Tuesday, September 21, 2010

a travelogue of my summer

Summer 2010 has been an extraordinary one for me. As we hit the end of July (pretty much the half way mark for me) here's the story so far.

June started with a trip to Berlin. This was the longest drive I'd done. I practised by driving to Cornwall and back on the Saturday, then left for Berlin at 2am on the Monday morning. Myself & Paul (guitar tech) were in our hotel on the outskirts of Berlin by late afternoon.

My first time in Berlin. They have a bizarre pipe (sewer?) system. (not my photo, btw)

The gig itself was hot & sweaty - a proper rock n roll gig. A smaller venue holding about 700 standing. Viktor Buttner did a nice blog post on the gig (Wednesday 8th June 2010). We also sold merch (T-Shirts, CDs, LPs) at the gig for the first time in ages. I do love doing merch. Reminds me of running a market stall.

On the Wednesday morning following the gig, I drove back to London. All went well until I got to Peckham. Because of an incident the High Street was blocked. Police directed us through a 'Buses only' bit - for which I subsequently received a ticket. Welcome Home.

After Berlin, I was straight out again. This time I was working for Ms Paloma Faith who was doing the Isle of Wight festival (Saturday 12th June 2010). My first festival of 2010. A couple of old friends were there too. As I was driving rather than tour managing I spent Saturday enjoying the festival. Debbie Harry walked right by me when I was going to catering.

That's not her in the picture by the way.

So once back from the IOW, I was straight back on the case with Seasick Steve who was performing at the Meltdown festival at the Royal Festival Hall (Monday 14th June 2010). There's a set of photos from the Meltdown people on flickr. Steve started the night by spending 5 minutes in the audience (see below -picture from south bank centre London). And by the end of the night people were dancing in the aisles.

No sooner had we finished the RFH gig and I was off again. I swapped vans the day after the gig to a larger Luton style van, and then the following day broke my longest drive ever record (the one I set driving to Berlin!) by driving from home in Hertfordshire to Hirtshals in Denmark where I stayed for the night. Here's the van I did it in.

From Denmark I went over to Norway. The customs in Norway were very keen. They were training 3 sniffer dogs. I guess they saw my long hair, some guitar cases and thought drugs. They did put rubber gloves on, but didn't use them in anger. After staying over night in Norway I made my way to Amal in Sweden where the gig was to be held on Sunday 20th June 2010.

Amal is the hometown of Dan Magnusson - the Viking God of Thunder and Steve's drummer. Dan & his wife have a cafe in Amal called the Strandcafe that Dan has built himself in between gigging and recording with Steve. The view from the cafe is beautiful. The image below is stolen without permission from Roy (who does Steve's sound). I'm figuring that because its only me & 2 other people that actually read my blog I might get away with it.

The gig itself was held in an old church (from 1666 if I remember correctly) that had been converted for the evening in to a concert hall. 300 of Amal's residents had bought tickets months in advance. You can see the back of Roy's head in the photo below.

The gig was very special. We were all made to feel very welcome by the people of Amal. Although I refer to it as work on my invoice, it was actually far more like a holiday. Best not mention that to Steve. Very early the morning after the gig I set off on my greatest driving adventure to date.

On 21st July 2010 I drove from Amal in Sweden to Codicote in Hertfordshire, England. That's a long way. Over 1100 miles. It was an awesome journey. Once in a lifetime kind of thing and my longest ever drive. I could have stopped overnight if I'd liked, but once I'd got to Hamburg it felt like I was nearly home, so I drove on. The highlight was the bridge/tunnel at Malmo in Sweden which I hit at about midday. It disappears into the sea at about the halfway point.

The full list of countries that passed under wheel on 21st July is Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, England. The worst bit was the M25 roadworks. A lot of flies died on the way.

It took me a good couple of days to recover from the drive. My brother and nephew had come over from Canada in the meantime, so a busy period of meals and family gatherings ensued. At the back of my mind though was this nagging feeling that we had a little gig to do in a field near Bristol. So it was difficult to relax. In fact, that little gig had been occupying my mind for a long while. Pre-production had been relatively straight forward (which was worrying !).

My wife and kiddults left for Glastonbury on the Thursday and successfully set up camp that night. I enjoyed a night in my own bed then on the Friday I went to met the Bus in London. The trip to Glastonbury festival took ages mainly thanks to the roadworks on the M25. By early evening we'd parked up and I managed to meet up with the family. Later on I returned to the Bus to where we watched some old guy bothering Kylie on Wossy's show.

On Saturday 26th July 2010 (coincidentally my daughter's 17th birthday) I tour managed Seasick Steve while he played the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival 40th anniversary year. This is what it looked like for me. I'll happily accept it as the highlight of my tour management career.

After the show we packed away all the gear. And I began to relax. 

I saw Scissor Sisters and Muse on the Saturday night. I left the family to sleep in their tent while I returned to the relative luxury of the tour bus. Up early on the Sunday, I got off the bus which left the site, and a hooked up with my family to enjoy Sunday at Glastonbury.

I took my daughter to see Paloma Faith perform on the Pyramid Stage. Paloma's performance convinced my daughter to switch her allegiance from Florence (and the Machine). This might mean she has to dye her hair a different colour now.

The performance I was most looking forward to seeing as a punter was Faithless. I'd never seen them before. They performed at dusk. We Come One was a classic Glastonbury moment. One worthy of the 40th anniversary. I watched half of Stevie Wonder, leaving the kiddults to enjoy the remainder of his set while wife & I returned to the campsite.

At Glastonbury we had Ida (Photographer) & Henry (Drum Tech) join us in the Seasick touring party. Ida took some great pics at Glasto and of all the rest of gigs this summer, too. Here's her Glastonbury pics.

One night sleeping in a tent was enough for me. Monday morning we packed up and I drove back home along the A303 (the road that runs past Stonehenge).

I had such fun driving down the A303 that I decided to do it again the next day, this time driving to Cornwall and back for work.

After another 2 days at home doing some more pre-production I made my way to Windsor to meet the bus for the next two gigs; Hop Farm in Kent and Thomond Stadium in Limerick (on the 3rd and 4th of July, respectively).

(This is where I wrote up to by the end of July. Now its the 1st of September. I'll try to fill in the gaps as best I can)

Tom was standing in for Roy for July's gigs. So if you see a young good looking guy in the pictures (other than me, of course) its not Roy discovering a new anti-ageing cream, its Tom. Also just for these two gigs it was Guy looking after the guitars, rather than Paul. Keep up now.

Hop Farm was hot and friendly. Limerick was windy and friendly. At both gigs Bob Dylan was headlining. At Hop Farm I remember enjoying Laura Marling's performance (especially the whistling song), thinking Van Morrison was a little dull, and finding Pete Doherty's performance nicely strange (he had two ballerinas dancing for him). I heard the last 5 minutes of Afro Celt Soundsystem, which was as shame as I'd have like to have seen and heard more. Here's Ida's photos of Hop Farm. At Limerick I enjoyed the on stage chaos of Alabama 3 (who I've done a small job for in the past). I managed to catch snippets of David Grey & Dylan. Here's Ida's photos of Limerick.

I was fairly exhausted by the time I got home from the Limerick gig and was looking forward to having 8 days at home. I had running around to do, and advancing for the next gigs. But a good few days in my own bed would be very welcome.

I was back out on the road on the 15th July. Steve was playing on Rob Brydon's new TV show (being broadcast this Autumn). I think the one we recorded is out on the 24th of September on BBC2 (the first one with Tom Jones & David Walliams is on the 17th). Stephen Fry was also a guest on the show, and Rob also recorded an interview with Sir Terry Wogan. There were some great posters from shows past around the building. My favourite below.

The day after the TV show we all met the Bus in a lay-by on the M3. Rock n roll can be very glamorous. We then faced our longest Bus journey of the summer down to Aix-le-Bains near the French alps. Getting into the site was quite an adventure and by the time we parked up its was near 4am. When I managed to get myself out of bed in the morning, many of those lucky enough to have slept through had taken a dip in the beautiful luke-warm lake just a few yards behind the bus. A good start to what was to be an even better day.

The festival was called Musilac. Its slightly unusual in that it only has two stages and they are side by side. But it seemed to work. There was only ever a 15 minute break between the acts. The mountains surrounding the site & town had cloud covered peaks but it was pretty bright and sunny in the valley with a welcome breeze coming in from the lake. The food was superb and our hosts very welcoming and friendly. We were given a boat ride on the lake in the evening, and a never ending supply of very good wine. Paul Weller, Mika, Florence and the Machine, and Rodrigo y Gabriela were all on the bill on the day Steve played. I hope they enjoyed it as much as I did. Here's Ida's pictures of Musilac, the one below I took with my phone from the stage.

Early in the morning of Sunday the 18th July the bus left Musilac and headed north to Luxembourg. We turned up at Rockhal - an indoor venue next to a disused oil refinery. Again, we were well treated by our hosts and Steve & Dan played a fantastic gig. Rockhal is an extremely impressive purpose built venue. It terms of its style and surroundings it could not have contrasted more starkly with Musilac  Ida's pictures of Rockhal are here. 

We returned to London on Monday 19th July. There was now a break in the schedule giving me a chance to catch up with the admin and prepare for the next month of gigs. On the weekend following our return I did a gig with a local band called The Whybirds at The Garage in Islington. Its fair to say that it wasn't the best attended gig I'd done all summer, but the Whybirds still rocked out and I very much enjoyed seeing them play live for the first time. Total respect to these lads - they have 2 albums to their name, loads of gigs under their belt, and their own merch lines. All done by themselves, with no record company. 

By the following Thursday 29th July the Seasick summer tour was back on again. First gig was the famous Cambridge Folk festival. Steve was playing on the Friday night. I'd never been to Cambridge Folk Festival before, so I was really looking forward to it. I have a real soft spot for anything folky. I've even been known to listen to Mike Harding's radio show on Radio2.

I have to say though, from the point of view of working at Cambridge, it wasn't the best experience. Steve & Dan had agreed to put a lot of work in - a Mojo interview (followed by a meeting/jam with a lovely group of homeless musicians), a TV and a radio interview with Mark Radcliffe, as well of course as the gig itself, and then an 90 minute signing session afterwards. This of course means a busy day for me - the TM - and the crew. The usual annoyances of poor signing on entry to the festival, informationally challenged security and incorrect passes are par for the course at festivals - all solvable and livable with. The food (and I use the term loosely) that was served in catering helped to ensure that there was no hope that the stresses and strains of the day being laughed off over a nice meal. Here's a tip to all wannabe festival organisers - don't skimp on the catering. It was an insult to all the people who work so hard to bring together a great festival - including the crew, the police & the paramedics - to serve them with food of such low quality.

I must say though, I'd definitely go to Cambridge as a punter. Some really interesting acts and a nice setting. Steve's gig was great. Steve & Dan always give everything they've got. It was also the first time they played Long Long Way with Dan on the broom. Amazing.

After Cambridge, I went home for a night in my own bed (and something to eat!). On the Saturday afternoon I drove up to Sterling in Scotland, then went onto Perth the next day (1st August 2010). At Perth it was back to being spoilt rotten by some lovely people. The Perth concert was part of a festival called Southern Fried which celebrated all things americana. Steve was playing in the main concert hall in Perth which had been sold out for months. Ida's photos of the gig are here.

Steve and Dan had a chance to play a longer set - after the 45-60 minute sets which most festivals demand. The audience were great - really enjoying themselves but still able to listen to and appreciate the music. Emily sold a ton of merch after the show and Steve and Dan stayed to sign for 2 hours everything thrust before them - and believe me that includes all sorts of body parts. I headed back to the hotel in Sterling with Paul & Emily after the gig. Then the following morning we drove back down to London.

Only two days at home finishing the bits and pieces from Perth, and preparing for the next gig at Newquay Boardmasters. During those two days at home my 3 year old £225 lappy broke (hard disc failed). Not what you need in the middle of the festival season - in fact it could be a complete disaster. Within a two hours of it failing I'd been to PC world, picked up a nice HP lappy for under £400, connected to the internet, and hey presto, I was back. No damage done. No emails lost. Nothing. The benefit of working in the cloud. It can be annoying if your internet connection is poor, but an absolute life saver in this situation. Expect a blog post from me evangelising about this.

For Newquay Boardmasters (6th August 2010) we welcomed back Roy, having said our goodbyes to Tom who left at Perth. It was a crazy gig. A young audience eager to party. You'd think the last thing to entertain them would be two old beardy guys. But they absolutely loved it (as did the beardy guys!). There's a 10 minute video about Seasick Steve at Boardmasters here (you have to suffer 30seconds of ads - sorry - but you do get to see a very good looking tour manager). Ida's photos are here. (again, a rather fetching picture of the tour manager)

After the gig I drove with Roy and Dan to our hotel in Exeter. On the Saturday Roy returned home whilst I drove Dan to Stansted airport via a bite to eat at mine and a sneaky pint in the pub.

Another few days at home tidying up the admin and preparing for a the next gigs. Then on Friday 13th August I climbed back into the van to head to Leicester Summer Sundae via Stansted (to pick up Dan). Another festival staged with the involvement of the local council. It looked really nice when I had a brief wander around. The audience's spirits weren't dampened by the rain which accompanied a lot of Steve's set and the main stage arena was packed throughout. Ida's photos of the day are here. 

After returning home after Leicester I had to run down to London on the following day. Then three more days at home preparing etc before three really huge gigs. I was pretty tired by this point in the summer so quite glad that a very luxurious bus had been booked for Pukkelpop and the V-Festivals. 

We all met the bus in London on Wednesday 18th August. I'd made an early visit to Waitrose (and my local Butcher's, the cheese counter at the shop next door, and the wine society) to stock the bus with goodies. My wife dropped me into London after picking up a load of T-shirts on the way. The bus left London to head for Belgium just after lunch. It was Roy's last trip out with us so we gave him a card and ensured the drinks cabinet was adequately stocked.

We arrived at the Pukkelpop site late in the evening after fighting our way through a huge traffic jam on entering the site. This was no Cambridge Festival. I've heard from others working in the industry that Pukkelpop is one of the best organised, nicest to work festivals in Europe. Steve was playing on the Thursday afternoon. Blink 182, Iron Maiden, and Placebo were on after Steve.

The set up at Pukkelpop makes complete sense. There's the tour bus park (where we all stay), directly in front of that there's the artist village (where the dressing rooms, toilets, and catering are), and then in front of that the rear of the main stage. Simple. Vehicles are on hand 24 hours a day to take artists and crew to the other stages. Ida's photos of Pukkelpop are here. My one below show Blink 182's rotating drum riser (the drums are fixed and the seat has a harness so the drummer and drums can spin round through 360 degrees - we want one for Dan).

Sadly there were two deaths at Pukkelpop. The sound engineer for Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who was also a musician and the father of one of the band, collapsed and died of a heart attack on the Thursday night. Then tragically on the Friday night the lead singer of Ou est le Swimming Pool committed suicide by jumping from the satellite mast in the tour bus park. 

We left Belgium early on Friday morning heading up to V-Festival Stafford arriving on site late on Friday evening. After a decent night's sleep I cracked on in the morning getting the merch ready and preparing with Paul, Henry, and Roy for the performance. And what a performance it was. Possibly the best short set of the summer. It never fails to amaze me to see the reaction of the kids in the audience to Steve & Dan's performance. It's a cliche to say they rocked. But they did. A signing session at the NME tent and an interview or two followed. We left site about 8pm. Ida's photos are here, mine below is of the amazing Stafford audience.

We rolled down to Chelmsford for the Sunday V-Festival and got stuck in the traffic near the site - the downside of selling day tickets, always so many people travelling to and from the site. Everyone on the bus except myself, Paul, and Christian the driver managed to sleep through the whole experience of arriving at Chelmsford. Lucky them. By 2am though we were all sorted with power for the Bus etc, and managed to head to Bedfordshire (well, Bunkfordshire actually).

I was out and about early on the Sunday sorting out some bits and pieces. Below is what the main stage looked like prior to the arrival of 90 thousand people.

Steve & Dan followed on from Stafford with another stunning performance which was lapped up by an audience eager to enjoy their day. After a brief rest backstage Steve & Dan returned to watch Madness. Halfway through the set I had to drag them over to the NME signing tent for a marathon signing session (the busiest of the day I was told) lasting an hour and twenty minutes (it was supposed to be 45 minutes). At the end of it, there were still people left disappointed because they hadn't been able to get their stuff signed. So Steve and Dan jumped over the barriers into the audience to complete the task. The security guys got a little bit panicky at this point. But of course it was all fine. I managed to sneak them backstage through a gap in the wall - where there were a load more people waiting with cameras wanting pictures etc. :o) No rest for the wicked.

Eventually, I made it back to the artist village for Steve to do a few interviews. Hanging around while Steve was doing his thing with Absolute Radio, I turned round to see Maxi Jazz from Faithless standing right beside me. So I took the opportunity to shake his hand and tell him how much I enjoyed their Glastonbury set. It was really nice to be able to do that. He told me that it was a very special gig for them too. Unfortunately I neglected to get Steve & Maxi to signing a binding contract giving me 10% of anything they earn if they do a song together. Shame. They seemed to get on well. Ida's photos of the day are here. 

We left the festival the next morning heading to Stansted and then into London to unload. I took the train home and pretty much collapsed for two days. 

Although there was no gig with Steve planned for the last weekend in August I had something far more important to plan for. My wife's birthday. As a little surprise for her I booked seats to see Chicago and a hotel in town so we could relax. I'll be honest. I don't like musicals. But I figured that at least with Chicago there would be plenty of semi-nakedness and general sexiness to keep me interested. I did end up enjoying it, but more importantly my wife loved it. Apparently, its pleasurable to watch people dancing. Who'd have thought it?

There had been 9 days between the end of the V-festivals and the next gigs at Electric Picnic in Eire and Bingley in Yorkshire. But they seemed to fly by (and obviously I didn't get this blog post finished). By the time I had recouped some energy I was back down in London meeting the bus with Paul for the journey to Ireland (3rd September 2010). As the rest of the gang were flying directly to Dublin, Paul and I had a floor each to ourselves on the bus (the same super luxury one we had for V's & Pukkelpop). I probably should have gone to bed given the day that was planned at Electric Picnic but this is rock and roll, so instead I drank wine and listened to music all the way to Holyhead. 

We arrived on site mid morning after picking up the others on the way. I managed to slip in an hour or so of sleep during the afternoon, and then we began preparations for the two gigs Steve and Dan were playing that day. The first one was on the main stage in front of ten thousand or so. Steve is hugely popular in Ireland and we always get the warmest of welcomes. Today was no exception. Things seemed to be working well for me this summer in terms of seeing bands I like - on before Steve were Afro Celt Soundsystem (whom I'd manage to miss at Hop Farm). We all really enjoyed set from backstage.

After the main stage gig was over we got the gear straight across to the Salty Dog stage for the second gig. It was a lovely gig to play for all of us. Normally with festivals its really important to keep to strict timings. At the Salty Dog gig the answer to what time are we on? was, when you're ready. And the answer to how long shall we play? was, as long as you want. Nice. :o) It was a special gig on an upturned boat in the middle of the woods. Steve and Dan ended up playing for about 80 mins. There's a couple of fun clips on youtube here and here that give you an idea of the atmosphere. Mad but great fun. Ida's photos are here.

My work was done by about 1.30am so I went back to the bus, had a quick glass of wine and went to bed. We were leaving at 5am and I had to be up by the time we got to the port at 7am to sort out a few things. Taking a ferry with Seasick Steve presents a Tour Manager with a unique opportunity to excel.  

Fortunately, with the help of various remedies, a smooth sea, and spending the entire crossing lying down in a cabin Steve managed to make it over to the UK with his stomach contents intact. We headed to Bingley with the clock very much against us eventually arriving just 75 minutes before our stage time. But the journey was soon forgotten when Steve & Dan hit the stage to play a blistering set.

It was nice to catch up with the Enemy & their crew who were playing their only festival gig of the year at Bingley. By 9.30pm the festival was over and the only thing left to do (for those of us who hadn't gone to bed) was to open a bottle of champagne and toast the end of the summer and say goodbye to Henry & Ida. 

The few days between Bingley and the next gig were filled with the usual preparations. I also found time to complete most of the second half post, but I didn't quite finish it. So these last few paragraphs are written mid way through September after the final gig at the Open House Festival in Belfast (12th September 2010) 

I took my son George with me to Belfast. He was going to sell the T-Shirts, CDs etc for Steve. We drove up to Stranraer in Scotland on the Saturday and caught the ferry over to Belfast. Turned out to be a nice day for a ferry trip. 

The rest of the guys flew over. We got a little spoilt by the festival and were booked into the Malmaison Hotel just a few yards from the festival site which was in the Cathedral Quarter of the city. Then on the Sunday morning (the day of the gig) I took Steve round to the John Hewitt pub where he played his first gig in the UK back in 2005 and he was now unveiling a plaque. There's a picture of the plaque (and a review of the gig) here. I really liked Belfast. Obviously for people of my age Belfast has some very negative connotations. This trip successfully dispelled the troubled image of Belfast. 

The gig itself was a fitting end to the Seasick Summer Tour 2010. The tent looked fabulous lined with hundreds of stars. Steve & Dan played for the absolute maximum time, running right up to the curfew. Something which was appreciated by the crowd even if it made the Stage Manager a little nervous (fines would have been imposed if we'd gone over). 

George and I left the hotel at a civilised time, and after a hearty breakfast on Monday morning and headed back to Stranraer on the ferry. The crossing was a bit rough. And the drive back through the lake district was done mostly in a cloud. But we made good time all the same getting home to Herfordshire by around 9.30pm.

You know how much I love driving. Oh yes. A trip to Scotland and back just whetting my appetite I had some running around to do in the few days following so managed two trips to London, a trip to Norfolk, and down to Cornwall. Then I enjoyed my first weekend without a gig to worry about. I did nothing. It was great.

So there you have it. A travelogue of my summer 2010.  To put a few faces to the names for you. The photo below was taken after the V-Festivals. 

Left to right we have Roy, Dan, Steve, Paul, Henry, Ida, & Yours Truly. Missing from the picture but there in spirit are Elisabeth, Didrik, Emily, Tom, Guy and Lee. And all our Bus Drivers - Mike, Carl, Kev, Malcolm, and Christian (who took this picture). Thank you to all the crew, security, production, artist liaison, media people and festival goers whom we met along the way. Its been a blast.

You can keep up with all things Seasick Steve through his facebook page, his twitter account, or via his website.

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