I hit my web site last night, "The Perception Of Fish", just to find out what was happening with me and I pulled up the Tour Diary which spans the 10 years of my solo career. I was surprised to find that over this term I'd played over 560 shows and 128 of them were played in 22 different countries in 1997. You tend to forget. It all becomes a blur after a while. Travelling at high speed from point to point till it becomes pointless. Staring out of a bus window at a world you gradually disassociate yourself from, temporarily dislocated from reality. You are no longer civilian. The circus envelops you and the weirdness is accepted as natural behaviour. The humour darkens and the unit closes the circle and keeps out the bad vibes maintaining momentum in every aspect. It's scary and safe. Everyone gets new names and a new language. A new time zone is invented and Sundays are only recognised because that's the day the shops are closed. The protection of the group is sacrosanct and everyone works toward one thing, the show. The boredom is negotiable and countered by the promises of the evening. Behaviour patterns are monitored. Allowances are made and space is created. Quiet talks and loud explosions help the stress, loneliness, frustrations and fears evaporate. You are strange and estranged, worshipped and loathed, trusted and deemed untrustworthy, numb and hyper-sensitive, contented and insecure. You encounter the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. And all the time you gather stories to regale and frighten strangers.
These are the tales from the big bus. On the 20th November I woke up outside gig number 108, the Rhein rock Hallen in Koln Germany. It was cold and not great weather for Badger activity. A student film company roved outside trying to grab footage of bleary-eyed musicians and crew, most of whom had already reccied the vast venue hours before and had loaded in the equipment. The singer was catching Z's!
Pretty standard day really! We'd danced until the wee hours at Ubach the night before. The dressing room had been the smaller of the two halls and had a disco set-up which would have been churlish not to use for the after show activities which involved a lot of Tequila! Koln was the last show of the German Tour and the curve was taking us home. I hadn't gone completely crazy and had retired worse for wear. The big sleep as always on the big bus was relatively uncomfortable but did the trick. I awoke to another party! The band were already fed and watered by the time I crawled in the hall. Mickey Simmonds "Smug Bastard", having returned on this tour for the first time since 1991 brought with him his mastery of the keyboards as well as his quirks and minor eccentricities that are always brought to the fore on a road trip of this length and nature. Robin Boult ("Itchy") had also returned having opted out of the start of the tour due to work commitments elsewhere, he would be the third guitarist on the epic journey. A totally amazing and versatile player his skills combined with Mickey's to create the ideal lead instrument package and the finest band I'd taken out into the world. The unit had sized down from a six piece and by losing one guitarist the space created gave the songs a new freshness and vitality.
The rhythm section was also a new pairing with Steve Vantsis joining in May to take up the vacant Bass playing position alongside Dave "Squeeky" Stewart on the drum-kit. "Squeeks" had been with me since 1994 and was now apart from Robin the longest serving member. Steve ("Bubbles") and "Squeeks" had worked together in Edinburgh before so it didn't take long for the rhythm section to gel. Steve's work with the "River City People" and "Horse" had earned him quite a reputation and "Squeeky's" work with "Camel" in the months leading up to the tour had kept them in good shape. Our tour did the rest and by Germany there was none better on the road.
On the day of Koln the back stage boredom was relieved by the discovery of a Carnival / joke shop in the neighbourhood and soon there were various musos and crew running around sporting "Simpson's" masks, Andy Williamson our long term Out Front sound engineer particularly worrying as Marge! For myself "Pappa Smurf " was befitting while Yatta," Tango Bastard", our beloved Production Manager decided on an outsized clown costume!
Dave Gould, the merchandise chappie who was already known as "The Count" (one t-shirt, two t-shirts..) became a very believable Dracula while Mike Rose, monitors, and Duncan Ross aka "Scary Spice" or "Radar", our only back-line technician, didn't need masks as they were frightening enough already! The other three members of the travelling circus, Jim "kak-kak" Kelly, the truck driver, Richy "Doberman" Duncan our catering chef and Les "One-wood" Johnson the driver of the Big Bus were either too busy cooking, drinking or sleeping to partake in our childish bent. The hours dragged until showtime. We swapped stories from the Big Bus.
The introduction to the set in Europe had been given to us in Los Angeles by Yeardley Smith who supplies the voice of Lisa Simpson on the TV series. A big fan she was really disappointed that she couldn't make the gig so she sent us the most original intro tape that I've ever had! I can't use the tape on this CD for copyright reasons but it goes something like this -(music at start of intro "Jazz Man Testifies")
"Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to the show! This is Lisa Simpson from the......Simpsons, huh! I don't usually practice this sort of debauchery! Are you ready to rock and roll!!? You are in for some treat tonight! Fish is such a wonderful guy and the keyboard player is so cute!!! And they don't call him Fish because he likes to take a long bath! He introduced me to a new soda pop called... eh... Guinness!!! Woo Hoo! Gies a bun!!!
I am the Lizard Queen!!!! Ladies and Gentlemen!! Fish!!" Brilliant. Pure dead brilliant! Robin was always alone on stage at this point and the opening riff of "Perceptions" always allowed that last minute tweaking of the sound before the show rolled into action. The intros are all in faltering German, a product of High School Education and more recently the side effect from having a German wife! My command of the language always seems to improve after a few beers! The set list had settled into the format on these 2 CD's but as always time expanded and the two hour show always seemed to extend, this one in particular went to the 2 hour 15 minute mark. The DAT tape we recorded most nights on is only 120 minutes and Andy forgot to put a replacement in to capture the rest of the performance thereby omitting "Lavender" and "A Gentleman's Excuse Me" from this live album. I was gutted to discover that we didn't have any other options to choose from as Andy always forgot to change the tape!! He's Scottish! As a translation for those of you non-German (or Scottish Gibberish) speaking I'll explain some of the intros to the songs. As a person with a distinct lack of hair I've always had a problem with the sweat from my head as there's nothing to stop it cascading down my face and entering the headshell of the Shure58 microphone! It gets soaked up in the lining of the mike and proceeds to cut out all the upper mid and high frequencies. Imagine putting your Ghetto Blaster under a running shower and trying to listen to it! Kind of the same effect.
This means that every so often during the gig I have to change the headshells and the break before "Jungle Ride" was a great opportunity. A story developed where I told the audience that there was a goldfish in the headshell but for this number I required something different. The headshells are thrown or in this case carefully handed over to avoid disturbing the Zoological contents, the new mike having Lions, small elephants, one rabbit.... two rabbits, thirty four rabbits etc, etc. It was a visual one ok!!
The other lead part to this was an explanation of where the hair had gone and I told the audience that I'd mysteriously grown taller one night but my hair had stayed the same height! This created the problem of having my hair inside my head! You get the drift! The Badger story at the end of the set translates relatively easy. The idea of badgers came from "The Fast Show" a British Comedy programme that became the favourite on Big Bus TV. Sketches were paraded daily in normal conversation and certain characters were adopted in personalities! The badger from "Badger Watch" sketch with "Bob Fleming" (my nickname! He has a terrible coughing problem!!) became the principal theme of the tour. We'd spend hours searching in shopping arcades looking for badger t-shirts, figurines or anything that had a badger image.
The theory was that because badgers were nocturnal - like us, lived in small holes - like our bunks on the bus and were generally playful but vicious when cornered - like us, we were actually the reincarnation of the inhabitants of an ancient badger sett, come back to life as wandering musicians. I told you it gets weird out there!! So the story developed and got more outrageous and the fans loved it! The singalongs were with more gusto and we always did our best to discover the local name for badgers which went really well until France when we discovered the "Blerot", French for badger was also a slang word meaning "You F******g Peasant"!!! How the crowd laughed!! Badger in German is by the way "Dachs" thus explaining the shape of Dachshunds! All stories you pick up on the road.
The gig speaks for itself. It's uncut (apart from the 2 missing last tracks) and as was on the night. It was the last night of the German tour and we couldn't have enjoyed ourselves more! A great send off and the sense of achievement was immense. But as always the lights come down and the hall empties into the night and we're left alone in the backstage waiting for the load-out to end. We hit the bus around 2am and spent the night sleeping in the car park outside the gig. Well some people slept, others spent the night curled up in the downstairs lounge, our very own Sett, drinking vodka, listening to loud music and coming to grips with another Tale from the Big Bus.
I hope you like it.
Fri, 22 May 1998
Tales From The Big Bus sleeve notes