August 16th, 2010

SUMMER FUN WITH THE SPECIALS, By Sir Horace Gentleman, Chapter 7 Budapest, Hungary / Oslo, Norway. August 12-14.

O.K. Usual stuff. If you’ve been following these postings you’ll know the drill by now.
Sammy picks us up in Coventry (that’s me (Horace), Neville and Roddy) and takes us to an airport (in this case, Heathrow) where we get on an aeroplane. We are seasoned travelers. Terminal 5 is like Primark, only with a branch of Harrods and a Gordon Ramsey restaurant. People read newspapers, books, stare at lap-top computers. There’s a woman over there filing her nails. A lot of people just stare into the middle distance. Hurry up and wait. On your marks, get set, …..hang around. The usual stuff.
Once again us oldies are heading out a day earlier than the crew. I think the availability of flights is the reason. Tomorrow (Thursday) we’re doing the Sziget festival in Budapest then on Friday we fly right across Europe to Norway to play the Oya festival in Oslo. So know you know. So, the flight has been called and Nev and I amble over to the gate and there’s Roddy with all these guys. He’s obviously ‘been recognised’ - but hang on a moment, that looks like Chrissy Boy and there’s Tommo and…..fuck me, Madness are on the flight. They play the same festival as us, but are on tonight. How cool is that. I haven’t seen Suggs or Woody to talk to for nearly 30 years! An extremely short 30 minutes is spent chatting until our flight boards and we all disperse to our separate seats. A girl sat down next to me and asks “Are you a Madness fan?” I looked over my glasses at her and said “Are you a Specials fan?” ha ha. Made her day apparently. Well whaddaya know ……
Madness. On arrival at Budapest we are met at the airport and immediately assailed by a squad from a local music mag and are requested, nay, commanded to pose for photographs. Please guys, can we just get the fuck out of here and get to the hotel?
This we eventually do, thanks to Tamas, our local tour guide. The drive into Budapest is educational. The outskirts is all grim crumbling Communist concrete apartments whereas the city itself is Austro-Hungarian splendour and opulence, complete with the rather high River Danube and its 8 bridges. I think I like Budapest. The London posse will get here later this evening. Lynval will be bummed that he wasn’t on the flight with The Nutty Boys, or The Nutty Men as I suppose they now are.
Thursday morning is spent being a tourist. The castle is just ‘over the road’ and after a steep climb the view over the river, old buildings etc., etc……… Tour manager Jaeki phones my hotel room at 5:45pm and tells me we are leaving now. I am the last on the bus - a first for me! No-one told me we were supposed to be away at 5:30pm. The festival site is on a large island on the river in the northern part of the city. Showtime is at a quarter to eight (early for us) after Public Image Ltd. How about that! 30 years later too! Anyway, showtime and it’s business as usual for The Specials. We are six completely different people who under normal circumstances wouldn’t have anything in common, but put us on a stage together and we become this fearsome musical force. We seem perfect, despite our imperfections, or possibly because of them but I’m sure you’re not interested in this metaphysical nonsense. It is a cracking gig. Lynval doesn’t fall over but Nev is hobbling through most of the show. He has some sort of trapped nerve going on in his left side which makes jumping around difficult to say the least. This doesn’t detract from a grade A performance. Paul (drum tech) said he thought Nite Klub and Little Bitch were the stand out tunes of the evening and I must concur. Little Bitch was played with a ferocity it hasn’t had for a while. It is a pretty evil song though, a fact that was remarked on by Terry after we finished playing it. We’re off and catering beckons. By 10pm we’re changed, fed and ready to get gone. Faithless are headlining tonight. They seem to me to be a kind of ‘Prodigy-lite‘, pummeling the audience with that rave/trance thump thump thump thing that young people listen to. We, meanwhile, hurry up and wait for our transport back to the hotel. And wait. And wait and at around 11pm our transport turns up but not before Roddy kicks up a drink-laden table to, presumably, vent his frustration. Brad said he saw Rod earlier in the evening carrying two glasses and asked if he felt improperly dressed without a glass in each hand. Roddy replied that he wished he had 3 hands. Lynval is far too noisy
on the bus back to the hotel. Alcohol I think.
Friday. After an appalling 8am start we all lug off to the airport where we sit on an aeroplane bound for Oslo for at least an hour until we finally take off. Screaming children and everything. The flight is just over 2 hours long and we land in a downpour. Has the Specials festival fortune run out? At the baggage carousel, there is no sign of my suitcase which is odd as I saw it being put on. I am the last one remaining of our party in the luggage area and there’s no suitcase. I decide to go out and look for Jaeki to report my loss only to be told that Lynval had taken it. (His case bears a significant resemblance to mine - despite the fact that mine has a luggage tag and his doesn’t. Steve (not the manager) Blackwell had come back to get Lynval’s real suitcase but hadn’t seen me looking forlorn and still hopeful. Grrrrr! It is, however, impossible to get angry with Lynval.
We pass the gig on the way into Oslo and the hotel is literally minutes away. Perhaps we can get back at a reasonable time tonight.
7:30pm and we’re in the hotel lobby and off we go. The gig is within walking distance and it is by now, a sunny summer evening but rather humid after the earlier downpour. Backstage is the usual fenced off enclave of tent-like structures. Ours is a bit bigger than most of the others but we’re the headliners this evening so………………
The gig is very similar to the one we did in Gothenburg e.g. everyone goes to watch a band, then moves over to another stage for the next act. La Roux is on our stage before us, a somewhat petrified-looking young lady with rockabilly hair with a repertoire of what sounded like early Depeche Mode demos. Personally I thought it was as dull as dishwater but the audience knew all her songs and sang them with her with great gusto. Like Faithless are this years’ Prodigy, so La Roux is attempting to be next year’s Lady GaGa?
Best of luck.
In the smaller tent/venue next door however were 1349 (the year the Black Death came to Norway) a 5-piece ‘technical Black Metal‘ band (as it is explained to me later).
La Roux they are not. Unlistenable they are. Fascinating. Innocuous synth pop, Black Metal and The Specials, all within 50 feet and one hour of one another. Musical multiculturalism in action here in Oslo. And you can see the hotel from the stage. Amazing.
Anyway, It’s 9:50pm and 54-46 blasts through the p.a. and those that know what that means get excited and those that don’t quickly get wise to what’s going on and before you know it, Brad is bashing the hired drums and on we go and look everybody, it’s The Specials!
To be honest I made some dumb mistakes, especially in Blank Expression. I never make mistakes in Blank Expression. The stage is smaller than we’re used to, so the show seems a little more intimate. Terry is his dry, cynical self, Neville chats up girls in the front row and Roddy takes his shirt off. On one hand, it’s a totally different show from last night, The Big Rock Show and although it’s still a festival and there’s probably as many people here as there was last night the whole vibe of the performance seemed different. There are bucket-loads of people side-stage digging it big time. And I should think so too. Is this the best gig we’ve done on our ‘tour’? An awful lot of people seem to think so. The crowd are just lovely and we just ‘get into a stride’. It’s very difficult writing about this. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just doing what I love with as much passion as I can pour into it. What makes it special is hearing Ivar (who is doing the catering backstage) saying to me that the first Specials album changed his life, and listening to the guys from Trashtalk, a US punk band. “Hey, man, we’ve been looking forward to this all summer. We’re going to see the Specials in Oslo!” We mean so much to so many people. It is slowly starting to sink in.
This is why it is great that Lynval, Big Jon and I walk back to the hotel from the gig, through all the punters, some of whom recognise us (well, Lynval, basically) and some don’t care. We are just ordinary people who can do something extraordinary. It has been a wonderful evening and I’m going home tomorrow. How perfect is that!
Saturday is not so perfect however. I sleep in an miss breakfast. I have a headache too, but I think the proper term is ‘hangover’. Oh well. The bus pulls away from the hotel at 9:07am sharp without Jaeki and Daniel (Production manager) who have individual commitments elsewhere. So it’s up to Steve (not the manager) Blackwell to do all that communal brain cell stuff that tour managers do and musicians rarely appreciate. Mercifully our flight is a direct one and before you know it we’re back at Heathrow.
It still never rained!

What’s on your I-Pod: An Occasional series.
Nikolaj. On the flight today I listened to Mutations by Beck as a change to all the production stuff I usually have to listen to.
Tim (Trombone). Charms of the Night Sky by Dave Douglas, about 14 different master mixes of the King Salsa project I seem to have spent most of the past five years doing,
Smoke and Mirrors by The Tom Richards Big Band……and some Guns’N’Roses.