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.
Benátská Noc, Liberec, Czech Republic
27th July 2013 | Larry
And of course the backdrop. Prague is beautiful.
27th July 2013 | Tim
“Don’t say Czechoslovakia. It’s called the Czech Republic.” Max Dingel’s words of advice ring in my ears. Apparently Whitney Houston said “Thank you Spain” during a gig in Lisbon and has never recovered.
Some of us arrive a day early to acclimatize. Jules and I go walkabout from 9 till 1. Conga lines of drunk Europeans bearing t-shirts emblazoned with “pub crawl” bustle the streets. Stag party groups dressed in recognisable fancy dress, in case they get so pissed they can’t find each other, falling over in the streets. Maybe that’s the ‘pub’ in ‘Republic’.
And of course the backdrop. Prague is beautiful. Hansel and Gretel architecture, cone-topped churches with ancient astroglade clock faces. The ‘Czech Republicans’ seem to take this tourist invasion in their stride, after all it seems to be the main industry.
We eat some traditional Czech food. Roast pork knee with dumplings made of poured concrete that threaten to sit in my stomach for most of the summer. Like a snake consuming an overlarge prey. I think I need to go lie down now.
We walk past a wax museum with Charlie Chaplin looking forlornly down at his scuffed and holed shoes. The homeless here begging for money kneel, and have their faces pressed to the ground in a prayer of desperation. Judging by their takings, this doesn’t translate well with the western tourists who need some eye contact to incite empathy. Two doors down from the wax museum is the museum of torture where a bedraggled wax figure sits in the stocks. I’m not quite sure who goes to see a museum of torture; curious thirteen year old boys or a stag night drunken dare?
It’s over thirty degrees. The streets feel very safe despite the absinthe bars. We stumble upon a beyond kitsch shop sprouting gaudily colored Art Deco kitchen utensils.
We had our last day in the studio yesterday. The new CD is going brilliantly. But today I am crashed out from the intensity. Most of my lyrics come in the night so I haven’t slept well for four or five weeks. You have to go a little crazy to get that stuff. Max Dingel (real name) will now play around with what we’ve recorded and present us with mixes in a few weeks time. Our hopes are high that this record will sound unlike any other that we’ve made.