A Tale of two Cities

Last weekend presented me with a lightning tour of two of the U.K.’s most ancient and famous seaside towns, both situated on the singularly uninviting East Coast, their almost identical parades of sweet shops and slot machines standing defiant against the grey forbidding, seething mass that is the North Sea. The North Sea has been a graveyard for Vikings, intrepid fisherman, U boats et al, in equal measure. one does not bathe in it willingly. therefore people’s desire to holiday anywhere within its proximity is concept I find completely without merit.

Nevertheless, a deal is a deal, as they say, so I boarded my flight, and headed for Luton airport, there to be met by our lead guitarist, amiable Dane Michael Koch.Mike steals a trolley Our first port of call was Skegness, where the flatlands of Lincolnshire bravely kiss the North seashore, and usually receive a meteorological smack in the mouth for their impudence. This famous seaside town’s motto “Skegness is SO bracing” can be easily translated to mean “it’s so goddamn windy here, if you buy one of our stupidly inane “kiss me kwik” hats, you’d damn well better staple it to your head”. Clever marketing that. Tell the public that the weather is awful, but in a nice way. I didn’t buy it for a minute.

We were playing in a venue called The Skyline, which is best described as follows: Take about five large electricity pylons, and stick them in the ground at strange angles, then get one enormous white rubber sheet and stretch it over the whole shebang, making it look pointy and stuff. there you have it. Looks great. Acoustically good? Forget it. It’s like playing inside a giant tent. Come to think of it, it IS playing inside a giant tent.

Fortunately, we had Nathan, our hired sound engineer for the evening. With almost no time for a soundcheck, due to the fact that the management unhelpfully allow the place to be swarming with punters all day long, we feared the worst. But we needn’t have worried, everything was crystal clear, great monitor sounds, I could hear every syllable I uttered. I cannot over-emphasise the sheer unfettered joy when it comes together like this and your crew is as professional as the band. the guy on the desk has the power of life and death over you, whether you triumph or fail is ultimately in his hands. On this night, we all did our job, and we stormed it. One down, one to go!

I cannot, in all conscience however, leave Skegness without mentioning the management. The company that run these resorts is legendary for its unwillingness to “go the extra mile” for the bands that entertain its patrons. We were denied accommodation, and meals, told to go and eat where the holidaymakers eat. We were given a plate of sandwiches though…..

This “no room at the inn” policy resulted in us having to strip our backline and leave the gig immediately after the show and get on the road for the next jewel of the east coast; the surely ironically-named “Great” Yarmouth. This, after I’d been up since 5 a.m. U.K. time. So, after 21 hours, three long car journeys and a plane ride, my head finally hit the wafer thin pillow on the pelmet masquerading as a bed in our cozy caravan at Vauxhall Holiday Park. But I won’t have a word said against them, we were afforded TWO free nights accommodation, whilst performing only one. Are you listening, Skegness?

My frustration at missing The Blockheads show that evening was tempered by the knowledge that the following day would bring reunions with old friends from SAILOR and SMOKIE.

The morning surprised us with its clearly sunny intent, and morphed into the hottest day of the year so far. Mike and I, feeling particularly healthy, opted for a walk into town and breakfast in a greasy spoon cafe, where the knowledge of the walk back eased our guilt at the cholesterol-fest that was placed in front of us.

Mark and Pete opted for an exercise-free self-cooked cholesterol fest in the comfort of the caravan. Our “portakabin” residence was something of a dichotomy. Worth perhaps the equivalent of a bundle of firewood, it boasted state-of-the-art kitchen appliances, including a seriously expensive looking Aga-style cooking range. Given the fact that most of the punters were busy gorging themselves on fish and chips and hot dogs, culinary luxuries like this seemed a little excessive.

The afternoon brought the wonder that is the multi-band soundcheck, where everybody plugs in everything and plays at the same time. To be a sound engineer presiding over this cacophony must surely require patience of herculean proportions.

To add to the chaos, we all renew acquaintances and talk about old times instead of getting things done. I love it. Guitar lead in hand, I ignore my responsibilities, and ensure that Phil Pickett, of Sailor, does too, as we discuss the pros and cons of living abroad. Phil is responsible for the massive Culture Club hit “Karma Chameleon” and played on most of that band’s albums, after his own success with Sailor. Our conversation is fragmented as we struggle to do our jobs, and I move on to annoying Grant Serpell, their drummer, and a dear friend. He is more concerned with getting back home to tee-off the following day, and to this end is determined to borrow everybody else’s drums and not use his own. He is a master at this, and inevitably succeeds. I know this will lead to me searching for Pete’s drumstool at the end of the evening. I mention to Grant Miki’s passion for golf and her attempts to teach me. “Ah” he says in his cultured tones, “You need to read my golf self-help book” I look at him, puzzled. “it’s called How to play like a twat” he offers, helpfully.

Later that same evening, he accosts me as I leave the stage , resplendent in my new jacket that i had bought that very afternoon. “ah” he says “you’ve been reading my other book, How to DRESS like a twat.” I’ve missed these guys….

While Sailor invited the crowd to drink from their “Glass of champagne” I spent time backstage with Terry Uttley, original bass player with Smokie. We’d last got together in Essen years ago, and spent the whole aftershow in the hotel nightclub, emerging for breakfast at 6am. Needless to say, we were both taking it a little easier these days! Smokie’s second singer, Alan Barton was a friend and near-neighbour, when I used to live in Yorkshire, who tragically succumbed to injuries sustained in a motorway crash while travelling to a show we were due to perform together in Stuttgart. It became a tribute concert to him.

A chat with Terry is always good value, he has so many stories, ranging from his working in San Francisco with the legendary guitarist Pat Thrall, to playing in the Kremlin, summoned for a New Years Eve command performance by Vladimir Putin. One happy outcome of our chat is that I will be able to reconnect him with an old friend, the singer Peter Sarstedt, with whom he’d lost touch.

For our part, we played out of our skins for the second night in a row, and were blessed again by a great onstage sound, courtesy of another professional crew. These nameless people, frequently hairy, frequently unfeasibly large, and usually both, generally go unsung, but they are the glue that hold these shows together, they are the magicians that make your heroes really appear larger than life, and they deserve the thanks of both the audience and the artists.

We wandered out front to watch some of Smokie’s show, and of course BC Sweet and Smokie’s sets share a common bond, the songwriting genius of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. Virtually every hit single both bands played that night were written by those two guys, an incredible achievement. A fitful sleep followed, as much a result of continued adrenaline levels as uncomfortable beds, but we were extremely satisfied with our job over two nights. It’s a constant challenge to step up to the plate and keep the standard high, usually against the odds, i.e. long flights, long waits, bad sound etc, but this week the pieces came together beautifully. Pete and I hit the road at 8 a.m. in order for me to get my fight from London Stansted back to Alicante, and with a rushed breakfast in the airport Starbucks to see me through the flight, I prepared to do it all again next week, only this time in Germany.

Text and photos by Kev Moore

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2 Responses to “A Tale of two Cities”

  1. […] April 28, 2008 · No Comments Hello Cafe Cremers, I’ve just returned from my musical adventures back in dear old Blighty, and would like to share some photos with you. for the full story of my trip, and more photos, please visit my blog […]

  2. Ahem… Skeggy and Yarmouth are pits – there are hidden gems along the coast though, we just forget to tell anyone about them 😉

    Loved the pics of Skeggy, brings back memories of the 90’s and those wonderful “Seventies weekends” with 21 bands rather than the usual 3 these days!!!

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