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Saturday 26 November 2016

Supporting HAWKWIND on tour, 2006. Part 3, Under-rehearsed Debutants.

Up none to early, we loaded up my Citroen Picasso and set off to our rehearsal room on the Gloucester Road which was rather damp and dingy but fine for our purposes. We set up, plugged in and started into Autoroute, a fairly easy song about a time when I had been stopped on the motorway in France by a gendarme on a motorbike and escorted off to an ATM to pay a speeding fine of 90 euros for doing 100 mph when there was a 80 mph limit. I found my voice quite quickly and Olivier's guitar was sounding great, when bang, one loud noise from his ampli and then nothing. We tried everything we knew, which was not a lot, but it had given up the ghost. So, we loaded it back in our vehicle and set off to Old Market to take it back and get something that worked. Of course, when we got there it was lunchtime and the secondhand equipment store was shut and all we could do was go and eat some fish and chips while we waited, a treat for Oliver on his first time in the UK.
At 2:30 we finally got a reply and were told to come round the back to get in. We explained what had happened and the guy just said to dump it there and come and look at some alternatives: there were several and Olivier wanted to try them before making a decision. Eventually he found something he was happy with, we did the paperwork and set off back to our rehearsal place, getting there at gone 4 in the afternoon. We had to be out of there by 6 so we spent the rest of the afternoon playing around with the riffs of Monster Truck, an old instrumental I had written for a friend who was DJ/MC at Monster Truck events, trying to turn it into a song with the few lyrics I had for it.
We went home, ate, and while Olivier practised his guitar on headphones, I wrote the remaining lyrics for the songs we had chosen.
The next two days' rehearsals went well, we got the balance between the programmed Fantom, my synth playing and the guitar fairly well sorted and I was managing to fit the vocals to the music a lot better even though my memory was proving to be ageing trying to remember all the lyrics I had written. And, as we packed up our gear, we felt fairly confident we could get through the set without any big hiccups.
Now the first gig was in Northampton at The Deco, a hip-sounding name for what was in fact an old theatre which had had a modernisation of sorts, mainly aimed at making it multi-functional and I think it held about 900 max. We found it quite quickly, right in the centre of town and after much asking, found the way to the back of it and the backstage entrance. The Hawkwind bus was already parked there and sounds of warm-up cum soundcheck could he heard from inside. We wandered in and were confronted by Chris, Dave Brock's good lady and the band's manager. She congratulated us on finding the place, I did the introductions to Olivier and she looked around for the other band members and I had to say that we were it. She seemed very surprised and said so but I told her not to worry....we could make an awful lot of noise.
We were told to wait out the back until the stage crew told us it was time to soundcheck and that at least it would be easy us only being two. We were joined by Jason, the Hawkwind keyboard player who I didn't know. He said they were still on the drums so he had time for a ciggie and we got chatting and hit it off straightaway, him being from Honiton so just up the road from where I lived as a teenager and more recently. When he was called up he suggested we got ready to go as he was the last. And soon after, a large roadie, Mr Dibs I think, called for us to come on stage and setup quick. This was done and we were plugged in to the PA system and told to play. I explained how the bass and drums were all coming out of my Roland Fantom, along with some other odds and ends and that, as all that was already balanced, the sound on that channel was to be constant all variations coming from my live synth playing on the XP80, the guitar and my vocals. I also tried to get across how I wanted a certain amount of reverb on my voice with some echo at the end of certain phrases which would be self-evident I felt.
We both felt that the whole crew just wanted the job done so they could have a break before the gig and that nobody was really interested in what we were saying, we were just the support band. I still hadn't seen anyone I knew, particularly Dave himself. Anyhow, when we were told that was it and that we were to be on stage at 7:45, we rushed off back to the car to drive off to our pre-booked BnB to check in. We found it quite easily and it was opposite a large park that looked better than being in the streets of this quite sad-looking town which was long past its glory days as an important shoe-making centre. The landlady seemed nice, gave us our keys, explained how to get in quietly if we were late and off we went with not much time left till we would be on stage.
When we got back to the Deco, we went in the front entrance and I chatted with the Hawkwind merchandising guy who agreed to put our two items on the end of his stall, our album hastily put together and consisting of instrumental versions of some of the numbers we would be playing and a couple of other random items, one being an Obny remix of an early version of Monster Trucks and the best track, and our tour poster done, like the CD cover, by my son Sam under his business name of DoseProd - check him out: his work is really good and he's, among other things, designed many, many album covers.
Having sorted that, we asked where the band was and were directed to a very large room. Around a large table were sprawled the band tucking into various vegetarian delicacies and drinking plastic cups of wine or beer (I presumed). Dave gave me a nod and a smile as if we hadn't seen each other for a couple of fact we hadn't been face to face for over thirty years. I pointed to the food and we were told to tuck in, it was fine today cos there was plenty of food. And then Dave did the introductions to Richard, the drummer, Alan, the bass player and Jason, the keyboard player we had already met. Then, they went back to their conversation and we sat there eating quiche and bean salad (very good actually) until a crew member suggest we get back stage ready to go on.
As we passed in front of the bar, I grabbed a couple of GnTs, to help the nerves and glanced at the people waiting behind a cord to be let in. Backstage it seemed there was still 15 minutes to go as the doors had only just opened so we went out the back and shared a smoke I had rolled earlier. A mistake because just as the GnT (a double of course) had started to settle my nerves, they came back tenfold with the smoke. Then we were pushed on and we were into the first song.
The Hawkwind public have acquired a reputation for actually listening to the support bands, knowing they are chosen for their connections with Hawkwind, and their applause and a few shouted cheers really calmed me down. But it was someone shouting out Sonic Assassin that gave me back the on-stage confidence I knew I had acquired over the years. The fold back was working perfectly and I could hear every note and grew to love hearing my voice so loud, with great echo during Paris-Marseille, our fourth number. But it wasn't all good: there was one song that really didn't work (and that we dropped from future gigs) and we cocked up the beginning of second song Yahtzee quite badly.
However, we finished really well with Monster Trucks, even though I forgot most the words. Olivier's guitar playing was superb and ensured the song really rocked. As the song came to an end and I finally spoke to the audience, I noticed that most of Hawkwind were watching us and we got a fair amount of applause from the public for a debutant band.
And debutants we were in many senses. The last time I had played live in a band was with the Crop-dusters, Hampshires answer in Sussex's Levellers, and I had played quite a few gigs with them in good venues like the Bournemouth Academy (the night after Hawkwind), the London Venue, The Camden Underground and finishing on New Year's at the Mean Fiddler, a fantastic gig. But that was very different: I was the keyboard player and only required on half their songs and I didn't have to sing. And that was 1992-4. The last time I had played and sung and been the front man was with a group called Twice As Nice in the late eighties and to a quite small audience in a French Village Hall! And as for Olivier, although he had played a lot live, it was mainly in very small venues in France.
In fact, I spent most the rest of the evening out in the front lobby near the merchandising stand so I could see if there was any interest in our small offerings and also to see if anyone seemed to recognise me as being part of the support band. I had a couple of beers too and slipped out for a smoke. Olivier had stayed backstage to watch Hawkwind's show and, having noticed a complete indifference to our merchandise I went in and caught the last fifteen minutes of their very professional show. When the cheering stopped after the last number and the lights came on, a bloke standing next to me, turned and looked at me and said," Well, for a support act, you weren't bad."

Friday 25 November 2016

Supporting HAWKWIND on tour, 2006: Part Two, How To Put A Band Together Really Quickly.

So, I got the tour dates from Dave Brock and they weren't far away, and I had started rehearsing with Rob and Latch, drummer and bassist whilst at the same time, writing lyrics for the songs I had in the pipeline. Then, down The Bell, a local pub near the rehearsal place, a hangout for quite a few musicians, including members of Massive Attack, I was faced by a big problem. Rob announced that they both wanted 50 pounds per rehearsal and 100 pounds per gig. Now Dave Brock had already told me that we would only be getting 100 pounds per gig plus food (perhaps). And we would need to pay for hotels most nights plus fuel for my people carrier. There was no way I could afford that and I told them so,,,,100 pounds per gig: I thought it unlikely that even the members of Hawkwind were paid that much. How could I sort out a way to do this tour?
I knew I could programme the songs on my Mac using Garageband and the sequencer in my new Roland Fantom keyboard and in fact I had already done so for most of the songs but I couldn't go on stage alone, I needed at least one other person and preferably a guitarist, and a very good one. I spoke about the problem to my son Sam and he suggested an old French friend of his, Olivier Bony, or Obny as was his 'stage' name. I knew he was an excellent guitarist having seen him play a few times and Sam reckons he'd jump at the chance of touring in the UK and he was right. I phoned up Olivier and told him the score and proposed that I would pay all his expenses if he would come and play with me but there would be no actual pay beyond that: he'd have to do it for the crack, for the experience. I emailed him MP3s of the songs we were to do, instrumental versions and we planned for him to fly up for a week of rehearsals and then the tour, staying at my place till we went on the road.
Kitchen leading to balcony of how house in Montpelier, Bristol
Now in September 2006, we had sold our large Grade 2 listed Georgian town house in Montpelier, Bristol for 600 thousand pounds because we had gotten so far behind with the mortgage and had no regular income high enough to pay it (2000 pounds per month). After paying off all the interest on more than a year's arrears, we got back around 35 grand which we shared in half after using some as the deposit and first month's rent on a 4 bed-roomed house in Clifton, just off Whiteladies Road. We needed it what with Liz's three children, 2 of whom were adults and came and went, all of our furniture, some of which we had to put into storage anyway, and a money-making idea I had come up with: live with your teacher programmes for foreign business people for which I had a few necessary clients in fact I still had a Chinese client called Hugh living with us until the end of October. He worked for CCTV5, the Chinese national television Sports channel and was with us for 3 months to improve his English ready for the Beijing Olympics. He arrived at our front door on the first of August and presented himself by saying he was called Hugh and he was gay. And he certainly was and a lovely person and a good cook of spicy Sezhuan dishes.
Anyhow, I had used most of my share of the money to buy a Citroen people carrier, the Roland Fantom and a good stereo speaker combination. So I was well-equipped on top of my existing Roland XP8. I worked on getting all the songs programmed in the new Roland, everything we needed except the lead guitar parts but, in particular the drum and bass. And I had completed most of the lyrics too. So I thought we were doing well. But then Olivier phoned me with the news he couldn't find his passport or his French ID card, a disaster he thought as he had asked and found out that getting a fresh copy of either would take at least a month which we didn't have. But my character means I don't just give up in such situations and so I wrote to the Mayor of Avignon, special delivery, explaining the situation and he, bless the man, got Olivier a copy of his French ID (sufficient for flying into the UK from France) within less than a week.
Lastwind on stage.
By this time, all the cheap flights to Bristol were full but I managed to get a good cheap EasyJet flight from Marseille to Luton, a fairly long drive from Bristol but a good place to drop him off after our last concert in Derby. We still had 3 days rehearsal time when he arrived so I booked a room on the Gloucester Road and now there was just one remaining problem; he would need an amplifier combo and he told me the specs of a couple he thought suitable so I just had to find somewhere which could rent us such an item.
Back to the Bell Inn to try and get hold of another guy I knew, Bob. who dealt in good quality secondhand gear when he wasn't incapable whilst recovering from yet another drug-fuelled, multi-day binge. He had had a long and checkered career in the music biz, including being Depeche Mode's sound engineer until one of his binges led to an inconveniently-timed spell in a Caribbean prison. I've spent some very agreeable and funny evenings with him over the years but also was very aware that he was a must to avoid when on a binge: he is a huge bear of a man with whiteman dreadlocks who doesn't flinch when things get heavy. Anyhow, I found him in the Bell and he told me he had sold all his stock to a guy who had taken over his shop near Trinity Road Police Station, a fortress in a very bad part of town, where the infamous Old Market met the equally dodgy Stapleton Road. Bob gave me the phone number and a personalised introduction to the strange guy who ran this store whilst looking like a retired Motorhead roadie. He quickly disappeared up some narrow steps when I told him what I was after and passed me down the amp Olivier most prized. It looked good, all painted white, we agreed on one hundred pound for the hire and I came away very satisfied.
Olivier arrived, looking good and very motivated. And after the drive home, we spent the evening catching up, including going for a beer with Hugh and eating a lovely meal with the whole family. We were ready to start rehearsing the 7 songs that were to make up our 40 minute set. And the first gig was in 4 days time in Northampton.
Our tour poster designed by my son Sam. DoseProd

TO BE CONTINUED. Next post.....Under-rehearsed Beginners.

Friday 4 November 2016

Top Reggae in Deep France.

Sauveterre de Rouergue is a historic village situated 25 miles from Rodez in the Aveyron department, in the Midi-Pyrennees region of France. Founded in the 13th Century, it was a 'Bastide', a town created by the powers that were to offer security and good economic conditions to artisans and other commerces, fortified and built around a central square. (The English captured and held it for a dozen years during the Hundred years War.) It is situated on the Segala plateau which is dissected by many deep river valleys. The land of volcanic rocks were not good for agriculture, rye being the main crop and bread was often made of chestnuts. But it was a successful town on the whole with a population of nearly 2000 in the mid nineteenth century which, with the advent of the railways, saw improvement of agricultural land by the use of imported fertilisers. And the area is now reputed for its production of beef and particularly veal. However, the population has slowly fallen and is now below 800.

So, how come it is home to two annual music festivals (three this year to celebrate an anniversary)? This is entirely down to the AJAL, an association of young people wanting to help to keep their town/village on the map. And, by attracting lots of volunteers, 110 this festival including me, have been able to keep costs down, ticket prices competitive and build up the sort of reputation you need in order to attract good artists. This year was the 13th consecutive Roots'Ergue festival, mainly consisting of artists from the reggae and sound system scene. And this year there were 2400 festival attendees, many of them bused in from Rodez and Albi, the two nearest decent-sized towns.
The age range of these festival-goers is from adolescents to pensioners with people in their 20's and 30's being the majority. And this charming and historical village becomes like one big squat, every available bit of space, outside of the central old town, covered with parked vans, tents and cars with the fairly middle class population outnumbered by dread-locked groups of young people. The security is three people at the gate to the actual site which is the modern village hall and the land outside it. And the police have the good sense to stay away except for setting up a couple of stopping points on the roads outside the town where they give alcohol and drug tests to people leaving after the first night in particular.

The main stage is in the hall with state-of-the-art PA, fold-back and lighting desks. Outside is set up the sound system. There are bars inside and outside and cold and hot food. Now, of course, normally smoking is forbidden indoors and there are plenty of signs. However, reggae music is based on the Jamaican culture where the smoking of cannabis is totally normal. And the smell of grass, with its pungent odour, is everywhere. On the other hand, there is absolutely no crowd trouble. Everyone is in happy mode, just there to totally enjoy the music, and there was a lot to enjoy!!
What interested me the most this year was that there were to be two backing bands, each backing two top singers. On Friday it was a group of mainly older men who had played on the reggae scene for many years, having played with artists such as U Roy, The Skatalites, Bunny Wailer and many more.
After an opening set by local duo, Satya, this star band played with first Takana Zion and then Harrison Stafford of Groundation fame. Both of these were wonderful sets which got the crowd going, wholehearted reggae!!

But then the audience seemed to grow with a lot more younger people pushing to the front in order to watch Babylon Circus, a tight and ultra professional outfit that were more latin than reggae. And the crowd went wild and danced and clapped with enthusiasm. For me, they were a bit contrived and a bit too poppy but I had to admit they did their thing very well.
On Saturday, having driven down to Toulouse Airport to pick up Omar Perry, and then meet friends for a few drinks and food, I missed the opening act. Now, I must say that I have picked up quite a few artists from Toulouse Airport and several of them have remarked on the distance to Sauveterre. It is a good hour and a half drive, nearly one hundred miles, nearly all motorway. But it is the nearest airport with flights coming in from all over.
The first act I got to see was the guy from Massilla Sound System, Papet J. He had his own excellent band and performed like the experienced artist he is. They really came to prominence in the 90's and, as he said, some of his material was 30 years old. But his anti-racist lyrics were popular and well-received.

Then on stage came Horace Andy's new band, young and mainly American and really tight. And Horace wowed the crowd with his songs, his famous tremolo voice and his energy. He's no longer a young man but he bopped around the stage and even over-ran his stage time. For me, the best set of the night.
The band remained on stage and were joined by Omar Perry, son of the famous Lee 'Scratch' Perry who played at the festival a couple of years ago. Following Horace Andy was not going to be easy but, in spite of a few false starts, Omar worked hard to get the crowd behind him, and succeeded with his more bouncy songs and call and response with the slightly smaller crowd (due to buses leaving for Rodez and Albi just after his set commenced).
I returned to the chalet we had rented for the weekend at 3 am and drunk a nightcap from the bottle of good Martinique rum, a present from the Blackboard Jungle DJ and MC who I had picked up and returned to the airport. A good end to a magnificent weekend!!