MASTERMIND ~ European Tour Notes
By Bill Berends - June 1997
Up up and away - Thursday, May 29, 9:00PMHere we go again... the trip up the New Jersey Turnpike to the airport, checking luggage, hassling with tickets. It's been four months since we made this trek going to Japan, but it seems like only yesterday that we were here. Amazing how time flies. As the lady behind the counter seemed to fidget and punch the keyboard far too many times I asked 'Is there something wrong?' She broke into a mild sweat. "Well sir..... apparently your reservations have been canceled. It seems the travel agent didn't call them in..." Great. Off to a wonderful start I thought, but after some more punching and sweating she finally got us on the plane and had booked our trip home as well. It all worked out OK in the end... (whew).
They searched our electronics with a fine tooth comb before sending them on their way which is probably a really good idea, I hope they're just as thorough with everybody else's stuff. Our ride was a beautiful Virgin-Atlantic B747-400 which was equipped with a little LCD screen and remote at every seat which was sort of cool, but I found the Virgin product line indoctrination a bit heavy handed; Virgin Air, Virgin Records, Virgin Classics, Virgin Superstore ad nauseum. The onboard service was poor as well and the flight attendents all had a bit of an attitude. Oh well, at least the pilot knew what he was doing, they got us there in one piece and the six hour flight was smooth and uneventful.
Heathrow - Friday, May 30, 9:00AMHere we are now 12 hours in the future after a six hour night flight. I can't really sleep on planes since we fly cattle class and the seats aren't as wide as my shoulders, so it was a night without any sleep. The approach over Ireland was a sight to behold, it looked so green and peaceful from the air. Too bad we weren't going there. We had a bit of a hassle coming through immigration about work visas, but an official checked us over and let us pass. Over the second hurdle. We went straight to the Budget Rental counter and checked in to collect the van we had reserved. Things went smoothly and a bus took us to the lot (car park as it is known in England) where we loaded the van and our trusty road manager and soundman Arthur 'Art' Dorety prepared to drive away down the wrong side of the road.
Now Art had volunteered to drive well in advance and we all knew how it was supposed to go, but the actual feat of driving down the opposite side (left side) of the street is another thing all together. We all worked together as a team shouting "NO NO NO LOOK OUT!!" and "OTHER SIDE! OTHER SIDE!" as we made our way out of the parking lot (car park) onto the first roundabout. A brief word on "Roundabouts" which are circles in the road at intersections. If you are from NJ or DC then you know what I'm talking about... well England is the mother of all roundabouts. There's a roundabout at every intersection, every crossroad, every highway interchange, everywhere. Only here you drive 'round them backwards which made for even more of a challenge. This was gonna be interesting.
Once out of Heathrow we got on M25 to the M1 North and it was all highway driving from there, much like the turnpike we had left behind in New Jersey except down the other side. Our immediate destination was Rotherham to check into the hotel then straight to Stoke-on-Trent for a gig at the Wheatsheaf. As it was a clear sunny day and we had a great view of the country from the M1 and everything was green and pastoral, a land of meadows and brick buildings which was far more beautiful than I had expected. "And did those feet in ancient times..." kept running through my head as I gazed out the window nodding in and out. It took about three hours to reach Rotherham where we promptly got lost right off the exit ramp. We stopped a few times to ask directions and the people were friendly and gave very elaborate directions, but with the heavy northern accent it was difficult to decipher just what they were saying. We had to ask a few more times but eventually we found our hotel, "The Limes" bed & breakfast. We checked into our rooms just as Malcolm Parker of Cyclops showed up and told us we had taken the wrong rooms. More moving of bags, a call to the Wheatsheaf to have them fax the directions to the venue, a quick chat with Malcolm and we were off again down the M1 for Stoke (on-Trent means on the River Trent it would seem, thus Stoke-on-Trent).
The Wheatsheaf, Stoke-on-TrentWe got off the highway and drove straight across the country in the long shadows of the evening, it was beautiful. "And did those feet..." Finally we reached Stoke and wandered around for a bit before the fax map made sense. Once we found the place we made our greetings and loaded in. Now this was a last minute idea to fill an empty night and spread the gospel of Mastermind, but this was a METAL show! The band playing when we loaded in was a bonafide 1978 punk band ala Sex Pistols, Mohawks and all, with a 90's death metal flavor thrown into the mix. What had we gotten into I thought. They were off shortly and we threw our stuff onstage. As I powered up my synthesizers... disaster!! My Yamaha SPX90 digital effects processor was dead and no amount of hitting and swearing was bringing it back to life. Damn! I managed to jury rig something in the signal chain and got some sound happening, but Phil was having power problems with his midi pedals too, so it wasn't looking good. After a few more minutes of dicking around we finally got our boxes working to a degree and were ready to go playing our heaviest material including On the Wings of Mercury, Brainstorm, and William Tell. Although totally exhausted we pulled off a potent set and the crowd seemed to enjoy it yielding a decent response. Loading offstage to an outdoor area, we hung around as Adrenelin Kick did a solid alterna-metal set and we drank beer and talked with all the bands. Overall it was a pretty good night and we knew what sort of problems we'd be dealing with tomorrow at the Classic Rock Society's UK Spring Prog Fest. This, our UK debut, was really a trial run for CRS fest, and since England closes early (nothing open past midnight) we were back at the hotel at a decent hour and got a really good night's sleep in preparation for Saturday's show.
May 31 - Classic Rock Society UK Spring Prog FestWe arrived at the venue well rested and fresh, ready to deal with our problems. Ritual was soundchecking as we arrived and Grey Lady Down (GLD) showed up shortly thereafter. Other bands came and went all day as we waited to soundcheck. The problem was that Ritual (from Sweden) was providing the backline (drums, amps) for most of the show and their guy had his drum kit set up off to the side facing across the stage like Phil Collins or something. I hate that sort of setup but we had to use it making Phil's bass position centerstage in between me and Richard. Well the show must go on, but in all our many years together I have always stood directly next to the drum kit and this was not going to help matters at all on top of the equipment hassles. I was not in a real good mood.
Steve Anderson of GLD was very helpful and assisted me in programming his Marshall preamp (although I prefer knobs myself) and we got things going OK. During our set my synthersizers kept sticking and holding weird notes so I had to be turning them off and on and off and on all through our performance. It worked fine in the soundcheck but I guess the zillion watts of lighting had put some sort of drain on the power. Nightmare. Phil's pedals were playing notes on their own out of the blue as well, so it wasn't just my gear that was having problems. To top it off Rich's double kick pedal threw a beater in the middle of the show so Art courageously dove in to repair it attempting to avoid personal injury by dodging the remaining beater pounding away only millimeters from his finger tips. What a guy!
We got through our set and were very well received despite our technical problems, and the enthusiasm of the CRS audience made us feel it was worth the trouble. We spent the rest off the day hanging out with John Collinge of Progression Magazine who was over to cover the Fest, with Martin Hudson the director of the CRS, and later we went out to dinner with GLD where we witnessed a Strip-O-gram delivered to an adjacent table by a pornographic policeman. Bizarre to say the least. I saw a few bits of the other bands during the day but I usually never have time to watch much at these sort of affairs, I'm there to play and mingle. To spread the word and to meet people. I would like to say that all the folks from the Classic Rock Society; Martin Hudson, Paul Allwod, and Jenny Allan, were all good people who made us feel right at home and what started out as a disaster ended up being a pretty decent day.
June 1 - Castles and FishWe spent the next day (Sunday) cruising northern England in search of castles and history. We visited Clifford's Tower in York then decided to head away from the crowd to Richmond Castle. It was a beautiful hilltop village and we spend the day exploring the castle grounds and wandering the small steeply inclined cobblestone alleyways of the surronding village. This was another world altogether as Monty Python's "Who's castle is this?" came to mind.
After making our way back to The Limes for dinner we set off for Sheffield, the next town over, to see Fish perform the final show of the CRS UK Spring Prog Fest weekend. Fish's provocative lyrics and commanding stage presence were enough to make me want to meet the man, and since we spent the evening hanging around the Progression table I asked John to introduce us after the show. Fish is quite a character at nearly 7 foot and the first thing he did was firmly shove a bottle of wine in my hand which I promptly guzzled without hesitation. This guy is alright! He told some amusing stories, we spoke of Scottish musicians (Jack Bruce is my favorite), some things we have in common, and overall had a great time. I'm really glad I came! Somehow or another walking back to the van we ended up with Fish's bottle of wine... oops! Oh well. We are looking forward to seeing him again as his tour of the States kicks off in July. Afterwards we got lost giving John Collinge a lift back to his hotel and had a blast drinking wine and cruising aimlessly around England in the wee hours of the morning. Somehow we finally found his hotel and ours (a miracle) and we spent our last night at the lovely Limes hotel in Rotherham. I like England I had decided.
On to LondonOur drive back to London was uneventful and upon arriving we checked in with Malcolm Parker of Cyclops (our European label) in Surrey who was kind enough to let us shack up at his house for a few days. Once we settled in we immediately set off to find the Royal Standard where we were gigging that night with Sphere. Everyone had advised us not to drive in London, that the traffic was horrendous, but we found traffic was nothing compared to driving in and around NYC and thought it was pretty funny that everyone complained so much. The difficult part of driving in London is that the roadways have grown organically over the centuries and there is no real rhyme or reason to how things are laid out. It also seems that a bulk of the roads have several names and often change names every few blocks, so we found ourselves to be hopelessly lost and stopped to ask directions several times only to find everyone else seemed lost as well. Nearly every other car we looked into the driver was reading from a map of some sort or another. Anyway, we wandered about for nearly an hour until we gathered our bearings and finally found the Standard on our own.
By the time we had arrived Sphere was nearly finished their soundcheck and we got things going fairly quickly. Steve Anderson (also in GLD) was great about helping me get my sound together and everything went without a hitch. Sphere went on first playing a tight set of some rather complex material and I found them to be quite enjoyable overall, a nice contrast to the lighter bands we saw in Rotherham. Before coming over I had asked Neil Durant, a long time email friend and the keyboard player in Sphere if he'd like to sit in with us on a tune, so during our set Neil jumped in on the end of "The Tempest" for a jolly progressive 'Hey Jude' of an ending which everyone seemed to enjoy quite a bit. Thanks Neil! Everything went well and as we had rented another power converter there were no equipment problems. One or two wankers complained about the volume (this is a rock band after all), but the rest seemed to enjoy themselves thoroughly and we sold quite a bit of merchandise. It was a good gig.
Daze OffWe spent the next day wandering about London seeing the sights and shooting photos at all the usual landmarks. We met up with Jerry van Kooten of Background Magazine who was over from Holland and had a great Italian lunch around the corner from Buckingham Palace where I grabbed a BLAZING hot plate of lasagna fresh out of the oven and burned two of my finger tips pretty good. Yeeouch!! We found a nearby pub afterwards and conducted a lengthy interview over many rounds of good British beer and then continued our exploration by foot and by cab. The Black Cabs in London are great! If you ever get lost or confused just flag down one of these babies and tell them where you want to go... then hold on tight!! They'll whip you around in traffic at several g-forces like you wouldn't believe at four times the pace of normal traffic. With death defying lane changes and daredevil cornering they'll get you exactly where you asked to go in the shortest time possible by man and machine. Excellent.
Later that night we ended up in an Irish Pub in the financial district since it seemed to be the only place still open after 9PM. I suppose we looked a bit out of place amongst the suits and red power ties smashed up against the bar ordering rounds of Guinness Stout with lucky shamrocks in the foam as the room got louder and louder and Irish step dancing banged about behind us. The Irish know how to party! A suit named Dave comes over to our table and bursts out "Right. What's all this then" exactly like a Monty Python skit and proceeded to entertain the hell out of us for a few hours with his rabble rousing wit as he whipped out the plastic to buy us round after round of Guinness. "See these two (girls) over here? They're going on and on and on about this and that and bla bla bla and so forth and so on like they've never..... " The rest of the night was quite entertaining.
Ars Nova & Piccadilly CircusThe next day we made our way back to Heathrow to greet Ars Nova's flight from Tokyo. It was nice to see Numero Ueno and the girls again as we haven't seen them since playing Tokyo in January. It was a joyful reunion with lots of smiles and photos all around as we formed a bizarre looking luggage cart convoy and rolled off into the car park. We loaded their gear into our van and hired a Black Cab (see above) to take half of us and have the van follow it back to the hotel in West Kensington. As the cabbie whipped in and out of traffic like a banshee I could see Art's clinched face from the cab window as he hung right behind us in the van like a shadow with little regard for personal safety. Quite a feat I would say! A certified pro in London diving techniques after this little jaunt. We unloaded the van as Ars Nova checked in and all of us met up a bit later with Mark Robotham and Steve Anderson of GLD to go out dinner together.
Dining was a pleasure but Ars Nova retired early since they had spent all day on the plane, so we said our goodbyes and had one more round with the guys from GLD before they called it a night. After parting company it was still early heading back to Tolworth, not even midnight, so we asked a hip looking character on the street where was there something to do? "Back to Regency Street mate!" was his reply, so back into London we went! Once there we cruised a few alleyways and followed the general direction of the people on foot to come across an after hours jazz club which was just closing, "but you can try the Art Club down the street" which of course we did. We descended the narrow stairs to the cellar club and were greeted by a lovely blonde woman who wanted to know why a bunch of Americans were at her members only club door. We told our story and she let us in! Cool. There were several musicians and theater types at the bar amongst which I distinctly heard a New Jersey accent. Huh?! Hey man, you're from New Jersey! It turns out Jerry Lewis was opening Damn Yankees in London the next evening and some of his crew people had managed to find this very same club as we did. I guess all American show biz / musician types like to stay out drinking until dawn, which we did after being directed to another little cellar club which picked up where this one left off. We finally got back to Surrey around 7AM and somehow managed to have a big red traffic cone in back of the van. Hmm....
We were told our gig the next day at the Half Moon was canceled for some vague reason about losing their music license, so we spent another day off sightseeing with Kyoko Kanazawa, Ars Nova's bassist, which was nice, but this cancellation hurt us because it was the weekday show that would have covered expenses between the higher profile weekend shows. Drag. We were all disappointed but what can you do? These things happen in the world of indie rock. Anyway, later that day we bumped into the other members of Ars Nova at the British Museum, dropped Kyoko back at her hotel, and headed back to Tolworth for a brief tour of the Cyclops operation. After a spicey Indian dinner and a few beers with Malcolm we went to bed early in prepartion for a hectic weekend schedule.
The Orange, London - Friday June 6thMastermind, Ars Nova, and Grey Lady Down live in concert.... quite a little prog event! Nearly a Fest dare I say it! Three established progressive bands from three distant continents coming together to perform for a wonderfully receptive and sizable audience, this was a great gig! This is the reason we were here, to play our music. Orchestrated by Mark Robotham of Grey Lady Down the evening went without a hitch as Ars Nova opened the night with their own brand of instrumental intensity, we came out next and kicked ass, then GLD debuted material from their latest release on Cyclops. A great evening all the way around and kudos go to Mark, GLD, and Tommy the Orange proprietor for hosting a wonderful affair. Thanks to everyone who attended for making it a memorable evening!
But this was our last night in the UK and we had a plane to catch for Holland at 9AM, so we said our farewells and left immediately after the show ended. We had a great week in England, but it was time to go, we had to be up and rolling by 5AM. Onward to Amsterdam...
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©1997 Bill Berends. May be reproduced in whole or in part with inclusion of this copyright notice.