So here we go again! Off to Ireland for twelve days to play at the Rory Gallagher International Festival in Ballyshannon, The Goat Street Blues Festival in Newcastle West, near Limerick; and two shows in Cork and Macroom as part of the Cork Rocks For Rory weekend.
For once our journey to our destination was virtually without incident.
We took the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin - arriving at the port just as the boat was boarding.
The only real event of note was my excitement at finding an Armani shirt in the shop. For once I succumbed to temptation and, as it was on the clearance rail, I allowed myself the indulgence! At less than half price it was a bargain.
Disembarkation in Dublin at rush hour didn't present a problem, as we were heading out of the city via the tunnel, and we were soon on the motorway.
The route to Ballyshannon takes you into Northern Ireland before coming back into the south again as you enter Donegal. Driving on A roads rather than motorways gives you a chance to see the wonderful countryside and marvel at the forty shades of green that give the Emerald Isle its identity.
I had been driving for about an hour when suddenly we came round a bend to see two cars nose to nose sideways on, in front of us. The doors of the car on the right were open, camping gear was strewn on the road and a guy was lying motionless across the back seat. Nobody else appeared to be injured.
I pulled up and Barry got out to see if there was anything we could do to help, but an ambulance had already been called. We managed to get past the scene by virtue of the lay-by that was fortuitously just to the right of the crash scene. Maybe one of the cars had pulled out of it and been hit by the other coming too fast round the bend. Hopefully everyone was ok. Whilst I had not exactly been driving like Nigel Mansell for the preceding hour or so, I did drive a little slower after that.
We arrived in Ballyshannon in one piece and headed straight for Owen Roe's Bar - not because we were desperate for alcohol, but because we had to pick up the keys for the house where we were going to be staying! Of course keys turned out to be in the singular and did not appear until we had succumbed to the temptation of a 'pint of the black stuff' - and very nice it was too!
Dave McHugh had wandered in by this time. The last time we had seen him was when we were all chasing around after last year's festival trying to find out who had the money to pay us. Like most Irishmen he has a great dry sense of humour and it's always amusing to be in his company. The key eventually arrived and we drove the short distance to the house.
Basic but serviceable is probably the most favourable description of our accommodation for the duration of the festival - but that was all it needed to be. Its greatest advantage was that it was located in the centre of the town and within easy walking distance of all of the gigs. We quickly settled in to our new home and went in search of a beer!
Our Dutch friends, Laundromat, were playing in Owen Roe’s Bar so off we went to say ‘hello’. As usual they played an entertaining and diverse set that included some Taste numbers, some less well known Rory songs as well as the usual suspects. The night was over far too quickly and we trotted off to bed like good boys as we had an important gig in the Big Top the following night and Barry had a hectic solo schedule as well.
Friday morning started with a leisurely breakfast and then we delivered Barry safely, and punctually, to his acoustic gig at the Rock Hospital with Dave McHugh. This was particularly important as last year there had been a mix up over the start time. Barry had been given a schedule with a start time of 1pm whereas Mr McHugh had the correct time of 12 noon on his schedule - well we are in Ireland! Consequently Barry had arrived early - as he thought - at 12.20pm to set up, only to have the rip taken out of him by Dave for being twenty minutes late! It took a whole year to live that one down, but revenge was suitably forthcoming as Barry was there at 11.30am this year - with Dave nowhere to be seen!
For those of you who have never been to Ballyshannon, the Rock Hospital is the place that Rory was born. It is still a working hospital, and the gig is in the car park at the front. Barry had rigged up a little portable amp for this year and it worked a treat. The only drawback was that there were not enough inputs for both acoustic guitars and the vocal so Dave and Barry took it in turns to play. This gig is always well attended and this year was no exception.
I wasn't able to stay and watch the whole show as Dave and I had to unload the back line into the Big Top in readiness for the afternoon sound check. Once that was done we headed back to catch the end of the show and collect Barry! Sound check in the tent was at 2.45pm and we made it back on time. Kevin, the sound guy, did a great job as usual. When we arrived the opening band, Bad Penny from Germany, were just finishing their check and the sound out front was really good. We duly completed our check with no problems and then stood out front to listen to Pat McManus.
If you haven't seen The Pat McManus Band then make an effort to find out where they're playing - www.patmcmanusband.co.uk - and get to a gig. Pat is not only an amazing guitarist - somewhere between Gary Moore and Rory Gallagher in style - but he plays great music too. On top of that he's a really nice guy! We were following him on the bill that night. I was watching side stage as he played the track Belfast Boy that he wrote in tribute to Gary Moore. It's a fantastic song and a fitting tribute to a great guitarist from a great guitarist. The crowd loves it, I love it and if you like music you'll love it too!
So it was time. The stage had been readied, the crowd was in situ and we were ready to rock! You had to be there to appreciate the atmosphere and the energy that was flowing that night. I'm sure there will be a few clips on YouTube by now, but they can't show you the full picture - you have to be there.
The great thing about playing a big stage with a wireless system is that not only do you have the space to work with but there are no worries about falling flat on your face tripping over your lead! The freedom is quite amazing. We know we rocked from the comments we got after the show and over the weekend. "You were on fire", "Best we've ever seen you", "The band played with so much energy and passion" and many more. But just to keep my feet firmly on the ground one woman, who was clearly a huge Barry Barnes fanatic, told me in no uncertain terms that Barry was the star and I should leave the stage to him and stop trying to seek attention for myself! I did try to tell her that I know Barry is the star and that all I try to do is to support him and add balance to the performance, but she was having none of it! If I come across as an ungracious usurper and a posing prat please accept my apologies, it is not my intention - it's merely my way of showing how much I'm enjoying myself.
All too soon the show was over and we had to leave the stage. We waited for the tent to empty and then packed the gear away ready for Sunday's open air gig in Rory Gallagher Place. By the time we got back to the house it was almost 3.30am. We cracked open a bottle of wine and sat and chilled for half an hour before heading up to bed!
Saturday was a day off for the band, but for Barry it was business as usual. He had a gig at lunchtime and another at The Lantern Bar at night. Dave and I had a bit of a lie-in before heading to the café for a late breakfast. By this time Barry was probably well into his solo acoustic gig at Owen Roe's!
We wandered down into town to check out the bands around 2pm and it took nearly an hour to get there! We were constantly stopped by people saying how much they had enjoyed Friday night's show! So with swollen heads and puffed out chests we arrived at Rory Gallagher Place thinking we were superstars!
There was a fantastic band playing - The Laurence Jones Band. Keep your eyes and ears out for them - Laurence is definitely a name for the future. He looks about 16, has the voice of a 45 year old and plays guitar effortlessly. He was backed by a great drummer and bass player (using a six string bass) and they played a mixture of covers and their own material. I actually preferred their own stuff to the covers.
Dave had disappeared by this time but the great thing about being the bass player with Sinnerboy at Ballyshannon is that you can't go anywhere without seeing someone you know – so I was never on my own! Karen, Paul, Annette and JJ were everywhere! Thanks to them for keeping us supplied with beer for a large part of the weekend and for introducing Dave and I to The Thatch later on Saturday evening.
The Thatch is a little pub, obviously with a thatched roof, situated on the edge of the town. As you walk in, raise your eyes and look straight ahead and you will see a full size bed on a mezzanine above the bar inhabited by a full size skeleton! If you explore the little rooms off the main bar you will find a host of interesting artifacts adorning the walls and perched above the mantelpiece. The place has got real character, but perhaps the biggest character is John behind the bar. He has two speeds - slow and stop - and it is totally impossible to understand a word he says! Outside is a beer garden (well, that's what the sign says, but it's really a beer yard), although there is a path from the yard leading to a field that, with a bit of effort, could be a very nice beer garden! We sat at a table in the yard and enjoyed the evening sunshine. Paul, despairing of John moving fast enough to serve us a round before midnight, decided to make the bar self service. John just stood and watched him, but made sure he took the money for the till!
Saturday was the night Band of Friends were playing the tent. I had seen them last year but hadn't got to speak to them. This year I wanted to at least say 'hello'. We could hear the strains of the end of Eric Bell's set as Dave and I walked down to the school that served as the green room for the bands playing the tent.
Mrs Doyle (sorry Jean) was busy pouring tea and making sandwiches. I gave her the nickname last year when she served us tea in the pagoda at the back of the marquee. 'Will you be having tea?' she had asked, and before I had time to reply she had added, 'Oh yer will, yer will, yer will, yer will, yer will!' Jean was having some trouble opening a tin of tuna so I chivalrously stepped in, only to be extremely embarrassed to find that my efforts were being no more successful than hers had been! The tin opener was crap! Manfully I struggled on and eventually managed to get the lid off. Breathing a sigh of relief I went to sit down, only to be presented with a second tin. I took a deep breath and clamped the jaws of the tin opener firmly onto the edge of the tin and started to turn the key. Round and round it went, going nowhere! I eventually got the lid off, and was rewarded by Jean giving me a bottle of wine for my efforts! We enjoyed it back at the house at the end of the night
Gerry (McAvoy), Ted (McKenna) and Marcel (Unpronounceable) arrived around 9pm - an hour before their show. (Marcel's surname is 'Scherpenzeel' but I don't think I've heard anyone pronounce it the same way twice!) They all seemed in good spirits. I took it upon myself to introduce myself to Gerry. I told him we had met briefly back in 1989 at Mildenhall Rock and Blues and he amazed me by remembering that Uriah Heap had been special guests on the bill, sandwiched between Rory and DRN. He asked after Barry and how the band was doing. I told him it was a privilege to be playing his bass lines to which he replied, ' I hope you're playin’ ‘em right!'. I resisted the temptation to retort with, ‘better than you do these days’ and contented myself with a misquote from Morecambe & Wise along the lines that I was playing most of the right notes in some of the right places!
Gerry's prima donna side came out though when Marcel said to him he was going down to tune his guitars. 'Stay down there', was the command from Gerry. Marcel dutifully departed for the tent and as he did so the stage manager arrived. 'It's nearly ten o’clock’, he advised. Gerry looked at his watch. 'Make 'em wait ten minutes', he retorted sharply, and turned away. Not a thought for poor old Marcel having to hang around at the back of the stage on his own for ten minutes! Catching the mood, I disappeared towards the tent. Ten minutes later the band took to the stage.
Musically they are excellent, even though - as a bass player - I feel that Gerry just goes through the motions these days. The only gripe I have with their show is the way Marcel is 'stage managed' by Gerry; pulled here, pushed there. Leave the guy alone! He's a great guitar player, and I'm sure that, after two years of playing in the band, he knows where to be on stage! The way they take it down in Do You Read Me, so that you can hear a pin drop, and then gradually take it back up to a crescendo, is truly exceptional musicianship. The crowd loved them. I was watching the whole show from the side of the stage and could see the hands and arms clapping and waving throughout the performance. Even so, I would have backed Sinnerboy to have followed them and raised the bar from the point of view of energy and passion.
As it was it fell to Irish band, Moonchild, to have the task of following them. They did an excellent job and are a talented young band. Their drummer, Sean, was also the chief stage hand so he had a very busy night. When I saw him on the Monday night after the jam session with Laundromat he was totally wrecked! He deserved it. He worked so hard over the weekend making sure that everything was just so for all the bands. Huge thanks to him, Kevin the Big Top front of house engineer; and to Kieran and Alec - responsible for the great sound at Rory Gallagher Place for our Sunday gig.
I had promised Barry that I would meet him in the Lantern Bar after the Band of Friends show; so I made my way down the hill, over the bridge, turned left at the roundabout and walked the few hundred yards to the Lantern. I got there to find the door locked and people queuing outside! Undeterred, I lit a cigarette and waited patiently for someone to come out. I had just finished screwing the butt into the ground when the door opened. I pushed my way inside.
The heat hit me like a hammer as I opened the door to the bar itself. The place was packed. I had arrived just in time. Barry was getting ready to play Going To My Home Town and was searching frantically for his mandolin. It suddenly dawned on him that he had left it in the van. In typical BB fashion he then turned his attention to frantically searching for the van keys. One pocket after another was patted in ever increasing panic before; with a smile of glee, he produced them and held them aloft in triumph like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat! The relief on his face when he saw me gesticulating for him to give them to me to fetch the missing instrument was a joy to behold!
Safely reunited with the mandolin Barry launched into a rousing rendition of the song, with the audience enthusiastically shouting every word. I couldn't help noticing a large gentleman with long grey hair and beard sitting in absolute slumber on the bench seat just behind and to the left of Barry. How he slept through the raucous rendition of that song I don't know. Barry was obviously aware of him because he used him as a guitar stand at the end of the song!
Gig over, Barry relaxed with a beer. I kept my word and started to wind up the leads and generally break the gear down. It soon became apparent that the beer BB was consuming was just the latest in a long line of similar beverages! He was close to wasted and totally exhausted. I finished my roadie duties and left him to it. I was knackered and in need of sleep.
Sunday was another busy day. Barry had a gig at The Bridge End Pub. This gig is another Ballyshannon fixture. It is an acoustic open mic type event, with amateur participants getting up to join Barry on anything from guitar, vocals and saxophone to a djembe (a drum – pronounced jembay!). The band were also playing on Sunday - in Rory Gallagher Place - so a bit of tour management was required to make sure everything went smoothly.
Barry had somehow managed to pack everything in the van the previous night before walking home, so I volunteered to walk down, collect the van and load the gear into the pub while he had a shower. All went well until I pulled up outside the pub. It was locked and no amount of hammering on the door could elicit a response. I went into the shop next door and got the phone number - straight to voicemail! I resigned myself to waiting for someone to turn up with the keys. Someone did turn up - a pair of drunken young men who insisted on trying to engage me in conversation. There's nothing worse than being accosted by a drunkard when one is sober. I tactfully tried to explain that I was no longer a member of the Bee Gees and was now auditioning as an Eric Clapton lookalike, but it fell on deaf ears, so I agreed that I was actually a Bee Gee on holiday playing roadie for Sinnerboy. Thankfully this explanation seemed to satisfy them and they left.
I was still standing outside the pub when Barry arrived. By this time Karen, Paul, Annette and JJ and a number of other people had also gathered outside waiting to get in.
Barry decided to climb onto the windowsill and stick his head through the open window to shout into the pub. This triggered an immediate rush by all present for their phones and cameras. Obviously BB's arse must be more photogenic than his face! It was an amusing sight though.
The man with the key eventually turned up at 11.30am to a chorus of cheers. The willing hands of all present made short shrift of the transference of gear from van to pub, leaving Dave and I the simple job of driving 100yds down the road to Rory Gallagher Place to offload and set up the back line for the afternoon show. Mission accomplished. Everything was ready. I took the van back to the house and walked back to catch the end of Barry's set in the pub.
Some geezer had decided he was the self-appointed djembe player for the duration and I listened in horror as he accompanied Barry on an acoustic track in a totally different rhythm, totally oblivious to the withering looks cast frequently in his direction by the main man.
The next 'attraction' to appear was the same man with long grey hair and beard that Barry had used as a guitar stand the previous night! He had decided to sing one of his own songs. Barry politely enquired what key it was in. I don't think he got a response because he must have gone through them all in an effort to provide some sort of accompaniment to the tuneless warbling emanating from the hirsute artiste before him. The guy on the djembe didn't help either - whatever rhythm the warbler was trying to keep to will always remain a mystery, but it definitely didn't match that of the drum.
Thankfully the last guy to come forward, Adrian, was a really good sax player. He and Barry treated us to an excellent rendition of A Million Miles Away before closing the show with St James Infirmary Blues.
The van was loaded in no time, with the aid of willing helpers, and we just had time to drive back to the house and change before walking back to Rory Gallagher Place for the Sinnerboy gig. Open air gigs are great. There is always a special atmosphere, and from the minute Barry hit the opening riff I knew this was going to be a good ‘un! We had changed the set around so as not to just play the same numbers as we had on Friday night, and the revised set list worked a treat. RGP was full to capacity. A sea of expectant faces were looking up as I swung around to face the audience after the Shin Kicker intro. I don't think we disappointed them. During 'In Your Town' Barry decided to get Bibi, the photographer, to come on stage and take pictures of the crowd. He explained, while Dave and I kept pumping out the rhythm, that he didn't want just any old picture and directed them to pull a funny face for the shot. I did see a few weird looking expressions and can't wait to see the finished photos!
Before we knew it Kieran was signaling for the last song. No time for Bullfrog Blues, Shadow Play was going to have to be the last number. We launched into it. As I normally do at the start of this song, I stood facing Dave to make sure I picked up his cue for my opening chord. His face was contorted with pent up energy. Chord released, I turned to face the crowd. They were bouncing. We were rockin'! Time constraints prevented us from giving the crowd the encore they were shouting for, so we took a bow and reluctantly left the stage. It had been a great gig.
We took a few minutes to come down and cool off and then, with gear safely packed, we headed back to the house to change. Barry hadn't finished though! He was the opening act, solo acoustic, in the tent that night, and was due on stage at 7.30pm!
We all decided to go to the tent via the green room, to stock up on alcohol and sandwiches! Thankfully Jean had already made the sandwiches so I was spared a second encounter with the tin opener. The intention had been to go and watch Barry's performance but I got waylaid talking to Bernie Marsden. I have watched him over the years playing with Whitesnake, Micky Moody, A Company of Snakes and - as he was billed tonight - The Bernie Marsden Band. When I had last met him it was at a festival just south of Oxford around 1991. He was headlining with Micky Moody as the Moody Marsden Band and I was playing with DRN (Dumpy's Rusty Nuts). Bernie even remembered that The Hamsters had been on the bill as well! Reminiscing complete I decided to try and catch the last few minutes of Barry's set. I only just made it as I bumped into Laurence Jones and his bass player, Roger, on the way down and we exchanged compliments! Nice guys. They were due on next. I watched their set, and they proved that the RGP gig the day before was no one off. Great show.
Bernie was the headliner that night and he started slowly with some old blues numbers. I went to replenish my beer supply and ended up bumping into Barry in the green room. By the time we had got back to the stage area Bernie had turned up the heat and was into his Whitesnake back catalogue. The tent rocked to Here I Go Again, Fool For Your Loving and more. The crowd loved it and sang every word.
The show was over. Perennial favourite, Johnnie Gallagher, was next up, but Barry and I had promised Laundromat that we would go up to their gig outside at Max Bar, so we set off up the hill. It had rained earlier in the night but it was now dry and really quite warm.
Laundromat were already playing when we got there. Their stage was an open fronted marquee and the PA was not brilliant, but the crowd of people dancing at the front didn't seem to mind. We are lucky to have a lot of Dutch friends and acquaintances through our frequent gigs out there and it was great to see so many of them had made the trip to Ireland to support us and Laundromat.
The power went off a couple of times during their set leaving Martin to carry the day with drum solos until someone reset the trip switch! Not as bad as the story Pat McManus was telling me about hearing weird noises on stage and finding out it was the bar owner frantically feeding coins into the electric meter! The night came abruptly to a close with one final power cut. Martin gave up and they called it a night. We walked back to the house and a good night's sleep.
I suddenly realised when I awoke on the Monday morning that it was all over. The time had passed so quickly. We had had a great time, played two great gigs and met so many wonderful people. Today was going to be our lazy day, no gigs to play - just a guest appearance at the traditional end of festival gig at Owen Roe's Bar later that night. It was at this point that I started to write this log!
We all went for a leisurely breakfast and just enjoyed doing very little for a few hours. Barry and I then wandered down to the little restaurant whose name escapes me to have something to eat around 6pm. We bumped into Festival organiser, Barry O'Neil, in the restaurant and shared an alcove table with him for a coffee whist we waited for our food. Who should then come in but Johnnie Gallagher! This man is the archetypal gentle giant. To watch him play is like watching the Wild Man of Borneo, but the difference between his stage persona and real life is a total contrast. We spoke about the success of the festival, suggested bands for next year and generally talked shop for ages! Barry O'Neil then got summoned away to attend to festival duties, Johnnie became sidetracked by the arrival of his soup so Barry and I took our leave - I walked straight to the door, and would have walked out without paying if Barry hadn't called me back! It wasn't that I was trying to do a runner, or trying to get Barry to pay - honest! I had just been so wrapped up in the conversation that I'd forgotten about having to pay! We went back to the house for a quick wash and brush up and then wandered down to Owen Roe's around 10pm.
Owen Roe’s Bar is not really set up for being a music venue but the atmosphere in there when the place is full is amazing. Loud, hot and sweaty!
Laundromat were set up in the centre with seating to the left and right and the bar in front of them with enough depth for half a dozen people with comfort - it was at least ten deep on all sides! Consequently, having had to fight our way to the bar for the first drink, we went outside in the cool to listen to the band and have a couple of smokes. There were nearly as many people outside as inside and I was chatting away to a Dutch guy when I got a tap on the shoulder to be told Sinnerboy were going to get up and do a few numbers. I managed to squeeze into the band area and Joeke handed me his bass. As his is a Fender Precision and mine is custom built to a Fender Jazz design the neck on Joeke's bass is slightly thicker. He also uses heavier gauge strings, so it was slightly alien to me; but a bass guitar is a bass guitar to a punter, so I just got on with it and played it the best I could. Put it this way, it was infinitely preferable to the Norwegian plank! (See Norway Log).
I think we played three or four songs. I do remember that we finished with Last of the Independents and that Barry left me standing out front playing an extended impromptu bass solo. He just stopped playing! I looked around to see what was happening and he was standing there grinning like a Cheshire cat and gestured for me to go for it - so I did!
When we had finished a very kind lady thrust a pint of Guinness into my hand and I gratefully headed off outside for some air and a smoke. No sooner had I finished my cigarette than Danny (Laundromat’s guitarist) was at my side asking me to get up and play with Johnnie Gallagher as his bass player had gone home! Back I went, shouldered the bass and looked at Johnnie for some instructions. 'We'll do .......it's twelve bar in A', he rumbled. ‘Ok’, I said. Johnnie launched into it and I duly took my cue from the drummer, whose name escapes me at the moment, and off we went. Thankfully I hadn't had too much to drink so I did ok. The audience showed their appreciation and Johnnie turned to me and said, 'This one's in E!' He promptly let rip with a screaming intro riff and off we went. It was a bit like a rollercoaster. Johnnie took the song up and down and then spun it around and I followed him to the best of my ability. Judging by the smile on Barry's face and the applause when we had finished the performance had obviously been well received. Johnnie really is an immense guitarist!
That was it for me. Performance over, I went back outside to be greeted by the arrival of another pint of Guinness from a generous benefactor. The rest of the night flew by in a combination of conversation, Guinness and cigarettes until Barry and I found ourselves walking home reflecting on the success of a hectic weekend. Dave had already left having sampled more alcohol than the two of us put together! Back at the house we decided to open the bottle of wine kindly donated by Jean for victory in the tuna wars. We toasted a great weekend, two storming band gigs and Barry's plethora of solo shows and then called it a night. We could look forward to a lie-in in the morning before leaving for a peaceful few days in County Galway.
We left Ballyshannon around midday on Tuesday. It was a three hour drive to our country retreat. After stocking up on provisions in the nearby town of Mountbellew we arrived at the cottage around 4pm. Barry set to work on cooking a hotpot, Dave found the RTE Gold radio channel on the TV and I carried on writing this log! In no time supper was ready and, accompanied by an acceptable bottle of red wine left over from the green room, it was duly dispatched. A bit more log writing and conversation followed before we all went off to bed.
The beauty of being able to stay in a cottage in the middle of nowhere is that there are no neighbours to annoy. Our aim over the next two days was to rehearse another half dozen or so numbers to put in the set for the Cork Rocks For Rory weekend gigs. We emptied the living room of excess furniture and set the gear up, complete with vocal PA. Barry had given us the list of songs a few weeks earlier so hopefully it would not be too difficult to knock them into shape. If you're planning on coming to a gig soon the set list may well include one or more of the following:
Daughter Of The Everglades
Walk On Hot Coals
Going To My Home Town
Philby (maybe plus reprise!)
Off The Handle
What's Going On
The last one on the list hit a stumbling block when yours truly found that what is essentially a simple riff becomes rather complicated when played in six eight time - it is just not a natural rhythm for me, so rather than fudge it (which to be fair, most bass players do) by either leaving it to the guitar or stabbing the root note and maybe flicking the third fret on the D string - I decided that this one will take another couple of weeks until I've perfected the art of playing it in my sleep! It may sound daft, but I find that going through a song in my head as if I'm playing it is not only a good way to send myself to sleep but also a good barometer of how well the song has stuck in my head. Once I've fallen asleep to What's Going On for a couple of times it will be in the set! But a bit of finger training is required first.
The first day of rehearsal went well and by the end of it my fingers were aching, but we had achieved most of what we had set ourselves the task of achieving. Barry had made enough hotpot to last for two days so it was a simple job to heat it up again without the spud bashing, carrot and onion peeling that Dave and I had endured the day before - and of course there was a bottle or two of red wine that didn't see the end of the night with their seals intact!
Day two of our rehearsal session was uneventful. We just worked hard for the whole day. Barry knocked up a spaghetti bolognaise during the afternoon in between takes and by 6.30pm we decided we were bushed and put the spaghetti on to cook. I mastered the art of eating spaghetti with a spoon and fork - something that for some reason has always been beyond me before. We were pleased with the result of our labours and resolved to put the new material in the set for Friday night’s gig at the Goat Street Blues Festival in Newcastle West, just south of Limerick.
We had just finished washing up – yes, we are quite civilized and house trained – when there was a knock at the door. Oh no, it’s the police – complaints about the noise we thought. But no, it was one of Barry’s many Irish friends, a lovely man by the name of Gerry Rush - he used to play football for Rotherham United in the 1970s.
He was carrying a box of goodies. He put the box on the floor and proceeded to pull out an assortment of bottles and cans – Bailey’s, Guinness, Bulmer’s Cider, Lucozade and what looked like a bottle of red wine together with a box of chocolates! Mine and Barry’s faces lit up when we saw the wine bottle – we had decided to be good boys and have an alcohol-free night and had been secretly regretting the decision. After all, spaghetti bolognaise does go rather well with a nice bottle of red wine!
I ran off to the kitchen with the bottle and then let out a horrified shriek. Aaaaaaaaaaggggghhhhhhh! It was non-alcoholic mulled punch! Gerry was most apologetic; he had genuinely thought it was a bottle of red wine!! It was during Gerry’s visit that I became aware of the fact that the large hirsute gentleman of guitar stand and warbling fame was in fact a friend of both Barry and Gerry – his nickname was The Vicar! Apparently the song he was trying to sing was entitled Hang Me Shoes On The Door (I’m uncertain as to the reason for the abstract title). Barry was still none the wiser as to the intended key though! We thanked Gerry for his kind generosity and he departed, still muttering about the punch!
With everything safely packed into the van we left our country retreat on Friday morning in search of breakfast in Mountbellew before hitting the road for the gig.
The Goat Street Blues Festival is a grandiose title for a weekend of gigs at a bar that was barely big enough to get the gear set up in! Our hosts, Seamus and Brenda, are lovely people and they really looked after us.
We managed to get the drum kit on the raised staging that just fitted between the hearth and the bench seating. I ditched the 4x10 cab and had to use just the 4x12, precariously perched on the bench seat behind, and Barry had to do the same with the Matchless. There was room for about two rows of people between the front of the stage and the bar. Admittedly, there was more seating off to the right and along the length of the bar, but anyone there would not be able to see much of the band due to the intervening brick walls and pillars! Not to worry, we are professionals and we did the best we could with what was available. The gig itself went well and was enjoyed by the audience - which is all that matters at the end of the day. The new numbers went into the set without any major cock ups - yes, there were a few bum notes and missed cues, but nothing drastic that a few more gigs won't cure.
After a splendid home cooked Irish breakfast we loaded the van and programmed the satnav for Cork. One of the joys of using Barry's satnav in Ireland is that it was manufactured and programmed before most of the motorway network was built. Consequently we are frequently seen to be driving across open fields with the poor woman directing us to turn right after 80 yards and to turn around when possible at regular intervals. She became particularly confused on one occasion and we all howled with laughter at the instructions:
"Turn right, turn left, turn around when possible, after 80 yards turn right and then turn left" - delivered in one sentence without a pause. The poor woman was so exasperated it was as if she was trying to say "stop taking the piss and stick your van up your arse", but had not been provided with the necessary vocabulary!
However, on this occasion she delivered us safely to the house we were to stay at for the next two nights.
Ger Kenneally has promoted the Cork Rocks For Rory event for more years than he cares to remember and it was his house that we were staying at. After a quick cup of Ger’s excellent coffee and offloading of suitcases we set off for the venue. This was where we had a nasty shock. Stairs! There is nothing worse than arriving at a venue and being faced with a flight of stairs. Thankfully these stairs were not of the Dutch variety and our apologetic promoter (Ger had obviously seen the look of horror on Dave's face) found some humpers to assist, and even chipped in himself, so the gear ascended to the required altitude without too much fuss.
I definitely seem to have mastered the art of getting out of carrying gear in an upward direction. Yet again I was the one in the back of the van passing out the items to the next pair of hands! I don't do it on purpose; it's just the way it seems to work out! Once everything was safely inside I went in to set my rig up. Our sound engineer for the night was a nice guy from Zimbabwe called Lawrence. He clearly knew his stuff. He took the time to make sure everything was properly eq'd and dealt with little rings and subs in a really professional manner. We ended up with a great stage sound and we know from comments made to us after the gig that the out-front sound was spot on too. The gig itself was well attended. The promoter was really happy with the show and the feedback the audience gave him - so much so that when he took to the stage to invite us back for an encore he announced that we would be playing the event again next year!
Back at the house we partied into the small hours with a bottle of JD and....ok, ok, Ger made us a cup of tea and a ham sandwich and we all trooped off to bed! We really should find a more appropriate name for the band!
After a hearty breakfast (Dave loves an Irish breakfast), it was time to head for Macroom. ‘Why Macroom?’ I hear you cry. I must admit I had asked the same question. Ger informed us that Macroom Castle was the site of the first open air rock festival in Ireland in 1977, headlined of course by Rory Gallagher. The bar we were to play at has the giant cut out of Rory with his guitar that hung above the castle entrance on the day. We took time out in the afternoon to accompany Ger’s guided tour of the grounds and see the field that was used for the gig. Mick, one of Rory's crew for 26 world tours, was with us and told us how they had to let the tyres down on the truck to get it under the arched entrance gate! There is apparently a video on YouTube that shows Rory getting out of a car and straight on to the stage to play.
Our gig may not have been quite such a history making event, but at least we brought Rory's music back to Macroom for the first time since that day in 1977. We may only have been playing to 170 and not 17,000 but I bet the atmosphere was the same at both gigs - ours was just on a smaller scale!
Sinnerboy's original drummer, Steve Richardson was there, along with the multi-instrumental Scotsman, Mr Brian Chambers (otherwise known as the blonde Scottish version of Ozzy Osborne). They had both played as the rhythm section of the Dave McHugh Band on the Friday night in Cork. Dave and I had a little rest (well, we work very hard you know), while Steve and Bri thumped out Tattoo'd Lady and Continental Op, which Bri also sang (is there no end to this man's talent?). Guest appearances over, Dave and I resumed our positions and played through to the end of a gig that was thoroughly enjoyable to play and was really well received by all present. We look forward to going back again next year. A special mention must also go to Jan, who sang an emotional A Million Miles Away.
On the way back to Cork we stopped to pay our respects at Rory's grave. It was a somber moment.
As Monday morning dawned it dawned on me that it was all over. It was time to pack and go home - but not before Ger had cooked us yet another excellent breakfast! We had a three hour drive to Dublin and had to collect Barry's National guitar from James and Ciara on the way to the port. In Ballyshannon Barry had bumped into Paul, a luthier from Dublin, and had got chatting about the problems he had been having with a couple of his acoustic guitars. Paul had come to the house and fixed the Yamaha there and then, but had taken the National back to his shop in Dublin with him as this presented a bigger problem. He had hoped to come to Cork to drop it off on his way to the UK but had run out of time so had left it for Barry to collect from James. We were not due to sail until 9pm so we had plenty of time. A quick plug for Paul is in order at this point! His shop is called Monastery Music and can be found in Clondalkin, Dublin via his website: www.monasterymusic.net – he really knows his stuff!
We arrived safely at James and Ciara’s house. Barry played around with his guitars with James, checking output levels and other unintelligible gobbledygook. Dave played around with a can of cider and I carried on log writing. It was becoming a veritable tome.
James put together an excellent barbecue of kebab, strip loin steaks, potatoes, salad, bread and an amazing combination of deep fried chips and carrots! It was a great way to end a fantastic couple of weeks - and all eaten al fresco in the evening sunshine.
7pm arrived all too soon and it was time for us to take our leave. We had a slight scare at the port as the notices on arrival said the area was under security level one and it seemed to be taking an age for each car to get booked in. Mental visions of having to unload the van and watch burly customs officers rip speakers to pieces thankfully faded when we were waved through with only a cursory glance!
Once on the ferry the time passed quickly for me. I slept for the first hour, smoked for about half an hour and went in search of duty free cigarettes (they have this stupid rule where you can only buy 20 cigarettes at any one till - and there are four tills on the boat. This means going backwards and forwards from one till to another and it takes about an hour to amass 200 fags!). The rest of the time was spent writing this epic piece of literature.
Stop Press: Barry has just delivered the ultimate definition of boredom - he has just read the Daily Mirror TV guide for tonight to see what he could have watched on TV if he was at home and actually had a television!
Twenty five minutes past midnight and we finally disembarked in Holyhead. I can't tell you anything about the drive home because I was asleep in the crew cab, dreaming of Ballyshannon, Goats and Corks with the occasional Macaroon thrown in for good measure!
We had a great time. A huge thankyou to everyone who made it possible, everyone who very kindly kept us supplied with food and drink, everyone who came to see the band and supported Barry at his solo gigs and to you for managing to get to the end of this article without falling asleep. We have a few days rest now and then it's off to Hartlepool for a one-off special followed by Leicester the following weekend. Barry then has a couple of solo gigs before we set sail again - this time to Holland for gigs on 11 & 12 July.
Hope to see you at a gig soon.
Holland, Belgium and Greece – Spring 2014
(Subtitled: Barry Gets A Blow Job & Dave Goes The Whole Hog)
It's the last day of a thoroughly enjoyable, if at times tiring, Spring mini-tour that started on Wednesday 2 April with a trip down to Ramsgate for an overnight stay before catching a ferry to Calais on the Thursday morning. I’m sitting on my bed in a hotel room in Athens contemplating whether to take a shower or carry on writing this log. I'm attempting to use the office program on my windows phone but it is somewhat tedious trying to type with two thumbs. I think the shower wins!
Ok, I’m now clean and refreshed so here we go:
Thursday 3 April –Maasdijk, Holland:
We had arrived in Ramsgate early on Wednesday evening with the intention of finding a good chippy and a pub to chill out in for a couple of hours before turning in for the night. The former proved disappointing but the latter was a great success - even if it did cost £8.10 to park the van up overnight! We awoke on the Thursday morning full of enthusiasm for the trip, only for Barry to find a message on his phone to say that the port of Calais was closed due to industrial action. Frantically, he called the emergency number he'd been given and was put on hold. Whilst the customary music played we all debated our options. Would we have to cancel the tour and go home? Could we transfer to another ferry to a different port? Should we just go to Dover anyway and hope for the best? The hold music was still playing as we got in the lift - having decided that the last option gave us the best chance of getting across the Channel. By the time we reached the van Barry had established that there was a chance we may get on an afternoon sailing but were told to get there ASAP as the situation may change. We scrambled into the van and Barry ignored his own instructions for fuel conservation as we sped towards Dover with the pedal to the metal!
We arrived knowing we had already missed our scheduled departure, but were ecstatic to find that Calais were now allowing ferries in and we could get on the next sailing. It would be tight but we might just make it to the gig after all.
After an uneventful crossing we disembarked at Calais and saw the chaos that the closure had caused. Cars and lorries tailed back for miles on the approaches to the port. We hoped it would be clear by the time we were due to return.
The panic was over. We were on the road and almost on schedule. The planned couple of hours of relaxation at a hotel prior to sound check had to be scrapped but we arrived at the venue in good time. We backed the van up to the big doors at the front of what was actually an industrial unit, expecting to load in directly on to the stage. As none of us speak Dutch we can be forgiven for not knowing that Musiekzolder translates as music attic! Our host for the night appeared from around the side of the building and beckoned us towards him. We dutifully followed. Dave and I looked at each other in horror as he pointed to a flight of near vertical stairs! If you've ever been to Holland you will know exactly what I mean. Dutch stairs are closely akin to a ladder. These stairs even had a bend in them! Gingerly I ascended the stairs, wondering how on earth we would get my 4x12 cab up there. The attic venue was truly amazing. Guitars and rock memorabilia adorned the walls and ceilings. There was even a Marshall fridge at the side of the stage area! But best of all, I had spied a Hartke 15" combo in the row of amplifiers across the back wall! If it worked I was going to use it! Result! The combo not only worked but it had balls and did the job magnificently. Somehow the rest of the gear made it up the stairs. I have to admit that after struggling up them with Dave's bass drum I managed to get the job of passing the gear to the willing humpers from the back of the van! As I also stack the van when we load out I think I got off lightly that night!
The gig itself was great. The attic venue was packed. The beer flowed freely and the band treated the audience to over two hours of entertainment. They loved us, we loved them and everyone went home happy. By the time we got to the hotel we were zonked. I fell into bed and slept like a log.
To just leave it there however, without recounting the rest of the tales from that evening, would not be fair. After sound check we had been given directions to a restaurant ‘just down the road’, which we were told was expecting us. Both Dave and I had been given directions to this place so it was impossible to get lost. One of us is obviously senile because we ended up in the middle of an industrial estate. We retraced our tyretracks and found the restaurant exactly where both Dave and I said it should be – so how we got lost only Barry knows - well, he was driving! It was a busy place and very welcoming. Menus arrived, beer arrived, bread with garlic mayonnaise arrived - indigestion beckoned! We debated what to have for a main course. I remember I went for a steak (I do like a steak!), I can’t remember what Barry chose but I do remember Dave ordering ‘The Ribs’ in his best Sheffield accent! I don’t know whether it was the accent or whether something got lost in translation, but when the waitress staggered out with Dave’s order the plate contained the whole pig! (Ok not literally, but it was almost the whole ribcage of a fair sized porker!). Poor Dave’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. He made a masterful attempt to at least get through half of one side of the ribcage but ended up asking for a doggy bag to take them home for his dog! Unfortunately, on two occasions later on the trip the doggy bag got raided as Dave’s late night search for a kebab shop after the gigs ended in failure!
The beer in Europe flows freely to a touring band and the temptation to ‘just have a couple’, even if you’re driving, is ever present. Our hosts at the Musiekzolder had been extremely generous with the beer all night – to the extent that Dave and I were probably smelling like a pair of breweries. Barry had been very good and just had a couple of beers early on in the night. We knew the van had a problem with a rear light that kept intermittently going on and off. We also had a problem with the satnav as it didn’t recognize the name of the street upon which our hotel was situated and consequently had us going round in circles and disappearing up our own backsides when we had gone to check-in earlier. The vision of a van with English plates and a missing back light doing U-Turns every five minutes on main roads proved too much of a temptation for the local constabulary. Having just travelled 2km the wrong way down a dual carriageway for the second time, and taken yet another U-Turn at the exit, the red lights of the following police car advised us that they wanted to investigate the antics of these stupid foreigners! A very polite, if slightly sceptical, policeman gestured to Barry to wind down the window. After a couple of banal questions and answers - and doubtless having smelt the air inside the van as it emanated from the open window - Barry was politely asked to step down from the van. It was at this point that Dave and I became aware of the presence of a female officer in attendance. Barry had been taken to the side of the van and out of sight of its two remaining incumbents. The sound of an excited female voice shouting, ‘Blow. Blow. Blow!’ repeatedly was too much for us to bear! The mental pictures were hilarious!! I’m sure that Barry was not actually enjoying this particular ‘blow job’ but Dave and I found it hard to contain ourselves! Thankfully, Barry’s abstinence gave the female officer no satisfaction whatsoever and he was allowed to rejoin us. We sensibly keyed the hotel address into the satnav on my phone – which of course we should have done at the start – and arrived there safely. First thing the next morning we got the light fixed!
Friday 4 April – Hamme, Belgium:
Dave is now accustomed to Dutch breakfasts, but can never bring himself to be enthusiastic about 'yet another cheese and ham buttie'! I, on the other hand, quite enjoy the selection of cheeses, meats and accompanying accoutrements that make up breakfast in Holland - especially the coffee. Breakfast over, and resplendent with a new functioning rear light, we're back on the road heading for Belgium.
I played this gig last year with Barry and Jon and was looking forward to it. A year ago I was the new boy in the band and still finding my feet. Now I was going back as an established member of the band and Dave as the new boy! It takes a little while for a band to really gel and whilst we're definitely getting there I think that we have it in us to take it to another level in the coming months.
Hamme is a small Belgian town about three hours drive from our previous night’s accommodation in Maasdijk. We were staying at a B&B in the countryside just a few minutes drive away so as we had plenty of time today. We drove to the B&B with the aim of chilling out on the terrace with a couple of cups of coffee and then maybe a doze and a freshen-up before going to the venue. All was going well, the satnav for once took us to the right place and we pulled up on the driveway looking forward to spending a relaxing couple of hours. Back at 4.30pm said the note on the door! All visions of coffee on the terrace faded.
We drove into Hamme, watched in amusement as Barry belatedly affixed the deflectors to the van's headlamps, contorting first his face as he read the instructions and then his body as he tried to align the things correctly! Amusing interlude over, we drove back to the B&B and waited for them to come home. They were true to the note and arrived promptly at 4.30 - full of apologies for not having been there when we arrived. Apparently we had only missed them by five minutes! We managed a quick coffee and then headed back to the venue to sound check. I remembered the guys from last year and it was a pleasure to work with them again. One slight problem though was that their sound engineer had been taken ill! Never mind, we got round it by working together and eventually got the sound and balance we wanted at a volume that was acceptable. The gig was sold out and the crowd was great. We had no catastrophes on stage and came off hot and sweaty and happy that we'd played a good show and sent everyone home happy. The gear was quickly dismantled, packed safely back in the van and after saying our goodbyes we headed off for a well-deserved night's sleep.
Saturday 5 April – Horst, Holland:
Back into Holland today. We're playing in Horst. It's a bit of a hike, but with three of us sharing the driving for the first time on this trip the time passes quite quickly now. We made really good time on the road and got into Horst well ahead of schedule. It was a beautiful day so we headed off into the country to find somewhere to stop and eat a late lunch. Our hostess from the previous night’s B&B had very kindly let us make some butties from the excellent breakfast spread she had laid on for us - so Dave was now about to embark on his second installment of cheese and ham butties! I was driving at this point, having mastered the art of keeping right instead of left - well, most of the time anyway! We found a secluded country track, near to Center Parcs, just outside Horst with a bench that was made for Foggy, Compo and Clegg. If you’ve ever watched ‘Last of the Summer Wine’ you’ll know what I mean. I’ll let you decide who is who. Personally I think Barry would be equally good as either Foggy or Compo! Image
Lunch over we headed back to Horst. It was still early so we looked around the shops before pulling up outside the Muziek Café De Buun which was our venue for tonight. Once inside we were treated to some excellent coffee before we leisurely unloaded, set up and sound checked. After a couple of beers an excellent banquet of Chinese food was laid before us which was quickly dispatched, along with another cup of excellent coffee. Feeling somewhat podgy we took ourselves up to bed for a nap! Showtime came round far too quickly but we dragged our weary bloated bodies down to the venue again and managed to force another couple of beers down our fat necks! The gig was a bit strange to start with as the usually attentive crowd could be heard talking throughout tracks like I Fall Apart and Fuel to the Fire. Barry decided to have a break half way through to let them get the conversation out of their systems – it worked! The second half of the show was far more like a Sinnerboy gig! Satisfied that all had worked out fine in the end we gratefully sank another few beers before retiring for the night. The great thing about sleeping at the venue is that you get to leave packing away the gear until the morning!
Sunday 6 April – Wervershoof, Holland:
Showered, breakfasted and with gear safely packed in the van, we set off for An Dijk – our next stop, and where we would be staying that night after playing the gig in Wervershoof in Westland. Gigs on a Sunday in Holland tend to be early evening stage times around 6.30pm – and that was how the Café Die Twee gig was originally booked. Unfortunately they had also booked a local duo to play in the afternoon/evening with the result that our gig got put back to a 9pm start. The result was a poor turnout. Very rare for a Sinnerboy gig in Holland. Although our host, Jaap, did us proud with steak, coffee and beer I think he realized he’d made a mistake. It was great to see Joeke – bass player from Dutch Rory band Laundromat at the gig. I was sitting outside having a fag (as I have a tendency to do occasionally) and saw this guy walking down the road. ‘I’m sure I know him’, I thought to myself – and I did indeed, for once!! Thanks for making the effort to drive 70km to see us. Talking of people driving a long distance, thanks must also go to Diego who drove all the way from Spain to catch the gigs in Holland and Belgium – that’s what I call dedication! The small but appreciative crowd gradually dispersed after the gig leaving a dedicated few and a pisshead. The dedicated few helped us to get the gear out to the van. The pisshead got in the way of everybody and ended up lurching into Dave and knocking his earring out – if he hadn’t found it I think Dave might have knocked him out! Patience was wearing thin and it was a relief to leave him behind and head back to An Dijk. Huge thanks to Gerit and his wife for putting up with me for a second time. Their hospitality is amazing. I hope we will back there again next year.
Monday 8 April:
We had to make an early start in the morning as it was a six hour drive to Calais. We had worked a rota system so that we each drove for an hour and had two hours off and it worked really well. The kilometers flew by and seemingly in no time we were at the quayside waiting to board. Dave and I had an interesting interlude whilst searching for a toilet. We had to go into the main terminal building to pee, which meant having to show our passports and be issued with boarding passes as we were apparently re-entering France. We hadn’t realized we’d left it! Does this mean the Port of Calais is an independent country or part of England? We were somewhat perplexed. We were even more perplexed when on exiting the building at the main entrance as instructed we found that there was no way back into the port! We re-entered ‘France’ once again and were pointed in the direction of another door. We walked through it with eyes firmly focused on the door at the end of the corridor which led back to the Principality of the Port of Calais and the van, and were shouted back by a very unfriendly security guard who demanded to see our passports and boarding passes. We were then subjected to a full airport-style security scan with belt removal etc. Why? We had just driven in to the port with a mere cursory glance at us from security officials. Motto of story – don’t go for wee wee in the port of Calais. Nightmare!
We arrived safely back in England with three days to prepare for the forthcoming trip to Greece. We were all looking forward to it.
Friday 11 April – Thessaloniki, Greece:
Barry has played Greece on many occasions and indeed could even be classed as a celebrity over there. He was itching to get out there and show them what the new Sinnerboy line-up can do. Dave and I had never played in Greece before, or even been there at all for that matter.
We flew out from Manchester at 6.25am on Friday morning. It doesn’t sound like an ungodly hour to travel, but when you work it back it actually meant that we all had to get up at around 2am in order to rendezvous just outside Stockport before getting to the airport for 4.30am in order to ensure we didn’t miss the flight. Thankfully there are no tales of zebras to recount on this occasion (see Norway log) and we boarded the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt on time. We had a quick change to make in Frankfurt to catch the Aegean flight to Thessaloniki but, apart from cursing Frankfurt airport for forcing transit passengers to not only walk ten miles from one end of the airport to the other and back again and then having to undergo yet another full security check, the flights were straightforward.
We were met at Thessaloniki airport by Simos, our Greek promoter, and some of his team. They drove us into the city to the venue. I had a vision of Greece as being a beautiful country of white houses and rolling hills populated by old, weathered men with white beards and flowing robes, clutching a crook as they herded their goats along the dirt roads to the next grazing patch. I was totally unprepared for the reality. Maybe my vision does exist in some parts of the country. If it does I would love to go there next time. My first impression of Greece as we drove through the city of Thessaloniki was deprivation and poverty. Buildings that had originally been white were now stained a yellowy brown colour and covered in graffiti. People shuffled around in worn out clothes and even more worn out shoes. I was told this was the poor part of the city. Although the centre of Thessaloniki was definitely cleaner and more appealing it is clear that Greece has suffered badly from the financial meltdown in the Euro zone. I do not want to dwell on politics but it is a sad fact that it will take many years for Greece to rebuild its economy and clean up its cities based upon the evidence that I saw both here and in Athens over the following days. The people and the food, however, are absolutely magnificent!
Our hotel was literally just around the corner from the Eightball Club that we were playing that night. We went and checked in, walked round to the venue and plugged in. The joy of travelling with just a guitar and a few bits and bobs is that there’s no gear to hump! George, the sound guy was indeed a sound guy! He had us sounding great in no time. Stage sound was spot on, front of house was kick-ass perfect. Dave’s only complaint was that the cymbals had seen better days, but other than that I was more than happy with the Ampeg rig and Barry was pleased with the sound from his vintage Fender amp. The stage was set, literally, for a rockin’ night. And that was exactly what we had!
Sound check was followed by food check. We were taken to a great little restaurant and were shown to the smoking floor upstairs. It is of course illegal to smoke in public places in Greece but as with so many European countries the owners of the establishments do what they see fit with regard to compliance. How I wish the Brits had the same attitude! Oh I know non-smokers love it (I can hear you all screaming at me as I type) but surely everybody has the right to choose whether to allow smoking in their own establishment? If they do and you don’t like it go somewhere else! Ok, I’ll get off my soap box and back to the restaurant.
I had been told that the food in Greece was par excellence. It is (with the exception of a particular dish in a particular restaurant in Athens!). Our meal that night was flavoursome, plentiful and thoroughly enjoyable. Greek salad, feta cheese, amazing mushrooms, meat balls, pork steaks, chorizo sausage, fried potatoes, bread, beer and coffee – all absolutely amazing. Thanks to Simos and Pavlina for a great time. But now there was the small matter of playing a gig! We walked back to the hotel, unconcerned at the heavy feeling in our stomachs as we still had at least three hours until showtime.
After a wash and brush-up and half an hour’s shut-eye we hit the Eightball rarin’ to go! We had a talented bunch of guys supporting us by the name of Full Houze (yes, I have spelt it correctly!). Great singer and really competent musicians. We all enjoyed their set, as did the crowd. But now it was our turn. All feelings of tiredness melt away when you hit the stage in front of a packed house. The crowd were ready for some Rory, we were ready for some Rory and we rocked the joint! I hope Rory would have been proud. I was. As a band you feed off the audience and vice versa. The chemistry that night was great and the gig ranks up there among the top Sinnerboy nights. We came off on a real high and I for one can’t wait to go back and do it all over again! Friday night is party night at the Eightball so by the time we had got changed and come down to case the drumsticks and guitars the DJ had struck up with a load of 80s disco tracks! After a couple more beers, and tiring of the disco beat, Barry and I left Dave to it and beat a retreat to bed and some much needed sleep.
Saturday 12 April – Athens, Greece:
Saturday was going to be another grueling day of travel. Barry had casually informed us that it was a bit of a trek from Thessaloniki to Athens. A few days later he’d said we’d have a bit of train journey. By Saturday afternoon we’d found out it was the best part of six hours!! Having spent a beautifully sunny day on a train we can be forgiven, I feel, for feeling somewhat jaded by the time we arrived in Athens. Carrying a flight cased guitar weighing almost 17kg around Athens is not great fun so I was pleased to see Simos’s Athens team was waiting to meet us. Tonight the hotel was a five minute drive from the venue – The Kyttaro Club – so we had arranged to go to the venue first to sound check and then out for some food before going to the hotel. Stergios (sorry if I’ve not spelt that correctly) was our guide for the evening and he did us proud. We ate in the shadow of the Acropolis with the sun still beating down on our table. There are rows and rows of restaurants in that area and Stergios had picked a good one. More great food, and of course, beer. Greek salad, aubergine rolls, pork gyros, shrimps, salmon, bread and more that I can’t remember. Feeling totally replete we were driven back to the hotel to chill for a couple of hours before being picked up for the show around 10pm. It was going to be a late one because there were two support bands – Kalamazoo and The Blue Airwaves. Almost sounds like one band! We managed to catch the end of the Blue Airwaves set and very good they were too.
The reason we missed most of their set was that we were doing a couple of interviews in the dressing room. The first one was for www.rockoverdose.gr – the guy who did the interview, with the unmistakably Greek name of John North - can be seen headbanging with us on stage at the end of Bullfrog! A genuine geezer! The second interview was with two lovely young ladies, Natassa and Joanna, from Botox Radio. Check them out at www.botoxradio.com . Natassa is below next to Dave, but Joanna was behind the camera! The guy in the Sinnerboy T-shirt is Simos. Huge thanks to him for having us over for a great few days and treating us like rock stars – we almost believed we were!
So on with the show! By the time we hit the stage it was nearly midnight. A bit too late in my opinion. If I had been a punter, I’d have been knackered after watching two bands and probably pissed as a fart! The fact that the crowd stayed on, and stayed with us all night until nearly 2.45am was amazing. Thessaloniki was always going to be a hard act to follow from the point of view of atmosphere, but Athens ran them close. The stage sound was great. Thanks to another George, this time on side stage duties, for that. Judging from the comments we received afterwards the front of house sound was great as well. I think the whole set has now appeared on YouTube (just search it for Sinnerboy 2014 Kyttaro) and you can judge for yourself. We came off after a frantic finale of Bullfrog Blues complete with stage invasion! A thoroughly enjoyable gig. After a quick pack away of guitars – Dave had shredded his drum sticks and just gave them away - we were off back to the hotel for a well-deserved rest. Sunday was a day off and we weren’t due to fly out until 6.30pm on the Monday evening so now we could all chill out, wind down and experience a bit of Greek culture and see what Athens had to offer. But that was for another day – now it was time for sleep!
Sunday 13 April – Athens, Greece:
Funny how when you don’t have to get up early you end up waking up early anyway! It must have been around 3.45am by the time I got to bed, but I was up for breakfast by 10.30am – and bumped into Barry into the restaurant! We had been told that they would be serving until 11am, but when we got there it was almost all packed away. Nothing was too much trouble though, and we were soon piling into scrambled eggs, the Greek equivalent of bacon and sausage, peaches and (of course) Greek yoghurt plus coffee, fruit juice and a selection of honeyed biscuits and cakes were laid before us and made an excellent start to the day. A couple of cigarettes on the terrace (the restaurant was on the 8th floor and the terrace had a great view out over the city) and back to the room for a much needed shower and a few more zeds on the bed before going out for the afternoon.
We had a leisurely stroll up to Omonia square (I can’t help thinking of it as Ammonia Square, but it really didn’t smell that bad!), caught the tube to somewhere else (obviously, but I can’t remember where it was) got off and walked in the general direction of the Parthenon. This was the cleanest part of the city that I had seen to date - obviously geared towards parting tourists from their hard-earned euros. There were streets and streets of souvenir shops, pseudo antique shops, t-shirt shops, bars and restaurants. Apparently it costs 12 euro to go up to see the Parthenon. We all agreed we could see it well enough from the table of a restaurant and so invested our 12 euros in a few beers! Not many though because at 4 euros a bottle it’s not cheap! That was our fault for choosing a restaurant at the foot of the Parthenon. As we found out a short time later, when we went to find something to eat, the beer is only 2euros 50 cents if you can’t actually see the Parthenon!! A short walk back towards the tube station found us in another row of restaurants. We sat down and ordered. The food duly arrived and everything was great with the exception of my main dish. I had gone for lamb in lemon sauce with rice. What I actually got was a huge bone in a non-descript watery gruel in which was floating some overcooked rice – it was disgusting. Strangely, the rest of the food was fine, so I ended up eating half of Dave’s ‘mixed grill’, which was actually a selection of kebabs and pita bread, and very nice it was too! Meal over, we headed back to the hotel for a rest before hitting the Kyttaro Club again that later that night.
Joe Lynn-Turner (ex Rainbow & Deep Purple singer) was on, with his band - playing a selection of Rainbow and Deep Purple numbers according to the poster. Simos had very kindly arranged for us to go on the guest list so we flagged down a cab, piled in and went off to watch somebody else at work for a change!
I saw Joe Lynn-Turner fronting Rainbow after Dio quit, and having previously seen the band with Dio fronting it I must admit that I wasn’t impressed at the time. However, maybe I saw him on an off night, because last Sunday at The Kyttaro club his vocals were awesome. He hit every note effortlessly – and that included a couple of Coverdale, Gillan and Dio songs. It just took an hour or so to focus on his voice and showmanship rather than the fact that he was about 4ft 6” tall, overweight and wearing a wig! But showman he is and even though his accomplished guitarist looked far more like Richard Wattis than Richard Blackmore he and his band gave a thoroughly polished performance that the whole crowd really enjoyed. I couldn’t help feeling slightly envious though, it was only just gone midnight and they were finished – this time last night we had just about hit the opening chords!
Hailing a cab in Athens is so easy – just step on to the road with your hand in the air. The yellow cars are the cabs, the other ones aren’t! The yellow ones stop, the other ones don’t – please remember to step back onto the pavement if the car coming towards you is not yellow – they don’t swerve to avoid you! Thankfully we ended up back at the hotel and not in A&E.
Monday 14 April – Athens, Greece
I won’t bore you with a description of Monday’s breakfast. Suffice to say that after it I retired to my room and started to write this log on my Nokia Windows phone – the first time I have tried to use the Microsoft Office on it. It’s surprisingly good if you are patient enough to type with one finger. I tried with two thumbs but got fed up of hitting the wrong letters on the keypad! Once I got the hang of the predictive words scrolling across the top it was actually quite quick to use. Before I knew it I was getting a phone call to say please vacate the room!
Dave and I had one last mission to accomplish before being picked up to go the airport. We needed to find some cigarettes! We set off on foot towards Omonia Square and stopped at a couple of shops. Dave wanted 200 Marlboro Lights to take home for a friend and I just wanted to stock up! It seems that you cannot buy sleeves of 200 cigarettes in Greece due to restrictions imposed on the shopkeepers. They did try to explain it to me but I must admit it didn’t really seem to make any sense. Apparently they are limited to two trips a week to a central wholesaler and cannot buy more than 400 of any brand on any given trip. Please don’t ask me why! I’m not even sure I’ve got the story straight. Suffice to say that it took a visit to two shops for Dave to get his Marlboros and significantly more shops and kiosks for me to get my Camels. At 3euros 60cents a packet I wanted to make sure I got as many as possible! It was another beautiful day so we took time out to have a frappe (iced coffee) and a slice of pizza at one of the many restaurants on the square – and then got moved on for sitting at the wrong set of tables to consume them! Break over; we headed back in the general direction of the hotel, finding it more by luck than judgment! Guitars, luggage and band members assembled in the foyer ready for our limos to arrive to take us to Athens airport – which of course is not in Athens at all, but half an hours drive away! Dave and I went with Nikos – who is also a drummer and had played with Kalamazoo, the opening band on the Saturday night. Needless to say there was a lot of conversation on the subject of music in general and drums in particular. Nikos especially liked Dave’s drummer jokes, roaring with merriment at ‘How do you tell when a drummer’s drum riser is level? – He dribbles beer out of both sides of his mouth’ and ‘How do you know when a drummer’s knocking at your door? – It starts slowly then speeds up!’ Really nice bloke, the time sped by and before we knew it we were carrying guitars into the airport searching desperately for a baggage trolley before our arms dropped off.
Having dropped the guitars at the oversize luggage desk we sauntered down to Duty Free. As previously recounted, I was already well stocked with Camels, on the basis that Eurozone airports will not now allow you to buy any duty free cigarettes if you are travelling to another EU country. However, in all the other airports I’ve been to they display prominent signs to this effect. Here there were no signs. I went to an assistant and asked if I could buy cigarettes to take back to the UK. No problem, he says. What about the tax I asked? ‘Already pay’, he says. And then I twigged! They’re selling the cigarettes in the Duty Free shop with the Greek tax already included in the price!! I needn’t have scoured the kiosks of Athens after all. Not only that, if I’d waited until I’d got to the airport I could have bought my preferred Lambert & Butler for just 39euros a sleeve! Oh well, I’ll know next time!
The trip home was a reversal of the trip out and after a long and anxious wait for the guitars to appear on the baggage carousel at Manchester Airport we eventually left the airport and headed for home at around midnight!
We had a great time in Holland, Belgium and Greece. A huge ‘thankyou’ to everyone who came to see us, put up with us and looked after us. We’ve got a some UK gigs coming up - mainly in Yorkshire over the next couple of weeks so I’ll use Dave as an interpreter - then it’s off to Ballyshannon at the end of May for the Rory Gallagher International Festival and on to Limerick on Friday 6 June and Cork, for Cork Rocks for Rory, on Saturday & Sunday 7/8 June before returning home. It’s not a bad life being an old rocker!
Wijk aan Zee 2014
‘Dazed and Confused’
This is going to be a tour diary with a difference because (a) we weren’t on tour and (b) Rob wasn’t there so in the absence of his eloquence you will have to put up with my rambling drivel.
I’ve just got back from Wijk Aan Zee in Holland after the most fun I can ever remember having with my pants on or off! Sinnerboy weren’t playing this year so I headed over as a punter, and had the time of my life!
After an uneventful journey over on Friday by the van, a plane, two trains and a bus (I was a punter remember? so no Grinning Theo waiting in a limo - how the other half lives!)
I read on Facebook that Angela was having a nightmare journey from Scotland so I decided to wait for her at the bus station in Beverwijk, but after half an hour I was freezing my nuts off and my chivalry ran out (sorry!)
After some chips and mayo (yum) and a nap I arrived at ‘The Sun’ I knew that people would be surprised to see me there but I had totally underestimated the reception I got, it took me at least half an hour to get in through the door past the fagging it mob outside and once inside Anja slapped a wristband around me and Paul declared me his guest of honour, They made me feel really special and I was delighted!
Now you may (or may not!) be wondering how I could possibly have such a good time when I wasn’t playing as I love it so much, but the reason is that when one is performing one just doesn’t have the time to spend with the people, chatting about Rory and having a beer. It was such a pleasure to spend so much quality time with everybody, without having the gig in my mind and the performance pressures, and being conscious of cutting people short to try and talk to as many Rory fans as possible.
It took me another 45 minutes to hang my coat up, by which time Pat (McManus) and Salli had arrived, Pat took one look at me, flashed me those famous teeth and said ‘Right let’s get Barry a guitar’ I said ‘Pat, I’ll be pissed by midnight’ but he obviously wasn’t having any of it so I was going to get a play after all - hooray!
I contemplated staying sober so I wouldn’t make a complete arse of myself on stage but by that time the table was creaking under the weight of all the glasses of Amstel that everybody was shoving at me that I decided the hell with it, at least I’ll be able to provide some entertainment!
‘Brute Force and Ignorance’ were on first, Markus is my oldest friend in this business, and watching that band in Midleton years ago was the first time that made me realise that Rory could really be played authentically. They were magnificent; they had played a great gig for me in Liverpool in November but they found another gear on Friday and they rocked like hell!
Stefan and Marcu played amazing solos on (whatever it was) and they brought the house down, what an opening band – the scene was really set for a great night!
Watching Pat play is always an experience; virtuosity begins and ends with him, the reason being that he never takes his guitar off! This band plays absolutely everywhere, and if you’ve never seen them go…NOW! He is just as brilliant on a fiddle too!
Paul Falloon, apart from being one of the funniest and nicest guys I know, always drums up a storm, but they have a new bass player, who’s name I can’t remember but what a lovely tasty musician (Hang on to him for dear life Pat!)
At Lord knows what time, it was time for me to get up, so I took me jumper off and wobbled to the stage for a jam with the boys and Markus, Pat hung a Strat around my neck and pointed to a Fender something amp, and I plugged in (well the bass man plugged me in as I couldn’t figure out which hole) Pat’s sound went ‘WAAAAHHH, Markus’s sound went WOOOH, and my sound went ‘plink, plonk, I sounded like Bert Weedon with a bad thumb, but as we say in the music business ‘Sod it, let’s rock’ and we did! The smiling faces of the audience reassured me that all was well so we had a ball, we played ‘Messin with the Kid’, then Pat launched into ‘La Grange’; halfway through the song Markus bellowed in my ear that I should be playing this bit in ‘c’ but by the time my drunken brain had processed what he had said everybody else was back in ‘a’! Hilarious, but I doubt that the audience could give a shit, they were having such a good time. The usual buffoonery on Bullfrog Blues followed and that was the end of a really great gig!
An hour or so later, it was time to head off to the whisky bar for more fun and frolics, so off I went (with my great friends and Sinnerboy fanatics Annette and Karen) up the road to the scene of many a good time in Wiijk Aan Zee, but I must admit that I can’t remember much of what went on -apart from Will falling over.
Actually that is not the unusual part, as Will often falls over.
She has developed a technique for falling over, she is in fact a professional faller over, when she feels that she is going to fall over she adapts a sort of ‘boneless fish’ approach so that when she falls over she doesn’t hurt herself, (really, she explained it to me!) it’s an amazing experience to watch her fall over, she is the sweetest girl you could wish to meet, but I think she could make a lot of money by giving lessons on how to fall over.
No, the unusual part is that Marcu fell over, Will has obviously never taught her boyfriend how to fall over properly, if she had then Marcu wouldn’t have been quite so bad at it, when Will (the pro) falls over she lands in a soft, cuddly puddle, but when 6 feet two and 16 stone strapping drummer Marcu falls over it’s like the Hindenburg disaster, a f…..g big German catastrophe!
OK so its five O’clock now and time to go home, hugs all round and drunken promises made that will never be fulfilled and I head off to my hotel, now then, where the hell is it? I know it is on the big green grassy centre of Wiijk Aaan Zee so I find that, but if you can imagine my hotel being at 12 o’clock, I arrived at the green at one O’clock and went right around the clock from one to 12 which took me about an hour, to travel a journey that should have taken five minutes if I had turned right instead of left, oh well never mind I got there and collapsed in a heap!
So up at nine, showered, breakfasted and off to the beach for a bracing walk with Joe and Astrid and the dogs, but then I realised that is was midday and I’d missed breakfast, and the beach, and the dogs, and Joe and Astrid and I was still pissed! So I showered, dressed and went to find some food.
I went to the bar next to The Sun, and ordered Schwarma, it was bloody horrible but I needed some lining to my stomach, so I ate it (the chips were good though) as it was coming I saw Marianne passing and beckoned her in for a coffee, Marianne is a left wing politician in her home town of Alkamaar, and it was a pleasure to chat and get to know her.
The Brute Force mob joined us for coffee, then it was back to The Sun for the acoustic session. I didn’t pay much attention to it, partly because Pat and Eammon and and Dekko and all the others all play much better acoustic than me and they make me sick, and partly because Paul Falloon was bending my ear in his thick Northern Irish brogue about Lord knows what (but we had a great time) then before I knew it, it was Saturday night.
I went back to the same bar for dinner, chicken this time, it was delicious!
Jan had played a blinder, he had spotted a young Spanish band on youtube and invited them over. They were Awesome, they started nervously but once they had ‘settled in’ they were amazing, they are called ‘Last fair Deal’ shit name, but what a band! They were brilliant, somebody said to me ‘what did you think of that girl drummer?’ I replied that she wasn’t a girl drummer, she was a great drummer, boy or girl what the hell does it matter?
Got ensconced with great pal Danny Vlaspoel then, and lost an hour or so! Then got a text off him later telling me that Laundromat has been invited to Ballyshannon – great news, great band!
A Taste of Rory finished off the weekend with a brilliant set, if the people weren’t spellbound enough by Dekko’s ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ on acoustic in the afternoon then the guys mastery of harmonics can only make me weep with envy, the jam at the end was hampered by the bass amp going down but what the hell, we had a ball!
I was ready for the hotel and a sleep when Dekko said ‘Whisky bar?’ so off we trotted for another night of revelry, we celebrated Rory’s birthday properly, big toasts to him, Bibi on a chair taking pictures, everybody talking at the same time, Rory on the jukebox, me and Dekkos’ talented boys talking about their future, just a bloody great night! I love these people!
Sunday, going home time, what a pisser!
Met Annette and Karen, and started to head home, we got on the bus no problem, got to Beverwijk no problem, realised I’d left my hearing aid in the hotel, so we got off the bus and waited for the one back to WAZ.
When the bus came it was the same lady driving, and she let us off for the fare, (it wouldn’t happen in Manchester)
Hearing aid recovered, back to the bus, the new driver let us off too, (why does England not share the Dutch humanity?) Then we got on the train to Amsterdam, overshot the station and walked back to the platform, got the train back to where we should have been to be told there was no train to Schipol and we have to take a bus.
So eventually there we were at Amsterdam Airport, tired out after a wonderful weekend.
The girls went to their flight and I had five hours to kill at Schipol.
Now I know Schipol, I have spent half my life at that airport, wandering around trying to kill time, I ate an awesome pizza then dozed off, just in time to realise that after five hours on the airport I’m late for the gate, (39) the signs said it was 17 minutes to get there so off I trotted to try and find gate 39, only to find there is no gate 39,(must be some sort of disappearing ghost gate) I checked my boarding pass and it said gate 49!, so by this time I arrived there, sweating like a dying pig, deposited my jacket, belt, knife, gun, plastic explosive, and bottle of Bacardi and got on the plane with a minute to spare before I was kicked off the flight.
Back to rainy, cold Manchester airport, at least the van would start, having not left the lights on like a certain bass player I could mention whose name reflects his instrument but who shall remain anonymous. I am home again, after the time of my life.
Thank you to the organisers of WAZ, to my hero Rory Gallagher, to my fellow musicians, but most of all to the wonderful people of every nation that joins in at these great weekends.
Ireland solo next week, then back with Rob and Dave to Holland, Greece, Then Ballyshannon, and Cork Rocks for Rory!
Here’s to us my Rory friends – there’s nobody like us!
Norway – Here We Come
Sunday 2nd February:
It is with fear and trepidation that I start to pack for our trip to Oslo. I have just been on the phone to Barry to plan for the week ahead and to get a handle on the likely itinerary for the trip to Oslo the following weekend. He has just told me we are flying with Ryan Air, renowned for their miserly baggage allowances and punitive charges, not to mention their attention to detail when it comes to the size and weight of your hand luggage – and that’s all we are taking!
Out comes the tape measure. Yes, my trusty hand luggage case is just a millimetre within the 55x40x20 dimensions on all counts. So far so good! Now what can I fit in it and still stay within the 10kg limit? I’ve checked the temperature and it appears that Norway is in the middle of a veritable heat wave that is likely to continue for at least another week – it’s actually +2 degrees Celsius! Can I get away without my quilted coat I wonder, or should I wear it over my leather jacket to go through check-in and then stow it in the overhead locker to avoid death by heatstroke whilst on the plane? Or maybe not take the leather jacket at all? Decisions, decisions.
Another problem, the toiletries bag has got to have an overhaul of its contents as all liquids must be in a clear plastic bag and no bottle must contain more than 100ml – nightmare! What’s a man to do – ditch the hairspray? Ditch the contact lens solution? What about the eau de cologne and deodorant, not to mention the shampoo?! I’m becoming resolved to reeking of BO, wearing glasses and having greasy hair for two days when my wife comes to my rescue. The hairspray is decanted into a 50ml bottle she keeps for just such a dilemma. She miraculously finds two individual sachets of shampoo, a roll-on deodorant, a miniature eau de cologne, 100ml bottle of contact lens solution and a massive clear plastic bag to put it all in, together with a miniature toothpaste - something that I had completely forgotten to even think about! So with five days still to go before our departure I am packed and ready to go. How’s that for organisation?
Friday 7th February:
A quick call to Barry in the morning confirms that we have a rendezvous near Manchester Airport at 1.30pm. I check the satnav on my phone and note that it will take an hour to get there. So far, so good. I make a mental note to leave home at 12.15pm – just to allow for any hold ups.
One major appointment has to be kept before I can put the finishing touches to my previous weekend’s packing. This involves taking our Cairn terrier, Angus, to the vet. Angus had been off colour for a day or two so I had phoned the vet the previous evening to make an appointment to have him checked out. Good job I did because during the night he gradually became worse and starting vomiting everywhere. By the time we got him to the vets at 9.45am he was very poorly indeed. My wife, Hilary, had been up all night with him whilst I was blissfully snoring my little head off dreaming of fjords and snow-capped mountains.
After a thorough investigation and a shot of anti-emetic the vet pronounced that Angus was suffering from gastroenteritis. A quick look at the bill promptly had me suffering similar symptoms.
By 10.30am I was back home having a cup of tea, wondering what I might have forgotten to pack. Passport, plectrums, fags……shit – forgot the phone charger! An intelligent, organised person might also have realised that as we were travelling outside the UK it would be sensible to pack the requisite power adaptor. It cost me £4.99 at Manchester Airport. Unfortunately, by the time Boots had relieved me of my fiver Barry and I had more pressing matters to contend with.
I had left home on schedule and was driving leisurely down the M56 when the call came through from Barry. “I’m going to be late. Got to go to Sheffield to pick Dave up cos his cars broke down. Should be back by 2.30pm.” ‘No problem’, I said. ‘Still got plenty of time. The flight doesn’t leave until 1635’. I arrived at our rendezvous point at 1.15pm and phoned him for an update. The prognosis was bleak. Dave’s car had managed to blow its gearbox and the AA had sent a standard roadside assistance van and not the low-loader Dave had requested. The low-loader would take another hour to arrive he was told. Dave apparently blew a gasket and several fuses at this information, but all to no avail. He was stuck between a rock and a hard place and Barry had no choice other than to leave Dave at the side of the road to sort it out and try and make sure he could still get on the plane to Oslo. At least if the two of us made it we had a fighting chance of cobbling something together. I very much doubt the audience would have been overly impressed by an hour and a half bass solo!
Barry met up with me at 1445. Time was getting tight. Visions of crazed passengers refused boarding and shouting at airport staff on reality TV shows started to come into my head. I drove us to the airport while Barry tried to get hold of Dave for a progress report and the promoter in Norway to see if there was any way we could get Dave to Oslo on another flight. I parked the van in the long stay car park and we walked to the nearest bus stop, caught the bus to Terminal 3 departures and duly joined the queue to check-in at the Ryan Air desks. It was now 1525. The gate was due to close at 1605 and there was a mile long queue at check-in. The visions returned. By 1540 we had reached the desk. Barry handed the online boarding passes to the female attendant. “How many bags are you checking in today sir?” she enquired.
“None”, said Barry. “We’ve just got hand luggage”.
She gave us a rather quizzical look, obviously reserved for passengers of lesser intelligence, and informed us that as we had already checked in online we could proceed straight to Security. Feeling duly demur, we nevertheless asked if it might be possible to change our friend’s flight to a later one – only to be politely informed that we should go to the booking desk. When I asked where that might be I was told, ‘It’s just down there by the big Zebra’. In vain I craned my neck and strained my eyes for sight of anything remotely resembling a big Zebra but no – there was not even a wildebeest in sight. Reluctantly, I turned back to the attendant to advise her of the lack of zebras and wildebeests when an overhead advertising display suddenly caught my eye – there was a picture of a zebra on it!
Now I don’t know about you, but when I am looking for something which will be located at ground level and am told that the thing I am looking for is ‘just by’ something my eyes tend to assume that it will be on the same latitude – not suspended from the ceiling 30ft above and to the right of it. Had I been asked to look for a flying zebra I would have course spotted it immediately. I gave the attendant the raised eyebrow treatment and legged it in the direction of the zebra.
1545 and we still haven’t been through Security. The bespectacled, grey-haired, middle-aged lady behind the booking desk was being very helpful. The only flight option available was an 0800 flight from Stanstead on Saturday morning. Whilst she had been looking this up Barry had been engaging in polite conversation, informing her that we were a band and that our drummer’s car had broken down causing him to miss this flight. “Oh dear”, she said. “Is he a key player?” I refrained from saying ‘ he’s a drummer - he doesn’t have a clue what the key is’ and, with perhaps just a slight touch of sarcasm, replied that he was and that was why he was booked on the flight in the first place.
1550. Another queue. Security. One day we’ll all just have to strip naked on arrival at an airport and re-clothe when we arrive at our destination after having taken our electronic passport chip from out of our bottoms and inserted it into a suitable receptacle that will then miraculously yield up our clothes and wish us a safe onward journey. Until that day comes we must dutifully present our belongings in clear plastic bags, deposit the contents of our pockets into little plastic trays, hold onto our beltless trousers, shuffle along the line like convicts on a chain gang and put our arms in the air to be frisked by the guard – hoping that gravity doesn’t take hold of the trousers and heap further embarrassment upon us.
1600. Five minutes to gate closure, but which gate? We frantically scan the boards for a clue and find it. Of course, it’s down the long hallway right at the end, and there’s no travelator. At a brisk walk we head towards the gate and reach it with a minute to spare. It’s not even open yet!
Barry takes the opportunity to phone the promoter in Norway to give him an update on Dave’s predicament. The cost and logistics of getting Dave from Sheffield to Stanstead to Oslo in time for the gig are just not realistic. If we were the Rolling Stones it would be easy – just charter a helicopter to get him to Manchester and a private jet for all of us to Oslo. Suffice to say that by this time we had resigned ourselves to the fact that it would have to be the two of us plus a stand-in drummer - but we still needed to find one!
Thankfully, as the weekend was all about Rory there were a couple of drummers to approach. Barry knew that a Scottish band, Against The Grain, were playing on the Friday night and thought their drummer might fit the bill. The promoter, Asle, said he would speak to him but we would have to sort out the details when we got there.
As Barry came off the phone the Gate opened. We were quickly aboard the aircraft and at last were ready to go – half an hour late. The flight was uneventful and thanks to the space where Dave should have been we could spread out a bit and go to sleep – but not until Ryan Air had managed to relieve Barry of in excess of £10 for a glass of wine, a small tub of Pringles and a coffee. I finished off my homemade ham butties and drank my pre-purchased bottle of lucozade.
After a somewhat bumpy landing we safely negotiated immigration, nearly had a heart attack at the price of a bottle of standard Australian wine in duty free (100 Norwegian Kroner – roughly £10) and went outside to catch the shuttle bus to Oslo Bus Terminal where we were due to be picked up and driven to the gig.
Outside the airport building there was snow on the ground but the roads seemed clear. It was cold, but not freezing. The bus was waiting in the allotted place. Barry paid and got on whilst I stayed back and had a couple of cigarettes to top up my nicotine levels. Suitably refreshed, I boarded the bus and we were soon off to Oslo. The initial excitement of being in a new country kept me occupied for the first few miles of the journey but I soon tired of looking at fields of snow and roads that were no different from any others I’ve driven on. Giving up hope of spotting a wayward Moose I closed my eyes and dozed for the remainder of the trip. It takes about an hour to cover the 60km from Rygge airport to Oslo. We eventually arrived at the bus terminal at around 9.15pm.
We disembarked, looked around in vain for the hoards of fans waiting to greet our arrival (they’d obviously been told Dave wasn’t with us and gone home) and in the absence of the remotest interest in us from anybody resembling a welcoming committee we wandered outside to a designated smoking area. Inside, outside, up the corridor to the café, back to the smoking area, to a seat inside, up to the toilet, back to the café, outside to circumnavigate the building, up and down the row of cars waiting in the ‘pick-up lane’, back to the smoking area………oh for the sight of Dave’s smiling face looking out of a black Mercedes (see Luxembourg log!)……
An hour in Oslo Central Bus Terminal is unlikely to be included in any guide books as a recommended pastime. It is extremely boring. It is also extremely annoying to find that it costs 10 Kroner to go to the toilet, especially when you haven’t bothered to bring any Norwegian money. Barry and I could draw you an illustrated map of Oslo bus terminal and could negotiate it blindfold. Frankly, we’d rather not be able to, but as we had been unable to get hold of Asle (the promoter) on the phone we had no choice other than to sit and wait in the hope that he would phone us. To his credit the apologetic phone call duly came – could we please get a taxi and he would pay for it on arrival!! Barry looked at me, I looked skywards. We both gave a deep sigh and set off for the taxi rank at the end of the ‘pick-up lane’ and piled into the obligatory Mercedes cab. It was now nearly 10.30pm!
Five minutes later we were outside the gig with Asle paying the taxi, apologising profusely and offering us beer. Any lingering feelings of resentment at having been left to freeze in Oslo Bus Terminal quickly subsided with the mention of beer. We’re easily bought! The beers duly arrived and then Asle introduced us to Fraser, the drummer from Against The Grain, who had kindly agreed to be our stand-in. He was sitting in the curtained off ‘dressing room area’ with his two band colleagues waiting to go onstage. A couple of probing questions from Barry established that this was not the same drummer that he had seen the last time they played! It was only Fraser’s second gig with the band and apart from the set they were going to play tonight he didn’t know any Rory material at all!! Help!
We had arrived just as the second act was going on – Riccardo Massini from Italy playing an acoustic set. A great player – get to see him if you can. Riccardo played the middle slot both nights and was absolutely fantastic. He very kindly gave me one of his CDs after we had played on Saturday night. I have still not had chance to listen to it, but will make sure it gets airtime in my car this week. If it’s anywhere near as good as his live work it will be worn out in no time!
The second and third beers had been duly despatched by the time Against The Grain took to the stage. I had wandered off outside for a much needed cigarette and heard them strike up. I went back inside in time to hear they were playing Do you Read Me – ‘there’s one for the list’, I thought. Barry obviously felt the same because he had scrawled the song title on the back of his Ryan Air receipt (that’s how I know how much he spent because his receipt became our set list!). Seeing me return he promptly stood up and delegated me the task of writing down all the tracks that they played that I knew (he of course knows them all so I was going to be the limiting factor in determining the set). Barry then disappeared into the crowd and left me to it!
By the time he returned I had noted down all the tracks that I thought we could include and downed all the beers that had been presented to me! The list ran as follows:
Do You Read Me
Walk On Hot Coals
I Fall Apart
Bought & Sold
Messin’ With the Kid
We had both been impressed with Fraser’s drumming and knew that none of the above would be a problem apart from some formatting adjustments. Nothing that a couple of hour’s rehearsal couldn’t sort out we thought. I suggested that we could also include Shadow Play, In Your Town and A Million Miles Away to bring the set up to the required length.
After giving Fraser a few minutes to chill out we ran the proposed list past him and he was happy with it. We were more than happy with him. A really decent geezer, and he could play! Barry and I couldn’t help exchanging a couple of smug smiles as we left him to chill and went in search of more beer. It was going to be alright!
I suddenly realised that I was tired, hungry and starting to feel the effects of too many beers on an empty stomach – my last ham butty was now a distant memory. Thankfully, our host to be – Jan-Erik – was ready to escort us to his apartment. We took a taxi through the city to his apartment and I was struck by how devoid of rubbish the streets were. Everywhere was clean and well cared for - a far cry from downtown Birkenhead where you are as likely to run over some junkie as a pile of MacDonald’s waste.
Jan-Erik’s apartment was on the fifth floor and thankfully was serviced by a spacious lift that accommodated us all with ease. We seemed to have added a blonde haired Scotsman to our party on the journey home. I think the beer must have taken hold of me after the realisation that we could now look forward to Saturday night rather than wish we were somewhere else, because I don’t remember exactly when we met Brian that night. Suffice to say that Bri became an integral part of the Sinnerboy Norwegian Experience over the ensuing 36 hours. His Billy Connolly-style accent and sense of humour meant that we were never more than a few minutes away from an amusing remark or anecdote! It helped that he was also a genuinely nice bloke (I had to put that in cos he said he was going to read this log). Only joking Bri – really enjoyed your company!
Within minutes of entering the apartment Jan-Erik had laid on a spread of freshly baked bread, caviar paste, salami, goats’ cheese and pickled gherkins and was frying some deliciously smelling meat patties whilst brewing a steaming pot of fresh coffee. Try getting that at 2am in a five star hotel! The ‘piece de resistance’ (excuse the lack of a grave accent on the first ‘e’ of piece) came with the arrival of a bottle of Jameson’s! We eventually called it a night at 4am and went to bed.
Welcome to Norway!
Saturday 8th February:
I awoke at 8.30am and wished I was still asleep! What a stupid time to wake up when you’ve only been asleep for four and a half hours. Jan-Erik’s apartment has an excellent smoking balcony and he had even supplied me with a pair of smoking slippers to go out there in! Although the temperature was just above freezing it didn’t seem to be that cold as I puffed away on the first fag of the day in just a t-shirt. Sanity returned when I got back inside however, and I went back to bed and dozed for another hour. Nevertheless, I was showered and dressed by the time Bri and Jan-Erik surfaced around 10.30am. Barry was nowhere to be seen – still comatose.
Jan-Erik quickly set to work preparing breakfast. Warm, fresh bread; boiled eggs, more caviar spread (Bri’s favourite – apparently he had tubes of the stuff confiscated on a return trip from Norway as they were over 100ml!), more cheese, ham, reindeer bites and lots of amazing coffee. J-E brews a mean pot of coffee! Barry had still not appeared by the time we had finished breakfast. It was decided to give him until 12noon and then we’d all go and jump on him. Unfortunately at 11.55am he wandered, yawning, into the living area to deny us that pleasure!
Asle, the promoter, was having a get-together at his home on Oslo’s west side that afternoon. All the artistes, some friends and long-time supporters of Oslo Rory Nights were invited. We arrived there at around 2pm and walked up the snow-bound path to the front door. The house was one of many of similar style on the road – a timbered, detached house of three storeys with a balconied living room area on the second floor which looked out over Oslo to the mountains beyond. Everywhere was white under a thin covering of snow with the exception of the roads which were miraculously clear. They must use a different type of salt in Norway – one that works!
We climbed the path to the front door, removed our shoes and coats; deposited them in the spacious downstairs cloakroom and made our way up the open wooden staircase to the living area, where I was greeted by Shorty, a wire-haired dachshund. Shorty, I discovered, was 14 years old and male. He was intrigued by me as he could obviously smell my dog, Angus. I had made a new friend. It would not be quite accurate to say he ran after me the whole afternoon because Shorty’s gait resembled more of a waddle than a walk but he definitely paid me close attention for the duration of our stay.
Barry, of course, knows everyone at these types of gatherings. As a relative newcomer I am now beginning to recognise some faces but cannot for the life of me manage to remember the right names for the right faces. It always embarrasses me that the smiling person who shakes my hand and says ‘Hi Rob, nice to see you’ cannot be given a similar response. I can’t bring myself to say, ‘Sorry mate, remember your face but not where I’ve seen it and by the way what’s your name again?’
I did, however, recognise John and Hilde. We had first met in Ballyshannon last May and again at The Cavern in Liverpool for the Rorygig in November. Barry had told me the story of the ‘friendship hats’ that Hilde makes by hand – an enterprising street seller at Ballyshannon had even copied them! I was extremely flattered and touched when Hilde presented me with the 230th and last hat. It has travelled safely home with me and will be brought out on special occasions. Thank you Hilde – the gift of friendship is priceless.
I don’t usually drink in the afternoon, especially if I’m playing a gig the same night, so I limited myself to three cans of indeterminate beer interspersed with a glass of water and half a dozen hot dogs. There was a choice of Norwegian sausage or Frankfurter in either a traditional hot dog roll or a Norwegian fajita (lumpe or something similar I think it was called). I tried all combinations, with mustard, with ketchup, with mustard and ketchup – they were all great.
Towards the end of the afternoon silence was requested for an acoustic intermission. The guitarist from Against The Grain picked up the acoustic guitar and his wife started to sing. No amplification, no PA. Her voice was absolutely amazing. No X-Factor pitch shifting needed here. Barry got up and did a couple of numbers, Riccardo did as well, and a guy who I don’t know also got up and played a couple. It was a really entertaining session which was thoroughly enjoyed by all who were privileged to be present.
You may recall that I had earlier referred to a rehearsal on the Saturday afternoon for Barry, Fraser and myself. We didn’t get one. The closest we got was the three of us in Asle’s house humming ‘A Million Miles Away’ and explaining the ‘bits’ in ‘In Your Town’! ‘Don’t worry’, said Asle. ‘You’ll have a sound check and can sort a few things then’.
Jan-Erik drove us from Asle’s house to the gig and we caught the end of the afternoon jazz show, which was great. I’m not really into jazz but I do appreciate good musicians, and the guys playing there that afternoon were really good. The pianist, sax player, bassist, drummer and guitarist made a great combo and played really expressively. I enjoyed it. When they had finished the stage was re-set with the backline from the night before.
Barry had retired to the dressing room area to inspect the guitars that he had been lent by Asle to use for the gig. Excellent instruments all of them. He was happy. But where was the bass? I had briefly glimpsed what appeared at first sight to be a bass guitar the previous evening when Against the Grain were playing. At a distance it had looked ok, but I wanted to get touchy, feely with it now. A few minutes later it arrived. I opened the case. It was Fender Precision shaped but Squire made. No problem, they made some good ones. This wasn’t one of them. The fretboard was coming away from the neck, the strings had probably been on it since it was manufactured in the 1980s and the action was so high you could have fitted your wallet between the fretboard and the strings! I could see Brian looking at me as my face was obviously betraying my thoughts. Brian is a bass playing musical slut (his words not mine) and had played that same plank the previous night so I didn’t want to come across as too much of a prima donna by slagging it off – but I just couldn’t help myself. ‘Is the bass ok?’ asked Asle. ‘Well, it’s got four strings’ I replied, trying desperately to hold my tongue and not wrap the plank of wood round his neck. ‘I bought it to do some recording with’, he informed me. Funny how guitarists think any old piece of wood will do to make low bottom end noises underneath their intricate finger picking and screaming solos. Only a bass player knows that it is the rhythm and melody beneath that actually gives their twiddling any meaning!
I put the plank around my neck and quickly took it off again as the strap was made for a midget. Oh dear, strap not extendable. Barry the midget came to the rescue. It was the perfect length for him so I swapped it for one of the extendable straps from his collection of beautiful guitars. (Do you detect a hint of jealousy?). Having adjusted the plank to a suitable height for playing I took a deep breath, pulled a plectrum from my pocket and attempted to come to grips with this aberration.
We were summoned to the stage. The good news was that we could now make a noise. The bad news was that the sound engineer was ill but would try to make it in by 8.30pm. To be fair, it didn’t really matter that we weren’t going to get a sound check. The guy had the levels set from the night before and it would only need a bit of tweaking to adjust them. The main thing was for Barry, Fraser and me to be able to at least jam a few bars together before the gig!
I busied myself with trying to master the Squire. The amp was only a 30w combo but it had a great sound – once I’d wound up the Gain to 10 and reduced the master volume level! I couldn’t fault the plank on sound quality nor, surprisingly, on sustain. It was, however, impossible to even consider bending a note anywhere on the fretboard the strings were that taut. I resolved to keep it simple and play within the limitations of the instrument and with a bit of luck everything would be fine.
We managed to run through some beginnings and endings (we call it topping and tailing) and it was clear that Fraser was an accomplished musician. (I know you’re not supposed to call a drummer a musician. As the joke says – ‘What’s the definition of a drummer?’ ‘Someone who hangs around with musicians.’). But Fraser is different. He can play the guitar as well! We didn’t get as long as we would have liked because the opening band, Big Guns, quite rightly decided they wanted to get in on the act too; but it was long enough to be able to tell we would have a good night and that anything untoward was likely to be a minor mishap rather than a major cock-up.
We went back to the chill-out zone and chilled out! Big Guns played an interesting set. Riccardo was excellent again and then all of a sudden it was time to go on. Bri, of course, had been winding me about the bass throughout the evening. At the end of Big Guns’ set he had come running in , deadly serious, ‘Didye see yon fretboard’s hanging off noo’, in his best Glaswegian accent (just imagine Billy Connolly saying it and you’ll get the drift) ‘There’s big chunks of it on the floor’.
Fraser played a blinder. Ok, he knew most of the material - but he had never played it Sinnerboy style before. I particularly enjoyed playing Walk On Hot Coals and Bought & Sold. The last time Barry and I had played that one was at Ballyshannon in the Big Top with Pat McManus and Andy Powell the previous May. We cocked it up in the same place there too!! As time was getting short we decided to drop Laundromat in the interests of being able to have a free for all finale of Bullfrog Blues. It worked. We had been told to finish no later than 1am and it was exactly 1am when the final chord and cymbal crash signalled the end of the night. The crowd had been brilliant. We had all really enjoyed playing the gig. I had almost found myself enjoying playing the plank – almost!
When I’ve finished playing I have to go and chill for a few minutes, have a cigarette and generally wind down before coming out to say hello to people. Barry, on the other hand, just gets off stage and chats to people as if all he’s done is tune his guitar – not played a two hour show. I managed to blag a beer on the way back to the dressing curtain and after a quick t-shirt change went outside to drink and smoke! Everybody had nice things to say about the show. I even found a couple of nice things to say to Asle about the plank. Before we knew it Jan-Erik was beckoning us into a taxi to take us back to the apartment.
Another excellent spread appeared as if by magic once we arrived back. Unfortunately, as we had to fly home on the Sunday morning we were all very sensible and retired to bed by 2.30am – leaving the bottle of Jameson’s still unfinished. Rock and roll ain’t what it used to be!
Sunday 9th February:
I am rudely awoken at 8am by the sound of my alarm going off on my phone. Surely not 8am already? It was. I reluctantly got out of bed, shuffled into the smoking slippers and braved the drizzle to have the first cigarette of the day on the balcony. Oslo was looking very grey and wet. Jan-Erik briefly appeared and then decided to go back to bed for an hour. I got in the shower.
By 10am we had breakfasted in similar fashion to the day before and were ready to leave for the dreaded bus terminal. It was time to say goodbye to Bri, take a few photos of Jan-Erik and his apartment for posterity and get on our way. Barry kindly offered to take a photo of Jan-Erik, Bri and myself but sadly years of being a professional photographer did not equip him for taking a picture using a mobile phone. He pressed the right button, the flash flashed but somehow, when we came to look at the photos on the bus later, no image had been retained. Operator error methinks!
We managed to get on the right bus at the terminal (we could have been forgiven had we got on the one displaying a sign for Oslo Airport but fortunately we knew that our Airport was called Rygge!) and like naughty schoolboys headed straight for the back seat where we spread ourselves out to selfishly prevent anyone else from invading our space. The bus pulled out and we were off on our way home. It hardly seemed like five minutes since we had arrived.
I was just dozing off when Barry shouts, ‘Moose!’ I awoke with a start, looked around in vain for a Moose and then saw Barry grinning at me in moose-like fashion. Swine. I closed my eyes to resume my dozing state and was just dropping off again when my mobile phone bleeps to inform me I have a text message. I fumbled in my pocket for the phone, pulled it out and pressed the text icon. The word ‘MOOSE’ screams out at me from the screen. I look at Barry in disbelief, he’s grinning from ear to ear. ‘It’s alright’, he says. ‘Don’t bother texting back ‘F**k off’! I gave him my best withering look and closed my eyes again, hoping to dream of Barry being chased by a herd of deranged Moose, closely followed by a herd of wildebeest and a zebra.
We arrived at the airport, passed through Security and headed for Duty Free. I was looking in vain for the cigarettes and then spied a solid metal door with the word ‘Tobacco’ above it. As I walked towards it the door miraculously opened to reveal an Aladdin’s Cave of forbidden wonders. Now I don’t really know (or care) whether Norway is in the EU, but judging by the fact you can actually buy duty free cigarettes when travelling from Norway to England I’m guessing they’re not! At 350 Kroner for 200 L&B it works out at half the price of buying 200 in Tesco. I also had the added bonus that Barry is trying to give up (or at least cut down) so I used his allowance too! He consoled himself by purchasing a large bottle of honeyed Jim Beam – bet that’s gone now eh?
From Duty Free we went straight to the Gate and after passing a boring 15 minutes or so people-watching we boarded the plane for an uneventful flight back to Manchester. For once the queues at Immigration seemed to go down quite quickly and in no time we were outside heading for the shuttle bus to take us back to the van. I hate buses. Dave hates buses. Barry though seems to have an inherent faith in this particular type of transport. We waited patiently for a bus to Terminal 1&3 Long Stay and our patience was eventually rewarded by its arrival – but not until at least two buses for every other destination had come and gone! We alighted at the nearest stop to the overflow car park where I had parked the van and were relieved to see it was still there and apparently in one piece. We reached the van; Barry searched his pockets for the key, thankfully found it and pressed the door release button. Nothing. He pressed it again. Nothing. No reassuring click and clunk of releasing locks. Nothing. Bemused, he went to the driver’s door and manually unlocked it with the key, inserted the key in the ignition and turned it – nothing happened! The battery was clearly as flat as a pancake. Some dodo had obviously left the lights on. If you have read this from the beginning you will know who it was. If you haven’t, his name was Barry.
Thankfully the van is covered by roadside assistance – which thankfully also extends to airport car parks! The recovery truck was with us inside half an hour and I was back home having a cup of tea by 5pm regaling the wife with tales of our trials and tribulations, triumphs and disasters.
It was a fantastic experience, with fantastic people. Dave would have loved it and I’m gutted for him that he missed out. But there’s always next year – providing Asle is not too offended by my disparaging remarks! We were looked after magnificently throughout our stay. Huge thanks to Asle and Jan-Erik for their hospitality, to Brian for his friendship and, of course, Fraser for being the best stand-in that any band could have wished for.
If you were there you will know what a great weekend it was. If you weren’t, make a note in your diary to buy a ticket for Oslo Rory Nights 2015 – whatever it costs it will be worth it.
I am really enjoying Robs' tour blogs - my head is always so full of itineries and miles per gallon and soundcheck times that I can't take the time to enjoy myself - Rob's eloquence is a great reminder that what we do is totally enjoyable!
We,ve got some cracking tours lined up for 2014 and I look forward to Robin's 'blogs' so I know I've enjoyed myself!!
Robin’s Tour Log – Europe Oct/Nov 2013
Our European Tour 2013 started at 12noon on 24th October at a rehearsal studio in Stockport that shall remain nameless. Suffice to say that the ‘studio’ was on the top floor of an old converted Mill and the lift didn’t work! Consequently we decided to make do with the ramshackle array of equipment that the ‘studio’ was able to provide. Notwithstanding this we had a productive three hour pre-production rehearsal to refresh the set and swiftly put the trials and tribulations of the experience behind us as we set off for Dover around 4pm.
An uneventful journey of some six hours saw us safely ensconced in The County Hotel in Dover for the night with time to sink a couple of pints at the bar before heading for bed. The problem was that some kind person had turned the heating to full in our room and we had to sleep with the balcony doors open all night! Not too bad you might think, but the combination of traffic noise (we were right on the ferry terminal approach road) and the storm that built up in the night meant not a lot of sleep for any of us.
An early start on the 25th was ordered by Barry to ensure we didn’t miss the ferry. So after a pleasant full English breakfast in the hotel (the last ‘heart attack on a plate’ that we would see for a while) we went back to the room, packed and assembled in the foyer – only to find that Barry had misread the ferry booking confirmation and we now had an hour to kill! Oh well, better that than missing it altogether.
Dave has a tendency to suffer from ‘mal de mer’ and was becoming a little apprehensive as we approached the ferry. The sea was quite rough, the wind was blowing a gale and the rain was intermittently lashing one way and then the other. Thankfully the crossing was relatively smooth with only the occasional lurch from side to side to make him question whether the full English had been such a good idea.
On arrival in Calais we set the satnav for Bourlon and hit the road. Unfortunately the satnav didn’t recognise the name of the venue – unsurprisingly as it had been mothballed for ten years and our gig was the re-opening night – but thankfully we spotted ‘THE VOX’ on the roof of the venue and rolled up to the load-in doors in good time. The crew couldn’t have been more helpful and the contents of the van were in the venue in no time. There are two conflicting sayings, both of which apply here. ‘Many hands make light work’ and ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’! The former definitely applied to the unloading of the van, but the latter was more applicable to the resultant higgledy piggledy array of equipment scattered around the floor and stage – it took twice as long to sort it all out than it would if we’d unloaded the gear ourselves!!
Now the French are very polite and extremely hospitable, but it would appear that they also have very sensitive ears. As the sound check progressed it was clear that this was in danger of becoming a silent gig akin to the silent discos that we had experienced in Ireland for the first time the previous month! Thankfully Dave was not using an electronic kit so there had to be at least a degree of volume – but that was about it. Apparently they had been told to keep the volume to 90 decibels and we were checking at 105 – and that was with it all turned down! We politely agreed to turn it down still further and eventually settled on a sound we could all at least work with.
Sensitive ears they may have, but the French obviously do not have sensitive stomachs! The spread laid on for dinner would have fed me for a week. I settled for the red wine accompanied by some salad and pizza (for some reason pizza seems to have become the French national dish) but passed on the custard tart desert (we took it with us but had to discard in Germany two days later as Alexander Fleming could have claimed it as the source of discovery of penicillin by that time – unfortunately I’d had a couple of bites out of it the night before in the dark after imbibing a few beers – but that’s another story).
Suitably replete we retired to the dressing room (a huge venue sized area below the venue itself!) and drank a few beers. As a smoker, the one thing I absolutely hate about playing a gig in the UK is the fact that 99% of venues do not allow you to smoke in the dressing room. Why not for God’s sake? It’s not a public place, it is my ‘home’ for the duration of the engagement and I want the right to smoke there!!! Thankfully in Europe they agree with me. Every dressing room was supplied with an ashtray – I loved it!
The Vox was a fantastic venue, complete with full size helicopter and various other gimmicks and fun bits and pieces! Whilst we enjoyed the gig (we enjoy them all) the stage sound was so quiet that it was hard to feel a vibe, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it – which is the whole purpose of the performance anyway! I hope The Vox can manage to stay open this time as it is truly a great venue and it would be good to go back again next year – with a bigger PA and no decibel limit!!
Suitably refreshed after a good night’s sleep we made an early start and hit the road for Sneek in Holland at 10am. We had a 280 mile drive ahead of us and needed to arrive for sound check at 4pm. During the drive Dave discovered that it costs 50c to go to the loo and Barry realised that if you kept your receipt you could claim it back in the shop. I discovered that if you just disappeared into the bushes you could save the 50c anyway!
Sneek is a beautiful town. It has the obligatory canals, hoards of cyclists daring you to knock them over, is spotlessly clean and has two venues in close proximity to each other, either side of a canal. We went to the wrong one and then spent the next twenty minutes trying to negotiate one way streets and kamikaze cyclists before eventually being guided to the stage door by a friendly local!
The venue, Poppodium Het Bolwerk to give it its full title, was equipped with full PA and side stage monitor mix – and no decibel limit. Heaven! A really professional crew, headed by Martin the stage manager, made sure that we wanted for nothing. When the beer in the dressing room fridge was raided it was replaced by twice as much as had disappeared. (We know where it went but I do not wish to name and shame another band.) Having worked out how to use the coffee machine we settled in to the extremely comfortable leather couches and waited for the crew to call us for sound check. After the silence of France it was great to be in Holland. Holland Rocks! The Dutch appreciate that live music needs to be loud – not to the extent of being deafening or distorted – but loud! We had a fantastic monitor mix and the guy on the side stage desk was spot on. Normally when you go on for the gig the engineer has managed to lose something from your monitors or decides to deafen you with guitar. This guy had everything just as it was for the sound check and the result was that the packed house was treated to what Barry considered to be one of the best ever Sinnerboy performances. I definitely felt that it was the best since I joined in January. We all came off absolutely drained, but extremely happy. You know when you’ve ‘had a good ‘un’.
Sunday 27th October was significant for two reasons. Firstly, it was a day off and secondly, it was my birthday. In fact my birthday ‘celebrations’ had begun in Sneek the previous night as we were still on stage at midnight and Barry led the crowd in a rousing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’. I was touched. I’ve played many a gig on my birthday – the most notable being my 30th at the West End centre in Aldershot where the band and crew of Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts managed to custard pie me on stage – but I’ve never had a crowd sing ‘Happy Birthday’ before.
Barry had decided that as he had never been to Luxembourg it would be a good idea to spend the day there as it was between Sneek and our next gig in Strasbourg. Unfortunately, he forgot that the principality of Luxembourg is actually quite a long way from Sneek so consequently we spent most of the day in the van rather than in Luxembourg! Nevertheless, we duly arrived at The Airport Hotel at dusk and prepared to hit the town. Barry had done his research and knew that there was a regular bus service between the hotel and the centre and this was confirmed by the multilingual lady at reception who amazingly also spoke ‘Sheff’ (Dave’s preferred language). Yes, t’bus do run ont’Sundays Dave – but only one way as we found out later!
We caught the bus, much to Dave’s amazement, and arrived in the centre of Luxembourg some ten minutes later. By now it was fully dark and raining. The town looked closed. It was. Apparently at least half of the bars and restaurants close on a Sunday (better research next time eh?). Not to worry, we wandered up to the main square and found a restaurant that was open and not quoting stupid prices on its menu. Suffice to say we had an excellent meal, washed down by a couple of carafes of acceptable red wine with country blues music playing in the background. This was rounded off by an excellent Luxembourgian Irish Coffee (the waiter’s own concoction I believe) that consisted of coffee and Jamesons in equal measure topped with copious amounts of whipped cream which had to be eaten with a spoon to get to the mixture below. Delicious!
Having photographed the shops of Gucci, Chanel and Cartier (so that I could prove to the wife that I had indeed been looking for a present for her but unfortunately the shops were closed) we then found a brasserie that was still open and passed a pleasant hour or so consuming Leffe Blond and Brun before being politely being asked to leave as they too were closing! By now it was only about 11pm and the bus timetable said we should be able to catch the last bus back to the hotel. It lied. The bus did not arrive and Dave was forgiven for his earlier scepticism regarding public transport. We had been waiting in the bus station for about ten minutes, in desperation, when I turned to Barry and asked where Dave had disappeared to. At this moment a black Mercedes with blacked out windows pulled up at our bus stop and the rear window came down to reveal Dave’s smiling face telling us to ‘op in, this geezer’s taking us totel’. Dave later informed us that he’d jumped out in front of the cab with a yell of ‘Hey mush, wannago totel?’ Amazing how they all seemed to speak Sheff in Luxembourg. Thanks guys for a great night – almost worth being a year older for!
Strasbourg here we come! Only a three hour drive today and we’ll be at Au Cam, the venue for tonight’s gig. Well, a three hour drive to Strasbourg maybe, but then an hour driving round in circles trying to work out how to get the van next to the venue! Roadworks. We could drive down the road opposite the venue, could see the venue, but the other carriageway was totally blocked off with no access to the venue at all! After the third circumnavigation of Strasbourg we parked the van in a bus stop, leaving Dave in attendance to speak ‘Sheff’ to any passing traffic cop, and walked down the blocked off carriageway to the venue and round the other side. The only access was by going the wrong way down a one way street after having done a U-Turn from the main carriageway to get there! Undaunted we returned to the van, took the now familiar route back through the one way system and pulled up at the doors of Au Cam to a typical French welcome.
Our host was sitting round a table with a couple of friends. There were half a dozen bottles of wine of various vintages on the table together with a platter of different cheeses and a selection of bread. Serge, the owner, ushered us to the table and proceeded to describe the delights of the cheeseboard. Truffled brie, camembert, goat’s cheese, Roquefort and at least one other that I can’t remember. They were all amazing – so much better than Tesco’s! The wine too was excellent. As the hotel was only just across the road we went and checked in and had a lie down to sleep off the effects of the wine before setting the gear up!
Au Cam is a seated café/bar type venue and our gig was part of a Blues Week that the venue was staging. After an uneventful set-up and sound check we went in search of the dressing room – expecting it to perhaps be upstairs or a room behind the stage. Neither! We were taken behind the bar, a huge trapdoor in the floor was lifted and down the wooden steps we went. At the foot of the steps we could see that the cellar stretched to both left and right. We were ushered left and through an archway into a fantastic dressing room area. Comfortable chairs and couches covered with drapes were arranged around a long coffee table, resplendent with ashtrays. A square mirror complete with bulbs around the outside adorned one wall. There was carpet on the floor and more drapes on the walls. It was really cosy! After an excellent meal of smoked salmon, potato croquettes and a dressed salad accompanied by an equally excellent crisp white wine we retired to the cellar to chill out. And that’s exactly what we did! It was the end of October after all and the nights do indeed get a bit colder, even in France. Luckily we found a couple of fan heaters, and after working out that they had to be standing on a flat surface to make them work we chilled out in a warmer environment if you get my drift!
The gig itself was a tad strange. The tables were set right up to the stage and the room was packed with people at the back standing as there were no more tables available. To the right of the stage there was more seating so part of the audience was actually watching as if ‘side stage’! It was a great gig. The crowd very kindly gave us a standing ovation at the end and after a few beers we went back to the hotel with a feeling of satisfaction. With only a short drive to the next gig the following day we had all ‘had a few’ after the gig and were able to have a lie-in in the morning before meeting back at Au Cam for lunch the next day.
The Mehlsack in Mundingen, Germany was only about an hour’s drive from Strasbourg. Crossing the Rhein into Germany we were struck by how beautiful the countryside was and how unspoilt the whole area appeared compared to parts of France that we had driven through in the previous couple of days. As we had time on our hands we went to check into the hotel, which was in Riegel, a few kilometres from the venue. Riegel is a quaint little town and well worth a visit. The following morning I walked around it for a couple of hours, sat by the river, looked at the old buildings and then sat at a café with Dave having coffee in the sunshine – bliss!
We were due to meet our agent, Pierre, at the venue, so after a brief siesta we set off for The Mehlsack. The building is a former Mill and the water that drives the wheel flows beneath it – as I found out when sitting in the smoking bar wondering where the sound of rushing water was coming from. I looked down and my chair was on the grid, through which I could see the water flowing a few feet beneath. I moved my chair onto the solid part of the floor, just to be on the safe side! The actual concert room is in the basement – thankfully only down a few stairs – and on entering we found that, as in Strasbourg, the tables were set right up to the front of the stage! Barry later remarked that it was the first time he’d played Moonchild with a guy eating pizza only a couple of feet in front of him. Two nights later it happened again!! A different guy this time though.
The gig was slightly strange inasmuch as the ‘sound man’, Max, didn’t mike up the drums or guitar or DI the bass! We played with just the vocals going through the PA. Due to the acoustics of the room it was enough surprisingly – but not conducive to a great stage sound due to the lack of monitors. Many well known acts play this venue and we were assured that none of them ever mike up. It seemed to work fine for the audience. Barry and I had to swap sides for this gig as the stage was a weird shape with a pillar in the centre and more depth on the right hand side. Normally we play our set straight through wherever possible but this venue insisted on a two set strategy so we duly obliged. Since Dave has joined the band we’ve added a couple of acoustic tracks to the set (as Rory used to do) so Dave and I get a break anyway – it just meant that this night we got a longer one! We still treated the audience to the full repertoire and were pleased to receive another standing ovation – the sound can’t have been that bad after all!
A few beers and a couple of large Jamesons later (I drank Barry’s because he was driving!) and we were in the van heading back to the hotel. We had had an excellent meal before the gig, but by now this was a distant memory – at least to my stomach. Having searched in vain for anything remotely resembling a kebab shop I turned reluctantly to the custard tart that had been left over from The Vox a few days earlier. Thankfully I am not that much of a fan of custard tart and after a couple of mouthfuls decided that I could wait for breakfast after all. A very good decision as it turned out because when we got into the van the following morning I picked the custard tart off the seat to find that its previous deep yellow colour was now a mottled blue green and grey! Moral of story – never eat anything without turning the lights on to have a look at it first!
A one hour drive from Riegel saw us arrive in Kandern, Germany in plenty of time for the gig at ChaBah. We had enjoyed a leisurely morning in Riegel, breakfasting at 10am and then spending a bit of quiet time before our departure around 2pm. Barry took advantage of the free Wi-Fi to catch up on emails. Dave took the opportunity to catch up on some zeds and I decided to go for a walk round the town, waking Dave up when I got back to go for a few coffees. The weather that day was bright sunshine and a clear blue sky without a cloud in sight - and it was around 23 degrees!
The ChaBah was our third café/bar gig in a row so when we walked in we were not surprised to see tables literally right against the stage. Nor were we too surprised to find that here too there was only a vocal PA. It was enough – just. We had a couple of coffees, chatted to the owner and had a leisurely set-up and sound check before checking into the hotel which we were assured was only a couple of hundred yards down the road. Good job we took the van – it was at least half a mile away!
Back at the venue we were ‘fed and watered’ and taken upstairs to the office that was to serve as the dressing room. It was plenty big enough with comfortable chairs and a couch to relax on. This was also to be a two set gig. The venue is owned by the same guy as The Mehlsack and he has sussed that punters drink more in his venues when there is a break in the set!
As 9pm approached we got changed and went down to the concert room. We could just about manage to open the doors but there looked to be no way that we were going to get on the stage – the place was rammed solid! Taking a deep breath I sallied forth aiming for stage right. Dave and Barry went for stage left. After countless repetitions of ‘Entschuldigung Sie mir bitte’ (which I hope means ‘excuse me please!’) I reached the stage and nearly clouted some poor woman round the ear as I swung the guitar over my head. Their table did move a couple of inches further back after that. I hope they liked bass because it’s about all they will have heard all night! Dave had a couple of guys virtually sitting in his bass drum whilst, you guessed it, Barry had a pizza man right in front of him for the second time in three days!
When I say that the place was rammed it is not an exaggeration. We had to fight our way back to the office/dressing room at half time and fight our way back again at the start of the second set. There was no way that we were going to even think of going off between Shadowplay and Bullfrog Blues! We finished Bullfrog, accepted the rapturous standing ovation and, with the crowd literally screaming for more, we fought our way back to the dressing room. I lit a cigarette and could hear the crowd still yelling for more. The owner came up looking concerned. He really wanted us to do another number! Slight problem – we had played every number that we had rehearsed. Luckily Dave had played Messin’ With The Kid in a band some years previously and I had as well. Barry of course knows virtually every song that Rory ever played but being ‘newbies’ mine and Dave’s repertoire is still somewhat limited. By the time I had finished the fag it had been decided that we had to go for it. The crowd were banging on the tables by now. We hurried back down, fought our way through to the stage and Barry struck up the guitar. As we had never rehearsed the song Barry launched into the first verse and Dave and I followed closely after. I have heard a bootleg phone recording of it and for what was basically a jam it’s not too bad! It satisfied the crowd anyway. A few beers and cigarettes later and I was tucked up in bed.
A day off. Our agent, Pierre, had very kindly arranged for us to stay in his apartment in Mulheim, but first there was the small matter of breakfast. This was now our seventh continental breakfast. Dave was becoming decidedly sick of ‘ham and cheese butties for brekkie’ and yearning for a ‘heart attack on a plate’. No chance. We did however manage a boiled egg this morning to go with the ‘ham and cheese buttties’. The saving grace of a European breakfast is the coffee. I cannot remember having a naff cup of coffee the whole time we were there. Unlike the disgusting Costa Packet Coffee rip off motorway services in the UK where I cannot remember having a decent one!
Mulheim is only a short drive from Kandern – some 15 kilometres. We arrived at Pierre’s apartment and settled in with more coffee. On the way in to Mulheim we had stopped at a couple of supermarkets as I was under strict instructions from the wife to find Heinz Curry Mango sauce and bring some bottles home. She had discovered it in Lanzarote a few weeks earlier but found to her disgust that it is not sold in the UK! I was therefore tasked with tracking down the elusive product. We had tried probably half a dozen supermarkets previously without success but as we entered Mulheim I spotted a Netto supermarket and we pulled in. I could hardly believe my eyes as I wandered up the sauces aisle and saw this beautiful orangey-yellow bottle with Heinz Curry Mango Sauce emblazoned upon it staring down at me from the shelf. I had found the Holy Grail. I could return home without being castigated - or worse! Barry and Dave had become so intrigued by the search for The Holy Grail that they bought a couple of bottles to try too! It must have been quite strange for the poor girl on the till. I can imagine her thinking that everything she had been told about the eccentricity of the English race was true after all as she rang in bottle after bottle of curry mango sauce and nothing else!
Pierre suggested that it would be a good idea to visit the nearby Spa baths for the afternoon as this would be both enjoyable and relaxing he told us. Mmmm. The setting and facilities of the Cassiopeia Therme in Badenweiler were indeed amazing. I always carry a pair of swim shorts that double as ‘room shorts’ on my travels but Dave and Barry had to fork out 12 Euros each for a pair of trunks as neither fancied the nudist therme – yes, there was one!
After working out how to extract the locker key from the wall of keys and then finding the correspondingly numbered locker we got changed and followed Pierre to the outdoor therme. It was a large pool with hot showers at one end and a whirlpool effect circular current at the other. The water was comfortably warm and we spent a fair bit of time alternating between swimming, standing under the hot showers, being whirled round the circular current and just standing at the side submerged up to the neck in the Jacuzzi spouts at the side of the pool. Just as my fingers were starting to shrivel into a prune-like state Pierre suggested that we try the indoor hot pool.
We dutifully followed him back inside and made our way into another room. This contained the indoor hot pool. It was just like getting into a hot bath. Not for me. I got out and was about to return to the outside pool when Pierre pointed to another, smaller pool. It was a cold pool and the idea, he said, was to jump into it and then get straight out and jump into the hot pool. ‘Ok’, I thought, ‘but I won’t jump, I’ll walk into it gradually – don’t want to risk a heart attack!’ By the time the water was up to my knees I couldn’t feel my feet the water was so cold. I flunked out of taking the full body plunge and got out and walked straight into the hot pool. My legs below the knee suddenly felt like they were on fire! Seeing that none of us were man enough to take the full treatment Pierre decided the soft Englishmen needed a cup of tea and some cake – great choice!
The café in the complex is a ‘wet’ café, meaning that it is designed for bathers only and it is quite normal to come straight from a pool, dripping wet and into the café – a great idea! There were a number of cakes to choose from – I went for a ‘death by chocolate’ concoction that was absolutely delicious. Two cups of coffee later and I decided I wanted a cigarette. Yes, there is a smoking area. Trouble is that it is outside, it’s cold, I’m only wearing shorts….I went and got my ciggies from the locker. Dave for some reason had decided that he would come with me – even though he doesn’t smoke. So we both got freezing cold, Dave had the equivalent of a passive cigarette and I had two! A quick dip in the outside warm pool soon got the circulation going again, but I had decided that I had been healthy enough for one day and was now getting a bit bored. Dave had had enough too so we both went off to get changed leaving Barry and Pierre to it.
The ‘Mmmm’ remark earlier refers to the next two hours that Dave and I spent waiting for firstly Barry and then Pierre to emerge from the baths! I don’t know what Pierre was doing. Barry came out about an hour after us and said that Pierre was back in the outdoor pool. Barry’s theory is that we English actually don’t know how to relax and unwind. We ‘attack’ relaxation in the same way as we ‘attack’ everything else in our lives with the result that we become stressed. Perhaps he’s right and we should all take a leaf out of Pierre’s book. It took only a few minutes of waiting after Barry’s arrival to determine the next move – find a bar! We did. Pierre’s phone call enquiring as to our whereabouts came as we were midway through the second litre of Brun! Who says Englishmen don’t know how to relax?
We had arrived at the Therme around 2pm and it was now getting on for 7pm. Hunger was upon us. A pleasantly English looking takeaway (run by Turks of course) was at the bottom of Pierre’s road. Earlier I had spotted the sign for Doner Kebab and, perhaps still thinking of the penicillin tart that a lack of kebab had driven me to consume, I went for a large doner with all the trimmings and sauces. Wow, what a meal. It was not in pita bread, nor naan but more like wrapped in a pizza base! Suffice to say I was well and truly stuffed by the time I’d finished it. Dave went for the same but was not too fussed on the bread. Pierre had supplied the wine so a good time was had by all. However, I could not believe it when first Pierre then Dave and then Barry went to bed – it was only around 9.30pm! Rock & Roll or flop and fold? Oh well, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Ten hours later I woke up, considerably refreshed and ready for the day ahead.
Tonight’s gig was just over the border into France at the Café Conc, Bartenheim. The last gig of the tour unfortunately. A breakdown in communication meant that the gigs that should have been booked for the Saturday and Sunday nights didn’t materialise. Never mind, these things happen. As Bartenheim is less than an hour from Pierre’s apartment we had plenty of time to relax in the morning before setting off for the venue.
I decided to go for a walk. The top of Pierre’s road ends at the entrance to a field and beyond that is rolling countryside and forest. The lady in the apartment above had told me to be careful if I was going walking into the forest as the military have cordoned off some areas as no-go areas for the public and don’t take kindly to any encroachment. I decided to take the easy route across the fields and avoid the forest! I must have walked for a couple of miles across fields before thinking about getting back. I don’t like walking back the same way that I’ve come so I decided to find an alternative route back. Bad decision. I got lost. I found my way back to the houses bordering the fields but got totally lost in the labyrinth of roads, cul-de-sacs and walkways. Luckily I have a reasonable sense of direction but I was still extremely relieved when I came to the end of a road, looked left and saw Pierre’s car parked by the kerb!
The Café Conc is part of a large entertainment complex that includes as least two other nightclubs and other bars that aren’t used at present. The hotel we were staying at was immediately opposite the venue. A rare opportunity for Barry to have a drink!
Our first view of the venue was through the load-in doors at the rear of the stage. A proper concert venue this one. Arrows on the floor of the load-in area point to the stage which is accessed through a thick black curtain to reveal a full-sized stage, concert PA and lighting rig. ‘Hurray, we can go out with a bang!’, I thought. And we did!
Sound check was followed by a meal in the dressing room of chicken, rice, bread and wine. The ‘Reserved for Artistes’ sticker on the fridge meant Dave was happy. The ash trays on the table meant I was happy. Barry was just happy to be back playing again after a day off.
The sound man had been meticulous at sound check and the monitor mix was spot on. It was good to be back on a concert stage with a full on-stage sound to feed off. The first couple of songs went smoothly and we had just started Overnight Bag when a butterfly suddenly appeared as if from nowhere flying about the stage, but mainly around me; never getting so close as to interfere with my playing but close enough for me to see it clearly for most of the song. At the end of the song it disappeared as suddenly as it had arrived. Barry, Dave and I have each been playing for over 35 years and none of us have ever seen a butterfly on stage before at an indoor venue. I have heard it said that when a loved one passes they can take the form of a butterfly for a short time to visit the people they’ve left behind. I like to think that this butterfly was a message from my son to say ‘Go for it Dad. I’m watching out for you.’ It was also strange that there were two photographers constantly shooting at the front of the stage and neither remembered seeing the butterfly. Maybe it was only visible to the three of us as the audience were definitely unsure about Barry’s question, ‘Did you see the Papillon?’ (French for butterfly). I suppose it might have helped if he’d asked the whole of the question in French! That was one thing I found extremely confusing on our travels – the change from French to German and back to French again as we moved from one country to another. At one point I remember being asked by a lady at a German petrol station in Riegel if I was paying for Pump 1. ‘Nicht moi’ was my reply (nicht being ‘not’ in German and moi being ‘me’ in French!
The final gig of the tour was over. The gear was packed away. There was a Halloween disco party going on in one of the nightclub venues but we decided to pass on that and just had a couple of beers with the staff and crew before going across the road to the hotel and bed. Life on the road is not always what some people would have you believe!
‘The toughest drive of the tour’ said Barry’s beautifully laminated Itinerary about the trip from Bourlon to Sneek. Wrong. The trip from Bartenheim to Calais took the best part of 9 hours and we covered nearly 500 miles! Admittedly we took a slightly dog-legged route to avoid the exorbitant French tolls but still ended up paying a whopping 17 Euros for the privilege of going through the Tunnel Maurice at the beginning of our journey. Never mind, it was an experience not to be missed. Barry and I shared the driving so it wasn’t too bad. We called in to a service area in Luxembourg where I picked up some cheap cigarettes (cheaper than Germany or France). We avoided the 50c ‘service’ charges wherever bushes permitted, and ultimately arrived in Calais around 7pm. Time for dinner. The hotel we were staying at was in the centre of the town so we parked up and walked up the road to find a pleasant little brasserrie. Dave of course had spotted the Pizza Hut and KFC but thankfully he was persuaded to ignore them in favour of one last cultural experience.
We had made a good choice. Beef Bourgignon was on the menu, they served Leffe Brun and there was great blues music playing in the background. We had a lovely meal, finished off with a most acceptable French version of Irish coffee. It had been absolutely tipping it down and blowing a gale for most of the evening but thankfully the rain had subsided by the time we left and we managed to walk back to the hotel without getting soaked. One point I forgot to mention was that on our way to the Brasserie we had passed a café that was just closing with a sign saying ‘Full English Breakfast’. Guess where we were at 8am the next morning!
Time to go home. The ferry check-in was 9.45am. We went for our Full English ‘heart attack on a plate’ breakfast and then headed on to the Port of Calais, checked in and boarded the ferry for Dover. The crossing was uneventful. I passed the time alternating between dozing in the upper deck reclining seats and braving the wind on the afterdeck for the occasional cigarette or two. Dave, complete with shades, was either awake or asleep (hard to tell at the best of times but nigh on impossible when he’s wearing the shades) in a comfortable chair in the lounge. Barry was half heartedly checking emails between bouts of slumber.
The white cliffs of Dover seemed to be upon us in no time.
The journey from Dover to the north west of England is not a pleasant one. Roadworks on the M25, roadworks on the M1 – not to mention the bolshy woman at the Shell service area on the A2 who refused to sell Barry a crunchie bar as he only had a ten pound note! Welcome back to Blighty.
I thoroughly enjoyed our little sojourn overseas. I can’t wait to go back next year. Holland, you rock. France, you know how to eat and drink. Germany, you have great footballers in Ozil, Podolski ,Mertesacker, Gnabry and Eisfeld – thank you for sending them to Arsenal! But seriously, all of the gigs in all of the countries we visited were fantastic for different reasons. A special thanks to Dave for allowing me to take the piss out of his accent and to Barry for allowing me to join the band in January.
If you have enjoyed this Tour Log please let me know and I will charge Barry for writing the next one. If you haven’t please let me know so that I don’t waste my time in the future!
Thanks to everyone who came to the gigs in Europe. Thanks to anyone who reads this Log, and lastly, thanks to my dog for allowing me to finish it without pestering me to take him for a walk! See you at a gig soon I hope.
All the best,
It’s 7:30 AM as I write this, I’m on board the Kerkiera, heading for Corfu to catch a plane home after a weekend of friendship and rock in Ioannina.
I’m only on this boat, and back on schedule thanks to my friend George (The fastest taxi driver in the west) I’d set my alarm for 5:30 but my phone was set to PM (doh!) I won’t say how fast George drove me through the mountains in case there are any policemen reading this; let’s just say that Sebastian Vettel couldn’t have got me here any quicker!
I never cease to be amazed at how much the Greek audience love their Rory, the whole of Ioannina seemed to turn out and everybody (including the kids) knew every song and sang along with me – together we really rocked for Rory.
A huge thank you to the wonderful George Gakis, a big name on the rock scene over here, George, with a small bunch of volunteers, put on a wonderful weekend of music with goodness knows how many local bands playing, all with such amazing talent, George works tirelessly for his people, I am utterly impressed by him and it was such an honour to headline a festival like that one.
Big thanks to ‘Blues People’ a local blues/rock band who play with me whenever I’m here, Christos, Achiles, Akis and Leo have laboured hard to learn to play enough Rory material to make 2 hours fly past, and thank you Leo for the gift of a rare volume of jazz history, first printed in the year of my birth, 1952.
It was great to meet Stefan from Big Sleep and Dafni (taxi George’s daughter) and to see good friends Michalis and his lovely lady, and to spend an hour over coffee with Sophia, I am finally coming round now to the Greek way of enjoying coffee; ordering the coffee then sitting talking for half a day while it goes cold!
Thanks also to Thomas and all the sound crew; and to Alex for trusting me to play his awesome custom Stratocaster.
But the biggest thank you is for the people of Ioannina – you are ALL amazing I will miss you all so much.
As usual I forgot to pick up copies of the posters and leaflets that advertised the gig all over the town so if any of the organisers are reading this can you save me some stuff please?