced last year), acute arthritis, a replacement shoulder (he carries X ray photos through airports as the detectors go nuts with all the metal work pinning him together, the other shoulder gets done next year!), vertebrae crumbling in his neck and spine, serious ulcers and a sometimes bleeding oesophagus from the buckets of pain killers he takes every day and which are accentuated by the amount of vodka he drinks, he is a genuine walking miracle. It's well know on days off for Yatta to go out wandering neighbourhoods for hours at a time, discovering nooks and crannies of interest, hoards of scrap iron or thrown away building materials he dreams of taking home to use in his never ending house reconstruction, historical buildings tucked away in back streets, hidden tree shrouded squares or churches whose shabby facades disguise the treasures inside. He is a driven man, always investigating and searching and always fascinated by his surroundings. He never takes his opportunities to travel the world lightly and treats every day as a privilege. If he is not on the PC in his room churning away at figures or setting up tours in front of us he is out on the road, perpetually moving, observing and experiencing everything he can.
At night he will be in a bar nursing sore knees and killing the pain with vodka and apple juice. (anything else irritates his gout!) I love him dearly!
He was doubly excited today as this was his first awards and what better place than NYC to bust his cherry!
We skipped across the waves of the muddy river to the shimmering facades of the city. We were running late.
As expected Yatta trundled ahead on foot thinking we could walk to the meet with Larry. We didn't have a street map. I sensed we were heading in the wrong direction and after passing a couple of blocks of garages and warehouses in the sweltering heat we hailed a cab which did an immediate U turn and headed in the opposite direction to the one we were taking.
The new taxis have video screens and satellite TV in the rear as well as a route map where you can see where you are heading. We played about with the cursor like kids, zooming in and out of the labyrinth on the display and getting more and more impatient as the traffic intensified. We had to be back at the hotel to change into our glad rags and leave for the awards in a couple of hours.
We met up with Larry and wandered through dappled and shaded streets until we found a bar/diner for a bite to eat and a beer.
Germany were playing Portugal and the joint was full of fans, mostly German supporters. We managed to find a table just as the crowd erupted to acknowledge a goal. Clam chowder and chilli burgers washed down with beer, breakfast of champions.
Larry had first got involved with me back in the '90s when I was with Nigel Hassler at the Helter Skelter agency. Nigel introduced us when Larry was at the Little Big Man agency in NYC. I immediately took a liking to him. He always reminded me of Woody Allen and with his strong NY accent, diminutive height and very dry and intelligent sense of humour, he became known amongst our mob as "Woody". Fiercely independent in his attitude and an incredibly astute and clever business man, his sharp and witty approach endeared him to us. As an agent and, as I discovered, a genuine fan he has held a candle for me out there for a long time.
He put together the Sunsets tour and had been waiting for a chance for a MacArthur-like return for a while. When we called him to tell him we had the Nearfest gig and "could he come up with a couple more shows seeing as how we were out there" he rose to the call and within about a month he had booked the 2008 North American tour and had found enough guarantees from promoters to break even.
He was now at the Paradigm agency and had followed his maverick drive to a company that is perfect for my style of approach and attitude.
It was Larry who guided Yatta through the maze of paperwork and legal fog that threatened for a long time to envelop the entire tour. He gave us the introductions to legal and accountancy expertise and to others who would take us through the minefields of bureaucracy.
I am indebted to him.
And there we were in a bar, with Germany beating Portugal against the odds, discussing the tour and cunning plans while the game raged above us on the TV screens.
Our attention bobbed between the footy and the ideas being crossed over the table in a conversation made possible by Woody's dedication to the current tour and the success it was generating. We weren't selling out everywhere but the promoters were happy and highly impressed by the shows. The calling cards were working.
The South American tour in October had faltered; economics in those countries and the weakness of the dollar made it difficult to balance the books. Mexico however was still on line and the idea came to the fore that we could use that as a jump point and head North and East via Monterrey back into the States and try for the Southern States which so far in my career had eluded touring patterns. Texas, Houston, Dallas, San Antonio. All names on the back of the '83 tour T shirts and which had been lost when Andy Ward went AWOL in New York after the Pier gig with Todd Rundgren when we retreated home to the UK disconsolate and broken. Could I finally after all these years make it to those places of rock and roll legend?
We were generals formulating a campaign, commandos initiating a vast raid. Cities became targets; route maps contained dazzling charges across wide open spaces. Perfect cavalry terrain! Like renegade Civil War units we drove across country with our strategies, taking Atlanta on our way before invading Florida. It was feasible on paper. Could we do it? December became the designated launch.
We huddled round our beers like revolutionaries and smiled those conspiratorial smiles that only the most cunning of cunning plans provide.
We should have been in an anarchic pub in Prague or Sarajevo wreathed in cigarette smoke.
We weren't and as the German contingent hailed an unlikely victory and headed into the streets as their team headed into the next round, I excused myself and stood outside the bar taking in a lungful of American Spirit tobacco.
My Nikon was around my neck and I was looking for passing image trade. On the other side of the street a member of the kitchen staff from another restaurant was likewise taking a quick opportunity to refresh nicotine levels in a doorway. We zapped each other and averted eyes.
A wanderer appeared, moved into the doorway and a magic handshake indicated it was going down. The deal was flipped. Wanderer checked his bills and mon chef dazzled a finger in a packet while checking out the street traffic. It was a great shot, worth a few frames but not worth a shiv. My black friend in kitchen whites wavered on me for a moment as I slung the camera behind my back and winked across the road.
He smiled, a door opened and he disappeared into a new heat. I arced my cigarette toward the gutter and returned to my fellow conspirators.
Nothing like a hint of Scorsese to spice up the day!
We wound up our conversations at the bar and set the ideas in motion with pledges to stay in contact on developments. We all knew it depended on a lot of breaks and, as the territory we were looking at is mostly virgin for my touring exploits, a long shot. But I've seen them go off the bar from distance before and if you don't try...? We bade farewell to Woody. If anyone can pull it off, he can. Bear hugs at the crossroads before Yatta and I trawled our way through traffic to the ferry port and the hotel in Hoboken.
Tonight the Cinderellas were going to the ball.
We only had just over an hour to get changed and hit the ferry once again for a taxi ride down the riverside to Tribecca where the award ceremony was being held.
As we stood at the terminal Hoboken side we were drawing bemused glances from fellow passengers. I don't know whether we looked like an idyllic gay couple on our way to a romantic night out or if we looked suitably sinister to be gangsters that didn't give a f**k!
It was a definite case of Austin Powers though! Yatta could have been mini me!
I was wearing my dark brown high Chinese collar suit which I'd bought in Hoi An in Vietnam and Yatta had a similar style suit in black which he'd bought in Rio.
Yatta's suit was infamous. We'd been on a South American tour and had a free day in Rio. I'd gone wandering and had come across a gent's outfitters while on a search for some decent clothes. It was October 2001 and had been separated from my then wife for nearly 9 months. I'd met a new girlfriend and she had inspired me to get a new wardrobe and get out of the baggy track suit bottoms and sweatshirts that had been gracing my frame for far too long. I'd never been a great aficionado of fashion and, being over 6ft since I was a teenager, I avoided the depression that comes from being told "sorry sir we don't have your size" just as I discovered an article of clothing that I really wanted. I slunk off into loose fits and elastic waistbands and never developed a fashion sense. ("looks like an extra from Blake's 7" was one particular witty review of my Vigil tour stage clothes). In 2001 I was prompted in the main by my girlfriend's refusal to be seen in public with me but also the realisation after a shopping spree with the said lady that I actually felt good when wearing decent clobber!
And so there I was in Brazil looking for a decent suit. I'd managed to conquer the fear of rejection in stores and understood that I would have to widen my searches and be more positive in my outlook. In the shop window was one of my dream acquisitions. A high Chinese collar black suit just like John Lennon used to wear and it was in a sale for 300 US dollars!
I went in and tried it on. It felt a little tight in the chest and in the waist and a little short in the arms and the legs and......... I wanted it so badly! Of course the shop assistant was positive and I willed it to fit me. I needed a second opinion.
I dragged Yatta to the store and on checking the fit he shook his head. Too short, too tight but it looked great! I accepted the verdict. Even altering the hems wouldn't make it work. Yats loved the suit though and I suggested he try it on.
Lo and behold it fitted perfectly and suddenly his eyes gleamed. I was amazed at how good he looked in it and the effect on Yatta was like Frodo trying on the ring! He had to have it. He knew his wife would kill him but that threat was nothing compared to his desire to own this suit.
Money exchanged hands and we walked out the store with at least one of us happy.
I never saw him wearing it for about a year when we attended a wedding together. The suit had been hidden in a drawer all that time and it was just as well that Kris, his wife, was bowled over by the handsome apparition when she eventually was confronted with the secret purchase. He looked splendid and I continued to nurse my dream of owning one myself.
It wasn't until I went to Vietnam earlier this year that I came across the opportunity at Sun tailors in Hoi An when a young salesman called Moon had the easiest sell of his life!
And there we were, two suited up heroes in New York City heading to an awards ceremony in our yellow chariot. The taxi pulled up outside the venue, a converted warehouse in Tribecca, where the guests were already arriving. Our timing was perfect.
I admit to being incredibly nervous as I had no idea of what was going to happen.
We picked up our invites and table number from reception and ascended in the elevators to the top floor, a massive converted attic space full of beautiful people and on looking around not one single person I recognised never mind knew!
As soon as we entered the room we were offered vodka martinis and pointed at the buffet! There was an entire table of Sushi and Sashimi served by oriental staff, leggy waitresses balancing plates of single lamb chops, tasty pastries and an assortment of major nibbles while a bed of oysters sat on ice with other seafood delicacies next to our position of choice directly to the side of a martini bar!
Our new best friend was from Iran and was a seriously accomplished cocktail barman. He set us off on our journey with lemon martinis.
Yatta and I were getting in the mood and loosening up. I was still wondering what the format of the night was and had still not recognised one single face in the crowd.
Then across the room I saw a face I tried to place in my gallery of memory. We caught eyes and I wandered across the floor to introduce myself. As I got closer I was met with a smile and it all fell into place. It was Darren Adam who I knew from Radio Forth in Edinburgh. He'd interviewed me a few years ago. It hadn't clicked at first as it was the last place I'd expect to have met someone I knew from home.
He too was picking up a Gold award for the station for it's parliamentary coverage of the Scottish election in 2007. Not only that he was with some people from Radio Clyde who were also picking up awards, one for the football programme "Super Scoreboard Live". We all had a wee natter and it was then I discovered that a number of the jury members involved in the voting internationally were actually Scottish.
The event programme didn't help much as it didn't give you much idea of names who were present and who was actually picking up awards. It appeared I was the only musician there and that most of the presentations were to stations involved in documentaries and specialist programming. I felt a little bit out of place but the martinis were kicking in and to be honest I was welcoming the diverse and interesting conversations that were springing up as the glasses drained. This wasn't the tour bus!
It was then we realised that the buffet was only a lead up to the main event. Yatta and I had both thought it was the only "solids" we would see and had reacted as only foraging musos do when confronted with free food on the road. A curtain had opened to reveal tables set up for a full on dinner. I'd already eaten half a lamb and an oyster bed as had Yats! And don't mention the martinis!
I'd found a staircase that led up from the main room to the rooftop where the sun was setting on Manhattan. A small crowd had gathered for smokes and as I gazed across the Hudson, lemon martini in hand, the entire evening took on a highly surreal air. I could never have imagined being in this situation as a diamond-eyed teenager sitting in the attic in Dalkeith listening to Radio Luxembourg trying to pick out the songs from the static on an old walnut veneered valve wireless set. I'd just picked up a Silver Sony award for broadcaster of the year in the UK and here I was in New York City about to pick up a Gold award for best scheduled programme on the best digital rock station in the UK. I'd just got the news in recent days that it had been bought over and saved from going off the air.
I smiled that big smile and savoured the moment with my best mate Yatta at my side. We were both wallowing in our temporary heaven, the Walsall kid and the Dalkeith wide boy. We toasted our luck!
The call was raised for dinner and I still managed to smuggle a couple of Martinis (now I was ordering them "shaken not stirred"!) to our places. It was an interesting table, comprised of a Berlin composer up for a Gold award for orchestral pieces he'd written with South American musicians for a documentary about the Mayan culture, a French couple who'd written a programme about kids growing up with AIDS, another couple of Germans for another documentary, an Iraqi presenter picking up a retrospective award for a programme called "Achmed's Diaries" which had been put together during the early days of the occupation and which he's been unable to pick up the previous year as he'd been unable to get out the country............ You get the drift! I wasn't taking it all completely in as I was thinking about what was going to happen.
The meal was served with lashings of small talk all extremely interesting, everyone extremely friendly and I was in danger of getting extremely drunk if I didn't watch my intake. I was having a hoot. I avoided the call of the wine and let the meal soak up the alcohol and everyone else catch up with me.
It was time for the awards and I'd decided to sit back and take it all in and plan what I was going to say after watching a few of the winners take the stage. I was to pick up 3 awards; my Gold, a Gold for Gary Moore for his "Bluespower" programme in the same category as mine and a Silver for the station for their "Live at Leeds" programme in the music special category.
An elegant besuited bald-headed gentleman with dickie bow and trimmed beard by the name of Geo Beach took the centre mike. He had presence and was someone you felt you should recognise. Confident and assured he began the introductions and instructed us on proceedings. I listened carefully.
Only Gold award winners would be presented on stage and were to walk up on the short introduction which would be taken from their programme, accept the award and deliver a short speech on the microphone off to the side of centre stage. Thereafter they were to have a photo taken and exit the stage right. Fine! Got that!
I sat back to watch how it would work.
"First award of the night goes to Planet Rock for best scheduled music programme..." my heart sank and the adrenalin kicked in big time. I moaned audibly. Gathered the smile. "For his 'Bluespower' programme..." I was dying. "Gary Moore". I walked to the stage as Gary spoke on tape. The microphone was half mast. OK for Gary, not for me. I tried to adjust the mike, the award was held out, I shook the hand of the compere and accepted the award. I turned back to adjust the stand again, fumbling and smiling. First thought was "don't swear!"
I delivered something witty and got a laugh. I can't remember now, it was all off the cuff. I was aware of not babbling and doing my usual when presented with a live mike in front of an audience. Switch off tour mode. Another laugh and I cut it short, turned for the photo opportunity and then got the "Don't leave us yet!" I stood there and was introduced for my own award. Geo gave me a great shout and admitted that my programme had stood out and then played what he acknowledged as his personal favourite section which was an intro I'd done referring to my bedroom in Dalkeith listening to music with the stereo speakers either side of my head. "Marrakesh Express" CSNY rolled out for the first couple of bars and then applause. I took the award and then had to do my own speech. I thanked the station etc. and rambled on about the takeover, starting to get inappropriate and too long. I caught myself and just as tumbleweed started to roll I shifted a smile, raised a laugh and exited for the photos clutching 2 Gold awards. I shook hands with the beautiful assistant (every other male kissed her!) and let the camera whirr and flash. I was so glad to get back to the table. It was a truly awful experience. I needed a martini! I was completely sober.
I now had to sit through all the other awards whose receivers were probably taking notes from my experience and now aware of what not to say.
Presentation after presentation followed with professional speeches and acceptances garnered from years of attending similar events and experience of dealing with committees and production meetings with that calm controlled demeanour that "real" radio people have.
To be honest I felt slightly out of my depth around these career radio types.
I hit the rooftop a few times for cigarettes and calm and found some fellow mavericks, mostly English independent programmers, one team which was picking up a Gold for a Michael Jackson documentary and another an Australian mob who'd picked up for a documentary on the abuse of the aborigines. The conversations were bouncing and I began to forget about my awkward debut in New York's radio stage.
I was called down for an interview on camera for the festival's own film project. It was shot round the corner away from the main stage. A mike was thrust in my hand. I stared into the lens and the camera assistant asked me how I felt about the awards. Another big mistake. The first one was to bring a Scottish singer on a day off in the middle of a US tour and give him free martinis at a rooftop awards ceremony in NYC.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't drunk but I was oiled enough for the entertainer in me to switch completely on and after I'd got them laughing I couldn't stop. I was finally relaxing into my own vibe and "on stage". The camera guys were loving it and creasing up. I was on form and on a roll and completely forgot about the other award I was supposed to be picking up. Someone came running through to get me and big Geo was seemingly calling me up to stage. I missed it!
I headed back to the table and caught the last awards. As the formal stuff ended everyone loosened up and conversations broke out. People wandered up and congratulated me and there was a lot of mutual backslapping. It appeared I'd done OK despite my worries.
Yatta was having a ball and everyone wondered who the strange guy with the pink beard was!
I went up and introduced myself to the Iraqi who had been welcomed on stage by an American senator who'd sponsored him coming over.
"Achmed's" speech had been very "safe" and complimentary about the current situation in his country but I'd recognised that he had wanted to say more than the scripted positives but couldn't. I shook his hand greeted him in Arabic and said I was a Scotsman and not an American. He smiled and returned the greeting. I asked him what he really thought about what was going on and what the Iraqi people really wanted and how he thought the situation could be resolved. As we immersed ourselves in conversation and opened the doors of the political dark room the senator hovered growing more and more agitated as only a politician can without displaying outright indignation. He politely intervened after a while and ushered my new friend away to another pressing of flesh slightly glowering as I bid my farewells.
I bounced around conversations about Renault factories in Paris in the '60s with my French friends, discovered the Berlin composer knew my ex father in law who had been a famous sax player in the early '70s, met some really great Irish radio documentary makers who were fans, talked photography with an Australian, football with the Scots and pinballed around until we retired to the rooftop and a New York night.
I was having a ball but it was close to pumpkin time. Yatta and I were on our last martinis.
My final conversation was with Geo and some Australian that had worked with Bob Geldof. Of course the night ended on politics. Geo was stoic and listening professionally as I went on about being fascinated that so much radio was represented from all spheres and was dealing with a freedom that wasn't available on TV, the power of that freedom and the capability and impact of contact on an underground level and the possibility of making serious change, the resurgence of radio and the worldwide coverage offered by the internet. I was starting to babble.
I knew it. Time to exit.
Yatta was starting to glaze over as well and we didn't have to say anything to each other. We'd been here before.
We said our goodbyes. Achmed stood on his own at the bar. He looked lost. The beautiful people were looking ugly as werewolves ascended from the streets below and vampires drifted onto the roof from other parties. The crowd was changing. Ghouls were abroad.
We found a cab quickly but couldn't remember directions over the bridge. The ferries were anchored for the night so we had no option but to head over the river by cab and pay the surcharge. It was all a neon blur now. Only about 1am but it had been a long and eventful day.
After a few wrong directions and u-turns I caught sight of the Hilton sign through a gap in the buildings. We crawled out of the cab and into the hotel. I clutched the bag with the 3 awards, I hadn't forgotten!
Yatta and I exchanged a huge hug. I was really glad he had been with me.
A fine time and a truly memorable night. I don't know what impression I'd made and, to be honest, I didn't really care.
I folded my suit away and slunk under the cool, clean sheets letting my eyes close with Manhattan still burning bright across the river.
Tomorrow we were going to frighten someone.
Email 1st August 2008