It's 6.30a.m.-ish Saturday and we're stumbling around Stansted Airport trying to decide which queue is going to move the quickest. We're Easy-jetting across to Belfast Airport for 2 theatre shows- Saturday night in Armagh and Sunday night in Derry. Security's tight- we even had to take our shoes off!- and it takes breakfast to bring us back to something approaching normality before our plane's delayed due to a passenger being 'unfit to travel'. Hmm... a pleasingly uneventful flight follows and after picking up our 2 hire cars it's off to find our first guest house just outside Armagh. Sat. nav.-lead mayhem follows with us disappearing off into the deepest darkest countryside amid comments like 'you know you're in trouble when there's grass growing in the middle of the road' (Squirrel) and 'did that sheep have all 4 legs in the air?' (no, for once it's not Gary with the sheep stuff, it's Michael). We get there eventually and it's time for a much needed shower and a takeaway pizza or 2 before heading off to The Market Place theatre & arts centre for tonight's show. It's a great venue, with a huge stage and superb facilities all round. Dougie the P.A. man get's set up in world record time and Squirrel and myself can't believe the quality of the amps we're going to use- he's got an Ampeg stack and I've got a Fender Blues Deville combo. They sound fantastic- it's going to be a great show. Then it's over the road for a bite to eat when my brother calls- he's been into work today to blow a Mercedes up. So he's feeling better then. Back to the venue and I meet up with my old mate John Ford, a splendid chap who used to live in Ickenham and now lives in Newry with his wife Elizabeth. There's just time for a quick drink with them and then it's showtime... and what a great show it is with everyone forgetting that they're tired and the audience into it from the word go. By the second set there's plenty of dancing and after encoring with 'Jailhouse Rock' we're off to the bar for a well-deserved drink or 2, then it's takeaway Chinese time... back to the guest house and a forward-thinking person's bought a case of lager and a bottle of Bushmills; 'Brazil' forms a suitably surreal T.V. backdrop to end an excellent if suddenly very tiring day.
It's breakfast at 9 and on the road at 10 for the next round of the sat. nav. lottery that we seem to be playing rather a lot these days... after much to-ing and fro-ing and even the odd look at a map (remember them?!?) we find our way to tonight's guest house, just outside Antrim. Last night's was excellent, this one's a bit... darker. Much singing of 'The Addams Family' theme and wondering if Mother's in the cellar follows- and then we see Nellie the dog. She looks like, as Michael puts it, 'a cross between a sausage dog and a horse'.
I'll leave you to think about that for a minute.
Plenty of time to worry about what we've let ourselves in for there later; it's time to be a tourist and visit the Giant's Causeway. I've always wanted to see it and it definitely doesn't disappoint- words like 'amazing', 'astonishing', breathtaking' etc all seem a bit inadequate really. But they'll have to do- it's all of those and more.
After a quick pub meal it's off to the Waterside Theatre in Derry- another excellent venue. Dougie's already set up and we're running through 'Time Is Tight' in no time. Michael's not too well- what we thought was an allergic reaction looks more and more like a heavy cold so we cut a couple of his vocal numbers out. Richard's suffering too and spends the soundcheck asleep in one of the cars. There's not too many advance tickets sold either which puts a further dampener on things. Time to go to the bar then.
8pm and there's just about enough people in the audience to make it work and Pete's straight into overdrive with a 'we're gonna have a good time anyway' rap that ends with the words 'where is everyone else in Armagh tonight then?' Oops. That was last night... incredibly this seems to get everyone on our side with plenty of sympathy for Michael's plight and Pete getting a guy out of the audience to sing 'My Girl' (getting Michael off the hook in the process) and a couple of girls up dancing on stage with us. The first set ended with Richard off stage and following a girl outside- she'd gone out to a make phone call and ended up on stage with us.
As I was waiting in the wings for the start of the second set a girl came through the side door- it's her friend's birthday, she's in the 3rd row in a white t-shirt. What a gift for Pete! So we're playing 'Happy Birthday' (badly in my case) and we're only 5 minutes into the second half... a radio-miked Richard ran around the audience during his 'Shake your tail feather' solo and at some point in proceedings I managed to get the band playing the riff from that well known Blues Bros. number 'Black Night' for a reason that escapes me just at the moment. At the end of the show with Pete & Michael already on stage for the encore we sneaked around the back and sat out in the audience watching- it was that kind of night. A quick drink after the show ('meet the audience'!) and then it's time for the inevitable visit to the Chinese takeaway. I was outside looking around- Union Jacks everywhere yet if go just a few hundred yards down the road you're surrounded by Tricolours. A strange moment- I'm English, with an Irish name, surrounded by English flags and Irish accents.
Dave Land appeared next to me. 'Don't worry dear boy, depression is just a state of mind'.
'I can't believe you've just said that!' said Squirrel, collapsing into laughter.
Back at the guest house the flickering EXIT sign looks a bit too sinister for comfort. I was sharing a room with Gary who found a large creepy-crawly in his bed (urgh!); suddenly I wished the bar was still open. Or that our flight was just about to leave. Or something. Like I say, it's great to be in showbusiness.
6.30a.m. Monday and, incredibly, we're all awake and down for breakfast. And, incredibly, Squirrel's drunk. He's just drank the remaining Bushmills. Really. Back to blighty then- let's hope no-one's 'unfit to travel'...