It’s a couple of weeks since we started this mini tour. Now it’s finished, and we’re onto other exciting things. It feels strange to recap on events that seem like they happened a long time ago, and literally yesterday, all at the same time.We started in Cologne, having been asked to appear on The Harald Schmidt show. The first Hotel had a surprisingly lifelike, albeit uncommunicative guest waiting for us in the lobby. I introduced myself.
This show is familiar to those in Germany, despite it now being broadcast on Sky, which most people don’t have over there. It follows an American format like ‘Letterman’ with a night-cityscape backdrop, live band and an almost live audience.
The host, Harald, looks like a cross between Sven-Göran Eriksson and a local bank manager. With an easy style, he seems to encourage requests for an easy term mortgage while he sets about defrosting his audience.
He likes his studio to be just above freezing point. I think this must be something to do with the lighting and dangers of potentially leaking make up. But the effect of this rather radical temperature change from dressing room to studio results in serious tuning issues as well as minor frostbite.The band are magnificent; led by Helmut Zerlett and featuring UK legend Sax player Mel Collins, plus other amazing players, they kick the links, and intros into touch brilliantly.
We were asked to play a song with them. As ever the soundcheck was great and changes to the various musical parts were made. The final performance however didn’t really resemble anything we had rehearsed earlier, with a few weird trumpet sharp 9ths being thrown in, that certainly hadn’t featured before. But we started together, and made the obligatory and familiar ‘Muppet nods of approval’ at the end.
What baffled me was that when we finally added up our expenses for this show, we discovered that a large percentage of our so called ‘fee’ was paid back to the production to cover what they laughably call ‘back-line’.That, in our case, consisted of two small floor monitors, a guitar stand and a stool! Along with the Hotel, which we also had to pay for, we finally walked away from this prestige production with roughly €37.23, which immediately disappeared into the black hole of outstanding postage and paperwork. Nice work if you can get it!!
I was still quite nervous as we hadn’t done our first show. We had already done a longish drive, (for us Brits anyway) from Frankfurt where we landed, to Cologne, and now we were into another stretch up to Hamburg for the first gig. I was already feeling lagged and resorted to the ‘walk’ in my head, especially useful when facing traffic jams, tail lights and oncoming rubber necking to check mayhem and gore on the ‘no speed limit’ Autobahns. “Haven’t you got a walk, Jem?” I asked. “It’s very useful in times of stress, and when you don’t want to talk to anyone.”
“Jem?”. Looking behind in the ‘quite seat’, surrounded by boxes of CDs, her head was tilted downwards by 45 degrees into the bright beam of the I phone; tweaking, mailing and constantly changing her profile pictures. That must be hers then.
1.The Stage Club-Hamburg.A rather hip joint where we met our tour promoters, previous publishers, guests from UK, Australia, and Germany, a UK support who we had been asked to include, and Sven, a very sorted sound chap. This was the first show where we had decided to use the lap top for three songs in place of the band we couldn’t afford to bring. Still slightly nervous in case the power failed, quicktime decided to go slow, or the hard drive simply died, I had rehearsed all the possible scenarios and tried to find as many trapdoors as possible. Reassuringly, the room filled to capacity and we decided to do one long single set after the lovely Caroline Harrison had done a few of her willowy tunes.
There was no ‘backstage’- backstage. Our dressing room was at the back of the venue. So when we did get our encores, (yes, I know) we had to walk through the audience. Such a weird experience, and one we knew we had to get used to. You end up smiling foolishly, and applauding yourselves and the surrounding people at the same time, walking back to an area where you still need to hear the clapping, but don’t want to appear that you’re ‘milking it’. Slight ‘teeth itching’ moment but I’m sure no one else felt that.
We drove back to our Hotel which was on the edge of the Reeperbahn district. Cool, vibey, never sleeping and full of naughty lady parts!
We had to park a couple of blocks from the Hotel, with a car full of CDs, posters, t shirts, all exposed to anyone passing by. Inevitably, wearing my ‘Mister Worry Hat’, I spent the entire night thinking that the car was being broken into and all the stuff was being stolen, destroyed or thrown away by German Pimps and other foreign ne’er-do-wells !! This in turn prompted a quick 5 am inspection of our van to make sure all was well. It was here we entered the never ending lift.
Just around the corner from the hotel, on my morning run, I came across one of the previous venues ‘Der Fliegende Bauten’, (The flying Building) where we played with Bob Geldof. Amazing venue with a great foyer and huge Sofa.
2.Berlin-Der Gruner Salon.
Checking our tour manual, we discover that the Hotel was situated 10 Km from the venue. Soundcheck was at 5 30 pm. So just time to drop bags and head into the Thursday Rush Hour of Berlin mayhem. It was on this particular journey that our own personal promoter, who was travelling with us and doing most of the driving, informed us that she had arranged a live radio interview at 7pm with Radio 1, in a studio difficult to find especially in the worsening Berlin traffic.
So our soundcheck was done with stress and threats of cancellations until finally we all piled into a taxi to take us further across town to do the session.It was so worth it, and Jem was fab. We played one song unplugged and fell back into the cab rushing back for the second gig.
Here again no backstage and nothing resembling dressing rooms.
We had to be content with the food storage area next to the bar, containing a large noisy chest freezer, external heating pipes and excessively bright lighting.It got so hot at one point Jem resorted to sticking her head into the freezer to cool down. And we hadn’t started yet! Our first gig of two sets; We were still testing the song order and checking what worked, and here, we had no piano. But seeing the audience sitting in large comfy chairs and settees, it was a great relaxing lounge atmosphere which, as the before, encouraged two very lovely encores at the end, a couple of awkward yet appreciative strolls through the audience, and meeting some seriously cool Berliners.
3.Bad Homburg, near Frankfurt.
Today was my birthday and we had a long 6 hour drive to do. But a great start with cards smuggled from home,a few daft gifts, and a seriously decent breakfast in the ‘out-of-town’ Hotel.
Finally arriving at the venue, we discovered it to be a Kulturbahnhof (Railway station now used for concerts, and the arts)- amazing!! I think we were the first to perform in their small theatre concert room, and we met the two boys who were doing our sound for the night. Sweet chaps who seemed keener and preoccupied to spend their time neatly unravelling cables, carefully positioning microphones and opening random boxes than actually getting any sound up. Needless to say the soundcheck was starting to get somewhat drawn out, and as has happened many times before, the request for some reverb sent them into a serious tail spin, and furious, panicky knob-twiddling. Meanwhile, our promoter was hustling us to finish as doors were looming and we still hadn’t checked the piano (a Grand this time) and the laptop band. It’s at times like this Jem is magnificent. I revert to an inpatient, tutting, sighing idiot, foaming with indignation, and saying, sotto voce; “We are doing it as fast as we possibly can, so please shut up, mind your own business and leave us to it!!”
She reassures calmly and just turns to me raising her ever patient eyebrows, and we just carry on.
I had forgotten that it was my day, and carried on as usual, with the pre show ritual of noodling, changing, hair fluffing and the like. We got the call to start, and as we walked through the audience this time (still no backstage!) they stood, turned and all sang “Happy Birthday” to me!! What a surprise and so very unexpected. We arrived on stage as though we had already done the show. What a lovely load of people and a complete sell out to boot!It got better; A cake with a single candle appeared towards the end, and as I stood by the door where Jem was signing and smiling for pictures, I collected some very cool gifts of wine, guitar strings and chocolates, and an engraved Pen from the concert organisers.
Next; Day off in Frankfurt, a trendy Hotel, Sushi with some of our English chums, and an expected tantrum.
To be continued…..