MASTERMIND ~ European Tour Notes / Part Two
By Bill Berends - June 1997 (Part One)
Even the pilots are stonedWe arrived at the British Airways terminal in Heathrow at about 7AM where Ars Nova was already checking in for the same flight to Schipol Amsterdam. BA raped us for being a few pounds overweight and talking to Shingo a little later it seems they got the shaft even worse than we did. After boarding we sat in the B757 for nearly an hour awaiting clearance... it seems with the extra cash they extorted out of us they could have bought a higher takeoff position. Oh well. The short flight took off an hour late and everything was going OK as we began our descent into Schipol Airport. The runway was coming into view as we gazed out across the lovely Dutch landscape... but wait, shouldn't we be a little more to the right? A lot more to the right?!? Down we went when suddenly the engines ROARED to full throttle and we head skyward again at an extreme angle! What happened we all wondered as the murmuring in the cabin grew in intensity. Well, after about 5 minutes the Captain came on and said "for saftey purposes we've decided to make our approach one more time" when Rich leans over to me and says "even the pilots are stoned."
We touched down really hard about 90 minutes behind schedule and after debarking were immediately greeted by Millie from Planet Pul who had been sent to meet us up at the airport. Being American we had decided to drive again and picked up our rental van, but Ars Nova was going with Millie so we loaded up and followed their van to Uden which is a lovely small town in the southern countryside of The Netherlands.
Planet Pul, Uden, Holland - Saturday, June 7thWe arrived at the venue after about an hour drive from Amsterdam where we were shown to our dressing room and made our introductions. Since there were only a few dressing rooms and seven bands we shared our temporary digs with Ars Nova who immediately got to setting up their gear and soundchecking since they were on first. After hassling with equipment arrangements Phil and Art set off with Millie to find the hotel while Rich and I stayed behind to straighten things out. It seems the drummer from a certain band didn't want Rich using his cymbals so someone was dispatched to bring in another set of cymbals. Funny thing is this guy didn't mind letting Akiko use his cymbals since apparently he figured she was such a little girl how could she possibly do any damage? Hehehe... boy was he in for a surprise! And surprised he was when shortly into the soundcheck she snapped the top of one of his cymbal stands clean off. That'll teach him! Before the doors opened I went up in the balcony to catch a few winks and was rudely awakened buy someone running their hands up and down my body! Huh?!? Apparently this guy didn't see me in the dark, but it was still very weird! Phil and Art returned from the hotel and Rich and I went back to catch an hour of sleep before returning to to play. It had been a very long day already and it wasn't even half over yet.
Mastermind was third up and we were pretty rushed to set up. Since this other band (with the cymbals) also wouldn't let us use their keyboard amp for my synths I ended up going direct into the monitor system which I hate. It puts the synth right in my face and the guitar behind me when they should be blended and coming from the same general direction. Fuck. I'd like to make it clear that our contract specified the promoter would supply the backline, but the band they had arranged this with was far from cooperative. We went on like this anyway and despite the situation played a great set. The monitor guy did a really good job and the crowd was incredibly receptive which was very inspiring! When we kicked into the heavy riff in the beginning of Until Eternity a large portion of the audience began bouncing up and down in unison to the pulse of the riff which was very cool and inspired us on to play with real power & passion. Thanks Uden! I have to say I really enjoyed this performance regardless of the little equipment quirks. After Until Eternity despite the loud ovation and hollering for an encore we were hurried off the stage to keep the schedule rolling. We retired to the dressing room to change our sweat drenched clothing then set off to the merchandise table to sign autographs and hawk our wares. Sales were good and we made up for some of the money we lost losing the show in England. We met many people who we've corresponded with over the years and many new friends as well, conducted several interviews, partied at bit and exchanged shifts at the merchandise area for the rest of the day. Thanks goes out to Arie Verstegen and all at Planet Pul, our friends Jerry van Kooten, Jurriaan Hage, Florin Inte, and of course the 850 people in attendance that day for a wonderful first visit to the Continent. We had a great time playing in Holland!
The next morning we had a hearty breakfast and said our final farewell to Malcolm Parker and his buddies who attended the show. We were off to Cologne Germany to meet Kristian Selm and Stefan Ludmann of Progressive Newsletter who were escorting us through Germany to the last gig of our little tour. We packed up and headed south.
The AutobahnAt Pul the previous day Kristian had showed us a shortcut on the map to get out of Holland into Germany which looked good on paper but in practice was quite a confusing route through small towns and back roads. We got totally lost for about an hour before finally crossing the border into Germany where it immediately began to downpour... the first rain of our trip. Since the EC is coming there is no border stop and we drove straight into Germany just like crossing State lines here in the US, but the buildings and gates are still in place and could probably be put back into action in no time. Let's hope they stay open. After 20 minutes or so things cleared up quickly changing into the most striking pillars of clouds I have ever seen! Is this where Wagner got his inspiration for Valhalla? I would imagine so. Germany is a very beautiful and unique looking place with these towering sculptured clouds and rolling terrain, so again it was clear we were really in another world. As we went further south it was easy to see how the Black Forest got it's name, the tall (pine?) trees are so dark and non-reflective that they do indeed look jet black! Very cool.
Once the rain had passed we decided to crank it up a little since this was the Autobahn after all, so with Art at the wheel we made up some lost time cruising at speeds averaging well above 110 mph!! Not kilometers mind you, but miles per hour! It was quite thrilling at times when little cars would pop out from behind a lumbering truck at 30 mph as we beared down on them like a cruise missle and 'Oh my God I'm going to die in Germany' ran through my mind, but overall it was a smooth flight... on the ground! We finally met up with Kristian and Stefan at a pre-arranged spot outside of Cologne and headed south for Leonberg, just a few kilometers north of Stuttgart.
Leonberg, Germany - Sunday, June 8thWe arrived at the Jugendhaus around 6PM and Ars Nova who had flown into Stuttgart early in the day was well into their soundcheck. We met all the folks involved with the show and spoke with the German band High Wheel about the equipment situation, then Kristian lead us back to our hotel where we showered, relaxed a bit, and prepared for the gig. By the time we returned to the venue High Wheel was on, and without trying to sound too negative, they played forever... it was nearly midnight before we took the stage and after two days of little sleep I was feeling quite fatigued and irritable. They should have let us do an hour set right after Ars Nova and then they could have played all night AFTER we were done, but what can you do. Nothing personal of course, but I wasn't happy about it, not at all. None of us were. Thomas Jörger the promoter should have limited everyone's set to 60 or 70 minutes, so High Wheel isn't to blame, but a 3 or 4 hour show is about all anyone can take. Six hours is ridiculous. We goofed around with Ars Nova in the dressing room jumping up at the end of every song thinking it was over only to hear another one begin. After two hours they were finally finished.
The number one thing I wanted to do in Germany was play Ride of the Valkyrie on German soil and I got my chance. Despite being dead tired with a variety of power and synth problems similar to Rotherham, the set went fairly well and Valkyrie was especially potent sounding. The crowd was totally enthusiastic staying as late as we did and seemed to really enjoy themselves calling us out for several encores. It was a great feeling and they were very kind, I only wish we could have played a bit longer. But it was late on a Sunday night and we didn't want to drag things out forever, so after about an hour we called it quits. We met some really great people and of course the beer in Germany is superb! I hope we get the chance to return to Germany at some point as I feel we could have delivered more had we not been so tired. Kudos to Kristian and Stephan of Progressive Newsletter who did their best to make our stay comfortable and a special thanks to the fantastic audience who made it all worthwhile!
Before we went on we said our goodbyes to Ars Nova and they left at some point during our set, they had an early flight home and we didn't expect to see them again. As we were leaving a big hearty fellow named Roar (great name) from Norway told us he had lost his hotel key and asked for a lift back to the hotel. I asked him why he was in Germany and he said "To see you of course!" which was good enough for me. We gave him a lift back to the hotel only to find Shingo & Keiko hanging around in the lobby! They had lost their key as well! So we let Roar and Shingo into our rooms as Keiko joined the other girls. We had a final little beer bash in the room (love that Warsteiner) and discussed our future plans in Japan with Shingo before calling it a night. Apparently they got into their room later on as they were all gone by the time we woke up. It was great seeing Ars Nova again as we have shared a sense of comraderie and purpose taking our music around the world together. It had been a good weekend for all and now it was time to relax a little before heading home.
Party in AmsterdamWe learned from Japan that an extra day or two just for sightseeing was a good idea, and since our journey home began in Amsterdam we added an extra day to take in the culture and delights of the world's most relaxed city. It was Monday morning as we headed back up the Autobahn and the industrious nature of the German people was in full swing, the roads were full of trucks and lorries, cranes and construction projects were everywhere in sight. After a bit Art had finally had his fill of driving so Phil took the wheel which was a BIG mistake!! He took off like a bat out of hell reaching nearly 140 mph and scared the living shit out of me! At this speed the gentlest curve nearly rolled the van! I flipped out totally and told him to slow the fuck down NOW! This was the first and only time during the whole trip I was scared shitless and Autobahn or not, I just wasn't into dying that day at all. Sheez.
After our little incident Phil kept it down to a mere 100 mph most of the way, but I was still very glad to get back to Holland where they have speed limits... the rest of the trip was smooth and we stopped in a nice little Dutch McDonald's for a leisurely Big Mac before heading into town. Traffic wasn't too bad and we drove right to the edge of the old city and parked the van going on from there by foot.
The land of the free...We promptly found the famous Bulldog Coffee House where immediately a heavily pierced girl calls out to me "Hey you! You in the Vicious Circle tee shirt." which was a bit of a shock. Who, me?? It turns out she was from NJ and was friends with Vicious Circle, a death metal band from Jersey who's album I had produced and tee shirt I just happened to be wearing. Small world I thought and interesting that the only Americans we had bumped into in Europe were from New Jersey. We chatted a bit while Phil explored the other doorways to the Bulldog. He was on a mission.
We went inside the "Coffee House" and purchased a little bag then proceeded to sit outside at the table in the Square as Phil twisted a few bones when some goofball at an adjacent table started giving him a hard time. "That stuff you're smoking is shit, you should try this..." which of course we did not. Who the fuck knows what this guy was smoking. A couple of Police Officers wearing 9mm pistols walked right by our table and I nearly went into a full fledged panic attack... this couldn't be real, they look just like the cops back in Nazi Jersey, but they smiled and went on about their business. VERY cool! This is unreal and gave me a whole new outlook on the term "land of the free".... it's all bullshit. As the jerk at the next table was still very irritating we decided it was time to wander on and headed towards the center of the city.
Red LightOf course we were heading to the notorious Red Light District and as we crossed each canal deeper and deeper into the city it all began to look the same. "We were just here!" Rich exclaimed of course knowing we had not been there before, it was bizarre. Down one little alley a guy was playing some wonderful Irish melodies on a flute which added to the surrealisim of the whole thing. I need a beer I decided and we popped into a little pub and had a few which calmed the vague sense of paranoia I was feeling. This is really out there.
After a bit we headed down another alley, turned a corner and there they were!! All these beautiful girls lined up in doorway after doorway! A few more feet down and we were on the main drag of the Red Light District and it is as bizarre and intense as you can possibly imagine. Hookers in every window, live sex shows at every turn, S&M, B&D, fetishes, you name it and it's there. We visited the infamous Casa Rosso and took in the show when one of the dancers pulled Art up onto the stage as we hooted and hollered laughing at the proceedings taking place before us! Cameras are banned in Amsterdam and for good reason I would think, so in keeping with this policy of discretion I won't reveal what happened that night... let's just say a few hours later we headed back to the cab stand with goofy grins on our faces and a real night to remember bouncing (get it?) around in our heads. The cabbie flew throught the little cobblestone streets at 70 mph with Phil Collins BLARING on the stereo as we watched bicyclists leap out of our path and people scattered like bugs. We got back to the van in no time, checked into a hotel by the airport and got a good night's sleep before winging off to London the next morning to catch our flight back to the States. Europe had been a great experience and we capped it off with a wild night of debauchery. It was truly rock and roll!
Wrap UpThe only other incident of note is the landing at Newark International was, well, sideways might be a fair way to describe it. The plane didn't leave the runway or anything, but it was quite a jolt. Maybe next time we'll book our flights a little earlier and go for United Air again, they seem a little more competent. Certainly more efficient and cordial. When we unpacked our electronics after arriving home it was clear that someone had rifled through everything and neglected to repack it properly which resulted in several broken knobs and switches. And of course my dead SPX90 will cost a pretty penny to replace as well. But despite these costly little problems I think we achieved our goals.
The highlight of the trip was of course the moments on stage which is what is all about, to promote our albums and make more people aware of Mastermind and our brand of high intensity progressive rock. Towards this end I would say the trip was an unqualified success and we've sown the seeds for future touring in Europe and in the States as well. Meeting Fish was quite a coincidence since we really hadn't planned it, but it turns out we have some common ground and this ended up landing us the opening slot on his tour of the USA which should help us out tremendously. As I have said in the past the US is the toughest market to crack and going to Europe may be the leverage we needed to get things going here.
It was also great to meet in person so many of the people we've been in touch with over the years, we have a long history with the new European prog scene and I am glad I finally had the chance to shake hands face to face with many of these people. It was also great seeing Ars Nova once again who are our cohorts in Do It Yourself world touring, and it was nice to meet and work with so many other bands who up until now we have only heard of by reputation. Now they are very real people to us and we hope to see many of them again in the future.
As with Japan I am still impressed and amazed that sheer willpower and cooperation from musicians and fans all across the globe made this trip possible, totally outside of the music BIZ, and it gives me great hope for the future of progressive rock and true honest music in general. Where there is a will there is a way and our 3,650 day world tour marches on! You can count on seeing Mastermind return to Europe, in fact you can bet on it.
Special thanks to: Mark Robotham and Steve Anderson of Grey Lady Down, Neil Durant of Sphere, Malcolm Parker of Cyclops, Martin Hudson of the CRS, John Collinge of Progression Magazine, Arie Vertsegen, Jerry van Kooten, Shingo Ueno, Ars Nova, Kristian Selm & Stefan Ludmann of Progressive Newsletter, Mat Corne the Witchfinder, and a special thanks to all the fans who have supported Mastermind in Europe all these many years. Thank you.
©1997 Bill Berends. May be reproduced in whole or in part with inclusion of this copyright notice.