Up in the castle on the hill
6th September 2015 | Juliet
Andy had a gig last night with the Spaceheads at a farm somewhere in Cheshire. Some of the crew and band had a day off. And I sat in a foyer of a hotel somewhere in Wales, awaiting a phone call for instructions from tour manager Neil at the festival as my mobile had lost signal.
The hotel is wood-paneled splendour and prides itself in playing loud instrumental guitar tunes.
There’s Hotel California, Three Times a Lady, assorted Simon and Garfunkel and that alarming one It’s Only Words. This later became an earworm.
The manager can’t do enough for us and helps us out with communication by letting me receive calls on her front desk landline. Now that would never have happened in Crossroads.
Now everyone is back together in Portmeirion, in the dressing rooms up in the castle on the hill. We have 2 rooms, one with a bed in it and one with a TV. It’s a flat really. A flat in a castle.
Tim has a workout, and then rolls up disappearing into a cocoon in the white duvet on the floor. Ear plugs in, he has a pre-show kip. Writing the final lyrics has been making him nocturnal.
The band are having a creative meeting with management and I am lurking in the corridor doing the washing up trying not to listen.
Suddenly Saul shouts and points. “Get that hippy out of Tim’s room!”
The door slams behind him and a big bloke in boots is found wandering around the sleeping cocooned Tim. Turns out to be one of Dave’s mates, looking everywhere for his Tibetan fur hat in the wardrobe. Lead him out and there’s the hat on the chair. Disaster averted.
It’s a great festival atmosphere, and whole town is part of the event.
The castle has a V.I.P. bar area on the downstairs floor, where Badly Drawn Boy is chilling amongst the Chorltonians.
Then it’s time to go on stage, but Tim gets waylaid. The band jump on the carts down the hill ahead of Tim. Then just as he is ready, he goes back in the room for some chewing gum.
We fly down the hill to the portakabin / white box where Tim’s in-ears lay on the table. Then he realises the T-shirt is inside out. He whips it off. The ‘ears’ fly in the air, the wires tangle on the floor. There are 30 seconds to go. Taped, plugged and clipped he goes…
After the gig it’s gonna be Grace Jones which is exciting. There is a rumour going round that the organisers had failed to find the oyster prising knife to get into her oysters on ice and she had called it off. (Never believe what you hear.)
So while we await Grace we drink an inch of wine and watch Lady Chatterley on the TV with the sound down. The silent cinema effect somehow makes it better.
After all is done it’s time to go, and here we really have to go or we will never get off the site. Dash to the front of crowd side-stage to catch 2 minutes of Slave to the Rhythm. Grace is hula hooping as she sings…
We run to the sleeper bus and off we go to London.
Tomorrow Tim will finally record those final lyrics….
The magic of classical meets James, in the fairy grotto town
5th September 2015 | Juliet
There was a bit of a hiccup when we found out that it was a 2 hour drive in a mini bus to Portmeiron, and it wasn’t just down the road as hoped.
Tim had been up half the night writing lyrics and needed to be horizontal.
Neil our tour manager woke up the bus driver, and after another half hour wait …. Tim, Jim and Saul headed off to Portmeiron in the tour bus to rehearse with Joe Duddell and his mini orchestra of players, including a harp player, on a very small stage. There we were in the most beautiful small town hall in the colourful intricate seaside town of Portmeiron.
The town was like a fairy grotto; if you haven’t been there, go. It’s set beside the seaside and is enchanting and unique. Tonight it has the feel of Gaudi in parts but is based on an Italian village. It is also the setting for the Prisoner.
Jim had visited it before and said it was a good day out from Manchester.
The band were put into a packed dressing room shared with various assorted jugglers, circus performers, limbering every which way, umpteen rails of theatrical clothes and a selection of ladies in floral tea dresses, rehearsing their duets wearing circular trees on their heads.
Saul went in search of a coffee.
The rehearsal was intense and though we were late it was all fine, as the act to follow had cancelled.
Stuart Maconie popped his head in through the back door and stayed.
The place was packed. There were about 100 seats only and not too much standing room. Some people had been queuing for hours, including a little girl and her mum who were ushered by the coordinator, Meds, (‘yes it is my name,’ she said) to a front row seat.
It felt a bit like being in church. The revered Joe Duddell sat on the front row and conducted matters with a few minor gestures, and the magic of classical meets James happened in this elegant packed out fresco-ceilinged tiny town hall.
Outside in the adjoining Green Room, a mermaid with hair piled up Marie Antoinette-style full of shells and assorted flotsam, was doing her make up. The ladies in the tea dresses troupe set off, and more acrobats practised moving their legs behind their heads and bouncing ballistically in the corner. A choir of elderly Welshmen sat on the sofas reserved for James and drank tea.
After the set Tim said, “let’s go walkabout.” So we did.
The sun was going down and we set off into the night. People wore all sorts of wonderful costumes. It was a family friendly event. The film Amy was being shown in a small hall. An open air choir was singing. The field was awash with plastic tumblers. This big party was like a Fellini film in places.
Tim talked of Burning Man festival where EVERYONE wore fancy dress, but unlike the UK festivals no rubbish is ever seen. It takes place in the desert. More of this will be brought to you in his memoirs some day.
We ate paella and sat on a log bench. Then wandered to the main stage to catch the start of Belle and Sebastian. “Which one is Belle?” whispered Tim.
Ran and Ron, by Ron
4th September 2015 | admin
As the touring season came to a close, we saw a new introduction to the team in the form of Ran. Ran was brought in to spin his magic with the monitors on stage so the band could all hear what they were playing. Not only does he have a very similar name to me, there is a similar resemblance too. This caused much confusion on stage when the local crew would ask Ran for keyboard info and ask me about the microphones.
Ran’s main job is to go to Tim’s dressing room just before the show and pin his headphone cable to the back of his shirt with a dog-clip. Without this incredible skill, the show would not happen. Oh and he also takes 40 different channels of instruments and creates 8 different mixes for every band member which also change every song.
We had a great show in Bingley and headed over to Llandudno where Ran and Ron had a lovely day off taking the cable tram up to Great Orme, followed by fish n chips and a crazy motorbike light parade along the sea front. The last show of the year will take us over to Festival No. 6 in Portmeirion.
That’ll be it for this year. It’s been a super year, we are all more excited for next year with the new album coming out.
‘The North’s Last Great Party of Summer’
4th September 2015 | Juliet
Took a minibus and met Tim and Andy off the train at Bingley station, which was right next to the park where the gig was happening.
The rest of the band and crew had come up north overnight on the big tour bus.
After a soundcheck those who wanted a quiet snooze / rest and recuperation headed off to the day rooms, which were far too far away to allow for relaxation.
Anyway we got back in time, as Cast were still on stage.
Tim says afterwards, “Loved Bingley. We heard the crowd singing backstage, heard the party. Saul chose Tomorrow to open the set to meet the fierce energy.”
After the show we drove a couple of hours to Llandudno, a place in north Wales, to sleep in a hotel that had a huge blue and white deck chair outside. The sea was across the road and the pier to the left. Perfect to stroll and take the sea airs.
For the crew and some of the band it was Day Off.
Dave’s diva moment
26th August 2015 | Juliet
Dave and I are heading down towards Carlisle on another congested train.
Across the aisle, Dave explains how Edinburgh was for him:
“I walked on stage for soundcheck to be met by a Heavy Metal drum riser; very high and not suitable to requirements. I could feel a diva moment coming on.”
I type on the edge of the table where the man opposite has moved his sandwiches, chocolates, paper, glasses and book of crosswords to give an inch.
“It was all too high, and this will make you look like a knob,” said Dave about the highrise set up. He has to be at ground level.
Dave sorts it out calling upon the invincible Nick and Ran, who removed the legs and bring things back down to earth…
Dave cheered up when catering was a buy-in from Wagamamas. Firecracker for Dave. Then he did 1000 press-ups on his handy push up handles. (These handy metal appliances avoid overextension of the wrists.) Drummers have to keep in shape.
All around was the massive Edinburgh Festival. Nonstop events round the clock everywhere. Posters on railings telling us what we were missing, street theatre mud man moving slowly just outside the corner of the park, and a spectacular enormous guitar statue made out of cider cans. Tim walked to see Bailey’s Stardust exhibition (including iconic photographs of rock stars e.g. that one of Alice Cooper) at the Scottish National Gallery.
As he walked out through the park, another voice was singing his songs on the stage. What’s that you may have wondered. That was ‘Swiss’ filling in for the extra soundcheck.
Tim bumped into a German couple and their young son who had made the trip to Scotland specially to see the gig. He stopped for a chat and heard their story.
The show was held in the Edinburgh Gardens around the Ross Bandstand, with the castle up on high forming part of the backdrop. The park was closed off early evening.
Apart from Dave’s highrise drum kit everything went smoothly, and the show ended with Top of the World with a massive backdrop of the military tattoo firework display coming from the castle up on the hill, accompanied by Saul doing his violin thing.
Lots of people came back for an aftershow and Tim’s mate Gordon Strachan and his wife were amongst the backstage party people……..
Saul and his family boarded their Volvo and drove to his castle in the Scottish outback, where the night before Vinny had rustled us up some salmon teriyaki and Saul had smashed some potatoes and constructed a salad of leaves etc… There was still some leftover Waitrose Essential Tiramisu in the fridge.
Then everyone else got on board the big tour bus which trundled its way through the night back to London.
Tomorrow is another day in the studio. More recording more music….
“Endless rain, endless rain”
22nd August 2015 | Juliet
Mostly there is walking along the fine river and sitting the sun outside Starbucks. Even Tim is now on the decaffeinated soya lattes.
It’s sunny along the river in Newcastle and Tim and I head up the hill to buy socks… M&S wont take Tim’s Manx fiver. It has to say sterling or something.
We hurry back to the hotel where Tim writes and sings for several hours. New lyrics are pouring out.
Finally we head off to the gig. It’s a bit of a drive and it’s raining quite a bit. By the times the band go on it’s full thunder and lightning, the whole audience drenched but giving it their all.
The dressing rooms are in Hardwick Hall. Amidst antique cupboards and shelves of antique fine china dogs and multiple vases, you find the band discussing the set list. The banqueting table is weighed down with enough food to feed the whole festival and their families. Fruit bowls are exploding with berries and the contents of Waitrose’s cheese counter has been carefully thought through, but there are no biscuits or knives. There are two expectant pineapples waiting in the corner.
Andy, no longer green, is tootling outside the dressing room in the corridor with his mute firmly in place, and a dripping leak from the roof is landing on a piece of fine wooden furniture beside him. The table is half-ruined already, but I move an antique blue tureen and catch the now gushing drip.
Downstairs in hospitality I bump into Liam Skin Tyson.
There’s been an all-day line up. 10cc were on earlier as were Razorlight…
Huge umbrellas appear, and we dash through the rain to mini bus and into the portakabin where production is set up. A big puddle all over the floor. Avert disaster, mop vigorously…
Our bouncy tour Manager Neil has set up the control centre in the only dry spot on the site. However there is no signal, no texts, no e-mail in this remote valley place. Not the easiest spot to organise from.
As the band go on, the heavens open fully and thoroughly into torrential. It’s proper monsoon. Lightning flashes, thunder roars under the stars, and then it’s all over and a lot of fireworks explode…not that any further sky centred effects were needed.
The aftershow starts in the banqueting dressing room. Jazzy Geoff is there and some of Dave’s mates and Saul’s many relations…
A lonely knife is found, and brie slithers shared with Lincoln biscuits found near the tea bags. (N.B. The rider was top class, we just couldn’t find any cutlery!)
Next day it’s hasta la vista as we go our separate ways. Jim leaves with Saul and his family in the overhot car that breaks down twice. The London team head off first class to do a couple of days recording in the studio.
Dave, Matt and I head to Manchester. It’s an overstuffed Sunday train running late “due to congestion”.
There is even more congestion when we try to take a cab across Manchester, from Victoria to Piccadilly Station. The streets of MANCHESTER are undergoing open heart surgery as well as major bowel surgery, and the taxi driver looks like we just said, “Fly me to the moon and let me swing amongst the stars,” so awkward is our request…
It’s something to do with sewers and trams all at the same time, and then there’s the plague graves they stumbled on in Cross Street, and that big deep hole in the road near Piccadilly. Whatever, it’s gridlock chock-a-block.
It’s been a great week.
See you in Edinburgh.
Up, up and away
21st August 2015 | Juliet
The next morning, Saul went a tad spare as they wouldn’t make him a proper coffee cappuccino. The question arose following a chicory incident.
After yesterday’s lengthy sojourn at Birmingham airport, we whizz out the hotel and arrive at Isle of Man airport in good time. All checked in we notice that there is only us and a couple of other passengers. It’s a small plane. Word gets out that the bags may not make it. But this is kept under wraps to avoid undue panic.
The equipment travelled last night and is magically already in Durham…
The captain plays an unusual safety video presented by a child and loads all oversize hand luggage at the back.
Lastly Andy has his trumpet taken from him by our captain.
It’s a 19-seater Jetstream turboprop… Chocks away, sandbags dropped and up we go, followed by an extended impersonation of the big dipper at Blackpool pleasure dome.
A Buster Keaton film is shown to distract us from whatever we need distracting from. Tim loves Buster and later says how much he loved the inflight entertainment.
Andy and me are on the back seat. His trumpet is stowed through the doorway behind him.
Ten minutes into the ride Andy has turned very green… Luckily it’s a short flight and we soon land. Andy and his trumpet are reunited by the multitasking captain.
Reunited, but still green, Andy hugs his trumpet.
Newcastle is where we landed and off we go to the hotel by the river, overlooking some of Britain’s finest contemporary architecture in the field of bridges.
The bar serves soup… It’s leek, potato and haddock. They forgot the haddock, but it is soup.
The band head off after a small rest to do another lengthy rehearsal and soundcheck.
Tomorrow’s gig is at Hardwick Hall.
Meanwhile back at the hotel, Saul’s family arrive and it’s Vinnys birthday today. We go along the river to buy a chocolate cake. Tesco’s finest.
A three-legged man and the Stairway to the Nineties
20th August 2015 | Juliet
We fly finally after a two hour delay to our already over tight schedule. Luckily super crew Mat Skinner is there, having flown in from Manchester, and has set things up on stage… Even so, the delay means that the V.I.P. thing turns into the soundcheck proper.
The Villa Marina is a lovely old theatre, just a stones throw from our elaborate seaside hotel where dinner is being served on white starched tablecloths. But there’s no time for dinner today.
Out the window we can see the sea. It’s a bit grey. There is a sign of a three-legged man on a post by the road. We are in the Isle of Man. Is it part of England or is it? Where are we?
This summer festival season has been partly about the islands off the coast of the UK. First Isle of Wight, then forever sunny and deluxe Jersey where we sat beside the plage eating al fresco fruits de la mer. Now it’s Isle of Man, which seems old school charming.
We hope to go to Shetland to see the ponies some day, oh and do a gig…
When schedules get tight, food can be an issue. How to fuel and do the gig with 2 hours between for digestion?
Tim orders a starter and gets brought a rack of glazed pork ribs, enough to feed a family of 11 with chips on the side. “What am I going to do?” he says. “Have a go,” I say…
My room, and some of the crew, are on the other wing of the hotel. We approach the lifts. One is called the blue lift and one is called the green lift. Then a sign that says “LIFTS TO ROOMS WITH ‘7’ AS THE MIDDLE NUMBER.” and an arrow. Strange, but true.
My room has a “7” in the middle of its number. Situated about a mile from the tray of pork ribs. It looks out over an atrium of tropical plants like something from the Raj, all wicker and glass ceiling domed Victoriana… I was hoping to be woken by a honky-tonk piano playing gently rousing breakfast music or an evening medley of Noel Coward, but sadly it didn’t happen.
Saul’s room had a sign leading him via the “stairs to the 90s”. Saul said the signs gave up and he had to go back to reception to seek assistance.
There is a fine china spaniel on the windowsill and a Corby trouser press.
The gig went swimmingly, and later at 5am, Andy and Matt go swimming across the road in the grey waters, to celebrate life and being beside the seaside.
Rainbow Haze at 10-1
19th August 2015 | Juliet
Horses are galloping across the track as the mini bus pulls up in the drizzle. We are in Worcester at the races. It’s “James Live after Racing,” an equestrian event and a gig to follow. All for a mere £25.
When all the horses have shot past, including the riderless, we are allowed to go forth into the dressing room where Jim and Mark are having a flutter on the next race.
For a small outlay Jim manages to win a princely sum of £100, just like that.
It’s showtime. All goes well, a bottle of champers is opened and even Tim celebrates with a glass. Everyone is happy.
Jim’s daughter shows up with her pals. They are now wearing jeans and wellies but had turned up dressed properly for Ladies Day (no hats or fascinators), but had to pop back and change. None of the other ladies had bothered. Tsk. Grr.
Then it’s back to the hotel in Birmingham.
Over dinner there are discussions on politics arts and culture. It’s like The Late Show hosted by Saul.
Splendour In Nottingham
18th July 2015 | Larry