Saturday, September 13, 2008

'Oh no- not the South of France again...'

I've just returned from playing another show for the Ballentyne company, on the Isle Des Embiez off the South of France. We did our first show there for them in April this year (see 'Taxi to the terminal zone' posting for the full gory story) and it was great to be asked back to play there again. Surely something like this can never become 'routine' can it?
Well I don't know; I guess even the most exotic location becomes relatively ordinary if you live and/or work there?

Richard and I left his house around 9.30 yesterday morning; around 10.10 we pulled into car park A at Stansted Airport, with Pete and Mike arriving 5 or so minutes later and parking next to us. The roads were clear but the journey should have taken nearer to an hour- I think we may have broken the speed limit? A ride on the shuttle bus gets us to the terminal where we meet up with the rest of the band; it's another A-team show except for Steve depping for Dave on trumpet, and Tracy being absent as she's away singing with Band Du Lac who feature lesser-known Ripley blues guitarist Eric Clapton among other luminaries. (I am outraged! How could she have chosen him over me?!? Answers on a postcard please, usual address... actually thinking about it, it might be better for my fragile confidence if you don't answer that question!) We're aided and abetted by Pete's mate Mike who works at the airport; he attempts to fast track us through, but check-in still takes a while, with your humble narrator being singled out for special treatment as I'd inadvertently left a key ring in my trouser pocket. Our flight's delayed from 12.30 to 14.10; according to Captain Morgan (isn't that something to do with rum?) it's all due to 'English air traffic control'. He sounds a bit of a character to say the least, attempting announcements in the most American-sounding French accent I've ever heard but he gets us there without too much trauma ('say mannerfeek!) through there was rather more turbulence than most of us would have liked.
We land at Marseilles Airport at 5 p.m local time, where we're met by 2 un-named taxi drivers holding GROUPE BLUES BROTHERS signs. There's a big car and a small car ('beeg onez wiv eeem' as the driver of the smaller one put it) and we wind our way through the busy Marseilles streets and out along the coastal road, past the hotel in Sanary where we stayed last time and arrived in time to catch the 8 o'clock ferry. Where on Earth had the time gone? We're due on at 10.30... the island looks beautiful with the sun setting over it, we're met there by a bus from the l'Hotel Helios where we're both staying and playing. Sound check is a suitably swift affair- I'm using a Mesa Boogie Mark IV combo which sounds amazing if a little 'rock' for the music we're playing 'though the last thing I'm going to do is complain!
Time to find our rooms- I'm sharing Grand Large 5 with Marc which is more of an apartment than a room, with 3 beds in his section and 2 beds in mine, but there's no time for any settling in as it's straight back downstairs for some food. Being a vegetarian in France is not a particularly easy option- my starter was a sliced raw mushroom with a bit of salad, while my main course was 2 pieces of asparagus with what might best be described as 'left-over vegetables'. Oh well- it's my decision as to what I eat... it was enough to give me a headache, so I retired hurt to my room for some painkillers and to get changed for the gig. It's a 1 hour show for the German contingent of the company which goes well with an audience member requesting 'Rawhide' and another calling out for 'Sweet Home'; 'no problem' says Pete, 'though it turns out they wanted 'Sweet Home Alabama' not 'Sweet Home Chicago'. Did they think we were a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band I wonder? After not playing well at last week's Basildon show I was pleased that I played a bit better this time, but something's still not quite right. Off home to practise then...
With the rest of the lads getting stuck into cocktails I decided to have a relatively early night around 12.45 (I really did have a headache!) When I got back to my room it seemed a bit warm, so I opened the window a bit; I then spent half of the night lying awake wondering where that bloody banging was coming from. Yes, you've guessed it, it was the window moving in the breeze... I got up at 8, just as Marc was off downstairs for breakfast. 'There's no plug in the bath' he warned; there was also no way of hanging the shower hose on the wall which made for an unusually eventful shower with water going everywhere; then again maybe I just wasn't awake properly? Still there's enough non-meaty food for breakfast to cheer me up no end (I wasn't particularly unhappy, but you know what I mean I think?) and we make it to the return ferry in good time. We're met on the mainland by our drivers who negotiate the journey back to the airport in a considerably safer manner than last time... we check in, go through security (it's Marc's turn to get stopped this time, they confiscate his drum tuning keys!) and have a look around the shops. Eventually we're called through; whilst waiting in the queue I suddenly realise that I recognise someone a few people ahead of us- it's Geoff Irwin, who was one of the bass player's in Neck when I worked with them. He was over for a family holiday, and I hadn't seen him for at least 3 years; it turns out he's now working in Ireland (he's from Cork- he once told me he could take me 'to the street Heggarty comes from' and 'show me around the Rory Gallagher bits of Cork'. Excellent!) doing live sound for bands which could prove useful as we're due to be over there for a week or so next February. It was great to see him again, and an amazing co-incidence too- you never meet people that you know in your own area do you, let alone in another country?!?

Our plane took off at 13.20, arrived back at Stansted just before 2 o'clock (they're an hour ahead of us) and Richard and myself arrived back at his house around a quarter to four. We'd been away for around 30 hours, less than 20 of which were spent on French soil. Nothing routine about that now is there?

Pete's put some other thoughts about this trip on our 'band blog' at

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