Let the record show that I am making a start to this Sunday’s diary entry at 23.45 pm!
On Tuesday coming, 15th, I have arranged a trial game with several French football players – however I only received notice of the possibility of the game, four days ago: hence I’ve been racing around like (and this is a very typical Scottish expression) “a blue-arsed fly”.
The saving grace, on this occasion, is that I’ve managed to steer five out of seven of the French players onto the same Paris to Edinburgh flight, the further bonus being that one of those five is Jean-Yves Yoffou, a tricky “winger” who was in Scotland previously when we staged the last game in late August in Stirling – and who also speaks impressive English.
The other two lads arrive into Glasgow (one from London, one from Paris – the latter who did not heed my instructions to take the Edinburgh flight!) and one of those – a striker called Dylan – has a decent command of English as well. So – no airport trips needed for me!
To be honest (unless Lionel Messi intends to fly into Scotland to discuss a change of representation with me) I sense that my days – probably, literally, if you add up all the hours spent doing so – of loitering around airport arrival halls, waiting on aspiring young football players to make an appearance, may be a thing of the past. My time’s too precious.
The prime importance of my role, in the general club/player matching process, is to do exactly that. Long gone are my days of playing taxi-driver; tour guide and – the most costly of all – banker. I’m extremely fortunate to be able to boast solvency, after some notably over-indulgent periods, chasing the football dream: it’s now a hobby – and that it shall stay.
I have an idea about where I would like to be financially (boy - this has been a long time coming) and I believe I can achieve that by this time next year, off the back of my music-business exploits: therefore if any little ”bonus” comes along as a result of my occasional dalliances with football then that would not be sniffed at: let’s face it – it would be long overdue, no? Again, the gently nagging concern remains: how will I busy myself in years to come? The football is not to be entirely dismissed, however it has to be balanced (that word again) with “me” time – and me is more poignantly aware of that apportionment than ever.
Generally – as far as my personal schedule goes over the coming weeks – there is this game to oversee on Tuesday night, then a whistle-stop visit to London on Thursday/Friday to hook up with several business contacts, on the music side of things, with an eye to next year. Then – possibly (depending upon Willis’s involvement) there’s a trip to Stranraer in southwest Scotland next Saturday. Finally, off to Paris a week today (for a football game!!).
Having the company of my daughter Jade at my house over the past few days (after her wisdom-tooth surgery) has been a most enjoyable time, even as initially sedated as she was. She soon perked up again and I took every opportunity to be around her. On that note, literally, I must leave you with this track from Buddy Guy: “My Baby’s A Superstar”! XXX
Sunday 6th November 2016
Well, in all the years (and even I’m surprised how many years it actually is) that I’ve been penning these weekly diary entries, it’s rarely – if ever – been done while I’ve been “injured”.
But, wait – be still your beating hearts – it is certainly not any grave sort of injury. In fact, if it weren’t so occasionally painful (sneezing’s the worst) then it would be amusing to reflect upon. However, to put you out of your misery initially, let me tell you that it would appear that I may have cracked one of my ribs: hopefully a visit to the doctor tomorrow (here in Dunbar, to where I returned today, from Cyprus) should get to the bottom of it.
The injury was incurred last Tuesday (2nd) afternoon while I was attempting to fix Alice’s garden fence, following a most uncharacteristic stormy night on Monday, out in Cyprus. In my misplaced intent to demonstrate (only to Alice, I guess) that there is still a fairly proficient D.I.Y. person lurking within this aging body, I attempted to lean over the top of the fence – while perched on a small step-up ladder – to secure the damaged fence poles, when I overbalanced, consequently (as we would say in Scotland) “doing a henner”, i.e. a fairly lumbering somersault, into the opposite neighbour’s garden – and it wasn’t onto grass!
Instinctively (or so I would like to believe) I braced for the jarring impact – with the underside of my right forearm taking the force of the fall. However, I did come down heavy onto a mixture of concrete and baked earth, with the result that it would appear I may have cracked one of my ribs in the process! I slept very fitfully on Tuesday evening, however it has been easier on subsequent nights, with Alice administering “Ibuprofen” to the patient.
You know the real downer of the whole episode? I was coming along greatly with my self-administered fitness programme to the point that, after three weeks careful and progressive build-up, back out in Cyprus, I was managing 40 minutes (10 kilometres) on Alice’s exercise bike daily. That’s all on hold now until we see what the doctor has to say.
Otherwise, here I am back in “Blighty” for the next four to five weeks, initially to watch over my daughter’s brief convalescence this coming week, following some dental surgery she must endure this Wednesday, to have two impacted wisdom teeth removed (that’s a big “ouch”). Doctor Jake will (literally) be in the house keeping an eye on the second “patient” in the family in the last fortnight – armed with all forms of soft and palatable foods for Jade.
While anchored here at the house for those few days, next week, it’s my intention to collate my annual accounts for this past year - and then further rid the office files of certain documentation that is so historic it no longer bears any significant relevance to any work I may undertake in the future. Filing cabinets will be an unknown term to our grandchildren.
So there you have it for this week, folks: an unmistakable medical thread to this week’s entry to (quietly) remind us that yes, our health is our wealth. Fear not: the Duncan family will spring back to rosy health before you know it. This week’s accompanying track surely has to follow suit, therefore I leave you with “Tie A Yellow (Rib)bon …. Cryptic, huh? XXX
Sunday 30th October 2016
Well, there was me (last week) bemoaning the “nights fair drawing in” and now – today – the clocks have “gone back” one hour, all over Europe. Therefore, as I sit here tonight in Alice’s garden at 5.30 pm, it’s already dark – and we all know I’m not great in low light conditions.
The difference of course, with being out here in Cyprus – as pitch black as it may currently be – is that I’m still able to sit out in the garden, with the local temperature hovering in the upper 60’s (Fahrenheit). I’ve also managed to adroitly position the TV – just inside the French windows – where I can have the Chelsea v Southampton game on in the background!
I have to say that I’m warming (literally), by the day, to Cyprus. Last night we stayed up in Larnaca (just over one hour from here - even taking the coast road in preference to the motorway): the town features a delightfully compact seafront esplanade, book-ended by the Marina at the northern end and the Old Fort at the southern end. There is then, from the Old Fort, the opportunity to take a further shoreline stroll of about six hundred yards, with plenty of esplanade width to enable walkers, cyclists, whole families – and even children with all manner of mobile toys – to comfortably co-exist, on it’s pristine two-tiered walkway.
While my (fairly extensive!) time spent out here in Cyprus, during the last six months, has enabled me to take in the “sea-side” pleasures of Paphos and Limassol as well, my gut feeling is that it will be Larnaca I may find myself being drawn back to, over time. While, presently, I’m struggling a little to articulate just what is imbibing me with a sense of serene comfort with my time spent in Larnaca, to date, I should, over time, be able to wax more lyrical on it!
Again, based upon the relaxing times I have spent out here to date, I defy anyone (particularly my own countrymen) – given the same opportunity to spend an equivalent amount of time in this delightful “little” island – to prefer the inclement Scottish climate to what one can experience out here: it’s just that relatively few have the same opportunity. On that very point: I was just reflecting today, in fact, on how lucky – in spite of the gruelling hours I have put in over the last forty years on the road – I am to have ended up where I am in life. This wasn’t written in the stars: this was painstakingly pulled out from the ether. I have pummelled, pushed and driven my body beyond what the average body should have had to endure, and I’m still here to document it: how much longer, I worry?
I’m coming up on my last week out here, due to fly back next Saturday evening into Scotland and – in a sense – back to reality. I’m slowly learning the lesson of “guiltless relaxation” - a sentiment I should have been comfortable with, years ago. By far, the most obvious benefit of taking a month out – for me personally – is the significant strides I have taken to correcting certain aspects of my health: I can now boast that I’m off caffeine; I have markedly reduced my refined sugar intake; I’m cycling 10 kilometres a day – and I’m now within a few pounds of my ideal weight. The trick is to keep it going, back in Scotland …..!
With a nod to the above paragraph, I’m going this week with (to me anyway) a classic accompanying track, none other than James Brown and “I Feel Good”. Soon to feel better! X
Sunday 23rd October 2016
Can I just check with my UK readers what time it gets dark in the evening in October? As I sit out here in Cyprus this Sunday evening, at 6.45 pm, it is absolutely pitch black, as of ten minutes ago: the main difference between being out here, as against back in the UK, is that I doubt you’ll be sitting out in the back garden, wherever you may be, right at this moment!
Weather conditions aside, I am as “settled” now as I have been for a long time: my days out in Cyprus have fallen into some sort of schedule that works around – and alongside – Alice’s working hours (did I ever mention in the past that Alice essentially works “split” shifts out here, essentially four hours in the morning; four and a bit hours off in the afternoon and then another four hours back in her office in the evening?). Allow me to elaborate a little.
During Alice’s morning shift – when I believe my mental cognizance to be at it’s sharpest, particularly after pounding out two miles on the exercise bike – I tend to involve myself in the creative side of things, looking at the feasibility of a few of my football and music-related ideas (there are a total of about five) that may bear fruit somewhere down the line. In the afternoon – especially with such favourable Autumn temperatures – it would be crazy not to head down to one the several beaches that are within 6/7 miles of Alice’s office. Then, once Alice is back at work in the evening – and even if there is a decent football game on the box – I will tend to undertake some necessary housekeeping tasks on the computer.
The need to prioritise – when one may be considering which of several projects merits being started first - becomes increasingly important when (not to cast any sort of morbid shadow on the proceedings!) you stumble upon the realisation that you may not have enough time left in your life to give several diverse projects the proper time and energy required.
I certainly do not want to continue to live my life at the breakneck speed that I was once renowned for: conversely I don’t want to be standing around twiddling my thumbs for great expanses of time. Therefore, as hi-lighted on many occasions, in the pages of these very diary entries, the key word is BALANCE – and it is to that end, that I continue to progress.
I very well know that the key to whatever I do, is the ability to remain fit and healthy – to actually enable me to do those things. Also, keeping in mind that by the time this year of 2017 draws to an end, I will have spent close to three months in considerably warmer climes than Bonnie Scotland can (or ever will be able to, I fear) offer. It’s fine when I’m out on the road, doing what I do best: much as though I would prefer not to have to spend twelve hours of my days basically staring at “Breezeblock” in arena production offices, when one is indoors so much – especially with the involvement of such an adrenaline-inducing business – the “outside” climatic conditions do not play on my mind - as they would if I was sat at home.
So – to summarise – progress is definitely being made and I hope I can report more of the same, when we speak again next week. As to what song may bear some relevance to this week’s diary entry, I have gone for the mellifluous tones of one Heather Small (she of “M People”) with a classic little tune from 23 years ago, called “Movin’ On Up”. And I shall! XX
Sunday 16th October 2016
Suddenly a week has flown by in Cyprus - and I can’t really recall what I may have achieved.
That, of course, is a “snatched overview” of the last seven days, the observation just coming to me as I commenced penning this week’s diary entry. What I should be taking heart from is the fact that both my e-mail inboxes have less than twenty items sitting in them. It’s not often I can lay claim to that state of affairs: so things are coming along well!
There is however one small caveat to the above (and this will hardly elicit mild gasps of astonishment from my regular readers): I’m currently penning this entry on Tuesday 18th!
Still, c’mon, it’s a sure sign of progress, towards the day when I’m smack bang up to date. Alice (and my daughter Jade - and my neighbour Sue) is convinced there will be no such day!
Not to turn you a shade of light green with envy now: however the weather out here is fab at the moment: not, of course, the blistering highs of 30+ degrees centigrade that I experienced during the middle of summer here (too hot for this pale-face) however right now, in October, we are experiencing average daily temperatures of 28º centigrade which, in old money, equates to being in the low eighties: I much prefer the sound of “Fahrenheit”.
What is the state of the play then, as far as my own personal progress is concerned, on several fronts? Well, I have no concerns about future work: concerns I – and the majority of the older guys I know in my profession - probably harboured for a good thirty years. That sentiment alone, for me anyway, will free up some (useable?) corner of my brain. I should however mention that part of this “laissez-faire” approach, on the work front of things, is down to the secure knowledge that I’ll be fairly busy (the work having been confirmed already) between late February and late April. This is indeed a good feeling.
Subsequent to the above, this leaves me a fair chunk of quality time – before I return from Cyprus, later this month – to concentrate on several peripheral areas of my business operations, which will allow me to work sharper and quicker, easier once I’m “back on line”.
With a good few hours having been allocated towards making my business processes more streamlined, I’ll then be in the advantageous position of having some free time to flesh-out a few business-related ideas - for the time I can no longer commit sixteen hours a day to my favoured profession. I have to be prepared to take more time to myself (especially as I have managed to accrue a “Jake’s Enjoyment Fund”). You can’t take it with you when you go!
Stop press: I’ve stayed off caffeine for ten days now and – having endured three days of withdrawal headaches when I first abstained – it may be decaffeinated for me from now on.
Now, what little ditty can I leave you with this week? There I was spinning through my substantial “record collection” and just spotted a track that – worry not – you should not read too much into, it’s just my general outlook: “I Will Not Go Quietly” by Don Henley. XX
Sunday 9th October 2016
A (literally) warm good evening from what I now consider to be my second home (Cyprus).
I arrived out here on Wednesday past, in an attempt to ease away from the increasingly dark nights back in the UK: suddenly, now, the day has “disappeared” by 8.30 pm in the evening, back in Blighty. Not that that’s any different out here in Cyprus, where dusk – I’m noticing – descends around 8.00 pm in the evening. Here’s the big difference though, avid readers: in Cyprus, one can still sit outside in the back garden, once the daylight has gone. I believe it’s fair – and even factual – to say that’s not achievable this time of year in the UK!
Undoubtedly, it is nowhere near as warm (hot) this time in Cyprus, as on the occasion of my last visit here, in June/July – but, then, it was too hot, with the mercury nudging the 35º C mark. No, this is much more pleasant: the availability to actually sit in direct sunlight and not to experience oneself gently starting to “fry” before even fifteen minutes have elapsed.
I also have to confess that I am on my own out here this evening – and for the next three days - as Alice has had to return to the UK for a work-related conference. I’m under strict instruction not to A) let the fuel level run too low on the car, B) not burn any toast I make (very sensitive smoke alarm in this apartment) and C) on no account to even make eye contact with the family of feral cats that frequently linger not far from the front door (“Ginger” is catatonic about this – but I couldn’t even explain to Ginger that Alice gave me an ultimatum between her and him and, of course, Ginger isn’t much good in the kitchen …).
Being out here - away from any personal domestic distractions – enables me to push on with some overdue business tasks that it may have taken me longer to deal with, had I been back at my own office: and of course in a much more pleasant environment, weather wise, than I could ever hope to be experiencing back in Scotland (although “Sunny Dunny” was holding it’s own – in respect of the Scottish weather – in the days prior to re-locating out here).
Over the last three days out here (Thursday through Saturday) I didn’t feel particularly good at all, with an-almost continually nagging headache throughout – in conjunction with what honestly felt like mild flu symptoms. Noticing that I hadn’t, coincidentally, consumed any coffee in her presence, for the twenty-four hours previous to feeling so under the weather, Alice offered up the view that I was probably suffering from caffeine withdrawal!
“Don’t be daft” says I “it can’t be as bad as this”. “Go see what it says on the Internet” Alice further opined. I duly did so and was somewhat gobsmacked to learn of the considerable list of reactions the body produces when starved even of an average of two cups of coffee each day, over an extended period. Thankfully it only lasts around 72 hours.
So, folks: there’s my story of the last week, as I discipline myself to kick-back a little and invite life just to take its course. It’s an odd stance for me to adopt, but I believe I may be slowly coming around to the idea, prompting me – at this point - to offer up the following as this week’s accompanying track: none other than The Eagles with “Take it Easy”. I will try. X
Sunday 2nd October 2016
Today heralds the first full week that I’ve have been “anchored” at home for a good while.
Consequently, based upon the real evidence of attaining some long-term order to my domestic scene, I have managed to make some progress in respect of sorting my office. Now, if it was someone else’s working environment that I was assisting with putting into order, then I have little doubt that the task would be accomplished noticeably quicker – and probably more efficiently. However – and we all know about this – when one starts sifting through thirty years of backlogged paperwork, it’s odds-on one is going to be distracted.
Just glancing at a particular photograph, that – let’s say - you may not have happened across for years, can send you spinning off into a collage of related, embedded, memories, the most poignant of which all support their own sub-directories of distant, misty, recollections.
That’s not to say that finding yourself in the above situation is any bad thing – but it most definitely will not see you whisking through the task at hand and completing it in record-breaking time. Still, you just never know what benefits the above exercise may render - quite aside from the immediate “warming” (but not always!) memories. Is there “gold” in them thar files? Well, there’s only one way to find out – so time for me to get looking!
As alluded to in last week’s entry, I am consciously holding off on chasing any work, prior to the end of this year: not necessarily the cavalier approach that it might appear (I’m going to be fairly busy through the earlier part of next year) however I need to create some “head space”, and pay more than a passing interest to what I’m going to be involved in, five years down the line. I’m “over-qualified” now, a situation that’s not going to decrease – in my favour – as I don’t get any younger. Thankfully I have a few (realistic!) ideas bubbling under.
Yesterday, with Alice in tow – back in the UK for a few days break from her work in Cyprus – I took in Willis’s fourth game for Stenhousemuir (on this occasion versus the club “East Fife” based in the small Scottish town of Methil, on the northern shore of the River Forth). Although – thankfully for all concerned – Stenhousemuir were able to record their first win of the current football season, Willis – if the truth be told – was not at his previous best.
Watching Willis being half a second slow into the majority of his tackles – or half a yard short of reaching several loose balls – once again brought home to me the enormity of the task involved, in attempting to ingratiate an “unknown” young football player into another footballing culture: at a club that does not train and coach its players on a “full-time” basis. So we (if we are to honest with ourselves) have hit something of a “lull” in Willis’s planned progress. We have to remain upbeat that this situation can be turned around, as there is little doubt that this lad has bags of ability on the football field – sadly, that’s not enough.
So, a track to play out on this week, which could possibly bear some relation to my above ramblings? I’m going for an old, upbeat, Kinks track from the sixties called “I Gotta Move”, which, in more ways than one, points to what Willis has to do - to turn this situation around.
Sunday 25th September 2016
A fine good afternoon (as is the weather here) from my location, at home today in Dunbar.
There are many reasons to be cheerful today, the least of which is not the fact that Willis Alves Furtado, my young protégé footballer at the football club Stenhousemuir FC, “opened his goal-scoring account” yesterday as – for the second week in a row – Stenhousemuir fought back from a 2-0 deficit, to finally clinch a draw (in the third minute of extra time!).
Sure, there is a long way to go (both for Willis and Stenhousemuir) but the early signs are encouraging. Although the club have yet to win a game, they will only have to experience the likes of two or three of those results – to find themselves safely half way up their division.
Professional football is such a tough profession, when you are trying to make a name for yourself (as Willis is) and when little is really known of your background: such a “pedigree” always somewhat unnerves any interested club, who are cautious about any future hiccup, if an off-the cuff (almost knee-jerk, if they have time contraints) decision manifests itself in later regret, when it possibly transpires that the player has a few “skeletons in the cupboard”. At that stage no-one wants to find the finger of blame being pointed at them.
So it was good to return from the tour and witness Willis scoring that first goal (to be honest, he did not enjoy the best of first halves) and helping the team to rescue a point. He must build upon this, score some more goals - and further a growing reputation for his play.
On the touring side of things, we played the final show of The Who’s mini European Tour last Monday (19th) before returning to the UK, from Milan, on Tuesday afternoon. Hopefully, I’ll be involved with the band’s dates in early April next year, when they will play five arena shows in the UK and – off the back of those recent, well received European shows – possibly even with a few additional shows, back on the continent, around the same period in time.
I must put my hand up and say I have nothing going on, work wise in the music business, over the next few months, as yet, but – guess what – it does not trouble me greatly. I’m increasingly becoming aware of the nagging thought processes that are leading me to believe that I need to step away from work commitments for a while - and “clear my desk”.
Paradoxically, it could be of eventual financial benefit to do so, in that - with creative space cleared in my head – I might just re-awaken a couple of (as of now, noticeably under-developed) ideas that could bear financial fruit: albeit considerably “further down the line”.
Alice arrives over here this coming Thursday, therefore the first few days of next week will be utilised to “spring clean” my bulky office files, hoping that, in doing so, I might just find myself prompted on an idea or two, as I anticipate this oncoming “diversity” phase.
What track shall we leave you with, this weekend? How’s about this fairly relevant track (in respect of this week’s entry): the legend of Leonard Cohen and “The Future”. Indeed. XXX
Sunday 18th September 2016
This evening finds me in Milan, with just one show to go, on this mini European “Who” tour.
As always, with these guys (band, crew and management alike), it has been – even in this regrettably short time – a most relaxing and enjoyable experience. How can it be that “relaxing” you may enquire? Yes, the days are long, the production offices (invariably) barren, the travelling incessant. However, those are “givens” on any major arena tour: but that certainly doesn’t dictate they are all so easy going as this one. If only – but, sadly, no.
Such factors as inexperienced Artists; young management; devious promoters and lazy agents (none of which I’ve experienced on this tour, over the last two weeks, I have to say) can unwittingly – or, in many cases, wittingly – conspire to leave you feeling like your days are thirty-two hours long, rather than the “mandatory” sixteen. Thankfully, most of those times are behind me. I can’t explain (as The Who might say) how I put up with some of it.
Over the past week, since last writing, we followed the Oberhausen show on the 10th with a second German show, at Stuttgart’s Hanns-Martin Schleyerhalle, on Monday past (that’s correctly spelled, by the way – as I noted the same on the venue’s exterior branding – although I had always figured it to be “Hans”, rather than “Hanns”: maybe I watched too many episodes of Hogan’s Heroes). The warm weather – at that point – had yet to abate.
Heading out overnight after the Stuttgart show, we motored south-east on the sleeper buses on the 370 mile journey to Vienna and – with luck on our side – found that we were able to check into the hotel, upon our arrival into the city, just before lunchtime: such providence is most welcome as it can obviously make the difference between one’s day actually being a “day off” rather than an fuzzy memory of spending the better part of the day camped in the front reception area, offering up prayers to the God of Housekeeping.
Ah, Vienna: such a beautiful city, so much to see: a continuing sense of wonderment as to how they managed to construct (and design!) such impressive public buildings. I’ve always claimed – in my humble opinion – that Paris is surely the world’s one truly international city (apologies to my friends and acquaintances across the big pond, but your are a relatively young country, thereby precluding your entry into such a judgement!). However, if one had to complete a top ten of such “truly international cities” – to a considerable degree, being a subjective exercise – then there’s a fair argument for Vienna making it into that listing.
Between Vienna and last night’s show in Bologna in Italy, we actually had a two-day break: the best part of the first day being required to make it overnight from Vienna, however the following day (Friday past) was a complete, non-travelling, day off: a very rare occurrence!
There is one show left this coming Monday (in Milan) then it’s back to the UK with us all. I’ve come to the conclusion that I would happily tour with this band for the rest of my days, however I may not be so lucky. In closing – and harking back to my affinity with Vienna – I’ve chosen to have Ultravox play us out this week because, yes, it means something to me!X
Sunday 11th September 2016
This week, the “Diary from the Road” – as it was originally named – now comes into it’s own.
Consequently, allow me to welcome you, from Stuttgart, where “die sonne scheint” (the sun shines) in almost 80º heat – who would have expected such warmth at this time of year?
You’ll be impressed to know that I disciplined myself to leave my hotel room, laptop in hand of course - but for the purposes of writing this diary entry, and make for the local park. Well, “park” may not exactly be the true definition (as our hotel is out in the “Neckerpark” suburb of Stuttgart, adjacent to tomorrow’s venue, the Hans-Martin Schleyerhalle) but I’ve found a grassy area bordering the exhibition grounds – and a form of park-bench, where I’m currently seated. Once I’ve finished this entry, I’ve promised myself to relax with the book I also brought over here with me. Not to say that writing to you guys is not relaxing, now!
So, what of the past week? Well, I actually departed Dunbar Monday afternoon past (5th), being that I had a “Music Managers Forum” to attend on Tuesday, as well as having to pay a visit to the Who’s north London offices, to collect the “road-float” cash for the tour period.
The UK contingent of The Who’s crew (of which there are three Scots!) flew out of Heathrow early Wednesday afternoon into Dusseldorf – and then bussed it 45 minutes along the Autobahn to Oberhausen – the location of last night’s first show on the tour, at the Konig-Pilsner Arena. Within the body of past diary entries, during times when I’ve been involved with The Who in the past, you’ll no doubt be aware that this band (thankfully, there are a few acts still remaining, in this vein!) are not renowned for doing anything “by halves”.
Hence the need to be in Oberhausen by Wednesday evening, to enable a load-in/set-up day, followed by a band rehearsal day - all prior to last night’s show. This enables sufficient time to double-check all aspects of the production, resulting – invariably - in a faultless performance. Also, I can’t tell you how personally satisfying it is to have an involvement with such a slick and professional operation: and - I’m not even the oldest guy out on the tour!).
After the load-out last night, the Production Manager deemed (being that we were travelling into a day-off, on a Sunday) that the sleeper buses – three of them for the thirty-eight crew members – should just park up in last night’s backstage area until 06.00 this morning, then drive the 250 miles here to Stuttgart, to be able to arrive at 12.00 noon. Trying to check in to a hotel, prior to midday on a Sunday, is always a little “hit and miss”.
On the football side of things, Willis Furtado (the young French lad that I have great hopes for) played his first official game yesterday, for his new club Stenhousemuir FC: an event that turned into something of a baptism of fire for him, with the team going down 0-4 to another League One side, Albion Rovers. “They” say it’s character building. Time will tell!
So what track to play you out with today? Keeping in mind young Willis’s situation – and what lies ahead for him – I’m going for the Beatles “The Long and Winding Road” (and it will be) X
Sunday 4th September 2016
Finally caught up with all my diary entries (although I’m doing so, today, on 8th September!).
Today finds me in The Mercure Hotel in Oberhausen, preparing for the first of a run of five arena shows with The Who, this one here in Oberhausen due to be played on Saturday. In the world of The Who, everything is done absolutely professionally – and to the “nth” degree. Hence the reason we are “in town” two days ahead of the show date, for rehearsals.
This – and I make no secret of it is – is the world of touring into which I was “born”: solid, enduring, rock ‘n roll acts who have been around the block countless times with the technical crew comprising a bunch of “good ‘ol boys”. Sadly that world is, (literally) a dying world. There are few bands/Artists left that can boast a fifty-year career, who are still out there on the road, doing it: I’m proud to boast a forty-year “association” with The Who, having worked on their “Who Put The Boot In” touring of three UK football stadiums, back in 1976.
Forty years: I had to stop and think about that for at least a minute, just now. It has stopped me in my tracks, sat here in the breakfast room of the hotel. One thing’s for sure (if only as a thought, to put the brakes on any impending slide towards mediocrity) – there’s not another forty years in me! However, I have worked my arse off – and only those who have engaged in this line of work are able to empathetically (is that a word?) attest to the physical demands of a forty-date North American tour. Thankfully, I‘m still alive and well.
Let me just veer away from my stock-in-trade vocation for a few paragraphs, to recount what has happened in the last week, on the football side of things. Ironically, as I touched upon in last week’s edition of the diary – having endured a three week period where I brought a selection of aspiring football players into Scotland, the focus of which was the trial game at Stirling University on 17th of last month – the player who has showed the most promise (and who we finally managed to sign to Stenhousemuir on Wednesday 30th August), Willis Furtado, is the only player still here in Scotland. Definite lesson to be learned there.
However, we have a ways to go with Willis: first off is receiving his “clearance papers” from France (requiring to be sanctioned by his last club there – who, it has to be said – appear to be less than helpful on that score) via the French Football Association. We had hoped this process might have, initially, been turned around within the two days following Willis signing with Stenhousemuir: alas, that did not transpire, meaning that Willis was unable to take part in last Saturday’s Scottish League One fixture “away” to “Queen of the South”, a team based in the southern Scottish town of Dumfries (where I went on my first “solo” holiday!).
So here we sit, Thursday 8th September, still awaiting said clearance papers in the hope that – should the situation be resolved within the next forty-eight hours – Willis may be able to take some part in Stenhousemuirs game this coming Saturday, against Albion Rovers.
Going back a few paragraphs in this week’s entry, I have been struck with the thought of a most appropriate track (from way back): Rick Derringer with “Still Alive and Well”. I am! X
Sunday 28th August 2016
I write to you today using my rejuvenated “Macbook Pro” laptop. “Rejuvinated” in the sense that I was without my said most treasured business possession for seven days while the logic board was being replaced (although admittedly – from Apple’s side of things – it was a “extended warranty” repair, it didn’t see me receiving any preferential treatment by their technical department, located in the rear of the, relatively-new, Mac store in Edinburgh).
Had it taken much longer to be repaired (Apple said 10 - 12 working days, but it was back in 7, in fairness to them) – and had I not the recourse to monitor my e-mail traffic on my smart-phone – I would have had little choice but to go out and purchase a spanking new model. Not that such an occurrence is too far in the future, with the laptop now in it’s sixth year (I’m surprised it’s lasted this long with the “battering” it has taken on the road) however, having chucked almost all available surplus funds into a buy-to-let property last month, cash flow is currently something of a concern. So: the “lap” is not “top” of the list!
Truthfully? Here I sit on 4th September, playing “catch-up”, carefully piecing together the events of the previous week. Essentially, with Andy Totime (the young central defender – I’m sure he’ll return at some point) now back in France, I am down to one player: ironically it’s Willis Furtado, the first player that arrived here, so there’s a poignant lesson there!
Willis, having formerly played in France’s fifth highest division, is certainly something of an enigma: the majority of the professional clubs here in Scotland (and the exceptions to this know who they are!) have not been willing to take a risk on such a young “unknown” player – not even to take him in for one morning’s training with their club’s under-20 squad.
This has meant that during this past week Willis has been, mainly, at the part-time team, Stirling Albion: this is hardly an ideal situation for a foreign player, on a couple of fronts. For starters, clubs such as Stirling Albion only train two evenings a week (of course, the majority of their players have full-time occupations, which ties in quite neatly with them playing for a “semi-pro” team). Secondly, the foreign player – in such a scenario – will struggle to raise his physical fitness levels beyond that of his part-time teammates, as there are no daytime training facilities at clubs in the lower levels of Scottish football.
As soon as we can land Willis a short-term deal with the likes of Stirling Albion, that will see him through to the next transfer window, in January 2017 (when players, who find themselves out of contract at that point, have the option to consider a move to a bigger club) then we can start to look at the possibility of securing him temporary training facilities with the under-20 side of a Premier League club: I wholeheartedly see that as a golden opportunity for a Premier League club to be able to monitor Willis’s progress.
So, in truth, something of an exasperating week, with me continuing to drag Willis “from pillar to post” in the hope of finding a club, where he can initially get his foot in the door. In looking to select an accompanying track for this week’s entry, I’m going to go with a Joe Cocker track called “Have a Little Faith in Me” – as I trust Willis will. He will come good. X
Sunday 21st August 2016
May I quote from last week: “Ach, it’s only an inexpensive little hobby” (when I was alluding to my recent expenditure, on the football side of things) primarily referring to the trial game I staged at Stirling University – but also the time and effort that I put into the two particular players, who had arrived one week prior to the main body of footballers.
Well, as I write, I’ve certainly not returned to the days of just carelessly (but passionately) pouring wads of cash into this “hobby” of mine: nevertheless, this time around, it’s clearly not any less “an expensive little hobby” than it was this time last week!
In addition to the expenditure amounting to slightly more than budgeted/anticipated, it has very quickly dawned upon me that my timing for the game was misjudged: I should have been at this point (“this point” meaning the trial game having been completed) at the beginning of August – not three weeks into the month – the very month where the transfer window closes in ten days, on 31st August. I’ve (literally) paid needlessly for that mistake.
In fairness to myself (he says, gently wriggling away from the responsibility) I had dismissed the idea of the trial game, as far back as the early summer, deeming instead to go with attempting to target three or four select young players, with promising potential, to particular clubs who were on the lookout for such talents. Having gone with that decision – and with a few promising talents already just awaiting the word to book their flight – I glued the cellphone to my ear for most of the first week in August, in an attempt to persuade said clubs to at least “take a look”. Can’t be in any harm in doing that, right?!
Wrong. Increasingly each year – especially with the economy of Scottish football (two particular clubs aside) teetering ominously on the edge of a household, porcelain, fixture, the majority of the clubs cannot/will not take (what is to them) a risk on an “unknown” player. These leaves us with the biblical comparison of “if Mohammed will not come to the mountain, then we have to take the mountain to Mohammed”. In other words, I was confronted with the acute decision to instigate an “about-face”, in the shape of hurriedly gathering a squad of around 16 players to bring to Scotland for the “original” trial game.
I did manage to pull off the above, this actual past week (with our training session on Tuesday evening past, and the game itself the following day) – and indeed we were able to feature two or three very accomplished players: however, with only two weeks left before the “window closes” – and that time frame being reduced to ten days, as of today - I have left myself with perilously enough time to cajole/persuade/induce/bribe (only joking on that last one!!) various managers into taking one or two of the better players into one of their own training sessions, even just with their under-20 squad, to see how they may fare.
Currently, I have held onto two of the lads (Willis Furtado and Andy Tontime) as they have interested one or two of the clubs, who came along to watch the game. More about how that progresses next week. For the time being, this week’s accompanying track goes some way to lightheartedly reflecting upon my oversight: Fleetwood Mac with “Oh Well” (!!) XX
Sunday 14th August 2016
Whatever my financial standing, the last time I penned my diary one week ago today, it is certainly less now: yes, it can only be one thing that’s causing me to pay out at this time of year. You guessed it – we are now smack bang in the middle of another football pre-season!
Ach, it’s only some (relatively!) inexpensive, enjoyable, fun: as well you are aware, I spend nothing like what I used to on this “hobby” of mine. On the one hand, I’ve not seen any real return for years – on the other, I’ve built up some incredibly reliable football contacts.
I’ve been well known to sagely advise my children that, in this life, “you have to know when you are beat” and then, conversely, I go and refuse to call it a day with some of the football-orientated projects I’ve allowed myself to become immersed in: the (increasing) onset of age will undoubtedly(?) temper that approach! I may just eventually learn! May.
To summarise: I’m becoming increasingly aware that I have initiated this year’s football project (a “coaching day” and a trial game at Stirling University for an assortment of European players) later in the summer period than would have otherwise have been ideal. So intent was I in testing my self-discipline, in attempting to take the complete summer off from my own business (not a bad thing within itself) that I unfortunately overlooked the need to tie-in said period with the most prudent time to arrange the game - in the best interests of the players involved. I find myself continually returning to the moral question here: does one try to target the better of the players to individual clubs – based upon one’s knowledge of what those clubs require (nevertheless, a hard slog with the majority of the clubs I deal with) – or do I just pile a varied squad of sixteen players into a two-day coaching/game scenario, knowing in my heart that only two/three of them will land a deal?
While the select, elite, cream of today’s, highly-overpaid, professional players are absolutely “coining it in”, the majority of football players (in particular, those at the smaller full-time clubs in Scotland, and in the professional Leagues 1 and 2 in England) – while making above the countries average wage – will no way be able to live off the fruits of their labours – from their twenty years spent in football, once they hang up their boots.
Perplexingly, the considerable fan base of professional football in this country appears almost-overly resigned to the acceptance of high ticket prices; expensive satellite-TV subscriptions - and innumerable versions of their favourite club’s away kit – not actually cognizant of the major part they play in the success of the bloated cash cow that football has now become and (here’s the rub) how they could, paradoxically, reverse that situation.
To expand upon that last paragraph will require more than the next one! However, you can rest assured that I’ll be unable to resist the temptation to tear into it, at a future point!
So – where do we go musically with this week’s entry? Is there some tuneful ditty that may even dare to claim some form of link to this week’s ramblings? What do you think of this gently rocking Eagles track: “Business as Usual”. You can’t stop believing, can you? XX
Sunday 31st July 2016
Sunday 7th August 2016
Now, I’ve penned my diary from many diverse locations: enter Glasgow University hostel.
The reason? Quite simple really, initially: there is not a hotel room to be had in this city.
So, why am I not at home? I mean, after all, I am in the same country. Well, this situation I currently find myself in, is not entirely new to me. Specifically, I have two young football players due to go into trial in the morning at Glasgow’s Partick Thistle football club, for the next few days. As much as to make sure they actually get where they are meant to be, at the time they are meant to be there, I nevertheless always accompany any trial players on their first “trip” into a new club: you could put the latter down to professional courtesy.
Those two players arrived into Edinburgh earlier today and (because – while I was out the country for the last three weeks - I overlooked the fact that Edinburgh becomes a major tourist trap during the month of August, with the staging of the extensive cultural festival) with not a rental car to be had, even at the airport, we boarded an “Citylink” coach directly into the centre of Glasgow, and from there a taxi to the University hostel.
Therefore, being faced with a 150+ mile round trip to return to Dunbar (especially as we did not reach the hostel until ninety minutes ago – and it’s now 9.45 pm, as I write) which in itself would incur around £20 in fuel charges, I elected to book myself a somewhat “spartan” hostel apartment and therefore just stay back here in Glasgow for this night.
Backtracking a little, over this past week’s activity, I can tell you that I landed back into Edinburgh Airport early Thursday morning, having left Alice totally distraught, kerb-side, as I bid her Bon Voyage from Paphos airport, en route back to Edinburgh. Look – facing the prospect of (temporarily, even) being separated from an engaging, vibrant, humourous and energetic person such as myself is bound to, I can only imagine, come as a major wrench.
Said return flight did not quite go as smoothly as it might have (and I’m not talking in relevance to turbulence here) as having arrived over an hour late into Paphos, from Edinburgh, the onboard Easyjet crew promptly announced that did not have enough “hours” to complete the return journey back to Edinburgh. The result was the flight had to make a stop en-route, at Milan’s Malpensa airport, to initiate a crew change. Said “diversion” – allied to the flight taking off from Paphos almost two hours after it’s scheduled departure - meant that we did not reach Edinburgh until 0415 next morning. No photographs please!!
So, there goes a good chunk of this year’s summer, where I’ve made the conscious decision to desist from any work offers, and just completely kick-back (and, as a result, blow a good few bucks). More importantly, it was the opportunity to put myself to the test: could I ease off - throw caution to the wind – and just forget about work prospects? But I did!
This week’s accompanying track bears some resemblance to this week’s theme (as that is generally the plan) so – patient readers - I give you The Beach Boys with “Break Away”. XX
Sunday 31st July 2016
I write to you, today, to tell of a “near death” experience I suffered, upon my return to Cyprus, from Thailand, in my attempt to ingratiate myself back into some sort of routine.
There is no need for any real alarm now (be still those beating hearts!), I am still fighting fit, of sound body and mind – well sound body anyway: it’s just that, while knowing my fitness levels would have dropped somewhat over the past two weeks away, I was nevertheless unprepared for the effort required in returning to my, daily, fifteen minute cycle on Alice’s exercise machine. The fact that “fifteen minute” turned into “seventeen minute” gives you some idea of extent to which my fitness has dropped, during that time.
Hence the reason, when I reached my two defining reference points (of 200 calories burned – and seven kilometers distance reached), I was almost two minutes “late” in doing so, and feeling like I had about three breaths left in me. That, folks, was tough today.
I can’t deny I’ve enjoyed my most laid back summer in years: so far consisting of about six weeks spent in Cyprus, with the additional two weeks holiday in Thailand, just finished. Would most people do any different, if given the opportunity to have a summer “lay-off”, particularly with an almost fifty-year working life behind them? I’m sure they wouldn’t. However, one (I sincerely believe) has to keep oneself active – to some degree, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be work related – both in body and mind. BALANCE is the key.
A wee bit of catch-up in respect of the week gone by, in Thailand: you my recall we re-located from the Lamai Beach area of Koh Samui (where we spent our first four nights) to the nearby island of Koh Phangan, a week last Friday, spending our first three nights there at the Haad Yoa area of Koh Phangan, on the island’s north-west shore, at a “hotel” called Tantawan Bungalows. As inspiring as the evening views were, from the hillside facility – over the bay, especially at Sunset – said views could not be enjoyed without the steep climb to our particular bungalow: this, after an equally steep gradient from the main road to reach the main hotel reception area (we later discovered some less “challenging” steps).
On Monday morning (six days ago) – having “scoped” the area out beforehand, during our stay on at Tantawan Bungalows – we relocated to a hotel that I had stayed in, back in 2009, on a previous “solo” visit: this being on the southern side of the island, a charming little facility called “The Milky Bay Resort” – possibly as close to paradise as you may come.
Checking out of The Milky Bay Resort on Friday morning past – and mindful of our first flight (of three) home departing from the main island of Koh Samui – we took the ferry back to the main island and booked into a charming little hotel in the Chawang Beach area of Koh Samui, with the name of “Palm Island”. Then homeward, via Bangkok, last night.
I need to take a little time now – back in the real world – to assess my relationship with Thailand, but it is definitely something of “another world”. In choosing an accompanying track, to sum up this week’s mood, I’m going for Rod Stewart’s “Forever Young”. Love ya all.
Sunday 24th July 2016
This evening finds us on another island in the Gulf of Thailand: this time, Ko Phangan.
Ko Phangan is located north-northwest of Koh Samui, and only a thirty-minute ferry-ride to make it there, from Bangrak Pier, on Koh Samui’s north shore. We arrived here on Friday afternoon, having spent the previous four nights based at Lamai Beach (you’ll recall – if you are keeping up with the entries! – that we arrived onto the island of Koh Samui via a plane-train-bus-ferry-taxi marathon, which commenced on the Sunday afternoon from Bangkok’s main station, shortly after we had arrived at the city’s international airport).
The hotel we chose to spend our first three nights at, here on Ko Phangan, “The Tantawan Bungalows” (in the Haad Yoh area, on the north west coast of the island) offers the most spectacular views out across the Gulf of Thailand which – with the added bonus that we are facing almost due west – has also enabled us to witness some quite stunning sunsets.
The flip-side of the above is that to marvel at said sunsets involves a calf-straining slog (not for the faint hearted indeed) up, initially, a steep sloping entrance way into the facility itself – followed by about fifty, upward-winding, stone stairs to reach our particular bungalow, perched on a set of “stilts”, such is the severity of the hill’s gradient. It was surely the most challenging of projects in planning the construction of these eleven hillside bungalows: we can’t see anyway the construction materials could have been fetched up to the top of this hill (we are on the third-highest of four levels) other than physically hoisted all the way up here, by means of some form of basic “block and tackle” system.
Co-incidentally, we have seen the most rain – over the past two days – here on Koh Phangan, since we have been in Thailand. However, much like many of the instantaneous rain squalls one experiences in this part of the world, it can be over in a matter of minutes, with the sun back out before you know it, quickly drying the pavements and access roads. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I recall one particularly heavy rainstorm in Na Trang in Vietnam, that lasted a good couple of hours and completely flooded the streets in town to a depth of three or four inches. We were convinced it would take a least a few days until the “flood” waters cleared up, but – lo and behold – we were back in the town centre less than twenty-four hours later, with the place looking like nothing had ever happened.
Today sees us at the halfway point of our holiday and with – inexplicably – the overnight train journey we took from Bangkok to Surit Thani seeming almost weeks ago: not the first time I’ve experienced that phenomenon, but long may it continue if it makes holidays seem longer than they actually are. Who wants an experience like this to be over, all too soon?
Tomorrow (“they got ants in their pants – and they wanna dance”) we are going to relocate to the southern half of the island, to a hotel I stayed at on a past occasion: more of that next week. In closing this week, however, I’m scrabbling around for an accompanying track, as I actually write this. How’s about the tenuous link to this week’s narrative, by leaving you with an “old” Phil Collins track called “Another Day in Paradise”. Can’t get enough! XX
Sunday 17th July 2016
Well, folks, I’ve been on some train journeys in my time – and this is some train journey!
Currently, I am southbound – with Alice, in the same sleeping compartment (I had to give in to her eventually) – on an overnight train from Bangkok’s main “Hua Lamphong” station to the town of Surat Thani, a journey spanning some 645 kilometers (387 miles). This particular journey would not, however, break any rail speed records: having boarded this afternoon at 5.05 pm, we do not reach our destination until 4.24 am, tomorrow morning. Now, as you can imagine, I’ve taken a few train journeys in my time – but can’t ever recall having arrived at the destination station at such an unsociable hour (and in the dark).
Us Westerners (well, this particular two – at this particular age) would probably struggle to find the grit to deal with an eleven-hour, overnight, train journey – sat upright in a Thai Trains 3rd class carriage – I make no excuses for my “inadaptability” in such a situation – therefore we elected to travel in a, two-berth, “first class” cabin. Not exactly a financial crisis, keeping in mind that the whole operation, including couriered delivery of the tickets to a pre-designated meeting point on the station concourse, cost us just over £40.00 each.
As previously referred to, it won’t give the Flying Scotsman (even the original one!) any sort of realistic run for it’s money: as a quick calculation will compute an average speed – from start to finish – of thirty-five miles an hour! In fairness to that figure, the train could only “crawl” through the vast Thailand suburbs, such is the proximity of the line to peoples actual houses – along with the numerous “level (not so much in this case) crossings”, due to the spider’s web of arterial routes, all converging on the clogged centre of Bangkok.
Then, there are the countless stops (less so, once the urban sprawl is left behind) at every variety of train station one could envisage: certain of those stops seemingly incapable of allowing the locals the opportunity to embark or disembark with any element of safety. What particularly confounded me – with my face pressed to our cabin window – was the sheer length and extent of an overhead motorway “flyover” which the railway line ran alongside (there must have been six lanes “up there”) for mile, after mile, after mile: every hundred meters sat (precariously?) another huge supporting pillar – and I counted at least seventy. Again, how could we Westerners contemplate commuting in such a metropolis?
So, here I am back in Thailand, for about the fifth time in the last ten years. What’s the particular attraction(s)? Obviously, the weather is “guaranteed” at this time of year; the setting – in particular, here on the island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand – is about as close to paradise as Air Asia flies; the “living” costs are about half that of any European country (unless you possibly have a penchant for vacationing in Lapland) and – in a study of countries and peoples who have learned to stoically deal with “their lot” - there can be few more poignant examples. Human struggle? We wouldn’t get past page one of such a story.
In closing this week – and never too shy to take the opportunity to foist The Kinks upon you, this week’s accompanying track is (again?) “I’m On An Island”. I’ll return. Wait for me.
Sunday 10th July 2016
I’m starting to feel like a “Cyprus regular”, this being my third time here - in two months.
However, I did say - did I not - that my intention this year was to take the summer off? It was easy to say: however – having not made such a bold statement in any previous years that I can remember – I may have been initially hesitant in carrying it through. However, I’m now here to tell you that I have made good on my intention, with the result (being as relaxed and refreshed as you now find me) that I now definitely feel this should not have been the first year I put this into practice. Meaning, also: I’m definitely doing this again!
The majority of the work available in the middle of the year (namely the months of June and July, and a little bit into August, if the truth be told) revolves around festivals and – boy – have I have my fill of festivals over the years. This reminds me – to some degree – of something Doc McGhee (the one-time legendary manager of the band “Motley Crue”) said, namely that “Life is like a dog sled: unless you’re the lead dog, the view pretty much never changes”. Apologies that I digress there, somewhat: but in respect of music festivals, unless you’re the “headliner”, it rarely counts as a pleasurable experience, from the technical side of such an operation. A shining example of “hurry up and wait”. Oh sure, the band are loving it (mass adulation will make any band’s day) and the audience (70% of whom – let’s face it – are under the influence of something) are positively loving it.
Trust me: with the proviso that in most cases (by the law of averages) you will not be under the employ of the festival headlines, then when you’ve been part of an Artist’s/Band’s crew at any more than three “T in the Parks” or two “Glastonburys” or a even a few “V Festivals”, then that’s enough for you in any one lifetime. Ask any such crew member. It’s great to say you’ve done them, not great to find yourself repeatedly doing so.
Oops, wandered off the beaten track (or beaten field, even?) there. Back to Cyprus and -as you will no doubt have noticed - a somewhat tardy publication of The Diary this week. I have what I believe to be reasonable grounds for my poor punctuality, being that my daughter Jade is actually out here on the island with me, for the first week of this third trip. It’s not often that I’m able to have my daughter “to myself” for a week (the last time was probably five years ago) hence you can understand my insistence of putting everything to one side – with the exception of Alice of course! – during Jade’s “brief” time out here.
Hence the reason, I’m sat here on Thursday 14th, desperately trying to catch up, while Jade has nodded-off on Alice’s patio, this afternoon, in today’s 34º heat: possibly something to do with me dragging Jade (in the car!) all over the north-eastern part of the island for the last six hours. I should say at this point that she displayed admirable navigational skills on today’s trip that – I can definitely assure you – come from her father.
So, for this week’s accompanying track I am actually going to cite the same Artist as last week (possibly a “first”?) as this particular track always brings Jade to mind, since the very first time I heard it. Take it way again, Buddy Guy, with “She’s a Superstar”. Luv y’all!!
Sunday 3rd July 2016
Well, what’s different this last weekend, in comparison with the previous six, I ask you?
The answer is that at least this last weekend I actually made some money (with my involvement in the re-scheduled show Little Mix show in Belfast, yesterday) as against the previous six weekends when I was (un)gainfully involved and therefore spent a fair amount!
But hey, it’s true what they say (one day I want to meet “they”): you absolutely cannot take it with you when you go and – in my case, at the risk of sounding uppity – it took a huge amount of hard work to come by, in the first place. The trick is not to “go too daft” – as we would say in Scotland, on the spending side of things. Let me give you a wee example.
Tomorrow night, in Estonia, my favourite team (Hearts) will attempt – hopefully successfully – to improve their first leg lead of 2-1 against the team Infonet Tallinn, in the second leg of their qualifying round of the Europa League. Now, the last time I ventured abroad, on one of those trips - that the club invariably organizes to be able to offset the cost of the team’s flight charter - was back in the 1993 – 1994 season, with the opposition being Athletico Madrid. I still feel guilty about keeping the details of the trip from my son (although he was only seven – and couldn’t have gone anyway). Did I ever own up to that?!
The point being, following on from the above, that I could hardly be cited as having blown a wad of cash on such outings. Even so, the trip to Wednesday’s game – on aforementioned “players’ charter” – involving travelling from Edinburgh Tuesday morning (5th) and returning early Thursday morning (7th), next week, was coming in at £800.00. I personally feel that to be a little steep, although I have little doubt that they will find sufficient well-heeled corporate Hearts supporters - who are in the position of being able to stump up that sort of cash - to be on the same flight as the players and officials: but not me, this time, folks.
So, to go back to what I said a couple of paragraphs back, just because I am now – at long last – in a position where it would certainly not bankrupt me to pay such a premium, I just feel – in principle – it’s a substantial financial commitment, for little more than 48 hours in Europe, all be it in the company of the football team I’ve supported all my life. Having said all that (just before you possibly ply me with platitudes, attesting to my – apparently – admirable fiscal discipline) if Hearts reach the next European round, I may just go for it!!
Aside from paying work (little of which I have accomplished in the last six weeks) my travel during the early part of last week consisted of returning from Cyprus Wednesday evening; spending thirty-six hours catching up with the domestic life to which I had paid no heed over the previous four weeks; racing through to Glasgow late Thursday afternoon to catch the infamous Buddy Guy at the Glasgow Concert Hall that evening, and then jumping on a plane Friday morning to Belfast to oversee the rescheduled Little Mix show.
In respect of Thursday night, this week’s accompanying track can only come from the incomparable Buddy Guy, only tenuously linked to this week’s diary, and “I Smell Trouble”.
Sunday 26th June 2016
The baking temperatures (yesterday: 104º F) show no signs of letting up, here in Cyprus.
While Alice has (literally) been furnished with very decent “tied” accommodation, out here with her work, unfortunately there just did not exist efficient, domestic, air-conditioning systems around in the early fifties, when said accommodation was originally constructed. So, even with some fairly hardworking, integral, ceiling fans in the main rooms, we are still sweltering - particularly on the upper floor of the property, with the sun roasting the roof.
By the time I return to the UK this coming Wednesday, I will have spent almost a month out here: the longest “down-time” period I have enjoyed, outside the UK, for many a year. In some respects, I question myself as to what I have ACTUALLY done over those last four weeks. The answer probably coming back to me is: not a whole lot really (much time spent gazing out across the “Med”, mulling over what lies ahead over the coming years?).
This afternoon we motored up into the Troodos Mountains, to reach a height of 5,606 feet above sea level (higher than any point in the UK) – and yet it only took us just under an hour to reach there, from the southern coast of the island - by way of the picturesque, delightful, village of Platres. We counted 10 hotels and 14 restaurants in that small place.
Troodos itself is really just a visitor centre, a hotel, three or four Café-restaurants and a few tourist-orientated kiosks: but all very pleasant and relaxing. You know when you occasionally find yourself in a situation (it could be a city, a hotel – a street even) where you suddenly sense that you are very much at your ease? In my case, it’s nothing I can directly put my finger on, nothing I can attribute to the combination of any tangible set of circumstances, but I’m definitely aware of when it happens (and I want it to happen more).
When one has a occasionally depressive side – as I have – the trick is all about not making important decisions when one is on the “up” phase (when you are too confident, believing anything to be achievable) and neither should one make important decisions when on the “down” phase (when it can sometimes appear impossible to drag oneself out of the waters of despondency). Trouble is, I’m not sure I spend much time in the “middle ground” phase.
The above is not as critical as may first appear, as I can assure you that the majority of the time I am firmly locked into the “up” phase, during which time my years of experience have taught me to go gently and not jump into anything, off the back of too positive a mood: as for the “down” phase, you just have to convince yourself that it will surely pass.
I read something recently, in respect of lifting oneself out of the aforementioned “down” phase: something along the lines of telling oneself “I’m not having a bad life – I’m just having a difficult moment”. I’m sure everyone who finds themselves in such situations has their own failsafe method, which they try to rely on to pull themselves through. Anyway, on the subject of moods, let’s lift things for sure with this week’s accompanying track (shall we?) aptly named “The Way You Do The Things You Do” from the Temptations. XXX.
Sunday 19th June 2016
Sure, Marilyn: some may indeed like it hot – but today, out here in Cyprus, it was too hot!
OK, so if you are the “lie and fry” type of sun-seeker, maybe you could have (just) dealt with the 34º C temperatures out here today (transposing that to Fahrenheit, at 93º, may serve to convey the intensity of the heat) but surely not without being in the shade? On a past visit out to Qatar, a few years back, to visit our friends Russell and Anne, I recall the mercury hitting 40º C: most uncomfortable, even just to be standing around in. We spent most of our time out there dashing from one air-conditioned environment (their house) to another (the car) and another (the shopping mall) and another (the local restaurant).
While my patience for the Scottish winters is definitely waning, I would still be looking to slip away to a sunnier clime (for say, November through February) to a locale where the temperature was hovering around the 73º - rather than the 93º F mark: all I wish for is to be able to stroll around during the day, clad in little more than a T-short and shorts – then, in the evening, to be able to enjoy dinner in the open air, even if it calls for a jacket.
On another tack, in respect of this here island of Cyprus, there is a plethora of criss-crossing, inland, minor roads that allow a fair bit of adventuring, on a Sunday afternoon – and nothing terribly too far from where Alice is based. So, today, for instance, we were only away for just under three hours but managed to happen upon several quaint, sleepy, villages – and none too far off the beaten track. How about this for quirky: we actually passed a “Carob Museum” in a small village called Anogyra. Yes, this is indeed Carob, the chocolate substitute, that you may have come across in some type of energy bars, amongst – I’m sure – several other confections. It turns out that the locals use the Carob predominately in the making of a healthy (again) carob toffee called “Pasteli”. Wild, huh?
I’ve now been out here two and a half weeks and (even allowing for the reported temperatures) I certainly feel that I’ve managed to “take my foot off the gas”, and just free-wheel for a while: I just hope I can ingratiate myself back into the real world, when I return to the UK. There’s just no “average speed” available, for the most part of my life, so that is a situation that certainly requires some application on my behalf – but I sense I’m making strides in the right direction, and the time spent out here certainly kick-started that process. The key, of course, is to build upon this progress – for the future.
Alice’s accommodation (being very well appointed but – having been constructed in the early fifties – boasting no integral air-conditioning) can find itself rather warm of an evening such as this. As I sit here, I can feel the sweat gently beading on my forehead, which one would come to expect at the height of the day ….. but at 11.49 pm local time?!
On the plus side of things - typical to several Eastern Mediterranean regions - one probably consumes less food that one would back home, so I’m sensing no apparent weight gains. On that note – and wondering what accompanying track might be appropriate this evening – I’m reminded of the lyrics of the Lovin’ Spoonful song, “Summer in the City”. XX
Sunday 12th June 2016
I come to you this week, from the very same place I came to you last week: that is, Cyprus.
My “enforced” break is proving to be very beneficial - and increasingly therapeutic. Coming from the pace of life that I do, it can take several days to ease your body down through the gears, from “overdrive” to neutral. To utilise that analogy even more: just slipping the gear lever out of overdrive and directly into neutral does not have the same effect, as the engine (me) then easily coasts for a long while, with it’s months of accumulated momentum.
Today, Sunday – particularly having spent the last twenty-four hours “away”, in a charming little coastal town (Polis) on the northwest coast of Cyprus – I would venture that I’m currently as chilled as I’ve been fro a while, certainly this year. While the weather back home in Dunbar is reportedly showing promising signs for the mid-summer months, out here in Cyprus the warm weather, even this early in the summer (today – not to rub it in now, just to state a fact – the temperature is currently sitting at 82º F, at 4.30 pm in the afternoon) is literally guaranteed. Alice has just reminded me that August will probably be the hottest month of the year out here. Well, folks, I don’t need it any hotter than this.
I’ve spent most of the last week, while Alice has been in work, undertaking the long-overdue housekeeping that my beleaguered laptop has been crying out for. Every time I see an article of interest coming into either of my e-mail addresses – or there’s a file that I know I will have to refer to again, before long - I just “drag and drop” said item into yet another sub-directory, telling myself that I’ll surely have a chance to read through it properly, at some point in the not-too-distant future. I delude myself very well, don’t I?!
Nevertheless, within those “reams” of filed items (particularly where it may involve – or relate to – a new or valuable contact) there are – I suspect – minor commercial opportunities: therefore, aside from my almost-obsessive need for ultimate tidiness, I am convinced that said housekeeping exercise will spark one or two ideas for the years ahead.
Admittedly, that last paragraph relates mainly to the football side of my business, being that over the last twenty years (I received my FIFA licence back in 1996) I have been in contact with a formidable amount of players, managers and coaches. As they used to say in old cowboy films “There’s gold in them thar hills!”. All I need to find is just the one nugget.
My focus, of course, must remain on the concert touring side of my business as – having forty years of experience under my belt, in that department – my earning power covers the cost of “putting food on the table” – and notably more (e.g. football-related costs!!).
Next week (how impressive is this?) I intend to concentrate on fine-tuning certain aspects of my health: I’m not in a bad way, by any means, but it would certainly do me no harm to undertake a little improvement work, initially diet and exercise wise – with the obvious knock-on benefits. So what musical ditty might bear some relation to this week’s ramblings of mine? I’m going for a fine Glenn Frey/Jackson Browne Composition: “Take it Easy”. XXX
Sunday 5th June 2016
I come to you this evening from the Eastern Mediterranean, namely the island of Cyprus.
Having arrived here on Wednesday past, the 1st of the month, the idea is to try and step off life’s conveyor belt (which, I would have to admit, is set at too high a speed in my case) for the next couple of weeks with a view to re-ordering my day-to-day schedule/activities.
Easier said than done: there is most definitely a proportional relationship between how accomplishable change is – and how long one was a “prisoner” of the previous routine, before the need to shake things up a little, became apparent. One of the more immediate issues I face is the fact that – with my life being split into two distinctly different periods (i.e. when I am off tour versus when I am on tour) – any attempts to schedule any time to myself, when I’m racing around the world at “Artistic behest”, are non-existent.
Many years ago (probably about twenty) I recall attending the “Tour Production Annual Awards” at the Lancaster Gate Hotel in London – when, even then, I was approaching veteran status (what does that make me now?!) and finding myself in conversation with an equally experienced Tour Manager of my ilk, who’s identity I am now strugglin to recall.
“You know” this lad reflected “When we’re young, we spend all our time trying to find a way into this business and then – twenty years down the line – we are looking for any opportunity to ease our way back out of it again – wondering what other line of work we can then possibly turn our hand to”. Those words struck a particular cord with me at the time: I seem to think it was not long after the failure of my bar/restaurant venture, around early ’88, when I had drawn a line under my touring activities and re-located back to Scotland under the misguided belief that success in one walk of life – global concert touring – could be emulated in another walk of life, namely the bar & restaurant business.
If any modicum of sense had prevailed (but, typically, the more you are warned off something, as a “young gun”, the more you become determined to prove your doubters wrong) I would have stayed in London’s commuter belt, with the eventual advantage (among many, too numerous to mention) would be that I’d have a ghost-writer for my diary!
Thankfully, from the dark days of 1998, I have (not too far off 20 years later, now) somehow majorly managed to turn my life around, onto a secure financial footing. I cannot imagine (or, should I say, I can’t bring myself to imagine) what would have become of me, had Lorraine Trent not been there for me. She’s a tough one, that one – and nowhere better is that case in point, in that I’m patiently awaiting forgiveness for an innocently – yet wholly undeservedly - mis-directed e-mail. However, more of that in my autobiography.
For now – and still here to tell - I have much to be thankful for, sat here in the temperate Cyprus sunshine: not the least of which are Alice’s home-made flapjacks. Actually (and correct me if I’m wrong here) but why – before – have I never chosen this accompanying track because, yes, you can get anything you want in “Alice’s Restaurant”! Loving all of you!
Sunday 29th May 2016
Ooh, la la! Back in one of the finest cultural centres in Europe. No, not Penicuik – Paris!!
Just skipped over here this morning for a quick 24-hour visit (as I’m wont to do, from time to time) to check in with a couple of my trusted football contacts – and also to take in a friendly game, associated with an Academy that a friend of mine oversees, based in Paris.
Once again, this gives me the opportunity (more briefly, on this occasion) to expound about the wealth of raw footballing talent that exists within the boundaries of this great metropolis: many of them playing on municipal parks, dotted all over the city – with several of them having never tasted the experience of being with even a semi-professional club.
Sure, it’s a romantic notion (but not an unrealistic one – just quite costly) that some of these young players could – given the opportunity - be introduced to a period of structured coaching, and then somehow enter the arena of professional football, to play their way to a higher level: but, it’s not impossible. Look at the case of Riyad Mahrez, this last season’s Player of the Year in England: six years ago he arrives in Scotland (courtesy of yours truly, I have to say!) – just days before his 18th birthday. Even having scored seven goals in three trial games he is informed, by the Scottish professional club he is on trial with, that he probably does not have the body strength to compete in the Scottish Premier League (!!).
Being that I’m not driven by the dollar, I continue to occasionally “take a punt” and see if I can’t unearth another Riyad Mahrez (but – this time – keep a hold of him!): my pension arrangements are certainly not what they should be, so it could be a welcome little top up, a few years from now. Let’s see what is on show at tonight’s game. Is my “diamond” there?!
Just to backtrack a little, in respect of what I have been up to over the last week (and not just the last day) the reason I was actually down south this past weekend was to cover the Tour Management duties for a friend of mine, at a Leona Lewis corporate event. This was staged deep in the Hampshire countryside: however, I’m afraid that the precise location of the event, in conjunction with the client’s identity, must obviously remain confidential.
Prior to leaving Dunbar on Thursday afternoon, in preparation for Leona’s rehearsal day on Friday (the actual show was last night), I beavered away on a host of household domestic chores that invariably await one, after a three-month spell away from one’s home base: but I’m happy to report that things were looking not too bad on the old home front by Thursday morning - even to the extent of the house alarm having a comprehensive upgrade.
As of tomorrow (well probably this coming Wednesday) - and with my desk satisfactorily cleared - I am now going to devote the next two months to developing my “Crying Game” (working title), football touring project to where it can possibly be “piloted” locally in Edinburgh, in front of a footballing audience, just to see if I’m confident enough to take it further. With this in mind, what therefore might be an appropriate track to accompany this week’s entry? Well, really – any excuse will do me for Ray Charles: “Crying Time”! XX
Sunday 22nd May 2016
Fresh from last week’s diatribe about my Eurovision Song Contest woes, I can report that – one week on - I am (almost) over it, having spent the last week back at my home base.
Biggest news from these parts – as of yesterday (and excuse me, typically, straying onto the subject of football – but it is something of a special occasion) – is that Edinburgh’s other professional football club, namely Hibernian FC, yesterday won the national knockout competition, The Scottish Cup, for the first time in one hundred and fourteen years! Now, pause to ponder the enormity of that, folks: until 4.45 pm yesterday there was no one alive on the planet who had been around when “Hibs”, as they are generally referred to in these parts, last lifted The Scottish Cup. It’s nigh-on impossible to articulate the fans’ emotion.
So much so, that the “pitch invasion” that occurred at the end of yesterday’s final game, when several thousand fans initially poured onto the playing field - seconds after the referee had blown his whistle signaling the end of the game - has attracted vociferous criticism from several media quarters: I’m still in two minds, as to where I stand on this.
Coming from a guy like myself, in whose lifetime the other Edinburgh club (Heart of Midlothian, “Hearts” – my team) have won The Scottish Cup a whopping four times, how could I truly appreciate what it would feel like to see the team I had supported all my life, win The Scottish Cup for the first time – possibly for the only time during that same life span? I actually can’t imagine. I have personally been in attendance on two of those five times when Hearts pulled it off (1998 and 2012), the latter being particularly painful for the massed ranks of the Hibernian support, as we trounced our “derby” rivals 5-1, in 2012.
Now this may be taking it a little too far (and the particular gentleman I am about to cite may find the house door locked from the inside, when he returns home, much later tonight) but a lad interviewed on the local radio station this afternoon – as the East side of Edinburgh went into full celebration mode – vouched that the achievement of Hibernian winning the Scottish Cup, on such a momentous occasion, eclipsed of that of his marriage, and even the birth of his children. It may be “hot tongue and cold shoulder” for his supper!
I’m so thankful that when it happened for Hearts in 1998 my family was in attendance that day with me: certainly, in my case, it was less meaningful than the birth of my children, but nevertheless one of the most memorable days out ever. I’ll bet the children – especially Bradley – can recall that day quite clearly. To this day, I regret that we were unable to attend the celebrations in Edinburgh that same evening: however, I was due to leave the very next day with Michael Flatley’s “Lord of The Dance” tour - to South Africa - and had a stack of work to complete, that night, to enable me to be ready for the tour’s start.
Any true football supporter can tangibly appreciate what yesterday’s achievement means to every lifelong Hibernian football fan. I’m sure those same supporters – if any of them happen to be perusing this week’s entry – will see my choice of accompanying track in the spirit it is sincerely meant: Stevie Wonder and “For Once In My Life”. Good on you, lads! X
Sunday 15th May 2016
Rarely, have I taken such a deep breath at the commencement of one of my diary entries.
The reason? My witnessing, first hand, of the presentation of the Eurovision Song Contest’s final stages which this year took place in Stockholm and where – if you caught last week’s diary entry – I spent the whole of last week, during the early rehearsal stages.
This last week – with the afore-mentioned rehearsals for both semi-finals out of the way – it was time to get down to the serious business of reducing the thirty-eight semi-finalists to twenty in total, thereby joining the Big Five (UK; Germany; France; Italy & Spain) and Sweden – the host qualifies automatically – in the final, culminating in twenty-six countries.
Each semi-final, in turn, is divided into two performances (on consecutive nights for each semi-final) therefore on Monday night “Semi-final 1” performed for the jury vote, followed by the performance for the public vote the following night: in both cases - if only to offset some of the huge cost of producing such an extravagant event - the public are allowed to purchase tickets for the semi-finals, but those are not always 100% attended.
With the two “rounds” of Semi-final 1 undertaken on Monday and Tuesday of this week past, it was the turn of Semi-final 2 to go through the same process on Wednesday & Thursday, this being the Semi-final that Nicky was involved with, in the company of - in our delegation’s (slightly subjective, yes) opinion – some pretty average musical fare. Keep in mind that in terms of both Twitter followers and career album sales, there was possibly only the Russian entry that could match the numbers that Nicky has racked up in 14 years.
Alas – even with one of the top three live audience reactions in The Globe on Thursday night – Nicky did not make it out of the semi-final with (what I’ve not made any reference to as yet) a more than half decent composition. I was on the point of inconsolable. Really.
Now, I’m not suggesting for a minute that there was anything untoward with the jury and/or voting process: what I am definitely suggesting, however, is that some bizarre combination of a myriad of circumstances (which, to go into detail on, at this point, would only depress me further) prevented Nicky making it into the final stage of the competition. Sour grapes on my part? Well, figuring the majority of my readers to be level-headed and fair-minded individuals, I’m going to ask you to zip through the eighteen “Semi-final 2” entries on YouTube when you have a minute – and let you make up your own mind. Australia; Latvia, Belgium, Ukraine I’m not in disagreement with: but Georgia and Poland? Please! I was also surprised to see the Danish entry fall short: check that one out.
Anyway, the decision’s made - and the likes of Nicky and myself, and the Irish delegation, just have to live with it (I think Nicky’s dealing with it easier than I am!). In looking to see what accompanying track might be appropriate in bringing this week’s entry to a close, I’m now reminded of a track from a band that opened up for us, on a Jethro Tull tour, back in 1976, which kindles great memories: The Sensational Alex Harvey Band with “Framed”!! XX
Sunday 8th May 2016
This week’s diary entry will have a definite Scandinavian feel to it: well, it would have to have, seeing that I’ve spent the entire week based in Stockholm, as part of this year’s (the 61st) Eurovision Song Contest. Only now, confronted with the occasion in person, have I come face-to-face it’s “vastness”; it’s technical complexities – and it’s (quirky?) worldwide appeal.
I arrived (as the “one-man advance party”) on Monday afternoon past, 2nd May: I’ve always had a thing for having to be there twenty-four hours ahead of the main Artist party, thereby enabling me to have that, all-important, up-front time to ascertain what possible “surprises” could be waiting in store for the main party! It also allows one to run the rule over hotel and transport arrangements - and iron out any oversights or undue complications - that might initially unsettle the Artist. There’s nothing puts the Artist more at his/her unease than witnessing the initial arrival airport arrangements being sloppy and amateurish.
However, in the case of our planned Stockholm trip – and as much down to the two ladies who were tasked with “hosting” the Irish delegation (at one point numbering 19 persons) having done their homework prior to my arrival – there were only one or two minor tweaks required.
Four main Stockholm hotels were utilised to house the 42 countries involved, five of which (“the Big Five” namely the UK, Spain, Germany, Italy and France) do not arrive into the city until tomorrow. Our nominated hotel is The Clarion – located in the Sondermalm area of the city, and only a stone’s throw from the Globen Arena – just over one of Stockholm’s numerous bridges – and visible from where I’m currently penning this piece, in the hotel breakfast area.
Other delegations housed in this hotel include FYR Macedonia; Hungary; Croatia; Spain; Bulgaria and – as of tomorrow – “our” very own Joe and Jake, representing, of course, the UK.
All the members of the other delegations are extremely friendly although obviously, deep down, we are all aware that we each only have a 50% chance of progressing out of the semi-final stage (there are two semi-finals, the first of twenty countries and the second of eighteen: in each case there are ten places up for grabs in the main final, to complement the “Big Five” and the host country Sweden, making for a final line-up of twenty-six countries).
Now, to re-cap slightly, on the past week: on Tuesday 90% of the remaining Irish delegation arrived, including the delegation head himself, his press, promotional and online media staff – and of course Nicky and the five band members (not forgetting a few, key, technical crew).
On Wednesday came our first of two rehearsals for semi-final two, followed by the second rehearsal yesterday (the comprehensive nature of the organization of the Eurovision Song Contest relegates any other large event I have worked on - including the MTV Music Awards – firmly into a lower league). Further insights into Eurovision world will follow next week!
In closing this week’s entry, and looking to an appropriate track to accompany it, there surely is none more fitting than the 1974 winner: Abba and, of course, “Waterloo”. Stay well. XX
Sunday 1st May 2016
Greetings from 38,000 feet as I wing my way back to Scotland – but for only twelve hours.
Allow me to explain. When I left off last week, I was three days away from a relatively brief (four day) trip out to Cyprus, to visit Alice in her “new abode”. As I write to you now, I am actually heading back to Scotland – from that same brief trip – as I’m due to fly to Stockholm tomorrow, Monday 2nd, for a ten-day involvement with Nicky Byrne, in respect of his representation of Ireland’s chosen entry into this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.
These last three and a half days spent in Cyprus, on the south-west of the island, have seen me “slow down to walking pace” – in stark contrast to the treadmill I have been clinging to, over the previous ten weeks. I could easily have stayed put for another couple of weeks, however – as alluded to in the previous paragraph – duty now calls, and it’s something of an interesting project, compared to what I have been involved with over the past few years. It’s now not far off four years, since I last worked with Nicky – June of 2012, to be exact.
I’m not entirely sure what the next ten days holds for me, however the first order of duty – when I check in to an Edinburgh Airport hotel later this evening (I’m on a 05.55 am flight tomorrow morning, out to Stockholm!) - is to carefully read through the various schedules that have been forwarded to me, in respect of a comprehensive list of commitments that Nicky has to fulfill, in the days leading up to, firstly, his semi-final appearance towards the end of next week and – secondly (and I now say this with great confidence!), his ultimate appearance in the televised final - to be broadcast European wide – on Saturday 14th May.
I’m not sure from where it originated, however I seem to have attracted the title “Tour Manager/Head of Security”. The Tour Management side of things is a walk in the park for me of course, at this stage in my career. However “Head of Security”, by definition, seems to indicate the decisive requirement of such a role. While the importance of personal security – particularly at such a “congested” event as the Eurovision Song Contest – is not to be underestimated, I’m one for the “softly-softly” approach - having learned over the years that (and this is honestly borne out by my personal experiences in the business), if anything, the tendency is to over-secure many situations, to the point where mild confusion can ensue, should any type of incident occur. Security is a simple process, often needlessly complicated.
What I’m trying to say is that a watchful eye and a quiet word will invariably serve better purpose than an intimidating look and an overbearing involvement – and that’s my view of things, as regards the world of security! Being such a touchy and (in many eyes) blameworthy subject, few want to take responsibility for security-related decisions. I am happy to do so.
So there you go: a somewhat busy week beckons. I apologise that I should have elaborated upon my recent few days in Cyprus, however it won’t be the last of my trips there, so I can undertake further details, after my next visit. It does however lend me the opportunity to bring one of my all-time favourite bands to the fore, for this week’s accompanying track: namely the iconic “Kinks” with the appropriately titled “I’m On An Island”. Well, I was. XXX
Sunday 24th April 2016
Well, well: there goes ten weeks of concert touring (three weeks of Leona Lewis, straight into seven weeks - including a week of production rehearsals – with Little Mix) and all without a true “day off”. True definition of a day off? Where you want to be, when you want to be.
The above is not meant in any boastful sense, although who could blame one for hi-lighting such an “achievement”, especially at my tender age?! Nevertheless, upon honest reflection, I may just have pushed myself a little too hard, over these past three months, work-rate wise.
What may have constituted a “bad start” was that no sooner had Leona’s tour kicked off, having spent an initial three days at production rehearsals in Bedford, than I had to fly down to Ukraine with Nicky Byrne (in and out within thirty-six hours) for – what could certainly prove to be – an influential TV appearance on a Eurovision Song Contest programme there.
That trip certainly knocked the wind out of my sails, in my attempts to get back on track when returning to the second show on Leona’s tour, at Sheffield City Hall. “Worse” was to come in that, just when I had recovered what little reserves of energy I now possess at this stage of my life, Leona’s relatively short tour, in drawing to a close, conflicted with the onrushing start of production rehearsals, connected to the then-imminent Little Mix tour. This – as detailed in a former edition of the diary (just realised I’m may be covering old ground here – duh!) - incurred two criss-crossed trips in mid-to-southern England, in the space of six days, testing my reserves of strength at an early stage in the scheme of things.
However, I’m through it: a formidable job has been done (my contemporaries opinion, rather than my own) and all that is left now is to clear up the inevitable loose ends, accounting wise. The let-up in the pressure of the last two months has, however, a few days left to run, being that I’m booked on a flight out to visit Alice in Cyprus (did I mention she has now been transferred there, with her job?) this coming Wednesday morning! Prior to that, it’s crucial that I complete at least the most administrative side of the tour accounting – the road-float cash accounts – to prevent me having to drag the associated paperwork all the way to Cyprus.
As I sit here, headed north on the train – and homewards – towards Dunbar, from Sheffield, the absence of the constant buzz of activity, from which I’ve been unable to “escape” these last few months, is completely unnerving. The road (railway?) to revitalisation may start here.
Upon reflection, I could have done without both of those last two tours overlapping each other, the way that they did: however, in my line of work (more often than not it’s “feast or famine”) one is generally hesitant to be turning down any decent project. Well, that has been my approach up until now. Said approach – I suspect – is heading for something of a review!
I have the feeling I’ll be expanding upon the above, in the weeks to come. For the time being, I’m faced with a few long days (and nights) prior to stepping on that plane this coming Wednesday morning. For the moment, here comes an accompanying track that may bear some relation to my upcoming trip to Cyprus: Morecambe & Wise with “Bring Me Sunshine”!. XXX
Sunday 17th April 2016
The roller–coaster “Little Mix” tour has returned to the Emerald Isle for another two shows.
Hopefully, the noticeable difference on our second visit to Ireland, during this six week long tour, will be that we do not face a situation of having to cancel one of our shows, as was necessitated last time when Jesy – determined to push ahead, although severely under the weather – was advised that she’d only make herself worse by playing the last Belfast show.
In these cases, in the world of tour cancellation insurance, there are many factors that come into play when faced with the illness of a principal Artist – and some tough decisions to be made by the Artists’ management, in respect of the various options to satisfy all parties.
Should (as Jesy was pushing for) the Artist try to make it through a grueling, near two-hour, performance and run the very real risk of their condition more than likely worsening, to the extent that the next one or two shows are in jeopardy? Keep in mind the business end of things, being that the underwriters of the tour insurance – while professionally bound to make good any Artist’s loss through the cancellation of a show or shows, due to unforeseen circumstances – nevertheless (understandably) have to look to limit their loss, should such a situation raise it’s head. Better for the Artist to lie low for forty-eight hours (having a “dark day”, on the day after the day where a show has been lost, can be crucial in allowing any prescribed medication to “take hold” and restore the Artist’s constitution to the point where they are able to climb back up on to stage, a mere two days after being totally incapacitated.
I won’t linger on this tour insurance aspect too much longer – only to say that you can sympathise with the position of the underwriters, being that (following the example of the above scenario) should the Artist attempt to push through the show – in the possible belief that the following day, being a no-show day, will give them enough time to recover – but only succeed in completely “flattening” themself, then that could open up the very real possibility of losing (say) another week – typically five – of shows: the ultimate underwriters nightmare.Anyway, how was the past week, prior to arriving here in Dublin, with no show this evening? Well, this last seven days – since my last time of writing – have seen those “Little Mix” gals play the only two consecutive days in the one city, namely Aberdeen, on Monday and Tuesday past (a city – it is rumoured - that, by 2019 will boast a 10,000 capacity seated indoor arena), followed by a night off in Liverpool, our second show on the tour there, the following day (Thursday), after which we played two back-to-backs: firstly in Leeds (also for the second time) and then – last night – in Newcastle, for the third – and last – time. Relentless, huh?I would be misleading you to say that the initial strains of fatigue are permeating their way into my (forty-year) tour-tired body, however the daily shot of adrenalin, automatically administered by that same tour-tired body, each day I enter the place of performance, is guaranteed to see me through the subsequent 12 – 14 hours. On that note – and digging around for an appropriate track to accompany this week’s entry – I have the pleasure to feature Ms Hynde and her fine Pretenders with “I Go To Sleep” - but not just yet. Loving it!
Sunday 10th April 2016
I need to tell you, first off (in case you may be clinically following my tour itinerary!) that I’m sitting on a southbound – Aberdeen to Liverpool – train, on Wednesday morning, 13th April. I could (lamely?) cite the continuing, punishing, touring schedule for my tardiness - however that would indeed be the bona-fide reason! However, as my regular readers are well aware, I have been a lot more remiss than this, time-wise, on several notable occasions in the past.
The reason to allude to the above is because I’ve just experienced what could be a “first” for me, in a long time: I’ve connected trains through Edinburgh, essentially my “hometown”. Quite an odd feeling, like a fleeting visit to an old haunt – or a brief brush with a past phase of life.
I’m headed down to Liverpool today, off the back of two consecutive shows at Aberdeen’s AECC venue, with no show this evening – and only eight more shows left on the tour, meaning we have completed twenty six shows to date (the first Cardiff show seems a long way back!).
Incredulously, it has taken me to this “late” stage in the tour, to be able to establish that I’m truly on top of things, work wise. This as a result of a combination of several contributory factors, not the least of which being the “crossover” of the end of Leona Lewis’s tour, with the start of this current “Little Mix” jaunt. Additionally – and this one aspect of my work has been increasingly nagging me for a while – my day-to-day accounting analysis is arguably too elaborate. I mean, if one is convinced that certain aspects of one’s work has little chance of ever being reviewed – at least to the same level of scrutiny with which it was prepared - then why incur unnecessary time and labour to do so in the first place? Brave stance for me, huh?
I’m currently, in my mind, wrestling with whether I pro-actively source further work over the summer, or just ease back and allow the work prospects to come to me. I’ve done well, work wise, over the first four months of the year (my best “first third” for a good few years) and would probably do fine with one chunky Autumn touring project, along the lines of this Little Mix project. Keep in mind my involvement with Nicky Byrne at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, in May, which will – undoubtedly – lead to more widespread involvement.
Tonight, I’m going to dip my toe in the water with several short to medium-sized tours that are going out at some point in the second half of the year, and make some initial contact with their associated management companies, to point out the profitable sense in my involvement.
While many performers are bemoaning the squeeze on their recording income - as a result of several, internet-driven, factors – they are nevertheless blind to the possibilities of maximizing their concert income, the latter of which is certainly more within their control, than the former. My presence, alone, on an arena tour such as this, easily pays for my costs.
So, something of a rambling (fatigued?) entry this week, as I try to gather together a mish-mash of thoughts and influences, and focus them - in a forward-thinking direction. In therefore deciding upon an appropriate track to accompany this week’s entry, I’m thinking that Beth Hart’s “Everything Must Change” is as relevant as any, right now. Radical, huh? XX
Sunday 3rd April 2016
This evening marks the last of the Matinee shows on this “Little Mix” tour, however – while it’s great to see the band are able to sell two shows in the same venue on the same day - it nevertheless makes for a grueling 24 hours for the real heroes of the piece – our road crew.
We returned from Ireland on Friday this week (our first of two trips across there) having meant to have played Dublin on Wednesday and Belfast – again a “Matinee day” – on Thursday. All went fine in Dublin, however Jesy Nelson – one of our four young songstresses – became ill on Thursday morning and although she desperately wanted to continue with the show, medical advice ruled otherwise, with the result that those two shows had to be postponed. Thankfully, the girls’ management, agent – and Belfast promoter – were able to re-schedule the date for July 2nd when the girls are due back into Ireland for a show the following day at Cork’s “Marquee” venue. The main thing is that 16,000 people will now not be disappointed!
Otherwise, the arena tour of the UK continues to steamroller along, voraciously consuming any additional seats that myself and the Promoter’s Representative are able to release on the day of each show. We are now embarking on the second round of the venues we have already played and - having identified additional seating opportunities from our “first” visit – are now managing to releases additional seats for the upcoming, “second” shows. Yes, sure, it’s all additional income, but it’s also an opportunity for more people to experience the show.
The Little Mix UK arena tour may yet prove to be the “biggest” arena tour of the year, in terms of both the total venues played – in addition to the amount of ticket-buyers attending.
I’m sure I’ve been the Tour Accountant on the largest grossing tours in the UK – or at least four out of five of them – over the last five years. Without researching the factual basis for that claim, straight off the bat, “McBusted” (2014); Ant ‘n Dec’s “Saturday Night Takeaway” (2014) and Olly Murs (2015) must be firm contenders. One day I’ll get around to checking!
I am, of course, in my element out here – performing a function that I’m “nationally” suited for: saving, and further making, money. On the one hand I can reflect that – had I not seriously (and expensively) deviated into both the restaurant and the football business – thankfully not at the same time – then I would have no need to be out on the road now. On the other hand, what else would I be doing to keep my brain in reasonable functioning order?
We invariably come back to this question of “balance” – and that is definitely what I need to work on. As invigorating as my lifestyle currently is, one’s personal life is unavoidably shelved when sixteen-hour days take over. I certainly have the experience to move into a more consultative role however (paradoxically) this is a “young” business and – in spite of the amounts of money flying around the concert touring sector of the business alone – many aspects of the industry have yet to operate on a truly professional and accountability level.
Enough of all that (for the moment anyway)! This week’s accompanying track, relating to still doing what I love to do is the belter “Young Hearts Run Free” by Candi Staton. And they do!
Sunday 27th March 2016
Aye, a show at London’s O2 Arena certainly does bring out all the party people: trouble is, all the related “pomp and circumstance” always has a detrimental effect on the working day.
On the upside of things, the girls gave it their all, playing to over 30,000 ecstatic fans –collectively - between today’s Matinee and Evening shows: this, off the back of another “rammed” show at Leeds First Direct Arena, last night. It has now undeniably become a trend on this tour that immediately we release any tickets on the day of the show, in any venue we play, then said tickets are gone within a matter of minutes, once again demonstrating the “power of online”. Just don’t know why we bother with newspaper “ads”.
Alice has been travelling around with me most of the last week as, come 5th April, she is off to Cyprus, as her company has re-located her to that region for the next two years. I mean, looking at her, you would never figure she could throw an Apache helicopter around the skies, for a living, would you?! It’s a marvel of modern aerodynamic science (the helicopter, not Alice) accomplished only by the highly technical wooden blocks, to enable her wee legs to reach the rudder pedals. It’s only her innate misunderstanding of the basic concepts of geography that let her down: meaning that - often, when she and the helicopter have been delayed back to base - it has indeed prompted the iconic utterance “Alice, Alice – where the F*** is Alice?”. Thankfully, her latest posting is much more of a land-based position!
Getting back to the Little Mix tour, everything is chugging along quite nicely: in addition to today’s two shows at the O2 Arena today – and last night’s afore-mentioned appearance in Leeds (making for a particularly tough, past, thirty-six hours for our technical crew) – we have, this week, already played shows in Nottingham, Manchester and Liverpool, making this a six show week. The pressure is not quite off yet, either, with another show tomorrow (our second of the tour there) – at Cardiff’s International Arena – before we head, overnight, for the Holyhead ferry to Dublin, and the first of our two trips to the Emerald Isle.
Once again, the audience demographic is most interesting to observe: for the majority of the show, 70-75% of the audience consists of Mum’s and their young (say, anywhere from age six to twelve) children, girls in the main. In contrast, in respect particularly of the Manchester show earlier this week, I’ve definitely noted more groups of teenage girls in the “bigger” cities however, generally, the audience consists of at least an 80% female content.
Personally, I believe I’m now over my “fatigued period”, suffered in the early stages of the tour, and no doubt a direct result of having to make a start to this Little Mix tour, before my previous involvement with Leona Lewis had come to an end. You’ll often hear the more elderly of the population saying that “it takes longer to recover – from most things! – as you get older”, and, as much us we would like to believe otherwise, the facts cannot be denied!
So, what track could we finish up with, to accompany this week’s entry? Having teased Alice about being a helicopter pilot out there in Cyprus, why don’t we revert to one of the classics this week and give the floor to Ol’ Mr Blue Eyes himself, and the iconic “Come Fly With Me”.
Sunday 20th March 2016
Today, I find myself in a most unfamiliar situation: being at home during the course of a tour. This has come about through an odd set of converging circumstances: firstly there is a two-day break in the middle of a UK tour (which, I’ve learned, is just a routing/availability anomaly), then there is the fact that the day before said “break” we just happened to be doing a show in Glasgow. Most importantly though – in an effort to make up for lost time, to some degree – it gives me a chance to catch up with my daughter and sister for the day. It is a situation that I very rarely find myself in, as – generally – I’m “too far from home” to make such a homebound flying visit feasible. At least I could “temporarily” attack the mail!
The last two dates of the tour have been particularly hectic, as last night’s Glasgow “show” was indeed two shows, including the matinee in the earlier part of the day. For obvious reasons, matinee shows are only really feasible on weekend days, therefore if you have a Saturday or Sunday show that has benefited from an extremely receptive ticket-buying public, then a second show in any given venue is – apart from a few “minimal” additional costs (cleaning, security, catering, additional – usually 50% - rental) – something of a gravy train.
As far as the Artist’s touring costs are concerned, i.e. the “touring production”, there is negligible additional cost associated with adding a show in the same venue. It is nevertheless a long and tough day for the technical crew and – and in the case of last night’s performance in Glasgow (having had a show in Birmingham the night before) – it involved a “pre-rig” early yesterday morning to enable the doors to the SSE Hydro to open by 1.30 pm.
It would be misleading to say that – in keeping with the majority of the crew, who have to work physically harder on any given day, than I do – I’m not feeling fatigued from the past forty-eight hours, it’s impossible not to. These old bones – unavoidably - continue to get old.
This matinee situation will happen three more times in the tour: one week today, at London’s O2; in Belfast, in around ten days time – and the next time we visit the NEC in Birmingham, now re-named the Genting Arena (and if that’s not a sign of the times, I don’t know what is).
The main thing is that the shows are going well, with a noticeable proportion of the audience being mothers and their young (mainly female, of course) children, approximately in the 8 – 12 age group - although I’ve certainly spied a few younger ones, perched on their mums’ laps.
As a result of a severe shortage of bunks (i.e. every one taken!) I continue to hurtle around the country by rail. Fortunately, with our tour rigger, Andy Roberts, having to travel ahead to Glasgow yesterday, to oversee the pre-rig, the driver of that particular crew bus kindly changed the linen in Andy’s bunk – which allowed me to hitch an overnight ride to Glasgow.
So it’s back to the fray tomorrow as I board a Liverpool train from here in Dunbar, via Edinburgh’s Waverley station to celebrate Alice’s birthday tomorrow night, with dinner at the city’s “Hard Day’s Night” hotel. Now, that’s surely the cue for this week’s obvious (?) choice of accompanying track. Bring on show seven out of thirty-four! Gotta pace myself! X
Sunday 13th March 2016
I’m just sat here desperately trying to catch up with my elapsed diary (have you guessed?!) and I hear Wilson Picket with “634 5789” on Radio 2, with Michael Ball “at the decks”, as dated as that may sound. First off, Michael Ball certainly – for me – comes across much more naturally on the radio, than the likes of Graham Norton or Paul O’ Grady. Trust good old Radio 2 to play it safe: little chance of unearthing some truly talented “natural jocks”. No, lets just go and find a TV “face”, stick he/she on a relatively prime-time spot, and that should keep the public happy. Fame? I struggle more – not less – to figure what it’s all about.
Anyway, where does this evening find me? It finds me almost too tired to even contemplate making a start to today’s diary entry: however, I’m still wired from the activity of the last forty-eight hours, namely having just completed the first of thirty-four shows on the “Little Mix” UK and Ireland arena tour. We were certainly up against the clock, trying to be ready for a 4.00 pm sound-check at the Cardiff International Arena - but our crew somehow managed to pull it off. These guys have had little more than twenty hours sleep in the last four days (production rehearsal days are invariably tougher than touring days, as you try to piece the whole production extravaganza together) but our crew pulled it off!
Not that I’ve had much more sleep than that either, having had to leave Leona Lewis’s Ipswich show (Monday past) just before show-time there and jump the last train to Little Mix’s Yorkshire production facility, in readiness for a 7.00 am start the following morning. That plan at least allowed me to spend two long days in the office of said rehearsal facility (nothing that I mind: “he who fails to prepare, must prepare to fail”), undertaking the necessary up-front legwork, that will certainly make my days in the venues pass easier.
Of course, it would have been fine if I could have spent Friday and Saturday based in Yorkshire as well – meaning I would have been super organised: however, that’s not the way it turns out, is it? In my case there was the small matter of the completion of Leona’s tour and – wouldn’t you know it – the last show on said tour, on Friday past, was down in Plymouth!
Aye, it’s no quick train commute from West Yorkshire to Plymouth, dear readers: in my case, in an attempt to maximise my time spent onsite at LM’s production rehearsals, I left there Friday, on the last feasible train that could spirit me to Plymouth that same night (23.39 arrival). At least that enabled me to be in-situ at the Plymouth Pavilions by 9.00 am the following morning, necessitating me spending just short of fifteen hours in said venue, exiting the premises at just after midnight, with a 05.28 train back to Yorkshire next day.
That saw me back into Little Mix’s production rehearsals at 1.00 pm yesterday, with the girls just about to start the first of their two main dress rehearsals, the second of which was brought to a halt by a minor technical hitch (trust me – EVERY show has them!) which effectively curtailed the second full “dress run”, compromising the time the crew had left to load eight 45-foot trailers and get down to Cardiff for tonight’s show. In terms of an accompanying track – and focusing on my main (extensive) mode of travel this past week, it can only be The Doobie Brothers and “Long Train Running” - and another one tomorrow! XXX
Sunday 6th March 2016
My physical involvement with Leona Lewis, sadly, all but comes to an end tomorrow morning (now, before you assume that you may have learned something of tabloid interest, let me clarify that “physical” refers to me being on the road with Leona’s tour, up until now). However, this is soon to change, after tomorrow’s show in Ipswich, after which I catch the last train to a “hidden” destination in Yorkshire, for the start of the Little Mix production rehearsals. Hang on - I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself here, so lets go back a week.
I left off last week (I believe) en-route to Bristol, heading out of Birmingham New Street station with there being no show on Monday, past: the plan - with the Bristol Colston Hall show on Tuesday and the Cardiff St. David’s Hall on Wednesday - was to base myself in a hotel (”Sleeperz” – an interesting little abode!) adjacent to Cardiff station, rendering the “commute” to Bristol on Tuesday as effortless as possible. I also have something of a soft spot for Cardiff: like many other “solid” cities in the UK – Glasgow, Newcastle and Liverpool fall into the same category for me – there is a noticeable “work hard – play hard” ethic that seams to permeate the city. “Jock Tamson’s bairns” - as we Scots might refer to the people.
The other distinct advantage of being able to jump on the last train out of the city – especially going into a day off – is that if (as always seems to the case with me – am I too detailed in my work, I increasingly ask myself?) I have a sizeable sheaf of receipts to log, and then I can make a start to that at a reasonable hour of the day, with no distractions.
I can also inform you at this time that I have definitely decided against the idea of hiring a car for “Phase1” (from the start of the tour through the second Cardiff show, on Monday 28th) preferring to use trains instead. Now, admittedly, the rental-car idea has certain initial attractions – like leaving your suitcase in the back of the car “permanently”! – possibly the most endearing of those being, unlike using trains, that you are unrestricted by pre-determined timetables. You can just get in the car and go to where you want, when you want.
Of late, however (i.e. the past four or five years) – this has not been as logistically sound a plan as it once was, that is: taking off immediately after the show and driving on to the next city, in the early hours of the morning, with little traffic on the road and few cameras. No so anymore gang: but don’t think I was once tearing up these UK Motorways at some unforgivable God-awful speed. No, I was just sitting at around “eighty”, but consistently so.
Nowadays, if it’s not the long, average-speed (and camera controlled) restricted motorway stretches, then it’s the dreaded overnight single-carriageway “contra-flow” road-works. I never had a problem, even with a strength-sapping 12/14-hour day behind me, to clock up a couple of hundred miles to the next destination, when I could maintain a constant speed: but all this “stop/start” business is more strength-sapping than aforesaid 12/14-hour day!
The summary of the above (gentle) rant, is that I’ll probably stick with the train option (albeit necessitating some early morning starts) but – not wanting too appear too dismissive of those absolutely essential roads, here comes Tom Robinson with “2-4-6-8 Motorway”. XX
Sunday 28th February 2016
Another touring day, another mode of transport: tonight the last train from Birmingham to Cardiff, where I will base myself over the next three days of this current Leona Lewis tour.
I’m “training it” from city to city on the tour A) because I’m not scheduled to be attending every single show on the tour and B) there are no spare bunks on the crew sleeper bus. Had I been required to be present at every single show, then there’s a good chance that - much in the way I will be travelling on my next outing, i.e. the “Little Mix” tour – I would have gone down the route, literally, of self-drive car rental. Either way, I definitely appreciate the “freedom” (provided I’m in situ in the venues at the most crucial times) of going it alone.
It’s also fair to say that my days of being “imprisoned” in the guts of an arena venue – and on many occasions this can entail a sixteen hour stretch – are certainly on the decline: it just no longer holds the appeal that it once did (“appeal”, of course, is hardly the right word - “attraction” is probably more fitting a description). However, as twee as it may sound, my professional approach never waivers. I’m not quite sure I can pinpoint the origin of such application in the workplace: can such traits originate from one – or both – parents, almost as some form of unconscious transition? Believe me, I’m more than willing to investigate that line of thought, however it will have to be done at a time when I’m not in touring mode.
This past week - having returned from that whistle-stop visit to Ukraine with Nicky Byrne -saw me jump back onto the Leona Lewis tour on the second show at Sheffield City Hall, having caught the train through there as soon as I arrived back at Manchester Airport, late morning from Kiev: again I had connected back through Lufthansa Airlines hub at Frankfurt.
Although I had hoped there might, by then, have been a spare bunk available on the crew sleeper bus, it subsequently turned out that the merchandiser (another “Jake”!) had taken the opportunity of the “fourteenth” bunk on the bus and – with him having to be in the venue earlier than myself – I could hardly, fairly, pull rank to squeeze onto said tour bus.
All of the above resulted in me having to leave Sheffield City Hall by 10.00 pm that evening and catch the last train back through to Manchester where - as much because of the hotel’s proximity to Manchester’s Piccadilly station, as anything else – I impulsively opted to billet myself at the infamous (well, in rock ‘n roll touring circles, anyway) Britannia hotel. Rockin’!!
With Tuesday being a non-show day , I took a deep breath, and spread all of the petty cash receipts accumulated from the beginning of band rehearsals through until that point (including the receipts that had been foisted on me, the evening before in Sheffield, from the first two days of the tour) all over my hotel bed, in date order, and got stuck into them.
So, all-in-all, a typically hectic “first-week-of-tour” experience, which should ease a little with the upcoming second week: however, peeking over the horizon is the “Little Mix” tour, which loads into production rehearsals first thing on the morning of 8th March. Musically, the summation of the last seven days could indeed be the Beatles “Eight Days a Week”! XX
Sunday 21st February 2016
Last week’s entry opened with a “warm” welcome – this week’s is decidedly the opposite!
This evening (well, actually, very early Monday morning, 22nd) finds me in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, finishing up a whistle-stop, 48 hour trip – just as I was gearing up to commence Leona Lewis’s UK tour – to accompany Nicky Byrne to make an appearance on the final TV edition of Ukraine’s Eurovision Song Contest qualification, for this year’s final in Stockholm.
I’m sure I may have mentioned over the past couple of weeks (did I not?) that this year Ireland, rather than again endure a TV-based voting system to select the eventual representative of their country - to appear at the above-stated finals (from which they have not managed to attain a final-qualification place for the last two years), have subsequently taken the bull by the horns and just directly nominated Nicky. While Nicky’s profile is undoubtedly excellent, the song (“Sunlight”) is, as they say, a “very catchy tune”.
Being that Nicky’s appearance, on said TV show out here in the Ukraine, coincided with Leona’s first UK tour show at the Liverpool Empire, it was certainly not ideal for me. Thankfully, Steve Martin, Leona’s Tour Manager, was sympathetic to my plight and allowed me to slip away from Leona’s Bedford rehearsals, on Friday night past to zip down to Luton to catch the first flight to Dublin on Saturday morning, to “collect” Nicky and the musicians.
From there, we all boarded the 12.45 pm flight from Dublin down to Kiev, with a plane change – and a two-hour layover – in Lufthansa’s home-hub in Frankfurt. As I expected, upon arrival at Kiev airport, there was some measure of “organised chaos” as the film crew, associated with today’s TV appearance, proceeded to pull Nicky from pillar to post on the various levels of the airport concourse, all in all delaying our departure to the hotel by almost an hour – and, indeed upon arrival, finding Kiev’s “Orly Hotel” to be intriguing. In fairness to the establishment in question, they were able to offer us the full restaurant menu – at what must have been 11.30 pm at night when we sat down to dinner, the highlight of the selection process possibly being Jamie Duff’s (our guitar player) request to the waiter as to whether the “Chicken Kiev” was worth a try. “No”, came the monosyllabic reply!
However, once the various dinner selections reached our table (by now, approaching midnight) the standard of cuisine was very impressive: I mean, it’s the first time I’ve experienced “Duck in Raspberry Sauce” – but it certainly won’t be the last, if I can ever find it again! Further testament to the flexibility of the kitchen’s capabilities was again superbly demonstrated when Nicky (at 01.00 am this morning - as we eschewed the opportunity to take to our beds with a 03.30 am hotel departure, back to the airport) ordered a strawberry milkshake and the previous evening’s waiter did not even bat an eyelid.
In commemoration of that little (just over two day’s) trip – and possibly flirting outwith the bounds of political correctness – but keeping in mind my two previous visits to the same geographical region – what could be more appropriate(?) than an outing for the iconic Lennon & McCartney track “Back in the USSR”? ‘cause I was - albeit very briefly. Mos-go (geddit?).
Sunday 14th February 2016
A warm (well, not as warm as I would ideally like) welcome from my hometown Dunbar.
I had travelled up from London on Wednesday past (10th) to be able to keep a dental appointment the next day in Haddington - eight miles from Dunbar – and then (more importantly) travelled on to visit my accountant, in a small West Lothian town called Bo’ness, for my annual visit to submit my company’s accounts for preparation to be audited.
I always see the above as a welcome “milestone” (until I receive the notification of how much tax I owe, as a result of handing in the year’s accounts!). To reach this stage requires a good day’s work on my behalf, collating all petty cash receipts for the last year; reconciliating the company bank account; reprinting all company invoices and – definitely made easier since I have changed to the “flat rate” system – balancing my VAT for the year.
I always feel that something of a reasonable weight has been lifted from my shoulders when I exit the accountant’s building, knowing that’s the end of it for another year! It has to be done, however my own involvement in the bookkeeping preparation helps to keep the costs down, in making ready the final accounts for their submission to UK Companies House.
On the work front, I’m headed back down to London this coming Tuesday, with Leona Lewis production rehearsals due to start on Thursday 17th – and the first show of the tour at Liverpool Empire a week tonight (no doubt, probably, signaling a late diary entry next week!). Leona’s tour continues on until 11th March, dovetailing very nicely into the start of the “Little Mix” tour, initial date on 13th March in Cardiff, all the way through to 23rd of April.
On both of the above tours I’ll be working as the Tour Accountant and – therefore with no direct responsibility for the Artist – I am able to travel “freely” between the tour cities. I have to tell you that’s right up my street and definitely appeals to my free-spirited nature, more so than I would have believed (say) twenty years ago, when my main stock-in-trade was firmly as a Tour Manager: with the appeal of easing over to Tour Accountancy just a distant possibility, a line of work that was borne of the dissatisfaction of those I once employed.
Strangely enough, the position of Tour Accountant is a role that is generally viewed, from within Artist Management circles, as only requiring to be called upon, at successful arena touring level. Not so, I would be the first to proclaim: however it’s a slow, educating, process to reverse that line of thinking. In defense of this, my experience has shown that utilising a Tour Accountant even on a sell-out theatre-size tour can “literally” pay benefits.
There was a time when I was hell-bent on actively convincing the music business world of the sense of bringing someone like myself on board: now I would rather more positively use that time to undertake the best job I can for those clients who have realised my true worth to their operations – and that, folks, is what gets me by! What might I therefore suggest as an appropriate track this week, to follow the general line of thinking herein? Well I’m going with Bachman Turner Overdrive and “Taking care of Business” – and I am!! X
Sunday 7th February 2016
Back in the U,U,U, K.! Only to see Hearts “give away” a two-goal lead to “rivals” Hibernian!
However, as mentioned last week, a little background regarding my twelve days in Rwanda:
So, you’re probably aware that I arrived into Kigali on Tuesday afternoon, 26th January, having travelled down from London on Qatar Airways: the journey entailed a very efficient 90-minute connection in Doha, then a one-hour stop (but no plane change) at Entebbe in Uganda, an airport with an “infamous” past – as a result of a foiled terrorist threat in 1976.
My Rwandan colleague, Jean (now living in Belgium, but “home” in Rwanda, to take in the CHAN football tournament) collected me from the airport, drove me to the “Inside Africa” hotel and - once my baggage was safely stowed in my room – whisked me off to the Niger v Tunisia game which was taking place in Kigali’s “second” stadium, 20 minutes from the hotel.
The following day we drove the 100+ miles west to the city of Gisenyi (formerly known as Rubavu) to take in the Zimbabwe v Uganda qualification game, “qualification” being defined as one of the “group” games – from four mini-leagues of four teams each – prior to there being eight countries remaining in the competition, to enable the quarter-finals to proceed. Of the four Rwandan stadiums utilised for the qualification and quarterfinal games (two in Kigali itself, this one in Gisenyi and one in Butare, the latter city which I unfortunately didn’t visit) Gisenyi was indeed my favourite - mainly down to their fab hospitality facilities.
With the qualification games having all been played – and the resultant eight quarter-final games being decided – Thursday and Friday, 28th and 29th January, had previously been deemed “rest days”, this enabling Jean and myself to make contact with the team managers of the remaining four countries who were still billeted in the capital of Kilgali, where I of course stayed (this being four teams out of eight: Rwanda, Mali, Congo DR & Ivory Coast).
On Saturday we attended the first of the four quarterfinals, a very hotly contested game between Rwanda - who had topped their qualification league - and their next-door neighbours (country-wise) the Democratic Republic of Congo. To try and appreciate the extent of the rivalry between these two teams, think Scotland versus England – then add way more supporter noise (believe it or not) and probably significantly more colour on the terraces. Unfortunately Rwanda were knocked out in the second half of extra time, but not before they made a spirited fight of things, earning the praise of a frenzied home support.
I managed to witness one more of the quarter-final games (Guinea v Zambia with a “repeat” six hour round trip to Gisenyi), then both semi-finals, played in Kigali, before unfortunately having to return to the UK - yesterday afternoon - in readiness to return to my “real job”.
DR Congo actually won the final earlier today in Kigali, convincingly trouncing Guinea 3-0. So my Rwanda experience was indeed that and the best accompanying track I can bring to mind to sum it up is the inimitable Nat King Cole with “Unforgettable” – and that it certainly was!
Sunday 31st January 2016
Today finds me still down here in Rwanda, not due to ship out until next Saturday afternoon.
From the point of view of football opportunities, it has been a multi-faceted, roller-coaster, ride of emotions: this is generally initiated by witnessing a skilled player from one of the eight teams remaining in the competition, only to then – typically – discover at least one or two hurdles immediately blocking any further progress. The most insurmountable of said hurdles is the FIFA ranking position of the footballing country the player now represents.
To briefly explain: to (quite understandably) avoid a situation whereby the British football market becomes flooded with non-European Union players – i.e. players from outside the European continent (and, specifically in my case - with me temporarily based here in Rwanda for the African Championships - players from the African continent) the four British “home” Football Associations have placed stringent limitations upon the entry qualifications for any non-European Union player. The two main criteria are A) that the player must have featured in 75% of his countries international, competitive “A” games within the last two years and B) - much more restrictive - the player’s international team must have attained a position on or “above” number 70 in the average FIFA world football rankings, taken over the 24 months prior to any Work Permit application (that last one is definitely a “toughie”).
Whereas the likes of the Ivory Coast (19), Cameroon (46), Guinea (48) currently meet the latter criteria, the likes of Uganda (77), Zimbabwe (91) and Rwanda (95), for example, most definitely do not. A further irony here is that – because this African Championships competition is restricted to players playing with domestic clubs for the country that they represent, the teams that are turning out for the likes of the Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Guinea are essentially those country’s “B” teams, as they have many of their senior players already established at European clubs and further afield – meaning that most of the players in the “B” teams (even though the three clubs in this example have impressive FIFA rankings) do not have anything near the required 75% of international appearances to now be able to qualify for a UK Work Permit. We are therefore attempting a fine balancing act!
However, all of the above said – and international appearances aside – there is still the opportunity to take a young player of promising potential to the likes of Belgium or France or one of the Scandinavian countries, where the “entry qualifications” are nowhere near as strict as the UK. Once there – in say Belgium, for example – their standard will definitely improve, catching the attention of their national team selectors. If said young player starts to feature regularly for his national team thereafter then, within as little as three years – provided he is a national of one of the more highly-placed African countries in the FIFA rankings – he may qualify for a UK Work Permit. Oh yes …. this will test your patience!
Damn, I’ve rambled on about the technical side of what I’m involved with, out here at the moment, and not given any insight into this amazing country where I am currently a guest. I promise to rectify that with next week’s entry! What track to leave you with this week? Maybe I should have saved this until next week but here goes with “Toto’s” iconic “Africa”.X
Sunday 24th January 2016
Right from the off, “this week”, I’m going to purposely admit to delaying the penning of this 24th January entry, until a few days into the next week (i.e. it’s currently Wednesday 27th!).
The reason behind the above? Twofold, really: firstly, I spent the best part of last week anchored to the office in my house, determined to make some inroads into further reducing the amount of “stuff” in said office (I can’t keep telling myself that one day I may have a use for most of it). Apart from the fact that much of the touring “hardcopy” reference is historically out of date, I probably now have a “safe” copy of most of the last twenty years paperwork, lodged safely on my laptop’s hard drive - and it’s two associated, independent, back-ups. Suffice to say I emptied the shredder twice last week …. so progress is ongoing.
Anyway, back to the second reason for holding off publication: this was down to the knowledge that on Monday past (26th) I was jumping on a plane down to Rwanda, to take in the latter stages - quarter finals onwards - of the African Championships (football that is). Being that I would have been struggling to dredge up any interesting narrative - spent ankle deep in historic paperwork in the office - regarding what I was up to last week, I opted to wait a few days and “spice up” this edition with my first impressions of my visit to Rwanda.
Here I am now, indeed, having taken a Qatar Airways flight from London to Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, with a plane change in Doha and a one-hour stopover at the infamous Entebbe.
Currently, I am sat outside my modest poolside room (“pool” might just invoke a trades-description action) at the “Heart of Africa” hotel, on a very pleasant, warm, evening with only the sound of the afore-said pool’s trickling overflow for company. Way in the distance – as we are somewhat atop a hillside here – I can hear the murmur of evening traffic and, during the daylight hours, see the sprawl of the city below and afar. For such a relatively large city (one million plus inhabitants) the “centre” appears to be but several bustling blocks – with several other pockets of clamorous activity dotted around the inner skirt of the city, each boasting a credible reason for the milling hordes – i.e. the bus station.
Having arrived mid-afternoon on Tuesday, yesterday, I had enough time – having been collected at the airport by my Belgian colleague (Rwandan by birth), Jean Bosco Murego – to drop my bags at the hotel and then zip over to one of the two “hosting” stadiums here in Kigali, in enough time to catch the Niger v Tunisia kick-off, and to be re-united with all the cacophony of fan-generated noise (mainly from the Niger fans, I have to say) that goes hand in glove with the international African-continent football live-viewing experience.
Yesterday we made the three hour trip to Gisenyi, just inside the western border of Rwanda, with Congo under five hundred yards distant from the stadium where we witnessed a thrilling game between Uganda and Zimbabwe - both bidding to book a place in the quarter-finals. Much more of all this, come next Sunday’s entry so – for the time being – I will leave you with Canned Heat and “Going up the Country”, a favorite from my distant (and deep?) past – but also a testament to my day, today. The adventure’s not over yet folks! XX
Sunday 17th January 2016
A fine good evening to my legions of followers: seems like only a few days since we last communicated (actually, it was - if the truth be known - as it was only Thursday past, 14th, by the time I got around to penning last Sunday’s diary entry: glad to get that off my chest!).
However, here I am – 6.28 pm this Sunday evening (17th!) attempting to make good for last week’s tardiness, one reason being that I need to clear my desk for an important event tomorrow. Do you mind if I share it with you? Thanks. Well, this is not to blow my own trumpet in any way - rather to “celebrate” how far I may have come since having only 37 pence (I kid you not) to my name, back in the middle of 1998. Therefore, it is something of a personal achievement to record that, tomorrow at 3.00 pm, I receive the keys for a small apartment that I have purchased – on a “buy-to-let” basis - being the second property that I now out-rightly own. Not sure how I managed to turn around such a bad personal situation.
Of course, upon immediate reflection, the above is not strictly true: I just took every job, for whatever length of time, that I could – and I kept doing that for eighteen years, until now. Just off to my left, on the middle shelf of my office unit, sits many of the bound tour-itinerary books that evidence the travails of the majority of those tours I have been involved with over the afore-mentioned eighteen year period. Can’t believe I made it through.
All the more reason, wouldn’t you agree, that I take heart from my good fortune - and press forward in a most positive frame of mind? If that’s “our” plan, then allow me to give you a little insight as to what I’m going to be up to over the next few weeks. Ideally (not sure if I alluded to this over the course of the last few diary entries) I really feel the need to head down to Australia and spend a week to ten days with my son, before I find myself entrenched in future works projects, further details of which I’m going to reveal in next week’s diary.
The initial stumbling block to just jumping on a plane at short notice down to Oz-land, is the rather expensive of cost of doing so at this time of year – essentially Australian summertime.
This very evening – once I’ve fired off this current diary entry to David (Alice’s son, coincidentally, who resolutely manages my website for me) - I’ll be trawling the internet one final time in the hope of a couple of alternative UK-Oz-UK airfares conveniently popping up, somehow still reasonably priced. Yes, that’s the dreamer in me optimistically coming into play.
There’s also the matter of a rather intriguing football tournament (“CHAN”) that – literally – kicked off in Rwanda, in West Africa, yesterday, 16th. Being that I love a “travel adventure” - especially to a region/country I have yet to visit, in this well-travelled, tiring, life of mine – I may just jet off down there, if I can’t make the priority trip to Australia for a month or two.
I’ll certainly have a clearer idea of my plans, come this time next week. For this week’s accompanying track, it can only (of course) be David Bowie, with a lesser-known song possibly – specifically, a live version of the Eddie Floyd classic “Knock on Wood”. A staggering loss. XX
Sunday 10th January 2016
It’s been something of a “half and half” week: half in London and the rest here at home.
In fact, during the “London” part, I actually spent one night in Dublin – taking the opportunity to zip out there to meet Nicky Byrne for dinner (no, it’s not totally decadent: believe it or not, there was a very firm business undertone to it). On the occasion of being out there with Nicky last week, I was sworn to secrecy when the man confided in me that he would be representing Ireland this year, in the Eurovision Song Contest staged in Stockholm this year.
That private conversation was last Monday evening, however - in spite of Nicky’s and RTE’s best efforts to keep such ground-breaking news under wraps (as a result of an inadvertent slip of the tongue, from someone in the know) – it is now very common public knowledge! This is possibly the greatest challenge of Nicky’s career and I suspect, if I’m being totally honest, that it’s a fair old risk, when one realises the amount of stiff competition in the final stages.
Having said the above – and keeping in mind that the song (as they might say in the country where Nicky comes from) is “a cracker” – I’m going to ease my backside over the line and predict that it is credible enough to make it through to the final stages in Sweden, May 12th. I believe Ireland holds the record for the most amount of wins (seven times!) – with this year’s hosts, Sweden, hot on Ireland’s heels with a total of six wins since the inception of the competition in 1956 (trivia note: there’s only ever been one tied competition – back in 1969).
Let’s hope that this opportunity allows Nicky to develop another facet of his continually successful career: but on the music side of things, it continues to be a tough business, although Nicky has a head start over any “newcomers”, with his Westlife days behind him. Hopefully, I may be able to have some involvement in any touring that Nicky may undertake in the future, but for now his emphasis obviously has to be focused on Stockholm in May.
My original plan, this past week, was to travel back to Scotland on Wednesday, however I had to stay back for a day to attend a meeting regarding a future touring project (not Nicky’s!) which I may be able to divulge some details of, once I have my involvement in it confirmed.
Arriving back here in Dunbar on Thursday evening, I stepped off the train to the crunching underfoot of some apparently earlier light snowfall earlier in the day - not to mention about a six-degree drop in temperature between London and here. It does make one think a little!
My days of 20° heat are of course over for the foreseeable future. You know, I can deal with the cold (especially, with the attic space in the house recently being re-insulated) when my little house warms up without any trouble: it’s darkness falling, at just after four in the afternoon that does my wee head in. Today, it was just before 3.00 pm when I noticed I had not opened the curtains in the dining area: no need, as I would have had to close them again in under an hour! Continuing the theme of these short days and long nights, I’m going to try to lift the mood with an Alicia Bridges album track titled “Under The Cover of Darkness” . XX
Sunday 3rd January 2016
Well, well, well: another year is indeed upon us – and who really knows what this one holds?
Since penning last week’s edition, we spent a further three days in Gran Canaria before returning to the UK on Wednesday afternoon past (30th), arriving back into London’s Gatwick Airport in the late afternoon. Being that we had planned to celebrate the New Year somewhere out of London – and not forgetting that we have something of a leaning to the various towns we have visited on Sussex’s south coast – and with Gatwick of course located half-way south between the “big city” and the afore-mentioned south coast, we managed to find an inexpensive hotel in Eastbourne to “hole up” for three nights, through yesterday, 2nd.
Naturally, we arrived into inclement UK weather - with the temperature a sobering (unlike your author, later on!) 9º C, about 20º C less than where we had come from, only a matter of a four-hour flight away. As you can imagine, that acted as a real wake-up call, particularly as – upon our arrival into Eastbourne station early evening that same day – there was immediate evidence of a storm brewing, with the exposed esplanade suffering the worst of the gales.
We booked into the modest “Da Vinci” hotel on Howard Square (by this time it was well dark – the time of dusk in the UK being another factor that had slipped our minds, during our absence) undertook a brief unpacking session then – wrapping up sufficiently against the increasing elements – snuck into town to see what we could find still open, for a bit of dinner.
Luckily, we chanced upon the “Qualisee” fish and chips restaurant, managing to place an order within 10 minutes of their kitchen closing (by this time it was just coming up to 9.00 pm -however with the weather “closing in” their was little activity or atmosphere on the streets of Eastbourne) by way of a very accommodating staff, with our waitress being a fellow Scot!
On New Year’s Eve – as a result of a wander through the town’s “Chelsea” district earlier in the day (the previous evening’s inclement weather having abated somewhat) we booked dinner at a charming little pub/restaurant called the “Dolphin”, half-way up South Street. In fact, so relaxing was the vibe in the Dolphin - when I popped in there to personally confirm the booking, mid-afternoon, on Thursday past - we decided to assist in “depleting” their mulled-wine reserves, subsequently enjoying a very pleasant hour or so with the wine and the papers.
Although we enjoyed dinner at the Dolphin later that same evening, we became somewhat undecided as to whether we “hang on” and see in the New Year, in the bar part of the establishment where – by now, just after 11.00 pm - things were approaching raucous stage. A decision was therefore taken to slip back to the hotel and toast New Year from the “safety” of our cosy hotel room: it just, somehow, didn’t feel like “our people” back there in the bar.
So there you go: time to push on to see what the New Year may bring and what opportunities await us all. One last BB King track for you guys, off his heralded Xmas album of 2001: this is also appropriate for New Year, with his rendition of “Auld Lang Syne”. Happy New Year! XXXX
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