Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Day 13/14: Antwerp to Cologne

So, after a hearty full Belgian breakfast – which is pretty much the same as a full English breakfast except with toy sausages and salad (who eats salad for breakfast??) – I checked in to the rather imaginatively named Hotel Theatre.

Now I confess that I haven’t conducted extensive research but I am guessing that its name comes from the fact that it is next door to the theatre?

I don’t know. Call it a hunch.

Anyway, it has to be said that, its proximity to the theatre was pretty much its only saving grace. Other than that, it was a little like staying in your local council offices. No charm, no character and certainly no frills.

Oh, the staff were certainly very friendly. Especially when I told them that the room I had just been checked in to was yet to be made and was strewn with wet towels. And very especially when at checkout they charged me €2.50 for a sodding Mars bar from the minibar!!

I, of all people, am happy to take it on the chin when it comes to being royally fleeced on minibar items. Since time immemorial it has been a routine of mine to ransack the mini bar of anything even remotely chocolate based almost the instant I enter the room.

Toblerone, Mars bar, M&Ms, even those horrible wafery ones with the Kinder egg stuff inside them – none are safe once Thirkell has dumped his case on that funny foldaway thingy.

But €2.50? For a Mars bar? In a hotel that was last painted in 1963? Come off it!

However, as I say the major advantage (and I imagine the reason why we were there in the first place) was that you could get from the hotel to the theatre and back without setting foot outside so it wasn’t all bad I suppose.

Over the years I have worked in Antwerp many, many times – mainly doing the Diamond Awards which was always at the Velodrome on the outskirts of town, and so I have never really had the chance to explore.

This time though, as we were pretty central, I was able to do a little sightseeing. What a lovely city!

Of course, the fact that it was a beautiful sunny day helped but I did enjoy wandering around the market and poking around the shops.

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Antwerp. Well, part of it. Not all of it.

After a good Belgian lunch – which was pretty much the same as an English lunch except horrible – Mick and I met up with a very old friend from the days of our youth back in the North East of England.

Paul Flush was one of the pre-eminent local keyboard players of his era in the North East and I hadn’t seen him since Adam was a lad so it was very nice to catch up with him, have a beer and get the low down on the life of an ex-pat in Belgium.

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Spot the wig……

Reunion over, we said our goodbyes and Mick & I split to our traditional pre-show routines. I hadn’t had a bath in hours!!

Show time was 9.15 so there was plenty of time to relax, read and go wrinkly before then.

The venue was a fairly plain and nondescript place but the crowd were far from plain and nondescript.

Although the show didn’t match the killer one in Paris the night before, the audience were totally up for it and I think they all had a great time.

All, that is, apart from a guy sitting in the front row who sat there with a face like a Jimmy Saville impersonator. Not a smile, not a clap, not a movement. We had to hold a mirror to his mouth a couple of times!

Ah well, you can’t please everyone I suppose.

After the show we were breaking from our usual routine of travelling overnight and staying in the illustrious Hotel Theatre for the night.

Nice.

I decided to have an early night and hit the hay around 12.30. However, the best laid plans………

In a somewhat surreal turn of events, I (and several others in the band) were woken at 3.00am by the sound of a trumpet, tuba and clarinet playing at full volume outside.

At first I thought it was a good old fashioned nightmare but it swiftly became apparent that, no. It was really happening!

A band of lunatics was really playing in the streets of Antwerp.

At 3.00 am.

Badly.

This dreadful cacophony continued until 5.00, yes 5.00am and in the interim my alarm was changed several times from “enough time for a bath and a couple of chapters” to “how quickly can I pack my things and get to the bus?” (whilst still allowing enough time to be ripped off en route – €2.50 for a Mars bar indeed!!)

Not to worry though. Next day was a day off in beautiful Cologne so I would be able to rest and recuperate once we got there.

The journey was livened up somewhat by the creation of what will be the game sensation of 2015. You mark my words! The original conception of “Wheel of Brie” was by Terry but, as the game wore on (and on!), more rules were added as and when required.

All that is needed to play is one circular tub of President Brie, a minimum of 3 EXTREMELY bored people and LOTS of time!

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Lisa cheats shamelessly at ‘Wheel of Brie”

We arrived at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Cologne around 3.00pm having lost the will to live and arranged to rendezvous at 4.00 for a trip into town.

Unfortunately the bed monster got me and at 4.00 I was still smashing out ZZZs. Luckily there was a second wave at 5.00 which I managed to make.

A beautiful sunny half hour walk brought us to Cologne Cathedral where 80s Dave, Terry and I had a hearty German meal – which is pretty much the same as a hearty English meal except German – a few beers and then we headed back to the hotel for a relatively early night.

Maybe a quick bath first though………

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A Cathedral. In Cologne. I think it might be Cologne Cathedral?

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While 80s Dave’s permanent assistant wheels in the grand piano he insists on taking everywhere with him, Terry begs him not to play it!

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Is that a monkey hanging up there??

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2014 – Day 9/10 Amsterdam to Paris

And so, after a reasonably early night, 80s Dave and I rendezvous in the hotel lobby at 10.45am to catch the first tour boat leaving the jetty opposite the hotel.

The idea was to take in some of the sights and sounds of old Amsterdam without actually expending too much energy.

I’m a big fan of Amsterdam and I never tire of taking in the unique laid back, almost hippy vibe of the place. However, after an hour or so I was desperate for a coffee – not having got up in time for breakfast before we left – and so I convinced 80s Dave that we should walk the last few miles back to the hotel (and stop off for a caffeine jolt on the way)

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80s Dave takes in the sights of Amsterdam

By the time we arrived back at the hotel everyone had checked out and were all at the venue, which was only a few minutes walk away.

Melkweg is a renowned Amsterdam venue and quite rightly so. It’s a great club vibe and, as a standing only gig, one to look forward to for sure. Plenty of room on stage and great acoustics promised a great show – and, as it turns out, we were not to be disappointed!

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Melkweg from the outside

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Melkweg from the inside

After lunch and before sound check a couple of us popped next door to look at an brilliant photographic exhibition featuring the work of some amazing tattooists. The travesty of many of these types of exhibition is that they are all too often under-advertised and therefore under-visited and it was a real shame to find ourselves the only people there.

Or maybe it was closed?

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Lydia, the tattooed lady……..

Anyway, it was soon time to head back and get to work.

Sound check was pretty smooth and drama free and after dinner we all scattered to do our pre-show thing.

Snowboy has seen one of those things before…… but can’t quite remember what it is.

As I may have said before, my preference is to crawl into my bunk and have an hour’s kip before the show but, as I had yet to write the day’s blog (which came out yesterday – always a day in abeyance) my pre-show time was spent trying to think up some of the usual cobblers with which to assail the handful of folks who still give a monkeys.

To be honest, it’s always a bit of a challenge to think up interesting stuff to write about as, quite often……

….nothing much happens.

Maybe that’s the point though? If it’s purpose is to give the reader an insight into life on the road, then boredom is certainly an integral part of the story. It’s often a case of “Hurry up and wait” and a sizeable chunk of the time is spent either staring into space, getting irritated, mucking around or looking at your watch.

Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere something happens and its go, go, go.

Then…… back to nothing.

Anyway, having committed to doing it, I shall continue with the daily dredge of my failing short term memory in an effort to recall the previous day’s events.

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Having said that, the gig was a spanker!! Poor old Lisa had a bit of a throat infection but, being from good northern stock, she shook it off and gave it her all. An epic performance under the circumstances and, other than the fact the we only did one encore tune, I don’t think the crowd would have known.

It was one of those nights where everything gelled and the whole band was giving it what for! A cracker and we all came off buzzing.

After the show it was off to Paris, However, as our hotel rooms would not be ready until 1.00pm and the trip was only 6 hours we could either leave straight away, get to Paris early and spend the morning there before checking in OR stay in Amsterdam and leave at 4.00am so as to time our arrival.

Unanimously the latter was chosen and the intervening 5 hours involved:

  • An Irish bar
  • Lots of Guinness
  • Karaoke
  • Sweet Caroline (at full volume!)
  • Mickey doing the conga with the locals
  • A 24 hr Maccy Ds
  • Andrea pole dancing (although this is, as yet unverified)
  • Kebabs

Pretty soon it was 4.00am and time to leave for gay Paris!

Festivities broke up fairly quickly and next thing I knew it was 11.30am and I looked out of the bus window at a bustling Place de la Republique.

Thursday. This must be Paris.

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 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: Turkey ……. with all the trimmings

It’s 6.30am and I’ve had 8½ minutes sleep. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

Having gone on stage last night at the GQ Awards after show party at around 1.30am, it was 3.30am when I put out the glorious soviet people’s bedside lamp. And now, I’m wandering aimlessly around my hotel room, close to tears and wondering what it is I am supposed to be doing.

Thankfully I’ve been at this game for long enough to know that there are certain key things that must be done the night before.

Pack. Very important. It’s always much quicker to pack the night before rather than trying to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything in the morning, when you can’t even remember your own name, where you are or why you are there.

Drink water. Lots of it. Irrespective of how much you have drunk, it is always a good idea to drink as close to a small swimming pool as you can manage. It really is the only effective protection against a hangover and the downside – getting up to go to the toilet 20 times in the night – is always, repeat always, a price worth paying. You know it makes sense.

We are scheduled to leave for the airport at 7.15 and breakfast in the hotel starts at 7.00 so, those of us who like to start the day with a square meal have 15 minutes to either smash something down or, in my case, assemble a take away.

No problem. Eight inches of baguette, a fistful of bacon and a threatening of scrambled egg along with a healthy dollop of tomato ketchup (1 of my 5 a day) and I have the perfect travelling companion.

The rationale behind leaving at such a preposterous hour was to avoid the terrible morning traffic which the local agent told us we would undoubtedly encounter on the way to the airport.

Well, it was like a scene from War of the Worlds on the way there. We hardly passed another car and we arrived at the airport a week early to find the night watchman rubbing his eyes and looking at his watch.

So, in place of killing the local agent, we killed a few minutes checking in and what seemed like a day and a half filling out exit paperwork to make sure that the glorious people’s republic wasn’t glorious to the tune of ten more people. And then we were through to the bun fight that is security.

I swear the process gets more like It’s A Knockout every time we do it. Take this off, put that in the tray, remove any item not knitted from macrobiotic lark’s hair. You’re almost naked by the time you walk through the scanner. It’s probably easier to turn up at the airport in your dressing gown and then just get dressed once you’re through security.

Finally we were through and we caught the flight by the skin of our teeth, with only two hours to spare. I couldn’t even fill any of the time by having a coffee as it would keep me awake and I was desperate for some shut eye.

By now, you may be getting the impression that I don’t cope well with lack of sleep. A point I will concede.

Image 7I’m not asleep. I’m just thinking

Image 1Davide takes advantage of the chance to stretch out……….

Once on the plane – an Aeroflot plane – I almost instantly made a startling discovery. British Airways, it would seem, are NOT the world’s grumpiest airline!

It didn’t matter though because as soon as I hit my seat I passed out and for 4½ hours my answer to anyone’s question was zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!

Image 9The conversation was flowing on the flight down to Istanbul

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We arrived in Istanbul at around 3.30pm local time and were all made to feel much better by the VIP treatment waiting for us.

As we stepped off the plane we were greeted by two delightful young Turkish ladies who loaded us all on to what looked like a cross between a golf cart and a hummer and we were whisked off straight through passport control and customs and within a few minutes we were standing around waiting for the remnants of our luggage.

IMG_0763Our VIP stretch mobility scooter

As we stepped out of the airport terminal we were hit full in the face by a billion degrees of Turkish sun and the sights, sounds and smells of the entire Ottoman Empire trying to get out of the car park at the same time.

We piled into the waiting Mercedes, ordered the driver to set the air con to Arctic and headed for central Istanbul.

As time was now cracking on it was decided that we should all go straight to the venue to get set up for the soundcheck. Well, all except Mick and I, who were assigned the crucial task of testing the hotel beds to make sure they were comfy enough.

Hey. Someone has to do it.

An hour or so later, and with our critical mission accomplished, they were ready for the brass at the soundcheck so off we went.

Waiting downstairs in the lobby was our old friend Lorraine who had flown in at the last minute to fill in for Andrea (whose mum is now doing well, by the way). It’s quite a job she had in front of her. The last time she worked with us was way back in January and she now had to remember everything – without a rehearsal. Words, lines, notes – the lot. And the dance steps 😉

As everyone was feeling like death, the soundcheck was over in about 10 minutes and then some of the guys stayed at the venue to have something to eat while others of us went back to the hotel for another quick nap and a bath.

8.15 in the hotel lobby and we were on our way to the show.

The rather aptly named Beşiktaş Kültür Merkezi is a delightful little theatre in the heart of the Beşiktaş area of Istanbul, which is a bit like Soho but with lots more kebab shops.

DSC_0005The delightful little Beşiktaş Kültür Merkezi Theatre

The show itself was actually great fun. Despite the fact that we were all dead on our feet, the adrenaline saw us through (or was it the Vodka and Red Bull?) and we had a stormer of a show, with the crowd, though fairly small, bang up for it. Lorraine did an amazing job considering she had no rehearsal whatsoever and she sounded fantastic.

Once the gig was finished I met up with an old friend who now lives in Istanbul and he and his lovely wife took me out to see the sights and experience the vibe of Istanbul. We sat in a couple of waterfront bars drinking and catching up until around 2.30am and the place was still buzzing when I finally admitted defeat and they dropped me off at the hotel.

We said our goodbyes and I headed off to my bed.

As I got in the lift, a thought suddenly struck me.

I wonder if any of the guys are still in the bar?………….

Image 6Boy, that was a tough gig!

DSC_0035I KNEW I should have gone straight to bed…..

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Dave will do ANYTHING to keep his job

Lisa Stansfield European Tour 2013 – Episode 8: Zurich to Milan

Aah! La Bella Italia. Beautiful Italy.

Land of sunshine and olives. Sun, sand and other stuff beginning with S that I can’t quite think of at the moment.

Well, er….. I think we’ve come to the wrong Italy!

This one is grey and miserable.

And it’s raining….

A lot……

We arrived in Milan in the early hours and parked up outside the venue where Ian, our intrepid bus driver and professional geordie, let us all sleep until it was time for the crew to load in. There had been quite a lot of fun on the trip down so we were all quite grateful for the lie-in.

On the days where we aren’t staying over and are parking up at the venue, the local promoter will always provide a hearty breakfast for us so that the crew guys can get a good start to the day and stoke up energy for the load in and the band guys can alleviate the boredom by stuffing our faces.

Well, I say always in the “except in Milan” sense of the word, where the local promoter provided absolutely nothing. Nada. Nix, Zero. Squat.

Not even a coffee! It’s a good job the bus has a cracking coffee machine (DeLonghi Magnifica – I can highly recommend it)

However, despite this blow we all pulled together and the crew got the stuff set up while Mickey, Andrea and I bravely chipped in by getting the runner to take us to the hotel for a shower.

This proved to be the sensible move because the promoter also very kindly provided nothing for lunch either! So we ate at the hotel instead.

Magazzini Generali is a club which looks like an industrial estate from the outside and smells like one from the inside. A largish dark room that looked like most clubs do during the hours of daylight. Very sparse and a bit manky but, switch on a few flashing lights and it’ll be fine. We were assured that it was a very well respected venue though and that the place was sold out.

Soundcheck was promising although the concrete walls made it sound like busking in a subway. However Walter and Meado, our sound guys, were more than a match for it and we finished the soundcheck feeling pretty happy and ready for the evening show.

I hit my bunk for a little pre gig siesta (it’s getting to be a habit with me) and was woken around 8.00pm by a very nice chap who kindly offered to help me recover any money I may have lost due to being mis-sold payment protection insurance. He was, however, less nice when I told him (a little forcefully, I accept) that a) he had just woken me up b) I would never have been idiotic enough to have taken out PPI in the first place and c) I was now paying international call rates to tell him all this.

To be fair, my alarm was set for 8.15 but hey, every minute counts.

Now, another of those seemingly immutable laws of touring is that the last show of a run (as this is) is often a bit shaky. Everyone wants to finish a particular leg of a tour on a high note and often that eagerness translates in to trying a bit too hard and consequently the wheels coming off. I’ve seen it so many times over the years.

No fear!!

The gig was an absolute hoot!! The sound was great, Lisa was on form (again) and the whole band tore in to it at full pelt. This really is the most fun you can possibly have without breaking the law. It’s s an amazing feeling when it all clicks and everyone is going for it full on. In the same way as everyone can get in a negative spiral (see the Frankfurt blog) they can also get in a positive spiral and, the more it was kicking, the more kicking it got.

It seemed like only 10 minutes and we were playing the last tune, we were having so much fun and we came off stage hootin’ & hollerin’ and ready to do it all again.

However, instead we were getting on the bus for the long overnight drive back to London.

More on that tomorrow………….

set listThe Set List for the European Tour