Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Day 7/8 Bremen to Amsterdam

10 o’clock Monday morning and the alarm goes off.

Right off!!

So off, in fact, that next thing I know it’s 11.30 and I don’t know if I’m Arthur or Martha.

I’m sure Bremen is a lovely town. In fact, the bit between the hotel and the Irish pub yesterday was delightful. But sadly, that was all I was destined to see.

By the time I had showered, shaved and gathered all of my possessions – which were scattered around the room as though I had just held a jumble sale – it was time to leave for the venue.

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Favouritism…….

Today’s venue was a municipal theatre, which was rather imaginatively called “The Musical Theatre”. They must have been up all night thinking of that one!

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No paparazzi…….

It was another seated venue but at least it felt like the audience were in the same room, so we held out hope that it would be a good one.

Soundcheck took longer than usual as we wanted to try out some different endings to the show. The closing number of the main set is power ballad “The Rain” and it’s perfect as it has a great big, thundering ending with everything but the kitchen sink chucked in.

However, the past couple of shows we have felt a little uncomfortable at the timing of the end as Lisa walks off. Either we were finished before she was completely off stage or she was off and halfway through her second pint and we were still going for it.

So, we decided to experiment with some different endings to give us more flexibility and to help get the timing perfect.

Seemed like a great idea at the time……..

Anyway, show time came around and, as it was the third night in a row, Lisa was a little concerned that her voice might be a bit under par. However, as usual she delivered the goods and the audience were really rocking.

A great show was rounded off by the glorious sound of the new experimental endings.

All of them….

All together….

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the end of the show sounded like a fire in a pet shop, with 3 different endings all competing against each other and all of the protagonists insisting they were right.

Thank god it wasn’t being recorded! Somehow, we managed to get sort of in sync and finish roughly together but it wasn’t pretty, I can tell you.

In actual fact, I spoke to a fan after the show who said that he didn’t notice anything so, either I’m making a mountain out of a molehill or he went to a different gig?

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Paddy, the lighting Director, prepares for the show…….

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Mickey, the Sax player, prepares for the show……

After the show was a 6 hour drive to Amsterdam so we pushed off around 1.00am and I went straight to my bunk.

Got up at 4.15 am to pay a visit to the little boy’s room and Lisa, Ian, Walter and Andrea were still up drinking red wine and talking absolute bollocks!

Good job tomorrow’s a day off again!

Next thing I know, it’s 10.00am and we are parked outside the venue with the hotel a mere 2 minutes walk away.

As we were early for check in, not all of our rooms were ready but by 11.30 or so, I had my key and was – surprise, surprise – running a bath.

A day off in Amsterdam is something to relish as there is so much to see and do there. The new Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh museum plus just walking around taking in the lovely relaxed vibe of the place.

Outside of Andrea, who had several episodes of Coronation Street to watch, the band and crew divided into two camps: Cultural and, shall we say, counter-cultural.

Museum or coffee shop…..

I had a good wander around the old city which has a special feeling for me and it was one of those tour days when I wished my wife was with me. However, sadly she wasn’t so I had to make do with spending time in a second hand record shop with Snowboy.

Much as I love him, he was a poor substitute!

As we walked in to Wax Well Records, the proprietor recognised Snowboy straight away (he’s also a famous DJ, as well as a world renowned pan clatterer) and they were off on an unintelligible train of music trivia and minutiae.

After an hour, I lost the will to live and branched out on my own, getting back to the hotel with just enough time for another bath before heading out for a quick drink and a curry at the now traditional Akbar restaurant with the guys.

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Help……..

Once we had eaten our own weight in Indian food – except Mike the bus driver and Tony the truck driver, who both wildly underestimated the XXXXXX rating of Dutch Vindaloo – the two factions split again, with Snowboy, 80s Dave and I heading back to the hotel and the others disappearing into the night and who knows what?

Just time for – you guessed it – the 3rd bath of the day and I’m in bed and starting my new book.

I’m SO rock and roll……….

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Day 6/7 Hamburg to Bremen

And so, we awoke early in the morning already parked outside the venue in Hamburg.

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On days when we are in and out with two overnighters back to back, it makes sense to just camp up at the venue rather than schlep backwards and forwards to and from a hotel. This was a nice modern venue with good dressing rooms and showers so that’s what we did.

It’s actually rather convenient and means that the vital locations of the day – stage, dressing room, catering and bunk – are all within a couple of minutes walk of each other.

The day started well with a good old fry up and a couple of strong coffees and I was ready to take on the world.

The venue – The Congress Centre – was a modern place with big, wide, comfortable seats and a steep rake to the auditorium. It was a beautiful building with lovely acoustics and I’m sure very comfortable for the audience but, if I’m honest, we kind of knew that the atmosphere at the gig would be a little flat and reserved. It’s almost always the case that the more comfy the seats, the less involved the audience gets and that rule certainly held that evening.

The comfy seat syndrome was also exacerbated by the fact that the stage was huge and the front row was a corporation bus ride away.

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A brass eye view (if you’ll pardon the expression!)

This is why we all much prefer playing in clubs as the vibe is always so much better. As the audience are all standing, none of them has to feel conscious about blocking the view of someone sitting behind them. They’re all in the same boat and it doesn’t take much to get it rocking!

Anyway, it’s not our job to moan about the conditions – as good at is as we are – but rather to crack on and give every show 100% for the sake of the people who have paid good money to see Lisa – seated or not.

After breakfast we all filled in the time with our own stuff – emails, Facebook etc. and before we knew it it was lunch time.

One of the down sides of touring as a band member (and there aren’t many, I admit) is the fact that there are often sizeable chunks of time to be filled. There is a famous quote from Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the band who, when asked how he would sum up 25 years of the Rolling Stones replied “5 years playing and 20 years hanging around”. That will certainly resonate with anyone who has toured for more than a few weeks at a time.

Unfortunately, one of the ways in which you fill the time is by eating and, given there is food everywhere – catering, in the dressing room, on the bus – it sometimes feels like I regularly eat my own body weight in Bountys.

As the venue was pretty central, after lunch Mick and I had a walk into town for a look around.

As a city named after fast food it’s a very pleasant place and we had a good look around, I bought some shoes and then we had a coffee by the lakeside and watched the world go by.

Come to think of it there are a number of food themed cities in Germany, all of which are very beautiful places. Hamburg, Frankfurt, the Black Forest, Vienna (ok, that’s Austria but….. hey).

In the UK, of course, we have Eccles, Pontefract, Dundee.

Ah, well….. perhaps not.

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Ich bin ein Hamburger

Sightseeing done, we headed back to the venue for the soundcheck and my traditional pre-show zzzz and before we knew it we were at the side of the stage ready to go on.

As expected, the audience were a little muted at first but Lisa always manages to get them up on their feet and rocking. With typical teutonic efficiency however, the stewards shepherded the party animals who had come to the front back to their seats but, each time within a couple of minutes Lisa had them back again and this game of musical chairs (?) went on for half the show until the stewards gave up.

So, after another great show we were all in high spirits and looking for some mischief – particularly as the next day was a day off.

We were driving overnight to Bremen but we couldn’t leave until 1.00am – something to do with the driver’s hours – so we all ended up in the hotel bar next door telling stories, watching Eurovision and steadily emptying our wallets.

At the appointed hour, our trusty bus pulled away from the venue and things had already started to get messy.

By the time we arrived in Bremen, there were many casualties and it was clear that checking in to the hotel was a non starter. So, it was our bunks as usual and every man for himself the next morning.

A day off in Bremen loomed so no-one was up particularly early but, by midday-ish most people had checked in.

For football fans today was a big day – particularly for Mike the bus driver, Sooze our mum and Walter the tour manager, as they are all Liverpool fans and they were still clinging desperately on to the forlorn hope that the stars would align, West Ham would suddenly become any good and they would not have squandered the best chance they have had in 20 odd years to win the League.

As a staunch Wycombe Wanderers fan whose league position had been secured by only the frailest of margins a couple of weeks before, I was mildly ambivalent as to the outcome – although I think it would have been nice for Liverpool to win. However, for the sake of team spirit, I agreed to go with them all to the nearest Irish Pub (every city has an Irish Pub) to watch the game.

Once the inevitable had happened, it was back to the hotel for some food and then to finish my book (in the bath, of course).

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Bus driver and Liverpool fan Mike contemplates what might have been……

A nice early night in theory, turned into a late one as I was intent on learning the eventual fate of the eponymous Stoner in the classic John Williams novel. (not much, is the answer)

Lights out at 3.10am and alarm set for 10.00am.

Now that’s what I call a schedule………

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Day 5: Frankfurt to Hamburg

We arrived in Frankfurt nice and early after a very cheerful overnight drive. It’s always good to get the first show under your belt and, given there weren’t too many hiccups, most people let off any pent up steam through the medium of drink.

Bed times ranged anywhere from 2.00 am to 5.00 am, with the exponents of the latter proving very unpopular with the former the next morning!

We dropped the poor old crew off at the venue around 10.00 am to get started with the set up and the band headed off to the Intercontinental to check in and do whatever each of us does with our free time.

Me, I like to work. Catch up on emails, documents and generally take care of any business that needs to be taken care of. Others have a much more relaxed attitude.

Andrea, for example, will head to her room, lock the door (only to be opened for room service) and watch the omnibus editions of just about every soap under the sun.

Mick plays Candy Bloody Crush

Each to their own, I guess.

The show tonight is an early start – 8.00pm on stage for us – so by the time I had finished up my stuff, had a bath and read my book a little, it was time to head off for sound check.

Rock ‘n Roll.

The venue was a beautiful old and typically germanic Rathaus which, whilst being a fascinating setting, offered one of the smallest stages of the tour. Not a problem per se except that it severely restricted the brass section’s dance moves.

The flick flacks were definitely out tonight!

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Nice Hall, tiny stage……..

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Plenty of space in the dressing room though…….

I guess we weren’t fully aware of how nervous we all were on the first night in Zurich because, with that out of the way and everyone feeling much more relaxed, tonight’s show was a different kettle of fish altogether.

From out of the blocks we were all gunning for it and the crowd were absolutely up for a party too. It was one of those amazing nights which leave you buzzing at the end. The whole room was going to have fun and NOTHING was going to stop them.

At the soundcheck we had made a couple of small changes to the set but no-one let this hold them back and, if there were any wobbly bits, I certainly didn’t notice them. I was too busy enjoying myself.

I can always tell when I’ve really enjoyed a gig because afterwards it feels like my top lip has just gone 15 rounds with Mike Tyson.

When you play the trumpet the idea is to be controlled at all times, with a relaxed demeanour, focusing all of the energy you create with the air down the mouthpiece of the trumpet. At no point should you be tense and you should certainly never be applying undue pressure to the instrument on the lips.

Then you have a few drinks and the audience start screaming and you just jam it on as hard as you can and blow like hell!

It’s a tried and tested system.

Once again, Lisa was on top form. I know it gets a little boring saying that but it’s absolutely true. She’s always on form!

As you might imagine, post gig was buzzing as we headed back to the hotel to have a couple of hours relaxation before jumping on the bus to head overnight to Hamburg.

Back in the bath with the book for Johnny Boy (they didn’t used to call me marine boy for nothing) whilst the usual suspects headed for the bar for a night cap.

Highlight of the evening was most definitely Andrea, who spent a lot of time on the bus trip swearing that she doesn’t really drink.

Sadly she had been well and truly Donnellied* and no amount of liquorice tea was going to sober her up. I think the toasted crumpets we made helped a little but when I went to bed around 2.00am she was still utterly incoherent.

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The thing is, I don’t normally drink…………

And so, dear reader, to Hamburg………..

* Donnellied  Adj. to make the mistake of going to a bar which sells cocktails with Mickey Donnelly.

Bonus Photo

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I can never resist a wig…………

Today’s Poll

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Day 4: Zurich to Frankfurt

And so, with a mixture of relief, excitement and a little trepidation, we took to the stage for the first gig of the tour.

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Volkshaus, Zurich

It had seemed like quite a long day which, given we had been at the venue since 10.00 am, I suppose it had. The overnight journey had been pretty uneventful with everyone hitting the sack quite early so as to at least start the tour strong.

Of course, for the crew guys, the first show is quiet a big day as they have to get everything set up and are more often than not having to work with equipment which is not necessarily what they asked for in a space which is not necessarily optimal.

However, experienced pros as they are, they just crack on and get it done, seamlessly making sure that, once the lazy-arsed band arrive, they have nothing to whinge about (although we still try!)

In the afternoon we all in the band had a series of interviews with Bev Nathan who runs the web site and, as they were all done individually, it was a little like shepherding cats, with people coming and going all at the wrong time and the hours filled with either too many people waiting, or no-one at all.

I’m still not sure that she managed to catch everyone but soon enough it was time for us to do some actual work!

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“It all began when I was 5 years old…………”

Sound check was a little longer than usual as we wanted to run through some of the bits of the set which we weren’t 100% sure of and, believe it or not, we made some MORE changes to the arrangements – just to make sure no-one felt they had it under control.

Once that was out of the way it was all up to catering for dinner before we all disappeared off to indulge in our individual pre-gig routines.

Snowboy likes to go to the TV room and watch some 1950s classic TV box set, 80s Dave likes to get the mullet in order and Mickey likes to play Candy Bloody Crush!!

Me. I like to crawl into my bunk and have a little siesta.

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My pre-show meditation room

Alarm set for 8.15pm sees me up with just enough time to get washed and dressed in time for the 15 minute call when Michael and I break open the Vodka and Red Bull and prepare our pre-show pick-me-up.

For a first show of the tour, I think it all went pretty well really. There were inevitably a couple of wobbly moments but somehow the wheels stayed on and we made it through without too many mishaps.

Lisa was on form (as ever) and a big shout out to Terry who, despite having done a number of TV shows with us over the past few months, was on his first actual live show. He did an amazing job and was not in the least put off by the dazzling footwork of the brass team.

Post show there was much relief and a considerable amount of celebration before we all climbed on the bus for the (fairly short) trip to Frankfurt and the second show.

It’s always nice to get the first show out of the way and we can now hopefully all relax and start to really enjoy the trip……

Today’s Poll……..

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Day 3: London to Zurich

So, with rehearsals behind us and most of us still at best a little unsure of what’s going on, it was departure day – something which had come as a bit of a shock to Snowboy, who thought we weren’t leaving until Friday! Not bad. Only two days out…..

Having said that, I personally was about as unprepared for a month away as it’s possible to get without being totally unaware that it was happening at all. I hadn’t packed a thing. I hadn’t even thought about packing a thing. I still had tons of business stuff to take care of …. ooh and the minor matter of a VAT return to do!

The plan was to get up REALLY early and whip through everything but, to be honest, I lay awake so much planning this I thought I may as well get up and do it.

So, at 1.00am I turned on the office light and began my quadrannual missive to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs. (I may have just made up a word)

Two hours and several thousand pounds later I crawled into bed painfully aware that the alarm would be going off in under 4 hours.

To be honest, I’m usually pretty relaxed about travelling and within an hour of getting up I had everything packed and was ready to rock.

First stop on the trip though, was a TV Studio in South London where we were to record a couple of songs for the Aled Jones Show which would air on Saturday (while we are in Hamburg).

Anyone who has ever done a TV show will tell you that it’s possibly the most boring thing you could ever do. It makes waiting for a bus feel like white water rafting!

Talk about “Hurry Up and Wait”

The day’s tedium was briefly broken by a last minute Change of one of the songs (there’s a hint there!) but other than that it was the inexorable crawl towards losing the will to live. Endless run throughs for no apparent reason all interspersed by platitudes from relentlessly cheerful telly people.

On a side note though. Aled Jones. What a nice bloke!

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What, again? (The Aled Jones Show)

Finally, it was all over and we were free to go.

The bus arrived around 5.00pm and there followed the usual unseemly scramble to get the bunks furthest away from the snorers (you know who you are!!). Over the past year of touring with this band a natural order has established itself and the two bunk rooms have gravitated towards a quiet, peaceful room and a noisy, smelly room.

I, naturally, am in the more tranquil and fragrant of the two (….what?) but I nevertheless have to run the gauntlet of hell to get to the TV room. Not much TV gets watched!

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The Gauntlet…….

So, the fighting over, we settled down for the 16 hour drive to Zurich and the first show.

Not much to tell of the trip really. A few drinks and then off to bed at a reasonable hour so as to at least start off well.

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Home, Sweet Home

One other piece of business:

Anyone who knows me well will recall that I have, for many years, said that I think that every man should see his own bald head at least once in his life. So, as we are away for a month I thought it would be a good idea to complete what mother nature has been working on for the past few years and get my money’s worth out of that hair trimmer.

Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the result:

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I quite like it……..

Today’s Poll is………

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Full Band Rehearsals: Day 2

You know when you get everything all worked out so that you all know what tunes run into what and you’ve figured out musical links between the songs so that there are as few uncomfortable silences as possible. And all of the electronic equipment has been programmed to change the keyboard sounds automatically for the next song so no-one has to worry about it.

Then someone says “I’ve got a good idea…..”

That.

And so it was that, after a couple of days of intense rehearsal, we decided to completely switch it all around during the very last run through. A complete turn around at 4.30pm on the last afternoon of rehearsals. That’s how we like it, mate. On the edge. There are now so many variations of set list floating around I think we’re going to have to have a bonfire to make sure that we don’t all start playing different tunes during the set.

I must say, I do think the new order is an improvement but if I’m completely honest I don’t think any of us are absolutely 100% sure of what comes next at any given point. Plus ça change.

If nothing else, Zurich should be interesting.

To be fair, we do have a 16 hour bus trip to go through it and make sure we’re all on the same page. Literally.

I was feeling much more comfortable with the new trumpet today and I think all in all it’s going to be an improvement.

To elucidate. Most brass players spend a lifetime (and lots of money) searching for the ultimate instrument. The one which will make playing an absolute breeze. The perfect trumpet which is completely in tune, easy to play and never makes a mistake! The Holy Grail. The Golden Chalice. Gabriel’s Horn!!

Not me.

I have used the same trumpet and mouthpiece for my entire professional career. I bought it from a bloke in the Isle of Man for £120 in about 1876 and I figured I should learn to play it properly before I bought an expensive one. I’m still operating under that principle.

Over the years it has been bashed and banged. Painted white (Halfords Vauxhall Viva White, no less). Stripped with Nitromors. Dropped. Left on several trains. Been on two honeymoons and soldered to the point where there’s probably more solder than trumpet. But still she soldiers on! (solder/soldier – geddit?)

Oh, I’ve been given dozens of trumpets from various manufacturers over the years but none of them have come close to matching my old Getzen.

For that is what she is: A 1968 Doc Severinsen Model Getzen Eterna. They certainly knew how to make them in those days. Unfortunately, they didn’t know how to make them in large numbers …. because I’m the only person I know who plays one and I don’t believe I’ve ever come across another trumpeter in my entire life who plays or even owns one.

Hang on. Maybe there’s a reason for that…..?

Anyway, as you can imagine it was a very sad day for me when the brass repair shop refused to take on the job of renovating it, claiming that once it had been dismantled, they would probably never manage to remantle it. “Put her out to graze” they said. “It’s time to retire the old girl” they said.

Time to sell me a new one they meant!

She’s an old friend who has been through a lot with me. Several times around the world with everyone from Jamiroquai to Bon Jovi via Tina Turner and Buddy Rich and the things she’s seen would make your toes curl!

So, it was with a heavy heart that I decided to take their advice and get a new one.

But not from them….. 😉

Now this is where the internet is just such an amazing, transformational thing. I started the search only a couple of months ago and would you believe it, last week I located a…..

1968 Doc Severinsen Model Getzen Eterna !! All spruced up, relacquered and looking for all the world like a beauty queen.

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So, in a supreme leap of faith, I coughed up and had it shipped express from Fort Myers, Florida and it arrived the day before rehearsals started.

I was a bit nervous to be honest as, even in the same make, model and year of instrument, there can be huge variations in sound and feel but I needn’t have worried. In fact, now that I’ve been playing this new one for a couple of days, I’m pretty sure the old one had so many leaks it’s been like playing a colander for the past 10 years!

Having said that, I’m still taking the old girl along for old time’s sake and I’ll play at least one tune on her. I can’t abandon her totally after all these years of faithful service now  can I?

 

 

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Full Band Rehearsals: Day 1

And so.

Here I am on the 22:12 to Aylesbury Vale Parkway calling at various Chiltern beauty spots en route to Great Missenden – my local station – not a little worse for wear but with a (low carbohydrate) Cornish Pasty for company.

It’s been a good day. A day full of laughter, trepidation, concentration, frustration, argument, tomfoolery and general lack of focus but, most of all, a sense of great excitement that we are all back together and about to embark on a 5 week adventure taking in most major European countries in the name of entertainment.

Over the past few days there have been rehearsals involving individual sections of the band – the rhythm section started last Thursday and I think Andrea was in yesterday – but today was the first day we were all together trying to a) remember what we did on the old tunes and b) work out what we are going to do on the new tunes.

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Under the tutelage and stewardship of our esteemed Musical Director, 80s Dave, we have rehashed, amended and improved much of the set so that, if you make it to any of the shows, you will hear not only tunes from the new album but also revamped versions of some of the older songs.

Of course, there are some songs which it would be sacrilege to alter – and some which it wouldn’t, but we can’t be arsed to, so I think generally we will have a set which should keep everyone happy – old fans and new.

It’s at this point in the rehearsal procedure that all of the creative ideas that 80s Dave and the rhythm section have had over the past few days get trashed by Ian, Mickey and I on account of being way too hard to play and we revert to how it used to be ‘back in the day’.

To be honest, they have come up with some cracking variations on the old songs and I think the great discerning public will enjoy them a lot. However, if you see Mick and I scrabbling round on the floor as if we are hunting down an errant contact lens, it’s because we’ve come to a hard bit which we can’t possible play whilst maintaining the usual high standard of fancy footwork.

The actual contents of the final set list are absolutely top secret and, were I to accidentally reveal them, I would be forced to kill both of you (assuming you have both made it this far).

Suffice to say there is a good mix of old and new, obvious and left-field, fast & slow, quiet and loud.

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The general mood was one of positivity in the face of a dreadful racket but I’m sure that, by the time we climb on the bus to head to Zurich on Wednesday, we will all be feeling much more confident in what we are doing.

There’s quite a bit more singing for me to do this time around but that’s OK with me – I enjoy it, partly because it hurts much less than blowing down a tube.

After the band rehearsal Mick, Lisa, Ian and I retired to the Caledonian Arms to talk through the more tricky dance moves and to arrange for the leg warmers to be collected from our team of expert, ninja dry cleaners.

The new trumpet held up quite well – although, after 35 years playing the old one, it was a little disconcerting to say the least but….. more on that tomorrow.

In the meantime, I must sign off otherwise there won’t be enough time for me to nod off and miss my station.

A bientôt……

J x