Diary of a touring musician: day eight
In September & October 2023, we took to the road in the UK to introduce our new album STARLITE.ONE. A wet load in, a dodgy soundman and a great curry. This is part eight of the warts-and-all-account.
If you happened upon this episode for the first time, we suggest you check out the other articles in the series by heading over to:
Breakfast with Angus
After the great gig, we slept well.
When you’re travelling you end up judging hotel rooms by the ‘power of the shower’. Everyone at some point will have stayed in a cool-looking room only to find that the waterworks were somewhat lacking. The Wellington didn’t have that problem - 8.5/10!
We were trying to eat healthily and had a light breakfast with bucketloads of coffee. Angus joined us, paid our fee and settled the hotel & food bill without ever mentioning a word about the extortionate cost of the Vinho Tinto - and bid us a very fond farewell. We have made a new friend, a beautiful man and everything a promoter should be.
More ‘tour housekeeping’ work on our laptop and Starlite went on a buying mission into the town and returned victorious, brandishing a colourful pair of gloves for Hugo (to protect his hands when shifting gear). Again, we are reminded that next time - we must have crew!
And we were off - just over three hours and 129 miles.
Wales is a beautiful country to drive through with magnificent scenery.
Having been away for many years living in a Mediterranean climate, you forget just how much you have missed the little stone villages dotted amidst vast ranges of hills, and the scent of woodland after a little fall of rain; like smelling salts for the soul.
The van of rock kept making these boinging sounds every time we started the engine, a warning that we needed AdBlue otherwise the van would what? Explode? Nope, just not start and we certainly don’t want that.
Ok. Ok. We were UK AdBlue virgins and didn’t know where to get it from and thought it best to try a garage not on a daylight robbery motorway.
Our next gig was at The Temperance Bar in Leamington Spa which took us directly past Ross-on-Wye and stopped off at Bennets Garage on our AdBue treasure hunt.
There wasn’t a designated pump but the cashier pointed us to some dirty 10-litre containers containing a clear liquid on the forecourt. That was Adblue? But it wasn’t blue and it was expensive!! We had never seen it in the flesh so to speak as the last time we filled was in Europe at a service station pump dispenser.
Bemused and confused we bought a container complete with corrugated filler pipe and duly fed the van of rock its required chemical fix. We put it in, started the engine, it started boinging again and the countdown continued. It appears that you have to fill it to the max before the bloody boinging will stop.
Starlite gave The Kings Head Hotel in Ross a call to see if our missing boarding promotional cards had arrived yet, but sadly there was no sign.
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On the way we had to check into our accommodation for the night - a farmhouse run by Annie in the idyllic hamlet of Hornton, half an hour south of Leamington Spa.
Why not stay at a travel hotel you may ask?
There are a lot of things to consider when booking a tour. Firstly and foremost - safety for us - and the van - it has all our gear in and on the odd night all our gear is actually inside the van, the last thing we need is any theft or vandalism. We are fully insured but that’s not the point. The tour would be over there and then. We’re already attracting enough attention driving a left-hand drive vehicle with a Portuguese number plate.
We needed a hotel with secure parking a short distance outside of the town and en route to the next gig in Ramsgate.
Annie’s Place popped up on Air BnB. It looked perfect and breakfast was included.
The reviews were favourable and Annie had worked in children’s TV - Suzy had a good feeling so she booked it. It’s not a hotel and hence had to check in before our gig as we would be burning the midnight oil yet again.
Hornton is in the middle of nowhere which suits Simon as he loves the countryside.
Annie was really friendly and knew we were in a rush. We promptly dropped our bags off and agreed to leave a note on the tiny chalkboard hanging on the stairs regarding what time we would like breakfast in the morning! Deal!!
The Witham, Barnard Castle
Barnard Castle is one of those infamous places that put the need for an eye test on the political map during lockdown.
We were hoping that our first venture into the town would be free of gaslighting drama but sadly, that was not to be. If only we had known what was being said about the venue on the grapevine beforehand…
Back in 2022 Graham Steel, our UK highly reputable booking agent, was approached by Stuart Laundy about playing a gig at The Witham Arts Centre in Barnard Castle. Graham asked us if we would like to work with him or deal with the venue directly so we opted for Graham to act as our agent on this particular booking.
Following months of negotiations including numerous committee meetings at The Witham, a price was agreed including the rider (which details our requirements to play the gig) and a contract was put in place signed by Graham. Our whole UK tour was built around this booking - on Saturday 7th October 2023.
Whilst travelling through France we had a phone call out of the blue from Suzanne - a manager at The Whitham. This was a bit strange as the venue should deal with our agent. Bad news - ticket sales were low and they were thinking of cancelling the gig!
One week to go and now they tell us after all these months? We had no idea!!
It felt all too familiar after the catastrophe with The Pioneer Club in St Albans. What is going on in the UK? Has COVID driven everybody bonkers - doesn’t anyone talk to each other anymore?
What could we do? We are on tour which is a full-time job in itself. We knew some of our supporters were travelling from afar and had booked hotels. Starlite messaged people we knew and discovered they were coming but hadn’t bought their tickets yet… we didn’t know what to do. What can you do?
Anyway - long story cut short - they rang again and this time said they were cancelling the gig. We had a contract in place and still needed paying but guess what happened next?
Yep, that’s right - they didn’t want to pay the full amount. To be continued…
The Temperance Bar
Monday nights are difficult to fill as there are not a lot of places open and even staunch live music supporters struggle to get out.
Every day on tour burns money whether you are working or not. Hugo still needed to be paid and as this is our full-time job, we do too.
Being human, we need to eat a good meal, have a safe clean place to sleep and take care of all the multitude of expenses associated with touring, details of which are covered in part one of this series.
The Temperance Bar is a relatively new basement venue underneath a café in Leamington Spa. It has a small capacity of 60 people and is perfect for a low-key Monday night concert.
When we arrived at the venue it was pissing down which means , for our American friends, it was raining heavily.
The venue is situated on a busy high street without a loading bay so we had no choice but to rock the van up onto the pavement.
We put down the ramp and had a shitty rain-drenched load-in to the venue - through the cafe down some very steep slim wooden stairs.
Thinking ahead, we had brought a selection of smaller amps and cabinets for these smaller gigs and after the Brecon concert, the van was packed in the best way possible to access the stuff we needed but still meant offloading some gear onto the pavement and then reloading in the rain - a right royal pain in the arse. We need a crew!!
Adrian Gaines runs the Temperance Bar and after saying hello, introduced us to James who would be on sound engineering duties for the evening.
The venue is like an intimate secret underground club with its red velvet benches and curtained doorway. We’d read it was a cool place to play on the grassroots circuit.
The van was on the pavement and had to be parked up. Adrian told Simon where the best place was and he left, leaving Suzy and Hugo to set up.
The car park was in an insalubrious area, sadly populated with a group of vagrants. It was still pissing down, they were loud and drinking cheap cider.
This is 2023. Why can’t a rich county hold out a helping hand to its citizens in need of warmth and shelter. It makes us sick and angry.
Simon parked the van with the rear doors as close to the wall as possible, bought a ticket and trudged back to the venue, resolute but moist.
We are used to playing stripped-back acoustic gigs and for this performance had to change the set list as there was no opportunity to run any synthesisers or sequenced playback. We set up our drums, bass and guitars plus Simon‘s trusty 1974 Maestro Echoplex tape echo unit - his sonic magic wand.
The soundcheck didn’t go well. It became evident James was inexperienced and struggled to set up a mic stand properly.
We seriously don’t like being unkind but venues need to realise that they can’t just throw a friend into the job just because he can turn the volume up on an iPad - sound engineering is a skilled science and the engineer becomes a part of your band for that night.
The band suffered. By the end of the concert there was so much echo on our vocals it was like putting 6 inches of buttercream on top of a carrot cake - five inches too many!!
We played a collection of songs from across all our albums, including the acoustic version of Blow Them All To Pieces. Some songs Hugo had never heard before let alone played but what a pro.
It’s these kind of experiences that bond you together as a band and we were certainly on an unpredictable adventure with this tour.
The concert went well and it was great to see some of our wonderful supporters.
Still no tour t-shirts = more lost sales revenue/memorabilia for our supporters.
We started to pack up. James disappeared and went home. This seriously irritated us as we were left alone to get the gear out of the venue.
By chance, Alex, an exceptionally friendly chap working upstairs in the café who had looked after us all night with liquid refreshments, agreed to help us with the get-out.
As you will have realised by now, we use proper amps and cabs in flight cases which translates to heavy. Fortunately, Alex had a great sense of humour and was also a rugby player = double bonus!
The area outside the venue didn’t feel great at night. Quite a few rowdy drunks were hanging around so one of us had to stay with the van all the time when loading.
Alex was a ray of light and after we finished packing the van, we parked up and on his recommendation, went in search of some real food.
For this concert, drinks but no food was provided by the venue and we just didn’t have enough time to go out and eat a proper meal before we played. It was nearly midnight and to our delight just round the corner, there was a cool Indian Restaurant.
Although they were about to close they welcomed us inside with a warm smile and promptly served us a selection of delicious dishes (the best we had whilst in the UK) washed down with chilled Cobra beer. Britains favourite food.
Hugo likes curry. Suzy and Simon love curry. We all like it hot!
Again the warmth of strangers means everything when you are travelling and soon the world felt like a more friendly place once again and we set off for Annie’s place.
The joy in life is often in the small things and Starlite, with a piece of chalk in hand, wrote Annie a little poem about when we would convene for breakfast later that morning.
Next up, a long drive, the crippling cost of coffee and the Red Arrow Music Club.