Diary of a touring musician: day three
Being full-time musicians we love playing live! With our new album STARLITE.ONE we took to the road in September and October for our UK headline tour. This is part three of the warts-and-all-account.
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We woke up in France. Trés bon.
In the light of the morning, we discovered that our round turret refuge was actually part of a wider chateaux complex - it was enchanting to witness French architecture at its most romantic. Magnifique! This is the sort of place you would always stay - en route to the UK.
There was no sight of Phillippe or his wife so we waved au revoir into the air and left. Starting the van we had an Adblue warning light, which for those not familiar is an additive essential for the operation of modern diesel vehicles reducing harmful emissions. You can’t run out as the engine just won’t start, but we had 1200 km to worry about that.
Following a good night's sleep It would have been rude not to sample a petit-déjeuner in the local village.
The village of Beaumont-la-Ronce is classic French. Super quiet with Chateaux, grand town hall and all very well kept. A bit like a French version of Sandford, from Hot Fuzz but hopefully without the murderous Neighbourhood Watch Alliance.
We walked down the main street and visioned as it may have been when occupied during the Second World War. The officers’ staff cars, trucks and armoured personal carriers. The Swastika emblazoned flag hung from the Mairie. A far cry from the peace and tranquillity seen now.
Suzy found the patisserie/boulangerie La Grange du pain "Orry" (thank you Google Maps) and bought a couple of Pain au chocolate and regular Croissant, then walked the 5m across the street to Bar-Epicerie (which also doubles as the local supermarket and post office) to take coffee and consume the scrumptious pastries.
Being British, it always seems strange that you can buy something in one place and then eat in another.
Three excellent Café au lait later and still luxuriating in the magnificent munchies, we made our way to Calais.
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The roads were quiet and tolls were not as vicious, just a mere 50 Euros and we duly arrived at the Ferry terminal.
Every time we drive into the place it appears to be more fortified - sadly, a sign of the times. Fortunately, we followed the physical signs as opposed to the Google Maps directions that take you to a very strange area beside the docks where the P&O offices are. Yes, that happened last time - it was very early in the morning and once there, it’s difficult to get back. We nearly missed the ferry!
Anyway, we were excited. The first part of the journey was complete, now all we had to do was have the ATA Carnet stamped at French customs.
We had looked into this in advance and fellow musician Kaz Hawkins and her band had made the crossing last year. David, Kaz’s husband, gave us pretty clear directions to the Customs Office which was past passport control.
The young woman who checked us in was quite lovely and when asked, gave us less than clear directions to Customs. Confusion.
As per usual the officers at French/British passport control were surly and uncommunicative. Are they trained or just born like that?
Combining both sets of directions and after a few wrong turns, negotiating all the under/overpasses and hectares of tarmac we found this quite unassuming building with an empty car park. It looked closed but when Simon went in clutching the Carnet, the two French customs officers were pleased to see him: perhaps a welcome interjection into the monotony of their day.
The document was quickly stamped and we were on our way to the queue. Did Simon detect a smile from the douaniers?
We fancied a coffee and needed the loo managing to find both in a dystopian-style concrete block near the loading dock.
In anticipation of reasonable Wi-Fi, we had prearranged to have a technical meeting with Dan Powers and Chris McClung from The Met in Bury.
That particular concert was going to be a special one-off multi-media presentation complete with video projection and we were recording both the sound/visuals for our new live album. Hours of pre-production work had gone into the tour and we all wanted to make sure that everything ran smoothly.
We drove onto the ferry for the short hop to England. 30 minutes in adjusted time. 90 minutes in reality.
Usually using P&O or DFDS, Irish Ferries had been a mystery to us and just as the ship was manoeuvering out of dock the audio safety briefing started which had us roaring with laughter.
Apparently, in the event of an emergency, we all had to congregate in assembly station B located in O'Flaherty’s pub at the stern of the vessel. We may be sinking, but we will go down drinking.
Kaz and David are from Northern Ireland, so we sent them a recording of the announcement!! We laughed - a lot!!
The sea was flat-calm, the boat quiet and took advantage of the meal deal of still vastly overpriced salad and wine.
Even though only three days, it already seemed weeks since we had left home and the girls. Rita sent pictures of them looking happy, sunbathing and running about so that did help.
We managed to find the van on deck five and waited to drive down the ramp to Blighty. Vans are always pulled over into the customs shed and today was no exception. They asked us to open up the back door and on seeing the amount of stuff, they quickly closed it again and poked around in the cab trying to look efficient.
Simon had already booked a slot at the Inland Border Facility in Dover to stamp the ATA Carnet. We arrived to find a queue of European lorry drivers and managed to be seen quickly but still had to wait 45 minutes for the text to arrive telling us the stamping had been completed. It was like being back in the 70s. Worn paper trays, worn staff, worn clipboards and paper. Lots of paper.
After being on the relatively empty roads of Europe, coming back to the UK is always a bit of a shock - too many cars - but the lack of tolls was a welcome relief.
We had stayed at the Roebuck before when visiting our friend and legendary recording engineer Phill Brown last time we were over. He lives in this neck of the woods and only a couple of miles from Riverhall, the home of the late, great Jeff Beck.
It’s not the greatest hotel, but cheap and well-located, close to Gatwick Airport where we were collecting our drummer Hugo Danin in the morning.
We arrived late and the bar was just about to close so we ordered our first pint of British beer - Greene King - only to be disappointed as it was slightly off. Tangy, you know what we mean and fiendishly expensive: welcome to the UK. It was around 2200 and the barman, who was quite short - not in stature but attitude - asked if we wanted another as he was closing the bar. No, thank you…
There was only one guy in the lounge with us and we started chatting. After the normal pleasantries, we found out he was a surgeon and not short of a bob or two, travelled a lot for work and preferred to stay in pub hotels. We understand that as the last thing you want to do when living away from home is stay in some sterile, lifeless place...
He and his wife were both bored living a very predictable, mundane lifestyle and he was envious of us living our passion.
Sometimes we wish for a bit of this…
He told us as they get older a lot of members of his profession tend to hit the bottle: he was no different and swayed off to bed. We hope he made his scheduled procedure, the next day at 1100.
Just before we left the bar we received a phone call from Danny Claire at The Pioneer Club in St. Albans. Out of the blue, he told us that the gig was cancelled due to poor ticket sales! This was two days before we were booked to play. Totally shocked!!
We can’t possibly monitor the promotion for all the gigs and quickly looked at the level of social media promotion and general advertising the venue had done - next to nothing.
Gutted. Like a knife in the chest. Months and months of hard work with the album and booking the tour and the first date was off.
How do we break this to Hugo? He was due to board the aircraft in Porto at 0600.
Did we sleep? What do you think?
Next up, Gatwick, eyewear, beer, wine, coffee, friends and curry. Lots of curry.