...and there it was- gone. 6 gigs in 3 days, and with what feels like a hundred memories flying around in my head I'm sitting here wondering how I can best tell the story here. Day-by-day seems to be the way methinks:-
Arriving at the theatre to the unmistakable smell of menthol and cold cure can only mean one thing- Mike's voice hasn't improved. He's had a throat problem on and off for a while and got through last night's show more-or-less in one piece but it's got the better of him today which means Pete's doing tonight's shows with Mike hopefully well enough to come back tomorrow. Pete normally plays Jake in the show but he's Elwood tonight so sound check mostly consists of us running through the 'Elwood songs' for his benefit. We then go to the backstage office to talk through a few points of the show before it's time to get ready for the 5.30 performance. Pete mused on whether or not it was safe to leave the window open; it's got bars on it but could a small person get through? 'All you'd need is a dwarf on a trampoline' says Dave looking all too serious. The window gets closed.
There's not many people in for the matinee (the upstairs is empty, the downstairs about 2/3 full) but we play ok; it's always hard to get going in front of a half full (should that be half empty?) room but Pete gets into his 'new' role and spirits are high for the evening show which has a much healthier crowd with some familiar faces among them- Big Andy with his rarely-seen wife Mel, ('Mrs. Big') Paul the shop guv'nor with his wife Julie and daughter Charlotte, Ian the shop Saturday boy, my old mate Brent... even Boxing Bob Newcombe shows up (he and his red bus got us around the country on many occasions; he also has the most crushing of handshakes which I'd almost forgotten about- not a good thing to get involved in before a gig!) which all bodes well for what turns out to be one of the best shows of the week. There was an anxious moment where the glass of water that Richard keeps nearby for wetting his saxophone reeds got knocked over which resulted in a puddle across the right hand side of the stage (a little goes a long way!) which could have been very dangerous for the dancers; Tracy mopped it up, much to the amusement of the B.B's ('don't we have people to do that for us?') Everybody plays well and it goes down brilliantly- easily the best show of the run so far.
Pre-sound check and with no one else around myself and sound guru Ian Bond busy ourselves playing about with guitar sounds- always a worthwhile thing to do don't you think? I'd used the Baja Telecaster for all the shows up to this point but now it's time to give the '60's Classic a go- we spend a bit of time switching between them to see how the sound changes, coming to the conclusion that the Baja sounds 'bright and clear, like a Telecaster should sound' whereas the Classic sounds 'darker and rockier' which unsurprisingly we both prefer. Boys with their toys eh?
The matinee show starts where the previous night's performance had left off, which is just as well from my point of view as ex-Price manager Eddie was in the audience and I'd have hated him to have seen a bad one. Mike's back as Elwood and sounding as though he'd benefited from last night's break, and Paul the shop guv'nor's son Ross had come along to take some photos which meant us all amassing in the scenery dock in between shows to pose among the equipment there. Pete and Mario had something of a disagreement, most of which I missed 'though the bit that I did hear didn't sound too friendly... back up in the dressing room it's already time for Rob to call us back to the stage for the evening show- 'it's relentless!' exclaimed Richard as he attempted to eat a prawn roll whilst changing his shirt. Shirley's back from meeting her Mum and some work friends in 'Browns' restaurant- they're in the third row of the stalls, I spot them a couple of numbers in, they see a great show that's at least as good as the previous night's one and might even be a bit better... afterwards Squirrel comes into the dressing room looking a bit perplexed, he'd attempted to put his bass away in the dark- as he put it, 'I don't know why they call it a safety curtain, I've just tripped over a mic stand'. Good point.
Everyone's off to a Chinese restaurant but in rushing to get changed I knocked a bottle of beer over and some of it went on the shirt I was going to wear for tomorrow's show; I'd just cleaned that up when I knocked some water over, I get upset and rant at Mike, it's not his fault and I feel bad and try to apologise to him but that makes me feel even worse- Shirley takes me back to the travel lodge where we have a drink and I send a text message apologising to Pete for not going to the restaurant. He sends me a message telling me not to worry, and Dave sends me one to tell me that 'the lads miss you'. I felt really bad then!
Can it really be our last day here already? Yes it can, and sadly it is. Almost inevitably it's pouring down with rain, to such an extent that it's a relief to get back to the 'safety' of the theatre after taking our stuff from our travel lodge to the car. Spirits are high and everybody agrees that it's been a great few days. For tonight's shows Mario's away gigging elsewhere so Pete's back in his more familiar role as Jake- we run through a couple of songs with him and somehow end up playing 'Treat Her Right' which goes back to our days as Dave Finnegan's Commitments; we hadn't played it for ages but it sounds like we play it all the time. Mind you the band sounds like it could play anything you threw at it. Maybe it could!?!
The matinee is an odd one- nearly sold out and with a few people there who sounded as though they'd taken advantage of all day drinking, it's a rough and ready show which goes down well enough but feels a bit below the standard set by the previous 3. In the interval between the shows I go out looking for my Dad who's coming to the final show but I can't find him, I get a bit worried but decide he'll be ok and go back to get changed for the last time. The show's sold out, the crowd are up for it from the word go and the first set flies by in what feels like a few minutes. As the lights go up I see Cliff in the box stage right- he comes in the shop all the time, I hardly know him but he's come to see the show, he's waving, I go out to try to talk to him but can't find my way up to the box. At last I spot my Dad up in the circle, me and Shirley go up there to see how he is, he's a hard man to please but he's enjoying the show. The second set's a killer, everybody on top form and the place is going wild. During the band introductions in 'Sweet Home Chicago' Tracy drags Pete's wife Jayne out onto the stage where she's presented with a bunch of flowers from us all; Pete gets two introductions, one as Jake and one as the show's producer- he gets a bottle of cognac and looks almost overwhelmed. And then, suddenly, it's all over- we're bowing and waving and walking off stage for the last time to the loudest applause of the week. It was a fine show to end our time in Windsor with; as we walked towards the dressing room Squirrel said something like 'what am I going to do at 5.30 tomorrow?' I'd just been wondering the same thing.
In the upstairs foyer there's people everywhere. I find Cliff- he's had a great time, wants to buy me a drink but I'm looking for my Dad. Eventually I find him, he doesn't like much that I do but he liked this and that means a lot to me. I introduce him to Ian- incredibly his Dad and Uncle were in The Merchant Navy with my Mum and Dad over 50 years ago. It's a great life sometimes, and this was one of those times. Fantastic.
I'm so lucky to be able to play music. I'll never ever take it for granted.