Up at 4.15am… taxi at 5am… airport 20 minutes later. After some confusion of how to get to the departure gate we boarded our first plane of the day, which took us to Vienna airport. Another security check… another gate… another covert mission to get the guitars onto the plane as hand luggage! We were flying ‘Austrian Air’ today and our second plane, from Vienna to Budapest, was a small propeller plane. Whilst we waited in a queue at the departure gate, an airline worker informed Stuart (stood directly in front of me) that he wouldn’t be able to take his guitar on board as hand luggage. She gave him a luggage tag so he could put his bass in the hold when he reached the plane. On hearing this, I made my best effort to keep my guitar out of sight, which worked; the lady didn’t spot it and so I wasn’t issued with a luggage tag. On reaching the plane, after a short airport bus ride to the plane, both Stuart and myself boarded the plane without any comment about our guitars. This is usually the case; I’m very forth coming about carrying my guitar onto a plane, but unfortunately the staff at some airports (particularly at check-in desks and boarding gates) don’t actually know their airline’s policy on taking musical instruments on board… despite the fact that their websites clearly state that you can, in fact, take a guitar onto their planes as hand luggage.
Having successfully boarded the plane, I settled into Stuart’s window seat (traded for my window seat on the previous flight) and fell asleep. I awoke when the in-flight food came round and enjoyed a coffee and spinach and ricotta roll whilst staring out of the window at the impressive looking propeller engine and the breathtaking scenery below (no matter how many times I fly, I never tire of staring out of the window at the world below).
When we landed at Budapest airport I had no luggage to collect, as my pedal board and clothes had gone with Simone and Gabrielli in the van, so I went straight through customs to find our host; Bogdan. I first met Bogdan, a promoter from Budapest, a few years ago when we first started playing Hungary, and we’ve kept in touch ever since. After exchanging greetings with Bogdan and another promoter, Igor, who would accompany us to the festival, we waited for Carl and Stuart to collect their luggage and then left for our hotel.
Our hotel was about an hour’s drive from the airport and when we arrived, we found that we’d all been allotted suites, each consisting of; 1 bathroom, 1 separate toilet room, living room, walk-in wardrobe room and a double bedroom – very nice! After a brief exploration of my suite and a thorough investigation of the freebies in my bathroom (which included a packet of ‘ear tampons’… that, much to my disappointment, turned out to be nothing more than cotton buds) I headed for the one room I was interested in and set my alarm for 4.30pm, just in case I was able to sleep that long!
At 5.30 we met Simone and Gabrielli in the lobby along with another band who were playing before us at the gig. The band consisted of an all-star line-up, which included Miller Anderson on guitar and Collin Hodgkinson on bass… seasoned players of note. Greetings were exchanged and, after being given a brief account of Simone and Gabrielli’s long but uneventful overnight journey, we headed to the venue.
After a few wrong turns and a stop to phone for directions, we eventually arrived at the gig; a large sports hall hosting the ‘Gastro blues’ festival. Heading straight to our dressing room (a tiled changing room – the sort you’d expect in a sports hall) I settled down and started my warm-up / practise exercises. When my pedal board arrived, I decided to keep the promise I’d made to myself after our gig in Rome and set about fixing the knob on my whammy pedal. I borrowed some of Stuart’s superglue and, carefully (so as not to clog up the knob with glue), I stuck the knob back on to the pedal and left it to dry. Half and hour later I tried the knob… to my dismay, but not surprise, the knob came off in my fingers, without turning the dial a fraction. I went in search of Simone (the afore mentioned Italian in charge of everything) to see if he could help me. I had the idea of cutting a groove in the plastic protruding from the remnants of the control knob and, into this groove, gluing a pick or something similar, which might act as a something I could grip to turn the knob. Simone told me that he thought this a bad idea and suggested I drilled a hole so I could glue something smaller in (such as an allen key)… To cut a long story short, the hole soon became a deep groove in the remnants of the knob – large enough for me to get my finger nail in and awkwardly turn the stub, in much the same way as I’d done on the previous three gigs.
The first band of the night consisted of guitar, bass, drums and flute/sax. They played covers of jazz-rock songs, including Weaher Report’s Birdland and Chick Corea’s Spain. I listened to them from our dressing room and after their set I passed them briefly, backstage, and commented to the bassist and guitarist that I’d enjoyed their playing. When I returned to our dressing room, Stuart told me that he’d been chatting to their bass player and he’d found out that the guitarist was Gary Moore’s brother!
The second band of the night was ‘British Blues Quintet’, (or BBQ!); the band we’d met in the lobby of our hotel. I walked out into the audience a few times to listen to them play – a really good blues band, with all members singing lead on different songs. Collin Hodgkinson did a song on his own, accompanying himself on bass, complete with chords, riffs, walking bass lines and solos – very cool. I didn’t stay around to watch too much of their set as I was keen to practice for this gig; being our last gig of this leg of the tour and having a few well respected musicians in the audience, I wanted to make this one a good one.
As is ALWAYS the case with festivals, the evening was running late. BBQ finished at around 10.15 at which time we had to make a quick change over. I waited for Carl’s drums to be taken on stage and be mic-ed up until I set up my area of the stage. I always get a little claustrophobic whilst setting up on a busy on stage; for some reason I feel like other people are invading my space when they are in my area of the stage. I set up when I thought it safe, and just about coped with the stress of having tech guys standing on my leads etc!
After a quick line-check (a few strums through a an amp I’d never used, to check that it worked and to try to get a decent sound out of it) it was time to start the show. Without a sound-check we were inevitably going into an unknown territory, so when our intro music started, we hit the stage early and prepared ourselves for our first song; ‘Tarkus’. The first problem we encountered on stage was the fact that our intro music was not being sent to Carl’s monitor. At the start of Tarkus, we use a synth note played on CD as an intro. Carl relies on hearing the note change in frequency until, at a certain point, he hears a cue and counts us in so that we start at the point where the synth cuts out. Not being able to hear the synth intro, Carl counted us in a little too late – resulting in an awkward pause between the synth chord ending and band starting! Having had no sound-check whatsoever, we had each guestimated our on-stage levels by remembering how loud we usually are on stage. I had underestimated and, as a result, couldn’t really hear myself, but thankfully the monitor man had hardly put any bass in my monitor, so at least I wasn’t being over-powered by Stuart. I stood in the line of my amp so I could hear myself as best I could until we reached a section were I accompany Stuart’s bass solo with chords, at which point I was able to adjust my amp’s volume whilst playing. For the previous few shows, Tarkus had presented me with additional hurdle; during the song I have to reach down and change the setting of my whammy pedal twice, something that had proved impossible on the past two gigs. To my relief, Simone’s hand-carved groove in the knob of my pedal worked like a treat and I was able to change patches with (relative) ease!
After the adjustment of my amp, I felt comfortable with my on-stage sound settled in to enjoying the gig. The audience was great; all standing and well ‘warmed up’ by this time, they lifted me to a place where playing every note is a joy and made it possible for me enjoyed a good amount of interaction with them throughout the gig; something that is not always possible. As I mentioned in a previous blog, there are two types of audience which inspire/require two types of performance; the first is an audience such as tonight – all standing, enthusiastic and wanting to participate in the concert. With this type of audience it is easy to become part of them – as if you go to them and become part of the audience, communicating with individual people and playing the show with them. The other audience type is the more reserved audience found in theatres and all-seated venues; with this type of audience I have learned that the approach that seems to work best is to keep the interaction on stage – I communicate a lot more with the band rather than with the audience, and try to bring the audience (metaphorically!) on-stage with us; try to make them feel a part of the interaction that happening between the band, rather than interacting with them directly.
The gig was great, inspired by the enthusiastic audience, we played well as a band and came off stage exhilarated.
Shortly after we’d returned to our dressing room, Simone came to tell us that we needed to clear the stage for the next band; I hadn’t realised that there was a next band and so, on hearing this, I ran to the stage to get my stuff off. I cleared my gear away as quickly as I could and saw the next band waiting by the side of the stage. I smiled at a few members of the band, but they were having none of it… I can only presume that they were annoyed by the fact that the evening was running late and apparently blamed us for the whole thing… ah well.
After packing-up in record time, Stuart and me went to meet some audience members who were waiting for us at an empty merchandise table (which, it should be noted, hadn’t contained any of our merch!). We then headed back to the dressing room to find that our van was being packed and we were ready to leave. Back at the hotel we had a platter of sandwiches and drinks waiting for us. I took my bags up to my room and joined everybody for supper. We said our goodbyes to Bogdan and Igor who then left for their homes in Budapest. Then a little later, we also said good bye to Simone and Gabrielli, who were due to leave the hotel on their return journey to Rome in the morning; probably before we’d get up!