‘Twas a grey day at Chelmsford

17th August 2013 | Juliet

Readers we hand you over to Nick, James’ current longest standing onstage crew member, for our camping weekend at V Festival. Part I…

V is for Very late bus call at 23.00 on Friday night, and Beyoncé Very late getting her booty onstage! James were Very early on the bill and this meant a Very early start compared to the two other appearances at V since 2007.

‘Twas a grey and altogether ordinary day at Chelmsford, where Virgin Inc had rustled us up a Very juvenile breakfast. Rustle being the operative word, as we were led to a portakabin full of mini boxes of kids cereal. We sat outside, where I realised that I don’t do breakfasts that can blow away on a windy day. I like my first meal of the day to hold its own in a brisk north-westerly! When faced with this scenario, I recommend covering your Coco Pops in thick yoghurt before pouring most of them into the nearest Red Bull dispenser. Yuck!

Anyhoo, high on tiny sugary round things, we (the crew), set about our chores as we were onstage at the ungodly hour of 2pm – give or take an extended clap-along to some long forgotten set closing Scottish pop anthem! There wasn’t room to swing a kitten behind the scenes, as Mrs Carter needed a few lights to illuminate her huge talent!

Before we knew it, and with Shabby at the helm once more, we were rolling on the risers like rabbits in the headlights. Larry’s main guitar at this point still had precisely no strings on it. Mat Skinner how did you do it?

The V-goers were still arriving and Very punctually, so did the band – all present and correct! Some of them looked like they had also suffered from a blustery bowl of Rice Crispies!

The set included just enough of the right songs for 45 mins at such a sedate time of day.

It was over in the blink of an eye, allowing us to pack all the toys away and Paloma Faith’s penguin-suited crew to set up her giant golden pineapple stall onstage. What to do with the rest of the day? As I’m steering clear of the saturated fat dripping from the grim reaper’s ancient scythe, I had all the fruit, veg and fish that my meal ticket would allow, before the long preparation I go through before watching the worlds biggest pop star do her thang. I slept!

By 9pm, a fine drizzle had descended on the event. Ron ( in his pack-a-mac) and I ventured out into the crowd and took up our position, and waited a Very long damp 20 mins overtime for Mrs C to show us what she was made of and what her choreographer and costume designer had to offer. I gave up after 30 mins when she spiralled into ballads. By now I had spent so long amid her faithful fans that due to some kind of Poundland osmosis, I had an overwhelming desire to apply for a job at a Swansea call centre!

I ran for my life back to the bus. By all accounts I should have saved my curiosity till the end of her set where she revealed her big buns, sorry…I meant guns! I was not Crazy In Love with today or Mrs C but had higher hopes for Tomorrow. Hopefully they would play it!

Two centre camping break

17th August 2013 | Juliet

It’s festival season. This means that many bands get together and go on a weekend caravanning holiday. Well it’s a two centre camping break. South and north UK. The caravan is a tour bus. It has a kitchen. It has a toilet, of sorts. There is a toaster. There is a kettle. There are not enough mugs and an extremely small sink. Saul pours mouthwash down the toilet in an attempt to freshen things.

There are beds called bunks. On this vehicle, one of the beds has an inner surprise box as a feature. You don’t find this out till you get in the bunk and realise this camel hump is just where your upper back goes. A freak bunk. It is not normal to have this box structure in a bunk. There is nowhere to go, you are on the open road. This was Shabby’s bunk tonight.

The caravanning band families all end up parked up in the caravan park for the day. They leave and head for an enclosure. There are things to entertain their inner children. Make-up stalls and hair twiddling tents where professionals can make you look, well, not like you, and attach false eyelashes that make you feel like you just walked into a swarm of flies that headed straight for your ocular regions.

There are cocktail stalls selling slush puppy cocktails in pineapples. These should be taken with caution. It tastes like pina colada – well like sweets really…..but can cause a sudden chemical rush.

Here there is a separate camp for Beyoncé. She is far away from all of us others. But we are happy, the sun is momentarily shining and there are bands to watch. Oh and look here’s Paloma Faith. Now she looks amazing, like a cross between Carmen Miranda and a Chinese empress in the highest of heels…

Then we watch Jessie J.

Later it’s Beyoncé… Due to endless drizzly rain in the field, some of us return to base to watch Oh Brother Where Art Thou in the back lounge.

And tomorrow it’s the same in the North…. But first we’ll hear from Nick, James’ drum tech for many many years….

Haldern Pop Festival, Germany

9th August 2013 | Larry

Übergroße Hose and a fabulous night in the woods

9th August 2013 | Juliet

We are in the Club Lounge of the Pride of Kent, a large shipping vessel heading to Dover. Six of us are taking breakfast in the lounge, where toast arrives in solid silver racks and pots of tea are served in fine china.

Three nights on a tour bus and now it’s English breakfast on the ocean wave. We look out on the platinum horizon and imagine we are on a cruise as we bid adieu to the continent. Homeward bound.

Larry was last off the bus at customs and gets a cheer from the customs staff. He is clutching a fresh steaming brew.

As we come round in the Club Lounge of the Kent, it’s still the middle of the sleep for us. Slightly dazed we recall the events of the 30th Haldern Pop Festival.

The day started with the writing of the blog. It was a work of poetic beauty thanks to Andy and Dave’s fine lines but then, eek, as we pulled into the festival site the computer said ‘no way’, flashed and crashed. Even Mark couldn’t find the file which was flashing blank. An emergency rewrite followed.

The Haldern Pop Festival has been going for 30 years. Nearly all the village is involved in making it happen. “It was very nice,” said Jim. “I had some pasta with chanterelles which was nice too.”

Tim went off to watch Bear’s Den play in the packed Spiegeltent.

The sun was shining. Tim bought a festive cowboy hat.

Much later I went in search of ironing equipment in the production office. The helpful German woman offered to take the Übergroße Hose (very wide trousers) off me to get them professionally ironed. They were too wide to fit along an ironing board in any available space.

Dave is transfixed by an old nautical poster. On it, a sailor suggests to a little boy that perhaps he should run away to sea.

That fine evening in Germany there was a fire going backstage and a vodka bar in a teepee-like wooden structure. Chic was playing ‘Everybody Dance’ and we did. Then the DJ played ‘Bella Ciao’ and some Balkan Beats.

Dave needs Tabasco on his black pudding. Our waitress Hazel found some and brought it over.

Hazel brought some more warm diagonal toast. “Don’t put honey on your shirt,” said Jim buttering. (There had been a honey spillage earlier, pre-gig, on Andy’s red stage shirt.)

The set list had been edgy. Moving On and Curse Curse were next to each other for the first time. And all was well. The band before James were late going on and coming off so there was a delay getting on stage, no fault of the band.

“What a fabulous night in the woods,” says Larry. “It felt as if the whole crowd smiled as one.”

Harry, one of the sailor-waiters, came over to inform us that we were seeing land but we were currently heading to Ramsgate not Dover to avoid an oncoming vehicle. Just then the smoked haddocks with poached egg arrived.

“But what is a kipper?” piped up Andy.

Tim invited anyone who wanted to dance up onto the stage for Sometimes.

A lot of men got up including a man with a hat with lights on, waving a red sausage balloon overhead.

Then Jesus came down and danced with Tim……..

Poolbar Festival, Feldkirch, Austria

8th August 2013 | Larry

Time to get cool in the pool

8th August 2013 | Juliet

Heute wir sind in Österreich.

We took the train from Manchester and meet the others at St Pancras. The tour bus is stuck in traffic and we wait for two and a half hours watching the world go by. Finally it arrives, and we set off to Dover all 16 of us.

We have missed the ferry but Woody books us on another one. We go on deck and then head for the family bar as it’s the only one open.

Disembarkation Calais, a 12 hour drive via a pit stop in Switzerland, then into Austria. Mountains and mist and chocolate-box houses out the window.

Poolbar is an old swimming bath set in the grounds of an old school. The disused pool was turned into a club for parties in the 80s. Then it became the Poolbar Festival, which has been running for 20 years. Tonight James are headlining.

Soundcheck includes run-throughs of Play Dead and Dream Thrum.

Feldkirch is where we are. It’s a picturesque town of cobbled streets, churches, and fountains spilling forth mountain spring water. We wander through the alleys and squares looking for some football trainers for Tim. Tourists for five minutes.

Outside the elegant hotel where we have landed for the day, the church bells chime on the quarter hour. “Good job we are not staying here,” says Tim. It’s a ding too far.

And before we know it it’s time to head back for the gig. Time to get cool in the pool, as Holger Czukay said.

Kurt, a longtime James fan (17 years), has traveled over from Germany to see the band. He is chatting to Dave over a post show beer. I pile the copious rider – huge platters of cheese and cold meats and enough bread to run a soup kitchen – into a basket, as well as bunches of redcurrants and white currants and a rainbow of berries. But how to get this to the bus? Kurt flexes his muscular frame and hauls the whole lot in one swift move. “No problem,” he says.

Meanwhile the gear is being dropped from this second floor stage onto a forklift and into the truck. From side stage it looks like it is being lowered into an abyss.

Showered and watered, at 3am we set off overnight through Germany. Spirits are high.

And now it’s breakfast time after a night on the bus. Andy and Dave are eating Vollkorn Amaranth-Müsli with rice milk and blueberries as they share their recollections about the gig.

“The stage was bathed in a beautiful blue light as the set started with Out To Get You. An adventurous opener. The audience blew us away from the word go.  They were smiling, ecstatic, with amazing looks of wonderment. It was so good to see the audience so enthusiastic given that we hadn’t played Austria for a long long time.” says Andy

“They lifted us to rare musical moments – the extended end to Sit Down, and an amazing wah wah violin solo on the end of Dream Thrum. They even carried us through mishaps like Tim’s mic going on and off at the beginning of the set.”

“Tim invited a stage invasion and some great shapes were thrown on stage in Laid.” Dave adds.

Thank you Austria.


Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival, Beauly

3rd August 2013 | Larry

Bella’s birthday bash

3rd August 2013 | Juliet

Sleepless and back to Gatwick along the escalator, Geoff had something to say: “It’s all very well, but I’m looking forward to a proper cup of tea and some dunkworthy biscuits.” Geoff is the lampy, he makes the show light up. He also shares his passion for tea, often.

But when that tea moment finally comes, all settled on the tour bus, a kettle overloads the inverter and blows the bus lights. We revert to the microwave for boiling water. It’s wrong, but needs must, and Geoff commences the tea ritual with great concentration, brewing to perfection and adding a dash of semi-skimmed. There is a film of brown slime round the mug.

We stop and collect Mia and Vinny en route. The traffic is intensely slow down south, but eventually we zoom off at a maximum 62 miles an hour towards the high north of the UK – Inverness-way in Scotland. Through the night with a clandestine midnight meeting at Lymm truck stop to pick up a new bass for Jim, hand delivered by special crew.

We wake up in a field. Mark has just asked Geoff to make a cup of tea…with milk in first. This causes consternation and confusion for Geoff. Especially as Mark is from the North, Preston.

It’s a lovely field and it’s a bit overcast, but the sun is peeking through the cloud. Saul has a shower with a bottle of Buxton and a splash of Korres coconut milk shower gel….

Sip on a double Blackcurrant Lemsip to enable breathing…there’s a cold aboard….

“Do we wave the tea bag at it,” asks Geoff? “It’s about softening the tannins,” explains Mark. Geoff follows instructions, but looks confused, breaking off to helping Vinny work the toilet door.

There’s a mesh over the toilet hole to stop solids….enough information.

“Is this a proper sink?” asks Vinny… It has a hole, yes.

Pale pallid tasteless tea is a no no. “There is no point,” says Geoff. “You’ve got to make an effort.”

There’s a young Scottish bloke in catering with a full Scottish breakfast – black pudding and all – and a pile of bright strawberries on top. So there, top tip for all budding celebrity chefs.

Tim is still asleep. Soundcheck is soon.

Jim has just arrived as if by magic as he is now a local.

The pipe band will be playing ‘Flower of Scotland’ at 11pm.

We don’t have our first time front of house sound man here for soundcheck. He had a gig last night in deep southwest England and we are way up high north in Scotland. Oops.

The lighting rig is set up for a TV show on BBC Alba.

This is the second time James have played Belladrum Tartan Heart Festival and this is Bella’s 10th birthday bash…. Everybody loves being there. There’s happy music on the stage, a Johnny Cash and June Carter tribute band get the place going, and lots of happy music follows. We wander about, do our work and chill in the sun. The Tartan Heart is great for families too with lots to see and do…

Meanwhile Larry has a great adventure….he is off drinking Pimms and eating walnut cake with the lovely lady Leonie….

The wonderful Aly was managing the stage. Once James were done, he gently ushered friends and family back as a horde of steaming pipers and big drums took over. Vinny and Larry sang sharing a song sheet and Saul dashed on stage naked except for a kilt…

In the morning Larry recollects, “After a great set, watched the amazing fireworks display and joined the pipers in a rousing ‘Flower of Scotland’, me and Vinny singing from the same sheet. Then on to the big fire on the hill ’cause “they’re burnin’ Big Louis tonight”… The rave in the ruined chapel was manic, but the kids wanted silent disco which was hilarious :-). Great day AND night.”

River Party, Nestorio, Greece

1st August 2013 | Larry

River party! Greek style

1st August 2013 | Juliet

We all met at Thessaloniki airport and whizzed away on the coach, up high to Kastoria where we stay overlooking a huge lake. It was a three and a half hour journey by road and everyone was a little bit tired.

Giannis and Dimitris had arranged for the meal up the road. A feast of Greek starters, all veggie – much to Larry’s approval – followed by an array of meat that could have fed the whole town.

The town is a centre for furs, and centres around a lake. It’s very hot, in the high thirties, despite being way up in the mountains.

A road sign warns of bears and wolves.

Next day we go soundcheck riverside in Nestorio. It’s an open plan show with main stage next to the river. People are jumping off rocks and swimming, and there is a led Greek-style Zumba going on in a field. A crowd of Greek men and women shaking, stepping, and spinning to Latin and North African beats.

Soundcheck is done. Back to the hotel for swimming and chilling.

Then it’s time for another meal, this time across the lake. It’s agreed that the best food in the world is Greek. “The MOST food in the world,” adds Jim. This time it’s full-on fish and sea creatures.

A pair of pelicans swim by on the lake. Then it’s back to the festival.

The festival is mostly Greek musicians. Thanos played and then an upbeat Greek cabaret band….who just couldn’t stop….

There is dressing room talk of releasing a double album called Shit Storm where all the songs begin with ‘S’. Stutter. Star. Stand Stand Stand. Sound. Sometimes. Sayonara. Strangers. The Shining. Senorita. Semaphore. Seven. Shooting My Mouth Off.

Finally a set list is collated… Curse Curse and Moving On are in, and Jam J was played as well as a run of songs beginning with S. Say Something with its double S went down best.

Afterwards Tim recalls, “I was under the illusion that it would be an intimate five thousand in a moon lit wood and so wrote a set accordingly. When we got out there, it was a bacchanalian enthusiastic beautiful mob of ten thousand wanting to party. We switched a few songs round mid set to accommodate. Though probably should have done a few more.”

We managed to do the gig with very little equipment. “This was a hidden positive,” said Saul. Half the gear had gone up to Scotland due to complicated logistics of three rural gigs in three countries in a week.

During the gig, Saul put on so much mosquito spray he managed to give himself third degree burns, but not get bitten.

“There was something so innocent and idyllic about the whole festival set within such a natural environment,” says Tim.

James love playing in Greece. The audiences are fantastic.