grapevine
August 23rd, 2010

SUMMER FUN WITH THE SPECIALS , by SIR HORACE GENTLEMAN - CHAPTER 8

Frequenzy Festival, Austria / Lowlands Festival, Holland.
August 18th. - 21st.

Things, as they say, are great or small but by comparison. Six weeks ago, if you’d have told me we were departing from Birmingham International Airport, I would have cocked a snook and snorted down my nostrils at you. Today, however, I am thrilled. There is no two and a half hour trek down to Heathrow, no two hour slog to Stansted or Manchester, just the usual mad dash up the A45. Relaxing almost.
Nev, Rod and I are off to Vienna via Frankfurt for the last of our weekend warrior jaunts.
Austria tomorrow (Thursday) and Holland on Friday. The three of us are stopped by a somewhat officious policewoman as we enter the departure lounge. How much money are we taking abroad? (Very little as it turns out) She never searches us to find out. Neville is less than impressed. We obviously look like trouble! We fly to Frankfurt over clouds. Air travel still satisfies - it looks real calm and peaceful out there. (It’s actually minus 35C).
All this tranquility stuff goes out of the window when we get into Frankfurt where we queue for ages to go through passport control. Nev gets severe grief. “If you want to get into my country, you will take your hat off and get your hands of the counter!” I am far too polite to inform you of Neville’s reply. After a lot of blood-claating later we find ourselves in another queue to go through another security check. “Empty your pockets” - not even ‘please’. We make our way to the gate for Vienna to find that everyone is waiting for us. We are the last three people to get on the shuttle bus to the plane and everyone is staring at us. Hey, we queued like everyone else, do we look that evil? (We don’t look like the average tourist or business-person I must admit). It’s an hour flight to Vienna followed by an hour’s drive West to St. Polsten, We pass the festival site on the way into town and here we are at the Metropole Hotel. Half an hour later the London posse arrive and soon we are down in the restaurant, Lynval and Neville being very loud and Jamaican and hilariously funny. Steve (not the manager) Blackwell picks up the tab. Thanks Steve.
Thursday. Here we are then, St. Polsten. The expression ’sleepy little town’ comes to mind. A stroll around the centre after breakfast, leisurely-like. Those pan-pipe karaoke guys get everywhere don’t they! There’s an authentic Italian market going on. Lots of big salami-type sausages and large cheeses and the Stadtmuseum which kills an hour or two.
I even saw a couple of nuns. The hills will be alive with a different type of music this evening. During the afternoon, Tim, Nikolaj, Drew and Big Jon arrive with the rest of the crew and we set off for the festival site at 8pm. Terry is not feeling too good; a cold or virus or something. Anyhow it’s 10 to 10 and on we go - the Green stage, which isn’t green at all, but the same size as the one in Oslo. Lynval’s in-ear monitor system isn’t working properly so we have to stop so he can get them working, much to our collective annoyance. Terry seems to have this Uri Geller relationship with his mich stand as it bends every which way but straight. The audience are……OK, not totally into it like some of the crowds we’ve played to, but hey….they never threw anything! Again, there are loads of people side stage dancing. I get to meet Oliver Francis Charles, who used to work with Ben Harper (I’m a big big Ben Harper fan). His current gig is with Gogol Bordello and the GB’s are up there side-stage right skanking furiously. Eugene Hutz, their head honcho was most complimentary afterwards and told me that the first Specials album is the bench mark
used by enormo U.S. producer Rick Rubin, who compared Gogol Bordello with The Specials. Mr. Hutz didn’t figure out why at the time but admitted that after seeing us, he got it. Another notch to our bed post. Gogol Bordello,…..cool. My back is well patted and it’s great to get confirmation that we’ve been such an influence on all these guys, a fact that is not lost on Brad and I as we travel back to the hotel later. The show, I suppose was a good one. (The side-stage skankers seemed to think so). Concrete Jungle was good tonight, a little slower and consequently a bit groovier. Sometimes I think it’s a bit too punk rock and not ska enough. Roddy introduces the song, “This song kills fascists!” Man at C&A hit a groove that can only be described as righteous, despite the fact that Tim(trombone) only just made it to the stage for the intro, perhaps spending a little too much time networking off-stage right.(In
his defence, Tim said his trombone case and jacket had been moved during Stereotypes and he had one of those heart-stopping moments where he imagined his wallet and passport being spirited away by some eager stage hand, so I’m not surprised he was a little flustered). Nikolaj’s keyboard riser had a life of its own for the first couple of songs until the crew wrapped towels around the wheels to stop it moving. His keyboard and attendant speakers were utter rubbish too - he was not a happy camper but held it together like the consumate professional he is. Hey, it’s a Specials gig, chaos as usual. Just before Little Bitch, Terry turned round to Brad and I and said ‘I really want to go home’. His plea is more-or-less answered as Daniel (stage manager) comes on to tell us we have to cut a song as we’re running out of time. Terry is sufficiently thankful and we end with a ferocious version of Too Much Too Young. Thank you Austria and goodnight.
Friday. 10:15am lobby call and we’re off to Vienna airport to catch the 1:45pm flight to Amsterdam. 4pm sees us collect our luggage at the enormous shopping mall that is Schiphol airport. From there it’s another hour’s drive to our hotel. Actually it’s more like two hours because (a) there’s road construction all over the place, (b) it’s Friday afternoon - the weekend starts here and (c) it’s the rush hour as we leave Amsterdam. The hotel is a kind of country club affair near the festival. I am knackered. I have done nothing all day but sit in airports, sit on aeroplanes, sit in vans and I’m exhausted. The choice is either food or sleep. I chose the food, followed by a strong cup of coffee. The correct choice as it turned out. We get to the festival site around 8pm and it’s festival-site-as-usual … loads of lorries and busses and huge tents. Catering, apparently is over the other side of the site, so I’m glad I ate earlier. Brad and I do a TV interview which wiles away 10 minutes which would otherwise have been spent getting nervous. Before I know it, it’s 9:10pm, showtime and all of a sudden it’s 1979! Brad plays like a man possessed, does some stuff I’ve never heard him do before and with an intensity that is scary. That’s the fastest we’ve ever played Concrete Jungle. Definitely punk rock tonight! The crowd are fantastic and the response to ‘Message to You‘ is like the reception we got in Belgium. Nikolaj is happy, the brass are happy, the bass and drums are rocking and the Specials ‘do the business’. Our 14th and last Euro-Festival. We get to encore with ‘You’re Wondering Now‘ and leave the crowd singing. Lynval never fell over, it didn’t rain and everybody loves The Specials.
The down side is that the Midland posse have 6:30am alarm calls as we have to be away by 7am. Breakfast starts at 7:30am.
Saturday. Bleary is an apt description as the quieter-than-usual Midlanders head off to Amsterdam. The hotel very kindly makes up a little breakfast bag for everyone - a couple of sandwiches, an apple and a can of fruit juice. Nice touch. They didn’t have to do that. We gradually come round in the D6 gate area and finally take off half an hour late.
Ho hum and it’s back to Brum, Sammy, his van, Coventry and home.

What’s on your I-Pod: An Occasional Series.
Big Jon(trumpet): Chant Down Babylon, It’s a Bob Marley tribute album done by a lot of different artists and Jollification by The Lightning Seeds.

Drew(Saxophone): I haven’t got an I-Pod. On my MP-3 player I’m listening to Alton Ellis,
The Slackers and Amy Winehouse.