Thursday, June 05, 2008

Devils in skirts

If you've been following my mis-adventures with The Chicago Blues Brothers lately you may recall a show we played in the South of France last month for the Chivas/Ricard company. We must have done something right as we were invited up to Scotland yesterday to play another corporate show for them...

11.30 a.m. and I'm in a cab heading for Heathrow Airport. It's a lovely morning and Dave the cab driver seems a nice enough chap. He used to work with his hands- 'tiling, that sort of thing'- but injured himself, had to give up, and has been driving a cab for a living ever since. 'There's not a day goes by that I don't miss it' he says ruefully; for one awful moment I have visions of him locking all the doors and turning onto the M25 at 100 miles per hour, happy to have someone to listen to his story as we go around the never-ending motorway at over twice the speed limit until the car runs out of fuel and I escape to tell my story on the news that evening.

This, thankfully, didn't happen.

Instead he drops me off at Terminal 5 and I go inside; almost straight away my phone goes, it's Pete asking where I am and could I call Mario and Tracy to see if they're there yet- yes, of course I can. It turns out Tracy's a way away yet but Mario's walking towards me as we're on the phone to each other. With Mario's assistance I brave the automated check-in process for the first time (get a grown-up to help you etc) then take my guitar over to the outsize baggage area. The man on the conveyor belt (well, not actually on the conveyor belt but standing next to it checking baggage in. You know what I mean!) has a lanyard around his neck with his security pass on it; written on it are the words 'N.A.S.A. FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION' several times. He tells us we're travelling on the right day, tomorrow's going to be really busy with 'container flights from Africa and everything'. We go through security to the departure lounge, they make me put my toothpaste in a see-through plastic bag and confiscate my deodorant with the words 'don't worry, you can buy another one on the other side'. I'm asked me to look into a camera- an oddly sinister moment- then to take my shoes off to go through the scanner. The 'other side' turns out to be pretty similar to any of the big shopping centres that we're all familiar with these days- but it has to be said that as a building Terminal 5 is very impressive indeed.
Did you see that blonde earlier?' 'Yeah, big guy, hairy arms, tattoos'... that'll be the rest of the band then. It's the usual people in the usual places, but with one unusual difference- Squirrel's detained elsewhere so Pete's depping for him on bass. When I first met Pete he was bassist in The Immediate (a band which also featured my long-time guitar obsessive buddy Paul Cope and vocal hero John Saxon) and he played for The Price in one of our reunion shows a few years back. He's borrowed his son Adam's Epiphone Thunderbird bass for the occasion which I'm told is housed in a flight case that big enough for most of us to live in. Excellent. The flight's delayed but other than that is fairly straightforward (good!) and all our baggage arrives in one piece- I must admit recent stories about the problems at Terminal 5 had got me worried- with the bass case every bit as excessive as promised (put it this way- it was big enough for Pete to pack all his clothes in it too!) Outside there's a (very) large Maynes coach to take us to the venue, driven by Andy who seems to be a very friendly, helpful fellow- he makes us all coffee (I told you it was a large coach!) before we get underway. There's a traffic jam on the road out of the airport, it takes ages to get out to the 'Welcome to Aberdeen City and Shires- a brighter future' sign on the A96 but we get there in the end. It's an hour or so on that road before we head into the countryside- and what countryside it is, rolling off into the distance and beyond with only pylons and wind farms to suggest that people have been there at all. Amazing.
'Welcome to Moray- malt whisky country'. That's more like it- we pass signs for Glenfiddich before arriving at Glenlivet on the edge of The Cairngorms National Park. We're playing at The Glenlivet distillery at a corporate event for their Venezuelan heirachy (no, I'm not making this up. I'm not actually sure that I could make this up!) which promises to be a night to savour in the 'bizarre gigs that I've played' stakes. The stage is all set up ready- I've got a very loud Fender Twin Reverb to use (remind me to ask for a smaller amp next time) and we spend most of the soundcheck attempting to control our onstage volume so that everyone can hear both themselves and the rest of the band.
We're not due on until '10.30-ish' so there's plenty of time for a walk and a look around. The distillery is open to the public so there's plenty to see and it's a nice evening to be out and about. A reminder of how far North we are comes with the news that it doesn't get dark until getting on for 11 o'clock at night; I remember my Mum telling me tales of her time in Scandinavia when she was in the Navy and how at certain times of the year it only got dark for a very short period of time, if at all (Pete took the accompanying picture on his phone at around 10 o'clock- see what I mean?)
We're using a room adjacent to the stage as a dressing room where there's plenty of food and, you've guessed it, whisky to amuse us. 'I'd better not drink any more of that' said Ian before pouring us both another one. Good point, I shouldn't have another one either- but it's sometimes very difficult not to isn't it? (Isn't it? It can't be just me that thinks that can it?!?) This can be a dangerous situation at the best of times, but at corporate events such as this which are the very definition of 'hurry-up-and-wait' it can be particularly perilous as we shall see... Dave and Richard are busying themselves writing out new charts of the horn parts for the show, Tracy's on the floor doing some scary looking exercises (oo-er etc) and the atmosphere's good, albeit with an air of 'let's get on with it please' about it.
At last we're on. We start with 'Peter Gunn' and a large be-kilted Venezuelan man starts dancing on the stage with us. He starts lifting his kilt up at the audience- who'd have predicted it eh?- and soon they're all at it. All the one's that I saw were wearing underwear which was something of a relief to say the least, although what we saw was bad enough... Tracy's getting more than her fair share of attention but is more worried about her monitor not being loud enough, Pete's doing a great job on bass and we're going down very well indeed, especially given the fact that we were told that no-one danced to the previous evening's band. And talking of dancing- during a particularly eventful 'Mustang Sally' we (myself, Pete, Tracy, the two brothers and at least one audience member) found ourselves sitting along the front of the stage during Richard's sax solo. Suddenly Ian appeared next to him and started doing what might best be described as 'The Office dance' whilst most of the audience seemed to be rolling around with their legs in the air. Isn't drinking brilliant eh? We encore with 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' and escape back to our room before somebody in the audience thinks of taking their underpants off. A good gig.
Our hotel's in Elgin which is about a 40 minute drive away- it's still quite light even 'though it's dark (if you see what I mean) and spirits are high. A deer runs out in front of the bus and Ian ('I was dancing like that years before that bloke on the telly') sings 'oh deer what can the matter be? right on cue. He also tries to get us all to look in the sky for the Northern Lights... The Laichmoray Hotel is a good choice- I got a four-poster bed!- 'though we're only going to be there for around 6 hours as our bus to take us back to the airport is due at 7.15 a.m.
Morning arrives all too soon but we're all in the bus by 7.30, and Neil the driver gets us to the airport by 8.30. Pete gets asked if there's any weapons in his case- he says there is, the mood changes dramatically, he says it's a bass guitar and he thinks of it as a weapon... I have to take my shoes off again and Marc's tube of hair gel gets confiscated- brilliantly he asks to use some before it goes. It's a smaller aircraft this time and it's a bumpier flight, especially the landing 'though we fly in over London and along The Thames which almost takes my mind off the turbulence.
Although we left from Terminal 5 we arrive back at Terminal 1- Pete offers to drop me home (good man!) so I join the lads on the shuttle train back to pick the car up. I kept thinking I recognised the chap sitting a few yards away from us but couldn't place him- as he walked off I said to Pete- 'I've just worked out who that guy in the stripy shirt is!' And I had- it was Steve Walwyn, the guitarist in Dr. Feelgood, who by now was queuing up for the lift ahead of us. I'd liked to have gone over and introduced myself, but didn't- it's really hard being shy sometimes. Then again, given the extrovert behaviour of the previous evening, maybe it's not such a bad thing after all?

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