Someone is taking the piss. Really. A 5am start. As opposed to flying, which we usually do, we’re going to Europe by coach. Traveling on the ground, or even under it. ‘Jus‘ like the Viet Cong’. The Midlanders meet at Coventry Pool Meadow bus station to board the Ellison’s coach, same firm we used on our last UK tour and one of the drivers is Mike, who we know from back in November. He’s got his Specials t-shirt on too. So, down the M40 to rendezvous with Daniel at our lock-up, where we keep our stuff. From there it’s right through the centre of London, in rush hour, to pick up everyone else. They are all there.
‘This is a very punctual band‘ I overhear Daniel say to Keith (our other driver). True, but grumpy with it, mate. 5am. Taking the piss, that is.
The Midlanders aren’t the only ones who are tired. Lynval got in from Jamaica yesterday afternoon and Rabbit’s flight from America got in at midnight, after a 5-week tour with Athlete. Brad, who is holidaying in Barcelona and Nikolaj who is visiting his family in Copenhagen will meet us there, as will tour manager Jaeki who lives in Berlin. (‘He’s more like a holiday rep than a tour manager; meets us at our destination‘ says Terry).
We’re playing at the Werchter festival today. We played it 30 years ago on our way home after our legendary trip to Japan.
The coach is going via the Eurotunnel, a first for me. Good job I’m not claustrophobic, that’s my tunnel experience. It’s roasting hot in France…I mean Belgium, when we have a 15 minute pit stop at some services en route to Brussels. We get to the hotel, check in and one and a half hours later we are off to the festival. We pass a roadside thermometer which read 35 degrees. This is going to be a hot one.
The Werchter festival is one of the most established of the European festivals and the organisation is suitably impressive. Backstage is all two-storey portacabins and wooden decking. Catering is exquisite and the dressing rooms have air conditioning.
It seems very difficult to tell who’s in a group these days. The dress code is…black everything, tattoos optional. the only criteria I could discern was that if you were thin you were a musician and if you’re fat, you’re crew. The Specials however, disprove this theory. Some of our crew are stick-thin and some of us musicians could do with losing a few pounds. However, when we get ready to go on stage , everyone damn well knows there’s a group coming through. We also seem to have the only black people in the whole place
(apart from Corinne Bailey-Rae - more later).
Showtime is 9:20pm on the pyramid stage, which is really a big open-sided tent. ‘Why are we playing in a fuckin‘ tent‘ grumbles Roddy sidestage before we go on. He has a point. Maybe next year. As expected it is extremely hot on stage, but the audience are absolutely rabid. We rise to the occasion and play what, in my opinion, was a blinder. Yes, Lynval kept breaking strings, Brad dropped a couple of sticks and Terry’s voice was a bit croaky to start with but the performance was fantastic. Roddy, I thought, put on a terrific show.
The crowd cheered and cheered after ‘Message to You’, just kept on yelling. They were louder than we were! We had to start another song to shut them up! Amazing! I can’t recall
ever getting such a response before. So it is a very elated Specials that come off stage Saturday evening. Corrine Bailey-Rae was seen sidestage right dancing her way through the show and stage left were our new-best-friends, LCD Soundsystem, continuing to froth
at the mouth over Brad’s performance. I should think so too! The LCD’s were on after us.
Follow that and stay fashionable!
After I’ve got changed I finally sit down to some food and watch a video screen which has Green Day on the main stage. They have a pretty heavy pyrotechnic habit and explosions occur on a regular basis through their big rock-show call and response set. I always thought they were a punk band. We finally get going and reach the hotel at around half-past midnight.
We leave Brussels for the 330 mile drive, South-East to the Eurockeenes festival which is near Strasbourg, right down by the German border. About half way through the journey it starts to rain. It pours down for about 15 minutes. A cigarette break at around 3‘o’clock is accompanied by the sound of thunder and a torrential downpour which scatters the desperate smokers, much to the amusement of the non-smokers. ‘Rain, perfect festival weather‘ says Brad. On the journey I hear an interesting urban myth. The 2-inch master tapes of the first Specials album were stored (if that’s the right word) at the bottom of a pile of tapes in a corridor outside one of the offices in Chrysalis. These corridors were cleaned regularly and over the decades, the proximity of vacuum cleaners with their electrics and magnets and stuff had wiped the tapes clean. So much for the remix!
We get to our hotel around half five, disembark as the crew continue on to the festival site, about half an hour away. I get that familiar ‘stomach-in-knots‘ ‘couldn’t eat anything even if I was hungry‘ feeling that the proximity of a show brings. Adrenaline; works every time!
Showtime is 9:20pm, same as yesterday. I am knackered, but the roar of the crowd kicks in and so do The Specials. The sound on stage is really good and we play to a particularly wild French crowd. Crowd surfing and at one stage, some serious moshing. These guys are definitely up for it. Before we know it, it’s a good show. Hot, but a good one nonetheless. During the second verse of ‘Doesn’t Make it Alright’, Rod does this ‘fake head-butt‘ thing with his guitar, but this time does it for real and gives himself a nasty gash over his right eye. Consequently, when he’s singing Concrete Jungle (the next song), blood is dripping down his face onto his shirt. It looked fantastic! Terry doesn’t come in at his usual place on the intro of Night Club (is this the in place to be). I panic and yell over to Brad, ‘Keep going! Keep going!‘ He looks over at me and yells back ‘ Well, I can’t stop, can I!‘ Drummer One - Bass guitarist Nil. Classic. The last song is ‘Enjoy Yourself‘ (Hi, my name’s Terry and I go into therapy on Monday….Can’t wait!) We are joined on stage by a multitude of insects. One gets in my ear, Nev thinks he swallowed one and Lynval spends most of the last chorus trying to stop the security guys from beating the shit out of some kid who, admittedly, tried at least three times to join us on stage.
Consensus backstage was that it was a good gig.
Afterwards, Lyn and Rod give what could loosely be described as a press conference, although I doubt that Rod got a word in edgeways. Lyn could talk for England……and Jamaica……and probably a substantial part of America if given half the chance. To say that Mr. Golding is having the time of his life would be total understatement. Anyway, I have my own interview to do and just as it finishes, it starts to rain. Absolutely buckets down, just like a real festival. So it’s a ‘Noah’s Ark, the-animals-are-on-board - let’s go‘ vibe on the bus, but Roddy has left his jacket at the press conference tent, so Steve (not the manager) Blackwell retrieves it and gets a soaking for his pains. I hope Rod said thank you. After 15 minutes it stops raining but the damage has been done. The Hives, who are headlining, play to a quagmire of French people. Like I said, The First World War.
Brad says we are blessed with Specials Festival Fortune (not to get rained on). We shall see. It hasn’t rained in Mulhouse where our Holiday Inn is, but we disembark to the sight of lightning over the nearby hills. I am so tired I can’t sleep, and I never got anything to eat today either.
Awake at 5:15am, starving and with a ginormous headache. Jack Daniels on an empty stomach was not a good idea but the ‘Party On The Bus’ last night, along with the ‘Well, that’s that for another week’ feeling sort of made it seem appropriate.
It would appear that my prayers have been answered and I can get a flight from Zurich (just over an hour away) to Birmingham. The prospect of spending all Sunday on a coach driving all the way across France to Calais, the tunnel, London, and eventually Coventry
is not appealing. Especially with a hangover. I eventually slide out of bed and come to in the shower. Breakfast (my first meal in 24 hours) revives me. From then, it’s ‘hurry up and wait’ until Brad, Nev and I get our lift at 2pm. There is a run-in with the obligatory nasty Swiss border guard as we enter Basel and the plane is delayed for an hour with us on board and no working air conditioning until we take off, finally getting into Birmingham at around 7:15pm, to be met by Sam. Good old Sammy! The coach finally pulls into Coventry at half past midnight after 14 interminable hours on the coach.
What’s On Your I-Pod? An occasional series.
Brad. Rico, but his vocal tracks. I’ve compiled some of them from his albums. All sorts of weird stuff like ‘What a Wonderful World’ and a rasta version of ‘Oh Danny Boy’. His voice is amazing. He sings just like he plays trombone - brilliant. He was awarded an MBE a while back. The Duke of Edinburgh asked him if he ever took his hat off!