‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 11)
This week, Mick Box has been mostly eating goulash, sorting out guitar problems, scoffing birthday cake and bouncing around on a tour bus! Click here to read Mick’s previous columns.
SUNDAY, November 29. City: Augsburg, Germany. Day Off.
We left the hotel at 10am to travel the 350k (218 miles) to Augsburg. I had a nice breakfast with Manfred Mann talking about the old Bronze records days, and we shared many a laugh. With everyone on board the bus, first up on the DVD player was a concert by the Leningrad Cowboys in Helsinki with a Russian choir, complete with Kazak dancers. Bernie Sylka, our German tour manager, worked on this show, and there were 138 people on stage for the finale. Now that takes some organising, so kudos to him.
It was a reasonably quiet journey, and I managed to get a lot of work done on my laptop. We stopped once for lunch as the driver Ian had to have the obligatory 45 minute stop, and I had a goulash soup and a salad. Goulash soups in German truck stops are the best you can get anywhere, and most times we stop, we always end up having one. They are tasty and good for warming you up on a freezing winter’s day. We arrived in time to have a couple of hours in our room before dinner. As per usual we met up in the bar at 7pm. Scampi, our UK tour manager, had booked a table for us in a Mexican restaurant, only 10 minutes’ walk from the hotel, and it was excellent. The food was great, but better still from the moment we arrived to the time we left, they kept it as Happy Hour for the cocktails, as the owner was a Heep fan. After having a picture taken of him with and the band, there were free drinks all around, and a good night was had by all.
On this tour so far we have had some amazing luck with restaurants on our days off. Believe me, this is not always the case as it is pretty much pot luck.
MONDAY, November 30. City: Augsburg, Germany. Venue: Spectrum Musikclub (first night).
After breakfast Trevor Bolder, Russell Gilbrook and myself went for an hour’s walk around the park that’s just outside the hotel. During the day I managed to get quite a bit of work done, and we have decided to have a late soundcheck, then have dinner, then perform the show. So staying down at the venue was the order of the day.
I have been having trouble with my acoustic guitars this trip and not getting a satisfactory sound. It is nothing that would be noticed out front (I hope) but it is just a personal thing. This is partly due to a different P/A and monitor system each night. However, I telephoned Hofner Guitars Germany and spoke with Graham Stockley, and he is kindly bringing two acoustic guitars to the show tonight for me to try. He is driving two hours there and two hours back after the show, so I much appreciate that.
Well, the show was great, and the audience was chanting for more long after we had been in the dressing room. The Hofner guitars were brilliant and I am very happy. They sound good, play good and look good. Can’t get much better than that. Graham also brought a nice Hofner analogue chorus pedal that I put the acoustic through, and it sounds really cool, especially on the song The Wizard. It is a nice open chorus, which I like. Some chorus pedals swamp the sound of the actual guitar, but this is just right. I feel in a way I have gone full circle, as my first real electric guitar was a Hofner, so how cool is that! The merchandising signing was good with plenty of autographs and pictures taken, and after that it was back to the dressing room for pizzas, a few drinks then back to the hotel.
TUESDAY, December 1. City: Augsburg, Germany. Venue: Spectrum Musikclub (second night).
I had a quick breakfast, and then went on a long walk through the park again with Trevor. It was raining; the type of fine rain that really soaks you through, so I borrowed an umbrella from reception and off we went. The good thing about these long walks most days is that it will prepare me for when I get home, and I am put on Elvis dog-walking duty. Tonight we are exactly half way through the tour, but in all honesty it seems like we have been away for months. I am really missing my family at home. Bernie Shaw has had his wife, Radka, and their daughter, Maddy, out with him for five days, Phil Lanzon has had his Patina with him for one day (Augsburg), and even Scampi, our UK tour manager, has had his wife Sue out with him in Munich. I cannot do this, as my wife Sheila has to work, Romeo my son, is at school, and then there is our dog Elvis. Still, I do telephone every day, and email and send pictures as often as I can. By the time I get home I will be ready for a good Xmas, and quality time with the family.
The first half of this tour has been fantastic, and I feel there is a real buzz about the band, and the reception we have been getting from the audience each night has been brilliant, and that really drives you on. As we are playing in the same venue tonight, we have decided that the show last night was enough of a soundcheck, so this will be the first day we will not do one. The other nice thing about doing two shows in the same venue is that we did not have to pack and jump on the bus this morning. Luxury! Still, that will soon be over, as tonight after the second show in Augsburg, we are doing an overnighter to Prague in the Czech Republic, then a show, and then an overnighter back to Germany. It is 403km (250 miles) to Prague, so today we will make the most of the rooms. The show in Prague is already sold out, so with that thought firmly implanted in our minds, it will take away some of the pain of the overnighters.
The second show in Augsburg was very good, and once again the shouts for more were still going long after we were back in the dressing room, even after doing the encore. I was delighted as our promoter, Mike Durrschmidt, kindly drove up to Augsburg from Munich with my new order of Wyres electric guitar strings from Canada. Christos, my guitar tech, put them on my electric guitars and they were great. They feel good, stay in tune and have a little top end to them which does not go amiss, as there is so much bottom end coming from stage left with Trevor and Phil. I have been using Wyres guitar strings on my acoustics the whole tour, and they have been great, and are a perfect match for my new Hofner acoustics. We did a really nic signing at the merchandising stand, and then we went back to the hotel for a quick shower and off to Prague.
WEDNESDAY, December 2. City: Prague, Czech Republic. Venue: Lidovy dum Kbely.
The journey to Prague was relatively quiet, with most of us hitting the bunks after about an hour. Some of the roads in the Czech Republic leave a lot to be desired, and coupled with a lot of roadworks, lying in that little bunk lost a lot of its charm, as we were being thrown around from side to side over the bumps. So most of us were up and ready an hour or two before we arrived at the hotel, and having a cup of tea. This was most unusual. Everyone checked in and had a little breakfast, and then disappeared into their rooms.
Russell said that he had a swollen thumb on his right hand that gave him a little bother last night in Augsburg. So on arrival we got him down to the hospital to get it checked out. It is always good to have these things checked straight away. He came back with it strapped up, and was told by the doctor that it is a build up of blood where he holds the drumstick tight – and if you have seen Russell play, he does not hold back when hitting his kit, so there lies the problem. However, he managed to get a drum glove that has padding on the thumb to try at the soundcheck, and to help him get through the show. The crew went down early to start the load in, and the band joined them later for the soundcheck. We decided to stay down at the venue, as the dressing room facilities were good, and we could relax there, and dinner was there too. Also the bus was parked outside with full power, so if anyone wanted they could watch a film, or even get some shut eye.
Phil and Russ took the film option on the bus, thereby preventing anyone else having a bit of shut eye, as the volume on the TV was so loud, with plenty of killing and gunfire etc. All the DVDs on the bus are privately owned by Ian, our bus driver, and to be honest apart from a couple of comedy DVDs, and a couple of sci-fi ones, it is pretty much killing and gunfire with whatever DVD you put on, so there is no hope.
The soundcheck went without a hitch and Russ coped well with the glove on, and you would never know there was a problem. So if you see pictures of Russ with a glove on, you now know the full story. It is not a fashion statement. The promoter told us that this show had been sold out the minute they had announced it, so as you can imagine everybody was happy. Before the show, we had a meeting with the Mayor of Prague district nine, who came in the dressing room with his entourage for photographs, which was nice. I think there are 12 districts in Prague. However, in the audience with two big minders was the overall Mayor of Prague, who by all accounts is a Heep fan, and loves his rock music. We did not get to meet him, but it was not a bad showing on the mayor front, methinks!
It was a really good show, and there was a feeling that the audience were with you from note one, and it was good to see so many happy faces. Bernie’s wife, Radka, is from the Czech Republic, so there were a lot of family and friends of theirs too in the audience, which made it a special occasion. Bernie and Radka’s little girl Maddy came on stage at the end, dressed in her little white angel outfit, complete with wings, and Bernie got her to say hello and goodbye in Czech to the audience before she jumped up in Daddy’s arms, waving goodbye with the rest of us. We did an autograph signing, and then went back to the hotel for a shower, before yet another overnighter. This time back to Germany. Bernie watched a Steven Seagal film called Driven To Kill that was dreadful, and most of us hit the bunks, where we bounced around trying to get some sleep. To be perfectly honest, I think Bernie would watch a test card, if that was all there was to watch, because that is how he unwinds in front of the TV.
THURSDAY, December 3. City: Reichenbach, Germany. Venue: die Halle.
We arrived at the hotel and all crawled off the bus, and into the reception of the hotel. A lot of the rooms were not prepared so we had breakfast, and waited to hear our names called out to say our rooms were ready. One of the things about touring like this, is that you see a lot of what we call ‘bus head’. That is where people crawl out of their bunks on arrival, and collect all of their belongings, and walk into the hotel, without brushing their hair. Generally everyone’s hair then looks like a mad dog’s dinner, all over the place. Well today this was in abundance at breakfast, and goodness knows what the hotel staff thought. We wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Halloween party for sure.
After checking into our rooms, Trevor and I went out for an hour’s walk. There was very little to see, but we did find a residential recording studio called The House Of Music that was in a business park. We went to check it out, as there was a big picture of David Bowie hanging in the window. We were having a good nose, looking through the glass doors, as it looked closed, and then the manager saw us, and came out and let us in. You can imagine her surprise when she saw Trevor, as we all know he was with David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars, and she was equally surprised to see members of Uriah Heep there, too. She kindly showed us around, and then we put her on the guest list for tonight, and then went back to the hotel. Once again we are staying down at the venue after the soundcheck as the hotel is at least 45 minutes from the venue, and of course we will be in peak traffic.
The Hofner acoustic guitars that I am now using on stage for Love In Silence, The Wizard, Free Me and Lady In Black came in soft cases, and Christos was a little concerned that they might get damaged, unless we can get hard shell cases to protect them. A quick call to Graham Stockley at Hofner and he will kindly bring some down this Friday (tomorrow) to our show in Schweinfurt, which is wonderful.
This was the smallest crowd on the tour in Reichenbach, but they still made a mighty noise. To be honest, it was a Thursday night, with work the next day, and the venue in the middle of nowhere, it did not surprise me. The closest big city was Stuttgart, with no public transport, so if people wanted to drink and not drive, this was impossible. Still, it was a good night, and Charlotte, our sound engineer, was very happy with the out-front sound, as at the soundcheck there was a lot of runaway bass end from the bass bins at the front of the stage, which worried her. Once the audience was in, this ceased to give her a problem, as this was soaked up by the numbers of people, and she was delighted. So it was thumbs-up all round when she came in to the dressing room – except for Russ whose thumb was already up. After a few drinks and pizzas it was back to the hotel, shower and bed.
FRIDAY, December 4. City: Schweinfurt, Germany. Venue: Stadthalle.
Luxury! We had a bus call at 10am. As the band and crew are all travelling together we usually have to leave at ungodly hours to get the crew to the venue for load in. We are only travelling 210km (130 miles) today so ‘appy days! No DVDs on this journey, but plenty of laughs at rock’n'roll stories being told by all and sundry. The stories ranged from Heep to Def Leppard, to The Rolling Stones, to Deep Purple with Ritchie Blackmore, Slade, Joe Cocker, and a funny story told by our German TM about drummers with Chuck Berry.
We arrived at the hotel and disappeared in to our rooms, while the crew dropped their bags and went down to the show for lunch, and the load in. Russell went with the crew to change his drum skins and Bernie joined him to have lunch. The soundcheck was cool, and after dinner we even had time to go back to the hotel for a couple of hours, as the venue was only 3km from the hotel. The Hofner acoustic guitar cases turned up with Graham in the afternoon, so Christos is a happy puppy now that the guitars are protected. After the soundcheck and dinner, Trevor and I did a TV interview with ARD-Bayerischis Fernsehan. They are putting this together with a few songs recorded tonight, to be broadcast in the Bavarian region of Germany, and for our show in Nuernburg later in the tour. Well, it is 17 shows played thus far, with 13 shows to go, including tonight. We are really hitting our stride now, and Russell’s thumb is even getting better, so ‘appy days indeed.
Before the show we had pictures taken with the Franken Wine Konigin (Queen). Bavarian Franken wine is from Peter Weber our drum technician’s region where he lives, hence the connection, and they bought along two cases of prize winning Eiswein for us, which was fantastic. Also Peter’s mother, Martha, was there with his brother Michael, so more pictures were taken. Peter’s mother always calls me Mickey Mouse when she sees me, and she gives me the biggest hugs and kiss. It was nice to see her so happy, and she is very proud of Peter working with Heep.
The show was fantastic and even after being in the dressing room 10 minutes after leaving the stage, they were still shouting for more, which was wonderful. The promoter appeared at the dressing room door with this huge chocolate cake saying ‘Happy 40th Anniversary Keep on Rockin’’ written in white icing, which was very nice of him. This ended up as a double celebration as on the stroke of midnight it was Charlotte’s birthday. We all crammed into the dressing room, band and crew, and gave her a card signed by everyone along with a Heep jacket from the merchandising. The champagne was opened, and we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her and had a good drink. Then it was back to the hotel, shower and bed by 2am.
SATURDAY, December 5, 2009. City: Vacha Venue: Vachwerk.
Well it was six hours’ sleep, then breakfast and then we left for the 135k (84mile) bus journey. The reason we left so early with such a short journey, is that tonight we have two support bands, one local and our good friends Andy Scott’s Sweet. We have to do our soundcheck early, to allow the other bands to have enough soundcheck time, hence the early start on a relatively short journey. However, it will be great to meet up with the Sweet boys again, as we always have a good laugh with them. Back to the bus! Bernie our German TM had arranged for a birthday cake to be delivered to the hotel this morning, and it arrived just in time, so once on the bus this was presented to Charlotte, as today is her birthday, and we all sang her ‘Happy Birthday’. She was delighted, and to be honest I think it is the liveliest I have ever seen the bus at 9am.
The band checked into the hotel and the crew went down to the venue for the load in. We followed later for our soundcheck, and as we were in the van literally 3km for the hotel, we passed Merkers Salt Mine where we did an acoustic show, on December 2, 2006. We did this show with an excellent Dutch support band called the Nits. This was a unique show, as it was 500 metres down the salt mine, and then a 5km drive through subterranean roads, of which there were 4,000km on all different levels. It took one hour and 30 minutes to get the 1,200 people down to the stage area, and they all had to wear white hard-hats. It looked like we were going to play a concert to 1,200 boiled eggs, wearing those white hard hats, but after a while and a few drinks, everyone relaxed and took them off. Merkers Salt Mine is also known for being the place where Hitler hid all of the Nazi treasures and gold.
When we eventually arrived at the Vacha venue after talking about the salt mine show for the whole journey, we walked into the dressing room, and the promoter had hung up lots of pictures from the salt mine show, which was great. After a smooth soundcheck and dinner, it was back to the hotel, as we are not on until 11pm tonight. Our usual stage time is 9.30pm, so it will be a late one. Tonight is our sixth consecutive show, and city, and tomorrow will be a much needed day off in Aschaffenburg. The show tonight in Vacha, which is in the eastern part of Germany, went very well, and the audience seemed to soak up every note that we played. Usually you see the audience reacting to what we do on stage, by smiling or waving or just singing along and dancing, but this audience stared intently towards the stage soaking up everything. After each song there was fantastic applause, and of course when we played the classic songs, they loosened up. At the end they were screaming for more, and sometimes it is nice to have different reactions, as it does make you work hard and keep you on your toes.
As we left the venue, outside the gates, there were two young boys who wanted their guitars signed, and they had been standing in the rain for a long time. Trevor and I took them into the venue and dried off their guitars, so that we could sign them, and Bernie our German TM went and found a good felt-tip pen so that we could sign the guitars. We also gave them guitar picks each, and they were very happy. We arrived back at the hotel to get to bed by 2.30am, but unfortunately we will only get seven hours sleep as we have to get up for breakfast that finishes at 10am. So it is 9.30am up and straight down for breakfast. We leave at 11am tomorrow for the 150km (93 mile) journey, and we have a welcome day off.
Thanks for reading the column and there will be more of the same next week.
Tags: Andy Scott's Sweet, Bernie Shaw, Chuck Berry, David Bowie, Deep Purple, Def Leppard, Joe Cocker, Leningrad Cowboys, Manfred Mann, Mick Box, Mick Box Column, Phil Lanzon, Ritchie Blackmore, Rolling Stones, Russell Gilbrook, Slade, The Mick Box Column, The Spiders From Mars, Trevor Bolder, Uriah Heep