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Guitar technician reporting from the tourbus....

Sunday, 25 July 2010


So Anathema finally make good on their promise and return to play a gig that should have happened well over a year ago, the venue this time being an old prison rather than an important and culturally sensitive national landmark. I guess they thought it would be handy to have cells close to hand in case a spot of impromptu cat sacrificing broke out mid-gig (government officials were present just in case, scrutinising events from an elevated row of patio chairs, and a couple of not very secret agents were reportedly seen shadowing band members as they enjoyed a drink in a local bar later that night). As he's currently lounging around in Majorca, John's drum stool was filled on this occasion by Portuguese stand-in Daniel Cardoso who did an incredible job considering he'd had just one and a half rehearsals. Great drummer though he is, he does have some work to do before he reaches the standard of the legendary John Douglas. For example, I imagine it would be quite some time before he's seen baring his arse at Danny from the side of the stage during a heartfelt and tender acoustic number. You've either got it or you haven't.

The Tunisians now hold the gold medal in the "hotel furthest from venue" sub-category of international pro-celebrity gig sorting, making the Russians look like rank amateurs and leaving them smarting in humiliation. I honestly don't know what the Tunisians were thinking (a common notion, I found). It's like playing a gig in Manchester and staying in Birmingham, it being a tortuous slog down the motorway (a game which involves driving very slowly while keeping the white line separating the lanes as close to the centre of your bonnet as possible) to and from our annoying beach resort hotel where they served tasteless beer that doesn't get you pissed and where I felt like a tit dressed as a roadie among all the vacationing families. Who's bright idea was it to dump a rock band and their crew in a place where all the entertainment and facilities are designed to please ten-year-olds anyway? The person whose uncle runs the bloody place, that's who. God knows what the rest of the guests thought of us, though I have a good idea what some of the staff were thinking. As Mark and I ate our dinner one evening the waiter insisted on putting a floral spray on our table (replacing it after I moved it), asking us in that particular way if we were enjoying our stay. And then there was the Tunisian Bruno who it seems would have been prepared to do anything to get one of us to have a game of ping pong with him. Jay finally obliged (and beat him), but the only thing Bruno bummed that day was a couple of cigarettes off Les.

Anyway, after the gig (more on that later) we got back to the hotel at three-am, and deciding not to visit a nearby bar with everyone else as I was bloody knackered, I went straight to my room where I found all my belongings were missing - clean clothes, shampoo, the lot. It turns out the maid had somehow misinterpreted my reply of "no thanks" when she'd asked earlier if I wanted my room cleaned as "yes, and not only that, can you remove all my possessions and put them in your office, apart from any toiletries which you should put in a carrier bag and hide it under the bed." Seriously, the mind boggles. Anyway, after remonstrating with the front desk I was eventually told my things were in safe hands and would be brought to me in the morning, though they would wait for me to call so I wouldn't be disturbed. Unsurprisingly, I was woken up at eight-thirty by the maid hammering on the door. I was not happy. I tried to get back to sleep but conceded defeat a couple of hours later and went for some food and a couple of beers in an effort to feel sleepy again. It did the trick and I went back to bed. An hour or so later the phone rang, and like an idiot I answered it. I was to immediately vacate the room - they needed it for new arrivals. So instead of slumbering in air-conditioned loveliness I found myself seething and drinking vodka in the insane heat while watching masochistic nutters doing aerobics to bad techno music. I really was not happy. I put my stuff in Les's room (he'd forgotten to put his "coldener" on so it was mafting in there), returning a little while later for a much needed nap, only to turfed out of there after half an hour as they needed that room as well. What the hell was going on? It felt as if there was some insane conspiracy to make my stay in Tunisia as miserable and frustrating as possible. Our flight back to the UK wasn't until two-thitrty in the morning (why??) but that didn't stop our hosts from then deciding we'd be picked up at seven to go to a bar in Tunis until it was time to go to the airport. What? Are you insane?


We refused to go along with their stupid plans anymore and I went and sat in a corner with my headphones on and listened to some Cardiacs to calm myself down. We were finally picked up at ten and I don't think I've ever been more relieved to get the hell out of anywhere in my life.

Anyway, the gig, allowed to go ahead despite more accusations of satanism, was good though the PA lacked oomph. The crowd had a great time, though sadly absent was the lovely Myriam who'd made such an effort to make our stay pleasant last time we visited, refused entry by some dick head among the promoter's entourage who'd been "wronged" in some way. Grow up idiot. Support act Carthogods were entertaining, having brought Fabio Lione over from Italy for a spot of stunt singing. Universal was played with an interesting twist and the mayor of Tunis was sufficiently impressed to allow more rock at the venue in the future. Good though this news is, I really don't know how long it'll be before I'll feel like making a return visit.

Best quote of the trip?

"I can say this now, my rival has a nuclear weapon on the darkness of his anus" - Ahmed Chebil on the shit-stirring, letter-writing, satanism-accusing rival promoter.

And the moral to this tale? Never suggest a Tunisian man's wife is a donkey.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Pistoia Blues Festival

More baking heat, this time in Tuscany - a beautiful part of the planet and a world away from the bits of Italy I've found myself in previously. All was going well until we found we'd been delivered to the wrong hotel - suddenly whisked from air conditioned luxury to a town centre three-star with faulty plumbing and a decidedly rickety elevator. Still, we were close to bars and restaurants and suchlike so it was a fair trade-off as the other one was in the middle of nowhere. We ventured out for a production feed (cheers lads) in the evening and found a little place which seemed nice, nestling at the edge of an elegant square in the town of Prato. If only we'd known about the service before we sat down. What remnants of our order that survived the journey from waiter's notepad to kitchen and back to our table arrived in such a random fashion we may as well have just asked for one big plate of chips between us. Matt's burger arrived before most of the starters, these accompanied by vegetables meant for other absent main courses. A mysterious bowl of what looked like vegetable soup appeared and had us all perplexed. I then had to remind the bloke that I'd ordered some onion soup, though he decided to treat this as a brand new request which meant more agonising minutes looking on as others ate half of their dinners. Eventually I got a completely different steak to what I ordered (where was the red wine sauce?) with no roast potatoes, but tucked right in as I'd lost the will to complain. Won't be eating there again.

Pistoia is a beautiful town. The gig was in the magnificent medieval square overshadowed by a cathedral and museum on two sides, grand old buildings on the others. Porcupine Tree (headliners) were setting up when we arrived, my introduction to them amounting to being told in no uncertain terms that if anything happened to their precious stage carpet the plug would be pulled on our show. Fair enough. I'm Darryl by the way, pleased to meet you. I built a couple of pedal boards as usual (nice multi-level one for Dan this time) and watched the first two support acts from the side of the stage. North Atlantic Oscillation caught my ear - great harmonies and dynamics. Anathema played a good set and then it was time for PT to take the stage. I have to say I was intrigued by their setup. At the front were a couple of pedal boards, racks of guitars and a lovely looking old wooden keyboard. Right in the middle though, was a vacuum cleaner. I remember thinking, "Wow, that's interesting. Maybe they mic it up and put it through some effects or something". Sadly not. One of their roadies hoovered the bloody carpet with it.

I headed back to the hotel pretty early after all was done, missing the spectacle of PT's tour manager thumping a member of Astra for nicking booze and behaving like a twat, allegedly. Matt and I took advantage of the late night roast pork sandwich shop across the road from our lodgings - a bit salty but nice all the same. Les slept in the hotel corridor as Jamie couldn't hear his increasingly desperate attempts to get into the room they were sharing. Hey ho.

I have to say a big thank you to our drivers who really looked after us while we were there - top blokes the pair of them. The photo shows Porcupine Tree's crew setting up in Pistoia. (They did help us out by the way, lending us a couple of essential bits of kit, so cheers fellas.)

Hey, guess what. We're in Tunisia again on Wednesday. Watch this space.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Sonisphere Madrid

Another day, another Sonisphere. This one was going to be nuts from the start as ever-thrifty Les had us flying home the moment we cleared the stage in a worthy effort to save money on flights. Of course this would mean a pretty tight schedule, one exacerbated by hour after tedious hour of delays caused by, among other things, adverse weather and dumb passengers. We were delayed (thankfully) by thunderstorms on the way to Madrid; our flight was bumpy, Dan's and Vincent's from Paris choppier still, though the one carrying Porcupine Tree's crew was reportedly a terrifying journey into hell. The reason for the thunderstorms was the insane Spanish heat. Anathema played in blazing mid-afternoon sunshine on a baking stage (106 Fahrenheit if the thermometer was to be believed), John no doubt regretting not bringing a sombrero with him. I on the other hand could really have done with some oven gloves to aid the removal of pedals after the show. It was a speedy pack down and then straight to the airport and back to Bristol on a plane full of very well behaved though quite staggeringly talkative school children. All in a day(and a half)s work for your trusty crew. Italy and the Pistoia Blues festival on Wednesday.

One way of dealing with Spanish heat.