Now we’re on a roll and everything has settled down into a groove both in the studio and with all the logistics surrounding it. So it was with the deepest possible joy that Jimmy the discovered his rental car had somewhat unexpectedly committed hari-kiri overnight and even the central locking no longer worked. Ignition: lifeless.
Excellent! This is what we need!
But never fear! Jimmy immediately contacted the rental dudes who said, ‘no problem…we’ll get somebody to come and get it.’
So far so good. In the meantime, we have a schedule so Jimmy left the paperwork and keys with the nice hotel people (who have been excellent to him all along) and I went to pick him up. Sure enough while we got going ten miles away the man came and got the car; so far so good.
Next step is to get a replacement car. So, Jimmy got on to the rental people — which was easier said than done — and finally got to speak to a dude. Well, this particular dude could not have been less helpful during a conversation that somehow seemed eerily familiar…
Jimmy: Hello Mister Rental…can I get a replacement car?
Rental Dude: Maybe.
Jimmy: Um, well, can you tell me where it will be?
Rental Dude: You need to go to the airport and get it.
Jimmy: Okaaay…but I’m working and don’t actually have either the time or the wheels available to do that…hence the rental car. Can you deliver it to the hotel?
Rental Dude: No. Don’t you know there’s a war on?! And it’s my lunch time?! And I have better things to do than wait on you?! And travel chaos is gripping Italy?! And my underwear is too tight?! And my tiny manhood hurts?! You ungrateful America!
Jimmy: Thank you Mister Rental. Have a nice day.
Rental Dude: @%$#&%@!!! Go away.
So, Jimmy declared war on them and, during our breaks between tracks, phone calls flew in all directions, with no help being particularly forthcoming as they pretty much failed to reply to anything. Nevertheless, we bumbled on and were racking up successful recordings. In the background Anna held down the homestead fort, doing all the endless stuff that needs doing to look after 11 dogs and 7 cats. Molly still not eating properly and getting perceptibly weaker, so we’re traying anything we can to break that cycle. She’s an old girl but we don’t want her going anywhere for a while. The big dog Scar disappeared for a few days and returned looking like he had been possibly poisoned by something, so we’re keeping an eye on him. Plus, we have an imminent new recruit with a little stray feline guy who has been badly burned and needs a home urgently or he’s back on the streets where he won’t survive.
Eventually as the tensions with Rental people ratcheted up to Def Con One, a different Rental Dude (known thereafter as Rental Dude 2) actually phoned Mister Waldo, and could not have been nicer. The upshot…still no car — and no car will be forthcoming — but suitable refunds were issued, apologies made and détente reached.
The recording ploughs on. It’s just a matter of getting the best versions of each track and so far it’s sounding great. Very confident this will be a very good album. Not many to go now.
After a heavy day yesterday and a proper ear battering for both Jimmy and I we took the late evening off and went down to the bike club to have a beer and introduce Jimmy to this fine body of people. It was a welcome break. Lift off at noon today (Sunday), just to give us an easy morning. The end is in sight….and it’s all looking good. What could possible go wrong now……..?
Alcatrazz are about to record a new album and I’ve been working away in our house here in a spare room, turning it into a recording studio in which I can lay down drums. It’s worked very well and I’ve created a suitable dungeon with all manner of damping material to enable good recordings. I’ve got quite a lot of the required hardware, but Jimmy, our intrepid keyboardist who has also worked alongside producers such as Eddie Kramer and so on, will bring the truly essential components over and engineer to the whole session. It’s a finely laid plan that has taken months to prepare as time seemed to stand still before the scheduled recording time arrived.
But at last — it was here. It was time to begin laying down drums. Jimmy flies into Bari from Edinburgh today, 5 June. He’ll pick up a car, head on over here, we get set up and then tomorrow — 6 June — is D-Day and we begin. It’s the perfect plan.
However, it soon transpired that there is one fatal flaw in this perfect harmony of logistical planning and the action required to bring it to be. It wasn’t getting to the airport; Jimmy was up at 2am to avoid the Jubilee traffic lunacy that had turned the airports into something reminiscent of World War Z. No…no problem there. Taxi to airport and ready to check in just before a human wave descended to join the queue behind him. No…no problem there.
The flight departed on time.
The flight landed on time.
Italian passport control were their customary obnoxious surly bastard selves, but still no problem.
No…the problem came to light with a message from Jimmy at 12:48pm. Apparently, when Jimmy attempted to reclaim his luggage in which was housed several vital components of our recording venture. The main computer related gear he always carries on himself, but there is still a lot of equipment that has to be checked in; and all crucial to our recording.
But there was no bag.
It — along with 30 other passengers’ cases — is currently either on its own tour of Europe to parts unknown or sitting somewhere in Edinburgh. And Ryan Air are apparently not answering requests for information from the nice ladies at Bari lost luggage.
So, we wait.
Pizza was eaten. Beer was drunk. Tracks were listened to and discussed. But drums were not hit.
D-Day-1 was a bust.
6 June 2022
Jimmy: Hello Mister Ryanair…do you have my case?
Ryanair: No idea.
Jimmy: Um, well, can you tell me whether it is in the UK or in Italy at least?
Ryanair: No idea.
Jimmy: Okaaay…well, what procedure would be best for me to follow?
Ryanair: No idea. Don’t you know there’s a war on?! And a jubilee?! And Edinburgh airport are virtually on strike?! And travel chaos is gripping Britain?! And my shoes are too tight?! And my feet hurt?! You ungrateful America!
Jimmy: Thank you Mister Ryanair. Have a nice day.
Ryanair: @%$#&%@!!! Go away.
7 June 2022 (D+1)
Fortunately, the ladies at Bari lost luggage department are pretty cool, so the early morning phone call to tell Jimmy his case had actually arrived now — rushed to Italy at Ryanair’s expense, to be fair — was most welcome. “We can get it to you in two or three days.”
“No, no, noooo, I’ll come and get it.”
And so the intrepid keyboardist set sail once more in his little rental car, dodging the homicidal drivers so common around here and, after circling the airport aimlessly as his GPS toyed with him, screeched to a halt at Arrivals. No problem…he was shown through security and saw the fabled case on its pedestal, in a beam of light that reflected its golden features as he measured the exact amount of sand it would take to replace its weight on the pedestal to avoid triggering any booby traps when he switched the statue for the sandbag.
Anyway, while Jimmy was not pursued by a runaway boulder but was strongly urged by a surly member of the Italian Fuzz to empty the aforementioned case and explain what everything was. ‘Is this new?’ Mister Fuzz repeatedly enquired. ‘No’, came the equally repetitive reply as all mics, recording gear, audio hubs, etc etc were laboriously unpacked and put in a pile next to Jimmy’s laundry accumulated by his recent few days in Scotland.
I suspect they were trying to decide whether things were being brought in to sell from the UK, as it is no longer part of the EU and therefore Jimmy could be hammered for tax. Thank you Boris, you gurning bastard sack of turds. Anyway, while the lost luggage lady tutted at the Fuzz for this unwarranted hassle, the bag was emptied all over the place.
Thankfully, the Fuzz eventually got bored, Jimmy packed up his shit and left. He then manfully proceeded to get lost on the way to my house before I talked him through the last few miles by phone and he eventually arrived.
We could get underway at last.
Mics and gear were set up — which took a while — levels set, and we started some test recordings. I started by using my old clip-on AKG tom mics but some weird buzzing began after a couple of hours, so swapped them out for a set of old, sturdy and reliable Yamaha mics that used to belong to Mister Powell (though I don’t think he ever used them in action) and we seem to have solved that issue.
Beyond that we didn’t get much under our belts on this first session. On the plus side, Leia has finally stopped barking at Jimmy after a couple of days.
Tomorrow we have full lift off…D-Day+2.
8 June 2022 (D+2)
Now we were finally able to get stuck into the recording. A few strange ghosts in the machine caused a bit of skullduggery while checking levels, but apart from that it was pretty smooth sailing. There was a storm that passed over the house, which frequently cuts the power, but this time luck was actually on our side!
Took a few takes to get my recording mojo doing what I wanted it to do, but on the whole our first proper recording day was excellent. While some of those tracks are still only guides, it was also great to hear some extra guitar and vocal pieces that I hadn’t fully heard before and, as you would expect, Associate Professor Stump and Mister White (not James Bond’s nemesis, but our very own Haggis aficionado) have put in sterling performances. The bass courtesy of Sir Gary of Shea is suitably thumping and Mister Waldo’s keyboards adding great melody and filling the sound perfectly.
This new material is really strong and I’m having a ball playing it. Almost impatient to hear the end product!
Recording is a strange thing really, because it’s not something I necessarily enjoy, but rather a vehicle by which you can make an album which you can then hang a tour on. THAT’s where it’s at for me: the live stage. Plus, after Covid hassles and all that jazz, we are recording separately which takes a while to get used to. But these guys in the band are so good and Jimmy so good at pushing the buttons and twizzling the dials that it is surprisingly easy and you still feel a visceral connection to what the rest of the band are playing. And THAT…to me…is the key to great heavy metal.
The drums sound good – they’re in tune, have great heads on them, good mics, the room giving the perfect dead/live sound, all metalwork delivered by Paiste (the best sounding cymbals to my ears) — so you can capture that proper energy you need for metal. Loving it. I will do my best to live up to the immortal words of one of my drumming heroes (no longer with us) when he told me: “If you’re going to play metal, hit the damn thing. Hard!”
Four tracks cut today. We’re picking up the pace now. So onwards to tomorrow….
The long delayed European tour with Girlschool is going ahead in August at last. Before that we begin with a show at the Golden Age Rock Fest in Liége. In the meantime, we are writing for a new album to be released this year.
It seems that all good things must come to an end and in this case it was prematurely. While Girlschool had all trooped off home after Newcastle, for us, after a couple of days either relaxing in Newcastle or travelling down towards London we were in good shape for the last two shows: Camden Underworld and KK’s Steel Mill in Wolverhampton. (By the way, I made a quick visit to the excellent Catpawcino Cafe in Newcastle for a bit of a recharge and spent a while with a hairles Sphinx cat perched on my shoulder while I enjoyed my coffee. I’m missing the menagerie at home).
There was nothing special to report from our transfer south; we rolled up to the trusty Travelodge in good time to have a beer or two and bumble around foraging for food. No problem.
By the morning of 1 December we were definitely getting itchy feet and eager to get back on stage. Rendezvous time for wheels up on the van was 2pm and we assembled as planned and on schedule. It was then that manager Giles informed us: ‘Denise has Covid.’
First and foremost we were relieved to hear that she was feeling okay so far, just like suffering the dreaded tour cold. So that was good news. But it meant that Girlschool were now definitely out of action. We too had to undertake proper testing and hatch a cunning plan. Various scenarios were discussed, but ultimately, with time running out on show day, we were forced to call the last two shows off; postponed to an unspecified later date.
So, it was a crappy end to the tour all round, though Alcatrazz were negative for Covid and preparing to head to their respective homelands. Apologies to all that had planned to come and see the shows; and I know that at least one mate of mine was standing outside The Underworld when he got news it was off. However, there is nobody more upset at this than the collective Alcatrazz and Girlschool members who wanted – needed – to play these last two shows.
But not yet.
So…please wish Denise well. We are gearing up for work on a new album; my first with the band. Thanks to everybody that came to the shows, and the disastrous end of the tour will tell you why we may not have been out and about mixing with the crowds as much as we normally would like. Hopefully next time, when this bloody virus is more under control (?) But, nonetheless, we had a blast playing some great venues for a lot of very cool people.
So, let’s see if I can remember what’s been going on for the past week. We camped out in Hull for two gig-less days, quartered in the city centre Travelodge. It was most tranquil, apart from the sirens outside every now and then. Hull looks really different to the last time I was there and we basically contented ourselves moseying around and sampling the occasional pub. One evening, after some excellent fish and ships at the Minerva on the waterfront, most of Alcatrazz as well as esteemed Tour Manager Danny bumbled to another pub called the Big Blue Bell, or something like that. There, as well as finding an especially fine brew to drink, Danny suggested that we engage in that evil pastime; the game of darts. Now, it’s not that I’m against darts, I’m not, but if you have mediocre dartists then it is the kind of game than that can drag on to the end of the world with nobody able to score the required ‘out’. I always greet it with the same horror that the dreaded Monopoly used to strike in my heart when it emerged to be played with the family.
Anyway, as I suspected, nobody was what you could call a crack shot, although Jimmy did nearly manage to hit his own foot, which was indeed impressive! Our sheep-loving keyboardist was teamed with Associate Professor Stump, and this all-American crew seemed adverse to actually hitting anything as planned. Seconds became minutes, minutes became hours, hours became days… weeks… years……. millennia…. and yet the game dragged ever on. Finally, as Jimmy calculated what angle he would best employ to achieve his required double, factoring in visibility, air movement and potential arm fatigue, the imperturbable Stump finally cracked
“Hey Jimmy. It’s dawts, not chess. Just throw the fucking dawt!”
Jimmy missed. The entire board. Ha ha ha!
However, after we had all aged considerably waiting for the damn game to end, bugger me if Jimmy didn’t eventually throw the winning dart.
Anyway, we enjoyed the brief lull in Hull, Gary almost becoming unwittingly embroiled in a fight between a very pissed man, the pissed man’s shoes and a rubbish bin, at 10.30 in the morning. I think the rubbish bin won.
From Hull we had a string of five gigs in a row: Chesterfield, Edinburgh, Bradford, Troon (Winterstorm Festival) and Newcastle. For the Real Time Live gig in Chesterfield we relocated to a Sheffield Travelodge and arrived without particular incident to a city which seemed perceptibly angry. Everywhere, people were shouting and scrapping and just being dicks, so I have no idea what that was all about. The drivers were almost Italian in their complete disregard for anybody else on the road. It was most puzzling.
Of course, being winter I was starting to develop the dreaded ‘tour cold’. This particular bastard was becoming a bit savage quite quickly (covid tests proving reliably negative throughout). So, that was a shame. Oddly enough, I think part of the problem is the widespread use of LED stage lights. Now, these are great, as they draw little energy for superb lighting effect. However, they generate no heat at all. On stage I tend to shake my furry head a little and flail about so much that I begin to perspire freely. Combined with that delightful UK habit of unheated dressing rooms and unheated venues, on stage you can actually get very cold in a wet shirt unless you are moving a lot, i.e. between songs etc. And then back to the fridge that is the dresssing room, and voila! La cold arrives! I’ll never let Udo Dirkschneider and his band off the hook for denying I.C.O.N. the use of dressing rooms and giving me fucking pneumonia, so at least we weren’t in that position. But nonetheless, the dreaded cold arrived.
From Chesterfield we were headed north, over Hadrian’s Wall to the wilds of Scotland, and Captain Doogie took the helm of the van as we raced for Edinburgh and the gig at Bannerman’s. En-route we stopped at chez-White and met Mrs Doogie as well as their handsome little hound that they had rescued. Mrs Doogie had even made two delicious pumpkin pies in honour of our Yankee contingent and we wiled away some time eating pie and having some tea and coffee. And very nice it was too.
I always enjoy Bannerman’s. Guv’nor Christian runs a good ship and we were in the flat upstairs for the night while Girlschool blitzed a nearby hotel. It was a predictably great gig and the first one that Doogie had actually played there with his own band, as opposed to being a guest of somebody else’s.
Doogie continued racking up the frequent driver miles while I slept off my cold and we retraced our steps to Bradford before re-retracing our steps to Troon. At the Night Train in Bradford, Mister Stump spent some time marvelling at the knobs who spend their time drawing knobs on the walls of an otherwise nice dressing room. There was a dubious array of ‘bus stop cocks’ all over one wall; ranging from the clearly diseased, to the clearly wishful. Why? No idea. Never really got the compulsion to do that.
“This is a cool dressing room.” “Yeah” “Nice sofas, freshly painted, cool.” “Yeah.” “Let’s draw limp cocks all over it!” “Yeah!”
I assume it’s all autobiographical.
In Bradford we debuted a new track (which went well) and were then put into the Midland Hotel, just a few minutes walk away, and which was most triumphant indeed. Apparently Laurel and Hardy, Laurence Olivier and the like had all stayed there (not recently though). There was a wedding going on at the hotel which did create a slightly surreal moment when one member of the Alcatrazz/Girlschool touring party wandered in there looking for the bar. Errr…sorry, wrong room.
In Troon we played the mighty Winter Storm Festival which was really well run by very helpful cool people. Ironically, we probably didn’t play at 100% at this show. Nothing thoroughly debilitating, just not quite on all cylinders. But hey-ho, we got through and crowd were great and people happy. What was even more splendid was that the guitar that Doogie supplied – signed by us, Girlschool and King King – was put up for auction. The money raised was to be split 50/50 between dementia and stroke charities very close to Doogie and Girlschool’s Kim’s hearts, and the winning bid by a spectacular man named Douglas raised £2008 for these charities. Well done that man!!!!
At the festival I had my first plate of haggis, neaps and tatties with gravy, for quite a while and it was the bollocks! In fact, I can’t remember what is in haggis, so it may actually have been the bollocks, but regardless, it was very tasty.
The back of my cold was now broken and I was eating medication like candy to chase it successfully away. Once again we were in a truly pukka hotel, The Riverside Lodge, so it was only polite to have a debriefing beer or two there afterwards. Marvellous.
Now we re-re-retraced our steps back down into England to the familiar stomping ground of Trillian’s in Newcastle. We got stuck behind the slowest driver on Earth, amongst the shittiest road works around, in truly dire weather which meant we were late arriving. Danny and Girlschool had got set up underway and we arrived in time to get it done with minutes to spare before soundcheck.
This time the band were definitely firing on all cylinders and I loved every minute of it. The crowd were great, and the gig rocketed by in no time. Day off tomorrow. Time to recharge before the final assault on the capital and then Wolverhampton. Bring it on!