A hypnotic blend of rhythms, landscapes, tones, colors, styles and moods, with melodies leading the way to certain places that only songs without words can go.
-- Pieta Brown, 2015
Privateering tour, 2013
Cap Roig, Spain 31 July 2013
Wednesday July 31st, our last show and there's nothing like going out with a bang-up day of travelling. We checked out of the hotel in San Sebastian late in the afternoon for the airport where we bid the first of many farewells today to one team of drivers; Eike, Gunter, Bob and Mario. Then an hour plus flight east to Girona where we were met by the other team drivers for an one hour drive to Cap Roig on the north eastern coast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. A beautiful spot of a small out door show. Catering for one last brilliant dinner courtesy of Dave, Chris and Georgiana. Tonight's entrees: whole lobster with drawn butter, roasted chicken and grilled beef steak. Take my word, the lobster was sublime, a dinner to remember them by. More adieus to our brilliant catering chefs and pals, we're all going to miss them. With another hour or so before the show, one by one we made our way around thanking and bidding the crew adios. Everybody feeling the same way, tired and looking forward to getting back to their homes but sad this tour has come to the finish line.
It was a relatively small audience, the amphitheatre capacity less than 2,000. We took the stage at 10 with as much enthusiasm as our first gig back in Bucharest last April. Some technical problems tonight. One particular annoyance was a blast of feedback in our in-ear monitors that was so loud we all had to pull the things out of our ears. A gig where a lot of little things went wrong all on the same night, in equal parts technical and human error due to tiredness. That said, we still enjoyed our socks off and played a final great show. It was good to revisit Shangri La again for an encore especially given the outdoor, seaside setting.
It was midnight when we piled in the Rovers for the hour drive back to Girona airport then more farewells to drivers Bernie, Fabian, Michael and Phillip. Both A and B team drivers are great guys who have made our lives so much easier because of their friendship and driving skills. Thanks for all the miles fellas.
We boarded the Legacy for the last time around 1:30 for the two hour flight to London's Stansted Airport. Ilza our attendant had bottles of iced champagne as we toasted the wrap of the Privateering tour. She also had plates of steaming shepherd's pie and green peas.... Brit comfort food if ever there was. We landed then came the part that nobody looks forward to, saying goodbye to each other. Heartfelt hugs and love all around and it was done. All the Brit boys being driven to their homes, Mike opting to drive himself back to Manchester and John going to Luton Airport where he'll catch a flight first thing in the morning home to Scotland. The Yanks, Glenn, Jim and I, piled in a van with all our luggage and headed to the Sofitel Hotel at Heathrow. Stansted airport is far on the north-east side of London probably no longer London at that point and in the middle of nowhere. It took an hour to drive to Heathrow where we checked in. As all three of us are leaving on different flights in a few hours, we said our farewell in the hallway and adjourned to our rooms. I looked at my watch when I got in my room, it was 4:30 a.m. although we gained an hour flying to London so it was really only 3:30 which made me feel a little better. As tired as I was it was hard falling asleep and got a fitful few hours until my wake up call at 7:30. Shower, a last re-shuffle of the bags and straight in to Terminal 5 for another full day of travel; London-New York-Nashville.
I scarcely believe it's the end of the road. I'm thinking back now to last March when I began to gather the instruments I'd be using on the tour, making sure everything was ship shape, compiling lists of strings sets and various bits of equipment that I anticipated needing over the four months. I began to brush up on some of the tunes we'd be playing, both the old ones that I've not had my fingers across since the last tour with Dylan or earlier, as well as the songs from the Privateering album that I'd not played since we recorded them. That month prior to the London rehearsals was like standing at the foot of Kilimanjaro with all your gear, looking up at the peak knowing not only you have to climb it but also make your way safely back down the other side.
This tour, my 9th with Mark since 1996, has been the most enjoyable in every way possible, really the best one we've ever done. The personnel, all hand picked over the years, are now so experienced and fine tuned in what each man and woman does, the tour unfolded beautifully and operated like clockwork. Our catering team, the truck and bus drivers, the band's team of drivers, the pilots and crew of the Legacy, our technical crew, lights, electricians, riggers, sound crew, instrument technicians.... everybody has made these four months an absolute pleasure, more like a holiday than work. These are the people that get the show to each city and make it happen, on time, come hell or high water, every night. They physically work their asses off, often in lousy circumstances and seldom if ever with enough sleep. They are the heroes of this and every tour. My love and thanks to every one. To Paul Crockford, Pete Mackay and Tim Hook who manage the tour, my sincerest gratitude for every detail seen to, crisis averted and day sheet handed. I must now re-learn how to manage my own life again beginning on Thursday. Also, a loud grazie to TC, Tom Calcaterra who has been my guitar tech on most of these tours since 1996. I'd be curled up in a puddle were it not for his anticipating every guitar change, tuning and equipment malfunction. At the end of each tune he hands me the correct instrument for the next, perfectly tuned, guitar cables untangled and pushes me back into the spotlight. Here's to another one Tom, cheers.
Over these many years MK has assembled and groomed one of the finest band of musicians and friends to ever take the boards. I'm immensely proud to be part of this great, funny and massively talented bunch of guys. We all come from very different backgrounds personally, geographically and musically and always pull together to weave a rich fabric. So here's to you all with much love and equal admiration, Mark, Ianto, Glenn, Jim, John, Mike and Guy. I'm already missing you all and look forward to the next time we share a studio floor or stage together again.
A big thanks to the wonderful folks who came to see us over these months of touring. An audience is large and can seem impersonal if you're in the middle of one, but it is always made up of individuals and we've appreciated every single one of you. There were many that made it to numerous shows and a couple of good guys, Isaac Shabtay and Jeroen Gerrits who have gone to the greatest extremes of planning and travel to attend every single show we played on this tour... all 70 of them. Check out Isaac's tour blog at. As I've said before these shows are a two-way street, a give and take between the performers and the audience. Thank you for giving so much to us.
I'm pecking these final tour notes out on the airplane heading back to Nashville from London and will up-load it in my kitchen back home. No sooner than I hit the send button I'll be sipping martinis and having a steak with my wonderful wife in a quiet little bar & grill we frequent, wondering what the hell just happened these last four months.
I already have a few projects to tackle in August, one being a new record with country artist Miranda Lambert. My long time studio and band mate Glenn Worf will be co-producing that album along with Chuck Ainlay who engineers Mark's albums. My family will be taking our usual Gulf of Mexico holiday a little later this summer and we're looking forward to gathering the entire bunch together, soaking in the sun, cooking up beach faire feasts and swimming in the warm Gulf waters. Over these months of touring I've written a handful of new tunes for myself and I plan begin recording this autumn for what will eventually be my own new album. That combined with work that comes in and a couple of projects looming early next year, I'll be keeping myself occupied... guitar in hand.
As usual, this final note from the road will remain here on the front page for a few days then be archived at which point I'll return to my lazy and infrequent notes from home format. Many thanks to you who've read this travelogue and tour journal, I always appreciate your time, interest and occasional notes of approval.
Finally, my fondest love to Mark Knopfler for making this all possible and including me in on the fun for all the years. We did our first recording together back in 1994 and I continue to be challenged, enriched and honoured working with you.
Until next time.....
San Sebastian, Spain 30 July 2013
San Sebastian sits on the border of Spain and France on the Bay of Biscay. Although we arrived very late last night...early this morning, I was up and at it by 10 o'clock aided by the delivery to the room of two, double espresso. I'd been slack the last few days about getting down to the gym, in equal parts to travel schedule, crap gym and laziness. Fully caffeinated, I got myself down there this morning for a good 90 minute push. Beyond that it was a quiet day of practise and re-organising my bags for making my way back home. This is a beautiful city with the beach just down the street, but instead I threw open the French doors of my room and let the day come in to me. Tomorrow, our final day, will be long on travel and short on rest so I simply took things easy today.
Tonight's show was the last of the bullring gis, the Illumbe Bullring. Inaugurated in 1998, it's a modern facility with a retractable roof. It was a beautiful night, the roof was open, the temps were perfect, the band in great form and the audience of 6,000+ was fantastic. It all added up to a wonderful show here in San Sebastian.
We came off stage just after midnight for a runner back to the hotel where we gave the bar a good work out.
Gijon, Spain 29 July 2013
Sunday the 28, still in Madrid, was our last 'day off'. We're all beginning to feel the wind come out of the sails and laid low with the exception of John who flew back to England for the day to play with his wife Heidi Talbot at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Guy rang my room midday and we met for a tapas lunch and couple of creamy Mahou beers. Strangely, 9 out of 10 shops and restaurants in the area were closed for the Sunday but we managed with the help of concierge to locate a great tapas bar just a couple blocks from the hotel. Later that evening we had a remarkable dinner at Madrid's premiere seafood restaurant, Rafa. Lobster salad, freshly baked bread, magnificent olives, the finest shrimp, crayfish and langoustine. One unusual item tried all around the table was barnacles. Very strange looking, you twist them open and hope to avoid the inevitable squirt of the staining dark orange liquid they expel. inside is a cylindrical tube of orange rubbery flesh. It seems only to have been a hit with culinary daredevil Guy F. Known as percebes or gooseneck barnacles, they're hugely popular here in Spain and Portugal to the point of becoming difficult to find. Not my bucket of blood but, for the highly adventurous, give 'em a try. The glasses were never empty of cold Spanish white wine. For an entree I ordered monk fish that was sliced thinly and sauteed... sweet and tender. I did manage to keep dessert at arms length, the evening finished off with a shots of grappa all around. The food was a miracle as was the service. Check out Rafa here: http://www.restauranterafa.es/index_en.html
We decamped Madrid late afternoon Monday the 29th and flew straight north to Gijon, the northern coast of Spain on the Bay of Biscay. Tonight's show was in the open air court yard at the University of Gijon. The weather was mild all day and as the sun went down it cooled to perfection. 9,000 were packed standing in the square and showed us a great time. There is nothing like the Spanish audiences. We played that show with enthusiasm and commitment, Relaxed and sure. An example of how tuned-in this group is happened when Ian mistakenly ended Paraguay two-thirds of the way through and nobody batted an eye. Another great gig.
It was a half hour runner to the airport, a very short hop further east on the north coast of Spain landing at the Vitoria airport where we were met by our team of drivers. It was an hour drive to the hotel in San Sebastian arriving at 2:30 in the morning. We'll spend the last couple of days of tour and play here Tuesday night.
Malaga, Spain 27 July 2013
A late lobby call today, 5:45, to the Madrid airport for a flight due south to Malaga. This is the first time there for us, though Guy recalls playing Malaga with Dire Straits. It's a beautiful seaside city, nearly down to the southernmost tip by Gibraltar. We landed at 7:30 and drove to the venue, Plaza de Toros de Malaga another in a series of bullrings. Even down to the last days, we're still chalking up new statistics in case anyone's keeping score. Tonight's show did not begin until 10:30, the latest show of the tour.
We piled straight into catering where Dave, Chris and George also are topping their own impeccable record with an entree that blew everyone who tried it away. Squid ink pasta and fresh shrimp sautéed in oil, garlic, lemon juice and cream. In fact it was pasta night all around, lamb and spicy beef meat balls in pomodoro over tagliatelle, spaghetti bolognaise and chicken pasta carbonara. From the comments going around they were all winners, but the shrimp in creme sauce got the serious wows. I can't wait to get home and try some of these recipes from the cookbook Guy compiled.
The audience was standing on the dirt floor of the ring and seated in the three tiers of bleachers all around. 9,000 came out to see us tonight, they were crammed shoulder to shoulder on the floor and absolutely roaring in approval after each song. A more enthusiastic or better audience would be hard to find anywhere. We got up there and played like it was the first show of the tour, everyone still itching to get on stage every night. It's pretty amazing after all these shows and months.
After the last encore with the roar of the crowd shattering the night, we did a runner back to the Malaga airport and the Legacy arriving back in Madrid just after 2 in the morning. It's an amazing and lucky life and we're all fortunate to have a slice of it on these tours.
Sunday will be our final day off then it's on to the last three days.
Madrid, Spain 26 July 2013
We packed the bags and de-camped Barcelona arriving midday in Madrid. The sun blazing and low humidity reminded me of where I grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. I love that kind of heat. We checked in at the hotel and cooled our heels until it was time to go to the venue at 7:30
Our usual spot to play in Madrid is the large bullring built in 1929 and still used for that purpose. Our good crew was definitely feeling the heat of a long day and late load in not to mention the culmination of a gruelling tour. Still, everyone was in good spirits as we all are. At dinner Guy presented everyone in the crew and band with the most fantastic gift, a cookbook he'd been working on in secret for months along with our crack caterers. He's been spending a great deal of time in the kitchens of the various venues, camera in hand and cajoling Dave, Chris and George to write out and quantify recipes that they "just make up as they go along". It is beautifully photographed, detailed, printed and bound... a proper cookbook that will find a prominent place in our kitchen. I plan to make use of it straight away as soon as I get home as well as bringing it on our family holiday down to the Gulf of Mexico and give these recipes a test drive. Thank you to the ever brilliant Guy Fletcher for this fantastic tour memento, a gift that will keep giving. The band and crew all gathered round Chris, Dave and George with their cookbooks, pens in hand asking each to sign them. It was like having your mates sign your yearbook at graduation. We're all grateful fans of the three of them and they've looked after us so well these last four months, not just fed us but done so royally and deliciously. Hats off to Dave Eskinazi, Chris Desmond and George Baker.
It was a capacity crowd of 8,500 fantastic Spanish fans tonight and a spirited show from us, not a perfect one but one with a lot of heart.
Over the last few days I've begun to transfer my stage clothes from the wardrobe trunks back to my suitcases and off load a few things I've picked up along the way to my instrument trunks to be sent back to Nashville. We are quickly coming to a close now, just four shows left of this wonderful tour.
Barcelona, Spain 25 July 2013
It wasn't our usual Barcelona venue this time. We played an outdoor, city square show for 5,000+ in Poble Espanyol (Spanish town), an open air, architectural museum, a fabrication of a Spanish town square. Built in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exhibition, it was originally intended to last the 6 months it was needed for that event but instead of being razed it was kept open as a museum. The layout is that of a town square with shoppes and restaurants, in the old Spanish style and is a major tourist attraction.
We're in to the 'late' shows now, a 10 p.m. start. Spanish and Italian culture is that of slow, long and late evenings, dinner commonly not served until 9 or later. Night life carrying on 'til dawn. This was an audience out for a good time tonight, loud, singing along and breaking into the football chant.... Ole, ole, ole, ole...ole, ole. Doesn't look like much in print, but those who've heard it know what I'm talking about. A grand night was had by all... the audience and the band.
Given the layout of venue, we couldn't do our usual runner, instead we hung out in the dressing room for a good hour and a half drinking wine and devouring empanadas, Spanish ham and cold cuts.
We're all savouring these final days and shows of this great tour.
Carcassonne, France 24 July 2013
A luxuriously late lobby call of 5 o'clock this afternoon for an hour flight from Barcelona to Carcassonne, France. We taxied around the Barcelona airport for what seemed nearly that long before arriving at the correct runway for take off. Platters of delicious soft shell crab, shrimp, grilled salmon sushi were devoured in that short flight.
Carcassonne is at the southern tip of France, the first sings of fortification of the hill go back to 100 B.C. by the Romans. The walled city on the hill was founded in the 5th century and has within it's walls a castle, mote and draw bridge and St. Nazaire basilica. Under Napoleon it fell into neglect and ruin. When in the mid-1800s a declaration to raze the ruins drew the anger of many, the mayor of Carcassone lead a movement to have it restored which began in 1853. While the restoration was not as true to the original as it might have been, the walled city took on a new life. The origins of the annual Carcassone Festival began in 1908 when the mayor put forth a proposal that if a play was performed it would draw many people and thus bolster the town's trade. A simple stage was erected, chairs and benches for 5,000 were set up. People took it by storm, a huge success and it has been a yearly even since, with a few exceptions.
And so it was the Carcassone Festival within the walled city that we played. That simple early set up was been transformed to a somewhat modern, outdoor stone amphitheatre seating 3,100. We took the stage at 9:30 with exactly one week left of this tour, still excited and anxious to play. I've gone on far too much over the course of these notes about great audiences and great shows and this was another one of those remarkable nights. Enough said. The first time we've played here and hopefully not the last.
A runner back to Barcelona arriving at the hotel around 1 in the morning with a quick stop in the bar for a short night cap then bed.
Saint Julien en Genevois, France 22 July 2013
Monday the 22nd. It was my birthday. I don't bring it up soliciting good wishes, in fact just the opposite, I tried my very best to keep it under wraps. When you get past a certain point you don't want any fuss about birthdays and beyond that you no longer want to acknowledge them. At least I don't. I'd asked my wife not to tip anyone off out here on tour about it and I certainly wasn't going to say anything.
I got up, ordered a couple of scrambled eggs and a pot of coffee sent to the room. When it arrived the lady who brought it in exclaimed, "It's your birthday!" On the tray was a chocolate drenched cream filled something with a white chocolate slab leaning against it emblazoned with Happy Birthday. After breakfast I opened the computer to check my e-mail and there was birthday wishes from Manfred Frank who heads up the team of drivers that gets us around in those Rovers. I got myself down to the gym and pushed harder than usual for 90 minutes, in denial that overnight I'd added another year to the roster and wined when I entered my age into the treadmill. The kind of numbers I never thought I'd reach but here I am and lucky to be. Later in the day while checking out of the hotel, one by one, everyone of the band wished me a happy birthday. On the plane once airborne, the pilot got on the intercom and made an announcement in the cabin, something we've not experienced before, wishing me happy birthday. Ilza our attendant presented me with another chocolate covered cake and the song was sung. So much for keeping it quiet.
Tonight's show was in Saint Julien en Genevois, France part of a three day guitar festival called Guitares en Scene... Guitars on Stage. When we arrived at the venue there was a lovely bottle of Burgundy Chablis for me from a friend with more birthday wishes. It will be chilled and enjoyed on our next flight. The show was neither outdoor or in but inside a massive tent set up in an open field, crammed shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people. The itinerary says a capacity of 5,000 but I'd guess there were many more than that. It was a vast sea of people, many spilling outside the tent. The afternoon had been blistering hot, nearly 100 degrees so you can imagine the heat that'd built up inside that tent. Combined with all those folks it was very close, you could actually smell the crowd and was the hottest gig we've done in a long time. The audience was absolutely deafening, maybe the loudest of the whole tour. The show was fantastic, one of the best and the roar of approval after the final encore was ear splitting. A great and wonderful gig.
Drenched with sweat we piled into the Rovers, cleared airport security, boarded the Legacy and took off for Barcelona. Food and drinks and more birthday toasts on the flight. We arrived at our hotel and as I walked to my room I thought about what a great birthday it had been in spite of not wanting any fuss. I opened the door and there on the table was a bottle of posh champagne on ice along with another chocolate thing, this one the size of a cube of butter topped with strawberries and dark chocolate squares, sitting on platter with the words Happy Birthday drizzled in chocolate on the plate. What are you going to do? You gotta drink the champagne.
Lorrach, Germany 21 July 2013
We met up in the lobby late afternoon for a relaxing hour drive to Lorrach, Germany. Close to both the Swiss and French border, Lorrach is located in the south-west of Germany and a quick peek at Wikipedia says the city's biggest industry is the Milka Chocolate factory.
It was an open air town square gig in this picturesque city. But before we get to that, today was the return of our wonderful catering crew. Actually, they had gone anywhere but for the last several gigs, for various reasons including logistics and the event having it's own catering contract, they have been off duty. Good for them but terrible for us. We've missed there wonderful meals more than we can say. In fact it seems like a week since we've seen them and have endured a number of very mediocre catered dinners. Tonight's food was a miracle, cool and tangy gazpacho, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, fresh whole baked salmon with Cajun spiced shrimp, roast chicken with gravy and vegetables. I honestly haven't eaten much the last three days and was more than ready. I had portions of all three entrees. Just for good measure I finished it off with the most spectacular bread and butter pudding laced through with chocolate. Honestly we all ate like we'd not had a crumb in a month. Thank you Chris, David and Georgie.
Oh yeah, there was a gig too. Another great one, for 5 or 6,000 people shoehorned in shoulder to shoulder, hanging out of hotel windows and open air cafes. As I've said in past, we're all in this together... us and the audience. Tonight was a perfect example of them giving as much to as we dished out. A great gig followed by a runner back to Zurich and another relatively early night.
Zurich, Switzerland 20 July 2013
The grand hotel we're staying at has one of the better gyms of the tour so far and I made good use of it this afternoon.
Tonight's show was part of a summer festival here in Zurich called Live At Sunset. A small but brilliant audience of just under 3,000, the capacity for this concert series. Located just around the corner from the hotel in a city park, the was audience seated with a set of bleachers behind. That small crowd made enough noise after each tune for 10,000 people. The band in great form and playing enthusiastically as the first night of the tour back in April.
Back to the hotel to meet up for a drink with friends then to bed for an early night.
Lucca, Italy 19 July 2013
It was adieu to Malta in the afternoon for a flight to Pisa, Italy then a half hour drive to Lucca. As we were leaving the airport the famed Tower of Pisa was visible above the skyline.
One of our favourite gigs, the Lucca Summer Festival and we've played it a number of times. The large open air event on the Piazza Napoleone was filled with 7,000 fantastic Italian fans. The night was breezy and comfortable, the band ship shape and playing great as we head into these final two weeks of the tour.
A runner back to the Pisa airport for an hour and twenty minute flight followed by an hour and a half drive to Zurich, arriving there around 3 o'clock in the morning. Sounds like a lot of wear and tear but I'm none the worse for wear. Looking forward to the Zurich gig, another outdoor park show.
Floriana, Malta 17 July 2013
Packed the bags up and bid arrivederci to Taormina, Sicily. It was a 45 minute drive to the Catania airport and off we went. Well, not quite. Just as we gathered steam heading down the runway for lift off, an alarm began beeping the the cockpit and our pilot hit the brakes, the plane coming to a stop at the end of the runway. An alert signalling the plane was low on fuel triggered the alarm which happily was false. Certainly made everyone sit up though. In the end we circled back around, got in position and tried again, this time without triggering the alarm.
We arrived on the island of Malta in less than an hour. From the air it looked like a mass of beige stone, very little green or vegetation. It looked about the same after we landed. First time in Malta for me. Seems like there was a major push for construction over the last 20 or 25 years, most things looking fairly new. The whole place is monochromatic concrete.... all the buildings and apartments are either beige or some variation on it, everything. Maybe the recession took it's toll here but there are loads of buildings that look abandoned. Kind of weird. It's a vacation destination for families, loads of sun and water. We're staying in a large resort that caters to the family holiday trade, massive swimming pools, 12 different restaurants and bars, the rooms all have balconies that look out onto the water and the crush of a city bathed in beige. On the surface it sounds like it should be great, but it's pretty mediocre, sort of a Holiday Inn trying hard to be Monte Carlo. Not quite my bucket of blood especially coming from the beauty of Taormina.
The gig was held in the city square and the facilities were not good for hanging out prior to the show, so we checked in to the hotel from the airport and hung out here having dinner at one of the dozen restaurants. We left the hotel at 8 and drove down to the venue, Granaries in Floriana, a large city square. We arrived with just enough time left to change clothes and load up on mosquito repellant before taking the stage. It was a combination of seated in the front and standing in the rear. About 7,000 folks altogether and it turned out to be a great show, good playing all around and an appreciative audience.
A quick runner back to the resort. For all the activity of the afternoon, it was subdued and quiet when we arrived around 11. Makes perfect sense as it is a family oriented place and most would have turned in by then. We piled in to the bar for a couple of rounds and one by one called it a day.
Thursday the 18 is a day off here. They do have a pretty good gym that I plan to make use of then head down to the sea where I hope to find a patch of sand and a towel. With only 2 weeks left of this fantastic tour I'm looking forward to every day and feeling better than I have any right. It's a lucky life.
Taormina, Sicily 16 July 2013
Monday the 15th was a perfect day off by the pool overlooking the Ionian Sea and Mt. Etna, Italy's largest active volcano. The hotel we're staying is nothing short of luxurious with it's tiered gardens of cactus, bougainvillea, cypress, palms, oleander, roses and that's just for starters. After a couple espresso and a trip to the gym, I met Guy and keyboard tech Jules Bowen down at the pool for grilled Mediterranean vegetable sandwiches and three bottles of chilled white Sicilian wine called Leone. Perfection.
I'd only managed a few hours sleep after the rocky check in earlier that morning (see earlier rant) so retreated for a late afternoon nap after our pool-side lunch. I followed that up with a stroll down the hill among the throngs of tourist, fell into one of the many picture post card restaurants for a pizza and beer, then back to the hotel for an early night.
Tuesday the 16th. It was an early start for the crew, 5 a.m. to be exact. The large trucks that carry our equipment, lights and sound will not get through the narrow streets leading up to tonight's venue. The trucks had to be unloaded at the bottom and every piece of equipment shuttled up via a smaller truck. Needless to say a time consuming and harrowing day for our stellar crew. The plus to starting at that early hour was the temps were cool and comfortable. By midday it was blazing heat.
It was also an early start for me as I'd gone to bed by 11, very early by tour standards. I was wide awake at 3 this morning and spent the time on the balcony of my room, watching the lights of town shimmer below and the sun rise over the sea. The overwhelming presence of Mt. Etna taking up a huge part of the horizon, wisps of smoke rising from it's crater.
The show tonight was in the ancient Teatro Antico located adjacent to the hotel. Built in the early 7th century B.C. this Greek theatre was rebuilt and expanded on it's original foundations by the Romans in the 2nd century. The theatre is remarkably well preserved with it's many archways and columns, proscenium and seating. Behind the stage and through those massive archways the moon rose over the Ionian Sea, Etna looming large and Catania below. Because the theatre doesn't have conveniences like dressing rooms, we went straight from the hotel to the stage after meeting a couple hours earlier at the hotel restaurant for a splendid dinner of grilled vegetables, antipasti and salt encrusted sea bass. There's a passageway inside the hotel that leads directly to the backstage area, about a 50 meter walk and up a few stairs and you're there.
It was a beautiful night in a humbling setting for a gathering of 4,500 fans here in Taormina, Sicily. A show not without it's technical problems. The electrical system would not handle much so consequently lighting was at a minimum and kept coming and going. Some of the guys had monitoring problems as well. None of it really mattered for what was one of the most memorable shows and venues I've every played.
This was my first time to Sicily and Taormina with it's fantastic view from the hillside, many restaurants, shoppes and friendly people. It will always be a place I'll wish to return. After a difficult time getting into my room (see the previous journal entry) these past couple of days have been heaven. Here's to Taormina.
Napoli, Italy 14 July 2013
TRAVEL ALERT. Due to the Naples airport not granting clearance for a late take-off, we had a massive day of travel, one to go down in the books of this tour or any other. As promised here is what it shaped up to be.
1. Eurostar/Trenitalia train from Roma to Napoli
3. Runner in Rovers BACK to Roma's Fiumicino Airport (2 hours)
4. Fly to Catania airport (1.5 hrs.)
5. Drive 45 minutes to Taormina (Sicily) arriving at the hotel around 4:15 a.m.
Taormina is up the side of a mountain above the gold coast of Sicily. A very, VERY posh hotel/resort. We staggered in exhausted. Half were lead to an annex building with impossibly slow elevators, I was in that group. Another example of a room in the 500 block being on the 3rd floor. Fuck, don't ask me... especially at 4:30 in the morning. I finally get to my room and the goddamn lights will not go on. This is not the usual Bennett low tech deal i.e. I can't figure out my room, I can't get this crap magnetic card to open the door. The goddamn lights will not go on... not for me.... not for the guy who came up.... not for the other guy that came up after that. I'm hanging around in the fucking hallway for 20 minutes waiting for them to send ANOTHER guy up. I went back down the very slow lift and asked for different room. The room I got was scarcely an afterthought. I then went back again to get yet different room to find they'd repaired the fuse in the original room and would I like that one back. Yes, it's a far nicer room with a view of the sea. It is now 5 in the morning and I've been up for 20 hours. OK, take it easy. Let's hook up the computer and see if anything needs tending to before I go to bed. There is no user name information or password in my envelope or anywhere else in the room. Right. Call down to the desk. 10 minutes later a piece of paper with these magic codes is delivered to the room. At this point I'm so jacked up on fatigue and adrenaline that there's no way I'm going to bed. So let's bang out these notes.
Now, let's get going here about the gig. The Arena Flegrea in Naples is an amphitheatre built in the 1940s. We've played here before, either in 2005 or 2008... can't remember... too lazy to go back to past notes to find out. Doesn't matter. Very weird gig. A half circle seating with an empty moat in front of the first row. The stage is set back... way back, and there's about a half block of procenium before the front line where we stand. The audience is a long way away and in total darkness. It is like playing into a black hole...nothing. You can't see them and scarcely hear the audience making for a somewhat disembodied show. I had several tech problems which I won't go into and once again my in-ear monitors have packed it in . So it was back to an ill fitting generic set which drastically changes the mix that I hear. It was murder all night fighting it. Not a good night on my end. In the end none of that mattered very much and I think the audience enjoyed the show.... hard to say.
So that was the day. I'm off to bed if can catch a wink or two and tomorrow mercifully is a day off in this beautiful setting. Now that my lights are working I can settle in and enjoy it.
Rome, Italy 13 July 2013
How can you come to Rome and not leave the hotel? Easy when your completely knackered. I finally got my head down last night at 3 o'clock in the morning. Managed to sleep until late morning, jump started the day with two double espresso, gave a hell of a push at the gym, then went back to bed for the rest of the day. We're down to the final 15 shows of the tour and only now feeling a little dip in the energy. I have theory that however long a tour is, at the beginning you bank away that much mental and physical reserves, be it two weeks, four months or longer. As you come to the end of that period those reserves start running down. I'm convinced if we had another six weeks ahead of us I'd be raring to go. So that's the long answer to how you don't get out when in Rome.
We drove through Rome's late afternoon traffic arriving at Ippodromo delle Capannelle around 6. Ippodromo is the horse racing track in Roma and the stage was set up in the middle of the infield. 10,000 standing and seated in the bleachers turned out. We hit the stage just past 9:30, the sun was down and the night air balmy. A wildly enthusiastic audience as they have all been on this tour. The band consistently in top form.
We could still hear the thunder of applause and cheers as the motorcade of Rovers left Ippodromo and made their way through this ancient city and back to the hotel arriving just past midnight. Rang home, bed.
Sunday will be a staggering day of logistics and a show in Naples. Stay tuned for the details.
Padova, Italy 12 July 2013
The Villa Contarini in Padova was commissioned by Paolo Contarini and his brothers with construction beginning in 1546 and sits in the Piazzola sul Brenta. Padova is about 40k/25m west of Venice in northern Italy.
Thumbing through our itinerary yesterday I noticed the remaining 16 gigs of the tour are all outdoors, the exception being an indoor bullring. Most of these shows have late starts as Italy and Spain traditionally commence their evenings much later than other parts of Europe. Tonight's show did not begin until 9:30.
We arrived at the Villa at 5 in the afternoon, the backstage area a combination of indoor and outdoor lounges, all comfortable enough but a very long time to hang out before the show itself. More than enough hours to do the following: wander, drink coffee/tea/water, eat, sleep, practice, read, e-mail. Repeat. Several times.
When we finally got to the stage it was a beautiful night, the heat of the day gently cooled down and an orange fingernail moon slowly rising in front of us. It was a seated audience in the Piazzola of 7,800 plus our stand-up band of 8. Terrifying if you think about, 8 of us facing all those people, so we don't think about it... just go out there and have a great time every time. The outdoor shows are always fun and relaxed, tonight being no different.
It had been a long day already before we did a 45 minute runner back to the Venice's Marco Polo Airport for an hour flight to Rome. Liz had barbecued ribs and salad for dinner. Venice's is not quite the same b.b.q. that they have in Memphis, Tennessee but tasted great and how can you say no to a rib and a couple of g&t's? It was nearly 2 in the morning when we landed in Roma and closing in on 3 by the time we hit the hotel. Sleep.
Locarno, Switzerland 11 July 2013
A short trip this afternoon to the Milan train station where we boarded the car heading north to Locarno, Switzerland. Located on Lake Maggiore at the foot of the Alps, this is beautiful country, grape growing country surrounded by the mountains. Clear, sunny and hot.
This is our second time to play the Moon and Stars Festival, a yearly 10-night outdoor event held in the Grand Plaza of Locarno. The plaza is surrounded by stucco apartments and business all painted in those great Mediterranean colours, blue, light green, peach, rust, cream. When the sun goes down the buildings are lit and the floor of the piazza is nothing but a sea of people. Hard to say how many people, but it would have been 11,000 or more... as far as the eye could see from the stage. This link, http://www.moonandstars.ch/ shows the piazza from the audiences perspective looking toward the stage, but you'll get the idea.
We took the stage a little past 8:30, still daylight and warm though not as hot as it'd been all afternoon. What a crowd and in the apartments to the side of the plaza, folks were sitting out on their verandas, dancing along, hanging out of windows. I spotted one rooftop way down with a guy barbecuing, he'd turn whatever it was on the grill, close the lid then come back to the edge of his veranda and watch the show. There were several hang gliders floating in the sky as we began. Light gave way to dusk then dark and the temps dropped comfortably. Of course all this lead to a remarkably fun and relaxed gig for us, everyone playing great and having a good time. The hardest thing about it was maintaining some kind of focus on what I was doing, it's just too easy to start gawking around and loosing track of where you are in the music. A fantastic crowd of folks. The Moon and Stars festival, we had a wonderful time and look forward to returning again.
Drivers and Rovers at the ready, we left the stage after the final song to tumultuous cheers, jumped in to the cars and settled in for an hour and a half drive south, back to Milano arriving a little past midnight.
Nimes, France 9 July 2013
I had a couple of very cooled out days off in London, don't think I could've done less... spent them reading, writing and resting. The weather in London was bright, clear, sunny and hot, perfect for a walk along the Thames on Sunday and a couple of pints and lunch with my son who lives in the city.
By Tuesday morning the 9th I was ready to pack up and get back to it. We reconvened at Northolt, all freshly shorn, then boarded the Legacy headed back to the Continent for the final push of the Privateering tour. We arrived in Nimes and were met on the tarmac by our trusty drivers and fleet of Rovers. The drive through Nimes to the venue was a tale of two cities. For miles around the airport everything was brand new, terrible outlet malls, corporate chain business, home improvement centres, Burger King, motels... you get the idea. At some point we took a left and immediately entered the old world of Nimes...the one I prefer. As the streets narrowed and became more circuitous, we arrived at the venue.
Arenes de Nimes is a Roman amphitheatre dating around 70 A.D. It served several purposes including having a royal residence inside and being a walled community. In the mid-1800s it was remodelled as a bullring. The Arena still hosts the bullfights as well as musical events.
It was a very hot day, 39c/102f, every bit of shade was welcomed. As the afternoon gave way to evening and the sun sank lower in the sky, the temps dropped making it a comfortable, mild night. Our old friend Bap Kennedy was there to open the show and it was good catching up with him and his guitar player Gordon. They played an hour set and sounded great together.
We took the boards at 9:45 for a well rested and relaxed show for 9,000 folks in this ancient setting. We always enjoy playing the arena in Nimes and look forward to the next time.
After the final tune it was a dash to the Rovers and back to the airport. A friend of Guy's gave him a very large bottle of cheerful Rose wine from France that was chilled and served on the plane, a perfect compliment to dinner. It might have been Moroccan... a lamb stew in massively delicious, richly spiced dark sauce and cous cous with roasted vegetables. Whatever it was sure hit the mark. Cheese and biscuits followed. Just a light snack to get us in to Milan and a day off tomorrow.
Long day, three cities, two flights and a gig. Arrived at the hotel around 2 in the morning. Sleep.
Stuttgart, Germany 6 July 2013
Sorry, I'm a little late getting this one posted. It's 6 in the evening Sunday, the day after we played Stuttgart and I'm pecking this out from London where we're taking a couple of days off.
Stuttgart was our final show in Germany for this tour and it's been a great run of gigs in that beautiful country, all completely sold out and fantastic audiences. Last night's was no exception, about 10,000 people turned up and we turned it on at our usual venue in this city, Schleyerhalle. Sadly, it was the last show that Nigel Hitchcock will do with us on this tour. It's been great having Nige along, he's a brilliant musician and wonderful guy, we look forward to seeing and playing with him again.
Also, we're now into the home stretch of the tour, with Stuttgart behind us we only have 18 shows left of this Privateering tour. Normally at this point of a tour one begins to weary but I have to say this tour has been a pleasure from day one and I'm feeling better than ever. It will be with mixed feelings that I see this one end in three weeks and will savour every show of what's left.
We flew to London last night after Stuttgart, the Brits returning to their homes for a couple of days rest and the Yanks cooling their heels in a comfortable hotel. It will be dinner with my son who currently lives in the city tomorrow night and apart from that not much else. We get back to the tour on Tuesday flying to Nimes, France for a show and then it's off to Italy, Switzerland, Malta and Spain for the final run of this memorable tour.
PS This just in....our show on the 21st in Loerrach is Germany. I stand corrected
Bad Mergentheim, Germany 5 July 2013
A great outdoor gig tonight in Bad Mergentheim, another 10,000+ audience all standing shoulder to shoulder. The weather was perfect and so was the show.
We piled in the Rovers for a runner/drive for 90 minutes to Stuttgart where we spend the night and play tomorrow.
Dresden, Germany 4 July 2013
We're staying in a hotel that was the former Taschenberg Palace and like most of Dresden, it was destroyed in 1945. In that year Dresden looked like Hiroshima the aftermath of devastating air raids. The Palace lay in rubble for years after the war and nature had begun to reclaim it, wild flowers and trees sprouting midst the rubble. Many plans to rebuild and restore were discussed but with the communist German Democratic Republic then in charge, that kind of decadence was thought useless. It wasn't until the reunification of Germany in 1990 that plans to bring the old Palace back were undertaken. As with so much of this city's beautiful ancient buildings it was restored true to it's original form using as much of the original pieces as possible. I remember driving through Dresden in 1996 and seeing structures that we still in rubble from the war, the bricks and blocks being sorted and numbered for reassembly. After 50 years! Dresden is now a gorgeous city, it's old town restored, cobblestone streets and many restaurants bring tourists from all over the world. I walked around for a few hours and was immediately transported to another age, long before world wars, when civility and sense was the order of the day. Speaking of civility, there before me was an Augustiner Restaurant with tables outside and a beautiful day. How could I resist? I ordered meatballs and in short order three somewhat flattened discs of heaven arrived, lightly dusted and pan fried. I have no idea what went into them, but it like a symphony of flavour, maybe one of the best things I've ever eaten, along with a generous portion of their potato and cucumber salad. A couple of Augustiner helles bier topped off this fabulous lunch.
Tonight's show was an outdoor gig by the river and we didn't do a sound check so the call was a late one... 5:30 in the afternoon. What a gig, daylight when we took the stage in front of a sea of people ready for a party. The exact number is hard to tell, officially it was just under 10,000 but folks were lined up on a bridge off to the right and many more picnicking outside the grounds by the river taking the show in. Thanks Dresden for a great gig.
A quick runner back to the hotel and a band field trip back to the Augustiner. Platters of those delicious meatballs were devoured along with grilled sausages, kraut, gammon steak and chips. Litres of helles were followed by apricot schnapps. All I can tell you is it's a very good thing there's not one of these restaurants within striking distance of my home.
And finally to bed. The close of a great day, that felt like a day off with a gig. To all the Yanks who may be reading this, I hope it was a good 4th of July. To my wife who threw her lot in with me 37 years ago on this day, I love you.
Halle/Westfalen, Germany 3 July 2013
Checked out of Cologne for a very short flight north west to Munster, Germany. From the airport it was a 45 minute drive trough rolling agricultural and farmland with the occasional farm house or village. Just when I thought there couldn't possibly be an arena or venue, there was the Gerry Weber Stadium. Weber, a long time tennis fan, made his money with a very successful clothing business. He'd always wanted a Wimbledon in Germany so built one in the countryside and started his own Gerry Weber Open. The pro's and people came. The stadium has a retractable roof with high banked seating that rises above the court and holds 7,000+.
Tonight the court was covered over with a protective floor and It was a full house as we took the stage. Even though the roof was closed, daylight was streaming in throughout the whole gig making for good people watching from the stage. While 7,000 people is a lot, because of the seating arrangement it gives the venue an intimate feel and the show was fun and relaxed. The audience was brilliant, really listening, especially with a tune we've never played live before... Dream Of The Drowned Submariner. Nigel Hitchcock played clarinet along with Mike on wood flute and John on whistle to create a fantastic little wind ensemble, a beautiful combination. Anyway, it's a song that requires listening. It was a great evening the band and audience in it together. The crowd was so loud and enthusiastic at the end of the show we could still hear them as we drove from the stadium.
A runner back to the Munster airport. Although we're flying in a private jet, depending on the airport we still must clear a security check and so it was last night. Christina is giving our usual attendant Liz a week break and had bowls of past in truffle oil for dinner. She also has the knack for a gin and tonic. We soon touched down in Dresden where we'll spend a couple of nights and play an outdoor show on the 4th.
Cologne, Germany 2 July 2013
Yesterday was July 1st, can't believe we're already here, only a month left of this grand tour.
It was a much needed and perfect day off in Koln. Pretty good gym here at the hotel and many of us made use of it. As I was heading out in the afternoon to cross the bridge over to the shoppes and restaurants I ran in to Jim and Guy who were heading to do the same. We walked the bridge over the Rhine River, passed the Cologne Cathedral and wandered the streets for a while before landing at an open air brauhaus serving traditional dishes and the local kolsh style bier, light, crisp, sparkling and delicious. Back to the hotel for a nap. It's a rare time on a tour when the crew and band are all together in one hotel at the same time and tonight was it. We all met down at the bar around 6 and commenced the festivities. Great spending time with our fantastic crew in a casual setting rather than the gig. The beer flowed like wine. The wine flowed like water. The gin simply flowed like gin. Come 10 o'clock I was absolutely famished and didn't feel like walking across the bridge to eat. I went to my room, ordered a massively delicious club sandwich and french fries and inhaled it all. Every crumb. The decision then was whether or not to go back down to the bar. I think I made a wise choice in calling it a night and going to bed.
The problem with an "early" night is one wakes at 4 in the morning. I managed to drop back off to sleep a couple of times but by 8 I was wide awake. Got some coffee and headed out across the bridge again. Walked around the shoppes and cafes on the other side of the river for a few hours. Lots of picture post cards of Koln after the war. She had the living daylights bombed out her. The cathedral was somehow miraculously spared but everything else around it was rubble including the bridges across the river and all it's industries. It is what war looks like. It's shit. Peace is the way ahead. Always.
A sunny, hot day today, July 2nd. After getting back to the hotel I laid outside and caught a few rays before getting ready to go the the gig.
Tonight's gig was at the Lanxess Arena and was a packed house with seats going up three tiers to the roof and floor seated as well. A great, relaxed show tonight and a brilliant audience of well over 10,000. Our old pal Nigel Hitchcock has rejoined us for a few dates and it was great having him back again.
A runner back to the Cologne hotel and our promoter here in Germany Marek Lieberberg treated us to a great aftershow get-together at the hotel. Plates of pasta, wild mushrooms, risotto, grilled chicken, salad and the finest Italian wine was laid out. Thanks Marek.
Dijon, France 30 June 2013
We de-camped Paris today after 6 days of basing there. One final ride through the Parisian traffic, though not too bad this Sunday, to the airport. Up and away.
Landed in Dijon, a beautiful agricultural area south-east of of Paris. Tonight's show in another of the Zenith chain of arenas, nearly identical inside to last night's only a little smaller. Sound check, dinner. Dinner: glazed salmon in a prawn broth with ramen noodles and julienne vegetables. Another entree; pan fried gnocchi is garlic olive oil tossed with fresh tomatoes and wilted spinach then dusted with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I ordered a hybrid of the two, salmon with a small side of gnocchi. Spectacular.
Our fifth show in a row found us bidding adieu to the wonderful Ruth Moody and her band, the last gig for them with us before they move on to a series of shows in the U.K. then a summer full of festivals in Canada and the States. It's been great having them along. Ruth has two solo albums and several as part of the vocal trio The Wailin' Jennies. They are all worth checking out.
The French audiences have been so generous with their enthusiasm and appreciation and tonight was no different. Good showing on our part as well.
A runner followed by the usual short flight, g&t, Indian dinner, mirth and merriment. We landed in Cologne, Germany where we'll put our collective heads down and have a welcomed day off tomorrow and a necessary one for the crew who've been run hard and are very tired.
Cournon-d'Auvergne 29 June 2013
5:30 a.m. Wide awake and not going back to sleep. Coffee, more coffee, e-mail, gym. At that hour, in this hotel on a Saturday morning I had the gym to myself for the whole time. Back to the room and managed to nod off for about 40 minutes. This might be a strange day. I laid low for the rest of the morning and afternoon, practising and reading.
Once more the fleet of Rovers delivered us to Le Bourget Aeroport for a short flight to tonight's destination, Cournon-d' Auvergne. The second team of drivers and Rovers met us there and took us to the gig, another Zenith Arena. A new and modern arena, they are now built with large shows in mind, room for equipment trucks to loads in and out, proper catering areas and in this case multiple, comfortable and clean dressing rooms. One with an outdoor veranda and couches. It was a late arrival for us and we by-passed soundcheck, something not often done. Straight in to catering for a minor miracle. One of the four entrees was tortellini stuffed with fresh crab meat in a broth of light coconut milk, asparagus and chillies with hunks of fresh lobster meat. They weren't kidding about fresh, the lobsters were still alive just minutes earlier. They were kept in the freezer which according to Chris, puts them to sleep prior to the final wake-up call which doesn't bear thinking about. Incredibly delicious, and that lobster was sweet and tender as any I've had. Hat's off to Chris, Dave and Georg our culinary heroes.
Another packed house tonight, wonderful audience, great show, though I had a hard time keeping focussed due to lack of sleep. It doesn't matter how many times you've played the songs, if you begin to drift you're sunk and I sure took a couple of good dunks. Still, I managed to recover without inflicting much collateral damage.
A runner back to Paris. Sleep tonight.
Rennes, France 28 June 2013
My room faces the backsides of three other buildings, sort of a shaft with daylight coming in. Very quiet. The night before I'd managed to pull the blackout curtains shut in a way that didn't allow a sliver of that daylight through, my thermostat set at 20c. The room is cool, dark and silent as a tomb. I woke up, switched the light on to see what time it was, expecting it to be 6 or 7 in the morning. It was nearly 11:30. I'd been asleep for nine and a half hours. I don't know that I'd ever slept that long in my life and don't often get that much sleep in two nights combined. Got a couple cups of coffee in me, a shower and it was time to go.
Our trusty team of drivers and fleet of Range Rovers negotiated the mad midday Paris traffic and delivered us to Le Bourget airport. An hour later we landed in Rennes. It was our first time here, but won't be the last. Friday's show may well have been one of the best of the tour or any other. A stand up gig with seating around the perimeter, you couldn't have shoehorned another person in the place. The floor was absolutely shoulder to shoulder and every single seat up to the rafters filled. We came on to tumultuous cheering and applause that never flagged throughout the evening. We responded with a steaming gig, fantastic playing all around... a man in every corner and then some. Here's to Rennes.
A runner and back to Paris. Several weeks ago I was given a magnum of Duvel beer from Belgium that I'd put away for safe keeping and tonight seemed like the right time to break it out. I'd asked that it be put on the plane and thoroughly iced down for the flight. Liz served up the golden, slightly cloudy brew as soon as we were seated. Ice cold and massively delicious that Duvel was the perfect foil to a filet mignon served for dinner. We'd scarcely finished eating when the Legacy touched down.
Things don't get much better than being driven through Paris at 1 o'clock in the morning. The incredible good fortune of all this is never lost on any of us.
Caen, France 27 June 2013
An extra hard push at the gym this morning to counter the calories absorbed in Paris. There are butter molecules in the air here, and all I know is this; between the bread, pastries, food and desserts, unless you're a saint you're sunk.
A very early afternoon departure for the airport and a short flight north to Caen for our show at Zenith. We arrived at the venue early and tonight's show was late, 9:15. Even with the usual soundcheck, dinner, warm-ups, etc. there was still loads of time to kill. By the way, dinner was nothing short of a miracle of flavour. One of four fabuous entrees was sautéed veal with mushrooms and gnocchi in a deep, rich brown creme sauce and was remarkable. A large bowl of it arrived in front of me, my first thought was to have a small portion and leave the rest behind. Can't be done, too magnificently delicious. Back to the dressing room after dinner which has now been dubbed the recovery room. Practised, read. I watched the first part of Ruth's show, we all love her and the band, it's great having them along for these next few nights again.
Finally, it was time to get dressed and take the boards. A capacity crowd of 4,500 filled Zenith. It was a great show, some technical problems with in-ear monitors and instruments not plugged in properly, but it made little difference to the show. We had a great time playing and the audience in Caen was warm, gracious and so enthusiastic. Ruth joined us for three songs tonight and her voice is magic not to mention her rhythm guitar playing.
A runner and the return flight to Paris. The drive back to the hotel much quicker at that hour than the drive to the airport earlier in the day. I walked in the room to find the maids had left a tower of chocolates, cookies and other confections on my coffee table. This is what I mean about Paris, you're absolutely sunk.
Paris, France 26 June 2013
A day off in gay Paree Tuesday. What a city. It has to be the most beautiful, expensive, art-style-fashion-food conscious, self aware city in the world. Did I mention expensive? I spent the afternoon walking her streets, no agenda, just taking it in. Later in the day Guy and I ended up in a terrific cafe with the unassuming name Le Bistrot de Paris. My dinner, perfectly grilled lamb chops, fried potatoes with cloves of whole roasted garlic still in their husks and a couple of bottles of wine. The food couldn't have been better. Between dinner, drinks, dessert and the five croissant I'd eaten through the day I must have consume 7,000 calories and spent nearly as many euro. What one does when in Paris.
Wednesday found us returning to our usual venue here, Bercy, to a full, packed-to-the-rafters house of 12,000. It was also the return of Ruth Moody and her band to open another series of shows for us. I sat on the side of the stage for part of Ruth's set last night and the audience was so into it, you could hear a pin drop when they played. It can be difficult for an opening artist with people filing in, milling around trying to find their seats and most rudely, talking through their set. Not last night, the entire house was in and hung on every perfectly sung word.
It was our turn up to bat and from the crowd's response, we'd hit a home run from the downbeat of the first song. A show that was enthusiastic, up on it's toes and well played by every man. Ruth joined us with sublime harmony on I Dug Up A Diamond and Seattle. By the time we'd hit the middle part of Speedway At Nazareth, the house was on it's feet and made it's way to the front of the stage and stayed that way 'til the end of the gig. Merci Paris.
A runner back to the hotel. Most of us popped around the corner to a wonderful French bar and grill for a couple of pints and plates of frites before calling it a day.
Salzburg, Austria 24 June 2013
The weather's become cool and rainy today as we-camped Vienna after a great 5 night stay. Somehow my belongings weren't too scattered after that amount of time and repacking the bags went quickly. Or maybe after several months I've finally figured out where things go.
A quick flight to Salzburg. The weather system is so thick that we never really rose above the clouds though it was a smooth flight all the way. As we descended into Salzburg the countryside was lush, thick patches of dark green forests in among cultivated farm and crop land.
Tonight's venue was the appropriately, if not creatively, named Salzburg Arena. It was a first, we've never been here before in the time I've worked with Mark. We played to a packed house of 4,500. It was good show for good folks who came out.
As the airport is very close to the venue, it was a quick runner and we were on the Legacy, drinks in hand before we knew it. Liz rounded up some very tasty wiener schnitzel and potatoes for dinner. I'd heard rumour of it and decided to skip dinner at catering, have a banana instead and hold out for the food on the plane. Delicious. About 90 minutes later we touched down in Paris light as a feather. The plane that is. We were all at least 5 kgs. heavier from all that schnitzel.
Tuesday the 25 is a day off and we'll base from Paris now for the next several days.
Bratislava, Slovakia 23 June 2013
An hour long drive through the rolling Austrian countryside to Bratislava, Slovakia for tonight's show. A beautifully clear, warm and breezy afternoon. We arrived at the venue, Narodne Tenisove Centrum to find the crew outside and enjoying the sunshine. This is only the second time we've played Bratislava, the first being on the Golden Heart Tour back in 1996. The city has developed noticeably since then.
A small sports arena, it was filled to capacity for the show. 3,100 fans turned out and helped make it another memorable gig. I can't stress enough how these shows are a two way street, we're in it together the audience and the band. We both held up our ends of the bargain.
We did a runner/drive back to Vienna, arriving at 11 giving us an hour back at the Stadtbrauerie beer house and restaurant. Many pints of their clean, clear and magnificent Helles style lager were downed along with hot, freshly baked, soft pretzels and a couple of platters of roast pork, sauerkraut and spectacular dumplings that were the size of a grapefruit. That, by the way was their lighter fare due to the hour. We closed the place down at midnight and it's just as well we only had an hour. I think we have a winner for best beer of the tour.
Tomorrow we de-camp Vienna after several good days. To quote Charles Bukowski, "It was a hell of a Vienna."
Budapest, Hungary 22 June 2013
Friday the 21st, the first day of summer was a day off for us in Vienna. I threw myself out of the hotel and into the street where I walked for nearly three hours, through parks and shopping districts. The heat subsided to a comfortable 29c./85f. I stopped in at a cafe with outdoor tables and umbrellas for a chicken schnitzel and pint of golden local lager, both delicious. Back to the hotel... read, practise, nap. Dinner out with the boys again tonight and I couldn't resist another schnitzel. When in Wien...... Finished off the evening with another pint of local down at the hotel bar.
Saturday morning I was up like a shot at 5 o'clock... wide awake and ready to go. Tried going back to sleep but by 6 knew it was a lost cause. Got dressed and went up to the 7th floor where there's a guest lounge that serves hot buffet breakfast and has an espresso machine. Scrambled eggs and four espressos later I was down in the gym wearing out the treadmill belt and pushing weights around. Back in the room at 9 wondering what to do next. Shower? Walk? Breakfast #2? I laid down on the bed to ponder these options and promptly fell asleep for an hour. That extra 60 minutes was enough to put me right for the rest of the day.
We flew from Vienna to Budapest for tonight's show to a fantastic audience of 6,000. A standing gig, in other words, the floor of the arena was packed full of standing fans while all around the perimeter of the venue the seats were full as well.
A runner back to the plane, a quick curry and a couple of drinks later we touched down lightly back in Vienna. After a quick change of clothes most of us ended up at Die Stadtbrauerei beer hall and restaurant for a couple of pints of their magnificent Helles style beer. Those hallertau hops that I'd mentioned in these notes a few days ago are part of what gives the helles it's distinctive flavour and it couldn't have tasted better as the gentle evening breeze blew through the open doors and windows.
A short walk back to the hotel and the end of a long day.
Vienna, Austria 20 June 2013
Apart from a much needed 90 minute push in the gym this morning, I spent the rest of the day luxuriously on my own reading and working on some new guitar tunes.
Tonight's gig was at our usual Vienna venue, Stadthalle. I would have put a packet down that we'd have Wiener Schnitzel for dinner tonight. Glad that bet wasn't offered up as I'd have lost. Chris, Dave and Georg went all out this evening... Indian night. Spicy lamb jalfrazi, butter chicken, sag aloo (spinach and potatoes), channa massala (chick peas in tomato sauce), onion baji, vegetable samosa, paratha (Indian bread), papadam, raita, prawn curry and more. We arrived at 4:30, soundchecked at 5 and piled into Nirvana a half hour later. Fantastic and I'll get me schnitzel tomorrow as it's a day off here in Wien.
Another 37c./100f. blazing day. Thankfully the arena was air conditioned and not uncomfortable at all. We played a couple of tunes tonight's that we've not done for a while, Seattle and Shangri La and it was great to get them under our fingers again. Another great night of playing and a very demonstrative audience of 7,300 good folks. Thanks Vienna.
It was an early show and we made it back to the hotel before 10 o'clock. I had a beer with the boys and opted for a quiet and early night in the sack.
As mentioned, a day off tomorrow followed by a gig in Budapest on Saturday.
Regensburg, Germany 19 June 2013
After a three night stays in Frankfurt, everything in both suitcases managed to migrate to the four corners of the room. This required a somewhat early rise, coffee, then begin stuffing it all back in the bags. My fond memories of the JFK Bar forever imprinted in my mind on check-out as I settled what I'd charged to the room. It was worth every Euro.
Another blistering day as we drove to the airport. We boarded the Legacy and it was like a sauna. The engines wouldn't start and it was a hot box inside. We sat in the plane until whatever truck pulled up to jump start the thing, which was done successfully. The plane cooled quickly and we soon took off for Ingolstadt to the south. After landing it was a 50 minute drive through the beautiful German forests and countryside to our venue in Regensburg. Along the way we saw fields and fields of Hallertau hops climbing up the lines to the sky. These are the renown German hops that give Bavarian beer it's distinctive flavour. For my taste it is the king of hops. A couple of decades ago I'd immersed myself in home brewing learning as I went about that elusive admixture of malt, water, yeast and hops. For all the years and all the miles, I'd never seen the hop fields.
We soon arrived in Regensburg and the venue, Donau Arena. Another scorcher throughout Germany, 100 degrees today and the arena was hot. There was duct work throughout but apparently the air conditioning wasn't on, only the fans vaguely moving the hot air around. Sound check, a very light dinner, some pre-show guitar warm up and we took the stage a few minutes past 8 o'clock. Large and powerful fans were placed at both sides of the stage blowing across it and made things a little better than the previous night in Frankfurt as far as the heat went. As to the show, it was a steamer as well, a great gig to a wonderful audience of 5,000.
After the final encore we piled into the fleet of Rovers for a return trip through the countryside back to Ingolstadt. Again, the engines of the Legacy would not start due to an overheating problem with the starter and had to be fired by external means. Once started the plane's cabin cooled once more and we were airborne to Vienna. We have a new flight attendant today, Natalie, who's giving Liz a break for a few days. She served up a Bavarian dinner of brautwurst, sauerkraut, black forest ham and spaitzel in mushroom cream sauce. I'd had little to eat all day and was good and hungry at this point, devouring every bit of it. A couple g & t's later we touched down in Wein where we'll base from over the next few days.
Frankfurt, Germany 18 June 2013
It was a much needed and well deserved day off Monday the 17th here in Frankfurt. Staying in one of our fave hotels with a great gym, not overloaded with gear, but just enough to get a good push, plenty of space, cool, quiet with a large adjoining room for floor exercise. I think it was full attendance down there by all throughout the day. From there to the outdoor patio just off the indoor pool, for some sun. It was a real scorcher, predicted for 34c./86f. I think the thermometer sailed up a few clicks higher than that. I managed a half hour out there and that was about all I could take. The rest of the day spent puttering, writing, playing guitar and that evening another fabulous band dinner... thank you Mark. Finished off with a night-cap at the this hotel's luxurious, large and lavish bar named after President Kennedy, JFK's Bar. The bar tender knows how to whip up anything you could ask for, masterfully.
Tuesday's show was our old stand-by venue, Festahalle with it's massive glass domed ceiling. Today's temps were equal or higher than yesterdays and that dome combined with the absence of air-conditioning turned the Festahalle into a real hot-house. We arrived and were greeted by a well rested crew who desperately needed their day off yesterday. Chris, Dave and Georg our brilliant chefs had once again topped themselves. Hard to decide from tonight's entrees but I settled on a delicious pan seared tuna steak atop rocket and tomato carpaccio and a side of fresh pasta and pomodoro. I've been very good about avoiding desserts this trip and did so again tonight but with great difficulty as it was one of my favourites, banoffee pie...sliced bananas in creamy caramel toffee and freshly whipped creme on top a crust of ground graham crackers.
The dressing rooms in the basement of Festahalle were stuffy and hot, fans moving what little air there was. When we went upstairs to the main floor lever it was noticeably warmer and when we climbed the stairs to the stage is was hotter still. The gig tonight would be a strong contender for the hottest show in a very long time, sweat pouring off all night, my clothes completely soaked through by the end. The audience was fanning themselves throughout the evening as well. The heat didn't impede them or us from having a fantastic evening and great show, however I couldn't help thinking, what wouldn't I give for a blast of that frigid air we'd endured in Gothenburg a few nights back.
A runner back to our fab hotel, quick shower then down to the spacious patio outside JFK's Bar where a long table had been set with linen, platters of starters and fresh pasta appeared along with bottles of the most delicious Italian red wine all courtesy of our promoter here in Germany. Thank you Marek Lieberberg.
We'll de-camp tomorrow and look forward to returning soon to Frankfurt.
Copenhagen, Denmark 16 June 2013
Awake far too early this morning and after 20 minutes realised I was up for the day. The next half hour was something from a Fawlty Towers episode. I went to the phone to ring room service and have a pot of coffee sent up only to find there was nothing on the phone to indicate how to reach anything in the hotel. Nothing, not the the kitchen, housekeeping, front desk... nada. I managed to find a single sheet of paper stuffed in the desk about some event being held there and for more information dial 9 for reception. I pushed the 9. After many rings, a dour voice answered and I made my request for a Continental breakfast. I was refused room service as the kitchen was too busy and I hadn't hung my card on the door knob the night before. Maybe I could try back in a couple of hours at 11. Are you kidding??? This is a hotel, there is a room service menu... albeit without a number to call... right here in my goddamn room. No, I'm sorry we are too busy. Fine. Oh, by the way does the hotel have a bathrobe that can be sent up? Housekeeping failed to leave one. Yes sir, the hotel has robes for a charge of 50 Krona. Fuckin'ell, never mind. I slammed the receiver down and got dressed. After poking around, hidden away in a cabinet I found an electric kettle and a canister of stale coffee along with a single-cup French press, a couple of packets of sugar and those little sealed capfuls of milk shot full of preservatives with an indefinite shelf life. I filled the kettle with water and got it going. There was no spoon, only a little wooden stir-stick, so I dumped a load of stale grounds into the French press then boiling water on top of them. When I put the lid on the beaker and pushed the plunger, hot water and grounds shot out the top and all over the carpet. Happily I didn't scald myself and sure as hell didn't give a rat's ass about their carpet. At this point anyone with half a brain would go out and find the nearest cafe. Not me. I began the whole coffee making procedure again, this time with better results. Right, things may be looking up. I took a cup from the cabinet, poured a packet of sugar in along with the preserved milk followed by the coffee. You know straight off coffee is going to be crap when it looks grey but at least it was coffee and I reached for the handle of the cup to get some of it in me. Hold on, what the fuck's happened to the handle? Where is it? I kept turn the mug around in profound disbelief. There was no handle on the cup. Not broken off, intentionally left off by design. Absolutely amazing. Too hot to handle, I wrapped a wash cloth around the mug and choked down the world's worst cup of coffee. When I mentioned this to the other guys later in the afternoon they'd also had the same experience with room service and the handleless cups. Guy topped it off by saying after he'd been refused service, he went downstairs and it was deserted. Also, the air conditioning fan in his room wouldn't shut off requiring him to remove several ceiling panels and yank the power. Fletcher's my hero.
Tonight's show was just across the bridge in Copenhagen so we didn't leave the hotel 'til 3 in the afternoon. Normally that's a luxury but in this case we'd have happily vacated sooner. Crap hotel.
Great pub though.
We've been playing shows earlier on the Scandinavian leg, usually 7:30, but tonight's was at 6:30 so we all piled straight into catering as soon as we got to the venue for an early dinner. Those of us who'd had bad room service experiences hadn't eaten at all and those who braved the hotels breakfast bar had as little of it as possible. We were all pretty starving when we walked into a miracle of food.... Mexican fiesta night from catering. Fresh flour tortillas, grilled chicken fajitas, chunks of tender beef slowly simmered in rich, dark red/brown chilli sauce, fried strips of breaded mackerel, spicy black beans, Mexican rice, guacamole, fresh tomato salsa, cheese, sour cream the entire works. This is a crew that loves food but I don't think I've ever seen plates piled so high, and then again, and a little more after that. A massive bowl of the most exquisite strawberries I've tasted topped the whole thing off. Brilliant, a majestically delicious Mexican overload in Copenhagen.
The show was at the usual venue, Forum, that we've played umpteen times with it's patchwork of multi-coloured seats. I was told many years ago this was done because they used the place to shoot TV shows and the different colours made it look like a full house even with spotty attendance. I've been seeing those seats since 1996 and they're looking pretty tired now, shabby and worn. We began promptly at 6:30, daylight streaming in around the blackout curtains. Our sixth show in a row and sounding great.
It was a runner and still fully daylight outside. The fleet of Rovers pulled up on the tarmac to the plane Here's a first... parked alongside the Legacy was a portable security trailer on wheels looking very much like a corn dog stand at the carnival. It was complete with a baggage belt that drew the luggage into the trailer and I assume through some kind of x-ray device. We were all frisked and patted down on the runway before reclaiming our carry-on bags and boarding. They were nice enough about it all but nobody had ever seen this before. It was pretty amusing especially the cotton candy carnival look of the caravan.
A rack of lamb and an hour later we landed in Frankfurt heading to one of our favourite hotels for three nights and a day off tomorrow. The place has a great pool and gym and I'll be present at both. The forecast for Monday is for 30c./86f. A few of us ended the day drinking a couple goblets of cold, clean and delicious Konig-Pilsner at the outdoor patio bar in the mild night air. What a lucky life.
Malmo, Sweden 15 June 2013
Beginning today, a new look... properly indented paragraphs. After so many years of pecking these notes out, about a month ago I switched the composing of them to Text Edit after the platform I'd been writing on lunched several attempts in a row. Never the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to technical things, I didn't realise people write these "blogs" (a word I dislike) off-line and then up-load them. In a daring move this morning, I tried the tab key and viola!... indentation becomes reality rather than a wish. I am really swinging along now on this glorified calculator.
NOTE: After viewing the up-loaded version of this post, the platform has squared everything up in spite of what I want. Disregard the above un-indented paragraph. Computers are not my friend.
Next order of business is an apology about yesterdays posting. Computers are very powerful tools and combined with my own pre-coffee writing we managed to move the good city of Gothenburg from Sweden to Norway. I never dreamed the strength we wielded together and now the computer is my very best friend. Terribly sorry Goteborg, it has been corrected and you are now back where you belong... in Sweden.
I've had some kind responses to my note the other day about Johnny Smith. I can't overstate the importance of his contribution to the guitar and what a beautiful player he was. For those who may be interested in reading a little further, here's a link to an article in Vintage Guitar about his passing http://www.vintageguitar.com/14237/legendary-guitarist-johnny-smith-passes/ and another from the Washington Post
It was an hour flight to Copenhagen, just enough time for Liz to serve up a delicious Cobb salad with freshly sliced roasted chicken, avocado, hard boiled eggs, bacon and blue cheese. We drove a half hour from the Kobenhavn airport, across the bridge to Malmo, Sweden where we played to 5,000+ at the Malmo Arena. All of us enjoying being indoors again after the cold and whipping winds of last night. A particularly well played and relaxed show, music simply tumbled out of everybody and the sound was incredible. It was the fifth show in a row and here's to our hard travelling, hard working crew that makes this happen every night. These gigs don't happen without a crew to get the equipment from city to city and make sure everything is set, working and maintained. Electricians, riggers, sound, lighting, instrument technicians, caterers, etc. We stand on the stage for a couple hours having a helluva good time playing some tunes, but it is the crew that gets the show to the correct city and set up. These are folks that work so hard and seldom get the recognition they so deserve. Hat's off, salute and thank you.
A runner to the hotel in Malmo. Part of the same chain we stayed in Gothenburg, this Elite Plaza also boasts a Bishop's Arms Pub with it's many beers on draft. We all piled in. It's highly unusual to find the British brewed London Pride outside its country of origin and rarer still to find the heartier ESB. We're all intimately familiar with ESB because we've drunk so much of it as the studio we record in with Mark is walking distance from the Fuller Brewery where it's made. There's a small pub on the premises of the brewery that naturally serves the freshest of their beer and we often end up there after the days recording. The Bishop's Arms has both these beers along with so many others and the ESB was exceptional, right on par with what's enjoyed there at the brewery. A warm and welcoming vibe in these pubs and if the Elite Plaza chain got anything right, it's their Bishop's Arms pubs.
Here's to indentation someday.
Goteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden 14 June 2013
The room of my hotel here in Gothenburg is large, light, comfortable and open...not cluttered with too much furniture.... making it far too easy to enjoy the day alone and doing as little as possible. Though not exactly doing nothing. I found a British guitar website that answered a lot of questions regarding a style of arranging for five guitars that was popular in late '50s and early '60s. George Barnes and Al Caiola made these types of records for a short period around that time, Tony Mottola as well, his Mr. Big album from 1960 on Command is one. It's a sound that's always been so attractive to me but was never completely sure how it was done. I took a swing at it myself on a song I wrote and recorded called Something For Tina on my album Code Red Cloud Nine. While this is of little to no interest to anyone reading, it's a code cracked and breakthrough to me. Feeling pretty pleased with myself I got out and walked around the shoppes of this beautiful city on a clear, mild Friday afternoon.
Tonight's show was outdoor in the city park/garden, Tradgardsforeningen. A crisp wind had picked up by the time we arrived, fortunately the rain that had been predicted for the day didn't materialise. Still, it was windy enough that a decision was made to drop the curtain at the rear of the stage so it didn't become a sail which was a problem with our outdoor show a few nights ago in Bergen. With the stage being well above ground level and the rear curtain gone, the stage became a wind tunnel. We were buffeted for two hours and very cold. Everyone soldiered through brilliantly, though the fingers become cramped and numb in that kind of cold. The 7,000 hearty folks who packed the grounds didn't seem to mind a bit and it turned out to be a great evening. It was a relief to get back to the warmth of the dressing rooms and thaw out a little with a gin and tonic.
Just before we went on stage I'd received a letter from a guitar builder here in Gothenburg named Thomas Fredholm. When we arrived back at the hotel Thomas was there and introduced himself asking if I would be interested in playing one of his guitars which he had with him. Usually that can be an imposition but I figured as long as he was here why not? He brought a couple of his instruments to the room and I was very impressed with their sound, response and playability. He has recently begun building steel string acoustic guitars after many years of making classical guitars that are well regarded by those musicians. Both instruments I played had all the sonic qualities of the finest pre-1940 acoustic guitars in that they are much lighter in weight than their modern cousins, rich in tone and amazingly responsive to even the lightest touch. He really knows what he's doing and I'm very glad I took the time to meet him. His name is Thomas Fredholm and his instruments are worth checking out.
Met up with the boys who were holding court in the great pub downstairs called The Bishop's Arms. They were all well in progress by the time I arrived and a couple pints of Fuller's ESB went down smooth as anything. The day that was spent quietly ended being surrounded by good mates and lots of laughs.
Stavanger, Norway 13 June 2013
Awake and out of the unusual hotel at 8 o'clock, Bergen enveloped in heavy dark clouds, cold and teaming down rain. Head down I made a dash for the bake shoppe and in through its front door to the warm smell of fresh pastries and coffee. Two double espresso and a croissant guaranteed I'd feel much better about the rest of the day. Then it was back to pack the bags and check out though not before a re-run of Lake Bergen after my shower. As it was, I was hurrying to make the departure call and when I hit the lobby was taken aback.... way back... to see my old friend Steve Earle standing there. He and his band had just checked in as they were playing the same festival event we did the night before. I got to spend a couple of minutes catching up before we had to leave. I produced a couple of albums for Steve shortly after we moved to Nashville in the mid-80s and it was Steve who was one of several people who encouraged us to make that move from Los Angeles. One of those albums, Guitar Town, opened many doors for me in Nashville, both as musician and record producer and my hat will always be off to Steve.
A very short flight to Stavanger. So short we never levelled off, we were either ascending or descending with a hurried snack in between. A distance of 120 miles, no doubt the only reason for flying rather than driving would be to avoid what the crew experienced getting there by road. Nearly 8 hours to go 120 miles. It involved two ferry trips and juggling the departure times of them. When we arrived at the venue this afternoon, you would have never known how tired they were, not one complaint. On top of their inconvenience, they worked all day at the venue with a well meaning but completely inexperienced local crew as the venue is brand new.
That venue is the DNB Arena, built to house their hockey team. Apparently prior to the arena there was no place to hold a show or sporting event other than outside. Ours was only the second show in the place somewhat explaining the lack of experience from the local crew. Tonight was a standing crowd of great folks and a good show followed by a runner back to the plane where Liz had chicken curry and drinks at the ready. To call it curry was a stretch, however if one thought of it as chicken stew it put a whole other slant on things. It was hot and tasty and just fine with a gin and tonic. We landed an hour later in Gothenburg, Sweden, checked in to the hotel and made it downstairs to the great pub/bar just under the wire for last call.
I want to note the passing of Johnny Smith, one of the all-time greatest players that ever graced a guitar, who died yesterday at 90 years old. Though not a household name, Johnny was well known through the 1950s and '60s, a musician's musician and no less than Charlie Parker's favourite guitar player. Smith scored a rare jazz hit with his first record in 1952, Moonlight In Vermont that was on every jukebox in every cocktail lounge in America. Johnny recorded albums prolifically after that as well as holding down the staff guitar chair at N.B.C. radio and television networks in New York City. A busy and hugely influential guitar player, he walked away from it all in 1958 when his wife died suddenly leaving him to raise their 4 year old daughter in the city. He thought his daughter was far more important than his career and left New York for Colorado Springs, Colorado. There he bought a modest brick home, opened a music store, taught guitar and remarried, occasionally returning to New York to record and playing shows in the Denver area. In 1960 Johnny Smith hit a windfall with a song he'd written and recorded five years earlier called Walk Don't Run. A beat group from Seattle calling themselves The Ventures simplified and transformed the song into a rock and roll instrumental that was a massive hit record and is still played widely today. Smith recorded his last commercially released album in the late '60s and quit playing altogether back in the '80s. A man of great humility, he lived and died in that same modest home he originally bought and was fond of saying he just tried to stay out of everyone's way. He famously said the best view he ever saw of New York City was in his rear view mirror and referred to his guitar as a "box of mistakes". To this day Johnny Smith continues to inspire, influence and confound me. For those interested, there's no better place to begin listening than the beginning. Here from 1952 is Moonlight In Vermont, the great Johnny Smith on guitar and sax by Stan Getz.
Bergen, Norway 12 June 2013
Bergen, the second largest city in Norway sits on the west coast, it's city centre is on the Byfjorden and is surrounded by mountains. One of Bergen's main industries is tourism with it's old, leaning wooden buildings and store fronts along the harbour and picturesque hills and homes rising behind.
Awake early this morning and room service was not an option in this rather unusual hotel where the reception desk serves double duty as the bar. No complaints, got dressed, headed out into the cool, grey, misty morning for a walk along the harbour and found a little bakery shoppe that served coffee. I tumbled in for a couple of double espressos and a freshly baked scone then out again for a walk around the waterfront. In the afternoon back at the rather unusual hotel I was treated to my very own fjord on the floor of the bathroom after a shower. One of those hand-held afterthoughts on a bracket installed in the tub with a swinging glass door enclosure that never really encloses enough to prevent the water from running all over the place like this run on sentence. Among other things lacking in this rather unusual hotel is a bar of soap. Attached to the wall of the bath tub is a dispenser with liquid 'body wash'. I hate liquid 'body wash'. I hate the phrase 'body wash'. I hate the feel of it and the feeling that the 'wash' never completely rinses off my 'body'. I freely admit to being particular when it comes to certain things, this is one. I like soap. A bar of it.
Tonight's show was an outdoor gig, part of a summer series held on the grounds of the Medieval fortress Bergenhus, dating back to the 1200's. Until 1299, Bergen was the capital of Norway and within the Bergehus walls were the royal residences. Excavations have revealed foundations of buildings from before 1100. The day was cloudy, rainy and cool and continued all through the show with a stiff wind whipping up blowing the rain onto the stage while we played. The wonderful crowd of 6,700 standing people scarcely noticed and the weather didn't hinder them or us from having a great show.
Foregoing the usual runner we decided to hang around at the gig for an hour or so after the show, have a drink in the dressing room then made our way back to the rather unusual hotel for a last round down at the reception desk.
Hamar, Norway 11 June 2013
Monday the 10th was another day off in Helsinki that began with an early push in the 8th floor gym followed by a couple hours walk along the harbour. An open air marketplace with stalls of fresh fruit, souvenirs and hot food is there catering to the tourists from the cruise ships. The food stalls all have the same fare: fresh grilled salmon, fried potatoes, sautéed vegetables, reindeer meatballs, fried squid, hot coffee cold drinks. The cool breeze coming off the water paired well with the warm sunshine and smell of the freshly grilled food, all combined it was impossible to resist. There on the grill was the whole salmon and for 10 Euros you got a large plate full of it with potatoes and mixed vegetables and I happily laid a tenner down. As I was heading to the covered seating area balancing my plate of food I was dive bombed by a fearless seagull that swept down around me and deftly plucked a beak full of hot salmon from the plate and flew off. The whole thing happened so quickly and I had to admit the gull deserved that bit of food if only for it being so brazen. I'd managed to hang onto the plate and there was still a pound of fish on it when I finally got under cover at one of the tables. Absolutely delicious, fantastic, cooked well through but not dry. After, I walked along the harbour for an hour or so stopping to sit and watch the boats and get an espresso. An afternoon that reminds you to be glad you're alive. Back to the hotel for a little practise then out again late in the afternoon for another walk and a pint of local beer. An Italian dinner later that evening and in bed by midnight, the Helsinki sky still dusky.
Tuesday begins a run of six shows in a row in different cities and was a busy day. We checked out, were driven to the Helsinki airport and flew to Oslo. From Oslo it was an hour drive to the city of Hamar, located on the shores of Lake Mjosa, Norway's largest lake. Stunningly beautiful rolling green hills, picture postcard lake homes and farms. A very ambitious highway construction project is going on that will eventually transform that drive from a two lane road to a major highway. Construction for miles... everywhere. Tunnels being blasted through the hillsides, earth moved from one place to another. Mountains of stone and rubble, cranes, earth moving machinery... incredible. It slowed our progress a little, but we arrived in Hamar and the venue shortly past four in the afternoon.
Tonight's venue is Vikingskipet (the Viking ship) is also know as Hamar Olympic Hall, built as the speed skating rink for the 1994 winter Olympics. It is a massive indoor facility able to hold as many as 20,000 people. It's roof looks like an inverted ship from the outside and the inside ribs of that boat from within. Coming in to the Vikingskipet I thought it might be a gigantic echo chamber but was pleasantly surprised to the contrary once we took the stage for sound check.
Our show was set up for 8,000 seats and all of them were filled. A sea of people and still acres of floor space on both sides of the seated area. We hit the boards at 7:45, the daylight still streaming through the windows in the roof and we steamed through an inspired show. Nothing gets in the way of this band now, nothing phases it. The band is unflappable and somehow gets better after all these years, each tour, every night, every song. We're really playing like grown-ups now. Toward the end of the evening all 8,000 people were standing and did so for the remainder of the show.
It was runner to the Rovers and the hour-plus drive back to the Oslo airport. At 10 o'clock at night you still needed sunglasses it was so bright. They certainly get a full days work done in these parts in the summertime, the road construction crews still at their tasks of rearranging the hillsides. Finally got to the airport, cleared security and onto the Legacy a little past 11. Liz our flight attendant had drinks of choice waiting by our seats when we boarded and shortly after take off served filet mignon with baked potatoes and salad. A delicious dinner followed by another gin and tonic and we're landing in Bergen on the south west coast of Norway.
Today's score: 4 cities... Helsinki, Oslo, Hamar, Bergen... 2 flights, 2 one-hour drives and a gig. Good day, good night.
Helsinki, Finland 9 June 2013
Saturday was a day off and good getting into a gym with daylight, proper equipment and only a trickle of soothing Asian music wafting in from another part of the spa. After three weeks half heartedly putting my time in the miserable facility in London, I pushed hard and needed it.
Those who ventured outside the hotel that afternoon were treated to Helsinki's 23rd Annual Samba Carnival. Apparently Samba is big here in Finland with seven Samba schools throughout the country, all participating in the parade which boasted floats, flowers, lavish costumes and of course plenty of music. I'd tumbled out of the hotel about midday and it was all happening, the last thing in the world I'd have dreamed of seeing. I walked the city for a couple of hours and later that night joined everyone for dinner at a great Helsinki steak restaurant followed by a short night-cap with Mike, John and Ian. Closed my curtains about 1 in the morning and it was about as dark as it gets around these parts this time of year, sort of a late dusk.
Our show on Sunday was in the Hartwall Arena to an audience 9,000. We've played this venue several times before though not since 2008. First things first, it was a dash to catering on arriving for a steaming bowl of leak & potato soup and crusty bread. Better make that two bowls. Sound check then back in for dinner, our 5 star catering heroes really showing off with an array of salads including Caesar, rocket and salmon and buffalo mozzarella with fresh tomatoes. Tonight's winning entrees were grilled sea trout with Mediterranean vegetables and Asian roast pork tenderloin in hot and sour soup with Shitake mushrooms and braised Napa cabbage. It was a miracle of flavour and could not have been any better.
We all gathered down at the hotel bar after the show and couldn't get over how well it all went this evening. We've hit that rare slipstream of structure and freedom, everyone listening and playing off each other yet never too much, nothing forced, always relaxed, always different but within a framework. Most important, we're simply having loads of fun playing music with each other.
An Irish pub around the corner called Molly Malone's beckoned several of us and we met up with some of the crew, our flight attendant Liz, a couple of our drivers (off duty of course) and the above mentioned catering gods for a couple of pints. All this followed by a day off on Monday. It's a lucky life.
Zwolle, Netherlands 7 June 2013
We're back on the boards and back with the notes after a well enjoyed five days off in London. I don't think anyone realised how tired they were until we stopped. The British contingency went home to sleep in their own beds while the Yanks remained in the hotel with the exception of Jim and his wife who went north to York for a few days. I spent the afternoons lunching with friends, having dinners with my son, getting plenty of rest and putting a fresh charge on the battery.
It was a grand and busy day that launched the second half of this tour. We de-camped Friday morning after three weeks in London, made our way to Northolt RAF Airport, boarded the Legacy for an hour flight back to the Netherlands. We landed in Amsterdam, greeted on the tarmac by the fleet of Rovers and drivers Gunter, Eike, Mario and Bob who drove us 120 km (75 miles) northeast to Zwolle. The city is an agricultural and cattle centre with a population of about 120.000, clean, modern and yesterday was sunny and hot.
The venue, IJsselhallen, is an exhibition centre and I was told hosts cattle auctions among other things. From the Albert Hall to a cow shed, now that's show biz for you. A small hub of portable cubicles had been set up inside for a backstage area including portable toilets and the catering area. For this gig we were in the hands of a local catering crew that was overseen by our head chef Chris. There was no cooling or heating system in the venue which was nothing more that a massive square box with a metal roof. The place is no doubt cold in the winter and I can attest it was very hot and airless on this 80+ degree day. None of that mattered, what a gig. For my money I think it may have been the best one of the tour so far. We were so glad to see each other, well rested, ready to play, on top of the game, relaxed but not lax, confident but not cocky. The crowd of 5,500 were great to us... wonderful gig, wonderful audience.
A runner from the stage to the Rovers and an 1.5 hour drive back to Amsterdam. We took off just before midnight heading for Helsinki, gin and tonics at the ready. There was a faint wisp of light in the sky once airborne that grew increasingly brighter over the 2.5 hour flight. When we landed, just past 3 in the morning it was daylight in Helsinki although the sun hadn't come up over the horizon yet. People bicycling, jogging, walking in groups. It's understandable that the city doesn't sleep when it's light all day in the summer. I think I finally put my head down about 4 o'clock in the morning.
Here's the day's tally: 4 cities (London, Amsterdam, Zwolle, Helsinki), 2 flights, 150 miles driven and one gig. Welcome back.
London, England 28 May-1 June 2013
A loose, catch-all posting that covers the last several days and our residency at the Albert.
Tuesday the 28th I did an interview with a good fellow from Napa Valley, California named David Kerns who writes interesting and perceptive articles. He is currently in London writing about the Royal Albert Hall and interviewed Guy Fletcher, Ruth Moody and me about what it's like to play there and why it attracts so many to it's stage. Turns out David has been following this little tour journal of mine and noticed the hotel rant about the coffee the other day prior to coming to London. He and his wife Gayle arrived at my room for the interview bearing gifts from Northern California... a pound of French Roast Peet's Coffee along with a filter cone and paper filters to make a cup at a time in the room. It's the best coffee I've had since leaving home. I'm forever in their debt and might even forgive misquotes and outright slander in the name of Peet's Coffee.
Wednesday the 29th. Up early to another dark, damp, cool London day, my outlook improving after a couple of cups of the above mentioned Peet's. I've been eyeballing a very smartly tailored Savile Row cut suit and took myself off this morning to try it on. I looked better than I had any right... a proper gent I reckoned and ponied up. I've always wanted a trim cut, dark charcoal suit of British worsted wool. I'll be wearing it everywhere now, lunches, dinners, the gym, out in the garden.
A wonderfully relaxed gig tonight, full house... even the galleries behind the stage were sold. I was back at the hotel before midnight for a night cap and early to bed.
Thursday the 30th. Really had to drag myself down to the dismal, dirty, gym this morning. The place could not be lit any brighter, blazing fluorescent lights, trainers who suck the air from the room with their phoney, loud chatter, oblivious people working out on equipment that's so poorly maintained it squeals. Unbelievable that the facility keeps going this way. It has one thing in it's favour; the merciful absence of music. You're handed a large bath size towel when you sign in and after the first day I realised why. You don't want to lay directly on anything down there. The mats for floor exercise look like they've absorbed sweat and dirt of London's entire population for years. No telling the last time the floors have been swept or the equipment wiped down. Bad news. Oh yeah, it's cramped. To get around that they've put a wall of mirrors up and the three treadmills facing straight into them. Yeah, that's it... just what you want to see when you on the mill, yourself. I don't think so.
Catering served up a monstrously delicious Beef & Guinness pie, tender and flavoursome beyond all reason. The other big hit of the night was the Monkfish that according to the guys who ordered it was remarkable.
Another great show tonight, #4. They're all played a little different every night and that's what makes it interesting. The audiences are all unique as well, tonight's being a little more subdued at the beginning but absolutely with us all the way. After the show I met Tom Jones who'd come to the gig. Our own Ian Thomas played with Tom for many years and is a fellow Welshman. What do you say to Tom Jones? A pleasure to meet you and thanks for all the music. Also met Justin Sandercoe who I'd mentioned in these notes last autumn. Justin has a vast series of guitar lessons on-line that range from beginners all the way up through some very complex jazz theories and everything in between... rock, folk, lead, rhythm, fingerpicking, and more. Please check out and support his lessons at: http://www.justinsandercoe.com/ The lessons are so clearly conveyed and well done... not too much at a time and very focussed. I think he's a great player and educator.
The Friday night RAH crowd was ready for a show, great audience, MK & Co. in top form. Down to the West Foyer Bar for an aftershow reception and ended up staying until the last stragglers were unceremoniously tossed out by the good RAH staff at 1 o'clock in the morning. I don't blame them for wanting to go home. My son Jeremy who's currently living here in London was with me and we made our way back to the hotel and the bar for a final beer of the night. Our head caterer and chef, Chris Desmond was up there and very kindly bought us a round. He's a top man and it was good visiting with him as usually he's up to his elbows when we're all at the gig.
Up early on Saturday the 1st day of June. Our tour manager Tim Hook has arranged a roof tour of the Albert Hall. We did this back in 2005 or '08 (I forget) and it was harrowing and thrilling. At that time my son Jeremy was here as well but had something else on and this morning was his chance to finally do it. In short we were taken to the very tip top of the Hall, 135 feet above the floor. After climbing flights of stairs and the scaffolding of the dome, you arrive at the pinnacle of the dome and if brave enough, walk out on a wire grid and look down to the floor of the Albert. I found it funny that in our group of 8, 4 women and 4 men, all the women went straight out that grid and the guys with the exception of my son, hung back. Many thanks to Ollie for a wonderful tour that ended with us walking the perimeter of the Albert roof for a great 360 view of the city.
It's amazing how quickly our six days at RAH have passed and here we are at the final show of this run. As always it's an honour to walk the boards of this stage and halls of the building. I was reminded that I first played here in 1972 with Neil Diamond, 41 years ago. I would have been speechless if someone would have told me then that I would still be playing here in 2013. I'm very grateful to still be at it and enjoying every minute.
I think this final show was as good as we've played all tour and the other guys thought so as well. The audience went completely mad at the end. Don't know what else to say about it, but it was a perfect way to leave the Albert until next time. On a blue note, this will be Nigel Hitcock's last show with us for awhile. Nige has become a great band mate and we'll miss him, but he was only onboard for the dates in the U.K. What a musician, an honour to play music with him. Here's to you and the next time Nigel. Also great having Ruth Moody and her wonderful band with us. We'll be seeing them again in Paris.
After the show there was a large reception in the Elgar Room of the Albert rather than the smaller bar where they'd been held previous shows this week. So many people and old friends there tonight and it was great seeing them all. One new friend I met was Brian Bennett the legendary British drummer with the Shadows and many other recordings and projects as well. I felt like I was about 12 years old, didn't know what to say but we ended up talking about making records, how that's changed now and how the business has as well. Brian Bennett, wow.
We've reached the midway point of this tour chronologically speaking and are all looking forward to a short break of five days off before resuming. I'll stay here in London as it's not quite enough time to fly home and back again, visiting friends and having some dinners with my son. I'll give these notes a rest and pick it up again on the 7th after our show in Zwolle, Netherlands.
London, England 26-27 May 2013
Sunday the 26th was a well earned day off and another picture perfect day in London. My son who lives here dropped in and we took to the street, lunch in a cool little Mediterranean deli, some shopping and coffee in the warm sunshine. I met my friend Kim Richey who's just completed a string of dates in the U.K., for dinner this evening. I produced Kim's very first album on Mercury back in 1995 and have remained a friend and fan. We had a fantastic dinner just off Kensington High Street at a great restaurant named Maggie Jones's. I cannot say enough good things about the place and you can check it out for yourself here: http://www.maggie-jones.co.uk/menu.htm The best way to describe it is funky-elegant country cuisine and decor. I couldn't resist one of tonight's specials; lamb pie. Beautifully stewed chunks of lamb, gravy and vegetables covered with home-made pastry and baked in a terrine. A side of fresh steamed spinach and a bottle of Malbec coupled with Kim's good cheer and company made for a perfect dinner. I walked her to the tube station, made my way back to the hotel and pulled the curtains on a good day off.
Monday the 27th, opening night of a six day run in Royal Albert Hall. Named in honour of Queen Victoria's late husband, the corner stone was laid in 1867 and the Queen opened the RAH in 1871. It hosts 350 shows a year from rock concerts, charity shows, opera, ballet, classical, awards ceremonies and more. As I recall the first time I played RAH was in 1976 with Neil Diamond and it's been my great pleasure to return every few years, now with MK. It is always a special night when walking onto that stage, one is always aware of where you are playing. Monday night was no exception and though we've played it so many times before, there was a nice sense of excitement at sound check and in the dressing room. Ruth Moody and her great band will be opening all week and last night's audience loved them. Our show went down a storm as well and I can't recall an RAH audience, usually a little restrained, so enthusiastic before. The place went up after every song and especially at the end of the night.
A quick drink in the dressing room after the show then downstairs to see a few friends who'd come for tonight's show.
We're all looking forward to the next five nights of shows at this wonderful and grand building, the Royal Albert.
Brighton, England 25 May 2013
Saturday was a gorgeous day in London, clear and warm...nothing prettier than a bright blue English sky. We drove south to Brighton, traffic horrendous but the sun shine made for a pleasant trip down.
Tonight was our old stand-by gig the Brighton Centre and we played to a capacity 4,300 audience followed by a runner back to London.
It's been a very busy five days, shows, TV, planes, car trips. A well deserved day off on Sunday then we commence our six show run in Albert Hall which we always look forward to and love doing.
Birmingham, England 24 May 2013
Thursday the 23rd, technically a day off, was spent on the sound stage of BBC's television facility in Maidstone taping what will be an hour long concert performance by Mark & Co. in front of an audience of 600. TV... hurry up, wait, camera blocking, sound checking, start, stop, tea break, more blocking, etc. We spent most of the day doing just that and by the time the audience was in and we began I was knackered. Part of doing this for a living is simply soldiering on which we did and it was fine. We drove back to London and that was the day.
The 24th,,, rainy and cool. Up early and out on the street in search of a Marks & Spencer for some instant coffee and a milk to have in the room. Hotel's coffee is shit and first thing in the morning I want a cup without having to get dressed and take to the street to find one. The hotel's gym is crap as well, a begrudged afterthought down an outside lift that also accommodates the parking lot. Cramped, funky, bad vibe, ill equipped. I will not go back in there and hereby take a hiatus for the couple of weeks were parked here. The hotel's internet, also crap, not strong enough to support a Skype conversation. When the party I was trying to have a conversation with attempted calling me back in the room, the hotel's main front desk number was busy through 24 attempts. The whole place is a tired, 1970s monstrosity. Hotel rant over.
We set off in the Rover fleet at 1:30 in the afternoon making our way north to Birmingham. This is pronounced BIR-mingum not Birming-HAM as in America. Over the years I've become so accustomed to the former that even when referring to the city in Alabama I will use the British pronunciation. Bad weather and traffic made it a 2.5 hour ride. Our driver, Bob Miller made it pleasant and painless.
Our usual venue, the N.E.C. now known as LG Arena holds 7,350 and was sold out. The M6 motorway that feeds in to Birmingham in both directions was shut down due to a suspected terrorist investigation and the crowd was slow coming in. We held the beginning for 20 minutes to let everyone have a chance to get there. It was a full house when we took the stage at 7:50. Always a good show here in Birmingham.
The runner back to London was quicker due to the hour and no traffic... just under 2 hours and Bob deposited us at the doorstep of above mentioned hotel before midnight. I'm seldom one to turn down a nightcap but was completely done in. Straight to bed.
Cardiff, Wales 22 May 2013
We de-camped New Forest midday following a relaxing three days in the Hampshire country side. I managed to get the contents of two suitcases scattered to the four corners of the room in that time and it took what seemed like hours to get it folded, zipped, shoehorned and puzzled back in the bags. The fleet of Rovers returned us to the Bournemouth airport for a 20 minute flight to Cardiff.
Cardiff's International Arena has been our venue many times before and is another shallow, wide auditorium with a capacity seating of just under 4,500 and a massive dressing room consisting of three spaces... any one of which being larger than some of the dressing rooms we encounter. Catering was, as always, nothing short of a miracle. One of several remarkable salads was a simple Caesar salad with roasted chicken that tasted anything but simple. For dinner I had the fantastic chicken katsu curry, other entrees were smoked haddock and beef/mushroom stroganoff. Couldn't resist dessert tonight, fresh fruit bomb and a particularly festive looking... and tasting... trifle.
Great show, great audience. Nigel Hitchcok has been playing these U.K. dates with us is a brilliant sax player and jumped in this evening on Shangri-La giving it a creamier, dreamier texture.
A runner from stage to Rovers to airport to Legacy to London's Luton airport which is technically not London but St. Albans and touching down lightly at 11:30 for a 45 minute drive into London and our hotel.
Here's today's scorecard:
5 cities (Lyndhurst-Bournemouth-Cardiff-St. Albans-London)
.... all in less than 12 hours!
Bournemouth England 21 May 2013
We've been staying in what used to be a 13th century hunting lodge located in New Forest, Hampshire near the town of Lyndhurst. A country hotel that strikes the perfect balance between extreme luxury and not being too fussy. Rural, rustic and relaxed, the restaurant is top drawer and makes use of foods grown here on the grounds or from local producers. A smokehouse is located just outside the main entrance where salmon and a variety of meats and vegetables are smoked and preserved. A well equipped gym was used on the day off. Of course, speakers ablaze with somebody's idea of motivational music... my only complaint. I'm afraid this is SO old fashioned. Anyone who wants to listen to music brings their own with headphones. I'll go as far as saying the rest wish to do their work in quiet. It's the same mentality as TV adverts, they still think if they're loud and fizzy they'll hit the mark, people will be compelled to listen then buy. It's all the same thing, terribly old school.
I spent the remainder of the day off walking through the countryside and forest. The area is known for it's New Forest ponies that roam free around grazing land that is not fenced in. The breed is gently, sturdy, good for riding, strong and beautiful, indigenous to the New Forest area, they date back to the last Ice Age. Back at the hotel for a delicious club sandwich and ice-cold Hollows and Fentimans Alcoholic Ginger Beer made from all natural ingredients, it's low alcohol about like an American beer and monstrously refreshing... my new favourite drink. Got my share of guitar playing in sitting on the porch of my coach house room with the New Forest trees no more than 100 feet away. We all gathered later in the dining room for a fantastic dinner. It couldn't have been a better or more restful day off.
Tuesday the 21st, mid-afternoon we piled in to the fleet of Rovers that took us to Bournemouth, about a half hour's drive from Lyndhurst. Our usual gig, International Centre is shallow and wide when looking out from the stage. We ran a couple of tunes for Dave Dixon our front of house sound man then beat a hasty path to catering where tonight's offering were: Sea bream atop a creamy risotto with fresh whole Langoustine... green Thai chicken curry... pork schnitzel with spaghetti and pomodoro sauce... and finally, Jamaican black-eye pea patty as the vegetarian entree. It didn't help that I was absolutely ravenous and really wanted one of each entree but opted for small portions each of the sea bream and Thai curry. I don't know how they do it day after day.
A very relaxed show in all the right ways, loads of fun and over before we knew it with Shangri-La making it's way back into the set again. A runner back to our wonderful country hotel and a couple night caps in the very comfortable bar.
Liverpool, England 19 May 2013
It was less than an hour flight from Newcastle south to Liverpool. The fleet of Rovers waiting on the tarmac but only after quite an ordeal with airport security. It seems that nothing had been set up prior to their arrival and the authorities, very suspicious, only allowed access after a rigourous search of the vehicles and drivers literally down to the soles of their socks.
We were taken from John Lennon Airport to Liverpool's Echo Arena. Not exactly an encouraging monicker if your their to play music, happily the name didn't reflect the sound. We spun through a few songs for soundcheck then piled in to catering for a spectacular dinner. Tonight's entree offerings: beef wellington, roasted chicken, pasta in a garlic olive oil with chillies and miso crusted cod in hot and sour broth with bok choy and chillies. I ordered the latter and it was one of the best things I've ever tasted. It was such a tempting menu that several ordered smaller portions of a few things. A humble hats off to our amazing chefs, Chris Desmond, Georg Baker and David Eskinazi.
A good show tonight with a particularly great showing on Sultans of Swing and Seattle. A hint of Ferry Cross The Mersey made it's way into the end of Seattle and got some applause from those old enough to remember that great song.
A runner back to the Lennon Airport that went smoothly until we hit security and once again it was a serious down-to-the-soles-of-our-socks experience. Once on board the plane, Liz was there with drinks of choice waiting and braised lamb shank. Given how much I'd had for dinner combined with the shortness of the flight I opted out as did a few others. We arrived in Bournemouth and drove about a half hour to Lyndhurst and an old country estate in the forest that's been turned into a hotel. My room is in an old carriage house, has two floors, a tall beamed ceiling, a working fire place and a walk out porch that faces the forest. A day off and a couple more based from here. I predict a comfortable few days ahead.
Newcastle, England 18 May 2013
A short flight from Glasgow to Newcastle and the Metro Radio Arena for a Saturday night gig. A sell out of 6,000+ to see MK & Co. Another relaxed and fantastic gig and I can't begin to say how proud I am to play with these guys.
No runner after the show as there was a reception with loads of Mark's friends from up north who have over the years become our friends as well. Good seeing them all again.
Stayed in Newcastle and met down in the hotel's very cool bar for a couple of night caps before turning in.
Another good day.
Glasgow, Scotland 16-17 May 2013
Thursday May 16th was a day off in Glasgow. Managed to sleep in 'til 8:30, had a pot of crap coffee sent up to the room then I was down to the gym. For those who've followed these notes from previous tours, you might recall a pretty serious rant dating from 9 October 2011 and found here: http://richard-bennett.com/notes-from-the-road/mark-knopfler-and-bob-dylan-tour-2011. It all began with the gym in this hotel which is claustrophobic, poorly equipped and simply not happening. Two years ago the hotel suggested I try an outside facility just around the corner where I had an experience so profoundly annoying it was difficult to believe, thus leading to the rant mentioned above. This time it was the lesser of two evils and the convenience of the crap gym at the hotel. There are no treadmills, in fact there is not A treadmill, so I just ploughed straight in to the weights and made do with what was there. I'm not a tall guy but the ceiling was so low that I could not fully raise the dumb bells above my head without hitting it. Really I don't know what people are thinking about when they put these things together. Mercifully there was no music and I was the only soul in there. Enough. Shower and out for a walk. It was a few different days out there this afternoon, sunny, warm, cloudy, cool, clear, rainy. Welcome to Scotland. I mindlessly walked through a shopping arcade wanting and buying nothing, headed back out on the street and stopped in at an Italian restaurant for a passable pizza and pint of Peroni. The sky opened up just as I was being seated and I watched it pour all through lunch. The sun popped out again as I paid my bill and went wandering before heading back to the hotel as another battering of rain set in. On the way I passed Pure Gym of above mentioned rant and crossed to the other side of the street.
Spent the afternoon working on some new songs and headed down to the hotel bar for a great gathering to celebrate John McCusker turning 40. It seems like we've already been celebrating it for days now and it will no doubt continue another few. A wonderful turn out, John's wife Heidi, parents, friends, Mark, the band and crew. A bar full of great people all having a grand time.
A quiet Friday working on some songs, then out this afternoon for a sandwich and coffee. Tonight's gig was at the SECC to a sold-out capacity audience of 4,414. Our friend and brilliant sax player Nigel Hitchcock joined us this evening for the first in a series of U.K. dates. Nigel's a legendary sax man throughout the U.K., played on loads of records, shows and a book of transcriptions of his most famous recorded solos has been published. It's great to have him on board and he played brilliantly which is little surprise. A good, relaxed gig tonight... maybe due to the late night celebrating John's 40th. Certainly not error free on my part, but really enjoyable and judging from the audience's reaction, it went down a storm with them as well.
We pull up stakes tomorrow heading south to Newcastle.
Esch/Alzette, Luxembourg 15 May 2013
We always have a great show at Rockhal, Centre de Musiques in Luxembourg. In the middle of an abandoned, I don't know what, maybe a steel or iron smelting complex, Rockhal is little more than a large concrete box. The surrounding landscape looks like something from a movie about the planet dying...scorched earth and crumbling buildings of dead industry. Rockhal's interior is solid black and the walls are treated with a sound absorbing materiall. Not a friendly looking place but once it's full of people, it really is one of the best sounding venues we play. We've been here so many times you know exactly where everything is backstage... catering, dressing rooms... etc.
I finally received my new set of custom moulded in-ear monitors and they sound fantastic. The technology has moved on since the last ones and they sound full and musical, nice bottom end, clean, smooth top end. A pleasure to play again. The show was so relaxed and maybe the best we've done so far. Everyone simply enjoying playing with each other. Some standout performances were Marbletown, Cleaning My Gun and Brothers In Arms. A stand up show with a stand up audience of 6,200. Great gig.
A runner to the Legacy, gin and tonics waiting. Dinner for the flight was roasted duck. Duck is one of those things that I've tried and tried and simply don't like. Coincidentally, duck was served as one of the entrees at dinner the night before. So, I passed on the food which was fine as I've really been cutting back anyway. I've already dropped a couple of pounds and feel better for it. As we approached Glasgow you could still see a glimmer of light in the sky, we turned our watches back one hour and touched down as light as a feather, smooth as silk. Nice to be back in the U.K. again for a while.
It's a day off in Glasgow and we'll be celebrating John McCusker's birthday, he turns 40 today.
Amsterdam, Holland 14 May 2013
We'd checked in late the night of the 12th after the show in Antwerp and I spend a good half hour trying to figure how things in this room work. Completely over engineered and tricked out, push button curtains, lights that go on and off by touch and more. An internet system that is not Mac friendly requiring a trip to reception to get on line but not after a lot of head scratching. Finally got a bit of it sorted and down to sleep.
Monday the 13th was a day off here in Amsterdam. Went down to the very well equipped and large gym and apart from the blaring shit music these kinds of places still think is motivational, had a great work out. Hit the street and turned in to the Small Talk Cafe for a delicious cheese omelette, a side salad and coffee. Perfect. Fortified, I walked the streets for a couple of hours finally making my way to the Van Gogh Museum. I'd been many years ago and was happy to take it in again for another couple hours. A band dinner and an early night in.
The gig on the 14th was at the Ziggo Dome, a brand new facility specially built for shows and it was a capacity crowd of 12,000. It was our first show of the tour with Ruth Moody and her band opening. Ruth is a fantastic singer, songwriter, has two solo albums out and several albums as part of the female trio The Wailin' Jennies. Ruth & Co. will be joining us for all the Albert Hall shows as well as several others. Her opening set was great and she returned to join us on stage for three songs. Brilliant. In spite of some technical difficulties it was a great show and a thunderous audience. Always good to play Amsterdam.
Back to the hotel for a full attendance night cap and a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we play Luxembourg then fly to Glasgow where we'll begin a long series of dates through the U.K.
Antwerp, Belgium 12 May 2013
Having shaken off the inconvenient '70s-era eccentricities of our hotel in Bremen, I zipped up the bags and we were off to the Legacy and another hour flight to Antwerp.
It was Sportpaleis tonight, our usual venue in Antwerp, completely sold to the rafters... all the way up in the nose bleed section and nearly around to the back of the stage. Our good friend and brilliant guitar player, John Jorgenson, happened to be in town on tour and came to see us with his friend Sondra. John is a titan of the guitar, has been for years and plays so many different styles it's humbling. He also happens to be a great clarinet player and one of the nicest guys on the face of the planet. Glenn, Jim and I had a good visit with him backstage and it's always great seeing someone you know, both of you in a totally different setting.
The usual report on the show and as we were standing backstage deciding whether an encore was going to happen, the audience was deafening. It didn't take long to figure out we we're going back for another tune or two. Thank you Antwerp. Thanks also to friends of mine who very kindly brought a magnum of the delicious Belgium brewed Duval. This will be chilled and shared on the next night flight.
Tonight's runner was not a flight but a drive, about 90 minutes from Antwerp to Amsterdam where we'll spend the night, enjoy a day off and play on the 14th.
Bremen, Germany 11 May 2013
Decamped Berlin for an hour flight to Bremen. Our flight attendant Liz arranged for the most delicious sushi we've had in a long time, so much for curtailing the food. With the fleet of Rovers waiting on the tarmac we were driven to OVB Arena.
A song we've not played live since our tour with Emmylou in 2006 made it's way back in the show.... I Dug Up A Diamond. We re-worked the arrangement while in rehearsals in London but hadn't actually played it until the Bremen show. A well played and confident show to a sold-out audience of 8,000+.
Staying in Bremen this evening where I met up with my old friend Richard Weize and his wife Birgit. Richard is the owner and driving force of Bear Family Records. If you're not familiar with Bear Family, it is THE premier re-issue and box set label, everything about their product is top drawer beginning with obtaining the original source material, excellent mastering, lavish coffee table style books for each set that are painstaking in their accuracy. I've known Richard for over 20 years and have had the pleasure of working with him on several of their projects. Always great seeing Birgit and Richard, especially here in Bremen just kilometres away from the home of Bear Family. Check out their website to learn more, www.bear-family.com
As for the hotel, it is beautifully located across from a park, appropriately named The Park Hotel and is convoluted beyond description. Not even sure if I can explain it but I'll take a crack. My room is 524. Every particle of logic says once in the lift press 5. There is no fifth floor. Instead one must go to the 3rd floor, walk half way round the hotel's corridors to a second lift going down to the 1st floor which only this lift can deposit you on. There on the 1st floor are a block of rooms in the 500 sequence. It is so incredible that I cannot conceive the layout. It has all the elements of an Escher creation come to life. Next is a key carded door that is so complicated even the people who come up to show how it's done cannot operate the goddamn thing. There is no information anywhere in this room that tells you how to ring down to the desk or room service. Believe me, I turned the room upside down looking. Nothing on the desk, in the drawers, on the phone.... nada. This means getting dressed, going to reception via the above mentioned circuitous route and asking what number to dial for a cup of coffee in the room. While I was down there, I also brought my computer which would not log on to whatever internet service they have. After much fiddling and head scratching they got me logged on and suggested it would probably be best if I just stayed online at any site so it wouldn't log out. Pissed? You bet. Still, the rooms are large with one wall of glass doors that open onto the park. After my coffee arrived things started looking a little rosier.
Sunday is Mother's Day in the States. Here's wishing my wife, daughter and all moms a good one.
Berlin, Germany 9, 10 May 2013
Thursday the 9th was a day off here in Berlin, having arrived late the night before. I got down to the gym for a late morning push in prep for lunch at The Augustiner Restaurant not far from the hotel. Jim and Guy made it a party of three. When we left the hotel it was sprinkling but by the time we got to the restaurant the sun had come through and we took an outdoor table. My #1 favourite beer is this Bavarian masterpiece. Augustiner Brau has been brewed in Munich since 1328, they have never advertised, still don't and it is the largest selling beer in Bavaria. I can only describe it as liquid bread. We ordered a litre each and they arrived with creamy heads in heavy dimpled glass containers so large they nearly required two hands to hoist them. That first drink was fantastic and it was never anything less all the way down to the bottom of the litre. As Jim said, it just keeps being good. The restaurant is run by the brewery and serves traditional Bavarian fair; a variety of wursts, Vienna schnitzel, crispy roasted pig knuckles, goulash, warm potato and cucumber salad, sauerkraut, apple strudel and more. All cooked to perfection and served in a large food hall atmosphere with dark wood walls and wooden tables. Located at 55 Charlottenstrasse. Don't fool around, just go there.
Friday the 10th was spent with guitar in hand for a good part of the day, practising and working on a couple of new tunes that have come along in this past week. I did get out for a walk and on the way back stopped in at St. Hedwigs Kathedrale. Its construction began in 1747 and was not opened until 1773. The cathedral completely burned in air raids on Berlin in 1943. Reconstruction began in 1952. I'm not a religious person... a hardcore sceptic if ever there was one, but on these tours, particularly in Europe, I sometimes find myself in the dark, cool and quiet of cathedrals. Drawn in by the beautiful construction, ornately carved or very simple wooden benches, stained glass and the quiet that is in stark contrast to what lies outside the walls. St. Hedwigs having been rebuilt in the recent past, is domed, modern and with non-traditional stained glass, angular pipes of the organ that are well displayed and those simple, sort of Danish modern benches. The dark and quiet are always welcomed by me and perhaps that's what draws others in as well.
Across the street a jazz band was playing in the open square and I wandered over there to listen to a couple of tunes before heading back to the hotel to get ready for tonight's show.
We've played the O2 World arena before, one of those places you've been so many times you know your way around. Our usual routine, late afternoon arrival, a dash to catering for a bowl of soup, soundcheck, dinner, warm-up and show. I stuck to a small salad and some fresh fruit tonight for dinner. I'll weigh 900 pounds by the end of this tour if I don't begin cutting back.
It was a full house, 11,000 and the largest audience so far on the tour, took our breath away when we walked on stage, packed right up to the highest seats. Great show, great audience. Finally got my in-ear monitors sorted and it was a pleasure not fighting that tonight. A new set made from moulds that were taken during rehearsals in London should be arriving any day, these will fit perfectly and have far superior sound, but the spare set will do fine 'til then.
A runner back to our hotel and a final visit back to the Augustiner with Glenn, Mike, Mark, Pete, Jim and Paul for another litre of bier and the savoury wurst.
Lodz, Poland 8 May 2013
With yesterday's successful up-loading, these notes are now officially written and saved in Text Edit then copied onto the website platform. I realise the font has changed and I've been told how to deal with that, which I'll eventually get to... one thing at a time. The fact I've got this sorted is a giant step forward as I lurch kicking and screaming into the 1990's.
We checked out of our mission style hotel in Prague, a great place with the exception of it's outdated and inefficient internet system, which I have little to complain about given my outdated and inefficient skills with a computer. It was a short flight to Lodz, Poland and Liz our flight attendant was already putting out lunch while we were still ascending, a tasty and filling chicken cobb salad.
Lodz is pronounced Woodch. I don't have a correct key for it, but the "L" has a slash through the vertical part which in Polish gives it a "W" sound. Lodz is located in the middle of the country and is the third largest city in Poland with a population in excess of 800,000. Tonight's venue was the Altas Arena and we were scheduled for an early 7:30 show. It was a sold out gig but the audience was a little slow coming in and we held the beginning for about 20 minutes giving everyone a chance to get in and seated.
I'll go as far as saying I set the record for in-ear monitor changes and nightmares in a two hour show. As mentioned earlier, my trusty set I've used for several years, packed it in a few nights ago. I then went to a spare set that were left overs from 2005. The moulds of these were brittle and the wires that connect to the earpiece had broken loose and were literally hanging by a thread. They gave up the ghost shortly after the show began. I then switched to another spare set that Kerry our monitor man has. These are not fitted and simply generic ear buds. I soon found that one side had a short and was intermittent. Through my guitar tech I made contact with Kerry again for yet another set of spares to be ready. It took three of us to untangle this set while waiting to go back on stage for the encore and though we finally got that sorted, I never could get them in my ears properly. In the end I think the right and left bits were in my ears backwards to the point if I moved my head slightly, they would begin to pull out. Honestly, I don't think I've struggled getting through a show as much as this one. Having said that, one simply gets on with things and it was a good gig all around with some fantastic playing from everyone. The Lodz audience was loud and enthusiastic.
A runner and another short flight fueled with shepherd's pie and drinks of choice to Berlin where we'll be basing for the next few days. With a day off on the 9th, we're all looking forward to re-visiting one of our favourite bier garten restaurants for patters full of their delicious German food and steins of the crisp and creamy Augustiner bier.
Prague, Czech Republic 7 May 2013
Today we'll try a new way of writing these little notes given the debacle of a couple of days ago. In that case it was not my usual ineptness with computers but the miserable internet here in the hotel that swallowed up two versions of that days notes. If you're reading this then I will have succeeded in the cut/paste/up-load. If not....
A day off in Prague on the 6th, got out for a few hours walking around this beautiful city which was teeming with tourist. It's no wonder why given it's history and favourable exchange rate. That combined with an inexpensive flight from the U.K. or any where else in Europe makes for an unbeatable holiday. Still, I had to fight my way through streets crowded with people on vacation. With no particular destination in mind I walked and walked and ended up in a little restaurant I'd stumbled into three years ago, Maestro, for a pizza and a large Pilsner-Urquell. Made my way back through the crowded streets to the peace of this hotel.
Tuesday the 7th, coffee in the room, answer a handful of e-mails then down to the gym for the usual measure of humiliation. We're in a wonderful hotel but the internet and the gym are not quite happening.... a couple of machines, a handful of free weights and a bench, much like Milan but at least there's a little air movement. One of those machines is the dreaded all-in-one universal job. These are to be avoided at all cost, they claim to do everything and really do nothing very well except posing a great risk of hurting the user. They would have done well to spend that money on a few extra free weights... maybe something a little heavier than 10 kgs.
The show in Prague was at the O2 Arena with a capacity of 7,000+. We arrived and piled into catering prior to our sound check for bowls of hot and sour soup that were remarkable. The first taste that hit the senses was floral and I couldn't figure out what it was. I asked David, one of our master chefs, and he said it was kafir lime leaves. Fantastic.
Well fortified we had a sound check then back to catering for one of the most spectacular dinners yet, Asian night. Large butterflied prawns breaded with coconut and garlic then fried, beef satay with ground cashew nuts, long thin egg rolls, chicken marinated in sake then dipped in a seasoned rice flour and fried, Shanghai noodles, sauteed Asian vegetables and more. Most couldn't decide on any one thing and Georg suggested a mixed plate... a bit of it all. And so it was. I don't know how Chris, Georg and David do it day after day....full breakfast and lunch for the crew as well as these dinners. It's true that an army travels on it's stomach and these three keep this army very well fed and happy.
Looking out tonight from the stage into the arena, I didn't see any empty seats so assume it was a sell out. MK & Co. have hit that place in the tour that the shows are very relaxed and enjoyable, not complacent but very sure of itself. It was probably the best show of the tour so far.
Back at the hotel by 10:30, Guy, Glenn and I capped off the night in the wonderfully inviting bar in our hotel.
Zagreb, Croatia 5 May 2013
This will be the third time I've written today's post providing I can up load it. The hotel's internet is shite and continues to drop the signal have swallowed up two previous attempts. The first one very detailed, the second a Reader's Digest version and finally this no attention span version.
Got my in-ears sorted. In short they were blown and I used a spare pair last night from the 2005 tour. A completely different ear moulding of hard plastic that doesn't seal as well and lets some of the outside sound in but 100 percent better than the blown set. From the band's point of view it was the best show of the tour so far, no technical problems, great playing, fresh set. Prairie Wedding made a return to the set last night after many years, Mike taking on the acoustic guitar part that I played on the record and previous tours and me playing pedal steel. It's not uncommon for us to play one thing on the record then something completely different on stage.
Not quite a full house but the audience response more than made up for the few empty seats. Thanks for a great gig Zagreb.
A runner to the Legacy and back to Prague for a day off.
Fingers crossed this will get posted.
Ljubljana, Slovenia 4 May 2013
De-camped Milano early this afternoon. A beautiful city with absolutely no mind for bugdet. Every big fashion designer is represented or based here. Top tier clothes and shoe shoppes, nothing has a price tag. If you have to ask how much it costs, you probably cannot afford it. Happy window shopping.
Our roving range of Land Rovers brought us to the airport, drove onto the tarmac and delivered us air-side to the stairs of the Legacy. In little over an hour we landed in Ljubljana... pronounced: lyoob-lee-ah-nah. A rain and hail storm preceded our landing by 10 minutes, but the sun broke through as we left the plane and departed for the venue. The city is surrounded by snow capped mountains and very Swiss looking, at least what we saw of it on the 15 minute drive to the arena.
A handful of songs for soundcheck then dinner. Get a load of this selection of entrees all whipped up with the greatest of ease by Chris, Georg and David... Grilled sea bass, real Brit fish-chips-mushy peas, steak and Guinness pie, several fresh salads, breads and desserts. I think my goal is shifting from wanting to lose 10 lbs. over the course of these months to simply maintaining those 10 lbs. How can you NOT eat this? I wanted one of everything and opted for the least filling and caloric... the grilled sea bass, then shoved off after finishing lest I ordered the fish and chips as well. Too good.
It was the Arena Stozice tonight, a new arena we've not played before, and an enthusiastic crowd of 6,000. Some difficult turns tonight for everyone with the in-ear monitors, making things on stage a little difficult at times but nothing bad enough to do any harm to the show, which despite the problems, everyone enjoyed.
A runner back to the Legacy, air-side delivery. An hour and fifteen minute, gin/tonic, Vienna schnitzel fueled flight that skirted a couple of thunderstorms before touching down softly in Prague. We'll base here for the next few days.
Milan, Italy 3 May 2013
We left the hotel mid-afternoon for the venue and got a study in Milano traffic which was teaming. Ah well, how hard can it be? It's a beautiful city, I'm sitting in a brand-spanking-new Range Rover and I'm not the one negotiating the roads. When we finally arrived at the gig I made a bee line straight to catering, the only thing I'd put in me all day was three cups of coffee and a work out, it's 4:30 and I'm starving. Of course at that time they were in between lunch and dinner and the only thing out was soup and fresh bread. I piled in to two bowls of possibly the best soup I've ever had, cauliflower and caraway. Never had that particular combo before but as Chris our lead chef informed us, it's a strange soup... when you walk it way it calls you back. It certainly called me back for a second bowl and tugs at me now as I peck this note out many hours later.
Sound-check; ran a few tunes for sound and memory. One, Back To Tupelo, made a return to the show tonight after an absence of 8 years.
The Mediolanum Forum holds a capacity audience of 8,500 and did so this evening; sold out. Great audience, their show of approval overpowering. As for the show, I'd say we held up our end of the bargain. Everybody playing great, relaxed and enjoying each moment and song. Having done a couple of those tours with Dylan the last two years where we only played just over an hour, I was wondering how it would be to stand up and play a 2 hour gig again. No worries, it goes by so quickly for us.
The usual routine, an encore, a Rover, a runner. There were a couple of cold Peroni's and a ham and cheese sandwich waiting in the Rover which I scooped up, put in my bag and made good work of back in the room. Some of the boys went down to the bar for a night cap, but I opted for a quiet and, by tour standard, early night... in bed and clicked off the light before 12:30.
Turin, Italy 2 May 2013
An easy, restful day off Wednesday in Milano, the 1st... May Day. Coffee in the room then down to the gym. Good hotel, crap gym. Hard to beat the fitness centre at the Istanbul hotel, but by any standard this was a loser. A small area to begin with, it was divided into two tiny rooms with little more than a couple of treadmills, some free weights and a bench. Somehow airless even with the windows open...a theatre of torture. At least the treadmills worked and the free weights, well... you know, they always work so I stayed with it.
Back to the room, shower, change and out onto the pavement. May Day is not celebrated in America but embraced in Europe. While not a national holiday, most shops are shuttered. Not far from the hotel is a beautiful public park and that's where I ended up. People out with their families, playing football, riding bikes, picnics or simply sitting on the benches taking in the day as I did. A large shallow fountain in front of the bench I occupied with grandparents making sailboats from broad waxy leaves found on the ground, delighting the kids as they floated on the water. A couple of dogs broke away from their masters, ran like hell and jumped into the fountain much to the mock horror of their owner. Once the dogs were in, so followed the children. Great stuff. What I found amazing was the lack of cellular and smart phones. I didn't see anyone on them. Everybody simply enjoying the day, their families and being there in that moment.
Had another beautiful dinner with the guys at Rovello 18. Like all the finest food, freshness and simplicity is key and it was at Rovello. I had a small spaghetti pomodoro followed by a grilled fillet steak. Several bottles of soft, inviting Italian wines made the rounds at the table and dining doesn't get much better than this. Beautiful food, warm and comfortable vibe, nothing fussy about it. Go.
May 2, I somehow managed to fritter the morning and afternoon away in the room, e-mail, practising godknowswhat. Before I knew it, it was time to meet in the lobby. A couple of vans took us to the Milano train station where we boarded a Eurostar for a pleasant hour's journey to Torino... Turin, and tonight's show. The seats were comfy, the ride smooth as silk even at 300 km/h and you know you're in Italy when even the food on the train is good. A serving of tomato filled small ravioli, tuna stuffed red peppers, what appeared to be a zucchini sweet muffin, dried nuts and figs followed by fresh espresso. Grazie.
We were met at the station by the drivers and it was short hop to Palaolimpico, tonight's venue. When I walked out on stage for sound check I noticed who all the seats of the perimeter and up the walls were of clear plexiglass, giving it a real look of style, modern and retro at the same time. So Italian. A few songs that hadn't been played since rehearsals in London were run as they'll make their debut on the gig tonight, then off to catering. The list of entrees was temptation itself. Fresh whole trout, gnocchi and another fresh pasta were offered. I managed to resist and stick with a bowl of tangy tomato and artichoke soup and salad. Everyone around me was enjoying their heads off with their dinner choices and I honestly had to get up and leave quickly otherwise I would have ordered one of everything, it all looked that good. Back to the austerity of our dressing room where nothing more than a cup of tea and my guitar called me to warm up.
All those plexiglass seats of the Palaolimpico were filled not to mention the floor as we took the stage at 9 o'clock. The show was fresh and heads up. The new tune debuted was a rousing version of Gator Blood and making it's first appearance this tour, Kingdom Of Gold. Good gig and great to be in front of an Italian audience again.
A runner to the Rovers and a long circuitous drive back to Milan. Seems the motorway was closed at some point or we simply got lost, but it was a myriad of small one lane roads and a million turns and roundabouts before we finally got back on the motorway heading to the lights of Milano. There were a couple of the world's largest Peroni biers iced down as well as sandwiches in the Rover, but given the long drive I didn't want to start drinking beer then have to make a stop as it cycled through. Also, didn't want to fall asleep then be wide awake at the hotel. So, two and a half hours staring out at pitch blackness of the country side. It was about 1:30 when we pulled in, glad to arrive at last. I grabbed one of those Peroni's and a sandwich, both of which were greatly appreciated and devoured in my room prior to calling it a night following a long day.
Ciao and so long,
Belgrade, Serbia 30 April 2013
We bid fond adieu to Istanbul checking out at 2 for a final drive through the mad traffic to the airport. Looking down as the Legacy lifted above the city, I still couldn't believe how populated it is, every bit of the earth below jam packed with buildings and people. It was a great five days in Istanbul and we all look forward to returning.
In less than 2 hours we landed in Belgrade and were met by our team of drivers, Manfred, Eike and Bob. Turns out Bob had a chilly drive from Sofia as his driver side window would not go up, driving through the frigid night to Belgrade. I saw a pic of Bob bundled up and shivering behind the wheel. He thawed quickly as it was another 80 degree day in Belgrade once the sun came up.
Tonight's venue: Kombank Arena. Slow getting on stage for soundcheck as this afternoon's load-in didn't happen until 2 o'clock putting the crew back for setting up. Still, there was plenty of time to run through a several tunes making further adjustments to our in-ear monitors and tweaking arrangements. That completed, it was a straight dash for catering. Our 5-star travelling culinary angels presenting a spicy bean soup, an array of fresh breads and salads and among the entrees, pounded chicken breasted crusted with basil and panko then sauteed to perfection, served with spaghetti and pomodoro sauce. I asked for a small helping, a child's portion and what arrived was anything but that. When I mentioned this to Georg she said, "It's for a large child." Cheers. So, there I was with no choice but to eat it all. Not exactly a light meal before the show but spectacularly delicious. I walked part of it off getting back to the dressing room as it was half a world away from the catering room. On the way there I found a quiet unused room, took a guitar in there and got my fingers moving for about an hour before the show.
Tonight saw another debut live performance of a song called 5:15 that we recorded on the Shangri-La album and the return of the title track from that album which we've not played in a long time. There'll be more surprises along the way. Everyone is really enjoying mixing the set up each night. The show was loads of fun with some twists and turns, the two hours over like minutes then a runner to the airport. My pal Eike, one of our drivers, had a bottle of my favourite Bavarian beer, Augustiner, cold and waiting in the Rover... bottle opener at the ready, making for a delicious drive to the airport.
Although we are flying privately and go through a different area of the airport, we still must pass through the usual security measures The exuctive jet terminal entrance was closed tonight so we were routed through the main terminal requiring us to go through that security check, walk a few hundred feet to the executive security and do the very same thing again... a little excercise from the department of redundancy followed by the issuing of boarding passes for the Legacy. All a little 'police state' feeling. Anyway, it's all fine and we're guests in their city and abide by the custom.
At last we boarded the Legacy, had a few drinks, dinner, laughs then touched down in Milan where we'll have a day off and base for several thereafter.
Sofia, Bulgaria 29 April 2013
Sunday the 28th was another day off here in Istanbul and I took full advantage doing little as possible. I did manage a good push down at the gym, a couple of hours poolside with Guy and Ian and later that evening another remarkable dinner with the MK & Co. at a traditional Turkish restaurant by the name of Raika. The top floor of a tall building that serves as a hotel or perhaps offices, not sure. Another picture perfect view over the Bosphorus. After being seated the lights in the restaurant seemed to take on a life of their own ranging from complete blackout to full on mega watt emergency mode. About the time it was really becoming an annoyance they settled down and the wonderful Turkish wine arrived along with numerous platefuls of various delicacies, too many to detail. Everything was a taste sensation. Raika... all thumbs up.
Monday we played Sofia. A 1:30 call down to the lobby which for some reason I had recalculated to be 15 minutes later. Got a call from a slightly peeved (and rightly so) Tim Hook. Fortunately I was ready, packed and made my way down without really hanging anything up. We slid our way through the Istanbul traffic to the airport and finally on board the Legacy for a short hop to Sofia.
We played this venue several years ago, 2008 I think. The mayor of Sofia was in attendance for our lavish meet and greet at that time. We will probably have a few m&g's over this tour, but not quite the extravaganzas of past that included Celtic and Hawaiian music, a stunning version of Caravan that is lurking around on you tube somewhere and even a bit of juggling. In fact that you tube clip was filmed right here at the venue in Sofia.
The National Palace of Culture is a medium size theatre with a capacity of 3,800. I'll wager more than that were in attendance. Jam packed to the rafters and spilling out over the sides. You couldn't ask for a better audience and the band was relaxed and playful particularly on Marbletown. We debuted Seattle from the new album last night and I must say it sounded fantastic... a great big, wide open expanse of a sound-scape.
A runner after the gig back to Istanbul for one last night before decamping and moving on.
Istanbul, Turkey 26, 27 April 2013
Friday the 26th was a beautiful and relaxing day off in Istanbul, everyone catching up on sleep following the hectic day before. By noon I'd made my way down to the hotel's large and perfectly equipped gym to find Jim, Mark and our tour manager Tim already there and sweating their way through various trials of torture. For the next 90 minutes I did the same. The weather in Istanbul could not be better; bright, sunny and in the mid 70s F. Our palatial hotel is located on the Strait of Bosphorus and the swimming pool is at the edge of that waterway, looking across to Asia. An Olympic size pool that was impossible to resist, we all made our way out to expose yards of white flesh and soak up some vitamin D. That's D not G.
That evening we had a remarkably delicious dinner, all present, at Topaz. The restaurant overlooks the Bosphorus, it's hills teaming with homes apartments, businesses and the bridge. A massive, orange, full moon rising slowly over the horizon completed the scene. A big hit was baked beef rib, a large one that was slowly roasted for 9 hours, the meat falling from the bleached bone. I ordered stuffed grape leaves followed by a grilled sea bass. Many bottles of Turkish wine were enjoyed. I've had wine from Turkey before and didn't particularly like it so wasn't expecting much but I have to say, I've changed my mind and will begin looking at them with a new view and seeking them out.
A good deal of talk centred around George Jones who died early Friday morning in Nashville and he was toasted all around the table. Jones was arguably the best country singer of the last 60 years and possibly ever. I was very fortunate to have played on a couple of his albums but my first encounter with George Jones came way back in 1956. My dad was working in radio then as an announcer in Chicago and would often bring home stacks of 45 rpm singles that the station no longer wanted or didn't fit their format. Already, at the age of 5, I was hooked on these magic discs of black plastic that with the help of a "machine" came to life with music and singing. In amongst the stacks was a record with a bright yellow label adorned with stars at the top and stylish script that I was still too young to read. I put it on my little RCA singles player, dropped the tone arm down and fell in love with the sound of the music and the guy singing. That record was You Gotta Be My Baby, the label was Starday and the singer was George Jones. Over the next 50+ years he would leave a stunning amount of wreckage in his wake from severe alcoholism, drug abuse, failed marriages, staggeringly poor business choices, horrible management, bankruptcies, very public meltdowns and simple indifference. But above the tragedy lies a shining body of recordings, thousands. I could go on and on about how important his records have been to me over the years...but won't. I'll just say this, if you own a George Jones record, listen to it again and if you don't.... get one. You won't be sorry and might just fall in love as I did almost 60 years ago.
We ended this day back at the hotel's outdoor bar overlooking the strait for a nightcap then off to bed.
Saturday the 27th was another slice of heaven only warmer. After a cup of coffee I headed back to the pool. I plan to take advantage of this weather as we'll no doubt be back to cooler climes soon enough. Istanbul is a transcontinental city of nearly 14 million people that straddles the Bosphorus, two-thirds of it population is European and one-third Asian. Tonight's venue, Ulker Sports Arena is on the Asian side of the city. With a teaming population, traffic in this city is insane so it was decided we would boat across the Bosphorus to the Asian side and cut much of the time sitting in traffic. It was a rough but enjoyable ride and we docked on the continent of Asia in about 30 minutes. Our drivers were stuck in traffic and we cooled our heals for another half hour there at the dock watching the people dressed for summer out walking, biking and rollerblading. At last the Range Rovers arrived, we got in and hit more gridlock arriving at the venue past 5 o'clock. A quick bowl of soup in catering then soundcheck to work out some of the bugs of the Bucharest show. That done, it was back to catering for a wonderful dinner, a mezza platter... mixed plate of Turkish foods, grilled meats, vegetables, fish, stuffed artichoke hearts, rice and cous-cous. Tonight also saw the return of the Meet and Greet. Not quite the extravaganza or length of old but lots of fun. Mike and John taking the lead, Guy and I strumming along with their reels and waltzes... Mark signing a few posters.
Back to the dressing room with just enough time to change clothes, warm up the fingers a little more and take the stage albeit after a 15 minute delay due the crowd being slow getting in. The venue is new and holds 12,000, seating around the perimeter and standing floor. What a gig it was, many of the slight mishaps of the first show behind us and the surety of this band back in full force. We changed the set a little and included Postcards From Paraguay a song we recorded on the Shangri-La album and have only played a couple of times live, way back when. It, like everything else was steaming. Feels like we're back up on the horse again, the two hour set passing like a few minutes.... at least to us up there on stage. The Istanbul audience was loud in their approval. Before we knew it, we were running after the last encore, in the Rovers and making our way back to the European side of Istanbul. The traffic more cooperative this direction, we were at the hotel in the time it took to drink a beer. Another full band gathering at the outdoor bar looking out on the Bosphorus for a nightcap and talk through a few more details and improvements that can be brought to the show. Tomorrow's another day off... what a schedule.
Bucharest, Romania 25 April 2013
The 2013 Privateering Tour has begun.
As promised, or threatened, we left our luxurious digs in London at 8 a.m. sharp arriving at Northolt RAF airfield to reunite and quiz each other over the last few days off. You can always mark the beginning of a tour by fresh haircuts all around, a little shorter than usual to make 'em last as long as possible. Activities ranged on the scale from as little as possible (the Yanks who stayed at the hotel) to non-stop. I think the prize for busiest goes to Mike McGoldrick who headed back home to Manchester last Saturday following the final rehearsal and hit the ground running, including 2 days in the studio recording an album, playing at a funeral of a friend, going to a football match and family time.
We boarded our trusted Embraer Legacy executive jet and were welcomed by none other that Danielle who looked after us so well back on the 2008 tour and will be doing the same for most of this. We're in excellent hands. Wheels up at 10 o'clock sharp for a 3 hour and 10 minute flight to Bucharest. A nap, light lunch and we'd arrived, stepping from the plane into sunshine and warmth. We were met at the airfield by our driving team and pals, Manfred, Eike, Bob and Mario who will tag team with Bernie, Michael, Philipp and Fabian driving us through the many cities on this tour. Great to see them all and begin to catch up over the last 3 years. With the two hour time change it was now mid-afternoon in Bucharest and we drove through this very beautiful city to the venue. Lush parks surround Bucharest and on this bright, sunny, 80 F. day... it was good seeing people out walking in short sleeves and summertime dress.
As it was the first day of the tour there was a longer than usual soundcheck, making sure everything was working, from the lights, sound, equipment and us. Ran through a half dozen tunes then time to open the house.
According to everyone, catering was brilliant as usual, but I stuck with a small salad and left it at that. Between the food served on board the plane and that in catering, I'll have to watch it. We have over three months of this luxurious dining ahead.
Tonight's venue was Sala Palatului a theatre seating 3,600, every one of those seats filled. The inaugural show of this tour was crackling with slightly nervous energy, everyone of us having a few memory lapses that were glossed over by many years of professionalism. I doubt that many, if any of the audience was aware of these errors. As for me, I had a few missed cues with changing guitars and settings as well as some problems with my in-ear monitors making it not the easiest or relaxed of gigs. Over the next few shows all these small bugs will be worked out.... not one worry about that. Tonight's audience was wonderful, recognising and acknowledging the first few notes of even the new songs we were playing and giving us a rousing ovation after the final song.
A runner from the stage to the waiting cars. This year's tour we will be riding in spanking new Range Rovers and they are wonderful, firm, tight rides and the lap of luxury inside. Not to mention that smell of new leather. Back aboard the plane, a couple of expertly mixed gin and tonics, lamb and chicken curries then just like that.... we landed in Istanbul just before midnight.
As always I'll keep a running log of this tour throughout. Those familiar with it will no doubt be following Guy's wonderful tour diaries as well which while covering the same thing does it from his point of view and his photos are really wonderful, be sure to go to his site. Also, my friend Isaac Shabtay will be writing a tour diary of his travels, photos and experiences as he makes his way around the world to every show of this tour, an amazing feat of logistics and routing. His site is: http://p.isaac.shabtay.com
A fine and busy launch to the tour, 3 countries, two flights and a gig. We arrived at the hotel and I was completely knackered. I Skyped my son who now lives and works in London then happily hit the hay.