grapevine

Well, here we are again. Same old mad dash to Birmingham International Arsehole, check in, take your shoes and belt off (‘just a random search sir’ - yes, just like the last one) and hang around. Today it’s the the 10‘o’clock flight to Turin (Italy) via Frankfurt (Germany) to play the Turin Traffic Festival. Another logistic nightmare. Midland posse fly from Brum, London posse from Gatwick, Tony the Trumpet from Manchester and a lighting guy we’ve not met yet from Edinburgh. Jaeki will be joining us on Saturday so we will be shepherded by Steve (not the manager) Blackwell until he turns up. Oh, and we’re using our own equipment (up until now we’ve hired stuff at the site) which left England on the Wednesday afternoon. Birmingham airport turns out to be pleasant after all. Nev gets recognised by some ground staff and old Birmingham days are re-visited. Nice.
Frankfurt airport. Yes, thank you very much, done that. Flight to Turin with some very Alp-looking mountains below on the right. At Turin airport, Punky Steve’s suitcase is literally pounced on by a huge Alsatian sniffer dog. Fifteen rather nerve-wracking minutes pass before Steve and his suitcase come through, himself having been searched extremely thoroughly.
He really looked like he needed that cigarette. At the hotel I manage a couple of hours sleep - I didn’t sleep too good last night, and am awaked by the sound of the London posse loudly going to their rooms. The festival site is just out of town in the grounds of what I can only describe as a palace. We get there in the dark so I’m unable to see the whole thing properly. Anyhow, this is rock and roll not sightseeing! Paul Weller is Shouting to the Top on the stage as we amble into our porta–cabin dressing rooms and get our bearings.
Anyone who wasn’t familiar with the running of the stage would think it was complete chaos. Come to think of it, the crew would definitely agree but somehow it gets set up and we start at around half past eleven. There are 25,000 people here to see us, plus the majority of Paul Weller’s crew, who all wish us well. Thanks gentlemen. I reckon this is the hottest gig we’ve done so far. The fans (air conditioning, not the audience) are totally ineffective. I didn’t bother wearing my suit jacket and Lynval’s comes off after the second song. One of the things I’ve noticed about these European shows is just how big ‘Message to You, Rudy’ has become. In the UK, I’d always considered ‘Too Much Too Young’ or ‘Ghost Town’ our ‘biggest hits’ as they both went to number 1 but in Europe, our most popular song is ‘Rudy’. Down the front, the security have their work cut out as kids crowd surf and cause the general mayhem that we’re used to. A couple of kids very nearly made it to the stage at one point. Terry is on particularly good form this evening. Nite Klub gets extended and goes down a storm. After Enjoy Yourself (Hi, my name’s Terry……….and I think I’m over the worst of it!) we come off and it’s 12:37am. The curfew came into effect 7 minutes ago so again, there’s no encore. Luckily the MC who introduced us comes on to say we can’t play any more and that seems to work for the crowd. I’d heard that Italian crowds can be pretty rowdy - this one was.
Backstage, people thank us profusely for playing, which is always nice. During the show a young lady at the front was blowing me kisses. That hasn’t happened for a long time!
Lynval has drunk three bottles of the local ‘Strong Ale’ (7.7%) and is even more gregarious than usual. He manages to spill a fair proportion of his last bottle over me as he gets in the bus back to the hotel. The driver takes a very circuitous route back to town, through an industrial area which was populated by some very scary-looking prostitutes. We get back to the hotel some time after 2am. It was a good gig…..and it didn’t rain.
Friday. If we were on a ‘real’ tour, today would be called a ‘travel day’. In this case, it is something of a misnomer, as we spend most of it not traveling. 9:30am departure from the hotel to Turin airport, check in and wait until midday until our flight to Madrid takes off. From there, the plan is to get a connecting flight to Valencia but as they say, ‘the best laid plans………’
Paul Weller’s guitar player, Steve Craddock is on the flight. He’s been a member of Ocean Colour Scene for 21 years as well as a Weller sidesman. O.C.S. are playing in Vigo (northern Spain) tonight, so him and his guitar tech, ‘Nudge‘ (I told you roadies have odd names) sit with us on the plane and exchange war stories and expound theories. We have studios, producers and Rico in common and a love of music played from the heart. Nice bloke.
We arrive in Madrid and have 40 minutes to get our connecting flight to Valencia, only it’s delayed……..until a quarter past five, which is really a quarter to six by the time we’re on the plane. We are then told we can’t take off until a quarter past seven, another hour and a half. What!!! Then there is another announcement that says we are taking off immediately.
Paul (drum tech) and I reckon it’s a public relations stunt to make us feel better about having wasted all afternoon in Madrid airport.Anyhow, the flight takes off and we do the hour flight in 35 minutes! The country has a bit more buzz about it since they won the football. Baggage claim is interesting. I’m a real people watcher so it’s great watching families with film-star wannabee children, old couples bickering and kids who are so excited they have to run everywhere. We get our stuff and go. Well, everyone except Tim. His trombone is still in Madrid apparently, but we are assured it will be with us later tonight.
Forget that bit about buzz and football. There now follows a boring coach drive for an hour or so from Valencia to Castellon, near where the festival site is. It is unbearably hot.
It is incredible how utterly exhausting it can be, doing nothing.
Saturday. Breakfasted with Lynval and met Rod and Neville outside the hotel, along with Steve (not the manager) Blackwell who informs us we have a photo session at 4:30pm this afternoon. He’ll be lucky. If there’s one thing this band is in agreement with it is an intense dislike of having its photo taken. I manage a 10 minute stroll around the local area but quickly find my way back to the hotel. Even though the weather is overcast it is incredibly hot and we have to play in this later. There doesn’t seem to be many locals about but I suppose they’ve got it sussed. Mad Dogs and Englishmen and all that.
We get ourselves off to the gig at seven. (Tim’s trombone finally turned up a 6:30pm !!)
The festival is just out of town, at Benecassim. A large tent city, different stages, big chain-link fences, security guys with day-glo t-shirts and lots of English lorries. Backstage is like a truckers convention in Huddersfield, only hotter. We have very little contact with the outside world, existing in a space enclosed by porta-cabins, wristbands and a V.I.P. area which I studiously avoid. On one hand, I like to have my own space before a show but I resent the ‘bubble’ that can be created by all this. We get to do our photo session, 30 minutes before we go on. I feel the results will be less than spectacular.
The Benecassim festival has been built up as some sort of ‘jewel in the crown’ of European festivals but it doesn’t do it for me. The performance was OK. Brad and I played fine but there was something lacklustre about the show. Probably the heat to be honest. Every one who we spoke with afterwards thought it was great, but they weren’t in Turin or at Werchter. As we leave for the hotel around midnight, The Prodigy arrive in a convoy of top-of-the-range executive saloon cars, a Bentley GT coupe bringing up the rear. I had this idea that Joe Strummer would have been spinning at this moment. John Lydon was backstage, as was Johnny Marr. Ho Hum.
Ian (our agent) reckoned we played to 23,000 people but Steve (not the manager) Blackwell thought it was a lot more than that. Roddy forgot to do his solo in It’s Up To You.
He forgot the solo in Man at C&A in Turin too. Old age no doubt. At least Lynval never fell over……….and it didn’t rain.
Sunday, and another airport to hang around in. Two, as at goes. Valencia to Dusseldorf, Dusseldorf to Birmingham. Airports have become our natural habitat. Uncomfortable chairs, barely functioning air conditioning and……shopping. Do I really need a Swatch watch? How about a fridge magnet? Should I buy my wife a some Belgian chocolate?
With time to kill all this stuff is deadly, like being locked in a gigantic shopping mall. On our way to Australia last year we stopped over in Dubai airport. It was obscene. Like you’ll buy a Tag Hauer watch because you’ve got nothing to do!! I’ve finished the book I’m reading so the boredom becomes even more acute. Punky Steve and Roddy head for the bar and Drew goes in search of a Spanish football shirt for his eldest lad. Neville investigates his i-pad, whatever that is. A Prodigy keyboard tech comes over and introduces himself. The Prods are playing the same festival as us in a fortnights time. More limo’s eh!
We depart Valencia half an hour later than scheduled for a 2 and-a-bit hour flight to Dusseldorf where we spend a mercifully short time waiting for our connecting flight to Birmingham. Roddy is complaining about how he needs a holiday. Neville says he would go anywhere as long as he didn’t have to get a flight. Weston-Super-Mare it is then!!

What’s On Your I-Pod? An Occasional Series.
Lynval: The Jolly Boys, Rodrigo y Gabriela, The new Sade album and Nat King Cole.

Ruisrock Festival, Turku, Finland.

 OK. So this weekend marks the halfway point through our 14 European festivals. Finland to be exact, the Ruisrock Festival just outside Turku to be even more precise. This promises to be the working definition of ‘logistics nightmare’. Now, to get a flight from Birmingham would have meant going via Munich, which is like going from Coventry to Newcastle via Margate. The nearest direct flight is from Manchester, 10:25am. So it’s another early start, but not on the show day. Us oldsters are traveling a day ahead of the crew and brass. After the 3 hour flight there’s a 2 hour drive from Helsinki airport to Turku. Showtime tomorrow is 8pm, so you can imagine the mad dash that would occur. So we’re going the day before. Well, all except Neville who has a gig in Potsdam (Germany). He’ll come with Jaeki tomorrow.

Confused? Thought so.

So Roddy and I are at Manchester airport, a place where overweight British people go on holiday from as far as I can tell, then on to Helsinki and the drive to Turku courtesy of a very pleasant if not extravagantly tattooed Finnish gentleman called Kari. Good reggae selection on the van stereo. Check into the hotel at 6pm local time. In my room, Status Quo are on the radio. ‘Well here we are and here we are and here we go’. A kind of synchronicity I suppose. I am very pleased with what I have seen of Finland so far and as usual the weather is superb. Brad, Terry, Lynval and Steve (not the manager) Blackwell pull in around 8pm. An hour later we’re out on the terrace outside chewing the fat and eating the steak.

Saturday. A good nights‘ sleep. A really comfortable bed, plus the two-hours ahead time difference, leisurely breakfast, wander round town and 1pm finds us all sitting on the hotel terrace again and having a chat about what we could do next year. (There’s lots of different ideas going round so it’s best I keep schtum until things get officially announced - sorry!). Tim and Nikolaj arrive around half past three. Nik says that their driver remarked that he took Morris and Ronny from the Specials to Turku yesterday. Hmm.

We head off to the festival site at around 6pm. The crew are already there, having gone straight to the site. Although being dog-tired from their early start they are glad to be there that extra hour early. Once again we are in a tent as opposed to the main stage. Perhaps we could call these shows The Intense In Tents Tour……..maybe not.

Just before we go on, the bass rig starts making a frightful noise. The wireless transmitter/receiver is obviously picking up some interference from something. 54-46 That’s my Number is playing and Punky Steve and Daniel are trying to change the frequency. They signal over to me to see if it works. It doesn’t. There is no bass. Enjoy Yourself starts.

Punky Steve is now busy fiddling with the transmitter pack on my guitar strap. It still won’t work. A bar before Brad starts ‘Do The Dog‘ ….it starts working. That was a close one guys! I don’t think anyone in the band twigged what was going on but Punky Steve looked several decades older for the first couple of songs.

Rod is thrilled to bits to be using an old AC30 amplifier which sounds ‘just right’. Lynval falls over. Nikolaj wears a plastic Viking helmet, complete with cow horns for some songs, part of a bet apparently. I nearly took Nev’s head off with my bass during Concrete Jungle. Oops. Sorry Neville. The crowd don’t seem so ‘up for it‘ as last week in France although there are a fair few Specials t-shirts down the front. Scandanavia is traditionally the domain of Metal! and I must admit every band I heard today sounded like a bad imitation of Soundgarden. After Enjoy Yourself (Hi, my name’s Terry……. and I’m being sectioned on Tuesday!) we leave the stage to a huge cheer. I’m sure we could have done an encore.

And it didn’t rain.

Opposite the hotel in Turku, there’s a heavy rock Karaoke bar (honest!) I am severely  tempted  but…………..

Sunday. There is something about Americans at breakfast that really doesn’t do it for me. 

Everyone else, no problem, but for some reason…… Here we are, beautiful Sunday morning in Turku, a pleasant hubbub in the restaurant, everyone eating, conversing, minding their own business until…… I think they were from a lighting company but the way they sat, the way they looked around waiting to be noticed, the way they ate. I have made some very good friends in America, so please don’t take this as a xenophobic rant but you know how some people can really get under your skin! The London posse leave at 10am and the Midlanders (Me, Rod, Punky Steve, Drew and Big Jon) are being picked up at 12.

Finland, so Big Jon says, has more of a problem with alcohol than the UK and wandering through the festival crowd yesterday evening I could see what he was talking about.

Helsinki airport seems to be inundated with some pretty serious drinkers. Our flight is due to leave at 4pm. Just as we are boarding, Drew (saxophone) mentions that yesterday he’d spent  11 hours traveling to do less than 1 hours‘ playing. The flight back to Manchester is half full. We get our stuff and are met by Sammy, in a car. We are three people, four guitars, two roady-type boxes and our suitcases. After some superior packing we get it all loaded and get gone, with Roddy and Steve packed sardine-like in the back along with the guitars. Just like in a real group.

 

What’s on Your I-Pod; An Occasional Series.

Roddy. The new Skabilly Rebels cd (of course). I listened to some Hank Williams yesterday……and Social Distortion.         

 

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.

Saturday. 

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.

Sunday.

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!

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.

 

The thing about early morning alarm calls is that Iʼm always awake before they go off. In this case, about an hour before. The call is set for 6 and Iʼm wide awake at 5. Funny that. Today The Specials are playing their first ever concert in Greece. Athens in fact, as part of the Kosmos Festival, a world music weekend affair. We headline on the Friday. It is the first of our ʻSummer Festivals tourʼ if you like, only thereʼs lots of days off. Weekend work mostly. The band (and crew) who live in London are catching a direct Athens flight from Heathrow, while the Country Bumpkins, as Neville calls those who donʼt live in our nationsʼ capital (the Coventry/Leicester contingent) are departing from Birmingham to go via Zurich. The van, with Nev in it, arrives at 6:45. We next pick up ʻPunkyʼ Steve Brophy (guitar tech), then Roddy and get to the airport by 7:30. This is all down to some supreme logistics from Sam Harris. Sammy is becoming the unsung hero of The Specials. His brother is Everett from The Beat and he started driving Neville to and from gigs on our last UK tour. He now ferries the country bumpkins down to London for Rehearsals/t.v. shows and airport runs. Nice bloke. So here we are on the 8:50 to Zurich. Drew (saxophone) and Big Jon (trumpet) have arrived from Leicester and off we go.

The trip to Zurich is fine, but the Zurich/Athens flight is trying. Apart from the screaming child (thereʼs always one of those) there is a large Swiss works outing posse who have something to do with the planeʼs co-pilot. They donʼt appear to be drunk, just very loud. They are all seated behind where Rod, Big Jon and I are sitting and it gets to be a real zoo. Greece is boiling hot when we arrive and weʼre met by Sean (Roddyʼs guy) and take a van to our hotel past elaborate shanty towns just off the motorway into downtown Athens, which is quite dirty and has lots of graffiti (some of it rather good). We arrive around 6pm local time and are scheduled to leave for the gig at 9.

Jaeki (tour manager) phones my room to tell me we now leave at 9:30 and show time is now 11pm, half an hour later than originally advertised. So by 9:30 weʼre boarding a bus which takes us on a somewhat arduous journey across Athens. The venue is outdoors in what looks like an old quarry. Behind the stage is a huge vertical cliff. Very spectacular. Iʼve missed Staff Benda Bilili, who have already played (damn, I wanted to see them) and a French group, Dub Inc. are playing. The crowd seem into it and itʼs considerably cooler now the sunʼs gone down. Thereʼs a breeze even. The curfew has been moved back so weʼre told and it is 11:35 when The Specials finally get to go on. During Itʼs Up To You, Lynval attempts one of his leaps up to Nikolajʼs keyboard riser…..and misses. He is observed during Rodʼs guitar solo sprawled across the keyboard riser with Daniel (stage manager) righting an up-turned keyboard and Nikolaj attempting to re-start his leslie speaker with his foot. The Specials are controlled chaos at the best of times, and this definitely seemed like the best of times. Needless to say, no-one missed a beat!

Now, we have a new monitor engineer. his name is Gabriel..honestly! He came to the dressing room with a big grin on his face afterwards to thank us. I think he had fun. Our regular monitor guy (whoʼs on tour in the US at present) is called Rabbit. To think about it, a lot of road crew types have dodgy names. The guitar tech in General Public was called Digby, and once, on a Specialbeat tour, we had a guitar tech called Plank. I never found out what was on his passport ( Plank, I suppose).

Anyway, the set continues with Lynval hobbling around the stage and saying how his leg hurts. All this does not stop him from inviting a very inebriate female member of the audience up on the stage for the last number, Enjoy Yourself, much to the hilarity of the band and hopefully the audience.We donʼt get to play an encore as (a) we are past the curfew, and (b) the police are here to make sure the curfew is enforced. The audience are not happy with this and hurl stuff at the stage as our road crew attempt to pack down the equipment. Paul, the drum tech, said that the ride cymbal made a very effective shield. There is some very nice Greek brandy going round which makes the bus trip back to the hotel quite enjoyable.

Next morning my hangover is not as bad as I had anticipated and I make it down to breakfast. Drew and Punky Steve got up at the crack of dawn and went to the Acropolis. Mad buggers. On our flight back to Birmingham (via Zurich, of course) the country bumpkins get to travel business class. We must have a good travel agent. Our flight gets in to Brum at 6:15 in the evening but Nevilleʼs bag is not on the flight. It is stuck in Athens, or Zurich….Ho Hum.

Whatʼs On Your I-Pod…(An occasional series)

Nev. About 30 tunes I recorded in America. Iʼm trying to choose 12 of them for my next album.

FRIDAY 11-JUN GREECE KOSMOS FESTIVAL              

THURSDAY 17-JUN SWEDEN WESTCOAST RIOT              

FRIDAY 18-JUN GERMANY   HURRICANE              

SATURDAY 19-JUN GERMANY SOUTHSIDE              

FRIDAY 2-JUL BELGIUM WERCHTER FESTIVAL               

SATURDAY 3-JUL FRANCE EUROCKEENNES DE BELFORT 

SATURDAY 10-JUL FINLAND TURKU FESTIVAL              

THURSDAY 15-JUL ITALY TURIN TRAFFIC FESTIVAL              

SATURDAY 17-JUL SPAIN BENICASSIM FESTIVAL               

SATURDAY 31-JUL PORTUGAL PAREDES DE COURA FESTIVAL              

THURSDAY 12-AUG HUNGARY BUDAPEST SZIGET FESTIVAL              

FRIDAY 13-AUG NORWAY OYA FESTIVAL

THURSDAY 19-AUG AUSTRIA FREQUENCY FESTIVAL

FRIDAY 20-AUG NETHERLANDS LOWLANDS FESTIVAL