Well it was a mixed bag of experiences over the weekend but the balance overall was positive. A delayed flight down on Saturday night got us into Gatwick and eventually to the hotel around midnight where the bar due to the influx of aftershow musos was still open.
I’d come down with my wife Simone and her son Liam who due to the lack of rooms was sharing with Gavin Griffiths that night while Yatta elected to sleep in the splitter van and earned massive brownie points and a chocolate medal that would melt in the sun next day. Liam was off to bed soon after arrival and after we had an awkward check in where it seemed like there were no rooms at the inn at one point. I was booked under ‘Derek and Simone’ and the other room was found under ‘Yatta’s ‘name. Ours had a built in water feature in the bathroom as there was no flush on the toilet apart from a plastic stick poking out the hole in the wall that resulted in a cistern that continually filled during the night. We just pretended it was like the pond outside the bedroom window at home and gave up any thought of getting it fixed as next day was Sunday and I wanted a lie in before heading down to the festival site without the knock on the door from a hotel employee -if one could have been found.
The others had just headed off to bed and Simone and I were finishing off our unjustifiably expensive bottle of hotel wine in the quiet of an atrium when I met up with an old friend, Ian from Snapper records who we ended up gabbing with over all things music business for an hour and another bottle of wine before crashing. The long lie was welcome and the water feature quite soothing.
The day was hot and we arrived at a UK festival site strangely not in a downpour as expected of my position as rain god on these occasions.Our first encounter at the security gate wasn’t heartwarming.
“Fish?The Prog Stage?. You need to get passes”
“they’re at the production office, we just arrived”
“Can’t let you through without passes and a van permit”
Yatta trudges off in the sweltering heat to production office and we are left gridlocking the entrance van ventilation fans roaring.
Passes acquired and through that gate to the next 100 metres away. “You don’t have the registration number on your permit”
Thankfully one of the organisers was there and we drove backstage where we all had to put on our hospital style wristband passes to get into the dressing room area. ( I was checked for the band every time I went in and out throughout the day as the Vogon guard didn’t seem to have a retaining memory of the 6ft 5 Scotsman with a hat ) We took it in our stride and kept smiling.
I caught up with Bernie Marsden who I hadn’t seen for years and bumped into Mike Portnoy and Jeff Scott Soto who were with their band ‘Sons of Apollo’ on the main stage just as we arrived. Big sweaty hugs as I hadn’t seen Jeff since ‘SAS ‘ band gigs and he reminded me of his introduction to me when I gave him a full tongue in mouth kiss and left him shocked and weak legged!
My afternoon was stolen by a few interviews the first of which was an onstage with Piers Hernu in the KEF tent in front of assembled fans.I was taken round the site to the interview locations in a golf buggy which was a lot of fun and saved my knees. It was a great laugh all round and questions covered a bundle of topics mainly about ‘Weltschmerz’ which I opened up on in detail. (The interview was filmed by one of Pier’s mates and I hope to get an edited version up on the website in the next weeks) Again great to see some old friends out there but as with the backstage area my mind was working overtime trying to put names to faces which were like police photo fit pictures of missing kids and how they might look years later!
3 more interviews, one with Planet Rock and 2 for the onsite TV channels the first with old mate Nicky Horne in a sweatbox of a container and the last in a ‘barn’ set where I was interviewed by Kylie Olssen while sitting on hay bales. All positive and I passed on some exclusives on ‘Weltschmerz’ that I will relate in another blog.
The gig grew closer and a wander down to the Prog Stage where we were to be headlining at 7.15 with a 90 minute set that all my band were fired up and nervous about. We hadn’t played together since Poland in May but had done our individual homework and had a set planned out that fitted the bill. We also had the lovely Doris Brendal on backing vocals with us for the first time since the December tour. We were edgy but confident.
The ‘Von Hertzen Brothers’ had just come off stage and Mostly Autumn were about to come on. Simone and I had met with Brian, Olivia and the others earlier and we wanted to catch a bit of their set.It was obvious that time was slipping and the gear was taking an eternity to switch over. Brian was a bit grim faced as were their crew as stage times had already moved back by half and hour.
It’s accepted as standard practice and considered respectful that acts work to their allotted stage times and don’t encroach on other bands.A combination of factors had come into play.
The ‘VHB’s’ had insisted on using their own mixing and out front desks for their set which given the surroundings of playing in a perhaps 1000 capacity tent was OTT. This meant that the entire rigs had to be rewired and with a, shall we say “inexperienced” house crew in the tent and a stage manager who should have grown a ‘pair’ they basically lost the plot on the timings.
I know the ‘VHB’s’ and they are great musicians and nice guys and I am not going to rip them here. I will have a pop at their tour manager and crew though who should have gone with the existing rigs or at the very least helped out with the rewiring. We couldn’t get our splitter van down to unload as they blocked the bays with their load out and took ages to dismantle. ‘Mostly Autumn’ were agitated as the Stage manager who should have cut the ‘VHB’s’ set to accommodate the changeover didn’t.
‘Mostly Autum’ .to give them their due, dropped a couple of numbers but the damage had been done. Time was disappearing and as we had been told that we couldn’t leave the site after 9,30 and had to wait till an hour and a half after the festival closed down we were staring at being there till about 1.30am as we wouldn’t be finished our set until then.
I missed the ‘Mostlie’s’ set as I was preparing in the dressing room area and waiting on stage calls that kept drifting. We eventually headed to the tent and stood around as the local crew fumbled over the next changeover. Tension was rising as the story unfolded about the mixing desks and which I discovered today they didn’t have the permission from the festival organisers to do. ( Sorry but Third on a bill and insisting they use their own desks is out of order)
We were prepared for the worst as the line checks were fumbled through and we knew we were behind the 8 ball.
We hit the stage with ‘Voyuer’ and I let the intro run so Marios my out front engineer could get to grips with what he had to deal with and we could get a semblance of mix balance on stage. It was awful up there and just as I opened up on a mike I could hardly hear through my wedges as everything was blasting through them Yatta handed me a piece of paper from the photographers ‘pit’. On it was written “strict stage curfew 8.45 on orders from the Main Stage.
We had hit the stage at 7.40. We now had a 65 minute set out of a planned 90. I had to rejig a set list and call out numbers as we went along. To say the least I was angry and I just had to deal with it.
I was told later that ‘The Cult’ , who were headlining the main stage had a clause in their contract that said no other band could be playing when they went on and their management had reminded the organisers who passed on the news to Yatta.
So there we were headlining the Prog stage with a 65 minute set with monitors from hell.Robin was perhaps suffering the most as the stage mixing desk was only 6 feet away from him and the 2 monitor engineers were using a wedge to hear the stage mixes. They were running it on peak limits and switching between various band member monitor mixes which meant Robin had to deal with his own shitty mix and the constant on/off blaring of other shitty mixes in his right ear.
Believe it or not Steve ( who had to forget about his usual in ear system as it couldn’t be patched in) couldn’t hear Gavin’s drums, John had a synth level that would deafen a banshee and I just gave up and did my best. I had Robin’s lead guitar all over my vocal and when we started ‘State of Mind’ there was no acoustic guitar until after about 2 minutes of pointing at Robin and looking at the engineers straight in the eyes and pointing at my monitors I finally got a sound. The guys on the rig were just so inexperienced all round that we were on a hiding to nothing. I would leave the stage and wake up next morning with the loudest tinnitus I had for years as it was such an horrendous cacophony it was actually deafening.
But the gig itself we made work. Opening with ‘Voyeur’ we trapped ‘Emperor’s Song’, steadied ourselves and launched into ‘Hotel Hobbies/ Circles and That time ofthe night’ despite sometimes being unable to hear the time signatures or chords. We flew blind through a lot of it just trusting instinct with lots of eyes and nods to each other,’State of Mind’ we soldiered through and the crowd were definitely on our side. ‘Just for the Record’ was followed by a powerful ‘Sugar Mice with ‘Going Under’ dropped. I should have called ‘Last Straw’ but elected for ‘White Russian’ which disappeared in the monitor mess and became so muddied that we started to get lost. I was constantly checking my watch. ‘Torch Song’ was also dropped and a very angry ‘Slainthe’ went down a storm out front. We had ran out of time and only had enough left for ‘Incommunicado’ which rallied and struck home with a vengeance. There would be no encore. As the song closed with a deafening rally I held onto the close and looked at my watch until it was exactly 8.45 and then shut the band down raising a single defiant and pointless finger to the main stage. The crowd had been great and I felt sorry for those who had expected a lot longer set.Our ‘rambling Man’ was over and we wandered back to the dressing room while our valiant crew broke the equipment down. I wasn’t in a mood to speak to anyone and just wanted to get back to our hotel. The plus side was we missed the moving curfew and were off site before 9.30.
Back at the hotel I met one of the organisers in the bar who explained what had happened and was incredibly apologetic. It wasn’t totally their fault and lessons particularly with the organisation at the Prog tent had been learned.They had loved our performance and without prompting asked us back next year to play on the main stage. It had been a slog and a trial but at the end of the day well worth it.
A relatively early night with ears ringing, an hour in a limo to yet another delayed Easy Jet flight to Edinburgh and a drive back home from the airport and I was checking the greenhouse chillis for whitefly. Such is the life of a Fish these days.