August 5th, 2010

SUMMER FUN WITH THE SPECIALS, By Sir Horace Gentleman, Chapter 6.

Porto (Portugal) July 30/31.

Now this is different. It’s the busiest weekend of the year and The Specials are attempting to get to Portugal for the Parades de Coura festival, north of Porto. Now, Portugal is a very popular holiday destination, so attempting to procure flights for us non-holiday-making musicians has proved difficult. Which is why I find myself at Stansted airport on Friday afternoon, the day before everyone else flies out. Jaeki informs me that as I am one of the more responsible members of the group I can fly out the day before by myself! What fun.
So here I am, amid a sea of holiday-making humanity on The Ryanair flight to Porto.
(No seat reservations, just just sit down anywhere - and quickly!) The Ryanair jet has the ambience of a Burger King. The poor cabin crew marching up and down the aisles trying their hardest to sell you something. Appalling. However, the view out the window is amazing, clouds and all that. Apparently that’s Luton down there. The world looked wonderful from 20,000 feet.
Two and a half hours later and it’s Porto airport - and I’m met by an eager young Portugese gentleman with a Transit van (very rock’n’roll - I’m impressed) who gives me a ride into town to the Sheraton hotel.
Saturday. Breakfast - and there’s Big Jon. He (and his son) arrived yesterday too but early enough to get to have a look around. Rabbit appears - he did monitors for a band called The Courteeners at the festival yesterday. As I leave the restaurant, Marcos (out front sound engineer) arrives. We are slowly assembling. The ‘main party’ gets here this afternoon.
The biggest surprise however is that Jaeki, our tour manager, has turned into Mike, our old English tour manager. No-one told me about that one. It’s only for the Portugal show but it’s nice to see him and catch up. He did our last UK tour and took us to America earlier this year. He spends his summer months putting on shows in Ibiza and Majorca so this is a bit of ‘weekend work’ for him too. He tells me the festival site is an hour and a half’s drive away and we are on at 10 past 11. That means we’ll be off stage by half past midnight and back here at the hotel by 2:30am at the earliest. This is not good. I am scheduled to fly back to Stansted on the 6:30am Ryanair Burger King Sell Sell Sell flight and will need to get to the airport by 4:30. Sleep? I don’t think so. I think it’s a coffee/Red Bull night ahead.
The rest of my first day is unsuccessfully spent trying to get some sleep.
8pm, everyone is here and we head off to the festival site in two vans. The first hour is spent on a motorway but the last part of the journey is on narrow winding roads up and down mountains, at more or less the same speed as on the motorway! ‘Astronaut training‘ as Brad would have it. We get to the gig and Neville seems very out of sorts. He’s fed up with all the traveling (The Midlanders had to go to Gatwick to get their flight, despite the fact there are three airports nearer to Coventry) and mopes round the dressing room like there’s a black cloud over his head. He was saying that Gatwick airport was a total zoo but there again it was the busiest weekend of the year. Our travel arrangements have left a lot to be desired recently. We’ve had these gigs booked for ages so why have we only just got the flights? Anyway, enough of this……it’s showtime!
I am always nervous before a show. Sometimes less nervous, sometimes more nervous but always nervous. The adrenaline is something I both loathe and love. I have never wanted to ‘overcome my nervousness’. In truth I look forward to it. It’s probably the most alive I’ve ever felt. Combined with a lack of food however, it tends to make me quite lightheaded and a couple of times on these summer shows I’ve felt quite faint, especially at the front end of the show where a combination of lack of food, adrenaline and the heat all kick in. It would be interesting to see how the other guys in the band cope. Before I know it, it’s Gangsters, third song in and I’m ‘coming up for air‘ so to speak. Neville has transformed from Mister Miserable into…..Neville Staple, the wild man of The Specials.
He puts on a great show. Adrenaline… every time! Man at C&A is fantastic. Sometimes the groove is just…….there. I can’t explain it, but C&A was amazing this evening. We get to do an encore too. You’re Wondering Now and gone. the crowd aren’t totally rabid but I suspect they’re saving themselves for The Prodigy who are on next.
Quite a few of the band and crew were side stage checking us while we were playing so it seems a bit unfair for me to say I’m not a huge fan. They conquer by force and volume, like a heavy metal band. Sorry guys. Different generation I suppose. After our show, food is served. Excellent. We leave the venue at around 1:30am to the sound of The Prodigy battering Parades de Coura into submission. I reckon you could have heard it 10 miles away.
The switchback ride down the mountain is taken at hair-raising speed (“More astronaut training” - Brad) our journey broken only by a police road block. (No, we are not drunk officer, we always drive like this.) Our driver is fearless. Or stupid. Checking for text messages on his mobile phone while driving on dimly-lit motorways at speeds of up to 140 kilometers per hour was not one of my greatest post-gig experiences. (I was sitting in the front of the van so I saw it. I have an idea the others missed it. Probably just as well.)
We arrive back in Porto around 3am and I have just enough time to get a shower, change of clothes and check out of the hotel before Marcos and I head out to the airport from where we get our 6:30am flight back to Stansted. From there, it’s a 2 hour drive back to Coventry and some well-earned sleep.
p.s. Roddy remembered all his solos, Lynval never fell over and it didn’t rain.
See you in Hungary.

What’s On Your I-Pod: An Occasional series.
Me (Horace): Here’s The Tender Coming - The Unthanks. Mali Koura - Issa Bagayogo.
The current Songlines cd (No.70) Been listening to a lot of ‘world music‘ recently.