Steve’s Gig Diary: 2003 E-Live
Thursday 25th September 2003, Manchester
I arrive at Gary's house at the appointed time to find there's nobody home. A call from Duncan reveals all: " er... we spent a bit longer in the guitar shop than we intended". When they finally show up at Dane Road I present them with copies of our brand new CD Solid States which is still at least warm off the presses. I picked the stock up yesterday at a high security undercover motorway service station rendezvous with Dave Law. We only just had it in time for the trip, next time we'll not cut it so fine, just like we'll be happy with the sound-check and will go to bed early enough the night before the gig. There's always a first time for everything.
Lunch at The Bridge Inn and another RMI adventure begins to happen. We go and pick up the van having had two pints each, and thus smelling strongly of Boddingtons Ale, which must have filled the van company with a lot of confidence as they handed over the keys to their brand new vehicle. In the hall at Gary's stands an absurd soft toy lion about three feet long, guarding the guitars. He had apparently been destined for the local tip, but we load the guitars into the van and it seems a shame to leave him behind. Give a lion a job and he's a happy lion. He's soon christened "Roary" after a brief and predictable spell as "Leo". He's along on the trip to look after the backlion and guard the van. I need some replacement snare drum heads before the performance and we wisely decide to get this done immediately rather than wait until we're in the nether regions. (a good thing as it turns out, there are no music shops in Eindhoven, and the other drummer on the bill has an electronic kit ). I complete the purchase of the heads and a new cymbal stand in record time at the local friendly music shop in Sale and it's off to The Greenhouse to load out the gear. Our new economical live set-up is a blessing at this stage, and if anyone ever again asks why the Mellotron no longer travels with us, we'll just show them the harrowing yet hilarious film of Gary and I struggling to get it down the ancient iron staircase at the Greenhouse and not end up in traction.
One load out later and we're on the way along the M62 to Hull for the ferry to Rotterdam that departs at 2100. This route means that we avoid the horrors of the M6, M1 and M25 and will have relatively little driving to do at either side. Our motorways have steadily gone from the sublime to the ridiculous and the final insult is the commissioning of electronic notice boards full of patronising information such as "Take Extra Care Through Roadworks" and "Think. Don't Drive Tired" which doesn't even not make grammatical sense, like. That and the fact that although you're supposed to be able to do 70mph, we once travelled all the way from Birmingham to Manchester at 30mph and for no apparent reason other than that someone somewhere with the power over all of these message boards is taking the piss, big time.
The M62 is fine today though, and we reach the ferry port in good time. When we first went to Holland in 1997 the ferry cost us about £70 all in for a van with six people in it. The following years has seen the emergence of such blatant price-fixing between the two operators that it's laughable. Booking a flight on the Internet there are many bargains to be had, but try booking a ferry for your modest little band van. The "rival" websites even look as though they have been designed by the same person and even use the same booking software. The prices are needless to say, identical. A band transit van is now absurdly classed as a "freight" vehicle regardless of contents or purpose, which also adds an extra charge. The upshot of this, is that I have been given a quote for an "all-in" lowest price by the freight manager himself. It is with no little annoyance then that when we present ourselves at the desk in their dismal office, a guy with an attitude immediately tries to charge us another £100 odd on top of the extortionate £610 we're already paying. I naively thought that in this day and age there might be a record of my booking, but he seems to have trouble finding it on his 1980's styled computer. Although the office is still in the dark ages, it's interesting that somehow their prices have managed to keep pace with modern developments.
He keeps telling me "this can't be right" when I show him the price and reference numbers I've helpfully typed out and luckily brought with me. I keep saying "that's the price I've been given, and that's the price I expect to pay" We could be here all night. Half an hour later, a transaction that should have taken five minutes is finally complete. Our man makes a quantum leap and finds the "scroll" button on his keyboard, where lower down the page, hey presto, there's all the information he needs. Wonderful.
Outside in the queue for the boat, our van is parked behind the oldest car in the world. Really. Gary gets talking to the custodians of what looks like a steam engine on giant wheels, atop of which is a carriage to seat two. It was built in 1803 and is on its way to an exhibition in Belgium, alongside a similarly proportioned attempt at a bus, built twenty years later. By the time we emerge from the freight office they've already boarded. Even the oldest, most unwieldy car in the world had less trouble getting on a bloody boat than we did.
Once we're aboard though, the facilities are great and we have the added privilege of dining and drinking in the freight driver's bar and restaurant away from the riff-raff and human detritus that one often finds on such excursions. The food is self-service, freshly cooked and great, and what was looking like a long night is getting shorter already. Duncan and I go up to the "sundeck" in the wind and dark to watch the English coast disappear. Gary joins us later and spends a leisurely 12 seconds taking it all in. "Right, done that" he says before scurrying back inside to try and forget he's on a boat. A few beers later and we turn in, having a least been afforded the luxury of individual cabins for our £610.
Friday 26th September, 2003, A Ferry, The Sea.
I'm woken at six a.m. by a flurry of harp music and a sexy female voice on the speaker in the cabin informing me that breakfast is being served. Half an hour later we're tucking into a great full English breakfast as the industrial landscape of Rotterdam looms into view. It looks just like Teesside. The journey to Eindhoven is a doddle. I'm driving this stretch and in no time we're into the city and heading for the Holiday Inn. We find it but unaccountably turn onto a "pedestrian and cyclists only" road instead of the hotel car park. We are about to hit a very low concrete underpass and decide that a U-turn might be a reasonable idea at this point. This is not easy as the flow of pedestrians and cyclists continues totally unabated. Nobody slows down, swerves out of the way or even stops to laugh at our predicament like they would in England, they carry on as if nothing was there. We do our U-turn very slowly for fear of being all of a sudden invisible. This is the start of the RMI "Dutch missing gene" theory, which for reasons of national security must remain shrouded in scientific mystery for now.
U-turn successfully completed, we check in to the hotel and leave Roary the Lion in charge of the van. In my room I get to work on the snare drum but have to call on Duncan to help me out with his tools. It takes a while but we don't want to tighten it too hard in case the whole thing gives out. I remove the old drum skin, it must have been there for about 12 years or longer since I nicked the drum from the BBC concert orchestra's store cupboard (an action for which I received divine retribution shortly afterwards with the disappearance of my own beloved piccolo snare from our rehearsal room).
We then head out into the sunny afternoon of downtown Eindhoven looking for guitar shops and CD stores. I pick up a couple of CDs including Roland Kirk's "I, Eye, Aye" which coincidentally, is an RMI term of general agreement, derived from our Northern roots. It usually follows a belch, and would correctly be written "aye, aye, aye" with each member contributing an "aye" in turn. For the further information of the fascinated reader, farting is an entirely different matter within the organisation and must be accompanied by the traditional cry of "slips" (which we take to be some sort of Cricketing allusion along the lines of "catch that"). In cases of extremely voluminous trouser jazz an announcement is not deemed as necessary or appropriate.
We eventually give up the ghost on our hunt for guitar shops, as the nearest we got was sheet music. Instead we retire to a pavement café for a mid afternoon meal in the surround of the pleasantly bohemian old town. Our observations lead us to conclude that whilst Dutch women are largely very attractive they do have very small bottoms, but nevertheless the sight of them riding up and down on bikes is indeed one which is pleasing to the eye. The café bill settled, and our anthropological studies over for now, we search seemingly forever for a supermarket to buy the tour essentials of bananas and water, and post gig beer supply. There are plenty of shoe shops though...
There's more rest and recovery before we head down to the hotel bar for a meal. We call Kees the concert organiser to let him know we're here and we meet him and his wife in the bar for a half hour chat. The beers start to go down too well and we end up in bed later than planned.
Saturday 27th September 2003, Holiday Inn, Eindhoven.
Up for a rip-off Holiday Inn breakfast, not included, and not a patch on the food on the boat. Gary only wants a coffee and has to ask to get his room taken off the list of breakfastees in case he's charged £14 for a caffeine shot.
We make the short trip to the venue, the Technical University Auditorium, after relieving Roary of his night watch sitting at the wheel of the van with a big daft grin on his face. He did look quite imposing from a distance though, like a scarecrow. At the venue we set our stall out quickly and efficiently, I'd already prepared price stickers and descriptions of the RMI CD's on offer, although these were to be altered throughout the day with cheeky additions (Frozen North " Like your first girl..." Courtesy of a visitor to the stall, that was). We're placed next to Mick Garlick, 'Sequences' magazine stalwart and all round good guy. He keeps us well entertained throughout the day, ("it's like sitting next to the Troggs" anon band member) especially with his tales of the latest internet sex crazes. We remark that he appears to be remarkably well informed on these "happenings"...
There's a steady stream of visitors to the stall, Gary and Duncan stand back as I go into "meet the public" mode. I just try and engage each visitor, so that they'll feel comfortable that they're making the right purchases. It is ultimately the CD sales that will make or break the trip, we agreed the gig fee with Kees and Ron long before we found out that most of it would disappear into the pockets of P&O.
I'm offering signed copies to all and sundry, much to Duncan's mock annoyance. It's good to make first hand contact with people who have enjoyed our music, and several familiar faces like Quirine and Harry who attempted to get us pissed on Bock beer the last time we played in Holland. Quirine remarks on how slim and fit I'm looking and I have to agree with her. (actually she bursts out laughing when she sees my growing stomach and embarrasses the hell out of me, although later on she tactfully says I looked much slimmer onstage in black.) Gary and Duncan catch parts of the other acts while I continue to look after the stall. I don't really want to hear anything before we play anyway.
The afternoon concert by Michael Stearns is over a lot later than scheduled for whatever reason, and we realise that as the last act we're already up against "festival time-lag". We clear the stall, and start to load in the gear from the van. I try and set up bits of the kit while we're waiting for the stage to be cleared. My temper takes a tumble when I realise our solitary backline request (a piece of carpet large enough to take the drums to stop them moving around on the wooden stage) has not been met and I'm offered a couple of wholly unsuitable alternatives before giving up and hoping for the best. There are only three sections in the set that feature the drums so we might be OK. If it was a whole set, forget it. Next time we'll bring our own carpet. Maybe I'll get a Greg Lake style Persian rug complete with roadie...
The auditorium is impressive, modern and acoustically designed. There are large reflective metal panels strategically placed to focus and carry the optimum sound to the audience, and the PA speakers are distributed from the front to the back of the hall. The only major sound worry we have is the horrible squeaking on Gary's guitar whenever he turns up the volume to the level he needs. We find out later that this has happened before when they've used guitars in the hall, and that we could have run the guitar signal straight to the PA to prevent this, but nobody told us. The missing gene theory again. On the kit front, I tighten the snare up now that it's had a day to bed in, and for the first time it sounds like a real beautiful, crisp, giving snare. It's a joy to play.
We enjoy a bit of banter with the other evening act, Eric van der Heidjen and friends. Their drummer extols the virtues of an electronic kit, to which I respond "never in a million years mate". I want something that makes a noise without having to plug it in. Like all acoustic instruments the subtleties are endless... I'm sticking with the cavemen.
The soundcheck is a bit messy, but we're reasonably secure that all will be OK. The hall is so well designed that we can't get our backline amps and monitors loud enough without drowning out the PA. We go outside for bananas and water and meet Wouter who has timed his approach for an interview just right. We talk into his minidisk recorder whilst overlooking the campus. He asks some good questions and we give some good answers. We're actively trying to court the Progressive scene and interviews for magazines such as his, help to spread the word.
Then it's back to the hotel for an hour to shower and get ready to perform. We return to the venue at 2045 with our fruit and water before we happen to speak to Jens (from Navigator) who tells us that there's an artists dressing room with drinks, fruit and sandwiches, he's puzzled as to why we brought our own. The reason was that nobody told us. We find the dressing room, grab a few sandwiches for later and leave as we quickly tire of the sound of our own feet pacing up and down.
As we get into the lift up to the stage area Quirine hands us a box of English Breakfast Tea as a welcome gift to ease Duncan's withdrawal symptoms. An Englishman abroad indeed.
Well it's nearly show time at last, and things onstage are not ideal. Someone has unplugged all the cables from the junction box onstage, so that all of the desk channels have to be reconfigured. We're experienced enough to let other people worry about it.
We're kicking our heels onstage behind the curtain and it's speech day out front in Dutch, so they could be talking about PSV Eindhoven's prospects of a Champion's League place for all we know. Then we hear Ron Boots say "from England, RMI" and off we go in time-honoured fashion with the swirling intro to 'Republic' that we've sampled off our own CD. It's the starting point for a new improvisation based around the piece we improvised in 1995. It develops well and gets a good reception, twenty minutes later being largely sequencer based and firmly in the tradition.
We've written a new piece in 'A' minor that has a chord sequence and a tune, and even an acoustic guitar (gasp). It develops into a further sequencer improvisation before descending into a piece in 'E' Minor. This features our famous Guitar, Bass and Drums freak-out now titled 'Bananas and Water'. Gary remarked later that the minute we struck the first drum a few people walked out. Now we know how Dylan must have felt in '66. What's Dutch for "Judas?"
This section lasts all of three minutes before settling once again to the sequenced familiarity of 'Geiger' bringing this half hour section of the concert to a close. I'm chatting between pieces into a radio microphone, and as usual, rambling a bit. I introduce the biggest departure from the Electronic Music "norm", a new piece we've called 'Damo' in tribute to the legendary Can vocalist Damo Suzuki. It's a piece we're hoping one day he'll come and sing with us. For me this is a totally enjoyable piece to play because there's something physical about grooving behind a drum kit that you just can't get from electronics. It has plenty of space and depends entirely on the feel of the repetitive but changing groove. I take time to try and stand outside of myself for a few seconds and take in the event in progress. The older I get, the more I learn philosophically about drumming, which is arguably more important than learning any more technically.
Duncan adds some great Electric piano plinking and Gary's choppy guitar is locked to the hi-hat and snare drum. All of a sudden we hear a roaring sound that I take to be one of Duncan's attempts to emulate the late period Irmin Schmidt polyphonic sound. He's simultaneously looking at the monitors thinking "where the hell is that coming from?". At first we put it down to Roary the Lion, who is lurking onstage within the drum kit with a daft grin on his face. Later investigation reveals that the microphone that was under the cymbal I was using on this piece, must have been swapped with a guitar channel in the big junction box mix-up and therefore ended up with a load of reverberation all over it. The advantage is that it stops very neatly at the end of bars when I go back to the hi-hat so it sounds intentional. You just never know what's going to happen.
We end the piece neatly after hitting the skids a little towards the end, and it gets a very good response. I need a drink and decide to open a beer, whipping the opener I keep in my pocket out and opening in such an instant that it gets a response from the audience. The drummer's survival kit: drum head tuner and bottle opener. Never leave home without them. Back to sequencing for the final section of the concert, which starts with some layered, improvised patterns set up by Duncan and embellished by yours truly. We now use a Maq 16 sequencer each and therefore have killer sequencing potential. Virtually all of the sequencer rhythms we play live are improvised and it can be hard work, but we usually emerge with something we've not heard before, thus maintaining the all-important random element.
After the energy surge of the first hour and ten minutes, I'm suddenly hit by a wave of exhaustion and also perhaps conscious of the advancing clock, I back off a little in the closing improvs, but I'm more than impressed with our professionalism when the last chord of our closing set piece 'God Of Electricity' resounds around the hall at exactly eleven o'clock. We've delivered a ninety-minute set right on time.
Aware that people have trains to catch we leave it at that and are pretty pleased with a good all round set, a good crowd and a good reception. I think we've come a long way and imagine that if we ever had the chance to become "gigged-in" by doing several nights on the trot we could be really something. There's only so much you can rehearse, you've got to do most of your learning on the bandstand (as Miles would say).
The load out's not so bad and we take some very kind comments and good wishes away with us. Back at the hotel it's time to check the recordings from the multi-track and we're pleased with the results. Gary's dwelling on the squeaky bits of the guitar, but there's plenty of good stuff too. He's dwelling on the bad aspects like we all do in our quest for perfection. We're really too exhausted to have too many beers but a little herbal enhancement opens up the music very nicely until we finally retreat at a civilised 3am for a well earned sleep, mosquitoes permitting. It ain't much fun when the little bastards zip past your ear.
Sunday 28th September 2003. Holiday Inn, Eindhoven
An extension to the check out time is called for and we leave at 2pm after a very leisurely morning. We go to a local café for coffee and a bite before embarking on the trip back to Rotterdam, but this time it's raining and the traffic's horrendous too. We've got plenty of time, but it's moving so slowly there's no telling how long it'll take. To make matters worse we put Five Live on to follow Leeds' humiliation at Everton. 3 goals down at half time and things are not looking good.
When we finally see the cause of the traffic hold- up, a minor shunt involving two vehicles, with two Dutch coppers standing around doing not very much, the RMI "missing gene" theory comes into play once again. We make Rotterdam in good time regardless, but passport control threatens to develop into a pantomime of epic proportions. We need to pass through a gate that is on the other side of a wire fence on a parallel road to the one we're on. We ask the official through the fence how we get to his side of the party. Try as we might we keep ending up via allsorts of circuitous routes on the wrong side of the fence. After several attempts and asking our official yet again, we finally get it right, to ironic laughter at our expense.
Up the ramp of death and onto the boat, we're screaming as we drive about 100 feet up into the air up to the car deck. We're soon settled and enjoying another first class meal in the freight driver's lounge. In the bar, Duncan asks the man behind the bar if we can have the Grand Prix on the big screen that is currently showing some bollocks film to nobody at all. The bar guy has a problem with this for reasons best known to himself, but does it anyway, and within minutes the place is full, and his takings are up as a result. We should have been on free drinks for suggesting it in the first place. Maybe the guy didn't want to have to work too hard or something.
It's like a night out, this ferry lark. We have a good chat about various things under the sun and probably have our most relaxing night yet, now that it's all over. After an unlucky Grand Prix for Jenson Button, we stick around for the lavish 3 million pound TV production of Boudicca, or whatever we're calling her these days. There's some hilariously inappropriate dialogue in modern English that sticks out like a sore thumb, but the whole production justifies itself with Frances Barber's impressive showing in the "getting them out" stakes, although the bloke she was shagging didn't show much staying power. About six hours later when this epic is finally over we hit the cabins once again. This time the bathrooms are shared, with one door each from adjacent cabins. Luckily my fears are not realised on this occasion. There is no hairy 17 stone Belgian truck driver with a smile on his face as I get showered.
Monday 29th September 2003. A Ferry, The Sea, Going the other way.
This time the breakfast call shaking me out of my slumber at 6am is a good deal more brusque, it's that grumpy bloke from the bar, and where's the blinking harp music you peasant? Another fine breakfast (belch. "Aye", "Aye", Aye") and we're back to a grey morning in Hull. But not before we've waited half an hour for some shit-for-brains in a cowboy hat to finally shift his car and let all those vehicles behind him off the boat. There's always one. Customs is no problem and we soar back to Manchester amazed at how many hours there are in the day when you get an early start. We go and take care of the finances and try not to get totally ripped off converting Euros back to sterling, no wonder they don't want a single currency when there's money to be made this easily.
We have Fish and Chips as it seems like an eternity since breakfast, then head off to the Greenhouse to load back in. The guy who arranged to meet us here with the key has completely forgotten, leaving us parked outside for a further unnecessary hour while he gets his shit together.
All this effort just to appear onstage for an hour and a half... but never once have we thought it's not worth it.