June 5th 2004, Bologna, Italy.
After we left Spain with our motorhomes, we headed towards Italy, for an early afternoon festival appearance alongside bands like UFO, Stratovarius, and headliners Judas Priest. Among all of the bands showing up in either tourbuses, or being driven back and forth via shuttle between airport & hotel, our two motorhomes were quite the sight, being parked in plain sight for all to admire or mock; whichever they thought more applicable.
I don’t know who the cook was as I had better things to do, I think it may have been Jamie, but someone on the band motorhome had decided to make a special show out of it, preparing English breakfast in the motorhome’s ‘kitchen’ for all people backstage to see and smell.
As a gimmick, the festival had prepared Italian sky blue football jerseys for all band members with their names, and Anathema wouldn’t be Anathema if they wouldn’t wear them on stage later on. And as if I had known in advance, I had packed my AS Roma jersey for this tour. Not quite the same tone of blue, but I knew what I’d be wearing for the show.
Preparations on stage went as planned; Mick had started setting up the drum riser, I had set up our cabs and amps on dolly’s for easy on/off, had started re-stringing guitars, and we had parked our ‘deads’ (for those not in the know, ‘deads’ are what we call our empty flightcases)/ For Anathema a ‘flightcase’ does not follow that by the strictest of terms; leather suitcase, cardboard box, old-fashioned trunk, they’re all ‘flightcases’.
As I was tuning guitars, Skid, a colleague crew member, asked me if I would please work for Nevermore as well; they were without a guitar tech for that show, and were shopping for one. I had not done this before, nor had I worked with Nevermore in the past, but I liked the prospect of doing an extra show, and build my network. A quick pow-wow with Mick later, on whether we could work out our post-show plan with that change included, I confirmed.
Mick and I would pack down our gear together, leave it on stage near the ramp, and after I’d finish with Nevermore, I would see to it that our gear made it back to the trailer, as I typically made the tetris/pack.
Despite it being the band’s only festival show on this tour, and as such, not having a proper soundcheck, the band rocked it. They seemed to be having had a lot of fun. From my point of view; all went smooth, it all went smoothly, with a few minor tweaks to montor settings.
Last note was struck, the band took their bows, and it was time for Mick and me to move gear off stage, and pack down. As we had agreed, we’d leave our gear by the top of the ramp, for me to handle after finishing with Nevermore.
Time for Nevermore, now. My first task was to have a quick chat with the band, to hear what gear they had, who played which instrument, what their monitor needs were, and obviously what tuning they were in. Steve had brought up a recurring issue on one of his guitars, the strap peg kept coming off. That was no ‘new issue’ to me, as I had seen, and successfully fixed that previously. From my plentiful cornucopia of tools, tricks, and spares, I pulled what I needed, and minutes later I promised Steve it would not be coming off again anytime soon.
And off we went, all smooth sailing from here. Pun intended, when saying “sailing”. We started the show with wonderful weather, not too warm, not too sunny, and no wind. For some reason, I had either decided to, or forgotten, to tape down the setlists. And maybe it was meant to be that way.
Towards the end of the show, setlists started shifting a little, and within a minute they tried to take off. Obviously a bit of wind had picked up. A quick “get those setlists taped down” later, all was good again, but when I looked behind me, I saw the backdrop becoming more of a sail, as did the whole stage structure. Black clouds were forming behind the stage, and bad weather was heading our way. Rapidly. Those winds were really picking up speed!
As soon as the show was over, and seeing what was about to happen, I pulled our gear (guitars, pedals, and leads) off stage a lot quicker than I’d usually do. I packed the guitars as quickly as I possibly could; the stage manager was already instructing everyone to evacuate the stage, as the back and left side of the stage covering were billowing dangerously, and hailstones had already started coming down on us.
Oh no! What about all the anathema gear!!! I am never going to get all of that off stage inside a minute, and stupidly selflessly, I asked the stage manager for permission to continue at my own risk to get my gear off stage. Obviously, he did not allow me to. As I left the stage, I saw stage construction crew and fire brigade personnel cutting tie lines, so the stage would have a little more freedom of movement; in a desperate attempt to prevent the whole structure from tipping forward, where the audience were still being evacuated. For the next 30 or so minutes; they seemed like hours at that moment, I kept pacing back and forth like a polar bear; waiting for the “all clear”, so I could get back to stage, and pull our gear off stage, hoping frantically our gear would not have taken too much damage. Because damage there would be. Just the extent of the damage was unclear to all of us. worries abound.
Except for Jamie! Happily playing air guitar with the Gods of Metal and Weather, as they provided for hail stone blastbeats to help him keep the pace.
Finally, we got the “all clear!”
The stage had been completely destroyed! The roof had been ripped to pieces. All of the moving heads in the overhead trusses had for sure gotten sever water damage, and quite possibly structural damage as well. All of U.F.O.’s and Stratovarius’ backline, especially their drumkits, had suffered greatly, as their gear was already fully prepared in the change-over area without any change to protect or remove it anymore.
No word yet of what happened to our gear, or how severly it had gotten destroyed. Would anything of it still be salvageable?
Three, I repeat, three drops of rain on the original cardboard box that Danny’s Rectifier travelled in was all the damage we’d incurred. Nothing else; not even a puddle of water, or any bits of stage that had fallen on our gear. How was that possible, with all the carnage around us!?!?1?
But here was fate, telling us to count our blessings, but not relax just yet! Right above our gear, a giant water bulge in one of the few remaining bits of stage covering hung there, like Damocles’ sword; waiting to obliterate our gear. No time to lose then! Mick and me got our trailer pushed (more like a boat than a trailer on wheels) to the stage ramp, and rushed our gear off stage as fast as we could. If that bulge would burst, at the very worst, our gear would be getting splashes of that water crashing down, rather than be drowned by it.
U.F.O.’s and Stratovarius’ shows were cancelled (Stratovarius actually managed to do their show the next day), either because of damage, or the simple fact that if any show were to go ahead that evening, it would be Judas Priest’s. That’s the way things go when there’s unexpected delays or stoppage time at a festival. The headliner’s show gets protected, and whoever else manages to hang on, gets to play as well, and any band that needs to be cut, has no recourse.
After several hours of patching what could be patched, and replacing what had to be, finally, the Judas Priest could go ahead. Obviously with a much more basic lightshow (and whatever else was too compromised to be used), but the crowd loved it nevertheless.