Clusterf**k…a weekend from hell!

Just home from a nightmare weekend, Baz has penned this blog about the occasional downsides of touring:

Every so often, something happens that makes even the most seasoned of us question whether or not it really happened…let alone whether it should have happened at all…this weekend was such a time.

It all started out innocently enough. I got a train across to Manchester airport to meet Brendan, our guitar tech, for a flight to Bilbao in Spain on Thursday afternoon. A burger and a couple of pints were had before we boarded and started on our merry way. Being a lateish flight, we were the last to arrive, and were looking forward to hooking up with everyone in the bar at the hotel for a late night jar or two, as has always been the way. We were told that Jim, who had come in from Greece, was waiting for us now, and the three of us would be heading into the city together to the hotel…which was fifteen minutes away. I should have known what sort of weekend this was going to be when I stepped out into departures looking for a guy holding up the sign to say he was our transport, to nothing…noboby…at all. I texted Jim asking where they were, and it turned out he’d been sitting in the bar for three hours waiting for us and a car. I found out why this was when he told me the hotel we were staying at was a ninety minute drive through the mountains, and not a fifteen minute swerve into the city…it turns out the two hotels had exactly the same name, in a street with the same name, but were about 140km apart…wtf?…good start.

When we finally got to the hotel which was in a beautiful little town called Logrono, we found Gaz, Toby and Pete, our lighting guy, in a bar around the corner. They hastily got us a couple of beers each in, and we sat until after one oclock, recounting the events of the day. Not such a bad start in itself…but…it was all going to get worse.

Although the Spanish are lovely, accommodating, and friendly people on the whole, organising rock festivals isn’t really their thing we tend to find.They’ve got the huge Benicassim Festival, which is sort of their Glastonbury…huge thing, but the smaller ones like this, without the corporate clout of the giants, are always a bit hit and miss. We’re playing with Franz Ferdinand, and we were a late addition to the line up, so they’ve done their best in the short run up time, but it’s woefully unorganised, and the promoters rep is scurrying about like a headless chicken…the right hand really doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, and soon, Gazza, our unflappable tour manager, is barking at them, and wanting to know where our stuff is, transport, catering and all the other stuff that goes into what we do. And as usual, it’s the little things that will get you every time…as in most walks of life. I won’t bang on about the minutiae of it all, but suffice to say, it was chaos, and although we played a pretty good, workmanlike set to a full noisy crowd and went down very well, we were glad to get the fuck out of there.

Being as untogether as they were, the promoters had laid on a bus to take us back into town…a full on sixty seater luxury touring coach, for ten of us. The driver, not knowing anything about bands,festivals, or, as it turned out, anyone , has been sitting for three quarters of an hour swearing angrily in Spanish at anyone who would listen, and as I climbed on the bus with a couple of cold bottles of beer for the journey back, he saw them, and went off into a full on shouty tirade at me..all gestures and gobbledegook. So I took them off the bus, too tired to argue, and got one from Toby who always has a stash in his bag. The driver then proceeded to try and kill us on the way back, forgetting what his brakes were for, and when finding them, stomping on them to throw us all about, and show us who the boss really was…what a guy.

I like to think the empty beer bottle I put up in the luggage rack when getting off the bus is still rattling around up there driving him mad every time he takes a corner. He was only about four and a half feet tall. He’ll need a set of step ladders to get it down.

It was all going to get worse.

The next morning the road crew have a, wait for it, four o clock lobby call. They have an early flight to Lisbon, then a connection to Porto. The four of us in the band, and Gary, are flying to Barcelona, and connecting to Porto from there. There’s an added stumbling block now though.Gazza has left his phone on last nights suicide bus, and we now have a tour manager with no contact to the other travelling party.

This trip is starting to affect everyone, slowly but surely, and in the decades Gazza has been looking after us, and he does look after us…like his children, he’s never lost his phone or anything else so essential. He’s gutted…Gazza takes things like that personally… and the little bastard driving the bus has flustered him, and us to be honest…and in his worn out haste to get off the bus, making sure we’ve all got plenty of water (it was still 35 degrees when we went onstage at 10.30) he’s forgotten his phone.Luckily for us, we have at least three other lads in the crew with tour managing experience too, including Jim…and together with Gaz’s direction, we start to inch towards the airport. Everything seems to be going well, with band members snoozing happily away in the van, as another day on the road unfolds.

Then from behind me I hear Jim answer his phone to someone…there’s a slight pause, then he says “oh shitpots”…it’s one of the crew in Lisbon. Their early flight was delayed, and as a consequence, they’ve missed their connection to Porto…that stupid early start of theirs has been for nought…they’re stranded. I then sit in amazement as Jim goes into heavy organisation mode…never raising his voice of getting flustered, he reels off some options for the lads to try, including a couple I wouldn’t have thought of, and calmly calls the Portugese promoter at the other end to explain the situation.

Meanwhile the crew at Lisbon airport are looking into other flights,buses and even taxis to take them the 300 plus km from Lisbon to Porto…never say die. I know I’ve said this many times before, but our crew are amazing…a real band of brothers…they never give up, to say we love and appreciate them would be a huge understatement…they’re intrinsic to what we do, and when situations arise, as they’re wont to do from time to time, they always come through…fucking fantastic. In the end, the promoter in Porto arranges a vehicle to bring the lads down, and before long, they’re now engaged in a three hour  journey they did’t expect, or factor into the day. They need to kip before starting work…we’re playing tonight remember. They have a snooze on the journey, which is never great, but you take it when you can, if you can…and then have an hour or so at their hotel in Porto before heading to the gig. We pass through Barcelona unscathed, and get our flight to Porto…relatively on time.

One thing to remember about this time of year if you travel regularly, is that the airports are choked with holidaymakers…buggys with crying ,hot ,angry babies, far too much luggage (where do these people think they’re going…to the moon for a few months? so many bags and crap), and scores of entitled loud, crass Americans…I don’t know which is worse frankly…but if you’re playing festivals across the summer, you encounter this on every single journey you make…nightmare.

We get to the hotel in decent time though, and retire for a much needed couple of hours sleep.

By the time we’re picked up and taken into town for the gig, the whole town of Agueda where we are, is alive with thousands of people. It’s a riot of colour, and there are thousands of umbrellas (guarda chuvas 🙂 ) hanging from every available lamp post, wire and building, quite a sight to see. It’s known as the Agueda Umbrella Sky Project, and we’re playing the festival. We get to the site, and there are 10,000 people packed into the town square. There’s a canopy over it with hundreds of coloured umbrellas hanging from the ceiling…an amazing sight. We take to the stage around 10.30, and immediately the troubles of the day are gone. The noise that greets us is deafening,and right from the off, we’ve got them…especially when I say to them “Agueda cidade dos guarda chuvas” City of Umbrellas…this seems to please them, and suddenly everything goes up a gear. Gazza tells us that in all his years with us, that’s arguably the best he’s ever seen us play…lights, sound, atmosphere, performance, all coming together in perfect synergy…and we lap it up.Seventy five minutes goes by in the blink of an eye, and suddenly we’re soaking wet in the dressing room meeting the mayor or the city…nuts.

But it was all going to get worse.

The next morning Gazza, Toby and four of the crew leave the hotel at 11.30 to catch a flight back to Gatwick. JJ has a 2.30 car to take him to the airport to catch a flight to Lisbon, then connect to Nice. Me, Jim and Brendan have a 5.30 car to take us to the airport for a late flight back to Manchester. This is where the wheels totally fall off for some, and wobble a bit for others. The three of us go out into town for lunch, as we’ve got a bit of time to kill. We then hear that the early flight with the six of them on it to Gatwick hasn’t gone. As the plane was taxi-ing for take off, one of the crew allegedly heard a suspicious noise coming from somewhere…so naturally the pilot stopped. They then sat on the plane, with no air con, for three hours while the problem was assessed, the pilot finally deciding that fuck this, we’re not flying…and took the plane back to the terminal where they all got off…quite angrily I’m told. JJ then called me to say that he was still at the airport too, his flight being delayed by around an hour or so, give or take, and that he’d very likely miss his connection from Lisbon to Nice and would have to stay in a hotel in Lisbon somewhere overnight.

Our flight was then delayed too, but only by around forty minutes, and as we were going direct, with no connections, we’d probably be ok. The flight app was saying there was a delay, but the board in the airport wasn’t, so there was some confusion…and we decided the only thing for it was to have a couple of beers to ponder our situation. We then heard that Gaz and the lads couldn’t get another flight, and were facing a night in a hotel at Porto airport….and as they’d been the first to leave the hotel that morning…they were not best pleased.

Meanwhile JJ texted to say he was on his plane, in his seat, and hoping for the best…minutes later they were airborne…at least someone was on their way home. We finished our beers and deciding to be better safe than sorry, thought we should amble through security and see what the score was. We got up to the gate, right up in the gods, and as we were standing there I looked down and saw the tiny figure of Toby making his way to the Gents…I went down and stood in the doorway looking at him with his back to me drying his hands…he turned around to see me, and I could see he was incandescent with rage…almost shaking…he could barely speak…I gave him a hug and could feel the anger coming off him in waves. We then went across the floor to a corner, and there they all were…Gazza sitting on the floor huddled over his laptop (remember he’d ‘mislaid’ his phone) trying to get them all out of the shit, and the rest of the lads looking thoroughly pissed off with the world and everything in it…I really felt for them…I think over the course of the whole weekend, if their total sleep time had gotten up to double figures, they’d be lucky…they really did look done in bless them.

Almost immediately our flight, to our total surprise, was called, and me Jim and Brendan bade farewell to our weary comrades, and got on the plane…I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a twinge of guilt at leaving our lads behind…we never do that…we all go or none of us do, but it was just one of those things…a crappy, pitiful excuse…but it just was.

When we arrived in Manchester shortly after midnight, such was the melee of people disembarking, running to passport control, grabbing their bags and such, that Jim, who’d been sitting across the aisle from me in the second row, got off first, then me, and finally Brendan, who’d been halfway down the plane…and we never saw each other again. I got caught in the passport queue, and by the time I got to the other side, they’d collected their cases and gone…Jim driving to Birmingham, and Bren to Telford…still both hours from home.I got in a taxi home, and by the time I stepped through the door it was 1.45. On the journey back I texted JJ, to find that he too was in a taxi and texting me almost at the same time…he was ten minutes from home.

The crew found a hotel five minutes walk from the terminal building at Porto airport, and by the time I heard from Toby this morning, he was on a train from Gatwick to home…all the guys finally getting closer to their beds. I can just imagine them all walking in the door, and peeling their kit off as they climb the stairs and drop into bed with one sock still on and terrible bad breath…to sleep for a day or two. One of the guys lives in Cornwall…he’s probably still on the road somewhere.

Thanks for everything boys…you all went above and beyond…it was…eventful.

An honourable mention must go to Mikey Jirku. Those of you in the know will remember Mikey as our guitar tech for many years, and general all round good guy. He’s since gone on to tour managing many acts, and can cover every base you care to mention in our world. In the years since he left, he’s been back on quite a few occasions to help us out…teching, driving, organising…you name it, Mikey can, and has, done it for us.
The last time we were out was in France on July 7th, playing a show in Sconzier in the French Alps. After that the van was driven to Toulouse Airport by two of the crew, and it and all the gear was left in a secure lockup…and they flew home. It wasn’t needed between that gig and this outing, and it didn’t make any sense to bring it all the way back to the UK, only to take it all out again the following week, and drive it all the way to Spain. So Mikey flew to Toulouse on Thursday, picked the van up, and drove it to Bilbao, then onto Logrono in Spain. After we’d done the gig there, he drove through the night to Agueda in Portugal,for the gig there. He was then seen laying around in some very awkward positions behind and on the stage as we played, taking photographs…he’s a very good and accomplished photographer. After the show, he drove our gear back from Portugal to England…even, being the hero he is, stopping off in Logrono in Spain on his way past, to pick up Gazza’s lost phone which the little suicidal bus driver from Friday night had had the good grace to take back to the hotel, should anyone return looking for it…turns out he wasn’t such a bastard after all…just misunderstood 🙂Thanks Mikey…as always…top man.

I’ve only recounted this weekend here, because it was such a struggle, but ultimately totally rewarding as the gigs were superb…especially the Portugese one. I know, reading it, it probably doesn’t seem like much of a big deal to some of you…us being able to do what we do, having the life we have…” oh deary me…it must be so hard flying

around Europe playing in a band…stop fucking whining”…but trust me, it’s truly exhausting, frustrating and sometimes fucking infuriating…but never less than exhilarating…and if we had to do it all again, of course we would…we will…no question.

But if you think it’s easy…and there are those of you who do…try it…

Baz, July 2023