‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 8)
This week, Mick gives us an insight into life on the road with Uriah Heep. From chicken and rice to bunk beds and snoring… Click here to read Mick’s previous columns.
It is a big week coming up, getting ready to go on tour for six weeks across Europe. There is always so much to do on the home front before you leave, to make sure your family are okay in your absence, plus packing ,which after over 40 years of touring is still a nightmare for me. The first thing to pack, of course, is your sense of humour, because on a long tour like this you will be needing it. Heep is a 24-legged animal (band and crew) that, for the most part, is synched to perfection, we do however have moments of everyone going in different directions at the same time, and throwing everything into chaos. Such is life on the road. Somewhere down the line, road burn always kicks in, and you do not know what day it is, what time it is, and even where you are. There is a serious element of Groundhog day here, with each day meshing into the other, where you do not know if it is a weekend or even a bank holiday. As well as packing your stage clothes, and day-to-day clothes, you have to think ahead for the many hours on the tour bus and hotel rooms, and how you can be entertained. The essential items for me are an iPod, DVD player plus DVDs, lap top, books, Sudoku, Nintendo, Tascam portable recorder, and my travel guitar. The last two important items are for getting song ideas down for the next CD, when inspiration strikes.
We meet up with the 14-bunk sleeper bus at our manager Martin Darvill’s office in Buckinghamshire, load up and off we go. There is always a dog fight to get the bunk you want, with the quiet sleepers at the front and the snorers at the back. To be honest it all sounds like animal farm wherever you choose. Those that think they do not snore most certainly do, especially after a good drink, so there is no perfect solution or escape. We usually leave around 10.30pm, and pick up Russell (Gilbrook, drummer) and Phil (Lanzon, keyboards) on the way to catch the ferry at Dover, as they live en route. What I hate about the ferry crossing is that you get the 2am crossing to France which is 3am their time, as they are one hour ahead, and you have to get off the bus when it is on the ferry, and sit in the cafe like a zombie, until it docks at 5am. So you have most of your first night awake, when you should be sleeping, before eventually crashing out in your bunk at 5.30am, to arrive at the first concert, which in this case was the Rosenhof in Osnabruck Germany.
On arrival we had a quick cup of coffee and a makeshift breakfast at the venue, and while the crew started to load in the equipment, we went to the hotel for an hour’s sleep in a non moving bed, and to shower for the gig. We were given the tour itinerary by our German tour manager Bernie Zylka, which is always called the Book Of Lies, the title of which Phil and I used for one of our songs on Wake The Sleeper. For the most part the itinerary information is correct, but invariably there are things that are wrong in it, which is where the book of lies title comes in. At 5pm we went down for the sound check. Once we are all comfortable with our equipment , we ran through the new songs, and I can report it all went terribly well. It was the first time we had a chance to see the new Celebration backdrop up, and it looked great. After the sound check we had dinner at the venue (weiner schnitzel, chicken, pasta and rice, plus a salad) and generally sat around until stage time at 9 pm.
For a Thursday night it was a pretty healthy crowd and from the opening song Wake the Sleeper the set flew by. This is the first time we have played this new set, and it was received fantastically well, and when we left the stage they were chanting ‘zugabe’ (encore) with gusto, and with a few tweaks on the running order tomorrow night , I am confident that it will be a good stonking set, in true Heep style. It is always the same because you can rehearse all you like in the rehearsal room, but there is nothing like playing in front of a live audience to find out the best running order, and the highs and the lows. After the show there was the obligatory shouting and banter, a few drinks and some after show pizzas. Then we went back to the hotel, showered and went to bed at 1am. In the morning we were up at 7am, a quick breakfast, and we started our journey of 430 km (267 miles) to the next gig in Speyer, Germany.
On the tour bus in the morning the band sat up chatting about last night’s show and how we can improve it, and the crew went straight to their bunks. It is always good to have the first show under your belt so it is one show down and 29 to go! We arrived in Speyer and the venue, Halle 101, was right next to the famous Museum Of Transport, with huge jumbo jet planes and fighter planes on tall poles out front that look very impressive. Unfortunately there was no time to visit the museum due to our tight schedule. The sound check was cool, and the necessary tweaks from last night were made. Thomas Neutz and his wife Petra (Shure Microphones) came to see us, and it is always good to see them. Shure Germany, through Thomas, have supported Heep with their microphones, and in-ear systems for a long time now, and it is a pleasure working with them. The equipment is of the highest quality, and most importantly with a hard touring band like Heep, reliable. Thomas gave everyone Shure T-shirts that will be most welcome down the line, when the dirty washing piles up in our suitcases.
The show was fantastic but blisteringly hot, with no air on stage, and over a 1,000 people in the hall. When we came off stage we could wring out our stage clothes, and that left huge puddles on the floor. We have not had a hot one like that in a long while. After some discussion it was decided that there were more improvements to make to the set list, which we will do at the next sound check. We keep fine tuning things until we are 100% happy with it. After a short signing at the merchandising stand with Jacqueline, it was back to the hotel and off to bed at 2am. We were up at 8am, and had an hour for breakfast and to pack and shower, then back on the bus for a 270K (168 mile) journey to Bad Arolsen and the venue called The Outback. The show was brilliant, and the Outback is a nice venue, with all the facilities you need to put on a good show. After this show we had a 14 hour overnight journey to Gleisdorf Austria and a day off, so it was party time, until there was no option but to crawl into your bunk, and let the snoring begin. The tour diary will continue next week, so see you then.