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12 go mad in Mexico

It’s a long way to Mexicali
Whoops Mr Vidales where’s me trousers…

A Tour Diary by John Jowitt

I’ve been on at the chaps to play the Baja Prog festival for a very long time now.  I’ve played the festival twice before, with Jadis and with Arena, and Alfonso Vidales, organiser and keyboard player with Cast is always asking me when I’m going to bring IQ.  With IQ we all have tasks we carry out for the band in addition to playing our instruments, mine principally being arranging American shows and tour and stage managing generally.

About 12 months ago, we all decided that this year we were going to play Baja Prog in 2004, and we’re confirmed as headliners on the 6th March.  As luck would have it, of course, this turned out to be the most difficult year we could have done it due to the increasingly tight timescale on the recording of de fab noo IQ disc what soon be rippin’ up de charts in de local Woolworths.

We all meet at Heathrow at some ungodly hour on the morning of Thursday 4th March.  Mike goes off in search of somewhere to put his legs, whilst Cookie, Lol Dyer (lights and Maid of Honour) and Widgie Orford arrive an hour later due to the latter’s desperate need for beauty sleep.

The rest of us divide Andy MacEvoy’s (projection and head boffin) and Martin “Oggie” Ogden’s (guitar tech and screen jockey) unfeasibly large collection of hand luggage of all shapes and sizes between an unsuspecting band and crew.  They said it was equipment for the projection, but best bet was that it was probably MacEvoy’s wardrobe, or fig rolls for Rob Aubrey (sound and two veg).  Rob’s brought a friend of his, Chippy Dave, who helped build Aubitt Studios.  God knows what he thought of the ‘organisation’.  We check the bags in, agreeing with the enquiry that we have of course packed all of the bags ourselves and have certainly not left any of it in the hands of another person.

In time-honoured fashion, Oggie, Andy, Mark Westwood (bass and spoon race) and I head for the bar to catch up and relax with a breakfast beer or three.  Heading for the plane we bump into the errant Orford.  Thank God he had the extra sleep…

I commence convincing Dene Wilby (projection and Lofty) that he has to buy an I-pod. The flight goes via Los Angeles where we have a pretty appalling Chinese (Cookie liked it), and we arrive at San Diego in the early evening to meet our bus…which isn’t there.  We wait a couple of hours without sign of transportation, or being able to raise anyone on the phone (Cast, the organisers of the festival are playing that night).  After a couple of hours, enough is enough, and I get us a local hotel for the evening; it’s been a long day, and we can sort things out tomorrow.

At the hotel, I try the phone again, and eventually get to speak to Claudia, one of the organisers at the venue.  We agree that it would be best to stay the night, and travel tomorrow; some people are already in bed, some have gone to eat at a local Denny’s.

I’m in the hotel room with Rob Aubrey, lying on our backs both looking at the ceiling.  I’m so tired, the ceiling looks like it’s moving, like a giant cat is in the room above treading the floor.  I tell Rob.  “I can see it too” he says…  Clearly, another beer isn’t going to hurt in this condition, so after joining some of the boys at Dennys, we head to a bar for another seven.

The hotel is literally at the end of the runway, the other side fronting a railway track!  The planes and trains stop overnight, however, I don’t think it would have mattered too much.  I wake to find Westwood still fully dressed, having slept on top of his bed.  We head to Dennys once more, it’s a beautiful day, and the planes are flying in so low, you can almost count the rivets.

Poor Pete’s having to spend every moment he can writing lyrics.  Despite everything, don’t expect much about travel, beer or Mexican food on the album! The rest of us chill out by the pool and count the planes.

The buses turn up around 11 am, and we take time to get associated with Widge’s beef jerky addiction, as well as stopping at a store, referred to by our hosts as small, but in reality about as large as East Anglia for Dene and Rob to buy I-pods, the exchange rate making this a particularly attractive proposition at the moment.

Arriving in Mexicali, I’m disappointed to hear that we are not staying at the Hotel Araiza, as before, but more than chuffed when we see the Hotel Lucerna where we are instead.  Very smart!  Individual rooms, nice bars, good food.  Once we settle in, we head over to the venue to have a mooch.  Everyone seems pleased, and we meet up with loads of people we’ve not seen for years (HI Linda!, Hi Ron! Hi Pam! etc) – it’s been about ten years since we played anywhere near here, and five since we last played in the States.  After watching some of Japanese band KBB, most of us head off to a nearby steak bar.  Much confusion reigns simply due to the fat that we can’t believe that the enormous buffet, featuring almost everything edible known to man is ours to roam at will.

A quality breakfast awaits on Saturday, the day of the show.  It’s an early start as we have to get in to set up our projection, and being last on, we have to soundcheck first.  Despite bringing one keyboard with him (which got damaged in transit) the remainder are still giving Martin problems, and take most of the soundcheck to arrange and get working.  He decides to use a real Hammond and Lesley speaker, which sounds great, but looks and is enormous and heavy.

Mike’s brought his guitar and effects, and is ok except that his power supply got eaten by a hungry customs officer or similar, and the rest of us are pretty much ok.  Baja prog has a fine group of willing and friendly people on hand to help the bands, ably managed on stage by Cesar Cardenas – top bloke, and worth his weight in gold.  My only problem is that the bass peals are Taurus II with a one and a half octave keyboard, incredibly confusing.  Enrique, who’s helping me out says that they keep them just for me – bastards!

Soundcheck over, we head back to the pool, although Westwood and I do take a look at a nearby guitar shop we’ve spotted.  Sadly our dreams of cheap vintage guitars and generous yet dim shopkeepers remain unfulfilled.

After a bite to eat, most of us head for the pool, which is wonderful but so cold, I’m only glad I’ve already had my quota of children.  Most of us meet up for a bite to eat at a local Chinese restaurant before the show, ably cared for by Cast’s affable sound engineer, Julio, before heading on to the venue.

All too soon, we’re on.  Great big stage, plenty of room to move.  Full house, nearly a thousand people I think, and the band’s on form.  The projection looks great, but there are two lighting rigs, the venue and the show lights, each at different desks in different parts of the building.  Lol and Oggie run these separately in order that we can get the light levels right for the projection.  It was dark on stage from where I was, but from what I saw, looked great.

The set was similar to that at Progeny, starting with Darkest Hour and finishing with the Enemy.  We played two new numbers, Red Dust Shadow, and the opener from the new album, a twelve-minute number making its debut, with the working title Badger.  Headlong for the encore.  Everyone seemed pleased with the show, especially Widge, which was no mean feat given all of his equipment problems, and Rob, who is by nature ultra-critical.

Quick change, then out the front to say hello to people and shoot the breeze.  Alfonso has a big party at his house after the show, but we all start realising just how tired we are, and just how early we have to get up to catch our plane.  Lol, Mark, Oggie and I grab a quick one or two in the Ladies Bar (I have no idea why they call it that) at the hotel and then it’s off to sleep.

On the way back we see some street traders near the border, selling a bizarre collection of posters and such.  “Look, the Holy Trinity” says Lol, “Jesus, Mary and Spiderman!”.  Rob and Dave leave us at San Diego, heading off for a few days to the fleshpots of Las Vegas.  I next see him the following Friday having just got back – our timetable for the album is now so tight that that afternoon he and I have to go into the studio to start the bass parts.  At the same time, Pete and Widge are working with Andy Mac in Blackburn on vocals, whilst Mike is working on his parts in London!

Glad we finally got there.  All I have to do now is find a way of getting back again! Anyone need a bass player for Baja 2005?