grapevine
August 31st, 2010

SUMMER FUN WITH THE SPECIALS, Chapter 9, by Sir Horace Gentleman

NEW YORK / TORONTO. AUGUST 22 - 29.

O.K. Now the original plan was to fly direct from Amsterdam to New York on Saturday 21st in order to play Central Park on the 22nd. The non-appearance of a work visa for Neville has meant this hasn’t happened but we still intend to do our TV show (David Letterman) on the 23rd without Nev.
This is why Big Jon is driving Drew, Roddy and I down to Heathrow the day after we landed in Birmingham from Amsterdam. Confused?….Welcome to The Specials. After we’ve done our New York thing we’re heading up to Toronto where Neville will join us (he doesn’t need a visa for Canada). We then play the show we had to cancel earlier in the year, plus another one they put on sale ‘due to public demand’. It’s only a skeleton crew that is accompanying us to NYC: Daniel (production manager), Paul (drum tech) and Rabbit (monitor engineer). The rest of the crew will fly out independently in a few days.
Terminal 5 at Heathrow is teeming with people and we get gone on our British Airways Jumbo just after 6pm. Lynval and Roddy have been up-graded to business class which means they have their own little cubicle arrangement with the possibility of sleeping full-length if they so desire. I’m in Premium economy which just means that my seat’s a little more comfortable than Nikolaj’s. The flight is fine but the landing is vicious. The weather is grim in New York and it’s a case of ‘get the thing down, quick’. We land sideways with an almighty thump.
‘Standard operating procedure for Boeings’ says the captain. Yeah, Right!
Immigration is its usual tedious, surly self, as is the wait for our luggage/equipment. My guitars arrive unscathed. Outside it is belting down with rain. I mean a torrential downpour which goes on for at least 45 minutes as we wait for the transport that is booked to take us to our hotel in Manhattan. When it finally arrives (2 vans) we load up and get gone. We manage about 300 yards from the terminal when we get stuck in traffic. Like gridlocked.
Like for around 2 hours! The rain has caused flooding which has made part of the freeway
unnavigable. Amazing. We’ve come all this way only to be stuck on an overpass to the Manhattan Expressway. Luckily the water recedes before our patience does and we finally get to the Tribeca Grand hotel at half past midnight. That’s half past five in the morning UK time!
Monday. Wide awake and it’s 5 in the morning. I’ve managed 4 hours sleep. My feet are in New York but my head’s back in Coventry. No matter, the show must go on. The crew had to load in a 6am. Poor buggers. A heavy duty shower followed by some car-tyre coffee over at Bubby’s helps revive me. We arrive at the Ed Sullivan theatre at 11am for our rehearsal. Rabbit and Paul were on their way back from a music store buying stuff for us when they were caught in another New York downpour. They are both soaked to the skin and miserable with it. We give them what clothes we can spare.
Now, the Letterman show is the top US chat show and all the union guys working on it really need you to know it. We (the band) are just cattle to be herded in, shouted at, told to play, told not to play, ignored and treated like the novelty act they take us for. They, the union crew are the important people here, and they really don’t want some band of limey musicians to rock their boat. The attitude here makes the Jimmy Fallon show, which I was highly dismissive of earlier in the year, seem like a pleasant experience. We get to perform around 7pm - herded on before our gear is properly set up / wired up / anything (Tim’s monitor wasn’t working at all and Rod had to plug his effects unit in himself) and off we go.
All the US union crew are backstage worshipping the great Letterman on screen, laughing at all the bad jokes and being so utterly sycophantic to this……bloke…who I just don’t get. I feel like I’m from another planet. We play Nite Klub. Is this the in place to be? What am I doing here? Irony anyone? I’m sorry. Perhaps if I was American I might appreciate some kind of cultural significance. The venue that hosted the Ed Sullivan show…Elvis, The Beatles. It’s just a rather cold (‘David likes to keep the temperature regulated’) small theatre with TV cameras between the audience and the stage. Now there’s a metaphor for you!
Our performance of Nite Klub is, to be honest, perfunctory (Go on, look it up!) and I am (as you can tell) in a bad mood. Not with the group, or our crew, who I have absolute sympathy for, having to work with these ignorant, rude bullies but with the attitude that pervades all of this. ‘You need the exposure on our show more than we need you’ is the subtle message. After our performance, the man himself comes over to wind up the show and shakes Lynval’s hand, then Terry’s hand, then my hand. Hey everyone, David Letterman shook my hand! Like I give a fuck.
Upstairs in the miniscule dressing rooms the mood is upbeat. Everyone says we played well and the performance was spirited (without Nev?) and it sounded good. Me, I’m just happy it’s over. We’ve been used to traveling for 6-7 hours to play for an hour at a festival
in Europe but we left England almost two days ago and have played one song. It does seem absurd. Our ride back down to the Tribeca is one of those spectacular journeys of the world. Down Broadway through Times Square. ‘A new life awaits you in the off-world colonies’ as us Blade-Runner fans would have it. The night is still young but the jet lag has kicked in and although I’m not as raging as I was a while ago, I have no stomach for socialising. Sleep, please, and lots of it.
Tuesday. Some of us are staying for a couple of days in New York, some of us are going to Toronto. Whatever. We’ll all meet up again on Friday to play the first of our 2 shows at The Sound Academy. Me, I’m Toronto bound.

Friday 27th. Toronto.
Normally my day off on tour is spent either climbing the walls of my hotel room or indulging in some pre-apocalypse retail binge. I’m happy to say neither has occurred and I have really enjoyed 2 days of doing relatively little here in Toronto. Nice place. It rained on the Wednesday evening but apart from that, the weather has been glorious. The food too, if not a little pricey. Tonight’s gig, our first ‘real gig’ since the Albert Hall in February, is the first of 2 nights at the Sound Academy, a 2,500 capacity club in a leisure complex down near the docks. Fabulous view of the city across the water etc, etc. We get to do a soundcheck, which of course we haven’t been able to do during our festival run. I would have liked to have played a bit more. My bass wireless system was misbehaving and Brad’s syn drums weren’t working. Ho hum. Show time, which I understood to be at 10pm is now at 10:45pm. I was all psyched up for 10pm too. The show was very exciting but plagued with sound problems. The sub-bass units under the stage caused some hideous rumbles which didn’t help with the overall loudness and I completely fouled up the instrumental section in Friday Night/Saturday Morning. I was a less-than-happy bunny when we came off. The crowd were great but I couldn’t help feeling that they would have been greater if we’d gone on at 10pm. Forty-five minutes less to buy beer I suppose. Grrrr!
Let’s just say that this evening was not exactly a personal best.
Some food arrives after the show which helps calm me down and there are a load of people waiting to see us and get us to sign stuff. One guy had a flyer from our first gig in Toronto back in 1980! (There were people there with General Public albums too.)
I managed to get to see the David Letterman appearance. Lynval had it on his computer.
It looked and sounded real good. It got good reviews in the press and a good response from fans on the internet. After the show we finally get back to the hotel at around 1:30am.
I can hardly keep my eyes open.
Saturday. The morning is spent doing very little and at around 3pm everyone except Neville and Terry heads down to the venue for a soundcheck that is a lot more organised than yesterdays. After it, I head back to the hotel. I’d rather hang around there than at the gig. I did that yesterday and it wasn’t my idea of fun. 10:45pm comes around and on we go. After the second number, Terry plucks a 4-year-old girl out of the audience. What the hell she was doing up the front at a Specials gig beggars belief. Her mother joins her side-stage and they watch the show from there. I admit to being speechless! The gig is very different from last night. There are more gaps between songs and the show has a more relaxed feel unlike the frantic balls-to-the-wall performance we gave yesterday. Terry is on fine form, pontificating on Canadian daytime TV and at one point attempting some juggling. I’ve always maintained he’d make a great comedian. Brad struggles through the show however. His monitors are playing up. The bass is either deafeningly loud or not there at all. It put something of a damper on what was otherwise a good show. I didn’t make the stupid mistakes I made yesterday. We played Guns of Navarone for the first time in ages too! Thank you Toronto and goodnight. I got a lift back to the hotel with Neville and his cousins. Both he and Lynval have family over here.
Sunday is wonderful and relaxed. The pre-gig stress has gone and I feel like a load has been lifted from my shoulders. I’m not complaining you understand. I love playing these shows, it’s just how I mentally deal with them and sometimes I don’t realise just how wound up I am until I’ve finished playing. We are not all traveling back together, Lynval is heading home to Seattle and Roddy is going on a Civil War pilgrimage to Gettysburg, something he’s wanted to do for most of his life. The Lester B. Pearson airport is the usual seething mass of people and I celebrate my return home with several glasses of wine at the bar. I struck up a conversation with a guy from New Orleans. I’d recently read ‘Breach of Faith’ by Jed Horne about hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, so it was good to get some information from someone ‘on the ground’ as it were. The guy, Tommy, still hasn’t got a kitchen in his house five years after the event. Nice bloke. Somewhat wobbly, I board the plane and my i-pod runs out of batteries! Oh well. It’s nearly 7am as we touch down at Heathrow and pretty soon Neville and I are speeding back up the M40 to Coventry with Sammy at the controls. Another day, another dollar. That’s all folks!