My First Tour (Part 3)

I wrote this in November 2003, after my very first tour ever! It was a wonderful experience, even thought I was wet behind the ears, and had a lasting impact on my life.

We had a very long (5 ½ hours), but very pleasant (no traffic to speak of and an almost complete lack of roadworks, phantom or otherwise – always travel the M6 on a Saturday if possible) drive to Birmingham. The boys had been in Grant’s car (with GPS – they’d been boasting about it for days) and we got a desperate call as they arrived in Birmingham “ the GPS doesn’t recognize the street address! We don’t know where to go!” Now luckily I had my own personal GPS (with a far pleasanter voice, and available for much more interesting forms of conversation as well) in the form of Joana (she’s an AWESOME navigator) and she gave the panicky dudes directions. Their short-term memories were slightly impaired by that time and it took some patient repeating to get them to understand the ‘go straight until you reach the second roundabout, take the first left and you’re there’ directions, but we caught up with them just at the difficult bit (first left) and we got there together. It was getting late, and we were meeting The Bug (who was playing as well the night) at the venue, and he has quite a big set-up so there was not much in the way of hanging out in our lovely Holiday Inn before setting off for The Custard Factory.

This was an awesome, awesome gig for me. I loved it! Everything was fabulous (except for the lack of anything remotely resembling a house sound person) and I got to do some real engineering – Kevin (The Bug)’s set-up includes four vocals – and Alexei brought me a beer and a shot of whiskey at the PERFECT moment. Sometimes, engineering, you just need that little bit of alcohol at the right time and you get RIGHT IN there with the gig and sink away into the world created by the artist. It’s a favourite feeling of mine, and one that keeps me doing live stuff. Doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does, it’s magnificent, and as the techy you get to participate so much closer than an audience member. I was so high after Kevin’s set I wanted to explode. All the other sets were outstanding too and we were all so completely fucking knackered by 3AM that no-one even suggested a late night beer back at the hotel. Grant and Richard (who was too ill to play) left early next morning back to London.

Next morning was a short (rainy) drive to Nottingham, where we fell into the luxury of a retro-decorated pub with the BEST Sunday roast. Nick (who was to DJ that night) and his wife Hana met us there and we were allowed to use the owner’s facilities upstairs and watched ‘Short Circuit’ all afternoon. Which was EXACTLY what we all needed by this day, 9, of the tour. This was a tiny venue (perfect Sunday spot) and there was no driving to be done that night (Alexei and Joana stayed at the pub, Bogdan and I stayed at the owner’s friend’s place) so I had a few beers once the gig got going and got a bit off it and had an excellent dance to Bogdan’s set (I am now officially a fan). I was finally very glad to have brought my own Mackie speaker with, as one of the venue’s had blown and the three that were working kind of needed a helping hand.

Next day we got up late and headed home to London. By the time we’d dropped Alexei and Bogdan at Rephlex HQ, had a cuppa, met D’Arcangelo (who was to play the last night in Leicester) and finally got into central London, it was already dark and I was pretty glad we had the night off. Sam, bless her cotton socks, cooked and I got a good night’s much-needed sleep.

Tuesday morning was hectic with preparation for the night’s show at Neighbourhood (where I am one of the house engineers normally). Firstly I needed a strobe, which I thought to borrow from 93. Of course it was completely inadequate for the size of the venue, but I did enjoy a scene, much later that night, of the Aphex Twin on his knees on stage, blowing the front row of kids’ minds, hand-operating that little strobe right in their faces! FX was late delivering all the Bug’s hire gear (Kevin was to play this night too, as were Richard (Smojphace), Astrobotnia, Bogdan, Cylob and Sound Murderer). Almost no vocal soundcheck on the Bug’s stuff, a panicky moment trying to adapt Sound Murderer’s US equipment to UK voltage and the doors were open. What a mental night! SO LOUD! I really gave that sound system a run for it’s money and it was SO up for the challenge! We don’t normally even tickle the potential of that beautiful, lovely, gorgeous system, but when Bogdan came on (last on the list, after a fucking SUPERB set from Sound Murderer – I hadn’t heard him say more than two sentences the whole night, then he just took the stage and blew the dancefloor away, me included) and asked “ is that all you can get out of the system?” I accepted the challenge, let him distort it as much as he liked, and spent the last 15 minutes sitting in the amp room babying each of the 12 or so amps individually so that there was maximum level with no damage to anything other than them crazy kids’ ears (myself, I didn’t take out my earplugs for a second)! It was fucking brilliant, but experienced for the first time the conflict of interest between the house engineer and the tour engineer. House protects the system, Tour pushes it to it’s limit. I was both on this night and it was a real divided-loyalties situation! And I did get a lot of well-deserved trouble for it the next day. Lesson learned.

Other drama for the night was the death of Astrobotnia’s laptop. It demised sadly in the dressing room, but luckily luckily Grant had a bunch of Alexei’s CD’s that he could DJ with.

I took absolute AGES tidying up that night, SO tired! And was very, very sad to hear all the comments from bar staff and managers – every single one of them HATED the night, from beginning to end. I was sad, but shouldn’t have been surprised really, as Neighbourhood is normally a scene-to-be-seen, cocktail-drinking, inoffensive-house-music kinda place. There was not a single regular amongst the crowds of raving mad-for-it kids. Oh well, their loss! Grant reckoned it was a party that would go known in Rephlex history, and his is the opinion I care about!

Next day was a potentially nightmare drive to Norwich (some of the roads are one lane only in each direction) which wasn’t too bad, to a funny little venue called Kafe Da – themed on Russian historical figures, complete with some very inaccurate ‘quotes’ from the likes of Rasputin & Lenin and selling many vodka’s.  The PA was inadequate again, so out came my Mackie for use as a monitor this time, and we had a good gig. I was just too tired to really enjoy it, but the kids, once again, were so happy. They don’t get much in the way of good gigs in Norwich and the place was absolutely jam packed with very happy punters! What was even more enjoyable, however, was the fabulous rack of lamb at a restaurant called Cinema City (next door a cinema, hence it’s silly name). Norwich is absolutely beautiful, if a little too middle class for my liking, and on our way out of town to our Travelodge (quite a nice one, by Travelodge standards!) we got lost for ages in a really complex one-way system, that eventually took us in a complete circle of the town. Lucky we had JPS (Joana Positioning System) and we got where we needed to be eventually.

Next day saw us heading west again, to Bristol. More dreaded M25 (this one was particularly terrifying, with about 4 near-accidents happening really close to us) and the nasty M4 for the third time. Had to pull over for a cuppa after the M25 just to give my nerves a break! Met Nick and Marcus (who were Djing the night) at our hotel (Holiday Inn Express) after a series of weirdnesses that would continue all night.

Bristol Traffic Weirdnesses:

An especially butch (and scarey) woman pulled off the pavement on a motorway exit, just behind us and started making frantic, indecipherable hand-gestures. Thinking this was road rage we tried to ignore her till she had the chance to pull up next to us – seems she’d been pushed off the road by the bus just in front of us and was trying to get it’s registration number
A car had been left in the centre lane of a three lane road with it’s hazards on, causing a huge traffic jam
Bristol Later Weirdnesses:

A hen-party insisting on getting into the club, even after they were told they would HATE it (they did, and left quite soon)
A group of kids insisting that Autechre were playing, which was blatantly not the case (they left too)
A punter who was so disappointed that Aphex Twin wasn’t playing, but came back to find me an hour or so later saying he was having the time of his life and did I have any pills! (I didn’t)
One guy, whose 21st birthday it was, got into the band room (very drunk, but very harmless) insisting “I know one of you is Bogdan! Which one is it!” And refusing to leave until he’d found out which one Bogdan was. Of course we never told him, and Joana did a brilliant getting-rid maneouver by taking him out to dance
The traffic weirdnesses and proximity of the venue persuaded us all it was wise to walk there, which we did. The venue (called Thekla) is a huge old coal barge, with the best Turbosound sound system, and an excellent house engineer, and the wickedest local promoters and this was, in the end, my favourite night. The sound was awesome, I’d got my energy back and there was one particular square foot of space I adopted as my very own which was the sweetest of stereo sweet spots. Absolute heaven! Definitely the best night of the tour for me, followed closely by Birmingham.

Again the blasted M4 next day, and M25, almost all the way back to Norwich, but stopping in Cambridge. Fabulous Holiday Inn where we just chilled for several hours, and then off to the Boat Race. This is a teensy pub venue with only one room and a fairly OK-ish sound system, and a house engineer who was so jealous I’d been on tour with these guys he kept saying it over and over again! Bless. He had a good night, I think! Even though it was a Friday the venue only had a pub license so we were home and drinking beer in Cylob’s room by 12.30 (Cylob had come up by train to play this one). Unfortunately for Cylob, who was up for a party, the rest of us were knackered and left him to it pretty early.

An easy drive to Leicester next day and more time to hang out in nice enough Holiday Inn rooms doing very little. I don’t think I’ve ever watched as much daytime telly as over the last few days on this tour. Mind-numbing it certainly is, and a great way to switch off for a while. The venue was the Sumo club, which has three floors. We were in the basement and there was the normal Saturday night stuff going on the other two floors – scene-to-be-seen cocktail drinking with mainstream average shit being played by bored DJs who’d lose their job if they played anything different. And then there was the Room of Doom downstairs, which was potentially amazing, but only two of the four Turbosound speakers were working, and there were no subs. Still, it was a great gig – no DJ sets, just four live ones: D’Arcangelo and Sound Murderer in addition to Astrobotnia and Bogdan. The only nastiness was the over-zealous security who very, very unnecessarily rudely told us not to smoke in the very hidden away, far from punters band room, but to make up for it, the gratitude from the punters for some decent music was really quite touching! One does get spoiled in London….

And then it was time to head HOME, and to break up the little family circle… But what a absolutely superb experience! And what a convert I have become! I should write a long paragraph in conclusion, but I’m tired and it’s taken nearly a month to write this much, so that’s all folks!

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