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It was breakfast in Castellón

17th July 2014 | Juliet

Breakfast orange juice machine: industrial. You press a beer tap and wham, out pours the juice. Oranges roll down chute, waiting in turn for the pressing. A swift and instant citrus death.

It was breakfast in Castellón. Scouse Davo said he’d been stringing guitars all night in the dark. “It’s like knitting;” he said, “therapeutic.”

Here it’s jamón jamón and tortilla, or pan con tomate y ajo. Blimey start the day with everything from tapas to cake.

Tim appears and says he woke at 2am full up with ideas. He and Ron, filmmaker/Mark’s keyboard tech, go off for an ideas meeting and then there are lots more meetings over the phone, planning and excitement. I am on hold.

Meanwhile on late morning Spanish TV, two chefs are making an enthusiastic salad. They go through the ingredients in detail and express a great deal of regard for each vegetable. The making of the dressing involves pestle, mortar and a kilo of garlic to which other things are stirred in. Pork things are fried and chopped to go on top. And there it is…salad.

Then one of the chefs peels a mango with a potato peeler. Mark says he peels everything with a potato peeler, even kiwis. Top tip.

The TV chefs are very pleased.

Tim rings to say he is ready.

According to the phone, the weather today is called ‘mostly sunny’. Major understatement. Pavements are steaming and Mark, Saul and Andy head off across town to the lido for a dip.

Gideon warns backstage is ‘very hot’. Dressing rooms are in a tent type thing, so it will be scorchio. No air-conditioning. Bring your shades.

Jim says can someone get his bass in the shade or the action gets impossible.

During gig, hired bass amp blew up (again) and started speaking in coded lights saying “help me help me, Nick.” And he did.

And so it is done. A short one hour set. A massive packed Benicassim in desert paprika dust.

The local crew grab the drum riser and start wheeling it off stage a bit too enthusiastically. They lose control and it ends up crashing down the slope nearly crushing Larry as it went… Apparently an overeager new stage manager with no grasp of physics was on the changeover. All the gear nearly went splat.

There is a band called Mucho and the Klaxons are on next.

There is gazpacho.

On the coach to Barcelona airport hotel, Andy is playing some sketches of Spain with his trumpet mute firmly in place (he hasn’t let it out of his sight since the missing bag incident) followed by a new take on Fly Me to The Moon.

Jim is reminiscing about the early 80s gigs and Larry finds a YouTube clip of James with Paul, 1982 at the Hacienda with Tim singing Stutter.

When in Rome

16th July 2014 | Juliet

Dimitris, the concierge in the ‘Buttons’ outfit, helped us store the bags behind the door in the massive grand marble lobby. Then they were wheeled out and loaded into waiting vans and whizzed to the airport. Checking in 16 people and endless flight cases of instruments and wires takes some time, but Gideon has a system that makes it all work smoothly.

Tim stayed up all night partying and has got his energy back… His voice is now back on full power.

The diet of Italy is second only to the diet of Iceland, a recent study has shown. The mediterranean way comes out pretty near perfect.

Nick says there will be a big rustic table on the plane out to Rome where they will serve antipasti and plates of spaghetti and make us all drink Chianti…and the motors will be made of pepper grinders.

But no, it’s orange juice fortified with sugar, and a salty snack of southern Italy called tarallini which, it says here, is probably derived from daratos, a kind of bread widely eaten in ancient Greece.

“If you fly into the other airport,” Mark explains, “you get a great view of the ancient architecture of Rome.” Too bad no such views this way. We fly in over fields of organic tomatoes and basil plants (probably) and lush oranges and lemons (probably)…. We fly into Rome Fiumicino not Rome Ciampino (this is the good one for aerial sight-seeing…).

We are in Rome. Rome.

Onward we go into Rome airport foraging for cappuccino and a slice of pizza or two. I buy some Baci chocolates to reminisce on their wonders and pass Larry one of the two in the pack. “Read the message Larry…” “Something or other about a nightingale” he says, and gets up to buy some more, to go with his coffee.

Tim asks for a decaffeinated cappuccino made with soya milk. Not possible. When in Rome, you know the score…do as the Romans do..always.

Saul, a man of super fitness and dietary diligence, is slipping a sugar into his cappuccino. Some monks in brown robes with rope belts are in the cafe too. One of them dives into the freezer and comes out with a full force chocolate Magnum. “You see, a treat is OK” says Saul.

And now it’s back on another plane with more terrible tarallini made especially for Alitalia.

The next bit of the voyage involves a gathering of the bags and boxes and a coach trip for two and a half hours south of Barcelona towards Benicassim.

So many times it starts to feel like home…

15th July 2014 | Juliet

Giannis the promoter had spoken of the venue moving indoors due to the possibility of a rain storm.

Yes there was a cloud but it was a micro cloud. There was a bit of wind but not a drop of rain lay on the plains…

Vrachon is a big rock. The stage was set against the rock. The stage wobbled in the wind that afternoon and a man or two were called in to check all was stable. It was all okay after a bit of tweaking of large nuts and bolts. They tied the stage to trucks.

The crew were up early dealing with all the technical things and setting up in the scorching sun, while the band stayed at the hotel preparing.

The VIP guests took ages being checked in, as there were some counterfeit tickets out there. They came from all over. There was a Russian, some Chinese-Americans, some Brits, Scots and a Norwegian, amongst the majority Greeks. All making their way across the world to this desert heat open-air site.

One of the questions in the Q & A session was about the writing of Sometimes. “Where did the chorus come from?” asked the man who had the lyrics tattooed on his arm. Tim explained all, including how the chorus and verses were not connected. He also spoke of Brian Eno and the recording of the song.

Then came the gig. Some old songs were played and some Greek favourites: Senorita and Getting Away With It…. P.S. and Don’t Wait That Long came out of the bag.

Tim climbed into the crowd during Getting Away With It and they passed him over their heads towards the back of the arena. He crowdsurfed almost to the mixing desk, where Mike Timm was concocting a perfect sound. The venue was great for Chris to do his magic with the lighting too.

There was a stage invasion during Laid during which Tim surfed again all the way to the back of the auditorium and back again. There were two encores.

After the show, many Greek friends of the band came backstage for a drink and to say hello. James have played in Greece in so many times it starts to feel like home…

Most of the band were out dancing till dawn at Tiki Bar, and then it was time to meet in the lobby to get to Spain via Rome.

Is the octopus in the box, Gideon?

14th July 2014 | Juliet

We went from the massive Terminal 5 at Heathrow. Rested and ready to go after Day Off.

The airplane lost the two cases, that contained Saul’s violin and the one with Andy’s trumpet paraphernalia. This was a bit off a kerfuffle to sort out by our tour manager Gideon, and a shame for Andy, as his mute was in the case so he couldn’t play in his room in Athens. The toot mute was reconnected with its owner, arriving in the next plane, as did the violin. Phew.

We all went out for a proper Greek meal that night, sitting on an endless long table on the pavement of Athens. It was fantastic.

“Is the octopus in the box Gideon?”

“Yes I’ve got it here,” he said.

A whole clear cellophane sack full of boxes of food, including a squid, were being taxied back to Tim who was resting vigorously.

Gideon popped out to the mini mart to get some mayonnaise to moisten the aforementioned creatures.

Everyone went to sleep early except Larry. He had some noisy neighbours, but he didn’t mind and he didn’t turn into a wasp on the window in a heat wave.

My Bountiful Laundrette

13th July 2014 | Juliet

We have just done three nights on the bus. We are a bit crumpled up, and now in London at a hotel where we have to wait as the rooms are not ready. Jim says being on the bus is like being in prison as there is no space. Jim likes space.

Some crew and band members are to be dropped off in London, leaving 8 of us to overnight in Euston before tomorrow’s flight to Athens.

Downstairs Larry is giving discourse on the word meme , its origins and derivatives, while others are appearing from bunks upstairs trying to work out where we are. We are near Crouch End and there is a drop off any minute.

Now we are waiting in the Victory Cafe near Euston, a proper cafe from the sixties where the TV is tuned to Italian news, the ceiling is original and the tables are formica. The man returned the TV to English and now James Martin is doing something with chicken wings….

American Chris had ‘special breakfast’ for breakfast. Chips eggs toast beans and sausage. Gideon had ‘big breakfast’ for breakfast: two eggs, two sausage, two bacon, two hash browns, chips and who knows what.

The man brings us a round of free tea. He is a friend of Tom Jones. Tom is playing Hyde Park tonight. The blackboard says they also do milk shakes and single cones, and a flake is only £1.70.

Across the way, trains are being announced loudly. The 11.17am to Watford Junction has just been announced.

We are here in the Euston vicinity for 24 hours. It’s Day Off. Soon the hotel is ready for us.

Time to head off with a big bag of washing.

The concierge draws a map and marks a cross for a 7 day a week laundry and I head off to Marchmont Street. It’s called simply ‘LAUNDRETTE’. It’s a bit of a walk. Outside along pavements people are sipping cappuccinos, nibbling leaves, wearing shades and being fabulous. Inside ‘Laundrette’, locals and visitors are doing their washing. It’s a system run by a computer requiring pound coins and my brain isn’t on full yet. A nice man in a full length cotton kaftan helps me. Put the money in the computer, pick the machine, get its number, punch in number, go back to machine, etc etc….

I avert my gaze from his scoop-necklined long smock which seems to be all he is wearing apart from his shoes.. It’s a bit like the Levis ad gone continental.

It’s boiling hot, not a day for a hot laundrette. This one isn’t like My Beautiful Laundrette. It’s a tad crowded, with a general air of panic. There is lots of general tutting and confusion, as the system takes a bit of getting used to by most of its American and Italian visitors. The locals are relaxed with the system and are chilled; the first timers look into the turning clothes, anxiously watching the computer screen count down. Decline to get over-involved in this clothes abluting drama.

Out for some air, pass the betting shop, down past the second hand bookshop and round the block before heading back.

The nice man in the kaftan who doesn’t work at the laundrette but has taken it upon himself to help me out suggests 15 minutes drying time is enough as I have already lost a couple of quid in the system by pressing the wrong button in the wrong order. “It’s very powerful,” he assures. “Not like in house dryers.”

Again abandon Sunday lines of people sitting gazing at the driers for another stroll, turning left this time past the cappuccino people, and past a blue plaque on Tavistock Place saying Lenin lived here in 1904. Past a few shabby hotels with unusual red and black drapes over the windows, then head right, past Woolf Mews and Virginia Place. ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY’, sign warns. Wonder where Ms Woolf’s plaque is?

Blimey I am in Bloomsbury. What would Virginia, Leonard and her pals have thought of the piled up rubbish, Primark brown bags, landfill, and Sainsbury’s orange twisted carriers of household waste that litter the streets?

There’s a park near a wealthy crescent, and the familiar site of a 68 bus heading south of the river to West Norwood, where I was born under a wandering star.

Time to head back to the drier. It’s true: like the man said, it’s all dry in fifteen minutes. Even Tim’s duvet cover. Warm and fresh. And in amongst the pile lies a lone sock. Two socks had gone in and three have come out. The rebel sock is black and red. Place it carefully on the side by the discarded newspapers hoping its owner will come back for reunification with its other half.

And as I head out and back towards the hotel, laundry bag heaving, I see a London bus; “hop on hop off,” it boasts. If only. There is no hopping to be had. I feel like Gelsomina in La Strada when she sets off with her bag, having left the circus….. I walk on by, tramping the streets, bag on shoulder.

Runners jog past wearing spooky black masks like they are in the Blitz. Can’t be good for you surely? Tourists chat excitedly, searching for wherever they can’t find on their handheld maps.

Our hotel is round the corner from Drummond Street, the home of the famous Chutneys Indian restaurant and a whole host of others, including one called Ravi Shankar. The announcement from the station says the 13.57 to Watford Junction is leaving soon….as Sandy Denny sang, who knows where the time goes…?

Tomorrow it’s back on the road and tomorrow is coming soon…. We are going to Athens, Spain, Portugal and Latitude by next Saturday, and today is Sunday. I hear there is a football match on tonight.

T for 85,000

12th July 2014 | Juliet

It was a short drive up to T in the Park. Woke parked up on the site. Grabbed a cup of tea and headed out early as the site was waking up to Saturday…

This is the last year it will be held in Balado because a gas pipe runs under the site. Oh dear. So next year it will be held nearby at another site.

At our dressing room portakabin for an early stretch waiting, for everyone to wake up. Pharrell Williams’ dancers were doing dance workouts on the grass outside. They had their own village backstage…lots of people lots of space.

Tim arrived for his first uber stretch-out of the day. Then it was interviews and things and the crew sorting everything out on stage.

Tim took his Chinese medicines and had a pint of fresh pressed carrot, beetroot and ginger juice, prepared on the table next to Gideon’s computer and printer with only one small splash on a recharging blackberry and a keyboard. It made an intense grinding sound at the fresh ginger overload, and was deemed unsafe for further action.

Gordon Strachan and his wife arrived on site, and came to the dressing room to say hello.

“Susan Boyle is watching Dad play at T in the Park,“ Dave’s daughter facebooked. And so she was. Up in the VIP gallery front row, no less.

Before long it was time to go on stage, where 85,000 people are in the vicinity.

Tim was gargling and throat-spraying right up to lift off, and I dashed off some Chinese nuts in a cup for the best throat solution known to Timkind.

The security got a bit overenthusiastic about Tim’s safety when he got in the crowd, but apart from that there were no glitches.

Later a group of us headed to watch Pharrell Williams. The dancing was groovy. The music was funky. We were Happy despite the pouring heavy rain. Tim got called away to check the tv footage.

And then it was Paolo Nutini, but after 2 songs we had to go and get on board the bus and do the third night onboard, this time heading south to London.

Come Home

11th July 2014 | Juliet

Early start to Manchester to find some items. Manuka honey lozenges and 3 boxes of special Japanese organic twig tea were bought. Manchester was steaming. The hottest day this year again. Perfect weather for an outdoor gig. Let’s hope it happens this time.

Castlefield Bowl is set off Deansgate by the canal and the Y Club. It’s only recently that big gigs have been put on there. It used to be a venue for Manchester International arts….a place for African and European circus performers to launch themselves aerially, and the people of Manchester to enjoy cultural spectacles on summer evening.

Now SJM are putting on a few gigs. Pixies last night. James tonight. It’s a top location in the sunshine…

The setlist had to be altered so that there were not too many high notes. Couldn’t do Interrogation. Couldn’t do Don’t Wait That Long as planned.

Blossoms and Starsailor supported, warming up the packed bowl.

The set list said “Walk Like You or Sit Down if Tim’s voice was fXXXXXd”. In the end Walk Like You got through.

A team of blokes were spotted wearing T-shirts with assorted lyrics on their backs. Each shirt was a different colour. Who were these men? Larry has a photo. Were they each wearing their favourite lyrics or what?

The soundcheck happened midday and Tim arrived at 1pm to go through a few bits and see if his throat would hold up. Would it be all right on the night?

And it was.

“The hometown crowd was brilliant as ever,” said Jim to summarise.

Some people had travelled from America, Canada and Italy.

Someone was up on the railway bridge giving it some – arms waving on Sometimes… It looked dangerous. It probably was. It was a long drop down against the Manchester skyline.

Bumped into Smiley Neil by the front barrier… No soup today, Neil. No time for such things. There was bangers n’ mash, veggie banger option, and that was about it.

There were two encores ending with Johnny Yen who set himself on fire again…

Next there was a little do at Barca, and then it was time to get back on the bus and head up to T in the Park.

DayTripper, Waterford, Ireland

6th July 2014 | Larry

Waterford day-trippers

6th July 2014 | Juliet

We spent the time between soundcheck and gig in Waterford dodging rain by watching a Sunday matinée in room 210, where, lying on the floor, Jim led the TV programming to Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando. It made our night-crossing seem like a swim across a paddling pool, compared to what those hefty sailors had to endure. We missed a major part of the story while we dinnered at the hotel, but it was easy enough to catch up. The mutiny led to some chaps in a boat with not much to eat. Finally they found land, and some found love. In one memorable scene, an islander lady in a towel/white sarong got a bit cross with her Navy Captain chap, but they resolved it in the end. Then someone decided to set the parked ship alight. It was quite an epic.

Suddenly it was show time, and then time to go time….driving north for two hours to get the boat back to Blighty. Davo ate some crisps. ‘He eats crisps,’ someone said. ‘Just crisps.’

It was only yesterday that Tony picked me up at Dublin airport and took me for Green Eggs and Ham at the hip shabby chic diner, The Fumbally. There, salsa music played and Spanish waiting staff kept perfect posture, delivering scrambled eggs with avocado (= green eggs) and Chorizo (= ham) on toast, or veggie brunch to trendy Dubliners. Reminisced about days spent in north India in genuine shabby hole-in-wall diners, eating food that everyone warned us not to… In those dizzy Himalayan days we paid 10 pence for a potato paratha and a smeared plastic pot of chilli chutney. “I’d pay 20 euro for one of those now,” he said cheerfully.

Then through Dublin where the streets are fast changing, to the St. Stephen’s Green area Dylan Hotel where the band stayed after Berlin. Lights Chris arrived beaming from America, having taken 3 days to get there due to a hurricane on the East Coast.

Somehow it all came together. This time the bus did not explode (see August blog 2013). New songs were played, and Mark’s keyboard blew in Waterford at the beginning of the set… Apart from that it was plain sailing.

Groove Festival, Bray, Ireland

5th July 2014 | Larry