Subterranean Tour Diary
Tuesday, 14 January 2014.
Subterranean Tour Diary
The life, loves and enormously well-stocked fridges of an IQ tour
"Hands up, who wants to go on tour?"
Paul Cook - Drums
Mike Holmes - Guitar
John Jowitt - Bass
Peter Nicholls - Vocals
Martin Orford - Keyboards
Rob Aubrey - Sound
Kala Notton - Guitar/Stage Tech
Andy Labrow - Assistant Lights/General Roadie/Truck Driver
Andy McEvoy - Video and Projection/Truck Driver
Thomas Waber - Bass/Stage Tech/Tour Manager
Martin "Oggie" Ogden - Lights/Truck Driver
Anne Holmes - Merchandise
Andy Cook - Coach Driving
Diary Author - Andy Labro.
06.Nov.97 - The Steeple - Waregem (between Gent & Kortrijk) - Belgium
07.Nov.97 - Noorderligt - Tilburg - Holland
09.Nov.97 - MTW - Offenbach - Germany
Wednesday 5th November
Like most of the Crew and Band, I worked all day Wednesday and then headed off for Dover. I travel with Andy Mac and Pete in Andy's car. It's Bonfire Night and the roads are pretty quiet. Andy gets slightly panicky when he smells burning. We remind him of the rituals of Bonfire Night (for it is this very night) and proceed to tuck into my wife's delicious chocolate buns and swap stories about blagging into gigs. Andy wins hands down by relating the tale of setting off to the NEC in Birmingham to see Rush without a ticket, and driving into the backstage area by following the bands limo, then getting a very nice ringside seat. This manoeuvre is apparently now known as an NEC.
Plans were slightly sketchy as the French Truckers (rhymes with...) were on blockade duty, and we thought that although we had originally planned to sail Dover-Calais, we were now to sail Dover-Oostend. However, once we reach the port we discover it is okay to travel to Calais. Unfortunately by this time, Oggie, who was driving the truck down from the North, was on his way to Harwich to sail to Europort at Rotterdam. The rest of us meet up just in time to miss the 1.00am ferry. Ho hum. We swap gear to the (what looks like) pretty nice double decker tour coach. After bunk allocation (I'm on the bottom), we discover that the coach is in fact very nice indeed: 14 bunks, seats to the front, rear lounge on both decks, and kitchen with fridge.(pic 1) In the entertainment department there are 3 CD players and 3 videos in various parts of the coach. The toilet is quite small for such a big coach and a large message declares that, in the interests of all concerned, the toilet does not accept solids!
The missing of the ferry turns out to be very opportune. As Martin is crossing the car park he bumps into ex-IQ sound man Alan Parker (pic 2) who some of the band haven't seen for a good deal more than 10 years. It turns out he is also off on tour on the same ferry as us with the rock band Thunder, although he is slightly disappointed as he was supposed to be working on the American Genesis tour which has been cancelled. We eventually sail at 2.30am (3.30 mainland Europe time) and after a bit of nosh, a couple of very nice beers and a reminiscence with Alan we dock at 5.00am. Someone seems to have lost the key to the back door of the ferry and it takes us an extra half hour to get to the land. Once on the road (pic 3) we rather strangely decide to watch a couple of episodes of The Simpsons on video (I think we did it just because we could) and so by the time we are settled it is about 6.00am. Not the best time to go to bed. I don't know whether it's pre-gig nerves or the sleeping in a tour bus thing, but I just can't seem to get off to sleep. I spend the rest of the drive dozing and being on the lookout for French truckers...
Thursday 6th November
10.30am: Everyone seems to wake at about 10.30am. Pete had informed me on the way down that this was what always happened, it's a tour thing. We are parked outside what appears to be a small venue in Belgium, The Steeple. Eventually we gain entry to the venue to discover it isn't too small but it does have a low ceiling. We look out for Oggie. Unbeknown to us he has forgotten to bring any information with him regarding the first gig. Good Game. Anyway, he does know the name of the town and just drives around until he spots an English coach which does indeed turn out to be the IQ bus. We head straight for the dressing room where we tuck into a breakfast of cheese and ham with lashings of orange juice and hot coffee. Fine news for me as I love cheese and ham, not so good for the many vegetarians on the trip.
11.30am: We set about the group erection. There is a load of stuff to put together: trussing for the Golden Scan lights at the back and for the roller-blind video screen at the front. The roller-blind takes some time to put together from its three sections. The gauze for video projection is then added and the motor fixed and tested. Another cloth is hung at the back which is also used for video and stills projection. Once the structure is together, all the video and projection equipment is assembled while the band get set up. It's beginning to be a bit daunting. The venue looks like a heard of Wildebeest have passed through on their migration South. We have several goes at repositioning the Scans to their best advantage. This involves winding the truss up and down and at least 3 people carrying the Scans to new positions. They weigh a ton. You could carry one on your own but not very far. To make matters worse, Oggie had pre-programmed the Golden Scan lights at the factory earlier in the week for venues with much higher ceilings so he has to work furiously to re-set all 50-odd patterns for somewhere with a lower ceiling.
6.30pm: Tea-time arrives in the middle of the soundcheck and Oggie has to be force fed as he thinks he hasn't enough time to eat tea. We have worked hard all afternoon and the set up is not finished until 15 minutes after doors have opened. It's a bit of shame because the audience can see what's going on, and one of the ideas of the show is that the screen is down at the beginning so you can't see that stage. Air of mystery and all that. However, it can't be helped.
8.30pm: A moderate turnout is presented with a very accomplished performance of Subterranea. All the technical aspects of the show go reasonably well, even the prison bars at the beginning and end which have to be plugged in manually at the side of the stage by Kala as the lamp won't connect to the lighting desk. However, we all gasp as the show is plunged into darkness when the power goes off during The Narrow Margin. The blame seems to go to myself who is operating the standard lighting desk (while Oggie looks after the scans). It appears that I have been using too many lights. Interesting, as most of the time I have only been using 2 or 4 out of 24 lights. They ask me to use less. I have to use less, as when the power comes back on everything except my lighting desk seems to work. When I eventually get going, and as the lights are paired in 2's, I resign myself to using 2 at a time until, with some relief, we reach the end of the show. The reception is very good and after a suitable encore we rush to take down the huge erection. It has been up for just over 4 hours! Phew!
2.00am: I opt for the drive to Holland as I just don't seem to be that tired yet. We arrive in Tilburg at about 3.30am. I tell Andy the driver I have been to the Noorderligt before and I might be able to remember where it is. This proves to be a complete waste of breath as I race past the turning for the venue into a dead end street. Coach and truck now reverse 100 metres back down the street and head for the missed turning. As I turn under the bridge the coach stays put. It turns out the bridge is too low. Like a couple of idiots, I climb to a higher vantage point while Andy attempts to inch the coach under the bridge. After a couple of minutes "inching", the air vents on the roof prevent the manoeuvre. I continue on to the venue and the coach reverses (again) and then looks for an alternative route. After another low bridge the coach eventually makes it to the Noorderligt car park (which, of course, we have to reverse into). I down a quick beer with Andy the driver whilst he informs me that Holland is the world capital of low bridges.
4.45am: Bed. Well, at least for a few hours.
Friday 7th November
10.30am: We rise and gain entry to the Noorderligt. This place is gig heaven. The venue is near perfect, the staff actually go out of their way to help you and the fridge is legendary, stocked with beer of the "it tastes great especially because it's free" variety. We manage to set up in record time. (pics 4,5,6 & 7)
I feel a bit of a cheat as I have a large portion of the afternoon with not a lot to do while the band sound-check (pics 8,9,10,11 & 12)
and rob practices catching gaffer tape. (pic 13)
There is even time to chat and for the crew to prat about on stage with the band. (pics 14 & 15) I shower and take it easy.
5.00pm: Oggie spends more time refining the lighting (pics 16 & 17)
and, as usual, has to be dragged away for food which today is a very nice Chinese take-away, in extremely generous portions.
7.30pm: Advance sales have been about 600 and with another 200 paying on the door we have a very respectable turnout. They are held back at the doors briefly whilst Oggie and Mike make some last minute adjustments to the Scans.
8.45pm: The atmosphere is buzzing. (pics 18 & 19)
As the lights dim, the band strike up and the video lights up the screen, there is a real sense of achievement. After the opening section, as the curtain rises and Pete comes to the front of the stage, the roar of the crowd is a real lift. The stage looks brilliant. This show was made for the Noorderligt and the Noorderligt has been waiting for this show. (pics 20 & 21)
The lights look great, (although Oggie blacked John out at a rather delicate moment in Speak My Name, he reckons John was standing in the wrong place) and the sound is perfect. You never get anything but perfection from that nice Rob who, it has to be said, "blew off" earlier in the day (he has been feeling a bit under the weather so no sumo impersonations at this gig). One of my tasks during the performance is to operate the camera in a blacked-out backstage area for King Of Fools. I have taken to amusing myself by pulling faces on the video camera to entertain Andy Mac at the sound/video control desk. However, he is only alerted to my antics when the 10-15 people standing directly behind the video monitor start tapping him on the shoulder. (Sorry, boys, didn't mean to detract from the show). The band seem much more relaxed tonight. A lot more polished. I'm sure the crowd reaction is making a difference. Not that the other Subterranea shows have had bad responses, but this audience is about 4 times larger than any of the previous ones. In the few gaps where the audience has a chance to clap, the response is thunderous. The show is a huge success. Three encores ensure that the band get time to let their hair down after the constraints of 100 minutes of theatre.
11.00pm: After the show we spend a little time drinking a lot of beer and I do some deserved back patting. The response from the audience was amazing, considering it has been 100 minutes of completely new music with just a smattering of old stuff as the encores. My only reservation was thinking that the Noorderligt could have been the last gig as I can't see how much better the gig in Offenbach on Sunday can be. Sales of merchandise have been very good and several designs of shirt have run out. Anne does a very patient job on the merchandise desk. (pic 22) With that many people it is hard for her to keep up, especially with requests to try on shirts, buy them, and come back and try on another instead. We are staying in a nearby hotel, which we have stayed at before, so there is not the great rush to get the staging down at the end of the night.
2.00am: We arrive at the hotel sometime after 2.00am. It is three to a room and as we had been travelling together, myself, Andy Mac and Pete take a room. The room has one double bed and one extra frame bed, and after a lot of talking in deep voices I take the single bed while Andy and Pete agree to share. They soon get the best of the deal as we discover the double bed is actually 2 singles pushed together. Andy Mac disappears for a late night drink with Oggie, Thomas and Kala. They don't have enough beer so he sets off to find the coach to get some of the rider from the previous two nights. Andy the driver is still up so he stays for a few beers and chats about touring. It turns out that he is well used to touring with bands. He has this rather nice habit of grabbing a portion of the rider and stashing it in the fridge on the coach. He must be good at it because no band likes having their beer nicked (except when it's them doing the pinching!), but he has managed it on two occasions now. When Andy Mac returns to Thomas's room at about 6.00am they have (understandably) all gone to bed. Andy's enquiry of "Don't you want this beer then?" is met with a request for him to leave, or something along those lines. But, of course, by this time I'm well off to sleep, as you can imagine.
Saturday 8th November (Day off, hooray!)
9.30am. The breakfasts at this hotel are fabulous. I tuck into ample bacon and eggs followed by Corn Flakes followed by muesli and yoghurt followed by coffee and orange juice, which set me up very nicely for the day. Oggie arrives at breakfast walking rather strangely. Apparently dragged from a hotel room by John (possibly seeking mild revenge for last night's blackout), he is now suffering from carpet burns to the stomach. It looks painful but everyone is taking it in good spirits (especially Oggie - thankfully!) and it is treated as just another tour souvenir. Pete calls the UK and as Gill (Pete's partner) is staying with my good lady I get the chance to speak to her. Oooooppppppsssss... I have been away three days and not rung home. I am very apologetic but I shall have to make more effort to call for the last two days. We assemble for a group photo (pic 23) outside the coach and then we're off.
11.30am: I'm driving again (pic 24) and Pete joins me for the trip to Kleve where we are spending the day off. On arrival at Kleve we have another breakfast at Peter Huth's, after which point I decide I don't care what everyone else is doing I'm off back to bed.
5.45pm: I awake in a car park on an industrial estate near the town centre where we are all to meet up at 6.30 with Thomas Waber, Peter Huth, Michael Schmitz, Fabian and Saskia. We split into two groups, Italian and steak house, and head off for sensible food. Towards the end of our meal we are greeted by some of the steak house party who have not yet eaten. It turns out that Rob collapsed in the car park just after we set off to eat. He is rushed to hospital but a diagnosis is not known.
8.30pm: The ensuing booze-up at the Whisky Saloon has a damper on it. There is much talk of what to do. Cancel the last show? Find a new sound engineer? Thomas makes some phone calls and waits for messages. Andy Mac reveals hidden talents as a soundman and heads off to study the album a few times and make notes about the effects. (pic 25) We try our best to be jolly and we vaguely succeed, but I think we need a night's sleep to look with any more optimism at the last gig of the tour. I am offered the use of a mobile phone (Thank you again Peter Huth, you are a very nice man) and call home to relate the day's bad news. We get back to the coach and have another couple of beers. The Simpsons tape is once again put on and Mike is lost for words when I happen to say, "Which one's that?" Mike seems to think that The Simpsons are like letters in the alphabet, how can you possibly not know them? I have to repeat my question several times before he realises I am not joking and I really don't know who Bart Simpson is.
Sunday 9th November
5.30am. I rise early as I am driving the van to Offenbach. Thomas nips of to the office to see if any messages have arrived about a sound man. They haven't. We depart at 6.00am. It's a long drive that nearly ends in a stranded truck as we travel for two hours without passing a petrol station. Just as the fuel warning light comes on a service station appears. Phew!
11.30am: It's quite a long trip to the MTW in Offenbach and we arrive to a locked venue. I have to admit to being disappointed by the venue at first and struggle to muster the energy to be excited by the night's gig, especially after the great show in Tilburg. The crew are mustered into their various roles by a very organised Mike, (pic 26) and aside from initially forgetting to put the side drapes up (again) we transform the venue (pic 27) into a rather attractive theatre. This is only slightly hampered by the fact that the entrance is the wrong shape to get the trussing in. We find an alternative door that is oddly positioned two metres up a wall but does have direct access, over the bar, into the hall.
3.00pm: After the main erection a few of us are driven by the promoter to the nearby Holiday Inn for a shower and freshen up as the shower in the venue is broken. Whilst the band sound-check (pic 28) Andy Mac, Kala and the house sound engineer combine efforts to fill Rob's shoes and get the sound together. (pic 29) There are rumours of ticket sales ranging from 60 to a couple of hundred. We needn't have worried, the official turnout is about 350, which for a club this size is very full. As the audience comes in and the Germans arrive from Kleve, we hear that Rob has pneumonia but is okay, just very, very bored. He will have to stay in Kleve for a week. This is not the best news but at least in Kleve there are people he knows.
6.00pm. Another nice meal is polished off and the band prepare for the last gig of the tour.
8.00pm. The gig is a phenomenal success, I think even better than the Noorderligt. The crowd cheer at the beginning, when Pete appears behind the gauze, when the gauze goes up and every other available moment. It's not difficult to judge what the audience thinks of the Subterranea part of the gig, (pics 30 & 31) they go wild. Very, very wild. Well, that sounds a bit unfair to Belgium and Holland, because they were both brilliant, but something was different tonight. The band do three separate encores and head back to the dressing room. But the audience are having none of that. Despite attempts to bring the house lights up, start the music and a message on the video screen encouraging the audience to "Go home now please", they just won't leave and the band have to come back for yet another encore. Wow! Wow! Wow! The atmosphere turns distinctly party style and for the last encore of Out of Nowhere/Mamma Mia the band are really motoring. (pics 32 & 33)
11.00pm: Fortunately, the audience get the idea that the gig is now over and we all relax and grab a beer or two. Andy managed to combine the sound and video jobs with the help of the in-house engineer and Oggie managed a few more tweaks on the lighting front. The taking down of the rig is a time of mixed emotions. I am more than relieved that we aren't putting it up again tomorrow, and just a bit naffed off that we can't do a couple more weeks of shows like this. We have to take everything down tonight. The roller-blind for the screen is separated back into its three pieces, all the trussing is dismantled and we carefully pack the van for the return trip. It's time for a few goodbyes. The Germans, who have been to all the gigs, head off back to Kleve with Kala who is staying to keep Rob company. Mike heads off to Holland with Tony (who joined him in Holland) for a few days' holiday.
1.30am. Andy Mac is driving the van so I get myself a few more beers. Pete and John catch up on some album and photo signing for the fan club (pic 34) and we start to watch The Man With Two Brains although it's not long before we all crash out. I get the best night's sleep of the tour and awake to find us only a few miles from Calais. Apparently we did stop in the night when Andy the driver spotted Andy Mac suffering from having been up too long. Oggie takes over, I am so glad I didn't have to. Having done a few late nights I'm not sure I could have driven another mile. I think Oggie is a bit worried that he won't be able to get on the ferry because he is provisionally booked on one from Rotterdam.
Monday 10th November
10.30am: We arrive at Calais to discover the ferry has been cancelled. Joy! The good news is there is room for Oggie and the van on the next one. More hanging around ensues. I am reminded of the Charlie Watts quote about life on the road with the Rolling Stones for 30 years being 5 years of gigging and 25 years of hanging around. We board the ferry and tuck into breakfast, very nice but not very warm. The crossing is slightly rough but we manage the odd photo on deck to pass the time. (pic 35) The last money gets spent in Duty Free and we look forward to the drive home, not. We can't dock on time as we need a tug to help us berth. I somehow don't think I will be making it to work this afternoon.
1.30pm: It's a bit of an anti-climax now. Andy the driver performs his last official drive (pic 36) and we swap gear from coach to cars. It is time for goodbyes. There is much talk of the London show on January 24th at the Shepherds Bush Empire and then the tour next year. I somehow don't think I will be able to spare the time to do two weeks of it. I'm not sure I'd be able to survive! Rather than travel back with Andy and Pete, I opt to help Oggie drive the van back to the North. We try to make Leeds in time to drop off the trussing, but there is a mix up and we don't make it.
7.00pm: Home at last. I am quite exhausted but more than satisfied.
Subterranea is a big show. Everyone - band and crew has worked long and very, very hard. Despite the hard work it has been a great few days. The response of the audiences has made the sense of achievement of being in the crew something more special than for any ordinary gig.
If you were there, I hope you enjoyed the shows and Thank You for making them special for us.
I know, let's do it all again in 1998...