Eleven Days Of smiling, occasional Frustrations and Keeping Your Bloody Head Down
(SPRING TOUR OF GERMANY 2003)
by Simon (the Engine Driver) Bell
Day one: Day Off, Travel & Sleep
It’s one o’clock in the morning and Peter Jones and myself are waiting patiently amongst the truckers, holidaymakers, and bootleggers at Dover Docks. It’s cold, the café is closed, and the seagulls are hovering like vultures. Not to worry in a little over an hour we will be over the other side and heading for Germany.
It’s now mid-afternoon on the 4th April and we are in Berlin parked opposite the Brandenburg Gate awaiting the arrival of Pete’s German girlfriend. It’s a real win-double for him; we have a pre-tour day off in Berlin and he gets to spend it with his girlfriend. After picking up the delightful Derya we head for the hotel, thankfully Pete knows his way around Berlin so I got the full guided tour, the Unter Den Linden, the site of Checkpoint Charlie etc. Derya mentioned that Supergrass were playing in Berlin that night and suggested that it would be a good way to spend our night off; even better if Pete could blagg us some free tickets. A couple of hours later with one Englishman, one Welshman and one German lady duly blagged on the guest list we enjoy the music of Supergrass, perhaps not my first choice for a night out but thoroughly enjoyable all the same; great version of Neil Young’s ‘The Loner’.
DAY TWO: Berlin, Quasimodo
After a morning exploring Berlin it’s time to get to work. The Quasimodo was within walking distance of the hotel so whilst I stretched my legs Pete brought the van round to the venue. Now what makes a good gig; well for a musician it revolves around a good stage area, excellent PA and monitors, and staff that treat the musicians with a measure of respect (but not subservience). For the crew a good gig revolves around easy access to the venue, good local crew, a constant supply of tea, coffee, and draught beer. I always enter a ‘new’ venue with a fair amount of trepidation; “Oh no, look at those b***** stairs, oh my aching back” are usually the first words uttered by yours truly. However, tonight is the exception, the rear doors of the venue open onto the stage and it’s only about thirty feet from the van to the front of the stage, there are local crew to do the lifting and the first words from Uli the manager of the Quasimodo is “would you guys like a cappuccino” - bliss!
The get in and set up was quick and painless, enabling the band to soundcheck promptly and get back to the hotel for the pre-gig kip. The show was sold out in advance and many people were turned away on the night, others chose to sit in the upstairs restaurant/bar and listen to the show via a link from the club downstairs.
Roger was comfortable with the low stage, which enabled the audience to get to within a few inches of the band, the on-stage monitoring was excellent enabling the band to give one of those polished performances that we have come to expect from the Shortlist. Ian Gibbons was magnificent on ‘King Of The Wild Frontier’, this could overtake ‘Weaver’ as Gibbo’s number. The atmosphere within the club was so laid back that Roger occasionally granted an audience request i.e. ‘Big River’ or lost track of where either he or the band were in certain numbers and so we were treated to a variety of unusual and unplanned endings. I would go as far as to say that tonight’s rendition of ‘Big River/X-Town/188.8.131.52 was one of the best versions ever.
To sum up the opening night, great venue, great audience, excellent sound out front and on stage (thanks Toby), excellent hospitality (thanks Uli). Can’t wait to go back.
Berlin, (D), Quasimodo: 05th April 2003
Set: Holding The Compass, King Of The Wild Frontier, Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo, Downbound Train, Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun, Prisoner, Blind Willie McTell, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar/Barefootin’, Weavers Answer, Kiss My Soul.
Encore: Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’,
Encore: Big River/X-Town/184.108.40.206, Midnite Child.
Chappo quote from Berlin: “Andy Hamilton on the saxophone; the little bent thing; that’s the saxophone not Andy!”
DAY THREE: Lubeck, Werkhof
The drive from Berlin to Lubeck (283 km) was uneventful and having checked in at the hotel Peter and myself headed for the Werkhof following the directions in the daily liar (aka ‘The Tour Plan), after driving around Lubeck for some 40 minutes we finally arrive at Seydlitzstr. 5. “Funny looking gig this” remarks Peter as we pull up outside a private house in a quiet residential area. A quick call to the promoter and all is resolved; this is his private address, the Werkhof is on the other side of the town. I now have a nagging feeling that today is going to be difficult.
We arrive at the Werkhof some forty-five minutes late, the local crew are friendly and willing to oblige; perhaps my initial reservations about today were misplaced. However after looking at the PA set up which apart from having no separate on-stage monitor engineer was grossly underpowered, my initial premonition of difficulty was confirmed.
The get in was slow and despite the best efforts of Peter to inject a little urgency into the PA crew they had their own pace and they were sticking to it. Matters were brought to a head when the band arrived for the soundcheck only to find that there was still a considerable amount of work to be done. After standing around for about an hour with no prospect of doing a soundcheck the band gave up and went back to the hotel. Some time later the PA engineer announced that he was ready for a soundcheck, when he was told the band had left and that there would now only be time for a basic line check, the look on his face was that of the condemned man awaiting his pre-match chat with the hangman.
It’s now show time the band are running through the opening bars of ‘Compass’, Roger has no monitors at all and is conducting an impromptu soundcheck, all of a sudden the monitors go from off to deafening and are blaring out noise, mic’s are feeding back, backing vocals sound like the ‘Grand Canyon Singers’. The intro to ‘Compass’ drags on as angry words are hurled toward the soundman; Peter makes his way back and forth through the crowd to the PA guy in an effort to improve things. My initial thoughts about a difficult gig are now confirmed; just keep your bloody head down.
Two numbers into the set and Andy Hamilton’s on-stage monitor utters it’s last sounds and packs up, Peter makes the decision to adjust the angle of Twiggy’s monitor so that at least Andy can hear something, unfortunately these two musicians need to hear different things whilst playing, so now the two of them are playing with alien sound mixes. During ‘Blind Willie’ the soundman sends word to Peter that he has lost the left channel of Ian’s keyboards, Pete tries to investigate the problem, but with the stage leads in complete disarray it is impossible to trace the fault and he reluctantly gives up, this problem completely negates all of Ian’s stereo keyboard work and the audience are deprived of the keyboard sound for most of the gig.
Despite all these troubles the band are turning in a respectable performance especially Steve and Henry who seem to be the only musicians comfortable with their surroundings. Roger; by now having given up his running battle with the soundman gets down to some serious vocals, adding ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’ to an already respectable rendition of ‘Kokomo’. During ’18 Wheels’ Steve and Andy really go for the rhythm and can’t resist those fills, is it ‘Chain Of Fools’, maybe ‘Barefootin’ who knows? Who cares? It’s great stuff.
‘Weavers Answer’ lumbers along mortally wounded by the lack of stereo keyboards, Roger calling for more of the non-existent keyboard player in his monitors, Andy H filling in wherever possible; the audience noticing none of these problems roar their approval. The engine drivers head is still very definitely below the parapet.
The band leave the stage, Roger with a face like thunder and the temper to match, Ian and Pete are in animated conversation about the keyboards situation, Ian shrugs his shoulders and with that ‘It’s only rock ‘n’ roll’ gesture grabs a drink. The guys are back on-stage for the encore and swinging through ‘Oh Brother’ when somebody in the crowd brings forward a tray of Champagne (no doubt in celebration of Rogers impending birthday), the mood is lightened as Roger hands around the drinks to all the members of the band, the intro to ‘Shank/Toenail Draggin’ is extended as all concerned take a well earned drink. With the band now in a lighter mood Roger trawls around through ‘Shortlist’ and brings the show to a close with a hybrid version of ‘X-Town’/’Lets Spend The Night Together’.
This was definitely a gig of ‘what if’s’. If we had arrived promptly instead of being needlessly diverted the stage may have been ready for a soundcheck, if the PA guy’s had moved a bit quicker we might have had a proper soundcheck, however the 350 or so people who turned out on a Sunday night probably didn’t notice any of this they just had a great night out.
Lubeck, (D), Werkhof : 06th April 2003
Set: Holding The Compass, King Of The Wild Frontier, Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo/I Just Wanna Make Love To You, Downbound Train, Prisoner, Blind Willie McTell, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar, Weavers Answer, Kiss My Soul.
Encore: Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’, Shortlist.
Encore: X-Town/Lets Spend The Night Together/220.127.116.11.
Wise words from Lubeck: “I have nothing! Right monitor man get your arse in gear and give us some monitors, this is a bag of shit up here, start moving yourself, oh hello bye the way, sorry about this, shoddy workmen then they blame us‘.
DAY FOUR: Day Off, Travel & Beer
After a 432 km drive with stops for soup and coffee we arrive in Wuppertal. Today is a day off so rest and recuperation are on the menu, fortunately good sense prevails; and the crew and Henry opt for hot German food and plenty of cold German beer as we spend the evening taking in the sights and sounds of Wuppertal.
DAY FIVE: Wuppertal, Live Club Barmen
The Live Club is situated in the Barmen district of Wuppertal and the gig itself is within what appears to be a municipal building which also contains an art gallery the halls of which we had to pass through to access the club. Modern art is not really my bag and I toyed with the idea of putting Pete and myself on display amongst the irregular shaped pieces of wood, but what would we call it; perhaps ‘lowest form of pond life - with Welshman’ would be appropriate.
I suppose if Roger is going to spend his birthday in a German town then Wuppertal is as good a place as any to be. There are lots of enthusiastic local crew, the stage is very large, and the PA guys are professional. The band respond to these changed circumstances by turning out one of the best gigs of the tour.
After the opening number Roger took a drink from a bottle of water, he pronounced that it was “shit” and threw the bottle at yours truly, I managed to catch the bottle before it’s contents went all over Pete and myself, whilst I was congratulating myself on the slip fielders catch, a poorly aimed second bottle hit Twiggy’s base and rolled across the stage. After a brief conversation with the promoter she went to the local service station and came back with some bottles of Evian and thankfully order was restored. During a break between numbers the birthday boy was serenaded by some drunken, tuneless guys at the front, (sorry Billy but these chaps leave you standing, more practice needed old boy) the response from the singer was typical he told the Wuppertal choir just where they could go. The whole set was tight and with no on-stage problems all members of the Shortlist gave their best.
The band and crew had in recognition of their bosses birthday bought him a large bottle of champagne and in the interval between the set and the first encore, the tray of champagne was placed on the stage in front of Henry’s kit on one of his drum cases, when Roger returned to the stage and saw the drinks he was momentarily stopped in his tracks, however he was soon handing them to the band and various people in the audience who were celebrating their own birthdays. With the ice well and truly broken and the audience grooving along the chaps could have got away with virtually anything and an extended version of ‘Shortlist/King Bee’ only brought howls for more. Roger ended the set with a few acapella lines from ‘In My Own Time’ as a request for one of the guys at the front.
Back at the hotel, whilst enjoying a quiet drink my mind wandered to the entry in the website guest book and the words of a German chap who was looking forward to The Shortlist coming to this ‘boring town’, there was absolutely no chance that this guy was disappointed.
Wuppertal, (D), Live Club Barmen: 08th April 2003
Set:Holding The Compass, King Of The Wild Frontier, Slow Down/Kokomo/I Just Wanna Make Love To You, Downbound Train, Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun, Prisoner, Blind Willie McTell, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar, Weavers Answer, Kiss My Soul.
Encore: Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’, Shortlist/King Bee.
Encore: X-Town/18.104.22.168, In My Own Time (Acapella)
Wise words from Wuppertal: “Lay down easy stars in my eyes; this is just because it’s yer birthday, never ask again”.
DAY SIX: Paderborn, Capitol Musiktheater
This is another large hall which has opened as a live music venue within the last year or so; the Musiktheater had everything the band or crew required and with good advance ticket sales a crowd of around 550 and a good night was anticipated, unfortunately events outside the band and the venue’s control were to conspire against us.
At eight o’clock the band arrived minus Chappo and the word from the chaps was not encouraging. Roger had been taken ill and had just left the hotel in a krankenhauswagen, at this point it seemed that the show would have to be cancelled. After a hasty telephone conversation between the tour manager and the venue management it was decided to await a decision from the hospital. At about nine o’clock word came from the hospital that Roger would be discharging himself from hospital and playing the show, but there would be a further delay whilst the necessary forms were filled in. An announcement was made from the stage that Roger had been delayed and that the show would go ahead with a late start of around ten o’clock. Unfortunately the by now extremely nervous lady making the announcements to the waiting crowd (by now estimated at around 600 people) did not specify the reason for the delay and when an obviously suffering Chappo took to the stage there was little or no sympathy from the crowd. Not that this unduly worried Roger who gave it his best shot; the mind was willing but unfortunately the body just wasn’t up to a full show and Roger reluctantly cut ‘Weaver’ and ‘Kiss’ from the set and struggling for breath and leaning heavily on the chaps brought the show to an end after one encore and sought sanctuary and solace in the dressing room. It was unfortunate that the first visit by the Shortlist to this excellent venue should end in this manner, but quite frankly I was amazed that the guy managed to complete a pretty respectable set when he probably would have been better off staying in the hospital. A trooper to the end!
Paderborn, (D), Capitol Musiktheater: 09th April 2003
Set: Holding The Compass, King Of The Wild Frontier, Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo/I Just Wanna Make Love To You, Downbound Train, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar, Blind Willie McTell, Prisoner, X-Town/22.214.171.124.
Encore: Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’.
Wise words from Paderborn: “Peter, I came off stage absolutely knackered and guess what he said” pointing to the engine driver “just run through a few old favourites and let Stevie do some vocals, Pete that boys got the soul of an ant!”
DAY SEVEN: Day Off, Sightseeing & Shopping
A day off in Paderborn. If I were to tell you that this place is twinned with Bolton then you perhaps get some idea of where we are, it’s a bit like a wet Wednesday in Rotherham, not at all inspiring. However Paderborn does excel at one thing - religion - it’s everywhere, cathedrals, churches, and chapels catering for every creed and colour and religious belief. Whilst the architecture is awe inspiring the ‘Hotel zur Muhle’ is not, so Pete and myself spend the morning wandering around the town. Thankfully there are plenty of bargains to be had and the king of the reduced rail strikes again. The evening is spent in the crew’s favourite pastime of eating, drinking and being merry before it’s time to get back to the rabbit hutch for a game of I spy
DAY EIGHT: Aschaffenburg, Colos-Saal
The best club in Germany did not disappoint the band or the crew. This venue excels at making life easy for everyone. The get in was simplicity (thanks Rolf), the soundcheck was a breeze (thanks Matthias), and the gig was well received by the large crowd who savoured every minute from the opening bars of ‘Frontier’ to the haphazard ending of ‘X-Town/126.96.36.199, in between they were treated to excellent keyboards from Gibbo who was tonight using a set up borrowed from the Colos-Saal due to a terminal failure of his gear the previous night; perhaps his renewed confidence came from the fact that this gear would actually do what his fingers wanted or perhaps he was just having an exceptional night. Andy H could hear what he wanted to right from the start and he relaxed and rolled his way through solo after solo. Twiggy, well what can you say about the man from Long Compton; bass player, apple shaker, songwriter and all round reasonable guy, the list goes on and on, solid and dependable as ever. Steve Simpson, swapping between acoustic and electric, a bit of fiddle here, mandolin there, permanently smiling but always one step ahead of the riff. Henry Spinetti always on the phone to the missus “what do you reckon 102 bpm, or was it 104”, the difference to my untrained ears is barely discernable but to Henry it’s a constant search for the perfect tempo. What of the man himself, well Roger had taken notice of the doctors orders and had a quiet day off in Paderborn, lots of rest, very little chat in order to save the throat and whilst his voice on ‘Frontier’ and ‘Compass’ sounded a bit croaky by the time the band were into ‘Kiss’ the cobwebs had well and truly been blown away and as the numbers rolled by he was back to his usual self. The crowd got two encores including a lively version of ‘J&D’ (first time on this tour) with Steve sawing away at the fiddle like a man possessed and ably supported Mr Gibbons on fairground keyboards, the crowd went bananas and whilst they were still recovering from ‘J&D’ they were beaten into submission with ‘X-Town/188.8.131.52 a quick wave of the hand and another great night in Aschaffenburg was over.
Aschaffenburg, (D), Colos-Saal: 11th April 2003
Set: King Of The Wild Frontier, Holding The Compass, Kiss My Soul, Hyenas Only Laugh For Fun, Downbound Train, Blind Willie McTell, Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo/How How How, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar, Prisoner, Midnite Child.
Encore: Oh Brother, Shank, Shortlist.
Encore: Jesus And The Devil, X-Town/184.108.40.206.
Wise words from Aschaffenburg: “Here’s a song that Gary wrote on the train here today, he couldn’t find any English newspapers so he thought he’d write a song and we thought we’d try it now so what do you think chaps” The band then play ‘Oh Brother’. “And that was in between Kassel and Aschaffenburg; not had huh, what did you do for the other bit”
DAY NINE: Muhldorf, Haberkasten
It was another long drive to the town of Muhldorf (418km) and as nobody could remember the place despite having played there previously, it was another one of those days of mystery. As it turned out Muhldorf was one of those picture book German towns, all pastel colours and narrow side streets. The word from Mike Toole; the English guy promoting the gig was encouraging; advance ticket sales were going well and a sizeable crowd was expected. The Haberkasten was a council funded arts centre, which at some time in it’s past had been a grain warehouse. The stage was spacious with a couple of pillars in the centre (a bit like the old Dingwalls), these were ideally placed for the hard working Gary Twigg to lean against.
The gig suffered no real hassles, although during the encore Roger managed to pull the microphone lead out of its socket despite it being secured with a couple of winds of electrical tape, yours truly got the blame as the offending article flew my way and after some hasty makeshift repairs it was declared serviceable and with my parentage restored I headed for stage left and a well earned drink. All in all it was a good gig in a lovely German town.
Muhldorf, (D), Haberkasten: 12th April 2003
Set: Holding The Compass, King Of The Wild Frontier, Kiss My Soul, Blind Willie McTell, Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo/How How How, Downbound Train, Prisoner, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar, Midnite Child.
Encore: Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’, Shortlist
DAY TEN: Weiden, Hollriegels
It was the last night of the tour, Peter and I were hoping for a reasonably easy Sunday night gig, a couple of beers and some sleep; after all Weiden was only 20km from the Czech border and we had the long drive back to Calais the following morning to look forward to!
Sunday gigs are usually frequented only by the devoted and the curious and often turn out to be an uneventful damp squib. Not this one though, Hollriegels was situated on the third floor of what appeared to be a warehouse, in fact it was a dance studio, thankfully there were local crew available to do the heavy lifting. The promoter introduced himself and this guy was a mad keen Chappo fan who having grown tired of waiting for Chappo to come to this part of Germany had decided to promote the gig himself. Ticket sales, crowd numbers and all the usual worries of promoting left Bernhard unruffled, Roger was in his town and that was all that mattered. Despite the enthusiasm of everyone at Hollriegels there were some niggling problems. After checking the electricity supply it was discovered that most of the power extensions were faulty, so many in fact that at one time I suspected that the tester itself may have been faulty. Further problems came from the mic leads some of which either made unusual crackling noises or just didn’t work. After much trial and error enough leads were declared serviceable to at least mic everything up but there would be no spares. There was no access to the low level stage from the sides, the band had to go through the crowd to get to the stage, although there was space at stage right for the crew to habit during the show.
Peter had decided to go out front with the sound guy to offer what assistance he could during the show, leaving me stage right with the spare guitars, drinks box etc. ‘Compass’ passed without incident and confident that all was well I settled back to ‘enjoy’ the show. My relaxation was short lived; during ‘Frontier’ I got the call from Henry that something was wrong, I made my way across the stage between Roger and Henry’s kit (without injury or soaking) and enquired what was wrong, Henry shouted something in my ear and pointed down, I looked but couldn’t see anything amiss, Henry bellowed at me and pointed at the floor, by now I was on my hands and knees with Henry standing up playing over me. It was then that I saw the problem and what a problem it was. The beater had come adrift from Henry’s kick drum pedal and there was no sign of the lock nuts or washers. Can you imagine looking for two tiny washers and a lock nut amongst the ironmongery of a drum kit? All this with the drummer playing whilst you search for the lost parts! After what seemed like a lifetime (by now the band had brought ‘Frontier’ to a subtle ending and were attempting to keep the momentum of the show going with ‘Shortlist’), I spotted the missing parts and with all the concentration I could muster, I retrieved them and started to reassemble the beater. However my problems were not over as I now had to tighten the bloody thing up; with no spanners or pliers I was absolutely knackered, I made my way past Roger, taking as wide a berth as possible and asked the house guys for some tools, luckily they had some pliers and not wanting to chance a third passing of the singer I passed them to Henry who completed the repairs himself. With the drum kit now serviceable Roger abandoned ‘Shortlist’ and rolled through an excellent ‘Kiss’ and ‘Blind Willie’. I made a mental note ‘get some tools! Strangely enough despite it seeming like a lifetime the whole incident had only lasted some three or four minutes.
The band remained in good humour throughout the whole show and there was an easy going, jamming feel to most of the numbers, with the whole band enjoying themselves. A guy in a wheelchair directly in front of Roger became the subject of some good natured banter (whether he understood it or not I can only surmise), especially when he kept tapping his feet along to the rhythm, “Oi I thought you were supposed to be crippled, keep those feet still”, and then when a female heckler who couldn’t resist singing along to various songs at crucial off-putting moments was invited to come to the front and sing along with Roger she ended up sitting in his wheelchair, much to the amusement of all concerned. The set ended with a stomping ‘Midnite Child’ during which Henry showed why he is such a sought after drummer during his limited solo opportunity.
Being trapped in the side stage area “like rats in f**** barrel” they encored twice, ending the night with a rousing ‘X-Town’, Henry on the Max Wall beat, everybody else soloing with that last night of the tour conviction, smiling faces, bum notes, audience bobbing and weaving, on and on roll the band into ‘220.127.116.11’, “Are you all here”, Yeah!, sax solos, “Everybody Talkin’ Bout X-Town”.
Weiden, (D), Hollriegls: 13th April 2003
Set:Holding The Compass, King Of The Wild Frontier, Shortlist, Kiss My Soul, Blind Willie McTell, Slow Down/Cat Called Kokomo/How How How, Downbound Train, Prisoner, 18 Wheels And A Crowbar, Midnite Child.
Encore:Oh Brother, Shank/Toenail Draggin’, Shortlist.
Wise words from Weiden: “This is Simon, now Simon’s a train driver by trade, but when he gets too drunk to drive trains he comes and works for us.”
DAY ELEVEN: Home
The crew left the hotel at seven o’clock in the morning for the long drive to Calais, after numerous stops for coffee, soup, and a bag of chips at a motorway service station in Belgium. “What would you like sir? We have thin chips, fat chips or today’s special offer a large portion of chips”. “Er…I think I’ll try the chips.” The channel crossing was fine and at about nine o’clock Pete dropped me off at Kings Cross station, I was home by 22.30 and asleep by 22.35. “Have you had a nice time dear? “zzzzzzzzzz”