"A Hacketting I shall go revisited (or: How even more dreams came true!)" - Recollections of a German tour by Alan Hewitt.
"Hello Alan, we have a problem with the German tour…" was the wonderfully wry comment from Billy Budis; Steve's manager when he unexpectedly telephoned me on a particularly boring midweek day. I bit my lip and refrained from making a predictably sarcastic response as he explained that due to other commitments, he was not taking part in Steve's tour of Germany and that as a result John Wood (Camino organiser and all round good guy ) had been "elevated" to tour manager/driver for this one and that they needed someone to handle the merchandise and would I like to do it? I held my breath and pinched myself thinking that this was a particularly delicious dream from which I was about to wake disappointed! Given a nanosecond to think about it, I eagerly said "yes please" and agreed to become "Merch Meister" for this trip.
No sooner had I put the phone down than all sorts of potential problems leapt up at me… Who was taking care of travel and accommodation? Was my passport in order? Where had I hidden my stash of Euros? Practical things like that… Still thinking that this was a dream, I was somewhat relieved when, in the next couple of days, several other confirmatory telephone calls and e-mails followed from both John and Billy and the final confirmation: a personal copy of the tour itinerary! This was it… I was off for real!
Eventually the day for my departure arrived and I set off on the gruelling
overnight trek from Liverpool to London to ensure that I would arrive at the
"Office" in plenty of time on the Sunday morning to meet up with the
crew. The overnight journey is normally an extremely tedious and tiring one
but for some reason (!) I was not in the least bit tired and arrived in London
at the ungodly hour of 6.30am on Sunday morning - leaving me plenty of time
to break my fast before travelling on to the pre-arranged meeting place. Keen
as usual, I beat everyone to St Margaret's by at least an hour and occupied
myself watching the world go by before John arrived and together with Billy
we set about loading the gear (merchandise, stage equipment; instruments etc)
into the back of our rather plush touring mobile before being joined by Roger
King. Last minute idiot checks to ensure that nothing had been left behind and
with detours via Steve's home to pick up the "boss" and his brother
John and others to pick up Ben our sound engineer and Tigger, our lighting guy
and off we went for the Channel Tunnel and Europe! The crossing was uneventful
and we soon settled into the comfort of our surroundings; watching DVDs, reading
or sleeping between regular pit stops at which it was only the language being
spoken which told us which country we were in!
It was marvellous for me to have the regular chance to chat informally to Steve during these lengthy jaunts between gigs and our conversations ranged over a wide area of topics and were far from centred on Genesis-related matters, although Steve did throw in some priceless anecdotes at times which, while not recorded on tape; have been committed to memory for future use! I began to get a better insight of Steve and his character as the trip progressed and his is certainly a psyche with many an unexpected side to it including a marvellously understated sense of humour. Personally, I do not know how John Wood managed to drive all that distance but after a gruelling 11 hour journey sometimes through torrential rain; we arrived at our first destination and the creature comforts of our hotel in Oldenburg.
After checking in and sorting out luggage etc.. there was still time to grab a stein or two of beer at the hotel bar which was showing a particularly ahem "interesting" documentary about someone who worked with horses ( it had to be seen to be believed I can tell you!) and unwind before turning in for the night and ready ourselves for the following day's exertions. Oldenburg itself, was a delightful small town with a bustling town centre and John and I decided to check out the venue early the following morning. The Staatstheater is an imposing building both inside and out similar in layout inside to so many old theatres and opera houses that grace the UK as well as so many other parts of Europe but with a modern extension which included a restaurant and bar area. The local crew were wonderfully helpful and my thanks in particular to Klaus who was my unofficial helper with moving stuff to and fro within the theatre. Load in and soundcheck completed, there was some time to relax, grab a bite to eat and drink from the marvellous spread laid on for us backstage before taking my place at the merch stall for the evening. The punters were eager and keen and I got to practice what little poor German I had to no detriment whatsoever. Fortunately, because of the location of the stall; I was able to take in the show which followed the same pattern as the UK shows had done with Steve opening up as his own "support act" before being joined by the trio in the second half. Set wise, the show also remained as it had in the UK even down to Steve's "plug" for the tour sponsors: Johnson & Johnson talcum powder! Sadly, because of a delay backstage and an obvious misunderstanding; by the time that Steve appeared at the merchandise stall ready to sign stuff, the punters had been ushered out and all that remained was to pack up and retire to the hotel for a well earned drink and the first of several nights' banter fests.
Suitably refreshed, apart from young Mr Fenner who had had an unfortunate encounter with a bathroom towel rail (that's what he told us, folks!) and was sporting a stunning black eye at breakfast which was to become the topic of much joviality amongst certain members of the crew, we set off for Osnarbruck and the Haus der Jugend which lived up to its name… it appeared to be a youth centre but with an assembly hall and stage. Disconcerting but nonetheless an intriguing venue the load in and soundcheck once again went off without any noticeable problems and my merch corner was easily set up - tantalisingly close to the bar once again! A few fans arrived early and Steve was only too happy to chat and have a drink with them before excusing himself to prepare for the gig. An appreciative audience took in the show and kept me quite busy over all even selling some promo posters for the gig for the promoter before "liberating" the rest for distribution among deserving Hackett fans elsewhere.
The trip to Braunschweig the following day was an on-off
affair. Upon our arrival in Germany we had been informed that this gig
had been cancelled and so we started to plan our unexpected day off in
Bonn and a birthday celebration for young Mr Fenner whose birthday it
apparently was (21 again too!) but the best laid plans etc… The
gig was rescheduled and off we went for the lengthy trip to Braunschweig.
The weather, which had been very kind so far got even kinder and it was
an extremely pleasant trip and a wonderful venue too. The St Jakobi Kirche
is a fully operational church, and, as you can see from the photos; it
is delightful and with wonderful acoustics too. The best gig of the tour
so far in my opinion. An enthusiastic crowd, including Helmut, Bernd and
Peter from the German Genesis fan club and Benjamin Kunsawe who after
having been allowed to join me to sit in on the soundcheck, rewarded my
confidence and was a positive Godsend to me on the merchandise stall.
Once again, an enthusiastic audience welcomed the trio and the setting
made for one of the most enjoyable gigs on this entire tour; there was
certainly a celestial presence in attendance at this one - everyone knew
it had been a special gig!
Longest trip of the tour next with a lengthy hike from
Braunschweig to Bonn and a complete change of venue. Originally this gig
had been scheduled to take place at the Bruckenforum but had been altered
prior to setting out to Harmonie; a typical German Bierkeller and Blues
Club and one which I noticed had recently played host to both Ray Wilson
and another hero of mine: Martin Barre so we were in good company! Setting
up for this one was rather rushed for me and the claustrophobic and smoky
atmosphere left me dripping with sweat as I struggled to set the merch
stall up as the punters ignored me in search of the best seats prior to
show time! That was a bonus I suppose and by the time of the interval
I was primed and almost presentable and ready for them thanks to the steady
flow of beer from a further couple of new acquaintances (thanks Volker
and Freddy) as well as having the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with
a couple of Spanish fans I had met at one of the UK shows who were reintroduced
to me by their friend John (hi Javier and Montse!) and also the chance
to meet Steve's son Oliver who was attending this show with his girlfriend
Dagmar. This was a very hot show even before it started and Steve acknowledged
the heat by eventually removing his jacket and playing in shirtsleeves!
He even received some gentle banter from a certain merchandiser about
the variety of venues we had played on this particular tour and the UK;
in particular the Liskeard gig in the slate cavern ; replying in fine
form… "Ah yes, the cave… that is Mr Alan Hewitt on the
merchandise stall, by the way, who will sell you anything you need via
prescription.." (I am sure I don't know what he meant by that remark
- music was the only drug I needed!). The capacity crowd loved the show
and gave the trio the best reception so far and Steve and the guys spent
quite a while signing stuff (most of it purchased off the merch stall
I am proud to say!) and posing for photos with happy fans.
Next stop Trier and another church. This one was quite different however, apparently it had been converted into a gymnasium at some point and it was quite disconcerting to find basketball hoops, vaulting horses and other gymnastic paraphernalia within the hall and an incredibly high stage at one end. Load in and soundcheck for this one were very late and so I had plenty of time to myself to set up the stall this time as well as have a good chat to Volker and Freddy who were in attendance at this gig too as well as looking out for my guests; Javier and Montse both of whom arrived in good time and ended up with excellent seats. I even had an additional "job" that night; responsibility for raising and lowering the house lights at the end of the first half of the show and at the end. The hall had another superb acoustic and was very well attended and I had a great view of the proceedings myself to boot although Steve did throw us a curved ball by altering the running order of the first half of the show around a little bit which had both John and I scratching our heads wondering when to be ready to switch the house lights back on; escort them off stage and return to merch duties respectively but hey… the more the merrier as far as I was concerned! Curfew? What curfew?!
The last two gigs were at open air festivals; "Two Days Of Love & Peace" and "Three Days Of Love & Peace" as they were billed; at Wuppertal and Loreley repectively. The weather, which had been glorious all week saved its best for the weekend. 35 degrees centigrade was the external temperature as we approached the Waldbuhne in Wuppertal accompanied by the strains of Savoy Brown who were on stage when we arrived. The billing for both festivals contained some of my favourite acts; none of whom I was destined to see… Ten CC, Barclay James Harvest and Suzanne Vega were among those on the posters advertising the events. Fortunately, at Wuppertal there was a merchandise "tent" which was good shelter from the increasingly glaring sun. However, it was situated in the "village" on the other side of the hill from the concert stage and so, I spent the afternoon and evening listening to rather than seeing any of the acts on the bill… hey, I was there to work not enjoy myself, ya know! Thankfully, both Volker and Freddy as well as John Hackett's friend and lyricist; Nick Clabburn who had flown in for this gig; kept me supplied with beer and doughnuts. Meeting some of the other bands and their crews backstage after this gig, one thing that struck me was the intense camaraderie among all of the artists taking part. Steve himself struck up a great rapport with the guys (and girls) from both Pavlov's Dog and Mothers Finest; a rapport which was to bear fruit the following day! Our evening over, we returned to our hotel and thence for a rather excellent Chinese meal which was a highly enjoyable ending to an excellent day.
I had been looking forward to the Loreley show especially to be treading in the footsteps of Genesis themselves who had (as I discovered later that day) played the very first Loreley Festival back in 1976 - an event which Steve remembered VERY well but not necessarily for the right reasons! The hotel we were staying at was a small one on the banks of the Rhine about a mile from the festival site, and I was somewhat surprised to see a member of Iron Butterfly on the porch with an enormous glass of red wine when we arrived to check in - his work obviously already done (this festival had started at the ungodly hour of 10.00 am for some reason!) My duties this day consisted solely of organising the merchandising; counting it in and out and cashing up with the Festival merchandisers at the end of the day. This left me with plenty of time to take in the venue, its surroundings (Loreley has to be one of the most beautiful settings possible for a festival) and to check out the other bands.
I freely admit that I knew nothing about either Mother's Finest or Pavlovs Dog but having made the acquaintance of several of their members and crew the night before I took in their respective performances as indeed did Steve and was suitably impressed (but more of that, shortly). I was firmly ensconced in the press "pit" alongside Steve's son Oliver and Dagmar and Dagmar's daughter; Natasha in time to watch the trio perform their abridged set including tracks dedicated to myself and Oliver (Mexico City and The Journey respectively) which was nice. Then after closing the "business" end of the day with the promoter; I wended my way down to the catering area to grab a bite to eat and a drink and was contentedly watching the sun go down over the Rhine; cold German beer in hand and reflecting on the end of another fantastic Hackett "experience" when John Wood called me over and said "You better get back up there I don’t think you will want to miss this…" with that cryptic exhortation ringing in my ears, I made my way up to the side of the stage just in time to watch Steve being handed an electric guitar and off he went in fine style jamming along with the finale to Mother's Finest's set. Steve was having a whale of a time and grinning from ear to ear as indeed were the rest of us as we took in this spectacle from our prime vantage point
Final show over, it remained to relax and have the chance to chat to some of the other people who had taken part. It was a positive pleasure to have the chance to chat to such a professional and delightful bunch of musicians most of whom were plainly just as delighted to be in Steve's company too. It was a pleasure for me to see Steve enjoying himself so much, in fact, I think I can say without too much argument from any of the rest of the Hackett "posse" that this tour was an extremely enjoyable outing all round. The sheer professionalism of the people involved made it so much easier or everyone. The attention to detail by the promoters and the local crews certainly made for an easier experience too and their determination to ensure that everything went smoothly was greatly appreciated and I for one was quite sad after this show that it was all over for another tour… Mind you, I shouldn't complain because I WASN'T expecting to be involved in this one in the first place! Oh, and the guy from Iron Butterfly was still on the hotel porch when we returned after the gig, in case any of you were wondering about him!
Yes, I know you are all muttering "jammy b*stard" to yourselves and I can't help but agree with your assessment but one final item remains which I still have great difficulty believing actually happened and which will cause even more gnashing of teeth, I am sure. As we were travelling back to the UK, John asked where we all needed to be dropped off and I was faced with the none too appealing prospect of either the last train back from Euston, or more likely the coach from Hell from Victoria; at this point Steve intervened and said… "Let me call the missus" (his words, NOT mine) with the end result that I was invited to stay with Steve and Kim that night at their home. I really don't have the words to describe how I felt at that prospect which became reality and the hospitality which was extended to me by both Steve and Kim upon our return was something I shall NEVER forget - and Kim's donation of a copy of her Illustrated Genesis Lyrics book to me left me completely speechless! The glace cherry on this extremely full musical cake was the chance to listen to the re-mastered versions of Steve's Virgin albums with Steve in his studio. Ben Fenner has done a magnificent job with these albums and I can assure you that any self respecting Hacketteer will love the finished results (see my review of these albums later in this edition).
All of this took place a mere week ago (at time of writing this), and it has taken me that long to try and marshal my thoughts into some kind of coherent order. Things like this do not happen to me except in my imagination (and the less said about THAT, the better!) but this particular dream did indeed come true and for that I have a great many people to thank, so here goes..
First of all to Steve's manager: Billy Budis for having the confidence in my abilities to ask me to do this in the first place and for all his help and encouragement over the years. To John, Tigger and Ben for being the most professional and dedicated crew I have ever seen; you guys make it all seem so easy - even when it is obviously not! Special thanks to the local crews and promoters and to the other bands on the festival line-ups for their friendship and encouragement and hard work at so many levels! To the fans who came to the gigs and those who said "hello" to me and in some cases even wanted MY autograph (mad fools!); for their support and encouragement of the trio and for the occasional beer! To Roger King for the continuous stream of acerbic sarcasm; to John Hackett for allowing me to be flute roadie for a week and to Steve and Kim for their kindness and for making this fans' dreams come true in such an unexpected and delightful way. 2005 has probably been the best year of my adult life and that is in no small part down to one of the most remarkable groups of people I have ever had the pleasure to meet and work with - thank you VERY much!
Finally, for those of you who might be interested in such things (and if you aren't - TOUGH I am gonna tell you anway!); here is a break down of the mileage that was travelled on this trip….
Liverpool - London : 220 miles
London - Oldenburg: 500 miles
Oldenburg - Osnarbruck: 67 miles
Osnarbruck - Braunschweig: 124 miles
Braunschweig - Bonn: 237 miles
Bonn - Trier: 116 miles
Trier - Wuppertal: 132 miles
Wuppertal - St Goarshausen: 118 miles
St Goarshausen - London : 420 miles
London - Liverpool: 220 miles
Total mileage: 2154 miles
And the set lists…
Indoor Shows… Japonica/Andante In C/Tribute To Segovia/Metamorpheus Excerpts/Bay Of Kings/Classical Jazz/Sapphires/Mexico City/Black Light/Skye Boat Song/Pease Blossom-Mustardseed/Horizons/Jacuzzi/Bacchus/Firth Of Fifth/Whole Tone Jam-The Red Flower Of Taichi Blooms Everywhere/Hands Of The Priestess/After The Ordeal/ Hairless Heart/M3/Imagining/Second Chance/Jazz On A Summer's Night/Next Time Around/Kim/Aubade-Idylle-Meditation/The Journey/Ace Of Wands/Walking Away From Rainbows/Gnossienne #1. (Tracks played but not necessarily in this order!).
Outdoor Shows… Horizons/Jacuzzi/Bacchus/Whole-Tone Jam/The Red Flower Of Taichi Blooms Everywhere/Hands Of The Priestess/After The Ordeal/Hairless Heart/ Imagining/Second Chance/Classical Jazz/Mexico City/Black Light/Kim/The Journey/ Jazz On A Summer's Night/Walking Away From Rainbows/Ace Of Wands.