Arriving at an airport at 6.45 on a Wednesday morning isn't always an enjoyable thing to do; on this occasion it wasn't too painful, and as I picked my way through several gangs of holidaying lads I half expected them all to wearing t-shirts that we'd printed in the shop. (We've been doing rather a lot of that lately!) I was just paying a small fortune for a thimble full of coffee and a plastic croissant from The Stansted Landslide (that's what it said it was called on the till, honest! You may know it better as this...) when a text message arrived from Pete - 'How are you doing mate?' was the cheery question; my reply of 'bored, tired, fed up - usual Wednesday morning, except I'm at Stansted Airport' seemed to go down well. I was sat attempting to drink coffee that was hotter than the surface of the sun when Pete, his wife Jayne and P.R. man Paul arrived. When we checked in with B.M.I. Baby I received the surprising news that I was allowed to carry my guitar on to the aircraft as hand luggage. I don't recall ever being able to do that before, although it may have had something to do with the fact that there were only 30 or so people on the flight. The flight to Belfast passed quickly due in no small part to the latest copy of 'Vive Le Rock!' magazine, and it was strange to walk straight out through arrivals without having to look for outsize baggage. A short taxi ride later we were checking in at The Stormont Hotel - I'm sharing room 234 with Matt who's arrived on another flight, and we've got everything from Them Crooked Vultures and Howlin' Wolf playing on the iPod dock in our room before very long. We're here for a showcase performance of 'White Star', a new musical based on the story of The Titanic. Pete and Paul are involved in promoting this and another show called 'Celtic Dreams' which is also being showcased at the same event at The Andrews Memorial Hall in nearby Comber. The music for the show has been written by Sam Davidson and John Wilson, both of whom play in the reformed version of Rory Gallagher's old band Taste. (John is the original drummer in the band.) I met Sam when we played in Belfast a couple of years ago (click here for the story) and had been given some demo recordings to learn the songs from as well as talking to him a couple of times on the phone. I spent much of the afternoon with Sam at Holywood Studios (which he and John run) going through the multi-track recording of 'The Road To Paradise' deciding which guitar parts we would play live and which ones would be left on the backing track. He also played me some recent Taste recordings - they're about to change their name to WMD and release a new album which judging by what I heard should be well worth hearing.
After returning to the hotel and catching up on some phone calls we all went to The Ganges Indian restaurant in Holywood where my vegetable masala was both very red and very nice. Myself and Matt then spent a couple of hours in the hotel bar (oh yes!) before retiring to our room for some cans of lager (Matt bought them earlier - good boy!) and to watch an excellent live set from Beady Eye on the television.
Hay fever meant that I woke up on Thursday morning with sinus-induced deafness. Matt bellowing 'BREAKFAST FINISHES IN 15 MINUTES!' finally got through to me and a stumble down to the restaurant more-or-less woke me up. A lazy morning followed (good!) with punk rock on the iPod and tennis on the telly before Walter the driver took Matt and myself to The Andrews Memorial Hall for our allotted 3 o'clock arrival time. As we arrived 'Celtic Dreams' were running through their part of the evening so I walked down to the shops to get something to eat. Back at the venue everything's set up and ready to go - we're D.I.-ing into the P.A. rather than using amplifiers and after a couple of run throughs 'The Road To Paradise' is sounding good.
The evening's event lasted about an hour; I was on stage for around 4 minutes, by far the shortest performance I've ever been part of. Pete gave a short introduction during which he referred to the show as 'Maiden Voyage' - looks like he's changed the title? - before leaving the stage. He walks past us with the words 'listen out for the seagulls'; on our cue we walk out on to the stage, pick up our instruments and await the start of the track. As it begins we exchange anxious looks when we realise that our guitars aren't audible - they finally come on during the second verse to our collective relief. Our harmonised solo goes well, and then suddenly the song is over and we've completed our part of proceedings. As we walk around to the front of the hall we smile and shake hands - it went well. Good. With an audience largely consisting of potential investors it was a night to give a good performance, and from what I saw and heard everyone did.
Back at our hotel there's food and drink a-plenty; I'm given a bowl of something that's supposed to be a vegetarian meal although it looks and smells a bit fishy (literally!) to me. I end up with a few roast potatoes, a dollop of coleslaw and, since there's no cutlery left, a teaspoon. Sitting in a roomful of millionaires (well, that's what I decided that they were!) I felt angry, sad, depressed - eventually I retired hurt to room 234 where Pete came and found me, asking if I was alright, looking really worried... yes I'm alright, just want to be on my own for a while. I laid on the bed gazing absentmindedly at an episode of 'The Mentalist' on the T.V. - I reflected on the previous day or so, mostly spent in a very expensive hotel for a few minutes on stage followed by a plate of lukewarm spuds. What was all that about? And why hadn't I noticed how good looking the woman that plays the head detective in 'The Mentalist' is before now?
Matt arrived back in the room and snapped me out of my introspection with the suggestion that we go for a drink. Good man.
As I fought to switch my alarm off at 5.15 this morning I realised that it probably hadn't been a particularly good idea to finish working your way through several pints of Guinness less than 4 hours before you're due to leave for the airport to catch your flight home. Oh well. I shook myself awake and decided that with a flight this early it doesn't matter what time I'd gone to bed, I'd still be tired. Probably. We weren't quite so successful at getting my guitar to qualify as hand luggage this time, although that may have something to do with the flight being nearly full. One of the check-in girls tell me that they can walk it on for me and if there's a spare seat then it can go in that, otherwise it will have to go in the hold. Hmm... I once read somewhere that B.B. King always buys an airline ticket for his guitar in the name of Lucille King and sits next to it during the flight - when I was asked if I'd like to move from my seat in row 19 to sit next to my guitar in row 3 I jumped at the chance. Childish? Me? Yeah, right... as I fastened the seatbelt around it I thought about asking the stewardess to take a picture of me and my guitar for a laugh but instead contented myself with a bleary smile. It's a simple life sometimes.
Just before 8 a.m. I was back at The Stansted Landslide (why on Earth is it called that?!?) paying a small fortune for a thimble full of coffee and a plastic croissant; I then sat in the same seat that I'd been sitting in when I met up with Pete, Jayne and Paul just over 2 days earlier. And so it goes.
I got home just after 10 a.m. - I'll let you know what happens with the projected production of 'White Star' (or whatever it ends up being called) as soon as there's any news...