I returned tired and sore last night from a weekend with a fair share of drama. As you should know by now I don’t shy away from dealing with awkward moments and on reading this blog you may be wincing a little and reaching for the mind bleach.
I’d arrived on Thursday night from a flight down to Brum which was unusually on time and Simone and I squeezed on to a sardine train down to Banbury. Standing in the corridor next to the toilets with our luggage beside us in the stifling heat was unpleasant but not as unpleasant as the young guy who wanted to get into the next carriage. I was standing at the door and unaware of his presence behind me.
“You’re standing in the doorway”
I apologised and made way and probably the mistake of smiling. He was very aggressive and I honestly thought he was going to have a go. He walked into the next carriage and stopped half way down the aisle to turn around and give me the evil eye. Was he going to come back?
He disembarked at Leamington where we managed to finally find seats but as we sat down I could see him angrily walking up the platform looking for me in the carriage. The last thing I needed was a confrontation with some psycho before a gig and he looked like someone who carried a chib. Visiting A and E with a puncture or bleeding out on a train were not on my agenda. The blood would spill later in the weekend.
The evening was a quiet affair mainly spent watching the Hibs game against Molde in the Europa play offs on my mobile phone in a pub. We’d originally intended to go down to Cropredy to catch Brian Wilson’s set but a dodgy weather forecast and a lack of adventure put paid to that idea.
Yatta had picked us up at the station and together with some Norwegian friends we had a few drinks before a relatively early and sensible night.
We took the opportunity of a long sleep and travelled up to the festival around 5 to meet up with the band and crew who were all in good spirits for our last festival of the summer. The weather was holding up well.
Big hugs and smiles with old friends including the wonderful Dave Pegg and his partner Ellen who was overjoyed to meet up with fellow German Simone again. I had a photo shoot before our stage time and managed to get something to eat before show.
There was a great vibe around as always at one of my favourite festivals and I knew the onstage sound would be on the button. I was slightly concerned about the out front as we had yet another sound engineer with our regular guys Marios and Steve Kent booked out on other gigs. It was our 4th engineer of the summer as a young guy called Janus had stepped in for the German shows and ‘big’ Jim was our man at Cropredy. For a first time at the controls he did a pretty good job but having different engineers who have to get to grips with our sound at short notice isn’t ideal. At least for the European tour I’ll have consistency as Steve is with us from September on. There are other changes in the crew as well as my trusty tech Vince O’Malley can only work with us until mid-October as he had already committed to a 10cc tour last year. We will all miss him as he’s been an important member of the circus for quite a while and a great character who has aged disgracefully well and never lost his wonderful sense of wicked humour over the years. I’m sure his replacement will step up to the plate for us and it’s someone new we can all bore to death with our old stories on the tour bus.
But on Friday the gig at Croperdy was on us and at 90 minutes stage time the longest of the summer run. Festival set lists are a challenge as you have to respect that other bands are on the bill and the big clock stage right reminded everyone of their duty to finish on time.
Adrenalin affects song times and there have been a few shows where I’ve found myself adding numbers as we were short ( ‘Torch Song’ was pulled in as second last song in ‘Wacken’ having already played ‘Slainthe’ earlier in the set. A weird placing but we made the clock)
The other side of the equation is whipping songs out as I’ve been gabbing too long or extended sections because the groove took us into ‘wonderland’ areas (eg ‘State of Mind’) On this show we were using the entire available repertoire apart from ‘White Russian’ as no one is happy with where it’s at just now. It hasn’t been sitting right and we need to look at in the next rehearsals in September. The problem in recent months has been that it’s been impossible to get musicians together in one space to bring in new material to the setlist therefore I’ve had to scavenge from the December sets. As ‘Clutching’ was the main ‘draw’ and the other festival slots around an hour I’d managed to fill the time but on Friday night I had to bring in other numbers that we hadn’t played for a while – ‘Tux On’ and ‘Going Under’ being 2 of them at Cropredy.
The field was pretty full when we went on to the ‘Voyeur’ sequence and in front of stage there were a host of familiar faces. I had a great monitor sound and could hear everyone with my voice sailing over the music. I was really enjoying singing and battered through ‘Emperors Song’ and into ‘Hotel Hobbies’ and the start of ‘Clutching’ full of confidence. With Doris Brendal backing me up I let fly with ‘That Time of the Night’. I’d recognised that the majority of the audience wasn’t in a ‘playful’ mood and seemed more into listening than getting involved. There was no point in ‘attacking’ and wearing myself out early doors so I just settled into singing and enjoying myself on stage. ‘State of Mind’ came after an intro that fell slightly apart as I got the impression midway that most people really weren’t interested in what I was saying. I let the song speak and it was all going well until a missed cue between Robin and Gavin left us floundering and in recovery with the groove disrupted. Not the end of the world but it was enough to throw me out of my comfort zone.
As the set moved on with ‘Just for the Record’, ‘Going Under’ I settled again and ‘Sugar Mice’ had a great dynamic. ‘Torch Song’ was wonderful with Doris belting it out before we hit a powerful ‘Slainthe’ tinged with a dose of anger and frustration as I couldn’t get the people in the deckchairs involved enough and I wasn’t reaching the back of the field. ( I found out later that the sound wasn’t hitting beyond the mixing towers and my voice in particular couldn’t be heard at the back – particularly on the intros )
‘Tux On’ created a decent ripple of raised hands and ‘Last Straw’ invoked a positive reaction. ’Incommunicado’ was probably the best received of the set and indicated that I think there were more than a few people had no idea of what I really did and only knew the commercial songs. Judging by the response on the Cropredy facebook pages the audience reviews were pretty divided some loving it and others bored and unimpressed by our set. The musos and crew backstage were in the former category and we had a great response when we came off stage. I hit the set length absolutely bang on the clock. Yatta gave me a huge thumbs up!
I have to admit that it wasn’t as an uplifting experience as in 2015 and maybe if ‘Kayleigh’ and ‘Lavender’ were in the set we might have had a more enthusiastic response from the back of the field. Hey Ho! Move along! I enjoyed myself.
And this is where it moves into that awkward moment.
When I came down off stage my wife Simone said “you better change your trousers!” I had no idea what she was on about and thought it was to do with stage sweat. It wasn’t until I reached the dressing room and looked in the mirror that it became obvious what she meant. There was a large dark stain on the back of my jeans. At first I was deeply embarrassed as it appeared I’d had an ‘accident’. I had no awareness of anything occurring and hadn’t felt anything ‘move’. I can only remember 2 other occasions when I had a problem on stage in the past – once with dodgy oysters and Guinness in Dublin and the other a dodgy curry in Bradford – both many years ago. Was this an old age thing? I was honestly shocked. How did I not feel anything?
The shock went up quite a few notches when I took my stage trousers off. It wasn’t what I feared it was. It was worse. It was blood.
At some point on stage I’d ruptured a blood vessel in my ass and had lost around a pint of the red stuff. I was a bit freaked out as were my wife and the band and crew. Vince said he’d seen it on stage and had heard the camera crew filming for the big screens to ‘only shoot him from the waist up’ (nice). Steve had noticed it too but thought best not to mention it (thanks mate). The reason I’m explaining this here is that I had a few texts asking me if I was ok and obviously I can’t have rumours around that I shat myself on stage at Croperdy! J
Like many other musicians who spend large amounts of time sitting around on buses and backstage with crappy diets and sweaty cracks I have suffered from haemorrhoids over the years and with all the recent travelling and gigging I had a flare up. It appears that while belting it out full hearted on stage one of them burst. Nothing serious but at the time it was a genuine concern. I still don’t quite understand why I didn’t feel anything at all. The bleeding had stopped by the time I was offstage and I didn’t feel weak or ill. It took me an hour or so to get my head together and I had to cancel the planned signing session in a tent but otherwise I was fine. Anyway doctor’s surgery tomorrow for the rubber glove examination just to make sure all is ok. No worries.
Needless to say I had an early night back at the hotel but first I had to deal with another issue. I like to think that I am a ‘straight’ player and prefer to sort things out face to face rather than on a phone or e mail. An awkward conversation was to hand.
I’ve had a very difficult decision to make and it hasn’t been easy. With a gruelling 8 week bus tour coming up and being very aware of the demands of performing 50 plus dates in that time with a huge responsibility to see it through I’ve decided to let John Beck go and bring back Foss Paterson as keyboard player.
It may seem hypocritical to some after reading the Cropredy tale but I didn’t feel that John would be able to complete what is an incredibly tough schedule. Everyone in the band had raised eyebrows at the length of this tour and I have tried to make it as comfortable and easy as I can with the routing and travel arrangements. However John had voiced private concerns about being away for so long from home and I am very aware of John’s history on the road. I couldn’t risk anything going wrong and after discussing the situation with Foss when he came in for recording sessions a few weeks ago I decided to ring the changes. John remains a great friend and I consider him a brilliant keyboard player, one of the finest I have worked with. However I also have a responsibility for everyone else on the road, including John and I didn’t believe that his health would be able to withstand the rigorous strain of a lengthy tour such as this next one. We all have to take care of ourselves on this next adventure and I particularly have to look after myself. It’s one of the reasons I have decided to retire in 2020 as none of us are getting any younger. It’s going to be a very different regime on the Autumn tour and everyone has to play their part. I wish John all the best and want to thank him for his contribution in recent years. We had some great and some rough times together but this decision is best for us both in the long run.
Saturday was another day and Simone and I decided to give most of it a miss only coming out of our room for lunch. Back to the festival site for a run through with the Fairports as once again I was performing ‘Solo’ with them on stage. After rehearsals Simone and I spent most of the next hours in Dave Pegg’s caravan avoiding the downpour hitting the site and raiding their wine stocks. We were joined by a cast of Peggy’s friends including radio host Johnnie Walker who I hadn’t seen for years. Conversations around gardens, politics, health issues and various sundry sordid music business stories abounded as we sheltered from the storm. I was reminded of childhood holidays in Dornoch as the endless barrage of rain pelted down on the caravan in the darkness leaving us with something akin to shell shock. I listened to the Fairport set from there before heading up for my on stage contribution. I sang well although some devotees of Sandy Denny hated it as I wasn’t singing ‘pretty’ and leaned on the blues/ soul side. ‘Meet on the Ledge’ ended the night as always and I was glad to be heading back in the van to the hotel the memory of Friday night still on my mind.
A few more glasses of wine and another relatively sensible exit were to be had after some more great conversations in the bar with a bunch of new found friends from Wales and Norway. I was looking forward to getting home and the last flight for a while.
We passed Leamington station, again on a sardine train and I half expected to see the guy still stalking the platform. We had seats booked but gave up as the aisles were rammed and we had luggage to sit on. The flight was again surprisingly on time and we managed to eat before we flew North.
We arrived in more rain but I was grateful I wouldn’t have to water the garden when I got home. The clutch on the Volvo slipped ominously and I nursed the tiger back to quarters knowing I am going to have to face up to replacing it in the coming weeks.
In the studio we walked into a main room filled with a sparkling Yamaha drum kit. Dave Stewart had set up earlier in the afternoon for recording sessions next day with Calum. Steve Vantsis was driving up through the fog and arriving later that evening. There was no respite from the workload but at least I know I’ll be here now until the end of September.
The pressure is on now to finish all the tracks and get the downloads and EP ready for the tour. Dave is playing drums on the sessions as it’s easier than to bring Gavin up from Wales and we need the drum tracks completed in the next 3 days. With Dave in West Lothian and free just now from his gig with Albert Hammond it made sense to use him in the studio and Gavin will be playing the tracks on tour. Likewise with Foss now back in the band he is only down the road in Bonnyrigg and on hand to get this recording session finished in time. Mark Wilkinson is beavering away on the artwork for the EP and the merchandise and we have production runs to hand
I am on schedule. Tired and stressed- but on schedule.
And not looking forward to the rubber glove tomorrow
Hope you enjoyed the read and your imagination not permanently scarred J