Quaint ramblings and occasional reflections of a journeying Aussie musician...

24 May 2007

On Tour

...so here's the next instalment - no dates, can't remember em, don't matter anyway!....

MJ TOUR GIG 6 – Bournemouth

After the gig we cab it to the hotel which turns out to be a typical English seaside affair; carbon copy of Fawlty Towers, complete with Portuguese ‘Manuel’ who stayed on at the hotel bar well into the morning. The band were there first, watched everyone come in, and when everyone peeled off to sleep at an un-civil hour we were the last in classic muso form….

MJ TOUR GIG 7 – Plymouth

It’s a four hour drive and in what’s becoming a regular habit, the bus pulls up at the roadside services about half an hour from the venue and takes a forty-five minute break….huh!? We’re pulling in to town and the bus driver says, “There’s the hotel,” as we pass it on the way to the venue….and then when we get out of the bus at the venue we’re expected to go find it ourselves, a foreign suitcase-dragging tribe wandering an unknown town like we’ve just been dropped off some passing spaceship. On finding the hotel at 2pm we’re told there’s no check in until 3. The nearest food, a Chinese restaurant, serves lunch until 2….
On checking in there somehow isn’t a room for your correspondent, as we’re known simply by the name ‘Musician’ followed by a letter which we only realised later on represented the instrument we played (I was somehow Musician K for Keyboard).
Post-show nightlife was a chav-tastic nightmare – a port town I suppose, what does one expect, but then – we pulled up in some horrible bar and all the human flotsam and jetsam on the street was enough to drive me back to the hotel room after not too long… Strong bouts of déjà vu are constant, nearly every day, and this morning I woke up and forgot where I was for a good couple of minutes. There were bagpipes off in the distance and I wondered whether I’d woken up in Glasgow already?…

MJ TOUR 11 – Southend

You know, I’ve completely forgotten the gig, but more importantly, our digs that night was a hacienda looking place at the foot of a runway of some local airport. I got back to my room and Matt rings me and says you know there’s a nightclub rand ere with half price drinks and a truckload of American air hostesses who today have all just pass their exams! Woohoo says the other single guy in the band, but of course the fantasy didn’t quite materialise.
I guess I was expecting the full stereotype; busty uniform, blue shirts, cascading blond locks – we found two Irish lasses fresh out of high school who couldn’t even remember the safety demonstration (‘Two exits at the front’ etc)…..remind me not to fly on your airline…

MJ TOUR 12 – Gateshead

I’d been looking forward to this one for a while, simply for the venue. Don’t know if anyone’s seen photos of The Sage but I have for a while – a silvery slug-shaped building by the river designed apparently on the visual of sound waves and divided into three, the middle section of which was the concert hall. The bus pulled up and it was gorgeous – venue to the right, Newcastle’s iconic through-truss arch bridge to the left and across the river, the city in between. Hmm, curved bridge over water and world-class music venue looking similar and very close to each other – sound familiar anyone?
Tonight’s Travelodge was out in the sticks but everyone was so keen to get into it that we all dropped our bags and cabbed back in. Matt and Mike had done Newcastle before and so recommended us the ‘Jazz Café’, your typical run-down room with local band, late night hang, wouldn’t normally go there unless you were already well plastered but it was that or doof doof nightclub, which we ended up at afterwards anyway.
After much prodding which I shouldn’t need I got to talking with the gorgeous blonde dancer (as opposed to the gorgeous Asian looking one, or the gorgeous Irish one)….and it was all right, I was way too drunk to be nervous but also way too drunk to think of anything interesting to say, and then she’s gone….
We all found the casino but after the usual entry interrogation but no bar, so it’s back to the hotel as the morning glow awoke behind us to the east at around 3.30 – bloody hell, how far north are we? And what day is it again?

MJ TOUR GIG 13 – Liverpool

We’re pulling into town and our eternally grumpy bus-driver is at the wheel ON THE PHONE taking directions, and then as we lug into the venue he pulls away with the boot still open.
But aside from the daily transport palava, there was something quite special about standing there on Hope Street. I wondered how many places in the world one could stand facing a world-class music venue and be equidistant from two cathedrals, one built in the last century, one before. After soundcheck Ollie took us a nice pasta bar round the corner, a little closer to the older cathedral. Less than a block down the road was the arts school John Lennon attended and the building over that was the music school that Paul McCartney attended (or maybe it was the other way around?). The street we ate on was immaculate, sometimes used for TV shows – for an industry town looking grim on the way in, it was a gorgeous area to spend a few hours in.
The venue was beautiful, bit of a Frank Lloyd Wright slash castle influence out front, great hall and the audience were wild, on their feet half way through the first set no less. Damo had secured us some wheat beers after the show which was a bit of a first, to hook into something straight after we come off stage as opposed to waiting around for the bus and then propping up some nondescript hotel bar somewhere, which is what ended up happening anyway….

MJ TOUR GIG 14 – Glasgow

The drives are getting longer, the drinking’s getting heavier and the sleep is getting shorter, but today’s foray was into the welcome unknown. Once we crossed the border, it became quickly obvious how sparse the population must be up in the far north. One’s gaze stretches with the rolling green of the bare stony hills…
You only have to pull up at a venue and see it from the outside to know it’s gonna be a good one, and the Royal Concert Hall didn’t fail to impress. The soundchecks are becoming noticeably shorter and so we managed to foray into the town a little – the architecture is markedly different here. Our tireless MD, after dealing with the multitude through the afternoon, still found the energy to get down to the Clyde river and see a little more than us spaced out bandies did.
It would be an 8AM start for an eight hour drive to Leicester in the morn but that didn’t stop anyone in the post-show expedition – after a couple of bottles of red in Mike’s room, he took us to a nice piano bar to meet a friend of his, and then it was on into the night where we ran into four real young girls on their way to the late night feed where you had to pay before being served. We were all gone – Mike had suddenly acquired a Scottish accent and I was desperately failing to copy him – all of a sudden they disappeared and we stumbled back…

MJ TOUR 15 – Leicester

Two hours sleep later and it’s the longest bus trip of the tour, from the middle of Scotland to the East Midlands (Melbourne to Canberra I guess), and the bus is starting to look quite lived in. Our first stopover must have been the most picturesque I’ve ever seen, the intense green of the hills and the brown glass lake below us.
Leicester didn’t seem much – on what has been the quickest soundcheck the whole tour, we had two hours to kill in one of the least interesting places yet. This East Midlands city however has a large Indian population, and once again Matt knew someone local who knew the best curry house on the high road. And so an idea rumoured amongst the band for a time finally came to fruition and we all got to have a nice sit down meal as a band, all tired and spaced out as hell but thoroughly enjoying the experience.
And so another semi-conscious motorway trip, down the M1 past midnight traffic and road closures and big lights on arcs in one’s peripheral vision and off back home to who knows where, for a day in the sun and washing clothes and tidying rooms before back into it for another week….

17 May 2007

Snapshot - Black Gardenia

Monday, 3pm, a couple of weeks ago...

The black cab pulls up on Dean Street and it’s a white sky afternoon as I drag my gear to the doorstep marked 93. This evening’s engagement isn’t until about nine-ish or whenever the place starts to fill, but on employer’s request I’ve come in a little early today to run some tunes at the club beforehand.
A good knock raises no-one’s attention indoors and the Big Issue guy on the corner says, "You just missed them. A whole lot of ‘em headed off about ten minutes ago.”
Great, so I’m standing there with all my gear on the footpath in gigging gear, pinstripe and hat, all dressed up, seemingly nowhere to go…
Another character emerges from the melee to knock on the same door – ginger hair, earring on the left, shiny purple suit, another one of the characters in this little village. We’re obviously after the same people and I feel compelled to say something…
“Are you after Ronnie?”
“Yeah, you seen him?”
“I think they’re out for a bit. I can call him if you like?”
“No, it’s fine,” says the serious guy in the purple suit, “I’ll come back,” and paces off into the ether.
Perhaps I should ring someone for myself I thought…. And suddenly, before another moment has time to pass, totally out of nowhere this guy appears directly in front of me, no, somehow below me, crouching on the pavement…decked out in fedora, black glasses and grey trenchcoat, my own sartorial selection has somehow caught his eye.
“Excuse me,” he says in some sort of eastern European accent, “are you a jezzmen?”
(That’s why I still love those words, like ‘jazz’ and ‘groove’ and ‘swing’, because people from all over the world pronounce them differently, which maybe says something for the diversity of the music that they describe)
The freelancer emerges from within. “Well, for tonight I suppose I am, yes.”
“Can I take your photograph?”
“Er, yeah, sure….”
….and then swings out one of those old square cameras with the big circular bulb up and off to the side and FLASH, it’s done and he moves to leave…
“Hang on, can I get a copy?”
“Here’s my card.”
…and disappears! As quick as he emerged….

16 May 2007

MJ TOUR, GIG 9 15/5

Band is really starting to come together. Nottingham is orright, a lot nicer than the grimness of Plymouth…there’s a little tram and the restaurants are a bit vibe-ier. Hotel is once again a good walk away, and on check in, my designation, as dictated on the fax from the production company, had moved on from the other day as ‘Musician K’ to ‘Keys 1234567789’. Are our real names too hard to understand? ‘I am not an animal! I am a human being!’….
Same after show carnage at the nearby pub, joined by everyone this time. The presenter of the show is Jeffrey Daniels – ‘A Night To Remember’ was one of his hit singles as he used to be in a band called Shalimar that I don’t think anyone remembers funnily enough. Part of his nightly act is a little reminder of what he did where he sings and dances a little bit from it. So sure enough, we’re all sitting around in the pub with this little music show on in the background and up comes the film clip for it and we all flock to the TV for a laugh….

04 May 2007

Off The Wall

....so it's 10 to 1 on Saturday morning and I've just finished four days of non-stop rehearsal for a Michael Jackson tribute show set to tour the UK for a month starting Sunday (yeah, that's right, tomorrow night....). It's been twelve and sometimes fourteen hour days, today with no break for your correspondent, but well worth every hour - top fellow musicians, excellent musical director and great material, starting from Jackson 5 right up until all the syrupy ballad stuff (cos lets face it, when's the last big MJ hit you heard recently? Bout ten years ago maybe?).....
But let me tell ya it hasn't quite had that pop produced slickness and smoothness to it - all week we've had charts flying in from various parts of the world in various different keys and with parts missing - tonight was the 'dress rehearsal' that didn't even clear the second act and we sightread one of the songs, there and then. Across today's fourteen hours it seemed that every possible combination of random elements that could go awry did so and promptly, but true to form our band of otherwise freelancers marched on with aplomb. A recurring phrase amongst the guys was that we don't open till Sunday....
....the old muso joke of dodgy innuendo on the song titles is rife ('I Want You Back' becomes 'I Want A Smack', 'I Want Some Crack' et al- any entries in the comments are most welcome)....but not too loud, cos the show has been put together half by the production company I'm working for and half by a squad of MJ ultra-die-hard fans who have taken their local tribute show of twelve years running* to the the stage for the first time. If all goes well over the next month then talk has arisen of it touring Europe and maybe even settling into the West End somewhere? Who knows....
....loads of Aussies in the fray, including the two male leads, the guitarist who got me the gig and our unflappable MD who's worked on a ton of name shows we all know (anyone who wants comps for Dancing in The Streets when the tour wraps up, give us a shout) and kept such a cool head under enormous pressure and disorganisation.....
.....a mention of Jeff Harvey came up in the conversation (for those that don't know, bandleader on a famous Oz TV show), and as we were playing, that's exactly what it felt like, a TV show band with all the lights and stars out front....oh well, good reading, good experience.....a good honest job that's paying well** and that other stuff might come from, maybe.....
.....killer grooves, real nice guys in the band, ridiculously hot dancing girls.....it's all right for now I guess....

* apparently held every year on 'MJ Day'; anyone know when that is exactly?!
** The Old Zen Master turns to the window looking out to the backyard and sighs with relief, for a time at least!....