I have spent more time this week somewhere between 25,000 and 35,000 feet than I have in bed. This fact was presented to me as my alarm woke me at 4am this morning. Last night I had half purposely set my phone down on the other side of the room atop a glass shelf so if Underworld’s ‘Always Loved a Film’ didn’t wake me, the incessant buzzing would. They both did… I peeled opened my hideously gin-filled eyes and got ready. Feeling wimpish, I even added some warm water to the cold to wash my face; I couldn’t imagine James Bond doing that, but I’m hardly James Bond. I grabbed my bag, jumped in the car and started the 75 mile journey to Manchester Airport.
I can’t believe the amount of roadworks. This does seem to be a fairly common complaint amongst most Brits, but my mind trickles onto thoughts of French, German and even Dutch roads where driving is taken more seriously. They realise the need their populations have to move around the country as quickly (not in the Dutch case), and freely as possible. So why would you have 436 miles of cones and only be working on 10 feet of road? I should have gone into road cone manufacture. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I didn’t and I’m now motoring toward a rendezvous with Echo and the Bunnymen. Well, Echo has already jumped a flight to Rome so I’m just meeting the Bunnymen and the Bunnymen’s Bunnymen.
On the approach to Manchester Airport, I frantically look at the blanked out road signs trying to find parking. This was a ball ache, what the hell does M&G mean? I’ll go down there. Ah, maybe not. This is the ‘Meet and Greet’ car park. I reversed out into on coming traffic. Then saw the ramp up to the multi-storey I needed to be in. To get there involved 3 roundabouts, more traffic cones, four changes of speed limit and a lot of swearing.
Eventually parked up, and made the laborious trip through another airport. Standing in line waiting to be met by the forged smile of the check in guy who wants to take money off me for a boarding card; I’m so sorry BA, what did I ever do to deserve this. Then waiting in another line to unpack my hand luggage that will pass though what looks like a conveyer belt pizza oven. The really annoying thing about travelling through airports as much as I do is that I have security down to a tee, I’m so swift. Boom-Boom-Boom and I’m through. But, I still get Ronald McJobsworth asking the same questions; Do you have a laptop? Do you have any liquids or gels? Do you have the will to live? Occasionally they take my bag and go through it with a fine tooth comb. What the hell is a fine tooth comb anyway? Not this time though; I’m travelling light.
As I follow signs towards my gate, I become increasingly aware that I am trying to be sold stuff! Why the hell am I in the duty free shop? Oh yeah, it’s one of those violently capitalist airports where you can’t walk to your gate without having some bright orange, overweight lady with lips redder than a whore’s arsehole, spraying cat piss in your face. Once through the urinous mist I find my gate hiding behind all sense of well being, where I wait in yet another queue to board my aircraft.
I board and I take my allocated seat, flippantly ignoring all the safety announcements and try to get some sleep. My light doze is rudely disturbed by Jeff the cabin supervisor who is advising me that should I want some refreshment they have wonderful offers on coffees, sandwiches and toasties for only the price of a small African nation. Oh yes, and how wonderful their duty free section is. They tell you how much the price of this perfectly perfumable fragrance is on the high street and how I can save a whopping £15 and impress a loved one. Or, if I’d like to treat myself or a member of the cabin crew to some Champagne they have bottles for only £29.
I long for Jeff to open the cabin door and the pressure difference to burst my ear drums as the are sent hurtling towards the ground reaching terminal velocity and exploding into a fireball of bullshit. Or, maybe I can buy the captain a few bottles of champagne and he can crash the plane so Jeff’s eardrums don’t burst and he can hear all the screaming passengers, as the smell of his own piss and shit fill his nostrils, and that will be his last memory on earth. My hopes and dreams become increasing cracked until they are finally shattered into millions of pieces as the planes wheels touch down on the tarmac of Rome’s international airport.
The next hour or so is relatively boring, as we go through Italian passport control, who look like they’ve been forced to sit in a puddle of water, and then collect our luggage. We are met in the arrivals hall by our driver David. He is tall, well I say tall, he was taller than me which in itself is no mean feat. He has long dark hair and a beard, to which I ponder if its length can reach round his whole head. I keep that question to myself in case I’m asked to walk. As I quite frequently find in Italy, there are two uniforms that are worn, no matter what job you are doing, and you will usually conform to one or the other. Firstly, the ones with the white jeans and new shoes. These people turn up to load in sporting the latest in designer fashion, a mobile phone attached to their ear, a cigarette lazily stuck to their lips, where they refuse to push or lift anything incase their attire gets damaged or get a cut on their dainty hands. Then there is the other type of uniform. Sweaty black jeans, black T-shirt with some erogenous gothic writing on it set above Beelzebub’s pet goat. If David was meeting Megadeath he would have fitted in perfectly.
He leads the group towards his van. The white, high top Fiat van has seen better days. It has faded orange curtains that hide the contents of the vehicle. Inside the seats are at an uncomfortable 90 degree angle and as everyone piles in we also become acutely aware of how intimate these seats are. I think he must drive bands around the country in this thing. It actually has a mezzanine level where he keeps all his tools. If it were a little lower you could probably get a bed up there as well.
As we head into Rome, my view of the ancient city is blocked by the massive grey seat in front of me. We arrive at the hotel to be warmly greeted by the tour manager who hands me a room key and an apology regarding the size of the rooms. I enter my room, 512 and was actually surprised to find that my room isn’t as small as I had feared. I walk over to open the shutters from the windows only to find they are already open. The dimness depresses me. Anyway, we won’t be there for long and I have to have some lunch and get to load in which is in 2 hours.
Next door to the hotel is a tiny pizzeria where I go with the stage manager and the keyboard player. The pizza is lovely in a very Roman way; thin crust, with some slightly salted salami. We spend the next hour chatting about relationships and philosophy. Once luncheon has concluded I return to my dull pit where I gather my things together ready for load in. I meet the stage manager and Backline gentlemen in the lobby at our designated time of departure where we were met by an empty parking space in front the hotel where our transport should be. After about 10 minutes of phone calls to David’s answer phone, he picks up and informs us that he can’t get to the hotel but is just round the corner and we must walk to him. Apparently these people had an empire many years ago.
Circolo Degli Artisti is the venue playing host to part of the Ultra Suoni Festival of which we are headlining. The venue is only small and the other acts on the bill are British and I’ve never heard of any of them. The 700 cap venue has a Claire Brother’s PA system which is set down one end of the thin, yet long room with a pair of delayed speakers 2 thirds of the way back. At the very back of the room is a raised platform where the mixing console stands. For those sound or physics bods amongst you, you’ll know that this is probably one of the worst places to mix music from as you get a very different bass experience from everyone else in the venue. I put some music on and walk the room. The bass is horribly lumpy, no two places sound the same in the lower frequency range. I play around with some time settings, which I won’t go into, and manage to even out the sound a little but still can’t get the bass response that I’m after. Surprisingly everything else runs quite smoothly, and apart from a few stage volume issues, soundcheck is over and done with quite easily. Dinner time!
I’ve never actually been too impressed with Italian cooking. Yes, I like the classic dishes and they do them very well, but just general food, I think, isn’t that great. The last time I was in Rome I got taken to a restaurant in the Jewish Quarter by Warner Music. They were telling me how amazing this place was, so we sit down and I order the Roast Lamb, which apparently is a local delicacy. They ordered some mixed starters for everyone to share. These turn up shortly after, lovely bits of cheese different types of cured ham, and oddly enough, chicken nuggets. Decorating my plate in lots of different colours and dug in. I take a bite out of this chicken nugget… The rather mushy texture seeping through my mouth confirms that I haven’t just bitten into a chicken. After throwing up in my own mouth and desperately swallowing the now full contents of my mouth without trying to look like I’ve just been sick in my mouth, I enquired to my Italian colleague, who is shovelling these things into his mouth. Turns out that was lambs brain. I did think he was joking at the time. He wasn’t.
Looking forward to my main course to rid me of this sensation flowing through my whole body. I felt a little strange as if I’d just got out of a massage chair but instead of feeling relaxed, someone had pumped me full of caffeine. The lamb turned up and I dug in. It was indeed very nice. It looked like ribs. As I flipped it over, I realised not everything was as I expected it to be. Looking up at me in the middle of the plate was a testicle. They had hidden the lambs testicle deep inside the lamb ready to pounce on its unsuspecting victim. Well, I thought, I’ve already eaten the poor buggers brain, why stop there. So consumed his bollock. That was my last experience of Roman cuisine. This time wasn’t anywhere near as eventful, and was ultimately bland, which I think I preferred. Swings and roundabouts…
Now I’m presented with the ultimate decision: Do I head back to the hotel or do I stay at the venue. Consulting my watch I note that we have 2 hours before we have to be back at the venue. It’ll be half an hour to the hotel and half an hour back, meaning that I have an hour at the hotel. By this point the support band are sound checking. They are a little like Muse and The XX but without the genomes and the USE, which leaves an asexual M. I decide that the hotel is a much better option. I get back to the hotel and book some flights, stare at the ceiling for a while. Check Facebook and Twitter far too much but have nothing interesting so say so don’t bother. Manage to relieve some boredom with the game Boggle on my iPad which I keep forgetting about. Scored a 43 which I was most happy with. Then head back down stairs to get a lift back to the venue.
Again surprisingly presented with an empty parking space. What did I expect? After the same futile phone calls as early, David turns up 10 mins later. We jump in the van ready to go. But no! David had other plans. He was there to pick up the band and we were getting in a car with a girl and she will be here in a matter of moments. We get out the van and stand back in front of the hotel again. A old gypsy lady creeps up to us searching for change, but she wouldn’t give me her tears in exchange so wondered off into the night. Then from the opposite direction comes a rather voluptuous voodoo lady selling her wears. A rather interesting collapsable egg holder seemed to be her prised possession. Made of wood and eloquently decorated, the poor lady was mocked, not by me I hasten to add. I wonder how bad her curses really are. It was a very full 3 minutes wait for our lift.
A Fiat Punto revs up with a young attractive Italian lady driving it. Testosterone fills the car and the vocal tones get more masculine as the conversation turns to masturbation and sex in a bid to seduce this poor woman. Luckily her English wasn’t that good and the not-so-broad North English accents of my fellow travellers hid most of the conversation from her ears.
In what I have now come to consider stereotypical Italian fashion, the show was running late. As we arrived at the venue the first band of the evening we still on stage and it did appear that they had just started their set. The dressing room was directly behind the stage. The noise isolation was provided by a black curtain. The crashing and banging of the drums were shrilling, and our conversations were raised in volume before we eventually gave up trying to converse all together. They exited the stage at the point where we should have been commencing change over. Asexual M then came on and we had to endure 30 minutes of moaning over Fisher Price chords and a Casio drum machine. Finally we get on to the show.
The Roman crowd were excited about the prospect of seeing Echo and the Bunnymen. A heavily rounded gentlemen with a patchy beard, greasy glasses and sweaty hair, that he kept pushing over his equally sweaty brow, was so enamoured by the entrance of the band, he clenched the pile of merchandise he had in his hands between his knees, and he clapped. He clapped the most enthusiastic clap you would ever have heard… And it kept going… Right through the first song. His eyes lit up like a sequinned jump suit with so much excitement he couldn’t stop moving. At the end of each song his enthusiastic cheers could be heard in 1983. This did start to get on my nerves after a while. As the show progressed, his body would spasm. I thought he was having some sort of fit, but as the music stopped the spasms turned into furious applause. On closer inspection this spasm would be some form of dance. You know when you watch music television, but instead of listening to the music on the tele you are listening to something else and everything is just eerily out of time. Imagine that and combine it with some kind of spiritual, tribal ritual and that might be pretty close to what was happening next to me. His arms were waving around as if he were a cartoon character running from a fire spraying sweat far and near… This was the really annoying bit.
The band played well, and for my first show with them I thought I did a pretty good job. I just hope that the few alterations I made to the sound system earlier made sense in the packed out venue. It’s hard to tell sometimes when the position you’re in doesn’t change. It felt good though, so that’s half the battle. Then, as quickly as it started, 1 hour and 9 minutes later the show ended. I was happy with the way the show went from my point of view and as I made my way back into the dressing room, the same feeling was expressed by the band. Of course I don’t know all the songs in their set, just the bigger hits. It was good. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and met some pretty nice people. We then packed down. I say we, I poured myself a glass of red wine, and watched the Backline tech and the stage manager pack the gear away. The venue turns into a club after the show, so most of the band decide to stay after the show for a few beers. The consensus is that we’ll all stay for about half an hour, have a beer then head to the hotel, I’m falling asleep at this point and thirst for my bed. My thirst is instead quenched by about four beers and a conversation with an Australian woman about how much she loved the band and could she have a set list. The conversation ended rather abruptly when she said to me, ‘You’re quite hard to talk too?!’ My response was basically along the lines I can’t really do small talk. I do try, but I find it tediously boring, and a conversation shouldn’t be tediously boring. I think she took this a little personally, but anyway the correct outcome prevailed. The eradication of the annoying Australian woman from my vicinity. We eventually head back to the hotel and I crawl into bed about 3am, and with the hour difference that would have been a 24 hour day. Lobby call is at 9.30am ready to do the joyous flight back to Blighty…