It was June 2nd 2004, and Anathema were zooming across Europe; We were only a few days in, but had already seen enough of “why this, why now!?!?”
Already before the tour had started, things were going pear-shaped.
Due to another band on tour somewhere in Europe suffering a bus-fire, the tourbus that we were going to use for the tour, got given to them.
So, the evening before the tour start, we were told we’d be getting two motor homes for the tour, a 19 day run through southern and eastern Europe.
To give the crew a little bit of a break, a designated driver was added to the crew-vehicle, and the band members would be doing a self-drive.
Not having been given any bedding was a bit of an unexpected surprise, but who said you can’t cover yourself with band merchandise to keep warm overnight? And having three ‘double’ sleeping locations per motor home, and having five people per vehicle, all male, added to the annoyance (and the band would even have six band members sometimes, due to Lee, John’s sister, sometimes joining us for some of the shows).
The first few shows in France actually went quite ok, and we were getting up to speed, and preparing for a few heavy and challenging days in Spain.
Lucky for us, we had one of the best days off imaginable between Bergara and Murcia. We’d continued to drive a good bit beyond Madrid, and decided to shoot for a lake along the highway, and chill out there for the evening and night.
We found a lake, forgot the name and exact location of it, but it was an artificial lake, created by a dam, next to a castle-turned-ruin. Surrounded by orchards, and of course a beautiful sunny day.
It was only early afternoon, and soon we indulged in the obligatory and refreshing jumps in the lake, off the cliffs (I think they were about 10m tall).
Plans for dinner were being made, and it wasn’t that long before we settled on a massive barbeque & wine party.
Of course, none of us spoke any Spanish, so in the nearest village (still a good 30 minutes drive) we were forced to use hands, feet, animal sounds and other assorted funny gestures to find & get what we needed.
Anyone ever ordered several types of meat for 10 people at a butcher’s in Spain without using any real words? We did.
Armed with a few kilos of meat, all the necessary barbeque utensils, a few barrels of wine, and random other bits of drinks, food and leisure material, we returned to our little patch of paradise.
The only downer to our party was that our acoustic guitar didn’t survive the trip to paradise. Packed on top of all the gear inside the trailer (to keep safe) it had gotten destroyed by the sun beating down on the roof of the trailer; the fretboard of the guitar had come loose due to the glue softening inside its case.
But nevertheless, it was the best day off imaginable.
Next day, the show in Murcia was our first real challenge.
We had gotten there (including getting lost due to us not having navigation – this was still sort of pre-TomTom times – and very lacking driving instructions from the local promoter) several hours before we were supposed to do our load-in, but the doors were closed. And remained closed.
Several repeats of “yes, the local crew will be there in 15 minutes, and open the venue for you” passed. And finally, about four hours later, with just one hour left to get ready for the show, we rushed in, set up our gear for the show and made it, just.
But now were were facing an up-hill battle, steep, very steep.
Going two Madrid, and doing two shows in one day.
First off, our driver Dave, known to us as “Right, Dave”, due to his ‘not always following driving instructions’ and, with a nod to John Cleese in Clockwise, his ‘not always being sure how to distinguish between left and right’.
Until now, we’d always sort of gotten to where we needed to, with the help of Andy and me quickly jotting down rough descriptions to the next city, and then hoping to bump into a town map info sign.
But enroute to Madrid, all of a sudden we were brutally woken up in the middle of the night by racing off the highway and coming to a violent and abrupt stop in a bumpy field.
No accident, luckily, except random bits of food and drinks flying across the motor home interior, and all of us heavily shaken and stirred.
We never knew why Dave actually went off the highway here – no need to take any exits for the next few hundred miles either – but luckily he was clear-headed enough to not get us killed because of the exit all of a sudden changing into a bumpy field. It was literally an exit ramp off the highway, going straight ahead towards a non-existing road. Had there been a turn, we’d have been in serious serious trouble.
Ok, we finally get to Madrid, and negotiate and navigate ourselves towards the TVE television and radio studio complex. We had been invited to record a live for radio (and tv) session at TVE Radio 3’s “Conciertos de Radio”. 6 songs were played and recorded with a flair, intensity and understated aural explosions rare for other bands, but typical for Anathema during live shows. ( See one of the songs on Youtube )
Quickly getting our faces stuffed during a celebratory lunch in the studio’s canteen, and off we were to our second show of the day.
Anathema @ Sala Copernico 2, somewhere in Madrid.
Because of previous experiences with “Right, Dave”, we had armed ourselves with a map and explicit driving instructions from the tv studio’s personnel, and off we went. We took on the challenge of getting there, in time.
For reasons still beyond our understanding, we never even got on the ring road highway around Madrid, and when we did, we were obviously going the wrong direction, so we turned, and again the wrong direction…
At this point, we were all getting a bit fed up with Dave, and the local road users around us, but by mistake we ended up on the right bit of highway, and were finally heading into town, in the general direction we were aiming for.
The next 1,5 hours we spent negotiation with town-supplied info map signs and bus stop maps towards the venue. And got there, only a few hours late.
Google maps now tells me that I would have been a 22-minute trip for 12,7km. We took almost three hours.
But, yeah, we were there, and started setting up our gear.
And here our real “what could possibly go wrong!?!?” session started.
* Venue crew not speaking English, ok, workable, but not easy.
* Monitor engineer – a young woman, and clearly a rookie, and not even half a word of English in her vocabulary.
Both these issues were unpleasant, but not too tricky to work around.
Ok, show started, and at that time all individual issues started piling up in rapid pace.
I’m not sure anymore what came first, but I think it was the bass string snapping.
While fixing that, a guitar string on the other side of stage had snapped, so it quickly became a bit of a “what’s next?” guessing game.
And there it was, we all started hearing really loud farting noises, but we weren’t sure at first what bit of gear was responsible for that, and whether or not it was our gear or house gear.
Several seconds later, John ‘discovered’ it, it came from his drum fill.
No other instrument or monitor showed this issue, so we quickly identified the drum fill itself to be the issue.
Some cables were changed, and we tried to make the monitor engineer to work with us (Mick the drumtech and myself), and help to circumvent the issue, but to no avail.
And the farting didn’t stop either, so we just eliminated the drum fill.
In the mean time, Mick, John and me could hardly keep our laughter suppressed, due to the surreal ridiculousness of the whole situation.
“So, what’s next?”
And yes, there it was…
The Kurzweil rack unit that Les had been using on this tour had already been having some intermittent issues, where sometimes sounds would disappear, and sometimes other random errors would occur. (Suffice to say that these racks are used almost exclusively in studios, and rarely on the road.)
Les, being taken by the surreal situation couldn’t take it anymore, and picked up his MIDI controller keyboard (the one he used to control the Kurzweil rack with) and smashed it to pieces on stage, and tossed the remains in the audience.
All that happened in a flash, and I had actually been re-stringing another snapped string (snapped strings were quite normal with this band, due to the energetic shows), so I didn’t actually see it happen, until I saw white bits of some sort fly through the air.
Les was lauging so frantically that he couldn’t play for a bit, and this was the last drop to a crazy day.
The audience were very appreciative nevertheless, and more than gladly joined in the frantic energy that had been sent into orbit by the band.
It is still one of the craziest shows I have done to date, but for all the wrong reasons.
Somewhere on the internet there’s a photo of a crazy tall Spanish guy with the metal frame of the MIDI controller wrapped around him like a scarf, and I have a piece of a keyboard key in my trophy chest, but if it weren’t for those two bits of proof, no one would believe me.