‘Appy Days: The Mick Box Column (No. 9)
This week, Mick gives us an insight into life on the road with Uriah Heep. Hotels, venues, DVDs, guitar nightmares, traffic jams. The usual… Click here to read previous columns from Mick.
Well, we arrived at 3am in Gleisdorf, Austria after a 14-hour overnight journey. The driving laws are such that every four hours the driver has to have a 45-minute break. Add that, and any traffic jams you may incur, to the driving time, and it takes forever to get anywhere. Knowing that, we had an extra driver fly over from England to help share the load as it was 865k (537 miles). We are also carrying a huge trailer with our backline in it, which slows us down somewhat, as we can only travel at 80k per hour (just under 50mph), but there is no way you can avoid the traffic jams, and we were stuck in one of them for over an hour last night.
On the journey we watched a DVD. We wanted to watch something light and funny so we put on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Bruno. Blimey, after Borat, and now this, I am surprised he has not been shot. Talk about pushing it to the limits, and to think he went to the same school as my son Romeo goes to.
As it was a day off, everyone checked into the hotel, and agreed to meet up at 7pm for dinner. Our German tour manager, Bernie, located a nice Italian restaurant, and band and crew met in the hotel bar and had a couple of beers. Then we walked to the restaurant and had a brilliant meal. Afterwards the crew went to a Guinness bar (showing crew-type stamina, as most of them were still up at 5.30am partying on the bus last night) and the band all went to their respective rooms to watch DVDs. I watched Tom Hanks in Angels And Demons. It was a good movie but, boy, it was long. I have to admit I nodded off twice, but there again I do have the attention span of a goldfish sometimes.
MONDAY November 16th. City: Gleisdorf, Austria. Venue: Forum Kolster.
Trevor Bolder banged on my door this morning and we went for breakfast. The support band tonight is Big Brother And The Holding Company, the same one that used to feature the late Janis Joplin. I hope I get to catch them tonight as I will be interested in hearing them. After breakfast Trevor, Russell Gilbrook and I went for a walk, and it was good to get some fresh air, and some exercise after being cooped up in the bus and hotel room. Russell bought a plug for his DVD player, Trevor bought some toiletries, and I bought Romeo my son some Xmas presents.
We had to get back to the hotel at 12 midday for some interviews, as they were phoning our rooms. I had an interview with Lukasc Wiewor from Poland (Teraz Rock magazine). It went very well and the rest of the boys did a few each from their rooms. Between all of us we did a further six interviews with Spanish magazines, which in my eyes shows a lot of interest in that territory. That’s a suprise, as we have not played Spain for ages. I hope these interviews go some way to rectifying that.
We are sound checking at 4pm, so we will make the final touches to the set, and then we will be 100% happy with it. Bernie Shaw felt a tightening of the throat from the overnight bus journey, so he has gone to the doctor for a quick check-up. To be honest, of all the vocalists we have had Bernie is the most durable singer ever, and I am sure he will be okay. Just in case, and as a safety net, the doctor is on our guest list for tonight. The downside of bus tours is that once someone comes down with a cough or a cold, it usually gets passed on, as we are all in close proximity, and breathing the same air that’s pumped through the air conditioning in the bunks at night.
With a bit of spare time after the interviews today, I have completed a couple of (fiendish) Times Sudokus, and started a new book. My wife Sheila runs a book club, and recommended this one to me. It is a thriller called The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I have read the first 100 pages and it is a bit of a page-turner. I am totally hooked on the storyline. I have also had the chance to listen to some music, and I put on Robert Plant’s Fate Of Nations, which I really like. There are some nice guitar parts and sounds, plus real sounding drums. I love the song 29 Palms, and Robert’s version of If I Were A Carpenter is great.
We arrived at the hall early, so that we could see some of the Big Brother And The Holding Company show. They were good, and they have a female singer called Mary Bridget Davies who was excellent. The music was all a bit spacey at times, but they went down well. When Mary was told they were playing a show with Uriah Heep, she could not believe it, and before she got on the plane from Cleveland, USA, to Austria, she packed her Salisbury and Demons & Wizards vinyl, so that she could get them autographed.
I am kicking myself, as I wanted to ask them how they came about their name, but the opportunity did not arise, and I still do not know. I just think it is an odd name for a band, and just this side of naff. Well that is my opinion, anyway. However our show was terrific, all except for my guitar in the song July Morning. The nut at the top of the fingerboard collapsed, and left the strings just flapping about all over the place. By the time I got to the held sustain note at the end, it had died and was unplayable. Christos, my guitar technician, will have his work cut out tomorrow to get it up and running again. Other than that it was a killer show, and we signed plenty of autographs at the end, and had plenty of photographs taken with fans. After that it was back to the hotel for a shower and bed.
TUESDAY November 17th. City: Wien (Vienna), Austria. Venue: Szene.
We left at 10am after a good breakfast to travel the 170km (105 miles). On arrival in Wien the band went to the hotel and the crew to the gig. Because the hotel is at least 30 minutes from the venue, and it will be peak-time traffic, we have decided to do a late soundcheck at 6pm, and stay down at the venue.
On the bus journey to Wien, we put on a DVD The Rolling Stones Rock ‘N’ Roll Circus filmed in December 11th 1968. This was a concert in a circus big top tent complete with trapeze artists and fire-eaters. Playing live were Jethro Tull (with Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath on guitar), The Who, Taj Mahal, Dirty Mac (John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, and Keith Richards on bass), Yoko Ono and Yehudi Menuin on violin, Marianne Faithfull and The Rolling Stones.
It should have been called the Rolling Stoned Rock ‘N’ Roll Circus, as there are many glassy-eyed looks from all concerned, with lots of inane grinning. Jethro Tull were good, The Who were, well, The Who, playing a mini rock opera, Dirty Mac were barely passable, and when they were joined by Yoko Ono, screaming on top of a 12-bar blues with Yehudi Menuin on violin, well… no comment. Marianne Faithfull looked lovely and sang okay, but it was the Stones who stole the day, especially Mick Jagger’s performance, which was outstanding in such a small venue. It is worth a purchase just to see the above musicians in that unique environment, and capturing the feel of the late 60s music scene.
In the hotel I have been watching the 2009 FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup in Dubai. It has been fantastic to watch and, boy, do you have to be fit for that. Playing on sand barefoot must be draining, but they have some wonderful skills, and there are some spectacular goals.
After the soundcheck and before the show I did a video interview with Declan Maynes (Rattlesnake Productions). The project is called GUITAR’D. By all accounts I was in good company, as the last interview he did was with Malcolm Young of AC/DC and the other interviews were the likes of Joe Satriani, Stevie Vai, Steve Luthaker, Paul Gilbert and Johnny Winter, etc. It was a good relaxed interview and most enjoyable.
Well, I can report a sell-out show in Vienna (Wien) and it was a really good show. Christos, my guitar technician, did a sterling job on getting my signature guitar back in shape with the collapsed nut from last night; the strings sit in at the top end of the fingerboard, and at the sound check it was fine. In the show, though, where you play that little bit harder, the top E string kept popping out of the nut at the most inappropriate moments. For instance, three times in the Look At Yourself long jam solo at the end of the song. Nothing like keeping you on your toes, but the audience loved it, and gave us a huge roar at the end… so ’appy days!
By tomorrow night’s show, and a little Christos magic, it will hopefully bed down. Also on the acoustic song The Wizard my strap fell off, making life difficult to play the intricate picking part, holding the guitar up in my hands at the same time, but over the years you get used to dealing with these sort of problems on stage, and it becomes a challenge to overcome them. That is when experience really comes in to play.
There were two well-earned encores, and we left the stage feeling pretty good. We left the venue about an hour later, and signed lots of autographs, and had pictures taken in the front of the club with the waiting fans, then jumped in to waiting cars and back to the hotel.
WEDNESDAY November 18th. City: Spielberg, Austria. Venue: Roter Saal.
The bus call was at 9.30am and off we went to Spielberg, which was a 200km (125 mile) drive. The hotel and the venue are in the same building tonight, so that makes things a lot easier with transport etc. The hotel is called Grand Prix Hotel which as you may or may not know, is the name of a band that both Phil Lanzon and Bernie were once in together. Well, the Grand Prix bit, anyway. On the bus journey Phil and Russell wanted to watch the latest Spider-Man movie, and as the TV screen is literally five feet from where I am typing this, I will make a nice cup of tea and join in, as it is hard to concentrate. Sure enough you could walk from your room right into the venue, through a joined hallway/walkway, so that was great.
After the soundcheck we went to this restaurant for dinner. It was only 10 minutes away by car, and it was built like a castle. It was unique and the food was excellent. The beautiful waitress who served us said that she saw us play 15 years ago in Austria when she was indeed 15 years old, so after dinner we had a few pictures with her, which she was really happy about. The show was excellent and probably the best sound on stage thus far. I still managed to snap my guitar strap off in the song Angels Walk With You, but kept going until the next song.
I am having a little run of it lately, so hopefully this bit of bad luck will soon be out of the way. We did a signing at the merchandising stand that was good, and then back to the hotel for a shower and on to the bus for an overnighter. The journey was 620k (385 miles) and once on board there were DVDs being played in the downstairs lounge, as well as in the upstairs lounge, and coupled with a good drink up, it was an active bus there for a while. A few of us went to bed, but Phil stayed up with the crew into the wee small hours, and there was laughter a plenty going on, making sleep difficult until they all succumbed to the bunk. Believe me, that is the polite version.
THURSDAY November 19th. City: Bad Rappenau, Germany. Day Off.
We arrived at 11.30am and checked in to the hotel where we managed to get them to rustle up some breakfast, which was very nice of them, as the breakfast things had been cleared away. Then we all went to our rooms for a catch-up nap in a non-moving bed, and a bit of peace and quiet after that noisy journey. After a rest, Bernie, Trevor and myself went for a walk around the old town for an hour. We are actually staying in a place called Bad Wimpfen and it is a lovely small town with lots of history.
As usual on our days off we all meet in the bar at 7pm (band and crew) and have a few beers then off to a restaurant. Ian ‘Scampi’ Bintliff, our UK tour manager, has located a Greek restaurant in the old town, so we have a table booked for 8pm. I can report the food at the Greek restaurant was great. Everyone was very happy with the meal, and after a few glasses of schnapps, we all waddled back to the hotel pleasantly plump and happy. A few went to the hotel bar which was dead, and the rest off to bed.
FRIDAY November 20th. City: Bad Rappenau, Germany, Venue: Muehitalhallety.
In the morning Trevor and I went for a long walk, to keep up with our exercise and fresh air regime. We had to get back by midday for some phone interviews. I have a couple with Norway and Poland, and Trevor with Spain. The show tonight is with Manfred Mann. We are doing a double headline bill for a few a shows on this tour. That is where we flip-flop who goes on last. At the toss of a coin, Manfred is on last tonight, and we have the early bath. I quite like going on first, as you get the chance to make your mark, and leave a ‘follow that’ taste in their mouths. Then you get to have a nice relaxing drink and watch their show.
Manfred and I have been friends for many years now, and it is always good to see him. We go right back to the Bronze Records days when we were labelmates, and he even played the moog solo at the end of the song Look At Yourself on the original version. Heep and Manfred have played many shows together over the years, and it makes for a really good concert and a great evening of music. Manfred’s guitarist Mick Rodgers is an old mate of mine too, and it is always good to hear him play, as he is a fine player with a nice touch. The other good reason I am happy about being first on is that we have a 6am wakeup call the next day, so in my eyes it is a win-win situation.
Tonight is the first concert where we are recording the Official Concert Live Bootleg series, so it will be interesting. The show was a sell-out and we had a fantastic night. The audience were brilliant and chanting for more, more, more. By all accounts the recording went fine, and the packaging from what I could see looks really good. We stayed to see Manfred Mann for a few songs and they sounded great. Good players and a number of hits is always a good combination.
SATURDAY November 21st. City: Krefeld, Germany. Venue: Kulturfabrik.
With a 6am leave and a 360k (224 miles) journey, most of the crew decided to sleep on the bus after the concert, and just arrive at the gig. The rest of us went for the 6am wake-up, with a few hours in a hotel bed, a quick breakfast at 6.30am, and straight to our bunk on the sleeper bus on departure. We arrived at the venue, which is an old converted abattoir, and the good news is that it is a sell-out. We are staying for lunch as we have to do the early soundcheck because tonight we are closing the show over Manfred Mann.
At the venue there is a washing machine, so there was a mad rush of excitement to use it first. I have to report that Bernie and Phil won the race, having to bear a large degree of expletive name-calling in the process. Martin Darvill, our manager, arrived and it was good to see him. He brought a bunch of mail and stuff for all of us, including Trevor’s new guitar picks with his signature, the UH logo and his beloved Hull football team logo on them. We had a good catch-up meeting with Martin, and there are many exciting things happening next year that are already in the pipeline – and a lot of it confirmed already.
Well, it must be because we were recording the show tonight with Concert Live The Official Bootleg that my run of bad luck at show time continued. My wah-wah broke down in the middle of the Book Of Lies solo, and on the guitar change for Corridors Of Madness, the change was successful, but there was a deafening silence. Christos was plugging and unplugging things to make it work, and managed to get it working quickly, so I could join in missing only a few bars.
There was also a feedback note from somewhere when Bernie and Phil were performing the song Rain. Also, on the intro to The Wizard, some overzealous guy at the front reached out to try and touch me, and I had to quickly jump back, so he did not touch the guitar. Other than that it was a wonderful night and the crowd were super-receptive, and demanded encores, which we were only too happy to play. We went back to the hotel, and had a shower, then a quick drink in the bar with Martin, and then jumped on the bus for another overnight journey. This time to Winterthur Switzerland which is 580k (360 miles)
Well, that was the week that was, and I will be back for more of the same next week.’Appy Days!
Tags: AC/DC, Bernie Shaw, Big Brother And The Holding Company, Eric Clapton, Grand Prix, Janis Joplin, Jethro Tull. Yoko Ono, Joe Satriani, John Lennon, Johnny Winter, keith Richards, Malcolm Young, Manfred Mann, Mary Bridget Davis, Mick Box, Mick jagger, Mick Rodgers, Mitch Mitchell, Paul Gilbert, Phil Lanzon, Robert Plant, Rolling Stones, Russell Gilbrook, Steve Lukather, Steve Vai, Taj Mahal, The Mick Box Column, The Who, Tony Iommi, Trevor Bolder, Uriah Heep, Yehudi Menhiun