Well, here we are again, Birmingham Airport, in time for the 9:25am flight to Gothenburg, Sweden. All the usual suspects are here except Big Jon who will be joining us in Germany tomorrow. His trumpet duties are being done by Tony Robinson (No, not that Tony Robinson!) who can generally be seen playing for The Beautiful South, or The South, as they’re now known. Tony is also from Leicester, which seems to breed horn players for some reason. Coventry seems to breed unemployed studio engineers for reasons too complicated to mention here. The flight is on a tiny little jet, but pleasant enough and one and a half hours later we are landing in Gothenburg. The London posse are already here. We collect our stuff and get gone. The crew go straight to the venue while the musicians go to the hotel. The guys from Bad Religion are at the airport … cool. They’re doing the festival as well. It is a four-day punk rock bash (The Westside Riot) which causes some caustic remarks from some of us. Personally, I think it’s pretty cool that one week we can be headlining a World Music weekend and the next, entertaining a field of punk rockers. Still breaking down barriers after 30 years! Vans arrive to take us to the festival site which is on what looks like a large car park in the harbour area. There is a fucking huge cruise ship, registered in Nassau, and old sailing ships and two stages and lots of Americans.
Backstage is very sanitized and controlled and is like a refugee induction camp but with deli trays and Perrier water. The West Coast Riot is not the anarchists paradise we were expecting but a four-day music festival for polite Swedish youth. Thursday (today) is a punk-rock themed day, Friday and Saturday are the exclusive domain of all things Metal and Sunday promises a pop/rock kind of vibe, so our van driver tells me.
While some unlistenable screaming-by-numbers nu-metal-emo-thrash band deafen people on the Black Stage (?!), we set up on the Red Stage and have a relaxed time setting up and getting the sound right. Stage time is 4.40pm, by which time people have staggered across from the black abyss, clutching their bleeding ears, to see The Specials.
Lynval has been complaining about his swollen finger, more than likely a result of his falling over last week in Athens, but plays the gig fine, as does everybody. In fact it is a really great performance, relaxed, yet full of all that power and groove and……well, you know, when it works, it really works. Roddy fell over the brass monitors towards the end of It’s Up To You, spending the last sixteen bars of the song on his back - never dropped a note, bless him. I suffered the same indignity when we were in Australia, spending the last chorus of Hey Little Rich Girl in almost the same position. We had a laugh about it afterwards and he said it was more embarrassing than painful. I know how he feels.
On the way back to the dressing rooms I am assailed by three kids who thank me profusely and tell me they’ve been listening to the band for years. They can’t have been born in 1979. There again, when I do get to the dressing room, an American grabs me by the hand and says, ‘Awesome! I’ve been waiting thirty years to see you guys!’.
Go figure, as they say.
Backstage the mood is very positive. Replacement trumpet player Tony is chuffed, as are all the brass guys and when the crew arrive the subject turns to football. Marcos (front of house sound) is Brazilian and it turns out that Gabriel (monitors) is Italian. It all gets a bit football-related and I lose interest. We are all back at the hotel by 7:30pm.
Not very rock and roll is it?
Friday. Breakfast at the hotel. The restaurant was full of crew-type people with CREW t-shirts, goatee beards and tattoos. One bloke was tattooed green. All over. With designs that looked like scales. A sort of lizard roadie. How odd.
Gothenburg airport - Flight to Hamburg (Nev sits next to a not-very-nice German lady who seems to be lacking in people skills) - Hamburg airport -hang around. Big Jon turns up and it’s a two-hour drive to the Shnuck Hotel in a little village south of Hamburg, presumably near the festival site. A really boring day spent traveling. The hotel is pleasant though and our bus driver is a man called Manfred. Now, we’re on stage at 1:00am, which is dodgy to say the least, but it means we can get a few hours kip before we leave for the gig at 10:00pm.
Actually, it’s 10:30pm when we get going. Football-related apparently. England: 0 Algeria: 0. So it is a rather sedate 45 minute trip to the festival site.
OK, this is the Hurricane festival, like the V festival thing in the UK. Four stages with an alternating bill which means we’ll be seeing the same goatee beards and tattoos tomorrow,
774 kilometers away, at the Southside festival. Backstage is moderately convivial. Dressing rooms are complained about, coffee is fetched, bottles are opened. Same as usual, only about four hours later. Midnight we assemble and are taken in two vans to our designated performance area…..a large tent, which is more or less full to its 6,000 capacity. from then on it’s downhill all the way. The band on before us are still playing at 12:40. They should have been off 10 minutes ago. When they do finish, it’s chaos as usual as our gear is put in place on the stage, wires are plugged in and our somewhat stressed-looking crew attempt to do what they do - only in half the time. Marcos is clearly struggling with the out-front desk and Daniel, Paul and Punky Steve are scurrying for all they’re worth. There is no way we’re going to be on stage for our scheduled one o’clock showtime.In fact it’s 25 to 2 in the morning when The Specials finally take to the stage.
Despite all this, the crowd are brilliant, a lot of young people - although they’re the only people mad enough to be up this late. Neville’s monitor speakers don’t function properly, causing Gabriel to perform a wonderful ‘journey under fire’ to the front of the stage to check for himself. Our crew continue to scurry as mich stands move in the mayhem but no-one from the band falls over! Because we went on so late we have to drop 2 songs so we miss out Do Nothing and Enjoy Yourself. Why?, I ask myself. We’re the fuckin‘ headliners. Surely the show shouldn’t be running late. Harrumph, Harrumph. Etc.
We leave the stage at 20 past 2 feeling somewhat disgruntled. We have been unable to play our full set to a capacity audience who I don’t believe got value for money through no fault of our own. The crew are more or less incandescent with rage when they finally get on the coach, having finally secured our gear in the luggage bay…in the rain. The buck gets passed to the local stage/sound crew who wired up the sound desks incorrectly and refused to do some technical stuff which meant the the monitors couldn’t be as loud as they should. I made a mistake in Rat Race but no-one seemed to notice so I kept quiet.
Nikolaj is somewhat dejected. He has a bank of sampled sounds, (the plucked string intro to Rat Race, keyboard sounds for Stereotypes etc.) but they don’t work which must be extremely frustrating for someone with such high standards. We commiserate afterwards and discuss how to solve the problem. The Schnuck Hotel, which I can now tell you is in the village of Schneverdingen (honest!) is finally reached at the witching hour of a quarter to four in the morning. As Roddy said to me earlier in the evening ‘It’s a young man’s game, this’.
Saturday I dropped off to sleep to the sound of the dawn chorus and awake at 9. Hey, 5 hours sleep, better than I anticipated. We depart at noon with Manfred to drive somewhere else a long way away. Manfred says it will take us 10 hours. He is right. It is 10pm and we pull into the sleepy little town of Tuttlingen. We are knackered. The crew hurtle off to the festival site and the bus returns for us an hour later. I’m a little bit spaced out from the huge North/South bus trip, but a can of Red Bull seems to put me right. The Southside Festival is more or less exactly the same as yesterday’s affair, only with real toilets and a lot more mud. On the bright side, our stage time is 12.30am - still really late but better than the 1.00am expected. The local guys are a lot more organised than yesterday and we hit showtime as scheduled. Guys from The Prodigy and LCD Soundsystem are side-stage and we play a good one - loads better than last night - the full set, but no encores because of strictly-enforced curfews. I was very pleased with the compliments from the LCD guys. Praise from the New York ultra-hip is praise indeed - nice blokes. Lynval’s guitar set-up stops working in Nite Klub for some reason, but Daniel fixed it by the end of the song, by which time Lyn was trying to balance his guitar on his head whilst attempting backing vocals. The man is mad.
The late show times and travelling have taken their toll however and I feel quite light-headed when I come off stage. I get a lift back to the dressing rooms with the LCD Soundsystem guys who came to watch us. They seem really thrilled to have seen the show and James Murphy, their head honcho was singling out Brad especially. ‘I spent the first four songs just watching the drums…amazing. It’s really great seeing someone who obviously totally enjoys what he’s playing’. Excuse me, but I don’t see the point of playing music if you don’t enjoy it. A microwave meal of ham and sauerkraut (what else!) helps with my head. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, sixteen hours earlier which may may explain why I felt weird. Sitting writing this back at the hotel I can still feel the movement of the coach. Like you get sea-legs, I must have bus-legs. I conk out around 4am
We played good tonight. Young audience too.
Sunday. Neville expresses a wish to get back to Coventry early for some family stuff as does Terry. Lynval joins him on the early flight to London. Or could this be a ruse to disguise a Fun Boy Three reunion? Steve (not the manager) Blackwell denies any such ideas as just ugly rumours. Me?…. Paranoid?….Don’t know what you’re talking about!
Anyway. It’s Sunday and we’re going home. Rabbit, our regular monitor engineer is back with us for our next trip, so we say farewell to Gabriel. Nice bloke. Well done Gabes.
Most of the day is spent hanging around Stuttgart airport trying not to spend money and watching Italian football fans watching football. (Italy:1 New Zealand:1) We get back to Birmingham just after 9pm We’ve managed to complete our second weekend of European festivals. The idea of spending a weekend being soaked through, covered in mud with very little sleep whilst being bombarded with noise does not seem my idea of fun, but I suppose that’s advancing age for you. Anyway, they used to do that sort of thing years ago but then it was called the First World War.
What’s on your I-Pod: An Occasional series.
Terry: On the flight from Sweden to Germany I listened to Be-Bop Deluxe, Dory Previn and Leonard Cohen.